27 Sep

When Nothing Happens

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have never been the victim of sexual assault or abuse. That doesn’t mean I have always felt safe. There have been many times in my life that could have easily escalated into assault or worse. It is hard, in some ways, to talk about these close calls because, I think, well I wasn’t raped. It wasn’t that bad. That said, here’s the scariest story of a time that something bad almost happened.
 
When I was in ninth grade I lived in London for a year with my (now ex-)step-mom, step-sister, and my actual sister. It was the first and only year I had to wear a uniform for school and I was very naive about how walking around in a city in a school uniform makes girls a target for harassment.
 
The day that nothing happened, I was walking home after school and, a few feet from my house, a car pulled up to me. There was a man driving the car and two women passengers. The women, both adults, kept giggling. In retrospect, they might have been on drugs but I didn’t know how to identify that at the time. I had never seen any of these people before. The man invited me to get in the car with them.  I said no. I don’t remember what else the man said to me, only that was I was scared and upset, and I hurried to the door (but did not run, because running shows weakness). I fumbled with my keys and went into the empty house. I don’t remember if I cried but I remember holing up in my bedroom.
 
I remember being extremely shaken by this incident and I didn’t know how to tell anyone about it—in part because nothing “happened.” But something did happen. That non-event has stayed with me for 17 years. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had gotten into that car. I didn’t know if the man was going to get out and overpower me. I am lucky that I got away and I was close to my house.
 
Even though nothing “happened,” this is one of many things in my life that has taught me that many men see women as objects. Actions like this, or like street harassment, serve to remind women that they are not meant to be in public, that they should not be alone or feel any power or agency in their own lives.
 
I have spent my morning watching Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford be cross-examined in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. I believe her. Republican senators brought in a professional prosecutor to interrogate the details of her story, as if she has anything to gain by making this up. No one wants to relieve the most painful parts of their life. To ask her to do so in front of the whole country and then to answer probing questions about any gaps in her story is cruel.
Dr. Blasey-Ford is a civic hero. She understands her place in the national conversation. She didn’t want to come forward. She didn’t want to do this. She has spent her life trying to forget about the time that Brett Kavanaugh almost “accidentally” killed her, as she stated in her testimony today. Yet, here she is, doing all of us the biggest favor by trying to keep another privileged rapist from joining the Supreme Court.
I wonder if, in some way, Dr. Blasey-Ford also thinks that “nothing” happened. She was terribly violated, but she wasn’t raped. Does she downplay her assault in her mind, despite the clear trauma it left her?
Even though “nothing” has happened to me, enough has happened that I, like most women, think through when and where to be outside alone. I look for exits in buildings. I avoid men who give me creepy “vibes.” These are the subtle accommodations women make for men’s incessant predatory behavior.
It’s strange, the imprint that nothing leaves on one’s life.