Discussing #yesallwomen With The Kids

By Gabrielle.

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”

  1. Dear Gabrielle,
    This is one of the most interesting posts you´ve ever written. I am French, has lived overseas and what stricken me is how universal sexism is. Sad. It is awesome that you talk and teach your kids. I have read the other day a quote from a woman and it stayed with me: “I teach my daughter not to be raped but please teach your son not to rape too”. Rape, assault, molesting, slut-shaming, sexism at work, everywhere, etc, teaching kids is the key to the solution, I am sure.

  2. So concerned about this relative that you mention and the number of other people that may be effected by his actions. I’m glad you were not traumatized by your experience, but I do feel a sense of urgency to have it addressed so that other people are not harmed.

  3. Have you or your kids read ‘Speak’ by Laurie Halse Anderson? It’s probably only appropriate for high school-age (possibly more mature middle school-age) kids, but it’s a fantastic novel that addresses most everything you’re trying to get your kids to think about regarding this issue.

      1. Excellent, excellent book. There’s also a movie version, with a very young Kristen Stewart, but I would recommend the book as well.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and talking about this topic so openly!

    The way you describe your experience as an eight years girl old made me TOTALLY UPSET!!! … Sorry, but this is a very mean and awful abuse – and you were half way sleeping…!!! so you even didn’t have a clear mind, it went probably directly in your unconsciousness… no, this is a proper, powerful abuse. – If this would happen to your daughter, today, tonight, would you think it’s no big deal?!? Why are you judging your experience with less weight than if it would happen to your daughter? There is no difference… Did you talk about that to your mother one day? – I don’t know, but this guy surely abused other girls too!

    He broke a safety line, he ignored your limits in such a mean way, I’m really speechless. And this could be the reason, why you are somehow more “open” to such minded/kinded man than other are. Abused girls/teenies/woman easier experience similar situations again than not abused. It’s like a path, that someone made, that is easier for other ones to follow… do you understand what I mean?

    I d0n’t want to get too close to your feelings with my words, but PLEASE, don’t say you where lucky and that this was not a really big deal. You could handle it in a good way, probably you are quite resilient. But. This. Is. A. Big. Deal.

    1. Iren, you are making a lot of assumptions about a situation you know very little about. It’s not okay for you to tell me how I should feel or react to my own childhood experience.

      I have addressed similar comments thoroughly in the above conversation. Please do not derail the topic of the post.

      1. All of these responses telling you that you are somehow wrong in your assessment of your own personal experience also feels, in its own way, to contribute to the larger topic at hand. Because women ARE victims, right? You must also behave like a victim. And if your expressed feelings don’t match with a victim mentality, then you MUST be wrong, correct? Allow us all to tell you how wrong you must be.

        I believe the people who are responding that way are well intentioned, but it speaks to a deeper, ingrained sense of women and victimhood.

        Thanks for this conversation and for sharing your own personal stories to get it started. It’s given me a lot to think about, especially in regards to my own daughters, now 6 and 8 years old.

        1. Hi,
          no, my comment is not about victim! She should not feel as a victim!!
          I can not propely explain (due to my lack of english), but the commentator CeeBee said it in the perfect words, I would to subscribe there.

  5. Love this post! Things aren’t different in Europe. Your plane incident description remembered me of all the unpleasant situations I’ve been through. Sometimes I thought “is it me”? Is it just in my head? Mybe I shouldn’t use this jeans/ this skirt/ this dress? Is it the way I’m dressed?Are men trying to be pleasant and they have no idea they are doing it the wrong way? Why do feel really uncomfortable? Why am I frightened? Am I being unfair? Am I misunderstanding what is going on? Most of the times I ended up crying alone, feeling dirty and humiliated. I wish I had the strength to do things differently. But how could I report if most of the situations were ambiguous? How shoul you react to non explicid sex aressment? A lightly touch? An innapropriate comment or behavior. Dressing like a nun and avoiding dark alleys does not dissolve the culture of rape in a male dominated society. I’m not a feminist but I definetly would fight for mutual respect.

  6. Gabrielle, I commend you on your unflinching discussion and responses to this topic. You are SUCH a leader and inspiration, although I am in the camp of those surprised by your seeming to downplay the sexual abuse that happened to you at age 8.

    My eyes bugged out when I read your opening statement about “some molesting as a child.” I was concerned at how passive and transient it sounded in that paragraph, almost like “molesting” is a lighter term than “sexual abuse.”

    I see how you put it in context now, but I’m still sorta perplexed by the discussion.

    I wonder why you didn’t tell your older children about that experience, as well as the metro experience? Seems like it would be most appropriate for them — of all people — to hear the risks even from family members, the vulnerabilities, etc.?

    I am sensitive to this stuff because my father is a family therapist with an expertise in child abuse, and we talked freely about these issues when I was teenager. But the person who affected me the most was a friend who was repeatedly molested by her brother’s best friend whenever he spent the night at her house. She suffered from anorexia and has many intimacy issues from this horrific ordeal, as well as her parents’ complete inability or indifference in protecting her. After seeing what my friend went through, I am so, so careful about protecting my young daughters.

