The now infamous tape of Donald Trump bragging about how, as a celebrity, he can get away with anything in regard to women has resulted in thousands of articles and social media posts about sexual assault and sexual harassment. One article I read recently has stuck with me. It addressed how men often think sexual harassment isn't such a big deal because they don't realize how often it happens, and that's at least partly because, from a young age, girls are taught to de-escalate situations. Downplay things. Laugh them off. Ignore them. Harassment is so common, we don't talk about it until things get really bad. Until we are physically assaulted. Until we are raped.
The article suggested that women should talk about the harassment that happens to them regularly so it won't be hidden in the shadows and good men will see what we put up with. That is what I'm going to do now. This is a list of every incident of sexual harassment (or worse) I can remember in my life, and my memory isn't that good. You may think that everything on this list isn't sexual harassment, that's it's minor stuff, no big deal. At the time of some of these incidents, I would have agreed with you. But now, looking back, I think they are. They all add up to rape culture.
- At age 6, a boy offered me twenty-five cents to look up my skirt.
- At age 9, my sister's boyfriend exposed himself to me. (Me and a bunch of other people. This happened at camp, and my sister wasn't there). The guy was 18 or so, and the rest of the group members were around his age. I don't know if he was thinking about me when he did it, but I was there, and I did see his penis, and I was nine years old.
- In the fourth grade (age 9 or 10), the boys in my class regularly rated the girls on a 1-10 scale. The day I was listed as a zero, I wanted to crawl through the floor and die, though I pretended I didn't care.
- Also in the fourth grade, I'd just rode my bike home from a friend's house and was on the driveway, walking toward our garage. A man drove up to the edge of our driveway and called out the window to me. He'd found a puppy and was looking for the owner. Did I know anyone who had lost a puppy? I said no, sorry, and walked inside the house. When I told my mom about the lost puppy, she ran outside, but the predator was gone. I didn't believe her back then when she said the man had been hoping I'd come to his car window to see the puppy so he could snatch me. I believe her now.
- In my first year of junior high (age 12), we girls learned to always wear shorts under our skirts because you couldn't walk down a hallway at school without a boy lifting up your skirt.
- When I was 14, I was traveling alone on a plane. A man sat next to me and said, "So, you're my sex buddy for the trip." His wildly inappropriate talk continued throughout the flight. I tried my best to ignore him. I wanted to tell the flight attendant, to make him go away, to change seats myself, to simply make it stop, but I didn't because I feared I wouldn't be believed. He was a grown-up, and I was just a kid.
- When I was 16, I participated in debate club activities. One weekend at an event at another school, my boyfriend showed up for the Saturday night activities. He got angry with me when I wanted to spend time with him because he wanted to flirt with other girls. But then when I cried (literally) on another boy's shoulder, someone saw, and for days (weeks?) thereafter his friends taunted me at school, accusing me of being a slut.
- When I was 16, I went on a double date. My boyfriend and I split off from the other couple (one of his friends and one of mine), and we ended up in the backseat of the car. Things got a little steamy, but no clothing below the waist was removed. Yet his friend proceeded to lie and tell everyone at school that the car was literally rocking and I was a whore. I protested the lie, but I figure people believed what they wanted to believe. My boyfriend was no help with this matter.
- When I was 16, my boyfriend's friends bet him that they could all get me to have sex with them. Instead of standing up for me with them, he got angry with me, beginning one of several periods where he put distance between us, making me feel as if I'd done something wrong, even though I'd done nothing.
- When I was 17, my boyfriend said I looked like a slut every time I wore a particular sweater (and it wasn't even revealing). I never understood why he hated that top, but he got upset each time I wore it. Eventually I put the sweater away. (And yes, it was the same guy in all these incidents. Why I put up with all that crap is an entirely different column.)
- When I was 18, I worked as a proofreader at a local newspaper. It was summertime and hot, and I was young and naive. I wore shorts to work one day, and I had to walk through the press room to get to my desk. So many men ogled me that I stayed at my desk the rest of the day so I wouldn't have to pass them again. I had learned my dress-code lesson.
