In seventh grade a group of boys thought it would be funny to lift my blue denim skirt to expose my panties for all to see at a party. The thick material didn’t immediately fall back down when they let go. What I remember most is the laughter that followed, and how I had to struggle for what seemed like an eternity to get my skirt back in place. I also remember how nobody sat by me after I called my mother to pick me up. And how I never looked at those boys in the eye again. I don’t remember having any hard feelings. I just remember feeling mortified. I remember wishing I’d worn a different skirt, one that would have fallen back into place quicker
I haven’t thought about that skirt, or my exposed undies, in years. The only reason I’m thinking about it now is because I wanted to write about that time a cop asked me to press charges on a boy who had grabbed my breast, which of course got me thinking about the skirt.
I was 15, I think, when I went to a club for teen night. It was dark inside the club when I walked by an older boy I’d never seen before and he reached out and grabbed my breast. It was an aggressive move meant to impress his friends, I’m sure, as he was surrounded by a group of them when it happened.
“Jerk!” I yelled over the blaring music. I pushed his hand away and kept walking.
That would have been the end of it if my friend who was older than I and a thousand times bigger than the guy who had grabbed me hadn’t come looking for me five minutes later. He was sweaty and all riled up. He said he’d seen what had happened. He had reported it to a cop. He also said something about somebody telling someone to fuck off and now the cop wanted to talk to me.
“Seriously?” I asked. It seemed a little extreme. Me, a teenage girl, talking to a policeman outside a teen club in Dallas.
“Come on,” my friend said and led the way through the packed club.
Outside the club the cop stood next to the guy who had grabbed my breast. “Do you want to press charges?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, as if he’d asked me if I wanted to share a plate of nachos. I had no idea what pressing charges meant. All I knew was I could tell this cop and my friend wanted me to do it just by the way they were looking at me.
These were two people I could trust. If two people I could trust thought I should press charges, I’d press charges, whatever that meant. I expected to learn more, or at least sign something, or be given the opportunity to share what had happened to me, but that never happened because the guy who had grabbed my breast started yelling which was the cop’s cue to handcuff him and push him into the back seat of his car.
I would have been happy if the guy had apologized. I would have forgotten the whole thing if the guy had looked remorseful. Instead he looked me straight in the eye and held my gaze. That’s probably why I said “sure” so nonchalantly. That’ll teach him, I thought, not knowing exactly what I was teaching him except don’t touch my boob! I felt good. Kind of powerful, or as powerful as a 15-year-old can feel. I also felt kind of guilty. Who was I to ruin this guy’s life? It was just one boob — my right boob. It was only a few seconds. I didn’t get hurt.
For the record I do not have large breasts. Not that it matters. I just want you to know my breasts aren’t the first (second, third, or even fourth) thing you’d notice about me. I’d also like to state that I know what I just wrote is ridiculous. I know that sexual assault has nothing to do with sex — or large breasts — and everything to do with power.
It’s about exerting power over someone because you can. Because you think you can get away with it. That’s the problem. A lot of people are still getting away with it.
Now I have no idea if the guy who grabbed my 15-year-old breast got away with it or not. Something tells me he did. He got away with grabbing my breast but not for telling a cop to fuck off. Even though I was too young to understand what it meant to press charges, I wasn’t too young to know why the cop was eager for me to do it. It had nothing to do with my B-cup and everything to do with his ego. You don’t tell a cop to fuck off. When you do, the cop will find a reason to put handcuffs on you and take you away.
Just like the skirt, I didn’t really think much about it over the years. The only reason I’m thinking about it now is because of a conversation I had with my 10-year-old son the other day after a presidential candidate bragged about grabbing pussy.
Our conversation started out like this, “Do you know what pussy means?”
“I’m not talking about a cat.”
He nodded again and laughed.
My son is mature for his age. Maybe it’s because he’s had the opportunity to travel which is why he’s interested in news, politics, other countries and cultures. He’s bright, and he’s into this presidential election more than most people I know. He speaks about it a lot, even when I tell him not to. After pussygate, I figured we were at that point where if he’s going to voice his opinion he needs to know the facts. You can’t go around talking about things you don’t understand.
