Several years ago I worked briefly on a film with actor Melanie Griffith. I dealt with her nearly every day and we bonded – she liked my sense of humor, my Kiwi lack of sycophancy, and NZ films, about which we talked a lot.
In particular she loved “Whale Rider” and she was impressed that I knew the director. (Melanie Griffith could, of course, contact that director in a heartbeat. I found it sweet, though perhaps slightly disingenuous, that she was impressed by that.)
But here’s the best thing she ever said to me: she told me one day that from the moment she saw me, I had reminded her of a younger version of her mother. Her mother, Tippi Hedren, people.
As you can imagine this was pretty flattering. Sometimes still I look in the mirror and search for similarities between me and Tips (as I call her). I don’t really see it.
But it has also made me alert to mentions of Tippi, and last week I heard her interviewed on NPR about her new memoir. She talked a lot about her abusive relationship with Alfred Hitchcock – he was obsessed with her, and did things that were chilling and frightening.
In particular, she was asked about the time they were in a car together, when the abuse went beyond words and into actual assault. She laughed and said “Well, I wouldn’t really call it assault.” Reading about it later I discovered it was, actually, assault.
And there it was – the female propensity to excuse and diminish our assaults so as not to rock the boat or create a scene. My heart went out to her. He was one of the most powerful men in the business, and she was in thrall to him, contractually, physically and, no doubt, emotionally.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m a rape survivor. Many of us are. It happened to me for the last time twenty years ago, which is ages, I’m sure you’ll agree.
And sometimes it’s yesterday. Not so much in terms of the manifestations of trauma, or the way I would think of it every single day at least once – thankfully those effects have faded. It’s more like a vicious guard dog you believe you’ve tamed and which you think is peacefully sleeping, only to feel hot breath on your neck and a deep, ominous growl in your ear.
This is what happened a few weeks ago when I heard about our President-elect’s Access Hollywood tape – you know the one I mean. Of course I was horrified from the first hearing, but it was only later that it really sank in and began to feel very personal and painful. I made no comment on it at all. I could not find my voice – ironic for one who works with others on that exact thing.
So why was I silenced, and by what?
Several things: how deeply and profoundly disheartening it is that THIS is still where we are. Did you see the ten of millions of posts on Kelly Oxford’s Twitter feed by women recounting their first sexual assault? This is where we are.
The tedium of it all; PTSD and trauma are unrelentingly dull and stultifying, friends, for the victim. The effect of sexual assault on the soul and psyche, after the anxiety and panic diminish, eventually turns to numbness and tedium. The joy and delight one has felt in life departs, leaving only bleakness. It’s not somewhere anyone would return to willingly.
Fragility, real and perceived. Yes, sometimes when I am triggered, which is VERY rare, I feel fragile and I must, and do, prioritize self-care. But I am not a shrinking violet or a breakable china doll. I am tough as an old boot and I can be trusted 100% to care for myself. Others may feel they must take that role, but it’s not the case..
Recovery-shaming – there are those among my acquaintance who might want to tell me a full recovery is possible, and I don’t disbelieve that. I am, however, where I am, and I am fiercely proud of myself. I will not have the trajectory of my recovery shamed or, actually, even commented on.
Along with all of this, the questions are asked ALL the time: Why don’t women report more? Why do they resist telling their story? Why don’t they want to be labeled victim or survivor?
Here’s what happens: We apologize for being assaulted. We apologize for making a fuss about our assault because another woman’s assault was worse. We feel we shouldn’t cause a scene. And we are not wrong in all this. Because yes, we will be judged for it. We will be told we can’t take a joke or we’re making too big a deal of it or it was just done in fun.
Or we’ll be told it’s distasteful, it’s a downer, it’s too horrible to think about. It’s a conversation killer. So we protect the delicacy and fragility of others and hold it inside, where it festers.
It took Tippi over 50 years to publicly acknowledge that this happened and, when she did, Hitchcock biographers said they doubted her claims. What a surprise. I wonder why they think she talked about it now? For fame and fortune? She has those. For revenge on someone long-dead? Ridiculous.
Here’s why she told Variety she spoke up: “I wanted to let women, especially young women, know never to allow that kind of approach and to be forceful in telling people you’re not interested in having that kind of a relationship. It’s not a bad thing to say no.”
So here’s the thing, dear people – it’s so important to talk about it, to someone. I am part of a Facebook group of survivors and the trauma and pain I see in the posts there are truly heartbreaking to see. It is SO important to talk about it – you do not have to go through this alone.
We can and do support and affirm one another, and, as for me – I believe you. Find your voice, and use it in service of your own recovery and wholeness. Tippi would want you to.