Wednesday, October 18, 2017

From Pimps to Professors: A Lifetime of Sexual Harassment

Me, at about 40
I have been sexually harassed thousands of times. Every woman has. This post is a tiny representation of just a few of those thousands of times. These are the moments of sexual harassment that, for whatever reason, stuck in mind and wouldn't go away.

Yes, I was also sexually abused, sex trafficked, in fact, throughout my entire childhood, so it goes without saying that I have been sexually assaulted and raped innumerable times. But that's not what this post is about. It's about sexual harassment. Because not all women have been raped, but all women have been sexually harassed, and it's not going to stop if people don't understand just how bad, how constant, it really is. And how we've been taught to blame ourselves.

I have chosen to include some childhood incidents which some might say are not sexual harassment unto themselves (though that's debatable) but which were clearly grooming me, a girl child, to expect and accept sexual harassment in my future.

One final note, and I wish I didn't have to waste my breath saying this, but, no, I know not all men sexually harass women. I also mention some butch women who have sexually harassed me and, obviously, I also know that not all butch women sexually harass women. 

But I also know that ALL women have been sexually harassed - often. This post is about what we all endure.


On my 4th birthday
4 years old:
I'm at my great-grandmother's funeral. I barely understand death but I loved her and I miss her so I'm feeling both confused and sad. So I don't like it when a little boy follows me around for the entire funeral and reception. I complain to the adults and everybody laughs and says he's my boyfriend. I get the sense that they're saying something I've done, or something about the way I look, caused him to follow me against my will. For years afterwards, whenever the funeral comes up, everyone laughs again and talks about my boyfriend.



5 years old: 
I'm on recess in kindergarten. We're all climbing on the jungle gym. The boys start singing songs about how they can see the girls' underwear. It is understood that this is humiliating to us and it's our fault. We shouldn't have climbed on the jungle gym, I guess.



6 years old: 
I'm at a Christmas dinner with family. I walk through a door and the whole family starts yelling that I have to kiss a man. Apparently I'm under mistletoe. I'm already being sexually abused so I do not want to kiss a man but they tell me I have no choice. I pick the grown step-brother whom I think is the least likely to later say I seduced him by kissing him. In other words, I pick the one I think is least likely to sexually assault me.

6 years old: 
In grade one, the boys' favourite game on the playground is to chase the girls and pull up our skirts to expose our underwear, and then laugh at us. No adult ever intervenes once, all year. I learn a special way to get free when the boys grab me. I earn the name, The Arm Twister. 

7 years old: 
These are the days when young children walk to and from school alone. Kitty corner from my school, a man always tinkers with his van and says hello to the children as we walk home. It doesn't take long for him to start inviting us into his van. I tell an adult about this and am told not to get in the van, but no-one takes any action. 

8 years old: 
I try to tell Smother, my grandmother, and some other adults about some boys who regularly beat me up on the school ground. All the adults laugh and say, "When a boy beats you up, it means he likes you. He just doesn't know how to show it. Don't hurt his feelings. It's a compliment."



8 years old: 
Everyone starts telling me that I'm going to have to beat the boys away with a baseball bat when I'm a bit older. I know I should be flattered. I am flattered because I understand that this is their strange, adult way of telling me I'm pretty. But I don't understand why I will need a bat. Won't it be enough for me to just say no?


With my grandmother and one of her brothers, two of the goodest people I knew
10 years old: 
Everyone has a favourite recess and lunchtime game in grade four. The girls wear strapless, tube tops and scream for help while the boys chase them. When the boys catch the girls, they pull down their tops, exposing their non-existent breasts. As usual, no adults intervene. I refuse to play this game. I'm already wildly unpopular so being a little more ostracized doesn't bother me.  

11 years old: 
A pretty girl in our class already has real breasts. The boys immediately start saying she's a slut. I believe it until I spend some time with her and realize she's been done a terrible injustice for the uncontrollable misfortune of having hit puberty early.

11 years old: 
Some girls are starting to wear "training bras." The boys start pulling their back strap and letting go: snap! We are all meant to know that this humiliates the girls and it's our fault. We're all meant to know that we have crossed a line in childhood that demarcates us as different now, our female body parts to be brought to everyone's attention, through male word and deed.

11 years old: 
I go to a dinner party at the house of a woman with a teenage son. He has two of his male friends with him. We're all sent downstairs to watch TV. Two of the boys spend the entire time lunging at my chest and trying to stick their hands up my skirt. I think there's something wrong with me that I'm upset so I try to hide my extreme discomfort. The third boy finally says to his friends, "Stop that!" They ask him why, completely perplexed. "Some girls don't like that," he explains. I'm cast him a grateful look.



12 years old: 
In sex education class, the girls are given an antiquated pamphlet telling us that we have to start being careful about what we wear. That sweater that we think is "simply becoming," might be "too much for a boy." We all know to read between the lines: "Boys can't control themselves. It's up to you to control them. If a boy rapes you, it's your fault." I'm happy to say that even then I knew this was bullshit.

