This morning I was watching AM Joy on MSNBC. One of her guests said they think this Brett Kavanaugh nonsense will help Republicans by energizing white, suburban women who have sons in college and are worried about false assault accusations against them. I turned to my husband and said, “If you’re a mother and worried about your son getting called out for assault, you’ve failed to do your goddamn job.” And since this is supposed to be a parenting blog, not just a screaming into the void about my depression blog, I thought I should do *my* goddamn job.
[First, white women, quit propping up the patriarchy. Learn something about history and feminism and race and class and intersectionality and quit being the goddamn worst. I can recommend some books! It’s gonna suck for a minute, realizing how terrible you’ve been, but then you get to be best!]
This is becoming a weird rallying cry, I saw something on Facebook about #HimToo – in which we should worry about our fathers/husbands/sons being accused. You know how you avoid getting accused of sexual impropriety? DON’T FUCKING TOUCH PEOPLE AGAINST THEIR WILL. DON’T BE A FUCKING CREEP. I dunno, seems pretty simple to me. I’m not worried about my husband/father/son getting accused of anything, because I surround myself with non-shitbags. (And, yeah, we can’t pick our fathers, and mine is far from perfect, but I’m lucky in this regard – he never made me feel shitty about my body or ogled ladies or was creepy. He told me I was smart and beautiful and wonderful just as I am. And while my stepdad could be a little on the inappropes side, I never got in trouble for telling him to not be a turd.)
But, seriously, let’s go to statistics. According to RAINN, a sexual assault happens every 98 seconds. So, less than the time it takes my microwave to make popcorn. And these statistics count men and women and children. Let that shit sink in for a second. Or for 98 seconds. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has this handy dandy fact sheet about false allegations. Educate yourself! I’m not even Nancy Googler and I came up with this shit in less than 98 seconds.
So, false accusations account for mmmmmmaybe 3% of reports, but 63% of assaults go unreported, and that means, if my math is right…false reporting is essentially bullshit. I’m not saying it has never happened, because women are just as capable of being trashbags as men, but let’s be really real for a minute and throw out false claims.
That leaves actual assaults. And if you’re a mom worried that your son or husband or father is going to be accused of something, what are you doing? Are you teaching consent? Are you sharing your stories? Are you listening to how they talk about women and making sure it’s with respect, even if the woman isn’t a relative??
I asked my girl gang about this, since most of them are raising boys. Because they’re a bunch of badass feminist babes, they’re doing the work. They’re teaching “no means no and stop means stop” and following up when their kids use those words. They’re setting boundaries and letting their sons know that everyone is in charge of their own body. They’re letting their sons be people, away from the harmful caricatures of toxic masculinity.
Because my boys have autism, things are a little different in our house. I’ve had the talk many, many times with Cal that we never touch people without asking them first. (We repeat this conversation every St. Patrick’s Day in regards to wearing green and pinching.) We’ve talked about bathing suit areas and how we’re allowed to touch ourselves as long as it’s in the bathroom or bedroom. We ask for hugs and kisses from the cousins. We stop when someone says stop, even if they’re laughing. If someone touches us without permission, we tell. Charlie is…well, he’s Charlie. (Although he does restrict privatetime to his bedroom, so that’s a fucking win.) I’m not worried about them being accused of assault, as statistically they’re more likely to be victims, especially non-verbal Charlie. So, yeah, my priorities are a little skewed.
And while we’re having this conversation, Lauren brings up an important point – fathers, what are you doing? Because putting this on mothers is just another burden. And, as we all know, fathers are role models too. If you’re a father, are you showing your son how to treat women? And not in a “be a man, be the breadwinner, don’t have feelings, say ‘yes, dear’ with a wink and a dismissive chuckle” way, but in a “your mom is an independent person with feelings and thoughts and I respect her and other women who are also independent people!” way. Do you truly co-parent, or do you sit passively while your wife/partner does all of the work? Are you the man you want your son to see every day?
Maybe we didn’t stop a likely assaulter and definite fratbrodingleberry from becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Maybe we have a human bag of vomit as President. Maybe we feel powerless when Mitch McConnell gets all het up on the floor of the Senate about GOOD WHITE MEN. But we have power over our children. And we need to wield that power responsibly. We have to teach them about consent and standing up for themselves and others. We have to teach them there is no “bro code”. That peer pressure sucks, but giving in is way worse. That only yes means yes and nothing beats a willing, enthusiastic partner. Teach your children well, and hopefully their parents’ hell will slowly go by.
I write this from my sick bed [insert vague image of a Bronte or some such]. I’ve had a wicked head cold that one of the children brought home from school because children are disgusting. It is now in my chest so I can’t stop coughing forcefully which has caused me to vomit once and fart about a million times. LIFE IS GRAND.
