The Men of My Life

(Content warning: sexual violence)

This blog post has taken me a while to write.

I've had my fair share of Harvey Weinstein's. But you know, I'm a pageant girl, so that's to be expected, right?

...Right?

Here's a pretty solid rundown - a forewarning that if you desire to know nothing more about me, stop reading now:

At the age of 11, I had a priest tell me that I needed to go to an "ugly tree" because I was "just too pretty." This was in a confessional booth. We were alone.

At age 14, I was taunted for being a "prude."

At age 15, I was sexually assaulted. Probably because, you know, I was a prude.

At various ages throughout high school, I was catcalled, assaulted, harassed, and then some.

At age 21, I was raped.

I have a long saga of men treating me (and my loved ones and my dear friends) as an object at which they sought to throw their sexual desires at. It was as if, for some reason, I seemed to wear a sign saying, "dumping ground for your sexual transgressions." And I know I am not alone.

The problem is, is that no woman is alone. I cannot confidently name one woman who hasn't endured this kind of exploitation, embarrassment, and pain. I cannot confidently tell you a single friend of mine who wasn't catcalled on the Strip in Tuscaloosa during my undergraduate years. I cannot confidently tell you that my sisters haven't endured the same exploitation in their lives. I cannot confidently name a friend of mine in high school who wasn't sexually assaulted. But of course, back then, we had no idea what sexual assault even was, so doesn't count, right?

You know, several men have entered my life over the course of the years. There have been horrible ones, great ones, the in-betweeners - who ended up, in a sense, being valuable because they taught me so much about myself and about relationships, and the unknown ones - the nameless ones who catcalled from the streets, grabbed my body parts without permission at bars, or sent unsolicited text messages.

When I think of the positive men in my life - the great ones - I think of the obvious. I think of my remarkable father, who raised three beautiful women and two respectful men. I think of my brothers - who have the kindest hearts and patience of steel. I think of my boyfriend - who has seen me at every phase of life and loved me anyway, and who helped me survive some of the hardest moments of my life thus far - including an assault. I think of my nephews - who are sensitive and sweet and will learn about relationships and how to treat human beings, regardless of gender, only from the best. I think of my uncles and my male cousins and my male friends - who have heard my story time and time again and never once doubted me.

But, life is a series of yin and yang. And you can't have the good without the bad.

So, I also think of the men who have let me down and how pivotal and crucial their roles were in my life. I think especially of the men who violated me in the worst way imaginable. I think of two particular men nearly each and every day. And I likely will for the rest of my life. Some days, I catch a glimpse of hours that pass where I haven't thought of either of them. And in that brief moment where I make that realization, where I am in that sweet spot - that void of not thinking of them and realizing I haven't thought of them and then, inevitably, thinking of them - I am filled with a gratitude that cannot be described.

I'm filled with gratitude often, actually. Because for me, I know that the men of my life, and my situations with said men, could have been far worse. I could have decided that instead of my incredible boyfriend, I was going to date an abusive misogynist for four years instead. That did not happen. Instead of being raped, I could have been raped and then mugged or killed. That did not happen. When people tell me I am "brave" or "courageous" for sharing my story, I always think, "how?" I am, quite literally, lucky to be alive. I cannot stress this enough. It has never been about bravery to me. It has been about survival.

What I endured could have killed me in the process. And what several of my sisters across the globe who have also been assaulted or raped or harassed have endured could have killed them in the process. And for some, it did. It could have killed me during. It could have killed me afterwards. Neither of those things happened. My life is more precious to me because of some of the men of my life. My life is more precious to me because of all of the men of my life.

I recognize my privilege here when I say that I know I am one of the lucky ones. And I think that's part of healing - is realizing just how fortunate your seemingly unfortunate situation is compared to the next one. Because there is always a next one. There is always another story in the news. There is always another Brock Turner. There is always another Harvey Weinstein. And there is always another woman behind those stories who is struggling or struggled for her life. Some make it. Others don't. It's the real life magnitude of sexual assault.

And because of the magnitude sexual violence holds, talking isn't enough. Conversation minus the action simply won't do it anymore. We have to do more, whatever that means for you. But I am telling you right now that if you're having a conversation with a friend that transitions from what a piece of garbage Harvey Weinstein is to the Cubs slacking in the fifth inning, you're not having the right conversation. We have to understand that our conversations surrounding sexual relationships, whether that be a casual partner or a committed marriage, have to include the topic of consent. Every time. From all parties. Additionally, and although I suspect (and really hope) there will be a shift in our culture surrounding this topic from now on, the sexualization of women has got to end. We are not here to feed your cravings and your ego. We are here because we are human beings.

Even if you consider yourself part of the solution, consider that perhaps your unknown complacency has been part of the problem, as well. You are not automatically made an ally just because you haven't been an assailant. That isn't how this works. Sexual violence affects AT LEAST, bare-minimum, one person each of us knows personally. Bare. Minimum. And it doesn't matter if that person is your daughter or sister or cousin or aunt or mother. A woman is still a person. (I'd like to include here that I know men suffer from the same injustices and are also survivors, but for all manners and purposes of this post, I am speaking about women particularly).

Do more. Talk more. Volunteer more. Call out your idiot friend who thinks catcalling girls on the street is funny. Don't egg on your buddy who wants to take home a girl who is clearly intoxicated and unable to make sound decisions. Talk to your kids early on about what consent is, and how it must be a vital part of EVERY sexual encounter they have in their lives. Lead by example. These are the things, and the conversations, that matter.

The world needs people who understand the value of another human being, their body, and their life now more than ever. The solution is us.

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