Writing about rape. Where do you start?
Such a sensitive topic, so prevalent in our society today. It is therefore so important to write about it, so that we can broaden people’s awareness about rape. We want to write about rape because we want our words, stories and theories to change into actions and understandings. But how do you write about such a painful topic without over-sensitising or re-traumatising people and still putting rape survivor’s everyday lived experiences on the foreground? With this question in mind, I went to the Writing about Rape Workshop, organised by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.
I first and foremost have to say, that it was just amazing to be in a safe space, with all like-minded women, that all came to the workshop with the same questions. Nothing is more empowering than a group of women coming together with an open attitude to listen to each other, and all with the same goal in mind; writing about rape to change understandings and actions about sexual violence. And of course, the glasses of wine and the good food, also added to a satisfying learning environment.
The writing workshop mainly focused on our head, heart, and hands. Writing with your head, stands for writing facts, the objective knowledge that you have found about the topic. Writing with you heart, stands for reaching to the reader’s feelings; how can you trigger the reader’s emotions with your words? Lastly, writing with your hands stands for put forward the question ‘what is next?’. How do your words lead to people to wanting to roll up their sleeves and start actively engaging with the topic? In a successful story about rape, one should thus focus on reflecting on facts, emphasising emotions, and triggering actions as an outcome of the story.
These guidelines are of course a helpful toolkit for writing about sexual violence but writing about rape of course remains complicated. At the end of the workshop, an interesting discussion arouse with several intriguing questions that show how important it is for this conversation to be continued. One of the main questions was whether it is possible for feminist writers to remain objective. How can we write about rape, without having an activist agenda? Why is it even necessary for feminist writers to be objective, or to be non-activist? If our goal is to create societal changes towards understandings of rape, isn’t writing about it then inherently an activist act? Furthermore, when writing about rape, who owns the story? Is it the story of the writer/journalist, or the story of the rape survivor that are brought to light? How do we make sure these personal stories of rape survivors about their everyday experiences are portrayed in a responsible way?
Many reasons thus to continue the conversation on how to write about rape. I am therefore very much looking forward to the next workshop to reflect on their questions. I want to finish this blog with an important concluding message for female writers, shared by another participant of the workshop: if we as writers have the power of picking up the pen, it is our responsibility to focus on the issues that are attacking all women, and we can give an inclusive microphone to those voices that need to be heard. These voices are not put forward by those writers who dominate the writing space now. So, let’s write to take a position in that space. Let’s write from the heart, for all women.
By Paula Vermuë