So everyone is going to post “me too” on their facebook pages for a couple days, because Harvey Weinstein has finally been outed for the pig we already know most Hollywood producers are and all the women are coming out. By saying…
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The summer of 1978, when I was 11-going-on-12, terrycloth halter-top short-short jumpers (one-piece) were apparently a thing.
I have almost no memory of the things I wore when I was a kid. I remember my rainbow-emblazoned blue jean gauchos, because rainbows, and a fluffy sweater with clouds and a rainbow, because rainbows, and that’s about it.
But I most definitely remember the halter top jumper thing, because one day that summer I was wearing it when I rode my bike to the local convenience store for candy. As I stood looking at the candy aisle, a grown man approached and stood near me, eyeing me for an awkward length of time. It made me uncomfortable, but what could I do? I kept inspecting the candy. Finally, he spoke.
“How old are you?”
I looked up at him nervously. Had he really spoken to me? “Eleven.”
“You got the biggest jugs on an eleven-year-old I ever seen.”
Looking back into my memory’s eye, I would guess this pig was in his late 20’s. He moved away before I could process what the hell he had just said to me, and specifically what “jugs” were. Being a bright little girl, early to puberty and shy about my developed breasts, I figured it out before I left the store.
I had a strange numb feeling all over me as I walked out and hopped on my bike. I looked around to make sure the man wasn’t still around. Why would a grown man say something like that to me? I looked down at my chest in shame. Was this jumper just letting me hang all out? Were my boobs just that huge? Biking home, I tucked my torso into as much of an inward-curving C as I could, a feeling of dirtiness and shame filling the confused pubescent hollows of my mind.
I relived that moment in my mind again and again through the years. If only I had found a quick reply to that foul man. In my younger years, I had fantasies of going straight to the shopkeeper, who knew my face from regular visits, and pointing the man out to him. As I grew older, the fantasies changed. Sometimes I had a witty comeback, and sometimes I just cussed him out. Sometimes I screamed “PERVERT!!!!” Sometimes I rushed him and kicked him between the legs, leaving him groveling on the dirty floor as I proudly marched off.
I never wore that filthy halter-top again. You never caught me in a tube top of the 70’s. I never wanted to be approached by a dirty old man again. Until the day I told my husband about the encounter, it was my private little shame.
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The summer of 1979, when I was 12-going-on-13 — or was it the year after, when I was 13-going-on-14? — I attended my first year of a local summer music camp at the University of the Pacific. I was in the piano program, and I became friends with a girl named Erica who also played the piano. Erica was gregarious and confident and easy with words, exactly the opposite of me. We hit it off. When we had free time, we wandered through the pretty campus of UOP. There were a variety of camps going on, including some sort of senior citizen gatherings.
In our wanderings, we met an old man. I don’t remember how we were introduced to him, whether he approached us or Erica approached him. She was just so friendly. We found him a few times during the week and had silly and energetic conversations. On our last visit to him, he said he could read auras. He would read our auras, he said; we just had to sit in front of him and he had to touch our heads.
So I innocently and gamely sat in front of this sweet old man, this grandpa. He placed his hands on my head and brushed his fingers through my hair. His hands swept down my back and under my armpits. They continued to the front of me and caressed my breasts.
I sat frozen and startled. I didn’t understand what was happening. It only lasted a couple seconds, and then he took his hands off me. He told me what color my aura was. I stood up and stared at him. I managed to say “thank you” — I told him thank you for copping a feel! — and ran off. I don’t remember anything else, except that I didn’t wander all over the UOP campus after that. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but I just didn’t feel safe anymore.
I relived that moment for many years after, just like I did with Jug Man. Aura Man seemed like such a nice and innocent old fella. Did I do something wrong in not seeing that coming? Did I do something that told him it was okay to touch my boobs? Was he really trying to touch my breasts like a pervert, or did he actually need to do that to see my aura? As I grew older, I asked different questions. What makes a man in his 70’s think it’s okay to touch a teenager like that? Did he have children? If he had a daughter, what would he think of someone doing that to her?
Anyhow, I knew somehow it was my fault. What was I doing chatting during summer camp with a stranger? Why would I agree to let him put his hands on my head? Why would I assume I was safe just because there were people all around us? I must have flirted in some way that told him it was okay.
Until the day I told my husband about the encounter, it was my private little shame. I never even told Erica what had happened.
* * * * *
In 1993, I began my career as an attorney at a well-respected, stable law firm. In the first few months on the job, I was called in to the office of Phil Cohan, a partner with a product liability defense practice. I sat in the armchair facing his desk. As I sat down, that chair just sank and sank. In my nervous state, I blurted, “Wow, this chair is really low and uncomfortable.”
Phil looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “That’s why I have it. A young associate sits down in it with a short skirt. She sinks down, her knees come up, and…” He put his hands up like he was making a little shrug, his eyebrows raised.
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I wanted to walk out. But there I sat, numb. Nothing came out of me. I just frowned and stared at him. He stared back for a moment, apparently waiting for something. When nothing came, we got down to the legal work at hand. I guess Phil didn’t get what he wanted out of the exchange, and nothing like that ever happened again with me.
I relived that moment for years too, just as I had with Jug Man and Aura Man. It was hard for me to believe it had actually happened. I was grateful my knees were tight together when I sat. Had I nonetheless done something that encouraged him to make such an inappropriate and offensive comment to me? Had I inadvertently flirted with him? Were my suit skirts too short?
I never did anything about it. I needed a job, I had student loans and bills to pay. I needed to focus on developing my legal skills as a practitioner, not dealing with the bullshit fall-out of a sexual harassment complaint based on one shitty comment from a partner who already had a reputation as a philanderer and paid no price for it. I avoided Phil as much as possible; that was my solution to the problem. The price I paid was an anxiety attack every time I saw Phil’s face.
I should have been brimming with self-confidence and self-esteem and ready to pound Phil into dust. I graduated from a great law school with great grades, and I had a reputation as a high-quality, ethical young lawyer. But in that moment when I sat in his sinking chair, Phil took it all out of me. I was just a 12-year-old girl in a halter top again.
Not long into my career, I began to favor pantsuits and longer skirts. I never really told anyone about the encounter, except my husband. Sometimes I wondered what would happen if I told my dad, but he had a bad heart and I didn’t want to do that to him.
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Shall I go on? I could. As far as I can tell, every woman who’s made it to my age has a gallon full of tales to tell. Eventually reliving all that crap gets boring, the way a cramp in the side gets boring, the way we can sometimes ignore the never-ending ache of arthritis. But maybe the stories demand telling, because so many of us just let them go in real time, the way I did again and again.
“Me too” is a meme, and as far as I know, no meme has ever changed the world. Don’t waste your energy jumping on that bandwagon. “Me too” makes you into a blank statistic. You have a “me too” to tell? Just go ahead and tell it. Tell your daughters and sons your actual stories. Shine a light on it all, so that maybe someday the Harvey Weinsteins and Jug Men and Aura Men and Rich Lawyers and all the other jerks in this world won’t be able to get away with shitting on our daughters.