In 7th grade, I had a teacher that everyone loved. He said students “looked like they were having sex with chairs” when they got excited about answering questions. He cautioned two of the class’s shiest students “not to get any funny ideas about making out” when we watched movies in class.
One afternoon during lunch hour, I was walking to my locker. I was the only student in the hallway. I heard footsteps behind me and felt two heavy hands caressing my shoulders. It was the teacher. He rubbed his hands down my arms, to my elbows, and back again. He bent down his lips and brushed them against my ear. “You’re my favorite,” he whispered. He rubbed his hands down my arms and walked into his classroom, smiling back at me as he closed the door.
I filed a complaint with the school office anonymously. Not long after, the teacher left school and didn’t return. I later learned I wasn’t the only student to file a complaint. He had a lot of “favorites.”
In 8th grade, one of my best guy friends and I we were texting. He asked me to send a nude photo of myself to him to prove that I trusted him and believed in our friendship. I refused at first. He responded with sad faces. He told me he was upset and hurt. “I won’t even look at it. Come on. Show me that you trust me.”
I didn’t want to jeopardize the friendship. I sent it. He claimed not to look.
It was graduation party season. I was getting ready for a friend’s party with the person I was seeing, trying to figure out what to wear. After deciding on a romper with sandals, the person I was seeing asked if I was sure I wanted to wear that to the party. I was confused, and said I was sure. When we got in the car, he was sullen. I asked what was wrong. He said he didn’t like that I was wearing my romper without a bra to a public party. “I don’t like that other people will be able to see you like that,” he said.
In my freshman year of college, I had my first drink. Not long after, I drank too much at a party. A sophomore offered to walk me back to his place - the closest dorm. He sat me down on his bed, got me a glass of water, and gave me a blanket to lay with. After giving me awhile to rest, he said that I should probably go home. I stumbled back to my dorm. When I told my friends what had happened, they were ecstatic. “He’s so sweet for not taking advantage of you!” they commented. They were smiling.
Later in my freshman year, my neighbor knocked on my door late one night. His eyes were heavy and he looked exhausted. He complained that his roommate was playing music too loudly and he couldn’t sleep. “Can I sleep here tonight?” he asked. My roommate refused to share her bed; I said sure, why not? He was a harmless, sweet, awkward guy. He got in my bed and lay down next to me. I turned my back and drifted off to sleep.
Not long later, I woke to him wrapping his arm around my stomach. Slowly, his hands drifted down under my pants; then under my underwear. I was mortified. After a paralyzed moment, I shifted “in my sleep” to avoid his touch. He stopped. Five minutes later, he did it again. I had to turn fully onto my stomach before he stopped.
In my sophomore year, Student Activities held a clothing drive dance. Students donated the clothes they wore to charity, and then went to the dance in their underwear.
Needless to say, it was a hit. I spent the first hour dancing with one particular guy from a frat. He was a great dancer. It was sexy. Fun. I took a quick break to dance with my girl friend, and in the interim, a smattering of guys from the same frat trickled by. A few smacked my ass and were gone by the time I turned around to confront them. Two grabbed me roughly from behind and started dancing with me without a word. I pulled myself from them and walked outside to check my phone. On the way, my initial dance partner grabbed my wrist and spun me around. “I’m not interested in your sloppy seconds,” he spat, inches from my face, and left. A year later, the student was convicted of rape and expelled from the school.
In sophomore year, I worked at my on-campus restaurant as a hostess. My manager always asked me what I had planned for the weekend. I’d tell him, and he would scoff, “I bet you don’t even drink. Girls like you probably do their homework in their room and never come out.” This went on for weeks. Months. Over time, his teasing evolved: “Well, I’m going to a party in the city later tonight. You should come.” “Oh, you drink, huh? You should come over to my place. Come have beers with my roommate and I.” When I refused, embarrassed, he would tell me he thought so - “girls like me” “didn’t know how to have any fun.”
In junior year, I did a domestic semester in Washington DC. My class and I went to a bar one night. While I was dancing with someone, my classmates - all of them - left without me.
