From 4 to 10 November, Peony Moon’s contents will deal with sexual violence
and rape and may be triggering to some people.
If you would like to show your solidarity please join us on Twitter
Against Rape is a protest, an international collective of poets and artists speaking out against sexual and interpersonal violence. The online campaign was initiated on 2 October 2013, co-ordinated within a month, and will run on Peony Moon for seven consecutive days, beginning on Monday, 4 November and ending on Sunday, 10 November 2013.
Each contribution – poem, artwork, photograph and message – from around the world has been received in the spirit of solidarity. This is not poetry and art for poetry and art’s sake, but a protest. The contributors are multigenerational, of all genders. Some are prize-winning poets and artists; others are students having their first poems published as part of this demonstration. We value each voice.
Against Rape features poems about date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape, incestuous rape, child sexual abuse and rape in war. This is poetry of witness that exposes rape myths and rape culture, which deals with the rape of children and women, and describes the impact of post-rape trauma. Men are rape survivors too; we wish we had received some poems that dealt with this. Sexual violence is not only committed by men against women and children.
Rape is a violation of basic human rights, a contravention of the rights to dignity and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It is an assault against the individual, the family, the communities and the societies in which we live. It is unacceptable that survivors are often still blamed for the atrocities committed upon them, and shamed into silence for fear of ostracism and retribution. In June 2008, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously for resolution 1820, describing rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security. What we realised as we read the submissions is that sexual violence makes every day into a battle zone.
Rape is not about sex: it uses sex as a tool of power, the same way we have seen some police forces use shields and batons against peaceful protestors. It is not an abuse of power but its pure expression. The collusion between the status quo and social systems of power explains why most rapes – those that occur within power structures such as the family, schools, prisons, the military, corporate entities – go unprosecuted. Rape is what power does.
Feminists coined the term “rape culture” to refer to the pervasive, coercive place of rape in the cultural imaginary, the ways in which it is used to threaten and discipline those who have relatively less power in a given relationship or society, particularly women of all ages, children, LGBT people, and people with disabilities. Referring to rape culture enables us to talk about the way in which sexual violence perpetrated upon bodies is produced within a framework of exploitative and violent language, images, and narratives that seek to control how we present and move our bodies.
We are all victims and survivors of rape culture: it affects how we interact with each other on a daily basis. It affects our languages as well as our bodies. As Andrea Smith says in her book Conquest, the language of colonisation is one of rape, with its references to “penetrating virgin territory”. Implicit in so much of our culture is this sexualised image of power, with its brutal aim of totally eradicating opposition, not only through physical damage, but through a multilayered silence.
Rape is not just the instance of violent assault, but its ramifications, which, in rape culture are bound up with shame and vilification. Rape culture’s endorsement of power means that any survivor who dares to be other than compliant, silent and erased risks being held responsible for her rape.
It is into this silence that Against Rape speaks. Ovid and William Shakespeare knew this: the classical myth of Philomela is presented sympathetically in their work, with admiration for the silenced survivor’s determination to bear witness in any way she can. Gill McEvoy takes up the figure of Philomela as part of our first day of poems, which gather around the idea of rape myths.
On our seventh day of poetry and art, we begin with Tamil poet Rajathi Salma’s ‘No Traces Left’, translated by Kalyan Roman, from the recently published Salma: Filming a Poet in her Village (OR Books, 2013), in which she writes: “What refuge remains for a woman/ whose traces are wiped clean?” Rape culture leaves its traces in all of us; Against Rape is our attempt to offer a refuge. The poems are often shocking, stunning, sickening – but there is hope in hearing all these voices raised together.
Michelle McGrane and Sophie Mayer
1 November 2013