Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Experience of Being a Woman

The first time a man flashed his genitals at me, I was about eight or nine years old. I was walking to the store with my friend and a young man—a teenager, I think—called to us and when we turned around, he was shaking his dick at us.

In some ways it's a funny story. I mean, how ridiculous. Right? I remember my friend laughed. But I felt simultaneously angry and sad. I grabbed her arm and pulled her along so we could run away. It felt like a violation. I didn't ask to see his penis. I wasn't old enough to see a penis. And I didn't know what he was going to do next. Would he try and hurt us? Rape us? I didn't know.

It wouldn't be the last time a stranger would flash me. It's happened a few more times as an adult and usually at gas stations. I have no idea why gas stations attract so many sexual predators. But there you go. It's an added experience some of us get as women that men may have no idea about.

When I was a teenager, I was chased by a group of boys on a playground when I was babysitting two children. I half-carried, half-dragged the two kids as fast as I could to my car, whereupon I stomped on the gas so hard the engine revved and the tires threw stones up into the air. In my panic, I still had my foot pressed on the brake, so we didn't move. One of the young men reached the car and punched my window. He left a greasy fist print on the window, but I released the brake in time to get away.

Another time, as a teenager, a boy assaulted me at a party. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me into a swimming pool in front of an entire party full of teenagers. Then he jumped in the water and grabbed my head and held me under until some other boys came and had to physically pull him off of me.

Was he trying to kill me?

I don't know.

Would he have let me up soon enough for me to breathe?

I don't know. It didn't seem like it, at the time.

Why did he do this?

Because I didn't want to go out on a date with him.

I was raped by a 50-year-old stranger when I was 17 years old.

I have been cursed at, yelled at, propositioned and grabbed throughout my life. There have been many mornings where I can't fill a tank of gas without having to politely accept some strange man's compliment. If I don't say thank you to all of these unwanted comments, I'm called a "bitch" or "cunt." I've been cursed at while jogging. I've been told, "I want to fuck your pussy" while shoveling my driveway. I've been called a stuck-up bitch for simply ignoring these comments.

If you say thank you, it's an invitation for more. If you ignore them, you're a bitch. If you flip them off, then they'll stop the car and threaten to assault you. I've had all of these experiences personally. I'm sure lots of people will have excuses for them all.

"Not all men" are like that.

"You should be flattered someone said something nice to you."

"You shouldn't have been alone."

"You shouldn't have been there at night."

"You're exaggerating."

"Get over yourself."

"It's not that big of a deal."

And on and on. All of the ways we minimize women's personal experiences because they are not our own experiences. And on and on. All the ways we tell girls and women to be quiet. To be polite. To not cause problems. Just suck it up and smile. Say thank you. Don't be difficult. Don't be a bitch. Why do you have to be such a bitch? Why do you have to be so dramatic? Give me a break. Typical liberal bullshit. There's a lot more women who falsely accuse men of rape and ruin their lives than women who've actually been raped. Why didn't you report it? Why didn't you fight back? Why did you fight back? Why did you say something? Why didn't you say something?

My experience of being a woman is that I can never get it right. I can never guarantee my own safety or protect myself in the right way, in a way that will please everyone, everywhere, all the time. My experience of being a girl and being a woman is that there is no one there to help you. You're on your own and if anything does happen to you, it'll be your fault.

My experience of being a woman is that everybody will tell me why I'm wrong.

I hope I can teach my daughter to have a different experience of being a woman. That's why I write these words. That's why I say it out loud. That's why I don't care what you say or what you think. I will no longer be silenced or shamed. I will speak up. I will be a bitch and I won't give a damn what you think about that.


  1. Mandy - You're getting is so right, in every way. It's all those others who get/got it wrong. Your daughter is lucky to have you setting such an amazing example for her. And, your son is lucky too. He is learning what is right and wrong and will hopefully help his less educated peers be better. When I think about all of the times I've had unwanted comments/compliments/advances thrown at me it makes me so sad. It wasn't even until a few years ago that I realized that much of this behavior really is predatory. Thank you for doing what you do - you are truly a goddess.

  2. Good lord woman! You've been through the wringer! I'm glad that all these experiences didn't make you bitter. Don't know how you came out so "normal". I can relate to you on all fronts - except for being raped. I don't know how you can still be the great human being that you are. xo

  3. You are an amazing woman. I love this post so much. I am still afraid to speak up about some things. You are inspiring. Thank you.

  4. Although the details are slightly different, I've experienced all of this. I look at my daughters and I can't believe that by the time I was their ages, (13 & 16) I had already experienced sexual assault/violation more than once. I grew up thinking it was more important to please others than to please myself. No more. And I am raising my daughters to be louder, fiercer, stronger, and yes, more bitchy than I ever was. And I am raising my sons to see girls & women as equals and to truly understand what consent means.

  5. Bravo. I'd like to share.

  6. As a dude, this is something i have never been nor will I ever be ok with when it comes to dudes doing this kind of shit. I don't understand it, and i don't know what the ultimate purpose is to flash or scare or in the case of that dude that pushed you to the pool.... wtf?? I was raised in a house full of women and as a child i also saw them struggling with how men have tried to impose their will on them and it's something I learned not to ever do. Every time I heard stuff like this from my exes or cousins or friends, I honestly wished they all had a gun and pop a cap on the m.f. Though not the best advice but it honestly irks me to know that there are still men who behave like complete animals.
    Good post though and keep speaking up!

  7. While you were shoveling snow? Wow. Just wow.

  8. It kills me that the reaction is rarely “he was wrong” I love you lady. You always inspire me to feel things. And I love that about you. No matter the subject. You always help me feel something.

  9. It's inspiring to hear you tell your story. As a young teenager, you were a very influential woman and teacher to me. In many ways, your teaching shaped my teaching as I'm sure I'm teaching my female students.

    1. Thanks, Sara. I'm pleased to hear that I had some small part of the good work you do. I had a few teachers along the way who shaped the way I taught you. Two of them have passed away, and that makes me think their legacy lives on. <3