notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Vulnerable

I was speaking recently with a friend, and he said that he finds himself more fearful now that he is older.

He said, “I feel vulnerable. Now that I am old and not as strong as I used to be, I worry that someone could hurt me. That in a bad situation I might not be able to protect myself. It’s a terrible feeling to have to think about that.”

I was impressed that he could share that vulnerability with me.

But part of me wanted to laugh.

I didn’t, of course. He was thoughtful, sincere, open. So I was open with him as well.

“I understand how that feeling of vulnerability can be overwhelming. But think about this:  IT IS WHAT GIRLS FEEL EVERY DAY. Girls – from the time they are small -understand vulnerability. We know that there are others who are bigger and stronger and can hurt us. We are aware – all the time – of the danger that may suddenly surround us. But we never let it stop us. Don’t let it stop you either.”

Here is my blog from two years ago. It seems timely once again.

 

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 it 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.

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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30 Comments

  1. Maybe it’s all that’s going on today but I also posted on a related topic. We are vulnerable and learn early to move away from anything that doesn’t feel right. Your attacker was brazen to do that with a crowd but perhaps he knew he’d get away with it. He’s done it before for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yes I agree… in retrospect, I think this is something he had tried many times. It was intimidation more than anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. LA

    Good post

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow! I can no longer run and I am not nearly as strong as I once was and feel a little more vulnerable because of it. I have always understood what you are saying to a point, but you have expressed it in such a way as to make me really understand it. I tend to have protective instincts and will try and be more aware of what goes on around me. I will do what I can. Thanks for opening my eyes a little wider.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s sad but we must always be aware of what is around us. If your car keys have a panic button, for instance, having your keys in your hand as you walk to your car adds a level of security. But still, we have to trust that people are good, and not let fear run our lives.

      Like

  4. Barbara Sullivan

    What a timely post. How quick we were to label aggressive and unwanted advances and actions by some men and boys as being “bothered” not assaulted.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yes. We accepted a level of what we thought of as “mild” assault. I hope girls today are less tolerant. I remember a very attractive co-worker who was always harassed in the parking lot on her way home for work. I complained (for her) to the boss, and the boss dismissed it… “She likes it,” he said.

      Like

  5. Paula

    Too right!!! We always have to have our situational awareness antennae out. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers start drilling this into little girls when we’re very young, even too young to know exactly what “bothering” is supposed to describe.
    Even in the supposedly safe 50s, we were repeatedly warned about “strange men” who presumably carried candy to lure little girls into “something bad.” This warning sadly did not include priests, overly friendly uncles, famous actors, or stepdads, as we are learning.
    I have avoided a lot of bad situations with “bothering” potential, though sadly not all. I was nonetheless quite mindlessly bold and adventurous for a woman of my era but, like your friend, I find I am more cautious with age and feeling more vulnerable.
    It may be because we are less strong and because we look more like a probable target for random robberies and assaults. It may also be because we know more of the world, and not in a good way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A neighborhood boy put his hands down my shirt more than once. I never told anyone and I thought that I just had to put up with it because he was so much bigger than I.

      Like

  6. Dear Nancy I’m Happy to receive your mails how are you and your family?? *

    Eliya Amos eliyaamos3@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You seem to have found your voice where I have lost mine. Sometimes repeating a post does a body good. And yours is a great one to post. I think I’ll go repost you for my readers. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Claudia!

      Like

  8. Reblogged this on Humoring the Goddess and commented:
    Nancy seems to find words when I have none. For my women friends, and even the men, a heart-felt blog for this Wednesday…

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Nancy, your writings inspire me all the time. Check my blog out, criticize if you can, just so I may grow my writing skills. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Caito

      You are al reason. A man.

      Like

  10. Such a thought provoking post, yes women are vulnerable and most of us go about our daily lives without giving how vulnerable we are a thought.

    Like

    • I look at how we live our lives and I am amazed at how brave we women are. Every single day we get to be brave.

      Like

  11. Patricia Mitchell Lapidus

    I have never been accosted but still I rehearse to myself in any potentially dangerous situation what I would do if approached/assaulted. I carry my keys between my fingers, keep my finger on the flashlight on my purse, look around for the nearest exit, that sort of thing. We all know. Thank you for these always timely thoughts.

