I’m going to start this post off with a disclaimer, and an apology. The disclaimer is that there’s going to be content that is not pleasant to read, and for some it could be a trigger. So I wanted to warn ahead of time, in case there’s any trauma in your past, I would hate to be the reason for that without you knowing in advance there’s going to be sensitive subject matter to come in this blog post. There will also be some less than ladylike language, but I’m going to tell these stories exactly as they happened. So my apologies for that.
To any of my friends, or my family reading this…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I had reasons for not telling you, and they made sense at the time. My bad habit of shouldering things alone is not a trait I’m particularly proud of. It ends up being to my own detriment a lot of the time, and I’m not sure I even know how to fix it.
The reason I’m writing this particular piece, is because the weather has turned blazing hot. We’re about to see scorching temperatures in Alberta, maybe hotter than we’ve seen in a while. A dear friend tweeted about how she felt uncomfortable on her own patio wearing a bathing suit top and skirt, because a man leered at her from the street. This brought out some interesting conversation, to say the least. It brought out support from many, but it also brought out some responses of “well maybe you shouldn’t dress like that”. It also brought comments about how it’s a double standard, that women can treat men the same, and somehow that’s fine. But here’s the thing: no matter what, it isn’t the same. It isn’t the same, at all. And I’m about to tell you why.
I’ll start at the beginning of my story. My long, sordid history with men. We’re going back in time more than 30 years. It all started because I developed really young. By the time I was 12, I was already wearing a DD bra. I never asked for that, and I promise you I’ve never wanted it. You always want what you don’t have, right? If you talk to any woman who was born flat-chested, they’ll likely tell you they’ve always wanted a more voluptuous body. For me, from the get go, it’s caused me nothing but mental anguish on top of physical pain in the form of neck tension, back problems, headaches, and permanent dents in my shoulders from bra straps. And from 12, my chest didn’t get smaller.
From that age, I covered up. I started wearing clothes that were a size or two too big in an attempt to hide, as if I could. You can cover up, but let’s face it, people know. It’s inevitable. And it started right away. Around 11, the looks. The comments. Boys snapping your bra in school. And every time, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. A couple of years went by, and more and more things kept happening, and I kept retreating into myself. I was becoming this shell of a girl, with the body of a woman. Only, I wasn’t one yet. I wasn’t even close. And I had no idea how to handle it. Grown men older than my father were leering at me, and making lewd comments, and I had no idea what to do when it would happen. I was still a child, after all. You start to think it’s normal, that’s just how things are.
I was uncomfortable all the time. I didn’t like the attention it got me. I remember a specific instance where I was helping out at my grandparent’s hotel, my dad had taken me with him while he worked a Christmas party in the lounge with my grandpa, and I was behind the bar having just picked up some empty glasses off some tables. I knew how to make some drinks, pour beer off the tap. A man came up to the bar, and I was the only one back there at that moment. I asked him if I could help him. He said “Yes, but I don’t think your mother would approve.” My aunt swooped in from behind me somewhere like a swallow diving at a nest, and pushed in front of me, blocking me from him. She’d somehow heard what he said. She threw some nasty words at him and told him to get out. He left, and she wanted to tell my dad. I pleaded with her not to, because then he might tell grandpa and God only knows what might have happened then. I could still see the man outside. The patriarch of our family was a very giving and generous man-but you wouldn’t have dared come at his first born granddaughter like that in his bar if you had any idea who Ivan Krook was. Forget if my father had gotten his hands on him. This guy wouldn’t have had a prayer, and I didn’t want to make a scene.
One night some years later, I was out with some friends at a bar. We were standing in line at a shooter bar, and we were talking. Three of us. There were three guys standing in front of us, doing some shots. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I was in the middle of a sentence when one of the guys turned around and interrupted me. He says “Did you just say that you’re a guy?” And I said “I’m sorry, what?” He went on “I thought I just heard you say that you’re a guy, which can’t be true since you’ve got the biggest tits I’ve ever seen.” One of my girlfriends said “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?” as he’s just laughing. I was dumbfounded, that a guy I’d never met could just casually say something like that to me as if he’d just asked me the time. I mumbled something along the lines of “let’s just get out of here” to my girlfriends, and we left.
