By Gayle Tice
Update, October 23, 2016
The conversation around Trump’s comments keeps evolving. It includes encouraging statements about male “locker room talk.” From men reflecting on the locker room talk of their youth and how it never crossed into bragging about sexual assault, to the high school and professional male athletes in this story who have taken a visual stand for respecting women inside the locker room, I am seeing exactly what I hoped to see. Men are standing up to men and fighting the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse.
Editor’s Note: A recent article in the New York Times described how one woman’s effort to gather brief stories of how women have been sexually assaulted has launched a tsunami of responses, totaling over 27 million. Hearing that, Gayle Tice, a frequent contributor to the Mountain News-WA, seized this opportunity to share her experiences and the stories she has heard from the women in her life.
I attended a Women’s Leadership Institute conference recently. On a walk back to our dorm rooms with a couple of the other women, I brought up the question of uncomfortable encounters with men. I wasn’t prepared for their responses. Sure, I’ve used my now-fiancé, then-boyfriend, to shield myself from a couple of men that got too close with their opinions or invitations. But I’ve never had a cab driver lock the doors and badger me for my number to the point where I feared for my life—and I’ve never been followed for blocks by some man badgering me for a date, refusing to take no for an answer. I’ve never had to run through my options for a safe exit; I’ve never had to think about how I might fight back.
I haven’t been called out in a sexually suggestive manner since I dealt with juvenile classmates talking about me eating my middle school boyfriend’s “mayo and mustard.” Or the boy, who turned out to be 12, who moved his avatar suggestively in an online game when I was in my teens. He didn’t know how to get my attention otherwise; I told him it was creepy. He apologized, and we talked about cartoons and how there would be a girl his age interested in the same things he was someday, if he approached her respectfully about it.
I can excuse the man who said “That’s fine, I like girls in my lap,” when I nearly fell into his as my city bus sped off before I had a chance to sit or grab hold of the bar. I was an adult by then and chocked it up to an awkward response to an awkward situation, and then sat far back from the man.
I haven’t faced the kind of aggressive catcalling that many women have. Though I have talked to a catcaller who wasn’t calling to me, but rather a tour group of University of Washington female freshmen about why they weren’t all in bikinis on that hot day and how nice various parts of them would look in one. That man and I had spoken before. So I was probably in a better position to tell him how uncomfortable that was to watch. He loiters by a bus stop I used frequently; some days I don’t feel like hearing him and walk to one farther down the street.
And I’ve listened to a college classmate who loved lollipops, but wouldn’t eat them publicly anymore after the thousandth “I’ve got something you can suck on.” Ditto for corn dogs, popsicles, etc. She shouldn’t have to choose her food based on whether it can be construed as a stand-in for the male sexual organ.
I’ve been called pretty by random, mostly older men. I’ve had them call out, “Hey, little lady.” I stop and talk, as they’re usually pleasant enough, but I don’t accept their invitations to coffee. Once, I was willing to clean the silicone attachment from a man’s false leg, but I wasn’t willing to cuddle with him after I brought it back. Then, the owner of the coffee shop where this encounter began told the man he had been on his couch long enough and needed to pay and leave; this was an occasion where I drew attention to the fact that I was there with my now-fiancé. I try to be open, friendly, and unafraid. I try not to judge and shy away. That’s how I want to live; that’s the world I want to live in.
Then I hear “grab them by the pussy” from a man who is trying to convince America to select him as our highest leader, and I am afraid. Afraid that this is one more example that says we don’t have to learn to relate to each other better than this. Afraid that this lewd and degrading comment is excusable as “just locker room talk,” repartee that he isn’t proud of but that we shouldn’t construe as dangerous. It is dangerous. It is dangerous if it gives other men even one little bit of permission to act the same. We are talking about someone who wants a leadership position. People can come back from mistakes, but let’s not buy into their excuses while they try to do it.
If men don’t call men out on this nonsense in the locker room, at home, at work, in public, and in politics—the men who do it are going to keep thinking it is something that men have the right to do. I find it somewhat encouraging that Trump has been spoken against prominently by several male politicians.
Meanwhile, women get insanely detailed descriptions of how to take their keys out before they start crossing the parking lot, how to place them between their fingers to do damage, how to know which opens their car and be ready to hurry so they don’t leave an opening for an attacker. I haven’t seen a woman doing this, but the description turns my stomach.
Further, this article in the New York Times came out yesterday (October 10, 2016), talking about journalist Kelly Oxford’s tweet that had received nearly 27 million responses as of the article’s publication:
Kelly Oxford’s twitter page: https://twitter.com/kellyoxford/status/784541062119456769
Even with some of those responses being about how gross it is that women go through things like that, or even with some of them being multi-tweet horror stories there are a lot of different women writing about their first assault. Their FIRST assault. A lot of women are writing about the FIRST time they were assaulted, and some can’t recall which was their first! Are we, as a society, not uncomfortable enough about this yet?
I don’t know how much damage I could do with my keys alone, but I have fierce fingernails and I could probably put some force behind jabbing my umbrella into someone if I needed to. Maybe it is time to really learn what I can do if the occasion ever does arise. What could I do with my own hands, feet, knees, and teeth?
Please notice that I’ve talked about men standing up to men before I’ve talked about women fighting back. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you never had to face another woman who tenses up, wondering if you are the one she is going to have to fight against? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you didn’t have to express yourself to women under the shadow of grabbings, forced contacts, lewd comments, and other men who couldn’t accept the word, “No”?
My fiancé’s fear that I’ll come across trouble when I go out to cover nighttime art events by myself, is very real. It is muggings and weapons related violence on his mind; I will continue to banish the thought of sexual assault from mine.
But maybe it is time to learn a few things.
Gayle E. Tice