Well, then! Thank you, o feisty abstinence-only group, for letting me know I should have killed myself when I was seven!

Hey guys! Do me a favour. Look at this list and tell me what doesn’t belong on it:

Diaphragms made of crocodile dung
The Macarena
“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.

Lilya 4-Ever

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.

Mariana by John Everett Millais

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.

Tori Amos, a survivor of rape
Tori Amos, a survivor of rape

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.”

49 thoughts on “Well, then! Thank you, o feisty abstinence-only group, for letting me know I should have killed myself when I was seven!

  1. Lucretia, apparently, is alive and well. I thought we’d gotten rid of this meme sometime in the fifth century, but I guess someone just had to come up with a new representative. What a sick, sick, sick thing to teach children (or anyone at all).

  2. “Purity at all costs” indeed. Funny how that only seems to apply to women, and only to rape. If someone was forcing you to rob a bank at gunpoint, must you die to remain “pure” at all costs?

    People forget that none of us are really pure to begin with. We’re just human beings. And yet they hold up a young girl’s tragic death as an example to all women.

    Sick, all of it.

  3. Truly appalling. I really hate the reinterpretation of Christ’s teachings. It shouldn’t even have to be said that getting raped is NOT a sin. The rapist is the sin. Given that at a conservative estimate 30% to 50% of women and girls will be raped by the age of 40, these sick people want to eliminate up to half the population. The notion is nauseating. If their standards I should have killed myself too.

    Great call out Natalia.

  4. 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.

    Facts: As you probably know, every Easter, a whole bunch of new folks enter the Church and/or are confirmed. In the Easter Vigil Masses I have attended over the years, there is ALWAYS at least one Maria Goretti in the bunch, ALWAYS a young woman. (Maria Goretti taken as her patron saint’s name.) For some reason, she strongly resonates with certain young women.

    I think they take away from her story something totally opposite. Just sayin.

    I have never asked them why they choose her, but LOTS of them do.

    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.

    In our modern day, I think this is translated to pregnancy or date rape… something. Male ownership of women:. “I’d rather die than be owned!” She is still very popular. I would ask the non-ideological types (not Dawn Eden!) why they chose her, why they identify with her. I don’t trust the right wing of the Church or us feminists, to truly get it. We need to ask the girls themselves. The reason we are even discussing her is because girls have kept her popular all these years by choosing her on Confirmation Day.. other young female saints who supposedly died under similar circumstances (Philomena?) have decreased in popularity.

    And BTW, St Mary of Egypt died in the desert, after making a lone pilgrimage… very much like any holy man trying to understand the world and evil. She became very thin and leathery-skinned and only wore a drape over her private parts, so men who saw her in the desert often thought she was a male monk… I believe this is in THE GOLDEN LEGEND. But a woman who chooses Mary of Egypt as a saint is likely a feminist.

    (I am very interested in the reasons people choose the patron saints they do, particularly women. I think it’s often very close to one’s unconscious being exposed.)

  5. Great post, Natalia. By Paul’s logic, a hell of a lot of us women deserve to be dead. A hell of a lot of children deserve to be dead as well. Strange thing is, this is the way that many people in our world think they show their belief in the “value” of those women.

    I’d rather be worthless in Paul’s sick eyes than valued by them, thank you very much.

  6. Natalia, I am glad you aren’t a martyr.

    I suspect that The Goretti Group wouldn’t approve of anyone who interpretted Maria Goretti’s suicide as “better dead than be forced by all the Godly people to marry your rapist and face a lifetime of church sanctioned rape.”

  7. This is an excellent post and an excellent discussion. Because my in-laws are Catholic, I have developed the hobby of studying Catholic blogs, and Maria Goretti is a popular saint. I wonder if the veneration of this poor girl’s horrid death is related to the idea, expressed by Paul, that suffering is a good thing in and of itself? I, both as human and a Protestant*, really despise this idea since it doesn’t differentiate between necessary suffering for a higher purpose and ordinary avoidable pain. If this is true, we can all become saints just by wearing shoes too small. Worse, the idea that suffering is always good excuses those who inflict suffering, making them think that they’re benefiting their victims in some way. Maria Goretti is really bad for this, since apparently her murderer never was punished for his crime.

