Tag Archives: Rape

Feminist Heroes of the Past: Josephine Butler

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Josephine Butler, official bad-ass

Whenever I hear a women say that they’re not a feminist I think one of three things:

1.) They don’t know the meaning of the word.

2.) They are scared that they will be negatively associated with (untrue) stereotypes that feminists are bitter, ugly, angry, masculine, man-haters.

or

3.) They Don’t Know Their History

Throughout all time in almost all cultures women, their bodies, and their sexuality have been attempted to be controlled.  I love reading and learning about feminism.  I am a bad feminist in the sense that since I am new to the movement I am still educating myself about the feminists of the past and the enormous obstacles they overcame.  I just learned about the all-around awesome woman Josephine Butler and I felt I had to share.

The following is an excerpt from the marvelous book ‘Farewell to the East End’.  Adapted into the popular BBC show, ‘Call the Midwife’ it is one memoir of three written by Jennifer Worth.  The books chronicle her life experiences as a Midwife in the poorest areas of 1950’s post-War London.  I find them endlessly fascinating as a look into the intimate lives of ordinary women of the past.


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[Trigger Warning]

In the following excerpt Jennifer is having a conversation with Sister Monica Joan, a 90 year old nun.  Sister Monica Joan was raised in a very wealthy family in the Victorian Age and did not embark on her journey as a nurse, midwife, and nun until she was over thirty.  Jennifer is asking why she became a nurse when she had the financial freedom to do anything she wanted:

                                                                       ***

     [Sister Monica:] ‘When Nancy died, I had an almighty row with my father, who wanted to control me.  I hated the shallow, empty life I was leading, and wanted to throw myself into the struggle.  I left home to become a nurse.  It was the least I could do in her memory.’

     [Jennifer:] ‘Who was Nancy?’

     ‘My maid.  She had been surgically raped.’

     ‘What! Surgically raped? What on earth does that mean?’

     ‘Exactly what it says.  Josephine Butler had rescued that child and asked me if I could take her on as my ladies maid.  I was eighteen at the time, and my mother permitted me to have a lady’s maid of my choice.  Nancy was thirteen.’

      ‘Who was Josephine Butler?’

      ‘An unknown saint.  You are ignorant, child! I cannot waste my time with such ignorance.  Go, fetch my tea, if your mind cannot rise to higher thoughts.’

     Sister Monica Joan closed her fine, hooded eyes, and haughtily turned her head to indicate the conversation was over.

                                                                        ***

After the conversation Jennifer made it a point to find out what Sister Monica Joan was talking about, and some of the older nuns filled her in.  I was also filled in with a bit of history I had never heard about.

In the 1860’s syphilis was rampant in England.  It was so common and so widespread that it was weakening the British Army and Royal Navy.  In an attempt to curb the spread of the diseases through prostitutes, the Contagious Diseases Acts were passed.

When these cruel laws were passed, this gave the right that a policeman or Doctor could inspect any prostitute on sight and demand a examination.  If they were infected, they were placed in a lock hospital (a hospital that you couldn’t leave that was basically a prison) until you were cleared of infection.  There were several terrible problems and consequences with this law.

  •   The law was designed to persecute women only.  Men were not subjected to examinations or locked up if infected.
  •   Women were forced to consent to the examination.  If a women failed to sign a consent form, she was imprisoned until she did sign.
  • Once a consent form was signed, it was indefinite and she could be examined whenever the examiner wanted.
  • This law attracted deviant, sadistic men that volunteered to do the examinations and were placed in complete power over these women.
  • These “examinations” were done without witnesses.  There are many reports that they weren’t examinations at all but simply an excuse to hurt the women.  Many women were raped by the examiner’s and well as having to endure the insertion of the instruments.
  • Gynecological instruments were primitive and no lubrication was used.  An examination was a tortuous ordeal.

Victorian speculum

  • Not surprisingly,  not only prostitutes were targeted but all lower class women.  Any woman could be “suspected of prostitution” and “examined.”
  • These exams were not just happening to women but girls starting at the age of thirteen.

 

So. To sum up.  If you were a teenage girl walking in London’s East End, you could be confronted by a policeman that may be an honest man may be a sexual sadist.  You will be confronted with a piece of paper and ordered to sign.  Once you do, you will be strapped down and violated.  Even if you are not infected, you now are on record and will most likely have to endure several more “exams” in the future.

This is what happened to Sister Monica Joan’s maid Nancy.  When she was 13 she was trying to take in some washing by the docks to make some money, and was accosted.  An “exam” that should have taken less than five minutes was a torturous forty-five minutes.  She was strapped and tied down and was treated so roughly she had injuries and pain for the rest of her life.  Fortunately for her Josephine Butler came to her aid and placed her as a maid in the West End so that she didn’t have to endure the ordeal ever again.

