From silence to action

Feminist Thought, Sexual Violence

One of the insidious things about rape culture is silence. Survivors of sexual assault remain silent, fearing retribution, shunning or disbelief. Community members remain silent unsure of how to respond. Is she lying? Is {insert celebrity or well-liked neighbor here} the type of person who would do something like that? The perpetrator is often silent. Sometimes because he scarcely believes he is guilty, or perhaps to keep a low profile in preparation for the next victim.

But just as there is silence, there is often sound. We hear the voices of perpetrators, maintaining innocence in some cases; claiming she deserved it in others. Voices of community members who support the offender and/or berate the survivor. Voices of advocates who offer comfort, righteous indignation and activism for survivors.

And sometimes we hear the voices of survivors, telling their own stories and demanding to be acknowledged. They do it for legal reasons. To agitate. For peace of mind. Or in the case of Tamara Green, to lend credibility to another survivor:

A lawyer told me I would be crazy to come out after 20 years and accuse him [Bill Cosby]. But I waited and waited to see who would back this girl up, and nobody else would. The Cosby team started smearing her, making her seem petty and loose and cheap.

I saw how nobody believed her. She had trusted him, and he had drugged her and then assaulted her, just like what happened to me. I saw that nobody was going to take him on, so I felt like it was my duty to risk my neck and stand [up] for all the other women who’ve been assaulted by him.

Read the Newsweek interview here.


Suggested reading: The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action by Audre Lorde. 

Love, violence and transformations: A recap.

30 Day Blog Challenge

March was a great month of endings, beginnings, and transformations in general. I updated this space every day while in the midst of a whirlwind. The high energy and nonstop pace is in full swing for another couple of days, but I wanted to take a breath to share the top posts from last month.

So I just moved. And I don’t know about you, but for me moving is a special process full of resistance, excitement, and everything in between. I was slow to get started, but eventually, I did start packing. I’ve only spent one night in my new place, so no, I’m not settled yet.

I’m always fascinated by narratives and the power of story, and maybe some of you are too? This blog about knowing your family’s narrative, got a lot of attention.

Early in the month I wrote about the importance of telling your own story – if not to others, then at the very least, to yourself. I didn’t know that post and subsequent events in the real world would set the stage for me to share my own story of sexual violence. I’ve been investigating my rape narrative for nearly two years now, and I felt moved to share my side of things with the ex who violated me. Readers and friends asked me what I hoped to gain by all of this. I wrote this in response. I found myself writing so much about sexual violence in March, I added a new category. I’ve been quiet on the topic as of late, but I expect to be writing more about it in the coming months.

Violence of any kind takes place when there is an absence of love. I don’t believe individuals and subsequently, society, can truly be whole without a serious infusion of love

Here’s to healing.

What do you want? #rapeculture #vaw

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013People who have witnessed the recent steps on my journey have sent me good wishes and hopes for the outcome I want. Truth be told, the healing, the outcome I wanted for myself, happened long ago. But I’ve started to talk publicly about it. And I recently told my ex my thoughts about our past. This has inspired the following question from many corners:

What do you want?

I want to agitate.
I want to make people feel uncomfortable.
I want to counter rape culture.
I want people to stop blaming victims.
I want to add my voice to the chorus of survivors.
I want partners to question their entitlement over another’s body.
I want people to talk. Especially men to their friends and brothers. To their sons and lovers.

Rape culture is allowed to fester, in part, because of our silence. So I am speaking up, speaking back. I want to speak more often and with more eloquence. I want to help survivors speak, too.

I want to make a difference.

Yes, yes, yes. | #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Sexual Violence

In rape culture, “no” is not always honored as “no.” No was an important aspect of my experience of sexual violence, because I had initially given consent. I said yes. The problem came when I changed my mind, and my “yes” became a “no.” I was alert, angry, and unambiguously vocal in my “no.” Sometimes the situation isn’t as clear.

In Steubenville, OH, two high school football stars were convicted of raping a teenage girl too drunk to give consent. She was too drunk to say yes or no. By taking advantage of her inability to respond, the perpetrators broke the law. This case and the discussion around it, has broadened the national discourse on sexual violence and rape culture. One idea getting more expansive coverage is the importance of “yes,” in sexual encounters rather than simply the absence or presence of “no.” Jessica Valenti asks,

If a woman doesn’t say “no” to sex—is that the same thing as saying “yes”?

She elaborates with more pointed questions:

Are all women really to be considered willing sexual participants unless otherwise stated? If we flirt with someone, or even kiss them, does that give them permission to do whatever else they want to our bodies until we strenuously object? 

