Rethinking Victimhood: There’s plenty to go around

Humans are creatures of extremes and over-correction.  Accountability seems to be a part of an unbalanced equation. Only one person can be held accountable for any negative result. This seems so counter intuitive. I remember hearing Mum say “they’re both to blame” or “we’re both to blame” so many times in my childhood that I guess I’ve always looked at incidents as being multi-causal. It isn’t a popular view, and I understand (see introductory statement) that in most cases it’s a defense against some initial imbalance.

Abuse has been on my mind of late. Rape too, given the media. In a large number of cases the dividing lines and blame are clear, but at what point are we absolved of the responsibility of maintaining our own safety?

Some long years back, when my god-sister was an early teen one of her friends was raped and stabbed and left in the bath tub of a mobile home. This was the initial, horrific story that she tearfully recounted to us when she showed up on our doorstep for a weekend visit. We, of course, had to have all the horrible conversations about bad people, about not blaming the victim, how she could be there for her friend, how to bring up the subject of counseling should the girl need it and not have it, etc etc.

A week, maybe two, later, we had to have an entirely different conversation. It turned out that the teenager had gone to the trailer alone with two adult males who were drug dealers to “party” with them and while NONE OF THIS TAKES THE BLAME FROM THOSE TWO MEN  for the violence they committed against someone, we are each responsible for the places we go and the things we do. The short, grisly statement that no one wants to hear is that SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE GONE.

Ah, blame. Plenty to go around, though not in the sense that it should be prosecuted. The crime of rape and assault rests firmly on the shoulders of the two dealers. FIRMLY. But there is plenty to go around and we’ve become a right nation of victims because everyone wants EVERYTHING to be some one else’s fault.

Imagine trying to have that conversation in today’s climate. Imagine the logical parallels that only lead to my being a monster for even saying them out loud.  I won’t make the mistake of comparing men to nonhuman animals. The humanists out there just look for that as an excuse to discredit. Let’s try the simplest, most sadly human example.

If there is a warzone, an area of horrific KNOWN violence, and a person walks willingly and knowingly into that area and is then shot in the head, then they had some part in their demise. Doesn’t mean that the person who pulled the trigger is any less responsible. (<—Read that again, because I mean it). We, especially here in the good ol’ USA, are hung up on rights. We think we have the right to do <insert anything here> and we do, but we also have to deal with the consequences. It doesn’t always mean that we “deserve” whatever happens (especially in the examples above), but it does mean that we had a hand in what happened to us. I could get into how a nation of victims is easier to control, but that sounds like a conspiracy theory that I don’t want to get into on this fine Saturday afternoon. Instead, I’m going to go play with my puppies.

I will visit this again, but for now a bit of light reading (ha). Dr. Zur expresses things far better, and honestly his take is refreshing (and rare) in a cultural climate that veers sharply between blaming the victim and blaming the perpetrator. At the risk of using a term over used by historians: We really need to find some middle ground. Blaming the perp is important. It’s right. It’s true. ETC. But once done, once the one who committed the violence is put away, the potential for victimhood remains. There is always another situation, another predator. Human beings are not curbing or evolving past this violence. They are ignoring it, locking it up, and denying any responsibility for the acts beyond that of offender.

Okay, I’ll stop. Read this. I’m not saying it’s all exactly right, but it’s a good start in a dialogue that no one seems to want to have.  Psychology of Victimhood: Rethinking “Don’t Blame the Victim”

I Am Not of This World: Cycles of Abuse, Plato’s Cave

cslewis

So, yesterday’s entry, as rough and rambling as it is, will be left as it is. It has inspired a great deal of thought and dialogue in this house and even with Mum. There was a horrible tightness in my chest all day yesterday, and when the Darkling got home, we had a passionate discussion complete with my pacing and hitting the punching bag about our differing views on whether or not I was abused. Deep breath, big sigh.

I was victim of child abuse.

Now all of you who are thinking about that fist fight with Mum, forget it. Nope. Even after I admitted that I have been abused, I can’t change my mind on that one. See, after I wrote yesterday’s blog, I had this whole follow-up planned about how I wasn’t abused but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was going to write about that. So, I’ll start there, but that’s not where I’m staying.

I was not a victim of abuse, I wrote yesterday, but it’s important to state that it wasn’t for lack of trying. That uncle was always asking for hugs, trying to get in rooms alone with me, and generally made inappropriate remarks from the moment I started developing breasts. I always responded with the aforementioned aggressive avoidance techniques and very clear “no.”s.  So, no, I was never abused, and I was prepared for my single caveat to be “though not for lack of trying.”

