“Exhaustion was pressing upon and overpowering her. “Good-bye- because, I love you.” He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood if she had seen him- but it was too late; the shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone. She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again.”
In her novel The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s protagonist, Edna, wishes to swim further into the ocean than any one before her. In her final attempt, she pushes on and on until she is at peace with her journey and succumbs to the sea. This excerpt struck me particularly hard as it parallels my own journey towards activism in a post-Trump-election America. As a survivor of sexual assault, the election of Donald Trump was a slap in the face. It forces survivors of such trauma to come to grips with the fact that the national consciousness does not care of the validity of our stories, how this man promotes sexism and won votes because of it. Edna’s plunge into the sea encapsulates my own personal plunge. I will no longer allow society to dictate the validity of my trauma, nor will I let it profit off the objectification of women and womanliness any longer. To me, processing this trauma is a step much like Edna’s–to go where you have never pushed yourself before. It is to feel vulnerable and misunderstood, yet empowered enough to look to the distance and soldier on.
The realization that one is not as invincible as one believes is a sobering one. We all must experience it at one time or another, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. After experiencing more than one incident of sexual assault and rape at both a young age and as a young adult, I was forced to finally confront it after years of repression. Through time and meditation, I came to understand that the shame and guilt associated with such traumatic events do not stem from regret of one’s own actions. Instead, it comes from the double-sided nature of sexual assault and women’s roles in a male-dominated society. Women are perceived in a multitude of ways for acknowledging such crimes even occurred. Slut shaming and victim blaming are rampant and, more often than not, men are not held accountable for their actions. For me, shame turns to anger, and with research, that anger turned into activism. I would no longer blame myself for something I never asked for, something to which I never consented. This is a common experience for many sexual assault victims. A victim I would not allow myself to be. Instead, I would speak up for those who did not yet have the strength to speak for themselves.
In the movie “The Accused,” starring Jodie Foster, the debate over consent was brought to the forefront of our society for the first time. It depicted a young woman, drunk and acting in an overtly sexual manner, being condemned, objectified, and blamed for being raped by three men while others cheered on. This scene is tough for anyone to watch as its depravity is not seen in the assault itself, but instead in the inaction of the other men in the bar. What allowed this to go as far as it did? It was much more than being intoxicated–it is a direct causality to the rape culture with which our society is captivated. The men did not stop the assault because they, too, are victims of this rape culture. They have been taught by the media, by dominant hegemony, that a woman’s worth is found in her ability to be owned and viewed as a sex object, something to be objectified for another person’s pleasure, and nothing more. The term “rape culture” stems from legal precedence from the nineteenth century (and beyond) that treated women as property–of either the father or the husband. The punishment for rape in these times compensated the father, or forced a woman to marry her rapist (hence the idiom “making an honest woman out of her,” many times the rape would not be treated as an offense of the criminal nature but of the ‘purity’ of a woman.) These laws did nothing to protect a woman against her transgressor; instead it exploited the traumatic event in the favor of the men in her life. Our modern society has been shaped by such attitudes. In order to move past this culture our society has been tainted by, we all must grow for the better. I embraced feminism as a way to reshape our social fabric for the benefit of everyone living in it. I will no longer be silent. I will speak for the woman who was told she should not have gone out in such a short skirt. I will speak for the man who was taught that he was expected to objectify the woman in the short skirt, because she was asking for it.
Unless you have lived under a rock for the last two months, you might have noticed that the election of Donald Trump to the position of President of the United States inspired a surge of political action throughout the country. In many minds, Trump himself was the embodiment of misogyny and rape culture itself. And it would now be leading the nation known as the superpower of the entire world. The Women’s March on Washington drew over two million marchers and protestors to send a message to our newly appointed Commander-in-Chief. I marched alongside over 15,000 marchers in Nashville alone. This action not only revitalized the “protestor” in the media, but it has also awoken women and men from all corners of the country, in every state, to feel empowered and willing to speak up for themselves and the women and men they love. This feminist movement is no longer the archetype society hopes to portray; it is no longer the awkward social misfits who can’t land a boyfriend. It is your mother, your sister, your neighbor, your brother. This awakened feminist views the world anew; s/he may harness some contempt for the perceived injustices of our society and the unattainable standards it forces upon women through body image and sexuality policing, and upon men through hypo-masculine expectations and the marginalization of male emotions as epicene. S/he calls out injustice and speaks out when the need calls for it. S/he is an advocate for equality of the sexes and all people. S/he must recognize there is no room for prejudice and discrimination in social justice activism. S/he must recognize one’s own prejudices and acknowledge one’s own privileges in our society and use them for the advancement of the message of equality. This is where my own intersectional feminism comes into play. Once you approach feminism outside of a label [“jilted woman,” “man-hater,” or “SJW” (social justice warrior for you non-interwebs types)], one can evaluate the movement as such. A citizen of this one world, for the betterment and equality of all, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or nationality.
This has been a snippet of my own journey to activism and feminism. Welcome to OvulNATION. Join the awakening, feel the humanity created here.