I write as resistance. For a final from my Necropower class, I started reflecting on sexual violence, witnessing it, coping, and the healing process. I have spent most of my undergrad thinking about theories of the body that has been and continues to be subjected to variations of violence. A conception of gender and racial theorists’ social death and necropower. Here is a follow-up from my previous blog post, if you have thoughts, questions, or ideas, leave me comments!
It must have been 3 am, when I found myself sitting outside her parents’ door. The sudden realization sent a ripple of dread down my spine. Conversations like this did not belong on the family table. Sure enough when I saw the look of realization and shame on my father’s face when he found me curled up on the verandah outside the door, I knew there was never going to be a conversation. He could not deal with the shame of having his daughter or family associated with sexual violence in a society that shames the girl for choices (or none thereof) in her sex life. The society that normalized violence against women in the name of morality. The society that failed the nine-year-old me. It failed me when I still had to attend functions and see my predator. It normalized the silence.
Witnessing violence, healing, subjectivity, the self, social death… These are concepts that have existed at the back of my mind as I think about gendered and sexual violence that has been exerted on my body and those of women around me. However, even with the awareness I have chosen to remove myself from the pain. Somehow, for a very long time, I had “successfully” created a second persona to whom this violence happened; if I didn’t talk about it or I ran away from the pain across the world, I could easily imagine it wasn’t me. I thought it was successful until I finally got the courage to start dating, and I realized I had begun pattern in my choice of men. Men who were either my dad or my uncle, and I was unconsciously trying to find a spark of light in them, as if that would erase my past. So how does someone not live a life of a survivor or did I even ever stop being a victim?
Necropower gives me language to theorize, understand, and politicize my body, its experience. In the first class we discussed different modalities of violence and how its popular discursive formations can be reductive placing different modalities. The self is subjected to violence in several ways, but I would like to insist of resistance by the survivor. I now hold on to this hope that witnessing, as theorized by Veena Das, for me becomes a first step in the right direction. For Das, the self heals through curving out an identity after the trauma; occupying the space differently from the existing cultural normativity. As a reader, I am grateful for your role in witnessing witnessing. It is important that you recognize the agency and subjectivity of the survivor, not just their victimhood. In this reflection I situate my own experience as a rape survivor within a larger culture of violence against women through the case study I used for my presentation: the stripping of women in Nairobi, Kenya, for “indecent dressing,” and My Dress, My Choice, the movement that arose in protest. Protesters marched through the city carrying placards that read “My dress, my choice” donning miniskirts, or similar to what the victims wore. This is the form of resistance I talked about in my presentation: resistance through “taboo”. Protesters used their bodies as sites of resistance through that which is characterized as “deviant”. I mean, they already are walking/talking politics – bodies condemned to precarity and social death; so this form of resistance makes sense to me; for this reason I expose my shame to you, my reader. The system that allowed for such violence on my body never counted on my silence. Now as I witness in writing I begin to break the frame of the prison that has bound me to silence through shame.
In Witnessing Witnessing, Thomas Trezise writes, the breakage of a framework has to do… not only with the act of resistance to which the woman testifies but at least as much with the testifying itself as just an act” (15). I brought into the conversation Thomas Trezise’s Witnessing Witnessing, because I know that my immediate culture needs a shift in what Trezise calls “frames of reception” (Trezise, 9). What role does the witness to witnessing play, and how important is it? As a survivor I could engage I live the resistance, not just in the temporal sense, but also within a larger discursive formation of the survivor as victim, and much more so as I continue to inhabit a body subjected to social death. I would like to reiterate my writing as the reclamation of subjectivity. I share my shame not for the benefit of your knowledge, my reader, but as poisonous knowledge to a system that shames me for the acts of violence of my attacker.
More on this topic, join me next time!