Memo to men: Your groping days are over
Sexual assault accusations against Donald Trump awaken unwanted memories for Jan Wong
We Canadians can only watch the U.S. election from the sidelines, even as it gives us collective nightmares.
"Gropegate," for instance — which is what many are calling the wave of sexual assault accusations recently levelled against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — has sparked in me a string of unwanted memories, the earliest when I was six and a married babysitter asked me to rub his penis with Vaseline.
I'm now 64, a decade younger than dignified, silver-haired Jessica Leeds, who recounted to the New York Times her experience of Trump allegedly sticking his hand up her skirt on a plane.
For me, it continued when I was 14 (and also 45), and I was catcalled in Rome.
When I was 16 and needed a vaccination, the doctor told me to lie on his examination table, where he pulled down my underpants and rubbed my clitoris.
When I was 19, I was groped at least five times on packed buses in Beijing.
When I was 26, a boss in Beijing rubbed his leg against mine under the table.
When I was 28, my husband's fellow grad student pinned me against the wall in a New York elevator and kissed me.
When I was 48, another boss rubbed his leg against mine, again under the table, while asking me to cover the crash of a Concorde jet in Paris.
Usually, I went mute. When you're sexually assaulted by someone you know, and he is older and more powerful, you freeze. Notably, I unleashed a stream of invective only when my harassers were strangers — in Rome and Beijing. That stopped them cold.
I might have reacted differently had I been born a few decades later. In the journalism class I teach at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, my students watched the now-famous video of Trump on a hot mic in 2005, as well as the video of Jessica Leeds telling her story of that plane ride with Trump in the early 1980s. They were stunned when she said she could have tolerated being pawed above her waist, but not below.
Someone asked why she hadn't complained to a flight attendant. I explained the "Coffee, Tea, or Me" ethos of the time: that flight attendants were perceived to be offering travellers themselves as much as they were the option of coffee or tea.
Leeds, 74, kept silent for decades. The second and third women to come forward, now age 33 and 51 respectively, immediately told family and friends.
One of my students raised her hand. Her shop instructor in high school had greeted her — the only girl — with a handshake and held it an uncomfortably long time. When she bent over, he ogled her butt.
Her male classmates didn't join in. Instead, they helpfully tipped her off to what he was doing. She went to the principal. The instructor was removed.
A generational change
Last month in Fredericton, five separate groups of men hassled one of my recent graduates, Nicola MacLeod, as she walked home one night. One guy even tried, Trump-style, to "grab her by the pussy."
It's a generational sea change. Memo to men: You'll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin.'