I’m reading Chanel Miller’s book Know My Name, and although I’m only a few pages in, I am already inspired to reflect on the trauma of assault, and how we share it as women.
Chanel Miller is the woman who Brock Turner raped while at Standford University for those who don’t know. He was sentenced to only six months in jail and served half of his sentence before being released for good behavior.
While in the hospital, Chanel goes through the emotionally charged experience of doing a rape kit, and her clothes being taken away for evidence. Meaning after the injurious experience of the assault, she would be left with nothing to wear home but a hospital gown, if it were not for a charity called Grateful Garments.
As she goes through the pile of clothes donated to the hospital for women in her situation, she remembers her Grandma Ann, who used her art sales to donate to this organization. As Chanel dresses in this raw moment, she says, “Grandma Ann wrapped herself around me and told me I was ready.”
It is a trauma all women feel.
We know it in our bones, and it echos in our instructions to young girls.
“Don’t wear that.”
“Don’t dance like that.”
“Keep your keys between your fingers.”
“Don’t be in x, y, or z place alone with a boy.”
“Exit the mall where the security officer is.”
“Don’t leave your drink unattended.”
“Park under a bright light.”
“Don’t go to the bathroom by yourself.”
They are reverberations from the shared trauma of our sisters, our mothers, and their mothers, and their mothers’.
Chanel’s story displays a major problem: the legal system is not on the victim’s side in the ways it should be. Yet it also shows underneath our broken system is the hands, feet, and arms of women working to respond to the tragedy of sexual violence.
When the trauma of assault comes up in conversation, men and women have contrasting reactions.
Some men are uncomfortable, others emotional, and unfortunately, some are defensive. Their response, in summary, “I can’t believe that happened!”
On the other hand, women respond with knowing nods, sometimes comforting gestures, and perhaps tears. Their response is, “Yeah, that happens. I’m sorry it happened to you.”
Like Grandma Ann, women don’t donate to places like Grateful Garments only because they think it is a nice thing to do. They do it because, in their bones, they know the suffering of a woman subject to rape, and will not stand to let her leave a hospital with nothing to wear.
And while I imagine she didn’t know specifically that one day Chanel would need their services. She must have known it was doubtful that the little girl watching her make artistic hats would live her life free from the dangers of sexual violence. Possibly she hoped her donations would alleviate some of the pain the next generation of women would likely experience.
This is why the #metoo movement was so loud. Women said we don’t want this to be a secret, unspoken knowing; we want everyone to start listening.
In another post, I will discuss the tragedy of how we protect men from the reality of sexual assault but prepare women for it as if it is a certainty. And I will explore the ways this protection leads men to internalize their pain in ways that destroy them.
In some ways, perhaps, this protection is why we have a legal system that seems to think robbery of possession is more damaging to our society then rape. (Which also goes back to societies reactions to violence against things over violence against people , because it is undoubtedly connected)
Or why women recount police officers making inappropriate comments, and all-male groups of school leaders lacking empathy for their assault cases.
Because the women have hidden the trauma of assault, and men don’t understand it.
When I read the passage about Grandma Ann hugging Chanel through the sweater, I cried. Grandma Ann’s donation was an act of love for Chanel that reverberated through the years to the very moment she needed it. It came from the generations of women who share Chanel’s pain and seek to protect one another. Perhaps it came from Grandma Ann‘s personal pain.
It is natural to cover up our traumas, and they are heavy burdens.
I wonder with how much more ease we could carry them if we acknowledged we hold them together?
Let’s continue sharing, telling our stories together, so we can help one another heal.
Interested in reading with me? I’m starting a book club with other women that you can join here: Know My Name Book Club
Buy the book here