I should be used to it by now, but I am not.
When a woman is assaulted or raped in my community, my neighborhood or among the people I know, I have to fight a strong sense of surreality and disbelief, especially if that community is the political one to which I belong and which represents such a central part of my life.
I am plagued by a sense of mourning, even when I’ve never met the woman or the man involved. I behave almost like this were an absurdity, something that could not possibly happen in the same space where I live, work and invest so much of my energy.
My very first impulse is to cast the event out of my sphere of familiarity, to make it foreign, to refuse to let it belong to the same world where I exist, live and love. It is so reassuring to believe that a rape is an abnormal event, a tragic fallacy in the way men and women otherwise encounter each other, the product of a criminal mind, of a mis-constructed reality or even, sometimes, an utter fabrication. And yet there is something in the mourning and disillusionment I am experiencing that does not let me off the hook that easily. I keep going back to that awful number, like a tam-tam in my head, a woman every 2 minutes, another woman in 2 minutes. The rhythm of that awful clock ticking in my ears tells me that a rape is something that I should profoundly and completely take responsibility for. Something that I, my friends, my community and my comrades should all own.
We should do so because too many times the body of a raped woman becomes a battlefield, a point of contention, a place over which conflicts take place. Often the conflict is played out by men and always ends up erasing that particular woman’s story, her feelings and her quite too personal and too indecent sorrow.
We should actually own and take responsibility not only for one particular rape but for all of them, because a society where a woman is raped every 2 minutes is not one where rape can be categorized as abnormal behavior. Rape is indeed an event that puts all of us on the spot, men and women, with our political practices, our public and private discourses and the all too intricate ways in which we experience sex and power and too often confuse the one with the other.
That is one of the reasons why, when I react to a rape by calling for an even stronger police presence in the space in which I live, I feel that am still trying to delegate and put a distance between myself and that otherness that will always, unseen and undisturbed, inhabit my reality.
The point is that actually a rape is not a form of otherness at all, but a quite too familiar practice, a practice of control and overpowering in which we all grew up and that we breathed in so much that we became insensitive to all its insinuating and allusive messages.
When I seriously take responsibility, then I realize that there is something in my political discourse that needs to be changed, if I want to confront the event of a rape as a deeply real and widely common instance in my culture. Maybe I could then understand why, when I try to create a new political representation, I should never forget to include in it an account of our bodies, of their physicality and needs, of the ways they are taken into account or discounted, controlled or expressed, silenced or narrated, oppressed or exalted, raped or loved. Then maybe, I could sit down with all the people I know in my community, and especially with the people with whom I share a deep and engaging political commitment, and I’ll be able to talk with them about rape as one of the occurrences, one of the quite too normal occurrences in our lives today. One that does not have anything to do with sex or even with sexual perversion. One that has a lot to do with power and oppression. One that we too often forget to mention when we talk about ourselves and the way we interact, think and construct narratives about each others and our world. One finally that we too often overlook in the long list of the ways we all, men and women, assaulters and survivors, those who experienced it directly and those who just breath it in the air everyday, are oppressed, controlled and silenced.
Then maybe, just maybe that otherness would become a little bit more visible to everybody, a little bit more clear and it would be a little bit more difficult for it to sneak in on us, take us by surprise and leave us flabbergasted and unprepared to deal with it, ready to let our space and our narratives be taken over by those same institutions that are trying to erase us and, with us, any possibility to construct real alternatives.