I’m wearing glasses and a suit jacket. I’m thrilled to be at this event. That I even got accepted to come. Fresh out of school and this is exactly where I want to be. All these people, they all have the jobs I want. My dreams are walking around me and I listen and I talk and I make connections. I want them to remember me- the bold young woman that they should definitely hire, or introduce to someone, or remember for that opening.
And I am ever so professional and charming. They shake my hand, sit and talk with me, give advice. Some have already read some of my work. I grin. I keep meeting more. Man after man after man. Joy is inside me and I’m feeling good about being willing to put myself out there and interact and put in the foot work. Because I am a hard worker and they should remember that.
But then I talk to him. A man who looks like all of the other middle aged men at this event. He’s a CEO at a company that does work with the agency I want a job at. And we start talking. Nothing about him says he’s any different than the other men mulling about that I’ve been speaking with. That’s my fault, right? I should have known. Somehow something should have told me. It’s my fault. But we talk about my internship and the last job I had and where I see myself in ten years and nothing said to me, “This is an unprofessional conversation.” There are at least thirty people around. I’m not alone. But it’s probably my fault. I should have known. I should have.
But I don’t, and so when he asks for my contact info I don’t think twice. I’ve already given it to at least four other people. As soon as that paper is in his hands everything changes. Now he intertwines professional questions with, “Do you have a boyfriend?” and I say no because I’m honest but I should have said yes. I should have lied. This is my fault. And the few feet between us are a few inches and when everyone moves to the next room he follows me and tells me how happy he is I don’t have a boyfriend. And I don’t know what to say because he knows who I am and the jobs I want and is friends with the people who may decide if I get picked for a job. But it’s my fault. I should have clearly stated, “This is an inappropriate conversation for a work environment.” I should have said it with all the confidence so many women enviously tell me they wish they had. But it’s disappeared as he leers over me and this is my fault and I’m so sorry.
The day continues like this and I try and deflect. I try and be polite. I try and not lead him on. I try and not offend him. I’m juggling chainsaws. He’s sitting closer and closer. He’s offering me a job. He’s promising we’ll work together all the time. He says he knows I have real talent and would be a great asset. I’m trying to listen to the event speaker now so I just point and mouth, “I’m listening,” as if I can’t hear him.
And then suddenly his body is right next to mine and he whispers to me, “Really, I find you unbelievably attractive. I’m going to be back in town in 2 weeks. I would love to take you out.”
I’m looking back and I don’t know what to say. He’s at least 25 years older than me. He’s attractive and wealthy and I’m sure that he’s the kind of man that is used to getting exactly what he wants. But all I want is to get away from him and never speak to him again. But this is probably my fault. What if he tells his co workers, the ones who will give me a job or tell them that I’m not someone to work with? That I’m not flexible or something? That I don’t play well with others? What if he messes up my career? Do I have to go on this date? I can’t, I think. I make up an excuse about being busy. He presses the issue. I say, “No, really I work very long hours.” He keeps pushing. I promise I’ll let him know when my schedule is free. There it is, the lie. Why couldn’t I have found it earlier when he asked about my boyfriend? I look back to the speaker trying to ignore how close he is but his arm is now around me and pulling me into him and whispering in my ear again, “Smile.”
I turn and he’s holding out a camera. Everything that’s come before and everything that will come after flashes in my mind.
Teenage boys are making lewd comments when my breasts came in. Strange men are telling me from across the dining area of a fast food restaurant that they like my pantyhose with a sickening grin. I’m sitting and being sorely chastened by an older woman for being such a temptress because my skirt had moved an inch above my knee. Older men are coming up to me and telling me they wish they were younger. My roommate says in hushed tones that her family hates her for trying to get counselling for the time her brother molested her.
Mike Huckabee is on my television telling America that we can’t let in refugees because there may be one bad peanut in the 5 lb bag and all I can think is, “You coward. You absolute coward. You know nothing of having to eat a bag filled with much more than one poison peanut. And then having #NotAllPeanuts screamed at you when you ask if there’s a way to clear a few bad ones out.” I’m in the back of that cab and a man is grabbing me and saying awful things and I just keep thinking, “I have to tip this driver really well, I feel so bad for him, having something like this happen in his car. He didn’t need this ruining his night.” But it’s fine I’ll be home soon. Besides this is probably my fault. I shouldn’t have gotten in the cab. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. This is my fault. I’m sorry. Wait… you all told me to be beautiful and look like the women I see in movies because that’s how you find love, right? Because I have to look like that? I need to. It’s my responsibility to stay pretty but oh, good for me, I am already. This is what you want, right? My face? My body? This is how I’m supposed to look, right? RIGHT? THIS IS WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO BE SO WHY ARE YOU HURTING ME? I AM WHAT YOU ASKED FOR SO WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS IS MY FAULT? THAT I SHOULDN’T LOOK THIS WAY IF I DON’T WANT THIS TO HAPPEN? THIS IS JUST HOW I LOOK. WHY AM I BEING PUNISHED?
And I should push off this man trying to take a picture of me. I should. I should stand up for myself and yell and say, “No! I will not smile!” But what will he do? I just want to go home. But I’m Rebecca! Confidence embodied. Say something! You have to you have a responsibility to stand up! You can handle it!
But I just want to go home. And girls who do as their told get to go home, right?
So I smile.
And I go home.
I call my mother and cry and change all of my contact information that I gave to him to private. And I compartmentalize and go to sleep because I have things to do the next day and I don’t have time to be sad.
My confidence returns. I’m fine. I forget.
And years later when someone asks for women to post the words, “Me too,” If they’ve ever been sexually assaulted, I have to think about it. I mean, come on, have I? I’m still breathing. No man has ever forced himself in me. Everything before that is just par for the course, right? Because I remember every man who cut me off when I spoke about sexual assault that asked, “Ok, but like real assault?” Mine’s not real. I don’t think. I can’t type those words, can I? I can’t claim, “me too.” My life’s just average. Plenty have it much worse. Besides, if I say me too, someone may ask questions. May want details. And how am I supposed to compartmentalize then?
Turns out writing is just as helpful to my mental well being.
Oh, and to be clear, me too.
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