14 February 2013

Some Thoughts on Violence this Valentine's Day

Today, all over the globe, millions of people will take to the streets to demand an end to violence against women. The One Billion Rising movement's website demands that we pay attention to the fact that "1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime," and rightfully calls this an atrocity.

I was supposed to attend the Kathmandu event, titled "RISE, PATAN!" with a friend who lives in rural Nepal, but last week she was violently assaulted and is in the hospital recovering from surgery to repair her fractured skull. I would like to make some kind of a witty joke about the ironic timing of the attack, but the sad fact is that with statistics like 1 in 3, it was inevitable that this would happen at least one of the hopeful women who clicked "attending" on the facebook page.

I don't know what to do with how this makes me feel. I am angry. I am so fucking angry.

The news in the past few months has been filled with horrific stories about violence against women, particularly rape (I do want to be clear that my friend was not sexually assaulted). The Delhi gang rape. A woman in South Africa who had her abdominal cavity filled with shards of glass during a gang rape. The Steubenville, USA "rape crew" of high school football players who assaulted a girl in public for hours - and who some still rush to defend.

I've heard some people wondering "why now? What is going on? Why are all of these women suddenly being attacked?" but the sad fact is that this isn't some new epidemic - we are just hearing more about these kinds of stories. Social media and internet access has connected the globe like never before, and news can go viral based on people's immediate interest in the topic. For most women, stories of gender-based violence hold a sick fascination and we tend to read them and share them amongst our networks as morbid cautionary tales.

Ever Mainard, a female comedian, went viral a few months ago with a stand-up routine entitled "Here's Your Rape!" She describes the strange feeling of inevitability that women feel about their "impending" attack. You know, like when you are out walking at night and something seems a bit hinky and you think, "well, this is when it happens. This is when I get raped." It's a brilliant piece of the darkest humour I can think of. And it is scary as shit that she is right.

In Kathmandu I am scared when I walk the short distance from the main road to my flat if it is past 8pm. I find myself mentally preparing for a potential assault, and I envision all kinds of scenarios that could occur. As was recently demonstrated in the Delhi gang rape case, in South Asia the onus is on the woman to not get attacked, rather than on the man to not attack. The Steubenville case has clearly demonstrated that this is obviously the case in the West as well, but it is accepted without challenge here. I have honestly wondered if the authorities in this city would take the crime seriously if I was assaulted late at night. I honestly don't think they would.

My lovely British friend was clubbed over the head with a piece of firewood as she walked between villages after a weaving class. It was 6pm - still light out. The man stole her bag and took off on his motorbike, leaving her for dead on the side of the path. She has been recovering from surgery for the past ten days and is awaiting her doctor's approval to fly back to the UK. While this was not a sexually motivated attack, she was targeted by a man and I am willing to bet that if she was a tall, burly Western male the mugging would have looked very different.

Listen, I don't want to minimize the violence that is perpetrated against men - I am anti-violence in all cases (and I don't want to risk the ire of these fucktards. Oh wait - yes I do). But guys. One in three. ONE IN THREE. And I am willing to bet that most men do not have what Mainard describes - a recurring, vivid visualization of being raped or attacked in the street when someone merely walks too closely to you. It's a kind of pre-traumatic stress reaction that women learn to acquire. And that is the worst thing that I can think of. My culture teaches me to be afraid for just existing - and it is right - I need to be.

I could go into all kinds of theories on why men do this to women. I could show you examples of violence against women in the media, and I could detail the history of patriarchy and present multiple theses as to when and where this behaviour emerged in human development, but I won't. Why? Because it is exhausting, and I am tired and I don't think it will help anything. You're reading this because you agree with me or because you like me. Either way, thanks - but I am preaching to the choir.

There's only a few things we can do, and one of them is DON'T STOP TALKING ABOUT THIS. Don't let the sudden uptick in reporting on gang rape become a passing media fad. Don't let any instances of normalized violence against women go unchecked. And please, please recognize the connection between the obsession with how women's bodies should look and the ownership and violence this perpetuates.

And hell - get out there and dance. It's bed time here in Kathmandu, pals, but there is still time for those of you in North America and Europe to get out and find the local "One Billion Rising" event and dance yer azzes off. If I am reaching you too late, well, get out there next year or organize another event in the meantime (I'll attend! Promise!) Show the world that you're pissed off and you are not willing to be a part of this any longer.

And for good measure, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  - Margaret Mead.
Preach, sister friend.

Happy VD

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am sure that speak for everyone who has read this: I hope your lovely British friend recovers nicely. Being assaulted can never be anything less than shitty. It is often de-humanizing and almost always strips away a layer of trust that we, as human beings have amoungst each other. We all Love her. And we all want her to continue to be cool.

Thanks for reminding us Violet.