Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault
I am ashamed of this story, but I feel it is important and I’ve been thinking about it for more than a year so I’m going to tell it for the first time here. It’s a harsh lesson, and it’s been hard for me to gather my thoughts on it. I’m going to try because it’s something I think every woman should think about and take very seriously.
I call myself a feminist. I proudly proclaim to never get jealous in relationships. I preach loving women and supporting women.
More than a year ago, I was out with an ex-boyfriend and he introduced me to a female friend of his who had just moved here. They’d known each other from their mutual hometown and she had come out to the bar to see him, which was a very nice gesture. She was a pretty girl. Intelligent, had a cool job, was friendly toward me. But as she excitedly cozied up to my boyfriend, I grew anxious. He’d invited her out so she and I could potentially become friends, but I gave her the cold shoulder the whole night. I didn’t like another girl hanging out with us, even though we constantly went to the movies, shows and bars with his two male roommates. Situations in which I was the only girl.
I decided I hated this girl simply because she was another woman talking to my boyfriend, simply because she was another woman, simply because I was insecure. I decided she was out to steal him away from me. I decided she was the enemy. I treated her as such the whole night. I didn’t talk to her and gave her the evil eye. Later, I complained to my boyfriend about what a bitch she was, how she was totally flirting with him, how threatened I felt because of how cool she seemed. I was a total c-word about it.
A month later, she was brutally raped in a very public, very high-profile case that made all the papers. I didn’t know it was her. I raged about the injustice to my boyfriend. I was furious that this had been allowed to happen. I was terrified for her. I was sad and I felt maybe one iota of her pain. I cried a lot and read obsessively about the details of the case. I wanted to somehow reach out to the woman and show her support, tell her that she wasn’t alone. A few days later, in the car, my boyfriend told me that the woman I was so concerned about was the girl I had railed against that night. She’d called him to let him know and he’d comforted her over the phone. I was shocked. And I cried some more.
I hated her for being a woman, and then she was attacked for being a woman.
Okay, look, I’m not saying you have to befriend every woman you meet simply because they are women. Some women, just like some people, are assholes. And I’m certainly not trying to claim this woman’s story as my own in some backwards show of solidarity. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the way I acted that night and I think this story has a broader theme. You don’t have to hate every woman you meet simply because you are both women. It is petty. It is small. It is ugly. It is unworthy of us to engage in competition with each other when there is so much out there telling us it is imperative that we band together. There is enough for us to fight, without also adding each other to the mix.
There was no way I could have known what would happen to that girl. But it could have happened to anyone. In many ways, it has happened to all of us. And then I chose not to view her as a person, but because of her gender, because of some invisible, perceived threat to my relationship, because she was another woman, I made her an object, a target, non-human. I did exactly what our patriarchal society (TV, movies, music, ads) constantly tells us to do. And then I called myself a feminist.
It’s OK to admit to yourself that you’ve behaved this way before — and maybe the person did have malicious intentions, and I grapple with wondering if I’m just “forgiving” something because the person is now a survivor. I think I was actually being terrible, but at the time, I felt justified. All I’m suggesting is to be conscious of it, recognize it and try to correct it. We should know and act better, even just as humans. (Please don’t get defensive. That one time you hated someone who was actually being awful is whatever.) I’m not trying to make up for being a dick to someone. It’s also shitty to feel guilty about something, only because the person was later assaulted. I’m not trying to say any of that because it’d be such a tiny part of the whole message.
I’m trying to tell you what I learned: hating other women, for being women, does nothing for us. It is wrong. It is harmful. It contributes to a toxic culture.
If you feel an instinct to hate another woman’s presence, try befriending her instead, try supporting her, try loving her. There is so much pushing against us already, there is so much hatred and misogyny we have experienced in common every single day. Do we really need to default to suspicion? Do we need to engage in exactly the weakening and small-minded bullshit our culture wants us to? No. We don’t. I should have known that without this girl having to go through horror. I know it has nothing to do with me, and it’s grandiose and self-centered to think it does. This is her story of survival. This is bigger than me. But it has made me reconsider my behavior and the way I regard other women. We are constantly pulled apart, and we should try as hard as we can to counter-act that instinct. We should trust each other, because there is so much out there to mistrust. We should feel kinship, not competition. We should have compassion and understanding because we face the same nonsense from men in government and darkness from the male gaze on the street and push-back from sexist male bosses at our jobs and feeling unwelcome in our own skin from predators who try to take away our personhood.
But I should have known all that already, and I’m sorry.