No Experience Necessary?

If you wanted an expert opinion on something, usually you’d ask someone with experience on the subject. If you wanted parenting advice, you’d probably ask someone who was a parent, not someone who babysat their siblings a few times. If you wanted to know what sky-diving was like, you’d probably ask someone who’d been skydiving, not someone who’d watched a video of someone skydiving on YouTube.

It just makes sense. Experience gives you an insight into a subject that books and Google cannot give you. It’s why musicians have to practice and perform, not just study theory. It’s why people majoring in education have to complete a year of student teaching before they graduate.

Experience is important, and usually we recognize that and respect the opinions of those who have experience in a subject.

But when someone is a survivor of abuse or injustice, one’s experience can actually prevent one from being taken seriously. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short time as a blogger, it’s this.

I recently wrote a post responding to a fellow Christian blogger who wrote a version of the popular “good girl is corrupted by a bad boy” narrative. In that post, I argued that this narrative reminded me of my own experience in an abusive relationship. The “good girl” in the story does not consent to a sexual relationship with the “bad boy,” but is manipulated by a man who refuses to take “no” for an answer.

This Christian blogger responded and he had a lot of dedicated followers and many of them defended him, which is fine. People are going to disagree. It happens and I’ve been blogging long enough to be used to it.

What disturbed me, however, is how some of these followers disagreed.

Here are a few examples:

Many of the women who came at you have probably been victims and it has caused them to filter everything through that. They won’t be able to see anything other than what reflects through their own pain. I have real sympathy for them. For those that are just bitter and argumentative nags, not so much.

—————————————————————-

Read the story. And the issues that it brings up from YOUR PERSONAL STORY need to be dealt with. I empathize, truly. But the best way to deal with those personal issues is not crucifying a guy who wrote a fictional story that somehow reminded you of past or present pain. The arrows you’re shooting at Cory won’t heal your pain.

—————————————————————–

If you guys are that upset about a story, perhaps you should seek therapy. Displaced anger can be a nasty thing.

You get the point.

The not-so-subtle implication here is that my experience, rather than giving me insight as to what a harmful relationship looks like, actually disqualifies any opinion that I may have on the subject. According to these commenters, and many others, because of my history with abuse, I am now a helpless victim, stripped of my ability to think for myself.

Any criticism I have is considered invalid because it is assumed that my pain clouds my logic. Any anger that I may express is assumed to be misplaced, because I apparently don’t have the mental capabilities to separate any anger I still feel toward my abuser from my other emotions. Any argument I bring up can be hastily tossed aside by faux concerns for my mental health.

Survivors–who have already likely escaped situations in which abusive partners were constantly tearing down their self-esteem and causing them to second-guess themselves at every turn–do not need to be treated like this.

And frankly, we know what these people are doing. Often our experience with being abused makes us experts on recognizing controlling behavior.

We see through the “real” sympathy, and through the condescending, paternalistic suggestions that we receive therapy. We know that they don’t care about our well-being as survivors of abuse.

If they did, they would LISTEN to us.

We can tell that their comments are means of silencing us, of diluting our legitimate points by portraying them as irrational.

We survivors may be hurt. We may be struggling to recover.

But we are not ignorant. In fact, we know more about what abuse looks like than we could ever want to.

And we are not stupid, but we can tell when people think we are and it’s insulting.

When people refuse to listen to survivors of abuse, they deny humankind the wealth of insight that survivors have into the minds of abusers. When people refuse to listen to experienced survivors, abusers win. Abusers are experienced too. They thrive on secrecy and ignorance. They know how hide their actions and disguise their true intentions.

Abuse will only end if people stop treating survivors as victims in need of rescue and start treating them as experienced experts on survival whose opinions on the subject are not only legitimate, but invaluable.

As survivors, our pain doesn’t cloud our minds. It broadens them.

Listen to us.

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  • http://suzannahpaul.blogspot.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    YES. keep speaking up. i wish it weren’t so needed (this common sense, this being a human being), and yet, we know it is. thank you, sarah.

  • http://cryabba.wordpress.com Maria

    Yes, yes, yes!
    I once got into a debate with an acquaintance who tried to explain and defend the “humor” behind a rape joke. He argued that I didn’t find it funny because I couldn’t look beyond what had happened to me.
    It boiled down to this: while I can’t see things in the perspective of someone who hadn’t been raped, I don’t find it acceptable to condone and make jokes at the expense of the defenseless.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      ugh. those situations make me so angry

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com from two to one

    Thank you for bringing up a very good, logical (you’ve already proved them wrong, no?) point — that we consult “experts” on other issues, so why would we not amplify the voices of survivors when talking about survivors? This definitely ties to a bigger issue within our society and especially the church that Dianna touched on in RHE’s “Ask a Feminist…”, too: that we are not to be a “voice for the voiceless,” but to ask why they are voiceless in the first place and to amplify their voices above those that seek to render them voiceless. Thank you for your voice, Sarah.

