There’s a question we frequently ask of survivors: why did this person say silent so long? It’s a loaded question that presumes that anyone carrying that amount of weight would have no choice but to lay it down. It presumes the world is wide open to hear, and when they hear, they will listen, and when they listen, the pain will be relieved, justice will be served, and all will be well again.
But we do not live in that world and survivors are smart enough to know that. I hope one day we do, or even that one day we live in a world where there is no silence to break. But until then, I think we’re asking the wrong question. You know what we should be asking?
What finally gave you the courage to speak?
Do you want this world to heal? Then you have not even begun. First, you have to listen to a couple billion stories. No, really. If the world has 7.6 billion people, and we know just over half of those people are women, and at least half of those women (and a significant number of those men) have been harassed or assaulted, then you have a couple billion stories to listen to.
How many have you heard? 25? 10? Has anyone ever told you their story?
Let me be clear about something: stories are a part of us, and we owe them to no one. Stories of assault and harassment feel especially sacred because something was already taken from us, we have already lost control, and we are therefore even more petrified to speak. The world has shown us over and over again that they are closed off to the truth, that they would prefer to hear something more pleasant, and that if you force them to hear it, to really hear it, they will respond with shame and doubt.
So why, then, are so many women brave enough to speak?
We are brave because we know we are not alone. We are brave because we know we are not the first or the last. We are brave because we know the weight of silence, and we want to lift that weight off the shoulders of our friends, off the shoulders of strangers. We are brave because it is difficult to breathe when our mouths are closed.
We are brave because someone told us of our worth. We are brave because we then told ourselves over and over again: you are enough. We are brave because it occurs to us that we are still here, and that, in itself, is miraculous.
We are brave because of the people we tell first, the ones who respond the right way, who tell us they are sorry and they are here and they will fight with us. We are brave because of the voices that say “we are with you” and “we believe you” and “you are brave.”
We are brave because some of us have lived through it more than once, and because we know the second time is harder, and we recognize that we are warriors. We are brave because we are fighting an invisible war, and we know those who don’t see it do not know that there’s a war to fight. We are brave because we need backup and we know our stories rally troops.
We are brave because someone was brave for us: someone told us what happened to them. We are brave for the daughters who do not yet exist and for the grandmothers who died before they could speak.
We are brave because we know the worst the world has to offer and we have decided to keep walking through it. We are brave because we know our bravery lights a candle. We are brave so you have a way through it, too.