When the defense is an indictment . . .
Recently, my car was broken into — no damage, no big loss, still a violation, still a crime. Essentially both my car and myself are physically okay; I do, however, have a myriad of emotions around the experience.
I had been visiting a friend, I had parked my car in the guest parking section, the unassigned uncovered kind, no more than 15 feet from her front door.
One morning we were occupied with trying to meet with mutual friends for a walk; the car seat was in my car, we needed to get it into her car. We got it out, went on our merry way, and I did not touch my car, nor think about my car, for the next 24 hours. The next morning I opened my car and discovered all the compartments opened, a few items missing, and a sudden panic.
I think I left my door unlocked, maybe even opened. Did she have the car keys yesterday, or did I? I can’t remember.
Was the door even closed? I had decided to play with her baby rather than help with the car seat; I wasn’t paying attention. Dammit.
A moment, a pause. It’s going to be okay. I am fine. I am safe.
The car wasn’t damaged. I made a police report. I called my car insurance. I looked up what the DMV had to say (registration was missing). I told a few friends, she told the apartment complex, I told my family.
I had witnessed nothing. I wasn’t injured in the least, but I couldn’t wait to wash my car, to clean out all the contents and make it my own again. I was a bit flustered, but remained calm. I was not harmed and this, at the end of the day, is what mattered.
A few days later I was having a discussion with a male friend, we were talking about trust and male-female friendships. We were brought back to When Harry Met Sally and Billy Crystal’s/Harry’s infamous musings and assertions that men and women couldn’t be friends — not really, not truly.
In this conversation, my friend stated he had female friends — plenty! In fact, he brought up one beautiful female friend who has even trusted him when she was drunk. There was pride in that statement. He was a capable friend, a good guy, because he, when with this beautiful drunk woman, had done nothing inappropriate, sexual, etc.
Over the past couple of weeks I had been listening to Chanel Miller’s Know My Name — arguably one of the greatest books I will ever read, but I digress. Chanel Miller was unknown to us for years, for years she was Emily Doe, the victim of Brock Turner. Her memoir has given all of us a name, a story, and the most incredible analyses on sexual assault. She has given me analogies, insights, reflections, I had never considered.
In one of her reflections and analyses she compares the catcalling and harassment of women to a fictional catcalling and harassment for sandwiches, and ends with how the comparison is ludicrous but telling. In another reflection, she talks about being regarded only in reference as belonging to men — as the victim of one and the girlfriend of another — and in this regarding and reference, she realized that her assault was being construed, or portrayed, as “more valid”, because Turner had violated her boyfriend’s “property”. It wasn’t enough that she owned her body and the right to dictate what happened to it, her boyfriend’s relationship, her boyfriend’s “ownership”, added value.
I’ve always cringed when men have shared their “goodness” and their ability to be “trustworthy” by being able to not violate women, particularly when they qualify it with the fact that said women are, at times, even, attractive women. In this moment, thanks to Miller’s work, I had not only more words, and more comparisons, but more confidence to point out the error, even ridiculous nature, of priding oneself over not assaulting women.
I began by stating how this would never be a point of contention, argument, or pride in friendships among men or among women, or between men and women when the roles were reversed. And then it hit me: my car.
In the past few days I had shared about my car repeatedly. In every instance, it was a matter-of-fact statement: my car was vandalized. It didn’t matter if I had always taken it in whenever I thought something was wrong, that I regularly filled up the gas tank at half full, that I washed it every other week, that I kept the inside quite clean. My relationship with my car, how much I cared about it or how I took care of it, never came up. The fact that I had had some change showing, the fact that I may have left it unlocked or even opened, was never a moment to remind me “to do better”, or “what was I thinking”, or “what did I expect”. At no point had anyone chastised me, faulted me, or even questioned my conduct. My actions prior to this moment, with this car or any other car, were inconsequential. It was my car, that was it. I determined who could go into it, when and how and why. No questions, no gray areas.
Over the years I’ve heard about the bodily violation of women— unwanted advances, touching, abuse, assault. In nearly all of those discussions, I have heard, both men and women, directly and indirectly, despite all their goodness, bring up the possibility that men couldn’t help themselves, and that women should’ve ___ and could’ve ___ and that would have prevented whatever happened.
So, now I understood why my current experience had felt so remarkable: my car was most likely unlocked, with a dollar’s worth of change showing, and yet no one blamed me. It was my car and it wasn’t there for the taking or entering to anyone but me. Period.
Fast forward to this moment and I realized the cringe, the sigh, the despair over hearing this moment of pride, clarification, and rationalization again: we give men more credit for resisting a drunk woman than an open car.
Miller’s fictional sandwich comparison hovered over me; whereas, she had used sandwiches to stand-in for women to make a point, I was stumbling on a truth: cars were off limits regardless of circumstances, but women? Women were subject to ridicule, dissection, and all sorts of circumstance.
My male friend was not the first, but rather lining up in a long list of men who have espoused basic human decency and responsibility as points of pride. They were good, even admirable, for never having taken advantage of a drunk woman/girl, for not escalating after a woman had rejected them, for never having hit their partner . . . These narratives, these rationalizations and points of pride are not his own, but the ones given to all of us about boundaries, violation, and consent.
I let my realization settle, and I delivered this very rendition . . .
It washed over him. It deflated both of us — but for different reasons. For me, I had shared a truth, but the truth, when spoken, has this tendency to foment and make real what we have actively tried to avoid. For him, I imagine, it must have caused a bit of pain; how does he reconcile the fact that the things that brought him validation were actually moot, invalidating?
Once, when visiting an amusement park, Disneyland maybe, I came across an open van. It had car seats, kids’ toys, and keys showing. No doubt the joy and excitement of the day was too much for these parents to remember to close the door or grab their keys. I closed the doors and took the keys to lost and found. And in no way do I consider myself a better person for the act, nor have I ever used the story to add points to my humanity, because in our world my ability to show respect and to recognize ownership over a car is automatic, inherent.
The narratives we have been given, the ones we choose to share, are the ways in which we build schema in this world. In a world where not violating a (beautiful) drunk woman is a story worth sharing, a story of merit, and not violating a car is worthless . . . in a world where violating a woman necessitates an inquiry into what she did to cause that violation, but when her car is violated there is no space for bringing up her conduct . . . in this world, we have built schema that tells us cars have more rights and more value than women.