A self-possessed woman, I have been lucky enough (as an adult) to surround myself with friends who both support and protect my interests as well as my self (both physical and emotional)…but every now and then I am reminded of what a privilege that is…a privilage as a recent event gravely reinforced.
As a child I suffered…endured…and survived a multitude of abuse.
That statement is not a call for attention or even rescue…it is simply the truth and an important fact to consider when offering up a narrative about interactions concerning power-dynamics between men and women…as I am attempting to do here, now.
It has always intrigued and even disgusted me, when one person attempts to control/coerce/intimidate/hurt another. But perhaps even more distressing is others’ desire to discount the very existence of such acts.
I do not have to go through the countless personal and professional accounts of abuse (for the purposes of this writing, abuse as defined as any aggressive act meant harm another either psychologically or physically) that go unacknowledged by “protective”/”concerned” others.
The message is: abuse is ugly and best to be explained away rather than acknowledged and dealt with–with its messy ramifications. Point blank, there is a fear of dealing with the backlash, a fear of taking responsibility for bearing witness.
On one level I understand the fear of the witness and their desire to “smooth it over,” and “make it all okay.” However, the danger in that approach far outweighs the gain. Even in the simplest of situations…denying the straightforward intent of aggression is dangerous and only reinforces the acceptance of society’s omission of abuse.
I know some will say…”Let it go!”…”Don’t make a big deal out of nothing!”…”But he said he was sorry!”…and I honestly hear all of that AND that response is careless.
To attempt to explain away…to legitimize…to excuse…to qualify this person’s actions is abuse by proxy. It is a neglectful reinforcement of society’s views that blame the victim (e.g. “She was asking for it!”).
In the moment, I went through a multitude of conflicting and disappointing reactions…that are testament to both the personal strength I have developed as a healthy and independent adult as well as my inherent and yet undeniable vulnerability and weakness (in the eyes of our society and specific culture) as a woman and a victim…a survivor.
Initially, gazing up into his eyes I felt insulted…indignant…prideful! I screamed my rage, demanding recognition and reconciliation…
However his reaction confirmed nothing of the kind and instead he raged back…and something suddenly became undeniably apparent…
I was smaller. I was weaker. I would be hurt. He could and would hurt me…that by pushing the limits of verbal confrontation with someone who utilizes intimidation and physical aggression with ease and grace…I had put myself in precarious physical danger.
For the first time in many many years…I realized that neither my quick wit and sharp tongue, nor my small and athletic build could save me. I was at his mercy. A humbling state…a reminder of the inherent physical and social differences between men and women…a flashback to a more vulnerable time in my life, when those differences were constantly exploited…and no one was there to save me.
It is both fascinating and frightening how quickly old feelings like that reignite…hitting hard…and like a good-victim, I blamed myself. If even as an adult…in full control of my life…I still could not even manage a situation like this…had I really conquered my childhood evils? Was I still just a victim at the mercy of perpetrators that prey on those weaker? Frustration and confusion flooded my mind…my heart…how could I be so dumb? Perhaps I never really was as strong as I thought…maybe I never survived those nightmares…maybe I never would.
Abuse is a disease…that effects both the perpetrator and the victim, often cyclically…meaning that often the abused becomes the perpetrator and the abuser the abused…it is insidious, with motivations and meanings so illusive and conflicting that more often than not is up to those involved to break it apart and create an understanding.
*Case in point…this was my only post this week, apologies…this was really very challening to write…and even more so to accept. c.