This paper was inspired by the author's experiences teaching a
required class about feminism to
affluent, predominantly female undergraduates who vociferously
considered it outdated and
irrelevant to their lives until they realized, in painfully personal
ways, that this was the dominant
discourse speaking, not their own voices. Inspired by these women, and
in the hope of further
displacing the hegemonically imposed code of silence, this paper breaks
the author's tacit
complicity with these societal forces of repression. Written on a bus
from Boston to New York,
the author weaves her narrative with a description of that trip and its
imagery and psychological interpretation to reveal her personal journey
into the intersection of
the social politics that shape and control the legitimacy, experiences,
and representation of
women's stories, exploring how these forces are resisted and
negotiated, embodied and survived,
silenced and voiced.
Sexual abuse is not an isolated phenomenon or private event. It is
woven into our social fabric. It is a public issue. It is our anger and
our outrage, not our silence, that will hold society accountable and
I have tried to write this story before. I was always told that it
was "too raw", "too personal,"
"too inappropriate," "too depressing." Maybe it is. But it is also,
damn it, the dominant
biographical text for far too many women. I learned this firsthand a
few years ago when I was
first invited to teach a (required) class about feminism to affluent,
undergraduates who vociferously considered feminism outdated and
irrelevant to their lives. After group activities and discussions
designed to make implicit gender biases explicit, we read
and spoke about new and classic texts, the controversies within and
across the movement, how
things have changed over the past decades and how they had not. They
were generally a
somewhat conservative and highly opinionated group who consistently
viewpoints. Over the course of the week we argued spiritedly about
ethnic and cultural issues,
sexual orientation and mores, economic and political factors. However,
when I spoke about child
abuse, rape, battered women, and related crimes the class was
uncharacteristically silent and
unresponsive. I thought maybe the page of statistics I had handed out
(along with a page of local
resources such as confidential university counseling services, rape
crisis centers, battered
women's shelters, AIDS testing, and child abuse hotlines) was
overwhelming or, more likely, the
topics too far removed from the lives of these generally privileged
I was wrong.
Soon after the class ended a student came to my office and asked
if she could talk to me. Between sobs, she told me about her history of
sexual abuse by a family member. It was the first
time she had ever spoken of it to anyone. I comforted, empathized,
raged, reassured, and cried
along with her. She left saying that now she felt able to talk about it
with a counselor. Over the
next several days the scene was repeated again and again. The students
and stories changed but
the theme of abuse and trauma -- some recent, some long silenced -- was
constant. I was puzzled
by this at first but came to realize that the class had not only
stirred memories but opened a space
where students felt safe talking about what had been repressed and
pressured into obscurity by a
culture that prefers repetition of the unspeakable to speaking about
it. It did this, in part, by
providing a larger historical, social, and empathetic context for
making meaning that had not
been available to these women before -- a space that displaced the
dominant discourse and its code
of silence. My goal in this paper is to open that counter-hegemonic
space a little bit more.
I do not intend to do this by providing an exhaustive account of the
complex conditions that
encourage aggression and support violence against women, all of which
have been well
documented elsewhere (e.g. Burt, 1980; MacKinnon, 1983; Hanmer &
Buchwald, Fletcher, &
Roth, 1993; Connell, 1995; Klein &
Chancer, 2000). I do this, instead, by
ending my tacit complicity with these societal forces of repression by
remaining silent. I do this
by describing a personal journey into the intersection of the social
politics that have shaped and
controlled the legitimacy, experiences, and representation of women's
stories and by exploring
how these forces are resisted and negotiated, embodied and survived,
silenced and voiced.
I offer the words and images of my search in the hope that others
may find resonance in what has
been reverberating  in me for more than half my
lifetime. I offer it
challenge the traditional
assumptions made by academic texts and paradigmatic disciplines -- to
legitimize "other" texts as
valid and valuable resources for making meaning. I offer it to further
de-romanticize what it means to survive. But more about that later. For
now, perhaps the
following will help it make sense.
