Touchy subject that I’m not sure how to approach, or whether I should. The other day I had the privilege of listening to a few women talking about their histories. It’s fascinating, to hear the stories they share and disturbing, as well, because some of the topics they broached were awful, but told in the same off-handed manner as the rest. Perhaps that’s what bothered me the most, as I listened to them say how someone had harassed them or abused them, like it was just something that happened back then. Par for the course, almost. Not something you talked about. Something to be hidden from others because of the possible repercussions, but not particularly unusual.
I guess I should consider myself lucky that I’ve reached the age I have without having to deal with this personally, not to the extent they did, anyway. I imagine most girls and women have faced harassment at some point in their lives. I remember a boy on a school bus who used to make comments about my body. The words weren’t so bad (well, no, they were) but it was the way he made me feel that upset me. Because I felt embarrassed — other people were hearing him and I didn’t want people looking at me that way — and I felt weak, because I didn’t do anything to shut him up. Because what I really wanted to do was smash his face in with my clarinet case. I still wish I had done something. But I didn’t. I ignored it and so did everyone else. Nobody called him on his crap. And that still bothers me, decades later. Why didn’t anybody stand up for me?
What gives me some hope is that people are talking now. A college friend of mine posted on Facebook about her kid watching Pepe Le Pew and pointing out that he was harassing the cat. It kind of blew my mind. Because that’s exactly what was happening. Pepe was pursuing the cat who had no interest in him whatsoever. He wouldn’t be dissuaded when she was very clear that she wasn’t interested. We grew up laughing at the skunk who fell in love with a cat and didn’t know when to quit. It was just something that happened back then.
I hear, occasionally, of people who do stand up, either for themselves or for the people around them. Because sometimes you can’t defend yourself and you need the people around you to help. So, please, look around you. Pay attention to what’s happening. It’s not easy to confront someone who’s bothering a girl on a bus. But I promise you, she’ll be glad someone did.