While I’ve been sick in a literal, physical sense, I am also sick in my metaphorical heart. What I knew was going to happen happened. The FBI did a brief, cursory, limited background check on Dr. Ford’s testimony and the accusation of Deborah Ramirez, the Republicans are ready to ram his confirmation through and we’re probably stuck with Judge Frathouse.
There are a lot of think pieces and editorials and actual books on the gaslighting of America and why this particular outrage seems to be a bridge too far for many of us, so I’m probably not adding anything new or useful. But this is what we do, scream into the void in the hopes that it relieves some of the pressure.
What strikes me when I watch the Republicans and their old, white man rage is how hurt they are by our anger. They are devastated that women want to voice their own experiences and expect to be heard. How dare we impugn the character of a GOOD WHITE MAN. (GOOD meaning affluent and connected, having gone to the right schools and matriculated in the right circles, having trod the well-worn but narrow path laid down by the affluent, white men before him.) The big line from Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump has been “We can’t have GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT!!!” This applies only to GOOD WHITE MEN, however. Not black teenagers wearing hoodies. Or women who have been raped. Or children seeking asylum. They have no right to innocence.
We’ve known our justice system was broken for years. We’ve known our political system was broken. We’ve known America itself was broken. Has always been broken. Was broken when the founders lied and said “All men are created equal” while owning slaves. This continent was “found” by a murdering, raping, genocidal maniac. Is this the history that makes me proud to be an American?
I want to believe in a better, fuller, more whole and just and kind America. I want to listen to Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren as they tell me that with enough grace and work, we can create justice and liberty for all. I want to believe that children are the future and Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg are going to make a difference.
But I see the crowds at the Trump rallies and I hear the women who support Kavanahhhh and I don’t think my hope can beat their hate. I think Obama was wrong. I think Voldemort wouldn’t really be defeated by a bunch of teenagers and private school teachers. I don’t see where there is any common ground to build, and fuck if I’m not tired of feeling like the only side looking for it. How do you fight a troll? How do you fight an entire nation of them?
There’s no rallying cry to be found here, friends. I’m still going to vote and call my Senators. I’m still going to be a social worker and change the lives that I can. But until the other side decides they want a society more than just raw power, I’m done trying. This confirmation hearing broke something inside of me, a belief that we grow and learn and do better. That if we share our stories and believe hard enough, we can bring light to the darkness. That the hurt and rage of millions of women might mean something, that there might be value in a person who is not a GOOD WHITE MAN. But, as we’ve been shown time again, like Charlie Brown and the football, Lucy isn’t ever going to play fair and we’re always going to end up on our backs, wondering why we even tried.
I’m so fucking tired. Both literally, because it is after 10pm and I am old, and figuratively, because I watched all of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and most of Brett Kavanaugh’s and the majority of the questioning from both sides. I listened to the commentary on MSNBC and watched the clips of his interview on Fox News and I’ve overdosed on toxic masculinity.
I’m tired of being a woman, but yikes on the alternative. (Not in a gender-identity sense, so I hope this doesn’t offend all the non-binary and trans and intersex folx out there who I love and see and give all the high-fives to. This is a majority of the world, binary, cis-man/woman weariness that is sitting in my bones.) I think I need a good cry but I’m too numb. I think I need to break something, because the rage is overwhelming. I think I should probably just sleep but there are too many words in my head and hurts in my heart and I feel like a gaping wound in a way that most men will never, ever, ever understand.
I think it’s the laughter, the indelible laughter in Dr. Ford’s hippocampus. The same laughter I can hear and you can hear and every woman can hear. The laughter that rings in our heads and our hearts and our very bones vibrate with the laughter. They laugh and it gets caught in our hair and our lungs and our wombs. It hurts everywhere, these laughs. The laughter of boys being boys, of knowing there are no consequences, the joy and delight in taking a person and making her an object.
And I am tired that we haven’t gotten better since Anita Hill. That Lindsey Graham’s outrage will be applauded by a segment of the population. Including women. I’m tired of women who uphold and embrace the patriarchy as much as I’m tired of the patriarchy itself.
The brilliant and amazing Roxane Gay edited an anthology earlier this year titled “Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture” that I attempted to read but it was glass in my throat and sand in my heart. I didn’t have the fortitude. I wonder if Lindsey Graham would be able to read it. I wonder if the women who support him could.
He really pissed me off today. His sympathy for Brett Kavanaugh and his outrage at his fellow Senators was shocking. Is it a good sign that I can still be shocked by the conduct of men?
