On Rape and Rising, Hopefully

[There are potential triggers in this post re: rape. Please do not proceed if this may make you uncomfortable.]

“Rape” is a four-letter word.

I’ve written before about my journey to the realization about the devastation of rape (I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?). Now that I’m fully aware of not only the physical effects but the emotional and psychological devastation caused by rape, I’m burning with rage about it.

My friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing the gray areas surrounding the concept of sexual assault and rape. It’s a harrowing topic, because the more it’s discussed, the more it doesn’t make sense anymore. There’s the “maybe” and the “I don’t know” and the “intent,” but at the end of the day, regardless of where any act stands on the spectrum, it’s a harmful, traumatic experience, period.

It was one of my friends, during a recent discussion about rape amazed me with his passion, who reminded me why it’s not a fruitless endeavor to fight for change. His anger, his emphasis, the sincerity in his voice – it brought me out of the removed apathy that so many of us don when we’re hesitant. It brought me into the present; it ignited a part of my soul.

They say that rape is about power, and I guess that to a certain extent it is. But it’s more than that, too. It’s about having your power taken from you. Rape, gray area rape or legitimate rape or date rape or sexual assault or whatever else you can think to call it, takes away your power. It makes you feel weak inside. It makes you skittish and scared; it makes you hurt all over; it makes you burn with shame, even though you know that it’s not your fault.

It’s under-reported. I can empathize with those women (or men) who for any number of reasons, cannot report it, and suffer in silence. I think of the Kobe Bryant trial. I don’t care whether or not it was rape – look at what happened to the victim. She was shamed, called horrible names, doubted, had her life spread before the eyes of the world and then slowly dismantled to be examined. So often, it comes down to “he said, she said” and nothing can be proven.

(I should note here that one of my biggest pet peeves is when people assume that women are “crying rape” for attention. I don’t think anyone should ever misreport anything, and it’s disgraceful to do it – but at the same time, every time someone reports something, people are so quick to make critical judgments and I think that says a ridiculous amount of negative things about humanity.)

The statistic that 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped within her lifetime is terrifying. One billion women. One billion. (I’m imaging Mike Meyers as Dr. Evil saying “one million dollars” right now….)

Think about that number. Really think about that. What does that say? What does that say about men? What does that say about our tolerance for violence? What does that say about our inclination to make women bear the brunt of the responsibility for actions committed against them?

The world is not a safe place. It never has been. But that’s not an excuse for us to stop working toward something better. I hate the idea that women are weak. I hate it. But I understand it.

During college, I took a Transgender English class – liberal arts, I know – and we read a story about a college professor who transitioned from male to female. I hated the book at the time – she wrote about embracing femininity in a way I found to be so shallow, materialistic, and stereotypical. She wrote about the vulnerability that she felt when she felt the wind between her thighs when she was wearing a skirt.

I disregarded the notion entirely. But I have gained new insight. I do understand the vulnerability. I am glad that I never realized my own vulnerability while I was living in Chicago or staying in Cape Town. I’m glad that I was bull-headed and street-smart enough to be safe.

No amount of “right decisions” can protect you. No amount of preparedness can keep you from harm. There is no such thing as safety. It’s all merely an illusion. That’s what we’ve come to as a society. Our gated communities and fancy security guards are nothing. Trust is irrelevant, an outdated idea shirked in favor of deceit and false self-truths.

Enough is enough. Listen to Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues!) say some powerful stuff about the movement called “One Billion Rising.” People are breaking their silence. They’re letting go of the discomfort that they feel when discussing something as taboo as rape and sexually motivated violence. They’re realizing that something needs to change. People need to be held accountable for their actions. People need to fundamentally respect other people.

Rape is a preventable crime. It’s not preventable in the ways that have been suggested in the past, such as “dress more conservatively.” I forget who originally made the counter-point to this, but it’s so incredibly valid: what does that say about men? That they’re little more than wild beasts who will be unable to control themselves at the sight of flesh? That argument in itself is disgraceful to men and to women.

What I wear or do not wear cannot be construed as an invitation for rape or violence. What I do or say or act like cannot be construed as an invitation for rape of violence. There is no valid excuse. None at all.

We need to teach our young men that “no means no.” We need to teach them that power can be gained through other avenues that are more rewarding than acts of violence aimed at belittling and degrading other people. We need to emphasize respect – actions have consequences. Even if you can’t see the harm that’s been done, it’s there. We need to dispel the myth that sex is something to be taken, something to be claimed.

We need to remind all women that their voices and experiences matter. We as a global society need to value our women, rather than marginalizing them and quieting their voices. We need to remind women to be strong – we need to assure them that we’ll support them, heal them, and lift them up.

No one can be an island. We’re not in this fight alone. Globalization necessitates cooperation and conviction. We must work together to stop this perpetuation of violence, of hatred, of fear. Sexual violence against women (and men, too) has long been used as the ultimate bargaining tool, a source of shame and ultimate destruction. We must stop it. We must make it so that our people are free from the terror of vulnerability.

The world is willing to work for change – it’s time for us to realize that the capacity for human compassion and love is ever-present. This is a beautiful thing. Love is the essence of humanity – it keeps us strong and humble. Love is something we need to work on teaching our children. With a strong foundation, they will be less likely to take from others what they cannot find in themselves.

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