This week, President Trump sunk to a new low when he made fun of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in regard to her allegation of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh when they were teenagers. Trump did this at a rally and, sickeningly, everyone in the crowd cheered him on. Every time I think we can’t sink any lower as a culture, people prove me wrong. It is so disheartening.
I’m not sure why people can’t seem to understand that someone could be sexually assaulted and not remember some of the details, then make the leap that because a woman doesn’t remember some of the details, she must be wrong on all of them. So, let me help out:
The first time a man took my body without my permission was when I was about eight years old. It was after dark and my father had a friend over for a drink. He told me this friend was blind. Then my father pushed me – not my brother, just me – in front of this man and said “He wants to see what you look like.” The man’s hands explored not only my face but every inch of my body. I don’t remember the man’s name.
The second time, I was 14 years old. “Ricky” tormented me all through childhood – calling me names, throwing rocks at me, telling me I was ugly. His mother hired me to babysit her younger children. One day I was babysitting and Ricky came home. He blocked the hallway so I couldn’t get from where I’d just put the little ones down in their bedroom to the front door. I was terrified – he’d been so mean to me for so long I had no idea what he would do. It turned out he was just interested in me because I’d developed breasts. I don’t remember how I got away from him, but I remember running home and never babysitting again.
The third time, I was 18 and at my high school’s all-night graduation party. I don’t remember exactly where the party was held, but there was bowling in part of the building. I went down a darkened hallway to a bathroom and a boy I knew from working on the school newspaper was waiting for me. “Steve” had asked me out multiple times that year and I always refused, using excuses like babysitting, washing my hair, anything I could. My heart was set on another boy, something I’d explained to Steve at least twice. As I exited the restroom, I passed Steve in the hallway, and gave a happy “We’ve graduated!” hello. Apparently that was flirting, because he pinned me up against the wall, started kissing me and shoved his hand up my shirt. I pushed away hard and slapped him so forcefully that he claimed I’d knocked out his contact lens. I bent down, running my hands on the sticky floor trying to find the contact lens while he drunkenly cried “Why don’t you like me?” I have a vague recollection of a friend coming and grabbing me out of the hall, but my friend doesn’t remember it, so I can’t confirm how I left that encounter.
The fourth time, I was almost 21 years old – it was in the late fall – and my mother had died the prior spring. I hadn’t been doing well. Unlike Brett Kavanaugh who confessed that he really liked beer and frequently participated in under-age drinking (future blog: WHERE THE HECK WERE ALL THE PARENTS???), I didn’t drink until that night. I don’t remember who lived in the house I was at. I know I was drinking cheap, sparkling red wine. I know I was drunk because when I needed the bathroom I couldn’t walk very well. The bathroom was in the basement. There was a guy playing pool in the basement. I don’t remember if he was alone and I had never met him. I remember stumbling. He reached out and caught me; I remember thinking briefly that this was polite. I smiled and said thank you. He hoisted me onto the pool table, laying me down, and started pulling off my jeans. I remember he was working quickly. I was so drunk I couldn’t fight. I remember another girl coming down the stairs (I hope I thanked her at some point). She ran full steam at the guy, body slamming him away from me. I remember her helping me off the pool table. I don’t remember how I got home or if I stayed there that night.
The fifth time, I was 21 and at a day-long Hawaiian party at a fraternity. I remember feeling special that I got invited to a frat party. I remember walking there at about noon, but I don’t remember the name of the frat. I remember my date asking me to come to his room so we could listen to music. I remember him asking me if I wanted to try cocaine and me saying I didn’t do drugs. I remember walking to his bedroom window and looking outside – it was on the second floor – and thinking the view was nice. He grabbed me from behind, turned me around and started kissing me so violently that my lips were crushed against my teeth. I distinctly remember running down a street away from the frat, but I don’t remember how I got out of the room.
The sixth and final time was in December of 1981. An older professor – I’d guess early 50s – lived next door to my roommates and me. He had a girlfriend who came over every so often, and I vaguely remember him talking about having a couple teenage children, although I never saw them. He helped one of my roommates replace her car battery. He loaned us flashlights when our power went out, and, once when I was really sick and couldn’t make a final, he contacted my forestry professor and proctored the exam for me at home. In return, we baked him cookies at Christmas.
We lived next to him for a year and when I was graduating, it seemed absolutely natural that he’d ask me out for a happy hour to celebrate. He knew I was meeting my boyfriend at 6:30, so he said we could meet at 5:15. We had chicken wings and I ordered a glass of white wine. He told the waiter to bring me a rusty nail instead, a drink I’d never heard of. “You need to really celebrate!” he said, putting the drink in front of me. It tasted awful, but I drank it because I thought it would be rude not to. At 6 p.m. I said I had to go meet my boyfriend and we walked out to our cars. I unlocked my car and turned to say goodbye. He pushed me against the car and started French kissing me. I had one overwhelming thought, which was: “YUCK! HE’S SO OLD!” I shoved him away and said, “You have a girlfriend!” I will never forget his reply: “So?” I do not remember the exact date. I do not remember the restaurant we went to. I don’t remember his name, but I could pick him out of a lineup.
I do not think my litany of attempted assaults is much different from most women in my generation. And I don’t think it is odd that I don’t remember all the details of each encounter. What readers should notice is that in the cases where I knew the assailant well, I either remember his name or would recognize his face. I don’t remember how I got to certain places, where those places were, or how I got home. What I remember – what most survivors remember – is the violation. Memories of these violations make mothers send our daughters (but not our sons) to college with mace and give lectures about never going to the bathroom without a girlfriend, never setting your drink down at a party, and how to hold your car keys between your fingers like a weapon. Who are we trying to protect them from? Other girls or women?
A former editor of mine, a man, used to randomly say, “All men are pigs.” I would argue with him because, in spite of the history above, I also had great male friends (Hi, Tim! Hi, Scott! Hi, Brian!) who protected me from bad decisions at times, am married to a very woke man, and I worked hard to raise my sons as feminists. And I also know that not all women are innocent in the world of romantic/sexual relations (that’s an entire blog post of its own) and that not all attempted sexual contact is an assault. Sometimes, it’s just misreading the situation and as long as the man (or woman) stops at “No” then there’s no harm.
That said, we do better when we know better and surely after the past two weeks of he said/she said and the past year of #metoo, we know better. So, let’s do better with all the young men in our lives, beginning when they are toddlers, helping them have empathy and respect for all people. Let’s avoid the “boys will be boys” excuses. Let’s challenge it when our sons say things like, “Girls can’t….” because that statement is the beginning of boys thinking girls are less than them. Let’s teach the idea of consent, teaching our boys that they should ask any girl before they kiss her – much less anything else. And, for heaven’s sake, let’s not emulate a president who encourages the habit of making fun of women who have the guts to step forward.