Stand Up! Speak Up! Listen! And Act!
I don’t know Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who has accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, but I do know that even before I’d started school, I knew to my bones that good girls were quiet, didn’t complain, shouldn’t tattle, and that if something bad happened, it was probably my own fault.
In my Decatur, Illinois, kindergarten class, I was the youngest and smallest student. My classmate Jeffery was the biggest. He liked to come running and jump on my back. It hurt. A good girl, I didn’t tattle. Finally when my teacher, an otherwise nice woman, saw Jeffery in action, she just laughed and said that he probably liked me. I tried to stay away from Jeffery. One recess as I was waiting in line for the slide, Jeffery ran over and kicked my shin, hard. Of course, I didn’t tell, but a very colorful, huge bruise grew on my leg. When my mother saw it, she asked me what had happened, and I told her about Jeffery. Mom went to see my teacher, and I don’t remember Jeffery picking on me much after that.
Several times in my life, there have been reasons for me to speak up. But as a good girl who didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, I usually haven’t said anything. Even when I have protested, usually nothing changes.
When I first moved to Hawaii, for instance, I went to a doctor on Oahu. When his nurse was outside the examining room, the doctor’s language to me and his physically touching me were really inappropriate! I wasn’t some young thing. I was almost 40 years old, a well-educated professional. I was shocked. I wrote a letter to the head of the Hawaii Medical Association describing in detail what had happened. That association head, another male doctor, thanked me for my letter, said he was glad that I had sent a copy to the offending doctor, and noted that Hawaii has many fine doctors. I should just choose another one. Nothing came of my complaint – and I just gave up.
Several years ago, five female students came to me as their English teacher and the advisor to Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society at the college where I taught. The students complained about one male student who had been stalking some, behaving very inappropriately to others. These young women were all excellent students, one a returning adult; I knew them. And I knew the guy. So, I called the Dean of Students, told him the problem, and made an appointment so the young women could tell the Dean what the male student had been doing to them and ask that the student be given consequences by our college. I went to the meeting with the students. The Dean had invited the male student too, which was okay, but a bit of a surprise. The Dean listened to each of the young women and then heard out the male who basically said that they had all misunderstood his actions (like forcibly entering one girl’s apartment). The Dean asked if any of the five young women had filed a police report. None had. So the Dean dismissed the women’s complaints. Nothing came of the complaints – and I gave up.
My pattern has continued: don’t complain, be quiet, be nice— just stay away from those people. It’s my fault somehow if something bad happens to me. And the offending person gets away with bad behavior.
It’s not just guys in our society that often get away with bad behavior. Institutions can too.
On August 14, 2016, my husband and I showed up a few minutes late–perhaps the second time in about 10 years–to volunteer as ushers at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” As we reached the glass doors to the Castle Theater with all the “good” MACC volunteers watching, we were informed for the first time that now the MACC had a zero tolerance policy for tardiness. Barry and I were ordered to leave! At the time, we thought we were the first ever MACC volunteers to be treated in such a way. That turns out not to be quite true, but it didn’t reduce the shock at the time. We are both well-educated professionals, white, relatively affluent — (I know I live in a protected bubble); we had volunteered hundreds of hours to the MACC and without any warning, we were publicly humiliated! I was hurt and angry.
Loving the MACC for its varied events and experiences and with our teaching and counseling backgrounds, I thought we could help the MACC staff develop positive ways to encourage prompt arrival, good training, and improved treatment of volunteers and event attendees. Barry, as the supportive husband and good idea man that he is, came with me as I asked for one and then after no results , a second meeting, as we went up through the MACC hierarchy.
The MACC Administrators said that they weren’t interested in our ideas, weren’t responsible for other specific incidents I considered unprofessional and unnecessary – including an event manager ramming from behind a man who was walking out the front MACC gates. MACC administrators said that publicly humiliating us had worked. The habitually late volunteers hadn’t been late a single time since our dismissal. Besides the MACC had plenty of other volunteers. The event manager had just done as she had been instructed. The MACC Administration supported her. One woman from the MACC executive office did say she was sorry for the way I felt, but neither she nor the event manager knew why I had been eliminated from the approved MACC volunteer notices.
