Telling a Story that Shames Me

I’m an old woman and I’ve been blogging here for a long time. And I’ve revealed lots of truths about my life here, floating upon the strength of my readers and placing the roots of my writing within the safe, warm, living compost of my readers’ lives.

But I’ve had a bit of trouble girding my loins to write tonight’s post and I’m really only able to do it because, tonight, two of my closest male allies listened to my story and supported me, sitting on my Southern screen porch, underneath the ceiling fan, over roast chicken, and watermelon, and mashed potatoes, and salad with poppy seed dressing, and Virginia wine.

This week, I had a lovely professional success.  I flew across the country that I love, to stand before one of the most prestigious United States Courts of Appeals and manage an oral argument in a case of national importance.  I’m not saying that to brag.  It’s just the truth.   I’ve worked all of my life to come to this point and I’m good at what I do; I’m recognized by the other members of my profession as good at what I do; I’m going to win this case and impact thousands of lives in the process.

And, so, the other morning, I got up in my hotel room, ordered enough latte and espresso to fuel an important argument, put on make-up, dressed in navy blue, put on good shoes, and tied an Hermes scarf around my neck.  I showed up early at the courthouse, chatted with the guards there whom I’ve come to know, went to the ornate attorneys’ waiting room, did a small ritual to encourage young women attorneys, and got ready to step into the ring with my hands rubbed in chalk, my sword raised high.

While it happens, it’s like flying.  It takes an hour, but it feels like minutes.  It’s the best version of the Glass Bead Game you’ve ever played and it’s as if ideas were birds, sunrises, rainbows, musical tones, bubbles that you toss back and forth.  I love what I do; I love what I manage inside that lovely court.

And, so, when it was over, I went outside.

I admit that I was a little bit full of myself, aware that, if my younger self could have seen me, she’d have been amazed.  This was the kind of work that I dreamed of doing, but never quite believed I’d get to do.  But I did it and it was as good as I ever imagined it could be.

The Court of Appeals in this city is one of the loveliest, most ornate in the country, but it is in what is now a bad part of town.  I stood at the corner, hand up in the air, trying to hail a taxi.  Taxis do come past the courthouse, although not every minute.

He came across the street and it was obvious to me that he was homeless, on drugs.  His pants hung down mid-thigh, and he had his hands, even as he walked towards me, in his boxers, jerking himself off.  I did what all of us good girls were taught to do.  I ignored him. “Don’t see them.  Don’t acknowledge them.  Pretend you can’t see what’s going on.  If you acknowledge them, you’ll just start a conflict.  You’ll invite an attack.  You’ll be the one to be shamed.”  He stopped about four feet away from me,  and he looked at me, and he continued to jerk himself off as he stared at me.  And that went on and on.

And, look, let’s be honest, I am an old woman.  I’m no model.  I looked professional, but I’m not sexy.  Sexy isn’t at all what I was going for when I dressed that morning for the Court of Appeals.  But that doesn’t matter.  Any woman — any woman, no matter how old or how obviously privileged, or how professional, or how careful, any woman — is bait for any man, no matter how poor, how drugged up, how young, how deprived — any woman is bait for any man to jerk off to.

Even me.  Even moments from an important professional victory.  I’m nothing in this society except a target for any man to jerk off to.  That’s what I am. That’s what women in this society are, even those of us with degrees. and accomplishments, and status.  We’re all just here for some man to jerk off to.

It doesn’t matter how esoteric the knowledge it took me to get to this point.  It doesn’t matter how many hours and hours of late nights and long weekends of preparation it took for me to write the briefs and do the work to get to this shining hour before this prestigious court.  None of that matters. I am a woman and he is a man and he gets to stand a few feet away from me and jerk off at me.

I moved off, slowly, back toward the guards, mid-block, that knew me.  I kept staring at my cell phone, as if I were checking my email and not pretending not to be a woman being jerked off at.  I got closer to the guards outside the courthouse, one of whom came and stood near me and said, “Lady, get an Uber.”  I did what the guard said.  I am grateful to him.

When my driver pulled up, the man was still just a few feet away from me. He was still staring at me and he was still jerking off.  I got into the limousine and I shut and locked the door.  I gave the driver the location of the meeting I was going to.  It was a meeting with the other lawyers –  all men – who had been at the oral argument.  None of them had been sexually assaulted after the argument.  They all arrived safely, full of themselves, ready to discuss next steps.

