Penelope Trunk is one of my favorite bloggers. I read her blog religiously. She writes career advice for the young generation in the new workplace. Shes a PR genius, and holds nothing back about herself. She’s smart, honest, and totally addicting.
Recently, she tweeted a comment that caused an uproar in the media world, as well as severe backlash among readers, which made headlines on such powerhouse news networks as CNN, ABC and AOL. This was her tweet:
“I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.”
In response to the uproar, she posted this blog to defend her tweet on this topic, to which she says “That it is such a common occurrence and no one thinks it’s okay to talk about is terrible for women.” This blog post has received 701 comments (so far) in response. Some are outraged responses at her casual mention of having a miscarriage at work- which they consider to be inappropriate and TMI, some are furious about her flippant attitude about seeking an abortion, and others defend her courage to talk about real things women are going through that no one else talks about.
I’m not here to talk about her blog post, but this got me thinking. There are a handful of emotional, highly controversial social issues that are really important to me, personally. They’re all way more common than most people want to believe, but they aren’t being talked about. From miscarriages, to abortions, to domestic violence, to childhood sexual abuse.. it’s unnerving to realize that all of these are heavily women’s issues. This is not to say, by the way, that I am ignorant enough to believe that only women are victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse- but largly, the majority of those affected here are women.
Statistics back this up, although these issues in particular are difficult to get firm numbers for, because a majority of cases are never reported. Especially when it comes to domestic violence or childhood sexual abuse. Because.. no one talks about them.
In Forward, 1993 it was estimated that there were 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America at the time. And that was 16 years ago. The majority of childhood sexual abuse victims are under age 12.
In 2003, the National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control said that an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assult by an intimate partner each year. A 2006 poll by the Allstate Foundation states that nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is, or has been a victim of domestic violence.
From 1967 to September 2008, there were approximately 50,200,000 abortions performed in the United States. The Alan Guttmacher Institutes reported in 2008 that roughly one third of women will have an abortion during their reproductive lifetime.
We are talking about millions of women who have shared experiences with these topics – so why aren’t more women talking about them??
Because of the social stigma, of course. That keeps those involved under a shadow of shame and guilt. Sharing human experiences should be empowering, but this stigma instead creates a feeling of being publicly victimized. Why the stigma? How did we get to a place where such hugely common topics are so clouded with ignorance? How does this evolve?
BECAUSE NO ONE HAS BEEN TALKING ABOUT THEM!
I applaud Penelope for opening up the conversation. We need to start talking. I’m going to tell you why. We have a responsibility. To ourselves, to other women, to our children, to our future generations to have a real platform for, and give a real voice to conversations. To sharing these experiences.
I’ve had a miscarriage as an adult. It happened the day after I found out I was actually pregnant. It was really early, just six weeks. Had I not gone to the doctor because I thought I was getting sick, I wouldn’t even have really known I was pregnant when it happened. I went to the doctor again, and confirmed what I already knew. Having spoke to friends about it after, I know there are other women who have had early term miscarriages and didn’t even realize it. I won’t go into detail about how you can know the difference, but there are ways (and if you are a woman, you know should about them!). My point is, those friends wouldn’t have known, and probably wouldn’t have seen a doctor to make sure they weren’t at risk for an infection- had we not spoke about my experience with it.
I’m also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It was a distant family member, but I never told anyone in my family about it. Until last year. Last year, the family found out that two of my older cousins (who are brother and sister) were also sexually abused by this same family member, when they were children. They just told their parents. When I heard, I spoke to my cousin about it. And then later, my Aunt. I wasn’t ready to tell my parents at the time, it was an extremely difficult and emotional time for my family. Which we will get to. But last month, I told my parents too, and I am relieved. And now, maybe, in the near future when emotions are settled (that’s a whole other blog post) we can have those honest conversations with the whole family.
As far as my cousins go, I understand why they never said anything to their family, after all- I had never said anything to mine either. It’s the stigma. The shame and the guilt that you feel even though you know you shouldn’t feel it. The victimization of it. My cousins’ experiences were a lot worse than mine. I empathize with them in a way that I never would have if we didn’t share this kind of experience. I understand them in a totally different way. And now we’re talking about it. I was fortunate, when I was younger, I had friends I spoke about it with. I also had friends with stories of their own, like mine. It took them years to tell their parents too. This happens to millions of children.
What if when, my cousins were little, there was no “that doesn’t get talked about” attitude? What if there were free and open conversation about this among families and friends. Why aren’t children given the opportunity to discuss it more? If they had, my cousin would have been long gone before he got to me. I don’t fault them, I would never, because I understand them. But, I want better than that for my children, and for all future generations.
We need to start talking.
Domestic Violence claimed the life of my sister, Angela last year. Angela had been a victim of her husband’s abuse for quite some time. But she would never admit to it. Even with a face full of bruises, she would claim she fell on the ice. There is the stigma of guilt and shame attached to women involved in domestic violence as well. So they don’t talk about it. I tried to get my sister to talk to me, but I did it in all the wrong ways, and she never would. I had recently moved out of town, and though I heard talk about it, I had no idea how serious the situation had been.
During the trial I heard stories of how bad it had been between them at various times throughout their relationship. A neighbor had seen him fling my sister into the street onto the ground while she was several months pregnant. He threatened her and made her call family members in the middle of the night asking to borrow money, because he needed to buy drugs. He hit her in front of other people, then acted like it didn’t happen. He choked her and threatened to kill her in public. He dragged her by the throat through their house while their newborn was in the apartment. There were lots of things.
No one ever talked about it though. The defense asked the witnesses why they didn’t call the police during those instances, and most of them testified that they just didn’t, they didn’t feel it was their business. Some that Angela had asked them not to, as that would only make it worse. So it didn’t get talked about.
You always feel like there was so much more you could have done, if you’d known. But we should know. We should have been talking about it, really talking about. Her friends should have been talking about it, we should have been able to make her feel like she could talk about it, with all of us. If we had all been that way from the start- things could have been different.
The social stigma, the “forbidden topics” have to end. Yes, people will disagree, yes they are emotional and controversial topics, but we need to get over it. And we need to learn how to deal with it effectively.
We aren’t talking. We need to start talking. And we need to start listening too. We need open, honest conversation. We need to try to create an atmosphere of support and non judgment. That acceptance comes from understanding, and THAT comes from conversation and shared experience.
So People, Ladies, Everyone. Please. Start talking.