Monday, October 20, 2008


Last night, we watched Mad Men episode 12. We love advertising (and Julie is an award winning copywriter), but there's something else, something very disturbing right here where we live. Look at the tv.

The show's creator Matthew Weiner gets right to the sexism in the male dominant world of American advertising in the '60s. When a male copywriter is out, Peggy Olson steps up and pitches an account with a "love" slogan to a couple of men; winning the campaign, she announces herself as a "copywriter" and asks the boss Roger Sterling for the office that another man had vacated long before. Sterling comments that young women are getting aggressive and tells her she has more "balls" than some men. (She gets the office.) The show cuts to Joan Holloway (an office manager for the agency) walking in with her new fiance: "So you're the one who got our Joanie," Sterling says to the man, indicating also that he knows a couple of other things about Holloway. Full of jealous rage, the fiance gets her alone in an empty office and rapes her.

It's just a tv show. And we used to watch thirtysomething too. Another tv show about ad men, through the late '80s and early '90s. More sexism then too. It's no accident that real life Nancy Ziegenmeyer chose actor Patricia Wettig to play her in the tv film based on her book, Taking Back My Life. (Wetting had won three Emmys and a Golden Globe for playing Nancy in thirtysomething). Ziegenmeyer is a victim of rape. She went public with the rape after reading an article Geneva Overholser wrote as editor of the Des Moines Register in which she asserted: "As long as rape is deemed unspeakable, the public outrage will be muted as well." At the end of 1990, before Ziegenmeyer's book or the tv movie, People magazine reported Ziegenmeyer's story, and noted that "approximately 100,000 women are raped each year in the U.S."

How many women now are raped in the U.S. every year? The FBI, Department of Justice web site has updated the numbers: Why so many? Why even one? Why? Why? Who? Who? Who? Who? And do you know what happened to the man who raped Ziegenmeyer? What if she'd been silent? Who next?

I know you know someone who was raped. I do! Maybe it's you. Why?!!!! How can any of us be silent?

Yesterday, in the New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman begins the story:

Honorata Kizende looked out at the audience and began with a simple, declarative sentence.

“There was no dinner,” she said.

“It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.”

The audience, which had been called together by local and international aid groups and included everyone from high-ranking politicians to street kids with no shoes, stared at her in disbelief.

Gettleman goes on to report on the rape epidemic in Congo. Somehow, even with the color pictures in the black and white newspaper, the voices of women and men seem quiet here in the U.S. The women in Congo are speaking out, with effect:

After years of denial and shame, the silence is being broken. Because of stepped-up efforts in the past nine months by international organizations and the Congolese government, rapists are no longer able to count on a culture of impunity. . . . 
Few are more passionate than Eve Ensler, the American playwright who wrote “The Vagina Monologues,” which has been performed in more than 100 countries. She came to Congo last month to work with rape victims.

“I have spent the past 10 years of my life in the rape mines of the world,” she said. “But I have never seen anything like this.”

She calls it “femicide,” a systematic campaign to destroy women. . . .

“The details are the scariest part,” Ms. Ensler said.

At the event last month, many people in the audience covered their mouths as they listened. Some could not bear it and burst out of the room crying.

One speaker, Claudine Mwabachizi, told how she was kidnapped by bandits in the forest, strapped to a tree and repeatedly gang-raped. The bandits did unspeakable things, she said, like disemboweling a pregnant woman right in front of her. “A lot of us keep these secrets to ourselves,” she said.

She was going public, she said, “to free my sisters.”

Believe it or not, Gettleman writes this story yesterday to celebrate the positive. His article's entitled, "Rape Victims’ Words Help Jolt Congo Into Change." This time last year, Gettleman could only report: "Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War."

So what? Well, if you've made it this far through this blog post, then I'd say you may be one who can help effect change. Did you see and hear what Weiner, Overholser, Ziegenmeyer, Wetting, Ensler, Gettleman, Kizende, and Mwabachizi have been doing and saying? What more can you and I do and say? Don't think we can make much of a change? Do you know how many women were raped, by the men, in your country last year? Do you think you cannot help change this horror?


J. L. Watts said...


I appreciate this post. Aren't these the wars that we should fight?

We have to do more than pray for these people.

J. K. Gayle said...


Thank you so much for your comment! Yes, these indeed are the wars and there's much to do, isn't there?