Kimberly Hopkin '19
Before we start this conversation, let’s get on the same page. Nothing written in the article is the official opinion of the US Air Force or the Department of Defense; it’s my personal story. Which brings me to my other big caveat: this is my personal truth. I’ve listened to many women who have had similar experiences – and many who haven’t. I can’t speak for them, but I am going to speak up for myself. So, please don’t interrupt, because we need to talk.
I recently went out downtown with two other women and a man that I respect highly. He was complaining about a trip to Australia where he learned that the bar backs collect drinks if they are sitting on the bar without anyone holding them– regardless of how much is left in the glass. He thought it was a clever ruse to force people to buy more drinks and said, “Can you believe it? The WHOLE night I had to have my hand on my drink and was watching it constantly. It was so annoying.” When we gave him inquisitive looks, he became defensive and looked at our drinks. All of us had our drinks in our hands in our direct eyesight. His sat on the bar about a foot and a half away in his periphery. After saying, “Well, it’s a crowded bar – that makes sense,” he dropped it.
Later that night, the subject of “Angel Shots” came up. He thought it was the dumbest idea, and, when we disagreed, he did something that I encourage everyone to do: he asked questions. In the ensuing discussion, we realized that all three females had been “roofied” at one point in our lives. All variations on a similar theme: if someone hadn’t been looking out for us, something terrible could have happened. When he said, “So, you literally think about this the entire time you go out? Just to feel safe?” The look on his face made me hug him.
There are realities that women face that men don’t often have the opportunity to think about. Some people insist that mansplaining doesn’t exist, or that the women are being too sensitive. To me, “mansplaining” feels like starting a road trip by setting your GPS, beginning your playlist, backing out of the driveway… and having the GPS interrupt your song continuously to tell you how to exit your own neighborhood… every day. True, it’s not as bad as genocide or hate crimes, but it is mildly infuriating when it happens regularly. Here at UVa Law, I’ve had men who have never joined the military tell me what it’s actually like in the Air Force. A guy I was dating told me he knew as much as I do about military discipline because he played sports in college, “and it’s the same thing.” In responding to a question a female officer asked me about my experience at the Air Force Academy, another male officer joined the conversation to insist that’s not what his wife said it was like. I use these examples because my intimate understanding of a topic, which was immediately obvious to both parties, was still not as important as their unproven opinions on the matter. It seems harmless until women start to believe it.
When applying for law school, a Major pulled me into his office the night before my interview to chastise me for not sending him my personal statement to read (which in his mind meant no one had proofread it) and not having my application packet fully together. There was some truth in his assertion that I wasn’t ready yet; I was applying for a prestigious Air Force scholarship program and several law schools while trying to maintain my full workload as a finance officer. But then, he told me, and I quote, “Kim, you’re not going to get anywhere by batting your eyelashes and giggling.” I was working nine to ten hours every weekday and coming in on weekends to tie up loose ends. I had won awards at the Major Command level. I had multiple wing commanders tell me I was the best lieutenant they had, and I had won over the affection of my troops and motivated them to success through sequestration and a government shutdown. And I did all of that without flirting my way to the top. I didn’t need to – I’m a competent military officer. But in that moment, his comment had cast all of that aside. I wondered if I should even bother applying for the program because I felt irreversibly inadequate. Apparently, this was what three years of hard work looked like from the outside. I called my mom in tears on the way home and, knowing I would laugh, she quoted Legally Blonde: “If you’re going to let one lousy prick stand in your way, you’re not the person I thought you were.” By the way, when the rest of the JAG office celebrated my Funded Legal Education Program selection with me, the Major had “a meeting he couldn’t cancel.”
That’s one of many frustrating experiences that I’ve had on my way here. And I know it’s not every woman’s experience – I wish it wasn’t mine. I’m a bright, bubbly, optimistic woman who doesn’t like sharing these stories. Compared to the challenges impoverished women, transgender women, or women of color face, my complaints seem minimal. But I also feel like not sharing gives my male friends permission to say that everything is absolutely perfect for women in this country, and it isn’t.
If your first reaction to this article is to remind me that women are being physically assaulted around the world and that I should get over it, then I’ll remind you that other women becoming victims of gender violence does not make what happened to me okay. Another woman telling you that she’s never experienced gender discrimination doesn’t mean my story no longer exists. Overcoming these cultural obstacles does not take away from anyone else’s success; this isn’t an attack on any man. The men in this article are not “misogynistic pigs.” They simply could benefit from a real conversation about how even some of the most confident, privileged, educated women are still marginalized in everyday situations. We could all benefit. So, let’s have a real conversation about implicit sexism and its impact.
1 Angel Shots are part of a campaign to make women feel safer in public bars. If they are alone with a man, say on a first date, and feel unsafe, then they can order an “Angel Shot” from a bartender who will call a cab and make sure they get into it alone.
2 A two-ton truck running someone else over doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to slap you across the face.