A word of caution: The following post has heavy feels and addresses sexual trauma.
I was eleven the first time a friend confided in me that she had been sexually abused. I was fourteen the next time. When a friend told me that a neighbor had molested her and another girl on her street. I was sixteen when an adult, female, relative told me her abuse story. I was 18 the first time a male told me his story….
The pattern continues like a thread through my life. The confidences weaving in during late night talks in bedrooms, in basements, on rooftops - with hushed tones, clasped hands and numbed, griefed expressions. As a girl and later a woman, no-one taught me how to receive these stories, what to do with them or how to contain them but as they came it was clear to me that they must be contained. Like monthly cycles, and family christmas card lists this was something for women and girls to manage; quietly, discreetly and independently. My whole life prepared me for it. The tiny details of my socialization as a girl taught me to listen, to feel and not to act.
In 2017 when #metoo splashed on to the scene my initial reaction was “#noduh” or “#abouttime”. How could this possibly be a surprise to anyone? But as things moved forward I realized no one was really shocked by the stories or the prevalence. The shock was the act. The act of women speaking publicly and people paying attention.
The new refrain of the #metoo backlash is a so called “rejection of victimhood”. A slight few conservative women had come out to say it that they two have been abused but that it doesn’t matter it hasn’t affected them, “Let’s all move on” They say “Let’s talk about something else.”
The weekend of October 5th I was seething with anger. There was a walkout to protest the pending Kavanaugh confirmation in my city but I knew participation would get me disciplined at work. I can’t risk the income stream that feeds my child. When the confirmation was completed.I wanted to do more than just walk out. I wanted to wreck things. I wanted to burn it down. I wanted to go through the richest, whitest neighborhood in town and rip the male symbols off of old volvos. I wanted to smash the windows out of a hooters and drag frat boys from their beer splattered dens into the streets.
I had my daughter by myself all weekend, she is six. We, ran errands, got out the halloween decorations, painted mini pumpkins, and cooked together. I took some great photos to send to her great grandparents.
When I got to work on Monday the 8th. I wanted, so badly, speak my anger to my co-workers. I talked about the pumpkin painting. Unless you were working in media or workplace diversity or education no one was talking about it. When I see other parents, we don’t talk about it. Sometimes at the dojo we make sad jokes about it. But even there we dampen our anger. We chuckle it off as just another postmodern absurdity.
Our late night whisperings have a new sphere now. Don’t talk about it with your neighbors or co-workers. We should take it to twitter where can feel like we are telling the world but people can filter it out of their feeds. Block it. Silence it. Stick it back into those virtual version of bedrooms, rooftops and basements so women can get back to carrying it without showing it so as not to upset the men around us.
As a mother of a daughter I am constantly vigilant against signs of a threat that could come from anywhere. I want her to be able to declare her boundaries, to defend them if necessary and to tell if someone crosses them.
The other day my daughter presented with a rash on her vulva and labia. I asked her gently, “Have you been rubbing your vulva a-lot?”
“No” She said casually
As I squeezed out a dollop of cream onto her finger for her, I followed up in the most casual and clinical tone I could manage “Has anyone else been touching your vulva?”
“No” she replied,
A wave of qualified relief washed over me. As far as I can tell she’s been kept safe thus far from the most frightening forms abuse or exploitation. But we live in a world where the Kavanaughs win and even young girls have their secrets. And what of the faithful night when she is initiated into the real covenant of womanhood? When she becomes the first keeper of someone’s horrifying story? How am I preparing her for that? I haven’t seen it in the parenting guides, her pediatrician hasn’t mentioned it. Will there be hashtag for it?