Take off your veil, reclaim your dignity

اقرأ هذه المقالة بالعربي

“Take off your veil, reclaim your dignity.” Thus ran the slogan for the announced million-person protest against the head-veil, called for by Sharif al-Shobashi; the slogan itself was taken from a Facebook-based campaign of the same name launched by Ismail Husni on the 107th anniversary of Qasim Amin’s death. The project as a whole is problematic on a number of levels: first and foremost, we can’t ignore the fact that we’re dealing here with men demanding that women fight for their freedom, even going so far as to dictate to them how exactly they should go about achieving this noble goal. But is the essential problem that this campaign has been conceived by men? Is the feminist cause different from that of other oppressed groups in that supporters of the cause hailing from privileged social backgrounds are not permitted to join in or stand in solidarity with the struggle? I don’t believe so; supporters can and indeed should stand in solidarity with the feminist struggle. Yet the topic at hand is less a case of solidarity than of orders from above—and if the absurdity of the situation isn’t quite clear enough, just imagine if a white American man had asked—nay, ordered—black people to rebel against slavery and take back their dignity. Such demands are insulting to the oppressed group, suggesting that the persecution they are subjected to is a result of their own reluctance to rebel against it.

Here, then, we have men who enjoy all the privileges which their gender and socioeconomic class have to offer them, ordering women, who are oppressed by dint of their gender (and in many cases their socioeconomic class too), to defy the world and to pay the price of that defiance—a price which the bright sparks who came up with this idea will never have to pay, and the existence of which has in fact never even occurred to them. For have those men ever considered what might happen to a woman or girl forced by her family, husband, or social pressure to wear the veil, if she then decided to remove it? Have they contemplated the possibility that this woman might be exposed to physical violence, mutilation or even murder? Do they think that the only thing preventing women from taking this step up until this moment has been their failure to recognise that the veil which is forced upon them is a limitation upon their freedom? Do they imagine that women have been waiting for this very intervention to become aware of that fact? Have they ever noticed that in reality, for many women the veil is a means of negotiating social conventions and circumventing the constraints placed upon women, without which they would have great difficulty going out, studying, working, and socialising? For a woman to rebel against the situation she is forced into might be a wonderful thing, but it carries consequences which that woman will bear alone, and therefore only she has the right to decide when and indeed if she is ready to pay that price. But for her to be urged to take that step by someone who has never and will never be exposed to the same dangers is patronising in the extreme.

Beyond this, what about those women who wear the veil by choice, and not because they are obliged to do so? Al-Shobashi has opined that “not every veiled woman is virtuous, and 99% of whores are veiled.” While this statement isn’t necessarily inaccurate, the veil has become tantamount to a uniform for Egyptian women, whether for the reasons mentioned in the foregoing paragraph or because the conviction that veiling is a religious duty, and so the veil isn’t particularly associated with virtue anyway; on the other hand, the women he calls “whores” are also Egyptian women, at the end of the day, and are hence subject to the same circumstances that lead Egyptian women to wear the veil. (And that’s leaving to one side my intense discomfort with his use of the ambiguous term “āhira”, also meaning adulteress or prostitute—which might be meant to refer to women who provide sexual services in exchange for money, in which case the term ‘sex workers’ is the one most commonly used in progressive societies which believe in a woman’s rights to her own body, including her right to use it as a source of income; it might instead be meant as a moralistic slur against women who practise their right to sexual freedom. Either way, it contradicts his claim to being a defender of the freedom of women). By the same logic, not every unveiled woman is liberated, nor is she necessarily untouched by oppression or in proud control of her dignity. The slogan “Take off your veil, reclaim your dignity,” then, is not only insulting to every woman who wears the veil by choice, by implying that she has idiotically thrown away her own dignity, but also presumes that such women are so oblivious that they don’t even realise in the first place that the veil might constitute a negation of their dignity, and therefore need men like al-Shobashi and Ismail Husni to guide them to truths which their little minds are too weak to grasp.

