Other Dimensions


I greatly admired the survivors’ attention and commitment to the work of healing. Their energy and ability to make reality clear and examinable is marvelous. I was especially in awe of their courage. Breaking the silence is so difficult. It is hard in all cases of abuse. For incest victims, many other dimensions contribute to the obstacles.

I also understood that I had to do some work on the great difficulty I have in acknowledging the inner beauty in perpetrators (even perpetrators that are perpetuating “only” racial, economic or spiritual oppression). Still, I believe in the reality that perpetrators are acting out of patterns of behavior based upon their own hurt, trauma and shame or an uncontrollable fixation on power and control.  I know that their very destructive behavior patterns, hurts themselves as well and others, and I know in my head and heart that the divine exists in them. However, it is one thing for me to believe something is true and another to totally integrate that belief into my emotional response.

Myth serves important purposes for cultures. Many of western civilization’s myths involve violence and the domination of women. We now must create a new mythology. One that will be the foundation of our new earth. We should discard the old rapist and incestuous gods. Reject images of annihilation, castration, and bondage. Beyond the myths, let’s refuse to tell positive stories of today’s real-life perpetrators; to glorify their victories, gratify their egos, or promote their achievements. Some perpetrators will say that they refuse to talk about their behavior because they believe that opening old wounds will inflict more damage. But also, often, they are afraid that if they work on the hurtful behavior, they will lose the dominant position. They are especially afraid that they will be forced to look at their hurtful behaviors and might be expected to change.

What is necessary is that we honor and participate in the process of respecting and hearing each other. It is necessary that we work from a place of humility, knowing that our truth is not The Truth. It is important that we know in our minds and hearts that the authority and power rest solely with the individuals, not with an external hierarchy. Our behavior must always be consistent with this belief. Without this understanding and action, we will simply replace one oppressive system with another. A person, even partially disempowered, will not have the strength to overcome internal and external oppression. She/he will be incapable of using her/his full potential, and therefore they will be less able to build a movement that truly impacts society.

I am also having a great deal of difficulty in keeping the fury, the outrage at violence against women, that is building inside of me in perspective. I am reminded of a quote “to hold up the ideal; never to forget or allow others to forget it as a goal and at the same time to initiate small, imperfect steps…”

One of the things that I have to constantly remind myself of is that while for every survivor, there exists at least one perpetrator, and for the most part, we can never know for sure who they are, 1 out of 2 men DO NOT perpetrate any violence against women. There do exist loving, nurturing, caring men who are outraged at the violence women experience.

There is a shirt on our line that says, “surround yourself with love.” I believe that this is the key to all success. It is the most powerful force in the universe. If our work is rooted unconditionally in love, if the sustenance for all our effort comes from this spring, we will not fail. In difficulties, we can reach back to this central energy, and we can focus on what’s ultimately important, namely the love we have for each other.


The Beginning of the End


By mid-August 1992, things started to get more difficult in the group. I missed having some laughter at our meetings. Everything was so serious, so heavy. I believe laughter is a key ingredient in healing. It also helps to keep people in a group together. Even in the most tragic situation, people can laugh. We need to be present with each other in places of pain. But we also need to be present with each other in joy.

I was asked to give a presentation to a Kiwanis club in September. I walked into a room full of men. The wives were all sitting in the back of the room. It was a breakfast meeting, and most of the men spent the time looking down at their empty plates. During my talk, no one looked at me. This was scary. I felt very strange. I passed around pages from our photo album with pictures of shirts that represented a range of responses to the violence.

In the question-and-answer period after my speech, I was asked three questions. First, they wanted to divert attention from women to men. Then they were looking for quick solutions that did not require much effort, especially on their part. Finally, they wanted to pass a law and make everything perfect.

1. What about all the men who are battered?
It was a classic question. I replied that while there did exist men battered by their wives, they were a very small fraction of the total. If we had to consider the gender of the perpetrator, then I thought it more useful and sensible to focus on the 95% of battering situations perpetrated by men than on the 5% of situations where the female is the perpetrator. The Clothesline Project, however, is not in a position to work directly on the behavior of the perpetrator. We concentrate on providing a unique, nonverbal opportunity to help heal the old wounds of female survivors. We make no distinction between the genders of the perpetrators.

2. What one thing can we do today to end the violence?
I responded by saying that none of us has a magic wand that will make it better with one wave. I said I thought we all had to educate and work on ourselves and our society. I also asked for their help by supporting the Project financially. (We never received a contribution).

3. What law could be passed that would eliminate the problem?
Certainly, some laws are helpful. But we must all understand that we are working in a legal system that was designed to protect the property of white men. When a woman goes into court because her husband has committed incest against her children, she is distraught. Often, she has had little sleep. Her husband, on the other hand, looks cool and collected. He has had access to the best legal advice. She is at a definite disadvantage. Also, it is interesting to note that in 1985 only about half the states had a law that made the rape of a wife a crime. The other half and Canada said that the rape of a wife while cohabiting was not a crime, but it was prosecutable if separated or divorced. Alabama and Mexico, on the other hand, said that wife rape is never a crime.

Many people want a quick solution. Unfortunately, when we are dealing with social change, there is no such thing. We must keep ourselves committed to long-term goals. Many people want to be told what to do. At best, of course, each person should listen to their heart/soul and follow the path it leads them to.

Still, there are specific things that each of us can do to end violence against women. Jocelyn Elders, the controversial former US Surgeon General who was fired for speaking her mind, says,
“Working for social change is like dancing with a bear. You can’t stop when you get tired. You have to keep dancing until the bear gets tired.”
We must all keep dancing.

We must join together. We must join the dichotomies that oppress us and keep us powerless such as the “us vs. them” mentality, dichotomies of gay/straight, black/white, and so forth. We must integrate our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual natures. Despite our gender, race, and abilities, we must cross our boundaries and work together for the benefit of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We must push the boundaries of race and class. We must push the boundaries of lesbian, bi-sexual, and heterosexual. We must push the boundaries of victim to survivor to beyond. We must push the boundaries of healing to wholeness and beyond until our metaphysical arms are so wide that they encircle and embrace the world and fill it with healing, hope, and love.

As we connect with each other, we can form an infinite web of love and support. Expanding across boundaries, we join in this experience, shirt-to-shirt, line-to-line, and heart-to-heart, connecting the deeper aspects of our true selves, for it is this deep place within each of us where our true power, the divine spirit, dwells now and forever. Let’s take each other hands, relax, and breathe. Let go of the stress and the anxieties; breathe deeply. Feel a sense of gratitude, feel a sense of thankfulness, feel the strength of our wholeness, feel the power of our love and the embrace of the divine