I am writing this on the bus from Boston to New York. The next thing
I realize, I am absorbed in
studying the rain-muted view of New England's fall foliage. I have
become the observer once
again. Disassociated from the pain. It is hard for me to concentrate on
writing this piece.
The oranges and yellows are extremely vibrant in some places this
year, while for the next mile
the leaves are still strangely green.
Even after all of these years have passed, I automatically turn off
the emotions -- the voices that
tear me apart. Such psychic survival strategies have become routine.
I have never seen such glorious color and I cannot recall ever
seeing it so unevenly distributed.
I was young. I was female. I was innocent. He was male. He was
strong and smelled of burnt
rubber. He had a gun.
The woman next to me clutches her bag and stares straight ahead. She
appears to be around
seventy and wears red shoes and a red coat, long dangling earrings, and
closely cropped hair dyed
dark brown. She is carefully made-up. Carefully coordinated.
He raped me. Twice. Once with the gun. Words cannot express the
terror. The horror. But I
did not die. I was no longer alive. But I was not dead. I breathed. I
moved. I hurt. It was dark. I was alone. I was numb. Somehow I found a
phone. A pay phone. I must have called a taxi
because I remember cowering in a corner of the back seat all the way
home, my torn scarf drawn
across my face.
Across the aisle, a blond young man with a most unusual ring on his
pinkie reads an ornate
leather bound volume of Edgar Allan Poe. The ring is silver with a
design reminiscent of the
style of Pacific Northwest Coast Indians. It is set with a polished
cabochon of amber yellow.
"You're home early." came from the kitchen.
"I don't feel well. I think I'll shower and go to bed." I managed on my way furtively up the stairs.
I showered the longest, hottest, soapiest shower I dared. I told no
one. Hoping the pounding
water would drown out my stifled, convulsive sobs. I told no one. I
tried to scrub off the bruises
until they bled. I bled. I told no one. I wore turtlenecks and long
sleeves. I told no one.
A thirsty lake swallows the rain. Music seeps out from the
headphones of the young woman
behind me. The lady in red scratches her rouged, wrinkled cheek with
gnarled, polished fingers.
How could I? They wouldn't understand. They'd have blamed me for not
staying home where I
belonged. Or for wearing my skirt too short. Or my hair too long. I
tried to forget it. Maybe it
wasn't real. Maybe it didn't happen. Maybe. . . I had practically
convinced myself that it was
merely a nightmare.
The rain falls harder now. Outside my window, sturdy pines rooted in
gray rock bear the weight
of the rain stoically. Inside the bus, luggage straps dangle from the
racks overhead and rock back
and forth to the rhythm of the road. Droplet-dusted windows give the
landscape a magical,
I felt lousy. I felt queasy. My period was late. I told no one.
Words cannot express the shame. The anger. The nameless. I found an ad
in "The Village Voice." I went to a clinic. Alone. In
another town. I lied about my name. I lied about my age. The test came
back positive. I
vomited. I went to the bank and withdrew my life savings of $250.
Alone. I handed it to the
doctor. In cash. Alone. I embraced the anesthesia that enfolded my
numbness. I could tell no
one. And no one heard the anguish in my silent screams.
