Hey guys! Do me a favour. Look at this list and tell me what doesn’t belong on it:
Diaphragms made of crocodile dung
“Purity at all cost.”
I’ll save you the trouble: it’s that last bit. Why? Because the other three are all out of fashion.
It’s true. An entire abstinence-only education team is dedicated to twelve-year old Maria Goretti, who killed herself when threatened with rape, and later was canonized. Yep, people are still celebrating the death of a young girl in such a manner as to encourage others to follow her example.
When Lilya of “Lilya 4-Ever” jumped off the bridge to her death, we didn’t stand in judgment. We understood her choice, but didn’t celebrate it. You can’t celebrate a tragic end to an already tragic story.
As a believer in God, the most I could do was hope that someone like her would be comforted, consoled, and healed in the afterlife.
Most of us do not want to live at all costs. I wouldn’t want to live at the cost of my brother’s life, for example.
It’s a hard thing, to leave this world, but sometimes, when a choice is given to us, we do it because we must.
Do I begrudge the child Maria Goretti her choice (what “choice” is there in being stabbed to death is another matter entirely)? No. I don’t know what it’s like to be inside her head, and I don’t know what terror she experienced. Maria Goretti’s death helped put an end to the awful practice by which a man would rape a woman to force her to marry him. Maria Goretti rebelled against this. It still wasn’t worth her life, but I’m willing to bet that she thought that it did, and her thoughts must be counted.
But I do begrudge others the right to exploit her story and actively encourage death.
I’m biased. The first time I was sexually abused, I was seven years old. Would it have been better for me to die? During the worst days of my life, I thought that yes, it would have been better. It’s funny, I’ve always thought that all branches of Christianity were against suicide unless one is dying to save one’s friends, but it seems that there is a loophole after all (and yes, Orthodox Christianity also includes stories of female saints dying rather than being raped; we all also celebrate Maria Magdalena and Mary of Egypt, but do we merely forgive them their former ignorance?), and, surprise surprise, it applies most readily to women! I truly am lucky that when I began to really confront what happened to me, I was only vaguely aware of such stories and the gushing admiration the purity control crowd has for them.
If I killed myself now, and specifically talked about what happened to me at seven years old in my suicide note, d’you think people might dedicate an entire organization to me? Is there a statute of limitations on this stuff? Paging Dawn Eden! I may not be Catholic, luvvie, but I am an eager, eager learner.
In both religion and art, women are usually not allowed to survive rape or else a sexual indiscretion of any kind. They expire conveniently, or else are locked away from society. They do not tell their stories. They do not get to shape the narrative.
There is a reason why we wish to see the survivors expunged from our society, why we consider them tainted. First of all, we are afraid that their misfortune is contagious. Second of all, we don’t want to deal with the stories of pain and horror that they may be able to tell us.
But most of all, neither do we want their stories of redemption and strength. That would make them a little bit too human for comfort.
This is why some people think I, and people like me, would be better off silent in the grave.
No one is saying that? Oh really? Why, just look at the comments on Dawn Eden’s post, particularly those from a luminary named Paul:
…I have no daughter, but if I did I would say to her the same thing King St. Louis IX’s mother said to him, “I love you very much, but I would rather see you dead at my feet than know that you had ever committed a mortal sin.”
See, good ol’ Paul here, although not a parent himself (thank God for small favours), is telling parents that they ought to be happy if their daughter dies before she is about to be raped. Notice that even the act of being raped is considered a sin. Funny how it only applies to something that has to do with genitals. Surviving an attempted murder wouldn’t make you “tainted” by default, because we are all about the sexytime and carnal knowledge and sniffing each other’s panties (it’s just a hunch, but I think Paul is an expert panty-sniffer).
Paul goes on:
Rape is a heinous crime, and survivors will be forever changed. But their lives are still valuable. [says another commenter]
Of course they are. But I would submit that their lives are considerably less pleasant than those of the saints in heaven. So if you have the choice, it is a much wiser and more cheerful choice to choose martyrdom. If that choice is not available, than there is a much value in a life of suffering, but it is a much greater ordeal, and nowhere near as pleasant.
Pride isn’t an issue for Paul. Not at all. After all, he “cheerfully” takes it upon himself to predict which ones of us will become “saints in heaven.” That whole God business? Bitch, please. Paul has it all figured out already. It’s a simple mathematical equation. There’s no mystery to it.
Notice also how he takes it upon himself to decide whether or not someone can have a “pleasant” life after being raped. Makes me kind of wonder if he’s a survivor who has never been able to deal with what happened to him.
The idea that survivors do not just suffer, but can even prosper, can teach others about the harm that was done to them so that it can be prevented for someone else, can build shelters, or temples, can write poetry, or breathe cool evening air on the doorstep of autumn and smile at the September stars, can even be loved by God and be pleasing to God, does not exist for Paul. Survivors are mortal sinners. Gee whiz, it’s a tough break, but you gotta live with it, kid.
Or, rather, not live with it.
I’m sure that folks like Paul want to be saints. That much is obvious from their writings. The fact that not wanting it is pretty much a prerequisite somehow slips them by. They, essentially, think they are smarter than God. They take the gift of life and throw it right back at God’s face.
Of course, this isn’t just a religious issue, it is also a feminist issue, or a feminist religious issue, or a religious feminist one.
I’m glad to see it covered at Feministe, because Feministe is one of the forefront sites to argue, audaciously, that the lives of women have value beyond their reproductive organs and what goes in and out of them. And the Maria Goretti post reminded me of why I wanted to become a feminist in the first place.
You see, fundamentalists can dress their arguments up in all sorts of flowery rhetoric, and can plumb their respective holy books for all sorts of pithy quotes to slay their critics with, but this doesn’t change their hate and fear: they hate and fear this world, they hate and fear their own bodies, and they hate and fear that which they are drawn to.
Because fundamentalist men always stand a step “above” fundamentalist women in the sick little hierarchy they create here on earth, fundamentalist women are taught to hate and fear their own bodies and their fellow women. Some experience Stockholm Syndrome, others know exactly what they are doing.
After being told, by a woman no less, that I “deserved” what had happened to me, I became drawn to feminism, having noticed that people who make the aforementioned judgments seem to despise feminism in particular. “The feminists must be doing something right,” I thought.
I signed up, because hate and fear have destroyed too many people as it is. Because they quite nearly destroyed me and many of the people that I love.
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know how bad life may or may not get. I know death is in the cards. Is destruction in the cards as well? We’ll see.
My PTSD ensures that I spend a lot of time feeling terrified and alone, but even then, underneath all that, is the idea that the burdens of life are all worth it.
I still think that there is a reason why I’m here, and it is not an entirely evil and horrible reason, just as it is so for all survivors, both women and men, who have the temerity to walk this earth, interact with others, and even have children, despite having been violated in some form or another.
Some of them I know. Some of them I sometimes think I can spot at a distance.
And some of them keep their secrets close, if only because some self-righteous asshole will be all too ready to tell them that they shouldn’t exist.
And damn, I don’t want to be crying for them, or for me. But, as a famous Catholic wrote once, “not all tears are an evil.”