By Mike McMahan, LPC
Evan Rachel Wood has been in the news quite a bit lately, due to her lead role on the fascinating new HBO series Westworld. The series deals with robots in a futuristic amusement park who endure all matter of violence in an Old West setting. The robots’ memories are then wiped and they repeat the experiences over and over. However, as the show opens, they have become sentient and begin to remember what has occurred in their pasts. The show itself provides plenty of food for thought on how we deal with trauma as well as providing a commentary on how the entertainment industry (and HBO, specifically) uses violence (especially sexual violence against women) as a plot device.
Wood gave a recent interview with Rolling Stone in which she dropped some serious knowledge bombs about bisexuality and psychiatric struggles; talked about her years ago relationship with aging shock rocker Marilyn Manson who is 17 (!) years her senior; and hinted at a history of sexual violence in her own life. While the matter is oblique in the actual interview, she clarified in a powerful statement on Twitter that she had, in fact, been raped twice. “I will not be ashamed ... I don't believe we live in a time where people can stay silent any longer. I certainly can't. Not given the world we live in with its blatant bigotry and sexism.”
Kudos to Wood for being brave enough to speak out on this matter. While certainly no one should be required to acknowledge such a matter publicly, each time someone does (especially someone who is famous), it chips away with the stigma associated with being sexually assaulted. There are many recent cases in the news in which young men have received light sentences or in which the judge has implied that the victim is somehow to blame: this reflects our so-called “rape culture.” The strength of someone like Wood may show that women (or men) who have been assaulted do not have to accept some sort of blame or suffer in silence for fear of persecution.
What impressed me the most about Wood, however, was not her bravery in speaking out but, instead, her acknowledgement that her role in the show was therapeutic for her. “Good God. I left so much in that first season and never looked back,” is a great attitude to have. When I have worked with sexual assault survivors, I talk about their path to recovery as a journey. Though I obviously wouldn’t wish trauma on anyone, people may come out on the other side of their recovery from the experience much stronger. In this case, Wood, who is magnificent in the show, is able to use past trauma to inform her performance and inhabit the character in a way that many other actresses would not have been able to. Given that one of the primary themes of the show is how we move on from trauma, it could be that the role itself will be key in her realizing new opportunities in her life. To be clear, I am not suggesting that survivors “get over it.” What I am suggesting is that one’s status as a survivor may allow mastery of new skills and that these survival skills may be applied successfully in other areas of one’s life.
If you have been assaulted and wish to speak to someone about the experience, consider your local Rape Crisis Center. You can also seek assistance via RAINN.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture