Yesterday, women around the world talked about their experiences being #grabbed. The thread is a dismaying read, to say the least. It confirms to outsiders what many women have known their entire lives. When you get into an elevator alone with a man, he might made a sexual comment on your body. When you sit on a bus or a train, the man next to you may stroke your thigh or brush your breasts while you pray for the ride to end. When you walk across a crowded club, men may grab your buttocks or try to penetrate you with their fingers. But we knew this already.
I knew it from the time I was ten, being one of those “lucky” girls whose breasts developed early. On a crowded city bus with my parents, the man next to me grabbed my breast and squeezed hard enough to leave a bruise. He never even turned his head to look at me. He simply stared out of the window nonchalantly. At ten, you doubt yourself. Did that just happen? How do I tell my dad, with whom I’ve never even said the word “breast,” that a stranger has intimately touched me? So I stood there, turning red, trying not to cry, and let the bus ride finish.
I knew it in high school, when I walked into a coat room to hang something and a male friend walked in after me. Inexplicably, the lights in the closet went out and in the sudden darkness, he grabbed me, held me against the wall, groped my breasts and forcibly kissed me. After a few minutes of fumbling protest, the lights came back on and he left.
It sickened me to realize, years later, that the lights had likely been turned off by the male teacher in the outer classroom. He saw the boy follow me into the closet and set me up to be grabbed.
I knew it the next year, when studying to become an emergency medical technician. At a lesson on evaluating injuries, I was asked to be a practice patient for several students. All of them did fine, except for one man, who, during the evaluation, grabbed both of my breasts and squeezed them. Let me tell you now, that is not part of any type of injury evaluation. The female adult in charge was clearly mortified, as was I. However, instead of the male student being disciplined, I was yanked from the volunteer group and given snack table duty.
Let me repeat that. A man inappropriately touched me and *I* was asked to leave. He continued on with his practice. My day of learning was over because of his inability to self-regulate. How does a woman leave that situation without feeling as if she is the transgressor?
I knew it as a freshman in college, when a known sexual predator sat down to eat lunch with me in the dining hall. Two hundred other students sat and watched him pretend to be a friendly man, interested in my company, as his questions became increasingly more personal. Two hundred other humans watched a nineteen-year-old girl with a man who was known to stalk women and did nothing. You know how I knew they were watching? Because when one brave stranger came up and invited me to join her for lunch, pretending we had class notes to compare, the entire dining hall burst out in applause. They were relieved that someone had saved the naive frosh — because they sure as hell weren’t going to.
And I knew it two years ago, at a dinner party with friends. One of the guests (a man in his 40s), grabbed first the buttocks, then the breast of another guest (a woman in her 50s). We were all friends. Her husband watched from five feet away, and no one knew what to do. No one wanted to chastise a friend. She offered a polite, “Stop it,” and I told him to go away. He chided both of us for not being able to take a joke, then proceeded to approach each woman in the room, asking the color of their bra. It was shrugged off as, “Oh, Mike is just a dirty old man.”
I saw people on the #grabbed thread advocating a “kick to the balls” to stop a grabber. As if, after being assaulted, we women would like to subsequently start a physical fight with our assailant. Because that’s an improvement in the situation — a 200-pound man with no impulse control is now injured, angry, and directing his force at us.
At the tail end of the day, several of those exact men showed up on the #grabbed thread. They were angry and hateful toward the women sharing their stories. They sneered that no wonder the women had been grabbed, they were hot. They posted photos of erect penises and invited women to grab them. They posted a graphic picture of a severed hand and claimed they had grabbed a “feminazi.” These are the grabbers; men whose response to being called out as inappropriate is to become off-the-charts hateful and violent. And you want us to kick them in the balls…
Mary Gardiner offers an excellent rebuttal to the worst anti-harassment advice ever.
Twenty years after graduation, the boy from the coat room sent me a Facebook friend request. My breath caught when I saw his accompanying message: “Remember that day in the closet. Yum.”