Like millions of other women, I have often lacked the courage to stick up for myself in abusive situations. My insecurities have been something I’ve hated about myself, sometimes even more than the bully himself.
I was always a nice girl. In school, I avoided getting my ass kicked by kissing ass. At home, I was confused and uncomfortable when my dad said sexually vulgar things about me…or my friends, my aunt, or any woman who had his attention. But instead of sharing my feelings honestly, I ignored them, or ‘laughed’ things off…sometimes pretending it didn’t happen, or convincing myself it shouldn’t bother me.
I’ve been especially skilled at stuffing down my Sicilian rage to pacify perpetrators, as well as to remain conveniently naïve when I should’ve had more wits about me, and guts to call bullshit.
I’m a professional parts model. Many years ago on a job, I met a well-known comedian who starred in movies. We’ll call him ‘Chad’. Funny and charming, he seemed harmless as we discussed our mutual appreciation for Egyptian dance. At the time, I was studying with a well-known dance teacher who I knew would be thrilled to have this iconic actor in the audience at her next recital. So I gave Chad a flier for an upcoming show, and when he asked for my number, I gave that too, just in case he had questions…or better yet, wanted to become my friend!
Chad called the next night just as I was settling down, as I often did in my single days, with a pint of frozen Rice Dream and a rented movie from Blockbuster. When I told him what I was doing, he asked for my address and invited himself over.
As I hung up, I realized reluctantly he was probably interested in more than a friendship, and I contemplated calling him back with some on-the-spot excuse like feeling suddenly sick…or forgetting I had to pick someone up from the airport last minute. But there was no graceful way to backtrack. Maybe I should instead trust the flow of what was happening, and if he wanted something more, I could convince him instead to fall for me as a friend.
As soon as I opened the door, before ‘Hello,’ ‘How are you?’ or ‘Nice apartment’ – Chad tried tonguing me.
Immediately, I disassociated – a response that has been my body’s go-to defense whenever I wish to deny rather than deal with whatever is happening, hoping to quickly move on to the next moment. In this case, I tried unsuccessfully moving out of the way, while offering him some Rice Dream.
He carried on aggressively groping me, as I pushed him off, repeating, “Please stop. I’m not interested in that. Sorry.” When he didn’t stop, I tried telling him I have a boyfriend.
I remember wondering if I was the only woman in the world who had ever resisted Chad, since he continued to pursue me with an absolute and entitled, out-of-touch-with-reality persistence I had never encountered.
Eventually I got him to sit down on the couch, as I ran to the television to fumble through a pile of VHS tapes. I think I was still under the delusion that if I could just get him to sit down on the couch, if I could just find the right movie, if I could just get him to eat some Rice Dream…maybe we could redirect this into a friendship.
So I reiterated that I was not interested in anything sexual with him, and asked what movie he’d like to watch.
While I was facing the TV, Chad began undressing, and by the time I turned around he had removed every article of his clothing.
Prior to this point, the only thing impressive about this man was his cashmere sweater. Now, with his pot belly exposed, he lit up a joint, which I refused to share while looking away and requesting he get dressed. I was STILL trying to be cordial.
In retrospect, this seems insane. But, in my defense, I grew up on a commune where it was not unusual to see naked people smoking pot on a regular basis. However, by this point I was an adult, living in mainstream society, and was certainly aware this guy was not one of the “harmless hippies” of my youth.
As I cowered in the corner while he sat there smoking slowly, ignoring my polite pleas, my disassociation kicked into overdrive and my mind began to panic. It takes a highly experienced denier to pretend you don’t notice someone buck naked on your Shabby Chic, no matter how much time you take trying to find the right action comedy or tempt him in the other direction with an ice cream made of rice.
FINALLY, after he smoked the entire joint, the few cells remaining in this notorious stoner’s brain fired enough to get the message that I was NOT going to suddenly succumb to his seductive manspreading and mount him in a fit of uncontrolled passion. So he put on his clothes and left, looking way less friendly than when he arrived.
Once I heard the door shut, I took a full body exhale. I just wanted to go take a shower and wash the night off. Unfortunately the YUCK factor was far from over.
As I began reorganizing the mess I’d made of VHS tapes, from the corner of my eye I noticed a few marks on the couch cushion where he had been sitting. I may be bad at identifying creepy people but I’m always the first to spot carpet lint, streaks on glass and smudges on fabric. Knowing these dark stains were not mine, I approached them slowly and with caution.
Evidently, as Chad high tailed it out of my house, he left a trail of shitty skidmarks on my immaculate white couch.
At LAST, I was angry. Not only did Mr. Pot Belly invade me in the most repulsive way, I now had to clean up after this piece of shit!
While furiously disinfecting all traces of Chad from my formerly-prized first piece of adult furniture, I remained in shock and disbelief. In fact, it was only after the flood of women who spoke out after the Weinstein meltdown that I finally feel like I know what to say to Chad:
The next time you find yourself being the only person in a stranger’s house with your pants off, you might want to consider that no means NO. It does not mean you should disrobe your disgusting body and hope she joins you for a joint. It also does not mean ‘proceed to dig your dirty ass into someone’s sofa.’
My anger also now extends to those people who further harass women who don’t come out publicly immediately after their assault. There’s a reason some people don’t share openly and with confidence about their traumas. Many of us were trained to believe that keeping someone’s secrets safe and averting our gaze from bad behavior was linked to our own safety. When a child grows up walking on eggshells to avoid abuse, she learns quickly how to appease the needs of others over her own. Placating a parental tyrant is how some survive. For some women, self-worth has been hard earned and didn’t come from parents who encouraged strong boundaries from the beginning.
If you were one of the fortunate little girls and boys who grew up in well-adjusted homes with stable parents, you might feel safer speaking up. But if boasting about how heroic YOU would be in such sickening situations makes you feel better, enjoy inflating yourself.
No one has the right to violate someone sexually, or the right to tell others how to deal with the pain of their past. When someone is scared, a little compassion goes farther than condemnation. Abused women stay silent for so many reasons, from protecting family members to societal conditioning. And they’re frequently damned whether they speak up or shut up.
Sure, I could’ve been stronger in the situation with Chad. Perhaps I could’ve been quicker to say no from the get go. It is possible that I could’ve pushed back even harder and pointed to the door earlier, raising my voice and threatening to call the cops if he didn’t cover his junk. I could’ve demanded a new couch or called the Enquirer…
But I’m done wondering what I could’ve done. I’m finished blaming myself for the inappropriate actions of others. I’m sick of my deep seated programing to please people, even those I don’t respect. I’m over making excuses for crazy people. I’m no longer willing to judge myself based on the righteous opinions of loud-mouthed know-it-alls. I’m tired of trying to impress people I’m not impressed by. It’s not my responsibility to figure out how to best negotiate with a mad man.
We ‘me too’ women owe no one explanations. Sexually predatory men owe the world an apology.