It Can Happen To You

Here’s the gross, icky, awful, terrible thing that we all pretend we don’t know, but absolutely do know, hiding underneath the black tarp of denial.

It Can Happen To You.

What is It?

It is anything, really, but for the purposes of this conversation, It is Rape. Sexual Assault.

This ends up being a timely thing to talk about, because of all the revelations coming out about Weinstein, Toback, Ratner and Spacey and the #MeToo awareness campaign (#MeToo, BTW, for harassment and gratefully, not assault).

But I don’t want to talk about the men who abuse their positions of power to assault and hurt people unable to fight back. There have been more think pieces written about these abusers than they ever counted on (good).

I want to talk about victim blaming.

So let’s circle back to that very gross, icky, awful, terrible thing again: It Can Happen To You.

Every woman has heard our Dos & Don’ts from whoever our Someone In-Charge of Continued Survival (SICCS) person was.

  • Don’t take a drink from a stranger.
  • Don’t drink too much, or actually, don’t drink anything ever again, even in the privacy of your own home.
  • Don’t accept a ride from someone you don’t know.
  • Or maybe even a male you do know. How well do you know him, exactly?
  • Walk to your car with your keys in your hands.
  • Learn how to karate chop someone in the throat.
  • Krav Maga classes are not that expensive if you really don’t want to be raped.
  • Don’t wear that.
  • Or that.
  • God, what are you thinking? Definitely don’t wear that.
  • If someone is following you, try to get to a public place and get help.
  • And if you are anywhere where guns are more normal (meaning not a blue state or a well-populated urban center), have a gun. Or failing that, bear mace.
  • Definitely do not accidentally use the gun or bear mace on yourself.
  • If you have to, go with the bear mace. You’ll just be blind instead of dead.
  • Also, in Africa, someone developed a special anti-rape weapon that doesn’t actually prevent rape so much as exact bloody revenge. I don’t remember what it’s called so let’s just refer to it as the Teeth Tampon.
  • Use your Teeth Tampon to castrate rapists while also still getting raped anyway.
  • Ignore the fact that your rapist can and probably will sue you for castrating him.

And the worst part about this entire list, other than Krav Maga classes REALLY ACTUALLY ARE VERY EXPENSIVE, is that it’s bullshit.

The whole thing. Total bullshit.

Around about the 38th time I saw the comments to a rape/murder article demanding to know what the slutty, drunk victim was sluttily, drunkenly wearing in a sluttish, drunk manner, I realized that these were all ways to establish Otherness.

Well, just look at the way she dressed. (Read: I don’t dress like that, so I’m safe.)

Why did she drink that much? She should have known better. (Read: I never drink that much, so I’m fine.)

Where were her friends? Why weren’t her friends with her? (Read: I have good friends and we keep track of each other, so this would never happen to me.)

What did she expect? She didn’t even know that guy. (Read: I never talk to anyone I don’t know, so I’m in the clear.)

We have spun ourselves a handy little trap where we can pretend we are safe, because we are not like the people who have been victims or will be victims. Whoever has had this terrible thing happen to them must have done something wrong. If you’d just check page 20, paragraph 2 of the Avoiding Rape Manual, you would see that she actually failed to check her blind spot before she merged into traffic, and therefore, obviously, a rapist naturally slammed her head into the school bathroom’s wall and had his way with her while she was unconscious and bleeding heavily from the gash in her face. If only she’d remembered to check her blind spot. You’d never forget to do that. You’re safe.

There is no set of steps or rituals you can do to make yourself safer than someone else, because none of these things determine whether or not a rapist is going to attempt to rape you.

Here is the real, fast, awful truth:

  • Rapes are primarily committed by repeat offenders. Because rape and sexual assault are treated as, “he said, she said” or viewed through, “we can’t ruin his life, because of one mistake,” the sentences are lenient or non-existent (just consider Definitely A Rapist, Brock Turner). This means rapists get to walk right back out into the world, confirmed that what they are doing (which, to be clear, is raping people) is totally fine. Sanctioned, even.
  • The plus side? A majority of men will never and would never rape another person.
  • The minus side? You are so spun out on trying to prevent your own rape, you’ve probably developed an almost malevolent distrust of all the nouns.
  • The aside? We need more female judges, so much. This shit is ridiculous.

