My dad took me to see Bill Cosby in Columbus, Ohio when I was a kid. We used to listen to a record of him talking, which I could only pretend to find funny even then, but dad liked it and wanted to see him in person. The venue had really narrow seating, and although I could barely hear Cosby’s routine, I laughed for most of the show. I had brought a friend with me, who was heavier set, and she squirmed miserably the whole time, at one point looking pleadingly at me and whispering, “I’m trying to get comfortable.” Now, he’s in the slammer, and I get a little ill every time I think of Pudding Pops.
Not too long ago, Uncle Frank died. He terrorized three generations of women in my family. My mom was a little girl when he exposed himself behind a door jam, so that all she could see was his ghostly pale member protruding through the open walkway. She would laugh when she told the story but reminded us to stay clear of him. He was regarded as a family clown, but on his death bed, as my mom put it, he finally “got her.” As she sat at the edge of his bed to bid him farewell, his toes wriggled contentedly into her buttocks. He died with a smile on his face. We laugh, but it isn’t funny. Who knows what he did on his free time?
Now, I have this personal thing going on with the Kavanaugh debacle. I have been listening to it, and I am amazed, especially by the vitriol of Lindsay Graham. Back in the Clinton-Lewinsky days, I used to find Graham measured in his speech, and his eyes seemed kind. You see, they bear a resemblance to my mom’s eyes. Now, the familiarity of his eyes makes it seem more of a slap in the face when he gets all red-faced and flustered in his defense of the system, the Republican nominee, the process, the privus lex, or rather, the privilege, that should surround the questionable-honorable-virginal-prohibition-era-dry-ivy-leaguer Kavanaugh.
Here’s the thing. I listened to the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, and while talking about it with students in an ethics course, I heard myself saying, “the same thing happened to me.” And, it did. I was with a friend. She had a friend. We three were in a car. The friend of the friend wanted to see her boyfriend. We went to his house. I went inside. It never occurred to me that the friend of the boyfriend of the friend of my friend would have some malicious intent when he offered to show me the house. I walked around saying, “oh, it’s nice,” when this squat-wrestler guy decided to pin me to some bed and try to touch me and cover my mouth. I was surprised more than scared but rapidly coming to the realization that I could not get his weight off of me. I was spared whatever foul thing he might have inflicted on me when a younger boy came into the room and jumped on the bed to “tickle” me too. His innocence saved the day. I can’t remember a damn thing about the street, but I can see the house, and I can see the ugly, thick face of my attacker. I didn’t know his name. He’s probably got some kind of normal job and life now and would just die if I showed up to say, um, hey buddy, remember me? He was probably drunk and wouldn’t even remember. I’d be ruining his life. And, is there a sound to a fallen tree with no witness?
The funny thing is that I never considered it sexual assault, not once, not ever, until last week when I listened to Ford’s testimony and people expressed sympathy for her. People started reporting their own stories. I thought, shit, I had that too. And, that was just one incident. There was the time when my “boyfriend” tried to get me take off my blouse in a room with several of his guy friends. There was the time I was with that same friend, and her brother’s friend offered to give us a ride to the mall. Instead, he took us to his home and together with some other guy who was in that home, they blocked us in a small bedroom. They were drinking and laughing and debating which one was going to have the “cute” one. I was cute. I knew I had to get out of there, and when they momentarily stepped away from the door, I leapt up, tore past them, and fled out the front door, calling for my friend to follow NOW. And, there was this repulsive professor who blocked me in his office; called me every night; and would gaze perversely at me. I can still see his red face, even though I couldn’t tell you his name unless I looked up my college transcript. I surely don’t remember his office number, or the names, or locations of any of those guys I mentioned above.
They blur. The whole thing blurs. And, this isn’t the whole story. There’s other things, unmentionable things. I’ll mention just this one. A man was staying in our house. He was Russian. He was some guy my parents met when they visited for the Moscow Marathon. He was there for a couple of months. He would chase me around the house with an erection in his open robe, kind of like Uncle Frank, without the door jam. He tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. He was so sickening to me, I started gagging just being in his presence. I guess I told what was happening to me. I don’t even remember now. He was Russian, though, and an invited guest, so I guess I just thought it was something I had to endure. I was fifteen.
Even writing this stuff, I realize, I could sound angry. I could sound as one unloading my sordid history on an unsuspecting readership. Maybe it sounds like venting. But, I tell you in all honesty, I am entirely dispassionate. I am merely recollecting a history of impositions and assaults that I never even considered to be, well, objectively wrong or (really????) assaults. I never particularly grasped that my child self was not the perpetrator but the victim. I assumed, maybe still do, that I was to blame for being friend’s with that girl, or going to someone’s house, or getting in a car, or being cute, or being an American when some hungry Russian thought he might get a green card out of me well, I’m not going to go there or I WILL become angry!
