Misplaced guilt happens when someone hurts/violates you, but you prioritize their struggles over your pain, and feel guilty at the thought of speaking out and exposing them.
Sometimes this guilt is accompanied with the desire to appear respectable, be likable and not a tease.
Back in primary school, I remember sitting in the passenger sit while my driver drove holding the steering wheel in one hand, his other hand clasped around my breast. I was not yet a teenager, I barely had breasts, but there he was, holding my nipples and moving his fingers round it. I remember planning on how I would tell my parents, how they would deal with it... if they would believe me.
I never told them, not because of all the above reasons, but because I was scared he would lose his job. I thought about his daughter, my age mate and namesake and wondered if she would be able to go to school anymore. I worried about his son halting his secondary school education.
I knew I would die of guilt if his family lost everything because of me.
I remember calculating the risks involved and in my tiny brain, realizing that he had more to lose than I did because he simply caressed my boobs.
I don’t remember my exact age, I know I wasn’t in class four yet, because at class four we moved closer to my school and I did not have to be picked from school.
I remember it was rainy and it was green, and I was in a white pick up truck, l even remember the number plate.
I remember I was less than 10 minutes away from home.
My kid brother was in the car, I hope he does not remember.
We are violated and as if that is not enough, it comes with a misplaced sense of guilt and responsibility which should not be ours to bear - but we still do.
We have been taught to place others before us, their interests before ours because that is what good people do. Good people are considerate, caring and not selfish.
Our conditioning is so deep that as I write this, I am almost sure if it ever gets published, I will ask for it to be done anonymously. And that is because that old driver that my father hired, is now very sick, and God forbid any of his kids ever stumble upon this.
I want them to keep the good memories of their father and not the predatory ones brought forth by the memory of a girl less than 10 years old.
I want to write that I have learnt not to sympathize with my oppressors, but the truth is that I have not. And I think that is a sentiment shared by almost every woman, who has experienced oppression at the hands of someone they know.
I am unlearning all of this, I am not there yet but I am okay with not being liked anymore, and I am okay with not being considered “feminine”.
Our conditioning is one of the reasons why victims of sexual assault, harassment and gender based violence, do not speak out. We are told that we are better human beings, if we do not tarnish the reputation of our abusers. We are told that we are better women, because we can withstand the heartbreak, turmoil and humiliation.
I hope if we do not speak out for any of the above reasons, we do speak out because of the younger generation of women. Truth is, I have a young sister and not a day goes by without me wondering if my silence put her in any sort of danger.
I hope I never did and I hope she defies likeability from her young age.
I hope she endlessly puts herself first.
I hope she redefines her womanhood on her terms and rules.
I hope she breaks all the goddamn societal norms.
I hope you do too. It is not too late, start now. I have.
I am a storm now.
I am not in any way responsible for people's actions and in retrospect, the consequences they face are not my responsibility.
Free will comes with repercussions.
People should bear their own crosses.
And if that means jobs are lost, marriages are broken, Hollywood is in chaos, so be it.
Every woman we know has a story to tell about sexual assault. Some of us have multiple stories deeply ingrained in us that we cannot tell, and sometimes the reason is we don’t want to hurt our abusers.
It is not our burden to bear; whatever happens to them, is theirs to deal with.
We should take a step forward and free ourselves from this form of mental slavery. We can become free from this misplaced sense of guilt, by sharing our stories and reporting our abusers.
We must refuse to be the acceptable version of a strong woman because as Mona Eltahawy writes,
“To be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, endurance is not to be confused with transformation”
Do not wallow in their shame, do not be guilt tripped. Your pain deserves to shared and heard.
The shame is theirs.
Words by Caroline Mumbe
Image by Seydou Keïta