Anyone who has read my various blog posts and facebook updates can tell you that my verbosity makes me ill-suited to the medium of the Twitters, but I’ve read so much incredible commentary over the last few days that I wanted to bear witness in my own wordy way, and maybe add to the pile of testimony the data-point that there is no woman so outwardly non-descript, or quiet, or fat, or modest or intelligent that she hasn’t dealt with a metric fuckton of harassment and assault by the time she is forty. Here are a couple of shit things that have happened to me.
1. I’m 19 and I work at a warehouse job. We get a half hour lunch which I have to clock out for, and two 15-minute breaks a day, which I spend at my desk because getting to and from the breakroom would take a couple of precious moments of my reading time away from me. Every spare moment is spent with my face buried in a book. And every day the same guy ignores my body language and hits on me. Within the first week I break with my “be nice” passive-aggressive mormon training and give him a steely “no”. He also ignores every firm “no” I give him until I start wearing my poison-ring on my left-hand ring finger, and hang up a picture of me draped over a literal knight in shining armor I took at the ren faire the previous summer. When he interrupts that break, I talk fondly of my “fiance’s” jealousy and skill with edged weapons. The harassment stops and now some of the guys mutter behind my back.
2. I’m 20 and 21 and working at the ren faire. All the male cast members have our back and security is great, but pretty much every day a stranger attempts to grab my ass (thank god for bum rolls, am I right wenches?) or my boobs. Sometimes they succeed. I chalk it up angrily to the idea that “cast members” aren’t perceived as real people anymore because of television.
3. I’m 24 and living in NYC. I stop between classes to pick up a play at the bookstore I work at and when I come out, a man follows me, sticking something pointy into the small of my back. “I have a gun,” he leans over and whispers in my ear, “and if you don’t follow me and do what I say, I will. shoot. you.” I panic. The skeptical, “don’t be a drama queen” part of my brain tells me it might not be a gun, just a crazy person. The rational part of my brain says to err on the side of caution. My lizard brain doesn’t know what to do and responds by making me sweat a lot and then shutting down. I stop in every store between 86th and 73rd, figuring that he would be unlikely to shoot me in the middle of a Duane Reade. The “gun” leaves my back in the middle of the Fairway and spin around, but cannot identify my stalker. I miss my next class and spend the rest of the month not going anywhere alone.
4. I’m still 24 and working at Shakespeare & Co as an assistant manager. As a supervisor I notice that one employee never manages to get his work done. Every time I check on him he’s sitting on the floor reading the books he was supposed to be shelving. Every time I put on my “supervisory” tone he grins. I consider writing him up for general Bartleby-ness if not outright insubordination when a conversation with several other supervisors and managers reveals they never have a problem with him. A friend suggests that Bartleby the Bookseller is trying to get me to yell at him for purposes of sexual gratification. I scoff at this. The next close I work with him, he asks me out. After the first “no”, he only tries two more times.
5. I am 25 and working at a mall bookstore in the midwest. Two less qualified males are given promotions instead of me and another female keyholder, including one freelance evangelical preacher who is made the manager of the calendar kiosk despite outright refusing to open boxes that contain PG13 “cheesecake” calendars and will not shelve or scan them. They lose sales because he is often the only employee in that store.
6. I am 26 and back in NYC. Walking from my apartment to the subway subjects me to daily catcalls from total strangers hanging out on balconies, stoops and fire escapes. I “learn to ignore it” which manifests itself in a fearsome (but not fearsome enough to stop the catcalls) Resting Bitch-Face which I still cherish to this day. The RBF encourages other, street-level strangers to demand that I “smile”.
7. I am still 26 in NYC, coming home at around 1 am from my closing shift at the bookstore. The empty seat next to the subway door is my reward for a full week of working two jobs. My typical friday night ritual of magazine and 20 minute subway ride home is interrupted by a homeless guy (this is just a guess) leaning further into the pole with every minor bump the train makes. He starts “accidentally” brushing me, and I instinctively become smaller and smaller until he is blatantly grasping my breasts. I marvel at my seeming invisibility to an entire subway car full of riders as I yell, swear at and push my assailant. One final kick from me makes it less than worth his while to continue his assault, and he miraculously becomes visible once he approaches two hot blondes. While they successfully fight him off by hitting him with a guitar case (girl power!) several previously oblivious men on the train chivalrously confront him and remove him from the train. At my stop.
8. I am in my 30’s and using public transit in LA. I bring a book because I like to read and also I don’t want to be bothered. I am interrupted nearly every day. I learn that chuckling while reading a non-fiction book about dead bodies with a picture of a toe tag on a foot on the cover kept people away from me for about a week and consider repurposing this cover for other books.
9. I am 35 and my friend and I are taking advantage of the lovely LA weather to walk the half-mile home from Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles after lunch. A man follows us for two blocks. He is out of breath because he must have run out of the restaurant. He is about 1 foot behind us when he starts making comments about my friend’s ass and demanding she give him her number. She tells him she is not interested. He follows us closer and demands to know if she’s racist because otherwise she would give him her number. I slip my arm around her waist and tell him pointedly we are lesbians. “I wasn’t talking to you, ugly bitch, I was talking to the hot one.” She pulls out her cell phone and threatens to call the police and he leaves. We take our keys out of our respective purses and do that thing we all learn to do as soon as we have keys, looking behind and around us roughly every 38 seconds to make sure the man hasn’t come back and that we aren’t leading him to our home.
Those are the top 9. I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting and thousands of tiny micro-aggressions I’m omitting because they’re so constant you kind of forget it’s not normal. Comparing to other people’s lists, this isn’t all that long or traumatic – I am thankfully not one of the one-in-six women who has been raped. But the fact that this is a “boring, uneventful” list should be appalling to people.