Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
What I Was(n’t) Wearing
cap, captain miss america

I don’t remember if I was twelve or thirteen. I do know that it was sometime during Bar Mitzvah season, the spring of seventh grade or the autumn of eighth. I’m pretty sure it was after someone’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and I’m pretty sure that it happened at a synagogue, even though my memory tries to replace the space beyond archway where I waited that night with the backdrop of my high school. But I remember fairly well that I was underneath a brick archway, the kind at pickup spots, where you can wait in the rain for your ride to come.

And I remember what I was wearing.

It was a black satin sailor-style outfit– one piece, with a high neckline and long, knee-length culottes instead of a skirt, white piping on the collar. It was dressy, and conservative, and appropriate to wear to a Bar Mitzvah service. I also thought it was very grown up.

It was dark, and most of the guests had left. The parking lot lights glowed overhead, but it was well into evening and the sky was dim. There were just three of us there, waiting for our parents to come pick us up. I was standing against one side of the arch. The two boys, both boys from my grade at school, were standing against the other side, chatting. I went to a small school, so while I wasn’t friends with them and wouldn’t say I knew them particularly well, I knew who they were, what classes they were in, that sort of thing.

The funny thing is, all these years later, I cannot for the life of me remember who the second boy was. I don’t remember if he did anything or said anything. I know there was a second boy there, that’s all. The other one, I remember vividly.

I don’t know how it started, but they came over to my side of the arch, and I think they chatted with me a little bit. Harmless, casual chat. I don’t remember that either. I do remember that I was downright shocked by the question the boy asked me.

“Can I touch your breasts?” he asked, suddenly, out of the blue, out of nowhere.

I felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. “What?” I asked him, and I hunched my shoulders over to make my breasts look smaller. They were already extremely large; I was already self-conscious of them. “No,” I added, once I came to the full realization that he had really asked that.

He seemed undeterred. “Please?” he asked. “Why not?”

I remember being mostly incredulous that he asked that. I think I laughed. I asked him if he was joking, and told him no again, more firmly, and probably with whatever kind of strong language passed for a swear in my very stuffy preteen mind.

He told me that he just wanted to see what it felt like.

I told him no, repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms. I am pretty sure I told him that was gross.

And then he reached out, and grabbed my breast, and squeezed it, with all five of his fingers. And then dropped his hand, and described it to his friend, as if I wasn’t even there anymore, now that he’d gotten what he’d wanted. I remember him saying it didn’t feel any different from any other body part, and sort of squishy.

I remember my face going completely hot, and I remember being struck dumb. I’d told him no, over and over again, and he didn’t listen.

I was lucky, I guess, that we were in a public place, even if it was fairly empty, and that my parents were on their way to pick me up, and that all he wanted was to touch my breast, because if he’d asked for something else, he clearly didn’t seem interested in taking no for an answer.

I have never written out this story in detail. I have mentioned it in passing a few times. I did drop out of peer tutoring in high school when I was assigned to tutor him. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the advisor why I was dropping out. I just explained that I was too busy.

I was wearing knee-length culottes and a short-sleeved top with a high neckline. It was black, and dressy, and conservative. It was not low-cut, or high-cut, or tight, or fitted. Because men (and boys) don’t take our clothing as an invitation. They take our existence as an invitation. A man who wants to humiliate a woman, or touch a woman in a way she doesn’t want to be touched doesn’t think about a woman as being a person with feelings and wishes of her own to be respected. He doesn’t care what she is wearing.

This wasn’t the last time this happened to me, although it was certainly the most shocking. That outfit was only the first in a line of outfits that I have taken home, and crumpled up on the floor of my closet, and been unable to bring myself to wear again. Because even when I know the things I’ve said above, girls are taught that it’s either something they’re wearing, or something they’re doing. I know it’s not. But it’s still easier to blame it on the clothes, even when the clothes were knee-length, high-necked, black, dressy and conservative.

Mirrored from Antagonia.net.

(Deleted comment)
That wasn't the point of my post, though. I get that you're not being argumentative, but you're also doing exactly what I'm talking about by being a man who is ignoring what a woman is trying to say and trying to superimpose your own wishes onto it.

(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
there was a kid in junior high that used to come up behind me and grab my breasts- usually whenever he found me alone in the art room. When I told him not to touch me he called me a slut and tried to spread rumors that i was sleeping around. I did tell my parents and they called the school. When Dennis repeatedly grabbed me after being told not to come near me anymore, he got an in school suspension. Two years later, he'd moved on and started bothering other girls by that point, my older brother stuffed him in a very small locker.

I am glad he got his comeuppance, although it doesn't sound like it did much good...but obviously he didn't think there was anything wrong with what he was doing. Which is the crux of the problem.

"Women's bodies are viewed as public spaces," my wife has been saying a lot lately, in response to the way folks find it appropriate to touch the wall of tattoos on her back or move the straps on her dress out of the way to get a better look at it, all without asking. As a man, I'll never know what this feels like.

