It’s been one year since I started going to counselling for my assault. One year of change, one year of growth, one year of continuously questioning myself. Living away from my friends and family means that all of these changes and growth have occurred hidden from their eyes. They have not had a chance to watch the growth happen, or partake in its flow. I feel different now, I am different, but these changes happened throughout the course of a year. I’m a bit of a social media junkie and people see my projections through it. The person that I portray online is a little touch of me – confident, opinionated, and dedicated to a cause. I am all of those things, but I am also still the person that you remember. My values remain the same as they have always been, it’s the opinions that fuel those values that have changed.
Let me explain.
When you have experienced violence first hand, fear is created within you. At first, my fear was irrational. From the man at the grocery store to the people created by my imagination lurking in the dark, I felt fear. This isn’t because they were threatening me, but because I knew the extent of pain and control they could inflict on me. I possessed that reality and knew its depth. The only way to cope with the fear was to fight back. Counselling exposed me to a history full of oppression and inequality that helped fuel the man who hit me. I blame sexism and misogyny for rationalizing assault in the minds of perpetrators. Layer by layer, my interpretations of the world around me were stripped away and replaced with a new lens. In the same kind of way you start to notice how many people drive your make and model of vehicle (am I the only person who feels an unspoken bond with people who drive exactly the same kind of car as me?), you soon start to notice the attitudes and behaviours that attributed to that violence you felt. It’s in movies, tv shows, commercials, advertisements, social media. It’s within our family structure, our perceptions, our assumptions, our workplace. To me, it’s everywhere.
Aligning myself with feminism gives me strength. It allows me to focus on something that I know is just and right. It streamlines energy that could be spent on fear or obsessing about my assailant on something much more constructive and tangible. It helps to give me purpose. Every time I share something related to assault on social media, I share a little piece of myself. In my head I hear myself say, “see, this is what can happen”, or “this sounds like exactly what happened to me”. It’s my subtle way to search for value and vindication. When someone likes or shares the post, it reminds me that I’m not wrong and I never was. Through every like, I feel as if that person or those people believe me, they understand my journey, and they truly support me. Perhaps this is a warped way to achieve support and validation, but in a world where phone call conversations are rare and texting or DM’s have taken over our modes of communication, all the little things help and all the little things suddenly have much more meaning.
I have often said to my counsellors, “I don’t know where I would be without you”. This is not only because of the tremendous support they have provided me, but also because of what they have taught me. They’ve connected me to other women who align themselves with my ideas because they too have experienced my realities. They’ve shown me how feminism was a vehicle I could use to take my power back.
The problem with this path I have only somewhat chosen and more so been projected into, is that it goes against the grain. As with any movement that challenges the status quo, you are often met with a heavy push back. I have felt the push back from many people. Sometimes they are strangers, sometimes they are internet trolls, sometimes they are my friends, and sometimes they are family. I don’t expect everyone to think of and see the world the same way that I do, we don’t share the same experience that lead me to where I am now. What I do expect is that people are open to differing perspectives. If no one was ever open to these, the world would never change. It’s because people have challenged the status quo and others have listened, that we have seen great change.
I pick and choose my battles with strangers. I’ve had my fair share of threats from trolls who will attempt to obliterate you as soon as they see the word “feminist”. I will challenge people I don’t know to consider alternatives, still being careful with how much I allow myself to contribute before realizing its futile. I’ve found support on online communities that are filled with men and women who will have your virtual back when another person comes along to scream, “NOT ALL MEN!” at the top of their lungs when you’re trying to have a conversation about women. These are the fights that keep me going and give me purpose. These are the moments where I feel like I’m retaliating against the man who manipulated and hit me.
The most difficult and challenging part of this change has been the gap it has created between those that I care about and myself. Not everyone has to agree with my opinions, but it becomes more personal when the connection between my opinions and my experiences aren’t considered and are overlooked. I want to lay out in plain text that I do not, and never have, hated men. If anything, my hope is that more men start to see how deeply sexism and inequality between the sexes negatively impacts their lives as well. My boyfriend has witnessed my change but has been fortunate to grow with me. I am incredibly proud of him for being open to change and maintaining his support even when he didn’t necessarily agree because he always made the connection back to where my thoughts and opinions were coming from. I am this way now because it gives me strength, it assures the women around me that they can trust me if they need to talk about their own experiences, it provides a supportive and open environment for sharing. If there’s a woman who comes to me because she didn’t think anyone else would believe her, but she knew I would because of who I project on social media and who I am in real life, I don’t need any reason to change.
The definition of feminism is social, political, and economic equality between the sexes. Unfortunately, through assumptions and stereotypes, that definition has been skewed. All too often, the word feminist has been used as an insult. People have distanced themselves from the term because they think of it as negative. Go figure that a term that aims to create equality by focusing on women has been manipulated and used against us. I asked my boyfriend what he thought of the word the other day and his response? He said, “I think that people don’t even understand the term. As soon as it’s brought into a conversation, it becomes this cloud and people assuming you’re trying to attack them”. I would have to agree, because this is exactly how I feel when I use it. To be clear, I am not ashamed to be a feminist. I have no problem with aligning myself with feminism either. But as soon as you say you’re a feminist, the outside perception of you changes. I suddenly become someone who I am not and all of those assumptions about feminism are directly linked to me. I feel the weight of them attaching to my back like heavy bricks in a backpack (a far cry from the weightless white privilege one I wear everyday – I’m conscious of that though).
Often times, I feel lonely. I question whether the fight is worth it. I look at the gaps created between myself and those that I care about and wish it didn’t have to be that way. It’s hard being the one who isn’t fun because I can’t take a joke or let something go. In my world though, laughing at the joke or letting it go is exactly how the man who hurt me was able to do so, to many women, for as long as he did. People didn’t want to talk about these issues. They kept the secrets, laughed at the jokes, and let it go. I feel like men have enough people defending them. Go through the justice system after you’ve been assaulted and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The focus, for me, needs to be on women. We need to advocate for each other because there are too many people who would rather see us stay quiet.
I look at it as if you have 2 glasses of water, one half full and one full. To make the two equal, you wouldn’t continue to put water in the full glass. No, you would put water in the half full glass, letting the full glass do it’s thing and be completely unaffected by the half full glass slowing being filled. By pouring my focus into women, I’m hoping to help build that equality because men already have the full glass (statistics show that a disproportionate amount of women are victims of assault and violence when compared to men, just visit the RAINN website).
So, the next time you see me post something or hear me say something and you think, “whoa, that is offensive to me(n)”, please ask yourself why. After that, think about why I might think the way that I do. Remember a woman’s experience and the startling trends that she is starting to recognize as those layers of her former life are being peeled away and she enters her new reality.