If you don’t think that I am going to vote for Hillary Clinton for president, then you haven’t lived the past 48 hours with me.

Even telling this story feels shaming to me.  Writing it took first being able to tell my male allies about it.  I don’t want my granddaughters to live this.



24 responses to “Telling a Story that Shames Me

  1. I am so sorry you had to endure that but I am so glad you wrote about it. Thank you.

  2. I can’t believe you had to go through that. I can’t believe I just used “had” in that sentence, like you were obligated to endure it, like it’s comparable to something necessary but uncomfortable – like a blood test.
    But “had” is the only word to use, isn’t it? Because what else could you do, safely? You had to endure what you were forced to endure. And that’s just, insert swear words here.
    I am so sorry this is now in your memory. But I too am thankful you chose to write about it.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing. I do hope don’t continued to feel shamed by this. The only thing shameful is the man who assaulted you. You’ve empowered me and sharing your story shows how empowered in yourself you are. To deal with a sexual assault as gracefully as possible within the confines of this rape culture is impressive to say the least. You kept yourself safe and shared your story. And you were a badass in the courtroom. Thank you.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  5. It’s in all of our memories, one way or another. And yeah, I’m thinking of Hillary too. I’m wondering how many of the high points of her life have been wrecked by experiences like this. I’m wondering how such a determined, accomplished woman can be treated as a hate object by so many people. I’m wondering, yeah, but I know.

  6. Gods, I am so sorry you had to deal with that. {{{{{hugs}}}}}}. Thank you for writing about it — I’m glad you were willing to share what happened. I know you realize there is nothing for you to feel shame for, but I understand why you do. I have too.

  7. What? Why? Why would you assume that one jerking homeless man meant that women are nothing more for men to jerk off too? That’s a giant leap. You choose to ignore him, kept him in that invisible world where ‘polite’ society doesn’t see him or his actions. Yes, this story should shame you but not for the way everyone is taking it. You contributed to the invisibility of the lowest section of our society.

    • Jane Gagle-Bennett

      He was making himself very visible, and I doubt very much he would have acted in such a way had Hecate been a man. I don’t know what Hecate’s work that day involved, but you might want to consider that what she does makes life better for many of us. Perhaps her work, and the work of other women like her will make a difference in the life of that man and others like him. I think you’re wrong in saying that she has “contributed to the invisibility of the lowest section of our society.”

      • I understand the importance of her work and I understand the contribution and impact it has on society. However that is very separate from this incident and has zero bearing on this. His visibilty is very much in question. Was he arrested? Was he chased off? Did anyone reaction to what he was doing? Or was he soundly ignored? Everyone is welcome to their opinion to my words. That’s fine. I stand by them.

  8. I am so sorry you were faced with that. I am more sorry that it led you to feel shame. Not all men would do such a thing, but how can anyone be expected to tell which of us might?

  9. May you reject the shame all the way down to your bones! The shame is his, whether he accepts it or not.

  10. I am assuming she stated it Isabella because this is not the first time nor the last that a homeless man was seen jerking off when a woman has been in their area. It is not a giant leap at all. Men who catcall, wolf whistle, harass women walking down the street minding their own business are no better than what the homeless man did. What the cat-callers, etc., do is just considered more socially acceptable than jerking off so it has been tolerated. By bringing him out in the open where he is seen by everyone and not just the author could’ve put her in physical danger because he was caught with his hand, figuratively, in the cookie jar. When you confront someone like this on the street they could very well have extreme mental health issues and by removing that cloak of invisibility that they know they have to the general public you run the risk of causing them a great deal of embarrassment, anger, and they could become physically violent. Quite frankly there are other ways to help pull the lowest section of our society out of the environment they live in but putting yourself in danger through a confrontation like this is not one of them. No one would’ve been helped if he hadn’t remained invisible.

  11. I am so grateful that you put your feelings into words. I’m 65 and remember, quite clearly, the first time that I experienced fear and intimidation in the presence of a man; and even sharper, the memory of the rage that followed closely behind. Rage that I could not go freely, wherever I pleased, in our amazing world without caution and the chance that a man would trigger that emotional hurricane that would rob me of pleasure and freedom. Or worse.

    I’ve experienced those upheavals many times over the 55+ intervening years during a brief, disastrous marriage, my career in a male-dominated industry and daily life in our patriarchal American culture.

