When last Friday’s news came to light, and the audio of Donald Trump and Billy Bush played over and over on the news, my reaction was “I know this guy.”
It was the reaction of many (most? shit, all?) women across the United States. For many, it kicked up a lot of old feelings and memories and triggered traumas. Because not only did Trump boast about — very pointedly — sexual assault, he and Billy Bush also reminded us of horrible conversations, lecherous stares, and uncomfortable scenarios girls and women have been subjected to time and time again.
Until Friday, I had almost forgotten about the 24-year-old friend of the family who relentlessly pursued a 15-year-old me. I had fallen asleep on the couch and woke up in the dark to his face within inches from mine. I got up and locked myself in the bathroom. He pursued me further via AOL Instant Messenger until I told him, from the safety of my computer, that he was creepy and never to contact me again. He complained to extended family that I had been disrespectful of an adult.
Until Friday, I hadn’t, in a long time, thought about being seventeen working at a country club. I wore a polo shirt and khaki pants and smiled a lot. Someone had called the front desk asking for me, impersonating the Human Resources department, and I naively answered questions about my weight and my height. That same mysterious man called my mom and said I never showed up to work that day, that no one had seen me for hours — a kidnapping that wasn’t. Or wasn’t yet, as the police pointed out. They couldn’t quite figure out the scenario, and suggested that I get escorted out to my car by a male coworker after every shift.
Until Friday, I hadn’t thought about the kind, grandfatherly, 65 year old tennis player at that same country club — the one I chatted with about school and the weather — who one day leaned over and whispered “I bet every single one of your body parts is delectable.” Words, they’re just words, we’ve heard people say this week. Words that cut right to the heart and terrify young girls, words that stick to them like tar, words that can’t be unheard.
Until Friday, I had sort of forgotten being eighteen, waiting tables. One man with a newspaper had requested my section and a table in the far corner. When I greeted him and asked his drink order, I thought I saw his penis out of his pants. By the time I brought him his drink, he was masturbating under his newspaper. My manager sent me home for the evening.
In these scenarios that I’ve chosen to share, no one put his hands on me. No one — as the candidate for the family values party so eloquently expressed — grabbed me by the pussy. And yet each instance riddled me with fear and shame and made me feel unsafe. The real problem is that none of these stories are abnormal. None of the stories about rape and assault being shared around the internet since Friday are out of the scope of statistics we’ve read. They’re heartbreaking and horrifying, and incredibly and appallingly common.
And there aren’t statistics on every woman who has had to walk down the street at a steady clip and then duck into a busy coffee shop because the man she just turned down got irate and started following her. There aren’t statistics on every college girl who took a waitressing job who’s been slapped on the ass so hard it left a mark. Nor on how many lecherous comments a teenage girl has received about how nicely she’s “blossoming” (barf, please never use that word) at a family barbecue from someone’s drunk dad.
But if you poll my women friends and women peers and the women reading this post, that number is damn close to 100%.
It’s an indictment on our society as a whole. It’s why “feminism” shouldn’t feel like a dirty word, and why it goes far beyond relating to having daughters or sisters or mothers, but about creating a place where our children are respectful, are kind, are safe.
It’s why so many of us have felt tightly wound since Friday. It’s why my friend cried on the train, hearing the leaked audio and thinking about crimes against her. It’s why it’s been — as another friend put it — a really bad week.
It’s why when, one of my daughters whispered that a boy called a girl in her class a bad name, I froze in horror thinking she heard the word “bitch” for the first time and breathed a huge sigh of relief when she told me the bad name was actually “dum-dum.”
It’s why I blink back tears when I think of each of my three wonderful, smart, loving daughters and the first time some asshole on the side of the road is going to call her a dumb bitch for not responding to his catcalls.
Because we’ve all been through it. And unless we fight for change, we know our daughters are going to go through it, too.