Tweeted by me recently:
As a Woman, by a certain age, you’ve been called too many different things, by too many different people; in a messy attempt to reduce you.
That’s why we make rules like this: I have a very simple and firm rule: I tell you how to refer to me. You don’t tell me how you will refer to me. #Respect
I am a Survivor of years of child sexual abuse at the hands of multiple perpetrators. I’ve been actively working to heal since the age of 13. I’ve been actively working to aid others in healing since my early 20s.
There is a direct connection between the onset of my menstrual cycle and the sexual abuse I endured. There is a direct connection between the onset of my menstrual cycle and the stepfather who abused me. There is a direct connection between the onset of my menstrual cycle, that day, at the age of 13, and the sexual abuse I endured.
I’ve worked hard to heal. But, like that scar alot of us still have on our knee, the emotional scar remains to this day.
So the first time that I read that someone was referring to me, a middle-aged Black woman in America, a descendant of raped slaves, I was slightly taken aback. Just for a moment, you know.
Nothing dramatic. Nothing anyone could see. Just something deep and dark that I could feel.
I’m not squishy or sensitive about it at all. It’s standard practice for women to be asked detailed questions about their menstrual cycle when we come in contact with medical professionals.
But, as a noun? Like, “you are because you bleed”. That shook me a bit, yes. That pinched me. It pinched me because of the history that I carry inside of me every day.
Being called a”menstruator” s not akin to being called a “superpredator”, at least in the USA.
Still,it has problems. Nothing good has ever come from folks slapping a new name tag on vulnerable groups then demanding they wear it or face some type of penalty. Ever!
And from my own lived experience, it sounded too close to how my sexually and physically abusive stepfather spoke of girls and women.
I vividly recall being considered not much more than an object.
An object who needed to be “taught” how to be a woman, by him. (Yes, he told me this.)
An object incapable of being a recognized, complex, and dynamic human being. A girl incapable of figuring out how to be a woman without the violent intervention of an adult male.
Been there done this before as a young Black girl trying to understand and survive abuse in the 1980s. While at the same time trying to understand and survive abuse as a young Black girl living in a racist country that fancied itself to be a country above and beyond racism.
The Power of Words
2020 kept us busy with very necessary protests, racism, sexism, bigotry, social distancing, elections & trying hard to survive it all.
Speaking of elections, decades later, a word, a theory that came about in the 1990s was back on the table for discussion and debate.
See articles at the end of this post:
To summarize, there was an ongoing social crisis. Decisions were made to name it and deal with it. Those decisions only made things so much worse for vulnerable populations.
The hope was that we learned:
Words are extremely powerful
Words can and do shape policies, laws, & regulations.
Words can shape the form of systems.
Words can be doors but they can also be locks.
Words have the power to either build or destroy entire groups of people for generations to come.
In 2021, we have to have deeper & more open discussions about sex and gender. Silence is not an option.
We have women who have thoughts and concerns about sex and gender. They are extremely concerned about how the language we use and the actions that we take impact women and trans women.
All women who wish to express their thoughts, fears, concerns ought to be given space to respectfully do so in a safe, accessible, open-minded, and non-threatening manner.
In a sincere effort to be inclusive, the terminology for how we define women is trending towards words that define women by a bodily function or their genitalia. There are women on all sides of the issue who are concerned about language that focuses on naming them by genitalia. This includes:
- descendants of slaves,
- mature women of a certain age,
- women of faith for whom modesty is of paramount importance
- women who have a history of childhood abuse especially those who were called disparaging names.
- women in relationships where there are power and control issues
- women in relationships where there is emotional abuse and name-calling (‘c**t, s**t, b***th, w***e)
- women in relationship/countries where women are devalued (bleeder, breeder)
- young women learning to resist objectification of women in nearly all societies (vulva haver, cervix haver, uterus haver, vagina owner)
- women engaged in custody/visitation cases (see birthing parent, birthing body, breeder, chest feeder…)
- women who have a history of violent traumatic experiences especially those who’ve been sexually assaulted.
The concerns of victims/Survivors of domestic and sexual violence are pushed to the side too often. That has always been to our detriment. I often think about how it is still unacceptable for women whose experience with violence intersected other social issues. Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks come to mind.
In her book: At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, author Danielle L. McGuire adds important layers to the 1960’s Black civil rights movement. She discusses how both Black women’s and men’s activists struggled with dealing with issues of rape and other acts of sexual violence alongside both unlawful and lawful racist acts of violence, obstruction, and destruction.
The reader comes away appreciating the magnitude of what these folks were dealing with and seeing clear evidence that issues around sexual violence were often tabled for another day that still hasn’t come yet.
I have long been a fan of research and history. But, It’s not always easy to process what you find.
So, I have a mantra I tell myself when combing through difficult research: “Even when history ain’t right it still gives you information that you can use.”
That time period in the 1990s was hard. Surviving sexual violence….hell. BUT,
throughout history, women, have always been courageously at the forefront of dialogue and work around inclusion, diversity, and personhood. This IS women’s work.
There is enough room and love for everybody to be great. Every single one of us.
We can and we will get this done so that those who feel unheard can be heard.
Those who feel unseen can be seen.
Those who feel unsafe can be safe.
In order to do that, we have to have intentionally safe, open-minded, humane, and respectful conversations. We must.
This time around, I’m looking forward to the voices, work, and testimony of Survivors of domestic and sexual violence being welcomed.