Reading the news today about convicted rapist Brock Turner, the accounts of his crime, and the extraordinary lenience of his (six month!) sentence have me reaching for my throat. My gag reflex activated by another miscarriage of justice, I stand here staring at the screen wondering if women have any value in society at all.
And don’t you dare start talking to me about mothers and wives and record numbers of young women in college and female CEOs. The truth is, sexism is alive and well and from it grows the current epidemic of violence against women.
Violence like the astonishing number of rapes reported on college campuses every year. Violence like Janay Palmer being beaten in an elevator by her NFL player husband. Violence like Texas severely restricting access to safe and legal abortion services. Violence like our Draconian maternity-related labor policies and practices. Violence like Rep. Gabby Giffords being shot in the head at a political rally. And these are just the items that make the news, in this country.
It’s making me insane that conservative lawmakers are cloaking their anti-trans hate agenda in rhetoric about the safety of women and girls in public restrooms. Jelani Cobb, writing in the New Yorker last month nailed it: “…the cynical concern for hypothetical violence means that this is not a conversation about the relative safety of women in rest rooms; rather, it’s a means of avoiding the ongoing conversation about how unsafe women—however you consider that term—are everywhere else.”
I read that sentence over and over the other night, thanking Mr. Cobb in my head for his clarity and forthrightness. I knew this asinine controversy we’re creating around access to public restrooms wasn’t about protecting women, but rather targeting a new minority group to hate. I’d not taken it a step further to tease out what I agree with Cobb is fact–we are using this as an excuse for our continued inaction. We do not value women. We do not protect women. We do not ensure their safety or support them.
May I relate to you the story of the little girl I saw for counseling at Planned Parenthood, because she was too far term for an abortion? She was twelve years old and 24 weeks pregnant, after being raped by her uncle’s friends in her own home. I sat with her and her mother in a tiny side room with a pocket door, gently explaining that the state of Arizona does not allow for abortions to be performed beyond a certain amount of weeks pregnant. The three of us sat so closely together our knees touched. The little girl’s face fell and she began to cry, gasping for air, as her mother held her close and I sat quietly with her, bearing witness.
My mind during this painful tableau was anything but quiet. I was in a rage. I wanted to know the names and faces of the men who raped her so I could castrate them myself. I wanted to take the cultural mandate that a man’s reputation trumps a woman’s suffering and destroy it. I wanted to line up every rapist in the street and commit acts of extreme torture to their bodies. I wanted to take the masculine power structures inherent to society and shatter them. I was a wild, bloodthirsty animal inside.
In that tiny room, with that tiny, vulnerable little girl, however, I was still. She did not need my angry chaos. I wanted to know if they needed a referral to a crisis center or information on contacting police. Her mother explained that because the perpetrators were gang members, it was safer for them not to press charges. I could only assume these fears were the ones that kept the little girl from coming to Planned Parenthood until her pregnancy was too far term for the full range of options. Without knowing the full story of the rape, I assumed that the usual factors were also at work here–men rape and it’s considered to be the woman’s fault in one way or another. She sent a signal, or wore certain clothing, or made a toss-off comment, or was drunk or on drugs, or in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In this case, like all others, it was the little girl’s fault that the men raped her. It was her responsibility to manage the aftermath–her trauma, the pregnancy, the destruction of her life. We put this on a twelve year-old child, because we do not live in a world where men are consistently held accountable for their violent and oppressive acts toward women and girls. And don’t pretend for one single second that if a little girl is raped in a public restroom that the story will be any different, the societal forces of victim blame less powerful. Especially if the perpetrator is a wealthy Stanford University student or professional athlete. But watch out for the transgendered folk!
Mr. Cobb, thank you for exposing the true problem–that women are unsafe in the society we’ve created, where men get off and then get off. I grew up in a region of the country marred by the serial raping and murdering of young women throughout the 70’s all the way to the early aughts, by several different men. I learned that it was my responsibility alone to protect myself against violence, that I needed to trust my gut, and walk with purpose, and lock my doors and windows, and not make eye-contact, and look for exits and safe people. Not once did anyone ever say, it’s our responsibility to create a safe environment for women and girls.
This is how I know that women aren’t valued, because the inaction on the parts of lawmakers, the constant failure of our justice system, and the lack of a national conversation show me. So what, exactly, is the fucking difference if someone who identifies as a gender other than how they were born uses the restroom with me, if I could be raped any time, anywhere? When do we begin the conversation and the legislation around protecting women and girls in all public spaces?