Padma Lakshmi on Going Public With Her Assault: "I Have Slayed the Dragon by Calling Out its Name"
During the heat of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony at the Kavanaugh hearing back in September, women rose up from every corner of the country to show support for Dr. Ford, by speaking up on her behalf or speaking out about assault experiences of their own.
One such woman, Top Chef host and executive producer Padma Lakshmi, also made headlines in September when she revealed for the first time in a New York Times op-ed that she, too, had been raped at age 16. She felt compelled to come forward about her trauma to support women who wait years to talk about their experience or choose never speak about it at all. Her bravery, inspired by Dr. Blasey Ford, was not easy to muster. But with the support of women like former WNBA president and now Time’s Up's first president, Lisa Borders, Lakshmi says she’s ready to speak aloud the horror she experienced, and to continue talking about it.
When Lakshmi took the mic at a dinner to honor Borders in New York on Tuesday — as she assumes her role and sets the organizations focus on changing culture, companies, and laws to uplift and protect women — she began by talking about her op-ed. She shared how difficult the experience was to talk about and noted that this occasion was only the third time she’d said, “I was raped,” aloud in a crowded room, which doesn't work for everyone, but has for her. “Obviously the rape doesn't define me but saying it out loud allows me to get a lot of power back,” she said. “I was always afraid of my own history, and it made me so insecure. I have just slayed the dragon by calling out its name. I encourage you all to do that.”
Lakshmi recounted the story of Borders transferring a maternal kind of confidence to her with a simple hand squeeze, at a recent panel while discussing her assault. The inaugural Conversations for Change dinner was hosted by The Glenlivet Scotch whiskey and several power players in the Time’s Up arena, including Lakshmi as well as Amanda de Cadenet, Andreja Pejić, Anja Rubik, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Cindi Leive, Inez van Lamsweerde, Liya Kebede, and Shirin Neshat. Actually, fashion-world haunt Indochine was filled to the brim with powerful women from Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts and Amy Schumer to male allies like Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano.
Lakshmi went on to talk about this new power she was still figuring out how to wield, and the comfort she feels now that Time’s Up is in Borders’s capable hands. It is the new president’s empathy that Lakshmi latched onto immediately and shared with the room. “More than anything, the characteristic that I have come to appreciate the most in people, is yes intelligence, yes fairness, yes all that, but most of all it’s empathy,” she said. “When you truly understand how to be empathic, you understand the world.”
Empathy became the theme of the night as Borders went on to challenge everyone with a call to action: “Each one, reach one. It is just that simple,” she said, to which the room responded with applause. She also called on the men and LGBTQ people in the room to help Time’s Up grow and support more than the some 3,500 people the legal defense fund has already assisted in its first year. Inclusion was a sentiment Schumer and Pejić echoed in their speeches. “I want to thank Time’s Up for teaching me that you can’t talk about feminism without mentioning women of color as well,” Schumer said. “I thought that just seeing everyone as equal was enough. But it’s not.”
In closing, Pejić, who stars in The Girl in the Spider’s Web alongside Claire Foy, urged the room to include transgender women in their thoughts when working toward gender equality. “I think it's time for us to rise, ladies, and I think it's time for us to rule,” she said. “But as we rise and as we rule, let's not forget about that group of women who were not given their womanhood at birth, but who had to fight for it tooth and nail, who had to fight for their womanhood, because they are women, too; they work hard, too — and we are feminists, too.”