Discussing #yesallwomen With The Kids

June 2, 2014

By Gabrielle.

I know I linked to some #yesallwomen articles on Friday, but would you mind if we furthered the discussion a bit more? Ben Blair and I talked with the kids about the hashtag over the weekend and it’s been on mind non-stop.

If you had asked me a week ago whether or not I had been sexually harassed in my life, I would have quickly said, “No, not really.” If I’d thought about it a bit more, I would have said, “Um. Yes. There was some molesting when I was a child.” But man oh man, reading the hashtag brought back so many instances. Most are small, some feel bigger. But all are so commonplace that without the #yesallwomen hashtag, I didn’t recognize them as harassment — they are just one of the costs of existing on the earth with a vagina.

There are some memories that I didn’t bring up with the kids. We didn’t discuss the relative that would come into my bedroom when I was almost asleep, turn me onto my stomach, pull down my underwear and rub his penis between my butt cheeks. I was maybe 8 years old, and the molesting went on a couple nights a week over a period of months. When I would tell him to stop, he would tell me not to worry, it was just his thumb. (Which… what??)

As an adult, I’ve come to realize this was actually quite minor compared to what many children deal with. There was no penetration, no pain, no violence, I was super sleepy, and it didn’t seem to do any real damage to my self-image. The main consequence was that the molesting, combined with the fact that I didn’t receive a proper birds-and-bees talk, gave me an odd vision of what the mechanics of sex were. But that got sorted out when I heard more details as a teenager. So all’s well that ends well? Not sure what I’m supposed to say, except that I feel incredibly lucky it wasn’t worse. (And I promise, I am not in need of sympathy about this. Really truly. I came out of it quite unscathed. I’d rather talk about the airplane incident I detail below.)

I also didn’t tell the kids about the commute during my 6 months working in Washington D.C.. I was nineteen years old. The Metro can be insanely crowded on the morning commute, and I eventually realized I had to make a gamble — either get on a packed train car and have a complete stranger press his erection up against me, or be late to work. I still find it so gross — for me it’s equivalent to having an encounter with a flasher. Super strange that there are men that think this is okay.

Instead, I brought up two, shall we say, gentler incidents that happened to me recently, that I still don’t know how I should have handled better or differently. I thought they might be more relatable and less threatening to discuss with the kids.

First was an everyday sort of scenario, I was recently on a plane ride heading home to Oakland. It was a Southwest flight which means there were not assigned seats on the flight. It’s first come, first served, and I was in the last group to be seated. No big deal.

It was a full flight, and the seat I got was a middle seat between two men. Again, not a big deal. I fly a lot and it’s not unusual to sit by men. They were friends, and had sat on either side hoping that no one would take the middle seat so they would have extra space. No big deal. That’s a common practice on Southwest flights. Before I sat down, the man seated on the aisle looked me up and down and commented that he had been worried that whoever sat there might be fat. Men look me up and down sometimes. This was not unusual. And his comment was meant as a compliment. I wasn’t feeling talkative, but also didn’t want to be rude, so I tried to give some cues that I wasn’t feeling social — short answers, reading the inflight magazine, concentrating on my phone, yawning — I thought I was conveying that I was not interested in engaging, but he didn’t seem to see my cues, or he was really in the mood to chat. No big deal. It happens on planes all the time.

So I started talking about my 6 kids and my amazing husband hoping that it would be really clear that I was not available nor interested. Instead of shutting down the conversation, this brought more comments about my body along the lines of: you’re looking good for someone with six kids, most women… blah, blah, blah. No big deal. Men comment on my body frequently. He also seemed to be a touchy kind of person, so while he talked to me and he would put his hand on my leg. Throughout the flight. Over and over again. Whenever he talked to me, and whenever he leaned over me to talk to his friend, he would touch me. No big deal. He wasn’t trying to hurt me.

But why in the world wouldn’t this behavior be a big deal?!! Why did a perfect stranger feel that it was totally fine to touch me as often as he liked? Why is it no big deal that he would assume I welcomed his commentary on my body and on women’s bodies in general? Why it it no big deal that these two friends essentially forced me to sit between them? Why is it no big deal that his desire to talk to me trumped my desire to not talk to him?

I wasn’t sure what to do, or if I should do anything at all. I didn’t feel safe. I wasn’t comfortable with the leg-touching, but I was pretty sure he didn’t mean it to be threatening. I was trapped between the two men, two friends, both were bigger than me. The one on the aisle was turned toward me, so I was truly blocked in. My thoughts went back and forth. Should I ignore the touching? I didn’t feel comfortable with it, but then again, I wasn’t in pain, it wasn’t violent, and it wasn’t an especially long flight. There are much worse experiences that people have every day, so on a spectrum should this even be acknowledged?

And I could say something, but it’s a risk — the reaction could go either way. And what should I say: “Please don’t touch me.”? Maybe he would apologize and behave better, or maybe he would get angry or offended because he was feeling rejected. Either way, it would likely make for an uncomfortable remaining flight for everyone. Or worse: What if I said something and he turned out to be violent and followed me off the plane? Should I call a flight attendant and ask to be reseated? And if I did that, would I also need to be escorted by security once we landed because I was scared this guy was going to bug me as I walked through the airport to curbside pickup because I “turned him in” to the flight attendant? Should I just endure it? Is saying something worth making this guy feel like a jerk? Was he just a touchy feel-y person? Would he have touched a man’s leg just as much?

I didn’t end up doing anything. And I was so mad I didn’t do anything! I know about being assertive, and I felt like I ultimately chickened out. But I still don’t know what would have been the ideal thing. Was it worth taking a risk that I might anger him? I have a really hard time gauging that sort of thing.

Example number two that we discussed as a family is elevators. When I’m staying in a hotel and I’m alone on an elevator, if it stops on any floor that’s not the lobby, I find myself wishing/praying a man I don’t know, or group of men, don’t get on with me. It so often makes me feel unsafe and I start running through self-defense or escape scenarios. There’s simply no way to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Do I make eye contact and act really confident? Do I make no eye contact and try to draw no notice to myself? My instinct is typically confidence, but sometimes it can backfire and men will interpret the eye contact as an invitation to flirt or come on to me. I can’t seem to figure out a no-fail solution.

The discussions around both situations were good, though we focused mostly on the airplane. The kids could immediately see what was happening and could imagine themselves in the same situation. They could see I wasn’t in immediate danger, so they weren’t freaked out. One said her instinct was to react by punching the guy. We discussed what the aftermath of that might be. Someone else said I should say something, but find a way to do it with a joke so he was less likely to get mad. Several came up with good excuses I could give for asking the guy in the window seat to switch with me — making up things like: I get sick when I’m not in a window seat, or I’m pregnant and need to sit by the window so I can lean my head against the wall. All were mostly uncomfortable with the idea of being direct with him or “telling on him” to a flight attendant.

Interestingly, regarding the airplane harassment, the ideas and suggestions we came up with in our family discussions universally required a change of behavior on my part and none on the part of the man who was harassing me. But as I pointed out to the kids, isn’t it strange that I should have to change my behavior when my crime was simply existing? Doesn’t he need to know that his behavior is not okay? That he was treating me like an object that he could handle at will?

I’m also aware, that though I found his manners to be piggish, he very likely wasn’t an overall horrible person. Perhaps he’s kind to animals, and maybe he helps people who have car trouble. I have no idea. I want to assume he was not out to hurt me. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t know how uncomfortable his touching and his words made me. I really like men. I really like people. And I want to assume the best of everybody. I truly wondered, what gets more priority? My ability to feel safe and comfortable? Or him not being made to feel like a jerk?

As I read the hashtag feed over the weekend, I also learned more about how misogyny is systematic toward woman of color — see tweets here and here. I was reading the #yesallwhitewomen hashtag and came across a statistic that said African American women are 8x more likely to be imprisoned — and face assault in prison — than white women. So disturbing. If I was a black woman, and knew those odds, would I ever risk taking any issue to the police, even something a million times more serious than my little airplane incident, knowing how badly things were stacked against me? How would I even begin to seek justice?

As the weekend went on, and I continued to check the hashtag once in awhile, there were many other seemingly small memories that came up while I read the feed — like being asked if it felt strange to be a girl and be student-body president. Or being a teenager and being honored to meet with my state Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and having the Lieutenant Governor be so sexist that my face couldn’t hide the shock, and the Governor telling a self-deprecating, pro-woman joke to clear the air. I remembered the first tour of my college campus, which was really just a way to point out all the emergency phones in case I was assaulted walking home after class (this was pre-cell phone years). And really, misogyny is so pervasive in our culture, I imagine the stories will just keep popping up in my head anytime I check in to the stream.

Like so many others, I find it disturbing that most of the memories are such simple incidents, that I didn’t even acknowledge them as the harassment and sexist behavior that they are. But they happen to women everywhere, everyday. And they add up fast to make the world a really unsafe place for women.

So, if you’d like to dive in to the conversation, I have a million questions for you. Have you read the stream? Do you feel like you understand the thinking behind the #yesallwomen hashtag? Did any memories come up for you? Did you have an emotional reaction? Do you feel it’s an anti-men movement, or maybe it’s too divisive? Do you have older kids who have noticed the hashtag? Does the hashtag bother you? If you were me, what would you have done on the airplane? And lastly, how do you handle elevators?

P.S. — If you’re Mormon, you may also be interested in reading this #yesevenmormonwomen stream. But I warn you, only do it if you have a strong stomach. The church is deeply patriarchal, and many of the experiences combine sexual abuse + distortion of authority, so the damage is intense. No doubt the same experiences would be true for women in any deeply patriarchal church organization.

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{ 337 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Micah June 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Two immediate thoughts that I had after reading this –

1.) I feel like child molestation done by family members is getting increasingly out of control. (Or maybe it’s always been like that, and I’m just more aware of it now.) I hear so many stories now of so many young girls and boys who have been molested by family members or close friends. How do we stop this?! It’s not at all okay, and as a mom of three young children, how do I not feel paranoid?

2.) I recently visited a church in Europe and was greeted by a man in his 50s who was very friendly. Friendly to the point where he literally was sitting almost on top of my leg, leaning on me, and repeatedly touching my leg. I felt super uncomfortable, and had my husband been there, he would have noticed it immediately and would have somehow intercepted. But he wasn’t there, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Surely, the man was just super touchy and had no idea of personal space? But because I was an American in a new church, I didn’t know what to say; I felt out of balance due to the cultural situation (if that makes any sense). I would have moved away, but I was pinned in by another person who didn’t notice my awkwardness. And as much as I enjoyed the church, I would hesitate to visit again just due to this man’s behavior. And I’m saying all of that to say that, like most women, we all have had situations with men that have raised red flags and have made us very sensitive to possible predators. In one way that makes me sad as not all men are like that, and in another way, it makes me feel like we’re doing something very wrong when so many men are guilty of treating women like objects. Women should not live with a perpetual feeling of being unsafe. I’ve been blessed to grow up in a family that honors women and speaks up for our honor. But I know so many have not. Anyway, your post just opens a whole big can of worms.

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2 rachael June 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Wow, I didn’t read any of the hashtag because I’m not on twitter, but I did read an article about that shooter in the states who killed those women. But I TOTALLY agree with you, and it makes me angry. Why did you have to change everything about what you were doing on that airplane just so he wouldn’t feel like a jerk. I used to work at Blockbuster Video when from age 18-22. My store was across the street from a college that I attended, and once, a fellow student came in that I didn’t know and asked me out. I politely declined because I had a boyfriend(who is my husband now) and he freaked. He followed me places, he was at the train station once, when he would come in the store I would have to hide in the storage room until he left. He started asking about me so much they told him to never come back. Why did I have to hide in the storage room? I was just trying to work, for pete’s sake!! Another time when I was in high school a boy walked up to me and used his pointer finger to jab my crotch in front of other people though my jeans. It was one quick hard jab and it hurt. But I never told a person of authority. Everyone just laughed. Why did I feel so ashamed and I wasn’t even doing anything?? I have a little girl and I cannot believe how scared I am for her to grow up in this unsafe, scary world.

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3 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Your stories are spot on with what’s being shared on the #yesallwomen stream. The sexism in our culture is so pervasive it’s stunning. I think the hashtag has done a good job of opening people’s eyes to just how pervasive it is.

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4 Amy June 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Wow, what a post. Thanks for sharing your #yesallwomen stories.

I have been thinking about your airplane incident. Because I travel a lot, it is not a stretch to imagine myself in the same, or similar, situation. I think I’d have to assess the situation (has the man been drinking? does he seem smart enough to recognize a message delivered with humor, etc.?). If I thought he could handle the truth if it was veiled in humor, I might touch his leg and look deeply into his eyes, but in an over-the-top way. If I didn’t want to touch him and felt creeped out by him, I’d probably just ask him to switch seats (“You and your friend seem to have a lot to talk about and I feel caught in the middle. Why don’t we switch?”). If that didn’t work, I might have to visit the ladies room and scout around for another empty seat, even enlisting help from the flight attendants. But you are correct – why should you change YOUR behavior when all you’re doing is sitting there?

Also, now that I am older and have reached the “invisible” stage of womanhood, I regret all the years I had to cover up for fear of inviting unwanted attention, shut up for worry of saying the wrong thing and inciting further bad behavior, and censor myself in other ways in order to fit into the male-d0minated culture.

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5 Happy June 2, 2014 at 12:58 pm

I’m looking forward to seeing the comments here. I similarly found myself pulling up a string of memories that made me realize just how many ‘paper cuts’ there have been in my life and career. I think it’s important that I made the tally personally as it provides me an understanding of the problems I didn’t have before, despite reading the research literature on the subject. Now to figure out what to do with that understanding…

As for the airplane, I probably would have been uncomfortable with confrontation as well, both because of the risks you highlight and because I’ve been socialized to avoid conflict. I might have said “I need to get a few things done during the flight. If you two would like to chat, would one of you please switch seats with me?”. My hope would have been that the window guy would offer but if not, it also makes it really clear that I’m not in the mood to converse. I would have then pulled out my laptop or tablet to make my legs inaccessible and stymie conversation further. It bothers me that I wouldn’t just tell the guy he was making me uncomfortable. I’m curious to hear what others have to say though it’s easy to come up with comebacks and solutions on Monday morning and not so easy when you’re in the middle seat!

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6 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:34 pm

“It bothers me that I wouldn’t just tell the guy he was making me uncomfortable.”

Same.

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7 Liz O'S June 2, 2014 at 8:12 pm

I have been reading your blog for about a year and been impressed . Quite frankly I am shocked that you were incapable of telling that man to keep his hands to himself and leave you alone. You mentioned that your family suggested changes to only your behavior which surprised you. Seems to me they have more sense than you. If you want to change the world, start locally. Don’t stand for behavior that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe if that jerk got push back from an equal he would learn his lesson quickly, instead it seems you went into some default subversive position that just encouraged him.

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8 Liz O'S June 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm

sorry meant submissive not subversive

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9 Mary June 2, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I commend her for writing such a post and starting a discussion. I have had a situation where I thought I would act one way, but acted another. I still go over it thinking I should have done this or that and having someone judge my actions wouldn’t help anything. They weren’t there having it happen in that moment, so they don’t know how they would react.

I really appreciate this post and think the comments and discussion coming from it are important. I work in foreign countries where the treatment of women is different than in the U.S. I have had similar instances in places where I thought it would be more unlikely. You never know when these things can happen, but I commend Gabrielle. Thank you for posting your experiences!

10 Ali June 3, 2014 at 8:43 am

I’m not really comfortable with the idea of blaming Gabrielle for not standing up to the guy. We don’t want to live in a world where men can do whatever they please just because they aren’t stopped, but I’m afraid that a mentality where we blame a victim for not preventing or stopping an incident will just cause more problems. Look at rapes: how many times do you hear the victim get blamed because of how they dressed or because they were drunk or some other dumb reason? All the time. We live in a world where we tell those women (I know that men get raped too and I don’t mean to belittle their experience) that the rape was somehow their fault because of something that they did or didn’t do, that they should have been the ones to stop it from happening. When we blame the victim of any sexual assault, we’re creating the mentality that we can blame all victims of sexual assault.

I don’t want to say that in an ideal world, Gabrielle would have rattled off some monologue straight out of Tootsie and showed this man his place, because, in an ideal world, the airplane incident never would have happened.

I don’t think that I’ve ever defended a blogger before, but I’ll do it now. You want to see Gabrielle act locally to create change? She’s raising 2 sons and 4 daughters to be part of a new generation that expects more in terms of equality.

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11 Jen June 4, 2014 at 7:37 am

I so rarely comment in a comment section, but I’m going to and I’m going to do it without being anonymous here.

First, let me say I’m sorry if what I write next feels like an attack. I really truly just want to share another side to this and hopefully make others think. Second, Gabrielle doesn’t need me to defend her, but I’m responding anyway. Third, I apologize for the book I’m about to write…

Your comment, I’m sure, is made out of love or at least respect. I’m sure you hate seeing another woman have to deal with that. And also, you may have even imagined yourself in that situation and may have felt that feeling of fear.

When we try to battle fear, our first and most primal instinct is to lash out at the easiest target. It’s part of our survival mechanism. And the easiest target in this situation was Gabrielle. It is always the victim.

This is why when women are assaulted we have all (women included here) been conditioned to wonder :what she was wearing? Why was she out alone? Why did she let it escalate? And yes, why didn’t she stand up to him? Through those questions, we are asking ourselves what we could do to avoid a similar situation. But that further feeds into the misogyny.

But yes, we ask these questions, because we want to prevent the assault. What we end up doing is blaming the victim which creates a culture of shame. Victims are victims. They are not the ones in power. They are not the ones to blame.

I had an incident about two years ago. I was attending an evening event in the city.

I was aware that it would be dark when I left the event, not terribly late, but dark. So I made sure to park my car close to the event in an area with lots of people for higher visibility. These are the things we think about and I wonder if men ever do.

After the event, as I walked to my car, I heard a guy yell at me from his car. The general cat call type of thing. My spidey senses tingled—while I’ve tried to be okay with men looking at me and telling my husband I’m a beautiful woman (which totally and completely creeps me out) for fear of being seen as a bitch I’m still exceptionally uncomfortable when I get cat calls—and I walked faster to my car. As soon as I got in my car, the man pulled in the wrong way of a one way section, parked his car behind me blocking me in. I was literally trapped. There was no where for me to go. I locked my doors and felt my body stiffen.

I have never, ever been so scared in all my life. My mind went through all of the self-defense clips I’ve caught glimpses of on Oprah or any other show where women are unintentionally marginalized because WE are the ones who have to defend ourselves rather than talk about the issues that create this climate in our culture.

He leaped out of his car, knocked on the window. I assessed my options. Could I scurry over the seat fast enough to exit the other door? Should I blare my horn?

He knocked again. I could tell he had been drinking. I rolled down my window the smallest tiniest inch.

“Hey. Wanna have a drink with me?”

I had learned years ago from previous experience if you mention a boyfriend (or now in my case husband) it doesn’t always deter guys. So I took a gamble. I pleaded.

“Listen, I really, really just want to get home to my kids.”

He took a moment, looked at me and then went on his way.

I called my husband. He was pissed. He was also scared. He asked why I didn’t get the license plate? Others asked why I didn’t walk out in a group? When I shared this story, well-meaning people, people who love me questioned what I could have done to avoid it.

I stop all of them with this: I was the victim in this situation. I will not be questioned about what I did or didn’t do to avoid or change this situation. All I did was walk to my car.

And all Gabrielle did was sit down.

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12 Liz O'S June 4, 2014 at 10:40 am

I am sorry Ali and Jen, I am not blaming Gabreille for what happened. Quite frankly I was just very surprised, no incredulous, that such a capable accomplished woman like herself would not have told the person sitting next to her to not touch her after the first time he touched her leg. This is not blaming the victim. Jen, your situation was very frightening and threatening and totally out of your control. Gabrielle’s situation on the plane was not out of her control. I am not a psychologist but maybe her childhood experience has shaped her more than she knows or maybe she is such a nice person she does not want to say anything that might offend someone even if he is a boorish jerk. Jen, I agree with you that all Gabrielle did was sit down but I would add that she remained passive instead of controlling a controllable situation.

13 Design Mom June 4, 2014 at 10:55 am

Hi Liz. No doubt I didn’t express myself well, but that was the point of the story. I stand up for myself consistently — with men as well as women. So finding myself not reacting in the same way on the airplane, the experience really stood out to me. It could have been any number of factors — and since I made it safely home, maybe my instincts in the moment were correct.

