I have no memory of not being touched by strange men - of ALL ages. My hair, silky and bright red was too shiny and hard to resist. This was especially apparent with men who loved redheads.
I was far too little to understand what a “fetish” was but somehow I did.
It was clear that they couldn’t stop themselves. At the grocery store, at the playground, it did not matter. They’d have a specific gleam in their eye while they touched my hair and exclaim, “what beautiful hair you have.” Ew.
I hated being a redhead. I hated how it made me stand out. I hated how strange men would touch me. I hated how they leered at me throughout my life.
In my late twenties, I developed more noticeable curves and larger boobs. That plus the red hair ended up as the archetype for “tavern wench.”
Men LOVE to cop a feel with the tavern wench!
One date literally reached across, unzipped my jacket and started touching my breasts about 20 minutes into a date while sitting at a Manhattan bar. I was like DUDE! What???? As you know by now, I’m no prude but I would like to be consulted on matters such as a public hook up!!
I blamed myself, of course.
Did I wear a shirt that was too tight? Did I act too flirty? What made him THINK that was acceptable. I wasn’t so young at this point either, mid-30s? I was so confused and caught off guard that it took me a few minutes to just get up and leave. I tried rationalizing with him, to no avail. Obviously.
He clearly did not see me as a *person* who deserved to be *heard* - only touched. Whenever he wanted.
So much of it is cultural conditioning.
When I was in college, I worked at an after-school program in Seattle.
One of my little students - maybe four years old - was sitting on my lap and reached out with both hands, grabbed my breasts and “honked” them.
He was a baby! None of my cousins or brothers, or any child that I ever babysat - and I babysit a LOT of kids - had ever done it so intentionally. But at least his behavior was age appropriate! When a grown man does it….
I can still see the look on his face when he did it.
It wasn’t that different from the look on grown mens’ faces: “I want to touch it and so I will.”
And I’m not talking about my long time guy friend that slaps my ass at a party walking by, or someone I’m dating who has been given consent to touch me while I’m walking by or in the kitchen. There is a huge difference here. There seems to be a disconnect about this which is why I’m clarifying it.
I’m talking about full-on strangers massaging their dick against my back on the subway, *grabbing* my ass at a party, fondling my breasts in a bar.
Now, I know some men are reading these stories online, these legal cases and thinking back frantically “did I do that? Have I done that?”
Listen, IF YOU ARE FREAKING OUT AND ASKING THESE QUESTIONS THAT MEANS YOU HAVE A MORAL COMPASS. That means you are “waking up.” Congratulations.
Evaluating your own past and current behavior is excellent. Waking up is painful. But it’s necessary in order to see and understand other people’s pain, start to empathize and then get involved in ending that pain.
What I’m worried about are the ones who are not questioning themselves at all right now.
They think women’s bodies are toys? Objects? Still not sure.
What’s super strange is that men are conditioned to think that WOMEN SHOULD BE FLATTERED BY THIS “ATTENTION.”
The Patriarchy conditions little boys to think this about women.
What I’m describing is fucking Disneyland compared to what many, many women of color experience in our country and the world.
Google “rape in India,” “women of color and sexual assault,” “female genital mutilation,” and “frequency of molestation in the United States.”
Women are RAPED ON THE BUS IN INDIA while people just sit there and allow it to happen. Women of color in the United States are sexually assaulted and raped at a higher percentage than white women.
The larger the power imbalance, the more likely women will be touched, assaulted and raped. This is why it is especially interesting to hear wealthy, white women say “that never happened to me!” Well, no, because the more *power* you have in this world, the less likely it would.
Have you seen any major news stories where black women are getting justice right now? This is especially infuriating given that the #metoo moment was developed by Tarana Burke - remember that name - an African-American women who has been laying down the foundation for this movement for over a decade.
Without the women who have been fighting, fighting, fighting all these years, there would be no wave for the Alyssa Milanos and Gwenyth Paltrows to ride upon. Though, I appreciate that they are using their power for good now.
We can all use our power now.
So even if a handful of people read my little stories, I’m still determined to contribute to the conversation. Use whatever power I have to ensure that they don’t shut us down. Again.
As much as it’s fun to look through these photos now, I don’t miss my red hair. I miss having bangs that will grow pass my eyebrows - there’s a lot of thinning on top - and I miss how shiny it was.
But I don’t miss the red.
The red was dangerous. I got treated like shit because of it, which I’ll save for another day when we cover stereotypes. And don’t worry, I’ll share ways to ask a women if she wants to be touched without *breaking the mood* - I think there should be lots and lots of consensual touching in this world! It’s so fun when it’s mutually agreed upon!
I wasn’t seen as a complex, multi-layered human being with my own unique thoughts, emotions, and opinions.
They just saw something they felt like touching. And so they did.
Those days are over.
A NOTE FROM ME ON INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM: I do apologize if I’m phrasing any of this incorrectly, I’m venturing into intersectional feminism knowing I will make mistakes. But it’s either stay silent or try and get better. I’m shooting for the latter. I’ll keep at it….
Here is an overview of how communities of color experience sexual assault differently than whites. This is a concise piece that covers how damaging stereotypes are for communities of color including African-America, Muslim, Latino, and Asian women AND how men are often perceived. With Google literally at our fingertips, there is no reason we shouldn't *all* be educating ourselves. It's long overdue.
Photo #2b. This is part of a writing project where I challenge myself to write 1000 word story for 30 days using old photos and different writing prompts. This particular set of stories will focus on my experiences as a (white) Gen X woman and experiencing America pre- and post- #metoo movement. .