A Girls Life (of harassment)
In this age of the, Me too, movement it’s hard not to reflect how many times it has happened to you. I absolutely don’t like thinking about it the moments in my life when some guy, some man, made me feel uncomfortable and sometimes sick to my stomach. I think for most girls it starts in childhood. The first time a man looks at you or touches you in a weird way. At first you don’t know what it is. You just get a creepy feeling. You’re a child and in no way ready for any thoughts of sex. In the era I grew up in it was kept way more of a secret than it is today. I thought sex was kissing, and certainly something between a man and a woman who were in love with each other.
When I was about nine years old and playing outside on a hot summer day, I had on shorts and a summer blouse. Walking down the street with a new friend of mine we heard a car driving by and saw a man lean out his window. He stopped the car and asked if we wanted a ride. We said no, we live on this street. Then he grinned at me and looked me up and down. He said something very crude to me. He wiggled his tongue at me and drove off. Horrified I quickly looked down at my flat little chest. Nothing was showing. The neck of the blouse was a little big for me, but not nearly enough that it garnered that kind of attention.
My friend was staring at me with her mouth hanging open, and tears filled my eyes because I was so embarrassed. I was just a little girl. Why would the man do that? For some reason I was ashamed of the incident. I didn’t tell anyone about it, and only played in my own yard for a long time after that. It sounds like such a minor thing, but to an innocent little girl it was a big deal.
Not long after that incident, we were with our cousins. They had a step Dad that I called Uncle. He was funny and I thought he was kind of nice. One day we were sitting on the front porch, and my cousin went in the house to get something. My Uncle came and sat next to me, and started tickling me. Then he grabbed my foot and said he was going to bite my toes, to my horror he actually started to suck my toe. He was trying to put his hand in my pants when I heard my cousin coming back out. He let go of his tight grip on me and just started laughing. I was so shocked I didn’t say anything to my cousin. I stayed far away from that “Uncle” after that. When I was a teenager, we found out he was a pedophile and rapist.
The thing is, I think most of us don’t say anything about these type of things because we are shocked and embarrassed. We are not really sure why these things happen, or at that point in our lives, we don’t even really know what it means. I have to think it happens to most girls, because why would I be singled out so often?
I had little boyfriends at school every year. Just sweet innocent boy friends. In the fifth grade a boy I really liked ask me to go steady with him. I was delighted. It wasn’t long before his behavior became weird. He was really clingy and jealous, so I decided I didn’t want to be his girlfriend anymore. I told him privately as we were taking a walk one day. He told me that if I wouldn’t be his girlfriend, he would kill himself. He seemed very serious about it and it really scared me, so I said I would stay his girlfriend. The most we ever did was hold hands, but he was very moody and I became afraid of him. He had blond hair and blue eyes and looked very sweet and innocent, but apparently he was a very disturbed kid. Luckily for me, he and his family suddenly had to move away. But that situation rattled me. It was my first experience with a boy trying to control me like that. It wouldn’t be the last.
At seventeen I was leaving college early one day. While walking to the parking lot, a young man stopped his car and asked me for directions. I couldn’t hear him very well so I stepped closer to his car, I was horrified to see he had his pants down and was masterbatting. He had this sick, pleading look on his face and asked me if I wanted to make love. I turned and ran to my car as fast as I could. Once again I was left feeling shaky and sickened. I did tell my mother and she called the college to tell them, to try to help protect other girls. They never even asked for a description of the man or his car. My first husband was a nightmare. I met him as a teenager. He was from a broken home and I felt sorry for him and somehow thought I could “save” him, because even before we were married I knew he was troubled. I was finally able to divorce him when I was 23, but it was a very disturbing five years. I learned to stay away from relationships with men with issues.
As a young single woman in my career, most of the people in positions of power were men. I don’t even know how to count the times I was sexually harassed. Oftentimes men stood too close to me, brushed up against me or even patted or pinched my bottom. It just seemed to be the way of the world, and I had learned how to step around it most of the time. There were times I had to change jobs because of it, and I was a young single mother.
Sometimes in my life I’ve been a flirty girl. But I never flirted with any of the men in these situations. Never with the businessmen I worked with. I always dressed professionally at work. I’m a Southern girl and we tend to smile brightly and we are friendly. That is not an invitation for sex. I’ve often been told I have a lot of sex appeal, but I don’t think that was even possible for my nine year old skinny self, or even as a teenager. I was very shy.
