The Other Problem

Like most women I’ve spent this week thinking about my stories. I have been kept up at night by the stories of my friends and things that happened to me. Stories of men grabbing me, things men said to me, strangers, bosses, coworkers. The man who grabbed my breast on an airplane when I was sixteen. The boss who said that my chest was a hell of a contribution to the business, when actually, I was running his store. They boyfriend who hit the wall right next to my head because he was angry about my raise.

Earlier this year I was telling my husband a story about a catcall I’d received on the way to the El that day and he was surprised to learn that, like most women, I have a strategy for assessing and handling catcalls. He was surprised to learn that I always, always smile or wave because I fear the escalation. How I smile and/or wave depends on whether it’s one man, coming up to me on the street while I walk to my office, or a group of men lounging nearby. I have said “thank you” to a stranger telling me that I look sexy. Thank you.

Until recently, my husband did not know that for the entire time I lived in Chicago I knew that leaving the house in a skirt or dress meant someone would yell something at me. For years I told the story of my favorite catcall, “Hey Lady, nice rack!” yelled at me from a car as I walked over to a friend’s house one evening. The incongruity of calling me a lady and talking about my rack… for years I’ve laughed about this, adding a Jerry Lewis impression to the “Hey Lady,” forgetting that I was walking alone on a street at night, and was actually terrified, knowing that the men or boys in that car could turn around and grab me at any time.

Like all women, I have these stories. But these stories are not what upsets me about the Donald Trump/Billy Bush tapes. Billy Bush is what upsets me. I know the strangers and coworkers and even friends who have said disgusting things to me. I know the ones who have touched me inappropriately, who have touched me against my will. But what I don’t know is how many of my friends or coworkers or strangers have set me up.

I know the coworker who described to me exactly where he’d put my legs when we had sex and I laughed it off. I don’t know if there was another coworker, a Billy Bush, hiding behind him trading suggestions. I know the guy I carefully, carefully selected an outfit for a date with and later discovered that he secretly set me up to have his friends watch us have sex. But until now I have not wondered who those boys were. Were they friends of mine? Boys I trusted?

I know the foul things people have said to me to my face, but now, I have to think about all the times a room of men went quiet when I walked in to it. I have to think about all the times a coworker accidentally fell against me and another guy stood nearby. Was it on purpose? Was it planned?

Donald Trump is a problem, but he’s a problem we know, a problem we see. A problem every girl over the age of thirteen knows about. But Billy Bush, the good looking, smooth guy. The guy who would never say the word pussy. The nephew and cousin of presidents who just helpfully offers you up to be groped and kissed. Billy Bush is who is keeping me up at night.

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3 Responses to The Other Problem

  1. bevmalona1 says:

    Thank you Marta for your thoughtful piece. My husband, now deceased, and my son had disdain for this behavior because they had great respect for their mothers and female relatives. When my son would not participate in the boy’s banter he suffered put downs. When he defended a woman in a taxi against a friend who put the moves on her, he would have gotten into a fist fight if it he hadn’t threw up on the guy first. They all were a little under the influence.
    I myself was almost raped in college, lucky for me I was a nurse, squeezed the man’s throat between his tracheal cartilage (with the one free hand) and told him I knew how to kill him in an instant (a lucky bluff).
    What do we do to turn this around? It is simply not to be isolated as a men’s or a women’s issue.
    Nor ought we ignore the paradox we live in separated by a flimsy, weak, concept called consent.
    We laud men’s bad behavior and we support it in what we read and expose ourselves to for example: Fifty Shades of Grey. Family Planning Centers will readily provide contraception/abortion to a minor without any intake as to whom she is having sex with. I have witnessed this. I know why it is done. Prevention of pregnancy ought not be the primary goal, but rather addressing whether or not an adult male is involved or that the young woman is possible objectified/abused. It IS our business if we take this entire issue seriously. How well do we get the message out to young women that predators are out there and because of this they need to protect themselves (and their hearts) beyond condoms and pills. No we are not free. It is not the “utopian garden” we pretend it is.
    Young men from a very early age need to learn respect….how do you do that when confusion reigns about what respect is? Today, it is not only the “male young men posse” who deride each other for abstaining from such behavior, but somehow young women also do their share of sexual bating.
    This problem is deeper than any of us care to admit. There needs to be a re-thinking of our sexual mores, intimacy, male/female relationships, and what we consider a “woman’s issue”. Men must be incorporated into striving for a paradigm shift if this “rape culture” is ever to be turned around. A deep examine needs to be done on what we now accept as sexual freedom which in fact is sexual license

  2. Sarah says:

    “We laud men’s bad behavior and we support it in what we read and expose ourselves to for example: Fifty Shades of Grey. Family Planning Centers ”

    Man, I hate to do this because I am not big into confrontation, but no. No. You absolutely cannot blame women for men’s treatment of them on their choice of reading material or exercise of contraceptive and health choices.
    In addition, despite your suggestion to the contrary, young women are CONSTANTLY bombarded with the “message [] that predators are out there and because of this they need to protect themselves.” Why do we always tell women they must act to protect themselves instead of telling men they must stop acting against women?
    Don’t touch without consent. Don’t touch after consent has been withdrawn. Don’t threaten, stalk, catcall. This is basic respect for our fellow humans. There is no legitimate confusion over what constitutes basic respect. WE are creating this confusion. We allow our society to create this confusion. We allow it when we excuse privileged predatory behavior. We allow it when we shame victims. We allow it when we treat women as lesser. We allow it when we suggest that boys and men should respect other women because of their relationships with female relatives. No. Boys and men must respect women because they are equal human beings.
    And basic respect is simple. It is so simple. Anyone can learn it. Boys and men can learn it. Society can make them learn it instead of encouraging and excusing the behavior discussed in this article. Don’t touch without consent. Don’t touch after consent has been withdrawn. Don’t threaten, stalk, catcall.
    Your argument that there is some kind of legitimate confusion over basic concepts of consent and respect and your apparent belief that restricting women’s sexual choice, health choice, and/or reading material will lead to a reduction in sexual crime against women is in itself symptomatic and emblematic of rape culture.

  3. Amy frith says:

    You nailed it, Marta. We’ve all been through it too many times to count. But, I never wondered how many co-conspirators. I wish I didn’t have to be so suspicious, but reality leaves us no choice.

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