I find that men who know me in real life — at work, when I was in high school and university, at church, my neighbors, etc. — offer nothing but respect. And I would settle for nothing less. But from men who are strangers, or passing me on a city street, I get varied reactions. If the men I knew in real life had observed me on the plane, they surely would have been surprised.

To reiterate: If I was someone who didn’t typically and consistently stand up for myself, I don’t think I would have shared the airplane story as an example.

Related, I’ve been a little baffled at how many commenters feel the need to play armchair psychologist. Many readers seem intent on making my molestation the defining moment of my childhood. But it simply wasn’t. As confirmed by actual psychologists. Apparently that is really hard for people to conceive of.

14 Marlena June 2, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Again, wow, thank you for sharing the difficult in your life. And for having that difficult conversation with your kids. Isn’t that one of the definitions of not knowing when someone is wrong is when we – as women and men – perceive it as “normal,” i.e. the way men sometimes treat women and children? Thank you for being a part of this conversation.

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15 liz O'S June 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Gabrielle, I am truly sorry, I did not mean to play arm chair psychologist and thank you for the clarification. It certainly confirms my long standing impression of you as a creative successful woman who treats all people with respect and expects nothing less in return.

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16 mamalang June 2, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Imagine the person making you uncomfortable in a crowd is the Vice-President of the United States, and you are pre-teen. Luckily I was standing there with my daughter, we knew he was a touchy person, and I was able to intercede politely on her behalf, but we still chuckle about how creepy it actually was.

I’m an introvert and kind of shy in general, and I usually felt like that’s why I was uncomfortable in situations. But yes, I get nervous on elevators alone, or in parking garages, or anywhere really. I know the odds are not that great I will be attacked, but history says it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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17 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Oh dear! Which VP?

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18 Liz O'S June 2, 2014 at 8:02 pm

ten to one it is Uncle Joe, plugs, choppers, the creep who occupies the office right now.

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19 mamalang June 3, 2014 at 6:09 am

Yup:) We’re from Delaware, so we’re familiar with ol’ Uncle Joe. But still. It was a difficult moment, as we were in a room full of people and like Gabrielle said, we are conditioned not to make a scene.

His wife is a lovely person though. :)

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20 Michaela June 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

One thing I was really struck by was the lack of anger about any of these incidents you describe, Gabrielle, all of which are outrageous. I myself have escaped molestation by any family or friends and I haven’t had that many incidents of assault, even the most minor, either. I don’t usually have men behave to me the way the one did to you on the plane. But you know what else? I’m not very friendly. I do my best to look tough. I live in a city, and when I walk down the street I put a very no-nonsense, determined look on my face. I do not respond to men who try to get my attention on the street. And I would not have been friendly back to that man who kept touching you on the plane. What’s the result? At worst, I’m a b*tch, at best, I’m “unapproachable.”

But when I compare myself to my sister, who is the kinder and gentler of the two of us, and has been taken advantage of sexually on more than one occasion, I am glad to save the kindness for my husband, family, and those I trust. Either way, though, women can’t win.

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21 AmyC83 June 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm

YES YES YES. THIS. I am also “unapproachable” and I think that’s why these types of things just don’t happen to me. I’d rather be seen as a bitch than be put in an uncomfortable situation.

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22 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I swear I think I’m jealous. I have tried to do the I’m an angry woman thing on elevators and apparently I’m not that convincing. : )

Also, I generally like people and it seems strange to have to train myself to not like people. I feel like I’m fine the way I am.

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23 Michaela June 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm

You are absolutely right about liking people. My sister is the same way. She generally likes people, and trusts them, more than I do. I will also say that I am more socially awkward (though not extraordinarily so) and a little more shy than her, so my standoffishness is related to that. I desperately wanted a boyfriend in college and never had one. My roommate, one of my best friends, said “I think they (men) are a little afraid of you.” I had a lot of sadness and loneliness in my early 20s over my inability to find love. It did work out, though. It only takes one (to be happy). : )

BUT, like I said, I have also not had to endure the kinds of experiences you describe in your post, and I have never been pushed to do something that I didn’t want to do sexually, which did happen to my (trusting) sister on more than one occasion. Which is the better life? Tough to say.

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24 AmyC83 June 3, 2014 at 9:23 am

I completely agree. I used to wish I could be more friendly and approachable. Sometimes I still do. But I am who I am, and I have lots of friends and a wonderful husband, so I’m happy. And Gabrielle, you are who you are, but you have to stand up for yourself!!

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25 Clara June 3, 2014 at 7:56 am

When I was in high school I once overheard someone talking about how people were afraid of me. What? I am not a mean person, I didn’t have enemies, and I even dated quite a bit. But, I realize now that I’m older that the look that I give could be defined as “unapproachable” and it has saved me from a lot of grief. I should thank my dad for handing it down. :) I also have four brothers who taught me a lot about standing up for myself.

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26 Jane June 2, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I live in a city and do the tough woman thing, too. But then I invariably have my personal space invaded and people (mostly men) telling me “why don’t you smile, sweetheart? It’s not so bad!” I find that ridiculous.

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27 Patty June 2, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I will say that I generally have the angry look too – without trying! Its my natural resting face ;) However, i’ve still experienced harassment – once some guy grabbed my behind as I was walking in a crowd and I was so angry I ran back and shoved him hard. He was stunned. In retrospect, this wasn’t necessarily smart as he could’ve reacted very badly, but my natural inclination in those instances is pure rage. I’d like to think if I were in your airplane circumstances, feel comfortable enough to directly say to someone, please don’t touch me, but I don’t know for all the same reasons you mentioned.

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28 Michaela June 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm

I get that all the time! “Smile!” And I think sometimes the older men who are doing it think they are being sweet. Ultimately, though, men telling women that they need to behave more cheerful in public needs to stop.

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29 Janine June 2, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Have you seen Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s traveling exhibit, Stop Telling Women to Smile?

http://www.kqed.org/arts/visualarts/article.jsp?essid=134872

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30 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Hadn’t heard of of it, but I see it’s here Oakland. Thanks for the link!

31 Valerie j. June 2, 2014 at 7:23 pm

I also have a mean resting face…many people tell me after knowing me for a while that initially they thought I was a meany( to say the least). I don’t let people I don’t know touching me. Maybe it is a cultural thing? I would have said something to the airplane guy or just gave him the death stare. My husband says it is good one cannot actually harm people with their eyes because I would do some serious damage. My daughter seems to have inherited this from me and I think I got from my Mom who probably got it from my grand- mother: a barely 5′ feet tall woman who was very intimidating…
I try to smile first at people but I think it comes across as creepy…they still run. My grand- ma used to answer to the smile comment’ it’s not my fault, I am just ugly’ with a ‘bite me’ stare. She was beautiful btw.

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32 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag June 2, 2014 at 8:24 pm

This was an amazing post, thanks Gabrielle for your honesty! I just have to jump on the mean resting face thing as well..me too, me too! I have a very serious resting face and really don’t look happy unless I’m smiling.

33 Sara June 3, 2014 at 6:29 am

I have a mean or serious resting face as well and it’s not as approachable a when I smile (even with my eyes). I have never been approached by a man like that on an airplane or in a public situation and I wonder if it has something to do with my face clearly giving off a “leave-me-alone” attitude. Maybe it’s not a bad thing.

34 Sarita June 8, 2014 at 9:17 pm

People kept saying that to me when I was working for ten bucks an hour at a speciality grocery. I’d had to quit my teaching job because my son was dying of cancer. I wanted to literally harm the men who said this.

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35 .ivy June 3, 2014 at 8:05 am

I learned pretty quickly after moving out on my own (after college) that if I was friendly, people (men) paid attention to me. Too much attention. It made me so uncomfortable to be watched and approached by random guys, that I now default to my “unfriendly” face. I absolutely come across as a b*tch, but I much prefer that to the alternative. I’m not physically tough; I don’t stand a chance if someone forces physical attention on me.

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36 JP June 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm

As to the airplane experience, although it is a hassle for you and therefore unfair, I think the best thing would have just been to excuse yourself and go tell a flight attendant that you needed to be re seated. Hopefully not a full flight, and if you explained that the man next to you keeps touching you and you are uncomfortable, you could just sit elsewhere.

Speaking of uncomfortable, although I am uncomfortable reading these things that happen to girls and women, seemingly all the time, it is time that every girl understands that she needs to go to someone she trusts and speak out as soon as something happens so that she can get help and not suffer a lifetime. The only one at fault is the perpetrator!

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37 Raleigh-Elizabeth June 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

My favorite post in ages.

And as for elevators: I never, ever, ever get on an elevator if I’m alone with another man. EVER. Once, something happened. And I now never, ever, ever do. If I’m on an elevator and a man gets on and it’s not my floor and I’m the only woman on it, I get off. I’ve stepped out of them at the lobbies of hotels when men have crowded in at the last minute. I’ve had men stop and hold the door and be very sincerely kind and offer to wait for me for whatever reason it is I’m stepping off when I clearly need to go up – and I explain, apologetically, that while I’m sure they’re lovely people, it’s just not safe for a woman to be on an elevator with a man she doesn’t know. It’s not personal to them. It’s personal to me. And my person deserves that kind of carefulness.

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38 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Oh man. I have such a hard time with elevators. I hate the idea that I’m judging someone I’ve never met. The whole situation is so blech.

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39 T June 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

I’ve never thought about it before, but maybe it’s because I always take the stairs. Saves electricity and keeps your heart pumping!

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40 mamalang June 3, 2014 at 6:19 am

This article by Questlove was interesting. He wrote it more about race, but he discusses an incident in the elevator in his building, and a woman that didn’t want to even tell him which floor she lived on.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/07/questlove-trayvon-martin-and-i-aint-shit.html

Last night I had to run to our local gas station/convenience store to get cash from the ATM around 9:30. I inevitably do this every two weeks, as I forget to get the cash I need for every other Tuesday morning before then. I always get the cash, and head straight to my car and lock the doors. Last night there were two young men standing near my car talking. I wondered if they were bothered by my actions. But honestly, I felt the need to be safe more than be nice. I wonder if a man would have the same thought process?

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41 marisa June 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

Thank you for sharing that link to Questlove’s piece in NYMag — even starting to read the comments on that piece, it corroborates what’s being discussed here that #yesallwomen make decisions on HOW AND WHEN THEY RIDE AN ELEVATOR, even if it’s the only means of getting to where they need to go. Yes, I’d prefer to take the stairs when I’m only staying on the third floor — but that would mean finding myself in a closed-off place, usually far from the lobby, and hard to hear if something did happen.

It reminds of a thread I was reading in May from helloladies.com about ‘invisible tasks’ of mothers — there seems to be a long list of ‘invisible decisions’ women make just to go about their day [not sure if 'decisions' is the right word, but there's certainly a checklist we run through ...]

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42 Kim June 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Thank you for sharing, Gabby. I must have been hanging out under a rock lately — was not aware of this powerful movement.

This discussion reminded me of a terrific and terrifying book by Gavin de Becker called ‘Protecting the Gift’. Mr. de Becker is a criminal psychologist and uses his experience to teach parents, women, and children how to trust their
basic instincts. Children, especially girls, are given so many mixed messages — “Don’t talk to strangers!” says the Mom who is super-friendly with the random bank teller, etc. we tell our kids to “Give your grandpa a big hug!”, even if they are reticent or shy or whatever. If you walk down a hallway, make eye contact, and you get a creepy vibe — you do not have to be “nice” or “polite”. We are, ultimately, animals with animal instincts. It is okay to listen to them. And if we find ourselves in harm’s way — get all ‘un-ladylike’. Scream! Get angry! A guy would not sit there and take it, and neither should a woman.

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43 JO June 2, 2014 at 3:16 pm

I agree with you Kim, “Protecting the Gift” is a fantastic book as is “The Gift of Fear” where Gavin de Becker talks amongst many other things about elevators – and he makes a lot of sense. I urge every woman to read these books, not to fear more, but to put our fears into perspective and most importantly, to learn to trust our instincts and not put ourselves in danger or remain in uncomfortable situations out of a desire to be ‘nice’ and ‘polite’.

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44 Meggan June 2, 2014 at 3:27 pm

I love his quote from “The gift of fear”: “It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different–men and women live in different worlds…at core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.” – Gavin de Becker

I think that book should be required reading for everyone.

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45 Willa June 2, 2014 at 6:33 pm

I’ve heard good things about de Becker’s books, particularly The Gift of Fear, and I really agree with the idea of not raising girls to be pleasing and accommodating to others (and men in particular) at the expense of their own happiness and safety. But it also makes me so sick that there is a cultural need to teach girls to protect themselves and the related impulse to teach girls to be fearful basically all the time. The horrible memes and urban legends like “tell your daughter about this new trick men are using to rape women at gas stations” that I’ve been hearing since I was in elementary school and now populate facebook. It’s grotesque and I hope something that comes out of #yesallwomen is an open dialogue about how we raise boys and men to never rape, molest, harass or subjugate women or any other human. Among families, friends, coworkers, communities we need to purposely break apart the covert or overt lesson in our culture that says to be masculine you must assert your power over others, and that this kind of violence is somehow unavoidable or part of being male. I, also, am not sure how to do this, to confront situations and people that make me uncomfortable but I hope we figure out some ways to chip away it.

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46 Valerie June 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

I live in DC and that is one of the reasons I try to bike or take the bus instead of the Metro, but it isn’t always possible. Once a man tried to do that to me twice as we were getting on a crowded train and again while we were standing in it, and I quietly shoved him off of me. He then yelled at me loudly in the train and threatened to punch me, and I told him he would do no such thing. No one on the crowded train tried to intervene.

My mother says she thinks that living in this city has made me mean and aggressive, but I think really, it’s taught me to stand up for myself when someone crosses my boundaries. If I don’t, no one else will.

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47 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:39 pm

I wish I would have been brave and knowledgable enough as a nineteen year old to shove the men off on the train. I’ve thought many times of what I would say now to publicly shame them.

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48 Valerie June 2, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I think young girls are often taught to be polite and not make a scene. I definitely was, and I really struggled with feelings of frustration and powerlessness after these sorts of incidents well into my twenties. I think its good to talk to our sisters and daughters about the lessons we’ve learned.

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49 Anonymous June 2, 2014 at 4:06 pm

What would you say? I need some ideas!

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50 Karen from Chookooloonks June 5, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Anonymous — have you ever seen “The Closer”? Kyra Sedgwick in that role is my muse when it comes to these things. I’ve looked men directly in the eye, smiled as sweetly as possible, and said very directly: “Please get your hand of my leg, thank you so much.”

The smile is sort of jarring with such a direct command, but it sort of helps knock the well-meaning offender off his game. Usually I’ve gotten a stammered, “Oh, I’m sorry,” but nothing more aggressive than that. And if they still persist, then you know you’re dealing with a true jackass, and you can get more in his face about it (smile disappears, “No, really, I’m not kidding, remove your hand.”)

But I’ve found that smiling helps build my own confidence about what I’m asking the person to do, strengthens my resolve that I’m not asking for anything unreasonable, and knocks the person off his game.

My $0.02. :)

K.

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51 Sarita June 8, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Agreed.

52 Karen from Chookooloonks June 5, 2014 at 11:44 am

This is nothing like your train incident (which, by the way, OHMYGODEW), but once at a company party, this executive put his hand on my ass. Without even thinking, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “JOHN SMITH, WOULD YOU PLEASE GET YOUR HAND OFF OF MY ASS.” (Not his real name.)

Well, you could’ve heard a pin drop — everyone turned at looked at him, he sheepishly giggled and pulled his hand away, and then everyone went back to the party. He never did it again, and life went on.

What is interesting about this is that I WAS A LAWYER for this company. I mean, of all people to grope, the LAWYER is certainly not the one to try this with! I’m just amazed at how bold people can be.

For the record, Gabbie, I’m blown away by this post, and your sharing so much of yourself here. You are my she-ro and you remain as positively ELEGANT as ever, friend. Rock on.

K.

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53 Sarah June 2, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Way to stand up for yourself! Keep yelling at the gross erectors.

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54 Emily F June 2, 2014 at 3:07 pm

In my town there are constantly–CONSTANTLY–people walking the streets and parking lots asking for money. I was in a bank parking lot once and had just left the ATM when a drunk man walked toward me as I was buckling my daughter into her carseat. I held my hand up and yelled “DON’T COME ANY CLOSER!” at the top of my lungs. He just turned around and walked the other way. I didn’t feel threatened like he was going to rape me but I did feel uncomfortable with him standing anywhere near me with my wallet in hand and car door open that i might get robbed (which had happened twice since moving to this lovely town–wallet stolen right out of my purse and our house was broken into). I don’t know if that qualifies for the yesallwomen hashtag but I felt super powerful yelling at him, and he did turn around and walked away with no harm done.

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55 Amy June 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm

When my kids were little, my personal policy was never to engage with panhandlers if they approached me when I was with my kids. People know women are very vulnerable around their kids and will do anything to protect them. On more than one occasion, I have told a homeless person to back off if I was buckling my kids in the car, pumping gas with my kids in it, etc.

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56 Jenny also June 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

My easiest solution to chatty travelers is large head phones. But I have never been touched on the plane like that. Maybe because I am moderately overweight?

The airplane guy was wrong to touch you but maybe he didn’t know it. If something like that ever happens again I’m glad you’re considering asking him to stop. Since you were chatting away about your husband and kids maybe he thought you were comfortable, friendly, and happy?

As a frequent business traveler I totally get what you mean about the elevator. Sometimes when I get the wrong “vibe” i just get out on a random floor and wait for the next one. Sometimes I feel dumb for doing it.

I’m surprised about how much you seem to be minimizing your molestation story. I wonder if that relative is still a member of your family in good standing and if he has similar access to other girls. Also, since several of your kids are well into reading/internet age although you didn’t mention it directly I assume they’ll read this info soon enough, no?

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57 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Jenny, my kids already know I was molested and we have consistent talks about personal safety, but I didn’t want to use that example for this particular family discussion. I was trying to get across how subtle much of the misogyny is.

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58 AmyC83 June 2, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Have you read the stream? Yes, some of it.

Do you feel like you understand the thinking behind the #yesallwomen hashtag? Absolutely.

Did any memories come up for you? Nothing really terrible has ever happened to me, but my father has said some hurtful things in the past and once a boyfriend threw a ping pong ball at my head because I beat him in a game. I broke up with him that night.

Did you have an emotional reaction? Yes.

Do you feel it’s an anti-men movement, or maybe it’s too divisive? Absolutely not.

Do you have older kids who have noticed the hashtag? No, but I’m a high school teacher, so it has definitely helped me to open up the conversation with my students.

Does the hashtag bother you? No.

If you were me, what would you have done on the airplane? I would have asked to be moved. I do not handle confrontation well, but I would not have been able to stand being touched.

And lastly, how do you handle elevators? I don’t have the same fears that you have. If a man gets on when I’m alone, I feel slightly uncomfortable, but not terribly scared.

I know you don’t want to focus on it, but I believe that the reason you react the way you do (airplane and elevator) is due to your experience as a child. Things like that impact us much more than we realize. I know you’ve talked about depression, too, which could also be linked. My father was never physically abusive, but he has always been very emotionally abusive and I suffer from anxiety and depression, which I have no doubt stems from how he treats me.

Lots of hugs. Thank you for discussing this with your children.

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59 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Its possible, but I was never fearful of my molester. It wasn’t fun, but to me at 8 years old it just felt like a dumb thing that was happening. I never felt guilt about it. And it’s never affected my sex life or my ability to be affectionate.

I think the fear comes from the realization that as a teenager, I worked out and was muscle-y and strong, but even the wimpiest guy my age could beat me in an arm-wrestle. It was this realization that at least half the world’s population could over power me. It definitely changed the way I approached personal safety.

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60 AmyC83 June 2, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Thank you so much for responding. It means a lot.

If you weren’t fearful and it didn’t really bother you, then I think there’s more to it. Maybe the way you were raised, or an example that was set for you… you said you didn’t like it and told him to stop, but he didn’t stop. And that’s ok????? NO. Can you imagine if someone did that to one of your children? Growing up, I always knew that nobody could touch me or talk to me unless I allowed them to. If I said no, it meant no.

My grandmother went back to school after having 6 kids to become an MFT, focusing on abuse, so maybe that’s why I was taught those things at such an early age.

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61 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Oh man. I definitely don’t mean to say that being molested is okay for anyone. I didn’t want it and I do everything I can to protect my children from it. I’m truly sorry if I implied that I thought it was no big deal.

I was really just trying to communicate that while I know molestation can be a huge trigger for many people — with good reason! — that somehow I seemed to escape some of the traditional ramifications. I obviously have plenty of other issues I deal with, but my molestation experience doesn’t seem to be one of them. And I have no idea if my reaction to it is common or uncommon.

