Like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I escaped my attacker. Like Dr. Ford, I was in high school: age 16.
That morning until the attack was a red-letter day: I got my braces off. I was allowed to drive the family station wagon for the occasion of my appointment.
Returning to school, I pulled onto a side street because as a sophomore, I wasn’t allowed to park on campus. I didn’t notice the white van as it pulled up right behind me.
As I started opening my door to get out, he yanked it open, said something lewd, and grabbed my arm. I wrenched it free and ran for my life, across a busy street.
The only one I told that day was my best friend; neither of us approached a teacher or the principal. I didn’t tell my parents until decades later.
Why? I was embarrassed and ashamed because I was wearing a short skirt. I was afraid to be banned from driving alone. I didn’t want to put the experience into words.
Nearly every woman I have ever met has can say “#MeToo” to having had to fight off an aggressor. Sometimes it’s “just” words.
Years later, I was a newly graduated engineer working in an engineering training program at General Electric in Cincinnati. One of my assignments was as a foreman in the union plant.
One would think the union-supervisor relationship would be ripe for terror. Yet, the most difficult relationship was with one of my “fellow” engineers. His daily habit was to enter my cubicle when I wasn’t out on the manufacturing floor, venting angrily.
“You should be home, taking care of your husband and children,” he would yell, his face thrust inches from mine. I didn’t even have children at the time. He would keep it up until I was in tears.
Only once did another engineer come to me afterward and console me with, “Don’t let it bother you.”
In many ways, we have come a long way since the 1970s. Nevertheless, the #MeToo movement shows us we’re only midway through the marathon.
My episodes, fortunately, were not as horrific as others you may know. Yet they surely altered the course of my life.
I raised my daughter with the unspoken fear of the man in the white van. I wondered if he raped or murdered someone else that day, and whether my speaking up could have saved an innocent victim.
I wonder whether my reaction to the engineer’s tirade was related to my near abduction. Why did the distress of one engineer’s personal tirade against me, and the muteness of the rest, discourage me enough to give up a budding engineering career?
Why was I not strong enough to kick him where it counted?
Now that I am in life’s “third third,” I am again concerned about protection from danger. I need emotional safety in a way that is nearly impossible in this era of bad examples, or negxamples.
I also need to know my daughter and my granddaughter can pursue their dreams free from abuse.
This is my request:
Would you be willing to listen to my story without mocking? Would you be willing to offer the women in your life empathy, understanding and trust? Could you do this as a matter of course, and not just for show?
If so, then I believe girls can celebrate a modern meaning for “boys will be boys:” that boys can be depended upon to be honest, respectful and supportive.
— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at email@example.com. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.