BY EVA JOHNSON
The idea of the Monster is entrenched in gender politics and trauma. While the male monster is shown as an extension of the self, a projection of underlying & universal (i.e. natural) desires/fears, the female Monster is cut off entirely from humanity. The male monster has room to be heroic because being a monster as a man is a choice. The female monster is catalyzed through necessity, because no other route of survival is possible. Most often, woman becomes Monster following a confrontation with BODY TERROR.
BODY TERROR occurs when the physical form is violated to the extent that it synthesizes its own memory. Take a cluster of cells, interrupted by trauma. They coalesce around the memory and serve as a sort of CD drive. So the body – the girl – becomes an occupied state.
After I was assaulted, I did not FEEL any different. Mentally, I was smooth and pearled as a baby. However, my body didn’t feel like mine anymore; it was rendered vague and foreign with pain. So I both made it mine again and disowned it fully, like a dog with a bad leg or a broken horse with foaming pink eyes. I stopped wearing color because it felt too close to another time, and I stopped wearing lace or overly soft things because I associated the textures with victimization. A rebellion against abuse can register as complacency. I cannot tell you how many women have flashed shining teeth in smiles as they politely explained the circumstances of their rapes. I am less subtle. I throw back my head and laugh, tin molars punching the air. “You know, when you laugh like that, it makes it seem like you don’t take yourself seriously.” If taking me seriously is conditional, YOU have a problem. Why should I have the burden of being well spoken in the face of complete collapse? It is exhausting and impossible and irrelevant that I affix myself to your bizarre concept of what a survivor “should” be.
I felt repulsed. So I scratched my skin off. Tarred my eyes. My hair flaked off like dark snow. I suddenly had the stamping feet of a cheerleader. Cherries deepened in the cold. If I were a horse, I’d be made into glue. But I’m a girl and I can only blister, garnet, scab. Oh well.
Maiming yourself is different. Maiming yourself is different. It is your right as a person to become a machine, to gorge on grocery store cake until you throw up. It is your right to accept advances from the forty-year-old man who offers you one of his Camels in front of the parking meter on Bleecker Street. It is your right to have anal sex until you prolapse. Whatever you do/become, you should not have been treated the way you were treated. People will try to justify what happened to you in the most fucked up ways: including using things you did in reaction as “evidence” that you were never whole. Look, you are not a damaged person. You are not “broken” in that way that they want you to be because for you to be broken in that way you have to be not a person at all but a whisper, a fetish, Isabella Rossellini wavering BLUE VELVET through a cloud of ether.
she wore blue
In Blue Velvet, her real self bumps up against the unreal, lipstick-wearing ghost that David Lynch has created. It is this collision that can be construed, through the eye, as unbearable beauty.
There was an art project in which a photographer took exquisite pictures of bruises. They were then printed in high definition, labeled RAPE RED and VIOLET DU VIOL. Some people said that this was insensitive, that the prettiness of the colors romanticized domestic/sexual violence. I think it is more that we as a culture need to re-orient the ways in which we parse through images. Just because something is pretty does not mean it is good. When Isabella Rossellini walked through the streets–ruined woman of Pompeii–people thought she was sexier than ever, but all the while she was envisioning/becoming one with a napalm victim. The offense of romanticization is less clear when it is personal; sometimes glorification of a particularly horrific situation is the only practical way to cope. I have been forced to navigate the cross-section of my own removed ethics and how they manifest in my particular situation. Sometimes the only natural thing to do is to play martyr. A cliché is only a cliché if you do it to appease others.
The biggest cliché of all is that I cry thinking that this will happen to so many other girls, people I know and love, young people/hopeful people/kind people/immature people and that it will change all of them irreparably. It is difficult for me to look at photos from a year ago because at that point I was ON THE CUSP of my life, waiting for things to happen, ready for colors and light, hungry. Half-formed and permeable, much more patient, less tired/sick of the world. Like a well cared for houseplant.
We become monsters in response to the absolutely bizarre nature of the things that happen to us. One in four women have the same scar and there are not enough people dedicated to healing us.
Now when I see people for the first time in months, there is an unspoken witchiness in the air between us. “Hello. I am different now.” Maybe they’re different too. Maybe they’ve seen the inside of the meatpacking factory. The blood still stinking under our nails we touch and say SORRY.
Eva Johnson is a student from New York. Art by Rebecca Heilweil.