Trigger warning: this post describes sexual abuse
Last week while responding to a comment on my blog, I suddenly remembered a series of incidents in which men I did not know exposed themselves to me in public places. The first time occurred at a park around dusk during an outing with a group of girls. I was about 11, I may have wandered away from the group, or I may have been with others. What I remember is seeing a man with his pants down sitting on a park bench, possibly the first time I ever saw an adult man’s penis. I told or we told, but the man was not reported by the adults. Fast forward to the beautiful gardens of the Palace Schoenbrunn in Vienna where I was confronted by a penis while lost in thought when I was 19. I ran, but said nothing. In my 20s at the early showing of movies in New York City men would sit next to me and jerk off into paper bags. I learned to move whenever a man was near me in the theater, but I never told the ticket seller. A few years later, I crossed paths with a man who had his penis out on my favorite walk in the hills of Alum Rock Park in San Jose. I never walked carefree in that park again. When I was looking for the cave of the Furies on the Acropolis Hill in Athens, a man followed me waving his penis. I told the guard, but when the police came, he was gone. I arrived home in distress. My boyfriend said I was over-reacting. I learned to stay clear of men in cars on the streets of Athens at night after seeing things I did not want to see more than once in their hands. I coded this behavior as part of the background of my life. There was a man who from the basement apartment a few doors up from the Cycladic Museum pressed his erect penis against the window. I told the guard at the museum who said, “We have called the police more than once, but he always cries, and they let him go.” On a trail I had walked many times with my dogs near Lafionas in Lesbos, coming around a bend, I encountered a young farmer, who as soon as he saw me, pulled out his penis and urinated against a fence. That was the last time I walked the trail. We are supposed to learn to consider this behavior as well, if not normal, anyway, not such a big deal. After all, I wasn’t hurt, or was I?
When I started to think about whether or not I was a #MeToo, I did not even remember these incidents. It took another woman speaking about her experience at the opera to jog my memory.
Recently a friend of mine told me that she had come to a deeper understanding of the impact of early childhood sexual abuse in her life. This woman is one of several friends who suffers from chronic insomnia. As someone who usually falls asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow, I have often wondered what it must be like not to be able to sleep and to go through your days in a fog induced by not getting enough sleep. My friend told me that she had realized that a single incident of childhood sexual abuse was the source of her lifelong inability to sleep. A SINGLE INCIDENT OF CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE WAS THE SOURCE OF HER LIFELONG INABILITY TO SLEEP!
But most of us get over these things, don’t we? I suspect that in most cases we do not, even if we think we have. They remain engraved in our bodies, telling us: you cannot walk freely in the world. Oh yes, I sleep at night. But I never looked for the cave of the Furies on the Acropolis hill again. And I stopped walking in nature with my dogs. If I think about it rationally, being forced to watch a man take out his penis in order to pee in front of me does not seem like sufficient reason to stop walking alone with my dogs.
But it was.
And I doubt that I even know how other instances of being confronted with penises I did not want to see has affected my being, the way I am in my body, my life.
* * *
Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
Join Carol on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Sign up now for 2018! It could change your life!
Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger