The women and some of the men you know are being triggered by the Kavanaugh hearing – here’s why
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and the Kavanaugh hearing is causing women you love, as well as some men you love to deal yet again their sexual assaults and harassment. You’ve seen us cry and get angry. You’ve read us posting about our assaults and traumas, why we didn’t report or what happened when we did. Many of you might not understand why this trauma continues to come up. After all, you’ve dealt with death/tragedy/disaster, etc. and you’ve managed to conquer it. I understand why this might be. It can be confusing for people who have not experienced this.
Before we continue,I want to acknowledge that many men have gone through this and suffer the same thing. I also want to acknowledge that women of color, the LGBTQ community and immigrants are often sidelined in the discussion as the assaults of white women are largely the focus. I want to acknowledge this because as a white women, I cannot know your experience, and I am writing about the ones I know. I encourage you to write in if it feels safe for you to do so.
Okay, so from my perspective as a survivor, I can explain from my experience. If you’ve dealt with something like, say, a death in the family it’s “clean.” By this I mean that you can tell people. You might not choose to or want to, but if you do, rarely is anyone going to turn around and tell you that it’s your fault. “Oh, your mom died? Well, what did you do wrong? Did this even happen? It was probably your imagination or you might have misinterpreted it. She’s not really dead, or if she is, it’s because you are a bad person or because you wore the wrong clothes or because you had a beer.” No, you get to tell people about your experience. They are likely to comfort you or try to help. If you announce it publicly, no one is going to throw it in your face. You are not going to lose your job. People aren’t going to cast aspersions on your character. No one is going to say, “Oh, he spoke about his mother’s death and it’s going to make the entire office uncomfortable, so let’s not hire him.”
If you’re a child, no one is going to say, “Don’t tell people about what happened because our entire family is going to be in the news. All your friends are going to call you a whore. No one is going to believe you anyway because it’s so hard to prove.” No, you’re going to get to talk about this if you feel comfortable doing so. People might not be the best at offering comfort, but you know they’re going to at least try. If you go to the police to report something, no one is going to grill you about what your own actions were outside of when it was reported unless you’re actually a murder suspect. They’re not going to tell you that you should have stayed home, or ask you to get a breathalyzer test or whether or not you’ve been drinking. If you bring it up years later, no one is going to say that you’re lying.
Do you see what I’m saying? Your trauma is clean. You don’t have to feel ashamed. You don’t have to worry about what it’s going to do to your career, or if you’ll be publicly humiliated for talking about what happened to you. Except for extreme cases, if you say your mom died on Twitter, you’re probably going to get sympathy. With sexual assault, you’ll often be harassed, embarrassed, called names, shunned and often threatened with even more sexual violence.
Sometimes the harassment comes from other women. Horrific as this is, there is a part of me that understands why. When this happens to you, as it does in some form to most women, we’re told to keep it quiet and deal with it. Turn it into a joke. I’ve spoken about this before but when I was harassed and grabbed repeatedly by a Hollywood star at a party early in my career, a female publicist told me not to say anything and turn it into a joke because otherwise no one would work with me. You know what? She was trying to help, and unfortunately, she was right. That absolutely would have happened. I had to be the cool chick, the one who could “hang.” I was also one of the only women covering geek news at the time, so there was no one to back me up. Maybe the women in your family are concerned about what it will do to the rest of the family. Maybe they’ve shoved so much down over the years that they feel like if they had to do it, so do you. It’s upsetting and a betrayal, but it happens.
Seeing Christine Blasey-Ford testify so bravely was powerful, but it was also difficult. Since sexual assault survivors are so often given character assassinations, some of us wonder if we were just better/stronger/smarter/more educated/sober, etc., would they believe us then? Nope. We just watched a woman who is beyond reproach suffer anyway. It’s heartbreaking.
We are listening to and reading our friends’ stories about their assault. It’s all over the news. We watch again and again as men ridicule women who come out to speak. They’re the same ones who didn’t listen to us. The stories are a bombardment, and we know it’s a necessary one. That doesn’t make it easier. I read every one. It’s important to me. That person may never know me, or meet me, or even know that I read something, but I know that at least one person listened to their story. I heard them. I listened, even if they never know that. I listen the way I wanted someone to listen to me. Every story haunts me, but I am not alone.
Another reason it’s so hard to get over is that we live in the world and we want to continue to do so. We know that not every man is awful. We want to be friends with them or love them or be related to them. We want to deal with our male colleagues or underlings or bosses in a calm and reasonable manner. We want to have human relationships. We want to have healthy sex lives. We shove things down to allow this. Yet every day, most of us deal with microaggressions. There is a street that I walk down often and not once since I moved here have I walked down this street alone without being catcalled or harassed. So, avoid it, you say? I LIVE HERE. Sometimes it’s the fastest way home when it’s getting dark. Sometimes I need to go to a business that is on that street. I shouldn’t have to avoid it. But, that was likely your first thought. You’re not alone. Are you a tall or big man? Maybe you’re confused at why the woman walking with you keeps looking behind her. You’ve never had to. She does. She needs to always be on guard to assess the situation. Is that guy walking to close? Can I outrun him at this distance? Are my keys close by so I can put them between my fingers? You’ve likely never had to worry about walking to your car at night, or worry that the parking garage is empty of people. You do not have to clutch your purse because it might get pulled off. I once walked home from the subway in NYC wearing a Halloween costume. I was pulled by that costume into an alley. I punched the guy in the face after he told me what he was going to do to me and ran, but not everyone is so lucky. We have to think about this all the time. ALL THE TIME. It becomes second nature and we make it subconscious for our own self-preservation, but it’s there and it’s always waiting to come up.
I am not a psychologist. I am just speaking from my own experience here and everyone’s is different. I just wanted to explain some of the reasons why this is triggering us. I supposed what I’m saying is that we are rarely given a chance to process what happens to us, and rarely is there justice for what happens to us. We are blamed for it. We have to shove it down and move on. So when this comes up over and over again, it’s bound to bring up some strong emotions. Please be kind to those in your life for whom this is triggering. Ask questions. Don’t judge us for what we’re feeling. Try to put yourself in our shoes. Listen to our stories because often, no one else has.