I was sexually harassed for the first time at age 14. I got out of school early due to finals week and decided to take advantage of the 1-2 hours I had without adult supervision. I changed out of my shirt into a pink spaghetti strap top that stopped 2-3 inches above my waistline. It was a warm, summer day and I wanted to feel sexy. I was on that Manny Santos, “I wanna be hot” shit.
An hour later, I met up with family friends to pick up my sister from the bus stop. They asked me to get a few snacks from the gas station that was on a slight hill. As I walked up the hill, an older man catcalled me. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it was sexual. I felt like I’d done something bad.
The gas station cashier asked me if I was scared, and I replied no. I was lying. I was afraid the man outside might catcall me again, follow me or try to touch me. The man looked to be in his mid-40s to mid-50s – honestly, he looked older than my father.
When my mom came home from work, I told her what happened.
“Did you change your clothes?” she asked.
I said no. I didn’t want to get in trouble for disobeying her rules.
But I felt like I was in trouble.
Since I was a preteen, my mother told me, “You can look nice and show your figure without showing too much. It leaves a little imagination. Showing too much attracts the wrong attention.”
I thought the incident confirmed her theory.
Provocative clothing like low-cut tops and low-rise jeans worn together, tight jeans and short dresses were banned from my household. My parents said it created the perception that I’m a hoochie.
My mother always told me dressing classy had its perks. My father echoed these sentiments. “That’s one of the things that attracted me to your mother.”
But I didn’t want to hear that. None of my crushes had noticed me in an entire year and I wanted to change that immediately.
As a 14-year-old girl, there were several girls I idolized both real and fictional:
- Serena van der Woodsen was the “It” girl at Constance Billard School for Girls and St Jude’s School for Boys. She was the beautiful, stylish, carefree social butterfly you wanted to be or date.
- Queen B was the most popular and powerful mean girl at Constance and ruled with an iron fist. Her multi-layered personality and ruthlessness won the heart of billionaire heir/bad boy Chuck Bass unintentionally.
- Rebecca Logan was untouchable. She was the most sought-after pledge among the sororities at Cyprus Rhodes University because her father was a wealthy politician. She got away with sleeping with her “Big sis soror’s” boyfriend and took her spacious bedroom suite within her first semester. Rebecca knew she was a beautiful, privileged bitch and owned it. In my book, she was WINNING.
- In 2007, Rihanna transitioned from the beautiful island girl to the edgy, sultry Good Girl Gone Bad. Everyone wanted her asymmetrical haircut including me. During 2007-2008, she released consecutive hits such as – Umbrella, Shut Up and Drive, I Hate How Much I Love You, Take a Bow, and Don’t Stop the Music. By 2008, she became pop music’s “It” girl and was #15 on Maxim’s Hot 100.
I wanted the attention, desirability and the power these women had. I wanted to be picked.
My small attempt to obtain that came at a cost.
For the longest, I felt responsible for my experience with sexual harassment. I felt guilty and ashamed for putting myself in a dangerous situation.
Had I not changed my top the man wouldn’t have catcalled me. I invited his attention and consequently he treated me like a sexually provocative woman, I thought.
Now 27, I view the situation differently. It wasn’t my fault. Although I disobeyed my parents, I wasn’t asking for his attention or his sexual remarks. He knew I was underage. He had no right to harass me. He shouldn’t have perceived me in a sexual manner.
He shouldn’t have felt emboldened to say anything. I was not responsible for his actions. I didn’t make him do anything.
If you have experienced sexual harassment or any other form of sexual violence, it is not your fault. What you wear is not asking for the wrong attention. No one has the right to disrespect you or dehumanize you. No one is entitled to your body or your time.
If you want to talk to someone about your experience with sexual harassment or sexual violence, here’s a resource.