OREGON–(ENEWSPF)–November 6, 2016. Editor’s Note: This very powerful commentary is a must-read for every woman and man. Much thanks to the author, RebeccaFS, for being brave enough to share her very personal thoughts and experiences. Rosemary Piser, eNews Park Forest
I want to be free of the stigma and the fear; I want peace in my heart…or it could get “nasty”
It seems timely to be writing this piece right before the Presidential Election, where the definition of what it means to be a woman has defined both candidates’ campaigns; for one candidate, it has been about embodying a dream that women (and their mothers, daughters, sisters…) once thought to be an impossibility; for the other candidate, it has been about the abject disregard for a woman’s rights or choices or body.
But, really, this piece could be written—or should have been written previously—at any time.
Though deeply personal and almost impossible to share, the feelings that have been simmering inside of me have finally boiled over, and so, while often feeling so helpless, I am now doing what I know how to do: I am going to write.
I am 31 years old. I am a wife. I am a mother to two children; a daughter and a son. I worked for many years as a teacher and now I blog and write as my job. I am a daughter, a sister and friend. I am a registered voter. I may be a nasty woman, though I do not think that I am. I am many things. And—I write this with tears streaming down my face—I am a victim.
It was not until very recently that I realized how difficult it is to be a woman in my world, especially when things do not go smoothly. I know that I am not saying anything new when I highlight the fact that women have been disadvantaged throughout history. But, I am not trying to paint with broad strokes. Rather, I am speaking of what it means to be a woman like me; a woman who cares about my family, my reputation and whether or not someone, someday, will refer to me as being “nasty”.
When I suffered from severe prenatal and postpartum depression in 2013 I faced the judgement (to put it kindly) of many people around me. I was demoralized for not being able to persevere through the pain and for allowing the darkness, at times, to win. I felt extreme guilt, not just because I could not take care of my son in the same way that I did for my daughter, but also in that I was unable to enjoy him. It was not hard for me to have two children. It was hard for me to cope with the crushing hormones that held me so tightly in their insidious grasp that I could barely breathe.
But, even my postpartum story, something that blog about frequently, is not what I am referring to today.
Throughout my life, I have been the victim of discrimination, harassment and, horrific manipulation. And every single time that something happened to me, whether it was a one-time incident or an ongoing struggle, I vowed to do things differently.
I will win this time! I promised myself. And yet every time—every single time—I have suffered. I have lost. I have been shamed, intimidated, ridiculed, broken…it has gotten nasty.
There was the time during my Freshman year of college when a guy in a gray North Face fleece locked me in the bathroom at an off-campus party. I shoved him off of me, escaped from the bathroom, and ran down the street, into town, where I bumped into some older male friends from my High School. In their presence, I felt safe. I had escaped. I never saw that man again.
Later, during my Junior year, a professor, widely loved and regarded, asked me to do an independent study with him. He had heard me chatting with friends in the hallways of a humanities building, passionate about my literary ideas, and he “chose” me. We began meeting, as I was so excited and honored to have been asked to work so closely with the teacher whom everyone adored. But the tone and frequency of our interactions started to shift, and I became uncomfortable. I did not know what to do. He would text me messages, offering to buy me alcohol (I was still underage) and told me that my grade for his class would be based on “oral performance”. He started to substitute subtlety with overt sexuality, by asking me to wear a thong to our meetings and telling me that our next “date” could “not cum soon enough”. And do you know what I did? Nothing. I did nothing. Well, that is not entirely true. My dear friend and I figured out a way to call him so that it would go directly to his voicemail (I was too terrified that he would answer and that I would have to speak to him) and I left him a message explaining that I would not be able to work with him any longer. I spent the next year and a half until I graduated trying to avoid him in the hallways of the English building, terrified of bumping into him.
Why did I not report him? Because I felt responsible. I felt as though I must have done something that sent the wrong message to him and though he was the Professor—the grown-up—the doctor—the married man, I should have known better and I was worried that he would, somehow, ruin me and my reputation as a serious Honors student. So I put my head down, worked on my thesis and scurried through the halls as quickly as I could until I graduated.
This type of thing happened to me, in different capacities, several more times throughout my adult life. Sometimes, it was a minor thing, like when a grad school classmate would ask me to study privately off-campus at a restaurant and I misread signals. Those times, though uncomfortable, were easy to let go.
And then, there were some traumas. I am being intentionally vague here when I share this next chapter of my story, so please forgive me, but my opacity is intentional and also illustrative of my point: I cannot come forward with the full story because I am too scared. Let me just say this: As an adult (I had already had my first child) I developed a creative relationship with someone who was in a position of power over me. We had had a family connection, and between that, his job and my role in his orbit I thought that he was, most likely, the very safest person with whom to work on my creative endeavor. I remember my first email to him, crafting it so carefully, editing every word to make sure that my message was clear and could, in no way, be misread.
