What’s changed in the 27 years since Anita Hill’s hearings? Victims of sexual assault finally have a platform to share our stories, and we will not be silenced.
In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, a Supreme Court seat on the bench is open and waiting. We know what the GOP leadership wants to do, and why. Trouble is, the guy who wants that seat stands accused of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Sounds eerily familiar, if you recall Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas. But there’s a key difference and it has to do with how many people recognize the possibility that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth, and what the GOP are doing to shut that conversation down.
Last November, in response to Al Franken’s departure from the Senate, I wrote Achilles’ Heel…. In my article, I alluded to several incidents in my past that all the press and social media posts brought to the surface.
I suggest that if you’re sensitive to reading about assault, now’s a good time to go read the comics, because I’m about to drop a bunch of truth bombs and I’m not pulling many punches.
This morning, I responded to a post on a friend’s Facebook wall, because I saw this comment:
A: I have trust issues with [Christine Blasey Ford’s] story, but I agree that the crude humor and harassment is just wrong.
Me: Let’s unpack that, shall we? Why don’t you trust her? I remember, quite clearly, being groped at my cousins’ house by the family friend, and afterwards being told by my cousins “that’s S.” (They neglected to tell me why they avoided him until after the incident.) Three girl cousins and me. I was 12 at the time. 42 years ago.
Some things you never forget.
A: lack of details and timing are my two biggest issues.
Plus if we believe accusations without proof what is to stop a person from lying just to ruin a person? Case in point the Duke university lacrosse players. Or the young man who had a promising football career ruined because of a false allegation.
So, let’s see if I’ve got this right. It’s okay to vilify a woman for declaring that she was attacked, respond with death threats and harm TODAY, all because a man has a right to a job.
Furthermore, let’s not investigate because it’s more important to put this man on the Supreme Court bench for a lifetime appointment than it is to actually investigate her claims. Because he’s trustworthy. Must be. He’s a man.
Yeah, not buying it.
Helaine Olen (@helaineolen) wrote on Twitter:
I want to take a moment, now that Christine Blasey Ford has come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of assaulting her in high school, to talk about Gen X teens and sex.
Olen lays out the whole picture of what life was like in the 1980s. I strongly suggest reading her entire thread, because it’s cogent to the era in which Kavanaugh’s attack occurred, and context for what’s coming below.
It took almost three decades for me to recognize assault for what it was, and to label it as such. Aside from the incident above, which happened over four decades ago, let me describe several additional instances, with three different men, in context. What date they happened I can only outline roughly, because of the events that surrounded them. That they occurred? There’s no question, but there are also no witnesses.
Pure he said, she said.
But first some history, for context.
In the ’80s, in some circles and encouraged by John Hughes movies and the era of sexual relaxation, that followed the Sexual Revolution, it wasn’t so much a race to lose one’s virginity as it was a hurdle to get past. By the time I hit college in 1981, barriers like waiting for marriage to have sex had largely disappeared.
I was theoretically an adult and in control of my destiny, so naive and willing to buy in to the narrative that free love was still okay as long as we were responsible and didn’t get pregnant or catch VD.
So in my Junior year, when my best female friend suggested that it was time for me to lose my virginity, I went right along with her. (Same friend had made a valiant attempt at getting me to use recreational drugs, but that attempt failed spectacularly because I was a noob. And that’s just as well, really.)
In hindsight, the experience was as underwhelming as it was bizarre. She and her guy were on the bed in the guy’s apartment. I was on the floor with his friend. Was it consensual? Yep. Acceptable? If you weren’t a prude.
I was trying not to be a prude.
We’ll circle back to this event shortly, but let’s leave it here for now. You know what you need to about what came next.
It wasn’t like I was sleeping with every guy I met. Rather the opposite, in fact. Being a straight theatre major in a tight knit department didn’t leave me with a lot of opportunities. Most of the straight guys were already taken, anyway. Besides, I was too busy living the Theatre Major Life ™ and playing Dungeons and Dragons. We’ll skip past most of that failed attempt at a sexual awakening and move on to post-graduate me.
The First Incident:
I was still living at my dad’s house. That puts it sometime between fall of 1985 and spring of 1986. If it was spring, I was 22 and the kid was 18. I’d just graduated the previous May from college.
We’d been seeing each other for a while, and had already corrected the lukewarm sexual experience I described above. We were out on a date, and somehow the conversation drifted into marriage. It was pouring rain and the roads were slick.
I wasn’t driving, and I realize it must have been a distracting conversation in hindsight, because not long after that, we got into a car accident. He hit the car that was waiting to turn. Big car made a big dent. I don’t remember how I got home, but I wasn’t injured in the impact. This was long, long before cellphones, so someone’s dad had to get called.
