This Woman’s Work: Navigating Sexual Violence, Harassment and all the other Crap

December 10th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Amber,

I was reading an older essay (trigger warning: it’s difficult to read) of Latoya’s over on Racialicious.com about her experience, and those of her friends, of “not rape” or the many forms of sexual violence. It was heavy and deep, and I suddenly began to cry as I read the comments section – so many women describing their own experiences. It was as Latoya wrote – a widespread occurrence and a culture that is too often accepted.

At first, I thought of how my own life did not reflect the experiences of these women. I was grateful that I had never experienced the violence they had. I’ve thankfully never had a boy or a man use his strength against me. But as I continued to reflect, I realized how this violence had in fact crept into my own life. It is widespread. It is invasive. It is ever-present. A threat.

I remembered the boy in grammar school whose hand went to my thigh every time we sat next to each other. How I alternated between pushing his hand away and trying to ignore him as he crept further up or rubbed my thigh until I had no choice but to try to make him stop….again. To this day, I wonder how that really affected me, an 11 year old.

I remembered standing on the corner waiting for my bus when a man walked by, stopped, turned back and asked if I wanted to wait in the front hall of his building. I wondered if another 13 year old girl was not as smart as I.

I remembered the man, clearly much older than me, staring at me at 15, practically following me (how far if I had not turned around?) – a funny story I tell, but with a definite creep factor.

I remembered the letter sent home explaining that one of my classmates had been assaulted. I remembered a friend, so inescapably broken, describing how she’d given head to all these older boys, one telling the other to go find her.

I remembered the stories told by friends of the violence they had experienced – the brokenness they carried with them. I remembered the male friend who asked me, “why do women feel ashamed after being raped? It’s not their fault,” and the shock I felt when I realized he didn’t understand what every woman, whether having been raped or not, understands.

I realized I did, in some small way, know Latoya’s story. I was not as far removed as I thought. And I began to think of all the ways we get so used to it. To the stories. To not remembering them. To casting them aside as an afterthought. We get so used to the battles.

I felt the same way when I read a post on PostBourgie. It was amazing. I felt like I had my eyes opened – “I wasn’t the only one!” She described her experience of being unable to walk down the street without someone stopping her, wanting to talk to her, wanting her number, just wanting a reaction. I read with such satisfaction to realize I wasn’t the only woman who avoided the eyes of men while walking home. I felt so amazed at realizing, hey…maybe this really wasn’t okay?! (and I call myself a [sorta] feminist.)

I have even started to really (you know…truly) notice what makes me uncomfortable. That it isn’t unreasonable for me to become irritated or closed-off when cornered by a man with that look – you know ladies, that look that is “interested” but really only in you as an object, smiling at you like they may have found a prize. You know that feeling.

But too often I second-guess my feelings, wondering if I should really just give them a chance or not be so “mean” or smile because that’s what’s expected of me. It gets so tiring. 

And inevitably these thoughts lead me to recall the fights with my father, starting in high school – his insistence on picking me up from the bus stop after dark, his wanting to know where I’m going and when I’ll be back, my resentment at these intrusions on my life – intrusions that exist because I am a woman, because I am not safe.

But these aren’t really forgotten stories. They aren’t old thoughts. They sit in the back of my mind, brought forward at the slightest prodding. They hide in my feelings – feelings of anger or discomfort or insecurity. They’re there. Always.

So…I had no purpose when I first began. I still don’t. I just needed to write. I needed the space – to respond to what I’d read, to untangle the thoughts jumbled in my head, to remind myself of my own experiences.

How do we, as women, work all this out? 




And just cuz any deep topic is better with music and I don’t want to be too depressed:

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