“I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape.”
Andrea Dworkin’s essay and call for a truce was written a few decades ago, during the tumultuous wave of feminism which would become the stereotyped “face” of man-and-sex-hating feminisms, and it is due for an overhaul. The premise is wonderful, but the context and its exclusions, need to be addressed. We at MESA are an inclusive bunch and fight all oppressions, especially the ones the anti-violence movement unwittingly reinforce.
New proposal: I want twenty-four hours during which all oppressions—ageism, sexism, anti-Trans* sentiments, cissexism, homophobia, classism, racism, heterosexism, nationalism, xenophobia, ableism, and anything I may have missed—that contribute to a sexual violence and rape culture are understood and suspended. Ideally, we would spend that twenty-four hours gaining an understanding and empathy for those oppressions that we do not personally experience, so that at the end of that twenty-four hours, we can collectively begin the process of cultural change.
The problem that Dworkin and her like had is being repeated today in the anti-violence movement: it is exclusionary, over-simplifies gendered violence and ignores the oppressive social structures that have constricted and been used to justify violence towards marginalized peoples. Sexual violence is not a simple, one-way formula. Every survivor experiences victimization, healing and empowerment in their own unique ways.
Women of Color have to navigate a world that doubly dominates them via sexism and racism, and responses to survivorship are influenced by this. Some anti-violence advocates are not trained in understanding how systems of racism affect how a survivor may be treated during a course of investigation, how they may be viewed by the public, or how racism may be an additional motivation of a sexual violence crime; after all, racial privilege is an extension of power and control and sexual violence and torture are common methods to inspire fear and reassert racial boundaries.
Trans* survivors also face transphobia at every step of the process; and not all anti-violence and rape crisis centers have made it a priority to be trained in Trans* issues, resources, or even how to respect and talk to them without turning their gender identity into a spectacle, or making the mistake of not calling them with the pronouns they prefer.
And of course, there are male survivors of sexual violence. Male survivors are also ridiculed, especially if their attacker was a woman. Prison rape is used as a punchline or as a so-called deterrent for crime (from a criminological point of view, ineffective and nonsensical) instead of an act of violence that is support by the state, particularly states who choose not to investigate and attempt to prevent rape as per the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Services for survivors who leave prison are not widely available, and this makes the transition from imprisonment back into mainstream society even more difficult. This is especially problematic for youth, particularly youth of Color who are in constant contact with harsh policing and more likely to be funneled back into incarceration, often for non-violent offenses, and increasing the likelihood of sexual violence.
These (somewhat simplified) examples show it is not just sexism we need to be concerned with in our quest to end sexual violence. There are multiple and often intersecting “isms” and societal suppressors that need to be addressed in addition to sexism. One way to accomplish this is a call not just for a truce but for a social and cultural change.
I want a twenty-four hour in which we develop an empathic sense of what it is like to be dehumanized and degraded as survivors based on several identities and oppression with which we are unfamiliar. This proposal for change is enthusiastic, but necessary.
An anti-violence movement that does not incorporate an understanding and programs for all survivors is not a movement that will end rape culture—it is a movement that will only serve to isolate and re-victimize those who have historically been left out since inception.
Inclusivity is not a novelty or an additional caveat for centers to dabble in. It is a dedication and a growing process, one that MESA is delighted to be a part of. We know to end sexual violence, inclusivity and a united front against oppressions is a necessity.