There was a man at my church, who whenever he saw me would want to pick me up and carry me around. He'd ask me to kiss his cheek. I was maybe five or six. I remember being small and feeling his large hand tight around my upper thigh, just under the skirt of my church dress. The first time he did this, it made me laugh. Every little kid wants to be picked up and carried around. I was just at that age were I was too big to be carried around by my Dad. So being picked up was a treat. But then this man did this every time he saw me, picking me up and squeezing me tight. He was always begging for kisses even though I pushed away. I didn't want to be picked up. I didn't want to feel his hands on my body. I didn't want to kiss his cheek. But I played along because I didn't want to hurt his feelings and when I couldn't take another encounter with him, I started hiding, ducking behind a bookshelf or into a stairwell.
I thought for a long time that this is just the way things are. A woman's body is never just her own. In everything I had seen on TV, covers of magazines and the romance novels that piled up next to my mother's bedside table, a woman was always being manhandled. We were told this was normal and that this is what we should want. We should want a man to touch our bodies. We should be flattered by it. We should even use it to our advantage. As a young girl and teen, those moments when a boy tried to touch me were so rare, that when it did happen, I almost felt grateful. I had zero confidence in my body or how I looked and those rare encounters made me believe for a moment that maybe I was attractive. Maybe I wasn't just a chubby pimply faced awkward girl. We were taught that our self worth was measured by how much a man wanted to touch your body, even if his touch makes you feel like throwing up.
It wasn't until college when I found my voice. I'd hang out with my roommate in the guys dorms. She had a thing for one of the basketball players and we'd sit in his room while they smoked pot and listened to R Kelly. One of the other basketball players was always trying 'get with me'. Those where his words. He was never forceful, just persistent. His persistence made me feel uncomfortable, like there was something wrong with me for not wanting to be with this guy, for not wanting him to touch me. Maybe I was 'frigid'. I had yet to lose my virginity. Was it because I wouldn't just give in, even when I felt nothing for this guy other than annoyance? It seemed like punishment for having standards, for wanting a partner who was my equal. Punishment for wanting a partner who treated my body less like an object and more like a temple. One day, for no reason other than I had finally had enough, I told that guy "NO". I told him that his advances made me feel uncomfortable. It made me not want to be around him. So I wasn't. I walked away and stayed away.
Then there was Chris, who was that equal partner. He treated my inexperience carefully and gently. He did not persist. He let me make my first skittish moves. He let my body be my own. This in itself made me feel more attractive than any of those previous encounters. Chris was a protective barrier to a point, but Chris's presence didn't stop other men from the occasional touch. There's always that guy who thinks it's just fine to pat you on the ass. After Chris, when I was alone, I found myself in more and more situations where a guy would find excuses to touch me. I would recoil, step back, jump away. Even though there were times I craved human touch, I did not welcome this encroachment on my personal space. I did not encourage it. I was never asking for it. A couple of years ago, I went to get a massage. It was at a spa I'd been to before, with a massage therapist I had been with once before. Near the end he asked me if he could massage my chest. I was just recovering from a chest cold and the muscles in the upper part of my chest were tight. I consented thinking that the massage therapist was going to work on that area, which he did. Then his hands were on my breasts. I remember thinking even then 'this is okay, there's muscles there too that need to be released', reassuring myself. Then his hands moved to my nipples and alarm bells rang in my head. This was not okay. But I laid there and let it happen, too ashamed to say a word.
So many people wonder why it has taken so long for all of these women to come forward with their confessions of sexual harassment. Those people must be fortunate enough to never have experienced the shame and humiliation that comes from being sexually harassed. I have never told the story about the massage therapist to any one, until today. At the time it was happening, I was too shocked to believe it was really happening. Then, I was ashamed of myself and embarrassed. I had given him permission to massage my chest and when he crossed a line, I did nothing to stop it. I had asked for it, right? Except it does not make his actions right. What about that man from church? I never told him "no". I never asked him verbally to stop. I was six. Just because I didn't say no, does not make his actions right either. Admitting that you were vulnerable and trusted another human to not take advantage of your vulnerability is not an easy thing to do.
It takes a lot of courage.
Every woman who steps forward, even if it has been years since the incident, gives another woman courage to speak. It sends the message to every man that we will not stay silent and we will not let you behave this way. Fathers who thought this could never happen to their daughters or brothers who believed they could protect their little sisters from predators, are now aware that, yes this can happen. Because I am positive that there are fathers out there who truly believe that this is not going to happen to his little girl. My own brother is probably going to be completely surprised by my own stories of sexual harassment. For far too long we've let society put the blame on the victim and it has silenced us. It stops now. I'd like to believe that the Cabbage is never going to have to tell a story about being sexually harassed. Though, I am not that naive. I don't want her to feel ashamed. I don't want her to be scared to speak up, to scream "NO!". I want her to know that she owns her own body, and nobody else does.
That's why I am telling my story.