Another Sunday morning as I lie in bed with some kind of fluey virus while feeling the tentacles of patriarchy spraying all over my psyche. Feverish and tense, my suffering increases as I skim-read the headlines. A known wife-beater championed as a hero, fighting the odds for his life, a story about a woman who was objectified in photos for male consumption when very young and inexperienced, and, most heart-wrenching of all, a survivor who killed herself days after giving evidence during a court hearing about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
I cannot hear these stories told from a patriarchal, or even liberal feminist, viewpoint. That makes me incandescent with RAGE. The casual dropping of each story as if it has no significance for all women. As if they are rare, isolated stories about individual women, at worst. At best, used as illustrations that the state, or society, should adjust how it does something. A little bit. And then everything will be ok.
We know that is not true. We have tried reforms through policies, legislation, media campaigns and nothing changes for women. If anything, women’s oppression is increasing despite various attempts at reformist measures over the past few decades.
Nothing except a radical feminist analysis makes sense of stories like the glorification of a footballer known to beat women or the young woman forced to pose in images suggesting sexual availability. Systems and cultural norms are designed to humiliate and subjugate women and view their resulting suffering as insignificant and inferior compared to the suffering of men.
Most of all, it has taken a woman’s death to start a debate within the malestream about the suffering of female survivors of sexual violence and what happens to us within patriarchal legal processes. The suffering bites deep. It never leaves us. Society forces us to internalise it and believe we are to be blamed if we speak of male violence. If Frances Andrade had not died, it is unlikely that the fact she did not want to give evidence, but felt morally obliged to, would have been widely known. The defence clutched at the usual straws of attention seeking, fantasist when cross-examining her. These are accusations thrown at women world-wide when we speak out. They are designed to intimidate us and to portray us as an insane collection of individuals so that the conspiracy of silence about men’s systematic rape and abuse of women continues. It doesn’t matter what our circumstances are this is the typical accusation when we speak out – whether we go through legal channels or not. Speaking out about sexual violence, under patriarchy, is, somehow, shifted to being as “evil” as rape itself and as deserving of punishment. I was skim-reading a link about new proposals in response to rape in India. One comment read “I’ll agree to punishment by death, when women who lie are also put to death” Again and again, in the comments, men referred to “women who lie”. Patriarchy re-creates survivors as liars, as in the case of Frances Andrade, and we feel hopeless and helpless and our punishment and stigmatisation for not keeping silent goes on until, as individuals, we collapse under the weight of it.
I worry that, in this world of increasing “gender equality” leading to statements such as “women are violent too” (as well as being persistent liars and fantasists of course – I’ve never heard it in reverse – that men lie about being raped. Convenient that) means that explicitly feminist women-only services, set up by “second wave” (sic) movement feminists, are under threat.
I was lucky. When i began to speak out, I was not just listened to and believed, in the kind of typical counselling way found nowadays with pseudo “objectivity”, I spoke out within the context of radical feminism. I spoke to women who told me what happens to women who speak out, who told me it was not my responsibility to bring the man who raped me to justice. One of the times I was raped, I ran, distraught, in the streets and was found by a random woman who wouldn’t let me go until I told her why I was hysterical. Eventually, I did. “Go to the police” she said.
She saw me in the streets months later “Did you ever go to the police?” she asked. I told her “no” and felt her judgement weighing on me, how it was my fault that he’d rape other women from that moment onwards. Years later, I received validation from many, many radical feminists who had made the same choices. There is no real justice for survivors under patriarchy. Instead, there is usually punishment for ending our silence. When we know that, we no longer feel alone and to blame. We see our personal experience within the context of male domination.
An anonymous woman offered to kill one of the men who raped me. I was tempted. I fantasised about it. The only part of my story involving fantasy. I imagined what intense pleasure I’d feel at knowing that a life that had caused me so much pain and hurt had been taken in return. Only I knew such pleasure would be short-lived because, by now, I had come to understand that life for all females is fraught with potential danger and we’re preyed on by predators in a never-ending war.
Frances Andrade could have been any of us, at any time. It is not about whether we are “weak” or “strong”. It is about a system of oppression where, no matter what we do or don’t, or say or don’t, we are punished for it.
Male supremacy creates conditions for all females which are the conditions of war and torture. Therein lies the unbearable truth which we are forced to deal with in all kinds of convoluted, distorted ways in order to live day by day. Otherwise, many more of us would take the same route as Frances did.
Radical feminism is unmodified. It tells our truths. My strength as a survivor does not come from knowing I have told my stories and I am believed. My strength comes from knowing my experiences are common, that they are a result of my being a member of a class which is systematically beaten down and silenced. In the days when women-only support was undiluted feminism, women were helped to make our own choices with how we navigated systems which worked against us. Not going to the police was logical, acceptable. If Frances Andrade had received feminist support, instead of feeling pressured by patriarchy to put others before her own needs within an unsafe system, maybe she would still be here.
I know that is true for me. The day I discovered (radical) feminism and learned what the problem was and why I was blamed for it, was the day I joined the struggle for women’s liberation and found my own voice. Skim-reading patriarchal horrors takes me back to a place I don’t want to be. In an internet world of “sound-bites” it’s easy to throw a link to those horrors and think we are done. I want a radical feminist analysis of all that we see around us. i want to read about women’s fight- back. One after another. It happens. With each other’s support, anything is possible.