Thursday, October 19, 2017

Me too…

This message started trending on social media on Sunday: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might be able to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem” along with the hashtag #MeToo

I’ve been seeing the hashtag and Facebook posts for a few days now.  I’ve hesitated to chime in because…well, I’m a man.  I don’t want to dilute or diminish the power or effectiveness of the sentiment.  But because this is my personal blog I would like to share my brief stories and show my support as best I can.  I'm not sharing to say "look at me," but simply to show that I have been affected by this behavior too, and apparently no one is immune.

First off, before I get too far in, let me explain a little bit.  I’ve never been sexually assaulted and I don’t experience sexual harassment on a daily basis.  The events I’m about to describe are isolated and therefore do not make me an authority on the subject and I can barely claim firsthand experience, but I want to share to show I know this is a real thing and to put my position in clear relief from the background noise.

The scariest moment I had as a kid started out innocuously enough.  A neighbor—also a police officer—came by the house to ask if I would be willing to mow his lawn.  I must have been 13 or 14 at the time, maybe as old as 15, but old enough to know what sex was and to not be completely oblivious to the bedroom activities of adults.

I don’t remember there being much discussion between me and my parents about going over to mow.  It was across the street and we had moved from the police officer’s house into the one we lived in at the time.  It had been our yard only a couple years earlier; I had mowed it before.

I rode the mower across the street.  The man had just come in from work and was still in uniform when I got started on the back yard.  I’d made a few swipes when I noticed movement or heard something and looked up.  He had called to me from the window in the shower.  I looked up and he said I was doing a good job.  It seemed odd to me, but I kind of shrugged it off.

A few more swipes and one of the front wheels of the mower went astray.  Something metal had broken, and I had to stop.  The man came out as I was trying to get the thing to work well enough to drive it home and he looked at the damage.

“I know a guy who can weld this,” he said.  I agreed to let him take off the wheel and get the part fixed.  Once it was removed he asked if I wanted to ride over to the mechanic’s place with him.  Not really sensing anything out of sorts I agreed.  He put the wheel in the back seat of his car and we drove away.  I didn’t think to tell my parents, again, no alarms were going off.

The friend welded the part and we were headed back to our street when the man put his hand on my leg.  I don’t remember what he said, and I honestly don’t remember how I reacted, but I know that was the only alarm I needed to know the man had ill-intentions toward me.  His expression and demeanor were not that of a friendly neighbor helping a teenage boy out.  And his behavior the whole day suddenly seemed ominous, and as soon as we got back to his yard I went straight home and told my parents.

As best I can remember they weren’t surprised and said there had been some rumors about him.  I was shocked they had let me go mow for him.  The mower sat in his yard a couple of days until we went and got it.

I never spoke to the man again.  I can’t remember if he paid me for mowing or not.  But I realized I had come very close to becoming victim to a child predator.

This was not my only close call as a teenager with men who wanted inappropriate relationships, but it was the only time I ever felt as if I had been in any kind of danger.

My other “me too” story seems innocuous enough.  And a lot of guys might even scoff at me for not taking advantage of the situation for my own sexual benefit.  Having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian environment I definitely felt uncomfortable in the situation and also very much harassed and treated as an object.

When I was twenty years old I worked at the Food Court in Stanton.  I was single as were most of my coworkers.  At twenty I was also one of the older employees.  There was a female manager that gave all the guys a lot of inappropriate attention.  She was married and had (I believe) five kids.  It was well known she cheated on her husband and that all her kids were not his.

She was uncomfortably verbal about her attraction to me and others.  When a younger friend published an article in the school paper about our rock climbing exploits it included photos of me climbing.  She brought the paper in and commented on how good my butt looked in front of my coworkers and cut one photo out and put it on the bulletin board by the time clock.

I didn’t know how to react to her attentions.  She was considerably older than me, and I was not interested mainly because she was married and partially because she was so aggressive in her attention toward me while I was at work.

I would never suggest that my singular experience is comparable to what many women encounter daily.  But I can relate.  I understand how the unwelcomed attention feels.  The married manager was not unattractive, but her advances were not what I wanted.  I learned later that she had slept with more than one of my younger co-workers, and I’m sure they were willing partners.  I could have easily been another of her willing partners, but my conscience wouldn’t allow it and it was not something I welcomed.

Sex is an intimate thing for most people.  And to expect a stranger to want to have sex with you before you get to know them is not acceptable behavior in civilized society.  To make someone feel bad for not instantly reciprocating your sexual advances is deplorable.  None of us are entitled to sex with anyone else.  It’s an experience that should be earned through mutual respect and with consent.  And all levels of that experience from initiation to consummation and beyond.  

Why we have to debate this in 2017 is beyond me.


Addendum:

We don't live in a sitcom world. A lot of people must think we do. I think the people that dismiss things like #MeToo think so. I know that people like me don't really understand how bad it is.
It's never occurred to me to intentionally hurt other people physically, mentally, or emotionally. I guess I've never been in a situation where hurting someone else would even seem to benefit me. I hope I never am. People who do must be broken and feel the need to make others as broken as themselves.
If you think you need to assert your dominance over anyone else I would caution you that hurting someone weaker than you only makes you look weak and desperate to be strong. And there’s always someone with more power than you out there. Asserting your power over another doesn’t ensure love, devotion or respect. It only solidifies the relationship with fear. Those who trade in fear will never gain in love.

4 comments:

  1. Although sexual harassment and assault is more frequent for women it's non-gendered. It can happen to anyone and is deeply impactful when it does. I appreciate the way you framed it and am glad you wrote about it. I think men often feel more shame when they talk about it but it's really important to open that dialogue.

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    1. As a man it's hard to know what to say to be helpful and supportive without overstepping my bounds or totally missing the mark. But staying silent feels like being complicit and I can't do that. I added a few paragraphs after you commented that I think clarify my opinion a little better. I think I'm unique as a "guy" in that I never related to other guys when it came to women are typically regarded. When I was taught to love my neighbor as myself I didn't filter that into male and female. "Do unto others..." didn't seem to have any qualifiers.

      What perplexes me is why my perspective is so hard for so many to learn. I didn't work hard at this. It's not a complex philosophy to have. Don't treat people bad. Full stop. If I don't deserve to be treated bad (instinctive in humans) then why does anyone else deserve to be treated bad? It has to be a flawed sense of justice. And where do we learn that from?

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    2. I think Bethany had a great response to this post and I will simply "ditto" her comments. Taking the time to share your experiences can be helpful to many others (I know other men who have had similar moments to yours), so I appreciate that you shared here.

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