My first vivid memory of being sexually assaulted is when I was 19 years old living in the UK. I would often walk to work and one damp, English morning, while walking along a bike path, a man jogged up behind me and grabbed my ass fully into his hand before running ahead of me and disappearing. Shock, rage, and shame washed over me, alternating between some combination of the three. I remember wondering why I was chosen for this. I questioned my clothing- was it my jeans? Did I ask for this somehow? I wondered if I should walk alone anymore. But my rage would counter-attack – how dare he! Why does he think he can get away with that?
But of course, he can.
I was encouraged to call the police, but it all happened so quickly that I didn’t have any information to give other than it had happened. I’ve held on to this moment for 15 years, adding to the pile of sexual assaults, harassments, creepy moments, verbal assaults, and general misogyny that so many woman- and girl-identified individuals deal with on a daily basis.
Since the audio of Trump came out a week ago and hearing it dismissed as “locker-room talk” not only in his so-called apology but repeatedly during the second debate, I can’t stop thinking about it. My heart is heavy as more women come forward to tell their stories assault. I am exhausted by the overwhelming evidence of women’s lived experiences that are shared, yet dismissed as “too sensitive.”
Because many women who are speaking against this so-called “locker-room talk” are not speaking out about being offended. We are speaking out about being violated.
When Michelle Obama said, “And I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted,” I am right there with her. Her speech this week was a breath of validation. Because many women who are speaking against this so-called “locker-room talk” are not speaking out about being offended. We are speaking out about being violated.
Violations of our bodies, our minds, our spirit, our core being have built up over our lifetime, our mother’s lifetime, our grandmother’s. This history of violence is intolerable.
When I think about my maternal history, all I see is pain that bleeds into my own lived experiences. Stories about my grandmother dropping out of school and running away to the city as a young girl that can’t even be verbally shared – just hushed tones and knowing eyes that say “your grandmother had some bad things happen to her.” Or when I was 16 and my mother broke down crying in our kitchen late one night as she told me about the man who raped her while her roommate slept in the next room. Or the man who stalked me when I was 12 years old. Or the men who joked about sexually assaulting me because I wouldn’t listen to their sexism while out drinking with friends. Or the fear I have to choke down when I walk alone in the dark. Or the gay men at clubs who have grabbed my breasts because they “always wondered” about them. Or the pastors who have physically and emotionally intimated me, keeping me trapped in offices, rooms of their house, or even rooms of my own home. Or the men who I have stepped between themselves and their girlfriend so I can take the brunt of their abuse because I saw what they were doing to a person they claim to love. Or men who have intimidated, trapped, forced physical contact on, manipulated, isolated, and abused my sisters, my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my friends, my classmates, my coworkers – Every. Single. Woman. I. Know.
Every woman has these stories. All of us. You can read them on Twitter. You can ask the women in your life to share – they will have these stories.
So, that is why, when a powerful man gets to display, celebrate, then minimize his violence against women, it is another brick to the head for women who have already had so many thrown at us. This week feels like I’m bleeding out. It’s more than just keeping our heads above water as Michelle Obama said, it’s trying to avoid drowning while also trying to avoid bleeding to death.
“And I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any – not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.”
I continue to stand up to say enough is enough. But, I tell you, this week has been hard and I’m worried that my enough isn’t enough. Because the pain is there. The pain is real. And we all can’t take it anymore.