I know I linked to some #yesallwomen articles on Friday, but would you mind if we furthered the discussion a bit more? Ben Blair and I talked with the kids about the hashtag over the weekend and it’s been on mind non-stop.
If you had asked me a week ago whether or not I had been sexually harassed in my life, I would have quickly said, “No, not really.” If I’d thought about it a bit more, I would have said, “Um. Yes. There was some molesting when I was a child.” But man oh man, reading the hashtag brought back so many instances. Most are small, some feel bigger. But all are so commonplace that without the #yesallwomen hashtag, I didn’t recognize them as harassment — they are just one of the costs of existing on the earth with a vagina.
There are some memories that I didn’t bring up with the kids. We didn’t discuss the relative that would come into my bedroom when I was almost asleep, turn me onto my stomach, pull down my underwear and rub his penis between my butt cheeks. I was maybe 8 years old, and the molesting went on a couple nights a week over a period of months. When I would tell him to stop, he would tell me not to worry, it was just his thumb. (Which… what??)
As an adult, I’ve come to realize this was actually quite minor compared to what many children deal with. There was no penetration, no pain, no violence, I was super sleepy, and it didn’t seem to do any real damage to my self-image. The main consequence was that the molesting, combined with the fact that I didn’t receive a proper birds-and-bees talk, gave me an odd vision of what the mechanics of sex were. But that got sorted out when I heard more details as a teenager. So all’s well that ends well? Not sure what I’m supposed to say, except that I feel incredibly lucky it wasn’t worse. (And I promise, I am not in need of sympathy about this. Really truly. I came out of it quite unscathed. I’d rather talk about the airplane incident I detail below.)
I also didn’t tell the kids about the commute during my 6 months working in Washington D.C.. I was nineteen years old. The Metro can be insanely crowded on the morning commute, and I eventually realized I had to make a gamble — either get on a packed train car and have a complete stranger press his erection up against me, or be late to work. I still find it so gross — for me it’s equivalent to having an encounter with a flasher. Super strange that there are men that think this is okay.
Instead, I brought up two, shall we say, gentler incidents that happened to me recently, that I still don’t know how I should have handled better or differently. I thought they might be more relatable and less threatening to discuss with the kids.
First was an everyday sort of scenario, I was recently on a plane ride heading home to Oakland. It was a Southwest flight which means there were not assigned seats on the flight. It’s first come, first served, and I was in the last group to be seated. No big deal.
It was a full flight, and the seat I got was a middle seat between two men. Again, not a big deal. I fly a lot and it’s not unusual to sit by men. They were friends, and had sat on either side hoping that no one would take the middle seat so they would have extra space. No big deal. That’s a common practice on Southwest flights. Before I sat down, the man seated on the aisle looked me up and down and commented that he had been worried that whoever sat there might be fat. Men look me up and down sometimes. This was not unusual. And his comment was meant as a compliment. I wasn’t feeling talkative, but also didn’t want to be rude, so I tried to give some cues that I wasn’t feeling social — short answers, reading the inflight magazine, concentrating on my phone, yawning — I thought I was conveying that I was not interested in engaging, but he didn’t seem to see my cues, or he was really in the mood to chat. No big deal. It happens on planes all the time.
So I started talking about my 6 kids and my amazing husband hoping that it would be really clear that I was not available nor interested. Instead of shutting down the conversation, this brought more comments about my body along the lines of: you’re looking good for someone with six kids, most women… blah, blah, blah. No big deal. Men comment on my body frequently. He also seemed to be a touchy kind of person, so while he talked to me and he would put his hand on my leg. Throughout the flight. Over and over again. Whenever he talked to me, and whenever he leaned over me to talk to his friend, he would touch me. No big deal. He wasn’t trying to hurt me.
But why in the world wouldn’t this behavior be a big deal?!! Why did a perfect stranger feel that it was totally fine to touch me as often as he liked? Why is it no big deal that he would assume I welcomed his commentary on my body and on women’s bodies in general? Why it it no big deal that these two friends essentially forced me to sit between them? Why is it no big deal that his desire to talk to me trumped my desire to not talk to him?
I wasn’t sure what to do, or if I should do anything at all. I didn’t feel safe. I wasn’t comfortable with the leg-touching, but I was pretty sure he didn’t mean it to be threatening. I was trapped between the two men, two friends, both were bigger than me. The one on the aisle was turned toward me, so I was truly blocked in. My thoughts went back and forth. Should I ignore the touching? I didn’t feel comfortable with it, but then again, I wasn’t in pain, it wasn’t violent, and it wasn’t an especially long flight. There are much worse experiences that people have every day, so on a spectrum should this even be acknowledged?
And I could say something, but it’s a risk — the reaction could go either way. And what should I say: “Please don’t touch me.”? Maybe he would apologize and behave better, or maybe he would get angry or offended because he was feeling rejected. Either way, it would likely make for an uncomfortable remaining flight for everyone. Or worse: What if I said something and he turned out to be violent and followed me off the plane? Should I call a flight attendant and ask to be reseated? And if I did that, would I also need to be escorted by security once we landed because I was scared this guy was going to bug me as I walked through the airport to curbside pickup because I “turned him in” to the flight attendant? Should I just endure it? Is saying something worth making this guy feel like a jerk? Was he just a touchy feel-y person? Would he have touched a man’s leg just as much?
I didn’t end up doing anything. And I was so mad I didn’t do anything! I know about being assertive, and I felt like I ultimately chickened out. But I still don’t know what would have been the ideal thing. Was it worth taking a risk that I might anger him? I have a really hard time gauging that sort of thing.
Example number two that we discussed as a family is elevators. When I’m staying in a hotel and I’m alone on an elevator, if it stops on any floor that’s not the lobby, I find myself wishing/praying a man I don’t know, or group of men, don’t get on with me. It so often makes me feel unsafe and I start running through self-defense or escape scenarios. There’s simply no way to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Do I make eye contact and act really confident? Do I make no eye contact and try to draw no notice to myself? My instinct is typically confidence, but sometimes it can backfire and men will interpret the eye contact as an invitation to flirt or come on to me. I can’t seem to figure out a no-fail solution.
The discussions around both situations were good, though we focused mostly on the airplane. The kids could immediately see what was happening and could imagine themselves in the same situation. They could see I wasn’t in immediate danger, so they weren’t freaked out. One said her instinct was to react by punching the guy. We discussed what the aftermath of that might be. Someone else said I should say something, but find a way to do it with a joke so he was less likely to get mad. Several came up with good excuses I could give for asking the guy in the window seat to switch with me — making up things like: I get sick when I’m not in a window seat, or I’m pregnant and need to sit by the window so I can lean my head against the wall. All were mostly uncomfortable with the idea of being direct with him or “telling on him” to a flight attendant.
Interestingly, regarding the airplane harassment, the ideas and suggestions we came up with in our family discussions universally required a change of behavior on my part and none on the part of the man who was harassing me. But as I pointed out to the kids, isn’t it strange that I should have to change my behavior when my crime was simply existing? Doesn’t he need to know that his behavior is not okay? That he was treating me like an object that he could handle at will?
I’m also aware, that though I found his manners to be piggish, he very likely wasn’t an overall horrible person. Perhaps he’s kind to animals, and maybe he helps people who have car trouble. I have no idea. I want to assume he was not out to hurt me. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t know how uncomfortable his touching and his words made me. I really like men. I really like people. And I want to assume the best of everybody. I truly wondered, what gets more priority? My ability to feel safe and comfortable? Or him not being made to feel like a jerk?
As I read the hashtag feed over the weekend, I also learned more about how misogyny is systematic toward woman of color — see tweets here and here. I was reading the #yesallwhitewomen hashtag and came across a statistic that said African American women are 8x more likely to be imprisoned — and face assault in prison — than white women. So disturbing. If I was a black woman, and knew those odds, would I ever risk taking any issue to the police, even something a million times more serious than my little airplane incident, knowing how badly things were stacked against me? How would I even begin to seek justice?
As the weekend went on, and I continued to check the hashtag once in awhile, there were many other seemingly small memories that came up while I read the feed — like being asked if it felt strange to be a girl and be student-body president. Or being a teenager and being honored to meet with my state Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and having the Lieutenant Governor be so sexist that my face couldn’t hide the shock, and the Governor telling a self-deprecating, pro-woman joke to clear the air. I remembered the first tour of my college campus, which was really just a way to point out all the emergency phones in case I was assaulted walking home after class (this was pre-cell phone years). And really, misogyny is so pervasive in our culture, I imagine the stories will just keep popping up in my head anytime I check in to the stream.
Like so many others, I find it disturbing that most of the memories are such simple incidents, that I didn’t even acknowledge them as the harassment and sexist behavior that they are. But they happen to women everywhere, everyday. And they add up fast to make the world a really unsafe place for women.
So, if you’d like to dive in to the conversation, I have a million questions for you. Have you read the stream? Do you feel like you understand the thinking behind the #yesallwomen hashtag? Did any memories come up for you? Did you have an emotional reaction? Do you feel it’s an anti-men movement, or maybe it’s too divisive? Do you have older kids who have noticed the hashtag? Does the hashtag bother you? If you were me, what would you have done on the airplane? And lastly, how do you handle elevators?
P.S. — If you’re Mormon, you may also be interested in reading this #yesevenmormonwomen stream. But I warn you, only do it if you have a strong stomach. The church is deeply patriarchal, and many of the experiences combine sexual abuse + distortion of authority, so the damage is intense. No doubt the same experiences would be true for women in any deeply patriarchal church organization.
342 thoughts on “Discussing #yesallwomen With The Kids”
Two immediate thoughts that I had after reading this –
1.) I feel like child molestation done by family members is getting increasingly out of control. (Or maybe it’s always been like that, and I’m just more aware of it now.) I hear so many stories now of so many young girls and boys who have been molested by family members or close friends. How do we stop this?! It’s not at all okay, and as a mom of three young children, how do I not feel paranoid?
2.) I recently visited a church in Europe and was greeted by a man in his 50s who was very friendly. Friendly to the point where he literally was sitting almost on top of my leg, leaning on me, and repeatedly touching my leg. I felt super uncomfortable, and had my husband been there, he would have noticed it immediately and would have somehow intercepted. But he wasn’t there, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Surely, the man was just super touchy and had no idea of personal space? But because I was an American in a new church, I didn’t know what to say; I felt out of balance due to the cultural situation (if that makes any sense). I would have moved away, but I was pinned in by another person who didn’t notice my awkwardness. And as much as I enjoyed the church, I would hesitate to visit again just due to this man’s behavior. And I’m saying all of that to say that, like most women, we all have had situations with men that have raised red flags and have made us very sensitive to possible predators. In one way that makes me sad as not all men are like that, and in another way, it makes me feel like we’re doing something very wrong when so many men are guilty of treating women like objects. Women should not live with a perpetual feeling of being unsafe. I’ve been blessed to grow up in a family that honors women and speaks up for our honor. But I know so many have not. Anyway, your post just opens a whole big can of worms.
Wow, I didn’t read any of the hashtag because I’m not on twitter, but I did read an article about that shooter in the states who killed those women. But I TOTALLY agree with you, and it makes me angry. Why did you have to change everything about what you were doing on that airplane just so he wouldn’t feel like a jerk. I used to work at Blockbuster Video when from age 18-22. My store was across the street from a college that I attended, and once, a fellow student came in that I didn’t know and asked me out. I politely declined because I had a boyfriend(who is my husband now) and he freaked. He followed me places, he was at the train station once, when he would come in the store I would have to hide in the storage room until he left. He started asking about me so much they told him to never come back. Why did I have to hide in the storage room? I was just trying to work, for pete’s sake!! Another time when I was in high school a boy walked up to me and used his pointer finger to jab my crotch in front of other people though my jeans. It was one quick hard jab and it hurt. But I never told a person of authority. Everyone just laughed. Why did I feel so ashamed and I wasn’t even doing anything?? I have a little girl and I cannot believe how scared I am for her to grow up in this unsafe, scary world.
