Conditioning

I don’t recall the exact year but I would put it at 6th or 7th grade.  So it would have been 1969ish.   The boys and girls were split up and taken to different rooms at Brockett Elementary School in Tucker, Georgia.  And the teachers began the excruciatingly uncomfortable process of giving us our first sex education class.  I don’t have much recollection of the content other than we were all wishing it would hurry up and be over so we could get out to the playground and play dodgeball or something.

I do recall that this is where the conditioning started.  This session began a long process that extended through my teens that taught me that it was my job to keep myself from getting raped.  Never go out at night by yourself.  Carry a whistle and mace.  Have your car keys ready for quick entry and then lock those doors immediately!  Avoid eye contact.  Don’t dress suggestively.  Take a self-defense course.  You know all the things we were taught.  We’re still teaching those things to our girls.  You must be diligent or else something bad will happen to you.

Which naturally leads to this – If the attack finally does happen, what did YOU, young lady, do to bring it on?  You must have done something.  Went to the wrong place.  Wore the wrong clothes.  Forgot your mace.  Didn’t have your keys ready.  Drank too much.

Who were these sexual predators hiding in the dark just waiting to pounce on every unsuspecting girl who had the poor judgment to be in that place at that time?

It turned out that the majority of them were in plain sight.  Sure, occasionally, some creepy creep would jump out from behind a tree and attack someone.  A creepy creep in a van would pull up and grab a child and take them away to untold horrors.  Those were the ones you would hear about on the news.  Making us all afraid of creepy looking guys in vans everywhere.

But those attacks were the anomaly.  The majority of the attacks were carried out by the guys you knew and trusted.  The priest in your parish.  The coach of your sports team.  The nice, clean-cut guy who promised your father he’d get you home from your date on time.  Members of your own family.

All the sex education classes I sat in on never mentioned those guys.  None of us were prepared for that.

What a disservice to all of us.  While we were all moving quickly through the dark corners of our neighborhoods in an attempt to avoid the monster in the bushes he was standing out in the open just waiting for the opportunity to coax us into a false sense of security.

The lie that the victim of sexual assault is the cause of the attack has been going on for thousands of years.  And it continues.  Women, children and young men who are sexually assaulted all have the same thought process – It was my fault.

And out of the shame of that comes the silence.  Or maybe, like in my case, it wasn’t shame as much as pragmatism.

I was sexually assaulted at 21.  While I don’t intend for this blog site to be all about me, it is sometimes necessary to tell my own stories in order to explain my stance on the topic at hand.

With the #MeToo movement and the Kavanaugh hearings we are in the middle of a huge cultural awakening.  We thought we’d been here before.  We thought we had made some progress.

Apparently not.  Women are still not believed.  Men are still calling the shots.  And not only are they calling the shots, they are seriously attempting to make things worse rather than better.  That is not hyperbole.  That is a fact.  Denying access to birth control and abortions is happening right this minute.  Some women are fine with that.  Those women are more dangerous than the men pushing for those changes.  But we’ll talk about them another day.

So, I’ll tell my own story to make a point about #WhyIDidntReport.

My sexual assault story is unremarkable.  Unremarkable because I made it so.  I walked away from the experience with minimal physical damage, no life-long psychological trauma and very little anger.  That is partially due to my personality and partially due to my conditioning.

As a 61-year-old, cranky, fed-up woman, I look back on my 21-year-old self and am not even slightly surprised by the way that young woman dealt with the attack.  What I do find interesting is, that much like Christine Blasey Ford, there are total time periods of that night that I cannot remember at all.  Like how I got home.  And yet, the actual attack itself is seared into my brain.  I remember it in excruciating detail.  So while I have assured myself  that I wasn’t traumatized by the event, it obviously had a deep effect on my memories of it.

I can’t tell you the exact date.  As I’ve attempted to piece it together, I am pretty sure it happened in the fall of 1978.  I was 21.  I think it was a weeknight but can’t be positive about that.  Here is what I do remember:

First, I won’t use my friend’s name here.  I haven’t spoken to her in maybe 25 years.  To my knowledge she isn’t on social media.  But I still want to respect her privacy.  Let’s call her Jane.

Jane and I went to a bar called Timothy Johns in what is now the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia.  Timothy Johns was a pretty popular spot in those days.  It was in the lower level of a nondescript office building on Roswell Road just off the exit ramp from I-285.  We went there often, usually as part of a larger group of friends. But that night it was just the two of us.  I don’t recall who drove but it was probably me.