    Also, in addition to “The Gift of Fear,” every parent should read “Protecting the Gift,” which is Gavin de Becker’s follow-up for children.

    Finally, I recently started taking martial arts, and wish I had done so in my teens and early 20’s! When we teach our children about protecting themselves and being aware of their physical surroundings, I am realizing that we need to teach them some physical “tools” as well. As de Becker points out, sometimes a physical defense is not appropriate and can aggravate a situation, but sometimes it can be the difference between preventing a rape or worse.

    I take jujitsu, and it is fantastic for learning about physical body presence and defense, as well as being fun and a great physical AND mental work-out. I will be encouraging my girls to take it when they are older. There ARE things a small woman can do to put off her attacker, even briefly so she can escape or call for help.

    Many thanks again for this important post.

  7. I haven’t read through all the comments, so I don’t know what you already explained or discussed. Sorry, I don’t wanted to come to close to you and say you have to feel different about it. – My english is not good enough for this… I don’t now how I can explain it in better words. I think it’s dangerous that such a experience is commonly seen as “I have been lucky, there could be worse”. You were not lucky about the situation, you were lucky that you are resilient, that you could cope with it in a good way. The same experience for others could be/is much worse… I just wanted you point that out. Sorry for my wrong words.

  8. Hi,
    reading this brought back memories of long long ago when I was in college, and I took a Women in literature course. I recall everyone there speaking about the challenges they had faced and everything, and I piped up that I had never felt any sexism or discrimination or any other sort of unpleasantness because I was a female. This was in the 80’s. Looking back now, I see how there had been SO many things, little things, but still THINGS that affected me, sometimes in a big way. Some where not so little.
    Some times, the discrimination was double, as I was a very large woman for much of my adult life, and sometimes I was not sure. My self esteem was so low that often I thought I some how DESERVED the poor treatment because, well, you know, I certainly had made some life choices that meant I was a citizen of a “lower class”.
    While I think our society has come a long way from when I was 18, it certainly still has many miles to go, and not just for women, but for every “category” of human who somehow is not seen as the “dominant” one. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

  9. julis g blair

    Thanks for this post! What a world we live in!! I have experienced a son being
    falsely and maliciously accused and know how traumatic that can be. There are
    malicious and bad women.

    I was mentioning to a wonderful, brilliant grandson about my horror at reading a
    friend’s autobiography. The writer came of age in East Germany during the Russian Occupation. She was very blunt about the constant rape of German women by the Russian occupiers. I have heard the same horrible stories of women in Russia when the Germans fought there. My comment was that we hadn’t advanced much in our bestial nature. My grandson replied that this is the history of civilization. The men are killed and women raped and a new civilization is begun! I say, let the beasts stay in the jungle!

  10. Wow. Wow. Wow. I’m too emotional to read all of the comments, but thank you so much for sharing your experiences. The work you’ve done recently to talk so openly about traditionally shameful subjects– depression, now sexual harassment and molestation– is extraordinary.

    I’ve experienced countless incidences of harassment and some sexual abuse as a child. I went through a period of time from about age 10 or 11 until about age 14 where I was flashed repeatedly– so often that my mom would jokingly call me “the pervert magnet”. (She was only trying to lighten the burden– she took each offense very seriously and reported them to the police.)

    Things that come immediately and easily to mind: In sixth grade a few boys following me in line on a walk to a field trip kept talking about my butt and grabbing it. (I was angry and frustrated and reported them to the teacher. To no avail.) Once a man followed me and a friend around the library (we were 12!), eventually exposing himself as we looked for books for a school report. (He was chased out of the library by the librarians, but not caught.) A janitor in middle school screamed racial slurs at me (I’m white, it was a predominately non-white environment), calling me filthy names and threatening to harm me as I walked by. (My mom reported him to the principal, I believe he was let go. I was terrified.)

    Come high school I would be REGULARLY “goosed” while in line for a food truck as school (it was one of the only options for food). The perpetrator(s) would grab my butt aggressively, and even try to shove his (their?) hand up my crotch. I remember being so furious and afraid and incensed. Like “did that really just happen to me? Again?” And then it would happen the next time I was fighting to the front of the line for food. (By then I didn’t feel like it was worth it to attempt recourse. It was a mob of kids, I thought I knew who was doing it, but I couldn’t be certain…)

    And the stories continue, pretty endlessly into my adulthood. The college job where the chef ran his hand along my back, over my butt, as I was washing dishes. Acting like it was somehow normal?!?!?! (I walked out on the spot and quit.) The time at my first real job in advertising where the head of my department would give me unwanted shoulder massages and make untoward comments, culminating with an act of extraordinary stupidity on his part: writing me explicit notes during a meeting articulating his fantasy of watching me take off my clothes and toss them at the client speaking. (I confronted him a few days later and made it clear in no uncertain terms that his advances were not welcome. He complied, we managed to have a decent working relationship.) The time on a bus in India where a soldier again grabbed my butt as he pressed his body up against mine. (This is really a theme. Man…) The creative director at another top agency who harassed me with filthy gestures and horrible names DURING a client meeting because I refused to take his calls outside of work. (I reported the incident, he was barely chastised.)

