Recent sexual assaults on two unconscious, college-aged women and the impossibly light sentences handed down to the young criminals are strong reminders of the powerlessness that today’s young women can still experience.
Women my age have seen decades of vile behavior by male perpetrators, but what really twists my heart is when drunken young men roughly the same age as the incapacitated women commit the felonious acts.
I’d love to be able to jump in and protect young women from damaged, self-entitled young men who lack even the most basic concern for how their actions might negatively impact the women’s psyches. I’d also love for all young women to be infused with the self-knowledge and self-empowerment needed to navigate and flourish in this flawed society of ours.
Meanwhile, one place to start is to implore them before they attend their next party to not drink to incapacitation. Parties are among the last places on Earth at which they want to entrust their safety to drunken strangers.
Not that it’s hard to understand their occasional desire to depart from reality. At 18, I’d have benefited from this piece of advice before I entered the Colorado School of Mines in 1979. It was not always an environment conducive to a girl whose idea of fun was cocoa and fries at Burger King.
On campus during freshman orientation week, my women suitemates and I were publicly judged at dinner in the cafeteria by men holding up numerical scorecards. And I was greeted in the living room of my own suite by a smiling guy who had our door combination and sat in a chair patting his legs, beckoning me to climb on board.
That same week, we all participated in a school-sponsored toga party, a beer-laden, swashbuckling event wherein we dressed in sheets like ancient emperors and sang from “The Miner Songbook,” which contained “songs which are not meant to be offensive but are intended to be sung as good ol’ drinking songs.”
One of them went: “Oh how are the girls in Chicago? They’re just like the girls in New York. They’re willing and able, they’d like to have sable, but buy them a drink and they’re yours.”
I quickly discovered this was no place for the faint of heart.
By October, I, too, wanted a break from reality. On Halloween night, I drank to near incapacitation for the first time and danced with a very tall, male pumpkin at a frat house packed with gyrating bodies. I remember marveling at the lack of feeling in my face. It felt like a gift from heaven to feel so little rather than so much.
Later one of my suitemates took me back to our dorm. I couldn’t have located the front door of the fraternity house without her, something my young brain hadn’t thought of when the night had begun.
Thinking about the assaults on today’s young women, I realize that could have been me or any one of my suitemates. I wish I could attend every party on every college campus across the country today and intervene. This entire society is no place for the faint of heart.
If I could reach back and speak with my 18-year-old self, I’d remind her that personal power is the name of the game in life, so discover it, hold onto it. I’d tell her to cultivate it and exercise it, however and wherever she can.
I’d also ask her to hang onto that songbook. Thirty-five years into the future, it may help put a few things into perspective about her college years.
Kathy Ayers (firstname.lastname@example.org) works for a health care technology corporation in the Denver Tech Center. She is a former Colorado Voices columnist.