“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”
― Cheris Kramarae
I woke up this fine Sunday morning after weird dreams of being in some sandy place, with planes constantly overhead, feeling only the need to get away. Then, my husband checked the news, and we started talking about the latest rape stories. Today’s included the Swedish couple who were beaten in India before the woman was gang-raped in front of her husband. Apparently, they were in the wrong, because they were in an “unsafe area.” Also, there was this news: one of the men who gang-raped and killed a young woman on a bus in India was found hanged in his jail cell, and his family is calling it murder. Every twenty minutes, they said in one article, a woman in India is raped. I told him to search South Africa, because I’d heard part of a CBC interview about the rape epidemic there. The stats are much, much worse. Women are more likely to be raped than to be educated.
Let’s say that again. As a woman, in South Africa, you are more likely to suffer sexual violence than to go to school. Never mind the horrific statistic that murder of women is five times the global average.
Then, this afternoon, I saw a post on Facebook with a link to a CNN clip about two teenaged boys who were charged with raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl in Ohio. The clip did not talk about the girl. Instead, it spoke of how hard it was to see these boys suffering, to have their lives ruined with these sentences.
I don’t know how to handle this information. Tell me, how do we as humans, process this kind of absurdity?
As I’ve written about before here, I spent a few days in Mexico City recently, where I was ogled for wearing sandals and a shin-length skirt in public. Or was it for being alone, walking around in such scandalous clothing, my shoulders bare because it was a hot afternoon? Or was it because I am a woman who didn’t know the rules of the oppressive culture that exists there, and perhaps I was inviting the attention? I ignored the eyes, the catcalls (I hate this term, as it implies an instinctive, animal nature to it, beyond control, when in fact, it is entirely controllable) and tried to go about my afternoon, taking in the sights. Eventually, though, I gave up and went back to my room to change–to cover up. When I came out again to walk to the market for dinner, the attention was cut in half. I was still alone, so that was enough to garner looks, but I felt less vulnerable. The following day, I wore even more clothing, and sweated my way through a day of tourism, riding the subway in the women-and-children-only cars.
This morning we talked about this, too. How for a city this big to have created something like this, which includes women-only buses and taxis as well, there must have been a monstrous problem. But what is this doing? It’s just making the problem go elsewhere. The men haven’t changed one bit. They just can’t do as much public groping.
How can I deal with this? I am fortunate to have a husband who is as disgusted as I am about this; he’s a reminder that not all men think or behave in these ways. I am fortunate, too, to have been raised by a fair-minded, non-violent father. If I were a single woman, with no positive examples of good men in my life, I might be –justly so–even more enraged, more afraid, more indignant.
Aside from railing at the injustices of the world (don’t get me started on female circumcision or sleeping with virgins as a cure for AIDS), what lies at the heart of this rant/frustration/rage, is the fact that I have a teenaged daughter. How can I help her to remain positive about the world and its men in the face of such headlines? I used to think that shielding her from the truth was in her best interest (Waldorf philospohy of keeping children innocent as long as possible), but now, I do not believe this. I want her to be aware of what is possible. I want her to be conscious, and I want her to be angry. I want to raise a young woman who will keep that sense of utter disbelief about even the existence of the idea that women are less than men. But most of all, I want to raise her into adulthood, period. I want to keep her alive, and like all women should be, able to choose when she lets another person touch her beautiful skin.