Credit: sweetpea | morguefile.com
The man was my godfather and my family physician. I “loved” him, because I was supposed to love him. My mother revered him.
He terrified me. He was gruff, sarcastic, and critical in sudden unexpected bursts. And yet, trailing after my mother and her awe, I climbed the stairs to his exam room, located above the lobby of the local movie theater, with a tingling anticipation every time.
He called me “blondie.” My mother said once, many years after I was grown, that she thought he probably couldn’t remember my name.
When I was of an age for the first tender buds of breasts to make their appearance, he approached me on the exam table, with my mother sitting close by, and pretended to turn the knobs on my chest as though I were a radio. My mother said nothing then or after we left his office, so I assumed he had the right. I also assumed my humiliation was merely another mark of my own awkwardness.
One day he banished my mother from the exam room in a sudden outburst of “What are you doing in here?” (She left meekly.) By my mid-teens, he moved beyond fiddling with radio dials. Far beyond. “There is some light missing in you,” he told me. “I’m going to fix it.”
Because I had been brought up to “respect,” because neither my family nor the larger world had ever suggested that I had a right to own my own body, I endured, endured, endured.
I told no one . . . except one friend one time. But even as I told her, I explained it away. “It’s all right,” I said, “because he’s my godfather.” And she, having as little knowledge as I, said nothing.
So my family physician, my “loved” godfather sent me into the world naked, and occasionally another man, always older and more powerful than I, saw my vulnerability and knew what to do.
It took many years for me to learn to own myself.
I’m an old woman now, but the memory does not dim. When any woman says, “Me, too,” whether speaking workplace harassment or child abuse, I hear.
I remember being an entertainment, an object to be “fixed” for a man’s pleasure. Remembering, I offer no apologies for the fact that “good” men—men, at least, who are doing good work—are being caught in a change of rules they never could have anticipated. I don’t even offer apologies for the occasional man caught in the sudden surge of “me, too’s” who might have been misconstrued. As painful as all this is—more painful to the accusers than to anyone caught with his metaphorical pants down—it is a good and necessary pain if women are ever to be free.
There are major questions to be asked about what level of predation or simple boorishness, once exposed, requires a man to step down from whatever height he may have attained. And I hear the arguments for “due process.” We are a nation founded on due process. Yet in circumstances where so often and for so long due process has failed the vulnerable due process becomes too easily a cover for the status quo.
It never occurred to me at the time of my molestation that my godfather merited censure of any kind. And yet, if he were still alive, surely I would want him to be prevented from “practicing medicine” on other innocent girls. But even when predators are forced from their positions, that barely touches the solution. We all know that in this country if a man is enough of a “star” he can get by with anything, because we will “let you.”
I know a woman who was raped in her home by a stranger. When asked if she was involved in women’s activism against rape, she replied simply. “No, because rape is men’s problem. Women can’t fix it. Only men can change the culture that allows and encourages rape.”
And only men can change the culture that allows all levels of sexual exploitation, the one girls and women live in our entire lives.
If we keep saying it, do you suppose one day the world will listen?