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Not That Bad

The details are incredibly sketchy. I don’t remember the year. I don’t remember how old I was, though I was probably at least 16 because my dad didn’t let me out of the house alone with my boyfriend until that age. I don’t remember the month or the day, though it had to have been summer because one doesn’t go camping in Ohio during any other time of the year.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances. I believe that my boyfriend at the time was camping with friends. He had brought me to the campgrounds to hang out with him and his friends (none of the other guys had girls with them at the time, that much I do remember).

I remember that my boyfriend had left the campsite, though I don’t remember why — maybe to use the restroom or to get a snack.

And I absolutely remember that one of his friends thought it would be hilarious to make my boyfriend think that I was interested in him.

His name was Mike. He wasn’t very tall, but he was quite muscular, and I — 5 foot zip, barely over 100 pounds — was no match for him. He insisted I sit on his lap.

I didn’t want to sit on his lap. I told him so.

“Oh come on. It’ll be funny.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Oh come on. Just do it.”

I don’t remember if he actually forced me to sit on his lap, but I know I didn’t do it willingly. I don’t think he held me down so it hurt, but I’m pretty sure he put his arms around me — not in a stronghold sort of way, but to keep me from scooting off.

None of my boyfriend’s friends seemed to think this was inappropriate. I don’t remember how many guys were there — my memory makes it feel like there were over 10, but that seems unlikely. Probably no more than 4 other guys. Still, none of them told Mike to knock it off.

I remember one said “Oooh, [my boyfriend] isn’t gonna be happy with you.”

In retrospect, he might have been talking to Mike. But at the time, I thought he was talking to me.

I didn’t actually think my boyfriend would be mad at me. But I still hated every second. I wanted nothing more than to be off Mike’s lap. I wanted to go home. I never wanted to see Mike again.

Finally, my boyfriend returned. He saw me sitting on Mike’s lap.

All the guys burst out laughing. They obviously thought this was just a fantastic joke.

I don’t remember much after this. I don’t remember my boyfriend’s reaction — I think he was really just mad that his friends had tried to make him mad, if that makes sense. It wasn’t much more than a dumb prank to him.

I will give my boyfriend credit because somehow, he made Mike apologize to me. I don’t know how he did this, because honestly I didn’t think any of this group of his so-called “friends” respected him very much. He might have been angrier at Mike than I give him credit for.

Anyway, Mike did apologize to me, but he couldn’t have been less sincere. He made it clear that he didn’t really think he’d done anything wrong, that I had no reason to be mad, but that my boyfriend was “making” him say he was sorry, so he was saying it.

While my boyfriend was obviously upset and had been enough so to make Mike apologize to me, he couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be around Mike ever again. His mindset seemed to be, “Hey, Mike did something dumb, but he apologized, so why can’t you just move on?”

I don’t think Mike was dangerous. I doubt he would have molested me even if he had the chance. But what I realize now is that Mike didn’t see me as a human being. I was just a girl, a girl who he had every right to use as a prop to play a prank on his friend. Never mind the fact that the girl in question had no interest in being his prop.

I also can’t help thinking about the other guys. They had no problem seeing me used as a prop, either. A guy was forcing a girl to sit on his lap, and that didn’t seem to matter to any of them. In retrospect, that makes me a little sad. You’d think that one guy in that group would have been man enough to say “this is stupid, stop it.”

Some of you may think this is nothing. This “isn’t so bad.” I wasn’t raped. I wasn’t molested in any kind of soul-shattering way. I wasn’t groped or fondled.

And to be honest? I’ve believed this for decades. I think that’s partly why I buried this in my memory. I literally haven’t thought about it for over 35 years. I never thought I was sexually assaulted. Even now, I want to say, “but what happened to me isn’t half as bad as what’s happened to other women.”

And while that’s true — I would never compare my experience to that of women who have been groped or raped — it was humiliating and frightening and, most of all,  a product of rape culture. The idea that a man can have his way with a woman and she has no right to object. Or a boy can grab a girl and make her sit on his lap and well, that’s just “boys being boys.”

But here’s the bottom line: this shouldn’t have happened. No boy should have made me his prop to play a practical joke on his “friend.” Just like no girl or woman should be grabbed or groped or kissed or fondled or be subjected to any kind of unwanted touch, no matter who does it. Whether it’s a friend, a friend of a friend (or boyfriend), a relative, a complete stranger, or even a significant other… consent matters.

An author I admire deeply, Ann Vos Kamp, said it this way: “Boys will be boys means girls will be garbage.”

And when we sweep this kind of behavior under the rug and make excuses and try to defend the “boys” who do this? We might as well sweep the girls under the rug as well, because we’re saying they’re nothing more than dust.

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3 thoughts on “Not That Bad

  1. Thank you SO much for saying this. I am so angry that it continues to be swept uder the rug. My head wants to explode every time I’ve heard “it’s nothing more than what you hear on a construction site or in a locker room.” That doesn’t make it okay! It’s demeaning and scarring to the psyche. It’s something I do not want my 18 year old daughter to face. But she has. 😦

    • That drives me crazy too, Lisa. Even if this were true — which enough men have spoken out to say “no, that’s not what locker rooms sound like at all” that I don’t believe it — it wouldn’t justify it. Bad behavior should never be written off as “but everyone does it.” We teach our kiddos in elementary school that’s not acceptable, for heaven’s sake.

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