It was 40 years ago. Or maybe more. I’m not good with timelines. I was old enough to know better. And, more to the point, old enough to have acted when it was important to have done so. But I was too ashamed.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s frequently the way women feel and respond when they’ve experienced an unwelcome and unwanted “situation.”
Mine was at a small shopping center not far from our house. A safe place. A family place. Never any concerns about being there alone. Especially at 10:00 in the morning.
On that morning, long ago, I ran my errand, got back in my little red car, started it up and was surprised by a tap on my window. A nice looking young man told me he’d seen a spark come out of my tail pipe when I started the car. He said he could double check it if I would just put one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake and he would take a look at the tailpipe. He wanted my feet in a certain position to get a good assessment. And he put his head down on the floor of the car to make sure I was doing it right. Got the picture?
He wasn’t there to help me with the car. He was there to look up my skirt. And I helped him do just that.
Yep, I opened the door for him. In more ways than one. This was broad daylight, remember? No reason to say no to a kind offer of assistance. I didn’t want to have car trouble on the way home, now did I?
It took me too long to realize what was going on. It wasn’t a sexual assault. It was voyeurism. But a personal violation, nevertheless.
I can tell you exactly where I parked that morning. I can tell you that I was too embarrassed to tell the Mister for years. And I can tell you that I was too ashamed to call the cops and tell them that a creepy weirdo was doing his thing in our sweet little shopping center. And that I had fallen for it. Who needs to get involved in all that? Not me, thank you very much.
Someone did, though. Call the cops, that is. I read about it in the newspaper. Good for her. I applauded her actions. But still I said nothing to anybody about my own experience with him.
You should feel free to call me naïve, stupid, fearful, vain. You don’t have to do that, though. I’ve already done it. Lots of times.
I may not be brilliant but I was way too smart to have acted as I did. Or not-acted, as the case may be.
I’m not sure we’ve come much further. We may not yet be at the point where the benefits of speaking up outweigh the (potentially) negative consequences of doing so. When might we get to that place? Good question. No good answers.