Another awful truth? Rape is not a crime committed because of a sexual desire; it is committed because of a power desire, and the power desire doesn’t have A Type.

Some chick is giving you the run around? Well, you are Entitled to Her. You have a Right to Her. The rapist isn’t trying to get into his target’s pants anymore – that’s just a means to an end. The rapist is trying to exert control and dominance over someone, who didn’t immediately acquiesce to what he considers to be his right.

People need to stop viewing these crimes as only committed against attractive, sexy, scantily clad adult women, who, if they just hadn’t inspired lust in a man, would have been fine. This understanding of rape needs to be thrown in the dumpster fire that is 2017 (let’s have something remotely good come of this crapsack year).

Children are raped. Men are raped. Unattractive people are raped. Women wearing shapeless clothing are raped.

And everything you say to assure yourself it will not happen to you is no better than a lucky rabbit’s foot. You walk out your door in morning and it’s sheer random chance that you come back alive. There are enough of those days strung together and you start to think it’s something you’re doing, a way you’re living your life, that’s superior to other people that makes you safe.

And that, my dears, is the very crux of all this bullshit we internalize. Victim blaming is the mob-sanctioned denial that It Can Happen To You.

And this is the gross, icky, awful, terrible thing that we all pretend we don’t know, but absolutely do know, hiding underneath that black tarp of denial.

But what are we going to do? Stay indoors? We are not built to be in cages.


Tales of an Introvert: Let’s Talk About Relationships, Shall We?

This week, I have had to deal with a sudden abrupt understanding that more people than I was aware of think something is wrong with me. Apparently, I am broken and need to be fixed. I am a woman lacking- something. What this translated to was very well-meaning and thoroughly offensive sermons about how I just need to put myself out there, because being single is – sure, it’s ok, but it’s hardly ideal or really preferential, right? No one would be single by choice. And I received well-meaning advice on how finding A somebody is easy and it’s better on that side of things.

But here’s the thing- it’s not better. It’s not better Over There Somewhere in the nebulous relationship area, unless you’re actually dating and/or committed to someone you love and care for and are actively invested in. Then yeah, I can see that as better than being alone. But a warm body? Isn’t a relationship. It’s little more than a repository, a place where detritus and memory is stored in the short-term. And if that’s what you’re looking for, that’s fine; but don’t act like it’s better than what I have going on.

What do I have going on? Peace and quiet. Freedom. Independence. The time to pursue my own interests, hobbies, friendships and happinesses that don’t require accommodating or accounting for another person. If another person shows up that makes me want to share my time and space with him and who I feel real love and companionship for, that’s one thing. But to have someone just to have him, to not be so dreadfully alone? Is completely another.

This is the thing I think other people, those who cannot comprehend this, don’t get: I like being alone. I crave it. When I finally get time to myself after a long day or a long week, to putter around my house and do chores, make dinner or read a book or zone out to a TV show? It feels like I’m suddenly breathing after holding my breath all day. Constant interaction with people, the level of energy I’m required to expel in a day at work- by the end of it, I feel like a shadow, staring up at people from a well.

I have always been like this. I didn’t develop this as a teenager or in college. I have always been the quiet, wide-eyed kid who kept to the background, horrified at the idea of being in the middle of a crowd, surrounded by people, forced to smile and talk and be On. I’m older and wiser and do enjoy people and being around them, but it still is very taxing on me and I still retreat into shyness to escape loud situations and large groups of people. It’s not actual shyness- it’s a strong overwhelming desire to not have people in my face, demanding my attention and time. My entire body subconsciously cringes, “please don’t talk to me. Please, please don’t talk to me.”

These things I know to be true. They curl up in the center of my soul with the freely given fragments of all the people I have loved and will ever love:

I learned to write before I learned to talk. By that I mean: the first time I heard my voice, it came out of a pen and sang across the paper under my hand. It stared up at me and echoed clearly in my mind as mine and me and true. It would take many more years before the mine and me and true ever parted my lips and it took a bone-deep grief to cut it out of my throat. I have always been happiest in my head, listening to the world and my voice have their own conversations, whispering soliloquies back and forth.