Just a few years ago, I took a trip to Edmonton with my folks. I had a medical appointment, and we ended up going to the mall to check some stores out. My mom and I were walking along, and we went by some of those kiosks you always see with the people who are trying to get you to stop and see what they have to offer. I always ignore, and try not to make eye contact. We had specific places we wanted to hit, and not a lot of time. The mall was quite busy that day, and there were a lot of people milling about. We were trying to get through that area and make our way amongst the people going by the kiosks, and my mom had ended up getting a little ways ahead of me because of the crowd of people. I looked to see where she was, and happened to turn my head toward this one kiosk where I made eye contact with the man working there. He looked directly at me, and made a gesture with his hands symbolizing big boobs while nodding, and then motioned for me to come over. I stopped dead in my tracks, and without even thinking said rather loudly “Are you fucking kidding me?”
He was maybe 15-20 feet away from me, and even with the sounds of people chattering, and general mall noise, he heard me loud and clear. Because once I said that, he suddenly looked terrified. Or maybe it was the rage on my face, I’m not sure. Several people threw me a look, and I heard my mother from up ahead say “Tara!” in admonishment, but she had no idea what had just transpired. It was a cell phone kiosk. I walked over, staring at him. He looked like he was about to bolt. I didn’t say a word, though. After my first exclamation. I walked over, I grabbed his card off the counter. I looked him dead in the eye, and I walked away. I went to my mom, who asked what was wrong with me for yelling like that in the middle of a mall. And then I explained what had just happened, and she wanted to go back. I never did do anything with his card, but I do think I gave him a good scare. That’s the difference in how I handle this now, compared to how I handled it when I was young.
My hometown has a military base. Growing up with it, you’re used to seeing men around in uniforms. It’s the norm. When I was younger, for many, many years we had an annual training exercise that took place for six to eight weeks through May and June called Maple Flag. Military members from other countries, mostly from the US would come in two week intervals for training. 99% of them male. There would be an influx of men in town during that time, hordes of them. And everyone knew that when they were here, they were here for a good time.
I didn’t know until I was older, why my mom kept a tighter leash on me during that time of year. I understood it better once I was legal drinking age, and could go out. My friends and I, we were out all the time after we were legal, we were at our local bar (well, we had two, but really only went to one) all the time. Always Friday/Saturday, and usually Wednesday for wing night, sometimes Thursdays if something was going on. My best friend from the time I was 12 was the manager at the bar we frequented. So sometimes we were going just to hang out with her. In small town Alberta, there isn’t a whole lot else to do. During Maple Flag, though, if you go out, the men that came into town assumed you were on the prowl. They didn’t know you were still sitting in that bar every weekend in November. And until we experienced it, we just didn’t know.
They didn’t even try to hide that they were checking you out. Not just in the bar, though. At the movies, in restaurants, the grocery store. And lucky for us, they traveled in packs. By all means, note my sarcasm here. It was daunting, our home being overrun by these groups of men while we felt like we were under microscopes. And of course, it wasn’t all of them. Some of them were very polite, and quite nice. One of my best friends ended up married to a guy she met one year, after keeping in touch afterward and several visits. But after one night, and one overall experience later, my view of Maple Flag and a whole lot else would be forever changed.
Within my group of friends, I got the most attention in a negative way. But I wasn’t getting much in the way of positive attention to balance that out. I’ve never been a thin girl, and while my friends were getting flowers and asked out on dates, that didn’t really come for me. And it just was what it was, I wasn’t dwelling on it. I had a great family, I had supportive friends, and really I was ok on my own. If men were going to treat me the way that they generally did, I didn’t want much to do with it, anyway. Single suited me fine. When we’d go out as a group of girls, and get approached by guys, it usually went one of two ways: I either just faded into the background, which is what I was comfortable with, or, I’d get hit with “Hey! How are you? Can I buy you a drink? So, who’s your friend?”
The night in question started out uneventfully. It was a weeknight, Wednesday. I was with two of my best friends, and it was wing night. It had been busy earlier that night, but it had died down and there weren’t many people left in the bar. A few groups of people, but that was it. The three of us were just sitting around a table talking, like we usually did. There was a table of four guys a couple of tables away, and they’d been there for a while like we had. They bought us a round, but I hadn’t been drinking that night, so I didn’t have one. One of them came over and stood at the table and chatted us up a bit, and seemed nice enough. He asked if they could move a table over, join us. We looked at each other, but said ok. Worst case scenario, in that situation, we just leave. We had signals and everything. So they came over, and they talked to us for a while. I didn’t usually engage much when that would happen, just for the pure fact that they usually weren’t very interested in talking to me. But two of them seemed to be more interested in engaging me over the other two, which wasn’t the norm, but I was polite enough. The other two were quite taken with my two friends. A friend of ours was DJing that night, and at one point I got up saying I was going to go talk to him for a few minutes, and then go to the bathroom, and I’d be back. I went and chatted with my friend in the booth for a couple of minutes, and headed to the bathroom, which was way at the back.
