This column wasn’t supposed to be about this. A couple of days ago I sat down to write with every intention of penning a positive message about the remarkable people I’ve found myself surrounded by in the last several months. That message was going to come from the part of me that is so proud and honored to be associated with these people.
That part of me is obviously still there. But today, I’m angry.
Almost a year ago I wrote a column about the #MeToo movement. This week I’ve been incredibly busy and haven’t spent much time on social media or watching the news, but not so busy that I haven’t seen the updates on the Brett Kavanaugh proceedings in Washington, D.C., related to his Supreme Court nomination.
The few brief clips I’ve seen make my blood boil.
The sexual assault allegations facing Kavanaugh have women, and men, around the country talking. Talking is a good thing. We’ve needed to talk about this subject for a very long time. Not all of the talk is productive, of course, and some of it contributes to my anger. But we’ll get to that later.
I’ve been speaking to a lot of women this week. These women are the remarkable people I meant to honor with my original column idea. I grew up with only brothers and have spent a large portion of my life surrounded by boys and men. Frankly, I have often been more comfortable in such scenarios.
But lately, there’s not a week that goes by that I’m not struck with admiration for some of the truly amazing women I am honored to call my associates and friends. I could list a whole lot of names, but there isn’t room with publication limits and I’d likely inadvertently leave someone out. Suffice it to say, Evanston and Uinta County wouldn’t be what they are without the scores of women working tirelessly, often in relative anonymity behind the scenes, to make our communities better for all of us.
These women are compassionate and passionate, energetic, thoughtful, creative, talented, loving and brilliant. They are leaders in every sense of the word. I consider myself blessed to know them and I truly hope they know how inspiring they are.
Oftentimes, we women find ourselves in competition for whatever reason, and we fail to acknowledge one another. Unfortunately, this can start at a very young age. As a man I know recently said, “You ladies really need to be nicer to each other.” True.
This is my very public way of saying — I see you and I thank you.
For those of you who haven’t done so lately, I strongly encourage you to take a look around to see who is running many of our businesses, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, volunteer boards and more. The movers and shakers around here are very often women.
In recent conversations with many of these women, both in person and via technology, the subject of sexual assault has come up again and again. Every woman I have spoken to about this topic has had at least one experience in their lifetime that qualifies as a sexual assault.
You read that right – every single one.
I’m not going to delve into any of those stories here. They aren’t mine to tell.
I was thinking this afternoon about when I was a young child, probably about 11 or 12 I’m guessing, and my grandmother was talking to me about safety. She wanted to be sure I knew not to open the door for men if I was home alone, even men I knew. It was just a brief moment, but it’s been stored in my memory for decades.
I’m only now realizing the full significance of that conversation. I can’t imagine she had the same conversation with my brothers. I can, however, imagine similar conversations between grandparents or parents and daughters taking place for generations, including now.
A few things bother me about that conversation. First of all, what does it say about us that we almost expect people to prey upon our daughters, including and even especially people we know? Secondly, the very act of teaching our daughters to be safe by not opening doors for men is part of a practice of shifting responsibility for assaults to women.
When girls are very young we start telling them how to behave. Don’t wear that outfit, don’t go to the bathroom alone, don’t walk alone, don’t drive alone. Don’t, don’t, don’t.
On the flip side, however, do we have conversations with our boys about boundaries, respect and consent?
Maybe some of us do, but it’s not the norm. Giving our daughters a list of “don’ts” while telling our sons nothing at all puts the burden on girls and women to prevent being assaulted and allows for the blame to be put on them as well when that assault inevitably happens.
How disgusting is it that I just used the word inevitably in that last sentence?
Turning to this week’s spectacle in our nation’s capital, I’ve heard again and again that if the allegations against Kavanaugh were true they would have been reported to police long ago, that making them public now must mean they’re partisan lies.
Such statements of course ignore the fact that the vast majority of women who are assaulted don’t go to the authorities. Ever.
I mentioned earlier that every woman I’ve spoken with on this topic has at least one incident of sexual assault somewhere in her past. Guess how many of those women reported those incidents to law enforcement?
Given the threats of violence, including death threats, and public evisceration Christine Blasey Ford has endured since coming forward, and the public scrutiny that many women who come forward about assaults have to endure, there is no question about why women don’t report. The question really is, why would they?
In her appearance on Capitol Hill this week, Ford was calm and collected while talking about a near-rape experience. Brett Kavanaugh meanwhile was combative and angry in his denial. His demeanor alone completely disqualifies him from a SCOTUS position, by the way, but that’s not the point of this column. I have to ask, “What if that were switched around and Ford was the one who appeared combative and angry?”
My guess is that she would be labeled as a hysterical woman whose emotions were obviously too volatile and therefore had tainted her memories — on top of her being labeled an outright liar as she already has been, of course.
This is yet another example of a double-standard that perpetuates the problem.
There are some who claim that the women behind the allegations against Kavanaugh are attempting to ruin his life. Such claims are laughable. It’s not ruining someone’s life to deny them confirmation to a lifetime appointment on the United States Supreme Court.
The vast majority of men who face years-old sexual assault allegations suffer some public scrutiny and tarnished image and then go right back to their lives as if nothing happened. That would likely be the case here as well.
At worst, the self-professed sexual predator who is our nation’s president would simply nominate another conservative to the bench.
But for women in this country, his confirmation would send a message — that we’re still not going to be taken seriously, that the burden is still on us, that the conversation isn’t changing, that parents and schools and other organizations aren’t going to start talking to boys about consent and behavior, that the assaults will continue, and that we still need to teach our daughters not to open the door.
My daughter deserves better. So does yours.