I remember being a child – maybe 7 or 8 years old – and just feeling out of sorts. I don’t remember why. Likely it had been a long day and I was overwhelmed by it. I drifted out of my house, across the driveway and into my grandparents’ house, where I stayed for a short while, and then left again. On my walk back home, I veered suddenly for the motor-home my grandfather had parked in front of the houses – likely being aired out for an upcoming camping trip after a wet winter – and I pulled open the screen door, crawled in, closed it behind me and laid down on one of the kitchen table benches- a hard plank of wood covered by a threadbare orange floral-print cushion. It wasn’t comfortable, but I stayed there until my father came to look for me, how much later I couldn’t say. When he asked me why I was out there – his tone edging annoyed, because I had scared him – I told him I didn’t know. I just wanted to be alone.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I somehow convinced our parents that we needed to go on a school trip to travel around the UK. We were 16/17 at the time and proceeded to go insane as soon as we left the States (stories for another time). We were stuck in a bus 70% of the time, at historical/tour sites 10% and in hotel rooms with each other the other 20%. By day three of the two-week trip, I was a squirrel clawing at the walls to get out, ready to chew off my leg if it meant escape. I wandered off on my own several times just to get away. One time, a couple of sketchy guys followed me back to my hotel in the middle of the night and the front desk clerk had to chase them off. Another time, I scaled a crumbling wall at Blarney Castle and walked around a gated community full of large manor homes; I eventually found my tour group at a pub after disappearing for over an hour. I was officially put on watch after I got lost so badly flying solo in Salisbury that I delayed the tour a good twenty minutes while they tried to find me. (Mobile phones have done many good things for the world – this was before that time.)

I am glad to be in a crowd as long as there is no expectation for me to exist as part of it, to be a participant. If I’m free to glide through it on my way to my own destination, I am pleased to be there. I travel on my own- I hike on my own- I run on my own- I go to movies on my own. I spent three months living in London primarily in quiet solitude broken up by classes and cultural awareness events, knowing no one in the program before I boarded the plane. Some weekends, I would get on a tube line and ride it from one end to the other, a book in my lap, and explore whatever part of the city that I was suddenly dropped into. I was 19 at the time.

And in all this, in my experiences and choices, I am very, very happy with my life and who I am as a person. My life does not feel like less, because I’m not in a relationship. For me, being in a relationship isn’t a thing to attain, but a choice I make. And if I’m selfish and choose myself until someone comes along that makes me want to choose him instead, who am I really hurting? Why does anyone care? Why does the well-meaning advice automatically assume that, because I am single, that I am wanting and without? If I can respect your decision to actively seek a relationship or to date someone who has insubstantial meaning to you just to stave off loneliness, aren’t I allowed the same respect for the decisions I make?

It’s my life, it’s my heart and it’s my choice. Your judgment is not welcome here.

Sexism in the Workplace

At my relatively young age, you’d think that I wouldn’t have run into much sexism during my career. It was supposed to have been eradicated by now, right? Like racism? Female CEOs and black presidents mean we’re all buttoned up here. No more glass ceilings, no more trapdoors built into the system, no more cause for concern. The last bastion for the civilized nation is homophobia and now that we have openly gay athletes, we’re done with that in about two weeks, I’ve heard.

And it’s true, I can’t say I’ve experienced overt sexism – the slap your ass or bartered for cattle sexism. I’ve worked in the legal, technology and professional consulting fields as general support and the sexism I have experienced – being patronized, belittled and subjected to The Good Old Boys cliques – come nowhere near what people think of when you talk about sexism. It’s far more insidious. It seems like it’s more feeling than fact. You are meant to think it’s in your head and you’re taking things too personally and you are the one with the problem.

My most traumatic work experience was during my time with The Good Old Boys.

An incident occurred while I was working in the legal field between my transfer from junior college into university to finish my BA. I was at the firm for a little over a year and I worked evenings with two people – my lead and someone who was hired a few weeks after me. Both were men. The man hired after me, I found out later from him, came in making $1.50 an hour more than me, despite both of us doing the same work and having the same level of experience. It, cutely I now find, shocked me at the time.

