In ninth grade, a male friend of mine tackled me on a bed during a party and “pretended” to hump me. I laughed it off because I was embarrassed.
While interning with the Minnesota Twins, a pitcher from another team held two fingers to his mouth, wagging his tongue between them while two teammates spewed disgusting language at me in Spanish. I understood every word. At the time, I was escorting two 6-year-old children to the field. No bigs!
In college, a “friend” of mine figured out where I was going every weekend night, then creepily followed me home every evening. Once I got home, he’d call me four or five times throughout the night. It happened for a full semester, even after I asked him to stop.
When I was 23, a very large man approached me at a bar two blocks from my house. He asked if he could buy me a drink. I said I no thank you. He wouldn’t stop talking to me, bragging about his job and his Escalade. Eventually, I said I needed to leave. He offered to give me a ride home. I said no. He then got angry, and started shouting at me. A bouncer walked me home.
During the first Obama term, my friend was under consideration for a job at the White House. The FBI ran an extensive background check, which included interviewing me, her college roommate. After an hour-long meeting with a giant man from the FBI, he said some ‘flattering’ things to me and that he “really hoped we could go out sometime.” He’d already told me he was married. He knew my name, where I lived and worked, what I drove, and probably my social security number. I laughed uncomfortably.
A few years ago, I was working, alone, in my office. It was 4 in the afternoon and an acquaintance came in and sat down. He asked how things were going– about work, my life, my boyfriend (now husband). He then told me he and his wife hadn’t been intimate in a while and wondered if he should “look elsewhere for sex,” and winked. Again, I laughed uncomfortably.
And here’s the worst of the lot:
On the night of family birthday party, I went to bed early. I awoke to a 33-year-old man standing over my bed, drunk, looking at me. I immediately got up, and left my room. I wasn’t sure what to do. I was 16.
I didn’t want to “ruin” the party going on in our basement. So instead of telling my dad or one of my many uncles in our basement (which I should have done), I politely sat at the top of our stairs for twenty minutes, chatting with this creep who’d walked into a teenager’s room, uninvited.
He told me that if I’d come visit him in Minneapolis, he’d buy me and my friends alcohol. He also complimented me on how good my friends and I looked in our swimsuits the last time we’d hosted him at our cabin.
Eventually, he went to the bathroom. I grabbed a blanket and pillow, and slept behind my dad’s desk in his office.
Two years later, that same guy was serving an eight-year prison sentence for raping his 12-year-old niece.
* * *
I don’t have one female friend who doesn’t have a story like this.
Most have many. Personally, I’ve lost count. I’m fortunate that nothing turned physical. Many of my female friends have not been so lucky.
These guys are everywhere. They’re in our neighborhoods, at out places of work, in our homes. You might think “locker room” chat is harmless. It’s just guys being guys, right? But for some men, it’s not just chat. Want proof? Ask the woman you care about most. She’ll have a story like this and it will break your heart.
Women already do a lot to protect themselves.
We don’t walk alone after dark (which in Minnesota is over 12 hours of the day in winter). We think twice about footwear before going out– could I run away in these? We walk to our car with 911 already dialed into our phones, just in case.
As women, we learn to laugh off sexual harassment. We’re scared of what might happen if we don’t. We also learn early on that saying something usually results in a big, fat wad of nothing.
Oh, he’s harmless!
He’s just joking. Where’s your sense of humor?
I’ll talk to him later. [never talks to him later].
Men, it’s your turn.
If you overhear your buddy objectifying women, don’t be his Billy Bush. Call him out. Laughing it off or ignoring it says this behavior is okay.
Tell your daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and coworkers that they need to speak up. When they do, take them seriously. Do something, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Teach your sons about consent. That women don’t owe them anything, ever, no matter what.
As I write this, I’m sitting next to my perfect 13-week-old daughter, knowing it’s just a matter of time before she has stories like this of her own. It’s inevitable, unless we all collectively decide it’s not okay.
Because it’s not okay.