notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Speaking Out

Girls are brave.

Some men know this. I think many do not, because they cannot share the same reality. Most try.

Girls are brave.

We know from such an early age – before kindergarten probably – that in general:

  1. Boys are bigger.
  2. Boys are stronger.
  3. And a few – just a few, but an important few – are rougher and meaner.

We know these facts.

But yet we go on with our lives. We live day to day with the implicit – and sometimes explicit – vulnerability. And yet we put it aside and go on.

Everyday things. We don’t even think about them. But underneath the surface, we know that any moment can be dangerous.

We all – boys and girls both – are vulnerable as children. Bigger kids can hurt us. We know this for sure. And although adults overwhelmingly would give their lives to protect children, we are warned again and again about the adults who could do us harm.

But boys (for the most part) can outgrow their vulnerability.

Girls keep if for life.

Women know that in general:

  1. Men are bigger.
  2. Men are stronger.
  3. And a few – just a few, but an important few – are rougher and meaner.

Yet we go on.

We walk alone to our cars at night.

We ride buses and subways and trains and taxis, and allow people to see where we are going, to see our habits and our schedules.

We shop with purses that can be grabbed. We carry too much – our arms are full. We try on clothes in dressing rooms with curtains that don’t quite exactly close.

We rent apartments and buy houses, and call repairmen and let them in.

We work overtime in half-deserted offices, dark corridors, shadowy stairwells.

We travel for business and pleasure. We walk through airports. We check into hotels. We ride elevators.

We drive alone – knowing that if we are broken down on the side of the road, the person who stops may not be stopping to help.

We get lost. We ask strangers which way to go.

Ordinary things. Not dangerous things. Except maybe. Sometimes.

Some men get this. Louis C.K., for example, said that he can’t believe the courage it must take for women to accept a first date. “Yes, I’ll go out with you. Alone. At Night…..I’ll get in your car.”

Yet we go on.

We go on because we know that the odds are in our favor. That most men will love us and treat us with kindness and respect. And perhaps will be there for us in our most vulnerable moments. Help us when the minuscule fraction of mean and rough men might do us harm.

And we try our best to be strong enough to take care of ourselves.

But we know. It could happen.

Sexual assault is real. It doesn’t have to result in physical injury to injure us.

Here is my story. It’s a small story. Nothing really – not compared to what others experience.

I was nineteen. I had been visiting friends in Hartford, Connecticut, and was waiting for the bus that would bring me the twenty miles back home to Bristol.

It was a warm June day, 1970, and I was a teenager. Yes, I was wearing a miniskirt. Perhaps to some that makes it my fault.

It was the middle of the afternoon. The bus stop was crowded with people waiting for their various buses on busy Main Street.

A man approached me. He leaned into me, and I backed up. He continued his intimidation, and I continued to back up, until I was pressed against the wall of the building behind me.

He put his hands on me. Pressing  my shoulders to the wall with his thumbs near my breasts. His face was inches from mine as he leered. I was motionless with fear. Many long seconds of fear. (or was it just a few?)

The bus arrived and I slapped his hands away and ran to the curb.

When I boarded the bus, I told the driver that a man had “bothered” me (the euphemism of the time, and that I was afraid he would get on the bus. The driver had me sit right behind him, assured me that he would not let this guy touch me again. He told me to point the creep out if he tried to board the bus. Thankfully, the creep did not board.

And it was over. Just a small, short, unpleasant experience. Not much. Nothing, really.

But here’s the thing.

This was a crowded bus stop. The sidewalk was full of people. These people saw this happen. They watched. I saw them watch.

If one person had said, “Hey, stop that,” it might have ended before he touched me. But no one said anything.

And back on the bus, safe but shaken, a man in a business suit approached me and asked if I was all right. He had been there.

I asked, “Why are you asking now? Why didn’t you say something at the time?”

He answered,”I thought perhaps he was your boyfriend and you were just having a fight.”

I realize that this episode was not a big deal. It did not affect my life in any significant way. Women have experienced much, much worse.

But I did learn a few things:

That women are always vulnerable, not just when we are alone.

That some people, like that kind bus driver will help if they can. But other people may not step in and help us. They may look the other way when a woman is in danger.

And I think most discouraging of all – that some people may feel that if a woman is in a relationship, that gives the man a right to touch her like that.

