(TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault)
A little over two years ago, a young couple in India went to see a movie. They were celebrating the young woman’s completion of her exams to get into medical school. On the bus they took to get home at 8:30 P.M., the male passengers raped the young woman, raped her so badly that her intestines actually came out through her vagina. The bus driver did nothing to stop it and eventually the young woman’s body was dumped on the roadside. She died at the hospital of internal injuries.
For reasons that remain unclear, this particular rape finally managed to galvanize the Indian public around the issue of rape generally. Yes, there were still the woman-haters, as included in a new documentary “India’s Daughter.” A defense attorney for one of the accused rapists said, “We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.” Said the bus driver, “You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at night. A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy … about 20% of girls are good.” As to the young woman’s having fought back, the bus driver, now in prison, blames her for that too: “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they would have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy.”
But another viewpoint emerged from this incident. Popular opinion in India seemed to finally say “enough” to rape. There were mass protests in the streets, women and, hallelujah, men too. The protesters faced police crackdowns, such as being sprayed with pepper spray, yet the protests continued. Finally, the government of India was moved to form a three person panel to address the issue of rape. There have been mass protests on the first and second anniversaries of Jyoti’s death.
Now, in Turkey, a single rape has again sparked public outcry, as The Guardian reports:
Twenty-year-old student Ozgecan Aslan was traveling on a minibus in the south-east seaside province of Mersin on Wednesday when a man tried to rape her, according to local media.
Reports said Aslan pepper-sprayed the man before he stabbed her and beat her to death with an iron bar. He then enlisted the help of his father and a friend to dispose of her body in a river in Tarsus, where it was found on Friday showing evidence of burns as well as the fatal injuries.
A 26-year-old man, Ahmet Suphi Altındöke, was arrested on Monday and confessed to the crime, the Hurriyet Daily News reported. Altındöke’s 50-year-old father and 20-year-old friend were also arrested.
Turkish women have taken to social media, in response to the murder and the alarming rates of sexual harassment and violence in the country.
Using the hashtag #sendeanlat (tell your story), women have told of their experiences of violence, intimidation and harassment, as well as tactics they have resorted to, such as wearing a wedding ring or getting off a bus early to avoid being the last passenger.
In fact, the hashtag mentioned by The Guardian and coming out of Turkey trended number three on Twitter worldwide last weekend. As Addicting Info reports, with cool photos, some Turkish men have been protesting by wearing miniskirts to show solidarity with their sisters.
So that got me wondering – what would it take to get American men into the streets en masse to protest rape?
Every single day in the U.S, five hundred women are raped. Five hundred more souls forever ripped apart, just as mine is, every day. Please allow me to share something that addresses it most meaningfully to me, a poem called “Blue Blanket” by the fabulous spoken word poet Andrea Gibson:
there are days
when there is no way
not even a chance
that I dare for even a second glance at the reflection of my body in the mirror and she knows why
like I know why she only cries when she feels she’s about to lose control
she knows how much control is worth
knows how much a woman can lose when her power to move
is taken away
by a grip so thick with hate it could
clip the wings of god
send the next eight generations of your blood shaking
and tonight something inside me is breaking
my heart beating so deep beneath the sheets of pain
I could give every tear she’s crying a name
and a face I’d forever erase if I could just like she would
but how free would any of us be if even a few forgot what too many women in this world cannot
and what the hell would you tell your daughter?
your someday-daughter when you have to hold her beautiful face to the beat-up face of this place that hasn’t learned the meaning of STOP
what would you tell you daughter
of the womb raped empty?
the eyes swollen shut, the gut too frightened to hold food, it was seven minutes of the worst kind of hell
and she stopped believing in heaven
mistrust became her law, fear her bible, the only chance of survival
don’t trust any of them
bolt the doors to your home, iron-gate the windows, walking to the car alone, get the key in the lock like
please, please, please open
like already she can feel the five-fingered noose around her neck, two-hundred pounds of hate digging graves into the sacred soil of her flesh
please, please, please, please open
already she can hear the broken-record of the defense:
“answer the question, answer the question, answer the question miss”
why am I on trial for this?
would you talk to your mother, your daughter, your sister like this?