There's so much more I want to say, but this isn't about me; this is about you and your piece, and how powerful and uncomfortable it is. Thank you for writing it.

It happens with my hair very regularly, but I find that that seems to be more the "exoticism" of my hair than anything else-- I don't know if it would happen if I were a man, though!

I am fortunate that my tattoo is on my ankle and out of the way. When I get my next one we might start having issues, uh oh!

And thank you for reading and listening.

(Deleted comment)
I think it happens to all of us in one way or another, and words and glances and hand-motions can be as humiliating and cowing as actual unwanted physical contact. I think it's very hard for any woman to be in a confrontational position with a man and not have those kinds of thoughts in the back of her head.

But we also do have to dismiss it as "well, that happens," some of the time, or we would never get through the day.

(Deleted comment)
I'm not sure how to phrase this. When I was that age (I'm a good bit older than you, I think) it was de rigeur for boys to snap brastraps and/or cop a feel openly in the school hallways. I don't recall anyone ever getting in trouble for it, and the school's response - it was just boys being boys, you know? And they wouldn't do it if they didn't think you were pretty, you should be flattered! I am so relieved to read that by the time you were in 7th grade, things had changed enough that you knew it wasn't ok, were self-aware enough to say the no, even if it wasn't respected. It's progress, of a sort. Not fast enough, or enough, but progress.

We got the bra strap snapping, too. I remember once instance in particular where a boy did it to me, so I pulled his shorts down (it was in gym class). Guess who got in trouble?

(Deleted comment)
This is a very powerful post, and I appreciate you writing it (even if some people just aren't getting it). I'm sorry that you had to go through such a degrading experience, and I know that it is all too common among girls and women to be treated that way, no matter how many times people claim that the sexes are treated "equally" nowadays. When I think of some of the remarks that I've heard about myself or other women - very casual things, said as though they were no big deal at all - it makes me sick. When I was at a party once and in a blue mood because I'd just dumped a boyfriend, another boy said very casually and so that I could overhear, "Do you think if I fucked her she'd feel better?" As if it was a joke.

And it's just... why do people think these things are okay? Why would anyone ever think they are okay? But they do, and from as young an age as in the post you've written and even younger.

I'm sorry that this happened to you. I wish it would stop happening, but unfortunately I can't even imagine a world without this kind of sexism and degradation. I don't know if it will ever be possible.

Yeah, this isn't the first thing like this that happened to me. It's just the first where I know that I clearly and consistently said no, and where I very vividly remember what I was wearing.

And I've had people make comments like that about me, too. I completely understand the feeling that comes along with hearing something like that.

For me, I think that it probably affects how I interact with men more than I am happy with. I have difficulty trusting strangers, and so they stay strangers.

I started to write that before I was raped I had never experienced anything remotely close, and then realized that that is not true. I go through my life completely blocking the babysitter that touched me and the gradeschool classmate that put his hand up my skirt, I suppose the Unfortunate Incident was the first time that I couldn't block the experience from my memory. I have no sage advice or whatever, only solidarity and understanding. If there is strength in numbers, we are the strongest sisterhood on the planet.

I am a woman of sizefatchick, and comfortable with it, thanks, but it is surprising how many people think that fatchicks are safe from rape. I did.

And it is surprising, to me at least, how people think it is ok to touch at all without permission of any kind. Several years back a woman mistook me for pregnant (fatchick, remember?) and started yammering and put her hands on my belly and I was still pretty PTSDified from the Unfortunate Incident and really did not like being touched by strangers. I am certain she meant no ill intent, but she triggered things I really did not want to deal with. After I slapped her hands away and explained in no uncertain terms that I am in fact barren and will never have a child and that I am simply fat, she backed off and went far far away. the squick took longer to die away.

The world is full of strange triggers we don't even know are there. But it helps to know that we are all making our way as best we can, sometimes together, even on our separate paths.

I wish you peace. (and safety and privacy and personal space inviolate)

I think that the minute something about you is different enough that people think they can label you other, they think it's totally okay to touch you because you are some weird petting zoo exhibit, and not a real person!

And yeah, every time it happens, the moment might be over in an instant, but the feeling of it clings to you like a sweaty shirt. :-/

I wish you the same things! Thank you for reading and taking the time to share your experiences.

I am (sort of) in the boat as some of the above posters. I am sitting here, at one moment certain that I never experienced what you wrote about or anything even remotely close, and in the other trying to reevaluate every interaction to see if I just blew something off or accepted it as "part of life."

But, I am glad that you wrote about this experience, and that it adds to the voices that say it's not acceptable. I do believe if we keep talking about it, eventually people will understand that it's not okay. So, thank you.

Thank you!

And yes, I think that we are made to feel like we shouldn't talk about it, like it's shameful to talk about it, but then I think again and the truth is that we've done nothing wrong and the only people who are helped by silence are the perpetrators of this behavior.

