Monday, June 13, 2016

Thank You for Keeping Me Safe

{NOTE: This blog has nothing to do with poverty nor advocacy nor motherhood. It's just something that is on my mind that I want to put out into the world where the people it is written for might see it today or someday. WARNING that the subject matter isn't for young readers. Links lead to websites with explicit descriptions of sexual assault.}

There are times I don't think to thank someone. There are times I shouldn't have to thank someone. But now, I think, it's time to give a heartfelt Thank You to a group of friends who I'm grateful to...the guys I knew in college.

The horrible case of Brock Allen Turner and the terrible assault he forced on a young woman at Stanford have been all over the internet. The letter from the victim is the most articulate and moving piece of testimony I've ever seen on the subject. When Vice President Joe Biden wrote his open letter to her, I thought, "Wow. What more could be said?" And then I realized that I have something I need to say. I need to say thank you.

If you are a guy and you knew me during the years I galavanted all over the campuses of the University of Wisconsin - Madison and the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor and places of summers in-between, I'm talking to you. Some of you were classmates, co-workers, or friends. Some of you went on dates with me. Some of you asked me out, but were turned down. A few of you were boyfriends. One of you became my husband. To all of you, I'm truly grateful to you for being decent human beings who never forced me to do anything I didn't want to do. All of you, together, created an environment where I walked without fear through my late teens and 20's without coming to life-changing harm. I'm grateful to you.

"Can you believe he left in the middle of our date? I'm such 
a fox!" Yikes. What was going on with my hair??
Heck, I'm even grateful to the guy from Chemistry class who pretended to "remember something he had to do" in the middle of a first date. (He made a call from a PAY PHONE for crying out loud!...because there were no cell phones, of course, back in the middle ages) I was really hurt and disgusted at the time, but you know what? That was fine. He got me home and I could angrily eat cookies for the rest of the night if I wanted. He decided he wasn't that into me and that was that. I was safe. And that is cool. 
Madison, WI in winter

I'm not super-proud of all my behavior during those years. I wasn't a pillar of restraint. Boy, am I glad there was no social media back then! I recall was a particular morning after a snowy night of drinking. I don't actually remember all of the night. The last thing I recall is having fun in one of the many bars we frequented on State Street, but I had absolutely no memory of the hours between being there and the place I woke up. Where was I the next morning? In my bed. Fully clothed. With my favorite quilt tucked all around me. Wearing warm, fuzzy, colorful socks that I certainly hadn't been wearing for a night on the town. How did I feel? Well, besides hung over, I felt loved. I felt cared for. I felt really, really lucky.

Later on in our college years, I would realize that I was luckier than I ever imagined. You see, that #YesAllWomen hashtag that refers to all women either experiencing sexism, harassment, or misogyny themselves or knowing women who have experienced them? It's true. Yes. All. Women. In those years, two friends of mine were raped by men they knew well...or at least they thought they knew them well. No dark alleys. Both in their own apartments. I didn't know about it at the time. They were ashamed to admit it even to their girlfriends until much later. There were probably more in my life who I'll never know about.

One in five women on American college campuses experience some kind of sexual assault. We don't ever know who it will be, but YOU did your part by making sure it wasn't me. Not by doing anything particularly heroic like jumping off your bike to stop an attacker. You did it by doing the simple things. Going to a movie with me and just going home. Getting food with me, walking me back to my building, and saying goodnight. Studying with me and just studying with me. Making sure there was consent and respecting when there wasn't. And, yes, one of you fished out some fuzzy socks from my drawer because - my sock fairy told me later - my other socks got wet in the snow and my feet were cold. (My feet are always cold, even right now) 

Suddenly, those things do seem kind of heroic.

I smile when I see the careers you've built and the men you have become...
...a president of a financial company
...a railroad planning engineer
...a Disney executive
...a tech salesman 
...a desktop support specialist engineering consultant
...a principle engineer doing something so special you have to use a secret code to talk about it in China ("making thermometers"...uh huh, riiiight....)
...IT and Operations managers
...a swing dance instructor and a CPU verification something expert...ok, I'm kinda techie, but I'm never really gonna understand what you do company founders (and one of you is a laundromat king on top of that!), so many automotive engineers!!
...and last but not least...fathers

But these descriptions say nothing about your hearts and your characters. Your resumes will never reflect the thing I'm appreciating about you today.

So, whether we ever went on a date or not, thank you for the things you did and the things you didn't do. Isn't it amazing to think that you were a part of a tapestry of friendship that kept me - and countless other women - safe? If any one of you had been replaced by a Brock Allen Turner, my story would have been so very different.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, please feel good about yourself today. You did right by me. And I thank you.

You knew me as,
Cindy Chang-Yit