I think it was a week night simply because I recall it wasn’t very crowded and we were able to actually sit at a table.  We got our drinks, sat down across from each other in two of the four seats and started chatting.  We weren’t there very long when two young men walked up and asked if they could join us.  Before either of us could say anything, they plopped down in the two remaining chairs.  We kind of laughed it off.  I suppose we exchanged names but I have no recollection of either of theirs.  They were just your basic 20-something, clean-cut, white guys.  I have no memory of what either of them looked like other than that.

The one to my right immediately engaged me in conversation.  The one to my left was totally focused on Jane.  There was a short period of chit-chat.  Then the one focused on me said he needed some cigarettes and asked me to come with him to the cigarette machine that was near the front entrance.  (This was the 70’s.)  I declined.  He insisted that I go with him to the machine.

“Come on.  Don’t make me go by myself. We’ll only be gone a minute.  We’ll be right back.”

I looked at Jane who said, “I’ll be fine.  I’ll save your seat.”

So I got up and walked with him to the machine by the front door.  I remember he was talking the whole time but I have no memory of what he was saying.  I know now that he was simply trying to keep me distracted.

As soon as the pack of cigarettes popped out, he grabbed them and my arm and said, “Let’ go outside so I can smoke.”  This was not necessary.  Like I said this was the 70’s.  People smoked in bars.  All the time.

“No.  I’ll just go back to the table.”

He didn’t let go of my arm and continued to pull me to the door.  It was open, the guy who checked IDs was sitting on his stool and other people were standing there waiting to get checked to come inside.

This is where the conditioning comes in.  I didn’t want to be rude and I didn’t want to cause a scene.  I didn’t want to go outside with him but being rude was a much bigger problem for me.  So, I let him pull me outside.

I knew within seconds I had screwed up.  (See, still blaming myself.)

As soon as we cleared the door and the people standing there, he clasped my arm tighter and pulled me around the corner of the building to the parking lot where it was darker.  Within seconds he had pushed me backwards onto the hood of a car.  Somehow, he had managed to do it so both my arms were pinned under me.  My feet were off the ground so I couldn’t get any traction.

I immediately started to thrash around and went to start yelling.  He was on top of me and covered my mouth with his.  He wasn’t kissing me.  He was attempting to muffle my screams.  Since my arms were pinned and my feet were off the ground and he had all of his weight on my body there was very little I could do.  I moved every part of me that I could.  As he was attempting to get under my clothes I wiggled, lurched and fought as hard as I could.  All of this happened in seconds.  His speed was really remarkable.

I have no idea how much time had passed but my next memory was of  Jane yelling and his friend telling him to stop.  I seem to remember his friend actually pulling him off of me. I sort of slid off the car and Jane grabbed me to keep me from falling.  She had my purse.  We moved quickly away from there.  And then the memory stops.

I don’t know which of us drove back to my apartment. I don’t remember what we talked about.  I don’t remember anything else.

I just never thought about it.  I pushed it all to the back of my mind.  I never considered reporting it.  I never thought about going into the bar and telling anyone there about it.  I don’t think I told my boyfriend about it.

And here is why – It happened because I let it.  I willingly went with him to the cigarette machine and against my better judgment I allowed myself to be led out of the bar.

I let my guard down and this was the result.  The way I viewed it, he didn’t rape me, I wasn’t hurt, so it just didn’t matter.

Old lady Lisa sees all of this quite differently.  First, my friend and I were targeted.  I know those men saw us alone in the bar and quickly determined that we weren’t with other friends or boyfriends.  There were two empty chairs at our table.  They planned to focus on each of us so we weren’t totally paying attention to each other.  We weren’t there looking to get picked up.  We both had boyfriends and besides, we weren’t “those kind of girls”.  And while Guy 1 managed to get me out to the parking lot, Guy 2 would continue to distract Jane.  It was going to plan until Jane, worried that I had been gone too long, made the decision to come looking for me.  Thank God she did.  I am certain if she hadn’t I would have been raped.

The conditioning of our young minds had worked.  I didn’t blame those guys.  I blamed myself.  I just buried it and went on about my life.

Just like I was supposed to.

Here we are 39 years later.  What has changed?  Not much.

Sexual predators are still attacking women, young girls and boys.  Some will be held accountable.  While others will become President of the United States and Supreme Court Justice.

This is not Republicans against Democrats.  Both political parties have had their share of creepy creeps in their ranks.

