Content warning: discussion of sexual violence and rape culture
When I was eight years old, a neighborhood boy who was about 16 was over at my house watching the 1968 version of Romeo & Juliet with me on the VCR in my living room. Apparently my dad let us watch it, something my mom would later excoriate him for, coming from a place of bitter knowledge that women, especially survivors of sexual violence, hold deep in our bones and knotted stomachs and tensed thighs. But I, as a not-yet-woman, didn’t know to be afraid of watching a movie with this boy — at least not until he followed me into my room after.
“Let’s make a baby,” he said to me, grabbing hold of my wrist and blocking the door to my room. Immediately I knew what he meant, as hazy as sex was to me at that age; yet phrasing it in the reductive, reproductive way that parents talk to their kids about sex made me recognize his intentions. Looking back on it, it was a chilling attempt at grooming me to become his victim, introducing his desired sexual violence using age-appropriate vocabulary.
Hoping in vain to pacify him, I threw one of my Cabbage Patch Dolls at him. “Here, there’s a baby,” I said, myself barely more than a baby. “No,” he redirected, “Let’s make one.” He started to pull me towards him.
I screamed out, “No! No! No!” and broke my wrist away from him, then pushed him hard, successfully clearing a path out of my room now that I could grab the doorknob without him blocking it. I still remember that someone was home, and that I got him quickly kicked out of my house, but the rest of the memory is a blur, my brain protecting me from the trauma. I know that my mom yelled at my dad for letting this boy into our house, and that my parents confronted his mother at her front door that night. She yelled back at them, defending her son. Then the boy’s dad came to the door and threatened to beat up my dad. Some weeks later, another of my male friends, who lived in the house behind our duplex, told me that this same boy had told him he wanted to rape me.
I was eight years old.
My heart still races to recount it. I can barely believe it actually happened. And for most of my life I didn’t think it was “that bad”, because out of almost every woman and non-binary person I know, my story ended the most quickly and seemingly without lasting impact. Others I knew spoke of fathers who raped them, grandfathers who molested them, a sadist boyfriend who pulled out a weapon in his car to aid him in his attack. Lecherous bosses who sexually harassed friends for months. A friend who escaped being sex trafficked. On and on and on. How could mine compare?
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I learned about rape culture. How in a society that devalues women’s bodies, experiences, and humanity, while propping up toxic forms of violent masculinity, men’s sexual violence against women becomes routinized. It’s everywhere, targeting us in so many ways. Yet at the same time that Robin Thicke writes a song called “Blurred Lines”, with the lyrics “I know you want it” — nominated for two Grammys, and holding the record for largest radio audience ever — women, non-binary people, and trans men everywhere, as well as some cisgender men, continue to be gaslit, told that somehow all of this isn’t happening to us. We’re liars, or it isn’t that big of a deal — whatever helps justify wounded, emotionally stunted people (statistically men) becoming perpetrators and doing anything they want without consequence.
Enter Brett Kavanaugh. Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court to sediment right-wing control of the court for decades. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Kavanaugh would be a judicial disaster, in recent days, news broke that Kavanaugh had allegedly sexually assaulted, and tried to rape, a woman at a party one night when they were both teenagers, back before Kavanaugh spent his days getting wasted at Yale keggers and later boasting about it in a 2014 speech. Meanwhile, his alleged accomplice that night, Mark Judge, wrote a book in 2005 about his high school alcoholism, and painted their elite boys’ school, Georgetown Prep, as a place of rampant binge drinking.
Now that the woman Kavanaugh allegedly tried to rape, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, has spoken out and revealed her identity, the shameful vitriol against her is pouring in like clockwork. Many of the defenses of Kavanaugh, beyond proclaiming his total innocence, also seek to minimize what may have happened, as if trapping someone in a room, trying to rip off their clothes, putting your hand over their mouth, and turning up the music loudly to muffle any screams should count as innocuous hjinx that could be misinterpreted or misremembered. It’s not that important — turn away, flashes the message like a neon sign. But what survivors of sexual violence, those targeted by sexual harassment, and those who live in fear of it daily know, it all matters. Every single story. Every last transgression. That is the power of the #MeToo movement. The power of women, and the power of survivors everywhere.
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What someone did to me matters. What someone did to you matters. What Blasey Ford reports matters. Whether we confirm another potential sexual predator to join Clarence Thomas in the highest court in the land matters. The allegations against Kavanaugh must be taken seriously and treated with respect, and if anyone tries to tell us otherwise, we can’t accede to the gaslighting. We’re too smart for it, and there’s no stopping us from screaming from the rooftops just how profoundly real our rape culture is.
[Featured Image: A gray scale photo of a person with their head hidden and their hand pressed in front of their head. Source: pexels.com]