  • http://twitter.com/diannaeanderson Dianna Anderson (@diannaeanderson)

    Thumbs way way up on this, Sarah. Good job.

  • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.wordpress.com Amethyst

    “If you guys are that upset about a story, perhaps you should seek therapy. Displaced anger can be a nasty thing.”

    Therapy can be very helpful to abuse survivors. And a good therapist will teach a survivor how to recognize patterns of abuse so they can avoid abusers in the future. Therapy will also provide a survivor with the confidence to speak out against abuse and to try to help people trapped in it whenever they can. Like when they see victim-blaming and the promotion of unhealthy relationship dynamics. Then the survivor uses the skills gained in therapy, only to be told that s/he’s bitter and angry and should get therapy. :P

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      yup! part of my therapy was learning that anger is healthy, too. sigh.

  • Fortuna Veritas

    You have to give them credit, they do go out of their way to miss the point in order to disrespect and silence you, what with their “it’s just a story,” line that kept getting parroted when it’s not just a story if it’s a parable with such a cliche and transparent title.

    And a parable that definitely could use some work, considering that the very thing he really should have been grappling directly with is what is coming here to bite you, in my estimation. Particularly the bit where the overemphasis of purity creates the illusion that people who live life or make mistakes or are raped are broken forever or, arguably worse, are subpar humans who were predestined for poor lives to be an example to scare the elect into appreciating their position.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/refilling Jim Fisher

    As a friend and buddy-for-life to more than a dozen victims of male abuse and violence, all I can say is thank you, Sarah. Thank you for speaking truth. Thank you for encouraging men to sit down beside you, listen, hold your hand, and give you a hug. Thank you for encouraging us to empathize, to want to feel what you feel, and to humbly honor and respect your wisdom and strength.

  • Jay

    Could we, instead of just pointing out a problem, maybe talk about ways to understand and solve it? I, for one, would like to hear more on your story, Sarah. I would like to know where we (humans) have dropped the ball.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      1. Listen to survivors.

      2. Listen to survivors

      3. LISTEN TO SURVIVORS
      :P That’s a good start, I think.

      • Jay

        I’m listening…

      • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com jasdye

        That’s a great start, Sarah!

        Maybe, I would add, respect them and boundaries they sometimes set up out of necessity?

        • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

          agreed!

  • http://wearestardustwearegolden.wordpress.com wearestardustwearegolden

    Preach it, sister.

    One of the most disturbing and maddening features of debates with fellow Christians is the passive-aggression, holier-than-thou-ness and blame-shifting. In many debates with non-believers, at least they can use outrightly aggressive language and put their compassion-free attitude out there and you know where you stand!

    I am amazed at how we humans are so bad at listening to one another. Most of all, myself!

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      yes, the derailing and controlling behavior that disguises itself as concern and love is sometimes the scariest.

  • http://blobolobolob.blogspot.com Anonymous

    The really depressing thing is that it is this message that leaves people vulnerable to abuse to begin with. You’re over-sensitive, don’t trust your gut, don’t even trust your own powers of reasoning because you’re reading too much into it. You’re not well. You’re hormonal. Other people know better about what is best for you.

    Disagreeing is one thing. Dismissing us as fundamentally unreliable is playing a game that abuse survivors already have *way* too much experience of.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      exactly! I was told during my abusive relationship that my opinions didn’t matter because of other traumatic experiences in my life. I just want to tell these commenters, “YOU SOUND JUST LIKE MY ABUSER!” But they’d probably just say I was being to sensitive. Sigh.

  • http://wearestardustwearegolden.wordpress.com wearestardustwearegolden

    I read a pretty profound blog post about a victim’s response to putting ‘rape’ into videogames this morning just asking people to pause and consider how they might make victims feel with their careless, dismissive and selfish attitudes : http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/features/9766-The-R-Word

  • Lori

    I’ve been reading your posts for a few months and pretty much always leave thinking, “She is so smart. She’s SO smart.”

