There is no such thing as a powerless man. His sex, by default, gives him more power over a woman, a power, which even though is imaginary and ingrained in his righteous psyche by history and society. So I’m not quite sure why the recent allegations about “powerful men” come at such surprise to many. And why anyone bothers to term them “allegations” to begin with. It’s obvious that even if one or two of them fail to be true, there are many more, that sit silently in the corner, constantly scarring and defining the lives of those that keep them.
I’ve been sexually harassed since I was a kid. Only then, I did not know it. I thought it was the norm. When I was 14, walking home from school in broad daylight, a middle aged man in a red beaten up car, pulled up next to me, opened his door and began to masturbate while following me for a few blocks. His car kept stalling, he kept letting go of his penis to restart, until I finally screamed and ran off in the other direction. What troubles me now, is why I didn’t scream from the second I was first exposed to the sight. Did I think that it was my fault, that I somehow encouraged him to do this? I ran to my friend’s house a few blocks away but did not tell her what had happened. I did not call my parents to pick me up, I sat in her bedroom and drew with all the green Crayola crayons that she had, and eventually walked back home.
That walk home, and later, the same route that past school led towards the central square where teenagers met up at night, became a nightmare, one that I’d learn to live with. I began to take turns onto better lit streets, studied cars and their drivers to know what types to run from, but then the “Albanians” came. I put them in quotes because maybe half of them weren’t even from Albania, and because quite obviously not all Albanian men are sexual predators. But at that time, Greece went into a frenzy because these men were stealing their jobs, raping their women, robbing their houses, setting up gangs. I’d see these “Albanians” roaming our neighborhood’s dark streets and break out in cold sweat. Right after that, communism fell, borders of the Soviet block flew open, and thousands of women came south looking for work. Many ended up as sex workers of all levels. By then, I’d opted for taking cabs home at night, but the drivers, recognizing that something was off in my accent from the minute I told them where I was going, asked where I was from. I made the mistake of telling them Moscow more than a couple of times. One asked me which brothel I work at, another how much I cost.
It didn’t end there. There was plenty more on a much closer scale; friends of the family, boys at school, bosses, customers at a bar I later worked at. And believe me, I was not “asking for it.” My mom, my grandma, they never told me that was not how it was supposed to be. Because they did not know. Once on the subway, my grandma told me to sit straight, but not too straight, with my knees touching at all times. What did they know besides what life had taught them?
In my late 20s, I was walking to work by the National Gardens in Athens. A guy stood in between two trees, doing his thing, loudly, in the middle of rush hour in a European capital. Everyone pretended not to see. By then, I’d strapped on a pair or two, so I yelled at him. He zipped up and ran away.
Have you ever seen a woman masturbate in public? Pull her pants down behind a tree and moan? Both sexes are human, both have the same drive, it’s not about biology. It’s about that ingrained belief that they have the power. Fuck your power, and your history, and your money, that have stripped us of basic human rights, that have made us grow up believing that they are not ours to begin with, that have made us accept this as the norm, this existence which makes us something less than human. Sexual harassment may not be as bad as actual assault. But it’s an assault on the mind, because those two seconds that our boss or our cousin or our teacher had his hand on our ass or eyes on our breasts, they are assaulting, they stay with us forever, they shape the future of our every relationship. But enough. We’re demanding what is ours. Our daughters are taking what is ours. It’s our turn.