One week later and I’m still reading and link-collecting and doing a lot of thinking about the Isla Vista murders. Part of me feels apologetic about this, even self-indulgent. After all, I wasn’t even remotely affected directly by these events. I have no six-degrees-of-separation ties to any of the individuals involved or to the locations where the events occurred. (I mean, yes, I was born in the same state, but we moved away from CA before I turned two, and I have zero sense of myself as a west coaster.* I don’t even know where Santa Barbara is in geographic relation to my birthplace.)
So there’s lots of ways that I’m privileged to have some distance from these events: a fact for which I am extremely grateful, and one which also makes me somewhat embarrassed to be giving it such brain-space and blog-space. I even felt the temptation to title “Yet Another Post” from me about these events with some variant on the plea “Stop me, before I post again!”
But then I read this post from the Standing on the Side of Love blog.** In it, the author juxtaposes the legacy of Elliot Rodger’s misogynist writings and videos with the passing of Maya Angelou and her legacy of speaking out about the existence and effects of sexual violence. Then both of these events were further counterpointed against the simultaneously bombshell and matter-of-fact observation that in the week prior to writing her post, the blogger herself had been sexually assaulted.
These milestones all occurring this week make it so clear to me that patriarchy still rules our society, that sexual assault and misogyny are not limited to one incident but are a ubiquitous threat, in varying levels, to all of us. The humanity of every person is threatened by this reality. I wanted to share my story both to help me heal personally, and to provide information that yes, all women, and all people of all gender identities might find useful.
And then, in following the links from that post and my Facebook feed, I came across two other sites. First, a report on a study which reveals the way adolescent and tween girls understand (and wildly under-report) sexual harassment “as ‘normal stuff’ that ‘just happens’ because it’s what ‘guys do.'” Then there’s the tumblr analogue of the #YesAllWomen twitter movement: When Women Refuse, a collection of stories about domestic and sexual violence that is intended to demonstrate “that Rodger’s mass murder was not an anomaly, but instead part of a larger cultural pattern of violence against women.”
And I thought about my own checkered history of experiencing sexual violence, street harassment and misogyny. The rape in college. Years in Philly which were very mild, all things considered, but still contained a few catcall/honking incidents, the occasional groping, and a couple drunken “encounters” where I wasn’t entirely sure in my (inebriated) head that it’d be a good idea to “back out now.” And all of that happened soaked in the cultural miasma of a patriarchal system. For example: the many incidents throughout my schooling where the message from peers (and some teachers/administrators) was that I was too smart, too ambitious, too opinionated for a girl to be. And so part of the lessons I took from my childhood were about learning to live small, stay quiet, conceal the truth of my mind’s intelligence and my heart’s wisdom.
I am not sharing this in hopes of earning my own “victim cred,” nor to make a simplistic point about how my past experiences make it “okay” for me to be as deeply affected by last weekend’s events as I have been. Well, maybe it’s a bit of yes and no on that last point. Yes, it’s likely my resonance with these events and the ensuing discourse has been deepened by my own past traumas. But no, I don’t need any sort of excuse to be thinking or feeling deeply about this — or about anything else, for that matter.
It’s a messy tangle, rather than a straight line trajectory (this is why the metaphor to miasma is so present with me right now), but I am certain there’s a web of connections between the cultural expectations of women’s silence,docility, and availability; the patterns of sexual violence, harassment, and patriarchal retribution that have come so harshly to light this past week; and my own instincts towards self-silencing as I considered writing “Yet Another Post” touching on these issues.
But it’s a knot that needs untangling. And so I keep writing — even if sometimes all I’m writing about is about the right to write.
Every hard-fought sentence, every awkward phrase, every word a prayer. May we release this. May we be healed.
* Nope. I’m a New Englander, through and through, no matter what my birth certificate says.
** Yay, Unitarian Universalists!!