Woman of In­flu­ence

Ac­tivist and fem­i­nist Judy Re­bick on child­hood abuse, her per­sonal #MeToo and where the women’s move­ment goes next

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - COURT­NEY SHEA

Ac­tivist and fem­i­nist Judy Re­bick on child­hood abuse, her per­sonal #MeToo and where the women’s move­ment goes next.

In your new memoir, He­roes in My

Head, you write about be­com­ing aware as an adult that you’d been sex­u­ally abused by your fa­ther and had de­vel­oped mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties as a re­sult. What mo­ti­vated you to talk about some­thing that is so pain­ful and pri­vate?

I say in the in­tro that this is my #MeToo. I am speak­ing up and shar­ing my ex­pe­ri­ence, hop­ing it might em­power oth­ers. Child­hood sex­ual abuse is a mas­sive and wide­spread prob­lem, but we’re not deal­ing with it. This is partly be­cause of stigma, par­tic­u­larly around abuse that hap­pens within the fam­ily. It’s so im­por­tant that we stop think­ing of abusers as just the creepy stranger. The fam­ily is one of the most dan­ger­ous places for women and chil­dren, and no­body wants to say that this is true.

When did you first be­come aware of your mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties?

The first time one of them came out was in my ther­a­pist’s of­fice when I was 45—all of a sud­den there was some­one named Si­mon talk­ing from my mouth, who wasn’t me. I didn’t have any con­trol of what he was say­ing.

How did your ex­pe­ri­ence as a child cause the de­vel­op­ment of your mul­ti­ple per­son­al­ity dis­or­der?

Be­ing abused by some­one who is sup­posed to be tak­ing care of you is un­bear­able. The brain cre­ates the per­son­al­i­ties to hide what’s hap­pen­ing from the child. The other per­son­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences the abuse, so the child doesn’t re­mem­ber it. One study says that [a me­dian of] 30 per cent of sex­u­ally abused chil­dren re­press the mem­o­ries of it, and they usu­ally don’t come out un­til mid­dle age.

You were one of the most in­flu­en­tial fem­i­nist voices of the 1980s and ’90s and in­stru­men­tal in the fight for re­pro­duc­tive rights in Canada. And you say ac­tivism helped you through the fall­out of abuse. How so?

When I be­came in­volved in the pro­choice ef­fort in the ’80s, it was a real bat­tle. At the time, I was so shut down from my emo­tions that the only thing I felt was anger, so that work gave me an out­let that was con­struc­tive. Also, even though I wasn’t aware of my al­ter­nate per­son­al­i­ties at the time, they liked that I was help­ing other peo­ple.

Fem­i­nism has grown, and changed, since that time. What do you think of the cur­rent #MeToo wave?

It’s fan­tas­tic! One thing I have re­al­ized over the past 10 or 15 years is that my gen­er­a­tion of the women’s move­ment was very good at chang­ing laws and poli­cies, whereas #MeToo is about chang­ing cul­ture. And hav­ing these women with great in­flu­ence and power talk­ing about the ha­rass­ment they have faced has been so im­por­tant.

In the early ’90s, you were the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ac­tion Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of Women, a fed­eral ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tion that dis­ap­peared about 10 years ago. Should we re­place it?

I think we should, but with some­thing that’s dif­fer­ent. NAC was a hi­er­ar­chi­cal and tra­di­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion, whereas when you look at the way young peo­ple are or­ga­niz­ing since the anti-glob­al­iza­tion move­ment, it’s a lot flat­ter—lo­cally or­ga­nized and with no vis­i­ble lead­ers. I think that’s the way peo­ple are go­ing to change the world in the fu­ture. Judy Re­bick’s book He­roes in My Head is avail­able now.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY AIMÉE VAN DRIMMELEN

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