Last year, I shared a very difficult story–the story of the first time I was sexually assaulted.
I would hope that over time, things would change. That women would worry less about being treated as less than human, simply because of their gender. But the fact that the worst kept secret in Hollywood is now out there for everyone to read about (and that some people still aren’t outraged by it), proves that things don’t seem to change in that area…in some ways, they seem to be getting worse, as women feel that they can’t come forward, or worse, that when they do, they can expect their accusations to be buried, and that they will be the ones to be ostracized, instead of the predator.
The stories coming out of Hollywood are terrible, but sadly, they are not unique to Hollywood. So I’m back this October to tell the story of the first time I was sexually harassed. In some ways, this story is harder to tell, because I was older when it happened, because I understood fully what was going on, and because it had longer-lasting effects. But maybe if more of us share our stories, we will stop feeling like it was somehow our fault, and we will bring this issue to light in a way that it can no longer be ignored.
My freshman year of high school, I signed up to take German I. I was very excited about having this as an option, because it reflected my ethnic heritage. And as is the case in many high school foreign language courses, I got to choose a new name for the year, one that had a German origin.
I picked Katerina. Yes, I know the spelling is a little unusual, but I liked the way it looked when it was written out. And it paid homage to my very favorite childhood figure skater…Katarina Witt. It was fun to get to be Katerina for an hour every school day.
Several students that shared that class with me also rode the same bus as I did. It took me a long time to get to know people in high school, because I had gone to a private grade school, and didn’t know anybody when I started that first day in ninth grade. But slowly, I started to get to know people, and people started to recognize me.
Well, these boys that were in my German class and rode the bus with me did figure out who I was eventually. They always called me Katerina, though…I don’t know if they never bothered to learn my actual name, or if they didn’t care, but they never used my given name to address me. And I didn’t really care, because I figured at least they knew who I was.
Well, one day, on the way home from school, I suddenly wished that none of them knew who I was at all. Because one of the boys from my German class (and one who I had thought was one of the kinder boys, at that), stood up in the seat behind me, and very graphically pretended to ejaculate on my head. In front of everyone. And, of course, everyone laughed. Maybe it was uncomfortable laughter…I hope for at least some of them, that was the case. All I know for sure is that I sat there, completely frozen while my cheeks burned red, and stared straight ahead, wishing I wasn’t there at all.
If that had been the end of it, that would have been bad enough. But for the rest of the time that I was a bus rider, I had a new nickname…Katerina cummy hair. The boys loved to call me that and retell the story and laugh.
Can you even imagine?
I don’t think it even occurred to me to tell someone. Who was I going to tell? The male (and extremely crabby) bus driver? The male principal? The male (and intimidating) dean? I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my parents…how was I going to tell someone in authority?
The worst part (Is that right? I don’t even know…was there a worst part? Was this really the worst part?) is that to those boys, this was supposed to be flattering. Like I was finally accepted by their group. It was no big deal to them. Clearly it was supposed to be no big deal to me.
Except that it was. The fact that I remember it so clearly over 20 years later proves that it was a big deal. The fact that I was embarrassed to recently share this story for the first time with Ryan, whom I have known for 20 years, and whom I have been married to for 16, proves that it was a huge, humiliating deal to me.
I shouldn’t have expected to be told that “boys will be boys.” That it was just words (plus a rather graphic and disgusting action). That it was a joke, that they didn’t mean anything by it, etc., etc., etc. And worst of all, this story is not unique to me. It happens, has happened, will happen, to countless girls of all ages, just like me. And it doesn’t matter how you try to twist it when it happens.
It was a big deal.
It is a big deal.
Those boys did it to make a spectacle of me in front of others, to humiliate me, to show their power over me. What other reason can there possibly be? Excuses won’t cut it, because this isn’t just teasing, and it’s not like someone can accidentally do something like this without knowing that it’s wrong, and without knowing in some way how it will make the other person feel.
They were the ones with the problem, not me. And they were just the tip of the iceberg. Because there have been others since. Men who have catcalled me, made rude remarks, even a teacher who made inappropriate comments to me. The jerks on the internet who think that they can just send dick pics to me, and I’m what…supposed to appreciate them? Be flattered by them? And don’t even get me started on Pervy McGroperson who assaulted me in the dark of a movie theater while I was sitting next to my then-fiancé. Yes, these are all real, actual examples of things that have happened just to me. Think of how many similar and worse things are happening to women all over the world, every hour of every day. It doesn’t matter how many events have happened to me since that long-ago day in high school, or how many events happen in the future, because like I said last year:
I didn’t ask for it.
I didn’t deserve it.
It wasn’t my fault.
And the same is true for every woman, whether a famous actress or a relative nobody on a school bus, who has been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted.
You didn’t ask for it.
You didn’t deserve it.
It wasn’t your fault.