Conventional wisdom, at least in feminist circles, holds that "the personal is political." But far too often, the personal serves as mass-market entertainment. We bear witness to heartbreaking stories of the reality TV variety, but our storytellers do not connect the dots, linking the individual suffering we see to the public policies that represent, sometimes damningly, our will as a people.
If it is true that we live in a culture that embraces stories devoid of political challenge, then Freeing Tammy, written by DePaul University scholar Jody Raphael, is truly counter-cultural. The story of Tammy Johnson—a formerly incarcerated woman who now works as the job development trainer for a drug treatment program in suburban Chicago—chronicles the detrimental effects of imprisonment on an already abused woman. Tammy, now in her fifties, was raised in a middle-class family, leaving home early because she could not live up to familial expectations. After enduring abuse, and turning to drugs and then non-violent crime, she was convicted of dealing and sentenced to prison. This book, the third in Raphael's trilogy about Chicago women, chronicles Tammy's life in prison while exploring the childhood sexual assault, domestic violence, addiction and crime that led her there. But Raphael goes a step further, challenging both the humanity and effectiveness of incarcerating poor and abused women who have committed non-violent crimes. While the treatment Tammy endured while in prison is indeed shocking, what truly amazes is her voice: this is a woman speaking truth to power, perpetrator and at times even her self.
Peter Edelman of Georgetown University Law Center has called Freeing Tammy "part great journalism, part thorough research." It is also the most powerful of personal stories, where one encounters a courageous, all-too-human woman – Tammy Johnson—whose experiences not only move us, but demand of us. The beauty of Raphael's work is that it illuminates problems, and calls us to act upon them. The wonder of Raphael's work is that it would not exist were it not for the courage of Tammy Johnson, who chose to share her story with Raphael and, by extension, with all of us.
Considered a breakthrough book that put the subject of sexual violence on the feminist agenda, Brownmiller's study offers a broad-ranging cultural history of rape and Western attitudes toward it. Especially in her analysis of the intersection of racism and sexism, where she emphasizes how interracial rape has been used as a cultural weapon, Brownmiller encourages us to adopt a sociological view of rape. Rape is not just a random phenomenon, occurring to a few unlucky victims. Rape victims are not easy to distinguish from the rest of the population of American women, as Brownmiller, not herself a survivor of sexual assault, admits she once believed. Rape occurs in all social quarters, even among feminists who in clarifying their demands for access to social power have defined themselves as powerful. Rape is a pervasive cultural ideology, and Brownmiller's work pioneered the definition of rape as a crime of violence. The book is perhaps most famous for its keen analysis of rape-fantasy narratives, what she calls the "myth of the heroic rapist," that abound in American popular culture. She argues that the effect of these narratives is to place women in a position of imaginative victimization and that we need therefore to combat the cultural ideology of rape if we want genuinely to prevent the occurrence of rape. Although some of Brownmiller's attitudes about rape and some of her sociological assumptions have been superseded by more recent work on the subject, this book remains invaluable for its often brilliant technique of shining critical light on a subject treated for so long as a scandal, as an act perpetrated bya few social deviants whose crimes were not to be talked about in polite company. Brownmiller is one of the key figures in helping us to overcome such social attitudes, and if we might wish that those attitudes, having now been held up to critical investigation for some thirty years, should seem truly backward to us in the twenty-first century, in reality they remain very much a part of our society.
In the opening pages of this important and deeply moving book, author Charlotte Pierce-Baker, herself a black woman who has survived rape, writes, "There was a void... an absence... a silence. There were no voices. There were no structures of feeling or support. So I went in search of structures and voices—in search of community". Until the publication of Surviving the Silence, black women's experiences with rape had too often gone unacknowledged and unexplored. This book changed that, and in its pages Pierce-Baker collects the accounts of dozens of black rape survivors, and the black men—husbands, fathers, lovers, brothers—who supported them. Many of these women had long been silent about the trauma that they had experienced, feeling that protecting themselves and their race from censure was their first duty. Surviving the Silence gave these rape survivors a place to tell their stories, illuminating our understanding of the intersection between race and sexual violence. Perhaps the most powerful narrative of all is Pierce-Baker's own, an unflinching account of her rape and its aftermath. It is a narrative that is at once painful, poignant and deeply honest, even when that honesty is difficult for the reader, and devoid of solution or resolution. This is not an easy book, but an important one, and a critical addition to our growing literature of sexual violence. It is perhaps telling that, with the exception of the author, all of the women featured in this book have told their stories without sharing their names or faces—a sad reminder that societal attitudes about race too often silence black survivors, limiting their possibilities for healing.
