I’m an old woman and I’ve been blogging here for a long time. And I’ve revealed lots of truths about my life here, floating upon the strength of my readers and placing the roots of my writing within the safe, warm, living compost of my readers’ lives.
But I’ve had a bit of trouble girding my loins to write tonight’s post and I’m really only able to do it because, tonight, two of my closest male allies listened to my story and supported me, sitting on my Southern screen porch, underneath the ceiling fan, over roast chicken, and watermelon, and mashed potatoes, and salad with poppy seed dressing, and Virginia wine.
This week, I had a lovely professional success. I flew across the country that I love, to stand before one of the most prestigious United States Courts of Appeals and manage an oral argument in a case of national importance. I’m not saying that to brag. It’s just the truth. I’ve worked all of my life to come to this point and I’m good at what I do; I’m recognized by the other members of my profession as good at what I do; I’m going to win this case and impact thousands of lives in the process.
And, so, the other morning, I got up in my hotel room, ordered enough latte and espresso to fuel an important argument, put on make-up, dressed in navy blue, put on good shoes, and tied an Hermes scarf around my neck. I showed up early at the courthouse, chatted with the guards there whom I’ve come to know, went to the ornate attorneys’ waiting room, did a small ritual to encourage young women attorneys, and got ready to step into the ring with my hands rubbed in chalk, my sword raised high.
While it happens, it’s like flying. It takes an hour, but it feels like minutes. It’s the best version of the Glass Bead Game you’ve ever played and it’s as if ideas were birds, sunrises, rainbows, musical tones, bubbles that you toss back and forth. I love what I do; I love what I manage inside that lovely court.
And, so, when it was over, I went outside.
I admit that I was a little bit full of myself, aware that, if my younger self could have seen me, she’d have been amazed. This was the kind of work that I dreamed of doing, but never quite believed I’d get to do. But I did it and it was as good as I ever imagined it could be.
The Court of Appeals in this city is one of the loveliest, most ornate in the country, but it is in what is now a bad part of town. I stood at the corner, hand up in the air, trying to hail a taxi. Taxis do come past the courthouse, although not every minute.
He came across the street and it was obvious to me that he was homeless, on drugs. His pants hung down mid-thigh, and he had his hands, even as he walked towards me, in his boxers, jerking himself off. I did what all of us good girls were taught to do. I ignored him. “Don’t see them. Don’t acknowledge them. Pretend you can’t see what’s going on. If you acknowledge them, you’ll just start a conflict. You’ll invite an attack. You’ll be the one to be shamed.” He stopped about four feet away from me, and he looked at me, and he continued to jerk himself off as he stared at me. And that went on and on.
And, look, let’s be honest, I am an old woman. I’m no model. I looked professional, but I’m not sexy. Sexy isn’t at all what I was going for when I dressed that morning for the Court of Appeals. But that doesn’t matter. Any woman — any woman, no matter how old or how obviously privileged, or how professional, or how careful, any woman — is bait for any man, no matter how poor, how drugged up, how young, how deprived — any woman is bait for any man to jerk off to.
Even me. Even moments from an important professional victory. I’m nothing in this society except a target for any man to jerk off to. That’s what I am. That’s what women in this society are, even those of us with degrees. and accomplishments, and status. We’re all just here for some man to jerk off to.
It doesn’t matter how esoteric the knowledge it took me to get to this point. It doesn’t matter how many hours and hours of late nights and long weekends of preparation it took for me to write the briefs and do the work to get to this shining hour before this prestigious court. None of that matters. I am a woman and he is a man and he gets to stand a few feet away from me and jerk off at me.
I moved off, slowly, back toward the guards, mid-block, that knew me. I kept staring at my cell phone, as if I were checking my email and not pretending not to be a woman being jerked off at. I got closer to the guards outside the courthouse, one of whom came and stood near me and said, “Lady, get an Uber.” I did what the guard said. I am grateful to him.
When my driver pulled up, the man was still just a few feet away from me. He was still staring at me and he was still jerking off. I got into the limousine and I shut and locked the door. I gave the driver the location of the meeting I was going to. It was a meeting with the other lawyers – all men – who had been at the oral argument. None of them had been sexually assaulted after the argument. They all arrived safely, full of themselves, ready to discuss next steps.
If you don’t think that I am going to vote for Hillary Clinton for president, then you haven’t lived the past 48 hours with me.
Even telling this story feels shaming to me. Writing it took first being able to tell my male allies about it. I don’t want my granddaughters to live this.