This is what sexual harassment feels like.
I’m a sharer. I share everything. I work things out better if they’re physically out of my body. Sometimes that just means writing or crying for a while, but neither appears to be socially acceptable for a twenty-year-old, so recently, I’ve been doing a lot of a sharing.
But there are some things I don’t feel comfortable sharing on this blog – or at all. This summer, I was the target of sexual harassment…a lot, or at least, more than ever before. I’ve been trying to find a way to recount those experiences, to turn them into a learning experience from which other people can garner some kind of personal benefit.
I feel somewhat more inspired to do this after reading Molly Redden’s incredibly moving, and very personal, account of sexual assault she experienced. Her piece in the The Georgetown Voice prompted a lot of positive response, which I was so thrilled to see, given the shit that’s been in the news recently.
But unlike Ms. Redden, I can’t do it.
Writing down what has been said to me feels inappropriate and disgusting. Some of my friends are probably scoffing a bit right now. Some know about the guys on the GUTS bus or about the car honking while I was alone at night or the men who beg on the corner around my metro stop. But none of you know about the guy behind St. Mary’s. And none of you know about the man in Leavey – in the fucking Leavey Center, right outside Uncommon Grounds. I was looking at research ads in the corridor between the food court in Sellinger. It’s not exactly the middle of nowhere.
I know what I’m supposed to say, now. I’m supposed to say, “oh, it’s flattering that random men think I’m attractive. It’s because I lost weight and dress better! Isn’t that great.”
But that’s not how it works. Common consensus deems those men to be “creepers,” which means that all I’m doing is…attracting creepers. Go ahead, tell me to feel good about the guy who was harassing me behind St. Mary’s. I dare you.
The truth of it is that even though I know that I’m not supposed to blame myself, that I’m not supposed to feel shame, I was absolutely humiliated afterwards. I kept wondering what I could have done differently. I remember the day in Leavey, in particular, because I remember I felt so pretty that day – and the one day I wear a nice top and put on some eyeliner, I’m suddenly a creeper magnet.
Logically, I know that I didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, in not a single one of these cases was a breaking a single fucking rule.
This summer (and, I guess, into the beginning of the school year) was like taking Why I Write Georgetown Girl 101: Sexual Harassment Really CAN Happen to You. I assumed I was immune and not connected to it. I assumed this was something that affected other girls. I didn’t judge those girls – they just happened to be girls who were not me. And the shame? If it ever happened to me, I would never feel that. I know better, after all. I write this blog!
But I’ve apparently been raised in a world where sluts get harassed – and they deserve it. So even though all I was doing was walking to class, or to my house, or to Safeway, or sitting on a bus, and there is nothing wrong with any of those things, I was embarrassed. Because getting harassed makes me a slut, too.
Having the words to identify sexual harassment doesn’t make it better. Knowing that I was legitimately sexually harassed, and that it’s not my fault, doesn’t make me feel less humiliated. Hopefully, over time, I’ll be able to discuss it in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I really did anything wrong.
For now, though, I’m going to have to combat the humiliation it in an even typical Georgetown Girl fashion: being as contrary as possible. When I went out to dinner on Saturday night, I wore a short skirt and a spaghetti strap t-shirt from when I was, like, 13. I looked good, which felt really fantastic. I could have looked good in a much less revealing dress I was considering wearing, but let’s be realistic: I don’t do things halfway. I wasn’t consciously thinking, “let’s be obnoxiously stubborn the face of potential harassers!” when I got dressed. But when I walked out of my apartment, there was a sense of, “I’m going to dress in whatever manner makes me feel best, no matter what you say.”
On Saturday night, I felt best wearing a revealing (relative to the rest of my closet) set of clothes. And I did it. Fuck you, man in Leavey. I’m probably going to feel humiliated thinking about you for the rest of the year, but I’m also going to do my best to make sure you don’t get to play a part in my future decisions
I don’t know how Ms. Redden wrote such a deeply personal article. I have no idea how she was able to share the details of what was obviously such a traumatic event. But if you read the comments, it is obvious that she helped a lot of young women who are “1 in 4” – young women who have been sexually assaulted. Thank you to her and all of the women she spoke to for illustrating what statistics show, but just don’t help to “sink in:” sexual assault (and sexual harassment) happen to everyone. My experiences this summer were nothing like those of the women she spoke to – on some level, I feel lucky to be feeling only humiliation.
But it’s ridiculous that I feel that humiliation at all. And no, thank god, I was not attacked, and my primary emotional issues are not a result of what happened this summer. But something happened, and it doesn’t feel good.
So this is what sexual harassment feels like.