That end of the bar was empty, you had to pass pool tables and go down a back hallway to get to the bathroom. I went in, did what I needed to do, and was coming out of a stall when the door opened. I looked up, and two of the guys that had come to sit at our table walked into the bathroom. I looked at them a bit bewildered, it took me a second to register seeing them walking into the women’s room in the first place. They looked at each other, and walked toward me. It all happened so fast, but before I knew it, they’d backed me into a stall. One of them had their hand over my mouth, and my back hit the tile wall. It was the farthest stall, the biggest one. I could hear how loud the music was outside the door, and how far we were from the other end of the bar where people were…even if I could have yelled, no one would have heard me.
When my back hit the tile, I pushed back. I tried to use my legs for leverage. I’m built strong by nature. Had it been one, maybe I might have had a chance. As I struggled, one of them said “Come on, sweetheart. How often is a girl like you going to get an opportunity like this?” And then, I was livid. I knew exactly what he meant. I wriggled one of my arms free and clawed one of them in the eye. He yelled out and called me a bitch, while the other was trying to pin me back against the wall. The other regained his composure and punched me in the ribs hard enough to knock the wind right out of me, and that was it. I couldn’t breathe. I could barely see. They did what they wanted, I’d lost. What felt like an eternity at the time, I’m sure only lasted a couple of minutes. They wasted no time. And then, I was broken and alone, on a dirty bar bathroom floor. And all that was running through my head was “You need to get out of here. Now.”
I put the clothes that had been taken off me back on, and splashed water on my face. When I went back to my girlfriends, all the guys were gone. They’d left. I told them I’d gotten sick in the bathroom, it must have been something I ate. While I stood there, I thought for sure they’d be able to see it. That I was shaking, shattered. I needed to go home, so if they wanted me to drive them, I needed to leave. We all left, and I went home. I told no one.
The next day, I went to go to the police station to report it. Because it had been men that were here for Maple Flag, they took a statement, and sent me to Military Police to proceed from there. The MP I dealt with was young, but compassionate. He took a detailed statement, and then we went to the military hospital for me to be examined. I’d also been in some pain from the one punching me, and they sent me for an x-ray. As it turned out, two of my ribs were cracked. The MP kept urging me to call someone, and I refused. I couldn’t do it. I was terrified. I was anxious. I was ashamed. I was damaged goods.
The MP promised to be in touch once he did some digging on his end, and he’d call me. I actually expected that I wouldn’t hear from him again, but sure enough, just as he’d promised, a couple of days later he called. He wanted me to come in to talk some more about my incident. That was the word he used, which made me feel like a walking car wreck. I was now an incident. He had no intention of that, I know. This was all in my head.
When he’d taken my statement, he’d commended my memory. We had only gotten first names, of course, but I remembered details about what their trades and ranks were, and where they were from. They’d talked too much. My memory is a blessing and a curse. This much, I know. But in this case, it served me well, because the MP had been able to find them. I was going to have to go in and verify that the two he’d dug up, were the ones I’d given details about. I wasn’t going to have to see them just yet, but identify via photos to start. I still wasn’t sure how I felt, I was scared, but there was also something else. There was this hollow feeling, I was in a complete haze. But I agreed to go in, because I was also determined. I’d end up feeling really stupid for that.
I still didn’t tell anyone. I had given my statement to RCMP. I had recounted my story to the MP. But I could not bring myself to form the words of what was going on to anyone who loved me. I couldn’t even bear the thought. I got to the base to make the ID. The MP showed me photos. He’d found them, alright. I sat in a chair in front of his desk, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if my violent shaking was making the whole building quake. I bit down on my tongue to keep from crying. I would not break.
Part of the time I was staring at him, he was talking, and I zoned out. I didn’t hear a word he said once I’d seen the photos, the ringing in my ears was too loud. But then he said “Are you ready to do that right now?” and I shook my head a little, snapped out of it. I think I said “I’m sorry, what?” He explained that their boss was there. He wanted to speak to me. The MP looked suddenly nervous, feeding off my energy. He told me I didn’t have to, but that the CO had come to the office, hoping I’d be willing to have a conversation before things proceeded. I agreed, and he led me to another room, where the officer was waiting.
