It Didn’t Happen to Me

[Dad, you may not want to read this post. It’s got some language and some information in it regarding me, your oldest daughter, that you’d rather maybe not know.]

[Okay, you’ve been warned. This is a post I don’t want my dad to read.]

Unless you live under a rock, you know about the sex scandal rocking Penn State right now. You know about the allegations of sexual assault/harassment being leveled against the GOP primary frontrunner.

As I drove home yesterday, I thought about my post of yesterday. In my comment section, another woman I consider a friend had come forth to tell about the sexual assault she suffered as a teenager. As I said in one of my replies to her, “the inaction on the part of the adults [at the school] is reprehensible.”

Maybe in one way, in some way, the anti-bullying campaigns that are rampant in schools now will nip some of these horrible offenses in the bud. Maybe the boy picking on the girl he likes will learn another way to communicate, or will simply learn another way of talking to a girl he likes, or will learn to deal with rejection. Not everyone has to like everyone else. We don’t all have to be BFFs.

But the other thing I thought about was this: It never happened to me. And I wonder why.

I was never raped.
I was never sexually assaulted. I was never sexually harassed.
I haven’t even been significantly bullied.

[KNOCK ON WOOD.]

On Twitter, @QueenofSpain threw out there (in light of the Cain allegations, I think): “Can any woman in my timeline say they’ve NEVER been sexually harassed in some way, shape, form?”

I thought about it. I really did.

The only thing I could recall was of a part-time job I had in my early 20s. I was trying to make ends meet, and so I took an evening job with a company that delivered food from area restaurants. I took the calls when they came in.

The guy who owned the company and was my boss was a real jackass. I’m no prude, but this guy was a foul-mouthed jerk. He used the “c” word with impunity, and he had one phrase – I believe it was “lick my balls” or maybe “suck my cock” — that offended the hell out of me. He’d get off the phone with a restaurant, and say, “That jerk can lick my balls” if he was upset.

Yeah, he was a *peach*.

One night, I finally said to him, “Look, stop saying that when I’m here. It offends me. It’s hostile. I don’t want to fucking hear it any more.”

And you know what? He stopped saying it when I was working.

I guess I wonder too (and this goes to yesterday’s post a bit as well): What do we mean by harassment?

I have been hit on while I’ve been out in public by people – men – that I’d rather had not hit on me. I’ve been inappropriately groped once or twice in my life (not by the same person). But unwanted attention at a bar isn’t harassment – unless, of course, the guy can’t take a hint. This is when guy friends with tattoos come in handy.

I have never been propositioned by a person in authority above me. Not once.

I have never felt pressured to have sex. I have been in bed with a man, going hot and heavy, and when a condom proved unavailable, I have called it off. I have enjoyed consensual sex with guys who didn’t call me back the next day. Or ever. I have lived to tell these tales.

Now, obviously, the fact that I have not been raped or assaulted or harassed does not mean that rape, assault, and harassment don’t exist. It just means it hasn’t happened to me. And just because I can with a fair amount of certainty say it hasn’t happen to me does not make it okay that it has happened to ANYONE.

But how come it hasn’t happened to me, but has happened to two or five or 10 or 100 or however many people I know? What the hell makes me so special?

I am trying to suss this out a bit because I’m raising children here, children I don’t want to be raped, assaulted, or harassed; children I don’t want be bullies, rapists, assaulters, harassers.

Maybe I didn’t find myself in bed or alone with assholes, although the absence of a phone call after a night of sex would disprove this theory. I guess they weren’t violent assholes.

Maybe the fact that I did attend an all-girl Catholic high school protected me from sexual assault as a teen. This would seem to make sense. Maybe the guys I dated back then, and through college were good guys. Again, not all of them could be called gentlemen, per se, but I didn’t ever get a black eye from leaving someone with blue balls. No one shoved a hand under my skirt unexpectedly, or grabbed my head to make him go down on him.

The people I know who have suffered these things aren’t weak. They don’t have a victim mentality. When I’ve heard these stories, I’ve more or less said, “YOU? That happened to YOU?” They are beautiful, successful people; many of them are in loving relationships; many of them are parents.

If it can happen to these kind, sweet, lovely, successful people, it can fucking happen to anyone.

So why doesn’t it? And what armor, what lessons, can I pass along to my kids so they can say, “It’s not going to happen to me.”

Bully for You: Part 2

I mentioned that I was not a victim of bullying growing up. Nor was I a bully (I’m pretty sure).

Yesterday, I read this article questioning the line between bullying and sexual harassment.

I just wonder sometimes if the number of bullying awareness campaigns or the language they use haven’t lead to some oversensitivity on our parts.

Don’t get me wrong: Bullying is bad, and can be a serious offense that we need to protect our children from. I just don’t know that “zero tolerance” policies, and reductive “down with bullies” messages are effective.

Here’s an example of the problem with anti-bullying campaigns:

Flora comes home, says, “I’m being bullied.”

Me: By whom? (Okay, I probably said By WHO?!)
Flora: Donnie. (Not his real name.)
Me: Did he put his hands on you?
Flora: No.
Me: Did he call you names?
Flora: No.
Me: What’s going on?
Flora: Well, he talks to himself. And he doesn’t play with anyone.
Me: Well who cares? You worry about yourself, and let the little boy worry about himself.

Flora isn’t being bullied, she’s just bothered by this little boy. (And, yes, Flora needs to worry more about her own self instead of others. We’re working on it.) As a commenter writes on the Slate opinion piece I reference above, “The definition of bullying in schools is in danger of becoming so broad that it loses all meaning. In some states bullying is defined as something that makes a student uncomfortable or that makes them feel demeaned.”

I have a very physically affectionate 4-year-old. She hasn’t learned personal space boundaries yet. We continually remind her to keep her hands to herself, to ask someone before she hugs him or her, and to be aware of her body and others’ space. In a zero-tolerance grade school, she’s going to have problems learning about appropriate touch.

What has to be emphasized is that bullying is an ongoing campaign of harassment, either verbal or physical. If someone calls you a name ONCE, that’s not bullying. Unwanted touching ONCE is assault, and should be dealt with, but it’s a one-off, not bullying.

I was appalled recently to have Twitter discussion with several people (most of whom I know IRL) about their experiences being harassed and bullied. Their experiences sounded terrible, including borderline rape.

What Flora is experiencing isn’t terrible. It’s just annoying. But the language she is being taught (at school) about being annoyed or bothered is “bullied”. So that’s what she’s going to tell us.

Of course, on the other hand, when does joking around or playing grab-ass in the high school hallway become a problem? Do we move the line from zero to two? Or what?