“Mostly, I just wanted you to know that you are not alone.” So writes Samantha Geimer to the Steubenville “Jane Doe” in the concluding pages of her book, The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. Geimer continues, “As this fades away to a memory of longer and longer ago, you are not alone. We are survivors, we are many, we are strong.” Geimer’s The Girlrecounts her girlhood, adolescence, and young adulthood as the person caught in the international media firestorm of the 1977 Roman Polanski rape case. Driven in 2009 to reclaim her own narrative and her own truth from decades of intrusive reporting, Samantha explains how her journey towards justice was grossly distorted by an inadequate legal system and sensationalist media.
By refusing to solely focus on that infamous day in 1977, Samantha directs readers to contextualize that story within her personal life and changes in national culture. We are welcomed to meet more than just “The Girl.”
While making my way through Geimer’s book, especially after the tragic news from this week, I was reminded yet again about how our national media can all too frequently terrorizes those who can come forward with their assault. Samantha painfully reflects on how the media disrupted three generations of her family–unjustly condemning her mother, forcing Samantha to take refuge from the onslaught of cameras and microphones for over three decades, and now forcing her sons to chase down reporters from their home. Samantha also implicitly places culpability upon those of us who, knowingly or not, consume media that is not motivated by justice but instead by capitalist spectacle. Samantha Geimer’s The Girl reminds all actors in today’s media environment the importance of supporting survivor’s own voices, to resist the toxicity of the press, and the necessity to keep people human, not just gossip and stories.
And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Samantha Geimer.
Suzanna Bobadilla: In the prologue of your book, you explain the motivation for writing as your desire to reclaim your truth from the wider media. Could you explain more about how you see the role narrative falling within justice?
Samantha Geimer: I spent a lot of years not talking about what had happened. Which allowed a lot of other people to talk what they think happened or their opinion about what they think happened. There has been such various outrageous statement and options from both ends of the spectrum that the truth of what happened was lost a long time ago. I wanted to tell my truth, what really happened, and how I experienced and felt about it, so it’s there if anyone was interested.
SB: I was really moved by the open letter you wrote to “Jane Doe” at the conclusion of your book. What advice would you give to survivors who are struggling to find justice, especially given media scrutiny?
SG: I’m still surprised to see that it happens to young people now, the way that it happened to me. My advice is that you can’t control it. You have to live through it, you know who you are. You know what happened to you, you don’t have to feel the burden of other people’s opinions or insults. You should stand firm in who you are and what happened and who you are as a person. What other people say about you doesn’t matter, you have to put aside what strangers say. Unfortunately, you have to accept, especially with the legal system and the media the way they are, you can only control a little. It isn’t fair, but you’ll get past it. Many other women and men have gone through this experience, you are not all by yourself. You shouldn’t feel alone and you shouldn’t let other people tell you how to feel. You have to hold your head up and get your way through it the best way you can. And one day it will be behind you.
SB: More about the media: do you have suggestions for those of us who are media consumers and who want to resist this kind of ubiquitous sensationalism?
SG: If we remember that all of these people that we are talking about–or are listening to people talk about–are human beings. They are real people with families and friends and hearts. The victims and the perpetuators have families, they aren’t caricatures made for TV-News. By remembering that they are humans, that might make you feel different when you are talking about something or when you are listening or writing or reading something.
SB: Who is your real life feminist hero?
SG: My real life hero would be my mom because she was a women’s libber. She wore a big medallion and went to the rallies and held the signs. She fought for all the things that I now take for granted. She taught me that women are equal and she was out there personally to made it happen. She would be my hero because I watched her do it.
SB: You are on a desert island, you get to bring one drink, one food, and one feminist. What do you pick?
SG: One drink I would want to have is an ice cold beer. One food would have to be a nice lean steak. Someone would I would want to talk with would be Hillary Clinton. I don’t know how she feels about beer and steak but who knows!