Why Understanding Our Traumatic Experience Includes the Word “Misogyny"
As if my personal discovery wasn’t enough, you want me to get political about it!
I get where that is coming from. Stick with me on this just a little longer. It may help to understand what we are really up against in our relationships, in the treatment industry, in our faith communities, and more.
Asking how we can manage the steady public disclosure of male sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse that we hear in the news is a fair question. And wanting to put that stuff somewhere else for the time being while we deal with our own crisis makes perfect sense. Instinctively we don’t want this personal problem of ours getting any bigger—so big that we can’t imagine a personal solution to it. We need to keep it as a small and private crisis, especially in the early stages, because it’s scary enough already.
Nevertheless, parts of our private trauma are being disclosed in political, religious, educational, athletic entertainment and corporate arenas with increasing regularity. And just as we work hard to find some reason to be “understanding” of our husbands or boyfriends, many of us struggle to do the same thing when that public version touches our political stripe, religious tradition, alma mater, favorite team, favorite star, etc. We don’t much like our beliefs or opinions about anything else being challenged while we’re already facing that in our primary relationship. Are you finding the ugly truth of public disclosures of male sexual misconduct in all these arenas is adding stress, fraying friendships and mutual support—even within our own group of trauma survivors?
There’s an important reason for that struggle we have. Judith Herman talks about it in her book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. First, however, I want to share some of what we’ve been processing in Canada and the questions raised by it. I don’t want you to think that I imagine this problem is just a U.S. problem.
In my country, within days of each other in the last month, two high profile politicians and another top political aide were removed or resigned their positions because of sexual allegations. It happened at both our federal and a provincial levels of government. While the men were all in the same political party tradition, I am not foolish enough to imagine any specific party affiliation would keep men like this out. This is everyone’s problem.
In these three cases, two were about sexting—including sending sexual pictures and videos to multiple people. In the case of a shadow cabinet minister, he also faced at least two extortion attempts that compromised his high level security clearances. Apparently he’d been at this a while. In local news (MyMuskokanow.com) his wife released a statement saying that she was “hopeful her family will resume its happy life, in time”. It broke my heart a little to read that. I’m pretty sure you know why. Oh, and the leader of his party believed him and “forgave” him when the MP claimed he only did it once—until that lie was exposed, too. It was interesting to see the leader of the party do what so many of us do—believe another lie about the lie you uncovered.
In the third case a Provincial Premier announced a cabinet member was going in for “addiction” treatment—until the truth came out that he was under investigation for sexual misconduct. Sigh. The Premier said he didn’t tell the whole truth because he was protecting the complainant. Another sigh. This Premier doesn’t protect anyone but his power base. Oh, and I forgot to mention the second case of multiple sexting mentioned above was levied against the Premier’s own top aide. But wait…there’s more! This aide’s poor wife was also the Chief of Staff for the Premier’s Cabinet member facing the sexual misconduct complaint. She wins the prize for most shafted woman—she was marinating in male secret sexual lives at home AND at work. I can’t help but wonder if she can still think straight.
How do these news stories affect us? Are we plunged back into a cold water bath of our own trauma symptoms? Do we feel for the wives somewhere in the background caught in their discovery dynamics of shock, denial, or even relief at a publicly shared truth? If the story is from our political stripe do we try to defend them, excuse them or rationalize some way to say it’s okay? Or do we cast about for similar or even worse stories we can find from the unlucky lives of our political opponents?
What we know for certain in these uncertain times are the deeply personal details of our own experience of abuse and betrayal—and sometimes we get stuck there. We do not link our personal story to what seems to be an emerging public truth about how many women are treated, not just us. We are unable or not wanting to see our experience as symptomatic of something bigger going on—something so heinous in its scope and purpose that we cannot touch even the edges of it for fear that truth will finish us off altogether.
When the worst of the treatment industry tries to minimize what he does to you and will not let you put the impact on your life, heart, soul, body and mind onto the table for review and assessment, there’s a “good” (for them) reason. They don’t want to talk about the misogyny that’s currently giving them a paying client. They don’t want to connect the dots and they don’t want us to do that either. Pay the money. Do the program. Put the worms back in the can and generate a lot of “boundaries” paper work. Assign workbooks. Join groups. Make appointments. Don’t think too hard about what’s going on, because it is a virulent misogyny that underpins our whole lives, and there isn’t an addiction program in the world that will challenge that male privilege.
Let me be clear—no political group has been inoculated by an ideology that is impervious to misogynous incarnation. Yes, some may make it more likely in policy positions, but it runs through all the seats of political power and those who seek that power—because misogyny is very much about a distribution of power. Perhaps obvious, perhaps hidden. But never absent.
I expect some readers don’t use that word—maybe never needing it to understand their experience or those of others. You can find lots of definitions online. Here’s a basic one: hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women. Misogyny as an unnamed and unchallenged setting in our institutions is why people get the idea that using women as objects for sexual gratification (or as cloaking devices for using other women as sexual objects) is okay. You don’t objectify people without first believing they are less than you are. Whether you do that because you hate them, dislike them, mistrust them, or hold prejudicial beliefs about them—or some combo platter of those things—it all leads to giving yourself permission to objectify them (which means to degrade them from personhood to object).
