I’m not usually a big one for trigger warnings, but I’m putting one here because the upshot of this post is that women shouldn’t have to relive their trauma with every story they hear, and that seems relevant. So, Warning: This post contains a discussion of rape culture and sexual abuse.
Like every woman I know, I have a list. When I was ten, my great uncle would compliment my beauty, particularly my long legs. I thought I was maybe too young to be looked at like that, but I guess he didn’t.
When I was 14, a boy twisted my arm behind my back and pushed me to the ground in front of other boys, laughing. My mom called the police, and the officer who came told us The boy is a “handful” and that Father Bob would deal with him. Could we spare his parents the embarrassment of pressing charges? I’m pretty sure the kid got more altar boy duties out of it.
After my senior prom, my date tried to put his penis inside me while I was asleep. He was thwarted by the sweat pants I was wearing, and I woke up. The room was full of sleeping teenagers. Because he was trying to be quiet about it and I surprised him by waking, I was able to push him off me and roll away. It was around 5 am and we were at the beach. I waited outside, shivering, for 3 hours until another girl woke up and got my stuff from the room. I walked over to another house filled with sleeping teens and eventually bummed a ride home. I never saw the guy again but I sure as hell would come forward if he got nominated to the Supreme Court.
In college, I had unpleasant consensual sex with a guy I was dating. He told me that he couldn’t have an orgasm unless I let him take the condom off. I refused, and after three of the most tedious and boring hours of my life, he finally got up to use the restroom, so I dressed and slipped out. When he was later convicted of stalking Uma Thurman, I thought, “Yup, sounds right.” I didn’t sign a letter on my old college classmate’s behalf saying he was a great guy, because he wasn’t.
Mind you, these are before I even had an encounter at a workplace where I was demeaned, overlooked, hit on, or had my work stolen by a man. That’s a whole other list.
All of these events have been weighing more heavily on me since October 2016 than they did before Trump’s “pussy-grabbing” remark became public. I’ve been in therapy, and treating depression, which is like some low-grade cold that I just cannot shake. Every woman I know seems to feel the same way.
The #MeToo movement has unleashed a great torrent of memories and feelings and needs. We need to air our histories, seek solace, give comfort and share our secrets. It feels unsafe and painful. The hope is that by sharing this, I’ll feel more safe. And yet, I don’t. I feel more on edge, more angry, more depressed.
Our society is having a moment of cultural reckoning. We know we live in a sexist, racist and violent culture, and the victims of this culture are speaking up. We want people held accountable. Unfortunately, there are still men and women who are willing to fight to preserve this culture, because they reap the rewards of it.
We still don’t know the outcome of our reckoning, and after decades of holding back our anger about the way we’ve been treated, we are impatient for the justice we deserve. And yet every day, we see men and women in power — in the government, in the media, in the churches — fighting to preserve the status quo. No wonder we’re so exhausted.
Are we in a period of great catharsis, or are we in a period of re-traumatization? I want to feel cleansed of all this, and yet every day that I have to think about teenage boys holding down teenage girls makes me remember my own struggle to get free of a boy. Or three. I feel like part of the trauma of our rape culture is the never being allowed to forget.
Catharsis is “releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” In theory, catharsis should result in healing and emotional restoration. In practice, the past two years of sharing these stories has not felt restorative; it’s felt abusive. The sense that we won’t gain any relief from sharing these stories is what keep a lot of women quiet. To share it is to be abused again.
No one could credibly claim that we have moved to the healing and restoration stage of the #MeToo movement. Seeing Dr. Christine Blasey Ford treated worse today than Anita Hill was in 1992 reinforces the idea that we are being punished for our honesty. I think a lot of women are going to need to see more men held responsible before they will believe that the culture is changing. Until then, the trauma is continuing, our fevers blaze and catharsis is still a distant horizon.