By: Victoria Smith
March hosts International Women’s Day. It’s both a celebration of our gains and a reminder of how much more needs to be done in the fight for women’s rights and freedoms. One could argue that devoting one day to such cause isn’t enough. While it’s true we’ve made significant strides in the last century toward improving women’s conditions all over the world, there are pockets of hold-out countries and communities that still treat their women as second class citizens, not much more than men’s chattels and possessions they were in Medieval times.
In the United States, we still struggle to expose and shame many companies, some of them our more iconic corporate institutions, that do not give their women employees equal pay for equal work in comparison with their male counterparts. It’s one thing to give lip service to the right of equality of pay; the practice of it, quite another. It’s also shocking how even the most outwardly progressive institutions are later exposed to have tolerated or allowed their male bosses to have practiced the most outrageous acts of sexual harassment against their women subordinates for many decades. It’s even more unconscionable that the country had elected as president a man who admits to there being allowable circumstances where it’s acceptable to grab women by their genitals or, at the least, brag about his right to do so as part of the perks of his self-declared celebrity status.
In rape and other sexual assault cases, lack of consent appears to remain a highly variable and subjective concept wherein the simple word “no” does not seem to register with assailants. It’s likewise abominable that it is still considered a fair question to ask victims of sexual abuse if somehow they did not invite or, worse, deserve the alleged attack by the way they had dressed or flirted with their attacker, or by the simple reason that the women allowed themselves to look too attractive to resist. I think it a comic tragedy that in some cultures, men are absolved of their personal responsibility for their own actions in failing to contain their lust for a woman whose only fault lay in being beautiful or who neglects to make herself invisible by failing to cover her hair, face, feet—heck, her whole body from head to toe! It’s as if the legal, social, and religious systems in which these transgressions against women are allowed to persist admit that their men are mere animals indeed who can’t be held responsible for their own lack of self control and morals, and therefore women have to carry the burden of serving as sacrificial lambs in the altar of men’s basic instincts in addition to their already oppressive responsibilities as men’s domestic and sexual slaves.
Is it any wonder then why women are still angry?
In the advent of the Me Too movement that fights for absolute zero intolerance against sexual harassment and sexual assault against women in the workplace or in any institutional setting whereby women become easy targets for sexual exploitation, there have been concerns expressed by both male and female talking heads that mere allegations of improper conduct now have the power to cause the abrupt end of the accused’s otherwise stellar career or reputation. True, an extrajudicial system of justice whereby the accused is treated as guilty before such guilt is judicially proven breeds its own demons. In reality, however, most women would not lodge a baseless complaint for something like this. Overwhelming research shows that most women do not report sexual attacks against them for fear of the humiliation and persecution they’d have to endure in going public with their complaint for sexual assault or harassment, especially within a legal justice system that is institutionally biased against them because it assumes they are the guilty ones until they could prove their attackers guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. Thus, most acts of sexual assault and harassment against women go unpunished. The Me Too movement is therefore an attempt by women to balance such grave imbalance of institutional power. Truth, after all, in both its glaring and subtle aspects, could be seen without requiring proof beyond reasonable doubt. Even the law recognizes it in the concept of preponderance of evidence. Here certainly is where the saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies, without saying that mere smoke should be enough to incarcerate the accused behind bars, for which a higher burden of proof applies. Women have become astute to the realization that there are other and more poetic ways of exacting justice within a patriarchal society that requires them to jump impossible hoops before they could be heard.
This is where women’s anger is useful, where anger itself becomes poetry when directed toward a worthy goal. Contrary to misconceptions propagated by misogynists about the “angry woman”, a true angry woman is not a mindless hysteric. She is awfully focused; her acts, well considered and pragmatic, so that altogether they become nothing less than a rational program of action. Hell indeed has no fury compared to a woman scorned, and hell will freeze first before the truly angry woman gives up.
As a poet, I offer the following fighting words—my own #MeToo statement—for my righteously angry sisters:
“If I speak for those who live in the shadows, the invisibles, the living dead among us, I must give up the wings of my intellect and embrace this animal of my body. I must speak in a voice they could hear, the poem no one wants to write because it talks plainly and wears its heart on the page, breathes not the rarefied air of ivory towers but dust of common life, soot from the rubbles of war, stench of landfills of corpses and the mountains of garbage where they feed. If I speak for them, I must live as they live—on the edges of life and death, plying the margins of survival, unblind to the horrors— eyes stinging from the fumes of insanity, like the woman who picks herself up after she’s raped, sheds the rent and bloodied garments of her defilement, and walks naked through the corridors of her existence: a ghost in search of its body….” (Excerpts from my poem-in-progress, “Advocate’s Prayer”)
(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith. com. “Like” her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. “Follow” her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)