The city must have been recovering from a wild Saturday night, because it was a rather quiet Sunday afternoon in Downtown Los Angeles.
Wearing the typical all black casting call attire, I walked back to my car feeling accomplished. When I got to my vehicle, I looked around the half-empty lot for the parking attendant. After a few moments, a stalky old man came staggering from his booth.
Speaking very little English, he smiled at me, almost in amazement, as he pointed to my vehicle as if to ask me, “is this yours?“
“Sí,” I nodded my head yes and attempted to brush up on my Spanish-speaking skills.
As he returned the key, he walked me back over to my car to chivalrously open my door. “¡Gracias!” I said to him as I fumbled to put the key in the ignition and start the car. But when I reached to close my door, he abruptly took a step over in an attempt to stop me from leaving.
Mumbling words I couldn’t understand, the parking lot attendant proceeded to pull a huge wad of cash from his pocket. Still showing off his grimacing smile, he held up a couple five dollar bills.
Call me naïve, but I really just thought I was having a blessed Sunday and this man was insinuating that I didn’t have to pay for parking that afternoon. Free parking in LA? WHAAAAT?!?
I grabbed the cash from his greasy hand, smiled brightly, and gave him another genuine “thank you” as I waited for him to get out of my way.
In our struggle to break the language barriers, he chuckled and continued to flip through more cash, until he found another ten dollars. With one hand dangling the money in front of my face, he moved the other hand to loosen his belt buckle, clearly communicating his desire for a sexual favor, grunting and smiling, smiling and grunting.
I’d never felt so terrified (and disrespected) in my life. I threw the initial ten dollars back at him, quickly forced him out of my way, closed my door, and sped off.
This is just one of many stories that I’ve encountered with sexual harassment. Luckily, this time I as able to get away, but it would pain me too much to tell you how many times my “no” meant nothing, even with trusted “friends” and partners.
Looking at all the “Me, too” posts on social media is baffling. Why is this subject just now getting the spotlight it deserves? How many centuries has this rape culture been thriving in society? Why are we as a collective so afraid to talk about it? And what can we do to solve this ongoing issue?
Why I’m not exactly sure why light is just now being shed on this subject, I can say that based off of my timeline and hearing personal testimonies from family and friends, this rape culture is nothing new. As a matter of fact, some of the things that keeps your mother or grandmother on edge, derives from her experiences with sexual harassment/assault– experiences that she was never truly able to let go of because somebody silenced her to make it seem as if it were all her fault, as if she deserved such treatment.
I wish I had a simple solution for us all. I wish “wear more clothes” was a proper suggestion, but based off my own personal encounters with getting harassed at gas stations and convenience stores in nothing but a hoodie, sweats, and some beat up UGG boots, I know that the way we dress as women has very little to do with rape.
I don’t have the solution for this epidemic. However, I do know that you can’t solve a problem without first addressing it.
Continue to speak up ladies. I know it hurts. I know there is so much pain associated with those memories. I know that even strolling down your timelines, seeing countless testimonies of women all over, only causes flashbacks to replay in your mind. But, as sad as it is, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that we aren’t alone.
To the men reading this, and seeing all the “Me, too” posts, know that it’s okay for you to speak up as well, to comfort, to console, and even to confess. But if you’ve got nothing to contribute, at least take the time to listen. Listen to your wife, to your girlfriend, to your mother, hell…listen to your side chick. Don’t be so quick to label her as a “ho” when she talks about her sexual encounters. Actually take the time hear her beyond what is being said on the surface. Take the time to understand her frustrations, to understand that sometimes her pain has little to nothing to do with you. Maybe even try to understand that her bottle-shaped body is actually bottling things up inside.
To those that have experienced sexual harassment and assault, my prayers are with you. I pray you find the healing to get through and the courage to speak up. I pray that we as women are able to keep the conversation going to find understanding and empowerment through each “Me, too” so that our next generation of leading women won’t have to say the same thing.