Monday, March 9, 2009

International Women's Day: End Violence Against Women. And Please Sign Petition To President Obama.

(picture courtesy of Roger LeMoyne. Photo of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo awaiting emergency medical treatment at the overwhelmed Panzi Hospital)

A week ago, a female friend shared an experience that left me unable to sleep that night. My friend (who I’ll refer to as K) was awoken in her hotel room by the weight of a man on top of her, and a hand covering her mouth. K survived this rape attempt by screaming and alerting people, and by kicking him off. This happened a couple months ago, and K is thankful that the assault did not progress into an even more invasive nightmare. Understandably, K is still actively recovering from this trauma, the trauma of being assaulted when safety was assumed and she was most vulnerable. She has only recently gotten to place where the wind blowing a curtain in her house does not send somatic alerts through her body. And she is clear that she kicked ass. When she shares this story with women, she is usually met with empathy and support. And everytime... K receives another story of survival.

I too am thankful that the assault was not worse. As a part of my spiritual practice, I always ask for protection of my loved ones, family and community, and also more specifically for protection of female bodied people who i am connected to. I will never know the fear that is a part of growing up female around possibly being raped. I know that boys and men can be raped too, and that many male bodied people are carrying scars of sexual abuse. I also know that the numbers of boys and men who are survivors are significantly smaller than survivors who are girls and women- and for the most part, we don’t go through life with the ever looming spectre of possibly being sexually assaulted.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. The main theme for this year is “Women and and men united to end violence against women and girls.” What can men do? We can model for other boys and men what a mature, non-oppressive man is like. We can support institutions and support healthy, feminist masculinities, and not support institutions that support more oppressive masculinities. There are also organizations like Men Can Stop Rape and Men Against Sexual Violence that do good work. Supporting organizations like San Francisco Women Against Rape, and other support services for rape survivors is another thing that anyone can do.

Those are some ideas for the local level (please add more!). As for the global level, that is something we are all going to have to brainstorm and pool resources over.

My sleepless night replaying K’s experience over and over again sent me into a downwards spiral, agonizing over the larger picture of the global reality of violence against women. Recently another female friend of mine sent me the link for a New York Times article entitled The Invisible War. I thought it was an aptly named phrase for the violence against women here at home, where the battlefields are usually secluded away from the public eye, and court systems do not make things easy for survivors. But this article was referring to the shockingly underreported state of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (yet another elucidating article labels the relative media and activist silence a “Grotesque Indifference”). In the DRC, rape has become the main weapon of war. Rape of hundreds of thousands of girls and women. Hundreds of thousands. Hundreds daily. Control over the mining of tin, coltan, and other materials fuel this war, as the DRC is the largest producer of most of these materials. These ores are responsible for making our cellphones, laptops, and other electronic gadgets, which no one needs to be informed has an incredible global demand. Militias fight to gain control of the mines, and use rape as a way to psychologically, spiritually, culturally- violently traumatize and dysfunctionalize whole communities. It is staggering to the soul to read the accounts.

I am going to place a boundary for protocol here regarding discussion of this painful subject. Understandably, this is horrific and enraging. However, i must emphasize that any comment which uses the words “savage” “animal” or “barbarian” to describe the marauding soldiers will be deleted. This is not in defense of the soldiers. These words are steeped in a historically racist lens. Yes, the acts are monstrous, horrible, sick, unspeakable, effed up, wrong, hateful, a sin, crimes against humanity and tons of other descriptors. If we could stick to this type of languaging, I would appreciate it. Because the news does not report the Israel army as being savage barbaric animals for burning civilians with phosphorous, or even the soldiers who were in the Serbian rape camps as such. But most articles around the crisis in the DRC use the word “savage” in the first paragraph. Including NPR.

In Aaronette M. White’s book “Ain’t I A Feminist” (reviewed on my blog here), White refers to Sojourner Truth as a pioneer of Black Feminism (and a role model for Black Feminist men), because she was able to have an “intersectional outlook on race and gender” (pg. 13) and she refused to prioritize the advancement of Black men at the exclusion of Black women. I am hoping that the readers of this blog can also hold an intersectional perspective where we can speak of the rights of women without devolving into racist dialogue. I am hoping we can all move together, and not make one form of oppression more acceptable than the other.

So what can we do about women in the Congo? As we all know, President Barack Obama has a full plate, but a part of his platform is to Fight Gender Violence Abroad. Let us remind him of this pledge, and SIGN THIS PETITION. We can also do our part by not caving in to buy every single new permutation of the cell phone. We live in a time where new models of phones are showcased and given names like new models of cars. Me, i have a BlackBerry. I think that’s fancy enough. Adopting a green stance and a culture of re-use also helps. Some of us have a couple of cell phones lying around. Those can be recycled, and materials can go back into the industry without depending on “blood ores”. Click here for electronic recycle depots near you. And click the link for Green For All clips, focusing on green job initiatives that are creating new opportunities for fighting poverty, environmental racism, and by association, the very issues being discussed here. It becomes clearer to me that Green Jobs can be anti-oppression.

These are all strategies within the context of living under capitalism. Clearly, the horrible crisis in the DRC is one of the ugliest symptoms of capitalism. I contribute to capitalism and I am in it, but i am also aware that capitalism is rooted in causing harm to oppressed people. In the case of DRC, war, patriarchy and capitalism come together to create a living hell for women.