Your stories are spot on with what’s being shared on the #yesallwomen stream. The sexism in our culture is so pervasive it’s stunning. I think the hashtag has done a good job of opening people’s eyes to just how pervasive it is.
Wow, what a post. Thanks for sharing your #yesallwomen stories.
I have been thinking about your airplane incident. Because I travel a lot, it is not a stretch to imagine myself in the same, or similar, situation. I think I’d have to assess the situation (has the man been drinking? does he seem smart enough to recognize a message delivered with humor, etc.?). If I thought he could handle the truth if it was veiled in humor, I might touch his leg and look deeply into his eyes, but in an over-the-top way. If I didn’t want to touch him and felt creeped out by him, I’d probably just ask him to switch seats (“You and your friend seem to have a lot to talk about and I feel caught in the middle. Why don’t we switch?”). If that didn’t work, I might have to visit the ladies room and scout around for another empty seat, even enlisting help from the flight attendants. But you are correct – why should you change YOUR behavior when all you’re doing is sitting there?
Also, now that I am older and have reached the “invisible” stage of womanhood, I regret all the years I had to cover up for fear of inviting unwanted attention, shut up for worry of saying the wrong thing and inciting further bad behavior, and censor myself in other ways in order to fit into the male-d0minated culture.
I’m looking forward to seeing the comments here. I similarly found myself pulling up a string of memories that made me realize just how many ‘paper cuts’ there have been in my life and career. I think it’s important that I made the tally personally as it provides me an understanding of the problems I didn’t have before, despite reading the research literature on the subject. Now to figure out what to do with that understanding…
As for the airplane, I probably would have been uncomfortable with confrontation as well, both because of the risks you highlight and because I’ve been socialized to avoid conflict. I might have said “I need to get a few things done during the flight. If you two would like to chat, would one of you please switch seats with me?”. My hope would have been that the window guy would offer but if not, it also makes it really clear that I’m not in the mood to converse. I would have then pulled out my laptop or tablet to make my legs inaccessible and stymie conversation further. It bothers me that I wouldn’t just tell the guy he was making me uncomfortable. I’m curious to hear what others have to say though it’s easy to come up with comebacks and solutions on Monday morning and not so easy when you’re in the middle seat!
“It bothers me that I wouldn’t just tell the guy he was making me uncomfortable.”
I have been reading your blog for about a year and been impressed . Quite frankly I am shocked that you were incapable of telling that man to keep his hands to himself and leave you alone. You mentioned that your family suggested changes to only your behavior which surprised you. Seems to me they have more sense than you. If you want to change the world, start locally. Don’t stand for behavior that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe if that jerk got push back from an equal he would learn his lesson quickly, instead it seems you went into some default subversive position that just encouraged him.
sorry meant submissive not subversive
I commend her for writing such a post and starting a discussion. I have had a situation where I thought I would act one way, but acted another. I still go over it thinking I should have done this or that and having someone judge my actions wouldn’t help anything. They weren’t there having it happen in that moment, so they don’t know how they would react.
I really appreciate this post and think the comments and discussion coming from it are important. I work in foreign countries where the treatment of women is different than in the U.S. I have had similar instances in places where I thought it would be more unlikely. You never know when these things can happen, but I commend Gabrielle. Thank you for posting your experiences!
I’m not really comfortable with the idea of blaming Gabrielle for not standing up to the guy. We don’t want to live in a world where men can do whatever they please just because they aren’t stopped, but I’m afraid that a mentality where we blame a victim for not preventing or stopping an incident will just cause more problems. Look at rapes: how many times do you hear the victim get blamed because of how they dressed or because they were drunk or some other dumb reason? All the time. We live in a world where we tell those women (I know that men get raped too and I don’t mean to belittle their experience) that the rape was somehow their fault because of something that they did or didn’t do, that they should have been the ones to stop it from happening. When we blame the victim of any sexual assault, we’re creating the mentality that we can blame all victims of sexual assault.
I don’t want to say that in an ideal world, Gabrielle would have rattled off some monologue straight out of Tootsie and showed this man his place, because, in an ideal world, the airplane incident never would have happened.
I don’t think that I’ve ever defended a blogger before, but I’ll do it now. You want to see Gabrielle act locally to create change? She’s raising 2 sons and 4 daughters to be part of a new generation that expects more in terms of equality.
I so rarely comment in a comment section, but I’m going to and I’m going to do it without being anonymous here.
First, let me say I’m sorry if what I write next feels like an attack. I really truly just want to share another side to this and hopefully make others think. Second, Gabrielle doesn’t need me to defend her, but I’m responding anyway. Third, I apologize for the book I’m about to write…
Your comment, I’m sure, is made out of love or at least respect. I’m sure you hate seeing another woman have to deal with that. And also, you may have even imagined yourself in that situation and may have felt that feeling of fear.
When we try to battle fear, our first and most primal instinct is to lash out at the easiest target. It’s part of our survival mechanism. And the easiest target in this situation was Gabrielle. It is always the victim.
This is why when women are assaulted we have all (women included here) been conditioned to wonder :what she was wearing? Why was she out alone? Why did she let it escalate? And yes, why didn’t she stand up to him? Through those questions, we are asking ourselves what we could do to avoid a similar situation. But that further feeds into the misogyny.
But yes, we ask these questions, because we want to prevent the assault. What we end up doing is blaming the victim which creates a culture of shame. Victims are victims. They are not the ones in power. They are not the ones to blame.
I had an incident about two years ago. I was attending an evening event in the city.
I was aware that it would be dark when I left the event, not terribly late, but dark. So I made sure to park my car close to the event in an area with lots of people for higher visibility. These are the things we think about and I wonder if men ever do.
After the event, as I walked to my car, I heard a guy yell at me from his car. The general cat call type of thing. My spidey senses tingled—while I’ve tried to be okay with men looking at me and telling my husband I’m a beautiful woman (which totally and completely creeps me out) for fear of being seen as a bitch I’m still exceptionally uncomfortable when I get cat calls—and I walked faster to my car. As soon as I got in my car, the man pulled in the wrong way of a one way section, parked his car behind me blocking me in. I was literally trapped. There was no where for me to go. I locked my doors and felt my body stiffen.
I have never, ever been so scared in all my life. My mind went through all of the self-defense clips I’ve caught glimpses of on Oprah or any other show where women are unintentionally marginalized because WE are the ones who have to defend ourselves rather than talk about the issues that create this climate in our culture.
He leaped out of his car, knocked on the window. I assessed my options. Could I scurry over the seat fast enough to exit the other door? Should I blare my horn?
He knocked again. I could tell he had been drinking. I rolled down my window the smallest tiniest inch.
“Hey. Wanna have a drink with me?”
I had learned years ago from previous experience if you mention a boyfriend (or now in my case husband) it doesn’t always deter guys. So I took a gamble. I pleaded.
“Listen, I really, really just want to get home to my kids.”
He took a moment, looked at me and then went on his way.
I called my husband. He was pissed. He was also scared. He asked why I didn’t get the license plate? Others asked why I didn’t walk out in a group? When I shared this story, well-meaning people, people who love me questioned what I could have done to avoid it.
I stop all of them with this: I was the victim in this situation. I will not be questioned about what I did or didn’t do to avoid or change this situation. All I did was walk to my car.
And all Gabrielle did was sit down.
I am sorry Ali and Jen, I am not blaming Gabreille for what happened. Quite frankly I was just very surprised, no incredulous, that such a capable accomplished woman like herself would not have told the person sitting next to her to not touch her after the first time he touched her leg. This is not blaming the victim. Jen, your situation was very frightening and threatening and totally out of your control. Gabrielle’s situation on the plane was not out of her control. I am not a psychologist but maybe her childhood experience has shaped her more than she knows or maybe she is such a nice person she does not want to say anything that might offend someone even if he is a boorish jerk. Jen, I agree with you that all Gabrielle did was sit down but I would add that she remained passive instead of controlling a controllable situation.
Hi Liz. No doubt I didn’t express myself well, but that was the point of the story. I stand up for myself consistently — with men as well as women. So finding myself not reacting in the same way on the airplane, the experience really stood out to me. It could have been any number of factors — and since I made it safely home, maybe my instincts in the moment were correct.
I find that men who know me in real life — at work, when I was in high school and university, at church, my neighbors, etc. — offer nothing but respect. And I would settle for nothing less. But from men who are strangers, or passing me on a city street, I get varied reactions. If the men I knew in real life had observed me on the plane, they surely would have been surprised.
To reiterate: If I was someone who didn’t typically and consistently stand up for myself, I don’t think I would have shared the airplane story as an example.
Related, I’ve been a little baffled at how many commenters feel the need to play armchair psychologist. Many readers seem intent on making my molestation the defining moment of my childhood. But it simply wasn’t. As confirmed by actual psychologists. Apparently that is really hard for people to conceive of.
Again, wow, thank you for sharing the difficult in your life. And for having that difficult conversation with your kids. Isn’t that one of the definitions of not knowing when someone is wrong is when we – as women and men – perceive it as “normal,” i.e. the way men sometimes treat women and children? Thank you for being a part of this conversation.
Gabrielle, I am truly sorry, I did not mean to play arm chair psychologist and thank you for the clarification. It certainly confirms my long standing impression of you as a creative successful woman who treats all people with respect and expects nothing less in return.
Imagine the person making you uncomfortable in a crowd is the Vice-President of the United States, and you are pre-teen. Luckily I was standing there with my daughter, we knew he was a touchy person, and I was able to intercede politely on her behalf, but we still chuckle about how creepy it actually was.
I’m an introvert and kind of shy in general, and I usually felt like that’s why I was uncomfortable in situations. But yes, I get nervous on elevators alone, or in parking garages, or anywhere really. I know the odds are not that great I will be attacked, but history says it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Oh dear! Which VP?
Yup:) We’re from Delaware, so we’re familiar with ol’ Uncle Joe. But still. It was a difficult moment, as we were in a room full of people and like Gabrielle said, we are conditioned not to make a scene.
His wife is a lovely person though. :)
One thing I was really struck by was the lack of anger about any of these incidents you describe, Gabrielle, all of which are outrageous. I myself have escaped molestation by any family or friends and I haven’t had that many incidents of assault, even the most minor, either. I don’t usually have men behave to me the way the one did to you on the plane. But you know what else? I’m not very friendly. I do my best to look tough. I live in a city, and when I walk down the street I put a very no-nonsense, determined look on my face. I do not respond to men who try to get my attention on the street. And I would not have been friendly back to that man who kept touching you on the plane. What’s the result? At worst, I’m a b*tch, at best, I’m “unapproachable.”
But when I compare myself to my sister, who is the kinder and gentler of the two of us, and has been taken advantage of sexually on more than one occasion, I am glad to save the kindness for my husband, family, and those I trust. Either way, though, women can’t win.
YES YES YES. THIS. I am also “unapproachable” and I think that’s why these types of things just don’t happen to me. I’d rather be seen as a bitch than be put in an uncomfortable situation.
I swear I think I’m jealous. I have tried to do the I’m an angry woman thing on elevators and apparently I’m not that convincing. : )
Also, I generally like people and it seems strange to have to train myself to not like people. I feel like I’m fine the way I am.
