I wrote a guest post a number of years ago around the struggle my women in my family have had around body issues. In it, I described the time immediately following finding out that I was going to have a girl:
“When I was pregnant and found out I was having a daughter, I fell into a deep depression. I dreaded every insecurity, every moment of self-loathing, every indignity I knew she would face growing up. And I had no idea how to make it so that these injuries would only sting, rather than burn, how to arm her against them, how to protect, or at least insulate her. I had no idea how to be a strong, confident woman who was proud of who she is, embrace how she looks, and celebrate her unique strengths, so how could I ever teach my daughter?”
But this is only part of the reason I had an outsized negative reaction to the news. How was I going to protect her from the violence and abuse (sexual, physical, emotional) that seemed inevitable? A moment of joy was quickly replaced by a reliving of all of the abuse I had suffered. The events that I had buried deep inside, the events that I had spoken up about only to be met with doubt and derision, the events that marked my development irreparably.
Events I’m still not ready to share here.
But it wasn’t only my own experience that made me mourn for my yet-unborn daughter’s future; there are few, if any, women who have contact with students in higher education who have not been confided in by a female student who has either suffered through some form of violence or knows someone who has and doesn’t know how to help them. Usually that violence is sexual in nature. And we are ill equipped to deal with it.
I know that my responses have been inadequate. The time a student banged on our door in the middle of the night in a panic, but fled into the night when we called the police, not on her, but because the visible evidence suggested that something terrible had happened to her. We heard later that she was “fine” but that our instincts had been correct.
How is that “fine”?
Or the time another student confided in me about something that had happened to her in high school that clearly was impacting her performance and the choices she was making, choosing to stay in an abusive relationship, among other things. I encouraged her to get help and talk to someone, but instead I heard other students later in the cafeteria laughing about her situation. They didn’t identify her by name, but I recognized the story and despaired that she clearly wasn’t receiving any sort of support from her social group. Anytime afterwards, whenever I inquired if she ok, she would just answer, “I’m fine.”
Those are just two examples. I made myself be fine with “fine.”
When I found out about I was having a daughter, I was not “fine.” I could no longer pretend that I was fine. My body rebelled against being “fine” any longer. But I had to somehow get back to fine. And I did. Most of the time.
I’m not fine, it’s not fine, we cannot accept “fine” any longer.
I’m glad I am at an institution now that has led the way in trying to curtail sexual and other violence on campus that has proven to be effective, but I’m not so naïve as to think that this has gone away or isn’t a problem where I am. I’m more cut off from students however, which has meant that I have gotten complacent, I can convince myself that things are fine.
But they’re not. And we need to do better.
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