12 years old: 
Our gym teacher tells the girls that, if our shorts are too short, she'll let us know and we'll have to buy a new pair. At some point, as I grow through the year, she takes me aside to tell me that my shorts are now too short. I'm offended; after all, I'm not that kind of girl, not that I have any idea what that kind of girl is. I just know that she wears short shorts and that's bad. We're never told why this is a problem, nor why boys aren't given similar instructions.

12 years old: 
As I approach my 13th birthday, I start noticing men looking at me from cars and trucks when I'm out on the street. I'm confused. Am I flattered? It means I look different now, right? Is that a good thing? Do I have power over men now? 



13 years old: 
I'm in high school now. A boy in my class starts hitting my bum when he walks by and saying, "Nice ass." He does this all year. I don't know if he's the same boy who is slipping weird, "love" notes into my locker.  

13 years old: 
While skipping class, some of us are listening to The Beatles. A boy says, "You know what they're saying in this part? 'Bum fuck, bum fuck, everybody bum fuck.'" I feel very uncomfortable but I pretend I don't. Cool girls would laugh, wouldn't they? So I laugh.



13 years old: 
I'm living in a two room, basement suite with Smother. One night, as I come out of the shower, put a towel on, and walk into the one bedroom, I see a man crouching down and looking in the window. He's been watching me shower. We call the police. They look around outside a bit, then tell us to keep our blinds closed. They are closed but they are cheap and don't close well.

13 years old: 
I go to an end of the school year party. The host's parents are upstairs, having their own party, getting drunk and high. All the kids are downstairs, also getting drunk and high. Eventually, I fall asleep in a bed in the basement. I wake up to find one of the adult men from upstairs in bed with me. He says it's his damned bed so I'll just have to share. I don't say anything but I get out of the bed and sleep on the floor.


I drew this self-portrait when I was 14. It was my attempt to show how I felt with men's eyes on me.
14 years old: 
Smother moves us to a red light district known for its "Kiddie Stroll," where underage girls as young as 12 are turned out by pimps, and bought by grown men. By now, of course, I'm used to being stared at by men wherever I go but now men in my neighbourhood start slowing their cars down to see if I'm for sale when they pass me on the street. I develop a fear of going out alone, even just to go to the corner store. I can't stand the men's eyes on me. Smother yells at me about it.



14 years old: 
I'm a severely abused girl. My homeroom teacher senses this and starts chatting with me about it after school. Day after day, he comforts me, laughs with me, befriends me. In other words, he grooms me. I tell him I'm having trouble with French. He gets me to practice on the chalkboard while he hugs me from behind, his arms touching my small breasts. He rubs his erection against my bum. I think maybe he doesn't know what he's doing and I don't want to hurt his feelings by telling him to stop. But I also know he's doing this to at least two other girls. Eventually I go to my female principal and tell her what's going on. She tells him to stop "hugging" me. He does, but he doesn't stop with the other girls. He is not disciplined. 



15 years old: 
In school, everyone still talks about "mankind" and uses "he" for all people, not just men. This has been standard for hundreds of years but I think it's time for a change, so I start urging my English class to say "humankind" and "he or she." A male classmate tells me, "You do that because you hate men." I don't even know how to answer. I don't yet know that this is the standard response to all feminist arguments. 

15 years old: 
I get upset with something that happens in class. The same male classmate looks at me and says, "What's the matter? Did someone shave your box?" I'm so shocked, I fall silent. 

15 years old: 
I get off the bus with another female friend. Three, drunk, older teenage boys come toward us. One reaches out both arms and grabs me, saying, "I'll take this one!" like I'm an object on a shelf. I'm really scared. His friend pulls him away and apolgizes. I cast him a grateful glance. I'm shaken.

15 years old: 
I ask a male friend I've known for two years to walk me home so I feel safer. We pass a park and he says, "Let's sit down and talk." We do, but suddenly his face is in my face and he's sticking his tongue down my throat, slobbering. "Admit it," he says. "There's always been something between us." There has never been any such thing between us! Not on my side. But I don't want to hurt his feelings so I let him keep slobbering on me, though it disgusts me.

16 years old: 
I'm walking home alone at night. I look much younger than I am. An older man in a flashy car and snazzy clothes stops me and starts chatting me up. I immediately understand that he's a pimp trying to recruit me. I find this hilarious, since Smother has been pimping me since I was a little girl, so his subtle tricks are obvious to me. I make sure to stay outside the car, on the passenger side, so he can't grab me, but I keep talking because I'm really curious about his recruitment techniques. He says he'll take me to clubs, dinners, buy me fancy things. This doesn't appeal to me at all. He shows me a little black book with girls' names, addresses, and phone numbers in it, all in different handwriting. "See how many girls trust me?" he says. "Why don't you?"

