I was seventeen. There was a summer party, hosted by a girl whose parents frequently went out of town, so a bunch of us were planning to spend the night. Someone had brought a case of beer, maybe some wine coolers. There was a bottle of Rumplemintz. There always seemed to be Rumplemintz. I loved that crap – the way the thick, syrupy liquid coated your tongue and how taking a shot of it made your throat feel like it was both on fire and and freezing cold at the same time. My head buzzed with alcohol. It was warm outside and lots of people were drifting in and out of the house. Steve Miller was playing. ‘Jungle Love’, over and over. Christ.
As the party started winding down, people began to crash throughout the house. The upstairs bedrooms were reserved for couples, or people who were hooking up. Since I fit neither category, I found a cozy spot on a couch downstairs and fell into a hard sleep.
I woke several hours later to feel a hand creeping up my inner thigh, stroking my crotch through my jeans. Groggy and still half-drunk, I looked up and saw an unfamiliar boy curled up next to me, pretending to be sound asleep, save for his wandering hand. I had no idea who this guy was, but assumed he’d been a guest at the party. A friend of a friend of a friend. The house was silent – the kind of stone cold stillness that happens when a bunch of young people collectively pass out drunk in one place. Nobody seemed remotely alive, even. My heart was hammering in my throat, and I felt incredulous and disgusted, but also nervous, because I wasn’t sure what to do. Quietly, I slipped off the couch and wandered upstairs, where I found a safer place to sleep on a carpeted bedroom floor. I still have no idea who the guy was. Never saw him again. Never even mentioned it to anyone.
And why would I? Nothing happened. He didn’t even get my pants undone, right? Whatever, it was no big deal. Just some pervy guy being…well, a pervy guy.
I think I started noticing it in middle school. Suddenly, hormones were coursing through us like river rapids, and we weren’t very good at impulse control yet. The popular boys loved to sneak up behind the girls and either yank on our bra straps, letting them go so they snapped us in the back, or pinch us in the butt. We’d howl with indignation, but secretly, perversely, many of us were pleased by it. After all, we were trained to believe we should want this. If a boy was paying this kind of attention to you, it meant you were pretty. Wanted. Popular. Right?
When I was 21, I was sleeping at a girlfriend’s house, after we went bar-hopping with her boyfriend and one of his friends. Her roommate was away, so when we got back to her apartment, we sat up in the living room, watching movies and drinking beer. I distinctly remember thinking that the boyfriend’s friend was a complete moron, whom I’d never, ever date.
I headed to bed first, falling asleep in the roommate’s bed. I woke to the boyfriend’s friend suddenly crawling in alongside me. He started to kiss me, putting my hand against his erect penis. Jarred awake and feeling more annoyed than anything, I think I said something like, ‘Ugh, give me a break’, and tried to push against him. By then he had his hand inside my pajamas. And the weight of his body was heavy, strong, pressing against me. And the humiliating truth is, I became aroused. I’d broken up with my boyfriend of three years not long before that. I was lonely. I hadn’t had sex in months. And it seemed easier to just let it happen. So I did.
Was I assaulted? I never really thought so. Of course, the guy was being a complete douchebag and had no right to get in my bed without being asked. But I didn’t stop him, did I? I didn’t call to my friend, who was sleeping with her boyfriend in the next bed. I didn’t say No. I never said No.
There would be more men over the years. More unwanted advances, like the boss who told me I had ‘very nice legs’ and ‘should wear more skirts’, or the landlord who noticed I’d lost weight and asked me if my boyfriend ‘was enjoying my new body’.
There was the distant uncle who, one Christmas eve when I was way too old for cuddling, noticed me yawning and asked me to come lay my head in his lap. The boss who told me I looked prettier when I smiled. Another one who routinely talked about how fat his wife was getting and brought me old clothes of hers, and who took me out to lunch and told me that we’d totally be sleeping together if we weren’t married to other people.
It goes on. I’m sure I can’t even remember every icky interaction. There may even be some I’ve put out of my mind, because, hey, they weren’t really that bad. Right? I know women who’ve been through worse. So goddamned much worse. Women who have been utterly broken by men, so who am I to even complain? I never objected to these come-ons. I never set anyone straight or stood up for myself. I never thought of myself as a victim, because, as women, we’re just expected to put up with a certain amount of inappropriate behavior from the men around us. It’s part of the job, we’re told. They can’t help themselves. They’re just wired differently. All they think about is sex. We all have to deal with it.
[ And I want to be sure and be clear here: I do not believe that all men are inappropriate, pervy horndogs. I happen to know quite a few who are absolutely NOT. ]
But let’s take a sec and reverse some of these situations. Wait. I can’t, because I would never do any of the things that have been done to me. Sneaking up to an unsuspecting, sleeping drunk guy on a couch and suddenly grabbing his dick? Crawling into bed with a stranger and forcibly putting his hand on my crotch? Or, how about now, at my age, randomly asking a handsome male college student if his girlfriend enjoys his body? What the fuck? When you put it in this context, it seems insane, doesn’t it?
Is it because this behavior is just plain rude and we, women, have been taught to be polite? Or is there something really, inherently wrong with the way men and women interact?
I don’t have an answer. And I’m not sure anything will truly change until there are as many women holding positions of power in this country as there are men. That said, I do believe that we are doing better than we ever have been. We are taking baby steps, starting to tentatively dip our toes into a world that has been largely dominated by dudes. We are brave, sharing more of our experiences, and holding others accountable for behaviors that are just plain wrong. I’d like to think that my daughter, a high school freshman, will be able to say ‘Hey Fucker, You’re Out Of Bounds’ to a man who is harassing her, without the fear of her lifestyle choices, her integrity, her very character being called into question. And I think that she probably will.
But then I remember the statistics. The majority of assaults that never get reported. The women who simply accept inappropriate behavior as the norm, who put up with it because they don’t want to lose their jobs. Or get characterized as complainers. Pot-stirrers. FEMINIST LIBTARDS. And I get sad. But lets keep telling our stories. And, for god’s sake, listen to the women who want to tell theirs. It’s not everything, but it’s a start.