Like many women in America, I find myself disturbed by the Kavanaugh hearings. I’ve been in a state of unrest this week, watching but not really watching, reading online reactions and commentary, listening to the voices of women telling stories of assault and suppression. Of course, I, too, have a story. In fact there are more than one. Every woman I know has more than one and usually, they vary in degree. The friend of your father’s who squeezed your waist too long, the creepy man who flashed you in college, the night you were angrily accosted when you wouldn’t dance with someone in a bar.
I suppose if these things can be measured (they shouldn’t be), then a very memorable story happened when I was 19 or 20, following a friend’s wedding, at the reception held at her parents’ house. It was a set-up, a friend of her groom’s whom she thought I might like. I didn’t, actually, but he pursued me throughout the festivities and so, after a long day and evening and with the encouragement of alcohol and whatever else propelled me into these situations as a young adult, I left with him. Things were sort of rough from the start and pretty quickly, I changed my mind. He became angry, rougher. And at some point I made the decision (I made the decision, I’ve always thought) that it would be easier to just finish the sexual encounter than to try to get out of it. And so I did. The feelings of that night stayed with me for a long time, and then they faded. The feelings weren’t things like outrage or powerlessness; they were things like shame, embarrassment and disappointment with myself.
Now I’ll be honest, completely honest, because I think the situation calls for it, calls for all of us to lay our cards on the table if we have any chance of fixing the fucked-up-ed-ness we’re currently in. If I’m honest, when I first heard about Dr. Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, I felt sort of bad for him. He was seventeen, I thought. It was one time, I thought. Who is this woman, I thought. Nothing really happened, I thought. I told you — I’m being honest. Like so many of his supporters do now, early on, I immediately took the stance of trying to make excuses for him, trying to maneuver around the truth of his wrongdoing, to find a way to let him off the hook for it. I immediately placed the event on some sort of scale, where his youth was weighed against her seeming inability to just get on with it.
This year, I’ve been going through a divorce. This, of course, factors into the stew of #metoo feelings I’m having which have come to a boiling point this week, watching all of these women, all of us, the anguish, the hurt, the we’ve-had-enough-rage of it, I am brought back, again, to a tweet the author Carmen Maria Machado posted months ago. I can’t tell you how many times I have sought out my screenshot of this tweet for further contemplation. She wrote: “Today, please meditate on how easily we accept women’s pain as collateral damage in men’s self-discovery.”
And for “self-discovery” insert: “wrongdoing,” or “violence,” or “weakness,” or “incapacity,” or whatever you’d like. When we categorize these stories of assault, put them on some sort of Richter scale of degree and effect, making caveats for this action, that reaction, his problems, her problems — it misses the point entirely. None of it should happen. We women are trained early on to navigate around men, to minimize their excesses and maximize their lacks, to call them to task on things like putting the toilet seat down or remembering our anniversary but when our needs aren’t getting met, well then, honey, you need to look inside because most likely, there’s some work on yourself that needs to be done. Pick up any women’s magazine and you can find the help you need.
This is trivial, I realize, when discussing assault in its many agonizing and often physically violent forms. But even with violent acts, too often our stance begins with looking at the woman and not fully, squarely, into the face of the man. I’ve been guilty of that myself, even when the woman was me.
This is why women are angry/hysterical/crying/yelling/remembering their stories now. It’s for the catcalls on empty streets, that friendly neighbor on whose lap we were forced to sit, those innocuous remarks about the dress we wore to work. It’s for the many times we felt our bodies were not our own, entirely and without debate or equivocation. It’s for those situations that maybe were date rape (in any case, we weren’t comfortable but let’s face it, we got ourselves into it) and for those that definitely were. Let’s just agree it’s for rape, all sorts of rape. It’s for domestic violence and abuse, and for any time even someone we loved made us feel at fault for his problem, or less than, or afraid, or asserted any sort of power over us because he could, as a man. It’s for bullshit representations of women and relationships we watch on television, movies, porn. This is the time. Suddenly, we women are looking at each other, hearing each other, realizing that this working around men has to stop, and the way to stop it is to bring every woman into the fold, no matter what exactly has happened to her or how she handled it, because she’s not the problem. No longer can we thoughtlessly accept women’s pain or hold them to standards we so easily let men skirt.
As we have been thoroughly trained, maybe this last time, we can start by looking within, and letting ourselves off the hook. This is not something to work around. We don’t have to anymore. I’ll try if you will. Let’s try together.