I’ve had a sheltered life.
Solid middle class, small town childhood. My folks were pretty conservative, focused on work and raising kids, going to church and contributing to the community. They were more engaged than most parents (I would’ve called them strict back then). Dates to school dances were heavily vetted, including an in-person interview that addressed driving records and attitudes about drugs and drinking. I didn’t date much.
I went from the bubble of that childhood to the safe environs of a regional state university. I commuted from home and hung out with Honors students and band geeks. I met my would-be husband there, and we ventured forth into the ivory towers of graduate school—all the way to the dusty top of a doctorate.
I can’t imagine a life better designed for safety.
And yet, when the #metoo throng of statements began to emerge over social media, I added my name to the list.
During the past couple of days, I have witnessed countless other incredible women tell their stories as a way of speaking out—to men, to the misinformed, to those who make excuses for the perpetrators of harassment and assault, to those who do not believe us when we tell these truths. Some of the stories have been disgustingly too common, and some have been terrifying and brutal.
As I tallied my own scars, I was struck by the pervasiveness of the assault and harassment—not just across all facets of our culture, encompassing all women, but throughout the lifetime of a single woman.
The first time for me was when I was eight and spent a summer hiding from a boy who wanted to show me his penis and would wait to ambush me when I was riding my bike or wandering through the abandoned cotton gin behind our house. I took to hiding in the trees. Or staying in my room. A couple of years later, it was the father of a friend who tried to grope my barely-there budding breasts. A year later, it was middle school boys pinching and then fondling the girls’ bottoms when our backs were turned as we clicked through combinations on our lockers or waited in line for class. We took to holding our books over our backsides like shields. Junior high. High school. Teachers. A grabby relative. College. A manager. A professor. Graduate school. A boss. A coworker and most of our male clientele. Colleagues. A client months ago.
Just a sampling. Just with the boys/men in my own circle, men who were in positions of power.
Women face an onslaught of relentless, pervasive harassment and assault day after day after day.
The first couple of times it happened to me, I told. I knew it was wrong. I knew I felt violated and unsafe. I ran away. I told. But the responses to those early experiences taught me a lesson that the world wanted me to accept: Boys will be boys and girls should be silent.
We will be silent no longer.
And “boys” are better than that. We should hold them accountable for their actions.
Start at home. Start with yourself, your sons, your uncles and grandfathers, your friends. We don’t need men to step in as our protectors. We need men to join us in making a world where we don’t need protection from harassment or assault. Embrace a masculinity that’s not about being aggressive or predatory. Be comfortable with strong, successful women. Encourage them. Respect them. Refuse to be silent in the locker room and at the comics convention and on social media and around the Thanksgiving table when men spew sexist, demeaning language meant to threaten or intimidate. Tell them it’s not cool. Don’t play along. Call it harassment. Call it assault.
No more silence. Not for us women. And not for the men who want to stand beside us.