Summers, Swimming, and Sexual Harassment: What Girls from the 80s Remember

I was about 14 years old, looking through the stacks in the downtown public library, when a young man passing by made physical contact with me.  I wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or an accident, but it felt wrong somehow–and I still remember the way he smiled.  I didn’t tell my mother because I felt embarrassed and wasn’t really sure if I imagined the whole thing.
Leslie at 14 2
I was around 15, walking around our subdivision alone, as I often did on summer days, when a boy unleashed a screaming tirade of obscenities at me through the window of his home.  I didn’t tell anyone, and avoided walking by that house as much as I could from then on.
I was maybe 16, hanging out in the guidance counselor’s outer office with other kids, waiting for a meeting.  Some of the boys started making openly sexual comments, directed at me and my body.  I was shocked at what they said to me, but I didn’t tell anyone.
Leslie at 16
I was 17, on a bus tour of France with my grandmother, struggling to avoid Mr. Chavez, a middle-aged traveler in an open-necked shirt who wanted me to help him shop for leisure suits when we got to Paris.  My grandmother had to ask our tour guide to keep him away from me.
I was 18, getting off the van at the D.C. housing project where I tutored two little girls, when a young man standing across the street casually exposed himself to all of us.  We did our best to ignore it.
Leslie at 18
I was 19, walking home with my roommate from an evening on the town, when we found ourselves surrounded by a crowd of laughing younger teenage boys, who groped our bodies as we whacked at them with our handbags before they vanished, still laughing, into the night.  We never talked about it much afterwards, but I know we were both afraid we would encounter them again.
Leslie at 19
I was 20, working at a restaurant in the Marriott hotel, when one of my customers whispered in my ear, “When can I have YOU for dinner?” The manager told me that if I had smacked him she would have fired me.  She also refused to fire the bus boy who would corner us whenever we were alone in the silverware closet and put his hands all over us, refusing to stop when we asked him to.
Leslie at 20
I was 21, walking to my fiance’s apartment, dreading the moment when I would have to pass the parking lot where several men seemed to be always hanging out.  They would stop whatever they were doing to stare intensely at me as I walked by–every single day.
Leslie at 21
Those are my #metoo experiences–the ones I can think of off the top of my head–and I was so lucky.  I don’t remember every detail, although some are still quite clear.  And I certainly haven’t forgotten the fear, the embarrassment, the shame.  Although my trauma was not lasting, when each of these events occurred and for some time thereafter, they caused me discomfort, dread, inconvenience, and fear.
Last week during family discussions leading up to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I kept remembering more and more of these incidents, most of which I hadn’t thought of in years.  “Does every woman have these experiences?” asked my husband, incredulously.  One middle-aged white male, at least, learned a lot last week–and altered his outlook.
I, too, was 15 in the summer of 1982.  I, too, spent most of that summer at the swimming pool and hanging out with friends.  Luckily for me, my friends were all girls and we did our socializing at all-girl slumber parties.
I’ve heard people criticizing Dr. Ford’s testimony, calling her unbelievable and “rehearsed” because she sounded timid and scared and unlike the career woman she is.  Leaving aside the fact that a professional and confident woman would be even less likely to be believed (remember Anita Hill?), Dr. Ford was not her professional and confident self that day.  We saw the 51-year-old woman who was able to summon up the courage to appear before the nation to be questioned about her allegations, but we heard a girl: 15-year-old Chrissy Blasey, terrified and traumatized.
I believe Chrissy Blasey, and I believe Dr. Christine Ford.

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  1. Katie Powell Hannah says:

    I had actually *forgotten* the reason I was fired from the only job I have ever been fired from. A semifamous songwriter wanted me to go home with him. I threw a plastic bottle of dressing at him.

    • lesliesholly says:

      I couldn’t believe how all these memories came flooding back. You are describing something fairly significant that actually happened and the fact you forgot it for awhile doesn’t make it not true. And good for you by the way.

  2. pwcamy says:

    Wow, you rattled an 80’s memory of mine in a public park – I remember I didn’t tell my mom because I was afraid she wouldn’t let me go to that park anymore, but I remember my friend who was there told her mom right away. On a happy note, I love seeing all these pictures of you!

  3. Vivian Watson Cole says:

    I remember being about 15 and cleaning some windows on the house when a male passerby took great interest in me, on the ladder and him on the ground. I immediately got my father and the man left. At about 16 I was alone with an older man I had known for years. He made a lewd comment and I was never alone with him again. At 21 a boy on UT’s campus tried to put his hand up my skirt. Lucky for me, but not for him, it was a rainy day. That umbrella is now curved from the impact it made on his body. At 22 I was at a Christmas party for the place I worked at the main boss’s house and alcoholic drinks were flowing freely. His behavior and passes got so bad I would leave a room if he entered. Hugs! I wish these stories were few, but it does not seem that way.

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