It’s been interesting over the past few days to observe friends and family members attack those of us who chose to exercise our constitutional right to march Saturday. One person called marchers “vile,” “filthy,” and “disgusting” while another called marchers “dumbasses” and said we need to “wake the hell up.”
Of me personally, someone claimed I was “out of control.”
The truth is, in separating the attempt at shame from the message and looking at what was said literally, they’re not wrong about me.
I am out of control. More accurately, I am out of anyone else’s control.
This is a new place in my life. I have the peace and comfort of knowing I am making decisions based upon my values, rather than fear or coercion being levied by another person.
In response to other accusations around my morals and beliefs, I’ve decided to utilize a little of my energy to share why I marched, what values I hold dear, and why this march resonated with me on a very deep personal level.
*As a side note, this is not an invitation for well-intentioned family and friends to attempt conversion to their agenda. Rude comments and anything argumentative will be deleted.*
In fact, if you feel so inclined, instead please unfollow or unfriend me. I won’t be silenced, I won’t be converted and I’m not opening my values and decisions to debate.
That being said, I love you. I love every one of you and if any of you needed me tomorrow I would do everything within my power to be there for you. My love for you transcends our differing beliefs and party lines. While I hope the love I have for you is reciprocated, I respect that it may not be. That decision is your right, just as sustaining my values is mine.
I’ve long observed that going through counseling is one of the best investments a person can make for their health and happiness. I’ve not met anyone who didn’t need a little. Lately I’ve been working with a wonderful counselor (pm for recommendations) who has helped me determine that the four main values I hold dear are kindness, wisdom, honesty, and peacefulness.
I use these values as the compass by which to measure my decision making. I am human and understand that at times I may make mistakes. However, keeping these values at the helm of my everyday life has served me well. It is through these values that I’ve come to many of my beliefs and political stances. Which leads me to why I marched Saturday.
I marched for justice and to exercise my right to stand up against what I have experienced as the marginalization of many people in our country.
The recent presidential election grabbed my attention in a way that none has before. Each day I was startled by the comments I would hear on both sides. As an independent voter, I typically hang back and learn as much as I can about all parties before coming to a decision. However, during this election one statement that I heard a candidate make stood out for me far more than any other. I never would have imagined a presidential candidate would say with his own voice that he would ‘grab a woman by the pussy.’
It wasn’t a reporting from a biased reporter. It wasn’t a second hand report from an antagonizer who didn’t like him.
It was his voice.
More than any other statement made on either side of the election, this stood out to me. It stood out to me because I’ve had it happen. I’ve felt the fear of having a stranger touch me without my consent in the most intimate of places. This complete stranger decided to violate me on a train.
For the conservative amongst us who might be jumping to clarifying questions like (did you ask for it? What were you wearing? Why did you place yourself in a position of letting this happen?) my response is it shouldn’t matter. I did nothing wrong. I was taking my young son on a train ride for his birthday. Like so many children, he was a huge Thomas the Train fan. I was incredibly ashamed of my post child bearing body at the time, so I was wearing a baggy sweater and baggy pants in the hopes of covering it up. And if I had been wearing a mini skirt and no bra, it still wouldn’t have been ok for this person to do what he did! My son needed to go potty, so we made our way through the crowded cars towards a bathroom. There were people behind us and people in front of us. As folks attempted to make their way through the narrow aisle back to their seats from the bathroom, my son and I, along with several others stepped into the side aisles amongst the legs of other passengers. I looked around the car and noticed that I was the only woman in sight. I also noticed that all of the passengers on this train car seemed to be traveling together. It was a very large group of men, they all seemed to be enjoying varying degrees of intoxication. I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable at the realization that I was a lone woman surrounded by drunken men, when one of them looked up at me and smiled. Instinctively I smiled in return. (In case you’re wondering, when I smile at someone, it is not intended to be a pussy grabbing invitation.) In fact, I often smile as a nervous response. Then he leaned forward and told me my son was cute I responded “Thank you.” He than sat up closer and said “I told my friends I was going to do this to the next woman who stepped in here,” he glanced down at my son, and then grabbed me between the legs from behind. As I felt this violation, his hand grabbing me hard and pulling on my genitals, my mind went into a frenzy. Thoughts flooded through it at a rate so fast that I couldn’t slow down enough to. focus on any single one. The thoughts ranged from “run away…there’s no room to move…hit him…I wonder if he’ll rape me…there are so many men here… they could all rape me… what if they hurt my son…how will we get out… my son is ok he hasn’t noticed…. I can’t believe this is happening… I can’t get away… what should I do….there’s no room to move….” Just as these thoughts zoomed through my mind, space cleared for out for my son and I to move back into the main aisle. I looked back at the man, I looked right into his eyes and he smiled back at me and high fived his buddy sitting next to him. I’ll never forget his wrinkled face, his short cropped salt and pepper hair, or the look of filthy delight in his smile. He looked like someone my grandpa might have known and been friends with, yet he’d just assaulted me.
