If you are more curious about the article – This is How to Not Get Raped, you can read it by clicking HERE, but before you do so, I urge you to read this blog post first. If you decide otherwise, then, when you read the list of 180 things you shouldn’t say to females, sexual abuse, or rape victims, and it makes you angry, or you realize you disagree with it, come back here to read this.
In this piece, I address most criticisms, biases, and prejudices you have towards the article This is How to Not Get Raped.
You Are Part of the Problem You Are Trying To Solve, and You Don’t Even Know It
“Maxwell Mahama was beaten and burnt to death near the central city of Kumasi on May 29, after locals mistook him for a robber because he was wearing sports clothing and carrying a pistol.”
- Mob justice fears after soldier’s gruesome death in Ghana. News24, 09 June 2017.
Many of you will agree with me that Maxwell Mahama did not deserve to die. That he was wearing sports clothing and carrying a pistol didn’t mean he was a thief, he was simply a soldier without uniform. Additionally, even if he were a thief (which indeed, he wasn’t), would assumptions and jungle justice have been right way to correct his actions?
Now, I have presented an unfortunate instance of jungle justice. For clarity of intention, I will say; what I write below, can be a comparison to drive home a point, but it is respectfully in no way an equal experience to the death of Maxwell Mahama (May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace).
Sometime last month, I wrote an untitled non-fiction article inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s work, “Girl,” in which I provided a list of 180 insensitive sentences people often say to females, victims, and survivors of rape and sexual abuse. In that article, I didn’t analyze anything. I just wrote a list of 180 insensitive sentences, some personal, which I have heard and experienced that people often say to females especially victims of sexual abuse. The point and moral lesson of the article was simply: “THERE IS NO WAY TO PREVENT RAPE ESPECIALLY FOR FEMALES, AND OUR SOCIETIES SHOULD DO BETTER IN PROTECTING FEMALES THAN INSTRUCTING US ON HOW NOT TO GET RAPED!!!”
The process of writing that non-fiction work was emotionally exhausting, and I broke down many times in-between writing and reviewing it. It took me about 2-3 weeks to finalize it, and when I did, the article didn’t have a title. I couldn’t think of an uncommon title that would best represent it, so I just decided that the first sentence, “This is How to Not Get Raped” would lead the work.
If you are here, outright searching for my reason or defense of such title, then, you may scroll to read the last paragraph of this article.
I reached out to several writers about 10, who read it and reviewed it, assuring its quality and effectiveness in passing the message. I took it for a workshop class of about 13 individuals who also read it, helped me to perfect it, and ensured that I didn’t have oversight of any mistake. Particularly, because they read the whole work and were informed of where I was coming from, they ascertained the title or the first sentence adopted as a title was the right choice.
I am a very persistent person and sometimes doubtful when pursuing feedback, so, again, when I submitted the piece for publication with Okadabooks, I kept an open mind for criticisms and corrections. I particularly asked about the title and was given approval based on opinion that it was the right fit. I got feedback regarding this article from about 25 people in total, and in most cases, particularly, asking about the title before deciding to publish it.
I had asked for support to publicize this article, and I designed a picture for it, sharing it with Okadabooks for the promotional repost. They did so on their social media platforms, and it was on their Instagram page. I met my Artistic Jungle Justice.
It started with a female who, without reading the article and just concluding from the promotional picture said that “the victim is once again being held responsible for the actions of someone else.” Then, she went on to rant about how she would not read it. Without reading the article, she held so many false beliefs about the work and me the writer, which I attempted to convince her otherwise but to no avail. She further accused me of not including any stress warning to such sensitive content, which was untrue.
If she had opened the link to the article, she would have seen that what seemed as the title wasn’t and was just the first sentence to the work itself. Therefore, even if I had given the work a different title or no title at all and she only read the first sentence, she would have stopped reading and come back to accuse me of the same untrue things. Furthermore, she would have seen that there was a full statement with a stress warning alarm ahead of the article itself. Most importantly, she would have seen that the article is in no way supportive of rape-blame or rapists or people who believe that rape victims are at fault, but the article was pointing at 180 sentences people MUST STOP SAYING to females, rape, and sexual assault victims. But she didn’t take any step further to inform herself; she stuck to the false guns of her assumptions.
She further came back to comment on how she had shared the picture from social media to a group who agreed with her. I believe another one of her allies, one who stated she was a rape victim, also came to the page with the same false conviction she had received to accuse me of insensitivity, asking me to “shut up” about this topic.
