October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and I always use this occasion to write something relating to current social issues and Handmade’s making comfort scarves for abused women. The issues this year are particularly impactful due to the controversy surrounding the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh as Justice of the Supreme Court of the US.
The hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee bring to the fore issues about domestic violence, sexual violence and harassment. I think many of you watched them. I watched all 8 hours. If you didn’t watch the entire proceedings, I bet you read about them, heard about them or saw snippets on TV. It was wrenching to listen to the statements of each witness. The testimony evoked a huge response in me, and maybe in you, too.
Here’s what I remembered as I listened to the testimony. When I was 11, on a family vacation to Washington DC, we visited my father’s aunt and uncle. They had a 17-year old son, star of his football team and certainly well-loved in our family. He, the cousin, invited me to “go upstairs” with him. He took me to a room higher than the second floor, an upstairs I didn’t know existed even though we had visited his house many times before. The room was sparsely furnished but it had a bed and he laid me down on it. He got on top of me, rubbed himself up and down until he was satisfied, got off and warned me sternly “not to tell” what had happened.
I was only 11. I didn’t have words to tell “what happened” even if I wanted to. So I didn’t say anything at the time of the event. When I was older and understood the experience, I did tell my father. I expected him to be outraged on my behalf and sympathetic given my age and the trauma of the experience. But all he said was that the man who pleasured himself on top of me “was his favorite cousin.” We never mentioned it again. As I listened to Dr. Ford’s testimony, the memory of what happened to me when I was 11 returned in amazing detail. Hearing the dismissive responses to her testimony that followed: “there was no penetration,” “boys will be boys,” “he was only 17” echoed what I heard when I finally came forward and told what happened to me.
From what I have read and heard subsequently, I know Dr. Ford’s testimony evoked dramatic memories in other women too. Whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed as a justice of the Supreme Court pales in significance to what I think will be the roar of women coming forward, telling their stories of abuse, harassment, and rape by men and boys, stories that have gone unmentioned and if mentioned, disregarded. What we should do about this attitude that ignores, buries, dismisses such events is the important question we all must deal with now. I feel we have to change people’s (men’s and women’s) attitudes toward women and their positions vis a vis men. In school. In the workplace. And most of all, in our homes.
What I am writing today has nothing to do with what I think about Ford’s testimony or Kavanaugh’s defense or even the outcome of the hearings. It has to do with what I remember as a result of these hearings. With what I have heard that other women remembered. With what you remember. My experience as an 11-year old girl was serious and hurtful. I wouldn’t want any other11-year old, or 12-year old, or 13- or 14- or 15- or 16-year old girl to experience anything like what I or Dr. Ford or maybe even you went through. When we share our stories, I hope that no one replies “that was so long ago” or “boys will be boy” or “that was my favorite cousin.”
A startling fact regarding domestic violence brings these thoughts full circle. Boys who watch the man in the house abuse their mother learn to be abusers themselves. Girls who see their mother being abused learn to be victims. Many of the shelters have programs to help children break this cycle so that abuse becomes an unlearned (not a learned) way to live. This intersection of our lives and domestic violence is where we play an important role. We wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins must show our husbands, daughters, sons, granddaughters, grandsons, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and cousins that we are valuable human beings, that we contribute to society and to each other in every way that we can. The children are watching. We want to break the cycle of domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I will continue to think about these issues as I make comfort scarves. I hope you will too.