Originally posted October 14, 2016.
I stand tall amidst the void. Shoulders squared, I compile my thoughts and construct my arguments. I try to anticipate the points it may make and the questions it may ask. Armed, constantly, with information and insight and perspective. Desperately hoping that today, at long last, it will be impactful.
Our conversation is familiar. We have been here before. Like a recurring nightmare, it gets worse each time. We were enraged over the pathetic sentencing of Brock Turner in the Stanford rape case; horrified by the public gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville; shattered by the truth of the once-beloved Bill Cosby. We were nauseated by the nearly decade-long captivity of women in Ohio; the Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 girls in Nigeria; the tradition of rape at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. Complete mortification consumed us when seven men raped a woman to death in India in the most high-profile instance of the country’s epidemic of rape and femicide.
I say into the void, “Don’t you remember? Didn’t we just have this conversation? Do you not understand?”
Perhaps those cases are too incomprehensible. The lack of humanity, the disregard for the right to bodily autonomy, the debasement and denigration — all of it — seem like something that happens somewhere else to someone else. But one in five women is sexually assaulted in the United States. And all women know the fear of a man following her, or the worry of walking at night, or the gross feeling of men yelling at you on the street. At some point, every woman has an encounter where she is not attacked, but she realizes there’s absolutely nothing protecting her from becoming the one in five forcibly violated for no sin other than that of womanhood.
I say into the void, “Did you hear what I said? Do you have any questions? Do you not understand?”
It’s exhausting, circling through this again and again. These stories hit us with the consistency and force of waves. And just when we regain our balance, a stronger wave full of, “She deserved it” and “She’s lying” and “Like anyone would want to rape her,” comes in and knocks us right off our feet. Now we have a man tell the world that he “grabs [women] by the pussy” and when women come out and say, “Yes, he did that to me,” we call them liars with political agendas unworthy of our time or our consideration or, even, the luxury of the touch of the abusive man’s small hands.
I say into the void, “Why aren’t you listening? Do you believe me? Do you not understand?”
The current conversation is spiraling into a bigger, looming, more misogynistic monster. Now, people are not just arguing the issue of assault or the reality of rape culture. There are some who have gone one step further and are calling to #RepealThe19th — the amendment that gave women the right to vote in this country only 96 years ago. Apparently less than a century was too long — we should not have had the right to use our voice or political agency at all. I suppose we should also undo the disturbingly recent rulings that marital rape is a crime while we continue our backwards trajectory towards greatness.
I say into the void, “Why is this acceptable to you? How do you not see? Do you not understand?”
I know, I know, this is not all men. I see and hear the men steadfastly on our side. I appreciate their bravery and honesty as they try to educate themselves and their peers on these issues. I am thankful for every man who stands up and says, “Not in my locker room.” It is not, and never has been, about whether or not all men are sexist. Or whether or not all men are predatory threats. It is about all women experiencing harassment and sexism and even assault — whether on the streets or in the boardroom or within the walls of her own home.
I say into the void, “How many times do I have to tell you? How often must we have this conversation? Do you not understand?”
It is as if we wage a constant battle to defend the value of our humanity and remind people of our personhood. I am tired of saying the same things as we respond to assaults more heinous than the last. I am tired of hearing continued calls for the subjugation of women in the freest country in the world. I long for the day my friend doesn’t feel the need to call me as she walks to her car with mace.
I say into the void, “Do you not understand? Do you not understand? Do you not understand?”
I can no longer tell if the silence of the void is drowning me out, or if I simply do not have a voice.
I am, after all, merely a woman.