R. J. Lifton's work with Holocaust survivors, war veterans, victims
of sexual abuse and the
atomic bombing of Hiroshima, poor African Americans, and Christian
fundamentalists reveals a
common theme of victims trying to find purpose and meaning in their
and so provides an appropriate introduction to
this endeavor. Unlike
some therapeutic (Carruth, 1991) and theoretical responses to trauma,
Lifton's protean view
(1993) does not negate trauma,
objectify it as a transgression against
self, or provide an algorithm for "recovery," but is compatible with
feminist views of the
embodied, relational self (e.g. Chodorow,
1978; Gilligan 1982; Gilligan
& Lyons, 1990). A
theme of transformation  through the construction
narratives permeates this
work, as does an emphasis on historical and social contextualization
and interaction over time. According to Lifton, the "Protean Self"
emerges from confusion and contradiction. The protean
person develops a multiplicity and malleability of self in a process of
recreation" that allows for "a self of many possibilities" (Lifton,
1993, p. 5). This is consistent
with the creation and constant re-creation of a "life-story" or
meaning-full psychological and
historical narrative of self that integrates one's identities (McAdams,
1993, 1996). However,
traumatic memory is experiential, not narrative. It takes the form of
fragmentary sensory and/or
memory re-plays, inexplicable rage, crying, and terror or immobilizing
body states. Because
Lifton goes beyond the word-boundedness of spoken and written
narratives (also examining the
creative struggles of the artist -- of film-makers, writers, and
painters), he better enables us to
come to terms with this unspeakable horror; with this annihilation of
historical continuity, of
Because proteanism is intertextual, it underscores how ordinary
thoughts and actions we often
unconsciously and erroneously assume are trivial may hold a wealth of
significance. Intertextuality, by encompassing multiple forms of
interpretation including linguistic, semiotic,
and aesthetic; bodily, psychic, and emotional, provides a way to see
through the surface, to face
the depths of meaning and our roles in its construction, to "listen" to
our own "voices" so that we
may better hear the voices of "others," to be vulnerable with a
cautious, not fearful, stance. Thus,
as I read and reread this story, several texts emerge. All inform and
are formed by sociocultural
context(s) and may be identified as psychological, biological, and
biographical. Within these
texts, certain themes emerge. Voice and lack of voice are primary.
Embodiment, what I will call
catharsis through symbolization, dissociation, and association also
play a role. Although texts
are dialogic and mediational, and writing, especially for publication,
forces texts and the themes
they subsume into an artificial linearity, in the name of clarity and
as a bow to traditional
expectations, I will address each theme in turn, in reverse order.
Association is a technique developed by Freud to help in the
retrieval of inaccessible memories
and emotions (Terr, 1994). Wanderings of
the mind can provide us with
cues that prompt us to
recall old feelings or bits of memory that we "associate" with
thoughts, ideas, or sensations
evoked by connections to seemingly unrelated recollections.
Association, it seems to me, is evident within the dissociation of
the change in voice in my own
writing or what I assumed was dissociation when I wrote this piece.
Gilligan's work resonates
for me and provides the words with which to express this:
Although the images from the bus are actual observations, my choice
of passages and focus, I
later realized, serve a purpose on another level of consciousness. This
goes beyond the
unconscious use of alternating passages with long and short sentences
to the imagery and choice
of words. Audre Lorde tells us, "Poetry is the way we help give name to
the nameless so it can
be thought" (1984, p. 37). Thus, "The language of poetry, like dreams,
provide a royal road into
the unconscious" (Gilligan, 1987,
p.25). Evocative of Freud's dream
work (1938), and similarly
recognizing my own role in the interpretation, I offer the following
The paragraphs move from the simple distraction of the scenery to
detailed description of several
passengers. Contrast the "vibrant" colors of the first scene (vibrant:
vigorous; lively; vital) with
the threat of loss of physical (and actual loss of psychic) life a few
paragraphs later. And part of
the landscape still strangely "green." "Green." Young. Inexperienced.
Is the landscape a
metaphor for the self? "Glorious color unevenly distributed." A girl on
the verge of
womanhood? Mature in some ways, not all. The glorious color; the
exhilaration; the promise of
the future as the color spreads over more of the landscape.
The image of the woman in red. Clutching. Tight. Contained. Able to
wear bright colors and
dangles and, exercising caution (the word careful is used twice), still
protect her personal space -- her physical (and psychical?) boundaries.
The passage about the blond young man with the ring. I was
fascinated by that ring. So much so
that I strained to get a closer look at it as he took down his luggage
to disembark. I felt a very
strange sensation when I realized it was simply an abstract design, and
bore no conscious
resemblance to Tlingit or Kwakiutl artwork.