Their posture isn’t just an exercise in patriarchal power, it’s also a case of white power, for this discourse is exactly that of white feminism, which turns an arrogant orientalising gaze on Arab women and considers every veiled woman to be, by definition, a victim in need of saving—even from herself, if needs be. Take Femen as an example (leaving aside my views on their use of nudity and the objectified body): their approach to the issues facing Arab women, stemming from their identity as white European women (sure, even if they have attempted to inoculate themselves from this criticism by recruiting a couple of Arabs!), is to assume, uninvited, the burden of ‘saving’ Arab and Muslim women, when these women do not necessarily need saving or may not share the definition of oppression that Femen so blindly insist on liberating them from.

On another note, while al-Shobashi’s campaign (and that of Ismail Husni before him) might appear on the surface to be an appeal for women’s liberation and the ‘reclamation’ of their ‘dignity,’ a closer reading of al-Shobashi’s call for women to renounce the veil reveals that he wishes them to do so in order to express “their rejection of political Islam” (which these days is a synonym for terrorism). Here we encounter yet another set of problems, for what the matter boils down to, yet again, is the appropriation of feminist causes for political gain. When I say this I don’t mean to imply that feminism is separable from politics; rather I refer to the long history of exploitation by political parties, movements, and personalities, from far left to extreme right, of issues affecting women in order to achieve their own goals. Essentially, no-one is interested in women’s rights unless they stand to win immediate political capital, and perhaps the most obvious example of this is the enormous enthusiasm of political parties for the enfranchisement of women, as contrasted with their total indifference to the other issues affecting women, which they see as ‘secondary’.

What is more, while al-Shobashi’s association of the veil with ‘political Islam’ and his plea that women express their rejection thereof is a cynical exploitation of women for political gain, it’s also inaccurate, for while the link between veiling and the encroachment of Wahhabism and political Islam might have been reasonable to make in the early eighties and even into the nineties, to do so today ignores a social reality which has solidified over the last three decades: in most cases, veiling is a social custom which bears no relation to politics, and sometimes even no relation to religion either. Moreover, to ask veiled women to reject political Islam implies that any woman who does not do so is necessarily supportive of it, which is frankly illogical given—to name just one example—the fact that millions of veiled women took to the streets to participate in the 30th June demonstrations which called for the downfall of the Brotherhood government.

Since the call for the anti-veil protest is, to put it kindly, frivolous (the same goes for the Facebook campaign), so most of the reactions it has provoked have been equally frivolous, simplistic and misconceived. All have been confined to two motifs: either the idea that the veil is in fact an expression of personal freedom (a view which ignores the reality of societal and familial pressure which obliges many women to wear the veil), or the assertion that veiling is an Islamic obligation and that anyone calling for the renunciation thereof is guilty of apostasy. These indicate yet another logical flaw in the appeals for women to remove the veil: such appeals substantiate themselves by claiming that the veil is not a religious obligation, and providing fatwas and statements from religious leaders to that effect; this claim is naturally met with claims from opponents, armed with yet more fatwas and statements, that the veil is an obligation. And thus we find ourselves in a tedious cycle of interminable fatwa-swapping.

Now, there is a clear difference between a serious appeal for individual freedom and an appeal which relies on the interpretation of religious commandments and is therefore willing to enter into this kind of negotiation. So what if veiling is enjoined upon women by their religion? Does that nullify their personal choice in the matter, religion being a divine commandment that women must accept? Does the fate of our bodies hang on a fatwa from the Sheikh al-Azhar or the state Mufti setting out the limits of the freedom we are permitted to demand? And anyway, doesn’t the second article of the constitution state that Egypt is an Islamic country whose laws are rooted in the shari’a?

