Friday, October 5, 2018

Dear Dad (and brothers and all the men in every woman's life)

I read this morning and as I read, almost unnoticed, tears ran hot and soft down my cheeks...

I sat and allowed myself to feel the emotions which welled up, hot, hard, painful in my chest. I had been feeling them for some time now -an intensified, throbbing, feeling as if I had swallowed something painfully large and solid which stuck somewhere between my breasts and up into my throat.  It's been there always, but at times, barely felt, like a ghost of a remembered thought, insubstantial, sometimes a brush of something sharp, other times, solidifying as it has since watching that incredibly courageous woman, Dr. Blasey Ford's agonizing testimony.

Yes, Dear Dad - if your daughter hadn't told you about being assaulted she has told someone - a girlfriend, a sister, or sometimes even a really good guy friend.  But there are legions of us out there that have told no one... who have incorporated the memories of past assaults - yes assaults (because I know not ONE woman who has not had multiple assaults)- into the core of our being.  We have internalized them, swallowed them and lacerated our throats and hearts doing so, accepted their reality and the self-loathing which comes with accepting the fault and the guilt which accompanies that.

Dear Dad - My sister DID tell you and you reacted exactly as we knew you would - blaming the victim, denying the reality.  To this day, my mother defends my father's friend who tried to rape my younger sister.   I refuse to back down (and my heart breaks yet again, because I lived in another province and only found out about this well after the fact and flagellate myself for not being there for I had always been her protector) and rage, hot, incandescent, flares every time my mother denies the truth of what happened.

Dear Dad: Do you remember the guy I worked for when I was doing my Master's?  He was your age - you know him as an acquaintance - you were of an age.  He constantly propositioned me.... but you see, women of my age in a "man's" field were used to such harassment, accepting it as the coin needed to pursue our dreams, our passions.  We had learned the sacred dance of denying the predator his prey while massaging his ego so that rejection or denial wouldn't lose us our hard-earned job.

Dear Dad: At 13, young and truly innocent, not even pubescent (I was a late bloomer), I was assaulted in a movie theatre by a man like you - an older businessman in a three piece suit, whose hand drifted onto to my leg in the dark womb of the hushed theatre and whose fingers, like small scorpions skittered up the leg of my shorts, seeking the warmth and innocence of my unfledged vagina.  I ran away and saved myself but I never told you... because I knew you would say, why did you go in by yourself (on a Saturday early afternoon after a long walk up to the movie theatre and a subsequent fight with my gf who then left).  I knew it was my fault for leaving myself vulnerable.

Dear Dad: There were others too- almost too many to enumerate - the skinhead at the dance in Donegal when I was 15, whose fingers encircled my neck and who whispered in a hot, stinking breath into my ear, I am going to fuck you (I got away with the help of cousins), the street harrassments, the flashers, the businessman in the big fancy car who ripped my blouse and left lurid scratches on my pale breast (and I still marvel I was able to get away) which I never told you about because I was hitchhiking to school (and I would have been blamed, despite the fact I was 17 and had no car and there were no buses to the college). 

Dear Dad: Each of your daughters could have told you but we didn't.  A combination, looking back, of your refusal to face the realities (for you failed miserably when my sister DID tell you)- your essential squeamishness about female sexuality - something endemic to your generation .  I find it ironic now, looking back, in our female-centric house (4 daughters and always during our teenage years, at least one or three other girls, cousins or friends, living there too)- female issues were hidden, ignored, suppressed and over it all, a tacit understanding that it was crass, wrong, even gross, to acknowledge them.

And yet my father was not a terrible father.  He loved his girls and it was due to whatever he and my mother did that I had the courage to reject those who would take, to say no to the boys who demanded, to pick myself up at 13 from that movie theatre and run like a scared fox but run, not stay frozen like a petrified rabbit.  It is what allowed me, as a naieve 15 year old to fight back against the skinhead, to battle when the businessman sought sex as the coin for a ride down the highway. 

But ... but, I knew when I had my children it was not enough - and so from an early age I talked to my children... I taught them their bodies were their own and no one else's to manipulate or take at will.  I taught them to say NO - loud, emphatically and with intent.  I taught them that NOTHING or NO ONE has a right to the sanctity of their bodies and  their souls and that sexuality was natural, normal and wonderful - but on their OWN terms.  I am sure there are there many things they didn't tell us - that is the nature of children and the parents they love - but we heard about the man who assaulted our eldest in her job (and held her and called the police and praised her for her courage becuase she TOLD us immediately), we heard about the man following a teenage daughter on her way to school and applauded her standing and yelling and labelling, laughing when she told us how he skittered off the next stop.  It is, I believe, that belief we tried to instill in themselves - the RIGHT to their own bodies - that made a daughter a hero when she (she alone on a crowded subway car)- interceded and helped a girl being assaulted by a group of boys (even though they got away with it and the child ended up in hospital, too frightened to testify even with my daughter there as witness).  It is what makes my son comfortable with periods, with women and the myriad of issues which affect only the female gender - what makes it impossible and entirely improbable that he would ever push a girl to the point where she would be uncomfortable. 

But, reading the article I linked above... and I sit, drinking coffee and feeling the hot passage of tears from those too many times when my femaleness made me prey.

No comments: