You Have Been Silenced!
Let’s be clear, here in America, the land of the “free”, nearly, or I dare say, every woman has experienced some degree of degradation because of her sex. According to the very adult, mature man, who I met at the dog beach, he claims that EVERY man has done some kind of sexual or other assault to a woman in his life.
So what is there to be confused about. Certainly, not that it happens, rather, the confusion is rooted in the “when” it happened and the “how” it happens and our culture and our personal histories.
My teacher, Angeles Arrien, would say, “You are not confused.” and I would add, I just didn’t really want to know what I knew. Angeles spoke a truth to me, bare, open and clear. There was the permission to know what I knew, what I had spent years pretending to not know or be confused about. And the most difficult thing was that I believed I was confused. And, I was! Because when you are asked to mask or hide a very important part of yourself, you become confused. You can’t find your allies or anchors, you are not sure who will believe you, understand you, or hold you as an upstanding human being who only wants to speak her truth.
What happened over the years I was pretending? The years I sacrificed some part of myself or a lot of myself to get through a moment. The years I had a complete and utter inability to ask to go to the bathroom in elementary school. Which always led to a mad dash home when school got out, sometimes getting to the back of the tall bushes in front of my house on Oak Street, and against every struggle to hold it, peeing in my pants as I fumbled for my keys.
There were the boys that would chase me home every day, thinking it was fun to terrify me. Oh, just “boys being boys”, right!? ( Isn’t that the same camp as “It’s just locker room talk”.) I ended up with nightmares about figuring out where my mom’s friends were on my way home so I could stop just in case the “boys just being boys” were really going to catch and hurt me. Their names sting in my memory like an allergic reaction to a bee bite, Tim R., T.and J. Sawyer. I knew a few things about them, they weren’t Jewish and I was/am. In class, they seemed pretty nice except Tim. I think all 3 had military buzz cuts which frightened me though I didn’t know why. The Sawyer twins were a bit more finished than the Tim guy. The twins were less rough around the edges. I was certain the Tim guy came from a house where there were guns. But what if I hadn’t been so afraid, so intimidated? Might I have turned and faced them, faced my fear, and yelled, “Leave me alone!” Definitely risky, and it certainly would have taken some gumption which I had learned to pack away many years earlier.
There is more to this story; Like the guys in high school who I dated just because they wanted to date me, or the story about the train conductor who was about 20, and I was 15. He was black and he started to make out with me without asking and without me saying yes or no. It was 1965 and god forbid I would look like a racist, or mean girl, and reject him. It was a long ride, a really long ride. The whole time, not knowing how or where to escape to and disliking him for intruding on me and hating myself for letting him. Not one person on the train did a thing. And, after…well after… I didn’t tell anyone. The thought of reporting him didn’t even come to mind. That would be very scary at the time. I thought I was responsible for this happening. I mean I was the one with no words, no NO’s, no voice. I never did say No, not even quietly, not once.
It amazes me that I wasn’t more hurt by my inability, my incapacitation to speak up, to form the word No in my mouth even though NO was shouting from every pour in my body.
To put a finale to my adolescent years, there was the very sweet, kind guy, I dated my senior year of high school. This put all the popular girls in a knot. I wasn’t cool, I was Jewish, and I was dating the Varsity football captain and President of our class. A few of these “know it all” girls, in the gym locker room, said with a sneer, “Are you dating him?” In an almost inaudible voice, I said, “Uh huh.”
Then, there was his mom who told him he shouldn’t go out with me because I was Jewish and would get fat after we married. It might be important to note that she was a complete alcoholic but I feared she could be right anyway. Not because I was Jewish, but because I grew up with Barbie Dolls and was certain I was fat at the age of 7, especially when I learned that food had calories and my comfort food, Jay’s Potato Chips, had a lot. And, oh, my dad’s very affectionate nickname for me was Tubby O’Neil. I loved my dad and desperately wanted his attention, and learned that even a weird, really bad nickname could be a way to connect with him.
I married the first time at 19 and we stayed married for 7 years because I couldn’t utter the word No. I was afraid. I was afraid of my life alone, my life ahead, MY life. The couples therapist we went to told us about her problems living with an alcoholic, so we quit and then, I quit the marriage.
No wonder I thought I was confused and my head was swimming with confusion. I couldn’t find my voice and I was certain I was alone in this.