Sex and the Ivy

A Letter To My Assailant

Filed under: Feminism, Life, Men, Women — Elle August 31, 2006 @ 12:44 pm

Dear Fellow Passenger on the Metro Rapid 720,

Today was supposed to be remembered as my last day of work at my summer internship. But after our encounter this morning, I’ll fondly look back on this Thursday as the day I got my ass grabbed on the bus down Wilshire.

At first, I wasn’t certain that anything inappropriate was going on. It was a crowded bus, I had a headache and a cough, and I was thirty minutes late on my last day. Being assaulted was the last thing I worried about. But after you brushed up against my hip one too many times, I began to take notice. I realized that despite close quarters, you were much closer than you needed to be. You positioned yourself so that my back was flat against your chest. I didn’t intend to vertically spoon with anyone on public transportation this morning. I looked down and you were wearing running shorts, which led me to deduce that it was your erection causing the uncomfortable sensation.

You don’t fit the typical profile of a pervert. You’re not middle aged, balding, wearing a trench coat. You’re an attractive black male about 6 feet tall with an athletic build. And most surprising of all, you’re young, no older than 25. If you had asked for my number, I would’ve probably given it to you.
I was willing to ignore the constant brush-ups that occurred every time the bus jolted. I was willing to walk away irritated, but optimistic about human nature. Besides, I could just scoot forward a little bit. If I wasn’t positive that you had inappropriate intentions, why cause a fuss? But then I felt your fingers graze my rear and you confirmed every suspicion, so I whipped my head around and asked loudly, “What are you doing?” Immediately, you apologized and looked sheepish more than anything. You didn’t even try to play it off like you were innocent. I have to give you credit for that.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a slightly instable, fed-up-with-men feminista who was having a bad day as it was, “I’m sorry” just didn’t cut it. Because this is the first time I’ve spoken up against behavior I’ve been subjected to countless times before, your apology just wasn’t enough. So forgive me for not letting you slide with your “I’m sorry.” Forgive me for insisting on making a scene in front of the 30 other people on that bus. When you tried to leave at the next stop - coincidentally, my stop - I had every intention of leaving this incident behind. But forgive me for turning back around, grabbing you by the collar, demanding, “Why are you touching me on the bus?” in front of all those onlookers. Forgive me for screaming repeatedly, “What makes you think it’s okay to touch women like that?” while pedestrians stopped and looked on. Forgive me for refusing to let you go, for kneeing you in the crotch repeatedly - I was trying to go for where it hurt the most. Forgive me, because you have to understand - you got me where I hurt most.

Do I feel empowered? Hardly. I’ve been recounting this tale to friends and coworkers (”I kicked the pervert’s ass!”) But the truth is, I don’t feel any more empowered for fighting back. My reaction today was the exception not the rule. This once, I didn’t stand for it. This once, I spoke up. But for this single instance, for every time I yell “fuck off” at an unwanted come-on, there are countless other occasions when I remain silent. For every woman willing to fight back, there are many others too scared to say anything. If it was just the two of us on the bus, would I have summoned up the same courage? If this happened at night, would I have dared to grab you by the shirt on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire? I don’t fool myself into thinking that I’m any safer because I fought back this one time.

So no, I don’t feel empowered, and no, calling you out on your behavior doesn’t make me feel like I’ve reclaimed the dignity I lost when you invaded my space. You walked away embarassed, but I walked away a little less whole than I was when I left my house this morning. I hope you realize that every time you and other men touch me, honk at me, leer at me, call to me, or otherwise mistreat me, you add ever so slightly to the collective fear of women in the world.

I am just a young woman trying to get to work in time. I am 5′ 2″, small-framed, and not very intimidating outside the boardroom. Everyday, I have to brace myself when I pass a man on the street because invariably, two or three will make a comment or give me a lookover that leaves me feeling victimized. So I’ve taken to mentally preparing for these instances. No one should have to look away hoping to escape notice on the street. No one should have to prefer invisibility to acknowledgement. You are just another concern on my already long list of worries. Last week, I had to laugh off a honk when walking my little sister to school. Last month, I had to maneuver away from a man who cornered me for my number on the Metro Rail. And because of you, tomorrow, I will have to worry about being groped on the bus.

FDA Approves Over The Counter Access to Morning After Pill for Women 18 and Older

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, Women — Elle August 24, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

From the Associated Press: FDA Eases Limits on Morning-After Pill

The good news: Women 18 and older can now obtain Plan B without a prescription. The bad news: Teenage girls still face restrictions.

A partial victory, however, is better than none at all. Readers of my private blog might recall an entry I wrote a few weeks ago about my own experiences with obtaining Plan B. In light of recent news, I have decided to repost it publicly here:

Excerpted from LiveJournal entry, “When Plan B is thrawted, what’s our Plan C?” (August 7, 2006)

I took Plan B for the first time last month. Since I’m not on the birth control pill, I wanted to play it safe when the condom slipped off. The entire process of obtaining a packet of Plan B was stressful in an already distressing situation — from locating a pharmacy that didn’t require a prescription to filling out the forms and having to use someone else’s address instead of my own. And I’m an adult who lives in Los Angeles. My experience made me empathize deeply with adolescent girls without understanding parents and with women residing in unaccommodating conservative areas. If it was such a disconcerting process for me, how terrible must it be for millions more out there?

I work, I go to Harvard, and I date guys who are MBA candidates. I’m not exactly the typical case study for the pitfalls of premarital sex. Still, if I found myself caught in a situation like that (through no fault of my own), how many other women out there are in the same position? Plan B is not just important for the poor or for the rich or for the uneducated or for the young. It’s important for all women. We shouldn’t have to suffer through an unnecessary bureaucratic struggle to locate it. Our government should be making it as easy as possible.

Will some people abuse Plan B’s over-the-counter availability, if legalized? Probably, but it’s their choice, their bodies, and their morality. That’s not for anyone else to regulate. So I find it repulsive and mind-boggling that against all common sense, the FDA continues to delay over-the-counter access to Plan B. This isn’t gun control here. This is uterus control. What happens when emergency contraception is rendered unattainable by our government? The answer: pregnancy followed by an abortion, miscarriage (not unlikely considering the stress), or childbirth, all potentially traumatizing and life-changing. How can a group of wealthy, white men decide the fate of millions of women, many of them with backgrounds unlike theirs?

Yet dishearteningly, it is proving far to difficult to obtain an abortion. For city dwellers, finding a clinic is inconvenient but not unrealistic. It’s a different story in less metropolitan areas. There is one abortion clinic left in the entire state of Mississippi. What are women supposed to do when their first option requires a prescription no one will give and their second option is virtually impossible?

There are no easy answers to these questions, though just about everyone seems to have one. There are people purporting to be the watchdogs of American morality. There are people claiming to look out for women’s health. What I don’t see is anyone taking care of women’s emotional well-being. And isn’t that what’s impacted most in the event of a pregnancy? Until legislators cease kowtowing to the religious right, women’s bodies and minds are the property of the US government.

I don’t think this is a liberal issue or a democratic issue. My Republican friends support my right to choose, as much as I support yours. We may not use this right, but it’s good to know it’s there, and I, for one, am going to be responsible about it. For millions of women, unfortunately, choice exists only in theory.

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