All this “Harvey Weinstein” chatter has me thinking back to when I was a young, naive and in many ways, stupid young girl. It has me thinking about things that happened to me (or as I once believed “because” of me) that I hadn’t thought about in many, many years.
Am I just now realising that I too had disgusting and deviant encounters with men (who would now be known as sexual predators) or am I perhaps just finally admitting to myself that these scenes actually happened in real life and it wasn’t just my mind playing tricks on me?
As a young girl, I never felt pretty or attractive. By the time I was about 13-14, I was 5 foot 10 and 1/2 inches tall. I towered over all the girls, most of the boys and even some of the teachers. I was unusually tall, big boned, awkward and a bit of a tomboy.
As pretty, petite, blond girls like Judy Williams were receiving handfuls of anonymous Valentine Cards from boys, declaring their undying love… I was climbing trees and playing “hide and go seek” with the boys who like me, had yet to come into their own.
When I entered high school, I realised I did not fit into any of the standard cliques. I wasn’t particularly smart or athletic. I couldn’t play a musical instrument; I wasn’t artistic, pretty or popular. So I did the only thing I could do to survive; I turned on, tuned in and dropped out. Thanks to Mr Timothy Leary and others like him, I realised fitting in wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. There was another path.
At 14, I was socially aware, politically minded, had advanced musical tastes and was drawn to older people. And they too, at least some of them, were drawn to me.
Mr Dickhead (not his real name) was my high school, freshman year, English teacher. He lived only a few blocks away from where we lived and he volunteered at the neighbourhood “after school” club, that some of us hung out at. He was in his mid-twenties, handsome, very cool and he talked to me like I was someone with something interesting to say. We talked about books, music, world events; as I remember it, we talked about everything. I did not think it odd at all, when he asked me over to his apartment to listen to some new music he thought I might like.
Although I may have been “mature for my age,” in matters of politics, music and world events… in matters of the heart (or in this case matters of the body) I didn’t have a clue!
He offered me a beer, like it was the most normal thing in the world, and of course I took it. We sat on the couch listening to music and talking… We were having this very long, in-depth, discussion about the state of the world, life or the universe… when he all of a sudden leaned across and kissed me; on the mouth! I was shocked, I froze. (Sitting here today, writing this, I’m embarrassed to say that I was probably more shocked that he apparently found me attractive, than I was by the fact that he, my 25-year-old, English teacher, was hitting me!) To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t get up and run out of there screaming, but I didn’t… without going into the grisly details, I managed to leave there with everything intact, but was shaken to the core and I was never quite the same after that encounter.
Needless to say, I had to find someplace else to go after school, so I volunteered at a local, left-wing bookshop… as you do!
I worked for free, behind the counter or stocking shelves. The people who came into the shop were mostly college kids, from Clarke University.
The owner was perhaps in his late thirties, maybe early forties. He had long salt and pepper grey hair and a matching beard. His family name was prominent in the city and he was the family’s Black Sheep, who organised anti Vietnam War marches, started a free breakfast program for children of low-income families, and allowed the local chapter of the Black Panthers to hold meetings at the bookstore, some of which I happily attended. He hosted Q&A evenings with new authors, poets, musicians and revolutionaries. He was always being written up in the local newspaper as either a saint or a radical. He was divorced, a bit unkept and more than a little paranoid; but I believed he was worldly, intelligent, socially enlightened, unfairly persecuted for his beliefs and (with my help) he was going to save the world!
When he asked me to help him unpack boxes of new stock, in the cellar, I didn’t think twice… (Yes, yes I know there’s a pattern here; it appears I was the stupidest and most naive 14-year-old girl ever! “Fool me once,” I hear you saying!)
Anyway, we were happily unpacking boxes of new books, when he sat down on a mattress, that was on the floor. (No, I did not question why there was a mattress on the floor in the cellar of a bookstore… I was a “hippie” in training and it was 1968 for fuck sake!) He was visibly upset and distressed… After several minutes of talking, he confided in me that the local authorities had apparently made the FBI aware of his political shenanigans, and it was just a matter of time before he would be arrested or “worse.”
I remember feeling so bad for him and wanting to comfort him… I started to tell him what an amazing man he was; how he fed the poor, openly opposed a senseless war, did all he could to raise the consciousness and awareness of young, silly children like me… At that exact moment, he looked me in the eyes and pushed me down onto the mattress! He laid across me, pinning me down and started kissing me… open mouth and hard! WTF? My brain was spinning and remember I became very scared, very quickly.
He was one of my hero’s. He was a civic leader. He was a well-known member of our city and an enlightened “revolutionary.” He knew ABBIE fucking HOFFMAN, for Christ’s sake!
Thank God, the whole ordeal ended before it got totally out of control and I once again left a “bad scene,” intact and unharmed. I learned that day that guys, apparently didn’t actually need to “do the deed,” they needed only a subject (willing or unwilling) a bit of friction and a good imagination! It turns my stomach thinking about it now… and it’s 45+ years ago.
Yes, there were others.
It seems they were always lurking around the corner; disguised as something they were not, but as crept out of their holes and approached, I was becoming more ready for them. I was becoming older, wiser and much less naive.
The older women I was meeting introduced me to the Woman’s Liberation Movement, and it taught me a lot! I learned, most importantly, that it was MY BODY, MY DECISION. I became much more confident in myself and my sexuality. I wasn’t so taken back and shocked by the attempts made by the cool, suave English Teacher types or by the older (supposedly more mature, responsible) men I encountered when I started working.
I was no longer caught off guard; I said who, I said when and I said where.
None of these men had control over my career or were in positions of such power that they could have destroyed my future or negatively impact my livelihood; but they did “push” themselves on me. They did take advantage of me. They did use their age, position and authority to intimidate and confuse me.
These men, and the others not specifically mentioned here, are the ones who make it so very necessary for me to stand up, and with millions of other women, publicly say… “Me Too.”