Sex­ual as­sault shouldn’t be a fem­i­nist slo­gan

Fem­i­nists need to stop turn­ing sex­ual as­sault into a catchy slo­gan

The McGill Daily - - News - Anony­mous Com­men­tary Writer To con­tact the au­thor, email com­men­tary@mcgill­daily.com.

Con­tent warn­ing: sex­ual as­sault, misog­yny, vi­o­lence

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, my body has been ob­jec­ti­fied and claimed with­out my con­sent. One sum­mer, when I was four­teen, I was trav­el­ling to my friend’s house for a sleep­over and man­aged to hop on an empty sub­way car. About two sub­way stops, some­one walked in and sat down near me. They grad­u­ally moved closer dur­ing the fif­teen min­utes it took me to get to my des­ti­na­tion. Then they quickly moved next to me and grabbed me in the crotch. There was no one there to hear me cry, no one to see me run out just be­fore the doors of the sub­way car closed. No one saw me run up the stairs ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a panic at­tack, as I waited for my at­tacker’s train to leave the sta­tion. This was not the first nor the last time I was as­saulted like this.

Ev­ery time I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a vi­o­la­tion of my bod­ily au­ton­omy, I’ve had to go through the process of re­claim­ing my body. I would not touch or let any­one touch me, and I re­coiled at the idea of even be­ing in close prox­im­ity to those I didn’t know. I stayed away from any­thing that men­tioned vagi­nas. I down­loaded ex­ten­sions that would block out words re­lated to the parts of my body that had been touched, watched only movies and shows that I knew were safe, and made sure the ac­tivist groups I was a part of would ac­tively em­ploy warn­ings when such con­tent was go­ing to be dis­cussed. I tried my hard­est to con­trol my re­cov­ery.

Oc­to­ber 7, 2016 pre­sented a new chal­lenge: the leak of an Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood tape of then pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump brag­ging about sex­ual as­sault. In the widely cir­cu­lated video, Trump brags about how his sta­tus en­abled him to take ad­van­tage of women and that he “[ could] do any­thing [...] grab them by the pussy.” I could no longer pro­tect my­self from the bar­rage of com­men­tary on the is­sue of sex­ual as­sault, and was forced to re­live the as­saults com­mit­ted against me as a mi­nor over and over and over again.

I ex­pected to find so­lace from the rep­e­ti­tion of this as­sault with ac­tivist groups on cam­pus, in the Greater Mon­treal area, and on the in­ter­net. How­ever, any crit­i­cal dis­cus­sion of how Trump’s team claimed the com­ments were “locker room talk,” or any dis­cus­sion about sex­ual vi­o­lence as a whole, were quickly over­shad­owed by cis­sex­ist vagina- centric fem­i­nism that fol­lowed the false as­sump­tions that pos­sess­ing a uterus is equal to wom­an­hood and thereby ex­cluded trans and non bi­nary peo­ple. In­stead, talks be­gan to shift to the cre­ation of slo­gans for the protests against Trump, and vagina- centric lines like “this pussy grabs back” be­came in­escapable. The adap­ta­tion of the slo­gan was not pub­li­cally ques­tioned by the lead­ers who led th­ese ‘ safe spa­ces,’ and sex­ual as­sault vic­tims were not con­sulted on how we felt about es­sen­tial­iz­ing a trau­matic event into a catchy hash­tag.

Dur­ing the time pe­riod be­tween the leak of the tape and present day, I and other sex­ual as­sault sur­vivors saw the faces of our abusers in that of the elected pres­i­dent of the United States. We then saw the ap­point­ment of in­di­vid­u­als that value the lives of cells con­ceived through rape over those of peo­ple in­hab­it­ing vi­o­lated bod­ies. And again, we saw the resur­gence of the slo­gans.

I at­tended the Women’s March in Mon­treal ex­pect­ing a few signs that cen­tered around vagi­nas, but what I saw was a sea of pink hats and card­boards that nor­mal­ized the trauma I ex­pe­ri­enced. I ex­pected to find so­lace and of­fer sol­i­dar­ity to those af­fected by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, but in­stead saw my sex­ual as­sault turned into a punch­line. Through the months of rep­e­ti­tion, slo­gans like “this pussy grabs back” be­came a rou­tine part of the re­sis­tance against Trump. It was no longer viewed as a per­sonal trau­matic event, but rather as a chant along­side all oth­ers.

With the fact that one in three Cana­dian women will ex­pe­ri­ence sex­ual as­sault in some form dur­ing their life­time, I un­der­stand that there is a likely pos­si­bil­ity that some of the sign hold­ers may have ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual trauma. It can be a heal­ing process for some to re­claim the lan­guage of the abuser and use it as em­pow­er­ment. How­ever, it is dan­ger­ous to as­sume that all sur­vivors wish to do so and act­ing on this as­sump­tion is vi­o­lence against those of us who suf­fer from Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der or other psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional trauma as a re­sult of the or­deals ex­pe­ri­enced. The rep­e­ti­tion of slo­gans that triv­i­al­ize sex­ual as­sault erases vic­tims’ ex­pe­ri­ences and dis­rupts in­di­vid­ual heal­ing pro­cesses. Be­ing at the march, be­ing sur­rounded by im­ages of the parts of my body that were vi­o­lated, was not em­pow­er­ing to me. In­stead, it left me feel­ing alien­ated from a com­mu­nity that claims to sup­port me.

So dur­ing the next in­evitable protest against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, leave your vagina re­lated signs and hats at home. Think of the four­teen year old try­ing to get to their friend’s house and be­ing as­saulted by a stranger on the train. Or any of the count­less vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence you march along­side as you nor­mal­ize our trauma and turn it into a punch line. We are not your slo­gan, let us heal.

Ev­ery time I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a vi­o­la­tion of my bod­ily au­ton­omy, I have to go through the process of re­claim­ing my body.

I at­tended the Women’s March in Mon­treal ex­pect­ing a few signs that cen­tered around vagi­nas, but what I saw was a sea of pink hats and card­boards that nor­mal­ized the trauma I ex­pe­ri­enced.

Ma­rina Djur­d­je­vic | The Mcgill Daily

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