Yesterday, I opened Roxane Gay’s new edited collection, Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture, a selection of stories of abuse, harassment, trauma and surviving. I knew, given my history with rape and it’s structures, it would be no easy read.
The first three stories (introduction included) were visceral, troubling and unnerving. The fourth cut me to the quick:
“Sometimes people tell me that something bad happened to me, but I am brave and strong. I don’t want to be told that I am brave or strong. I am not right just because he was wrong. I don’t want to be made noble.
I want someone willing to watch me thrash and crumple because that, too, is the truth, and it needs a witness. “He broke me,” I say to a friend. “You’re not broken,” she whispers back. I turn my palms up, wishing I could show her the pieces.”
– “& the Truth is, I Have No Story,” Claire Schwartz
I cannot speak for how hard these words hit me: they collaborated with a truth inside me, a bothersome narrative which I find others reaffirming for me once they hear I was raped/assaulted.
It is the same mantra which they will tell countless others:
“You’re a survivor/Brave/Strong/Better/[Input inspirational comment here]”
And I do understand the impulse and the kindness which drives them to tell me and others these words. I also rail against them, because they erase the messy truth of the event, the negate the reality of rape and that to become a survivor in any way, one is first a victim.
That’s a denigrated word nowadays: victim. It’s frowned upon to see a someone, post-rape, as a victim:
“You’re a survivor”
But to be a survivor at all, one first needs to be a victim. Sometimes, after rape/harassment/assault, you need to be broken. You get to be torn apart and take the time necessary to re-piece parts of yourself together, however haphazardly. I needed time – a lot of it – to repair and recollect. I look back on that time, full of self-pity, loathing and anger, and know I was not the image of a survivor; I also know that I needed that time to find recovery and locate self-care in myself.
I recall one day at feminist event, one of my peers told us her story, told us her rape, I sympathized, felt an instinctual bond, a desire to protect. Another attendee interrupted her:
“Can I let you know, you are not a victim, you are a survivor”
I remember thinking: What is wrong with being a victim. Why is it so negated? So hated a term? Why do others feel the need to remove that identity from us?
Is it their own fear? Their own unwillingness to see the unjust realities of the world? An uneasiness over how easily rape can happen? Or is does it fall back on the old moniker: ‘everything happens for a reason’ so of course, you survived this and became better?
I cannot tell, I do not know the reason behind these platitudes; I do know their is nothing wrong with being a victim.
One cannot become a survivor without having first been a victim, and there is nothing wrong with that truth.
I’ve been exceedingly lucky so far in my doctoral progress: between the backing of a highly supportive and enthusiastic supervisor and surrounding colleagues – of both a qualified and student status – and the fact that I still warrant the opportunity for future funding (fingers and toes crossed!), however all is not well and good in the academic arena for the early stagers and newbies…
What has become apparent during my first year of my doctoral profress, and in the meeting and greeting of other students, are the frankly frequent injustices and grievances – from the petty and small scale to the larger and outright disgraceful actions – which early stagers and students suffer, and often without any official structures of support or aid from these issues.
Well, in mentioning that earlier supportive supervisor: she updated on this earlier today:
Opportunities for support are few and far between for students in these early stage positions. Sometimes it’s only one another we can rely on, but all forms of activism are essential in these matters.
As such, here’s my (small) grievance:
I attended a very high profile conference in Leicester, England in 2016. I won’t provide details, suffice to say, I was not a confirmed speaker but an audience participant looking to expand my horizons as a first year doctoral student. I met with many wonderful and enthusiastic early stage researchers and a great many later stage doctors and professors who offered nothing but enthusiasm, email addresses, advice and aid.
This is notable in comparison to the one older gentleman and professor who felt it impertinent to advice me twice:
“You look so much better without your glasses. You shouldn’t wear them.”
Racism and sexism is alive and well and rearing it’s unquenchable head once again!
Only yesterday, the US Treasury announced – in what will be a milestone for women and people of colour – that abolitionist WoC Harriet Tubman would grace the new $20 bill.
