In the 1960s, # MeToo was unimagined. But when the French doors of Women’s Liberation and the Sexual Revolution cracked open, a number of my pals – guys and gals – skipped joyously into the meadows of unfettered sexual freedom, thanks to The Pill. Not me. I lingered at the doors – not inside, but not outside, either – thinking something wasn’t quite right. I now wonder whether our new “freedom” has contributed somehow to the astonishing rash of accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault that seem rampant half a century later. Are we reaping the rewards of medical advances, our achievement of greater equality, and our uninhibited response?
In the era of # MeToo, I now wonder: What is sexual assault? Growing up in the 1960s, my mental image conjured up violence, fists, force, rape. Then we were warned about date rape: Drugs slipped into a drink, with a sick man mounting a woman as if she were his blow-up doll. Fast forward through scandals by the likes of Wilbur Mills, Clarence Thomas, Bob Packwood, and Bill Clinton in the second half of the 20th Century: They seemed like one-offs – not the norm.
But then, in 2014, details of Bill Cosby’s use of rape drugs over the years oozed into public view. Next came Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood video and accusations against him: Slobbery uninvited kisses, a tongue thrust into a woman’s mouth, a hand jabbed up her skirt to her crotch – kiss, grab, bump, and run. No violence. No proof. Just shocking invasion of a woman’s dignity. And indelible memories.
These images have seized my mind the past year – thanks to Trump’s bragging about sexual assaults he had committed because he’s “a star” . . . followed by his non-apologies. . . followed by denial he had ever committed these acts . . . followed by the women who countered his denials, who said # MeToo . . . followed by his attacks on their truths, their integrity, their looks. He suggested they made up their stories for a few minutes of fame.
This I know: Few women, if any, would willingly invite that kind of attention, especially given his threats and boorish behavior.
And now, a year later, he has out-Trumped himself, claiming the Planet Hollywood tape was a forgery.
Little did I realize Trump in 2016 represented a tiny tip of the iceberg of revelations to follow in 2017, with the fall of icons in entertainment, media, and politics, and the rise of the # MeToo movement.
All these salacious stories and the denials have resurrected my own experience with sexual assault, an encounter for which I sought redress for a year before I locked it, 20 years ago, in a cell so deep I thought it would never escape. But it’s back, saying # MeToo, demanding to be told.
# MeToo: Nothing Sexy about Spent Nuclear Fuel
On October 3, 1995, in Charleston, SC, I met for 75 minutes with Dr. James Edwards, President of the Medical University of South Carolina. He greeted me warmly when I arrived – then planted a wet kiss on my cheek! I stiffened, but chalked it up to Southern culture, and resisted the urge to wipe my cheek off. It seemed rude. Besides, I didn’t want to spread his slobber to my hand. We settled in for a chat on the progress of interviews my team and I had been conducting around the state on the prospect receiving foreign spent nuclear fuel there. I also had my antennae up for other potential business opportunities between the University and my employer, Advanced Sciences, Inc.
Cordial meeting concluded, I rose to leave. He grasped my shoulders, pulled me to him, kissed me on the mouth, and jabbed his tongue between my teeth. I reared back. He tried to do it again. I pulled away. No! Not # MeToo!
Did I scream? Make a scene? Slap his face? No, of course not. I’m a professional, and he was a client. Besides, I was alone with this man in his office. And I’m not a violent person.
As I evaded him, he purred, “You’re an appealing gal.” I dashed into the women’s room, scrubbed my face. Gulped water. Spat it out. Fled.
Dr. Edwards was a prominent American leader. A former South Carolina Governor and former U.S. Secretary of Energy, he was educated. Well-spoken. Informed. And connected.
I was 53 years old, 5’5”, 114 pounds, with untamed Orphan Annie curls. I first met Dr. Edwards when I flew to Charleston to moderate a government meeting on spent nuclear fuel. Afterwards, we chatted briefly about the problem of foreign spent fuel, and he encouraged me to meet with him on my next visit to Charleston. He was at the top of the hierarchy of our client’s organization; I saw it as an invitation to explore further business opportunities for my employer with the University.
Two days after his assault, he called me. “I want to take you out for a drink tonight,” he said. My stomach convulsed. My mind recoiled. I was stunned, suddenly fearful that a “wrong move” might undermine my employer’s contract with the University. I stuttered that I didn’t want a “relationship” with him. “That’s up to you, darlin’,” he said, adding that’s exactly what he wanted. My hand shook. I hung up. Then I double-checked the lock on my hotel room door. I couldn’t sleep that night. And I never returned to Charleston. I still won’t.
December 20, 2017
Next time: “# MeToo-2: Why Women Don’t Report”