I am a 49-year old American woman. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, a niece, grand-daughter, an aunt, and an educator. I have survived forced sexual acts, countenanced groping in busses, planes and on sidewalks and endured catcalls and gross displays of sexual aggression that rendered ordinary activities like shopping, jogging, biking or walking my dogs unpleasant experiences. I am an ordinary American woman and I am not alone. I am a member of a band of sisters and brothers who persist despite these
experiences. We bare their scars—some of which are evidenced on our bodies while many more yet remain invisible.
I’ve been vocal about my experiences for decades. I am not enthralled by campaigns like “#MeToo,” in which the onus is upon the victims to stand up and once again be counted, to educate people about our myriad numbers, to encourage folks to literally see the
faces of victim-hood and survivorship. The only #MeToo posts I want to see are those written by the perpetrators who acknowledge their injurious acts and their gravity and seek atonement from their victims.
“I groped a kid on a plane. She was 13. What kind of animal was I? I am so sorry. #MeToo.”
“I touched a football player in the shower. He was 14. What harm did I do to him? Please forgive me. #MeToo.”
“I rubbed my assistant’s shoulders from behind her while she reserved my plane tickets. She left for a new job two weeks later. I cannot believe I did that. How can I make this right? #MeToo.”
This is my open letter to a small sample of those men in my life who abused, assaulted, and/or harassed me and the noxious women who enabled or defended them. Some of their names I know. Others’ names I once knew but have forgotten as decades passed. Others are strangers who felt entitled to my body in public or private, during the day or night. They made me feel less capable, less competent, less human and less safe. Each of them took away from me pieces of my humanity, my right to exist publicly with security and confidence.
Sadly, while society is slowly and niggardly conceding space for women to speak up and out, male victims of sexual violence struggle to do so because the stigma they face is yet more severe. I am an ordinary American woman. I am citizen of this country and a member of this global inhuman humanity. And I am sick of this.
Walls of Shame
I first experienced the necrotic impact of the male gaze when I was in pre-school when my uncle, Arthur Wayne Thomas, began sexually abusing me. He did so until I was in the seventh grade and learned to fend him off. He also abused his own two children.
My freshman year in college, he murdered his wife brutally and left her body arranged in the dog pen where he killed her and where his children would find her remains, unclothed save her bra. My mother, my aunts, and my uncles were either incompetent or culpable. They ignored physical signs of injury. They scolded me for refusing to be left in his care. They attributed my truculence to some churlish nature for which they had no responsibility. Had they stopped him from harming me, maybe my aunt Carol—after
whom I am named—would be alive. Maybe her son would not have committed suicide when he was twenty. Maybe her daughter would not be a delusional schizophrenic who prefers the safety of homelessness in her truck, forests or cornfields to the company of other humans.
Like many women who experienced childhood sexual trauma, I went on to experience other forms of abuse and harassment. While the explanatory pathway that accounts for this phenomenon of re-victimization remains poorly characterized, multiple studies have identified a robust association between childhood sexual abuse and subsequent re-victimization.
College was a gauntlet of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination. Within weeks of learning of my aunt’s murder by her husband who was also my abuser, I went on a date with a man who lived in my dorm named Al. Al was smart, funny and highly accomplished in some martial art the specifics of which I do not recall. He was my first real date in college. He purchased tickets for the band, Yes. Prior to the concert we went out for dinner at a restaurant more expensive than I had ever seen. Worried, I only ordered French onion soup, which was also new to me. At the concert, we were seated towards the very front. As a be-spectacled, nerdy, heavier girl with tomboy tendencies and low self-esteem from a comparatively poor family, I was awestruck that such an smart and attractive man would ask me out and make such elaborate and costly arrangements.
