The Scars Were Not Me: Gilligan and Self-Care By Drew Baker


This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium,  Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.

Drew Baker is a feminist Buddhist-Christian PhD student in Religion, Ethics and Society at Claremont School of Theology. His work engages the interconnections between trauma theory, religious ethics and ghost narratives.

[DISCLAIMER: Sexual violence is contained in the post below]

When I was a freshman in college, I drastically misread Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice. I read her book then, and (wrongly) saw a mirror of my own ideals. Selfless care above all else. I see a more complicated and beautiful portrait in her book today. Something changed.

I was raised Buddhist. Like many Buddhists, I learned about the doctrine of no-self and the moral value of compassion. I came to wed the concepts in my mind. Selfless care. There were no virtues in the world beyond the mantra: ‘love others no matter the cost to the self.’

Kenosis can be quite pragmatically valuable to cultivate as a spiritual discipline for those with power. As a white straight man, honestly, there were few instances in my life growing up that should have called this personal virtue into question.

Early in my time in college, I began dating a woman in my class. I was severely struggling with depression at the time, but I pushed my hesitancies and doubts aside. Very quickly, I became aware that she was much more aggressive than I was comfortable with. In the beginning, it seemed innocent, such as grabbing me roughly to kiss me. Soon she was touching me. I would tell her no, and yet she would continue.

One night, she pushed me on her bed. I moved to stand back up; she pushed me back down and straddled me. She began to remove my clothing. I whispered “no,” and then stronger: “no.” She continued, looking at me with her piercing eyes; I mistook her desire that night as a need. I continued to mumble “no,” but could not find the strength in my limbs to push her off of me. I still remember, I still feel the terror in my mind and my heart. This is what she wants. That thought froze me. This is how I would care for her: I would leave myself behind. My body went rigid, motionless. I was a mourning statue, as the tears ran down my cheeks. With the tears, my lips, too, also moved, continuing to mouth “no.”

The first time I “had” sex, there was no “having” about it. I was raped, the victim of intimate partner sexual violence. Like most cases of intimate partner violence, this was not the only instance. I experienced variations of that night for the next few months. The memories still return against my will from time to time. Eventually, I ended the relationship. I still do not know where I found the physical, mental and emotional strength to make that particular ‘no’ final.

It has been a long path to find myself again. Or, more properly, it took me years to realize that I luckily had not been able to give over all of myself to her, nor had she been able to take all of me from myself. The scars would remain, but the scars were not me.

Only through these eyes could I reread Gilligan correctly. Gilligan is quite clear that completely selfless care is a potentially harmful stage of moral development. Gilligan suggests that the morally mature individual must learn to weigh care for others with care for the self. Proper care is a balancing act.

By this post, I do not mean to suggest several things. I do not principally blame myself for what happened over those months. I once did. It took me a long time to realize that my partner was responsible for her actions. I was just easy prey.

Nor do I mean to suggest that the lessons I learned made the experience “worth it.” Learning to care for myself is not worth the irreparable damage done to me. Some experiences cannot be fully redeemed. The kernel of loss remains.

Nor do I intend to condemn all of Buddhism. For starters, the inherent problems within selfless care are not unique to Buddhism; Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker powerfully argue in Proverbs of Ashes that such is also the case in the Christian concept of selfless love. Further, I agree with Rita Gross (in her wonderful Buddhism after Patriarchy) that there are valuable possibilities for Buddhism beyond the absolutization of selflessness.

I do mean to suggest, however, with Gilligan, that the true virtue of care is found within a balancing act of care for the self and others. This is particularly true in the case of women and other marginalized groups. The proper balance between self and others will be unique to every individual, as social power imbalances make intentional corrections necessary. Even as a man, however, I had much to learn about care for myself.

Feminism, for me, among many other things, means standing against sexual violence. Sadly, as I came to realize after my own experiences, awareness and knowledge about sexual violence in the cases of adult men as victims is very limited. Like in all cases of rape, it is also extremely underreported.

After that first night, while my lips continued to protest her actions, my voice itself had left me. It has taken time for me to find it again. It took a couple of years for me to fully talk about my experiences even in my most trusted relationships. This is my first public post about it. It takes courage. After all, through courage, I find and care for myself. And, I hope, in writing about a topic concealed all too often in a shroud of silence, I care for others. Care for the self, care for others: the two need not always be contradictions. Mutuality is possible. In that sentence, healing is more than just a promise for me. Given voice, it becomes real.