    *The doctrine I’ve always been taught in church is that suffering is a consequence of living in a fallen world, and sometimes necessary, as in the pain of sore muscles from starting an exercise program, or the pain of being imprisoned for committing a crime. The sufferer can redeem her pain by the way she uses it for a greater purpose, but the pain itself is never a good thing.

  8. Daisy, like you, I think there are a lot of things to be taken away from Maria’s story.

    But when people like Paul and the “Purity at all cost” crowd use it, they turn it into something frightening.

  9. Cara, we can’t be “honored” in Paul’s eyes because in order to be so, we’d have to be dead.

  10. Thanks for writing this.
    I remember how shocked I was talking to a sister-in-law, I asked her, when did she loose her virginity. She looked at me and said, I don’t know, I think I’ve always been having sex, for as long as I can remember.
    To imply that she should have died. It makes me sick.
    I would have liked the story better had she murdered her rapist to prevent him from losing his virtue. Purity at all costs, right?
    Indecently, my patron saint is St. Mary of Egypt.
    I had consulted with my priest about what saint to take and that is who he recommended (you can assume what you will from that =).
    My favorite Lenten service is definitely her story.

  11. On a somewhat related note, I have been pondering the idea of virginity in the church lately.
    It seems that in the orthodox view when talking about the Theotokos- Mother of God, (which is what she is primarily called, rather than Virgin), the focus is on the fact that she was such a religious and pius and good woman; who happened to be a virgin, which made the whole conception thing a miracle because no man was involved. Otherwise the miracle wouldn’t have been as neat. Not so much that she was good because she was a virgin, so God impregnated her.
    When a person becomes a monastic, and adopts that lifestyle, all people seem to notice is the celebacy.
    That that must mean that sex is bad.
    I struggle with that because I disagree with it.
    I understand wanting to live like an aesetic, but sex is probably one of the least dificult things to deal with (or not..I really don’t know what I am talking about), so when people focus on virginity like that is the end all beat all to living a good life, it frustrates me to no end. ( I am not at all trying to say that you do this, but the religious folks who go on and on about virgins).
    Sorry for rambling, if you decide not to post this because it is too off topic I understand =)

  12. Well, no, it’s not off topic, because it goes to the heart of the issue. How we define purity. Apparently, to some people, purity is all about what is in your pants.

    The fact that someone might read their hateful screeds (and I’m talking about Paul here), and may want to end their life certainly does not “taint” them, no way.

  13. exactly!
    who the hell decided that hymen=purity anyway?
    like that is all you have to do- keep it intact? like sex itself is somehow a bad thing? and on that note, that rape=sex=loss of purity.
    It just doesn’t make sense.

  14. I’ve seen this attitude from a handful of men who weren’t particularly religious. I remember getting into a bitter, angry argument with a man on some MU* somewhere about how fucked up it was for him to say that female survivors of rape have had such a horrible experience it’s kinder to let them die.

    When I hear that, I know for certain the man saying that doesn’t think of women as people.

  15. ….female survivors of rape have had such a horrible experience it’s kinder to let them die.

    When I hear that, I know for certain the man saying that doesn’t think of women as people.

    Yep. “This poor dog… sorry, woman, is suffering. Let’s put her down.”

  16. For the record, he didn’t change his mind. Didn’t matter that a woman was telling him he was fucked up and wrong, he was The Authority on how women should view rape.

  17. Guys like that make me wonder if they are in fact survivors of rape or some form of childhood abuse.

    It doesn’t make their views any less heinous, but it could certainly be one explanation. When they can’t deal with the pain, they lash out at others. They speak for others. They twist the narrative to their purpose.

    And no, I doubt that any of them would be willing to change their minds, as horrific as their views ultimately are.

    Although maybe he’s just your garden variety asshole. It doesn’t take a lot to become one.

  18. Wow. Tragic, sick I think that story is terrible on so many levels made more terrible by the ‘lesson’ people attempt to derive of it.

  19. Got here from Feministe. I remember reading about Maria Gorretti as a young catholic girl; it confused me more than anything, but I was drawn to her bravery (not her purity, as I recall). She stood up to a man and showed toughness in the face of death.