    I always knew I’d be able to raise a strong woman (the moxie of youth!). And I can remember so distinctly having a realization that if I were to have a son that I would have the chance to raise a good man! How cool is that? Someone who moves through the world with empathy, kindness, and respect. And it turns out I get the chance! My son and daughter are, of course, two of the greatest gifts of my life. Equally vulnerable, sweet, and beautiful. I believe it’s my job to nurture that sweetness, to teach them both to to respect their bodies, and the bodies of others. To choose kindness. To stand up for people when they see something like this happening.

    Thank you so much for writing this today.

  11. My husband is an administrator at a local elementary school. Last Friday, he came home with a heavy heart after having spent the afternoon assisting a young mother who turned in her 16 year-old son to the authorities for raping his 2 younger half sisters (4 and 7). My husband couldn’t even share the details of the situation as depicted by the children and the mom. Instantly, the memories of small brushes with sexual abuse came flooding to my mind and I realized how prevelant this issue is. While I sat in pain thinking of the young mother, I was also taken aback by the visible impact on my husband. While I don’t want my husband to suffer, his pain showed human solidarity and support. If only we can have more men admiting that the issue has deep roots in the lives of men as well, we could maybe, just maybe begin to tackle this. I have two sons and I’m taking notes on the appropriate time to have these discussions with them. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Wow, my respect for you just sky-rocketed. I read your blog for design advice and because my daughter is in French immersion school. With this post, you have inspired me to find a way to talk to my six-year-old about this. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  13. I’m 5-foot, 2-inches tall, petite and have a moderate hearing loss — I’ve always felt vulnerable fbecause of my size and because of my difficulties in keeping track of my environment at times. That said, I realize I’m not in the minority in that harassment has been part of my life since I was a teenager. Crotch grabs in high school, a three-hour physical assault in college, being followed home after work, being choked by a boyfriend when I tried to leave the relationship, along with all the everyday slights, dismissals and teasing. The misogyny is absolutely everywhere. I have two young daughters and it’s frightening to think of the world they have to navigate as they grown up. The line between when to protect yourself and when to stand up for yourself is so hard to see sometimes and it’s so exhausting to always be thinking about that in certain situations. At the very least, #yesallwomen has shown us our strength in numbers, and discussions like this help us in supporting each other.

    Thanks so much for your willingness to talk about the hard stuff, Gabby. And Ashley in MD, you are completely awesome!

  14. Oh lawd, I can’t even read the comments bc I’m getting so emotional reading this. I always “joke” that every woman remembers the first time she thinks she’s going to be raped/murdered. I remember all 7 of them! The only one I “reacted” on was when i was walking back to my car alone after a concert downtown, and a group of 5 guys around my age were behind me, talking loudly about my appearance (in a “flattering” way). When they didn’t get a response from me, one of them said, “Oh, I see, you’re not going to talk to us because we’re black.” I was close enough to my car by then, and just kind of over it in general, so I turned around and said, “No, it’s because you’re 5 dudes in a parking lot with me. See why I’m a little on edge?” They were nice enough about it, as I kind of expected they would be after hearing their banter for the last 10 minutes (okay, it was probably 5, but it felt like eternity).

    Anyway, I’ve been obsessed with this article for awhile, and I hope you enjoy it too. It sums it up for me: http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

  15. I’d also like to add that this morning (before I saw this post), I went to the dermatologist and we discussed accutane. Apparently, because it causes birth deformities, there’s a 30 day wait period to start taking it, multiple waivers to sign, and then I have to come in monthly for a pregnancy test. I’m not trying to get pregnant. I’ve been on birth control for 10 years (apparently accutane requires you be on *two* forms of bc). Um…..I was just so bothered by it. Why am I in trouble? Why do i have to pay multiple copays just to pee on a stick? The whole embryos before hoes thing is a worry for me too.

  16. Thank you for your honesty, Gabrielle. The first incident you describe is truly disturbing, it even made me feel a bit sick. It made me think that the wolf-whistling I often had to endure when I lived in Spain (which made me think twice about the clothes I chose!) is nothing and I’m a very lucky woman.

  17. I don’t know where to begin to respond to this but, your writing is so eloquent and so heartfelt and so sincere. So let me just say, thank you. Thank you for writing something that expands the conversation beyond “be careful” and “watch out”. And begins to discuss why that is not okay.

  18. Having to take the bus to and from school back in India growing up, I saw a distinct change in how men treated me somewhere around the time I turned 13. Was treated like a child one minute and a woman the next. Whenever I was prodded and taken advantage of, standing in my school uniform all my 13 year old self could dream off was one day to get a futuristic laser gun and vaporizing all those low-lives as I felt that the earth was better than having to hold even their remains!

