Note: A short time ago I posted https://playfulspirit.wordpress.com/2009/03/23/toward-healing-and-empowerment/ “towards healing and empowerment”. A few folks commented and had questions. Below is my response to Mary Mayhem. It may or may not make sense out of the context of the original post – but was far too long for a “comment”.
Hi Mary, And again – thanks for opening up the chance to clarify this. I find it hard to explain – to put in to words – even though it is clear in my head. But here goes yet another attempt… by “my role” I mean several things.
(1) The simplest of which is that I need to acknowledge to myself that I made some decisions that put me at risk. Acknowledging choices empowers me. I guess in part because I do think it is important that we are aware and think about decisions we make that put us in risky situations — again NOT that we are to blame if we then get hurt. I know every time I pick up a hitchhiker (which I do frequently), walk alone in the dark – especially in areas I don’t know, or do many of the things I do it is a risk. I do NOT think if I’m killed by a hitchhiker it is my fault for picking them up. I do think acknowledging the choice and the risk helps me take “calculated risks” or more to the point risks based on my values and wants not just on “expectations” or whatever
(2) Part of it is because I know when I first started to define what happened as rape people (who were trying to be helpful) kept saying things like “It wasn’t your fault, you were a victim.” There is nothing you could have done?” This actually was totally disempowering. Yes, there are times when we are powerless, and there are times when “there is nothing we could have done differently” and we still get hurt, violated, oppressed. AND there are times when we do have power, we do have choices but we need to think beyond or differently to see them. (Like the Fort Benning example… I couldn’t have out run those guys, or done much to physically defend myself so at one level I had no power, no choice… yet really I did.) Again, for me – part of nonviolence is about acknowledging where we do have a choice. And no matter if it is a case of “there is nothing I could have done differently” or “ I wish I had made different choices” it doesn’t change that it is not my fault.
(3) So often girls and women (not to mention society as a whole ) try to make each other conform to social norms all the time and can victimize each other. We hear not to be a tease, not to dress a certain way, that “good girls don’t…. we criticize others looking too slutty, etc…lots of standards they’re supposed to live up to that are mixed. Lots of internalized sexism along with the sexism, and patriarchy that is so much of a part “of the water in which we swim” that we might not even notice it. One of the things I really want to think about is how I play a role in maintaining this system…. so that OF COURSE SEXUAL ASSULT IS NOT YOUR FAULT NO MATTER HOW YOU DRESS, WHERE YOU GO, WHAT DECISIONS YOU MAKE ETC. Of course, it was not my fault.
And that both on a macro level and in that specific instance and in my life I did (and I am sure still do in countless ways – many of which I am totally unaware of) create and maintain the system that makes sexual violence so common. I did (at least at first) say “no” when I meant “yes”. I did send mixed signals. Of course, I had bought into a system that told me I couldn’t say “yes” or “I’m not sure”.
I think the more we “buy in” or perpetuate the “good girls due this and don’t do that and all that crap the more we contribute to a system that sets us up. If “we can’t really say ‘yes’ or even ‘I’m not sure’ then how can we really say ‘no!’ ? ” Because if ‘no’ is all we are “allowed” to say then it does start to mean lots of different things. Again, not that this gives anyone a right to hurt you and NOT that we should 2nd guess ourselves with “was I clear?”
But wouldn’t it be refreshing and SAFER is we created a world where it is okay to say “yes, that feels good and I want to kiss, I want you to touch me there, I want ______.” So that when we say “NO…. not that” or “no, I don’t think so” or even “I’m not sure” or “I changed my mind” or whatever it is never filled with mixed meanings.
Not sure if that clarifies or confuses more, but that is the spot I’m at. At least for now. And as I noted in my original post; this is my response, my feelings, my story, it may not ring true for everyone. Each of us who has been victimized needs to come to respond and eventually to move toward healing and empowerment in our own way.