• Joia

Today's rhaps is on ... Brett Kavanaugh and Collateral Damage

View from my office

In 1973 I saved the life of a young saxophonist in a town just outside of Boston. I allowed him to go on with his life as if nothing happened.

Collateral damage? Oh, nothing significant. My sense of safety, my dignity, my sanity. A musical career derailed. A Boston Symphony violin teacher devastated. A canceled performance of the Kodaly Duo. What else? My health. Two surgeries. Near death from hemorrhaging, probably from an incompletely expelled molar pregnancy. Nearly sterilized at Beth Israel Hospital, a common procedure still in the 70s for naked brutalized girls showing up in the ER, black or white. I was told I'd end up sterile, anyway. Oh, and my evangelical parents disowned me for being a rebellious teenager.

But hey! He didn't mean to rape me. I was a virgin, what did I know. I was screaming NO! and scratching his back bloody but he couldn't help it, he couldn't stop. He was a guy after all, we know that boys can't stop themselves. Stupid girl, why did you make him do it?

And I swallowed the logic that it was my fault, that my smile and my embroidered hippie dress and my charming brilliant self had of course made him do it. So irresistible! Who could keep their hands off me?

Ten years later I attended a rape seminar while I was in grad school working on a PhD in the philosophy of science. Survivors were describing their assaults. I got up and walked out of the auditorium. Sounded like normal sex to me.

As an assistant professor of philosophy in the 90s, I watched the Anita Hill proceedings. I wondered what all the fuss was about. Harassment? What was that. He didn't hurt you? He didn't even touch you?

Then I got professionally raped. Someone put false claims in my tenure promotion file (I didn’t get to know who, of course, privacy and all). I had the best student evaluations in the philosophy department. I had twice as many publications as the last two people who got tenure (who both happened to be on the promotions committee that year). I had the support of the Chair of the department and the Dean of Arts & Sciences. I had helped to double the number of philosophy majors in five years. I had designed new and now popular courses in the philosophy of mind as well as in introductory philosophy of science. A recent winner of a MacArthur Genuis Grant had just asked me to write the definitive history of neuroscience from the 1920s to 1940s. Someone had to do it, she said.

But evidently more important for the promotions committee was the fact that I was still in my 30s and a girl and who knows what was in my office, even though from the hallway you could see books lining the walls to the ceiling, maybe I had lingerie hanging in there or something. Don’t go in there.

There were three false claims introduced by my own philosophy colleagues and two additional accusations fabricated by the promotions committee itself. I didn't serve on enough university committees (I served on eight, including the Social Justice Committee, the Science, Technology, and Society Committee, the Faculty Research Grants Committee, the Philosophy Curriculum Committee, and the campus Equal Opportunity Program). I didn't keep my office hours (I was on campus every day until 6 when the Second Shift began—after a third emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, which occurred during a winter term sabbatical replacement in Montana, my remaining left ovary had produced a miracle child—I subsequently lost the help of her father, but of course, no problem, I now had a degree and a job and could raise her myself). I didn’t teach enough chapters of a famous logic book (even a brief glance at my Logic Syllabus, right there in my file, would show coverage of the usual suspects: critical thinking basics, informal fallacies, introductory categorical and propositional logic). The supplemental indictments also cast vague aspersions on my teaching and my character, and this gas-lighting was repeated word-for-word in the university president's denial of promotion letter to me. These nonexistent items, then, were the things that sunk me. (What’s the statute on libel? I still have all the letters.) No matter that I had just been published in the prestigious Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, or had been asked to publish my dissertation research on the Vienna Circle as a book. I needed to be taught a lesson about who’s in charge.

I never did go for tenure there. Like many private universities, professors were promoted to Associate the year before coming up for tenure, in order to keep faculty from leaving. Didn’t work in my case, since I resigned. The Chair and Dean wrote letters objecting to the false claims and begged me to meet with them so we could together figure out how to soften my junior faculty status, I assume with appropriate level ass-kissing. I finally agreed to meet, but I admit I did not behave well. I accused the red-faced Dean of running the pizza joint out front while these mystery men actually ran the university. It didn’t go over well.

I did ask the president of the university's chapter of the American Association of University Professors (I was current treasurer, I guess one of my nonexistent service jobs) for his help in understanding what had happened. His advice was to bat my eyes at the men in my department. Maybe that would make them come around. I’ve never understood exactly how to do that. Was it written in small print at the bottom of my doctoral diploma? I missed that.