Later that night when we returned to our dorm, he forced himself on me. What Al had not considered is that by that point I was experienced in escaping these situations. I was also extremely traumatized and mentally unwell. Unable to flee, I fought back and, though I am ashamed to admit it, I turned the tables on Al. Ultimately, it was Al who feared for his safety and I became branded a “psycho bitch” as the story spread throughout our dorm. But I did not care. While I did not hurt Al, I made it clear to him I could if he ever tried that again. I often wonder what came of Al. Did he ever try to force himself on other women? Does Al know that his attempts at coerced sex shattered me at a time when I was just struggling to hang on? Does he know that his actions made it impossible for me to stay in that dorm because I could not feel safe there? Does he even think about that event at all? Alternatively, does Al view himself as the victim because I had the temerity to not only resist but to show him what it felt like to be powerless? I left the dorm as soon as I was allowed to and never saw him again. I later learned he transferred to another school.
While I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I was sexually harassed by professors and graduate students alike. There was Ariel the disturbed economics doctoral student who was notorious for harassing women aggressively while the University did nothing despite our numerous complaints. (My freshman year, I fended him off with a coat rack on the second floor of the Regenstein Library while onlookers applauded.) He eventually left the university because he was busted for stealing women’s shoes from the Regenstein Library over the many years he was in residence.
In my sophomore year, I had to countenance the humiliating behavior of Brice Bosnich (deceased), my physical inorganic professor. Whenever I met with the teaching assistant, Steven Bergens, during his office hours, Bosnich would bellow in his sneering Australian accent, “Ah Bergens! Your admirer is here!” I took the class out of sequence and felt as if I was in over my head. I needed to work with that TA who was patient, thoughtful and considerate. He seemed as mortified as I was. (I only wish he had taken a stand.)
After a few weeks, I stopped visiting his office hours and opted instead to pay for a tutor to avoid the mortification. I had precious little money to spend and the $10 hourly rate was very hard to manage. This would be the first such “tax” I would pay for the price of being female. The administrator of the Chemistry Department, who helped me find a tutor, asked me why I was paying for a tutor when the TA was available. She had her suspicions. After all, I was not the only one Bosnich harangued. (He also routinely referred to the singular Chinese male in our class as “eggroll” and mocked my friend Jeanette for “looking like a boy.”) I explained the situation to her and begged her to tell no one. However, thinking she was behaving responsibly, she informed the chair of the department. He did nothing. But he later told me when I protested some other form of unfairness that I was “trouble maker.” I received a well-earned A in that class. I loved the subject but Bosnich ruined it for me.
The chemistry department was festooned with chauvinists. There was Greg Hillhouse whose tenure was celebrated by inviting a stripper into the Searle Chemistry building. The stripper removed several of the mens’ ties and ran them between her legs before regifting them with her scent. I was in the Searle library while this fandango was transpiring, trying to study. Several women complained and it rose to the attention of the University’s president, Hannah Gray. I was working for Gerhard Closs at the time who had assumed the role of department chair. Closs reported at our weekly lab meeting that Ms. Gray had called him personally to inquire about the stripper and related events and to convey the concerns of the female students. Closs boasted that told Dr. Gray that he was sorry that he had to miss the shindig because he had another obligation in Arizona that day.
There was the doctoral student named Rob Appel. Rob left an endearing note in my organic chemistry book and told me I could find him in the journal reading room. Rob was extremely attractive. We talked. He was funny. He asked me out. I was not a prude. Like many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I was sexually interest albeit confused about sex and what it meant or did not mean. I frequently confused sexual attention and desirability with affection and friendship. I wanted sexual contact but on my terms. But most of the men I met were befuddled by young, sexually agentive and curious women. They tended to assume our boundaries were negotiable or nonexistent. Rob was no exception. After our date, he escorted me to my apartment at 53rd and Harper and he came upstairs. I was fine with kissing. But he quickly tried to force me to fellate him. He said he didn’t have a lot of time. I recoiled and my fiery fight instinct reared up. I threatened to bite it off. Wisely, he put himself back together and left immediately.
The next day, before our organic chemistry class began, I recounted this sordid tale to a friend when a classmate overheard me. Outraged, she accused me of lying because Rob was a track coach and she knew for certain that he was married and thus could not have done what I said. (That I had his note with his handwriting was not compelling proof. Moreover, when did marriage stop anyone from doing this, by the way?) I was struck by her derisive expression, her judgmental tone of voice, and her utter certainty that I was dissembling.