But here’s the thing. I couldn’t tell Dadai. Oh, I tried. Just as I tried with Smeagol. After the first dozen or so attempts though, you learn quickly that the adults around don’t want to hear about it. They’re going to tell you that you’re wrong or they’re going to make light of it. When, after you’ve told your Dadai about the incident, he insists that you go give your uncle pervert a hug… THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When that same paternal figure regularly reinforces his world view by making you feel that you are wrong, unloving, unforgiving, unfaithful, and an overall bad person. THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When you are drawn back in by sweet nicknames and common interests and demonstrations of concern for your well-being at moments of particular personal vulnerability. THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When the nature of your character, your heart, and the very state of your soul is questioned regularly because you will not sanction or ignore the horrible wrongs around you and you are taught to doubt yourself from childhood. THAT. IS. ABUSE.

I grew up believing without a single doubt, that there was something wrong with me. That I didn’t think “right”, that I don’t love “right”. But for Grace and Mum and Da’s reinforcement, I don’t know where I would be. At least this way I grew up knowing that I was wrong, but not caring. If I was “wrong” I didn’t want to be “right”. Never the uselessness of those terms on a grander scale, it is more important right now that I stress that I WAS NOT WRONG.

Now that I’ve dealt with the personal particulars, I’ll explain some things about abuse so that you know I’m not just ranting, I’ve had some classes. ; )

I realize that Dadai’s family is caught in a cycle of abuse. His father was an alcoholic who (when drunk), verbally and physically abused every last one of them. I don’t know all of the particulars. I do know that there were times when the children hid under their beds in terror of their father. While I’m sure that things are much worse than that, that single image tells me all that I need to know. They were terrorized. They were abused.

Their sainted mother blamed the alcohol. I know this not only from hearing the words leave her lips, but I also know it because “except for the alcohol” Grandpa was reportedly a good man. There was a built-in excuse for his behavior, never mind that class and economics suggest that Grandpa himself was an abuse victim. Instead of stopping the abuse, Grandma prayed. I think we’ve covered some of this before, and I know I’ve covered the whole I’m-not-bashing-prayer thing. But whether or not she was afraid of him herself, a product of her generation, or whatever, the fact remains that she was both victim of the cycle of abuse and participator. There were exit avenues available to her; she knew that his behavior was wrong. She chose to remain with him because she loved him more than herself or her children, and she continued giving him children to abuse. (Thirteen, folks. They had THIRTEEN.)

Every last child carries the legacies of that abuse. Some of them have broken the cycle. They are geographically and emotionally distanced from the rest of the family, though in the twisted psychology of family groups, they still love them and occasionally spend time with them. They have not passed that abuse or the baggage of that abuse onto their children. They have empowered their children to not become victims or abusers. I admire the heck of each of them, and am so grateful for their courage, their honesty, and their willingness to help me in their own ways to deal with my part of that family legacy.

The rest are trapped in that cycle as surely as the folks in Plato’s cave. For my part, I believe that the folks in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (at least after the first one is freed) and in my family choose to remain there. A quick summary for those of you who don’t click on the link (CLICK IT!): those trapped within the cave watch shadows on the wall. They create their own ideas of that flickering reality. Should one be freed, escape to experience the reality of those shadows and return to liberate his brethren, they inevitably rail against that one, claim that he/she is corrupted and refuse to turn their heads to see anything but the shadows on the wall before them. They are still bound in darkness. It’s sad. It can even be heartbreaking, and you can argue for their victimhood and their fears, but at the end of the day they would rather hurt someone else than question themselves. They would rather remain in chains.

Why? A heart like mine will always wonder why on earth anyone would rather remain in chains. The short answer is fear and shame. I’m going to tackle those next, but I think I’m going to take a break for now. A small thanks to those who’ve shown their support for this series of posts. Even something as simple as a “like” on google+ is encouraging right now. It’s an interesting process.

I Am Not of This World: persistent abuse cultures really make me want to leave

cslewis

I think that today I need to talk a little about sexual abuse. I am sincerely hoping to write a more coherent, less personal follow-up to this piece, but right now I needed to get all of this down. I know that it’s been on everyone’s mind lately with the Stuebenville rapes and rape culture all over the media.  And to that end you should go read this: “I Didn’t Know What Rape Was.”  Yes, I know all about the author, I know that there’s profanity, but don’t make me give you the language lecture. Go read Jen’s blog and let how heart-breakingly relevant her words are in our world seep in.

(And if you need the language lecture, ask me. I’m sure I have a copy handy somewhere).

Now, I could discuss social, cultural, and gender norms, but I hope at this point we’ve at least gotten to an understanding that traditional versions of these are not without their problems.(And honestly, I think that Jen does an admirable job).  Instead, I want to share something personal from the closet that is the Hellmouth in which I grew up.

