Rape Culture and Revolution
Over time, I am coming to see more and more ways in which the greatest thefts from us as people, and the genocides and atrocities of our past, are connected and complicit in perpetuating cycles of violence. This is one step in creating a dialogue about how to change the system and not just the symptoms, of our oppressions.
MY LINE OF MOTHERS
Dropped Eggs in the Kitchen
Eggshells on the floor
For lack of a beginning
Fallen there open
Of a beginning.
I could start with my
Round smoothness, sharded
But long before even my birth
Was a mother with a face round and hard,
Mine own, yet distant and unknown
Before she was frozen
Landgrabbed and pregnant
Man and captor
Framed in sienna or umber
And her name forgotten, broken connections.
Then there was her daughter
All time a war between patriotism and motherland.
Her duty was silence
Silvery sharp at her neck.
My mother told me her own story
In the rain, and I could smell her tears
The salt was like the parched ground
And this flood was quenching a drought.
It rushed into my ears
And dripped down deep
Like I was bleeding
Like her blood was flowing in my veins.
She had no specifics
But lots of fear
And I never told her
My blood stains a mattress like that.
So, for lack of a beginning
I rant and rave as I walk
Down the sides of streets and conversations
About the cuts of the cords
Vocal silence reflecting on in deep eyes
And for lack of a beginning
I rage at the assumptions
And all the kings horses
And all the kings men
If we all lived unforgotten
I could find a home in my skin
And for lack of a beginning
We could call eachother kin.
The first thing I know about my family besides all those family claims of historical men ("we are related to Robin Hood... to Shakespeare... to French royalty") is the story of my great great grandmother. She was a woman stripped of her name, culture, land, and freedom by the kidnapping, subsequent rape and marriage by a white settler in Montana. They lived on a farm, poor with their gaggle of kids, and I can imagine the burden in her life growing heavier as her world was stripped of hope and future. In the one photograph of her that I have seen, her face reflects mental and physical hardship that I can't even imagine.
Her only daughter went to serve, patriotically, in WW1. I once read her diary, filled with her 18-year-old desire to get out of the farmland and dust of a future of the one room schoolhouse teacher and a marriage of convenience. She left one day for Washington DC. In DC, they would not let her join the nurse corps, because her documentation was questionable, and the state suspected divided loyalties and racial impurity. She was crushed by the rejection, and on her way to the boarding house from that interview a man followed her, grabbed her and dragged her under some bushes where he raped her at knifepoint. A soldier with bright red hair heard her muffled screams and came to her rescue, scaring off the rapist, and soon after she married the soldier. "Never again" she wrote, "will I be without a husband's protection".
Her daughter was my grandmother, who was abused by her father, that very same hero, now an alcoholic. What I know of my grandmother is that she drank a lot of liquor, was tough as nails, she had a sharp ironic sense of humor. She left home at an early age, moving north to New York City. She married a man who was an orphan, and commenced to mass porducing a family, 50s style. The family was fragments of emotions. My mother once said she had no recollection of nursing or of being held, no faint memory of smell or touch.
This brings me to my mother, and me. I am her only daughter, and it has been up to me from a very young age to be the unbending support for her. I knew as a child that my mother hurt herself. I knew that in her moments of desperation she was compelled to the oblivion of blades- but eventually she could stop at just cutting her hair off. I knew that she would never physically hurt me, but she often threatened to leave us. One night when I returned home after a long time away we sat out on some hay bales although it was a thunderstorm. This was the private space available for us to talk, I suppose because there was baseball on TV and the men had a vested interest in business as usual.
My mom's fašade of unending durability collapsed and she yelped out, "I was RAPED when I was 18 years old." She had nothing else to say, but tears were streaming down her weathered face, mixing with the dust and rain. I held her, and had no idea what to do next. The one thing that was absolutely out of the question was to complicate this moment of her admission by telling her that I have been raped too. There is a certain amount of self-sacrifice on my part that is the glue of our comfortable relationship. She, under all her experienced strength, is that 18-year-old. A brilliant, awkwardly tall girl. I don't know what happened, but I do get the feeling I'm the only person she has ever told. I don't think my family wants to know. I know they don't want to hear about my experience.
