Originally published on nikbunting.me on June 11, 2014.
Every sentence I’ve considered so far is some variation upon the theme of downplaying my ability to write or give voice to my opinion. So what if other women (and men) have written cogent, poignant, and amazing articles on the topic? That doesn’t mean I should just quietly sit by because someone else said it better. My voice matters, too. I need to stop over-thinking, qualifying, and just fucking write.
So, here’s me writing.
The Washington Post‘s op-ed section this week has been a case study in idiocy. First there was George F. Will and the privileges garnered by the victims of sexual assault (Lynn Beisner at RH Reality Check has a brilliant and devastating response–do heed the content warning, it isn’t an easy read). Then yesterday there was the utterly insulting (on SO many levels) post by W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson (brought to the attention of so many of us by Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel.com). Just two “shining” examples among a myriad of others, including a troll who responded to my best friend’s awesome response to MRAs and PUAs and the like following the Isla Vista shootings. His entire screed, as is so often the case, only serves to further support the point she was trying to make. As Black Widow told Loki, “Thank you for your cooperation.” And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s the 21st century in the US of A, and women are having to fight harder than ever for the right to be treated as intelligent, autonomous human beings. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it’s a huge fucking deal. Men sure as shit don’t want us telling them how to live their lives, why the fuck do they think they can do it to us? I know, “not all men”. But I’ll bring up my favorite analogy from this whole conversation that’s been going on the past few weeks: 10% of a bowl of M&Ms is poisoned, the rest are harmless; you going to dig in? Even if it’s 1% or less than 1%, are you going to take that chance? Welcome to being a woman. Not every man is out to get us, most men mean us no harm, but it’s because of those very few (which are too fucking many) that we have to think twice or more about walking down even a well-traveled street during the broad light of day or saying a simple no.
I can’t speak for all women, just for myself and my experience, that is not remotely uncommon. There are subtle, unconscious behaviors that I have, and maybe you do too, that I have to keep myself “safe”. I avoid eye contact on the street, walk fast, and keep a healthy distance between myself and any man. “That’s just common sense in the big, bad city,” you’ll say. But you know what? I did the same thing in the small town I grew up in and on campus and in between classes. If I don’t engage, I’m more likely to be safe. More likely. I’m pretty sure this is part of the reason I can pass right by someone I know, who calls out “Hi” and I don’t even register them until it’s too late. I’m aware of my surroundings yet I tune them out because there’s all too often one of the strangers, the catcallers, the whatevers that try to break the very clear “Don’t fucking engage me” behavior. Tell me I’m alone in the ignore them harder, walk even faster camp.
It’s fucking exhausting. And you know what? Most the time, it doesn’t even register. It’s so much a part of the way things are.
I have been fortunate–and fuck, there is something wrong with this world to have to say that–not to have been the victim of sexual assault. Well, mostly fortunate. I’ve shared the story elsewhere, but I don’t think I’ve posted it here.
There was an old man who lived on the corner, two houses down from my mom’s house. The middle school (now the public library) was a straight shot, maybe four-five blocks away. Most of my sixth grade year, in the afternoons, walking home, old man would be on his porch, we exchange waves or hi’s or pleasant words and that was that, I’d continue on home. Late winter/early spring he invited me in. Maybe he invited me more than once, I honestly can’t remember now. Either way, one day I turned from the road into his yard and went inside. Again, I can’t remember if there was conversation or if it was inside the door and bam, he was kissing me on the lips. I don’t remember if I pushed him away or he released me or what, but I do recall getting some distance, making some excuse, and getting the hell out.
The next couple months, every time I came within sight of the blue house on the corner, I purposefully crossed to the opposite side of the not wide road and very pointedly him as I walked by. It wasn’t until I was walking home with a friend and she asked why I was crossing over to the wrong side. My response was initially something along the lines of “just because” and “oh, if the old man says anything, don’t say anything back.” Eventually I told her what happened and she convinced me to tell my mom. I never found out or asked what Mom did with that information, but the old man never talked to me again. And years later, when I found out he’d died, I was glad.
But you know what? More than two decades later and even six months of recent-ish therapy, I still blame myself. It doesn’t matter that I was 11-12 years old. He was a stranger, even if he was semi familiar and a neighbor. You don’t go into a stranger’s house. Then again I was raised to respect my elders, be nice to them, and… I shouldn’t still be carrying that guilt. Hell, I never should’ve felt guilt in the first place. I was a kid. A smart kid, but still a fucking kid. And I shouldn’t feel grateful that the only penalty I paid for not keeping walking was a cold, slimy, wet kiss from a fucked up old man. And I shouldn’t be reminded of it every time an older man’s gaze happens my way, or lingers to long, or he stand too close or… It wasn’t my fault and it shouldn’t still affect me like this.
One more incident occurred while I was in middle school. A group of us were at one of the local beaches and ran into one of the male teachers, one of the Mr. Buddy-Buddy friendly to everyone types. The type that you always felt better keeping your distance from even though there was no concrete reason that you could give why. Just a “vibe”. It was a simple gesture of brushing some sand off my cheek. Nothing more than that. But it was close enough in time to the fucked up old man incident, that from that point on, I keep my conversations with that teacher to a bare minimum and always kept a little bit more distance than before between us.
I shouldn’t be grateful, no woman or girl should, to have those be the only incidents of note in my life. There should be zero incidents, minor or major, in all of our lives. And we shouldn’t be grateful, we should be fucking incandescent with rage over anything more than zero.