I am feeling something, and I’m not entirely sure what it is. Yes, sadness. Yes, anger. But something else. I am thinking about all of my experiences with harassment and assault (I am not a rape survivor)—there are six of them, the first when I was 9 or 10, the most recent about a year ago—and they are weighing on me, but also I am defining them in a new way. And I am hearing your voices and experiences, and they are making me sad and angry, even though I know, I know, I know. I’ve heard numerous stories of assault and rape from friends, students, and readers—both before beginning this work and within the last several years. I’ve followed Lauren Wolfe’s work about rape as a tool of war, and I started to read Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, but couldn’t get through it. Because I already knew.
I do this work, and I still don’t always know what to do with the personal part of “the personal is political,” or how to translate it into politics. We need to be heard, and believed. I think that is happening. We need to shift our own perceptions of our experiences–and it matters if it happened in 1963 or 1984 or 1992 or yesterday, it matters because the conversation is different, but it is still all the same. Sexual harassment and assault are about power: the power that men wield over women via sex.
If we define these experiences as shameful to us, then we allow someone else’s power to erode our own. (And, in truth—we allow their weakness to sap our strength, for power plays over other people come from a place of weakness and doubt.) I have internalized my experiences in this way, and part of what I am feeling is a shedding of the vestiges of my own warped perceptions—but anger isn’t what I mostly feel anymore, or sadness, or even personal empowerment.
I think I am feeling the beginning of healing, my own. And that is because I have been working on that healing for a decade: #metoo is just bringing this aspect of it into community.
What to do with my healed self?
Well now: that’s something.
It is time we put a stop to this; we need men to change masculinity by calling out sexist behavior directly and unequivocally. And we need to refuse to internalize any sex-based shame that has ever been visited upon us. We need to heal—in whatever ways that means to each of us, and it is individual for us, deeply so.
Healing takes lots of time, and it’s OK to take that time for yourself. To love yourself from the inside out, all the way from the first shaming experience. Hold your baby self close, my loves. Hold your teenage self, and your young-woman self, and your grown-ass self. Hold yourself and hold the line against all that would name you less than because of someone else’s pain, foolishness, arrogance, and entitlement.
Beyond that? We bring our healed selves into the world.
You know what patriarchy fears more than anything else? A coalition of healed people of all races and genders who no longer internalize patriarchal bullshit, who name a power play for what it is without getting lost in tunnels of personal fear, anger, and doubt.
Sounds a lot like love to me.
A healed woman—just one—who doesn’t allow someone else’s power plays to define her because she has loved herself all the way down deep is oddly both dangerous and at peace.
That’s why patriarchy makes women irrelevant as we age. If we don’t make ourselves irrelevant as we age—
Well, now: that’s something.