I asked my Facebook friends that I grew up with in Chicago if they remember having fears about mass shootings when we were at school in the 60s and 70s. Like me, they didn’t. Mass shootings at schools were unimaginable.

These friends did however remind me that there were a couple of bomb threats at our grammar school. This was around the time of the Vietnam War and soon after, when radical social movements were placing bombs in busy public places and government buildings. These bomb threats were taken seriously and we all responded to the fire alarm, forming pairs as we hurried out to the playground and baseball diamonds. No bombs were ever found – another hoax inspired by stories in the news.

Aside from the bomb threats, school for my classmates and me was a place of safety – though perhaps more so for the girls than the boys. I’ve learned through this little Facebook chatter that in highschool the boys had to deal with other boys acting tough and gangs picking fights at school sports events.

Our fears of crime and violence came from the world outside of school. We couldn’t go out by ourselves at night. Even a pairing of females felt their lives were at risk after sunset. During my childhood I knew of three teenage girls who were raped on the streets by strangers. A couple of others were attacked at knifepoint, but managed to escape thanks to the help of passers-by. I too had an incident of being followed by a man who had first approached me with his dick hanging out. (Another #metoo.) I hurried passed him and turned the corner. As I neared our building, I saw an apartment with a light on and waved and yelled out as if I saw someone I knew. The creep ran off.

It may not have been halcyon days, but it didn’t include mass shootings. We were, after all, before Columbine. That seems to have been the first. There’s an excellent article on this chain reaction written by the always brilliant Malcom Gladwell.

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I don’t think this problem is going to go away in the current mind-set that is sweeping America – especially with its NRA-funded think tanks and politicians. I am, once again, grateful that I’ve emigrated away from the US. Britain and France have their problems, but they don’t allow them to have assault weapons. I’m also grateful at times like these, on the back draft of a recent shooting, not to be in America, embroiled in the polemic. From Europe, I’ll stick to the occasional Twitter and Facebook postings – thumbs up to anyone who points out that this is utter madness – and the reminiscences of my former classmates – thanks for sharing, guys.

#MeToo – The Rally

Although I’ve been to my share of women’s marches and rallies over the years, I never would have thought that I would go to one dedicated to stopping violence against women. It’s not that this isn’t a worthy cause – of course it is. But I had come to believe that violence and sexual harassment against women wouldn’t be taken seriously enough for women to even attempt such a demonstration. Nor did I think enough women would speak up, especially in recent years when the label ‘feminist,’ supposedly a bad thing, is so readily attached to women who publicly recount their experiences.

In the 90s, there were marches in major cities, mostly in America, to ‘Take Back the Night.’ Those were admirable, but aimed at the stranger and the gangs on the streets targeting women. The bigger picture is more personal and disturbing.  At the rally yesterday in Nice, one of thousands held across the world, the French numbers were bandied about on signs – last year, 109 women were killed at the hands of their partners; of the roughly 200 reported cases of attempted homicide in the same year, three quarters of the victims were women; and 48,000 rapes occur every year.

How can any civilised society allow this to happen? I won’t go into the history of patriarchy here, but the patriarchy we live in has normalised violence against women. It’s been pointed out by many that the term domestic violence in English is a prime example of this normalisation, where deadly assault has been reduced to something akin to a family squabble. It’s no better in French, where such crimes are called drame famille and crime passionnel – both sounding like the content of soap operas.metoorally3

The rally was more than the statistics. It was a place where women stepped up to the microphone in the middle of Place Massena on a busy Saturday afternoon to tell their stories of rape, continued sexual harassment, sexual aggression and verbal intimidation. Their attackers were strangers, neighbours, fathers, brothers, partners, doctors, dentists and co-workers. Violence against women takes many forms. I’m glad we’re finally speaking up about it and supporting each other. While the laws and public awareness are gradually changing, sometimes I’m fearful of another backlash against feminism that could undo all of this. But ever the optimist, at other times I’m more hopeful, knowing full well that such societal changes don’t come easily.



I was a slightly chubby, acne-faced tomboy at 12 years old. I wore jeans or cut-off shorts in the summer and – having started to develop breasts – always shirts that were too big on me. Despite all of this, a part of me felt that I was at fault. I must have said something or acted in a way that made a 40 -year-old man want to grope me. An extended grope that lasted at least five long minutes – hard to say exactly as unpleasant memories play tricks on the mind. At times, over the years, I recall it being thirty minutes.

But one thing I do remember clearly – at 12, I believed that episodes like this only happened to girls who asked for it.

The only thing that stopped this man, who was one of my bosses, was a customer arriving at the front of the shop. At this tender age, I had a part-time job, working with a girlfriend in the studio space of a photography and silkscreen business. My friend and I stuffed cardboard into white t-shirts and glued backing on to posters. We were too young to legally work and were paid by piece and not by the hour. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It paid better than a paper route and wasn’t as girly as babysitting. Perfect for a kid like me, looking for money to pay for record albums and a new baseball glove.

Little did I know then that this was the start of years of workplace sexual advances, inappropriate touching and objectifying language that didn’t end until I left my last fulltime job in the UK in 2013. Interestingly, in Oman, a traditional Muslim society, I was never a victim of any such behaviour – though I wasn’t treated equally in the workplace given my status as a woman and as a foreigner. Today, working in distance education and freelance writing, I enjoy among the advantages the safety of working from home.

At 12, I didn’t tell anyone at the time about what had happened. Even my best friend and co-worker. I thought that the boss hadn’t tried anything on her even though she was the pretty one – slender with clear skin and beautiful long brown hair. But maybe she hadn’t said something or done something to encourage him. I was simply too ashamed to ask her. I can’t remember now what excuse I gave. Maybe it was school starting again or missing out on baseball. I must have found something and quit the job a week later.

A couple of years after that, I ran into the girl who replaced me at the studio. We talked about working there and she was quick to point out that one of the bosses was a ‘pervert.’ He had done the same thing to her. Finally, I could talk about it. Together, we connected the dots. This company only hired girls, too young to work there legally and unlikely to speak out. I wanted to talk to my best friend who had worked there with me about it. But she had moved away and was in the midst of a family tragedy. She and I never had that conversation. I can only hope now that she has spoken about it with someone.

The Weinstein case and other cases involving high-profile people have opened the flood gates. Not to diminish the importance of speaking out against such acts, but they are pointing the finger to the powerful and rich, people in the public eye. What about the young and vulnerable across the spectrum of the workplace? Victims whose predators are ‘ordinary people’? We can’t use public humiliation as leverage.