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62 sue June 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm

We had a relative stay over my house when I was 9 years old. He went into my bedroom at night, pulled down my underwear and started touching me and kissing me. I was indifferent to the whole experience. I did tell my parents right away (same night) because I knew his behavior was inappropriate. They kicked him out of the house that night.

Like you, it didn’t really have an impact on my life, my relationships, my ability to be affectionate and so on. Thank you for sharing your story.

63 AmyC83 June 3, 2014 at 9:35 am

Ok. I see where you’re coming from. Thanks again for your response! I really appreciate this post and am loving the dialogue it has opened up.

64 Jules June 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I haven’t read the stream, and I’m not sure that I will. I am raising three girls and having been through so much of this junk myself, I often feel paranoid and unsafe about it all. My husband thinks I can be a little too overprotective, but I think a lot of men just don’t realize what goes on. I love that you brought this up because I need to be mindful of having conversations with my daughters. My oldest is only 7, so probably not ready for the more in-depth conversation it sounds like you had with your children, but something to remember to have open conversations about.

Having been through three pregnancies where I gained a ton of weight, I can tell you that right now as an overweight woman, that extra weight can be a wonderful shield. I thought about that as you mentioned the plane passenger specifically mentioned your body in relation to being a mom of six. Before my babies, I think I acted more rude and abrupt to fend off unwanted attention, but now I think I would be nervous of the things you mentioned, like being followed and such.

I can’t wait to read more comments.

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65 Lindsay June 2, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I encounter the airplane/elevator/hotel bar kind of discomfort often as a frequent solo business traveler, and I am equally frustrated. I’m glad you’re helping to spread the word about this disgusting disparity. I recently had a terrible experience at a Disney World resort and asked to be moved to a different hotel so I wouldn’t encounter the person, and they simply offered me a different room. That wouldn’t have helped, because of course I wouldn’t have let him know where my room was!

I am shocked about your story of the relative, and I am disappointed that this was swept under the rug and the person wasn’t punished for the reprehensible actions. My question for you and others in similar situations is: If you know that this is more likely in a “deeply patriarchal church organization”, how can you choose to keep your daughters involved in this religion? Of course you will try to keep them safe from danger, and it’s great that you’re teaching sons and daughters to be aware, but you’re saying that terrible things happen within and partially because of a religion, but religion is a choice. Can you let me know the thought process here?

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66 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:29 pm

The religion question is a heavy one, and I don’t pretend to have any easy answers. I can tell you that as a family we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of belonging to our church frequently. The benefits continue to outweigh the drawbacks for us personally, but I know that’s not true for others and they are leaving their churches in droves. I also see the opportunity to affect positive change on a large scale in my church and feel that’s worth some of my time and effort.

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67 Lindsay June 2, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply. Can you explain the benefits more? Do you mean positive changes within the church, or otherwise? I’m glad that you and your family have important conversations like these.

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68 Erin June 2, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I see Gabby’s response, which is the one you were most looking for, but I hope it’s okay if I also share my perspective as a Mormon. As to why Mormons would choose to stay in a church with a deeply patriarchal church organization…many of us hold a deep conviction that the gospel preached in our church is true. I know not everyone feels that way, and I don’t force my belief on anyone, but that’s how I personally feel. I believe that our prophet/president is inspired of God. I can see the immense happiness that has come to me and my family from involvement in the church and from following the teachings. Just because it is organized in a patriarchal way does NOT mean that we condone or accept abuse or misogyny by men. Absolutely not! My membership in the church does not mean that. Where such evil occurs we have to expose it, root it out, condemn it, prosecute it. While I believe the teachings of our church to be true, and our prophet to be inspired, I also know that the members of the church (like all the human race!) are imperfect, and sometimes terribly flawed, or in the cases of child abusers (or any kind of abuser), abhorrently evil. We must work to protect our children and ourselves as women in all environments we are in, including at churches. I would NEVER sweep an incident of child abuse under the rug or turn a blind eye, no matter who the perpetrator was, nor would my husband. I would never want to appear to minimize the terrible experiences of abuse some women have experienced in church settings (because even one incident is NOT acceptable), but I also wouldn’t want people to misunderstand and presume this is happening to every Mormon family or in every congregation. I wish I had better statistical information about that on hand to share.
Perhaps this is a poor analogy, but let’s say your family loves baseball. Your kid loves to play, the teammates are wonderful friends, your coaches are awesome, the families are wonderful. But you hear of instances elsewhere in Little League where coaches have sexually abused players. Do you quit baseball? Maybe. But maybe you continue to have your child play but work to make sure your child and the other children are safe. You’re always there at games and practices and you’re careful to monitor coaches’ behavior. You work with other parents and league officials to help enact policies that protect children. That kind of thing. Because the abuse isn’t an inherent part of the actual baseball, you decide you want to choose to continue with baseball and help prevent the abuse. I think that’s how a lot of people feel about their churches. They love their churches and the benefits of them, they don’t think that abuse should be a part of them, they work to make their own worship experiences safe for the families and others, etc. (I promise I’m not trying to equate baseball with religion, although I know a few people who do seem to feel that passionately about it!)
I don’t speak for anyone else, and am not trying to spark a debate; I just thought I’d share my insights since you asked to hear from others in similar situations. Thanks!

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69 Nicki June 2, 2014 at 7:58 pm

As an ex-mormon I would have to say that the LDS religion itself does not preach misogyny or accept abuse. Religions aren’t the nasty antagonists. It is a group of men…. Just wanted to put my two cents in that I agree with you.

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70 Katie June 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Thank you for this reply! Well said. This really resonates with me. And I like the baseball analogy. :)

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71 Christina June 3, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Yes, great reply. As a member of another Patriarchal Church, the Catholic Church, your explanation and analogy can be used by many. The reality is, these crimes are everywhere…and I imagine the numbers in the Mormon Church are the same as the numbers in the Catholic Church as well as Jewish Churches and in professions like teaching, medicine, etc. The percent, while NEVER acceptable, I believe is less than 1…and that goes for the churches as well as the professions. I find that so many want to be anti-man or anti-organized religion and so ‘prove’ their points with abuse. So very, very sad to me. I will never blame all teachers or home school ‘just’ to protect my kids from a teacher. My music teacher in grade school was arrested for molesting students and I was among them, but I do not accuse all music teachers or all teachers.

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72 Christina June 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm

I should have clarified that my music teacher was arrested, convicted, spent time in jail and lost his license.

73 Elizabeth June 2, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I find that I am more likely to speak up when I think about my daughter being in a similar situation. She is almost 15 – more and more often she is someplace without me there to intercede or protect her from “that” kind of attention. So it has made me much more likely to speak up, so that I can teach her to speak up. It can be hard though – I think we are taught to second guess ourselves, to make every excuse for someone else’s bad behavior. To maybe even blame ourselves – to try and find a way to exist without drawing attention to ourselves.

I do have a question related to your childhood incident – how has that impacted how you have overnight company in your house as an adult? I would be so tempted not to have any overnight, male guests.

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74 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:44 pm

“So it has made me much more likely to speak up, so that I can teach her to speak up.”

I really like that thinking.

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75 melissa June 2, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Interesting post. I’m having kind of mixed feelings processing it.

On the one hand, it is certainly (obviously!) not okay to be automatically objectified. Sexual molestation, also not okay in the slightest. Talking about these things with your kids is really smart and a great idea, because they will need to live in the world and make their way through it.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I completely understand what the hashtag accomplishes by sharing all of these stories. What can I personally do to solve this problem? The only things I feel like I can seriously DO are 1. Protect myself and 2. Teach my children to be safe and decent. And if that is the point of the hashtag, for everyone reading it to do those things, okay. But for every family doing that there are two more who don’t, or who actually encourage misogyny or sexualization (like a hydra head!). And this particular problem is only one of thousands of seriously terrible unacceptable parts of living on Earth! When I start thinking about this, I start thinking about race problems, class problems, how we can’t even afford to go to the dentist…and these are our first world problems. If I let my brain trace across the globe to the awful things that happen to most of our planet’s inhabitants, I go crazy. There’s too much. It’s too terrible. So what can we personally do about it, just by reading some saddening stories of strangers? (That is a real question; I’m not trying to be critical.)

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76 Elizabeth June 2, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I think you can see what the point of this is just by this post. When Gabrielle read those instances, she became aware of how pervasive this is – it brought to mind incidents that she normally wouldn’t have considered. It gave her an opportunity to talk with her children – the boys and the girls! It gives a voice to the problem, when so often these things are ignored or the person is made to be quiet – to stop making eveyrone uncomfortable. It’s easier to stand up against it when you know there are other people behind you.

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77 Colleen June 2, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I’m with you. I don’t see what it accomplishes to share scary stories. Harassment has happened to me, more times than I can count. But it’s happened at the hands of such a small percentage of the countless men I’ve met in my life. There are bad apples, monstrous apples, but MOST men are not like that.

As an introvert, I feel that both men and women cross too many emotional boundaries in our extroverted society. So, I teach my children how to respect others’ boundaries and how to protect their own. This feels more productive an endeavor than taking it to Twitter. (While acknowledging that there are real people with real pain behind the hashtag.)

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78 melissa June 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Yes, Coleen, I’m glad you understood what I meant. I want to do something about this problem, but I’m not sure what taking it to Twitter actually accomplishes. Maybe I’m underestimating the power of moral support for women who want help but feel helpless–but for me, reading about it just makes me feel MORE helpless.

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79 Susan June 2, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Social media was catalyst for Arab Spring. These people have been in ‘prison’ for thousands of years. I think twitter can do a lot.

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80 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Please know that women using the #yesallwomen hashtag don’t believe that “most men are bad apples”. Not at all. I certainly don’t.

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81 Liz O'S June 2, 2014 at 8:45 pm

How do you know? It seems to be open season on males. As the mother of college age boys, I fear for them more than I fear for my capable college age daughter. At our esteemed institutions of higher learning all it takes it an accusation from a female and the male is toast. No due process, no legal rights what so ever.

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82 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Well, I guess I because I haven’t seen a single tweet with the #yesallwomen hashtag calling ALL men, or even MOST men horrible. In general, each tweet just describes one woman’s experience with one man.

My oldest is a 16 year old boy, and we’re not far from the college years, so I’m sorry to hear that you feel it’s open season on boys. I linked to an pretty heavy article on fraternities a few weeks ago that gave me the exact opposite impression.

Do you ever read The Onion? This article has the same take but is lighter.

83 Melissa June 3, 2014 at 8:38 am

Liz, I have four sons and I just don’t interpret society in the same way as you, because the evidence isn’t there. It doesn’t just take an accusation from a girl or woman to toast some guy. Have you seen the stats on this? It’s absolutely unfavorable to girls and women. Like, not even close. Things happen, sure, but the legal process actually does work in their favor. In reality, it’s far more likely that the woman is raked through the coals about her dress, her actions, and her past if she reports a rape. I mean, there are over 400,000 untested rape kits out there! Some are more than 20 years old. That’s with the DNA of the rapist just sitting there! We aren’t even BOTHERING to find out who did it, when the answer exists.

84 Gloria June 9, 2014 at 11:25 am

You fear more for your sons to be falsely accused of rape (please Google and read more about this, as it’s far, far less prevalent than you think) than your daughter — however capable — to be raped?

Please Google a few articles and educate yourself on the legal processes of rape allegations and what (strictly, alleged) rape victims are often put through publicly by the broader community and in the media.

Politely, I feel your priorities are misplaced.

85 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I have been impressed with how many people who weren’t previously aware of what women go through on a daily basis are now aware of it simply because of the hashtag. I’m talking about the women who thought they were the only ones experiencing harassment, and about the men who knew harassment happened but had no idea how big the scale was. If that’s all the hashtag accomplishes (I think it has and will accomplish more), that would be enough.

Even Ben Blair, who is a strident feminist, was shocked by what he read in some of the streams. How could a man ever know what it’s like for a woman unless she tells him?

This is a chance for women to tell me what it’s like, and happily many men are listening! Sadly, there are also a huge number of men who are responding to women who use the hashtag with rape threats. But we won’t focus on that for the moment.

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86 melissa June 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm

I respect the aspect of spreading awareness, and I believe that it can have an impact for good to a certain extent. Thanks @Susan for mentioning the Arab Spring having roots in social media. I think mostly I’m grappling with the question of how MUCH good “awareness” does, especially to people who are already strident feminists. What can I DO about it if I’m aware?

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87 Angela June 2, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Well, I’m not sure the point is for YOU to do anything. I think #yesallwomen is a way to teach men about exactly what it feels like to be a woman in a society that’s still patriarchal. So many men have NO idea what we deal with every day as women. (constantly being hit on, thinking about rape at least a couple times a day, knowing we could be assaulted at pretty much any time, etc.) These are things that are easy to ignore if you don’t live with them, and so for women to speak out is really important.

It’s similar to the way that I feel when I hear a person of color remind me what it’s like for them to go shopping and be constantly watched. That kind of racism is invisible to me, and I’m awfully glad that people speak up about it, because that’s how we keep moving forward.

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88 Tanya June 3, 2014 at 7:33 am

I agree with Angela – I was completely oblivious to racism in US (my excuse is that I grew up in Russia with nearly mono-racial population), so it was Earth-shatteringly eye-opening when one of my professors in college (who was a woman of color) told me to watch how the store clerk acted when she asked a question vs. when a white person did. After that, I started seeing more and more the injustice of it, and became aware that just abolishing segregation did not erase racism.
My husband is from TX and used to be similarly brainwashed and blind to how it feels to be a woman, and only by listening to my stories (and those of my friends) did he become aware of reality of being a girl.

It seems very selfish (or fearful?) to say that they don’t see the need for these experiences to be shared, because not everyone is lucky enough to have had the proper education/exposure/support.

89 Amy June 3, 2014 at 6:58 pm

I’m going to ask my husband to read the hashtag. I’ve been trying to find a way to create a discussion with him around these issues after he told me that thinks our young daughter should be full clothed at all times in our backyard, because we are surrounded by young boys. We ended up in a heated debate about how to talk to her about this, which eventually led to him making the statement, “women bear some responsibility in how men relate to them and keeping themselves safe — wearing sexy clothes is the same as carrying a gun — you’re just asking to be messed with.” I was OUTRAGED. This was entirely out of character for him. I had no idea he had this apparently entrenched belief.

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90 Nellabean June 2, 2014 at 1:30 pm

My heart rate shot up by the end of the first paragraph. I’ve been following the twitter feed and news articles and have been surprised by how breathless my reaction has been. I too have many suppressed memories/experiences – you’re an inspiration for talking about them with your kids – my emotions are so heightened I think I’d cry and frighten my little guys. But, I’m raising two boys and I want so badly to teach them how to behave with and for women, so this talk is definitely coming for us.

This topic is so timely. I was just reading in our local paper about a sexual assault that happened on my walking/jogging path during the day. The police cautioned the public to go out in pairs and without listening to music with earbuds. I was just so angry that my peace, my private time, my exercise is just another thing I have to fear.

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91 Samantha June 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm

You are an amazingly strong woman. Your voice is inspiring !

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92 Sarah June 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Thank you for writing this. Your description of the airplane and train has given me a determination to speak my mind to men who touch me in any way that I don’t want them to and to teach my daughter to do the same.

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93 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Yay! I hope I can do it too.

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94 Elizabeth June 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Okay – as I was thinking about the airplane – reading what that man said, doesn’t it now seem as if they were expecting a woman to sit between them? It sounds like a game that they play. Sick. I’m betting that if a man or a less attractive woman had started to sit between them, they would have quickly offered to swap seats.

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95 Heather June 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm

I think this is a step too far… I leave an empty seat between me and my husband when we fly, just to have a little more space! Being overly suspicious and putting scenarios in your head isn’t helping this situation. Be on guard and stand up for yourself, but let’s not go too far.

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96 Melissa June 2, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Giving credit where it’s not due isn’t helpful, either, and borders on victim-blaming. No one is putting scenarios in their head when the men were ACTUALLY acting way out of line here, including angling their bodies to more or less block a woman inside the loop. These weren’t nice men who were overly friendly, they were indeed acting aggressively.

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97 Barb June 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm

I was writing a long comment but then my computer shut down unexpectedly. But the gist of it was something like this.

The #yesallwomen movement is extremely powerful because it is paradigm-changing. I am ashamed to admit that I had an us/them mentality- as in, women who have been trivialized/abused and women who haven’t, and I felt safe on my side of that line. Yet, as I read the stories others share, I am realizing that it really IS all women, and that means, me, too.

I am being flooded by memories as I read these stories- some small events, some large, but the common denominator is that they are stories of women.

Small things like a group of friends comparing the relative safety of our cities in which we now live and my male friend using the example of “There aren’t any places in (city name) I wouldn’t feel safe in at night. Although, there’s lots of places I wouldn’t want my wife at night.” Such a small example. An honest reality. Yet such bullcrap that this is our reality as women. Seriously, we are half of the population of the world.

Thank you for this honest, unflinching post. Thank you for being an example as a woman, and mother. Your bravery in talking honestly with your children will protect them and help them! And I’m so grateful for mothers (and fathers) like you who are willing to share your experiences with the world so I can learn from them. My children are still small, but as they grow, I’m grateful for healthy models of open communication and education without fear mongering or shame.

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98 Beatriz June 2, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I just received a note from school that says that for the school trip girls have to cover their stomach (no bikinis allowed). Either a full bathing suit or a shirt is required. Boys are not required a shirt. What’s wrong with girl’s stomach? Is it now different from boys’?

I think we are not educating the right way…

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99 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm

The modesty rhetoric being passed around these days is flat out outrageous. It drives me batty.

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100 Christina June 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Please expound on your reply… you have caught me off guard with that one.

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101 Whitney June 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

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102 Elise June 2, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Check out the Everyday Sexism Project and read how women in the UK are documenting their encounters with sexism, harassment, and experiences of “normalised” gender inequality and objectification. everydaysexism.com

I would welcome future posts or a series about raising gender sensitive children. As parents our job is not only to empower girls, it is also about raising boys who are respectful of women and believe in gender equality. How do we all actively do these things in words and actions?

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103 Rheagan June 5, 2014 at 3:38 am

I agree with Elise. I’m a US expat living in Ireland, and the Everyday Sexism Project is fascinating, and has led me to speak up when I see sexism, even in seemingly “harmless” forms.

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104 Casey June 2, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I think the first step in the discussion is to stop making excuses for those who are making you feel uncomfortable. Airplane Guy wasn’t being genuinely friendly, he was disguising his advances and creep status as a “friendly passenger”. Alcohol or personality type isn’t an excuse, you felt uncomfortable for a reason. You also shouldn’t compare your experiences to others by saying worse things happen. It’s true that they do, but these little things like touching your leg will likely lead him to do bigger things – probably to somebody else. It’s definitely important to speak up, call for help if you need to. I’m in full support of the #yesallwomen movement (it’s not anti-men. Those who think it is aren’t paying attention), it’s extremely important to bring sexism, sexual harassment, and misogyny to light – people need to be loud about this oppression we face in order for anything to be changed, no “but”s, no “maybe”s, no excuses. I’ve always been a feminist, it’s become easy to discuss feminism and harassment with teens and adults – but now I have a one month old daughter, and I’m already starting to think of ways to discuss these issues in a way for her to understand (when she’s old enough to). With all the discussions I’ve read and participated in, it saddens me to know I’m one of many moms (new/young moms) strongly considering signing daughters up for self defense classes when they’re of age. Call it extreme, but the harassment I’ve faced is just a drop in the water compared to what others have faced – and with girls and young women being abused or even murdered for exercising their right to say no, more people need to speak up when it comes to violence against women.

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105 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm

I’m in complete agreement that I shouldn’t be comparing my experiences to others by saying worse things happen. Fully agree. But I was trying to be honest about what my thought process was and how I was justifying the man’s actions.

I was hoping to demonstrate how flawed my thinking was, and how pervasive sexism is that I would even think like that.

It’s awful that I ever thought it.

