We Are Teaching Women To Abandon Each Other

Drawing by Virginia Suardi

Drawing by Virginia Suardi

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger

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Last Saturday, I was on the train, inadvertently eavesdropping on the two women in front of me. They were discussing the accusations of rape against internationally famous soccer player, Cristiano Ronaldo. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” said one of them, skepticism clear in her voice. “I read her account. I just-I honestly don’t know. I don’t want to turn on him, you know?”

I read her account too. I read her mother’s. Kathryn Mayorga was twenty-five when the alleged rape occurred. She quit her job as a primary school teacher, she stayed inside because seeing his face, plastered on billboards everywhere, terrified her. It is one of the most telling admissions I’ve ever read, simple, open: Mayorga was wrecked by the assault.

For women, the tumultuous process of coming forward about experiencing an act of sexual aggression does not end with the declaration itself. Like an earthquake, the aftermath is often the most impactful part of it all.

It’s no secret that we are pitted against each other since birth, learning to walk in the perceived shadows of other women, wanting what is out of our reach and firmly within their grasp. This so-called ‘phenomena’ of women turning against each other has been discussed in varying tones: cajolingly, by male comedians, mockingly, in the mouth of the bitter men, self righteously, by newly minted feminists, proud of their imagined fidelity to their gender.

Whether the blame is placed on ‘women’ as a whole, in that casual masculine way, women, am I right?, or on ‘those women,’ the separation is clear. This divide is seen as something that these women have done to themselves, not something they’ve been taught.

This old, familiar burden is beginning to lighten in that respect, with a deliberate slowness. Marital rape became illegal in the ‘90s, which started to limit the things women could be blamed for, in courts and in households. The existence of a relationship is not used (as blatantly) as an expectation for sex, although the ghost of the joke: why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? still presents itself at times, in men’s frustration at the absence of satisfaction they’ve decided they deserve, most recently, in a story a woman shared online, confused about why her husband of two years had sent her an excel spreadsheet documenting all the times she’d refused to have sex with him.

Maybe I am overzealous in my belief in these women. I sincerely doubt it. What alludes me is the protection given to the accused at the expense of the accuser. What protection does Ronaldo, who is rich and male enough to never have this impact him in any truly destructive way, deserve? Why are we taught doubt, and mercy for men to whom it is of no consequence? Why are we simultaneously taught the opposite with women? How can we be expected to be so forgiving and so ruthless all at once?

We’ve all grown up with boys who’ve grown into rapists. There have always been women who cannot separate the boy they knew from the boy who drugs their friends, or molests them when they’re drunk. While in every situation there is a choice, and there are few things as wholly cruel as the collective abandonment of a victimized woman by those who swore they never would – the tradition of it must be considered.

The desperation for a husband that the women before us had, that we mock so casually, emerged from seeking protection. It was a way to escape the life you had, and make a new one. The choices we have are relatively new. Divorce is much younger than rape. This is ingrained – this fear that if we turn on the men in our lives, the men we’ve chosen, on behalf of the women, that we will be left with nothing. We are taught to value the attention and so-called protection of men much more than the solace we find with women.  As we learn, as young women, to navigate these poisonous waters, we must remind ourselves to think less of what the men who we open our mouths to defend could lose and begin to consider what the women we are turning our backs on have already lost.