TW: Rape, Assault
Brock Turner seems to be everywhere. Can’t go on Facebook, or turn on the news, without seeing Fucking Brock Turner everywhere. For the first time in our nation’s history, a woman is a major-party candidate for the presidency. My feminist heart should be soaring this week – but Brock Turner. Fucking Brock Turner… Hillary Clinton winning the presidency would be a hugely significant, but I know that we’ll see a spike in vile and hateful misogyny – and I can’t take it, I can’t take it getting worse because already I live in a country with Brock Fucking Turner. Every online outlet has written eloquently this week about rape culture and white privilege, about the laughable sentence the judge justified by saying, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” We’ve dissected his father’s Study in Tone-Deaf Patriarchy. By the time we read his friend’s similar letter to the Court, we were too numb to think much of the fact that the friend claimed this wasn’t REALLY rape, that he was just drunk and his “emotions” took over. I resisted chiming in, because what else is there to say? But I find I can’t put this down. It’s not just a miscarriage of justice. It’s not just about Brock Turner and this woman. It’s not just about campus rape. It’s not just about white privilege and victim blaming and laying bare the biases that warp every aspect of our lives. It’s not just about a woman’s violation and devastation being nothing worth mentioning, not when her assailant is a Champion Swimmer. I can’t add anything to that story, but I still feel I have to say something. This case, particularly the victim’s raw testimony, shook floods of memories loose in me, and I feel overwhelmed, incoherent with rage that this is my world, my daughters’ world.
I haven’t heard the term in a while, but growing up, beautiful starlets were often described – POSITIVELY! – as “sex objects.” Farrah Fawcett? Sex object. Daisy Duke? Sex object. Objectification is taking a living, breathing human being and reducing her to parts, to objects. And we are told it’s a compliment. Her body is an object to stare at, grab, fondle, jack off to. It’s not a person, with dignity and a self, it’s just another thing the Brock Turners of the world feel entitled to. In the words of a particularly gross guy I used to know: “Women are just life support for pussy.” We experience that attitude hundreds, thousands of times during our lives. It scares us, degrades us, angers us, terrifies us – and we can’t do anything to stop it. It’s minimized, glossed over, just as the gross violation of this woman’s body was completely ignored by a judge who HEARD her testimony – who sat in a room as she detailed her physical and emotional devastation – and concluded “I think [Brock Turner] will not be a danger to others.” The guy was CONVICTED OF FELONY SEXUAL ASSAULT, for shoving his fingers inside this woman’s unwilling, unresponsive body, but he’s not, you know, DANGEROUS – he’s just a rapist. Brock Turner’s stupid punchable face is on half the posts on my newsfeed, and I’m incandescent with rage, and I have to finally let it out.
Let me be clear: I have never been raped, and that is a huge distinction. I am not saying anything I’ve experienced is comparable, because nothing is. But the internet is marinating in this story, and suddenly, I can remember every hand inside my top in a crowd (it’s happened many times), every feel copped on public transportation (because obviously my body exists for strangers to touch), every time a car would slow down alongside me when I was walking to campus so the driver could say something crude and threatening (Christ, in St. Louis that happened every day). I have never been raped. But I’ve met Brock Turner a thousand times – at parties, on dance floors, in job interviews. Boys who look at me and see an object, men who somehow feel entitled to my body. I’ve met him as the partner I reported to in one of my first jobs as an attorney, whose eyes never – EVER – left my chest when I had to talk to him. I’ve met Brock Turner as a businessman behind me on the rush hour train, suddenly running his hand under my skirt, between my legs, knowing I’d never know which guy did it. As the guy whose name I never even knew, who stopped me on WKU’s campus when I was 17 to show me a photo album – a big, 2-inch thick photo album – of me. Photograph after photograph after photograph he’d taken of me over the course of the previous year, while I was completely unaware. Usually shot from a great distance with a monster lens, apparently; many cropped so my boyfriend wasn’t in them. God, that terrified me, especially when he said I should be flattered… I’ve met Brock Turner as every guy who sees me dancing and decides he gets to grind his erection against my ass until I elbow him off me and fight through the crowd to get away. As the skeevy guy in my building who broke into my apartment at 2 a.m. – thank God my dog woke me up and got me out safely… I’ll spare you all the “minor” stuff – you know, decades of being slut-shamed for what I wore (we didn’t have a word for it back then), catcalls, being followed, the pervasive fear when walking down a street at night alone. I’ve aged out of most of the harassment (because Brock Turner likes them younger) and thank God for that. But the memories persist – feeling helpless, degraded, scared, furious, impotent. Being seen as an object that some men felt entitled to handle, or fondle, or grope. They felt entitled to ME. Not me as a person – me, the object. But each encounter was brief, I was *ultimately* safe, so it’s no big deal, right? These guys wouldn’t ever be a danger to anyone; what harm is there in copping a feel? And every time, rage and shock and feeling like poison was flowing through my veins – and no recourse. I knew what the answers would be even if there had been any authority to appeal to.
- “That guy had his hand inside my dress!” – Yeah, but look at what you’re wearing,
- “That guy just rubbed his erection all over my ass!” – Yeah, but with the way you were dancing…
- “That senior partner won’t stop staring at my chest” – Oh, he does that to every woman in the office, it doesn’t mean anything! (That is the response I got, hand to god).
- “That guy won’t be back here; he was convicted of burglary this morning.” – What?!? For that thing when he was in your apartment?!? He didn’t even touch you!! (This was my landlord’s response to the 2 a.m. break-in. Thank goodness the law was more responsive on this one.)
- “That guy fondled me on the train!” – Which one? How do you know it was him? Did you see him do it? I thought you said he was behind you. Well, he stopped, anyway.
- “That guy has apparently been stalking me for a year taking photographs!” Wow, he must really think you’re pretty. Take it as a compliment!
The sense was always that there was no damage done. But I know that these encounters warped the way I deal with the world, despite my best attempts to be a strong woman with a non-stick soul. I know that those feelings of helplessness and rage, that toxic brew inside me at being treated as less-than human, hurt me. I’ve healed, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t damaged. And now that ubiquitous face – whether it’s the bloodshot, slack-jawed mugshot or the beaming country club yearbook photo – has brought all that poison back into my bloodstream this week. Fucking Brock Turner.
I’m just one woman, and all of us have different experiences – but every woman experiences a degree of this. This is the world we live in. This is the world I’m raising daughters in. My beautiful, brilliant daughters will face Brock Turner again and again, as I have, and he’ll never see them in their complicated awesomeness. He’ll see them as their various parts, and feel entitled to grope and paw and leer and grind against them, to follow them, shout at them, scare them, laugh off their anger and shock and outrage. I know this, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Brock Turner is everywhere.
(But he doesn’t get his picture here. We’ve all seen him enough.)