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106 Liz Hendriks June 2, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Thank you for this post! I’ve been reading the feed and the media responses with fascination! In your description of the airplane incident and some comments I’ve noted how much effort can go into justifying, explaining, trying to understand the man’s actions or intention, or the consequences of our responses whether we act or not. Sexism is so pervasive that put in a situation we’re uncomfortable with we forget/forgo/can’t express our own needs, our own agency (physical abuse excluded). It doesn’t matter what his intentions/justification/explanation/reaction was, YOU weren’t comfortable. I suspect, like me, in the majority of other areas of your life if your happiness/comfort/safety was being intruded on you’d be your own agent of happiness/comfort/safety yet, there is a terrible power dynamic in our world that throws skill out the window. One reader wrote, “I teach my children how to respect others’ boundaries and how to protect their own.” (she didn’t think she could make a difference). But that attitude does make a difference and we can celebrate that a twitter feed fosters such dialogue and awareness. Awareness is the first step to changing this sick aspect of our culture

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107 MM June 2, 2014 at 2:08 pm

This is a timely discussion for everyone. A recent NYT article mentioned something like 10% of all American women have been raped at some point. When I read that, I told my husband the real numbers must be closer to 100%! There’s a divide between (non-sexual) touching and what qualifies legally as sexual abuse, but all unwanted contact can be harmful. Even seemingly small or innocuous happenings can be hurtful. I hate to harp on it with my own children, but I remind them often about respecting personal boundaries and space and what kind of touching is inappropriate. I wish this did not have to be a discussion, but it does. Even if we’d like to turn a blind eye, there are many opportunities for harm to occur even with close friends/family.

I travel a lot (and hate the middle and even window seats), but I tend to be pretty good enforcer of my personal space. It’s easier said than done, but I typically would have made a little joke (“this entire flight is a no-touching zone!”) or asked the two guys to swap so they would not have to talk over me. It’s hard to know if someone will react badly even to a reprimand in a “light” tone, so sometimes avoidance might be the best strategy. I tend to head things off at the pass by being a little bit cold right from the start and excusing myself from conversation with big headphones (the kind that cover your ears) and by saying I’ve got some projects I need to wrap up in-flight. I usually also tell people I’m an attorney (true), which seems to put guys on their best behavior. Why not say you’re a prosecutor or a cop, then clamp on your headphones?

In elevators, I usually loudly and forcefully say “hello, how are you?” to a lone man already on or getting on. I find that projected confidence (even if faked) avoids instances of too-friendliness.

I feel like I do a much better job now in tough situations, but I know I had a harder time in my early 20s in crowded subways (Paris).

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108 Lauren D June 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Wow, thank you for discussing all of “this”. I don’t really have any experiences of my own but I do have a son who I stay home with and homeschool. Although it was completely my choice to be at home and homeschool him, I worry about what his perception of women will be/is. I am friendly, kind and thoughtful and wouldn’t want to ever change that for the sake of unwanted attention among other things. I also feeling strongly in educating my son on appropriate behaviour when around other men. There is no need to be “macho” if it means demeaning someone else!

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109 Rachel June 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I didn’t read the stream until just now, but I definitely understood what the #yesallwomen hashtag was supposed to mean (without any explanation) as soon as you mentioned it last week. I know that men–even men like my husband, who I would call a “feminist”–don’t begin to understand what women go through on a daily basis. I like that the hashtag brings some of that to light, even if many people will still marginalize our experience (or call it “anti-men”).

I definitely had an emotional reaction reading your accounts and those in the comments. It breaks my heart every time I read about children in particular being sexually harassed or molested. It’s my weak spot–the one thing you don’t joke about, the one thing that might get me to believe in the death penalty, the one thing that calls me to action more than anything else.

As for my own memories, this discussion calls to mind most vividly an experience I had in middle school. Another student would call my house to tell me about the sexually violent acts he wanted to perpetrate on me. My parents called his house and talked to his mother, but the calls continued. Nothing came of it until highschool when he grabbed my butt in the hallway (which I realize is relatively benign, as these things go), but as you can imagine, I was really afraid of him.

Since my husband works in schools and deals with these things regularly, we’ve actually talked about this a lot–how my parents could have involved the school, what the school could have done, and what my parents should have done. This is probably what nags me the most–in retrospect I don’t understand why my parents didn’t do more.

Regarding your experience on the airplane, I would have firmly said, “don’t touch me.” Or at least I hope I would have. One time a guy in line behind me at Panera started rubbing my shoulders. To this day I regret not standing up to him. Since then I’ve stood up to another guy who, coincidentally, also started rubbing my shoulders. P.S. What is it with guys thinking they can rub your shoulders?

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110 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I am trying to imagine how I would feel if a strange man started rubbing my shoulders. I think I would be in complete shock.

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111 Rachel June 3, 2014 at 11:47 am

I also wanted to add..I hope the “what I would have done on the airplane” didn’t come off as critical of your reaction. Clearly I don’t really know what I would have done, and there are so many factors at play. It got me thinking–I wonder how my reaction would be affected by the man’s age, race, where he is from, his clothes, his (assumed) socioeconomic status, etc. Just a thought.

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112 Libby June 2, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Holy Toledo. What the heck?! (Trying to keep my language G rated here.) But seriously, that is insane. Wtf?!?

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113 Jenny June 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I haven’t had to deal with the issues of harassment, insensitivity, and general creepiness for a long time now, but when I did, I had to be direct. I am of small stature, and if I didn’t let the men (usually strangers, not always) know immediately that I was NOT INTERESTED in putting up with their inappropriate behavior, I could have ended up in worse situations.

Sometimes they became visibly miffed, but I didn’t care. I’d stand my ground then quietly leave or mind my own business. I knew I would have punched them in the face (or much, much worse) to protect myself. Perhaps they could sense that willingness in me; they’d back off. I didn’t scream or demean, but I’d be all business – no friendliness – and state my case in no uncertain terms.

There’s a book called “Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No to Take Control of Your Life,” by Cloud & Townsend. While it tends to deal with our closer relationships (family, friends), the concept of healthy boundaries can be easily used with strangers (or inappropriate family and friends!) too. I found it helpful.

I’m so sorry those things happened to you – and the scene on the airplane just makes me cringe!

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114 Melanie June 2, 2014 at 2:12 pm

One thing that this post had me reflecting on is how people often touch, tickle, grab, rub etc. children and babies without concent. I want my children to know their bodies are their own and no body has a right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable but this is sort of a gray area in terms of appropriate response. Also, the majority of people do these things with good intention but it really bothers my 3 year old daughter. Would you want a stranger trying to tickle you? Anyone have anyway to respond in these situations. The last thing I want to do is suggest my daughter brush it off or disregard her feelings but I also don’t want to insult anyone (but maybe that is simply a feeling that is pervasive in our culture of repressing women).

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115 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I was thinking of this same thing! As the youngest, you can imagine how often June gets picked up, tickled or teased. It’s almost always good natured, but once in awhile comes from a grumpy older sibling trying to get a rise out of her. She shouldn’t have to be touched if she doesn’t want to be.

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116 Anna June 2, 2014 at 2:46 pm

We have this issue, too. My 4 year old son is not a fan of strangers. He doesn’t appreciate high fives or people touching his shirt (commenting on superheroes) and generally doesn’t even want to talk. I ask him if he wants to give someone a hug (teacher, grandparent, etc.) and sometimes when I know it’s someone he truly loves I will say, oh, Nana might be sad if you don’t hug her. But I do always say that he doesn’t have to. I also say (out loud in front of strangers, etc) that he doesn’t have to talk but he cannot be rude (verbally.) I want our friends and family to know that I give him permission to be introverted and have HIS boundaries, not mine or theirs. My 2 year old daughter is a whole other story. She has never met a stranger.

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117 Sarita June 8, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Such an important point. I think we teach our kids that bigger, stronger, and more authoritative people are the boss of their bodies. That’s hard to undo later.
As an aside, I also think that our societal vision of rape/molestation/lesser incidents as a Fate Worse Than Death doesn’t help anything. It’s common, it’s survivable, and it’s stoppable. I’m thankful for his frank essay.

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118 KM June 2, 2014 at 2:57 pm

This is a really important conversation for parents to share with their kids – and broader family & friends. I think this video does a great job of explaining why its so important, and how parents can inadvertently send the wrong message to their kids: http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/09/ways-parents-teach-consent-doesnt-matter/

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119 Tanya June 3, 2014 at 8:12 am

OMG, so true! I don’t have a daughter, but I do have two sons, and, even though I live in US, my community is predominantly Russian, where kids getting handled by “grannies” (which is really any older person) is part of the deal. I get SO conflicted, because while I do like that my kids get a bit of “tribal” upbringing, sometimes their boundaries are so clearly violated, and then I’m the jerk Americanized mom who tells her “elders” off.
I did have a talk with my friend’s brother who kept picking up his nieces and tickling/flipping/rough-handling them, even though they kept screaming “no”. NOBODY ELSE minded. At all. And after months of becoming aware of this, I finally took him aside and said, “You know, you’re teaching your nieces that their wishes don’t matter when it comes to their bodies. And they might go on a date – and you won’t be there to protect them – and a guy might touch them in a way they don’t want, and they will be trained to just accept it, and he WILL take that as consent, and do you want to know what will happen next?” He brushed me off, but did tone it down afterwards (or maybe just when I’m around).

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120 Anna June 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

thank you for sharing this! i think it’s tremendously important to keep pointing out the omnipresent and pervasive sexism in all societies. so often people think that emancipation in the west is complete but my experience is that, as a girl or woman you can never feel really safe.

it makes me sad to realise that we and our daughters still have to bear this burden. on the other hand i try to be pragmatic and consider it like living in the jungle and, as such, part of life. which doesn’t mean that you have to accept any negative behaviour, it just meant that you should be ready to lash out!

i try to teach my children (boy and girls alike) to be firm about their own boundaries and to keep their own self-esteem up and running. but it can be tough…

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121 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Your jungle analogy has me thinking. I like it. I’m going to toss it around in my head for awhile.

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122 Lindsay June 2, 2014 at 2:17 pm

You have inspired me to write about this issue on my blog. How can I not?! Since I don’t follow twitter I didn’t even know of it. Hellooooo…Earth to Lindsay.
I’ll be sending you a link once I’ve gotten all my thoughts out if you’d like to read it, and I’ll probably need a new keyboard since I feel like I’m already typing fervently. Also, Gabrielle while I understand that you’re not sharing your experiences to receive pity, please know that you have my admiration. You are brave -to share it, to try and make sense of it in your mind, and to open the discussion and to create awareness. Thank you as always for creating a space where important things can be shared.

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123 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I welcome the link, Lindsay!

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124 Beatriz June 2, 2014 at 2:19 pm

After reading this post I have realized how important it is that we talk about these experiences with our children. I too had unpleasant experiences and in particularly one of them I was led to believe that it was my fault…

Thanks so much for sharing.

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125 AnEmilyB June 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Gosh, I can relate to your situations, and it makes me feel ill to realize how many others have experienced the same/similar things. When the hashtag first came up, I kind of ignored it, because, honestly, I tend to brush off a lot of uncomfortable things. But then, later, I couldn’t really stop thinking about it! I have so many stories of being put in scenarios that made me nervous, or I was treated blatantly horribly, and then was too scared (or doubtful) to speak up. In reality, only my husband knows all of my stories, and I’ll probably keep it that way for the foreseeable future. But I am 100% supportive and in awe of the brave women, including yourself, that have spoken up. xoxo

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126 Miriam June 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm

This somewhat in response to Jenny also’s comment above, about whether the man in the airplane knew he was crossing lines. I do a lot of solo travel as well, but have only really every felt uncomfortable in India and Nepal (where i probably should have been much more worried). With different players, I could imagine myself in the center seat, and enjoying the two new friends I was making. Should we feel bad for the two men, who thought they were having a great conversation, but were actually making a stranger really uncomfortable? Were the comments he made anything that isn’t heard on television as appropriate chatter?

How will we go about changing behavior standards so all people can know where the lines are? The answer used to be (and still is, in many parts of the world), that any physical contact between a woman and an unrelated male is taboo. I think I would miss the casual touches between strangers that some Africans and some Americans exchange if that were to end. I echo AmyC83, and further ask, do I only feel this way because I happen to be unapprochable?

In some comments above I heard reference to the ideal of woman as a peacemaker, as the one who sacrifices her comfort for others. I think that’s the ideal that we need to look at. At some point, women need to make others uncomfortable and upset in order to protect our boundaries, without a second thought about being shamed or assaulted. I want to be able to say “no” in whatever situation, and not worry.

As an aside, I’m trying to teach my toddler daughter NOT to say “no” when her parents, teaches, etc. ask her to do something. I try to be diligent about qualifying this, but what if I’m subconsciously telling her it’s not ok to say no about her body?

Very rambling, but thank you so much for offering a thoughtful forum for these questions!

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127 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Bring on the rambling! Lots of good thoughts and questions in there.

“At some point, women need to make others uncomfortable and upset in order to protect our boundaries, without a second thought about being shamed or assaulted.”

I love that strong statement, but I also know it’s one of those things that’s so much easier said than done. One of the links I followed from the #yesallwomen stream took me to a tumblr that catalogues all the women that said: NO! The women who stood up for themselves, but were then killed by the man they said no too. So disturbing.

It’s hard not to give a second thought to being assaulted. Malala is of course every woman’s idol in that respect!

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128 Ellen W June 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm

What advice to you give to your sons to help break this ugly cycle? Mine are 8 & 5, so our discussions so far have been limited to discussing private parts and how we don’t let anyone touch them or touch anyone else’s. Also had conversation saying when they are older and like a girl, they need permission to kiss or hug her, if she says no or stop, you stop immediately.

Thankfully, I haven’t had many of these types of encounters. I worked in a female dominated office and now as a SAHM, I don’t encounter many men in my day to day life.

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129 Alice June 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Ellen,
I think that it is great you are having these conversations with your sons. Another thing to emphasise could be the idea of enthusiastic consent – if a girl doesn’t say no/stop out loud, but her body language is still communicating that she doesn’t want to be hugged/kissed, it is important to realise that as well. Kind of – “yes means yes, no means no, silence can also mean no!”

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130 Happy June 2, 2014 at 9:19 pm

When I read this comment, I found myself divided – while I absolutely agree with teaching your son to listen for a no, shouldn’t we also be giving our sons permission to be the one saying no? It seems to me that the message we’ve been giving male prowess and macho pride is a big part of the problem. I will be telling my son that both people in the relationship need to agree to physical contact and if either one of them says no, it’s time to stop. It takes two people to say ‘yes’ but only one to say ‘no’.

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131 Alice June 3, 2014 at 4:51 am

Really good point, Happy! I feel so silly for missing it.

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132 Happy June 3, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Thanks for responding, Alice. You shouldn’t feel silly at all. You are doing with your children exactly what we’ve all been culturally conditioned to do. This conversation is about changing that and I love that you’re challenging yourself to do just that. I’ve been amazed at how my thinking has changed from reading these comments and the larger discussion. We each have so many subtle biases and ingrained expectations. I’m feeling empowered by my own growth through this and have a newfound hope for what we can accomplish with our children.

133 maya June 2, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Here’s what I do with my boys (I only have boys):

Right from the beginning I’ve taught them that before they can engage in some kind of play (tag, water guns, whatever) with another child they need to know the other child’s name and the child needs to say “I want to play tag/water guns with you.”

And I remind them that the child can later change his mind and no longer want to play and that’s okay.

My boys are still young but I plan to make this example explicit when it comes to dating as they get older.

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134 Rochelle June 2, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I read the article last Friday and my husband and I had a conversation about it. My first reaction was, “yeah, so what? What else is new?” But then, as I recalled my own experiences, I including being treated inappropriately by a doctor (who eventually went to jail), I realized that it is pervasive and maybe we have just gotten so used to it all, that we are unfazed by it. Which is sad. I’ve also received many comments and emails over the years that are sexually disgusting and downright scary. And my husband agreed that noone would ever ask him if he ‘swallows’, or the male equivalent. So perhaps this hashtag will do its job. And that could be good.

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135 cynthia June 2, 2014 at 2:30 pm

My behind area has garnered more male unwanted attention than I would care to remember… I have also been in the situation where I was forced to acknowledge the superior strength of a man. But I find the hash tag divisive. I don’t want to be in a world where “I am woman” equals “I am a victim.” I want to be in the world where “I am human” and “some bad humans exist.”

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136 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:36 pm

I’m glad you brought up the word “victim”. I ran into a an interesting post about this word in regards to the #yesallwomen conversation. They pointed out that the women weren’t saying: I’m a victim. But instead were saying: I’ve been victimized, and yet I go on.

I find the latter characterization very empowering.

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137 katie June 2, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I leave on a business trip tomorrow. Suffice to say, I’ll be going about my hotel elevator rides much differently this trip.

I lived overseas in my 20s and once had a man grab me on an escalator down into the metro in St. Petersburg, Russia. I outran him the remainder of the way down and ducked behind a stone pillar, holding my breath, feeling very alone in the midst of a crowd. He passed without seeing me, and I hopped on the next train, feeling shaken, vulnerable, and furious. And I recounted the whole experience over and over, wondering what I had done to attract his attention—looking back, I can’t even believe I thought to put that back on myself.

Other than that, I felt pretty invincible when I traveled (sometimes alone) through Europe. And while I look back on those memories so fondly, I absolutely shudder at some of the situations I put myself into and am so thankful that nothing worse ever happened.

I read through the #yesallwomen stream and see the little voice in my head, the small misgivings that I usually pass off as being silly or paranoid, repeating over and over again in the voices and experiences of other women. I am SO glad to see all of those silent whispers collectively working themselves into a tremendous roar. But I don’t (and can’t) count on a macro-movement, no matter how much time it gets on the airwaves, to do much to change behavior…except, certainly, my own. It is not right and not fair for women to have to worry about who steps on to an elevator with them. But perhaps the best I can do and take from this movement is the awareness to listen to that still small voice and have the assertiveness to be more proactive in how I respond in those situations that leave me feeling uneasy. And when the time is right, to teach my little daughter to do the same.

Thank you so much for opening the conversation.

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138 Maike June 2, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Thanks for this post, I can totally relate to the feeling where you first think, no it didn’t happen to me, and after a while of reading it tears you apart because you realize all the times that you just blocked out.
For me I have to say that since I am a grown up I let nobody touch me that I don’t want to touch me. I simply say: Don’t touch me. And I don’t care if that offends anybody. But I am super troubled with the sexism in work life. I cannot handle it. I chickened out of so many situations where I should have gotten really annoyed and fight for myself and I felt so defenseless, like you say: Why should I change? If they are the ones who are not right. In the end I am the one who is losing out and I don’t get over the fact that most people that I deal with professionaly do not see me as the person I am, instead the fact that I have a vagina and all the clichés that come with it is more important than anything else.

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139 Jennifer June 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I didn’t think I had stories to add to the twitter conversation till I read more and more and more. I wasn’t molested or touched inappropriately but I remember working at a Dairy Queen in high school where young men would come in and order fries with erect penises sticking out of their shorts or handing change to a car in the drive thru as the guy pointed at his sticking out penis. What do you do? I was too young to know to tell them to put it away and report them to anyone. I’m not a small girl so I don’t usually feel threatened in public but I certainly feel scared on buses late at night or walking through certain neighborhoods. Why? Guys don’t feel that way very often. I’m not sure how we change society but I am hoping opening the conversation helps, a lot.

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140 Jennifer June 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm

At the same time, I have been shamed if a tank top in summer dipped lower than some people would prefer but I wasn’t holding my breasts out to the public, the shirt just slipped or stretched in the heat. So how do women get shamed all the time for doing that but young guys don’t get shamed for pulling out an erect penis in public?

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141 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:39 pm

I think your experiences and examples capture the issues of #yesallwomen perfectly. We are not taught how to deal with drive thru guys pointing at their penis. Do we call the cops? Is that jail-able offense? I actually have no idea where the legal lines are drawn on sexual harassment. And the double standard for women is ridiculous.

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142 anon June 2, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Exposing yourself in public is a crime. Get a license plate number.

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143 Jennifer June 2, 2014 at 8:08 pm

This was over a decade ago and I was a high schooler, I didn’t know what to do or say then, it was just weird and shocking and why me-ish?

144 char June 3, 2014 at 1:36 am

“accidentally” drop the icy drink or icecream on it… if they complain: you could say you were so flustered and surprised you just dropped it.

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145 Christina June 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm

As an undergrad (about 10 years ago), I was walking to campus one day and someone yelled “Queen” behind me. I turned with kind of a vague smile (I suppose it could have been one of my friends?) and an African grad student caught up with me and had a conversation with me all the way to campus about being lonely. I was already uncomfortable because of the “Queen” comment, but then he was hinting that he wanted to go out with me, so I said that the next building was where my class was, and ran away. Turns out the guy lived just down the street from me and he would come out of his house if he saw me go by, still calling me “Queen”, and I would try to get out of the conversation as fast as possible and then walk a few blocks further than my house until I knew he was not looking, and then turn back.

I went away to Europe for 4 months and forgot about him, but then my first walk back from campus when I got back, I started to get really nervous as I approached that house on the block and couldn’t figure out why. Later I remembered him. Thankfully he didn’t live there anymore!