I am generations of mothers, daughters, sisters
our bodies battlefields, war zones beneath the weapons of your brothers’ hands
do you know they’ve found land mines in broken women’s souls?
black holes in the parts of their hearts that once sang symphonies of creation as bright as the light on infinity’s halo?
she said, I remember how love used to glow like glitter on my skin before he made his way in, now every touch feels like a sin that could crucify medusa
kali oshun mary, bury me in a blue blanket so their god doesn’t know I’m a girl, cut off my curls, I want peace when I’m dead
her friend knocks at the door, it’s been three weeks, don’t you think it’s time you got out of bed? no.
the ceiling fan still feeling like his breath, I think I need just a few more days of rest
bruises on her knees from begging to forget
she’s heard stories of vietnam vets who can still feel the tingling of their amputated limbs
she’s wondering how many women are walking around this world still feeling the tingling of their amputated wings, remembering what it was to fly, to sing
she’s not wondering what she would tell her daughter
she knows what she would tell her daughter, she’d ask her what gods do you believe in?
I’ll build you temple of mirrors so you can see them
pick the brightest star you ever wished on and I’ll show the light in you that made that wish come true
she’s not asking what you would tell your daughter, she’s life deep in the hell
has already died a thousand deaths with every unsteady breath
a thousand graves in every pore of her flesh
knows the war’s not over, she knows there’s bleeding to come
knows she’s far from the only woman or girl trusting this world no more than the hands trust rusted barbed wire
she was whole before that night, believed in heaven before that night
and she knows she won’t be the only one, no she knows she won’t be the only one
she’s not asking
what you’re gonna tell your daughter, she’s asking what
you’re gonna teach your son.
The line “bury me in a blue blanket so their god doesn’t know I’m a girl, cut off my curls, I want peace when I’m dead” is my favorite line ever from any book, movie, song, or poem, from anybody anywhere. For me, it pretty well says it all. After decades of optimistic activism, I now get older and older and the patriarchy still does to us women what it does. These days, as a woman, I’m not expecting to find real freedom or peace of mind until I’m dead.
If you are a man, please know that every woman you know, every woman you care about – wife, girlfriend, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, aunt, cousin – lives with the shadow of rape hanging over her. We go about our daily lives feeling unsafe, using lots of our energy on trying to avoid being assaulted. We make sure to park under lights, we carry mace or carry our keys sticking out of our fists in case we need a weapon to gouge someone’s eyes out, we check the back seats of our vehicles before getting in, we are spooked by every man with whom we cross paths after dark (yes, I mean even you, progressive male readers – you make our hearts race with fear), we try not to be on public transportation unless there is a decent crowd there, we worry about what shoes or what skirt we’re wearing in case we need to run, we constantly scan the area in which we’re walking for signs of danger and listen carefully for someone coming up behind us…the list just goes on and on and on. I invite male readers to take a moment and really try to feel what living like that day after day must be like – don’t stop trying to feel it until your heart is actually racing because that is when you’ll be getting close. And, hey, you don’t have to just take my word for it – try asking the women you love what they do to try to stay safe and I bet you’ll get quite a list.
In Vice President Joe Biden’s book Promises to Keep, he relays a telling story. Back when he was a senator, he and his staff were reviewing crime statistics when he became particularly appalled by the rates of gendered violence against women. For many months, he gathered and studied more data and then held hearings, the work that led to his authorship of the Violence Against Women Act, which he to this day says is the Senate achievement of which he is by far most proud. Meanwhile, on the Biden homefront in Delaware, Biden would arrive home from D.C. by train just in time to take over with the children while his wife Jill immediately drove away to teach her night classes at community college. During this same period, there was a serial rapist attacking women at the campus where Jill taught. When Joe first heard about the rapes, he asked Jill that night to wait for him to get his car keys so he could follow her into the building on campus to make sure she was safe. When he headed inside to get his keys, however, she began to back out of the driveway. He frantically ran after her car, banging on her car window, begging her to stop. When she finally did and rolled down her window, the typically mild-mannered and sweet Jill was red-faced with rage. She said, “So you’ve been studying violence against women for a couple of months and now you’re the expert, huh? I have lived with this my whole life and I damn sure don’t need you following me to work!” Then she backed out of the driveway, even squealing the tires like an exclamation point as she went. Joe Biden wrote in his book that that incident taught him that he still had a hell of a lot to learn.
I have worked with small groups of American men on rape prevention before. When I was an undergrad, we held “Take Back the Night” rallies in which women took to the streets alone while men held their own workshops and then joined us for “Speak Out Against Rape” events. I have also heard of Walk a Mile in Her Shoes in which men march through the streets wearing high-heeled shoes to draw attention to gendered violence against women. I have only ever seen news articles on such events coming out of California though.
