Survivor

Gang rape. I don’t know how else to say it, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. Those have got to be the two most terrifying words in the English language to any woman. Rape itself is the bogeyman that follows us incessantly – into stairwells and dark parking lots, beneath bridges and subway platforms, across fields and down the streets of our own neighborhoods, keeping us from taking shortcuts, walking through the park at night, or wearing our headphones on an early-morning jog. Its specter requires our constant vigilance and perpetual awareness, robbing us of the ability to blithely go where and when we please. More than once I’ve presented this idea to my male friends and seen the look of horror as they realize, with a dawning consciousness, the privilege of movement they have of which they were previously unaware.

Add the word gang to it and you have every woman’s very worst nightmare; an act so seemingly unspeakable that surely no one but monsters could commit it and no one but the least fortunate victim of fate could possibly experience and survive (because I believe there are only survivors, not victims) it – yet no less than four times this week, including on this morning’s ABC broadcast, have I stumbled across news stories detailing how a young woman, sometimes still just a girl, has been gang raped by a group of young men. I don’t think anyone local will soon forget the recent horrifying story of the 15-year-old Richmond girl who was assaulted by as many as 20 people for two hours outside of her high school’s homecoming dance, some of whom used their cell phones to take photographs and text message others to come on down and join in. I know I won’t.

Yesterday, having exhausted the news feeds on both the San Francisco Chronicle and the podunk Marin Independent Journal (boo, hiss), I checked in with the LA Times, and there, again, was history repeating itself – this time, almost three weeks ago, a teenage woman had lured an 11-year-old girl into a bathroom in a Moreno Valley park, where she was subsequently attacked by 7 or so young men, most of them minors, with one exception – a 19-year-old cat who eluded the police for two weeks until they picked him up the day before yesterday at someone’s house.

Through the always-compelling reader’s comments, I found a link to the guy’s Facebook page. And then his girlfriend’s Facebook page. And then her best friend’s Facebook page. All of them are about eighteen or nineteen. All of them speak, in hideously annoying Texxt$pEakk, of ‘rolling’ with their ‘posse,’ being down for their crew, and of their ‘wifeys,’ ‘husbands,’ (though none legally married), baby daddys/mommas, and their pregnancies, whether already underway or hoped-for. The young man refers repeatedly to hating everyone in his family except his mom, ‘getting money,’ being hopeless and not giving a fuck. He posted several times on the day of the crime and one can see, in the days and weeks afterwards, a spiraling sense of panic and hopelessness (rightfully so). The girlfriend refers to doing community service and going to court, and her best friend writes of nothing but her ‘husband,’ to whom she is not married, and her expected baby, posting 3-D photos of the ultrasound. There’s one photo of the girlfriend I found particularly sad – shirt stuffed with twenties, posing in front of the bathroom mirror like she’s ballin’ now, but reading through her posts one can surmise that she made the money selling candy bars with her little brother. Ballin’, indeed. In the end, there are cell phone photos of the guy and his girl in a motel room, looking worried and sad, ostensibly on the run. And that’s all she wrote. Now, his mug shot graces the LA Times.

And I’m not sorry for him. Fuck him. I hope by the grace of God that he one day is able to comprehend what he took from a girl; something that can never, ever be returned or replaced, and left her with a weight and baggage that will be with her all of her life. But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime: lock. Key. Toss. Finis. No hopes, no plans, no babies, no wifey, no nothing but time. Existing (until prison justice takes its course, which I would expect is highly likely). The best he can hope for – sincere repentance, and the ability to keep breathing.

And it makes me think, as much as we cheer the progress of women and girls in our country, as many women outpace men in getting degrees and going to law and medical school, as furiously as we work to close the wage gap, as many diapers our men change, we still have such a long, terrible way to go.

Instead of worrying so much about Barry Bonds’ nutsack or Obamacare, we need to stop and ask what creates these monstrous attacks. How diseased and disordered must our concepts of masculinity, manhood, ownership, and violence be in order for girls and women to be collectively raped by lost, powerless young men (because only the psychically powerless would use their cock as a weapon) on a daily basis? How far have we really come?