I confronted Rob when I next saw him in the chemistry library. He admitted that he was married and explained that his wife was a nurse and she was working while he tried to force my mouth onto his penis apparently with a time constraint. Rob would not have known of my childhood sexual trauma. I doubt Rob ever considered the consequences of his actions: that he made me feel unsafe in a small library for a dedicated set of students and researchers who had the privilege of having a key to this remote library on a lightly-trafficked corner of the triangle. If I wasn’t safe there, where could I be safe? As for the dubious classmate, she went on to attend medical school at the University of Chicago. Several years later, I encountered her as a young physician when I was a graduate student. I didn’t remember her name at the time, but I recalled and still resented her accusation that I had mendaciously fabricated the account.
Being a female chemistry student at the University of Chicago was an endurance test. My girlfriend Jeanette and I began carrying our tampons (with applicators) openly as we went to the toilet to do the needful. Carrying that tampon felt like a sword in my hand. It felt like an act of resistance. It was the best “fuck you” we could muster. With that singular act, we declared to those men “I menstruate. I am here. Deal with it.” But it was not just the University of Chicago. It was the field.
I applied to and was accepted by PhD programs at Harvard, MIT, Berkeley and Stanford and had planned to start my PhD in the Fall of 1991. In Chemistry (at least in those days), if you were accepted, the various schools flew you out to convince you to come to their program. (Graduate students are cheap labor with no rights who work on big grants and generate numerous co-authored publications for the principal investigator.) MIT and Harvard, like Berkeley and Stanford, preferred to split costs if you were accepted to both as I was. At Harvard, I learned that the faculty members with whom I wanted to work had retired, were not taking students or had not been granted tenure. Unable to design a program with my selected faculty, Harvard designed a random program for me which included E.J. Correy, who had earned the Nobel prize in 1990.
Correy told me flatly during our meeting that he did not want women working in his lab. I was stunned but indifferent. I was not interested in the kind of chemistry he did and had long stopped being stupefied by jackasses like him. However, he was curious that I was so incurious about his antipathy towards women. He asked if I wanted to know his rationale and I responded flatly that his reasons, his research, him or his accomplishments were of no consequence to me. Nevertheless, he blustered that women get pregnant and cannot work in the lab and are thus less productive than men. I was baffled that he assumed that motherhood was a goal of mine. It was not. Nor was marriage. I excused myself while trying to remain decorous yet even then I was incapable of hiding the scorn that stretched across my brows, narrowed eyes and pursed lips.
That evening the other women in the group touring Harvard reported hearing the same thing from him. I explained to the graduate student coordinator present at our group dinner that I was confused that the program would waste its resources on any woman to whom they would subject that porcine. Harvard was not a highly ranked chemistry department. It was not on my list at all, I visited only to indulge MIT which was on my list. There was no amount of money that Harvard could offer me that would persuade me to do a PhD in that program with that woman-hating vulgarian in our midst. He could take that Nobel and shove it. (I wonder what kind of professional encouragement he gave his daughter. Did he tell her she could be anything she wanted? Did he reserve this bilious judgement for unknown women? Did he have a change of heart since I met him in the spring of 1991? What happened to his female students that managed to fenagle themselves into his lab over his clearly-stated contempt for them and their wombs?)
As I imagined a lifetime of this, I got cold feet about starting my PhD in chemistry, which I had elected to do at Stanford. My mother had been diagnosed with advanced melanoma. I had encountered a raft of misogyny while managing her various health care providers. I was tired of swimming upstream. I was banging on the door of a club that clearly did not want me not because of my lack of talents but because of my gender. I deferred enrollment at Stanford and then applied and eventually joined Yale University’s program in molecular biochemistry and biophysics. I thought this sub-field would be more woman friendly as it had more biology in it. (I wish I were joking.) And, at the very least, it was closer to home than was Stanford in the event mom’s cancer returned as I suspected it would.