So who was Josephine Butler?  She was a Christian feminist that made it her life’s work to try to protect and speak up for the rights of prostitutes, who lived dismal and violent lives.  In Victorian times sex was not even mentioned in polite company and Josephine spoke up as to what was really happening.  In the 1870’s England was going to expand this law.  Instead of only London all of England was going to be affected.

Josephine started the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act and dedicated all her efforts to repealing the law.  She is responsible for coining the term “surgical rape” and it proved effective as some people had not seen the procedure in these terms.  Josephine was vilified, and even physically assaulted.  This did not stop her and eventually as the public became more aware of what was happening.  In a time when women were literally their husbands property and under their complete control her husband George Butler not only “allowed” her activism but helped and encouraged her every step of the way.

It took a decade but the vile law was finally abolished in 1882.  Never think one person can’t make a difference.  Josephine saved hundreds of not thousands of women being surgically raped.

 Modern Day Applications

It should be mentioned that although this appeal happened over 140 years ago “surgical rape” is once more an issue in modern day America.  In 2012 the state of Virginia passed a law where if a women wanted an abortion she was required to have a transvaginal ultra-sound.  These ultrasounds serve no medical purpose. The idea is if a heartbeat is heard the woman won’t go through with  it. ( It hasn’t decreased abortions.)

ultrasound

transvaginal wand, shown to scale

About four years ago I was having pains and my Doctor had to check for ovarian cysts and I had a transvaginal ultra-sound.  Let me assure you, THEY HURT.  Every ounce of my energy was concentrated on not crying in pain.

I believe abortion is an immoral act.  But since making abortion illegal neither increases or decreases abortions, and women’s deaths and injury skyrockets, keeping abortion safe and legal has always been a no-brainer to me, even though I realize some think that being a Pro-Choice Christian could be considered an oxymoron.

The idea that lawmakers are once again trying to violate women’s bodies without their consent is repellent to me and fits the legal definition of rape.  Since the women are receiving abortions I feel an undercurrent of “punishment” and “who cares if you don’t consent and it hurts” attached to the law.

I’m proud of all my modern Josephine Butler-esque feminists that stood up to say, “No, this is wrong.”  Their ruckus causing ways helped stop the spread of this gross law to other states.  Keep on fighting, Ladies.  Josephine would be proud.

viginia

Photo taken at a women’s rights rally in Virgina, 2012.

 

You can follow Linddykal on Twitter @lindseykal28

SOURCES:

Jordan, Jane, Josephine Butler, John Murray, 2000

Moberly Bell, E., Josephine Butler, Constable, 1962

Stafford, Ann, The Age of Consent, Hodder and Stoughton, 1964

Worth, Jennifer, Farewell to the East End, Weidernfeld & Nicolson, 2009

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Maleficent and Feminism [Spoilers]

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The story of Sleeping Beauty has come a long way from the Middles Ages and Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie is its newest incarnation.  Disney takes the ‘Wicked’ route in re-imagining the deliciously bad Maleficent as a misunderstood woman that has reasons for doing what she does.  Maleficent is no longer an evil witch that delivers a murderous curse for the crime of being snubbed.  Sleeping Beauty was my favorite animated movie when I was a little girl and I went to the theater out of childhood nostalgia.  I was not expected such feminist themes from a children’s movie and was pleasantly surprised if not a little shocked.

Though I shouldn’t have been.  I was just reading an interesting article by The Belle Jar about how fairy tales are, at their core, women’s tales.  They were passed orally while women did time consuming tasks such as spinning wool or sewing.  Sleeping Beauty is centuries old, and the original is not only sexist but downright horrible and disturbing.  The earliest versions of the story (the Italian “Sun, Moon, and Talia” by Giambattista)  is not about love, but about rape.  The Princess is not awakened by “true love’s kiss”, or by a kiss at all. The original Princess is asleep from a prophecy, not a curse.  While asleep a King is taken over by lust by and rapes her unconscious body.  She becomes pregnant and gives birth to twins, still unconscious.  When her baby sucks the flax off her fingers she is awakened to find  herself a Mother of the King’s bastards.

