Guest post by Mary Beth Danielson
I’m not usually cranky.
Then I got a cold.
I rarely get colds.
What’s going on?
Of course I have #metoo incidents. Like most women I have several stories of harassment and, yes, one of assault.
As self-aware women do, I’ve been poking at my crankiness. Why am I mad? Why does this rankle? I have years of therapy in me. I read, I write, I share, and I don’t push things down. I know my story and so does my husband and good friends.
I think it’s this: the #metoo campaign is taking me back to those long ago years of being 21 and 22 and 23.
I was raised in a religiously conservative family; I knew all the rules about “being pure” until marriage and I believed those rules mattered. At the same time I was curious, angry, strong and weak. I lived in Chicago. I worked entry-level jobs where I met not-churchy people who were sometimes gay, lesbian, Black, Hispanic, and awesomely kind and fun. This was great but it also expanded my world very fast. I didn’t know who to “let in” and who to “keep out.” I was as raw as Holly Golightly.
I was figuring out how to handle alcohol. I rarely became drunk. I often became less wary or inhibited.
I didn’t know how to read situations. Every time a man whistled or cat-called I thought it was my fault for not being modest enough which was so untrue it was ludicrous. When a male flirted with me I assumed he actually wanted to know me better. Hah.
Then this: I had a lot to drink at a party one evening and, ever prudent, I thought I should sleep a few hours before I drove home. The hostess was a friend who said sure. Her brother-in-law thought this meant I was available for sex. I woke to that huge man on top of me. I tried to push him off but couldn’t. I protested, but quietly. My friend and her husband would have come if I had yelled. I didn’t yell. Why?
Because I’d had three or four drinks over three or four hours. Because I‘d already had sex once so I was no longer the virgin I was supposed to be. I was not acting the way they had raised me to act so I was getting what they said I deserved. The people who raised me loved me; it would have broken their hearts to hear this now, but it is true. I had internalized those narrow old messages from people I respected and loved.
It would take more than a decade to realize that what happened was not “an incident.” It was rape.
Yes, I talked about it with therapists. I know now what I think about those long ago events. My confusion was exactly what led me to seminary–to a place where excellent teachers and smart fellow-students would talk about life and religious faith, about love and sexuality and being human. Where I would meet people who are still my friends and would incidentally (he was not in seminary) meet the man I would marry. I found my path to live my authentic life.
But this past week it’s back. All these years later there are still these moments when we wonder if we are living OUR lives, or if we are compromising more than a grown woman should to make other people’s lives run smoothly. We are all on edge about our edges.
Are we clear that we still get to feel confused about aspects of our sexuality, our creativity, and our lives? That sometimes we will be a gift to our communities and other times those communities will have to go it on their own because we need time and space to be alone?
Our families and communities still rely on us to fulfill their expectations of what grandmothers are like and what they do. Most churches, congregations, and social organizations still run labor-intensive programs by relying on older women. When we say no to their requests we feel guilt and anger. Support programs for not-rich women and their families are bandied about every day as political footballs for men who already have everything they need and so much more. We feel breathless, anxious, and powerless.
We are still on edges about our edges.
Remember what all of us would tell any young woman: Feeling safe and free is your birthright as a woman. You belong only to yourself. If you need help, yell loudly!