A woman shouts slogans during a demostration in Istanbul on February 14, 2015, against the murder of a young woman named Ozgecan Aslan. Photo: Ozan Kose

Sing your joy, voice your anger and break the system

  • March 8, 2015

Gender & Governance

On March 8, women across the world march, rise up and fight back against rape, abuse, oppression and humiliation — to break the silence and be free.

And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable, is also the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in sour safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.

Audre Lorde, Transformation of Silence

Today, we sing, we scream, we dance and we smile to each other. This is part of our politics, and we like it. Nonetheless, sharing some joy and some pride will not make us less angry on March 8, 2015. We are angry about rape and murder, about harassment, about our lack of liberty, about the commodification of our bodies and the abuse of our laboring souls.

We are also angry about the destruction of the planet’s natural resources, and the inequalities inherent in the capitalist system. We know that the ever growing military expenditures will take us to more wars where powerful men will play and become richer, while poorer men die, women are raped, and the planet is bruised. We are angry and we are afraid, and remaining silent will not change our reality.

Women need heroic women who are able to stand up. Yet the reality is that many of us are not heroes. Not all women rise again after they were broken. They remain silent, year after year, all day long. Silenced by fears, doubts, pride and by this male-dominated world. Women like to believe that they would not let it happen to them. But many of us could not fight back, either because we were married into submission, because we were too little, because we were scared, because there was too many of them and they were armed, or because we were drugged and do not remember.

Most of the women who were raped did not leave scars on male bodies. The men who raped did not pay a price for what they did, they are still walking around free, and they will do it again, if they can.

We do not need more terrifying rapes to reach a tipping point where rape would become unbearable. A few weeks ago, 19-year-old Özgecan Arslan was murdered while she resisted rape after which her body was burned an dumped in a river nearby Mersin in southern Turkey. There had been complaints about the bus driver who killed her, but no follow up, giving him the freedom and possibility to carry out his horrific act.

After her killing, many women in Turkey shared their experiences of harassment on social media for the first time, using the hashtag #sendeanlat (‘you tell it too’). Some took to the streets and were arrested during protests, but many more just sat at home, frozen.  We all cried, and we all kept going on with our lives, even those of us who were raped too. And as women shouldered the coffin with a mutilated burned body in it, other women of all colors and all conditions around the world were also burying dead women.

In Turkey, rape could have become unacceptable when a young handicapped woman was raped by 26 men in her village, or when another little one was raped repeatedly for years by her teacher and his friends. The tipping point could have occurred after one girl was strangled after being forced by her father to marry her cousin who raped her. Or when that woman from Syria was sold as a slave to a dirty old man, or that black woman was forced into prostitution, raped, and then just thrown out of the window.

Day after day, men who rape are released by the judicial system because of “mitigating factors,” meaning that they did not ejaculate, they just watched, she did not scream, or they just fucked her in the ass and she is still a virgin.

They walk free because their judge, teacher, friend, minister papa was there too, doing it first. We do not need more women in veils or miniskirts, in their black, brown or white skins, to be dismembered and bruised to understand the barbarity of the patriarchal order on a global scale. Our voices are louder today, but the deaths of so many sisters, daughters, friends and lovers is too high a price to pay.

Feminists have been calling us to fight rather than to mourn. We owe them the noise that we are making today; we have a debt to all the women who stood in front of parliaments, clinics, prisons, and to those who are standing by the rivers. Special greetings to transsexual women and prostitutes, to all those women who fight with pens, with sticks, with kalashnikovs, to those who wear colorful saries, high heels, and to those who fearlessly flash their boobs to crowds.

They make us love and admire women, even those who have been disfigured by acid, or those who reek of urine and feces because their insides have been so badly ripped apart. You cannot destroy the machine with tears or when you are in hiding, you know it. Women who fight back tell us that whatever your situation, you must try to stand. Just try.

There is generally a silence on the part of politicians when it comes to rape. Yet, in the case of very public rapes, conservative and nationalist politicians like to take the microphone, banging us over our heads with more security measures. Angry, dangerous and pathetic men with no reflexivity are the same everywhere. No need for subtitles — their grotesque body language tells you that their honor is terribly hurt, and that they will strike back.

Their nauseating talk is not about women, rights or equality. They told us before that we were not equal, that we ought to stay at home, that we should not laugh in public, that we should marry young and that our profession was to serve them. Their doctors repeatedly refuse to give medical aid and abortions to women who need or want it. They claim to be our fathers and they believe that this gives them rights over our bodies. They say that Muslims do not rape, yet they never said that men should not rape.

For years women all over the world have been working on policies to prevent violence against women. They have done fieldwork, collected quantitative data, and written reports. They demand that state institutions guarantee our right to life even though they know that the state itself is directly or indirectly responsible for much of the violence.

Neutralizing men who threaten us, arresting, judging and incarcerating men who violate women are key to preventing more crimes and breaking the culture of impunity. We also know that there must be some reflection on language, practices, customs and history to unwrap rape cultures. It is not just about imprisoning one sick mind, some pervert who lost all his humanity. Rather, it is armies of very normal doctors, ministers, lawyers, actors, businessmen, filmmakers, policemen, teachers, fathers and brothers, bus drivers and professors that need to be enlightened into changing a system that gives them power and serves their interest.

