I have been a keeper of secrets.
For more than two decades, girls (“young women,” I know, but at eighteen they seem so young) in my college composition and creative writing classes have been brave enough to write essays about sexual abuse and trusting enough to let me read them. I’m not sure what I’ve done to earn it, but their trust is the highest honor I’ve received as an instructor.
I never tell them what to write about. No, the assignments for my classes simply ask them to write about a moment that changed their lives or a particularly vivid memory.
It’s horrifying how often those high school moments and memories involve boys who sexually assaulted them instead of happy milestones. They describe scenes at parties where boys flatter them, lure them away from their friends, pressure them into drinking, and then pull them onto some kid’s parents’ bed and hold them down. Scenes where two boys work together so they can take turns: one boy on the bed, and one watching the door. Scenes in parked cars on deserted roads with no street lights, stranded with nowhere to escape to.
These are boys who planned on raping them but were interrupted, lost their nerve, someone intervened, or their victims managed to get away. Terrifying near-rapes that girls shakily walk or run away from, disheveled and teary, pulse racing, physically unharmed but psychologically damaged.
If I were to stack the dozens of essays like this I’ve received on top of each other, they’d be almost too heavy for me to carry.
I carry their secrets instead.
I think about them often, these girls, but especially today as I write this. I still maintain contact with a few, but I wonder what happened to the rest. Did they ever confront the men who harassed, stalked, and assaulted them? Did they ever find love, peace, and safety? Some of them are in their forties now, with teenage daughters of their own.
In some cases, I’m the only person who knows their secrets because they were too ashamed to tell the people closest to them, felt too stupid, felt responsible, or didn’t want to lose their parents’ trust.
And after years of reading these memoir essays, here’s what I need to say to all of you: If you knew what I know about the women in your lives, the trauma they’ve survived, the darkness they’ve faced, you’d be in the streets fighting to change the world for them and their daughters.
We might actually have a real shot at achieving that now, with the Me Too movement and record numbers of women entering politics and winning Senate and House primaries. Not only are women going to save our democracy, we’re going to shape America into the Progressive democratic socialist nation it always should have been.
But much of that progress will be halted if the GOP tips the balance of the Supreme Court towards Gilead with Brett Kavanaugh.
If the GOP has its way, they’re just going to keep clubbing us over the head with legislation and dragging us back into their caves. Our access to abortions and birth control will be restricted, we’ll find it harder to pay for healthcare, pregnancy will be a pre-existing condition, and we’ll never see pay equity. And that’s just the beginning.
They need a conservative-leaning SCOTUS to do it, though. That’s why they’re trying so hard to push Kavanaugh through and to discredit Christine Blasey Ford. And that’s why, even though they must have already known there was a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who alleges that Kavanaugh “exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away,” they still keep pushing for a vote this week.
But no matter how they try to smear Ford, or Ramirez, the truth is that no one risks a hard-won academic career and credibility unless there’s a good reason. No one exposes traumatic secrets about themselves to the public unless they have to. No one requests an FBI investigation unless they’re innocent. And no one exposes their family to the violence of right-wingers ginned up on Fox News, intoxicated by blind hatred of libtard professors, unless there’s no other choice.
No, someone as logical and intelligent as psychologist and statistician Dr. Christine Blasey Ford always does the cost-benefit analysis. There must be a greater good.
We are the greater good, and Ford is a goddamn hero.
And Kavanaugh? He’s done the cost-benefit analysis too. He’s willing to risk career and credibility because he knows the GOP has his back, that there isn’t even a pretense of objectivity on their part. Don’t be fooled by his blandly-handsome, smug smile and all the glowing recommendations from women. Are we really supposed to believe that just because the guy is a basketball coach, and a good friend, father, and boss that he’s not capable of sexual assault? That’s the kind of thinking that makes high school and college girls vulnerable to rape. Because good-looking, athletic, nice guys from well-to-do families don’t do bad things, right?
According to Ford, Kavanaugh “pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.” He and his friend “turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests.” She was afraid he would “accidentally kill her.”
A man who will do even one of those things at any point in his life to an unwilling woman is a danger to women everywhere. But this isn’t a one-time teenage “mistake,” is it? Now that Deborah Ramirez has come forward and Michael Avenatti is claiming he has evidence that “at house parties in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh, his friend Mark Judge, and others plied women with alcohol and drugs in order to allow a ‘train’ of men to subsequently gang rape them,” we know this is a pattern of behavior. Kavanaugh is a sexual predator.
If a man like this becomes a Supreme Court justice, he will use his power to force his misogynistic worldview on the rest of us. He will hold us down and cover our mouths. (Isn’t legislation the most effective way to silence us?) He will write a decision that “accidentally” kills us. People are already dying because they can’t afford insulin. What will happen when the ACA is completely dismantled and the drug companies owned by Trump’s corrupt oligarch cronies are given even more power? What will happen when desperate women have to get back-alley abortions again?
If we don’t stop the GOP, Kavanaugh will be rewarded for not raping Christine Blasey Ford with a seat on the Supreme Court. He will ascend to the highest court in the land simply because he didn’t finish the job. Not raping her will be framed as a virtue — evidence, somehow, of his good character. That’s the message we’ll be sending to our daughters and granddaughters: that the most we can expect from men is that they don’t rape us.
Don’t we deserve more?
So, this is for all those students in my classes whose secrets I’ve kept. For the girl I once was too, who found herself in sketchy places at late hours doing a kind of anxious calculation that boys never have to make: Too many boys + too many crumpled beer cans + loud music + no parents = be wary. The girl who ended up at parties she’d never be able to tell you how she got to, a little bit buzzed, reciting a mantra in her head: Be careful. Stay awake. Don’t go into a room with a boy alone. Sober up. Keep an eye on your friend. A girl who knows her now-dead best friend’s secrets, as her best friend knew hers.
Kavanaugh and his prep school friends and frat brothers can chuckle quietly about drunken, rapey youthful indiscretions over cigars and whiskey (What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep, right?), but we’ve got work to do. We need to get louder.
We will use our voices to vote these corrupt, sexist men out of office. They will not rewrite our history, and they sure as hell aren’t going to write our future.