Tuesday, November 15, 2016

# be the change # life

The Price of Sexual Harassment...

This is the photo that started it all. 
Sometimes something happens and it takes a while before you see the ripples that it’s caused. This morning, I posted a picture that was taken at a photo shoot that I did about 4 years. Less than an hour after I posted it, this conversation happened.

J : I remember playing with those when they were new. Lol How have you been?
Me: Playing with what when they were new?
J: Your boobs.
Me: omg…seriously?
J: Um, yup.
Me: Well, I’m just fine and it’s good to see you’re just as much of a pig now as you were during that one week mistake.
J: If that makes you feel better about putting your cleavage on public display. It was an off-hand comment and not meant to offend. I apologize if it made you self-conscious. You look lovely as ever and I hope you’re enjoying life at this stage. Good luck.

Less than an hour and a man that hasn’t spoken to me in 20+ years opened up a conversation with me like that and then went on to try to shame me into posting a photo that showed me feeling beautiful, a feeling that I’ve struggled my entire life to capture. 
I was angry and felt violated. He had tried to take something from me that had been so hard for me to achieve.  Yet, at the same time, as I read over this conversation for the hundredth time, there is a part of me that is whispering that I over reacted..was what he said really that bad? Maybe it was really just a joke?

You see, as a woman, to some extent, I’ve been trained to turn a blind eye to this kind of behavior. After all, boys will be boys, right? Nobody said anything to the friend of my mother’s who used to grab me and pull me close to him. Nobody said anything to her boyfriend that used to touch me in ways that made me uncomfortable. Nobody said anything to the man at the convention who walked around me taking pictures of my boobs because they were “on display for the public” in a corset.

Except, this kind of behavior isn’t okay no more than it would be okay if I walked up to a former classmate after 20 years and grabbed his crotch. That wouldn’t be okay. It would be me violating him and this morning, this “man” violated me with his words. He made me feel like an object, or in this case, a pair of objects. He made me feel dirty and I had done nothing wrong. This is not okay.

What he doesn’t know is that I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I was ugly, that I wasn’t worthy of affection or love. He doesn’t know that it took me months to build up the courage to agree to do that photo shoot. He doesn’t know that the night that I did it, I had been on my feet for over 24 hours, had an awful sunburn, and felt like I would be made fun of if those pictures were ever seen.  He doesn’t know that it took every ounce of courage I had to walk into that hotel room or how hard my friend probably had to work to make me smile and laugh. He doesn’t know the insecurities I dealt with while I waited for those photos to come back and how every day that they didn’t, I was sure that it was because I was too hideous and that there wasn’t even a single good one in the batch. He doesn’t know the terror I felt when I posted just a few of those photos to Facebook because I was sure that nobody would like them and that I would be ridiculed.

He doesn’t know about the friend of my mother’s, her boyfriend, or the random con guy. He doesn’t know that I stopped running in high school because some “man” made a comment about how my boobs bounced when I chased after my younger brother on the playground. He doesn’t know that while I put on weight for medical reasons, there were years that I didn’t try to take it back off because I had an ex-husband who never noticed if I made an effort and that deep down I’m afraid that if I do take it off, I still won’t be beautiful or god forbid, I may shrink but my boobs won’t and that will open me up to even more comments about them.

He doesn’t know that my doctor has recommended breast reduction surgery and while I want to do it, I’m afraid to because it feels sometimes as if my boobs are the only attractive things about me. Few comment on my eyes or my mouth or anything like that. He doesn’t know any of these things because instead of talking to me, instead of having a real conversation about me, he opened up with how he once played with my boobs when we were teenagers.

He forgets that after that incident, I ended any contact with him. He made me uncomfortable at the age of 14 and today shows that he’s still incredibly capable of it. So, did I over react? No. What he did isn’t acceptable behavior and it’s behavior that sadly is far too common.

As it was happening, I shared it with a male friend of mine and he responded that I’m lucky that it doesn’t happen more often, that certain female friends of his get things like this every time that they post a picture. It makes me incredibly sad that this goes on every single day, a million times a day, and there are people who just brush it off. Please let me make something clear. My friend didn’t brush it off. However, far too many people do.  Far too many shrug it off and say oh, he was just joking or don’t be so sensitive. There are those who say well you asked for it because of the type of photo it was.