Some number of days later (the next day, maybe?) I was home alone. Dad was still at work, but it was late enough that he could have come home at any moment. My sister was at college, so it was just me in the house.
I went to answer the door. Thought it was weird for the kid to show up unannounced. I soon found myself in my bedroom with him. He had his pants down and was on top of me before I could stop him. I remember saying Dad might be home at any minute. It didn’t matter. He finished, pulled up his pants, and left without saying another word.
From that moment until long after I moved to Maryland, we didn’t speak. I saw him a couple of times when I was at the library, where I worked. He ignored me completely.
I had no words then for what happened. He didn’t hit me. He may not even remember the incident at all.
But I do.
The Second Incident:
I was still 22. The scene: The Atlanta Hilton, sometime between August 28 and September 1, 1986.
I’d just moved down to Maryland from home, and within a couple of weeks, was attending my fist ever World Science Fiction Convention. I’d packed all the costumes I had, so that I could make a good show of it in the halls during the con. (Costuming as a character remains a feature of these events, if you’re not familiar.)
One of my garments included a gauzy chemise with long full white sleeves, which I generally wore underneath another dress, but it was relatively late at night and I was roaming the halls without the overdress because I wanted to be comfortable. I don’t recall why I was roaming the halls at the time. I often suffered from insomnia, and it’s possible I was looking for something to do while I waited to get sleepy.
I encountered this guy I knew from a group of costumers who I’d met the year before when I competed for the first time, in Baltimore. We were in a stairwell in what was then referred to as the Geiger Marriot because its interior atrium resembled a Geiger painting.
We got to talking. And then we did more than talking. His mouth was on mine and his fingers went under my dress. My knees buckled. He stayed clothed, but I got to orgasm. Apparently he knew exactly the right buttons to push.
We parted company, but I thought of the experience as…well…I don’t know what I thought. I was tired.
Eventually I went to bed. Alone.
Weeks passed, and then I got a phone call from this guy. He was in town, checking out a job, and wanted to meet me for dinner. I accepted his invitation.
Over the course of dinner it became apparent that he expected an invitation back to my house. When we got there, thankfully, the rest of my housemates were elsewhere. He told me he thought I would make an excellent candidate for an affair. He was unhappy in his marriage, you see, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to be his mistress.
He was around my age, I think, or maybe a little older. I told him no. He could come back to me when he was divorced. I wasn’t interested in doing that sort of thing, and if I’d known he was married in the first place, we’d never have done anything at the hotel, either.
Flat out denial. He never contacted me after that, and I stopped seeing him in connection with the group he was hanging with, so the subject never came up again.
The Third Incident:
It was the summer of 1999. I’d been married for over two years, after living with the guy for six years, so we were well established as a couple.
I was working at a small computer services company that’s now defunct. The company had three owners, and was largely distributed, with a main office in the basement of the house two of the owners shared. In general, the owners had relaxed views of things like clothing and sex.
Really relaxed. In addition to its general sites, the company also hosted several adult entertainment sites.
One day I went to the office and one of the owners met me at the door, entirely devoid of clothing.
I’m not kidding.
While I worked there, my husband wound up taking a five-month trip to Texas to retrain for a different position with the National Guard. Because of travel costs and trouble finding someone to sublet, I opted to stay home in Maryland and work out of my home office.
I don’t remember why I needed the boxes. It’s hardly relevant to the story, except…the third owner offered to loan me some of his, which were left over in the attic from his move into his current house. I accepted the offer on good faith and went to his house after work hours to collect the boxes from him.
He met me at the door, in a black leather vest and pants. I could see his pierced nipples. He wasn’t wearing a shirt.
Once he got the boxes down from the attic, we got into a conversation. It was a lot like the event at the hotel in 1986, but with two key differences: This guy was one of my bosses and I was married.
He approached me, reached up my skirt and past my underwear.
Again, my knees buckled.
When I left his house, shaken, with the boxes in hand, I vowed not to go back there again. Did I report it? To whom? My word against his.
Who was I going to tell about it? The owner who met me at the door stark naked? My husband?
Shortly after that, my husband returned home, and not long after that I determined that it was time to launch my own company. I made damn sure not to go back to his house again, and that any time I met with anyone at the main office, I wasn’t the first to arrive and I was never alone.
Why these stories are important:
Why did my body react the way it did if that’s not what I wanted? Why do these stories keep triggering my memories, decades after the fact?
Here (from the NY Times):
Why Sexual Assault Memories Stick
Christine Blasey Ford says she has a vivid memory of an attack that took place when she was 15. That makes sense.
Turns out my brain and body were doing exactly what they’re programmed to do.
