Everything included in this post has been consented to by the subject of this painting.
Is this my fault?
Does it count if I don't remember it?
Does it count if I didn't say no?
Of course, it isn't my fault. I know it isn't-- whatever "it" is.
What do I say? What do I do? Do I tell someone? Who do I tell? Who will believe me? I don't have any proof. It would be my word against his, and everyone knows that would end with me looking fickle, or prudish, or at fault.
It's always the woman's fault, even though it never is.
Keep your eyes down, your head down, your heart down.
Someone might sense your shame, and then what would you do?
What are you doing to do?”
My Gracious, Anonymous Survivor on the days after her rape
I never wanted to do this painting. I wish it had no reason to exist. But wishing that so, does not change its reality. The words above are the story of this painting. I think it is fair to say it is the story of many women. Uncertainty. Fear. Doubt. Did this really happen? Did it really happen to me? Will I ever feel safe again? Could this have ever REALLY happened to me? Did the cautionary tales about girls being abducted or raped or assaulted become my reality. Can this be real?
Next come the questions our society has taught us. We try and make something horrendous and unthinkable fit into a box. What could I have done differently? What was I wearing? Did I do something wrong? How is this my fault?
As women, we are taught from a very young age that the care of others is our responsibility. So much so, that when things go wrong, when they happen TO US we wonder how we could have taken care of it better. If we had taken care, maybe we could have prevented it. This could not be more false. Nothing you have ever done, or will ever do would make this your fault. No one asks for this. Not indirectly. Not unintentionally. No one ever asks for this. The care of others is not your biological responsibility. You are not responsible.
All of these thoughts cloud the mind and weigh heavy while your brain is trying its best to protect you from real, life altering trauma. For my subject, this felt like white noise. This is what we have worked together to create. It took a great deal of strength and willingness to be vulnerable for my subject to allow me into this moment. It was, and is a tremendous responsibility and honor to be allowed to try.
When I planned this painting and gained my subject’s consent back in November of 2017, I never could have dreamed it would come at such a unique time in our culture. My subject has never publicly come forward or made an accusation of her attacker, her rapist. The last week has been full of accusation and conversation around why women don’t come forward. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is living proof of what our society will do to protect the power of a single man. She has literally had her life threatened and her humanity questioned, simply for speaking the truth about her own trauma and experience. She relived her trauma with raw vulnerability to the people who had all the power to decide her worth in our society. She courageously shared for millions. Most if us are too terrified to confess to our own mothers. We are too ashamed because we are told at every turn what we could have done to avoid it. Senator Booker said to Dr. Ford in the hearing on Thursday, "There are hundreds of thousands of people around the country watching your testimony right now and note after note that I got, people in tears, feeling pain and anguish, not just feeling your pain but feeling their own, who have not come forward. You are opening up to open air hurt and pain that goes on across this country. And for that, the word I would use, it's nothing short of heroic. Because what you're doing for our nation right now, besides giving testimony germane to one of the most sacred obligations of our offices, is you are speaking truth that this country needs to understand."
During her opening statement, while she told her truth, told the story of what happened to her, I unknowingly joined women across the country in reliving the pain. I have never been sexually assaulted, but I have been in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with a man who had a position of leadership. You can read my story here. I sat on the floor of my studio, body shaking, crying, and afraid to move or catch my breath. I had been triggered. I had never been triggered outside of therapy before, and I couldn’t understand why this story of sexual assault would do it. Judge Kavanaugh in his opening statement used the phrase “Something rings of truth”. Dr. Ford’s testimony rang so much of truth that women all over the nation felt the vibrations. Certainly, I felt that truth, but there was more. I thought about it all day as listened. When Judge Kavanugh started going on about his “good name” it clicked. My own attempt to bring light and safety for others was disregarded because I challenged the power and position of a man. Dr. Ford was in the exact same position, but on a much larger scale. I knew in her sharing, in a deep and personal way, exactly what she was doing. She was opening up completely and giving all that she had. She was trusting another human being with her deepest hurt, and praying they would use it for justice. There is nothing more terrifying. It was such a powerfully terrifying experience that my body physically reacted to another person willingly choosing that vulnerability. If we keep it to ourselves, we feel like it is ours to control, our own to deal with. That loss of control felt devastating because my own experience did not work out as I had hoped. Nevertheless, she gave it in hopes that justice would be done. But, the Republican Senators made their thoughts perfectly clear when she left the room. What happened to her was horrible, but not nearly as horrible as this man’s “good name”. I feel that the decision the Senate makes will dictate whether we as a country care about a woman’s body and emotional safety enough to challenge the reputation of a single man.
Why don’t survivors come forward? THIS is exactly why. We know what happens when you question a man’s “good name”. In my case, the man I reported to gave my abuser my phone number so that we could “work it out between us”. I was lucky because that was the end of it for me. For many women, coming forward puts them in more physical danger AND ruin’s their own “good name”.
If we, as a country, really want to see the end of rape, we have to acknowledge why ⅔ of the 1 in 3 women who are assaulted don’t report it. Most of us won’t even say the name of our attacker because we know even that small concession challenges the patriarchy and puts us in danger. We have to stop valuing a “good name” over the safety of women. The first step? Start believing them. That doesn’t mean you go around prosecuting every man who is ever accused. But, do you question someone when they say something is stolen? Or do you give then the benefit of the doubt? Because the percentage of false reporting of theft is 3% higher than unsubstantiated rape cases nationally.
We have to have a reckoning. We have to be willing to look critically at ourselves, our actions, and acknowledge what they say to our fellow humans. We have to acknowledge what they say about us. I have hope and deeply believe that all people are capable of change. I pray that this amazing and heroic display of vulnerability by Dr. Ford is a catalyst for that change. I pray we quit valuing a “good name” and a man’s power over the safety and bodily autonomy of women.
White Noise is a 48x60 oil & cold wax painting on canvas.