When I was 10 or so, Pop took my sister and me to a baseball game. Somewhere in the middle of the game, I had to go to the bathroom. When I came back out of the ladies room, I got turned around and went the wrong way, so instead of heading back to my seat, I found myself walking in a deserted part of the stadium. Out of nowhere, a gang of four or five teenage African-American boys ran toward me. They surrounded me and started touching me – rubbing my butt, grabbing my non-existent boobs, reaching under my shorts. I’m pretty sure I started yelling “Stop it!” but I really don’t remember.
They ran away and left me alone. I turned around and started walking back the way I came, hoping to find my section before they came back. As I got nearer to where the people were, a middle-aged African-American gentleman came up to me and said, “Are you all right?” I started crying and told him about the boys and what they did. “I’ll walk you back,” he said. As we walked, he asked, “Were they black?”
I was so embarrassed. I didn’t want to say that they were black to a black man. I’m not sure why. I guess I didn’t want the man to think I was prejudiced. (Prejudiced. That was the word we used in the 60s to mean racist.) I said shyly and nervously, “I don’t remember.” But he knew I was covering up, and I knew that he knew.
My memory is hazy from there. I think stadium security got involved; I know Pop got involved. Out of the haziness though, is a specific memory. As we inching our way out of the parking lot, Pop spotted a group of teenage boys lounging on the median. He braked hard and pointed to them. “Is that them?” he asked.
“I don’t know!” I cried. But I knew. I recognized the shirt one of them was wearing. Why didn’t I say “yes?” I didn’t want to cause any trouble. I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to forget that it happened.
Let me state that again: I was 10 years old and I didn't want to cause any trouble.
When I was 15, I went on a study tour of France with a group of girls from my high school. Our chaperone took us on a side trip to Rome. Her boyfriend lived in Rome, so he got a group of his friends together to show us a good time.
We were standing in a group listening to our chaperon outline the day’s agenda. The guys were standing behind us, almost surrounding us. I felt something graze my butt. I was taken completely by surprise. I couldn’t believe that one of the guys could be touching me; surely I was imagining it or it was something completely innocuous. Then it happened again, and again, and again. The graze became a feel; the feel became a grope.
I finally got so upset that I whirled around and starting hitting guys with my purse. I was crying and saying “Stop it!” My chaperone’s boyfriend stepped up and shushed me gently, telling me it was all right, no one was touching me, calm down. I got bundled into the front of the group of girls. I decided that I must have been overreacting. You know, Italian men! They didn’t mean anything bad! Maybe I really was imagining it! At any rate, I shut up about it.
I don’t remember what went down after that. I don’t remember what, if anything, my chaperone said or did. But when I look back and think about it, I know one thing – I did not imagine it.
Shortly before Christmas, when I was 20, I was gang raped. I’ve written about that, so I won’t get into it here.
When I was 26, I was assaulted by a blind man. I wrote about that, too.
When I was pregnant at 29, I was at a family party at my in-laws’ house. Joe’s uncle would not leave me alone. He followed me around, practically drooling, asking me questions and making semi-lewd remarks. I was completely creeped out. I finally made a point of staying with Joe, just to keep him away from me. Of course, I told Joe – he was ready to brain his uncle. Even Joe’s dad noticed it and asked if I was okay. But it was Joe’s aunt who really noticed it – and blamed me for it! In any case, we did not attend any more family functions if they were going to be there.
Since then, I haven’t been assaulted, thanks be. But I’ve endured sexism in the workplace, from being asked about my plans for a family during an interview to being interrupted in meetings to being told to wear lipstick when I facilitated a webinar. Now, as I've gotten older, I've become invisible. I don't get interrupted; I just get ignored. Ageism AND sexism!
Now, however, I don't care if I cause trouble. I insist on being visible.