16 years old: 
I'm walking home alone from a party at night. A car load of drunk young men speeds by. One of them leans out and yells, "I want your precious pussy!" I understand that I am the one who's supposed to feel humiliated and I do. I shouldn't be out so late alone. This moment sticks with me for the rest of my life.

16 years old: 
A female friend and I have been down at the cooperative radio station in skid row. We're taking the bus home. A man plants himself in front of us, turns to face us, and harasses us the entire way. We're both scared. My friend leans into me and whispers, "Don't leave me alone with him." But, at my buss stop, I do leave her alone. I don't know why. She was okay in the end, but I feel guilty about it to this day. If she'd been hurt, I think, it would be my fault. Only now, in writing this, do I understand that it would have been the man's fault, not hers, and not mine.



16 years old: 
I've gone to a Quaker youth (18-35) gathering in California. I complain about the fact that there is so much garlic in all the food, my mouth tastes funny all the time. A 30 year old man give me some royal jelly to help get rid of the taste. Later, I say, "Everyone's saying royal jelly is an aphrodisiac. Is it?" He gives me a sly, tricky look, and wanders off. 

16 years old: 
I see my father for the first time in two years. The first thing he says to me is, "You've grown." He later clarifies. He meant my breasts had grown.

17 years old: 
I go to a party at a friend's house. Her father is there; he's well into his 40s. He starts dancing with me, holding my hands, staring into my eyes. When I go outside to cool down, he follows me, and asks me if I'm professional dancer. I later learn that he has raped several teenage girls. Everybody knows "he has a thing for very young women," as they put it, but nobody warns me. Even after a well-known writer publishes a book in which she describes him raping her when she was fourteen, he is never charged or prosecuted.

17 years old: 
I go to a concert with two friends, a married couple, from church. They're about 35. When the wife isn't listening, the husband suddenly says to me, "You remind me a lot of a lover I had in college. I just thought you should know there's that energy in the atmosphere?" That what in the what? I think he's a fool.

17 years old: 
A friend and I are taking a long walk in the park. Two men start following us, yelling lewd things at us. We decide to hold hands and pretend we're lesbians. We think this will turn the men off. It doesn't. They make even worse comments now.

17 years old: 
I've left home now. I'm making my way from California to Iowa on a 36 hour Greyhound ride. A man in his 50s sits beside me. He spends the entire 36 hours hitting on me, leaning too close, making comments about my appearance, suggesting I spend time with him after the bus ride, etc. Whenever I actually fall asleep, I wake up to find him pressed against me. At one point, he shows me a photo of his daughter. I say, "Oh, she's older than me!" hoping this will dissuade him. It doesn't. I think about asking the bus driver to help me change seats but I doubt he'll support me.

17 years old: 
I've landed in Toronto, with no job, no home, and only a couple of new friends, all of them significantly older than me. A 28 year old man is the caretaker at a church building that has some bedrooms, a bathroom, and a shared kitchen on the top floor. He lets me stay there free for three weeks, making it clear that he is breaking the rules in doing so. One night, he comes to my room and starts kissing me and touching my breasts. Kissing him feels like sucking on chalk dust. His hands on my breasts feel like metal wire scraping me. I am disgusted. But I don't stop him. I need a place to stay. 

17 years old: 
A newly married, 42 year old hippie I know from back home is in town and asks me out for lunch. Very soon, he asks me if I'd like to go back to my place and "share some massage." I laugh out loud. His ploy is so obvious, and so tedious.

17 years old: 
I'm working in retail at my first real job. One day, while I'm eating lunch in the back room, my boss comes in, stares at me, then walks up to me and starts rubbing my shoulders. Then he leaves. He never says a word. Neither do I. I don't understand why he did that.

18 years old: 
I'm sitting at a table at a blues bar. A man who will soon become a well-known rock star stands behind me and rubs his crotch on my shoulder, saying, "Mmmm, feels good." It happens so quickly, I think maybe I imagined it, but I know I didn't. 

18 years old: 
I'm working in retail at my second real job. A man much older than me takes a fancy to me and starts peeking into the back room when I'm on break. He rides his bike around the store often. He often follows me when I leave work. He's stalking me. I tell my female coworkers about it. We all act like he's a pathetic joke. Fear is not cool.

18 years old: 
By now, I'm getting sexual comments from men several times a day every day, on busses, on the street, at work, on the Metro ... everywhere, all the time. I start wearing baggy, ugly clothes. I cut off all my hair. It doesn't help at all.



19 years old: 
I've now come out of the closet as lesbian and moved back to the city where I went to high school. All my male friends from high school take to talking about women's bodies with me. They seem to think that my lesbianism gives them permission to talk to me lewdly. They talk about and rate breasts, vaginas, bellies, blow jobs, sex, all of it. I think, "Maybe I'm supposed to be cool with this." I even try to join in, but, unlike my lesbian friends, I find that straight men don't know when they've gone too far in these sorts of conversations. 

