Sending Strength to All Survivors Today
Yesterday I read Julie Swetkin’s affidavit about Brett Kavanaugh and his high school friends. I was pretty much useless the rest of the day, unable to get the image of a line of boys waiting outside a door to impose themselves on a drunk or drugged girl. Right now I’m on a plane, with the TV in front of my seat turned to CNN, but with the sound off. This is my way of sending strength and power to Dr. Ford, and participating in this historic moment, while also taking care of my heart and my ability to work the rest of the day.
Many other people are having an even harder time. I am one of the few women I know who has not survived a serious sexual assault. I’ve endured plenty of unsolicited groping, the first when I was 13 and a distant family “friend” put his hand on my ass as I walked up some stairs in front of him. The adult I told at the time said that was just his way of being affectionate, so I didn’t bother to tell anyone a couple of years later when a friend of my own put his hand over my left breast without asking. He did it in the cafeteria in front of a bunch of other students while talking about my “perky boobs.” No one said a word. Years later, he turned out to be gay, and I understood that my role at that moment was to be an unwitting door to his closet. I hadn't much training of the "my body, my choice" sort that Megan mentions below, although I do know that my mom tried her best to give me that sense.
I feel absolutely blessed to not have endured worse but I don’t feel entitled to that non-event. Human beings should be able to feel entitled to the integrity of our bodies, but I don’t know a woman in the world who does. Today, that fact makes me feel unbearably sad.
All that is required in this SCOTUS nomination process, or ever, is a real investigation conducted by as impartial a body as it is possible to find. If I were falsely accused of anything, that is the only thing I would want, and the fact that Brett Kavanaugh and the GOP are not demanding and doing this tells me a lot. A SCOTUS nominee prepared by the White House, “investigated” by GOP aides doesn’t even come close.
But I’m looking at Dr. Ford on this little airplane TV, and she is smiling as she prepares to speak. She is only there because so many of us fought. Even our struggle over Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas set the stage for Dr. Ford's actions. Many more of us will be speaking out at solidarity speak outs across the country in front of our senators’ offices. I encourage you to participate in one of these events, if you can, and you can consider this post our own virtual speak out. I’ve posted Megan’s reflection below.
As I finish writing, I’ve decided to turn the sound on.
I remember very clearly the first time I was sexually assaulted. It's strange to feel lucky that I was 19 and not in high school like Christine Blasey Ford and Julie Swetnick. I was traveling in Paris with my boyfriend and his sister. We were waiting to board the Metro on our way to a museum, probably. The train came to a stop, doors opened, people scurried out. Then it was our turn to board. As I stepped off the platform and onto the train, I felt a hand on my behind and then a finger inside me. I remember the feeling of confusion thinking why is my boyfriend doing this and then turning to see a stranger behind me. Then terror.
The train doors closed and that man was standing next to us. I was frozen. I looked straight ahead as the blood left my face. My boyfriend and his sister saw me go pale and started asking me what was wrong. I stood there. Silent. In my mind thoughts were racing at warp speed. I played out what would happen if I told them: my boyfriend would attack this man and then he would go to jail in a country where I didn't speak the language and I wouldn't know what to do. My instinct was to protect him, not myself. Because I didn't think anything would happen to that stranger for violating me other than a beating from my boyfriend.
We arrived at the next stop. The doors opened and the stranger left the train. After the doors closed again, color returned to my face. I relaxed enough to tell them what happened. My boyfriend immediately asked who and wanted to find him, but the stranger was long gone.
In the wake of #MeToo, I've done a lot of reflecting and revisiting of these sexual traumas. Each new story makes me relive my own and at the same time be oddly grateful that mine weren't worse. Most of all I look at my daughter, my niece, my boyfriend's daughter, and feel afraid for the things that I can't control but also immensely hopeful that their experience will be so vastly different than my own. They are being raised in a #MeToo world where rape culture hasn't changed but it's on blast. And one where I hope they will feel empowered to immediately call out predators rather than stay silent, even for one minute. Where they will support their fellow humans to do the same. Almost nothing brings me greater joy than my three-year-old telling me, "my choice, my body!" insisting that I not touch her hair. Those are the moments I hang on to when I'm reading Julie Swetnick's account of gang rapes in high school or rape apologists reactions to Kavanaugh.