This woman is my hero.
Every year Valentine’s Day rolls around. Every year something happens all across the world that has little to do with roses and diamonds. It has everything to do with women.
It has to do with respect.
It has to do with pride.
It has to do with love.
It has to do with survival.
Above all, it has to do with justice.
On a day like Valentine’s, I reckon people don’t want to think about rape. I know I seldom want to think about rape.
It’s hard to make my fingers move on the keyboard.
Like many, many women across the country and the world, I don’t have a choice sometimes. For me, it’s because rape is something that exists in my memory. It’s because it is a reality for many of my closest friends. For people I love. Violence is even more common. Abuse.
As V-Day dawns again, I don’t have much to lend the movement. I don’t have the money to build shelters for women in Africa who flee genital mutilation or invading armies that mutilate entire generations — body and soul. I don’t have the money to stage an event. There aren’t many resources I have to lend to Eve Ensler‘s cause.
But I do have one thing.
I can raise my voice. I can break the silence. I can bring attention on this day to the plight of women — and men, because male survivors are often omitted from this discussion — across the globe. I can raise my voice to tell others like me that they are not alone.
You are not alone.
You aren’t. I’m here. There are a billion like us. I wish there were less of us, that we were somehow more alone than we are. Because this community is not one of peace. It’s one born of being made helpless. Of being violated. It’s born of someone saying to you that you have no say in what happens to your body.
No, you are not alone.
It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t okay. It isn’t okay that women around the world are still subjected to abuse and violence at the whims of people who think they are more human than we are — or that we are less. To invade a person’s body it takes a denial of the victim’s humanity, of their self, their sacredness and validity.
When it is over, it can be difficult (it can feel impossible) to get that validity and sacredness back. To call it, coax it from the depths to which it fled.
But I’m not only here to say you’re not alone.
I’ll say it again, though. You are not alone.
I’m here today to say that you can get your sacredness back. Your validity. You can get it back. It’s not impossible. It’s like climbing K2. Every step can freeze you to your core, and one false move can fling you into a chasm when you least expect it. But you can do it.
You see, gentle viewers, violence against women is real and wormlike. It threads its way into our lives. If you scratch the mere surface of many women’s memories, you’ll find it hovering there. Who do you know who has experienced it? You don’t have to answer, just think, imagine that person.
I remember after my rape how long it took for me to call it what it was. I knew him, I rationalized. When I finally told a couple close friends, the stories began to pour out. A woman raped by an acquaintance. One raped by her friend. Another by a date. Somehow the near totality of my friends had their own stories, stories that had sunk in silence for so long that they’d never told me about them.
Today is a day for women.
Today is a day for men.
Today is a day for humans to come together and say that violence against one another is wrong. That violating one another harms more than just bodies. Today is a day to give legitimacy to the stories that have been silent for so long and to celebrate the courage of survivors around the world to keep going, day after day.
Through pain. Through memories. Through the mountain that always tries to kick you back down its slopes.
Today is the day to take one another in hand. To help someone make that climb. Because if we climb together, it’s less likely for us to fall.
I want to close with a series of strung-together quotes from the documentary V-Day: Until the Violence Stops. This film documented the impact of “The Vagina Monologues” as they were performed all over the country and all over the world.
Read and take heed, gentle viewers. Go tell a woman she’s valuable today. Tell her she is worthy. Tell her she is valid and that her boundaries are built to be honored. If you hear someone insult her, if you hear someone make her uncomfortable, raise your voice.
Our female bodies are a mystery. We don’t know pleasure and how to talk about it, so we sure don’t talk about when we’re sexually assaulted.
One in three women are raped, mutilated or beaten.
FEAR and GUILT take away power and spirit. Most women feel like it is their fault that they were raped or assaulted. Instead of enjoying their bodies and creativity, they live in silent terror.
When you release your story it becomes the world’s story. Women who finally stop hiding their stories realize that they were not responsible for having bad things happen to them.
RESPECT goes to those who: EXPECT it, COMMAND it and REFUSE to live without it.
