Tuesday’s Teacher is Adrienne Rich via her poem “Rape,” originally published in a collection of poems titled Diving into the Wreck (1971-72).
There is a cop who is both prowler and father:
he comes from your block, grew up with your brothers,
had certain ideals.
You hardly know him in his boots and silver badge,
on horseback, one hand touching his gun.
You hardly know him but you have to get to know him:
he has access to machinery that could kill you.
He and his stallion clop like warlords among the trash,
his ideals stand in the air, a frozen cloud
from between his unsmiling lips.
And so, when the time comes, you have to turn to him,
the maniac’s sperm still greasing your thighs,
your mind whirling like crazy. You have to confess
to him, you are guilty of the crime
of having been forced.
And you see his blue eyes, the blue eyes of all the family
whom you used to know, grow narrow and glisten,
his hand types out the details
and he wants them all
but the hysteria in your voice pleases him best.
You hardly know him but now he thinks he knows you:
he has taken down your worst moment
on a machine and filed it in a file.
He knows, or thinks he knows, how much you imagined;
he knows, or thinks he knows, what you secretly wanted.
He has access to machinery that could get you put away;
and if, in the sickening light of the precinct,
and if, in the sickening light of the precinct,
your details sound like a portrait of your confessor,
will you swallow, will you deny them, will you lie your way home?
Although this was written in 1972 in order to create awareness of rape and the unconscious attitude people had towards rape victims, this can still be applied today, which is quite appalling. Rape is not about sex and lust; it is about power, about making another person submit to violent sexual atrocities out of fear. It is about shaming and debasing someone else and getting high from it. It is all about power and control that is seemingly absent in all other aspects of the rapist’s life. Rape is all around us — if not in real life, it dominates in graphic visuals that enter our homes, our private lives and memories, even if we have never been raped ourselves. It is in the movies we watch, on television shows, and in the newspapers. It is common place and runs rampant — it is overwhelmingly real and painful — and women are still the victims of rape on a daily basis — throughout the world. From what we see, raped women are put on trial — they asked for it because of the way they dressed, or they were promiscuous, perhaps flirtatious. The women have to prove they were raped — and they have to prove that they did not provoke the rape. The rapists in the meantime sit back in their chairs, smiling, because the burden of proof lies with the raped women. And that’s IF it ever goes to trial, since most rapes go unreported.
Which brings us to Rich’s poem — not only does she introduce us to a girl who has been raped, she also introduces a candid and fearsome portrait of the cop the young girl has to report the rape to. Rich’s poem begins with him — he is a good guy, a family man loved by his friends and family — but when he wears his uniform, his shiny badge, his gun — he is a man of power — he runs the “machine,” which here is in reference to the unconscious patriarchal attitudes we blindly adhere to and are stubborn to delete from our belief system. The raped girl in the poem doesn’t report the rape to the family man — she is forced to report it to the power-yielding man that upholds order, the machine of patriarchy, and an ego that comes with being a man and being a cop. Because the girl had to share the most denigrating moment of her existence, this cop now thinks he knows her — she wanted it, she asked for it, she provoked the rapist’s advances, and now wants to make it go away. There is a part in him that revels in the “hysteria” in her voice as she outlines the details of her rape — she deserved it somehow. The last stanza of the poem focuses on the fear that the girl experiences, not because she was raped, but because she could be found guilty of someone else’s crime. Because she is a woman in a patriarchal machine, the victim becomes the “confessor,” and her fear of the rapist is superseded by her fear of the machine, the cops, the courts that will undoubtedly place her on trial for being victimized.
We still live as members of the same well-oiled machine, and rapes occur every two minutes per day. The punishment for piracy of DVDs is more stringent than the punishment for sexual offenses in our society, and rape victims still have to prove their innocence of the crime committed against them. And I wonder in whose hands will changes be made?
Who’s responsible for changing laws and holding women to a higher value than DVDs and movie/music distribution?