Then, a few months ago, I went out on a date with a guy who was a friend of a friend. I wasn’t sure how it had gone and wanted to think about it, and we said we would chat next week sometime. The next day was Valentine’s Day. He texted and emailed me “Happy Valentine’s Day Princess Christina”. I had an instant gut reaction of “NO!” Then he called four times that evening from different numbers and never left a message. I am pretty sure I started to have a panic attack, I felt like I wanted to curl up into a ball and hide. I talked with a few friends to see if I was overeacting, and they said no, then I called my brother for his opinion, and he said I wasn’t over-reacting if the guy made me feel uncomfortable, but that I should call him quick and say “I didn’t feel a connection”. When I got off the phone with my brother the guy had called a few more times and left no messages. I immediately called my brother back and was shaking so bad I could barely talk. My brother said I could email immediately instead since I couldn’t talk and dictated the email to me. The response I got back was all nice for the first sentence until he started blaming me (for what?).

These were two seemingly normal young men in all other aspects, they just really did not know how to ask for a date or what tips girls off as being super creepy and unsafe. This is what we need to teach our sons, how to not be creepy!!!!! How to not expect that every girl who smiles at you wants to be your girlfriend! I have made myself not look at people when I go out in public, or not talk to strangers on a plane, so that men don’t get the wrong idea, and that isn’t right!

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146 Anna June 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm

I am often a bit shy, and not often noticed by men (not that it’s never, but I’m not the kind of woman that, through personality or looks, is usually a target for attention.) However, I can think of two instances that I had to speak up for myself. Both times I was surprised but proud.
1.) A kind, attractive, happily married, Christian coworker and I were friends at the office. I was single and he was charismatic and good looking… and kind of touchy feely. Nothing creepy, but a hand on my shoulder or ruffling my hair. I said, “Why are you always touching me?” (Mostly because I was attracted to him and concerned because I liked the attention.) He replied that he was just “physical” and I just quipped something about keeping that for his wife and out of the work place. I wasn’t rude but after that he was more aware of it.
2.) I had to stop for gasoline late at night when I was about 30. There was a Van (or RV) just on the other side of the pump. An older guy, about my dad’s age, walked out from the store and started chatting loudly with me. He wasn’t overly close, but I just felt uncomfortable. At first I tried to just not reply, but he kept talking and I started getting scared. (It was a well lit, busy gas station, but was about 10:30pm.) I put my hands up and said, “please stop, you’re making me uncomfortable!” I know it hurt him, because he said, Hey, I’m just being friendly! My wife is right inside the truck! and I replied, “I understand, I’m sure you are great, but I’m just really uncomfortable.” I really felt bad. Wondering if he was asking his wife, Am I creepy? What did I do? Hopefully she mentioned that maybe he shouldn’t be approaching single (alone) women in a gas station late at night.

Later my husband brought up a good point. He said that if it was him and a woman spoke up he might be offended at first, but would later feel proud that a woman (or girl) had stood up for herself and set him know he was making her uncomfortable. (And maybe reassess the situation to find out if it was something he did or just a personal preference.) Perhaps we need to teach our sons (husbands, brothers, dads) that many women are uncomfortable in elevators with just another man… and that they should offer to take the next one. I know mine would be very happy to wait for the next elevator in order to not be the one making a woman feel threatened.

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147 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Good for you for speaking up! I’m grateful for the examples you shared.

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148 Melissa June 3, 2014 at 8:47 am

I think it’s OKAY to make someone else feel a little sad to protect your perceived safety. So, maybe he did get his feelings hurt and was really a nice person. But you don’t know that at all. It’s a teeny price to pay so that you aren’t feeling unsafe. Teach our sons that sometimes this might happen, and it’s really not about them at all, but that a woman doesn’t know you are a safe person and has the right to break contact with you in order to feel or be safer.

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149 Lynne Millar June 5, 2014 at 5:53 pm

I think that is a really good idea to share with my husband and son – the passing up an elevator thing in order not to put a woman in an uncomfortable situation.

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150 melissa June 2, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I for sure would have given plane guy a death stare. That death stare has kept me safe on many occasion, I believe, although it has certainly also lost me some possible friends. That glare is generally my reaction to annoying things in life (whether I mean to do it or not!), and although as a younger woman I sometimes had a hard time reacting to boyfriends overreaching (literally) their boundaries, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t take it now.

My parents never had such frank conversations with me about this, but they way they behaved and they way they reacted to things on TV, movies, the news, etc. made it clear that I had every right over my body. It is something I hope and pray every day I can teach both my children (a boy and a girl), but I know I can’t completely protect them.

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151 Michelle June 2, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Man oh man, this topic was on my mind all weekend too. I’ve been in your airplane situation multiple times, because I’m a woman, and because we all have. I always react differently. Sometimes, I clam up and jolt away. Sometimes, I speak up. Sometimes, I just wait it out. Like you, I’m tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt and tell myself he’s just being “friendly.” But in retrospect, I can’t imagine putting my hand on a stranger’s leg without certain “intentions.” And I admit I’m having trouble imagining that the man, like me, would tell himself to assume it was nothing. So why am I telling myself to play that role?

This brings to mind Jane Fonda’s excellent thoughts from a few years ago on raising emotional literate sons. I want to do my part in making sure my son understands personal space, and has that emotional awareness and expressive outlet without being labeled as a wimp. So why do seemingly good guys think this is okay? Are they missing some outlet? Is it based on a sense of entitlement or some kind of predisposed sense of competition? I was actually talking about this with a guy I really respect recently, and he suggested it was evolutionary.

I guess I don’t have any answers or conclusions. If this comment seems scattered, it’s because my headspace is too. But I do think this dialogue is an important part of recognizing the cycle, and potentially realizing that power and entitlement can be found in speaking up – or maybe in just keeping your hands to yourself.

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152 Melissa June 2, 2014 at 2:39 pm

I think we often think of these kinds of trangressions as non-violent. Even Gabrielle, with your molestation, you called it non-violent. But it IS indeed violent! It’s not the rough and tumble kind of movie violence, I suppose. But if one is being harmed in this way, it’s still violence. It’s still the forcible removal of a person’s way of protecting their own body.

Gabrielle, didn’t you mention you wet the bed until middle school? I wouldn’t be surprised if this factored into it without you consciously feeling it mattered this much.

I want my kids to know these small things are indeed violent. I have four sons, they are taught often about how to be better. I hope it helps them become better men who don’t unknowingly act violent (even in small ways) towards others.

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153 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I agree that molestation is violence. When I said it wasn’t violent I was trying to describe that I wasn’t being beaten or caused pain. I should have used better words.

And I definitely don’t think the bed wetting was tied to the molestation. I was already bed wetting before it ever started. I definitely have issues, but I’ve seen counselors in my lifetime and they truly don’t track any issues to the molesting.

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154 Melissa June 2, 2014 at 9:52 pm

I should apologize for being an armchair psychologist, I am sorry. Of course you’ve dealt with this.

It’s so hard for all of us to process the things that happen to us. I’ve only recently come aware how much of this is violence, in many forms, and I also struggle with the language. I hope my sons learn that this is indeed violence, even in the small things to the large things that aren’t as bad as other horrid things…it might all be relative but it’s all terrible and harmful.

Thank you for your candid and honest sharing about this and facilitating an amazing conversation.

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155 joanne June 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I live in Philadelphia. One day I was walking home one day from work and two older teenage boys were walking towards me. I don’t know if I would have noticed them, but they separated to walk on either side of me far earlier than you would for a normal “let this person by” deal. My brain went into overdrive thinking I was about to be mugged, but instead one reached out, put his arm around me and pulled me close to his body then asked if I had a boyfriend. I immediately shouted “Don’t touch me” and kept walking. I was terrified they were following me, but I vowed I wouldn’t look back until I was a block away. Thankfully when I did turn to look, they had kept walking the opposite direction.

When I think about it, I’m really surprised that I said anything at all instead of just running. There was a campaign on public transit for awhile here about speaking up in situations called Hollaback which I think may have triggered my speaking out during this incident.

Here is a link to the Philly posters: http://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/important-anti-street-harassment-ads-found-on-philadelphi and to their guide on How to Deal with Harassers: http://philly.ihollaback.org/

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156 Ashley in MD June 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Thank you for sharing this. There’s so much to say about this topic.

I also tend to think of myself as someone who has never been sexually harassed, but that’s not actually true. I think one of the really complicated things is that some of this stuff that is harassing–cat calls, wolf whistles, a man pressing up against your body for just a couple of seconds too long as he walks by in a crowded bar, a man dancing up against you in a club uninvited–also walks the fine line of feeling sort of validating when you are a young woman. I remember brushing things like that off by telling myself that it was just a sign that I was looking good.
As I got older, I realized that those sorts of behaviors actually aren’t an indicator of my physical attractiveness. I’ve been catcalled while wearing sweatpants to mask my 40 extra pounds of post-baby weight and pushing an infant in a stroller, for crying out loud! It’s just harassing, plain and simple. So I think one important thing that women and men need to learn is that there are respectful ways in which men can let women know that they find them attractive. And of course women need to be taught that there are much more important things than just being found physically attractive!

Just a year ago I was in a bar with my husband. We had just arrived and I hadn’t even had a chance to grab a drink yet when a man walked by and grabbed and squeezed my crotch area. My husband and sister-in-law both saw it happen, and my husband reacted very quickly. He followed the man out of the bar and shouted at the bouncer “That man just grabbed my wife.” I told the bouncer to stop the man, and he did, and then he asked me if I wanted him to call the police so I could press charges. I said yes. Fortunately, the police were right nearby so they were able to ID the guy and get me all of the information I needed to press charges.
It involved SO MUCH WORK on my part. I understand that, because people shouldn’t be falsely accused, but it was completely on me to go down to the police station in the middle of the night and write out a report of the incident. I also had to have both the first and last name of the man–had I not had that info from his ID obtained by the police, nothing would have been able to happen. And the really frustrating thing is that I had to put my full name on all of the paperwork, even though I was the victim. I was able to get an order to have my address and contact information blocked from the paperwork, but the man now had my first and last name (and we all know in the internet age that can make it fairly easy to track someone down). I spent quite a while wondering if it was worth pursuing, afraid that he’d be angry and track me down to retaliate. Several weeks later I had to go to my state attorney’s office to explain the situation to a lawyer assigned to represent me. Then a few weeks after that I had to go to the court house for the actual hearing before a judge. At that hearing, the man’s lawyer pulled me aside before it began and said, “You know, it’s really unusual to prosecute for this kind of thing. He feels terrible about what happened. He doesn’t have a history of this, he just had too much to drink and didn’t even realize what he was doing.” I couldn’t believe that she (yes, she) was basically telling me that I should just let it go because he was drunk and couldn’t help himself. I told her that was all too bad, drinking is a terrible excuse.
I “won” easily. He was given six months probation, and the judge strongly encouraged him to get some help for his alcohol use, which obviously caused him to make poor decisions. He also apologized to me in court, and I got to tell him to his face that it is unacceptable for him to touch women without their consent.
I think a lot of people would say that I overreacted to an event that happens in bars across America every night and that, honestly, wasn’t that traumatizing for me in the long run. And yet I think if every woman reacted as I did, men like him would start to think twice about their actions. The whole thing inspired me to be much more vocal in speaking up. (Although I still pick my battles; I wish I didn’t have to, but sometimes I fear that things will escalate in a dangerous way–I totally get the airplane dilemma!).

Oh, and I agree completely with others who are saying it’s not just about empowering girls, it’s about raising boys to believe that women truly are equals.

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157 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Brava! Brava! I’m so impressed with your story.

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158 Christie June 2, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Wow, good for you!! I’m in awe. So many women (myself included) would brush it off after all those steps and hoops you had to go through, but you did a brilliant thing.

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159 Erin June 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Way to go! That sounds like such an ordeal to go through in order to press charges and follow through, but think of the many women you saved from his wandering hands. Perhaps without his sentencing, he would have gotten progressively braver too, which could have led to even worse crimes. Hopefully he learned his lesson; if not, hopefully women continue to press charges against him as you did! May we all be so swift to action in similar circumstances.
As a teenage girl, I was waiting in an airport with a friend of mine. A man in a trench coat (so cliché) walked by and flashed us to show us his erection. I was horrified. My friend laughed it off. Because she didn’t think it was a big deal, I did nothing. I have thought for years that I should’ve gotten right up and walked over to an airport security agent and told them what happened. Who knows what he did next, or who else felt violated by his actions? I wish I’d been more proactive, but I have had plenty of years since then to decide that if something like that were to happen again, I would absolutely speak up.

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160 Ashley in MD June 2, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Thank you all. Like I said, sometimes a little voice in my head still wonders if I overreacted, but deep down I know I did the right thing. It felt like what I had to do.

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161 Gloria June 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

You’re amazing. I’m a little late to the conversation, but your post was so encouraging. Thank you for sharing that.

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162 Heather June 11, 2014 at 9:32 pm

“I think one of the really complicated things is that some of this stuff that is harassing…also walks the fine line of feeling sort of validating when you are a young woman.”

I remember feeling the same way in high school and college – that being cat-called or whistled at by men was basically a rite of passage for women, and receiving that kind of attention indicated that I must be a grown-up/attractive woman. (It hardly ever happened to me; I probably would have felt differently about it if it had been a frequent occurrence.) It seems naive to me now – or just sad – that I considered that kind of attention flattering.

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163 Christie June 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm

You know, I hadn’t given the hashtag too much thought until I read your post Gabrielle. You’re so right though, how deeply this affects all women. I can think of so many times in my teenage years when boys/men would approach me or somehow box me in and make me feel unsafe. Once, after a trip home on the train, I asked my Dad why so many men kept staring at me, and told him how uncomfortable I felt. His response? ‘Because you look good’. How’s that for misogyny?
In later years I was a lot more forthcoming in telling men what was okay and what was not, which of course earned me the ‘bitch’ title. Better that than giving men the wrong idea because I was friendly and therefore MUST have been romantically interested.

I worry all the time about my daughter, and these little ‘moments’ she will inevitably have. We get so wrapped up as parents in teaching our kids to be polite, that it’s easy to forget to teach them respect for their own boundaries – it’s okay to be rude, to tell an adult no, to refuse to give someone a high-five if they don’t want to, to refuse a hug or kiss even when it’s a grandparent asking.

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164 Emily F June 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm

As I read this post I got more and more sick to my stomach. Maybe I have led a super sheltered life or am completely unaware of my surroundings, but mostly no, I don’t think I’ve been harassed. I’m less cute now than I was in my college years and even then, I never knew if somebody was flirting with me or just being friendly, so basically I’m clueless. But as I read what you said about your childhood…I literally felt sick. I know you said you didn’t really want to talk about it but I am so afraid of this for my kids. We have a no sleepover rule and a small enough house that if visitors come they stay in a hotel but I am just sick over this. Did you tell your mom? Anyone? How could it just keep happening? I feel like if that happened to me I would know something was wrong and tell someone, but when you’re eight maybe not? I just hope beyond anything that my kid would tell me. And I can guarantee, my shotgun would be enough motivation for the fool who did something to never come near us again. You do NOT TOUCH KIDS, and you do not touch my kids. It makes me sick that people even consider doing that and then actually acting on it? What is wrong with people?

I’m so sorry for the things you’ve been through. I’m either stupid or clueless, or just lucky enough that it’s never happened to me. If only I could give my daughter the same experience.

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165 Emily F June 2, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Oh. But one thing I do do, I never get on an elevator with a man alone. I always wait for the next one. And if I walk into a parking lot and a van is parked next to me, I always enter from the opposite side and climb over. I never ever open the driver’s side door if a van or a car with people is in the next car over (which is a really common occurrence where I live).

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166 Ashley Hallett June 2, 2014 at 2:54 pm

I have to say, I feel a little worried that you felt so uncomfortable and didn’t say anything. Though flanked by both men, you were still surrounded by many, many people. Manners are one thing, personal safety is quite another. It could have been possible they were looking for an easy mark. By NOT doing anything or saying anything, you may be taken as ‘not a fighter’.
Please don’t misunderstand, this doesn’t mean it’s ok for anyone to do anything- you’re right, you shouldn’t have to say ‘don’t touch me’ and it’s certainly not your fault. However, the minute your personal space is invaded in such a way that makes you uncomfortable, manners are no longer the most important thing and neither is the benefit of the doubt. If you felt uncomfortable, there are probably many good reasons why.

I say it all the time, but every woman, every every woman should read ‘The Gift of Fear’ by Gavin DeBecker. Listen to yourself. If you are uncomfortable, there is a reason why.

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167 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:01 pm

I think you should be worried. I’m an incredibly strong-willed person and if I’m so conditioned that I would not speak up for fear of possible “uncomfortable-ness” on the aggressor’s part, then what happens to a weaker person? It’s a pervasive problem.

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168 Amy June 2, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Okay, that statement right there is the point of the whole hashtag. Exactly.

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169 Amy June 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Magda, of AskMoxie.org, shared this impactful letter to her sons. Takeaways for me are CONSENT and stepping in when something isn’t right. http://askmoxie.org/blog/2013/03/a-letter-to-my-sons-about-stopping-rape.html

My hackles are up. “Pushy” Jill Abramson’s firing and the tragedy in Santa Barbara are not unrelated, in my mind. I spent my 20s denying cultural misogyny, and now, it just seems like it’s everywhere I turn. I’m not giving up, but I’m a little heartbroken to discover I was so wrong.

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170 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:06 pm

The Jill Abramson firing gets me so ragey. It’s 2014 for goodness’ sake!

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171 Ashley June 2, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Reading this made me recall how utterly vulnerable children are, but also thank heaven that there is some sort of mechanism that protects fragile minds from the realization of how horrific and brutal it its when that vulnerability is taken advantage of…

I had the same first response- no, I haven’t really been sexually harassed, but then I considered the things I just accept as normal- humiliating, yes, but just part of life as a woman. Oh, and the time I was at my super conservative friend’s 13th slumber party, surrounded by my friends and supervised by both her parents, and was molested by her college-aged brother (in a big way) who was home for the summer when he thought I was asleep! I didn’t really understand what he was doing, so I just pretended to be asleep through the whole thing. Although I didn’t understand what had happened, I felt ill the next morning, vomited in my friend’s bathroom, and had my mom pick me up early. It wasn’t until several months had gone by that I alluded to my friend what had happened. She didn’t believe me, and was really hurt that I would accuse her esteemed brother of something like that– It made me question myself and my own memory of the experience. Then, a few years later, when I really came to understand what he had done, I finally came to terms with how scary it was. Now, the same brother has a handful of nieces and I worry about them. If he was brazen enough to target an unknown girl in a room full of people, what would he do to children who trust him when no one is looking? But what do I do about it? Bring it up again almost 20 years later to a friend that has never really trusted me since? Call the police? One thing I know for sure- my girls will never attend sleepovers…I don’t care where they are.

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172 Jill June 2, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Great discussions Gabi. It definitely got me thinking about what and how I should be talking about with my kids (aged 2 and 4). I have to wonder though, do you think that this blog has brought any unwanted attention along this line to either you or your daughters either via email or in person? I’m just curious, as I blog too, and I’m always trying to figure out how best to navigate the sharing of our personal lives in the era of social media.

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173 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm

No unwanted attention. No threats. So that’s great!

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174 MHB June 2, 2014 at 3:19 pm

A few years back I made an appointment to get my haircut at the curly girls place in NYC. I was so excited, because it was new to me, and had never had my haircut in a special place for curly girls.

It was the summer so I was wearing a tank top. I sat down in the chair and the man who was cutting my hair put the cape on me. As he did that, I felt his hand slide down my shirt between my breasts. It happened so fast that I didn’t even think that’s what really happened. And I tried to talk myself out of that’s what just happened.

To this day, I am so mad at myself for not getting up out of the chair, saying something, and leaving. I might never be able to forgive myself for it. It just doesn’t make me feel good that it happened and I didn’t stand up for myself. Because a ton of other girls probably got in that chair after me and he did the same thing to them, and they didn’t say anything either.

In response to the trusting people.. I live in NYC and I generally like people, but I just feel like I can’t be as friendly as I want to be. The city has made me hard, but has also taught me that I must stand up for myself.

Thanks for this discussion! I hadn’t found the right place to share my story, but here you are, open and willing! Thank you!

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175 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Thank you for sharing the story. Those “small” incidents add up.

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176 Steph June 2, 2014 at 3:21 pm

First, I’m incredibly happy to be seeing this discussed beyond the usual feminist online circles I usually read about these issues in! It’s very heartwarming to see so many people participating in these important discussions that often get sidelined for other “more important” things.

