Me, too. I have my personal stories of abuse, harassment, and rape. Today we call what happened human trafficking. Most of my life I simply called it abuse.
When I was in graduate school, we were all required to give presentations to our class on our individual projects. My focus of study was treatment for adults abused as children.
This was the 1980’s, and I noticed the limited academic articles. Some of the ones I did find were hideous. Blaming the child. Stating that, “Yes, it happens, but it’s really okay.” That’s rape culture.
I thought a lot about that. I pondered the reactions of people to any discussion of child abuse. The ostrich reaction. That too is rape culture.
So, for my class presentation, I prepared this knock your socks off experience for my fellow students. As future mental health professionals, I wanted to introduce them to the feelings of a child who experienced early abuse. I wanted to reach them. I succeeded.
A woman jumped up, knocked over her chair, and ran out of the room sobbing. I’d gone too far. In today’s society, I’d give a trigger warning.
Now I understand that violence against women is pervasive and has so many incarnations that almost everyone in any group of women will have experienced some form of sexual violence. That is rape culture. A culture where sexual violence is so common it touches almost everyone.
In my mind, there is a continuum of sexual violence. Starting from the inappropriate comment or joke in a group, moving into unwanted hugs and escalating all the way up to rape, serial rape, battery, and sexual murder. There are so many different forms that this behavior is extensive and deep in our culture.
I’m a glorious 72 years of age. I’ve spent my life’s work on issues of childhood trauma, sexual violence, and harassment. Childhood trauma, sexual violence, sexual power games, and harassment are rampant in our society. I think it might be difficult to find someone who has NOT been violated in one of its many forms. Again, rape culture.
I’ve been proud of these women I don’t know who stood up now and told their truth. Their bravery impressed me. And the more women who stood up and spoke their truths, the more hopeful I became. If enough women spoke up, maybe, just maybe, things might change. Maybe our culture would teach our boys it’s not normal to violate women.
Then I read a scathing Facebook post from a man who scorned people like me who wrote “me too” in their status update. My face burned when I read his thought that women were claiming victim status without earning it. OMG, how does one earn something none of us want?
I know he misunderstood the purpose of the ‘me too’ movement. And thought he might be a perpetrator. I passed on that discussion. Although many people attempted to convince him he was wrong. None succeeded.
You cannot imagine my shock at my own reactions when people I like to watch on TV were themselves named. I didn’t want it to be true. Then I remembered Ann Rule’s book about Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me. How he worked at a suicide prevention center. She, a writer of true crime fiction, had no idea he was a predator. All the techniques he used to appear harmless flooded my mind.
Okay, he was a serial killer. The cast on his leg, crutches, and removal of a seat in his harmless-looking VW were extreme. But the underlying reality was that harmless looking people, people we like, the friendly neighborhood whomever can all be predatory animals.
And then, well, then I heard the report on Former President Bush. First, I got angry. Inappropriate angry at the woman. I made up stories and reasons she’d make her accusation. I didn’t vote for either Bush. But I loved him jumping out of an airplane for his 90th birthday.
Then I made up a rationale for his behavior. Made mental excuses for him. POW! I am so mad at myself. Or was until I worked this out.
I remembered everything I’ve studied, seen and experienced. My task as a professional is to self-examine. So I did.
I thought about how often I’ve been in a group laughing at the idea of a ‘dirty old man‘ in a nursing home pinching the nurse’s butt. Chasing women around the facility in his walker.
Group laughter at these images. With a wink and a nod. Because everyone around me thought it was cool to go to the twilight of their lives as a ‘dirty old man‘ Or a ‘dirty old lady‘!
And I got angry. At myself, at you and you and even you. At our society which makes jokes out of sexual violence. Jokes that normalize it and make it seem okay.
The reality then becomes that it’s okay for poor old maybe senile former President Bush to grab women’s butts. Okay for the men who do these things. Not so okay for the women who are on the receiving end.
And that, my friends, is rape culture.
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