19 years old: 
I'm in the gay neighourhood with a gay male friend. We pass three very large, straight men, all drunk. One sports a glow stick coming out of the fly in his pants. He jumps up and starts waving it at my friend, asking, "Does this turn you on? I bet this turns you on, eh?" I jump between them. He's a foot taller than me. I yell at him, tell him to leave my friend alone. Amazingly, he does. His friend apologizes for him. My friend and I walk off, instinctively throwing our arms around each other like we're a straight couple, trying to pass for "normal" so we won't get harassed anymore. 

19 years old: 
I briefly work in the city's gay and lesbian bookstore. We regularly get phone calls from straight men, asking us in explicit, pornographic detail, what we do in bed with each other. 

19 years old: 
While I'm looking for a place to live, I stay with a male friend from high school. We're close friends, and snuggle a lot, but I've told him both that I'm dealing with horrific memories of sexual abuse, and that I'm only interested in women. One night, I find myself crying in his arms, telling him about the sexual abuse. He tries to kiss me. I feel guilty for leading him on and continue to feel guilty about it till I write this post.

19 years old: 
The only lesbian bar in town is in the red light district. It's very scary to wait for the bus at the end of the night but I'm too poor to take a taxi. One night, a very butch woman whom I quickly realize is a pimp, tries to bully me into being one of her women. She tells me about all the women she has in "her stall." Of course, as a formerly trafficked child, I know all about stalls. I want that world to be behind me.

20 years old: 
I discover that I am femme and many butch women desire me. Many of them also think I'm stupid because I'm femme. They treat me like the "little woman," insulting me, being predatory, possessive, and extremely condescending. They also often tell me that the only reason I'm femme is because I want to please men and I am not a feminist. But they still try to fuck me. Often. They "accuse" me of being straight or a bitch when I turn them down. 

20 years old: 
I start answering back to the daily catcalls and come-ons. I tell the men to fuck off, or otherwise reject their advances. I'm called every name you can imagine, but the most common ones are the self-contradictory: frigid and dyke, and, of course, bitch and slut. Sometimes the men become extremely confrontational and frightening. One man gets so up in my face that I start shaking with fear. What is going to do to me? I try to calmly tell him how scary it is when unknown men come on to women. He gets even angrier. I'm shaking all over and think, "I shouldn't have done that. I shouldn't have told him to stop."

20 years old: 
I break up with my girlfriend who is much taller and bigger than I am. She pins me down on the bed and threatens to rape me, saying, "I have to hurt you as much as you've hurt me." By laughing and pretending she's joking, I manage to get her off me. The next time she tries to rape me, it's even worse. "You win," she says, as if it's my fault, and throws me on the bed, pulling off her leather belt so it hits me hard. When I say no, she says, "Just pretend you're a slut." A few years later, she becomes a counsellor at a rape crisis centre. 

21 years old: 
I'm walking down the street with a (female) date. A man comes up behind us and says, "Don't turn around. I could fucking kill you. You should be more careful. I'm just letting you know. I could fucking kill you." We walk into the nearest store and ask for help. The man behind the counter just stares at us like we're aliens. He refuses to speak, let alone do anything to help us. 

22 years old: 
In attempt to turn men off, I start wearing the ugliest glasses I can find. They don't work.



22 years old: 
By now I'm living with my girlfriend in, yes, another red light district. It's all we can afford. Whenever I walk my dog in the local park, men circle the block over and over again, staring at me because they want to buy me. Sometimes I shake my head and sometimes that stops them. Sometimes I ignore them as they circle me, over, and over, and over. I want to yell, "I'm walking my fucking dog! Do you think she's part of the deal or something? What's wrong with you?" but I know doing so would put me in more danger.

23 years old: 
I've returned to university again. When we get to Shakespeare in my Renaissance literature course, my male professor says that all the reading we've done so far is just "foreplay" and now we can "bask in the post-coital glow" of Shakespeare. (Years later, I remind him that he said this and he's horrified and apologizes.)

23 years old: 
I'm writing for my student newspaper and for a few queer newspapers, so I often get free tickets and backstage passes to arts events. My female photographer and I go to the Colin James concert. Afterwards, backstage, we spend the night being plied with alcohol and constant come-ons from his band. (Colin James himself is a perfect gentleman, for the record.) As we're all leaving the venue, they try to plead, cajole, and bully us into coming back to their hotel with them. We're being mean. Other women have done it. What's our problem? Etc. We refuse.

23 years old: 
A male classmate and I strike up a friendship and he offers to help me with my computer problems. I mention a girlfriend. "Wait a minute, did you say you're a lesbian?" I say yes. "Oh what a relief," he says. "I don't have to hit on you." What?