When I got to Yale, I knew I had made the wrong move. Within weeks, I left. I had not even unpacked my boxes. I simply put new labels on them and took the train back to Chicago to figure out what I would be when I grew up. Ultimately, I abandoned my life-long dream of being a chemist because of the incessant and relentless hostile environment I faced coupled with the bitter experiences of my mother’s illness. Jeanette, my accomplice in chemistry, also left her PhD program. We became two more statistics attesting to the women hemorrhaging out of the science and technologies pipeline.
Not Just the Sciences
While working in various labs at the University of Chicago, I worked with a variety of South Asians. I took South Asian Civilizations to satisfy my core requirement. I hired a tutor to begin studying first Bengali and then Hindi. When I came back to Chicago having left Yale, I found work in yet another lab to earn money and keep myself insured. I availed of the opportunity to enroll in Hindi while working full time. I applied to PhD programs in South Asian Languages and Civilizations. To my surprise I got into every program to which I applied with full funding despite my science undergraduate major. I chose to stay at the University of Chicago—not because I had an affinity for the hell hole—but because I wanted to be close to my mom whose melanoma was likely to return with a lethal vengeance. As it turns out, she died the week before I began my new PhD in my new career in the fall of 1993.
My adjustment to the University of Chicago’s Department of South Asian Languages and Civilization was difficult. I was not accustomed to the vernacular of post-modernism and the use of gratuitous jargon for the sake of gratuitous jargon. I enjoyed Hindi grammar and excelled at it however speaking was awkward. I was embarrassed by my Midwest accent and I was still reserved. Speaking Hindi became easier as I became older and less constrained by shame. But in the beginning it was hard. I tested well but speaking and understanding spoken Hindi was a challenge. My theory classes were difficult. I struggled to understand the copious volumes of readings. I still missed physical inorganic and protein chemistry. I missed math. I missed the experimentation. (I did not miss the experiments on animals, which struck me as generally producing nothing of scientific utility and imposing extreme harm upon hundreds—if not thousands—of animals during the course of my time working in various labs.)
At the end of my second quarter in the 1993-94 academic year, a world-renowned professor, Dipesh Chakrabarty, asked me “are you looking for sexual pleasure” while I handed in my final paper for his class. I wasn’t one of his best students. Far from it. In fact, I struggled to understand the readings and his otiose exposition hardly made it easier. Ostensibly his proposition was precipitated by a sticker on one of my roller blades which read “Sexual Pleasure Is No Crime.” The other sticker stated “Rape is a War Crime.” The stickers referred to the politics of the early 1990s. I was a pro-choice activist and I agitated against the use of rape as a tool of war in the Balkans. As I backed out of his office, I felt my face turn red in shame. I fought back tears as I made it down the stairs and to the quads. I had given up a career in chemistry precisely because of this bullshit. Yet, here I was enduring the exact same contumely nonsense from which I bolted. I was stunned. I published my first (co-authored) paper in 1991 in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. I was a competent, if unsure, chemist. I gave up near certain success for this in the hope that the humanities would be less hostile to women. I felt dizzy. Then I felt angry.
I made myself march back to his office with the intention of telling him off, irrespective of the lousy grade I would certainly receive. I could always go back to chemistry if I lost my funding. But Chakrabarty had left his office. I went to the dean of the humanities and told him what happened. To my revulsion, the dean asked me whether or not I had told Chakrabarty that the advance was unwanted. I also learned that unless I told Chakrabarty this explicitly, he could proposition me again. The dean explained that his conduct did not violate university policy and, unless I told him unambiguously that I do not want sexual pleasure with him, how could he possibly know that I do not? In other words, professors were free to make such outrageous proposals at least once and the burden of preventing subsequent overtures would fall upon the shoulders of the student in question.
I then went to the chairman of my department who was Sheldon Pollock, a renowned scholar of Sanskrit who is now is at Columbia. Pollock tried to reassure me that Chakrabarty meant nothing by it. I asked him if he would tell his daughters the same if they narrated this tale. He assured me that he would have.
