Abuse Within Paganism – A Taboo Topic?

We must make those who think that Paganism tolerates abusive, controlling behaviour aware that they have no place within our traditions.

From Emma Kathryn

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If you are a member of the Pagan community (whatever that means to you – we’ll discuss community later), then you may well remember when a well know witch published a blog post that talked about the abuse she’d suffered from within the Pagan community. The post did cause a little bit of a stir. It made the snippets of the popular Pagan outlets, and aside from a few private blog posts from other Pagans and witches, not much more was said.

That woman was Sarah Anne Lawless, and you can read that particular blog post here.

Sarah’s story kind of touched a cord with me. You see, many years ago, a close family member of mine was herself in an abusive relationship, and I guess I saw a few similarities between Sarah and my family member. Both are strong, fierce women. Fiery and quick to speak their minds. I would hear people question why my family member would stay with the woman beater? She’s a strong woman, why did she put up with it? Why try to hide it? Maybe they like it, you would hear people say, even other women. And so when I saw those same things said or implied about Sarah, it made me realise, though I suppose I already knew it anyway, that this topic is one that spans all divides.

Curious to discover how things had turned out for her, I recently called Sarah, and we had a chat about what’s been done since first airing her experiences.

And the truth is, disappointingly little.

In fact, that wouldn’t be the worst of it. Not only has Sarah been all but shunned by those communities she thought she was a member of but her businesses have been attacked, with anonymous reports to various agencies about the products she makes and sells. The platforms which enable her to sell those items have also received anonymous reports and have even been suspended in some cases.

And all because she dared to highlight her instances of abuse within the Pagan community, by some of those within it.

I asked her what kind of reaction had she gotten from others, generally speaking. She replied:

“It’s been a bit of  a mixed bag. Some have been sympathetic. And from others, mostly men, I’ve either had complete denial or a misunderstanding.”

I also asked if other victims had reached out to her.

“Yeah, many have, sharing their stories with me. Only one other came forward to the police though, but here that’s not enough to carry forward an investigation. But I also get why others didn’t come forward. And who am I or anyone else to try to force these women to do something they don’t want to, especially after the trauma they’ve  already faced. If it helps them, sharing their stories with me, then that’s a good thing.”

And she’s been all but ignored by Pagan media outlets.

”I’ve been in touch with a couple of different places, but after initial contact, I haven’t really heard back from any of them.”

Indeed, here in the UK, it’s not been much of a story. It’s almost like there’s a wall of silence, or perhaps a wall of ignorance around the whole affair, and for me, this must lead us to question why.

IS THERE A PROBLEM? WHAT CAN WE DO?

So is there a problem with Paganism and how we respond to abuse claims? I think there is, and there certainly seems to have been in Sarah’s case.

I find the biggest problem is that Paganism seems to operate in its own atmosphere, away from the general rules we might ordinarily apply in real life. So, in the everyday world, if a woman, or anyone else for that matter, came forward with claims of abuse, those claims would be investigated. We would expect them to be.

I also think the fact that the word ‘community’ doesn’t really cover what it actually means to be a Pagan. The draw for many is the lack of uniformity, the freedom and independence to believe and worship however they see fit.

Take a moment to consider the many differing forms of Paganism, and then all the subsets and categories and regional differences and that’s without considering those who might be solitary or eclectic. When we consider Paganism in this way, it becomes understandable as to why defining a Pagan community becomes difficult. There is no one set of beliefs. There is no right or wrong way to worship.

And so if there is no community, how then can we begin to tackle the issue of abuse? By calling it out, whenever we witness it or are made aware of it. And from that call out, investigations must occur, and then the appropriate action taken. We must not close ranks, afraid that any truth may corrupt our beliefs. Instead we should root it out so it doesn’t corrupt or spoil the hard work and dedication that others have put in. We should expel it like the pestilence it is.

And abuse can be insidious. It can be incorporated into the very foundations of an order or tradition. There’s nothing stopping anyone from setting up any kind of group, and I really do cherish that freedom, but with it comes the responsiblity to call out and report abusers. If an abuser happens to be an elder or someone with a respected position within a tradition, this shouldn’t exclude them from any investigation or punishment if necessary. They should not be allowed to slip off the grid and start up elsewhere.

