I watched a video this morning that featured a young woman and a beautiful musical piece she composed for a class at NYU. I reacted as humans often do when we are moved by artistic talent– goosebumps, a heart-wrenched feeling in my chest, and tears streaming down my face.
Click here for the video and skip ahead to 18:30 to see the woman I mentioned.
Earlier this morning I read more news and commentary about the Stanford rapist who, after being caught in the act of brutalizing an intoxicated young woman whom he’d taken from a party and dragged behind a dumpster, received a disgustingly light 6 month sentence for his horrific crime. You can read the victim’s statement here; it is gut-wrenching, powerful, and illustrates everything that is wrong with our culture and legal system in regard to rape and the value of men’s lives over women’s.
I played the music video again and my tears turned to sobs. I cried out of fear that someone (or lots of someones) might steal pieces of this incredibly talented young woman’s spirit– that her spirit and musical gift might someday be raped, beaten, or tormented into silence. I cried for the victim in the Stanford case, for all the women I know who have been raped, and for the statistical inevitability that some (many) of the young girls I know will also be raped someday.
And I cried for me– because I am a fraction of the woman I once was and might have been had I not experienced so much violence at the hands of men. I cried for all the terrifying memories I live with and for the ones buried so deeply I know them only as nightmares that interrupt my sleep, often four or five times a night, dragging me down the for days with the sensation of being caught between the past and the present. I cried for the pieces of my spirit that were beaten, raped, and tormented out of existence and for how hard I have fought to hang on to what is left. But mostly I cried because there seems to be no end to this fight for me and every other woman who has or will have a piece of her spirit taken by a man who did, simply because he could
Yeah, yeah I know; not all men. Yeah… no. Forget that shit. I will not sanitize this issue for you by speaking about it in a “fair and balanced” way or spend my time praising men for not raping and abusing women. I don’t see anyone taking time out of their day to thank people for not murdering them and I don’t recall receiving any thanks for not acting upon my revenge fantasies or for not continuing the cycle of violence I grew up with. If your response to words like mine is “not all men,” you ARE part of problem– whether you realize it or not.
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At my best I am able to see the lemonade I’ve made out of these rotten lemons. I shower (and sometimes overwhelm) my sons with the love and protection I wasn’t given as a child. I’ve chosen a career in service to people who have suffered similar traumas and my personal experiences enhance my ability to do that work. I’ve sat with friends as they’ve struggled to survive their own traumas. And I’ve spoken up as often and as well as I can in the ever-fading hope that someday change will come. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to do all of these things hadn’t experienced trauma first hand; or maybe I would be able to do all of this AND more. The fact is, I’ll never know.
These traumas live inside of me and, most likely, they always will. There is healing, but there is no complete letting go of the past because I live in a world of constant reminders. Every day social media, the news, or basic interactions with people remind me that at any moment a man could decide to forever change or end my life and I probably wouldn’t be able to stop him.
And like many survivors, what I am most triggered by is everything that happened, or rather DIDN’T happen, after those events. No one swooped in to save me from the perpetrator of the moment– my abusive father, the man who raped me, my abusive boyfriend, the man who stalked me, the boss who sexually harassed me, my abusive husband, or the creep who snuck into a room where I was sleeping with my children and exposed himself to me. How many times did I hear, “why would he do that?” from someone? Asking a victim to speak to her attackers state of mind is just a backhanded way of saying “I don’t believe you?” None of these men were ever held accountable for their choices and actions in any real way. I was a blip on the radar screen for most if not all of these men and they have all carried on with their lives, seemingly unaffected by the damage they caused. (And if you are tempted to pipe up with some spiritual bullshit about how they ARE affected on some cosmic or karmic level, please don’t. Karma doesn’t stop my nightmares, help me function on the daily, or make me any less afraid to leave my house.)
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So here I am, crying over a damn youtube video and writing these words behind closed curtains on a beautiful sunny day. Here I am wondering what the world would be like if women and girls were able to reach for their full potential without the constant threat of our bodies and spirits being desecrated by men. Here I am wondering what level of healing we might reach if more people cared enough to speak out and justice was served. Here I am, exhausted and wondering when or if I will ever feel safe enough to sleep the whole night through.