We must see, and be changed.
We must listen to the women and girls, and some men, telling their truths, bravely drawing aside the curtain to reveal their scars.
Almost all the women I know have a story of abuse, from the brutish and violent to the excused “boys will be boys” or the laughed-off workplace violation. There are no socioeconomic barriers to the systemic nature of these stories, they have happened in schools, bars, churches and locker rooms, at universities, bus stops, internships, doctor’s offices, and workplaces around the globe. The common denominator? The devaluation of women, of her right to ownership of her body. The systematic shaming that forces her into silence until something so egregious happens that she is forced to tell her story out loud.
We’ve all heard it:
“It’s a compliment, love!”,
“You’re a tease, what did you expect?”
“Don’t make mountain out of a molehill.”
“This is how you get ahead in this biz.”
“You were asking for it… by drinking / flirting / wearing a short skirt / wearing makeup”
How do we make sense of this, how do we answer the competing voices with clarity, bravery and compassion?
This morning I had reached a point in my memoir manuscript which I had merely placed in parentheses “… (X kiss…/ att’d rape.. / rescue).
I couldn’t bring myself to write That Story. It was too hard, too real. “No one wants to read that much truth”, my inner voice said. But the flood of #metoo posts gave me courage. Courage to tell this story;
This story, I had been conditioned to believe, was my fault. Because, in a world quietly dedicated to the comfort and happiness of men, the very fact of being sixteen and at a party, gave a boy two years my senior permission to use his hormone-fueled strength to force himself on me. This story that, but for the care of another boy, who remains a friend to this day, could have ended with me being yet another girl raped at a party. It is a little over 26 years ago, and yet I can still feel the adrenaline and panic cutting through the wine in my blood stream, I can still feel the bruises blooming on my thighs and abdomen, marks left as he tried to force me into submission. I remember being embarrassed in front of my savior, like I had caused him an inconvenience. I remember being grateful that I wouldn’t have to reveal to my parents what really went on at those “safe” house parties with trusted friends. But, most of all, I remember the shame that I had allowed myself to be in this position.
It was not the first time someone had violated me. I had already absorbed the message that girls are for boys’ enjoyment, that our primary function was to look pretty, be amenable and available. To disagree with any of the above was to make yourself outcast – a fate worse than death. My erstwhile rapist however, suffered no sanction, he continued to be invited to parties and seeing him would send me straight for the door, or the bar, whichever were closest. I was in the wrong, I had asked for it. So I hid.
I look back over the years and silently chronicle the occasions along with my sisters; from groping in bars and bus queues, to men three times my age ogling and chatting me up while on work experience in a Crown Court, to the almost daily struggle to be seen as a thoughtful, capable, serious human and not just a set of parts to be admired or sexualized.
The most difficult and redeeming thing about writing a memoir is examining our story with clear eyes and thoughtful judgement. Our history impacts our future, and unless brought into the light and seen, really seen, can haunt our present with its ghosts. I had, until really recently, internalized a sense of shame and fear around sex, shame that has its genesis on that hot July night in 1991. I was constantly conflicted about being seen as attractive, a simultaneous blessing and curse, especially in Christian ministry. I have carried this baggage well into my walk with Jesus, into my marriage, and as I sit here writing I have to fight the internalized conditioning; the voice shouting at me that I’m making a fuss about nothing.
It ends here. I will tell my stories, and I will fight for women and girls to be protected from experiencing the same. I will raise men who hold their fellow men to a higher standard, and who will believe the women in their lives when they have the courage to tell their story.
My sweet husband sent me this text this morning, and I had to pull over when Siri read it to me:
“You never know how strong you truly are until being strong is your only choice.”
I am so proud to be part of a community of women who are willing to brave the glare of public scrutiny and tell their stories. Together we are strong. Together we will change the world.
Fight on, sisters. You are seen!