The very meaning of freedom is that even if veiling is a religious obligation, I have the right to choose whether to abide by it or ignore it, and even to renounce religion altogether if I wish. Does al-Shobashi, or anyone else for that matter, ever dare to call for that? Rather than asking women to remove their veils to symbolically prove their dignity and freedom, might it not be more appropriate to demand that the state, which supervises the routine violation of that freedom, take its damned hands off us, thereby restoring to women their freedom of choice and respecting their right to defend themselves? It is absurd and superficial to demand women renounce the veil as if this scrap of fabric were the only obstacle preventing the elimination of political Islam and Egypt’s transformation into a ‘civilised’ secular state when the constitution affirms that the state religion is Islam, atheism is punishable by imprisonment, and every citizen’s ID card proclaims its owner’s religion. It is even more hypocritical for al-Shobashi himself to place himself in this semblance of confrontation with the forces of repression, when he is in fact fully reconciled with those forces and their unpleasant practices, so as to score political and media points. Does he really think that hectoring women, and holding them responsible for the faults of a regressive state, makes him look like a freedom fighter for the secularist cause? Well, appearances are everything.

By a sensible labwa

لست ناجية

لست ناجية من حادثة اغتصاب وليس لدي رغبة في أن أكون كذلك

أول مرة قابلتني كلمة “ناجية” كنت فيها في السابعة عشر من عمري. حدث ذلك خلال بحثي في الإنترنت عن معلومات عن العنف الجنسي ضد الأطفال، إذ كنت أحاول أن أفهم تجربتي الخاصة. وعثرت على موقع يحتوي على معلومات ومصادر ومنتدى للناجيات ليشاركن بتجاربهن الشخصية. كان هناك شرح مطول عن سبب استخدام كلمة ناجية بدلا من كلمة ضحية. وفقاً لذلك الشرح، فإن كلمة ضحية تجردني من القوة وتساهم في بقائي حبيسة تجربتي في حين أن كلمة ناجية تغيرالطريقة التي أنظر فيها  لنفسي وتغير طريقة تفكير الآخرين بي. فالناجيات تتعافين على عكس الضحايا. والناجيات لا يعشن في عار على عكس الضحايا اللاتي يتم سحقهن تحت ثقل العار الذي تحملنه. في ذلك اليوم، قررت أن أكون ناجية وشاركت بقصتي على منتدى الناجيات.

كونت نموذجاً للناجية في مخيلتي. الناجية  قوية. وهذا يعني، أنه كوني ناجية، لا عنف أوانتهاك يكسرني. أتقبل جروحي وأداويها ولا أضعف. أن أكون ناجية يعني أنني رويت ما حدث مراراً وتكراراً وشاركت تجربتي وترددت على أخصائيين نفسيين عدة. ما حدث لي كان حِمْلِي أنا وحدي، لم يكن حِمْل المجتمع أو حِمْل عائلتي، كان حِمْلِي أنا لوحدي فقط. ولأنني ناجية فكان من المفترض أن أمسك بزمام أمور مستقبلي وأن أتعافى. ولأنني ناجية فإن علي مواصلة الحياة وتخطي التجارب التي لا حول ولا قوة لي فيها بكل باتزان ولباقة.

لتجربتي مع كلمة ضحية أعماق مختلفة. إن رد فعل كياني تجاه هذه الكلمة يكمن في مستويين وتعمقي في هذين المستويين يحدث لكل واحد منهما على حدى. المستوى الأول هو  رد فعلي على كلمة ضحية بذاتها حيث أنها أصبحت جزء من تجربتي الشخصية؛ ضحية مقابل كلمة ناجية في سياق العنف الجنسي. التجربة الأخرى مع كلمة ضحية تكمن في التجربة التي مررت بها كعضو فعال في المجتمع العالمي للنسويات غير البيض. هذا يعني أنني أفكر في نفسي وفي (العنف الذي يتعرض له) جسدي بشكل منفصل وانفرادي من ناحية، ومن ناحية أخرى فإني أفكر في نفسي كجزء من مجموعة كبيرة من النساء اللواتي تشاركنني نفس التجربة. وفي كلتا الحالتين فإن كلمة ضحية، سواء نطقت أو استخدمت بطريقة ضمنية، فهي كلمة منحطة. وسوف أفسر ما أعنيه بالتفصيل.