24 years old: 
I tell a male friend that my ex-girlfriend tried to rape me and now acts like nothing happened. The first thing he asks is, "Were you laughing?" I say I was, because I was trying to diffuse the situation and because I was very nervous. "Then how was she supposed to know you were serious when you said no?" he asks me. I guess he's right. I feel guilty. 



24 years old: 
I'm in a gay bar (as opposed to a lesbian bar). I don't like going to gay bars because straight men go there to gawk at the lesbians, like we're specimens in a zoo. Then they send their girlfriends out onto the dance floor to hit on the femme women and propose a threesome. This happens all the time. But I went this time because the gay bars are so much nicer than lesbian bars: better sound systems, more space, better music, nicer lighting, safer neighbourhoods. Out of nowhere, a man comes up and grabs my breasts, as if it's completely normal.

25 years old: 
A much older man I know from the neighbourhood figures out that I only date women, but that I might date men again now. We're outside his house. "Do you want me to show you what it's like to be with a man?" he asks. "Let's go inside and I'll show you right now. Come on."



25 years old: 
Though I still prefer women, I do now date men too. A man from my gym asks if I'd like to go to a party with him and his friends. Somehow, though, when we meet for the party, there is no party, there are no friends, and he and I are going on a dinner date. I've already learned to come out as bisexual to straight men right away, to find out if they're creeps. They usually are. He is. Before we've even ordered our food, he's done what they all do: Asked to watch me with another woman. Asked to join him in a threesome. Asked what lesbians do in bed. (To the last question, I've learned to answer, "If you can't figure that out, you're a lousy lover.") I'm so used to this treatment that it doesn't even occur to me to walk away then and there. In fact, I always feel a little bad for him because I'm not into him.

26 years old: 
I meet a girl who goes to the same high school I went to when my teacher rubbed his dick on me. She makes it clear that he's still doing the same things. I muster up my courage and go to the police about him. They treat me like a suspect, refusing me breaks, food, or drink, and checking my arms for track marks. They keep asking me why I didn't go to the police at the time. They repeatedly ask me if I'd wanted my teacher to leave his wife for me, and I repeatedly tell them that I was a child and it was not an affair. They ask me to do their work by finding the other girls he molested. They go the female principal to whom I reported my teacher's behaviour. She is now school superintendent. She lies and says she can't remember any of it. The police drop my case. The man keeps teaching.

26 years old:
I tell a man my father's age, whom I've known all my life, that I was sexually abused. He proceeds to tell me about what a "hot little body" his buddy's daughter had when she was twelve, and how he fantasized about having sex with her, but "would never actually do it." Does he think this is supposed to somehow comfort me? Does he think he's telling me what a good man he is, because he didn't rape a 12 year old


27 years old: 
I'm at a bar and a particularly gross man is aggressively hitting on me all night. He tries all his tricks, telling me he's slept with several hundred women and never had any complaints, berating me for not going home with him, and eventually insulting me by telling me my arms are really hairy. He refuses to leave me alone and therefore ruins my whole night. This kind of thing is not unusual but his methods are particularly disgusting so he sticks in my mind.

27 years old:
I'm on a date with a woman. We're waiting at a corner to cross the street. A much older man selling calendars to raise money for the poor says, "Oooh can I watch?"


27 years old: 
A much older man follows me home at night and lurks in the bushes while I try to get into my apartment building as quickly as I can. Once I'm inside, I call the police. They don't understand why I've called. Clearly they think it's no big deal.



28 years old: 
By now I'm teaching ESL. I meet a foreign businessman who says he wants English lessons. I need money so I offer to meet him in a cafe to give him a lesson. Upon arriving, he immediately kisses me on the cheek and then sits far too close to me. I proceed to actually teach him English, but, clearly, that's not what he's after and he becomes petulant, as if I'm the one trying to trick him.

28 years old: 
A friend is helping me move into my apartment in Queens. A man offers to help carry a small sofa upstairs so I feel obliged to give him my number. It turns out he lives across the air shaft from me, so he can see me whenever I'm home. He says he wants to be my "American boyfriend." He says he has a girlfriend in Tibet, but that's no big deal. We immigrants, he says, get to have American lovers too. For a long time after that, he calls whenever he sees that I'm home. I don't answer but it's extremely uncomfortable and I'm nervous to leave my blinds open - ever.

29 years old: 
In New York, everywhere I go, men on the street call me "mommi." It takes no time for me to know that this isn't a good thing. On the subways, men regularly rub up against me, just like my teacher used to do. When I loudly ask them to move, everyone looks away from me like I'm the one who's done something wrong.

29 years old: 
Because there are so many Algerians in New York, I find I'm getting a lot of chances to practise my French, so, when a much older man who teaches French in the school where I teach ESL offers to give me lessons, I say yes. We meet outside of school and, very quickly, it becomes clear that he has no intention of teaching me French. He keeps trying to hug and kiss me and talk me into sleeping with him. He bullies, he cajoles, he pleads: the usual. Soon thereafter, I learn that he has a wife and children.

