How to Defeat Rape Culture: Be the Kind of Hero We Truly Need

Naked girl on a wooden swing surrounded by a witchy forest of winter trees with flowers growing

The worst part is mourning what I will never be.

I grew up in a generation that believed we could do anything. A time of growth and change. We were going to defeat global warming just like superheroes. We were going to fix the world the Baby Boomers came so close to destroying.

For some of us, it hasn’t worked out that way.

That can be hard to take. Whenever I talk about the worst parts of my life, some well-intentioned white woman in the audience usually raises her hand and says, “have you tried therapy?”

I have come to see this particular question as rather like the way some people insist on responding to my fatness by offering advice on their favorite diet. Just like diets are viewed in some quarters as the tried and true antidote to gaining weight, so therapy is viewed as the antidote to the grief, rage, loss, and shame of trauma. This person’s intention is to provide a message of hope. The brokenness of fatness or of trauma is not permanent! All it takes is willpower and the diligent application of the correct solution, formatted of course by the right expert. Soon you’ll be good as new.

The intended message is positive, but it is based on a lie. I built this body with eating disorders and their hormonal aftermath. Society built this body with ptsd and hypervigilance and the torture that is being a rape survivor forced to confront rape culture every time she steps outside. Biology built this body out of chronic illness and migraines and the genetics of a people who lived in poverty for countless generations. My body is not going to change anytime soon. My body is not my failure. My body is my survival story made visible.

Similarly, this mind was created from disaster. I have lived through what ought to have broken me, not just once but over and over. I have been victimized by men I could not fight, men with all the power who hurt me in plain sight of communities who did nothing, because they were also afraid. I have lived through child abuse and homelessness and alcoholism and eating disorders and rape. The mind that emerged from that is different from yours, most likely. Different is not the same as broken. My anger is not something I need to be cured of. It is a testament to my strength.

One of the topics I return most often to my very much extant, feminist, badass therapist is the idea that not everything is my fault. This is a hard idea for me to grasp. I want to believe in that superhero idea my generation was raised with. I want to believe I can still save the world.

My therapist reminds me that none of us can do that alone. We are all of us capable of heroism, but we need each other’s help.

The kind of help I need from my generation is to pay attention to rape culture and commit to its destruction. I don’t need advice on how to adjust to it. I need everyone else to acknowledge rape culture exists, and it’s a bad thing, and fighting it is everyone’s responsibility.

Where rape culture is concerned, the heroes are the survivors who live to tell the tale, and choose to do so, in any way we can. The heroes are not the men who believe they are somehow the exception, the one patriarchy left unaffected. The heroes are not the people who insist to survivors like me that we can move on, if only we try harder.

The heroes are not the people who respond to their own discomfort and flat inability to reconcile life experiences like mine with their own reality, by trying to “fix” me. I am not theirs to fix. I am not obligated to keep quiet, to keep my story silent, to keep my grief and despair hidden out of misplaced shame. The truth of my life is not an intrusion into other people’s lives, it is simply the truth. The truth is not and can never be an intrusion.

These days, I acknowledge that I am never going to be a hero in the eyes of these folks. I am always going to either be a damaged victim to them, or else a villainous witch out to dismantle their ideas about the world. So I am out of the rescuing game, at least where they’re concerned.

Instead, I am invested in being my own hero. I share the details of my life when I feel called to, in honor of those I loved and who died from wounds similar to my own. I live my life with honesty and with honor, and I speak out against the injustices I have suffered in hopes others might be spared. I love the part of me that is was victimized and the part that is a survivor. I am strong and weak, broken and whole. I am human.

My life is never going to be the same as it was before a lot of terrible things happened. I am learning to accept that. I am learning to find the joy in the points of brokenness. I am learning to save myself from the things that almost killed me, the things I actually need saving from. My wish for this new year is that all of these people so invested in trying to save me, would heed this lesson about what survivors actually need to be saved from.

Writes all the things. Photographs the light. Smiles at odd moments. Reads in the shower. Sings to the trees. Hopes a lot.

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