The funny thing is I am pretty sure most of the people who know and love me are never thrilled to hear this crap. It makes everyone feel bad. There is probably a quotient of disbelief in my telling as well. And, here’s the rub. I admit, I kind of feel stained or damaged even talking about it. I feel as though it discredits me as a serious thinker and writer and philosopher to give a shit about those idiots. I was tough and strong and came out ok, right? Anyway, I think I know why people are calling the news stations and reporting their stuff from a million years ago. I think I know why many remain anonymous. I think I know why they never told their fathers and husbands and mothers and friends. I think we better take heed too. We can’t all be lying, right?
I think I hear rocks falling…
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.
9 thoughts on “Falling Rocks by Natalie Weaver”
Natalie,I am sorry to about these abuses.As report after report comes out I think every womyn on the planet has the same story to tell.I wonder if it will ever change.I also wonder when we will start believing womyn!
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Thanks for telling your story, which brings back so much of mine. When I start remembering it amazes me how much I have not quite forgotten. So many small and large coercions and abuses, faces (and other body parts) mostly without names. The day after Dr. Ford’s testimony I wrote in my journal. I will share the first and last stanza with gratitude to you for this posts:
I remember with so many other women
not being believed
not knowing how to say no
not knowing that I could
not having words for things that happened to me
not knowing it was what happened that was wrong
I have felt alone
no one has protected me
no one has defended me
End note: we have each other now!
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Great post, Natalie. I think that those of us who have experienced behavior from men such as you describe here endured it all because it did not (still does not to many) seem aberrant. Carol’s post on Monday captures how patriarchy (the social system most of the world lives in) manifests itself in “real life.” And although Carol is referring specifically to patriarchal religion, I don’t think religion can ever be separated from the culture. Religion is influenced (really, it’s shaped) by patriarchy which, in turn, shapes culture.
“Patriarchal religions sanctify patriarchy. When they name divinity as Lord and King, this is not an aberration. When they justify male domination, this is not an aberration. When they justify war, this is not an aberration. When they justify the violence of the state, this is not an aberration. When they justify violence within the family, this is not an aberration. When they justify the control of female sexuality, this is not an aberration. When they justify private property and inheritance through the male line, this is not an aberration. When they justify rape culture, this is not an aberration. When they justify slavery, this is not an aberration. All of these things are at the root of the patriarchal system.”
Our current president did not get installed in his position within a vacuum. Patriarchy, the social system in which we live, thinks rape and control of women, including their sexuality, to be a “given.” We need to keep pushing back. Talk, scream, rage–that’s what we need to keep doing.
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Maybe we can imagine those falling rocks as great big boulders that tumble down mountains and pile up on Cosby, the Abuser-in-Chief, KavanaUGH (as a friend of mine spells the name), and all those other men who attack little girls, big girls, young women, older women because the men’s privilege gives them permission to act like that.
You’re very courageous to have written this piece. Brava! Be safe!
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Natalie, your feelings about your abuse leave me feeling less alone. Thank you. Isn’t it “strange” that men, who want to be in charge, don’t seem able to accept responsibility for their own actions?
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“They blur. The whole thing blurs. And, this isn’t the whole story. There’s other things, unmentionable things.”
There you have it – my story is full of unmentionables – family member stuff – toddler stuff – adolescent stuff adult stuff – and it blurs – all of it. But one thing never blurs – and that;s the belief that somehow I was at fault… looking back this seems insane but it was what I believed. It’s taken 74 years to reclaim my innocence.
Last week unhinged a lot of us. Those of us like me who suffer from PTSD got to relive the horrors through the cells of our bodies. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, headaches, fury, depression….
I KNEW that I couldn’t listen to Dr. Ford’s testimony, because of what would happen to me, so I waited until afterwards and then read the reports on the run… too horrible to stay present to for long. But even that wasn’t enough.
And you are so right – almost no one wants to hear this crap, as you put it.
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Dr . Weaver , I am sorry to hear about these abuses and what you went through .You are very courageous to have written this . I am now recalling all of the deplorable incidents that I’ve encountered in the past . I think I know why they are reporting this stuff from a million years ago too .
God Bless you !
I haven’t seen many interviews with Hillary Clinton lately, but apparently Kavanaugh said some silly thing about her, and thus she responds to the quote with roaring laughter. There’s a clip at Google, just search there for: Kavanaugh Hillary
What do we do to stop this? Is documentation important? (Think the rant of the president … she doesn’t remember.) Before trying to forget these incidents would it be well to confide details to a buddy? To use cells to take pictures? Does taking such actions change the status of the victim? Does she regain control taking control away from her perpetrator?
I don’t know the answers. I do know that the time has come that she said is heard, and he said is exposed for the lie it is.