I can’t in good conscience recommend this article by the brilliant Lidia Yuknavitch, whose work I have written about here before.
So why am I linking to it if I can’t recommend it?
It’s an explicit, detailed account of her own history with abuse and rape, set in the context of what rape culture means to women. Even for a woman like me, with very little violence in my history, not enough fear of men to be sensible about the dangers, and a long history of reading/hearing other people’s horrible stories, Yuknavitch goes almost too far. If your background isn’t as atypically lucky as mine, she probably does go too far.
But here are some of the things she says between telling her stories:
I’m trying to tell you something here, but it’s starting to sound like what I’m saying is that I deserved these violences. Let me be clear. I did not. No one does. Ever. But when women tell how it is for them, when they self narrate their ordinary lives, it’s instantly sucked up by the culture—there’s already a place waiting for the story. A place where the story gets annulled. It’s 2012 and I’m still reading about what the girl or woman was wearing that night. Or how she should hold aspirin between her legs. Or how she shouldn’t say the word “vagina” on the floor of congress. Or how a friend at a bar wants the sob stories to end. [This last is a reference to the opening paragraph of the article.] What I’m trying to tell you is that violence against girls and women is in every move we make, whether it is big violence or small, explicit or hidden behind the word father. Priest. Lover. Teacher. Coach. Friend. I’m trying to explain how you can be a girl and a woman and travel through male violence like it’s part of what living a life means. Getting into or out of a car. A plane. Going through a door to your own home. A church. School. Pool. It can seem normal. It can seem like just the way things are.
To be honest, the first reason I understand the complexities of male violence against girls and women is that I went to college and read a shit ton of books—and even that wasn’t enough education—I went to graduate school, where finally, finally, the books that I read and the films that I watched and the art that I experienced and the teachers that I had showed me just how not normal male violence against girls and women—or boys and men—is. Ever. And yet at the same time, the more conscious I became, the more I also understood that the pervasiveness of that violence has saturated the entire culture. It’s both omnipresent, and unbelievably invisible in its dispersed and sanctioned forms. So many times the cult of good citizenship covering over the atrocities of girls and boys. Mothers who go numb. Counselors who ask the wrong questions. Coaches and priests and teachers whose desires are costumed and sanctified by their authority. Neighbors who go blind and deaf. Paying bills. Drinking lattes.
The second reason I understand is that I am alive. Still. Differently.
It wasn’t that I did not understand the violences against me were wrong. I did. Even at three years of age. It was that I thought I deserved it, and possibly worse: that deserving it, I could withstand it. Mightily. Heroically. You see? As a righteously indignant defense. I could take it. As good as if I was some body’s son. It was a choice.
Listen, these are not the sad stories. Worse things happened to me. Those aren’t the sad stories either. These stories don’t carry the pathos to signify culturally in my culture. These stories I’m telling you are commonplace. That’s the point. They just happen and you live them and as you go you have to decide who you want to be.
If that wasn’t enough, the article goes on to discuss how Yuknavitch truly feels about abortion, and then she connects the dots:
I don’t know a single woman alive who is “happy” to have had an abortion. Or two. Or four. And it’s not just me. Other women. Republicans. Democrats. Unaffiliated women. Atheists. Christians. Muslims. Buddhists. Armies of us walking around carrying our body secrets. Our shame over the zygotes. Or maybe there’s something deeper than shame—maybe there’s a second self I had to kill in order to live. The Lidia who believed she deserved it. Could take it. Should. It was a choice.
Only read it if you feel that it’s right for you. At the same time, I hope you (whether or not you read her story) share her message, as I have tried to excerpt it here, with anyone and everyone who still believes that abuse stories are a form of one-upmanship, that the (mostly) male violence that “saturates the culture” is somehow acceptable, and that abortion is something women choose recreationally
Thanks to wordweaverlynn for the pointer.