Women in the public eye are treated harshly. Their actions and motivations are scrutinized, criticized and second-guessed to the nth degree, with critics usually assuming that the woman lacks competence or has a hidden agenda. You can see this happen every day to all kinds of women, from the CEO of General Motors to an anonymous rape victim talking to the media, to the many others who are ignored and silenced before their voices project very far. It’s not surprising and is in keeping with our society’s acceptance of violence against minority groups and women.
I used to think I was relatively unremarkable and not vulnerable to gendered violence and discrimination. Events of the past two years have proved just how vulnerable I was, and how vulnerable I continue to be. I was viciously assaulted by medical personnel during the birth of my child. When I finally recovered from my injuries and returned to work I encountered a boss uncomfortable with women in positions of status. I ended up having to take a lower status job after being threatened with a pay cut and demotion unrelated to job performance.
These are by no means the worst things that could happen to a person, and I consider myself lucky because it all could have been much, much worse. At the same time as my eyes have been opened to the fact that I could be the target of violence at any time for being a woman, I’m also painfully aware of how privileged I am, and I feel compelled to speak.
But it’s hard to speak about these things even with sympathetic people. Speaking to those who are unaware or in denial that these problems are real usually results in an attempt to discredit the speaker herself. It is easier for most listeners to make excuses for the doctors and for the corporation, pegging me as overreacting or being overly sensitive.
Speaking via the internet is even more difficult. The internet is made of mini-panopticons, decentralized and inescapable, making public speech potentially more powerful, but also more dangerous. When one is living in a culture that assigns a lower value to certain bodies – female, trans, black, brown, young or old, etc – having that body is a risk by itself. While we should be proud of our bodies and identities, we should also not put them intentionally in harm’s way. Do I think I’ll lose my job if my employer sees this blog? No – I really don’t. Do I think I’ll be attacked? I don’t think so. But I do believe that to a certain extent we should do what makes us feel safe.
Maybe you think I’m being paranoid. Maybe this won’t protect me. But blogging is what I need to do right now, and keeping it anonymous is what I need to do to feel safe.
Perhaps, you might say, if I’m not ready to stand up to this kind of heat I shouldn’t be blogging about sensitive and personal topics. I would like to one day be able to use my real name, but I also don’t want to wait. I want to add my voice now, however small and unregarded it might be.
I also work as a birth doula. In that work, my own activism, my anger at being mistreated, my analysis of power structures, doesn’t disappear but does take a backseat. As a doula I support the strength of my client and amplify HER voice.
I do want to speak publicly at some point, and do it on my own terms. If I thought a lawyer would take my case I would go up against that hospital. For now, it makes sense to be extra cautious after having been violated, to guard one’s body, spirit, and name, to try to ensure that they are used only by me, in the ways that I choose.