Sunday, October 7, 2018

10/8/18—Passing Trauma Along


My mom went to her grave with a secret.

Well, knowing my mom, there might have been many secrets. But this one was big. She never told her children she was sexually abused by their grandfather. She may not have even told my father. If she did, he brought it to his grave, too.

So how do we know? It's really just an educated guess. But to begin with, from time to time she would talk about her younger sister, who was sexually abused by him. She would allude her brothers were abused by him, too. So you gotta wonder—if he abused all of them, how did she get by without it happening to her? As the oldest, it probably happened to her first.

She also hated my grandfather. I never met him. I never even knew his name. He was officially known as "that bastard". We know a lot of her hate comes from him cheating on her mother and leaving her mother alone to care for five children in the midst of WWII England. That makes sense until you realize she really didn't like her mother, either. One of her complaints about her mother is that she didn't respond the way a mother should respond when she found out about "her sister's" abuse. Most of the other complaints had to do with how her mother enabled "the bastard" in various ways.

I remember as a young child of maybe 8 or 9, my mother got a phone call. When she hung up, she walked past me and I heard her say, "Thank god that bastard is finally dead" and then she went about her day.

Beyond that, my sister says she remembers her saying, "If any man touches you, even if it's your father, you tell me and I'll believe you." Which is an odd thing to say, considering that my father wasn't anything like that. There were a lot of little mentions about protecting oneself from men, most of which I found normal. Moms warn children. But there was an energy or vibe behind it that made it a little less normal.

I have blogged about my own sexual assaults before. Not to minimize those episodes, but they were nowhere close to what most women experience. I think I can confidently say that the sexual assault that most marked my life was the never-spoken assault of my mother. It colored so much of my life. It sounds silly to say, but I have often felt my weight issues were much like that of a victim of sexual assault...protection from men. I've asked my older siblings, just in case I don't remember. I wasn't assaulted as a child. I believe I somehow absorbed my mother's trauma to that degree. But if not to that degree, it has certainly impacted my life. I also feel I've absorbed some shame from her, too.

On the other hand, to my knowledge, neither of my sisters have been seriously sexually assaulted either. A lot of women lose their naivete and trust around men through sexual assault. Our naivete and trust, to a certain degree, was bred out of us. So we weren't trusting enough to put ourselves in certain situations with men. Not that it couldn't have happened anyway, but we had a leg up on other girls who weren't impacted by a mother determined to protect us from her own fate.

Lately, we've been talking a lot about how sexual assault impacts a woman's life. But the reason I'm writing this blog today is because it also impacts the lives of her children, too, creating behaviors, attitudes and defenses they pass down to their children. And so on. This probably also works in reverse, too, creating sexual abusers from men who were abused or boys who emulate their abusive father's misogyny.

In the past couple of years, the blatant misogyny and "let's not ruin a good man's life" attitude of our lawmakers has brought a lot out in the open. But don't misunderstand: Men are not the victims here. They created this for themselves and perpetuated it since the first caveman took liberties with the first cavewoman. This legacy is a birthright entitled young men claim without any care of what it does to their sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Without any sense of what a cancer it is on our world.

I don't have any answers here. I can say, "This has to stop." I can even say it emphatically. But I have clues as to what will stop it. It is bred in. Certainly, consequences for entitled white dudes will help. It feels like we're on the cusp of that actually happening in our society. But then it will still take generations to heal. After 150 years, black people are still healing from the generational impacts of slavery at the hands of racist, sadistic white people. And until the white people stop it with their sadism and racism, the black people can't fully heal. Because it's still happening. Same thing with this.

The answer lies with men. The men who do this crap often find themselves with women who hate women...women who agree they are secondary to a man's wishes. So picketing with our vaginas won't work. Since we can only bring consequences with our vote and voice, we need to come out of the darkness, which we're doing. We need to heal ourselves for ourselves, regardless of whether or not men heal and evolve. We need to stop fearing men. Because the only way to help heal our daughters is to heal ourselves first. And we must raise our voices, as is happening in elections across the country.

One of the things I learned from my mother, who was ahead of her time in this regard, is that equality isn't something you wait on being given. It's something you assume in every move you make. It doesn't matter if men let you. What matters is that they have no choice. We need, as a sex, to stop assuming "the weaker sex" role. Fact is we are not the weaker sex, because the weakest person in any room is the one who doubts himself. That's not a male/female thing. They want it to be a male/female thing. We've been socialized to believe it's a male/female thing. But it's not.

Assault is about domination and control. It's about fearful, insecure, misogynistic men who need to dominate and control women to feel right about themselves. Certainly, most men are physically stronger than most women. That gives them a leg up. But the fact that women don't want to hurt or offend or make too much noise makes it easier for us to be dominated in other ways. The fact that we hope equality will be afforded to us, instead of just being equal, makes it easier for them.

These men need consequences. Women need to stop holding in the pain and shame, thereby protecting their aggressors, whether they speak up 5 minutes or 5 years later. We need to stop enabling them. And we need to stop trying to keep the peace and be nice. Which is not to say it's our fault. It's not. But there is more we can do to make domination and control less worth their while. The roots of their need to dominate and control lie in fear. Let's give them something to fear.

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