You are absolutely right about liking people. My sister is the same way. She generally likes people, and trusts them, more than I do. I will also say that I am more socially awkward (though not extraordinarily so) and a little more shy than her, so my standoffishness is related to that. I desperately wanted a boyfriend in college and never had one. My roommate, one of my best friends, said “I think they (men) are a little afraid of you.” I had a lot of sadness and loneliness in my early 20s over my inability to find love. It did work out, though. It only takes one (to be happy). : )
BUT, like I said, I have also not had to endure the kinds of experiences you describe in your post, and I have never been pushed to do something that I didn’t want to do sexually, which did happen to my (trusting) sister on more than one occasion. Which is the better life? Tough to say.
I completely agree. I used to wish I could be more friendly and approachable. Sometimes I still do. But I am who I am, and I have lots of friends and a wonderful husband, so I’m happy. And Gabrielle, you are who you are, but you have to stand up for yourself!!
When I was in high school I once overheard someone talking about how people were afraid of me. What? I am not a mean person, I didn’t have enemies, and I even dated quite a bit. But, I realize now that I’m older that the look that I give could be defined as “unapproachable” and it has saved me from a lot of grief. I should thank my dad for handing it down. :) I also have four brothers who taught me a lot about standing up for myself.
I live in a city and do the tough woman thing, too. But then I invariably have my personal space invaded and people (mostly men) telling me “why don’t you smile, sweetheart? It’s not so bad!” I find that ridiculous.
I will say that I generally have the angry look too – without trying! Its my natural resting face ;) However, i’ve still experienced harassment – once some guy grabbed my behind as I was walking in a crowd and I was so angry I ran back and shoved him hard. He was stunned. In retrospect, this wasn’t necessarily smart as he could’ve reacted very badly, but my natural inclination in those instances is pure rage. I’d like to think if I were in your airplane circumstances, feel comfortable enough to directly say to someone, please don’t touch me, but I don’t know for all the same reasons you mentioned.
I get that all the time! “Smile!” And I think sometimes the older men who are doing it think they are being sweet. Ultimately, though, men telling women that they need to behave more cheerful in public needs to stop.
Have you seen Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s traveling exhibit, Stop Telling Women to Smile?
Hadn’t heard of of it, but I see it’s here Oakland. Thanks for the link!
I also have a mean resting face…many people tell me after knowing me for a while that initially they thought I was a meany( to say the least). I don’t let people I don’t know touching me. Maybe it is a cultural thing? I would have said something to the airplane guy or just gave him the death stare. My husband says it is good one cannot actually harm people with their eyes because I would do some serious damage. My daughter seems to have inherited this from me and I think I got from my Mom who probably got it from my grand- mother: a barely 5′ feet tall woman who was very intimidating…
I try to smile first at people but I think it comes across as creepy…they still run. My grand- ma used to answer to the smile comment’ it’s not my fault, I am just ugly’ with a ‘bite me’ stare. She was beautiful btw.
This was an amazing post, thanks Gabrielle for your honesty! I just have to jump on the mean resting face thing as well..me too, me too! I have a very serious resting face and really don’t look happy unless I’m smiling.
I have a mean or serious resting face as well and it’s not as approachable a when I smile (even with my eyes). I have never been approached by a man like that on an airplane or in a public situation and I wonder if it has something to do with my face clearly giving off a “leave-me-alone” attitude. Maybe it’s not a bad thing.
People kept saying that to me when I was working for ten bucks an hour at a speciality grocery. I’d had to quit my teaching job because my son was dying of cancer. I wanted to literally harm the men who said this.
I learned pretty quickly after moving out on my own (after college) that if I was friendly, people (men) paid attention to me. Too much attention. It made me so uncomfortable to be watched and approached by random guys, that I now default to my “unfriendly” face. I absolutely come across as a b*tch, but I much prefer that to the alternative. I’m not physically tough; I don’t stand a chance if someone forces physical attention on me.
As to the airplane experience, although it is a hassle for you and therefore unfair, I think the best thing would have just been to excuse yourself and go tell a flight attendant that you needed to be re seated. Hopefully not a full flight, and if you explained that the man next to you keeps touching you and you are uncomfortable, you could just sit elsewhere.
Speaking of uncomfortable, although I am uncomfortable reading these things that happen to girls and women, seemingly all the time, it is time that every girl understands that she needs to go to someone she trusts and speak out as soon as something happens so that she can get help and not suffer a lifetime. The only one at fault is the perpetrator!
My favorite post in ages.
And as for elevators: I never, ever, ever get on an elevator if I’m alone with another man. EVER. Once, something happened. And I now never, ever, ever do. If I’m on an elevator and a man gets on and it’s not my floor and I’m the only woman on it, I get off. I’ve stepped out of them at the lobbies of hotels when men have crowded in at the last minute. I’ve had men stop and hold the door and be very sincerely kind and offer to wait for me for whatever reason it is I’m stepping off when I clearly need to go up – and I explain, apologetically, that while I’m sure they’re lovely people, it’s just not safe for a woman to be on an elevator with a man she doesn’t know. It’s not personal to them. It’s personal to me. And my person deserves that kind of carefulness.
Oh man. I have such a hard time with elevators. I hate the idea that I’m judging someone I’ve never met. The whole situation is so blech.
I’ve never thought about it before, but maybe it’s because I always take the stairs. Saves electricity and keeps your heart pumping!
This article by Questlove was interesting. He wrote it more about race, but he discusses an incident in the elevator in his building, and a woman that didn’t want to even tell him which floor she lived on.
Last night I had to run to our local gas station/convenience store to get cash from the ATM around 9:30. I inevitably do this every two weeks, as I forget to get the cash I need for every other Tuesday morning before then. I always get the cash, and head straight to my car and lock the doors. Last night there were two young men standing near my car talking. I wondered if they were bothered by my actions. But honestly, I felt the need to be safe more than be nice. I wonder if a man would have the same thought process?
Thank you for sharing that link to Questlove’s piece in NYMag — even starting to read the comments on that piece, it corroborates what’s being discussed here that #yesallwomen make decisions on HOW AND WHEN THEY RIDE AN ELEVATOR, even if it’s the only means of getting to where they need to go. Yes, I’d prefer to take the stairs when I’m only staying on the third floor — but that would mean finding myself in a closed-off place, usually far from the lobby, and hard to hear if something did happen.
It reminds of a thread I was reading in May from helloladies.com about ‘invisible tasks’ of mothers — there seems to be a long list of ‘invisible decisions’ women make just to go about their day [not sure if ‘decisions’ is the right word, but there’s certainly a checklist we run through …]
Thank you for sharing, Gabby. I must have been hanging out under a rock lately — was not aware of this powerful movement.
This discussion reminded me of a terrific and terrifying book by Gavin de Becker called ‘Protecting the Gift’. Mr. de Becker is a criminal psychologist and uses his experience to teach parents, women, and children how to trust their
basic instincts. Children, especially girls, are given so many mixed messages — “Don’t talk to strangers!” says the Mom who is super-friendly with the random bank teller, etc. we tell our kids to “Give your grandpa a big hug!”, even if they are reticent or shy or whatever. If you walk down a hallway, make eye contact, and you get a creepy vibe — you do not have to be “nice” or “polite”. We are, ultimately, animals with animal instincts. It is okay to listen to them. And if we find ourselves in harm’s way — get all ‘un-ladylike’. Scream! Get angry! A guy would not sit there and take it, and neither should a woman.
I agree with you Kim, “Protecting the Gift” is a fantastic book as is “The Gift of Fear” where Gavin de Becker talks amongst many other things about elevators – and he makes a lot of sense. I urge every woman to read these books, not to fear more, but to put our fears into perspective and most importantly, to learn to trust our instincts and not put ourselves in danger or remain in uncomfortable situations out of a desire to be ‘nice’ and ‘polite’.
I love his quote from “The gift of fear”: “It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different–men and women live in different worlds…at core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.” – Gavin de Becker
I think that book should be required reading for everyone.
I’ve heard good things about de Becker’s books, particularly The Gift of Fear, and I really agree with the idea of not raising girls to be pleasing and accommodating to others (and men in particular) at the expense of their own happiness and safety. But it also makes me so sick that there is a cultural need to teach girls to protect themselves and the related impulse to teach girls to be fearful basically all the time. The horrible memes and urban legends like “tell your daughter about this new trick men are using to rape women at gas stations” that I’ve been hearing since I was in elementary school and now populate facebook. It’s grotesque and I hope something that comes out of #yesallwomen is an open dialogue about how we raise boys and men to never rape, molest, harass or subjugate women or any other human. Among families, friends, coworkers, communities we need to purposely break apart the covert or overt lesson in our culture that says to be masculine you must assert your power over others, and that this kind of violence is somehow unavoidable or part of being male. I, also, am not sure how to do this, to confront situations and people that make me uncomfortable but I hope we figure out some ways to chip away it.
I live in DC and that is one of the reasons I try to bike or take the bus instead of the Metro, but it isn’t always possible. Once a man tried to do that to me twice as we were getting on a crowded train and again while we were standing in it, and I quietly shoved him off of me. He then yelled at me loudly in the train and threatened to punch me, and I told him he would do no such thing. No one on the crowded train tried to intervene.
My mother says she thinks that living in this city has made me mean and aggressive, but I think really, it’s taught me to stand up for myself when someone crosses my boundaries. If I don’t, no one else will.
I wish I would have been brave and knowledgable enough as a nineteen year old to shove the men off on the train. I’ve thought many times of what I would say now to publicly shame them.
I think young girls are often taught to be polite and not make a scene. I definitely was, and I really struggled with feelings of frustration and powerlessness after these sorts of incidents well into my twenties. I think its good to talk to our sisters and daughters about the lessons we’ve learned.
What would you say? I need some ideas!
Anonymous — have you ever seen “The Closer”? Kyra Sedgwick in that role is my muse when it comes to these things. I’ve looked men directly in the eye, smiled as sweetly as possible, and said very directly: “Please get your hand of my leg, thank you so much.”
The smile is sort of jarring with such a direct command, but it sort of helps knock the well-meaning offender off his game. Usually I’ve gotten a stammered, “Oh, I’m sorry,” but nothing more aggressive than that. And if they still persist, then you know you’re dealing with a true jackass, and you can get more in his face about it (smile disappears, “No, really, I’m not kidding, remove your hand.”)
But I’ve found that smiling helps build my own confidence about what I’m asking the person to do, strengthens my resolve that I’m not asking for anything unreasonable, and knocks the person off his game.
My $0.02. :)
This is nothing like your train incident (which, by the way, OHMYGODEW), but once at a company party, this executive put his hand on my ass. Without even thinking, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “JOHN SMITH, WOULD YOU PLEASE GET YOUR HAND OFF OF MY ASS.” (Not his real name.)
Well, you could’ve heard a pin drop — everyone turned at looked at him, he sheepishly giggled and pulled his hand away, and then everyone went back to the party. He never did it again, and life went on.
What is interesting about this is that I WAS A LAWYER for this company. I mean, of all people to grope, the LAWYER is certainly not the one to try this with! I’m just amazed at how bold people can be.
For the record, Gabbie, I’m blown away by this post, and your sharing so much of yourself here. You are my she-ro and you remain as positively ELEGANT as ever, friend. Rock on.
Way to stand up for yourself! Keep yelling at the gross erectors.
