I Read Chanel Miller’s Memoir

Chanel Miller, more commonly known to the public as Emily Doe, was raped by Brock Turner who happened to be a Stanford student, a skilled swimmer, and an aspiring surgeon. Though the media and legal system decided to focus on his past accomplishments, and while they are impressive, he is still a rapist. 

I remember being in Grade 12 ‘World Issues’ class and hearing the seniors talk about this huge media case. It is darkly ironic that I learned about the literal world issue of rape in a class meant to educate us sheltered and naive students on the issues that span further than our classroom. 

Titles like “Stanford rape case: Inside the court documents” from CNN, or “In Stanford Rape Case, Brock Turner Blamed Drinking and Promiscuity” from The New York Times, or “All-American swimmer found guilty of sexually assaulting unconscious woman on Stanford campus” from the Washington Post were posted and read by the masses - all rarely mentioning a victim, a woman, or a name. 

I was a Grade 11 student taking a Grade 12 course and clearly thought I was superior. But this, this news, was something the senior students knew more about than me. I remember the feeling, my throat closing up and my eyes watering when I read about the details of the case frantically on my phone. I wanted to be apart of the discussion, to be in the know. But then I didn’t. I didn’t want to believe that things like this happened or that men like Brock Turner really existed. I went home that night and obsessed over the countless news articles, the harsh commentary, and posts that differed so drastically. I couldn’t believe the way they spoke about her, Emily Doe, the victim. 

It made me sick. I was 16 years old and this was my worst nightmare. 

I am now in my third year of university and I am apart of a sorority, the Chapter President actually - which makes me so proud. I’m not scared to go to a fraternity party or at least not more or less scared than I am to walk home from class alone. If I didn’t go to events and parties, if I didn’t go out to the bars, or go out for dinner with friends out of the fear that I could be raped, I would never leave my bedroom. Why should I miss out on living my life because of the actions of others? Just like program-specific, sports-related, and fraternity-located rape, this culture is an issue with roots dug so deep that it almost feels like the only way to continue living is to accept defeat. But Chanel Miller, at the time stripped of her name and identity decided to fight and began to kill the weeds that have so violently infected the minds of women who began to believe that rape was a result of their own actions. 

I sat in a cafe, here in Waterloo after exams had ended. I was still here for a few days to work but everything had quieted down. Students had gone home to visit their families and now only the few students who would be staying the break remained. The cafe was littered with adults for the first time, like real adults with 9-5 jobs and kids. I sat at a booth with the plan to read for the next three hours until my sister was done work and we could go back to our student house together. It felt creepy being there without my other 5 housemates, the creaking of the floorboards amplified in the silence. A man sat a few tables over and I recognized him - someone who I’d seen before on my frequent stops there during the exam season. 

He would often get up, walk a few paces and sit back down. Stretching his legs, I’m assuming after hours of reading seated on the wooden chairs. I would casually glance up from my page then back down again. He was starting to pack up the newspapers that littered his table when he walked the few paces and leaned against my booth. He asked me what I was reading. I told him, “It’s called ‘Know My Name’” and he asked what it was about, providing reason that he was only asking because he saw that I was so consumed by the book. I told him it was about a rape case, felt my cheeks go red, pushed my glasses back up and continued to read the same line again and again, hoping he would fade away. But he stood there still and slowly nodded his head. He then provided some fact about the amount, or amount reported of rape cases in Ontario. But, I wasn’t listening to him, only to the rapid and uncontrollable beating of my own heart. I wasn’t sure what response he was expecting so I just nodded. He nodded back and slowly retreated to his table. 

I’m not sure why but as I saw him leave the cafe out of the corner of my eye, I started to cry. I was angry at myself for saying the book was only about a rape case. For feeling afraid to talk to this man and for hiding out in a cafe full of adults just so that I wasn’t alone at home. I hadn’t yet cried reading the book, instead felt discomfort, fear, and most of all sadness. I was clearly overwhelmed. 

I read the memoir in fragments. During lulls at work. As a break in between studying. In the car coming home for the holiday break, though this made me dizzy. I unpacked each chapter just as Chanel did her life, trying my best to understand the injustice and the destruction this one man and one corrupted system caused. But I just can’t understand it, it is just not right. 

Chanel Miller’s ‘Know My Name’ is a scream into the void. It is real personal development and real battle. It is unapologetic and uberly relevant. 

I picked this book as the first choice for a book club I started with my friends knowing it would spark discussion. Instead it was the spark that lit a fire. Chanel writes about living in a ‘Me Too’ world where women are encouraged to speak up not only for themselves but to empower others around them who feel and are silenced by sexual violence. She spoke of the men that began to be accused of sexual assault and violence, how the news described it as an avalanche but Miller said it wasn’t comparable to a natural disaster - these events were man-made. “Cosby, 60. Weinstein, 87. Nassar, 169.” (p. 289). I don’t even think I know 169 people, and this one man manipulated and assaulted 169 girls and young women. 

I believe in the power of words, the importance of writing about what you truly believe not in writing for the approval of others. “Know My Name” is not just about giving Emily Doe a name, but about giving all victims a name, a voice, a purpose, and a place. About putting into words an indescribable feeling, the experience of being a woman and feeling disgusted by your own body and what was done to it. 

Chanel Miller is a hero. Chanel Miller is my hero. She is the embodiment of growth and of strength. Her memoir explains triumph and perseverance, of knowing that there will always be a better tomorrow. As a university student, this motivation and belief not in a just world being handed to us, but in a just world that requires fighting is inspirational. It makes me want to be a better advocate for sexual assault awareness and protection. To be someone who works towards destroying the environments in which behaviour like this is encouraged and normalized. 

I highly recommend reading “Know My Name” and once you are done lend your copy to a friend, who can then lend it to one of their friends, or family members, or maybe a stranger on the street. This book should be read in classrooms, on the subway, in cafes, and by everyone.