Tonight, as I turned off “Mr. Selfridge”, I felt tears burn hot at the backs of my eyes and I fought a brief battle that I finally allowed myself to lose. I covered my face with my hands and just sobbed for a minute or two. But I wasn’t just crying. I was weeping. I was grieving.
I must note that what I am about to describe has definite trigger warnings attached to it.
The end of the episode depicted Kitty Edwards, head of the beauty department at Selfridge’s, heading home after work. As she did, she passed a few ex-soldiers returned from WWI, one of whom asked for a penny. She shook her head and didn’t stop walking. Then he called her a bitch, which stopped her in her tracks. He accused her of spending her money on fripperies and yet couldn’t spare a penny for a man who had fought for King and country. She informed him that she hadn’t been shopping, she’d been working. He told her that he’d seen plenty of “working girls” during the war making good money “lying flat on their backs”. She spat back that she was head of department, that she sold lip color and rouge, had just worked a fourteen-hour day, and it was no wonder that he and his lot couldn’t find jobs. Several of the men converged on her and the one speaking to her grabbed for her. She fought back and hit him. Enraged, he struck her so hard that her face bounced off the wall of a nearby building. He then instructed one of the men to “keep watch” while he proceeded to cover Kitty’s mouth and assault her. Thankfully, Harry Selfridge was just leaving the building, heard her muffled screams, and ran over, shoving the men away and shouting for the police before the man could rape her.
Perhaps I had a surge of hormones, perhaps I am getting more emotional in my deepening thirties, or maybe it’s because, deep down, there is a visceral fear, a despicable truth, and terrifying reality attached to this depiction.
I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have never been verbally or physically assaulted. However, I have had friends who were. I have had extended family members to have been assaulters and, thankfully, gotten the punishment they deserved for it. The truth of rape/assault culture and its prevalence is not hidden from me. And scenes like this hit me hard with that reminder.
I wasn’t allowed to walk home from youth group as a teenager, on the same street that I had grown up on, because it was considered too dangerous for me to be out alone at night.
I remember a year in college when my guy friends wouldn’t let me or any of my girlfriends walk anywhere on campus alone after sunset after we had four safety alerts for assaults posted in four weeks. I remember resenting it. Not my friends’ insistence on escorting us but that my freedom to walk our beautiful campus was curtailed and we were given reason to fear and worry.
There have been events that probably would have been great fun but that I declined because it would have meant that I would have been walking back to my car late at night in unfamiliar territory.
For years, I refused to buy a winter coat with a hood because a hood meant that I couldn’t use my peripheral vision to see who was coming up behind me.
My doors have always had and will always have the deadbolt shot.
My keys are always in my hand when I move through a parking lot alone at night, and I immediately lock the doors again the minute I’m in the car.
I don’t get catcalled much anymore but, the times that I did, I would ignore it and increase my walking pace. I’m a small woman so slipping through and losing myself in a crowd was a well-honed talent.
I hate that I have had to do this. I hate that I will teach my daughter to do this as well. I hate that her father and I will worry about her when she’s away from home and regard strangers with at least a modicum of suspicion at first.
All of this, including my tears at a television show, is because I acknowledge the reality of rape/assault culture and the deep wounds that it has inflicted and continues to cut into our society every day. I weep for it, I grieve it. Like all women, however, I continue to live it every day. When, in order to be true to life, even art must depict it, how can you deny the reality of its truth?