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”
Magda, of AskMoxie.org, shared this impactful letter to her sons. Takeaways for me are CONSENT and stepping in when something isn’t right. http://askmoxie.org/blog/2013/03/a-letter-to-my-sons-about-stopping-rape.html
My hackles are up. “Pushy” Jill Abramson’s firing and the tragedy in Santa Barbara are not unrelated, in my mind. I spent my 20s denying cultural misogyny, and now, it just seems like it’s everywhere I turn. I’m not giving up, but I’m a little heartbroken to discover I was so wrong.
The Jill Abramson firing gets me so ragey. It’s 2014 for goodness’ sake!
Reading this made me recall how utterly vulnerable children are, but also thank heaven that there is some sort of mechanism that protects fragile minds from the realization of how horrific and brutal it its when that vulnerability is taken advantage of…
I had the same first response- no, I haven’t really been sexually harassed, but then I considered the things I just accept as normal- humiliating, yes, but just part of life as a woman. Oh, and the time I was at my super conservative friend’s 13th slumber party, surrounded by my friends and supervised by both her parents, and was molested by her college-aged brother (in a big way) who was home for the summer when he thought I was asleep! I didn’t really understand what he was doing, so I just pretended to be asleep through the whole thing. Although I didn’t understand what had happened, I felt ill the next morning, vomited in my friend’s bathroom, and had my mom pick me up early. It wasn’t until several months had gone by that I alluded to my friend what had happened. She didn’t believe me, and was really hurt that I would accuse her esteemed brother of something like that– It made me question myself and my own memory of the experience. Then, a few years later, when I really came to understand what he had done, I finally came to terms with how scary it was. Now, the same brother has a handful of nieces and I worry about them. If he was brazen enough to target an unknown girl in a room full of people, what would he do to children who trust him when no one is looking? But what do I do about it? Bring it up again almost 20 years later to a friend that has never really trusted me since? Call the police? One thing I know for sure- my girls will never attend sleepovers…I don’t care where they are.
Great discussions Gabi. It definitely got me thinking about what and how I should be talking about with my kids (aged 2 and 4). I have to wonder though, do you think that this blog has brought any unwanted attention along this line to either you or your daughters either via email or in person? I’m just curious, as I blog too, and I’m always trying to figure out how best to navigate the sharing of our personal lives in the era of social media.
No unwanted attention. No threats. So that’s great!
A few years back I made an appointment to get my haircut at the curly girls place in NYC. I was so excited, because it was new to me, and had never had my haircut in a special place for curly girls.
It was the summer so I was wearing a tank top. I sat down in the chair and the man who was cutting my hair put the cape on me. As he did that, I felt his hand slide down my shirt between my breasts. It happened so fast that I didn’t even think that’s what really happened. And I tried to talk myself out of that’s what just happened.
To this day, I am so mad at myself for not getting up out of the chair, saying something, and leaving. I might never be able to forgive myself for it. It just doesn’t make me feel good that it happened and I didn’t stand up for myself. Because a ton of other girls probably got in that chair after me and he did the same thing to them, and they didn’t say anything either.
In response to the trusting people.. I live in NYC and I generally like people, but I just feel like I can’t be as friendly as I want to be. The city has made me hard, but has also taught me that I must stand up for myself.
Thanks for this discussion! I hadn’t found the right place to share my story, but here you are, open and willing! Thank you!
Thank you for sharing the story. Those “small” incidents add up.
First, I’m incredibly happy to be seeing this discussed beyond the usual feminist online circles I usually read about these issues in! It’s very heartwarming to see so many people participating in these important discussions that often get sidelined for other “more important” things.
A couple of comments…
– If I had been in your situation on the plane, I would have probably asked the man to stop touching me with something like “You probably don’t mean anything threatening by it, but you touching my leg is making me very uncomfortable. You might not have realised this, and I don’t blame you, but I do hope that going forward that you don’t touch women’s (or anyone’s!) bodies without their consent because as women we often feel we have to be on guard and you should know that this thing that might be nothing to you could feel really stressful for someone else.” That would be my attempt at politely asking him to stop, recognising that he’s probably quite innocent in the matter, but also inform him that he shouldn’t be ignorant to that ways in which his behaviour could be interpreted by people who have less privilege than himself. It’s not his fault he’s a man and has that privilege, but he has a responsibility to be aware of it and how it can impact other people inadvertently or otherwise. Also, in response to some of his (highly inappropriate) comments, I usually respond to those with a half-joking “That’s not a particularly nice/helpful/true/etc. thing to say! Perpetuating stereotypes/judging women’s bodies/etc. is definitely not something the world needs more of.”
– I’m happy you said you spoke to all of your children about this, but I noticed that many commenters above (and LOTS of other people) seem to highlight talking about these issues with their daughters. That’s obviously very smart to do and important, but it’s just as important to talk to sons/boys/men/everyone about these issues. Misogyny is perpetuated through so many big and small actions all the time and ideally the conversation shouldn’t even have to be about “how to protect women (and/or other people who are more vulnerable or less privileged)”, but more about reinforcing the importance of respect, consent, unlearning harmful stereotypes/prejudices/habits, etc. As you touched on, so often the conversation is around what the victim of a situation should have done differently, when the onus and responsibility and focus should lie on the person “doing the crime”, so to speak. It’s the whole “Don’t tell women not to (drink, wear certain clothes, go certain places, etc.), tell men not to (sexually assault, catcall, etc.) thing. And really, building a culture of equality is going to benefit all people, even those who traditionally hold power.
– I can’t help but add here as well that while we often focus on the dichotomy of men and women in these situations, that people with non-normative gender identities and transgender people are also heavily impacted by patriarchy, and face some of the highest rates of violence, unemployment, etc.
Loved your whole comment. I especially like your airplane response. And I’m so glad you brought up people with non-normative gender identities and transgender people. Obviously I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject in any way, but until I read Middlesex several years ago, I really had only a vague idea that the world of transgender and non-normative gender people existed. (Not proud of that.)
I had a very different reaction to the hypothetical airplane response, which really triggered me. I think all that man would have heard is “blah, blah, blah.” That response does not include a clear and concise statement that the touching must stop. I strongly object to the idea that being firm is automatically considered being rude or “bitchy.” Those two things can go together, but don’t have to (and so what if we are rude or “bitchy” in protecting our boundaries or more.). The socially ingrained need to be polite is a pervasive, subtle way we let others control us. I also don’t think we need to make excuses for offenders in our response to them by trying to assume what their state of mind is. As long as this type of behavior exists, I believe we must set very clear boundaries and not mince words. I don’t think joking in reply is clear, concise or helpful.
I haven’t made it all the way through the comments yet, although I plan to, but I wanted to share my thoughts before the evening runs away with me.
I’ll echo all those who have said thank you for sharing your experiences and for creating a space to have this conversation. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it. And it’s wonderful that you model how you have these conversations with your kids. Key to all this is raising a generation of kids who treat each other with respect and care.
I haven’t had too many overt experiences of sexism in my life – there was the doctor who gave me a breast exam that was more of a groping and the stylist who felt that resting his hand on my breast while he cut my hair was ok. But I’m tall (I think that unnerves some men) and tend to give off an unfriendly vibe. However, I’m also very conflict-averse so I would have been SO uncomfortable in your airplane scenario. I’m sure I would have been stressed out and angry the entire flight but said nothing. :(
I do think more about these issues now that I have a pre-teen daughter, and I try to help her understand the importance of boundaries, trusting your gut, and not feeling like you have to be “nice” to someone (anyone) who creeps you out.
