Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Another year, another post like this

I may have told you this story before. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, I’m not sure what it is about this time of year that seems to bring this sort of thing out. Last year around now, I was writing about Harvey Weinstein. The year before that, Donald Trump and locker room talk. Maybe it’s something in the change of seasons that brings this all about, I don’t know. At any rate, the stuff going on now serves to remind me of this.

For nearly the entire decade of the nineties, I worked for the Central Park Conservancy, a great organization that works with the City of New York to manage and protect and promote that fantastic greensward in the heart of New York City. For all of those years, I commuted to work, a journey that involved a minimum 40-minute train ride and two subway lines, but it was a good job with a good organization in a great location, and I’ve always liked trains so I tolerated it for quite a while.

Two of the years I worked in Central Park, we lived in southern Connecticut. Metro North took me all the way down to Grand Central. From there, I had to take the Lexington Avenue subway back uptown to 103rd Street (my office was just outside the Park at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue). It seemed a bit of a waste, going all the way down to Grand Central just to have to come back up, and the Lexington Avenue line at that point sucked, to put it honestly, so I looked for–and found–an alternative: get off Metro North at 125th Street and walk 21 blocks to my office. And so I did.

I don’t remember how I got to and from the station, to be honest. I think I got off at 125th Street, cut over to Madison, and went all the way down Madison to 104th, and vice versa, but I honestly couldn’t tell you after all this time. When I walked (and in the winter, I did not do the walk if it was dark), I walked with purpose, fast but not running. I kept my head up and my eyes moving, but also tried not to attract attention. It was a little unnerving. Mine was pretty much the only white face on the street there, and the route took me through just about every kind of neighborhood: bustling commercial sections, upscale homes, bombed-out crack houses (it was the nineties, after all). It seemed quite possible that I could get mugged for money to fuel someone’s crack habit, or mugged–even killed–simply for being the wrong race in the wrong neighborhood. Not once, however, did it ever enter my mind that I might be dragged off into an alley or wrecked building and sexually assaulted.

The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh that surfaced last month have once again served to highlight the vastly different worlds men and women live in. When do men worry about being sexually assaulted? Never. For men of my generation, it’s a “Dueling Banjos” reference when we go camping or find ourselves in some backwoods area. Maybe younger men joke about pawn shops and the Gimp. But that’s what it is for men: a joke, something to laugh about. When do women worry about being sexually assaulted? All the time? Half the time? From the stories that have once again been shared in the wake of the Kavanaugh accusations, they’d certainly be forgiven for worrying about it all the time. It happens too damn often, and that’s got to change.

10 Responses

  1. To answer your question "When do women worry about being sexually assaulted?" My answer is "All the time." It's why I don't go walking through parks by myself. No, I've never been assaulted. I just know how easy it could happen (and my mother's insistence to be careful was pretty much drilled into my head, too).

  2. Thanks, Stacy. It's a shame that we live in a world where more than half the population has to be constantly aware of where they are and who's around them and can't just be in the moment.

  3. I worry all the time. I taught my daughter to worry all the time also.

    But, I also learned to "walk with a purpose, my head up," scanning my environment (or social event) for dangers. I don't hide from men, and I don't stay silent if I'm threatened. I taught my daughter THAT too.

    It hasn't been just "a man's world" since at least the 60's. A lot of the recent accusations seem to be more of a "fad" than actual assaults. As for the Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinhart accusations: I can't imagine what, 60 women or more each, throughout their very public careers, all kept silent all that time. Not even disclosing to despicable celeb magazines (rags) to sensationalize for their 15 minutes of fame.

    I can't help but think the Kavanaugh thing is a political ploy. Teens pranking each other, drunken frat parties. I know bad things happen in adolescence, and as young adults. Sometimes its just a growing up thing. No, rape is not a growing up thing, and there are some really sick young people, always has been.

    But I don't know if any of the accusations are real or not. Its hard to tell. I just hope it makes it easier for women/girls to speak up at the moment it happens and not wait 40 years. And not confuse flirtation with harassment.

    I also have four sons. I've taught them to always be aware that they are an unintentional threat, but it should not stop them from being polite, offering help when the situation seems required, to actively seek a girlfriend, and to speak up/question if a girl is seemingly too . . promiscuous. Or if a guy is too familiar. We want our young people to date, to make out, eventually marry and have families. Right?

    Men/boys also have to be constantly vigilant about putting themselves in situations where a woman/girl could accuse them of sexual harassment/assault. What if Simon Cowell had kissed a female contestant instead of Katey Perry kissing a guy? Would that be sexual assault, instead of an "ahh, so sad" moment? Family Fued host Richard Dawson kissed all the female contestants – should they all claim sexual harassment?

    The world is a sue happy place, and it makes it harder for actual victims to get justice.

  4. Sadly, we do have to think about it a lot and that's definitely something that needs to change. The news has been so disturbing these last few weeks – sometimes it's hard to believe we're heading in the right direction, although from working with kids and their families for so many years, I do think we are moving forward. I hope so!

  5. Well, I'm old now, so I don't worry about it like I used to, but it's still dangerous. Rape isn't about sex. It's about violence and domination. When I joined the Army, it was a time when a lot of fields previously not open to women opened up, and a ton of women joined. The incidence of sexual assault increased by huge amounts, to the point where they started having classes for the the women at part of their sign-in process at each new duty assignment. I've wondered if they ever considered giving classes to the men to explain things recognizing consent or how not to rape a woman. Kind of blows the mind, doesn't it?

  6. That is kind of typical of the response, isn't it, Donna? "We're having a problem with rape, so let's teach the women how to avoid it." Of course, the men who commit the 'knife to the neck' kind of rape are not going to learn anything from this, but there are obviously lots of men who don't know better what they should and shouldn't do who could.

  7. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Dolorah.

    While I have no doubt there are some opportunists, attention hogs and gold diggers out there who jump at the chance to throw their name in the ring in hopes of reaping fame/money/attention/revenge in cases like Cosby's or Weinstein's, I suspect the instances where that first claim is false are extremely rare. You see what women put themselves through to come forward; why would anyone go through that, especially if there's a real likelihood it won't be proven?

    The politics of the Kavanaugh thing are awful, and unfortunately undermine victims everywhere. That goes both ways. Neither side cares a whit about Dr. Ford's well being. It's also evident that Republicans had no desire to get to the truth of the matter, which we still don't know.

    Good on you for teaching your sons. That is the first line in shifting the culture. Thanks again for commenting.

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