Sunday, June 5, 2016


As I’ve grown to be an older woman, I hate to admit I’ve lost some of the anger about the status of women I felt when I was young. It used to burn inside me, but now, cushioned by upper-class, white, and heterosexual privilege, I surround myself with comfortableness, dressing as I please in a mostly gender-neutral way, while my body ages and makes me less of a target for men.

Two pieces of writing in the past day are bringing it all back, though. First, Jessica Vallenti’s Guardian excerpt from her new book Sex Object. Beyond the “you’d look pretty if you’d smile” and cat-calling harassment women constantly face, she recounts being a young girl and teenager on the New York subway, where she learned at 12 not to be alone with a man on an empty car or to be with too many men on a crowded car.

I’m 56 and her words still managed to shock me, partly about how mundane the experience became after awhile, even while she resisted what it meant about her and all women’s status in the world.

(And this aspect of using public transit in a rape culture must be dealt with if we are to have a world that runs on less energy. Bill Lindeke wrote an article for MinnPost a while back on street harassment, related to this topic. How can women be part of the public, generally, or specifically of public transit, if they are completely unsafe?)

The second piece of writing is a victim’s statement to her now-convicted rapist, Brock Allen Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer. I tried very hard not to read it as I saw the link tweeted and retweeted all day Saturday. I thought I knew what she would say. I thought I had heard it before. I thought I didn’t need to see it.

But I did. Her words should be part of the initiation of teen-aged boys into manhood, countering all the rape and abuse they see these days in porn, forcing them to know that girls and women are people and not objects to do with as you will when it pleases you.

Her words are so convincing that I'm astonished Turner has not admitted he committed a crime, despite his conviction and light sentence. Like the writer, I’m grateful to the two Swedish men who were biking past and interrupted the attack (which took place behind a dumpster… remember that when you hear that Turner claimed “consent”) because what they saw sickened them.

It should sicken everyone. This young man is a sex offender and he requires treatment, but instead he’s getting six months in county jail because the judge is afraid the recommended sentence will have a negative effect on him. Turner has convinced himself he’s a victim too, that his life is ruined because he drank too much. (And even that idea, that alcohol “made” him do it, is crap.) That’s denial or privilege or letting yourself believe what you hear from your supporters because you can’t face your own truth. Or he’s a sociopath.

What is it like to be his mother or father? To see your golden boy—whom you coddled in an upper-class cocoon through swimming lessons and even Olympic trials, all the way to admission at Stanford for god’s sake—commit an act like this and behave this way after he was caught? It’s almost worse than being the parent of one of the Columbine killers, because at least their sons are dead and not denying they did it. You have to live with seeing him, still loving him unconditionally (I imagine), but when do you make your son own the fact that he’s not the victim: he’s a rapist?

Court experts say that it can sometimes be dicey to have women as jurors at rape trials because many of us will do almost anything to distance ourselves from what happened to the victim. It couldn’t happen to me, we think. She must have done something to cause it. Reading the words written by Brock Allen Turner’s victim solve that problem. I felt as though I became her, reading her words. She is real, she is human, she could be anyone, and especially any woman.

It should be required reading, if there can be such a thing, for adulthood. For everyone.

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