Categories: Feminism, Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue, Sexual Violence

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Drew: thank you for having the courage to speak so honestly.  A powerful strand of my (Christian) tradition speaks of sexuality being a gift from God, and yet it is heartbreaking to know that many people’s earliest encounters are riddled with pain, betrayal, abuse, violence, and/or trauma. And you are absolutely right – the “ethics of care” tradition at its best does not valorize endless, self-negating sacrifice for the sake of others in efforts to care, as even Gilligan understood (as you rightly pointed out) that moral maturity requires the carer to encompass him or herself into his/her sphere of concern.

    On a separate but related note, might I commend you for modeling a form of masculinity that is rarely seen: one that is willing to speak of vulnerability in sexual matters as well as openly counter the false (but persistent) belief that straight men nearly always welcome the sexual advances of women, particularly by those with whom they are already in relationship.

    Feminism is absolutely against sexual violence, as you rightly noted. Glad to count you as a fellow member of the (feminist) club!

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  2. Drew, a beautifully articulated and courageous post. Much of my work has centered on sexual violence against women; however it has not properly addressed the fact that men also experience such devastating violence.

    I have been greatly impacted by the work of Brock and Parker – Proverbs of Ashes is one of my favorite texts as it addresses these very important issues within Christianity. So many women – and men – believe that they have a duty to suffer as Christ did, an incredibly damaging view that leaves many trapped within violent situations. I appreciate how you tied this to Buddhism and your assertion that caring for self does not mean not caring for others. Well said.

    Thank you for having the courage to share your experience, no doubt many will benefit from reading your words as I did.

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  3. Mr. Baker,
    A deft analysis with your courageous testimony. Thank you for sharing and your insistence (at least this is my favorite line) that “learning to care for [self] is not worth the irreparable damage done . . . Some experiences cannot be fully redeemed. The kernel of loss remains.” Hey, I’m a theologian and I’m all about things that resist the pedagogical forms of theodicy. Again, wonderful blog!

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  4. Drew,
    Thank you for your courageous blog post. I wanted to follow up on what Dr. Kao said in relation to masculinity and what it means in regards to your experiences.

    Men can be and have been sexually assaulted by both men and women. Your blog post opens up the discussion about the idea on how men can be assaulted by individuals who are close to them and in this case are female. I must admit, I have thought about this issue in the past but I always fall back to men raping men. It is often a silent crime because men, feeling ashamed or mourning a loss of their masculinity because of the experience, are unable to talk to other people about their experiences and seek out help to overcome it.

    Your piece seeks out to try and repair the “kernel of loss” and it is because of your bravery that other men may be able to as well.

    Thank you for your post and your bravery.

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  5. Hey Drew,
    I certainly echo what everyone above has already said. This was a very powerful post to read and certainly invites a lot of reflection.

    As a Christian I often find myself challenged by the so-named Golden Rule, as I find that it is often used as a way to put others ahead of ourselves, that we do much better unto others than we do unto ourselves. We use that phrase as a dichotomy, an either/or instead of a both/and. We sometimes allow ourselves, as I am reading in Nodding, to embody being the “one-caring” so fully that we forget that we are (to use another theological term) the Imago Dei just as much as those for whom we seek to care. It is certainly an ongoing struggle to balance the two.

    “The proper balance between self and others will be unique to every individual” – I know that you have an interest in care ethics so I am curious if you have found that people from different cultures, social locations, etc approach this balance in different ways (I imagine the answer to this is probably yes) and if so, is there an approach that you have found most helpful/insightful?

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  6. Drew,

    As so many others have stated above, thanks for this post. As your friend, I have heard bits and pieces of this story, but it is truly gut-wrenching to read the whole experience in print like this.

    I am particularly drawn to your conversation of the balance between self-care and care for for others, and your ability to re-name your experience as a travesty, while still dissecting your own personal motivations. In Gilligan’s book, she emphasizes that a morally-developed person will find ways to hold concerns for both justice and care within their decision-making processes. She writes, “In the representation of maturity, both perspectives converge in the realization that just as inequality adversly affects both parties in an unequal relationship, so too violence is destructive for everyone involved.”

