“Have you seen this? http://youtu.be/OmD2nozwNcI” asked one of my male Facebook friends.
“No, just heard about it. And have experienced it to some degree, myself. I heard that it was edited to remove the catcalling white men.” Not that that’s racist, or anything. My experience has been – almost exclusively – with the catcalling white men. The point is that this comes as no surprise to any woman.
I got catcalls in NYC when I was thirteen. I was walking alone to the Metropolitan museum, wearing jeans and a long sleeved peasant shirt, and all the guys at the construction site I had to pass whistled and called out things I didn’t even understand at the time. I’m not sure I’d understand half of them, now. I did not feel “safe.” I walked faster – hoping to put some distance between me and the guys behind the chain link fence, before one of them got out.
That was in 1976. Had my grandfather been at my side, rather than in a Board meeting, I’m sure those guys would have behaved themselves. Because it’s true – most guys will back off what they see as another man’s “territory.” Nothing has changed. Except that I’m in my 50s, I “belong to” another man, my husband of 30 years. And there are younger, more attractive, sexier, more vulnerable women to harass. Some days, I’m truly thankful for the extra pounds, the silver strands of hair, and the little “smile lines.”
I started college when I was 12. I had a stalker. I thought he was my friend – honest to God, I did. This went on for two quarters, and despite a tiny little warning buzzer at the back of my brain telling me something wasn’t quite right, I didn’t want to rat out my friend. I didn’t mention him to anyone, because there was a little voice whispering, “This is weird, you know this is weird. Tell someone and they’ll make him go away.” No, he was a nice guy. He never laid a hand on me. Just followed me around campus and talked to me, took an interest in me, slowly gaining my trust. One day, I decided I had enough time before class to learn my way around campus – to take the campus shuttle bus and see the sights. My friend was nowhere to be seen, and I was a little glad for the time alone. I got on the bus. I turned and saw my friend. He saw me. His footsteps quickened. He headed for the bus, too.
The bus driver, a young woman, slammed the doors in his face and stepped on the accelerator. I must’ve looked a little shocked. “I’m sorry, but that guy gives me the creeps.” She sized me up and maybe realized I wasn’t going to understand why, even if she told me why. So instead, she took me with her on her break – I got a tour of the campus bus driver’s lounge. I may have had a coffee or a hot chocolate. I remember most of the vending machines also gave out chicken soup, and that was one of my favorites. She made sure I was back to my side of campus just in time for class, and invited me to ride the bus any time I wanted to.
This went on for the rest of the first summer quarter. The second quarter, my class was in a different building on the far side of campus. It didn’t occur to me to ask what coincidence or stroke of luck caused my friend to be there, too. A police officer who was taking the same class I was noticed my friend hanging around at the start of class or showing up in time for breaks. My classmate made him uncomfortable; I noticed how my friend would take off abruptly whenever my classmate came out into the hallway.
The officer explained to me that this creep was not my friend. He didn’t treat me like the naive child I was, but rather gave me credit for being a nice girl who only saw the good in people. He said, “You have a problem. Please, will you let me deal with it? I know you’re too kindhearted to tell him to get lost, but I’m not.”
“After I talk to him, he won’t be your friend anymore. And you have to tell me – or your mom, or a police officer – if he ever tries to talk to you again.” I agreed. And my new friend – because sometimes, the police officer really is your friend – stuck around, talked to my mom, and had us file a report with campus security. I never saw the man I know know was a stalker, again. As I recall, he was 24. He knew – because I’d told him – that I was only 12. Proving that even if you’re smart and mature for your age – I had a 4.0 average both quarters – you can be naive and too trusting.
And that little voice at the back of my head, vindicated and heard at last, became a constant and trusted friend.
My first employer sexually molested me in front of his daughters.
Wow, there’s a bombshell, huh? I’d earned enough pocket money at my job babysitting his kids to go horseback riding. He thought it would be fun to tag along, to take his two young daughters out for a trail ride, and I said, “Sure, sounds like fun.” I’d have preferred to explore the trails alone, but I knew his girls would have fun and didn’t have the heart to say “no.”
We rode for about thirty minutes of our hour, then tethered the horses to let them rest a bit. He confessed to needing to rest a bit, himself. We sat under the trees, near the lake, talking and laughing.
He was a nice guy. A daddy. His girls adored him.
At some point, he started tickling them. They giggled and laughed. I smiled. They all looked so happy. He turned and started to tickle me. Not cool, especially when he climbed on top of me and pinned me to the dirt. The girls were still giggling and laughing – I was fifteen, and might just as well have been their big sister. Their laughter seemed to encourage him. Instead of tickling my ribs, though, he pressed himself against me and copped a feel.
I really did not want these children to see and know, first-hand, what a creep their father was. I stared into that man’s eyes and drove my knee as hard as I could into his groin. Bingo! I was actually surprised that worked as well as it did. He rolled over, groaning, pretending to have grown tired of the game. He held a hand up in surrender. It was time to head back to the stables. I got on my horse as fast as I could. Out of earshot of the girls, I agreed not to tell my parents – in exchange for which he agreed never to touch me, ever again. I didn’t make that promise to protect him. I made it – I believed – to protect my dad from killing him.
A darker truth that I didn’t admit to myself, for years, is that I would have been deeply disappointed, had I told my dad, had he not beaten the guy to a bloody pulp.
I continued to work for him, never letting down my guard. I liked his girls, a lot, and enjoyed babysitting them. I honestly don’t believe he ever abused either of his daughters. The possibility of it never even crossed my mind. Years later, I realized I should have said something for their sakes. The last time I worked for him, he stayed out too late and called, trying to convince me to sleep over so he could go out again – with a grown up woman. I told him no. He came home drunk. I called my dad to pick me up. I think that was the “warning bell” my parents needed to suggest I not work for him again. I was glad of an excuse – other than the real one.
I wonder if his male friends ever had any idea what kind of person he really was, or whether they saw him as nice, gentlemanly, affable guy who would never molest a teenaged girl? Were they complicit, or clueless?
I have good men in my life. They far outnumber the creeps, the bad guys, the stalkers, the child molesters, the perverts. But I’ve known them, too – more than the two described here. They are real, and they don’t come with a big scarlet “PERVERT” tattoo on their foreheads. They are fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, the “nice guy next door.” Sometimes the guy who gives off the creepy vibes turns out to be nice, after all.
It’s hard to know for sure; but we learn to listen to that little buzz at the back of our brains.I am a happily married woman. I have a son. I am surrounded by good men – men I believe right down to my core are good, anyway. How could I not love and want to defend men when, as a group, they come under fire? I believe in the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. And so there you have it – why I have no opinion at all on Jian Ghomeshi. I don’t know him. I don’t know what he’s done, not done, thought of doing… I have no right to an opinion on him, personally, unless and until he has his day in court.
I’ve never engaged in BDSM and don’t want to – that’s not my kick. But I’ve known people who do, and I know that what they say about “safe words” and the power being in the hands of the sub is true. It must get confusing when the safe word isn’t “no” or “stop,” and it’s even worse when abusers can use that as some sort of sick justification for arguing that “no doesn’t always mean no.” I kind of think the BDSM crowd could do us all a favor and come up with another word for “no” – when they really mean “yes” – and let “no” be the universal “safe word.” So that “no” could always, unequivocally mean “not only no, but hell no and stop yesterday.”
I’d like all the young men out there to know that you deserve nothing less than enthusiastic consent – not something manufactured in your confused and hormonal brains, but a real, vocal, lusty cry of, “Yes!” Nice guys may finish last, but what woman wants a guy who finishes first?
Be decent, be kind, be honest, be loving.