Sometimes I worry that I will run out of words. That there are only so many ways to say “There is a war on women and girls. If you refuse to acknowledge that, you are on the opposing side. Period. The end.”
There was no way to avoid the news that a young man who was full of entitlement and unbridled misogyny went on a killing spree last weekend. And while not every man who kills or harms women has a chilling 140 page manifesto or a youtube channel, we know that this kind of thing happens all too frequently. Multiple women and girls are killed or seriously harmed every day because a man or boy somewhere believes that she owes him access to her body. We are inundated with these stories. A teenage girl was stabbed in the face for declining an invitation to prom, 236 girls kidnapped from school and sold for sex, two sisters raped and hung from a tree in India, the shaming and cyber bullying of Alyssa Funke, her corresponding suicide and the mockery that continued after she took her own life. In Pakistan, pregnant Farzana Parveen was surrounded by a mob of 30 men, led by her father and brothers, and was bludgeoned to death in an “honor killing”. These are all just stories from recent weeks, some as recent as yesterday. These are the stories that break through and become “news” as opposed to the more ordinary rapes, deaths, abuses and cyber attacks that are never brought to our attention. What was most appalling (though not surprising) to me and multitudes of other women was the response of so many men claiming that Eliot Rodger was a victim who avenged himself and thereby became a hero. “If only some woman would have blown this guy, those people would still be alive.” The only blessing here is that for a moment many women (some for the first time ever) acknowledged the flesh and bones experience of misogyny. I have been inspired, enraged and brought to tears by the voices that have been raised in the outcry of #YesAllWomen. Story after story, account after account, women are speaking. I’ve not been able to step in. I’ve been sitting in deep sadness and troubled reflection about the number of girls and women in my life alone who have died or are survivors of the war against females, myself included. My heart is too full, my chest is too heavy, my eyes too red and dry to think in 140 character articulations. I’ve been wishing that I could. I’ve been struck by a fear that by the time I actually process my thoughts and feelings and transmit them that the phenomena of women affirming this very important truth of our lives will have evaporated into the thin air of our collective 24 hour attention span and that the room will have gone quiet, that I will have been too late, and that I will stand alone. I’ve been thinking about our bodies, about our psyches, our spirits. I’ve been thinking of blood, words, weapons and terror. I’ve been thinking about commercials and pop songs. I’ve been thinking about pornography, diet pills and plastic surgery. I’ve been thinking about what a dick Judd Appatow has been to Ann Hornaday. I’ve been thinking about smartphones and frat parties. I’ve been thinking about how women are perceived to lose dimension and become invisible as we age. I’ve been thinking about the message – the relentless message that womyn and girls are not be our own, ever. I woke up yesterday morning thinking about the biblical Matriarch, Rachel “who would not be consoled for the loss of her children.” There are a few Biblical passages that I still know but that is one that landed in me as a young girl and tucked itself away. The first time I heard it something inside of me said “listen to this story and remember.” I have carried in me this image of a Woman who refused to stop wailing about the murder of countless new born babies. It was stirring to me and it felt like a protest of some sort even before I had the language or experience to comprehend that concept. I understand that Women don’t hold a patent on grief but no one will ever convince me that women and girls do not shoulder and mourn the destruction of all patriarchal violence acutely, devastatingly and in a way that is completely exclusive to Women and Girls. We have the authority to speak about that devastation because that is something that ALL WOMEN AND GIRLS know, including the ancient Rachel.
And so I’ve been holding vigil over our dead. Privately. Solemnly. And I’ve been thinking about and being amazed at the ways in which we survive. The way we rally and the power (and resistance) that comes from women naming the violence that is carried out against us by men and what happens when we witness it for one another. Like most people, I know more Women who have survived some sort of complex psychological, physichal or sexual violence in their lifetimes than those who have not. But I’m not just taking into account the adult Women that I know who have found a way to talk about this. I’m very much thinking about the girls I grew up with. I’m thinking about that moment of shared revelation that we were being hunted, that the bounty on us was real and how the air around us began to smell like fear and watchfulness and how eventually we stopped noticing it. I’m thinking about the rumors of “slutty” girls at school, the shame of girls whose rape stories were paraded around like victory marches for boys and cautionary tales for girls, I’m remembering the resignation and frustration of some of the adult women in my life, the stories they would only tell each other when they were sure that we weren’t listening. I’m thinking about the suicides, the depression, the addictions, the hopelessness, the poverty, the PTSD, the rage. I’m thinking about the things that are witnessed, not spoken. I’m thinking of how rarely these things get spoken.
I’m thinking about a 10 year old girl who told me last summer that “she just wants to be a girl, she doesn’t want to have to think about rape and all that scary stuff.” She is ten years old. She is already navigating an awareness and fear that the sacredness of her young strong girl body is subject to being taken against her will and that she may be powerless to stop it. The awareness of this danger will never leave her though I can’t help but wonder if her consciousness of it will. How long will she lament this? How long before she stops protesting that fear and it just becomes part of the air that she breathes with the rest of us? Hers was not a political statement out of the mouth of an “angry feminist”, this was not a status update, or a meme floating by in your news feed. There was no hashtag attached to that moment. This was a 10 year old girl, a child, sitting on a bench in the sun talking about rape. It’s time to listen up. It’s time to step up, sharpen the blades and protect our young. It’s time to evoke the ancient Rachel and refuse to shut the fuck up – refuse to be comforted into silence. In fact, I’m thinking it’s time to make a sound so deafeningly loud that it gets inscribed in our own holy texts.