Here is the definition of Jungle Justice, according to Wikipedia:
Jungle justice is a form of public extrajudicial killings in Sub-Saharan Africa, most notably Nigeria and Cameroon, where an alleged criminal is humiliated, beaten, or summarily executed by a crowd or vigilantes.
Initially, I only planned to respond once or perhaps, not respond at all and listen to my inner voice of maturity or of some people saying “let it go, silence is the best answer for a fool, etc.” but then I remembered Zora Neale Hurston’s words: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
My silence, masked in artistic maturity or humility, would mean that I have become an ally to lies or untruth or false assumptions being spread about me and my work. Also, if I am harmed as a result of it, it would be my fault as well, and almost the same people will say “but you did not speak up or defend yourself when you had the chance.” Notably, I do not believe in the acceptance of intimidation to silence as an appraisable symbol of artistic maturity or humility. Voice, to me is also maturity and humility.
In defense of my artistic rights: when it comes to my art, particularly, my writings, I am an emotional trespasser. Anyone familiar with my works such as The Silence We Eat will know that I do not spare my readers the horror or glory of whatever I write especially on topics such as suicide, depression, or rape, which I am passionate about. However, I always include a distress warning to start my content. Even beginning from the title, I do not sugar quote things or analyze the topic, I simply describe with as much detail to ensure that my readers get it and feel the same emotions I feel. Only in cases like this, when it comes to my work, I relieve myself of the burden of artistic explanation or analysis, and I am more committed to the description of things.
My art is my pride, and my writing is deeply personal. My writing is my experience as much as it is the experience of the reader, and I believe I am unaccountably entitled to the truth of my work more than any reader because I am its creator, and only I can know the whole truth of it. A half-truth is no truth at all. So, I perceive it dangerous that someone will have what they believe as “half-truth” of my work, make false conclusions and assumptions about it, and spread such a limited perspective. I can walk off with disagreements and learn from them if I want to, but I do not know how to walk off with people holding half-truths, making up lies or false conclusions about my work to complete their perspective without reading it or without proof.
I am an emotional trespasser. My art is emotionally disrupting, and that’s the only way I know best to be true to myself while speaking my truth to others. Writing to me is about the truth, not about how we can sugar-quote the truth or synonymize it but how we can tell it. I believe that there are too many emotionally convenient and conforming art that isn’t intellectually confronting; too many safe titles for works that describe unsafe circumstances which blind us from understanding the urgency of the societal change we pursue. This is why I am standing by the statement which leads to my non-fiction article.
When I chose the sentence to represent the title of my work – “This is how to not get raped,” my intention was not to seek or capture anyone’s attention even if I knew it would. I intended to represent the work and lead it truthfully. Another thing I had in my mind was the Yoruba proverb “Ile la wo kato so omo loruko,” meaning, we look at the house to give the child a name. My looking at the home was by intensively reflecting on the work and diligently searching for feedback from numerous people before choosing to publish it.
Especially when you intentionally choose to miseducate yourself about my work, its title, and me, you are a visitor to it. You wouldn’t have overstepped if you had attempted to even peek at the article. You wouldn’t have overstepped if you asked questions for clarity, but by intentionally making false assumptions, spreading it, falsely victimizing yourself with reasons without reasoning of proof, you overstepped. You performed jungle justice, and you are a part of the problem you are trying to solve.
We are all victims in our ways that are very meaningful to us, and we wish would be meaningful to someone else even if no one owes us their understanding. Because you have experienced some unfortunate circumstances uniquely and with or without choice, publicly, doesn’t make your victimization greater than the other person you are not aware of, neither does it make anyone that has a contrary belief to you – your enemy. Additionally, that you are a victim of any kind doesn’t give you the right to invalidate the experiences of someone else, assuming their lack of victimization, especially if you have not asked or if you are not aware of it.
Just because you start your sentence with “as a victim of … (insert unfortunate instances)” doesn’t give you so much right of opinion over someone who isn’t a victim of what you have suffered or who you disagree with on a topic that relates to your experience of victimization. Many people need to be taught how to learn and how to be educated. Many people also need to learn that victimization doesn’t equal expertise, education does, and true education isn’t just about what you agree with or what is familiar to you or convenient for your senses. True education is well rounded. I have seen many people who are victims of experiences they haven’t been educated about.
