Category Archives: men’s violence against women

Invisibility

I helped organize a recent Take Back the Night March and Rally.  It had the usual combination of march, speakers, and vigil.  We also threw in some free food and music and had a good night of anger, reflection, laughs, and sorrow.

More than once that evening, a well-known fact was cited by speakers at the microphone: women are more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger.

Women are more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger.

This is not true.

A few months ago, I started contacting local and regional programs and services that serve victims of rape and other forms of sexual and domestic violence.  I was trying to find out information about old/er women who are raped.  On all the websites I had previously checked, statistics were given only on young/er women–such as “44% of victims are under 18 and 80% are under 30” (RAINN) or “Women aged 12-34 are at the highest risk for being sexually assaulted” (National Crime Victim Survey cited here).  Only in one place did I find statistics up to age 44, and today, as I write this post I am unable to track it down.

Each of the three programs and services that I contacted could not provide me any–any–information on the rape statistics of old/er women.  We are all simply swept up together under the 20% of rape victims over 30 years of age.

So I plodded around the Internet looking for information.  I found scattered references in news pieces here and there that indicated elderly women are more likely to be raped by strangers than by people with whom they have a relationship, and that they are also more likely to be murdered during that rape than younger women.  None of these news pieces cited its source.  Then I found this, a piece from Volcano Press, that provided some of the information I was looking for.  I quote in part:

While crime statistics make it appear practically non-existent, rape of the elderly can and does occur. When it does, it frequently turns deadly. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report “Sex Offense and Offenders,” 1 in 7 sexual assault murder victims were 60 or older…Only one age group of rape victims—ages 13 through 17—had a higher murder rate, at 3.3%.

The article then describes the profile of the typical rapist-murderer of elderly women.  He is most likely to be someone who lives within six blocks of the victim, but not necessarily someone the victim knows.  Therefore, the truth of the often quoted “fact” is that a young woman is more likely to be raped by someone she knows, and an elderly woman is most likely to be raped by someone she does not know but who knows of her (vulnerability/isolation/daily patterns).

Interestingly, even though this article uncovers some of the missing information about elderly women, women in their 40s through 60s appear to be invisible in the writings about women and rape.  What happens to us?  Are we equally unsafe in our personal relationships and around strangers? Or are we in some strange safe hiatus zone between the vulnerability of youth and the vulnerability of elderly? Are we uninteresting in the research because we are not likely to be murdered and our overall risk of being raped is lower than the risk for young/er women?

The Volcano article also explores the motive of the rapist-murderer of an elderly woman. The primary motive of this crime is sexual assault, with burglary a frequent afterthought.  Many people think of the rape of older women as one of opportunity–that is, the burglar stumbled upon the woman and spontaneously raped her.  The truth is the opposite.

The article then asks, “So, why does rape of elderly women not show up in statistics?  The answer, “…the NCVS [National Crime Victim Survey] does not account for victims who do not survive, which is where elderly women are most likely to show up.”  That is, many raped elderly women are invisible in rape statistics because they have been murdered and its the murder that is statistically recorded, not the rape.

There are further provocative questions that need to be researched.  For example, why are elderly women not as vulnerable to being raped by people they know?  Is it because women tend to live longer than men, and therefore women in abusive heterosexual relationships outlive the abusers?  Is it because older women have divorced or otherwise escaped abusive relationships?  Is it because elderly women live isolated, secluded, and vulnerable lives because they are unwanted cast-asides in a youth-oriented society–that is, no one knows them?  Also provocative, and quite disturbing, is why are rapists more likely to murder elderly women?  And how does the rape-murder of an elderly woman reflect the greater cultural/societal beliefs and practices by others, by institutions, and by communities?  What do we all share in this hatred towards older women?

It’s important that all victim advocates, feminists, and our allies stop rendering older women invisible in our resistance to and dismantling of rape culture.  We must not erase older women by presenting such ageist “facts” as “a woman is more likely to be raped by someone she knows.”

At next year’s Take Back the Night Rally, I know what I will be discussing when I have the microphone.

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It’s been silent here on the blog….

…because I’ve been working on a memoir, finished that now, and now an anthology.  I’ve started a new job as a director of a feminist program.  And I’ve been enjoying myself, doing some of my favorite things.  Been pretty busy. However, the core reason I have not been blogging is the following:

Several months ago, I became overwhelmed with the pornophiles and misogynists visiting the site looking for porn of women and girls being raped by horses (see previous post).  Although none of them ever posted comments, the search terms in my “administration window” revealed that dozens of men arrive weekly at this site looking for “lesbian horse rape,” “horse woman sex,” and the like.  Because I am a researcher and lecturer on porn, I did check a few of these sites out.  Although I had felt I had already seen some of the most violent pornography on the internet, I was wrong.  And now I have these images in my mind associated with “Gray Horse Woman.”

“Gray Horse Woman” is a name that is important to me.  Therefore, my visceral response was not just political but also personal.  They were raping my name.  However, I did not want to abandon my name because they had raped it.  So I struggled with what to do.

