In my early twenties I went on two dates with a guy I’d been friends with for almost three years. He was a good guy – funny, handsome, smart…but I quickly realized there wasn’t any real chemistry on my end. So on the night of our third date, when he picked me up for dinner I bit the bullet and told him we were better off as friends.
He got very angry, very fast.
We sat in his parked car in a dark, secluded parking lot, and he got louder and angrier and meaner, demanding answers as to why I’d “led him on”. (He actually used that phrase. On our two previous dates we had done nothing more than kiss, not that that should matter.)
And as he really gained steam and began to yell, he briefly turned away from me and locked all the car doors.
He had the child safety locks engaged. I was locked in with him.
I will cut to the chase and tell you he did not physically harm me, other than grabbing my forearm at one point during his rant and squeezing it so hard it bruised – five perfect finger marks pressed onto my arm for a week. Despite the fact that I escaped basically unscathed, it’s probably the most scared I have ever been, the closest to real danger I have ever believed myself to be.
I remember that in the middle of his angry tirade I had a moment of absolute calm clarity: he was at least eight inches taller than me, seventy pounds heavier, and there was no way I was going to get away from him if he didn’t want me to. My cell phone, buried in my purse on the car floor, felt a million miles away and useless. I was alone, without the means to call for help, left to diffuse the situation on my own.
So I started apologizing and making self-deprecating remarks about how he was right and I’d been unfair. It worked. After maybe six or eight minutes he calmed down and eventually let me out of the car.
I am not telling this story because it’s interesting. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am telling it because it’s utterly banal. Commonplace. Typical. Run of the mill.
If you ask ten of your women friends if they have a story like this – or worse – my guess is at least eight of them do.
If my story is interesting at all, it’s because we hadn’t been drinking. I wasn’t wearing provocative clothing. We weren’t part way into a sexual encounter when this happened. Oh and by the way none of that matters at all because that’s not the point. The point is that a man I liked and trusted – a man I considered a friend – locked me in a car and yelled at me and bruised my arm and scared me so badly I still occasionally have a nightmare about it, and my experience is utterly ordinary.
I want every male friend I have to know about this thing that happened to me, and to know that this is just how it is to be a woman in America today. This is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. Want to know why every single woman you know is so incredibly, outrageously angry about the Brock Turner case? Because his unrepentant attitude, the actions and statements of the judge, and the appalling letter from Brock’s father, reaffirm to every single woman that in America in the year 2016, our safety – the sanctity of our own bodies – doesn’t really matter to a big chunk of the population. At least, it doesn’t matter as much as the “bright future” of a rich, white, violent athlete.
I have probably a dozen more stories in this vein I could rattle off to you, although none scared me as badly as the incident in the parked car did. I can tell you about when I was in college, took a Tuesday evening class, and walked home from that class every single week for an entire semester with pepper spray in my hand, my thumb on the trigger. I can tell you about when I lived alone in a large apartment building and a male neighbor drunkenly banged on my door for an hour one Saturday night from 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. until he finally gave up and went home. I can tell you about the time I took the subway and a man rubbed his exposed penis on my leg and there was absolutely nothing I could do until I exited the train at the next stop.
These incidents are all true, and they’re all uninteresting. It’s the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, trending yet again, because every single woman I know has experienced a version of it.
So where am I going with this?
Talk to your children about what has happened in the Brock Turner rape case, assuming they are old enough to understand it. Teach your sons and your daughters about consent, regardless of their ages. Tell them no one can touch their bodies without their permission, and they cannot touch the bodies of anyone else without permission. We can and must do better. We must expect more from our children, and teach the lessons that will make things better for them as adults.
So talk about it, as candidly as you can. Make a plan, execute on the plan. Because I’m sick of my experience being typical. To borrow a line from Kim Bongiorno, whose article on the Brock Turner case is brilliant, we can do better than this.