Maybe the more important question – why is shaming STILL a thing?
The topic I intended to write about today ended up morphing into something different. Initially, I wanted to address WHY victims of domestic violence/abuse stay in (and go back to) those relationships. With that in mind, I was reading articles and doing some research (googling) on the interwebs. Invariably, I saw more and more references to the most recent spate of allegations surrounding Bill Cosby. It wasn’t until I started reading the comments attached to the stories that I started to really see the pattern of language being used to describe the alleged victims. The questions I was seeing weren’t anything new. What did she do to bring it on? Why did she stay? Why didn’t she report it right away? Why did she keep going back? But what struck me the most was the venom and hostility toward the alleged victims. She was asking for it. She’s a gold digger. She wanted to boost her career. She wanted it.
I’m a survivor of abuse. My childhood abuses became teen abuses which then became adult abuses. I’ve felt a lot of shame in my life. I was on the receiving end of victim-shaming as well. I was asked to answer those impossible questions, time and time again. I defended myself to the Dean of Students, my roommate, my friends, my coworkers, and (unfortunately) my family. For a very long time, I was drowning in my shame. I victim-shamed myself. What a horrible realization.
A particular incident keeps popping up as I’m writing, so I’ll share it.
One semester in college, I had to take an extra part-time job to help cover some unexpected expenses. My social life went down the tubes – if I wasn’t in class or studying, I was working at one job or the other. I started enjoying a fun little flirty thing with a coworker. As time went on, we started ‘dating’ (which largely consisted of sneaking a kiss when the boss wasn’t looking, and hanging out for a couple of hours after work). Our schedules conflicted often, which gave me a chance to catch up on studies. He wasn’t a student at the school, but would go with me to parties when possible. It was fun, and light, and innocent. Then it turned…
He started getting unreasonably jealous. He picked a fight with one of my guy friends for flirting with me. He accused my roommate of bad-mouthing him and trying to convince me to break up with him. He started calling off work so he could spend more time with me. He would follow me to class, and wait for me outside so he could escort me to the next class. I brushed it off as creepy, broke up with him, and moved on. It only got worse…
He quit his job. He would park his car in front of the house and stand there watching, waiting for me to leave. He would show up at all hours of the night, yelling my name and pounding on the door of the house. I notified campus security. He was removed, and was warned to stay off campus. He would wait in the parking lot at my job until I showed up. He’d come inside and sit and watch me. The police were called. He was removed from the premises and was warned not to return. He would wait along my route home and follow me until I got to campus. He’d be waiting right there until I left again, and follow me back. I quit my job. I didn’t go anywhere alone. I didn’t leave campus. No matter what I did, he managed to find a way to get around it. He was always there.
At the end of the semester, I packed up the car and headed home for the holidays. There he was, right behind me. I was terrified to lead him home to my family. I stopped being scared for just that moment, and let the ANGRY take over. I pulled the car into a parking lot, got out, and stormed toward him. He was overjoyed. He came toward me with open arms, thinking I had a change of heart. Instead, I backed up and yelled at him, warning him not to touch me, to stop following me, to leave me alone, that I didn’t want to be with him. He got angry and grabbed my jacket, lifted me off my feet, and slammed me against the car. Again and again and again. All the while yelling and screaming that he just wanted to talk to me, he wanted to be with me, he LOVED me. I will never lose the image of him – face contorted with anger, veins in his neck standing out as he yelled, spittle flying in my face as he screamed and cried. I will never forget the feeling of being at his mercy – choking, sobbing, begging. Eventually he grabbed my arms, shook me hard a few times, got in his car and left.
I don’t know why he stopped, I didn’t ask! Instead, I questioned and blamed myself. I must have said or done something wrong. I should have known better. I let it get out of hand. I wasn’t clear enough. I opened myself up for it, so I deserved it. I was so ashamed of myself. Logically, I knew I wasn’t responsible for his actions, but I blamed myself for whatever part I had in triggering them.
I don’t think there’s a solution. Shaming is still a thing because people will always come to their own conclusions and make their own judgments. Sad, but true. Physically putting people ‘in the stocks’ as a means of public humiliation isn’t necessary because we’ve managed to build a very effective emotional stockade instead. The cruelty of fat-shaming, victim-shaming, and slut-shaming (to name a few) is widespread, and it’s not going away. At some point awareness may help reduce it, but it will always be there.
I wish I could say I’m not going to let what people have to say bother me anymore. It will happen because I am a sensitive person who worries about what other people think. I can, however, be less cruel to myself. I will keep fighting. I will keep kicking. I will keep screaming. And if it does manage to grab me by the coat and shake me? I will NOT let it take me down again.