debboamerik: black-and-white cat (Default)
[personal profile] debboamerik
This post is mostly me musing on myself, but I'm making it public because people might have things to add.

While making dinner tonight, I found myself thinking back on a disturbing episode involving unwanted physical contact that happened a few years ago. I'm still very disturbed and deeply ashamed of this episode, and I did a little thinking about why. After all, I was raised on the philosophy of "my body is my own." Why hasn't that translated into a stronger sense of my own personal boundaries, and more ability to stand up for myself?

I think maybe it's not enough to teach kids that they can say no or talk to a trusted grown-up. I think a kid also needs a sense of his or her own body as a worthy object of protection. I developed, somehow, a deep dread of appearing selfish and making demands on others, at a very young age. I also developed a lot of shame about my body, and a feeling that the mind was the worthier part. I could point to a lot of reasons for this, but most likely it was a combination of all of them, plus some that I haven't thought of. I have been lucky to have, in [ profile] papertigers, someone who helps me to understand that I am allowed to feel angry and ashamed.

It also makes me think of a parallel incident, when I was in Mauritania. In this situation, a young boy of between ten and thirteen years old hit me on the back with a stick while I was walking down the street. Mauritanians find this sort of thing tremendously funny. I found it deeply shaming. When I told one of my friends about the incident, she told me that of course I felt ashamed, that racially-motivated violence in general is meant to keep people down by making them feel ashamed. I'm not sure that I agree with her whole analysis of the situation, but I know that it gave me a new perspective, not just on my life, but on my own society. That perspective has been really important because it has allowed me to see how people work, consciously and unconsciously, to control each other and keep those they see as their inferiors down. It's given me insight into myself and my own less-than-beautiful motives, too.

Yet all the insight in the world can't keep me from feeling somehow responsible for being hurt. Why is that? I wish that one could conquer pain by understanding the reasons for it, but it takes more than that.
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debboamerik: black-and-white cat (Default)

January 2011

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