The Third Third

More unwanted vulgar advances

I am not one of the 27 million women who took to Twitter after hearing Donald Trump’s open mic tape from 2005 to tell about the first time they were sexually assaulted.  But I am one of them, one who was sexually assaulted, and silent, and ashamed.  

I have been able to forget about the incident; it happened 45 years ago and I wasn’t raped and shortly afterward, I married a magnificent man and we started a whole new life together.  In fact, as repulsed and disgusted and appalled and angry and afraid as Donald Trump’s lewd braggadocio made me feel when I heard it, I didn’t even go there, to that place and time when a man who had power over me felt entitled to kiss and grope me because he was my boss and because he was the only man willing to give me, a young female journalist , the television news job I so desperately wanted in 1970.  

The Senate-sanctioned Clarence Thomas smackdown of Anita Hill 25 years ago did trigger my sublimated rage, and at that time I shared my story with my daughters and in a newspaper column so that other women might know they didn’t have to experience my vulnerability and shame.  With Trump, however, I initially felt only the raw rage his words and actions foment in me — rage that he would degrade women and men and Hispanics and African-Americans and Muslims and the disabled; that he would degrade the entire political process; that he would degrade the Republican Party; that he thinks he’s entitled to degrade the Presidency and my country.  But, as they say, politics is personal, and a call from my daughter reminded me that I have an additional emotional stake in the story, too.  “How are you doing, Mom?” she asked.  

So I began thinking about it, that time in 1970 or 1971 when the young, very definitely married, father of five (!) news director arrived unannounced and uninvited at the door of my apartment after dark early one evening. I was surprised and curious why he might be there, but not at all suspicious:  Nothing in my upbringing, my education, my training, my experience, absolutely nothing in all 22 years of my life had suggested to me that I was particularly vulnerable or in danger, much less some irresistible sex object.  My naive reality posited that I was engaged to be married and he knew it and he was a family man, that work was work and life was life and that there was some kind of strict, wholesome midwestern moral code securely in place.  Did I say “naive”?   Seriously.  I let him into the apartment, still assuming there was some newsroom assignment he needed to tell me about before I got to the TV station the next morning.  He wandered into my space,  stood against my kitchen counter and pulled me toward him, trying to kiss me. I was shocked and dumbfounded, but instinctively turned my head and pushed away.  I sputtered, “But you’re married.  And I’m engaged,”  as if that explained everything — and until that moment, it had, to me.  “I just want to touch you,” he said then, reaching out and cupping my breasts.  “Just let me do that.”  Again, I said No, but I was powerless; he had already touched me, as we say to our children, inappropriately.  But then he left, feigning victimization, sad and disappointed that I wouldn’t let him do what he wanted to do, almost as if there had been a lovers’ quarrel and he felt jilted, saying something about how he didn’t get what he wanted at home anymore and that he was attracted to and deserved someone like me, and maybe even that he thought I’d be flattered.  The only thing I can give myself any credit for is that I know I made it very clear I was not at all interested and that he should never come to my apartment again.  But I did it nicely and politely and probably respectfully, because he was still the guy who helped me break the glass ceiling in the television newsroom.  It was so surreal.  And so creepy.  I locked the door, and took a shower.  And, damn, I went back to work the next morning as if nothing had happened, and I said nothing. 

Do you see what I have done here?  In retelling my story of the man with the hands in my apartment, I am still second-guessing myself, still wondering if my abundant naïveté put me at increased risk, still bothered that I didn’t tell anyone or do anything about it because I loved my job and didn’t want to put it at risk (not even that I needed my job to feed a family, just that I loved it), rethinking the news director-reporter relationship I had with the man and realizing only now that he had knowingly seduced me with heady conversations about literature and journalism and plum assignments and attention to and praise for my work, i.e., feeling the blame and the shame.  And understanding to the very core of my being why Donald Trump’s many accusers didn’t come forward before the Access Hollywood tape surfaced.

It makes me profoundly sad that 27 million women — and counting — know these feelings.  But I also grieve for the politics that have always intrigued me and the journalism I have always loved and the progress I thought we had made as women.  I am sickened by what Donald Trump has put this country through.  These days, I see his locker room talk (Go ahead, call it that if you want; it’s still vulgar, sexist, misogynist, inappropriate and unacceptable) as mere metaphor for the assault he has felt entitled to unleash upon all Americans.  I can only hope and pray that we have all not been seduced and that we can, in this Presidential election, reject his unwanted advances and restore common decency, human dignity, civil rights and justice for all.

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