And my high walls worked. For some time. But this person was a predator, and he was smart and skilled and manipulative and he got my wall down just low enough to see over it and used every single thing that he observed about me to his advantage. He created a version of himself that he thought that I would like and he told me that he had fallen in love with me. He said that while scores of other women loved him, I was the special one and the only one for whom he had feelings.
And I did not believe him. Nor did I share his feelings. I liked our friendship, but wanted nothing more. And when I found out that he had, in fact, been having inappropriate relationships with many women around me, I confronted him, told him that he was pathological, and cut off all contact.
But did I come forward? Did I report him? Did I try to get retribution for my pain or something tangible to replace what I had lost (as I could no longer be associated with him and therefore had to move on in my life, which disadvantaged me economically, along with the emotional suffering)? I did not.
Why did I not come forward with my egregious story? Because I was scared. Because if I came forward, my name would be attached to a “salacious” story and I could not risk that. I had to ache and agonize in silence. I could not try to make things right for myself or anyone else. I had to make sure that I would not be dragged through the mud in a case of “he said/she said”. Because that is what I have learned: once you come out with a story, the gloves are off, and you, even as the victim, lose control of the narrative. Though I knew the truth, I could have been slandered and defamed, and even if I could prove my “innocence”, I would still, somehow, be attached to someone whom I just wanted to forget.
And so, I grieved in silence, once again.
Something happened to me recently. It is too fresh to talk about, but it is the same story, in many ways, just with different characters and circumstances.
I share this, though, because I am overwhelmed by the injustice of it all. I was hurt, in every way that one can be hurt, and yet I cannot seek justice. I cannot make a report or write about the specifics, or tell other parties who would be interested.
And why is this?
Because my reputation would be on the line, and it was threatened. And as a mother and woman who works with children, I cannot risk any possible damage to my name or the impression of my character.
And I want to scream. I want to scream bloody murder. I want to kick and scream and yell and cry and go door to door and tell people the truth about what happened because it feels so incredibly unfair that I have to sit here, fragile & fractured, in silence. But if I scream, there is a chance that someone else could scream louder. And it does not matter that I am telling the truth about the story; if I am involved in a nasty story, I become the nasty woman.
I have always been incredibly empathic towards women who have suffered attacks or assaults or were in situations involving domestic violence or abuse. I have tried to help with donations of clothing, toys and money, but my “help” has constantly seemed frivolous to me in the face of their pain.
And I will admit that I have questioned, time and again, why these women, savagely attacked, would stay quiet.
And now I get it.
We have to stay quiet because speaking can put us in more danger. And the last thing that someone wants after being attacked is to worry about the next attack that could be looming around the corner, whether it is a physical beating, a sexual assault or a character assassination.
We women, strong and nasty in all of our glory, walk around with bruises and welts, hidden under long-sleeved shirts, because we are scared of worse injuries, literal or metaphorical.
And that is just not right. We should be able to report instances of violence or harassment or even discomfort without the fear of retribution, retaliation or a Scarlet “N” being branded on us. Do you know her? She is a NASTY woman.
In what I have shared in this deeply emotional and personal post I was excruciatingly careful with my diction. I did not give names, identifying details or specifics about people, places or events. I did not defame, invade privacy or commit libel. No connections can be made. I had to protect the guilty in order to protect myself.
And again, I will say, it is so freakin’ unfair.
I cannot take back what has happened to me. I have endured so much more than that which I have chosen to share in this article, and though I wish I could travel back in time so that I could erase these bad people and experiences, I cannot. But I can learn from the past. I can be honest, in an effort to help others. I can write.
Most days, I have to whisper about my pain, crying softly into a tissue at the doctor’s office or bawling on a long car-ride home from work, behind closed doors.
But today, I write. And maybe it is risky to be so vulnerable and open. Perhaps it will be cathartic for me. Maybe some people will read this, scoff, and say, “But this girl deserved what she got. Because she’s a nasty woman.”
I know the truth. And while it may not set me free, I hope that it leads me onto a path of healing and our nation in the right direction on Tuesday. I hope that the culture of our country changes, so that we no longer have to fear that our collective reputations will be damaged and we can speak candidly about our injustices. About our pain.
I have lost a lot in my life, not limited to my self-respect, dignity and many relationships that were, at one time, so meaningful to me. But as long as I can write, and press “Vote”, I haven’t lost it all. And I will keep fighting for more. I will fight ruthlessly and relentlessly.
I’m just nasty like that.