Men exert enormous power over women and feel they possess a divine right to do so. How many different ways do we see this expressed? We see it in men legislating what women can do with their bodies, their second class status in pay, women deprived positions of leadership, and in the exploitation of their bodies in media, advertising, and entertainment. You get the point.
I want to share a painful and difficult story and an even harder one to write, but I think it important in talking about this subject. It is an important part of why I see #Me Too as very personal. I’ve been impacted in multiple ways.
Dolores was 13 years old and lived in a poor working-class neighborhood in a northern Indiana community of about 10,000 residents. Her street was made up of working poor with a smattering of immigrant families from Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Ireland. Dolores’s father worked in the local railyard where he tried to provide for his family of six children. He was not a big man, only 5’5” tall, but was fearless and possessed a temper not to be tampered with. He once got into a dispute with a neighbor and went after him although the man was almost a foot taller and outweighed him by 100 pounds. His size was not the issue.
One day Dolores went down the street to visit a school friend. She was there for some time before her friend said she had to do an errand that wouldn’t take long and asked Dolores to wait. Dolores was reluctant but sat down to wait for her friend to return.
As soon as her friend was out the door her uncle appeared in the doorway. He engaged Dolores in a bit of conversation and then grabbed her, forced her down, and raped her. Her friend soon returned, and Dolores told her what had happened, and the friend was furious, but, as was the case then as now, nothing happened. The details of this incident raise questions in my mind about the friend, but that is not my intent here.
Dolores went home feeling dirty, violated, betrayed, and confused. She knew if she told anyone that soon everyone would know, and she would be branded as a slut, a whore, an ‘easy’ make. Her reputation would be ruined. More importantly, she knew if she told her father he would march down the street in a rage and kill the perpetrator. She knew his temper; she didn’t want that. She said nothing.
About nine months before she died, I took my mother for a routine checkup with her cardiologist. When we returned home around 3:30 pm she told me she would like a cup of coffee. I was happy to do that for her and went to prepare it. As I poured water into the pot reservoir, she joined me in the kitchen. When I turned to look at her, she had this different expression on her face, I don’t recall ever seeing before. She looked straight at me and said, “There’s something I want to tell you.” She then told me the story of what had happened that day. Her 103rd birthday was less than a month away. She had held this deepest secret inside for 90 years! Hearing it, I nearly dropped the coffee carafe, tears filling my eyes, as I stared at her in shock and disbelief. All I could muster was, “Oh my God! Mother, I am so sorry.”
This revelation was as if someone had turned on a floodlight in the darkest room, the deepest and darkest cave. I immediately understood the words I’d been hearing my entire life, and the behaviors that had confounded both my brother and me throughout our lives, and her absolute loathing of males (with only her own sons excepted). Most importantly, for the first time in my life, I understood why.
Both history and the culture have given men an almost blank check in how they treat women. This callous treatment is embedded in every culture and in every religion on the planet. Seeing the recent news clips and reading about Jeremy Epstein’s exploitation and trafficking underaged girls, seeing clips of Donald Trump bragging about his ability to grab women by the (genitals) and reading the claims of his more than 20 victims of alleged sexual assault is of no surprise. Men, if that is what they are, such as these believe they have a divine right to abuse women to amuse themselves. Donald Trump is on record saying “Women: you have to treat ’em like shit.”
But the behavior of men goes much deeper than the despicable behaviors of these two. Powerful men have a long history using their position to demand sex. The list is quite long. VOX recently composed a list of 263 celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and others since April 2017 that reads like a who’s who with notables such as: Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Brett Kavanaugh, Les Moonves, David Korn, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Mark Halperin, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, and Larry Nassar, former MSU team physician, USA Gymnastics among a multitude of others.
The list and behaviors don’t end there. One of my aunts, 12 years old at the time, was molested and raped by her brother-in-law where she had gone to babysit his son. Growing up I heard many stories about men who had taken their dates to a remote place and then demanded sex. “Put out or get out” was the line and many, although not all, gave in to such demands. In high school, I knew of at least two boys who were guilty of date rape. One boy was a serial rapist. In college, the fraternity in which I was a member, once had a board with some coed names on it displayed as a kind of cruel and demeaning contest. Fortunately, others had more character and concern and forced its removal.
The point is the events we see made public by the #Me Too Movement are not anything new or extraordinary. It exposes male behavior that is ingrained in the culture and perhaps even planted in our DNA. There is a sense of entitlement and belief in the male right to exercise power and control over women that is embedded in our culture, its institutions, and in the religions to which we adhere and hold sacred.
It is shocking but should be no surprise when we see or read about a rapist or abuser of women set free or given a very light tap on the wrist by a judge making the excuse that ‘These are just boys being boys, having fun, and the girls or women want ‘it’ anyway.’ Or, ‘We can’t ruin a young man’s life or career for a few minutes of pleasure-seeking behavior’ because the woman or girl either deserved it, wanted it, or it really doesn’t matter anyway. When I see that kind of logic expressed, I suspect the person on the bench making the comment can relate to the behavior and has a past. It is troubling how sexual predators of all kinds escape the justice they deserve. I am certain there is more to this story than we know.
The issues raised by #Me Too touch me deeply. I have witnessed, grown up with, and experienced the effects these behaviors have on the victims. When I see or read a new story of a young woman being exploited, abused, or assaulted, I think of my mother and what that incident did to her and how it changed and dominated her life, and how it impacted the lives of her children. We have ignored this for far too long, and our continuing effort to trivialize or minimize the impact is, from my point-of-view, criminal. It must stop and those who participate in and perpetuate these behaviors must suffer the consequences they have earned and richly deserve. There are no excuses.