Sexual abuse: The curse of femininity


My mother is an amazing and strong woman. She is a living example of both the best – and worst – aspects of traditional femininity. When I say this, I mean that she is a nurturing and caring woman who always does the best she can for her family – but she has also been owned by men her entire life.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a bitch is a woman who is owned by men. But, not every owned woman is a bitch. Unlike the woman described in my previous post, my mother recognises that the situation she finds herself in is not healthy. She does not choose it for herself, nor does she hold any illusions about how much power is granted to her. It’s just that noone has ever tried to show her how to escape this situation, and despite all her efforts, she remains unable to change the culturing of decades.

When my mother was young, she was raped repeatedly by more than one close family member. Her own family not only taught her to be used by men – by uninvolved family members failing to stop this situation, they taught her that she was powerless to stand up for herself, and that even if a man’s behaviour was inappropriate, there was nothing she could do.

The experience of rape, especially in an environment which doesn’t provide the support and justice this serious situation deserves, is one that does not easily go away. My mother does not complain about what happened to her. If she mentions it at all, it is invariably in such a casual voice that belies the seriousness of the crime. But inside, my mother is still a wreck. She suffers from depression, mood swings, and breakdowns, and also has incredibly low self-esteem. Worst of all, she is incredibly wary and cautious of the whims of men. She has been socialised to feel that the safest way of dealing with a man is to refrain from doing anything that may be construed as a challenge to his masculinity. Scarily, this includes running away.

My mother and I once found ourselves in an empty train carriage late at night when a young man boarded the train. From the beginning, it was obvious that there was something wrong with him. Possibly he was drugged out of his mind. As soon as he boarded the train, he noticed us. Coming over to where we were sitting, he began swinging from the poles in the carriage, and proceeded to make moves on my mother.

Obviously, the whole situation was very unsettling, and possibly dangerous. All I wanted to do was move away, and find some people to be witnesses in case the situation turned violent. My mother, equally uncomfortable, had a different instinct. She smiled. Politely, without moving from her seat, she proceeded to answer every single one of this man’s questions (unfortunately, none of which I remember clearly).

Ever since I remember, my mother has been making numerous attempts to resolve her own psychological issues. For a while, she bought every spiritual healing book she could get her hands on. The likes of Deepak Chopra held pride of place on her dresser table. “Think positive thoughts,” many of these books seemed to say, “and your life will become positive.” Well yes, maybe that would help someone whose only problem were severe pessimism. But my mother’s issues understandably run much deeper than that.

Somewhere along the line, she appears to have guessed that gender might have had something to do with her problems. And so, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ appeared on the bookshelf. What she learned from that can be summarised by some relationship advice she once gave me. “Men don’t like to talk,” she informed me, “Don’t try to make him communicate. Just let it go.”

And so, everything my mother has ever read to try to help herself with her deep psychological scarring has not addressed the problem at all. All it managed to do was reinforce the idea that the core of the problem lies with her. If she can’t think positive thoughts, and she needs things that men are apparently unwilling to give, then the problem is her fault, and hers alone. Is it just me, or is that all bullshit?

Over the years, I’ve browsed various self-help books and ‘pop psychology’ publications like ‘Men are from Mars…’. I have yet to come across a single book designed to help someone in her situation, which is frankly astounding. The CASA Forum* states that 1 in 5 women in Australia experience sexual violence after the age of 15 – increasing to a scary 1 in 3 sexually abused before the age of 16. This is Australia, not the Congo. But these figures make it clear that situations like that of my mother are far from uncommon. And the occurrence of rape is just a symptom of a deeper problem with the way we have structured society and femininity. This issue affects everyone. So why won’t anybody talk about it?

We, as a society, need to put more effort into educating both women and men about this issue. It is no longer acceptable – if it ever was – to tolerate, and worse, ignore these blatantly negative aspects of social gender division. Women are not accessories to be owned and controlled by men. Logically, this is a recognised fact. But many women still act like submission to men is unavoidable, and many men still act like it is their right to treat women however they fancy. Both these behaviours must stop. Further, we need to give more assistance to those who are trying to get out of this trap, but are not sure how to find the way out on their own.



Is our society really as resigned to sexual assualt and gender division as the data would have us believe? The below comments section should be used as a discussion board for this topic. If you have an opinion, theory, personal story, etc., please feel free to share it with us.


2 responses »

  1. I was fortunate enough to receive my mother’s own perspective to share with you guys. Please read, and consider the points she brings up. It is as follows, complete and un-edited:

    “This is very well written and I felt a bit emotional reading, how you perceive me and my life experiences with such accuracy.

    I am however, uncomfortable, with the word ‘raped repeatedly’. It is true that I was raped by my father and my uncle and other men also. But, mostly, it was/is a type of continued/repeated sexual abuse that I have experienced throughout my life, and it is this that I do not know if it is called ‘rape’.

    I would find it interesting, to have a discussion to discover what other people term as ‘rape’.

    That is the only bit that that I am a little uncomfortable with. I have no problem with you sharing my story, as in my eyes it is not only an accurate assessment of how you see me and society, but also it seems pretty accurate on how I see it myself and how I also view society is.

    I really like reading what you are writing as it encourages me to reflect on the subjects myself, and this one is obviously very close to home. I don’t feel that my communication skills are enough to express what I want to say. It has to do with it being “bullshit” as you said, and something to do with this highlighted piece.

    “incredibly wary and cautious of the whims of men. She has been socialised to feel that the safest way of dealing with a man is to refrain from doing anything that may be construed as a challenge to his masculinity. Scarily, this includes running away.” (This is what I feel sad about. I feel I miss out on relationships because of my very basic instincts)

    I can’t help but wonder what effects my experiences and how I am have on your life and relationships.

    You already know that I love you and that I am very proud of you and that I always want the best for you and for you to be happy, confident and capable to handle yourself. I also want you to have as much love in your life as you deserve….and Alison, you deserve it all.

    Another question that I keep forgetting to ask, is, do you get many comments, responses and opinions? and if you do, what are you doing with them?

    Thank you for your respect towards me.”

    • In reply to Alison’s mother: I have a suspicion that your definition of rape is what makes you uncomfortable about Alison’s use of the term ‘raped repeatedly’. I get a feeling that, for you, sexual assault is only rape if the victim actively resists.

      Under the legal definition and in the belief of myself and most women, rape is sexual assault WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE VICTIM. This is why women who are sexually assaulted while asleep, drunk or drugged are considered to have been raped. You did not give consent to these men to have sex with you. This makes it rape.

      You may not have fought them off – indeed, you may have passively accepted the fact that it was happening – but that is not the same as giving your consent. You did not fight your abusers off because they were in a position of power over you and, consciously or subconsciously, you knew that if you actively resisted you were likely to be abused further or punished in some other way. Because they were family members you knew that, even if you did manage to fight them off once, they weren’t going to go away; they would just keep coming back and assaulting you again – so you believed that to attempt to actively resist or try to fight them off would be pointless.

      Now you are left hating yourself because you didn’t fight, resist or run away, but stayed and ‘let it happen’.

      And the saddest thing of all is that you are not alone.

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