Two shots were fired. Two shots. Then there was a pause. — A few moments of silence followed. In these few seconds, in between the two bullets, And in between the two cops I saw you die. Everything you ever … Continue reading
Content Warning: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault
Searching “female perpetrators of intimate partner sexual assault male victim” on Google yields pages of results, most of which prove to be dead ends. They enclose information about male-perpetrated sexual assault or female-perpetrated child abuse, but sexual assault/abuse perpetrated by a female against her male partner doesn’t exist in Google’s foreground. If it doesn’t exist on Google, how can organizations like NJEP at Legal Momentum prove that it exists in real life? The cyber-invisibility of these crimes mirrors their societal invisibility, which results in significant underreporting, victim-blaming, and incredulity. If hours of Google-searching will not suffice to convince Google that intimate partner sexual abuse/assault (IPSA) can be perpetrated by and harm anyone, then it’s no wonder humans struggle to figure it out, too.
I have never seen more clearly before interning at NJEP this summer that framing is everything.
After submitting my search, Google most likely picked up on these key terms: “female” and “male”, “perpetrators,” “intimate partner sexual assault,” and “victim.” It presented an array of articles, cases, and resource links about IPSA, a crime involving females and males, perpetrators and victims, in multiple configurations. The results certainly emphasized one configuration in particular, though. To understand why, let’s take a moment to think like Google.
What comes to mind when you hear the words “sexual assault”? Who commits sexual assault most frequently? Who is most frequently sexually assaulted?
If “campus” or “stranger in the bushes” comes to mind in response to the first question, you’re not alone. If you answer “straight men” or “men of color” to the second question, you’re not alone. If you answer “straight women” or “white women” to the third question, you’re not alone. These stereotypes can’t sustain themselves on their own—they need help from the media and commercial advertising to perpetuate inaccurate notions of sexual assault and how it is perpetrated. Even our syntax can influence how and onto whom readers cast blame. I am tempted to blame Google for my many fruitless searches, but I know deep down that like stereotypes, Google can’t sustain itself or think on its own—it requires complex algorithms and a vast scope of online material to operate the way it does. Humans create the frames through which we understand our world; technology only helps us do it more quickly and widely.
Non-profit organizations do a great deal to replace this widespread ignorance with knowledge about the realities of IPSA and domestic violence, but they are tasked with finding truths among the societal perceptions to which they, too, are privy. Their findings inform the work they do and for whom they do it, bearing significant repercussions for groups underserved as a result of our misconceptions.
If Legal Momentum has taught me anything about the law, it’s that it can be used in wildly creative ways that enable non-profits to think outside the box and design something new from the materials already there. A group of interns collaborated on a short article this past week that made the judgment of Voisine v. United States accessible to the population at large, especially youth. While I wonder sometimes if empowerment is simply clearing the road for some people and dumping the debris on somebody else’s driveway, anything is possible when we restructure the road itself.
On May 28th of this year, I was in a good place. I felt comfortable in my existence and my newfound identity as a feminist. I was excited to jump into the Moxie Project, to work for the summer, be surrounded by other strong females, and maybe learn a few things along the way.
But, today, 5 weeks into the program, I’ve realized it’s not that easy. Yes, I’ve been loving my job with Girls for Gender Equity, yes I’m constantly in the company of 7 other passionate feminists, and yes, I’ve learned more than a few things about the feminist movement through our readings and discussions. But what I didn’t expect was how much this program was going to seep into my everyday thoughts and actions.
Back at school it’s easy to leave a 90 minute lecture and remove yourself from the material you were just studying. You don’t go home after a physiology course and obsess over each skin cell on your arm or the way your joints move in your leg. At least you hope you don’t. But here it’s not that easy. The topics we cover in the readings, the context of my work, the themes of the enrichment events — they come up everywhere. Even in the most nuanced actions I take or interactions I have, I’m always forced to see it through the Moxie lens, no matter how hard I try to fight it.
When my male friends make a joke about getting laid or “hitting that” — jokes I may have once laughed along with — I’m now disgusted and ashamed of my association with these perfect examples of sexist, entitled pigs.
Even in just the simple daily actions of straightening my hair and shaving my legs, I’m starting to question the reasons I do these things. Is it really just for me, as I constantly argue? Or is it to fulfill a beauty image that society deems acceptable, thus perpetuating gender norms and complying with the patriarchy?
I’ll be reading a book or watching a tv show that I always loved, and now I find myself getting angry. Getting angry at the characters for obsessing over men or allowing themselves to be objectified. Getting angry at the writers for continuously creating damsels in distress whose only purpose is to find a man, get married, and live happily ever after. Getting angry at myself for ever finding these things enjoyable, relatable even.
