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.