a few things we have learned

from  Self Portrait: My Hometown (2015)

from Self Portrait: My Hometown (2015)

1. I first heard the term "ancestral trauma" at an event for educators and counselors supporting LGBTQ+ youth. It was an Indian person who said it, and the idea instantly struck me, even though I didn't really know anything about it. The speaker had been talking about how acts of prejudice and harassment tend to affect people of color more intensely because of their familial, ethnic, and cultural histories of abuse.

Ancestral trauma was notably observed in the children and subsequent offspring of Holocaust survivors. It describes traumatic stress that is passed through generations for decades, even centuries, after an original traumatic event.

2. Everywhere I go, I cannot escape discussions of the abuse of women. Even as I began to write this, I was in a cafe where two men were recording a podcast. One recounted a story of when two of his relatives, both women, were followed in their car by a man who eventually broke into their backseat while they were seeking help in a gas station. When they took off again, the man revealed himself in their car, and they only broke free when one of the women kicked him with both legs out onto the highway.

Listening to men tell stories of the abuse of women is something like listening to a man retell the plot of an action or crime film. He is usually astonished by the entire undertaking. There is a tone of wonderment, and an inevitable, "Can you even believe that?!" to close out the tale. It is a supreme insult, to ask a woman if she believes such a thing, when we live our lives calculating every step to avoid it.

3. A lot of people understand that women feel uneasy when walking alone, especially at night. We learn early on to clutch our keys like knives in our hands, to remove our headphones and stay aware, cautious, of any sounds and people around us.

Maybe I am atypical, but I do that sort of thing all the time. In groups, I stand between people I know. I cross my arms and dress certain ways to prevent hugging and unwanted touch. I avoid eye contact with any and all strangers, especially given the high incidence of women being killed shortly after rebuffing men's advances. One time at a retail job, a man patted my head, as one does to a dog or a child, while thanking me for explaining something to him. The violation made me want both to take a scalding hot shower and also to strangle him, but instead I rubbed and scratched my head for several minutes, trying to forget the feeling of the touch, and later thanked him for visiting the store.

4. On August 14, 2018, the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania released a report detailing the sexual assault of more than one thousand children by some three hundred Catholic priests across the state. In the weeks following, one of the priests at the church where I work said that what the church needs today is, "more good men."

5. "If we read the Bible as normative social literature, the absence of a Goddess is the single most important statement about the kind of social order that the men who over centuries wrote and rewrote this religious document strive to establish and uphold."

Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade

6. Alternate words for "crime":