While the new bills won’t be available until around 2030 (or so the reports say), racists and sexists have taken to Twitter and other social media to lament the decision to represent blacks and women.
The biggest complaint I’ve seen so far is, strikingly, that Tubman doesn’t conform to modern (and often unattainable) standards of beauty. Many of the posts publicly found on Twitter question why Tubman’s “ugly ass” (that’s an actual quotation there, by the way”) should be on the bill;another claims, in what is evidently a racist trope, that Tubman belongs on food-stamps rather than currency. Shockingly, – in what can only be seen as a manifestation of the insidious nature behind sexism and racism – it seems even many people of colour are falling into this sexist rhetoric; as though having, say, Tyra Banks on the notes would have been more applicable and timely.
The more important question here, it seems, is why Tubman’s history is being relegated straight back to her physical appearance? Current ideology continuously positions women – of all races, ethnicity, and backgrounds – as relevant only according to the standards of beauty, physical appearance and attire they present; anything else which they may achieve during their lifetime is either an added bonus to this imperative or is, sadly, inconsequential.
So what does this treatment of Tubman reveal: that women continue to be regarded, despite their historical influence and present status, as relevant only as symbols of beauty in our culture. Tubman herself is quoted to have said:
I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.
It’s time to free women from this rhetoric, too.
Laura Bates’ phenomenal and eye-opening Everyday Sexism Project first hit the web in 2012 as a new kind of digital-based consciousness raising project, where women were actively encouraged to discuss and analyze their own experiences with sexism and misogyny.
Starting the website, Bates’ original hope was to acquire at least 100 stories but quickly became an international forum for women’s rights, their experiences of oppression and violence and the institutions and practices which hindered them.. Bates’ project, at its inception, was a basic website which quickly developed multiple language forums, 140 character replies on Twitter, and culminated in a paperback in 2014. Bates’ project has even been actively utilized by governments, politicians and policy-makers to improve the conditions of sexism and misogyny prevalent still in our society.
Today, Bates is proving her project remains as relevant as ever with the trending hashtag #WhenIWas.
This new take on the Everyday Sexism Project actively requires women to look back on their own his(her)story, review their experiences, and question the lessons learned during their formative years and beyond. Like the Consciousness Raising sessions of our feminism forebearers, Bates’ new campaign motivates women to openly and unabashedly declare their wounds, their humiliations, their anger at the patriarchal imperatives encroached upon them; and the women are taking this up with reckless abandonment.
What’s more, many of the tweets currently dominating this hashtag honestly and courageously admit to experiences of emotional and sexual abuse, rape, and gender-based violence. At a time when the threat of rape and domestic abuse is of critical importance – specifically owing to the worryingly small rate of reporting to police and shortage of support services – this hashtag couldn’t be more timely or relevant.
For many of the women utilizing the #WhenIWas trend, this experiences are months, years, perhaps decades old – or, perhaps they are merely weeks, days, or hours old -, regardless, they are the truths which women have struggled with for years. They are the small humiliations of a neighbour staring at your legs which left you fearful – the threat of the figure following you down the road one night – the memory of hands touching you without consent – the loud voice declaring your sexual proclivity to the street – the feeling of complete and utter loneliness and inequity.
So, I implore all of you today and in the near future -if you don’t feel the desire to submit your own #WhenIWas confession – like, reblog, retweet and applaud the survivors and show them that loneliness and inequity are slowly (but, I hope, surely) becoming things of the past that we can one day include in the #WhenIWas trend.
A little over a month ago, we were all celebrating “Happy International Women’s Day” or some variation of that sentiment. Today, though, I doubt you’ll hear anyone exclaiming “Happy Equal Pay Day.”
Pretty obvious why, yeah?
Just to make the point abundantly clear: equal pay still does not exist between the sexes.
Despite three decades (or thereabouts) since the Second Wave filtered down and despite two decades of the statement “Feminism is Dead” and no longer relevant, women – I reiterate – are still not receiving equal pay to men.
