I knew it was a power play when I did it.
Many years ago when I was much younger and unmarried, I visited my parents in Florida for the holidays. A family with four sisters, three about my age, was vacationing nearby. The sisters were all very smart, very competitive and beautiful. I was conveniently tall, broad shouldered and could keep up in conversation. I’m not sure I’ve ever flirted that much before or since.
I was sunning in a chair on the beach. One of the sisters put her beach chair next to mine and sat down. As we were talking I reached over and pulled her closer.
She flashed anger and scolded me, telling me a gentleman shouldn’t move a lady’s chair without her permission. I said Oh, sorry, and pushed her chair away. She glared at me again, I smiled back and we went on talking.
I have to say, it was fun. Controlling someone’s thoughts or actions is a sense of power, and power is fun. I’m pretty sure the sisters enjoyed their power over my thoughts all week. And the old saying is true, Fortune favors the bold. Some women will always favor men that are bold. Some women will always favor a man who is much stronger and can physically protect them.
But maybe it was also a reminder that I was a man, and that I could physically control her if I chose to.
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been accused by Christine Ford of sexually assaulting her at a high school house party thirty five years ago. She says he pulled her into a room, pinned her to the bed with his body and put his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. He says he never treated women that way, and denies that it ever happened.
Maybe it never happened. Or maybe what happened was uneventful for him and easily forgotten, just another night seeing what a girl would let him get away with. Maybe his hand on her mouth was the panicked response by a teenage boy to her unexpected scream, a few seconds that just seemed like an eternity. Maybe he secretly remembers being goaded by a friend into doing something that he knew was over the line, and he’s regretted it ever since. Maybe he’s furious that the process has become so politicized that he’s being judged on ninety seconds in high school instead of the thirty five years that followed. Who knows.
It’s hard not to believe the woman, Ford. Her life afterwards suggests that what happened had a profound effect. I remember growing up, listening to what Mom said to my sister. My Mom was a rebel by the standards of her time, moving to New York and delaying marriage until her late twenties. She told my sister, over and over again, that she had as much right to do what she wanted as her two brothers and to never let someone tell her she couldn’t do something. But there was regularly a second part of that message – be careful of men, because they can take your freedom away. It was the whispered fear that all women live with, the realization that because of the difference in physical strength a man could do bad things to you that you would be powerless to stop. Over and over, Mom cautioned my sister to never put herself in a situation where she might be powerless, to always be careful and in control. Never let a man take your freedom away.
When Ford was at that party thirty five years ago, she was doing everything right – in a safe location, in a group with people she knew. She was in control. And then she wasn’t. She was pulled into a room against her will, forced down on a bed. It doesn’t matter that he let her up, or maybe never intended to do harm. That was the moment that the whispered fears were made real. A man was strong enough to force his will on her, and she was powerless to stop him. Ford remembers because that was the day she lost part of her freedom, maybe forever.