One Man’s Risk
This is a very triggery post. Consider this a warning.
Yesterday I got an email in my inbox from the V-Day movement.
Anyone who has been around my blog for any little bit of time (or can look up to see the navigation bar above this post) will know that I am a big supporter of the V-Day movement to help stop violence against women. In February of this year, I donated my blog to V-Day for the week leading up to 14 February. You can see all of those posts on my V-Day 2012 page.
One of those posts was about a man who has worked tirelessly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for over a decade to help rebuild women’s bodies after brutal and tragic rapes. His name is Dr. Denis Mukwege, and he is one of my real-life heroes.
Dr. Mukwege often works 18 hour days, sometimes performing up to ten surgeries on women to repair fistulae, lesions, and to reconstruct their bodies after the abhorrent violence that has torn into them. Because of his tireless determination, Dr. Mukwege has been honoured with many awards, including the Clinton Global Citizen Award, the Wallenberg Medal, and he has been honoured as a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in France. He has also trained many others to perform the surgeries. He has been called the Angel of Bukavu.
Dr. Denis Mukwege is someone whose existence makes a difference. He is someone who has helped heal survivors of some of the most horrible forms of human evil, body and soul. The Panzi Hospital, where he works, is a place for women who have been gutted. It’s a place where they can learn to patch up those tears, both literally and metaphorically. Because of him, thousands and thousands of women have been helped.
And a week ago, someone tried to kill him.
Can there be any logical doubt that this doctor is a good man? Can there be any shadow cast on his exhaustive work for the betterment of his country’s women? Can it not be said that devotion like his, drive like his, spirit like his is something all of us can strive for? And, in the face of all he has done, can we not be humbled?
Humbled, because this man has undertaken this work for over fourteen years, knowing full well what risks he faced. Risk to himself. Risk to his family, who were held at gunpoint as the assassins awaited his return to his home. He’s performed over 30,000 operations on women whose bodies were destroyed by rape. And even after this, he will return to his work.
The plain, glaring blank fact that someone sought to murder him (and succeeded in murdering his longtime companion and security guard) shows that the darkness in our world has gnawing teeth.
Eve Ensler, the founder of the V-Day movement, said this:
“The attempted assassination on Dr. Mukwege and the murdering of his security guard once again highlights how deadly serious the situation is in Eastern Congo. One of the great men of the world was almost murdered tonight. We cannot let this continue, we must create an environment where it is safe for Dr. Muwege and all the people of Congo to live and thrive. Let this tragedy be the call to end the war in Congo once and for all.”
I can’t describe what I felt when I first saw the news.
I’ve spent a lot of time this week pondering the role of men in feminism, due in part to a satirical letter by John Scalzi from the (fictional) point of view of a rapist and addressed to “certain conservative politicians.” It was also due in part to my friend Kristin McFarland’s response to Scalzi’s post, in which she discussed the disproportionate amount of air time it seems men writing about women’s rights gets as opposed to the amount of air time received by women doing the same.
I still haven’t come to a conclusion, to be honest. Here are a few things I know:
We absolutely need women’s voices when it comes to women’s issues. There is little I find more chilling than looking at board of middle aged white male politicians and feeling like all of them have their hands all over my body — purely because they are the lawmakers, and while we vote for them, they still can (and do) decide to act however they damn well please.
Which means they can restrict my access to birth control (I already pay $100 a month for my non-generic-having name brand pills, and when you are always in the financial death zone, that $100 is like an ax to the chest), they can decide when I’m supposed to have a baby (because even a “rape exception” to abortion outlawing will do nothing), and they can tell my insurance provider that it’s okay to charge me more because I have a vagina.
But we need men’s voices too. Ultimately, I believe in equality. I believe all human beings should have an equal shot at wealth, prosperity, and the chance to be rolling in puppies (or hot tubs of money, to use a Scalzi-ism). And men are about half of that equation. This isn’t about anyone rescuing anyone, and I certainly don’t want anyone to have to sigh, faint, and damsel their way around the world. Male or female, surely both sexes can be strong without intrinsically weakening the other. There’s not a finite amount of human strength in this world, people. And if you have to make someone else feel small to feel big, you’ve got more problems than sexism.
We need men’s voices because frankly, the status of women has a direct effect on men. It affects how prosperous nations can be. It affects the abilities of society to progress. Men shouldn’t be afraid to speak up for women’s rights. Men are fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, grandsons, friends, lovers, companions, and grandfathers. Men are — and should be — concerned with the kind of culture and world that exists for women.
Men are affected by violence against women. Ask my husband what it can be like being married to a rape survivor. Assault and rape leaves scars that last a lifetime, and for those who love us as survivors, it can be hard to navigate the relationship. Uncertainty. Helplessness. Anger. Pain. Rape culture damages everyone.