Myself, well, I was very young. I was very confused and under the impression that there was something wrong with me that could only be made right by pleasing other people, making them feel good, saying what they wanted to hear. I had never even been out on a date, when I let myself get talked into getting drunk with a twenty-something year old man who I didn't know well. At first it was fun, riding around dizzyingly on the handlebars of his bike, in the liquid sunset of summer. But soon he began making me uncomfortable, touching and kissing me, and I told him to take me home. Instead of giving me a ride home, he took me to his house and yanked my clothes off. He carried me into his room, and broke me into pieces relentlessly. It hurt physically, but the confusion and mental anguish of being powerless and invisible in my own body was equally as impacting, and it all combined into something my mind has learned to deal with like a bad dream. I was saying "no, no" and "stop". I was struggling with my body that I suddenly didn't understand. I kept thinking, "what is happening? Am I different, am I flawed now that I am not a virgin?" When he stopped there was my blood all over the place. Tears were sliding down my face, and I burned, and was too sore to move. Shooting pain that left me breathless and dizzy, like I was passing out. And he smiled. Then he asked me- did I romp you too hard, baby? I remember feeling offended that he knew I was a baby, and yet he still did that to me. These things are like symbols, engraved in my memory. I never told anyone until years afterward. The rapist lives his life, and I try to. For a long time, I used my anguish narcissistically, as if it somehow validated my new adulthood, my womanhood. But I also gained a respect for the art of escape as self-defense, and protected myself from subsequent molestations by jumping out of a bathroom window and a moving car.
From my experiences, I've learned I can only run away from specific circumstances-but danger is often latent. I know a lot of people who endured things I can't even imagine, at an even younger age, and in parts of their lives they could not run away from.
Femininity in its long-nailed fine-tuned delicacy has always evaded my touch. My family is made up of working people, self-sufficient, and strong. The ultra-feminine women in my life have always made me very insecure. I remember standing in the lunch line, and a couple girls from the suburbs comapring their hands to mine. ("oh, your hands are gross, and dirty, and all rough!"). I feel slow and clumsy and stupid around them, or unworldly and bumbling. I am none of these things in reality, but the feeling is hard to shake. Judgement is deeply worn into all women's minds. Why should I find it so difficult to be proud of my hard-working hands? Or my strong back or the round face that has carried across the generations despite the cutting of so many cords?
Growing up, my best friend was a small blonde wonder-child. She had the heart of everyone we met, and I piqued their interest as the "weirdo", like in "Friends". We have drifted apart, into different conceptions of womanhood. Her only interactions with me now have been marked with coercion and attempts to hold my emotions hostage. I see her graduating into a strong woman, exercising the kind of strength that is sold as "feminine"- emotionally coercive force. It is a girly-girl's only legitimate force, in the eyes of our society, because by its nature it keeps the balance of power stable. The choice of whether or not to change a situation is always left up to the one that the woman uses her emotional coercion upon. She herself must wait and depend upon the conscience of those she accepts as powerful.
The option of physical self-defense is strongly discouraged by law enforcement, if not by word, at least by deed. Victims do not practice self-defense. Statistically, women face longer prison sentences for self-defensive violence than men do for domestic abuse. It all fits nicely into a package of patriarchal sin, with its serpentine women and their devious darkness; the lunacy and blood of "nature", and the primacy of patriarchal "civilization" and the Godhead above them.
Snakes witches angels
Whores priestess infidel
Quiet wife of intimacy
Or unleashed into hell
Fire of desire dark
Fierce amazon unbounded
To chain of command.
Safer, high-heel secretary
Holder but not owner of
Secrets, titties, children and "to do" lists.
Resplendent diamonds buying
Blood flesh, bought and buried
As the blight contagious,
Danger dirty, Smile seductive,
Is betrayal imminent and belongs in a whorehouse.
He said "hold the viper closer"
In a cage and not a hand
A soul of darkness shown in
Dark eyes, reflective of
Madness and hysteria.
He said we need limits
Chaos plowed for flowering order
Motions of love decried
Flag planted, tear slipping
She said he said she was the one
A big part of why I thought I was "bad" for a long time was that my love poured towards my closest friends, regardless of their gender, but I did not at all enjoy flirting with, or being fucked by, the people who I was "supposed" to be attracted to. I thought that what makes the woman is how desirable she is, and my reluctance at being with the people who wanted to consume me, made me feel worthless. This kind of mindset really reminds me of the World Bank definition that insanity can be gauged by the measure of "days out of role". How can your commodification be any measure of sanity? It is as though our legitimate right to exist is contingent on our usage by others, or the extraction of resources.
I used to just go numb and apathetic whenever I felt that I was about to be used; I would shut off my emotions and my senses. My sadistic lovers loved it- I would take anything, as it never had any meaning to me. I prided myself on a high tolerance for pain. One day, I realized that I was taking pride in my bruises- I liked how they showed that someone had touched me. I realized that this is really messed up. That night I had a dream where I became a landscape and it was as dead as a political map; every part of me was unsensing and passive. I was watching my history like a PBS history special, all the different touches that had attempted to claim my body as conquered, each wave of conquest followed by the extraction of resources, my mind, my heart, my body, my time and energy, my health. I realized when I woke up that my senses were colonized, and that in a way they were silent not for my own protection, but as though they were imprisoned or enslaved to serve rape culture. That was the beginning of the thaw of my emotional frostbite. It stings to have to work through my inner problems and patterns, and my relationships with people from my past and my present, but it is ultimately making me happy. I have succeeded in making my body my home once again, and understanding how to love and be loved.
