A cold, dark alley; a woman followed by a large shadowy figure; the figure approaches closer and closer to her and the coronary muscles within her chest begin to quicken as she turns around to see a man whose eyes convey malevolent intent; unable to get away, she is grabbed, pushed, slapped and punched as her clothing is ripped to shreds; the streets are soon filled with blood and the piercing cries of physical violation and emotional vandalism, though thunderous, are never heard by a rescuing soul.
These intensely disturbing images, while haunting, are all too familiar for many women [and some men] within our society. Even for those women that have never experienced the most brutal forms of sexual violence, encounters of verbal chauvinism, in addition to unwarranted physical exchanges from men occur within the lives of virtually every woman and young girl around the world. At some point within our own lives, each of us is presented with this long-standing issue of sexual violence against women, either from personal experience and/or from the experiences of friends and others close to us. While I am always on a mission to bring light to the multidimensional issue of sexism and how it grossly affects us all, I recently began to think much deeper about just how pervasive this epidemic is, but more importantly, the unforgivable social and institutional factors that persistently breathe life into this unending cycle of oppression.
A few weeks ago, I was out at a nightclub/lounge with my youngest sister, her friend from high school, and one of my closest friends. The night was perfect: great food, tons of laughs, electrifying music, dancing, making new friends…just an absolutely amazing time! Well that euphoria that I had was ended abruptly when I felt someone grab my behind as my friends and I were attempting to relocate from one floor to the next. Completely shocked, I immediately turned around and knew instantly who it was, as he was walking terribly close to me and above all, wore the expression of guilt all over his repugnant face. In this moment, I didn’t think at all, I simply reacted in my normal fashion when I’m presented with vile disrespect; I screamed and yelled at this guy with my finger in his face telling him to NEVER put his hands on me. At this point, he tried to deny the action, which REALLY sent me over the edge because not only was he bold enough to actually touch me, but now he has decided to make me think that I’m crazy and imagining things! What’s even more infuriating is the fact that while I was going off on him, my friend told me that he did the exact same thing to her just moments before!!!! Though she pleaded with me to simply “let it go and walk away,” her requests fell on deaf ears as I simply DO NOT allow those that verbally or physically violate me to get away with it! I continued to make my unrelenting point to this guy by grabbing the collar of his shirt [my little sister had to remind me of this act as I didn’t remember doing this] and explained to him that he was “one step away from being a rapist” and that he was incredibly disrespectful and sexist to me, my friends, and my little sister through his heinous and unforgivable actions! After defending myself, [pleased with the fearful look I left upon his face,] I walked away from the matter with tons of thoughts and emotions surging within me and knew that I couldn’t just let this issue disappear into the boundless space of anger coursing inside me.
As I shared this story of sexual violation with friends and colleagues, there were some very disheartening perspectives and “words of advice” given to me to “deal” with the situation. I heard things like, “you should have just walked away,” “you have to be careful out here because people are crazy,” “I can’t believe you grabbed his shirt,” and worst of all, “you should just let it go!” I honestly could not believe my ears! How is it that so many people, both men and women, could share these views of passivity when the issue of physical vandalism is at hand?! What’s even more alarming is that one person [a man] told me that “I shouldn’t have put my hands on the guy” and that making my point “verbally” was sufficient enough! REALLY?! Just so I’m clear: it was perfectly okay for someone to touch me completely inappropriately, but when I am defending myself, I’ve gone too far?! These disturbing comments of passivity simply prove the sexist universal stance that women are innately submissive beings and should therefore be silent, even in the midst of oppression, assault, and victimization! I suppose this is why 9 out of 10 rapes and sexual assaults are never reported, according to RAINN (The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network.) This disturbingly sexist ideological framework, highly archaic in nature, has become so commonplace within our society that people are no longer shocked when a woman is groped in a manner which is unprovoked or verbally assaulted in language dripping with bigotry! If a man were out in a social setting and was intentionally touched by another man in any manner other than accidental, society would expect [almost demand] him to physically defend himself right?! We see this countless times in movies, TV shows, etc. Why then should a woman not be expected to do the same? Is it that she should wait for her “Knight in shining armor” to come & protect her & defend her honor? It's HER honor and she should be able to defend it HERSELF, however she chooses!
How has it come to pass that our global society is so desensitized to the ills that continuously plague our society, which have broken down the very fabric of our humanity? Well in the case of sexism, long standing personal attitudes develop into cultural philosophy, which then becomes popularized through its infusion into the deepest fibers of our institutional core, which all but blatantly gives men the RIGHT to abuse women through the mechanical or instinctive reinforcement of patriarchy supported by our legislative, law enforcement, and social service sectors.
