The #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter is necessary and compelling reading. If you missed it, or haven’t seen much about it, there’s a good explanation of it here. Go read that. I’ll be here when you get back.
So now that we have that out of the way, it’s story time. Because I can’t write about these things in 140 characters, and it’s a topic I’ve needed to bring up for a while.
Story 1: I was nine years old, and seemingly overnight, my body grew in ways I didn’t understand. I had to wear bras, which were the height of uncomfortable fashions, and still are, though decades later I’ve come to realize there is no better alternative. During that summer, I ended up taking summer school classes with another girl about my age. For whatever reason, my TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired) had the lessons at this girl’s home. The girl had two siblings close to our age, and I had to play with them when my teacher was working with the other girl. I don’t remember what we played, but I sure as hell remember them groping my breasts–those strange things I wasn’t so comfortable with myself. I did tell my teacher, and it did stop, but I had to go through junior high and high school with them. One of those boys was on our football team. The other was in the orchestra. Basically, they did pretty well for themselves, all things considered. At any point, did I ever get an apology from them? No, I did not.
Story 2: When I was living in my first apartment, I met a man online through a role playing game. He was married, and they were expecting a baby. He was also local to me. Occasionally, he would IM me with flirty messages, but I thought he was harmless because… married. With a baby. I ended up meeting him, and he ended up taking me back to my apartment due to reasons that are too complicated and irrelevant. When we got there, he hugged me. And then didn’t step back when the hug should have ended. His hands started moving in non-regulation ways. I was terrified, and the moment lasted for what felt like a long time before he pulled away. I closed the door between him and myself with relief.
Being a nonconfrontational person even then, and more so than I am now, I called a mutual friend and told her what had happened. She was appropriately sympathetic and she did talk to him. Did I get an apology? Kind of. I got a “I’m sorry you were so freaked out. I didn’t mean anything, Jesus. Besides, you hugged me.”
Nearly 15 years later, I now live in an apartment by myself. A male friend (who is also happily married) has been wanting to get together at my house instead of his, where we have been meeting. At first I thought my reluctance to let him was silly. I mean, he wasn’t even interested in me that way. But then, I hadn’t thought that other guy was, either. So I had to email him and tell the whole story. Unlike the douchebag above, he totally got it and has never pushed to be alone with me in my space again.
Story 3: I have heard from a number of blind women that conventions for the two national consumer groups for the blind often feature men sort of “accidentally” groping women. Because oopsie, they’re blind, and they didn’t know the women were there. Convenient how much reaching around to explore their surroundings happens at breast level. Having heard these stories from numerous people has dampened my desire to attend any of these conventions. I’m sure they provide much that is valuable. But I don’t want to be cornered in some elevator by a creeper with wandering hands. Been there, done that. Don’t need to do it again.
What’s worse is that I can name names. I have heard terrifying stories about very prominent men in the blindness community who have used their power to make moves on women who had less power. I have no reason to believe that if I ever met them, and ended up alone with them, anything would happen. But I’m certainly not taking the chance. None of the women whose stories I have heard have ended their tales with, “And then he felt super bad about groping me/making unwanted suggestions/crossing my boundaries and apologized.”
Story 4: I don’t know how many of you know this about me, but I read romance novels. Some of them are steamy. Since Twitter is where my romance reading friends hang out, sometimes I get into giggly, bawdy conversations about them. Sometimes this bemuses some of my non-romance-reading followers, but they either put up with me or quietly unfollow. Given how little I pay attention, I honestly don’t know.
Several weeks ago, during the 24-hour Readathon I tweeted something about how I wanted to write something, because all the books I’d been reading had caused my creative juices to start flowing. A few minutes later, I got a DM from someone who was not a romance fan, which read, “Are you sure those are the only juices that are flowing? I know what you read.” After staring at that for a few minutes, I shot back with something like, “Wow. That’s a really rude thing for you to say. You’ve lost your DM privileges.” I felt proud of myself in that moment for not putting up with shit that makes me uncomfortable. Did that guy ever apologize? No. He bitched in DMs at a mutual friend about how humorless I was.
No one has ever asked me to do any sexual acts that I wasn’t down for. But “accidental” groping, bizarre boundary-crossing private messages, and men making me feel otherwise unsafe are all too common. The heartening thing about the #yesallwomen hashtag was reading other women’s stories and learning that I wasn’t alone or unreasonably creeped out by the things that happened to me.
I used to think that my creep radar was set to “really fucking high.” I have had conversations all too recently with my nearest and dearest female friends in which I’ve uttered the phrase, “It’s OK that I find this creepy, right? This is over the line to you, too?” I hate that I have to even have these exchanges. I hate that society has taught me too well that a woman’s reaction should be mild amusement. Just go along with the flirty IMs/”accidental” groping, but don’t get too excited, because the boundary between “chill girl” and “slut” is permeable. I hate that society has also insinuated that as a fat, disabled woman, I should be flattered by any attention no matter from whom, because it’s not like it’s going to happen that often, right? Creepy attention is at least attention.
It’s heartening to know that I’m not the only woman who’s heard these messages. I’m not the only woman who’s gotten these stories. Yes, many have had it worse, but in those moments of profound physical and mental discomfort, it’s easy to feel isolated. That serves the purposes of all the creepers. If we all talked openly about unacceptable creeping behavior, it would be less OK to do it. And that is a world I want to be in.
Just a note: If you want to leave a comment that contains the words “But not all men…” or “I certainly would never…” and you’re a dude, save yourself the five minutes, because duh. Not all men are creepers, but all women have been creeped on. This is seriously not about you.