#MeToo Hits Home

“I’m Judy Lipton and nobody is going to push me around anymore” were my first words to David Barash in 1975. This was a laughable and desperate call for help, a protest of pain, I see now, but he took it at face value as a sign of a strong woman. It wasn’t. I had been raped twice, abandoned by my husband, and my son and I had been physically abused in a domestic violence situation; I was 24.

In 1966, age 15, I ran away from home and lived in the East Village, on 5th between C and D, before Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived close by in 1967. An old man took me to his dark apartment and raped me, then offered to send me to out of the country. He mentioned Kerista. Before I could decide what to do, my father appeared offering Moo Goo Gai Pan. I went home, and then to college. Never told any adults.

For the next 40 years, I tried to be a strong woman, honestly, but didn’t do so well. In medical school (1971-74) I had been one of 7 women in a class of 110. We had no sleeping quarters. A professor wanted us to be subjects of breast exams. And finally, when I offered to be a subject for a demonstration of nitrous oxide anesthesia, the professor put the mask on my face, and then in front of 10 or so men, he proceeded to pinch my butt and breasts, and said, “We can do whatever we want to her now. She’ll know it, but she can’t do anything.” I never told the authorities. I was sexually assaulted twice more, in 1984 and 2012. Never told anybody.

My best friend was forced to resign the presidency of an organization that she had given her life to, in 1983. A group of men, and one other woman, asserted that she was not fit to represent our organization because she was “a loose cannon.” They went on to Oslo in 1985 to collect a Nobel Peace Prize, and she was not invited. It broke her heart, and mine, and I was unable to help her.

It wasn’t until the election of 2016 and #MeToo that something shifted inside. In October, 2017, I experienced a hardening and solidification of resolve, not to be pushed around anymore. This had difficult ramifications within the family and my social network. Poor David. I started insisting on finishing my own sentences. I declared preferences for food or activities and stuck to my guns. It was hard.

I checked in with my niece, an extraordinary young woman who had been raped on a cruise ship when she was 15. She too experienced a state change, as #MeToo spread. She worked through college in a rape counseling service and talked about rape nearly daily, but as the movement grew, she started having more conflicts with her current boyfriend and employers, asserting herself differently. She urged me to write this blog.

I wonder how many other women have had their internal resolve or self-esteem affected by the election and #MeToo. Tell me your story. #MeToo is not only about sexual abuse, but it is about bullying and power. John Hockenberry of The Takeaway resigned after his bullying was revealed. The times really are a’changin.

I’ve been studying Russian history and the history of totalitarianism, with deep thanks to Hannah Arendt, Yuri Slezkine, Martin Amis, and Masha Gessen. In the Soviet Union in particular, bureaucratic bullying was a tool of the state and according to Gessen it persists now under Putin. Stalin literally tried to airbrush Trotsky out of pictures, newspaper articles, and books. “Fake news” is not at all new, it is the tool of government propaganda from Prava to the Voice of America. 

 Listen to Yuri Slezkine, from The House of Government:

“In 1932, Pravda published a short story by Ilft and Petrov titled “How Robinson was created” about a magazine editor who commissions a Soviet Robinson Crusoe from a writer named Moldavantsev. The writer submits a manuscript about a Soviet young man triumphing over nature on a desert island. The editor likes the story but says that a Soviet Robinson would be unthinkable without a trade union committee consisting of a chairman, two permanent members, and a female activist to collect membership dues. The committee in its turn would be unthinkable without a safe deposit box, a chairman’s bell, a pitcher of water and a tablecloth ‘red or green, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to limit your artistic imagination’ and broad masses of working people.”

The point is that totalitarian societies reach into every aspect of life and thought, requiring conversion into an approved paradigm. Gessen and Slezkine in particular illustrate the double talk and double think necessary to try to survive under Stalin. Biology was not an approved university topic, nor the study of fish, but fisheries was just fine because it was industrial. 

Certain subcultures – offices, businesses, governments, and even families – demand similar obedience. But from now on, I just won’t do it. I won’t let my artistic, creative, personal or political actions be formatted by other people, unless it is a professional editor for a real book.

So now, in the present moment, I’ve become rather stubborn, and consistent with #MeToo, I feel that oppression is best treated by light. I should never have been silent in the past and won’t again – I hope and promise myself.

When I see

Source: Wikimedia commons

Stalins (big or little), I’m going to speak up. This will not be comfortable for people who are used to silence or who feel that conflicts are best resolved one to one. That old model of conflict resolution via direct conversations does not serve victims of rape, domestic violence, or authoritarian oppression. It is true that Truth and Reconciliation Committees have been very useful, but as in South Africa, only after the oppressors were out of power.  It would not help my niece to have a nice talk with her perp. I see no benefit from confronting the man from Kerista. People who had been dear friends of “Koba the Dread” (Stalin) wrote to him from jail, reminding him of their shared work going back to the 1917 revolution, and it only moved their torture and executions forward.

Speaking out against authoritarian leaders will not be comfy, or safe, but I will no longer be complicit, silent, or intimidated. It’s Stormy weather now.

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