A guy in a bar once told me: “I’ve never met a woman who was angry enough.”
A sex crimes law enforcement officer told us trainees at the Los Angeles Rape Hotline, “First they say they are fine, then they cry, and then, finally, some of them get mad. It’s not until I see them claim that rage phase that I know they’ll get through it.”
In my early teens I began encountering men who would suddenly expose themselves in my presence–in parking garages, among the rows of books in libraries, from passing cars and apartment windows along the street. I would be startled, horrified, put my head down, turn my back, and walk away in tears, shaken for hours or days afterward. Ask any woman about her experiences of street harassment. She’ll likely have a story of some kind to tell you.
The face of a Gorgon, by Laura K. Vera
It wasn’t until my mid 30’s that I finally overcame my always-be-pleasant-and-immediately- forgive-your-enemies Mennonite upbringing. I was walking to a therapy appointment in downtown Harrisonburg for depression after a failed marriage. My eye caught a naked guy with an open coat standing in an alleyway across the street, leering at me.
I suddenly transformed myself into the Medusa, faced him straight on and began hollering like a maniac, “Get the hell away from me! You are sick and dangerous!! Go get help for God’s sake!” He quickly snapped his overcoat shut and high-tailed it (as my Mother would say) down the alley away from me. I was shaking but not crying when I got to the therapist’s office. I wish he had had the good sense and education to be relieved that I’d finally found my rage phase and joined me in it instead of asking me to calm down and help him understand why I was so upset. I stopped seeing that therapist, but most importantly I never encountered another flasher. My husband wonders whether the guy himself ever dared to flash again.
A Mennonite friend told me the story of how her incestuous Father would visit her bedroom at night until one night, after years of abuse, she was prepared for him, armed with a table lamp, crouched behind the door. When he stepped into the room she pummeled him, busting a hole in the bedroom door. The next morning nothing was said, everyone was pleasant at the breakfast table, and family devotions came off without a hitch. The broken door was repaired and no one asked what happened to it. But that was the last of her Father’s bedroom visits, though it was decades before she found the courage to expose the secret. And then of course she was blamed for daring to accuse her Godly father of such a horrible thing and disrupt the family peace.
The reason so many of us Mennonites are not “getting through it”, as the Los Angeles police officer described, (without drugs, divorce, isolation, incarceration, depression, mental illness, suicide, and more) is that we have such trouble giving ourselves permission to admit the awful truth of what happened to us and enter the rage phase, for fear of losing respect in our families, communities and churches. The reason we fear losing respect is that the church unwittingly continues to teach damaging interpretations of otherwise important doctrines of non-violence, peacemaking, and forgiveness, especially when it concerns the perpetration of sexualized violence.
But we have our own minds. We are free to believe what we choose. We all have a voice, whether or not we’ve realized its full potential. And we have a church today whose leaders, for the first time in its history, have communicated that they want to listen and take action. We can challenge hurtful doctrines, speak up, and holler back. We can be the change. The Bible tells us to “Be angry and sin not.” It does not tell us to “Never get angry.” In fact the example of Jesus overturning tables and yelling his head off about the money changers defiling his Temple and House of Prayer provides the opposite example.
Our Bodies are our Temples. “Don’t you realize that your bodies are the Temples of the Spirit of Holiness who is in us?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) What a beautiful concept. When our Temples are sexually harassed, assaulted, raped, molested, degraded, or objectified, then we have the right and the God-given responsibility to holler back and throw a few things around.
For encouragement and edification on hollering back see http://www.ihollaback.org
For a great education on all things related to “Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches,”read the inspired book by Carolyn Holderead Heggen.
DANA NEFF says:
Aug 15, 2013
Barbra, this is great. I also felt like my recovery process made headway when I was willing to really be/feel angry and not just intellectually talk about the concept of anger being part of the process. Thank you.
BARBRA GRABER says:
Aug 17, 2013
Thank you Dana for identifying yourself publicly as a survivor—that very clearly moves you into the esteemed title of THRIVER! Love you, man! So glad to have intersected on this journey with you.
BONNIE HOLDEMAN DALKE says:
Aug 15, 2013
I have not experienced sexualized violence but I have experienced the inability to express anger to the point that I was clinically depressed. It has taken me most of my adult life to finally feel free to be angry. The beautiful thing is that I no longer need to be angry nearly so much. I attribute my problems with anger to the role forced on me by my father’s ordination in the Mennonite Church. So I agree that the church has taught damaging interpretations of good ideas. I applaud each woman’s efforts to rise above her experiences and discover her authentic self. And I rejoice when she knows who she is so thoroughly that it is no longer important to her to attempt to reconcile the screwy teachings of the church with the expression of that unique being that she is. For in that expression lies an invaluable gift to all of creation.
BARBRA GRABER says:
Aug 17, 2013
Thank you Bonnie for this clear truth-telling. “The beautiful thing is that I no longer need to be angry nearly so much.” I’ve experienced the very same thing. We can watch the way anger moves like an energy wave through little children and then is gone. It doesn’t simmer and soak, it comes up and out through the eyes and through the throat with sound and fury—then it dissipates and they get on with their play and the joy of the present moment. We could take a lesson.
Aug 19, 2013
hey:What bothers me is that once I had Finally realized after 46 years that I was NOT to blame for being sexually assaulted then I encountered people….close people leaving me?I just cannot understand. What God wants us to live in lies and pretense?
I have chosen the Way of Truth.And I am not to blame for being driven down a Dark Road against my will.
A police woman was unsupportive and now I feel I may have to educate her as well. I am Not a crazy woman although that would be handy for some to believe. It took me over 35 years to face the truth and then many more years to realize that I am not to blame. Some people still think wrongfully that I had agreed to get into the car! I knew the man and he had promised me to be safe and trustworthy for over 2 months.
Psychological fear is very real and is an Injury.This kind of trauma ought to never be dismissed or taken lightly….Never. I will keep speaking out even if others do not support me.
Violating another human being’s personal space in such a devastating way can leave a lifetime scar.Period. Why do people so quickly want the perpetrator to be not held accountable? He does need help and mandatory counselling must be legalized.
BARBRA GRABER says:
Aug 29, 2013
Thank you so much for sharing of your experience Elizabeth. It took me years to realize as well. Glad to see your determination to keep speaking out. That’s a fast road to healing while helping others! Barbra G
Oct 18, 2013
This is wonderful. I’ve always found it strange that we’re taught to connect with some of our emotions, like compassion, caring, joy, etc while conditioned to push away the “unpleasant” ones. All of our emotions give us important information and feed our drives – when we need conviction to face an obstacle, anger can be so very very useful!
Thank you for writing this.