Later versions have turned this into a metaphor for a young girl’s sexual awakening.  A sleeping girl is “brought to life” by a physical act and starts to live her life. Symbolism 101.  Although this is softened by alleged “true love” it still retains the creepiness factor of the original because the Princess is asleep and obviously unable to give consent.  Disney then takes these stories and adapted it to the 1959 version that is the most widely known version in the modern cultural zeitgeist.

sleepingbeauty

Maleficent is a direct retelling of the 1959 version and while it could be described as a radical interpretation of the text it does not “cheat”, which I appreciate.  The species of the original Maleficent are unclear.  According to different sources she’s a witch, a sorceress, a fairy, or a demon.  The original Disney animator modeled her look after a vampire.  The Disney Origins Podcast postulates that she’s a campion, a half demon/half human that is the result of a union between a succubus and a man.  2014’s  Maleficent is very clear.  Maleficent is a fairy.  A large fairy with sweeping wings that is one of the more magical creatures in her realm.  The realm of magic and the realm of men are divided, and as Maleficent grows in power she is posted as a guardian to her realm.

One day Maleficent meets a human boy and the two become friends and later sweethearts as teenagers.  As they become adults Stefan becomes more ambitious and politically motivated, Maleficent is one of the strongest fairies and guards her realm jealously.  They grow apart and lead separate lives as happens with so many high school romances.  The current King tries to invade Maleficent’s land for it’s riches.  After a skirmish where Maleficent defeats his troops a bounty is put on Maleficent.  The prize? Her death in trade for being named the King’s successor.  Although Stefan hesitates he can’t resist.

malificent wings

[Trigger Warning]  Malificent goes into the woods with a man that she trusts and they talk through the night.  Stefan drugs her drink and Maleficent falls unconscious.  She wakes up to the realization that Stefan has betrayed her and cut off her wings.  As Christiphor Orr at The Atlantic says:

The scene of Angelina Jolie shrieking as she regains consciousness:  betrayed, defiled, mutilated, her most wondrous gift torn from her.

Although it obviously isn’t said in a kids movie, the connotations are perfectly clear: Maleficent has been raped.  When she wakes in agony the camera holds on Jolie for a painfully long time and is the most emotionally affecting scene in the movie.  Not only has Stefan betrayed and physically hurt her, he stole her power and ability to fly.

Time passes, Stefan is King, and Maleficent curses his newborn daughter.  Though her wings are gone she still has her magic, and is easily the most powerful being in the Kingdom. What happens next is a change in the movie.  Maleficent watches Aurora from afar and comes to love the girl.  She shares the same love of nature and she reminds Maleficent of her younger, more innocent self.  A mother/daughter bond is formed and Maleficent mourns and wishes to retract her unbreakable curse.

Later, although Aurora and the Prince are attracted to each other, his kiss is not enough to wake her.  Cribbing Disney’s own Frozen released last year, it is Maleficent’s kiss that is that of true love.  It is lovely and symbolic in the power of female love and friendships.  Aurora awakens, Maleficent defeats Stefan, and Aurora and Maleficent live happily ever after.  She regains her wings, her power, and true love reigns.

Do I recommend Maleficent as a movie? Well, no.  It’s too full of CGI.  The dialogue is too clumsily written.  The fairies are too annoying.  The King is too crazy.  It’s bloated and runs too long.  And yet….it contains some very powerful scenes and pockets of emotional resonance.  I found it interesting to explore the feminist scenes and am not sorry I watched it.  Angelina Jolie reminds us why she is one of the few certifiable “movie stars” that exist in modern society.  She is just mesmerizing to watch no matter what the role.

You can find me as Lindseykal28 on Twitter

This has been re-posted on my Movie Review blog

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[Trigger Warning] How to Cope When Someone You Love is Raped

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When you find out that someone you love has been raped it is patently obvious (one would hope) that this is not about you. It’s about the rape survivor.  That said, after the smoke has cleared you may feel a lot of emotions while you are processing that you may or may not be ready for.

I want to clarify that this post is not about the what to do during a conversation if someone confides to you that they have been raped. How to handle that conversation deserves a post on it’s own, but the first and most important thing to do is BELIEVE THEM. For God’s sake, don’t ask them what they were wearing, or if they were drinking.  Really.  I’ll repeat that, it’s that important. Don’t tell them they have a “duty” to report their rapist.  That’s not your job.

 

Your job is to say “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”  Your job is to say thank you for trusting me with this. Your job is to say you love them.  Your job is to call their rapist a sick son of a bitch.  Your job is to support them, another topic that deserves it’s own post in the future.

 

I’ve have the privilege of never being raped myself.  That has not been the case with several people I care about and unfortunately I have a lot of practice with this conversation.  I tend to be empathetic, see all perspectives of a situation, and not judge.  Maybe I just have “one of those faces.”  Whatever the reason, people have tended to confide their secrets to me my entire life.  I’m thankful they do.

