Never get in a car with boys, I told my daughter.
Huh? Any boy?
Well, I amended, any car with more than one boy. Never get in a car with two boys. Not even if it is your boyfriend and his brother. OK?
What if there are girls in the car?
That’s fine. Girls are fine.
I could have also said, never get in an elevator with just one man in it. Look out for your friends’ fathers—they can be dangerous. Don’t go to a college where there are more men than women. And never…
I could have gone on and on. In fact, I probably did. I got her pepper spray. Encouraged self-defense class. Worried.
I have no idea if this was right or wrong. We grew up in very different parts of the world in very different times. Mercifully she grew into a competent adult despite my fear—maybe partially because of it.
Did these warnings scare her? Empower her? Or just make her think her mother was neurotic? Or that her mother was devoted to her. Probably all of it. Who can tell.
In 1972-1975 I was at Harvard, a legacy. My parents were proud. But although I didn’t have the words at the time, I found Harvard very predatory. There was a lot of drinking, women were in the minority, and preyed upon constantly. I think this was particularly true in the Yard. I just accepted it as a vicissitude of life and never discussed it. I’ve shunted aside my own memories and am not sure how or if I can express them–although recent national events have reminded me.
I never saw anyone raped (of course if I’d seen it I’d have called 911). But there was a constant subliminal threat. Every woman I knew looked out for friends and roommates, would not leave someone behind at a party, particularly if drunk. There was an informal system of women making sure everyone got home etc. It’s sad we had to do this at a young age, but it was also positive self-help. No “adult” proctor or administrator showed any interest at all in the situation.
This was not all bad. It was part of what led me, and pretty quickly, to leave Boston and academia and head west to a life that was a lot more suited to me. I knew the word patriarchy by the time I left high school. I’d also suffered from it it. I opposed it but I also did my best to protect myself. And I believed it was real. And this is why the revelations about Kavanaugh don’t surprise me at all.
Even though mother never told me anything.