I cannot count the number of quasi-violent encounters in my life (they are numerous but require too much explanation) and so the below list is not as long as it could be, but if I reflect on just the very overt cases of violence I come up with the following (in no particular order):
- sexually assaulted twice in my 19th year by the same person
- mugged at knife point in a bank machine enclosure at eight in the morning (on my way to work) by a drug sick man who needed some quick cash
- had my apartment broken into while taking out garbage – when I turned back towards my building there was a man in my window, masturbating and watching me (I moved out weeks later, as I could not encounter anyone in the hallway without startling after that)
- numerous instances of holes in walls, doors torn of hinges, or broken furniture in various relationships
- a boyfriend (who only lasted a few months) who broke into screaming/terrifying rages whenever I tried to assert my own needs (such as whether I wanted to live with him or not)
- more than one boyfriend who had sex with me against my stated interests, or in ways that I had expressly said no to (there are two who stand out in mind as particularly egregious in this regard)
- grabbed during an argument so hard that bruises were left on my upper arm that did not fade for a week
- childhood punishments which involved spanking or hitting, and verbal/emotional abuse
I don’t think about these things very often, you know, and I certainly don’t walk around with a catalogue of abuse at my fingertips – but during today’s morning meditation I could not stop thinking about it. Could not stop thinking about all the conversations that have been floating around the Canadian mediasphere in the last week and how strange my responses are to allegations of abuse, even as someone who can so readily come up with such a list. (All the perpetrators in my list are/were men – that as much as I have had other kinds of shitty encounters with women, none of them have taken on the character of violence such as I have listed above.) And even though I know that there are some men who do a lot of violence in the world – far more men than women – I still find myself judging women (silently, inside myself) for coming forward, for not being tough enough, or for being too sensitive.
I wonder why they feel the need to speak out when I have got on with my life just fine, thank-you very much. Or else I think, well that’s just the way it is, and there isn’t anything you can do about the past. Sometimes I think that somehow it must be all about me and about my choices so it must be all about other women and their choices. But looking at this list helps me recognize just how much violence was a part of all my formative years into early adulthood, and in that context, it seems ludicrous to interpret as solely about me and my choices. In fact, one might look at this list as something to get a little bit angry about, rather than be ashamed of. And if that’s the case, then I might be able to get angry alongside all the other women who are talking about abuse and sexual violence right now instead of trying to downplay the amount of violence that is actually happening – right now and all the time and in particular to young women!
It is true that I pretty much characterize the above experiences as having helped me to get strong, determine my priorities, and plot a life course that included self-sufficiency at its core – but that’s just a way to turn lemons into lemonade, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure I could have developed a lot of the inner strengths I now possess without having had someone break into my apartment to masturbate.
But even so, looking at the list and recognizing that I should be angry about it, and thus angry that the whole damned human enterprise is so fucked, still so misogynist, still subjugating the rights of women at every turn – I am actually more exhausted by it than anything. Because it’s so tedious, so banal, so everyday – and because I’ve long since left it behind – I feel like all I can muster is a shrug before I turn my back on it again. I’m sure I’m not the only woman in Canada who feels just this way right now and is saying nothing as a result – I’m sure that the voices we are hearing are really the minority – not that women who have been abused are in the minority, but that those who have been *and* also speak out are.
Which means that most of the women we know are walking around with stories like this. Stories they don’t tell. Maybe not a list as long as mine – or maybe a much longer list. It’s terrifying really, how much we accept this as the status quo. How much we accept that for our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our girlfriends – because it’s so exhausting that we just turn our attention to other things rather than fight back.
But that’s exactly what I do, and will keep doing – while at the same time trying to build the positive pole that my life has become – full of good and amazing people (women and men) whom I love and spend much time with.
My life these days truly is one of privilege and without the violence that characterized so much of my younger life – I have the privilege that has afforded me the construction of a life in which I am cocooned in a home that I own, dictating the conditions of my employment, reliant on myself and my relationships so that I do not have to step outside to where it is dangerous very often. It’s not that I live in fear of the outside world – but I am cautious when in large groups of strangers, I do not like to be downtown on weekends among the unpredictable drunks, I am always aware who is walking behind me at night and whether the doors to the house are locked when I am by myself. As much as I am weary, I am also all too aware that it is not about me, this violence. That it is everywhere and is unpredictable in all but its gender.
This is no call to arms, but a pledge to myself and to other women: I will publicly acknowledge my own history of violence so that I can acknowledge yours. I will be compassionate to myself in the telling of my own stories so that I can hear yours with the same compassion. I will not blame myself for the violence done to my mind and body, just as I will not blame you when you speak out to friends or to the media. I will not simply “leave the past behind,” so that you are left standing alone. And finally, I will not accept violence as the status quo for any group of people in any society.
And to everyone who’s reading this: thanks for listening. I needed to get that out there. xo