The past few weeks — and especially the past few days — I’ve been reminded of how rape culture thrives on social power pyramids: where the contributions of people at the top — be they star athletes, beloved artists, or skilled political leaders — are considered so important that people instinctively ignore, justify, or minimize the violent behaviors of the community’s golden child (or children).
This shows up frequently, in small ways. I’ve heard more than one friend of a socially powerful feminist in the Bay confess to me that they feel afraid to tell her “no.” Not that this fear necessarily defines their relationship with this person (and these conversations happened a year ago; perhaps their fears have since subsided or transformed), but to me, statements like that are a red flag for rape culture. Someone is at the center, and getting on their bad side means you might get ostracized — or worse. Besides, what they contribute is so vital and powerful…
On March 1st, exactly one year after R and I broke up, I drove to his house to pick up one last smattering of my belongings, left out on the porch for me in a Trader Joe’s brown paper bag. Anticipating that it might be difficult and I might get sad, I had asked a good friend to come with me. And though I did feel nervous and sad, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Right on top of the pile there was a favorite belt that I’d been missing for like two years! When R and I were still together I lightweight hounded him about that belt — was convinced I’d somehow left it at his parents’ house. Don’t know where he ended up finding it, but I was glad to have it back, and as my friend and I drove away from his street, I thought I felt okay.
Still, the bag sat at the door of my closet, untouched, for a long time.
Again, though, once I finally screwed up the courage to go through it, it wasn’t so horrible. A swirl of memories: pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. A lot of the stuff wasn’t mine, but some of it was. Pillowcase. (Useful!) Books. (Beloved!) The scarf on the header image of this blog. (Nostalgic!) And oh, what’s this? I recognized a notecard, some stationery of mine.
It was the birthday card I had written to R last year.
Even as we strive for liberation,
any truly emancipatory struggle must also be its own reward.
“To answer oppression with appropriate resistance requires knowledge of two kinds: in the first place, self-knowledge by the victim, which means awareness that oppression exists, an awareness that the victim has fallen from a great height of glory or promise into the present depths; secondly, the victim must know who the enemy is. [They] must know [their] oppressor’s real name, not an alias, a pseudonym, or a nom de plume!” —Chinua Achebe (Nov. 16, 1930 – Mar. 22, 2013)
‘Working class self-activity is working-class autonomy — autonomy from capitalism,’ argues [Lee] Holstein. Her problem with advocates of trade-union reform efforts, such as Moody, is that they ‘mush together the reform and revolutionary aspects of resistance and insurgency, treating forms of resistance and insurgency which are confined within the framework of capitalism in the same way as those which break out of that framework.’ For Holstein, by contrast, ‘self-activity is not just resisting and attacking, but resisting and attacking in a way that undermines capitalist power, destabilizes its institutional framework, and foreshadows and demonstrates, in the form and content of the current struggles, the potential of the workers to be rulers.’ (284–85)
Two questions for today, and then I promise I’ll get back to grad school work. ;)
Ginger-braised kale with curried chickpeas and toasted coconut.
feeling so scattered lately! creeping overwhelm, dropping some things, hiding from others.
amazing people around me, but the thought of trying to keep up with everyone makes me twitch a little.
projects — grad school — paid work with Buddhist Peace Fellowship (climbing toward a setup where more people can be compensated for their work) — solidarity with a long-term campaign to democratize a union, keeping revolutionary politics at the center — political meetings that meld seamlessly into feliz cumple fried chicken dinners and laughter, laughter — reading the communist manifesto out loud at alameda beach with a friend — vivid, vivid dreams — monkey-mind internet reading — still looking for the thing that is mine to give, mine to focus on.
meanwhile, i cook to come back to myself — a self seasoned with others. today’s kale was saqib, sierra, salima, aneeta, ryan…
may you (yes, you) be safe, may you be well fed, may you know you are loved, may you defend others fiercely, may you know your gifts, your historical context, your people and your purpose.
In Steubenville Ohio, a juvenile court judge will decide the fate of two young men who allegedly participated in the rape of a 16-year-old girl. But it will be up to the supporters of Jane Doe — especially working-class fighters — to determine the path forward: toward true justice, toward a world free from sexual assault, toward a society ridding itself of the bastions of power that, like stagnant ponds where mosquitos multiply, support the proliferation of rape culture. Steubenville seems to have the passion, the courage, and the determination: but do they have a plan? And what will it be?
From an outsider’s perspective, I see three key assets enriching the Steubenville rape-culture resistance.
A critical eye toward court-determined “justice”
A horizontal network of bold, moral people eager to get involved
An orientation toward media and education by the people, for the people
Rape culture is about power, and the Steubenville case has opened up serious questions about how people in a community can take back the power to safeguard their own well-being — free from the small-scale despotism of patriarchal cops, coaches, or classmates.