The Pain We Assign To A Woman’s Body
I want to get this out of the way: I do not feel good and I haven’t felt good physically, emotionally and spiritually for a number of months.
Pain exists in my head, in my chest, on my phone screen.
Pain exists in my correspondence with my mother, who I have not lived with for eight years, who I have grown up away from, who I sometimes do not recognize.
Pain exists in randomly seeing my ex romantic partner, who sexually abused me, who asked me to help with his trauma of having sexually abused somebody, whose minutes of extreme masculine toxicity has outdone months of love and care.
Pain exists in the echoes of my mother’s yell afterwards: It is your fault, you deserve that!
Somehow, I am to blame for a man’s action. For his sense of entitlement to most things in this world. For the toxic and misogynist belief that a man can take everything he wants, wherever and whenever he wants.
Somehow, according to my mother, because I have had sex and because I live the life I do, I deserved being abused.
I wonder, does a person who works closely with a knife in any capacity deserve to die from stabbing wounds?
I wonder, who “deserves” pain? Who “deserves” torture? Who gets to decide?
I flew to New Delhi a week after the abuse occurred. I had paid over $3,000 for the two-week study abroad program called “Women, Media and Human Rights in India” and one of my professors encouraged me to leave Seattle to have some distance from my ex partner. At this point, I would lose a lot of money if I didn’t go. Besides, there were promises of good food, breathtaking architectures, and getting to know the lives of Indian women who came from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. I was hesitant, but showed up at the airport anyways.
During one of the long bus rides, the same professor asked the bus driver why the bus windows are not tinted. The scorching sun penetrated the windows and we were all uncomfortably warm until the AC kicked in. He said, “Oh, it’s the law.” He’s referring to the ban of curtains and tinted windows in public buses in India following the high-profile gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012. I flinched. A friend next to me reached her hand and placed it on mine.
This conversation, or might as well a number of others, sparked another on honor killings. An honor killing or shame killing in India is usually the deliberate killing of a family member due to the belief that the victim has brought shame to the family. The most common reasons are when women have sex outside of marriage or when they refuse to enter an arranged marriage. This has happened in Indonesia too, although arguably at a much smaller rate.
My mother and father are shameful first and foremost because I was sexually abused. They knew that way later. They were shameful because I have had sex. And boy, they are angry at me. If we lived in a different place and time, there would be no surprise if they killed me.
Honor killings are mostly unlawful today, but it hasn’t always been. And as we all know, just because something is not lawful, it doesn’t mean people would stop doing it.
During the days of the Roman Empire (27 BC-395 AD), its founder Augustus Caesar implemented a law called Lex Julia de adulteress coercendis. The law permitted fathers to murder daughters and their lovers who committed adultery.
In a time closer to the present, Code Napoléon is the French civil code created in 1804 under the emperorship of Napoléon Bonaparte. Code Napoléon Article 324, passed in 1810, permitted a husband to murder his unfaithful wife. But a wife couldn’t do the same to her cheating husband. This law was only repealed in 1975.
There are many other laws in many countries from all periods of time that simply don’t protect women, or see women as human beings. Those laws reflect and drive how we think and act in our everyday lives. Sometimes we as women internalized them. They affect and mirror our sociopolitical reality. Our pain and suffering, it seems, are a default of existing.
In the two weeks I was in different cities in India, pain came and went as it pleased. I didn’t participate in some of the activities so I could cry in bed under thin covers. I daydreamed during lectures and wrote poetry. I locked myself in a toilet stall and wailed.
I did not deserve that, I yelled back at my mother. I had never yelled at her before.
Now I have trouble sleeping, thinking, can I love somebody who believes that I truly deserve my physical, emotional and spiritual pain and suffering?