Activism, Culture

A Better #MeToo

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Scene from “A Better Man”. Photo courtesy: tvo.org

At a very young age I learned that men are sexual predators, not to be trusted. Before I should’ve known what sex was, before I could develop my voice to say “no” to defend myself- before I should have to learn to defend myself. That’s why as an adult I’ve had very few romantic relationships and always tread with great caution.

Still, despite all my trepidation, I faced many abuses and betrayal. That speaks to how prevalent and pervasive this parasitic abuse on women is, that despite all the caution and precaution I’ve taken, I am still a target. So when men use excuses like she was asking for it and point to the way she dresses, they are deeply ignorant to their own ignorance. There is no immunity for women.

The nature of these experiences is it leaves remnants of pain in women affected. And too often we are silenced with intimidation or shame, further adding to our pain. This was exhibited in the way Harvey Weinstein operated decades of sexual abuse, where he paid to silence women like Rose McGowan. When we could no longer stay silent and the floodgates opened, more men were exposed. And in the midst of it, women over social media used the hashtag #metoo to describe their personal experiences with gender-based violence.

To give voice to our stories I think is healing because it means we are not afraid to speak truths that are so vehemently repressed by abusers. We are in effect saying after all we have been through, we can still bare the consequences of speaking the truth. And when we give it away, other women see themselves in these situations and see they were not imagining or insane, and they are validated. It’s just that simple, to share a story to heal ourselves. And I think that’s why #metoo was so popular.

Around the time this all happened, I went to watch “A Better Man” at Toronto’s Hot Docs Cinema. There were crisis counsellors present, pamphlets on intimate spousal abuse, and a friend told me she couldn’t get through it without breaking down in tears and turning to a counsellor. This is how bad it’s gotten for women, and I wasn’t sure how I’d react.

The documentary is about former lovers who meet over twenty years down the road to unpack the horrific abuse director Attiya Khan’s partner inflicted upon her, which I attended the screening of intentionally on the birthday of my most significantly abusive ex. We have a very complicated relationship with each others’ birthdays, let alone with each other.

A few years ago, I had ripped out all connection between us, all channels of communication including mutual friends, phone, email, social media- everything. I had enough of the abuse and I wanted to move on. But for some reason, despite us no longer having mutual friends and me having a new Facebook account, his profile kept popping up on my “suggested friends” list despite having no relevance to my new account.

His profile never went away and I knew it was a sign. I have this unusual gift of receiving spiritual messages from The Divine, The Universe, Source or Spirit- however you’d like to define it. It usually comes through dreams, but divine messages can manifest itself through different forms. I knew at some point Spirit was asking me to send him a friend request and happy birthday message on his birthday. Begrudgingly, I eventually did.

Friend request accepted.

Only for me to discover he had in the previous year taken another girl out on my birthday, defiantly posting the picture on his Facebook. In the moment, I was painstakingly heartbroken by such a fundamental betrayal. Now with hindsight, I see the experience as symbolic of our contrasting characters. Because he’s all about outer appearances and I’m all about inner work, things will never work out between us.

Not only was I upset that this would be my memory of my first love, but Spirit conspired to put me through even more immense pain after I hoped to walk away from it all, showing this moron up on my “suggested friends” unrelentingly. Subsequently, he posted a picture of him and his friends arrogantly celebrating his birthday for years to come without acknowledging his cruelty. With no qualms about causing the death of my innocence to protect his ego. No acknowledgement, no accountability.

Birthdays are very significant to me because when I was a child I had a traumatic experience I associate with my birthday, where someone who was meant to protect me threatened to kill themselves if I didn’t show enough that I cared for their life. Someone who was responsible for my life forcing me as a child to be responsible for theirs. Knowing this about myself, I still had enough light within to put aside my own pain and send well wishes to someone who only brought me darkness.

Through the contrast in which we treated each other’s birthdays, I understood all I needed to of his character- and mine- that I could forever let this go and know there would never be a “what if” for me. There was never going to be any regret in my heart; I was either going to be alone or find someone else- anything else was better. After that ordeal, years down the road, I was led to this documentary- yet again on his birthday.

As I watched, I saw myself in Attiya’s story- namely the way she celebrated the day she left by throwing a party as a way to reclaim all he hoped to take away from her through his abuse. I finally realized why I had to wish him a happy birthday and years later go to this documentary on the same day. Not just because it was the only day I was available in my busy work schedule- divine timing disguised as professional conflicts- but because I was reclaiming me.

