Tag Archives: redefining rape

story & cognitive dissonance

poster graffiti -- a padlock with the words, 'You are the key'The words are quiet in me right now. Lots of possibility pushing its way around toward manifesting, which means commitment, which means change.

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The foghorns are lowing all around us; blue sky above but the Golden Gate is thick and grey. Did you see any fireworks last night? From the little church that sits above our apt building, we could see some from Sausalito as well as the ones over in San Francisco. Sophie wasn’t sure what to do with the loud noises, with the strange noisy mechanical birds that were flying low overhead. Still, though, she was more interested in the dog that another family had brought up with them.

It’s hard for me to take fireworks uncritically anymore — the fact that they’re meant to represent bomb explosions lives in me, and I think about the people who don’t celebrate such explosions, who live in terror of those particular noises. I have never had to experience that terror, which is a tremendous privilege. And so it’s with cognitive dissonance that I watch any fireworks display. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve had lots of experience with cognitive dissonance (as have most Americans, I would hazard, and certainly all survivors of trauma), and so it doesn’t throw me completely: I can appreciate some of the beauty and color, the pyrotechnic work. What sort of study does a person have to undertake to be able to create a firework that explodes into the shape of a heart, or a smiley face?

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Here’s something I wrote last Friday:

What are the stories that we as a society tell ourselves and each other about sexual violence, how we build and undermine the myths around where rape and incest come from? As a culture, we say we don’t support incest, that we don’t support child sexual abuse — don’t condone it. How do we, as a culture, walk with that cognitive dissonance, when we know how many people are sexually violated every day? How do we  story that wreckage for ourselves — that our society says it cares for us and wants to protect the children and then turns not a blind eye but a wide open and indifferent eye to the number of children raped in their homes every day.

We give a privileged position in our government and nonprofit industrial complex to an institution like the Catholic Church, which appears to have child sexual abuse integrated into its very fabric, into its institutional structure. How do we reconcile this?

How much storying is layered around these facts, these truths, so that people do not question? What are the stories that cause lies, what are the stories that run us aground, away from the facts? Why do we listen to and integrate some stories and not others?

And how do we, as survivors, as people who have experienced the underside of society’s stories, make sense of our own experience? If one in three women is sexually abused or assaulted in her lifetime and one in six boys/men, can there be anyone in this country not personally affected by sexual violence? Why do we keep pretending like it’s not all around us? Who do we keep believing the stories that it’s about sick or disturbed individuals, that it’s not institutional, that it’s not societal practice?

What are the stories of rape and incest that we as a society prefer, both fiction and nonfiction?  We like the ‘true crime’ narratives, the one-at-a-time bad-men-on-parade, the stories of women who triumph, who “move from victim to suvivor, from survivor to thriver!”

What about the stories that show us that this isn’t an issue of badly-behaving individuals? What about the stories of women and men who don’t triumph? What about the stories of survivors who lie, who behave “badly” themselves?

The case against the former head of the IMF is falling apart because the woman who he assaulted bight also be a liar — she might not only associate with honest people. The only people who can be raped, by law, are the unflawed one– only the honest ones, the inhuman ones. Whether or not this woman, in this case, was raped, the fact is that now we’re publicly tarnishing her character. That’s what we do with rape victims, the very people our criminal justice system, out of the same mouth, will say it wants to protect. Maybe this woman came to the country under false pretenses. Does this mean she can’t be assaulted? Maybe after she was assaulted she found a way to grab for some power herself. Does this mean she couldn’t have been raped?

Very possibly, yes, according to the laws of this country, which present themselves as putting women and children first.  First in the firing line, maybe. The trouble with using legal means to undermine or eradicate sexual violence is playing out on an international scale:  1) it only happens in the aftermath (legal ramifications don’t prevent the rape in the first place); 2) it requires there to have been a theft, and thus an unflawed landscape/crime scene — the law is primarily focused on protecting property. Rape laws are no different — if what was stolen wasn’t of high value, the crime isn’t so bad. The victim is the property, and is always on trial. We know all this already.

We need to change the story about rape and sexual violence. That’s how we change a culture, a cultural practice — we change the story. We change the stories that people tell their children, that men and women share among one another, that police officers listen for, even. What is the current story about rape, about incest — what’s the story that we can hear? What’s the one that we can’t hear yet? (I’m grateful to Ken Plummer’s Telling Sexual Stories for introducing me to this layer of engagement with stories.)