A couple of comments…
- If I had been in your situation on the plane, I would have probably asked the man to stop touching me with something like “You probably don’t mean anything threatening by it, but you touching my leg is making me very uncomfortable. You might not have realised this, and I don’t blame you, but I do hope that going forward that you don’t touch women’s (or anyone’s!) bodies without their consent because as women we often feel we have to be on guard and you should know that this thing that might be nothing to you could feel really stressful for someone else.” That would be my attempt at politely asking him to stop, recognising that he’s probably quite innocent in the matter, but also inform him that he shouldn’t be ignorant to that ways in which his behaviour could be interpreted by people who have less privilege than himself. It’s not his fault he’s a man and has that privilege, but he has a responsibility to be aware of it and how it can impact other people inadvertently or otherwise. Also, in response to some of his (highly inappropriate) comments, I usually respond to those with a half-joking “That’s not a particularly nice/helpful/true/etc. thing to say! Perpetuating stereotypes/judging women’s bodies/etc. is definitely not something the world needs more of.”
- I’m happy you said you spoke to all of your children about this, but I noticed that many commenters above (and LOTS of other people) seem to highlight talking about these issues with their daughters. That’s obviously very smart to do and important, but it’s just as important to talk to sons/boys/men/everyone about these issues. Misogyny is perpetuated through so many big and small actions all the time and ideally the conversation shouldn’t even have to be about “how to protect women (and/or other people who are more vulnerable or less privileged)”, but more about reinforcing the importance of respect, consent, unlearning harmful stereotypes/prejudices/habits, etc. As you touched on, so often the conversation is around what the victim of a situation should have done differently, when the onus and responsibility and focus should lie on the person “doing the crime”, so to speak. It’s the whole “Don’t tell women not to (drink, wear certain clothes, go certain places, etc.), tell men not to (sexually assault, catcall, etc.) thing. And really, building a culture of equality is going to benefit all people, even those who traditionally hold power.
- I can’t help but add here as well that while we often focus on the dichotomy of men and women in these situations, that people with non-normative gender identities and transgender people are also heavily impacted by patriarchy, and face some of the highest rates of violence, unemployment, etc.

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177 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Loved your whole comment. I especially like your airplane response. And I’m so glad you brought up people with non-normative gender identities and transgender people. Obviously I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject in any way, but until I read Middlesex several years ago, I really had only a vague idea that the world of transgender and non-normative gender people existed. (Not proud of that.)

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178 Kelly June 3, 2014 at 3:31 pm

I had a very different reaction to the hypothetical airplane response, which really triggered me. I think all that man would have heard is “blah, blah, blah.” That response does not include a clear and concise statement that the touching must stop. I strongly object to the idea that being firm is automatically considered being rude or “bitchy.” Those two things can go together, but don’t have to (and so what if we are rude or “bitchy” in protecting our boundaries or more.). The socially ingrained need to be polite is a pervasive, subtle way we let others control us. I also don’t think we need to make excuses for offenders in our response to them by trying to assume what their state of mind is. As long as this type of behavior exists, I believe we must set very clear boundaries and not mince words. I don’t think joking in reply is clear, concise or helpful.

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179 Amy3 June 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm

I haven’t made it all the way through the comments yet, although I plan to, but I wanted to share my thoughts before the evening runs away with me.

I’ll echo all those who have said thank you for sharing your experiences and for creating a space to have this conversation. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it. And it’s wonderful that you model how you have these conversations with your kids. Key to all this is raising a generation of kids who treat each other with respect and care.

I haven’t had too many overt experiences of sexism in my life – there was the doctor who gave me a breast exam that was more of a groping and the stylist who felt that resting his hand on my breast while he cut my hair was ok. But I’m tall (I think that unnerves some men) and tend to give off an unfriendly vibe. However, I’m also very conflict-averse so I would have been SO uncomfortable in your airplane scenario. I’m sure I would have been stressed out and angry the entire flight but said nothing. :(

I do think more about these issues now that I have a pre-teen daughter, and I try to help her understand the importance of boundaries, trusting your gut, and not feeling like you have to be “nice” to someone (anyone) who creeps you out.

Recently she and some friends were contemplating a trip to a local, outdoor shopping center (i.e., not an enclosed mall). It was going to be after dark and I didn’t let her do it. My husband tried to make the analogy that he wouldn’t go walking around [insert sketchy neighborhood name here] after dark so therefore she shouldn’t be walking around the shopping center. He’s a kind, sensitive person, but even he didn’t immediately see the disconnect between an unsafe neighborhood after dark and an upscale shopping center after dark. My daughter ought to be able to be safe there and I should feel safe allowing her to be there, but that isn’t the reality.

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180 Amy3 June 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm

A couple other thoughts as I make my way through the comments. Something that bothers me a lot, although it’s not something that’s happened to me personally, is the way women are spoken to online. I read an article about Gwyneth Paltrow recently and while I’m particularly a fan, I couldn’t believe the awful comments people (mostly men) left. And I think what’s almost more incredible to me is that plenty of those men aren’t relying on the anonymity of the internet, they’d say the same things out loud (they’re the guys who have their penises out at the drive thru!).

Also, I often see men looking women “up and down” out in public. I understand this happens, and I’m sure women do it too, but it’s often so blatant. Blech!

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181 Liz June 2, 2014 at 3:37 pm

I am curious about how you talked with your sons compared to your daughters. Was there a difference? I feel like this issue is frequently addressed among women and girls. As mom of two little boys I would love to know how you handle this with your boys.

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182 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm

We talked to all the kids at the same time. I can’t pretend I knew exactly what to say. I mostly tried to come up with situations that they could imagine themselves being in, so they can try to feel empathy for what’s happening to the women and girls around them. As for out boys, I think the trick is helping them imagine what day in the life of a girl might be like.

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183 Tasha June 2, 2014 at 4:16 pm

I am flabbergasted! You are so matter of fact right in the third paragraph and I believe trying to tell us so strongly that you are okay considering the trauma of molestation as a child! I’m slightly appalled. DO support you and where yuoare now and if indeed you mean to tell us that you are fine and there is no residual trauma I am beyond happy for you. I understand. However, from your comments throughout this post I feel you may have realized that your purposeful positivity came at us oddly. From someone outside your circle it sounds like you are not as okay with it all as you’d like us to know. The fact that you’s stay in the plane situation worries me and further that you’d allow a strange man (or anyone) to touch you on the leg made me squirm. I felt red flags jumping out of your writing and it upset me. I truly believe you are strong and in charge of your life and, again, I get that too. I just feel there is a big difference between being okay versus taking on the “not letting them win” message that is so prevalent today (911 and visiting NYC, NJ and the “stronger than the storm” message). These are important and correct showings of courage, yes. I jst feel we cover up our feelings with big, sweeping ststements/actions and this is harmful. The problem STILL exists. I do not know you aside from this blog that I adore and cherish but I also think the you I know was not evident in this writing. As I beleive your piece ws a little more gut than thought out, so I hope you accept my response as it is the same. I mean no offense. I am on your side, my side, all of our sides. ♥

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184 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm

“the you I know was not evident in this writing”

Then it appears that you don’t know me. Because this is 100% me.

Tasha, I was indeed matter of fact in the third paragraph. Which is great. I mean, what’s the alternative? Should I not have been? Would readers have been more comfortable if I had written that I was permanently damaged and that I needed pity? It turns out that with the exception of trained professionals, everyone I’ve shared my childhood molestation with assumes trauma and damage. And I get tired of correcting them. So being matter of fact about my experience was one way to let readers know that you truly don’t need to worry about 8 year old me.

I did consider leaving the molestation out altogether, but I ultimately decided that sharing the range of experiences made the post stronger. I recognize your right to disagree.

Obviously, crimes like molestation and rape are so clearly wrong that society already recognizes them as wrong. And stating the obvious was not the point of this post. I hope I was clear that the intention was not to focus on the most horrific scenarios that people experience, but to demonstrate that misogyny is so widespread and normalized that we don’t even notice when we have been harassed.

Perhaps my post was a trigger for you and if so I apologize for bringing up any painful memories.

I’m on your side too, whatever side that may be. : )

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185 Jess June 2, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Hi Tasha and Gabrielle! This post and the comments have got me thinking about how we respond to molestation – and other experiences with abuse – at both ends of the spectrum, and Tasha’s comment is a good example of this (not trying to pick on you at all!). A young girl is abused and we tell her she should feel ashamed and embarrassed, even that her purity has been compromised. A young girl is abused and we tell her that she should feel anxious or damaged, even that her mental health will have been compromised. These responses are wildly different, but they both involve telling a female what she should think about her own experience. Which strikes me as sort of odd, because if there’s one take away lesson from the entire feminist movement, I think it’s “women can, and should, make up their own minds about things”.

This is of course not to say that molesting children isn’t an incredibly serious crime, or that we shouldn’t teach our children that it’s unacceptable. Just that if – God forbid – it does happen to them, we should never dismiss how they say they feel about it, no matter what those feelings might be.

I’d also like to mention that I have never been molested or raped, and that I am a confident woman who grew up in a liberal environment outside of an organised religion, and yet in 99% of cases I too end up just grinning and bearing a man whose behaviour I find creepy, uncomfortable or intimidating. Strangers who slow down their car, who grab you, who follow you, who make the lewdest of comments, who touch too much: my instinct in the heat of the moment is always that I don’t want to be rude. Ridiculous, right? I’m sharing as anecdotal evidence that Gabrielle’s reaction to the aeroplane men isn’t unusual or necessarily stemming from trauma.

Thank you both for this great conversation :)

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186 The Advicist June 3, 2014 at 3:13 am

Jess, you’re so right: “we should never dismiss how they say they feel about it, no matter what those feelings might be.”

Why are people telling Gabby that she should be so affected by this? She feels she wasn’t, ergo she wasn’t.

This is just another type of victim shaming that feeds into the culture we are railing against.

She feels how she feels. Let her decide.

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187 Tasha June 3, 2014 at 7:41 am

I hear you all and appreciate the comments. Jess you are clear and well stated. I know I never said how anyone should feel and was reacting to my understanding of what was being said. I felt compassion, not an ounce of pity. I wouldn’t want pity either, I doubt most people do. I also do not believe in “it is your fault, or you asked for it” thinking prevalent still today. Yes, I agree with you on that. Girls, anyone, should not feel to blame. I also did not mean this to be a personal reaction. But it is personal I suppose for all of us.

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188 Jess June 3, 2014 at 9:53 am

Thanks Tasha! And I didn’t mean to make it sound like I don’t get your response, because I totally do. My personal first reaction, too, was “how can anyone not be hugely affected by that?!”. I often find that the hardest part of fighting misogyny – the most insidious sort, tiny things so ingrained we barely notice them – is calling myself out in the ways I think and act.

189 Tasha June 3, 2014 at 8:00 am

My reply was a gut reaction. No of course I would not want you or anyone to feel damaged and traumatized. That is by no means what I meant. I think in hearing you reiterate that you are fine made me wonder as I would when a child or student says those words. They are usually cause for concern. I didn’t respect you as an adult and am sorry for that. I also didn’t mean to take the focus off the topic.

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190 Katy June 2, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Why do you think a black woman would be imprisoned for going to the police because she was sexually assaulted? Just because they are 8x more likely to go to prison, it doesn’t mean they can’t trust the police if they are looking for help. I felt like that comment was really out of left field and portrays cops as bad people, but maybe I was misunderstanding what you were trying to say.

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191 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I don’t think a black woman would be imprisoned for going to the police because she was sexually assaulted. But I can’t imagine that if I grew up knowing I was 8x more likely to go to prison simply for the color of my skin, that I would assume the law or law enforcers would be on my side in any situation.

Of course, I’m not black and can’t speak for black women. But the numbers certainly don’t encourage trust in the current system.

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192 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Also, I agree that the paragraph probably did feel a bit random. I suppose the P.S. with the Mormon hashtag did as well. They were both part of my attempt to show the breadth of what I had seen and had been thinking about over the weekend.

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193 mgn June 3, 2014 at 5:39 pm

I’m even more confused by this now. Why are you assuming that they are in jail “just for the color of their skin”. There are statistically many more men in jail than women, but I don’t believe it’s because they have penises. Maybe they are in jail because of racial profiling, but I don’t see any evidence of that based on what you are saying, I would want to know more.

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194 Design Mom June 3, 2014 at 7:12 pm

I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but your comment sounds like you are purposefully being obtuse. It is widely known that racial profiling and racial injustice are a massive problem in doling out sentences. The most recent book I read on the subject is Orange is the New Black. But the topic has also been covered in virtually every news publication in the country. You don’t have to look far if you want to search.

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195 Ann June 2, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Thanks Gabriel. Thanks for recounting your experience when you were young. I think it happens more than people admit. Your recounting this has reminded me of an experience of mine and that I do need to talk to my daughters about this. Thanks. Thanks for being brave and including that story.

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196 Sara June 2, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Yes! Thanks so much for your brave and thought provoking writing. :) I admire you so much.

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197 Anne June 2, 2014 at 4:52 pm

The sad thing for me is the assumption that women have to be on the defensive. My freshman year of college I was stuck profoundly by the rape whistles we were given to carry around on our key chains, the rape whistles in the (locked) shower rooms, the blue emergency phone lights around campus. Our orientation to campus as females was a “ladies, here’s your rape defense kit.” I have no idea if the guys got a corresponding lecture on “men, don’t rape or be an aggressor.”

I travel frequently for work and absolutely feel your pain on the airplane seat mate. I also would have erred on the side of not making the man feel uncomfortable and then I would have stewed over it long after the flight.

I’m still grumpy about a TSA agent who was looking over my ticket and ID and told me to smile before he’d stamp my ticket & let me pass through security. I didn’t want to smile but I also just wanted to get home. So I smiled. And I still resent that I didn’t say anything.

I guess the question for me is if a few minutes of discomfort for someone else in the moment is worth not carrying the experience with me long afterwards. The answer seems so obvious and yet so hard.

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198 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:19 pm

“I have no idea if the guys got a corresponding lecture on “men, don’t rape or be an aggressor.”

This.

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199 Kirsten June 2, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I really appreciate this post. I grew up Mormon and am no longer affiliated with the church for a multitude of reasons but one that would definitely serve this hashtag well. I don’t feel like talking about it at the moment though or confessing in someone’s blog post comments.

Really I just want to give you a huge compliment! I wish I knew more Mormon women like you growing up. I am sure in my mind I would still not be religious as an adult, but it would have been nice to know others like you! I wish I had more family members like you!

Please, please, please know that it is okay to stand up for yourself. I am troubled that you didn’t say something to that man on the plane. It is definitely not okay for him to touch anyone’s body anywhere. So creepy. I hope someone calls him on it soon! Next time that happens I hope you do. You deserve to be treated with respect!

I highly recommend going to a self defense training class with all the girls in your house above 12. I just did one again with my daughter. It was fantastic. I loved learning how to kick and hit with my daughter and yell things like “I am a powerful woman!” and “I am worth defending!”

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200 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:21 pm

It’s so strange. Because I truly know I can stand up for myself. And I have in other instances. But each situation is different, and on the airplane I intended to say something, and somehow never quite figured out what I should say or when I should say it. Still not sure what stopped me up.

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201 Shelley June 2, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Thank you, Thank you for speaking so openly about your experiences Gabrielle.
One of the things, I’ve tried to force myself to do is to be more open about my experiences and not be afraid to talk about them.
Steph, I completely agree that we need to talk to our sons and include them in the conversation.
I have many stories in which I didn’t speak up but I have two good stories where I pointed out sexist behavior. I must be honest and first tell you that I already knew that I was planning on quitting my job in a few months, so knowing that, it made speaking out easier. This was my first career-type job and I was mostly surrounded by older male coworkers. These examples sound like small things, but it’s hard to exactly explain how being a female always affected how I was treated at work. Example 1: In one of my final department meetings, I confronted a coworker. He was yelling at me in front of everyone, even though he was upset about a general problem, he directed his comments directly at me. Finally, I said to him, “Are you yelling at me because it’s easier to yell at the only young woman in the room?” I was one of only two women in the room and much younger than the other woman. I actually really respected this coworker, but I’m fairly confident he was directing his comments to me because somehow it was less confrontational than yelling at a man. He was startled by my comment and all yelling stopped. He had a meeting with me later in which he apologized, sort-of.
At that same job, I confronted one of my female bosses about her sexist behavior. Another male coworker was complaining about something I planned to do in a very aggressive manner and she immediately took his side with out even consulting me about it. I had done everything correctly he just didn’t read his schedule correctly. I confronted my female boss. To be perfectly clear, I had never had a problem in this area, so I truly believe she acquiesced to his demands because he was an older man and I was a young woman. My boss was shocked and I think she felt pretty horrible about the whole thing. I don’t think she even considered that this man might have been wrong and made such a stupid mistake. She was a very strong woman, but I think this behavior is so ingrained. This was my first career-type job and I was surrounded by mostly older male coworkers. Those years were shocking for me and a big learning/growing experience. It makes me think about Anita Hill and how brave she was to do what she did – when she did.

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202 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I LOVE both of your stories.

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203 Megan M. June 2, 2014 at 5:25 pm

I’m not on Twitter but I’ve read some of the articles that feature some #yesallwomen tweets and of course I’ve read the comments from other women sharing their stories. It makes me so angry and sad for myself and all women, that we have these things happen to us so often, so brazenly, and that we either feel we can’t speak up, or if we do, we get absolutely no support from people around us (and sometimes even more harassment.)

I’m a very shy, meek, introverted person. I have a very hard time standing up for myself. I definitely want to empower my daughters, and I’ve taught them about their private parts and what kind of touching is allowed (they’re still very young) and I plan to keep talking to them as they grow, but I often feel like I’m fighting a battle I’ll lose, or maybe that it’s the blind leading the blind – if I don’t feel comfortable being assertive and protecting myself, how can I teach them to?

I’m pregnant with a boy, due in September, and I’m so worried about raising him to respect women and never treat them as objects. I don’t want my son contributing to this hashtag, ever.

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204 Elizabeth June 2, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Thanks for a great article and ideas of how to get the discussion started with kids. Initially, my thought as far as talking to kids about this was, “I don’t have to worry about this as much yet because I have a son and another son on the way.” As in, this is really a conversation to have with our girls. But then I realized how this just feeds into the culture of misogyny – that this is a woman’s problem that women need to fix. If more moms taught their sons about these issues, we wouldn’t be having as many problems. I plan to talk with my boys as they get older about the responsibility they have in treating women with respect and speaking up for others when necessary. I am so glad my husband already sets this example by having more than one uncomfortable conversation at work to his superiors about men in his department that were making sexually inappropriate comments to a woman he works with – I wish more men would speak up!

The post also made me think about the single most effective thing I think I have done to make myself feel safer. I only wish I had done it in high school or college, rather than a few months ago at age 28. The college that I teach at was offering a RAD course. If you haven’t heard about it, it is an amazingly powerful workshop that teaches women self-defense, but more importantly teaches them how to be safe and speak up for themselves. I loved the hands-on self-defense component but equally important was the part when we talked about the legal definition of sexual harassment and what we can do about it. It was so empowering to know that some of those everyday annoying experiences are actual illegal and that you can and should stick up for yourself – you have every right! The last part of the class was a simulation where you experienced different scenarios and then attempted to escape/fight off the attacker. One scenario was kindof a “gang rape” situation or what I would imagine happens in frat houses across the country. It was four guys surrounding you in the dark, saying scary, intimidating things and pushing you around. Even though I knew it was fake and I knew the guys who were pretending to be the attackers I had nightmares about it for weeks. I think it was good though because it helped me understand what others have gone through and gave me the courage and reassurance that I could deal with a situation like that and I could stand up for myself. Feeling powerless is something women experience often and I so hope that I can teach both my sons and my (hopefully) future daughters to handle situations in a way that makes people feel empowered and respected.

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205 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:22 pm

In my freshman dorm there were sometimes self-defense workshops, but I never took one. I should sign up for something like that.

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206 Lauren June 2, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Thanks for approaching this issue from such a thoughtful place. I’m not yet a parent, but I love seeing how you broach the difficult topics with your children.

Your airplane story reminded me of an incident I had forgotten/minimized. When I was a super-young college student, I found myself sitting on a plane next to an older guy. I was studying for an exam, so we didn’t talk much – I didn’t even introduce myself. But I must have had my name/contact information written in one of my school folders. When I got home, this guy had emailed and Facebook messaged me, asking me out. It made me feel very freaked out – I removed my name from all my books, and tightened up my Facebook privacy settings. But it never occurred to me to email him back, saying, You made me feel unsafe – please don’t do this to other women.

