#MeToo and the Trigger Effect

All rights © Katherine Hanlon. Clarksburg, United States

If you’re wondering why so many of your facebook friends are posting about tears, frustration, rage and being “triggered” by the Kavanaugh hearings, perhaps you have not been harassed or assaulted yourself. Perhaps you have not had a loved one, or anyone, confide in you that they have been threatened, harassed, attacked or abused in their lifetimes. And I am grateful for that. I am amazed and grateful that there are un-victimized folks still capable of consternation.

But when your consternation presumes the innocence of the accused perhaps you are just as hasty and knee-jerk as those presuming his guilt? Due process is critical. And we ask that you reserve judgment, and certainly crazy-eyed vitriol against the accusers, until we’ve heard all of the testimony.

For those of us who have had men touch our bodies without our permission, watching high-profile men being vociferously and passionately defended *before* the hearing even begins reminds us of our own shame. And it unfortunately affirms our own silence. We knew no one would believe us either.

From the creeps everywhere who stare a little too long to the old man at Ikea who inexplicably holds you by the waist the entire time he walks from behind you to around you because he “didn’t want to startle you” to the guy you woke up next to in college, whom you didn’t remember falling asleep with, and you didn’t know why you were wearing his clothes or why they were on inside out to the date who started hitting you when you disagreed about where he had parked the car, we are bone-tired of men touching our bodies without our permission. But we are also used to it. So we rarely even think to speak of it. Because it is that fucking normal. When was the last time you told someone you had a bowl of oatmeal or got your oil changed?

Now the details of someone else’s assault starts filling our newsfeed. And we start to think about the “friends” who had sex with our bodies while we were drunk. We wrestle with our own culpability and choke down some spoonfuls of self-loathing. We think about our friend who was raped on their first date on a gravel path while hiking. We think about our friends who’ve been repeatedly raped by their husbands. One at gunpoint. We think about our friend who was molested by her grandfather *while her mother was with her*, in their car on a family road trip. We can only conclude that he had molested her too and, shrug, this was just the way things are. We think about that good girl from a good family in high school who randomly “chose” to become a prostitute only to find out almost twenty years later she’d been trafficked — a word we didn’t have back then. I think about the dude who tried to traffic me and my best friend by “dating” me. She and I were both 16 and walking home, not two blocks from our street. We didn’t have the word “trafficking” back then. Or “grooming”. And I had no idea until I came across his (very distinctive) name in a thick file eight years later when I was working as a receptionist for an attorney, the details of more than half-a-dozen of his children removed from his home because of forced prostitution, child endangerment and solicitation charges. He came to my home. He shook my father’s hand and lied to him about his age and being on the university football team. I was alone with him in a creepy house and never returned his phone calls after I got that sixth sense that *everything* was wrong about this guy. I was lucky.

What is triggering, to use a word that apparently annoys people who have not been assaulted, is to watch people automatically disbelieve a woman before she has even spoken. Before Dr. Christine Basley Ford even testified, the US split itself into two dumpster fires, each one blazing against the other one, each side righteously certain of their own right-ness. The folks that instinctively doubt her seem to immediately trust him, certain of his innocence.

We watched #YesAllWomen fail to convince un-assaulted people that other people endure harassment, assault and abuse. We watched #MeToo compel celebrities and non-celebrities alike to trot out their most shameful secrets in an effort to convince others how widespread and common sexual assault is. We’re watching #BelieveHer infuriate people in our social circles. We watch #WhyIDidntReport get dismissed just as quickly and easily even when more celebrities come forward to publicize their own previously unreported rapes in an attempt to educate the public.

And now we watch a high-profile man regale us with memories of pro-golf tournaments with his dad, rigorous football practice, good grades and Ivy League acceptance in response to accusations of groping a girl’s body and smothering her screams, in front of other people, as though his academic and athletic proclivities have anything to do with anything, the implication being that he was too busy being good at sports and school to have assaulted anyone? He is afforded uninterrupted air time to tell us just what kind of man he is, the quality of his character, the meticulousness of his father’s calendar-keeping, how much he enjoys beer and how much he values his friendships with human females. He gets to be angry. He gets to take his time. He gets to dodge questions.

But Dr. Ford must smile. She must be patient. She must be polite. And above all, she must answer every question that is asked of her. And she does. Immediately and directly. She stays on point and she remains even-tempered no matter what.

I can only imagine how Professor Anita Hill feels watching this circus. While the overall tone of the Kavanaugh hearings has been that of the indignant entitled white male the direct treatment of Dr. Ford by the senators questioning her has largely been that of deference and gratitude. Even if these attitudes are as insincere and as performative as Kavanaugh’s crocodile tears seem to be, they are at least not as deliberately degrading and disrespectful as those senators who interrogated Professor Hill all those years ago.

And without term limits, here we are again, listening to Orrin Hatch shake his jowls at another accuser. His outrage against Democrat Bill Clinton for consensual sex blisters in absurd contrast to his attitude today toward a victim of a non-consensual sexual encounter. The mental gymnastics one has to master in order to disbelieve a woman who accuses a Republican man of sexual assault but impeach a Democrat for consensual sex is blatantly partisan.

Brett Kavanaugh gets to be performatively and fully human. He gets to alternate between as many different emotions as he wants without being labeled hysterical or unstable or unreliable. In fact, the more range of emotions he performs the more human he proves himself to be to those who already believed him. And this therefore bolsters his credibility as a wrongfully accused human. He’s furious that he has been accused. As any innocent person would be when wrongfully accused. He is outraged by the negative effect the accusations have had on his innocent family. As any ‘carpool dad’ who loves his family would be. He is sad that anyone could think a public servant like him could hurt anyone. He details his athletic and academic credentials without being seen as arrogant, or more importantly, off-topic.

