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Because It's Not Just Me

Carmen Ibrahim got in touch with me last week after reading several #YesAllWomen stories. She wanted to share hers too. And I’m so glad she did. (Carmen has requested that those who know her personally not share this post on Facebook, though Twitter is fair game.)

(content warning: mention of rape/assault)

I first saw #YesAllWomen in a tweet by Sarah Bessey, urging people to read the conversation unfolding through that hashtag. She is someone I immensely respect and admire, so I did. And it felt like entering sacred ground. Women were sharing their stories of harassment, abuse, rape, and fear. It was Saturday night in Lebanon when I first stumbled upon the conversation, so I went and got my dinner, and I sat down in front of the computer screen for the rest of the night and just read testimony after testimony, my heart getting heavier by the minute but rejoicing at the same time: It’s not just me, it’s not just me!

With each tweet, memories of things that had happened to me flooded through the gates that had kept them locked away in a safe corner of my soul. I am not ashamed of these things that have happened to me, but I’ve started to see people’s eyes glaze over or shift away to the side or down to their hands whenever I spoke of them. I began to recognize that they did not want me to speak of these uncomfortable stories that made them cringe; they stopped listening to me, they stopped looking at me. So I pushed these stories all into a safe little box.

But when I remembered all these things this weekend, I couldn’t forget them anymore. Not when what I knew in my heart was laid out bare for all to see: it wasn’t just me, it was women all over the world. It couldn’t be ignored anymore. And when I read blog posts by people sharing their stories in more detail, I thought to myself, I wish I could do that. I wish I could be that brave. But I feared being judged, and I feared being silenced by those I already knew. How would they look at me when they saw me face to face? Some of them already made me feel bad for being a feminist, as if it was somehow unbiblical.

I guess I still am afraid. But this needs to be said, the light is already shining through those dark places in my heart, and I can’t stop it. I don’t want to. Yet, I don’t know which story to share; there are too many. Do I talk about the time I was ten, and I was at school, when the bell rang in the middle of a fight I was having with a classmate, but we didn’t stop exchanging words, and soon the playground was empty, which was when he told me that if I didn’t shut up, he would rape me? I didn’t know what rape was at the time, but I knew by the look on his face that it was something very, very terrible. My knees shook, and the color drained from my face; he laughed at me and walked away. He was in my class for the next eight years.

Or do I tell the story of when I was twelve, going home after school, only to hear my mother being informed by our neighbor that a man had come up to her car as she was about to get out, dropped his pants, and proceeded to masturbate? There was no one around, she slammed the door back when she saw him coming, locked the doors, and looked down at the floor, too scared to even think about honking the horn to attract the attention of someone nearby. He had left a few minutes before we arrived, and I began to be very aware that the world was a dangerous place.

Or how about the time I was sixteen and someone I trusted violated that trust by getting me in a car, parking in a secluded area I didn’t recognize, and forcing me to watch porn videos on his phone because I needed to learn how that stuff worked, you know, for the future? I was terrified, in a place I didn’t know very well, with no other way of getting home. So I sat there until he was done educating me and took me home. And when I went to seek counseling from someone who claimed to be a Christian for all of this when I was twenty, she asked me what I’d done to encourage this particular incident. I never went back.

Oh, but what about the time I was eighteen and at a friend’s birthday party, and I was distracted by a conversation with someone and let someone else pour me my second drink? [There’s no drinking age in Lebanon and I had my first beer at fifteen in the presence of my parents.] I had completely forgotten about my mother’s pleas not to let my drink out of my sight. To this day, I am not quite sure whether or not I was drugged, but I must have been, because why otherwise would I have been missing things I reached for after only two drinks? Thankfully, my friend noticed, sat me down, bought me a large bottle of water, and stayed with me until a cab came to pick me up.

And the time that twenty eight year old Myriam Al-Ashkar was found murdered in a monastery in my city, Jounieh, naked from the waist down, in 2011? She was me, she was all of us. Instead of properly mourning her death and the circumstances surrounding it, people were asking why she had gone to the monastery so late at night, by herself. And politicians latched on to the fact that her rapist and murderer was Syrian, and used her tragic death as a ploy in their twisted power struggles. I think that must have been the day I began to be wary of all men.

There are a lot of wonderful men in my life, all good friends that I now trust. But there’s wariness there at the beginning of each friendship with each man, wariness that I don’t have with my female friends. And until all men are taught proper boundaries and respect, that no, you are not allowed to take or abuse or comment on that which is not yours, I will still have to take measures to protect myself, each and every day.

Thank you for reading my story. Keep sharing yours, lovelies. Keep shining the light.

Follow Carmen on Twitter: @ibrahimcarmen 

[ image: YoungDoo Moon ]

published June 2, 2014

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