Spoiler alert: This may be overkill. Most of us are now fully immersed in election-overload, and the thought of reading one more rant about politics may be too much to handle. It may also be too personal for you. If that’s the case, that’s fine. Don’t read it. Today I write for myself.
This week I have come to realize a few important things about myself and the ways I’ve been personally affected by this election cycle:
- The more the election cycle has heated up, the harder it has become for me to write. Anything. At all.
- At the same time, it has been harder and harder for me to read – especially the books on the history of women in Christianity that make up the assigned reading for my January D.Min fortnight. They are all on one of my favorite topics, but I’ve hardly been able to bring myself to read them.
- These emotional blocks have everything to do with the rhetoric of women and rape that has saturated our political discourse.
It has taken months to sift through the emotional sediment contributing to these blocks. But earlier this week, while talking politics with one of my youth, everything clicked into place. This depression, this funk I’ve been in, is about rape: both my own, and rape/sexual assault “in general”.
An appalling number of the women I have worked with, young and old, have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. I’m one of those women. You wouldn’t know it by looking at us – the scars are buried deep inside. We haven’t forgotten – even if our minds would let us, our bodies won’t allow us to forget. So we’ve tucked the wounds away in a special holding cell – not so that we can avoid the pain, but so that we can function; so that we can heal; so that we can love and hope and dream; so that we can be the women God has called us to be.
The hurt usually hibernates under the surface. But in a usual world, on a usual day, the topic of rape isn’t brought up – at least not in polite company. When things are as they usually should be, you can turn on the television and not be slapped with phrases like “legitimate rape”. On a normal day, politicians don’t talk about how some women “rape easy”. In election cycles of the past, we haven’t had to witness arguments about the level of violence and brutality required in order for a rape to be “real”.
In this election cycle, we kicked “normal” and “usual” to the curb months ago. And for some of us, the layers of protection and salve have been stripped back, allowing that pain to wake up and move closer and closer to the surface. It’s become accessible, visible, tangible all over again. We’ve started to relive our rape again and again. With all the arguments over “legitimate rape”, this is especially true for those of us whose rapes “don’t make the cut” because they weren’t brutal or violent enough to count. Those of us who weren’t beaten half to death, who didn’t have the opportunity, the undrugged motor skills, the physical strength, or the fight-response required to fight back – we not only relive our rapes, but we also relive the judgment of the people around us, the assumptions that we must be lying because we don’t have visible bruises. Some of us relive our rapist’s sneering indictment that it doesn’t count as rape because “you’re my wife”, “you’re my girlfriend”, or “you should have just put out more in the first place.” We relive it all. Over. And. Over. Again.
Here’s the thing about rape: rape simultaneously reinforces and destroys everything a woman or girl suspects about herself and her worth. All that cultural crap about our value being tied to our bodies? Our rapists confirm that with every unwanted touch or thrust, and at the same time they destroy us with the knowledge that while our value is in our breasts and between our legs – those things are ultimately worthless, deserving of nothing but violence and indignity. Simultaneously we are told: you are your body, and your body is worthless – You are worthless.
This is what I wish these politicians and commentators knew. Rape is about more than sex, and the abortion question doesn’t make their flippant conversations okay. For the sake of this conversation, the abortion question is immaterial. It helps politicians avoid responsibility for the violence perpetrated by these callous words about rape. It enables us to turn a blind eye to the fact that when we talk about “rape” we separate it from the broken bodies and spirits of the women and men who have been violated, as though rape could exist without the victims. Rape survivors ourselves come to different conclusions about abortion. Pro-choice, pro-life, undecided – none of these viewpoints change the fact that the screwed up way we’ve been talking about rape hurts people. It’s hurt me, it’s hurt the women with whom I minister, and I suspect it has hurt many many more. It has got to stop, and no matter how important voting is (and I believe voting is critically important), voting alone won’t fix the problem.
I know that tonight we’re all preoccupied with the election. But starting tomorrow, we’ve got to do better.