  19. I think the most disturbing thought I’ve ever had was recently: “I’m so lucky I haven’t been raped yet.” I was both disgusted and saddened by the sense of inevitability of it all. As a twenty something who travels internationally alone frequently, I think about being assaulted on a daily basis. I’ve often thought about wishing there was a way to quantify the amount of energy I spend trying to be aware of my circumstances, what men in a room are looking at me, what I should or shouldn’t do, how I evaluate a situation in order to determine the best possible response to an advance and think about how sad it is that energy isn’t going towards things that truly bring me life and are making a better world. (Um, maybe we’d have more female representation in leadership if we weren’t so damn busy getting on and off the elevators to the metaphorical top floor!) I think about the time and emotional energy I’ve spent in the past decade: barricading myself in a hotel room, changing seats on an airplane, switching my hotel room in the middle of the night, changing my plans and wasting time in a crowded but safe place until a threatening situation passed, not taking what could have been incredible, life-giving experiences because it wouldn’t have been ‘a wise thing to do’ and ‘if something bad happened to me people would say I deserved it.’ (Yeah, I’ve had that thought and THAT KILLS ME), perfecting my ‘I see you and I am not afraid of you but I am also not interested in you face’, ignoring catcalls and pretending not to see a man lock eyes with me a lick his lips, standing up to men who make advances when I’ve felt like I am safe to do so, beating myself for not when I didn’t.

    I think one of the most important parts of the #yesallwomen movement is simply shedding light on life as a woman for men. Most men–even the good, honest, noble and self-controlled men amongst us just absolutely don’t understand what it is like to live in the world with a vagina. They don’t comprehend the weight of the recognition that 50% of the world’s population could overpower you physically with no contest at all. They have no idea how much time we spend thinking about how to avoid things that our worst nightmares are made of. (And already-happened-heart breaking realities for so many of our sisters across the world.)

    The only situation I feel like I could liken it to for most men would be prison–your run of the mill middle aged accountant facing the prospect of being in a confined space with huge, potentially violent dudes. About 4% of men will be sexually assaulted in prison (which is heartbreaking) but normal women in the every day world face a threat 4x that. (And much greater in some regions of the world that I frequent.)

    I truly believe that if more good men (and there are so many of them! Engaging them in this conversation and empowering them to become change makers and culture creators IS SO IMPORTANT) understood how pervasive misogyny, obvious and subtle) in our world is, we would see even more men stepping up, leading conversations and also working towards a world that absolutely does not tolerate (let along reward) the type of behavior we’ve all experienced.

    I’ve already sent this piece to the men in the life that I care about and that I know care about women. Thank you for sharing your experiences (and contrary to a few commenters, I think sharing experiences where you didn’t do exactly what you wish you do are often more helpful and accessible than our victory stories.)

    As long as “Women’s issues, gender violence, etc.” is a topic only for women, it will get better, but never as good as it could be. (In that vein, I LOVE this TedTalk: http://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue

    Anyways–thank you for being a conversation-starter and culture creator, Gabby. I respect you so much.

  20. this topic has been eye opening to me, and i’m grateful for the discussion. my 3rd grader was telling me how boys ask her if she showers naked, and the talk about bras and who wears them or not is already going around the school. it was good to have an honest and open discussion and let them know i’m never mad to hear these things (so keep telling me them!) and that it is not ok for them to ask those questions.

    i must admit though, i have never been scared/threatened by the presence of men in general, or in an elevator or sitting by me on a bus/plane etc. i don’t know if it’s a personality thing (i have never been picked up on or had men comment on my figure etc) or because i am (luckily) not a victim of sexual abuse/harassment. a few times i have felt maybe i wasn’t in a safe place etc. but the thought of being raped/abused never crossed my mind, only how i was going to hurt that person and run away.
    i had a hs teacher who rubbed all the girls’ backs while asking questions, he tried once on me and i just told him “don’t ever touch me, ever”. end of discussion!
    i hope to find out why i have the frame of mind about men and not feeling threatened? and how i can pass that on to my daughters etc. reading about women who trusted “priesthood leaders” and answered inappropriate questions during interviews. there is just no way i would ever think i had to answer anything like that.

  21. This issue is so important! I applaud you for raising it in the blog today! With a 5 year old, it makes me realize I need to prepare myself in order to have the right talks at the right times with my daughter. I got some reading to do!!!

  22. I was sexually harassed Freshman year in high school in science class. The whole class and the teacher saw it, but no one came forward to do anything about it. I finally turned the guys in and when I had to talk to the assistant principal (who was a woman) I was asked if I had done anything to provoke the touching/grabbing. As a 14/15 year-old girl, I didn’t think anything of the question, but now as an adult, I would never ask a girl if it was her fault! Any guy who touches a girl inappropriately without consent should see consequences for his actions.

