After writing my last post, visiting several of the other blog posts written for the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign, and watching some of the Girl Effect videos, I am left with a thought that keeps niggling at me…
We desperately need more MEN to help with the Girl Effect.
Let me tell you a story…
I was an innocent twenty-one year old former farm girl, in my second year in the big city, when a man climbed through the window of my basement apartment and raped me. It shook my world and shattered my innocence.
But this story is not about the rape – it’s about what happened afterwards.
When I finally convinced the man to leave my apartment (after 2 hours of abuse and nearly being choked to death), I ran down the street to the home of my friends Terence and Sheryle. It was a place I knew I would be safe – where I could fall apart and be held together by their strength.
I sat and cried on their couch, and Terence sat at my feet, his hands gently holding my ankles. His face was full of agony and despair, as he held my pain in his strong yet soft heart. I’m sure he was feeling some of the burden by association for the violence a member of his gender had caused me.
Terence didn’t hesitate to phone his supervisor and take the morning off. He knew he needed to be there to help me survive that horrible morning of police reports, a hospital visit, and endless privacy-invading questions. (Incidentally, it was also my friend Terence who, years later, nearly delivered my second daughter when I showed up at the hospital where he was an ER doctor.)
Knowing I needed to be surrounded by people who loved me, that afternoon I phoned one of the most tender-hearted people I knew – my brother Dwight. He too rushed away from his workplace to be by my side. Dwight is one of those rare and beautiful people in front of whom you know you can cry without ever feeling shame. I’m pretty sure he joined me in my tears, making me feel wrapped in a warm blanket of love.
The next day – partly because I’d been taught by my Dad to be strong in the face of obstacles – I was determined not to let the rapist destroy my dreams. So I drove to the town where I was planning to participate in my first triathlon (as a cyclist on a relay team) that weekend. As I got closer though, I knew that the pain in my neck, and the overall shakiness and trauma of my body would not let me ride. I had to give it up, and I had to be somewhere that I felt completely safe, away from race crowds.
I turned my brother’s car around and headed home, to the farm – to the safe arms of my mom and dad.
When I walked in the house, I fell apart, in a puddle of tears and fear and anger and overwhelm. My mom did what she does best – wrapped her arms around me and nurtured me.
My dad fell silent, his body hunched with pain. While Mom soothed me, he walked out of the house. Moments later, he returned.
“I remember,” he said, his shoulders stooped in that familiar way he had of showing humility and agony, “a man whose daughter was raped years ago. He spent the next years of his life trying to find the man who did it so that he could kill him.” And then he paused while his voice shook. “Suddenly I know EXACTLY how he felt.”
Despite the pain I was suffering, I don’t know when I’ve felt so loved. My pacifist father, who didn’t believe in war or violence and never let my brothers have toy guns in the house, was suddenly willing to kill a man on my behalf.
This I know – it has been a significant blessing in my life to be surrounded by men who know how to love, how to show compassion, and how to show up when they’re needed. Though they may not have known it at the time, their tears were as valuable to me as their strength. Even though I had been abused by a man, I knew there were men I could continue to trust in my life.
It is partly because of these men that I can be the woman I am today.
There have been others too, throughout my life. Like my husband Marcel, in whose arms I crumpled when my dad died a sudden accidental death. Or my other brother Brad, who I have turned to many, many times for help – like the time he sent money for my sister and I caught in an urgent situation in Europe. Or my friend Rob, who sat and held my dead son Matthew, said few words but shed the right amount of tears.
There are many places in this world where my rape experience could have turned out so very differently. There are places where my father might have refused to talk to me because I’d brought shame on his household. Or places where I would have been shunned from my village for a sexual encounter before marriage, even if I was an unwilling participant. Or places where I would have been forced to marry my rapist because I was soiled goods and nobody else would want me. Or places where I would have risked yet another rape if I’d shown up at the police office to report the crime.
In Malaysia, Rath escaped a brothel where she was kept as a sex slave, went to report it to the police, and then was imprisoned by the police and later sold by a police officer to another sex trafficker.
In Ethiopia, Moinshet was kidnapped by the man who wanted to marry her, and then repeatedly raped by him and his friends. When she escaped and told the local authorities, they refused to arrest him and instead tried to force her to marry him. In the end, she had to leave her village because she was shunned for her refusal to marry him.
In Pakistan, Mukhtar’s brother Shakur was kidnapped and gang-raped by members of a higher caste. When his rapists became nervous that they might be caught, they accused him of having sex with a young girl from their caste. Mukhtar appeared at the tribal assembly on her family’s behalf to apologize and try to soothe feelings. The tribal council decided that an apology was not enough, and instead ordered Mukhtar to be gang-raped. Four men dragged her into an empty stable and, as the crowd waited outside, stripped and raped her on the dirt floor.
There are many, many other stories like this in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. Read it and be moved.
Thankfully, in some of the stories, there were men who stepped in and supported the women (like Moinshet, whose father took her away from the village and refused to marry her off to the man who raped her).
But I keep wondering… how do we change the paradigm for the men in these situations, not just the women? Sure we can insist that countries come up with better laws to protect the women, but how do we educate boys so that they grow up believing it is NOT okay to treat women like this?
What I keep coming back to is this – we need more men who are willing to step in and model a different way. We need more men like those who stood by me in my crisis, shed tears with me and then lent me strength, and we need them to teach others to do the same.
A lot of “what ifs” pop into my head.
What if the man who raped me had been raised by a compassionate father or taught compassion by his teachers at school?
What if our global leaders modeled compassion and deep respect for women?
What if police officers were taught not only to be strong, but to be compassionate? And what if the police officers we send to train police officers in other countries were doing the same?
What if we only elected officials who knew how to treat women with respect (and encouraged women of other countries to do the same)?
What if the peacekeepers we send to areas of conflict were actually modeling PEACE and not further exasperating the situation?
What if more development agencies were sending out male teachers who would model and teach compassion to boys in schools?
I personally know a lot of men who would love to see the world change for young women living with oppression. I sat with some of those men (my friends Larry and Steve) in that run down office in India that I talked about in my last post, where we all mourned the tragedy of so many young girls being sold into sex slavery.
If you are one of those men, THANK YOU. And KEEP IT UP. And know that what you are doing is of vital importance. Don’t give up until you have modeled it to enough other men that we see a sea change in the world.
Compassionate men, we NEED you!