ONE WAY OR ANOTHER - A Subtle Slice of the MeToo Problem
TAKE THE SHOT--A Tomboy Cheerleader’s First Crush & Burn
I hope you read the title, because that's what we're going to be discussing today. Sexual harassment, coercion, assault and violence.
I got up the guts.
I wrote the love letter.
He read it.
He read it aloud.
He gave it to Queenie & Her Court, they pinned it up on the notice board for the whole school to read, and it was ON. Every. Single. Day thereafter, I reiterated my undying lurve to Steven Carlson in a minuscule note no larger than 2X3 inches, because fuck them all.
Day after day, Steven Carlson read it aloud for the entertainment of those who hated me, because fuck me, but my tenacity is an inexhaustible force of nature. My pride, when properly ignited, is even worse.
I will not be silenced.
I will not be made afraid.
I will not be humiliated into slinking around with my eyes on the ground, crawling on my belly like a worm.
And I will never, ever stop speaking my truth again because of THEM.
Okay, I did finally stop writing to Steve over summer break when we all went our separate ways for three months. I could have resumed on the first day of eighth grade, but I felt the point had been made.
Fine. Pulverized into the dust that had once reeked of rotting horse.
Looking back on this escapade now, it actually contains one of the few instances of my life where I hold immense regret. I don’t have many of those, but this is one of them.
"Why?" people ask after hearing the story. "He deserved everything you gave him! I would have done way worse to him."
Well, deserving of retribution or not, there is one aspect that weighs on me. If I'm going to continue telling you these tales, we're going to come to some deep, dark things that people have done to me and it won't take all that long. Since I don't believe in painting myself as some perfect angel and I always try to examine the ways in which I contributed to my situations, and especially to throw myself under the bus when I have done crappy things myself, I feel that it's important we open this can of worms from a very different perspective of #MeToo.
See, I was a child of the 70s and 80s. Every time I watch movies or TV shows from that era, I find myself cringing at the cultural norms of how people treated each other onscreen. The frequency, the violence, and the entitled encroachment of how they put their hands on each other. The belittling, degrading, confrontational, and abusive ways they spoke to each other—sometimes overtly, even more often in a covert code everybody seemed to be fluent in. This was always punctuated with the kinds of force exerted to make or at least coerce people into doing things they didn’t want to do.
At the time of writing this post, these Videos of Violence number fifty-four and counting:
Yup. That’s pretty much what it looked like on TV all the time.
Real life wasn’t much different.
Grabbing, shoving, shaking, kicking, punching, knocking items out of hands, tripping, destroying property. And we're not talking about the roughest inner-city neighborhoods. We're not talking about cruel pimps and their uncooperative prostitutes, or war criminals and their captives. No, no...this sort of violence was just…how things were portrayed in the most wholesome of homes, in workplaces, and in the realms of courtship and romance.
A guy gets fresh: SLAP.
A gal gets smart: SLAP.
A guy feels affronted: BLAM.
A gal feels affronted: SLAP.
A female gets "too emotional": SLAP.
A kid gets in trouble: WHACK.
We are insulted: RUMBLE.
Sweet ass: GOOSE.
Sweet tits: GOOSE.
Pretty face: GOOSE.
Get me that report and some coffee, hon: ASS-SMACK.
My sensitivity to these things wasn’t born in the last couple decades. These rhythms, norms, expectations, codes of conduct, and oh-so-clear modes of “communication” had been anathema to every mote of my being since the moment I began interacting with humans.
I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to understand it—why violence, the threat of it, or just outright taking something were viable solutions to getting what you wanted from someone who didn’t want to give it to you.
My first sexual experience at four years old (EDIT: turns out it actually started much younger) was that way. So was my official adolescent introduction to the penis. So was my first relationship that involved regular intercourse. The majority of my childhood outside the safety of my parents’ home could be summed up as one long crash course in it.
And yet, to say that I didn’t inherit its ways would be inaccurate.
I was a tomboy. I had found very little to admire about femininity for my first few decades. My mother became increasingly ill from the time I was in late elementary into my 20s and 30s. What we would not learn until I was well out of college was that she has Chrons Disease, but when I was young, we only knew she couldn’t be outside in summer without wheezing and sneezing her head off, hives struck her from the slightest whiff of chemicals or perfumes, and her chronic pain levels increased by the month. Her doctors told her it was "all in her head" and put her on antidepressants, which just added to the nightmare. By the time I was twelve, there were days she couldn’t get out of bed. By the time I was fourteen, I had given up on her frail-voiced promises “to try” to come watch my games, much less do anything with me.
