Writing by Victoria Tedeschi // Photograph by Aitor Frias and Cecilia Jimenez
This year, I taught an undergraduate subject which included T.S Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ on the syllabus. While the poem is far too dense to summarise into a Sparknotes entry, it did contain one character who hasn’t left my mind since.
Her name is Philomela. Penned by Ovid in 43BC, the myth of Philomela details the titular character’s brutal rape by a barbarous king. To ensure her silence, the king cuts out Philomela’s tongue. Nevertheless, Philomela persisted. She gained authorship over her story by weaving a tapestry illustrating the king’s criminal deed. When Philomela goes a little too far on the vengeance scale (serving her perpetrator his sons for supper), she is magically transformed into a nightingale: a telling choice, given that it is the only female bird who is mute.
There is merit in the #metoo campaign in that it grants the Philomela’s of the world a global tapestry in which they can weave their stories of harassment, abuse and sexual assault. Its goal is threefold. It aims to raise awareness of rape culture, it hopes to foster female solidarity and it gives victims the opportunity to articulate their unacknowledged trauma.
While these are certainly noble pursuits, Philomela’s be warned: your tapestries are fraying.
Female sexual assault is hardly news. Before Weinstein, there was Trump. Before Trump, there was Cosby. Before Cosby, there was Polanski. We have a revolving smorgasbord of insatiable male predators who are deserving of our scrutiny.
Yet, despite the information age at our fingertips, my newsfeed is littered with resounding shock.
I was confused. Our pain has already been catalogued in court reports, measured in statistical comparisons, detailed in research articles, embraced by the media and seared into our minds (and too often, our bodies). Frankly, I was expecting a resounding ‘duh’.
It therefore, seems like the duty of women to detail their experiences; to respond to the “I had no idea’s” by baring their scars as evidence; to reweave the fraying tapestry that is being left in the proverbial dust.
Frankly, men don’t have the right to be shocked.
They know. We all know.
The man on a train who announced he was going to rape me knew that this happens to women. My ex- boss who limited my work hours when I refused to date him knew it was socially unacceptable. The person who pressed his erect penis in my back when I was standing on a tram knew it was a common narrative for women. The man who wouldn’t allow me to enter a bus until I gave him my number knew there was a boundary both legitimately and figuratively breached.
There is no need for #metoo’s when ignorance is bliss.
I, for one, refuse to take the occupation of ‘educator’ outside the classroom. It is not women’s responsibility to solve a problem that an overwhelming number of men create; one that hurts and kills us indiscriminately.
Men have to hold one another culpable and accountable. For all the #metoo’s on social media, there is a #himtoo. For every victim, there is a perpetrator. I am awaiting for their hashtag. I am awaiting their ownership, but their silence is deafening.
And in the midst of that deafening silence, I will continue to weave my tapestry; even if it feels like no one is looking.[share]