What can be done about it? How do we deal with it on a daily basis?
I can hardly believe the things men oh-so-casually do to women. The things they have the nerve to say. Even after decades of observing and experiencing their stupidity, I’m still astounded. I’m in my late 70s, and men still grope me, FFS. For real!
Recently I read a post by fellow medium writer Susan Wheelock, in which she talks about a man in a higher position in her company saying this to her in the elevator: “You know, Red, I’ve been meaning to ask you — does the carpet match the drapes?”
The second I read that, I’m tellin’ ya, if that man had been standing there next to me, he’d no longer be standing. And would be sporting a rapidly swelling black eye. I just will not stand for that kind of behavior.
Many years ago, I lived in NYC, attending Parsons School of Design. I had long silky honey-blond hair and an hour-glass figure. I was a walking man-magnet. Innocent, too, brandy-spandy new to living in a city. The perfect target.
After only a few weeks, it became crystal clear to me that in general, men thought I was theirs to cat-call, grope, feel up, and generally slather over, saying the most disgusting demeaning suggestions I’d ever heard.
I’d lived way out in the country as a child, totally protected — I had about as much street smarts as a peach. I felt morbidly endangered every time I stepped out the door of my apartment.
It was so common an experience to walk down the street to cat calls on every corner, every construction site I passed, every part of the subway and Grand Central Station, that just thinking about going outside made my belly tie up in Gordian knots.
By the time I had lived there for only a few months, I knew I had to do something or lose my mind.
But — problem! I had no idea what I could do.
This men-think-I’m-theirs-to-own/fuck/degrade/demean thing was comprised of men from every social stratus — from nicely dressed business men on the train who thought stroking my hair like I was a pet dog was slyly amusing, to the cat-calls and nasty whistles of construction guys leering over the site walls, to the filthy bums in doorways spitting at my feet as I did my best to get as far as I could from them at the very edge of the sidewalk.
One afternoon, I was on my way home from a harrowing test that I had failed spectacularly because I had misunderstood the question. It wasn’t that I had failed that pissed me off, it was that the instructor had taken me down to the nubs in front of everyone in class, making fun of me and my apparent inability to do the work.
I didn’t know back then that I was on the spectrum, so I had no idea that it was simply a learning-system dysfunction. All I knew was that this instructor took every opportunity to make fun of me.
I was stomping down the street, carrying my enormous black faux-leather portfolio — picture a brief case long and wide enough to stuff your English sheepdog in — if it was flat. Teetering right on the verge of either breaking out crying like a helpless babe, or exploding like Vesuvius.
Some of the men I passed daily liked to sit on low walls, or lean against particular corners, or traffic-light poles. Like it was their territory. I never saw any other men near them. I usually tried to cross the street or walk way far around them if I could.
On this day, there was a man leaning nonchalantly against the corner of a red-brick building right near the subway entrance. This was his corner. I had to walk by him every time I went down to that subway train.
The crowd shifted. I was pushed close to him. As I passed him, he leaned over me and made rolling whirling googly eyes, reaching out to touch me with foul dirt-encrusted hands, cat-calling a loud piercing whistle right in my ear.
I literally saw red, all the times I felt unsafe, degraded and disrespected because of him and men like him cascading through my mind. After having ignored and put up with these assholes for months, I had had it.
I whipped around and shoved the bulky end of my portfolio between his legs. He grunted in pain, bending at the waist, cussing.
I leaned into him, pushing the portfolio further up into his groin, and in the coldest voice I’ve ever heard come out of my mouth, “If you do that to me even one more time, I will make sure you sing like a girl for the rest of your life! You got that?”
Googly eyes now almost popping out of his head, unable to speak, trying to push my portfolio away, he nodded vigorously.
I let up, pulled my portfolio out from between his now trembling legs, gathered myself together, and continued on down the subway stairs.
He wasn’t there at that corner the next day or the next, and I eventually stopped being wary that I might see him there again.
I was stunned at how I had reacted.
I’m not a violent or vengeful person — usually going far beyond forgiving and forgetting. I was pretty surprised — and pretty pleased.
I remember thinking how my mother had told me to ‘be nice’ to men, because they could hurt me.
She never mentioned that I could hurt them, too …
maybe it never occurred to her.
I started thinking about what else I could do.
• Like grabbing the hair-stroker’s fingers at the sensitive ends, and squeezing them until he squealed like a pig.
• Or spitting back at the bums.
• Or walking over to the construction guys, asking them for their phone numbers, so I could call their wives and describe what they were doing to every woman who walked past them.
• Or asking them if they’d want any man to cat-call their own daughters.
As to the man who thought he was so clever to ask Red such a disgusting, degrading, humiliating question, I thought that, if that was me:
• I’d ask him, oh-so-innocently, “Oh! Do you want to see?” I’d reach down to unzip my pants, start to take them down then and there, to show him the answer … and watch as he squirmed and tried to stop me.
• Or maybe I’d repeat the question seductively right back at him, word for word, reaching for his zipper….
• Or maybe pretend to misunderstand, and tell him all about the new decor I’d designed for my living room, in the tartan of Robert the Bruce who I’m related to, so as a child I’d been curious about training to be particularly well-practiced in sword work (hahahaha!).
• Or maybe repeat the question to him loudly, like I was making sure I heard him right, so everyone else on the elevator would know exactly what he was doing.
It’s time we stood up to these fools.
Not take their shit one more second.
I ask you — is it worth not saying anything to higher-ups about what these men do to you so you can hold onto a job where you suffer under their gross behavior every single day?
Is it truly a job you feel good at having, where, if you did mention the abuse, the top management don’t give a flying fuck about you?
What kind of environment are YOU supporting?
What would happen if you were fired or let go? Oh — maybe you’d die of unemployment!
No — you’d find a better place to work! Even if you had to move your entire family to another town!
You’d find a place to work where people are treated well, and have respect for each other — and maybe even — gasp! — care for each other!
Do places like that even exist?
Is it worth feeling unsafe every second you’re out on the street, out in the world?
You and I need to start standing up for ourselves better.
Even if that means taking self-defense classes.
After I started training in martial arts, the number of times men tried to mess with me reduced drastically. I never told anyone — maybe the way I walk now just says ‘don’t fuck with me.’
You and I need to create the kinds of environments we want and are happy to live within.
We can’t leave it up to others anymore.
You and I ARE the solution.
Whether you’re a woman or a man being abused, it’s up to you to do what it takes to change your circumstances.
And I say that knowing full well it could take a long time to set it up to safely leave. Do it. It’s so worth it.
You have to do it, because you’re dying on the vine, and life isn’t worth living like that.
We have to gather our wits and rebel in ways that can create and perpetuate a new world of women being safe and respected.
What do you think?
What are some different ways you might use to repel a stupid groping man, or someone saying demeaning things to you or another woman (or man!)?
What are some thoughtful questions we could ask them, thought-provoking things we could say, that would help them see their mistake and learn to treat others better?
Can you think up some funny things we can do or say?
I look forward to reading your ideas!
Keep on keeping on!
Thanks for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it, and that it inspires you to make some new, awesome choices, so you can live more deliberately and funly than you ever dreamed possible!
Why Do Men Think It’s OK to Be Such A-Holes?
© Angela Treat Lyon 2023
Image: Our Prismatic Heritage
© Angela Treat Lyon 2002