March 11, 2018

What Role Does Trauma Play in the #MeToo Campaign?

2018 0311 bwiser_metoo_trauma

This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.

There’s no doubt that we are currently experiencing a watershed moment, ushered in, whether one wants to acknowledge it or not, the #MeToo movement. More and more women are speaking up, sharing their experiences, signaling not just their frustration with the rape culture that continues to insinuate itself into social, sexual, and professional interactions between men and women, but also their refusal to pander to that culture any longer.

A woman speaking up is a powerful thing. And because women’s voices have been muted for so long, if not ignored and dismissed altogether, it is an act of bravery to refuse to be silenced any longer. Yet women continue to face considerable risks in coming forward and speaking out, from the loss of privacy and termination of employment to being shamed for calling out those who have harassed, abused, assaulted, or raped them.

There is absolutely no shame in speaking out. If anything, it is the perpetrator—and the entire posse of enablers and protectors—who should feel shame and be shamed for what he did.

There’s no doubt that high profile women—beautiful, accomplished, talented and, yes, wealthy—coming out and speaking of their experiences at the grubby hands of equally wealthy and high profile figures such as Harvey Weinstein have emboldened other women to do the same.

It could be argued that being wealthy, famous and privileged has inoculated the Ashley Judds and Uma Thurmans of this world from any serious repercussions to their careers or bank balances. If anything, speaking out, however difficult or traumatic after decades of keeping silent, has had a positive and wide-reaching impact on society. At the very least it has transformed them into advocates and spokespersons agitating for an end to the rape culture that has permitted sexual harassment, abuse, and assault to flourish in all industries and communities.

But what of those who won’t or can’t speak out?

A friend of mine who is an outspoken advocate against rape culture and violence against women—she went public about being raped herself some years back—was recently interviewed by an international newspaper about her advocacy and her rape ordeal. She asked me if it was hypocritical of her to speak out her advocacy but not delve into the rape itself, notwithstanding the fact that while she has always been a feminist, it was the rape, and the way she was further victimized by the media that really deepened her resolve to fight against the societal mindset that encourages rape culture.

I totally understand her desire to remain anonymous. It is an incredible thing to be able to speak out; for those who have been silenced for so long, being heard and listened to is an empowering, exhilarating, even cathartic and therapeutic thing. But we sometimes tend to forget that women are still struggling with real trauma in the aftermath of sexual abuse, assault, or rape, whether they speak out or not. There are deeply painful memories associated with their experiences, which can trigger bouts of anxiety, uncertainty and the loss of confidence, to name a few side-effects, for want of a better word.

In the same way that we should not shame those who speak out, we should never shame those who don’t.

My friend spent many hours agonizing over her decision to remain anonymous. How could she call herself an advocate for exposing and dismantling rape culture when she herself would not put her name to a newspaper interview that could have lent credence to her cause? Wouldn’t she be enabling the very culture she is protesting against?

It’s not about the culture in her case, I told her; it’s the trauma. When she gave interviews to local news outlets when she went public with her rape, she was trashed and pilloried by the media, who squarely laid the blame for what happened at her feet, citing the usual: why was she dressed that way, why did she have alcohol that evening, why was she so friendly towards her attacker, even if he was in fact a friend, etc., etc. While these same news outlets now turn to her when they need a usable quote or soundbite about feminism, she hasn’t quite forgotten how shabbily they had treated her in the past, and her defenses were instinctively raised when this international journalist came calling.

A voice is a voice, I said. I felt it was about agency, being able to control the narrative of her experience, not by changing the story or embellishing details, but by telling it factually while being honest about how it affected her life without fear of distortion or judgment. Not putting her name to the article doesn’t negate her ordeal; neither does it detract from her advocacy. What happened to her was real—from the attack to the trauma to the lasting effects on her psyche to this day.

Even if she doesn’t reveal her name in the story, she is still speaking out because her story is, unfortunately, not uncommon. And her trauma is all too familiar. It will resonate, and her voice will be heard.

B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant. 

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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.


Art by Yayie Motos

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Related stories:
What are the Effects on Women Who Come Forward About Sexual Assault?
How My Husband and I Dealt With My Story of Rape
Sexual Misconduct Is Never a Laughing Matter, But Why Is It Always a Joke?
Rape Has Nothing to Do With Desire, But Everything to Do With Power


Filed Under:

#MeToo, B. Wiser, culture, Psychological, rape culture, Sex and Sensibility, Speak Up, Trauma

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