I read this New Yorker article on the casual nature of sexual assault today-it was a slow day in work. I have mentioned to my husband that I don’t know a woman who hasn’t experienced some level of what can be called sexual assault, be it a ‘casual’ crotch grab or something more serious. He expressed surprise at this, and immediately went into what I term Defensive Not All Men Mode.
Naturally, this infuriated me. I know not all men are sleazy assholes who’ll casually grab the crotch of a passing woman or see a woman who’s had a few too many drinks and think she’s easy pickings or break into the home of an elderly woman to overpower and rape her. But women experience a vast and extensive variety of unwanted sexual attention, from an early age, and it becomes so normal that we’re trained not to class the unwanted hand on your posterior as an assault.
I know women who dismiss things like a casual hand on a breast and dismiss the harm this does in terms of how women are treated when more serious things happen. I know women will ask ‘what was she doing getting so drunk’ or ‘why did she go back to his place, what did she think would happen’. Prominent men like Todd Aiken tell me my body will shut that ‘thing’ (like my reproductive system works entirely separately from the rest of me) down if I’m raped.
I have had unwanted sexual attention. I have made bad choices about what I decided to term this attention. Sometimes I needed to dismiss it so it didn’t have a bigger impact on me. Sometimes I was told to chalk it up to ‘one of those things’ and I did because that’s what a lot of people do. But 20% of women have done this too. And I wonder about that 20%, and how they’re feeling and what they want to call what happened to them compared to what they did call it.