From that day forward, the issue never reared its ugly head again at the organizational level, only in private discussions. The consensus seemed to be that the American lynching phenomenon was so unique that its remedial processes couldn’t be generalizable for the global issue of women’s issues, geographically, sociologically, culturally. A few continued to mull it over. The one staffer who circled back months later simply said, “After giving it quite a bit of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that you were right.” Gratifying, but not a resounding mandate. She had handed in her resignation, moving on to greener pastures.
Within a short time, I became a Board Officer, then Board President, a culturally challenging period for everyone involved. It was a six-year experiment in “Diversity” that rewarded me with insights that almost no other experience could have provided me.
Starting the day following that exercise in ‘how not to develop a values statement,’ I began conducting an ongoing informal survey of women’s beliefs on the matter of an end to rape and sexual assault. The results haunt me: women have almost no belief in an end to the physical, brutal war between men and women. I’ve come to believe that women engage in life day-to-day with the silent expectation of continually present gender conflict, the physical, mental and emotional threats of it internalized, and the prospects for positive change unfathomable.
“Do you believe the crime of rape can be eradicated in our lifetime?” Women of all ages and types have universally answered “No” with few exceptions. In one Leadership Summit of more than 300 women in regional leadership, fewer than ten answered “Yes” to the question, five of whom had sat at my table, and voted after having engaged in a discussion on the topic.
Part of that roundtable dialog involved the possibility of elevating rape to the level of a capital crime. Not surprisingly, there was mixed reaction from the table. One commented, “Before deciding to put anyone to death, I’d want to know more about why they did it. What was their motivation?” The male reaction at the table was more typical. “I couldn’t care less why they did it. If its my mother, wife, sister, child, I want the bastard dead.” The one at the table with the most trepidation about the idea of capital punishment for rapists was a trial attorney with a current client accused of rape.
I reached the conclusion that WIAR had shifted well away from its beginning as a group of radical feminist belligerents for their constituents, the innocent targets of male aggression. The organization moved to a mode of operation as a more neutral broker, an aid organization, like a “Red Cross” for sexual assault survivors of all types, reaching out to heal any and all of the wounded in the intractable conflict between sexual predators and their targets. WIAR shifted from a culture espousing radical feminist confrontational demand for social and legal recourse to a well-funded NPO managing the flow of the region’s wounded survivors. The eventual chosen strategic direction of the organization was a focus on serving members of the raped and assaulted community through counseling, and through education on avoidance strategies for potential targets of sexual predators.
Long before I arrived, the organization had resolved to engage in continual improvement and excellence in post-trauma intervention and care, resigned to work in a perpetual and growing stream of new survivors. The will to aggressively pursue an end to the root problem – and thereby an eventual end to the organization — just wasn’t an option. The mission statement remained unchanged, but the reminders of the unabated embrace of intractable conflict between predators and prey hung over the organization for a long time to come.
Women’s Initiative Against Rape could not conceive of the idea of engaging in full frontal attack, an outright war on perpetrators, and it remained reticent on the matter of confronting perpetrators or in any fashion engaging them in dialog for any purpose. There were visceral reactions to even the suggestion of bringing former perpetrators or their attending psychological and legal professionals to consult so as better to understand and combat them.
Nor could WIAR manage to envision eventually winning the conflict/war. Bringing an end to the war seemed counter-cultural, an unrealistic pursuit or hope, but also a direction that would remove the work for which the staff and volunteers had such incredible passion.
Neither could they see themselves as being in retreat, losing the war or giving up. WIAR seemed doomed to live out the layman’s expression of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, “You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.”
The dilemma was a near perfect application of the classic Argyris & Schon “theory in action” model on the differences between espoused theory vs. theory in use, i.e., what we say we believe, and what we actually do that reveals the underlying belief structure.
Today, in 2013, one of every three women are affected by rape, sexual assault or offending behaviors like stalking. Yet, if we listen carefully, the call to action is still indistinct. There is no concerted, unified demand for an eye-for-eye, life-for-life equivalent in law. Rape is too often treated as something from which survivors should just get over and move on, with the right help, which may or may not be uniformly available to all survivors.
It is easy to talk about hope for peace, and to reason out an eventual end to one conflict or another. This particular conflict, however, is by definition as intractable as they come. Predating every other conflict in every other culture, it is more pervasive across all cultures than any other conflict, seemingly dividing humankind into half predator, half prey.
Did the end of lynching represent a “win” for blacks and for America, or was it merely a first down in a much larger and longer contest? Would the elimination of rape in America similarly constitute a victory, or is it too much to believe in, too much to hope for, and futile to work toward? For a brief time, I thought I knew the answer. But as we listen to the social priorities of the most powerful women in America, Mrs. Obama, Ms. Winfrey, Mrs. Gates, Mrs. Clinton, or the Forbes 100 most powerful women in the world, I can only ask myself, what do they know that I do not? I’m thinking that Gloria was trying hard to gift me with the answer.
CLICK HERE for The Values Statement – Part VI – Considerations
© Robert D. Jones 2013, All Rights Reserved
For booking InclusiveWorks® training, speeches, coaching, or just learning more about how the CultureNeutral® Framework can be applied in your organization or your career, please drop us a note via this website’s CONTACT US page.
To purchase a subscription to the InclusiveWorks® newsletter, visit this website’s CONTACT US page and make the request directly.
CONTACT US at InclusiveWorks® today to learn more.