Just like every woman, I’ve been a victim of sexual harassment in one or more forms since my first vivid memory of it at around fifteen or sixteen.
I was driving my car and happened to look over at a red light and see a man, my father’s age, gesturing with his hand and his mouth.
I worked during my teens at the local country club, a place where many of my father’s friends played along with other notable people in the community. I worked there because I played golf competitively and it was the most natural place for me to be. I earned tips for carrying and cleaning clubs, but no one would let me do it. They’d ask one of the guys and even pay me without the service done.
And though I spent summers working on my golf game before or after work, the most significant memories I have are of being groped many times by different men, including my father’s friends.
One of the times a man said “Are you (my father’s name) daughter?” to which I responded, “I sure am!” with a prideful smile. He asked me to drive his cart to the car and help him unload. As I took the wheel he put his hand on my thigh.
My blood ran cold. My heart stopped yet also its beat increased all at the same time.
I was fifteen. He was in his sixties.
I didn’t know what to say. I was frozen in time just wishing for it to all be over. He asked me to drive him for a round of golf after work and he’d pay me. I’m grateful for that voice that told me it was a terrible idea.
Most recently I was shaken by an older man who interrupted a night I took for myself. I’m a mom of a toddler and cannot remember if I have ever even taken a night “off”.
But this time, I found my voice. I roared like a lion at that son of a bitch and he left me alone. He was reaching to touch my hair (because that’s normal) and because of my response, he left. I was still a little broken, but he left.
Many of us weren’t taught what to say when we feel uncomfortable. In fact, I was taught the opposite. Raised in a conservative Southern household, I was taught to smile, bat my eye lashes, and ooze charm. Yes, in the middle of such an encounter.
After recounting tales of harassment I was told “Awww, he likes you” or “You’re just so pretty.” Oh, OK. So that explains it. What the hell?
A couple of years ago I told one of my parents about a harassment that took place on the street when I was in a knee length coat just a few yards away from them. Not only was it dismissed, I was shamed and told not to be rude because I didn’t acknowledge the assailant.
But now I’m not silent. Now I roar. We have to make these people feel uncomfortable. We have to let these creeps know that what they are doing is despicable and that we will not listen to another one of their words.
At this place in history I don’t know if we will see the death of the male gaze. I don’t know if a guy is picturing me naked or if he thinks I’m strong enough to lift the giant bag of dog food (I am). But I damn sure know that we are ALL sick and tired of being talked to in a way that makes us feel two inches tall.
So when it is needed, I will replace dignity for grace, bravery for kindness, and courage for submission.
I don’t mind embarrassing a harasser to send him packing. I don’t care if he calls me a foul word, though he may and that’s a problem all its own.
I’m taking back my voice. Because these experiences are not just mine; we all have our stories. Yes, every woman.
For more stories from everyday women sharing their experiences with sexual harassment, check out the hashtag #YesEveryWoman on Twitter. And please, share your stories with the men in your life. Because sadly, until they feel an emotional connection to the harassment we all endure, little will change.