"So, Mom, how come you haven't posted a Me, Too status on Facebook?" asked Joe, my 26-year-old son. He was kind of joking because in his mind I was too old and too matronly to have ever been the victim of any kind of sexual harassment. After all, who bothers to harass moms?
I paused for a moment, trying to process a response. Of course, I could have posted Me, Too on Facebook, just like probably every other woman on the planet. If you're female and breathing, the odds are extremely high that at some point or another you've come across a male who didn't think twice about grabbing, commenting, staring or worse.
But that was never anything I wanted to share on Facebook. Did I really want to share any of that stuff with my sons?
"Well," I began, "I suppose I could have."
Joe's eyes bulged. "Really?"
His brother Hank, 24, walked into the room and plopped down on the couch next to me. "What are you guys talking about?" he asked.
"Me, too," I said.
"You too what?"
"Mom's been sexually assaulted," Joe informed him, his voice growing angry.
"Whoa," I said. "Back up. I was never sexually assaulted. I was harassed, groped once or twice and pissed off many times but not assaulted, thank God."
"What happened?" Hank asked.
My mind skittered over the uncomfortable encounters I've had with members of the opposite sex over the years. There was the disturbed boy in junior high who tried to put his hand up as many girls' skirts as he could manage, who one day tried to put his grimy hand up mine, but I was too quick for him. There was the co-worker who insisted on telling filthy jokes, no matter how often he was told to stop. How about the guy in the parking lot at the Mexican restaurant one night who drunkenly lurched for me as I walked past him? Did that count? Oh, and the occasional dad who was kinda creepy while driving me home from a babysitting job. And then there was college …
"Well, there have been a few incidents that weren't what I'd call pleasant," I said and paused to look at my sons, who are not perfect but basically good guys. They seemed interested in hearing what I had to say so I continued.
"I don't want to go into the details, but there have been men who have done some pretty rude things to me."
"Like what?" Joe pressed.
I shrugged uncomfortably. "The details don't matter. It happened and it's over."
"But they hurt you?" Hank persisted.
"Not physically. More mentally and emotionally. I was shaken. But I also want you guys to know that there have been some good guys too," I said, remembering the time in college when a friend and I somehow ended up at a party out in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers who looked like serial killers. The party finally ended around four in the morning and my friend and I were given a ride home by a guy we didn't know and never saw again but who delivered us to our dorm unscathed. "Not all men are inherently evil."
"We know that," Joe said. "Still, it seems weird to think of you being harassed."
"Hey, I went to college when 'Animal House' first came out. Remember the scene where the guy is at the frat party and his date passes out? He's got a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil tells him to—"
"'Fuck her,'" my oldest son helpfully supplied. "And the angel reminds him how shitty he'll feel if he does that."
"Which is absolutely true," I said.
"Of course," Hank said, "but I think it's weird how the rest of the movie pretty much makes a joke of rape and how men are supposed to treat women. I mean, how can you laugh one minute and then be all moral the next?"
How indeed? And how many men and women laughed at the antics of "Animal House" over the years and now act shocked when yet another story of sexual harassment hits the internet?
"Maybe movies will start to change their messages about women," I suggested.
Both boys rolled their eyes.
"I suppose that could happen someday," Joe said, "but what really needs to happen is for people to stop acting like idiots. I think they're starting to do that."
I hope so.