Archive for May, 2011

We’ve been subjected to the big news stories lately that focus not on how the US economy is doing in its painful recovery, or whether peace in the Middle East is finally being achieved, but instead, on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s scuzzy affair with a member of his domestic staff, and on the International Monetary Fund head’s attack on a hotel maid.

While these might make for just another week of “ho-hum” headlines in People Magazine and other celebrity and gossip publications, the revelations seem to have also resulted in more college students coming forward to say that, when they were raped or taken advantage of on college campuses, their concerns were met with disdain or just plain ignored. This is hardly a new situation.

When I was a college student at a women’s school in the early 1970’s, I found myself seduced by an attractive college professor.  I was invited to go look at church pews with him in Bennington, Vermont, that he said he wanted for his house or for the college’s black box theater.  Thrilled to be asked, I said yes.  We went back to his house afterward, and — his wife away on business — he mixed me a drink that was full of frozen fruit and a lot of alcohol.  Before I knew it, he was all over me, and I succumbed.  I was young, inexperienced, eager, unsophisticated, and a lot more.  I didn’t report the encounter, because I felt that I had been complicit in allowing it to happen and that nothing would be done.

Several months later, another professor, who periodically invited his students to dinner at his home, invited me to such a meal.  I was thrilled and dressed up, thinking it was one of those dinner parties.  He picked me up at my dorm, and I was surprised — and concerned — to find that no one else was at the house… a house far away from campus, out in the woods.  Nervous, I chattered away, and we had dinner — a Mongolian Hot Pot, as I recall.

As he showed me around his house, I was somewhat relieved when we got to the bedroom and I saw the bed turned down, with a book on the bed.  “Phew,” I thought to myself.  “Your concerns were taking over.  This guy is planning to go to bed, alone, and read.  No problem.”  Wrong.  Before I knew it, as I turned around to leave the room, I was pushed down on the bed, and raped.

I didn’t report it.  I felt as though I should have known better, should have realized what was going on, should have asked more questions, should have…. Stupid, stupid, stupid.  It was a different time, and I was naive, and very young.

But still, I ask myself as I read about the situations college students continue to encounter, and the unsatisfactory response colleges make to their claims of harassment or rape:  why has nothing much changed?  Why do students still find that they are demeaned or ostracized if inappropriate behavior is encountered?  And why do jokes about ‘rape’ get thrown around, even — in some social situations — by children in their early teens?  What is it that makes a man — a man as powerful and well known as Dominique Strauss-Kahn — think that it’s OK to walk out of the shower, chase the hotel maid around, and force himself on her?

All of these situations — whether they involved a movie star and a housekeeper, a financial magnate and a hotel maid, or a college professor and his student — were, at some level, also about the use of power in situations where both players were not on a level field.  People of influence and authority engaged with, and used their authority and power over, people in subordinate positions.

I was never a big part of the so-called ‘women’s liberation’ movement as it grew in this country.  Nor was I a ‘stand by your man, no matter what’ kind of woman.  I have always believed that individuals deserve to be treated with respect, whether they are hotel maids, housekeepers, college students, or kids on a playground.  Why is that so hard to embrace?  And why does it seem that we are doomed to continue to read headlines that show us, over and over again, that ‘respect and dignity’ is something we must wish for, rather than embrace as truth, in our lives?

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Last night, Ben and I had the thrill of watching our younger child up on stage, as she danced and sang her way through “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” as a member of the Ensemble in Lexington High School’s very fine production of the Rupert Holmes musical.  It was a terrific show (yes, a little too long, and the sets and costumes could have been better, but still, it was very, very good for a high school production), thanks in large measure to the excellent direction of Steven Bogart, the talented drama teacher who retires from LHS this year.  The vocal coaching of Jason Ianuzzi was impressive, and Jeff Leonard, who now runs the performing arts program in the Lexington school system, did his usual terrific job of both directing the orchestra and holding the onstage orchestral/vocals together.

The fact that Abby had auditioned for the show at all was amazing:  as a timid child who has spent her growing years struggling with how to find the courage to try new things, she gave the audition her all and found herself with a part in the show’s Ensemble — which was, she said, her goal.  She learned dance steps, even though she has always shied away from dance lessons.  She learned new music.  She practiced her acting skills, which are better than she gives herself credit for.  She made many new friends, and discovered why Steve Bogart is a legend at Lexington High School.  It has been a blast.

Last night, she told us that, before the cast went on stage, Jeff Leonard shared an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” on work:

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work
and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing,
you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

The poem, Leonard said, had been used by Bogart’s predecessor, Mr. DiDomenico, as the final ‘blessing’ of the cast and crew on opening night, for each show.  Those who followed DiDomenico, including Bogart and Leonard, have continued the tradition for the last four decades.  45 years ago, when Mr. DiDomenico was the drama teacher, a high school student named Ben Soule was in the shows that were on the Lexington High School Stage:  “Oliver,” “Camelot,” “South Pacific.”  Around the same time, Deb Weiner was on stage or back stage at Hamden High School in Connecticut, in dramas like “Ring Round the Moon,”  “Antigone,” and “Under Milk Wood.”  And, in her own time at Lexington High 12 years ago, Emily Soule was back stage at Lexington High School working on “Into the Woods,” making scenery and running set changes.  The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The thrill of working on a show is magical.  That Abby is now enjoying this beautiful ride, and in doing so, discovering more about herself as she enters the last 13 months of her high school experience, is marvelous.  That she is blessed, not only with good friends but with dedicated and talented teachers to guide her, is a gift beyond measure.  This work is love made visible, and it showers love on us all.

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