Sometimes, like I said above, you have to just blow it off as part of life, because you just can't live being traumatized all the time. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be angry or keep on saying it's wrong.


That story seriously peeved me out. Such a horrible thing to have gone through.

I have always been well endowed in the breast department as well...and yes, it comes with it's share of comments and at times, insults (especially when I was young). But never has someone touched them against my will.

It has happened to me quite a few times. I'm not sure if that's reflective of geography, or living in a pedestrian city, or what!

(Deleted comment)
I never got a suspension, but I did have to sit in the front row on the school bus for a year after I smacked a boy with my lunchbox for similar creepiness. I don't even remember what he tried to do anymore, I just remember breaking his glasses.

When I was in sixth grade, a boy told me, "You're so flat the walls are jealous." The same boy and some of his friends later asked a friend of mine to jump up and down, "no reason, just 'cause". This taught me pretty effectively that there is no such thing as a body type that's safe from harassment.

There's no such thing as a harassment-proof outfit, either. Thank you for putting it so clearly.

When I was around that age, a boy told a girl on our bus that she was so flat she was concave. This is the same boy I mentioned to karnythia as the one I smacked with my lunchbox on a separate occasion.

The summer I was 14, I think, there was an article in Sassy where one of the main writers (I think it was Christina) started keeping a log of the various incidents of sexual harassment that happened as she was going about her life, including what she was doing and what she was wearing. It gave me a lot to think about.

A few months later, I was back at school, and my friend Magda and I were walking from campus to the local mall (2-ish miles away I think). On the way there, plenty of males decided to direct inappropriate comments or behavior at us, including a car that was circling around in a way that was really freakin' scary.

We decided to count individual incidents on the way back. I've forgotten the precise number, but I believe it was somewhere around 30. In the course of a TWO MILE WALK on a weekend afternoon. Two fifteen-year-old girls, fairly unremarkable in appearance overall (this was pre-fat for me). One wearing a very oversized red t-shirt and just-above-knee jean shorts, the other wearing a slightly less oversized but in no way clingy tie-dye shirt and jeans. Apparently just daring to be, y'know, outside and shit on a nice day where men could see us was grounds for windows to roll down and men to make inquiries about how much we charged or to comment about what they wanted to do with us.

And just because we knew they were wrong, just because we'd make fun of them later as we sat down to our ice cream at the local diner, didn't change the absolute skin-crawling feeling of discomfort and wrongness for daring to exist as female in public that such attention always brought on in the moment it was happening.

Man, that is an article I would want to read. Oh, Sassy, and I wasn't allowed to read you!

I was trying to think about other times and what I was wearing. When I was a kid? I can clearly remember once when I was thirteen, wearing cutoffs and a baggy pink tee shirt, and one time wearing mid-thigh denim shorts and a purple babydoll tee shirt, when a man more than twice my age tried to get me to go in his pickup truck even after I told him I was 15. I can think of plenty of times when I don't remember what I was wearing.

And yeah, even if you know in your mind that it's not you, that it's ridonkulous and reflects poorly on them if anything, it can also ruin a whole day.

Oh God, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. The boy I was interested in (right until the moment when he) fondled the line where my leg meets my crotch. During the service. Under a Torah translation shared between us. I couldn't say no, because I was so shocked and scared I could hardly breathe, let alone speak. He did it again at the reception, after a run-in with a wall unit of some sort left a good-sized but shallow gash in my outer thigh, under the pretense of "making it better" - I was still unable to speak, but I immediately got up and ran to the girl's bathroom, where I knew he couldn't follow me, to cry by myself for a while. Afterward I purposefully picked that wound frequently so it would scar (and yes, the scar is still there).

Instead of blaming my clothes, I blamed God. I think because while I definitely got the misogynistic messages that society throws at us, I somehow couldn't imagine they'd apply to me (I was the hero of my story, after all), so I found something external - and who would be more able to prevent it, in His own house even? Had that not happened, chances are really, really high that I'd've become a Rabbi.

So yes, you are far from alone in this sort of experience. The worst of it is, I know I'm one of the lucky ones, because it went no further than that.

Yeah, the horrible thing about situations like these is that we're left thinking we're lucky because other people have had it much worse. And we shouldn't be, because they still shouldn't happen, and we should still be allowed to be outraged.

What happened to you sounds terrible, and I'm so sorry for how it affected your relationship with your faith. I don't think any of us are alone in this, and that's a lot of why I wanted to write about it. Because I feel like the more of us tell these stories, the harder it is for people to ignore.

I can't even express how this post moved me <3 There was a particular recent incident that's been playing on my mind, and this helped a lot. Thank you.

I said this in your journal, but I love you, and if dredging this crap up helped you, then I am happy to have done it. You are a wonderful, lovely person and you deserve to be confident in that fact, no matter what.