So here we are, another Senate Judiciary Committee preparing to ask a woman about her claims of sexual misconduct (such a polite word for the behavior) at the hands of a Supreme Court nominee. Now, as in the Anita Hill hearings in 1991, the panel will be white and male.
Now as 27 years ago, we are having a national conversation about what behavior is O.K. I am startled by the behavior that some people see as normal. Have I led that sheltered a life to be so shocked at this idea that boys will be rapists, and we should see this violent behavior as normal?
Let me stress that I'm not judging the Supreme Court nominee or his accuser--either now or in 1991. I am judging the national conversation. I don't think that adolescents of either gender get a free pass to behave in aggressive ways just because their brains aren't fully developed. We train 2 year olds to behave differently, and I don't suspend those expectations once the child hits puberty.
It's a very strange time we're living in, with a variety of accusations of sexual awfulness swirling in the national news: from priests to presidents to so many people across a variety of entertainment industries. A few weeks ago, as the details of the Pennsylvania predator priests dominated the news, I told a friend that I was finding the coverage to be very triggering. I said, "And I've never experienced that kind of abuse. Just the normal stuff: people hollering at me from cars when I'm out for a run or following me . . ." And then I realized what I was saying--that I accept that behavior as normal. I expect to tolerate it, just because I'm a woman out and about in the world.
I tend to dismiss it, even as those incidents make me feel a bit nauseated and distinctly threatened. This summer has also been the summer of the missing college girl who turned up murdered in the trunk of a car of a man who wouldn't take no for an answer. It's a reminder of the price of being female in the world.
When I was younger, I read all sorts of books about developmental psychology. I was intrigued by the stories of women at midlife who reacted in various ways. I read about women who felt invisible and wanted to prove their continued attractiveness. I read about other women who finally felt free to evolve.
I have always felt a bit invisible when it comes to the male gaze. I have a type of attractiveness, to be sure, but it's not the type that we see as valued across popular culture. It's an attractiveness that I think of as sturdy, as opposed to bubbly and cute. If you wanted a companion to homestead Mars, you might choose me. If you need a woman on your arm who looks good in designer duds, you'll likely choose someone else.
Throughout much of my life, I've been O.K. with that, while at the same time knowing that this invisibility doesn't insure I am protected from the threats that come with existence in a female body. I am yearning for the time when these sexual assaults are no longer front and center news stories.
I yearn for the time that they aren't front and center news stories because they no longer happen, not just because we outraged about something else.
Heart heavy sigh.