A couple years ago, after CBC listeners were shocked when they realized that Jian Ghomeshi was a sexual predator and a twisted, abusive misogynist who BEAT young women, I wrote the letter that follows in a Facebook post to thank my father. I have a many things I'd like to add to this in light of the #MeToo movement, but I will write about those in future posts. And although this letter is specifically about women, the same holds for boys who have experienced abuse too. For now, I will stick with one extra comment because it emphasizes the salient point of this letter to my Dad.
I just watched a news clip highlighting the new hashtag #WhyIDidntReport and I was sobbing. I'm so angry that women have had to put up with so much, for so long. And the overwhelming theme of their experiences was their fear/belief/experience that 'no one would believe me'. It's so horrifying, so outrageous, so infuriating that this has truly been the case for countless women.
So here is the letter I wrote to my Dad, and the fact that my experience is the exception not the rule is a tragedy that we need to fight ceaselessly to change -- by believing and supporting women who bravely speak up.
"In honour of Father's Day, I would like to share my gratitude to my Dad for something that I have only just really understood and appreciated of late. I hope it will be encouragement and a lesson to dads of daughters who might read this.
My dad and I have not always seen eye to eye on things, and we have had some pretty big rifts, but I love my dad and I know he loves me. And he gave me a pretty precious gift, maybe without knowing how it would shape me as a girl/grown woman. It may sound like an odd thing to thank him for, but it is really profound: I never suffered physical or sexual abuse from anyone. I always knew that if anyone ever hurt me, he would hunt them down because he told me so. I never felt afraid when I was with him because I knew he would fight to his last breath to protect me. He taught me to fight -- literally, we practiced --, and to stand up for myself, and that no one had the right to hurt me.
And most importantly for the course of my life as a woman, I always knew that if someone tried to abuse me, that he would believe me and do something about it. He proved this to me when I was about 7 years old and we were visiting another family from church. The slightly older boys of the house tried to pull my and Debbie's pants down while we were playing in the basement. I raced upstairs like a bat out of hell and told my parents. My dad believed me. The other people didn't. There was an argument and we were out of that house in as long as it took to put on our coats.
He proved this when I told him 2 of the boys on my street had flashed me and my sister. He was livid, and next time we drove by those boys, he stopped, rolled down the window and told them that if they ever touched his girls he would hunt them down ... not something a parent might be able to do today without getting himself into trouble, but this incident and others taught me something: no one should get away with that kind of behaviour, and I didn't have to put up with any of it.
He warned me never to accept a ride from a man, even if it were a family friend. He said, they are most likely good people, but you could never know for sure, and it was better to avoid the situation. What I learned from that was no man, regardless of power or position was inherently trustworthy -- trust was something that was to be earned, and lost, if proven otherwise. So when a family friend -- an old bachelor neighbour -- and his huge old friend slowed down and offered me a ride home when I was 13, I politely declined and assured them that I liked walking home. I kept far away from the truck's door, but I was prepared to bolt if they tried to grab me -- in the opposite direction from the direction of their vehicle. Our bachelor friend, who was likely just actually being nice, said okay and have a good day. Incidentally, I have never forgotton the creepy smile on his friend's face and later heard a rumour that he was known for molesting his kids and grandkids.
There were more instances of this throughout my life, too many to recount here.
Why this is so significant to me now, is that this year the news has been filled with stories of women who have been molested, raped and beaten by people in positions of power from Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby to football players, priests, pastors and politicians. So many of these women dared not tell anyone, felt confused about what had happened, felt guilt for no good reason, feared what would happen to them if they spoke up. Those who had spoken up in years past had their names dragged through the mud, were doubted by the public, were accused of having brought it on themselves and had their lives commandeered by the scandal.
When I heard the stories about Jian Ghomeshi, I thought, why didn't someone flatten him when he started choking them? A swift shot to the nuts, head butt to his nose ... I have run through the cathartic kind of what if's ... imagining scenarios where the pervert tried that on me and I left him writhing on the floor in breathless agony as I called the police and charged him with attempted rape.
And then it began to dawn on me why I should have that reaction, and why I flipped a guy onto the ground in the church foyer when he jokingly grabbed me from behind. And why I stood up to the creep in high school who tried to harass me and nearly clipped his chin with my foot, I was so outraged. And why I never hesitated to tell someone if something inappropriate happened, be it an 11 year old flasher or an older man -- a youth leader -- who wouldn't stop lecherously watching my 16 year old self to the point of stalking. It wasn't because I was inherently braver or more fearless -- on the contrary, fear has pervaded and shaped and dogged me my entire life -- but it was because I knew I had someone in my corner, someone who would believe me, fight for me and who gave me the right and power to fight for myself and to not put up with crap because I was a girl.
So Dad, thank you. You gave me an immeasurable gift and I am so grateful."