Recently she and some friends were contemplating a trip to a local, outdoor shopping center (i.e., not an enclosed mall). It was going to be after dark and I didn’t let her do it. My husband tried to make the analogy that he wouldn’t go walking around [insert sketchy neighborhood name here] after dark so therefore she shouldn’t be walking around the shopping center. He’s a kind, sensitive person, but even he didn’t immediately see the disconnect between an unsafe neighborhood after dark and an upscale shopping center after dark. My daughter ought to be able to be safe there and I should feel safe allowing her to be there, but that isn’t the reality.
I am curious about how you talked with your sons compared to your daughters. Was there a difference? I feel like this issue is frequently addressed among women and girls. As mom of two little boys I would love to know how you handle this with your boys.
We talked to all the kids at the same time. I can’t pretend I knew exactly what to say. I mostly tried to come up with situations that they could imagine themselves being in, so they can try to feel empathy for what’s happening to the women and girls around them. As for out boys, I think the trick is helping them imagine what day in the life of a girl might be like.
I am flabbergasted! You are so matter of fact right in the third paragraph and I believe trying to tell us so strongly that you are okay considering the trauma of molestation as a child! I’m slightly appalled. DO support you and where yuoare now and if indeed you mean to tell us that you are fine and there is no residual trauma I am beyond happy for you. I understand. However, from your comments throughout this post I feel you may have realized that your purposeful positivity came at us oddly. From someone outside your circle it sounds like you are not as okay with it all as you’d like us to know. The fact that you’s stay in the plane situation worries me and further that you’d allow a strange man (or anyone) to touch you on the leg made me squirm. I felt red flags jumping out of your writing and it upset me. I truly believe you are strong and in charge of your life and, again, I get that too. I just feel there is a big difference between being okay versus taking on the “not letting them win” message that is so prevalent today (911 and visiting NYC, NJ and the “stronger than the storm” message). These are important and correct showings of courage, yes. I jst feel we cover up our feelings with big, sweeping ststements/actions and this is harmful. The problem STILL exists. I do not know you aside from this blog that I adore and cherish but I also think the you I know was not evident in this writing. As I beleive your piece ws a little more gut than thought out, so I hope you accept my response as it is the same. I mean no offense. I am on your side, my side, all of our sides. ♥
“the you I know was not evident in this writing”
Then it appears that you don’t know me. Because this is 100% me.
Tasha, I was indeed matter of fact in the third paragraph. Which is great. I mean, what’s the alternative? Should I not have been? Would readers have been more comfortable if I had written that I was permanently damaged and that I needed pity? It turns out that with the exception of trained professionals, everyone I’ve shared my childhood molestation with assumes trauma and damage. And I get tired of correcting them. So being matter of fact about my experience was one way to let readers know that you truly don’t need to worry about 8 year old me.
I did consider leaving the molestation out altogether, but I ultimately decided that sharing the range of experiences made the post stronger. I recognize your right to disagree.
Obviously, crimes like molestation and rape are so clearly wrong that society already recognizes them as wrong. And stating the obvious was not the point of this post. I hope I was clear that the intention was not to focus on the most horrific scenarios that people experience, but to demonstrate that misogyny is so widespread and normalized that we don’t even notice when we have been harassed.
Perhaps my post was a trigger for you and if so I apologize for bringing up any painful memories.
I’m on your side too, whatever side that may be. : )
Hi Tasha and Gabrielle! This post and the comments have got me thinking about how we respond to molestation – and other experiences with abuse – at both ends of the spectrum, and Tasha’s comment is a good example of this (not trying to pick on you at all!). A young girl is abused and we tell her she should feel ashamed and embarrassed, even that her purity has been compromised. A young girl is abused and we tell her that she should feel anxious or damaged, even that her mental health will have been compromised. These responses are wildly different, but they both involve telling a female what she should think about her own experience. Which strikes me as sort of odd, because if there’s one take away lesson from the entire feminist movement, I think it’s “women can, and should, make up their own minds about things”.
This is of course not to say that molesting children isn’t an incredibly serious crime, or that we shouldn’t teach our children that it’s unacceptable. Just that if – God forbid – it does happen to them, we should never dismiss how they say they feel about it, no matter what those feelings might be.
I’d also like to mention that I have never been molested or raped, and that I am a confident woman who grew up in a liberal environment outside of an organised religion, and yet in 99% of cases I too end up just grinning and bearing a man whose behaviour I find creepy, uncomfortable or intimidating. Strangers who slow down their car, who grab you, who follow you, who make the lewdest of comments, who touch too much: my instinct in the heat of the moment is always that I don’t want to be rude. Ridiculous, right? I’m sharing as anecdotal evidence that Gabrielle’s reaction to the aeroplane men isn’t unusual or necessarily stemming from trauma.
Thank you both for this great conversation :)
Jess, you’re so right: “we should never dismiss how they say they feel about it, no matter what those feelings might be.”
Why are people telling Gabby that she should be so affected by this? She feels she wasn’t, ergo she wasn’t.
This is just another type of victim shaming that feeds into the culture we are railing against.
She feels how she feels. Let her decide.
I hear you all and appreciate the comments. Jess you are clear and well stated. I know I never said how anyone should feel and was reacting to my understanding of what was being said. I felt compassion, not an ounce of pity. I wouldn’t want pity either, I doubt most people do. I also do not believe in “it is your fault, or you asked for it” thinking prevalent still today. Yes, I agree with you on that. Girls, anyone, should not feel to blame. I also did not mean this to be a personal reaction. But it is personal I suppose for all of us.
Thanks Tasha! And I didn’t mean to make it sound like I don’t get your response, because I totally do. My personal first reaction, too, was “how can anyone not be hugely affected by that?!”. I often find that the hardest part of fighting misogyny – the most insidious sort, tiny things so ingrained we barely notice them – is calling myself out in the ways I think and act.
My reply was a gut reaction. No of course I would not want you or anyone to feel damaged and traumatized. That is by no means what I meant. I think in hearing you reiterate that you are fine made me wonder as I would when a child or student says those words. They are usually cause for concern. I didn’t respect you as an adult and am sorry for that. I also didn’t mean to take the focus off the topic.
Why do you think a black woman would be imprisoned for going to the police because she was sexually assaulted? Just because they are 8x more likely to go to prison, it doesn’t mean they can’t trust the police if they are looking for help. I felt like that comment was really out of left field and portrays cops as bad people, but maybe I was misunderstanding what you were trying to say.
I don’t think a black woman would be imprisoned for going to the police because she was sexually assaulted. But I can’t imagine that if I grew up knowing I was 8x more likely to go to prison simply for the color of my skin, that I would assume the law or law enforcers would be on my side in any situation.
Of course, I’m not black and can’t speak for black women. But the numbers certainly don’t encourage trust in the current system.
Also, I agree that the paragraph probably did feel a bit random. I suppose the P.S. with the Mormon hashtag did as well. They were both part of my attempt to show the breadth of what I had seen and had been thinking about over the weekend.
Thanks Gabriel. Thanks for recounting your experience when you were young. I think it happens more than people admit. Your recounting this has reminded me of an experience of mine and that I do need to talk to my daughters about this. Thanks. Thanks for being brave and including that story.
Yes! Thanks so much for your brave and thought provoking writing. :) I admire you so much.
The sad thing for me is the assumption that women have to be on the defensive. My freshman year of college I was stuck profoundly by the rape whistles we were given to carry around on our key chains, the rape whistles in the (locked) shower rooms, the blue emergency phone lights around campus. Our orientation to campus as females was a “ladies, here’s your rape defense kit.” I have no idea if the guys got a corresponding lecture on “men, don’t rape or be an aggressor.”
I travel frequently for work and absolutely feel your pain on the airplane seat mate. I also would have erred on the side of not making the man feel uncomfortable and then I would have stewed over it long after the flight.