We are vulnerable.

And yet we go on.

Because we are brave.

Because it’s nothing. Right?

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Do you have a similar story? Please consider sharing it – share it here, or share it with your friends, on your own blog, on Facebook, with your family. Anywhere.

It’s time to speak up.

38 Comments

  1. The number of kids in foster care that had similar stories, and the number of family members or friends who betrayed their trust was horrendous.
    It is never the child’s fault. Never. Yet society, and the Law, lets them down. Lets the creeps win, turning a blind eye, filing a report but not submitting it, ignoring the warning signs. Girls are brave and can knock spots off the boys anytime. But then, they shouldn’t be expected to.

    Like

    • I am glad girls today are more willing and able to fight back. I never felt strong enough to do so. But you are also right – we shouldn’t have to fight.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My friend was most anxious about her daughter growing up, and encouraged her to protect herself. She did, and is now a black belt in karate.

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  2. I have always known that this goes on, but never realized the extent until the last couple of decades. The more these incidents come out the more people, men in particular, will be able to understand and react properly. As well as be aware of their own bullying and assault behavior. Better awareness may be the one good thing that comes out of this election process.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This election has me unable to sleep or concentrate. I worry so much. I hope you are right – and awareness (and kindness) will be the result. I am so afraid they will not.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Terrifying, I’m sure. And it seems wrong to say that I’m glad it wasn’t worse, because it was bad enough. This is what happened to me: I was probably about 14, and we lived in a very small town. I had walked the 1/4 mile from my house to the little town store. There was a family that lived a few miles from us, and I rode the school bus with the 3 children. Their dad was the game warden. As I was walking back home, the dad/game warden stopped and asked if I’d like a ride back to my house. Naive little me thought it would be fine: after all, he was Betty’s dad! In the 1/4 mile, he managed to put his hand on my thigh. And I’m thankful that my situation wasn’t any worse; he could have kept driving and who knows what could have happened? It taught me a lesson though. And I can’t remember if I even told my mom. Why do girls always think things like that are somehow our own fault?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course you would accept a ride from your friend’s father. And yet we often blame ourselves. Time to stop. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Good post Beth Anne. I think most of us have such a story. I was not young; I I was in my 30s.
    I was working for real estate company. The MD was off sick but for some reason was not at home but in the company’s town flat. I was asked to take some papers to him which I did. He immediately started to make inappropriate comments, tried to hug me and chased me around the apartment.
    When I eventually got out and returned to the office I told the mostly male agents what had happened. They all laughed at the silly older man but not one of them asked if I was OK. I was and quickly recovered. I think looking back, I was more angry than afraid. I’m sure the MD felt very embarrassed.
    Have things changed in the intervening years? I wonder

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. It’s Nancy, not Beth Anne, but that’s quite ok. The worst part of your experience is that the other men laughed it off, made it not important. It was important. I’m sorry you went through that.

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      • Sorry Nancy. I had just read Beth Anne’s latest post and so got the names wrong. Am no longer allowed to blame it on the Brain Injury I had earlier in the year – so maybe just anno domini.
        But in retrospect ,I think it didn’t seem so important at the time, but I learned to stay away from old men in apartments.

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  5. Paula

    This is a good one. Damn, we ARE brave, aren’t we?
    I am far from great-looking, even when young, yet I got grabbed in an elevator on my first job (got away) and fifteen years later, was grabbed in a near-empty office by my boss (got away again). Like most women, I’ve been catcalled on the street, whistled at, and told to “smile” by strangers in public places. Got away again, each time, because I could keep on walking..
    Still, I’ve long realized how awful it would be if you aren’t lucky and DON’T get away– a prospect every woman lives with from puberty onward. Men, I’m sure, can’t remotely imagine how even a low-level chronic buzz of menace haunts and limits our lives. I’m retired now, but I remember those work incidents as clearly as if they were yesterday.
    I love it that young women today often call this garbage out for the implied threat that it actually is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your description of the “low level chronic buzz of menace” – that is exactly it. That we tell ourselves that we are safe and fine, but are always aware of who may be walking by, or who is looking at you.

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  6. I was getting off the ferris wheel at a fair. A slimy old carnival worked in one felt swoop groped me at both private places. I was so embarrassed. I was 13. All I felt was shame. I didn’t tell anyone. I haven’t been on a ferris wheel since.

