Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Intentions aren't everything.

There's an article on essence.com, which I read via Feministe, concerning the reporter Mac McClelland's use of a story of another woman's traumatic rape in a personal essay she wrote about how her job affects her sex life. Go read the Essence article, and the comments too, where McClelland, Mother Jones (who McClelland works for), and the rape victim's lawyer respond.

I'm sure McClelland had good intentions - both in bringing the story of the situation in Haiti to people's attention in her Mother Jones reporting and in addressing the complex affects of violence on sexuality in her personal essay (which I won't link to here but it's easy to find...as a warning, though, I personally found it very difficult to read and upsetting). But her focus on her intentions and her own trauma seem to have blinded her to the rape victim's feelings and wishes, which is not OK.

I was reminded of a situation a few years ago, when Eve Ensler's V-day organization had a huge event in New Orleans. My playback troupe was performing at this event and leading story circles, which is a process in which people share stories from their lives (it is something we often use in conjunction with our Playback work, since Playback is a theatrical representation of personal stories). We were working in a beautiful red tent designed by an artist from New York, which created a nice sense of intimacy and was a women-only space...however, it proved to be too small to hold the many women who wanted to participate in our workshops.

Anyway, I found myself in the unfortunate position of bouncer for much of the event, which really sucked because I hated turning away women who wanted to participate. And sometimes people got really confrontational with me, which I felt was unfair because I had no real power to change the situation or go build a bigger tent or anything like that.

Many of the stories that the women were sharing had to do with sexual assault and violence, and we did our best to keep the space safe for these women. Part of the story circle process is an agreement not to share stories you hear in the circle with the outside world.

Well, at one point a woman with a video camera showed up, and informed me that she was going to film one of our workshops. At that time, the leader of our Playback group was not present and I had not been informed that this was going to happen. I told her this, and she assured me that it was fine, because Eve Ensler had asked her to document everything going on at the V-day event. I told her I still was not comfortable with her taping the story circle workshop due to the need for privacy and a safe environment. She kept repeating, "but it's for Eve!" and telling me what a swell person Eve Ensler is (which I'm sure she is, but that wasn't the point). I eventually got so frustrated and angry because I felt I was being patronized and dismissed that I started to cry. Gah! I hate that I cry when I'm angry. Especially because her reaction was to become even more patronizing and to hug me, repeatedly, against my will.

Eventually, thankfully, the leader of our group returned and spoke with this woman, and they decided to have one story circle comprised of people who had given prior consent to being filmed, with the understanding that no one else was to be filmed.

The McClelland mess reminded me of that experience because I think both are examples of what can happen when two very important issues - the need to share with the world at large the horrible violence that too many women endure and the need to protect those women and honor their feelings and their ownership of their experiences - clash. My opinion is that we need to be vigilant to protect the individual women's needs first, or we risk victimizing them all over again.

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