In my town there are constantly–CONSTANTLY–people walking the streets and parking lots asking for money. I was in a bank parking lot once and had just left the ATM when a drunk man walked toward me as I was buckling my daughter into her carseat. I held my hand up and yelled “DON’T COME ANY CLOSER!” at the top of my lungs. He just turned around and walked the other way. I didn’t feel threatened like he was going to rape me but I did feel uncomfortable with him standing anywhere near me with my wallet in hand and car door open that i might get robbed (which had happened twice since moving to this lovely town–wallet stolen right out of my purse and our house was broken into). I don’t know if that qualifies for the yesallwomen hashtag but I felt super powerful yelling at him, and he did turn around and walked away with no harm done.
When my kids were little, my personal policy was never to engage with panhandlers if they approached me when I was with my kids. People know women are very vulnerable around their kids and will do anything to protect them. On more than one occasion, I have told a homeless person to back off if I was buckling my kids in the car, pumping gas with my kids in it, etc.
My easiest solution to chatty travelers is large head phones. But I have never been touched on the plane like that. Maybe because I am moderately overweight?
The airplane guy was wrong to touch you but maybe he didn’t know it. If something like that ever happens again I’m glad you’re considering asking him to stop. Since you were chatting away about your husband and kids maybe he thought you were comfortable, friendly, and happy?
As a frequent business traveler I totally get what you mean about the elevator. Sometimes when I get the wrong “vibe” i just get out on a random floor and wait for the next one. Sometimes I feel dumb for doing it.
I’m surprised about how much you seem to be minimizing your molestation story. I wonder if that relative is still a member of your family in good standing and if he has similar access to other girls. Also, since several of your kids are well into reading/internet age although you didn’t mention it directly I assume they’ll read this info soon enough, no?
Jenny, my kids already know I was molested and we have consistent talks about personal safety, but I didn’t want to use that example for this particular family discussion. I was trying to get across how subtle much of the misogyny is.
Have you read the stream? Yes, some of it.
Do you feel like you understand the thinking behind the #yesallwomen hashtag? Absolutely.
Did any memories come up for you? Nothing really terrible has ever happened to me, but my father has said some hurtful things in the past and once a boyfriend threw a ping pong ball at my head because I beat him in a game. I broke up with him that night.
Did you have an emotional reaction? Yes.
Do you feel it’s an anti-men movement, or maybe it’s too divisive? Absolutely not.
Do you have older kids who have noticed the hashtag? No, but I’m a high school teacher, so it has definitely helped me to open up the conversation with my students.
Does the hashtag bother you? No.
If you were me, what would you have done on the airplane? I would have asked to be moved. I do not handle confrontation well, but I would not have been able to stand being touched.
And lastly, how do you handle elevators? I don’t have the same fears that you have. If a man gets on when I’m alone, I feel slightly uncomfortable, but not terribly scared.
I know you don’t want to focus on it, but I believe that the reason you react the way you do (airplane and elevator) is due to your experience as a child. Things like that impact us much more than we realize. I know you’ve talked about depression, too, which could also be linked. My father was never physically abusive, but he has always been very emotionally abusive and I suffer from anxiety and depression, which I have no doubt stems from how he treats me.
Lots of hugs. Thank you for discussing this with your children.
Its possible, but I was never fearful of my molester. It wasn’t fun, but to me at 8 years old it just felt like a dumb thing that was happening. I never felt guilt about it. And it’s never affected my sex life or my ability to be affectionate.
I think the fear comes from the realization that as a teenager, I worked out and was muscle-y and strong, but even the wimpiest guy my age could beat me in an arm-wrestle. It was this realization that at least half the world’s population could over power me. It definitely changed the way I approached personal safety.
Thank you so much for responding. It means a lot.
If you weren’t fearful and it didn’t really bother you, then I think there’s more to it. Maybe the way you were raised, or an example that was set for you… you said you didn’t like it and told him to stop, but he didn’t stop. And that’s ok????? NO. Can you imagine if someone did that to one of your children? Growing up, I always knew that nobody could touch me or talk to me unless I allowed them to. If I said no, it meant no.
My grandmother went back to school after having 6 kids to become an MFT, focusing on abuse, so maybe that’s why I was taught those things at such an early age.
Oh man. I definitely don’t mean to say that being molested is okay for anyone. I didn’t want it and I do everything I can to protect my children from it. I’m truly sorry if I implied that I thought it was no big deal.
I was really just trying to communicate that while I know molestation can be a huge trigger for many people — with good reason! — that somehow I seemed to escape some of the traditional ramifications. I obviously have plenty of other issues I deal with, but my molestation experience doesn’t seem to be one of them. And I have no idea if my reaction to it is common or uncommon.
We had a relative stay over my house when I was 9 years old. He went into my bedroom at night, pulled down my underwear and started touching me and kissing me. I was indifferent to the whole experience. I did tell my parents right away (same night) because I knew his behavior was inappropriate. They kicked him out of the house that night.
Like you, it didn’t really have an impact on my life, my relationships, my ability to be affectionate and so on. Thank you for sharing your story.
Ok. I see where you’re coming from. Thanks again for your response! I really appreciate this post and am loving the dialogue it has opened up.
I haven’t read the stream, and I’m not sure that I will. I am raising three girls and having been through so much of this junk myself, I often feel paranoid and unsafe about it all. My husband thinks I can be a little too overprotective, but I think a lot of men just don’t realize what goes on. I love that you brought this up because I need to be mindful of having conversations with my daughters. My oldest is only 7, so probably not ready for the more in-depth conversation it sounds like you had with your children, but something to remember to have open conversations about.
Having been through three pregnancies where I gained a ton of weight, I can tell you that right now as an overweight woman, that extra weight can be a wonderful shield. I thought about that as you mentioned the plane passenger specifically mentioned your body in relation to being a mom of six. Before my babies, I think I acted more rude and abrupt to fend off unwanted attention, but now I think I would be nervous of the things you mentioned, like being followed and such.
I can’t wait to read more comments.
I encounter the airplane/elevator/hotel bar kind of discomfort often as a frequent solo business traveler, and I am equally frustrated. I’m glad you’re helping to spread the word about this disgusting disparity. I recently had a terrible experience at a Disney World resort and asked to be moved to a different hotel so I wouldn’t encounter the person, and they simply offered me a different room. That wouldn’t have helped, because of course I wouldn’t have let him know where my room was!
I am shocked about your story of the relative, and I am disappointed that this was swept under the rug and the person wasn’t punished for the reprehensible actions. My question for you and others in similar situations is: If you know that this is more likely in a “deeply patriarchal church organization”, how can you choose to keep your daughters involved in this religion? Of course you will try to keep them safe from danger, and it’s great that you’re teaching sons and daughters to be aware, but you’re saying that terrible things happen within and partially because of a religion, but religion is a choice. Can you let me know the thought process here?
The religion question is a heavy one, and I don’t pretend to have any easy answers. I can tell you that as a family we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of belonging to our church frequently. The benefits continue to outweigh the drawbacks for us personally, but I know that’s not true for others and they are leaving their churches in droves. I also see the opportunity to affect positive change on a large scale in my church and feel that’s worth some of my time and effort.
Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply. Can you explain the benefits more? Do you mean positive changes within the church, or otherwise? I’m glad that you and your family have important conversations like these.
I see Gabby’s response, which is the one you were most looking for, but I hope it’s okay if I also share my perspective as a Mormon. As to why Mormons would choose to stay in a church with a deeply patriarchal church organization…many of us hold a deep conviction that the gospel preached in our church is true. I know not everyone feels that way, and I don’t force my belief on anyone, but that’s how I personally feel. I believe that our prophet/president is inspired of God. I can see the immense happiness that has come to me and my family from involvement in the church and from following the teachings. Just because it is organized in a patriarchal way does NOT mean that we condone or accept abuse or misogyny by men. Absolutely not! My membership in the church does not mean that. Where such evil occurs we have to expose it, root it out, condemn it, prosecute it. While I believe the teachings of our church to be true, and our prophet to be inspired, I also know that the members of the church (like all the human race!) are imperfect, and sometimes terribly flawed, or in the cases of child abusers (or any kind of abuser), abhorrently evil. We must work to protect our children and ourselves as women in all environments we are in, including at churches. I would NEVER sweep an incident of child abuse under the rug or turn a blind eye, no matter who the perpetrator was, nor would my husband. I would never want to appear to minimize the terrible experiences of abuse some women have experienced in church settings (because even one incident is NOT acceptable), but I also wouldn’t want people to misunderstand and presume this is happening to every Mormon family or in every congregation. I wish I had better statistical information about that on hand to share.
Perhaps this is a poor analogy, but let’s say your family loves baseball. Your kid loves to play, the teammates are wonderful friends, your coaches are awesome, the families are wonderful. But you hear of instances elsewhere in Little League where coaches have sexually abused players. Do you quit baseball? Maybe. But maybe you continue to have your child play but work to make sure your child and the other children are safe. You’re always there at games and practices and you’re careful to monitor coaches’ behavior. You work with other parents and league officials to help enact policies that protect children. That kind of thing. Because the abuse isn’t an inherent part of the actual baseball, you decide you want to choose to continue with baseball and help prevent the abuse. I think that’s how a lot of people feel about their churches. They love their churches and the benefits of them, they don’t think that abuse should be a part of them, they work to make their own worship experiences safe for the families and others, etc. (I promise I’m not trying to equate baseball with religion, although I know a few people who do seem to feel that passionately about it!)
I don’t speak for anyone else, and am not trying to spark a debate; I just thought I’d share my insights since you asked to hear from others in similar situations. Thanks!
As an ex-mormon I would have to say that the LDS religion itself does not preach misogyny or accept abuse. Religions aren’t the nasty antagonists. It is a group of men…. Just wanted to put my two cents in that I agree with you.
Thank you for this reply! Well said. This really resonates with me. And I like the baseball analogy. :)
Yes, great reply. As a member of another Patriarchal Church, the Catholic Church, your explanation and analogy can be used by many. The reality is, these crimes are everywhere…and I imagine the numbers in the Mormon Church are the same as the numbers in the Catholic Church as well as Jewish Churches and in professions like teaching, medicine, etc. The percent, while NEVER acceptable, I believe is less than 1…and that goes for the churches as well as the professions. I find that so many want to be anti-man or anti-organized religion and so ‘prove’ their points with abuse. So very, very sad to me. I will never blame all teachers or home school ‘just’ to protect my kids from a teacher. My music teacher in grade school was arrested for molesting students and I was among them, but I do not accuse all music teachers or all teachers.
I should have clarified that my music teacher was arrested, convicted, spent time in jail and lost his license.
I find that I am more likely to speak up when I think about my daughter being in a similar situation. She is almost 15 – more and more often she is someplace without me there to intercede or protect her from “that” kind of attention. So it has made me much more likely to speak up, so that I can teach her to speak up. It can be hard though – I think we are taught to second guess ourselves, to make every excuse for someone else’s bad behavior. To maybe even blame ourselves – to try and find a way to exist without drawing attention to ourselves.
I do have a question related to your childhood incident – how has that impacted how you have overnight company in your house as an adult? I would be so tempted not to have any overnight, male guests.
“So it has made me much more likely to speak up, so that I can teach her to speak up.”
I really like that thinking.
Interesting post. I’m having kind of mixed feelings processing it.
On the one hand, it is certainly (obviously!) not okay to be automatically objectified. Sexual molestation, also not okay in the slightest. Talking about these things with your kids is really smart and a great idea, because they will need to live in the world and make their way through it.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I completely understand what the hashtag accomplishes by sharing all of these stories. What can I personally do to solve this problem? The only things I feel like I can seriously DO are 1. Protect myself and 2. Teach my children to be safe and decent. And if that is the point of the hashtag, for everyone reading it to do those things, okay. But for every family doing that there are two more who don’t, or who actually encourage misogyny or sexualization (like a hydra head!). And this particular problem is only one of thousands of seriously terrible unacceptable parts of living on Earth! When I start thinking about this, I start thinking about race problems, class problems, how we can’t even afford to go to the dentist…and these are our first world problems. If I let my brain trace across the globe to the awful things that happen to most of our planet’s inhabitants, I go crazy. There’s too much. It’s too terrible. So what can we personally do about it, just by reading some saddening stories of strangers? (That is a real question; I’m not trying to be critical.)