Rape culture is a consumer. It is one in the same with consumer culture, where people are objects and ideas of people are sold in the mall just as much as the clothes are. Where shoppers get the goods, not knowing where they come from, and throw them out as disposable when the trend is over and the function worn out. In consumer culture, value is a price tag, and no value is inherent. As a belligerent man I used to know always said, "women be shopping... " and it's true, but the voracious consumption of stuff serves only to sell the women AS stuff.
This seems to me to be a society of victims. Oppression is rampant for everyone except for the very elite few. For those who don't experience the harshness of growing up poor and making a "living" in the underclasses, there are other types of cages. So many middle class kids are on psychiatric medications, it would be a mistake to ignore such a screaming canary in the mineshaft. If freedom is a lack of regulation, as Ward Churchill has suggested, United States citizens can call ourselves some of the most un-free people in the world. The US has the highest proportion of its population in prison of any country in the entire world. And of course, divided and conquered, we all oppress each other all the time. There is a constant battle among people and institutions for power. This idea -power-, and the dynamics of scarcity and oppression that it creates, makes fertile ground for racists to organize lower class whites against poor people of color, for management to set workers in competitive relationships with one another, for white feminists to disregard the struggles of women of color, for middle class people to always ally with the upper classes in the hope of getting there. Each, for all the power they can get for themselves. Most of all, these divisions and acts of violence between oppressed people decimate communities and other forms of self-sufficiency for people. The existence of the oppression creates the existence of victimhood, in which the victim is damaged goods of the state, and the state is the only force the victim can go to for some kind of restitution. I don't want to use my pain to strengthen the role of power for the authorities and organizations I am told to go to for help, who actually support the nexus of oppressive forces in society.
Many people are now calling themselves "survivors" instead of "victims". I like the optimism of the term- it implies that a time will come when we will have outlasted rape culture. We are all, whether or not we have been raped or otherwise molested, survivors of an inhumane system. The taking of the precious and highly personal has been as much a part of genocide as it has of rape (and those two have come hand in hand). The desperation of isolation from vital necessities, and impending death has haunted the dreams of those starving on the streets, isolated from family, kicked off their homeland, psychologically mutilated, or locked in prison. We all need to practice self-defense, for this is a culture where rape, genocide, slavery, and prisons are symptoms, and not the original causes.
COMMUNITY RESPONSES TO RAPE
Amongst revolutionaries, radicals, anarchists, and other change-seeking groups, there have been efforts all over the country recently to hold rapists accountable for their actions, without involving the state. It seems there have been different degrees of success. There have been healing processes, and there have been bloodthirsty lynch mobs aimed at innocent individuals, and there have been insulated self-aggrandizing rapists claiming that they're the ones being victimized by the circumstance. My take on all this is that by approaching this responsibility in a purely reactionary way, the "community" is replacing the state. In my opinion, the ultimate goal is to have the state and the role it plays be obsolete. But, we still exist in a society defined by of the social dynamics of victimhood. When our "communities" are really only an interest group of people who come to meetings, the only work we can do is reactionary. In these circumstances, someone must be made into a victim in our minds in order for rape to be addressed.
What we need are communities that can support emotional and physical healing, and that can foster respect and self-defense. This is inherently opposed to the state, for the interests of those people the state "victimizes" are directly opposed to the interests of the state. I come from a community where everyone was very interdependent and identified with one another, despite ethnic and cultural fractures. It was not a community that I could have expected a radical analysis from when I was raped, with the exception of certain individuals. Few of the women or men felt empowered to address rape as a social and political problem and not just an act of individual taboo violence. One crucial part of creating a social revolution is for those of us who are a part of a community to foster deeper communication within those communities so that we can all recognize the interconnectedness of our personal and political struggles- and the power of our collective actions. That is one aspect of why I am posting this article so publicly.
I never brought my specific injury before my community as a whole, but I did become part of a dialog about domestic abuses in our village, from which we all learned a tremendous amount. One thing that we discussed is, this is not a problem of "us" and "them". We should not impose ostracism or invisibility on rapists as a blanket solution, even though that is what "taboo" things usually do. We should not push them into dark corners, because that accomplishes no more than the state's "correctional institutions". Abusers are weak points in the fabric of a community, and instead of ignoring and withdrawing resources, they need more, focused, attention. Darning or patching, if you will. This is also a safety concern, since abusers who are pushed out can pop up in another community or location without needing to remember the lessons they should have learned.
