I’m adding my voice to the many stories that women are sharing. I’m not sure if this is the “right” avenue to share. I’m not sure if my story is important. I’m not sure if anyone will read it. But here it is.
Me too. Like so many—too many, maybe most, maybe all—the women I know, I have experienced sexual harassment, and count myself lucky that it wasn’t worse. It’s sad that I consider that lucky.
I’ll tell the story because though I really rarely think about this incident, I’ve counted it as a lesson learned and it’s coloured the way I think. It’s also something that I’ve not shared with many because I’ve felt guilt over it. “I should have been more careful.” “I should have known better.” “I should have been smarter.”
I was in my 20s, recently returned from living for two years in Japan. I think that’s part of the reason why this happened to me (see, there I go again, taking the blame). You see, I remember the warnings all throughout my time in university. As women, we are warned against walking home alone at night. We are told not to leave a friend alone at a party. We are reminded not to accept a drink from a stranger. We look out for each other because we are told it’s a dangerous world where there are men who will hurt us, take advantage of us, attack us, rape us.
Little kids learn about “stranger danger.” While boys get to grow into men who no longer have this worry, women continue to receive this lesson. Even worse is that many women have to add to that list of dangerous people with men they know, not just strangers—dates, boyfriends, husbands, coworkers, friends.
But after university I moved to Japan. Everyone was new to me. Everyone was a stranger. And I felt so safe. I walked alone late at night. I cycled home by myself in the dark. I slept in a train station so I could catch the first train out. I received help from strangers when I was lost, following them to my requested destination. I stood out as a “gaijin” (foreigner), so while Japanese women were harassed by Japanese men, I was left alone. I won’t get into my thoughts on the psychology of that here, but basically, I felt safe. Powerful, even.
Not long after I returned to Canada, I went to Toronto to visit family and friends. When the flight landed late at night, I didn’t want to pay for a hotel, so I decided to just hang out at the airport and then catch a train early the next morning. I went to the cafeteria and one of the serving staff struck up a conversation with me. He seemed very nice.
After a while, he offered to drive me to the train station. At first, I said no, but then thinking about the hassle of making my way there, and thinking he seemed harmless, I said yes.
Now, I don’t know the route between the airport and train station, but after a bit of driving, I started to question my decision. When he pulled into a park and stopped the car, I knew—I was in trouble.
I began circulating various options through my mind. I could jump out of the car and make a run for it, leaving my luggage behind in his car. I could scream, though I could see no one nearby. I could try punching him. I tried psychology. As he tried to persuade me, to guilt me, to seduce me, to make me fearful, I kept him talking, countering everything he said with something logical, something demeaning, something pitiful, something angry.
I threatened him. I chastised him. I told him that I know where he works and I would get him fired. I promised to say nothing if he simply drove me back to the airport. That’s what happened. And I said nothing.
Now I wonder.
And I feel guilty. What if someone else was less lucky?
So, I understand the courage of these women coming forward now. I’m lucky. I got away, nothing happened except for a lesson. Don’t trust. Be careful.
And believe the women who are telling their stories. It may have taken them a long time. But they have their own reasons. And now it’s time for us to stop this from continuing, by being vocal and letting others know that it’s not acceptable.