I gave myself permission, while at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference in Massachusetts, to not write if I couldn’t make it happen.? I wrote so much offline, I just didn’t post it. Some of it was too personal for online and some of it just belongs in my journal.
I presented on two different panels during the weekend.? One was to talk about independent media and the other was my work with working with survivors of sexual violence and how to create safe spaces for them to? heal.? Clearly, I had my hands full.
That night, after my presentations were finished, I was exhausted.? I couldn’t really express all that I had taken into my body.? Whenever I give talks or facilitate groups around the issue of sexual violence, the look on everyone’s faces is the same: wide, open eyes, like a wide unblinking lens on a camera, ready to catch any detail that passes their gaze.? Expressions are open, serious, and expectant.? No one talks.? Whereever there is the shadow of sexual violence, there is always silence somewhere.
Unfortunately, I have given too many presentations and talks about this because I always know what happens when I am finished.? The rhetoric of trauma, inevitably, brings up the often buried history of someone’s trauma.? Over the years, countless women come up to me after a presentation and whisper thank you, their eyes full of memory and tears, and they leave.? Contrary to my presentations, I never know what to say in those moments.? Those moments when someone else’s pain is so visceral is the closest one can come to seeing the face of vulnerability.? It’s a painful gift to share, but it’s still a gift to me.? To be in the presence of survivors, always, humbles and overwhelms me.
That night I woke up at 3am and stood in the bathroom for a while.? My stomach wasn’t upset, my throat wasn’t parched, my mind was not racing, but something was stirring deep in my soul.? I couldn’t ignore it.? But I tried.
I threw the blankets over my head, determined to outwit my soul by reminding my head that I still had a full day of conference and traveling left and if I was smart, I’d close my eyes and go dream.? But my body had other ideas.? The stirring continued.? Questions surfaced.? Theological questions, spiritual questions, activist questions, human question.
How do we teach one another how to love?? I mean, at the most basic level, how do you teach love?? Is it even teachable?? Is it something passed down from our caretakers and if we had enough of it, we spread it and if we didn’t have enough of it, we spend the rest of our lives trying to fill that hole in ourselves that never tasted fulfillment?? Is love something I can teach someone else?
How do you teach love to people who commit power-based violence?? How does one come into this world and some odd number years later find themselves inflicting spiritual murder on another person and violating another person’s most basic right: the right to share or not share their body with another human being.? Where does this distortion of power come from?
After these thoughts spilled out of my brain and onto my pillow, I realized that sleep was never going to come. I kept thinking of Andrea Dworkin and so I wrote instead.? Afterward, after 3 hours of writing, my body released whatever it was holding and I fell asleep.
Andrea Dworkin was this really loud, controversial feminist from a few decades ago who wrote groundbreaking and eyebrowing raising work around sex and sexuality.? I disagree with most of her rhetoric and don’t really think I would ever call her my hero, but she wrote amazingly important work.? One of her speeches, delivered before 500 men in the 80s, called “I Want a 24 Hour Truce.”? In this speech, she begs, pleads, demands, implores men to do something in their lives to stop other men from raping women.? (And I know that sexual violence crosses the binary line of men raping women, but this is the focus I’m referring to right now…)? It’s a powerful, haunting speech:
…men come to me or to other feminists and say: “What you’re saying about men isn’t true. It isn’t true of me. I don’t feel that way. I’m opposed to all of this.”
And I say: don’t tell me. Tell the pornographers. Tell the pimps. Tell the warmakers. Tell the rape apologists and the rape celebrationists and the pro-rape ideologues. Tell the novelists who think that rape is wonderful. Tell Larry Flynt. Tell Hugh Hefner. There’s no point in telling me. I’m only a woman. There’s nothing I can do about it. These men presume to speak for you. They are in the public arena saying that they represent you. If they don’t, then you had better let them know…
…As a feminist, I carry the rape of all the women I’ve talked to over the last ten years personally with me. As a woman, I carry my own rape with me. Do you remember pictures that you’ve seen of European cities during the plague, when there were wheelbarrows that would go along and people would just pick up corpses and throw them in? Well, that is what it is like knowing about rape. Piles and piles and piles of bodies that have whole lives and human names and human faces.
And I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me … I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape.
And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can’t begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives–both men and women–begin to experience freedom.
If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong. You cannot change what you say you want to change. For myself, I want to experience just one day of real freedom before I die. I leave you here to do that for me and for the women whom you say you love.
Andrea Dworkin gave that speech in 1983 to 500 men and only 1 in that crowd of 500 men threatened her physically.? Andrea Dworkin also died on April 5, 2005.? She wanted to live to see the day when not one woman was raped. She died never seeing that day.
It came to me this weekend that the power I hold as an educator, as a mother, as a friend is all the power I need in this world to try and make a difference in the lives of those I can build relationship with.? I believe I will make a difference and will continue to try, but, after all the stories I’ve heard and all the tears I’ve witnessed fall off the cheeks of women, I know that, like Andrea who died without seeing that day of no rape, I will never see that day either.