As a female born in the 1960s, to conservative, religious, and somewhat-afraid-of-life parents, I was taught from a young age about men and sexual assault. I was taught the practice of kneeing them in the crotch, keying them in the eyeball, and screaming like a mad woman in the case of an assault – by a man. I was taught that certain clothes were considered “rape bait” and that if I wore them I was “asking for it” and the man could not be held responsible. I was told to be leery of men as most just wanted to “get in your pants”. I was told where to walk, how to walk and when to walk all with the expressed purpose of avoiding sexual assault – by a man.
When, in my early 20s and later in my early 30s, I was assaulted by a female, I was woefully unprepared. I had no idea what to do. I was so confused, so horrified that someone of MY OWN GENDER would do this to me, I froze in a way I never would have with a man. With a male, I was expecting it, always on guard, always prepared. With someone who possessed breasts like me? Eh, not so much.
The first and most violent incident began on a very busy street in Chicago in 1988. I am not going to recant the entire experience; it is still disturbing to me. I will offer it involved being followed, then chased and eventually being cornered, having my breasts fondled, back-end grabbed and clothes torn. It was broad daylight, rush hour, and I was totally sober (that was likely not the case for my attacker). I spent the evening following the incident shaking and vomiting on the floor of my bathroom. I never reported it.
What would I say? Who gets assaulted by another woman? I was convinced (as I would be years later when I was attacked by a man and also failed to report) that my unwed motherhood status would be used against me. Somehow it would be my fault much like my parents said wearing certain clothes made you “rape bait” and “asking for it”. In my post adoption surrender demented mind, somehow this malevolent stranger on the street knew I was a fallen woman, all the more easy target for her. Or maybe I looked like I was interested in other women? Was it the way I dressed? Something in my walk? All thoughts and possible explanations led down a broken glass strewn path with one sign pointing forward. It read “My Fault”. So I kept silent and pushed the experience way down into the rarely walked halls of my psyche.
I learned via a Google search that it is not uncommon for women to fail to report assault by other women. Many of the feelings expressed on the Woman-Woman rape page could have been shared by me. They weren’t. Not then or the second and even third time this happened.
The second and later third incident bordered on the fringes of assault. Despite the fact the incidences were not as violent as the first, I still found myself frozen and unable to comprehend what was happening or why. I also failed to defend myself. The situation involved a woman I was friendly with. Our husbands worked together and we regularly socialized with the couple. We bought our first homes around the same time, even gave birth to our children a few months apart. At a holiday party, friend was overly amorous with me. Every time she saw me, she would walk by, hold my arm, reach to hold my hand, brush my shoulder, comment on my hair and run strands of it through her fingers. At one point, following a comment on my lipstick color, she gently ran her hand across my cheek and paused for a second on my upper lip, much like a lover would.
It was odd to me but I chalked it up to alcohol. While I had not seen her drink much, it was the only thing that made sense to me. She must be drunk. For then, as in years past, I could not fathom a woman coming on to me. The hetero-normative teachings of my early years dominated my processing powers, it seemed completely out of place to me. It was foreign territory. Women did not do this to other women, certainly not without mutual consent, not “straight” women. Rather than rebuff her, upset her, offend her or risk being misunderstood, I just ignored her advances – repeatedly. I would leave a room, grab my husbands arm, and use the restroom or anything I needed to do to get away from her very public and intensely uncomfortable displays of affection for me. It is interesting to me that I would not have taken this approach with a man.
When we left their home that evening, my husband exited a few minutes before me, having offered to go get the car, warm it up and bring it to their driveway. I gathered my dishes and other personal belongings and she helped. She also walked me out into the cold dark night, down her long driveway. As I neared the car my husband was sitting in, she abruptly grabbed me, turned me towards her and started kissing me. I pulled away, again, startled into a state of shock, trying not to drop the numerous glass and ceramic dishes I was carrying while balancing on high heels not meant for the gravel driveway. I said nothing but walked faster towards the car. My husband, completely oblivious to what had just happened, turned the car headlights on to brighten my way.
She came toward me again and attempted to kiss me a second time. I mumbled or grunted or something and this time pushed her away in anger and disgust. I ran to my car and loudly demanded to my husband that he drive away immediately.
He appeared as stunned as I was. “What the HELL was that?” he exclaimed.
Shaking, wiping her spit off my face, I responded in a weak voice “I don’t know. Just drive. I want to be home”.
Husband drove and continued to express shock and dismay at what he had witnessed. Jokes followed. At one point he responded “I did not know if I should get out and help you or starting selling tickets”.
A callous piggish statement, I realize now, but at the time it did make me laugh and lightened the mood.
I did nothing about it. I never confronted her. Never spoke about it again with my husband. I just let it go and assumed, again, she was drunk. I distanced myself from her. Before I put that distance between us, there was in fact another incident that involved us being in the same house, me in a room by myself, sleeping. She crept into the room, into the bed and attempted to spoon with me. She whispered a few things she wanted to do with me and expressed disappointment I was already asleep. I pretended I was asleep, unaware, and silently said prayers to myself that she would go away. She did. What has not gone away is the memory.
The point of this post is not to highlight what an idiot I am (although you may think that) or to comment positively or negatively on sexuality. It is rather to suggest, no, demand, that we teach our daughters not only to fight off unwanted advances of men, but of women as well. These advances include women lusting after our bodies as well as our children. Our daughters, no matter the circumstances, are under no more of an obligation to give the joy of parenting to another individual than they are to give sexual pleasure.
Our bodies. Our selves. Our children.