Indeed, many third world countries, women and children are utilized as cheap labour accumulating pitiful wages alongside their male counterparts. Those so-called first world countries, many Western capitalist states, employ this slave/sweat shop labour abroad while denying women within their borders equal opportunity or wage. The National Organisation for Women estimates that even today women continue to earn only 79C to ever man’s dollar: and maybe us feminists are knitpicking over 21C difference when so many women suffer unbearable hours, horrendous conditions and loose change as a paycheck – but maybe it’s time to consider women everywhere as equally valuable as their male counterparts – as deserving of the same respect, wage, and opportunities.
This conversation, at this late stage in feminism’s history, in this so-called enlightened era for humanity, feels like flogging a corpse. There is nothing new that I can add to this conversation, there is no shocking revelation behind the facts that we know, that we’ve known for years now: and yet we still await that ultimate change in our society. The fact that a day has been laid aside for this sentiment – for it is, only a sentiment, and not an actuality – is nothing short of a smack in the face for women everywhere: for women of colour balancing two jobs and two children at minimum wage, for the college waitress living off of tips, for the sweatshop labourer slouched over in her cage. For women everywhere.
Happy Equal Pay Day, indeed.
It’s safe to say at this stage that Kim Kardashian-West is another of those controversial celebrity figures. She’s made it a habit of hers to “break the internet” in various ways – but mostly due to a stunning lack of garments and a fantastic figure (at least by culturally acclaimed standards of femininity). For many people she falls on the extreme end of most hated or pointless celebrity icon; she’s everything from a bad mother to a horrible role model and many would claim her celebrity status comes only from her infamous sex tape. But that tapes over a decade old and still the Kardashian Clan is a powerhouse family of multimillionaires, entrepreneurs and celebrity figures with Kim at its center.
So what is it about this celebrity figure that has her so reviled?
During her first pregnancy, magazine headlines accused her of letting herself go, completely losing her enviable figure, and failing to dress appropriately. Subsequently, she has been accused of being a “negligible” mother owing to her proclivity for stripping down and posing for the cameras.
Certainly, her nude magazine cover produced controversy – even with the majority of us googling to get a peak before detailing our disgust. More recently, a partially nude selfie (honestly, she covered some of the goods with strategically positioned black censor lines) posted on Twitter has vied to “break the internet” once more and mostly through a series of posts which begs the question: Why are we so bothered with a woman stripping down and consensually posting an image?
Certainly, the woman herself took to the keyboard to produce a post on the issue, calling for an end to slut- and body-shaming and asking that she no longer be judged for the sex tape which went viral over 13 years ago and calling: a perfect opportunity to add that, when it went viral, Kim Kardashian owned herself still, never wavering from the fact that, yes, she had taken part in a sex tape which was now in the hands of the world at large but she would not be made less because of it:
“I lived through the embarrassment and fear, and decided to say who cares, do better, move on. I shouldn’t have to constantly be on the defense, listing off my accomplishments just to prove that I am more than something that happened 13 years ago.
Let’s move on, already. I have.
The statute of limitations, so to speak, are up on this one and yes, it’s time to move on from judging women who practice self-love and self-acceptance. Ariel Levy’s raunch culture is indeed upon us and, well, so long as its consensual why does it produce such controversy? Honestly, I saw fewer reactions and less outrage when private images of celebrities were hacked and subsequently went viral in early 2015.
From a feminist perspective: Kim Kardashian’s actions present a form of self-acceptance and self-love for the female body so often denied to women in our culture. Between the media’s portrayal of women’s bodies as belonging to anyone but themselves; Kim Kardashian clearly owns herself. Her pride in and acceptance of her body, her desire and sexuality is stupefying to so many of us because it’s difficult to relate. It’s difficult to experience the female body as being so definitely our own and not belonging to the next generation which we might bore or the family we currently nurture and support or to the corporate media which continues to produce the female form as objectified, always obtainable and easily obtained.
I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls all over the world.
Kim K’s post, perfectly timed on International Women’s Day, celebrates her own self-acceptance and empowerment through self-expression even if it is in the form of a nude selfie.
