My daughter is 8. The news is full of conversations about sexual assault and rape. She asks questions and I answer them in all honesty without being overly graphic. It’s just a matter of fact.
She is beautiful and vibrant. I know it is both a blessing and a curse. I wasn’t much older than her, when unspeakable things started happening…. I don’t need to know the details of every single case. I believe you, because I’ve been there myself in so many different brutal and more subtle ways.
As a kid, I tried to ask for help. But the burden was too much. Grown ups I thought I could trust, cut me off, changed the subject, avoided eye contact. I hadn’t even begun to tell them the worst of it.
But I got the hint. It was my fault. I shut up. I took the hurt and buried it deep down inside of myself. I cut that part off, from feeling, from awareness, from the story I told about who I was. I refused to look at it. I expended so much energy building walls around walls around walls to block it out. That burden became heavier and heavier and I dragged it around, trying desperately not to let anyone see this defect at the core of me. And I wondered why I couldn’t have healthy relationships…
I did such a good job that it took me 20 years to begin to remember, to rediscover bits and pieces of that nightmare. Despite the daily onslaught of harassment, and the numerous times I had to literally fight a drunk dude off of me and run out the house, or down the street, or through the crowd, I had always considered myself one of the lucky ones.
Then the memories started to come back in disorientating flashes in the middle of a yoga class, while getting a massage, in my most intimate moments. At first, I doubted that they were even mine. I withdrew. I drank more. But still details came through that whispered the times and places.
It was almost worse the second time around. I was an adult, with a small child. I was supposed to be getting my shit together. Instead, everything began to unravel. My daughters father waited patiently for a while. But the process, the unfolding, just kept going and I had to go it alone. I couldn’t stand to be touched by a man, especially the father of my child, especially someone I trusted. So we eventually broke up.
And I did the work of breaking down those walls, of reliving every moment. This is how the body stores trauma until you’re ready to process it. I had to face my fears and the demons living there, the ones that would rear their ugly heads in defense whenever anyone got too close, when ever anything became too intimate. I had to slay those demons to begin healing, to reconsolidate my power, to reintegrate all aspects of myself. It is the hardest, most exhausting work I’ve ever done. And it just keeps going…
If I had one wish it would be to spare my daughter such experiences. I am hyper vigilant. I will fight for her with my every breath. But I also have to be realistic. Shelter can not protect her from the sickness of the society that we’re immersed in. So I have to give her all the tools, the language and the awareness to be ready to navigate what we’re up against.
We are having these difficult conversations with our little girls, because we must. Just like black parents have to talk to their kids about race, because it’s a matter of life or death. But I wonder, are we having these difficult conversations with our little boys as well? Or do they get to revel in the innocence of childhood without ever having to really feel uncomfortable? Are we grooming them for entitlement?
I’m sure some parents are doing the work and I thank you! I would like to urge every parent (and every person!) to do it more, with your little boys and your big boys, with your brothers and husbands and fathers. Talk to them! This is the work that has the potential to change the world and effect the future.
And sure, it’s awkward and exhausting, but not nearly as much as being implicated in raising or turning a blind eye to a rapist. And lets be realistic, boys are receiving messages from the society around us that they are entitled to women’s bodies, that rape is their birth right. It is up to us (all of us that give a fuck) to teach them something different.
It is up to us to engage them emotionally, to model behaviors of vulnerability and accountability so they can see and be full human beings. This means that we talk to them about consent and we practice it with them. When we make a mistake, when our feelings get hurt and we act out, we have to own it. We have to apologize and explain that we understand what we did wrong. We also must follow up with action that restores balance and justice to the relationship.
Boys need men to model this behavior for them as well, which means as mothers, daughters, wives and friends, we have to walk the men in our lives through these processes, explain their importance and be relentless in our standards. This work builds trust. So that if little boys are being inappropriately touched, they’ll tell us as well. This is another part of the problem: most perpetrators have also been the victim (I know its true in my case). They’ve repressed the memory and it creates a demon.
As a society, we are in the stage of the memories resurfacing. It’s overwhelming and disorientating. But we can’t stop here. I pray that we follow this healing process through to completion or rather to the next layer. I promise, as we build momentum, as we gather experience and build confidence, it’ll get a little bit easier. If we stick with it, we’ll begin to see the little baby results of change taking place. We can’t get distracted by it. We must keep working. May our daughter’s daughter never know the injustice we’ve experienced!