The problem, however, is that these groups are small. I’m asking what it would take to get masses of men out into the streets. I’m thinking of something like Occupy, something like what went down in India, crowds, coast to coast. Would it be one particular rape that for some unclear reason finally causes mass outrage like what happened in Turkey and India? Here, would it have to be the rape of a beloved celebrity? (By the way, before she became famous, when she first moved to New York City, Madonna was raped. Ditto “Top Gun” star Kelly McGillis, reported on here – the experience made her abandon her acting career at the height of her fame. Oprah Winfrey. Lady Gaga. Tori Amos, when she was a teenager, her date brought her to his house where he and his father took turns raping her at gunpoint – listen to her haunting autobiographical “Me and a Gun.” Ashley Judd. Rita Hayworth repeatedly by her father. Fran Drescher. Queen Latifah. Maya Angelou. Sandra Dee by her stepfather from age 5 to age 12. Billie Holiday at age 12. Mackenzie Phillips by her father John of friendly, folksy “The Mamas and The Papas” fame. Anne Heche by her father from the time she was a toddler – he gave her herpes. Connie Francis. (Well, there goes my theory that it would take a celebrity rape – guess not.)
I think there are certain must-read materials for would-be allies. For example, I think that every white person who wants to be an ally to people of color should be familiar with Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege. And I think that men who want to be allies to their sisters really should read Andrea Dworkin’s speech “I Want a 24 Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape.” I am going to try to pick out some of it to quote here, but I really encourage everyone, women and especially men, to read it all:
I have thought a great deal about how a feminist, like myself, addresses an audience primarily of political men who say that they are antisexist. And I thought a lot about whether there should be a qualitative difference in the kind of speech I address to you. And then I found myself incapable of pretending that I really believe that that qualitative difference exists. I have watched the men’s movement for many years. I am close with some of the people who participate in it. I can’t come here as a friend even though I might very much want to. What I would like to do is to scream: and in that scream I would have the screams of the raped, and the sobs of the battered; and even worse, in the center of that scream I would have the deafening sound of women’s silence, that silence into which we are born because we are women and in which most of us die.
And if there would be a plea or a question or a human address in that scream, it would be this: why are you so slow? Why are you so slow to understand the simplest things; not the complicated ideological things. You understand those. The simple things. The cliches. Simply that women are human to precisely the degree and quality that you are.
And also: that we do not have time. We women. We don’t have forever. Some of us don’t have another week or another day to take time for you to discuss whatever it is that will enable you to go out into those streets and do something. We are very close to death. All women are. And we are very close to rape and we are very close to beating. And we are inside a system of humiliation from which there is no escape for us. We use statistics not to try to quantify the injuries, but to convince the world that those injuries even exist.
Those statistics are not abstractions. It is easy to say, “Ah, the statistics, somebody writes them up one way and somebody writes them up another way.” That’s true. But I hear about the rapes one by one by one by one by one, which is also how they happen. Those statistics are not abstract to me. Every three minutes a woman is being raped. Every eighteen seconds a woman is being beaten. There is nothing abstract about it. It is happening right now as I am speaking….
But mostly your guilt, your suffering, reduces to: gee, we really feel so bad. Everything makes men feel so bad: what you do, what you don’t do, what you want to do, what you don’t want to want to do but are going to do anyway. I think most of your distress is: gee, we really feel so bad. And I’m sorry that you feel so bad–so uselessly and stupidly bad–because there is a way in which this really is your tragedy. And I don’t mean because you can’t cry. And I don’t mean because there is no real intimacy in your lives. And I don’t mean because the armor that you have to live with as men is stultifying: and I don’t doubt that it is. But I don’t mean any of that.
I mean that there is a relationship between the way that women are raped and your socialization to rape and the war machine that grinds you up and spits you out: the war machine that you go through just like that woman went through Larry Flynt’s meat grinder on the cover of Hustler. You damn well better believe that you’re involved in this tragedy and that it’s your tragedy too. Because you’re turned into little soldier boys from the day that you are born and everything that you learn about how to avoid the humanity of women becomes part of the militarism of the country in which you live and the world in which you live. It is also part of the economy that you frequently claim to protest….
What’s involved in doing something about all of this? The men’s movement seems to stay stuck on two points. The first is that men don’t really feel very good about themselves. How could you? The second is that men come to me or to other feminists and say: “What you’re saying about men isn’t true. It isn’t true of me. I don’t feel that way. I’m opposed to all of this.”
