I had originally titled this post “The book that every woman should read” but scratch that… This is the book that every woman and man should read. Over the weekend, I finished Know My Name by Chanel Miller and have been deeply moved by it to my core. Depending on the source, between 1 in 3 and 1 in 6 women in the US have been sexually assaulted in some way shape or form. And this book gives each and every one of them a voice.
For those of us who haven’t been sexually assaulted, it helped us to better understand what the women going through it are feeling. And for any men who take the time to read this powerful memoir, you might learn a thing or two about how your actions, big or small, can leave a lasting effect on the women encounter throughout your lifetime.
I remember reading about the Brock Turner rape case at Stanford. My mom lives a few minutes from campus so we discussed it often at the time. Like most people reading the news, I was horrified at his actions and, subsequently, the slap on the wrist he got in terms of punishment.
But I was lucky enough to be able to move on from the story and, eventually, forget it. Chanel Miller, the victim in this case, was not. She still lives with the fact that she doesn’t know what happened to her body while she was unconscious. And she will live with the emotions of that trauma every day for the rest of her life. In the year that she recounts in the book, readers witness her lowest lows and the brief triumph she feels after small victories.
That is what really stuck with me from her story. The fact that her sadness, her anger, and her fears continued day in and day out as the rest of the world moved on to the next newsreel.
But despite her assault and the trial that uprooted her life in every possible way, she spoke up with her very eloquent voice.
She started by reading a powerful statement at Brock’s sentencing. A statement that went viral the day after he was sentenced to only 6 months in prison. If you don’t read her book, at least take the next 10 minutes to read her statement if you haven’t already.
She says: As this is a first offense I can see where leniency would beckon. On the other hand, as a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault need to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.
As a society, we’re living in a scary world where our own president’s words condone grabbing them by the you know what. As a reminder, here is the direct quote:
You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
Chanel sharing her identity and the ins and outs of her story must have been terrifying to say the least, but her statement and book have sparked bigger talks about what constitutes rape, how to handle rape on college campuses, and even led to the judge who sentenced Brock to be recalled.
I cried many times as she wrote about the days and nights where she was overcome with grief and fear. I had smoke coming out of my ears as she recounted the way she was tossed around as a victim in court. I had palpable rage as she shared reactions on the internet from other women about how her actions the night of the assault led it to happen. And I quite literally fist-pumped the air as she found her voice and spoke back to the authorities at Stanford, spoke back to Brock in court (with her statement), and yelled at the catcalling men who made her feel uncomfortable.
She reminds every woman reading her story that we have a voice. That our voice can be powerful. And that living in fear does not have to be the social norm:
…to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.