<Long post - possible trigger warning - I really struggled with sharing this experience, but reading this article cracked open an old wound, and I’m compelled to speak on this>
Back in my college days I had an incident with a taxi driver.
It was late Fall, and I had been out at a dance club. I was wearing super awesome platform shoes, long flared bottom pants, and a high necked halter top. (c’mon….it was the 90’s) Since I was taking a taxi to, and from the club, I’d left my coat at home, not wanting to bother with coat check.
Why is this important? Because it would be important in court if things had turned out differently. Because what *I* was WEARING would have been used as a defence for this person's behaviour. For the record, MY pants didn't have the rips. They were just standard issue, black flared leg pants... and the shirt had a pattern that reminded me of a swimming pool.
At the end of the night, I decided to share a taxi with a male friend, as his house was on the way. The driver seemed unfazed when we asked him for a second stop - ‘no problem’ he said with a smile. After all, it was on the way.
The MINUTE we dropped my friend off, the previously friendly driver’s demeanor changed completely.
Him: “Oh man...I thought for SURE he was going to try and take you home?’
Me: “Um...no, we’re just friends’
Him: ‘yeah, but he didn’t even TRY to score?!?! Well he’s gonna be sorry - he is so stupid - you’re hot!!!!’
Me: ‘Um, well… we’re just friends, so..you know….I’m just super tired, and I’ve got to work in the morning....just ready to get home’
Him: If I were him, I’d be ALL OVER YOU… you wouldn’t get any sleep, if you know what I mean? (looks in rearview mirror) ..heh heh heh….. I mean, the THINGS I would do to you….”
And that was the BEGINNING…. He continued making LEWD comments about what HE liked in the bedroom, asking if I was a ‘screamer’ - ‘yep, you look like a wild one...I bet you are...I can tell these things’ and ON AND ON… I was about 20 years old at this time, and he gave me the vibe that if I tried to stop him, or stand up for myself, he would have gotten very angry.
Now…. here’s what I was facing:
This was BEFORE the average person carried a cell phone.
I lived in a quiet subdivision with NO foot traffic at night, and very little vehicle traffic.
It was too far and too cold to get out and walk, and we’d already gone too far in the wrong direction to go back towards more populated areas.
I was wearing the aforementioned platform heels.
I had been drinking, and was slightly past ‘tipsy’ and definitely not ‘hammered’ but I was still concerned about my ability to run.
Now I want to take a moment to address the men who are replying to posts like the one I linked above -saying they are ‘fed up’ with all the #metoo posts - tell me if you have EVER been in a taxicab and had to ‘do the math’ to figure out if you could outrun the driver because he was making extremely vulgar sexual innuendo towards you?
No? Lucky You. Ok, I’ll continue. ...and YES, I absolutely acknowledge that some men have been assaulted. I guarantee they are NOT the ones who are ‘fed up’ with #metoo or saying #notallmen (and yes, I ALSO acknowledge the many incredible men in my life, and in the world!) More on this later….
NOW… because I ALSO happened to be a single mom while I was in College, the stakes were a lot higher. I had a sleeping toddler at home, and young teen girl babysitting for me. So not ONLY was I trying to figure out how to keep MYSELF safe, I had to keep this person away from them. I sat in the backseat, quietly took off my shoes, and tried to figure out my next move.
I didn’t have a lot of options.
When he pulled onto my street and asked me the address, I panicked, and just said ‘THAT HOUSE, RIGHT THERE’ and pointed. (it was about 10 houses away from my actual home)
He pulled into the driveway, and turned around to me, raised his eyebrow and said very suggestively
‘Going home alone is no fun…”
I didn't let him finish... I dropped the money over the front seat so he would have to fumble to pick it up, and I jumped out of the car, and OF COURSE, I said ‘thank you - keep the change’ he started to say something else..., but I waved him off, and walked a few steps up the driveway of a strangers home. He didn’t move. I reached into my purse like I was getting my keys. He didn't move. I dropped a shoe…. He didn’t move. Now if he had been a normal human, I would have greatly appreciated this, as he would have been looking out for my safety...Make no mistake, there is NO way I misunderstood his intent.
I was now terrified I would wake up the homeowner who’s doorstep I was approaching. Should I wake them up? Bang on the door? What if they didn’t answer? What if they were angry? Thankfully, they had a carport, and access to the backyard. I hightailed it around the corner of the house with my key in hand (did they even have a back door??? Who knows?!?!)
I prayed they didn't have a Doberman!
I waited on the other side of that cold brick wall for at LEAST 5 minutes before I saw the headlights recede from the driveway. At this point, I was frozen to the bone, standing on concrete in bare feet, and was shivering so hard my teeth were chattering.