29 years old: 
While in New York, I get in touch with many old family members, since both sides of my family are from New York. I meet a much older cousin, once-removed, for lunch. For some inexplicable reason, he brings his buddy. When they start commenting on whether or not the waitress is wearing panties, I figure it out. He knows I'm bisexual and the two of them want to talk dirty with me. This isn't new, but it's particularly disgusting coming from a family member. But I don't want to seem like a prude, so I try to play along. I get mad at myself for not being more secretive about being bisexual.



30 years old: 
I write to a friend I knew in New York and mention that I'm bisexual. Why didn't I tell him? he asks. He's done all kinds of freaky things too. Like once, he had sex with his sister. I'm sickened. Did he rape her? How can he equate that to liking women? Another friendship ends. 

30 years old: 
I'm at the gym on the thigh press, an exercise machine that holds my thighs wide apart, when suddenly the electricity goes out and it's completely dark. I feel a man's hands on my thighs, creeping upward. "Get your fucking hands off me!" I yell, as loud as I can. Men laugh. Nobody comes to my aid. When the lights are back on the owners of the gym, a gay male couple, ask me what happened. I tell them who I think did it but, because it was dark, I can't be sure. They watch him carefully for a while until they find another reason to ban him. What a relief.

31 years old: 
I'm teaching in an ESL school. A brilliant but clearly erratic male student frequently says extremely sexist things in class. I tease him into better moods and new perspectives. One day, as I'm sitting, he stands, faces me, and starts to take him pants off. His crotch is at my face level. As women learn to do, I manage to make a joke of it and stop him. I'm given no support from my superiors.

31 years old: 
I'm having coffee with a male friend, a retired Philosophy professor. I'm talking about dating. "Anyone you settle down with will have to be very understanding," he says. I ask him why. "Because you're bisexual," he answers, as if it's obvious. I ask what that's got to do with it. "Well you have to have one of both," he says, like it's an irrefutable fact that he, a straight man, is explaining to me, a bisexual woman. "You can't be monogamous."



32 years old: 
I'm getting my Masters degree in English in Toronto. One night I go out to a lesbian event with classmates. It's my birthday, so I dress up in a tight dress and very high, spike heels. Immediately, all my friends start treating me differently, not like an intellectual classmate, but like a sex object. They talk to me like I'm stupid, play the "man's" role, kiss my hand, offer me drinks, dance too closely, and refuse to admit that I can do anything for myself. A butch woman I don't know hits on me. When I turn her down, she says, "Oh, I see. You're straight." She's just like the men who say I'm a dyke when I turn them down. 



33 years old: 
I call a cute guy who gave me his phone number. During our conversation, he tells me that he thinks it would be really nice to be a woman. I ask him why. "Because you get so many compliments when you're walking down the street," he answers. It never occurred to me that men actually think they're complimenting me when they cat call me! I've always assumed they know they're degrading and scaring me. I proceed to ask him how he'd feel if a stranger a foot taller than him and at least 50 pounds heavier than him starting making remarks to him about his body, his sexual desirability, and what they'd like to do to him sexually. "Gee," he said, "I never really thought about it." I tell him if he really likes women, he should start thinking about it. 



33 years old: 
To save time, I'm jogging home from the gym in my sports bra and shorts. A repulsive man on the street says, "Yummy. How much?" Men still think I'm for sale?! I get mad at myself for being on a main street in my sports bra. What was I thinking?

34 years old: 
I'm at the gym, using proper breathing technique on one of the machines. A guy beside me, who obviously never works out, says, "Oh, that heavy breathing. You're turning me on!"

34 years old: 
I'm teaching university English now. A male student about my age comes to my office ostensibly to get help with his work. He tells me he's having trouble understanding the class, but it soon becomes clear that's not really why he's here. He keeps grinning at me in what he seems to think is a flirtatious way, as we both know something but aren't saying it. He asks me if I date students. He tells me he dated one of his previous instructors for a long time. He makes it sound almost like it's obligatory to do so, and odd not to do so. I do my best to pretend I have no idea what he's insinuating. Later, as I'm walking down the street in my neighbourhood, he yells at me from a passing car, "Howdy, Teach!" with that creepy, knowing grin. 

35 years old: 
The man who told me I'd need an understanding partner because I'm bisexual, invites me to start coming to a once weekly intellectual "salon." When I go, I find I'm the only woman there, and also the youngest person there. All the men frequently wonder aloud why sometimes start coming but never keep coming. I tell them that maybe it's because they're holding the salon in a notoriously dangerous, drug-addled, red light district after dark, and women don't feel comfortable going there. They all laugh at me and tell me that can't be the reason. They seem to think that the more likely reason is that women don't like intellectual conversation.