I was told the departmental vote was 7-6 against me. Maybe it was the two ex-priests, I don’t know, carry-overs from when the college was a seminary for boys. Maybe it was the “leaders” of the two department factions, since I had not dutifully gone along with either voting block at department meetings. Maybe it was because I was the only person who could stop and chat in the hallway with anyone and everyone, like my Dad, because I hadn’t learned the cultural efficacy of taking sides. At any rate, I was being shunned now, like an Amish kid who stayed away in the city too long. The villagers would no longer look me in the eye. I had been shamed and disgraced and was carrying someone’s sin. Didn’t matter where it came from. An honor killing would help, no doubt, in rehabilitating the good name of the department. Let’s hope she just leaves and doesn’t cause any more trouble.

I held up under all of this, talked to a superb employment attorney and the people at the EEOC and the Department of Fair Housing and Education. They were all thrilled at the prospect of going to bat for me. I contacted the Legal Advocacy Fund of the American Association of University Women to help fund my lawsuits.

Then it hit me. The reason why this felt like a professional rape. The reason I felt like I’d woken up disheveled and date-rape-drugged and could remember nothing. I had been through something like this before. Except it had been a physical rape.

Was it my fault, again?

I hit you, you fall down, I punish you for falling down.

This felt very familiar, sickeningly familiar. But to acknowledge injustice means that you have to experience it, endure it, dig down deep and either find the strength to go on or the alternate strength to give up. Alone, it would have been the latter, no question. Why would I want to live in a world where this could happen to me, and happen repeatedly? Why would I want to live around people who get to act like this with no consequences, with impunity? But now there was a five-year-old calling me Mommy. I can’t leave her here. I’m stuck. (And I still have no coping mechanisms, since all the ones I had before were destructive and therefore so incompatible with child-raising!) So I opted for the survivor route, but without any notion of what that would entail. I fell apart. The stress led to my not being able to put sentences together. I could not give lectures. I could not make the smallest decision. I remember standing at a cross-walk for a very long time, unable to gauge how fast the vehicles were coming and when it would be safe to move. I ended up in the psych ward. I had to take short term disability and later pick up the pieces and figure out how to walk the planet again with some semblance of inner confidence, to learn how to be a mother again to my child. My livelihood and career, the one that supported this child’s daily life? Well, boys will be boys, you know. They don’t mean it, they can’t help it, girls turn them on and they lose it, they can’t behave themselves. Just bend over a little more, you’ll get the hang of it.

So I resigned from the university. People think I didn’t get tenure, since my CV shows six years there. But no. I looked at my colleagues and thought, there’s no way I can spend the rest of my life with these people. It also struck me that any future extrication from the type of ass-kissing required to keep working with them would necessitate the aid of a proctologist. I couldn’t do it. To save my life, my daughter’s life, I realized I had to leave.

I’m stronger now. I can more easily endure toxic relationships and situations, especially if I know it’s temporary, and unequivocally if it’s for the sake of my kid. But if I don’t have to withstand the humiliation, I'm outta there. Life is too short to willingly reduce it by even a tiny bit more.

So fast forward to today, when I’m happily retired and living on the other side of the planet. I wake up to the news about the possible US Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice who thinks, well, that women aren’t human. Really? Not just women, either. He apparently agrees with his current White House cronies that actually anyone not rich, white, and male does not deserve human rights. May as well add landowning to rich white and male, and you’ll have the entire Socratic democracy of ancient Athens. Keep the slaves and the riff raff out of the voting block as well as women.

I hit you, you fall down, I punish you for falling down.

Many years after leaving that California university, I was asked to teach medical ethics at a college in the Midwest. I liked to foment class discussion with this gedanken experiment: All 13-year-old boys are vasectomized after depositing their "future children" in the lab. What happens? After the cries of Unethical! calm down (the point of ethical discourse as opposed to action, after all) the results get articulated. No child is born without its father's intent. A father selects the potential mother and they agree together to have a wanted child (or, inclusive to lesbians and Murphy Browns, a woman selects a donor in order to have a wanted child). There are therefore no unwanted children. And...wait for it...there is no longer need for abortion outside of medical emergencies. That hated word.

The best description of abortion I’ve come across involves the recognition that all pregnancies involve two or more lives. Ideally all of the lives thrive, mothers and children. Frequently unviable children spontaneously eject themselves from the mother’s body, sometimes even before the mother knows she is pregnant. I’m not going to make it. Mommy won’t have to suffer if I get out of here now. Or: I’m not going to make it. Mommy will be sad, but I need to leave before I hurt her.