We should not excuse shitty behaviour because the one being a shit also happens to be some sort of leader, or someone with that kind of power, or has followers who look up to them. If anything, it is imperative that such types are called out and reported. We should call out fakelore where we see it, and let’s be honest, you come across it quite often in the Pagan sphere.

We also need our Pagan writers and journalists to not fear tackling such subjects. Of course there is that line, that is to not portray someone as guilty when they have not been convicted and all of that, but we must also tackle those stories and bring those issues to the fore. We need writers and journalists who are unbiased and tell the truth. We need publications to talk about these claims when they arise, and also about the issues that may arise because of them.

I will take a moment to just say a word or two about those accusations that are false, that are made out of malice and badness, that are untrue and told to inflict damage. As damaging as they may be, those false reports do not detract from the truth of most claims. Those who make those false claims should also be held to account, but then it all comes back to taking the time to investigate thoroughly all abuse claims.

We must make those who think that Paganism tolerates abusive, controlling behaviour aware that they have no place within our traditions. Doing so will only strengthen them. Doing nothing will lead to their fall.

We are witches and occultists and brujas and so much more. We have the power to make our crafts and traditions what we want them to be. Let them be places where abusers find no solace. Let’s do ourselves justice.


Emma Kathryn

epMy name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook.

Why Are We All In This Handbasket?

“Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.”

From Judith O’Grady

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Initially I was planning to write an essay about the puzzling goodness and badness/ impulse towards Right Action and selfishness/ kindheartedness and meanness that exist in all people. So I was talking it over with my friend, “All people are connected blah blah blah” and he countered that people have various cultures that inform their ethical systems and so different judgements follow in different cultures. “But culture is wholly learned….” I said and then brought that biological truism that we are all descended from Genghis Khan (after all) into the discussion. He declined to be descended from the Pillaging Emperor and so later I looked it up—- of course we’re not ALL descended from him but the Wikipedia designation of some hundreds of wives and further hundreds of children must fall short of his actual begottens by some measure as well. Since we’re all in fact descended from the same Mitochondrial Mother, if not from Genghis, it really makes no never mind.

Leaving that aside for a moment, I do find it strange and puzzling that people are so varyingly kind and mean. Some quite dreadful people will act for the common good with energy and self-sacrifice in some instances and with self-serving brutality in others; even though there are clear and present at-danger innocents in all cases.

I adhere, in a bumbling and non-psychological way, to the teachings of Jung and so can bring his concept of the Self and the Shadow Self into play. Not that the Self is Right Action and the Shadow Self is ‘bad’ by any means——- the Self can be the reasonable fear of personal harm or the worry that one is acting outside accepted practice that pushes one to not commit to the Shadow Self’s bravery. We are inextricably both Selves and the complete person is the integrated Self, not the Shining Knight.

Be that as it may, we must all learn to act as the common descendants of the One Mother and stop the pillaging of the Earth. Because another of my beliefs is that She is just about to declare humankind as a failed evolutionary experiment unable to rise above our greed for luxury and blink us all out. The only way we can stay the execution is to all share exactly as if we are all one people, to all live simpler lives of commonality, to make sure everybody has enough. Or else we will find ourselves all jumbled up in that proverbial hand-basket and bound for ‘hell’ (or in my belief system doomed to never again reincarnate as humans or perhaps at all).

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So I reported back to my friend “sbna of humankind are related to Genghis Kahn.”

“Well, good! Because those children of rape would be affected by it, right?”

As is obvious, he’s a fairly black/white thinker no matter how much the shades of grey keep irrefutably intruding. Firstly, I pointed out that some of Genghis’ approved wives (as opposed to the spoils of war) might have been moderately pleased with their position—— history reports him as enjoying and valuing his sons and presumably their mothers. On the Other Hand, the children who were the product of rape are an army in their own right, Genghis aside.

On the Gripping Hand, Jung-On-Toast!! Yes, those children DO change humankind. Another of Jung’s precepts is that of the Collective Unconscious— roughly that we all tap into a deep well of previous-people’s lives that inform our own unconscious. We ‘remember’ backwards to that First Mother and the shadows the fire cast on the cave walls. This is a new and unpleasant idea; that not just half of the Speakers in the Collective Unconscious (the raped women, hand of the Goddess over them) but all of everybody (AND their children) has nightmare rememberings.

