“There is more to us. It is not our shame, and it is not all about us but it is a part of us,” I mumbled as I finished reading the Facebook update. It was posted by Marwa Kazi Mohammed, a young feminist woman I know through a mutual acquaintance.
A month ago, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, one status caught my attention. It was from a young woman who I never met in person, but have mutual friends with and once published her article in this portal. She wrote:
So recently a guy had a gossip session about me where he said that I like to talk about my rape so much because I like to sell my story for cheap fame.
I guess I do like talking about my rape a lot. You see growing up, the rape victims I saw in TV and Cinema, read about in books were all helpless, broken victims.
They all blamed themselves for rape, somehow their honor and dignity was gone because of a crime someone else committed. These women lived their lives in shame, taunted by society, wearing full sleeved dull colored clothes trying to be invisible to the world.
This was the representation I got as a child of rape victims. And I would almost believe it if it wasn’t for my privilege to have been exposed to better culture, amazing human beings and healthy, thriving environments that I got in school and college.
I am done playing the destroyed, susceptible damsel in distress. Someone else’s crime has to stop defining who I am.
Yes I like talking about my rape because I need other rape survivors to see that I am a rape survivor. And I’m also an aspiring writer, a feminist. I got myself into the University of Dhaka, I work two jobs, I like partying on the weekends, I wear off shoulder tops, I color my hair. I laugh loudly, I go on tours, I fight with random strangers on the internet.I debated for 8 years, I fell in love, I was a part of 3 significant movements, I am not afraid to wear my scars on my sleeves.
I am more than what someone else did to me 13 years ago. And I need to create the representation that I didn’t have 13 years ago.
So yes, I will talk about my rape story as much as I can, as often as I can, as long as I am able to.
If you’re giving me fame for it, that’s not my problem.
I tried to deal with the emotions that flooded my mind- all at the same time. At the same time, I felt sad, angry, hopeless and yet inspired, and proud. I was sad as I could relate to her story, having been a victim of child sexual abuse many times, by people who were not strangers but people who were supposed to protect me. I felt angry and hopeless about our society, about the mindset of many who only raise fingers at the survivors and never at the perpetrators. I felt angry that people can be as toxic as this “guy” she wrote about, who failed to appreciate her resilience and rather chose to shame her for her resilience. I was impressed and inspired by the strength and courage of this young woman. I wish I was more like her when I was her age!
At her age, I was still discovering the feminist in me and I still lived in denial about what happened to me. Bangladeshi society is brutal and heartless at large when it comes to many issues, and being a survivor of sexual abuse is one of them. The stigma is so powerful that countless people suffer in silence and never speak up about it. They try to suppress their trauma and pretend as if nothing ever happened, and this is what I tried to do for so long in my life and paid a high price for it. I found myself overwhelmed by my traumas, and the burden felt so heavy that I felt as if I was choking, and maybe some other people also feel that way but do not know how to cope with it.
When I was a teenager, arts and crafts and journaling were my coping mechanism. Artistic activities helped me distract my mind, while journaling gave me a space to confess. As I did not have the courage to speak up, my journaling habit became my salvation as I wrote openly about what was happening to me, and wrote pages after pages cursing my abusers and asking the divine for justice. But this was, needless to say, not enough. While my hobbies prevented me from collapsing, my suppressed emotions piled up over the years and I am not an expert to be able to explain the depth of the wounds in my heart.
However, this is not all about me. There is a lot more about my identity. Last year in 2018, when I took to Facebook to share what happened to me when I was 16, under #MeToo movement, I found out the attitudes of many had changed towards me. For them, I was now only a “victim” of “sexual abuse” and I was suddenly a scary person. Earlier this year, one person I met after a few years, taunted me saying that he would like to click a selfie with me, but he is afraid that I will use the hashtag again. I was at a loss of words! Was it funny? He had the audacity to belittle my trauma and question my authenticity! But he is only one of the several people who have made similar derogatory remarks, many times behind my back which I eventually found out. In addition to the emotional burden of speaking up and the backlashes, these remarks only made me angrier because it is the fear of being shamed and belittled which force many to suffer in silence, just how I did for so long.
I refuse to allow people to portray me as a mere victim, while I choose to call myself a survivor, a warrior. I fought hard to overcome the trauma and prioritize my healing. There is a lot more to my identity, and I would like to be defined by my actions, words, and activities and not by what someone did to me before a decade. I am not hiding my scars; my scars are a part of me but the scars will not dictate how I choose to view myself and I am not okay with people creating an image of me which does not represent me at all. And I am not alone in this battle, many survivors struggle with this once they choose to speak up and stand up for themselves.
It is for this reason, we need more girls like this dear sister of mine who chooses to crush the stereotypical portrayal and create powerful representations that send out messages of hope, courage, and resilience to other survivors.
We are more than what some low lives did to us. We are survivors, we are warriors and we will decide if we want to talk about our experiences or not, and for how long. We as survivors will celebrate our resilience because this is our right!
Reproduced Marwa’s Facebook update and mentioned her name with her consent.