ME TOO TWO
It wasn't until a few weeks after I posted my "Me Too" blog that I realized I had left out the most important and shocking sexual harassment I had experienced: a man exposing his erect penis to me in the lobby of our building when I was ten. I had walked home from school as usual and thought nothing of there being a white man in his mid-thirties in the small lobby behind the glass front door -- people often waited there to be buzzed up to apartments. He turned around, showed his penis to me and said, "Do you want to play with it?" To my chagrin, I said, "No thanks" -- I was mortified that I said "thanks." I rushed into the building, rode the elevator to our fifth floor apartment, and told my mother what had happened. She called the police, who came right away. When I described the man as in his mid-thirties, my mother said, "Oh, children never know how old people are," and I felt completely undermined. He was not caught.
For years afterwards, I used to walk past the building's door to make sure no one was there before I went in. This childhood experience was one reason the exhibitionists I experienced in graduate school had such an impact on me. But it wasn't until I talked with other women that I realized that this experience "counted." I think I had just assumed that since I wasn't a grown-up, it didn't matter. I had had another sexual encounter when I was even younger, probably seven or eight. I was walking home on Lexington Avenue and a man started walking with me and talking. He asked me if I knew about what I heard as "my cult." I didn't know the word "cunt" yet, but that must have been what he said. I walked away and didn't think too much about it.
When I talked with my sister and friends about these experiences, after I published my first blog, I realized that they were not only part of my experience of sexual harassment, but perhaps the most important part. I also realized that virtually every woman I knew shared these experiences. "It was the way the world was," a number of them said and that was true.
I hope these situations are changing. My dear friend and writing partner, Judith Zinsser, gave me a birthday card with a cake with candles on the front labelled "Feminist Birthday Cake." When you open the card, it reads : They're not candles, they're the patriarchy going up in flames." May it become true.