I woke up this morning next to a rape survivor. She was preparing for her first day in a new position. It was a celebratory time. I looked at her getting dressed in the new clothes she bought for this occasion. While she pointed out the parts of her body that she wasn’t happy with. I responded saying how great she looked in her confident resilience and with excitement to overcome the challenges that morning.
After all, she survived to live this moment.
Not only did she survive her rape, as if that alone isn’t painful enough. She survived its aftermath. The war that is fought every single day in memories, with the ordeal of waking up and surviving that first morning, the morning after she was raped.
She survived going to the hospital and having a rape kit done. She survived climbing that mountain of anxiety, and of escalating disassociation with each step into the police precinct in New York City, alone. She survived a detective telling her that she must get her rapist to maybe send a message to substantiate her narrative, then the police, “might” take her seriously. Then they might investigate. She was also warned that if she couldn’t get her rapist to corroborate, then they might investigate her, they might arrest her for harassment. After surviving life in the body of a woman, she might get arrested for being raped. Is that a gamble you want to take right after living through the unthinkable? Is this a gamble you ever have to consider? I mean, imagine: Thief robs store, but thief doesn’t corroborate the story, so the owner is for reporting that he was robbed. Sounds unthinkable, unless you have survived rape in the United States.While this is an experience that hundreds of thousands of wom(y)n, across a spectrum of identities–cis hetero, trans, black, lesbian, asexual, indigenous, neurotypical, gender non-conforming, can stipulate– surviving it doesn’t receive agency.
Yet this is the upside down world of the so-called justice that women wake up to survive every day, and today, she was surviving. She was surviving today knowing that for her there would never be justice. Justice would have been not being raped, because it isn’t a store being robbed, it’s your physical being, an attempt against your dignity. It is the murder of autonomy and physical self-determination. It is the genocide of agency. You might think invoking “genocide” might be going too far because you might reserve the word “genocide” by its legal and international normative standard. Three hundred thousand rapes occur annually in the United States, alone. How many women’s agencies must be invaded en masse, how many self-determinations murdered annually, to confront this reality of gender terrorism and turn the world right side up in the direction of women’s inherent dignity that cannot be put out by man’s historical imposition on women’s bodies.
She survives as does her dignity, unscathed.
Unscathed despite seeing her rapist on the cover of New York Time Out. She survived the infinite seconds of panic attacks, anxiety attacks, crushing depression and dissociation. She has walked that tight rope between falling off the edge of a world that offers no comfort, and remaining there. These battles aren’t a one time war, they are daily fights. Loosing one can mean plummeting into spirals of depression where tides yank the entire consciousness out of the being and into the middle of violent oceans, where drowning is a reality. Then there is no more waking up, no more surviving.
This, these words, they are not one of those celebrity, male feminist, “Hey guys we need to be actively involved in this battle” mantras that trend for a day, then disappear till the next one appears on social media. This is a rally cry and if this rally cry is muddled and muted by industries before it reaches the media where fights to end a culture exist in definitive actions, we will loose the humanity of a generation.
Remember, never has this violence been so present, made so prominent and yet remained so silent. Never before has rape culture been so conspicuously illuminated to a generation, nor has it ever been so jarringly placated by false demagogues of industries and institutions who perpetuate it.
You’ve got to love the comedian who speaks of women’s equality on the late night talk show, but then refers to them as “bitches” backstage. You’ve got to love the recording artist who speaks about women empowerment at political rallies but then refers to them as “hoes” in his songs. You’ve got to love the activist who speaks in glaringly powerfully academic terms in tweets, but then laughs at the comedian’s jokes and dances along to the artist’s songs. You’ve got to love the politician who acknowledges rape as a part of our culture, our national and global culture of inhumanity that targets more than half the human population.
In terms of statistics of violence and mortality rates, any plague, health crises, and conflict seem like improvements in the human condition when compared to violence against women. I wonder if apartheid in South Africa fought tooth and nail, life and death, sustained action and movement, rally after rally, boycott after boycott, was fought as passively as gender and sexual apartheid are being fought, how much worse the condition of indigenous peoples and tribes of South Africa would be today?
Yet, she survives gender apartheid and sexual terrorism, she survived this weekend in a hospital bed unconsciously murmuring, “Don’t let my rapist get me…” as confused nurses looked on trying to offer comfort. She survived looking in the mirror and through that memory that incessantly haunts her reflection, the memory of looking in the mirror after that night. She survived the shower. She survived the shower again today. She survived, but the scratches were etched on the memory of her skin where she scrubbed so hard, too hard, to wash them away.
