Sunday, September 03, 2006
Who decides how an abuse victim is supposed to react?
First, I find it very hard to say to a victim that her actions, whatever they may be, are bad for Women. Mostly, people do whatever they can to survive. I'm lucky. I've never been a victim of rape or sexual abuse or domestic abuse. But, most of my female friends have. (Some of my male friends have too, but right now I'm going to focus on the women. Since we're the topic of conversation.) Of all my female friends, one -- ONE -- beside me has not been a victim of some form of abuse. And I'm not talking about having to hear inappropriate jokes, I mean abuse. Rape, child abuse, abusive boyfriends -- things that, by any definition, are real abuse. Of all my friends, two of us have managed to make it to 32 without having to deal with it personally. It's crazy that that can happen. What's crazier is that none of my friends would be included in the abuse/rape statistics compiled every year -- because none of them reported it.
My best friend was in a relationship with a man who physcially abused and raped her repeatedly over a period of months. She didn't tell anyone at first, not even me and she knew I'd be supportive and help her anyway I could. She didn't feel she could tell anyone. I'm not sure why, exactly, but she couldn't tell anyone. She's an intelligent woman. She's educated, she's got a decent job, she's assertive in pretty much any way -- but when she became a victim, she couldn't tell anyone. She finally got away from the Bastard, but it took her a little while. When I found out what he was doing, I wanted to shake her, tell her to call the cops and put the fucker in jail. But she wouldn't, she couldn't. And I had to accept that, like it or not, because my coming down on her, telling her she was acting dumbly, that she knew better than to accept that behavior, would only have made the situation worse. She did know, deep inside, that she didn't deserve that behavior. And yet, when she found it happening to her, she wasn't able to access that knowledge for months. But she did it, and moved on, when she was capable of it.
But it didn't end there, of course. She got away from the Bastard, but she still had to live with what he did to her. What he made her feel and what he made her think about herself. It led her to flit from relationship to relationship (although, I don't know if she thinks that's what was behind her behavior) often with men who were not good for her, that she didn't really like, but she felt like she needed to be in a relationship with someone. I worry about her, because she won't talk to her counselor about any of her Man Issues and I don't want her to suffer from this any longer than she has too. But I know I can't tell her how to react to this situation, because I've never been through it myself. I can only imagine how I'd feel if I had. I can't imagine how I'd react and I certainly wouldn't want to have to defend those actions to anyone else.
I have another friend who was molested as a child. She didn't tell anyone about it until she was nearly 30. She was molested by a family member when she was about 8. Never said a word to anyone, but she always had problems with relationships. She'd had maybe a dozen dates in her entire life, no real relationships, no boyfriends -- because she couldn't stand to have anyone touch her. It freaked her out, brought back memories. Her whole life, this thing haunts her. Was she wrong to react the way she did? Was she wrong not to tell anyone? Was she wrong to not be able to have an adult relationship? And should she have to defend her choices to anyone?
The problem I have with people who go on and on about hurting Women, is that they often forget that there are lower-case women of flesh-and-blood who are living through these horrors. Yes, feminists have a responsiblity to Women as a class, but they have an even larger responsibility to women as individuals. Even if we manage to overthrow the Patriarchy, we'll still be stuck with the individuals who made up the system before.
I like theory. I'm pretty good at it. I enjoy thinking (perhaps too much sometimes.) But any theory has to have a practical application. If fighting the patriarchy leaves women like my friends feeling that they have to defend the decisions they made in order to survive their abuse, we need to find a new game plan. What good is helping Women as a class when individual women are left bleeding on the sidelines?