It is amazing how something in the news can bring up so much personal history. The riveting case of Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh versus a psychology professor, Dr Christine Blasey Ford a few months ago, is a case in point.
In the fully televised drama of the US congressional hearing, Dr Ford, much against her will it seems, accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her back when he was a Yale university student and she still a 15-year-old schoolgirl.
As soon as Blasey Ford saw Kavanaugh’s name on the short-list for the supreme court nomination, she apparently felt it her ‘civic duty’ to come out in the open about his past and the trauma his actions had precipitated in her.
A courageous lady
The case centred around an inveterate youthful drinker from an elite fee-paying school who seemed to have forgotten how hideously drunk he used to get and the kinds of activities he got involved in when inebriated. Whether you liked the right-wing Kavanaugh or not, the issue at base was not a political one (though politicised to the hilt). It was one in which a man would be chosen for the lifetime position of what is probably the highest, most influential job in the US justice system, and had to be deemed worthy. No mean expectation.
If his adversary Blasey Ford’s powerfully credible evidence is to be believed, the man is unquestionably guilty and lied several times under oath – an act that in itself should have made him ineligible for the job of supreme court justice even if his youthful antics did not.
Eros & Thanatos
There is much to be said about this entire drama, of course. But for the sake of this post, it brings up the question of what men do when their hormones are raging, their sense of male entitlement is unquestioned and their urge to get indiscriminately rolling drunk at its peak.
It was Freud who understood that we are not merely driven by pleasure-seeking principles, we are also driven by aggressive ones, what he called Eros and Thanatos, (also, the death drive). And, as all men will know, inattentive male sexuality braids these two in the completion of the sexual act.
As a result, rape, be it of strangers, family members, wives or fellow partygoers, is tragically commonplace, as veteran feminist author Germaine Greer reminds us in her recent book On Rape.
When, a number of years ago, Greer first told us of her own rape at the age of 19 by a boy “my mother would have wanted me to marry,” fellow feminists were up in arms. And they are still up in arms.
Rather than dragging rapists through courts that are unable to adjudicate on a he-said-she-said act that has no witnesses, Greer has consistently advocated alternatives. She encourages rape victims to take responsibility for their part in the experience by naming their rapist – thus giving him the chance to take responsibility as well.
Taking responsibility for our actions, in whatever form that takes, is the first step to bringing consciousness into what we do and say, and how we behave. That is why it’s so important not to condemn people for their actions. Once we’ve condemned people for their actions, we are bound to be met with denials, the way Kavanaugh so desperately tried to do in the congressional hearings. No one wants to feel judged.
But if we alert people to their actions without condemnation, then there’s the possibility of more awareness, and thus real change.
The date rape
My own experience of date rape ran along these lines…remember this is date rape, perhaps the least serious of the various types (dare one say it?).
I was living in eastern California at the time, going through a rough patch and in the mood for a diversion, when I was invited for a weekend just outside San Francisco from where my hostess and I would go into the city to a Saturday night party. Among the guests was a tall, well-built guy I’d only known by sight, who, it turned out, had fancied me for years. When he saw me on my own, he made a bee-line for me and we spent the evening dancing, laughing and dipping nachos in guacamole. He offered to take me somewhere for a drink, and I told the girlfriend I came with that I’d make my own way home.
The drink turned out to be at his place, out of a bottle that he pulled from the back of the car and swigged
on the way up Route 101 to some remote corner of Marin County. We unloaded at 1am at a smart new condo complex, largely uninhabited and not yet landscaped, with his apartment smelling of fresh paint. It was still unfurnished except for a giant mattress on the carpet, a six-piece stereo set and a stack of beer
cans and plastic cups.
He was proud of his new condo, which he had recently bought from the earnings of his flourishing new business – of which he was, by now, very proud and busy showing me samples. What was happening, though I was not aware of it, was that he was getting high and I was getting sleepy. Despite that, there was enough passion in our lovemaking to have made it a memorable night – at least the first time.
When it came to the second time, however, I was demonstrably reluctant. But when it came to the third time, I said No.
Except that he would not take no for an answer.
He began cooing to me sweet words about making love all night, going to the top of Mount Tamalpais to see the sunrise, having lunch overlooking the harbour and going sailing all through next week. All that might have sounded appealing, but my response was a definite no more!
Unfortunately, the all-powerful haze of what I much later deduced must have been cocaine, cut him off in his own world. Taking no notice of what I said or did, he simply pursued his urges for a third time. I said no. I moved my hands across my body to protect myself, which he diligently removed. I turned my head away, an obstacle he considered of no significance. I said ‘no more’ several times, words he was unable to register.
Finding my centre
And it hurt. When I tried to struggle, he came on stronger. My words of resistance and objection might never have been spoken. As the pain started rising through my system, I felt how incredibly powerful his body was, and I became genuinely afraid. Slowly it dawned on me that I was being raped. This was it, this was what I’d heard about and read about – someone you did not want to fuck you using his superior strength to fuck you regardless.
