On why we shouldn’t use the term “rape culture”

We, as American college students, live in what has become popularly referred to as a “rape culture.” Sexual harassment and assault are seen by many as endemic problems on our campuses, and ever-increasing numbers of women are coming forward with their stories. Because of this, sexual harassment among young people has become a visible and debated issue, at the forefront of public awareness. Since women are sharing their experiences, the topic is no longer off-limits in the way it has been in the past, and support and resources are abundant and still growing.

Don’t get me wrong, I think all of this is wonderful. I know luck is the only reason I have never experienced rape, and I cannot even begin to imagine how horrible it must be to be violated in the most intimate way possible. I cannot sympathize enough with what victims of sexual assault go through. Likewise, I am so grateful to and proud of the women who have paved the way so that we are living in the beginnings of a society where we can have an open dialogue about sexual violence against women.

But, all of this attention is fundamentally flawed. We do not live in a rape culture; we live in a violence culture, and where many different types of violence, including rape still frequently occur against women unchecked. Rape is a heinous crime, but other types of violence are also awful, dangerous, scary and rampant. Accordingly, they and their victims deserve to be talked about.

So, why don’t we give the problem of domestic violence the same attention we give that of rape? Continue reading

On “not being believed”

I had an interesting exchange about domestic violence with someone a few months ago that really made me question why we have such a big issue with the veracity of PEVs* stories being called into question. After hearing a bit about my experience, the person I was speaking to said “I’m very sorry that this happened to you and that when you came forward you weren’t believed,” While I appreciated the sympathy expressed, and I understand that trying to find the right words when someone shares their experience with violence is never easy, this comment left me feeling frustrated more than anything else. Continue reading

On regrets and resolutions

Trigger warning

Although I know its late, going into 2015, I have one DV themed regret and one resolution:

 I realize now that so much of what happened to me was due to the choices of the person who was violent towards me, and not my own actions, so having regrets about it isn’t really constructive or beneficial. This is typical in cases of control and violence, as no matter what the PEV* does, someone bent on exerting dominance through violence will do so no matter what. However, it is normal for the PEV to feel totally responsible for what is happening, to feel that this is happening because of them, and not because the PPV** is choosing to victimize them.

However, I do have one regret, and that regret is wishing I had called the police. There is one night in particular I should have done it and I didn’t. It was only a few days before our lease ended, so I was almost in the clear. But I can’t help thinking that maybe if I had called the police, someone other than me would have realized that he has a problem. What scares me now is not my own safety; what scares me is the fact that abusive behavior is a pattern and even though I will never see him again, he has free reign to do what he did to me to another person. I know that its unproductive to feel responsibility for something I can do nothing about, but I feel a modicum of accountability all the same.

Anyway, here is what happened that night:

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On Struggling with Feminism

Growing up, I never once imagined my own wedding. My first Barbie was a firefighter and instead of visualizing a white dress, I spent my time picturing myself lording over a big office in a skyscraper.

As an ambitious woman who ultimately wants to be taken seriously in the career path I choose, it is natural that I should identify as a feminist. However, I have always been hesitant to call myself one. What I believe in, as do most people I know, male and female, is gender equality. And although there has been more of a public consensus recently that feminism is synonymous with equality, I still often feel alienated by it.

I want parity and freedom for all women as much as anyone else. As a woman with a strong personality, I have been told many times that I am too aggressive and overly vocal. As someone who experienced domestic violence, I know what it feels like to be victimized on the basis of gender. Regardless, I simply have not been able to identify with many feminist bloggers and activists.

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On what constitutes physical abuse

When is it physical abuse?

This question is so much more straight forward that the corresponding one about emotional abuse. If someone you have an intimate or domestic relationship with put his hands on you, and doesn’t remove them when you express he is hurting you, it is physical abuse. There is no excuse and no other explanation. Likewise, if that person deliberately injures you or causes you physical pain, it is abuse. There is absolutely no leeway.