35 years old: 
At the same salon, many of them secretly hit on me, while they all publicly put me down for being vain and self-centred. For instance, a man makes a sexist joke, saying that, after marriage, women try to change the man, and men try to keep the woman from changing. Disgusted, I say, "I'm not like that." "It's not about you!" I'm told, dismissively, as if, yet again, I'm being a narcissist. On another night, the men say it's their job as men to protect women from predators. They're very proud of themselves. When I suggest that maybe it's their job to help create a world where there are no predators and women don't need protection, they tell me that I'm being emasculating! Though they enjoy putting me down and laughing at my ideas, they feel entitled to make frequent, inappropriate, "complimentary" comments about my face, body, and outfits. Some ask me out with passive aggressive lines like, "if you don't find that too repulsive."

35 years old: 
One night, in an effort to be social, I go to a pub with some guys from other departments at the college where I teach. One of the men spends the entire night explaining to me why I'm stupid to believe in God. He doesn't listen to anything I say, and refuses to hear what I really believe in. Instead, he condescendingly gears his grade school arguments toward a belief in some facile version of God that kindergarten kids learn about in Sunday School. He seems to forget that I have a Masters degree from the best English program in Canada, and have a tenure-track position in the best college in town. My colleague's complete lack of respect for my beliefs, erudition, and intelligence don't, however, stop him from repeatedly hitting on me for the entire night.

36 years old: 
I go on a date with man and after the date tell him I'm not interested in going on any more dates with him. He then writes to me and asks if I want to go on weekend trip with him. When I turn him down, he tries to change my mind by writing me a letter telling me explicit details about his supposed skills in intercourse and oral sex.

36 years old: 
On another date, I wear jeans with a fantastic, Harris Tweed blazer. When I mention that I have a hard time meeting people I really like, my male date tells me it's because of the way I dress. He proceeds to berate me for dressing like an intellectual - which he says no man could ever find sexy.

36 years old: 
I'm jogging home from work and jog through a park. A huge group of very drunk men are lounging around on the ground in the middle of the day. One and all, they start making lewd comments about my body, evaluating it and finding it to their liking.



37 years old: 
I meet a man online who seems okay so we correspond a bit. He figures out that I also have a profile on the lesbian branch of the dating site and immediately accuses me of lying to him. Why, he asks, did I say I could be monogamous when obviously I can't. I tell him that I can be monogamous and he sends me a barrage of hostile, graphic, and increasingly vulgar emails about the differences between male and female anatomy, and heterosexual and lesbian sex. His hostility increases as he writes about pussies and cocks and oral sex and any number of other sexual acts and body parts. He somehow sees these vulgar emails as incontrovertible proof of my inability to be monogamous. The letters keep coming for hours. He doesn't notice that I've stopped replying.



38 years old: 
Now disabled, I'm at physiotherapy, in excruciating pain. My much older, male physiotherapist loves to flirt with his female patients, something I am in no condition to do even if I wanted to, which I don't. Perhaps because of this, he spends very little time with me. At any rate, he clearly doesn't believe I'm in as much pain as I say I am, and doesn't believe I'm really in need of care. My pain is localized to my lower back but, one day, for some inexplicable reason, he loudly commands, in public, "Do kegels!" and strolls off. Kegels are vaginal exercises meant to help control bladder problems - and improve a woman's sex life. 



38 years old: 
A man I knew a while ago starts hanging out with me and helping me out on the weekends. We dated briefly many years go but I make it clear I'm not interested in him now. Still, I feel increasingly uncomfortable around him so I ask him why he wants to be my friend. He lists what he sees as some of my positive attributes and then adds, like it's another personality trait, "And I think you're nice to look at." I ask him why this is relevant and tell him it makes me uncomfortable. He says he doesn't see why. I'm just like a nice object, he explains, like a painting on a wall, and people like to look at nice objects. I tell him the difference is that I'm a human being, not an object, and my appearance should not be relevant in our friendship. He has PhD in Philosophy and a genius IQ, but this makes no sense to him. 

38 years old: 
Because I don't yet know my disability is permanent, and because I want to get to a place where I can work again, I try to do some volunteer teaching at our skid row, community centre. It's a place where a lot of drug addicts hang out, and I'm prepared for that. What I'm not prepared for is the constant sexual harassment from the men who use the centre's services. From the moment I struggle up the stairs of the building, till I get off transit on my way home, these men comment on my appearance, make sexual propositions to me, and otherwise humiliate and degrade me. All this while I'm in excruciating pain, trying to provide a service for them. 



39 years old: 
My disability is such that I'm taking a lot of cabs. It's far too hard to take transit. Somehow a cab driver figures out that I'm bisexual and immediately begins to tell me disgusting tales of lesbians bathing in virgins' blood, and making bizarre suggestions about my supposed sexual proclivities. He laughs at me when I object. He drops me off at my house, but then keeps circling the block, looking up at my window. 



