It’s the water we swim in

When a candidate can be elected president despite bragging that he just “grabs ’em by the pussy”

I posted something on facebook from Jane Casey’s new book, Cruel Acts – a paragraph about a male detective asking a female detective why the murder victim, a young woman, had not walked the most direct route home.

“Wouldn’t she have wanted to go straight home? Get indoors where she was safe?”

“Not if she was concerned about them knowing where she lived. She’d never feel safe again if she led them to her door, even if she made it inside without coming to grief.”

Derwent shook his head and walked away.


“Just….” He swung back to face me. “What a way to live, that’s all. Working out what risks to take. Who to trust. Walking fifteen minutes out of your way to give yourself a better chance of making it home in one piece.”

“That’s life, isn’t it? What’s the alternative? Staying at home?”


“You’re not serious.” I folded my arms. “If anyone should stay at home, it’s men. They’re the ones who cause most of the trouble.”

“Like that’s going to happen.”

I posted this passage, along with the comment that Mr T had been very surprised to learn how much time women spend trying to prevent being attacked. He had also been surprised when I told him about the line that the biggest concern men have about a blind date is being bored while the biggest concern women have about a blind date is being raped and murdered.

Mr T is one of the good guys.

Mr T is one of the good guys and he had no idea how much we women think about these things.

Actually, we don’t even think about how much we think about these things. They’re just part of the background. Of course we don’t go running after dark. Or park in a spot away from the lights at the grocery store. Or give our real phone numbers to strangers. Or use our real names on dating sites. Or do anything but meet in a very public place when we meet men for the first time.

We don’t even think about this things. We just know.

Discussion ensued on the post, with a friend, who is a kind, thoughtful man, noting that women also commit crimes and that there have been a number of car robberies perpetuated by women by him recently.

And that’s when I realized that he didn’t know I was talking about rape.

I had said women worry about being “attacked.”

I thought everyone knew that meant rape.

I thought everyone knew that rape is what we worry about.

Oh sure I don’t want to have my purse stolen or be carjacked, but when we go to self defense classes?

It’s not to learn to protect our bags.

It’s not to learn to protect our cars.

It’s to learn to protect our bodies and our lives.

A self defense class instructor told us we could gouge out the eye of an attacker – but asked if we really wanted to hurt someone that badly.

Um. Yes.

If my gouging out your eye keeps you from raping me, I can live with that. I will not lose one minute of sleep over it. Attack me at your peril.

The instructor was male, by the way.

Sincere question to my women readers: If you had to choose between being raped and gouging out the eye of an attacker, which would you pick? Maybe I’m just mean. I don’t know. But I will take disfiguring the man who is trying to hurt me over letting him hurt me.

A couple of years ago (have I told this story here?) I was – I guess the proper word is assaulted.

I thought I was too old for that sort of thing. I didn’t think Women of a Certain Age were sexually assaulted.

I was walking home from the State Fair on a major street at dusk.

I had passed a young man – a boy of 15, as it turned out – at the corner. We were the only ones on the sidewalk, so I had caught his eye and nodded.

You know – a Hi we’re both here we’re human it would be rude to ignore you kind of thing.

I left him behind and continued walking, reaching back to adjust my underwear once I was sure I had no witnesses.

And I felt a hand on my butt that was not my hand.

I spun around.

“Maybe I can help you with that,” the kid said. The kid I had seen a few blocks before.

He had followed me.

And he had grabbed my butt.

And he was just – looking at me like this was something perfectly normal. That he, a complete stranger, could touch my body.

I was so shocked that I just shooed him away, saying, “Stop that! Stop that right now!”

I continued to walk, expecting he would go away.

He did not.

He kept following me.

I tried scolding him because – he was 15. “I’m old enough to be your [very young] grandmother!” He should have responded to scolding.

He did not.

I tried shaming him: “What would your mother think if she knew what you were doing?” He should have responded to shaming.

He did not.

Instead, he just kept following me.

And it was spooky and weird and confusing because I am A Middle-Aged Lady and he was a teenager and it was just bizarre.

He wasn’t big – only an inch or two taller than me, I think, and I probably outweighed him.

But I didn’t know what he was going to do.

I didn’t know if he had a knife.

I didn’t know why he wouldn’t react the way I expected him to.

But I did know what my fear was and it wasn’t that he wanted to steal my purse.

This was someone who had laid hands on my body without invitation. Who thought that he could touch me without asking. And who exhibited no shame about it. And who was not going away.

This is what we fear. This is what we take the classes for. This is why we automatically seek the light in the parking lot and look under the car and in the back seat before getting into the car. This is why we tell our friends where we are going when we meet a new man someplace.

“Would you rather be raped or have your arm broken?” Mr T asks.

I don’t even have to think about it.

“I’d rather have my arm broken,” I tell him.

