Somebody Almost Walked Off With All of My Stuff: And He Didn’t Even Know He Had a Thing of Value on the Open Market* by Carol P. Christ


Gina Messina-Dysert’s blog on sexual harassment by a Religious Studies professor brought up memories that have haunted me for years. It has taken me some months to find the courage to post this story.

When I was an undergraduate, I was very naive and barely dating. I was not as prepared for college work as most of the other students, and I devoted myself to my studies.  I had a favorite professor, and I spent a lot of time in his office talking about books and about God.  This professor encouraged me to go on for a Ph.D. in his field at a time when a woman with a Ph.D. was an oddity.  His belief in my intelligence gave me the courage to overcome my parents’ opposition to the idea that I would pursue a doctorate. His recommendations helped me to win Danforth and Woodrow Wilson Fellowships. I naturally assumed that this professor respected me.   

After I began graduate school, I met my former professor at the American Academy of Religion meetings.  One time, he invited me to his room for a scotch. There he told me that he had often imagined having sex with me when I was a student discussing religion in his office. I was shocked because I had always thought of this man as a professor–beloved professor, yes, but a lover, no–the thought had never even crossed my mind! Because he was closer in age to my father than to me, I had placed him in the category of father-God-authority figure.

Yet I was flattered. Perhaps because I was shy and studious and very tall, few men had paid attention to me. It was the time when love was free, or so I thought, so I said yes.  Our affair was passionate and went on over several years long distance.  I thought I loved him, and I believed that he must love me.  

I was over 21 and no longer his student, so there was no sexual harassment in the legal sense.  However, there was a massive abuse of the intellectual, spiritual, and psychological power he had over me. 

After we had made love, my professor he told me he was glad I was no longer his student because, he said, he would no longer be able to judge my work objectively. I was dumbfounded. Apparently I, who had been admired for my mind, had been demoted to a body.  My professor’s words should have been my clue to “slip out the back Jack,” but I was psychologically unprepared to do so.  I was confused–unable and unwilling to accept that this professor who seemed so wise and intelligent had such limited and stereotypical attitudes towards women. I continued the relationship, imagining that I could make him see all of me.  For his part, he continued to take advantage of my innocence.

Gina wrote of feeling so humiliated by being groped by her professor that she did not report the incident. She said that after she posted her blog about it, she felt sick to her stomach and considered removing her post.

The night after I read Gina’s blog, I woke up in the midst of a dream in which another woman viciously attacked me, calling my beautiful garden dirty because there was dog shit in it.  Speaking of this dream with Gina, I realized that my garden was my-self and that even after the passage of many years, I felt covered in shit. I had been used, and I judged myself for accepting an abusive relationship.

I spent the next few days pondering it all. Finally a scream rose up in my body. With the windows closed, I shouted at the top of my lungs:

Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff.

He took my innocence.

And he didn’t even know it was a thing of value on the open market.

Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff.

He took my body.

And he didn’t even know it was a thing of value on the open market.

Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff.

He took my love.

And he didn’t even know it was a thing of value on the open market.

I gave myself to you.

And you didn’t even know I was a thing of value.

I take back my innocence.

I take back my body.

I take back my love.

They were never yours.

Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff.

And he didn’t even know he had a thing of value on the open market.

But I know.

I share this story because I am certain that I am not the only one. As I often say to my students when they tell me stories of abuse, this should not happen to anyone.

It should not have happened to me!

Thanks to Gina for hearing me into speech.

*Thanks to Ntozake Shange who in for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf spoke the truths of her life. Her words inspired my ritual of self-affirmation, but I do not quote her exactly.

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute



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15 replies

  1. Carol, thank you for writing this and sharing your story, it is such a powerful piece. It doesn’t matter that I have not had a similar experience, I nonetheless recognize the deep truth of what you write. When power imbalances are present there is a more precarious vulnerability that people in power often do not acknowledge – and worse, take advantage of. I am so glad that your story has been brought to speech, and I am so grateful for your scream too! There is so much power in the naming of things… Thank you Carol.

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  2. Yes, thank you. Thank you, thank you. And blessings on your beautiful garden. I feel grateful to be able to witness your courageous speech in naming this abusive experience. I’m grateful because, while I have never had an experience exactly like yours, I have experienced the abuse of mind, body and soul by those I have trusted. The stories of other women naming their abuse and naming their abusers allowed me to see the truth of my own experience and empowered me to find my own voice, my own scream. In speaking our own truths we create honest spaces in which others are finally free to speak their truths into being as well. I am moved by your willingness to offer yourself. Please know that this offering is cherished and held, just I feel held by you and your story even though we have never met.

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  3. What a sad and brave story. We’ve talked about this, but only in private when we were comparing notes about what it was like to be a “girl” earning a Ph.D. and being smarter than most of the boys–reading it now, I admire your courage. Brava, brava, brava!

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  4. Thank you for your courage and gift of your garden to inspire us. I listen to your words powerful from outrage yielding to the self-healing and loving mermaid sound of Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 Aria. And I join in solidarity with all those who have written and will write to praise you for embodying unequal intelligence and sense of social responsibility/love, and grace in a garden of beauty that you so stunningly keep sharing with us.