I have decided that I am going to rename my blog.  This will include changing the name in the blog address.  Those of you who are followers should, I believe, still receive notice of my posts.  Others, however, might lose track of me for a while.

I have to ponder the new name.  When I make a decision, I will post that name and the new blog address before I click the buttons that make it all happen.

The rapists will not shut me up.


Jammies Party

This morning, I had a group of women over for a potluck brunch.  It was a “jammies party,” so everyone came in their jammies.  It was like a sleep over, without the actual sleeping over.  I knew only a few of the women.  The other women were new acquaintances, friends of friends of friends.

About half the women left shortly after eating and finishing off their minimum required morning dose of caffeine.  That left five of us, who ended up talking for almost five hours.  We fell into a very important conversation, and no one realized what time it was until I pointed out that the sun was low on the horizon.

This group of five, loosely associated through social connections, had some profound common experiences.  All of us were or had been treated chemically for depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and/or other mental disabilities.  At least two of the women had been in abusive relationships with men—one had had her neck broken, one had been married to a porn addict—and both of these women had PTSD.  All had struggled with the erasure of emotions and sense of self that was induced by the pharmaceutical drugs.  Four women had experienced profound “side” effects from these drugs, including black outs and inability to walk.  Three women had had profound experiences of abuse by health “care” professionals (“care” must be put in quotes in relationship to these experiences).  For example, one woman was forced to have a pap smear, even though it could not possibly have had any relationship to diagnosing or treating her mental disability.  This triggered a major dissociative episode.

Sometimes, this kind of conversation can put me into a funk.  However, tonight I feel a renewed energy.  Our conversation was not at all like a lethargic support group in which women are dragged through personal disclosure by a professional making a lucrative living off of women’s misery in a violent and abusive society.  Instead it involved an almost covert sharing of information.  It involved stories of will and resistance.  It involved sharing how-tos for navigating the woman-hell that the mental health industry can be.  It involved three women sharing how they were now either completely or nearly off of all pharmaceutical drugs.

It is unfortunate, although predictable, that the mental health industry is collusive with women’s oppression.  As a major institution under patriarchy, its interests lie with maintaining the status quo, rather than challenging or dismantling it.

But as women, both alone and in groups, we resist.


The making of an angry woman

On the day of the anniversary of the Montreal femicide, on the day that I notice that the number one search terms bringing traffic to my site are those looking for women being raped by horses, on the day I come across this on the Radical Resolution blog,

this just makes me angrier.

Go figure.


One of these stories is true

ONE

I was a co-conspirator in mocking my mother.  My father would make fun of how she spoke, especially her folksy use of sayings, her feminine speech patterns, and her use of hand gestures to illustrate her words.  My father was an academic.  My father was better.

There was no power in being a woman in the house in which I grew up.  My father drifted freely in and out of the house, often gone all day even on weekends when he didn’t work.  My mother was home almost all of the time that she wasn’t at her outside job.  And she worked constantly while at home.

My mother dressed up my room in pink, and me, too.  Although I rebelled against the pink clothes and dresses, tossing them aside permanently for jeans and shirts when I was in third grade, my room still had pink curtains until I went to college.  They were cut specifically for the girly shutters over the windows, and without them there would be too much light for me to sleep.  So I left them be.

When my older brother swore, he got scolded.  But my mother would wash out my mouth with soap.

When my younger brother would perversely grope me as I walked by him in the kitchen, my complaints were only met with my mother saying, “Just move away from him.  Then it won’t happen.”  So I took matters into my own hands, and hit him hard each time.  I was sent to my room.

So I found power in allying with my father in his mockery of my mother.  I would join his game.  And he would encourage it.  Together we would sit at the table while she attempted to engage in simple conversation, and we would mock her, interrupting her to repeat with exaggerated feminine intonations what she had said or flail our hands in the air to grossly mimic her gestures.  It would not take much time to silence her.

By high school, I had made a decision.  I would never be my mother.  I would never be the woman who was groped.  Pink, never again.  I wanted the power to move about freely, I wanted the public sphere to be mine.  I would not be a woman.

Four years later, I began taking testosterone.  My very perceptions of the world began to change.  There was a new sexual urgency that had a power of its own that I had never experienced.  The facial hair began to camouflage my femininity.  I was being reborn.  I was surprisingly adept at learning masculine language and mannerisms.  I simply mimicked my brothers and my father.

The day of my top surgery was the most liberating.  I had had my mother’s breasts.  But those were hers, not mine.  After the surgery, when I looked down, I knew that I was finally free of my mother.  I was becoming me.

TWO

I was a co-conspirator in mocking my mother.  My father would make fun of how she spoke, especially her folksy use of sayings, her feminine speech patterns, and her use of hand gestures to illustrate her words.  My father was an academic.  My father was better.

There was no power in being a woman in the house in which I grew up.  My father drifted freely in and out of the house, often gone all day even on weekends when he didn’t work.  My mother was home almost all of the time that she wasn’t at her outside job.  And she worked constantly while at home.

