By Sara Karlovitch
It was my senior year of high school and I was running around my small, friendly Central New Jersey town. I was training for my first marathon and was running my typical 4-mile route. I would run from my house, up Main Street, and to my high school. I never felt unsafe, and knew the neighborhood well. I was running on my own, as I usually did.
During this run- I don’t remember the date, but knew it was the late winter, early spring, probably around March- I noticed a white four-door car following me for about two blocks. I was about a half mile away from my high school. I didn’t think much of it, the driver was probably lost. After all, Metuchen was a safe town.
The car pulled up next to me, and the driver, a man rolled down his window. He was young but still much older than me. He looked to be about late twenties early thirties. I didn’t recognize him. I stopped, thinking he was going to ask for directions. He did. He wanted to know where there was a good place to work out. I directed him to the local YMCA and Roosevelt Park, which has an outdoor work out area.
After I gave him instructions, he shook my hand. It felt weird, but I didn’t want to be rude. I quickly snatched my hand back after the brief contact. He then leaned over and looked at me, and told me how beautiful and sexy he thought I was. He asked me to get in his car and come work out with him. I shook my head, mumbling some excuse, and took off, full speed down the street. I was terrified and ran directly home. Thankfully, he did not try to follow me.
I didn’t tell anyone about this until my junior year of college, where I told two of my roommates, in a casual conversation. We were talking about how that pastor at Aretha Franklin’s funeral seemed to have groped Ariana Grande, and how visibly upset she looked. We all had stories about too close for comfort touches, catcalling and other incidents surrounding men we did and did not know.
It was over a month later when I told my mother over the phone. I had her on speaker and was ironing a shirt. I was embarrassed and felt so stupid. I shouldn’t have stopped for him. I shouldn’t have shaken his hand. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I scream or run? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because young girls are taught to be “polite.” Or because we’re told to be kind to strangers.
I’ve been thinking about this incident a lot lately, how differently the encounter could have gone. How much worse it could have been. I know I should have called the police. I knew what he was trying to do was illegal. It was luring. But I didn’t. Because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to have to answer embarrassing questions. And ultimately, what would come of it?
Fast forward four years later. I am now in college and training for my third marathon. My roommates and I spend the mornings watching C-SPAN, it usually a dull hum in the background, filling the apartment with the ins and outs of Senate bureaucracy.
However, on October 4, my roommates and I paid rapt attention to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford tearfully, yet composed, tell the Senate Judiciary Committee, that yes, she is absolutely certain Judge Brett Kavanaugh was the one that pinned her to bed and covered her mouth and attempted to rape her. We watch the Senate Judiciary Committee hide behind the female prosecutor they hired to do the dirty work for them. We watched as Senator Chuck Grassley interrupted nearly every female senator on the committee.
Later, I would watch on my laptop Kavanaugh’s testimony. The polar opposite of Dr. Ford’s testimony in nearly every way. He ranted and raved, insulted senators, screamed and cried. He sat there, a bastion of white privilege Kavanaugh was a clear example of a 53-year-old man facing consequences for the first time in his life.
On October 7, I would sit on the couch sweaty and sore after a run, drinking a Gatorade as the Senate confirmed him, 50-48, the narrowest margins in 137 years. In the nearly 27 years since Clarence Thomas, it was clear that we as a country learned nothing. In the coming days, we would learn that many of the senators who voted to confirm Kavanaugh believed Dr. Ford was assaulted, they just didn’t care enough to do anything.
In the National Reckoning over male privilege and sexual assault that has taken place the past few days, I found myself listening to the song “Patricia” by Florence and The Machine on loop. The song is about punk rocker Patti Smith and her friendship with Florence Welch, lead singer of Florence and The Machine and real-life forest goddess.
I scored a free ticket to her concert in D.C. the night of the Kavanaugh confirmation. I needed to let off some steam and spend some time outside of my own head. It was also where I head “Patricia” for the first time.
The chorus of “Patricia” goes like this: “She told me all doors are open to the believer/ I believe her, I believe her, I believe her/ She told me all doors are open to the believer/ I believe her, I believe her, I believe her.”
The song also contains a particularly pointe bit about toxic masculinity, “You’re a real man, and you do what you can/ You only take as much as you can grab with two hands/With your big heart, you praise God above/But how’s it working out for you, honey?/Do you feel loved?”
While I do not believe the song is about sexual assault, I do believe it is about two women flourishing in a male-dominated world- a world that lets men get away with assault in the first place.
Listening to 6,000 people sing “I believe her,” in unison, that night was a nearly biblical experience, and couldn’t help but think it Brett Kavanaugh felt like a “Big Man” that night. I wondered if he had any shred of remorse for what he’s done, but I know that is highly unlikely.
Dr. Ford said in her testimony that, “Once he was selected and it seemed like he was popular and it was a sure vote, I was calculating daily the risk/benefit for me of coming forward, and wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway and that I would just be personally annihilated.”
Unfortunately, that train reached its destination. Brett Kavanaugh has been awarded a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. And that is why you should vote. Vote, and Dr. Ford’s testimony wasn’t for nothing. She did this entire country a service by coming forward, we need to pay it back by turning out on November 6.
Dr. Ford’s bravery gave me the strength to write this article at all. While I’m not trying to compare our experiences in any shape or form, I could never imagine the trauma of her encounter with Kavanaugh, I can understand why she didn’t want to tell anyone. I can understand why she waited to come forward. I believe that by sharing our stories of incidents of sexual harassment and assault, no matter how small, we can help people feel less alone. We can give other the courage to share what happened to them.
Men like Brett Kavanaugh, like Clarence Thomas, like Donald Trump, like the man who cornered me on my run, like the countless of others who take what they want, want us to feel alone and ashamed. They want to isolate us and hold on to the power they’ve grown up hearing they deserve.
However, much to their dismay, they haven’t silenced us at all.
They’ve created an army. An army that’s going to vote them out.
Featured Photo Credit: Pixabay
Sara Karlovitch is a junior journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.