As the mother of two daughters–when did I tell them or how did they find out–that there was something called rape and that women in all societies are vulnerable in the face of men? I don’t remember. Did I sit down with them and have this direct conversation? (More on that later.) I do remember discussions about locking car doors, doing the same when babysitting, and later on, making sure that their university campus life included mace. But this is just me, what I remember…do you remember…
I was probably in seventh grade when I was in the dining room reading the Chicago Tribune and landed on some piece about a Jewish man in Germany during WW II who had to sit on the street with a sign around him that read, I RAPE GERMAN WOMEN.
“What’s rape?” I asked my mother. Five o’clock on a busy evening, she making dinner. She told me something vague, probably that included the word assault. I looked rape up in the dictionary. I began to understand. But not really…you start to put things together…the two missing girls in Chicago, another girl missing. Always girls. Girls aren’t safe. There is something about being a girl…
(And please note, that I am fully aware that boys and men can also be vulnerable.)
OUT IN THE WORLD
There is lots of talk these days about safety, about fear. People talk about the old days. For some, the old days were safe. But not for all. Some mornings I walked by myself to high school. Many evenings I walked home alone. It was often dark and cold in Chicago, but I was fine. I was a latch-key kid. And I was lucky.
In college a group of Catholic boys from Loyola tried to harm Kathy T when she was walking alone near Lake Michigan. Another guy, he had mental issues, tried to break into a dorm room. Before I was married, my name in the paper, I got a phone call from some guy who I admit used language I was unfamiliar with. I hung up. I learned. Being a woman can be that learning journey, that heart-stopping moment when you are encountering something frightening and weird, your body tells you–this is not right! Then another call comes one Tuesday morning when your two young daughters are in school and this voice says he “has your daughter.” You hang up. Call the school, get the principal and say I’M RIGHT HERE AND YOU WLL GO TO EACH CLASSROOM AND FIND MY GIRLS, TELL ME THEY ARE THERE, THEY ARE FINE. Your heart is pounding, but he comes back–your children are okay.
There’s the elevator door that opens mid-day in the hospital, you in your nursing school smock and there’s one man in the elevator. You get on, you are riding down together and this man, who is wearing a stethoscope, says he has some cookies in his car. Would you like to go there with him? EVEN DOCTORS! When the elevator door opens, you walk really fast.
By that time, as I referenced above, my daughters and I had talked about rape–because a teen in a shopping center near our neighborhood had been raped, it was all over the news and my older daughter wondered WHY I wasn’t talking about it. I was wrong. Knowledge is always power.
When my girls were very young, shit was going down: a couple stopped and murdered off the expressway; a woman abducted from the local gas station, gang raped and murdered; a child abducted from her secure bedroom, raped and strangled. I read too much. I’d be frantic—how could I save my children from danger? I kept reading, deciding that if I knew how these attacks had occurred, what the attackers were like, how the victim had been caught unprepared—I could save myself and my daughters.
Then I met Barbara, an older amazing woman, who developed rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that inflames the joints, when she was 17 and falling in love with her career and future husband. Overtime, Barbara discovered that meditation, moving her mind and body for 15, then 30 minutes or longer away from her pain allowed her to redeem her life. Over time, I revealed my fears to Barbara. Firmly she told me I had to stop such thoughts immediately: I was sending out bad signals and fear; my mind was using so much energy to conjure danger that I might draw trouble right to me. Just as Barbara used her mental energy to block out pain, I was using mine to bring negatives into my life.
I stopped doing that. The possible climax to this part of the story, is that after midnight one snowy night driving home from my hospital shift, my tire blew. I was on the Dan Ryan Expressway, alone and, well, not happy about it. I called Triple A. I called my husband. I waited, watched a man pull up in a beat-up car, get out and walk toward me. But the frightening newspaper articles were now outside my reach. I was a nurse at an inner city hospital, knew folks who lived and worked in the trenches of life.
Yes, I was cautious. He said right out that he wasn’t there to hurt me, he just wanted to change my tire, make some extra money. I weighed my options. I said thank you, but no. He nodded and walked away. He lingered by his car for a few moments and then came back. The snow was heavier now and I ran the window down a little more to talk to a man who I would have been terrified of before Barbara.
“I work in Labor and Delivery at Mercy Hospital,” I said, revealing myself as someone he could trust—I worked in his neighborhood.
“Do you know Nadine?” he asked right away. “She works in dietary.”
That was pretty much it. I clicked open the back of the van and he began to change my tire. When my husband arrived, they shook hands and we thanked him, paid him.
BE CAREFUL. AND THANKS TO S.A.N.E.
But there is absolutely no question that each and every woman on the planet can be vulnerable and still has to be smart and careful. Will it change? We are in a flurry of political activity now that questions women still, makes fun of them and their fears, does not understand that one 20 minute experience can implant fear on the brain FOREVER.
WAKE UP WOMEN and tell the men in your lives to wake up too. RAISE YOUR SONS to honor women. And be thankful for some changes in society, like S.A.N.E. (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) SANE nurses are specially trained in the medical, psychological, and forensic examination of a sexual assault victim. When before a nurse might walk in the ER and call out, “Who’s the rape?” that won’t happen anymore. Police, nurses, ER workers–all should now be trained to care for a victim using specific standards. To learn more go here.
And thanks for reading.
PHOTO: thanks to BU TODAY and Cydney Scott