حين تستخدم كلمة ضحية للإشارة إلى شخصي كفرد مستقل فهذا يشير إلى أنني لم أتجاوز التجربة التي مررت بها وأنني لم أتخلص من الألم الذي سببته لي تلك التجربة وأنني سمحت لهم بتدميري. ولو توقفت وجفلت للحظة فإنني قد أفقد السيطرة، وسأسمح لتلك التجارب وبما نتج عنها بأن تتحكم بي كشخص. وسأسمح لهم أن يسلبوا مني أكثر مما فعلوا. فكوني ضحية يعني أنني شخص ضعيف. وأنا لست أريد أن أكون شخصاً ضعيفاً لمجرد أنني شعرت بالضعف مرات عديدة، ولأنني شعرت بالضعف وبعدم القدرة على حماية جسدي أو حتى على محاولة حمايته. ولذا رفضت كلمة ضحية.

إن استخدام كلمة ضحية في الأوساط السياسية يثير استياء العديد من النسويات الكويير غير البيض منهن واللواتي لا تتمتعن بمميزات طبقية واجتماعية، أي غير البيض وغير المرفهين الكويير.  وعندما تحاول النسويات البيض الليبراليات أن تساندن أو تتبنين القضايا الخاصة بنا وتقمن برواية قصصنا بشكل يتم تصويرنا فيها بأننا ضعيفات ومستغلات وفي حاجة إلى من ينقذنا، فإن جسدي ينتفض من الغضب وأجد نفسي أصرخ في النصوص التي أقرؤها التي تحمل تلك الأفكار ” كسم كدة! لست في حاجة إلى شخصية بيضاء مرفهة لتقول لي أنني ضحية، وما سيترتب علي ذلك من تدخلات غير مرحب بها تسلب مني قوتي كما تفعل الذكورية تماما”. فقبول كلمة ضحية بهذا المعنى تعني أنني نسوية غير كفؤة.

بعد مرور أربعة أعوام على اغتصابي، كنت لا أزال رافضة أن أطلق على نفسي كلمة ضحية ولمدة أربعة عشر عاماً بعدها رفضت أن أسمي ما حدث حالة اغتصاب. فالاغتصاب يعني – من جديد- أن إرادتي مسلوبة، أنني كنت ضحية، وأنني كنت ضعيفة، ولذلك وبعد مرور أربعة عشر عاماً قضيتها وأنا أعيش دورالناجية قلما كنت أفكر في تلك الليلة، وأردد لنفسي أنني لم افقد السيطرة بل أني تخليت عنها طوعا، وأني أخترت أن أكون في المكان الذي أنا فيه وأنني لم أقاوم بما فيه الكفاية. كنت محاطة في ذلك الوقت بأصدقاء لا يتعاطفون معي ويرددون لي ما كان يخطر ببالي مرارا وقتها  – “ما كان سبب وجودك في ذلك المكان؟” – ولذا لم يكن لدي استعداد أن أكون ضحية من جديد. وبعد التجربة التي مررت بها كنت أريد تخطي ما حدث وألا أنظر إلى الخلف لأن الناجيات تتصرفن كذلك: أن يمحين آثار وندبات الماضي. لقد نجحت في التغلب على تلك التجربة ولمدة عشر سنوات من العلاج مع عشرة أطباء نفسيين مختلفين لم أذكر كلمة اغتصاب مرة واحدة ولم اضطر أبدا للحديث عن ذلك.

جلست مؤخراً مع صديقة جديدة عزيزة علي وكنت أشتكي من إصابة في ظهري وقد عدت أشعر بها في الأيام السابقة وكيف أنه علي توخي الحذر. سألتني عن كيفية حدوث تلك الإصابة. أجبتها بما أنا معتادة أن أقوله ردا على ذلك السؤال: “وقعت”. عادة ما يتوقف الناس عن السؤال بعد هذه الإجابة ولكنها لم تفعل ذلك وسألت: “وقعتي إزاي؟” انتابني شعور غريب وأخذت نفساً عميقاً وحاولت التهرب من سؤالها. كانت مستلقية وهي تنظر في اتجاه آخر ولكنها استدارت ونظرت إلى. قلت: “وقعت على السلم”. بدى عليها الضجر مني وردت: “أيوه، إزاي؟” قلت لها أن رجلا دفعني على سلم وأن الموقف كان معقد وكان ردها على هذا: “قصدك إيه، هو كان بيحاول يغتصبك؟”