But still, the laughter, it’s haunting me. How often are we told to lighten up, to take a joke, to smile, to agree with our abusers that it wasn’t abuse? How often do we grin and bear it? How do we defend against the stereotype of joylessness when the laughter we hear is knives in our bellies?
Indelible. That which cannot be eliminated, forgotten, changed, or the like.
She did not hesitate when asked what her strongest memory of that night was. She did not say the way he groped me or the weight of him on my 15-year-old body or the feeling of his breath on my neck or the sound of the door locking or the song that was playing loud enough to drown out my screams. She did not ask for a moment to recall. She knew because she’s heard it over and over and over and over and over until she thought she was mad from it. The laughter.
I hear the laughter, too. I heard it when I was catcalled. When the car full of boys hollered. When they slowed down. When they surrounded me in the hall. When they shouted at me to stop what I was doing and gift them my time and being. The laughter that accompanies “it wasn’t me” and “I didn’t really mean it” and “it was a compliment” and “don’t be so stuck up” and “bitchslutwhorecunt.” The laughter when you say stop and don’t and please and when you scream.
I’ve never been raped. I’ve never been assaulted in a way that would be considered a crime. I’ve never been hit. I’ve been lucky. I’ve always felt lucky – not strong or blessed or impressive or more right – just a roll of the dice luck. But I’ve heard the laughter. Indelible and deafening and haunting. I’ll bet you have too.
In high school, I was a member of a traveling theater troupe performing The Jungle Book at the region’s elementary schools. I was Baloo. Bask in my coolness. One day, we were carpooling from or to a performance, I don’t remember, and one of my male castmates was in the backseat with me. He was drunk. I don’t remember the specifics, but I was “being a bitch” and he had a way to shut me up. It was to take out his dick. I don’t think it made it all the way out because I’m pretty sure I punched him in the stomach and told him to quit being an asshole. But I remember seeing way more of this dude than I’d ever planned on or wanted to.
Now, this was, what, 20 years ago now? I doubt this dude remembers this. I doubt the dude driving the car remembers it. I don’t even remember who else was in the passenger seat. I very vaguely remember this incident and don’t think I told anyone contemporaneously, because it was just another example of this guy being a drunk asshole. I haven’t thought about it in 20 years, until all of this Brett Kavanaugh nonsense started.
The more I think about it, the more I’m angry. I’m angry that I was just annoyed by the incident and brushed it off immediately. I’m angry I didn’t have the words or the context to understand why this particular power play is so fucked up. That taking his dick out was this guy’s idea to shut up a mouthy broad and how this is rape culture. Because whatever his plan was beyond just whipping it out, his dick was forced on me. Yes, just the sight of it, because I was lucky? And aggressive? And we were in the backseat of a moving vehicle so it couldn’t go any further? But I have no doubt this dude could have physically overpowered me, could have hurt me, could have taken it as far as he wanted, and would have felt entitled to show me my place.
From the reports I’ve read, Brett Kavanaugh had a bit of a drinking habit in high school and college. Maybe some of those times he took out his dick as a “joke” or tried to get a little action without necessarily getting consent. Two women have publicly come forward (as of now) to say these things happened to them. Mitch McConnell just stood up in the Senate and dismissed their claims because there’s no contemporaneous evidence, no corroborating accounts.
I’m writing this to say I believe the women. Because every woman has a story (or two or a million). And because this shit happens all the time, we justify it by saying he was drunk or we put ourselves in a bad situation, or we deserved it because we were being a bitch. We don’t tell our parents because teenagers don’t tell their parents anything. We might tell our friends, unless they’re mutual friends and we don’t want to deal with not being believed. We might write about it in a journal or talk to a therapist. Or we might chalk it up to life and boys being boys and the way the world works and maybe we were lucky it wasn’t that bad was it that’s no reason to get this guy in trouble most of the time he’s fine he was drinking he was high I was drinking he was joking around I don’t want to lose my friends over this I don’t want to think about it at all because it makes me feel small and sad and worthless and it was really my fault I should have should have should have I stopped it it wasn’t rape rape or assault assault or didn’t leave a mark just laugh it off and move on and move on and move on and one day you won’t remember.
But we have a collective unconscious, women do, where we know and we remember and we dream. And we hear the stories of our friends and family and neighbors and strangers and we say “Oh yes, I remember now. I remember that dick and that shout and that insult and that pain and I remember my silence and your silence and rolling my eyes and I remember forgetting.”
So say what you will about whether this is a disqualifying incident. Whether a boy being a boy is enough to say you cannot be the law of this land. Debate your morals versus your power. But do not tell us that there is no evidence no corroboration because we are here to say I believe. I remember. I am the evidence. I am the corroboration.