I think you can see what the point of this is just by this post. When Gabrielle read those instances, she became aware of how pervasive this is – it brought to mind incidents that she normally wouldn’t have considered. It gave her an opportunity to talk with her children – the boys and the girls! It gives a voice to the problem, when so often these things are ignored or the person is made to be quiet – to stop making eveyrone uncomfortable. It’s easier to stand up against it when you know there are other people behind you.
I’m with you. I don’t see what it accomplishes to share scary stories. Harassment has happened to me, more times than I can count. But it’s happened at the hands of such a small percentage of the countless men I’ve met in my life. There are bad apples, monstrous apples, but MOST men are not like that.
As an introvert, I feel that both men and women cross too many emotional boundaries in our extroverted society. So, I teach my children how to respect others’ boundaries and how to protect their own. This feels more productive an endeavor than taking it to Twitter. (While acknowledging that there are real people with real pain behind the hashtag.)
Yes, Coleen, I’m glad you understood what I meant. I want to do something about this problem, but I’m not sure what taking it to Twitter actually accomplishes. Maybe I’m underestimating the power of moral support for women who want help but feel helpless–but for me, reading about it just makes me feel MORE helpless.
Social media was catalyst for Arab Spring. These people have been in ‘prison’ for thousands of years. I think twitter can do a lot.
Please know that women using the #yesallwomen hashtag don’t believe that “most men are bad apples”. Not at all. I certainly don’t.
How do you know? It seems to be open season on males. As the mother of college age boys, I fear for them more than I fear for my capable college age daughter. At our esteemed institutions of higher learning all it takes it an accusation from a female and the male is toast. No due process, no legal rights what so ever.
Well, I guess I because I haven’t seen a single tweet with the #yesallwomen hashtag calling ALL men, or even MOST men horrible. In general, each tweet just describes one woman’s experience with one man.
My oldest is a 16 year old boy, and we’re not far from the college years, so I’m sorry to hear that you feel it’s open season on boys. I linked to an pretty heavy article on fraternities a few weeks ago that gave me the exact opposite impression.
Do you ever read The Onion? This article has the same take but is lighter.
Liz, I have four sons and I just don’t interpret society in the same way as you, because the evidence isn’t there. It doesn’t just take an accusation from a girl or woman to toast some guy. Have you seen the stats on this? It’s absolutely unfavorable to girls and women. Like, not even close. Things happen, sure, but the legal process actually does work in their favor. In reality, it’s far more likely that the woman is raked through the coals about her dress, her actions, and her past if she reports a rape. I mean, there are over 400,000 untested rape kits out there! Some are more than 20 years old. That’s with the DNA of the rapist just sitting there! We aren’t even BOTHERING to find out who did it, when the answer exists.
You fear more for your sons to be falsely accused of rape (please Google and read more about this, as it’s far, far less prevalent than you think) than your daughter — however capable — to be raped?
Please Google a few articles and educate yourself on the legal processes of rape allegations and what (strictly, alleged) rape victims are often put through publicly by the broader community and in the media.
Politely, I feel your priorities are misplaced.
I have been impressed with how many people who weren’t previously aware of what women go through on a daily basis are now aware of it simply because of the hashtag. I’m talking about the women who thought they were the only ones experiencing harassment, and about the men who knew harassment happened but had no idea how big the scale was. If that’s all the hashtag accomplishes (I think it has and will accomplish more), that would be enough.
Even Ben Blair, who is a strident feminist, was shocked by what he read in some of the streams. How could a man ever know what it’s like for a woman unless she tells him?
This is a chance for women to tell me what it’s like, and happily many men are listening! Sadly, there are also a huge number of men who are responding to women who use the hashtag with rape threats. But we won’t focus on that for the moment.
I respect the aspect of spreading awareness, and I believe that it can have an impact for good to a certain extent. Thanks @Susan for mentioning the Arab Spring having roots in social media. I think mostly I’m grappling with the question of how MUCH good “awareness” does, especially to people who are already strident feminists. What can I DO about it if I’m aware?
Well, I’m not sure the point is for YOU to do anything. I think #yesallwomen is a way to teach men about exactly what it feels like to be a woman in a society that’s still patriarchal. So many men have NO idea what we deal with every day as women. (constantly being hit on, thinking about rape at least a couple times a day, knowing we could be assaulted at pretty much any time, etc.) These are things that are easy to ignore if you don’t live with them, and so for women to speak out is really important.
It’s similar to the way that I feel when I hear a person of color remind me what it’s like for them to go shopping and be constantly watched. That kind of racism is invisible to me, and I’m awfully glad that people speak up about it, because that’s how we keep moving forward.
I agree with Angela – I was completely oblivious to racism in US (my excuse is that I grew up in Russia with nearly mono-racial population), so it was Earth-shatteringly eye-opening when one of my professors in college (who was a woman of color) told me to watch how the store clerk acted when she asked a question vs. when a white person did. After that, I started seeing more and more the injustice of it, and became aware that just abolishing segregation did not erase racism.
My husband is from TX and used to be similarly brainwashed and blind to how it feels to be a woman, and only by listening to my stories (and those of my friends) did he become aware of reality of being a girl.
It seems very selfish (or fearful?) to say that they don’t see the need for these experiences to be shared, because not everyone is lucky enough to have had the proper education/exposure/support.
I’m going to ask my husband to read the hashtag. I’ve been trying to find a way to create a discussion with him around these issues after he told me that thinks our young daughter should be full clothed at all times in our backyard, because we are surrounded by young boys. We ended up in a heated debate about how to talk to her about this, which eventually led to him making the statement, “women bear some responsibility in how men relate to them and keeping themselves safe — wearing sexy clothes is the same as carrying a gun — you’re just asking to be messed with.” I was OUTRAGED. This was entirely out of character for him. I had no idea he had this apparently entrenched belief.
My heart rate shot up by the end of the first paragraph. I’ve been following the twitter feed and news articles and have been surprised by how breathless my reaction has been. I too have many suppressed memories/experiences – you’re an inspiration for talking about them with your kids – my emotions are so heightened I think I’d cry and frighten my little guys. But, I’m raising two boys and I want so badly to teach them how to behave with and for women, so this talk is definitely coming for us.
This topic is so timely. I was just reading in our local paper about a sexual assault that happened on my walking/jogging path during the day. The police cautioned the public to go out in pairs and without listening to music with earbuds. I was just so angry that my peace, my private time, my exercise is just another thing I have to fear.
You are an amazingly strong woman. Your voice is inspiring !
Thank you for writing this. Your description of the airplane and train has given me a determination to speak my mind to men who touch me in any way that I don’t want them to and to teach my daughter to do the same.
Yay! I hope I can do it too.
Okay – as I was thinking about the airplane – reading what that man said, doesn’t it now seem as if they were expecting a woman to sit between them? It sounds like a game that they play. Sick. I’m betting that if a man or a less attractive woman had started to sit between them, they would have quickly offered to swap seats.
I think this is a step too far… I leave an empty seat between me and my husband when we fly, just to have a little more space! Being overly suspicious and putting scenarios in your head isn’t helping this situation. Be on guard and stand up for yourself, but let’s not go too far.
Giving credit where it’s not due isn’t helpful, either, and borders on victim-blaming. No one is putting scenarios in their head when the men were ACTUALLY acting way out of line here, including angling their bodies to more or less block a woman inside the loop. These weren’t nice men who were overly friendly, they were indeed acting aggressively.
I was writing a long comment but then my computer shut down unexpectedly. But the gist of it was something like this.
The #yesallwomen movement is extremely powerful because it is paradigm-changing. I am ashamed to admit that I had an us/them mentality- as in, women who have been trivialized/abused and women who haven’t, and I felt safe on my side of that line. Yet, as I read the stories others share, I am realizing that it really IS all women, and that means, me, too.
I am being flooded by memories as I read these stories- some small events, some large, but the common denominator is that they are stories of women.
Small things like a group of friends comparing the relative safety of our cities in which we now live and my male friend using the example of “There aren’t any places in (city name) I wouldn’t feel safe in at night. Although, there’s lots of places I wouldn’t want my wife at night.” Such a small example. An honest reality. Yet such bullcrap that this is our reality as women. Seriously, we are half of the population of the world.
Thank you for this honest, unflinching post. Thank you for being an example as a woman, and mother. Your bravery in talking honestly with your children will protect them and help them! And I’m so grateful for mothers (and fathers) like you who are willing to share your experiences with the world so I can learn from them. My children are still small, but as they grow, I’m grateful for healthy models of open communication and education without fear mongering or shame.
I just received a note from school that says that for the school trip girls have to cover their stomach (no bikinis allowed). Either a full bathing suit or a shirt is required. Boys are not required a shirt. What’s wrong with girl’s stomach? Is it now different from boys’?
I think we are not educating the right way…
The modesty rhetoric being passed around these days is flat out outrageous. It drives me batty.
Please expound on your reply… you have caught me off guard with that one.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
Check out the Everyday Sexism Project and read how women in the UK are documenting their encounters with sexism, harassment, and experiences of “normalised” gender inequality and objectification. everydaysexism.com
I would welcome future posts or a series about raising gender sensitive children. As parents our job is not only to empower girls, it is also about raising boys who are respectful of women and believe in gender equality. How do we all actively do these things in words and actions?
I agree with Elise. I’m a US expat living in Ireland, and the Everyday Sexism Project is fascinating, and has led me to speak up when I see sexism, even in seemingly “harmless” forms.
I think the first step in the discussion is to stop making excuses for those who are making you feel uncomfortable. Airplane Guy wasn’t being genuinely friendly, he was disguising his advances and creep status as a “friendly passenger”. Alcohol or personality type isn’t an excuse, you felt uncomfortable for a reason. You also shouldn’t compare your experiences to others by saying worse things happen. It’s true that they do, but these little things like touching your leg will likely lead him to do bigger things – probably to somebody else. It’s definitely important to speak up, call for help if you need to. I’m in full support of the #yesallwomen movement (it’s not anti-men. Those who think it is aren’t paying attention), it’s extremely important to bring sexism, sexual harassment, and misogyny to light – people need to be loud about this oppression we face in order for anything to be changed, no “but”s, no “maybe”s, no excuses. I’ve always been a feminist, it’s become easy to discuss feminism and harassment with teens and adults – but now I have a one month old daughter, and I’m already starting to think of ways to discuss these issues in a way for her to understand (when she’s old enough to). With all the discussions I’ve read and participated in, it saddens me to know I’m one of many moms (new/young moms) strongly considering signing daughters up for self defense classes when they’re of age. Call it extreme, but the harassment I’ve faced is just a drop in the water compared to what others have faced – and with girls and young women being abused or even murdered for exercising their right to say no, more people need to speak up when it comes to violence against women.
I’m in complete agreement that I shouldn’t be comparing my experiences to others by saying worse things happen. Fully agree. But I was trying to be honest about what my thought process was and how I was justifying the man’s actions.
I was hoping to demonstrate how flawed my thinking was, and how pervasive sexism is that I would even think like that.
It’s awful that I ever thought it.