لم أستطع سماع كلمة اغتصاب. شعرت بموجات من الهلع والارتباك وفُقْدان السيطرة والضعف. صرخت في وجهها: “لا ما كانش اغتصاب. وأنا زهقت من الناس اللي بتحاول تقولي إيه اللي حصل. أنا ما أُغْتَصَبْتِش وأنا مش ضحية!” في هذا اليوم تحدثنا لساعات. طرحت سؤالاً شغلني بعدها كثيرا: “ما هو سبب أن النساء عليها قول ما هو أكثر من كلمة لا؟ ولماذا نحمل مسئولية مقاومة محاولات التقرب الغير مرغوب فيها؟”

الحقيقة هي أنني ضحية، وقوتي أُخِذت مني، وما حدث لجسدي لم يكن باختياري. أما التأثير الجسدي والنفسي الناتجان عن ذلك فهما ملكي أنا وحدي لأعاني منهما وهما ملكي أنا وحدي لأتعافى منهما، أو على الأقل لأتقبل ذلك وأتعايش معه. بغض النظر عما إذا كنت أعطي نفسي صفة ضحية أو ناجية، فلي الحق أن أشعر بالتعب وألا أرغب في الاستمرار. كما لي الحق في أن تكون لي الرغبة في أن يتوقف كل شيء في مواجهة ماحدث لي. من حقي ان أشعر بالخوف وأن أمر بنوبات هلع و من حقي أن اغضب وأن أنهار، وألا اتحمل مسئولية أمور لم أخترها. هذه التجارب تكسر إحساسك بأنك من تتحكم بجسدك، إن هذا ما يجري بين الرجال والنساء يحدث لأننا نساء وهذه التجارب التي تمر بها أجسادنا الغرض منها تحديد وحد مساحتنا والأفعال التي قد نقوم بها. إني أعترف بأنني مكسورة وأنني أريد أن أكون غاضبة ولست في انتظار الرجال المتظاهرين بانتمائهم للنسوية، أن يقولوا لي أن أهدأ.

قد تظنون أنني مرتبكة وأن كلامي غير متناسق، وأنتم على حق، لأن هذه هي الطبيعة المعقدة لسردية الناجية مقابل الضحية كما عشتها. ما أريد قوله هنا – عن طريق إثنوغرافيا شخصية غير متناسقة عن الاغتصاب – هو أن قضية اختيار كلمة لوصف تجربة أحد أو تجربة شخصية مع العنف الجنسي ليست مهمة ولكن ما يهم هنا هو إدراك حدود تأثير اللغة والخطاب على الطريقة التي تتشكل فيها تجارب الأشخاص. فالتركيز الزائد على قوة تلك الكلمات وقدرتها على إعادة تشكيل الواقع يحد من القدرة على فهم معناها الحقيقي، فيما يخص أجسادنا، في عالم تمنع وتضيِّق وتتعدى العادات والمؤسسات التي تدير شئون حياتنا على استقلالية وجودنا لأننا نساء. حُصِرْنَا في ركن وظهورنا إلى الحائط وهذا يعني أن فهمنا لما يهددنا ودرجة تجريدنا من الإنسانية بالإضافة إلى قدرتنا على الدفاع عن المساحات الخاصة بنا واستقلاليتنا هي بدورها محدودة. فقد أصبحت إختياراتنا وتعبيراتنا وأجسادنا متروكة لآخرين (عادة ما يكون لديهم قضيب) يملون علينا ما يجب فعله بغض النظر إن كان في البيت أو في المساحات العامة أو في المؤسسات. ينكر بعض الناس ماهية مثل هذه التجربة، ويقول آخرون أن هذا هو مكاننا، ظهورنا إلى الحائط، وأن تلك هي المساحة الوحيدة المتاحة لنا لاستكشاف خياراتنا.

