Karen is taking a break. Since we were all recently laughing at Trump when he inappropriately complimented the French president’s wife on the good shape she was in after the age of 60, the subject of this column still seems up to date.
One good thing Donald has done for America is that the regrettable frequency of sexual assault is now out in the open, and it’s not just a bunch of drunk college sophomores committing the crimes.
I had read that women were revealing their own experiences with it to their mates and to other women. Then I landed with several women friends I see a two or three times a year. They started talking and talking and talking. I was observing the disclosures first-hand.
At first two themes emerged. One was that the men who had perpetrated these acts were pathetic, creepy creatures, and we suspected they had small “hands.” Another was that the women felt humiliation years after the acts had taken place.
Then one woman described an attempted rape. C. said that a busboy who’d been serving in her college sorority offered to walk her home, and she was happy for the company. But when they got to her place, he pushed her into her room and tried to rape her. Terrified, she could think of only one thing to do—she made herself throw up, all over him.
Disgusted and distracted, he paused, and she was out of there.
That set me to thinking: how many women have been threatened with sexual assault and prevailed? After an unscientific poll of my friends, it turns out that due to luck, height and clever thinking, many have done so.
Take S.’s experience:
“Some years ago, I was living with a large, chocolate point Siamese cat named Harvey and dating a professor from a local university. One evening after dinner at a lovely restaurant, we came back to my apartment for coffee and conversation. We were standing in the hallway leading from the living room to the bedroom when the professor began playfully backing me toward the open door of the bedroom. Before I realized this was not a game, the professor had pinned me down on the bed and was trying to disrobe me. I virtually bellowed my objection to no avail.
“In response, Harvey, issuing his great hoarse Siamese meows, leapt on the prof’s back and clawed him vigorously. Prof ran out the door with Harvey at his heels.”
Another story that may be more common than anyone realized was P.’s. She said her doctor pushed her against the wall as he was leaving the exam room and kissed her on the lips before slipping out the door. She retaliated by getting a new doctor.
Cleverness sometimes helps, although it’s hard to be clever when you are scared.
One woman told of being in grad school when a young teen approached her on the sidewalk. He was tall and skinny with a sweet baby face. She thought he was going to ask for change, but instead he knocked her books to the ground and tried to grope her. Astonished, she asked, “What would your mother say if she knew what you were doing?”
He stood back, looking really scared, and asked, “Do you know my mother?”
She replied, “Of course I do!!”
He disappeared down the street at record speed.
Having a weapon helps. In one tall woman’s case it was her elbows. She was married to a professor. As she came out of the bathroom at a department party, the head of her husband’s department pushed her back in and tried to disrobe her. This woman is about five-eleven, and she made use of her size, elbowing him and fighting him. She managed to get out. He came out soon after, continued having a good time at the party and never seemed embarrassed at subsequent social encounters with her. She wondered if he even remembered. She certainly did.
Another woman described using her door as a weapon. Some years ago a neighbor joined her as she was walking home through the colorful fall leaves in the Back Bay. He helped carry some of her heavy books. At her door, he returned her books and began to grope her. She pushed him away, but he still had one hand on the door frame. So she shut the door on his hand and kept it there, pushing against the door, as he wailed in pain. When she finally let up, he sprinted away. She laughed, then shook and cried.
Unfortunately, other stories of assault were less satisfying because the women could not get away.
The best news, however, is not that predatory men can be vanquished. It’s that so many men are dignified, caring, loving, respectful, and real friends and partners of women. Those kinds are the real men.