Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Walk

I remember that I was alone. Usually, I walked home from school with my friend, but for some reason, she wasn’t with me that day. I was on Belgrave Avenue, and the weather was sunny and mild as I journeyed home from junior high in my safe, Southern California suburban neighborhood.

I remember looking ahead and seeing two older high school kids—one boy and one girl—walking towards me on the sidewalk. As they got closer, I recognized the girl as the older sister of a classmate of mine.

I remember moving to the right to let them pass by.

I remember that as I did, the boy reached out, grabbed my crotch, and jabbed his finger up. Hard.

I remember that it hurt.

I remember feeling my heels lift off the ground as I balanced on my toes to try to escape his touch.

I remember that the girl giggled as the boy jerked his hand away.

I remember hearing his voice behind me as he walked on, asking me if I was going to cry and tattle like a little bitch.

I remember feeling flushed with shame.

I remember thinking that maybe if I had been a different kind of a girl—a tougher girl, a popular girl, a prettier girl—it wouldn’t have happened. Or that at the very least, that other girl wouldn’t have laughed.

I remember that in the split second it took me to decide not to tell anyone, my brain flashed to earlier, more innocent playground memories that nonetheless taught me that a tattler was the worst thing a girl could be.

I remember taking a deep breath and thinking to myself, Well, I guess this just happens sometimes.

I remember that I shut my thoughts down and kept walking.


Full disclosure: Donald Trump was never going to have my vote.

Everyone who knows me well knows that my political leanings mean that even in a normal election, there’s really not much of a chance that I would lean Republican.

I am as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone else. And I understand that sexism and misogyny exist across the political spectrum, as evidenced by the dude who, in the comments section of an online news article, told me and some other women that we needed to take off our vagina goggles and get real just because we dared to say that although we campaigned for Bernie, we would vote for Hillary if she were the nominee. I resisted the temptation to shoot back something about his penis periscope, and logged off instead.

And believe me, I don’t pretend to think that by sharing my one creepy childhood memory, I will change anyone’s vote, and I am not looking for anyone to persuade me to change mine.

All I can say is that ever since I heard Donald Trump’s words on those Access Hollywood Tapes, that thing that just happened to me that one day when I walked home from school in seventh grade, that thing that I haven’t thought much about in decades, has surged to the surface of my consciousness and stayed close. And I find myself simmering with rage.

At Donald Trump’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies.

At his declaration that he can kiss them without permission, even grab them by the pussy because he is famous.

At his admitting, no—his bragging—that he sexually assaults women. That he can do to women what that boy did to me.

At his dismissal of his own words as locker room talk, as if there is some kind of locker room immunity clause that men can use in a pinch as needed. (And anyway, he wasn’t in a locker room; he was at work—at a gig where he was invited to cameo in a soap opera because of the very celebrity status that makes him feel so entitled to women’s bodies.)

At his argument that we shouldn’t believe a woman who has accused him of assaulting her because she is unattractive and she wouldn’t be his first choice, thus spinning an accusation of sexual assault into a boast about his ability to get the really hot chicks, as thousands of people at his rally clapped and cheered their approval.

I disagreed with Mitt Romney and other past Republican nominees because of their policy positions, because I didn’t share their diagnosis for what ailed the country and how to fix it, but even my most negative reactions to them fell within the normal range of election year my-team-is-better-than-their-team/my-candidate-is-better-than-their-candidate hyperbole. I never felt physically sick inside when they walked onto a debate stage or spoke from behind a podium.

What I feel when I see and hear Donald Trump now is different.

I am amazed that he hasn’t had to resign his candidacy. I feel disgusted and anxious about what it means—what it says about us—that he could actually be President of the United States.

At best, he has only bragged about sexually assaulting women. At worst, he has actually sexually assaulted women.  In either case, he now chooses to attack his accusers by demeaning their physical attractiveness.

I am lucky. In the grand scheme of things, what I experienced that one day in seventh grade didn’t leave much of a scar. And I realize that some women have to defend against the same or worse on a regular basis, a reality of assault that is woven into the fabric of what it means to be a woman or a girl in this world.

I understand that when we vote, we all must weigh what we are willing to put up with politically, and what we are willing to trade away, in order to pursue our vision of the America we want in the winner-take-all electoral system we have.

Though I might struggle mightily to understand it, I respect the fact that some of my friends and family will vote their conscience and vote differently.

But this election, I am taking my seventh grade self with me when I go to the ballot box, and we are going to speak out loudly along the way.

And when I vote, it will not be for just the lesser of two evils. It will be for the greater good, for a country in which women and girls don’t have to talk themselves out of their own anger, suck in their breath, and keep walking because it just costs too much to speak up. 

I am seething with anger because we have to clear the low bar of Donald Trump losing this election as a first step. But that’s OK. After thirty-four years, I am finally getting comfortable with this rage.