This meme has been bouncing around my Facebook for the last week or two. I am a mother of sons, and I am often terrified, because my boys are full of terrible ideas. Ideas like: sledding down the stairs in Amazon boxes, putting our kittens in the baby stroller, sticking marbles into their orifices. Whenever it gets quiet in my house, I know trouble is brewing.
I am not scared that someday a woman will make a false rape allegation against them. The odds are ridiculously small, even smaller than them being kidnapped by a stranger, or being drafted into the NFL.
Mostly, I feel (very selfishly) relieved that I do not have a daughter. Because, as much as I hope that the #metoo movement has changed things, I still see a lot of evidence of how scary it is to be a girl or a woman.
Growing up, there was this story. Yes, rape and harrassment happened, but not to “good” girls. All I had to be was good and I’d be safe. And I was very good. I went to parties in college and spent the whole evening nursing a single Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I started dating my husband when I was 19, got married at 22. I didn’t hang around bars or go home with strangers. I protected myself.
And yet, I’ve been sexually harassed more times than I can count.
When I tried to summon all the instances to mind, it started to sound like a Dr. Seuss book. In the rain, on a train, in a bus, on a Christian college camp-us. Once while I was pushing my babies in a double stroller. In one terrifying instance I was in the changing cubicle at a tailor’s shop. In all these instances, my immediate urge was to minimize what had just happened, to tell myself I was overreacting. I hadn’t been raped, so I was just scared for no reason, right?
This impulse to minimize was matched by those around me. Once, on a subway, a man followed me through the car. I took a seat next to one man and across from another, thinking the harasser would leave me alone. Instead he took the seat across from me, and spent the rest of the ride faux-masturbating and making kissy faces at me. The men next to me said nothing. When I finally asked the masturbator what the hell his problem was, he just said “Nothing,” and kept on with this intimidating display until I left the train. Everyone on that train ignored what was happening. I felt disgusted and afraid and also wondered if I was crazy. Did the mad masturbator just have some kind of strange form of Turretts? If no one else had been bothered, why had I?
I didn’t tell anyone about it. I just went to work and carried on with my day. This is what it’s like to be a woman. I have put up with harassment in many forms through the years, beginning as soon as I hit puberty. It doesn’t get easier, but I have to carry on. That’s what women do, we swallow down our anger again and again until we can’t take it anymore.
The Kavanaugh confirmation feels like a breaking point.
If our politicians think the women of America are going to forget about this, they’re dead wrong. We’ve been collectively disbelieved, minimized, and called liars often enough. These incidents are branded on our psyches. We will not forget.