after awareness, then what?

Good morning — can you feel the hard grey wash outside your window? Is it revealed, or hidden under the blue? I refilled the feeder, and the birds have returned — mostly house finches, a black-capped chickadee or two. The weather’s coming in and I just want to snuggle up on the couch with the puppy, a cup of tea, and Jane Vandenburgh’s The Architecture of the Novel instead of sitting up here at the keyboard, banging against my own book.

So let me blog instead.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Do you feel unaware of sexual assault? I would like a different tagline. I understand the need for X Awareness Months, so that organizations and government entities can rally around a particular cause, so that issues we would otherwise prefer to ignore get a bit more of the attention, resources and airtime that they deserve.

Yesterday, either online or on the radio, I was confronted with plenty of stories about sexual assault– not because it’s April, or because the media I was engaging with had any heightened coverage of sexual violence, but because people perpetrate sexually violent acts on a daily basis. The stories I came across yesterday dealt with: the community response, in Steubenville, OH, to both the gang rape of a young woman there and the vast number of bystanders/onlookers/co-conspirators who did nothing to help the victim, but instead took photos/videos of the assault and shared them with others; a blog posting about the ‘phenomenon’ of sports team gang rapes and whether sports culture in the US valorizes a masculinity that is sexually violent and predatory (the answer to that one is yes, right?); sexual assaults on buses in Hindustan, Glasgow (and I see now also in Rio) — of course, I know that these news stories are only the tip of the iceberg: if we were to have media coverage of every incident of sexual violence in the city in which we live (to say nothing of the country, or on the planet as a whole), no other news would ever get reported.

In recent weeks, we’ve been hearing about the aftermath of a brutal sexual assault of a young woman on a bus in Delhi (there’s now concern that tourism to India might be affected — because that’s the issue); about the dismissal, by an Air Force General, of the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot; about the way in which rape is used, systematically and tactically, as a weapon of war (within the ranks of our own military, by our military against those whose lands we have occupied, and by peoples across the world); about a new pope who has to deal with so many issues in his church, including the vast number of child sexual abusers whose crimes have been condoned by the church in that they are still allowed to perform priestly duties —

Is there anyone who doesn’t think sexual violence is a steady and constant problem for women around the world, and for men around the world? What do we need our awareness raised about?

What frustrates me is that way that the media talks about these acts of violence, as though each individual act of sexual violence is unique and surprising — perpetrated by a single evil individual — and not actually the most recent manifestation of rape culture. We live in cultures that have condoned violence against women since — well, since forever — as a means through which to subjugate women. We live in cultures that have used sexual violence against women as a means to dominate other men. We live in cultures that have used sexual violence against men to emasculate exert the perpetrator’s prowess and dominance. There is nothing new about the violence we are seeing today. There is nothing surprising about it, given our human history. The acts are not perpetrated by evil individuals — these are regular men and women engaging in behavior that is common.

Do you know anyone who isn’t either a survivor of sexual violence or the close friend/family member/partner of a survivor? Sexual violence isn’t aberrant in our country; it is our norm.

I don’t want this to be the case, but it is. I don’t want to talk or write about this. I would live with sexual violence every day, even if I didn’t hear another news story (and there are weeks when I go without listening to the news, just so that I can get a break), because it lives in my body and my history.

I think our cultural awareness is raised when it comes to sexual violence. What do we do now? How does our awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual violence affect us? How can we change the ways that we raise our children so as to undermine this deeply-embedded culture of violence?

My work is in the aftermath of sexual violence — I write with survivors so that we can find language, peace, narrative, control for and around our experiences. I also work with the belief that if we who have survived violence and trauma can express, understand, mourn and integrate our experiences, we will be able to show up more fully for our children. This is the next generation part of the work. What seeds are we planting now that will grow through the concrete of our culture’s sexually violent infrastructure, that can push up through tiny cracks and begin to fissure what seems unbreakable?

I believe we can shift our understandings of masculinity and feminity, we can alter our engagements with power, we can come into a full and honest relationship with our sexuality and desire, we can take the violence out of our mouths and our hands. This is part of undoing rape culture.

Thank you for your writing, for your conversation, for the ways you hold those in your own community accountable for their words and actions. We as humans created rape culture, which means that we as humans can undo rape culture.




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