  23. All the time. That is what I remember about being in my twenties, walking down NYC streets. Cat calls, unwanted attention, unwanted touching, constantly feeling at risk when I was alone. Never liked being in a crowded subway, although elevators weren’t as much as a problem for me. The plane incident….I COMPLETELY understand your reaction and your frustration. I think, depending on how you are raised, you think it is rude to call someone out, to tell them “no”, to call attention to the situation. So, I can see myself reacting the same way you did, when I was younger. The older I get, the less capacity I have for bullshit. And it IS bullshit. Bullshit that those two guys didn’t even CONSIDER how you might feel, what might be most comfortable for you and then inconceivable that he didn’t pick up on your social cues of “leave me alone”. I never understand how people can NOT pick up on those cues. Had it played out differently, it would have been completely reasonable to say “I would like to sit on the aisle, so you don’t have to keep reaching over me and touching my leg. You two are obviously friends and should sit together. I feel uncomfortable in the middle.” And then, if need be….have a private conversation with the stewardess if they don’t accommodate. ” I feel harassed and unsafe sitting in between these two men. Can you please ask if a single male flier would mind switching places with me?” Seriously, WHY is it so hard to stand up for ourselves? Right? Because I don’t like to rock the boat either, unless I have to. But, if someone is threatening my children, I am ON it, I rock that boat with NO problem. So, why shouldn’t we be “on it” in defense of ourselves as well? Anyway, I applaud your honesty and bravery, Gabrielle. I wish we could all have a fierce girlfriend, standing right behind us when we need it most. Or be our OWN fierce girlfriend.

  24. What an amazing discussion! I’ve read all the comments and have little to add that hasn’t already been said but this one idea:

    For those of us striving to teach our children to be empathic and respectful beyond the gender divide, I think we have to go beyond talk and help them “practice” what we preach. Our boys need to be friends with girls and our girls need to be friends with boys. We need to normalize healthy social behavior between boys and girls and that’s never going to happen if they are socially segregated (be it by force or choice). Let’s break down the social divide with our kids.

  25. Oh my, as I read through this I remember so much as well. CRAZY stuff. Like, we had this soccer coach – who was an elementary school teacher – one whom my parents requested my sisters and I not have because, as they gently explained “we feel he has inappropriate feelings for his female students” (aged 11-12). Anyway, he was super creepy, and would take us firmly by the shoulders to “demonstrate” something or other, turn us around and press his stomach right up against us, breathing right on our necks. It was so gross, and you would dread it, and we all called him a “perv”. He even SPANKED a highschool girl – our captain – on her birthday! But it was like, that was just how things were. He was never reprimanded. Never got in any trouble, that I know of. He was just our pervy soccer coach. It was all, as you say “NO BIG DEAL.” Millions, millions of examples.
    I do wonder what I would have done on the airplane, being alone as you were. I would like to say I would have said something, but when you are fearful of your safety, I get it, you tolerate… It’s so shitty.

  26. I love your thoughts on this topic! I’m a BYU student and I work at the Women’s Services office on campus. I have never been the victim of anything truly serious, but I have been harassed by many men on campus and have always been told to be flattered by it, and to not make such a big deal about it. And that frustrates me to no end! Why is it okay that a stranger’s desire to pester me trumps my right to security while I’m clearly not inviting them to interrupt me? I had to start telling some guys I was already dating somebody for them to leave me alone while I was working at my old job as a secretary, and I often went to work anxious about having to see certain students who would regularly go to that area, and often feeling guilty about turning them down because I was at work and many people were watching, and I was supposed to be friendly to everyone. I got a reputation among some for turning down “unattractive” guys, as if that were the only reason I wouldn’t want to go out with someone who made me feel uncomfortable at my job, and asked for my number before even asking for my name.

    The office I now work at created a campaign called Voices of Courage, and it’s an educational program dedicated to changing our culture into one where disrespect and violence are not tolerated. Our goal is to empower people to say something or do something if they find themselves experiencing or witnessing a scenario like yours on the airplane. Little things might seem harmless and are easy to dismiss, but they are part of a continuum that down the line includes assault and rape, and they contribute to a culture where disrespect and violence are tolerated and even validated. On a campus where assault and rape are taboo, this campaign is vital. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your thought processes—it reminds me to be more aware of my own experiences, and to look out for people around me. It’s good to have this discussion and think about these things to be more confident and prepared for the next time I find myself in a harmful situation, however extreme or not—because it will happen, and has happened to me countless times, even at BYU.


  27. In college I repeatedly turned down the advances of an older male student who happened to be in chamber choir, as I was. On choir tour, he deemed himself the trip “photographer” and used this to harass people. One day, I had enough of looking over my shoulder and finding his lens right there. I asked him to please not take a picture of me at one point. I told him I didn’t feel like being in a photo at the time. This upset him, apparently. He said many rude things but it culminated with him calling me a “liar” and “harlot” in front of a group of my friends in choir.
    I’m just thankful I don’t live in the Middle East or Asia where men will douse a woman who rejects them in acid. I was hurt, but I’m not disfigured or seriously injured.

  28. I remember going to the mall after work (I was a lifeguard) in high school. I was accosted by a group of 5 soldiers. I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm, but the “hey baby, come home with me” and “I’d like to show you what a real man can do” comments terrified me.

    Sometimes I wear a wedding ring just to keep guys from bothering me.

