Quiet and consuming,
A dark flame that burns,
Devours the flesh.
Strong and unbending.
The rage and hate
Nothing to do or say,
Nothing to listen to;
They say nothing, so we do not hear. And by not listening to the things that have been, how can we prevent them from happening again? They are hurt by the men they love and we silence them. They are not allowed to speak and their story is left untold, locking them into the false world of beauty and self destruction. And we say nothing, only turning our heads, giving those men permission to continue hurting.
“The tragedy of the men in my family was silence. If you didn’t look close you might miss the sharp glint of pain in their eyes, the restless angry way they gave themselves up to fate.” (Source Two) This is an image of manhood that I know well. The anger at being what they are and not knowing how to be anything different. While women are being taught to serve and to love, men are being taught the concepts of war, even when there is no enemy to be fought. they must be cold, hard and brutal or reduce themselves to something less then human. Or so they were taught and this acculturation is so complete that even the victims encourage them to continue on this destructive path of chaos. “My last girlfriend in high school, the woman I took to my prom, the woman I once thought I’d die for, tried to show me the light: ‘Why do you always ask me what I want to do? Why don’t you just tell me what you want me to do? Why don’t you take charge and be a man? If you want to be a real man you can’t be nice all the time!’ ” (Source Three).
Who made this crazy rule? Who said that a man had to be violent and cold? Well, we did. Each of us was taught it as children by our parents, friends and even our priests. In fact, a recent set of surveys revealed a disturbing fact of our opinion of men. Of the men and women surveyed, 85% identified men as being competitive and aggressive, while 83% identified women as passive care takers. When only women were surveyed the values varied little, and was the same for when only men were answering the questions. The fact is that most people expect men to be mean and ridicule them if they are not (Source Four).
“They work hard to create a macho image and context and try to avoid any suggestion of ‘whimpishness’, effeminacy, and homosexuality. Valued members display, or are willing to go along with, a narrow conception of masculinity that stresses competition, athleticism, dominance, winning, conflict, wealth, material possessions, willingness to drink alcohol, and sexual prowess vis-a-vis women.” (Source Five).
If we continue to teach each other that men have to be violent, then they will be. Only when young boys are allowed to cry, play with dolls and hug mommy at the age of 20 will we see a change in their level of aggression. We are teaching them to behave in these hurtful manners, so why can’t we stop that teaching and replace it with something kinder? Yes, I know, easier said then done. But, isn’t it worth the effort that change demands? Aren’t the hurt women’s cries enough to sway us to mend our ways? Or has the silence swallowed them completely?
“Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that no one is as hard as my uncles had to pretend to be.” (Source Two).
Not every woman alive is a victim of a violent crime, but aren’t all women victims of the same stereo typing that we have already looked at in men? Aren’t we, as women, bound with the tight and cruel bonds of beauty? “Women are reduced and reduce themselves to potential women and choose to participate in anatomizing and fetishizing their bodies as they buy contoured bodies, restored youth and permanent beauty.” (Source Six) All this to satisfy male sexuality, so they might have something to use in their quests for manhood. And we give into them, allowing them to take control of our lives and bodies and even our sexuality.
“Beauty is a hard thing. Beauty is a mean story. Beauty is slender girls who die young, fine-featured creatures that men write poems about.” (Source Two)
“Let me tell you about what I have never been allowed to be. Beautiful and female.” Have any of us ever really been allowed to be beautiful? When ever you look at a woman and think her beautiful, wonder to yourself if she would agree. Ask yourself how many surgeries created the woman before you and how many people would still call her ugly?
“Two are three things I know, two or three things I know fore sure, and one of them is that if we are not beautiful to each other, we cannot know beauty in any form.” (Source Two).
When we are forced to hide ourselves behind masks of make up and to cut ourselves with the knives of surgery, are we not forced to dance upon a stage instead of walking through life with grace as we should? Isn’t this “theater” just another abuse caused by the aggression and sexuality of men?
“She was an actress in the theater of true life, so good that no one suspected what was hidden behind the artfully applied makeup and carefully pinned hair net.” (Source Two) Why should we have to pretend to be the “prefect” woman? And who of us can honestly claim they have never dressed to catch a certain man’s eye or said something to impress him? Precious few, I’m afraid. Precious few. This acting costs us more then just our dignity, which is a high price in and of itself. It teaches us to work for the needs of men while we push our needs and desires aside. And this teaches us to be their workers while they stand as kings over us. And doesn’t that give them the right to use us? To hurt us? Do we want to give them such power?
“Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I would rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.” (Source Two)
“The last brick fell down. I was standing there looking up through tears. I was standing by myself in the rubble of my life, at the bottom of every story I had ever needed to know. I was gripping my ribs like a climber holding onto rock. I whispered the word over and over, and it was holding me up like a loved hand… I can tell you anything. All you have to believe is the truth.” (Source Two)
Most rapes are never reported and in those that are, few women press charges (Source Seven). Why is it that we don’t believe women when they come to us with their hurtful tails of abuse and rape? Why don’t we listen? Why must we smother them with the silence? I think its fear. We are afraid of the change that rocking the boat might bring. After all, who wants to get wet? But if we do nothing, we risk not only our selves, but every woman we have ever loved. Isn’t that worth the risk of getting splashed?
“The last time my stepfather beat me, I was sixteen years old. It was my birthday, and he got away with it because he pretended that what he was doing was giving me a birthday spanking, a tradition in our family and in so many others. But two of my girlfriends were standing there, and even they could see he was hitting me harder than any birthday ritual could justify. I saw their faces go pink with embarrassment. I knew mine was hot with shame, but I could not stop him or pull free of him. The moment stretched out while his hand crashed down, counting off each year of my life.” (Source Two). Why do witnesses close their eyes against what they see? They hurt themselves by turning away, especially if they are women. Who is to stop him from spanking one of the witnesses? Who is to stop him from doing anything?
I would like to wander from the book now to relate some of my personal experiences and those of my older sister. As a child, I was abused and know the difficulty of that trap. Knowing that no one will believe you after you have told several adults and saw no results. And there was the fear that the result would end in him discovering your loose tongue, and what would the punishment be? “I would have to pour blood on the floor to convince anyone that every word I say is true.” (Source Two) and they might not even believe you then. After all, you had to have caused it some how. Provoked him…
My sister was sexually assaulted more then once. She has the curse of being very attractive and very small, which makes her a target. When she returned home after having been raped and having a miscarriage, she was greeted with silence. My parents refused to believe her story and forbid her to tell it to her siblings. It was two years after her return that I learned why she came back. Two years she held onto her dark secret, in silence. Two years she tried to forget, blaming herself and struggling with the horror of it all. Two years of silence almost destroyed her.
“Two or three things I know for sure and one of them is that telling the story all the way through is an act of love.” (Source Two)
- Two or Three Things I Know For Sure, by Dorothy Allison.
- Confessions of A Nice Negro, or Why I Shaved My Head, by Robin D.G. Kelley.
- Cultural Anthropology, A Global Perspective, by Raymond Scupin.
- Fraternities and Rape on Campus, by Patricia Yancey Martin and Robert A. Hummer.
- Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies, by Kathryn Pauly Morgan.
- From Deb Mitchell’s presentation on 15 Feb 01