good causes

Silence is the Enemy

I am lucky: I was born male in a society that values male persons more than female persons, and, arbitrarily, accords the former undeserved privileges while unjustly denying the latter their full equal rights as human beings.  I am lucky: because of that undeserved privilege, and the way our misogynist culture works, and some measure of random chance, I have not been a target of sexual assault.  I am lucky: I live in a society which, though misogynist, has a relatively effective system of laws, the application of which, even over my three decades of life, has been, on the whole, more closely (if slowly) approaching justice.  The people I know, in my real-world, meat-space life, are lucky: disproportionately few of the women I know are survivors of sexual assault or rape — or at least, as far as I know; but it’s also not unlikely that I simply don’t know about many cases, because our misogynist culture teaches women to be ashamed of, and silent about, having been the victim of crime.

Sheril Kirshenbaum at The Intersection, along with Isis the Scientist, Aetiology, Bioephemera, Neurotopia and The Questionable Authority, has launched a project, inspired by a Nick Kristof column, to bring attention and pressure to bear to try to end the epidemic of mass rape around the world.

Kirshenbaum, taking seriously the idea that silence is the enemy, opens her post by describing her experience with sexual assault.  She’s right: if survivors refuse to be silent and ashamed, it becomes harder and harder for people who’d prefer not to upset the apple cart to pretend the status quo is tenable.

It’s important, however, not to misunderstand this (which I don’t think Kirshenbaum does; she’s just picked a particular focus) as a problem of Darfur, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Liberia, or West Africa, or “elsewhere.”  There are certain places in the world — generally, places where a state of war or lawlessness has lasted a long time: mass rape has long been used as a weapon of war, even by our own soldiers — where these things happen in such numbers, and with such brutality, that it can be hard to believe.  The roots of these problems are deep, and are intertwined with histories of colonization and exploitation, and of war, and of poverty.

But we should not believe that we in the “West1” are so much better.  We have, in the United States for example, a functioning government, and relatively fair laws, and no war is being fought on our soil.  But even so, by the most widely accepted estimate, at least one in six women will be sexually assaulted or raped at least once in her lifetime.

Let me rephrase that, actually, because it’s important that we do not linguistically hide the criminals.  Men2 will sexually assault or rape at least one in six women. It’s not just something that happens, it’s something people do.  And like the women of Congo, the women of Darfur, the women of Liberia, like Sheril Kirshenbaum, silence is also the enemy of these women.  Silence is the enemy of the one in six who have been assaulted, and the enemy of the five in six who have not, but who are also in danger.  Silence is the enemy of the men who have been victims of sexual assault, because the weight of culturally-imposed shame falls heavily on them as well.  Silence is the enemy of the men, too, who have never harmed anyone, many of whom simply do not know, because our misogynist culture of shame and silence is not set up for them to know, the true extent and impact of sexual assault and rape.

Two months ago, Melissa McEwan opened a thread at Shakesville to try to help break that silence: the more we understand the extent of this horror, the less excuse we have not to fight to end it.  Silence is the enemy; these stories need to be heard.


1 “West”?  West of what?  We are “the West” only insofar as we are west of “the East” — but it is “the East” only insofar as it is east of us.  Neither, as Edward Said wrote, has any ontological stability.
2 No, not only men; women commit sexual assualt and rape as well.  But the vast majority of such crimes are committed by men, and the problem is inextricably intertwined with our conceptions of “masculinity.”

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Domestic Terrorism

A good man was murdered yesterday.

Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas was one of only a handful — perhaps two, or three, or four, there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus — of doctors in the entire United States who perform late-term abortions.

Yesterday, as he was walking into church services, someone shot and killed him.

Tiller has been a major target of the anti-choice movement for a very long time.  He has lived with near-constant death threats, frequent vandalism, and other intimidation and demonization, for many years; in 1993, in an earlier attempt on his life, he was shot in both arms, but recovered and returned to practice.

