I speak to people all over the country about sexual assault and relationship violence, and what we can do to stop it. I speak a lot about empowering women and girls and helping survivors heal after trauma. I share the fact that our culture often teaches men to be powerful, while teaching women to give their power away. In a recent training, a woman said that girls seem to disappear when they hit puberty and don’t reemerge until their 50s, if at all. Sadly, I believe she’s absolutely right.
I believe I disappeared when I was five years old – the first time my step-grandfather snuck into my bedroom to sexually abuse me. Over the next ten years, I stayed invisible, and silent. I knew no one would believe me. His threats to hurt me or my family, his tactics to keep me scared and silent were pointless. I did not tell anyone, not because I was afraid, but because I knew I was invisible. I believed I had no right to be seen or heard. I believed that I did not matter. So, I faded away.
I was still invisible when, as a 17-year-old college freshman, several men in their 20s attempted to rape me at a party. And I was invisible years later in relationships, when I would apologize for my boundaries, and put my partner’s needs above my own.
I did not exist. I was merely a shadow of those who had hurt me, and those I thought I needed to be worthy, to matter.
Sure, I was a feminist. I believed in the collective power and worthiness of all women. Yet, I did not believe in my own.
And now, in my mid-30s, with a career dedicated to empowering women, I am finally learning to reemerge. I am learning because I have seen the devastation of being invisible, and refuse to pass this legacy on to my daughter – to any of our daughters.
My daughter is 14-years-old. I see her standing proudly, as a feminist and an activist. Yet at times, I see her questioning her own voice, and wondering if she should back down. And each time, I tell her to stand proudly and speak loudly. I have taught her to be confident, to be strong, and to be seen. I have taught her that I believe in her, and that she should always, above all, believe in herself. But, I have failed to show her the most important lesson – that I believe in myself, as well.
How can she ever let herself be seen and heard if I haven’t shown her that I will do the same? There are many in this world who will try to make her transparent – to turn her away from her power. But she must be seen, because we need her. The world needs her. Just as she, and the world, needs me.
And as I’m traveling the country meeting women who have also survived unspeakable traumas, I tell them that they are not alone, that I believe them, and that they matter. It’s time I start hearing my own lessons.
I refuse to disappear because my daughter – and all young women – needs to see women who are not afraid to be seen and heard. We have attempted to teach them their value while still denying our own, which simply will not work. It is time to reemerge.
I refuse to disappear. Because I matter. As do we all.
About the author: Pamela Jacobs is an attorney, speaker, survivor, and activist working to end sexual assault and domestic violence. You can find her at pamelajacobs.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/pamelajacobsconsulting, and on Twitter @PSBJacobs.