Random confession time:
3-5 years ago, if I saw a woman appearing traumatized by very mild harassment, I reacted with vague disdain. It wasn’t that I believed that what happened to her wasn’t wrong. I just had this feeling of… that’s what you’re so upset about? I unfollowed a feminist academic when she tweeted about bursting into tears when a guy in a club grabbed her ass. I eyerolled at a woman’s handwringing when a jealous man threatened to release nude photos of her, because there’s no shame in taking nudes, and because by all appearances her successful liberal artist career didn’t seem like it would be threatened by some professional nude shots – and also because what did her handwringing say about ME, a person who had released nudes of her own accord? Was I damaged and less valuable because I had released nudes and she hadn’t?
Now, important distinction: in every scenario, I was not defending the misogyny. I was just side-eyeing all the grandstanding about it. I was like, you really think this is that bad? Well, it turns out the entire time, I was experiencing frequent, often systematic sexual assault that I was splitting off from my experience and repressing. So my baseline experience of being a woman was way off.
So, my response of “Why is this such a big deal? Why are you rallying your entire community over a molehill? Why do you get care over this when I suffer so much more in silence?”
…was actually, translated:
“I am envious because you have better boundaries than I do. You value yourself more than I value myself and so it must be true that you are more valuable than me. I’m jealous that you can make people care about your pain and I can’t. I am trapped in a belief that I’m alone with no one to protect me or care about me, and you’re not. I am jealous of your being nurtured. Somewhere inside I believe my abuse has already rendered me damaged goods unworthy of care, and you’re still fighting for your protection. I’m surviving regular systematic abuse I can’t make anyone care about, but everyone comes to your defense because a dude grabbed your ass once or you’re worried about your nudes.”
Relevant: When I was in 7th grade I was sent to the school guidance counselor for suicidal ideation. I told her about my father’s abuse. She reported everything I said back to my father. When confronted, her response was that because I was discussing suicide she was legally covered.
Also relevant: When I was 14 I tried to emancipate myself from my father. It took a year for the case to reach court. The court-appointed psychological evaluator studying us in the meantime, even though she had witnessed his abuse in session with me, merely said in her recommendation that it was “the only case in her career she had not been able to solve.” At age 15 when the case finally reached court, the judge sent me back, adding that I’d never make it in New York as an actress if I couldn’t handle my father’s behavior.
Also relevant: At age 18 I stopped all contact with him. I informed my small private high school’s administration, a bunch of nuns, of my decision. They gave him a ticket to my graduation ceremony anyway. So I skipped my high school graduation.
I learned very early on, for very good reasons, that when I am abused, people do not give a fuck.
Trouble is, it’s up to me to turn that belief around. If I want people to give a fuck about my being abused, I have to give a fuck too. I’m trying to learn that now. As an adult.
And it doesn’t feel fair, because part of me is still very much that child who could not be expected to help herself, because our society did not grant her the autonomy to do so for the first 18 years of her life. It’s deeply unfair to tell someone for 18 years that she cannot help herself even if she tries, and then for the rest of her life after that to tell her that she is literally the only one who can help herself. That’s fucked up. That’s really fucked up, you guys.
So if I don’t stand for your shitty jokes or obnoxious behavior, if I tell you to fuck off with your ideologies that deny my personhood, no matter how well-intentioned you are, no matter how much they’re “just your opinion,” no matter how much it’s “just a joke” – it’s because I am learning that it is actually not ok. It is actually not ok to abuse me or condone abusing me, and I deserve care too.
Because if I don’t believe it myself first, nobody else is sure as fuck going to do it for me.