I think the #yesallwomen conversation is forcing us to think about ways we CAN speak up, while keeping ourselves safe. We’re also connecting the dots – realizing that other women have experiences just like our own, or even worse. I feel really moved and overwhelmed by this phenomenon.

Finally, I’m wondering whether you have noticed differences in terms of feeling safe as a woman, in different cities where you have lived. I lived in Paris as a young woman and loved it, but I did NOT feel safe alone. I got heckled quite aggressively and I found the RER quite scary at night. At Chatelet-Les Halles or Gare du Nord, sometimes teenagers (both genders) would grab hold of your waist and press against you as you were walking through the turnstile. It was so they could ride the trains without paying, but it still made me feel really vulnerable to have someone suddenly grab me and press against me. Of course, the crazy thing is, I have never really thought about it until now – it just seemed like something I needed to learn to handle.

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207 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:23 pm

“I think the #yesallwomen conversation is forcing us to think about ways we CAN speak up, while keeping ourselves safe.”

I agree.

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208 Cecilia June 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm

I had those same kind of experiences living in Paris as a young woman. The second day I was there, a man followed me to the exterior door of my apartment building, expecting he would come up with me because I had looked at him on the Metro. He was quite shocked when I said no! But he wasn’t violent…I remember another man, running after me in the dark, with no pants on. (In retrospect, I can laugh at that one.) I was lucky to have wonderful neighbors (a French couple who worked at the Folies Bergère) who gave me tips and taught me a whole string of things to say back to these men—from polite to quite nasty—to get them to leave me alone. But I must also add that many times Parisian men came to my aid when I was vulnerable, lost, or otherwise needed help.

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209 Tina June 2, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Thank you for be willing to discuss this on your family and on your blog. I loved the link from a few week’s ago about the “slickness of sexism.” Little things to tend to catch one off guard.

In response to this hashtag, Teacher Tom wrote a great post from a male perspective: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2014/05/yesallwomen.html

One year my oldest had a preschool teacher who taught her how to set boundaries with a pushy kid in the class–she taught my child how to say loudly “Stop, I don’t like that” while extending her arm to put space between her and the pushy kid. While the teacher did also separately handle the pushy kid, teaching my child how to set a boundary was a life-long gift to both my child AND me. Nobody had ever taught or showed me that it was ok to set a boundary and how to do it.

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210 kristin h June 3, 2014 at 7:09 pm

That’s exactly what a police officer told me to do. He said most people who want to hurt you first need to feel power over you. One of those ways is by getting into your personal space. By pushing them to an arms length and being firm, you take their power over you away. I love that her preschool teacher taught her that!

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211 Ange June 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Thank you for candidly sharing your experiences ! There is so much power in shining light in dark places, and that is what I appreciate about the #yesallwomen. When we use our voice to expose violence and misogyny, we grow stronger.
One strong moment I remember as a child was when my cousins tried to molest me. I yelled, “NO!” , and told my parents and the boys were disciplined. My mother was molested as a child, and she always told me to stand up for myself. That did not help when I was in a consensual romantic situation that became non consensual when I said no and was ignored. The shame I felt from getting in that situation kept me from identifying that what happened to me was rape for too long. Hopefully, by sharing our stories and educating men and women , we can make our world safer:)

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212 Meg June 2, 2014 at 6:18 pm

I’m glad you brought this up and I think it is really wonderful and important that you discussed it with your kids as well. It bothers me how the default is for women to not say anything or not be “bothersome,” and it bothers me how so many aggressions pass under our radars because we’re used to them. But as you said about your airplane story, the conditioning & fear of reactions does make it genuinely difficult to speak up in the moment. Have you figured out what you might do if something like that happened again?

I think the hashtag is a great move that gets conversations going.

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213 Naomi June 2, 2014 at 6:25 pm

This is such a strong post. And I totally understand what you mean about not really thinking it applied to me at first… there are so many instances that you just sweep aside once you’ve lived through them. I’ve never had to deal with molestation or rape but I have certainly lived through many sketchy situations, some of which I am sure I didn’t handle correctly at all. I want my kids to know it’s okay to speak up when something feels wrong- and to know when they’re making someone else feel uncomfortable.

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214 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Thanks for jumping in, Naomi.

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215 Robin June 2, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Gabrielle, thank you for this thoughtful and important post today. I was behind on the #yesallwomen news until today and have been reading twitter and other online sources with my jaw dropped while also nodding along in agreement – and with great hope that with the awareness generated by this hashtag we will do better in the future. An enormous thank you to you and others who have commented for sharing their stories and by doing so, helping to create change. #yesallwomen

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216 Libby June 2, 2014 at 6:33 pm

I love this dialogue so much. Thank you for initiating it, Gabrielle.

I, for one, am very glad that women are posting their experiences to the Twitterverse. It has brought back many memories for me. And I am very, very thankful for the links to the postings regarding women of color. I hadn’t thought of how their situation would be different from mine and I appreciate my view being broadened.

Regarding the airplane situation, it can be hard to think of what to do in such a situation when you are actually in the middle of it and you’re caught off guard, etc. But, if I were in the situation and had my wits about me, I would absolutely say, “Guys, with all due respect, I do not feel comfortable sitting in the middle of you two. I’m sure you’re both lovely, but I’m feeling squished and claustrophic, so one of you has to switch with me.” And if they didn’t take me seriously, then I would reiterate that I was serious and that if they couldn’t help me resolve the situation then I was going to have to find another seat. Sometimes, owning a situation can also diffuse it. Because you have stated your piece of mind and now it’s out in the open and maybe I would stay sitting there but they would be conscious of not crowding me or touching me.

But I am an Extrovert and I give people the benefit of the doubt. I like people, in general.

I once gave my number to a guy at a bar and when he called me the next day, I told him that I had changed my mind and didn’t feel comfortable going out with him. He became verbally abusive to me over the phone and it just completely validated my intuition to NOT go out with him.

I try to deflect with kindness, but I have been called a bitch for setting my boundaries. I don’t like it, but oh well.

And I am the same way about elevators and I, too, loved Gavin de Becker’s books. He is so passionate about reminding us to trust our intuition and that it is imperative that we honor it. I love him for that.

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217 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Lots of love for Gavin de Becker’s books! Sounds like I need to get them on my reading list.

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218 Kate June 2, 2014 at 6:53 pm

This was a very thorough and informative post. Thank you for the dialogue. However, afterward I feel sick in my heart, angry, paranoid, helpless. How can we overcome those feelings? What’s the proposed strategy to the #yesallwomen problem? A reasonable, doable solution that won’t take a generation and an overturning of cultural “norms” to attain? I’d love to see a follow up post on this. I’m grateful for the example you provided of discussing with your children. How did that discussion end? I’d like to feel empowered rather than terrified. Thank you!!!

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219 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I know how you feel. I felt angry and helpless reading the hashtag over the weekend. For me, taking action is part of what’s helping me cope. My actions have been simple. Writing this post. Sharing the #hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Talking about this with my kids, my husband, and friends that want to discuss it.

Taking even these small actions has helped me tremendously.

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220 Jaleen June 2, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Before I was married I would wear and ring on my ring finger…it is surprising how many people that bothered (family, friends, etc). I would explain to them that it made me more comfortable because it helped keep men away while I was working. If I got asked out I would just hold up my hand and say sorry (which some take as a lie but whatever). I truly believe it helped me be safer and prevent some awkward situations (I had some before that).

About the plane…I ususally do what I call “playing dumb” (for women and men ) when I feel uncomfortable or not listened to. Put it on them. Such as ” wow, if you were trying to make me uncomfortable so that you wouldn’t have someone sitting between you it worked.” Kind of a call themout with a little less in your face to cause you some fear because of his hurt ego while still calling him out on how it made you feel… You can get to move or he stops and you stay. Some I’m sure won’t agree with any of this but it works for me. It allows me to be a little less of a “witch” but still get my way.

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221 Happy June 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Your comment highlights the twitter posts that struck me the most – the idea that a man respects you more as another man’s ‘property’ than for your own thoughts (e.g. saying no). It happens so frequently and is so pervasive that it encapsulates, for me, everything the hashtag is about.

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222 April O. June 2, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Someone may have already said this, but I felt the need to comment.

You seem to have written off the molestation as not that big of a deal, in comparison to others. If any of your children were enduring this type of behavior, wouldn’t you be appalled, and vigilant in protecting them to the full extent of the law? Yes, I am sure you would, rightly, go all mama bear in their defense.

You are not different than your children, in terms of value and having a right to not be molested by a sick, selfish individual.

Your story is disturbing, because what that man did to you was so wrong and yes damaging. You don’t need to make light of it, you did absolutely nothing wrong. You even spoke up and told him to stop, and he didn’t; this makes me wonder if you shy away from confrontation (like on the plane) because this one person made you believe the lie that you don’t have a right to speak up for yourself.

None of this is intended to be harsh or judgmental. I only want to convey that you, like everyone, has a right to call a spade a spade and know that you are valuable.

Blessings.

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223 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 7:36 pm

For sure I would not want any molestation to happen to my kids. And we discuss prevention and self care regularly in the hopes they’ll feel comfortable telling us if anything ever happens. But I don’t think it’s okay to assume that all molestations are damaging.

I’m not sure how to convince you that I wasn’t damaged by my experience. But I wasn’t. Your assumption is that my 8 year old self was scared of the molester and scared to tell anyone about it. I wasn’t scared. To my eight year old head it was more of a nuisance than anything else.

I addressed this in an earlier comment, but I feel like I can track my hesitation on the airplane to my teenage years. I was working out, I was as fast and strong as I’ve ever been, and yet, I had a realization that even the wimpiest kid in my grade could take me in an arm wrestle. Boys were simply stronger than me and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

That thought sunk in deep. And from that point on, if any boy ever gave me the creeps I steered far away. If the Southwest flight hadn’t been full, I would have certainly steered away from my seatmates before ever sitting down.

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224 Sara June 2, 2014 at 7:24 pm

So many incidents are coming back. Mostly minor but every one a reminder that being a woman in this world means dealing with fear and insult perpetrated by men. Typically total strangers who think they are cute or clever for treating a woman like a toy for their amusement. Thanks for telling your stories, and for also being brave enough to cast some light on misogyny in your own faith tradition. Change is possible.

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225 Kristen June 2, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Thank you for such a brave, open and authentic post. And talking to your kids….bravo! That is exactly how things will change. What an example. Thank you.

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226 Zoe - SlowMama June 2, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I haven’t read the hashtag, and don’t know that I will. It’s true; every woman has experienced some level of sexual harassment or inappropriate comments/conduct from men — me included. From instances as a child from little boys in my class, to comments and behaviors into adulthood (too many to count), to men exposing themselves to me (once on the subway), to males bosses who truly believed their misogyny or sexual problems were just about being “flirty” and playful.

While I think it’s really helpful for women to know this is so common and to feel supported and empowered to speak up, I don’t think anything will really change until MEN begin challenging men to change. Where are the men writing about this, speaking about this, confronting other men? If men didn’t accept these behaviors among each other, I think we’d see some progress. It needs to be unacceptable among men to treat women this way.

I also think this is a symptom of deeper issues we have to address in our families, schools, and communities: how to treat others with dignity and not as means to an end, how to set and enforce healthy boundaries, manners, and the willingness to address psycho-sexual problems, which seem so pervasive today.

Also, I don’t think we should forget that men can be victimized in this way, too. I am the oldest sister of three handsome, good men and they’ve had their share of what I would consider sexual harassment from women. While it’s never been physically threatening, it’s still been unpleasant, offensive, and just down-right disrespectful. (And, of course, gay men are surely the victims of sexual harassment, too.)

Such a brave post, Gabrielle.

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227 Jillian June 3, 2014 at 6:15 am

There are men challenging other men- here are a few examples: http://www.policymic.com/articles/90079/37-men-show-us-what-real-men-s-activists-look-like

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228 Zoe - SlowMama June 3, 2014 at 8:55 am

Thanks for sharing that, Jillian — so good to see!

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229 Kay June 2, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Hi Gabriele,
I just wanted to thank you for this post. It’s funny-when I was younger I considered myself much more of a social activist but feminism was never on my radar-I didn’t think it was an issue. But as I get older I realize just how prevalent sexism is in our society. Not only in instances of unwanted sexual advances, but also in terms of alloccation of money and power. While interviewing candidates for a position at my workplace for which I was to be the superior (in terms of responsibility and also management – I was to be someone’s direct boss), it came out that the candidate, a man who was older than me, had requested and was to receive a substantially higher salary (15-20% higher). He didn’t have any more experience and he had a lower level of education, but he was male, older, and demanding, so my boss thought it was reasonable. Thankfully, I discussed it with my boss and he agreed to speak to an HR specialist (end result: I got a big raise :)).
On a totally different note, I wanted to thank you for your honesty and openness about being molested. My older sisters were both molested by a family relative (they would not let me be alone with him so I escaped it, a fact for which I am eternally grateful and shattered). I think that people don’t realize how prevalent abuse is because there is such a taboo around speaking about it. If it happens to you, you are marked as being damaged, even if you do not feel that way about yourself. Abuse happens more often than most of us realize. It is not okay, and neither is creating a space where victims are unable to be open and honest about it. I’m not sure I’m expressing myself clearly, but the end point is: I really appreciate your openness and honesty :)

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230 Cassie June 2, 2014 at 8:08 pm

You *must* read Fight Like a Girl. Both of your scenarios are in the book- with alternate endings. You are very, very right to be concerned about elevators and hotel hallways. The book on the whole is about giving you tools and advice on how to handle the situations. I found it eye opening and empowering.

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231 Karen D. June 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm

My vote is to allow your condescension to override your discomfort. When I am touched in a “friendly” way by a stranger, I always laugh and say “You must be kidding me. Come on. You know better than this. What would you tell your (sister/wife/mother) to do if a stranger touched her. Keep your hands to yourself.” Then I shake my head, smiling and pick up a magazine. They always apologize, and I always smile in acceptance, because the situation is ridiculous – it is literally a bad joke that we have to deal with this in 2014. But I NEVER say anything else to them period. They have lost the right to “friendly” conversation. It is not my job to make them feel better – in fact if I’m honest about wanting the world to be more cognizant of it’s harmful but “innocent” behavior, I HAVE to reject their absolute desire to make it a moment of confusion, to force me to admit that “we are all ok” or that I have corrected my misunderstanding. I didn’t misunderstand anything. I mean to be condescending. I mean to make them uncomfortable for the rest of the flight. I want them to feel like they did something stupid and thoughtless at best. Because they did, and they should feel uncomfortable, not me. And if I want a world of men who won’t touch my daughters like this without a tiny bit of fear that they will be ridiculed (forget punished, because we all know how that gets turned around on us), it is my job every single time it happens to make that world. My job. Not my choice. It is an unfair burden, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is a choice. To believe it is a choice is to believe you are not a part of the culture that makes this ok every time you laugh it off, every time you take it. It is your prerogative to do that, but if you do, do not believe you are anything more than part of the problem. All of us has been part of the problem in the past – before we knew what we could do – before we had words, had plans, had thoughts – and if what this hashtag does is force kind people to accept their responsibility to handle these things differently, then all the better. [And before I get beaten up for writing this, I'm not suggesting you antagonize the clearly violent. I am saying, what on earth makes you think a man is less likely to stalk/attack you when you do engage with him while he is taking physical advantage of you than if you don't. And I am not suggesting you can't be kind to strangers. I am stating that if you believe you are kind, then don't give yourself a pass when someone is so clearly misguided. Be kind and guide him.]

Last unrelated note – don’t laugh off your daughters chasing boys, physically attacking them, calling them boyfriend, stalking them, if you would detest it were the genders reversed. As the mother of daughters, I am as concerned about society’s acceptance of girl-aggression with boys as I am about any risk of violence against my daughters.

Thanks for raising a thought-provoking topic.

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232 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm

“I didn’t misunderstand anything. I mean to be condescending. I mean to make them uncomfortable for the rest of the flight. I want them to feel like they did something stupid and thoughtless at best. Because they did, and they should feel uncomfortable, not me.”

Go Karen! I love your fierce response.

I’m going to reread your comment like a pep talk!

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233 Janssen June 2, 2014 at 11:20 pm

THIS is the best. I feel like I should print this out and carry it with my travel documents.

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234 Amy June 3, 2014 at 12:35 am

That is exactly right! NEVER give in and say “it’s ok” BECAUSE IT ISN’T. I’ve taken the same attitude of making someone feel uncomfortable since I did not choose that path first. THEY choose to make the situation weird/wrong/uncomfortable and I’m going to try my best to make them feel even more uncomfortable than I am. Take the power back. Things don’t have to be smoothed over. They really don’t.

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235 Becca June 3, 2014 at 9:22 pm

I love that possible response to the unwanted touching, Karen. My favorite that’s been suggested so far in this conversation.

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236 Kimberly June 4, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Oh, man (ha), I LOVE this!!!

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237 Lynne Millar June 5, 2014 at 6:29 pm

“My job. Not my choice. It is an unfair burden, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is a choice. To believe it is a choice is to believe you are not a part of the culture that makes this ok every time you laugh it off, every time you take it. It is your prerogative to do that, but if you do, do not believe you are anything more than part of the problem. All of us has been part of the problem in the past – before we knew what we could do – before we had words, had plans, had thoughts – and if what this hashtag does is force kind people to accept their responsibility to handle these things differently, then all the better.”

You make a really important point for me. I am possibly the most un-confrontational human being ever, and what you said above helps me to understand that it is indeed a responsibility for me to not hide behind my kindness in similar situations, bur rather, speak up. Thank you. Very, very powerful.

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238 rr June 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Gabi — your writing lately has been superb. Your thought-provoking, important topics and wonderful writing have made your blog one of my favorite places in all of the interwebs. Thank you :)

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239 kara June 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm

This was a really interesting read. I, too, find myself in the “rarely approached” category, I believe partially because I give everyone the stink-eye from a mile away. Still, I have had to shoo away my share of drunks following me and making inappropriate comments while I walked home. The thing that stands out to me, though, is that while training for a half marathon, I went on a run along a creek trail (part of the marathon course) with a male friend of mine. As we were running I commented that it was such a nice trail, it was too bad I could never go down there on my own– not visible from the road, a few homeless encampments along the way, totally unsafe for me. This was a totally normal comment to me– no woman I know would run on that trail alone– but he was totally baffled. It had never occurred to him to feel unsafe in a normal, public place and it was fascinating to me how different our experiences and perspectives were.

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240 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Perfect observation.

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241 Amy June 4, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Something similar happened to me this past wkend when I was taking BART (subway) home with my husband at night. He chose to sit towards one end of the train from where we entered with 2 men sitting separately, and the other direction had more people and several couples. I commented to him that it felt risky and he seemed surprised that I felt that way, and even thought the situation was different b/c we were together, I was analyzing this based on what I would do if alone.

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242 Misty June 2, 2014 at 8:40 pm

I feel I need to chime in. At first I thought the hash-tag was a bit too extreme. But, then I started thinking of all the situations I was aware of where a woman was sexually taunted, abused or harassed. Now, I get it and think it can be a great tool.
My husband and I have talked a lot about the differences of men’s and women’s realities. He says “as a man, people assume you are the predator, always, and as a woman, you feel as if you are the prey. Which one is “better”? To be be assumed guilty, or be afraid for your life?” I find this so sad and true.
Also, my son is Autistic. He has a difficult time “reading” body language. I feel it is one of my life goals to teach him how to tell if a girl is uncomfortable and treat them with respect.

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243 Amy June 3, 2014 at 12:37 am

Give him the tool of asking clarifying questions.

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244 Misty June 3, 2014 at 6:22 am

Definitely! We do this as well. Mostly , he just has the question of, “what does that mean?” He doesn’t know where to start. Baby steps.

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245 Amy June 3, 2014 at 9:48 am

As a person married to a man with high functioning AS, I certainly understand!

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246 sarah k June 2, 2014 at 9:05 pm

I think I made it through all the comments, because I felt it was fascinating, hard, important, sobering reading. Thank you, Gabrielle, for sharing your thoughts and experiences and opening the conversation–and I for one believe you have a right to tell your story in the way you want, and respond to your own experiences in your own way, without being doubted or psychoanalyzed by anyone. :) And I definitely don’t think that your concerns about elevators and that airplane creep are evidence that you are traumatized by your childhood experiences–I was lucky enough to escape anything like that but I am nervous on elevators (will probably now be moreso!) and I would have been horrified by that man touching me.

I also think that for me personally, it’s much easier to think of snappy comments or response strategies outside the situation, while I am too stunned to take action in the moment. I think it’s totally understandable that you weren’t sure what to do and no scenario felt like a good one–because you were dealing with reality, not how the world should ideally be.