V-Day: Until the Violence Stops
Thank you all for the deluge of beautiful comments, love, and support for my project this week — I cannot count how many times I’ve been moved to tears by your words and the outpouring of emotions that I’ve seen here in the past several days. I even got a FABULOUS award from my lovely friend, the Mad Gay Man, which you can see in my sidebar. I feel utterly honored to have such a vibrant community of men and women who are ready to be open and honest and share laughter and sorrow both. You are all the reason I write this blog, and I look forward to getting to know you all better.
You all make me wanna put my face in this. WARM FUZZY TIME! Courtesy of omgbabies.com
You’re going to hear me sing today. For real. Just…er…be gentle. Please. YouTube is a new arena for me. Eek. Stay tuned, and we’ll get there.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve tried to break the rules. First the Ninja Turtles. Then I asked my mom if I could marry my best friend Sunny, and she said I could marry whoever I wanted. Legally, she was wrong, but I still remember that conversation. (Note from the future — aka 2015 — I turned out to like boys and girls and those who identify as neither or both, and these days in most states, it’s finally true.) When I was about five, my mom introduced me to an Alaskan Folk Singer named Libby Roderick. I remember going to see her concert in Anchorage, and some of my most clear memories of my early childhood involve her music.
One day I was in my mom’s room singing one of her songs. “If you see a dream, for god’s sake free it. If you have a hope, help it grow. If you can be a hero, for god’s sake be one. If you have a prisoner, let her go…let her go.”
It was at that point that my mom walked in, and I got really embarrassed. Libby’s music stayed with me throughout the years. Her words are simple, powerful poetry. Her song How Could Anyone has been used around the world, and she has been a strong voice in the face of discrimination, racism, and violence. I still have all her CDs, and I encourage you to check out her website and consider purchasing her music (it’s also available on iTunes).
Libby’s music showed me that women can be powerful and strong, and I believe that her lyrics and melodies shaped the child into the woman I am today in many ways. I remember meeting her when I was five or six at that concert. I remember her kindness and gentleness, and that she acknowledged me. She probably doesn’t remember tiny five-year-old Emmie, but twenty-two years later, I remember her.
I needed to see women making history.
As I grew up, I remember the multitude of comments about what girls could and couldn’t do. “Boys are better,” the little boys in my school said. “Boys are smarter and stronger. Girls can’t do that — girls aren’t supposed to fight. Boys are smarter than girls.” This to a straight-A student Emmie who boiled with a child’s rage and restrained herself knowing that if one of them took it too far, she knew to kick him in the nards.
When I started learning history, I remember learning about Amelia Earhart. This woman shucked off the naysayers and did her dream. She went soaring away in her tiny plane — she may not have returned, but she left a legacy that spanned that ocean.
Harriet Tubman, who risked her life and every ounce of her safety and being to lead hundreds of human beings to the North, away from the people who made them slaves. Hundreds of people were freed by her courageousness, a bravery fought for not only against the slave owners and enforcers, but against her own body which suffered seizures and narcoleptic attacks after a savage beating by her former master. Any person strong enough to do that, any person strong enough to fight that hard was a hero in my eyes. And this was a woman who started out a girl like me.
As I grew up, I remember the names of women. Maya Angelou, Helen Keller, Winnie Mandela, Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton — women who denied the validity of a system that called them inferior. Women who overcame obstacles and criticism. Women who pressed on in spite of the spiteful and needling labels that so many strong, beautiful women have been plastered with over the years. Bitch. Harpy. Frigid. Ice Queen. Pretender. These women weren’t trying to be men — these women were being women. This is the mettle of the double X chromosome, and it’s every bit as capable and valid as the XY. (Note from the future — this last sentence is an artifact. I have a better, albeit still imperfect and evolving, understanding of sex and gender these days in 2015.)
We women need a new mythology.
Growing up, little girls are inundated with tales that make us dependent. Dependent on a prince on a white horse. Dependent on society. Dependent on others.
And yet throughout history there are thousands — millions — of women who have carved out their places and shown the world a glimpse of what things could be. Women like Cleopatra and Joan of Arc. I’m willing to bet that the ancient gods and goddesses were based on stories and legends that were in turn based on real women. Aphrodite and Athena, Hera and Artemis and Demeter. Women have wisdom, strength, sensuality, and the ability to provide.
