Age 6 – 1959 – At the stable where my parents dropped me off for riding lessons, a teenage boy who hung around the stables would take me behind the barn and ask me to touch his penis.
Feeling: Confused. Why this? Why me? I didn’t tell anyone.
Age 14 – 1967 – In the summer walked to our community pool every day at the same time. One day a man pulled his car over and asked me how to get to the shopping mall down the road. I walked to his car and saw that he had his penis out. I ran all the way to the pool. I went again the next day and the same man followed me slowly in his car. I ran again. I didn’t walk alone to the pool again for the rest of the summer.
Feeling: Afraid. Upset that I had lost the small freedom of walking alone. I didn’t tell anyone.
Age 18 – 1971 – My freshman year in college. Walking back to my dorm from a party late one night. I hadn’t been drinking. A group of boys drove by screaming sexually explicit threats at me from a car. Before I got to my dorm two boys grabbed my arm and dragged me behind a shed. They groped my breasts and started to unbutton my jeans. A group of people came around the corner. They ran.
Feeling: Violated. Afraid. Powerless. I didn’t tell anyone.
Age 19 – 1973 – My sophomore year in college. I was chosen by my department to escort a famous Russian poet who was visiting the university for a lecture. After his lecture we got in the back seat of a car driven by one of my professors. As soon as the door closed the poet started groping me, forcing his tongue into my mouth, rubbing my genitals, pushing my hand onto his erection. The professor had, by that time, stopped the car in a deserted parking lot and got out “to smoke a cigarette.” I struggled to get away, sustaining a split lip and bruises on my cheek and arms. I ran back to my dorm.
Feeling: Hurt. Disillusioned. Unprotected. To explain the bruises I told my boyfriend the next day. He nearly got arrested driving wildly around campus trying to track down the poet, who by that time had left the university. My professor never mentioned the incident. I didn’t tell anyone else.
Age 22 – 1975 - I got dressed up for a wedding near my house. It was a beautiful day, so I walked. Near the church, a group of teenage boys surrounded me, laughing and catcalling. One of them slapped me on my ass, another pulled my skirt up, exposing my underwear. They ran off hooting and laughing as a car approached.
Feeling: Embarrassed. Exposed. Unsettled. I didn’t tell anyone.
Age 25 – 1978 – Living in a marginal neighborhood in Venice, CA. Coming home from work very late one night, I parked my car on the street. A man approached as I started to get out. He was threatening enough that I stayed in my car and locked the doors. He pounded on my window, kicked the door and screamed at me to come out so he could “fuck me up.” I honked the horn until a neighbor came with a baseball bat and chased him off.
Feeling: Unsafe. Lucky to be rescued. I didn’t tell.
Age 49 – 2001 – I lived at the end of a narrow road, where I was doing a renovation on my home. I started getting explicit, threatening phone calls from a man almost daily. It took me three months to get the phone company to monitor my phone line. Police ultimately identified the caller as a felon recently released from prison on an assault with a deadly weapon charge. He had been part of a crew at my construction site. I went to court to get an order of protection. Facing him in the courtroom was one of the most disturbing events of my life.
Feeling: Terrified. But I told.
Present – The catcalls, the lewd remarks, the unwanted touching from strangers as well as acquaintances, the feeling of vulnerability in any new situation – in parking garages, in empty elevators as the door opens, the dismissive and degrading remarks in the workplace, the knowledge that many other women, especially poor women and women of color, lesbian and trans women, have it so much worse at the hands of men, the lack of representation in the workplace and in government, the sheer frustration of being a woman in the world today, It never ends.
Feeling: Furious. Outraged. Intrepid.
It is the time when I most want to throw my hands up in despair and hide from the world that I know I have to soldier on. I have to fight to change what feels unchangeable, fight for those more vulnerable than I, fight for my daughters and all daughters, fight to end a system of persistent and overwhelming misogyny.
I fight because if you look closely you will see the fine cracks beginning to appear in a veneer of oppression as old as time. Listen closely, in the far distance you can hear the sound of waves gathering to create a tsunami that will overwhelm and destroy an unjust, uncaring, and untenable paradigm.
The shrill complaints and tears of frustration and self-pity we saw from the Supreme Court nominee during his confirmation hearing are emblematic of the fear that men of privilege are beginning to feel. They are aware that their power is slipping through their fingers. Their privilege is diseased and rotting, soon to be reduced to an oozing puddle of irrelevance.