Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some timetravelling tonight...

I haven't updated here in over three years.Welcome back.

I wrote this essay/speech seven years ago. Seventeen-year-old me is in a sense worlds different from how I am today, but simultaneously exactly the same. Then, I wrote it as a response to a class debate on feminism, not realizing the reaction it would cause from my classmates, teacher, principal, and even the school superintendent. Now, I am less concerned about a reaction than about having a place, years on, to share once again. Several years later, I might phrase things somewhat differently, and it would likely be more academic in tone. The sentiment, however, is exactly the same.

To share with whom? I frankly have no idea. Perhaps the blogosphere, but likely not. If anybody is out there, reading, then say hello.

Here goes...

**trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault**

Let Each Girl Grow To Become a Phenomenal Woman: Why I Am A Feminist
April 16th, 2005

“I should never be able…to hand you after an hour’s discours a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantle-piece forever” ~ Virginia Woolf.

I will, however, try very hard to convince you of my plight as a feminist, as Virginia Woolf did for me in A Room of One’s Own.


I am a feminist. I was raised and educated as a feminist, but that is certainly not the sole basis for my feminism. I consider becoming a feminist to be a personal decision; it can be influenced by outside factors, but the final piece of the puzzle rests in a person’s heart. I know what I want, and I am working toward it. My feminism is not based on my feminist education, my female role models, or even my realization that I am not entirely safe in the world. It is the convergence of all of my social values, my present reality, the story of my past, and my views of the world that make me a feminist. I am proud to be a feminist.
Some people like to point out that I was raised without a male role model, but that is neither true, nor would it mean that I hate men. I absolutely do not hate men. I did grow up without a father, but there were still enough men in my life for me not to develop the idea that men were violent. I was never suspicious of men; on the contrary, I frequently wondered what would happen if a man I met was my father, and I usually decided that while it would be quite agreeable, I liked my life enough as it was. My male role models were gentle and kind to me and to other girls and women. Men can be feminists too. A feminist can be any person of any race, sex, or sexual orientation.
I have often heard remarks that I do not “dress like a feminist”. What, might I ask, does a feminist dress like? Is a feminist supposed to fade into the woodwork and hide her whole body under clothing so that men cannot mistake her as a sex object? Or is she supposed to dress in clothes that are as revealing as possible to prove that she is proud of her sexuality? Or should she dress as eclectically as possible, so she can let the world know that she is not afraid of being different? I think a feminist can fit any combination of these descriptions; she should dress however she likes, and not try to live up to standards that she does not support. My clothes match if I can be bothered to match them, and are as modest or immodest as I wish, depending on how self-conscious I feel on a particular day. I disagree with any idea that only women who wear certain types of clothing are “real” feminists.
I also do not fit the stereotype of the butch woman who plays hockey. I have never, ever, simultaneously worn skates and held a hockey stick, and I have no intention to. I do not see any reason to play traditionally male sports just to prove that I am as tough as a man. I also do not see any reason to fight, to push people around, or to attempt to claw my way to the top of any sort of a chain. I can be a successful woman and be good at what I do without living on the top of the world and hurting other people to get there. A strong woman should not need to hurt other people to get where she needs; she can get there without sacrificing the dignity of other people. A feminist does not necessarily have to be richer or louder than a man; she just needs to know what she wants and know how to get there, wherever it may be.
I have read the newspaper ever since I could read. Every so often, I would see an article that talked about how a woman was raped or injured by a man. It upset me. I did not want to be a part of the so-called weaker sex, but I wanted to be a woman. At school I learned about the media, and how much it degraded society. I hated the stereotypes presented in the magazines that my classmates read. I hated hearing about women in the sex trade who had to sell their bodies to survive, and were killed because there was no safe place for them. I hated the music that talked about sex, because it was usually shallow and it all sounded the same. I was sick of hearing stories about a beautiful woman lured into bed, told through toneless music designed to appeal to a man’s sexual desires rather than his musical ear. That is not what music is supposed to be about. Most of all, I hated the music, movies, and magazines that glorified violence, especially sexual violence. I did not think it was fair that the music and pop culture industry supported the hell that some people had to live through, every day of their lives.
One story in particular bothered me. A girl who was introduced to my grade seven class as Sally was assaulted because she had supposedly “implied consent” by wearing a low-cut top to a job interview. The court ruled against her, saying that it was her own fault, and that she had chosen for the assault to happen by dressing the way she had. As far as I had learned, assault is an involuntary action, and a survivor could not have simply “implied consent” with her choice of dress. It disgusted me that a woman could be hurt in the way that Sally had, and that the law would not even support her by punishing her assaulter. I have since learned that it is nearly impossible to convict a rapist; the survivor’s “character” is shredded by the defense, the people she is allowed to use as witnesses are screened, and the case is usually dropped due to lack of evidence. Ninety percent of rape trials end without a guilty verdict for the rapist. This does not mean that ninety percent of alleged rapes did not really occur; instead, it shows the gross faults in the justice system’s ability to deal with sex crimes.
My campaign to crush violence against women began two years before this violence became a suffocating part of my own life. I started writing articles for a school zine, On Target. I wrote empowering poetry and drew cartoons. I doubt that my work ever had any impact on my community, but it felt fulfilling and gave me a sense of the reality I would experience when sexual violence shattered my life on April 16th, 2003. I do not like to delve into details, but I will admit that I no longer feel safe at school, where the attack occurred. I think that is where my feminist ideas took hold of my life more and more. I deserve to feel safe at school. As I slowly recovered and accepted that the memories I have from that terrible afternoon will always be a part of my life, I realized more and more how little my peers realized that events like this actually happen. Many people think that rape is something that happens in the movies, to people who they do not know. That is undeniably false. It had never occurred to me that these things could happen to me until I experienced them first-hand.
One person who I commend for her courage in bringing the issue of sexual violence to light is a young woman named Hanne, who posted the following empowering story on her online journal, provoking a large group of women in an online community to acknowledge that they deserve better, and creating a huge response:

