Last year, I met a woman who was completely aghast at my openness. She asked me how I would feel if my headteacher knew about my past, about the fact I'd been raped, about my pregnancies and miscarriages. She obviously thought that I'd be terrified by the idea of anyone knowing, especially my headteacher. I wasn't, particularly. Though I wouldn't have gone out of my way to share this blog or my experience, I wasn't ashamed of it, much to this woman's surprise.
You see, this woman thought that being raped is something I should hide. She told me that by speaking openly about it, I'm bringing the organisations I work with into disrepute, that I was unfit to be working with young people. She told me that groups didn't need the stigma of people like me, that sort of woman, like it was my fault, like I had attracted trouble and I should feel guilty.
I don't blame this woman for her views, any more than I blame the organisation that she represents. She is, unfortunately, a victim herself - a victim of societal misconceptions about gender inequality and abuse. She has spent so long believing myths of culpability that violence has become something that her truth has become warped. Views like this need to be challenged, and I still feel a sense of disgust that it has taken me so long to address it, but they also need to be tackled in a way that is respectful of the framework and experiences that have shaped the viewpoint in the first place. We are trying to change minds, not destroy people.
But this post isn't about that incident or that woman, not directly. It's to do with what she said.
As I've said in a previous post, I'm lucky enough to be working in a school that I love, and I've been there since January. This half term, my induction reports from my first two terms finally arrived from my previous authority, and I was asked into the headteacher's office.
"But these are not at all reflective of what we've seen here," she commented on the reports, quoting choice sections that made me cringe. "What's changed? Why did you struggle so much?"
I don't quite know what made me be so honest, but I was. I sat there and told her that I should never have trained when I did, that I was fighting back against what happened to me, that I've had counselling since and started building up that relationship with myself again.
She asked questions - lots of questions - and I answered every one of them, fully and honestly. By the end of the meeting, I was broken and shaking, but she knew the whole situation. She thanked me for sharing and told me that it really helped her - it meant that she understood and she had enough context that she could support me and fight my corner if it was needed.
When I was interviewed for a proper contract (rather than the supply I'm currently doing), I was also open about what I do, that I blog about gender inequality, violence against women, that I have run workshops on the subject, that I write articles, go on marches and other bits. I never for a moment thought that I would be judged.
I have been discussing what we can do to support those who have experienced VAWG, both staff members and children. My experience, my past, it's all valued rather than dismissed or swept under the carpet. It's not something that comes up every day or something that is at the forefront, but it is acknowledged when appropriate. I'm free to be myself and not just a sanitised facade that threatens to crack over time.
If we accept the experiences of others and support them, we can lift them up and help them reach their full potential. By forcing them to hide their true selves or aspects of that, we are putting pressure on them and forcing them down until they break.
Sadly, I know that I am in the minority, being in an environment that does support and embrace me for who I am. But we need to take this model and encourage it. Not so that every woman has to share their experience, but so no woman has to live in fear of it "coming out".