I don’t think a single one of us made it through the election without having scoffed at Aiken’s incompetence, fumed over Murdock’s malevolence, and pillow-screamed over Romney/Ryan’s tyranny. There was a seemingly omnipresent weight suffocating our efforts and pushing us, decades back, into an even higher state of gender imbalance. But through awe-inspiring determination and impeccable organization, we defeated them.
We shut them down with our voices, and with our votes.
But what now? How do we manage the relief efforts of a post-douchebag democracy? Because while they might have been kicked out of office, their ideas and values have been left behind, spread throughout a nation of impressionable youth, without nearly enough designated effort to halt their potential destruction.
This is where we must, without hesitation and without surrender, jump in and continue our work.
During this past semester in college, we had a campus police officer come to our classrooms and preach to us girls the safety measures we were to take in order to avoid becoming victims of rape or sexual assault. It had all the essentials of a misogynistic, slut shaming sermon: ensure modest skirt lengths, don’t drink from open containers, just met him – don’t trust him, the whole package. In my class evaluation of the presentation, I left nothing short of a novel detailing my disgust at the lack of root cause acknowledgement. Because, as usual, not one word was used to chastise the act of assault itself, not one word was used in the name of respect and decent human behavior. It was a wasted opportunity, and another nail in the coffin of an entire culture of suppressed voices.
I raged, for weeks, before finally receiving the promise of a real world relief: a presentation on sexual assault facilitated by the campus Rainbow Alliance. I was overcome with the sweet assurance that somebody might finally get it. As the man spoke, I couldn’t help but to shed a few tears, even let out a few bursts of applause. It was everything I had been waiting -longing- to hear.
But then he surprised me. And I began to relate, frighteningly more than I had expected to. I fought back, hard.
He was my boyfriend.
In the following weeks, I desperately searched for any factor that could disqualify what had happened to me from sexual assault. Nothing came. I started asking myself how I had let this experience etch its way into my life without proper labeling. I asked myself how I had possibly accepted this as anything less than the atrocity it was. I had known it was wrong, and I had thought that was normal.
Accompanying the expected, yet unjust, shame that came along with this experience, I felt a new kind of shame. I had let society weasel its way into my mind, convincing me that I had walked into the situation, that I had said yes to the date, that I had started the kiss, that I hadn’t made myself clear enough, that I hadn’t fought hard enough. I had been convinced that it was my responsibility. My fault. Me.
And THEN, I started finding myself in a state of emergency, in desperate need of a dose of fuckthatshit. In tandem with a quiet hilltop, a friendly ear, and a fierce tongue returned my long lost stability, reconnected me with my feminist roots and reminded me that I didn’t put myself in any situation, that I didn’t ask for it, that I didn’t LET anything happen to me.
That has yet to last long.
I’m left with confusion. I’m left trying to understand how the culture of rape and sexual assault in this country, facilitated by politics and media, was able to penetrate my confidence and dismantle what I thought was a solid awareness in, and unity with, my womanhood and my rights.
But again, I must remember that the blame is not on me. It’s not on us. I think that unfortunately, our bodies are not the only thing at risk for being taken advantage of. Our minds must be equally prioritized on the threat list. Which means that our efforts might be best spent aiding our fellow women by speaking clearly that there is NEVER an action, never a circumstance, which validates a man’s choice to assault a woman.
We need to enable men and women alike to recognize the issue when it occurs.
We need to teach men and women alike, that there is no relationship status or commitment length that excuses or invalidates assault.
We need to instill in men and women alike that just as women have a right to make decisions regarding our own body, men do too. This emphasizes that not only can men stop rape and assault, but they must.
And lastly, we need to always remember that no middle-aged, balding, white, male politician knows more about rape, assault, and survival than us.
I suppose I’m writing this because I knew these things all along, and still, being in a situation where I need to believe them is proving harder than I could have ever imagined. I suppose I’m writing this, because there are some who are even less fortunate than I. There are girls and women who didn’t grow up with two brilliant and strong sisters to look to for support, who never witnessed the courage and decisiveness in their stay-at-home mother, who were never graced with the understanding and patience of a great friend, and who never were privileged to learn from the most inspiring and compassionate educators anyone could ever ask for. I had everything I needed, every tool necessary to help rebuild my life. And I look at where I am, I see how far from okay I really am, and my heart breaks. What advice could I possibly give anyone else in this situation? When I see no end in sight for my shit-storm of emotions, how can I be the positive example I want to be? Maybe I can’t right now. Maybe I don’t actually know why I’m writing this.
I hope that it’s freeing. I hope that people are understanding, maybe even more so than I was myself. I hope that it makes people think and talk and act.
But honestly, I could write an entire memoir just on how difficult it was to write this one.
And that sucks.