My Own Tambourine

Over, under, around, and through. I’ve approached this post from so many angles. And I’ve dodged it. There’s anger. There’s fear. There’s denial of its true import. But I’ve been unable to write for weeks now because I can’t wrap my head around anything else. I’ve been watching the emergence and the antics of the Tambourine Army and I have cried. It started sometime last year when I clicked on the trending #lifeinleggings and found myself a crying mess in the darkness of my room. Why is this our reality? Why are we constantly bombarded with unwanted sexual contact? Why don’t we have the right to say ‘no’? No I don’t want to. No I’m not attracted to you. No I’m not ready for sex. No I don’t want you to touch me. No. No. NO! Why must we scream ‘no’? Why must we cry ‘no’?

There are some who understand what is happening. They might not agree with it, but they understand it. For the people who still think that what is transpiring is too crass, too loud, too vulgar, let’s talk. I am disinclined to take up the tambourine. But I understand why it is necessary. I am disinclined to add to the #saytheirnames movement, but I understand why that action is important. The silence has been deafening. It has empowered the abusers for far too long.

There are those who truly do not comprehend the scope of sexual abuse. There are those who still believe that rape can only be a violent act that leaves a woman horribly scarred and battered and unable to function as a human being again. There are those who believe that rape is a linear thing, with the narrowest of definitions and context. It is not. It never has been. It never will be. And when you live in a society where you are viewed as weak, as property, as less, sexual abuse and rape become as common as breathing. Statutory rape is rape. Non-consensual sex is rape. A non-consensual action within a sexual encounter is rape. Exploiting someone’s need, want, ambition or situation for sex is rape. Intimidating someone or threatening them with harm in order to force them to consent to sex is rape. Taking away someone’s ability to decline is rape. Men can be raped. How and why we are still debating this in the 21st century is beyond me.

I’m 5 feet 2 inches short. My height and body type are a disadvantage. Not because I wanted to be a supermodel or anything, but because I’ve long endured the intimidation of men who feel empowered by my stature, to grab me, crowd me, lift me up, put their hands on me without my permission. My first unwanted sexual contact occurred when I was 10 years old. It’s not something you forget. It’s not something you put aside and dismiss. It colours my interaction with all males to this day. I know that I must be conscious of my surroundings at all times, that I must be cognizant of who is watching me, that I must be wary of who is approaching me. It pisses me off that I have to think twice about where I go, who I go with, how I dress, what I drink, what I say, how I act, for fear that it be ‘misconstrued’ as an invitation. And while I will not say his name, I have moved on from the absolute horror of what I had dismissed as an unfortunate incident, what I had downplayed as a selfish act, that I, to this day still find it hard to classify as exactly what it was, rape.

The manner in which I chose to deal with it is a reflection of many factors: my personality, the way in which I typically deal with conflict, my perception of the act, the context in which it occurred, the perpetrator and my own personal method of handling trauma. So when I hear people trying to silence the Tambourine Army I am offended. As a survivor who chose a different coping mechanism I can still understand the reason for the stance that has been taken. Each activist, each survivor has chosen her method. Each supporter has chosen their platform. In this instance, it is as crass and loud and vulgar and offensive as the act it has targeted. It is fire fighting fire for the first time in my lifetime and while their methods are not mine, I will lend my voice in support because nothing so far has worked. It is frustrating, disheartening, terrifying and yes, angering to live in a society that does not protect you. To see that anger now manifesting itself as a movement is inspiring and comforting. There may be some in denial. But ‘no’ is, always has been and always will be ‘no’.

No law, no order, no mechanism of polite society is protecting our young girls and women from the males who feel that they are entitled to take: take our innocence, take our virginity, take our bodies, take our lives. Our children are assaulted and exploited, then they are shamed and marginalized. Do not try to silence the tambourine because you do not like its sound, because it is too loud for you, because you find its tune discordant. If it is not your song, do not sing it, but do not try to silence it either simply because you do not agree or cannot relate. This movement is as unique as the individual experiences that fuel it. It is as personal as each experience that lit the spark in each survivor who has chosen to join it. How many lives have been ruined? How many aspirations derailed? How many bright, beautiful lights dimmed or extinguished? How much more should we accept before we rise up and scream ‘NO’ before the act and not during?

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