On Saturday morning, I woke up with pains in my stomach. Before I knew them to be appendicitis, though, I drove with my husband to our local Ring’s End showroom. We walked inside and were greeted by the manager, who turned to Malcolm and asked, “What are you buying her?”
We were pressed for time, and I felt like shit. Malcolm answered, “A deck,” and I smiled.
When I was in the seventh grade, I was harassed every day for a period of months by a couple of boys in my class. They made weird, lewd comments; passed me weird, lewd notes; pushed their bodies against mine on the bus and pulled up my skirt. I was a new girl in a school I otherwise loved, and I kept quiet—thought: okay, this is how things are here. It took another student, a younger boy, speaking up to a teacher for anything to happen.* And then, of course, began the usual burden-of-proof process—finding the words to convey why I hadn’t spoken up for myself, and sooner; to describe every humiliating interaction. A child, pleading this awful, awkward case before male administrators four times my age.
This isn’t something that’s haunted me, exactly; or that I’ve even thought about, in a long time. But it has stayed with me after seventeen years, and has been on my mind this week.
It was my first—though certainly not last—experience with sexual harassment, and it was an experience from which, at twelve years old, I developed a changed conception of myself. Thought differently about my body; became less confident in my expression, more demure. The tragically common “extroverted girls, introverted women” tack.
Today, I can’t think of a woman I know who hasn’t been harassed in her life—many, in ways so much worse than I. And while I’m glad for the narrative shift that this Harvey Weinstein scandal has spurred, it’s shameful and heartbreaking that the narrative requires such seismic shifting.
And so there is harassment, and rape, but there are all the “lesser” violations, too. The ones that feel so small and unworthy of acknowledgement, but that are insidious and pervasive and lay the groundwork for everything else. The guy who drapes his arm across your seatback at the dinner party; the salesman who looks only at your husband and asks what he is buying for you. The myriad ways in which a woman become an object in a sentence or a circumstance, and the nothingness that’s rendered in response—so that the boy who’s there at the party or the store with his parents imbues the exchange and believes that that’s the world.
I hope that things will change. I hope the Harvey Weinsteins and the Roger Aileses and the Donald Trumps will become fewer and farther between; that their actions will become so unequivocally condemnable and are condemned—and so become less possible. But I don’t think they will, until change happens on these smaller stages first.
I’m sorry I didn’t say something last weekend. I wish I had, and I hope that next time—because of course there will be one—that I do.
(*You’ll never see this, I’m sure, but thanks. I remember you, and I think you’re great.)
Below are a few links from my week—to stories that made me take a breath and nod, yes; and to places I admire, led by and fighting for women and girls.
The conversation we should be having.
The story writes itself.
He harassed. Later, I responded.
Lupita Nyong’o, speaking out.
“Our sons can still learn to carry their own weight. Our daughter can learn to not carry others’.”
Circle of Women.
The Center for Family Justice.