Friday, 10 April 2015

It's not me, it's you

Warning: this post contains some confronting material and, while I'll avoid using names, if you know me personally then there's a good chance you'll know some of the people and events I've mentioned.

This isn't intended to cause offence or embarrassment—I'm just recounting events and my interactions with some people who just don't get it. Yes, it's subjective, but all human experience is subjective, and it's best we recognise that. It's ok if you come up with a different interpretation from mine, but if you recoil from what I've written here then I hope you interrogate that feeling and its source. I hope you will apply your critical thinking skills: is your conclusion logical? Are you equitably processing the evidence presented? Or are you buying into culturally perpetuated myths and the practice of victim-blaming?

Over the past week or so I've been faced with making the awful decision about whether or not to attend a friend's party. I want to go, but it will mean seeing someone whom I really don't want to see, whose face now makes me feel sick because of the way he betrayed my trust and disrespected me. I don't want to be anywhere near him.

But more than that, I really don't want to hear yet again that I've misunderstood him, that I should be sympathetic and understand his perspective, that his behaviour was perfectly reasonable or acceptable given his upbringing and cultural influences and the way I was acting.

What I mean is:

I will not let you blame me.

Somehow, because I was abused before, you see a pattern. You see a common thread and that thread is me. You blame me. You justify it with the many stories that shape your world view, stories you've heard both from him and from the cultural environment you were raised in, stories you believe are an accurate representation of reality.

I don't tell you any stories, because you silence me with your tacit and sometimes vocal support for his behaviour, his generally being a great guy.

You do not see the other fabric linking these two chapters of my life, the one that is no mere thread but rather a smothering woven blanket: our society teaches men that it is acceptable—expected, even—to disrespect and hurt women.

You believe there must be a simple reason for his treating me this way and you turn a blind (willingly ignorant) eye, believing it's best left 'behind closed doors'. You believe that it was something I did that made him call me names, threaten to hit me, and continually tell me all the ways in which I was inferior to him, simply because—what? Because he has a penis?

You believe that, because he didn't hit me, it 'wasn't that bad' and he didn't really hold any power over me in the relationship. You believe that I wouldn't stay if it was that bad, because you believe I always had the power to leave.

When he did things that hurt me, I acknowledged the possibility that I might be overly sensitive because of my personal history. I gave him many chances, always reassuring him that I knew he didn't mean it, always making the excuses for him when he didn't make them himeself. It was never enough—I always disappointed him.

You believe him when he turns my words around, and tells you that I was oversensitive and I always took what he said so personally, that I always thought the worst of him and read into the innocent things he said and did.

You believe him when he tells you that I was manipulative, selfish, demanding, unloving. That he loved me so much, and I never really cared for him or gave him what he needed, even though he asked for so little.

You believe him when he tells you he was scared of me and my irrational behaviour.

You believe him when he says he doesn't understand why I want nothing to do with him, why I won't even speak to him.

You believe all this, and I know you do, because I believed all this about his ex-girlfriend. So I understand your ignorance, and I forgive you.

But I will not be subject to your opinions that perpetuate victim-blaming. And I will not listen to your narratives about this relationship or this man until you show willingness to correct your culturally embedded ignorance. There is only one common thread here, and it has nothing to do with my relationship history and everything to do with his.