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Secondarily, there is evidence that hardship, particularly disruptive hardship (being a non-combatant in the path of war, being unhomed and made a refugee, living through a famine, being raped and losing your place in your society by it), leaves an imprint on the mother’s DNA—- the children born in the wake of those disruptions are different than those who are not. Biology supports Jung; the cruelty of man creates larger damage in the world than just the sum of their acts.

So when we look further at what is going on in today’s World Emotional Flux it seems to me that there are not one but two inflammatory decision cruxes going on all at once.

The Great Mother Earth will, if we don’t act fast to clean up our lifestyle as well as start behaving as if we all sink or swim together, flick us away with Her fingernail. There are no more new frontiers of resources and land, there are no more Empire-building plans to gradually educate the others into Proper Whiteness being accepted, there are no more excuses that we were just acting according to our nature and that the blame really lies in the actions of the victims that will be allowed. It’s the End Times for us.
What is true in small is true in large: when I used to be testifying inside the conservative small-town system I would ask the women who had just, at the coffee klatch or the Tupperware party, identified their husband as ‘treating them well’, “When you all go out as a family and have a day of adventure together, who drops into a chair with a sigh of relief when you get home and who goes and starts dinner?” Once you see it you can never again unsee it. Further, if you see the imbalance of one act/attitude/ bigoted belief you may suddenly see it all.

“He works hard…..”

“And you don’t?”

Unpaid work suddenly slides into the other side of the balance and measures itself against wage-earners. Suddenly something besides dollars earned has to be used as balance-weight. Hours worked? Tasks completed? Value of the ‘job’ balanced against the enculturation of the next generation?

But that’s true of the whole system just as it is true of each individual action; once all-women say #metoo,

“Why can’t men just treat us as people, treat us as they treat other men?”

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Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage.From the troublesome memories of yesterday right back to sexual dimorphism taking away the female proto-human’s right of no, there has never been a good reason for treating one sex or some people as inherently less than the other sex or some other people. Only the ‘better’ group getting away with it is what permits it.

This is a tricky moment ‘cause that man who just has to get over it and give up his privilege and that woman who is finding a shaky solidarity with all woman-kind must ALSO immediately, no time for putting it off, drop everything and get to it, learn sharing and consideration and give up capitalism and resource extortion. We have to successfully work as a team with those exploiters and with those unappealing (for whatever specious reason) others and with those people with unjustifiable beliefs…..

Starting NOW.

 


Judith O’Grady

image1is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

Me Too and the Production of Hierarchy

Deviation from the norm, from the ontological priorities that permeate society, increases the risk of sexual violence because the more you deviate the less your body is valued, the less agency you are granted to define and name your own life.

From Shay Woodall

CW: “me too”, Sexual Assault (SA)

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks watching the “me too” movement kick off on social media platforms. My Facebook feed has been filled with people sharing their stories with sexual assault (SA) and a lot of discourse critical of it. As a trans woman it’s been particularly difficult seeing how the language of many Me Too posts have unwittingly ignored trans, nonbinary, and intersex folks. And as a Jewish pagan, I think the topic of r*pe culture is particularly important when the pagan community so often doesn’t address abusers in our ranks. I recall an incident not long ago with a pagan community near me that did everything in their power to protect an abuser while gaslighting the victim, someone I care deeply about.

That dynamic isn’t an isolated incident either. Part of that problem has been a push from “mainstream” Pagans to turn our religion into something apolitical, but religion is inherently political. That our communities reflect the power dynamics of wider society, a microcosm of a macrocosm, is not a coincidence.

I’ve had time to reflect on this issue and a lot of the discourse and I want to take the time to give this the consideration it deserves in a way I hope embodies the compassion I have for my fellow survivors. This essay isn’t going to be an easy one, I know how traumatic this topic is, but sometimes to heal we must delve into the deep soil of our individual and collective traumas and dig out a space in which to plant a seed of healing. That’s the image through which I hope you read this and know that my solidarity is unyielding.

Please also know that this piece, like any of the things I write, is limited in understanding. All of our stories with SA are unique even as they are similar. I do not speak for other survivors, only for my experience. This is the beginning of a conversation and dialogue and I hope that to this thread which is my experience you add the thread of your own that together we can weave a tapestry.

I also want to thank all of the comrades who gave me feedback on earlier drafts of this and who sharpened my analysis of this issue. My gratitude on helping with this can not be understated.