I pray for human evolution, humanity and healing. It is my hope that whoever you are, whatever faith you belong to, you can still send prayers, light and love to the DRC. And also send some to women and girls that you know, if only in the spirit of International Women’s Day. Much gratitude, respect and love to all the women and girls in my life who contributed to me being the man i am today.

Revolutionary Love,


richard said...

Leslie, please point Sel this way too! We all could use the first hand research and activism. Thank you for your activism/awareness raising around coltan and the Congo as well.

Anonymous said...

i avoid comment sections in general since all of the isms people carry with them typically get amplified on the comments section .....

but this is an exception.

i wanted to thank you for this blog post.

i survived sexual assault end of 2007. the fear that lives in my body is less intense, but still present. i knew i had a good number of friends who had also survived sexual violence. but when i told my story to friends (since it was all i could say for a few months) my experience was very much like K's ... stories upon stories friends who have survived not just once but sometimes multiple times.

i just wanted to thank you for sharing what you shared. for K sharing what she shared. for all of the people who work in healing from and ending sexual violence in our lives ... we need to recognize the humanity of those perpetuating this violence as much those bearing the wounds that sometimes never fully heal.

richard said...

Anonymous: Thank you so much for your words, and for sharing your experience. I see so much mirroring, solidarity and affirmation in these stories of survival, i would imagine it becomes an integral part of the healing process- though at the same time it is staggering to hear how difficult it is to find a woman who does NOT have a story of surviving sexual assault.

i salute you for acknowledging the humanity in all involved in these experiences. Did you always have this perspective? I too, while definitely feeling more sympathy for the survivors, lament the toxic lives that the perpetrators lead, the possible pain of their families, the warped violent masculinities that have been injected into them, and their sad inability to love and connect with other human beings in a healthy way.

Thank you for making an exception and commenting! i have to give kudos to the people who comment here though, 99% of the time we have intelligent, respectful and thoughtful discussions. its not like threads on YouTube or anything. gawd those are horrible

Thanks again. May fear evaporate from your body. Bless up

Anonymous said...


thanks for your response.

i've been really struggling with how to hold him accountable (i know the man who decided to use my body the way he wanted to - like most survivors). in this struggle, i've also been grappling with the devastating notion that we're living in a rape culture. we're all living in this culture - from the drc to the usa and everywhere in between. women's bodies are seen as property, not human - especially black and brown bodies (i'm a woc). the short of it is, i can do my healing - but what about his healing? what makes him think he has this right? how can we have a just & peaceful society without him doing his healing? how do we facilitate that? that goes to the soldiers in the drc too - how do we stand up and say this is unacceptable in a way that opens avenues for healing for all involved in the trauma? that includes loved ones perhaps not directly but indirectly impacted, because i know this was also a traumatic experience for loved ones that witnessed the aftermath of my body.

i don't believe jail/prosecution is the answer. so what is? what does community accountability truly look like with the reality of the dehumanization that comes with racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, and xenophobia? how do you work with someone who has already dehumanized you to the point where sexual violence is justified in their mind (and it's planned & executed)? is it my responsibility? i don't believe it should be but right now it's on my shoulders.

i was trying to come up with a short answer, but i guess i have more questions than answers right now.

richard said...

Wow. Survivors having to learn to live with perpetrators definitely sounds like a clear example that we live in a rape culture. Not that there was any doubt! are there any men, any elders that could hold him accountable for you? Maybe that is a way towards him finding his healing as well.

If at any point i sound naive or Mr. Fix-it, forgive me. It comes from the fact that like most men... i AM naive of the real emotional, spiritual, physically traumatic reality of this kind of violation.
I am greatly affected by hearing about friends and the Congo of course, but... you get me.

your question is a good one, around how these men will get their healing. In DRC, how does one make a rape soldier? What is that process? How do you turn a human into someone that will do that over and over again to women, children and the elderly? I don't know. I often wonder the same thing about cop training, what is done to numb their humanity?

in DRC, even if we shut down the mines, then perhaps the soldiers would just latch onto controlling the next viable capitalistic revenue source. It becomes a question of reconfiguring how an economy works, engaging in some sort of humanitarian intervention, and some kind of... mass therapy/reconcilliation that restores empathy...?

basically, what does it take to make a rape culture (wherever we are)and what does it take to deprogram it? (i'm also asking a lot of questions)

i agree that our current "justice system" does not have the solution. if anything, men may *learn* to rape in prison. wow, what if the prison industrial complex was authentically rehabilitative... that would be amazing.

thank you again, i am appreciating this discussion, and how your questions are making me think. I'm glad you decided to share your truth here.

njeanty said...

Thank you for this post. I'm always awed and struck by men who can speak about rape. If they could speak OUT that would be great too. But, yeah, I'm holding my breath.

While I'm thankful, I'm also numb. I feel like I can't get angry anymore. It seems that rape and the attitude surounding violence and sex is acceptable. (Recently you posted something about daggering. The term and the illustration of this new *dance* was very alarming particularly because it simulates sex and if the videos is any indication, sex is a violent interaction.)

Below are a few links adding to me sense of hopelessness: