tw: sexual assault, violence, trauma
And we’re back.
We all remember those books right? In the back of the school library, the black and white anthology of horror stories that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Sometimes I still get nightmares.
But let’s talk about scary stories in broad daylight. The insidious ones, the “there’s no way that happened” ones, the ones that’ll leave goosebumps all over your body.
It happened at 11:30.
Mind you, 11:30 is very different depending on if you’re talking am or pm. 11:30pm is dark, illuminated by neon signs with the soundtrack of early nightlife. It is expected chaos. Anticipated shenanigans. Vigilance is encouraged and expected. 11:30am is light and brunchy and sleepy coffee hours, with a score written by birds and car horns, backlit by sunshine.
11:30am is not the time you think a man would park your car in to hurl insults and threaten you for not stopping to talk to him. 11:30 adrenaline feels a lot different in the am. Let alone a block from where you work. On a Tuesday.
I’ve been hurt on Sundays and Wednesdays, so, really, what’s another Tuesday.
Or what about a Saturday, sitting out on my front stoop at 2pm with my best friend, terrified when a man goes out of his way to drive around the block to make sure his harassment was superseded by ego.
What about that Monday I was grabbed on the street on the way to class or all of the times every day of the week men stopped me solely because my ass is fat.
What about walking my dog in my neighborhood on a Friday and being made to feel unsafe in my own home, because the man who approached me saw me walk out of my apartment.
What about walking into my job every day, wondering if the outfit I was comfortable in would be less of an invitation to coworkers who stare at my body until I want to crawl out of it.
Don’t be afraid of the dark, because monsters walk around in the daytime, too. They don’t burn in the sun or only come out under a full moon. They are significant others, and friends, and ‘the good guy’ down the hall. They’re cops, they’re scientists, they’re supreme court judges. It’s Halloween all year round.
And it’s here, in these stories, that I have felt truly afraid. But who would believe that when they just sound like impossible horrors? I’ve had two dumbfounded therapists, a boyfriend, acquaintances and friends shocked this happened. Every time it happens.
I could go on about how the brain responds in these situations. How the amygdala is primed for fear learning, working in conjunction with the hypothalamus to generate fight or flight or that freeze response some of us know all too well. Those fear memories lead to fear conditioning. Prime the amygdala too much and you get hyperactivity, post-traumatic stress. Nightmares, and hyper-vigilance, and triggers, and anxiety, and depression and, and, and.
So, to the people who ask why you didn’t fight back, why you didn’t just tell him off, why you froze: survival instinct. Thanks, amygdala. Too many women have died for that risk to be one worth taking. When your car is parked in and the street is shaded with trees and no one is outside except for the people in the cars not stopping, not saying anything, to the man who wouldn’t move his car, you froze to survive.
And here’s the thing, right? We acclimated to it – to the fear and the potential harm. Being a woman in the world – the Old World, ripe with tragedies without the backdrop of the pandemic – we were accustomed to it. Carry your keys in your fist, always check under your car, carry your pepper spray or even better, a taser, have you considered a gun, don’t wear your headphones, don’t wear your long hair down, or up, nothing for them to grab, scratch them if you can, scream “fire!” not “rape!” because people are more likely to respond, don’t drink too much, have you tried kickboxing, don’t dress provocatively, be careful of police impersonators, don’t forget to check your backseat, be careful of police, don’t go running at night, are you sure your door is locked, just smile, walk away when they harass you but chill it’s just a compliment, just tell them to stop, cover your drink, well why didn’t you say anything before, oh but that was so long ago, are you sure it’s locked, they were nice to me what do you mean, don’t be a bitch, at least they didn’t touch you.
What did you expect, after all?
And it all says the same thing: prepare for it. Maybe you’re Lucky to only get whistled at, or your ass grabbed, or a couple insults hurled at you as you walk away or sit in your car, but it’s gonna happen. Might as well be ready for it.
So now, we are reemerging into the New World – somehow still during the pandemic – and have to interact with the people we avoided during isolation.
If it feels more vicious, more dangerous, more unfamiliar, well, you’re not alone.
We’re not acclimated, anymore.
And we shouldn’t have to do it again. No more excuses, no more silence, no more laughing off your friend’s rape joke, no more sweeping scandals under the rug. It’s filthy under there and it’s time to vacuum.
But where do you even start when there’s just so much trash?
Reclamation, for one. Community building, education and organization, for two. And a lot of righteous indignation to round it out. And it can be on our terms.
There is a market for Artsy Self Defense Kits (they’re fantastic and fashionable and cute – and artist Alyssa Silos has helped open a women’s shelter in the Philippines with profits made from her art). But let’s consider why essentially reclaiming self defense with art was necessary in the first place. This trend arose from necessity – because we are tired of dying. Of being harassed and brutalized at the behest of predatory cis men.
And yes, this is a trans issue. It’s a racial issue. It’s a public health issue. It is an intersectional issue with alarming statistics. It always has been. It’s a societal problem waved away with “boys will be boys” in every court transcript. Marked off as “no concern” by the powers-that-be. Just rub one out, right Rochester? Just calm down.
I won’t fucking do it anymore.
Stop telling survivors to calm down, because we shouldn’t have to. Stop telling survivors they’re being dramatic or that no one wants to hear it. It’s heavy, so we should be the only one to sit with it, right? Or is it just that accountability is uncomfortable and you don’t want to deal with it? Maybe focus some of that avoidant energy into funding robust sex education with comprehensive discussions about consent. Maybe stop telling those of us who have been violated and assaulted to calm down, and instead criticize the behavior of the violators and assaulters.
I am tired of seeing the faces of women who were here yesterday and missing, or assaulted or dead today, all because a man could. I am tired of watching predators go free because they had a promising future, or didn’t mean it like that, or just had a little too much to drink. I am tired of hearing about new ways to defend myself, or new tactics to watch out for. I am tired of women – particularly black and indigenous women – being disappeared from their families with no press coverage or police investigations.
I am tired of being quiet because it isn’t the time for this. If I can feel unsafe and terrified at 11:30am, you can be uncomfortable in a meeting about how to prevent it from happening again. It is the time to organize and build a community of people tired of seeing and experiencing it every day. It is time to be loud until we’re heard and listened to, holding accountable institutions that reside in the comfort of silence and archaic expectations.
And I am tired of being angry.
So what are you going to do about it?
If you or someone you know has experienced any form of sexual violence, please visit these resources.
Taking Back Ourselves: a foundation supporting women of color
RAINN and sexual assault hotline: they have additional resources for specific identities
Get involved in the fight against sexual violence. Consider donating to RAINN or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.