Let me say first and foremost that I have been blessed to have never personally suffered physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse. Arguments can be made for each of these, but the latter, and my husband has done so. But I disagree, maybe even on semantics. For my experiences “abuse” is not quite the right word. But I’m going to work on that in the next post. No clue where I’ll end up from here.

When I was twelve Mum lost her temper and hit me in the face. The bruise was small, but it was there, just below my eye on my cheekbone. She shouldn’t have done it, won’t argue that at all, but the psychology of abuse doesn’t work in that situation any more than me getting hit in a schoolyard fight would. It was a violent attack, yes. It should not have happened, yes. But I promptly punched her back and the ensuing fight was not one that left me with a fear of my mother or any other victim psychology. I did not hurt physically or otherwise any more than I would have had I gotten into the same tussle with my bff (and trust me, Billie and I had our scraps).

Violence is not abuse, though abuse can be violent. Violence is not always malicious. I would argue that abuse most certainly is.

I feel as if I’ve rambled. To return to the topic. I have not been abused, though I too easily could have been. I grew up knowing this. I watched children around me suffer neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. I saw classmates cringe when the teacher had to raise her voice. I knew kids who couldn’t be touched, and children that you had to approach cautiously, as if they were half wild. I knew kids who feared their parents and their disapproval or their retribution. I knew, from an early age, that no all adults could be trusted.

For the record, none of that ever happened with me and Mum. Until I left for college, if I had a bad dream, I still went to Mum and Da’s bedroom and crawled under Da’s side of the bed. There I slept safe, loved, and protected with Pinky Toast (epic teddy extraordinaire) as a pillow, Mum’s robe as a blanket, and Da’s gun tucked between their mattresses just above my head.

Atypical, I know, but I tell you all of that to illustrate the important parts that an abused child doesn’t get: I felt loved. I felt safe. I was protected. With the exception of a single incident that to this day haunts my Mum, I did not encounter anything (at home) that would even count toward abuse. Mum (an abuse victim herself) always watched out for us, always talked to us about the signs, and how to protect ourselves. Da made sure we knew we could come to him with anything and that he’d kill anyone who harmed us. That sounds crazy violent to some, I’m sure, but when you’re a kid surrounded by adult predators, knowing that your folks have your back (even violently) is a comfort that cannot be overstressed.

And now the predators.

Dadai’s family is large. Large enough to have that one uncle that most good people would not leave alone with their children. I remember, from a very young age, not trusting said uncle. More importantly, I remember Mum telling me to stay away from him. To never be in a room alone with him and not to let him put his hands on me. I remember her telling me not to worry about being polite. Back talk, yell, kick, do whatever I had to in order to keep him away from me. I didn’t have to hug him hello and goodbye no matter what Dadai said. These were important bits of advice, since after their divorce when I was four years old Mum was not present at Dadai’s family gatherings. She raised me to never be a victim. Which in a funny way is precisely why I hit her back that day when I was 12.

Long ramble short, I was safe. I’m still safe. I’ll be dead in a ditch somewhere before I’m ever a victim unless some super clever serial killer kidnaps me and has the patience not to let me drive him to kill me.  Still, the predators are sout there. Most of Dadai’s family won’t talk about it. If you bring it up (and believe me, I did after I found out that said uncle had asked Smeagol—the baby sister—to see her breasts when she was fourteen) they act as if it’s some small bad thing that he shouldn’t have done. As if he swiped a cookie before dinner or something. They don’t tell the other children in our family to avoid him, to stop him, that they have every right to scream, shout, or kick. They make them go give him hugs when he shows up at family dinner. They make the teenage girls wait on him (fix his dinner plate, etc). I have one little cousin who is repeatedly allowed to spend the night with him and his wife!

This man has molested young girls and young women (can’t say about boys, I only know about the females) for decades. DECADES. At least forty years. That. I. Know. Of.  And while I think he should be taken out back and shot, I would be happy with even a moderate, modern response. Reporting. Counseling.  Protecting. These women have no support structures. By ignoring it, dismissing it, blaming the victims even!, family members not only hurt existing victims, they create more.

Their solution is always to pray about it. While I’m ALL for prayer, that’s b.s. It’s our JOBS to protect the innocent from harm. Not merely pray that they never come to it. More importantly, if you know that they are going to be harmed and you do nothing to stop it then you are JUST as responsible as the one who harms them.

Which is where I am today. The camel with that last straw.

