We Are All Aly Raisman

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and her mother Lynn Faber at home, Nov. 9, 2017. Sage Sohier for TIME

Children are innocent, and tend to have complete trust in the adults who are in positions of authority over them. Children are essentially trained this way, to cede authority to adults. As such, it’s very easy for a child to be abused by predators. Society often thinks of abuse as outright rape and penetration, the product of some violent action. But there are many layers to abuse, and children don’t always know they’re being taken advantage of. I know many women who look back at childhood experiences with a very different viewpoint now that they are adults, wiser to the ways of the world. Almost every woman I know has a story about a questionable situation they found themselves as young girls. Not all escape unharmed.

When reading this article, I kept thinking about Queen Cersei in Game of Thrones, when she said, “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.”

Hasn’t this always been the reality for most women? Is that why so many women grow up enamored of the Disney princess, and that illusory romantic life where the prince loves her and woodland creatures sing and dance merrily whilst doing their household chores? Is it an escape from the brutal reality that we are surrounded by predators and can easily find ourselves on our bellies with a heavy weight upon our backs, with our faces pushed down into a pillow?

As long as men have physical power over women, there will be abuses. It’s simply a reflection of the savagery at the core of the human heart. All those of us who have felt the brunt of that savagery know all too well that one mistake can leave us in a terrible situation. One unguarded moment while you’re walking to your car at night. One misconstrued comment or smile in a crowded bar. One miscalculation when you say something dismissive to a large man with a fragile ego. It can all go wrong in a moment. Any woman who has ever been knocked to her knees by a man knows this.

What is left is a residual, never-ending fear. Or at least an unease. When your male gynecologist lingers just a bit too long during the examination. When the man behind you at the checkout line stands a little too close. When you walk along a sidewalk outside of an outdoor cafe and feel to male gazes watching you pass.

It never ends for women. It will never end until the human race grows up and moves on from its primal, hunter-gatherer, and decidedly male-centric, social norms. Men feel that this world belongs to them, and they alone rule it. Women are compelled to work within that construct, and will be at a disadvantage as long as men are allowed to dictate the terms of our existence.

I’ve wandered wide with this topic. Mostly because I felt such empathy for Aly Raisman. I am angry that this happened to her. Most women can remember a moment in their lives when their perception of men changed. Sadly, Aly Raisman has found hers. I truly wish that she had not. Unfortunately, it is very true that “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.” It has always been this way. And while we can hope it will change eventually, it’s not going to change any time soon. As long as men can rape women and then discredit their victims in court because of what they were wearing at the time, nothing will change. As long as men can run for state office after molesting teen-aged girls and still find wide-spread support, nothing will change. As long as women can be raped, harassed, and humiliated by men in power in Hollywood and not have their voices heard for decades, nothing will change. As long as men can run for president, and win, despite bragging, on record, about sexually harassing and assaulting women, nothing will change.

Honestly, I don’t believe anything can change until men are no longer the predominate power on this planet. Sometimes I think men are largely our problem. Not individually, of course. I know a lot of good, decent men. But even the good, decent men feel perfectly within their rights to ask me about me sexuality. Even the good, decent men feel free to joke that I just need the right man to “cure” me of my lesbianism. Even the good, decent men feel free to explain things to me, with the presumption that I, being female, can’t possibly understand technology, the intricacies of business, mathematics, or world history. That’s a privilege which comes from their institutionalized power over women; a power which they wield indifferently because they’ve never known a time when they haven’t enjoyed a certain deference.

In general, Americans have been shocked of late by the countless revelations of “bad behavior” by men across all spectrums of our cultural landscape. Most MEN have been, anyway. Most women weren’t surprised at all. Women have lived too long with the implied vulnerability inherent in knowing that any man can overpower them at any time. Men enjoy power. Men yearn for it. The quickest way for a woman to find herself backhanded by a strange man is to suggest he has no power over her. When cultural power holds no power, and gender roles holds no power, there is always the fist. Behind that fist, there is most always an implied erection. Boys will be boys. And when they are, women are almost always told that they shouldn’t have provoked them. “That’s just the way it is.”

