Just a short note today to take issue with a new-fangled feminist theory about which pronoun to use describing one’s own rape. An academic feminist who graciously read one of my essays turned my pain into an academic exercise and took issue with my use of the pronoun “my” to describe my rapes. This theorist explained that “my” insinuates that I blame myself for my rapes, and that the possessive pronoun make the rapes the my possession. She also wrote that she would not “want to identify that closely or take possession of being raped.”
I wholeheartedly disagree with all three of these points. To shy away from using the grammatical pronoun “my” falsely separates oneself from one’s own trauma. This slows down one’s own and the world’s healing process. To me, not owning one’s trauma is at the heart of many problems in this world. By facing one’s own pain one can more easily empathize with the experiences of others. To move forward in a progressive, healing, and inclusive manner, we each need to face our own trauma. Then we can teach the next generation to be strong and move forward with insight and wisdom. Feminist theory about rape should be grounded in reality.
To insinuate that using “my” means the survivor somehow blames themselves for the assault is illogical. Survivors often blame themselves, just as society blames rape victims, but this is not because they use the pronoun “my.” The issue of (falsely) blaming oneself for one’s rapes is separate from what pronoun a survivor uses to describe their rape. Such theoretical nonsense will not make our world, feminists, or trauma survivors stronger.
It also will not help our children or young college students heal. If survivors divorce themselves from their own trauma at the instruction of their teacher or parent they may be stronger temporarily, but the wound will fester under the facade of strength or happiness. Trauma is in one’s body at a cellular, emotional, and even some would say a spiritual level. To disassociate oneself from it on an intellectual level can only be a temporary fix. I believe one can heal the fastest by facing one’s pain, not by running from it.
Additionally, a survivor of rape or other trauma uses the pronoun “my” simply because the rape is their experience. Just as an incarceration, a beating, or a birthday party is one’s experience, so is a rape. It is the only logical pronoun to use. We say, “I was robbed,” or “We were broken into,” or “I was raped.” Similarly, we say, “she or he raped me.” The rape belongs to both the rapist and the victim. This is tragic, but but it’s reality. Trying to distance oneself by not owning or possessing the crime is pushing both sides away from healing, truth, and wisdom. We might not want to own our assaults, but they are our experiences, so they are “ours.”
Maybe we do not want to take possession of our deep pain, but to pretend it isn’t our own will not promote healing. “Identifying closely” with one’s rape is how we learn to empathize with other survivors and even perpetrators. This way we can closely understand the pain inflicted and how that pain mingles with other experiences. Many perpetrators also feel pain and have had trauma in their lives. As a society we need to understand all different kinds of pain to be able to not raise more perpetrators. If we do not claim and understand our own pain or if we spend time taking issue with the usage of the pronoun my to describe one’s own rapes, we postpone our own healing and even the healing of those around us and those we influence.
Divorcing oneself from one’s own trauma, which is felt on so many levels, is exactly how to prevent people from understanding and empathizing with one another. I am not a psychologist. But in addition to years of reading about trauma and survivors, I have heard hundreds of women in person speak about their own trauma. The ones who make progress in healing are the ones who face their pain. They own it and speak about it. By doing this, they move forward and grow stronger, all the while lessening the control their trauma has over them. This way, they bring up and teach their children or students to be morally courageous. They teach them to look inward first to see the source of one’s emotions.
I have referred to my rapes as “my rapes” for twenty-nine years. They happened to me. I own them, and I experienced them. They exist in my brain and my body, and they have affected my life in countless ways. In day-to-day life, in healing workshops, and in therapy I have shaken, screamed, and physically felt my shame, rage, and fear on a cellular level. That is not theory. That is real. No feminist theory about rape can change these basic facts.
Being in touch with what one’s body and psyche has experienced by embracing one’s own trauma is the key to how we can have empathy for others. It is how we as a society can move forward in a progressive and healing manner. We do not need fancy, nonsensical feminist theory to heal. I believe that because I faced my pain head on, I moved from being a victim, to a survivor, and then to a thriver. My rapes will always be a part of me. And in various odd or miscellaneous ways may affect me to the day I die. But by embracing my pain, I have experienced many levels of healing. By doing this, I have been able to teach children and adults around me that facing, owning, and naming one’s own feelings is the easiest way to understand much of the trauma in the world today.
Feminist theory about rape often only helps survivors distance themselves from their internal pain.