The first time I discovered feminism really, I was nineteen years old and living in the college dorms. I never would have said, I’m not a feminist, but I thought of them all like images of television: static bras burning and picket signs in front of picket fences.
I don’t understand why they’re so angry, I thought. That’s the wrong way to win an argument.
I wouldn’t read A Room Of One’s Own for another two years, but my father and I would argue sometimes. He would tell me that a feeling isn’t enough to form an argument on. There have to be facts. You have to think.
He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met, I would say proudly to my friends at college. He has a PhD in physics.
And I was proud. I was proud to have the kind of dad that was always home for dinner. I was proud to have a dad that would stop what he was doing to give me advice. I was proud to have a father that taught me about outer space and gravity when he put me to bed.
He is the kind of person that throws a rock off a mountain and makes calculations in his head about high the mountain is based on how many seconds it takes for the rock to hit the forest floor.
He is the kind of person who packed lunch for his kids every day until my brother and I both left home for college.
When I was nineteen I lived in a four-bedroom dorm with five other girls. I had my own room, barely bigger than a closet, and I was reading an article on Jezebel about something I had never heard of. Rape culture.
Rape culture is a sociological phenomenon in which rape and sexual assault is normalized and excused due to the media and pop culture.
Symptoms of rape culture include blaming the victim with statements like she deserved it or questions like what was she wearing.
I thought of Sunday school and sex ed classes in high school. I thought of all the outfits I wasn’t allowed to wear because they were “tempting.” I thought of the rules I heard my friends rehearse before we left for college, street smart rules like never walk home alone or phone a friend or never drink something a man gives you that’s already been opened.
Suddenly, it all made sense. Why the fuck was it my responsibility to not get sexually assaulted? I signed up for a woman’s studies class the next semester. I learned about social conditioning and gender norms and how narrow the boxes are that we find ourselves inside.
And I got into more arguments with my dad.
It ruins their future, he would say. False accusations of rape on campus are a big problem.
He was so calm when he would say things like this.
I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. I would start yelling, and then I would start crying, and my mother, silent, washing dishes at the kitchen sink, would say enough is enough.
If you can’t handle having a conversation like this, my dad would say, we shouldn’t talk about it.
How is possible to lose an argument when you know you’re right? I had facts. But I would just break down, especially when it seemed like my dad cared more about men that were burdened with false rape allegations than the fact that there are women being assaulted every day, and on and off college campuses.
It never occurred to me to tell my parents about any of the things that really happened in college. If anything, I tried to actively shield them from it. I wanted to say, Almost all my friends have had something happen.
Some things you remember. The look on her face when she tells you, falteringly, what happened that night. How could you not have told you me, you say, incredulous, but you know. You know exactly why she didn’t tell you. You remember watching friends fall apart, not just once, but for months after the fact. You remember listening as one of your best friends tells you what happened to her one night five years ago, a secret she’s been carrying that entire time that you’ve had sleepovers and gone out for drinks and written papers and taken trips and met each other’s parents and drank coffee and done a million fucking things that best friends do together.
I can’t believe I didn’t know.
Some things you remember.
Some things you forget.
Sometimes when you see a man, you get a horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach and the feeling that something bad happened but you can’t remember what.
A book that my friend is reading, lying on her bedside table, titled The Body Remembers.
You forget why you were there or what you were doing.
You forget what happened afterward or if you told anyone.
You forget about how someone said you have blowjob lips in front of an entire class and the male professor says nothing to stop it and the class continues on and you go home and cry because you feel so disgusting.
You forget because your brain blocks it out and you don’t want to remember things that you wish you could forget and because it’s too much to process when there are other things happening and life goes on and you forget about things but your body remembers, when you see him out and get that sick feeling in your stomach and you want to tell everyone why but you can’t remember what happened and suddenly that’s a problem because you need facts.
My dad is the smartest person I’ve ever met and he packed me lunch every day for a year but I would never tell him because the possibility that he would blame me is too real and too painful.
And these are good men we’re talking about.
And everyone wonders why women are angry.