I did not realize until I first typed these very words from my
scrawled notes that the description
of the blond man could have described my tormentor. He had said
something about being from
Oregon and heading back there so he'd never be found. The Pacific
Northwest Coast. Home to
the Tlingit and Kwakiutl, whose artwork I had recently studied. I have
not remembered this in
almost twenty years. It feels strange to remember it now. It still
feels dissociated. Foreign. Beyond feeling. Ring as Rorschach. Insight
into the mysteries of the psyche and how it works?
Leonore Terr says that repression defends against remembering (1994,
p.52). It "sets up a barrier
between consciousness and what is submerged beneath it" (Terr, 1994, p.
66). I'm not sure I
would call it repression, or even denial, since that implies agentic
avoidance. Yet, why did this
particular memory lay dormant for so many years, even through carefully
reconstruction of the details of the event in therapy, if not
"repressed"? The most plausible
explanation is that it may be explained by the profound alterations of
consciousness at the time of
trauma. As Herman (1996, p.7)
suggests, "highly specific somatic and
sensory information may
be deeply engraved in memory, while contextual information, time
sequencing, and verbal
narrative may be poorly registered." This makes sense to me, i.e. it
"feels" right. Still, I wonder
if this "new" recollection will alleviate some unconscious "symptom"
-- whether embodied as
psychical, emotional, or physical. I wonder if "forgetting" or not
being able to access this
memory made me feel safer. Paradoxically, I also wonder if/what the
connection is between this
new geographical link and the fact that I no longer feel inexplicably
compelled to avoid trips to
the west coast, as I had until shortly after writing the story that is
the focus of this analysis.
Although I do not recall my attacker wearing a ring, his
representative on the bus was reading a
volume by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's tales of terror seem an appropriate
point of reference here. And, like the book, my assailant also wore a
The thirsty lake swallows the rain as the shower swallowed my sobs.
Music seeps out from the
headphones is it a metaphor for invading my space, my body, my self?
Tears seeping out? Semen seeping out? I decide it is all of these. The
woman in red has become an old hag. The
focus has shifted from her appearance of youth to the damage caused by
the ravages of age. Ravage also means rape. Her attempts to cover the
ravages of age with rouge and nail polish do
not hide the reality. Neither will soap or long sleeves and turtlenecks
undo what was done.
In the next passage, the rain falls harder and the rhythm of the bus
and the limp, post-coital phallic dangling straps echo the act of sex.
The imagery of the windows and Brigadoon speak, to
me, of the strange, "unreal," mystical quality of dissociation that
often accompanies sexual
"Sturdy pines rooted in gray rock bear the weight of the rain
stoically." This statement is a rather
transparent reflection of social expectations that I, as all victims of
trauma and adversity, become
as the sturdy pine and passively carry our "cross," which includes
taking on the culturally
demanded and demanding role of convincing others we are "fine" and
Dissociation separates traumatic memories from normal consciousness.
As Terr (1994) describes it:
Lifton (1993, p.208) recognizes
that dissociation or psychic
numbing, "is invoked usually
unconsciously, to prevent the self from being overwhelmed and perhaps
it has also received a considerable amount of bad press, dissociation
served me well as a
protective (which I prefer to "defense") mechanism. I became a
disembodied self observing a
body in a state of detached calm that held the terror at bay while
simultaneously transfixed on the
surrealistic scene playing in front of my eyes in slow motion. Yet, if
I had not separated my
"self" from my body during the attack, I'd probably be (actually and
not just symbolically) dead.