I don’t have any really horrible stories. Just the run-of-the-mill catcall stuff while out running, etc. But one thing does stand out: in college, there was a guy in one of my classes who had tried to talk to me a few times and gave me his number (unasked). I looked him in the eye and told him I wasn’t going to call him. A week or so later I walked into class and sat down, and suddenly out of nowhere he was in my face, talking in this low threatening hiss into my ear: “When are you going to get it through your head that we are going to go out?” I froze. I am not conflict-averse but I was just shocked. I refused to look at him, maybe said “no” or something, and he went away. The girl next to me had picked up on something and said, “What did he say to you?!” For a long time afterwards I was angry at myself for not shaming the guy on the spot, or physically pushing him away (would that have been a good idea or not? I don’t know) or telling administrators or something. It wasn’t physically violent but it felt very threatening, very demeaning, and I can still hear his voice in my ear. Again, nothing to compare with the tragic traumas many women experience, but a small taste of the power (some) men think they can exercise over women.

I like some of the suggestions others have made about the airplane situation. I think my response would probably be a death glare, but I want to remember some of the suggestions made in case I face a similar situation sometime. And I am thinking with anxiety about how to prepare my two beautiful daughters to be brave but safe in this world…

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247 maya June 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm

You absolutely should have told him to stop touching you. If he truly “didn’t mean anything by it” which I do not for a second believe then he would have been mortified when you pointed it out and would have immediately apologized and stopped. Any other reaction proves it wasn’t “innocent.”

I have had to stand up for myself and other women over and over again and while it isn’t fun, I believe it is entirely necessary.

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248 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag June 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm

So here’s a bit of a story. Not about sexual harassment per se, but plain harassment. I have a friend (not really friends anymore b/c I reached my limit), and she has the most obnoxious husband who ever lived. Seriously, the man teases, offends and verbally torments all who cross his path. He’ll look right at you in mid conversation and say things like ‘wow your eyes are really close together, lucky your kid doesn’t have that’ or things of that ilk. That’s a mild example. He ‘teases’ by basically saying the rudest thing possible, and he does it to everyone. If he were a woman, people would think he was a psychotic bitch, but somehow b/c he’s a man, it’s kind of like, oh hey, I’m just joking around here! I finally got to the point where I realized I had a knot in my stomach every time I was around this individual and I ended the friendship with my girlfriend and told her I couldn’t tolerate her husband anymore.

I don’t think he would be able to say the outrageous things he does if he were a woman….not for one second.

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249 C June 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Gabby, thank you for taking on this important topic. At age 31, I recently verbalized my experience of being molested to my husband of almost 12 years. I wish I was in the same place that you are where I felt I escaped more unscathed, but more than 20 years of silence was my first indicator that I might be having a problem. My abuser was female and only a few years older than me, and I think that made me downplay it for many years. As I read this post, memories began flooding of past instances of harassment . One of the worst was during my high school job at a hospital. I did scheduling for one department, and I shared desk space with a man who scheduled for a different department. He started trying to sit closer to me so our legs would touch, and it definitely sent off red flags. I frequently had to go back to a small office to retrieve medical records, and when he started trying to corner me in there alone, embracing me or rubbing my shoulders or leaning in close, every buzzer was going off in my head, but I did nothing. I knew I should be going to human resources, but I didn’t want to come off as a dramatic teenager since I was only 17 and much younger than any other hospital employee. A family I knew helped land me the job, and I didn’t want them to think I was ungrateful for working there. I knew that the scheduler would lose his job and felt badly for him. I was so relieved when his department moved to a new building. Looking back, I am upset that I wasn’t more assertive. Within the past few years I’ve dealt with overly touchy doctors, but this has brought up memories from as far back as junior primary (maybe I was 5 or 6?) when I remember having a teacher who liked to put his hand up my dress to rub my back. This is way too prevalent. I feel like I’ve always talked to my kids about saying no, etc., but I’ve realized instead of just warning them, I need to give them strategies to use if/when they are in these situations. Thank you for giving me much to think about. I feel motivated to become a stronger voice for change.

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250 Sue June 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I enjoy reading your blog and am glad you have stirred the conversation.
But -
I am having a really hard time wrapping my head around your statements regarding being molested at age 8. I sincerely hope you told your parents, but I’m doubting you did. The perpetrator may very well have gone on to do more than merely rub his penis between the butt cheeks of another innocent child. Molesters tend to progress, not stop. As a survivor of familial sexual abuse, I do take this very seriously. You are fortunate to not feel your life was altered by these acts, I have been in therapy most of my adult life, PTSD.

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251 Design Mom June 2, 2014 at 10:22 pm

I’m truly sorry to hear about your PTSD from your own experiences with sexual abuse. No doubt I can’t even imagine your struggles or what you’ve endured.

But your comment feels like you are projecting your experiences on me — or somehow lecturing 8 year old me that my reaction at that age wasn’t correct or should have been different.

I’m not sure what to tell you. It’s very likely our experiences were totally different on many levels. And we both have different brains and bodies that experience things in different ways. We simply can’t assume more about someone else’s experience than we actually know.

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252 Connie June 2, 2014 at 10:11 pm

I found this an interesting post, and it really made me think. I wondered how you, or anyone would feel, if the person sitting next to you on the plane were a woman. Would the behavior be OK then? Absolutely not defending the behavior, but curious if we apply different standards of acceptability to the behavior depending on whether a man or woman displays it.

I read through several of the comments on the #yesallwomen thread, and there were some I really connected with. One that really caught my attention was this one:

#YesAllWomen bc women frequently contribute to misogyny by berating other women for how they look, act, dress, behave.

Sometimes women can be so cruel towards other women, and that can be just as damaging, if not more so, than some of the behaviors men display. Please know that i am not saying women are worse, or discounting the behaviors that men can display…I think it is important to recognize how women can harass each other, and that behavior also deserves conversation.

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253 jen June 2, 2014 at 10:22 pm

i know i was brought up in a different generation that i think most of your readers can relate to. if someone made me feel uncomfortable my natural inclination is to feel shame, embarrassed and self blame. i am so ready to break this cycle. and i think honest conversations like this is going to help the cause.

we need to raise more girls like this.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/02/lindsey-stocker-dress-code_n_5432687.html

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254 Molly June 2, 2014 at 10:26 pm

I don’t know if this comment will come through in the melee — such an important topic, and so many voices to be heard.

I would weigh in on one point where I feel like I have experience/advice to share.

I think its a balancing act to discuss scary things with kids without terrifying them. I don’t know what it is like for you guys in Oakland, but growing up in New York, it was very valuable for me as a teenager and young woman taking public transportation, to have heard my own mother’s stories about train groping and the like. Though I think it’s much less common now than it may have been in the 1970s and early 80s in New York, it still happens. I don’t remember feeling unduly scared hearing about her experiences, even as a young girl- 10 or 12. Rather, it helped me feel knowledgeable, and prepared when I started riding the subway by myself in middle and high school.

If something had happened to me and it had been a surprise, I feel like I would have wished my mom would have told me about her experiences sooner.

My two cents, and heartfelt support of how you guys chose to approach this as a family.

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255 Melissa L. June 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

I’m a NYC girl too (Brooklyn born & raised), and I agree that having my own mother explain to me how to be safe from an early age was empowering. It doesn’t mean I could guarantee my safety, or never feel a bit scared, but it did mean I was never afraid to speak up for myself or feel that I must have done something to deserve to be treated badly. Trust my gut & don’t worry about pissing people off. I definitely encountered inappropriate male behavior (bosses, a dad of a family I was a live-in-nanny for) but I don’t remember feeling threatened, (maybe I should have!) just knowing that they were the ones who were in the wrong (they being adults and me being a teenager). Once in my 20′s I was on the subway and a young man across from me was masturbating. I got off at the next stop, told a cop (of course the train left by then) and promptly took up knitting so I would always have a pointy needle with me.

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256 annie June 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm

thanks so much for this post. thoughts have been swirling around my head all week and it’s nice to read all of this. it (the hashtag, et al) is encouraging and also sooo discouraging – like knowing there’s some rot in the basement and then upon closer inspection you realize the rot’s throughout the whole foundation. it’s both comforting in the solidarity it creates and it scares the crap out of me as a mother of a daughter – and as a woman (i don’t recall ever being scared in an elevator before and now i can’t imagine how i wasn’t).
as a kid – maybe somewhere from 2nd-4th grade, i told our p.e. teacher that he was a male chauvinist after he said girls couldn’t do something as well as the boys could and then proceeded to show that i could. but somewhere along the way, i lost a good chunk of that moxy – not that i was/am completely meek and mild – but i do add tons of qualifiers to my statements, i am a pleaser, i tend to avoid confrontation unless it is on someone else’s behalf, men have made propositions and taken liberties based on my figure and i didn’t always stand up for myself – particularly as a young woman. so why did my moxy wane so much at the onset of adolescence? maybe because the boys grew bigger and while i didn’t grow much taller, i grew breasts. so now they’re all bigger than me and looking at me in a much different way. how much of my behavior was/is just subconscious/evolutionary survival techniques in an environment where i am not only physically smaller but am not valued as an equal or potentially equal member of society – and in a culture where often my breasts identify me more than my job, education, family, religion, etc.?
i have a 5 yr old daughter who on the playground the other day was being hassled by a 5 yr old boy. he kept trying to take away a rope she had found. when he got more aggressive and i was about to intervene, his mother got up to do so. before she got there, he knocked my daughter down, pulled the rope away and ran. without hesitation, my daughter ran after and tackled him from behind, grabbing her rope back. ideal conflict resolution aside, her response was comforting. i don’t know if i would feel the same way if she were a boy – but seeing her stand up to a boy that had been hassling her all afternoon (and is kind of a hassler in general) gave me hope that she won’t take crap from boys/men as she gets older. BUT – will she lose some of her moxy as well? how much can we fix in a generation? how much resistance is there? hopefully something like the hashtag and the response sheds enough light and compiles enough evidence that it’s unignorable/unmalignable regardless of politics, religion, tradition.
anyway, thanks for your post and for eliciting the comments/conversation. it’s always nice to find shared worldviews.

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257 Mrs. LIAYF June 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Honestly, good for your daughter! I know physicality isn’t the best answer, but at least she wasn’t afraid to stick up for herself.

Last year, my 5 year old kindergarten son saw some older boys (maybe 1st or 2nd graders), grab a kindergarten girl on the school playground, hold her and not let her get away. He marched right over to them and knocked one of them down so she could run off. He immediately got sent to the principal’s office for hitting someone rather than telling a teacher. While I agreed that he could have told a teacher, I also told him that I was proud of him and would always stick up for him if he stuck up for someone else who was getting hurt.

All children need to learn to stick up for others (and themselves). He also has a little sister and he loves to hug her a bit too enthusiastically. And, she not opposed to stiff-arming him if he’s too much – I’m thinking she also won’t take nonsense from boys in the future. :)

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258 Liz June 3, 2014 at 4:19 am

And what happened to the buys who held the little girl down? Where they sent to the principles office?

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259 Mrs. LIAYF June 3, 2014 at 10:13 pm

@Liz – He was new to school, so didn’t know the boys’ names. He was seen knocking someone down, and they ran off and weren’t caught. So, they didn’t get sent to the principal’s office.

It was a good opportunity to remind him that sometimes people get trouble for standing up for what is right, but that your mom (and dad) will always support you if your heart is in the right place. And, I became a room parent and started learning the names of every kid on the playground. :)

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260 Design Mom June 3, 2014 at 8:48 am

I’ve been thinking about your comment and how you lost your moxie at some point. I don’t know when it happens either, but I do see it happen.

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261 JL June 3, 2014 at 7:14 pm

My daughter expereinced sexual abuse from a stranger in a park when she was 5. To cut a long story short, she was playing with some other children, I was watching from a few metres away and didn’t know it was happening or that she was even interacting with the perpetrator.

She didn’t tell me about it for over a week and when she did, it came up in a casual conversation in a restaurant when we were dining with friends and talking about interacting with strangers. I was sickened by what she told me (the man had asked her what colour here knickers were and showed her his “privates”, there was no physical interaction, it was verbal and visual) .

In reponding to this situation we were very careful to help her understand that the man had behaved very badly and was wrong to do this, that the best thing she could have done was to come and tell me what had happened as soon as it had happened, (when I asked her why she didn’t come and tell me straight away, trying to be calm when I was hysterical she said that “his words kept me there”. This was an ah ha moment for us and highlighted that we needed to change the messages about adults we had always projected). I have been on the watch for signs of any emotional damage to her ever since and am heartened that at age 9 she is a confident and outspoken child.

Reading this post about losing your “moxy” makes me a little fearful for her. If any readers have some ideas and experiences about helping girls to keep this “moxy” intact as they move past childhood I would love to hear them.

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262 Mrs. LIAYF June 2, 2014 at 10:33 pm

I have lots of stories, as a kid, a teenager, a young woman, and even as a married woman. But, there are two incidents that stand out because the first blew up in my face (literally), but it didn’t prevent me from acting in the second situation.

In the first incident, I was a 19 year old college student living on my own. I didn’t own a car and used the bus or a bike for transportation a lot. One day, while riding a bus, a young man behind me started talking to me. He kept leaning over the seat and touching me on my arm, and asking me my name. I would make polite comments about how I was busy. But, when I turned away, he would touch me again, and make a comment about how pretty I looked. I finally got tired of being polite, turned around and told him to “knock it off, stop touching me.” He then slapped me right across the face. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do. The bus stopped, he got off, and I never saw him again. And, I sat there in a teary haze not talking to anyone – I can’t remember quite how I got home after I stumbled off my stop a few minutes later.

Fast forward about 10 years, I am now married, work downtown and ride the bus to and from work. Since college I have run a school-age child care, a middle-school summer camp, gone to law school, started practicing law, and have a young child (a little boy). While riding a bus I see an older gentleman start talking to a teenage boy (in our city school district, teenagers are given public bus passes to get to school). The boy was being polite, and listening to the older man. The older man kept touching the boy on the arm, and at the next stop followed the boy when he got off the bus at a main down-town stop. He then grabbed the boy’s arm and leaned into his face and began talking to him low and intently. This boy looked scared and worried, and all the other passengers simply passed by without helping. I walked up to the older man and said in the firmest, loudest voice possible to the boy – “Do you know this man?” When he said he did not, I loudly told the man to let go of the boy’s arm. I had to repeat it loudly several times, getting louder each time, before he let go. I then stood with the man and told him I would watch him to see if he followed the boy and call the police if he did. I watched the boy walk several blocks, blend into the crowd and go on his way, and only then did I leave the man at the bus stop.

I felt mighty and strong that day!! What this meant to me is that I should never regret doing what I think is right – even if it blows up at me – because it’s sometime what will make me stronger. This teenage boy could have been anyone’s child, even my own, or could have been someone’s daughter. It takes a little bit of backbone in all of us to stand up to people and we have to accept that it might not work out the first, second or third time, but you still have to try.

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263 Design Mom June 3, 2014 at 8:49 am

“I felt mighty and strong that day!!”

I love that.

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264 GAyle June 2, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Wow. well, I got through about half of the comments. So awesome. Brave smart women. And you Gabrielle! What strength and clarity and courage you have, even if in a fearful moment on the plane, or as a child, you didn’t know what to do. I bow deeply to you for your own support for the dignity of all kinds of people, for your intelligence and compassion to raise difficult issues in a way that an honest generous discussion gets generated.
I came of age in the 60s during the “sexual revolution”. Birth control pills widely available and all that. My choices weren’t always the best. I don’t blame myself, but I do feel bad for the girl I was, overwhelmed with the situation and not having a strong enough internal compass at the time. I was 19.. There had been sexual objectification of me and emotional cruelty in my family growing up, and I was always taught to defer to men and to try and please them. As a young woman, I suffered a few date rapes, and I’m sure some other stuff I can’t remember now. Other things I can remember, but it is very painful to review these events At age 66 (now) I am much more invisible to most men. And that is a blessing in terms of harassment, though it is not a blessing to feel invisible. As some one else mentioned, sexual harassment and abuse of women is not entirely dissimilar from the thousands upon thousands of stories of abuse based on racism or homophobia. Many people don’t want to hear about it, but talking about it, and the society deciding that these ARE intolerable injustices is a step in the right direction. Of course it isn’t All men, or All white people, or ALL straight people, but when there is an ongoing and widespread pattern of abuse, it’s helpful to name it. In this case, it’s amazing how widespread the damaging actions have been. In my heart I knew this already, but it is different to read and hear about the specifics of specific women. For those of us harmed it’s important to understand we are not alone and the fault lies with the perpetrator and the society that doesn’t acknowledge the problem, let alone try to stop it. (and i’ll stick my neck out here and say it is also similar with gun violence. The perpetrators, like the one at UC Santa Barbara, or Newtown, are definitely responsible for their actions, but so is the society that doesn’t acknowledge the danger of widespread easy availability of weapons. So I think there’s a double layer of responsibility in all of these acts of aggression.) Gabrielle, I find you have such an open mind and wonderful perspective on life, embracing and describing its joys and sorrows in a way that is so real, and wise, and compassionate, and always inviting a thoughtful consideration and conversation. Thank you!

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265 cath June 2, 2014 at 11:15 pm

This is an amazing post, that raises so many questions.
The first question for me is : how do we, mothers, raise our sons? How could we raise men who become such jerks to women?

In your post, you say “I like men”; well, I have realised over the years that I increasingly don’t. When I was pregnant for the first time, I was worried about having a son, because most men around me are jerks, immature, cowards etc. If I hadn’t met my husband, I don’t think I would ever have married.

Well, I have a son and I took great care in raising him to be a respectful individual. He’s 12 now and we only get compliments about him. Most boys in his age group at school are real jerks, mean, violent, manipulative, you name it. The result is that he doesn’t have a lot of friends, but he’s ok with it. He has a great influence on those other bad kids. He’s a great listener and I know he’ll never harass a woman or anyone else for that matter.

In 6th grade, where my son is, some boys are already harrassing girls, touching their hair, making obscene comments etc. When the teacher tells them off, the answer is “what do you expect? I’m a man!”

I have a 9-year-old daughter too who is gradually becoming aware of male domination around her, and who is mad at this situation. One of her male friend keeps hitting her and , yes, touching her butt to get her attention. The teachers don’t seem to care…

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266 Design Mom June 3, 2014 at 8:47 am

I hear you. I think it’s easy for me to like men because I’m surrounded by so many great ones. But if the opposite experience had been true, not doubt I would have a harder time.

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267 Felicia June 2, 2014 at 11:24 pm

With the situation on the plane, I’d ask one of the men to switch with me so they could talk to each other more easily, or so I could “nap” without getting in their way. In elevators, I don’t make eye contact (or if I do, fleetingly) but have a confident posture.

Isn’t it awful women have to be on guard all the time?

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268 Jen G June 3, 2014 at 1:24 am

I think what makes your blog so popular and appealing, even more than the design ideas and awesome give-aways, is the honesty and authenticity in your writing. As a fellow Mormon who lists the pros and cons of staying (and raising my children) in a highly patriarchal church on an almost daily basis, I appreciate this post very much and the additional thoughts you shared as comments, specifically about this.

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269 Imen June 3, 2014 at 2:03 am

I am a Tunisian girl, I read your blog frequently and it’s like a big window to the American culture. Thanks for standing for women’s issues worldwide Gabrielle.

Woman being sexually harrassed even at the slightest is something that goes beyond culture and education. It’s related to some men’s behavior, who often find themselves unable to control their desires even in public and who see every female as a “target”. And this, in fact, is independant on how much of a woman’s skin is covered or uncovered.

I am a muslim Hijabi girl, I can not reminisce on “real” harrassment memories I’ve received personally, but I can definitely relate to every woman in my own culture who’ve been through this, be it major or minor incidents. In Islam, men are asked to lower their gaze and to consider every strange female as their sister to prevent sexual harrassment and woman abuse..This is technically, but only a minority of Muslim men are practicing their religion accordingly.
Being a Hijabi and dressing modestly really helps, but It does not stop similar behaviors since action should be taken by both genders.

Bringing the subject up to the table through social media helps in increasing the society awareness and shedding lights on women’s struggles on a daily basis, But unfortunately We, Women should stand up for ourselves by reporting and speaking out loud every single incident no matter how slight or unharmful it is.

And I think Yes, women have to be on guard all the time, unfortunately.

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270 Design Mom June 3, 2014 at 8:45 am

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Imen. I really appreciate reading the comments from women around the world. It demonstrates how widespread these issues are.

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