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A guest blog by Anna Claire, one of our current rock star volunteers!! Re-posted from her blog Go Away Everywhere (11/4/2013).
People: Anna, it’s disturbing to be bombarbed with articles on rape, daily.
Me: It’s disturbing to deal with rape culture,daily. Yer move.
— Anna Claire (@annaclaireweber) 8 avril 2013
This is the first installment in a series I have every intention of continuing on this blog. I’m sick of being silent. I’m sick of talking until I’m blue in the face and not being heard. I’m sick to the teeth.
They’ll be a bit wordy, and they won’t always have pretty pictures, graphics, and videos. I’m not here to entertain you or make this easy for you to understand. Because time and time again, you all prove to me that in fact, it’s the most difficult thing for you to comprehend.
As soon as I copied and pasted the above tweet my hands froze on the keyboard. I wasn’t sure where to begin. How to start telling you about when I began to realize that something was fundamentally wrong in the way I thought about my gender and my sexuality, how to start describing all the instances of aggressions (micro- and macro-) through which I’ve lived because I am a woman, how to explain to you the ways in which street harassment has affected me every day since I left my hometown at eighteen, how to put into words my internalization of media and male objectification of my inner and outer self.
I could ask you where it is you want me to start. With one of my ex’s who once declared that our society needed a male movement to counterbalance feminism? With the way the driver of a filthy Subaru honked at me all the way down Main Street in Burlington just to scream that I had a nice ass? With friends of mine who ask me hesitantly why I feel the need to flood my Facebook wall, my Tumblr, and my Twitter feed with post after post on sexual violence and rape culture?
Do I start with where I can first remember noticing the pervasiveness of sexism, when second grade boys would team up to prevent me from playing with them on Kid City? (So I attacked them with my fists. True story. Got recess detention.) Do I talk about the myriad of ways I, personally, have experienced all the terrifying gray areas of consent, or lack thereof? What about with the look on a friend’s face when she finally realizes, because of what I am expounding, that no part of being groped on the street is her fault? (The fact that she couldn’t tell herself that she wasn’t at fault…)
It’s International Anti-Street Harassment Week, and I’ve been Tumblin’, Tweetin’, Facebookin’ and researching like hell. I’m a volunteer for Hollaback! Brussels, and this Saturday is our #ShareTheStreets manifestation (but not a protest–we’re keeping it positive and all-inclusive, which is a refreshing change from Femen women foaming at the mouth.) Instead of starting at any of the above, I’d like to start with the article that got me furious, got me researching, and got me to go to Hollaback! to ask what I could do.
Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice—and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.
Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it—though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist. It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.
I want you to know what I’m feeling as I’m hitting the punchline of this post. I’m not feeling triumphant. I’m not feeling vindictive. I’m not blindly raging, fingers flying. There’s something restrictive in my chest, my heart is pounding, my face keeps going from hot to cold and back again. There’s a sickness to my stomach, an acidity roiling. It’s the same feeling that I got while reading this article. It’s the same feeling I got while reading about what “gray area rape” is and how much it’s affected me. It’s the same feeling I got when I suddenly realized that a stranger was trying to jack off on me in a park. It was a sunny day.
Pure anxiety, that’s what I’m feeling.
And it’s what I feel every time I leave my house in Bruxelles. It’s what I feel every time I decide to go to a party or a bar in Burlington. Anxiety is a protection mechanism from your body. You’re not listening to any of your other bodily or mental cues telling you not to do something for (seemingly) your own good, and so your body shuts you down, paralyzes you for a few seconds to a few minutes or longer. Your body literally halts you in your tracks.
Why do I get so anxious to leave the house? Because I’m petrified of being street harassed. It’s not uncommon to get a “bonjour” or a “princesse” or a “mademoiselle,” but I’m terrified that I’ll get a “salope,” that I’ll get a “suce-moi,” that I’ll get touched or cornered. I choose strategic seats on the metro, try to put myself close to women. If I end up next to a man, I make sure I know where his hands are at all times, and I avoid his eyes, even when I can feel his. If it’s midnight and I’m walking off the bus, I’m checking all the side streets, all the bushes, behind cars, making a mental sweep of my surroundings to make sure I’m clear. If there is a man on one side of the street and no one else is in sight, I cross as a rule, even if he’s standing in front of my house. I could tell you all of the other rerouting and option planning I mentally do every single time I’m outside, but it would be tedious. Oh, wait, it’s tedious for me, too! And I have to do it again in an hour when I go to the train station!
Why do I get so anxious to leave the house? Because I’m petrified of being harassed. Why am I petrified of being harassed? Because I’m petrified of being raped.
For as long as I can remember, rape has always been my greatest personal fear. Not even death has ever scared me more than rape.
What does that say about the culture in which we live? We point fingers at India and say, that’s disgusting, women having to live with rape daily like that, that’s horrifying, that must change, those poor women, we wring our hands and moan and pass around petitions for those women and absolutely do those women need help and absolutely do their aggressors need to be brought to justice. But did you read all of the article to which I linked, above? Did you? What did it say? It described, in great detail, rape culture in the U.S., didn’t it? Did it not explain to you how rape is a daily reality for American women, too? Did it not line out for you all the ways in which rape culture pervades an American woman’s life, day in and day out? Did it not pronounce for you all the ways in which our politicians, our media, our men pointedly or maybe unconsciously ignore this reality?
Right after I found, read, and re-read this article, my study abroad coördinator organized a meeting with Hollaback! Brussels for the girls in the group. Directly after the meeting I went to Anna (another Anna!), one of the volunteers, and asked her how I could get involved. A few emails and internet contributions later, and I’m proud to say I Hollaback!. Always do I Hollaback!.
And why? Because street harassment is unacceptable. Because street harassment is sexual violence. Because sexual violence is rape. Because rape culture is everywhere.
Because it’s all connected. To say that street harassment is too small a focal point is missing the entire point. It’s proving your ignorance about the abyss of fuckery that is rape culture.
And stop fucking telling me that I talk too much about rape.
Hollaback! Brussels is welcoming of one-time and regular Guest Bloggers to the site. Find them all in our Guest Blog section!
The idea is to use this site to the fullest, to be a transparent platform, to bring debate to the table, to allow people to voice their opinions in line with our Hollaback values. We hope that multiple and diverse tales on this site can help create the support everyone needs to break through the silence around street harassment, racism, homophobia and gender-based violence.
Feel like seeing your guest blog up here? Please contact us with a piece of your writing and we’ll get back to you!
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