I open the notebook, write for a few minutes, then turn to the laptop. Here’s the place that wants me to spin and groove.
If only I could find a way to write about every single sex assault story. I could be that person, that journalist, that commentator. Right? You’re supposed to become an expert in your niche, that’s what all the business coaches say. And so I try. I search for “sexual violence.” If there’s a worse mistake, it’s just searching for “woman” when looking for images to include with the blog post (and I say to myself, you should know better, Jen, like somehow I’m to blame for the fact that Google has algorithmed pictures from porn shoots and autopsies into the results, has tagged those as, simply, “woman.”)
Yesterday, while at work, I was scrolling through the Facebook feed of my department’s page, looking for things to share with the community — upcoming events, important stories, anything of use. Instead I scrolled through lots of photos with quotes on them and news stories about violence against women. I’m used to that, though, so I kept going, until I hit the one that made me hit the ceiling. There’s always one, isn’t there? No, there’s always way more than just one.
What if I started a new trend: sharing, in these social media spaces, detailed stories about women doing violence to the men who attack them. We can include graphic photos and deliberately-devastating/misleading/horrific headlines. Could we possibly make a dent in the stream of stories about violence against women — to which I myself contribute! — whether on social media or on the nightly (what does that even mean anymore, nightly news?) or on tv or in the movies?
My heroes today are Aileen Wuornos, Valerie Solanas, Lorena Bobbitt. I’m not supposed to say these things. I’m not supposed to want violence. I’m not supposed to want to kill the men who harm women, children, other men. I’m not supposed to want them dead. I’m supposed to want them rehabilitated. I’m supposed to want them contrite and apologetic, so that I can expend the precious energy of this lifetime helping them to learn from their “mistakes” so they can “do better next time.” I’m supposed to want to take a job making $12 an hour working for some crisis line so they can call and ask what they were supposed to do when they saw her lying there in the snow, drunk and passed out; were they really supposed to just walk by? “No,” I say, “you could call someone to help her get home safe.” “Oh,” they say. “I didn’t think of that.”
I’m supposed to model something different for the boys in my life, the boys who are coming up around me. I’m supposed to be the safe thing, the woman. I’m supposed to be the place where violence doesn’t happen — well, the place that doesn’t create violence. I mean, I’m a woman — of course violence happens here in this place of me. It’s almost a redundancy. Doesn’t woman mean violence-done-to?
It’s so fucking ridiculous. The anger rides me like I’m some kind of animal — and yes, in fact, I am some kind of animal. Civilization is about reigning that animal in. Is about saying, Sure, you’re angry, but you’re a woman. You’re better than that. You take the high ground. You go high when they go low. Because if you try to go low with them, they’ll kill you. They haven’t been civilized like you’ve been.
I’m supposed to make a statement here of apology, of clarification. I’m supposed to open the door and clear out a space for the men who haven’t done harm to women, and who are actively working to end violence against women. Those men, of course, must have their own unleveled, unwashed anger toward other men. I would like to read their angry writing someday. I can imagine those men can understand this anger here. Those men who have been harmed by other men — they recognize themselves in this anger. They understand that they are not its target — and, too, they see how they carry the same surface tension, the same potential privilege of the men who do harm, and they wonder what they do with that privilege, how they walk in the world with it, how they use it to make things better instead of making things worse. They are not the sort of men who tell an angry woman to shut up because their anger is frightening them. Anger is a frightening thing if you have been raised with men, with any people who treat their anger as an excuse to go in the world (or, much more often, stay in their homes) and do harm.
The headline that sent me over the edge when I was scrolling through FB yesterday said, and I’m not going to look it up to confirm or link to the fucking thing for you, “Father stopped from abusing daughter says, ‘Well, it was fun while it lasted.’”
(I’m going to pause here for your shouting and righteous outrage.)
Someone thought that was a good headline. Someone thought, That’s clickbait if I ever fucking saw it. Someone saw dollar signs with that headline. Someone thought of it, showed it to an editor, and the editor hollered with joy — that’s perfect! And so I scroll through the newsfeed of a spirituality program, come across a posting from the woman’s news network, and they have decided to share a post with this headline. They are doing the violator’s work for them.
It’s all I can do not to start screaming in the office. I stand up, I say, “Ok, ok, that’s enough,” I talk to myself within hearing of others, I become the embodiment of the borderline crazy girl. I log out of FB, I turn off the computer, I stand up, I have to move. I manage to stay in the building — here’s the crazy part! — I stay in the building. I go downstairs to watch the Tibetan monks who are building a sand mandala in the art gallery/foyer/first floor of our building. I listen to them rub metal bars against the ridges of the sand-dispensing cones. I watch them and wonder, which of your disciples have you harmed?
