“Why didn’t she say something?” That’s what a reader asked me back in 2013, angered that Wendy suffered in silence after an assault. My YA novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, grapples with a survivor’s dilemma: speak up and risk not being believed—or worse, being destroyed by the perp and the public.
And listen to the same chorus ringing out today.
When a woman speaks out shouldn’t be the point, but watch it become the subject. Trust that Wendy’s silence is complicated, as is her eventual speaking out.
The simple truth is what Jessica Goldstein said so well recently in McSweeney’s: “As young girls, we feel like maybe now is a good time to just throw something out there. See if it sticks. A PSA to all grown men on the face of the Earth: We do not want to have sex with you.”
Let’s try this again: Why didn’t she say something?
Because what happened is too horrible to put into words.
Because reliving it might make you faint or vomit. Or kill yourself.
Because he’s older.
Because Mom is overwhelmed by her life and always upset about something.
Because he’s Mom’s boyfriend.
Because he knows a ton of people in this town.
Because you won’t be believed.
Because everyone will talk about you.
Because now you’ll be That Girl.
Because everyone else is living a simpler, happier life and your trauma will interrupt theirs.
Because you’ll be asked why–about the outfit, about the time, about the situation. About the relationship.
Because you must have done something to encourage him.
Because smart girls should know better.
Because the candy store at the mall uses girl bodies to sell sugar.
Because someone near you just made a joke about sluts.
Because you’re busy looking over your shoulder in the parking lot.
Because close to 50% of Alabama electorate just voted for a pedophile.
Because my friend’s daughter just asked, “Will boys and men think it’s okay now to assault me?”
Because one of my husband’s friends was assaulted yesterday by a man on the streets of Raleigh, who did exactly what our President Elect said he can do with impunity.
Because my gay friend wept this week, wondering if she and those she loves will be safe.
Because my colleague just said, “I’m getting myself ready to be referred to as one of ‘The Blacks’ for four years.”
Because her friend in Asheville was just followed by a man at the Wal-Mart demanding to know who she voted for, and when she said, “Not Trump,” he followed her to her car.
Because I am finally understanding with my own fears a small part of the fear and trepidation that one of my black friends describes as daily life for her and her son profiled by the police. Now I get a police state in a whole new way.
Because of my former students who are black and brown and Asian and gay and Muslim and beautiful; because of all the girls and women and boys and men I know who are survivors of sexual assault. Because of two students who I just learned committed suicide because they were not welcome in this world.
Because I just finished a YA novel about a girl afraid to come out, whose friend gets assaulted at a party and then slut shamed by the school community, and who wonders if as a teen journalist she should go the TMZ or NYT route.
Because I’m working on a new novel about extreme narcissism and how its reach is wide and lethal.
Because. Because. Because.