What I Need To Say To Some Men I Know, about Suffering and Rape
by Julian Real
Copyrighted 2005. All rights reserved.
(Note: CRAP stands for corporate, racist, atrocious patriarchy.)
If I only had this one opportunity to speak my heart and mind to all the men I know and love, at once, this is what I would say. This is what burns in me, every day, to say to you, mostly white, heterosexual, and middle class men, and I say it in great urgency and desperation.
First, I would tell you to please, please, before you play another video game, read another comic book, throw another party, before you read the work of another great white male writer, listen to any number of genuinely great white musical artists–before you listen to that next CD or go to that next concert, or smoke pot in your apartment or house, and deeply groove to your favorite band or recording artistâ€”white or notâ€”before you play or watch your favourite sport, please, please read one essay; please read “I Want A Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There is No Rape, by Andrea Dworkinâ€”which is a speech she delivered in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the north central United States, during the fall of 1983, to a group of 500 anti-sexist men. In her own words, about this having the opportunity to deliver this speech, she wrote: “In a sense this was a feminist dream-come-true. What would you say to 500 men if you could? This is what I said, how I used my chance. The men reacted with considerable love and support, and also with considerable anger. Both. [â€¦] Only one man in the 500 threatened me physically. He was stopped by a woman guard (and friend) who had accompanied me.”
I will not likely have the opportunity, or, rather, the willingness, to do what Andrea did. I am not likely to give a speech to 500 men, even if ever in my little life I am asked to do so. Why? Because I do not feel safe with groups comprised only of men any more. Not safe enough. And that is certainly not because there are no men with whom I am safe. I know many men I am safe with, although they are likely to betray women, and me, daily, by speaking disrespectfully about women, or by not interrupting other men who do. And it is not because I am safe with all women. I would be unlikely to give this speech at a Women’s Conference, for far more politically complex reasons, in part having to do with this: why take up time listening, at a conference, to an ungendered bio-male’s perspective, when there are plenty of women, especially women of Colour, who know more deeply than I can know, what the fuck CRAP is doing to us all.
And, yes, there are scores of women I find much more threatening and mean than many of the sweet, gentle men I know. I love my mother, but she is one of the women I am not safe to be around. I love her because I see what her life has cost her: a young life horribly compromised by incest and an eating disorder, perfectionism and a nervous breakdown in college, due, almost entirely, to having a wonderful and engaging yet predatory and controlling man for a father. I knew him better than I knew my mother. He raised me from the ages of two to seven, and every summer after that until I reached seventeen. At that point I moved back in with him for two years, until my dear father died when I was nineteen, suddenly, of a massive heart attack, and my mother needed someone to live with her. She’s been psychotic from the time I was a few months old until this day, and she’ll likely be psychoticâ€”both schizophrenic and bipolar, usually severely depressed and chronically suicidal, and sometimes, still, anorexicâ€”until she dies. Medications help ease some of her inner turmoil. But they don’t completely stop the hallucinations and delusions, or the intense mood swings: from relative contentment with her life inside a responsive health-care institution, to utter despondency, anxiety, and despair, that leaves her either immobile in bed unable and unwilling to eat or sleep, or crawling around on the floor of her room in that institution, like a non-human caged animal, so tormented that she crawls on all fours, to try and escape something that will not be released from her body.
I love my mother, and feel for her deeply, too deeply at times. But I cannot be that close to her because she does not know how to really love me, and I need real love, unconditional love, from the person who is called my mother, and from everyone else too.
Just when you think this story is a tragedy I will tell you this: I have been one of the luckiest people on Earth. Why? Because I did not grow up in horrifying and deadening poverty and famine: no homelessness, no shacks with a dirt floor, no trying to sleep through hunger pains, no lack of access to some form of real health care. This is, not known (and here again I mean viscerally, not intellectually) to the privileged white men who are my friends: how most women and children in the world do live, or die. I did not grow up in a home with destabilising alcoholism, drug addiction, or gross criminal neglect, as so many white kids, and children of Colour, do. I did not grow up with an absent or battering, emotionally distant or verbally hostile, father or grandfather. Both my grandfather and my own fatherâ€”he raised me from ages seven to seventeen, except for those summersâ€”loved me and showed it in many caring ways. And both of my grandmothers raised me, at different times in my life, with great love and respect for me as a person.
