I try not to talk politics at work. This started out as a form of self-preservation, since I’m a progressive in an extremely conservative industry. Most engineers are tolerant and accepting, but there’s definitely a fringe of rigid, crazy autodidacts. Over time, it’s become a matter of principle. I believe that when you work long days in remote locations and depend on each others’ ability, integrity and esprit de corps, certain subjects should be discussed only privately, and with true care and discretion.
Yesterday, I broke my own rule. A coworker stopped by my desk and asked me what I thought about the storming of the Capitol, and I told him. He’s not on my program or team, and we often chat about stuff other than work; it was early in the morning. Whatever.
The result was unfortunate. We had an exchange that I particularly dislike, that happens with right-wingers who are feeling you out, trying to see where you stand. The exchange goes like this. The right-winger asks how you, a woman and a tender, liberal soul, could support a monster like [name], who has been accused of sexual assault, or whose spouse or colleague was accused, or who the right-winger feels has not vigorously denounced phantom rapes carried out by immigrants or Muslims.
Presumably the point is that somehow I’m a hypocrite, or ignorant, or insufficiently vigorous in the defense of my sex. How could I allow monsters like [name] to stalk the earth?
There’s a lot that’s wrong with that. There’s no quick answer, and it’s pretty much bound to devolve into stupid wrangling. I’m only moderately satisfied with the answer I gave, which was something like, “Look, I’ve had my ass grabbed, been raped, battered and sexually harassed. I don’t know the particulars of that case, and it’s not my job to settle it.”
He looked shocked and pitying, as right-wingers always do when confronted with actual (as opposed to distant and purely theoretical) instances of sexual assault and abuse. Because, you see, for them, rape and harassment are accusations easily made and difficult to prove, not a sickening, lived reality. They’re points to be made in an argument, not a real-world problem that limits people’s lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness. I didn’t actually make an argument, but I left him sputtering awkwardly, which allowed me to get into test and on with my life.
I want to expand on the point a bit now, so that I’m more prepared to deliver it succinctly in the future. When I’m no longer a woman, I can continue to use it for real shock value, or it can be part of my legacy to my former sex.
It starts with a story.
When I was 13, my mom took me to a Take Back the Night rally in a park a couple of miles from our home in midtown Tucson. Such rallies were common in the 1980s and 1990s, when a lot of basic legislative and social progress was made concerning rape and domestic violence. During the rally there was an announcement from the stage that a 10-year-old girl was missing; she wasn’t part of the rally, but she’d been watching along the parade route.
The following day it was reported in the paper that she had been abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered while the rally was in progress. My mom was in tears when she told me this — she was shocked and terrified. I don’t think the murderer was ever found; certainly not in the months or years following the event.
It happened within a mile of our house, to a girl just a bit younger than myself. It pretty clearly seemed to be an act of retaliation and a warning, though it’s impossible to know.
I was raped at 19. Many of my friends have been over the years. My roommate in college had an abortion at 16 because her father got her pregnant. I’ve had friends, coworkers and neighbors have their lives threatened by husbands and domestic partners. I chased off an asshole outside my apartment in Daytona Beach, FL because he was kicking his girlfriend while she lay on the ground sobbing. He broke her ribs.
I had to watch Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh be elevated to the Supreme Court despite credible charges of harassment and sexual assault.
My polite request to right-wingers whose consciences are wrung by my apparent hypocrisy is this:
If you give a shit about rape and violence against women, you’re welcome to roll up your sleeves and join the movement. There’s plenty to be done. Start reading and listening and learning, and thinking about the next steps for legislation and funding of battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers.
If not, shut the fuck up.
Don’t presume to school me. My education started when I was 13 and my mom was scared to let me ride my bicycle in my own neighborhood in broad daylight.
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