(Can one "be" in a state of non-being?) Facing and weathering major
crises creates a "strength"
(although I'm not sure I want to call it that) of a sort I don't think
one can acquire in other ways,
even though the cost is great. This is not the romanticized "strength"
of "overcoming" adversity
and is not meant to imply that trauma of any type is worthwhile in any
way. It is conceivable that
the somewhat Panglossian outlook that considers such an experience of
value arises from a
combination of factors including the mediational role played by
linguistic limitations and societal
expectations in attempts to reduce cognitive dissonance (Festinger,
1962); to reclaim the
necessary illusions that enable us to go on. While it is true that in
addition to the many and
severe negatives to trauma there is also a strange sense that some have
called power, as well as a
lingering overpowering fear, in facing death and living through it --
if one does it in an
altered state of consciousness. Yet, the words "strength" and "power"
do not feel right. Like
"survivor," they are irony-filled terms and do not accurately convey
the experience. It is more of
a heightened awareness of both life and death, a sort of double-edged
consciousness that is
difficult to express by using the social scripture that serves as
stricture for the experience and
processing of trauma. Language makes the unspeakable indescribable. Or,
as Yoder (1996, p.
285) puts it, "The narratives available to describe experience inscribe
experience." That is where
the power really lies (pun intended).
Thus, although one could say that dissociation surfaces again during
the writing of this piece by
turning off the voices during the narrative and turning to the visual
change in sensory
modality, it can also be seen as an attempt to capture what is beyond
language, beyond verbal
expression. This does not include just the abstract symbolism of
metaphor but also the more
mimetic symbolism of the more concrete sensory modalities and mechanics
of the genre. For
example, the narrative part is written with many short sentences.
Besides their verbal content,
their physical structure (short sentences of a rhythmic regularity
punctuated by short pauses) may
be said to mimic and thereby suggest repetitive penile thrusts on one
level, and on another, a
lingering difficulty in dealing with the event in more than small
chunks at a time. The narration
pauses at each period to (almost physically) allow a breath to enable
the voice to speak or,
alternatively, stop it from saying too much -- cutting it off. (And is
that a reference to an
unconscious wish to castrate the rapist? At what point does one read
too much into a text?)
Catharsis & Non-Verbal
A significant part of this story and its analysis centers on what
may be called artistic catharsis and
non-verbal symbolization. By catharsis I mean a technique used to
relieve embodied emotional
tension by releasing repressed feelings and fears therapeutically
through symbolic processes. Non-verbal symbolization refers to the
engagement with non-linguistic ways of making meaning,
such as flashbacks, somatic sensations, behavior, nightmares (Brett and
Ostroff, 1985) and other
semiotic systems like the arts (See Spina,
1995, 2002). Although not
included in the "story"
presented earlier, these processes warranted inclusion here since they
are, for me, critical to the
slow and painful processes of re-creating a new self from the shattered
pieces of a pre-traumatic
self. (One could argue that there is no such thing as a post-traumatic
self since the traumatic
experience always remains a part of one's self).
My emotions were vented in thick, dark paint violently slashed onto
canvas; in stark, raw, sharp,
graphic woodcuts; in the agonizing poetry of pain. The release was in
the process -- the unity of
body and psyche. The paint, the form, the wood, the body, the clay, the
canvas. They all became
a symbolic and kinesic substitute for what I could not articulate with
language or resolve with
action. Art served as a metaphor for what had happened to me and a way
for me to express the
inexpressible rage and to somehow process the trauma. In retrospect, it
also may have given me
a way to hang on to some concepts of self (such as "self as an artist")
that were familiar and to
re-integrate some of the fragments (such as competence and other
positive aspects of
self-concept). The artistic experience served as a mediator of internal
and external worlds as
well as past and present. In trauma, the victim is powerless to
respond. Although it cannot
change what has happened, the creation of art returned some of that
power -- that voice. After
hours of intense work I was able to sleep more peacefully awhile.