I cautiously poked my head out crept to the front of the house to see his tail lights at the exit to our subdivision. I started walking towards my actual home. When I looked back after a few steps, and he was still sitting there at the intersection. I started to run, keeping close to the houses, trying to stay in the shadows.
He suddenly pulled an erratic U-turn and started driving back towards me. I was now about 5-6 houses from home, and I still had to cross a side street. There was NO way I could make it without being seen.
Thankfully, just before the side street, there was a small ditch, and a space between street lights that lay in darkness. I DOVE into the ditch, and prayed that he hadn’t seen me. I was NOT dressed for the weather, and was now lying face down in a wet ditch, and was freezing cold. He slowly drove down the street, obviously looking at the house where I’d gotten out.
I held my breath, and laid there in sheer terror while the lights finally moved beside me, and then beyond me.
I came up to all fours...He had passed my actual home, and gone slowly down the hill… at the bottom of this hill, the road came to a T - and turning in either direction would loop him back out of the subdivision via the side street that I was about to cross.
I SPRINTED out of the ditch, and ran across the distance to my front door. I remember fumbling with the key because my fingers were so cold I couldn’t grip properly. I finally got the key to turn, JUST as I saw headlights coming back UP the street. He had done another U-Turn at the bottom of hill, and was coming back up the street.
I slammed and locked the door and ran up the stairs like I was on FIRE (I lived on the upper level of a 4 plex) I unlocked, and swung open my living room door, scaring the holy hell out of my babysitter who had been asleep on the couch. I probably looked frightful. I told her to go to my room and shut the door. She just stared at me. I said it again in a way that made her eyes widen, and sent her flying out of the room. She must have been terrified.
I hid behind the curtain and watched him move up the street. I ran to my son’s bedroom, and made sure he was ok, and watched out of his bedroom window as the taxi crawled past my house and continued on...but then he slowed at the ditch where I had just been.
The car came to a complete stop.
I’d left my shoes behind when I ran from the ditch.
I have NO idea if he could see them, but something had grabbed his attention. Possibly a disruption in the frost that was covering the grass? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I could HEAR my heart pounding in my chest, and my babysitter was now wide awake and scared. I was too afraid to move away from the window to get to the phone in the other room, and wasn’t sure what to do with it anyways. He waited what felt like 10 minutes (it was probably only a full minute, which is still FAR too long for a taxi to linger on a busy club night when he could have taken a full second fare by this point)
As the car disappeared, It seemed silly to call the police, was too late to call anyone else, and after all, he hadn’t actually DONE anything except scare me. I thought about calling the cab company, but was worried they would tell him I’d complained, and he would come back.
I put the babysitter in my bed, laughingly explaining the driver was just overly friendly, and I’d probably just overreacted. Once she was settled, I curled up on the couch and tried to get warm. (I was too scared to leave them both unattended to take a hot shower)
The next morning, after a fitful sleep, I woke up, feeling awful, and went straight to the window, holding my breath till I saw the coast was clear. I looked out over an empty street, and after a brief sigh of relief, I immediately started to berate myself. OF COURSE he wasn’t there. I felt SO stupid. Maybe I was just being melodramatic? Maybe he was just trying to be funny? Maybe I should have come home earlier...I shouldn’t have gone out at all. I shouldn’t have had so much to drink. I should have driven. I should have said I lived with a boyfriend. I should have covered up more...I definitely should have worn my coat. I should have worn more sensible shoes. I should have…
I was embarrassed. I was ashamed that I had PUT MYSELF IN THAT SITUATION. (and just to confirm… ‘that situation’ was taking a taxi home from a bar. Something that ANYONE should be able to do safely.)
I drove the sitter home, sailing smoothly past the ditch where my shoes were. I didn’t want her to see that I’d left them there. I stopped on the way back to get them, and when I stepped down into the ditch to pick them up, was hit with a wave of fear. I grabbed the shoes, and jumped back into the car, slamming it into gear. During my son’s nap, I stood in the shower and I cried giant, wracking sobs until the hot water ran out.
And I never told anyone that story until YEARS later.
I didn’t tell my friends, simply because I didn’t want to sound like I thought I was ‘sooo hot’ that a taxi driver couldn't resist me.
I didn’t tell the babysitter. Because I didn't want to scare her, or make her think I’d done something inappropriate to bring on his advances, OR put her in any danger.
