I don’t know if I’m going to publish this blog, but I have to write it. Everyone else’s stories are popping up all over the place and, every time I see one, I’m reminded of my own — well, one of them, anyway. So I might as well write it out and see where it takes me.
Like many of us, there isn’t just one incident. However, one that happened about 30 years ago plays over and over in my head, even without constant memory triggers from the headlines and Facebook posts.
I was in my twenties and a single mother of two. I was going to college and working three waitress jobs. I was frazzled and needed to find a job that paid enough so I’d only need one.
There was a well-known man in town who owned (or managed — I can’t remember) a few bars and restaurants. He was friends with the owner of the bar where I worked, and I knew he was a skeezebag, shagging waitresses in the back room. I was one of the few who had not done so, and I pointedly avoided being alone with him.
But when I heard that he was hiring for his corporate office, I asked him for an interview. I thought it would be safe to work for him in a sober environment, during the day. I thought I could handle him. And, I really needed a good job.
We met at one of his restaurants for lunch, in public. I dressed professionally — in fact, I was dressed rather primly, because I knew what he was like — I didn’t want him to misconstrue my purpose for our meeting.
The interview went well and it was beginning to look like I had the job. He said that we should go to the corporate office so I could take a tour and fill out the necessary paperwork. He said he’d drive. No point in taking two cars, when he was coming back to our current location anyway.
Stupid me believed him.
This happened in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where (at that time) the edges of the city ended rather abruptly and were replaced by miles and miles of Amish farmland, with lots of unmarked dirt roads.
Before I knew it, he had taken an unfamiliar turn and I was lost. I had no idea where we were and he just kept driving. When I asked where we were going, he told me he was taking the scenic route, to avoid traffic. But then he pulled over to the side of the road, next to a cornfield, and suggested that we “have a little fun”.
I was young and afraid of making him mad, so I didn’t belligerently say “No!” I hoped we could get back into job interview mode. Today, I can see that this was foolish of me — even if I had been hired to work at his corporate office, it would have been a nightmare, filled with sexual harassment, but that’s the way it was back then. Women had to put up and shut up.
Instead, I made excuses why I couldn’t “have a little fun” with him. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but given my maturity level at the time, I probably made a joke and said I hadn’t shaved, or I was wearing granny panties (all true — remember, I had not dressed for sex). At that age, I would have tried self-deprecating humor to “turn him off”.
It didn’t work. When he replied that it sure would be a long walk back to my car, I realized that I had very little choice regarding what was about to happen.
I don’t think I need to go into detail here. You can fill in the blanks.
Was this sexual assault? I believe it was, but there are some who might argue that it was not:
- I did get into his car. (I still kick myself for naively believing that we were going to his office: stupid! stupid! stupid!)
- I did know he was a dirtbag. (I thought I had made myself clear to him previously that I wasn’t going to be another notch on his belt.)
- I didn’t put up a fight. (I had no idea where I was, miles from any signs of life — I’ll remind my young readers that this was ‘in the old days’, before cell phones and GPS. There were no houses anywhere and, even if there were, they would be Amish and wouldn’t have a phone or a car — and I was wearing high heels on dirt roads. The only thing I had to lose by doing what he wanted was my dignity. At least, if I didn’t fight him off, there would be no violent force.)
Here’s why it was non-consensual:
- I had no choice, except to do what he wanted or get out of the car and be stranded and lost in the middle of nowhere, miles from another human being, with no idea which direction to even begin to find my way home.
- When he was done, he dropped me off at my car. He didn’t even pretend to finish the interview at his office, with the supposed tour and paperwork. I was tricked into believing this was a job interview, which I dressed for. I did not dress for a sexual interlude, especially one in a car on a dirt road (my control-top underwear and pantyhose were not “easy access”, if you get my drift).
- Most importantly, I didn’t want to have sex with him.
Anyone who knew me at that time certainly knows exactly who I’m talking about — this guy was well known in our social circle for being a creep — and they might, understandably, think “Seriously? You didn’t know this is how it would end up???”
Color me stupid. Color me naive. Call me too trusting.
I grew up with three brothers, the only girl in the family. I was surrounded by boys growing up, including all of their friends, who were mostly trustworthy people. I was a tomboy. I was comfortable around men. Sexual power struggles did happen occasionally, but they were the exception to the rule. Even then, they would have been brushed off as “That’s just how some guys are, and there’s nothing to be done about it,” AKA “Boys will be boys.”
I know, from experience, that most of the men in my life are good people who wouldn’t do this kind of thing. It’s the exceptions — the middle-aged friend of my parents who groped me when I was thirteen; the icky friend of my brother who cornered me in my bedroom and tried to force himself on me; the employer who left porn on my desk and pressed his erection into my back as I tried to type — who give the good men a bad name.
So, now it’s time to decide if I should hit the “Publish” button on this blog. What good would it possibly do to post this? No one cares about my story.
Maybe I need to post this to say that we women know all men aren’t like this. Thank goddess for that. And I also want to say, “Don’t worry, guys, we’re not going to blindside you with false accusations, as you’ve been told you should fear.”
I know that a lot of men are really worried right now that some clumsy, youthful sexual fumblings are going to come back to haunt them. But most of us know the difference between a hostile creep trying to get his rocks off at our expense and a boy or man who hasn’t yet figured out this complicated subject, who might have behaved stupidly. Clumsy and stupid don’t always equal rapey.
If the man who drove me to that dirt road was still alive today, would I name him and call for a reckoning, during this time of #MeToo? Probably not. But if he was offered a powerful position, where he would be making decisions about the lives of others, I’d consider it, even with the questionable details about whether or not I consented.
I did not consent. I had no choice. And he knows it.