When I wrote this post one month and a day ago, I was busy trying to emerge from the traumatizing fog of PTSD that occluded my hope as a woman; I was using my words as therapy, as so many women were doing around this time.
The topic of sexual assault is evergreen, unfortunately. One of many straws crippling the camel’s back.
When was your first sexual assault, i.e. when did you learn that your identity could be reduced to that of an object? The stories are making the rounds on Facebook today. When did you feel the first disappointing sweep of realization that the world could be scary and that those perpetrating said scarinesses, would be defended, excused, justified? In the maelstrom of my childhood to adolescence and on into womanhood, I have survived many incidents.
Was it when I discovered porn in my house at four-years old? And not your garden variety either…these were poster-sized photos my father had tucked into a cupboard in a den of our home. A lovely sunny and yellow room. At child-level height. Was it when I overheard an uncle talk to my dad in salacious tones about how his girls were really maturing, and the reviled expression my dad shot him (irony to be explained later.) Was it when a doctor examining my wrist from repetitive-motion tendonitis spread his legs and rolled in closer on his chair, so my knee touched his inner thigh and grazed his penis (I was 16.) Was it the first or second time a man exposed themselves to me—once in a car on the way to work as I was walking, another time through the front windows of the grocery store where I shrunk inside myself as he jacked off? Was it the high school teacher who touched my ass as he was addressing the rest of the class and insisted in one scene of our play he was directing, that I would have to jump naked out of a cake? He was not allowed to teach children of a certain age and had to find a job at a college when I was through with him. Maybe it was when I had to get angry and shove off a boy in high school who told me I wanted it, who did his damndest to coax me into sex. Was it when I was raped? Or was it when my father went to prison for child molestation, calling into question every moment I ever shared with him and his secret thoughts?
You know… I lose track.
This is the pervasive culture. Every woman in everyday life has been reduced to her appearance. Has had the whole of her being diminished. And we have gotten used to it sadly.
Believe me, I understand locker room talk. This wasn’t locker room talk. The words “grab” and “I just can’t help myself” when discussing how Trump kisses women, scared me. I thought immediately of what I would do if in front of him, of how I would feel, and the word I am searching for: afraid. He writes his own rules of conduct and they include hurting people. I thought of how I could ever possibly explain to my daughter that what he said would ever be okay. Challenged myself to come up with some way of explaining things so that we could all go back to just being in awe at how far a man devoid of such compassion had come in a race for the most important office in world. I can’t and I couldn’t.
Because we are more than our salacious parts as women. Because in order to survive and get along, we have to be quiet about our feelings. And because I wish my child didn’t have to endure such a brutal shot to her identity.
So, I can’t be quiet on this front.
I shouldn’t be quiet on any front…Trump mocking a disabled reporter, taking potshots at people and rendering them defenseless because he goes for the jugular of what they can’t help: race, sex, physical condition. He goes for the tender parts of ourselves that when attacked, lead to the questioning of who we are…of how people see us…am I just a vagina? Am I a pair of lips, is the definition of me really so basic and uncomplicated as to reside in-between my legs? And why don’t I get to own my definition? Why don’t I get to walk around feeling safe? Why doesn’t any woman? We aren’t being silent. We are telling you to stop taking from us. To stop seeing our bodies as disconnected from our hearts and brains. We are telling you we need your help to turn the culture. We are telling you it hurts.
Listen, I can joke right along with the rest of them, but this isn’t levity. Trump is a setback. His leadership would be a devastation to the progress of the women’s rights movement.
My needs as a citizen are simple really. The safety to walk down the street, keep your hands out of my “pussy” and don’t advance to me unless I tell you, you are allowed in. To be heard no matter which minority box I have to check. Because the rights of the less fortunate are not unimportant, are not to be treated as insignificant compared to others who may hold more power and influence.
Rape culture is real to every single woman out there. It is acknowledged at their centers even if they do not speak of it…even in jest when they insert themselves into scenarios and wonder how they would defend themselves; even in bravado, when they declare they would kill a fucker who laid a finger on them, because underlying those facade statements is the truth of their proclamation: I had to stop and think about how I would fight off a man, because I am deemed to be lesser in this scenario…because I can’t trust the people not pegged as victims to defend me. So I have to rely on myself… Laughing off the offensive talk. Joking with a man that they picked the wrong woman to mess with as she chuckles darkly, that they will learn the meaning of castration if they come closer. Hoping these mechanisms will work and the man will leave her alone. Not able to take the energy out of her day to even educate men on the right to be respected just because she is a human and deserving, but settling for…please, please just go away and leave me the fuck alone.
We hope for leave me the fuck alone versus empathy and support.
These are defenses, no matter how they are rooted…they exist and they are stated because the situation exists. It is alive and well in the pervasive rape culture. Do you really want a world where women can walk around and assault men? Grab their penises? Did that make you shudder? Did you think, I would kick their ass and so it would never happen? But you had to think about it didn’t you? And even if you laughed at the prospect, you still had to consider someone taking away a piece of yourself without permission.
You still heard your inner voice blurt, “How dare they! What right do they have?”
Why? Because men should be afforded authority over their bodies?
You get to have that permission, as does every woman, and if you, a brawny man is able to fend off perverts, for every one of you are legions of women who don’t possess the physical strength, the confidence, the ability to fight through fear, the indefinable quality that allows women to say “no.” Or even whisper it through tears, or even shout it until she strains a vocal chord and yet she is still not heard. Even our volume doesn’t matter. Some women are rendered frozen in horror, are young and have been taught this is the way things are, think they deserve it, they should, at some point, expect it. It is not as simple as saying NO, as finding the courage amid a situation that should never transpire.
It is about a culture that grooms women to anticipate facing sexual assault without consequence to their attacker.
It is never okay, not in jest, not physically. It can’t be forgotten (not even after a rousing good joke!), but becomes trauma gouging out a tangible river in our brains which controls our thoughts, feelings and reactions. Women who have survived have had their motivations and responses reprogrammed from terroristic moments in their lives.
Trust issues, anyone? Intimacy hesitation, maybe?
Yes, we need to be strong women as we push off physical advances, but we also need to be granite in terms of what we allow to define us. Because we have been reduced in opinion, doesn’t make it so.
You know you are the sum of your holistic self. The person you decide you are.
But men, we need you, too. We need you to support us if we can’t do it, when we falter as we try and remain strong through what are often lifelong ordeals and incidences. We need you to band together and teach young men that women are people, not “pussies.” They have deep, complex elements to their being; in order to to flourish, we require support, cheerleading and the love of good, caring men to condemn a culture that is intensely painful to the women you love: your mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, friends and wives.
The “pussies” are fighting back, and have you ever seen an angry cat? When you encounter one on your path, you have two choices: get out of their way, or get clawed to death.
Okay…maybe I am a little angry. A lifetime of deliberate oppression and objectification tends to do that to a person.
But as long as this cat draws breath, I will continue to scrap in the catfight.
Original article by Hilary Lauren Jastram/Huff Post
Photo credit: IOSONOUNAFOTOCAMERA/Trump