Here’s the challenge with blog posts – they are a great medium for capturing a moment, a feeling, an idea. Not all of my moments, feelings, and ideas.
I recently wrote a post for Good Men Project about honoring men’s commitment to survivors of sexual violence as a way to engage them in dialogue on the issue. If you read the comments, you will see the many complex stories readers created about me, my identity, my experiences, my intentions, and my politics. Depending on which comment you believe, I am holding men responsible or letting them off the hook, supporting or rejecting feminism, and over-simplifying or over-complicating the issue.
In truth, I’m a feminist, but I also have criticism for some of the more extreme feminists whose dialectic approach is unnecessarily polarizing. But the post wasn’t about that. I also feel strongly that men and women, as bystanders and perpetrators, need to hold themselves accountable for their role in sexual violence. But the post wasn’t about that either. And there are some things that make angry. I’m a regular human, not an enlightened one.
So why is this point relevant for the issue of sexual violence?
You will rarely hear a story of sexual violence from start to finish. And you will rarely hear it in its entirety in one sitting. Why? For one, sexual violence isn’t like a trip to the grocery store. It doesn’t make a good anecdote. It’s an experience that completely embeds itself in who you are and how you live in the world. And through the process of healing and recovery, it doesn’t become less of who you are, it becomes more of who you are. Furthermore, sometimes we want to test the waters, and see if the person listening is willing to really listen. This is true for any friendship or relationship, but especially true for something as personal and deep as being a survivor of sexual violence.
That’s why it’s so important to be open and patient when learning about someone’s experience with sexual violence. You are hearing the first anecdote, not the whole story. So don’t jump to conclusions. Ask questions. Ask for the next anecdote, the next story, the deeper level. Give the benefit of the doubt. You will learn how complex and messy most stories of sexual violence are, and in that messiness, you will find ways to help and support survivors.
Are you willing to hear the whole story? Or do you want to make up your own story based on 500 words? It might require 100 or 1000 blog posts to get there. Will you read them? Will you ask questions? Are you here for the whole ride?