Not wanting to be shamed by telling other people or somehow hurting the MACC’s reputation and blaming myself for being those few minutes late, I gave up – still humiliated, hurt and angry. I told only a few really close friends and my sister about what had happened. Nothing changed. Barry moved on; I’m still angry.
But I’m telling now what happened to us at the MACC. Some people get kicked out of bars; Barry and I got kicked out of being volunteers at the MACC – the institution in our community that brings art and culture to our lives. The whole thing was ridiculous really. Behind the scenes, the MACC isn’t so wonderful to some people.
Do you believe me? If you don’t, I don’t really care. It’s the truth.
And if you’ve read this far, I thank you for listening.
I’m really tired of being “nice.”
I feel terrible that I wasn’t the advocate that I should have been for the young women college students. I could have gone on to the college chancellor with the five young women and told. If that didn’t work, we could have kept talking until someone listened and acted. I could have written to the head of the medical licensing board for Hawaii about the sleazy doctor and continued talking if that didn’t work. I could have taken our experience at the MACC outside its walls.
For women, shame and the idea that whatever happens is our own fault is deeply embedded in our culture and starts at birth.
Why do some women wait – maybe years, maybe decades later to tell or perhaps never? One woman I know recently revealed that starting when she was 11 years old, she and her sister were raped by their father for years. Today the woman is 75 years old and only now is she telling!
Covering up the bad behavior of others doesn’t really help anyone.
Some of those U.S. Senators who smeared and humiliated Anita Hill 27 years ago when she testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas will be judging Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
Is Dr. Ford telling the truth? A resounding YES is my opinion – even if she has waited years to tell and didn’t tell her “loving parents” – as our president disparagingly called them. Of course, she wouldn’t have told. I had loving parents too.
It would be just and reasonable to have an actual investigation – not the “he says,” “she says” grilling by a Republican prosecuting attorney with no witnesses in front of the 21-member (17 of them white males) Senate Judiciary Committee that is now scheduled to happen Thursday – and no matter what happens in that Senate committee, the vote to confirm Kavanaugh is already scheduled for Friday. I hope this makes you mad.
Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat, one of only four women on that Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday, September 20th, “I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change” (“The Maui News, 9/21/18, A 1).
U.S. Senator, Mazie Hirono, Democrat, Hawaii
I wonder what kind of man Jeffery, my kindergarten classmate, grew up to be. That creepy doctor is unlikely have stopped his actions because he just got a letter from me. What about the male college student? Do you think he learned anything from being called in to the Dean’s office and having the young women’s complaints dismissed?
Thank you to the #MeToo Movement, Anita Hill, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and all the women and men in the world who speak out and speak up — and don’t give up. And thanks to all the people who are listening and asking for justice.
We are flawed human beings. We all make mistakes, but covering up for others, excusing with “boys will be boys” attitudes, or pushing someone around because you can are not evolved ways to be and don’t help anyone grow or change.
We can together create a better world, but not if people feel they must stay quiet and can’t tell the truth – and when others don’t show respect or listen.
Good luck, Dr. Ford. I’m wishing you strength. Thank you for standing up.
But it is hard to change things alone.
The really frightening aspect of Brett Kavanaugh becoming a U.S. Supreme Court Justice is that he is only 54 years old, the appointment is for life, and his record is of an extremely conservative judge: against women’s rights, immigrant rights, environmental protection, gun restrictions . . .
On this U.S. National Voter Registration Day, September 25, please
- Make sure you are registered to vote,
- Become an informed citizen on local, state, and national issues, and then
- Vote on November 6, 2018.
Michael Moore’s new movie Fahrenheit 11/9 notes that 100 million Americans did not vote in the 2016 Presidential Election! Get informed — and make your voice heard!
Banner photo: Maui Arts and Cultural Center – photo mauiarts.org