I can’t stay there for long but I don’t leave the building. I take a deep breath and I swallow the rage because we can’t always go crazy when we get mad, right? This is what always triggered looks like these days — I manage to stay in the building, and go back to fucking work. I don’t slam out of the doors, stomp down the street, screaming at the top of my lungs, are you fucking kidding me?
So many of us are restraining this longing, this urge: to kick down the doors, to do violence where violence has been done, to disrupt business as usual. That’s what Occupy was about, in part: disrupting business as usual. But we have been constraining this desire for years, for decades, haven’t we? And so we swallow the rage and become the face of depression. We are the unhappy voice on the other end of the phone when you call for tech support, we are the sharp side glance when you shove past us on the BART, we are the horizontal hostility, we are the isolated, we are the ones curled up on the bed, we are the chronically ill, the chronically in pain. That shit is anger. It’s fury. It’s rage. And we don’t know what to do with it. So we swallow it, just like we were trained.
Who gets raised with the ability to express anger well in this country? What does that even mean?
I’m not going to kill anyone, and I don’t want you to kill anyone either. It feels important to declare this in this era of extreme and everyday violence. But I can look with some appreciation and gratitude at women who decided they weren’t taking anymore.
Here’s what I do instead. I pound out these words and I say the unsayable things and that helps.
I wonder what the use of certain social media is. Yesterday my FB feed was filled with stories of violence done to the bodies of women (or folks thought to be women at the time of the violence). We want to prove to anyone who doesn’t yet understand (who doesn’t understand?) that sexual violence is so prevalent as to be almost every woman’s norm, so we (one more time) haul out our stories of the violences done to us.
It’s not that I don’t think sharing our stories, when we choose to, can be deeply cathartic and transformative. It’s that when we’ve been called to share these intimate and painful stories in yet another attempt to prove to some naysayer that this violence is a constant in our lives (because they need the details in order to believe us, they need to hear it, give me more details, show me the video, please), then I just feel taken advantage of.
I’ve seen this happen several times on FB, where we (women and folks thought to be women when assaulted) are expected to jump on a hashtag bandwagon with our story of violence in order to prove that sexual violence is happening to everyone around us all of the time.
Because of the work I do, and because FB only feeds me the faces and voices of people who they deem agreeable to me based on my posting history, I didn’t come across the voices of the naysayers yesterday, the voices of folks claiming sexual harassment isn’t common. I did come across men who seemed astonished at the numbers of their female (or once thought to be female) friends who have faced this violence and walk around the world with it holding on to them like a leash. These are activist friends, these are folks who have been in the work of undoing violence in the world — and they can still be surprised by these stories? Have they been willfully ignoring this information? Why listen to us now?
Anita Hill told us this is a constant in the workplace for women. But she wasn’t believed, and still we are demanding that women give us the juicy details before we’ll deign to consider possibly believing them.
It can’t just be one woman. It has to be five, seventeen, thirty, a hundred, several thousand all telling you the same fucking story, and still you’re going to sit there and be astonished when your friend tells you that her boss, her twenty-seven year old boss at the tech start up (where she is “so lucky” to have been hired, because there were so many good guys in line for the position, but she came across like one of the guys in the interview and laughed at the joke he made about getting their numbers of women up), she tells you that this guy (this young guy, raised in the aftermath of Antioch, ostensibly raised to know which way is up and righteous when it comes to women, raised to respect women, right?), this guy wants her to put on something low-cut when the investors come in for a site visit. Or he wants to know I she’ll bring some of her dumber girlfriends to the holiday party so he can get some of “his guys” there in the office laid. Whatever. Did you think something is changing?
I understand the impetus behind #metoo, the need for critical mass, and one thing this sort of campaign can do is give survivors a sense of solidarity. Even if you don’t post your own #metoo story, you can scroll through your friends and beloveds and see that you are not alone. If that’s what this is for, then I am behind it 100%.
If it’s to prove something to men, or to those folks of all genders who are rape(-ist)-apologists, then I say fuck that.
It’s like the good friend who really wants to believe you when you say that your partner has been abusing you, but they’ve never seen it, and nothing like this has ever happened to them, and they’ve known your partner fora long time — can’t you show them some evidence? Can’t you prove what you’re saying? Because your word isn’t enough.
When will our words be enough?
Your words are enough today, and they are important, and they are necessary. Just for this moment, if not for longer, today, consider not apologizing for your rage. I’m grateful for the ways you make room for others’ rage as well. And I am grateful, every minute, for your words.