And I say: don’t tell me. Tell the pornographers. Tell the pimps. Tell the warmakers. Tell the rape apologists and the rape celebrationists and the pro-rape ideologues. Tell the novelists who think that rape is wonderful. Tell Larry Flynt. Tell Hugh Hefner. There’s no point in telling me. I’m only a woman. There’s nothing I can do about it. These men presume to speak for you. They are in the public arena saying that they represent you. If they don’t, then you had better let them know.
Then there is the private world of misogyny: what you know about each other; what you say in private life; the exploitation that you see in the private sphere; the relationships called love, based on exploitation. It’s not enough to find some traveling feminist on the road and go up to her and say: “Gee, I hate it.”
Say it to your friends who are doing it. And there are streets out there on which you can say these things loud and clear, so as to affect the actual institutions that maintain these abuses. You don’t like pornography? I wish I could believe it’s true. I will believe it when I see you on the streets. I will believe it when I see an organized political opposition. I will believe it when pimps go out of business because there are no more male consumers.
You want to organize men. You don’t have to search for issues. The issues are part of the fabric of your everyday lives….
And another thing about equality is that it cannot coexist with rape. It cannot. And it cannot coexist with pornography or with prostitution or with the economic degradation of women on any level, in any way. It cannot coexist, because implicit in all those things is the inferiority of women.
I want to see this men’s movement make a commitment to ending rape because that is the only meaningful commitment to equality. It is astonishing that in all our worlds of feminism and antisexism we never talk seriously about ending rape. Ending it. Stopping it. No more. No more rape. In the back of our minds, are we holding on to its inevitability as the last preserve of the biological? Do we think that it is always going to exist no matter what we do? All of our political actions are lies if we don’t make a commitment to ending the practice of rape. This commitment has to be political. It has to be serious. It has to be systematic. It has to be public. It can’t be self-indulgent.
The things the men’s movement has wanted are things worth having. Intimacy is worth having. Tenderness is worth having. Cooperation is worth having. A real emotional life is worth having. But you can’t have them in a world with rape. Ending homophobia is worth doing. But you can’t do it in a world with rape. Rape stands in the way of each and every one of those things you say you want. And by rape you know what I mean. A judge does not have to walk into this room and say that according to statute such and such these are the elements of proof. We’re talking about any kind of coerced sex, including sex coerced by poverty.
You can’t have equality or tenderness or intimacy as long as there is rape, because rape means terror. It means that part of the population lives in a state of terror and pretends–to please and pacify you–that it doesn’t. So there is no honesty. How can there be? Can you imagine what it is like to live as a woman day in and day out with the threat of rape? Or what it is like to live with the reality? I want to see you use those legendary bodies and that legendary strength and that legendary courage and the tenderness that you say you have in behalf of women; and that means against the rapists, against the pimps, and against the pornographers. It means something more than a personal renunciation. It means a systematic, political, active, public attack. And there has been very little of that.
I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.
We do not want to do the work of helping you to believe in your humanity. We cannot do it anymore. We have always tried. We have been repaid with systematic exploitation and systematic abuse. You are going to have to do this yourselves from now on and you know it….
As a feminist, I carry the rape of all the women I’ve talked to over the last ten years personally with me. As a woman, I carry my own rape with me. Do you remember pictures that you’ve seen of European cities during the plague, when there were wheelbarrows that would go along and people would just pick up corpses and throw them in? Well, that is what it is like knowing about rape. Piles and piles and piles of bodies that have whole lives and human names and human faces.
I speak for many feminists, not only myself, when I tell you that I am tired of what I know and sad beyond any words I have about what has already been done to women up to this point, now, up to 2:24pm on this day, here in this place.
And I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me. And how could I ask you for less–it is so little. And how could you offer me less: it is so little. Even in wars, there are days of truce. Go and organize a truce. Stop your side for one day. I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape.
I dare you to try it. I demand that you try it. I don’t mind begging you to try it. What else could you possibly be here to do? What else could this movement possibly mean? What else could matter so much?
And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can’t begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives–both men and women–begin to experience freedom.
If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong. You cannot change what you say you want to change. For myself, I want to experience just one day of real freedom before I die. I leave you here to do that for me and for the women whom you say you love.
Andrea Dworkin made that fabulous speech (which I know I overquoted, but it all felt so very necessary to me – sorry), demanding a day without rape, a taste of true freedom for herself and all of us women, back in 1983. She is dead. It is 2015. And so I ask once again, what is it going to take to get American men en masse into the streets to stop rape?
Please, please watch these spoken word poems – they’re short (two minutes each or shorter), they’re meaningful, they’re important, and they are very, very good.