At the tender age of 20, on the night before my wedding, a male member of my husband’s family and unfortunately, in our wedding party too, grabbed my rear end and told me “You’d better get used to it- you’re in the family now.”
Mortified, shaken, annoyed, shocked. I mean, how does one react? I was stunned and didn’t respond at all. I didn’t tell anyone. Least of all, I didn’t tell the one person I should have told- my future husband. Because, as all women in a similar situation, we brush it off. We downplay it. We make excuses. To whom? Ourselves mostly. We make excuses that it was probably nothing. We make concessions and we give reasons and we don’t speak. We don’t tell. Shhh. Quiet, or you might bring shame upon your family. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t make a big deal. I mean, it’s not like he raped anyone…….
A few months later, while on a bus loaded with congregants from our local church, we were on our way to a church service out of town. A gathering of the faithful to celebrate unity among our denomination. The bus was full of young and old. I don’t remember what happened first or how it unfolded but I was smack in the middle of a verbal assault by a “hot-headed” young punk whose family were long-time adherents. In the midst of a fun ride, casual chatter and group building he told my husband “you better get control of your wife”……I was hot and flushed with rage. I nearly tore his head off. Just prior, he had made a shameful, degrading comment to me and decided in that moment he had patriarchy and the mob on his side. He went on to be a serial rapist and child molester.
I have 3 girls in young adulthood. All of them are at or near the age I was when these two unfortunate occurrences happened. I don’t lose sleep over these things but at one time I did. And that, in and of itself, is the problem. Because no girl or woman should feel shame, degraded, assaulted, man-handled or shaken simply because she is a female. But this is our world. And this is what it means to be a woman. This is how we grow up: told by our mothers and grandmothers to cover up, run and use our gut instinct. The former 2 are right and wrong. That’s a discussion for another day. The latter…….that is right. And it is what we do not discuss enough. Instinct.
In the above two examples of pathetic excuses for “men” I had instinct. With both people, long before the incidents took place I was uncomfortable. Call it that “icky factor”. Maybe slimy. Maybe gross or creepy. If you’re a woman, you know what I mean because it has happened to all of us. I had this discussion with my husband years ago. I told him about all the men I found creepy. He didn’t understand it or see it. He couldn’t even wrap his head around what I meant. And it is so hard to describe. Unless you’re a woman. You know.
They hover over you. They breathe hot down your neck. They swoop in while you’re sitting and stare down your cleavage. I see this at church sometimes- older men, hovering over the young girls who don’t even realize what is happening. Standing too close, touching hair or shoulders, leaning forward to catch a glimpse of something that is barely there. I shudder.
Me too. I’ve seen it posted a hundred times today. It might have been the time an inappropriate grandfather touched his granddaughter’s bare shoulder and twisted her bra strap back….what business is it of his? Why does it matter? It shouldn’t. But he did it. And she was uncomfortable at the least and disgusted at the worst. Never in my life have my dad or grandfather EVER touched my shoulder in such a way and NEVER would they even consider adjusting the undergarment of a girl. I’m ill. This was my daughter.
Or maybe it was the time when the 12 year old niece at a family dinner was hugged too closely by the creepy uncle whose hand slipped way too far down. Don’t tell me it was accidental. It was purposeful and intentional. But she never told anyone.
The creep, the weirdo, the off-putting, the aggressive, the loud one, the funny one, the charming one, the awkward one. Women know.
Parents, caregivers, youth leaders, pastors: help out the girls and the women here. Tell your boys and your young men and your married men and your older men to stop. Stop touching and feeling and looking and hovering. Stop wrapping your arms around girls and women who you have no business touching. Stop looking at breasts and cleavage and butts like they’re hills to conquer. Stop pushing your way into every female’s personal space. Stop being domineering and threatening. Stop man handling and laughing about it. Stop presuming you have a right. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT.
And for the girls and the women: keep trusting your instincts. Don’t worry if it makes you look mean or cold. Don’t let anyone force you to touch or be with any man or boy or beast who does not respect your boundaries and your body. YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT.
I’m 46 and there are a dozen times in my life I should have said “me too”. I didn’t. But I am today.