The computer lab. I was a freshman in high school. I was a late bloomer and my breasts didn't pop until 9th grade. And when they popped, they popped. They were great, large, perky breasts. Computer lab was a mix of all grades. One day I was wearing a V-neck sweater. You see where this story is going? A senior sat next to me as we typed away at a black screen with green letters (Hello, 1985), attempting to understand why anyone would need a computer except to play tic-tac-toe like Matthew Broderick in War Games.
He pointed to my chest. "You have a freckle."
And there it was. A tiny, dark freckle that had never been noticed when I was a flat-chested 13-year-old just a year earlier. It sat centered on my chest just above my bra line like a shining northern star.
When I looked back up at him, he was smirking. He leaned his arm into the desk moving closer to me. "I'd like to be that freckle," he whispered. I was 14. He was 18. He was a big kid. On the football team. (Can I tell you that he became a cop later in life without you judging cops all together? Just giving you an idea of his confidence.) His sexual attention was scary and I remember at the time feeling like I couldn't get away. I was stuck sitting next to this much larger boy -- this man -- who was oggling my breasts and whispering sexual innuendos. I never wore the V-neck again.
Was this sexual harassment? A minor version of sexual harassment compared to what many women have had to go though. Yet it was an unwelcoming sexual advance from an 18-year-old. It frightened me. It changed my demeanor. The way I dressed. I was nervous around him in class because I didn't want him talking to me again. You tell me if that constitutes sexual harassment. Twenty five years later, I tend to think it does. Why? He targeted me. There was no reciprocation. He and I had no relationship. And please don't tell me this is a boys-will-be-boys scenario. I have a boy. My co-blogger Miri has a boy. If our boys approached a girl in class that way (unless it was their girlfriend and there was a consensual relationship) they'd get the nun's stick, if you know what I mean.
Just the other day the NYT reported that a study by the American Association of University Women, that almost half of 7-12 graders complained of sexual harassment in schools. This includes sexual advances as the one I described, taunting, and sexually-charged name calling such as "gay" or "slut". J. Bryan Lowder from Slate's the XX Factor writes this:
If this survey is correct, we have a serious epidemic of sexual harassment going on in our schools. But reading further in the article, the question of just what counts as an offense becomes murky. The researcher's basic definition--"unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically"--seems reasonable enough at first glance, but taken literally, it constitutes a very wide net, particularly in an extraordinarily charged environment in which teenagers are just beginning to confront sexuality, adult sociality and true accountability for their actions. Should immaturity along the lines of calling someone "gay" or "slut" be counted on the same level as unwanted touching?
Do I consider what happened to me sexual harassment? Should I have told the teacher? Should I have told my mother? Yes. Yes. Yes. It was inappropriate and he should have been reprimanded. To be held to the same standards as an adult? A mark on his permanent record? Absolutely not. But for someone to acknowledge that this was sexually inappropriate and that his behavior was unacceptable. Sure.
Any retaliation on my part would have undoubtedly prompted this kid to call me a "prude." It's a difficult situation when you're targeted with negative attention whether it's bullying or sexual. Yet I wish I had the wherewithal to defend myself.
I don't want you to be any freckle on my body, and next time keep your creepy comments to yourself, asshole.
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