“Here, pin this in your bra,” my grandmother would tell me when I was leaving the house on a date, or going out with female friends to places where boys would be present.
The item she handed me with a safety-pin was one of her personal cloth handkerchiefs knotted with a dime inside. The dime was what we called “mad money,” to be used for a pay phone call if I got into trouble and needed help.
Writing is often inspired by seminal life moments. My recent seminal moment was listening to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony before the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee, broadcast live for the nation to hear.
Reporters who emerged from the hearing room said people inside were wiping away tears, showing emotional empathy during Ford’s testimony about the sexually abusive incident that she said happened when she was 15 years old. As I watched the hearing live on TV, I simultaneously followed emotions expressed in my Twitter feed. A good part of the nation was weeping with Ford.
Thinking about what young Christine Blasey went through reminds me that the incidents she described under oath are unfortunately not new — not just of her generation, but certainly of mine. These attacks have gone on for generations of young people, afflicting young girls and young women (and some men) who never told anyone, never shared with their parents or teachers, or law enforcement or with friends and peers. Social mores have trained women that it may be okay to be embarrassed, to feel guilty, to internalize sexual assaults.
I didn’t live the privileged life of fancy private schools and country clubs that Ford described. I attended public schools in Savannah, yet stories I heard at the time were similar — parties where the boys penned girls in a room with other boys standing outside the door (or sometimes watching inside the room) running a “train” on girls. I’m embarrassed to say now that we sometimes allowed girls to be referred to as “fast girls,” assuming they were willing to put themselves in abusive situations. I heard similar stories later when I attended a private college of young women who came from what we called “good homes” — sometimes from fairly affluent families, sometimes less so, with hard-working parents who taught us the difference between right and wrong.
I have a daughter, and today I weep for her in this #MeToo era, because in the 36 years of her life, she, too, has grown up in a climate where young men may have abused her or her female peers. I weep for this nation, because in 2018 we still endure the overwhelming volume of abuse by boys and men who feel entitled when perpetrating sexual abuse.
I still have some of my late grandmother’s hankies, and every time I run across them in one of my dresser drawers I am reminded of the dangers my family feared. I may need to pull one of those hankies out for today’s tears.
Christine Blasey Ford has done what many others refuse to do. She broke her silence for what she believes is for the good of the country, in this case an attempt to thwart approval of her alleged abuser, Judge Brett Kavanaugh to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court. She spoke up. She inspired others to speak up.
As I completed this writing, a phone notification from one of my local news organizations just popped up: “A Beaufort [SC] business owner has just been arrested after 5 female employees accuse him of sexual assault.”
The crisis continues. Time for weeping again.