In this critical work of non-fiction, Dr. Patti Feuereisen sheds new light on why adolescent girls and young women often remain silent following the trauma of sexual abuse. Hailed as a pioneer in the treatment for sexual abuse in teen girls and young women, Feuereisen explains common misunderstandings about sexual abuse and its long-lasting effects. She provides important information on what constitutes abuse, what signs to look for and how girls and young women can navigate through the traumatic aftermath of sexual abuse. Feuereisen also has tips for what those close to the victim can do to provide much needed support. The book shares the personal accounts of numerous young sexual abuse survivors from different backgrounds, and how each victim coped with her abuse. Through painful and harrowing first-person voices, we learn about each girl's feelings and experiences and how telling their story helped them break through the walls of silence and begin to heal. Feuereisen, who also introduced a valuable web resource for sexual assault survivors at www.girlthrive.com, should be credited for helping so many young women find their voices again. This is a very important book for anyone who seeks to understand the devastating effects of sexual abuse on girls and young women, and what steps are necessary to begin the process of recovery and healing. Thanks to Feuereisen's expertise, thoughtful advice and ability to speak the truth, more girls and young women will find the courage to come forward and no longer feel "invisible" after reading this book.
Both domestic violence and welfare policy have long been issues of controversy, due to the extreme variances in social views. But in this story, we learn that perhaps the one view that can genuinely give birth to true understanding, and thus, progress, is that of the individual experience.
In this story of struggle, survival and triumph, we meet Bernice, a welfare mother and survivor of domestic violence, dealing with the frustrations of anti-poverty strategies. Raphael puts on the table the need for all (conservatives, liberals, and feminists) to deconstruct and see past the myths related to these issues in order to make way for real progress. Both Raphael's writing and Bernice's own personal accounts give the reader poignant, moving sketches of the cracks and leaks in our welfare system.
The humanization of Bernice and her story forces the reader to see not only the interconnectedness between the issues of domestic violence and poverty, but also that it cannot be ignored. Through Bernice's own struggle with birth control access and her personal challenge with finding employment, the reader is presented with a reality that domestic violence and poverty is not a quick fix.
"Saving Bernice” illuminates the need for a wide spectrum of assistance needed to effectively change welfare systems rather than just implementing one answer for all cases. Ultimately, this book probes more understanding in the best and most genuine way possible, through the personal story of one inspirational survivor.
This novel, as the author has publicly stated, is highly autobiographical. Based in part on Allison's own experience of having been sexually abused as a girl by her stepfather, Bastard Out of Carolina tells the story of Ruth Anne "Bone" Boatwright, who suffers sexual abuse from her mother's second husband Daddy Glen. As emotionally devastating as the abuse itself is Bone's second betrayal by her mother, who chooses to remain with the man who has abused her own daughter. If we can never quite understand how Bone's mother Anney can make such an awful choice-not only allowing her daughter to suffer the original acts of abuse, but then failing to side with Bone once the truth is out in the open-our disbelief runs parallel to a basic social truth. Sexual violence in the home often involves the complicity of a parent or guardian who lets it happen or who turns a blind eye. Stories such as these are all around us, Allison suggests, and our society's deep unwillingess to address issues of sexual violence and incest only perpetuates a social cycle in which it is even plausible for a mother to choose her child's abuser over her child.
The title itself is telling. We Were the Mulvaneys charts the life of a prominent rural family before and after the rape of their daughter, powerfully evoking all that was but will not be again after the violence has been done to her. Oates's heartbreaking 26th novel, set in rural New York state in 1976, is elegy itself, reminding us of a lost time in literal and metaphorical terms. The Mulvaneys are solid and respected, confident in their love of one another and the security that this love provides. If they are of a type—the family perhaps too perfect to be believed, but too decent to dislike for it—it is a type that is deeply familiar to us. They have been, in the words of the mother, Corinne Mulvaney, "privileged by God", and before sexual violence intrudes on this tableau, that privilege defines their interactions with the world. The book's narrator, Judd, the youngest Mulvaney son, looks up to his older brothers and they—along with their parents—dote on their sister Marianne, a popular cheerleader who is 17 when she is raped by a classmate after a prom. Guilty and shamed by his reaction to his daughter's rape, Mike Sr. can barely stand to look at his own daughter, who leaves home to live with a distant relative. Grieving and inconsolable, he rages at his daughter's rapist, along with that rapist's family, as they predictably and protectively wrap themselves around their son, who is never brought to justice. The community, true to time and small town place, aligns itself with the rapist, instead of the victim. Not surprisingly, the Mulvaney family begins to disintegrate, as Mike loses his business and mother, sons and, most heartbreakingly, Marianne wrestle with life in the wake of sexual violence. More than a decade later, this broken family comes together again, and if it is true that they are no longer "The Mulvaneys"—at least not in the way that their long-ago familial identity implies—they have become more complex and deeply realized individuals who find solace in a simple truth: that this family and its daughter have endured. If the attitudes captured in this book's pages at times seem long ago and far away, we are perhaps not paying close enough attention to the victim-blaming that occurs even today in small towns (and large cities) nationwide. We Were The Mulvaneys is fiction grounded all too deeply in modern-day fact.