After a dear friend of mine was raped a few weeks ago, I've been thinking a lot about sexual violence and how you're not supposed to talk about it.
This friend of mine who was raped recently isn't the only person I know who has endured being raped and lived through the aftermath, just the most recent. She isn't the only person I know who has had to try to figure out how to glue the broken bowl of her life back together after having it shattered by sexual violence, praying that it'll still hold water when she's done.
As I have altogether too many times in the past when other friends have become victims of rape or other sex crimes, I have wondered what I can possibly do to make it better. But I also know I can't take it back or prevent it or even really make it easier. The best thing I can do is come out and let her know that she's not alone, that there are others of us out here, that she can make it through, because I'm a rape survivor, and we do make it through.
I was thinking in the shower this morning about how many people I know -- women, men, transfolks, others -- have some sort of sexual violence somewhere in their pasts, wondering how many more people I know have some sort of sexual violence lurking in their future.
I wondered for a moment what it would look like if just for one day, everyone who had survived sexual violence were visible as a survivor, if we could actually see the extent of it, if we could all know just how very not-alone we are. I wondered how angry and sad it would make me to know. I wondered how much power there might be in the truth.
I'm not sure what to do with this, yet. But I do feel like outing myself, and encouraging other people to out themselves if they feel okay about doing so. This isn't about telling the story of what happened -- just for the record, I don't generally like to talk about it much and I get uncomfortable with other people's voyeuristic curiosity about what happened to me, although other people feel differently about telling their stories or being asked questions, and I think people should be free to place their own limits on how and with whom they want to talk about details.
This is about being public in regard to something that is normally kept a very big, very dark secret, thus ensuring that we can [not] all pretend that This Sort Of Thing Doesn't Happen To People Like You And Me.
It does happen to people like you and me. Trust me, I know.

I'm Hanne. I'm a survivor of sexual violence.
No Pity. No Shame. No Silence.

Like Hanne, I want to raise awareness and bring the issue to light without highlighting my own story, which I still find very painful to tell. However, I am stepping up and giving my point of view after realizing how many of my female classmates think that women have had equal rights to men since the 1970s. These girls are far too wrong; women still pay more money for the same services, such as the identical dry-cleaning job or haircut, than a man would pay. At last, some government officials want to fix this problem, but they are scorned by other officials who feel that the government has better things to do than protect women’s rights.
Women living in Toronto are very fortunate; we get much easier access to abortion, health care, and other social services than women in rural areas, let alone those in less progressive parts of the world. It scares me. I do not feel safe at my own high school, and yet I am considered fortunate compared to many of the world’s women. I am appalled by the political situation in the United States. I dread the day when abortions are again made illegal. Many countries are embarking on a path that will eventually take away the rights that feminists have strived for over many generations. I fear that one day, women will have no rights at all. Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale presents a terrifying depiction of a woman’s life in a future republic in what is now the United States of America. This woman’s life as a handmaid, having no rights, sexually degraded, and forbidden from anything that gives her real pleasure, is eerily close to the future that I fear the world may be approaching.
To me, a feminist has many essential roles. She must protect women’s rights from descending into a dark hole, until they are eventually forgotten and women are dismissed as no longer legally being “persons”. She must advocate for women’s rights in countries where women are still not legally recognized as citizens, and where they do not have the freedom to choose their own path in life. She must demand justice for women who are hurt in sex crimes, and have no fair justice system to turn to. Being a feminist is not about standing up and saying “I am woman, hear me roar!” It is about proving to the world through actions that women can do more than roar. We can also make change.
I am a feminist because I believe that I deserve more rights and freedoms than I currently have. One in four women experience sexual violence that is inflicted by men in their lifetimes, but hardly any men experience the same violence from women. I am one of those one in four women, and I want to change this statistic, as well as many others. I will not stop fighting for my cause until that statistic is evened out, or until violence is removed from our society altogether. I will not stop until women feel safe, and do not have to endure degrading whistles as they walk down the street. I will not stop until women and men are financially equal. I have no wish for women to be better than men, only equal. I am a feminist not to fulfill somebody else’s dream for me, not to get revenge for my past, or to make men feel as degraded and unvalued as many women have felt. I am a feminist to build a better future myself and for the girls and women who I care about.


Print Sources:
Angelou, Maya. Phenomenal Woman.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Toronto: McClelland and Steward-Bantam Limited, 1985.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Frogmore: Triad/Panther Books, 1977.
Canadian Women Studies Journal/ The Linden School. On Target: Taking Aim At Violence.

Online Sources:
Australian Women’s Intra Network. International Women’s Day: A World to Win. 16 Apr. 2005.
B, Hanne. No Pity. No Shame. No Silence. 8 Mar. 2004. 16 Apr. 2005.
Tiana. Rape: It’s not your fault. 11 Oct. 2001. 16 Apr. 2005.

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