Towards the end of my time there, already accepted into the university of my choice, my lead and I came to a disagreement. He and another colleague from a different department would gossip for hours during our shift and I asked him to please take it to the break room, since it was distracting. What followed was two weeks of passive aggressive quips at me, if not outright silence. I finally apologized, not because I really understood what I did wrong, but because I understood admitting fault was the only way he was going to start talking to me again, which, surprising no one, was very necessary in order for me to do my job.

A month later, he asked me to remove a book from my university’s library to be scanned. I scanned it as best I could on premise and then just checked the book out and brought it in. He instructed me to take more books out so the firm could scan them cover to cover, as there might be useful information in them. I objected, saying that if the firm wanted access to these books – of which they were a limited edition compilation of trade articles, all running about 600+ pages each – they needed to find a better avenue, because I was not taking on the responsibility for all these books that would be broken and damaged through the scanning process.

His solution was to order me to do it.

My response was to tell him in no uncertain terms to shove it up his ass.

I was not terribly diplomatic when I was younger.

So he emailed our supervisor and said, “I just can’t even deal with her anymore! I’m so upset,” and took a few days off work, because the sight of me would upset him further, I was told. So our supervisor spoke to me and it was decreed that we would all meet at the beginning of our shifts the following week and discuss this like levelheaded adult people who work together.

What actually followed was my being dropped into a room with my male supervisor, my male lead and my male coworker and being told that everything I felt and thought was personal and that if I didn’t find a way to work with my lead, changes would have to be made – “changes,” meaning my employment, or rather my lack thereof with the firm.

So I apologized.


To everyone. To the world. By the time the hour and a half meeting was up, where I wasn’t allowed to leave and I was forced to talk about why I was putting them all through this, I had basically taken on the burdens of both slavery and the Holocaust just to get out of that room.

I was nineteen.

The youngest person in that room. The only female in that room. And they united against me, scapegoated me and then forced me to sit there while I had my job threatened in front of my coworkers. The ranks had closed and I found myself outside of them.

I gave two weeks notice a week later.

I walked off the job a week after that.

I remember being on the phone with a friend a week after I quit, hidden away on a side alley of my new campus, crying my eyes out over what had happened. How weak and useless I felt. How resentful I was that my lead was the one who was making work personal and yet, I was the one who had to take full blame and apologize. That I’d let myself get pushed into – what I felt and still feel – was a false confession, an untruthful omission, and pushed around. How much I hated them and in part myself for letting that happen. I had hurt my own honor. I had lied to save myself and, in my soul, I felt that as completely wrong.

I found out years later that I had been blacklisted from employment there.

Frankly, I don’t think there is a paycheck large enough to entice me back.

Does that mean women aren’t capable of the same thing? Of course not. I’m not saying that. What I rail against – what makes me shake the bars and scream – is not exclusion, because that is a natural part of any group – it’s the inherent power displacement. I was not in that room with equals, who unilaterally decided I was in the wrong. I was not even in that room with people who understood me – or had made any effort to understand me. I was in that room with a wall, a power structure that I did not and could not belong to.

That’s when work stops feeling like a team of people united in a common goal and starts feeling like embattlement.

Now I feel it bears mentioning that the best employer I have had thus far has been a man. The reason I valued working with him as much as I did is because he valued not only the work I did, but also my insight into the company culture and the business. He promoted me and gave me a raise as my job duties expanded (something most business owners I have experience with will not do), gave me more responsibility and unilateral control over my own job, and trusted me a hundred percent. In his personal life, he was a complete dog, but luckily, I didn’t have to worry about his personal life, beyond making the odd reservation or flight arrangement. At work, he had determined I added value to the company and respected my work and me. He was my superior – more experienced, more knowledgeable and responsible for running the company – and I could respect that. We had a work relationship that worked for both of us.

Until one of the other higher ups decided he didn’t like the way I was being managed, that I was taking too much latitude, and that he was far more knowledgeable than my supervisor about how to best manage people. He had no idea what I did, no idea how to answer any of my questions, thought that my career tract was much more HR oriented than business operations despite my insisting otherwise, didn’t understand how the business worked, etc. etc.