عند استخدام كلمات مثل ناجية أو ضحية أوعنف جنسي تكون النتيجة عادة استغلال هذه الكلمات لتشكيل سياسة أو تشريع أو فعل. ولكن تجاربنا الشخصية لا يمكن حصرها في اللغة وممارسات القانون والسياسات فحسب والمصطلحات المستخدمة على مستوى السياسات والمؤسسات لا يمكن أن تكون الهوية الوحيدة التي نتبناها بعد المرور بمثل هذه التجارب. إن التأكيد على وجود اختيار – ضحية أو ناجية – يأخد حيزا من الخطاب، ويخفي بذلك الواقع وهو أن المقاومة اليومية ليست ترفاً ولكنها ترادف الدفاع عن النفس. دعونا لا ننسى أننا كنساء نقف بظهورنا إلى الحائط حقاً، بغض النظر عما إذا كنا نقف مع عائلاتنا أو حلفائنا أو الدولة،  وأن مجرد وجودنا يقع تحت تهديد دائم.

I am not a Rape “Survivor”: Nor Do I want to Be

The first time I came across the word survivor in the context of sexual violence, I was 17, browsing the internet for information on child sexual abuse. I was trying to understand my own experiences. I came across a website with information, resources and a Survivors’ Forum to share personal stories. There was a lengthy explanation of why the word survivor was used instead of victim. It explained how the word victim was disempowering, and how the word victim would forever embed me in my past experiences, whereas the word survivor would change how I viewed myself and would also alter how people thought of me.  Survivors would heal, victims would not. Survivors would not live in shame, victims would be crushed under the weight of their shame. I decided that day that I was a survivor and I shared my story on the Survivors’ Forum.

I modeled what a survivor looked like in my imagination. A survivor was strong. Being a survivor meant that the violence and violation did not break me. It meant that I had accepted and nursed my wounds, but that they did not debilitate me. It meant that I talked and I talked and I shared my experiences and that I sought help from numerous therapists. What happened to me was my burden alone to carry; it wasn’t society’s or my family’s, it was mine alone. And because I was a survivor I would take ownership of my future and heal. As a survivor, I would carry myself with elegant poise and grace as I moved on and away from experiences I had had no control over.

My experience of the word victim is much more multi-tiered. My being reacts to that word on two levels and I believe both warrant that I delve into them separately. The first was responding to the word ‘victim’ as it became part of my personal individual experience; victim as we think of it in relationship to survivor in the context of sexual violence. The other experience of the word ‘victim’ was more of my experience as part of an actor in the global collective of non-white feminists. So I would think of myself as me and (the violence to) my body on the one hand, and on the other hand I would think of me as part of a larger group of women who shared a similar experience. In both cases the word ‘victim,’ whether uttered or implied, was a filthy word. I will explain each in more detail.

Using the word ‘victim’ in relation to myself as an individual meant that I hadn’t survived my experience, that I had not emerged from the pain and that I had let them destroy me. I thought that if I stopped for a minute, that I would lose control;, I would let these past experiences dictate who I was and what happened to me. I would let them take something more away from me. Being a victim meant that I was a weak person, and I didn’t want to be a weak person because I had felt so powerless so many times, I felt weak and unable to even attempt to guard my body. I couldn’t accept the word victim.

The word ‘victim’ as used in the wider political arena is something that most non-white or non-privileged queer feminists will react very strongly against. When liberal white feminists champion or appropriate our causes, when they tell our stories in a way that paints us as weak, exploited or needing to be saved, my body seethes with anger and I tend to scream at texts, “Fuck this, I don’t need some white privileged bitch telling me what a victim I am, which will possibly result in uninvited interventions that are just as disempowering as patriarchy itself”. So accepting the word victim in this sense would mean I was a bad feminist.