Thank you for this post! I’ve been reading the feed and the media responses with fascination! In your description of the airplane incident and some comments I’ve noted how much effort can go into justifying, explaining, trying to understand the man’s actions or intention, or the consequences of our responses whether we act or not. Sexism is so pervasive that put in a situation we’re uncomfortable with we forget/forgo/can’t express our own needs, our own agency (physical abuse excluded). It doesn’t matter what his intentions/justification/explanation/reaction was, YOU weren’t comfortable. I suspect, like me, in the majority of other areas of your life if your happiness/comfort/safety was being intruded on you’d be your own agent of happiness/comfort/safety yet, there is a terrible power dynamic in our world that throws skill out the window. One reader wrote, “I teach my children how to respect others’ boundaries and how to protect their own.” (she didn’t think she could make a difference). But that attitude does make a difference and we can celebrate that a twitter feed fosters such dialogue and awareness. Awareness is the first step to changing this sick aspect of our culture
This is a timely discussion for everyone. A recent NYT article mentioned something like 10% of all American women have been raped at some point. When I read that, I told my husband the real numbers must be closer to 100%! There’s a divide between (non-sexual) touching and what qualifies legally as sexual abuse, but all unwanted contact can be harmful. Even seemingly small or innocuous happenings can be hurtful. I hate to harp on it with my own children, but I remind them often about respecting personal boundaries and space and what kind of touching is inappropriate. I wish this did not have to be a discussion, but it does. Even if we’d like to turn a blind eye, there are many opportunities for harm to occur even with close friends/family.
I travel a lot (and hate the middle and even window seats), but I tend to be pretty good enforcer of my personal space. It’s easier said than done, but I typically would have made a little joke (“this entire flight is a no-touching zone!”) or asked the two guys to swap so they would not have to talk over me. It’s hard to know if someone will react badly even to a reprimand in a “light” tone, so sometimes avoidance might be the best strategy. I tend to head things off at the pass by being a little bit cold right from the start and excusing myself from conversation with big headphones (the kind that cover your ears) and by saying I’ve got some projects I need to wrap up in-flight. I usually also tell people I’m an attorney (true), which seems to put guys on their best behavior. Why not say you’re a prosecutor or a cop, then clamp on your headphones?
In elevators, I usually loudly and forcefully say “hello, how are you?” to a lone man already on or getting on. I find that projected confidence (even if faked) avoids instances of too-friendliness.
I feel like I do a much better job now in tough situations, but I know I had a harder time in my early 20s in crowded subways (Paris).
Wow, thank you for discussing all of “this”. I don’t really have any experiences of my own but I do have a son who I stay home with and homeschool. Although it was completely my choice to be at home and homeschool him, I worry about what his perception of women will be/is. I am friendly, kind and thoughtful and wouldn’t want to ever change that for the sake of unwanted attention among other things. I also feeling strongly in educating my son on appropriate behaviour when around other men. There is no need to be “macho” if it means demeaning someone else!
I didn’t read the stream until just now, but I definitely understood what the #yesallwomen hashtag was supposed to mean (without any explanation) as soon as you mentioned it last week. I know that men–even men like my husband, who I would call a “feminist”–don’t begin to understand what women go through on a daily basis. I like that the hashtag brings some of that to light, even if many people will still marginalize our experience (or call it “anti-men”).
I definitely had an emotional reaction reading your accounts and those in the comments. It breaks my heart every time I read about children in particular being sexually harassed or molested. It’s my weak spot–the one thing you don’t joke about, the one thing that might get me to believe in the death penalty, the one thing that calls me to action more than anything else.
As for my own memories, this discussion calls to mind most vividly an experience I had in middle school. Another student would call my house to tell me about the sexually violent acts he wanted to perpetrate on me. My parents called his house and talked to his mother, but the calls continued. Nothing came of it until highschool when he grabbed my butt in the hallway (which I realize is relatively benign, as these things go), but as you can imagine, I was really afraid of him.
Since my husband works in schools and deals with these things regularly, we’ve actually talked about this a lot–how my parents could have involved the school, what the school could have done, and what my parents should have done. This is probably what nags me the most–in retrospect I don’t understand why my parents didn’t do more.
Regarding your experience on the airplane, I would have firmly said, “don’t touch me.” Or at least I hope I would have. One time a guy in line behind me at Panera started rubbing my shoulders. To this day I regret not standing up to him. Since then I’ve stood up to another guy who, coincidentally, also started rubbing my shoulders. P.S. What is it with guys thinking they can rub your shoulders?
I am trying to imagine how I would feel if a strange man started rubbing my shoulders. I think I would be in complete shock.
I also wanted to add..I hope the “what I would have done on the airplane” didn’t come off as critical of your reaction. Clearly I don’t really know what I would have done, and there are so many factors at play. It got me thinking–I wonder how my reaction would be affected by the man’s age, race, where he is from, his clothes, his (assumed) socioeconomic status, etc. Just a thought.
Holy Toledo. What the heck?! (Trying to keep my language G rated here.) But seriously, that is insane. Wtf?!?
I haven’t had to deal with the issues of harassment, insensitivity, and general creepiness for a long time now, but when I did, I had to be direct. I am of small stature, and if I didn’t let the men (usually strangers, not always) know immediately that I was NOT INTERESTED in putting up with their inappropriate behavior, I could have ended up in worse situations.
Sometimes they became visibly miffed, but I didn’t care. I’d stand my ground then quietly leave or mind my own business. I knew I would have punched them in the face (or much, much worse) to protect myself. Perhaps they could sense that willingness in me; they’d back off. I didn’t scream or demean, but I’d be all business – no friendliness – and state my case in no uncertain terms.
There’s a book called “Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No to Take Control of Your Life,” by Cloud & Townsend. While it tends to deal with our closer relationships (family, friends), the concept of healthy boundaries can be easily used with strangers (or inappropriate family and friends!) too. I found it helpful.
I’m so sorry those things happened to you – and the scene on the airplane just makes me cringe!
One thing that this post had me reflecting on is how people often touch, tickle, grab, rub etc. children and babies without concent. I want my children to know their bodies are their own and no body has a right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable but this is sort of a gray area in terms of appropriate response. Also, the majority of people do these things with good intention but it really bothers my 3 year old daughter. Would you want a stranger trying to tickle you? Anyone have anyway to respond in these situations. The last thing I want to do is suggest my daughter brush it off or disregard her feelings but I also don’t want to insult anyone (but maybe that is simply a feeling that is pervasive in our culture of repressing women).
I was thinking of this same thing! As the youngest, you can imagine how often June gets picked up, tickled or teased. It’s almost always good natured, but once in awhile comes from a grumpy older sibling trying to get a rise out of her. She shouldn’t have to be touched if she doesn’t want to be.
We have this issue, too. My 4 year old son is not a fan of strangers. He doesn’t appreciate high fives or people touching his shirt (commenting on superheroes) and generally doesn’t even want to talk. I ask him if he wants to give someone a hug (teacher, grandparent, etc.) and sometimes when I know it’s someone he truly loves I will say, oh, Nana might be sad if you don’t hug her. But I do always say that he doesn’t have to. I also say (out loud in front of strangers, etc) that he doesn’t have to talk but he cannot be rude (verbally.) I want our friends and family to know that I give him permission to be introverted and have HIS boundaries, not mine or theirs. My 2 year old daughter is a whole other story. She has never met a stranger.
Such an important point. I think we teach our kids that bigger, stronger, and more authoritative people are the boss of their bodies. That’s hard to undo later.
As an aside, I also think that our societal vision of rape/molestation/lesser incidents as a Fate Worse Than Death doesn’t help anything. It’s common, it’s survivable, and it’s stoppable. I’m thankful for his frank essay.
This is a really important conversation for parents to share with their kids – and broader family & friends. I think this video does a great job of explaining why its so important, and how parents can inadvertently send the wrong message to their kids: http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/09/ways-parents-teach-consent-doesnt-matter/
OMG, so true! I don’t have a daughter, but I do have two sons, and, even though I live in US, my community is predominantly Russian, where kids getting handled by “grannies” (which is really any older person) is part of the deal. I get SO conflicted, because while I do like that my kids get a bit of “tribal” upbringing, sometimes their boundaries are so clearly violated, and then I’m the jerk Americanized mom who tells her “elders” off.
I did have a talk with my friend’s brother who kept picking up his nieces and tickling/flipping/rough-handling them, even though they kept screaming “no”. NOBODY ELSE minded. At all. And after months of becoming aware of this, I finally took him aside and said, “You know, you’re teaching your nieces that their wishes don’t matter when it comes to their bodies. And they might go on a date – and you won’t be there to protect them – and a guy might touch them in a way they don’t want, and they will be trained to just accept it, and he WILL take that as consent, and do you want to know what will happen next?” He brushed me off, but did tone it down afterwards (or maybe just when I’m around).
thank you for sharing this! i think it’s tremendously important to keep pointing out the omnipresent and pervasive sexism in all societies. so often people think that emancipation in the west is complete but my experience is that, as a girl or woman you can never feel really safe.
it makes me sad to realise that we and our daughters still have to bear this burden. on the other hand i try to be pragmatic and consider it like living in the jungle and, as such, part of life. which doesn’t mean that you have to accept any negative behaviour, it just meant that you should be ready to lash out!
i try to teach my children (boy and girls alike) to be firm about their own boundaries and to keep their own self-esteem up and running. but it can be tough…
Your jungle analogy has me thinking. I like it. I’m going to toss it around in my head for awhile.
You have inspired me to write about this issue on my blog. How can I not?! Since I don’t follow twitter I didn’t even know of it. Hellooooo…Earth to Lindsay.
I’ll be sending you a link once I’ve gotten all my thoughts out if you’d like to read it, and I’ll probably need a new keyboard since I feel like I’m already typing fervently. Also, Gabrielle while I understand that you’re not sharing your experiences to receive pity, please know that you have my admiration. You are brave -to share it, to try and make sense of it in your mind, and to open the discussion and to create awareness. Thank you as always for creating a space where important things can be shared.
I welcome the link, Lindsay!
After reading this post I have realized how important it is that we talk about these experiences with our children. I too had unpleasant experiences and in particularly one of them I was led to believe that it was my fault…
Thanks so much for sharing.
Gosh, I can relate to your situations, and it makes me feel ill to realize how many others have experienced the same/similar things. When the hashtag first came up, I kind of ignored it, because, honestly, I tend to brush off a lot of uncomfortable things. But then, later, I couldn’t really stop thinking about it! I have so many stories of being put in scenarios that made me nervous, or I was treated blatantly horribly, and then was too scared (or doubtful) to speak up. In reality, only my husband knows all of my stories, and I’ll probably keep it that way for the foreseeable future. But I am 100% supportive and in awe of the brave women, including yourself, that have spoken up. xoxo
This somewhat in response to Jenny also’s comment above, about whether the man in the airplane knew he was crossing lines. I do a lot of solo travel as well, but have only really every felt uncomfortable in India and Nepal (where i probably should have been much more worried). With different players, I could imagine myself in the center seat, and enjoying the two new friends I was making. Should we feel bad for the two men, who thought they were having a great conversation, but were actually making a stranger really uncomfortable? Were the comments he made anything that isn’t heard on television as appropriate chatter?
How will we go about changing behavior standards so all people can know where the lines are? The answer used to be (and still is, in many parts of the world), that any physical contact between a woman and an unrelated male is taboo. I think I would miss the casual touches between strangers that some Africans and some Americans exchange if that were to end. I echo AmyC83, and further ask, do I only feel this way because I happen to be unapprochable?