Only a couple of months ago, he was acquitted of trumped-up misdemeanor charges brought in an attempt to prevent him from helping women.

He has been attacked by Bill O’Reilly, persecuted via the Kansas legal system and, now, murdered for doing his duty as a doctor as best he saw it to help women who, on top of being faced with terrible, heartbreaking decisions, were being bombarded from all sides by messages that they were bad, unworthy people who deserved no help.

They did deserve help, of course.  They do deserve help.  Dr. Tiller was one of very few people willing to help them; and now that number is smaller.

It’s important to understand this about late-term abortions: they are a procedure that is simply never performed except for reasons of medical necessity.  They are performed when the mother’s health is gravely imperiled by the pregnancy or the prospect of giving birth, or when the fetus suffers from congenital deformities or defects which will ensure its life is very brief and very painful, or when the fetus is already dead to save the mother the trauma of delivering a stillborn baby, or sometimes when the mother’s only chance to survive cancer is to enroll in an experimental treatment which doesn’t accept pregnant women.  No one ever, ever wants late-term abortions to be necessary; but sometimes they are.

Now that there is one fewer doctor who performs these procedures in the country, many women will be unable to have this necessary procedure performed.  Some will be bankrupted trying to pay for medical care for an infant which cannot survive.  Some will be plunged into depression over delivering a corpse or watching helplessly as their babies die.  Some — dozens? perhaps a hundred or more? — will die along with their fetuses, due to the birth complications that made the abortion a necessity.

The domestic terrorist who murdered Dr. Tiller has killed them too.

I was going to add links to this post, but so much has been written that I hardly know where to start.  Virtually every political blog on my blogroll has one or more posts about it, should any readers want more.

So I’ll just point to Jill Filipovic’s list of suggested organizations to donate money to in Dr. Tiller’s honor, to Sara Robinson’s explanation of how terrorism like this is a natural consequence — indeed, the goal — of decades of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric, and to Ann’s list of things we can do.

Signal Boost: There Must Be Accountability

This is mainly me doing my paltry best to boost signal for Teh Portly Dyke’s post on the necessity of investigations and prosecutions for the war crimes committed by the US government over the past eight years (a subject I’ve mentioned before).

Launching a war of aggression is a war crime. Torturing prisoners is a war crime. Refusing to investigate and prosecute war crime is itself a war crime. And if the rule of law means anything, it means the mighty are bound by the same laws as the small, and president, ministers and CEOs may not be excused for their misconduct on grounds of expediency anymore than pickpockets or junkies.

PD has issued a pledge and a challenge to write letters weekly until investigations commence. I don’t know whether I will manage to do that — it often takes me months to write a single blog post — but I will try, and I encourage you to as well.

Quick Hit: Scarleteen

I’m a few days late on this, but there’s a donation match going on until March 15th at Scarleteen, which is an invaluable resource for sex and sexuality education for teenagers.  Heather Corinna and the rest of the team do fantastic work over there, but they operate pretty much on a shoestring.  If you can afford it, consider helping them out.

(via Feministe.)

Neko Case: People Got A Lotta Nerve

Neko Case, one of the best singer-songwriters I know of and owner of the most amazing voice of probably any living musician, has a new album, Middle Cyclone, coming out soon.  Case is a strong advocate for humane treatment of animals, and she and her label, Anti-, are offering an mp3 of a song on the subject, “People Got A Lotta Nerve,” from Middle Cyclone as a free download.  For every blog that links to the download, Case and Anti- will donate $5 to the Best Friends Animal Society.

There’s also an extended profile of Case at the New York Times, which is a worthwhile read.

[Update: oops!  Apparently the promotion (despite being mentioned in the Times piece, which was published on February 13th) actually ended on February 3rd.  Should have read the Anti- blog post more carefully.  At any rate, the mp3 is still available.]

And if you’re not familiar with Case’s music, please allow me to humbly suggest you rectify this matter post-haste.