To the men who’ve groped us, grinded on us, buried your faces in our hair “just to smell it”, demanded that we smile, raped us, hit us and called us names, please. just. stop.

I know that is a feeble request. But it’s all I have the energy for today. This hearing has me replaying the grainy footage of every man who has ever touched my body without my permission. Yes, that’s right. It’s all grainy footage. Because I was drunk for some of it. Some of it was more than twenty years ago. Some of it was so unexpected and confusing that my brain couldn’t process what was happening. Consequently I remember fragments. Some in color. Some without sound. Some without faces. Some images are also physical memories of their hands on my body and their erections shoved against me and their demands in my ear and unsolicited compliments whispered into my hair.

It’s also the sting of the men I confided in afterward who did nothing. And the one partner who was immediately aroused when I told him another man grabbed me and wouldn’t let go of me. He told me he thought I was so pretty he just had to kiss me. I stupidly responded that I had a boyfriend who was dancing right next to us at a local event. The pervert said, that’s okay and tried to kiss me anyway. I was able to jerk my head aside in time and his wet kiss landed somewhere between my cheek and my ear. His arms were so tight around me all I could move was my head, my body still locked to his.

I told my partner on the way home. He bent me over the back of the couch the second we got home and fucked me harder then he ever had. We didn’t have to wait for the viagra that time. At first I thought it was passionate but couldn’t shake an unnameable ick feeling. It took me the better part of a year to realize that even though he reminded me I had every right to storm off the dance floor and not care whether or not I made a scene, the fact that another man’s uncontrolled attraction to me was an affirmation for my partner that he had a woman other men desire. That was an ego boost more erotic for him than anything I had ever said or done. And that hurt. Sure, a “bad guy” hurt me. But a “good guy” was aroused by it. This is the complicated world we live in.

Maybe tomorrow I can summon some of Kavanaugh’s righteous indignation and demand better treatment. Maybe I can go through my resume and see if my grades and extracurricular activities were good enough to exempt me from any ill treatment. I wasn’t an athlete but I was an honor student. Does that count? I was a good girl who didn’t drink until the summer after high school. But that didn’t prevent me from being attacked the summer after middle school. I was sober, a virgin and not at a wild party. He held me down too. But we were alone in a car. Unlike Dr. Ford, I didn’t scream and no one was there laughing at me. But like her, he was on top of me and I couldn’t get away. “I could rape you right now and no one would hear you scream.”

“When I was stationed at Fort Lewis… many years ago… I was back at battalion while everyone else was in the field. Someone broke into the barracks and busted into a vending machine. CID came in and interviewed everyone in the Battalion area. It was my turn, and CID accused me of doing it, saying they had witnesses and fingerprints that matched me. I knew I never went into the barracks after it was locked and knew it was not me that did anything I was being accused of. After a time, I became belligerent, told them to kiss my ass and stormed out. As I left Battalion HQ, I slammed the outside door open and busted the window out of it. I ended up having to pay for the window, but was found not to be the one who broke into the barracks. Just because someone gets emotional because they are being accused of something, does not make them guilty.”

Dude. There is an extraordinary difference between breaking into a vending machine and breaking into a woman’s body. While I’m sure you know this, the fact that you chose this anecdote to make your point boggles the mind. The temperament and composure that is required of a Supreme Court justice has nothing to do with what is expected of a soldier stationed at Ft. Lewis. This is a pointless false equivalency. But good to know that you get physically violent and vandalize when you’re “emotional”.

A dude I know from my dance community, who once helped himself to apparently absent-mindedly stroking my hair and my back during instructional pauses during dance classes posted the following entitled and potentially counterproductive post this weekend in a benevolent (?) attempt to determine whether or not widespread sexual harassment and assault are things that actually happen to women. To quote Dr. Nerdlove from an article I often quote about male entitlement, the mind scarcely has the courage to boggle.

“I am just curious: To my female friends, without giving any details, can you indicate whether or not you have ever experienced sexual harassment and or sexual assault at any point in your lives. I wanna get a controlled sense of how frequent these things happen and to what percentage of the population. Because if we do indeed find that it is frequent and with a large percentage, why then do we find it so hard to BELIEVE the women?”

While it is tempting to lavish the lone man with praise who seeks to understand women, there are repugnant hidden daggers in this “good guy” post.

“Just curious” — as in you just want your curiosity sated? As in you are not planning to go forth and do anything different or quantifiable with any knowledge you incur from your investigation. To that end, within two days there are 274 responses to this post. Can you compassionately respond to each of these?

“I wanna get a ‘controlled’ sense” — do you not already believe the avalanche of celebrities alone who’ve publicly shared their experiences? A more generous perspective might be that he just genuinely doesn’t know personally know anyone who has experienced sexual harassment and/or assault and is open to learning from those who have.

“ … *IF* we do indeed find … “ Um. There is literally no if to be had here. And *if* you think there is a possibility that a majority of women will answer no then you have not been paying attention to the media. And you have likely not established yourself as an ally in your personal life.

“Frequent and large percentage” — what metric constitutes either of these measures?

Listen. The question is not if. The question is when. The next question is how many times? The reality for an overwhelming majority of women is #FuckingOfCourse.

And if you’re going to ask people to share their pain be prepared to comfort them.

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