Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Please Don't Undue Everything They Fought For



This made me cry. Not the eyes welling up discreetly sort of crying, but the uncontrollable, shoulder shaking variety which happens when I am angry.

Many years ago, Tracy and I were walking around campus while a social was going on. We were talking and we walked past a couple who were standing on the very edge of the path. I was so wrapped up in our conversation that I didn't really notice, but Tracy did. She stopped, turned around, and walked up to the woman and asked if she needed and help. It was at that point I noticed that the woman was being backed into the bushes, that the man had been browbeating her, that he literally towered over her, and that he was someone who, it was rumored, was a rapist (by rumored I mean that he had been anonymously accused of rape on a bathroom wall and, we were told, he sued the school to have his name removed from the bathroom walls. This meant that the school kept repainting the bathroom walls in the library and people kept putting his name up there as a protest. I should, perhaps note that at our school, though I am sure this happened at other small liberal arts colleges as well, there had been a tradition of women writing on bathroom walls "X is a rapist" and there was constant discussion, on the walls and in the school paper, about whether anonymous accusations should be deemed acceptable.) The woman said that, no, she was fine. Tracy asked if she was sure and she said yes, so we walked away. At which point, the man walked after us and yelled at Tracy for butting in to their discussion. Tracy stood her ground and told him that, from her perspective, the situation looked like someone needed help and if he had a problem with it, she would be happy to get campus security involved. He went away, probably aware of how the situation looked and how, given his reputation, security would not view him kindly.

It has been fifteen years, but I still feel an enormous amount of admiration for Tracy because she noticed what was happening and stopped to address the situation. I also feel a certain amount of shame for my self-absorption and what is perhaps a tendency of mine to ignore other people, to consider their interactions as none of my business. Sure, I participated in Take Back The Night marches and escorted women through Operation Rescues, but that night, I walked by a woman being intimidated by a man who was alleged to be a rapist and I failed to act. It didn't even register in my mind until Tracy went back.

Madeleine Albright said, "There's a special place reserved in Hell for women who don't help other women." We can all argue about what our responsibilities are to female politicians, about how much of a role their gender should play in determinations to vote for them and how their gender should influence their policies. But I think we can agree that we need to look out for each other.

In my life thus far, I have been blessed with tremendous opportunities and I have been enormously lucky. I was born and raised in America. My parents always encouraged me and never suggested expected less of me than my brother. I went to good schools and got good grades. I met the love of my life in early adulthood. I have never had an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. I have never been the victim of domestic violence. I have never been raped. As I said, I have been incredibly lucky.

I am angry that there are women and girls who have not been so lucky and I am angry that, ultimately, it is all a matter of luck.

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