I literally had to ambush Chakrabarty at the International House where he was residing. It turns out he shared a suite with a former lab mate (Thomas Steinbrecher) who had further stories about his horizontal exploits with a fleet of unseen—but reportedly heard—women. Thomas facilitated my confrontation with Chakrabarty who retorted “You have to understand that I come from a conservative school.” I had no idea what that meant or cared to know. The deed was done.
Ultimately, Chakrabarty would commence an affair with a woman whose committee he chaired. He would secure a divorce from his wife and mother of his child, marry this student and wheedle a tenure-track position for her as well as eventual tenure (of course). The university was abjectly indifferent to his various demonstrations of incomprehensible moral turpitude. Steve Collins, who had become the ally of Chakrabarty’s victims, valiantly tried to get him removed as the Chair of our department to no avail. To this day, Dipesh Chakrabarty has never experienced any adverse consequences for his repugnant actions which have had far-reaching consequences for many women and their careers. Some women chose to leave the program. I considered doing the same. I knew that I could never get a job in this discipline with Dipesh Chakrabarty as an nemesis. So, I plotted yet another alternate professional course.
To expand my employability, I enrolled in the Harris School of Public Policy and did a concurrent MA degree. In the first semester, I met a student named Mitchell Gross. After our first group project in our policy analysis class, Mitch learned that my group project received an A. His did not. My name was the first listed on the project and it was returned to me. He snatched it from my hands and bellowed at one of the teaching assistants “Are you fucking her? I am going to kill you.” Did the university do anything to Mr. Gross despite a clear threat of violence? It did not –even though both the TA and I were frightened. Having embarked upon yet a new discipline with yet another set of research methods and literatures, I tried my best to get along with Mitch despite this outrage.
Looking back, I don’t know why I wanted to get along with him. I suspect it was fear. He was so unstable and viciously vindictive. Once he bragged that he had his father, a judge in Florida, unethically query Harvard’s economic department about one of our classmate’s departure from its program because he was jealous of this affable man. But there was no appeasing Mitch. He would wait for me to leave the library for one of the university-run buses which took me near my home late at night. He would get on that bus no matter the time of night I took it and sit behind me hissing “Cunt, I’m going to bring you down.” When at last I warned him that my patience was spent and that I would file a complaint about him with the university if he did not stop stalking me, he accused me of cheating off of him. The charge was absurd. I was an A student. He was barely struggling to maintain the minimum grade point average to stay in the program. The now deceased dean of students held us equally culpable and warned us both that if either of us spoke a word to or about the other, the trespasser would be expelled. She had given him a loaded gun. I could never be in the building which housed our program alone. I would avoid being in any space—including the computer lab—where he may be. It was yet another punishment for standing up to a misogynist, mendacious bully.
In the end, the Mitch episode taught me my first lesson in game theory. I needed to get off that campus. Between Mitch and Dipesh, I was unable to function. I was angry, afraid, depressed and constantly ill. I secured a job offer and I told the dean of the Harris School that I would take that job and not return to the program to finish my final three courses that had been displaced by my study of Hindi/Urdu, which funded my MA and PhD. As far as I was concerned, he had two choices because my mind was resolved. He could find a way to double-count three courses and let me graduate with the MA in public policy or explain why I left the program despite having one of the highest GPAs and full funding. He could explain to the relevant oversight bodies how school handled the Mitchell Gross affair. He thought about it for fewer than three minutes. He reached into his desk and signed the paperwork. I would have the MA and I would never return to that program or that campus, except for brief periods to complete exams or defend my dissertation. I was done with the University of Chicago. From that point onward, I finished my PhD while working full time at RAND in California, far away from the insanity of that institution.
At RAND, I met several women who also survived the University of Chicago. They were from the economics department and, as it turns out, we were all harassed by Arial, the above-noted shoe thief. Across the country my battles with Dipesh continued as I fought bitterly to finish my PhD. He would become a perpetual impediment to my graduation until I finally submitted one of the worst dissertations ever written, subject to a minimum quality constraint. But in 2004 it was done. I was finally free.
The Old Boy Network Beyond the Ivory Towers
At RAND I found the old boy network to which I had succumbed multiple times to be fully operational. I came in without my PhD as a research assistant. I found that the women in my cohort were paid less. We were shunted into “women-friendly issues” while the men without PhDs were shunted into national security projects where a PhD was not required. Their pay rose faster than ours because we worked on projects in health and education where not only PhDs were required, but PhDs relevant to the project were demanded. Without a germane PhD there was no future for us women while our male colleagues in the national security domains faced no such obstacles.
So, I scratched and clawed my way onto national security projects where I wanted to be. I landed a spot on a logistics project for the air force where I worked on models for moving munitions. During a visit to an Air Force base (where I got to meet my first nuclear weapon), a Lt. Colonel on the project harassed me so ferociously and caustically that a male colleague named Lionel Galway reported him. I begged him not to; however, California’s laws on this issue were very strict. As the only female on the project, no one believed that it was not me who reported the Lt. Colonel whose name I mercifully cannot recall. I left the project shortly thereafter as most of the team members one by one signaled that I was unwelcome.
RAND would ultimately settle a class action law suit for sexual harassment. At the center of the allegations were Zalmay Khalilzad whom two women accused of offering work for sexual favors. (In full disclosure, he never treated me with anything but professional courtesy with a dose of indifference.) RAND fought the allegations tooth and nail and continued to promote Khalilzad who would eventually become a member of RAND’s senior leadership. With the election of George Bush to the White House in 2000, Khalilzad would become in turn the ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. Wherever he went, rumors of predatory behavior blossomed. The lawsuit against RAND wound through the courts for years. In the end, when RAND settled, the primary litigants were offered something to the order of $20,000. It was nothing. As a member of the class, I received a few hundred dollars. The only winners were the lawyers. Ultimately, what RAND paid to settle was a slap on the wrist. My husband and I enjoyed a nice dinner with the check. That was yet another lesson in the limits of the law and the price we pay if we seek justice.
The Endless Costs of Being Female
Each year, I spend thousands of dollars in therapy out of my own pocket which, if I had not been traumatized, would go into my retirement account or to purchase tangible goods that I could enjoy instead of keeping myself mentally and socially functional so that I can be as productive as possible. In 1990 while still a student with no means, I spent about $600 (then-year dollars) visiting a social worker who helped me fight off my nearly incessant desire to die. If I had invested those funds, assuming a modest return of 4% for 43 years (when I would turn 65), it would have amounted to nearly $3,240. If I had put it in a more aggressive investment vehicle with an average return of 10%, it would amount to $36,144. In 2001, I spent about $2,000 out of pocket on mental health services to contend with my PTSD. Had I invested the same sum for 32 years at 4%, it would have become $7,016. Using a return of 10%, that amount would have become $42,227. This is an effective tax that I have paid and continue to pay because a group of men thought it was okay to abuse, assault and harass me. And this is in addition to lost productivity—and ensuing decrements in merit raises—attributable to depression as well as the fact that those of us with such trauma are more likely to be physical ill.
Of course, this is not the only price female survivors of this malevolence will pay. These costs are in addition to the more quotidian costs borne by women irrespective of their trauma histories. For example, women earn statistically and significantly less than comparable male counterparts, all else constant. This perduring “wage gap” is even starker when we consider other factors such as, inter alia race, differential access to human capital investments and sorting into professions which remain highly marked by race and gender.
Women pay significant amounts of money for period-related products (hygienic products, replacement underwear) and medications (for relieving symptoms associated with periods and yeast infections), birth control, abortion when required, medical and other expenses associated with birth and motherhood. One 2015 “back of the envelope” study modestly put these period-related costs at over $11,000 per woman, based upon a fairly uncapacious lists of goods and services required to maintain a healthy vagina and womb. Another estimate from 2012 is much higher because the list of goods and services is more comprehensive. In many professions, women are required to wear makeup, jewelry, panty hose (among other sartorial requirements) for their jobs, although they are not compensated for the same. Yes. Men may wear ties. But ties, unlike pantyhose, can be re-worn for years. Hosiery is practically as disposable as our tampons and pads.