In some comments above I heard reference to the ideal of woman as a peacemaker, as the one who sacrifices her comfort for others. I think that’s the ideal that we need to look at. At some point, women need to make others uncomfortable and upset in order to protect our boundaries, without a second thought about being shamed or assaulted. I want to be able to say “no” in whatever situation, and not worry.
As an aside, I’m trying to teach my toddler daughter NOT to say “no” when her parents, teaches, etc. ask her to do something. I try to be diligent about qualifying this, but what if I’m subconsciously telling her it’s not ok to say no about her body?
Very rambling, but thank you so much for offering a thoughtful forum for these questions!
Bring on the rambling! Lots of good thoughts and questions in there.
“At some point, women need to make others uncomfortable and upset in order to protect our boundaries, without a second thought about being shamed or assaulted.”
I love that strong statement, but I also know it’s one of those things that’s so much easier said than done. One of the links I followed from the #yesallwomen stream took me to a tumblr that catalogues all the women that said: NO! The women who stood up for themselves, but were then killed by the man they said no too. So disturbing.
It’s hard not to give a second thought to being assaulted. Malala is of course every woman’s idol in that respect!
What advice to you give to your sons to help break this ugly cycle? Mine are 8 & 5, so our discussions so far have been limited to discussing private parts and how we don’t let anyone touch them or touch anyone else’s. Also had conversation saying when they are older and like a girl, they need permission to kiss or hug her, if she says no or stop, you stop immediately.
Thankfully, I haven’t had many of these types of encounters. I worked in a female dominated office and now as a SAHM, I don’t encounter many men in my day to day life.
I think that it is great you are having these conversations with your sons. Another thing to emphasise could be the idea of enthusiastic consent – if a girl doesn’t say no/stop out loud, but her body language is still communicating that she doesn’t want to be hugged/kissed, it is important to realise that as well. Kind of – “yes means yes, no means no, silence can also mean no!”
When I read this comment, I found myself divided – while I absolutely agree with teaching your son to listen for a no, shouldn’t we also be giving our sons permission to be the one saying no? It seems to me that the message we’ve been giving male prowess and macho pride is a big part of the problem. I will be telling my son that both people in the relationship need to agree to physical contact and if either one of them says no, it’s time to stop. It takes two people to say ‘yes’ but only one to say ‘no’.
Really good point, Happy! I feel so silly for missing it.
Thanks for responding, Alice. You shouldn’t feel silly at all. You are doing with your children exactly what we’ve all been culturally conditioned to do. This conversation is about changing that and I love that you’re challenging yourself to do just that. I’ve been amazed at how my thinking has changed from reading these comments and the larger discussion. We each have so many subtle biases and ingrained expectations. I’m feeling empowered by my own growth through this and have a newfound hope for what we can accomplish with our children.
Here’s what I do with my boys (I only have boys):
Right from the beginning I’ve taught them that before they can engage in some kind of play (tag, water guns, whatever) with another child they need to know the other child’s name and the child needs to say “I want to play tag/water guns with you.”
And I remind them that the child can later change his mind and no longer want to play and that’s okay.
My boys are still young but I plan to make this example explicit when it comes to dating as they get older.
I read the article last Friday and my husband and I had a conversation about it. My first reaction was, “yeah, so what? What else is new?” But then, as I recalled my own experiences, I including being treated inappropriately by a doctor (who eventually went to jail), I realized that it is pervasive and maybe we have just gotten so used to it all, that we are unfazed by it. Which is sad. I’ve also received many comments and emails over the years that are sexually disgusting and downright scary. And my husband agreed that noone would ever ask him if he ‘swallows’, or the male equivalent. So perhaps this hashtag will do its job. And that could be good.
My behind area has garnered more male unwanted attention than I would care to remember… I have also been in the situation where I was forced to acknowledge the superior strength of a man. But I find the hash tag divisive. I don’t want to be in a world where “I am woman” equals “I am a victim.” I want to be in the world where “I am human” and “some bad humans exist.”
I’m glad you brought up the word “victim”. I ran into a an interesting post about this word in regards to the #yesallwomen conversation. They pointed out that the women weren’t saying: I’m a victim. But instead were saying: I’ve been victimized, and yet I go on.
I find the latter characterization very empowering.
I leave on a business trip tomorrow. Suffice to say, I’ll be going about my hotel elevator rides much differently this trip.
I lived overseas in my 20s and once had a man grab me on an escalator down into the metro in St. Petersburg, Russia. I outran him the remainder of the way down and ducked behind a stone pillar, holding my breath, feeling very alone in the midst of a crowd. He passed without seeing me, and I hopped on the next train, feeling shaken, vulnerable, and furious. And I recounted the whole experience over and over, wondering what I had done to attract his attention—looking back, I can’t even believe I thought to put that back on myself.
Other than that, I felt pretty invincible when I traveled (sometimes alone) through Europe. And while I look back on those memories so fondly, I absolutely shudder at some of the situations I put myself into and am so thankful that nothing worse ever happened.
I read through the #yesallwomen stream and see the little voice in my head, the small misgivings that I usually pass off as being silly or paranoid, repeating over and over again in the voices and experiences of other women. I am SO glad to see all of those silent whispers collectively working themselves into a tremendous roar. But I don’t (and can’t) count on a macro-movement, no matter how much time it gets on the airwaves, to do much to change behavior…except, certainly, my own. It is not right and not fair for women to have to worry about who steps on to an elevator with them. But perhaps the best I can do and take from this movement is the awareness to listen to that still small voice and have the assertiveness to be more proactive in how I respond in those situations that leave me feeling uneasy. And when the time is right, to teach my little daughter to do the same.
Thank you so much for opening the conversation.
Thanks for this post, I can totally relate to the feeling where you first think, no it didn’t happen to me, and after a while of reading it tears you apart because you realize all the times that you just blocked out.
For me I have to say that since I am a grown up I let nobody touch me that I don’t want to touch me. I simply say: Don’t touch me. And I don’t care if that offends anybody. But I am super troubled with the sexism in work life. I cannot handle it. I chickened out of so many situations where I should have gotten really annoyed and fight for myself and I felt so defenseless, like you say: Why should I change? If they are the ones who are not right. In the end I am the one who is losing out and I don’t get over the fact that most people that I deal with professionaly do not see me as the person I am, instead the fact that I have a vagina and all the clichés that come with it is more important than anything else.
As an undergrad (about 10 years ago), I was walking to campus one day and someone yelled “Queen” behind me. I turned with kind of a vague smile (I suppose it could have been one of my friends?) and an African grad student caught up with me and had a conversation with me all the way to campus about being lonely. I was already uncomfortable because of the “Queen” comment, but then he was hinting that he wanted to go out with me, so I said that the next building was where my class was, and ran away. Turns out the guy lived just down the street from me and he would come out of his house if he saw me go by, still calling me “Queen”, and I would try to get out of the conversation as fast as possible and then walk a few blocks further than my house until I knew he was not looking, and then turn back.
I went away to Europe for 4 months and forgot about him, but then my first walk back from campus when I got back, I started to get really nervous as I approached that house on the block and couldn’t figure out why. Later I remembered him. Thankfully he didn’t live there anymore!
Then, a few months ago, I went out on a date with a guy who was a friend of a friend. I wasn’t sure how it had gone and wanted to think about it, and we said we would chat next week sometime. The next day was Valentine’s Day. He texted and emailed me “Happy Valentine’s Day Princess Christina”. I had an instant gut reaction of “NO!” Then he called four times that evening from different numbers and never left a message. I am pretty sure I started to have a panic attack, I felt like I wanted to curl up into a ball and hide. I talked with a few friends to see if I was overeacting, and they said no, then I called my brother for his opinion, and he said I wasn’t over-reacting if the guy made me feel uncomfortable, but that I should call him quick and say “I didn’t feel a connection”. When I got off the phone with my brother the guy had called a few more times and left no messages. I immediately called my brother back and was shaking so bad I could barely talk. My brother said I could email immediately instead since I couldn’t talk and dictated the email to me. The response I got back was all nice for the first sentence until he started blaming me (for what?).
These were two seemingly normal young men in all other aspects, they just really did not know how to ask for a date or what tips girls off as being super creepy and unsafe. This is what we need to teach our sons, how to not be creepy!!!!! How to not expect that every girl who smiles at you wants to be your girlfriend! I have made myself not look at people when I go out in public, or not talk to strangers on a plane, so that men don’t get the wrong idea, and that isn’t right!
I am often a bit shy, and not often noticed by men (not that it’s never, but I’m not the kind of woman that, through personality or looks, is usually a target for attention.) However, I can think of two instances that I had to speak up for myself. Both times I was surprised but proud.
1.) A kind, attractive, happily married, Christian coworker and I were friends at the office. I was single and he was charismatic and good looking… and kind of touchy feely. Nothing creepy, but a hand on my shoulder or ruffling my hair. I said, “Why are you always touching me?” (Mostly because I was attracted to him and concerned because I liked the attention.) He replied that he was just “physical” and I just quipped something about keeping that for his wife and out of the work place. I wasn’t rude but after that he was more aware of it.
2.) I had to stop for gasoline late at night when I was about 30. There was a Van (or RV) just on the other side of the pump. An older guy, about my dad’s age, walked out from the store and started chatting loudly with me. He wasn’t overly close, but I just felt uncomfortable. At first I tried to just not reply, but he kept talking and I started getting scared. (It was a well lit, busy gas station, but was about 10:30pm.) I put my hands up and said, “please stop, you’re making me uncomfortable!” I know it hurt him, because he said, Hey, I’m just being friendly! My wife is right inside the truck! and I replied, “I understand, I’m sure you are great, but I’m just really uncomfortable.” I really felt bad. Wondering if he was asking his wife, Am I creepy? What did I do? Hopefully she mentioned that maybe he shouldn’t be approaching single (alone) women in a gas station late at night.
Later my husband brought up a good point. He said that if it was him and a woman spoke up he might be offended at first, but would later feel proud that a woman (or girl) had stood up for herself and set him know he was making her uncomfortable. (And maybe reassess the situation to find out if it was something he did or just a personal preference.) Perhaps we need to teach our sons (husbands, brothers, dads) that many women are uncomfortable in elevators with just another man… and that they should offer to take the next one. I know mine would be very happy to wait for the next elevator in order to not be the one making a woman feel threatened.
Good for you for speaking up! I’m grateful for the examples you shared.
I think it’s OKAY to make someone else feel a little sad to protect your perceived safety. So, maybe he did get his feelings hurt and was really a nice person. But you don’t know that at all. It’s a teeny price to pay so that you aren’t feeling unsafe. Teach our sons that sometimes this might happen, and it’s really not about them at all, but that a woman doesn’t know you are a safe person and has the right to break contact with you in order to feel or be safer.
I think that is a really good idea to share with my husband and son – the passing up an elevator thing in order not to put a woman in an uncomfortable situation.
I for sure would have given plane guy a death stare. That death stare has kept me safe on many occasion, I believe, although it has certainly also lost me some possible friends. That glare is generally my reaction to annoying things in life (whether I mean to do it or not!), and although as a younger woman I sometimes had a hard time reacting to boyfriends overreaching (literally) their boundaries, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t take it now.
My parents never had such frank conversations with me about this, but they way they behaved and they way they reacted to things on TV, movies, the news, etc. made it clear that I had every right over my body. It is something I hope and pray every day I can teach both my children (a boy and a girl), but I know I can’t completely protect them.
Man oh man, this topic was on my mind all weekend too. I’ve been in your airplane situation multiple times, because I’m a woman, and because we all have. I always react differently. Sometimes, I clam up and jolt away. Sometimes, I speak up. Sometimes, I just wait it out. Like you, I’m tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt and tell myself he’s just being “friendly.” But in retrospect, I can’t imagine putting my hand on a stranger’s leg without certain “intentions.” And I admit I’m having trouble imagining that the man, like me, would tell himself to assume it was nothing. So why am I telling myself to play that role?