I was in college when I first heard of The Vagina Monologues. It made quite a splash at the time, and I remember a friend of mine named Keith getting in trouble at our Christian university for wearing a shirt that had the word vagina on it. He was infuriated, so he began to talk about the monologues to whoever would listen. A Marine and a feminist, this guy got my attention. I read the monologues. And they introduced me to the woman who has become my real life hero.
Eve Ensler is a survivor. She is a playwright and a wordsmith. Her words have touched millions around the world. Her words touched me, and they drew me into knowledge that has changed my outlook on life, helped me cope with my rape, and ultimately inspired this week of blog posts.
Several years ago now, I read an article in Glamour. I urge you to read it. It’s not an easy read. Truth seldom is. The first line of the article is, “I have just returned from hell.”
Eve had gone to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to visit the Panzi hospital, run by a man named Dr. Denis Mukwege. This hospital is a trauma center for women who have been the victims of the most brutal and atrocious forms of rape. A hush enters my mind as I write this. I’ve read the article several times, and still the tears prick my eyes like burning needles. Still the images sear my mind as I can’t help but picture the reality of Dr. Mukwege’s work. I write this now with my eyes closed, hoping you’ll read it too, hoping you’ll be willing to put yourself through this to understand, to know that women are still in danger all over the world. To know that that even in the darkest pits of the human psyche, the survivors of these attacks still sing. To hope that you will feel, like I did, the fiery need to make this known and to help in whatever way you can.
Eve has raised over $85 million dollars to stop violence against women. She has helped found a city. A city where women can go to be safe and heal and learn. It’s called the City of Joy. It’s located in Bukavu, DRC, and its first class has just graduated last week. Those women will go out into their communities and make change happen.
These women are the reason I am who I am today. They’re the reason my friend the Mad Gay Man thinks I’m fabulous. Anything good and true in me is something I’ve learned, something reflected from those who came before me, and the women before them, and the women before them, and back and back and back into the sleepy folds of time. My mother nurtured my drive and my need for female heroes. She raised me alone for the first many years of my life after two abusive marriages, through poverty and several states. When I looked around to see what the future had in store for me, my mother always said I could be whoever I wanted to be.
I challenge you all to ask yourself what it is that you really want. Who do you want to be? Whether you’re a man or a woman or neither or both — who do you want to be?
I’ve never watched myself singing before…do be gentle. :/
Used with permission. Words and music by Libby Roderick
C Libby Roderick Music 1986 BMI All rights reserved
From the recording “If You See a Dream”
Turtle Island Records Anchorage Alaska
www.libbyroderick.com firstname.lastname@example.org 907/278-6817
Hope like dew.
Today I’m going to tell a story, gentle viewers. It’s a story with a lot of feelings behind it, wrapped up in it, entwined in it. Some of those feelings are harsh like needles on very cold skin. Some of those feelings are like knowing you’re alone and unsafe in the dark. Some are relief like water. Others are hot like pain.
I promise you two things if you stay with me.
I promise you honesty. I will be candid. I will be open. I will paint a blurry watercolor and not a pen and ink to spare you details. But you will be among the first to hear this story.
I promise you hope. While this story starts on the outskirts of darkness and wades in, it also wades back out into the light.
I promise you honesty, and I promise you hope. If you take my hand, I will tell you a story.
This story doesn’t begin with a once upon a time, nor does it end with a happily ever after. It’s in no way a fairy tale, and that is okay. It shouldn’t be a fairy tale. It simply is. A tale.
They say it’s almost always someone you know. We humans fear strangers like we fear the night, but for me it happened in the broad light of day under a hot southern sun, and it was someone I knew.
The asphalt caught my shirt and jeans as I sat on the ground to end things with him. He lay next to me, puppy dog eyes full of knowing. Knowing that his words affected me. Knowing that I flinched from him already. He told me his earlier words were my fault. He accused me of lying with a smile on his face and the whisper of a wagging finger behind his gaze. I had never lied to him. I told him it was over, and I meant it.
For a long time I thought what he did was my fault because I thought I owed him the courtesy of telling him face-to-face when he had already brutally destroyed my trust in him.
