We have all heard about the tragic killing spree Elliot Rodger went on in California. By now we’ve all seen the #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. And every single woman who has seen it has thought of her own experience she could share. Her own instance of being harassed, intimidated, attacked. Because we ALL have them. Yes, ALL women.
When I was in junior high school – only fourteen or fifteen years old – there was this guy. He didn’t really have any friends, maybe only one or two. I knew what it was like to be marginalized and picked on, so I made it a point to be friendly to everyone. That included him. It was a mistake. This guy latched on to my kindness and decided it must mean something more.
He followed me around school, insisting he walk with me between classes. When he had a shared class with me, he would sit next to me and demand my attention and conversation. He kept asking for my phone number. I tried my best to be polite but clear that I wasn’t interested in him, but I was afraid. I was legitimately afraid of how he would react if I made him mad by blatantly rejecting him.
At some point he must have watched over my shoulder as I got into my locker, because soon he started leaving gifts in there for me. Candy bars, stuffed animals. I told him I didn’t want them and I wanted him to stay out of my locker, but the gifts just kept appearing. One day he tried to insist I take money from him; I don’t remember why, but I do remember how furious he was when I refused.
This guy somehow convinced one of my friends to give him my phone number. He started calling me – daily – and harassing me whenever I made up some excuse for why I needed to get off the phone. This was pre-caller ID days. It got to where, for awhile, I just didn’t answer the phone anymore.
He was verbally abusive, intimidating, terrifying. He frequently demanded to know why I thought I was “too good for him” and why I wasn’t interested. For several months, this guy made my life miserable.
And I never told a single person until now.
Looking at what happened at UCSB, I shudder to think that, if this guy had been just an iota more unhinged, if he’d had any baseline mental illness, I could have ended up like one of Rodger’s victims. But I didn’t know that at fourteen. I just thought, “Well, this is the way it is. All girls have to go through this.” I knew it felt wrong, but I thought it was normal.
I didn’t think: Who does this jerk think he is? Why does he think he’s entitled to me? Instead I blamed myself for being foolish enough to show him kindness. To “lead him on.”
This misogynistic culture needs to stop. It needs to end NOW. Because misogyny DOES hurt people. It DOES kill people. We have the proof right in front of us. And I’ll be damned if I let my daughters (or future sons) grow up to think “It’s not right, but it’s normal.” IT IS NOT NORMAL. IT IS NOT OK.
Yes, ALL women have a story like this. ALL OF US. And that needs to change NOW.