I’m still grumpy about a TSA agent who was looking over my ticket and ID and told me to smile before he’d stamp my ticket & let me pass through security. I didn’t want to smile but I also just wanted to get home. So I smiled. And I still resent that I didn’t say anything.
I guess the question for me is if a few minutes of discomfort for someone else in the moment is worth not carrying the experience with me long afterwards. The answer seems so obvious and yet so hard.
“I have no idea if the guys got a corresponding lecture on “men, don’t rape or be an aggressor.”
I really appreciate this post. I grew up Mormon and am no longer affiliated with the church for a multitude of reasons but one that would definitely serve this hashtag well. I don’t feel like talking about it at the moment though or confessing in someone’s blog post comments.
Really I just want to give you a huge compliment! I wish I knew more Mormon women like you growing up. I am sure in my mind I would still not be religious as an adult, but it would have been nice to know others like you! I wish I had more family members like you!
Please, please, please know that it is okay to stand up for yourself. I am troubled that you didn’t say something to that man on the plane. It is definitely not okay for him to touch anyone’s body anywhere. So creepy. I hope someone calls him on it soon! Next time that happens I hope you do. You deserve to be treated with respect!
I highly recommend going to a self defense training class with all the girls in your house above 12. I just did one again with my daughter. It was fantastic. I loved learning how to kick and hit with my daughter and yell things like “I am a powerful woman!” and “I am worth defending!”
It’s so strange. Because I truly know I can stand up for myself. And I have in other instances. But each situation is different, and on the airplane I intended to say something, and somehow never quite figured out what I should say or when I should say it. Still not sure what stopped me up.
Thank you, Thank you for speaking so openly about your experiences Gabrielle.
One of the things, I’ve tried to force myself to do is to be more open about my experiences and not be afraid to talk about them.
Steph, I completely agree that we need to talk to our sons and include them in the conversation.
I have many stories in which I didn’t speak up but I have two good stories where I pointed out sexist behavior. I must be honest and first tell you that I already knew that I was planning on quitting my job in a few months, so knowing that, it made speaking out easier. This was my first career-type job and I was mostly surrounded by older male coworkers. These examples sound like small things, but it’s hard to exactly explain how being a female always affected how I was treated at work. Example 1: In one of my final department meetings, I confronted a coworker. He was yelling at me in front of everyone, even though he was upset about a general problem, he directed his comments directly at me. Finally, I said to him, “Are you yelling at me because it’s easier to yell at the only young woman in the room?” I was one of only two women in the room and much younger than the other woman. I actually really respected this coworker, but I’m fairly confident he was directing his comments to me because somehow it was less confrontational than yelling at a man. He was startled by my comment and all yelling stopped. He had a meeting with me later in which he apologized, sort-of.
At that same job, I confronted one of my female bosses about her sexist behavior. Another male coworker was complaining about something I planned to do in a very aggressive manner and she immediately took his side with out even consulting me about it. I had done everything correctly he just didn’t read his schedule correctly. I confronted my female boss. To be perfectly clear, I had never had a problem in this area, so I truly believe she acquiesced to his demands because he was an older man and I was a young woman. My boss was shocked and I think she felt pretty horrible about the whole thing. I don’t think she even considered that this man might have been wrong and made such a stupid mistake. She was a very strong woman, but I think this behavior is so ingrained. This was my first career-type job and I was surrounded by mostly older male coworkers. Those years were shocking for me and a big learning/growing experience. It makes me think about Anita Hill and how brave she was to do what she did – when she did.
I LOVE both of your stories.
I’m not on Twitter but I’ve read some of the articles that feature some #yesallwomen tweets and of course I’ve read the comments from other women sharing their stories. It makes me so angry and sad for myself and all women, that we have these things happen to us so often, so brazenly, and that we either feel we can’t speak up, or if we do, we get absolutely no support from people around us (and sometimes even more harassment.)
I’m a very shy, meek, introverted person. I have a very hard time standing up for myself. I definitely want to empower my daughters, and I’ve taught them about their private parts and what kind of touching is allowed (they’re still very young) and I plan to keep talking to them as they grow, but I often feel like I’m fighting a battle I’ll lose, or maybe that it’s the blind leading the blind – if I don’t feel comfortable being assertive and protecting myself, how can I teach them to?
I’m pregnant with a boy, due in September, and I’m so worried about raising him to respect women and never treat them as objects. I don’t want my son contributing to this hashtag, ever.
Thanks for a great article and ideas of how to get the discussion started with kids. Initially, my thought as far as talking to kids about this was, “I don’t have to worry about this as much yet because I have a son and another son on the way.” As in, this is really a conversation to have with our girls. But then I realized how this just feeds into the culture of misogyny – that this is a woman’s problem that women need to fix. If more moms taught their sons about these issues, we wouldn’t be having as many problems. I plan to talk with my boys as they get older about the responsibility they have in treating women with respect and speaking up for others when necessary. I am so glad my husband already sets this example by having more than one uncomfortable conversation at work to his superiors about men in his department that were making sexually inappropriate comments to a woman he works with – I wish more men would speak up!
The post also made me think about the single most effective thing I think I have done to make myself feel safer. I only wish I had done it in high school or college, rather than a few months ago at age 28. The college that I teach at was offering a RAD course. If you haven’t heard about it, it is an amazingly powerful workshop that teaches women self-defense, but more importantly teaches them how to be safe and speak up for themselves. I loved the hands-on self-defense component but equally important was the part when we talked about the legal definition of sexual harassment and what we can do about it. It was so empowering to know that some of those everyday annoying experiences are actual illegal and that you can and should stick up for yourself – you have every right! The last part of the class was a simulation where you experienced different scenarios and then attempted to escape/fight off the attacker. One scenario was kindof a “gang rape” situation or what I would imagine happens in frat houses across the country. It was four guys surrounding you in the dark, saying scary, intimidating things and pushing you around. Even though I knew it was fake and I knew the guys who were pretending to be the attackers I had nightmares about it for weeks. I think it was good though because it helped me understand what others have gone through and gave me the courage and reassurance that I could deal with a situation like that and I could stand up for myself. Feeling powerless is something women experience often and I so hope that I can teach both my sons and my (hopefully) future daughters to handle situations in a way that makes people feel empowered and respected.
In my freshman dorm there were sometimes self-defense workshops, but I never took one. I should sign up for something like that.
Thanks for approaching this issue from such a thoughtful place. I’m not yet a parent, but I love seeing how you broach the difficult topics with your children.
Your airplane story reminded me of an incident I had forgotten/minimized. When I was a super-young college student, I found myself sitting on a plane next to an older guy. I was studying for an exam, so we didn’t talk much – I didn’t even introduce myself. But I must have had my name/contact information written in one of my school folders. When I got home, this guy had emailed and Facebook messaged me, asking me out. It made me feel very freaked out – I removed my name from all my books, and tightened up my Facebook privacy settings. But it never occurred to me to email him back, saying, You made me feel unsafe – please don’t do this to other women.
I think the #yesallwomen conversation is forcing us to think about ways we CAN speak up, while keeping ourselves safe. We’re also connecting the dots – realizing that other women have experiences just like our own, or even worse. I feel really moved and overwhelmed by this phenomenon.
Finally, I’m wondering whether you have noticed differences in terms of feeling safe as a woman, in different cities where you have lived. I lived in Paris as a young woman and loved it, but I did NOT feel safe alone. I got heckled quite aggressively and I found the RER quite scary at night. At Chatelet-Les Halles or Gare du Nord, sometimes teenagers (both genders) would grab hold of your waist and press against you as you were walking through the turnstile. It was so they could ride the trains without paying, but it still made me feel really vulnerable to have someone suddenly grab me and press against me. Of course, the crazy thing is, I have never really thought about it until now – it just seemed like something I needed to learn to handle.