  29. I wasn’t sexually abused or molested as a child, but was raised with a maternal grandmother who was (by her father). The long term effect was that when I became an adolescent, she went a little nuts & believed that my grandfather, her husband, was molesting me. Except that she also decided I encouraged and “enjoyed” it . It was all very sick, and led to my becoming estranged from grandparents who had previously been very close.

    My aunt, who had also likely been molested by my grandmother’s father as a child, immediately believed my grandmother without talking to me, and decided that I was a “troubled” young girl seeking attention. All of which is to say — even without ever being subjected to molestation myself, the shame, pain and silence suffered by my older female relatives went on to cause a great deal more shame and pain, without anyone ever laying a hand upon me. I never knew my great-grandfather, but his actions so many decades ago have had a profound impact on my life.

  30. In similar situations, I loudly and calmly say “STOP TOUCHING ME”. It creates a deafening silence and everyone turns to see who said it. I believe that our society is mostly made up of good, decent people and I think a gentleman would’ve gotten up out of his seat to switch with you or that a flight attendant would’ve found a solution for you.
    If you fear retaliation, “grossing the person out” is the alternative. Alternatively, start sneezing uncontrollably or pretend you are nauseous and make puking sounds into the refuse bag. Even the piggy would not want to get jiggy with a puker. If all else fails, you can resort to a discussion on you current bout of food posioning and its effects in graphic detail.

    1. I was going to suggest the same thing (the gross-out approach) regarding the plane situation – that you could say, “Would you switch seats with me? I get sick on airplanes and might need to get to the bathroom in a hurry.” That would also give you an excuse to shut down the conversation (“I’m really not feeling well”) if he didn’t take the hint, or to seek out a different seat (closer to the bathroom/closer to the front) if he continued to bother you. I realize this might sound like a wimpy way out, and no, you absolutely shouldn’t have to protect this man’s feelings or make excuses for setting boundaries. That said, I think you have to take each situation on a case-by-case basis and make the best decision you can in the moment to get yourself through it safely. Sometimes that means addressing the issue directly (“Don’t touch me!”), and other times it means figuring out a way to work around/avoid the perpetrator until you’re in a safe space.

  31. These words have been tumbling around in my head and heart for the last two days. Thank you, for the space to share and discuss.

    This morning, I woke up to read the following article at my local news site.


    I love that the one guy they interviewed says, “We’re starting to see these things as being frowned upon.”

    Um, yeah.
    There is not a singular answer to the problem, but the reaction from this singer in his prominent position surely can’t hurt.

  32. “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?”

    Here’s another way to look at it: If he’s truly the good person you (and I) want to assume him to be, then he deserves to know that his actions aren’t living up to his own standards.

  33. Wow. A friend of mine shared this on her Facebook page, and I am so glad I decided to take my lunch break to read it. The worst experience I have ever had on an elevator was in an inner city location in a parking deck. I was in a location I was not familiar with, and I knew I had to rush to not be late for a meeting. I choose to get into the elevator, and found myself stuck in the elevator with a man that proceeded to stand far to close to me and recite poetry to me, complementing me on how “fine” I was. My skin crawled in this elevator that had no AC in the middle of the summer. The stagnant air made it hard to breathe and this stranger was trying to be “romantic” but was coming across as creepy. I dismissed the event as being weird but harmless, but as the hashtag came out- I kept thinking about how wrong that moment could have gone. I was far from anyone hearing me, and I would have no defense if he had stopped the elevator and forced me to stay. All of this went through my mind while I was there. But, we as women don’t even acknowledge this inner dialogue of fear. We suppress our emotions as being over reactionary. And like you said, my takeaway from my husband was that I need to increase my situational awareness and change my behavior to protect myself.

  34. Haven’t read through all the comments yet because I am LIVID about those pigs on the plane. Maybe I watch a lot of movies, but I wish you had been able to turn to him, look him square in the eye, and with a big smile on your face say “If you touch me one more time, I will shatter every single bone in your hand”. In a Sharon Stone/Angela Basset badass way. That would have shut him up, I think. And he may have thought you were crazier than he was, and afraid to talk to you or follow you.

  35. Excellent post. I too have many #yesallwomen stories I could tell.
    I do struggle with discussing it with my girls.
    My younger daughter is 14 and has developed very early.
    She has already been the subject of unwanted and inappropriate (and gross) attention from men and older boys. I’m not even sure if she gets what some of it is yet. She all breasts and hips with a tiny waist. She is beautiful but more important, she is smart and kind and her brain is no where near where her body has taken her. With her input, we have decided that single sex high school is the right way to go for her.

  36. I’m with earlier posters who apparently have a look that stops a lot of bad male behavior, though, as with all of us, there have been moments. The one that I’ve found the most disturbing and top of mind happened at work. I just find that so much worse, and I loathe the company that permitted such a culture.

    I was in a meeting where I was the only woman with 1 senior (my same level) and 2 junior (and kind) men who worked on his team. Throughout the meeting, the senior level man sat facing me on the same side of the table scratching between his legs. Very overtly.

