“There is probably nothing more menacing or dangerous than an individual who is devoid of compassion or empathy. When this individual is permitted by community apathy and bias to successfully cloak himself in the attire of one who claims allegiance to his or her Creator, it becomes the moral imperative of those who lay witness to the peril to step up before it is too late. Until such a time when domestic violence and sexual assault are eradicated for good, the perpetrators of these deplorable acts will continue to cause unspeakable harm as Evil’s welcomed ambassadors and Tyranny’s strongest ally.”
― Sahar Abdulaziz, The Broken Half
“Denial forces victims to retreat in lifeless existence, dying in the shadows of buried trauma and painful memories.”
― Trudy Metzger
As a child I spent many hours at my mother's bedside, working as hard as I could to make her laugh, or even just crack a smile. It was like a full time job, one that I was hopelessly devoted to trying to figure out. I would set up elaborate puppet shows, creating characters and skits mimicking my favorite late night shows like SCTV and Saturday Night Live. Some days were better than others, with a majority of my days leaving me feeling like a comic bombing on stage. We sat there, in the same room, both feeling misunderstood and alone, in a small room yet we were miles apart. As a child, I knew my mother was suffering, but I couldn’t understand why. It wasn’t until after a particularly bad public breakdown that my mother quietly connected with me. One day, in the dark, smoky surroundings of her room, she began to open up. She went on about the person she was, how strong she was, following every statement with “you’d have loved her” as if the “her” she spoke of was an old friend that had long passed away. Her stories built up to one point: downtown Chicago late one night. She had been a social worker and was working late. As she walked home, she was pulled into an alley way, where she was attacked and sexually assaulted. This was my first exposure to hearing the word “rape”. I quickly asked about what her husband at the time did, did he go on a vigilante spree searching for the assailant? No, he didn’t. He instead question her motives for being out that late, for how she was dressed, and for letting it happen. This became my first exposure to idea of “victim shaming”. I sat, silent, dumbfounded and numb. How could the person you love, your partner, blame you for this horrendous act?
That night in Chicago was also the beginning of my kind, beautiful mother’s battle with mental illness and addiction. This night in Chicago is where the long loneliness began for her, forever changing her life, along with the life of her only son. For years I dwelled in anger, anger for the man that committed this act, anger for the man who questioned her instead of supporting her, and anger for myself for even being a man. My mother struggled through the years, going in and out of hospitals after failed attempts at ending her pain. She felt that was her solution for her isolation, even though I reminded daily how loved she was. Rape is much more than just a single moment in time, or an isolated event. The pain from sexual assault can last a lifetime, and it can be intensified every time the victim is questioned with doubtful assumptions. Our culture now has an automated response that is condemning, painful, and void of all compassion. Has it always been this way, and more importantly, how do we go about changing society as a whole, eliminating the vile act of victim shaming?
When Ellie came to me with this idea to get tattooed, I was immediately interested because of how important her idea was to me, and had been for years. Her viewpoint and words on the subject of rape and victim shaming changed my life, and I think will do the same for you. I am so lucky to work with the people I do, and I am so grateful when they challenge my thoughts and open my mind to see the need for change. Without further ado, here’s Ellie Huffman, telling you here thoughts on the tattoo we made on her.
The art of getting tattooed is much more than just adding decoration to your body, for me there is a certain amount of healing that comes with it. Depending on what’s going on in my life I get tattooed for different reasons; to commemorate, express how I identify myself, and at times I need a healthy way to feel pain. This particular tattoo was to help me overcome an obstacle I have struggled with for most of my life and spread a message that I’m very passionate about. Being a victim of rape isn’t something you get over, especially when it has happened more than once in your life. Something that I was taught shouldn’t be talked about is now a part of my body for the purpose that I want to talk about it. Growing up I would hear: “she was asking for it” “she was drunk” “she’s probably just lying” “dress like a whore expect to get used like a whore” “she should’ve known better…” all terms used to blame a victim of rape for being attacked. It took me several years to realize that being raped wasn’t my fault due to this stigma. I started embracing the fact that I was a victim of rape and I shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty for what evil men have done to me without my permission. This started my passion on wanting to educate people on the idea that victim blaming is facilitating a pro rape culture in America by silencing the victims with guilt and ridicule.
Part of the tattoo experience is sitting with someone, for me this meant four six hour sessions, while they inflict pain on you and you attempt to be pleasant. The first session Sean surprised me by telling me some of his beliefs and ideals which strongly matched mine and gave me the ability to talk openly and honestly about what my tattoo really meant to me. Every appointment was filled with feminist conversation, discussion on anarchism, and talking about what new sci-fi show we were watching. I can honestly say I never expected to learn from or find a spiritual connection with my tattoo artist, I would’ve never known that I in fact needed Sean to do this tattoo. Most of my friends think my “feminist rants” are a party trick, I get a little femi-nazi when I drink. Sean was the first person that told me my rants were just the truth and sometimes that’s what needs to be heard. That statement changed my confidence in being a feminist more than most will ever understand, the idea that one person can hear your message made me believe that others will too. By the end of the process I had built a solid relationship with my artist, I think that is what most people hope for, and am honored to call him a friend.
I have yet to go out and not get asked about my tattoo. After the initial questions like “did it hurt”, “who did it”, “how much did that cost you” it usually ends with the question “why Medusa?” and this is the question I am dying to be asked. “Medusa was a beautiful priestess of Athena’s temple, devoted to a life of celibacy. Most legends say her beauty surpassed that of Helen of Troy’s and was bordering on the beauty of the Gods. One night Poseidon wandered into Athena’s temple and was so vexed by Medusa’s beauty he forced himself on her, taking her virginity and ultimately impregnating her. The Goddess Athena saw the act and instead of protecting her priestess she became enraged at Medusa for tempting the God Poseidon. Athena then stripped Medusa of everything that would make her desirable to men; her long golden locks turned into snakes, her porcelain skin into a greenish hue, and her gentle eyes into furious orbs. Athena cursed Medusa to live a life of isolation making it so that any man who dared to look at her would immediately turn to stone.” Usually people will make a comment about how the stories grim, or how unfair it sounds but more than not they will say “well why get THAT tattooed on you?”
Here’s the simple answer: Because victim blaming isn’t something that ended in ancient Greece, it is something that the average person does without even realizing it. We teach our daughters not to stay out past a certain time, don’t go out to bars alone, always carry pepper spray, use the buddy system, and don’t show too much skin or you will attract unwelcome attention. We raise them with the assumption that rape is inevitable, and if they are raped well we raised you to know better than to do things that would put you in that situation. It boggles my mind that there are so many things the average woman is ingrained with and does on a daily basis to “avoid” being victimized. Yet, we fail to realize maybe it is the way we are teaching our sons that rape is inevitable that is the issue. We teach them that women are guarding themselves, and the ones that aren’t must want to be raped. Our laws say rape is illegal, yet most rapes go unreported, only 3% of rapists ever see a day in jail, and the majority of the US allows for rapists to seek custody of children born from rape. So, with laws telling men they are 97% likely to get away with it and if a child is conceived you can get parental rights, it’s no wonder that rape has become an epidemic in this country.
I’m sure over time my passion for rape culture and victim blaming will change, hopefully it will elevate with more knowledge on underlying issues. The best thing about my Medusa tattoo is that the story resonates with so many feminist positions. Such as the virgin whore dichotomy, reproductive rights, the over sexualization of the woman’s body; I have only chosen to focus on one small part of the overall topic. However, in 10 years if being a feminist has taken a back seat in my life, I will be able to look back on a time where I was passionate about something and attempted to make a difference one conversation at a time.