By Larisa Manescu
I wish my personal essay Calling Bullshit On Shame, Five Years Later hadn’t evoked as much of a response as it did. But I knew it would, that people would relate. As a woman in this world, you get a lot of bullshit thrown your way that you’re conditioned to downplay. Don’t overreact, don’t flirt too much, but smile please, but don’t look too inviting and yet don’t be a bitch but you’re so nice, you’re leading me on, I mean… you can get sex anytime you want so who’s REALLY the disadvantaged sex?
I like to listen to the stories of strangers. Simple enough. But I’m woman and he’s man and so I walk with my hands gripped around my car keys – flex, relax, flex, relax – around strangers I want to trust but my mother tells me she wants me to be a lioness, not a rabbit, in this jungle of a world.
A jungle? Yeah, maybe that’s the status quo. But my unfaltering purpose is to change the status quo.
Call me reckless. Call me naive. But don’t present to me the lazy excuse of “That’s just the way the world is” when change is known to be the only constant. And although it may be slow growth, we are growing.
I wish this follow-up piece wasn’t necessary, but it is.
Here are the brave words of women who reached out to me with their own stories, women at different stages in their own healing or simply reacting to what resonated with them. I’ve asked the permission of each and every one of them to spotlight their words.
The fight is far from over, but can you feel the tide turning?
“I just wanted to thank you openly about something that has happened to both myself and so many people around me. I’m still dealing with my sexual assault with campus administration and I still have to see my rapist on campus every single day and sometimes in the same class. Reading your story made me feel less ashamed and more empowered to not only help myself, but help others. I felt ashamed because I was drunk when it happened so I decided not to press charges because if I weren’t drunk I could have stopped it. But it’s time to start shedding that blame and just learn to pick up the pieces again. I’m no writer, but I think I’m going to start writing my thoughts down just to get it all out.”
“There were so many things that really struck chords with me, and things that helped me in my own healing process (after two accounts of date rape freshman year of college). Essentially, your assaulter was armed. His weapon was our society’s mindset – the benefit of the doubt for the perpetrator – and all the lenience in the world to convince themselves that he was all good and well for the most part, except that tiny moment when he slipped up. That tiny instinct that’s inside too many people that makes them feel like they have any right to our bodies.”
“Made me remember that I looked down on myself for over a decade for allowing a college friend to push me around (unexpectedly and violently, not sexually, but as a means to express not accepting my lack of interest in his advances). I immediately questioned what I had done wrong and what I should do in the future never to anger someone that much again. Never occurred to me at age 19 that I had done nothing wrong at all and that he was the one who needed to own his own stuff. Thanks for reminding me. It is good to remember.”
– Joelle Basnight, High School Principal
“Thank you for sharing your story, it sounds and looks like I’m one of many who sadly can identify with your situation, but unlike you I don’t feel I ever want to share mine. I’ve told one person who oddly was someone fairly new to my life and who I may never see again (although having shared something so vulnerable to me I hope I do). …which is why I feel you hit the nail on the head that sometimes it’s most difficult to go to the ones you love most about something it’s so important you are supported through. I hope you realise that bravery like yours has the power to inspire people and encourage them that things can change for the better, and that no one has to suffer alone. I went to write this immediately after reading the other day and deleted after the first line…as if even sending this was too much admitting it was all real, crazy and sad, yet I still feel I will somehow want to delete message this later, delete all visible evidence.. if only we could do that for the memories, but the invisible evidence present in our everyday lives sadly cannot be erased.“
“Thank you for being vulnerable. I can see some of those things in other friends, and a lot of what they stand for and how they act makes sense now. I know they have been affected without even hearing the words from their mouths. Thank you for teaching me.”
“I was raped when I was 15 and didn’t know it was rape because I thought rape could only happen with a penis. I was scared and never contacted the police. Now that more women talk about it though, it makes me feel stronger. I’ve carried the burden with me for years and have never had the courage to write about it or share. Your piece made me cry. Your strength is inspirational. Thank you for writing about your survival. And from survivor to survivor, I am here if you ever need anything.”
“I was 18 – and I haven’t told most of the people in my life. I don’t know that I ever plan to – but thank you for writing about your story.”
“I’m sitting at the airport and struggling to not cry. I have no words. Thank you for writing that and thank you for sharing.”
“I’m sitting here at work trying to hold back tears. Just recently I was thinking about every sexual encounter I’ve had… I ended up having sex with him, so he would leave me alone because even after I stopped kissing him back and kept pushing his hands away, he would keep trying... Why did I have to FIGHT him off for it to be a solid no? I felt like sharing because your story felt like the start to a long road of healing.”
“I also had my story published today and the stories are different and literally decades apart, but SO much the same. Sending hugs and strength, I heard you… I am also hopeful that publishing these experiences will spark open talk and awareness in a wider audience, especially surrounding the myth of the “perfect rape,” at the expense of all other assaults being largely dismissed as invalid. An assault is devastating enough without feeling shame that it wasn’t “perfect” enough, for crying out loud.”
“I realize that is not something you will ever forget, but I’m happy you have not kept it buried. Secrets eat the soul.”
Yeah, I can feel the tide turning.