The problematic nature of using historic gender roles to create sympathetic moves to demand justice, to encourage equality, to discourage abuse is still effective despite the fact that we live in the twenty-first century. Why? Because of its iconicness, or its symbolic, emblematic, or representative nature.
One may ask, “How would you feel if your daughter/sister/mother/wife/aunt was raped/abused/so on?” This question and many others like it encourage a mental picture that is hard to discard given the graphic nature of such inquiries. Because all of us have a mother or a sister or a daughter or a cousin that we love and cherish. If all of us feel this way, then why do we target questions like the so strongly towards men? I’m guessing because it works. It creates that emotional reaction. It speaks towards a man’s inner desire to protect and to love. Even if the inherent language is misogynistic, since women are more than just either angel mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers or sinning whores. Women are sometimes powerful and weak, brave and cowardly, never perfect and always somewhat flawed. Just as men are, too.
I think of this as I reflect on the fact that my past abuser now has a child. Around the time of the start of the #MeToo movement, I broke my vow to not look him up on Facebook. The boy who tried to break me. I caved and searched the name I had blocked almost six years previously. I remember hoping that he would have deleted his personal account or blocked personal posts and photos from those who were no longer his friends. But the first thing I saw? A description with a name, date, and weight with a photo below of him, smiling what appeared to be sincere, holding a pink, tightly wrapped blanket. And there, in his arms, a sweet, tiny face, her arm reaching out to her father—the man who tried to rape me.
I should have known it would come eventually—his children. When we dated, he had been a member of the LDS faith, a religion known for large member families from which originated even larger polygamous families. From what I was told, he had been seeing a girl behind my back while we were “exclusive,” a girl whom he eventually married. Sometimes I wonder if I should have warned her, the other woman who became his wife. Not out of spite of being cheated on, but out of a genuine concern for a fellow human being. Does she know what he did do to me? Or what he tired to do? Probably not. Does he hurt her now? I’ll never know. But I truly do hope that he has changed. Changed for his wife and for his newly born daughter.
Forgiveness for me has been the ability to move on. I tried forgetting, but PTSD had other plans. The recurring nightmares made it impossible to forget what happened. I found solace in realizing that I wasn’t alone, that others had gone through what I had been through, some who had it worse than I. I found safety in a sorority of sisters, trust again from brothers and friends who had also experienced abuse. Humanity can be a beautiful thing.
The #MeToo movement is inspiring and triggering to me. Is it that way for others? I guess it’s different for everyone. For so long, I tried to forget. Now I embrace the not forgetting. I am made strong by myself and other survivors.
It’s interesting how past abuse affects you as you age.
Then: I had wished he’d disappear so I’d never have to see him again, that the pain would disappear, that my sadness would evaporate, that my desert would become a place of healing rather than hiding from pain.
Seven years later: Now I am much more whole, the pain a memory. Now I pray silently that he has changed, become a different person for his young family. Dear Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, please protect his daughter.