Feminista Life Lessons

My #MeToo Moments

Before reading further, please note that some of the material in this Post may cause some Readers (who’ve perhaps had similar experiences) discomfort.

I characterize my  “#MeToo Moments” as follows:  feeling sexually intimidated, coerced, or threatened by a male.

My first #MeToo Moment happened when I was only 9 years old. Not even an adolescent, and I was already the target of a 14 year old boy:  a good friend of my oldest brother, who was also 14. Both of my parents had 9-5 careers. After breakfast, and at the end of the day, my two brothers and I walked or bicycled to and from school. I was usually the first to arrive home in the afternoon; I never knew when my older brothers would show up at home, due to sports and whatever else they did. When they got home, it was still usually two hours or so before an adult was in the house. My brothers had friends over in this timeslot, from time to time. One day, “Doug” showed up at my house, ostensibly to meetup with my oldest brother. Not having any reason to feel fear about being in the house with a 14 year old boy, and a friend of my brother’s besides – someone who I recognized as ‘familiar – I wasn’t alarmed. Doug went into my brothers’ room , but then called to me. When I walked in the room I saw that he was lying on the bed, his legs dangling over the end of it, his pants down around his knees. Now, growing up with two teenage brothers and a pretty healthy balance between ‘information’ about body parts, and modesty, I knew what a penis was and had seen my own father’s once, when he dove into a river sans underwear, during one of our road trips. But a stranger’s anatomy was another matter. I stood frozen where I was, confused about why I’d been called into the bedroom, but Doug cleared that up quickly. He guess he assumed that my hesitance meant I was waiting for instructions. “Touch it.” (No) “Blow on it, then.” (No). Doug was about to ask for something else penis-related, but there was a noise from the hallway of the house – it sounded like one of my brothers was now home. He hastily did up his pants and gave a breathless, “Don’t say anything, ok?” Of course he did.

I tried to put this incident out of my mind. It made no sense to me, but I already felt complicit, somehow, in something bad. The sad truth is, a similar scene played out again, about one week later. This time, however, the boy had more in mind. He came into my own bedroom, where I was putting some little art piece from school on a small table by my bed. Doug got down on his knees, pushing his body against mine and the table, trapping me. He started to put his hands all over me, but this time I pushed past him and ran out of the house. I walked around the block several times – I must have appeared like one strange little girl to the neighbors – until I saw my oldest brother’s bicycle parked in our drive. I shot into the house and told him what his friend had tried to do. (I’d shared the first incident with my best friend at school, and she gave me an “earful” about how stupid I’d been.) My brother, when I told him, at first looked shocked. Then his mouth twisted into a snarl and he accused me of making both events up, trying to get Doug “in trouble”. To this day, I don’t know if my brother ever said anything to his friend – we never spoke of it — but Doug stopped coming to the house. I do know that I continued to feel ashamed, frightened, confused, betrayed and sad that I’d made my brother angry. I definitely felt as though I’d done something to cause this situation; I just didn’t know what.

The second incident happened when I was a beginning teacher, at age 23. I’d been trying to land a permanent position, but had no classroom experience. I was told that, by applying to work summer school, I might earn some quick status that might lead to a contract in the fall of the year. I’d heard that a particular principal had openings in his summer program, so I made an appointment to see him, at very end of the school year. To my amazement, the principal responded enthusiastically to my request and told me how to take care of the “details” of my official hire with HR. It was my very first week of teaching a 9th grade summer school English class. I was so excited, and so happy to be teaching in my subject area. I was also very nervous. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted the students to like me as a teacher and hoped they would enjoy my class. One day, I was in the middle of setting up a film (back in the day of reel to reel projectors!) to introduce a novel to my class. The principal walked straight into the room, directly toward me, with a very stern look on his face. He was at least 6’4″ and very powerfully built. He was also at least 20 years older than I. Of course I was terrified, and paranoid that I’d already done something wrong; something that would cause him to release me from my position. I need this job badly. The man leaned in close to my left ear as the very full class of (almost 40) curious students watched both of us. I was expecting the principal to say, “Report to my office, after class!”. I was sure that his behavior meant a reprimand was coming. Instead, the principal whispered in my ear, “I’d like to f*** your brains out!” Then he turned away and walked out of my classroom.

My face burned. The students in the front row, closest to where I stood, looked freaked-out. They were watching me very intently, perhaps expecting me to cry or to bolt from the room. I struggled to not “lose it”, but it was impossible to teach after that. I put the film on, let it play in its entirety, then dismissed my class at the end of the hour. Shortly afterwards I went to the principal’s office to vent about what he’d done, hoping he wouldn’t fire me on the spot. He accepted me into his office, shut the door and began making suggestive comments about meeting someplace later in the day. I stood by the door and told him clearly how his comment had made me feel and that I was not interested. How the man laughed ! His face was a strange mask of anger and amazement. He began ‘back-pedaling’. It had all been a joke. I was ‘stupid’ for taking him seriously. I had better ‘grow up’ if I wanted to work at his school. He continued belittling me, telling me I was ‘confused’, that I ‘flattered myself’, thinking he was interested in me. His words made me feel that I had somehow imagined the whole thing – a kind of waking nightmare.

I know that neither of the above events were as bad or as harmful as what other women have endured. But I also know that the memories of how I felt when I resisted or objected to being bullied sexually have remained – not only in my memory, but in some deeper, more private place – into adulthood. The shame of ‘the act’ perpetrated on me (especially as a little girl); the frightening moments of not knowing if my resistance would stave off an attack; being ridiculed after the fact; and being accused of making up stories or imagining events all impacted me as a girl growing up, and my perceptions of male authority figures.

When a girl child or a woman is sexually intimidated (or worse), I’ve learned — through my own research – that it’s very common for us to assume that something we did, or, the way we acted or looked, summoned The Beast. We provoked him, and therefore, got what we were secretly hoping for; or somehow deserved. This is the most vile misconception and obscene excuse for male arrogance and aggression toward women that exists.

The more women enter into full awareness of their innate rights, as well as their personal and professional power, the greater the potential for these scenarios to repeat themselves. At this very moment in time, the  growing hostility of males in the media and political arena makes clear how vulnerable we all are as women.

We must stand together; we must be proactive in our actions, showing strength and unity; and, we must protect one another by sharing our stories and validating each one.

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