    Thanks for sharing your story. You have probably earned the equivalent of sainthood by speaking out about this issue and dealing with asshats like Paul. Conveniently dying would keep you from enjoying life and maybe helping more people as you go. I wish you many cool breezes and starry nights.

  20. Congrats, you’re the main attraction on WordPress’ dashboard!
    I, for one, think the world is a better place with *you* in it. Great post; your points about not letting women shape the narrative are sparkling.

  21. wow, i have been in plenty of churches and never heard that preached, i can imagine if a slightly younger me, just a few short years ago had heard it…i already felt dirty, violated, and forever ruined, tempted to take my scarred life, so that no one would ever know. i would have. i have no doubt, if someone had given me the excuse of honor. like you, i was just a child, completely unaware of what was happening to me, my grandfather, a pastor. no one close to me has any idea. i cant talk about it, but thank God i can write…my first poem was the time i learned to let go. the time i learned i had to live in spite of what happened to me. its on my blog, called “scream”


  22. Thanks, guys. JRDS, I’m really sorry that this happened to you. You’re not alone, though. There’s lots of us. And we’re not going to shut up, now, are we? Because I for one am tired of feeling as though people like us ought to be ashamed about what happened. As if it is more “proper” somehow to never speak of it publicly.

  23. 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.

    Are you planning on having children? What are you going to do to make sure they don’t suffer as the result of your post-traumatic stress? I’m not saying that people like you should go kill themselves, however a responsible adult must worry about the long-term consequences.

  24. Are you planning on having children?

    Probably, the 6 terrifying things about childbirth notwithstanding.

    What are you going to do to make sure they don’t suffer as the result of your post-traumatic stress?

    Uh, the same things that most parents do to make sure they raise their kids well. Obviously, I’ll be all alone in this, since no parent ever has had emotional problems of any sort. It’s going to be quite the experiment. I’m going to use it as an opportunity to get famous as The First Ever Parent Who Had Issues With Trauma. Obviously, I’m also completely ignorant about trauma and its possible effects on a person’s loved ones, so it’s really fortunate that I have people like you to point it all out to me.

    I’m not saying that people like you should go kill themselves,

    Thank you, because I spent all day yesterday wondering if you were going to show up and give me your approval in this matter. I was honestly kinda worried there for a while. Now I can finally live in peace.

    I’m putting the razor away now. Scout’s honour.

    however a responsible adult must worry about the long-term consequences.

    You know, it really is a blessing that you showed up on my site, because I confess that I never could have figured it out without you. Parenting takes responsibility? Who knew? I thought I had all the details after watching “Knocked Up” a couple of times, so you have truly enlightened me.

    Tell me, would you say the same things to a male PTSD sufferer? Or is it just us women who are defined solely by our roles as mothers and not much else?

  25. I’m not saying that people like you should go kill themselves,

    dude, what does that even mean?

    I’m not saying that people like you should go kill themselves,”

    you yourself are not saying, but others are?

    “I’m not saying that people like you should go kill themselves,”

    you’re not saying, but you are implying?

    “I’m not saying that people like you should go kill themselves,”

    but other people should?

    “I’m not saying that people like you should go kill themselves,

    but you feel that people like us shouldn’t reproduce?

  26. Casual observer, may you forever go partner-less and spend your life eating Cheetos in some basement someplace. Oh, except that’s prolly no punishment for you, since that is prolly what you are doing now.

    In any case, maybe YOU shouldn’t have children, with attitudes like that.

  27. A casual observation, CO.

    I’m not saying those Cheetos should be poisoned, or that you should jump into a pit of pointy stakes, or be eaten by piranhas trained to attack trolls, but any reasonable adult might hope you are at the very least prevented from typing words on the internet.

    For the sake of hypothetical children, you see. It’s only reasonable.

  28. Hey Natalia, don’t worry, I betcha big bucks that Casual Observer would totally suggest I go kill myself, or at least get sterilized! Rest assured, you probably rank way higher with that lot than I would 🙂

  29. Thankyou for the delightful read. I am of course, in full agreement.
    I never cease to be amazed how religion in all its forms seems to be interested primarily in the control and domination of female sexuality.
    How sad that a little girl’s brutalization and tragic death calls not for an end to said brutalization, but for a cult to honor suicide. It speaks volumes as to the priorities of organized religion.