Miller (1976/1986) has written
extensively on the use of creativity to
combat dehumanization or
what she calls the threat of "psychic annihilation" (p. 59). The
experience of sexual
objectification is, in Miller's words (1976/1986
p. 60), "particularly
destructive." I would add that it
is also particularly deep-rooted and long-lived. Miller (1976/1986)
highlights creativity as a means
to express and conceptualize experience in the continual process of
struggling for authenticity;
for relationship; for integration. Lifton (1979,
p. 120) describes
artistic experience as "psychic
action around transformation of images." It is "more about [psychic]
energy than object." Psychic energy is "formative energy" which
involves "a highly functional equilibrium between
immediate and ultimate psychological dimensions...[and] also a struggle
with or against
separation, disintegration, and stasis" (Lifton,
1979, p. 121). Perhaps
that explains not only my
reliance on visual arts but also my metaphoric use of "the story" that
forms the basis of this
Artistic involvement does more than express or evoke feelings,
provide insight, and enable
psychological integration -- it embodies them. By unifying mind and
consciousness, the arts offer a way around the dissociation of mind and
body. As Nelson
Goodman expressed it, "What we know through art is felt in our bones
and nerves and muscles
as well as grasped by our minds...All the sensitivity and
responsiveness of the organism
participates in the invention and interpretation of symbols" (1976, p.
259). The intimate
connection between mind and body becomes apparent in the unity of
psyche and soma in the
According to Foucault, narrative discourse concerns not only the
internal relations of
psychoanalysis but also the conflicts between the individual and
society. The body functions as
the most fundamental site of these struggles (Brodkey, 1996).
Perhaps the pregnancy, by embodying the trauma in a most literal
sense, was helpful although it
strikes me as an absurd thought and one that is imposed from the
outside rather than coming
from within. However, it did force me to confront what I was trying to
pretend had not
happened. It gave me grounding in a sense. I realize this may sound
strange and incredulous, but
it gave me an opportunity to do something -- to take some purposeful
action -- to regain some
measure of control of my body (or at least to rationalize it in that
way, even if delusional). Resiliency, as Rutter
(1990) says, is "not
just a matter of constitutional strength or weakness; it
[is] also a reflection of what one did about one's plight" (p.182).
Raised in a religion I had
already rejected as a weapon of oppression  -- a
religion where a
life took precedence over
the mother's and women who died protecting their virginity were called
"saints," I, instead, chose
life -- my life.
The recent legalization of abortion provided some moral solace. Yet,
for many years, it was
difficult not to second-guess my decision; not to wonder if I was
inherently "bad." I realize now
that this is a common result of the (especially sexual) objectification
of women in our society. But knowing something on an intellectual level
is not the same as knowing it incarnate.
I have often wondered how much of this trauma still remains embodied
on a deeper level. Ironically, for example, my son is a "miracle" baby
the result of infertility treatments after
multiple miscarriages. I can make a strong argument either way -- in
of or against both
psychic and physical causes. Yet they remain simply intellectual
debates; exercises in logic. I can toy with "pros" and "cons;" play
with weighing and measuring. But I don't expect I'll ever really "know"
Voice and lack of voice
By choosing silence (although it did not feel like a choice at the
time, I was aware that there were
other options), I chose to remain socially, if speciously, validated
and to avoid the consequences
of speaking (or of speaking and not being heard). To tell my family
would have been to invite
banishment as the penalty for disgrace. As Herman wrote (1992, p.8)
"When the victim is
already devalued (a woman, a child), she may find the most traumatic
events of her life take
place outside the realm of socially validated reality." My behavior
allowed me to outwardly
maintain social connections with my family that would otherwise have
been lost. I had forced
myself into a position where I had to carry on my life as if nothing
had happened, even if only
because I saw it as the lesser of two evils. The connection to ordinary
daily life -- to routine, to
order, to social expectations -- was probably helpful. Yet, it also
as a Freudian
"compromise formation," accommodating the tension between inner and
outer worlds (Gilligan,
1995b) and leaving a psychological wound.