This brings to mind Jane Fonda’s excellent thoughts from a few years ago on raising emotional literate sons. I want to do my part in making sure my son understands personal space, and has that emotional awareness and expressive outlet without being labeled as a wimp. So why do seemingly good guys think this is okay? Are they missing some outlet? Is it based on a sense of entitlement or some kind of predisposed sense of competition? I was actually talking about this with a guy I really respect recently, and he suggested it was evolutionary.
I guess I don’t have any answers or conclusions. If this comment seems scattered, it’s because my headspace is too. But I do think this dialogue is an important part of recognizing the cycle, and potentially realizing that power and entitlement can be found in speaking up – or maybe in just keeping your hands to yourself.
I think we often think of these kinds of trangressions as non-violent. Even Gabrielle, with your molestation, you called it non-violent. But it IS indeed violent! It’s not the rough and tumble kind of movie violence, I suppose. But if one is being harmed in this way, it’s still violence. It’s still the forcible removal of a person’s way of protecting their own body.
Gabrielle, didn’t you mention you wet the bed until middle school? I wouldn’t be surprised if this factored into it without you consciously feeling it mattered this much.
I want my kids to know these small things are indeed violent. I have four sons, they are taught often about how to be better. I hope it helps them become better men who don’t unknowingly act violent (even in small ways) towards others.
I agree that molestation is violence. When I said it wasn’t violent I was trying to describe that I wasn’t being beaten or caused pain. I should have used better words.
And I definitely don’t think the bed wetting was tied to the molestation. I was already bed wetting before it ever started. I definitely have issues, but I’ve seen counselors in my lifetime and they truly don’t track any issues to the molesting.
I should apologize for being an armchair psychologist, I am sorry. Of course you’ve dealt with this.
It’s so hard for all of us to process the things that happen to us. I’ve only recently come aware how much of this is violence, in many forms, and I also struggle with the language. I hope my sons learn that this is indeed violence, even in the small things to the large things that aren’t as bad as other horrid things…it might all be relative but it’s all terrible and harmful.
Thank you for your candid and honest sharing about this and facilitating an amazing conversation.
I live in Philadelphia. One day I was walking home one day from work and two older teenage boys were walking towards me. I don’t know if I would have noticed them, but they separated to walk on either side of me far earlier than you would for a normal “let this person by” deal. My brain went into overdrive thinking I was about to be mugged, but instead one reached out, put his arm around me and pulled me close to his body then asked if I had a boyfriend. I immediately shouted “Don’t touch me” and kept walking. I was terrified they were following me, but I vowed I wouldn’t look back until I was a block away. Thankfully when I did turn to look, they had kept walking the opposite direction.
When I think about it, I’m really surprised that I said anything at all instead of just running. There was a campaign on public transit for awhile here about speaking up in situations called Hollaback which I think may have triggered my speaking out during this incident.
Here is a link to the Philly posters: http://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/important-anti-street-harassment-ads-found-on-philadelphi and to their guide on How to Deal with Harassers: http://philly.ihollaback.org/
Thank you for sharing this. There’s so much to say about this topic.
I also tend to think of myself as someone who has never been sexually harassed, but that’s not actually true. I think one of the really complicated things is that some of this stuff that is harassing–cat calls, wolf whistles, a man pressing up against your body for just a couple of seconds too long as he walks by in a crowded bar, a man dancing up against you in a club uninvited–also walks the fine line of feeling sort of validating when you are a young woman. I remember brushing things like that off by telling myself that it was just a sign that I was looking good.
As I got older, I realized that those sorts of behaviors actually aren’t an indicator of my physical attractiveness. I’ve been catcalled while wearing sweatpants to mask my 40 extra pounds of post-baby weight and pushing an infant in a stroller, for crying out loud! It’s just harassing, plain and simple. So I think one important thing that women and men need to learn is that there are respectful ways in which men can let women know that they find them attractive. And of course women need to be taught that there are much more important things than just being found physically attractive!
Just a year ago I was in a bar with my husband. We had just arrived and I hadn’t even had a chance to grab a drink yet when a man walked by and grabbed and squeezed my crotch area. My husband and sister-in-law both saw it happen, and my husband reacted very quickly. He followed the man out of the bar and shouted at the bouncer “That man just grabbed my wife.” I told the bouncer to stop the man, and he did, and then he asked me if I wanted him to call the police so I could press charges. I said yes. Fortunately, the police were right nearby so they were able to ID the guy and get me all of the information I needed to press charges.
It involved SO MUCH WORK on my part. I understand that, because people shouldn’t be falsely accused, but it was completely on me to go down to the police station in the middle of the night and write out a report of the incident. I also had to have both the first and last name of the man–had I not had that info from his ID obtained by the police, nothing would have been able to happen. And the really frustrating thing is that I had to put my full name on all of the paperwork, even though I was the victim. I was able to get an order to have my address and contact information blocked from the paperwork, but the man now had my first and last name (and we all know in the internet age that can make it fairly easy to track someone down). I spent quite a while wondering if it was worth pursuing, afraid that he’d be angry and track me down to retaliate. Several weeks later I had to go to my state attorney’s office to explain the situation to a lawyer assigned to represent me. Then a few weeks after that I had to go to the court house for the actual hearing before a judge. At that hearing, the man’s lawyer pulled me aside before it began and said, “You know, it’s really unusual to prosecute for this kind of thing. He feels terrible about what happened. He doesn’t have a history of this, he just had too much to drink and didn’t even realize what he was doing.” I couldn’t believe that she (yes, she) was basically telling me that I should just let it go because he was drunk and couldn’t help himself. I told her that was all too bad, drinking is a terrible excuse.
I “won” easily. He was given six months probation, and the judge strongly encouraged him to get some help for his alcohol use, which obviously caused him to make poor decisions. He also apologized to me in court, and I got to tell him to his face that it is unacceptable for him to touch women without their consent.
I think a lot of people would say that I overreacted to an event that happens in bars across America every night and that, honestly, wasn’t that traumatizing for me in the long run. And yet I think if every woman reacted as I did, men like him would start to think twice about their actions. The whole thing inspired me to be much more vocal in speaking up. (Although I still pick my battles; I wish I didn’t have to, but sometimes I fear that things will escalate in a dangerous way–I totally get the airplane dilemma!).
Oh, and I agree completely with others who are saying it’s not just about empowering girls, it’s about raising boys to believe that women truly are equals.
Brava! Brava! I’m so impressed with your story.
Wow, good for you!! I’m in awe. So many women (myself included) would brush it off after all those steps and hoops you had to go through, but you did a brilliant thing.
Way to go! That sounds like such an ordeal to go through in order to press charges and follow through, but think of the many women you saved from his wandering hands. Perhaps without his sentencing, he would have gotten progressively braver too, which could have led to even worse crimes. Hopefully he learned his lesson; if not, hopefully women continue to press charges against him as you did! May we all be so swift to action in similar circumstances.
As a teenage girl, I was waiting in an airport with a friend of mine. A man in a trench coat (so cliché) walked by and flashed us to show us his erection. I was horrified. My friend laughed it off. Because she didn’t think it was a big deal, I did nothing. I have thought for years that I should’ve gotten right up and walked over to an airport security agent and told them what happened. Who knows what he did next, or who else felt violated by his actions? I wish I’d been more proactive, but I have had plenty of years since then to decide that if something like that were to happen again, I would absolutely speak up.
Thank you all. Like I said, sometimes a little voice in my head still wonders if I overreacted, but deep down I know I did the right thing. It felt like what I had to do.
You’re amazing. I’m a little late to the conversation, but your post was so encouraging. Thank you for sharing that.
“I think one of the really complicated things is that some of this stuff that is harassing…also walks the fine line of feeling sort of validating when you are a young woman.”
I remember feeling the same way in high school and college – that being cat-called or whistled at by men was basically a rite of passage for women, and receiving that kind of attention indicated that I must be a grown-up/attractive woman. (It hardly ever happened to me; I probably would have felt differently about it if it had been a frequent occurrence.) It seems naive to me now – or just sad – that I considered that kind of attention flattering.
You know, I hadn’t given the hashtag too much thought until I read your post Gabrielle. You’re so right though, how deeply this affects all women. I can think of so many times in my teenage years when boys/men would approach me or somehow box me in and make me feel unsafe. Once, after a trip home on the train, I asked my Dad why so many men kept staring at me, and told him how uncomfortable I felt. His response? ‘Because you look good’. How’s that for misogyny?
In later years I was a lot more forthcoming in telling men what was okay and what was not, which of course earned me the ‘bitch’ title. Better that than giving men the wrong idea because I was friendly and therefore MUST have been romantically interested.
I worry all the time about my daughter, and these little ‘moments’ she will inevitably have. We get so wrapped up as parents in teaching our kids to be polite, that it’s easy to forget to teach them respect for their own boundaries – it’s okay to be rude, to tell an adult no, to refuse to give someone a high-five if they don’t want to, to refuse a hug or kiss even when it’s a grandparent asking.
As I read this post I got more and more sick to my stomach. Maybe I have led a super sheltered life or am completely unaware of my surroundings, but mostly no, I don’t think I’ve been harassed. I’m less cute now than I was in my college years and even then, I never knew if somebody was flirting with me or just being friendly, so basically I’m clueless. But as I read what you said about your childhood…I literally felt sick. I know you said you didn’t really want to talk about it but I am so afraid of this for my kids. We have a no sleepover rule and a small enough house that if visitors come they stay in a hotel but I am just sick over this. Did you tell your mom? Anyone? How could it just keep happening? I feel like if that happened to me I would know something was wrong and tell someone, but when you’re eight maybe not? I just hope beyond anything that my kid would tell me. And I can guarantee, my shotgun would be enough motivation for the fool who did something to never come near us again. You do NOT TOUCH KIDS, and you do not touch my kids. It makes me sick that people even consider doing that and then actually acting on it? What is wrong with people?
I’m so sorry for the things you’ve been through. I’m either stupid or clueless, or just lucky enough that it’s never happened to me. If only I could give my daughter the same experience.
Oh. But one thing I do do, I never get on an elevator with a man alone. I always wait for the next one. And if I walk into a parking lot and a van is parked next to me, I always enter from the opposite side and climb over. I never ever open the driver’s side door if a van or a car with people is in the next car over (which is a really common occurrence where I live).
I have to say, I feel a little worried that you felt so uncomfortable and didn’t say anything. Though flanked by both men, you were still surrounded by many, many people. Manners are one thing, personal safety is quite another. It could have been possible they were looking for an easy mark. By NOT doing anything or saying anything, you may be taken as ‘not a fighter’.
Please don’t misunderstand, this doesn’t mean it’s ok for anyone to do anything- you’re right, you shouldn’t have to say ‘don’t touch me’ and it’s certainly not your fault. However, the minute your personal space is invaded in such a way that makes you uncomfortable, manners are no longer the most important thing and neither is the benefit of the doubt. If you felt uncomfortable, there are probably many good reasons why.
I say it all the time, but every woman, every every woman should read ‘The Gift of Fear’ by Gavin DeBecker. Listen to yourself. If you are uncomfortable, there is a reason why.
I think you should be worried. I’m an incredibly strong-willed person and if I’m so conditioned that I would not speak up for fear of possible “uncomfortable-ness” on the aggressor’s part, then what happens to a weaker person? It’s a pervasive problem.
Okay, that statement right there is the point of the whole hashtag. Exactly.