All the trigger warnings. Even that phrase makes me shudder. Violence, sexism, sexual assault, general and specific.
I did not know how to write about everything I have felt in the wake of the shootings that happened last Friday night at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on a street where my friend used to live. I don’t know anyone directly involved in the violence. The best I can do to explain why I have retreated from the world and felt so much grief is to say that I have known since I was 10 years old, since before I knew this word, that I live inside misogyny. Our culture is a sexist culture. The man who assaulted me felt entitled to my body.
The point of the conversation is to say, ‘Alright this is the system that we’ve created, but we can also change this system through awareness.’ – Soraya Chemaly
There have been over a million tweets that have used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to tell stories. We have been telling stories about being told to smile by a stranger on the street, to avoid “bad” boys as if date rape is the victim’s fault, and about surviving incest, rape, domestic violence. Until I heard Soraya Chemaly and other guests on NPR’s program On Point discuss the way that misogyny defines the way we live, I did not understand fully why this brought up such a primal fear in me.
Misogyny, as Chemaly points out, includes both the hatred of women/girls AND the hatred of all things feminine. Our boys are under so much pressure, because femininity is viewed as weak. Our girls are under so much pressure, because they are bombarded with the message that they must protect themselves from (masculine) aggression.
I am still processing my feelings on this. My conscious mind knows that this fear will not overwhelm me to the point of tears, for much longer. But I will not feel as safe as I might feel. I may no longer feel that I’m in immediate danger, the way my early trauma is telling me right now. But as the mother of a boy, and the spouse of a man, and a member of this society, it is my job to face my fears and work to change this system from inside it. I am fortunate to work with this man and this boy, my family, in this project. I grieve that my father and his father did more than I will ever write about, here, to perpetuate that system. Those stories, from those generations, aren’t mine to tell. I am free from admonitions to protect my reputation by not being alone with a boy “for no reason” and to “be careful who I date” that punctuated my teen years. Without actively telling me that women were less valuable than men, or that he hated women, my father told me to adapt to a misogynistic system. My family, now – my husband and son – will be working hard to question that system. As we question, and as we ask women, “tell me more of your story,” even when it might be tempting to defend the “good” men, we will change it.