On Believing Survivors

I’m in awe of Christine Blasey Ford.

Yesterday she stood up in front of the whole world and talked about the most painful moments of her life. Even though the decision to do so has come at great personal cost, requiring, for example, her family to leave their home and live in secret locations, with guards.

It wasn’t enough. Kavanaugh’s nomination will advance. I’m not surprised because I’ve stopped expecting men in power to do the right thing. It wasn’t about whether they believed her. It’s about whether they think women—and our bodies and our right to body autonomy—matter.

And our culture doesn’t think most women’s bodies matter, unless they’re actively growing a human being. Before we do that, we’re supposed to exist for male pleasure. After we do that, we’re supposed to look like we did before—like the whole baby thing never happened—as soon as possible. Men can age. They can move past their teenage bodies, shedding the bad decisions those bodies made while drunk or high like a snake’s skin. They can run towards their bright futures that apparently only get brighter with age and larger waistbands. Women are supposed to shrink, to fight to get their pre-baby body back, to freeze in time.

I wrote about campus rape a few years ago, and one survivor, the incredible Loretta Ross, told me that in the decades following the three rapes she experienced as a teenager, she quite deliberately binged and used drugs to cope with her trauma. “I visited my trauma on my body,” she said. “It was suicide through cigarettes and food.” It was also protection. Being young and thin had made her body vulnerable, a target. She needed to feel safe.

We don’t talk enough about the link between diet culture and rape culture. But when we wonder how the actions of Brett Kavanaugh and so many others went unreported, why his defenders are so quick to say he can’t be held responsible for a drunken teenage mistake, why we condone this kind of extreme abuse of women’s bodies… I think we need to look at the industries that profit by telling women to weaponize food and attack ourselves. Diets normalize the idea that women’s bodies are objects to control and manipulate.

“I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one’s pawn,” Dr. Blasey said yesterday. Maybe it was a suicide mission. Certainly, it was more than we should ever ask of another human being. But it was also a survivor reclaiming her body. 

If she can do it, we can too.


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    The Eating Insinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America by Virginia Sole Smith

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