There was one boss in particular that I had to deal with. He was very nice for months. Then one day he came in to talk to me and said he was going to have to fire the Manager (she wasn’t good at the job) and did I know anyone who could take her place. I started thinking of other Managers I knew to take the position. He laughed and said, “I’m talking about you!” I was happy that I would get a promotion and a raise. It didn’t take long for his behavior to change once we had to spend more time alone together. At first he started asking me out to have a “discreet dinner” with him. He had never flirted with me before. I knew he was married and had children. But his voice changed when he would ask me out for those discreet dinners, and it made me uncomfortable. I politely turned him down many times, and he would act like it was no big deal. When it got to the point that he started to flirt with me more and more and make excuses to be alone with me, I started to look for another job.
I went to his office to give my two week notice and he begged me to stay. I told him I had already agreed to take the other job. When I turned to leave, he grabbed me and kissed me, forcing his tongue in my mouth and holding me tightly with one arm while groping my breasts with his other hand. I had to shriek and struggle, finally pushing him away as hard as I could. He was a big man, about 6’4”. I think he let go because he was afraid someone would hear. I was shaking and I told him I would finish out the two week notice, but that if I he ever came near me agian, I would tell people what had happened. I didn’t really know who I would tell, I didn’t even know anyone in HR, but the threat worked. I cried all the way home. Thankfully I never saw him again. It’s so weird how men can start out so nice, and then turn on you like that.
I hope people understand how this type of behavior can affect a person. It causes a lot of stress and anxiety. It can change how you live, like such things as closing your blinds or curtains earlier in the evening. Jumping at strange noises during the night. Not sleeping well, and troubled dreams, which leads to fatigue. It can make you wary of smiling or even being friendly. It can lead to social anxiety and people thinking you are a snob and not very friendly.
There were times in my life that men at work would say outrageously sexual things to me, sometimes right in front of other people, but because they were men in power, people would just laugh. If I blushed, they would laugh even harder. Another time I worked alone in a model home, my boss didn’t even seem to really like me because he had wanted another woman for the job. After a while he flat out told me I had to have sex with him if I wanted to keep my job. I told him he was out of his mind and he knew I was married. I ended up getting fired. By that time I was in my thirties, married with three children. I stood firm and told the owner of the company. He said I was overreacting and it would be best if I didn’t work for them any longer. It was a high paying job and I was mad. I had had enough, so I tried to sue them. We went to mediation and it was a he said – she said type of thing. It was months of trouble and inconvenience which resulted in nothing. I finally spoke up and all it did was put me through a lot of humiliation.
When I was pregnant with my second baby, the OB/GYN had to do a lot of pelvic exams, which is normal, but when it got to the point I had to go monthly and then weekly, he always did a rectal exam too. Finally, I asked why he had to do it every time, and he got mad at me and said it was the first time he had done that to me. The nurse just turned her head. I chose a female doctor for my third pregnancy.
Those are just a few of the incidents I’ve had to endure. I’m speaking up because sexual harassment and sexual assault doesn’t have to mean rape. And I want people to know how difficult it can be just to be female in this world. I want men to know the difference between flirting and harassment. It’s not funny to make a girl feel scared, sick and traumatized. People always ask why girls and women don’t speak up more often. For me it was because I was ashamed and embarrassed that anyone would treat me like that, and because I knew it wouldn’t do any good. It had already happened, nothing would change that. It did teach me to be very careful in my life and try to not let myself get in tricky situations. I never had more than one or two drinks when I went out with my friends for a girls night. I made sure to not be left alone in a room with certain men. I learned to get a mean look on my face and in my eyes when someone did try something, instead of being scared.
And let’s get something straight. Flirting, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are NOT the same thing. Here are the definitions.
Flirt: verb or present participle: flirting
behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.
harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
Sexual assault is an act in which a person sexually touches another person without that person’s consent, or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.
I’ve almost never spoken aloud of any of this. I wonder if most women just stay silent, because really – no one wants to hear it. I always thought it wouldn’t do any good to burden my friends and family with it. Or even worse, what if someone said I was overreacting? I’m so glad they are having this, Me too, movement. I hope and pray it will change things, and not be forgotten.
KT Banks has written two novels, a story for the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and over one hundred articles. She has been happily married for over thirty years, has three grown sons, a daughter in law and a sweet baby grand daughter.
Her struggles with Hashimoto’s and Anxiety take away a lot of her energy and she’s not sure she will ever have the strength to write full length novels again, but that is a major goal. She believes attitude is everything and faces each day with positivity and joy, always finding something to be grateful for.
You can connect with KT on social media through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn
#1 reason we don’t say anything is because everyone else will say to us what did you do to make that happen. As if it didn’t happen to them or S if they weren’t the perpetrators.
#2 see number one and it means you’ll be punished