It’s a week before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump and I am furiously crocheting hot pink pussy hats for the Women’s March in Washington. I’m planning to march locally, but have no idea why except my insides feel like they’ve been Vitamixed.
I ask my sister in law, who is a social justice activist and trainer, why we’re marching. She talks to me about intersectionality and othering and oppression. And I get it. I’ve been othering all over the place—the “thems that voted him in”.
I have vague ideas about protesting sexual violence on college campuses. Having spent the better part of 30 years wandering the greenswards and ivy-covered towers of American academe, I’m aware of how alcohol and hormones and pornography and poor self esteem and freedom and misogyny create this toxic stew that ruins lives.
After The Washington Post released the Access Hollywood video of Donald Trump bragging about his license to grab women’s genitals, my long buried brushes with harassment and assault started following me like a haunt. The boss who gave me a copy of “How to Make Love to a Man” at an office Christmas party. The “friends” who invited me for dinner and assumed I was dessert. The vice chancellor so intent on staring at my chest during a one-on-one, I thought maybe my breakfast ended up on my blouse. “What?!” I said, looking down, as in why-the-hell-are-you-a-married-senior-executive-staring-at-my-tits?
It's not nothing, but I feel my luck like a hashtag.
On a walk I pull Jon Krakauer’s “Missoula” from one of the Little Free Libraries that litter my neighborhood. The subhead reads, “Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” and I remember an NPR piece in which Krakauer, who lives in my state, said he felt compelled to write this book after a family friend was raped by an acquaintance.
The book wrings me out and I begin quoting statistics to my husband at dinner. One in five women in college are sexually assaulted. One in five American women have been raped at one point in their lives. I think about all the dorm rooms I’ve visited in my higher education career, the cinder block walls, the scratched, loftable beds that allow students to bunk above their desks, the tape marks on the walls. I have written countless lines of copy marketing the "freshman experience" and I feel a little sick.
In the winter of 1980 on a frigid Sunday morning, I answer the door to my dorm room. I am wearing red fuzzy pajamas that zip up the front. As a resident assistant, I never knew what time of the morning or night I might have to rouse and deal with something. It could be anything. Thousands of dollars of damage due to vandalism or a sick resident. It’s quiet in the hallway.
A student from my floor is standing in my doorway, her smeared mascara ringing her eyes. “There’s a guy in my room,” she whispers, pointing down the hall. “And I don’t know who it is.”
Her name is Lisa and she’s a heavy partier and I am judgmental in the way you can only be at 20 when it is so clear how one does or does not fuck up one’s life. It looked to me like she was engaged in the former. I asked if they had sex.
She didn’t know.
“Then I suggest, you ask him who he is.” And shut the door.
I tell my husband this story, while continuing to read about the friends who raped friends in Krakauer’s book. “We didn’t have a word for it back then,” I said. “We weren’t trained. Rape was something violent. Not this.” I want to reach back into the past and follow Lisa to her room. To see.
I ask my sister in law whether she wants me to send her a pussy hat, the pink hats everyone was making to support women's rights at the march. I agree to send three.
My portfolio is in the crawl space next to large plastic bins of yarn and family photos I need to sort. It’s stuffed with old clippings, copies of magazines I’ve written for, ads, college publications, but the essay I’m looking for isn’t there. And I’m not about to mine the boxes of old work looking for 1,000 words. I look online to see if it was digitized by the Boulder Daily Camera where it was published, but no. Vaporized.
I barely remember some of the pieces I collected into this binder full of the past. But I remember writing that essay as if it were yesterday, sitting on a wooden folding chair and the yellow Formica kitchen table that now lives in the San Francisco townhome of Mitch’s first cousin once removed.
“The Myth of the Modern Girl” was the result of big heartbreak and a stalled master’s thesis and confusion about how to walk the line between independence, career achievement and love as a tail-end Baby Boomer with the freedom to choose from dozens of lives like cereals in the breakfast aisle. “We are the hapless beneficiaries of the women’s movement,” I wrote. Now what?
Years later I would make a tearful, newly boyfriend-less first cousin once removed, who now lives with my Formica table, her husband and two children, look at me while I tell her she’s not weak for wanting a partner.
“You know that phrase, ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle? That’s bullshit,” I tell her. “People need love. You want love in your life. That doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you anti-feminist. There is nothing wrong with wanting love in your life.”
I am watching an Instagram feed explode in righteousness over a feminist post about dating. The post was written in response to a guy’s assertion that women should try to understand how men communicate.
The comments poured in. It was as if Hera had come down from Olympus and discovered Zeus inflagrante delicto with a younger nymph.
There were emojis and “Fuck yeahs” and “amen, sisters.”
One commenter wrote: “I refuse to contort or alter myself to fit a man's expectations and figure the right person is going to love me for me.”
I feel the weight of feminism and the patriarchy and 23 years of marriage and the thousands of tiny commitments kept that add up to a lifetime of trust so that you can hold each other through the death of friends and family and expectations you have for yourself.
I wonder what I’m responding to when I think, “Wow.”
On Inauguration Day prior to the march I still don’t really know why I’m going but buy a pair of pink sunglasses with a breast cancer symbol on the temple and a package of big hearts covered in glitter from a Valentine’s Day display at the dollar store. At home I staple the hearts to paint sticks.
Along with 100,000 other Denver women, men and families, I march the next day, wearing a pussy hat and new sunglasses and carrying my heart.