My ‘independence’ is old enough to vote…now that’s a weird thought. In 1995, after 14 years, I ended my first marriage on July 4th.  It was – and remains – a very important moment in my life. I could probably write volumes about the years that lead up to that moment, the years that followed, the changes that were required to get to that point, and the changes that were required to succeed after it. I’m not going to. Not today, anyway. Today, I will write about my independence now; what it is, and what it isn’t [yet].  I guess it is only fair to provide a TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains subject matter and points of view that are frankly feminist in nature, and may be disturbing for some readers.

Take a moment for another perspective?

Take a moment for another perspective?

I make jokes about Independence Day, because the U.S. holiday of July 4th, the anniversary of ‘our nation’s independence’, is not truly celebrating the freedom of ‘the nation’ – it mostly only celebrates the existence of our independent government, and the nominal freedom it provided to the white male population. I know, I know, some of you are already groaning in protest. (One of my partners did – and I consider him a committed feminist, himself.) Think it over, though – women were no more free after the birth of our nation than they were before it, and neither were ethnic minority elements of the population – I can’t even call them ‘citizens’, because at that time they were not recognized as such. So…how again is 4th of July a celebration of my freedom or independence? Women didn’t get to vote until 1920. Um…what? (I can’t say I’m all that secure in my rights, either, considering that even in 1920, it was not a unanimous vote (it wasn’t even close to unanimous), and there are likely elected representatives today who would quite willingly disenfranchise women again, based on how many legislators seem to think they are within reason to keep trying to jam laws down my pants that limit only women’s rights and freedoms: abortion, birth control, emergency contraception .)  Sometimes it really does feel like there is a ‘war on women‘.  I seethe with the frustration and feeling of helplessness and cultural dismissal some days.

So yeah…mixed feelings about ‘Independence Day’. For me it seems a bit like a Druid celebrating St Patrick’s Day. lol.  BUT – the 4th of July is my ‘Independence Day’, in spite of all that, because it is the day I walked away from domestic violence. It represents the earliest stirrings in my heart and spirit of real self-worth, of real conviction that I am not chattel, and not obligated to live someone else’s values or vision for the future. (I did not know then how much further I had to go to free myself, or begin to heal.) I read Gloria Steinem‘s ‘Moving Beyond Words‘ for the first time – I still regularly recommend it, and I cherish the correspondence I exchanged with Ms Steinem that year.  I began to invest my attention in being female – a humble beginning, and I had no idea how far I would have to go.

I’m hoping to communicate something specific here, today, and I’m not sure I have the words, the will – or that I am the one truly ‘called’ to say it.  It needs to be said, by someone, and I need to feel heard – so I guess I’ll make the attempt.  I want to communicate simply this: there is an association between ‘rape culture’, domestic violence, and the concept of consent.  Does that seem an obvious truism? Are you having a ‘well, duh!’ moment? I sure hope not… because it is that matter of consent that I suspect of being at the heart of a lot of our suffering, as women (and as men – I love you guys, I don’t want you to feel left out, and I know you face challenges and heartache, too, but I’m writing about my experience today – please don’t take that personally).

I am still working through years of emotional baggage, and damage both physical and psychological, related to abuses that created, fostered, and later capitalized on a poor understanding of consent, and what my consent means – and I just turned 50.  I know my poor relationship with, and understanding of, consent itself is directly tied to early experiences where my lack of consent, or clear refusal, was violated – and that years of manipulation and further abuse were both possible due to that damage, and worsened because of it.  It’s ugly, and about as easy to fix as picking a single strand of brunette hair from a vat of molasses. At least I finally feel like I am understanding…something. I still have a lot to learn.

I woke gently this morning, and although my thoughts have been quite serious on the anniversary of the end of my first marriage, I am enjoying the day.  So much so, that first thing I playfully took a look at life from another perspective this morning…

Life from another angle...child's eye view.

Life from another angle…child’s eye view of my garden.

Things look different, from another perspective...

Things look different, from another perspective…

I admit to struggling with understanding beloved male friends who respond to feminist protestations about rape with objections that ‘men are raped, too’ – as if that makes women being raped ok, or not worth objecting to, or as if they will not move to change the world, or their own position, because… well, damn… I’m not sure why. Thus, my struggle. I mean… yes, men do get raped, violated, abused, and yes, sometimes their perpetrators are women. I don’t see that those details make women facing domestic violence or rape any less objectionable – I object to all of it. Rape is not ok. Violence is not ok. Ignoring someone’s boundaries or disregarding their lack of consent is not ok. Does it matter whether it is a woman being victimized or a man? An adult or a child? Isn’t it all worth objecting to, and fighting against? Rape statistics are ugly.

Rape and domestic violence (actually, a lot of violence of many sorts) share something relevant to this discussion – they both violate the consent of the victim. Clearly.  There are no excuses. It isn’t ok to mutilate someone’s genitals to control their sexuality, or to punish infidelity. It isn’t ok to hit someone because you don’t like their tone of voice, or what they said to you.  It isn’t ok to force unwelcome sexual contact on another human being under any circumstances at all, ever. EVER. By anyone. For any purpose whatsoever. There is no justification, no excuse, no mitigation. It isn’t ok to torture someone to ‘teach’ them (A rather disturbing amount of parental behavior in some families falls into this category; test that theory by re-examining any such behavior in the context of being inflicted on an adult human who is a stranger to the perpetrator).  Behaviors engaged in to exact non-consensual control over another human being are similarly not ok (I know, that starts getting complicated when parents need to manage children, or the penal system needs to manage the incarcerated, doesn’t it?).  I’m spelling it out because I’m only learning to understand it for real and apply it to my own experience in life with regard to the treatment I tolerate from others! At 50 that’s damned embarrassing sometimes – other times I just cry about it, alone.

... just in case you need a breather from the serious stuff

… just in case you need a breather from the serious stuff

I’m spending a lot of time these days figuring out consent. I find myself looking back on some events or relationships and asking myself  ‘Oh hey, was I the bad guy there? Did I violate that person’s boundaries? Was their experience that they were forced to do something they didn’t want to do?’  I find it harder, strangely, to look back and admit that I was victimized, to recognize that an event was not ‘a gray area’ at all, and that my lack of consent or explicit refusal was clearly disregarded.  In my 20s I tended to use the ‘gun test’ – “___ wasn’t at the point of a gun, therefore I was not forced.”  Rape apology at its most basic: exclude the event by changing the standard.   I had also figured, for years and years, that ‘frequency invalidates legitimacy’ – that because I had experienced sexual violence more than once, that it couldn’t have been sexual violence – because that’s rare, right? 😦  Right up there with ‘slut shaming’ for being both wrong and inappropriate.

It’s all very complicated and I cry about rape a lot these days. They are clean, honest tears. They honor my experience with real compassion, and acceptance. I am learning to treat myself well, and to understand that ‘getting over it’ and ‘moving on’ are not just words on a page that can be said out loud with a confident satisfied tone and magically become real, or true.  I know that with certainty – because I have done it, and it didn’t work at all.  I’m not ‘over it’, and ‘moving on’ is something that means facing my experience and healing.  I am strangely as proud of being in this place with myself as a child tying my shoes by myself for the first time – I feel hopeful, and I feel free.  That is what makes this my Independence Day now.

mindfulness in the garden; the value of finding stillness

mindfulness in the garden; the value of finding stillness