Women Are Not The Problem

30 Jan

Hysterical. Emotional. Hormonal. Unreasonable. These are some of the words that are used to disempower women. These are the words that are used to cast doubt on women’s own experiences, make us think that we are the problem rather than those around us who are causing us pain, unease or discomfort.

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I have watched a lot of Larry Nassar’s victims give impact statements recently. My entire YouTube feed is links to videos of woman after woman, talking about their experiences at the hands of this monster, about the organizations that created an environment that allowed for him to thrive, unhindered, for over 30 years, and about the way that made them feel. I listened as woman after woman testified to her experience of knowing something was off but doubting it, because she was taught to trust doctors, because the adults in the room assured her everything was okay. Everything was not okay and many of the women knew. Take Rachael Denhollander, the one whose outcry and dogged work finally brought this atrocity to the surface. Take the words that she spoke in her almost 40-minute long statement:

One of the worst parts of this entire process was knowing as I began to realize what had happened to me how many other little girls had been left destroyed, too. I was barely 15 when Larry began to abuse me and as I lay on the table each time and try to reconcile what was happening with the man Larry was held out to be, there were three things I was very sure of. First, it was clear to me this was something Larry did regularly. Second, because this was something Larry did regularly, it was impossible that at least some women and girls had not described what was going on to officials at MSU and USAG. I was confident of this. And third, I was confident that because people at MSU and USAG had to be aware of what Larry was doing and had not stopped him, there could surely be no question about the legitimacy of his treatment. This must be medical treatment. The problem must be me.

The problem must be me.

This is a woman who was violated brazenly by a man who was supposed to help her. This is a woman who knew something was wrong. This is a woman who then waited 18 long years for a sign that when she came forward she would actually be heard, be believed. She sat with what she had gone through — what she knew other people had gone through, were going through, would go through — because she knew that no one would believe her, that her story would be cast aside and doubted along with so many others who were silenced. She waited until people would see that the problem wasn’t her. That the problem was him, was USAG, was MSU, was the USOC, was this society that we live in that constantly discredits and undermines women. And yet even as she and over 160 other survivors stood in front of their abuser and explained their experiences and tried, through tears and anger, to take their power back, the Internet went after another woman who was the problem. As Judge Aquilina sat from her bench letting each and every “sister-survivor” know that their voice mattered, that they were not the problem, she was criticized. God forbid these women are finally able to start to free themselves of the burden they carried for so long. God forbid their words are heard and believed without question. How dare she.

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The silencing of women is not always that sinister, does not always lead to the sort of event that we saw unfold in that courtroom in Michigan 30 years too late. But the consistent silencing of women is part of what allowed Nassar to carry on the way he did for so long. The consistent silencing of women is part of what allowed Nassar to remain one of the most respected sports medicine doctors in the world while he was penetrating I would posit thousands of young women and girls with his ungloved fingers. Every day we doubt our experiences, apologize for our existence, replay events time and again trying to figure out where we went wrong because it’s always us. We are always the problem. At least that’s what we are taught.

Let me tell you a story.

I was out the other night with a friend of mine having a conversation. We were drinking, probably a little too much for a few too many hours, but we were having fun, completely engulfed in our own night. We had our seats angled towards one another making it clear that we were there for each other, for this conversation, and for nothing else. A man behind me, hearing me recount a story to my friend about a shitty falafel, interrupted, telling us the best falafel place in the city according to all the experience his 3 months in New York had to offer him. I told him I didn’t need to venture all the way to the Jefferson Avenue stop when there are plenty of excellent places just down on Atlantic Avenue. I told him about one. I was curt but polite, and ignored his continued musings. My friend and I went back to our conversation which meandered from shitty falafel to being robbed while traveling and finally landed on dating. At this point, he interrupted again, asking us questions about the guy we were discussing. I felt my face fill with rage. I turned around and said, less politely and more curtly this time,

“I am having drinks with my friend. Our conversation does not concern you. Please stop interrupting us.”

At this point it became my fault. Our fault. We were crazy. The bar is a public space and he has the right to interject in any conversation he sees fit. As I tried to explain to him why he was incorrect, why what he did was rude, he kept talking over me, discrediting my experience, saying I was over reacting, he kept trying to use his voice to silence me. My friend would not have it and stopped him, telling him that he was the one being rude, that he does not get to enter into a conversation to which he was not invited and then make the rules, that he does not get to silence us. He paid his bill (barely) and then said to the bartender

Well, they scared me out. These women chased me out.

And he left it to us to explain. The problem, clearly, was us. I felt in the moment that we were in the right, that this man was unapologetically rude, that if he had just paid attention to the body language – back turned – and listened to the curt response – please don’t interject here this conversation does not include you – this all could have been avoided. If he had just listened to us, respected us, acknowledged us rather than continuing to force his way in where he was not invited, was not welcome, and then blaming us for our reaction. This morning I woke up angry. I was angry at him and I was angry at myself as I replayed the interaction again and again and again and again trying to ascertain the truth: was I the problem? was I crazy? was I unreasonable? I must have been.

I know intellectually that the answer to those questions is no, no and no but somewhere inside me I fall back on what I have always been taught: men’s voices, men’s experiences, are the real ones while women’s are not to be trusted. Women are not to be trusted to understand and engage with our own feelings and reactions. Men are correct. Women are the problem. So I woke up this morning feeling like I do a lot of mornings. I woke up this morning feeling like the problem.

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Hysterical. Emotional. Hormonal. Unreasonable. These are the weapons lobbed at us to make us feel like the problem, to silence us, to force us to silence ourselves. These words, and the feelings of self doubt and disempowerment that accompany them, are my enemies. And it isn’t just men who do it, women do it to each other. That’s the thing about the patriarchy – we were all raised in it and it is incredibly effective and efficient. We do it’s bidding and advance its cause without even realizing it. And in return it diminishes us.

You know what I have to say to that? Fuck the patriarchy. I am not the problem. We are not the problem. Not this time.

One Response to “Women Are Not The Problem”

  1. Mindy Frank January 30, 2018 at 8:02 pm #

    Personally, I don’t think women are the ‘problem’ ever….but thatt’s just me coming from the place of my own abuse.

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