    It is important for victims of violence to find ways to name what has happened to them and acknowledge the “kernel of loss” that they will always carry with them, and it is equally important to find ways to balance concerns for care and for justice. My question is, in the case of sexual and intimate violence especially, what does it look like to really blend these concerns of justice and care? Can we consider holding someone culpable for their actions as an act of care: care both for that person and for future victims that they might encounter? What are the ways that we can bring perpetrators of violence into a cycle of compassion in ways that are also safe for those around them? As a pacifist, this is a question that sometimes haunts me.

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  7. Drew, thanks for this blog. I had not actually ever heard a story such as this one before. Who heard you into speech? I totally agree with you “irreparable damage” can be done and many of us live with it. I totally disagree with anyone who would say that God or karmic law or any other “power” gives us suffering and violation so that we can “learn something.” we may learn something if we are lucky from suffering and violation but as you say that does not mean that suffering and violation are good things, the will of God, or the way of karma. Not in my thealogy, anyway. Carol

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  8. Drew,
    A very courageous post, thank you. A few semesters ago I had a male student who was a victim of domestic violence from his girlfriend. The episode that brought it to light was in full view near his dorm room on the university grounds I teach at. Because Student Health Services was brought into the mix, consequences for his girlfriend were enacted, such as not being able to see each other, therapy, etc.

    Said student would visit me regularly during my office hours to speak of his dilemma. He loved her, she was sorry, it would not happen again, it was his fault for provoking her, etc. We discussed each of his concerns and what came to his consciousness was his abuse mirrored the same abuse women experience, but because he is male, he is doubly shamed by allowing a female to abuse him.

    I would love to say this student moved on and is able to enjoy his time at college engaged in all activities that give meaning and substance to a young college student, but that is not the case. He sees his girlfriend in secret, attempts to remove himself from activities that might cause his girlfriend to be jealous, i.e clubs, outings, etc. He suffers from the same demons women do who find themselves involved with an abuser. The dysfunctional emotional connection of abuse seems to ignore gender, as you so heroically stated. Thank you again.

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  9. Drew – To begin with, I echo the comments of all others who have posted. What a gift you give us with your honesty. I deeply regret that you had to suffer (and sounds like you still do) in this way. I also thank you, though, for shining a light in this dark place. I believe that it is feminism, and the best of humanness, to care for each other, and one powerful way there is to share our stories. Again and again, until enough momentum for change occurs.
    Like you, I am a huge fan of Proverbs of Ashes; it has helped me to reframe how we — societally – keep ourselves in bondage to a sense of submission to G-d’s will that doesn’t serve all…and certainly doesn’t serve those being abused by another. Or, said better, it’s important to know that we can love G-d and ourselves. And that’s what I read in your post.
    Again, kudos, from another survivor, on being willing to bring forth your experiences, knowing it will help others. As I make my way, slowly, through Pema Chrodron’s, Be Where you Are, your post serves to remind me that it is fine to be wherever one is. And that, for me, is grace.
    In gratitude, Lara

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  10. “Feminism, for me, among many other things, means standing against sexual violence.”

    Thanks for sharing this post Drew,I agree with everyone about how much courage it took!
    I appreciated your discussion of Gilian’s book, and the inherent problem with self-effacing, self-emptying care. I too get nervous when some Christian communities seem to emphasize self-sacrifice as a virtue to the point of self-violence. I trust that when that woman poised herself above you, there was no love but violation. No concern for your person or your needs, but only the intimate violation of the sacred bond of trust. Maybe we can grow to be empathetic human beings, but this perennial problem of trust remains.

    Perhaps we ought treat sex as the struggle for the self to trust the other, and that love is not a result of satiated desire but an outgrowth of the deepest and most intimate trust.
    -Tim

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  11. Drew, I cannot adequately express my sympathies; what you have endured were experiences was a true horror. However, it takes a brave soul to stare the memory of victimization in the face and allow it to control you no longer. In standing up to the dark truth unflinchingly now as you are, raising your voice in a fervent “No” against sexual violence, you honor the victims of sexual violence.

    According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims), approximately 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have been victims of either an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. I bring this up not because I wish to acknowledge you as a statistic, but as a survivor. I wish to remind you that you are not alone. Though society may attempt to silence the victims of sexual assault in any number of ways, our duty is to be vigilant, listening to survivor’s stories compassionately. Taking the experience of rape trauma seriously can help bring an end to the conspiracy of silence that becomes complicit in violence by virtue of its denial.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and your invaluable insight.