    And with my New York-trained attitude, I very nearly said “do you need to get some medication for that?” But I was in the MidWest, in a company with a sick culture, where subterfuge and back stabbing was the only way to get ahead. So I went home and asked my husband what the deal was and he told me it was intimidation. I was flabbergasted, since I didn’t feel at all intimidated – I was just totally grossed out.

    This guy had convinced upper management he was Nice and I had a rep for being Mean (I’m direct and a woman and not a game-player so it was an easy tale to promote in such an environment). So while I considered reporting it, all I could imagine was that the juniors would be put in a crappy position of having to side with the Mean Woman against their boss. And I was on unstable footing anyway, Mean Woman that I am (not), and earning our only income.

    And my final fear of speaking up? The man obviously has issues. In a more healthy company, he either wouldn’t have been hired or wouldn’t feel threatened when I asked him to do his job. But in this case, I didn’t know if filing a report wouldn’t send him all the way over the edge into violence. Faced with that very real possibility, I just go pe he actually did have (ick) something really uncomfortable going on (ick, ick, ick).

  37. I have thought about all of this a lot over the last few days and what it meant to me. I let it all sink in. I read the #yesallwomen and #yesallmormonwomen hash tags and really pondered on it. I didn’t know what the purpose was at first. As a mother to two young girls it was disturbing. I thought of the fact that even though I suffered serious physical abuse as a child, I had never been raped or seriously sexually assaulted. It occurred to me how thankful I am to you Gabrielle for having this conversation. I can think of many minor instances of facing mysongeny or small occurrences of invasion, but was thankful nothing ‘major’ happened to me. I am grateful to be more aware. I am grateful for what I will now share with my daughters on account of this. Mostly, I am grateful to be stronger in the fight to stand up against this tyranny of those who think they can impose their wishes more than my own or my children’s own. Reading the #yesevenmormonwomen hash tag showed me how many people face this from family and friends, which I already knew but was not acquainted with. Also how much being a good little girl and that mentality can hurt our young ladies. I will teach my girls to be respectful when necessary and stand up for themselves when more necessary. The saddest thing to me though in reading everything, is wondering how many people have become victims because those who came before did not stand up, how many perpetrators have victimized again. Here is to #nomorevictims. Education is the key. Let us stand together and push to a time when our children, both male and female, can not victimize or become victims.

  38. This is an interesting, important topic. And great that you discussed it with your kids. Regarding the airplane situation – the guy’s behavior was certainly boorish and I’m not sure how I would have handled it. One thing that I do know… women (all people, actually) should always follow their gut and try not to rationalize a situation that feels even remotely dangerous. Protecting yourself is protecting yourself and maybe sometimes that takes the form of not acting.

    A quick comment on the childhood molestation part of your post. I haven’t experienced that so again, not sure how I would talk about it today. You’re lucky it was not a defining moment for you. But I felt uncomfortable when you described it as minor. I know you were comparing your experience with others you’ve heard or read about. But I am not sure you can compare sexual assault or molestation in a vacuum. It’s not apples to apples. I immediately imagined a woman who had a similar experience, but for whom it had been traumatic, and how she would feel that it was categorized as minor. Each of us have a different capacity to deal with life situations.

    I don’t want to slam you for writing about your truth. I think it’s great to discuss/debate such important topics.

  39. I know you didn’t ask for sympathy, but I still want to say, I’m sorry for your experiences.

    Interesting article, thank you for sharing. I’m following the stream, and shared some of my experiences, it’s been quite emotional for me to see women coming together, speaking up, and supporting one another. The most moving thing, to me, has seen women realising they’re not alone, and that men’s behaviour towards them isn’t acceptable. Seeing them gain the courage to say ‘no’, and some men supporting them in that by calling out other men on poor behaviour.

    It’s not anti-men, the point of the tag is that we know not all men are like that, but yes all women have to deal with the ones who are. And the thing is, men should NOT treat us like this. They KNOW they shouldn’t, they’re not stupid. They CAN control themselves – if my dog can understand ‘no’, so can a human male. And the ones who aren’t like that, mostly, do not step in to help us, to call their buddy out on making that rape joke or sexist comment. They might think they’re one of the good guys, but they’re doing nothing to change things, and they do actually benefit from the poor behaviour of other men – for instance, every time a woman humours them when she otherwise wouldn’t, because she’s been intimidated by other guys before.

    You’re being far too nice, I think. Which I fully understand, because patriarchal society teaches women not to be assertive, to put up with things, to accept ‘boys will be boys’ as an excuse, to just work around unpleasant men, to be polite, to keep saying ‘sorry, I’m busy’ to a man who is harassing and following us (this was me, once). We can’t keep on doing that. We need to unlearn it. It allows this cycle to continue. Our anger is justified and powerful, and we need to channel it productively. If we don’t, what kind of world will young girls grow up in? Some of these young girls are saying they didn’t even know they could object to harassment, they thought they had to put up with it, they didn’t feel they had a right to their ‘no’, so if we as adult women can’t speak up (and it does require bravery), we’re not going to be able to set an example or protect them. This cultural atmosphere isn’t really good for boys, either, if they’re not learning to respect women and are trying to conform to an aggressive model of masculinity. Some of these young men don’t even seem to fully understand consent (scarier still, some feel they can get away with disregarding it).

