Reflections on a lifetime of harassment

I grew up in Wisconsin. In high school I ran every night at 10pm. Summers I would ride my bike up and down rolling hills, past beautiful corn fields and red barns. Then little by little things changed.

I wouldn’t dream of doing those things now. Little by little my freedom is slipping away from me.

I remember clearly the anger I felt when I realized just how much freedom I had lost. It is a day that sits firmly in my memory. Not because anything monumental happened, but rather because that day, for whatever reason, I understood how quickly things were changing.

It was a beautiful autumn day. I was 25. I had graduated University, and had landed my dream job in beautiful Williamsburg, Virginia. I drove to a near-by park; ready to breathe in the crisp fall air and
admire the golden colors around me. Maybe I’d jog a bit. Feels good. But, as soon as I stepped onto the trail instead of continuing to feel happy, relaxed and carefree, my heart began to race. Why can I no longer go out to breathe the fresh air? It’s not allergies. Why instead of feeling the peace I used to feel, do I feel my heart race at the risk I take just to be in nature? My eyes dart side to side, surveying the scene. Planning escape routes. Which way is best to run? It’s not worth it. I turn around, walk back to my car and drive home.

The “smile. what’s a pretty girl like you frowning for?” (which I found belittling and rude) had turned into men wiggling their tongues between the V made by their fingers (even worse). Maybe it’s because I have shoulder length hair. After all I was blonde. Maybe it’s because I’m further south. Nope. I cut my hair, but even after several moves north and south, it seemed the men were
getting worse! Little by little the small changes were hard to ignore.

Eventually I got married, and wound up in Missouri for a while. We had a great little condo, and only a 10 minutes walk from work! I’d cross the street, walk through a large open parking lot, cross one
more street and enter via the back door. That’s when I started counting. The average was 10. Ten! That’s one every minute! Five car horns, two oral sex gestures plus three heads hanging out the window staring viciously, daring me,” come on. Make eye contact.” Equals ten! That’s one every minute! Ten sexual bullies Invading my ears, invading my eyes, invading my thoughts, crushing my spirits, swashing me, ruining my mood. Surely I should be able to walk this short distance to work, in broad daylight, alone and still feel safe.

Nope.

I began wearing big bulky jogging suits and tops. No bright colors. Especially no pink. (Which I didn’t own anyways) Did I receive fewer harassing looks or gestures? Nope. My husband liked my hair longer. It was chin length now, so I tucked it up under my hat. No help. I even tried to carry myself like a boy. My boobs aren’t that big. If the sweatshirt’s bulky enough, and I have my hat pulled down low, maybe they’ll think I’m a boy! No luck. I sat down on the cement curb and cried. I was 29. I called the only man I knew that loved, cherished and valued me, my Dad.

Later I phone my husband, but now that he is back in Virginia for a few months work, and needs the car, I’d have to make do. I tell him I hope he’s not doing what I was so upset about to anyone. Years later I’m in for more surprises. But back here in Missouri, at my happiest, and healthiest time ever, I am struggling. What is happening? I left the house happy, what happened?! I was often described as “happy-go-lucky”. A few people even found my positivity annoying. I couldn’t
understand being “dark” and jaded. But little by little, over time that was changing.

Little by little I have lost my freedom to just be. Little by little I have became angrier and angrier. I feel humiliated! I feel disgusted! I’m tired of being harassed! And I’m tired of feeling threatened! I saw on the news how all those women were raped in Central Park by swarms of men in broad daylight and no one, not ONE person did a thing.

My husband finally came home. The same roads were very different if he was walking beside me. I’d say,” I’m going to put a video camera in my bag and tape how different walking down the road with you and without you can be. I’ll wear the same outfits, go out at the same time of day…etc.” But “they” still found a way to get at me, even when he was walking beside me, holding my hand, they would stare at me in the side mirror after driving by. I guess for some reason it’s important to look at a woman’s face after sizing up her ass. My husband didn’t always notice, but I saw them. Sometimes they would even offer a look of defiance. Is that what it is? I don’t understand what it means; or what is being accomplished by this interaction, but I do know none of it feels good to me. It’s like a
look that says, “gotcha” or “you’re not safe just because you’re walking with him” or “you exist only to be used by me. you’re only worth in the world is for me to f* you and if you die i could care less. you are not human, you are a wo-man”

How am I supposed to handle this? It happens EVERY time I leave my house alone. Being with other women is no safer either. Sometimes that just makes things worse.