Although we both eventually did the same thing, mark each others’ birthday by decidedly overriding the memory of the other with something else, I wasn’t doing it to be vindictive. Incredibly after all the abuse I endured from him, I’ve never once sought to harm him. Simply because I no longer wanted to be associated with him, and that meant learning to let it go.

I share this story because I think it goes to the heart of the social media trend. Nobody in this situation acknowledged my perspective or the facts of the situation as they so casually disrespected me in various manners. That’s why we tell these tales, because the people immediately involved don’t validate our experiences, so we have to take it upon ourselves to do so, and take control of that narrative and make it all about “me.”

And my particular #metoo is tied to intimate spousal abuse, what this documentary is about. For every woman I think their #metoo will be a little different, I think many tend to gravitate to their worst experience. For me, this is the nature of mine. Through Attiya’s story, I can see though the generations are different, the patterns are the same. Where her’s was more physical abuse, mine was more psychological. Where she kept walking into him in Toronto, I kept seeing his Facebook profile online.

The ways we understand abuse and the ways in which we get triggered thereafter, won’t look the same even if it is the same. Abuse moves through the times. I could’ve easily said it wasn’t because there wasn’t as much physical abuse. But what my friend who went to the screening taught me through chatting with the crisis counsellor is that psychological abuse can be just as debilitating as physical. If it doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right.

Why I share this story is because a lot of women tend to be isolated in these situations, and many people will seek to deny and discredit their claims. There is so much gaslighting and cognitive dissonance involved which is just an added layer of emotional abuse, much harder to detect than physical abuse. So when we tell these stories, we show others that go through it, actually you are not wrong because this happened to “me too.”

Additionally, why my story is so immediately tied to this documentary is that there are many times when I watched this and thought to myself “this happened to me, too!” It validated so many of my experiences when others sought to make me doubt my reality. That’s why I include it in my story, because it inspired so many #metoo moments for me, which is why I could even share my experiences without once again doubting myself.

Because that little girl I once was never had a protector, I had to grow up way too fast to protect her. But in that process, she died a violent death so that I could stand in her place, in tragic irony. I still grieve her death and innocence, I feel so sorry for that little girl who had to witness so much harshness of life so young. And that exposure would later set the tone for her adult relationships. Still, grief often rises unexpectedly like a tidal wave within me that threatens to overtake me in floods of tears and anguish.

So I can understand that when some women share their stories, they spit hellfire and demon venom over their tormentors, especially with what happened to Rose McGowan. In our broken world, it is very easy for men to intend serious harm on a woman and never bare the consequences, while we are left with huge, gaping wounds to bare. It is a lot of pain to inflict upon a person, so I can understand women’s fury and empathize.

But I also don’t agree in continually joining in on the disparaging because a very real, strong desire in me hopes one day to be rid of all these waves of pain and anger- even if it’s completely justified. To be in a continual state of grief is like drowning from within. So I don’t want any part of the darkness that lives in these men to also live within me.

Thankfully at the screening, I prepared myself for the very worst, given my friend’s reaction. But I felt nothing; I was almost bored. Not to criticism the film, but I think it just showed me my reaction only expressed how far I’ve come in my healing. So far I’ve only mastered non-reaction, apathy, to these people and situations. So far so good.

But a few years ago I had this dream I was invited to a party he was hosting (why did I attend? I don’t know, it’s a dream). There, he said contritely and bitterly, with an undertone of self-loathing “I guess you hate me now,” unable to look me in the eyes, ashamed and head bowed. And I surprised him- and myself- by saying “No” with deep sincerity and compassion. At his most vulnerable, the perfect moment to take my revenge, instead I choose forgiveness. I learn to love thy enemy.

He stares at me in disbelief and then I realize it’s quite late at night and I can’t go home safely at this time. I ask to crash on the couch, because the bed is too intimate given our history, my sincere lack of interest, and my general sense of caution. He stares at me with awed admiration and respect for the incredible show of character I display and says with deep sincerity “It would be my honour.”

Today I am not yet that woman, this accomplished Zen Master that has given up all her grievances with the world. And I truly know it is not fair to think that I should be the one who evolves from this experience and none of these men. But I sincerely doubt any of these insecure, weak men have the capacity to play a part in the salvation of my soul. There’s only one person that is strong enough to do that, and that is me.

So I hope that one day I will find that light within me that shines so bright, it burns through all the darkness I’ve been led to.  I hope that one day I will meet her, this wonderful woman that shines bright like a diamond, whom I see so clearly in my dreams. I hope I become her so that others like him can see a better me too.

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