I think self-abusers are the same way. Having been introduced to the patterns of abuse from various sources in my life (including the rape psychology built up in my matriarchal line, and pop-culture), I have been fighting the impulse to self-abuse since I was a kid. I have also been fighting the feeling of obligation to let others control and abuse me. No, this doesn't mean I need to be locked up in a mental institution. Yes, it does mean I need my community to listen to me and express connection to me, and dialog about the underlying dynamics that foster these maliases.
These statistics come from the US Department of Justice. I've added commentary.
*The number of women under the jurisdiction of State or Federal prison authorities increased 4.9% from December, 2001 to December, 2002, reaching 97,491. The number of men rose 2.4%, totaling 1,343,164 at yearend 2002.
*The female prison population has risen 275% since 1980. 90% of women in prison are single mothers - there are 167,000 children with incarcerated mothers.
*In 1995: 80% of women report incomes of less than $2000 a year; 92% less than $10,000 in 1994
*At yearend 2002 there were 3,437 sentenced black male prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,176 sentenced Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 450 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.
*Prisoners with HIV have little or no access to qualified medical attention
*1995: whites account or 52% of all crack users, African Americans: 38% However, of those sentenced for crack offenses - 88% were African American, 4.1% were white.
*Private corporations like Eddie Bauer and Lexus employ prison slave labor. Prisoners work without rights or laws to protect them.
* In 1994 92% of federal inmates were incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
. *Over 100 political prisoners in the United States are serving long terms not for crimes committed but for political beliefs and activities
The Fraternal Brotherhood of Police draws allegiance from police of all ranks, prison guards security guards, and those inside and around the court system. And what is the proportionally fastest growing population in prisons? It is women of color, for non-violent offenses.
When women are separated from their children, and children from their mothers, because police and courts judge them to be a part of the "criminal class", we know slavery has not ended. We, the people, are not numbers. We are not statistics, and we are not barcodes. We are individuals in relationship to one another, and in struggle for the survival and well being of our families and communities. It is becoming a harder and harder struggle, as social services and schools are having their budgets cut out of existence. It is getting harder as housing, food, and medical care become too expensive, and drifts out of reach for the majority of families. Petty crime is a reaction to poverty. And logically, it is poverty that is the crime if robbing a convenience store carries a harsher sentence than stealing millions of dollars from your employees' retirement funds does. It is a propagated poverty, because community structures that support people are intentionally torn down by those who would profit from our desperation.
Through the prison system, and other systems of enforcement, our communities become divided, and held hostage. Those inside prison worry about their families, and try their hardest to stay connected without hurting them. Those outside worry about their families that are inside and try their hardest to stay connected and support them without hurting them. Our ability to support one another and ourselves is essentially bought by the state for the price of incarcerating our loved ones. And though that price is greater than it would be to send that prisoner to a fancy upper-class university for a year, it is worth it to the state and its henchmen corporations, for the profit of prison slave-labor and the continued disempowerment of prisoners' outside communities.
Rape is perpetrated in epidemic proportions within prisons. Rape and sexual abuse is perpetrated in epidemic proportions in the military. It is an expression of oppressive power, most horrifically expressed when some hold much more structural power than others. This dynamic is mimicked on other scales, echoing through the streets, our workplaces, and our families by racist, classist, sexist, ageist, and ablist behavior. A radical solution to rape and other forms of oppression must address the power structures that enable its expression, as well as the psychological and social strongholds.
Beyond just reacting to the horrors occurring in our everyday lives and all around the world, we need to create social and political revolution in this country, to stop the power structure's enforcement of inequity, and corporate capitalism's commodification of all our inherent value and gifts. The structures that uphold the oppressive power of this society must be abolished, and at the same time communities must be filling the void with support systems that empower us all. We can not deny that the political is personal and vice versa. We can not say that "sexism, racism, and classism must be abolished, and then we can have a revolution" or the other way around. The structures that support this unjust system are both external and internal to each and every one of us, and we must work effectively against oppression, on all fronts.
I don't want to be a part of the great forgetting that the government and its social system are attempting to impose. I don't want to ignore that look on my great great grandma's face, or my grandma's face, or my mother's face, because I see it reflected all around me, and I know that the truth is often hard to take, but ignoring it allows it to keep growing. I want to build on the strength these lifetimes have instilled in me, and I hope desperately that the current generations will not shed their responsibility to the future generations. We NEED to stop the cycle of rape culture and a system that oppresses us all in order to make a profit.
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