The thing about gang rape, in particular, is that it isn’t at all about the woman herself, or even solely about power (though all rape is about power), but it’s always been my perception, and it’s shored up by research, that it’s the very sickest way of male bonding. Disordered men seek to establish bonds with one another through the body of a woman or girl. She ceases to be a person and becomes a tool, the glue that seals a sick relationship – perhaps because these particular boys and men are completely unable to create ties to one another without fearing the taint of softness or femininity, or perhaps worst of all to them, anything smacking remotely of gayness. ‘Committing’ to one another through the body of a woman, within a dynamic of power, violence, secrecy, and perceived hypermasculinity, is their only way to say they’re ‘brothers.’ They’re that broken.

Think about it – the stereotypical frat party that ‘gets out of hand,’ college athletic teams accused of sexual assault, gang initiations – all ways in which young men with diseased concepts of what it is to be a man and how to connect with one another. You cannot convince me, for any amount of love or money, that in that Richmond rape, there wasn’t an older man egging a younger man on by telling him to ‘be a man.’ And I wonder how many men are sitting in prison right now because they took that sick bait, too weak in their own sense of manhood to understand that these acts are the last thing any real man would commit.

I once asked a male friend of mine, who had in his teenage years been involved in group sexual encounters (several men with one willing female, or two couples in one room, etc.), whether the boys/men didn’t feel awkward or embarrassed having sex in front of one another – you know, with all their junk hanging out, ‘O faces’ on display, and so forth. He told me quite the contrary – they were showing off for one another, and that it made them ‘closer.’ In his case, it certainly wasn’t rape (hey, girls can be willing and freaky, too), but still, I thought it was a shame, because the subtext beneath all of it was still a false sense of connection, and the use of a woman as a thing, as something less than a whole person and a discrete entity. Her involvement and pleasure was secondary to their male-bonding exercise, and I’ll bet that wasn’t what she bargained for on her end (pardon the pun. A little black humor always starts my day off right.).

It saddens me because, far from hating men, I love them. I enjoy them, respect their gifts, and think that fully realized, authentic masculinity is pretty awe-inspiring. It sickens me that we as a culture are teaching boys and reinforcing to men (and girls and women) very, very warped ideas of masculinity, and that we all, from you to me to that 11-year-old survivor, continue to pay, as a people and as individuals, for the sin of refusing to look within and articulate what it really means to be a man.

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Take A Chance On Me

This morning I want to offer up a big thank you to anyone and everyone who ever took a chance on me.

 

To the Nicaraguan landlords who rented me a house back in the day on nothing but a handshake and a smile (you were a real gentleman, Sal – rest in peace).

 

To the MD/PhD who saw beyond the scrappy exterior to the ‘executive potential’ and gave me a real start in the legit career world. You will remain my personal hero all my days.

 

To the sister who smiled at me in that interview in a way that said, “I see you,” and whom I know is the reason I have the job I do today.

 

To her boss, who hired me even though I wasn’t her first choice (that being a mousy bun-wearing schoolmarm type) and recognized the potential for growth.

 

To the finance company that gave me a brand new car, even with a sullied credit report.

 

To my current landlord, best one ever, who almost pursued me, because she wanted to give me a break, just as she hoped someone else would give her own daughter, a survivor, a break.

 

To Mills College, who let me in even though I barely knew how to open a Word document.

 

To Stephanie the assistant bank manager, who held her hand out and lifted me from a life in the floating world to one firmly grounded in cold hard cash and numbers, a path that has continued to this day.

 

To every friend who saw beyond my initial bitchiness or sharp edges and saw the depth and sweetness beneath.

 

To every old friend who was able to put the past behind us and start anew.

 

To Rick and Joe, who instead of selling my Chihuahua Paloma to the highest bidder, gave her to me for free because I was Ramon’s friend.

 

To my grandmother, who was sick with worry throughout my youth and was on the short end of my mistakes and thoughtlessness more times than I care to admit, yet who continued to believe in me and give me chance after chance to get it right.

 

To every friend, boss, landlord, finance company, crew leader, and other who held out a hand, gave a girl a boost, trusted my handshake instead of my paperwork, saw beyond the statistics or the hard luck story, and saw what maybe even I couldn’t see at the time – this morning I just want to offer you a simple, and deeply sincere, thank you for your willingness to take a gamble on me. I won’t let you down.