Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 571 – Day 577)
This has been a challenging week and, a challenging month, overall. I was violently ill this week. I tried to do research for my next article and I did manage about 150 pages of reading, I did attend a full day professional seminar and I did complete a rewrite of a piece that I didn’t want to rewrite but felt, in the circumstances, was the only way forward. In general, however, I was not what one might label ‘productive.’ I say that, because there was not a lot of output of what I wanted to achieve.
Sometimes the unconscious has a plan of its own.
This month, I have been working on a piece of writing about a topic that is really difficult to face. Sometimes, people don’t ever face these things.
Years ago, I went to LSE to do my graduate degree because, in the course of working with orphaned girls in South India, I met a girl – possibly 14 years of age – who had clearly been trafficked into the sex trade and although rescued, still bore the scars of it.
She haunted me when I left India.
And so, I did my degree with a focus on gender, poverty and children’s human rights. And, I achieved that. But I set out to write about sex trafficking of women and children, and the role that poverty and inequality played. Getting reliable data was a problem. But the real challenge, I think, was how depressed I became, the more I researched the issue. I got run down emotionally and run down physically and I came down with a bout of pneumonia at Christmas that lasted for 3 months. It wasn’t until I spent Easter at a Chronic Poverty conference in Manchester, pale, feverish and struggling to make it to the lectures that I decided to heed the advice of all of my friends, and switch topics.
In the end, I recovered and I wrote about the Convention on The Rights of the Child as an advocacy tool in development. My heart wasn’t in it, but I managed to reverse course, abandon 6 months of research work and put together a dissertation, with Merit, in the remaining 4 months. It was hell. And I think the worst hell was the haunting image of those women and children, doomed to be trafficked, that I’d left behind. I couldn’t help but see them in the rear view mirror of my mind.
This month, as you will see if you scroll through the magazine, I wrote an article on rape. Even as I write those words, my stomach sinks. We all know someone who has been raped – even if we don’t know it. Much like the trafficking of women and girls, this is a difficult topic to face, irrespective of one’s own personal experiences with the issue. It is, in many ways, taboo. Even to talk about it raises the issue of feminism and divides friends, colleagues and families.
It is the dark secret, in the closet, that tears apart individuals, families and communities. We mythologise it, watch it on television, fantasise and fetishise it. What we don’t do is talk about it openly and punish it.
What we don’t do, is face it.
Why? I don’t know. One of my dearest friends is a therapist who specialises in trauma and PTSD. She specialises in EMDR, a therapeutic technique that is a largely non verbal way into reprocessing.
Trauma is deeply felt – it seems to flee from logical expression, to flee from the cognitive process and hide in the dark recesses of our unconscious memories and at a somatic level (in the body). I don’t know why that is, but I would guess that it is too much for our sense-making faculties to process because traumatic acts of war, terrorism, rape and violence don’t “make sense” – at least not a kind of sense that allows us to go on in the world with the illusion that life is under control and it is safe.
Writing about this topic triggered some traumatic experiences in me. And, as in University, I fell ill. This time, however, I looked into the rear view mirror, I processed the images and I expressed them.
I realised this morning, that I have been addicted to drawing, this month. It came out of nowhere. After 30 years of not drawing a thing, I picked up a pencil and couldn’t stop. It didn’t really come out of nowhere. It began when I decided to tackle this topic in an article and an incident in the research process left me feeling talked down to – just as doctors and police have often talked down to a person who has been raped, when they try to seek care and justice.
It is no coincidence I sat down and drew. It wasn’t angry images. In fact, what I was drawing, in each and every image, was compassion. I drew what struck me and over time I started to see that without setting out to do so, most of what I was drawing were faces of young men that I think are compassionate feminists. I drew my niece’s partner. I drew a couple of friends. I drew an ex flatmate and I drew a lover. In each drawing, what was overwhelming was the depth of expression, particularly in the eyes. I don’t know how to draw – I’ve said that before. All I have been taught is to try to draw the lines that I see. I still fail to do that, every time. Yet, in a couple of weeks, I have gone from scratches on a pad to being able to draw something resembling a person. The faces are still out of proportion and there is no depth to the line drawings but oh those eyes….
And what is interesting is that I drew myself, for the first time as well. She is a version of myself from a time when life was still innocent. And when I felt complete with the drawing, I held it back to look at it in totality, and there I was – a version of myself – gazing back at myself – with compassion.
We need to be able to look, with compassion, at this issue. Men, and women together, need to look at this issue through the lens of compassion and write the new mythology around sexuality that does not involve aggression and violence.
Rape is not a women’s issue. Both men and women can be raped. And, it is not a practice that will stop until both men and women do their part to prevent sexual violence. At the moment, it is a fact that women, more than men, are brutally raped in astonishing numbers. It is still women who fear for their safety when they venture out of their homes at night. It is still women who have the most at risk when they accept a blind date. It is still women who feel unsafe, most of the time.
Why are we so afraid to address the power politics of this issue?
I notice that my sites stats are down, having posted the article about a rape counselling and advocacy app that is being built. Maybe people will not relate to the approach or they will think it is not their cup of tea, but to not even read the piece is an interesting result.
It is difficult to face these topics. It is difficult to face the fact that we are unsafe because of sexual violence. It is difficult to face the memories of our own violations, or those of our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our lovers and our daughters. But until we face it, talk about it and take a stand to end sexual violence, the eyes of all those who have been raped will be looking back at us and haunting us, in the rear view mirror of our minds.
I am grateful that as I look back over my time since leaving LSE, I have taken a public stand in many ways and in many cases against sexual violence and sexual trafficking, and that by doing so, the eyes in the rear view mirror are no longer the haunting and accusing eyes of the children I could not write about. They are now the compassionate eyes of feminist men.
I am grateful that I am able to do my part to raise awareness of sexual violence and the social injustice of sexual aggression, and to give space to feature the article until the end of the month.
And mostly, I am deeply grateful for the young men in my life who, in their way of being men in the world, model a new kind of gender awareness and a new brand of feminism and who stand with the next generation of women, with compassion, admiration and equality. I wish they had been around when I was coming of age, but I am grateful to know them now and to know that the next generation, my nieces and your daughters, will live in a different world where much is yet to be done but men and women are standing together, to do it.
Although a little trivial, in the scheme of this post, it was actually a joy to discover that I can make a few lines look like a person.
In drawing, this month, I went to the place of Oneness that is the collective unconsciousness and found that despite all the mythology and fetishising of rape, there is a new story beginning to be born. It is one of compassion, empathy and solidarity. I am grateful that in the drawing, if not in my words, I was able to give expression to this new story.
My service this week, and in fact, this entire month, has been to stay present and to stay “with” whatever is coming up, to let it be expressed through drawing and to take time to let things settle. Having let things settle, in the face of attempts to silence my voice, I have acted with integrity, courage and compassion and I have done what I think is right.
A culture is the sum total of its stories. And, I have begun to draw down a new story. The meaning of it is for us all to determine, individually, and together.
For what are you most grateful this week?