Let me make this clear. It is never okay to sexually harass another individual. I don’t care if they’re
standing nude on your front porch (though if they are and it’s not someone you know in a bizarre joke, you should probably not answer the door and just call the police), it isn’t okay. It is never okay to take away someone’s safe place. That’s what happened to me. In one short message, I no longer felt safe in a place that was my own. In one short message, I was taken back to all the other times when something like this happened and nobody did a thing.

So, I did a thing. I called him a pig and unfriended him. I posted a long post to my Facebook account about the incident, where I didn’t name any names or point a finger at him. Who did it didn’t matter. What mattered is that it happened and that it never should have. I told one person in private who it was because they asked. If others ask, I’ll tell them as well. Nobody needs a predator in their backyard. I could have done more. I could have reported him. I could have pm’d the 125 mutual friends that we have, all of which graduated from the same high school as us. I didn’t. Why? Honestly, it wouldn’t have made a difference.  I removed him from my world and that’s what I needed to do. It wasn’t a hard decision.

Writing the post wasn’t either. I needed people to know what had happened, to understand how it affected me. One short message will affect me not just in those moments but for perhaps days to come. I should be writing a book right now and instead, I’m writing this because I need to get some of this out of my head so that I can move on. I’m writing this because maybe I’ll have the courage to share it and maybe, just maybe it will cause someone to stop and think before they harass someone else. I know that some people just don’t understand that something like this isn’t something women just brush off and go about their day. If it hasn’t happened to you, it can be hard to understand. The problem is that this kind of thing started happening to a lot of us before we were even in high school. I spoke with a friend of mine today who talked about how she was groped around the age of 14. I had a boy try to rape me when I was about 13. I had comments about my breasts before I graduated from high school. This isn’t a new thing and it certainly hasn’t let up.

So I have some favors to ask of you…

1)Parents, teach your sons that this isn’t okay. It isn’t okay to treat a woman like an object or to talk to them the way that I was spoken to today.  I use a simple example with my sons and it’s one that I mentioned earlier. I ask them how they would feel if a random person came up and grabbed their crotch. Neither of them liked the idea.

Your sons should be just as appalled that someone would grope a woman’s boob as they are at the idea of someone randomly grabbing their crotch. Men, your sons mirror your actions. So, be the man that you want your sons to be.

For those of you with girls, teach them that this isn’t okay and it is okay to stand up for themselves and for their friends. Heck, boys ought to be taught the same thing. Stand up for your friends, female or male. Stand up for yourself. Nobody stood up for me when I was younger. Today, I stood up for myself but that hasn’t always been the case.

2)This follows right up on that last paragraph and this goes for everyone. Looks aren’t everything. Boobs aren’t everything. Muscles aren’t everything. There is a heck of a lot to a person. Don’t hyper-focus on one aspect of a person. I have someone special in my life who reminds me that I am the 3 B’s: I’m beautiful. I’m brilliant. I’m brave. It’s not just about the outside. Sure, the man thinks I’m beautiful on the outside, but he loves my spirit, my soul, my sense of humor. He loves me…and the beautiful portion of those 3 B’s covers all of those things.

3)If you see this happening, don’t just stand there and watch. I don’t care if it’s happening to a total stranger. Step in. Speak up. Let the person know that what they’re doing is not okay. Let the person that it’s happening to that they’re safe. Be someone’s safe place if they need it. I opened this whole thing with a comment about ripples. One short message can cause ripples that none of us see until they’re there. I expected to take a few deep breathes, remove the guy, and move on with my day. Instead, nearly 2000 words later, I’m here writing this.

If this happens to someone you know, don’t be afraid to check in on them. Make sure they’re okay. I just had a friend call me and say hey, I’ve got your back. Let me know what you need from me. That’s a treasure worth more than gold.

4)Get angry. This kind of thing isn’t okay. It’s never okay to objectify someone or to make someone feel like they’re not a person. Every single person on this planet deserves to be treated respect. So, get angry with those who don’t treat you and others the way they ought to be treated.

5)Be the solution. Yep. I’m asking you not to be part of the problem. Anyone remember “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson? Change starts from within. It starts from within every single one of us and so that’s how I’m going to close this whole thing out. I’m going to ask each and every one of you to be the change that we all need to see in this world.

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