When I was so in high school, I stayed late all the time. I would hang out with the other kids (usually athletes) that stayed late and do homework, talk crap and play or eat snacks, whatever. One of these days I’m in the hallway, probably putting something in my locker, and somehow end up on the floor with my skirt raised above my waist. I say somehow because I truly don’t recall exactly how it happened, but let’s just say that I didn’t fall or lay there on my own. As I lay there with my Catholic uniform skirt raised above my waist and my panties (and thusly my lady parts) out for the world to see, a group of 5 or so of my male classmates ogled at me and made crass remarks. That’s right, I wasn’t haphazardly laying on the floor with my legs in the air, somehow I’d gotten pushed down and my skirt pulled up. My two hands versus like 10, I tried to pull down my skirt and cover what no one except maybe medical professionals had seen before. Eventually, one of the guys realized that their little “game” had gone too far and chided the guys away to help me up. I was embarrassed, I felt vulnerable, harassed and violated. These were guys I considered friends and associates and here they were lewdly commenting on my panty clad vajay as if I’d invited them to a semi private show.
Some other time in high school, I’d had my skirt raised and my ass slapped by another male classmate. Who knows, could’ve been the same day…
These violations seem mighty tame to me, living in a world where harassment, sexual abuse and rape seem almost like a norm. Nonetheless, a violation is a violation.
All I know is this:
1. The events were real and I never mentioned them to anyone after the day they happened until now.
2. I don’t remember the exact feelings I had then but when I recall it now, I am filled with disgust, pain, shame and disappointment. At them.
3. When I mentioned the event to a female friend that day, I found temporary solace in her advice: “never wear a skirt without shorts or something underneath.”
I took this advice to heart and from that day forward until I graduated, I wore a pair of some sort of shorts under my plaid skirt. This was supposed to keep me from being harassed or at least from being embarrassed in the event that someone felt it their own personal duty to lift my skirt or touch me uninvited.
I have more stories of this, being slapped on the butt repeatedly by a guy that wanted to see if my butt jiggled, oh how many times I told him to stop. Stories of strangers grabbing me in the club, where it’s dark and inhibitions are low but not lower than my tolerance for creepers. Stories of being cursed out on the street by guys I turned down that were driving while it was in middle school… creepers. You name it, me or almost any other woman alive can relate.
And you know what the shame is in that??
I mean, besides the harassment and the cursing out, the risk of further and more violent violations … but the advice we receive from men and other women that places the responsibility of our safety, our chastity, our personal space, our desires, our bodies in our own hands rather than holding responsible the people who attempt or succeed at violating the aforementioned and much more.
“Wear some shorts…” is just the tip of a titanic sinking iceberg.
We are told how to dress, talk, walk, act, look, smell, think, feel, eat, breathe, exist in the name of “protecting ourselves” without anyone stopping to examine the main reason we have to do so in the first place.
Now, of course I believe in taking precautions to keep myself safe. However, that does not excuse a man (rando or not) from learning and knowing how to behave in a manner that is non-violative, boundary-safe and harassment-free. We are taught every which way how to keep men from violating us, but who is teaching men to respect our space, boundaries and wishes??
It is not okay for a dude to call a woman out of her name, cuss at her or KILL her because she expresses she is uninterested in him [#MarySpears #JaneseTalton]. It is not okay for a man to harass a woman because she has on a tight dress. Wearing a mini skirt is not cause for rape. Telling a stranger woman what you would love to do to her body is totally inappropriate and harassing.
It has been said before and will be said again and again until it is received, digested and understood: women are not responsible for the harassment of women by men.
We cannot keep teaching our girls and young women that their safety and protection are completely in their own hands. We must be willing to teach our boys, young men and grown men alike to respect the minds, bodies and boundaries of the women they encounter. How to accept rejection. How to know when they’ve gone too far. How to approach a woman and her desires respectfully and treat her with dignity. How to respect himself and his boundaries, needs and desires enough to treat other people like human beings rather than recyclable property.
The question is not and never should be, “what did she do to cause xyz” but “why did he think this behavior was ever warranted?”
No more “wear shorts under your skirt” if you’re not going to turn your head and say to him “keep your hands to yourself until you’re invited”