Stuff Mom Never Told You is offering a two part series called “A Brief History of Rape” – which is an important, topical, and historical discussion about how ‘Rape Culture’ is not a modern invention – though (inexplicably) many still try to deny it’s existence. It’s so interwoven that others don’t notice it’s there. For most it’s an uncomfortable place to spend an hour. For me, it’s empowering.
Like some of you out there (and statistically speaking – all of you whether you know it or not), I’ve spent the majority of my formative years surrounded by those who would later identify as survivors, in their various forms and with their various connections to rape, and/or abuse, and/or gender-based violence. And/or. And/or.
Many women (like myself) have really shitty stories that don’t involve what most would call “traditional” rape – but they are certainly stories of gender-based abuse. Those aren’t public yet. Someday I’ll write about them. This isn’t that time. More on why “traditional” in quotation marks sucks in a minute.
At the risk of talking about myself too much in the midst of larger, complex issue, I feel as though I must give context to why, I am deliberately removing my personal stories from the conversation. Unwittingly, over time I became desensitized. I started to go into over-identiication mode with the violence I was hearing in my friends’ stories, and because many of them were so close to me on a daily basis, I chose to shut it out and focus on the details and on the patterns of behavior. Let’s face it, these men weren’t all that complicated. I look back at it now and realize that it was the only defense I had…a coping mechanism.
Even today in periods of stress, I will “turn off”. Go cold. Seek logic and pattern over functioning based on emotion (which is hilarious if you know me at any other time). I’ve been told I would’ve made a good doctor because of it. I think it’s probably best I stay out of any profession that fosters that behavior.
I guess that might be at least in part why I ended up going in to Psychology. I wanted to learn how to help someone in crisis…the rest of me wanted to understand why the perpetrators were doing what they were doing. I needed to know how to stop them before they hurt anyone else. I was convinced that if we could figure out what was making them tick, we could save lives. Ah, sweet naiveté. Listen up Psych undergrads…it doesn’t work like that. ;)
In my early teenage years a peer confided in me her personal childhood horror story – the first time she’d ever told anyone of the repeated offenses committed against her – and undoubtedly the last. Unfortunately, It wasn’t my first time hearing a confession like that. For some reason, even at that young age, people always came to me with their darkest secrets. Many times it was far too late for me to do little more than listen and offer a shoulder to cry on. But often they didn’t cry. They were too numb. They just needed to let it out.
But it was what a good friend told me as we sat together on the edge of the lake that still haunts me to this day…me calmly trying [read: panicking internally] to convince her to stay around for a little while longer as she casually mentioned she planned to walk into the water and never look back. “It was always the labels that ended up keeping me from telling anyone in the first place.” she said, “It was as if it [the abuse] wasn’t going to be good enough…or severe enough. It was like I was never going to be accepted by the larger monolith that was ‘Rape Survivorship’.”
*It may sound odd, but no, the vocabulary isn’t exaggerated. For those I socialized with, verbosity was a point of pride. For me, in many ways, demonstrating intelligence became a shield from a world that had proven itself too dangerous. Through academic achievements (and a generous helping of whatever was the opposite of trendy for teenaged girls at the moment: black, oversized clothing, dark makeup and a passing interest in alternative religions), I tried to make myself as undesirable and as unapproachable as possible. I ace bandaged my chest or wore two sports bras at once to stop leering eyes (didn’t help). I wore mens XL t-shirts on my medium frame, and jeans as big as I could possibly wear them before they would fall off while walking. My parents thought it was rebellion. In reality, I thought if I could hide my body, I would have less to deal with from guys and would be safer overall. Again, didn’t help. I’ll write more someday.
I burned a lot of bridges. Most of which I don’t want to rebuild – even now. But as an adult, looking back, understanding the “why” behind my actions, kind of makes some of my “scorched earth philosophy” seem a bit haphazard and reckless…A little dull. Sadly predictable. Like a silly Lifetime melodrama.
Thankfully, my friend ended up deciding walk home with me instead of the water, and from what I see on Facebook, she is doing well, living with her family somewhere in America-land all these years later. I’m not sure if she’s ever told them. Her story is just one of millions. And while I’m happy for her, it pains me to think of how many young girls don’t have someone who is willing to sit by the lake with them until they are able to find their way home again…how many do walk in and don’t turn back.
Given the violent history that the podcast explores, and in the wake of events like Steubenville and Maryville, the dialogue must shift beyond survivor blame. It must also take into account that survivors may not recognize their own traumas as being “enough”.
In terms of the modern discussion, perhaps instead of focusing on the strawmen of alcohol usage, “inappropriate” clothing, and the use of things like smartphones, we can talk about what actually matters?
Things like: the connections between women’s rights, marital/spousal sexual abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, abuse of those with I/DD, classism, racism (rapes and assaults often go underreported or ignored in communities of color), LGBTQI issues, workplace violence, systemic poverty, addiction issues, cycles of abuse, the glamorization of sexual violence/prison culture in the media, mental health advocacy, prisoners’ welfare/advocacy, juvenile-to-prison systems …you know…the real things..the hard stuff?