In 1987, shortly after I began my first year at Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, a group of freshmen girls and I were invited to a neighboring boys’ dormitory. We were flattered the boys noticed us. They were older and seemed so confident in their varsity jackets and worn boat shoes. At 14, we girls were less confident, but hopeful: If these boys liked us, they might become our boyfriends. They might shepherd us around campus, give us social standing and protect us.
We arrived nervous and giggly. Maybe we expected a game of truth or dare, but the boys had a different idea. They pulled out a bottle of Bacardi and passed around shots. If any of us thought about saying no, we didn’t. We were all polite girls who had been raised to accept what we were offered and not make a fuss.
The next thing I remember is being in the bedroom of one of the boys. He was a postgraduate — an athlete who did an extra year at Andover to the benefit of both the school’s athletics and his own college application — which meant he was 19. He was also at least 6 feet tall with broad shoulders. He led me to his bed and began to fumble with my clothes.
I was fall-down drunk and pretty sure he would be upset if I tried to stop him. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I went along with it. We didn’t have sex but did everything else. I felt sick and just wanted to get it over with and get out of that room, which I don’t remember doing. That was the first time I got blackout drunk.
A few days later, the dorm mother called us into her office and said she had heard rumors that we were being “promiscuous with boys.” We tried our best to look appalled and insisted that, no, of course we weren’t, then dashed back to a dorm room and collapsed with outraged laughter. “Promiscuous with boys!” we screamed. We knew that whatever we had done — impaired to the point of falling down — it was not that.
I never even thought to consider what happened to me at Andover as sexual assault. I never said no, and all I ever felt was shame that I had not been pretty enough or better enough to be treated with more respect. It wasn’t until my daughter was 14 — looking at her skinny, little body and trying to imagine her unconfident voice saying no to an older boy — that I realized I wasn’t the one to blame. I hadn’t done anything wrong, despite what the dorm mother thought.
I know what my experience at one of the most prestigious schools in the country did to me: It taught me that getting drunk and acquiescing is easier than saying no. But sometimes I wonder how it affected those boys, who are men in their late-40s now. If their trajectory went as planned, they attended elite colleges and now work in banking, law or politics. I wonder what they teach their boys, or if they worry for their girls.
I don’t know if Ford’s story is true — Kavanaugh vehemently denies her account. But I do know that during the same time and in similar schools, rich white boys got younger girls drunk and insisted that they sexually service them. I know that no one ever told them it was wrong to do so. And I know girls never learned that they were valuable enough to say no, accepting the shame and repercussions for themselves.
If Ford was different — if she did say no and did struggle back then — my heart goes with her as she fights back now. She is confronting a world where men get what they want and women don’t get in their way. How many of the men judging, questioning and investigating her come from that world? How many will relate to Kavanaugh’s perspective rather than hers? How many wish she would just be quiet and acquiesce?