It’s not about her.

This post is going to be a bit of a departure for me. I have run into mothers who have told me that their young-ish kids read my posts, and this blog has been PG (and probably G, really) from the beginning, and I have no plans to change that. If you are a kid reading this post, go show this first paragraph to a parent, please, and have them read a bit before you go on.

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Hi, parents. I’m not going to use crude language in this post or go into detail, but I am going to acknowledge the existence of sexual assault. Some of you may not want to have to talk to your kids about that, and I honestly don’t want to talk to mine about it just yet (In this context. I’ve talked to them – and am inspired to do so again – about reporting inappropriate touching to me or their father.) So, y’know, content warning.

And everybody, while we’re here, I have a favor to ask of you. While the topic of sexual assault is indisputably at the forefront of the national consciousness because of politics, this is not intended to be a political post. I think everyone should vote in a way that allows them to sleep at night, and people are going to arrive at that decision using different criteria. I am not going to tell you how to vote. I am not going to bring up presidential politics at all, except in this paragraph right here. In return, please extend the same courtesy to me and to my other readers.

Still here? Okay then.

When I was 18 years old, I toddled off to college, with newly acquired extra-long sheets, a new roommate From The City, and the conviction that I was going to conquer the world, or at least get out of my small town forever. (Life is funny, innit?) Pretty early on, my new roommate and I joined some girls from our floor and went to a dance place. This was not remotely like some swank joint in Manhattan, but it was pretty out there for a sheltered girl from Wayne County. It catered to the under-21 crowd, and my recollection is that they were pretty strict about underage alcohol consumption. This is more likely because they’d been busted in the past than because they felt a strong sense of civic duty, but regardless, it’s what I remember. I wasn’t trying to get around the rules right then anyway.

I’ve never been much of a dancer, so I was standing along the wall watching people have fun and wondering how I was going to fit in – a fair encapsulation of my middle school and high school years – and a man walked by and grabbed my crotch.

I was so stunned I think I stood there for a bit just blinking. When I collected myself, I grabbed a friend’s arm and hissed what had happened into her ear. She waved me off. I found out when we left that she hadn’t understood what I said, but at the time I was reeling. When we got out onto the sidewalk later and she could hear me, she was horrified, both at the thing itself and that she hadn’t heard me and responded right away.

I was not drunk. I was not using illegal drugs or impaired in any way other than being a cocky teenager. I was not dressed provocatively; I’m pretty sure I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I was not dancing suggestively. I’m telling you these things not so you know what a good little darling I was, but because it so clearly didn’t matter. Nothing about that moment had anything to do with me. I was a body. A body part, in fact. It didn’t matter what I was doing or what I was wearing or who I was. It mattered who HE was.

So can we stop?

Can we stop commenting on the way women who allege assault or rape look? Or what they were wearing, or doing? Because it doesn’t matter. You can do everything right and behave yourself all your life and obey all the rules and most of the mores, and some random dude will still think it’s okay to grab your privates as you’re standing along a wall minding your own business. You can talk about reducing risk all you want, but I can also tell you a story about a young girl in the 1940s in her own family’s farmhouse who was wrestled to the bed by her uncle. What exactly should she have done to reduce her risk? (She got away, in case you were wondering.)

When I hear about an allegation and the first things I hear in response are questions carefully crafted to not-quite-outright ask what she was doing to deserve it, I feel like a little bit of my soul dies.

I know it feels better, feels safer, to believe that these things only happen to people who were doing something or wearing something or ought to have expected it, but that is a fool’s paradise.

One thought on “It’s not about her.

  1. Jennifer Hartzler October 14, 2016 at 10:38 pm Reply

    Thank you for posting about this subject. I applaud your honesty and your sharing. We need to acknowledge these actions happen. These incidents affect our lives.

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