Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I Can't Get Over It


Marching on Washington
Now what? We’ve marched on Washington and hundreds of cities across the country and around the world, and I’m glad we did. We’ve posted photos and videos and shared our experiences in online discussions and in-person conversations as well. The march brought to the fore multiple urgent issues that need our attention. Some are of special concern to women: the pervasiveness of sexual assault and violence against women, reproductive rights, equal pay, and others. These issues fueled the formation of the march, but other issues and causes propelled it forward: protecting the rights of immigrants, religious minorities, ethnic and racial minorities, even the health and future of the planet.

It can be easy to be overwhelmed when faced with so many areas of concern. Each of us is a single person with limited time and energy. You might choose to tackle all of it, but my experience is that this leads to exhaustion and burnout.

My advice is to pick the one or two areas you feel most passionate about and devote your energies to those issues. Picking a focus doesn’t mean I deny the importance of all the other issues. It will be nice if people join with me, or you, in supporting our causes, but please don’t attack folks who choose a different issue to focus on—we are all in this together. Moral support is crucial.

Although many of us were out there marching, there were also many who could not or would not participate. We are starting to hear from the latter group, to learn why they weren’t with us, why they say our chants and signs don’t speak for them, why they wish we had stayed home.

“Can’t you just get over it?”

I’ve heard this question most of my life. It’s come at me from all corners of my family when I’ve given voice to the anger and frustration I have felt as result of being sexually assaulted and humiliated by an older male member of that family for years. I was quite young when the attacks happened and have had decades to “get over it,” but these women (and, yes, they are all women who have said this to me—white women, of course) think there must be something wrong with me that I’m still angry.

“You don’t see all the good he has done. You think he’s all bad.”

I was told these sorts of things as well. I find it interesting that speaking out against reprehensible behavior is interpreted by the perpetrator’s defenders as being an all-encompassing condemnation of that person. I get it: even good people sometimes do bad things. However, just imagine how hard it is to try to see good in a person who has assaulted you. Forgiveness is possible, but it’s asking a lot, and should never be demanded.

This, of course, is happening in our country right now, on a national level. Many people have condemned things our new president has said or done. Some of these same people have later chosen to support him. I cannot do that. For me, trust has been permanently broken. When Donald Trump was revealed as the sexual predator he is, I became physically ill and I know, for a fact, that many other survivors of sexual assault did, too. Our bodies know the truth before our brains do, it seems.
My favorite sign from the march

I was emboldened and inspired when other women came forward with their own stories of sexual violence. I wrote about it here, but what I didn’t say then was that their brave actions and words inspired me to re-post my own story. I had written a blog post several years ago and was immediately attacked (yes, these same older white women) for “going public” with my story.

“What I don’t understand is why you have to talk about it.”

I reposted my story because it’s the truth and I was never allowed my own truth. The interesting thing is, the facts have never been disputed by the perpetrator himself. The only thing that has been disputed are my feelings.

“You’re not angry. It didn't hurt you.”

But I am angry. And it did hurt me, in some ways permanently. I am done with being told by other people how I feel, or how I should feel. And this is why Saturday’s March on Washington will be remembered by this survivor of sexual assault as a highlight of my life.

My life-long sense of rage was finally validated this January 21. I have tried to speak out, for years, because girls and women all over the world are being assaulted and abused every day. I want to be one voice speaking up for them, saying, “I actually do know how you feel, and I hear you,” but it’s hard to keep going when I’m attacked for speaking even my own truth, which has happened too many times when I’ve told my story. This Saturday I finally knew, in a deep visceral way, that my voice has been heard.

As I made my way to the march early that morning, I really didn’t want to go. It all seemed rather pointless. “Nothing will come of this,” I thought. What I didn’t know is that near the end of the march, next to the Washington Monument, I would come upon a little girl, sitting atop her father’s shoulders. She was dressed all in light pink and couldn’t have been more than three or four years old.

She was chanting with the crowd when suddenly everyone but her stopped. “My body, my choice!” she shouted. All the adults around her, including me, turned to her and chanted back, “Your body, your choice!” She beamed, full of joy, and shouted it again: “My body, my choice!” And we affirmed this truth for her: “Your body, your choice.” I wish, when I was her age, the adults in my life had believed this.

And then I heard it, a wave of roaring voices, rolling toward us from somewhere near the Capitol. It swept over my section of the march, and we joined in, all of us—including me and that little girl, filling the mall with sound from the Capitol to the White House. And that's when I finally began to believe it: I am no longer alone.

2 comments:

  1. Raima thank you for making your voice loud,strong and heard. May it reverberate through the halls of Congress and the WH and the nation. Be strong against all that would silence you. Be of good courage my friend. You have 5 million women backing you up!

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