When I got outside, everyone was gone. I texted my friend asking where they went. “A hookah bar,” he wrote back. Before I got the chance to ask which hookah bar, my phone died.
I was new to town. I didn’t have anyone’s phone numbers memorized. The guy I was dancing with asked if I wanted him to drive me to the hookah bar. He seemed nice. I told him I did, thank you, but I wasn’t quite sure where they were. I asked to borrow his phone, to use the Facebook app to contact my friend and ask. As I was finagling with his phone, he put the car in gear, locked the doors, and started driving.
“He’s not responding,” I said. We were driving outside the city. “Where are we going?”
“I think we should just go to my place,” he said. The doors were locked. We were driving out of the city.
“Where’s your place?”
“Just outside the border, in Virginia.”
We were on the highway now. He made small talk. He was from Iraq. Drove a truck for a living. Never drank. He was stone cold sober. It was dark, there were hardly streetlights, and he had his hand on my leg. I felt revolted. My skin had never reacted so potently to touch.
I didn’t tell him to stop the car. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say.
We drove for miles. We were at least 25 minutes outside the city. We pulled onto an exit. Passed by a gas station, some convenience stores. He pulled up to his house. There were a few cars parked there. He looked annoyed.
“My brother’s home,” he said. “Wait here.”
I waited. He went inside for 5 minutes. He came back.
“My brother has friends over,” he told me as he put the car in reverse. “We can’t stay. I know someplace else we can go.”
I nodded. He drove. Five minutes later, we were driving into the parking lot of a motel. A Days Inn Motel.
The fluorescent lights in the motel lobby were blinding. There were two women in the lobby arguing. An old man snoring in a chair.
“One night,” he said to the woman behind the desk. She asked to see ID. He complained. They argued. She told him how much a room was. 80 dollars. He scoffed and complained and gave 80 dollars. She gave him the key. We went to the room.
I still remember exactly how it looked. Dark, the bed on the left, the bathroom on the right.
When he pushed me on the bed and started kissing me, I didn’t complain. When he took my shirt off, I didn’t complain either. Revulsion, revulsion. I wish my phone hadn’t died.
I stayed in DC for four more months. I was lonely there. One night at an open mic, I spent hours talking to a man in his early 60s. He knew everyone at the music venue, showed me pictures of his daughter, and talked about God. I told him that I was lonely, that I missed music; that I wished venues were closer to campus. He told me that the best open mic in town was on Sundays, right over the Maryland border. He offered to drive me the following week.
He played old 50’s tracks on the way. I had an incredible time. He drove me there a few weeks in a row, and during each open mic, I felt a little less lonely. He was grandfatherly towards me. I was happy to have a friend. One night, a man about my age sat down at our table. We’d spoken a bit the prior week. He asked me if I’d like to go out with him sometime. I agreed, smiling, and went back to listening to the music with my friend
My friend was silent on the way home. He wouldn’t speak to me until I pressured him to. He was livid. “How could you embarrass me like that?” he asked. “I drove you back and forth and back and forth all over town, and that’s how you show me that you appreciate me?”
He dropped me off and didn’t speak to me again.
The summer before I graduated college, I took a weekend to spend time on the Cape. I was happy, surrounded by likeminded folks. On the last day of my stay, in the midst of a conversation with one of the older men who had spent the weekend as well, he pointed at my dress. “Sorry. I’d listen to what you’re saying, but it’s hard to pay attention when I can’t stop staring at your tits,” he said.
In the first and only semester of my senior year, I went on an OKCupid date. He lived in my town. We were going to go to a Thai restaurant, but when we met there, we realized it was closed on Mondays. He invited me over to make dinner instead.
He lived in a one-bedroom apartment. It didn’t have a kitchen or a living room; it was a bedroom, with a toaster oven and coffee maker inside. He turned the TV on the log fire station and cooked us dinner. It was corny, but it was nice. We had one or two glasses of wine. We were laying in bed watching a show and started kissing. He tried to initiate sex, and I told him no; I wasn’t into it. He made a scene. Rolled his eyes. “Please, you know you want to,” he said. He sighed loudly and whispered that if I liked him, I would.
