My husband and I were talking about the Kavanaugh hearings when I asserted that if I took a poll of all the women I know who are around my age (pushing fifty), I’m willing to bet that more of us have been sexually assaulted and/or date raped than not. I added that, gratefully, I am one who has not.
Then I remembered an incident my freshman year of college that would qualify, by the strictest definition, as sexual assault. My female friend and I were studying with a classmate of hers in his dorm room. We all started getting silly and pretty soon the three of us were tickling, pushing, and wrestling. Then the guy pinched my right nipple.
I remember vividly which nipple it was, because even as I recount this humiliating experience, I can still feel his fingers close on it.
The incident ended when I slapped him across the face—to which he made a snide remark—and then I left.
When I began to tell my husband this story, here’s what I heard myself say:
“There was this one thing that happened, but it was really stupid of me to have put myself in the situation that I did.”
I blamed… myself.
A guy I hardly knew, who maybe hoped he was about to get a threesome, chose to grope a sensitive and private part of a body whose owner he hardly knew, rather than exercise any other possible option. He might’ve tried to kiss one of us if he genuinely thought the evening was going that way. Or he could’ve simply asked if we were interested in a romp. But instead, his first impulse was to go after the nearest boob.
I never told anyone about that evening until I sat across the dinner table with my husband thirty-some years later, both because it seemed trivial compared to what other women I knew had suffered, and I figured anyone I told would say something like:
It doesn’t sound like you were there to study.
What did you expect, when you started wrestling with him?
You’re lucky you weren’t alone with him.
(That last one’s probably very true.)
I doubt if that guy has any memory of this incident. I’m sure it was no big deal to him, except that he didn’t get what he was hoping for that night.
But today, I’m less angry that he honked me than I am that I took responsibility for it. And I’m angry that he got away with nothing more than a slap on the cheek and some sexual frustration. And I’m disappointed that some people will read this and still think it was my fault, that it was no big deal, that boys will be boys, that I got what I deserved for being young and stupid and there.
This has always been and still is a country where men can do what they like to women, with little consequence, in my and many of my female friends’ experience. And I’m as guilty as anyone for letting it continue to be that way.