The Undeclared War of 1992...Now #MeToo
Note from Publisher Mark Lerner: Nancy de la Vierra wrote this remarkable feature in the summer of 1992 for our Welcome to Planet Earth magazine. Before we met in 1989, she had been married twice and suffered various types of severe abuse in both relationships. With the #MeToo movement now strong and pervasive in 2018, I am re-publishing her stunning insights from 26 years ago—insights that are both a testament to the centuries of degradation suffered by women at the hands of men and prescient about how our society is just beginning to wake up now to this hidden truth about rampant predatory behavior by the male side of the human species.
Seventy-two years ago, on August 26, 1920—after being denied the right to vote for 144 years—the 19th amendment was ratified, giving women the right to cast ballots. At this critical turning point in our past, the Sun, Venus and Saturn were all located in the sign of Virgo. Exactly 15 years later to the day, Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman to run for vice president in one of the major political parties, was born with the Sun, Mercury, Venus and Neptune in Virgo. On January 22nd, 1973, the right of women to choose to have an abortion was confirmed by the Supreme Court in the Roe vs. Wade decision. On that day, the Moon, symbolizing feminine issues on the broadest scale, was passing through the sign of Virgo, thus re-energizing the beginning of women's suffrage in late August 1920 with the Sun in Virgo. In this supposed "Year of the Woman," with large numbers of women running for political office, Geraldine Ferraro has returned to prominence in New York, running for the Senate against a conservative Republican.
Traditionally, Virgo is a receptive sign that represents the perfection of the feminine principle. In remembrance of the events of 72 years ago, I'd like to share some thoughts about an extraordinary book that extrapolates the abuses against women, both tangible and intangible. Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal, took on the Herculean task of documenting and meticulously researching the issue of the subjugation and abuse of women. Reading Backlash: The Undeclared War on American Women was personally illuminating. I was flooded with painful memories.
As a very young (20) and naïve wife, I recall being frightened by my husband's extreme mood swings. He would become violent without provocation—when intoxicated this quality took on nightmarish proportions. After the birth of my daughter, he deeply resented his new responsibilities and things began to further deteriorate. I remember vividly one night in the fall of 1973. My then husband had been "out with the boys," and was high on mescaline (he later confessed). I was awakened by him yelling and pummeling me. He was talking completely out of his head. He beat me so badly, I lost consciousness. The tenant in the adjoining duplex phoned the police, reporting that someone was killing someone "over there." When the police arrived, I was passed out on the lawn. My husband, completely unscathed, was reclining in his chair blowing smoke rings in the air (an activity that held particular amusement for him). When I came to, the police asked me if he (my husband) had done this to me. I had two black eyes, numerous cuts and abrasions, and my face was beginning to take on the dimensions of a basketball. I nodded dumbly, my face beginning to streak with blood and tears. Next they asked him, "Is this true?" He just leaned further back in his chair and responded by saying, "Well, she fell down some stairs and I roughed her up a little bit." First of all, we had no stairs, and why would I need roughing up? I had been sound asleep! The men in the room exchanged some completely irrelevant remarks about the weather, cars and other matters, as if I were invisible. The policemen looked at each other somewhat conspiratorially and stepped outside. A few pregnant moments passed in which my husband indicated if I even considered pressing charges, he'd kill me. The policemen asked me to join them on the porch. They stated that they could see what happened here; if I would file charges, they would arrest him. However, they would not be responsible for the ramifications of his actions when released or any retaliatory behavior on his part. I was in shock and totally bewildered, fearing for the safety of my infant daughter. I did not file charges, but packed up kit and caboodle that very night.
My daughter and I took up residence in a cheap, run-down apartment in one of the poorest sections of town. I had no money and did not wish to participate in the welfare system. With no experience in the field, I felt fortunate to quickly secure a position managing the front desk for three busy surgeons. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to them as Drs. A, F and S. I was a quick study and the doctors expressed pleasure with my competence. I was struggling against the seemingly impossible task of locating and retaining trustworthy daycare for my daughter, but felt this was a good beginning for us. From the start, however, I was disconcerted by the unwelcome advances of Dr. S. He was married and had three young children. At the onset, his comments were of a fairly innocuous nature, but they soon became sexual. His "sleaze" factor was apparently no secret; he was openly having an affair with his assistant. At that time, I did not believe sexual harassment was even an issue or articulated as such. My kind, but firm refusals only buttressed his resolve, and one day he cornered me in the lab room. I was working through my lunch and the office was deserted. Dr. S came towards me, saying that I had to know how attracted he was to me, etc., and shoved me up against the wall. I pushed him away; told him firmly I wasn't interested and to please leave me alone. He walked away, chuckling. I felt trapped and thereafter I avoided him as much as possible. He became surly towards me, finally cornered me coming out of the ladies room. He said he needed to make something clear. His tone was intimidating and stated that if I said anything to the other doctors regarding his behavior, he would tell them I was lying and they would believe him, of course. I told him I had no intention of "telling." He continued to make my work days miserable and my childcare disappeared for the second time. Feeling defeated and overwhelmed, I resigned. Doctors A and F attempted to dissuade me, but I felt they knew of Dr. S's unprofessional behavior and were choosing to ignore it.
