“I’m going to rape you,” he said. “I can if I want.”
I still remember the words as a 12-year-old of the guy, Mike who sat next to me in class.
He wasn’t the only one.
I was 16 years old when a 40-something man told me he would like to show me his “large banana.”
I was 17 when a group of men commented on my body while I walked down a beach. When I cursed them out, my mom quickly admonished me for cursing in front of their friends.
I was 19 when I was groped and pinched as an intern at a model agency by another agent.
As I’ve walked down the street I’ve had not one but two men tell me “I’m going to eat your pussy.” I had a man grab me in the crotch and continue walking down Broadway as though nothing had happened, (I ran after to him and swung my bag at him). I’ve had men follow me. I’ve had men leer at me. I’ve had men stare at my chest a little too long. I’ve been cornered in a back room of the warehouse of an office by a man who thought it would be OK if he cheated on his wife and I would be fully available.
I’ve lost track of all the times I’ve been sexually harassed. And I’m not alone.
Women are sexually harassed all the time. All. The. Time.
I’ve learned how to fight back and so it happens less often. But predatory men know when they see prey. And when they see prey, they go in for the kill. Unfortunately, women are not taught to fight back. We are taught to be nice. Be silent. Stay quiet. Because we have to be nice. Because the sky will fall down if we are not nice.
Donald Trump’s words sear like the words of 12-year-old Mike. Because fundamentally they are the same. “I have ownership of your body, because you are female and because I can.”
This isn’t about politics. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the political spectrum. This is wrong. Donald Trump is wrong.
My father recently told me he may vote for Trump. A lifelong democrat he is suddenly interested in voting for Trump. I can’t help but think it’s because he doesn’t want to vote for a woman. My heart breaks as I realize this. I hate that he believes fundamentally women are less valuable than men. That the pain I and other women have felt from men like Trump completely elude him. Because he cannot understand that what we feel is real.
He cannot understand the fear I felt as 12-year-old when a boy told me he would rape me.
He cannot understand the terror I felt as a grown adult when a strange man walked up to me and whispered that he would do all kinds of things to me if he got his way with me.
These aren’t just words. A girl starts to be seen as a sex object as young as 11 or 12. Around the time she starts to develop. She is demeaned, ridiculed, and belittled for having parts that she never signed up to have. Don’t get me wrong; I love being a woman. But I don’t believe that makes me a piece of meat.
Women don’t simply exist for the pleasure of men. But we are taught that perhaps we are over and over again.
My mother and I were walking down the street in Vegas when a man spun his head around to look at me. I was 17. She was furious because she thought my shorts were too short. It was 110 degrees in Vegas. In August. She had bought me the shorts.
The following day I competed in a pageant my mother had put me in. I had to wear a swimsuit and was judged by a bunch of old men. She was OK with that.
The message was clear. I don’t have agency over my own body. Or I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t have the audacity to think I can control my own body. Having sex = not good. Having an old man judge me = OK.
This isn’t about politics. This is about someone who seriously thinks being a sexual predator is OK. It’s not. It’s not. IT’S NOT.
It’s horrifying and scary and demoralizing. When I think back to the 12-year-old me who was told she was going to be raped I want to hug her. I want to tell her it’s going to be OK. I want to tell 19-year-old to fight back when being touched by a coworker. I want to tell little girls everywhere we are not prey. We can fight back. I wasn’t raped. But Mike loved to torture me and make me feel like he had the power to do so. And I was scared to say anything because I’m a woman and I was taught not to say anything. That is no longer the case.
It’s 2016. In America. We can do better than this.