Justice, For Real – For Me, Too

I.

Me too. Yes, me. And I’m ashamed. I feel like I am supposed to be. Ashamed because it happened and ashamed for feeling ashamed.

Because I’m a feminist. Because I know it is never her fault, and she is never “asking for it,” and no one deserves it.

And I don’t blame myself, at least not consciously.

But there’s that piece of me that hesitates to post “me too” because it feels like admitting to an embarrassing fault, something “sketchy,” some trouble I got into that I want to hide from my mom and the other “respectable adults” in my life. I was always such a “good kid.” And now…

This is Exhibit A. They’ve poisoned me too; that is, have I swallowed it?


II.

I knew mine was an “unsympathetic case.” I was drunk; it was Purim. I was wearing tight leggings. And who knows what subconscious messages I was transmitting, if somehow my sex drive was rattling too loud (perhaps the crime was in having such a drive in the first place), or if my nerve endings should have been more discriminating, less accepting, less tingly. They should have known.

Except there is really no situation in which it would make sense for a cab driver’s hands to be in a passenger’s pants. For real.

I knew enough to rule out trying to prosecute, because I knew I was “unsympathetic.” As if following the rape culture script, the polite man from the Taxi and Limousine Commission asked what kind of pants I was wearing, and how someone could have pulled off someone else’s tight leggings. I don’t know, I said, but it’s certainly possible. We’ve heard this stuff before. He asked how I ended up in the front seat, and why I climbed over the middle console. I don’t know; I couldn’t tell you. But I did, and I was scared.

I knew it was an “unsympathetic case,” with all the trappings of “asking for it” waiting and ready for scrutiny from those who have no idea, who sit at Shabbat tables and pontificate about “justice” with a kind of self-righteousness so boundless it’s impressive.

“But Elizabeth, don’t you know it says in the Torah not to be biased in judgment?” he says, adding “alleged” to my distinction of Cosby with the title “rapist.” Why, yes. But none of us here are judges or lawyers, merely kugel-eaters, who gain no benefit by denying the painful truths of survivors.

It is a particular form of willful ignorance to disbelieve the words of the vulnerable for the sake of “fairness.” It takes a special kind of privilege to twist justice into an algorithm that ensures the standing of those already perched on pedestals.

And I try to explain this to that man, months later, telling him in gentle terms (lest I verge into “B-word” territory) to consider that he never knows the experiences of the people around him, sitting at any given Shabbat table. And I tell him to think about how his words in the name of “justice” impact me personally. And he emails me apologizing sincerely, but misses the point completely. Because he says he would have been more careful had he known what I went through. But what he said was not wrong because I was sitting there; it was wrong because it was wrong, and it was cruel. Will he ever understand?

So, you. You too. Yes, you – you are part of the Problem. You are a guardian of the sort of violence that happens within the tidy confines of bureaucracy and under the guise of decency. You are a protector of the brutality maintained by plausible deniability, by prioritizing the persistent power of the powerful. I know you don’t mean to; but that’s not the point. In your insistence on theoretical “neutrality,” you take a stance. You tell me you don’t believe me; and why would you when I’m this “unsympathetic,” after all?


III.

The first time I drank outside of a ritual context, it was vodka and cranberry juice mixed in a disposable water bottle, and it made me feel warm and somehow less doubtful about things. A close friend’s suave, generically hipster, not-boyfriend-but-kinda-Thing then kissed me against my will, and tried to make more moves before my friend reappeared and turned livid at me, and then she refused to talk to me for months. Meanwhile, she stayed close to him, in their not-relationship (as it goes), while I self-flagellated in private misery for my traitorship as a friend, internalizing my presumed guilt and seemingly inherent filth. Only within recent years have I reconsidered my so-called malice. I want to take back my apologies, and dissolve the antagonism I aimed squarely in my own direction. I want to undo the hours I spent alone, telling myself I did not deserve anything good. I want to take back the repentance I’ve done in vain and replace it with a return to compassion. Because it was not my fault.

Her too. Yes, her. It wasn’t her fault either. She learned the same tropes I did, consumed the same shame. She was just directing it back at me, reciting the same lines, jabbing me with the same resentful silences. This is Exhibit B, the fallout of the Problem attesting to the gravity of the Problem itself.

They have turned us against ourselves. Because we are grasping for security and somehow our simplest self-defense is self-offense. Which is what brings me to this shame I struggle to shake. As if it’s my fault for having the capacity to be hurt, for having private parts, vulnerable parts of me that let their guard down recklessly. As if.

Unless we reclaim something, namely, a version of justice that is fueled not by covering technical bases and the behinds of those with reputations to lose, but by boundless compassion for its own sake. I want a justice that has sympathy for the “unsympathetic,” for the girls who drank too much, who looked too attractive, who were catcalled obscenely while wearing a full winter coat and maxi-skirt, who are accustomed to making up fictional boyfriends in the hopes a man will yield somehow. Until then, there is no justice in an adherence to the status quo, so I will disobey your “justice,” and I am wholly unsorry.