For the longest time I thought I hadn’t been affected, thought about how “lucky” (oh, what a grim choice of words) I was to never have been raped, to never have been sexually assaulted. Not really anyways, I told myself.
But then I remembered. Not in the vein of some recovered memories, but more along the lines of shadowy whispers recounting the minutiae of the multifarious horrors that I had enacted on me by men solely because I am a woman.
It starts with seemingly innocuous comments on our appearance that begin when we are mere babes in arms, and never, ever, ever ends. By virtue of leaving our home, we are aggressively met with a barrage of opinions by strangers and acquaintances alike on how we look, from cat-calls to so-called compliments. Words that judge our appearance are forced upon us like an endless beauty pageant that we never asked to be in. (Hint to men: if you wouldn’t say it to another man, don’t say it to a woman).
Because of this, anxiety courses through my body each time I step out of the house. Do I look “good enough” to walk along the city streets? To go to work? To buy groceries? Will I be accosted and told how ugly I am or the opposite of that? To be ceaselessly judged by your looks is a horror that only Mary Shelley came close to describing, ironically through the experience of a man.
Such comments trickle down insidiously, give way to ownership; men are taught to not really see us, but to look at us as property. Property of them, property of the patriarchy. Merely by existing, I am up for grabs, my body is up for grabs.
And then I recall some of the tiny but grotesque horrors: the multiple instances of inappropriate touching that I did not ask for or consent to; the being told multiple times by men that they had been “watching” me, as if this was supposed to be charming; the groping in the middle of crowds; the drive-by slapping of my ass in which I could not react because of the fear that it would escalate; the being all but left for dead though not sexually assaulted (as far as I knew, but also: I was too scared to ask); the being called ugly and ugly and ugly and ugly and ugly and ugly; the walking home alone at night planning and plotting methods of escape with every step, always worried that each one might be my last. In each instance I was shaken to my core; in each instance I saw pieces of myself disappear into the ether. And trauma burrowed its way in, found itself a home in the deepest recesses of me.
All these seemingly trivial horrors, and yet I am so “lucky” to have escaped something worse, much larger, much more harrowing and all encompassing. But how is it luck to have been spared an attack by one half of your species?
We can’t rely on luck anymore.
And of what of all the women murdered by their rapists? Their #metoo is far more grim. They wound up dead because the men who attacked them were taught to be entitled, taught that they were owed, taught that they could freely take what never belonged to them and never would. And the shame associated with that is so deep that it cannot be buried, so they buried the women instead. After all, they’d been told, they had the right to carry on with their lives.