“Grab them by the pussy…” I heard him boast. Immediately, a wave of nausea pulled the blood from my face and disrupted all contents within my stomach. It was an all too familiar indicator of past trauma. In the days that followed I watched woman after woman courageously find strength enough to come forward publicly in an effort to discredit the defense that this was just “locker room talk” or “boys being boys.” Men and women alike who support Trump’s campaign persistently attempted to minimize the entire ordeal by suggesting that these were only words but several women were boldly denying that this was the case. The retaliation and efforts to shame and delegitimize and squelch their respective voices was predictable, though still sickening and discouraging and re-traumatizing for countless women who’ve been victimized in a world where rape culture plays a significant role.
“Grab them by the pussy…” I kept hearing him declare in my own head. And every single time, the memory of that day at the water park returned. My sister and I were enjoying the thrill of anticipation along with hundreds of other people floating in the giant wave pool. Soon enough, the earthquake-like waves would disrupt the relatively peaceful waters we were floating upon. Our two brothers would rejoin us as soon as they were done braving other more terrifying water rides. And just as the waves began to emerge, and the crowd’s squeals and screams of delight erupted, it happened. As I was holding onto my inflated tube for dear life, my legs dangled freely beneath. Suddenly and without warning I felt a hand first grab my vagina and then there were fingers that in a flash maneuvered beneath my swimsuit violating and disempowering me in an experience that lasted less than one minute’s time. All of this occurring in broad day light and in the midst of hundreds of people. I was disoriented and shocked as I instinctually kicked my legs and attempted to get away. In the chaos of the surrounding crowd I looked all around attempting to spot anyone who looked suspicious when less than ten feet away I saw the head of a young teenage boy surface above the water as he was clearly swimming rapidly away. He turned around to look in my direction and I noticed that he was the only person in the vicinity wearing swim goggles, which likely enabled him to better target his victims. At that very moment, my two brothers came running into the wave pool laughing and splashing their way toward our direction. My older brother looked at my face and was able to discern that something horrible had happened as I pointed toward the boy and somehow communicated that he had “touched me.” My brother went after him unsuccessfully only to return later with an apologetic shoulder shrug.
Yes, I was grabbed by the pussy when I was 13 years old. I am adding my voice to the powerful chorus of women who have been impacted by a long history of gender objectification, subjugation and violence. I have only ever mentioned this particular story to my husband and perhaps a therapist until this recent election season. Truth be told, in a long line of experiences of sexual harm or violation, this particular aspect of my narrative was relegated to the seemingly less consequential end of the spectrum. And I am now coming to understand that the very fact that this violation is ranked and qualified as less significant is evidence of the problem that we face as a gendered world.
I have spent most of the past month wanting to retreat from the world, hiding away in my house tucked away with only my family, maybe even curled up under covers in complete seclusion. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), the demands of our daily life have not allowed for this kind of departure from all of humanity. Whenever there is this internal desire to RETREAT! RETREAT! RETREAT! I know I need to work through some aspect of my relationship with the world or with the people that make up the world. So here I am. I am trying to work through something with all of you. More specifically, I’m trying to work through something with the 45.5% of my brother and sister Americans who support Donald Trump and believe he is fit to be the President of our shared country.
As a woman who has been grabbed by the pussy, both literally and metaphorically, several times over as I’ve journeyed through life these 37 years as a female, does my voice – or even more fundamentally – does my body or personhood matter? I imagine most of you would answer in the affirmative, but here’s the thing – that’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to believe. The message I hear these days is that in the minds of nearly half of our citizens, a man who has spoken both publicly and privately about women in demeaning, objectifying and misogynistic ways is still worthy of representing and leading our government, country and culture well into the future. What I hear is that to many, the hope (and a risky hope at that) of a candidate who will adhere to one party’s political agenda is of greatest value regardless of how this individual views (or likely treats) women day-to-day. So you say that my body matters – but it’s value is clearly relegated down on the list of priorities. Or perhaps you would argue that his words and thoughts about women are far less consequential in the big picture of life in America – and to that argument, I implore you to reconsider this belief. Words matter. Words are fueled by thoughts and attitudes that make up the culture and the experiences that shape our shared reality in ways that often go unacknowledged and under explored.
The truth is that I am a representative of only one people group that Donald Trump has set himself over and above and against. Therefore, I understand deeply that women are not the only individuals who will be impacted in a profound way if as a nation this man wins the highest seat of our great country. So many of us are anxiously awaiting this Tuesday’s decision, hoping still that as a nation we are ever growing in our capacity as a people to live into the honorable ideals and principles at the root of our democracy. Within the next four years, two of my daughters will phase out of childhood and fully enter into adulthood. My almost 15 year old, Bailey, was reflecting the other day on how powerless she feels in this election that will impact the world that she will be emerging into as an adult female. I have never felt the weightiness of an election like I feel it now. As a woman who has been grabbed by the pussy, I am awaiting an answer to the question posed by this election – does my body and personhood matter? Does the personhood of all women, Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ matter? May it be so. May it please be so.