author – activist – faculty – mom
Feminists are often characterized as angry, but underneath it all, we’re heartbroken. Our hearts break every day for the brutal mistreatment of women and girls. We weep for the lives lost, bones shattered, spirits crushed. Those of us who are black women mourn often. We wail for the unsolved murder of two sex workers in Florida, hog tied and dumped by the side of the road like trash. We sob for the black woman who bested not one but three young male rappers at a new years eve party, and what should have been her victory became her lynching. We grieve for women’s losses and for the indifference the world shows to our losses, and the policies and institutions that pay lip service to concern about us, but consistently allow, reinforce, support, or exploit the brutality against us.
Recently, in this blog series, I have been grieving the loss of safety. Really the loss of the illusion of safety. I thought that as a middle-aged, accomplished woman writer, I would no longer be subject to certain outrages as a woman. But the alleged sexual assault on internationally renowned Kenyan writer Shailja Patel has challenged my fantasy that age and achievement would keep me safe. And so I grieve for that lost illusion.
Grief is a powerful tool. Grief allows us to mend the places where we are heartbroken over our loss. “Strong at the broken places,” as the saying goes. Without grief, we harden into rigid shapes that protect our injuries. We viciously defend our wounds’ right to stay unhealed. We rage or chase away anyone who challenges our right to stay broken.
In Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, Stage One is DENIAL. Recently, a Kenyan radio personality, Caroline Mutoko spoke her own invitation to grief. She grew up with Shailja Patel’s alleged assailant, Tony Mochama. She said: “He has a committed partnership. I think he’s married, and he has a child. I’m finding it very hard to believe that what is being said about Tony is true…I’m hoping it isn’t….It would be painful if it was true.”
This past weekend, Shailja Patel allegedly spoke to Caroline Mutoko and challenged her to consider that Patel was telling the truth. Reportedly, Caroline Mutoko rejected this idea: “It’s as if she wants me to play judge, jury, and executioner,” Mutoko said.
Caroline Mutoko, has being a woman taught you nothing over all these years? Have you never trusted a man, an institution, a situation, only to find that you were not safe in your own body? Your own home? Why are you offering the cliché, irrational, and statistically-disproven excuse that the alleged perpetrator having a wife and child as evidence of his innocence? No one is asking you to convict him, we are asking you to open your heart to the painful possibility that this allegation might be true. What would you have to feel? Grief for an innocent boy or young man who wouldn’t have been capable of sexual assault whose innocence got lost on the way to becoming the man who was capable? THIS IS OUR GRIEF. As daughters and sisters and mothers and friends, this is our grief. To sob for the women who are brutalized by male domination and to grieve for the boys who are brutalized into male domination. Feminism isn’t about hating men, it’s about hating the system that socializes men to act out hatefulness toward women. Feminism is about our rage and grief at being hated.
Denial is a powerful force. Many of us don’t want to believe that misogynist violence exists, or if it does, the woman brought it on herself, or if she didn’t then the agents are some other group of bad, faraway men. Not our husbands, lovers, fathers, brothers, friends. Nobody we know.
Caroline Mutoko, stop making excuses for perpetrators. Stop waiting for a court to tell you how to feel about the man you grew up with. Here’s what you didn’t say. You didn’t say you were waiting for the trial so you could examine the evidence for yourself and decide for yourself. Here’s what you did say. You said you were waiting for the outcome of the trial. For a male dominated authority to decide and dictate to you what is true about what happened.
As feminists, our hearts also break for the women who serve as character witnesses for the perpetrators and put their faith in male institutions. You say it would be “painful” if it were true. Consider the possibility that the truth doesn’t live in a man’s court, but a woman’s body. Stop running from the painful truths of women’s lives. Trust the truth from the source: a woman’s own body, her own home.