Not my best comparison, but it is just like saying let me give someone with the experience of bankruptcy a bank to manage – their experience at bankruptcy makes them an expert at it. I can learn from your experience as a rape victim, listen to it, understand it, and empathize about it, but that doesn’t make you an expert in predicting who else has been a sexual abuse victim like yourself. It doesn’t make you an expert on the subject because there are many other types of sexual abuse that you haven’t experienced, and I hope you don’t, which you are unaware of and uneducated about enough to tell someone else to shut up about their perspective.
If anything, the truth remains that victims of specific experiences have a problem of objectivity except if they consciously choose otherwise and then can effectively provide solutions to the issues they experienced. I have not come about writing on these topics simply because I am a victim of any sexual abuse. I went about writing on it from educating myself about it, even utilizing and learning from content that disagrees with what I believe in. I took classes, did research papers, sat in rooms arguing with people who didn’t agree with me on it – listening first, then objecting. I consciously make effort to eliminate any chances of ignorance or hindsight left in me when I write of such sensitive issues. Yet, even when I write, I am humble enough to doubt myself and hand it to other people I consider experts in reading to give me first-hand feedback on it before releasing it to the public.
Another thing I need to address is how she created a “hypothetical suicidal situation,” saying that imagine someone who just got raped, and the first thing they saw on social media is this title that inspires them to “commit suicide.” Anyone truly passionate about mental health, won’t make such careless commentary knowing the impact of their words. And the point of correction, in today’s world, it isn’t politically correct to say someone can “commit suicide” because it is insulting to the victim, I would rather you say “die by suicide.” That “hypothetical suicidal situation” statement is, fortunately, one of the things I addressed with the article that she blindly criticized without reading. Besides the fact that in today’s world almost everything is a trigger to suicide, what are the chances that the first thing a rape victim will do is open their Instagram account to find Okadabooks Instagram page? Also, what if I was suicidal and with her constant reproach and false perspective, decided to jump off a bridge as well. We are all victims and potential victims differently, and we shouldn’t be ignorant out of emotional belief.
I do not have a problem with people disagreeing with what I write, who I am or what I believe in. But I believe in the truth and proof. How you come about your belief against mine, matters to me and prejudice, for any truly educated person is no substantial proof. Even if at the end of the day, we were on the same page, and evidently, my article reflected all her concerns, I am consciously disappointed at the comfort of people like this, easily misinformed or misguided by their own biases, prejudice, and lack of proactivity, yet, claim to be genuinely passionate about the fight for women’s right or humanity. These are the kind of feminists I wouldn’t support. I believe that comfort is the enemy of progress, and the recent cases of people like Busola Dakolo who inspire me to write are evidence that there is no space to choose to be comfortable and not disturbed in any true fight for women against social injustices; even if it means to lose. Notably, I think no one, genuinely passionate about the full humanization of women should rely on comfort too soon.
Here, I am defending my art, myself, and the truth of it. I will not conform to any artistic maturity when untruth exists about what I know clearly is otherwise. This is why I am a feminist and writer, and this is why I wrote the article represented by the statement “This is How to Not Get Raped;” because it is the truth about common insensitive statements girls hear from parents, teachers, family, friends, strangers, and the society that I am angry and furious about just like any other reasonable person. As a response to my request for suggested titles, she said I could have called it “the rape blame game” or something like that. However, I do not believe the work deserves such minimalized title because when girls are locked in the room by their mothers, fathers, teachers, and all other “well-sayers,” and told “how to not get raped” these people do not start with “the rape blame game.” They say all the things I listed in the article without warning, reproach, or an ounce of belief that they could be wrong, and I just wanted to show off these people as who they are and what they believe without sugar-coating it.
I think this is the problem our society is unknowingly leading to – quoting pretense as sensitivity. I think by not calling a spade a spade, we are part of the problem we are trying to solve, and we don’t even know it.
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” ― Banksy
Oyindamola Shoola is a feminist, book reviewer, blogger, and the author of 5 books. She is also the Co-founder and CEO of Sprinng Literary Movement, a non-profit dedicated to supporting developing Nigerian Writers. In 2017 & 2018 she was awarded by Nigerian Writers Award as one of the top 100 influential Nigerian Writers under the age of 40.
Oyindamola Shoola is a student at New York University in her final year, studying Organizational Behavior and Change.
Her books, “The Silence We Eat,” “Now I Want to Remember,” and “But Here You Are” can be downloaded as a free pdf on her blog: www.shoolaoyin.com
Her other books, “Heartbeat” and “To Bee a Honey” can be purchased on Amazon and at Roving Heights Bookstore.