    I, too, will be voting for Hillary Clinton in November. In a year that saw the weirdest presidential campaigning that I’ve ever experienced, the most astonishing realization, for me, was just how many American women are misogynist. Between the young white male populism of the BernieBots on the left and the world class misogyny of the Right, we appear to have a sizable third group . . . I suppose it misogynists and the women who love them.

    Thank you, again for your frankness, here’s hoping we can move toward a more balanced society.

  12. Tears and rage. I spend my life witnessing about this shit, only to have New Age people tell me I’m negative and lowering their vibration. Sitting in the suburbs preaching to choirs never sowed or harvested, much less baked any bread. Thank you from the bottom of my swamp-dwelling little heart for the work you do, including this column, which I am sharing. Meanwhile, let’s all remember to vote for Mrs. Clinton in November. Love and Blessings.

  13. Thank you for sharing, it’s important for us to hear, and important for you to share – it will begin to help the healing (trust me, I know). It’s been said previously, and you know this, but remember that the shame is NOT yours. Hold your head up, and take big, deep breaths, even as you may need to look over your shoulder. Breathe, heal, keep moving forward. Peace and comfort to you.

  14. Thank you for sharing. I am sorry you had to go through this.

  15. Oh Hecatedemeter, I love you so much. 😥 ❤

  16. Lee Wittenstein

    Thank you.

  17. Happened to me. Best day of my life, professionally, ruined by an 8 y/o who was playing in the fountain outside. He pointed to his crotch, made jerking motions and yelled ‘hey, puta.’

    Jeez…the next generation of harassers and abusers.

    I cried.

  18. I want to say that I have the most wonderful readers in the entire world. Thanks to everyone! I’m fine, now, and you all helped.

  19. Let that shame go. It’s unproductive. It makes me ill that this happened to you. It makes me angry that I wasn’t there with you, to see to it that this wreckage of a human was removed. (I think you know me well enough to know what I might have done.)

  20. This story may or may not seem related, but it is the first thing that came to my mind on reading comments here. We are a nation of intruders.

    When my daughter was very young, she was striking to see with big dark eyes, tumbles of dark curls, a wide inquisitive face, and often talking with me in tones and terms that belied her age. Passersby stared, farmers market sellers sought her attention, clerks at the checkout made much of her hir, or face, whatever. I hated it. While I adored her and how she looked, as her mother it was okay to kiss her and hug her when she wanted me to, but I didn’t evaluate her appearance out loud. I was worried she would hear too much about it, take it as too important, and begin acting all cutesy. I was furious when a family member told her to smile for his camera. Just take the picture, dammit. She was a serious person and I wanted to preserve that.

    I didn’t like talking about her in front of people as if she were an object but felt I had to at let her hear my addition to their crayzy-talk. So when people made a big deal over her hair or how pretty she was, I would say, Well you know, she’s pretty on the inside, too. Weak, I know, but I knew I wasn’t going to get anyone to rethink the implications of what they were doing.

    Usually she paid little apparent attention to all this. If someone was persistent, she just looked at them; sometimes so fixedly they had to look away.

    One day when she was four, and someone had gone out of their way to comment on her looks, I asked her what she felt and thought about people doing that; whether she liked it, or not. “Not much,” she said, Why not? I asked. “It isn’t their business.”

    I was relieved. And completely impressed with her absolute clarity that comments about her physical appearance were an intrusion.

    Everybody does it: men, women, everybody. Families, teachers, coaches, employers, friends, everybody. We do it. We should stop it. I know it won’t keep men from using women as described here, but the kind of clarity my kid had at age four, if everyone had it, would go a long way toward not objectifying people, and it might create people who when victimized, feel less shame.

  21. Tears, shock, anger, rage…such a struggle to understand this man and his actions, to place it within the greater world of civilization, statements, mockery and sickness.

    Admiration, respect and love for you.

    Confusion for me. I don’t know what I would have done. I don’t know the right thing to do. But thanks for sharing, for reminding me, I don’t understand the world, and I can’t comprehend what others suffer because of their sex, sexual orientation, and the entire list of the aspects people use to try to demean, demoralize and conquer others. This post comes as an important note to keep trying.

    Take care , my friend.

  22. I just want to mention that a homeless man saved my friend’s daughter from sexual assault today. Just another side.

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