This week there’s been a lot in the news about the suicides of two young women, Audrie Potts and Rehtaeh Parsons. Both killed themselves after surviving gang rapes, following which their rapists (in both cases, groups of teenage boys) sent around pictures of them naked and unconscious during the attacks. In Parsons’s case, the police refused to press charges because, according to them, it was a “he said/she said” situation with no objective evidence — if you don’t count pictures of four men raping an unconscious woman as evidence, that is. (The police reopened the case yesterday after public outcry.) All this is following the high-profile rape case against two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, who were convicted last month of raping a teenage girl and taking cell phone pictures and video of the attack.
Kids these days. Always going around raping unconscious people and documenting it for posterity. The things they get up to!
Bitter humor aside, how I wish that these young women had not decided to take their own lives. I wish they had not been driven to feel as though their only option was to disappear.
Thinking about it today, it put me in mind of the culture of self-abnegation that surrounds being female today. In some ways, women constantly are told to do a disappearing act. For example, the pressure placed on women to be thin. Not to be healthy, or fit, or even beautiful (although beauty and slenderness seem interchangeable these days), but thin, skinny, malnourished, sickly-looking, impossibly thin. Runway models with their sunken, blank eyes and their matchstick legs, who are so thin that magazines airbrush the flesh onto their bones to cover up their protruding ribs, look like stretched-out corpses on parade. The obsession with skinny women is really an obsession with making women take up less and less space, until they are actually gone. Models look dead because the most attractive woman is one who doesn’t exist.
Don’t eat. Don’t laugh too loud. Don’t talk too loud. Sit with your legs crossed. Don’t argue. Shh. Don’t take up any space in this room, in this conversation, in this culture, in this world. Slide the opacity meter on your life ever closer to 0%. Become translucent, then invisible. Disappear.
And so while I’m glad that these two girls’ deaths have not passed unnoticed, that the injustice they have suffered has brought public scrutiny to the violence women face, I wish I could talk to every young woman survivor and say, don’t do it. I know this is awful. I know they have made you feel powerless. I know they have made you feel like an object that exists only for their pleasure and power and mockery. But don’t surrender to the message that you are the one who has to disappear. Don’t do their work for them and make the problem that is you and your pesky determination that you matter go away. Stick around and see justice done.
Make as much noise as you want. Take up as much space as you want. Eat what you want and dress how you want and be who you want to be. Don’t disappear — be bigger and more visible and live life more fully than ever. End this obsession with women’s death and replace it instead with a fervor for women’s life — life that is equal, happy, fulfilling, and safe.