The shortcut through the park had never been scary before. Although the road between Mildred Lane and the swim club was somewhat desolate, with backyards on one side of the street and an abandoned house on the other, it was well traveled by kids of all ages. She walked the path she always took from her friend’s house to her own, on the side of the road heading to the park. The sun was dropping off although there was still enough sunlight that she knew she wouldn’t get in trouble from her parents for walking. She saw the two figures ahead of her and as they got closer she knew who they were, friends of friends that she was hanging out with these days. They were obviously drunk, as they were a few years older than the 13 year old girl in front of them. As they talked to her, one of the boys put his arm around her, his was the only name she knew. Within minutes he was grabbing at her shirt as the other started to pull on her pants. They had also somehow moved her to the higher grass off the road where it would be more difficult to see them. Just then they all heard a car and the boys stopped for a moment. The car stopped near where they were, and her friend’s dad, from the house she had just left, jumped out of the driver’s seat. He grabbed her by the arm and told her to get into the car. She will never know what he said to the boys but she saw them run. He took her to his house to ensure she was ok, how did he know she was there? He said he was driving home from work and cutting through the back road and thought he saw her red hair. She was shell-shocked by what happened, and never told anyone. Ever.
Until now. That 13 year old red headed girl was me. If that boy, whose name I still remember, was being nominated for an important role in government or otherwise, I would tell. Until now, I never needed to tell, I was afraid to tell and I didn’t think anyone would care or believe me.
These past few weeks on social media have had me question humanity. To see the number of people victim-blaming, with comments such as “what 15 year old girl goes to a party and drinks!” or “she was a drunk and had a lot of sex in high school.” As if those things matter. I guess then I shouldn’t have been walking home alone at 13 through a park that I lived by, on a street I walked and biked on for years. I shouldn’t have worn those overalls with a tube top. Yes that was the norm then but my wearing it caused the boys (who will be boys) to grab me.
These types of stories should never be about the woman. It should never matter what she is wearing or how drunk she may have been or how flirtatious she may have been. It must be about accountability by men. It must be about respect for women. It must be about changing the power paradigm.
Over the past 2 years while women have been fighting for justice and equality and focused on not letting our rights be taken away, other women are naively making statements on social media such as, “we have equal rights.” No we don’t. There is a systemic privilege in the system where men have more access, rights and privileges than women.
I spent 35 years in corporate America and in Human Resources. Let me share what I observed. We talked a lot about high potential employees and how we could develop them for future executive roles. Very often, for men, I would hear about what their potential could be or how they were a lot like the man in power so “They could do the job, I know it.” For women, I would hear “she needs more presence,” or “sometimes she can be a bit aggressive.” A man was expected and applauded for being aggressive, the woman was a bitch. The woman would need a coach who behaved more like a stylist, to ensure she dressed the part, the man just had to show up and be charming. If a woman had a strong and louder voice, she was seen as too authoritative and told to try to soften her approach, a man was never told that. If a woman had too soft and timid a voice, she was told she had no presence and needed to strengthen her voice. A man was never told that. If a woman was a tough boss who might have yelled at times or was too strong, she became a bitch and needed to gain her composure. A man was seen as strong and aggressive, the type we need in leadership. There was and is a double standard, and the system validates and revalidates that because men own the system.
Men could tell off color jokes and clown around, having one too many cocktails and not think anything of it. A woman could never be caught getting tipsy as they would look down their noses at her. The men moved up in the ranks faster because they had sponsorship of other men. Women generally did not. If a woman got a senior role, too many times you would hear jokes about who she slept with to get that job or that she wasn’t qualified, “they” just wanted a woman in the role. The women’s work product was always scrutinized more than the man’s.
This is the privilege that sits in the system. A woman must have every qualification for a role to be moved into it, a man needs far less but another man will take a chance on him.
There is bias around women being less than. I remember when I went to buy a new car back in 2001. It was a Jaguar and I was so excited that I was going to test drive one. When I walked through the dealership door with a girl friend of mine, I was immediately ushered to the only female sales person. She was terrific and we went for a test drive so I could be sure I wanted the car. As we were sitting by her desk talking numbers, she did the usual thing and got the manager of the dealership to talk with me. His first question was, “when will your husband be in to test drive?” I shared that there is no husband, I am buying the car. I could already feel my blood boiling that this man started that way. Then he knelt down next to my chair and in a very condescending tone said, “are you sure you can afford this car by yourself?” At that moment, I stood up, looked at my sales person and said “I would have loved to buy a car from you today, but I will not buy one from him.” I turned to him and told him that I could probably buy 2 cars if I wanted but right now, I’m leaving. My friend and I walked out. I had never been so angry that someone would be that judgmental and condescending to me when I was trying to buy something from them. About 15 minutes later my phone rang and it was my sales person. She told me she would sell the car to me for the price I wanted and to come back if I was still interested. I did buy that car. The manager attempted to apologize to me and I understood that my sales person ripped him apart after I left for how he treated me. I wrote a letter to the owner of the dealership explaining to them how I was treated.
That is the systemic privilege and bias in the system. If I were a woman of color I believe I would have been treated even worse.
For all of the people stating that “she should have come forward sooner,” or “she was drunk it must be mistaken identity,” I can tell you that you never mistake that identity. I can remember what the one boy was wearing, the one I knew. I even know what I was wearing. For the people shaming the victim I say how dare you. No matter how a woman has acted or behaved, nobody should touch them if they say no. Nobody should be so brazen as to think that since they are a man and she has been flirting that they have a right to touch, to exert their power over her. The comment of “boys will be boys” is great when boy is playing in the dirt in the park, not when a boy has no respect for another human beings well being and is only thinking of himself and his power.
I am so disappointed in the women that I see who are supportive of the men who are accused and throwing the woman under the bus. If you have ever been in a position where you were attacked, assaulted or raped, you know how hard it is to tell. I was not raped. I was very lucky that my friend’s dad came along, I was still traumatized, I didn’t walk that route by myself for a long time. I also never told my mom or dad. I never told any friends. I never told the boy whose dad came and got me.
I never told.