Unwanted Sexual Touch is #NOTokay

From Huffington Post: A Call to Continue the Conversation by contributor Callie Allie

Mike and I worked together at a natural foods bakery. The year was 1976 and baking breads and cookies with whole wheat flour and honey as the sweetener felt revolutionary. My job was to scrub out the loaf pans, Mike made cookies. We both lived in Montague Center, a small town north of Amherst, Massachusetts where we both attended UMass. We often talked at work and sometimes saw each other around town — out for a walk, at a party, sitting on the porch of the large farmhouse where I lived with a changing cast of housemates.

Eric was waiting tables at that point in our lives so he was rarely home for dinner, but there were almost always a few other housemates around. One night I invited Mike for dinner. I don’t remember who else was there, but I know Eric wasn’t.

After we finished eating I started clearing the table and stood at the sink rinsing dishes. Mike came up behind me in the kitchen, reached his arms around me and cupped a breast in each hand. WTF? (Though that wasn’t a thing then like it is now.)

I turned around, asked Mike what the hell he was doing, and never invited him over again. I avoided him at work. Soon I moved away and didn’t have to worry about running in to him in the neighborhood.

What’s your story? As women, we all have them and now many women who’ve never told their stories of groping and grabbing and flashing are telling those stories thanks to Donald Trump. In the aftermath of his braggadocious video about assaulting women and subsequent dismissal of the women who’ve been assaulted by him, there has been an outpouring of stories.

Who would have thought we’d have Donald Trump to thank for anything? But his arrogance and denial have prompted a national conversation on sexual assault unlike anything I’ve seen in more than three decades working in the movement to end violence against women. There was a lot of media attention to sexual assault on campus  last year (which I wrote about here), but this has gone far beyond that. This time women who were assaulted long ago or yesterday, women who did or didn’t go to college, women who never told anyone about being molested, are talking. They’re telling their stories about being fondled and violated and subject to unwanted sexual touch.

#NOTokay is a Twitter feed started by writer Kelly Oxford asking women to share their first sexual assault that got more than 30 million replies in five days. 30 million! The New York Times called the result “a kind of collective, nationwide purge of painful, often long-buried memories.” There have been almost 93,000 Facebook posts tagged with #notokay.

As I’ve written before, over the last 30 years I’ve asked women I meet if they’ve ever experienced unwanted sexual touch. Only one woman has said no. One. My conclusion? Unwanted sexual touch is a universal female experience, but until recently no one ever talked about it. Now women are talking. If you’re a woman, I hope you’re safe enough to be able to tell your story. If you’re a man, listen.

Finally, perhaps, we’re having the national conversation about sexual assault I’ve been waiting so many years to hear.


Glory and Splendor


My backyard is riotously colorful. Catching glimpses of the trees along the brook through the windows as I walk around the house makes me happy. I can’t quite believe how glorious it is.

How is something that happens ever year able to be astonishing, again and again?

Some years there are predictions of a dull foliage season — this year the drought, other years too much rain — but it never seems to happen, a season that disappoints. Every year, over and over, I’m surprised again at how wild and vivid fall foliage is in New Hampshire.

And I’m not alone. My friends and neighbors are all agog too. Hillsides go from green to orange and individual red maples are unlike anything else in nature. You see zinnias and geraniums that shade of crimson wine, but not a whole tree, a tree that reaches 70 feet into dead blue sky.

So here I am again, interrupting conversations in the car, or out walking, to exclaim at another patch of color. On Saturday John and I talked about a specific tree on Rte. 4 headed in to Concord that we notice, now look for, every year. I know which swampy spot to watch for the first sign of color, the progression from red to orange to yellow across my neighbor. Familiar yet magnificent. Such a grand trick.

I take a lot of photos so I can remind myself of this beauty. And what a relief during this season of bitter divisiveness — trees of glory and splendor.

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Yom Kippur Afternoon


For five years — 2010 to 2014 — I did a blog post on or about Yom Kippur. I missed last year, I missed all of the High Holy Days last year. On Rosh Hashanah I was in Massachusetts with Chris, in her last days, and didn’t even consider leaving to go services in NH. Yom Kippur was less than a week after Chris died and I wasn’t yet able to face so many people I know asking how I was. Would I lie and say fine, or be honest and tell them my sister had just died and it had been a long, difficult summer, helping to take care of her and watching as another loved one disappeared into the fog of cancer? Rather than answer that question, I stayed home.

Now I’m fasting and ruminating, my usual Yom Kippur afternoon. Last week at Rosh Hashanah services I felt Eric sitting by my side. I kept seeing the sports jacket he always wore to the Temple, because he would ask what he should wear and I’d suggest the brown jacket with black and tan threads woven into a tiny check design. My favorite. When I got home I took out the jacket — one on the few pieces of Eric’s clothing I’ve saved — and hung it in my study. I can see it now, facing me as I sit at my desk.

Since attending Kol Nidre services last night, and through this morning’s service, I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, contrition, sin, wrongdoing, right action, justice and peace and regret, which is what we’re meant to consider on this solemn day.

The Rabbi’s sermon last night was about regret, and how people more often regret something they didn’t do, a risk they didn’t take, a goal they didn’t fully commit to, a hand they didn’t reach out, a letter they didn’t write. I remember how often Eric said, in the last weeks of his life, as he faced his death, “I have no regrets. But I’m having so much fun living, I’m not ready to be done.”

I’m certainly not ready to be done either, but I can’t say I have no regrets. Like most people, my greatest regrets are about things I didn’t do — a card I didn’t send, a story I haven’t dared to write, a call I didn’t make. I’ve also judged people according to my version of the narrative we share, not challenging myself to see the world from their eyes. It can be too easy for me to think I’m the one who has it right.

Yom Kippur is about being honest with ourselves, digging deep and admitting to the ways we’ve not been our best selves, then using that knowledge, not to be ashamed or give ourselves a hard time, but to do better.

I can do better. Eric’s jacket helps me see that.