This is going to get heavy, but I promise it will get better. Just probably not today. Unfortunately, this isn’t even an article about bras.
For anyone who pays attention to American news, this has been a triggering couple of weeks. Victim blaming has reminded many of us why we stayed quiet in crucial moments. The credibility of those brave enough to speak has been called into question because the women were young, drunk or both. Anger has made me shaky and hot. Then freezing. Then hot again.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse, harassment and rape. All these things happened on more than one occasion, and I never reported any of them to law enforcement. In almost all of those instances, I felt that I shared part of the blame. I gave myself reasons for this. For instance: I didn’t fight back hard enough (even though fighting at all made the agony worse). I was asleep naked (as if that were an invitation). I had been too close to the perpetrator. I was related to the perpetrator. I hadn’t bought myself a lock for my bedroom door.
Add these to a culture which, where I lived, shamed women who were not virgins until they married. My ‘greatest gift’ was gone. I was used. I was that chewed piece of gum held up triumphantly in sex ed to the rhetorical question, ‘And who would want a chewed piece of gum?’ I’d chewed my boyfriend’s gum once, trying to get a raspberry pip out of my teeth. It fell apart in my mouth. No one wants chewed gum.
And yet, telling my mother that I had chosen to have sex was easier than telling her that I’d been forced. It carried an air of rebellion with it, a rejection of the religion that would now reject me. Months later, when I told her the truth, she didn’t want to hear about it – but she did ask me questions that put me on the back foot. Was it the first time I’d had my clothes off around him? Why was I alone with him? Was it still going on? Rather than feeling supported, I believed that I’d had a hand in my own rape. Never mind that I’d bled for days afterward, or that the stress nearly made me lose my mind.
Not every girl’s ‘loving family’ is ready to give her agency, especially if the family religion belittles anyone without a hymen. Best keep it quiet.
But back to the present day. I write this after Christine Blasey Ford provided testimony filled with vivid detail, including the increased volume of a stereo when two men closed her in a bedroom with them. Her silencing was the most frightening thing for her. She also spoke out knowing that it might not make a difference.
Throughout the internationally reported ‘pre- and post-hearing’, the phrase ‘ruining a man’s life’ has been bandied about with particular abandon. As if barring a man from sitting on the Supreme Court ruins his life (not that he’ll ever know). Moreover, this attitude ignores the women’s lives that have been ruined by male entitlement. The hours of therapy we have paid for, the silence, the learned helplessness, the loss of confidence, even the inability to show complete love to our chosen partners – these are the tax of being a woman with a past of compromised safety.
Blaming women for not reporting their own abuse is fairly standard these days, usually accompanied by the implication that future victims are on the first victim’s head. However, the low rate of conviction (or even belief) also begs the question – which of us are worth protecting, and which of us are to be left without justice, our credibility compromised by our own vulnerability? Within this framework of partisan justice, is it any surprise that so many of us stay silent?