To my clueless child’s mind, this unconsciously equated The Feminine with all the fragility, unreliability, instability, and weakness that older cultural models kept telling me were the inherent nature of my sex.
I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to be Jana of the Jungle, Princess Leia, or a Charlie’s Angel.
But unfortunately in my experience, too many real girls and women seemed limited to one (or a combo) of three roles:
Frail and weak, needing Knights and Princes to save them.
"Proper" or even downright church-mousy, and subject to the whims of their fathers, husbands, priests and male bosses.
Vicious, catty backstabbers who used their looks, lies, and sex appeal to get ahead in life, to manipulate, and to gain power, wealth, and position.
My generation had been told over and over that the Women’s Lib movement had guaranteed us the right to equal power, income, and position of our own, no matter that we had been born with vaginas. Just like Hashtag-AllThatRaceStuff had "been handled" in the 60s, so had this.
I was naive-bold-stupid-intrepid-stubborn enough that I believed it.
So I acted on it.
Academics, athletics, arts. I pursued them all voraciously with an unshakeable belief that I was intelligent, gifted, and skilled in multitudinous ways.
Thankfully I had that, because I was also gifted with equally abysmal social skills and I was born into cultural standards of beauty that said I was ugly. (I was a petite, dark-eyed brunette with French-Canadian heritage in Northern Minnesota during the days ruled by Farah Fawcett).
But I was not to be deterred.
Stories had taught me that the ugliest duckling would turn out to be a swan.
That the downtrodden kick-me-dog who was forced to sweep the cinders from the hearth would become the princess, once magic revealed the beauty within her.
That Wicked Witches and their Flying Monkeys would always get theirs in the end.
That the studious bookworm-writer who was also a fabulous dancer would someday be seen as beautiful and desirable by the right man—The One—provided she stayed Twue to her heart and her passions.
But I was a tomboy, remember?
On Free-day Friday in gym, I was that lone girl who played floor-hockey with the boys. While chanting, "Girls can do anything boys can do," I acted upon the teachings that we no longer needed to be the passive party in romance, waiting for our prince to come. We could court, woo, and pursue to our heart’s content.
Alas, I was not Farah, Wonder Woman, or Princess Leia.
I was me.
This meant I didn’t have droves of the opposite sex panting on the heels of my saddle shoes, which meant that, if I was going to disparage The Feminine and model The Masculine in good tomboy fashion, my gallant wooing role model of the day could not be Prince Charming. He had a gazillion pretty-face options lining up for the opportunity—nay, the pleasure—nay-nay, the inconceivable honor of being chosen by him.
Neither could I follow in the footsteps of James Bond for the same reason, and somehow, I could never manage to make our local male equivalents of Lois Lane swoon, even when I shed my Clark Kent clodhoppers and glasses for that almighty Super-Suit: the cheerleading uniform.
Did not matter. I was still Jimmy Olsen in Superman’s pilfered rig.
(Except at away-games where I miraculously became the bee’s knees. But while I was still under the proper age to receive courtship calls from boys, that was not a viable option. Nope, I required someone local to flirt with on a day-to-day basis right under my protective parents’ hyper-vigilant noses.)
Woe unto me, all the objects of my affection in my home school, at best, turned their noses up and ignored me. At worst, they were actively and passionately cruel.
But wait! There’s a trope for this!
There was absolutely an archetype that dominated the screens and ran its rampant tentacles through the society in which I grew into an adult. And man, nobody taught my generation how to woo-n-win a reluctant, even combative love-interest than the characters of my favorite Hollywood heartthrob, Harrison Ford.
Side Note: it should be acknowledged that this theory is made particularly complicated when one has an ounce of kinkiness in one’s sexual makeup. Woo, pursue, chase-stalk-takedown…tussle-wrassle-spar-kiss…yeah. That's a different can of worms for a later time, because it has bearing on my experiences with dating, with re-writing my traumas in a way I could control and even enjoy, and in who I eventually became.
But at thirteen, when I wrote Steven Carlson all those notes? I probably hadn’t even heard the word “kinky” and if I had, guaranteed I had no earthly idea what it meant. (Even though I had been transfixed by big, bad Darth Vader towering over little Leia in handcuffs since I was five. And yes. 🤬 I was irate when I learned that he was her fahhhhthah, because it messed up all my twelve-year-old fantasies about HER turning him from the Dark Side. Or…something…)
In the realm of standard flirtation, dating and mating, and in the realm of consent—whether vanilla, or especially amidst negotiating all the kinky fun fuckery—this is what I regret:
Not only catching Steve Carlson in the crossfire between me and Queenie’s Court. The war had nothing to do with him, had been going on for years prior, and would (for them) continue well after we all graduated.
