The next time you hear someone say: “How can they remember clearly 40 years ago?”, or “Why didn’t they report it then?”, or “Why didn’t they tell more people?”- consider this story.
44 years ago (I do just happen to remember the date), I had just finished grad school and was looking for a job in Washington, DC. The second wave of feminism had hit and I was quite proud of my newly discovered independence and confidence.
In those days you could just enter government buildings and walk around. I wanted to do cutting edge work in education so I wandered the Education Department looking for openings. I walked into offices dropping off my resume and talking to whoever was available.
I soon came upon a man, in his 40s or early 50s, who was happy to talk. He took my resume and called his colleague over to look. Both of them were quite interested and asked me questions. They said they would call me to talk further.
Well, thought I, that was easy! I will soon have a job.
A couple of days later, I got a phone call at home from the guy who took my resume to set up an appointment to meet with me. I arrived at his office at 11:30 as planned and he suggested we go to lunch and talk. That sounded very promising to me.
“My car is in the garage; we might as well drive to find a good place,” he said.
As I got into his car I told him my stomach was a little upset so I needed to just eat lightly. No problem, he said. I know just the place.
We parked and walked into a small sports bar. The bartender greeted my interviewer as an old friend. My interviewer told him I needed something to settle my stomach.
Soon a cocktail arrived for me. “Hmmm,” I said, “I’m not sure this will be good for my stomach.” “Absolutely,” my interviewer said. “It will settle your stomach right away.” I sipped the drink and ate some food. Actually I felt pretty sophisticated. Here I was having a drink at lunch with a man who was probably going to hire me. What a feminist I had become.
We talked about education as I sipped and nibbled. After lunch we got back in his car. As we drove off, he said that before we go back to the Department, he needed to pick up some papers at his friend’s.
We soon arrived at an apartment house. I was a little surprised. I thought we would be going to his friend’s office. “Come in with me,” he said. “It will only be a minute. I’ll introduce you. He’s really a good guy.”
So up we went in the elevator. At the apartment, my interviewer took out a key. “You have a key?” I said stupidly. “Oh yes,” my interviewer explained, “Don often leaves work papers for me and he is not always home.”
We entered the apartment. It was nicely furnished in 1970s-style, but I was surprised that there was no stuff around – no books, no newspapers, no knick-knacks. It didn’t look lived in.
My interviewer looked at me and smiled very oddly. Then he grabbed me and started to rip open the buttons of my blouse. Finally, finally, finally, this new feminist woke up.
In a state of utter shock, I turned and ran out of the apartment and out of the building. Fortunately my “interviewer” did not run after me; he could have easily caught me.
I have heard men say in response to stories like mine: Did you report him?
Do you understand that there was nobody to report to 40 years ago? Who would I report him to? A government official? The police? That would have given them a good laugh.
Men also want proof. Did I tell anyone years ago? Well, yes. I made my way to where a good friend worked and spent the afternoon crying in her office. My husband was on duty in the National Guard at the time. I did not tell anyone else. I was embarrassed.
Was I furious? Yes indeed. For decades. But I was furious at myself for putting myself into that dangerous position. I was furious at my naiveté. I was furious at myself for being stupid.
It never occurred to me to be furious at my assailant.
And, you may have noticed, this event is as clear as day to me 44 years after it occurred.
Can women remember clearly what happened to them decades ago? There is no question. Why didn’t women report the assaults then? Don’t make me laugh. Did women blame themselves rather than the attacker? Yup. Right along with the rest of society.
Catcalls, hooting, clapping, staring. Of course. All the time. Physical assaults are way too common. Luckily for me that episode was my only physical assault.
Could it be possible that this is a Moment and things will change? I’m not convinced. But here’s another #MeToo to hopefully tip the scales just a tiny bit more.
Men: I know there are many of you who do not need to be womansplained. But please share this piece with your less enlightened brethren. You can help make this time a real Moment.