I Have Not Said Enough
I work as a journalist in South Africa, a country known as the rape capital of the world. Every afternoon I switch on my computer, make sure my WiFi is working, and begin to trawl the web for news stories about criminal cases that have reached the courts. It is unusual if I do not find a story about a man in court for raping a small girl, a small boy, his partner, or many women. We are trained as journalists to be impartial, to strive for accuracy, conciseness and fairness, and so I do my best to make sure I get the facts straight as I summarise the cases for Legalbrief Today. I do not put a spin on what makes me so wildly, blindly angry.
Cultivating detachment is one way of coping with the volume of human trauma I am made aware of daily. Trying to understand it is another. I know that these abusers have often been abused themselves, that they are angry and powerless in a society damaged by apartheid, and that – facing hopeless futures – they make themselves feel stronger by victimizing the vulnerable. But rationalizing rape and sexual assault is not completely possible. There is the residue which remains like the ‘thorn, heavier than lead’ that Mary Oliver spoke of in ‘Morning Poem’.
I know that the personal is political, and it is not just as a concerned citizen that I am so bothered by the unravelling society I am witnessing. As a woman living in a patriarchy I too have felt devalued and wronged. As a daughter of a father who, while he never touched me, was too aware of me sexually, I know the terror that comes from feeling helpless. In a clumsy, unthought-out way I tried to write about that sense of exploitation and shock in my poetry collection, Conduit. In ‘Imago’, I write of the radio journalist I met ‘who speaks of being raped by a powerful man and how it felt when no one believed her’. In ‘Every Day’ I tell the story of a 14-year-old girl who was gang raped in Katlehong, trying to imagine how it might feel to have survived such violence. ‘Later, in dreams, maybe, they will come to her, /the faces of the men who feared her enough, /even after they fucked her, to imprint on her skin, /the small cigarette-shaped brands of those who feel powerless.’
Sarah Frost is 45 years old and mother to a 14-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl. She works as an online editor for Juta Legalbrief in Durban, South Africa, and lectures News Writing part time at the Durban University of Technology. Sarah has been writing poetry since she was 19 years old. She has completed an MA in English Literature and a module in Creative Writing. Her debut collection, Conduit, was published by Modjaji in 2011. Last year, she participated in Joanne Fedler’s Author Awakening course, in which she was inspired to take herself seriously as a writer.
Sometimes it seems that rape and sexual abuse in South Africa, and globally, has become intrinsic. It is not going to stop any time soon. As the mother of a five-year-old girl, the question I grapple with now is how do I teach Ella Lucy that her body is a gift she can choose to give anybody should she so want, when the world I’ve brought her into believes her body is a reason for her to be distrusted, diminished and denied? Living in a distorted society makes for distorted identities – no easy answers.
In the poem for which my book is named, ‘Conduit’, I write of a woman walking alone, ‘wondering, in the shadows /how she will ever know /what it is she needs to say’. Seven years on, I have not said enough. At times, I blame this incapacity to write on doing two jobs and raising two children, but it is not the logistics of my life that have silenced me. Perhaps it is a profound doubt that what I say about the everyday sexism I see all around me will change anything.
But it is precisely this despair I must work against.
It is possible to find a way forward. Joining this conversation is just one way that I can make my words in ‘From the sea’ become true:
‘You, poet, alone, immobile, at your keyboard,
The night sighing, a stranger at your back.
You wrestle with the anger of the invisible,
Lay it down.
Stop picking at the scabs
That make you mute. Look around.
Poets shoal within reach,
Breaching the surface.’
Joanne Fedler Media blog joins the global women’s campaign, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which starts from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) up to Human Rights Day (10th December). We would love you to share these stories on social media (using the hashtags: #OrangeUrWorld #OrangeTheWorld #HearMeToo #EndVAW), with your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends and sisters.
During this period, Joanne Fedler’s book, Things Without a Name (10th Anniversary Edition), can be downloaded for FREE.
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Things Without a Name
(10th Year Anniversary Edition)
by Joanne Fedler
At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.
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In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.