This program is making me see my whole life differently. The decisions I’ve made, the friends I’ve kept, the groups I’ve joined. I’m starting to question how I have been a feminist when so many aspects of my being seem to go against the concepts we’ve been discussing. That’s not to say that I now plan to go home after this program and burn all my books, end friendships, and throw away my razor. But I do know that being in this program is making me see the world and myself differently. I’ve accepted that the Moxie lens is here to stay — but in the end I don’t think I mind it.
Have you ever been just a little too inspired by a cooking show you watched, and attempted to create a dish by just throwing ingredients together? Even as a kid, I wished my mom would let me cook for once. I just knew that if I put this yummy thing with that yummy thing, something twice as yummy would be the result.
It never quite turns out like that thought, does it?
Throwing ingredients together, does not a gourmet meal make. At least with a recipe, I know what the end result is supposed to look like. I end up wasting good ingredients if I don’t even know what I’m trying to make.
As we rounded out our 5th week and rolled into this much-needed 3 day weekend,
I couldn’t help but start entertaining the dreaded thought: What’s next?
Moxie has had, is having, and will continue to have palpable effects on me. I feel like a more well versed, more critical, and more inclusive feminist already. I even tested my skills in the field when a stranger who stole and ate my last piece of pizza crust from across the table got more than he bargained for (read: a diagnosis of typical white male entitlement™, a condensed history of institutionalized racism, and some of the more obvious symptoms of the white supremacy it perpetuates).
But these last couple weeks, I started thinking: Where is it taking me? In just a couple weeks I’ll be flying home, and then just a few weeks after that, I’ll fly up to Duke to start my last year of undergrad!
So where does Moxie fit into my grand scheme? And also… What is my grand scheme? I’ve had ideas and loose concepts of fields to start my “career” in… But lately it’s become abundantly clear that right now I don’t have my exact measurements, preheat the oven to 350, real life recipe.
And the issue with not having a recipe or a clear goal is that it sometimes leaves me less motivated than I should be. Because, what am I even working towards?
I’m learning so much, both academically and socially, in this program. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how I’m going to make my final 3 weeks count. I’ve felt like I need to figure out exactly how I want to use this.
And then I remembered something else I learned before I ever stepped foot in NYC this summer. And the answer may or may not come from the most inspiring, knowledge-building, universally respected source of all:
There was a discussion about whether or not DukeEngage is “about you.” Some speakers said it wasn’t, that it should be one big exercise in selflessness.
Another said: of course this about you. And this second voice just made more sense to me. To say that it isn’t about us is to suggest that we have something substantial and irreplaceable to offer the organizations we’re spending a brief 8 weeks with – and that just isn’t true.
Those moments when I feel most inspired or encouraged at work or elsewhere, are the moments when I feel I’ve learned something. Or at least, the moments where I can say “Well, I can put this on my resume skill list.” Even if I haven’t figured out exactly what jobs I’ll soon be applying to.
If nothing else, every new fact or skill I learn here is a way of investing in future Autumn. If an improved self is the goal I’m looking towards, then training my ability to work hard is something I can never get too practiced at. Because if there’s one thing I figured out since working here, it’s that full time work is exhausting.
I know I’m not the first to come to the realization that I am perhaps my most important ongoing project.
Maybe poet William Ernest Henley says it better:
“I am the master(chef) of my fate, I am the captain of my soul (food).
Or… Something like that.
While learning what it means to be an activist, we have been crafting what our activism may look like. And I think all of us Moxies can agree on one thing: it is physically and emotionally draining. We are constantly stressed and tired of talking about how we feel, what we think, and what we are going to do about it. Thus, there’s an emphasis for us as activists to practice self-care, to check-in with ourselves, and to ensure we maintain our personal well-being in order to keep on keeping on.
Which is why when Shannan first introduced this idea of communal care, it struck me as an odd idea. But I quickly sucked up the concept of communal care as a practice that we should all engage in *see pros & cons list below* — For those of us engaging in social justice movements, we do so with the aim to bring together collective action from those around us. While I do see self-care as something we should all remember to do, by solely centering care on the individual, we ignore the point of why care is necessary. We are all resisting the systemic inequalities and oppression of society. That resistance is meant to be trying and difficult and it is meant to break us down — which is why we must take the initiative to care for each other.
Activism is instilling leadership in our communities, not just in ourselves, to build a collective effort and to create a movement. Communal care is prioritizing all of our healing as we all bear the struggles of activist work. We must shift the focus from the individual to the community, both in our activism and in our care, in order to counter the systemic inequalities that impact all of us. Because don’t we all deserve to prosper?