Deni’s Story: “It never really occurred to me that they simply don’t care if we hate it”
It seems unreal but as a woman your day really does revolve around where can I go, what can I wear, can I run in these if I have too, look down don’t make eye contact, always be prepared to run, keep your head on the swivel. It feels like 70’s sometimes! I had gone away to college and in my few years there I’d been chased, followed, groped, sexually harassed and intimidated and I was at the end of my rope. I was young and didn’t understand so I began to blame myself. What am I doing, what am I wearing, how am presenting myself to make men think they can treat me this way? In your own mind you know you’re a person, a human being, you are your own but as a woman you’re constantly being told the contrary.
A few weeks ago a friend’s girlfriend was savagely knocked unconscious and raped on the side walk on her way home from class. That day my friend and I were biking to our school building when a guy screams out as us ‘Bitch I got something for you!’ and whips his penis out as us. We looked away and biked faster, the rapist that attacked my friend’s girlfriend was never found. When class ended I was headed home alone and I see this guy coming up to me, at first I look down trying not to catch his attention but still I hear him say ‘Ooohh shit..’ and he starts coming up to me making whispering noises. I remembered earlier that day and I remembered my friend’s girlfriend and I get angry and I’m tired of this. I’m tired of the constant fear and look up right in his face as he gets closer to me. ‘Look, I don’t deserve this! I’m just trying to get home like everybody else and I have a right to do that.’
He gets kind of startled like he was shocked I could actually speak, like you would if your shoe rack suddenly yelled at you for putting your shoes on it. ‘Don’t deserve what?’ he starts looking confused and cautious. ‘I don’t deserve this! This is sexual harassment, I don’t deserve you running up on me when I’m just trying to get home!’ He gets this weird look on his face at the word ‘sexual harassment’ and actually has the nerve to sound righteous, ‘How do you know I was hollering at you?’ I look around stunned. ‘We’re the only two people here! You have a mother, you might have a sister, would you really want someone running up on them when they’re all by themselves talking all threateningly to them like this?’ He throws the righteous game out the window when he’s called out and just goes straight to anger.
He sticks his chest out like he’s getting ready to hit me and gets even closer, I stand my ground and look straight back, I’m not running anymore if he beats me up he beats me up. ‘Bitch you wouldn’t get it if you weren’t advertising! You advertising!’ He might as well have hit me for how it felt. I didn’t really have a reply because I wasn’t advertising anything, whatever he actually meant by advertising but I had an idea. That’s when it all made sense, the surprise when I had the audacity to speak, the righteousness when I dared to spurn his threatening advances and the anger when I continued to assert myself. It had nothing to do with what I was wearing, what I was doing, how I looked, or me at all.
Because I wasn’t a person. I was a hole, an object, a shoe rack with no vocal chords, no face, no wants, no right to itself. I was a shoe rack and how dare I object to having shoes placed on me. Is that not why I was created? Is that not my singular purpose in life? The law doesn’t apply to shoe racks, what rights does a pile of wood and rubber have? There was nothing I could say to him, because where I was arguing about my right to be treated as an equal and he was arguing the legitimacy of my very humanity. I biked home as fast as I could and still heard him yelling after me ‘You adverting! You advertising!’ I got home, shut my self in my room, and sobbed for the rest of the day. I wasn’t a person, I wasn’t a survivor or a victim, I was just a woman and that’s practically nothing. I had thought maybe the sexually harassment stemmed from men not knowing women find it threatening and demeaning. Maybe if I stood my ground and let them know I hated it, maybe the surprise and shame would stop it. It never really occurred to me that they simply don’t care if we hate it because they don’t even think about it.
Another instance, a few years later I was walking down the crowded main street of down town San Diego in the afternoon. Four men are walking towards me on the side walk, I look down and side step but the biggest one follows me. I’m about to just run when he grabs me by the arm and pulls me into him. I yell ‘NO!’ and ‘STOP!’ and trying to get away but his friends just laugh and he starts grinding his groin into me in broad daylight in the middle of a busy sidewalk. People actually have to walk around us as I’m struggling. No one does anything, they just look down and keep walking and at last I’m able to shove my way out of his grip. He and his friends keep laughing and making kissing noises and cat calls. I start crying on the street on no one stops. It was witnessed by everybody, men, women, police, children. It just didn’t matter. Its the worst feeling in the world of something to seem so devastating to you but matter so incredibly little to everybody else. If it doesn’t matter to anyone then does it really even matter at all? It matters. It means everything! I want every woman and girl to know that we deserve better! We deserve the right to safety, life, happiness.
We deserve more than to live our lives on the perpetual Rape Clock! Its up to us to demand more and demand more for those that aren’t able to do it themselves yet. It’s not about hating men or villainizing men because the people we want better for are the daughters, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, and wives of men. No father should constantly have to tell his daughter to be safe every time she leaves the house and worry until she comes back because this shouldn’t be a world where the contrary would cross his mind. As women we need to support each other because we all know what it was like to be beaten down and dehumanized and left to deal with the aftermath all alone. I also want to thank HollaBack for making it easier for us to reach out to each other and share out stories and our support.