Navigating Social Space as Power-Struggle, Pt. 2 by Elisabeth Schilling

Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: This post contains details about unwanted sexual advances. Read Part I here.

After Sicily, I went to the English countryside for an intended two weeks in a work exchange. A retired, but part-time, lecturer of Greek and Latin in his 60s was moving house and needed help packing and cleaning and cooking. There would, in a day or two, also be a male student from Lithuania and a Brazilian couple joining the communal house, and I found the position through, a site one must pay for that I used three years ago with no problem.

On one hand, I have to use sites like this from time to time due to financial reasons. On the other hand, after traveling alone for awhile, I long for the communal exchange. I enjoy helping someone learn a language, cook for their family, organize their clutter because of the conversations along the way. They have a house and extra food. I have the time (my two classes I teach at university online do not take much) to help. If the people involved are mindful and truly grateful for community and shared work and resources, it can be a sacred return to a way of life where people can practice sharing, non-greed, and carrying each other’s burdens. We practice living with strangers, with all the challenges that presents, instead of isolating ourselves in presumed comfort.

One morning during the 7:30 a.m. setting of porridge breakfast and tea (one of my offerings), my host took my hands in his and told me that he had returned from his classes in London the night before disappointed that I had not waited up for him. He explained with a smile that he had intended, should I had been up, in his loneliness and the rejection of his current on-off relationship with a woman his age, to invite me to sleep with him.

Instantly my sacred space and ideal for a communal home was cracked. I tried to not let it bother me. He accepted when I told him that would never happen. Except the next morning, he came down the stairs in tears, saying he felt depressed, gesturing he needed a hug. Then he untied his bathrobe and asked if I would rub him in the area of his lower pelvis. (I said “no” and he closed back up). Perhaps he was too mentally unstable to realize how he might be making me feel unsafe, but I wrote a letter telling him I hoped he would be well, but I had to leave, and I packed my suitcases and left on the afternoon train when he napped.

Some girls in my situation because they might not have money for a train ticket out of there like I did. They may be younger or more vulnerable or feel they owe their host something or cannot say “no” because of the repercussions.

Do men have more freedom to travel than women? More women than ever are deciding to travel solo to break ties with unhealthy relationships, to take spiritual pilgrimage, to learn about other cultures and to heal their habitual responses to difference. I have not traveled to many places, but even in the countries I have been in (Iceland, Spain, Germany, Italy, England, and Ireland), I have found myself modifying assumptions and stereotypes, which I feel leads to a more compassionate and realistic self that I can share with my university students.

I do not think having more money completely mitigates fear. When I paid for a single-stay hostel room for a night in London, I was still nervous about the older man who was in charge of night check-in and seemed too friendly, asking for my room number when I needed to know the time for check out, and asking me questions about what I did for a living and then for my number and email address in case he could help me find something. He was just a little too interested, a little too friendly. I still put my suitcases up against the door of my room.

I tend to start from a place of trust and goodwill toward men, but after a succession of experiences with unsolicited advances, I find myself needing to pause my traveling solo as a woman and seek home with more calming, cautious and nurturing energies. I have a home with someone I trust in Ireland, and so I am back here, perhaps for good, with no plans to travel on my own for awhile. I don’t feel like hiding away though, not completely. In fact, I have a strong determination that makes me want to stop asking for permission all the time, to be kind and observant of those who extend goodwill toward myself, and just keep moving, except from this more stable ground.

Breathing out in tonglen, the meditative sending and taking that connects us with others as we share pleasure and connect with the pain of others, I’m going to continue to move in the world and imagine whatever comes from my motivation as also benefiting other women hurt and broken and harassed by male entitlement and aggression. If they are weak, I want them strong. And to hold and embrace them to protect their beautiful and terrifying feminine energies. I believe in positive energies and frequencies. This will help me heal myself so I can heal others in hopefully increasingly practical and physical ways as I move again into the return of being in the world.

Femme – Women Healing The World Painting by Nazim Nazim

But I have to also mention, as a part of my healing, I have also written poems about these experiences because that was my strategy for immediate healing. When I have no other healing bodies around me to console, when there’s no ground beneath, when it is a flight between myself and a home, when I feel like breaking down, taking a hot shower to get rid of the grime, a poem helps. There is no room for it here, but know it was angry and real.

Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland. 

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

8 thoughts on “Navigating Social Space as Power-Struggle, Pt. 2 by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. I hope you reported that dirty old man as a predator to the website owners and to his university. The website owners should de-list him and the university should at least know that this “professor” is using his title to provide cover for his predatory behavior.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Lache, I am deeply troubled by your forgiving attitude towards these unwanted advances. In my opinion, you are giving men too many loopholes, too much autonomy, excusing them for their instability. In order to get this disgusting behavior stopped we HAVE to stop making excuses for men – We are not safe in the streets, or when traveling. We need to stay aware that this is our reality. This period in time might be the most dangerous for women because so many are struggling to get out of this box patriarchy has stuffed us into…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You were a lot nicer to those predators than I would have been, but at the same time you’re a lot braver in traveling than I have been. Your story is fascinating, horrifying, and inspiring all at the same time. Thanks for telling your story. Let it be a lesson to all women.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know what it is with the men who think they are “gifting” us with their unwanted, invasive, attentions. Has their reasoning and reality slipped from their heads to their penis? When I first moved here I was handed a slip of paper a fellow had in his wallet. I opened it to find a “joke” that I didn’t bother reading all the way through, looked him straight in the eye and told him I didn’t welcome such gestures and don’t do it again. Then I gave him my mother’s “look”, which can disintegrate stone!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Thank you so much to everyone who is responding. I hear you. I don’t know how to respond. So I’m going to put one of my poems down about one of the incidents in Italy. I don’t know if it will help, but it is what I have to offer at this point.


    You say you are sorry.
    Bellow of canine, swarm of bees, burning sun,
    buses that only sometimes come:
    these are the dangers that dim
    to the honks and the stares of men
    driving by as I divert my eyes,
    hoping no one pulls alongside the stop
    because they might be like you,
    holding me down,
    pressing me against you so I can’t move
    because you did not give a shit
    about what I wanted.

    Where did all the men come from?
    The world is filled with men.
    I don’t notice the women
    because they are hidden by the men
    and rarely drive alone like men do,
    the men who glare at my blonde hair
    that must seem electric in the mid-morning light.
    I quickly remove my outer shirt
    when the road empties;
    it is sweltering—
    this is not an exhibition. But no matter
    what I do,
    it feels like they think they’re watching a porn.

    Men like you keep girls timid.
    If we keep our gaze cast down
    maybe you’ll pick back up your speed
    and pass us,
    not ask us or invite us
    on the pretext of being helpful.
    You fucking shit-scumbag pack of wolves,
    I hope one day I’m president
    ‘cause I’ll burn you all at the stake.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you should practice saying “you fucking shit-scumbag” out loud a few times, however softly, before every encounter with a man or every venture into public. That way, your inner warrior Goddess will be really embodied and ready, however she may be needed. I think you’re doing a fantastic job handling and processing all of this, and I hope you’ll become ever more embracing and loud about your rage and fury. <3


  6. Your post reminds me of Mary Daly’s “When God is male, male is God,” and (my addition) when God is omnipotent rather than cooperative, then so is male. Even people who are not religious seem to be infected by this theology, which is reinforced by life experience. We need to change our ideas about the divine and the human. I find hope in the women who post here, including you, Lachelle, for bringing light into the darkness with your words and actions.


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: