Saturday, October 22, 2016

I'll go first

One of my blogger friends has a theory that bloggers tend not to write when they're happy. It's hard to find topics to write about when things are going well and much, much easier to write when you need to complain. And that is true. I've been happy in India. I still love the food, the people, the scenery, the elephants. Oh, the elephants!

Image result for elephants in delhi

But it's also hard to write when you're sick. Last June I finally had surgery to remove my non-working thyroid and the months preceding and following have not been fun. Somedays I can barely remember my name and I can never, ever remember why I got up off the couch and went into the kitchen. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen doorway trying to remember what exactly it was that made me stop watching "Stranger Things" and then I eventually give up and go back to the couch and Netflix.

Today, however, it is toward the end of the month and that means we're just about out of data, so I'm not watching Netflix, and I'm blogging instead because I have something to complain about. We don't get much election coverage here in India, but we do get enough to know some pretty crazy things are happening. And that one particular interview about sexual assault is all over facebook, along with people saying that women who don't immediately report an assault are lying because you would automatically report something so horrific. Now, I, like many women, happen to be an expert on what being a victim of sexual assault is like and I can assure you that one of the reasons we don't report being assaulted is that nobody takes it seriously because it happens all the time.

Yep. It happens. all. the. time. I asked Husband if he had ever wondered the other day how old I was the first time I was assaulted. And he named the incident which I won't talk about publicly, and I said no, not that. When I was a teenager. And he said what are you talking about? So I said when I was 13 and I told him the story of how I was in a band practice room and one of the boys came in and turned off the light and grabbed my boob and tried to kiss me. I smacked him so hard, his glasses flew off and as I stormed out of the room, he called me a bitch. Because it was supposed to be a compliment. I was apparently supposed to like him trying to stick his tongue down my throat and him grabbing me. Husband said why had I never told him this before, and I thought about it and I realized that I had never told him because things like that happened all the time. And then I realized that Husband probably had no idea what it was like to have to be ready to defend yourself at all times and that even when you think you're prepared, it can still happen. So to help him understand, here is a brief history of times I was sexually assaulted with some harassment thrown in for good measure.

11 years old--A man in a truck cat calls me as I'm walking home from school. He tells me I'm going to be hot when I grow up. I'm wearing a pink peasant skirt that reaches down to my ankles and a high necked blouse, so I don't know how he can tell but I never wore that outfit to school again.

13 years old--I'm babysitting and an obscene phone caller calls over and over and over. I can't ignore the phone because I'm babysitting and what if it's the parents? I don't tell them for fear they won't ask me to babysit again, as if somehow it's my fault.

13 years old--the practice room incident. I tell a few friends but none of us even think of telling an adult because boys would never get punished for something like that, but I might get suspended for hitting him.

14 years old--There is a football player named Steve who likes to grab girls' butts. We are supposed to be flattered because he is very popular. Teachers know this is happening, but do nothing. He grabs mine several times and I say nothing.

18 years old--I'm on a date at the movies and I have to hold my purse in my lap to keep my date from putting his hand up my skirt. I describe the incident to Sister 1 who says he did the same exact thing to her a couple of years ago. The word "octopus" is used several times to describe his wandering hands.

19 years old in Moscow--I go dancing with a few friends and some disgusting men grab us and try to kiss us and put our hands on their junk. We shove them away and run out of the disco. None of us talk about it later.

20 years old in Venice--A group of men are harassing me and my friends. One of them grabs me and puts me in a headlock and tries to drag me away from the crowd. I scream and give him a good kick in the shin and manage to get away. Again, we don't talk about the incident later although it still haunts me.

20 years old in Rome--I am standing alone in the street and a man comes up to me and says "Hey baby, what you looking for? You looking for me?" And then grabs his crotch. I am disgusted from weeks of street harassment and I say no, I'm looking for a mailbox. Inexplicably he knocks off the crotch grabbing and helps me find a mailbox like what he was just doing is no big deal.

21 years old in Norway--A 40 year old man I just met asks me to be his mistress. He is married, but he thinks I should find this flattering because American women like to have lots of sex, or so he tells me. I tell my friend, but never mention it to anyone else including our male friends who are steps away when this happens.

23 years old in DC--My supervisor at the non-profit where I work tells me he liked my report better yesterday when I was wearing my tight green skirt. I stop wearing the wool pencil skirt to work. It was my favorite.

24 years old in Korea--I'm in the hospital deathly ill and a young doctor brings in a group of med students who are all men to watch me have a pelvic exam. I have a kidney infection, so I don't need the pelvic exam, but I am too sick to protest. I try to tell Husband, but he doesn't understand and thinks I'm delirious from my super high fever.

30 something years old in Korea again--I tell Husband I don't want to ride the subway alone any more in the evening because drunk men always are accosting me. He says the subway is the safest in the world. I know this is not true for women.

30 something in Korea with my children--Another drunk man keeps trying to shove his crotch into my daughter's face where she is sitting on the subway. I try to get Husband's attention to help us get rid of this gross person, but he doesn't understand what is happening. I switch seats with Child 1 and "accidentally" bump into the man with my elbow right into his stomach. He moves after that.

30 something in Aruangabad, India--I can't go anywhere in public with the children without men taking photos of them. We are harassed so badly at the Ellora caves, that a group of women on the tour with us help us surround Child 2 and Child 3 so that they can't get a good shot. We don't feel flattered by the attention and kind of wish phone cameras had never been invented.

All of the above incidents actually happened and there are a bunch more I could include, but the list is getting a little long. The only thing I ever lie about is my age (which means those numbers at the end are a little fuzzy) so if Steve the football player ever runs for Congress,  you can say you read about him here in my blog. I'm a fairly average girl who grew up in a fairly average suburban community, so I don't think my experience is atypical. And in fact, since I got married rather young, I think most women probably have more stories than I do. But I don't know because even though this is a huge, worldwide problem, we don't talk about it. So here I am telling my story and I will leave the comments open on this post so that you can tell yours if you like.

Sexual assault is way worse and more prevalent than many people imagine and we need to start believing the women who are brave enough to say it happened to them. It happened to me. The one incident I won't talk about publicly and which is not on this list changed who I am and not necessarily for the better. I don't know how else to prevent it from happening to others than by talking about it and calling it out when it happens. I would like my daughters to grow up in a world where men ask before kissing them and strangers don't grab them on the street and they don't have to travel with bandaids to put over the hotel door peephole. I would love it if they weren't scared if their car breaks down at night or if they could go dancing with their friends and feel safe. And if all the men they interact with treated them like people rather than objects, that would be better than a brownie.


  1. I have a "funny" story I like to tell from when I lived in South Korea about a water delivery man who arrived at my apartment one day when I didn't happen to have any cash on hand. He didn't speak English, and I tried to explain in my poor Korean that I didn't have any cash. After trying to make heads and tails of my explanation, he made a thoughtful face and said in Korean, "No money?" followed by "Sexy okay?" I was so flustered by then that I left him standing in the open doorway of my apartment and ran downstairs to the ATM on the first floor. When I got back upstairs he was sitting on my bed unbuttoning his shirt. I thrust the money in his face and chased him out of my apartment. When I tell the story we all laugh at the insane idea that this man thought I was going to surrender my virtue in lieu of a $5 jug of filtered water. It's easy to call the story funny now, but in that moment, as soon as I'd locked him on the other side of the door, I curled up on the floor and cried, and I felt sick and dirty for days afterwards. It was a long time before I told anyone what had happened, because I felt so stupid for leaving a man who had just propositioned me standing alone in my unlocked apartment. Of course there are other stories I could tell. We all have a little clutch of them. But for some reason, this is the one that shook me up the most, even though there was never any physical contact.

  2. Denice, I'm so sorry. I'm glad you're ok and can laugh about it. But holy crap! That guy had no right to do what he did.

  3. Oh, I could write a list. And it would start with being abused at age 4 by the son of a colleague of my dad's, who my mom had hired as a babysitter. And it would go on to include the "nice guy" at college who wouldn't take no for an answer. And the colleague twice my age who propositioned me when his wife was out of town -- I was 27, same age as his daughter. Can't count the catcalls, the grabbing, and the insults. How can I be both too good to resist and too hideous to be seen? Oh right, that's just how it is to be a woman. More recently, when I found out I was pregnant with a daughter, I cried. Because I will have to try to help her protect herself from the things that can happen. And even so, they probably will happen. One day I asked my husband if at any time in his life he'd ever wondered what it was like to be a girl or wanted to be a girl. No. How many times have I wondered how much easier it would have been to have been born a man? Many. Don't get me wrong, I am a proud member of my sex. But the road is harder and the older I get the more angry I get that this is how it is. Thank you for sharing your list. It both soothes and pains me to see these stories and realize that I am not alone. We are not alone, we are legion, so why the FUCK is this still the way it is?

    1. To my anonymous colleague, I hope that your daughter will bring you great joy and that she will grow up in a world that we are making better for her and that when she is as old as I am, this kind of thing will be history and people will say "Did men ever really act like that? That's so hard to believe!" And thank you for sharing your stories.

  4. Well done, Brownie. I put a few stories on my blog a while back, but I can't even do a comprehensive list because it would make me so mad to write it all out. I'm mad enough already! (And sorry about your thyroid!)

  5. This was incredibly thought provoking. While I have been so unbelievably fortunate to have escaped actual sexual assault (something that should really just count as normal instead of fortunate) I realized that I can look back and count up instances of harassment in excruciating detail. On top of that I can add in times when other people (mostly men) have expected me to be unable to do something because I am a woman. These aren't things that sink below the surface of your memory and fade away, they become parts of your psyche that shape who you are and how you behave. While I am sorry beyond words that these things happened to you and countless other women, I want to thank you for writing them out and making me think a little deeper.

  6. Thank you all for sharing your experiences. It is somehow comforting to know we are not alone, and sickening at the same time. I shudder to think at making a list, too long and frightening to have it all in one place staring back at me. I have told my husband about a few of my assault and harassment experiences. He was shocked, even more so when I told him all of my friends have similar stories. I have no answers on how to protect women and children from these things, however talking about them openly surely can only help.

    1. I agree, Anonymous. Until everyone realizes how horribly normal this all is, it won't stop. And to get there, we have to talk about it. I'm sorry, too, that you have those experiences, but please know you're not alone. We are in this together.