SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Cindy Nelson

Express Yourself Don’t Repress Yourself

    The small tropically decorated restaurant/sports bar was thick with choking cigarette and cigar smoke. The casually dressed people were in blue and black jeans, shorts, comfortable summer tops and shirts.  The nerve tingling karaoke music ranged from old ballads to classic rock and roll music.  Meanwhile an old man was casually sleeping in his chair killing time and waiting for his own little piece of fame to pick up the microphone and sing.  The people at the surrounding tables were enjoying themselves immensely by singing and dancing unabashedly, and the atmosphere couldn’t be more friendly and welcoming.

Not too long after I arrived at the smoke filled restaurant, a friend introduced me to a couple I had never seen there before.  The man I just met said seductively, “How are you?” then proceeded to put both his hands on my breasts and said “nice tits” with his wife standing right there!  His wife did not say one word and she looked to be about nine months pregnant!  I put both my hands on this man’s chest, pushed him away and said, “Get away from me!” and immediately walked away. 

One of the most significant things that haunts my mind about this night, is that the wife of the man that accosted me was about to have a baby.  This woman said nothing, did nothing and did not react in any way what so ever.  I just wondered if she did not care, had no self-esteem or was just used to his antics.  This upsets me as much if not more than the experience itself.  I had witnessed this man’s pregnant wife observing his sexual harassment of another woman and then standing by totally oblivious to it and saying absolutely nothing about her husband’s behavior when it was displayed right there in front of her!

     The second time this kind of experience happened, I was out with a group of friends on the dance floor.  I did not have a revealing dress or shirt on or even tight clothes, not that it should matter, when a stranger came up and put both of his hands on my breasts!  Obviously I was totally shocked and pushed his hands away and said, “What do you think you are doing?”  He just drifted back into the crowd as if nothing had happened! My first reaction was that I was very humiliated and how dare he!  I still feel humiliated and insulted to this day, although I believe some women would feel complimented by this action.  This absolutely was not my feeling whatsoever. 

Some time had passed before a man groped me again, but it DID happen again!  This time it happened at work, of all places, where we are constantly warned about sexual harassment.  My male supervisor had been reported for sexual harassment a number of times, but because of his charming personality and wonderful sense of humor, he continued to keep his job! (Anyone else I’m positive would have been fired!)

On this particular occasion my supervisor was standing at his desk and my back was to him.  He called out my name and automatically I turned around to face him and his two hands were immediately on both of my breasts.  I was so shocked again I didn’t say a word.  I backed away and said nothing; to this day I cringe with the memory that I said nothing!  I seriously think I could have had him promptly fired this time!  I guess I thought that if he had gotten away with sexual harassment for this long, what if anything would happen to him this time.  

    Most recently I was talking to a co-worker about a concert that was coming to The Cricket Pavilion. I informed him that if you showed your KDKB Radio Sticker you could be moved to a closer seat and receive back stage passes.  He commented to me, are you going to put those stickers on your chest to get back stage passes?  I just waived my hand and walked away! 

     The locations that these little episodes happened were not “sleazy” places.  To say I was pissed, would be putting it lightly.  I told my best friend if one more man ever did this to me again I was going to grab his balls and twist them so hard it would cause him to fall to his knees, and I would say, “And how does it feel to be grabbed?” 

After the fact, I asked my friend what she thought and felt at the time that this first groping incident occurred.  She exclaimed that she was literally shocked and embarrassed for me and for everyone there that had witnessed what had happened.  She knew this person and could not believe he demonstrated this kind of behavior, especially in front of his very pregnant wife (who again said and did absolutely nothing!)  My friend was so embarrassed that she also just did not know what to say at the time.  She talked to me later and said that I had handled an embarrassing situation very well, which made me feel somewhat less tormented about what had happened.  

    I then proceeded to ask her how she would have felt if someone did this to her.  She told me that her first reaction would be to automatically slap the guy who grabbed her or to grab him back in an inappropriate manner.  As she thought about this response, she then said her reaction would depend on how well she knew the individual.  My personal thoughts are that no matter how well I knew the individual (unless it was my boyfriend or husband….. and then not in public) this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable! 

    I then asked her if she had encountered any kind of sexual harassment?”  She responded with a yes.  At one time a man had grabbed her leg under a table inappropriately. I asked her how she handled the situation.  The man who had done this, was related to another individual at the table.  She did not want to cause a scene in front of the four or five people sitting at the table, so she just moved to another chair.

I have very mixed feelings about the way in which we handled each of these situations.  Part of me is wrestling with the fact that we should have screamed at these men in front of all their friends and relatives and made a scene.  If we had made an obnoxious scene about their inappropriate actions, maybe this would keep them from behaving in this manner again.  Then again, shock therapy probably would not have worked in the first place, or they wouldn’t have behaved inappropriately at all.  

As there is a white supremacist existence, so there is also a male dominance existence, particularly regarding the female gender.  I believe some of the reasons men grab or grope women relate to a control issue, which is one way to express their dominance.  As many of us realize, in several cultures some men consider women a possession that they can shape, mold (or grope) just because they feel it is their right (by being male…spread the seed) to do so.  As American women we imagine that we experience more freedom in this country or in any other part of the universe, yet we still do not experience the same pay, careers or respectful treatment that men do.

    This incident angers my subconscious as well as my conscious mind obviously because the experience was insulting and degrading to me.  And as I mentioned the experience happened to me on several occasions with several different men in different locations.  These harassment episodes are telling me that a great deal of men think this behavior is perfectly acceptable!

These events also reiterate and reinforce in my mind how many women still accept such demeaning treatment even today.  

My father physically abused my mother on several occasions in my youth.  My mother consistently made excuses for him…. He is a good provider, he feels very regretful afterwards, he doesn’t mean it.  I guess my incident brought back memories of just one more woman suffering male abuse and doing absolutely nothing to stop it! As long as women say nothing and do nothing, abusive men will never change their behavior toward women.  This experience deeply affected me, because I have witnessed  “weak” behavior with my mother, as well as many friends, and several relatives.  I cannot begin to understand what women of color have had to endure to over come severe racism and sexism.          

    These are only a few of the experiences I have encountered on a regular basis.  I do not entice this behavior in any way shape or form by the way I act or dress (not that this should matter.)  I enjoy some attention, as I believe most people do but this kind of attention is just extremely insulting to me. I would certainly like to know how many other women this has happened to and how does it make THEM FEEL?photo

      Sometimes as a female, I feel severe gender discrimination by several of the men I come in contact with.  Even today, in all facets of life, women are still viewed as sex objects.  (Although I am acutely aware that many women enjoy this kind of treatment!)  I feel we still have an extremely long way to go to achieve the equal respect and treatment at home and in the work place.  We need to strive for and demand equal respect from the male gender…… the same respect the male gender expects from each other.

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