His name was Adam.
He sat next to me in music class in the 4th grade. He was tall, painfully thin, and seemed to slither across the hall. I was overweight, awkward and oily. Despite this, I liked fashion, and I wore leggings to school. Other classmates of mine called me a slut for wearing them, but I did anyway. The ones I wore the day the day he touched me were black and satiny. I can only remember that, and his voice whispering, “You’re so sexy in those black pants, Brucie,” as he slid his hand up my leg.
I was desperate to run away, but I couldn’t move out of the uncomfortable attached desk and chair. I inched away from him, pushing his hand away, but he kept doing it. I couldn’t understand how no one, in a class of 20 or so, didn’t see this. My face was hot, I was mortified, and I was full of shame. I couldn’t – and can’t to this day – tell if he was mocking sexual advances because I was overweight and unpopular, or if he did this to everyone.
That was the first time I was sexually assaulted.
The last time was 5 years ago or so. I was at a memorial service for my husband’s uncle. Fiona was 3 weeks old and I was exhausted. I stood in a circle of people who were waiting for food. One of John’s in-laws came up behind me, inebriated. He grabbed me by the hips and pushed himself into me, whispering something about me being sexy. Like, all of himself. I stood there, half-paralyzed, and half-not shocked as this same man had tried to flirt with me every time I had seen him before then. I walked back to the table, plastered a smile on my face, and continued to present Fiona to smiling relatives. I didn’t process this for five years.
But I don’t want your “I’m sorry’s”. “I’m sorry this happened to you, Amanda.” No. Nope, no, I’m not sorry this time.
In between 4th grade and the memorial service, I was assaulted a bunch of other times, in various ways. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience for women, as we are all now aware by brilliant movements like #metoo. And I’m willing to bet all the other women who are conscious of being sexually assaulted do not want your “I’m sorry’s”. Especially the ones brave enough to speak up about it. “I’m sorry” feels trite and dismissive and not very worthy of suffering experienced by women across the world resulting in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, PTSD and more.
I can’t speak for other women, but here are a couple of other things I do want you to do instead:
1. Use appropriate names for body parts. When we call a vulva “girly bits” – we teach her that part is full of shame and shouldn’t be addressed directly. The ugly word, “vulva”, should be hidden, right? We also decrease the likelihood that she will report any sexual abuse to a trusted adult.
2. Challenge your notions about victims and victimizers. At the end of the day, I believe that boys and men are victims of the patriarchy too. Yes, as women we have had to endure catcalling and rape and other horrid things, but being raised to express oneself only through anger and forced sexuality can’t be a cakewalk either, especially if you’re a sensitive male. Ask yourself how you can raise your boys differently. Adjust your expectations of boys. Let them have their feelings. Know we’re all undermined by the trauma cycle and the patriarchy, and don’t demonize one sex over the other.
3. Don’t get defensive. If you’re a male, and you’re a bit overwhelmed by the whole sexual assault overhaul going on, I don’t blame you. It’s a lot to stomach – whether you’ve engaged in behavior you’re not so proud of, or you’re a guy whose side of the street is completely clean. Just don’t retaliate, and fall into the #notallmen movement. You will instantly shut down someone else by doing that. Sit with your feelings, and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
4. If you’re a supportive male, advocate. Call out your friend’s abhorrent sexual language or behavior. Don’t, shall I say, “pussy-foot” about it. (Pun intended). Call a spade a spade and don’t tolerate it. Teach your daughter that she – not you – can defend herself. Speak up for a female friend who’s being gossiped about at a party for her sexual behavior.
5. Don’t judge us as “oversharers“. Those of us who share our stories hold others accountable. Those of us who share our stories break cycles that have been hidden under codes of silence for centuries. Those of us who share our stories are not weak, or attention-seeking, or borderline. We are truth-tellers who cannot be satisfied with anything less than forward.
So please, don’t tell me you’re sorry. I’m not. I’m quite pleased, actually, with the way the world is headed right now. Women are simply telling the truth for once, and it’s causing a revolution. A revolution in which I hope you take clear action in.
What’s your story?