We are viewing the spectacle of the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans led by Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch bullying a woman who has braved criticism and unbelief (and harassment and death threats) to publicly charge Supreme Court Judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh with attempted rape. Her treatment is reminiscent of the harassment and demeaning 27 years ago of law professor Anita Hill by these same two senators as she appeared at a “hearing” about her charges of Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas in front of the same committee. Whatever you think of the charges brought by these women, their treatment in public senate hearings is/was a travesty of “justice” and a belittling embarrassment justified in the minds of the Republican committee members (made up of 11 white men) because they are women.
I have my own “me too” story which occurred just before my 14th birthday and caused life-long confusion and anxiety. But this ever-changing political story about women’s rights brought to mind an experience I had as a 21-year-old. I joined the teaching staff of a Michigan junior high school in 1964 at the same time as two other new teachers, Joe and Gary (not their real names). As recent college graduates and first year 7th grade teachers, we were constantly thrown together. I taught Grammar and Writing, Joe taught Literature, and Gary taught Social Studies. We created a team-teaching situation in those three classes that went way beyond the teaching techniques of most of the staff. The students responded well and, though we worked terribly hard, we were pleased.
During our second year of teaching Joe and I decided to start a master’s program at Western Michigan University. Since it was closer to drive to the early evening weekday classes from school than our homes, we decided to car pool. Joe and I became good friends and shared many stories and experiences about our growing up years and our home life during the 60-minute trips. I remember saying to him in response to one of his stories, “I’m glad I’m not married to you!”
One day several months into graduate school, Joe came into my classroom and shut the door behind him. He asked, “Are you still glad you’re not married to me?” I started laughing, but the serious expression on his face stopped me. “Yes, of course,” I asked. “Why are you asking?”
He sat down and looked at the floor. Finally he spoke, “The principal just accused us of having an affair.”
“Is he crazy?” I shouted. Then I burst into tears. “Why?”
“Someone saw you getting out of my car after we got back from class last Monday night and told him. That’s his conclusion.”
“We have to talk to him,” I said.
“I just came from his office. I explained that we are taking graduate school classes and car pooling to Kalamazoo twice a week. He doesn’t really believe me. He said he was going to make a note in our files.”
“I want to talk to him,” I said. “Maybe he’ll believe us if we both talk to him!”
“No, it’s better if you let me handle it. I’m going to meet with him again and demand that this does not go in our files.”
And that was that. I never spoke to the principal about his accusation. The allegation did go in our files. There was no teacher union in Michigan at that time to support us. Joe told Gary, the other member of our three amigos partnership. He was furious, but also warned us to “be careful.” In the midst of a large outcry by the students who didn’t understand why we weren’t returning after summer vacation, all three of us left that school – and public school teaching – the next year. Gary went to work for the fledgling Michigan Teacher’s Union and spent his whole career working for teacher rights. Joe became a junior college literature teacher and eventually president of the college. I began a career in a variety of non-profits, including 20 years in adult literacy. Many years later, I was told that the principal was fired for having an affair with a parent. I could barely breathe.
I tell this story because I finally realize how naive I was then. I was not allowed to face my accuser. I expected to share my story, but I was not allowed in the room. I could not argue against having this false accusation in my file. I know that Joe was protecting me, but even that now seems demeaning. I wondered for years why a good friendship and solid professional relationship was spoiled by innuendo and bullying. I was sad because the students we had motivated and educated were deprived of our teaching abilities and friendship.
It is distressing that 50 years from that time, women are still assumed to be and treated as weak or stupid or manipulative or liars – or all of the above. I can only hope that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford will be given acceptable terms for testifying and allowed to share her experience with the judiciary committee and get on with her life.