Why did I participate in Take Back the Night marches so long ago in Berkshire County? I was present because I had hoped that the open sharing of information and experiences would lead, among other things, to a consciousness of the widespread nature of sexual abuse of women; a nurturing of those women and girls who had been abused; justice for those of us who had been raped or otherwise abused; a transparency in the media, in communities, and nationally (and even internationally) regarding the extent of the abuse that women suffer; and a realignment of the criminal justice system that would provide not only protection of the victims of sexual abuse, but systematic, swift, and appropriate treatment of the perpetrators.
OK, so that was a bit naive. Well -- not just a "bit." Apparently, the attitudes towards women swing in a sine curve, from biblical to radical, back to biblical again, with every permutation in between, mostly not in the direction of true and permanent progress towards preventing the sexual abuse of women or towards the just treatment of the abuser.
So, yes, I am expressing intense disappointment in the lack of progress in this arena. I hadn't hoped for immediacy, just a slow, deliberate slog in the direction of our species becoming more compassionate and understanding; a hope for an evolving social and moral code. Seemingly, too much to hope for?
Why is this issue so much more troubling to me now? There is a massive rumbling beneath our feet right now, an eruption of rage surrounding the experience of one young college student, a 17-year-old woman who was allegedly raped by another student at Williams College. She elected not to press charges and go to trial, but trusted in the college to address the issue in a way that would protect her from further abuse, and protect other women students from the danger posed by allowing the alleged rapist to remain on campus. The college has allowed the alleged rapist to return to the school after a suspension, putting its women students in harm's way.
This is part of an explosion of similar crimes on college campuses across the country, and, in general, the colleges seem to do very little to prevent these events, and next to nothing to remove the alleged rapists from the campuses. Women are being encouraged to just get over it, give it a break, live with the consequences as part of college life, or leave. This is simply a new variety of the old catch phrase, "If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it!"
To disregard the value of women's lives, physical and emotional, to this degree is simply a continuation of an historical process. Rape is not simply a sexual act. It is an act of violence against women, an attempt to control and subjugate. Women have never received an equal share of control of finances, job equality or, and especially, control of our own bodies. Our intelligence, our assertiveness, our strengths are, if not just resented, are feared. Women are oppressed when treated as solely sexual objects, and rape does just that, it violently oppresses. For the college(s) to ignore the absolute need to insist on the alleged rapist facing the full and just consequences of that act, is tantamount to the college(s) accepting, as a moral standard, the oppression of its women students.
Having just, and finally, viewed the movie, "Girl Rising," it is clear that our country is not alone in its pursuit of the control of its women. Women and girls all around the world are being subjected to horrific experiences from which they, like the Phoenix, rise from the ashes of their terrors to become women of power. It was after seeing this movie, and discovering the story of the college rape, that I have felt compelled to write this essay.
I find myself asking, quietly and out loud: Where would our species be without the strength and power and beauty of women (the obvious answer, of course, is without childbirth, without a species)? What would be the possible, positive consequences of true gender equality? What would be the positive consequences of equal educational opportunities acr-
oss gender, race and age parameters? Isn't our responsibility as human beings to do whatever we can to develop to the highest potential of our species, male and female, to become the most humane of species? And doesn't that imply becoming a more compassionate, empathic, generous, life-affirming species?
And finally, a most thankful nod to Rodgers and Hammerstein ("The King and I"), who, probably with little real understanding of what they were presenting, wrote for the character, Anna, as she expressed the oppression she saw around her. I would direct these words to all alleged rapists:
"Because I'm a woman
You think, like every woman
I have to be a slave or Concubine
You conceited, self indulgent
How would you like it if you were a man
Playing the part of a toad
Crawling around on your elbows and knees
Eating the dust of the road?
Don't let us up off out knees, Your Majesty
Give us a kick, if you please Your Majesty
Give us a kick, if you would, Your Majesty
Oh, that was good, Your Majesty"
It's time for all women to refuse to "eat the dust," time for all colleges to deal with alleged campus rapists as criminals; time for all women and all men everywhere to value each other as full equals; and past time for the best intentions of our species to become manifest in the hearts and minds and actions of our societies.
Linda Kaye-Moses is a Pittsfield-based writer.