At this time in my life I bought into the teaching that my husband was the head of our home. I was a total believing Mormon. I had been taught and covenanted in a temple. The belief was that my husband had authority over me. In Mormonism the words “patriarch of the home” and “righteous dominion” are often used to describe husbands. Women who are asked about how they feel about not being able to hold the priesthood often joke that they “hold it every night” insinuating that they hold the priesthood in the form of their husbands.
In that moment of being assaulted by a complete stranger, I felt an overwhelming need to get back to my husband. I viewed him as my protector. And at that time, I believed if I could get back to him, he would know what to do and set things right again. I know now that the onus of setting things right is truly on the shoulders of my attacker. I also know now, that I had response-ability to make sure justice was served.
Possibly the most upsetting salt in the wounds of this fresh attack came when my son and I moved to the back of the train and realized that it wasn’t a bathroom at all. It was a lookout area. Disgruntled and horrified by what had happened, I led my antsy three year old back through the gauntlet of men to our seats in the front car.
I sat down and told my husband at the time that a man had touched me inappropriately. His initial response was a question and accusation at the same time “What were you doing?!” I felt shame wash over me as I explained the way that it had happened, the things the man said, and the demographic of people in that particular car. And then I felt surprise as I looked at him awaiting a response and saw fear in his eyes. I don’t know what his remembrance of that experience is. I don’t know how he views it now with less emotionally invested eyes. What I do know, is that in that moment of telling him, he cycled through anger towards me, anger towards the man, and fear and frustration that he knew something needed to be done, but didn’t have the courage to do it. To be fair, neither did I.
In that moment, what I ardently needed was an advocate. I needed someone to stand up for me in my shock riddled state and tell me that I deserved better. I needed a partner and a supporter. I needed someone to hold strong and stalwart in defense of me while I processed through the grief and shame I was feeling. I did not receive that support.
Actually, a more liberal friend who was with us made an attempt to incite anger in me. I recognize now that she was hoping to get me to be my own advocate. She said “If you’re not going to report this, you must have liked it.” I realize she was attempting to use anger to provoke me to action, but it backfired. I experienced the fight or flight, racing of thoughts, and frozen unable to speak experience of the assault all over again. I sat next to my husband and watched the conductor of the train walk by several times while we sat in silence.
My son asked me why it took 9 years for me to share this experience with him. Actually, it took me 9 years to share this with anyone who wasn’t on the train with me that day. In considering his question, I now realize that it took me 9 years and hearing a presidential candidate saying he likes to commit the same offense that was incurred against me for me to recognize how much it impacted me. Perhaps I waited 9 years to reach a level of consciousness that allowed me to see and understand all of the connections and multifaceted aspects of an attack like this.
So when asked why I marched, my response is this: I marched for justice. I marched for the the justice I should have sought out that day on the train. I marched for the justice I hope my daughter will seek if she has a situation like that one. I marched for the justice I hope my son pursues if he or a partner are faced with that kind of attack. I marched for strangers who stood in solidarity with me that day because they’ve faced the same kinds of experiences, and I marched for my ex (that’s right!) I marched for every partner of someone who’s been sexually assaulted. No one should have to experience violation, and no one should have to go through the trauma of grasping at straws knowing they were powerless while someone they love has been violated. I even marched for women who’ve put similar experiences to the back of their minds and either consciously or unconsciously believe that patriarchy is the safest route for them. I marched for us all in the hopes of making the world a better, safer place for women. Really, I marched to make our world a better, safer place for everyone. At the end of the day, I marched for the justice that I hope with all of my heart others never need.