I have a sexual harassment hat. What is that, you might ask? It's a hat that, when you wear it, you get sexually harassed. I didn't know it was a sexual harassment hat when I bought it. Here's the story of how I figured it out.
I was in rehearsals for my play, A WOMAN, which, ironically is about how women are still excluded from church leadership positions in many church denominations. On our first day of rehearsal, one of the actors, who was the only man in the room, asked a simple question about a story of minor sexual assault that the main character in the play shares, and we, the three women in the room, all laughed at his surprise, and casually shared our most recent stories of sexual assault or harassment. He was stunned to discover that every single woman in the room had a story similar to the character in the play.
I had bought a new hat. It was summer, and I wanted to keep the sun off my face. It's a simple white straw hat with a medium size brim.
The next day I was walking with my foster son's case worker. We were having a professional conversation about Noah's care when we passed a man who gave us the rape eyes. It was just a look, but it was long and it was sexual, and it was invasive, and abusive, and violent. So much so that we both stopped talking mid-sentence. His look struck us speechless. We didn't stop walking, of course; survival instinct always tells you to keep walking. When we were a safe distance from him, I said, "wow." She said, "yeah." And that's all we needed to say. We were both shaken. She said she thought it was the hat. I thought she was grasping for a reasonable explanation for what we had experienced.
A few days later, I'm walking in down town Manhattan telling this story to the director who was directing my play, A WOMAN—I'm telling her the story because I'm wearing the hat. As I'm telling her this story, it happens again. A man steps in our path, and looks down at us with rapey intent and keeps his eyes glued to us until we'd round the corner. Again, we shared an unspoken acknowledgment of how violated we both felt. "Maybe it IS the hat," I said. She laughed darkly.
A few days later, I'm standing outside the building where we're to rehearse. I'm early and so the building is locked. I'm standing there alone. A man walks by, sees me standing alone, looks me up and down, and says to me, "Do you wanna take me upstairs?" I did not want to take him upstairs; I wanted to claw his eyes out. I said, "no." He walked away, pleased with himself for the power he felt he had exerted over me, someone he perceived to be less powerful. I shook. There had been no one around at that moment. The story could have ended much differently. I took off the hat and waited for someone to show up that had the key.
A few days later, I'm walking through downtown and a man yells out to me, "nice hat!" He doesn't have the rape eyes. He's wearing a nice friendly smile. He's not trying to violate me. I smile back politely, "thanks!," I say and keep walking.
A few days later, I'm not wearing the hat. I get on a bus at Port Authority. It's standing room only and the people standing in the middle haven't moved back and there are more people in line behind me that want to get on. So I call out in a loud, authoritative, but respectful voice, "Everyone move back!" It catches one of the passengers’ attention. He smiles at me. “It's not a rapey smile; it's an admiring one,” I tell myself, so I smile back and roll my eyes as if to say, "I know right, can you believe people don't move back without being told?" But then he continues to stare at me. Every time I look over at his side of the bus he does his best to catch my eye. He's making sexual advances non-verbally, and I'm sending him all kinds of "buzz off" cues and he's not taking “no” for an answer. Now I'm feeling violated, so I reposition myself so that my back is turned to him. But I can still feel his eyes on me. And when I get off the bus, his eyes follow me, and I'm praying, "please God, don't let him get off the bus, too." Because it was night, and I didn't want to get raped.
I appreciate the male solidarity on the Me Too thing—men posting “#MeToo” to show their support. But I wonder, do they know that feeling? I’m not sure they do. I’m not sure “#TheyToo”. And I don’t feel comfortable with them joining that party.
The stories I posted happened in a course of maybe ten days. Wow, you might think, rough two weeks. But the truth is, this is every week.
Last week, I was walking home from work, and a man saw me coming, and he locked his rapey eyes on me, and I decided not to cross to the other side of the street. I decided to hold my head high and walk right by him. I met his eyes at one point, wanting him to see my courage and look away. But he didn't. He kept visually raping me, so I broke eye contact and looked straight ahead, but kept walking. The sidewalk was narrow because there was construction/scaffolding. By the time I got about ten feet from him it occurred to me that at the moment I passed him, if he wanted, he would be close enough to touch me. And when that thought entered my head, I realized, as if I were outside of myself, that if he did that, I was gonna go ape-shit and start punching. He didn't touch me. I walked right by him. I didn't speed up. He didn't touch me. One time a guy did. One time I was groped. Momentarily. Randomly, by one of these men with the rapey eyes.
All of these stories are minor examples of sexual assault and harassment. I'm one of the lucky ones, because nothing worse has ever happened to me.
We can't be okay with this. We can't respect men who do this. We can't put them in positions of authority. We can't let them shape our culture. Women are not things that God made to pleasure men. Women reflect the image of God. To violate a woman, even in your imagination, is to deface the image of God.