Like the girls Carol Gilligan had studied, I could not maintain both
voice and relationship. Although, situated as I was in the culture of
my family, I had
separated my inner from outer
worlds to some degree long before being raped, the Poe-etic Amontillado
wall was not sealed
At first, the wall was protective; the separation welcome. As time
went on my silence no longer
served any useful function for me. Yet, I found myself trapped and mute
against my will. I
wanted to reach out -- to connect, but I was speechless -- powerless.
because I had no voice
but because I was gagged by others (including two therapists) who did
not want to hear what I
had to say. Anyone less persistent than I might have given up. (The
"training" I received in daily
battles against familial confines came in handy, I guess.) I suppose
one could say that I was
used to struggling through life. Firstborn to parents who had picked
out only a boy's name, I was
labeled with a "feminized" version of the same by disappointment and
default. I grew up in a
working class extended-family atmosphere of traditional first and
second generation ideology
where I was tethered, chaperoned, and damn near stifled to death -- all
with the sole purpose of
protecting my "virtue" and maintaining the status quo of the family. I
was well-versed in fighting
against such invisibility and what amounted to annihilation. But this
time, I found that resistance
was exhausting, debilitating, and futile.
A life-long tendency to research and rationalize what I did not
understand provided some
resonance, even if third-party. Reading was one of the few activities I
was allowed to pursue as a
teenager and I did so with a vengeance. Reading allowed me to
vicariously experience other
worlds; to feel fully alive; to think; to know; to be. It provided the
only kind of mirroring, of
validation, I could find. (Is it any wonder that I've wound up in
academia!) The knowledge I
acquired gave me a sense of control and power and wonder -- and of
part of something
larger, something akin to what Lifton
(1993) calls the "omnibus" or
"species self." Reading
feminist work on the subject of victimization and rape made me feel
less alone. As I came to see
it, reading and thinking helped me meet the challenge of survival by
enabling me to construct a
text for my actions that supported my choices as the most viable
solutions in my context. (And
it is no coincidence that I wrote that sentence in an "academic"
voice.) It was the only way I
What one does first and foremost is survive the trauma -- to persist
spite of it. Then one works
(perhaps for a lifetime) to process it, often in uniquely personal
ways. Thus, it remains a part of
one's history, one's self. Some after-effects of trauma will always be
with me but I suspect that
most of these are common, although possibly in a lesser degree, to the
fortuity of having been
born female. For example, I startle more than most at loud noises or
sudden movements. Until a
few years ago, I went to great lengths to avoid traveling alone at
night, even if just a short drive
to the local grocery store. I remain hyper-vigilant, but given the
proclivities of the society we
live in, that is more likely prudence than psychogenic pathology.
The point is that the goal is not to transcend trauma but to endure -- and not without cost. Proteanism recognizes that the pain and despair never completely disappear. It is not an effort to "fix people," but to understand them in all of their complexity so that we may demystify the role of society and better understand the practices that construct our sense of self, other, and "reality," and thereby fix our inappropriate social structures instead. In order to do this, we must challenge the legitimacy of the hegemonic order. We must create "becoming spaces" (Derrida, 1981, p. 27) where we can think, speak, and act in ways that both mark and transgress imposed limits; where we can disrupt the dominant discourse and so reconstruct it. Sexual abuse is not an isolated phenomenon or private event. It is woven into our social fabric. It is a public issue. It is our anger and our outrage, not our silence, that will hold society accountable and provoke change.
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1 I use the term "reverberation" to distinguish the
mirror-like sense of the use of
the word "resonance" from the long-term persistence of its
after-effects on one's perceptions -- the
lingering of resonance and the ontogenetic quality of its endurance.
2 Transformation is used to mean change and should
not be confused
with a necessarily
teleological progression along a hierarchical developmental path.
Lifton's view of transformation
is contextual and situated in the continual search for and struggle to
make meaning. It is neither
a continuum nor a sentimental view, but a cautious optimism tempered by
reality and seasoned
by hope. (See Spina, 2002)