it’s not that bad…

*started 3.8.17 in honor of International Women’s Day*

The first time i remember someone touching my body without permission I was 9 years… I rode in the front seat of his car as he drove me home from volunteering on the farm. He had white pants and a sweaty smile, his right hand was never on the steering wheel. He looked at me and smiled with a desperate reassurance I couldn’t understand. His right hand was moving closer to me, my legs dangly and only covered by shorts. When his sweaty hand landed on my bare 9-year old thigh, he squeezed it… reassuringly…but it didn’t feel right and I couldn’t understand why he was doing that. He didn’t move his fingers up my thigh, but he don’t take them off my thigh either. I stopped looking at his face. I looked straight ahead out the windshield. His hand squeezed my thigh again. I turned my head away even further and tried to track where we were… how far away from my house until he’d have to take his sweaty hand back. I could feel his disappointment when I didn’t smile at him, when I didn’t turn my head towards him. I scooted my body closer to the door; his heavy sweaty hand didn’t leave my thigh.

I walked in the front door and tried to leave everything about that car ride in his car. The nasty gross feeling clung to me like the sweat-beads on his forehead. I just kept telling myself it wasn’t that bad… it could have been worse… it could have been worse. I’m not sure I really ever told anyone about that car-ride home. Nothing really happened, right? Maybe I was making it up? Maybe he was just trying to be nice. If I didn’t really believe it happened, what would I say to someone else?

The next week when it was time to get ready to go and I refused, my mom didn’t push it or ask why. Perhaps she could sense the quiet but determined protest brewing inside of me, perhaps she was tired of always arguing with me and this was one of those ‘pick your battle moments’…  and she chose to let it go. I was so relieved… what would I even say? That the old man with a sweet grandpa smile was creepy and made me feel gross… and that now, even a week later, I couldn’t figure out how to wash his sweaty hand off my thighs…

I started to be suspicious of men who looked at me. Saw my own body as a vulnerability. My mantra… however quiet, became ingrained in me and was automatic anytime someone looked at me with those creepy eyes… it’s not that bad… he’s just a pervert, he doesn’t realize what he’s doing…  I feigned pity when really I just wanted to push my body off my bones, sacrifice it if that would make men… from 16 to 76, stop looking at me and my friends like that.

The looks don’t stop though, even now as I’m in my 30s and a mother and my eyes can be fierce as fuck, uninviting and shamelessly scolding the dirty old men who think they have the right, the power, to put their hands and their eyes on any part of my body, on any part of any female’s body…but at least by now, I no longer believe this is just part of being a girl, being female in this country, in this world really. At least now I stare back, I grab back, and I will no longer tell myself it’s not that bad…

© 2017 erin hoffman – all rights reserved

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