When Donald Trump said what he said, I noticed a lot of women on social media talking about running their children out of the room when the TV was on. I did the opposite. Why? Because this is the world we live in. This is a man who could possibly be president. If my son is going to hear about a presidential candidate talking about grabbing pussy, he’s going to hear about it from me because there’s not going to be any joking around about it. By the way, I hate the word pussy but that’s the word that was used so that’s the word we’re going to talk about.
I was out of the country when the video was leaked so I had to FaceTime my son from Paris that night to talk about it. I asked him if he’d heard what Trump had said. He said yes. Because it was late and I didn’t have time to get into it with him, I made it clear that what Trump said was wrong and nobody should ever talk about women like that.
Back in New York the cab driver that picked me up from the airport wanted to talk politics, he wanted to know what I thought about Trump. I told him what I thought. “It’s just words,” he said. “No big deal.”
No big deal if this sort of thing never really touches you, your life, if you’re a man and you rarely have to deal with men thinking they can pinch your behind simply because they paid for an airline ticket. Being a woman, this whole Trump thing hits home in a way I wish it didn’t. Being a flight attendant makes it a thousand times worse.
When I finally got back to LA where I live, I asked my son what he knew, exactly, about Trump and the video. He didn’t seem to know all of it but he knew enough for me to ask him if he knew what the word pussy meant. Kids know more than you think and they learn things from their friends. I’d rather be the one to teach him about “pussy” than let another 10-year-old influence him.
He didn’t seem embarrassed by the conversation the way I thought he might. Maybe because he’s growing up in a world where children no longer live in a bubble. The Internet is at their fingertips. They’re savvy. They can log on and find whatever they want. They know how to get around blockers. They know how to search for things. Just gotta type in the word Pussy and…Siamese, Persian, Tabby, that’s not what they’re gonna see.
I told my son that it’s because of my job as a flight attendant I see people act foolish all the time. I told him about the actor I had on a flight from New York to Las Vegas who came into the back galley and cupped my behind and tried to stick his tongue in my mouth.
My son was shocked to hear my story. He couldn’t believe it had happened to me. I told him another story about a big wig from a telecommunications company who pinched my you know what right in front of my crew in the first class galley-twice! I could have told him a million stories. The point is it’s happening and it happens all the time — TO ME — his mother. And women all around the world. I will not have my son grow up to be that kind of man. He will respect women. He will know he can’t touch them if they don’t want to be touched. He will understand what the word consent means. I’ll make sure of it.
As I told my son these stories he shook his head and said, “idiots.”
“They’re a lot of them out there.”
It’s bad enough when people on a plane act like idiots, but to have a potential leader of the country, a role model, say disrespectful things! NO. That’s where I put my foot down. That’s why I went there the way I did, straight to the point, starting with that God awful word.
My son was shocked to learn that a strange man had tried to kiss me on the plane. It’s always shocking when something bad happens to someone you know, but it also makes these things feel more real — important.
Enough is enough.
My husband is on the exact same page. The other day I overheard him talking to our son. I laughed when I heard him say, “Imagine if your mother went around bragging about grabbing penises? How would that make you feel?
“That’s disgusting,” my son replied.
Yes it is.
“It’s disgusting whether it’s a man or a woman who says it,” I added, just to be clear. Another popular topic of conversation in my home. Gender equality.
Imagine if Hillary Clinton had a son and went around talking about wanting to date him. We’d call her a sicko. Think about that for a second.
A conversation like this with a 10-year-old boy might seem extreme to some, but I feel like we have to have these conversations now more than ever. Some people are quick to say boys will be boys and shrug it off.
Boys will be boys…. at the age of 60. Boys will be boys…. and only serve 6 months in jail for rape because they’re a good swimmer. Boys will be boys….and cup your ass while trying to stick their tongue in your mouth. Boys will be boys….
Not my son.
Speaking of my son, he’s surprised that people can be mad at Trump for something he said 10 years ago. “Because people can change.” He brought up a friend he didn’t like a year ago. “But now he’s nice and we get along great.”
“That’s true,” I said. “People can change. If they want to.”
He’s a kid. I don’t want to take all of his innocence away.