sunset

I haven’t written in a long time. I haven’t been able to.

Every time I considered starting an article or researching a new topic, I stopped myself. Instead of the intrigue and passion that I usually feel, all I found was a stinging, bitter pain.

Because I was hurting; because I was afraid.

Writing is usually like therapy for me – it allows me to vent to the world and at the same time to no one at all. If I end up writing something worthwhile, fantastic. If all I get is a sore back from hunching over my laptop and a sappy piece of nonsense that no one would ever want to read, so be it.

But for the last month, I have avoided my laptop like the plague.

Where did this pain come from? And why was it so hard to get past?

It originated with the very act of writing an article about something I care about. About something that I am so sure of that I could never have imagined the backlash that I received from expressing my beliefs – or that they could even have been interpreted the way that they were.

But as I was once told, intent is not always the same thing as effect.

The topic of the article that started it all? Self-protection through assault prevention techniques and self-defense.

The aftermath of a sexual assault is so complicated – the range of emotions  can jump from guilt to shame to anger to confusion and beyond; the reality of self-blame can be crippling; and the effect on a victim’s life is unquantifiable. Not only this, but every victim deals with and recovers from sexual assault in their own way. What is true for one person might be unthinkable for another. And no one – whether a survivor themselves or not – has the right to tell another person how they should feel in the wake of this horrendous crime.

Keeping this in mind, I tried to write my article in a way that would place blame solely on the perpetrator. I wanted to present ideas for self-protection and self-defense as possibilities for those who might find them worthwhile. Nowhere did I hint that if you eschew taking a self-defense class or find no use in my ideas it would be your fault if you were assaulted. I would never – could never – say, think or believe anything even close to that.

Others took my article differently. In fact, on the day of its publication, it caused a veritable scandal in the feminist community. I was harassed on Twitter, called a failure and a victim blamer, told that I epitomized the Patriarchy, and watched as my article was smashed to smithereens. In the opinion of the individuals making these comments, I was placing blame on victims of rape by offering ideas about prevention.

The piece was far from perfect. In fact, if I were to write it again, I would make an absolutely rigid point of trying to look at what I wrote from eyes different from my own. To read every last word from a completely different perspective. Maybe then I would have seen what these people saw.

And yet, I was also commended by the women’s self-defense community for writing it. I received emails, tweets, posts and texts from people who were as dismayed as I was about the reaction. A well-known, deeply respected self-defense instructor even wrote an article in The Hairpin about the whole mess (note: opinions in The Hairpin piece are strictly those expressed by Susan Schorn).

The thing is, it really was a huge, ugly mess. No one was to blame. It just kind of happened – and then exploded in a nasty way. But I am about as sensitive as they come (great quality in a writer, right? ha!). I was shattered. I cried for an entire day and went into bouts of depression every time I thought about it for a month afterward.

Not that I can’t take being criticized or called names. People criticize my opinions all the time, and I have been called some verrrry interesting things (especially by Men’s Rights Activists)! Generally, I welcome or endure it – to a point. I suppose the deeply reactive subject matter made everything different this time.

I felt…invalidated. Silenced. As if my experiences and beliefs could be overturned and expelled with a gust of wind.

The thing is, they can’t. Others don’t have to agree with me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t hold true to my ideals. And more appropriate to this situation, others may not always see the intended message in my writing. There isn’t much that I can do about this except to keep moving forward, carefully, while trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the world around me.

This has been a huge lesson. And from where I stand today, it won’t stop me from writing in the future. My sadness and frustration are still there; I’ve just learned how to move beyond them and try to turn them into something more positive and healing. And that’s why I’m sitting at home writing a blog post on this rainy Friday night.

Because really – hiding my laptop behind the couch isn’t helping anyone, especially not myself.