For the 20th anniversary of Vagina Monologues, playwright Eve Ensler asked local producers to solicit personal stories from their audience area. Margaret Elysia Garcia and Tina Tarrazas, grand dames of Pachuca Productions, selected mine as one of two to be read following the award-winning play.
Our cast was a potpourri in Birkenstocks, clogs and ruby spikes, all wearing some variation of black and red, all Plumas County, California locals. We laughed out loud along with the audience, wept openly and cheered one another along. I am proud to have been a part of a hilarious and heart-breaking afternoon served up by a group of gifted women and one talented, honorable man.
PROFESSOR PRICK & THE PATRIARCHY
I was 23, a year out of college and living in a Japanese city about five hours south of Tokyo by train. I had found my job teaching English by myself, but it was a college professor who created the opportunities that made me eligible for it: a year of language and cultural preparation before spending six months as a student in Tokyo. Now I was back in Japan on my own, a university teacher poised to launch a career as an Asian scholar. When my professor contacted me to say he was in Japan, we arranged to meet in Kyoto and take the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Once there, we shared a cab to our separate destinations.
And that was my #MeToo moment: Professor Prick in a Tokyo taxi with his hands.
It was more of a grope than an assault. It was not an attack and it was certainly not rape. I was lucky. I successfully rejected his advances and was not deeply scared emotionally or physically.
But there was an assumption of entitlement – a presumption on his part that I owed him something in return for the career opportunities he had created for me. A quid pro quo. A tit for tat. And we both knew that I stood to lose far more by speaking out than by staying silent. He had all the power in our relationship; I had none beyond personal integrity.
But I did speak out. I tried to tell one of the professor's colleagues about his behavior, which could truly damage other young women less combative than I was. The second professor wouldn't hear of it. This incident simply did not happen. Professor Prick would not, could not have done any such thing. The implication: Whatever didn't happen was my fault. The patriarchy stood together, a millennia-old fraternity bent on maintaining power over women.
This is the burn that was smoldering in many of us in 1991, when Anita Hill took on Clarence Thomas at Senate hearings to confirm him as a United States Supreme Court Justice. Her valiant testimony included all the sordid details a harassessed but silent woman would harbor all those years: Long Dong Silver, pubic hair on a Coke can, women having sex with animals…
I was glued to the radio. Anita Hill roused the rage I had suppressed for decades. Her testimony helped me identify my own experience for what it was: a woman abused by a mentor who wielded power over her. I knew then with certainty that I had been the victim of classic sexual harassment. Understanding that was exhilarating – a moment of liberation!
It didn't last. Witnessing the systematic dismantling of Anita Hill's credibility by an all male panel was crushing. As one senator after another attacked her integrity, I felt myself sinking into a morass of helpless outrage. No one believed Hill either. Men in power do not have to believe women without power.
And so my fury festered. Our fury festered, because by then I knew that I was one of legions of women who had been harassed, abused, assaulted and raped by our more powerful professors, directors, political mentors and employers – by men who had power over us, whether real or perceived.
And then came October 2017, the Harvey Weinstein #MeToo revolution when Alyssa Milano and all those other brave women spoke out. This time women did not shut up. We tweeted and posted and brandished our own stories of sexual harassment and assault in a parade of pent-up fury finally released and public for all to see. We were Time Magazine's person of the year. I was giddy with relief – finally and publicly liberated from the self-doubt that had somehow withstood my rage and moral indignation. And I stood with a multitude of other women.
Finally we could say unequivocally what we want men to know: If we are interested we will tell you. Meanwhile, keep your hands to yourself and put that little "tat" back in your pants.
I keep asking myself what it would look like just to hold each other responsible—really responsible—for our own lives. In that idyllic world we would all call a prick a prick. And when an abuser understood what that meant and wished to change, we would welcome him into the new reality where all us hold power and equally take responsibility for ourselves.
This is the path that #MeToo has opened for us: Creating relationships that balance the power, that allow women to be strong and allow men to not have to be. Relationships that are nurturing and honest. Relationships without resentment.
Right! Well I'm not there yet because deep inside of me is a remnant of the seething that longs for the opportunity to haul Professor Prick back from the dead, sit him down and yell directly into his self-righteous face: "You fucking prick!"