A Hand in the Crowd

Sunday night, my husband and daughters attended their initiation ceremony into Indian Princesses. They lit fires, took a pledge, talked about the foundation of the program and sealed their commitment to companionship by tossing wood chips and corn into the flames. I stood on the field feeling moved. I also stood there thinking about the history of the Native American in our country and wondering how this group of men honor it.

I looked around the field and saw dads enamored with their daughters, excited to share the thrill of the great outdoors, archery, camping, and activity. I saw dads get down on one knee and make a commitment to their daughters. I saw dads thrilled to be in that moment and that got me wondering what they might be willing to do to end rape culture and protect their daughters.

The stats on assault, like “every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted”* are unfathomable. But it’s a truth that every woman understands, and it is the reason that almost every woman you know can share Tarana Burke’s #MeToo tag.

And on this night, the headlines on the phone in my pocket were regarding Ford/Kavanaugh, #whyIdidntreport and the misogynistic tweets from number 45. All of which left me thinking about my own experiences.

As a teenager, at the Stone Temple Pilots concert, I hoisted myself to the top of the mosh pit. I'd done that before. Yet, this night, one random hand quickly thrust itself up my shorts, frantically reached between my legs and tried to pump as much of their fingers as they could inside me. I kicked my way down, yelled into the crowd and told my friends. You may wonder why I went into the crowd in the first place? I wonder why women's bodies are fair game.

Bob, my much older supervisor at the pizza place I worked at was 6 years my senior. I was 15. We closed shop together, and he committed to giving me a ride home. But once the place was closed, knowing that I liked beer, Bob offered to give me a 24-pack of Bud Light if I would let him go down on me. He then proceeded to pressure me and explain that I would reap all the benefits. I said no. He relented and drove me home. Is this an assault? No. Is this sexual harassment of a minor? Yes. I was lucky to know how to stand up for myself. Without giving him any indication of where I lived, he proceeded to drive directly to my house.

In Chicago, walking from the red line to my apartment in broad daylight near Wrigley Field, a minivan pulled up next to me with the passenger window down. He was asking for directions. Very quietly. I instinctively knew not to get too close to this van, but I leaned in just enough to see that he was exposing and touching himself. I truly did not know what to do. I walked off and called 311 because I didn’t want to misuse 911. They told me to call 911. I did.

And in my professional career, a coworker lamented to me that his wife wouldn’t give him blow jobs. He told me that men just want sex and women just want to be heard and that what he wants is to be satisfied. Then, he leaned in for a hug. This all took place at my desk, where he came to me to talk. Did I invite this conversation? Technically, yes. He asked me if I wanted to know what he was writing about and I said “sure.” I went to HR.

As teens and as women, we are always alert because we know that harassment and assault are a reality of life. To our dying days, we will be vigilant. There is no letting up. We are cautious about what we drink, who hands it to us, how much we have, how we will get home, where we walk, where we run, when we run, our surroundings at all times. I hope to one day have the freedom that my husband appears to have when he walks around, anytime. We as women know that we must teach our daughters how to navigate this. I pray that we teach our sons. I pray that our husbands understand. And I pray that all the dads at that initiation ceremony will do their part to join women in this fight rather than sit on the sidelines because it doesn’t affect them firsthand. Because if they don’t, all of their daughters will grow up and face this reality too.

Dr. Ford is the inspiration for this post. Her testimony was credible and all too familiar. There may not be enough evidence to prove Brett Kavanaugh’s guilt, however, I believe there is enough evidence to doubt his innocence. The question that most women are waiting to see answered is “are we really ready to give women true equality?” And are the men, including my husband, who were down on one knee pledging to their daughters, ready to pledge to do whatever it takes to change this culture? Simply voicing their support of women is a good first step.

If the answer is yes, women everywhere will know that their dreams, aspirations and right to feel safe could finally become status quo. What man wouldn’t want to celebrate that?

Cindy Tomek is a Creative Director in Chicago and is currently working on starting her own blog.