Never Get In A Car With Boys by Miriam Sagan

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.

Don’t Tell Me To Calm Down

Don’t Tell Me To Calm Down

One thing that bothers me in social media is it seems like dozens or hundreds of people are telling me what to do, how to react, and what to think. I know people are just offering their best perspectives, but far too often this is couched as advice, not opinion. So I’m going to respond to the world in turn.
Don’t tell me to calm down abut Donald Trump’s election. First off, this advice elevates thought above feeling. Thoughts are no more sensible than emotion if you examine them closely. Maybe its an Enlightenment model, or a male model, or an Anglo Saxon model (much as I love the Vikings). Our thoughts aren’t any more real than our feelings.
Next, what’s so great about being calm? I’ve been around Buddhism and Buddhist practioners my entire adult life and sorry to say, I have found Buddhists completely average in their ability to respond to a crisis. Give me EMTs any day. That is, in an emergency, I’d rather be with people who are outer directed and trained to act, no matter their emotional state.
My dad Eli was a complicated sometimes difficult person, but a great role model in terms of standing up to oppression. During the war in Viet Nam, his anti war activities led him to being arrested, a phone tap, and a place on Nixon’s enemies’ list. No one could accuse my father of being calm. He was reactive and scrappy and angry. However, he knew how to act—bravely, spontaneously, and consistently.
My being calm benefits the status quo—not me. If the media tells me to calm down, essentially it is telling me to shop. I’d rather be told—stay upset. Also, let’s not forget, I’m from New Jersey. I was raised in a sub culture where things got worked out through disagreement —sometimes yelling and screaming. I’m not saying this is all good, but it is honest.
Calm is not an ultimate state. It is a coming and going thing, like everything else.
And here is the truth—I’ve never been calm. The simple fact of my existence as a Jewish woman has seen to that. The world has never seemed like a benign place—and that’s because it isn’t. In my twenties I was the victim of a very violent crime. I don’t usually talk about this but it feels necessary today. I hear folks criticizing others for saying they’ll leave the country or take up the means to defend themselves. This might not be my path, but when someone feels unsafe I would never tell them to stay put. And, bluntly, I would encourage women to learn to defend themselves. A self defense course literally saved my life in the course of that crime. I know individual solutions don’t address the larger issue of rape culture—but if society is changing slowly or in this case backsliding—taking care of ourselves and our daughters is never amiss.
So don’t tell me to calm down. Tell me to act. Tell me that even if I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, that’s fine, and the way will emerge. I’ve been hearing “what can anyone do,” and at first I thought that was a pathway to despair. Then I realized I was impervious. Something inside me is galvanized and I’m going with it. You can call it the human spirit.