    I don’t comment because my comment would just be, “Gosh you’re smart.” Like, not just smart smart, but hugely…smart. Ugh, if you think or say or write the word “smart” too many times it starts to lose all meaning, like words sometimes do, and it’s starting to sound like a goofy word to me again but I did just want to say—I appreciate your posts, you seem unflinching and you sometimes help me to effect that stance when needed.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      aw thanks! :)

  • http://marchingonandon.blogspot.com Heath March

    I know multiple people who were taken advantage of at Christian colleges because some douchebag said that he’d tell everyone that “she did it anyway”. “Fables” like Cory’s just make it easier for jerks to get away with rape. We (especially Christians) HAVE to let the experts speak; and we have to listen and learn from their very real experiences and wisdom. Thanks for speaking up, Sarah.

    Speak! Shout! Don’t ever shut up! People need to hear it. :)

  • Charles Lee Jr

    Indeed.. As a matter of fact, thee’s always the spirit of that 8000 pound, so to speak, that denies their own buried abuse, by minimizing in some way, the abused… This is not an over-generalization but an experienced observation, in this our increasing wounded and detached human society… So deep in denial are the suedo-experts that they blindly allow children to be tried as adults, after imitating our adult detachments.. They know the road to recovery like a fish knows highway route 66… . Only trauma, it seems, has it’s beneficent perceptions and even then… acceptance is always the first step… Well Journeys ;~).

    • Charles Lee Jr

      *spirit of that 8000 pound paisley gorilla in a discussion, so to speak*

  • http://gravatar.com/mark123456654321 Mark

    Hi Sarah.

    I was curious to find out more about Copeland’s opinions on women, so I bought his Kindle novel “These were the nights”. (Yes, I’ m sure his mixing of past and present tense disturbs you too). There were multiple instances of unwitting misogyny in the book.

    It tells the story of Gideon Monroe, a 22 year old paralegal who is reluctantly seduced by a women at a party. The women falls pregnant and has an abortion. She tells Gideon, who is wracked with guilt and hatred towards this women. He falls in with a secular group of friends, starts taking drugs and is involved in a fatal car crash.

    The instances of misogyny include:
    - the blame for Gideon losing his virginity is placed at Alison’s (party girl) feet.
    - Alison is depicted as selfish and immature for choosing an abortion without asking for Gideon’s permission
    - Gideon says he would like to headbutt Alison, and his friends support him
    - Never does Gideon offer emotional support to Alison
    - Michelle, Gideon’s virginal girlfriend, is caught blowing a pastor, and never appears in the story after. Gideon writes her off as a slut, and no context is supplied.
    - it’s subtle, but none of the female characters seem to expect respect, nor object to being judged.

    I gave his book a one star review on Amazon, and he only has two reviews. I didn’t pan it because of the misogyny. The writing was terrible, although it did improve somewhat at the halfway point.

    I suggest that if you really want to challenge the misogynistic worldview that many Christians promote, then hit him where it hurts by posting an honest review of his book on your blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/diana.loveurneighbor Diana Margaret

    “Often our experience with being abused makes us experts on recognizing controlling behavior.”

    INDEED!!! What I have trouble with is trying to let other women know what I’m seeing without seeming overbearing or nosey. Mostly I don’t say anything because I’m afraid I won’t be listened to or will be rejected. But, how is that helping the women in my life? *sigh*

  • http://emphaticasterisk.com Lindsey

    Amen! I got into a similar situation with an argument about sympathy for women who get abortions, wherein I was told that my femininity and past abuse caused my emotions to blind me to the truth. Uh, yeah. Took a good biting of my tongue to keep me from replying that the guys lack of emotions and naive ness blinded him to the consequences of his words.

  • smrnda

    I tend to find most Christian males to be misogynistic jerks. Part of that is that they are taught to be that – the big issue is that they ‘stay pure’ so anything a woman does is interpreted as a deliberate attempt to make them ‘stumble’. Guys from the subculture tend to blame women for all of their sexual ‘failings’ or sins. I think part of the problem is the gender partitioning that goes on in Christendom. The guys have the ‘guys group’ where, sitting around with their dude/bros, they tell stories where it’s always the woman (and not them) who was responsible. “I was just trying to be a good Christian boy and she seduced me! Women are no goo!”

    There’s also this widespread problem that they argue that the problem is ‘sexual sin’ and not say, abuse, or a desire to dominate and control others. They see sex though this lens of ‘pure’ or ‘impure’ that ignores the fact that people aren’t all trying to be ‘pure’ with moments where they lack restraint – some people are predators out to do their best to manipulate and control others.

    Equating consensual sex acts with non-consensual ones as both ‘sexual sin’ trivializes really wrong sex acts like rape and sexual abuse .It also refuses to acknowledge that abusers don’t have restraint issues, they do it on purpose, but if an abuser goes to a church he can spew some BS about a lack of restraint and be believed. I find unbelievers have better heads with this by far.

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