Remember that incident above? The one where I went out of my way to lose my virginity? I encountered the guy on the bed at a party the Christmas following that incident. I got caught in a room with him sitting right next to me.
You know that whole “fight/freeze” thing? Absolutely dead on. He started stroking my neck and…well, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. My friend blamed me for acting the way I did. Didn’t hold him accountable at all. And there was nothing I could do to explain what happened or why, because I didn’t know that’s what your body does, whether you like it or not.
Now, thanks to Anthony Kennedy’s cowardly departure from the Supreme Court and Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, all those things that made me remember these incidents back in November are right back in the news again, and I can’t stop thinking about these incidents again.
They crowd out all the other things I’m supposed to be concentrating on, because I want to review in my head what I did wrong.
It’s not possible for me to check the feed on Facebook or Twitter without hearing about it, not possible for me to read what’s on friends’ walls without reliving these incidents again. At no time was there actual violence, other than the acts themselves. No bruises. No broken bones, no threats to my life.
My body did what it needed to do.
When a recent relationship went from “let’s hang together” to “Netflix and Chill” (which I now understand far better than I did before that relationship started…and ended…three years ago), I knew it had to stop.
I know I can’t trust my body to do the right thing, and this is not the time for me to start another relationship with anyone. So I’m living the solo life, because that’s the safest way for me to protect myself. At least for now.
We hear all about these things now, because social media is available. With the onset of #BlackLivesMatter and the growing awareness of violence against unarmed people of color by armed cops with an ax to grind and a trigger finger, made possible because everyone has a camera in their pocket.
The #MeToo movement is possible because we have a social media structure that allows us to share our stories, and we are starting to understand the scope and depths of the problem, the whisper networks, the nudges and warnings, made possible because hundreds of thousands of women and men are coming out, telling us we’re not alone.
But what message are we giving our kids, with every one of these social media posts?
On Facebook, Emily Holmes wrote:
Right now, all over the country, teenage girls are waking up to newsfeeds full of posts written by adults in their lives that say teenage boys attempting to rape them is “just how boys are” and “they can’t help themselves” and “they grow out of it” and “it was just a little harmless fun.”
Think about what that must be doing to them.
And when you’re done thinking about that, imagine all the teenage boys reading the same thing.
She’s right, of course. This mess is dredging up a lot of ugliness and without context, the message is awful.
About that. I looked up the Maryland statute. Based on the wording, Ford probably doesn’t have a case. Which, frankly, sucks.
Why draw the line at 14 years old? What’s the difference between 14 and 17, when someone is assaulted in this way? Oh, right. Because until fairly recently, 15 year-old kids could get married in the state, and once you’re married, such attacks are Just Fine (at least in some people’s eyes, most notably the pious Right).
Just in case you’re wondering:
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for The Judicial Crisis Network, a GOP think-tank funded by dark money, recently told a reporter on CNN that what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford described, even if it was true (which Kavanaugh vehemently denies), was “merely rough horseplay.” Imagine.
No, on second thought, don’t.
I can’t tell you which articles to read on the subject, but I can tell you this: After forcing Al Franken to resign over a photograph, there’s simply no excuse here.
I don’t care if Kavanaugh is lying. I don’t care if he’s telling the truth, that he doesn’t remember. Hell, if he was on as much alcohol as reports seem to indicate, it’s possible, likely even, that he can’t actually remember the party he and Mark Judge attended that night.
It’s possible she was only one of any number of young women. So many, in fact, he can’t keep straight which girl he might have attacked where or when. Anyone who belonged to an organization entitled charmingly enough “Tit and Clit” ought to recognize the behavior as inappropriate, apologize, and be contrite.
Kavanaugh has done none of these things.
To those who’ve made it this far, I’m sorry if what I’ve said made you uncomfortable. Perhaps you’re one of the ones described above or you think you know who the men are. It’s conceivable. My social circles in the past tended toward some fairly “interesting” sexual practices and while I’ve skirted that world, I’ve never jumped in with both feet. I used to describe myself as “fudge ripple” because it seemed to make the most sense. I wouldn’t use that term today, at all.
I haven’t had a lot of sexual partners. It’s relatively easy to remember all of them, and which instances were consensual. I didn’t get married until I was 33, and it would be a lie to suggest I was celibate prior to that marriage. I did what a lot of women did in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
I knew every one of the men who did these things, except for the very first, who knew my cousins’ family.
Some might say that these incidents were the price I had to pay for doing something that was considered normal.
I beg to differ.
To those of you who might be coming at this from a similar perspective and are unhappy, who know what it’s like to be treated as a sex toy, a punching bag, or worse, I’m sorry. I hear you.
I realize that I’m lucky, and things could have been much, much worse.
Would I do things differently, given the opportunity? I don’t know.
What do you think?