How do you share your painful past in #MeToo era?

A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom: Truth rests mostly with God, and a little with me.

Dear Helen:

This may seem a strange place for a confession, but I was raped in high school. Assume a bad combination of cheerleader, football team and beer in a culture where “rocking the boat” by a young woman was perceived as worse than rape by a young man. I didn’t tell anyone then and gave no reason for why I stopped all extracurricular activities. I wonder what my mother suspected, but she has died and I cannot ask her.

My daughter, who says, “We live in a world that has moved beyond feminism,” just told me she wants to switch from gymnastics to cheering. I am so conflicted about telling her and also my loving husband, who has been my one and only. The Me Too movement has unleashed many stories, but reality suggests “The Handmaid’s Tale” is moving to more than fiction. What to say, when, how and to whom?

A Little Broken

 

Dear Broken:

I am so sorry. Even knowing how many women have had similar experiences is not a balm. But it is a start. I think both your daughter and husband could be hurt in different ways by your continued silence. Honesty is the only path forward for us, individually and as a society. Sadly, the “don’t rock the boat” culture is many millennia old. But there’s no evidence that any society grounded in secrecy and suppression of truth or human rights can manifest true social good. Change begins within – and at home.

Start by talking to your husband. He’ll be angrier with the rapist(s) for their actions than at you for any silence. Also talk to a trauma specialist, both to help with your own shame or internalized guilt and to prepare you for sharing your cautionary tale with your daughter. You should have two goals for the conversation: upping her street smarts and letting her know there is nothing she cannot talk to you about, no matter how bad or scary. After you’ve spoken to her (whether that’s alone, with your husband or with your counselor), create a regular check-in system to discuss the struggles of being a teenager. There may be a local support group for mothers and daughters you can go to, or perhaps you can start one in your synagogue or among friends. The girls will probably start out hating it. But persist nevertheless, because some of the messages will get in. As for our “post-feminist world,” she will learn about that as she moves on to college and work.

 

Dear Helen:  

I joined a “biggest loser” group through a friend on Facebook. We were each supposed to post a picture of our feet on a digital scale with the weight showing and send a $20 ante to the coordinator. (It is a private group, so no one else can see the pictures.) The pot will be split based on percentage lost, not raw pounds. I was honest and did what I always do: weigh myself in the morning after I poop and before my coffee. I was at the coordinator’s office and overheard two of her coworkers joking about how they’d weighed themselves at night, each holding the family dog. Now I am angry. Not enough to want my money back, because I do want incentive to drop holiday pounds, but enough to blow the whistle on cheaters. Should I be gracious or self-righteous?

Chubby but Honest

 

Dear Honest:

I think it’s worth saying something to the coordinator and asking her to address the group. I think it’s unlikely that anyone who’d cheat to win a couple hundred dollars will come forward and repost a true weight. But some accountability would be nice. Perhaps the organizer should say that final weigh-in pics should be taken under the same conditions as the original and give examples.

Most importantly, do your best for yourself. That’s what it’s really about. And hope whoever wins your money is both honest and healthier.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen Rosenau is a member of Temple Beth Israel. She’s a writer (yourjewishfairygodmother.com, themessyjoys.com) and an artist (kabbalahglass.com). Read her new book The Messy Joys of Being Human: A Guide to Risking Change and Becoming Happier.

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