Jill Gruenberg: Guest opinion
December 13, 2011
I understand that anger is not always the most effective catalyst for social change. At times, the sheer force of anger can be both paralyzing to ourselves and polarizing to others.
I know this, and yet still, I am angry. I don’t know how to deny it. I am frustrated at the thought of having to justify it. I certainly don’t want to have to apologize for it. In fact, I think it’s about time more of us got angry based on the violence against women, girls and boys and the attitudes that condone this injustice that is occurring in our community, our nation and our world. As the popular bumper sticker says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
I am angry that until recently, a man who was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment could be considered a viable presidential candidate. Not only was Herman Cain not universally condemned for his actions, but for several weeks his campaign-contribution levels increased after the reports of sexual harassment surfaced.
This leaves me baffled.
Why was there commentary on whether these allegations and the significant focus on them was a biased attack by the media rather than on the simple truth that sexual violence against women is not a Democratic or a Republican issue but an issue of human rights? Why did he only fall out of favor when the story that he had been in an extramarital affair broke, as if we as a society deem a woman who had an affair with a married man as more credible than those who have been victims of sexual harassment?
I am angry that young boys can be sexually assaulted by the very people who they and their communities trust. I am angry that the perpetrators of this violence know that shame will likely keep their victims in the very silence that allows the crime to continue.
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How could Penn State coaches and staff have had knowledge that horrific violations against children occurred and slept at night thinking that they had fulfilled their obligations when the perpetrator still walked free? How could the students of Penn State protest the criminal-justice system and the firing of their beloved coach rather than protest the actions of a pedophile and those who allowed his crimes to continue? Where are our moral and ethical obligations as human beings?
And when the spotlight of Penn State helped other young boys feel strong enough to come forward with their own stories, how could the coach of Syracuse’s basketball team defend his assistant coach Bernie Fine and accuse the victims of lying for money? Why is it that we as a society revert to disbelieving victims of sexual assault or, even worse yet, blaming the victims for the crimes of their perpetrators? As if all the money, attention or notoriety from a sexual-assault claim could ever repay the shame, humiliation, injustice or personal attacks that rape victims endure.
I am angry that some women in this very community suffer all forms of abuse from their partners. I am angry that I have to explain to clients why the person who broke their nose, put their hands around their neck, threw them to the ground, threw dishes at them, wouldn’t let them leave a room, wouldn’t let them make a phone call, wouldn’t let them maintain their relationships with their family and friends, wouldn’t let them have access to the financial resources of the family, told them every day that they were worthless or called them horrible names in front of their own children gets away with a “slap on the wrist.”
Or even worse yet, I am angry that I have to educate women that they are in fact in an abusive relationship when these things occur and they still somehow believe that he’s really a nice guy and that it’s in some way their fault. I am angry that most of the clients I work with return to their abusive relationships – not because they want to but because they feel they have no other choice or that they can’t leave because they can’t afford to financially or that they don’t believe that they deserve something better or they no longer have any power or control in their own lives or that they care more about their abusive partners and their obligation to help them than their own happiness.
I am angry that too many of us are complacent to these injustices. I am angry that many of the boys and girls in our high schools don’t think that these issues pertain to them or are worthy of their attention or action. I am angry that justice is not always found within the criminal-justice system nor is justice blind.
I am angry that some people still believe this is not a problem right here in our own town and schools. I am angry that other women are most often the first ones to stand in judgment of victims of domestic and sexual violence. I am angry that more men are not engaged in speaking out about these issues as if somehow it doesn’t pertain to them. I am angry that somehow the word “feminist” has become a word to be ashamed of rather than a badge of honor. How could the suggestion that women throughout the world be allowed to share in equal rights and opportunities be seen as a reflection of a bias or a radical agenda?
When one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence, one in four women will be a victim of sexual assault and one in six boys has experienced abusive sexual experiences, how could we not be enraged?
I don’t know what to do with all this anger. I do know that voicing it is healthy. I know that there are many who share my sentiments. I know that the voice of many is always stronger than the voice of one. I know that speaking out can encourage others to break their own chains of silence.
I am calling on those of you who are compelled to use your anger positively. There are many ways to make your voice heard. Perhaps it is giving support to a friend experiencing violence. Perhaps it is speaking out the next time someone you know makes a sexist joke or comment. Perhaps it is in joining or financially supporting an organization such as RESPONSE. The important thing is that you do use your voice to effect positive change.
And when getting angry equates to taking a step toward enforcing the basic human rights of boys, girls and women, then it’s time we all got a little angry.