40 years old: 
I'm trying to get back to work part time, though it's affecting my health terribly. A male student in one of my courses spends the entire semester staring at my breasts. I'm so uncomfortable, I report it, and start wearing baggy cardigans, even though it's much too hot to do so. At times, he also makes extremely inappropriate sexual comments in class. When he fails the course, he contests the grade, so we meet with the female chair of the department. The student spends the entire meeting... staring at my breasts!


I had all kind of pretty photos on my online profile, but this is the one Beau fell for.
41 years old: 

I wear a bit of makeup to work one day. A much older male coworker, who's hit on me in the past, compliments me like he's talking to a child, saying, "Good for you! You should take care of your appearance more often." 



42 years old: 

I've started dating Beau. A male coworker, has come to my office to drive me home. On our way out, we pass an office where another male coworker is keeping his bicycle. My friend starts chatting with him about the bike. I join in the conversation a bit, just to be polite. When we leave, my friend admonishes me for "flirting" with the other man. "You're not used to not being single," he explains to me, "so you're used to flirting. But you're going to have to stop doing that sort of thing now."

42 years old: 
One of Beau's (now ex) friends always stares at my breasts, every time, all the time. He never makes eye contact. Whenever he comes to our house for a visit, his eyes are all over me, so I find myself putting on extra clothing, even when that clothing hurts my body a great deal. When I mention this to one of our mutual female friends, she says he makes her uncomfortable too but he's just shy around women and we shouldn't hurt his feelings. 

43 years old: 
I've started writing this blog and men have started coming on to me online. One man repeatedly writes to me on Facebook telling me I'm pretty. I ignore him. Eventually, he writes me a nasty letter asking why I haven't replied and calling me "a fat cow." This is my first "fat cow" online insult and I just laugh at it. It's so unimaginative.



44 years old: 
I'm out in my mobility scooter when a very drunk, very large, young man falls on it, and me. He begins to apologize and then stops, stares at me, and says, "Hey, you're pretty!" as if a pretty disabled person is a complete shock to him. He says it like he's doing me some great favour, by telling me, a disabled woman, that I'm fuckable. He acts like he's just given me a precious gift, when what he's really done is both fallen on me and insulted me.

44 years old: 
Beau and I go out for beer with one of his male (ex)friends. The friend looks at our waitress and says, "I wonder why she's wearing her hoody zipped up so high. Doesn't she know she won't get good tips that way?" Beau and I say maybe she doesn't want to be sexualized. His friend is utterly perplexed and says that, "She knows the deal. If she doesn't want to be sexualized, she shouldn't take a job waitressing."



44 years old: 
For some unknown reason, I go through a little period where I get burst blood vessels in and around my eyes that make me look like I have black eyes. Several men start making jokes to me and Beau about how he's beating me and that's really funny.

45 years old: 
After Beau and I get married, straight men immediately start making jokes saying, now that I've got my hands on his money, he won't get anymore sex.

45 years old: 
In desperation, I finally ask the guy who made the comment about the waitress, to tell Beau's (ex)friend to stop staring at my breasts. He does so, but apparently the two of them have a long conversation about it. They decide that, if I don't want men staring at my breasts, even in my own home, I should wear a bra at all times. I tell him bras are extremely uncomfortable. I tell him it's up to men not to look at women's breasts. I tell him it's not up to women to dress in a way that doesn't "cause" men to stare at our chests. I tell him he is victim blaming and it's akin to telling women to wear a full burka if they don't want to be raped. He tells me I'm wrong. He explains that he is empowering me by teaching me how to avoid being objectified by men! He won't listen to anything I say. I finally tell him that I'll get Beau to explain it to him and he'll listen because Beau's a man. He says I'm wrong. When we get to our house, he looks through my window, into the kitchen window of my neighbour and says, "She has a good body." I put my head on the table. He has no idea why and asks,"What? Don't you agree?" Later, Beau writes to him and tells him the same things I told him, but this time he listens.  Not only does he agree when a man explains it to him, but he apologizes to Beau, not me



46 years old: 
I'm out on my mobility scooter with a male friend walking beside me. I stop to hold a woman's puppy. A man comes up behind me, and leans over my scooter so he can look down my dress at my breasts. Then he says, "You're not allowed to breast feed a dog, especially when you're in a wheelchair."

47 years old: 
I have stated in my profile on Instagram that I will block men who only follow women. Nonetheless, at least once a week, I have to block these men. I gather they think if they hit on enough random women, they'll eventually get lucky. Way to make a woman feel special. They often also write to me with witty quips like, "Hey. Nice smile," or romantic openers like, "Hello, my dear."



47 years old: 
A few weeks ago, a porn site yet again shared my blog post about the horrors of being a sex trafficked child. Apparently it's great wank material.
qwerty

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! That was painful even to read, and it reminds me why I don't like to leave the house any more.

    ReplyDelete