What’s the story about women’s bodies, children’s bodies, weaker bodies being always accessible to more powerful men and women? What’s the story about class, about power and violence? What are the stories that police tell in court, that rape crisis centers tell their funders, that survivors tell in order to be believed? What are the stories they don’t tell?

How do we learn how we’re supposed to react to rape, once it happens to us? (Which, many of us come to understand, it inevitably will — what stories circulate to ensure that? And what about those of us for whom that’s not true?) How do we change the story about children’s power, women’s power, queerfolks’ power, men’s power? About innocence as something that can be stolen (and thus is property), about violence as power, as good, about the ability to take and do violence as a mark of what — of power? Something to be striven for?

What stories can we unearth, unbury — no, what stories can we keep on telling and louder (these are not hidden stories, they are un-listened-to stories) that undermine the dominant narrative, the easier-to-live-with idea that rape happens because this one guy was a drunk or evil?

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Here’s a write: it’s just for you. This is about stepping out of that cognitive dissonance, and telling our own whole truth. What story aren’t you telling, because you think/know folks’ won’t understand it, won’t listen, won’t hear it right? What piece of your story do you keep on lockdown? What about a part of your character’s story? Take 15 minutes, or 20; go to a quiet place (in real life and/or in you, but definitely in you), and bring your tea or coffee. Write it. Hold it there on the page. Just because it can’t be heard and understood yet doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.

Thank you for the ways you can hold complexity in others, how you work to be present with your own contradictions and complications: they’re all gorgeous, just like you. Thank you for your wisdom, your honesty, your lies, your words.

re-storying rape

graffiti from AU: a holy ET with the sacred heart ...In my dream, there was a part of myself I could trust — like, a role that part of me played; but I could trust me when I was in that role, could trust my instincts, trust my gut.

That dream is feeding me today: I’m listening for that part inside.

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I want to talk more about this later — for today, I’ll just get it started. On Friday, I read that the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is falling apart, because the woman he assaulted may not always be honest.

And I thought, just because she lies, she can’t be raped? Just because she may not have been honest about how she got to this country, she can’t be sexually assaulted? Just because she associated with people who may be criminals, she can’t be sexually abused?

This is the problem with leaning on the criminal justice system to deal with (not even to mention end) rape and sexual violence: First of all, criminal justice only deals with the aftermath, doesn’t keep the rape, the assault, from happening in the first place; second,  “justice is a game that doesn’t necessarily uncover the truth.”

I don’t know the facts of this case. I don’t know that we will ever know them. But this is something I know: Rape, in this country, in our society, is a legal term, not an act. Don’t be someone who’s not squeaky-clean according to Western puritanical standards and get raped — because then, very likely, according to the courts, you won’t have been raped. Something else might have happened (oh, yes, probably something consensual — note that Strauss-Kahn doesn’t deny that there was a sexual encounter) but it won’t have been assault. Not according to the law.

Here’s a man who has a history of sexually predatory behavior, but he gets to walk out into the world for a $600 dinner — and what of the women he’s walked over?

This is my pessimism talking. Here’s the other side. We need to change the way we talk about rape and sexual violence. We need to change all the stories. We need to upend it from the inside out.

On this weekend when we are thinking about independence, what new or different stories do you want to tell? What could independence mean? What would the world look like if sexuality weren’t used as a weapon of power?

Thank you for all the ways you share your brilliance, for your inventive creativity, for the power of your words.

letting hugs in

graffiti of big brown bear holding a sign: free hugsThere’s a lot that I want to write about this morning — like, for instance, the meaning of the word ‘force,’ particularly when it comes to sexual violence and abortion.

But I have a staff meeting to get to.

So I want to just talk for a second about physical contact — are you getting your daily allotment? Even as someone who lives with their partner, there are weeks when I will go days without a hug — too busy, going too fast, no time to stop (and, yes, maybe too scared sometimes, too out of my body, too worried that a hug ‘means’ something else) — and then, no one hugs where I work.

In this project I’m in the middle of — the one where I’m working toward and learning about being more embodied — I’m allowing myself to ask for more physical contact from my sweetheart, and am letting myself be all the way there when we hug and touch.

Consensual, non-sexual touch is as positive for our mental  and psychic health as other forms of touch — is there more touch that you (or one of your characters) would like in your life right now? Want to write about what that would look like, for 10 minutes or so?

Thanks for your presence, the ways that embodiment feels ok to share with others — thank you for your words.