I woke up this morning thinking about how much I didn't want to write about sexual violence today. I didn't want to think about all my friends who had experience it, those who have still not come to terms with it, the people who can't listen, the list goes on. If I think about it too much it will drown me.
So instead I will write about how we talk about sexual violence.
The way we speak about sexual violence has always interested me. My undergrad dissertation was about 'tournantes', a new term that is now used in France to describe particular types of gang rapes. I wrote my master's dissertation about the use of the term 'date rape' and whether it is still a useful term for victims and for the wider public. I'm constantly intrigued by the distinctions between English terms for sexual violence and American terms. At the Dworkin conference, Geraldine asked me why everyone kept referring to Dworkin's experience of 'date rape' since she obviously hadn't been on a date when she was raped and I pointed out that the American term is still linked to drug use and Dworkin had been drugged and then raped. Little things like this make a huge difference. I remember once a Tory speaker saying that the UK should use the term 'group rape' instead of 'gang rape' because the latter implies the gang phenomena, which is supposedly mainly an American problem....... But once again it was not from the perspective of the victim that it was being discussed but from how it would be statistically approached by the police.
I remember one time Alex commenting on how astonishing it was how many of my friends had experienced sexual violence and I pointed out that it wasn't that I KNEW so many who had experienced it but that we actually talked about it with each other and that he probably knew as many women as I did that had experienced it.
Besides how we choose to speak about sexual violence there is also the issue of whom we choose to speak to. Friends that have told me about their experiences will never tell their families or their partners or vice versa. There is always some sort of circle of secrecy around who is told and who is not. There are some people with whom I can only talk about sexual violence to a certain limit; strict boundaries have to be set up so that certain conversations do not occur for my sake and for their sake.
Sexual violence is one of those things you don't learn how to speak about, you either create your own patchwork way of talking about it or you stay silent. Yet somehow we are taught how to silently live with it. How come some many women have lived their whole lives and never mentioned it? How do you undo that sort of teaching, that sort of learnt behavior?
The language of sexual violence is awkward and sticks in your throat. They are negative words and no one wants to ascribe negative words to themselves. It seems also self-defeatist. Which is the big problem.
I'm re-reading a lot of Hannah Arendt at the moment and I was thinking about why I like her work so much: because she is able to write about issues that are incredibly painful and personal, yet also global and occur on a mass scale, yet she does it in a way that you don't forget about each side of the picture. This makes me think about the way we speak about sexual violence. It's always either/or: either the personal tale about one woman's experience and you almost hold your breath to get to the end of it because it is too much, or the statistics that are so huge and horrible, they are sort of glazed over by people or just denied. We haven't found a way to talk or write about sexual violence that gets it all across. And unfortunately, it's not like we can just take a break and think of a better way.
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