CW: My feelings around a certain US Senate confirmation hearing and trauma going back 51 years

Allison Washington
Sep 30, 2018 · 4 min read

Saturday 29 September 2018, Cairo

After the past couple days, the word that I think best describes how I feel is ‘gutted’.

Quite enough has already been said and it is banally redundant for me to add these words to the tsunami of anguish and rage spilling from millions of women today, but I can’t not. I feel poisoned. I’ve tried to look away, but I’m glued to it. I’ve tried to refocus on other things, but the thoughts, the memories, the physical effects, are too intrusive and won’t release me. I can’t sleep through the night. Even from this far side of the planet, even with no personal connection to the unfolding events, the simple fact of the information being broadcast these past two days leaves me with a visceral personal feeling of being violated, of being abused and mocked, discounted and discarded, by men of impunity who have vastly more power than I. Men who, fundamentally, can do whatever they want with women — with me — and not need to care. Or even bother remembering.

I managed to keep myself from watching the testimony itself — I knew I had to or I’d be wrecked with fury — but I read descriptions, written by observers, of other women as they watched the testimony, of their reactions — women sitting on trains in tears, shaking, women standing still in public, glued to their phones, faces red, jaws clenched — and in some ways this was worse than witnessing the testimony itself. Instead of reacting to what was happening, I was responding to how other women were reacting; like somehow intimately knowing another’s personal trauma without ever having heard them tell it.

Because, I am quite certain, what they are going through is exactly what I’m going through.

It’s like a massive replay. The first time I was sexually assaulted was 51 years ago, the most recent less than six months. I do not actually know how many times I’ve been assaulted in-between those two events (where is the line between harassment and assault? If we count being grabbed or groped, then my assaults are uncountable). But the most extreme assaults — the kind that should easily merit a prison sentence — number an additional four, and there were four more times that I was quite sure my life and body were in imminent danger, but which I escaped.

If that seems like a lot, it is. But those who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to be assaulted again. And my story is far from exceptional.

I am somehow certain that the men responsible thought they were ‘just having a bit of fun’. It is entirely likely that what they did to me was so unremarkable that they have no recall of the events. Unfortunately, my memory of every one of these ten major events (and many of the lesser ones as well) is crystal clear. Well, portions of the events are crystal clear: trauma memories do not record all surrounding context, but certain frames are preserved with brutal clarity. That women’s trauma is so inconsequential as to be hardly worth remembering, much less believed or bothered about…this is perhaps the most defeating aspect of this whole she-said he-said debacle.

I am shaking as I write this.

I realise that in framing this as men vs women I am stepping into a minefield, but in terms of the dynamic on display these past two days, I’m going to insist on it. This is absolutely about men vs women, about the incredible double-standard on display, about the vast chasm between who gets respected, trusted, honoured, believed, promoted, and who does not, between who must maintain decorum at all times and who can let rip without consequence, between whose life is valued and whose is not. The men having their bit of fun matter, their lives matter, their jobs matter, my catastrophically shattered life does not. It is a ‘conversation’ wherein he shouts at her, and she must listen meekly or suffer further consequences of his actions. Men rarely need to concern themselves about consequences, women get nothing but consequences.

In the past two days, this message has been broadcast very, very clearly. This message has not changed or diminished in my lifetime, and I do not expect it to now. #WhyIDidntReport, even once: because I knew better. I got the message.

In conversation with a friend yesterday, I said —

‘I wonder who I would have been had he not done that to me?’

Who. The significance did not strike me until later.

Who?

I don’t know, but I am somehow certain that I would have been a very different person, with a better life, if he had just left me alone. If he had not had his ‘bit of fun’ with me.

And I probably wouldn’t be shaking right now.

Allison Washington is a journalist and essayist based in Cairo. Her details are at AllisonWashington.net. Find her Letters from Cairo on Patreon.

Athena Talks

A hub of conversation to help young women mature, budding professionals become leaders and leaders become advocates for equality.

Allison Washington

Written by

Journalist & essayist. Reporting from Cairo.

Athena Talks

A hub of conversation to help young women mature, budding professionals become leaders and leaders become advocates for equality.

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