Boys keep telling me they’re afraid. That they might be next. That a “one-time mistake” or a “false accusation” might ruin them. I never know what to say back. How can you articulate a lifetime of social conditioning that’s been saturated with fear?
Of hurrying away from the tall stranger behind you, always glancing backwards, desperately hoping he’s not following you, desperately hoping your rusty old keys are a good enough weapon to save you? And desperately hoping you’ll be strong enough to use them?
Of turning up your music to drown out the boys and men who tell you to smile, who thrust themselves in your way, forcing you to see them, to know what they want to do to your body?
Of fearing that your body is not yours?
How can I tell them that to be me is to be afraid?
I turned seventeen last week. I remember thinking, sometime that night, “Damn, I’m not illegal for the subway creeps anymore.” I am of age for them, now—one less barrier between me and the violation of my body.
At the same time, in an extremely un-amusing irony, some people were saying Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh should be forgiven for a “mistake” made as a seventeen-year-old boy.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has spoken out about an assault involving Brett Kavanaugh that took place when the two were in high school. She was only fifteen at the time; Kavanaugh was, well, the same age as me. But I am a girl, as she was a girl, and the rules are different for us. Boys can be forgiven for sexual harassment, assault, maybe even rape; they’re just being boys. But girls can never be forgiven—not for our short skirts, not for our naïveté. Or for not complaining—or for not shutting up.
In telling her story, Dr. Blasey Ford has done nothing wrong; indeed, she has been courageous. Yet she has been slut-shamed, threatened, slandered, vilified, and abused. America, it seems, cannot forgive her for daring to be sexually assaulted.
But we can, it seems, forgive Kavanaugh for sexually assaulting her.
I remember when I saw #MeToo for the first time. I remember the feeling of hope, of recognition, welling up inside me, spilling out into tears of vindication, falling into the cracks in my phone. I was not happy, exactly—how could I be?—but I saw the edge of a turning point. And I saw a future, for once, where I might be safe.
And I remember the Women’s March, standing in that massive crowd, in a muddy ditch with filth all over my boots—there to show that I believed we could create a world without sexism, even if Donald Trump would make it a little bit harder. I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, things would be better.
Perhaps they are. Dr. Blasey Ford spoke out, after all. But the horror done to Anita Hill, how she was mercilessly attacked for speaking out—back before I was even born—has never left the Hill. (Literally, in some cases. Orrin Hatch still sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.)
For all the good the #MeToo movement may have done, what does it matter if Dr. Blasey Ford will still be scrutinized before the whole world, as she has to defend herself, sitting in the exact place her attempted rapist will sit too?
How do we find justice in a society that brands us as liars and whores?
And so, I am afraid—so, so afraid. I’m afraid for Dr. Blasey Ford, having to face a panel that is overwhelmingly male—some of whom have already proven themselves sexist, some already determined to break her. And I’m afraid for my friends, as we swap stories of the boys (and yes, men) who have tried to take our bodies—because, even now, we all have at least one.
Just today, one of my friends found out that a large group of boys—boys we know, boys we see everyday—have a text message chain where they share and rate pictures of our classmates in bikinis. I can still see myself, at fourteen, sitting in a lovely park full of daylight and other people, when an old man came up and told me to come sit on his lap—he had watched me and my friends for hours. Another of my friends had a boyfriend who threatened to kill himself if she didn’t sleep with him.
We are all so afraid. After all, in a world where one in three women is sexually assaulted, any one of us could be next.
And what then?
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