by Wendi White
During the Kavanaugh/Ford hearings I was gripped by the drama, unable to turn away from the unraveling of another Supreme Court nomination in the face of sexual misconduct charges. Of course, we all enjoy the schadenfreude of a good “How the Mighty have Fallen” tale, but my fixation runs much deeper so today I will dispense with my usual eco-poetic musings and dive headlong into the morass of gender politics.
There is scant poetry in the ceaseless cycle of sexual violence that’s destroyed generation after generation of young women and men’s lives…I know this more than most. You see I am a woman of a certain age, the same age as the Judge’s and his accusers. Like them, I attended elite schools where the scions of wealth came to party hard, notch their belts with sexual conquests and earn a degree on the side in the 1980s. Back in my day, these campuses were awash in cocaine, littered with keg parties, and most of the young men at the top of the social ladder had no other life goal beyond obscene compensation and a hall pass on accountability. College was simply their first dry run at a lifetime of bad boy behavior.
My stories of sexual violence in the shadows of the ivory towers are completely humdrum in their details. They were such a normal part of the college experience that I honestly never thought to tell anyone. For example, I too was flashed in my dorm so some wealthy loser could show off for his peers watching from down the hall. Sure, I was humiliated by his offer of a “hot Italian sausage” but hey, rich dudes are entitled to wag their wangers where they want, aren’t they?
Slightly more disturbing, terrifying actually, was the night the guy next door somehow entered my campus apartment bedroom while I was sleeping. He was so sh*t faced, he thought it would be perfectly fine to climb into bed with me and try to get me to “give him some.” Imagine my fear when I awoke to his beer soaked breath hovering over my face and his hands groping my body. It took me what felt like forever to convince him that I wasn’t going give him anything but a piece of my mind. Almost as damaging, was the fact that I saw him for three years after that awful night and he never once apologized. I, of course, blamed my self for sending him the wrong signal and looked away in shame every time our paths crossed.
So did I find the accusations against a very successful man of my generation plausible? Absolutely. Do I think they deserved thorough investigation by the FBI? You bet! Until our institutions start taking such disclosures seriously nothing will change. And until the thousands and thousands of people like me, who never named the violence they endured, “ring their bells” and demand accountability because they believe “What happened to me, was not OK”, young people will continue to be assaulted, carrying life altering mental anguish for decades as so many of their parents have.
I often wonder what I would have created or led or built if I hadn’t hauled the shame of sexual violence behind me until my mid forties when I finally confided in someone, sensing I might not be to blame after all. What would I have done with the self-confidence I might have possessed? I will never know, but I do know that our children deserve better. We can give them the gift of a life free from abuse if we refuse to be silent about the unbearable cost of sexual trauma, if we refuse shame and demand an end to violence, and if we are able, show the world our scars and celebrate the strength that comes from healing.
I know that I said this subject defies poetry, but Leonard Cohen’s lines from the song Anthem come to mind as the right way to end this post. Thus I leave you with his call to courage in the face fear, because free of fear, we can ring the bells of our truth for others to hear and make the world a better place.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Wendi White is a poet and educator currently musing among the herons and egrets of Coastal Virginia’s tidewater region. She earned her MFA from Old Dominion University and in her day job she works to end violence and develop women’s leadership. At home she keeps one husband, two sons, a garden where tomatoes abound every other year, and a naughty puppy named Rafiki.