When I was a freshman in high school, a classmate said something sexually crass to me and so I went to my English teacher. A few days later, he said another crude, but less explicit, statement to me. I went to another teacher and told them. When I told my parents, they cautioned me to not tattle, to not overreact, that it wasn’t that bad. What he said, the specifics I have forgotten in the ten years that have passed, bothered me, offended me, irked me. I remember feeling frustrated with my mom, a fellow woman, one who often reminded me of the honors of chastity and “saving” myself, being nonchalant about the repeated sexual harassment from a boy, and saying the issue was with the calling attention to it. But I think that her meaning was of self-preservation. Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t cause trouble. Don’t offend. Do not put yourself in danger of retribution.
It’s a lesson that we all learn over time, that silence is safer. How many news stories do we read about women who are harassed, followed, killed, because they did not play along? When we are violently raped, they tell us to not fight, because we might be killed. These are the horror stories, but we all experience similar threats in lesser degrees.
When I lived in Boston, I was late to work and so I was running to make up lost time. Two men drove by in a car, and one leaned out the window and leered at me, with a disgusting look on his face, watching my breasts bounce as I ran. I gave him the finger. The car slowed down. The light at the end of the road turned red. Suddenly, I felt so much fear, shame and guilt. I slowed down to a walk because I didn’t know what would happen if I caught up with the car. Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t cause trouble. Don’t offend. Do not put yourself in danger of retribution.
Another time, I was working as a host at a restaurant, when a middle age man, clearly intoxicated, came in. He stood at my host stand for 30 minutes talking to me. I was polite and friendly, but decidedly stuck. Finally, when I asked him AGAIN, if he would like to go to the bar, he told me our conversation “juiced him more than alcohol ever could!” When he left the resturant, he made sure to stop by again and patted me on the back and arm and continued to talk to me until a male coworker called me away and asked if I was okay, if this guy was bothering me. When I posted about it on social media, I was told by another woman to stop being so nice, to empower myself. I was angry. It was the same frustration I felt at my mom years before, only now I was on the flip side of it. I was trying to protect myself and my job. And I am a nice person! Why was I being told to change, instead of the man invading my personal space at my professional job? Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t cause trouble. Don’t offend. Do not put yourself in danger of retribution.
A year ago, I was walking home from work, when an SUV with two men pulled up beside me. One of the men rolled down his window and said, “Hello little girl, what are you up to?” I was twenty-three. I was so shocked and creeped out by his tone, I just remarked quickly “I am just walking home.” And quickly crossed the street in front of him, making sure to not look back. Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t cause trouble. Don’t offend. Do not put yourself in danger of retribution.
A few weeks ago, a 2005 video was released with audio of Donald Trump, the presidential candidate for the Republican Party, stating that he could kiss women without warning, he could do anything to them, even “grab them by the pussy.” He has recently stated that he has never sexually assaulted anyone; in the weeks that have followed that video and his statement, almost a dozen women have come out and said that Trump has sexually assaulted them, each one then mocked by him. This past weekend, he said that he will be suing these women for their claims. People are posting articles, asking why it took these women years to come forward, why they didn’t speak up when it happen, suggesting that there has to be some ulterior motive for coming forward in the weeks before the election. Did these women’s mothers beg them to be quiet, to not draw attention to themselves? How many of these women are wishing that they listened and stayed quiet? Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t cause trouble. Don’t offend. Do not put yourself in danger of retribution.
After the first time I was sexually assaulted, I walked home in the morning light, still drunk, rationalizing what had happened. I can still remember that walk, the tight feeling in my chest, the shame, the fear. Did his penis in my mouth mean that I was now sexually active? I remember telling my friend, and her response of “I think he took advantage of you.” And how I looked out the window to avoid eye contact. I told my other friends, and they apologized for leaving me at the house of my friends, people I trusted. I learned to make it into a joke, to comment on his penis size. I learned that if I tried to reclaim my consent with other men, the pain would bury deeper into a place so that I could forget it.
At a party, I was making out with a guy in a car, and he kept trying to pull his penis out, until I left, shaken and triggered. I cried to my best friend. Well, you should have known what was going to happen when you went out there. She said, leaving me to hiccup through my tears and tipsiness. I was angry but I understood; she had been raped a month earlier. Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t cause trouble. Don’t offend. Do not put yourself in danger.
After the second time I was sexually assaulted, I learned to make jokes about it. It’s easier to lose your virginity when you are black-out drunk! I laughed. It’s easier to rationalize your rape when you continue to sleep with the same guy for months. Later, it’s easier to hide your anger in your anxiety when you tell him you don’t want to have sex without a condom and he tries to put it in anyway, saying he knows when to pull out, that you have had sex with him before without a condom and it was fine. It’s easier to dull that emptiness inside with alcohol and laxatives.
A year ago, I was at work and I got a text from the guy who had first assaulted me. Hey is this Flannery? I saw you at [a bar I was at] last night! I was going to say high but you left before I could! That same tightness came to my chest. The same fear. My hands started shaking so badly I couldn’t hand customers their keys without dropping them. I’m fine. I’m okay. I am just not feeling well. I left work and cried in the car of my friend. And finally, the anger broke through the anxiety.
Call attention to yourself. I was raped by people I considered friends. Cause trouble. These men were Christian, tweeted about bringing kids to Christ, yet they didn’t listen to my consent. Offend. Does this make you mad? Good. Put yourself in danger of retribution. I am speaking out. Again and again and again.