The first time a boy pinched my ass I was in the fifth grade. His name was Spencer. He probably did it on a dare. I slapped him across the cheek as hard as a 10-year-old girl can slap. I stomped away, red-faced, to find a corner where I could cry.
The first time I kissed a boy, it was definitely on a dare, although I liked him. I spent the night at my friend Lacey’s house. She lived in the same mobile home community as the boy, and we walked over to his place and tapped on his bedroom window. She dared us to kiss, we did, and it was sloppy and salty and strange, which is the way of first kisses. I was 13. I wondered if he liked me, too. I’m still not sure. We never kissed again, but another night he chased me around the property and I was a little scared of what would happen if he caught me. But I was faster.
The first time I told a boy I loved him, I was 17. He was mean to me, this boy. He had started out sweet but slowly devolved. We had dated on and off all throughout high school, and each time we were on he got meaner. We dated for all of senior year. I told him I loved him. He called me a dumbass. He ordered me to fetch him things, cheated openly, told me I would look better with breast implants. Once when I was sitting down he saw a pocket of cellulite on my thigh and stared at me in disgust, asked what it was. One of the great embarrassments of my life is that I stayed for as long as I did. But that is what happens when you’re young and insecure and beaten down by how little other people think of you. I stayed until I didn’t, until I disowned him and most of the people who came with him. Really, though, I was forced to leave.
The first time I had a job, I worked in it for two years before realizing my 60-year-old male boss was not just eccentric but a creep—that he sometimes drove past my apartment at night and noted whose cars were and weren’t parked out front, that he became angry if I didn’t want to talk to him about my dating life, that he liked talking to me and another female coworker about his past sexual exploits. I quit and he came by my new place of work with a box of gardenia-scented candles and a poem. He mailed me a letter every day. He called and left messages. I finally told my parents, and my father and uncle paid him a visit and explained what would happen if he ever came into contact with me again. Then, he listened. I was 18.
I don’t remember the first time I was catcalled on the street, or the first time a man chose to look at my breasts instead of my face while I was talking. I don’t remember the first time I was talked over by a man or the first time I was called “sweetheart” by someone who had no place to call me such a thing or the first time I was commended on my figure. I don’t remember the first time I was told that I should let boys chase me and play coy, or the first time a person seemed stunned that I had a brain, or the first time someone snatched something I was trying to fix out of my hands because they didn’t think I could do it myself. I don’t remember the first time I worried about growing up to be pretty. I don’t remember the first time I walked down the street at night with fingers threaded through the keys in my pocket, wondering if they would do me any good if I needed them. I don’t remember the first time someone insinuated that if I want to keep a man, I should try just a little bit to play dumb—men don’t like to feel threatened by your success or your intelligence or your ambition.
I do remember the night a man climbed through my window while I was sleeping and tried to rape me. I remember that he called me a “pretty little thing.” I fought him off. To all of the women who are reading this in terror because it is yet one more example of how nightmares can become reality, and who want to know what I did to get away just in case, god forbid, they ever find themselves in a similar situation, here's what I know: Never stop screaming. Scream bloody murder. Call for your neighbors. I was 26.
This week I was going to write about something funny and light. I had it nearly ready to go. But today I don’t feel funny and light. Today I am mad.
I am not mad at Donald Trump. I expect no more from him than I would expect from a cockroach. At least a cockroach knows that when you turn on the light it should hide. At least a cockroach knows how to stay out of sight. At least a cockroach has a purpose, helps to break down the world’s detritus so that it can be used to build something new. At least there are limits to the amount of damage one cockroach can do. I am mad that so many people don’t seem to understand that Donald Trump is worse than a cockroach. I am mad that people don’t understand why his bragging about grabbing a woman “by the pussy” is a breaking point. So let me try to explain.
I want to be clear about something. My story is not a sad story. I am lucky. There may be those who are luckier, and there are certainly those who are less so. I was raised by two parents who loved me fiercely, who told me I could do and be anything, who praised my intelligence and supported my passions and said “I love you” every day. My father is not only one of my closest friends but also one of the most courageous, loyal, respectful, honorable humans I will ever know. I owe the world to him. All of the men in my family, in fact, are models of what it means to be good and true and strong. My admiration for them far outweighs my ability to put that admiration into words. These are the men I have used to build my schema of all men. The result is that I love men. Not in a boy-crazy, will-he-call-me kind of way. In a way that is rooted in respect and kinship.
Please understand. This is not about blaming an entire sex or gender for the wrongs of one man or a thousand men, or for the wrongs of one woman or a thousand women. This is about acknowledging the realities of our culture.
The reality of our culture is that all women—yes, all—know what it feels like to be sexually harassed. Chances are they also know what it feels like to be assaulted. Every woman knows what it is to be talked over, paid less, fetishized. Every woman knows what it is to walk alone in her own neighborhood and feel the hairs on the back of her neck tense when a man walks by who gives her a bad feeling. Every woman knows how to quicken her step at night and look ahead into dark corners and cross to the other side of the street when nervous. Every woman knows what it is to be called “honey.”
As women have been saying for lord knows how long and as they will continue to chant for much longer still: We are not your honey.
Last night, as the news swarmed online, a friend texted me: “There’s a war out there against us.”
I think she’s right. I think there is a war. I think we’ve been fighting it for some time. I think it’s reached a breaking point.
This war is not about men and women. This war is about those who believe people of all races, cultures, sexes, genders, classes, and religions deserve kindness and respect, and those who don’t. We have to speak out, for ourselves and for each other.
We are done being quiet. We are done looking for our place, trying not to cause trouble, trying to smooth things over. We are done being told that we are worth less, both for the work we do and for the nature of who we are. We are done being tasked with bringing the next generation into this world and raising them and feeding them and loving them only to have them grow up and spit in our face and lurch at us and whistle and tell us how much we do or do not please them with our looks and our behavior and our words.
We are done feeling threatened walking down the sidewalk in our own neighborhood, in any neighborhood, at any time of day. We are done with feeling unsafe in our skins. We are done with being told our views and opinions are “emotional” and not logical. We are done being dismissed and diminished and interrupted and talked over. We are done with people not listening—never really listening—to what we say and how we say it, until a man says it, too.
We are done being told that we are only attractive up to a certain age. We are done being told that we can be sexy or motherly and that both are acceptable but nothing but and never together. We are done with people telling us we’re “sweet.” We are done with trying to dilute ourselves to make someone else feel bigger. We are done asking you about your day and you never asking us in return or asking only as an afterthought when you realize you should. We are done feeling like imposters, never asking for more, only taking what is given.
We are done waiting—for respect, for health care, for equal pay, for the same sense of safety and entitlement that others get to carry with them through their lives.
We are done being the ones who always have to compromise our own dreams and ambitions for yours.
We are done.
Want to grab something? Grab yourself.