“I think the #yesallwomen conversation is forcing us to think about ways we CAN speak up, while keeping ourselves safe.”
I had those same kind of experiences living in Paris as a young woman. The second day I was there, a man followed me to the exterior door of my apartment building, expecting he would come up with me because I had looked at him on the Metro. He was quite shocked when I said no! But he wasn’t violent…I remember another man, running after me in the dark, with no pants on. (In retrospect, I can laugh at that one.) I was lucky to have wonderful neighbors (a French couple who worked at the Folies Bergère) who gave me tips and taught me a whole string of things to say back to these men—from polite to quite nasty—to get them to leave me alone. But I must also add that many times Parisian men came to my aid when I was vulnerable, lost, or otherwise needed help.
Thank you for be willing to discuss this on your family and on your blog. I loved the link from a few week’s ago about the “slickness of sexism.” Little things to tend to catch one off guard.
In response to this hashtag, Teacher Tom wrote a great post from a male perspective: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2014/05/yesallwomen.html
One year my oldest had a preschool teacher who taught her how to set boundaries with a pushy kid in the class–she taught my child how to say loudly “Stop, I don’t like that” while extending her arm to put space between her and the pushy kid. While the teacher did also separately handle the pushy kid, teaching my child how to set a boundary was a life-long gift to both my child AND me. Nobody had ever taught or showed me that it was ok to set a boundary and how to do it.
That’s exactly what a police officer told me to do. He said most people who want to hurt you first need to feel power over you. One of those ways is by getting into your personal space. By pushing them to an arms length and being firm, you take their power over you away. I love that her preschool teacher taught her that!
Thank you for candidly sharing your experiences ! There is so much power in shining light in dark places, and that is what I appreciate about the #yesallwomen. When we use our voice to expose violence and misogyny, we grow stronger.
One strong moment I remember as a child was when my cousins tried to molest me. I yelled, “NO!” , and told my parents and the boys were disciplined. My mother was molested as a child, and she always told me to stand up for myself. That did not help when I was in a consensual romantic situation that became non consensual when I said no and was ignored. The shame I felt from getting in that situation kept me from identifying that what happened to me was rape for too long. Hopefully, by sharing our stories and educating men and women , we can make our world safer:)
I’m glad you brought this up and I think it is really wonderful and important that you discussed it with your kids as well. It bothers me how the default is for women to not say anything or not be “bothersome,” and it bothers me how so many aggressions pass under our radars because we’re used to them. But as you said about your airplane story, the conditioning & fear of reactions does make it genuinely difficult to speak up in the moment. Have you figured out what you might do if something like that happened again?
I think the hashtag is a great move that gets conversations going.
This is such a strong post. And I totally understand what you mean about not really thinking it applied to me at first… there are so many instances that you just sweep aside once you’ve lived through them. I’ve never had to deal with molestation or rape but I have certainly lived through many sketchy situations, some of which I am sure I didn’t handle correctly at all. I want my kids to know it’s okay to speak up when something feels wrong- and to know when they’re making someone else feel uncomfortable.
Thanks for jumping in, Naomi.
Gabrielle, thank you for this thoughtful and important post today. I was behind on the #yesallwomen news until today and have been reading twitter and other online sources with my jaw dropped while also nodding along in agreement – and with great hope that with the awareness generated by this hashtag we will do better in the future. An enormous thank you to you and others who have commented for sharing their stories and by doing so, helping to create change. #yesallwomen
I love this dialogue so much. Thank you for initiating it, Gabrielle.
I, for one, am very glad that women are posting their experiences to the Twitterverse. It has brought back many memories for me. And I am very, very thankful for the links to the postings regarding women of color. I hadn’t thought of how their situation would be different from mine and I appreciate my view being broadened.
Regarding the airplane situation, it can be hard to think of what to do in such a situation when you are actually in the middle of it and you’re caught off guard, etc. But, if I were in the situation and had my wits about me, I would absolutely say, “Guys, with all due respect, I do not feel comfortable sitting in the middle of you two. I’m sure you’re both lovely, but I’m feeling squished and claustrophic, so one of you has to switch with me.” And if they didn’t take me seriously, then I would reiterate that I was serious and that if they couldn’t help me resolve the situation then I was going to have to find another seat. Sometimes, owning a situation can also diffuse it. Because you have stated your piece of mind and now it’s out in the open and maybe I would stay sitting there but they would be conscious of not crowding me or touching me.
But I am an Extrovert and I give people the benefit of the doubt. I like people, in general.
I once gave my number to a guy at a bar and when he called me the next day, I told him that I had changed my mind and didn’t feel comfortable going out with him. He became verbally abusive to me over the phone and it just completely validated my intuition to NOT go out with him.
I try to deflect with kindness, but I have been called a bitch for setting my boundaries. I don’t like it, but oh well.
And I am the same way about elevators and I, too, loved Gavin de Becker’s books. He is so passionate about reminding us to trust our intuition and that it is imperative that we honor it. I love him for that.
Lots of love for Gavin de Becker’s books! Sounds like I need to get them on my reading list.
This was a very thorough and informative post. Thank you for the dialogue. However, afterward I feel sick in my heart, angry, paranoid, helpless. How can we overcome those feelings? What’s the proposed strategy to the #yesallwomen problem? A reasonable, doable solution that won’t take a generation and an overturning of cultural “norms” to attain? I’d love to see a follow up post on this. I’m grateful for the example you provided of discussing with your children. How did that discussion end? I’d like to feel empowered rather than terrified. Thank you!!!
I know how you feel. I felt angry and helpless reading the hashtag over the weekend. For me, taking action is part of what’s helping me cope. My actions have been simple. Writing this post. Sharing the #hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Talking about this with my kids, my husband, and friends that want to discuss it.
Taking even these small actions has helped me tremendously.
Before I was married I would wear and ring on my ring finger…it is surprising how many people that bothered (family, friends, etc). I would explain to them that it made me more comfortable because it helped keep men away while I was working. If I got asked out I would just hold up my hand and say sorry (which some take as a lie but whatever). I truly believe it helped me be safer and prevent some awkward situations (I had some before that).
About the plane…I ususally do what I call “playing dumb” (for women and men ) when I feel uncomfortable or not listened to. Put it on them. Such as ” wow, if you were trying to make me uncomfortable so that you wouldn’t have someone sitting between you it worked.” Kind of a call themout with a little less in your face to cause you some fear because of his hurt ego while still calling him out on how it made you feel… You can get to move or he stops and you stay. Some I’m sure won’t agree with any of this but it works for me. It allows me to be a little less of a “witch” but still get my way.
Your comment highlights the twitter posts that struck me the most – the idea that a man respects you more as another man’s ‘property’ than for your own thoughts (e.g. saying no). It happens so frequently and is so pervasive that it encapsulates, for me, everything the hashtag is about.
Someone may have already said this, but I felt the need to comment.
You seem to have written off the molestation as not that big of a deal, in comparison to others. If any of your children were enduring this type of behavior, wouldn’t you be appalled, and vigilant in protecting them to the full extent of the law? Yes, I am sure you would, rightly, go all mama bear in their defense.
You are not different than your children, in terms of value and having a right to not be molested by a sick, selfish individual.
Your story is disturbing, because what that man did to you was so wrong and yes damaging. You don’t need to make light of it, you did absolutely nothing wrong. You even spoke up and told him to stop, and he didn’t; this makes me wonder if you shy away from confrontation (like on the plane) because this one person made you believe the lie that you don’t have a right to speak up for yourself.
