Sunday, November 30, 2014

Blog #3 Dana

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful and to be with family. I am so grateful for all of the wonderful things in my life, and I love my family. But Thanksgiving, and pretty much all family gatherings for that matter, aren't always the most enjoyable for survivors of sexual assault. I 'came out' to my parents about six months ago telling them that I was a survivor. While I know they try to be supportive, I feel them tip toeing around me like I might crack at any moment. Or they'll bring up something regarding sexual assault in the news ("oh if only she had been more careful!) - to which I silently pray for them to go back to tip toeing. All of the people in my life at Duke know my story and what I do on campus regarding sexual assault advocacy - and now my project with WomenNC. I feel loved, supported, and free. But this openness spoils me - my family deals with my 'situation' by ignoring it. Shoving it under the rug. A Facebook message from my Mom - "Did you mean to post that you're a survivor on Facebook? You know your grandfather might see it."

In the wake of the Rolling Stone article detailing a gang rape at UVA, I knew someone would bring it up at Thanksgiving. In front of the family members my parents have worked to make sure they know nothing about my past - as if it is something I should be ashamed of. Unsurprisingly, the article became hors d'oeuvres chit chat. There were a few moments of 'poor girl,' but very quickly treaded into victim blaming. My grandmother: "The way women dress these days, I mean it is unsurprising that they get raped." Too much alcohol. Not focused enough. Didn't fight hard enough. I eventually just left the room to go bang my head against a wall.

Spending time with my family only constantly reminds me of all the work we have left to do in the fight for gender equality - and for survivors of sexual assault. This may be perhaps best shown in my sister. She is 15 and has her first boyfriend. My parents' tune has always been "no sex before marriage." Our high school sex ed talks about mechanics and risks, and nothing else. I know that they are sexually active, and I am frustrated that I feel like I am watching a train wreck in slow motion. She can't talk to my parents because they will freak out (my mom told me that she was "so disappointed" by me when she found out). School isn't giving her any tips on how to navigate a sexual relationship. And she won't listen to me because there is some unspoken law that little sisters ignore older sisters entirely. I see the power imbalance in their relationship. She talks about wanting to be a good wife for him (remember, she is 15). She is entirely focused on his pleasure and happiness. This isn't exactly surprising - the average age of exposure to pornography is age 11, and that 93% of boys see porn before they turn 18. I remember my freshman year of high school when boys I hardly knew would flash their phone right in front of my face with pornography displayed on it, and laugh at my horror. Porn teaches that male pleasure is most important; it creates false expectations of women and of what sex is supposed to look like. I fear that my sister and her generation will, like I and others did before her, learn to think of sex in terms of porn - in terms of male satisfaction and pleasure.

When people perceive sex to be all about the man, people begin to think of sex as something that men deserve, need, or are owed. Which is an obviously problematic way of thinking that very easily descends into slut-shaming, sexual assault, and victim blaming. I, for the longest time, did not recognize my abuse because I saw it as something I deserved. His needs were more important, right?

Going home for Thanksgiving only made this project more personal for me as well as reminding me of how important it is. When we live in a society that treats consensual sex as dirty and preaches abstinence, we validate slut-shaming. We validate victim-blaming. I'm doing this project for me because the system failed me. I'm doing it for my sister because the system is failing her. And I'm doing this project for all of the people the system has and will continue to fail.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Dana, this is powerful. You have a compelling story to tell, and yet the people in your life who really need to hear it don't want to listen. Hugs to you for trying. We move forward as individuals and as a society by trying not to repeat the mistakes and miscommunication of the past. Perhaps someone smarter than I am can help you find a way to reach your sister. As compassionate souls we want to "save" others from harm. I don't even know your sister, and I want to help her, and others like her. I commend you for using your own experience to guide your commitment and passion. Maybe we can find a way to help... Thinking of you.