Yes, This Woman, Too

Wow. I cannot even begin to describe the busyness that has overcome our household. Having Maggie finishing up her junior year, Steven finishing up 7th grade and Will & Henry finishing up their school years has made for an incredibly insane April & May. Plus, I am indescribably tired, so by the time I have the time to blog, all I want to do is do something utterly mindless – like just play Pioneer Trail where I don’t have to think, I just have to click.

I’ve been taking pictures like a fiend – Maggie’s musical, end-of-the-year events, prom, graduation. I have hundreds of pictures that I’ve nearly finished processing and then need to upload to Snapfish so people can get them if they choose. I’m also working on a scrapbook project for some friends here & there.

Something else that’s been taking up space in my brain lately has been all the stuff around the current events that really focused on the rampant misogyny in our world. Of course, we all heard about the jackass (and I say jackass because, mental illness notwithstanding, to anyone who feels that it’s okay to kill people because women won’t have sex with you? Jackass is the politest term I can come up with to refer to you) in Santa Barbara who lost his damn mind and decided that he deserved to kill people because no one would sex him. This is one small story in an endless tome of stories that involve women being not just kept down, not just ignored, not just belittled, but AFRAID FOR THEIR LIVES.

Bo-gw20IAAE5ts-All my life, I’ve been schooled on how to live my life in a way that will protect me. Reading books on how to behave responsibly, how to make wise choices so that I won’t be the victim of violence. I learned that it was my responsibility to dress in a way that wouldn’t cause others to look at me “that way”. Learning how to not put myself in situations that might lead to something bad happening to me. Hearing people talk about “what she was wearing” or how “she was wasted” and how that excused an attack made on her. Very rarely would I hear, read, see anything about how none of that mattered. How it didn’t matter what she wore, how she talked, how much she drank, where she was walking or the fact that she stayed at the party after her friend left. The FACT is that all that mattered was that another human being DECIDED to be violent/unwanted/assaultive with her. As if she had had one fewer drink, that douchbag wouldn’t have raped her. As if she were AT ALL at fault for HIS decision to do whatever he wanted.

As a woman, we can never fully express how it feels to live our lives like this. How we must constantly look at every situation and assess whether or not it presents danger to us. Whether we can run away in these shoes. Whether the drink poured for us is safe. Whether we can go to our car after work safely. EVERYTHING we do has this undercurrent running through it. And if, God forbid, something were to happen, our first thought is to blame ourselves. We shouldn’t have been there. We shouldn’t have parked there. Men will never understand this, because they can’t understand it.

And, what’s worse is when we do bring it up in mixed company, we are bound to hear “not all men…” Well, duh. How stupid do you think we are? We KNOW “not all men”. But, you know what? THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU. For once, just once, shut the hell up about yourself and LISTEN. Hear what we women are saying. WE ARE NOT SAFE. We are not comfortable. We are not confident living in the world with men. Because the question is ALWAYS in our mind.

“If I say something he doesn’t like, will he hit me?”

“This guy is standing awfully close….”

And now we get to add “if I turn him down, will he come back and kill me?”

The fear of violence is always there. Young girls are taught to avoid being alone with men, teenage girls are taught what’s on the mind of teenage boys and strategies to avoid bad outcomes, college girls are taught to go out in groups and have a “sober sister” and to carry products that identify date rape drugs. Adult single women are encouraged not to live alone or to get a dog. We give our young adult female loved ones rape whistles and pepper spray. Grown women like me are nervous whenever a man comes into their home – from the plumber to the cable guy to the mail carrier – because not only are we afraid something might happen RIGHT NOW, but we also worry that something was done and they will come back later to get us. We look for exits when we go places, we look for possible weapons if we get uncomfortable, we’re scared to be alone with someone we’ve started dating. The FACT is that the single greatest danger a woman can face is violence from men.

And we can’t even speak up because then we get to hear things that range from, “f*cking bitch” to “if I see you I will rape you”. Yes. This stuff happens. Every. Single. Day. Women who call misogynist men out on their bullshit are called names, sent death threats, sent rape threats. It’s happening right now as women take refuge behind the #YesAllWomen Twitter movement that’s happening. People write blogs like this one and are attacked in droves – and the threat of rape is so easily thrown about.

But let me tell you why #YesAllWomen is important to me. In 1986, I was a freshman in college. I was an alcoholic. I admit that up front because I own it. I went to parties and I drank way too much. I often ended up in situations I shouldn’t have. I take responsibility for that. But it doesn’t excuse what someone CHOSE to do with that.

One particular night, I was at a party with dorm mates. I was drunk – trashed, in fact. What I do remember is doing a lot of dancing. And that there were a lot of freshmen there. But I did notice and remember this one guy who was an upperclassman. He had been one of the freshmen counselors – upperclassmen who acted as mentors & guides to the incoming freshmen and ran “Freshman Camp”. He was a really big guy – taller than me and quite fat. But he was one of those guys that everybody thought was great.

I don’t remember much else about the party. At some point, I must have left with him because I remember walking down a residential street to a house. Inside that house, this “great guy” assaulted me. I won’t go into detail. What he did was not technically rape. But it was gross, humiliating and unwanted. AND I SAID NO. While it was happening, I said no. Many times. When he was done, he threw me a towel and made it very clear that he was done with me. I was left to find my way back to my dorm, alone, in the middle of the night, still drunk. Afterwards, everyone still thought he was a great guy.

When I’d see him – which I would because it was a small school –  would clench up and panic a bit. But I never talked about it. For nearly 30 years, I haven’t talked about this. I dismissed it as MY FAULT. I was drunk. Too drunk to make it stop (as if I could have stopped him sober). But even if I hadn’t been, I still would probably have dismissed it as my fault somehow. And I certainly never identified as a victim of sexual assault or rape. To do so, I always thought, would diminish what victims of violent rape went through.

And, to be honest, in the grand scheme of assault stories out there, it’s pretty mild. (Which in and of itself should say an awful lot about what women go through) But it happened. And only in the light of this #YesAllWomen movement have I been able to call it what it was. To claim it and admit that this happened to me. It’s way past time to deal with all this. Misogyny has been a part of our world since it began and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. But maybe, just maybe, if we women can speak up loudly and often, we can be heard. We can silence the men who just want us to shut up and go away because we’re making them uncomfortable. We are not just someone’s daughter/wife/sister/mother. We are someone. And that all on its own should be enough.