    I hope that the synchronicity of a note which I wrote to myself this morning, from a liminal moment… semi-awake, sheds some light on an issue which afflicts so many women, it may even be the untold story of my sister or daughter who have never come out, or which I never imagined I see the possibility through your clear voice. Even when I have not experienced abuse of power from a man I trust, there are plenty of scars in me from the internalized patriarchal oppression that my own physical mother passed down to me. Here is where I wonder if in the context of feminist thought we are interested in exploring our wounds from men who abuse us, or as in my case, on how we unconsciously self-sabotage, a manner of abusing ourselves, even when the men in our lives have treated us, like in my case, like sacred body, mind and Goddess Spirit.

    For some reason, reading your story touched a very deep intimate fiber in me about how I have perhaps have missed trusting my intelligence when these feminist men open the doors for me to reach my highest potential, to be a woman in a position to breakthrough barriers of the appearances of physical, mental and spiritual and embody a fully enlightened spirituality (in the perennial philosophy’s sense of enlightenment).

    The reason why your experience resonates in oppositional and interesting ways with my experience, is because I have often felt intense pain at how the absence of a femnist construct of the ideal man may be leaving some of us lost in many turns of the conversation and even in the feminist movement.

    Because I was the woman who would have slackened in the “temptation” of the brilliant man who is wise, incorruptible, passionate about God and Goddess, while he expected nothing but success in my endeavors for me, and harbored expectations for I don´t know what more… because He, an embodiment of Divine qualities, keeps giving the best of himself to me and to all who listen to his classes.

    So, this morning, with you in mind Carol, with all the honor, boldness and respect that you inspire in me, I wrote this as in a dialogue with other feminists:

    “On feminist self-sabotage. Why would the members of a movement meant to explore ways to end patriarchal interlocking systems of oppression, approach incorruptible men with derision, disbelief, mistrust, (in internalized patriarchal ways) as if by doing so we act as those intent in perpetuating the very identities of abusers that have and keep silencing us. Why haven´t we made room for discussions about the sons of women who have epitomized the ideal sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, beloved teachers, heads of state (even if few), and yes incorruptible Gurus? !” (Ref. Dr. Vasudha Narayan)

    There is much in my heart regarding this cry, and I’m not as ready as you are to roar in victory with your voice, heart and hands holding out a garden for us! But the inspiration of my great teachers from East and West, a bridging episteme will emerge after completing this gestation process. There is still much pressure in my mind from the cognitive dissonance and hermeneutic chaos which I have invited by hugging Eastern and Western epistemologies. Thank you for continuing to tear down the walls that separate women! Words cannot express the thrill of discovering and voicing what seems an oppositional life experience, but one which I believe is inextricably related in the relational, integral and connected web/system of life. You keep inviting us to birth interconnectivities, intersubjectivities in this sacred space. I apologize for anyone who feels that this may be an unrelated topic. And if you believe it is so, please consider this woman is in the margins asking to be invited from margin to center. With love and gratitude, your student.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this very difficult experience and your recent healing. It takes courage for women to share these stories of belittlement and abuse. Through the sharing we all become stronger. BTW – you and your garden are beautiful!!!!

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  6. thankyou , carol….i was your student when you were at claremont….you were and continue to be such an inspiration

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  7. Dear Carol, Thank you for your courage and for sharing this incredibly powerful story. I appreciate how scary it feels to put this out there – but I know your story is going to impact so many. How else do we make change if it is not through speaking out?

    No one deserves what you experienced and I hope “speaking out” has begun your healing process. xxx

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  8. Thanks to those of you who read this post today and especially to those of you who replied with healing words. It is good to know my story is “held” by you, I hope we will be able to help each other to “wash ourselves clean.” Like Gina I thought of withdrawing this post in the hours before it was scheduled to be posted…

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  9. Thank you for sharing this story Carol– you have such a powerful voice. It shouldn’t have happened to you. It shouldn’t happen to anyone. I too have judged myself for accepting an abusive relationship– to the point that I thought I wasn’t allowed to be a feminist because I “let” these things happen to me. It took me a long time to take back my body, my love and my innocence, as you say; and I feel like this is still a work in progress. I’ll have moments with yoga, energy work or even dreams where I finally release something and I’ll feel like, “wow– I didn’t even realize I’d lost that.” I love taking these things back. I love the voice you share with us here.

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  10. Thee is no place to be sexually harassed at a university. A professor should teach, mentor and nurture their students, not sexually harass them!

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  11. Dear Carol,
    Thank you for sharing your story. It is very common for a student to look up to a respected and admired professor and feel good when they have garnered their attention. By attention I mean we have managed to gain their recognition and their respect in us as intellectual and talented beings. Unfortunately many people of power, men and women, professor or otherwise, abuse that respect and admiration and use it to take advantage of the innocent; it is not the innocent who should feel dirty or ashamed, but those who abuse the innocent. I love how you are reclaiming your “I” voice in the poem.

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  12. Thank you for sharing your story Carol. It is brave of you to share such a personal story. Your poem is very powerful. I agree with Sose. This type of behavior from a professor is unacceptable.

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  13. Carol
    Thank you for sharing your story. I can see your reason for hesitation, I am in my infantile state with my “I” VOICE, a tool I learned of this semester in Professor Cartier’s GWS 360 class.
    I want you to know in sharing you have given me courage to continue to exercise my right
    to my voice.
    Namasta

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  14. very touching. I keep thinking on your story. So true how extent patriarchy is !
    Here in France the law against sexual harassment has just been erased this month by what is called the “Constitutional Council” (which said also last yer that new law against incest was unconstitutionnal). Differents collectives of women have officially began a lawsuit against this high council (!). Probably with the new governement a new law should pass but all the current lawsuits for sexual harassment have been cancelled.

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