Which – now that I think about it, why? Why is rape worse than a broken arm? Let’s suppose a rape that did not involve other physical pain or harm to my body. Why would it be worse than a broken arm, which takes weeks to heal, not to mention expensive doctor visits?

Is it the reminder that we are so powerless against men? That every bad thing they can do to each other, they can do to us and do something worse? The reminder that we have to watch out for them all the time? That we never know whom we can trust?

When I was a girl, my father told me that if someone tried to steal my purse, let it go. “Your purse is not worth your life,” he said.

“But not all men!” the men say. “Not all men!”

I know. Mr T says he never thought his walking behind a lone woman on a dark street would be a problem.

“I would never hurt someone! Never!”

And I know he means it. I know it’s true. He would not ever hurt someone.

But how is someone who doesn’t know him supposed to know that? We have to judge all men by the actions of the bad ones. We can’t take the chance.

I told the kid who grabbed my butt that I was calling 911.

I called 911 and described him as I looked at him.

He kept walking toward me.

I jogged across the yard to the nearest house and leaned on the doorbell.

The kid kept walking toward me.

A man opened the door.

Of course I have to be all Midwestern about it and preface and explain. “I’m so sorry to bother you but would you mind if I stood in your entryway for a few minutes until this guy goes away I’ve called the police but he won’t leave and I just need to stand someplace.”

And of course the man let me in because he was a decent human being.

I was mortified at barging into someone’s house – a stranger’s house.

Note this: I am more concerned as I write this that I had inconvenienced someone than over a possible threat to my safety.

The other think Jackson always tried to impress upon Marlee – and Julia- was what you had to do if you were attacked because you’d been foolish enough to ignore his advice in the first place and go down the dark allay.

“You’re at a disadvantage,” he tutored them. “Height, weight, strength, they’re all against you, so you have to fight dirty. Thumbs in the eyes…..

One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson

After that woman was raped in Central Park – the one who dared to go running after dark and for whom five young men were falsely convicted, probably thanks in no small part to a full-page ad against them taken out by the same president who bragged about grabbing us by the pussy, I was arguing with a college friend.

“How could she have been so stupid to go running after dark?” I asked.

“Why shouldn’t women be able to go running after dark?” my friend replied.

I shook my head. “Everyone knows you can’t do that.

Jackson was forever warning Marlee (and Julia, come to that, but she never listened) about the foolishness of going down dark alleys. “Daddy, I’m not even allowed to go out in the dark,” Marlee said reasonably. Of course, if you were a girl, if you were a woman, you didn’t need to go down a dark alley in order to be attacked. You could be sitting on a train, stepping off a bus, feeding a photocopier, and still be plucked from your life too soon by some crazy guy.

One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson

Everyone knows you can’t do that.

It’s just that the foremost narrative possibility our culture affords unaccompanied women on the side of the highway is not liberation, desire, quest– but rather rape, death, some combination of the two.

Glenn, Noah, and I don’t worry too much about our presence “provoking” strangers. We are free to be obtuse. Rarely if ever do we fret about finding ourselves in a situation where we’re, say, screaming into a man’s palm….deep inside….is the unshakable certitude that obstacles will melt if we white men but whistle. Each of us takes it for granted: I am no one’s prey.

In the Land of Good Living, Kent Russell

Everyone knows.

And nothing changes.

7 thoughts on “It’s the water we swim in

  1. So many things I want to say … will try to edit.

    Think how much worse it must be for women of color.

    Definitely take out his eye – both if I could. Definitely.

    Every woman I know has a story. Some of them terrible – ending with a rape. Most, thankfully, don’t get that far. I’ve probably told my story here, too. Years ago I was a salesrep for “a major office copier company” and rode the DC subway to and from my sales district. When the cars were especially crowded, it seemed like someone always wound up with his hand on my … well, ass. I asked several of my female coworkers if they had this experience and it was a universal “yes”. One day I was walking with one of our tech reps, who was carrying his very heavy tool case. As we crossed the street a car cut us off to turn the corner, and as we jumped back out of the way, the tech rep slammed his – remember, very heavy – tool kit into the side of the car, leaving a dent. Then he looked up innocently at the driver like, “wow, man, so sorry”. Light bulb goes off in my head. Thereafter, instead of putting my fairly heavy briefcase on the floor between my feet, I rode home with the briefcase in my right hand, and whenever a hand ventured onto my … well, ass, the brief case swung back into whomever was behind me, and I cried – very sincerely – “oops! sorry!” Overall, it didn’t stop the manhandling, but I like to think that it at least stopped one each day. ‘

    Keep up the good work, Goldie!


  2. Total detour but I’m so jealous you’ve got your hands on Cruel Acts… Have had it on order with bookseller since Feb and now library since it somewhat re-opened several weeks back..


  3. Double checked status.. And it’s “on order” for them too.. Sigh.. It’s not like Maeve and Josh will ever change the status quo… Right? At least they’ve actually got copies of Tana French’s new one.. I’m 247th in the hold queue….


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