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My Turn, Adele Goodman: Fight back, women, with a proper fist

After reading the accounts of sexual abuse and assaults of women recently, my blood is boiling over. It brings back memories of awful experiences I’ve had, simply because I’m female. This happens so frequently that women seem to accept it as something we just have to deal with. How in the world did this ever become OK?

When I was in sixth grade and 70 pounds soaking wet, I was walking down the crowded main corridor of my junior high school. It was one of those areas where a hallway merged at a staircase and the cafeteria crossover. Kids were bottlenecked 10 deep trying to pass. In the distance, towering above the other kids, was this boy — I knew his name but didn’t know him personally. As he and I squeezed by, he reached down and grabbed my crotch.

We hear about the “fight or flight” response and, for me, my first instinct is to fight. I grew up with boys who taught me how to make a proper fist and a mother who instilled the need to defend myself because she couldn’t always be there to protect me.

Without thinking, I yelled, “Hey!” as he cleared the mob and faced me with a smirk. I walked over, made a proper fist and punched him in the stomach — so hard, he doubled over. Then, as if it were my fault, he called me the “B” word — the dreaded B word that females are called when we refuse to be doormats.

I yelled back at him that he’d better never touch me again. His mother, who worked in the cafeteria, suddenly appeared. Perfect timing. He was still doubled over whining and yelling at me, but she asked me what had happened. I told her what he did and what he called me. She smacked him in the face and jerked him by the arm. He cried like a baby as she made him say he was sorry, then dragged him down the hallway. After that, he never came near me again.

But I never forgot.

What it is: assault

I started asking friends and coworkers if anything like this had ever happened to them, after sharing my experiences. It was a shock to hear them describe being groped and grabbed, but let’s label it for what it is: assault.

When I asked a dear friend if she had ever experienced any type of sexual assault, her face shifted from her usual sunny disposition to a look of sadness as she lowered her head and said meekly, “Yes.”

She was only 7 years old when her mother took her to a local dime store, their special time together to shop, then share a burger and a shake.

They were down an aisle when a man walked in. He looked at her and made her feel uneasy, but she went back to staring at something pretty on a shelf that caught her eye. Her mother wandered around the corner to the other side of the aisle when the man appeared next to her and grabbed her privates.

Then he smiled at her and walked out as she stood frozen in horror — hurt, confused, terrified. And violated, an innocent 7-year-old with her mother a few feet away. She didn’t tell her mother right then, although her mother knew she was very upset.

Later that night, her mother coaxed her into telling and shook violently as her child described what happened, crying, “Why did he do that to me?”

Cringe-worthy

My friend had never seen her mother that angry before and, until I asked, had never shared her story with anybody else  because she still carried that humiliation. After 53 years, it still hurt and I hurt for her. We both stood there crying.

Story after story came out — of a “dirty” uncle who groped a chest or a stranger who grabbed them at a dance club — disgusting, cringe-worthy stories that women hid for years in the darkness. The sheer number of victims was astounding as they opened up about assaults that were never reported or even discussed.

Why is that? Why do women keep these horrible experiences to themselves?

Children are innocent and afraid to tell, which is completely understandable, but why as grown women do we hide these things our entire lives? Women have been murdered and raped because we’re “too nice” and don’t want to be labeled the “B” word.

Preying on compassion

Ted Bundy preyed on women using that tactic — preyed on their compassion and sympathy. He admitted that, even though his victims felt uneasy when he asked for help, feigning injury or handicap, he banked on the fact that they would comply as to not want to offend him. He used their kindness against them, and their compassion made them easy marks.

Men who grope and grab — those who assault women — are betting that women won’t tell because it’s so humiliating to us. And most times, they’re right because we don’t.

We must stop worrying about being labeled when we need to stand up for ourselves. We must speak out when disrespected or assaulted. We don’t have to lose our compassion or kindness to stay on offense and fight back when necessary.

There is dark power in secrets and silence and the undeserving shame that we keep hidden. The best way to drive away darkness is to spotlight it — shove the ugliness into the light. It is gut-wrenching at first, but then it feels empowering.

I applaud every woman who is opening up about what they’ve experienced, and I encourage every woman reading this to share their stories with loved ones to take away the secrecy and ridiculous shame we carry but don’t deserve.

I for one am done. I hope all women will join the masses in saying that clearly: We are done. We have to be that convicted and that prepared.

And learn how to make a proper fist.

Adele Goodman lives in Rowan County.

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