None of this is intended to be harsh or judgmental. I only want to convey that you, like everyone, has a right to call a spade a spade and know that you are valuable.
For sure I would not want any molestation to happen to my kids. And we discuss prevention and self care regularly in the hopes they’ll feel comfortable telling us if anything ever happens. But I don’t think it’s okay to assume that all molestations are damaging.
I’m not sure how to convince you that I wasn’t damaged by my experience. But I wasn’t. Your assumption is that my 8 year old self was scared of the molester and scared to tell anyone about it. I wasn’t scared. To my eight year old head it was more of a nuisance than anything else.
I addressed this in an earlier comment, but I feel like I can track my hesitation on the airplane to my teenage years. I was working out, I was as fast and strong as I’ve ever been, and yet, I had a realization that even the wimpiest kid in my grade could take me in an arm wrestle. Boys were simply stronger than me and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
That thought sunk in deep. And from that point on, if any boy ever gave me the creeps I steered far away. If the Southwest flight hadn’t been full, I would have certainly steered away from my seatmates before ever sitting down.
So many incidents are coming back. Mostly minor but every one a reminder that being a woman in this world means dealing with fear and insult perpetrated by men. Typically total strangers who think they are cute or clever for treating a woman like a toy for their amusement. Thanks for telling your stories, and for also being brave enough to cast some light on misogyny in your own faith tradition. Change is possible.
Thank you for such a brave, open and authentic post. And talking to your kids….bravo! That is exactly how things will change. What an example. Thank you.
I haven’t read the hashtag, and don’t know that I will. It’s true; every woman has experienced some level of sexual harassment or inappropriate comments/conduct from men — me included. From instances as a child from little boys in my class, to comments and behaviors into adulthood (too many to count), to men exposing themselves to me (once on the subway), to males bosses who truly believed their misogyny or sexual problems were just about being “flirty” and playful.
While I think it’s really helpful for women to know this is so common and to feel supported and empowered to speak up, I don’t think anything will really change until MEN begin challenging men to change. Where are the men writing about this, speaking about this, confronting other men? If men didn’t accept these behaviors among each other, I think we’d see some progress. It needs to be unacceptable among men to treat women this way.
I also think this is a symptom of deeper issues we have to address in our families, schools, and communities: how to treat others with dignity and not as means to an end, how to set and enforce healthy boundaries, manners, and the willingness to address psycho-sexual problems, which seem so pervasive today.
Also, I don’t think we should forget that men can be victimized in this way, too. I am the oldest sister of three handsome, good men and they’ve had their share of what I would consider sexual harassment from women. While it’s never been physically threatening, it’s still been unpleasant, offensive, and just down-right disrespectful. (And, of course, gay men are surely the victims of sexual harassment, too.)
Such a brave post, Gabrielle.
There are men challenging other men- here are a few examples: http://www.policymic.com/articles/90079/37-men-show-us-what-real-men-s-activists-look-like
Thanks for sharing that, Jillian — so good to see!
I just wanted to thank you for this post. It’s funny-when I was younger I considered myself much more of a social activist but feminism was never on my radar-I didn’t think it was an issue. But as I get older I realize just how prevalent sexism is in our society. Not only in instances of unwanted sexual advances, but also in terms of alloccation of money and power. While interviewing candidates for a position at my workplace for which I was to be the superior (in terms of responsibility and also management – I was to be someone’s direct boss), it came out that the candidate, a man who was older than me, had requested and was to receive a substantially higher salary (15-20% higher). He didn’t have any more experience and he had a lower level of education, but he was male, older, and demanding, so my boss thought it was reasonable. Thankfully, I discussed it with my boss and he agreed to speak to an HR specialist (end result: I got a big raise :)).
On a totally different note, I wanted to thank you for your honesty and openness about being molested. My older sisters were both molested by a family relative (they would not let me be alone with him so I escaped it, a fact for which I am eternally grateful and shattered). I think that people don’t realize how prevalent abuse is because there is such a taboo around speaking about it. If it happens to you, you are marked as being damaged, even if you do not feel that way about yourself. Abuse happens more often than most of us realize. It is not okay, and neither is creating a space where victims are unable to be open and honest about it. I’m not sure I’m expressing myself clearly, but the end point is: I really appreciate your openness and honesty :)
You *must* read Fight Like a Girl. Both of your scenarios are in the book- with alternate endings. You are very, very right to be concerned about elevators and hotel hallways. The book on the whole is about giving you tools and advice on how to handle the situations. I found it eye opening and empowering.
My vote is to allow your condescension to override your discomfort. When I am touched in a “friendly” way by a stranger, I always laugh and say “You must be kidding me. Come on. You know better than this. What would you tell your (sister/wife/mother) to do if a stranger touched her. Keep your hands to yourself.” Then I shake my head, smiling and pick up a magazine. They always apologize, and I always smile in acceptance, because the situation is ridiculous – it is literally a bad joke that we have to deal with this in 2014. But I NEVER say anything else to them period. They have lost the right to “friendly” conversation. It is not my job to make them feel better – in fact if I’m honest about wanting the world to be more cognizant of it’s harmful but “innocent” behavior, I HAVE to reject their absolute desire to make it a moment of confusion, to force me to admit that “we are all ok” or that I have corrected my misunderstanding. I didn’t misunderstand anything. I mean to be condescending. I mean to make them uncomfortable for the rest of the flight. I want them to feel like they did something stupid and thoughtless at best. Because they did, and they should feel uncomfortable, not me. And if I want a world of men who won’t touch my daughters like this without a tiny bit of fear that they will be ridiculed (forget punished, because we all know how that gets turned around on us), it is my job every single time it happens to make that world. My job. Not my choice. It is an unfair burden, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is a choice. To believe it is a choice is to believe you are not a part of the culture that makes this ok every time you laugh it off, every time you take it. It is your prerogative to do that, but if you do, do not believe you are anything more than part of the problem. All of us has been part of the problem in the past – before we knew what we could do – before we had words, had plans, had thoughts – and if what this hashtag does is force kind people to accept their responsibility to handle these things differently, then all the better. [And before I get beaten up for writing this, I’m not suggesting you antagonize the clearly violent. I am saying, what on earth makes you think a man is less likely to stalk/attack you when you do engage with him while he is taking physical advantage of you than if you don’t. And I am not suggesting you can’t be kind to strangers. I am stating that if you believe you are kind, then don’t give yourself a pass when someone is so clearly misguided. Be kind and guide him.]
Last unrelated note – don’t laugh off your daughters chasing boys, physically attacking them, calling them boyfriend, stalking them, if you would detest it were the genders reversed. As the mother of daughters, I am as concerned about society’s acceptance of girl-aggression with boys as I am about any risk of violence against my daughters.
Thanks for raising a thought-provoking topic.
“I didn’t misunderstand anything. I mean to be condescending. I mean to make them uncomfortable for the rest of the flight. I want them to feel like they did something stupid and thoughtless at best. Because they did, and they should feel uncomfortable, not me.”
Go Karen! I love your fierce response.
I’m going to reread your comment like a pep talk!
THIS is the best. I feel like I should print this out and carry it with my travel documents.
That is exactly right! NEVER give in and say “it’s ok” BECAUSE IT ISN’T. I’ve taken the same attitude of making someone feel uncomfortable since I did not choose that path first. THEY choose to make the situation weird/wrong/uncomfortable and I’m going to try my best to make them feel even more uncomfortable than I am. Take the power back. Things don’t have to be smoothed over. They really don’t.
I love that possible response to the unwanted touching, Karen. My favorite that’s been suggested so far in this conversation.