I felt especially loved, unconditionally loved, by my mother’s mother. I do not know too many people who were raised with that kind of love, but let me tell you, if you weren’t, it is a lucky thing to know (viscerally, not intellectually), a blessed thing, to feel, to receive, and be transformed by. There’s nothing like it, and any of you who are reading this who know what that is, also know exactly what I mean. I hope you know, reader. I hope someone in your life, parent or not, gave you that, consistently, for years in your early life, and, if not, that someone is giving that to you now, and that you are looking for it from people other than women. More than that, I hope, if you received it, that you are respectfully caring for people with that kind of love, especially those closest to youâ€”your romantic partners, close friends, or children.
I would have benefited more from my maternal grandmother’s love if I had felt myself worthy of it. I didn’t. Because of several significant traumas throughout my childhoodâ€”traumas of separation, of molestation, of physical and emotional abuse from peers, and of sudden lossâ€”because of those things I did not feel worthy of much. And so, even in the presence of the greatest kind of love, I felt largely invisible a lot of the time. This is the tragedy, perhaps the greatest one, of my life. I had the gift everyone I know wants, or is so grateful to have. I had this gift for forty years–FORTY YEARS–and in those many decades I could not really receive it into the deepest parts of myself, because that contaminated core contained the shame and pain, the confusion and depression, created through those traumas. But I lived, and I lived in the presence of the greatest love there is, and so I do, still, consider myself very lucky.
There is a very rich white gay man I know. He and I tried to date briefly. (It didn’t work out between us.) He is among the wealthiest people in the world, statistically–probably in the top very few percent. But he did not grow up with any love. He grew up with two actively alcoholic parents who neglecfully ignored him: while they drank, they let him be raised by people they hired, some of whom were kind. But he was not the child of the hired care-givers. Those real, financially unprivileged people were, after all, hired to care for someone, needing that money to bring home to their own lonely children. His loneliness, as an only rich child, was intense and unrelenting. Living on a large estate, in a mansion with too many rooms, he sat alone, in isolation, waiting for life to be different. His life is different now. He is a progressive philanthropist: he gives money to many good causes–campaigns and organisations dedicated to ending homophobia, sexism, racism, and poverty in the world, and to improving the quality of our air and water. He cares deeply about such things, but he cannot really love another human being, including himself. He is like my mother in this way.
I tell you his story, and some of my mother’s and my own, in order to preface what I most want to say: I understand great suffering. I have been lucky (meaning, privileged) to not know some of the most common and lethal forms of it: famine, poverty, living in a gun-infested war zone, whether contained in a few city blocks, or within the geographical boundaries of a nation under siege, but I do know suffering. I see it in so many people, of so many races, ethnicities, classes, sexualities, and, of course, genders. I see it far more in women’s eyes than in men’s, but I see it in men’s eyes too, and respond pretty much the same way with anyone who I see suffering before me. I reach out to them, in any way I can. I listen to their stories, if they are able, and willing, to share them. If people feel safe, emotionally and physically safe, they are eager, I have found, to share their painful stories. And I offer whatever comfort I can, which is mostly emotional, and not too material. I hug, I place tissues in the shaking hands covering tearful faces, I tell the person I am with that I can see they are in pain. They usually feel better, however temporarily, when they are done talking with me. That is because most of us need very little, after safe shelter, drinkable water, nutritious food, and attentive, caring people around us. Most of us, who are privileged and blessed to have those needs met, need also to be seen, heard, and validated, as a uniquely creative and cherished being. That is my experience, anyway. And so that is what I offer those around me who are suffering. I wish I knew how to offer it to myself, but I do not. But that’s what good friends and competent psycho-therapists are for.
I am so lucky, so privileged, to have a safe home to live in, to have money to pay my bills, to not live in a war zone (or, rather, not in one in which I am systematically targeted for harm). I am lucky to have access to relatively clean water and air, and to nutritious food. I am so, so lucky.
And because I have those things, my mind goes to others, out into the world, seeing how we all are doing, and I have to tell you, what I see is alarming. What I see is a level of suffering and despair that I can scarcely believe we are living through, individually and collectively. And I also see an accompanying callousness in our elected or appointed leadership, a profound disregard for the Earth and its creatures, and a level of corruption that is so bold and brazen, so arrogant and so confident, that I wonder why we are not all in the streets screaming at once for things to be radically different than they are.
But, sadly, I know why we are not. I know that some of us cannot face these truths about our collective plight. I know that some of us are too dependent on harsh drugs, on consuming sugar, on suckling down tobacco smoke, too busy shopping or gambling or sexually using people for the high, and watching TV for the escape, more deeply into CRAP. I know some of us are too weary and exhausted at the end of most days, from working in spiritually meaningless, low-paying jobs to notice, to care, to do anything at all except get through another evening, while caring for others, or not, and hopefully also finding a few hours rest in undisturbed sleep.
