Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Lowdown Dirty Shame

The shit with my fucking mother and Kid's dad has got all sorts of atrocious memories swirling around in my head, and the recurring theme is shame.

Now lemme tell you a little something about shame, at least as it relates to domestic violence and rape. It isn't the violence of the act itself that causes the shame. No, really. Would you feel shame if you got rear ended in a car accident? Nope, you'd feel pissed off that the fuckwad behind you wasn't watching where they were going. There isn't anything you can do to avoid being rear-ended. Period. I think even most states' laws treats the rear-ender as the person solely responsible for the accident, and insurance companies follow. Get rear ended and it's over and done, not your fault.

The shame for victims comes from how people treat you after the fact. Will you be believed or blamed? Will you get support and empathy, or punishment? I think from the amount of shame attached to abuse, we all know what the most likely answers are. And it gets really tricky. I was reading Fugitivus' post (and damn if that ain't a familiar story) and thinking about all the shit I had to go through to get away from "but he's such a nice guy" Kid's dad.

I mentioned the other day that sometimes you have to choose, safety or justice. Those things shouldn't be mutually exclusive, but they are. But you also have to be willing to put up with a mountain of shame if you take either route. To be safe means explaining to people why you are afraid, and praying, fingers crossed, eyes closed, that the person you are relying on with this information is not going to judge you for it and cause you harm "for your own good". (See- my fucking mother making friends with Kid's dad for a concrete example of that).

To get justice means that you have to tell people what happened, pray, fingers crossed, eyes closed, that they believe you and then put a mighty large amount of faith into the "justice system". I have not yet met a victim of domestic violence or rape that has actually gotten justice from this system in a way that restored their faith in the world. Not a single one. Ever.

But there is one other choice. You shut up. You can surrender to the victim blaming and not say a word. You won't get justice. You won't be safer. But as long as you're quiet about it, you don't have to join the ranks of the publicly shamed. There will still, most likely, be a giant swarming of blaming going on in your own head. But at least the whole world isn't chiming in to say how much you deserved to be hurt for being an imperfect person.

When we put conditions on victims, when we require them to be "perfect" in order to be believed, we set an impossible standard that perpetuates rape culture. The shaming is part of that. There is no difference between a wealthy, educated, white woman who gets hit once and leaves, and a poor, less educated, less white woman who can't. Neither deserves shame for their situation. They both have been rear-ended by an asshole. There is also no difference between the lily white virgin, sober and modestly dressed, who never leaves her house except to go to church and is raped anyways, and the prostitute whose john decides he wants a freebie at knifepoint. Neither of these women deserve shame. But we shame them all. The educated lady had "bad choice in men", the virgin should have fought back harder. Nobody tells the rear-ended driver that he shouldn't have been at that stop light, or shouldn't have been driving a shiny new car.

Shame is a silencer. It keeps us from screaming because we know, not that we won't be heard, but that we will be punished for screaming in the first place. Punished for not being perfect enough, for "getting ourselves into bad situations", for "not knowing better".

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