Oh, man (ha), I LOVE this!!!
“My job. Not my choice. It is an unfair burden, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is a choice. To believe it is a choice is to believe you are not a part of the culture that makes this ok every time you laugh it off, every time you take it. It is your prerogative to do that, but if you do, do not believe you are anything more than part of the problem. All of us has been part of the problem in the past – before we knew what we could do – before we had words, had plans, had thoughts – and if what this hashtag does is force kind people to accept their responsibility to handle these things differently, then all the better.”
You make a really important point for me. I am possibly the most un-confrontational human being ever, and what you said above helps me to understand that it is indeed a responsibility for me to not hide behind my kindness in similar situations, bur rather, speak up. Thank you. Very, very powerful.
Gabi — your writing lately has been superb. Your thought-provoking, important topics and wonderful writing have made your blog one of my favorite places in all of the interwebs. Thank you :)
This was a really interesting read. I, too, find myself in the “rarely approached” category, I believe partially because I give everyone the stink-eye from a mile away. Still, I have had to shoo away my share of drunks following me and making inappropriate comments while I walked home. The thing that stands out to me, though, is that while training for a half marathon, I went on a run along a creek trail (part of the marathon course) with a male friend of mine. As we were running I commented that it was such a nice trail, it was too bad I could never go down there on my own– not visible from the road, a few homeless encampments along the way, totally unsafe for me. This was a totally normal comment to me– no woman I know would run on that trail alone– but he was totally baffled. It had never occurred to him to feel unsafe in a normal, public place and it was fascinating to me how different our experiences and perspectives were.
Something similar happened to me this past wkend when I was taking BART (subway) home with my husband at night. He chose to sit towards one end of the train from where we entered with 2 men sitting separately, and the other direction had more people and several couples. I commented to him that it felt risky and he seemed surprised that I felt that way, and even thought the situation was different b/c we were together, I was analyzing this based on what I would do if alone.
I feel I need to chime in. At first I thought the hash-tag was a bit too extreme. But, then I started thinking of all the situations I was aware of where a woman was sexually taunted, abused or harassed. Now, I get it and think it can be a great tool.
My husband and I have talked a lot about the differences of men’s and women’s realities. He says “as a man, people assume you are the predator, always, and as a woman, you feel as if you are the prey. Which one is “better”? To be be assumed guilty, or be afraid for your life?” I find this so sad and true.
Also, my son is Autistic. He has a difficult time “reading” body language. I feel it is one of my life goals to teach him how to tell if a girl is uncomfortable and treat them with respect.
Give him the tool of asking clarifying questions.
Definitely! We do this as well. Mostly , he just has the question of, “what does that mean?” He doesn’t know where to start. Baby steps.
As a person married to a man with high functioning AS, I certainly understand!
I think I made it through all the comments, because I felt it was fascinating, hard, important, sobering reading. Thank you, Gabrielle, for sharing your thoughts and experiences and opening the conversation–and I for one believe you have a right to tell your story in the way you want, and respond to your own experiences in your own way, without being doubted or psychoanalyzed by anyone. :) And I definitely don’t think that your concerns about elevators and that airplane creep are evidence that you are traumatized by your childhood experiences–I was lucky enough to escape anything like that but I am nervous on elevators (will probably now be moreso!) and I would have been horrified by that man touching me.
I also think that for me personally, it’s much easier to think of snappy comments or response strategies outside the situation, while I am too stunned to take action in the moment. I think it’s totally understandable that you weren’t sure what to do and no scenario felt like a good one–because you were dealing with reality, not how the world should ideally be.
I don’t have any really horrible stories. Just the run-of-the-mill catcall stuff while out running, etc. But one thing does stand out: in college, there was a guy in one of my classes who had tried to talk to me a few times and gave me his number (unasked). I looked him in the eye and told him I wasn’t going to call him. A week or so later I walked into class and sat down, and suddenly out of nowhere he was in my face, talking in this low threatening hiss into my ear: “When are you going to get it through your head that we are going to go out?” I froze. I am not conflict-averse but I was just shocked. I refused to look at him, maybe said “no” or something, and he went away. The girl next to me had picked up on something and said, “What did he say to you?!” For a long time afterwards I was angry at myself for not shaming the guy on the spot, or physically pushing him away (would that have been a good idea or not? I don’t know) or telling administrators or something. It wasn’t physically violent but it felt very threatening, very demeaning, and I can still hear his voice in my ear. Again, nothing to compare with the tragic traumas many women experience, but a small taste of the power (some) men think they can exercise over women.
I like some of the suggestions others have made about the airplane situation. I think my response would probably be a death glare, but I want to remember some of the suggestions made in case I face a similar situation sometime. And I am thinking with anxiety about how to prepare my two beautiful daughters to be brave but safe in this world…
You absolutely should have told him to stop touching you. If he truly “didn’t mean anything by it” which I do not for a second believe then he would have been mortified when you pointed it out and would have immediately apologized and stopped. Any other reaction proves it wasn’t “innocent.”
I have had to stand up for myself and other women over and over again and while it isn’t fun, I believe it is entirely necessary.
So here’s a bit of a story. Not about sexual harassment per se, but plain harassment. I have a friend (not really friends anymore b/c I reached my limit), and she has the most obnoxious husband who ever lived. Seriously, the man teases, offends and verbally torments all who cross his path. He’ll look right at you in mid conversation and say things like ‘wow your eyes are really close together, lucky your kid doesn’t have that’ or things of that ilk. That’s a mild example. He ‘teases’ by basically saying the rudest thing possible, and he does it to everyone. If he were a woman, people would think he was a psychotic bitch, but somehow b/c he’s a man, it’s kind of like, oh hey, I’m just joking around here! I finally got to the point where I realized I had a knot in my stomach every time I was around this individual and I ended the friendship with my girlfriend and told her I couldn’t tolerate her husband anymore.
I don’t think he would be able to say the outrageous things he does if he were a woman….not for one second.
Gabby, thank you for taking on this important topic. At age 31, I recently verbalized my experience of being molested to my husband of almost 12 years. I wish I was in the same place that you are where I felt I escaped more unscathed, but more than 20 years of silence was my first indicator that I might be having a problem. My abuser was female and only a few years older than me, and I think that made me downplay it for many years. As I read this post, memories began flooding of past instances of harassment . One of the worst was during my high school job at a hospital. I did scheduling for one department, and I shared desk space with a man who scheduled for a different department. He started trying to sit closer to me so our legs would touch, and it definitely sent off red flags. I frequently had to go back to a small office to retrieve medical records, and when he started trying to corner me in there alone, embracing me or rubbing my shoulders or leaning in close, every buzzer was going off in my head, but I did nothing. I knew I should be going to human resources, but I didn’t want to come off as a dramatic teenager since I was only 17 and much younger than any other hospital employee. A family I knew helped land me the job, and I didn’t want them to think I was ungrateful for working there. I knew that the scheduler would lose his job and felt badly for him. I was so relieved when his department moved to a new building. Looking back, I am upset that I wasn’t more assertive. Within the past few years I’ve dealt with overly touchy doctors, but this has brought up memories from as far back as junior primary (maybe I was 5 or 6?) when I remember having a teacher who liked to put his hand up my dress to rub my back. This is way too prevalent. I feel like I’ve always talked to my kids about saying no, etc., but I’ve realized instead of just warning them, I need to give them strategies to use if/when they are in these situations. Thank you for giving me much to think about. I feel motivated to become a stronger voice for change.
I found this an interesting post, and it really made me think. I wondered how you, or anyone would feel, if the person sitting next to you on the plane were a woman. Would the behavior be OK then? Absolutely not defending the behavior, but curious if we apply different standards of acceptability to the behavior depending on whether a man or woman displays it.