The backlash against Kim K’s is not just the response of jealousy men and women or of concerned parents, it’s the call to arms of the patriarchal hierarchy reminding us that women aren’t supposed to feel such ownership or entitlement to ourselves. That we shouldn’t feel so deeply a sense of pride in our female forms so as to unashamedly share it with the world.
I feel so lucky to have grown up surrounded by strong, driven, independent women. The life lessons I’ve learned from my sisters, my mother, my grandmother, I will pass along to my daughter. I want her to be proud of who she is. I want her to be comfortable in her body. I don’t want her to grow up in a world where she is made to feel less-than for embracing everything it means to be a woman.
Her words, ultimately, are powerful and empowering for women, they may qualify her as a perfectly feminist role model for all women.
“The following contains graphic content that may be emotionally unsettling but reflects the reality of what is happening daily on college campuses
“Til It Happens To You” Lady Gaga
To say Lady Gaga is a controversial persona might be a moot point at this stage. Certainly, many revile her many ostentatious looks as “over the top” and her celebrity persona as “attention seeking” based merely on image; but then there are her many droves of fans, her so called “Monsters” who adore these exact traits.
For me, there is nothing so important in the Cult of Gaga as her politics. Unlike many pop stars and celebrity personas with mass followings, one cannot accuse Gaga or shying away from the societal and political issues which affect – not only her – but her fanbase and her peers.
Indeed, Gaga is a well known supporter of the LGBTIA+ Community: her hit anthem “Born This Way” and her own queer activism are proof of this. She actively defends herself as a “bisexual” women – a sexual identity highly contested on grounds of (I am paraphrasing from a selection of argument I have had) “selfishness” and “attention seeking”- drawing attention to the difficulties and controversies currently surrounding claims to sexual identities and preferences facing those who put the B in LGBTIA+.
More recently, however, Gaga has loaned her celebrity status and her vocals to an equally significant issue: Rape.
In the last year, Gaga has emerged at the head of a vanguard against rape in America. Her haunting and emotional tribute to survivors and victims of sexual abuse, “Till It Happens To You” closes the recent documentary on campus rape “The Hunting Ground” and has come to openly identify herself as a survivor of rape, describing her own traumatic and emotional experiences and advocating as a survivor for an end to the rape culture which plagues college campuses and countless men and women.
Most recently, on Sunday night, Gaga invited and stood with a dozen or so survivors of sexual abuse and rape having just performed “Til It Happens To You”. The survivors – men and women; white and black – and Gaga raised their clasped hands to thunderous applause, both audience and performers in tears in this moment of solidarity against the rape epidemic.
Gaga dedicated the performance, earlier that night via her Twitter, to Kesha Rose – who was recently denied an appeal to break her Sony contract with her alleged rapist Dr Luke
@kesharose I’ll be thinking of u 2nite. This is not over we’ll stand by u until you are free to live a HAPPY life. Everyone deserves that.
Gaga went on to reveal her gratitude to these survivors and to celebrate their stories and their bravery via Instagram, in an image which, contrasting their grim faced sobriety during their performance, displays their joy and euphoria in their solidarity.
Thank you for standing next to me on stage. Thank you for all the things you said, for listening to my story and sharing yours. I will never forget it. 50 survivors, so brave, relentless determination.
The music video itself is a shocking narrative not only of the rape of different women and the aftermath of their attempted recoveries – but is itself an examination of gender and sexual identity. One of the narratives reveals a young woman binding her breasts – an act which implies her transsexual identity while her subsequent rape can be read as a “punishment” for her identity. The two other primary narratives of the music video, simultaneously, depict the horrors of acquaintance rape – where a seemingly friendly encounter becomes a violent act – and the drugging of two Asian women at a house party which follows with one of the women fighting off her attacker and then aiding her worse-off friend.
These emotional and, for many of us, all too real narratives take up only two minutes of the 5 minute 25 second video.
What follows is a depiction of the aftermath, when the trauma truly shows. The survivors are depicted with their inner most thoughts tattooed on their very bodies – the instruments of their assaults – from “I am Worthless” to “sometimes I hate myself” and all the thoughts which come with survival and the one hope so many women have following sexual assaults:
And while these three women among others are depicted walking away from their narratives of abuse with those who believe and support them, their is one woman left in the end. A silhouette of the next victim of the rape epidemic infecting college campuses.
