Beacon Press: Feminism and Gender
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Feminism and Gender



Recommended Reading In Feminism and Gender

A Cup of Water Under My Bed
Caged Eyes
Pistols and Petticoats
The Only Woman in the Room

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AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT

Lynn Hall

Lynn Hall

Lynn Hall is a memoirist, essayist, and activist in the movement to end sexual violence. She is also a mountaineer who has summited each of Colorado’s 14,000-foot-tall peaks and a runner who has completed a 100-mile ultramarathon. She lives in Boulder.


Author photo: Jennifer Hardman Black
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Caged Eyes:An Air Force Cadet's Story of Rape and Resilience

From the Prologue
 
Mitchell Hall felt colossal to me, inspiring yet humbling, like much of the Air Force Academy. It was not just a cafeteria or a chow hall, but rather a dining facility fit for officer candidates of the world’s most dominant military. Like all of the buildings at the Academy, Mitchell Hall’s outer aluminum frame resembled an airplane’s metallic shell. Inside, two-story panoramic windows opened to the snow-covered pine forests blanketing the Rocky Mountain foothills.
 
Air Force–blue tablecloths adorned four hundred rectangular tables arranged in a perfect grid. We flooded through the doors of Mitchell Hall at the end of the noon meal formation, when awed tourists watched us cadets march to lunch. From the staff tower, a man’s voice commanded, “Wing, take seats,” and all four thousand of us sat in unison. The Air Force Academy bragged that we were the cream of the crop: America’s most driven, disciplined, bright, and honorable young adults, destined for charmed careers, first as Air Force commanders, fighter pilots, or intelligence officers, and later as aerospace engineers, politicians, or generals. A few of us might even reach our most coveted profession—astronaut. To prepare us for these future lives, the Academy packed our schedule with academics, athletics, and military training, which demanded no less than eighteen hours of effort each day of our four-year tenure. We were allowed twenty minutes for the noon meal.
 
It was a Monday in late February 2003, and as an underclassman, I sat at the table’s foot. Waitstaff rushed down the aisles, delivering hot dishes. Today’s meal: Chicken à la King over pasta. I passed the platter to the head of the table so that the seniors could serve themselves first. I sat perfectly still on the front six inches of my chair, back straight, my handsfl at in my lap. I focused my eyes on the black eagle at the top of my white, round plate; otherwise, upperclassmen would demand that I “cage my eyes.” I had not yet earned the privilege of allowing my eyes to stray.
 
There was an excess of energy in the dining hall. Cadets talked loudly, but this buzz wasn’t excitement; it was anger. “Liars,” I heard repeatedly. “Bitches.” Over the weekend, seven women had appeared on ABC’s 20/20 telling their stories of having been raped, ostracized, and punished here at the Air Force Academy. Watching from their computers in their dorm rooms, the cadets in my hallway had erupted in immediate fury, slamming doors and yelling: “Those fucking liars!” “How dare they attack our Academy?” I had watched the seven women on a grainy feed on my laptop in horror. I was angry, too, although I knew each word they spoke was true. One of the women had been raped by the same man who had raped me. My anger at them came from fear. I had trusted those women on TV. Together we had formed a rape survivors’ support group and had shared in painstaking detail what had happened to us. We connected our stories and their similarities and had realized—together—the pervasiveness of our traumas. Nearly simultaneously a handful of the women in our ever-expanding underground network of survivors were discharged from the Air Force. A few left by choice. Some were kicked out after they reported their rape, for offenses such as having sex in the dorms, even though they insisted it wasn’t consensual. Then their collective outrage drove them to seek out the media.
 
But what did they think would happen to us women at the Academy when they went public? While I admired their courage, I felt betrayed—furious that they could be so inconsiderate to those of us left behind.
 
Too nauseated to eat, I held my body taut while the upperclassmen at the head of my table debated “what the fuck was wrong” with these women. All nine cadets I sat with happened to be men, supposedly my Air Force family. “Collaborate to graduate,” cadets often chanted. Graduating from the Academy required tremendous teamwork. Academy administrators designed our training—the academic projects, athletics, inspections, field programs—to foster collaboration and solidarity. As an underclassman, even something as simple as walking to the bathroom was illegal unless a “wingman” came with me. Without a wingman, I’d have to pee in my dorm room sink. Cadet rules were so strictly enforced that the distinction between violating them and breaking actual Academy laws was blurred.
 
One of the seniors directed his attention to my end of the table and asked, “What do you think of those fucking whores who’re tarnishing our Academy?” Fucking whores. I had felt that way about myself. That I was a whore. That’s exactly how my perpetrators had made me feel. Perpetrators, plural. I had been raped by an upperclassman, but I had also been molested back home in the months before becoming a cadet. What kind of weak, helpless girl could be victimized by multiple men? I was smart—my high school’s valedictorian. And I was tough—strong enough to finish the Academy’s rigorous basic training. And yet I had been a victim, too, repeatedly. It wasn’t until I had confessed to my survivors group that I had been assaulted more than once, and another woman had answered, “Me, too,” that I questioned the self-recrimination that for months had kept me silent. Maybe I wasn’t a fucking whore. Maybe there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with me that had brought on the sexual assaults. After the senior’s question, I felt the eyes of the nine men around me monitoring my every twitch. The cadet across the table thrust his closed fist into the air between us, a standard way for a freshman to raise a hand. “Sir, may I make a statement?” The senior nodded to him. The freshman dropped his hand and looked directly at me, a stern, unblinking stare that confirmed my roommate had leaked my secret and that he knew of my own rape allegation. He said, “Sir, I think a woman who gets herself raped isn’t strong
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