Why then, does physical abuse still occur so frequently unchecked?Out of all of the kinds of GBV that occur, physical violence is by far the most visible, and should therefore be the least contentious and most combatable form. Unlike with emotional or verbal abuse, there can be no calling into question whether what happened was wrong or not.

First, because many people still don’t realize that there is no excuse for physical violence. Even though it may not be readily obvious to you, it is still deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche that, if a man and woman are in some sort of intimate relationship, what happens between them is private. In other words, it is justifiable for a man to use physical force against a woman, because he knows best what is happening in their relationship.

Likewise, depictions of women being violent towards men are rampant. What is more disturbing, though, is that in this reversal of traditional gender roles, the violence is celebrated. Somehow, we have come to equate women’s violence against men as empowerment.

We cannot rationalize violence. We cannot justify it. We cannot apologize for the people in our lives who we know are violent towards others, even if those people are our friends.

On good people, bad people, and people people

When everything was happening to me last spring, I began looking for meaning in the world around me in a way I never have before. I started to wonder a lot about whether there were such things as good people and bad people, which is not like me at all.

I care very little what people think of me; growing up weird can either leave you ostracized or it can do that. Throughout my teenage years, I always believed, somewhere in the back of my head, that if you care about other people, if you are kind to them, then, for people whose opinions you should value, this care and kindness is reciprocal, fuck the rest.

I had to learn the hard way that that is not how life is. Sometimes people have not found happiness in themselves yet, so they are unable to understand or enjoy your happiness. It took me a while to work that out. For several weeks, I was obsessed with this idea of good people and bad people. The only way I could rationalize someone disliking me enough to not care about causing me physical pain was believing that he was just an inherently bad person. Then I wondered why other people didn’t see that. Why I hadn’t seen that at first. Why he wasn’t mean or violent to other people. I came to the conclusion that I was the bad person, and that he was justified in his hatred and violence towards me.

Although I thought about it then, I couldn’t truly believe it, but the problem was all inside of him. He had just broken up with his girlfriend, he was having trouble performing sexually, he was frustrated and I was, as his female roommate, by far, the easiest target. It took me three months to realize that. He was not, is not, a bad person. I am not a bad person. There is no such thing as a bad person.

He was just a confused, upset and frustrated boy, and wanted someone to be more confused, upset and frustrated than he was.  Strangely enough, I think I pity him more than anything else. I have so much love and beauty and happiness in my life, despite all of the pain and I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone not to be able to find that.

In the end, I have the same philosophy I’ve always had. People are people. Neither good nor bad play any part in it. We are born inherently selfish maybe, but through self-reflection, honesty and learning to value and appreciate the happiness of others, we can make the choice to perform actions that do good.

I’ll leave off with a quote from Dumbledore, who is probably my favorite literary character, and who I am fond of quoting randomly in conversation in the hope that someone will one day realize what I am doing.  I think the message of this quote is so important to internalize if you are currently experiencing, or have experienced, any kind of long term abuse. It is so easy to feel worthless and to feel like what happened to you happened because of some way that you inherently are. That is not true. That is never true. And if you are truly unhappy with the person you are, it is never, ever, too late to begin making different choices.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

On insults, put-downs, verbal and emotional abuse pt.1

With every case of physical abuse comes the unavoidable emotional abuse that is interdependent. One person cannot repeatedly physically abuse another unless they already have a semblance of emotional control. Abusers want to isolate their victims from friends and make them feel worthless through insults and put-downs.

And so it is the rule, and so it was in my case. I was told, repeatedly and in different ways, that I annoyed all of our friends, that certain people didn’t like me and that there were things wrong with me that made bad social situations my fault. And when this first started happening, I had no reason to not listen to my roommate. He was my friend and up until then he had been a good friend, I had no reason to suspect that he would be saying any of that for reasons other than to help me.

In the long litany of insults that were thrown at me in the months I lived with him, many of which I returned, one really stands out. It was an unsolicited “Your feet are almost as repulsive as your face” as I washed my feet in the tub after a night walking home barefoot.

Why does this stand out when I had comments such as “You should kill yourself,” Continue reading