The ultimate message of Gaga’s song is the simplest expression most rape survivors have: “believe me.” And with so many victims of abuse accused of being willing participants, of being too drunk, too naive, too provocative, this statement simplistically describes how many victims feels they will be treated following such traumatic experiences.
I’m more than a little proud of my educational resume – I know, it’s privileged of me to say so, I acknowledge that I have been lucky enough in my race/ethnicity/class that I have been able to achieve as I have, though I have worked hard as a motivated student and aspiring lecturer/researcher. So I’m proud of my college history: undergrad in NUI Maynooth – Ireland’s oldest college with its beautiful heritage and village location – and University College Dublin – boasting in its alumni one of my favourite authors, James Joyce and one of Ireland’s most extensive and innovative gender/sexualities/feminist research clusters – for my MA and PhD.
That pride has been severely bruised this week.
The student’s UCD’s School of Agricultural Science have been linked with a “revenge porn” group-chat page on Facebook. For those who are confused: revenge porn is a relatively recent term describing the process of posting and sharing intimate partner photographs on the web for others to rate and “enjoy.” It’s known as “revenge” porn owing to the wide selection of individuals who post such images following a break up, in an act of punishment and self-vindication (you know, the whole, “she was a whore anyways – sure look what she sent me!!”). That’s the basics of revenge porn, anyways, once you take out the emotional trauma, misogynistic mistreatment and sterilizing objectification involved for the victim. Oh, and let’s not forget: the rape and lad cultures which normalize and trivialize these acts of non-physical violence.
Getting back to my own bruised ego: I was, initially, unsure. Certainly, a university with such a vibrant gender and sexualities rhetoric and collection of researchers couldn’t host such small minded, egotistical (let’s be honest) “lads.” The two schools are, afterall, only divided by a footpath, more or less. Moreover, the Student’s Union has only this year reinvigorated their sexual harassment and affirmative consent efforts, hosting their first SlutWalk last November and holding bake-sales advocating “consent is sexy.” Surely, this establishment of educated individuals wouldn’t contribute to such dehumanizing actions; surely, they know better.
Alas, I was wrong. The college confirmed via email today that they are investigating the allegations and encourage victims and anyone with information to come forward, urging:
While we can deal with the breaches that we uncover or are brought to our attention, I appeal to our community not to show any tolerance for abusive behaviour on social media. I ask that each one of you recognise your responsibility in this regard.
The university’s pledge to investigate the page and potential members is a valiant one – no one should get away with mistreating women in such a manner – but already, the college has failed in one vital aspect.
The subject line of said email, reads:
Inappropriate use of social media
What should be the subject of this email? The use of social media? Or the people behind it and the people who suffer as a result?
The focus of this email should not have been misuse of Facebook but the inappropriate and cruel treatment of fellow students and peers.
Unfortunately, UCD has fallen into the techno-pessimistic trap: blaming the vehicle instead of the driver. We’ve all heard of the potential dangers of social media – for young people, cyberbullying and online predators are posed as a serious threat. But the threat is never depicted as a person at a keyboard, as what it really is. It is depicted as a digital profile page with no corporeal form behind the words and images on screen.
This logic is now applied to the dissemination of “revenge porn” also. It is the websites and domains which support posting and discussing images which are dangerous: this is easier than holding a person or group accountable.
This manner of blaming social media and/or the internet for harassment or bullying explicitly crops the person behind the post or page from the image and therein validates their actions. They are not accountable anymore: social media is.
So I say to the presidents, deans, lecturers, revenge-porn posters, chat groups, victims, students and peers at UCD and anyone else reading this: place the blame on the person responsible. Hold them fully accountable for their actions, these are college educated men who should be punished for such zealous mistreatment and cruelty. Recognize that the women they have victimized deserve some form of justice.
After all, if my ego is bruised, how must they feel?