Ramisa Rob: When solidarity proves most crucial

Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 6:22pm

For a group of 30 close-knit friends in my English medium school in Bangladesh, teenage pregnancy was not a taboo. Instead, it was abandonment and demonization from my boyfriend. It was inconsistent sympathy and ostracism from my friends. This dynamic serves as an example of the double standards that emerged in a growing feminist crowd, one that shied away from solidarity when I most needed it.

In ninth grade, I started dating the most “popular” boy in my class — the football (soccer) star. Everyone unconditionally sympathized with his alarming anger born from childhood trauma. Two days after I informed my boyfriend of my pregnancy scares, he broke up with me. Later, I walked into a local pharmacy full of judgmental male faces and bought two pregnancy tests. I took them that night at 4 a.m. The image of the plus sign remains my worst memory.

I immediately called my best friend and she offered to help out. When the news reached my ex-boyfriend, he ferociously threatened me. I countered with plans to release physical evidence, internalizing the fetus as my fault and my fault only. I eventually handled the situation with the help of my dad through a “black-market” in-clinic procedure. After skipping school for a week, I finally returned with heavy cramps and bleeding between my legs in my uniform. I expected my pain to end there, but I was surprised at what followed.

Vicious words against me had spread like cancer and my ex-boyfriend broadcasted that I had fabricated a pregnancy to trap him into getting back together with me. I still remember the excruciating pain I felt when I read a post on his Facebook wall. It was labeled “Psycho Rams” (a not-so-subtle nickname for myself) and he along with two women — individuals who now write about women’s empowerment — ‘liked’ the message. I still vividly remember the mortifying moment I learned that some of my friends, who knew of my misery before my abortion, had spent fun evenings high with him, even during the week where I was physically emptied and emotionally sliced open. Not only did they not support or believe me, but they were also indifferent to my pain.

I thought our friends, especially the girls, many of whom were vocal against sexism, would seriously condemn his actions and defend me. A handful of my close friends had warned him but were silenced by the majority of my classmates who disregarded my lifeline calls and excused him with their dangerously impenetrable soft spot. In other words, their favoritism towards my ex as both a man and the most popular boy of our school prevented them from acting against his malevolence, let alone even recognizing it.

When I voiced how betrayed I felt, I received sneaky jokes that indicated I was overreacting. Girls who declared themselves social justice warriors the following year — who now chide people for using “pussy” as a slang for coward — somehow failed to register that calling me dramatic snatched my slightest defense when I was most vulnerable. People’s insensitivity to my suffering exacerbated the trauma I was already burdened with. I felt as though hiding my sorrow was my only option to survive. Thus, months later, I pretended to enjoy social events with my friends, only to then go home and embark on a perilous journey of self-harm. I cried myself to sleep for a year, even after I left for boarding school.

Prior to starting college, many female friends, including those who didn’t support me at the time, emerged as radical feminists, organizing women’s marches and panels on women’s rights. By contrast, I refused to participate in feminist conversations because I witnessed the lack of sisterhood when I was harmed by a man in my friend group. And though almost six years have passed since the incident, few women friends have contacted me about it in seeking reflection. In conversations with some other female friends, if I ever slip my ex-boyfriend’s name, they nervously laugh or remain silent. I know some of them still venerate him. Only one female friend, the most outspoken feminist, who was also closest to my ex during the pregnancy, apologized to me — but only after she had fallen prey to one of his disrespectful deeds. She stated that “we were so stupid and young.”  

While I did appreciate her apology, I wasn’t and am still not seeking apologies because I understand that we make many dangerous mistakes when we are young and immature. But our ignorance must never justify our wrongs, especially when it threatens someone’s wellbeing. If we are going to march against widespread marginalization of victims in college, it is imperative to also consider circumstances of our youth when we deviated from the feminist values we now advocate for. We have to confront our past injustices in order to be genuinely supportive of women experiencing trauma in our current feminist spheres.

Another woman woefully revealed a few days ago that she mistrusted me last year when my ex uttered: “I never received solid proof of pregnancy.” I must note that he hypocritically lied to her, even after apologizing to me for willfully deserting me during the pregnancy. But even if he didn’t have evidence, the fact that a woman believed him over me just shows we often tend to side with the perpetrators and doubt the victims. It seems to be the norm that males, especially popular ones like my ex, easily gain our trust. But more often than not, they misuse this power to redeem themselves. In today’s world, we are quick to post “I believe her” when a woman speaks out on public hearings, but we paradoxically secretly doubt and shame them before providing support. Before we simply share articles on the #MeToo movement or campaign to  “Believe and Support All Women,” it is imperative to fight the normalized, misogynist temptation to blindly believe men and question the authenticity of a woman’s agony. These are both important and interconnected pillars in equality and justice.

Despite my past struggle and ostracization, I am still incredibly lucky. My life continued without interruptions. My father was extremely supportive and I was blessed to have the choice of an abortion — privileges that I cannot take for granted. But demonization and lack of support from peers is fatal for someone already fighting with herself to overcome haunting memories. So I stress the importance of believing and supporting women through the recovery of a traumatic experience. And in order to exercise the full potential of our feminist endeavors in college and beyond, I emphasize the necessity to reflect on the blunders of our past. Blunders where we could have offered support to a woman, but instead chose to ignore her cries for help.

Ramisa Rob can be reached at rfrob@umich.edu.