Feeling the Feminine Wound During Election Season

Melancholy Girl Detail by Bixentro

Melancholy Girl Detail
by Bixentro

I’ve listened to the stories over the last few weeks of women who have come forward to talk about how presidential candidate Donald Trump sexually assaulted them.  I’ve also heard the weak defenses against this:  “This is just a political ploy.  Why didn’t these women speak up when it happened?”  I’ve been appalled, absolutely appalled at the understatements I’ve heard in reference to what Trump actually said he did.  He said “mean words,” he used “lewd language,” he “defiled women,” “he cheated on his wife.”  Some people try to replace the actual words to describe what he did, “sexual assault” with the word “sex.”  No, these are two very different things.  Sex is consensual.  Sex is enjoyable for all involved, because each participant wants it.  I think a major part of the problem is the religious subculture that conflates everything having to do with sex into one big melting pot of morality issues.

As I’ve heard the stories told by Trumps victims, I’ve felt deeply of the feminine wound the last few weeks.  I can understand why these women haven’t spoken up before now.  It has so much to do with this religious morality culture.  I have a story that I have not shared publicly before.  I’ve shared it only in safe spaces because my experience involved a lack feeling safe with some boys whom I considered friends.   When someone is violated and taken to an unsafe place by another human being, it takes a lot to share it in a place where words could tear open the wound anew.

It was a Saturday night while I was in high school.  I went to a football game with some friends.  Two of my guy friends offered to drive me to a party after the game.  I just wanted to stop by my house to get something I needed.  When we got to my house, no one was home so I told the two boys to wait in the car while I grabbed what I needed.  They didn’t.  They followed me into my house.  I went to my room and they followed me to my room.  I grabbed what I needed and started toward the door, but one of the boys blocked my way while the other shut the door.

What could I do but laugh nervously?  The boy who blocked my way grabbed my arms and asked incredulously, “What? Are you scared?”

“You guys are idiots,” I shrugged it off and tried to get around the boy who held my shoulders.

He pushed me toward my bed and then onto my bed.  The other boy held the door shut and kept a lookout for any family members who might come home.  I tried to get up and the boy pushed me down.  “You’re really scared aren’t you?” he smiled triumphantly at me.  “She’s actually scared,” he laughed, looking back at his buddy.

“No, I’m not scared, you guys are idiots.” I said, possibly a lie.  I’m not sure if I was scared.  These were good Mormon boys.  I didn’t think that they would really do anything to me.  I didn’t think this behavior was something that even happened in Mormondom.  Really, I didn’t think this was a big deal.  Their laughter and joking manner were understatements of the seriousness of what they were actually doing to me.  They knew what they were doing was morally wrong because of what they had been taught at church.  That is probably what excited them.   Neither they, nor I considered the real seriousness of human beings using force over another human being.  Because I didn’t understand the seriousness of it, I also minimalized it with understatements:  “You guys are being idiots.”  Boys will be boys.  This isn’t really serious.

But the power these boys were using to render me powerless was serious.  I was lucky it didn’t continue further than that.  A key in the front door signaled that my brother was home.  I went away from the experience thinking it wasn’t that big of a deal.  But the fact that I remember it nearly twenty years later says that it was a big deal.

Lately I’ve seen the worst of our culture.  I’ve seen clearly the reason why I as a sixteen year old girl didn’t think what was happening to me was a big deal.  I’ve seen grown adults defending a man who claimed to sexually assault women, and ignoring the voices of women who claimed to be sexually assaulted by him.  If adults can’t use words like sexual assault to describe what happened to these women, if adults say this is just the way men talk and act, if adults act as though this is not a big deal, then how can we expect children to have appropriate words and understandings to measure the magnitude of what is happening to them or what they are doing to others?  If we choose world leaders who brag about sexually assaulting women as if it’s no big deal, then it will continue to be no big deal for our children.

What I’ve seen even more often than a defense of Trump’s behavior is people turning a blind eye to it.  They don’t want to vote for his opponent, but they don’t know how to deal with the cognitive dissonance caused by the conservative candidate being a sexual predator.  So they turn away.  We as adults can’t turn away from serious issues.  We have to go where the pain is for us, or we will leave our children without the skills and understanding necessary to deal with hard things.  By avoiding our own pain and confusion, we leave them in pain and confusion.

As a young girl, I needed adults to teach me about consent.  I needed to learn that my body was my own, that no one had a right to do anything to me physically that made me uncomfortable.  My high school friends needed to learn about consent and that they had no right to make me feel uncomfortable the way they did.  Like I said, they learned about morality at church, but church morality is laced with an ideology that maintains women as gifts or objects to be given to men.  Church morality hasn’t matured beyond the idea that boys will be boys, that sexual assault is a defilement of women that takes away the victims virtue.  Church morality does not discuss consent of two equal beings who own their own sexuality.

