When we got into the apartment, there was no one else at the “party.” I had no idea where I was and no idea what to do. There were no cell phones or emergency numbers to contact for help even if I could have found a phone in the apartment. My date kept telling me it was the girl’s job to say “when” but continued to pressure me.
Eventually the upper classman returned and took us back to my dorm; we were two blocks from campus. It wasn’t until I got back that I realized the danger I had been in. I told no one. I told no one because I was ashamed; I felt the situation was my fault. I had put myself in a dangerous position. I was incredibly lucky that my date used constraint, though it is obvious the plan for the evening, hatched by my date and his “Big Brother,” was not what actually transpired.
This all happened in 1965. Why am I telling this story, finally, 53 years later?
Until now, I have told no one, not my women friends, certainly not my parents, not my husband of 45 years. Watching the father of three young women testifying about their abuse in the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar, angry because he was unable to protect his daughters, underscores the continued vulnerability of women. Hearing of allegations of abuse by White House aide Rob Porter, and how the initial response of men was to defend him, illustrates some lessons are just never learned.
I am telling the story now: I don’t want any young woman to have to go back to those days.
I wonder how many of my college women friends had similar experiences. Was anyone I know raped or molested and too ashamed to tell? When I recently polled my college friends, no one (even the two who were resident assistants in the dorms and were confidants to the girls on the floor) knew of anyone who was raped while we were in college. The euphemism of the day was not that a girl was raped but that she was “taken advantage of” because she put herself in a perilous situation. So of course she wouldn’t tell: it was her fault.
When I went off to college, freshmen women were given a different set of rules from the freshmen males. Our hours were earlier (our first semester we had to be in the dorm by 7:30 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends). At that time, none of us ever disputed the disparity. By the end of the term, we could stay “out” until 9 p.m. on weeknights and our weekend hours went to midnight.
And then there was the orange beanie I had to wear as a freshman, identifying me as someone the upper classmen could force to do any number of embarrassing tasks. I do not recall any freshmen males being called out because of their beanies. Women were never told about rape prevention; there was no such thing as date rape. Instead, women were told not to drink too much but to remain in control, not to walk down Barstow Street at night or face getting demerits. I never questioned the premise.
The current political environment and the threat to the credibility of women’s stories resonates with me. Being a woman “of a certain age” has provide me the perspective, and perhaps the outrage, to relate to the many issues that are surfacing in the “Me, Too” movement. The movement brings to light that social norms need to be challenged and not kept at a distance, that behaviors need to change.
While growing up, my mother was constantly reminding my sisters and me that women should not dress provocatively; we could not, after all, prevent boys from acting on their urges.
But for me, continuously hearing the message that it was up to me to control a boy’s behavior made a deep impression and contributed to my silence 53 years ago.
My husband and I raised three children: two sons and a daughter. Yes, I talked with our daughter about being safe, but I told her that men also have a responsibility. Our sons were told in no uncertain terms that no means no; anything beyond no is rape.
The women’s marches brought this all flooding back. Seeing men marching because of their daughters, women and their daughters’ standing together as my daughter and I did. I don’t want to go back to the time when women had no voice at all. I don’t want to go back to those days when women just blindly accepted being held responsible for male behavior, when everyone else knew what was best for a young woman, where only some rules applied to men. I don’t want to go back to the time when girls were not raped but “taken advantage of.” Yes, we still have a long way to go before women do not have to fear being raped, beaten, and not believed.
I hope the two fraternity brothers had children, daughters, so perhaps they finally recognized their heinous conduct. I hope they taught their sons to be different—to respect women and that men also have a responsibility to protect the rights of others.
I have finally traded my orange beanie for my pink knit hat: I will not be silenced.
Carol Scheidenhelm is the Director of the Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy at Loyola University Chicago. She works with faculty to develop their teaching practice incorporating teaching in the Jesuit tradition.