How many times has something like this happened to me? This is the thought that sparked my list.
A couple of weeks ago, something happened, which triggered a memory of being harassed by a man. That memory triggered another, and so on. That’s when I had the thought, How many times…? I wanted to know the answer, so I started making a list of moments, events, times when I’d been harassed–or worse–by men. Some of these men I’d trusted and valued. They were my friends or boyfriends. Others I didn’t know as well. They were men in positions of power, taking advantage of their authority.
The list I came up with was long. Much longer than I’d expected at the onset.
Some of the minor events on my list I’d essentially forgotten. They came to mind when pulled forward by other memories. Yet, even those instances had stayed with me to a degree, because at some time, in some way, they’d affected me enough to matter. Other events I live with always; they’ve become a part of who I am. Regardless, they don’t define me and they never will.
I wrote the list for myself, with no intention of publishing it. Then, I rethought my decision. I considered sharing it–keeping every man on it nameless–with the simple hope of empowering other women to speak out about the things they’d endured. Because endure is the right word.
Recently, I had another change of heart. My list is my own, and though some of the events on it were witnessed by other people, I really did write it for myself.
I will, however, share a little about it. I’ll start by saying I didn’t include the types of harassment that happen to women on a regular basis, the cat-calling and similar things. Still, some of the events on my list were fairly minor. They were things I was forced to laugh off or downplay or ignore. It’s easier to play dumb sometimes than it is to create a scene. Oh, you didn’t mean to grab my a$$? Right, got it. Haha. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t insulted or embarrassed by what had happened. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking, Eff. Off. and gritting my teeth behind my “boys will be boys” fake smile.
Other events on my list were not minor. There were things on there that even as they happened, I’d thought, This can’t really be happening. I was wholly at someone’s mercy, only they weren’t showing mercy in those moments.
It wasn’t easy, writing my list. The anger, the pain, the humiliation of the experiences returned to me as if they were still raw. Some of the memories made my palms sweat; others brought tears to my eyes. But I didn’t stop writing. I wanted to know the answer to my question. How many times has something like this happened?
Well, I wrote my list, but I never really got my answer. Memories are still coming up, things I’m surprised I could have ever forgotten. Despite this, I know my list would be pretty mild compared to some. Others’ lists might be much longer, too. The point, though, is not what’s on my list or anyone else’s. The point is the list itself. The point is that even among the women I know personally, most–if not all–could make lists of their own–and this doesn’t only happen to women. We know this.
Though I may not have finished my list, I am finished with it. It’s served its purpose. It was painful, but cathartic, and I now understand that the answer to the question of “how many times…?” is not a number. The answer is this: too many.
It was a helpful experiment–making my list–yet in the end, it raised more questions than it answered. There are a few that weigh heaviest on my heart and mind and I’m hoping, maybe, you could help me with them?
First is: Why? Why–when there are so many decent men who would never consider doing such things–why did these men think they had the right to touch me, or say crude or inappropriate things, or threaten me, or hurt me? Why would they treat another human being this way?
The next is very important to me: If you–reading this right now–if you made your own list, what would be on it and how are you healing?
Last, but in no way least, I have one more “how” question. How do we make this stop?