My mother dressed up my room in pink, and me, too.  Although I rebelled against the pink clothes and dresses, tossing them aside permanently for jeans and shirts when I was in third grade, my room still had pink curtains until I went to college.  They were cut specifically for the girly shutters over the windows, and without them there would be too much light for me to sleep.  So I left them be.

When my older brother swore, he got scolded.  But my mother would wash out my mouth with soap.

When my younger brother would perversely grope me as I walked by him in the kitchen, my complaints were only met with my mother saying, “Just move away from him.  Then it won’t happen.”  So I took matters into my own hands, and hit him hard each time.  I was sent to my room.

So I found power in allying with my father in his mockery of my mother.  I would join his game.  And he would encourage it.  Together we would sit at the table while she attempted to engage in simple conversation, and we would mock her, interrupting her to repeat with exaggerated feminine intonations what she had said or flail our hands in the air to grossly mimic her gestures.  It would not take much time to silence her.

Honestly, I never came to love my mother.  For two decades after I left home, I grappled with the complexity of my life and the ways in which my connections to her had caused such injury.  But I also came to richer, more meaningful understandings of the dynamics in my family and the greater power structures that fed it.

When I was in my thirties and my mother was in her sixties, I took her out for lunch.  I apologized for the times that I collaborated with my father in mocking who she was.  I had not come to the conversation with any expectations, and I certainly did not expect to be forgiven.  I just wanted her to know that I acknowledged the wrongness of what I had done.

My mother said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

But her face revealed that she did.  I looked at her and wondered, “Why would she deny this?”  And then I understood.  We were two women, each negotiating and surviving the spaces of our different lives in different ways.  At this point in her life, this was not the time for this discussion. It would not be a catharsis, nor a revelation.  She would choose when, if ever, this would be discussed.

So we intently read the menu and ordered our lunch, and talked about other things.


At this moment

It is late fall, so there are no leaves on the trees.  There is a dusting of snow, and I can see that there were a couple of mountain bikes on the trails earlier.  But there is no one in the woods now.  I know that, because I can see deep, deep into the woods, through the empty trees.

I run, hard.  It is very cold.  My face is numb.  There’s a brisk wind, and it cuts through my clothes.  So I pick up my pace again.  I begin to flush with warmth.

I do not have that strained watchfulness that I must maintain when I run in the spring and the summer, eyes scanning the dense brush, constantly, for any human form.  Any man.  Danger.

I just run.

At this moment, I am free.


The making of a man

My brother’s transition from boy to man was marked by fierce and deliberate verbal assaults on his mother.

“You’re a cunt,”  he would scream.  “A fucking cunt!”

These assaults went on into his twenties.  Then they stopped.  Not because he regretted the assaults.  But because his entitlement was now secured and did not need constant reinforcement.

Now, ten years after her death, he only speaks of her fondly.


The place from which to fight

This video, I HATE being a Girl, hit a strong note.  So although I came across it today at gendertrender, I decided to write about it here.

I hated being a girl, too.  I still hate having been a girl.  I can’t rewrite that.  Being a girl was rough.  And when as a girl I looked around me at the adult women in my life, I didn’t want to be them either.  In the small world in which I grew up, that was primarily my mother, mocked by my father, constantly, for how she spoke, what she thought.  My mother cried a lot, privately.  I know that because I sometimes stumbled on her, and she would be angry at me and tell me to go away and not talk about it.

By the time I was in high school, I had already been molested, stalked, a victim of an attempted abduction, and sexually harassed (all by different men).  By college, I had already fended off two rape attempts, was fondled by a university employee, was again a victim of stalking, and was a victim of sexual abuse by a physician in his exam room.

I hated my girl body.  Hated it.  It was the nexus of so much pain.  The only part of my body I liked was what I called my “boy butt.”  Small and unfleshy.  I would use a hand mirror to look over my shoulder at a larger mirror to admire it.  Everything else, I hated.

Fast forward three decades.  I love my woman’s body.  My misunderstandings from youth—that the problem was my having a female body—have all eroded through the process of fighting back.  Not just fighting back against the rapists or filing charges against the university employee but also through personal, internal fighting back.  Although I can identify flashes of fighting back as far back as my memories go, it wasn’t until my thirties that I truly began to understand that “the problem” did not originate in my body.  It was something very large and very insidious.  It was something that hated that I was a woman, and wanted me to hate that core part of myself, too.

That systemic hatred of women–reinforced over and over in patriarchy through rape, incest, domestic violence, and even the simplicity of media and advertising—absorbs so deeply into our psyches that it makes us turn on ourselves.  Some women cut.  Some women starve themselves.  Some women kill themselves.  Some women ask a doctor to take a knife and cut off their breasts and carve out their vaginas.

The beautiful, intelligent young woman in this video wants to be a man because “you wouldn’t have to worry about so many different things.”  Yes, women do have to worry about many, many things.  But we are women, and that is the place from which to take a stand and fight.