Women should be able to exercise their platform and speak about women’s issues without violent retribution. I read several different articles about women’s rights this week. Two stood out. One was Scalzi’s, and another belonged to Rebecca Watson, who is a prominent skeptic and feminist. One of them regularly gets multiple death and rape threats when speaking out. The other does not (to my knowledge, though I admittedly am not privy to the inboxes of either). Three guesses which is which.
This is a huge, huge, huge problem. No one — I repeat — NO ONE should receive threatening messages, phone calls, visits (ack) after speaking out about real issues. And when I’ve read recent blogs by women about sexism in general, reading the comments is enough to reinforce my assessment of this as a huge, huge, huge problem. Everything from victim-blaming to flat out “you deserve to get raped” to “men are the real victims here” — it’s astounding. It’s sickening. And it’s just wrong. Neither men nor women should get threats of rape or sexual assault.
In one instance, Rebecca Watson referenced an experience where a Twitter user tweeted that he would cop a feel if he caught her alone at an upcoming conference. That’s not funny. It’s not a joke. It’s a threat. Saying you would put your hands on another human being if you caught them alone and knowing it would be unwelcome and frightening for that person isn’t a ha-ha moment — it is a display of a very nasty mentality. The conference administrators did nothing. They could have barred the Twitter user from attending. Instead, they treated Watson like she’d insulted them.
So…all that said. I think women and men need to stand shoulder to shoulder. I certainly do not disparage people like John Scalzi for using their platforms to speak their minds and to further a cause I deeply and passionately believe in. And I’d be dead before I said men like Dr. Denis Mukwege aren’t walking heroes.
I want a world where I am safe to walk where I please. Where I don’t get yelled at from across streets and called a bitch for ignoring the jeers and catcalls. I want a world where I don’t have to worry about my female friends in the military becoming one of the alarming 30% of female service members who get raped by their comrades or superiors. I want a world where women can say, “Hey, this isn’t right” without a chorus of “YOU HATE MEN” or “You deserve to get raped” or “You’re a humourless cunt” rising to greet them.
We. Are. Not. There. Yet.
If you doubt me, go read some YouTube comments. And then read up on Richard Dawkins and his flippant, dismissive response to Rebecca Watson. And then go search Facebook for pages of rape jokes and 12-year-old sluts.
No. We’re not there yet.
If you still doubt after all that, remember what inspired this blog post. A man was almost murdered purely for his role in helping women heal from the worst atrocities I can imagine. Atrocities that are beyond imagination, yet they exist in reality.
If you doubt, go to the Panzi hospital. And ask the women what it’s like to be raped with rifles and have rounds unloaded into their bodies.
Words. Uninvited touch. Harassment. Assault. Rape. Murder. Beatings.
There is too much violence. It takes every able voice to stop it.
Be one of them.
Eve Ensler’s Op-Ed about Dr. Mukwege and the assassination attempt “We have few heroes in this world. He is one.”
- An Attack on One of My Heroes, Dr. Denis Mukwege (kristof.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict: Democratic Republic of Congo must protect Dr. Denis Mukwege after violent attack (appablog.wordpress.com)
- Human Rights Doctor in Congo Eludes Gunmen (nytimes.com)
Before You Comment:
I recognise that this blog post is written in a way that conforms to cis-gendered language. I also recognise that men can be, and are, raped. I also recognise that women can commit violence and atrocities against men. I know that when men are raped, it is even more likely to go unreported. I do not hate men, nor do I want to create an oppressive matriarchal culture where we do nothing but step on testicles all day. This post was not meant to address any of those issues, though I welcome the idea of doing so in the future. Any and all comments that harp on the above will be removed or moderated to the virtual file bin of doom. That’s not what this post is for.
I welcome thoughtful, civil discussion. I will not tolerate any blatant misogyny, homophobia, racism, or general stupidity. An example of general stupidity: “All women are whores!” Scalzi has his Mallet of Loving Correction. I think I’ll take on a claymore. Name forthcoming. This is my blog, and as such, I choose which comments to display. My regular commenters and community have nothing to fear from the Claymore (mostly because I know them well enough to know they wouldn’t dream of perpetrating any of the items on my above list). If you’re new, see above.
Don’t threaten anyone. It’s not a joke, and no one thinks it’s cute.
Finally, I hate that these comment guidelines are necessary.
Posted on November 2, 2012, in V-Day 2012 and tagged Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denis Mukwege, emmie mears, Eve Ensler, feminism, John Scalzi, Mukwege, Panzi Hospital, Wallenberg Medal, women, women's rights. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.