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September 28, 2018

1980s. Gaithersburg. Indelible in the hippocampus.

By Mala Nagarajan

All of a sudden. Rockville. Gaithersburg. 1980s. In the news. It’s all too close to home.

I grew up in Gaithersburg and Rockville. My two sisters graduated from Seneca Valley High School in 1979 and 1983. I would have graduated from Gaithersburg High School in 1986 (except that I dropped out in 1984, victim of my own internalized homophobia and anti-immigrant traumas). Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is the same age as my sister, Usha (and, incidentally, Vega).

When Dr. Ford mentioned seeing Mark Judge at the Potomac Valley Safeway at the corner of River Road and Falls Road, I was taken back to my childhood memories. Memories of my family sometimes stopping at that Safeway to pick up fruits and offerings on the way to the nearby Hare Krishna Temple. Julie Swetnick graduated from Gaithersburg High School in 1980. I was taken back to the halls with the line-up of boys who stood the gauntlet along the hallway to the library—the one the girls tried their best to avoid.

I was taken back to that culture of the ’80s. Erol’s video store on Rockville Pike across from Congressional Plaza. A male coworker at a local video store: we used to get along, but only because I put up with a lot. He used to make me mix tapes of heavy metal ballads. But to this day, when I think of him, my body gets tense, I get angry, and I want to kick him where it hurts. Why? Whenever we were alone in the store, he would liberally cop a feel of female co-workers’ breasts, including mine. He was always “teasing”—”can’t you take a joke?” This was 1984. When I confronted him about it years later, he said he didn’t remember that. Of course he doesn’t.

Three decades later, what’s changed? Some laws have changed. Some school and workplace protocols have changed. Cultural shifts represented by #MeToo are welcome changes.

But you know what hasn’t changed? The white men who make the most powerful decisions affecting us. The literal white men who came of political age in the 1980s. The odious Chuck Grassley came to the Senate in 1981. Orrin Hatch in 1977. Patrick Leahy (lest I be considered a partisan hack) in 1975. They were, in the 1980s, the young men who participated, either actively, or as witnesses, in those loathsome misogynistic practices. Of course they don’t take them seriously. Of course they are going to side with the morally and sexually depraved Brett Kavanaugh.

So now, we’ll have two known sexual predators on the Supreme Court. And they will gleefully and viciously continue their predatory behavior by coming after our sexual, medical, personal sovereignty over our own lives.

I know we’re all waiting, desperately, for November 6. And yes, November 6 cannot come soon enough. But it’s what happens beyond then that will matter. I can’t wait. Justice will be sweet.

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All, Mala, Social Change