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  12. Thank you everyone for your kind and supportive words. It was support like this (on a one-to-one level) from many of my friends and loved ones that helped give me the courage to write about this in a public forum. Since Angelina and Hannah both had in-depth questions for me, I’ll address them below:

    Angelina- Sadly a lot of care ethics has been rather ‘mono-cultural,’ in that most of the care ethicists are relatively elite white women from the US. I believe that we will be reading some of the limited diversity within care ethics over the next couple of weeks (including some criticisms). When we get to the later sections of the class on difference, I also imagine that care ethics will be a topic again in the contexts of cultural differences. The primary value of care ethics for me is that it affirms the role of relationship and feelings within the ethical realm (and diminishes the overvalued roles for cognitive beliefs, etc.). I treasure this insight, and I believe that this affirmation plays a role in many different ethical approaches from different locations, albeit not in a singularly applicable way. I use language like “balance” a lot when I talk about care ethics, but really what I mean (for the most part) is contextualization. It is easy for me envision the balance between self and others being very different in situation to situation. Like Noddings, however, I believe that that balance is best sorted out in the context of relationships rather than in a universalizable principle. Of course, balance in care ethics is a tricky thing; if you had asked me at the time of my experiences with sexual violence if I had a healthy balance between myself and others, I’m not sure I would have said no; I might have thought that a ‘healthy’ balance was tipping the scales completely in the direction of others. At that point, I hope that our friends and loved ones (and perhaps our own buried intuitions) can challenge us to reevaluate those harmful “balances,” although I’ll confess, that hope, I know, is often never realized.

    Hannah- to rephrase your question, is justice desirable in the context of care? I believe so, and I, for one, actually think the dichotomy between justice and care is probably a harmful one in the first place. For instance, is a case of described “tough-love” (as awful as that phrase is) an instance of desired justice or desired care? It may often actually be neither, and yet, the phrase itself seems to strive for something like justice-care. Gilligan speaks of uniting the two, although, I’ll admit that I’m skeptical of the assumption that they are separate in the first place and thusly in need of uniting. The center of your question is much more difficult – what should justice look like in cases of violence? I’d be interested to hear more about your thoughts on the matter. This is a topic I’ve thought a lot about and never really found satisfying answers for myself. Retributive justice often has serious problems, and liberal notions of justice (reformatory justice) suffers from significant problems as well (reading Foucault on that front was enough to persuade me). But what does that leave open? Do I want justice against my victimizer? I often find myself wanting that, yes, although I always remain uncertain what justice would be like in that case. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that because of my own privileged location, I almost certainly have the ability to continue to live and heal while remaining uncertain on that front; the claim that forgiveness (or uncertainty) removes the necessity of justice is a myth and a very harmful myth at that. The place to start (in discerning possibilities for justice) might begin with the victim, over the long course of healing. What would justice look like to the victim? My best answer to that question is that there will be many different answers, each of which will be justified and each of which will be radically contextually specific.

    This past week has been both tough and encouraging. More than anything, I’ve been very hyperaware of my surroundings and how people interact with me. Luckily, the support has been plentiful and wonderful. More than anything, I have found myself desiring honesty this week. I am not fragile, at least I aspire not to be.

    After a week of reflection has passed since writing this, my one wish was that I had been clearer in my post that the point of my essay was not to indicate that my experience with sexual violence was somehow comparable to every other experience with sexual violence. More than anything, I did not mean to suggest that some sort of ‘reverse-sexism’ (like ‘reverse racism’ a ridiculously harmful false narrative) was at play in my experience, or that men are equal victims with women of patriarchy and/or sexual violence. I wrote about my experience for many reasons, one of which was to highlight the dangerous silence about sexual violence against men and the problematic ‘common sense’ assumptions that exist ‘in the air’ about sexual violence against men (perhaps the most problematic of which is that men can only be assaulted as children, something I have heard a number of times). Some have already suggested to me that my experience was not sexual violence or rape, but rather just unfortunate (because I was a man assaulted by a woman and/or because I did not physically resist). Theoretically, I believe there are many problems with those claims, particularly in their assumed concepts of masculinity and physicality. Admittedly, it is easiest to ‘hide’ in theory for a time when I hear those challenges to my deeply personal experience. I do not quite know how to respond; at the core, it is how I ‘feel.’ Time, I believe, will help me find the words.

