Thursday, 7 April 2011

On Violence: "The Numbers Are Staggering"

Wolf shocks me every time with this part (154-162) of her chapter on "Sex" (131-178).

She quotes Margaret Atwood on asking "women what they feared most from men" and "men the same question about women", to which women replied, "'We're afraid they'll kill us'" and men, "'We're afraid they'll laugh at us'" (153).

We're afraid they'll kill us?!  (Death strikes me as much worse than humiliation, though I recognize that no one wants to be humiliated.)

Could this really be how things are?

I'm sorry to say that I think Wolf and Atwood are right in this reflection of women's fears. I have seen (and felt) it all my life with at least two close friends as victims of sexual violence in high school and even more in college, including an encounter with Rufinol myself--thankfully, a close call from which I was generously spared (though I woke up with stitches in my face and no memory of hours of the previous night's party and after hours).

The shame and fear and guilt for women and girls around issues of sex and violence has pervaded my life and the lives of women and girls I know and have known.

I wish I could say otherwise.

The memories, encounters, humiliations, sufferings, and other manifestations dwell in a part of my mind that is mostly fragmented, nonverbal, and full of images:

The electrical tape around women's breasts in the first porn film my sister and I accidentally saw.

My mom giving me my first razor. Slicing one leg along the shin.

Walking around Boston late at night in my grad school neighborhood, clutching pepper spray.

Seeing girls pinned and zipped and painted into tutus and makeup and buns as a kid in ballet.

My friend (and our graduation speaker) in high school getting raped while visiting her sister at college.

Hearing about 'the date rape fraternity' freshman year at college.

Hearing freshman girls referred to as 'fresh meat'.

Wolf saying, "[Women] cannot discuss this harm without shame" (148).

My sister saying,  "God was punishing you for wearing that outfit."

Wolf writes: "It can change so that real mutuality--an equal gaze, equal vulnerability, equal desire--brings heterosexual men and women together" (152).

She also says, "Love freely given between equals is the child of the women's movement, and a very recent historical possibility, and as such very fragile. It is also the enemy of some of the most powerful interests of this society" and "Women who love themselves are threatening; but men who love real women, more so" (142, 143).

I share her concern about what has "[made] women violent toward ourselves", about men's and women's "separate versions of loneliness", about the selling of "sexual discontent", but I do believe we can undo (with hard work and a lot of gumption) much of the training that has brainwashed us, that we can choose to see and learn to see other men and women and ourselves as richly complex, authentically beautiful, and increasingly free human beings (142, 143).

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