Monday, September 24, 2018

Shades of Gray

I have been struggling with the allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It is seriously a terrible situation all around, and I don't exactly know what the resolution should be. I have my own political feelings about this nomination, but my concern isn't about what his addition would mean to the Court. This is about the impact it will have on my daughter.

I was 15 nearly thirty years ago. It was the late 80s. I wasn't very popular, so there were not a lot of boys beating down my door. I spent a lot of time with my family. I spent a lot of time in church. I spent a lot of time alone in my room. (This could be my life today...) Whenever I did attend a party or a church function, I hoped to get some nice boy's attention. Not in a sexual way, but in the way that girls and boys interacted on sitcoms and in the way we remember John Hughes' films. The way they interact on Disney Channel shows nowadays.

If I had been at a pool party like the one that brought Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford together, I can only imagine that I would have been flattered if some guy had flirted with me. And if things had gone too far out of control as she suggested they did, I can admit that my reaction would have been the same as hers. NO ONE would ever have known.

I am not about to reveal any deep dark secrets that will ruin someone's future chances of ever sitting in a position of power. Like all teenagers and young adults, I had experiences in high school, college, and even in law school that I would rather not recount in detail. I was never raped or sexually assaulted, but I did end up in a cab very late one night after being put out of a guy's apartment because I didn't want to have sex with him. Yes, I had been drinking.

I was lucky. He thought he was doing me a favor by not forcing me, and all these years later, I can admit that I am grateful. Because if he had not been the asshole who put me out on the street instead of the asshole who forced himself upon me, I can't even...

As I was writing this, I read about the other allegation made against Kavanaugh and well, it definitely fits into the premise I was building to here, which is how our definition of sexual assault has evolved a lot since the 80s when he was a young man. It has even changed since I was a young woman in the 90s. Although I am about ten years younger than Kavanaugh and his accusers, I am old enough to recall how rape and sexual violence were defined in that era. Rape was a stranger attacking an unsuspecting woman wearing a mini skirt in a dark alley. Sexual assault was not part of our vocabulary. Neither was date rape.

I say this not to justify or offer an explanation for anyone's behavior. I mention this because we didn't have the language to describe those gray areas of sexual contact then, but that doesn't make any of it acceptable now.

We were young. We were hormonal. We were naive. We were afraid to say no. We were already too far into it. We were drunk. We were high. We were just trying to have a good time. We were trying to fit in. We were just having fun, but then...

These statements are not unique to any specific environment, such as elite private prep schools, Ivy League universities, public schools, military academies, or HBCUs. All of us need to understand that there is behavior that crosses a line into that gray area, and once that happens and there isn't consent to proceed, then there is a problem. And that can ruin someone's life.

I mentioned the impact all of this would have on my daughter, who is still three years old. But one day she will be a 15 year old and the talk I want to have with her about encounters with members of the opposite sex should not include the warning that no one will believe her if. I do not want the words that follow that if to perpetuate systematic inequality. And I don't want her to carry around the burden of secret shame for nearly twenty five years (or more).

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