I am not usually a fan of ‘awareness campaigns’ such as the #metoo one currently being circulated on social media. In the past I have found that they trivialize the issue being identified. Instead of starting a conversation, or bringing about actual change they simply allow people to feel as though they have done something before swiftly moving on with their lives. I resisted posting #metoo but felt the resistance too deeply this time. While I have well and truly dealt with the numerous cases of sexual abuse I have experienced from the age of 6, today I was faced with the fear I have dreaded since having a baby girl.
735am, ready to walk out the door to get the bus to school. Faith starts saying she doesn’t want to go. I hate the park…I don’t want to go. Im not going. At first I see this as the usual Monday-itis she has developed for school. But her complaints turn into downright defiance and she is now crying, and asserting the fact that she would rather stay home alone than go to the park. If we havent woken the entire apartment block that would be a miracle. Screaming, yelling, crying. I have a day of work ahead of me, we are going to miss the bus. She wont move and then I see and hear in her something that I cant describe… Fear? Panic? Determination definitely. Alarm bells start ringing and like a punch to the stomach this scene is far too familiar.
….I was 6 years old when I sat defiantly refusing to go inside the neighbour’s house.
….I screamed at my mum – on the way to a busy day at work – Im not going!
….I was scared and determined and I would not go. I sat on the pavement outside his house and I knew I would not be going in.
I saw the same behaviour, the same face, I heard the same voice. I saw the same crossed arms. I hadn’t been back there for years and yet here I was, facing me…
I calmed down and knelt by her and I asked what was wrong?? She screamed at me that had told me 100 times she hates it and she isn’t going.
I had a choice here and was faced with numerous thoughts all happening within seconds… usually, I would pick her up and walk her to the bus, shoes on or not. But today something seemed different. Running late for a bus, faced with a busy day, unsure of whether she was ‘playing up’, should I put my foot down and just pick her up and carry her out? Am I caving? Is this serious? Have I failed her? What the hell happened at the park??
And them BAM, again, 34 years ago… I remembered that feeling of not being heard and of how important it was for me that my mum trusted me and gave me the space to calm down. I took a moment, and I said to Faith, “What if I come to the park with you?”
Yes. We have movement.
We quietly walk to the bus and to school and I ask her probing questions. Inside I am petrified. We get to school and I talk to the teacher explaining whats happened and that I would like to come to the park. Of course I am welcomed. I notice again the stirring in me that I haven’t felt in years and I hold back tears as I relive a painful day in my childhood, determined not to let Faith down.
The park is fun and Faith was fine. I left after the park visit to catch up on my day and she enjoyed her day at school.
I don’t believe anything happened that need concern me – who knows what was happening for her – perhaps she was tired, perhaps the numerous ‘trivial’ reasons she gave me for hating the park were all it was…
I was happy to have been there for her, to have given her the space she needed and to show her that her voice matters. I told her that I too had once felt like she did and explained what happened for me (the 6-year-old version) in bed that night. I told her I had had to tell my mum something that scared me when I was exactly her age. She looked at me wide eyed and said "I bet she told him off!" If only, I thought. If only I had been stood up for and validated at that age. If only I had been heard. I omitted this detail thankful that this was her response - she knows I would stand for her. I told her that she can talk to me about anything. She promised that she would. I pray the promise of a 6-year-old holds true for many years to come feeling somewhat doubtful…but I hope that by remaining open to her and by sharing with her she feels safe to talk to me in the years ahead.
The inner (societal?) critic is yelling at me…Soft! You caved! Helicopter! And to that voice I say, there are times when I stand my ground. There are times when I hold strong. There are times when tantrums are tantrums. And then there are times when we take our experiences and we use them to guide our behaviour, when we listen to our hearts instead of our heads and we evaluate what’s really important. There are times when we take a risk worth taking.
What was important was that she was heard and respected and given the space to tell me and share with me. Its what we all want isn’t it?
So to the cowardly 'grandpa' figure who I adored and who not only preyed on me in the safety of my own bed, but who tore me to shreds emotionally and verbally before doing so, to the countless men who have grabbed, leered and spoken to me in revolting ways, to the man who masturbated in front of me at a bus stop when I was 12, to the ‘popular’ boy in my year 12 class who offered to walk me home through the park to keep me safe after a party then raped me and left me alone in the middle of nowhere, to the man who held me up against a wall by my throat telling me he loved me, to the man who yelled “nice tits” as I breastfed Faith. To the men who have used their power and positions to get what they want in all the small, subtle yet diminishing ways…
The silence is coming to an end and despite the pity and compassion I have mustered for you over the years, despite my forgiving you and feeling free of the effects you have had on me for much of my life, being a woman, and raising a woman I will always stand for the voices of women. Not because I hate you, not because you don’t matter, but because there are generations of healing which cannot begin to take place unless two things happen, identification and validation. Its not enough to sprout the numbers…1 in 2 women experience sexual assault…we have known that for years. The stories need to be told, the voices need to be heard, the experiences need to be felt, integrated and validated, so that healing can occur not only individually, but generationally. This is well documented and yet still we tell women, as I was told at 8 years old, to get over it. To move on.
This #metoo campaign might be allowing women to share for the first time, one story might inspire bravery in another and so on. This campaign is different in so many ways…its not just a couple of words or a filter over a profile picture…it’s providing the space that many may never have been afforded to speak out. So for me, for my daughter and for all the women who have experienced feeling overpowered and invaded, I stand with you and loudly say #METOO. This too, is a risk worth taking.
(In addition, not only is it important to say this, but to keep the doors open to others and to be willing to say #youtoo? To hear the stories, to face the realities, to feel the discomfort and to do the work to break the cycles and the patterns of abuse that exist.)