I didn’t tell my parents, because they didn't really approve of me having a social life that included ‘clubbing’. Perhaps they were right, I should have been at home, I ‘gave up’ the right to have a social life when I chose to have a child. (THAT, my friends, is a whole ‘nother blog)
And JUST before you think, ‘well, it was just a one-off’ incident, these things happen, but it’s really rare. It needs to be said that I had recently moved to this place after having to hastily move out of my previous apartment. Why?
BECAUSE I MY LANDLORD INVITED HIMSELF INTO MY APARTMENT AND ANNOUNCED THAT HE HAD BEEN WEARING MY UNDERWEAR THAT HE FOUND IN OUR SHARED LAUNDRY ROOM. AND THAT HE **PUT** THEM ON ‘BY ACCIDENT’ BUT **KEPT** THEM ON BECAUSE THEY MADE HIM FEEL SEXY JUST THINKING OF ME.
God Bless my sweet, and incarceration adverse Father for NOT killing that man. He just showed up a few days later with a big truck, knocked on the landlord’s door, had a brief conversation, and we quietly moved all of my things out.
THIS was NOT my first, or second incident. And sadly, it was NOT the most sinister thing I’ve experienced. I couldn't bear to tell my Dad that something worse had just happened, and have to put him through that again. It was bad enough that I was experiencing it,...no use in upsetting him too.
To this day, EVERY time I am out without my gigantic husband, (and my now totally adult sized children.) I calculate my every move. Where to park my car, look around, watch for things that are out of place. Never leave your drink unattended. Mention your ‘husband’ often when in the company of men. Also mention that he is large, and protective. Make sure to be funny, but not too ‘flirty’. Keys always at the ready. Working late, and having to lock up and go to my car after dark….call my hubby, or a friend, so I’d be on the phone (and also distracted, but a least have a witness??!) Receive a late night call from a friend? She is working late, and is walking to HER car, and took a chance I’d be up. Want to walk the dog late at night? Not a good idea. Travel overseas alone? Get told you’re crazy. Take Cabs not Ubers. Take Ubers not Cabs. Take Selfies with the location, and time marked. Check in, text when you get home, and and insist your friends do the same.
This is our reality.
Nowadays, there are often times when I may need to ‘work’ from my car for a short time, and will calculate the most remote, yet easily escapable, well lit area of a parking lot, because TOO many times, I’ve failed to assess this properly, and had men approach my car. Yes. Numerous times.
Now, guys.. (if you’ve made it this far, congratulations, and I sincerely appreciate you) I KNOW that most of you would NEVER behave this way…. But I need you to understand…
WE ALL NEED YOU TO UNDERSTAND.
EVERY woman you know feels this way to some extent. MOST of us have firsthand experience that goes WAY beyond catcalling. MANY of us have much worse stories that the ones I’m telling today.
We need you to know that no, it’s not ALL men that are the problem.... But it is FAR TOO MANY MEN who are.
I don’t have any great solutions...other than to encourage women to SPEAK OUT about this, and to STOP feeling embarrassed or ashamed.
There is NOTHING shameful in my actions in either incident described above. I had no reason to feel any shame when these men treated me the way they did.
We need to stop minimizing and accepting blame for being treated this way. We need to be able to speak up without fear of being asked ‘what were you wearing?’ As above, I described what I was wearing. The only ‘skin’ that was showing was my shoulders, arms and ankles...but if I HAD been wearing a short skirt, or a low cut top….it doesn’t change ANYTHING. I’m not ‘asking for it’ and certainly not from him.
SPEAK UP to alert others to your experience. I hid this information from my babysitter, so as not to scare her. She was only a few short years away from HER chance to go out and have fun in a dance club, I could have helped her understand how to avoid putting herself in the same situation.
If you are a man who is one of the good guys...PAY ATTENTION to your fellow men. In MANY cases of feeling marginalized, the person doing it was in the company of other men. Stand up to this kind of behaviour! GET INVOLVED if you see a woman being harrassed. Tell her you are there to help get her out of the situation safely. If you are in a public place, escort her to a female staff member and ask for help. Stay between her and the aggressor.
If you hear someone talking about an incident like this, LISTEN...and then…. BELIEVE HER.
The statistics on ‘falsely accused’ rapists are few and far between. The statistics on UNREPORTED assaults are staggering. The statistics on unreported ‘near misses’ are unimaginable. Talking about this stuff is DIFFICULT, uncomfortable and unpleasant. And imagine how much worse it is when you hear that you ‘asked for it’ or it was just ‘boys being boys’. Know that if this situation had escalated, and I had reported it....I would have been grilled about how many drinks **I'D**consumed, and what **I**was wearing. And none of that matters. AT ALL.
So yeah. #metoo times WAY too many times. Please. Let's change this.