Reading an article on harassment at ravishly this week, I was reminded of a similar situation in my own life. I knew a guy from grad school. He was married, a poet, and at one of our residencies, he handed out copies of a book he’d written about his 8 year old daughter who had died. I came to know this man through spending time in workshop, the dining hall, and other readings and lectures on campus. I considered him a friend. Not a close friend, but certainly more than an acquaintance. So, when he emailed me to say he was in my area on business, I had no qualms about agreeing to meet him for dinner. He told me he would pick me up at my house, but for some reason, I didn’t want him to know where I lived. The feeling didn’t strike me as odd because, as a loner, and living out in the woods beyond Woodstock in the Catskills, I told very few people my address. I also knew I didn’t want to have to rely on him for a ride. I wanted to be able to head home when I was ready, not when he was ready to drive me.
We agreed to meet at a restaurant in Newburg, NY. The evening was fun. We caught up on our writing lives and shared stories about our work environments. I remember laughing a lot. I remember thinking something like: Jeeze, this guy is big. It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of him. When we left the restaurant I was ready to go home, but I let him persuade me to follow him to his motel because he said he had some new writing he wanted to share with me. “Don’t worry,” he told me, “there’s a living room separate from the bedroom in my motel.”
So, I didn’t worry. But again, when he said he’d drive us over, then return me to my car later, I declined. I drove myself. I followed him as he opened the motel door onto a brightly lit room with chairs and a couch. I recall the image of his body being as tall and wide as the motel room door. He wasn’t fat, but he was a big man. I sat down without taking my coat off. I was tired, I had a long drive home, and I wanted to be with my dog Magic who was home waiting for me. I wanted him to hand over the poems and be done with the evening. The next thing I knew this man was lording over the motel space as if it was an ancient palace. With huge gestures, he threw open the double doors to the bedroom “suite”, waiting, it was clear, for me to express how impressed and grateful?, excited? I was.
But all I felt was fear. Fear and humiliation. God dammit, I thought. I’ve been duped. I really thought he had poems for me to read: that was our shared connection. I looked at him as if I was 10 years old and he as my abusive Uncle Bob; I looked at him as if he was the man who raped me in Los Angeles. I moved backwards toward the door and he ran to block it. “Oh come on,” I paid for dinner,” he said. “Yes, you did and I let you, because you clearly have money and I don’t! I didn’t know this was a date. Was this a date?” It then came clear that he was divorced. He didn’t try to throw me on the bed, he didn’t hold me down in any way, and he didn’t try to rape me. But he scared the bejesus out of me, simply because we’d had completely different expectations. He kept asking me to stay; I kept saying “No, my dog is home, inside, I need to go take care of her.” He didn’t believe me. He said that was just an excuse; my dog would be fine. “Your dog can wait til tomorrow morning.” My skin crawled. I knew I couldn’t just stand there, frozen like I did when I was a kid.
I got myself out of the motel room and trembled all the way home. I thought that would be the end of it. Then the phone calls started and wouldn’t stop. Every day, then twice a day, then more. I answered the first couple calls and told him I wasn’t interested in meeting again. Then he started calling me at work. He’d called every Fleet Bank until he found the one where I worked. I continually told my co-worker to tell him I was busy. Friends suggested I get a restraining order. His voice boomed over telephone wires like a megaphone. Finally I took the call at work. I told him in no uncertain terms that I did not want to see or hear from him again. I told him I would get a RO if he tried to reach me again.
I was lucky. That’s all it took. I never did hear from him again. I saw him from a distance at a poetry conference in Manhattan a month later and I ran as far away as I could. I ducked around corners, peered into conferences rooms before I entered, and went to the kinds of bars I knew he wouldn’t frequent. When a mutual friend saw him and said, “Hey, let’s invite him to dinner,” I told her my story and she too veered away.
All of this is to say that yes, there are real differences between assault and harassment and other male behaviors that might cause fear or intimidation. Because this man was big, I knew he could physically overpower me. Because he had made assumptions that never crossed my mind, I doubted my judgment. Because his phone calls and messages grew relentless, I fell back into old patterns of behavior. I felt stalked. I felt the way I did after a weekend of molestation at Uncle Bob’s: I didn’t sleep well; I jumped at every sound; I saw shadows everywhere. I couldn’t eat, and I didn’t want to leave the house. My heart is pounding NOW as I write this, just as I began to re-experience the fear and trauma of my abuser’s actions when I was in the process of revising my memoir: heart palpitations, panic attack, nausea, looking behind me and around the room, in closets, even outside the house. My abuser is dead, but I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that he could still be out there somewhere, ready to pounce!
These feelings and responses do not go away easily. They become automatic. And they become limiting. I believe, as Suzanna Walters says in her blogpost at Ms. this week, “No doubt there is danger of over-reach and conflation. But I, for one, am willing to court that danger if there is some chance that the ongoing (patriarchal) panic that is life for most women in a world of unbridled masculine aggression is lessened. Even a bit.”
For Walters’ story and more, Please Read On! Your comments are always welcome!
“Grief, Autonomy, and Belonging in Canada”/ by Terese Mailhot/ cbcradio/ November 26, 2017
2. I spent a fair amount of time in my own mind, the last refuge of the truly desperate. I became superstitious, and worried that picking a name might tip the delicate balance between getting to cuddle a dew-scented newborn and facing a nearly full-term stillbirth, the image of which would be burned into my memory for all time.
