Women & their (in)visible power

It’s been a strange week.

A couple nights ago, my Vietnamese co-worker got smacked in the head by some random guy at a bus stop. A few days ago, an acquaintance of mine who is Taiwanese got punched in the face by her father, bruising her eye.

Women, and specifically women of color, are harmed every day — and not just by complete strangers, but by our own kind, and people we know and love. Am I paranoid because I am assuming the physical insult done to my co-worker was because of her race? Maybe I am. And is it sad that I’m not surprised my acquaintance got punched by her father? Maybe it is. But faced with these abuses, what did my friends do? Nothing. No call to the police, no reporting, no self-defense, nothing.

* * *

There is an almost complacent reaction when women of color endure such abuse, like it’s expected and there’s nothing we can do about it. Why?

Because we are used to it. We experience it every day.

Generations of physical, emotional, and mental trauma has — for whatever reason, whether it be displacement, sexual abuse, cultural expectations, family dynamics, life — sunken permanently into the soil. A woman, her mother, her mother’s mother, and so on, have experienced pain, and shoved it into the mouth of her daughter, to be a bitter taste in the back of her throat for as long as she will live. For the women who have passed on that pain, they know no better. They cannot fight patriarchy and break the cycle; tradition is too formidable a force. And in their frustration, they misplace their anger onto the next generation.

If I promise to myself I will never beat my daughter as I have been by my own mother, will I keep that promise? If I swear to myself I will never emotionally tear down my daughter as I had been, will I uphold it? Will the cycle stop with me? Or will my willpower slip because of my anger?

* * *

Women are taught, from birth to death, to have constant doubts about themselves. The media, the men in our lives, our workplaces, all teach us that it is normal, even desired to have all these qualms and anxieties: am I pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, good enough? In a Twitter post, Feminista Jones dares other women:

Not surprisingly, women began replying back with situations where they simply said thank you, accepting the compliment without further ado. The men who said them either retracted their compliments or just moved on to direct insults. As Feminista Jones says in an interview about that post:

It’s the idea that they [men] bestow the compliment on you, and you’re not supposed to be aware of it.

It’s almost as if recognizing our own beauty as women is unacceptable. We can be complimented, yes — but we have to act modest, as if we are undeserving of such affirmation. It’s almost as if low self-esteem is required for a woman to be desirable to a man. It’s almost like it is a sin for a woman to recognize her own power.

My friends being hurt; the subtle microaggressions I and countless women face every day, the resurrection of feminism in the 21st century, the intergenerational trauma that women of color are burdened by, and how that manifests — it is all palpable, especially in the States’ harrowing political climate. The macro feeds into the micro, and vice versa. The unrest can be felt.

It is time for a change. I ask you: When will it stop?

* * *

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Daily Post prompt: Qualm

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The work of surviving sexual abuse

I am surviving sexual abuse. And when I say “survive”, I don’t mean this triumphant fists-in-the-air, kiss-the-ground thing with Chariots of Fire playing in the background.

Surviving sexual abuse is doing the work.

It is slogging through the mud of your everyday anxieties and fighting through the deluge of thoughts that threaten to drag you down to the bottom of the river.

This work includes seeking out people you know will support you, and love you just as you are. Ironically, you end up resisting these people, because you feel you don’t deserve them. It’s a negative mantra that is often repeated:

I don’t ever deserve anything good.

It is a mantra that takes work to eradicate from your lexicon.

* * *

Surviving sexual abuse means constantly curating the people you allow to walk into the darkest, most vulnerable side of you. Individuals you let in will be dichotomously placed in two categories: those who have also experienced sexual abuse, and those who haven’t.

Those who have, you immediately feel a kinship with; a sisterhood formed in the crucible of heartbreak, self-doubt, and isolation. It is with these individuals that you share the traumas, the flashbacks, and other tiny pinpricks that become almost routine, when you are a survivor of sexual abuse. With them, you share little wisdoms derived from self-help books, song lyrics, articles, and all other sources of aid. With them, you learn more about what it is to be human. With them, you experience their beauty, like  a road trip… and feel their pain as your own.

