The current “Me Too” movement and it’s focus on sexual assault, and harassment has had me thinking back. Being born in the 60’s and growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, sexual innuendo permeated the culture. Love American Style, Love Boat and Fantasy Island were the shows I grew up on. Sex seemed to be everywhere and what is now understood to be harassment was in general, seen and accepted then, as ‘suggestive’ talk.
I am fascinated that the “Me too” movement has gained so much traction. Fascinated and glad. Growing up in the time I did, it never occurred to me that unwanted suggestive talk or advances was anything more than a troubling annoyance. Something one expects and deals with (silently). And as for dealing with abuse and abusers publicly, wow! Today’s women are heroes.
So here’s my story. It’s not truly a “Me too” story because it’s not related to workplace harassment. Although I have had those experiences. But it is related to the Me Too movement by a culture that encourages silence and a shared feeling of powerlessness. It’s related by what can happen when people listen to others stories, believe them and take action.
All through my childhood we vacationed in a place called The Elms. It was a cozy, little resort nestled in Goff Falls, NH. I loved it there and counted down the days throughout the year until we would return for our week in the summer. It was an idyllic place where children were allowed to roam freely, without supervision. Parents were everywhere and everyone’s parents looked out for everyone’s kids.
But no matter what the time period or culture, kids left alone can find trouble. And we did! But for the most part, it was harmless fun or at least fun that fortunately didn’t end in harm.
Until that one night…. The Elms held a movie night, once a week in their dance hall. The summer that I was ten, the movie was Disney’s, Million Dollar Duck. Lots of people, both kids and adults would go. I went with a friend and we settled down to watch the movie.
At some point, two young men walked into the movie and one of them sat down in the chair right next to mine. He was very tall and broad, with a short buzz cut. He was not very good looking, but his friend was cute. My friend and I giggled as they sat down next to us. To ten year old girls, 20 year old men are quite exciting.
The guy next to me told me his name was Steve. I knew he was a marine but I can’t remember how I knew that. And then he put his hand on my leg. It’s funny the things you remember in times like this. I had worn a pair of yellow shorts with green trim to the movie. On the leg was the words, “Girl Power”. Ironic. I liked those shorts. In them I felt sassy and powerful. More irony.
My first response was good. I jumped up and dragged my friend to the bathroom. I told her what he had done. She was appropriately horrified. But I was curious. We went back and sat down in our seats and he got bolder, sliding his hand further up my leg and just for a moment, under my shorts. At this point, my curiosity was replaced with fear and my friend and I fled.
But I didn’t tell anyone. It was too embarrassing.
The next night, the resort had one of their regular dances in the dance hall. It was a always a good time with young and old, together having fun. And then Steve appeared. He began to hang around where I was dancing. A slow song began to play and he took my hand and said we should dance. My parents were at this dance but weren’t alarmed by his dancing with me, I’m not sure if they even noticed. After all, everyone got along with everyone here….
Fortunately one of my friends fathers noticed and cut in. He said I looked uncomfortable and asked me if everything was alright? Wasn’t he wonderful?! I thought so. He had saved me! I don’t know what I said to him, though I am sure I denied there was any problem. I stayed close to my parents after that.
The next day I was out walking alone when Steve and his friend approached me. He asked me if I wanted to meet him that afternoon in the woods. I don’t remember my response but I remember his friend with him saying, “Steve! Come on!” In a way that told me his friend didn’t understand Steve’s interest in me. And his friend was right to be concerned. I wasn’t only ten, I looked ten. Pigtails, freckles….even too young for braces. I was not some well developed ten year old who could pass for older. I was clearly a kid. I muttered something and ran off.
But the fear! I was wracked with it. Clearly he could find me anywhere. He no longer seemed interesting to me but now, was very, very obviously creepy. I was petrified. And I did something that still amazes me to this day. I went and told my father.
And here’s where the real story lies.
My father didn’t say much when I told him. But as I write this, I am grinning at what I so clearly remember happening next. My father went and found Steve (I watched from a safe distance). My dad was in his 50’s, with the extra weight of comfortable living around his belly. My dad, who was approximately 5’8” tall, went and confronted this 6 foot plus, big, buff, marine guy.
I can still see it. I could hear my father say, “I want to talk to you, come over here.” And he led him away from where people were to a secluded spot by some trees. I couldn’t hear anything else but I could see my father telling him something and I could practically see the sweat break out on Steve’s face. The next thing I knew, Steve was getting into his car and tearing out of the parking lot. I never saw him again.
I don’t know if my father ever reported it, but he wasn’t one to let things go easily. Now I recognize that Steve was a pedophile. I don’t think we had that name for it then. I hope for other people’s sake, that my dad reported him.
Here’s what I do know. My father loved me. He was able to stand up to someone bigger and stronger than himself and come out the victor. He never once made me feel bad for not telling him sooner. When he was talking to that man by the trees, my father never looked taller!
So, yes, I also have “Me too” stories. But I shrug most of them off as the time I grew up in. I didn’t know enough to be offended or to speak up. I’m glad though that the times are changing. Glad for my kids. Glad for future generations.
And thankful, that even in a culture and time of great ignorance, I had a dad who believed me instantly, who stood up for me strongly and in doing so helped me to start to see my worth. He didn’t know it, but he was teaching me to not only stand up for myself but for others as well. That’s the part of the story worth remembering.