I used to think I was one of those few, lucky women who had never been sexually assaulted. In fact, I think I believed it until a couple of months ago. And until I read this piece
[WARNING: sexual assault and rape] on Medium last night, I thought it had only happened once.
I couldn't get to sleep last night, thinking about it, and during the day today, more incidents have come to mind. And the thing that bothers me most about it is not what you might think.N.B. I have made this post public in case reading it is helpful for anyone dealing with similar issues. All comments will be screened. I have first, final, and only say over which comments are posted and which are deleted.( The following is a recounting of all the incidents that are bothering me. They are none of them overtly violent or dangerous. They may nevertheless be disturbing or triggering to you depending upon your own life experiences. Please take care of yourself in choosing whether or not to read the following. )
I am a feminist, and always have been, yet in none of these cases -- none
of them -- did it ever occur to me that I could say "Stop" or "No". The thought simply never entered my head. The most that I ever did was attempt to negotiate, either with the assailant, or with myself.
That is what is so disturbing to me: that the idea that I could have any control over what was happening to my own body, that I had any rights over what was happening to my body, was not even part of my world. That those people chose to assault me, whether or not they believed that was what they were doing at the time, is a tiny, insignificant detail next to that fact.
The idea that I have absolute rights and first and final say over what happens to my body is still difficult for me to grasp, deep down, even though it is one I have consciously espoused for all of my adolescent and adult life. I have to pause, think, deliberately choose it. And that is seriously fucked
I want to be clear: I do not believe this is a personal failing. I know it is a direct result of a culture so steeped in misogyny, so deeply rooted in patriarchy, that a middle-aged, feminist
woman can go her whole life without realising that her bodily autonomy is a right, not a vague possibility that needs case by case negotiation.
Perhaps it is a result of the freeze response to threat; perhaps it is a result of a more generalised dissociation due to childhood trauma; perhaps it is a part of how women keep ourselves alive by playing nice with our harrassers and assailants
. All I know right now is that it is seriously fucked
, and I need to make it stop.( A final example, with some hope. )
So I am making some progress, and I celebrate myself for that. But simply realising how deeply embedded this is within me is so, so tiring.