  30. Ren, ha! Might as well get in line behind you!

    Bill, it’s one of the main reasons why I rarely go to church. I’m Orthodox, and Orthodox Churches are very nice. It’s the people inside that tend to really upset me.

  31. If you look at what the scripture says- the law was if a woman was where she could not call for help, she was not guilty of anything- the rapist was put to death. If she was within calling distance and called out for help, she was guilty of nothing- the rapist was put to death.

    But I you may prefer the Feminist doctrine to the Biblical guidance. They will not and have not given you any peace in the matter. Don’t be so hard on yourself, look at what the Bible says on these matters. God is not mean. Women who whip up hate for men in general are generally pretty mean.

    Your interpretation is not taking into account the Whole Bible, the Church may be off center on any issue, but the Bible is not. If you want to know what God says about something- Ask Him, then sit down with the Bible and look for His Answer.

    God answers pray, His mercy endures forever, he does not want you miserable. Check in with Him, 24/7.

  32. Great post Natalia. I went to a Catholic school but don’t remember Maria Goretti. Just as well or I might have thought of killing myself too. There’s nothing more or less pure about my vagina than about my liver.

    @batguano: you can’t have it both ways. Either God is loving and forgiving or He is vengeful and punishing. You can have the new testament or the old testament but you can’t have both. So either your first or last paragraph true cos it can’t be both.

    It’s interesting how so many people use the old testament to justify their oppressive beliefs while claiming that Jesus said it. Nope Jesus didn’t say it. If you’re looking for an oppressive voice in the new testament you have to go to St Paul the Misogynist in pretty much invented the church.

    @Casual Observer: long walk, short pier. That is all.

  33. Natalia, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time. I have not read all the comments to this particular post so if someone has already said what I am about to, forgive me. I don’t have much time to write a long, well-thought out response but in case I never get another chance I just wanted you to know that there are some people who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and the only way to heaven but who believe that judgment and condemnation are not a part of that way. And who would never say that BEING raped is a sin.

    Like you said there are many “fundamentals” who think the only way is to be self-righteous, to religiously follow rules and to have nothing but contempt for people outside of that. But there really are people who want to show people “outside faith” love and truth and who know they themselves are rotten sinners and would therefore not pretend self-righteousness.

    I realize claiming you have the only way is viewed nowadays as being intolerant etc in and of itself but that will have to wait for another time.

    If you’re at all interested in learning more about loving Christians (versus judgmental, hateful ones) I can recommend some authors. Off the top of my head Philip Yancey comes to mind. He perfectly sees everything wrong with Christianity but has also found it to be the only truth to be found in the world. I was Just Wondering, What’s so Amazing about Grace, the Bible Jesus Read . . . . all great books. They’re written for evangelical Christians but you might get what I’m talking about out of it.

    Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll try to come up with a more comprehensive list.

    Sorry I don’t have more time.

    God bless,

  34. Read this post earlier and didn’t post, but now wanted to add a related (0r not) observation:

    I recently saw the trailer for Hounddog (the so-called “Dakota Fanning rape movie” — what is wrong with these people…??), and, in one scene, Llewellyn (Dakota Fanning) asks if she can go to hell for someone else’s sin. I immediately thought of this series of posts (at Dawn Eden’s, Feministe, here and elsewhere).

    And then, after seeing some of the usual nonsense from the religious right about this picture, I realized that, had this been a movie about Maria Goretti, Catholic mothers the world over would be flying their daughters in to audition for the part of the young victim. In this case, since the child survives and rises above her ordeal, the usual religious cranks are all about how immoral it is to have such a young actress playing such a complex and dark role.

    At some point you have to either laugh or cry…

    Also — a tangent, but one that illustrates the utter contradictory nature of Catholic teaching — how come they claim that it’s part of God’s plan to create new life from rape, but they’re also (through the Maria Goretti fable) claiming that it’s better to off yourself than be raped…? Huh?? What if you’re raped and then kill yourself, but you were pregnant?!?! Are you now guilty of murdering your unborn baby?

    It’s just such a whacked out, twisted, sick, hateful, fearful swirl’o’crazy…

    Anyways, cool post. Thanks for letting me vent.

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