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    • That is just awful. I can imagine your fear and revulsion. And think of all the little girls he did that to.

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      • Everyone young girl coming off the ferris wheel….

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  7. Nothing like that has happened to me, but I so get that we are brave, we are vulnerable and each and every day we put ourselves in positions that could be dangerous and far more of us and others have to be brave enough to speak out that is what we find so hard to do

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    • I am so proud of the women who speak up. Years later, I had a very threatening experience late at night at an airport. I never said anything. I feel tremendous shame now, because that creep could have hurt someone after me, and maybe I could have stopped him. I don’t to this day know why I never said anything.

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  8. Good post, Nancy. I’ve actually been pretty lucky in this regard; my story was more annoying than frightening.
    My boobs developed over the summer between 6th and 7th grade. Into a C cup. And David E, who sat in front of Elyse E in all our classes, took it upon himself to figure out if my boobs were real. At ever opportunity, David would turn around and try to grab me — dozens of times a day. Sometimes he grabbed the back of my bra and snapped it. David was the class clown and was always seated in front. He got reprimanded, detention, parents were called, etc. Still he persisted. My seat was moved once it was apparent that no work would be done in any classes because when David grabbed, I hit him. Still he would grab me at every opportunity in the hall, when I had to pass by him for whatever reason. Lord how I hated David. The torture continued through 7th and 8th grades.

    9th grade was when girls STOPPED wearing bras. On the first day of school, David reached for the back of my bra and it wasn’t there. He was mortified, didn’t know what to do. Obviously, my boobs were real and David didn’t know how to handle it. The entire class laughed at him. He never tried it again.

    I learned the lesson that ridicule is the best weapon of all. (Wish I’d figured it out in 7th instead of 9th grade, though.)

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    • That is horrid. That boy should have been expelled. I remember those years too. I was flat-chested and the boys made fun of me constantly – but I also saw how they grabbed at the more voluptuous girls too, and I was full of conflicted emotions. I wanted breasts. I wanted the boys to notice me. But that grabbing and bra-pulling – I was so glad the boys did not touch me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think boobs are like hair — we want whatever we don’t have.

        David died young — i don’t know the cause. So I no longer hold this against him.

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  9. Pam

    I’m so sorry that happened to you, Nancy, and glad that you were not scarred by it. The shining stars of your story are the caring bus driver and the nice man in the suit.

    The only similar experience I’ve had was once when I was in high school at about age 17 or 18, I was working an after-school job at the National Guard Armory in my small home town. I did clerical/office work for the Sargent of the local unit. One day he was away and it was just me in the office and in fact, in the whole armory was empty. I don’t remember what business he had at the armory, but the high school vo-tech teacher came in wanting to speak to the Sargent. I told him that he was away and would be back tomorrow. The vo-tech teacher and I didn’t know each other well, but in a small town, you sort of know who everyone is, so he knew who I was. Instead of leaving, he sat down in a chair, cocked his head back against the wall, looked directly at me, and started talking inappropriately – saying something about when a man’s lips start pressing against a woman’s lips………..and the lewd way he said it, and the look on his face with just the two of us alone in the small room really scared me, red flags flying everywhere. I was so scared I don’t remember anything else that he said because I was thinking about bolting for the door. Luckily, someone (can’t remember who) came into the office, interrupting him, and he left in short order. I bear no scars from this, but I remember it vividly even though he never touched me. Like many others, I didn’t tell anyone about this. Back then in 1974-ish, there was shame attached to this kind of thing. You didn’t want to bring shame on yourself or your family, and besides, what if nobody believed you? He was a respected teacher and I was just a shy young girl (and not wearing a mini-skirt). Wow, that felt good to tell my story, even though it was minor compared to others’ stories. .

    P.S. – I am worried and distressed about this election, too. The outcome could be truly frightening!

    Like

    • It doesn’t matter if he didn’t touch you. He violated you by his words. No grown man should talk to a woman that way. Make her feel that fear.Thank you for sharing.

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  10. Very well written, love this post! ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  11. For a very long time, anyone over 30 qualified as “dirty old man.” There were many, way before I understood their potential harm. And after. (I was short, blond, had good legs and wasn’t too unattractive.) Never once did I like the danger.

