He gave me a ride home from a party. He was older. Maybe eight or nine years older. He was a friend of the guys my friends and I were hanging out with that night. Pot-head frat types who played great music and had a big room for dancing in. In our first year of college, my nerdy writer friends and I quickly figured out that going to a few of the less mainstream frat houses was a cheap, jolly way to have fun on a Friday night. At this particular place, we felt comfortable. The guys were not grabby or patronizing. We could hang and dance. We felt safe. They were chill, ya know? And we were innocent. Naïve. Very, very smart, but… not really that smart.
Forty years later and I am still friends with one of those guys, someone I dated for a while, thought I was in love with, maybe even was. But I never told him this thing that I’m now going to post publicly on my blog. I never told anyone until the day in marriage therapy when it bubbled up. I said the words out loud for the first time and my then-husband looked at me, incredulous. Twenty-five years together and I had managed to avoid mentioning that I’d been raped. By a trusted semi-stranger in my own apartment at eighteen, a week into my third semester at UVA.
I spent most of my life telling myself a version of the story in which somehow it was “my first sex” and an inevitable, even normal way to “lose my virginity.”
Normalizing sexual harm, male aggression, female powerlessness—yes. I did that. I participated in the massive cover-up that is our male-privilege normative society. I did not want to admit I’d not had power in that moment. I wanted to believe I chose those offensive eight minutes, because what would it mean if I had not? So, feminist that I am, I did not say the word rape to myself, let alone anyone else, for decades. Years of therapy in which I dealt with a lot of crazy shit did not excavate that little artifact of experience from my subconscious. So what finally did?
Don’t know, really.
Fast forward to 2017. The grossest kind of misogynist is in the White House. The entire government seems hell bent on disempowering, disenfranchising, and just plain dissing women and anyone else they don’t want to give up their white male privilege to. And yet none of us who sees what’s going on seems willing to go gentle into that horrific night.
And now, this month, October 2017. A worldwide movement of saying, “Me too.” Me fucking too, ya bastids. It is a huge problem, okay? And you can’t shove all nine zillion of us under a rug.
Many are embracing “me too.” Some question it. Some think it does not do enough to create change or real dialogue. Others ask, “Why is it always on women to tell the hard truths?”
As for me, I don’t even want to analyze it or question it. Instead I’ll simply wholeheartedly applaud the countless women who are saying, not just to their sisters and friends, but to everyone who cares to read their status on Facebook, their blog, or their Tweet: ME FUCKING TOO.
Are people surprised? I don’t know anyone personally who is shocked that women are routinely, daily brutalized in small and huge ways. If people are surprised, I simply don’t want to know that. I would be too angry. Seriously. Enraged at the stubborn obliviousness people hide in, like a closet of privilege that protects them from uncomfortable truths. Because think about all the times that (let’s face it pretty much every) woman has been catcalled or assaulted. Shoved into a corner with a leer and a wink. Groped in the empty hallway and then silenced by shame, threats, or feigned innocence (“Honey I didn’t mean anything by that!”). Blamed by society for her experiences of harassment or sexual violence because of her clothes/attitude/choices. Propositioned by employers or superiors, or just treated like shit for being smart, sexual, ambitious, tough, emotional, or badass. And raped. Violently or quietly or multiply or repeatedly. By the stranger, the trusted friend, the uncle, the boss, the neighbor, the husband, the priest, the therapist, the teacher, the guy who is just pissed off because she did not acknowledge his right to possess her.
And these are not “bad experiences.” These are not “experiences” at all. Experience is when you go outside and there’s a rainbow. Or when you spend the day in the museum. Or you have an afternoon of glorious sex with the windows open. Or jump in the car for an impromptu road trip. Those are experiences. We participate in them. They occur. They can be sought or they can be serendipitous. But no one is perpetrating them.
Assault, sexual intimidation, rape—these are not things that “happen”—they are done by men to women against their will.
So given the reality of “me too”—what about the men? For every me too there is a man who took action. To grope, grab, hold down, threaten, penetrate, bribe, intimidate, belittle a woman. To order her to get on her knees, or fetch him a beer, or smile, or shut up and enjoy it, or just plain shut up.
What about the men who know about it, see it, hear it? How dare men be surprised or “taken aback” by this long-overdue public awareness announcement from all those women on their social media feeds. Where have they been?
I don’t remember much about that semester, after that “ride home.” (“Your friends want to stay. I can give you a ride home if you want.” “Really? That would be great.”) I remember spending Thanksgiving at a friends’ house in Philadelphia. I remember nothing about Christmas. I know I was not completely in my body. That feeling of not “being yourself?”—that’s when part of you leaves and the rest of you feels incomplete. School—always my happy place—had lost its luster. I did not want to go to class. I did, of course, being always more than adequately “good” at doing what needed to be done. But, you know. The thrill? It was gone.
I left school that second semester of sophomore year. I went to visit my dad for a couple weeks. Returned to Charlottesville. Got a job. Went back to school. And, not sure how, but I gradually regained my optimism, my desire to go outside and see a rainbow.
These experiences take a toll on women. Women survive and “move on” because they have to. These women—so so many women—may, briefly or for decades, have their inner knowing knocked out of them when men steal their power and rob them of…so much. Women may be set back—literally—and need to catch up yet again, to prove that “WE TOO” will persist and all the shit you do to us won’t keep us down.
But it’s hard. It’s exhausting. And it is absurd—a folly, a civil wrong—that it is still on us to fix this mess not of our making. Men? Grow the hell up and stand up for your sisters literally EVERY TIME. In the board room, the classroom, the bedroom, everywhere. If you are not one of the perpetrators, prevent those who are from getting away with it and joking about it later. If you are one of those dudes—if you rape or insult or beat or catcall or belittle or grab or assume—STOP. Just stop now and live with honor for the rest of your days.
And as for me, the rape on the hallway floor of my apartment was one of several catalysts in my youth that prompted a lifetime of self-reflection and an insistence on growth and forward movement. A refusal to accept any status quo. A refusal to stay hidden.