So, the disguises don’t work. What else can I do if clearly I cannot stop the insults from coming. Well I guess my first instincts were to ignore it. “Don’t flinch Angie, don’t break stride and whatever you do, don’t look up. Just pretend you didn’t hear it.” I hate walking around everywhere with my head down. It’s like I’m giving into them. I have a scowl on my face. I’m tense. I’m not taking in the flowers or the beautiful trees around me. If “they” see me happy it somehow gives them some sort of satisfaction that I cannot understand, and they are even more interested in invading my day! Ignoring this isn’t helping me! And there is nothing complimentary about this behavior so don’t even go there! Doing nothing has left me with a sore neck, feeling frustrated and defeated! After a while this “just ignore it” approach has just left me feeling like a victim.

I’m not a victim! I’m a human being! I’m an American! I’m a sister, a wife, a friend. A college graduate! An oboe player! An athlete! A caring person! A hard worker! I’m friendly! I love being
outside! I’m adventurous! I’m intelligent! I’m modest! I don’t “flaunt it”! I share my body with my husband! Aren’t these men somebody else’s husbands!!!! Do these poor women know that their
husbands are gawking at me!!!!

I start flicking them off. Still this seems to satisfy them as well, or they then I have to hear them yell, “bitch” or “you know you like it”, or “tight bitch”, or “you’re ugly anyway”. So that doesn’t last
long.

Maybe I need to change my reactions inside. Maybe I should feel happy. Feel flattered that I am attractive. Bullshit. I’m still repulsed.

“Take it as a compliment” some men say. Bullshit, I know I am being insulted. I still feel repulsed. I hardly think harrassing men would be so thrilled if the shoe was on the other foot. What if the world
was filled with men afraid to go anywhere without their wives because women would constantly be making sexual advances at them?

Ok…I let you go with that for a second. Great, you think, they would love it! But let’s put it in perspective. Give it a dose of reality. After all none of the men bullying me look like Brad Pitt.
In fact, even if I wasn’t married, I find none of them attractive. Quite the opposite. No Densell Washington has ever made inappropriate sexual gestures at me. It’s ALWAYS someone repulsive or clearly not age appropriate.

So when I say “women” harrassing helpless men, I don’t mean the models from the hair commercials. I don’t mean the classy “older” ladies selling the anti-wrinkle cream. (personally if that’s an older
woman, no one must live past 35) I’m talking about sexually aggressive women who are less physically
attractive and at an age that these male “victims” not only don’t desire, but feel repulsed at the thought of doing anything sexual with. Perhaps they have black teeth, dry dirty hair, dirty fingernails and filthy mouths. None of the pretty ladies he may see on the street give him anything but a conservative hello. Yet every woman he finds repulsive is making remarks about his penis being
somewhere he’s never want it to be, or better yet, she solicits him to perform favors for her by voicing them aloud as he innocently walks by. I hardly think he’d take it as a compliment.

As for me, I’m now 36. No kids yet. Scared to have a little girl. Praying a little boy doesn’t grow up to behave this way.

From the time I was 16 until age 30 the men that “harassed” me were mostly 18-35. Mind you, The thought of a 35 year old man being interested in me even when I was 25 grossed me out. Media and movies portray it all the time, but to me the thought was disgusting.

Now that I’m 36, I’ve noticed less attention. And if I do get it, now the men are 45-60. Yeah.

Maybe I get less attention because I’m older. Awesome! I can’t wait till men think I’m an old bag, a smelly old woman worth nothing. Then I won’t have to put up with their disgusting sexual invasions. Or maybe I get less attention because I rarely go anywhere without my husband now. Maybe I’ve altered my behavior and didn’t even realize it. I have to admit, it sure has been a challenge. Looking good enough for my husband to notice, but not good enough for any perv to see. Really really difficult.