No, my bigger regret is that I learned such horrible habits in how to interact with someone I was attracted to. Compounded by my obsessive nature--excuse me, my neurodivergent laser-sighted hyper-focus, that was a volatile cocktail. The theory went that, if you were persistent—relentlessly so—and proved just how badass your sick skillz were (and I had a plethora of those), eventually you would wear down your prey and they would admit that they had always sort of wanted it.
You just had to show them that they did.
Especially if things started out rocky. Heated. If they took pot-shots at you.
Like what Steven did when I wrote that note.
After all, wasn’t it law that the boys who pulled girls’ pigtails were hiding secret crushes? Wasn’t it law that girls gained maturity more quickly than boys, especially where emotions are concerned, and that it is the girl’s role to help them figure that out?
Well, maybe the other girls in my class learned how to do that, but this skill eludes me to this day. I hear that my expressions of sexual interest are far more akin to being pursued by a dude instead of all that hard-to-get and eye-batting stuff that makes no sense to me. This rarely helps boost the polarizing qualities of attraction when it's a dude you're pursuing.
It really, really didn't help when the individual in question was not flippin’ interested.
“Oh, man…” people have said to me, “but the way he handled your note, making it a public spectacle and handing it off to your enemies? He deserved it!”
Yes, his conduct was cruel. He could have pulled me aside and told me he wasn’t interested. He could have quietly crumpled up the note and ignored me to infinity and beyond. Had either of those things happened, the war with my classmates never would have been escalated like that, and I never would have used him as a missile in my arsenal.
But he didn’t, and I did.
So to my first seventh-grade crush, to whom I wrote note after tiny note after unyielding note after harassing note after relentless note after insufferable note after motherfucking HELLSNOTE…
I deeply apologize for catching you in the crossfire, and for being such an invasive, stubborn, stalky, prideful, note-rapey, uncompromising fuck.
Do I think you need to hear this apology from me for any reason in your adult life? HELLSNO. If I have ever crossed your mind in the decades since you graduated, I’m sure it is nothing more than a split-second of eye roll and the ick-tongue.
No, I write this because it’s the right thing to do. If I’m going to open up the box of #MeToo then it’s important to talk about the fact that it also happens to people with penises no matter how they identify or present. It actually happens a lot more frequently than anyone would like to admit. It's also done BY people without penises, and perpetrators often start out as subtly and subversively as what I did to the first boy I ever truly crushed on.
This disregard of boundaries is just one of the gazillion symptoms of what the world has exploded about. But this version is insidious, all too easily gaslit and swept under the carpet. After all, how many people have told me--even to this day--that Steve deserved what I did to him or worse?
Since my later high school years, I have felt all ick-tonguey about this incident myself. When I finally experienced the opposite sex saying “YES” about me instead of “EW, run away” I got to feel this dynamic from the opposite direction. I never developed these habits into greater, felonious abuses, but the way I originally learned to woo and pursue has never sat well with me.
Which is good.
It fucking shouldn’t.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: When boys started saying “HELLSYEAH!”
--OR if you want to go back to how that whole classroom war came to be, it begins with THIS POST.
--OR: All my writing on SEX, LOVE & VIOLENCE
--OR: if you're interested in this topic of feminine roles and role models, I wrote a whole series about SHE-ROES, VILLANS & SIDESHICKS - The Characters That Made Me.
STINKY-LINKY: Updated 2022
1) The Me Too Movement
—RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) - Including the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE
--Sexual violence committed upon males hits just as hard--and it's not only done by other males. They're just silenced and stigmatized, which heaps on more damage to male survivors, and it further perpetuates the cultural "boys will be boys" myth that “males are either sexually insatiable and aggressive or pussies; females are weak, pure damsels or conniving, manipulating whores.”
2) #YouToo: A Few At-Risk Populations
—Rape Statistics by Country 2021 - and how difficult it is to get an accurate account. Anywhere. Because not everybody calls rape "rape". Remember once upon a time that wives were considered "unrapeable?" In a bunch of places, they still are, and even in spite of US laws it's still difficult to prove even here.
—Ooooh, and remember that time the United States conveniently labeled Black females "unrapeable" so they could do what they wanted to their slaves? That crap still trickles down into attitudes today:
—American Indian and Alaska Native women are still the highest at-risk group for violence and sexual trauma--96% from non-Native perpetrators because the indigenous Nations have been stripped of their authority to prosecute them.