Swallowing the Rape Whistle

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep I had a dream -- that sort of dream where you're not really completely asleep, but you're not driving the dream with your conscious mind anymore.  I dreamed I swallowed a whistle.  I jerked myself back to full consciousness, and tried falling asleep again, and it happened again.  I swallowed a whistle.  For a few minutes I couldn't shake my brain from bringing this whistle image to me again and again.

How strange as a dream it seemed, but I knew right away what it meant.  I knew, with the first dreaming moment, this wasn't just any whistle that was getting stuck in my craw.  This was a rape whistle.  And it wasn't just any rape whistle.  It was the one given to me when I went to seminary.  That was part of the introduction to Chicago, as I remember it, at Meadville Lombard: Welcome to Chicago.  You're in an area that may be more dangerous than you're used to.  Don't walk alone at night.  Here's a rape whistle.

Dreaming of swallowing the rape whistle was a dream with an instantly clear message to me: we have to stop swallowing the idea as a society that the answer to violence against women is to tell women to protect themselves.

It's a message I've heard for decades, and a message that I've helped share, really, and incorporated into the way I lived my life.  I remember my roommate in at the University of Michigan telling me one night when I was going to be walking somewhere at night, "Put on your bitch face, and carry your keys."  She meant carry your keys like a weapon.  (Funny thing, this is now at least sometimes called "Wolverine keys" but because of the X-Men character, not because we Michigan Wolverines did it.)
And I did.  I put on my most confident, I-know-where-I'm-going-and-I'm-tough-don't-mess-with-me bitch face, and I carried my keys like Wolverine. 

And then, years later, I carried that rape whistle with me everywhere I went for years until it rusted off my key chain.  Think about what that means: it's not uncommon for women in this country to carry with them, at all times when not at home, a symbol of violence against women and their own vulnerability to such. 

During my college years there were annual "Take Back the Night" rallies.  I attended some.  But this way of dealing with violence against women was a fringe thing, a feminist thing. So while we yelled "Take Back the Night," we still walked home in groups.

In college at the University of Michigan I was part of a team called SafeWalk.  We volunteered our time for a few hours a week every week, and went to the library where were dispatched, in teams of two, to go anywhere within a mile or so of campus and walk people, mostly women, from wherever they were to wherever they were going. ( It's interesting to see that at some point the University officially incorporated the service into the U, and now they provide rides up to 3 am, which was later than we could go, because the library closed at 2, so we didn't have our dispatching station after that hour.)  The idea back then was that no person at U of M would have to walk alone at night if they weren't comfortable doing so.  It was a good service.  I'm glad I did it.

But it wasn't the solution. 

I'm not saying to just walk alone at night, to just forgo the escort and the whistle and the Wolverine keys.  I'm saying that for decades we've been telling women this was the normal way of life -- the world is violent, protect yourself.  And what we need to be saying is: We need to change the world.  This is not okay.

It's so good and bad all at once to hear everyone talking about the rape culture, about #yesallwomen, about violence and misogyny.  Good, of course, because our society is talking about it.  Bad, because this is still the way it is.  Bad because this year my congregation had a former member killed in an act of domestic violence, and so it's timely for us to be hearing about this in the culture, but we're also perhaps still grieving and raw to some degree, and so it's a hard time to be talking about it.

But maybe, just maybe, the time has finally come where we can, as a society, stop swallowing the rape whistle and start to really take back the night.


Sara said…

Great post, thank you again for sharing your thoughts and writing here.
SpecK said…
Thank you for writing this post.

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