In most cultures and throughout history, it is taken for granted that children do not wish harm on their mothers. Who bites the hand that feeds them? In extreme conditions of patriarchal authority, however, a kind of Immaculate Conception amnesia sets in, absolving men of all responsibility in creating children. In this world, men must be able to stick it wherever they want and whenever they want, while women are conveniently there to harbor the consequences of the germs and sperms. When a potential child is thus inexplicably engendered (God moves in mysterious ways), it is assumed to have all the self-interest of a little Adam Smith incubus, a tiny economic rational man who blindly chooses survival regardless of consequences to others. This includes its very own conduit for survival, its own mother.

Find me the child who says: To hell with you, Mommy, I don’t care how pathetic your life is, how sick you are, how much money you have, I don’t care if you can’t feed me and dress me, I don’t care how much Daddy beats you or even if Daddy is around at all or if he's paying any bills, I need to make an appearance even if it kills you.

Find me this child.

I hit you, you fall down, I punish you for falling down.

On occasion a choice has to be made. One life will be devalued while another is elevated. When this happens it is always a deadly serious Solomonic choice. Sarah Palin made a choice like this, even used the term choice: when she found out she was carrying a Down Syndrome baby she announced that she chose to carry it to term. Her daughter Bristol also chose to carry her infamous high school baby to term. (Look up the tapes. These are her words.) I on the other hand, the incorrigible liberal feminist queer college professor, could not do amniocentesis when I was four and a half months pregnant because of the risk of miscarriage. I refused. And I was an “older mom” and the infertility doctors really wanted me to do it.

Yes, ideally all the lives within the female body thrive. But if a choice has to be made and it is not made by the medical professionals and the parents, the choice will be made by someone: the Church, the State, somebody. There can’t not be a choice in these cases. And there is no such thing as an anti-life position any more than there exists an anti-choice position. These are Straw Men fallacies dreamt up by people who know exactly no one who has ever been in the impossible position of not having enough money or job clout or fighting muscles or a functioning vehicle or whatever is needed to juggle their livelihoods and their personal health and sanity. These exceptionally impatient people cannot be bothered to educate themselves on the tragedy and complexity of life and birth and death. It is much easier to just push blame, like a batch of bad heroin.

I hit you, you fall down, I punish you for falling down.

And these rabidly angry people do not even realize that they preach this poison. They assume they are Godly and therefore that it is unnecessary to focus on the minutiae of human compassion and understanding. God’s got the Big Picture and He’ll take care of things. The cynical Reagan Republicans co-opted these socially conservative and religious right wingers when they were losing votes, and the even more cynical Friends of Trump, like Brett Kavanaugh, continue to use the blind hatred of these uneducated people to bolster their own misogynist oligarchical control. They do not care who suffers in the process—babies, women, veterans, the small, the black, the brown, the thirsty, the hungry—let them all go eat cake. They certainly do not care about abortion, and will continue paying for their mistresses to have them regardless of whether they are lawfully hygienic or barbarically back alley. They do not care because they will never have to endure this agony.

The horror of this rage is based on the ugly myth of a wild multi-orgasmic nymphomaniac so enthralled with her lust for sex that she eats up and expels her poor helpless babies whenever they get in the way of her pleasure-seeking.

Find me this woman.

Mind you, this woman will have helpfully adoring men surrounding her and catering to her every sensual need at all times.

Find me this woman.

When Soviet women got all those abortions in the 50s and 60s, they did not include her. These women did not have access to the most basic birth control and they did not have money to care for more than one child.

Find me this woman.

Is she in Kathmandu, where women who have miscarriages serve prison sentences for murder? Because it is their own fault the babies died? No, she is not there, either.

Find me this woman.

Is she in the US, unable to feed the children she already has, horrified by the sperm-rape of yet another released egg, waiting-waiting-waiting for the man who did this to her to help her or at least to stop hurting her, waiting for other men who hate her to make decisions about where and when she can get to work or not get to work and when she can go home or not go home and when she can be with her children or not be with her children, waiting for men who do not know her but feel morally superior to her to decide her fate, waiting for men who think themselves justified in ruling and ruining her life to deliver commandments on all of the lives she embraces within her body and within her arms? Is this her? Is this where she is, in Kansas, in Texas, in Oklahoma?

Find me this woman.

I hit you, you fall down, I punish you for falling down.

This unspeakable heartbreak will continue as long as the corrupt are in charge, as long as this mad reasoning is in play. He didn’t mean to hurt you. Trust Daddy now, he loves you, he’ll take care of you. He knows what’s best.

I have spent my professional life as an educator. I don’t want to spend all my time teaching anymore. I've got art, music projects, poetry to write. But watching this dangerous mockery of humanity taking place in Washington D.C.?

As the great Hannah Gadsby says, I identify as tired.

8 OCTOBER 2018

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