This is about conditioning.  We are all guilty of it.  People who have been sexually assaulted have been conditioned to blame themselves and by extension, to avoid all the of the heartache that comes with having to prove what happened to you.

Silence becomes the better choice.

It makes absolutely NO difference whether you believe Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh.  Your opinions about why she waited to come forward or whether or not he was a drunken, privileged brat are unimportant.

Yes, there have been instances of false accusations.  But they are minor when compared to the number of real assaults that occur every day.

We don’t get to pick and choose which cases are investigated and which ones are not.

Every alleged crime should be investigated ESPECIALLY if it involves a minor.  Those investigations should be carried out fairly and without prejudice.  That is the job of law enforcement not the voices of Facebook and Twitter.

All women and all men deserve to be heard.  Whether you are the accuser or the accused.

Follow the truth wherever it leads.  Sounds easy enough but, as a society we still can’t quite get it right.

So attacks keep happening, victims carry it with them and attackers get away with it.

And our partisan politics keep the truth from being heard in an effort to get and keep power.  As long as our guy wins, who cares if he may have assaulted someone?

We are conditioned to distrust all politicians rather than holding them accountable for their character and their actions.

It’s all about conditioning.

 

Call. It. Out.

Like thousands of others, I spent yesterday riveted to the Brett Kavanaugh hearing.  And like thousands of others, I am now writing about it.

Sort of.

It’s hard to focus on any one impression from that spectacle.  There were just so many.

Dr. Ford’s nervousness and desire to be helpful.  Her clear honesty regarding the portions of that night that she cannot remember.

The polite way that Rachel Mitchell attempted to discredit Dr. Ford and her attorneys.

Judge Kavanaugh’s anger and belligerence.

Lindsey Graham’s hissy fit.  And the sudden disappearance of Rachel Mitchell.

I’m not going to write about any of those things.  Instead I’m going to write about our culture, patriarchy, anger and optimism.

When you juxtapose Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas to Christine Blasey Ford/Brett Kavanaugh it is clear as day that nothing – NOTHING – has changed in our culture when it comes to the way women are treated by our government.  And with Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court, it is painfully obvious that things may get worse before they get better.  And make no mistake – he will be confirmed and will sit on the Supreme Court.

All of us have been lulled into a false sense of security over the last 20-30 years.  Women like me, for many years, bought into the marketing that women had it made.  We had the pill, we had careers, we could choose which path we wanted to take, we could support ourselves, we could divorce a bad partner, we could be openly gay or bisexual, we could run for office or run a company.  Right?

I bought it all.  I poo-pooed feminism because I clearly didn’t need it.  I had a nice career with a nice paycheck.  I made more money than my husband.  When I decided to get divorced I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to support myself.  I bought my own home and enjoyed the single life.

On the surface I was the poster child of a successful, independent woman.  I lived in a fantasy of my own creation.

The reality was that I was overlooked for promotions and pay increases constantly as my white, male counterparts were rewarded for mediocre work.  I was working harder and better but it was not good enough.

The fact that I made more money than my husband was always a sticky subject.  Something we couldn’t talk about or mention because it clearly bothered him.  He enjoyed our nice, two-income, no-kids, lifestyle but would downgrade my contributions to that lifestyle and even accused me of marrying him for his money.  Which he didn’t have.  His family did, but he had blown through his years before I even came along.

Once divorced and living on my own I was able to begin seeing the cracks in what I thought was my perfect existence.  And then I began a relationship with a liberal, male feminist.  How ironic that it would be a man who would show me what my female life should be about.  I realized that while I was financially independent, I had allowed myself to be led by the perceptions and desires of the patriarchs in my life.  Whether it was a husband or a boss.  Or my own beloved father.

Once I stripped all of that away, I was able to see things as they are rather than how I had been trained to see them.  I had to come to terms with my own participation in my own repression.

Which brings me back to the culture of the sexes in the year 2018.  It was so clear yesterday in the very different temperaments of the two people involved.

Ford was quiet,  careful and deliberate.  She had a few moments where she had to hold back her tears but mostly she was calm.  She had to be.   In order for a woman to be taken seriously, she cannot be emotional.

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh, who is already holding one of the highest judicial positions in the country, held nothing back.  He was mad as hell and he made sure we all saw it.  He was emotional, he fought back tears, he yelled, he belittled his female questioners from the Democrat side of the room.  And the Republican Senators joined in for a group temper tantrum.

Meanwhile, Feinstein, Harris and Klobuchar were calm.  Measured.  Deliberate.  Because they have to be in order to be taken seriously.

