To be heard, you must first listen.
It is said that they best way to help people is to first be willing to listen to them completely, to be open to the way they view their lives and to accept that their story is real to them. It follows that they only way to truly understand that person is to “walk a mile” in their shoes-to experience what they have experienced before you jump to conclusions or make judgment. I have listened.
I have listened to the cries of the oppressed, to the whimpers of those who were too afraid to speak up, to those who could not speak up. I have listened to the sound of naysayers and those who would use cyclical logic and bare minimum reasoning skills try to cover up and wash over the actions of others. I have listened to the tear filled sobs of those who came before me, of those who have told me their stories and I have held them in my heart the way a slave held their chains. I have listened.
I have listened to the numbers, the facts, the statistics. I have listened to the “reasons” why these things must be so, why it is always someone else’s fault, why there is nothing that can be done about it. I have listened to the voices who say that there was never a problem to begin with, that those who cry out in their injustice are “seeking attention”, are “asking for it”, are “just trying to get ahead by any means necessary”. I have listened to the campaigns and the speeches that neglect to mention individuals by anything other than their relationships to others, by the crime they reported, by everything except the name they were given at birth or chose for themselves.
I have listened to those same people rise up in exhilerated joy as a victim comes forth with the unnecessary “confession” that if they hadn’t been at a certain place and a certain time, wearing certain things, drinking certain things, talking to certain people, avoiding certain people, if they had made any choice other than the ones they did, perhaps it would not have happened to them. Perhaps it would not be their fault.
I have listened.
And I can listen no more.
Over the past month, with it being SAAM (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) I have pressed each and every fact I could latch onto into my brain with the feeble hope that perhaps it would come in handy, would save someone’s life. I have collected, hoarded stories from victims, from all walks of life, from survivors and politicians and naysayers and people who don’t even believe rape culture exists. I have written the story of my anger and hurt and rage so deeply that it has become tattooed into the person I am at my very core. And I have preached these same concerns to everyone I meet, making sure that other people know the risks, the concerns, the reality. And they have listened.
But I can no longer content myself in just saying
“Hello, my name is Michelle and here are the facts about how difficult it is to make the justice system believe that you are a victim.”
I am no longer content in just saying
“Did you know that one in five women will be assaulted?” or “Did you know that the governor of Ohio has stated that if a woman doesn’t want to be raped she shouldn’t drink alcohol?” Or “The CDC says that in order to protect babies that you have a risk of conceiving, women shouldn’t drink at all?”
I am no longer content running the same lines about concerns, statistics, sound bites of interviews from men who know nothing about what it is like to be a woman or a survivor.
My message is changing. It is a very great and noble cause to warn women about the dangers that they face each and every day. But it is not enough. Instead of just speaking, I have to start matching actions to words. Putting movement to my thoughts. I cannot do this alone, but I will be the one to start.
You see, in the end, all I wanted was to change the world. It’s what I have always wanted. And more than that, I want to change it for the better in a way that I know will be felt by so many. I want to have that iconic moment in Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven when literally everyone I’ve ever helped is standing there smiling. That is what I want. And that may be selfish, but I’m not just doing it for those reasons. Never.
I want a woman to feel that she doesn’t have to sell her body to make do. I want a woman to be able to walk safely in her neighborhood without being afraid. I want a woman to see that the justice system which exists to ensure that. Equality and integrity can thrive will not continue to let her down, as those in her life have. I want a woman who made her own way in life to be judged not on the fact that she was a woman, but on her actions as a decision maker. I want respect for all-regardless of biology or skin color or socioeconomic background. And I don’t think that’s impossible.
This summer, which is literally just 10 days away for me, will see a maturation of my message. I am hoping to get a research project/grant for the fall so that I can present my research at the Denman (our research exposé) in the spring. I am hoping to gather my wits and material and create a “touring” speech which can be taken to schools or to the classes of the freshmen on my campus. I am going to try to pack as much as I possibly can into this summer so that when I hit law school next (NEXT) fall, I will do so running. I cannot remain an armchair advocate. That has proven to not be enough. The next step is something I will be sharing with you all as I go. There will be changes along every step, and I expect some feedback (please) because it isn’t my intention to preach, it’s my intention to educate. And I know that there will be setbacks, but nothing will stop me. My heart is a flame and the only direction I can go is up.
I have decided to rename the idea (I told you there would be changes!) to Operation: L.Y.F.
This stands for Love Yourself First. I know that Supernatural is doing a campaign with the same moniker (LYF) but I have an acronym for Love, I’ve been working on it all night and while I do not wish to take away from the Supernatural one, I have ideas.
First, this really must be an operation. We must all take our duties, our capabilities and make ourselves into little squadrons and teams based on what we do best.
LYF is slang for “life”. And that’s how long these changes must be for. That’s what these changes are all about.
L(ove) is the theme of my children’s book (of which I have yet to hear anything). In it, I detail what body safety looks like, using the letters L O V and E to remember.
Y(ourself) because the focus is on empowering the individual to protect themselves and to be aware of their rights.
F(irst) because self-respect and self-love are the basis of a fulfilling life. You cannot truly live unless you love yourself as number one. Not in a “I’m more important than you” way but in a “I am me and I love myself with the most respect and devotion possible” way.
So, although this is final’s week (and I’m off to study!) I will be actively working behind the scenes in order to promote my ideas and the possibility of researching on campus in an academic setting. I’ll keep you updated as soon as I have tangible actions!