Recently in The New York Times I read a piece by Kat O’Brien, once a sports reporter, who was raped by a well-known but unnamed baseball player. It got me to thinking about a few women, including myself, who have encountered unwanted male aggression.
The first that came to mind was a friend who only revealed her rape many years after it occurred. It explained a lot about her: her wariness, carefulness, and lack of male companionship. Another friend said to me she could take a kitchen knife to her neighbor who continually affronts her (of course I knew she couldn’t, wouldn’t, but I understood her anger). There were others, too.
Then I got to thinking about three experiences I had myself. The first was in Italy when I was twenty, painting in the remote parts of the Roman forum where no one else was. Suddenly, a man popped up from behind a monument without a stitch of clothing on, staring at me, coming straight at me. Some interior alarm went off in my body telling me to grab my paints and run. I did. When I looked back over my shoulder, he was still running after me, so I sped as fast as I could down the hill, somehow knowing to get into a crowd as fast as possible. Much quicker than he, I finally got down to where there were tourists. When I looked back up the hill, to my amazement, he was still moving forward, watching me. But, thankfully, I lost myself in Rome’s crowded, busy streets, eventually making my way back to my hotel, and not telling anyone about this strange encounter. I really didn’t know what to think. Given my rather sheltered upbringing, I’d never heard the word rape before. But I was very grateful for the instinctive interior alarm that sounded inside my being, telling me to run away as fast as lightening.
The second experience took place in France. Again, as an art student but some years after I’d graduated, I was wandering a tunnel-like path lined with tall 6-foot beach grasses not far from Honfleur. Enjoying the bright day, I’d picked wild flowers and put them in my two pony tails (it was the sixties), as I set off to discover what I might paint. I loved the solitude with nature and didn’t mind I was the only one around. Suddenly, I saw down the path, coming fast and straight at me, a man on a motorcycle. Assuming he would continue on his way, I gave him no notice and kept walking until he slammed on his brakes, stopped, reached out and grabbed my breasts! I was shocked. But some good inner directive had me frown and shout firmly “NO!” in English. I kept frowning and walking as the voice within led my steps onward. He threw back his head in laughter, started up his bike and zoomed on his way. This was a bit jarring but again I was glad my instincts and God’s presence were strongly guiding my steps.
The third experience occurred a little over a decade ago when I was about 60. A friend had suggested a masseur to me following my auto accident. I’d had a few massages before, all given by female masseuses, but my friend said this person was very good, close by, and reasonably priced. So I went. The massage was fine. But when he was finished, he leaned over my helpless body as I lay still on the massage table and gave me a full kiss. Astounded, I got up quickly, dressed hastily, left, having paid prior, and never went back. It seemed so wrong what he did.
It was wrong. All of these experiences, mine and those of other women are not sought but forced upon us simply because we are women. I am grateful that rape was not the outcome in my experiences, grateful for the inner warning sensor (God’s direction) that told me to step quickly away in each case. But that does not mean these experiences are damage-less. I’ve thought about them every time I go out on location to paint. I watch my surroundings, I am leery of painting alone or in an isolated situation–which is unfortunate, because so many scenes I’d like to paint are exactly that–isolated. So these experiences, to some degree, have affected me and my work, have altered how I live my life as an artist. It is difficult to paint while being distracted by fear that someone might attack you out of a bush! I find I cannot concentrate as fully in an isolated location no matter how beautiful it may be. I paint in safe areas or from photos more than I might otherwise. Why must I alter my life work because of some aggressive male?
Rape, of course, is far worse than my three small encounters. I feel for these women! One out of six women are victims of either rape or attempted rape. What is being done about this? Very little in our patriarchal society. The Me Too Movement helped. But we can do more. We need to raise young boys desirous of being and doing good, who grow up honoring their spiritual identity and therefore would never think of sexually attacking another human being.
Aren’t we back to realizing the need to see everyone is a child of God? To valuing, appreciating, everyone’s unique attributes, particular gifts, amazing qualities? Back to taking steps to climb higher in our thinking? Back to the primal understanding that God, Good is our guide? Evil’s aggression cannot erase the good in ourselves and others. Oh, how I love the concept of GOOD! Just think about it! It is a wonder, a blessing, the happiest word I know! It is the very name of God. We need to take steps to look for GOOD more often. To expect it, to listen to it, to hang on to it, to follow it, to let it protect us. To let GOOD guide our steps–be they slow or fast.
About the artwork: This is one of my most recent pieces done from a photo I took of a Maine beach path blooming with gorgeous deep pink flowers. I might have preferred to stand there on location to paint, though I didn’t. But after so many years of drawing and painting, I can almost conjure up the very smell, sounds, brightness, and wind of any locale I’ve visited that “spoke” to me.