There were so many almosts.
My stepdad, Terry, used to give me a massage before bedtime every night, on the rare occasion I was visiting my mother. My face flushed warm when he peeled my pajama bottoms down a tiny bit, pretended his fingers were the legs of jungle animals, the crack of my ass the river. I never told him no. I was only five. It never went farther than that, fortunately. I believe that is simply because I didn’t seem him often enough. Terry was not a monster.
My stepmom is from Mexico. I was eight years old the first time I visited, but I was already the same height as the men and women there. I don’t know if men thought I was a woman already, or if that would have made a difference. I was an exotic creature there, the only American I saw the entire trip. Grown men touched my hair as I walked in the street. Their whistling at me was constant. I felt their eyes all over my body everywhere I went. I was eight years old. They were not monsters.
My stepmom’s brother Rogelio used to watch my sister and me sleep. He was only visiting, but visits from Mexican relatives aren’t for, like, a weekend. They extend for weeks and months. Was it a whole summer he was there? I would wake to find his face inches from mine. I’d flinch. There is a feeling we women know well, even before we are women. It makes our stomach twist, our skin strange, our jaws tense. Our bodies sound alarms before we even know what they are sounding against. I don’t know if Rogelio ever touched my sister or me. We were sleeping. Rogelio was not a monster.
In high school, I was big, strong, poorly dressed, acne-ridden. I wore huge men’s athletic sneakers, and never knew what to do with my hair. I only felt comfortable in my body playing sports, martial arts, pole vaulting, basketball. In P.E., the girls avoided sweat and gossiped in pockets of shade, and I was the only girl the boys would pick for their team. Those girls were a separate species. I, on the other hand, was red-faced, sweating profusely through my gym clothes, hair all over the place.
No boy wanted to kiss me. Until one boy did. But the first time this boy got me alone, he kissed me violently, cutting my lip, shoved his head between my legs, groped my breasts. I didn’t want him to, and I was strong enough and big enough to push him away, but I didn’t. I didn’t say or do anything, in fact. I couldn’t. I froze. I was saved by the rumble of the rising garage door at my parents’ house. He was not a monster.
When I told my stepmom about Rogelio, she grew very, very angry. Angry with me. When I went to them for help, my parents both told me boys only want one thing. What did I expect?
I have had two serious stalkers. Men have revealed their penises to me in the parking lot of Target, while driving through Los Angeles, through the window of a liquor store. Men have masturbated next to me on the Muni in San Francisco, rubbed their dicks against my body on the subway in New York. A couple of years ago, a former student came to visit me in my office, and then went in for a hug. He held me too long, sweating into my clothes. He slid his hand down my back and grabbed my ass. He then ran off and did the same to several other female professors. I have a phone filled with the unsolicited photographs of men’s penises from my brief stint of online dating. None of these men were monsters.
I’m not alone. You already know that. You also know I’ve had it so much better than most of my female family members and friends have. Almost every female friend and family member I know has been raped, assaulted, and/or physically or sexually abused in some way by a man. I’m lucky nothing worse has happened to me. I’m fortunate to be big and strong, to seem unapproachable to many men. But is “lucky” really the right word here?
What do we expect from men, to address my stepmother and my father’s question?
The answer, of course, is not very much.
Brock Turner is not a monster.
Yesterday, my friend Sarah posted on Facebook, “Let’s not pretend that the Stanford swimmer is a monster or that the attitudes in his father’s apologist letter are remarkable.”
And that is it, exactly. We make Brock Turner out to be a monster, and that is very convenient. But what he did is so normal and widely accepted that he and his father are bewildered by the concept that he did anything wrong. Why are we surprised? Why are we outraged? Here are statistics on sexual violence in the U.S. We all know Brock Turner. We made Brock Turner.
Let us channel this outrage. Let us expect more from our men. Let us listen to our women. Let us change.