I just want to say thank you,
Women at the Golden Globes
"Welcome to Hell" (Love you, SNL.)
I have never felt so much hope for women as when I watched Oprah's now iconic speech. However, let's not forget that we have a long way to go. As 2017 seemed to be the year of scandal, just maybe...outside of the current administration, it will be The Year of The Woman. What changes could we see? What do we want to tell men? What do we want to tell our fellow ladies and young girls who will no doubt continue to struggle and see the far-reaching effects of a male-dominated world set in place so firmly that the very suggestion of a woman president, a female ghost-buster, and even the stories of several women through the decades who tried to speak up for themselves after being raped and harassed, is scoffed at, mocked and even led to them being harassed more heavily. For the little girls who are told they cannot play a "boy's sport" because it would be awkward and require minuscule changes to the way the team functions, (i.e. locker room), to the boy who is bullied for showing appropriate human emotion and empathy for others, for the moms AND dads whose hearts will break as they send their children to a daycare, not knowing the outcome of that decision for their babies because one or both of them have to work and there are no other options. For the woman who faces mental illness and has stories that no one would believe if she were hooked up to a polygraph... what do we have to say?
I was definitely one of those women. An aspie woman shrouded in shame, silence and ironically, when not desperate to be invisible, had an almost visceral desperation to be "seen." Truly seen.
I developed OCD in the third grade when the Michael Jackson scandal reached my very young eyes and I saw someone I respected, admired, and even wanted to be being led into a courtroom following charges of molestation. My mother pulled me aside one day and asked me if anyone had touched me or hurt me and I answered, "No." That proceeded scared the living crap of me. She started asking about specific people, family members I loved dearly, and that's when I realized—I was not safe.
And of course this was about the time when the public schools start giving the "stranger danger" talk and I was on full alert. If my extended family members could be potential pedophiles, what did that mean for the rest of the people in my limited little world? I started showing signs of sexual abuse although I couldn't recall any abuse to my knowledge. I began developing ritualistic compulsions, especially washing my hands and turning things off and on a certain number of times. I was finally diagnosed as having OCD.
As a pre-teen, I was sexually harassed by an extended family member. I will never forget the day...
It was that time of year when back-to-school shopping and the idea of fitting in by having the cutest outfits or dopest shoes ruled the minds of children and teens all over the country. I was socially accepted in the fifth grade but now I had to step up my game. My mother and I went shopping, and though my parents' funds were probably limited, we found two outfits that I LOVED. I felt good in them. I felt pretty. I felt in control. As was the ritual, (many times because my grandmother often funded our shopping sprees), we came home and immediately ran over to her house, (she lived next door) to show her our spoils of the day. This particular day, the offending family member was there, sitting in the kitchen. For some reason, I had always felt a distance between us—distance created by my own instinct, I believe. We went about the tradition as usual, I tried my new clothes on again and paraded myself in front of my grandmother who was always in her typical place, the matriarchal seat at the kitchen table. As she "oohed" and "ahhed" at my new threads, a comment came from the opposite corner of the kitchen. At the age of 11, I was called "sexy" by a male family member. I immediately felt disgusting and full of shame. My grandmother noticing my reaction, chimed in, "She didn't appreciate that!" It had been called out somewhat, yet, I could not shake the feeling. I was repulsed, ashamed, and on the verge of tears. I wanted to be invisible—to immediately teleport to my bedroom closet not 20 steps away. I felt broken.
It may help to note that, in addition to hearing about this person's history, that he was fired for sexual harassment at his last job, certain males in our family had adopted the "if she's dressed like that, she's asking for it" mentality and also did not subscribe to the idea that if a girl is too young to be wearing certain clothes, she's too young to be sexualizing her body. My father, who I love dearly, was in the prevention mindset that because this was the world, he didn't want to take the risk of letting me wear certain shorts, bathing suits, etc. regardless. This particular day I was wearing a pant and top set. PANTS and a BLOUSE.
All of that to say this: shame was ingrained in me from the start. Somehow, women have all the power as they are guilty for a man's actions and yet they cannot protect their own bodies.
Moving forward, I was forced to feel-up my first boyfriend at the age of 14. Just to help men wrap their heads around this, I had watched a segment on TV on how to escape someone's grip around your wrist. I have tiny wrists and honestly, in the moment, forgot how to break the hold. I was grabbed by the wrist and forced to grope my boyfriend. My physical struggle, my fight, was very blatant. He knew. He knew what I was doing and he knew what he was doing. I distinctly remember the feeling of being emotionally shattered.
After dating as a teenager, I adopted a very blunt sequence of questions when being affectionate with the opposite sex. I wanted to be clear that I was not sending signals, vibes, or issuing a challenge. (Yes. I'm serious.)
When I was 25, I was raped by my boyfriend of eight months. I was clear. I was blunt. I said no. I fought him. Twice from this man, (and I use the term "man" loosely) I experienced sexual assault. You might ask, "Why twice? Why didn't you leave him after the first?" Great question!
Because after all the patriarchal bull-crap I'd been taught, everything that had been ingrained in me from a child, (and I didn't think to fight because I was a child obeying adults), anything involving the taboo terms and how they were responded to completely confused me. I suddenly myself unsure as to the "exact definition" of the terms "sexual assault," "rape," and "sexual harassment." Also, as he was a narcissist, you can imagine the mind games and gaslighting that played into that confusion, but that's for another article. I was presented with questions that no one should ever be presented with, male or female, from a very early age.
My internal dialogue looked something like: "How do I address this? What was that? Am I in shock? What are the symptoms of shock? That was so out character for him—or was it? Really, what just freakin' happened?! Am I pregnant? What if I'm pregnant?! What will my family and friends say? What will his friends say? What will people believe? Will my name and reputation be dragged through the mud? Do I even have a case? Am I somehow misunderstanding some aspect of this entire ordeal? No. I said no. I fought. I was raped? How did I let this happen? I didn't. I was in my sleep limbo when it started. I did nothing. I have no clue what to do. This is so bizarre." Shattered over and over.
As I finally decided to talk to friends and family about these things, I was instructed by my mother not to tell my dad because, "it would kill him". When I told my grandmother, instead of the empathetic voice that once jumped to my rescue as a child, expecting a minuscule form of comfort because of course, I'm now an adult, I heard these words. "So?! You think you're the only one that's ever happened to?!" Again, shattered.
As a human, as a woman, as a person who was naïve and was rarely believed or even heard, I can remember milestones as a female mostly in the moments something seemed to shatter in my chest. An ugly truth about the world showed its face and I had to cope. We had to be gracious and forgiving. We had to cope. We always have to COPE. Time is up. I will not just cope. I will live. I will not just exist. I will thrive. I will not remain silent. I will not be a number. I will not be a piece of @$$. I will not be a woman broken by life. I WILL SIMPLY BE A WOMAN, AND AN EXCEPTIONAL ONE AT THAT. I will be free because I say so.