    One of the many beautiful things about feminism, for me, is that feminism is not a rigid doctrine or tool that can be monolithically applied in every single case. Feminism is a style, a performance, a structured and yet flexible dance, something that can seek to critique patriarchy, empower women and oppose structures that most commonly oppress women all at the same time. Feminism can stand against a multiplicity of forms of sexual violence without reducing any of them to one model. For me, that is a strength, not a weakness, a plurality that makes me proud to be a feminist.

    Thank you everyone again for your support, comments and thoughts. I hope that I did not miss anyone else’s questions, although if I did, please do not hesitate to ask them again.

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  13. Drew,

    I think it’s terribly tragic that people have tried to re-write your experience and categorize it as something other than rape. Many women, too, have been told that if they didn’t physically fight back, it wasn’t rape. This is a tragic misrepresentation and, I think, serves to confuse both victims and society as a whole as to what rape is, and adds to the ‘blame the victim/they must have secretly wanted it’ mentality that’s so pervasive.

    Thanks for having the courage to speak up and remind people that men can be victimized too…and that rape isn’t always a ‘back alley, held at knife point’ ordeal.

    Like

  14. Hi Drew,
    I am grateful for your candor. I told you I would respond to your post within the context of the class, but that it would take me awhile to know what to say. Here are three thoughts.

    First, to write about you and your story without first acknowledging you eye-to-eye was not something I could do. I was touched and wanted you to see my eyes, hear my voice, and feel my embrace. I needed that. But there is an interesting reciprocity at work: I hear your pain, then feel it, and while I acknowledge your pain in an act of caring, I receive care from you at the same time. In that brief moment we recognize one another’s humanity. I think that is what Noddings refers to when she talks about psychic relatedness. (“Caring,” 1984, 1) It’s communication that takes place beyond words, but says, “I care about you.” I think it’s aligned with the impulse she says “provides the motivation for us to be moral.” (“Caring,” 1984, 5)

    Second, your story has allowed me to see relational power in a deeper way. In the last year, as I have taken on a more ministerial role in my church and through my chaplaincy internship this summer, I have met people who have been raped, all of them have been female except one. However, until now, I had not met a heterosexual man whose first experience of intercourse was rape, nor had I read a story like yours. I did not see the violation as a kind of reverse discrimination either; I realized it as an abuse of power in an intimate relationship. I am so accustomed to hearing and experiencing a story of male domination and abuse that I was at a loss for words. My mind was blank. However, your story touched my heart; I felt – sad, grieved, distressed, astonished with your candor, and concerned that you might regret revealing something so personal in such a public forum. Now I have reread the story and responses several times. Your sensitive and deft analysis of your own trauma has helped me see relational power in a more pluralistic way and root my understanding of it within my own experience anew — what Daly might call my own spiraling deeper. Your clarification to Angelina in regard to balance v contextualization was very helpful. The idea of contextualization as multi-dimensional — that there are multiple levels of oppressions (or freedoms) at play in any given personal interaction, is an important one that I now see more clearly than ever. As I reflect on your story I am lead to a deeper realization of how alert, attentive, and sensitive I must become to my own power and my own insecurities and how each motivates my ability hear and respond to another person. The kind of personal sensitivity and understanding that you express is essential for anyone who wants to grow in relationship with others – individually or in community. It is especially pertinent to my evolution as a chaplain. Telling your story in the way that you did has helped me grow emotionally.

    Third, the field of ethics is new to me and sometimes our readings are a jumble of words; a new language with a grammatical structure I have not yet discerned. As I struggle to come to the most simplistic understanding of what feminism is and what feminist ethics might be, I can see that you are at home in this world. I find particularly helpful your thought, “Feminism is a style, a performance, a structured and yet flexible dance, something that can seek to critique patriarchy, empower women and oppose structures that most commonly oppress women all at the same time.” Your description gives me an overarching image from which to construct my own definition. (I listen carefully to how you shape your arguments in class as well.) You have helped me grow intellectually.

    Drew, thanks for being my teacher.

    Like

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