Warning: This post may be a trigger for anyone who has experienced sexual violence. Also, I would prefer if none of my family members were to read the details of this post, because it would make me uncomfortable knowing that you knew any of this. Thank you for respecting my wishes.
I found myself experiencing a sick sort of “gratitude” that I didn’t have any of the terrible stories to share that other women were telling with the #YesAllWomen hashtag this weekend following the USC shooting. I will not name the shooter because he does not deserve the acknowledgment. I am “grateful” that I have never been raped, that I was never a victim of domestic violence, that my father, my brothers, and my husband are decent men. I know way too many women who cannot say these things.
In fact, I tweeted this:
#YesAllWomen because I’m rare among my female friends for never having been sexually assaulted.
— Christina Gleason (@WELLinTHIShouse) May 25, 2014
And the thing about that tweet is that I had to delete and retype it. I’d been about to say “for never having been physically or sexually assaulted.” That’s when I remembered… I had been physically assaulted. Granted, I was working at the psychiatric hospital at the time. Granted, the boy who assaulted me was a patient at the hospital because he posed a threat to himself and others. But he did not assault me because of anything I did. He punched me in the stomach because I was resembled his mother. That’s it. I was a woman who looked like his mom. I’d had the wind knocked out of me something fierce, and I dissolved into tears as soon as I could breathe again. I hadn’t done anything to provoke the kid. I’m grateful he was only 10 years old at the time, or else I might have had some broken ribs or internal injuries. I pray that he did eventually get the help he needed, or there are plenty of white girls with long brown hair who remind him of his mother now that he’s a grown 20-something man out there in the world who might somehow provoke him.
But even with this incident, now over a decade in the past, I still considered myself “lucky” that that was my worst story. Even the verbal grief I received for daring to write about sexism in geek culture last week was little more than verbal diarrhea. It hurt my feelings, but no one actually threatened me. When I’d first written the post, I asked my fellow MOMocrats to check it out, even though it wasn’t political. One of my friends corrected me: “It has a lot to do with politics because the fake geek girl theory falls smack into the middle of feminine agency and in line with body autonomy. ‘Silly girls trying to act like the boys.'” I realized she was quite right.
There have been too many needles of online sexism to even remember at this point in time. I hear tastelessly sexist jokes told by male acquaintances in person from time to time when I’m actually out among people. They buzz in and out of my ears like the sound of annoying insects.
Back when I was in the working world that did not involve telecommuting, I remember putting up with varying levels of sexual harassment at pretty much every job I ever had. Working as a front desk clerk at a mid-priced hotel, I was occasionally propositioned by married men checking in as guests, many of whom were not deterred when I pointed out my own wedding ring. I had to laugh it off, because they were guests, and it was my job to be pleasant. So many more men would hit on me, even though they weren’t seriously trying to pick me up. Again, I would laugh it off. I listened to the most offensively sexist, racist, and otherwise bigoted jokes told by my male coworkers. I suppose I could have sued for sexual harassment, but I needed the job. And wasn’t it the same everywhere else?
Even when I worked as a grocery clerk back in college, I was the subject of sexist teasing, referred to as “little church girl,” because I was quite prudish back then. (You know, that place on the far side of the prude/slut continuum.)
College. I didn’t start dating Tom until my junior year.
I suddenly recall the horror of my ex-boyfriends.
The last one was the worst. If he hadn’t dumped me – for a skinny blonde, as it turns out – I probably would have ended up a battered woman. I had taken leave of my senses when I fell for him, for I was studying to go into counseling, and I should have seen the signs. I hated his best friend, but his best friend would tag along with us most of the time. He didn’t like my friends, so I never really saw them much. I would point out that his racist, sexist, homophobic comments were offensive to me, but he would keep right on with it. My best friend at college was male, and my boyfriend would continually refer to him as gay, despite me telling him to stop. (Threatened much?) He controlled me. I suppose I let him. I was so in love with him, though looking back, I really don’t know why. I think a contributing factor to our breakup was when I confided that I’d had a pregnancy scare a few months previously – because I’d stupidly consented to unprotected sex, realizing later that I’d just come off a course of antibiotics – and that I made my own “morning after pill” by taking about a week’s worth of birth control pills over the course of two days. (I was so sick when I did that.) This had terrified him, and he’d tried to scare me off by telling me about a pact he and his despicable best friend had made, to leave town permanently if either one were to get a girl pregnant. A rational woman would have walked away after hearing that. A week later, I was pleading with him to stay. And I actually wanted to try to get him back for several months afterward. My mom was afraid I might kill myself. Instead, I had my first taste of psychosomatic symptoms, my mental distress causing physical illness.
He certainly wasn’t the only guy I’d ever dated who made me feel bad about myself. Pretty much every guy I’d ever dated had done that. Tom was the only one who didn’t. It was mostly emotional abuse. It was never physical.
But there was that one guy, the one I wanted to date but would only ever make me his “other woman,” who should have made me run screaming the other way. Quite literally. I’m actually lucky to be alive, because I was so damn stupid.
After we’d hooked up a few times, I got “friend-zoned” for a while. I would hang out with him and his crappy group of friends on the merest hope that he would pay attention to me again. He would openly discuss our sexual encounters, humiliating me by making comments about how I could “suck the paint off of a house.” And then there was that enlightening time when he was bragging about how he’d be with a girl, and they’d be sitting there, and he’d have his hand in her hair…And he’d gradually start applying 60 or more pounds of pressure to the back of her head. “Then she’d be going down on me and thinking it was her idea!” And he laughed. And I realized he’d done that to me. It wasn’t date rape, because I’d been desperately wanting his attention, which made me willing, but it certainly made me feel icky.
Worse, though, was the time we were at Denny’s late at night, just the two of us. He started describing how it was a dark and lonely road he had to take to drive me home. How no one would see if he pulled off to the side of the road to rape me, slice my throat, peel away my skin, and leave me for dead… I remember sitting there, stoically listening to this because I didn’t want to look fazed by it. I was trying to think of a sarcastic comeback, because I never believed he would actually do anything like that. But God bless the man sitting at the next table over with his wife or girlfriend. His face was like the guy in a movie who sits there, getting up his nerve to stand up and punch out the bully messing with the underdog nearby. “Hey, buddy,” the man said sternly, “quite it with the cock talk.” I don’t remember the entire verbal exchange between the two of them after that, but I wonder if that couple worried about me after they left. I wonder if they waited for the news the next morning to see if some girl disappeared, or was found dead by the side of the road.
I was phenomenally stupid to have let him drive me home that night. And to continue hanging out with him after that. But I did. I think he was just trying to get a reaction out of me. In the most horrifying way possible. He could’ve been exactly the deranged killer he’d pretended to be. It turns out he wasn’t. Or at least I hope not. I see he has a wife and a daughter now, and he works with kids. I hope he repents his old womanizing days, now that he has a daughter. I hope he’s learned more respect for women.
But hell, if a woman like me – someone who wanted to go into counseling to help abused women – could sit there and let someone else describe raping and murdering me without batting an eyelid, what does that say about our tacit acceptance of misogyny in our culture? I was such a stupid girl back then, but I’m far less naive and far more jaded now.
Don’t let threats of sexual violence pass. It may be a lot more than “cock talk.” It may be that he plans on carrying out his threats quite literally, as that man did to those women in California, simply because he couldn’t get a girlfriend. This needs to stop. If you witness any sort of threat of violence – in person or online – please report it to the authorities and beg them to take it seriously. Remind them that they don’t want to be the cops who let this guy off because he “seemed like a nice guy.”