© 2018 by Kate Ryan.

It has no practical impact on my life in any way. 

 

But it plants a seed of distress and fear and injustice in your heart that wasn't there before.  And I don't think it's possible to get rid of that and live life like somebody who hadn't had that seed planted. 

 

*

 

One of the residential colleges at the university I was at had a thing that was called The Golden Fleece. 

A bunch of guys at the college would get to invite women to a dinner. 

And one of them would secretly be designated The Golden Fleece for the night, and if they got to sleep with her, they won the prize or whatever. 

 

So it was that sort of culture.

 

I had been in a leadership role on treatment of women. 

I'd actually spoken to the dean of one of these residential halls about the behavior of the men in his halls.

And he had at first said that it wasn't true. 

And then when he looked into it, two years later, he wrote a book. 

He was roundly attacked at the time, because there was sort of the idea that boys will be boys. 

 

*

 

My very dear male friend and I went out drinking to celebrate my 21st birthday. 

And one of his friends came out with us as well. 

He wasn't drinking, because he had a race the next day. 

So he didn't touch a drop. 

 

I don't remember any of this, but my friend said to this guy who wasn't drinking, "Can you take her home?" 

Because my friend wanted to keep drinking. 

And I'm sure he felt like he was doing the right thing. 

 

I don't remember anything.

But the next morning I woke up and this guy said we'd had sex.

And I was happy about it, he claimed. 

But I never would have consented to have sex with him being sober.

 

If I was so drunk I can't remember anything, it was my 21st birthday, my friend was saying “Take her home,” I clearly couldn't have consented. 

It was confronting, because I was like, “Now I am the person.” 

And I've been trying to encourage other people to do something, to change this. 

And now I have the power to do something about it. 

 

I had some supporters among the faculty inside the college. 

They were trying to do something about it, and they were pushing me a bit harder than I was willing to go. 

 

The leadership of the university, of the college were old school, didn't want to be seen to--absolutely classic stereotype-didn't want to be seen to be dismissing me outright, but were conflicted themselves about what to do, also concerned about media coverage and things like that. 

 

They wanted to be seen to be doing the right thing but wanted it to die down. 

 

*

 

We lived in the same residential hall. 

And he was across the hall from me.

 

He convinced himself that...he might be able to start a relationship or something. 

It was almost like he was flirting with me still. 

He just didn't get it.

 

I had to say something, and then they moved him to the room below me. 

So not only did I have to see him around all the time, I had to be cognizant that he was in the room below me.

 

*

 

But the harder thing was all of my friends were conflicted.

It's not like I had a track record of sleeping with a bunch of guys. 

I was very normal.  I'd had a series of boyfriends. 

 

It seems in hindsight it seems really black and white, really obvious that I could not have consented.  Even if I had, he should never have done that.

 

But it just wasn't clear for anybody. 

So I really lost a lot of my friends. 

 

My dearest friend who'd asked this guy to take me home felt conflicted too, because it was his friend and the friend was saying, "Well, she wanted it." 

So it was sort of the end of our friendship.

 

*

‚Äč

And I got pregnant.  

And had an abortion. 

 

My family were very religious Catholics.  So they weren't supportive. 

My dad is a very macho Irish-Italian. 

“Men have these roles, and women have these roles.” 

He believed no sex before marriage, he didn't believe in abortion.

 

And I don't subscribe to those values. 

I wanted to have a career that was fulfilling and challenging and children could be part of that, but it wasn't going to be the be-all and end-all. 

 

He didn't speak to me for three months when he found out that I'd had an abortion. 

 

*

 

It was really bad. 

I went into a serious depression, lost a lot of weight, didn't go to classes for months and had to get all sorts of concessions to get through. 

 

I definitely had dark thoughts. 

I definitely was suicidal at points. 

 

I saw counselors who weren't very good, really didn't have the support of any of my friends or family. 

 

I think at some point I sort of hit rock bottom and realized I sort of had two choices: to deal with it all or to come out of it. 

 

So I started grasping my way back out and fighting for opportunities to get out of it.

 

*

 

Thinking about it now, it could easily have been the end. 

That's pretty big to say that. 

I could very easily have been a statistic. 

I haven't really talked about it that much. 

 

It wasn’t the actual moment. 

It was the aftermath and the inability of everybody in my life to deal with it or to help me. 

 

I had childhood traumas as well that were sort of exacerbated by this. 

That probably made it worse and made the dark period afterword much worse. 

I'm sure my career choices are repercussions of that. 

I spent much of my career as a journalist reporting on sexual violence against women and children. 

 

After I do these interviews, I replay everything that happens to them for years afterwards. 

I still have moments where what's happened to women in these warzones in Africa intrudes my thinking again. 

And I imagine it happening to my kids. 

And would that happen to just anyone or is it more likely to happen to me because of my past?  I don't know the answer to that. 

 

This is a weight that I carry and will carry for my whole life. 

There's so many of us out there carrying around these weights. 

And it's partly just because of the stigma. 

I think probably me doing stories feels like my contribution to making it a little bit better.

 

I started an NGO to help women reporters report on these issues inside their own countries to try to break down the stigma and increase information.  

I always say I sleep much better now.

 

*

 

But honestly even my husband can't hear it in any detail. 

I have good reason to believe that he also would have been one of the mass who were conflicted.

 

I would like to have a conversation. 

I would like to say to him, do you know how would you have behaved at the time? 

He's always been incredibly sympathetic, but he was just like all the rest of them. 

 

I don't like to get into too much detail with him. 

It's not a comfortable thing to talk about: that you seriously thought about suicide. 

That's really embarrassing. 

You feel really weak even thinking about that.

 

Maybe I'm projecting onto him, but I think if I told him these things he wouldn't understand.

 

*

 

{P and her husband have a nine-year old son and four-year-old daughter.}

 

He loved to wear dresses when he was 4. 

He was very into Frozen. 

He played a girl in the school play when he was 6.

His best friends have always been girls. 

 

My husband would resort to some sort of, "You're swinging like a girl," or "You're crying like a girl," or something like this. 

I sort of had to spend a bit of time making him realize why that was problematic, and he got it and stopped immediately. 

 

He says things that make my heart pitter patter all the time like, "Mama, I heard them talking about mankind, and that's wrong.  It should be human kind.  You know, women are just as good as men."  He's a very outspoken feminist already.

 

She's much more girly than I was. 

I discourage people from telling her she's beautiful. 

We care more about her being funny and smart and interesting and whatever. 

 

It's also good to be raising a child at this moment, because everybody's so cognizant of it, and all the movies that she is watching now are female role models, Frozen, Moana, Brave. 

This moment is great, and I think that things that happened to me are less likely to happen. 

 

I just think that we've hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of the whole greater power dynamic between men and women. 

I don't think we'll really get below the surface. 

 

I wonder about someone like Gloria Steinem.

How does she look at these things? 

Does she just live in endless frustration that we haven't come nearly as far as she presumably would have liked? 

But I'm sure if I had a chance to ask her, I'm sure she would say it's all women making progress.  You just have to look over a long period. 

 

So I'm trying to tell myself that's the case. 

We have no other option, and we've certainly come a long way from 100 years ago. 

 

*

 

It takes a lot of talking. 

And there's not many people who can talk about it or want to talk about it. 

It's not easy. 

But hopefully it makes us better people and better journalists.

 

-P