How we Lie When We Say We Love Women

Like many of you, I’ve been watching, again, these posts about Bill Cosby. Last year the claim was that we were getting distracted from Michael Brown; this year, we’re distracted from the Charleston massacres. Was there a social media when R. Kelly was peeing on girls under the age of 18? Was there a social media when Woody Allen was courting his stepdaughter & raping his adopted daughter? I wonder what the so-called distractions would have been then.

We have a hard time talking about assaults against women; after all, the “only position for women. . . is prone” or women should be kept “barefoot and in the kitchen” or a woman is to walk five paces behind her husband or a woman is to be submissive to men. How can we talk about assault against women when so much of what we’ve been taught–in schools, in homes, in churches–confirms that women are on this earth to be assaulted.

About a decade ago I was at a conference on Caribbean women writers & several panelists compared women’s bodies to the earth. I was shocked. I thought this metaphor had been put to bed and I could feel others in the audience shifting and whispering. It’s all too easy to compare the earth to women, after all, we think of the earth as that object that gave birth to us and we think of women as receptacles for life. I’m guilty, too, of the easy comparison, and I still think Assia Dejbar’s Fantasia, a complex novel about the Algerian Resistance, which opens with a comparison of the landscape as veiled and the veiled women of Algeria, is one of the more brilliant examples of this by-now tired metaphor.

But somehow, comparing women’s bodies to the earth lets us off easy. The land is pillaged; the woman is raped. The land is drilled into; the woman is raped. The land is land and what is it there for, if not to be attacked by man? The woman is woman and what is she there for, if not to be dominated by man?

A few days ago I went to a Home Depot to get a power drill and I ran into a man who worked there and asked for his help. He took me to the drills and pointed to the smallest one and said, “Well, this would suit you, I mean it’s lightweight and easy to handle. . . That’s sexist, isn’t it, but well, my wife would be able to handle it.” I was quite taken aback that he (1) recognized his sexism, (2) acknowledged it, (3) quickly defended it.

I have a friend who, when he gets angry at women, calls them cunt, bitch, pendeja, twat. He says he loves women. I once asked him if he called his male friends cunt & he said he doesn’t call women cunt. I was astonished by the lie and then it occurred to me that maybe his brain was like Snapchat. He does something unthinkable, says something damaging, then quickly erases it from his memory. The classic Etch-A-Sketch brain. He’s not unusual. Men are quick to call women out-of-their-name. Even the call of “Queen” is a violence; it places women on a pedestal, erases their humanity, holds them to a standard, a male standard.

Last year, in the car with two of my sisters and my niece, on our way back from Atlanta, we talked about Bill Cosby. I was uncomfortable having the conversation with my niece in the car. I was even more uncomfortable with one of my sisters walking through the women Cosby had raped and assaulted, putting them on trial, saying they were unreliable and years of problems, that they were just trying to be popular. I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation in front of my niece, that my niece, 12 years old at the time, had to listen to a woman she loved cast aspersions on women who had been raped.

No one wants to talk about rape. Try bringing it up in a conversation. Watch the heads turn away. Watch the town clown quickly make a joke about something totally unrelated. Watch the tense shoulders ease. Watch how quickly the conversation follows the joke.

To talk about rape is to admit that we have a problem with women. We say we love them, but we quickly call them cunts when we’re angry with them. We say we love them, but we blame them for everything that goes wrong in the world. A man shoots up a school and then shoots his mother and everyone jumps to blame the mother for buying him guns, for not seeing that her child was sociopathic. A child is gunned down on the way to school, we want to know where the child’s mother was, why didn’t she walk her kid to school. We want to know where the gunman’s mother is; she must be a single mother, we say.

We love to say, don’t we, the person must have problems at home. What we really mean is: the mother is the problem.

We hate mothers and it makes it that much easier to hate women.

If rape is a distraction, so is white supremacy, so is homophobia, so is war, so is water shortage, fracking, the thievery of sacred lands, child abuse.

To talk about rape, as a man, I imagine, is to admit that you yourself have committed rape, have been close to it, could be close to it, could do it. That your father or brother or son or uncle or grandfather could have committed rape, been close to it, could be close to it, could do it. To talk about rape, as a man, I imagine, is to be ready to forgo power, to challenge masculinity, to dismantle patriarchy.

In the days of social media, this is how men talk about assaults against women: {insert hashtag} NotAllMen.

Yes, all men. All men. Unless you’re fighting, daily, patriarchy and masculinity, all men.

We have to do better. Each of us, no matter the emotional, psychological, intellectual, physical costs.

The Confederate flag in Columbus, SC was removed today. There was a ceremony. There will not be a national day of mourning for the 9 humans murdered. We will spend the entire day talking about the removal of this flag. We will not talk about the cultures of violence against women. We simply won’t.

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3 thoughts on “How we Lie When We Say We Love Women

  1. I love how you acknowledge how metaphors that compare woman to the earth and Queens can actually be damaging and erases our humanity. Why is it so difficult to simply acknowledge women as human and still value them? That’s something I’m really thinking about from this piece. Really great.

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