The men who rape and torture do not act alone. Yes, they are cowards, but that does not make them less strong. Men help, support, and encourage each other to break women. They help each other because they think it is their duty, or because they think it is about their honor — and so, his honor is my honor, and her honor is obviously nothing but my honor. Their position in the hierarchy is at stake. Sometimes, they also collaborate with each other because they just want to entertain themselves, because it’s fun, like playing video games, cruising down the streets, going to a bar, playing cards or ball.

Men who rape and torture are not all poor, illiterate rejects with dark skins, dirty nails and foul smell. They can also be found studying in Ivy League libraries. In their free time, rich, educated, sympathetic smart young men get organized with their ivy friends, calculating time, and organizing space. They trust that she will not remember even though she was awake and was being fucked the whole time.

Men who attack women do not function or act alone. They have friends in institutions, in courts, schools, police stations, hospitals, prisons, offices with great views, and religious institutions. They also have laws written by them for them. Doctors cover for them, police officers help them out, and bureaucrats encourage them.

And yet, although there are moments in a woman’s life where it becomes very easy to hate them all, this is not a war between men and women. Fortunately, women have allies, fathers, friends and partners of sorts. Some of these men fiercely believe that women ought to have their share of freedom in this world. They do not just want us to read and write; they want us to be free in our minds and our bodies, and to grow in light. Partners in work, love or play, they like to be kissed and to sit in the park.

They, too, struggle against the masculinity imposed on them. They would rather play music or go to the movies than fight in an army, they have sentiments and a sense of ethics rather than honor and morals. They have the courage to hold a mirror to themselves. It is not just that they want freedom and equality for women, they want it for themselves too. Because they want to be desired, and they desire bodies that are free, eager and hungry.

As sweet as these men might be, they will not walk with us on March 8. This is not about the kind of segregation that you find in hierarchical patriarchal systems. There, it is a real challenge for a man to stand by a woman in the bus, and there is no space for all those who do not fit into a world divided into only men and women. The extensions of this type of segregation are that women are kept in enclosed areas, with no belongings, no value, no rights, and the civic duty to reproduce the race. In a segregated world, a woman cannot reject a man, she does not choose her partner, there is no pleasure for her, and no voice.

In a different vein, the practice of having women-only moments is about creating spaces where new tongues and new concepts can emerge, where other ways of being can be imagined. Nothing new for anyone involved in any political struggle for gender, religious, ethnic, or racial equality. Free of dominant gazes, women do not ask for approval or protection. Respect would be better.

You cannot judge how a woman will react to violence, and you cannot predict how you will act if it happens to you. Some women choose to kill themselves, either because they could not stand it anymore or because death appeared to be more empowering than survival. Some find healing in prostitution, because they make money and they feel that they take control over their bodies; they might even feel some empathy for their clients.

Some women continue to be raped again and again and they cannot find a way out. Some just remain silent. Some manage to build a good life for themselves. Others find refuge in reading. There are many strategies for survival and no blueprint to freedom. And although there might not be any hierarchy in rape on a theoretical level, you always know that some woman out there had it worse than you did.

There is no going back after rape. You cannot be unraped. You are trapped in a body that you barely recognize, alone with your absent little self. Even if they tell you that you have the world before you, you feel alone in your struggle to remember who you are and what you hoped to be. Unless you are one of our women heroes, guilt becomes part of your life, and you enter a never-ending battle with shame and doubt.

With all of that stuck in your throat, you know that you will have to vomit if you are to speak up one day. You might freeze and try to forget, you can try to fight back with words or with dubious laws, you can also try chopping some dick off. Either way, you will have a price to pay. Either way, you died the day you were raped. You might spend a lifetime trying to wrap yourself in the shreds of your hurting flesh and your bleeding humanity because, at best, your hopes were killed, your relation to your body was broken, your trust in the world is gone, and they took all your joy. Either way, your mutilated body will need time to heal, and it is in this poor condition that you will have to give birth to yourself again, if you can.

And this, you will have to do whether you are fat or skinny, rich or poor, whatever your religion and your color. And if you do manage to crawl out of your silence, you will start hearing the voices of other women who are struggling to rise like you. And if you do manage to stand up, it will not be only for yourself, but also for them, and for men who are raped and tortured in prisons, and for the boys who were raped when they were just boys.

Then you will find some joy in seeking out, recognizing and learning from all those women before and around you. You will send your greetings to the worker women who made this day our day. By then, you will probably start identifying as a feminist because you, woman, cannot negotiate on a woman’s right to have control over her body, her life, and her desires. You will stand as a feminist even if you know that women abuse women too, and despite the fact that you will find yourself arguing on political and philosophical issues, or style.

When you do manage to break your intimate silence, you will feel free to put whatever you want in your feminism, your thoughts and feelings, all your skills, your cunt, your weapons, your river, your laws, your lipstick, all your books, your fat ass, your kitchen stuff, your delicate boobs, your baby, your joint, your little heart. You will need all this stuff of yours because ultimately what we want is to fuck the system so nice and deep that it will burst into a rainbow.

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Cagla Aykac

Cagla Aykac is Assistant Professor teaching at various universities in Istanbul. She holds a PhD in Sociology from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris.

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Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/international-day-women-break-silence/

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