The title of the #metoo book is taken from Christine Blasey-Ford’s memory of the boys laughing as they tumbled her onto the bed and tried to take her clothes off. Her story sounded plausible to me when she testified, entirely teenage behavior in the ’80s, post-sexual revolution when women were supposed to be as extractive of sex as men, as avid, as careless, anticipating no harm. If she’d had a couple of witnesses, or friends, evidence, I would have believed her. Without, it just sounded plausible. And clearly, given the conviction that Bret Kavanaugh would prove another nail in the coffin of abortion on demand, her motives were suspect. I called it a draw, a shrug, the incident plausible, even familiar, the evidence absent.
But the phrase she used, “indelible in the hippocampus”, was damned catchy and serves as a perfect title for a collection of poems, short stories, “creative non-fiction” and generalized reports of sexual abuse of one’s self, friends or cousins.
Fully one-third of college students report being sexually harassed. Struck by that stat, I wanted to know more. This book, out of McSweeney’s, claims to be representative, so I read it. But if the essays in the Hippocampus are representative, we have defined abuse down to reports about friends’ experiences, imaginings of being a predated slave woman more than a century ago or a free black in the South half a century ago, being transsexual and being harassed by some barely sentient hick, feeling vulnerable on the streets, getting into sticky situations while blind drunk, being 12 and hanging around an unsupervised house full of teenaged boys, etc.
Takeaway? It’s not that bad. Not anymore. Cutting out being a slave or a free black woman in the South decades ago, almost every incident could have been avoided with a little common sense. But, say these young women, the world should be safe, it should be ok, to look sexually available and not have men respond to it. I should be able to get blind drunk at a fraternity party and not wake up with someone on top of me. No one should be able to insult me with impunity. I should not feel passive. My bad uncle should not paw at me at family parties. I should not be stalked. I should not feel vulnerable in my house alone. And so on. Yes, you should be that safe, and I hope you make the world that safe for your daughters and granddaughters.
I’m cutting out here the very real harassment suffered by working women in glamorous professions in the 80s-2000s. The closer you got to power in NY, LA, London, DC, etc., the worse it became, the more men took advantage, the more likely you would run into a monster. But this is not the experience of the writers in Hippocampus, their experiences are by comparison, creepy and nasty rather than criminal, requiring behavioral change, not jail.
Note: when Christianity was embedded in every family and community, women were safer, they were not seen as wholely sexual objects. Campuses were not free-for-all sexual buffets, nor were the streets a gauntlet of crude remarks and stalking. So there’s that. We, in western democracies, are experiencing the aftermath of the overthrow of the most effective moral system the world has yet created. Don’t call up Margaret Atwood, what you call “the patriarchy” will never come back, narcissism is just too seductive. Until you find you’ve given away your power to a fiction.