Four years later, when I was raped, I still refused to call myself a victim, and for another 14 years I refused to call it rape. Rape meant that once again, I was rendered powerless, that I was a victim and I was weak, and so after the assault I spent 14 years surviving, rarely thinking of that evening, telling myself that control was not taken away from me, but that I had ceded control willingly, that I had chosen to be there, that I had not fought back hard enough. I had a unsympathetic support system at the time that echoed back at me what I was thinking—“Why were you there?”—and so I wasn’t ready to be a victim again. After the experience that I had gone through I wanted to move on and not look back, because that is what survivors did: they erased the traces and the scars of their past. I survived so well that not once, over the course of at least ten therapists and ten years of therapy, did I ever have to call it rape, or even really have to talk about it.

Recently, I sat with a new and dear friend complaining about my back injury, how it had flared up the last few days and how I had to be careful with it. She asked me how I had hurt my back. I responded the way I’ve always responded to that question: “I fell,” I said. Most people let it go, but she didn’t; “How did you fall?,” she asked. I felt awkward and took a deep breath and made an attempt to evade her question. She was lying with her face away from me and she turned over to look at me. “I fell on a staircase,” I said. She was getting irritated with me and hurriedly responded, “Yes, how?” I said that this guy had pushed me down on a staircase and that it was a complicated situation, to which she said, “What do you mean, he was trying to rape you?”

I couldn’t hear the word rape. I felt waves of panic, confusion, loss of control and weakness take over. “No it wasn’t rape,” I screamed at her, “and I am so sick of fucking people trying to tell me what my experience was, I wasn’t raped and I am not a victim!”. We talked for hours that day, and one question that she raised that really stood out to me: “Why are we expected, as women, to have say something more than just no? Why are we given the responsibility to have to fight off unwanted advances?”

The truth is, I am a victim, I was made to be powerless and what happened to my body I didn’t choose, and the physical and psychological effects are mine alone to suffer and mine alone to heal or at least accept and live with. Regardless of whether I called myself a victim or a survivor. I have the right to be tired and not able to go on. I have the right to want everything to come to a halt and stand against what happened to me. I have the right to be scared and have panic attacks, I have the right to my rage, I have the right to fall apart because these things really break you, and I have the right to not want to take responsibility for things I did not choose. These experiences break your sense of control over your body, these experiences between men and women happen because we are women and these experiences to our bodies are meant to define and limit our space of possible actions. I want to admit that I am broken and I want to be angry and I am not waiting for pseudo-feminist men to tell me that I need to calm down.

You might be thinking that what I am saying seems confused and disjointed, and you are right, it is, because that is the complex nature of the survivor versus victim narrative as I have come to experience it.   The point I am making here, through a disjointed personal ethnography of rape, is not about what word to choose to describe someone’s, or one’s own, experiences of sexual violence, but to realize that there is a limitation to the effects of language and discourse on the transformation of a lived experience. The over-emphasis on the power of these words to reshape reality in itself becomes a limitation of truly understanding what it means, at the level of our bodies, to exist in a world where the practices and institutions that govern our lives prohibit, restrict and violate the autonomy of our beings, because we are women. We are cornered with our backs to the wall, which means that our understanding of the threat against us and the degree of our dehumanization, as well as our ability to defend our spaces and autonomy is also restricted. The agency over our choices, expressions and bodies, is dictated by someone else, usually with a penis, whether at home or in public spaces or institutions. Some people deny the reality of what that experience is like; others say that that is where we belong, with our backs to the wall, and that that is how much room we are permitted to navigate our choices.

When we describe someone as a survivor or a victim of sexual violence, it is often instrumentalized to shape policy, legislation and action. But our personal experiences cannot be captured only through the languages and practices of laws and policies, and the terminology used at the policy and institutional level cannot be the only identity we adopt following these experiences we undergo.  An over-emphasis on choice of words—victim or survivor—takes up room in our discourse, concealing the fact that daily resistance is not a luxury, but is synonymous with self-defense. Let us not forget that as women our backs are REALLY to the wall, whether we are standing with our families, allies or the state, and that our very existence is constantly under threat.