This week America was subjected to a tape of Barack Obama flashing his erection to women on a plane. With a proud smile, he spread his legs, so the ladies could see the solid outline of his penis beneath his khakis.
It brought back a memory for me. A terrible one. When I was 16, I was working in a drug store behind a counter where we sold makeup, jewelry, and watches. A man came into the store. He was scraggly, thin, wearing a faded tan T-shirt and loose gray sweatpants. He was wearing a grin, too.
The man walked to the counter and beckoned me over. He asked to see one of the watches in the cabinet. I bent over and pulled out the watch. I handed it to him, and he looked at it for a moment.
He asked me for another, and I bent down again and retrieved it. He took it from my hands, his fingers leathery and his nails dirty. Clearing his throat with a phlegmy cough, he handed it back. He did this several more times, and I was getting frustrated by his repeated requests. Finally, I asked him if he wanted to purchase a watch.
Proud and roguish, he grinned, his watery eyes twinkling as if he knew something I didn’t. And he did.
“I don’t really want one,” he said in a scratchy voice from smoking too many cigarettes. I could smell them on him, like an old ashtray. “I just like watching you bend over so I can see down your shirt.”
He then stepped back and showed me his erection through his sweatpants. “They sure got a rise out of me. Bet you’ve never seen somethin’ like this?”
The heat of shame spread up my neck and across my cheeks. My heart pounded and my ears buzzed. I panicked. No one was in that part of the store because it was late and near closing time. I didn’t know what the man would do, and I was afraid.
Moments That Stay With You Forever
I backed away, shaking all over, and hurried along the counter to the back of the store. I glanced over my shoulder. He wasn’t following. He just stood there with his hand in his pocket.
I found the store manager and told him what had happened. He told me to stay in the pharmacy area while he made sure the man had left. After a few minutes, he came back and said the man was gone. I was still trembling when he walked me to my car to make sure I was safe. As I started the car, the manager told me I should be careful how I dressed from then on. That only added to my shame.
That moment has lived with me all my life. So has another. It involved a car salesman when I was in my twenties. He was one of my accounts when I was an advertising salesperson for the Augusta Chronicle. He welcomed me in his office and shut the door, asked me to sit down, then walked up behind me, put his hands on my shoulders, and reached down and grabbed my breasts.
I bolted from the room, slamming the door behind me. I didn’t report it. I didn’t tell my boss. I shared what happened with a male co-worker, and he told me not to say anything because it might affect my job; he said he’d take over my account so I wouldn’t have to see the man again.
I don’t know if I’m merely unlucky or what, but I wish I could say these were the only incidents like this in my life. They weren’t. There was another, and all I’ll say about that is a woman never really knows how strong a man is, how helpless she can be, until she is beneath him, unable to break free.
How Do We Know Who Is Telling the Truth
Why am I telling you this? I’m sure you can guess. There’s a lot of talk about sexism and sexual assault recently because of tapes released about Donald Trump and several women who have never spoken before—some in more than 30 years—telling their stories of how he sexually assaulted them.
I don’t know whether their stories are true. If he’s guilty and found to be so in a court of law, then I hope he’s punished. I do wonder, however, why his accusers never mentioned these things when NBC hired Trump to be on national television. I wonder why they never mentioned it when he stepped into politics years ago. I wonder why they never mentioned it during the primaries. I wonder why they never mentioned it until October, just before the election.
Was it just because they felt some freedom to do so because of the “Access Hollywood” tape? Maybe, but the timing still seems odd to me. It all seems so—how shall I put it—choreographed.
But who am I to accuse possible assault victims of lying or playing political games? I don’t know their motives or the truth of their stories. I will say that having been a victim of unwanted sexual advances and assault, I do have a sense of when women are telling the truth about such matters.
I also have a keen sensitivity to the hypocrisy of those who say they care deeply about women who have suffered in this way—hypocrites like Michelle Obama. Honestly, I don’t know who’s worse. A man who sexually abuses a woman, or a woman who uses another woman who has been sexually abused, creating another layer of abuse. Part of me says it’s the latter.