Linda Henry

Thatwhich

Me too.

October 17, 2017

It’s not that I think my experiences with sexual harassment and assault are unique. I am sharing this litany because I am a 55-year-old white woman who is in a safe place, in my home and in my work. I say, “me too” for the many women who can’t.

Before #MeToo, I didn’t realize that I was in fifth grade the first time I was sexually harassed. I was walking to school, running a little late with a couple girls from our suburban neighborhood. A car pulled up alongside Ebba Park as we passed. The driver motioned us over and exposed his genitalia.

From that moment, I was put on notice that by walking down a familiar street, I was putting myself at risk. Implicit in this understanding was that I put myself at risk — not that offenders were responsible for changing their behavior. Obviously, that wasn’t an option.

This incident was overshadowed by what happened years later. A few weeks before the start of my senior year in high school, I was assaulted within an inch of my life. He hit me with his car, my head concussing as it hit the hood. My collarbone was broken. I had black eyes from his punches and bruises around my neck from his attempt to strangle me. Because of the severity of the assault, I think of this as my experience with abuse. Now I realize it is just one end of the spectrum, not the entire catalog.

Shortly after the grade-school flasher incident, during a game of hide and seek, I was abused by an older boy in the neighborhood. It happened in less than a minute, but it haunts me to this day.

In my early 20s, I was hired as a hotel manager in charge of the valet parkers, only to hear from my manager that he gave me the job because HR encouraged hiring “specials,” which included women, and also he liked the way I filled out my sweater at the interview.

A few years later in New York, I was working at a magazine. As we reviewed page layouts, the executive editor reached into his desk and pulled out a ruler and slapped me on the ass with it. Later, unbidden, he described his sexual experiences to me.

Also in New York, on the street and in the subway, men grabbed my body. When I called them out on it, they were shocked, expecting me to be complimented by their assaults.

I always attributed my wariness and PTSD to the major assault, the R-word one in which a stranger hit me with his car and then beat me and attacked me. The one where I was treated with the morning-after pill intravenously, even after my mother told the doctors to stop. It was making me so sick that if I was pregnant, I should have an abortion, she told the medical staff. They didn’t remove the drip. I didn’t have a choice in how I was treated. Another assault.

From the time I was a little girl, I have been under assault by men and boys. A friend posted that when she told her then-husband that she felt threatened by a guy in a parking ramp, he said, “You think a lot of yourself, don’t you?” Being the object of threatening behavior is not a compliment. It is a way of life for a lot of us. For me. Probably for you too. I am sorry. Let’s not let them get away with it another day.

Selected Works

Essays
My daughter likes depressing books. “Someone dies in the first chapter,” Grace says gleefully of a novel she can’t put down. Maybe this inclination comes naturally, growing up with the ghost of a sister she never knew. 
In which my brilliant son prevails against middle-school bullies. Adapted from "A Voice Not My Own"