My state of predestined misery

Lilian Chirambadare
Posted April 20, 2015 from Zimbabwe

What is it that I could have done differently? Should I have worn fuller skirts, should I have not worn the hipsters that were all the rage, should I have gone on a diet so that my ample behind did not show so much, should I have smiled less brightly, should I have avoided conversation with him, should I have been invisible, should my father never have died? Should he have left me a trust fund that would allow me to be self-sufficient and never lack? Should I never have gone to live with them in the first place? So many questions haunt me and I have no answer as to why he sexually molested me.

I remember standing outside of myself and wondering how I should respond to his sexual advances, his clammy hands clawing me, the lewd sexual innuendos directed at me, the leery looks cast above my aunt’s head as we sat at the dinner table…. He was after all my guardian following my father’s death. I wondered if he felt, and whether or not he was actually entitled to the fringe benefits accruing to him by mere fact of his having sent me to school, having provided me with a roof over my head and food in my stomach.

I had options: I could play along just so I could be out of harm’s way and not ruffle feathers unnecessarily. I could report him to my aunt whereupon I would put an end to his predation of me even though it meant destroying their marriage and alienating me from the people who provided a roof over my head. I could report him to the police and risk alienating myself from the bigger family by taking matters into my own hands; the matter’s resolution which, by cultural right belonged to vanababa vemhuri yangu, my uncles (who by this time knew about this predation but had chosen to let the matter rest- it was more important that I finish my school with a roof over my head and meanwhile I needed to do whatever It took to protect myself from this man in HIS house).

My aunt was willing to forgive him this one transgression among innumerable indiscretions he committed against her but she was unwilling to disbelieve him when he told her I lied about his molestation of me even though it was not the first time he had sexually molested someone, having molested a maid once before. Doing so would shatter the perfectly embroidered lie of their marriage and depreciate her standing among her church peers. She herself had suffered sexual abuse at a young age and I felt she should have known better about the trauma which I had gone through, her condemnation of me only made things worse and made me believe at that point that this was truly bigger than myself, that I could not do anything about it.

I found myself being judged along the lines of the perpetuated purity myth that places the emphasis on women having to remain chaste; conflating abstinence with responsibility and the construction of a good girl paradigm. My case was judged too, along the lines of the myth of male weakness which suggests that all men are cavemen; brutish and hyper-sexual, that their civility is a mist which can evaporate at any time. They suggested that men, driven by the irresistible forces of the Y chromosome and testosterone, are to be applauded for even the most half-hearted efforts at self-restraint. For some reason their ‘inherent’ vulnerability to temptation and their concomitant single-mindedness, suggested that, after all had been said and done, it was my job to protect him from himself.

I remember all too vividly the shame I felt when I shouldn’t have felt shame. The horrible guilt I felt when I should not have felt guilty. Feeling like I owed it to the both of them to keep them together, that I owed it to my family to forget my own pain because it was more important to recognise the collective good that would be the result of my shutting up. I was socialised to think in terms of the collective, never mind the individual harm caused, but it grated with me that the very system ostensibly designed to protect me, patriarchy, was working to stifle the very life out of me.

When sexual abuse happens to women I will them with everything that is in me to fight using the law at their disposal but I am aware that the same law was available to me then as it is now but I have not used it to bring the perpetrator to book. So many factors inform my decision, least of which is that I will let sleeping dogs lie, reliving the trauma is not something I particularly relish doing. I imagine that there are plenty of women like myself who have been faced with the same dilemma and have not done as justice would have them do because there are so many other factors to consider other than merely bringing the perpetrators of their violence to book.

My notions of what women need to be secure are informed by such things as I have first-hand knowledge. I envision a world where women do not have to apologise for being women as I had to and still continue to do. I hope that someday, the family, so highly esteemed in our social structures, will protect women and young girls and stop apologising for men where they have wronged women. I hope that someday women shall rise and cease to live in a state of predestined misery.

The Path to Participation Initiative from World Pulse and No Ceilings

Comments 12

Log in or register to post comments
OMagdalena
Apr 21, 2015
Apr 21, 2015

Thank you Lee for sharing this. It needs a lot of courage for a person to describe a strory in such dramatic details and share all the feelings that you have gone through. I support you and I also hope that one day the women will be protected as they should be!

All the best,

Magdalena

Lilian Chirambadare
Apr 24, 2015
Apr 24, 2015

Thank you Magdalena!

Sahar
Apr 21, 2015
Apr 21, 2015

Hello Lee,

Thank you for sharing such a powerful personal story.  

This story would be great to submit to the Path to Participation initiative World Pulse just launched in partnership with No Ceilings of the Clinton Foundation!

Over the course of a month, until May 14th, World Pulse and No Ceilings are crowdsourcing stories in response to No Ceilings' recently released report on the status of women around the world. Community members will be sharing their stories and solutions on the topics of gender-based violence, girls' education, and health. 

Learn more about this initiative and submit your story here: http://bit.ly/1OCeluI

I highly encourage you to submit your story!

Thanks again,

Sahar

Lilian Chirambadare
Apr 24, 2015
Apr 24, 2015

Thank you Sahar. Let me do that :-)

amymorros
Apr 25, 2015
Apr 25, 2015

Thank you for sharing your story with World Pulse. It is powerful and very moving. I understand the act of questioning and I often do this in my own life (about my previous actions, about what I could have done differently), although it is not comparable to sexual molestation. 

I wish you the best in your journey and hope that people's attitudes and unwillingness to believe women changes. It happens all over the world. I recently heard a story on the radio about the prevalence of sexual assault and rape on US college campuses and how woman are often blamed and mistrusted (even by other woman). We must do better! 

Lilian Chirambadare
May 01, 2015
May 01, 2015

Thank you Amy. Together we can create safe spaces for women to speak up about sexual abuse

Kadidia Doumbia
Apr 28, 2015
Apr 28, 2015

Lee,

Thank you for this honest testimony. The society is leaving women behind as we have to fight for our basic rights and also we're expected to keep quiet about violations and that with the complicity of other women.

If more women try to be strong enough, and you're a perfect example, then we all may start experiencing some changes, at last.

Stay the way you are and it is a pleasure to have yout in the Worldpulse family.

Lilian Chirambadare
May 01, 2015
May 01, 2015

Thank you Kadidia

Erena Bayessa
May 04, 2015
May 04, 2015

Dear Lee, Warmest Greetings Thank you so much for speaking out againt this injustice in such way. You are really a role model for women of our communities who experiences various types of voilences, but still remain silent. This not only your problem, but it everones problem in a given community across the globe both male and female, therefore, we need to join our power together against all forms of voilenes against women in our respective community untill we will be able to ensure gender balanced power, equality of women and men of every community. Thank you for taking the initiative of speaking out the problem through your story. I would love to join my power with you in this effort of speaking out against the injustice. No doubt, this will reasult to change of balanced power, equality and equity between women and men . I am sure achieveing the balanced power between men and women will benefit all : family, groups, community, society and the broad world . Thank you so much!

Netsai Nomhle
May 12, 2015
May 12, 2015

I hope that someday women shall rise and cease to live in a state of predestined misery. I loved that statement Lee.  Your piece was well articulated.  My "It starts with me Campaign" is my hope for women to begin owning their struggle.  The wounds are ours, we need to heal.  

Makhucher
Jun 03, 2015
Jun 03, 2015

emotive and well written Lee! I hope and live for a time where children will not be manipulated by the very people who are meant to protect them 

Lilian Chirambadare
Jun 04, 2015
Jun 04, 2015

Thanks Cher! I am in a better space now