Stop Blaming The Woman

Must have been the dimness of the lights, or maybe the thick haze of cigarette smoke that masked the truth of my age, because the doorman didn’t flinch as my sister led me into the crowded bar.  Rows of long plywood tables lined either side of the room, each one overflowing with bodies, more men than women, I noted.  th

The raucous was so loud I could barely hear my sister’s directions, so I hung onto the waistband of her jeans hoping to we wouldn’t be separated in the throng.  We squeezed between patrons until we found the rest of our party, then wriggled into the closely packed chairs that had been saved for us.

I must have accidentally elbowed the person behind me, because he jumped up and hollered at me.  Before I could respond, a large hand grabbed him by the collar and shoved him back into his seat.

“You’ll not be messing with this little lady,” a gruff voice said.

I looked up to see a mountain of a man, with thick curly hair tumbling over his shoulders, and an excessive growth of facial hair.  Deep set eyes twinkled down at me, and I found myself both terrified and intrigued.

“They call me Mother,” he said offering me a meaty hand to shake.  “This here is my turf, and if anyone gives you trouble, you let me know.  Mother’s got your back.”

“Thanks,” I said, trying to act much more mature than my twelve years of age.th-1

My sister’s boyfriend pushed a glass of beer at me and made a ‘cheers’ gesture with his own drink.  I lifted the glass, reciprocated, and took a sip.  Despite the coolness of the liquid it burned with the slightly sweet edge.  I set the glass back down and glanced around, feeling out-of-place in this very adult environment.  I’d been exposed to alcohol lots of times before – Dad taught me how to bartend a few years back – but this was my first foray into an actual bar.

It wouldn’t be my last.

Prowling night clubs with my much older sisters would become the norm for me, a side that I kept hidden from my peers who were still stealing liquor from their parents stashes and drinking out in the woods.  Being accepted into this world made me feel powerfully wild.  I thought I was invincible.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before real trouble found me.  It happened in Mother’s bar, where I guess I was becoming too comfortable.  The man who joined our table that evening was a stranger, and not unattractive.  When he offered a group of us a ride home if we stayed to last call, we jumped on the opportunity.  images-1

Except, he didn’t take me home.

I would not return home until the next day, any semblance of innocence that I had left stripped away from me.

The police said it was my fault.

They said no court of law would convict a man for picking up an underaged girl in a bar, especially a girl dressed as I was.  They said a judge would say I was asking for it.

They said I was lucky to be alive.

It didn’t stop me from going into bars – I just drank harder to numb the shame – and stayed mum about what happened.  Later, I started to cut myself to counter the numbness.  images

 

After fourteen years, the memories of that night flooded back, and I finally sought out the help I needed, and there are times when I think I am healed, and then I hear about another victim who is blamed for the crime that was perpetrated against her, or men excusing lewd sexual behaviour as boys being boys, and the rage rushes back to me.

In any other form of assault, the victim’s behaviour is not brought into account.  No one says:  “He’s a jerk; he deserved to be stabbed.”  It’s a non-issue.  So why, when a woman falls prey to unwanted sexual advances, are her motivations questioned?

What happened to me in the early 1970’s should be archaic, but in light of recent incidents, it is clear that inequality still exists.  Women’s rights remain an issue.

We need to continue to raise our voices until it is safe for women to explore their wild sides, take risks in life, and make a few mistakes; without being blamed for the criminal acts of others.
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Silence Is Not The Answer

Another celebrity has been acquitted of sexual assault charges because the female complainants did not hold up in court as credible witnesses.  I was neither a witness to the alleged occurrences, nor present for the court proceedings, and therefore, cannot comment on whether or not justice was indeed served.  On a personal level, however; I have to confess that I am deeply troubled by the case.

I am reminded of a younger me, fifteen, returning to my sister’s apartment after a night of repeated sexual assaults and confinement at the hands of male twice my age.  Still trembling from the shock and terror (I wasn’t sure whether I’d live or die at the end of it) I was met by members of the police force, who took my statement, acknowledged that they knew the perpetrator, admitted this was his typical m.o., and advised me that the case would not stand up in court as I had been drinking under age and was wearing provocative clothing – ie., the standard bell-bottom jeans and halter top of the era.  They put me on a bus for home, and told my parents that I had spent the night with a man.  Unable to speak up for myself in face of the wrath that  followed, I buried the trauma for many years.

Perhaps that’s why I never said anything when my first boss, a few months later, locked me in the storage room of the department store where I was working part-time and made sexual advances.

Nor did I speak up when my eleventh grade math teacher followed me to a bar one night, and cornered me, saying that I owed him for all the classes I had skipped and he hadn’t reported.

At twenty, working my first corporate job, I cried myself to sleep night after night after enduring endless sexual harassment on the job.  Only one of three women in the department, and the youngest, the males would parade past my desk every morning, saying they were “just looking for high beams” or “wondering if I got my plumbing checked last night.”  When, after six months of enduring this behaviour, I was told during a job evaluation that I would only qualify for a raise if I “put out”, I did take it to a higher ranked manager, only to be told that I should reconsider the offer.  I updated my resume and moved on.

I didn’t report it when a co-worker of my husband’s called me with obscene messages, indicating he was stalking me.

I didn’t report it, when in an attempt to better my education, I went back to university, and was stalked and harassed by one of my professors.

I didn’t report it, when a spurned lover turned suddenly ugly.

I had learned that being a woman means that I am always in a position of vulnerability, and therefore, it is somehow my fault if another human being shows me disrespect.  I have learned that women blaming men for sexually inappropriate behaviour are examined first for personal propriety before being taken seriously, and I know that none of us are faultless when scrutinized under a microscope.

When this recent case first went public, something amazing happened – women started to speak up.  Thousands of women, just like me, revealed countless incidents that they had never reported.  It felt empowering.

Every time a woman stands up against sexual assault, I applaud.  I have hope.
I do not want my children, or my children’s children to have to suffer the humiliation and condemnation that my generation of women have known.

This case ended in a an acquittal, and I hope that has not dampened spirits.

Let’s not lose the momentum sisters!  If we are ever going to end injustice, we need a voice.