Content note for descriptions of sexual harassment/assault
While swimming at the community pool, a grown man came up to me and asked if I was a dancer. I told him I was a figure skater, and asked why he wanted to know. He replied, “You just have such nice shapely legs.” I was ten years old.
In the cafeteria in junior high, a classmate sits next to me and asks if I’d be interested in hooking up with him. Back then, I couldn’t have told you what “hooking up” even meant, but I knew it was sexual, and I knew I wasn’t interested. I said no, please go away – he didn’t. Instead he kept saying “Aw, why not,” while pinching my cheeks and shoulders until I poured my drink over his head.
Freshman year of high school, I somehow find myself invited to a party of mostly upperclassmen I don’t know. The friend I came with is nowhere to be found. Someone yells “Let’s play boob tag!” and that’s when I decide it’s time for a bathroom break. I push my way through the crowd, and a guy I don’t know wraps his arms around my chest and squeezes my breasts. I yell, “Quit it!” to which he responds, “It’s BOOB tag! That’s what you’re supposed to do!” I call my mom to pick me up – luckily she doesn’t ask any questions.
Number of times asked to smile as a teen, because “a girl as pretty as you doesn’t have anything to frown about!”: several.
Number of times cat-called walking alone: too many times to count.
Freshman year of college: I’m in love for the first time in my life, visiting my boyfriend at his school in Alaska for spring break. The physical boundaries had slowly been pushed beyond my comfort level, but I had no reason to feel afraid until one morning we were kissing, and he slid his hand down my pajama bottoms. He said, “This won’t hurt.” I said nothing, but moved his hand away. It didn’t take more than a minute for him to try again, this time with “I won’t hurt you, I promise.” Well, he lied. I cried.
Later that weekend, I asked him why he did that when it was clear that I didn’t want it. He said “I was having too much fun” and “You looked so cute, I couldn’t help myself.”
There were more incidents like that with him: once he pinned my shoulders to the couch and said I wasn’t allowed to get up until I “let him” play with my breasts. I don’t remember how many times I yelled “Get off me” while he just smirked at me, knowing he was stronger than I was. He said I should be “lucky” that that was all he wanted to do.
I stayed with him for five years because I had joined a campus ministry that taught the worst part of purity culture: if you’re sexually active before marriage, no good man will want you.
I told a friend what he had done, and she said there’s no way it counted as sexual assault, because no forced intercourse took place. For years, I believed that, but couldn’t figure out why I shuddered every time my future husband touched me, despite giving my full and enthusiastic consent.
In grad school, a male student decides within the first fifteen minutes of meeting me that God sent me to be his wife, and my then-boyfriend was wrong to be looking for jobs so he could move closer to me. I told him several times I wasn’t interested, but he continued following me around campus, showing up at my apartment, inserting himself in my conversations, and finally, backed me up against a wall to tell me I “knew” I was into him, and why hadn’t I given him a chance already?
Our mutual friends insisted he was “so nice” and “didn’t mean anything by it.”
That’s a brief biography of #MeToo incidents that barely scratch the surface of just how pervasive the issue of sexual assault and harassment are today – and always have been. Most women I know how stories like these, and worse. “Me too” is more than just online camaraderie for survivors – it’s a proclamation that says “This happened, it counts, and it is unacceptable.”
Like this post? Check out A Stunning Accusation, a novel that explores the issue of rape culture.