I’m writing this at the worst possible time. Recently in my dreams I have seen a world in which men no do not run things. I’ve seen a future filled with starships, populated by women who live and work together as family, who cooperate and support one another as one community. I’ve thought about that a lot. Why do I dream of such things? A world without men? Clearly, my past feeds into that. As much as I am loathe to admit it, my sexuality may play into that. I am more comfortable in the company of women. I have always loved only women. The women in my dreams are powerful. The men at my local supermarket could not overpower them. The lone wolves who skirt the edges of the crowd in bars could not overpower them. These women could bring them to their knees with a gesture. It saddens me when I wake up, to know that I feel so inherently vulnerable in the presence of men that my psyche gifts me with dreams in which there are none.

This is the point in my ramblings where I should come up with some hopefully, inspirational, and subtly reaffirming way to end my statements. But I’m just sitting here feeling sad. I feel like I need a hot shower, and sifter of brandy, and maybe a little cry. I keep thinking of Aly Raisman, and how her trust was betrayed by a man she trusted. I keep thinking of that, and I keep thinking “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.” I keep thinking of how vile and twisted human beings are, how prevalent “rape culture” is, and about how many young girls, boy, women, and men, are on their knees at any given moment serving the perversions and base drives of men who have left them no other choice. We are 17 years into the 21st Century, and sex-trafficking is still a thing. Human slavery is still a thing. Those of us who can distract ourselves with the latest technological gadget, have an over-priced cup of coffee to start our mornings, and maybe a bagel, and we get through our days trying not to think about the rivers of semen, bile, shit, and pain, that flow just outside of our periphery.

If nothing else, it may be a good thing that recent news reports have forced average Americans to smell the shit, if only for a brief moment before they go back to their favorite flavor of distraction. For the moment, we are all Aly Raisman, realizing that a man we trusted has violated us. We are Hope Solo, realizing that the man who heads our sport feels entitled to grab our ass. We are Rose McGowen, realizing that even though we’ve been raped by a powerful man (or perhaps because he was a powerful man), no one is listening to our voice. We are Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov, realizing that a man we respected is literally masturbating in front of us. We are Natasha Stoynoff, realizing that the man who unexpectedly pushed us against a wall and forcibly kissed us, saying “I’m going to —- you so hard, you’ll scream like a whore”, is now the president of the United States. We are Karissa Wright, realizing as a young girl that we are being sold by a family friend to other men to use for sex, and that if we closed our eyes and pretend we are somewhere else “it would go by quicker” than if we “tried to make them stop”.

It saddens me to welcome Aly Raisman into this twisted sisterhood. It saddens me that every single day hundreds of thousands of young girls and women all across the world are inducted into it. It saddens me that every single day millions of women are sexually harassed, and that every year thousands are murdered by men they trusted.

Mostly, for own part, it saddens me that a random story about a random gymnast whom I know little about can trigger such late night sadness and lengthy rantings. I suspect a lot of women can relate. When you’ve experienced certain things, it doesn’t take much to leave you awake at night, huddled beneath a blanket, sipping brandy so you can get back to sleep. Sadly, that’s the reality of ongoing stress for a lot of woman, who have to seek out ways to get through their days without thinking too much about a past which will not remain buried in the past.

Hidden Face Girl

The Trigger

About Claire

Claire Mulkieran is rumored to be a glorified computer programmer by trade, but you can call her a “Systems Security Designer.” She's also a teacher of Pagan-related spirituality and the unofficial patron saint of meandering misfits (or a delusional lunatic, depending upon whom you ask). If you're ready to read between the lines, consider her guiding motto; "Are you a figment of my imagination, or am I a figment or yours?"
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