08 Oct An Open Letter to Dr. Christine Blasey
Dear Dr. Blasey,
I long to address you as Christine, as do millions of other women who recognize you as a sister in suffering and endurance. But I wish to show respect for your scholarship and the work and expertise that earned you multiple graduate degrees plus your doctorate. I know that you’re married and have children but prefer to use your birth name professionally, hence the address I’ve used above.
Writing this stings my eyes with yet-again rising tears. There is no way to know if you will ever read these words—and indeed, why should you? There’s no way to know if or when you’ll have the energy, desire, or time to even sample the millions of communications you’ve received from women spilling out the stories of their own survival from sexual assault, and expressing their gratitude for the inspiration of your courage in coming forward. Whether are not you ever read this one, I hope you eventually read some of the others, because they may well transform your life, as they did the life of Professor Anita Hill years ago. Like you, she is a quiet, mild, warm, highly intelligent professional. Like you, when testifying for the committee, she kept disciplined control of her emotions, never raised her voice, never cried, and sometimes even managed a small smile.
When a woman does dare to come forward to speak about atrocities perpetrated on women, to tell her own individual story, to face down the beasts in the Coliseum while the crowd gapes and screams for her destruction–when a woman commits such an act of rebellion, she knows that to show one scintilla of human emotion is to invite the label “hysterical.”
The men who do such things to women, when accused, can and do shout with impunity, storm with arrogant indignation, even sob with self-pity. They have the luxury of fuming explosively dare anyone question their entitlement to power, their reputation, their definition of reality itself. They don’t even bother to mask their lies skillfully, confident that their brothers in power will never press them. They cynically brandish any tactic, excuse, or issue behind which to hide: race, class, ethnicity; being too young to have committed crimes against women, or too old; too poor to help themselves or too rich to need to. Meanwhile, women suffer. We are blamed if we don’t report the assault and blamed if we do; we are forced to produce witnesses (unlike the victim of a robbery or mugging, because our word as women is considered insufficient); but then the witnesses, 40 in your case, are never called to testify.
The flood of letters and emails you’re receiving, the gratitude and support from women—and from men of consciousness—may be of little comfort when you have to deal daily with the devastating life disruption you have been facing and still face in the future. Anonymous love from strangers is no match for the fear and confusion in the faces of your threatened children, the exhaustion in the voice of your husband, your own depletion of spirit when you walk the floor at 4 A.M. This is the cost of doing your “civic duty,” as you humbly termed it, of having unearthed the buried reality that female human beings experience every day.
It may seem that the personal annihilation you presciently feared will have been, after all, for nothing. It may seem that sympathy for the devil—for the so-called trauma of the pitiable perpetrator—has won. It hasn’t. As a scientist, you know that the pace of evolution is slow. So too is the pace of political evolution. Our species does learn, but oh, it takes its time.
I know you never meant to be anyone’s heroine, feminist leader, or inspiring historic figure. But there you are, stuck with it—simply for telling the truth. Another “accidental activist” who transformed the culture. Because despite the temporary outcome, that is what, in fact, you have done.
Still, in that momentous act, the individual can get lost, swallowed up by becoming the symbol. So I hope the time will soon come when you can talk with your family about something other than this earthquake in your lives, when you can laugh; when you can walk beside the ocean you so love, go surfing again as you have done for years, and taste the salt of the sea instead of the salt in tears; when you can let the cleansing, astringent, indifferent waves of the Pacific rinse away all but the fading scars of what you sacrificed for the action you dared take.
You’ve done your part, and more than your part, Dr. Blasey. We’ll take it from here. And we will move the long arc of the universe with the weight of our whole lives, until it bends toward justice. Thank you.
With love after all, Christine.