I. Finding Roots

The “Me Too” movement began nearly a decade ago with activist Tarana Burke, a black woman. She is the program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, a group dedicated to empowering young women of color. She describes the story of its creation when she was a camp counselor. I don’t think I can tell her story more powerfully than she can so I direct you to this article.

When white women and NBWOC take the labor of black women without centering their unique experiences it is a disservice to them and to our ideals of social justice. Let us do better in raising up voices so often erased. Tarana Burke said this which I think really cuts to the heart of this:

“On one side, it’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it.”

II. Digging in the Soil

There’s a branch of philosophy known as ontology that deals with the nature of “being.” Ontology tries to answer questions about “being,” what the world is made, what “exists.” To do that, ontology typically categorizes matter and often places some ontological category as being “primary” or “first.”In this way, ontological hierarchies create a system of values and “priorities.”

Take as an example how only certain experiences of SA are heard, that by existing lower in the ontological priorities, if at all, certain voices get erased. In society there exists a certain “ordering” of identities, a scale that places people and then assigns them varying degrees of agency. We could say that ontological hierarchies are very similar to animacy hierarchies, but that’s an article of its own. When we are applying intersectional critiques, at heart, we are putting forth a certain kind of ontology, or more accurately intersectional critiques seek to break down ontological hierarchies.

Perhaps the best way to understand this is to see what it looks like in action. We live bound under a capitalist super structure, what Marx described as the culture, institutions, political systems, rituals, state apparatus, etc and which he contrasted with what he called the “base.” or the ordering of and relationships made from the relations of production. Later critical theorists expanded this critique to point to the reflexive nature of the system, that base and superstructure are informed by and inform each other in a way that is inseparable. Seeing the role of ontological hierarchies play out in this superstructure under which we all live will hopefully be elucidating.

Capitalist ontological hierarchies situate the pursuit of wealth through wage labor as the default mode of being in the superstructure. In doing so the capitalist superstructure seeks several things. First, it normalizes the system by painting lack of ownership of the means of production as a default mode of economic and societal organization. Second it shifts the gaze of the working class off the wealthy so as to hide their accountability in the production of oppression. Finally it breaks down a unified class consciousness by subtly gaslighting the working class, having them believe that this system is the only one possible or even desirable.

A critique of hierarchy is central to the Anarchist model of social justice. We seek to break down to the deeper roots of oppression. Which is vital to breaking down r*pe culture and the endemic of sexual violence that haunts our world and so many of our lives. To make the link more explicit: kyriarchy (or the interlocking matrix of oppressive power structures like capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, etc) uses SA as a way of enforcing ontological hierarchies. Deviation from the norm, from the ontological priorities that permeate society, increases the risk of sexual violence because the more you deviate the less your body is valued, the less agency you are granted to define and name your own life. Therefore, I want to examine how these ontological priorities impact these discussions and the consequences that result by layering together four intersections: misogyny, cissexism, ableism, and white supremacy.

1. Misogyny and Cissexism

Within the patriarchy that we live men are “normative”, their experiences the ones by which all others are judged. Yet “men” are not a homogenous group, there are cis men, trans men, nonbinary men, intersex men, white men, men of color, abled men, disabled men. Likewise, women are not a homogenous group and neither is humanity in general; each of us occupies a complex set of identities informed by our own phenomenological experiences. By homogenizing the experiences of SA victims we necessarily erase the uniqueness of each individual experience and begin to hide the forces that shape and are shaped by r*pe culture.

The model of gender that permeates patriarchy is a binary between “male/men” and “female/women”. Several ontological priorities flow from this with devastating consequences for trans, nonbinary, and intersex folks (TNI). In the same way that misogyny centers men as being normative, cissexism centers cisness as normative. Many of the posts about me too have used cissexist and bioessentialist language (see here for more information on this) creating an ontological priority that decenters the most at-risk populations.

Take for example the ontological priority of cis women in many posts. By positioning, for example, trans women, as lacking some “essential” shared experience or quality with cis women it allows their priority to be weaponized as a way of erasing experiences deviating from the “norm.” SA itself is used to police gender and reinforce the structures that underpin the cishet patriarchy. Our queerness disrupts the ontological priorities of oppressive structures and SA becomes a way of forcing queer bodies back into the binary box.

Another insidious effect of this is that it drives a wedge through the heart of solidarity in this movement for social justice and community healing. When cis women, who are ontologically prioritized by cissexism, must make room for trans, nonbinary, and intersex folks, there is pushback and we are accused of “attacking” women. In other words, we are accused of being agents of patriarchy who seek to decenter the role of misogyny and the violence cis women face instead of being viewed as active contributors to the deconstruction of patriarchy. This implication, embedded into the language of many posts, results in trans, nonbinary and intersex folks feeling as if it is not our place to share our experiences with SA. And worse, this can result in a lack of resources, access to spaces, etc which can be potentially devastating.

2. Ableism.

Ontological priorities also weave together a narrative of there being a “default” sexual assault experience. Neuro-typical folks are granted an additional amount of agency to define their experiences not afforded to neurodivergent folks. Austitic people, and autistic women, such as myself face the additional burden of being gaslit by ableist structures in society that can be internalized. By denying us full agency through the reduction of our ontological priority our experiences can be erased or dismissed. I’m not “really” a victim of SA, I’m just “cr*zy”. I don’t “really” know my own boundaries, I’m autistic. In short ontological priorities can be weaponized to gaslight victims and cause us to gaslight ourselves.

3. White Supremacy

This section will feature two modes of analysis of white supremacy. The first focusing on anti-semitism, the second widening the scope to white supremacy more broadly and the urgency of the anti-blackness and settler colonialism that underpins it.

•Anti-semitism

I’d like to begin by saying I am hesitant to write this section because I understand just how deep anti-semitism runs in leftist circles; I choose to speak truth to power regardless here in the interest of healing. I bring up Weinstein’s Jewishness, not because it absolves him of guilt, but rather because his Jewishness, animated by white supremacy and anti-semitism, becomes a shield to absolve whiteness from accountability. To be clear, Weinstein, like myself is a white passing Jew and that matters just as much in this conversation as his Jewishness. Jewishness occupies a nebulous category, orienting and aligning itself either with or away from whiteness. It is only through a complex and individual set of circumstances that white passing Jews become oriented away from whiteness as is the case here. (This article might help put some of this in context and why I choose to bring this issue up.)

What popularized the me too movement was Harvey Weinstein’s SA of women being brought to light. For those of you unaware, Weinstein is a Jewish man, and this is important to note because it reveals an ontological priority scheme not about victims but about perpetrators of SA, a scheme that *hides* the scope of the problem.

At the same time there exists a double standard in how Weinstein, a Jewish man, is held to further account than white folks who commit the same harms. Where was accountability for Brock Turner or Donald Trump or the myriad of other white abusers? And underlying this is an ontological hierarchy that masks the systemic structures of who is held accountable. By refusing to wrestle with Weinstein’s Jewishness it hides the ways white supremacy permeates r*pre culture, erases POC victims and survivors, and helps protect white men from accountability of their own actions. The ontological priorities weaponized to hold only certain groups of men accountable for their actions, rather than holding all men accountable, and further all perpetrators of SA, furthers r*pe culture, not undermines it.

•Anti-blackness and Settler Colonialism

Before I begin it is vital to recognize that I am, in social justice parlance, stepping outside of my lane. My proximity to whiteness and the myriad ways I benefit from it necessarily limit the scope of my understanding and perspective and so this section is going to miss a *lot*. Despite my own uncomfortability in writing this I will not shy away from it either as to do so increases the burden placed on POC comrades, asking them yet again to bear the brunt of the labor in the dismantling of the system which they face the brunt of. With these limitations in mind I ask you read the following as a stepping stone and that we all recognize just how vital it is to center the voices of POC, particularly the work of black and indigenous femmes and women. The following is born from a conversation I had with Raven Raines, a black activist friend (and a lot is going to be lost in translation from their experiences to my own understanding).

Black women and femmes along with indigenous women and femmes face the greatest risk of sexual violence in r*pe culture. The security to be open with experiences of sexual assault, to seek justice and healing, is far less than for white or white passing folks. The confluence of anti-black stereotypes (for example that black folks are inherently more dangerous and violent) combined with the prison industrial complex serves to silence black and indigenous SA victims and survivors. More insidious yet is that male and white notions of black liberation see silence as a necessary condition of that very liberation.

That silence is also weaponized in unique ways against black women and femmes. SA becomes a tool of white supremacy to lessen the ontological status of black women and femmes by dehumanizing and “animalizing”  their bodies. It becomes under the system of white supremacy an impossibility to r*pe black folks because they aren’t seen as human, as deserving or having bodily autonomy and consent.

