Me, too. Where do I begin? With the least of the transgressions, perhaps — childhood sunscreen applications that went a little too far. Being spied on while showering. At 16, being chased across the parking lot by an older man with a kid in tow, because he said he needed my phone number. I learned to look over my shoulder and lock the car door quickly.
Those are the easy ones, but there were others. Hands up my skirt at parties. A foot up my skirt at the dinner table. A stranger coming over to me and masturbating while I sunbathed alone at a beach. None of these intrusions were invited, but I worried back then that I had invited them, by what I was wearing, by what I was doing. By existing.
I’m not the sort of person you would accuse of being shy or weak. I can shoot a gun, pluck and gut a turkey, shoulder a 50-pound sack of feed or pull down a 100-pound bale of hay.
It doesn’t actually matter what I can or can’t do, but I feel the need to explain that I’m tough, because when these things happened to me — when these things were done to me — I froze. And pretended, desperately, that it wasn’t happening.
Afterward, I felt ashamed. A finger-wagging voice in the back of my mind would say that I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation. We all need to silence that voice. We all need to acknowledge that women don’t put ourselves in those situations: men do. And we must acknowledge that in these situations, women do not respond how one might expect — by fighting back, or immediately speaking out — because of the power dynamic created and the deeply personal nature of sexual misconduct.
Why am I sharing this now? Perhaps because I have two young daughters who are inheriting a male-dominated world that overtly sexualizes young women. And because one of the most powerful things we can do is to acknowledge this fact. We need to point out how normal sexual abuse, sexual harassment and rape culture have become in our society — and how those things are not normal. It is not normal for 30-somethings to proposition teenagers. It is not normal to take your penis out in front of strangers. It is not normal to stick something inside a woman’s body without asking. It is not normal for a president to have joked about grabbing women “by the pussy.” None of this is normal, yet it’s become commonplace.
As other women across the country have shared their stories, for the first time in my life, silence started to seem wrong. In part, I want to share my personal experiences because my public story can so easily fold into the myth of female equality. Please don’t think that, because a 33-year-old woman can run for local elected office and win, American women must now be equal to American men. That “those things” happen in Alabama but not California.
We do have a female majority on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, but that doesn’t mean that we have achieved gender equality in government. Far from it.
At my job, I frequently find that I’m the only woman in the room, just like my working mother was 30 years ago. Of the seven state and federal representatives whose jurisdictions cover some portion of Sonoma County, only one is a woman. That puts Sonoma County’s female state and federal representation at 14 percent, which is actually not too far off from state and national averages. In California, women occupy 21.7 percent of elected state positions. On a federal level, the U.S. Senate is 21 percent female, while Congress is 19.3 percent female.
Every morning I leave to work in a male-dominated field that, luckily for me, has thus far been filled with thoughtful, intelligent, respectful men. The men I work with in local government evaluate me not based on age or gender or appearance but on competence and work ethic. I’ve been treated as an equal. I’ve not been demeaned or objectified. For that, I’m grateful.
And yet I shouldn’t have to feel grateful for basic human respect. It should be an expectation.
We all must demand respect for women, so that our daughters may grow up expecting it. Women must speak up and speak louder than the voices that blame victims or excuse perpetrators. I hope that Sonoma County women feel empowered to share their stories and stand up to inappropriate sexual misconduct. I hope that Sonoma County men will stand with us.
And if you it’s uncomfortable to hear these sorts of stories, rest assured, it’s uncomfortable for women to share them. But if we do not empower women to speak, the pattern will continue. Marion Brown, when asked why she was publicly accusing Rep. John Conyers, replied, “And the reason why I’m taking the risk, it is important. I want to be a voice. My ancestors, my grandmother, my mother, my daughters, my granddaughter, I want her when she enters the workforce long when I’m gone, I want her to not have to endure sexism and gender inequality, and I want to stand up, and I feel it was worth the risk, to stand up for all the women in the workforce that are voiceless. Ordinary women like myself with extraordinary challenges working in the workforce that are dominated by men.”
Lynda Hopkins represents the Fifth District on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. She lives in Forestville.