These women, who are in extremely powerful positions in our government, had to hold it all in check.  While the men in the room fell to pieces.

Picture for just one moment that all of that was swapped.  Ford and the female Senators – crying, yelling, slamming shut notebooks, turning red-faced and sputtering from their anger.

While all the men remained calm, collected, thoughtful and polite.

But in the end it didn’t matter that the women held up under the pressure while all the men in the room lost their shit.  Because the men in the room hold the power.  They could behave any way they liked.

In the end, nothing Dr. Ford said and no pressure from the female Democratic Senators mattered.  The Patriarchy that is the United State Senate was in its full glory yesterday and soon Brett Kavanaugh will be sitting in judgement of all the women in the country.  Making life and death decisions about our health and our rights.

Now for the promised optimism.  Because, yes, in spite of that despicable charade we all watched yesterday, I am optimistic.

The anger we witnessed yesterday is caused by this one fact – The Rich Angry White Men know full well their time in power is coming to an end.  That is exactly why they are so desperate to fill the Supreme Court with men just like them.  That is why they refused to have a hearing for Merrick Garland.  And why they are pushing with every fiber of their beings to get Kavanaugh seated as soon as possible.

Women and people of color have had enough.  Our anger is palatable.  They know this.  They know their days are numbered.

I won’t fall prey to the hopes of the supposed Blue Wave coming in November.  But I will concede that women and other minorities will fill a huge amount of political posts in every community across this country.

We will eventually prevail.  We have the numbers on our side.  But they have money and a strong lack of moral character.  They will stop at nothing to hold on to power.  Take a look at gerrymandering and voter suppression not to mention standing by while a hostile foreign government has its way with our election processes.

Women have been conditioned to be quiet, polite, helpful and careful.

That needs to stop.  Now.  Show your anger.  Raise your voice.  Push your way into the places that you have been locked out of.

But most of all – Call. It. Out.  When a guy is a jerk – call him on it.  When a politician is solicitous and condescending – call him on it.  When your boss passes over you in favor of the mediocre dude in the next cubicle – call him on it.

Be Brave.  Be Loud.  Be Belligerent.

Michelle Obama has a quote that I love – “When they go low, we go high.”  But that isn’t working for us, is it?  Maybe it’s possible to go high but be prepared to get down in the mud and fight these bastards with all you have.

Or be prepared to see a repeat of the Hill/Thomas/Ford/Kavanaugh hearings in another 30 years.

Welcome to Strange Land

I’m not new to this blogging thing.  I spent several years chronicling my passage through grief after the sudden death of my fiancé.   It became my therapy.  It was cheap and it worked.

Starting this blog has actually been a lot harder.  I didn’t think anyone would really care to read my thoughts about the current state of our country.  Who the hell am I?  While I could write quite thoroughly on the topic of grief, writing about our politics and culture doesn’t come as easily.

But I’m going to do it anyway.

I woke up the morning after “The Election” (as it will forever be known by those who lived through it), feeling completely disoriented.  And enormously sad.  I couldn’t work so I went for a walk.  I live along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities.  I walked for miles.  And every so often I would stop at a bench and stare at the river.

I just couldn’t believe that I lived in a place were the likes of Donald Trump could actually get elected as President.  And yet, here we are.  Almost two years in.  And it’s even more chaotic and insane than I could have imagined back on November 9th, 2016.

During “The Election”, I watched as the media gave him millions of dollars worth of free advertising.  It was all about ratings and Trump was ratings gold.  What ridiculous, outlandish thing would he say next?  Let’s all tune in to see!  And then he started winning primaries.  And then he won the nomination.

There were 17 other candidates on the Republican side.  And one by one, they were gone.  Any one of them would have made a better President (well, except for maybe Ben Carson, bless his heart).  Kasich, Bush, Rubio.  Sure.  Why not?  But we got Trump.

How the hell did that happen?  Well, we know bits and pieces of what happened and none of them are good.  I won’t rehash it all here.  Books have already been written about it and more come out weekly.

My plan is to attempt to stay a little bit current here.  Which is difficult.  Trump and his minions are masters at manipulating the news cycle.  If it isn’t going to his liking they just throw a cherry bomb into the middle of it so we’ll all look in a different direction.

There are so many places to visit in this Strange Land.  I’m not sure where to start.

Why people (my own friends and family) still support him?

Sexual assault and the war on women?

I better get to it.  There is much to be said.