I have never been raped or physically assaulted. That can change at any moment.
We’ve all heard the stories. We’ve read the statistics. We know the pain and fear of men’s violence against women.
All women live with some level of primary (first-person) and/or secondary (vicarious) trauma due to men’s violence, abuse, and sexism.
Experiences of abuse and sexism are not isolated. They happen daily for so many women, sometimes multiple times in a day. That’s a painful reality.
I recently did a presentation on rape culture to a church group and diverted from my usual script. I spontaneously spoke about my experience working with victims of sexual violence. I shared how that work has exposed me to the deepest level of pain I’ve ever known.
I found myself choking up on the stage in front of a large group of strangers. In the hundreds and hundreds of presentations I have given, I have never done that before. I was unprepared for the grief I felt in that moment.
Afterward, I was a little embarrassed about my “lack for professionalism” as I called it at the time.
But then I realized how difficult it is to be truly vulnerable and honest—with others and even myself—about how truly painful this work is.
As advocates and counselors, we carry the stories of others. We also have our own experiences to add to that burden. The weight is heavy. We can literally feel it in our aching shoulders.
Our culture is tremendously terrified of confronting pain, and of facing anger. We medicate, distract, distance, and deny to effectively detach ourselves from our personal grief or to avoid sitting with others in theirs.
As women, the inescapable and constant threat of men’s violence can be paralyzing. If we thought about it all the time, too long or too deeply, we would live in constant fear.
But we are also trained to push aside that pain and minimize the abuse done to us, saying: “Oh, this happens to women all the time. It’s not a big deal. Boys will be boys. This is normal male behavior. You know men…”
“All of us are doing what women have always done: We’re trying to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak.
Maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet, because we’ve seen that people often won’t take our word over his. Or maybe we don’t want to believe that there are still people out there who think so little of us as women.”
These were a few of the many powerful words from a recent speech by Michelle Obama. Her voice shook and she was clearly on the verge of tears as she delivered them.
Yes. It hurts. It hurts deeply to be treated as subhuman. To be reduced to a punching bag or piece of meat. To be told we are unfit for leadership or ministry because of our sex. To have our callings, missions, vocations, and ability to hear from God invalidated.
My challenge for 2017: I invite women to press towards honesty, start acknowledging this pain, and cease to push it away or minimize it. To not shy away from speaking the raw, unfiltered truth about our experiences of sexism, abuse, and violence.
Let’s not sanitize, sugar-coat, or coddle the feelings of the audience. Men need to hear from us. And if men aren’t going to ask us about our experiences, then we need to tell them anyway.
There is nothing more powerful than a woman who uses her voice and uses it well.
What if all women (not just a few activists) did this? Our voices would be impossible to muffle.
When we speak loudly about our experiences, we make it extremely difficult for supporters of patriarchy to continually deny its consequences for women.
Complementarians believe that it is possible to have non-hierarchical, non-abusive patriarchy. This opinion is only conceivable when women do not share with men (and even other women) what we go through on a daily basis.
But if we tell our stories loudly and insistently, we will be impossible to ignore. Rise, warriors—let’s not allow oppression the last word.
We must allow this grief, pain, and anger to incite a righteous battle for freedom and liberation. Anger towards injustice is not wrong. It is very, very right. God places this fire in us—not to consume us, but as a driving force for good.
The work of justice requires a long-standing purpose, rooted in truth. Our work will collapse when it’s only about us as individuals or if we withdraw when it gets tough or uncomfortable.
Results are never immediate. We may not see the fruit of our fight in this lifetime. We have to be okay with that. We have been commissioned to deny ourselves and carry our crosses daily. It will cost us. But labor births new life.
We will certainly grow tired and weary, but he said, “Come to me, I will give you rest.”
Second-wave feminist Andrea Dworkin gave an impassioned speech to 500 men at a conference in Minnesota thirty or so years ago. She ended in a plea:
“I want one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me… I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape.”
We will put our faith in our liberator, Jesus, and we will keep fighting until that day of truce comes. It may not come until this life passes away, but an eternal “truce” has been promised to us in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
We were entrusted with the caretaking of this earth and all those in it. I want to leave this life with the full knowledge that I gave all I had to care for my sisters and the broken-hearted who God so passionately loves.
Rebecca Kotz is a contributing writer in CBE’s latest book, Created to Thrive: Cultivating Abuse-Free Faith Communities, which brings together experts and faith leaders to tackle topics related to abuse. Created to Thrive equips churches to respond wisely to reports of abuse and create safe spaces where all can flourish, and it explores the dangerous consequences of women’s devaluation and how theology can perpetuate abuse. Learn more here.