“Parenting Class Dropout”/ by Paulette Kamenecka/ Longreads/ November 17, 2017
3. Efforts to protect corporal punishment allow for the continuous control of a rapidly browning America. It empowers a nation and its institutions to harm its children, stamping out their empathy, critical thinking, sense of security, self-esteem and cognitive skills through violent discipline and coercion. The underlying premise is that we must use violence to keep citizens in check, which means raising children to be susceptible and accustomed to violence and fear. This grooms them to be much more easily controlled as adults.
“U.S. To the World: We are Good With Abusing Kids”/ by Stacey Patton/ DAME Magazine/ November 27, 2017
4. A week after the encounter, I told a close colleague in my department about what happened. He looked me straight in the eye and said: “Why are you taking this so lightly? This is rape. Do you not see it? He should have stopped the first time you said no. This is rape.” His comments threw me off guard. I hadn’t seen it as rape until that moment. There was no consent, and there was a clear violation. The fact that I was so desensitized to my own bodily violation troubled me more than the violation itself.
“Enough: America’s Wholly Visible Underbelly”/ various/ The Rumpus/ November 28, 2017
5. “It is very likely, if you are a transgender woman of color, that you will die from HIV,” Corado said, underscoring again the number of deaths suffered by transgender women of color that are potentially preventable. “That you will die from AIDS. That you die stabbed or killed. You’ll die from some kind of cancer, or suicide.”
“Health Care System Fails Many Transgender Americans”/ by Neda Ulaby/ NPR/ November 21, 2017
6. The nondisclosure agreements have always horrified me because rape, in a way, and sexual assault are acts of silencing, of saying your bodily sovereignty, your human rights, your jurisdiction over your own body, your right to consent or not consent are meaningless to me, I don’t — you have no value as a human being to me. So, it’s an act of silencing. Then, when it’s followed by other acts of silencing, whether it’s blaming and shaming the victim, refusing to believe her, or sometimes him, or saying like, ”Oh, we recognize what happened and we’re going to give you money to compensate.” But when it comes with these nondisclosure agreements, it is just another round of silencing. And the whole process is part of the systemic silencing.
“Rebecca Solnit: Ending Sexual Harassment Means Changing Masculinity & Undermining Misogynist Culture”/ by Amy Goodman/ Democracy Now/ November 22, 2017
7. For our work, accountability is not just saying you’re sorry for something, it’s not just reparations, it’s not just repairing the harm. True accountability is changing your behavior so that the harm does not happen again. You can apologize all you want. You can repair trust all you want. But if you continue to do the harm, and the violence or the abuse, then what does it matter? That’s what I hear 9 times out of 10 from survivors, including myself as a survivor. What most people say is that they don’t necessarily want an apology, they just don’t want anyone to go through what they went through.
“What Would it Take to Actually End Intimate Violence”/ by Miriam Zoila Perez/ Colorlines/ November 28, 2017
8. To put “princess” beside “Black” made me feel celebrated. I could be spoiled, an archetype traditionally reserved for carefree white women. Think Cher from Clueless. BAPpiness combatted the notion that true wealth and access—old money—was “shit white people have.” It demonstrated that Black people, too, could occupy the upper crust.
“Black American Princess in Training”/ by Glynn Pogue/ Guernica/ November 16, 2017
9. Climate change provokes a similar sense of displacement, experts say, particularly for hunters. An unpredictable environment means disempowerment. “It’s like another form of colonization,” Dr. Cunsolo said.
“Why Lost Ice Means Lost Hope for an Inuit Village”/ by Livia Albeck-Ripka/ New York Times/ November 25, 2017
10. White students with special needs are far more likely to graduate with a traditional diploma than are their black and brown peers. In ways big and small, the effects of race and racism magnify the negative consequences that often come with being placed into special education. Not only are nonwhite students more likely to be assigned to lower-resourced schools that struggle to provide them with the services that they are entitled to, navigating the special education system often presents unique challenges for parents of color, experts say.
“Special Education’s Hidden Racial Gap”/ by Emmanuel Felton/ Huffington Post/ November 25, 2017
11. Some women might cry, and that was normal. Some women might feel only relief, and that was normal. Some might feel guilty about their relief. Feel drowsy after anesthesia. Feel woozy, in the patient lounge, while they sat with the other women who had just come out of their own procedures. Have cramps. Laugh. Want to talk about nothing but the final season of “Veep.” Normal, normal, normal.
“The Long Five Minutes: Abortion Doulas Bring Comfort During a Complicated Time”/ by Monica Hesse/ Washington Post/ November 28, 2017
12. Not only do we need to insist on nuance and scale, but we must insist on a structural and institutional analysis of male predation. Just as sociologist Lisa Wade has argued regarding frats and campus rape culture—e.g. get rid of them and hugely reduce sexual assault—feminists must argue intersectionally, analyzing the relationship between sexual violence, racial animus, heteronormativity and predatory capitalism.
“Between Sexual Assault and Sex Panic”/ by Suzanna Danuta Walters/ Ms.Magazine/ November 30, 2017
13. The company offered me a severance if I agreed not to sue them, so I took the deal and was escorted out. I was sad that I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to my friends, but I was happy I would never have to see that bastard Brian again.
“Why Women Aren’t Safe at Work”/ by Tegan Jones/ ravishly/ November 29, 2017
Joyce Hayden left her university teaching job two years ago in order to pursue her own artistic work. An assemblage artist, painter, and writer, Joyce is currently in the process of acquiring an agent to represent her memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which describes her 8 year relationship with a charismatic gambler and the dangerous road that eventually led to her freedom. Her chapbook of poems, Lost Handprint, is forthcoming from Dandelion Review. A freelance editor and writing coach, Joyce’s writing services and a selection of her artwork can be found at her website joycehayden.com. Joyce is available for commission art work, including celebration shrines for loved ones and pets.