This new manager played favorites to an insane degree, including giving sizeable raises to people for no rhyme or reason; made terrible business decisions; talked down to the female employees regularly; tried on several occasions to get into female employees’ pants (our relationship was far too contentious for him to try to get near my toothed vagina, as I’m sure he assumed I possessed); spread rumors about employees’ sex lives and did drugs on workplace premises with employees. Any time I asked (with deliberate politeness, because I could never be sure what would set him off into a tantrum) if what he was doing was really the best course of action, he would get defensive and tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I once found out during a termination that he had taken all the female employees from one department to a bar to trash talk about their then-recently-terminated manager. The only reason I found out was because the woman being let go mentioned another previous employee was encouraging a lawsuit for harassment. When I asked my manager why he would do that, he accused me of being on the terminated supervisor’s side and letting him get into my head. Because he was never wrong – only the way I was thinking could be wrong.

Another time, he asked me to work on a structure within a department he didn’t understand. So I dutifully put several days into the research, outlining and documenting what I thought the structure should look like. I sent it to him. He said we should meet. So we met the next day, at which point he picked up the piece of paper it was outlined on, threw it across the table at me, threw his feet up on the chair next to him and popped the cap of his beer bottle. From this reclined, casual position, he told me it was too complicated and needed to be done over. He told me in his body language and his attitude that my work required so little consideration that it didn’t even warrant his serious attention.

He was another one where I had to share false omissions to get out of meetings with him. He was another one that threatened my job for being too outspoken. He said to me at one point, “we don’t have the sort of relationship where you should think you can tell me that.” He followed that up by explaining he and his wife’s marital problems. He made it clear that he could speak to anyone, in any way and about anything he liked, but at no point was I to speak out of turn. He was older, white, rich and male. Every structure in his life and fiber in his being told him he was in the right, even when he was wrong. If I wasn’t willing to feed into that narrative, I was threatening his understanding of himself and that was a problem.

At the end of the day, I was a problem. I didn’t flirt, I didn’t position myself as lesser, I didn’t come across as non-threatening and meek. I had a voice and I expected to be heard. Even though I always asked him privately and respectfully about his decisions when they seemed to fly in the face of the business’ interests, I was challenging his authority and showing that I didn’t trust his judgment, which he took as an unwarranted and personal criticism.

Am I reading too much into this? I don’t think so. I spent months trying to develop a system that would allow me to dodge his outbursts and lectures. Every time I let my guard down, he would call another uncomfortable meeting and force another awkward, painful confrontation that would leave me anxious and ill at-ease in his presence. I began unconsciously leaning away from him whenever he came into my personal area. Again, I felt besieged.

I may not have been spun around and kissed on the street after a company happy hour as happened to one of my female coworkers or kept out for friendly drinks until 3 AM while his wife fretted at home like another or even been part of that group of women dragged to a bar under false pretenses and pressured to accept him as the better and more caring manager than the one before, but I felt his very presence as an assault and a violation. There was not one woman in that office that wasn’t harassed by this man in one form or another and when we broached the subject with each other, about him generally but not the actions, we smiled without our eyes and waved it off and acted like it probably wasn’t as bad as we thought it was. Maybe we had misunderstood.

And that’s how insidious it is. That we don’t even fully trust our own experiences, because we are working inside a power structure and maybe it isn’t meant the way it’s felt and maybe we are taking it too personally.

And maybe we’re lying to save ourselves, because that’s the only way out of that room.

I can only speak to sexism in the workplace as it affects me, a woman. I know that it must exist in even more complicated and layered ways, that it undoubtedly can lead to a manager with no teeth or inappropriate in the other direction.

But this sexism that I speak of, this one that lays under the words and happens in dark corners where you aren’t fully sure if what you heard or saw or felt is right – it’s real. It’s real and it breaks down the team; it breaks down your company from the inside. It’s as damaging to men as it is to women, because abuses of power will always take their toll. When you undercut any part of your workforce from being able to come to work and do his or her job, you have undercut your own company. Any second that is spent trying to unravel whether or not someone has crossed a line is a second that is not spent working as a team or working towards a goal. Any time your workers feel embattled, you have already lost the war.