When Christine Blasey was 15 years old, she told us last week, she remembers going to a house party where two teenage boys took her into a bedroom, locked the door, and turned up the music. She said that one of those boys put a hand over her mouth so that, as he groped her and tried to forcibly remove her clothes and the one-piece bathing suit underneath, no one would hear her scream.
When I was 16, I also went to a house party. A garden-variety insecure teenager, I didn’t like the way I looked in a bathing suit, and my hair always seemed wrong. Years of intense, childlike self-analysis had led me to the conclusion that I must be unattractive, and I worried that meant no one would ever like me. This idea seemed, for reasons I could not name, fatal.
That night, I was determined to overcome my invisibility. I put on a low-cut shirt and dark red-brown lipstick that I’d only ever worn standing alone in my bathroom, trying to determine if I might ever be the sort of girl who wore lipstick. That night, the makeup felt like a costume. When someone offered me a bottle full of strawberry-kiwi-flavored liquid, I drank it quick, then another. I started to laugh louder, talk more, and smile too much at a boy I knew in passing, someone’s older brother.
We discussed, I assume, whatever teenagers talked about in 1995. He put his hand on my arm and asked me if I wanted to go outside with him, where we could be alone. I couldn’t believe it. A boy liked me? I wondered if he was confusing me with someone else; I wondered what happened outside; I wondered if I wanted to know. I said, slurring, “Maybe.” He squeezed my arm a bit tighter. “That’s not yes,” he said, looking in my eyes, waiting.
It wasn’t. I went back to some friends on the couch. He went on to another conversation. I got home safe that night, un-assaulted, for one reason: I had not met an assaulter.
In 2018, when professor Christine Blasey Ford was 51, Donald Trump nominated the man she remembers attacking her to a lifetime appointment as a justice on the United States Supreme Court. Ford came forward about her memories of the high school assault. She testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. [Editor’s note: The nominee denies the allegations.]
Some of the responses from people on the right, suddenly afraid they might lose their hand-picked court nominee, were predictably dismissive and defensive. One theme was repeated over and over: What man hadn’t behaved the same way at some point? “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried,” a lawyer close to the White House told a Politico reporter.
After I watched Ford’s testimony, I thought about my own experiences, both good and bad. I thought about the story of the boy who didn’t assault me at that high school party. I thought about a hundred other moments. In my 20s, I went out with friends. I flirted with a bartender who had just ended his shift. I went outside with him, and we kissed in the alley. He told me he lived nearby and that we could go to his place. “Yes?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything. My head was instantly full of so many thoughts, I wasn’t sure how to hold one for more than a moment: I’ve never had a one-night stand. I don’t know him. He’s a good kisser. I’d be alone with him at his place. Had I even shaved my legs that day? He seemed strong enough to overpower me if he chose to.
“Go back inside if you want,” he said, interrupting my avalanching thoughts. There was a touch of annoyance in his voice. I went back inside. I was not raped. Because I had not met a rapist.
Once, I’d gone on a date with a guy I liked. He invited me to his room. I went, we made out, he undressed. Then he started to try to undress me. In that moment, it suddenly began to feel wrong. He’d start to pull my shirt up and I’d instantly tug it down. He reached to undo my skirt and I wiggled out of his grasp. He stopped and said, “It seems like you’re not into this.”
I’d really liked making out earlier, and I didn’t want to be called a tease, but it was true: For reasons relating to my personal comfort and safety in that moment, I no longer felt into it. I was alone with him in his room. I didn’t know him that well, but I did have a protective sense that, just in case, I should be careful not to make him angry. I made a noise of hesitation, unsure how he was going to respond at the idea of this hook-up stopping midway. He said to me, “It’s only fun if you’re into it.” I replied, “Sorry.” He said, “It’s okay.”
I tweeted out these stories in a now-viral thread. My mentions became flooded with women sharing their own experiences, each one sounding like a setup for a tragic assault, each one illustrating times that men had acted like men, like humans.
Rapists, sexual assaulters, and those who protect them will tell us that they are not unique, that all men act like they do — with violence. They tell us that to try to convince us it’s true, and unfortunately, sometimes, they succeed.
They are wrong. They are lying. They are trying to normalize something that is not normal, because if they can normalize it, they can’t be held accountable for their terrible acts. Choosing to rape isn’t normal. Assault is not an inherent quality of being a man. It is vital that we identify this behavior and never de-stigmatize it, never accept those who want us to believe it’s the status quo.
In my life, I’ve had experiences of all kinds. Unfortunately, I have been assaulted. I have also not been assaulted. The difference was never what I was wearing, how much I flirted, or how much I was drinking. The only difference was whether or not the men felt it was okay or not to assault.
Maura Quint is director of the Tax March and a comedy writer whose work has appeared in McSweeney’s, the New Yorker, and Paste. She’s cleaned out her car three times this month already and has no idea why it looks this way.