 

I would also like to add that I’ve never been in the position where a child or someone that needed my protection confided in me.  These were adult women (and one adult man) and their rapes all happened several years ago.  I also did not know any of the rapists personally. I don’t want to say if the rape survivors were family, friends, or a mix of the two because their story is not mine to tell.

The rapes ranged from years of childhood sexual abuse, a roofie during a college party, an assault while passed out drunk, an attack that included torture, and once the rapist was their ex-romantic partner.  However I think Obama said it best (and even his detractors would agree on this point):

“Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn’t make sense.”

I found that no matter what the circumstances, the process I went through afterwards remained more or less the same.  I want to make clear that I’m not an expert or a counselor, but the following coping methods are what worked for me.

Your first responsibility is to your loved one.  You may not be sure how to act after the initial conversation, but the answer is really easy. You don’t need to walk on egg shells around them.  They are the same person they were before.  You just know their past better.  Respect that gift for what it is.  They did not need to make themselves vulnerable to you.  Take that for what it was, a sign of trust.  However, once you get home you will most likely experience the following:

You will feel rage.

 Blinding, unrelenting rage.  It is inevitable.  You care about and cherish this person, and some deviant tried to reduce them to nothing more than a Kleenex for them to use.

Along with the rage comes violent fantasies.  Technicolor, detailed, violent fantasies about what you would want to do to their rapist.  I had never had really violent thoughts before and they are disconcerting and disturbing.

I found that exercise helped.  Get on the treadmill and exhaust yourself with physical activity.  It exhausts the body but it also exhausts the mind.  Once when I was exercising hard I just burst out crying.  It has a way of bringing emotions to the surface.

Eventually, the rage turns to anger and the anger fades to a dull ache.  The fantasies and details become less sharp, less graphic, less detailed.

Also, do not discuss with the rape survivor the anger you are feeling.  It serves no purpose except to hurt them and feel undeserved guilt.  Be an adult and show some wisdom.

You May Have Nightmares

This is normal, and they will pass.  If you wake up from an especially disturbing one turn on your lights and read for awhile and try not to dwell on it.  Your mind is trying to process the anger and misplaced guilt you have about not being able to protect your loved one.  The aforementioned exercise will help you fall asleep faster and deeper.  Melatonin is a good natural sleep aid that helps put you to sleep but doesn’t keep you asleep all night.

Throw Yourself a Pity Party

Don’t pretend everything is fine. It’s not.  Your heart has just been broken.  Unplug the phone, call in sick to work, and take to your bed.  Get drunk.  Eat a pint of Ben and Jerrys.  Cry and feel depressed.

But then…then you need to stop and get up.  Jesus rose after three days and so can you.  The important part is to get it out of your system.  The next important part is to go on.  If you feel you can’t, then it’s time to get some professional help.

Don’t worry about feeling guilty that you feel so upset when the crime didn’t happen to you.  It’s all part of the process.  You care about the rape survivor and they are your first priority.  But it’s okay to take care of yourself too.

You May Get Depressed

You may feel a crushing sadness.  You may lose faith about the goodness in humanity.  You may question why God would let this terrible thing happen.  You just have to get through to the other side.  Like the anger, it tends to fade with time.

Talk to Someone

I never went to counseling, and to be honest maybe I should have.  It may have helped.  Call a rape counseling hotline or therapist.  Talk to a friend or family member about what happened.  Though be very mindful and conscientious about not speaking to someone that is in the same social circle.  Even if they are not in the same circles there’s no reason to use their name.  Respect their privacy.

Become a Feminist

Between the confessions of rape and confessions of domestic violence in my immediate circle I felt like I didn’t have a choice.  All the stereotypes that I’d be perceived as a bitter, ugly, angry man hater didn’t matter.  I simply couldn’t live like this any longer.  My heart couldn’t take it.

It helps you feel empowered.  It takes away the helplessness felt during depression because it feels like you are finally “doing” something to help stop the violence.

This is an aside but feminism helps combat male rape too.  One of the reasons male rape is so often suffered in silence is that rape is seen as something that happens to women.  Thus likening the survivor to a woman.  In other words, they’re weak.

The more I learn about feminism the more I want to know. The stereotypes aren’t true.  It’s simply women and their allies uniting around the simple truth that “this is my body and it belongs to me.”

The reality is that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused.  1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted.  1 in 7 women will be raped by their husbands. Join in the fight to help support strangers and reduce the amount of rapes and violence.

So be well.  Love on your friends and family.  Take care of them, and take care of yourself.

RAINN – Rape and Incenst National Network

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