I told him it was over, and he tried to kiss me. I said no. Over and over I said no. I pushed him away. I repeated that tiny syllable. I said it louder. And finally I froze. I went somewhere else. And when I came back, it was over. In a tiny voice I told him I hadn’t wanted that.
And he told me I should have stopped him.
You know what I’m talking about, gentle viewers. You know what happened. You know what it was he blamed me for. I’m sorry if it causes you distress. But I promised you honesty, and I promised you hope. You have the first, and the second is coming.
Months went by before I could say the word. Three months passed before I had the strength to cut him from my life. Still he followed. He called. He asked to see me. He pried into my friendships and asked me about any dates. Seven months went by before he tracked me down at work and called me there. Seven hours went by after that before I called him and told him never to contact me again. Six months later, he tried to message me on Facebook.
Somewhere in that span of time, I admitted to myself what he had done to me. I said the word in my head, a tiny tendril of thought, a wisp of smoke in a darkened room. I said the word rape, and it sounded raw in my mind. I spoke to a few trusted friends. And when I did, some dam burst.
I wasn’t alone.
By everything sacred and warm, I wasn’t alone. Women I loved. Women I knew and knew well. I hadn’t known that we shared that word. I hadn’t known. With one story we were suddenly bound tighter. Bound in silence and grief. I had always judged women who didn’t report their rape. I had thought insidious damning thoughts, wondering how things would get better if women didn’t tell. Until it happened to me. And now I know why they don’t break their silence.
Here are reasons, and some of them are mine.
He was a friend. He was well-known. Everyone loved him. He was charming. He was kind. No one would believe me. I had no proof. He was my husband. He was a cop. He was a marine. He was a fellow soldier. He was drunk. I was drunk. I’d slept with him before. I’m a man. It wouldn’t even go to trial. He didn’t leave a mark. He used a condom. He used his hand. He didn’t hear me say no. He’d say I was lying. No one would believe me. She was a woman. He was a politician. He was married. He had a gun. He told me he’d kill me if I told anyone. He said I had it coming. He said it was my fault. I believed it was my fault.
Most rapists are never convicted. I think the number stands around 2%.
Something happened that day. It dropped a thick dark sludge into a pure place of my soul. It cut a ragged swatch from my confidence, from my self-respect. It made me feel weak and lesser and small. Those words, “You should have stopped me” ran on repeat in my mind. Could I have fought harder? Could I have kicked and screamed? Yes. I could have.
But no one would have heard me, and he could have hurt me worse. He was 6’3″ and over 250. I weighed half as much.
When I met my husband, the first few days of our acquaintance showed me something vital, something that began to slowly patch the rift in my honor and dignity. It was a simple, simple thing.
I set a boundary. He honored it.
That is hope. That is light and warmth and hope. That is what makes love happen, for it is the foundation of trust. It took the words of friends and family and the fledgling hope built by the man who would become my husband to show me that my boundaries are valid. That when I say no, that means more than “no further,” it means “back off.”
I shared my story with you today because in the three and a half years since I was raped, I have heard over a score of stories from women I love. I’ve heard even more from women I don’t know — but with whom I share that raw and frightening word.
I thank you humbly and from my heart for listening to my story.
There is a woman named Eve Ensler. Years ago, before I joined this community of survivors, I knew of her. She wrote The Vagina Monologues. She is a survivor of abuse and of virulent cancer. And she started a movement called V-Day that has raised over $85 million to stop violence against women and girls.
For the next week, I have dedicated my voice and my blog to sharing her vision. I promised you hope, gentle viewers, and I shall deliver. I will take you on a journey of hope and inspiration. A journey of renewal and vitality. I will tell you the stories of the women who have shaped our world and who have shaped my life. I truly hope you will join me.
Women are beautiful inside and out. Women are kind. Women are strong. Women are fighters. Women survive. Women overcome. Women have the power to defeat their pasts.
I hope you agree.
I hope you’ll share this week with me.
As always, I invite discussion. How have you seen women overcome tragedy (not necessarily sexual violence)? How have the women in your life shown you their strength? Their hope? Their ability to survive?
If you tell me about one of your heroes, I will include her in Thursday’s blog about the women who have inspired me.