Let me be very clear about two important things:
1. I believe her (and her and her).
2. I am not a survivor.
I have never been raped, I have never been regularly sexually assaulted, I have never been sexually harassed in the workplace.
And that is why I had a hard time understanding why I reacted so strongly to Dr. Ford’s story about her assault by Brett Kavanaugh, so much so that I had to retreat to bed after reading the Washington Post account. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I was so shaken by it. And lying there devastated, I didn’t have some big epiphany, there was no cinematic flood of repressed memories.
In fact, the only memory that I was stuck with when I initially read Dr. Ford’s story was one that had come back to me when “Grab ’em by the pussy” first broke: it was in my large crowded high school, he was going down the stairs, I was going up, he slipped his hand under my skirt, he fondled me. I have no idea who he was.
As it turns out, that was just the first of a number of instances when I have been groped, grabbed, rubbed up against by strangers — by men — instances that are so common to so many women as to be unremarkable. So I didn’t remark upon them. I’m not a survivor, I’m merely a woman living in this world.
Then Dr. Ford testified on Thursday and when Senator Leahy asked her, “What is the strongest memory you have? Strongest memory of the incident? Something that you cannot forget?” she responded: the laughter.
Ford: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and having fun at my expense.
Leahy: You have never forgotten that laughter, forgotten them laughing at you.
Ford: They were laughing with each other.
Leahy: And you were the object of the laughter?
Ford: I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another.
By the time I turned to see who had dared to put their hand up my skirt and violate me, he was already rounding the corner and laughing with his friend. The boy in college who exposed himself to me — the only girl in an apartment filled with boys — he and his friends laughed at my embarrassment. The boy in my history class who tried to convince me to place my hands on my head to play “Tune in Tokyo” was just trying to get a laugh from the other boys in the room.
Of course, it’s not always about the laughter. The boy that held me down in college a little too long wasn’t laughing. And the man who exposed himself to me in the Houston library when I was doing research for a high school paper wasn’t laughing. The boy who made sure I could see straight up his boxer shorts as he stepped over my head after we had both spent the night at a friend’s house, he wasn’t laughing. The men and boys who “accidentally” brushed or pressed against me in the subway, in bars, at parties, they weren’t laughing. The boy who stalked me, he wasn’t laughing.
I’m not saying the laughter is the worst part, the most painful part, but there is something about it that is the most humiliating. And it’s the part of Dr. Ford’s testimony that made me cry. For her. For myself. For every person who has been reduced to an object, a plaything, devoid of humanity or feelings or value … for a laugh.
I am raising two teenage boys. One is 14, the other is the same age Brett Kavanaugh was when the alleged attack took place. My most important job in this world is to raise them to be compassionate and empathetic men. A significant part of that charge is to make sure they understand the concept of consent backwards and forwards and to deeply internalize that what Brett Kavanaugh is alleged to have done to Dr. Ford is not merely unacceptable or horrific, but that men who commit such acts should face consequences for their behavior.
So what message is our country sending my sons with this?
What are we telling my sons when we assume that all teenage boys attempt to rape or grope women, or that holding a screaming girl down on a bed and trying to silence her is just “maybe a touch”? What are we telling them, as some have suggested, that since Kavanaugh didn’t actually rape her, he didn’t commit a crime?
What are we telling them when the majority of GOP senators resist a thorough investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh at all costs — an investigation that all of his accusers have asked for, but which Kavanaugh, curiously, refused to endorse? What are we telling my sons when we attempt to frame Dr. Ford’s very credible story as a murky case of “he said/she said,” so that the majority in the Senate can willfully and defiantly choose to believe him, despite the fact that his denials are far less corroborated than her allegations?
What are we telling my sons when we as a nation stop to watch a calm and respectful Dr. Ford tell the country that she is 100% certain that Brett Kavanaugh did these horrific things to her, and then watch a belligerent, petulant man scream and cry his way through his version of “NUH UH!” and we still try to put him on the highest court of the land for the rest of his life?
And what are we telling our daughters if this man is eventually approved to sit on the Supreme Court except that if a boy assaults you, we won’t believe you — and even if we do believe you, your pain, your trauma is less valid than his future?
Like Dr. Ford, I was in high school the first time I was assaulted. In fact, girls between the ages of 16-19 are the most likely to be sexually assaulted and raped. And I think ultimately that is what upset me the most about her story when I read it two Sundays ago, that’s what sent me back to bed that day: that I recognized myself in her and it was so ordinary. So common. So familiar.
In no way am I suggesting that my assaults were half as awful or traumatizing as Dr. Ford’s, they were not. But it turns out they did leave tiny nicks which turned into tiny scars. And I suspect if you talk to any of your female friends or family, you’ll learn that they too bear these tiny scars, too many to count.
It’s going to be at least another week before this story is over. Hearing about sexual violence can be very painful for survivors. If you need to speak to someone, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.4673 or visit http://online.rainn.org.
And know that I am here, you can show me your scars.