A Dangerous Woman

Tonight I went to my group therapy meeting. It was pretty intense.

There were eight of us, plus the therapist. We were a pretty diverse group of women in terms of age, race, and social background. Some were survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and everyone had experienced sexual violence as an adult.

Just about everyone except me and the therapist cried, I think. It was only the second meeting, and I’d missed the first one, so I was a little surprised by how willing everyone was to jump into the emotional deep end.

I was just at the point of congratulating myself for being so good at keeping my cool when I looked down at my hands and realized that I was doing that repetitive fidgeting thing that I have in common with Bruce Banner in the Avengers movie. Also, I wasn’t really looking at anyone. For most of two hours, I was staring at this one woman’s feet. She wore bright strappy silver sandals and lime green nail polish. It was a cool look.

"Marvel's The Avengers" ..L to R: BRUCE BANNER (Mark Ruffalo) and TONY STARK/IRON MAN (Robert Downey Jr.)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal  ..© 2011 MVLFFLLC.  TM & © 2011 Marvel.  All Rights Reserved.

Bruce Banner: the awkward, traumatized nerd of my dreams.

We started off with a “breathing exercise”, which annoyed the hell out of me. Why was it so annoying? Not really sure. Breathing exercises are a very basic CBT strategy for managing anxiety, and God knows everyone in the room was anxious. I suppose I felt a bit condescended to—like, really? I’ve been dealing with this shit for years, I’m perfectly capable of recognizing when I need to take a deep breath. But the whole point of making myself go to a group session is to be in a space where it’s not all about me for once, so I kept my mouth shut and acted liked I’d never taken voice lessons or learned how to breathe from the diaphragm before.

The topic of the night was boundaries. We did another exercise, in which we paired off, and one person walked towards their partner, who was supposed to tell them to stop when they’d got as close as they were comfortable with. It was surprisingly hard to do something as simple as put my hand up when my partner got about three feet away from me, and that’s in a situation where I knew there wouldn’t be any retaliation. It made me think about all the times when strange men have walked up to me in parking lots and demanded a hug, and how I’ve only felt safe saying “I don’t want you to do that” about half the time.

The group is confidential, so I can’t write about the stuff we discussed, but I wanted to write about this one part, because I’m still cooling off from the rage-high it inspired.

Since I’d missed the first session, I was behind on the gossip. Apparently, last week, a different organization had scheduled a group meeting for men who had sexually assaulted women—right down the hall from us. As in, they would be arriving at the same time the women in my group were arriving, taking the same elevators, walking out to their cars in the dark at the same time.

The leader of the men’s group suggested that the best way to deal with this was for the women’s group to reschedule.

Yes, that’s right: the guy who’s supposed to be teaching a group of male sex offenders how to respect the rights of women thought that the needs of those men should be prioritized over the needs of women who’d been assaulted by men.

Now, I’ve got no idea what was running through this twerp’s head. Probably he was just on autopilot, thinking about it from a purely logistical point of view. Maybe their group had a really hard time finding a time and space where everyone could meet, and rescheduling would have been very inconvenient. Here’s the thing though: men who are serious about changing behavior that makes women unsafe cannot afford to run on autopilot. One in three women in the United States experience sexual violence in their lifetime. You can’t account for a statistic like that unless you’re prepared to recognize that men are acculturated to view sexual violence against women as normal behavior. Men who are serious about changing their sexually predatory behavior must be prepared to challenge their attitudes and assumptions on the deepest level.

And the dude who presumes to set himself up as being capable of teaching other men how to do this effectively ought to be sufficiently on the ball to recognize that the needs of victims come before the needs of offenders every single fucking time. That’s pretty much rule one.

Mind you—speaking strictly for myself, I wouldn’t be frightened by finding myself in an elevator with a man who I knew to be a rapist. At this point in my life I’ve gone from “Oh, please don’t,” to “I wish a fucker would try.” Which, I do realize, is not entirely healthy. But it beats the crap out of the alternative. That’s probably something that male sex offenders should take into consideration: you can only push a person so far before they become dangerous.

If I were them, I wouldn’t want to be in an elevator alone with me. That’s all I’m saying.

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