I liked him, then. So I did. It was just easier, at this point.
I graduated. Moved. Got a job.
In the winter, I hooked up with someone in my town. Twice. He’s well-known around here. It’s been a long time since then. It’s fall now. I have a boyfriend. He has a girlfriend. When I see him in public places, he still grabs my ass.
In the spring, I went out to see a local band. An older man approached me and started talking my ear off. I respond politely for awhile, but after 15 minutes of banter, I kept my eyes on my phone long enough for him to get the picture and walk away. Immediately after, another man approached me. “Looks like that guy was giving you a pretty hard time, huh?” he asked me. I nodded and rolled my eyes. “Pretty young things need like you need to be more careful,” he replied. “If you’re too nice to men, they’ll get the wrong idea.”
In the spring, I was seeing someone. He liked reminding me that I wasn’t special. He liked reminding me that he could have picked anyone, but that “anyone” happened to be me.
Once, I was adamant that I wasn’t in the mood, but my “stop’s” and “no’s” were entirely ineffective. Once he got the picture - long after my shirt was off - he laid back and chuckled. “That was kind of rapey, wasn’t it?” he said. That was far from the worst thing he did.
I cut off contact with him in a permanent way. It took me a long time to come to terms with the reality of how damaging it was. I see him in public from time to time. It doesn’t keep him from contacting me every week or so. In these messages, he tells me to be friendly in public. He tells me he has, and has always had, my best interests at heart.
“You’re my favorite.”
“I won’t even look at it. Come on. Show me that you trust me.”
“I don’t like that other people will be able to see you like that.”
“He’s so sweet for not taking advantage of you!”
“Can I sleep here tonight?”
“I’m not interested in your sloppy seconds.”
“I didn’t know you were so drunk.”
“Oh, you drink, huh? You should come over to my place. Come have beers with my roommate and I.”
“We can’t stay. I know someplace else we can go.”
"How could you embarrass me like that?”
“How could you accept a date from another man when I was right there? I drove you back and forth and back and forth all over town, and that’s how you show me that you appreciate me?”
“Sorry. I’d listen to what you’re saying, but it’s hard to pay attention when I can’t stop staring at your tits.”
“You know you want to.”
“Pretty young things need like you need to be more careful. If you’re too nice to men, they’ll get the wrong idea.”
“That was kind of rapey, wasn’t it?”
I read a blog post this week that changed the way I think about women. “It Was Easier to Give In Than To Keep Running,” by Anonymous, is one woman’s account of the sexism, assault, and revulsion she’s experienced as she’s navigated her way through early womanhood - from first grade forward.
Reading her experiences linearly, on one page, planted a pit of rage in my stomach. It sounded like my stories. Like my friends’ stories. Like my family members’ stories.
Men’s responses to my stories are often similar. Holy shit. I can’t believe that happened. You’ve got to be kidding me.
What if everyone really understood the small and not-so-small traumas that women go through every day? What if everyone really understood the ways that these unwanted advances and assaults shape the way women communicate, breathe, and feel in the world?
What if everyone finally got through their thick skulls that it is not OUR job to be safer, more cautious, more aware, but the WORLD’s job - and MEN’s job - to be safer, more cautious, and more aware?
The sad truth of the matter is, I can count on one hand the number of men in my life that I feel truly safe around.
Reading Anonymous’ story gave me a sense of solidarity. It snapped me out of the vacuum of powerlessness and shame in which women often find themselves. Even as a gender studies major, a feminist, and a life-long advocate, it’s easy for me to forget that I’m not alone in my experiences and my scars.
I wrote the blog above to share my story and spread that sense of solidarity among my friends - and among strangers. I wrote it to show the myriad of ways women are fucked by society and the people in it - and to show the myriad of ways we’re not alone.
I debated leaving names in this story. I don’t owe the characters anything. But I’m not ready for the repercussions that doing so would create.
That’s fucked in and of itself, isn’t it?