Realising that to struggle was useless and that my resistance was starting to anger him, I figured I had one
aim only: to stay alive and get home.
So I took a different tack: I popped inside. With no way out, I relaxed into total floppy passivity and,
despite the pain, entered my innermost sanctum, that inside place of untouchability that those who
meditate know is sacred and inviolable. In that zone of silence, I witnessed my feelings and my thoughts, and a miraculous dis-identification seemed to arise by itself.
Escape, above all!
Time passed. When he finally finished and rolled over, I muttered something about the toilet, and scooped up my clothes on the way to the bathroom. I was, remember, without a car and in the middle of an empty suburban region of northern California I barely knew, and it was 3am. It was long before the days of mobile phones and I had to get home; I had to get out of there. And I had to draw on my intelligence, my centredness and my sanity to do so.
So when I emerged from the bathroom fully dressed and sat down in front of him on the edge of the mattress, all my fear and inner turmoil had gone. I was clear I would stay alert, not react or take fright, that I would remain with a single aim in mind: to get him to take me home.
When he saw me with my clothes on, he shot up against the cushions, shocked and bewildered.
“I’d like to go home now. Would you please take me home?” I calmly asked, touching his shoulder.
Stunned and still half-drugged, as I now believe, he started to rave about promises to make love all night, to go to such and such a place for breakfast, and how come? and what’s wrong? and are you sick? And on and on and on, he went. I could not believe that any human being could create so many questions one after the other without ever allowing the response to penetrate.
Far away in a remote place
But he was a strong man. And I was far away from everywhere. My life was potentially in jeopardy. I was not going to blow it by getting angry and provoking him. So I just sat there and, as if talking to a child, I persisted with almost identical wording and timbre, over and over and over: “I just need to go home now,” I said. “Please would you take me home now.”
I cannot tell you how long it took just to get him off the bed. And how much more time to get him to put on his clothes and collect his keys. And even more time, because he kept stalling to ask the same questions again and again… standing in his hallway, I couldn’t get him to shut the door, I couldn’t get him to start moving. And once almost an hour had gone by and we were in his vehicle, he absolutely refused to put the key in the ignition.
The day after
It took almost two hours before he finally released me from his car outside my friend’s place where I was staying overnight – and that, with promises to call later in the morning.
The amazing thing was, he did call. Much later the same morning, after I had roused myself groggy and bewildered into my friend’s living room, he addressed me over the speakerphone. And – just as surprising – though I resisted at first and refused to answer the call that came a persistent three times, I finally accepted his invitation for lunch overlooking the marina.
You will wonder why.
I had had my coffee. My host-friend’s arms were wrapped around me. And between his calls I had had the chance to assess the situation.
He was not a stranger. Friends knew him. My hostess knew him.
It was time to take responsibility and clear the record.
Saying it as it is…
On the ride up the mountain, we talked lightly of everything under the sun except last night. On the way down, it was more of the same. I remained polite, centred and present.
It wasn’t until somewhere between the salad and the dessert at our restaurant by the marina that he turned and innocently asked me why, the night before, I had wanted to leave so suddenly.
He asked me – what a gift! His bringing it up was what I was hoping for.
I took a deep breath. And I told him: “I didn’t want to go on with sex last night, but you didn’t listen,” I said. “You weren’t aware of it, but you were hurting me. I wanted to stop. I was in pain. But when I told you, you wouldn’t hear me.”
I am not exaggerating when I say the fork on its way to his mouth literally stopped mid-air. I might have been watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Something in him stiffened to receive the blow this piece of information obviously was.
For me, in that moment, it was enough that my date-rapist was shocked. And it was enough that he allowed his ego to remain in shock without covering up his unconscious violence with some dismissive platitudes of macho bravado, as others might have done.
Something happened in that moment.
What awareness does
The art of witnessing that we practise when we sit in meditation had enabled me to focus totally on surviving, and left me relaxed enough to create a situation that now, from my side, was rapidly erasing all scars. The man had heard what I had said; he listened; he understood that he had done something in complete blind violation of everything he imagined about himself. He took it all in. He acknowledged it.
Some people would insist on an apology. But apologies aren’t necessarily the answer; they are often delivered out of phony self-protectiveness. His shock was his apology. His fork piled with food that froze between his plate and his open mouth when he understood what I was saying was his apology.
I did not need some soothing of my pride by being told I’m sorry. After all, I had gone willingly to his apartment. I needed to see my part in just having been there.
Responsibility and healing
Just as Germaine Greer has said is so vital for rapists – and I include here all men who penetrate women against their will in whatever situation – I needed him to know what had happened, how I had felt, and for him to take responsibility. (Greer takes all this much further, right into the courtroom, whereas mine was merely a date rape, after all.)
The drive home was mostly in silence, but it was an even silence; a contemplative silence, appropriate for the situation; one in which it felt we had shared a painful experience, and both learned from it.