So, anyways…yesterday I decide to walk to the store. Brown full length pants, not tight, geeky brown sandals and a turquoise blue v-neck t-shirt. No necklace, small earrings. I only had to go 10
minutes through my friendly Canadian neighbourhood to get to the store. Surely now that I’m back up north, way north, now that I’m older, and with what I’m wearing, nothing will come of this…. I
only made it two blocks.

They were sitting in their dump trucks. Road construction down a nearby street. Great. One of them hung his head out the window like a dog gasping for air; the other honked his horn. Why?! Why did he
feel the need to do this?! I was instantly angry!!

My emotions in check I immediately do what I always do…analyze my feelings. What’s the matter with me?! Why am I angry? I’m not an angry person!!! At least I didn’t used to be!! Is it because my
bruises never get a chance to heal? Does any woman bruises ever get a chance to heal? Why do they keeping poking me hitting my bruises? I want to scream “Stop it!” I want them to understand how horrible it feels. It’s insulting! Like how you might feel if someone peed on you! Stop pissing all over me! Now what…

I decide to turn around. I walk back to the lot where they’re parked. I stand on the sidewalk in front of the two men propped up high, sitting like kings in their dump trucks. I look hopelessly up at them, ten feet higher than me, protected by their steel trucks, and their sunglasses, and the fact that they’re men.

One just stares. The other offers the all too familiar dainty wave. The wave that belittles and maddens at the same time. That patronizing little wave has a way of getting into the pit of your
stomach I ask, “Did you honk?” Nothing. “Why did you honk your horn?” Continues wiggling his fingers at me with a cheshire cat grin. “Did you need something?” Notta. I yell, “Well, don’t honk at people who are just trying to walk down the street!”

Boy oh boy did I let him have it. Way to tell him off. I walked away. Now on top of everything else, I feel like a dork. Can’t really tell if I felt any better than if I’d said nothing, maybe even felt a little worse.

Perhaps if I cursed at him. Oh! they were black! Maybe I should have called them a derogatory name like n*****. Maybe then they’d feel something akin to the shame and disgust and inequality that they pressed on me.

There are sexual harrassment laws for the workplace. Why can’t they be for the street? Can I somehow stop this unwanted behavior by reporting them to their workplace. Hardly see anyone giving a shit. Probably just laugh and call me an uptight bitch. Please. PLEASE just leave me alone. Just leave women alone!

I believe all people matter. All of us all equal under the law, and under God. I have forgiven my uncle who molested me and all the young, and I mean YOUNG girls in his family including his granddaughter whom he also molested. I forgive Pete L. who took me to Bull Durham for my first date, and told me I “owed him” because he bought me a pop, and tried to rape me at the park.

Forgiven the guy who raped my best friend Jane, and the one who raped my other friend Machelle. For my classmates who pulled my friend Laura’s pants down, rolled her down the stairs and gang raped her in her own home because she was young and dumb enough to have a party when her parents were out of town. For the uncle who molested my friend Krissy. For the father who molested my friend Johanne; having sex with her from the time she was 3 or 4 throughout her teens. For
the brother who molested my best friend Jessie. For all the men who jack off to pornography despite the fact that they have beautiful loving wives and children, and for not understanding that not only are these women girls, and that they are old enough to be their fathers, but for not understanding that strippers and woman who do porn are usually victims of sexual abuse in the home, or drug addicts
supporting their addiction, or even women grabbing at some way to take back their sexuality but giving it away. For my husband who not only became a computer sex addict, but never wore a condom when he cheated on me, even when I was reading pregnancy how to books.

Why can’t men treat strangers with the same care and consideration they give, or pretend to give, their loved ones at home. I have theories on why this change has been happening. Little by little.
Taking unbelievable momentum. We talk about how much better it is here than it is in Africa and India. I hear the stories of how girls are raped on their way to school. How girls of 12 and 13 are
literally locked up until they mature and then forced into prostitution as CHILDREN! If we have this awareness. If we have sexual harassment laws for the workplace. If we are more socially aware, and better educated. If we live in a country of freedom, and equality. Then WHY CAN’T I BE FREE?!

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