I spent a year in seminary being harassed by the same boy who pushed me onto my bed.  Every day he would push his desk right up next to mine and put his hands and arms all over my desk and my body.  The seminary teacher made fun of us and called us boyfriend and girlfriend.  When I finally mustered up the courage to talk to the seminary teacher about this and to tell him that this boy made me really uncomfortable, he laughed it off.  “He’s just a teenage boy with raging hormones.  That’s just how it is, there’s nothing you can do about it.”  As a teenage girl, I was not empowered to say, “No, his need to express his hormonal impulses does not take precedence over my comfort.”

It’s time for us as adults to look seriously at the uncomfortable things we would rather avoid.  It’s time for us to teach our children that it is never okay under any circumstance, to dis-empower another human being whether it’s through bullying, sexual assault, abuse, or any other means of forcing our will on another.  It’s time for our religious ideologies on morality to mature beyond nineteenth century practices that gave men authority over women and their sexuality.  It’s time to expect men and boys to be accountable for their behavior toward women, no matter who they are and no matter how much you hate their opponent.

Jenny

Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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9 Responses

  1. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    I’m so sorry that you had this experience. As I am mulling over my response, I am thinking about what is worse: the assault itself or the aftermath when others scoffed. I quickly realized that this is a false dichotomy. Both are terribly wrong. Both are damaging in so many ways. There is no sliding scale of wrongfulness in sexual assault. Wrong is wrong. Speaking up brings hope for changing minds and attitudes.

  2. Caroline says:

    There are so many parts of your story that are horrifying, Jenny. I’m appalled at the boy’s behavior when he followed you into your house. Who knows what might have happened if your brother hadn’t come home. And I’m also appalled at your seminary teacher who didn’t make any move to protect you when you told him that you felt unsafe and uncomfortable around the boy that was putting his hands on you. Unbelievable.

    I’ve recently tried to have some conversations with my older kids (10 and 7) about consent, telling them that no one should ever put their hands on other people’s bodies without their permission. I’ve found literature a good entry into this — I’ve been reading them Lyddie by Katherine Patterson about a factory girl in the 1800s who has to deal with a number of things, one of which is sexual harassment by her boss. It’s been a little difficult to explain what is going on — I don’t think they fully get things yet — but I figure I better start now drilling into them the importance of consent. In a few weeks I intend to use Star Wars, as ViolaDiva suggests in her recent awesome post, to once again talk about consent with my kids.

  3. EFH says:

    It is so hard to believe what you had to go through and yet, I know that it is such a prevalent story. Especially when the predators are boys who have been ‘schooled’ not to engage in immoral and sinful behavior. You and your story illustrate well the point that we cannot teach children anything of value until we start from the right starting point – valuing others, equality among people (gender, race etc) and no means no. This is the foundation piece on which every other teaching whether religious or not should be based on.

    While Donald Trump, his campaign and his supporters have shocked all of us who thought our society had progressed further than this, I am very satisfied that such conversations are taking place on TV and about someone who claims to deserve the office of presidency of this country. What a horrible spectacle but a necessary one to show to all of us how much work we still have ahead of us – that women and girls’ bodies and feelings are still considered property of men and boys. We need ERA more than ever.

  4. Lmzbooklvr says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I believe in the power of speaking truth to change the world.

  5. Lily says:

    I find the Mormon support for Trump extremely sickening. To me it just shows that the “women are valuable daughters of God” refrain is just BS.

  6. Violadiva says:

    Oh, Jenny, what a story!
    I hope the idea of teaching consent is gaining ground among parents now, because as I read this account, it wouldn’t have required all of the teens involved to understand the concept — it would only take one person to say, “it’s not okay to touch me like this!” Or “back off dude, you can’t touch her like that!”
    Sons and daughters need to recognize unwanted touch and know how to shut it down whether it’s happening to them or someone they know.
    We should do a post with a bunch of ideas for ways a teen or kid could do that. I’m just thinking now about my 3yo, “I’m in charge of my body!”

  7. Heather says:

    Oh Jenny, I feel like this Trump stuff is unearthing all sorts of horrid memories and women everywhere have an election induced PTSD. So many of us are recalling in great detail the ghosts of sexual assaults of the past. Thank you for this.

  8. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for sharing your story; I know it isn’t easy. I’m also distressed by the cavalier responses to Trump’s sexual assaults, especially among Mormons. We men need to go to work on changing our cultural attitudes toward women, yesterday. I hope that women speaking out like you have will open our eyes.

  9. Liz says:

    I agree with Heather – I think this election has exposed the disgusting underbelly of our society, of the things that were previously mostly talked about in whispers and private conversations. The problem is that they’re being exposed and mocked (and almost celebrated!), rather than being exposed as a reality that needs fixing. This whole election season has been awful. Your post is brave and powerful and I think that sharing stories like this and loudly proclaiming them as wrong is the only way to make change. You’re awesome.

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