Over the last couple months as the names of man after man have come out as having sexually harassed and assaulted women, there’s one thing I haven’t been. I haven’t been surprised. Not a single name, not Harvey Weinstein, not Charlie Rose, not Mario Batali, not Garrison Keillor, has surprised me. No name could surprise me.
It’s not a matter of cold cynicism or any categorical dislike of men, just an awareness of reality. An awareness that stretches across almost my entire life going back to when I was six years old. An awareness I gained as the byproduct of the abuse I experienced from my own father. The very man who if things are right was tasked with the expectation to never hurt me, did. And from that came the understanding that if he could do such things, if he could hurt, then so could another man.
The abuse I faced was emotional abuse, from emotional neglect, to gaslighting, to emotional stability and more. And even if he never laid a hand on me, the way it hurt, was as real as a slap to the face. That’s how it was from the very start. Or at least where I remember it starting, as I’m not sure my own childhood mind didn’t block out some earlier event in an act of self-preservation. But from that first remembered instance, I was aware of what a man could do, even if beyond the immediate pain I couldn’t comprehend it.
That first time, the first I remember, started out as as nothing different. I was sitting on the floor playing with my favorite toy plane and watching TV. Then my dad said something, I have no recollection of what it was or any idea what it might have been. I said something in response, I have no clue what it might have been. And next thing I see is my dad swinging the plane up and throwing it to the ground, where it broke in two.
And I just broke. I cried in a way I’m not sure I ever cried before or ever again. I had no idea what I had done, what I had said, to provoke what happened. I just pleaded with my dad to apologize. To take it back. But he refused. It was my fault. It was my fault that he did what he did even if I had no idea what it was I had done. He said he had enough of my whining, when he had never said anything about it before. When no one had ever called me whiny before. My voice would go up in pitch when I would say certain things, but that wasn’t whining. I just had the vocal inflections of a girl. And now, for all I knew, I was being hurt for how I was.
In that moment he taught me that he could take anything I had, no matter how special to me, destroy it and blame me for it. His emotions, his reactions, were my fault. It was my fault if he did something to hurt me. He wouldn’t apologize, because he had nothing to apologize for. He hadn’t done anything wrong. There was no going too far, because there were no lines he crossed.
And so I learned what a man could do. It didn’t hit me then but eventually, it would. Along with the other things, it hit me that this is what a man can do. Not any man, it’s not as if every man is a ticking time bomb. But among men are those who hurt, who are not at fault for the hurt they cause, because in their eyes it’s only the fault of who they hurt. Even with an innate expectation of men to behave, I knew some wouldn’t.
As the names of men have come forward over the last two months, there are things I feel. Anger and disgust among them. I might seem to be pretty quick with how I respond, what I say about how to change things, power structures, industry problems etc. But that’s because in among the things that go through my mind, there is one that doesn’t. One I don’t need to let pass before reacting more. No matter the name, no matter how many names, no matter what they did. I’m not surprised.