I was thirty-three and living in Copenhagen with my then partner. It was a warm, peaceful summer evening, and we were out for a walk. We came upone three men. Two lounged on the steps of an apartment building. One sat on the sidewalk. All three were drinking beers. As we passed the guy on the sidewalk, he casually reached up and grabbed my breast and squeezed it. As if I were there for his taking.
I was stunned, and I did nothing. My partner, however, did not hesitate. She was wearing wooden clogs. She got behind him and kicked him at the base of his spine. Hard. He may have had back problems for the rest of his life because of it. I will never know.
This week, in the furor over Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's accusations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, I told a friend what had happened on that street in Copenhagen, nearly forty years ago. Afterwards I realized that I had never told anyone about it. That wasn't because I was devastated, ashamed, or embarrassed. I think it was because rape culture, sexual assault culture, is so pervasive and so normalized in our world that I didn't give it a lot of thought afterwards. And in the context of actual rape and attempted rape, although this was a violation, a momentary unlawful possession of my body, it was a relatively minor assault.
Or so I have thought. The friend I was telling and I were walking home from the Corner Market. A man was walking toward us on the sidewalk. It was his approach and the accusations against Kavenaugh that made clear to me that my body has not normalized what happened nearly forty years ago. I told the friend, "When I'm walking alone, and a man is coming toward me, I feel a wave of fear. An image passes through me of him grabbing my breast. I'm on alert. I let out my breath when he's passed, and nothing has happened."
As a woman, I experience this kind of fear many times a day when I'm out and about in the most normal, everyday situations, situations in which I should be safe from predation. I feel that I have to always be alert, on guard. My generalized fear doesn't even have anything to do, or very little, with that incident in Copenhagen. And yet, a relatively minor assault has affected me so deeply that nearly forty years later the body memory brings it forth when I face an approaching man, and I'm alone on the sidewalk. Nearly forty years later. It's not surprising, then, that I am incensed by all the comments, the doubts, the questions that assail Dr. Ford and other women and men who have experienced so much more. The "Why are you telling it now?" questions. The "If you've waited this long, it must not have been that bad." Or, "If you've waited this long, it must not have really happened." I believe Christine Blasey Ford. Completely. I understand why she feels she cannot live in the US, if Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court. Completely.