The Intergenerational Tears of Women and Girls Can No Longer Be Ignored

Ioana Andrei

Photo by tabitha turner on Unsplash

Crying on the bus

It shouldn't be a solution, although it is.

A solution to a collective trauma that never fails to show itself. On the street, in the bed, on the TV, in the books. Shedding tears of anger, heartache, and helplessness.

When you cry tears for others, it becomes unimportant whether there are people watching, or, indeed, whether you are in locomotion whilst sitting.

I will share what happened, but allow me to settle into this mind-numbing feeling for another minute.

Or two.

While I give a bit of context.

I've been raised to respect authority, and to follow suit when taught "the ways".

Romanian parents would customarily educate their children through physical and emotional discipline, while Romanian teachers would amplify the practice of "do as I say, not as I do."

Romanian children would know that this is a blessing, "compared to what they got in Ceaușescu's time".

And anyway, "we don't do it like those people in the West."

There's a saying in Romania, which my parents use to this day – “where did you learn that from?"

The context may vary, from wearing mismatched socks to supporting trans rights, but the question holds fast. When I exhibit culturally-non-homogeneous behaviors, the line of inquiry is, "where did I learn that from?"

One is expected to emulate the behavior of the other, in Romania. Possibly in other countries, too.

After all, creatures of social habit discern the micro-level cost and benefit of interactions as a means of survival. As Yuval Noah Harari argued in Sapiens, the main thing that made man the most powerful being on planet Earth was not our opposable thumb, nor was it our larger sized brains. It was, and is, our ability to cooperate.

In order to build societies, we had to learn from one another and accept others' points of view, or at least pretend to. All in the interest of passing on a genetic code with better prospects.

But here's the thing.

I think in our quest for DNA dissemination and empire building, we have forgotten that, in fact, our hunter-gatherer forefathers had no idea what they were doing. They lived in small groups, with no digital access to 80% of their global peers. Yet, they adapted to challenges well enough to pass on some decent genes.

Where I'm going has nothing to do with tribalism, but with this:

Take away our technology and textbooks, and we're hunter-gatherers with a sharper bite to our consonants.

We are able to unravel the web of our collective learning, in order to reinvent the wheel of our generation.

We are, in fact, obliged to.

Crying on the massage table.

Freely letting salty droplets sink into my mask after the massage therapist leaves the room.

Flows of shame, forgiveness, love, and injustice intersect through my nerve canals.

I ask myself, "Why the tears?" and the answer shoots back, "Why the question?" I resign myself to letting the tears pass, hoping that, with them, dissolves my trauma.

I said I'd open up about what I saw, but there's one more preamble to cover.

I was raised to trust authority. Authority was often man.

In my household, in the movies, in the police force, in my reading list. Authority was broad shoulders, wide biceps, short hair, baritone voice.

But this isn't a conversation about gender inequality, either.

It's a conversation about physical strength.

Whether men and women earn the same paycheck or not, the fact is:

A man can overpower a woman, physically, should he choose to.


Two teenagers, boy and girl, one chasing the other.

A game of sorts. At 9 o’clock at night, on a safe street, in a safe neighborhood.

A shrill that seems to belong to the girl.

A cry that projects “It wasn’t me!” into the cool evening air.

Eerie, at most. Childish concoctions, at best.

But adults have responsibilities. One would assume that adults see the physical imbalance and step in. One would assume that the two shopkeepers at the corner store would take a glance outside to check that no one is hurt.

One would be wrong.

I was wrong.

I was wrong to assume that the chase was a game of tag. It was a physical attack.

I was wrong to assume that adults would help. The only people that stepped in were a group of underaged boys.

I was wrong to assume that the girl's mother would question the attacker, or immediately call the police. She was as shocked and terrified as her daughter.

I, myself, was petrified. Whilst I did offer my help and phone digits as a witness, I couldn't shake the feeling that we were helpless.

We, the women who experience violence without consent or power.

We, the friends and passers-by who see violence happening - onlookers pretending they're not looking.

We, the young girls who become less than animals, whose bodies are threatened, thrust upon, thoroughly examined by the male gaze.

I can’t get that teenage girl out of my head. That age, when a girl wants to become a woman. When her body picks up on the wish, but her mind wants to continue to play, hope, and believe in equality.

I watched her catch her breath, her shaky hand verifying that her heart was still beating. She glanced at her mother, but avoided the eyes of her siblings, her protectors’, and mine own. Her gaze trailed off in the distance, in the direction the attacker left the scene. Her eyes wide, unfocused.

Wondering. Reliving. But not really alive.

Crying in Seven Dials.

Self-awareness crumbling under the weight of female oppression, denialist indignation, and physical release.

Crying for that girl.

Crying because she will never fully heal the trauma. She will probably bury it, erase the most horrific details, and detain the broad-brush landscape.

That's how we deal with trauma. Survivors.

At one point, perhaps in her late 20s, she may see a therapist who pokes at her hidden stories.

She may realize that, although more serious violations of her trust and safety have happened in the meantime, that one incident in her early teens had changed everything, forever.

She may go back to that incident, aim to recall it, fail, ask her mother, who also buried it, ask her siblings, who were too young to remember, ask herself, "Why?"

Or maybe that's me.

Trauma does not reside in a vacuum. It travels like a virus. From person to person, it latches on to our deepest vulnerabilities and hangs on for dear life.

When a 27-year old woman sees a young girl getting abused by a boy, she relives her own abuse.

She remembers the laughter. The side glances. The speeding heartbeat. The cacophony of sounds.

She doesn't really remember the day of the week, or the month, or the class they'd just finished.

She doesn't remember how often it happened. Three? Ten? Fifty times?

She remembers that disgusting word, "f-cked". He "f-cked" her, said the classmates. Which was technically untrue, as there was no skin-on-skin contact. There was forced grinding against his trousers until he endeavored to release her, before the school bell rang.

My tears have dried. Just as a child organically stops crying after a toy that doesn't emerge from a shop window, the tears of trauma drop on arid land. No plants grow.

Were you expecting a happy ending? A hopeful glance at the future, where boys are taught not to rape and girls are taught that they have rights?

Or perhaps a regurgitation of rock-solid statistics that have proven, time and time again, that violence is gendered, that very few survivors come forward, that very few abusers are found guilty, that "he said she said" really just means "he said"?

Perhaps you'd enjoy the comfortable distance provided by extreme cases of abuse of power. Some Jeffrey Epstein with your morning coffee? Some Prince Andrew with your pre-bed scroll?

Well, forget it. My fingers ache, my heart aches, my tongue twists in positions preventing me from being sick.

This is a story about real-life trauma.

Happening all around us.

Even in safe neighborhoods.

In lockdown.

In our homes, in our schools, and our offices. Whether we choose to see it, or not.

And I've run out of hopes and prayers to soothe our fragile egos from it.

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My topics of focus include gender equality, mental health and social justice |


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