Living everyday like International Women's Day by doing my favorite thing: talking to cool ladies about rape culture
International Women’s Day - a day designated for celebrating how great women are! Because *spoiler alert* not everyone agrees.
There are, of course, a lot of folks out there who do agree, but a good majority still don’t really get what women are trying to do with today’s celebration.
For example: during last year’s celebration, I was leaving the office to join the Women’s Day march. But before I managed to leave, one of my male colleagues put his arm around me, kissed me on the cheek (a highly un-welcomed interaction), and said, “You don’t have to go to the strike because we love you and all women.” And there has been much progress since.
And for that reason alone, we absolutely must show up.
I look forward to spending this whole day with eyes full of angry-proud tears, standing alongside a bunch of badass women who have just had enough, ya know?
And it gets better! I recently received my copy of The Anatomy of Silence, a book about “all the shit that gets in the way of speaking about sexual violence” and had the opportunity to speak with 2 of the contributors.
If you’re interested in broadening your understanding of rape culture, then this book is a great place to start. Through 26 stories about sexual assault, it frames the conversation of rape culture in a way that the Her Me Out blog is all about: as something that needs to change but has to be changed together by talking about it.
(IT’S A CULTURE, PEOPLE)
So let’s make this day about honoring women by talking to great women about being a woman - without leaving out any of the parts that we’d rather ignore.
How to change a culture
“We have ample opportunity to learn how to talk about sexual violence in truthful, healing, and respectful ways. Ways that open the conversation for imagining a different future. For instance, how would it have felt, what would it have changed in the public discourse if [Brett] Kavanaugh had said:
I don’t know. I don’t remember. I drank too much as a teen. I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
- Cyra Perry Dougherty, The Anatomy of Silence
When people aren’t sure how to approach a mistake they’ve made under the influence of rape culture, they should come back to this quote from The Anatomy of Silence.
It’s pretty simple. Women know it was “a different time” and that certain behaviors were considered normal (even acceptable) “back then.” We’re not trying to pretend like that wasn’t the norm or just “the way things were.”
In fact, we completely agree. It was like that. That’s exactly why we stayed silent about our experiences and why we’re now telling you how suffocating it was - because we’d like it to change, please.
So imagine how frustrating it is when people assume that by speaking out about sexual assault, women are out to ruin men’s lives, that we’re not giving them an opportunity to defend themselves, or like it’s unfair for them.
When, from my perspective, there is an easy way to defend yourself: Stop getting defensive. Admit that the world hasn’t been great for women (nor for people of color for that matter). And then, apologize.
Tell everyone you know, scream it from the rooftops:
WE LIVE IN A PLACE THAT NORMALIZES SEXUAL HARASSMENT / ASSAULT / RAPE / GENERAL DISLIKE OF WOMEN’S PRESENCE IN OUR FAVORITE SPACES AND I PARTICIPATED IN THAT. AND I’M SO, SO SORRY.
I’d forgive that guy.
AND you’d probably still get to keep whatever power position you’re desperately afraid of losing (this is still a patriarchy that we live in for goodness sake).
But that’s how you change a culture: You admit your participation. You talk about why it’s wrong and how it managed to be seen as acceptable for so long. You watch old movies, and say ‘Wow that was why we used to think this was okay.’
It can’t just be women & victims telling stories to each other. Everyone has to listen, take it in, and change the world.
The Anatomy of Silence
So if you’re looking for a good way to listen, let’s start with a book.
As I mentioned before, I was lucky enough to get to speak with some of the ladies who shared their stories in The Anatomy of Silence. And as I’m wont to do, I asked them what they think about rape culture.
Nadia Colburn, who experienced sexual assault as a child and had to learn to understand her internalized trauma, defined why we hate confronting this part of our culture so much.
“Traumatic sexual experiences are taboo; our culture—most cultures—do not want to hear about it. Today still in many parts of the world, if a girl is raped, she herself might be punished—disowned or even killed— by her own family because her rape dishonored her family's name,” said Colburn.
While this severe response may not be a normal practice, the fact that it happens at all becomes a reflection of how the whole culture functions.
She continued, “This might seem extreme, but that dynamic exists even in this country: it's often the victim who is accused of being crazy, of doing something wrong. It's easier to blame the victim and discredit her than to listen to the truth.”
So what is so scary about the truth? I think it’s fair to say that we’re all much closer to it than we’d care to admit. Jennifer Jean, another contributor to the book, touched on her own fear of the truth in her poem Exchange.
She explained, “In that piece, the sex-trafficking survivor is sharing with me, being very vulnerable and open, and I’m covering this information as a way of protecting her. But also as a way of protecting myself from the horror of her reality and from what it reminds me of in my own life.”
What she means is that, even with good intentions, our ability to quiet what we don’t want to define can be powerful - and destructive.
“I think this is a valuable insight for all those who seek to do good. That we should of course do good and help people, but we need to call ourselves on our own bullshit—for instance: on our need to silence others as a means of protecting ourselves,” she finished.
In the end, this whole thing is really just a declaration for us all to call ourselves on our own bullshit. And what better day to do it than today?
So in the spirit of all the badass International Women, let’s call out our bullshit!
Here’s mine for today: First, I asked permission to participate in the Women’s Day strike (it would be illegal for them not let me). Then, I did a half day to seem “less demanding.”
What kind of bullshit have you pulled today?
And if you’re interested in reading these stories or more in The Anatomy of Silence, I highly suggest you do! You can do that here.
Now let’s live everyday like International Women’s Day!