Additionally, women are punished in the labor market for having children—even though the survival of our species depends upon this choice—because women take the bulk of the parental leave. It is an economic fact that in the United States married women’s productivity is lower than unmarried counterparts. In contrast, married men earn more than their unmarried counterparts (the so-called “male marriage premium”). Oddly there is no “male marriage premium” for married gay men. The reasons for the heterosexual “male marriage premium” may be obvious: wives likely take on the household functions while men free-ride on the same. In effect, women subsidize male productivity with their own domestic labor which often compels them to diminish their commitment to the external labor market. This choice is often justified by lower female wages and the higher opportunity costs of men using their comparatively more expensive time for “mundane” functions…like sustaining the human race. It is an unvirtuous cycle.
All would be perhaps fine if those couples never divorced and their choices of labor allocation remained optimized for their stable family unit: but many marriages do not endure. After divorce, women who took years out of the labor market find it difficult to reestablish themselves because their household economic production is not recognized in the market and/or because the skills in which they invested while in school may no longer be relevant.
Needless to say, without women’s uncompensated reproductive labor, this (in)humanity would cease to exist. If the various differences we are told exist are due to “market forces” as opposed to explicit and implicit forms of misogyny, women should be paid for these services rendered to our species rather than taxed.
This Must End: Men, Get Your Rape Whistles
Men have the power to stop the vast majority of the harassment, assault and other abuses of and discrimination against women and girls as well as men and boys. Yet we, the survivors, are held culpable for own victimization not the ones who harmed us. When we speak up, our integrity is questioned. We are told our behavior or clothing or attractiveness—not the predator’s predilections—brought about the incident. We are told that wage differentials and other differences in opportunity and outcomes are due to innate variances between the genders which usually weigh in on the superiority of males. We are told that what happened is in our heads. We imagined the slight. We read into that unwanted touching a malicious intent that was not present. He most certainly did not mean anything by that statement!
What if other crimes were treated similarly? What if when a man reported his BMW stolen, the detective chided him for “showing off that fine piece of machinery and rubbing it in our faces. How could a criminal resist snatching that gorgeous piece of vehicular pulchritude?” Alternatively, what if your 15-year old Toyota Yaris with three missing hubcaps was stolen and the detective looks at you askance and queries sarcastically “Who would want to steal that jalopy? Who would bother with it when there are gorgeous BMW to snatch right up the street?” Or consider reporting being robbed while drinking at a bar and the detective sneers “Are you sure you just didn’t misplace it or even give it away in your drunken stupor? And, why did you take so much money to a bar in the first place? You knew you would be drinking?”
Yet this is exactly what happens to women when we speak up about the crimes against our person.
We are also told to behave in certain ways to prevent ourselves from being assaulted or discriminated against. We would recognize the absurdity of that guidance immediately if we reversed it and offered variants for would-be rapists, cat-callers and harassers. What if we cautioned men “you should always go to a bar with a friend and be by his side at all times because you can prevent each other from raping or molesting someone”? What if we told men “you should wear pants, with rape-resistant zippers, that make it very difficult to assault someone”? What if we chided men “You should not be out after dark since you might attack someone”? We could counsel men “to carry a rape whistle at all times so you can blow it if the urge to rape comes along. Hopefully a good Samaritan can stop you from raping if he or she hears it”?
Does this guidance sound preposterous to you? Decades ago, maybe it would have sounded asinine to me too. Now, after all of these decades of putting up with this bunkum, I don’t think it sounds ludicrous at all. It sounds about right. Shouldn’t we hold perpetrators to account for harming their quarry rather blaming the victim for being such an easy mark?
So, a note to the beloved gentlemen in my life: guess what you’re getting for your birthdays? Rape-resistant pants and a rape whistle. I’m doing it for your own good. For all of our good.
N.B.: This was originally published on my blog at Huffington Post.