In the words of Raven:

“Regardless of the white supremacist source of the Jezabel stereotype it is used to further insist that sexual abuse done to black women and femmes is both wanted and desired. To call it sexual abuse, when sexual availability is considered the very nature of black people, is seen as a joke in itself. A riotous one for those suffering under the brunt of mosogynoir”.

III. A Seed of Healing and Hope

So how might we move forward in a way that better captures the spirit me too was created in? We can use inclusive language for one, language that seeks to disrupt narratives of an “universal” SA experience. We can learn to see the sharing of these critiques and experiences as weaving the bonds of community in shared suffering. We can begin to make space for those whose voices get left behind. We can strive to lessen the material consequences faced by those placed at the bottom of ontological hierarchies. And most of all we can seek an ontological “parity” that breaks down the categorizations and priorities of the system. Breaking down, utterly destroying, the ontological hierarchies cuts to one of the core problems underpinning r*pe culture, and allows us to see all our multitude of experiences as “real”.

We can open these conversations in the spirit of communalizing trauma, where we build a culture that values consent at the deepest level and where we get real with our humanness. I think moving forward I’d like to build on that idea of a consent culture and how we can help cultivate it in ourselves and in our communities. It’s also important that as we share our traumas communally we do so in a way that gives power to victims and survivors of SA and in a way that doesn’t mask the systemic structures at play.

Different notes, different voices, different experiences joining together doesn’t have to form a cacophony, it can be a symphony if we put in the work.

PS: I’d also like to take an aside to point out one of the limitations of the me too movement. Not all SA victims and survivors are able to share their stories if they even want to. It’s important that even as we share in communal healing found in me too we don’t forget the very real forces that silence people’s stories. The onus is not on victims to share their story, the onus is on perpetrators of abuse to change their behavior and the r*pe culture they built.

It’s also important that we do not attempt to mask the power dynamics, racial, gender, etc, by using absolutely neutral language. Doing so only serves to mask the ways systemic issues are reflected in our personal experiences.


Shay Woodall

Shay Woodall is a Jewish Priestess and Pagan working to weave a queer and decolonized magic with radical politics. You can find her work here.


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Me Too

From Sable Aradia

If you were on Twitter or Facebook in the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen it; the #MeToo hashtag. For anyone, especially women, who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment.

I had two stories to tell. There is at least as much story in the response as there is in the story.

The first one I posted was this:

Every boy in my class snapped my bra strap until I hit some w/my lunch kit. I went home w/welts. I got in trouble, not them. #MeToo

And the first response I got, which was deleted before I responded to it, was:

Every single boy?

Some of you are reading this and the iron tang of rage just rose into your throat, as it did in mine when I saw this. I’m not going to out the person who said it because he (of course, he) did delete it right away, and I must assume that this was because he rethought the wisdom of his post.  But I am going to respond. And this is my response.

Which Boys?

The truth is, I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. I don’t remember some of their names, after all this time.

What I remember is the experience. Being afraid to walk by myself in the hallway. Being afraid to turn my back on anyone with a penis. The snickering. The catcalls. Wolf-whistles. I was nine. Why was I getting wolf-whistles?

I was a tomboy. I liked to climb trees and play fighter pilots. From the age of three to the age of twelve my knees were perpetually scabbed from all the rough play I did. I had more boy friends than girl friends because of that.

Then I developed early. I was a C cup by the age of ten. And all of a sudden, the way that absolutely everyone treated me changed.

My dad wouldn’t play rough with me anymore. “It’s not appropriate,” he said. But he would play rough with my brother.

I was a fierce little girl. I jumped from trees, slogged through mud, and fought with sticks. I had no fear. But now I had boobies, so my mom emphasized how important it was that I act “ladylike.” To this day that word fills me with a seething rage that makes me want to punch the person who said it in the teeth.

But more than that, all of a sudden when I stood up to debate an issue in class, like we did on Fridays, I was mocked. It was magic; just like that. Prior to boobies, I was recognized as one of the “smart kids.” When I stood up to debate, people listened. After boobies, I was insulted and humiliated, if not in class, than certainly after.

To this day, I hate my breasts. I don’t like them played with during sex. I don’t want people looking at them.

Often, I could never be entirely certain which of the three boys standing behind me had reached over to snap my bra strap.  I complained about what the boys were doing to me.  “Which boys?” I was asked. I couldn’t name a specific name.

What I do know is that whichever one it was, his friends never stopped him.

Girls Colluded

When the more sexually astute girls realized what was going on, things got worse. Because, I guess, the gods hate me, I was in a split class where the other half was older than I was. They were a year ahead in development, and I now know, they were jealous of the male attention I was receiving.

But I didn’t know that then. I was nine. I understood nothing about sex; I’d never kissed a boy or a girl, my mother never told me a thing, and I had yet to discover Judy Blume.

So when they started mocking me in the change room, I was mortified. “You’re getting fat,” one would say, poking my rounding hip.  “You don’t need a bra; you’re too young for a bra,” another would say. That might be, but my boobies, which I was already learning to hate, bounced when I ran, and it made it difficult to run because they hurt.

I started locking myself in the showers to change.

The damage was a wound that I never truly recovered from. As far as I knew, I was fat; certainly I had these bulbs of flesh that were constantly in my way, and now my hips were rounding and I was constantly bumping into things. I developed serious enough dysphoria and body-hatred that by the time I was fifteen I was a full-blown anorexic-bulimic. I weighed 86 pounds and my hair was starting to fall out.

Most Boys

I think that after a while, it became a bit of a game for the boys in my class. I have always been a fiery-tempered sort. Perhaps it was a bit like trying to leap from the highest tree; they wanted to find out which one of them I was going to murder first.

When I entered a new grade and it didn’t stop, I started striking back.  When I felt a tug on my bra strap, I would turn around and hit whoever was in my path with my plastic lunch kit.

It was I who was called into the office. “Why are you hitting other students with your lunch kit?”

I told them.

“Is that an appropriate response for such a little thing?” I was asked by my male teacher.

“I go home with blisters,” I sniffled.

“Boys will be boys,” said my male school principal. “They do it because they like you.”

“So?” I said. What I meant was, Why does that make it okay?

The implication was that they had a right to my body because they were interested.

So they made me stop taking a lunch kit to school. After that, I started hitting them with rulers. I got detention after detention, but I insisted on defending myself.  After the third time I struck someone, it finally stopped.

Learning to Fight

When I was recovering from my eating disorder, my father got me a membership at a gym. Because I was driven, I channeled my addiction into working out. Ultimately it was a bit like weaning myself off of heroin by taking methadone. It worked, once I’d fought the working-out addiction.

But during that time I put on weight again, even as my body toned and became muscled. And when a bully confronted me outside of the school grounds, she got one punch only before I turned around and pommeled her. It was a real-life Charles Atlas story.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had been bullied.

Fast forward to my staggette party. By this time, I’d been studying a smattering of martial arts; some basic judo, some ninpo taijutsu, a little bit of medieval armoured fighting through the Society for Creative Anachronism. And while I was waiting outside the bar for a cab, someone grabbed my ass.

Before I realized it, I had him in an arm bar. He was looking up at me with fear in his eyes.

“I guess that was a bad idea,” he said.

“I guess so,” I agreed.

“I’m sorry. I guess I’ll go now.”

“You do that,” said I with death in my eyes.

My friends cheered. To them I was Wonder Woman. I’d defeated the oppressor through contest of arms.

But that didn’t change the fact that he’d grabbed my ass. For all my strength, and for all my ability to fight, I was still a victim.

Boys Will Be Boys

Why had he done it? For the same reason the boys had snapped my bra strap; because they thought they could. Because being interested in me entitled them to my body. Because “boys will be boys” let them get away with it.

“Rape culture” is a term, like “feminism,” guaranteed to enrage the right wing. They think it means that the people who say it think that all men go around raping women like savage baboons. And of course, that’s not true.

But many of them do go around grabbing asses and snapping bra straps. And no one stops them.

And, I would point out to the person who asked, “Every single boy?”, neither did you. You reacted defensively and not, as you would have yourself believe in your self-image, protectively.

I believe that more evil is perpetrated by cowardice than any of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. Sure, you didn’t pull the trigger. But you didn’t do a thing to stop the one who did. You sat around and let it happen. You were more interested in saying, “Not me!” than you were in saying, “I’m sorry this horrible thing happened to you.”

And every time someone says, “Every single boy?”, they’re doing it again. And again.

I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. But I do remember that nobody stopped them. And that, more than the experience itself, is the problem.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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