    And I’m increasingly realising, despite my faith ‘not all men are like that’, actually, a hell of a lot of them are, at least a bit, like that. My generation has a big problem with the easy access to violent and degrading pornography the internet has brought about (imo directly contributing to an upsurge in misogyny and sexual aggressiveness), and I do feel completely justified in hating any man who can watch such material, especially after the horror stories I’ve heard, and court cases directly related to it (like this one: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/13-year-old-schoolboy-raped-sister-8-3114189).

    This needs to end.

    ‘“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” – Maya Angelou

    I’d tend to avoid elevators if I were on my own, depending on location, though have read stairwells can be risky also, depending. As for the airplane, it’s always hard to know what you’d do, isn’t it? Because the thing is, you can have a bunch of responses all ready, yet when something actually happens, you still freeze. Going by past incidents, though, I’d have responded pretty firmly to the comments, but been more likely to just freeze at the touching. I don’t think I’d be as likely to now, though. Remember, they’re being rude, they’re disregarding (often deliberately) your boundaries, they are the ones in the wrong and being rude, not you.

    (UK here, btw. The issues might be widespread, but the cultures have one thing in common – they’re patriarchal)

  40. Susan Magnolia

    I appreciate this dialogue and am feeling a bit nervous but empowered to raise my young daughter to be prepared for whatever lies ahead. I have felt like a new person since becoming a mother who has a little person to protect.

    I grew up with older parents and attended church schools and when I was raped in high school my parents did not talk to me about it. Just like they never talked to me about sex or my period, attention from boys or alcohol. I guess that they did not think it was necessary because I was not supposed to have sex until I was married. They sent me to a counselor who was not really helpful and that was that. It sticks with me. It was at a party, people were there and seemingly aware of what was going on yet no one stopped it. I was drunk for the first time and mostly passed out. I had even been sick so I cannot imagine how that was inviting. How did my peers not ask questions or speak out?

    There were so many other little instances as well. Once I told my boss that a cook was telling me how he wanted to have sex with me all the time when we were working. I tried to ignore him but it continued for a couple of days. When he touched my arm and pulled me close to whisper in my ear I was terrified. I was nervous that he would be fired and it would affect his wife and kids but I was so uncomfortable that I had to say something. It was handled but he was not fired. That was awkward.

    It is tough to read all the stories but great that people are talking! This discourse is powerful because I know first hand the results of ignoring such things. In our home we discuss everything and I cannot wait for my daughter to join the conversation. My partner is ready for all of us to take Aikido. I will definitely feel better prepared if I do.

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  42. I’m finding myself pondering my life, trying to think of all the small incidents that I too brushed off as nothing. In response to the child molestation however, I did want to share that I read a fascinating article right before I became a mother two years ago that said never to tell your kids to kiss grandma or give uncle a hug- it said that forced affection can easily lead to children feeling like the affection they receive is ok, even when it’s not. I’ve caught myself asking my son for a kiss and when he says no and runs away (toddlers!) I grab him and try to steal one anyways. And while I mean it all in love and fun teasing, I would NOT be ok with anyone forcing him to be touched/kissed or with him thinking it’s ok to do the same to others. It’s really opened my eyes- what am I teaching him and will he do it to other women when he grows up?

  43. This. Thanks so much for writing about this. It is really nice to have the perspective of a mother talking to her children about these issues. When the #yesallwomen hashtag started I was moved and so proud of the women sharing, but at the same time the worry I feel as the parent of a daughter was compounded. Again thank you for doing the work of spreading this message and sharing your stories.

  44. Pingback: Discussing #yesallwomen With The Kids – http://t.c… | The Richard W. Hendricks Experience

  45. I just wanted to say that I read this last night and woke up thinking about it. I talked with my husband and we are going to have a similar convo with his daughters. Thanks for being a guidestar.

  46. Just wanted to stand up to applaud Karen D, up there, for being so clear about both the course of action, and what holds us back. And you, Gabrielle, for starting this discussion. Thanks.
    Growing up, there was one clear incident of an older relative acting inappropriately. I was old enough to stop it then, and inform my parents. He was an occasional visitor, who never visited our house again, but NOT because my parents told him he was not allowed to. They truly blocked it out of their memories, were shocked all over again when i informed them he was not welcome to my wedding (almost 15 yrs later), and if they did send him that invite, I would stop in the middle of the wedding to have him escorted out. Interestingly, his wife attended anyway. Wonder what she knew.

  47. Wow! This is a powerful post! Took me forever to get through the end of the comments lol

    You are a beautiful person with a beautiful life – nobody should have to put up with this but I understand sometimes you do feel intimidated and that’s entirely natural! Women should’n’t have to be thinking of defense scenarios/how to stand up for themselves all the time. Dudes should be gentlemen, and while most of them are, it’s the pits that some aren’t.

    I find it easy to act positively repulsive or a lunatic, sometimes. That way a guy may think twice about approaching! ;D haha

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