I read through several of the comments on the #yesallwomen thread, and there were some I really connected with. One that really caught my attention was this one:
#YesAllWomen bc women frequently contribute to misogyny by berating other women for how they look, act, dress, behave.
Sometimes women can be so cruel towards other women, and that can be just as damaging, if not more so, than some of the behaviors men display. Please know that i am not saying women are worse, or discounting the behaviors that men can display…I think it is important to recognize how women can harass each other, and that behavior also deserves conversation.
i know i was brought up in a different generation that i think most of your readers can relate to. if someone made me feel uncomfortable my natural inclination is to feel shame, embarrassed and self blame. i am so ready to break this cycle. and i think honest conversations like this is going to help the cause.
we need to raise more girls like this.
I don’t know if this comment will come through in the melee — such an important topic, and so many voices to be heard.
I would weigh in on one point where I feel like I have experience/advice to share.
I think its a balancing act to discuss scary things with kids without terrifying them. I don’t know what it is like for you guys in Oakland, but growing up in New York, it was very valuable for me as a teenager and young woman taking public transportation, to have heard my own mother’s stories about train groping and the like. Though I think it’s much less common now than it may have been in the 1970s and early 80s in New York, it still happens. I don’t remember feeling unduly scared hearing about her experiences, even as a young girl- 10 or 12. Rather, it helped me feel knowledgeable, and prepared when I started riding the subway by myself in middle and high school.
If something had happened to me and it had been a surprise, I feel like I would have wished my mom would have told me about her experiences sooner.
My two cents, and heartfelt support of how you guys chose to approach this as a family.
I’m a NYC girl too (Brooklyn born & raised), and I agree that having my own mother explain to me how to be safe from an early age was empowering. It doesn’t mean I could guarantee my safety, or never feel a bit scared, but it did mean I was never afraid to speak up for myself or feel that I must have done something to deserve to be treated badly. Trust my gut & don’t worry about pissing people off. I definitely encountered inappropriate male behavior (bosses, a dad of a family I was a live-in-nanny for) but I don’t remember feeling threatened, (maybe I should have!) just knowing that they were the ones who were in the wrong (they being adults and me being a teenager). Once in my 20’s I was on the subway and a young man across from me was masturbating. I got off at the next stop, told a cop (of course the train left by then) and promptly took up knitting so I would always have a pointy needle with me.
thanks so much for this post. thoughts have been swirling around my head all week and it’s nice to read all of this. it (the hashtag, et al) is encouraging and also sooo discouraging – like knowing there’s some rot in the basement and then upon closer inspection you realize the rot’s throughout the whole foundation. it’s both comforting in the solidarity it creates and it scares the crap out of me as a mother of a daughter – and as a woman (i don’t recall ever being scared in an elevator before and now i can’t imagine how i wasn’t).
as a kid – maybe somewhere from 2nd-4th grade, i told our p.e. teacher that he was a male chauvinist after he said girls couldn’t do something as well as the boys could and then proceeded to show that i could. but somewhere along the way, i lost a good chunk of that moxy – not that i was/am completely meek and mild – but i do add tons of qualifiers to my statements, i am a pleaser, i tend to avoid confrontation unless it is on someone else’s behalf, men have made propositions and taken liberties based on my figure and i didn’t always stand up for myself – particularly as a young woman. so why did my moxy wane so much at the onset of adolescence? maybe because the boys grew bigger and while i didn’t grow much taller, i grew breasts. so now they’re all bigger than me and looking at me in a much different way. how much of my behavior was/is just subconscious/evolutionary survival techniques in an environment where i am not only physically smaller but am not valued as an equal or potentially equal member of society – and in a culture where often my breasts identify me more than my job, education, family, religion, etc.?
i have a 5 yr old daughter who on the playground the other day was being hassled by a 5 yr old boy. he kept trying to take away a rope she had found. when he got more aggressive and i was about to intervene, his mother got up to do so. before she got there, he knocked my daughter down, pulled the rope away and ran. without hesitation, my daughter ran after and tackled him from behind, grabbing her rope back. ideal conflict resolution aside, her response was comforting. i don’t know if i would feel the same way if she were a boy – but seeing her stand up to a boy that had been hassling her all afternoon (and is kind of a hassler in general) gave me hope that she won’t take crap from boys/men as she gets older. BUT – will she lose some of her moxy as well? how much can we fix in a generation? how much resistance is there? hopefully something like the hashtag and the response sheds enough light and compiles enough evidence that it’s unignorable/unmalignable regardless of politics, religion, tradition.
anyway, thanks for your post and for eliciting the comments/conversation. it’s always nice to find shared worldviews.
Honestly, good for your daughter! I know physicality isn’t the best answer, but at least she wasn’t afraid to stick up for herself.
Last year, my 5 year old kindergarten son saw some older boys (maybe 1st or 2nd graders), grab a kindergarten girl on the school playground, hold her and not let her get away. He marched right over to them and knocked one of them down so she could run off. He immediately got sent to the principal’s office for hitting someone rather than telling a teacher. While I agreed that he could have told a teacher, I also told him that I was proud of him and would always stick up for him if he stuck up for someone else who was getting hurt.
All children need to learn to stick up for others (and themselves). He also has a little sister and he loves to hug her a bit too enthusiastically. And, she not opposed to stiff-arming him if he’s too much – I’m thinking she also won’t take nonsense from boys in the future. :)
And what happened to the buys who held the little girl down? Where they sent to the principles office?
@Liz – He was new to school, so didn’t know the boys’ names. He was seen knocking someone down, and they ran off and weren’t caught. So, they didn’t get sent to the principal’s office.
It was a good opportunity to remind him that sometimes people get trouble for standing up for what is right, but that your mom (and dad) will always support you if your heart is in the right place. And, I became a room parent and started learning the names of every kid on the playground. :)
I’ve been thinking about your comment and how you lost your moxie at some point. I don’t know when it happens either, but I do see it happen.
My daughter expereinced sexual abuse from a stranger in a park when she was 5. To cut a long story short, she was playing with some other children, I was watching from a few metres away and didn’t know it was happening or that she was even interacting with the perpetrator.
She didn’t tell me about it for over a week and when she did, it came up in a casual conversation in a restaurant when we were dining with friends and talking about interacting with strangers. I was sickened by what she told me (the man had asked her what colour here knickers were and showed her his “privates”, there was no physical interaction, it was verbal and visual) .
In reponding to this situation we were very careful to help her understand that the man had behaved very badly and was wrong to do this, that the best thing she could have done was to come and tell me what had happened as soon as it had happened, (when I asked her why she didn’t come and tell me straight away, trying to be calm when I was hysterical she said that “his words kept me there”. This was an ah ha moment for us and highlighted that we needed to change the messages about adults we had always projected). I have been on the watch for signs of any emotional damage to her ever since and am heartened that at age 9 she is a confident and outspoken child.
Reading this post about losing your “moxy” makes me a little fearful for her. If any readers have some ideas and experiences about helping girls to keep this “moxy” intact as they move past childhood I would love to hear them.
I have lots of stories, as a kid, a teenager, a young woman, and even as a married woman. But, there are two incidents that stand out because the first blew up in my face (literally), but it didn’t prevent me from acting in the second situation.
In the first incident, I was a 19 year old college student living on my own. I didn’t own a car and used the bus or a bike for transportation a lot. One day, while riding a bus, a young man behind me started talking to me. He kept leaning over the seat and touching me on my arm, and asking me my name. I would make polite comments about how I was busy. But, when I turned away, he would touch me again, and make a comment about how pretty I looked. I finally got tired of being polite, turned around and told him to “knock it off, stop touching me.” He then slapped me right across the face. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do. The bus stopped, he got off, and I never saw him again. And, I sat there in a teary haze not talking to anyone – I can’t remember quite how I got home after I stumbled off my stop a few minutes later.