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    • Yes, we were told to ignore those inappropriate comments. But they ARE inappropriate and they reek of power over the less powerful.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, by the way, a great post. A needed post. I, too, must worry and hope we aren’t about to be backed up against many walls again. Why in hell would any female vote for that??

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Really pertinant post.
    I moved from South Africa to the UK in the early 1970s. I found my ‘dream’ job as the assistant librarian for a well-respected architectural magazine. On my first day at work one of my female colleagues warned me never to be alone in a room with a particular senior member of staff. A week later, sitting typing up catalogue cards, alone in the library, the man in question arrived. He mooched around looking at books etc then came to stand behind me. I was frozen with anxiety. He thrust his hands down the front of my dress and grabbed my breasts saying “sweet little titties”….I found the strength to stand up and say I had to go. He seemed unfazed. I went to the senior editor’s secretary who had worked for the magazine for many years, and I told her what had happened. She said to me: He is a valued editor, you are a new young employee, who do you think will be fired?
    It was a lesson to me. I sincerely hope that with the new sexual harassment legislation in the UK that this would not happen any more.
    A few years ago that man was rewarded with a CBE in the British honours system – I felt sick and very, very angry.

    Like

    • That makes me very angry too. I hate that so many men get away with it – and know they can. When you say, “it was a lesson for me” – it surely was. A lesson that you are powerless. That is a very bad feeling.

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  14. I experienced an attempted date-rape when I was not quite 18, and other incidents over the years that I won’t detail. And it never seems to stop. Just yesterday, I was walking down the street a block from my home when a youngish man driving by in a pickup truck yelled out to me, “Bitch!” I wondered if he would have done that if he’d known I am old enough to be his grandmother.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope some day that creep yells “Bitch” out his window, only to find that his target is his mother, or sister, or cousin.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Bobbi

    The summer between my sophomore and junior year in college I had a job working as a hostess in a restaurant. I had a boss who was a man in his fifties. One day I wore a blouse that had a print all over it of little apples and I had the cutest necklace that I wore with it…it was an apple on a chain. I loved the outfit. But that day my boss decided to make a “pass” …an inappropriate pass….he approached me when I was alone in the dining room before the restaurant opened and told me he would like to grab one of those apples. I just smiled and said I don’t think so. So then he pointed at an apple on my breast area and said he would like to bite that one. I again said I don’t think so and walked away. He never touched me but all day long he tried to get me alone again and made me very uncomfortable. I needed the job and wasn’t quite sure who to tell what had happened. I never wore that blouse to work again and he was constantly asking me “where was the apple blouse…he wanted to bite an apple”. I think back on it and know that if I had not been as strong as I was he would have done more. I have wondered how many young girls he did do more with.

    Like

    • A very sad example of how women just live with the fear. And carry on anyway. I am glad you did carry on – sad that you had to live with it.

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  16. CD

    This slices me to the core. So many with similar stories. And believe me, it’s not always men you had to protect yourself from. Anger, anxiety, numbness, sadness in the pit of my gut. I can’t believe this brought so much feeling out of me. You are all wonderful for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Christine

    Nanc I haven’t read through all the stories but just that fact that there are so many among your readers is disturbing. I’m sure we’ve all got these memories and if you and I do that means we probably all have. Just the fact that you and everyone else still remember these “nothing” episodes mean that they sure did bother us. I have a number of them as well and just one that for sure was work-related when I received an unwanted back-rub and of course “upset” the person when I told him to stop, like something was wrong with ME. We find ourselves in many cases not having anyone that we can trust who is in a position to do something and of course if we attempt to report these things to the “proper” person who should be able to handle it, we find that those in authority side with those in authority. And I know you can read my mind when I say that right now there are two of those examples that we know of. And yet we go on, because we have to.

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    • We have been told for so many years to “let it go” – well, I no longer want to “let it go”. I want to “let it out.”

      Like

  18. Christine

    They begin by getting your trust – here is the “Mr. Colby” episode from DeGrassi Jr Hi – wait for it – you will understand. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0XqN38vs5w&index=15&list=PLCG__CvNKQT2Yzy5Bi0A1KrFz0jwdjI4H

    Like

  19. Thank you for bringing these important issues to light.

    Like

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