He was too pleasant, and it unnerved me immediately. He shook my hand, I sat down. He explained that he was there to talk to me, so that maybe we could come to some sort of resolution that everyone could be happy with. I looked over at the MP, who looked confused. It was clear to me that he had no idea exactly what this conversation would entail, and suddenly I felt sick. The CO broke it down for me. These two men were both married, with families. Should I decide to go forward, and press charges, their careers would be over.
I was in shock. This man was sitting there, basically telling me that it was me that would be ruining their lives. Not the other way around.
If I chose not to press charges formally, they would be reprimanded and possibly demoted. They were being sent home either way. What I didn’t know until then, was that as soon as they were questioned, the one whose eye I’d clawed obviously couldn’t hide that I’d injured him, he’d had no explanation for that. He’d cracked. Once he told the truth, the other really had no choice but to follow suit. His story lined up with mine, it was game over for them. But really, it wasn’t. As I sat there in that chair, the CO condescending to me like a child when I was 22 years old, about how I had a choice to make and he knew I’d “do the right thing after thinking about it”, I already knew my mind was made up. This guy wasn’t there to have a conversation. He was there to talk me out of moving forward.
He shook my hand again, and I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. The MP followed me out of the room, and I walked as fast as I could out of that building and into the parking lot. I needed air. I felt like my lungs were collapsing in on themselves. By the time I got outside, my lungs were burning. I ran around to the side of the building and doubled over, dry heaving. Nothing would come up, but it didn’t stop. Tears streaming silently down my face. I heard the MP calling my name, and he came around the side of the building. He saw me, and he’s saying my name. Asking if I’m ok. Was I ok? Was I ok. No, I wasn’t ok. I wasn’t ok at all. He’s apologizing to me, he didn’t know. I knew it wasn’t his fault, but the last thing I wanted was a male anywhere near me at that moment. I told him I would call him the next day. I just wanted to go home.
I called the MP the next day, and explained that I couldn’t go forward. He asked me if I was sure, and if I wanted to come and talk to him more about it. I said no, I just wanted to put it behind me. He said he would be in touch with updates, and I thanked him for his help, and hung up the phone. He called several times after that and left messages, and I couldn’t bring myself to call him back. I went to work, and came home, and that’s all I could do for a while. I didn’t go out. I barely saw my friends. I made excuses. I just couldn’t deal for a while. So I didn’t. Eventually, I swept it all under my proverbial rug, like I do. And I carried on.
Here’s the thing about all of what I’ve told you. I’ve never been one to dress in a revealing manner. My assault happened on a night that I wasn’t drinking. I should be able to walk through a mall and shop without having to worry about who is going to do or say what to or about me. I shouldn’t have been made to feel like it was me ruining someone else’s life, for what was done to me. As a child, I shouldn’t have had to be put in an awkward situation by an adult man. But here’s what’s really scary about all of this…these are just a few examples. There’s many more to go along with these. And these are just mine.
Every single one of my female friends can tell you stories similar to these. Stories where they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I’m not saying that males are never objectified, because that simply isn’t true. The difference with us, is we can never know for sure if a leer is going to turn into a situation that’s dangerous for us. If you’ll openly leer in public, what else might you try?
Someone said to me on Twitter, “You need to call people out on it more, not complain about it on Twitter because that does nothing.” Well, since you put it that way. Just today, Bill Cosby was released from prison after only two years. Sixty women came forward against him. Sixty. He drugged and assaulted women for years, and because of a failed judicial system, his lawyers get him off on a technicality. I know how we can be made to feel when it comes to this. How are we supposed to feel like we’re being taken seriously, when these are the things that happen? It’s MADNESS. And if things of this caliber aren’t taken seriously, it’s hard for us to feel like we can speak up about much of anything. And you want to come at me about a double standard. I’m fucking tired. Us women, we’re tired.
Please, don’t apologize to me. Don’t be sorry, I can’t take it. Just be better. That’s all I ask.
I know. I know that it’s not all men. I know this, because the men that I have in my life that I love, have more than made up for this. They’ve loved me, and allowed me to be me. And that’s as much as I could possibly ask for. To each of you, and you know who you are…thank you. I love you, fiercely.