Even with this known reality, I want to speak out, to the addicted and unaddicted, to the stable and unstable, to the depressed and the joyful, and say: Please, please, take women seriously as human beings. If you are female, please take yourself seriously as a human being, and know, in your heart and bones, that you are not only a womanâ€”you are a great spiritual force, a great political force, of change, of courage, of stamina. And if you are not a woman, please take seriously that each woman you know is real, human, vulnerable and tough, sometimes very sad and sometimes, I hope, happy.
But also know that what women endure, as women, in whatever patriarchal culture they live in, in whatever patriarchal state, nation, or hemisphere, is something you are lucky (privileged) to not endure, whatever else you do endure. You may endure racism and economic exploitation, homophobia and ethnic bigotry, but please know that approximately half the world’s population is suffering in a different way, because men treat women badly, on the grandest of scales. And please, before I continue, keep your mind and heart open to what I am about to say next. Please try your best to do that.
What I am about to tell you, you already know. Girls and women are raped by boys and men, daily. We all know this. But what we don’t know, as people who are not those unfortunate females, is what that experience often does, what it is designed to do, with or without consciousness on the part of the rapist. What being raped does, as best I understand it, is this: it destroys one’s capacity to feel human. It takes away, from someone’s core sense of self, the ability to feel deserving of very much that is good. It robs women of physical privacy, emotional and physical integrity, and the sense that “I begin here and you begin there, and I have a body that is mine, inviolate, and my body belongs to me, is intimately and ultimately my own, shared at my own choice–truly willfully and with meaningful consent, with others who respect me as a full human being.”
Rape also hurts a lotâ€”real physical pain, searing and assaultive pain, like someone kicking you in the nuts, hardâ€”real pain, and it is terrifying too, especially when it is done suddenly or slowly by a stranger. It is a horrifying, visceral and psychological terror you may never get to know because you are a man. And when the rape is done by someone known and trusted, by someone she is in love with or need to believe she is safe with, it can also be tremendously confusing and disheartening, and can make a person feel that they will never be safe or open, or human, again, for as long as she continues to live. And as long as she lives, she may spend her days, and especially her nights, denying, repressing, narcotising or otherwise escaping the memory of what was done, and what the effect of it was, and is, to her human dignity and spirit.
In doing all of this, rape simultaneously or later creates other forms of harm and injury, to mind, body, and spirit: it can and often does propel one to find value from being a sex-thing. Most women in prostitution and pornography, most women who are trafficked sexually, are rape survivors, or are being raped or otherwise sexually violated as I write this to you. And I want to tell you that not only is sexual use and abuse not what women are for, not what they were born to do, not what they enjoy above all else, but it is, simply, an atrocity. It is an atrocity as horrible as any other on Earth, as horrible as genocide, as horrible as trapping animals, as horrible as military torture, as horrible as starving to death. And that is what I want you to open yourselves toâ€”that awareness, that knowledge, that truth.
I want you to carry that truth with you, every day, into every encounter you have with a woman, however young or old. I want you to look into the eyes of women you know and love, and communicate to them, in any ways you can, that you know they are human (like you are human), and also that they experience something that you do not experience, even if you too have been raped. Because it is not the rape alone that is the atrocity. No. It is what comes with the rape, its cultural-political context. It is the social denigration, the sexual stigma, and the limitations on human being that are part of this great and global atrocity. As Andrea Dworkin put it more knowledgeably than I ever could, referring to a past that may also be the present for most women on Earth: “Being female meant tiny boundaries and degraded possibilities; social inferiority and sexual subordination; obedience to men; surrender to male force or violence; sexual accessibility to men or withdrawal from the world; and civil insignificance.” (Dworkin, Intercourse, p. 85)
It is women thinking and feeling, because they have been and still are told this and shown this– systematically and interpersonally, systemically and institutionally, through aggression or affection–that they are just women, only women, the opposite of men. This is a lie as pernicious than any other lie I know: that women are somehow different in their being than you.
Am I giving you mixed messages? Have I not just said women experience something you do not? I have. And have I also told you women are not different from you, not your opposite, not a different species, not from another planet, not qualitatively and substantively different in their humanity? I have. Both these things are very true. And I am asking you to hold these two deep truths in your heart and mind, to not forget them, and now, if you haven’t already, to read Andrea Dworkin’s speech, “I Want A Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape” and believe what she says to the same degree that you believe your name is yours, and that your favorite music is the best in the world.
Below is the link to Dworkin’s speech to political men, with a preface by her. This is one of many profoundly important feminist essays, contained in her book, Letters From A War Zone: