(It would be nice if what follows were the only instances when a man harmed me in my lifetime. They are not. It would be courageous if I could say I’m posting this without reservation or fear. I am not. It would be encouraging if this post ended optimistically. It does not. The truth should be spoken regardless if your voice shakes. So here’s mine.)
Most people, when they recall the loss of their virginity, they remember how awkward it was or how they should’ve waited or how in love they were maybe. The memories may not always be of joy, but they may able to laugh at the thought. My memory isn’t so pleasant.
I was raped.
That’s how I lost my virginity.
I haven’t written about Bill Cosby or Donald Trump or Weinstein on this site because they are triggers for me. When discussing, I can’t be impartial. Because I’ve been that woman. I was that girl. I was raped before I knew rape came in more forms than a screaming woman dragged into an alley. I was objectified before I knew the term. I’d been deprived of my innocence before my 10th grade Homecoming.
I’ve given details about my rape before so I won’t subject myself today to reliving it. It took me a REALLY long time to realize I’d survived that. It took me an even longer time to get back to okay, to stop being afraid of male attention. I was graduating college before I didn’t fear allowing a man to touch me again. I never told anyone what happened, and I’d lie to my friends that I was having sex when I wasn’t. Because I was still terrified, and I never wanted to give a man that power over me again. But I got to okay, you know. I navigated through college and beyond. I dated, got my heart broken, dated again.
Gradually, as I entered Corporate America, I began to change the way I dress. Skirts and heels and tight tops and makeup. There was a time in my life when I didn’t wear shorts or a dress for nearly six years. Summers in the South were hot and I’d still be in a pair of jeans. In the off-chance someone did happen to see my legs, they always mentioned how pale they were. The sun’s rays hadn’t touched my legs in half a decade. People believed I was ashamed of my body, and I was. Just not for the reasons they assumed. I wasn’t embarrassed of my body. I was ashamed of what my body had endured, of what my body had let happen. Because in my mind, had I not been shaped like this, the rape and catcalls and inappropriate touching wouldn’t have happened. So I hid inside baggy clothes as my first line of defense.
Expectations may have some readers believe my next sentence will be “Things got better.” But those of you who immediately recognized the title of this post know that things did not. I just survived. I adapted. I stopped seeing my femininity as a curse and embraced all it was capable of. I knew my body was not more important than my mind, and it was not necessary for me to downplay one to increase the appreciation of the other. That’s what I knew and know, you see. That it doesn’t matter how I dress or behave, I am still owed respect and autonomy.
Unfortunately, I could tattoo FEMINIST across my forehead. This would still be a man’s world.
Last week, when I read the articles about Harvey Weinstein, I recognized him. I have never met Harvey Weinstein, but I have met and worked for Harvey Weinsteins. Three years ago, I was sexually assaulted at a business conference. This man tried to pull me to his room, and when I wouldn’t go, he pushed me against the wall and began to grope me. I couldn’t fight him off; he was a foot taller than me. How entitled to my body must he believed he was to assault me in a hotel airlock in front of colleagues? So entitled and so arrogant that he would not move away from me until someone physically unattached him.
I never reported it to the police because I knew I’d somehow be guilty of inviting his attention. He did buy me drinks, and we were both tipsy. And I was wearing a pair of tight jeans. As intelligent as I am, something in my mind still made me think that this was possibly my fault. So no charges were pressed but I also would not work with him again. So I told my superiors at my job about what had happened and demand his files be assigned to someone else. And they did. I had a meeting with my Executive Director, and he comforted me by telling me he’d beat the fuck out of that guy if he could and how sorry he was that that had happened to me.
Finally, right? Someone believed me. We women had a man in power who saw our side! I had an advocate, a protector. I would not have to stop attending conferences, possibly halt my career advancement, because someone powerful had my back. So I thought. Within months, that powerful man started sending lewd texts and inviting me to hotel rooms. That same advocate would see me in the halls of our building and force me into hugs or stare me down across boardrooms. Did he believe my story about what happened that night or did he assume I invite attention and decide to shoot his shot? He harassed me for months for sex, and I didn’t say a word. When he began to use his power to force me into closed-door meetings or delegate me to accompany him on work trips, I refused to go and confided in my superiors why. My boss believed me and prevented my presence in meetings and trips, but nothing happened to him. Even if you speak up and someone believes you, your harasser is not forced to change his behavior. Oh no, the punishment is yours to bear. You’ll be removed from assignments/departments/offices “for your safety.” You may be the victim, but his career and reputation remain more important than your mental and emotional well-being.
Stay quiet and be harassed. Speak up and be demoted. Those are our options.
Fortunately, a leopard does not change his spots. Layoffs happened. Someone reported to our Board that she was being sexually harassed by the ED to keep her job. Until that point, I thought it was just me being subjected to his come-ons. Her story sounded so much like mine that I’d actually thought my boss had finally spoke up for me. But she hadn’t. My advocate was harassing another woman and trying to lure her by dangling her employment. Though she had proof, our Board investigated for a few days but ultimately ruled nothing untoward had happened. Why? Because this woman had a reputation. And there were explicit photos of her on the Internet. The ED argued that she was being used to set him up. And the Board of eight men and one woman chose to buy that. It took them less than two days.
And that pissed me off.
So I told my story. All of it. I printed every text he’d sent. Everything I knew about him, and I knew a lot so I said it all. He resigned before the end of the week.
Then the rumors started.
How I invited his advances. How my promotion was because I was fucking him. And when I found out he was flirting with someone else, I retaliated. These were just the actions of an angry scorned woman. I wanted his attention anyway. Why else would my skirts be so short and my tops so low and tight? If he was sexually harassing me, why did I smile at him? Why didn’t I come forward sooner? And didn’t I accuse someone else of assault recently? This is obviously just my M.O.
How did I cope? I moved to another state.
So I don’t write about Weinstein or Cosby or Trump. I don’t write about Roger Ailes or Ben Affleck or Ezekiel Elliot or Nate Parker. I don’t invite debates about the validity of their accusers’ victims’ statements. I refuse to acknowledge questions of why they didn’t come forward sooner, why they went to the hotel room in the first place, why they didn’t fight him? And I dare not surmise how so many knew what was happening to these women and allowed it to continue.
But for those women who live this…For those who have dealt with this…For those who have been blamed or made to feel guilty…For those who suppress part of themselves just for safety and sanity…For those who find the courage and wherewithal to be fully you and endure another day…