Case in Point: I recently saw Rihanna’s newest music video, “Man Down,” where she boldly depicts a scene where she is constantly harassed by a guy at a dance club [despite her numerous rejections] and is then later followed leaving the club, where she is beaten and raped by the same man. Feeling a whirlwind of emotions, [most leading rage, confusion, and violation I’m sure,] she shoots and kills him. While viewing this, I thought to myself, “wow, this is very powerful video with an unfortunately realistic message!” Moreover, in the most candid sphere of my mind, I felt that seeing a woman break free from the shadows of socially induced silence was long overdue! My personal feelings of rejoice were interrupted when one of my sisters told me about the video coming under attack from so called “activists” groups who are all but spearheading a modern-day witch hunt against her and the cessation of the video itself. The Parents Council, Industry Ears, and the Enough is Enough Campaign have joined forces to build a vehement crusade against Rihanna and what they’ve called an “inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song” demanding that both the global communications company Viacom and BET permanently remove the video due to its extremely violent nature! Melissa Henson, Director of Communications and Public Education with the Parents Television Council went so far to say that Rihanna’s video supports retaliation “in the form of premeditated murder” and should have instead depicted a story where a woman seeks “help,” particularly due to her own personal encounter with domestic violence.
So let me see here: a woman who’s JUST been sadistically attacked, soon after kills her attacker and she is to blame for violence?! AMAZING!!! How is it that someone who is defending themself [delayed reaction or not] somehow becomes the principal reason behind messages of bloodshed being distributed to the impressionable minds of children and youth within our society? REALLY?! This “blame the victim” ethos, which has been around for far too long, forces countless victims of sexual and domestic violence to become imprisoned within themselves never uttering a word of their attack(s). Moreover, the manner in which these groups have attacked both Rihanna and her video are absolutely unconscionable! It’s quite interesting that these “activists” groups blame, Rihanna, THE VICTIM, for the messaging within this video, but then try to reinforce their weak point by stating that if “Chris Brown shot a girl in his new video,” it would essentially be the end of all existence. Question: How is this AT ALL A STRONG CASE? Would Chris Brown portray himself being sexually assaulted by a woman and then shooting her to subsequently seek revenge? NO!
Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears, stated that in his “30 years of viewing BET, I have never witnessed such a cold, calculated execution of murder in primetime.” Let’s just take stock here a moment shall we: Video music stations, like BET, MTV and VH1, have all notoriously been responsible for the circulation of videos, like the alternative rock video Born Free by MIA, containing the most depraved acts of misogyny, mob worship, hedonism and extreme violence and objectification towards women and suddenly when the issue of justified retribution and defense are on the table, everyone gasps in horror! If the parents and members of these groups want to “protect children against images of violence, sex,” etc., why don’t they begin to wage a war against really destructive shows, like the upcoming Playboy show on NBC, which is overflowing with sexism and the portrayal of women as sexual commodities?! Furthermore, Industry Ears and other groups against Rihanna’s video, could have taken a more progressive and empowering step in their mission by using her video as an educational tool to enlighten their children about the victimization of women all over the world and how NOT to be sexist and a depraved violator of someone’s body, mind, and spirit.
The inflated responses from these institutionalized groups are quite contradictory to the nationalist ideology within this country which supports an individual or nation being able to defend and protect themselves in the midst of peril and isn’t that evident of our questionable and militarized law enforcement system, which legalizes, but then poorly regulates the use of fire arms?! Let me make it clear that I am in NO WAY a supporter of violence at all! It is an unending cyclone of oppression that sweeps all of us into its path and destroys that very thing that makes us all human. However, I AM a complete advocate for the liberation of those who have been forced into silence and when the threat of sexual depravity, physical violation, and verbal harassment become reality, their voices and actions have a RIGHT to break that silence, hold those offenders accountable and let the world hear of their stories!
I leave you with this: There is a disease within our society… an insidious socio-emotional sickness or malady among many within the male species due to a patriarchal framework that gives authorization to the atrocious behaviors of men: that sickness is called ENTITLEMENT! The male in the video sexually assaulted Rihanna, just as the guy sexually violated me because of their inherent sense of privilege to simply do as they please without consequence, because in our society there is no consequence given the undeniable fact that 15 out of 16 rapists walk free and will never spend time in jail, not to mention that there is a 58% chance of a conviction if a prosecution is made; add to that the fact that “an accused rapist is more likely to be acquitted than a person charged with any other violent crime” (http://www.womens-self-defense-instruction-online.com/statistics.html.) Our judicial practices [along with religion and indoctrinated social customs] support and reinforce the disease of entitlement among men committing sexist acts. Moreover, they feel entitled or unrestricted given the manner in which women [as we have been deemed for ages and ages] are viewed as mere objects; things devoid of emotions, voice or individual perspective for sexually entertaining pleasure at the hands of men! What will it take for this epidemic to be destroyed and for women [and men] to no longer be victimized?!