When I was 19 I got a job working at a car dealership as an accounts payable clerk. It was a couple days per week, while I was going to school full time, oh, and working a second job as an office manager in downtown Vancouver. I was a busy, busy girl.
I don’t remember much about this job, it was so long ago. But I do have one very clear memory. I was filing a pile of invoices, kneeling on the floor, when one of the salesmen, a much older man, came wandering over. He placed his body directly in front of me so that I was trapped between him, the cabinet, and the wall. His crotch was at eye level about four inches from touching my face. He laughed and asked if I spent lots of time on my knees.
I could see past him to several other men who worked there watching and laughing.
I just remember turning bright red, forcing myself to laugh, and responding with some inane remark. I remember feeling trapped, uncomfortable, and beyond angry. I remember thinking that I needed to keep my cool so as to avoid making the situation worse. I left that job quickly.
A few years later I had a boss who would stand behind my deck, close, breathing down my neck. Literally. I remember that whenever I went into his office he would ask me questions aggressively about the file that I was working on and then interrupt the moment that I attempted to explain, as if I was the stupidest girl he’d ever been forced to deal with. I remember that after almost every single meeting I would go into the bathroom and shake and cry in one of the stalls for several minutes until I could calm down from the way this man spoke to me. I remember that there was a couple of other women who did the same thing.
I remember my boss Greg. Greg owned a small accounting firm and I was his only employee. It was just Greg and I most of the time. I was in my early twenties and worked for Greg for a number of years as I completed my degree.
Greg was an incredible boss.
He was a few years older than me. He mentored me, believed in me. He paid me a fair wage and gave me a ridiculously generous bonus each Christmas.
If I was struggling with a class Greg would offer to help. He would give me time off for exams. If I did something wrong Greg would teach me. Greg didn’t mansplain, or bully, or stand too close. He didn’t stare at my breasts and ass when he thought I wouldn’t notice. (Or when he knew I would).
There are good men in this world. Lots and lots of them and I have been blessed to have many in my life.
I have also had some pretty awful men in my life. Without the good men I don’t know if I would have realized that they were treating me badly. It’s easy to become used to this behaviour and brush it off as “locker room talk”.
It’s not locker room talk. Or. It shouldn’t be.
I am not a political person. I don’t watch debates or hold strong policy opinions. When it is time to vote I look around, find out who matches best with my values, drop a ballot into a box and wait until the next time.
But I watched the debate last night. I watched the debate last night because it was all we could talk about at book club earlier in the week (this was pre-“grabbed her by the p*ssy”) and already all we were talking about was feminism and Trumps attitude towards women. We were despairing that Hilary might not make it, even though people don’t want Trump because, for some men, it would just be too hard to vote for a woman.
And I know nothing about US politics, okay?! I don’t want to hear about policy. Trump is a racist, and a sexist, and I think that that alone should disqualify him.
Hilary is going to win. I have too much faith in humanity to believe otherwise.
But I think that something even more powerful is going to come out of this.
We are talking about it. We are talking about our own “grabbed her by the p*ssy” moments. We are saying: we are done smiling when uncomfortable.
It won’t happen overnight. Two months ago, on a first date, a man pinched my nipples so hard he left a bruise. (He did not have permission to touch my nipples). I left and the next day told him he had made me very uncomfortable. I left it at that because, what else is there to do?
A quote from Amy Schumer…
“Most women I know that I’m close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn’t completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it’s not all black and white. There’s a gray area of rape, and I call it ‘grape.’ It’s the guy you went home with in college, and you said, ‘No,’ and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating. …
“There’s just so many different things that can happen, so it’s not always this, ‘Well, you’re going to jail and that’s it.’ There’s other stuff where it’s like, ‘Wow, it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to … press charges or take any action against this person.’ But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like ‘grape.’ “
(There is a really great article about “grape” here).
Mine wasn’t “grape”, I left and he let me, but it was kind of… Assault-Light?
My point. What’s my point again?
We are in a culture where every single woman I know has a story about grape, about their “grabbed her by the p*ssy” moment(s), and we don’t talk about it.
And, suddenly, the conversation, uncomfortable as some might find it, has opened up.
So let’s talk about it. All those good men in our world, you guys need to talk about it too.
Let’s make it clear that it isn’t something we are okay with.
That we aren’t going to stay quiet anymore.
(Even if it just means telling that man from work that, no, you don’t spend a lot of time on your knees).