I don’t remember the first time I was sexually harassed. At the time, I probably didn’t even know that’s what it was. I don't remember if I brushed it off as a boy being a boy or just another unsolicited comment about my body. I don't remember if I cried about it for a minute or two then went about my business as per usual. What I do remember from each encounter is feeling uncomfortable, like I wanted to crawl out of my skin and disappear. I remember feeling guilty like I was the one at fault for daring to wear a v-neck or show some cleavage. I remember going over the situations in my head, trying to pinpoint what I did wrong, what I could have done to avoid it. I remember feeling angry and disgusted and ashamed.
After seeing the flood of stories and experiences on the #MeToo Twitter tag, I created a simple post on Facebook that said "#MeToo". That was all. It my silent protest, my silent stand with the movement. At the time, I didn't feel ready to share my own stories. Part of me felt like my stories weren't bad enough to be shared. Another part of me didn't want to be pressured to share my stories, to feel like owed anyone my stories. I wanted to share them on my own terms. It took me about a week to start writing this post and another week to finally finish it.
I wrote this post because I've spent so many years staying silent and not speaking up and if my stories can help even a single person, it will be worth it. I wrote this story because seeing the flood of stories across social media was incredibly disheartening and depressing but also unsurprising and that is terrifying. I wrote this post because most of the women I know have experienced some form of sexual harassment and that breaks my heart. I wrote this post because I realized that I was mainly afraid of being seen as some outspoken, dramatic feminist. I wrote this post because I realized that I am an outspoken, dramatic feminist and a proud one at that. I wrote this post because girls and women have been taught to hide, to reduce ourselves so we don't inconvenience others and I'm done hiding.
I've never laid out my stories like this and crying my way through it and remembering those painful moments was somewhat cathartic. I ranted and rambled and yelled and nearly burst into tears as my fiance listened. I spent one late night conversation explaining how men can really start helping out, how just being a good guy and "not like other guys" isn't helping unless you actually call out the bad guys and the messed up system, how much women go through, how sexual harassment/assault isn't just a one-off occurrence for most women, how we've been trained to expect this kind of behavior and prepare for it, and how fucked up that is. So I won't be silent anymore. I will rage and rant about it til my last breath, til something changes.
These are my stories.
- I was walking down the street and a man apparently thought I was too provocatively dressed and he spat at me. I was wearing a fitted skirt with opaque tights and a long sleeved v-neck sweater. It made me feel dirty and I ended up walking back home and changing.
- In college, some of my friends has a tendency to draw attention to my breasts. Some would greet my breasts before greeting me by saying "Hey Val's boobs! Oh, Val! You're there too!" Some even gave them names. Everyone seemed to get the joke and find it amusing. We had friends that openly grabbed each other's breasts when they saw each other and they didn't make a big deal out of it so I didn't fuss and laughed it off. Honestly, it made me very uncomfortable.
- A man approached me while I was on the phone with fiance. He tried to get my attention with compliments and small talk. I tried to politely explain that I was on the phone and not at all interest. When he wouldn't stop, I tried to use my fiance as an excuse, hoping that would make him stop. I firmly said that I was on the phone with my fiance and he came up to the microphone of my earphones and said "Yo bro, let me holla at your girl". I eventually tried to ignore him and walk away. He followed for a bit before finally giving up.
- When I told my dad, uncles, and other family members about my encounter with the aggressive and insistent man who wouldn't stop badgering me, they mildly scolded me for not being more assertive or for not saying "no" more forcefully so the guy would take a hint. They explained that "guys here are very forward and you need to learn to say 'fuck off'". They don't know what it's like to be afraid that a man will react violently to rejection. They don't know what it's like to keep saying "no" only to have the man follow you a block or two. They don't know what it's like to say "no" and then be called a frigid bitch and all kinds of other names. They don't know.
- A former colleague thought it was okay to send me sexually suggestive texts. When I reacted and expressed that I thought it was inappropriate, he simply laughed, said I was overreacting, and tried to justify his actions by saying that he had a girlfriend and he was just messing around.
- In 6th grade, I loved soccer and desperately wanted to be on the school team. There wasn't a girl's team so I joined the boys team. It wasn't an easy transition. In the years that followed, I was constantly taunted for having large breasts. My male team mates would ask me uncomfortable questions and one would even bring up how gross and dark my nipples must be since I'm black. By my senior year of high school, I was set on getting a breast reduction when I got a job and saved enough money.
- After a few drinks, a former colleague cozied up to me, getting far too close and very touchy. He started whispering inappropriate things to me and I decided to take the elevator and make my way home. He followed and spent the next 15-20 minutes trying to get me to stay and cozy up to him. When my Uber arrived, I climbed in and started to cry. Bless that Uber driver who offered to buy me a snack and was incredibly kind.
- A man asked to take a photo of me while I was taking a walk and when I politely but firmly refused, he got upset and said "you're not that hot anyway, bitch".
- When I was in grade school, I attended a mass and the priest decided to use his homily to talk about a rape case that was drawing a lot of attention in our small town. To my surprise, he blamed the rape victim (a woman) and began lecturing churchgoers about teaching young women to dress more modestly and carry themselves with more dignity so as not to 'tempt' the men into committing sins. One of his lines basically reasoned that if a woman exposes herself and dresses indecently, what else can she expect? What truly enraged me what that most of the churchgoers were nodding in agreement, some clapping at the end of his sermon.
- A former coworker would call me "darling", "sweetheart", or "dear" and while I understand that he may have felt that it was harmless because we were close, it made me feel small and a somewhat put down. He would never call a male coworker any of those names and it felt condescending, like I was being reduced to some silly little lady at work that you didn't pay any mind to and was simply there to serve.
- A man at a club thought it was a okay to grope me and when I turned to confront him, he laughed and disappeared into the crowd. A few minutes later, a man pulled me from behind and tried to dance with me. I kept trying to pull away but he followed and continued to badger me. When my friends saw, I tried to get them to help me out of the situation but they left me to it thinking it was good for me to "loosen up" and dance with someone. I finally got away by giving him a fake number, insisting I had to use the restroom, and avoiding him the rest of the night.
- An older man at the bus station kept asking to take me out for coffee despite me saying no multiple times. He only stopped when my bus arrived and I rushed on.
- In college, someone I considered a friend "stole" a kiss while we were supposed to be studying for an exam. I insisted he leave and confronted him the next day after I managed to calm down. He tried to justify it by telling me had a long distance girlfriend whom he was missing and I reminded him of her. They later broke up and I was jokingly called a homewrecker by my friends for months. I don't think they realized how much it hurt me.