With this framing, it’s clear that women are not in a perpetual state of consent. Therefore, assuming “yes” in absence of “no” is inadequate. Coercion is a very real part of rape culture. Sometimes partners acquiesce:

But acquiescence is not the same as active consent:

Writes Jessica,

The only way to know that sex is consensual is if there’s a freely and clearly given “yes.” This may sound radical to the uninitiated, but don’t we all want to make sure we’re only having sex with people who are actually interested? Ensuring enthusiastic consent requires only the most basic respect we all owe our partners in the first place: paying attention to how they’re doing, and asking them if we can’t tell.

In other words, only yes means yes.

NaBloPoMo March 2013

No means no* #NaBloPoMo #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013At times boundaries are rendered ambiguous, when in actuality, they’re sharply drawn. In rape culture, this means no is sometimes given an asterisk: No means no* when your partner says it three times. Or no means no* when your partner hits you in protest. No means no* when (fill in the blank).

No means no. It means no when it’s a stranger. It means no when it’s an acquaintance. It means no when it’s a family member. If it’s your spouse, significant other or otherwise longterm partner, it still means no.

Rape culture perpetuates the myth that perpetrators of sexual assault are always scary men with ski-masks and guns, hiding in the bushes for the easiest target. Or maybe they’re burglars who break in to steal your electronics and get the woman of the house as well. And on it goes. People who commit sexual assault come in all shapes, sizes, ages and circumstances. Statistics show that 73% of sexual assaults are committed by non-strangers.

Today I’m sharing an episode of The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World. In it, Freddie falls for the handsome star athlete, Garth. Dwayne, who has reason to question Garth’s intentions, seeks guidance from a trusted mentor and tries to protect Freddie from Garth’s attempt at sexual assault. Media portrayals like this show that men can counter narratives of masculinity that imply potential partners must be coerced or forced into changing their no into a yes.*

Stories of Sexual Violence #NaBloPoMo #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013I am a survivor of sexual violence.

I’ve never stated it publicly, but I’ve hinted about it here and there. I’m tired of hinting.

It’s risky, claiming survivor status out loud. It’s old wounds ripped open and sprinkled with salt. Once-dried tears, bubbling up, spilling over. Heart racing. Doubts. Anger. It’s triggering. Digging into that history, thinking about it, remembering it, and sharing it is triggering.

One could reasonably wonder why do it?

I’ll tell you why: to counter rape culture.

Telling my story gives other survivors permission to tell theirs. It opens a channel for dialogue, healing and transformation. It creates a space for would-be perpetrators to see the effect of sexual violence and potentially make more loving choices. It adds to the public discourse about sexual violence, masculinity and shame. It gives survivors a face and a voice, when so often we are silent. And invisible…

Sexual assault happens over there, to other people. To someone. In reality, it’s probably happened to someone you know. It happened to me.

The person who violated me was someone I trusted. More than that, really. I loved him. He was a long-time intimate partner who did not respect my decision to say no.

I never expressed to him how broken that experience left me. And for a very long time – years – I didn’t realize the extent of the trauma. But over the past two years, I’ve been getting clear on why my story of sexual violence needs to be told. Through telling, I’ve learned about love and intimacy, most importantly, I’ve learned about myself.

I want to help other women and teenagers learn about love and intimacy and self through their stories as well. I’ll share more when the time is right.

Nuance and Gray Areas

Politics, News & Notable, Sexual Violence

I appreciate this piece from Linda on The Feminist Wire. Especially this section where she rejects the rape/not rape binary to make room for complexity:

Dear President Obama,

I appreciate your statement that rape is rape. I really do. Your intent, I am sure, is to reject the idea that there might be legitimate rapes and illegitimate rapes. But, alas, there are complexities to rape, just as there are complexities to life. There are (sometimes) gradations, ambiguities, complications, and varied amounts and forms of culpability. My boyfriend was not a monster. I know what monsters are, having unfortunately been trapped and caught by one when I was nine. That sort of thing changes your sense of humanity, the world, your future, your life. But at 16, I was not attracted to monsters. Alas, I was attracted to assholes. My boyfriend at the time was an asshole. He might have initiated sex with me when I was awake, after all. He could have tried for a two-way encounter, an embrace, the physical correlate to a conversation between equals, but that is not what he desired, apparently. He wanted to have sex with a jellyfish. I have never understood the attraction of this.

But I would not actually call it a rape, straight up.

While I personally would not categorize perpetrators as assholes vs. monsters, I think it’s important for survivors of sexual assault to decide if their experience merits one label (rape) or another (something else).  And as she goes on to explain, this decision does not then make space to call some rapes legitimate and others illegitimate. It does make space to investigate the behavior of all parties, to understand intent, culpability, consent, or lack thereof.

