I’ve been reading yet another story about some women finally speaking out about their sexual harassment and abuse. It seems to be a moment when we all feel empowered to speak about our experiences without worrying about the repercussions quite so much.
The focus, however, is on famous men who have taken advantage of their fame and the power that it gives them to treat women without care for their feelings. First of all, I cannot think why this tidal wave has not yet rushed back toward that tape of our Commander in Chief revealing that he reveled in grabbing women by the most intimate parts of their anatomies. Why does he get a pass on this when so many others are being called to account?
The second thing that overwhelms me is the sense that I have been one of the multitudes of women who has been keeping my story a secret. I wrote about it a little bit in the novel I want to publish next year, but I didn’t spell it all out, because I felt ashamed, and I wanted to protect my family. My sister finally sent me mail in the middle of all of this, suggesting that maybe this was the moment to speak. This is my sister who helped me to confirm for myself that I hadn’t just blown my memories out of proportion, that my father really had crossed the line with us. My middle sister is inclined to push sand over it all. She shared a room with me, and he tended to head over to my bed.
I finally asked my youngest sister whether she felt that he’d been inappropriate, whether there’d been too much kissing and touching. She told me that every night she’d set up a line of her stuffed animals along the outside of her bed, trying to prevent him from sitting down when he came to kiss her good-night. I would pretend to be asleep, but it never worked.
My middle sister tried to tell my mother that my father was being too affectionate with us. My mother wouldn’t listen. She said that it was our fault for wearing skimpy clothing around the house (which we didn’t any more than any other teenagers). My father complained to us that he couldn’t be sexually attracted to someone as fat as she’d become. We couldn’t figure out how to extricate ourselves from their sexual problems.
Later, a therapist told me that my problems exercising boundaries with men come from that initial example of really bad boundaries. If there isn’t a really clear line saying no sexual contact between parent and child, then where should there be a clear line? That’s the simplest case of a person having more power in a relationship that there is. For the child, the parent is the person who gave you life. Maybe that’s part of why I never spoke about this period in my life. I cannot believe that my father made such a terrible mistake. He never spoke of it, and we always acted like it never happened, though it went on for a few years while he was mixing his evening drinks with tranquilizers. When I got to be 18, I begged him to stop mixing wine and Librium, and he did stop.
But the reality is that the damage was already done. My youngest sister and I were really messed up about sex for a long time after that. For me, it took years of therapy to get to where I am now (and maybe I’m still messed up, but it seems better). Both my youngest sister and I have been divorced twice. I kept trying to have deep relationships with men who weren’t attracted to women…just get that sexual element out of there. Except that they did have sexual feelings, just not for me. My sister’s second husband quickly started the process of becoming a woman. So again you dodge the sex issue in one way, but it’s certain to come up in another.