I was just shy of 22 years old when my boyfriend of two years savagely beat me outside his on-campus apartment. It was a campus police officer who stumbled upon our sad scene: me crawling around on the ground looking for my glasses he had smacked off my face after choking me. He’d slapped my glasses off of me as further punishment for not showing enough fear during the choking. Because as his fingers were wrapped around my neck, I was staring him in his face unflinchingly. My eyes locked on his, even as I was clawing at his hand around my throat, and the message my eyes conveyed was unmistakable: I see you. I am not afraid of you. You are a small and terrible man. I always knew you’d turn out to be this guy.
It was all bullshit and bravado, of course. Inside I was panicking, terrified that he would kill me, and my go-to emotion of bravado was my knee-jerk defense against his physical assault. My determined and, dare I say it, pitying gaze was enough to enrage him further. With his left hand, he swiped at my face, and my glasses went flying into the night. It was then he let go of my throat. Had he continued to strangle me, I have no doubt my resolute look would have turned to panic and abject terror as I struggled for air. But he let me go, and as I slumped against the wall to which he’d had me pinned, he balled up his fist and clocked me with a hard right that knocked me to the ground.
By the time the campus cop rounded the corner, I was on all fours, feeling around on the concrete for my glasses, like some sort of Missus Magoo. Mitch had run over to where my glasses lay on the sidewalk and started jumping up and down, all while screaming “HERE ARE YOUR FUCKING GLASSES, BITCH!” Honestly, it would have been a comical scene had it not been so shitty and sad.
The campus cop helped me off of the ground, picked up what was left of my glasses, and told my boyfriend to get back to his apartment. Had I not been having a meltdown, it might have struck me as odd that he wasn’t calling for another cop to come and take Mitch in to the campus police station, that he was allowed to go back to his apartment full of booze and his frat brothers. But I was just so grateful that there was now a third party on the scene that I couldn’t think at all. He asked me if I wanted to make a statement, and I said “Goddamned right I’m making a statement.” Fear replaced by fury.
I remember riding in the cop’s golf cart back to the station, holding my chin, weeping. I remember, too, how silent he was, and how aware I was that my raw emotion was making him uncomfortable. I remember thinking how ill-equipped he was to comfort me in a time when I desperately needed some kindness.
I sat in the tiny campus police chief’s office under ugly fluorescent lighting, telling my story through tears, a story they made me write down into a formal statement. I sat there feeling very small, as I could hear the shouts and hollers of my classmates just outside, enjoying their night as though I weren’t sitting inside feeling my life unraveling. It was Bid Night—the night freshmen got their bid invitations to join frats and sororities—and historically one of the most epic drinking nights on a campus that, being situated in a rural North Texas town with next to nothing to do, already saw its more than fair share of binge drinking.
I asked whether or not I could press charges with the town police, and the campus policemen told me that I could but it probably wasn’t worth the trouble. “Why not?” I asked, genuinely alarmed. “Well it’ll just be your word against his so.” As he said those words, my chin was starting to throb in earnest, and I could still feel the shadow of his fingers around my throat. “Even though I have bruises and one of your cops walked onto the scene as it was happening?” I asked incredulously. He shifted uncomfortably, “Well, uh, technically he didn’t. Technically all he saw was him stomping on your glasses.” I felt my eyes well with more tears. “B-b-but...I was lying on the ground holding my face and screaming for help. That cop was there because he heard me scream. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist...” I stopped, unsure of how to continue.
The air in the room seemed to to change right then. It was like I could feel the lack of sympathy. The fluorescent lights seemed harsher, my classmates’ voices outside more like hollow cackles than people having a good time, the blanket one of the cops had draped over me heavier and more scratchy.
“I think I need to call my parents,” I whispered meekly, suddenly feeling very alone.
That night in the police station was my first taste of how I would be treated by nearly everyone on campus my final semester of college, a time supposedly filled with joy and promise.
As I scheduled interview after interview with faculty and administrators alike, hoping anyone would help me in my quest for justice against the man who’d taken away my feeling of security, my sense of self-worth, my peace of mind. My confidence dissipated as each of them let me down with a sad face and a “not much we can do about this” shrug.
And all the people I’d thought were my actual friends treated me like I had a giant steaming turd on my head. Literally, they walked the other way when they saw me coming and refused to be seen talking to me. I had girls, women, coming up and pleading with me not to ruin HIS last semester of college, all of them trying to talk me out of pressing charges because of how it would affect HIS future without a thought of how mine had already been affected. I skulked around campus those final months like an invisible ghost. It wasn’t that hard. Since no one had the courage to look me in the face when my bruises were still fresh—a huge black one on my left side of my face and four perfect fingerprints dappling the left side of my throat like a strange and avant-garde choker—it was certainly easy enough to ignore me when I’d finally given up and stopped making noise about the whole “unpleasantness.”
Two of my very good friends were vying to be named as Little Sisters in Mitch’s fraternity, and they quickly let me know that our friendship was done, one of them sending a messenger over to my apartment to pick up some things of hers rather than doing it to my face. I still think about those Heathery bitches. I hope, as they approach their fifties now, they are still resting easy in their knowledge that holding the title of Little Sister in some two-bit fraternity at a two-bit college was more important to them than believing a woman with bruises on her face. I learned another hard lesson that day: you can literally be a woman standing in front of men AND women with bruises on your face, and they will still call you a liar and a bitch.