So I am not suggesting we reintroduce the word “legitimate” in order to be able to characterize such complex forms of sexual violations.  That word adds nothing useful to our comprehension of coercion, manipulation, or the many forms that violation can take. But in order to begin to bring forward the experiences of sexual violence as victims experience them, we will need to allow for variable, even uncertain and ambiguous, formulations, and judgments that may not rise to the level of courtroom adjudication of guilt. If we want to listen to survivors, we will need to  prepare ourselves to hear about the gray areas.

Read the rest here.

It Counts (Trigger Warning) | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Politics, News & Notable, Sexual Violence

So this happened:

And aside from the fact the man sounds ignorant – he wants to enact laws about pregnancy when he doesn’t know how it works – he qualifies rape. If there is legitimate rape, it must follow there’s such a thing as illegitimate rape. And one wonders what that might be, exactly?

Akin has issued an apology video, trying to make amends for his word choice, yet one wonders if he still believes that some rapes are real, while others, are somehow fake? If only he could express the concept more artfully?

Jezebel documents and simultaneously mocks this dangerous discourse here. Tanehisi unpacks the power and privilege underlying the claims here.

Rape is rape. Full stop.

It becomes a stranger invading. It becomes a thief stealing. That is not intimacy any more. You have changed it. It is something else. It is something brutal and violent and mean…

This is from a much longer work-in-progress. In it, I recount a dysfunctional relationship, echoes of which still reverberate in my consciousness decades later. It’s appalling, really. The idea that such an assault is subject to scrutiny – not on whether it happened, but on whether it was legitimate. Whether it matters. Whether it counts.

It counts.

It counts even though it was not with a stranger. It counts even though the perpetrator was my boyfriend, whom I loved at the time. It counts even though I only show up in the “underreported” statistics because I never reported him. I was too busy trying to convince myself that my feelings were legitimate. That I mattered. That I counted.

And I do.

Forever Changed | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

What is one thing that left you forever changed?

I stumbled across this question while sitting, browsing and mulling – the trio known collectively as my process. Even when I have an idea in mind (I did) I often have to go through this period of germination. I embraced it in grad school, but I kinda want things to move a little faster.

But this is me stalling.

As soon as I read that question, an answer came to mind. I was inspired to respond, completely disregarding my initial plans to write about student ingenuity and punishment. Though as I began to type, I wondered how much I should or would share.

I’m still deciding. I’ll ease into it and see what comes out.

I experienced the first love of my life in high school. I went in with an open heart and came away damaged. Not just bruised. Way beyond heartbroken. Soul shattered perhaps, and I’m not sure that even captures it. For years, literally two decades, I was unwilling to consider the trauma I underwent. I hid it from everyone. Even me.

It left me secretly distrustful. Occasionally dizzy in torrents of “what if.” Subject to mini-meltdowns in intimate spaces.

Last year around this time, I began peeling back the layers, exposing the truth. To myself, at least. During that process I truly began to understand the transformative nature of narrative – the dramatic shifts in understanding that can occur in studying episodes of your own life history.

I was forever changed by the relationship. I was forever changed yet again, in the telling.

I hope my path of facilitating transformation through narrative can help others; but that’s a story for another day.

Today in Women…

Feminist Thought, Politics, News & Notable

Today, two articles about women captured my attention for a good portion of the day. I share them here with little commentary, as in both cases, the content speaks for itself.

The first piece is Ashley Judd’s blistering critique of patriarchy and women’s and men’s complicity in upholding it. In it, she thoughtfully problematizes the media’s portrayal of women. It is fierce and awesome and bookmarked in my Diigo account  for future reference.

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted. Continue reading.

As excited as I was to read Ashley’s piece, I was later reduced to tears – devastated to find out about legislated acts of violence against imprisoned women. I’ve been tuning in more to the politics of the prison industrial complex, and I’m the first to admit I have a lot to learn. Yet, the fact that women in 35 states are shackled while giving birth, was an appalling revelation. This article touts the good news that Florida (of all regressive places!) has put an end to this horrendous practice.

It’s unusual to hear of good news from the war on women coming out of Florida, but there is some. Last week Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a bill that establishes humane and uniform rules for the treatment of pregnant women who are incarcerated in any jail, prison or detention center in Florida. Continue reading.

I was encouraged to learn about the efforts of the Rebecca Project, and they are now on my list of organizations I’d like to support and/or partner with in some way. One of my goals this year is to write and publish an advocacy piece on a cause of personal import. I think I’m one step closer to at least finding the cause. Lest we forget, prisoners are people, too.