This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
Halloween may be the holiday that celebrates ghostly gore and scary stories, but there are tales of horror that rarely ever get told. Thanks in part to crude revelations of a presidential candidate about his gleeful adventures of sexual assault, confessing his “star” status gave him a free pass to grab women by the pussy,whether they wanted him to or not—and mostly they didn’t— global conversations about the unwanted and unwelcome sexual attention and molestation women receive on a daily basis are now taking place.
And it’s not just women talking among themselves, but women telling the men in their lives about their experiences, hidden from their loved ones, kept secret for a lifetime even, due to a sense of shame, due to a reticence to relive a long-buried pain, due to a fear of not being believed, of not being taken seriously, of being blamed for what had happened.
“In 30 years of marriage,” a recent report in The New York Times began, “Nancy Fagin had never told her husband about ‘the handing’—how, as an eighth grader volunteering at a small natural history museum in Chicago, she was sexually molested by a security guard.”
Her husband listened, and responded “by talking about how his former wife had also been assaulted.”
As loathsome as it may be to admit, this may inadvertently be Trump’s contribution to feminism. The shock waves generated by the Access Hollywood recordings, the subsequent sexual assault accusations against Trump by at least 12 women to date “are reverberating through marriages and relationships across the country… For the first time, women say, they are telling their husbands and boyfriends about the times they were groped at nightclubs or on a subway, flashed on the street, shushed or shouted down at work.”
I, too, have the horror stories I keep to myself, rarely ever sharing them with men I’ve loved or trusted. I keep under mental lock and key, even from my closest girlfriends and family, those banished memories that make me shudder, or weep, or throw up, break down or seethe.
Shudder. Weep. Throw Up. Break Down. Seethe. It’s the sexually molested version of that silly game of FLAMES that we played as silly girls—Friend, Lover, Admirer, Married, Enemy (or Engaged) or Sweetheart.
At 12, the tiny mounds sprouting on my chest would have escaped notice if not for the giveaway straps of my 30AA trainer bra discernible underneath my school uniform. But one uncle, he always noticed. And one time, while visiting him at hospital he actually asked me to lift my top so he could see my bra. He thought it was cute and funny. I thought he was gross.
At 21, a salesman at the Charles Jourdan boutique on the Champs-Elysees in Paris entered the dressing room while I was trying on a top and a skirt, and cupped his hands over my breasts. In my shock I still managed to buy the skirt, but shook uncontrollably once I left the shop.
At 22, I went on a date with a boy I’d known for some time. He asked me what it was like to be back home for the summer after a year in Paris. I told him I didn’t appreciate how it was automatically assumed that I was now “wild and liberated.” Then he took me to a house his parents owned in Corinthian Gardens, a house that was empty because it was between tenants, and tried to kiss me. I told him to stop. He didn’t believe me.
At 27, during the Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, a man across the table—in the private room of a Chinese restaurant with the usual crowd of rowdy expat revelers—kept throwing peanut shells at me, trying to get my attention. I could feel my eyes brim with angry tears. My husband did nothing.
At 29, in Hong Kong, walking across the car park to my office in Quarry Bay one morning, four shirtless men—laborers—surrounded me, menacingly brandishing metal pipes in their hands. I pushed past them, pissed and fearful at the same time. The next day I parked my car elsewhere and took a different route to the office.
At 32, the younger brother of one of my friends assumed my lighthearted teasing whenever I’d bump into him at Euphoria or Giraffe was an invitation to take me to Tagaytay and grope me, instead of dropping me home like he offered. I cried then in the car, in the black of night, trying to push him away, and I cried again, when I got home, in the dead of morning, still polite enough to say good-bye.
At 42, already estranged from my husband but still living under the same roof, he would badger me incessantly to have sex with him, then call me “cold” and “frigid” when I refused. At this point I felt revulsion more than anything else.
At 47, my boyfriend, sleeping over, accused me of cheating on him and keeping a lover when my phone would ring or beep in the mornings. “Dude, chill,” I told him. “I’m a mother. In the real world, my day begins at 5:45 a.m. People calling or messaging that early in the morning is NORMAL.” I broke up with him not long after.
Should I go on? Should I tell you about the many aggressions I continue to experience, even in my 50s? About the sexist attitudes I had to deal with at one job? Or the way a stranger in a bar in Barcelona one night insisted on giving me a hug but wouldn’t let go? Or that same night, at Sutton, another man yanked me off the dance floor and tried to kiss me?
I could go on and on, and I know every woman will nod in sympathy, in anger, and in sorrow. Because it’s nothing new. For most women, the ghosts don’t only come out at Halloween.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published earlier this year by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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Art by Dorothy Guya