- The summer I was 19, a house down the street was being renovated. I had to walk past the construction crew multiple times. The foreman paid me compliments. The first time it felt nice, but each time thereafter it felt creepy. One day after the renovation was over, I spotted the foreman sitting in his van outside my house, staring at the front door. I hid inside, waiting for him to leave. After a while, I called a male friend, told him my situation, and asked if he'd come over, thinking it would make the guy in the van leave. But my friend refused, telling me I was being a drama queen. But in my gut I knew if I went outside, I'd be in danger. The construction guy sat in his van outside my house for hours.
- When I was 22, I walked past four clearly drunk guys. They called rude comments after me. I was afraid and humiliated. I didn't turn around. Didn't say anything. I just walked faster and faster until I got home and locked the door and ran to my room and closed that door and closed the curtains. Then I curled in a fetal position on my bed.
- When I was 27, a man in an outdoor coffee shop exposed himself to me. I gave him a dirty look, and he left. I wish I'd screamed or made a snide remark or something, but there was a little part of me that was afraid he might hit me or something. I also feared that I wouldn't be believed. (There have been several other stranger-exposure incidents over the years, but I'm blanking on the details right now.)
- That same year a guy in my law school class told me I had "the biggest breasts he'd ever seen." I felt so conspicuous and self-conscious and humiliated. I told a good male friend about it. He said I was getting upset over nothing.
- When I was in my early 30s, a cable-repair guy groped me in my apartment. I had an issue with the small TV sitting on top of a dresser. He told me he needed me to hold the TV while he stood behind me, adjusting ... something ... to ensure the TV wouldn't fall. As I was doing that, he felt me up and ground his pelvis into my backside. It happened so fast. I was so surprised and humiliated that I jumped away but let him finish the work. I'm still not sure why. I guess I was in shock and didn't quite believe what had happened. A couple of years later, the cable company called me to see if I'd ever experienced any issues with this particular guy. They must have received many complaints from many different women. Probably a lawsuit. I told the caller that nothing had ever happened. She told me it was okay, that I could tell her if something had happened, but I lied and said it hadn't. I was an attorney. I was a grown woman. I knew I'd done nothing wrong and should have told the truth. But I was humiliated that it had happened and that I hadn't reported it immediately, so I pretended I hadn't been groped.
- When I was 40 or so, while walking outside my local supermarket, a car drove past and a teenage boy leaned out the window and called me a whore.
These are the major incidents I recall. This list doesn't include any of the demeaning and humiliating things people have said in my earshot and directly to me all my life about my weight, including a mean comment from an adult man--a stranger--straight to my face when I was 11 years old. This list also doesn't include things that have happened in business settings (condescending interruptions and things of that nature). And the list excludes an uncomfortable incident that happened at a mystery convention a few years back--something that wasn't sexual or violent, but it was physical in nature. I don't want to go into the details of that incident except to say I don't think it would have happened to me if I were a man. I would guess my female friends all have had many experiences like mine. I would bet my male friends largely have not.
I know that many people have experienced far worse things than I have. Rape. Beatings. Other forms of violence. I'm grateful I haven't experienced direct harassment at work as so many women have, being asked to expose themselves in job interviews or being told that sleeping with the interviewer or boss was required to get or keep the job.
In a way I'm quite fortunate that my list is short and tame. It makes me uncomfortable to even mention some of these things because they probably sound like no big deal. But that would be de-escalation, which is what I'm trying not to do here. (To read the article that sparked this column, click here.)
This is the world we live in as women. This is why it's disheartening and degrading to hear anyone characterize Donald Trump's remarks on that bus as "just words." Those words are a part of a culture in which some men feel entitled to grope women, to expose themselves, and to do far worse things. It's a culture in which women often feel scared and humiliated and violated.
It's a world that needs to change for all our sakes.