    Like

    • I know the feeling. I always check around an empty ladies’ room, to make sure it is ‘really’ empty.

      Like

  12. Patricia Mitchell Lapidus

    Nancy, or anyone, how do I re-post this to my own blog?

    Like

    • Thanks Patricia… just hit the squared arrows on the left of the Like button (*I think)

      Like

  13. I’ve always had inbuilt antennae for situations where I might be vulnerable. It has become a way of life for me. I can recall many incidents where things may have gone awry but somehow I managed to stay safe. Trains and buses, especially small 12 seat train carriages were perfect opportunities for men seeking a situation with a lone female late night traveler. Thank goodness they (the small carriages) are a thing of the past. Your assault was in full view of many people and they did nothing to help you. I find it interesting that your now elderly male friend is feeling some of what women feel all their lives. I wonder if it has given him pause for thought. This is a very good blog post and with the current situation regarding Brett Kavanaugh, very timely too. Thank you Nancy.

    Like

  14. It’s strange, this is such a natural part of being female that I hadn’t given it much thought until I read this. I had a couple of slightly similar incidents as yours when I was young (one was being groped in a busy store, the other being pushed to the ground on a dark street, but the creep ran away). Now, at 5’2″, 125 pounds and 73 years old, I feel as strong as I’ve ever been. Thank heavens I live in a smallish town with a great, caring community spirit…. But you never know, do you?

    Like

  15. You’re right, but women have always experienced a different reality from men. We are aware of our vulnerability from a very early age. And sadly, there are cultures where women are even more vulnerable than ours…where they have no rights at all just because they are female. It is hard, but all we can do is continue to fight back, not let ourselves be intimidated, and support each other.

    Like

  16. Thank you for sharing! Don’t discredit or think less of your story just because it doesn’t seem as ‘aggressive’ or ‘bad’ as some other stories. It is a story that reveals some serious changes that need to be made in society such as the man who came up to you afterwards who was a bystander who did nothing. If you see something DO something! I appreciate your story and think it is powerful and it needs to be told just as much as other stories do.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This made me cry. First for the young you, then for all of us because it’s so darn unfair, and could be corrected to a point, if everyone (women included) spoke up when they see something. I was a sophomore in college when my roommates and I took a train trip to Chicago for a weekend. We were in a line at the hotel for brunch when I felt someone behind me groping me. I turned around and it was a young boy, maybe 12, grinning at me. I slapped his hand and stomped on his foot and complained to his parents and they took him away. Still…I’m 62 now and I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t forgotten other instances from my adult life either. It’s everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. idcso2mfrbravo

    nancy, it’s not about the extent of this man’s aggression – what he did or where he placed his hands – the fact of the matter is this: a man, rougher and meaner than most, for those eternal moments believed that might was right and power evolved from the twist of fate which stole a chromosome. no one has the right to touch you, not even a boyfriend, not ever, without consent. and no matter the degree of the touch, if you will, it is still assault.

    your post also really struck me because i hadn’t consciously thought not only about how careless we can sometimes be, but also how as women we don’t even think twice about taking certain safety measures sometimes … they’re just second nature … so those thoughts led to the thought: “men don’t think about there escape route from places in the event of attack from a woman, or walk with keys clenched between their fingers so as to stab an attacker, or worry about the nefarious intentions of the repair-woman.” i have been riveted to a Livestream of dr. blasey ford’s testimony and the Senate proceedings and the rage of women has been overwhelming as well as awe-inspiring. it’s something that is not going away and is partially a result of too many years of people looking the other way. it’s time, at least, to level the playing field.

    Like

  19. Anas Bin Fazal

    Your blogs inspire me.

    Like

  20. dragon

    I don’t know if we’re ever going to end up at parity with men. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of years selecting for things that work beautifully in a hunter gatherer society, not so much in a tech one; and some how lost or never had an equal say in how life was to be lived. I can only hope the current stupid backlash dies out with the old guard and the new one recognizes that wasting the input of half the human race is really stupid. (Always thought the ancient Greeks were the ultimate in the conundrum: Women bore and raised boy children until they were old enough to go to a tutor, female children were raised solely by their mothers who also ran the household however large or small; and yet they were not considered capable enough to hold their own in a conversation with men. Really?) Good post.

    Like

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