So, here’s the piece I’m borrowing from Judith Herman. In her three stages of trauma recovery (1. Safety 2. Remembrance and Mourning and 3. Reconnection) our beliefs about people, relationships, ideologies, faith traditions, (and more) are tested and challenged. For example, what we believe about our husband or boyfriend’s core values is considered and sometimes those beliefs have to be changed because of the evidence proving something else. Coming to terms with that is painful and difficult.
Additionally, our beliefs about leaders and groups in politics, religion, entertainment, sports, and education are tested and challenged because of the support we do or do not get. For example: When our faith community sides with our husband and punishes us, we have to consider the beliefs they hold that justifies their actions. What do those beliefs actually describe? And are those beliefs also our beliefs?
In my past blogs I’ve talked about the connections between our experiences as wives and partners of men called sex addicts and the stories in the Metoo movement, the conviction of Bill Cosby, the “dangerous-to-girls and women” world of Olympic training, the testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford, and let’s also not overlook to the re-examination of how Monica Lewinsky was abused by a President and then by public opinion, and all the other stories that come to mind—because you don’t have to think too long or too hard for them.
I am a person of deep faith, grounded in the Christian story, and ordained as its minister of Word, Sacraments, and Pastoral Care for three decades. I know who I follow. And as I watch my clients treated abusively by their religious tradition (which is often mine), and as I reflect on my own version of that experience, I recognize that misogyny is still operating in that tradition to protect men’s careers and reputations. Those things are worth more than consequences for anything they have done to a woman. I take no pleasure in saying that. Nor do I walk away from it. But my beliefs about the limits of the church’s own capacity for the gospel that lifts up the humble and weak, unseats the mighty and scatters the proud (See The Magnificat) is now constrained by habits and episodes of misogyny which are remarkably resilient. I have to be honest about that. What might you have to honest about in the larger backdrop of your life?
As we do the work that is our healing and recovery journey, an important piece we undertake is examining the beliefs that are changed and the beliefs that are not changed by our experience and new understanding. From my experience with clients, many stall out at that point. They protect their beliefs from the challenging evidence that continues to gather energy and weight. Often that sends them back to abusive husbands or boyfriends. Or, it cuts off their courage to see the misogynistic fault line at work elsewhere. For some, they simply cannot absorb the belief change as another loss. They want to be able to believe what they always believed. Perhaps others don’t have the confidence in themselves to trust they will be “okay” in another frame for reality. We can understand that anxiety. And I’m still going to ask women to consider it. As Mary sang in the Magnificat), whatever pride we have to lay down, is better than having God (or anyone else) scatter it, and whatever power we choose not to honor any longer, is better than having God (or anyone else) unseat it. Where misogyny is protected by that pride and power, we perpetuate a death spiral for girls and women.
Perhaps it’s the new word in your lexicon. And we’d just as soon not use it all. As if we haven’t had to face enough in the discovery of our own husband or boyfriend’s secret life of sexual and sexualized activities (protected by wearing us down with chronic psychological, spiritual, and emotional abuse) I am now asking us to put our personal experience into a wider and more dangerous stew of assumptions in which men are raised, by which they are shaped, and from which they act in ways that disempower and degrade women. We are not real people. We are an object to be used, managed and controlled. That’s why porn has been so easily normalized. The basic premise of women as objects is already entrenched.
So, when we learn of public allegations about sexual behaviours that we know all too well from our personal experiences with men called sex addicts, and the allegations are about men with political, religious, celebrity, academic or economic power, let’s try to think past our own allegiances. Don’t be tricked into the distractions of those personal alignments. If the allegations are believable, the offence is to women—all of us.
If we can’t bear looking at the big picture for ourselves, do it for our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, sisters, the neighbour’s girls—the ones who just want to go to church and be safe, those wanting to be Olympic gymnasts and be safe, or hoping to be in college one day and be safe, or wanting to work in business and be safe, or hoping to be an entertainer and be safe, or wanting to serve their country and be safe with their own side (at least), or wanting to participate in political life and be safe, or even thinking they might find someone to build a life with and start a family someday and be safe. Yes, we are new proof that even that last humble goal isn’t safe anymore. But I don’t want to leave this world with these things unchallenged. Do you?
In my faith tradition, Advent starts today, and the season’s celebration of The Magnificat doesn’t pull any punches about who God uses, and what God is doing. And there are so many others initiating and participating in a non-misogynist way of life from their own point of inspiration and commitment! Thank you for the why and how of the work you are doing. I am grateful for all of us.
If you want to talk about how you have become an object to him or his treatment group, your story is safe here. Contact me: Diane@yourstoryissafehere.com or book a trial session.
p.s. Thank you for reading my blog, and welcome to my new subscribers. As you can see in the archives, I offer a mix of things in my blog—personal story, reflection and questions, tools and strategies, and “big picture” pieces. It’s a privilege to offer this content for free. You can subscribe here: https://www.yourstoryissafehere.com/blog-updates-signup