A week ago as I was walking from my parking lot to my office, an older man driving a utility van passed me, stared at me too long, and then pulled into my parking lot. My anxiety spiked and my car keys found their way into position between my fingers, a position I know too well, the one where I can use the keys to defend myself if I am attacked. I was 27 when this happened.
A few years ago I was sitting at a red light intersection on a busy road in a college town. My window was cracked and my doors were unlocked. I saw a young man exit a local bar and start walking directly beside the vehicles waiting at the intersection, peering inside the windows as he strolled. I immediately knew what he was up to, so I locked my doors quickly as he approached my vehicle. As soon as I locked them, his hand was yanking on my passenger side door handle and he yelled at me to let him in. I hit the gas as soon as the red light changed to green. I was 22.
Almost a decade ago, I had an evening class in college that I had to walk home from in the dark. I always had my keys out and in their familiar place in my hand, my cell phone at the ready, and I knew where all the “blue lights” were along my path. These lights were the emergency call boxes on campus that women were supposed to use if they were attacked or found themselves needing police help.
One evening I had a male classmate offer to walk me back to my dorm because he needed to copy my notes from a class he had missed. We had a nice walk, but his tone changed immediately when we entered my dorm room. He never wanted my notes — he wanted me. And after too many forward gestures that escalated to a forceful grip on my shoulders, he breathed down my neck and told me just what he wanted. He left reluctantly after I threatened to “kick him in the fucking balls and call the cops.” I was 20.
The year before that I was walking from my internship to class wearing skinny jeans, fleece-lined boots, and a V-neck sweater. Walking down the hallway of my college’s administrative building, a group of guys were loitering near the exit. I mistakenly made eye contact with one who said stared me down and said, “You’re almost a 10.” His buddy corrected him, “Nah, she’s more like an 8, but I’d still hit it.” My response? “Go to hell.” My ass was groped while passing through their group trying to get to class. I was 20.
Earlier that year, I attended my first fraternity party and I was actually the most clothed female at the house wearing a tight black sweater, a jean miniskirt, black leggings, and flats. It was February, and I didn’t want to freeze on my walk to and from the party. When trying to get in, the frat boy who guarded the door refused to let me and my girlfriend in without some action. My friend really wanted to attend this party so she kissed him on the cheek and then he let us both in. We didn’t stay long when we saw multiple female students passed out on couches and throwing up in corners.
When trying to leave, the back door was also guarded by fraternity brothers. They were ensuring no one was stealing booze, or so they said, so they used that as an opportunity to frisk every female as she left. “Arms up” the brother said as he grabbed both of my breasts and then my ass with a sly smile. I was 19.
A decade ago in high school, I was left stranded at a basketball game by a boyfriend because I had interacted with a friend from the opposing team’s school. Apparently that was not only a betrayal to my school but also to him. I was stuck outside in the cold without a ride until a guy friend offered to take me home. That kind gesture resulted in him suggesting we have sex in his vehicle. I was 17.
Nearly 15 years ago, I was a developing preteen wearing one of my first bras and lace-edged panties. I can’t tell you how many times I had my bra strap snapped by a boy behind me in class, but I vividly remember being shamed for not wearing a thong. That day I was made fun of for wearing regular panties under my bell-bottom jeans. It was also the day a young boy thought it was appropriate to create a thong for me. He reached down my pants in class and pulled my underwear up my ass. I was 12.
In middle school at recess, I was told a boy I liked wanted to talk with me by the side of the school. He was waiting for me and my friends urged me to go talk to him since they knew I thought he was cute. When I walked over to him, he didn’t want to talk at all. Instead he showed me his penis and tried to put it on my leg. That’s the day I learned what the word “dick” meant. I was 11.
But now I am 27. I’m a wife and mother of two children, a boy and a girl. I have the most serious responsibility of preparing my two children to be citizens in this world, where “boys will be boys,” and girls should just “keep quiet.”
And you might be one reading this thinking, “What, this woman just wants a platform to talk about all the shitty things that happened to her in her past?”
No. These are just the PG-rated stories I am willing to tell you. I might be telling you now, but I never told my parents any of these occurrences. Chances are your daughter has experienced some of this and hasn’t told you either.
One day your daughter might come home and tell you that some little boy snapped her bra strap in class, and you’re going to wish you told her that it was okay to punch him in the throat for doing so.
Truthfully, she probably won’t tell you at all, and she won’t know why this has happened to her.
I’m writing this more so because one day your daughter might get put in a situation that is far more serious. My close call story with the boy in my dorm room might not be your daughter’s close call. She could become a national statistic like too many. Instead of that college boy admitting defeat when she turns him down, he might actually rape your daughter.
But I’m also writing this because, mothers, like it or not, your sons might turn out to be one of these men who commit sexual assault or harassment. Unfortunately, the chances are your son will force his hand on a woman at some point during his life, and unlike our Republican presidential hopeful, it’s your responsibility to teach him that it is in fact not okay to just grab a girl “in the pussy” regardless of what he hears from influential men on TV.