I hurt. I hurt everyday. My heart aches, my chest tightens, my breath quickens until I’m breathing so loudly people begin to stare. I want to say this is a rare occurrence. That I don’t feel like this over ten times a day. But I cannot. This sorrow consumes me—it destroys me. Let me walk you through it. I read a line from a news article, “girl gang-raped and then burnt alive.” I look up from my phone to the television, I hear the telecaster prompt: woman stalked and then killed by her ex-husband. I can sense despair in her voice, but she shows no emotion—objectivity is what is needed in the news. Emotions cloud facts. I pick up my keys, throw on the biggest jacket I can find hoping it protects me from the cold weather—or at the very least from the coldness of those around me.
Getting into my car, I turn on the radio, and I hear the next story. Young student brutally assaulted in her dorm. Raped. Tortured. Serious injuries reported. And that’s just the local. The global news seems to creep in as the narrator does a top five in five minutes recap. I don’t yet hear about much other than what x country did to another, or what protests look like here, or what one president said about the other. Oddly enough, hearing this news makes me feel better. If this is worthy enough to be in the top five, maybe there is nothing worse out there. A new narrator usually comes on at this point—generally a more conservative viewpoint. He begins to speak about specific countries.
My ears perk. This was my nani’s home. He then mentions a new number of women being trafficked for marriage or sex slavery or something else in the region. They are not any different from me. Some other country will generally pop up at this point. Women killed, raped, tortured, decapitated, trafficked, the list can go on. The newscaster will not linger, however. There is a brief pause as he moves to the next story. His voice need not falter. His tone need not change. He will then usually bring us back to America. Is that not where the story always ends up? He will most likely mention something about the impeachment, a quick summary of the same regurgitated information they repeat everyday. If he is feeling a little more talkative that day, he may mention the border. He will not mention the atrocities, nor will he “pick a side”; as if any side other than not caging people up can even be valid. He will maintain the same tone, the same expression, you can even hear the slight slur of the smile lingering on his lips as to not seem unprofessional. His objectivity rings in my ears. Could I maintain that objectivity, I’ll ask—do I want to?
I might turn on some music at this point, bring out Spotify and play something relaxing. Something to stimulate my mind away from these thoughts. It doesn’t work. Not like I want it to. I park my car and get out. On my right, I see a billboard. Some jeans company. It resembles the Dolce & Gabbanna “gang rape” ad of the late 2000’s. I still remember all the pushback. Here, I see a woman in black, lace underwear standing in heels I imagine to be as tall as me. Sexy, I should think. Around her are five men. On the floor is a pair of jeans. Her jeans are around her ankles. One man has none. Another has his zipper lowered. One has his hand on her lower back. She stares at me. They stare at her. I stare at them. What should I think? In these twenty seconds between my car and the building, I have made a connection to these strangers. One that left me uneasy. Would I be her with those jeans? Do I want to be her? Do I want to be the men? A photographer stood there. Commanded her to dress as such, first having the thought run by the creative team. It was manufactured. Every detail made to encode a feeling. Power. Should be felt, should be experienced, should be had. Who has that power? Who defines it?
I open the building door, press the elevator button, and make my way up. I stop by the break room; the news is playing while I make some tea.
“Sad isn’t it?” he asks me with a hand in his pocket, coffee in the other.
“Sad,” I respond. Need we say more?
I walk to my desk, put my headphones in, and begin working. He trails behind and finds his seat. He rolls over to me, seemingly motivated in the quest for help, but instead asks me a series of questions about that news story—as if educating him is the task I hold dearest. He never does ask if I have the time to chat, or if I’m a bit busy at the moment. Ignoring my reluctance, he still proceeds: “What is rape culture? What does it look like? When did it come? What does that mean about me?” The grandest concern for him surrounding rape culture is not its accompanied violence, but that it brings a mirror up to his face, and forces him to ask, am I rapist? Am I complicit? How do I fit into a system that implicitly demands my domination over women?
I tell him that I say this not because I believe men are instinctually dominating or because I do not believe they can change their behaviour, but exactly because I believe these relationships can change. I believe we can solidify the relationship between us all outside of the bounds of dominance and submission. I try to stress my optimism even in my despair. That I have hope that one day our world can and will look different. He seems perplexed by my answer. Clearly it was not the pat on the back for being a “good guy” that he had grown accustomed to. Forced to face your own complicity in a system that is made to keep you “asleep”, unaware, and unconscious of your role in the continued systematic genocide of women is difficult. It is not more difficult than the beatings, torture, rape, slavery, prostitution, trafficking, decapitation, and murder of women everywhere. I let him feel his win of trying to learn, however. A soft smile accompanied with the slightest words I can muster.
“Good job for trying”, I whisper. Not all battles I can fight today.
I used to hear the women from these stories cry, scream, shriek, yell, asking me who the fuck I thought I was to read their stories, hear their tales, gape at their terrors, and then just move on. Forget. Distract. Stimulate. Over and over again until their names are a distant memory if I even knew them in the first place. I repeat this cycle. It’s like clockwork. When I begin to go home, I do the same in reverse. The next morning, I do the same. Come the weekend, I cannot recall any of the stories as vividly as I can recall my breakfast that whole week. It stayed with me, I thought. But, did it? Their pain stayed with me, but did I stay with them?
I’m hurt that I cannot remember their names, or even remember if I knew their names, but I can remember the details of almost very task I worked through that week. I hurt. I hurt as much for the violence of the world as I hurt for my apathy to it.
I read the news again, trying to find the stories and piece them back together. It’s not hard. I may even write their names down. Weave their tales together on scraps of paper until I’m drowning in pain I can hardly handle. I tell myself I mustn’t forget. But I do. I try so hard, but I still do. I cry. Sometimes it loud and full of misery. Sometimes it’s a lone tear that hits my phone. I wipe it away. The sorrow consumes me. I wish it would end, but it does not. Warming up some water, some tea keeps me company. Provides me the warmth I crave in a world that lacks it so desperately. They are me; I am them. We hold no difference I can conceive. I care. I mourn. I weep. And then, the cycle repeats.