We are now once again socially and politically faced with the silencing of women. We live in a culture where acts of sexual assault and harassment can be committed with impunity. We live in a culture where these acts are glorified in the public sphere through a braggadocious contempt for the survivors and the celebratory rewarding of the perpetrators. We are faced with the silencing of women in all areas of human public and private interactions, where silencing takes the form of micro-aggressions, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
To be clear, silencing is (1) trying to prevent someone from speaking or being heard, either through physical or psychological coercion or force, (2) speaking for someone who is capable of speaking for themselves, (3) misrepresenting what someone has said (as opposed to clarifying what someone has said) in order to use what someone has said for one’s own purposes, (4) creating an environment where the person does not feel safe to speak, (5) collectively ignoring someone when they speak. Micro-aggressions, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are all means to the end of keeping people socially and politically isolated in a socially and politically imposed and extorted inferiority.
Our divorce went through the August I moved to Atlanta to begin graduate school. We have remained good friends after our divorce. No lie, we still annoy the shit out of each other…a lot. Nonetheless, he has been a constant source of support for me as I work through the frustrations of graduate school. We call and text each other almost daily. His encouragement has, oftentimes, been the only source of encouragement, and his voice the only source of human contact pulling me out of alienated isolation.
I go back to SLC to visit my ex-husband several times a year during breaks from school. We often go out to eat and talk about anything and everything. We have often conversed about my experiences throughout my life with misogyny and sexism. One morning as we were stepping out of the car and heading into a bakery to get the best vegan donuts SLC, if not the world, has to offer, he stopped me before opening the door. Looking me directly in the eyes, he said “I am so sorry.”
“I am sorry for the way I treated you when we were married. I know the way I treated you was wrong. I grew up watching Harrison Ford movies. I idolized Harrison Ford’s characters. I thought that was the way men were supposed to treat women. I am sorry that I ever hurt you like that.”
At the time I was shocked, because this seemed to come out of nowhere – we were not discussing anything particularly heavy that morning, nor the day prior. I have thought about that moment many times since. As I think of it now, I am crying slightly.
Of all of the shitty things that have ever happened to me – of all of the painful experiences across the entirety of my life perpetrated by many different people, of all of the times I have tried to reach out to people for compassion and understanding to be met with being told everything from “quit playing the victim role,” to variations of “it’s all in your head” (“you are hysterical/crazy”), to variations of “boys will be boys” (with my new favorite being “men, however good-hearted they are, are just unable to realize how their actions affect others”), to being told that I am the problem and that I should “be friendlier and not so angry,” of continuously being silenced and the alienation that brings – my ex-husband was the only person who has ever sincerely apologized to me.
My ex-husband was the only person who ever had the moral courage and fortitude to critically examine society and himself and then put aside his ego to apologize for the role he has played in perpetuating misogyny and sexism in a living, thinking, and feeling person’s life.
I carry around the trauma of misogyny and sexism with me, every day and everywhere I go. It haunts me like a ghost, like an impenetrable shadow over my entire existence. It is animated every time I am silenced – and I am silenced constantly, acts ranging along a gradation of more subtle micro-aggressions to more explicit acts of harassment. He saw me, a suffering individual, he took seriously my suffering, he saw how he contributed to that suffering, and he expressed sincere remorse for his contribution. His act was not prompted by anything other his own sense of morality. He did not ask for any sort of reward or forgiveness. He simply wanted to right a wrong he felt he had committed.
My ex-husband is a remarkable person. I wish there were more people like him, not just for my sake but for the sake of all living, thinking, and feeling beings in the world. I wish more people would step up and say:
“No, you are not crazy. These things are happening. I did this. I said this. I can understand how this caused you pain. I can understand how this continues to cause you pain. I am truly sorry.”
EDIT: October 24, 2018 –
I originally wrote and published this piece on October 5th. I had left it up for a few hours, and then second-guessing myself and losing my courage to share this with the internet, I removed it. A new article by Dr. Yancy in the New York Times today gave me reason to untrash this piece.