Another experience that served to make me rethink my earlier "Pollyanna" views on the status of women in this country happened years later. I was driving home from work, nearing a familiar intersection when a Blazer ran a red light turning my car into something resembling an accordion. The driver, an off-duty police officer, had been driving drunk. He admitted he didn't see my car. He didn't at that time admit to driving drunk, but did later. Soon after the collision, an "officer" arrived on the scene. One of the witnesses (a man, to his credit) was helping to extricate me from my now pathetic Celica. The self-proclaimed "officer" (I later discovered he was a game warden checking fishing licenses at a nearby river) operated in the most curious and threatening manner, attempting quite obviously to find a witness (there were several) who would say that somehow I was to blame for the accident. He was unsuccessful. His behavior towards me was totally inappropriate and hostile.
One of the witnesses phoned me a few days after the accident to express his concern. He stated that he had some new information that might explain the perplexing behavior of the "officer" who came on the scene. Not only was he an employee of the Fish and Game folks, but a hunting and fishing buddy of the driver of the Blazer (an off-duty police officer).
Things got even more convoluted when at the insistence of family, I paid a visit to the local police department to file a complaint. The officer on duty refused to take the complaint. He said he knew both gentlemen; they were hunting and fishing buddies of his and "really good guys." At this time, I truly began to believe I had entered a battlefield. The lines had been drawn so long ago and I was on the losing side.
To add insult to injury, my auto insurance came up for renewal following the accident. Ironically, so did a male family member's (T) who had recently caused an accident that totaled one car and did significant damage to two others. The company happened to insure us both. The company decided not to renew my policy (the driver of the Blazer was found to be 100% at fault in my accident and his insurance company paid for repairs to my car and for all my medical expenses), but to not only renew T's policy, but to keep him in preferred status! He and I decided to confront the insurance agent. After all, they were not out one dime on my behalf, but paid out significantly for his claim. We felt perhaps there had been a mix-up. The head office replied by sending back a telegram saying simply: Even though Ms. Vierra was not at fault in this accident—We feel she is an unlucky person and are choosing not to renew her policy. I had never caused an accident and never had a claim! As a result, I was forced to find insurance at usurious rates. The battlefield was loaded with land mines.
I think what happens to most of us (myself included), in these situations, is we tend to store all these memories away in files marked that's just the way it is. In Backlash, Ms. Faludi succeeds in giving credence to everyone who has had similar experiences. She exposes the misogynistic roots of our media, employment history, legislation and advertising. Seemingly without prejudice, she manages—through this brilliantly written, expertly researched book—to lay open the roles of gender in our society. She uncovers a backlash that in many respects is flourishing and supported by the news media and our popular culture. As I read this book, I felt pulled back into the aforementioned remembrances and many others, whether I wanted to be or not. The book helped to give me a greater understanding of these events and, as difficult as some of the startling revelations are, they must no longer be ignored by men or women.
Even in Hollywood, which more and more shapes the way we perceive issues, this disturbing phenomenon is rampant. More and more, in our media, if women are not the victims of senseless savagery, they are the perpetrators. Consider the blockbuster Fatal Attraction and all its copycats. There is currently a detective program running whose weekly plot routinely deals with the calculated brutal murders of beautiful women. The assailant and his motives are glorified and mystified, while the detectives stand over the victims' corpses speaking as if the issue were whether to have egg salad or tuna for lunch. The program's title, Body of Evidence, is embellished on the screen over the profile of a nude woman's body. Similarly, the lyrics of many popular "artists" are intended to foment dangerous attitudes by young men. Recently, I paid an unexpected visit to a friend's house. She is a single working mother of two teen-age sons. Curiously, the front door was ajar. Rap music was literally pounding through the house. I stood on the threshold and called out; my friend was not at home. The lyrics were of a most degrading manner, detailing what reprehensible actions the singer and the listener should exercise against women's bodies. I quickly departed with another veneer of naïveté stripped away.
Suffice it to say, there needs to be big changes here. Until the American viewer makes a clarion demand for more positive and uplifting materials, we will continue to be deluged with a diet of irresponsible and misleading programs. As a corollary, how can men feel truly free as long as their female counterparts are subjected to such vilification?
© 1992 and 2018 by Nancy de la Vierra.
All rights reserved.