Last week at work, she received a phone call. A colleague, in all his inadequacy, thought it fun to reply to her “Can I help you” with “You can help me rub my d*ck.”
How triggering that must have been. The fact is that I know how triggering it must have been, because I got the message telling me, “There’s been an emergency.” She was unconscious in the hospital but she would be okay. The X-rays showed no organ damage. Her vitals were good. What, though, was going on in the parts of her that the most sophisticated imaging machines could only show in waves of activity?
This is the brutality of rape not shown, not recorded on popular blogs by male celebrity activists.
None of those words can measure the energy and courage when she places her feet down on the floor to start her morning. She strides. She strides as a woman of color. She strides as a Muslim woman. She strides as a powerful advocate. She strides as a human being. She embodies her resilience, her determination, her intellectual and emotional intelligence, and she embodies it all in her only life on this earth, in this body, emboldened by fires ignited by the lineage of historical memory of women’s resistance.
I, as a man, cannot begin to comprehend this marrow that is the only real determining chromosomal difference between her humanity and a man’s humanity.
This isn’t one of those I woke up next to a rape survivor, pat me on the back, let’s confront the stigmas of being with someone who was raped. Fuck that.
I am the lucky one. We are the lucky ones. Our social existences as cis hetero men, that “luck” is monetised by the oppression, the conflict of exploitation by “man” creating privileges of economic status, tribal affiliation, caste, race, and birth determined locations of our existences; all of which never comprehend the determination of existence of woman within and outside these intersections.
Imagine opening the news feed once a week to millions of men having their sexual organs cut off or sewn shut, so they wouldn’t engage in sex outside of marital “bonds”, so they will be pure for their wives, wives who will be chosen for them. That sounds outrageous to the point of not being publishable, but when it’s a girl or a woman, it’s to be expected.
That rape affects men is its own thesis, but I guarantee you if it were a pandemic of mass proportion, as it is for women, without distinction of “man-made” and socially designed borders, it would have promoted a type of unity in men unprecedented to human his-story. There would be a holy war the likes of which would end every single so-called sacrosanct tenet of man’s entitled history in social lingua.
If words give birth to perceptions of dehumanization, and dehumanization ushers violence and if the linguistics of misogyny were conversely inverted to describe man–Sharmuuto (Sex whore), Slut, Bitch, Hoe, Kutya (bitch), , طق موت طق موت (death death), prostitute, would be devalued from the socio-cultural and economic depositories of masculine capital. Amazing, in a unique and diverse world of so many identities and languages, man’s lexicon of violence against women is so similar.
Guarantee you, though, as a man, if these words could in any way be associated with mass unprecedented violence against men, you wouldn’t find man “reappropriating”, nor finding these words as empowerment. You wouldn’t see them re-circulated into entertainment. We wouldn’t be searching for the lowest common denominator to the problem, we would be looking for the consummate solution. We would have found the consummate solution in the reflection staring back at us in the mirror of inhumanity that is our own reflection of cultural agents of misogyny.
We don’t though. We don’t because we don’t wake up as women. We don’t think, as we shout the lyrics, sing along, dance to, reenact the porn we consumed, embodying Bollywood and Hollywood film bravado. The street capital moves to the boardroom capital, the street harassment, to the workplace harassment, and every single space in between is insulated with micro-aggression and all out violence.
In the years I have worked, from my place of privilege as a cis-gender male in efforts to end violence against women, I have read and discoursed so many theories. I have organized on the streets and spoken in classrooms. I have worked in artistic spaces and collaborated with women from around the world. I honored the term survivor as a distinction of courage. I have empirically noticed and noted, the more than conspicuous reality that when mass injustice against a girl or woman happens locally, you never, NEVER, ever see man respond the way women respond when injustice targets man. Not in the his-story of movements have we as a gender ever responded to a single woman with the response that women have historically responded to the cause of man. It is from this reality that the term “survivor” became a distinction of empowerment and courage. Yet it wasn’t until I woke up next to a survivor that I became aware what it means to be one. What I have learned is just that, I will never know.
Thank you for allowing me into your world. Never stop surviving.
Originally Published in IndusDaily.