Those who haven’t, you are moving constantly between caution, hesitancy, and even suspicion. With every misstep and communication breakdown, you lose trust in them little by little. You become saddened with the distance you have to traverse in order to reach them. And yet, sometimes you see a hopeful little light at the end of the tunnel, and try to give them second, third, umpteenth chances. With these individuals, you always stand the risk of getting hurt, taken advantage of, and/or manipulated. All you can hope for is that you have curated them carefully enough, and that you have judged well.

* * *

Healing is done at your own pace, no matter how much or how quickly these well-intentioned people in category two want you to recover.

I will take the liberty of giving out advice voluntarily, which I rarely do, because I hate telling people what think they should do. But I feel strongly about this when I say:

Telling a sexual abuse survivor to get better is like pushing a glacier faster down a hill — I know you want it to happen faster, but what you’re doing ain’t. gonna. do. nothin’. You will only drive them away the more you tell them to get better. The best things you can do are listen and reflect.

* * *

Healing is a patient force, but asks — quite unapologetically sometimes — that others around you be patient as well. It asks you to forever be mindful of your heart and mind, and to self-care liberally. If it asks you to take a walk, you better put on some comfy shoes. If it asks you to wake up at 3am and write, whip out that pen. If it asks you to cut off a person from your life, cry those tears and pull out those scissors.

Healing is demanding, with good reason. It cannot be hurried or arm-twisted out of you or counterfeited. When held up to the light, it has to show that you have done the work, in and around yourself.

If you’re wondering why I say I am surviving sexual abuse, like it’s present tense, that is the truth. It is ongoing and it is here to stay.


Daily Post prompt: Heal

Betrayed by a “maybe”

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Sometimes I think, did my mother really allow her daughter to get molested?

Sometimes I think, did she know the extent of the harm she was causing by allowing this to happen?

Sometimes I think, did she know she had inflicted permanent scars upon me the very day she found out and made silence her response?

* * *

I remember the day I confronted her. We were in my stepdad’s office. We were glowering at each other. I had done something despicable to her, and I, stubbornly unapologetic, thought that moment opportune to turn it around on her.

I said, “Ma, did you know what [he] did to me?” I paused and tried to read the expression on her face. She gave nothing away yet. “Did you know he was touching me inappropriately back on the island?”

Her lips pursed, and she looked sideways, almost as if the memory could be found splattered on the wall or something. Then she looked back at me with searing eyes and said, “Maybe. I think so.”

I was rendered so numb by her answer that I forgot I was staring at her. It was like I blacked out with my eyes wide open.

All I could do was think back to all the little hints from my childhood that possibly implicated her:

When he would pick me up right in front of her and jokingly tell her I would have the body of a porn star when I got older … When he would keep asking me to give him a forehead massage right in front of her … When he would stay home while she would run errands …

* * *

Sometimes it feels like a bad dream. But I knew it was reality as soon as I heard my mother confirm my worst fear. Screw her half-assed “maybe”. She knew. And over the course of my childhood, she let it happen.


Daily Post Prompt: Maybe

Surviving shame

I got in my car and rolled down my windows. I blasted Placebo through the speakers, feeling a tingle so sharp at having found the perfect song for my angst. I wanted everyone to know I was angry.

I was stopped at a traffic light. I stared at the red like a frenzied bull, ready to go at the change of light. I turned sideways at the driver next to me and glared. I didn’t care if he caught me — he was a man, after all, and men deserved to feel some hate.

Okay, rewind.

I should clarify that I am not a raging man-hater. Nor am I angry all the time.

I get angry when I’m reminded of the injustices and dirty deeds done to girls and young women by men — and not just men… but men they know. I listened to a friend today talk about her experiences with one family member as a girl… potentially two. And as I listened to her shaking voice, I knew that this grown woman has carried damage inside ever since… and shame. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at her. She is calm, composed, upright… and strong. She survives.

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Why does this happen? Why is my friend the one that carries the shame, when this happened to her as an innocent? Why is she the one whose sense of self-worth deflates because of someone else’s crime? She is a beautiful, intelligent, educated, loving woman who deserves a partner who makes her feel like a goddamn queen.

Listening to her words, I could relate. I feel shame, like a fine glaze on my person, every damn day. It won’t rub off. I feel dirty. It makes me feel like I have to overcompensate, be extra nice, be extra apologetic, be something more than I’m not. I can never feel completely whole ever again, and I haven’t, not since the age of seven.

Why are women treated like this?