Without Consent

November 15th, 2017
Kristen blows gently on mug with "The Bitch" written on it

Unless you’ve been under a rock recently, you’ve probably noticed a story or two about sexual harassment or assault against women. I chimed into the #metoo movement (originally started by Tarana Burke and recently popularized by Alyssa Milano) a month ago by sharing on Facebook:

Me too.
In the past several years.
Me too.
In the past fifteen years.
Me too.
In graduate school.
Me too.
In college.
Me too.
In high school.
Me too.
In grade school.

There has seldom been a period of my life where I have not experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault, whether I felt comfortable enough speaking up about it at that time or not. Whether I was able to remove myself from the situation or not. Whether I reported it or not.

But even after saying that, I’m not sure it’s an accurate representation of what it’s been like to be a woman in this world of sexism. So let me take it a step further – let me tell you just a few of the things that I’ve experienced.

As a 12 – 13-year-old, I had my bra snapped by almost every boy that sat behind me in class. I had boys grab at me in the hall as I walked to classes. They grabbed my barely-there breasts, my butt, even my crotch. If it wasn’t covered, they grabbed at it. When I told a teacher what happened, the boys were disciplined – and then came after me even worse after that.

In high school, male friends of my parents leered, commented and even made sure our hugs lasted just a little too long. When I told my mother, while she believed me, each of those men said they’d never done anything of the sort. Nobody made sure I didn’t have to see them again.

My first year in college, I was friends with a man on my floor who was about a foot taller than me and not at all small. When he decided we should be more than friends and I disagreed, he spent the next several months giving me the cold shoulder, making awful comments about me when we were in large groups, and generally being a complete jerk to me – which was more than a tiny bit threatening when he easily could have thrown me across the room without even trying.

That same year, I got a part in a one-act directed by a guy who I thought was a good director and who I wanted to impress. He asked me to go to coffee – as a friend, I thought. When I didn’t respond to his advances, he got super creepy and tried to joke about cutting me up and throwing me in the river. A couple weeks later, I ran into him at a dance club with another woman, he cornered me against a wall and got in my face to tell me that, while he had thought I was the one for him, obviously I was nothing compared to his current girlfriend. (A few weeks later, they broke up and he started dating men. Don’t tell me it’s just straight men that are complicit in this harassment – someone taught him he was entitled to make women feel like shit).

In that same one act, I had to kiss a guy as part of his dream. In every rehearsal, the kiss was completely acted – an intense kiss, but an acted kiss. On the night we performed, I went to kiss him as usual, but he stuck his tongue in my mouth. Because we had an audience – including my parents – I had to pretend nothing out of the ordinary had happened. And because I actually kind-of liked this guy, it didn’t occur to me until years later that this non-consensual act was problematic.

My senior year in college, I went on a spring trip with my girlfriends to San Antonio, and while we were walking, someone grabbed my ass and ran before I could even react. Later that night, as my girlfriends and I enjoyed drinks at an outdoor bar, another man came up and started talking to us. When I told him that we were not interested and wanted to just talk to each other, he got upset with me and told me I didn’t need to be such a bitch.

There were other episodes throughout college and graduate school – too many to count.

As I got older, maybe there have been less (and my feelings about that are problematic, as well, but that’s another post), but they’ve still been there. I’ve had men comment on my looks, tell me that they love my smile (in work settings as well as social settings), and tell me I need to smile more. I’ve had men hug me a little too long, make lewd comments, and tell me I need to dress in a way that is less womanly, that doesn’t tempt them (I wore turtlenecks and pants for a full four months after that one). I’ve had men tell me that I don’t need to “worry my pretty little head” about facilities issues, and I’ve had men talk over and around me in meetings about web and technology.

Tell me again that this is normal. Tell me again that I am not a second class citizen in this world. Tell me again that I should smile.

Or if you’re a woman (or non-binary individual), I won’t be surprised if you tell me #metoo.

Better yet, tell me how you’re going to make this better for the girls growing up today. Because while I might be (sadly) used to it, they deserve better. And frankly, so do I.