I recently found out that someone biologically close to me—while under the influence of alcohol—said inappropriate things to Smeagol. These things could have come straight from the mouth of my hellbound uncle and because Smeagol’s parents are the useless creatures that they are, the Darkling and I had to explain to her just how inappropriate those comments were. Alcohol does not excuse it. I cannot go to her parents. I have done so already where the uncle was concerned and they LITERALLY did nothing. I have, of course, told Smeag to be assertive, to avoid as often as possible, but that if necessary she can shout, kick, scream or whatever.

As I said, today I’m angry. I’m angry for current events, I’m angry for past events, and I’m angry on behalf of all those victims. Little girls who had no one to stand up for them. No one to whom they could go and know that Da would shoot the bastard who’d put hands on her.

I’m also, just a little, angry for me, because I’ve finally gotten old enough to hate them all for their indifference.  I look back and I don’t see a family so human in their flaws, I see deplorable weakness and darkness. I see malice. I do not want to forgive them. That’s not who I am. I believe FIRMLY that there is good and evil in this world, and I DO believe that some people are bad. The adult me has broken trust with them. I cannot view them in the light that I once did. I do not care that they are “saved by grace.” I don’t believe that most of them are saved at all, because the abuse continues. The cycle is unbroken.

Men in that family treat women in wretched and horrifying ways because the women and the men buy into a system that reinforces the false idea that men are weak, subject to their hormones, and that they “can’t help” what they do. Women are taught that it must be their fault since the men can’t help it. So they believe that they deserve the abuse for wearing, saying, being whatever it is they were.

Enough. Enough, enough, enough. Humans MUST stop creating victims. Humans MUST stop creating these cowardly excuses for predators. And gods help us, they MUST stop using religion to reinforce this culture.

Truths:

All the prayer, church, singing, and Jesus-shouting will not save you if you are living daily the role of malice, of abuser, of harm. Being saved means you stop all that junk and pray for forgiveness for it. Not that you’re counting on JC to mitigate for you so that you can do whatever the heck you want.

An individual may be sick. An abuser may have deep-rooted psychological issues. But when over one hundred people know of even one instance of abuse and a child is still encouraged to spend time with the pervert, that isn’t a sickness, that’s frelling evil. No amount of being a “good person” will excuse you from the sins you committed against the children you sent like lambs to pain.

We need to empower one another. Children, adults, it doesn’t matter. We need to each know that no matter how stupid we may be or what we do, that no one has the RIGHT to harm us. Then we need to flip that coin and teach each other not to be stupid.

We need to empower men. That’s right. Read that again. Men are more than basic animalistic drives. Men are to be held responsible for their actions, not have excuses made for them. Men are capable of civilization.

We need to empower women. Women are not temptation. Women are not virtue. Women are humans. Just like men. If I don’t have the right to punch someone in the face because they’re stupid, then men don’t have the right to rape, molest, proposition a women because she’s not swathed in wool from hair to heel.  My skin is not an invitation to have sex with me. And a decent person never thinks that.

We need to stop apologizing to the perpetrators for the crimes they commit. Stop giving them excuses for committing them. We need to create a social norm that doesn’t encourage sins to be kept in closets that victims are then led to. We need to be comfortable calling people what they are. “Oh, he/she has had a hard life and didn’t know….blahblahblah.” WRONG. He/she is a rapist. A child molester. That’s what he/she is. And if he/she doesn’t want to be that then get help, redefine. BE BETTER.

The Stuebenville rape situation is heartbreaking because I agree with Jenny (the linked article).  It’s depressing that we do not teach physical, emotional, mental, sexual boundaries. That not only to women not know what rape is, men don’t. That we teach that someone is ENTITLED to another person’s body or being for any reason.

That, my friends, is the definition of chattel slavery.

I owe Mum (even with that right hook of hers) a greater debt than she will ever know. I was raised in region where slavery still rages (though I’ll argue it is not limited to the South), but I was not born in chains. Maybe it’s because of how hard she fought to break her own bonds. Maybe it’s simply because of how much she loved me. I don’t know. I don’t care. I am just thankful.

I do know that as a child I wasn’t much better than the monsters. I protected myself and my cousins as best I could from my uncle but because I was never abused, I didn’t stand up and say “hey, it’s not okay. It’s not okay for you to pretend this isn’t happening. It’s not okay for you to say he’s just being a dirty old man. Dirty old men are NOT OKAY!”

I did stand up when I found out about Smeagol’s incident. And that’s what I’m doing today, because I’ve watched that evil grow and it must be stopped.  If all I do is leave, if all I do is refuse to reinforce the sense of community surrounding the perpetrator, then I will have done something. Maybe not for those older than me. They know better. They choose otherwise. But maybe for the young ones. I will not be a part of it. Not in association, not in name, not in forgiveness.

Evil has too long been permitted to thrive in the hearts of humankind because we tell one another how sorry we are for the blight, instead of trying to cure it.