And as I met with Mitch’s faculty advisor and the same man who was, coincidentally, also his fraternity sponsor, he fed me the “It was Bid Night...everyone was drinking a lot...” as though whatever alcohol I’d ingested that night made it okay for Mitch to rearrange my face. I pleaded with him, told him about lying alone on the cold hospital slab getting x-rays, while tears streamed from my eyes and pooled into my ear wells, how the right thing to do was to make him pay for what he’d done. And make the punishment hurt so he wouldn’t do this to someone else down the line.
But good old Bob (literally, he was a Bob) rearranged his own face into one of faux sympathy and told me “boys will be boys.” Then he told me that if I pressed charges, it could be seen as though I were trying to make this racial since I am white and Mitch was black. Yeah, you read that right. That fucking representative of my college looked me right in my (bruised) face and said “You wouldn’t want people think you’re making it about race, would you?” At 21, I was nowhere near savvy enough to understand that no, it was really he who was fearing not only an assault scandal but a racially charged one. How inconvenient for him! He took advantage of my naïveté to get me not to press charges on the grounds that I was racist against my black boyfriend. When I heard Bob died a few years later and read all his glowing tributes in the alumni magazine, I wanted to vomit all over again. I felt his heavy hand on my shoulder all those years ago, subtly implying I was somehow a racist for wanting to seek retribution against the man who beat me.
After a week of listening to the anti-woman rhetoric coming from our elected officials on the right, I don’t need to tell you how my story ended. There was no justice for me, and I was forced to learn another hard lesson at a relatively young age: you don’t matter.
For that’s what all of this can be boiled down to—women not mattering. To the powerful men on the right, we are a nuisance, what with insisting we now have a place at the table, insisting on controlling our own bodies, insisting on our own personhood. To religious zealots, we are sluts to be shamed, loose women who kill our babies and therefore must not be trusted to handle our own bodies. To men who have grown up in a society steeped in toxic masculinity, we are objects to be conquered, if not with sweet words and gifts, then with power and submission, so as to reassure themselves of their own maleness. To incels, we are targets for rape and murder, women to be called cunts, cum dumpsters, and whatever other derogatory terms they can think of to indicate we are nothing more than creatures to be ejaculated on or in.
And yes, we know #notallmen, so please spare us the usual feelings of male defensiveness this week as we watch our country, bathed in the presidentially-greenlit hatred of women, further excoriate us, all while being urged on by the party that controls every branch of our government. It’s hard not to feel like a second-class citizen as these men make the most ludicrous and ridiculous arguments to defend their choice of a sexual predator for the highest court in the land. It’s hard not to take it personally as woman after woman comes forward to publicly relive their own rape and assault traumas in an effort to get men to understand just how widespread this problem is, in an effort to stand up and be counted, in an effort of solidarity to the women coming forward at great personal risk to themselves to stop yet another sexual predator from attaining a position of power—a predator who will surely tell women what we can and cannot do with our bodies for years to come if appointed.
We are fucking angry. And we are tired. We don’t want your sympathy, we don’t need your defensiveness, we don’t need you telling us you would never/have never raped anyone. We need your goddamned rage. Abolishing rape culture and upending the patriarchy is proving to be rather difficult, and we need you in this fight too, O Enlightened Men. (Because in 2018, apparently, we’ve lowered the bar for “enlightened” to mean “Yes, I understand rape is bad.”) We need you standing up with us, VOTING with us, protesting with us, speaking out when another male disparages a women in a toxic way. We need you to be warriors all of the time, not just when women are around. We need YOU making noise too. We need you talking to your own sons about rape and consent (as well as your daughters).
Look, change is hard and no one likes it. There’s been a lot of whining lately about how poorly white men are being treated. No. No one is treating you poorly. We are simply asking you to be accountable for your actions and to hold other men accountable for theirs, whether it be face-to-face or in the voting booth. Like it or not, you are now a subculture, just like the rest of us women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, hipsters, and whatever other groups are often stereotyped in a negative light. It super-sucks, doesn’t it? Each of you now being forced to answer for the sins of all white men, but you’ll get used to it. The rest of us have.
Bearded chins up, gents, Rome wasn’t built in a day. If we could get white America to finally embrace everyone drinking out of the same water fountains, we can surely agree to make rape A Bad Thing. We can surely get enough attention focused on male predatory behavior to perhaps mean that, in generations to come, fathers will have “the rape conversation” with their sons as a matter of rote. Sure it’ll be uncomfortable, and we’ve seen this week how much white men hate being made uncomfortable, but the takeaway lesson from all of this is that our experiences and comfort or discomfort is every bit as important as yours. Maybe try getting some advice from your African American friends; they’ve had to have “the police conversation” with their children for years now and know firsthand how unpleasant, yet necessary, these conversations are.
Don’t do it for your wives, sisters, mothers, or daughters. Do it for yourselves. Do it because you’ll be a better person for it, treating women’s experiences and emotions as every bit as valid as yours. And if you’re lucky enough to be trusted by a woman who is generous enough to share her own trauma with you, just listen. Listen and imagine the tears pooling in her ears as she stares at a drab and cracked hospital ceiling waiting for her injuries to be tallied up by the doctor, documented on the appropriate charts, then shoved into a file that will accomplish nothing on her behalf.
Her story is worth something. All of ours are.