First it was the boy in my kindergarten class. He was curious. He wanted to explore. My body suddenly wasn't my own. I was scared. I never told. Later it was the swimming pool incident. A friend and I went to the pool for the day (this was back when parents felt safe about dropping their kids off at the pool and leaving them there all day by themselves.) She and I were hanging on the edge. Talking. Laughing. I knew there was someone on the other side of me but I didn't really pay much attention. Until I felt fingers slip through the crotch of my bathing suit. I jerked around and saw the smirk on his face. For a moment we locked eyes. I was paralyzed. The same paralyzed fear I felt at the age of 5. I pulled away and hopped out of the pool. I never told. My body suddenly wasn't my own. Years later I was at the home of my first boyfriend. No one else was home except his little brother who was probably about 10 (I can't really remember.) My boyfriend pinned me down, sitting on my legs, holding down my arms with his hands, and let his little brother cop his first feel. I trusted him. I never told. Again my body wasn't my own. I've never been raped. I've never been forced to perform a sexual act that I didn't want to perform. But I do know what it's like to feel as if you can't protect yourself. I know the anger of feeling like your own body, the one thing that should be yours, isn't. And I know all about not feeling like you have a voice. I know about all the ways you try to say no when you don't know how to say no. I know about wishing they could pick up on the body language, the diverted eyes, the tense muscles. I know how to not say no. I know what it means to feel like you owe him. It's your fault that he's excited. Now pay up. I know what it's like to be scared, to have no voice, no power. There have been too many times when my body wasn't my own.
Eve Ensler is one of my heroes. Her work to end violence against women is astounding. She has not only brought, and kept, the issue in the publics eye but she has also worked to empower women, giving them a voice, helping them learn how to say no. The Vagina Monologues changed my life. It gave me permission to use the the word vagina. It even changed my perspective about the word cunt. It gave me permission to look at my body...all of my body, even the parts I kept in the dark. It helped me realize that I am connected to something greater than myself, something called womanhood, sisterhood. It made me proud to be a woman instead of ashamed because I couldn't speak up for my own body. I couldn't protect myself from people who thought they had the right to my body. I can not look through her photo book Vagina Warriors without crying (and yes, that is my lovely Selma Hayek on the cover wrapped in Eve Ensler's arms.) Seeing photos of women committed to ending violence against their sisters, committed to empowering women, is more moving than I can relay. I flip through the book and thank each one of them for their courage, their passion.The photo that pulls at my heart every time is the portrait of women, some Israeli, some Pakistani, photographed together. Peace is a word they are not very familiar with yet despite their differences of opinion there is one thing they can agree on, there is one thing that binds them together--the fight for their sisters. African American women, Native American women, young girls, gray headed ladies, celebrities and just some woman down the block, activists and authors, all of their portraits are present in this book. All of them are fighting for women. All of them are vagina warriors. I am proud to be a part of this sisterhood.
When I hear stories about young girls finding themselves in the same, or worse, scenario that I have known I feel angry. No, that is too light a word. I feel enraged. The fact that this world is not safe for women and children is unacceptable. One out of every four college-aged women in the US has been raped. Unacceptable. And that is in the US where there are actually laws in place to protect women and punish the offenders. What about places where women don't have this right. Seventy-six percent of women who are raped are done so by someone who told them they would love them. What a sick and twisted form of loving. I want to protect my sisters. I want to protect myself. I want to empower my sisters. I want to empower myself.
When the rage hits I find myself fighting, pushing against men, all men, even the innocent. I am learning to be careful about my rage. I cannot afford to shut down from men. I cannot afford to blame men. I cannot afford to hate men and punish men. I cannot afford to use my rage in those ways any longer because sleeping in the bedroom next to mine is my son. It is time to move into a new place of maturity and action, one that can distinguish the guilty from the innocent. He cannot carry the weight of my anger or my pain. I have to find a way to empower myself while educating him. I am the mother of a son in a world in which many girls and women are not safe. I'll be honest. I have felt myself shut down from him when I've heard yet another story of a girl being sexually abused by a man. To stay open, even in the pain and the rage, isn't easy. I want to shut down to all men. But I have a son. I have to learn a new way of being. It is not enough to create laws that protect women. Certainly we need these to be in place, but we need more. Certainly we must empower our daughters, but we need more. We must educate our sons. They need to know its unacceptable. We need them to fight with us. I am a woman. I fight for women's issues. I am the mother of a son. I will fight for issues that impact men. I want to be empowered. I want him to be empowered. I must look at the world in a bigger way. I must bridge the gap. And I can. I can learn to be better than my anger, my pain, my past. I can learn there is always enough love.
This is just one of the issues a woman who has been hurt by men begins to face when she finds herself raising a son. I am the mother of a precious, beautiful son. I want a better world for him. I want a better world for me.
That's my two cents...