Fast forward about 10 years, I am now married, work downtown and ride the bus to and from work. Since college I have run a school-age child care, a middle-school summer camp, gone to law school, started practicing law, and have a young child (a little boy). While riding a bus I see an older gentleman start talking to a teenage boy (in our city school district, teenagers are given public bus passes to get to school). The boy was being polite, and listening to the older man. The older man kept touching the boy on the arm, and at the next stop followed the boy when he got off the bus at a main down-town stop. He then grabbed the boy’s arm and leaned into his face and began talking to him low and intently. This boy looked scared and worried, and all the other passengers simply passed by without helping. I walked up to the older man and said in the firmest, loudest voice possible to the boy – “Do you know this man?” When he said he did not, I loudly told the man to let go of the boy’s arm. I had to repeat it loudly several times, getting louder each time, before he let go. I then stood with the man and told him I would watch him to see if he followed the boy and call the police if he did. I watched the boy walk several blocks, blend into the crowd and go on his way, and only then did I leave the man at the bus stop.
I felt mighty and strong that day!! What this meant to me is that I should never regret doing what I think is right – even if it blows up at me – because it’s sometime what will make me stronger. This teenage boy could have been anyone’s child, even my own, or could have been someone’s daughter. It takes a little bit of backbone in all of us to stand up to people and we have to accept that it might not work out the first, second or third time, but you still have to try.
“I felt mighty and strong that day!!”
I love that.
Wow. well, I got through about half of the comments. So awesome. Brave smart women. And you Gabrielle! What strength and clarity and courage you have, even if in a fearful moment on the plane, or as a child, you didn’t know what to do. I bow deeply to you for your own support for the dignity of all kinds of people, for your intelligence and compassion to raise difficult issues in a way that an honest generous discussion gets generated.
I came of age in the 60s during the “sexual revolution”. Birth control pills widely available and all that. My choices weren’t always the best. I don’t blame myself, but I do feel bad for the girl I was, overwhelmed with the situation and not having a strong enough internal compass at the time. I was 19.. There had been sexual objectification of me and emotional cruelty in my family growing up, and I was always taught to defer to men and to try and please them. As a young woman, I suffered a few date rapes, and I’m sure some other stuff I can’t remember now. Other things I can remember, but it is very painful to review these events At age 66 (now) I am much more invisible to most men. And that is a blessing in terms of harassment, though it is not a blessing to feel invisible. As some one else mentioned, sexual harassment and abuse of women is not entirely dissimilar from the thousands upon thousands of stories of abuse based on racism or homophobia. Many people don’t want to hear about it, but talking about it, and the society deciding that these ARE intolerable injustices is a step in the right direction. Of course it isn’t All men, or All white people, or ALL straight people, but when there is an ongoing and widespread pattern of abuse, it’s helpful to name it. In this case, it’s amazing how widespread the damaging actions have been. In my heart I knew this already, but it is different to read and hear about the specifics of specific women. For those of us harmed it’s important to understand we are not alone and the fault lies with the perpetrator and the society that doesn’t acknowledge the problem, let alone try to stop it. (and i’ll stick my neck out here and say it is also similar with gun violence. The perpetrators, like the one at UC Santa Barbara, or Newtown, are definitely responsible for their actions, but so is the society that doesn’t acknowledge the danger of widespread easy availability of weapons. So I think there’s a double layer of responsibility in all of these acts of aggression.) Gabrielle, I find you have such an open mind and wonderful perspective on life, embracing and describing its joys and sorrows in a way that is so real, and wise, and compassionate, and always inviting a thoughtful consideration and conversation. Thank you!
This is an amazing post, that raises so many questions.
The first question for me is : how do we, mothers, raise our sons? How could we raise men who become such jerks to women?
In your post, you say “I like men”; well, I have realised over the years that I increasingly don’t. When I was pregnant for the first time, I was worried about having a son, because most men around me are jerks, immature, cowards etc. If I hadn’t met my husband, I don’t think I would ever have married.
Well, I have a son and I took great care in raising him to be a respectful individual. He’s 12 now and we only get compliments about him. Most boys in his age group at school are real jerks, mean, violent, manipulative, you name it. The result is that he doesn’t have a lot of friends, but he’s ok with it. He has a great influence on those other bad kids. He’s a great listener and I know he’ll never harass a woman or anyone else for that matter.
In 6th grade, where my son is, some boys are already harrassing girls, touching their hair, making obscene comments etc. When the teacher tells them off, the answer is “what do you expect? I’m a man!”
I have a 9-year-old daughter too who is gradually becoming aware of male domination around her, and who is mad at this situation. One of her male friend keeps hitting her and , yes, touching her butt to get her attention. The teachers don’t seem to care…
I hear you. I think it’s easy for me to like men because I’m surrounded by so many great ones. But if the opposite experience had been true, not doubt I would have a harder time.
With the situation on the plane, I’d ask one of the men to switch with me so they could talk to each other more easily, or so I could “nap” without getting in their way. In elevators, I don’t make eye contact (or if I do, fleetingly) but have a confident posture.
Isn’t it awful women have to be on guard all the time?
I think what makes your blog so popular and appealing, even more than the design ideas and awesome give-aways, is the honesty and authenticity in your writing. As a fellow Mormon who lists the pros and cons of staying (and raising my children) in a highly patriarchal church on an almost daily basis, I appreciate this post very much and the additional thoughts you shared as comments, specifically about this.
I am a Tunisian girl, I read your blog frequently and it’s like a big window to the American culture. Thanks for standing for women’s issues worldwide Gabrielle.
Woman being sexually harrassed even at the slightest is something that goes beyond culture and education. It’s related to some men’s behavior, who often find themselves unable to control their desires even in public and who see every female as a “target”. And this, in fact, is independant on how much of a woman’s skin is covered or uncovered.
I am a muslim Hijabi girl, I can not reminisce on “real” harrassment memories I’ve received personally, but I can definitely relate to every woman in my own culture who’ve been through this, be it major or minor incidents. In Islam, men are asked to lower their gaze and to consider every strange female as their sister to prevent sexual harrassment and woman abuse..This is technically, but only a minority of Muslim men are practicing their religion accordingly.
Being a Hijabi and dressing modestly really helps, but It does not stop similar behaviors since action should be taken by both genders.
Bringing the subject up to the table through social media helps in increasing the society awareness and shedding lights on women’s struggles on a daily basis, But unfortunately We, Women should stand up for ourselves by reporting and speaking out loud every single incident no matter how slight or unharmful it is.
And I think Yes, women have to be on guard all the time, unfortunately.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Imen. I really appreciate reading the comments from women around the world. It demonstrates how widespread these issues are.
I have respected you and looked forward to reading your blog ever since I found it. But this post takes it to a new level. I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for standing up so proudly at the top of your post. Thank you for finding your strength in vulnerability and for being a voice, publicly and proudly, for so many women who have remained silent. THIS, is how change is made. THIS is how quiet voices get heard. THIS is how important conversations are begun. I just put up a blog post linking to yours. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Anissa http://growmama.blogspot.co.nz/2014/06/gabrielle-is-my-new-hero.html
I can’t wait to read it, Anissa! Thank you so much. I’m honored to have furthered the conversation in any way.
Wow Gabrielle, what a phenomenal post.
Thank you so very much for writing and sharing your personal experiences and recounting the conversation with your children. This is such an important issue and I’ll take cues from you when we discuss the topic with our children at a later stage.