glass pile

On Claiming Worth in Rape Culture

In a recent poem, I wrote about chewing glass. I don’t actually sit at the dinner table eating shards of glass. It’s a poem, it’s allowed to be grandiose.  But then, I do eat glass. As in, bite my tongue, suck back the words. Act polite. Internally swelling with fit and rage and regret. And I’m not alone. That’s what this is, living as woman. We get along to get along.


Sunday evening, June 5th, my husband and I go to the local pub to watch the Cavs/Warriors Game 2 of the NBA Finals. When we arrive, some acquaintances from the neighborhood are there, one of whom I haven’t yet met but have heard kind things about. I’m happy to meet him. My husband makes introductions—hello and handshake and cheers. The man then taps my arm and abruptly asks, don’t I, as a woman, prefer a man who is rich over a man who is not? Immediately I sense the calculated layers of this questioning. (As a woman, I represent all women and my answer will stand as such; we are not autonomous beings. Women only want men. Women only want men for their money. Women need men for money. Women are hateful because we won’t accept a man without money. Etc.) My temperature rises. I think, Maaan, I just came out to watch basketball. I explain to him that, for me, it isn’t about money, it’s about who I love—and quietly hope the questioning ends there. But he’s hyped up on friends and a few drinks and he presses, explains yeah, yeah, he knows love is at the center, but, really, aren’t I more into a man who can take care of me over one who can’t? And I pause, drain my mouth of venom before saying, simply, that I make my own money, I’m good. At this, I decide it’s best to disengage entirely because it’s only going to spiral. I turn to focus on the basketball game, trying to un-hear the rest of the conversation.


On June 2nd, Brock Turner, a privileged white Ivy-leaguer who had been caught in the act of raping an unconscious woman, was convicted on three felony counts but sentenced to only six months of jail time.


When I first released an essay I wrote about my experience as survivor of intimate partner rape, a number of people commended my “bravery.” It didn’t feel brave. It felt like I was occupying too much space. Funny how erasure makes any kind of sight feel that way. It was a long time before I mustered the courage to go to the police. I still wouldn’t call it courageous. I was losing the battle against PTSD, and I needed to take a stand to repair my own fractured psyche. And while the police believed my story—believed it enough to bring it directly to the Chief DA of sex crimes—the DA explained it was an “unwinnable” case (lapse of time, lack of physical evidence, history of intimacy) and suggested that if my PTSD was indeed an obstacle in my day-to-day living as my rapist is a participant in the same industry, I should leave the industry altogether. Blink. Blink. Even as she sat with her elbows propped on the inches-thick pile of documentation I had provided—including his own confession. Then, she refused my request for a restraining order. Go, she said. Leave the writing community behind. I sat in that room and was told that I should go. Me. I was occupying too much space.


On June 6th, news came of Maria Sadaqat, a young Pakistani teacher who was beaten and then burned alive by a group of men for refusing a marriage proposal.


Earlier that Sunday—a hot, lazy afternoon—I fell freely into a rare nap. I deserved it. Rest, I mean. We all do, sometimes. I rarely sleep. And my sleep is rarely restful. What woke me wasn’t the dog barking, or my husband shifting about the apartment, not even the low hum of the television in the background. What woke me was the dream. I was racing through an unfamiliar house, fleeing from a man I did not recognize—in my dream-mind, I knew exactly what was coming, could simultaneously see the future assault taking place while actively fighting to escape. I ducked and ran, I slammed doors and locked doors and barricaded doors as he systematically broke through each one in pursuit. I hid, I ran, I crushed his hand in doorjambs, kicked him off, I ran and kept running. When he caught me; when he bent my body in the grotesque, familiar way I recognize having had my body stolen from me repeatedly; when he loosened his pants and pulled my hips toward him with force—I woke.


Janay Rice was vilified for staying.

Amber Heard was vilified for leaving.

Rhianna was vilified for both.

90% of women incarcerated for murder are convicted for killing their abusers.

Mary Spears was killed by a street harasser for rejecting him.

Janese Talton-Jackson was killed by a street harasser for rejecting him.

All of Holtzclaw’s victims. Period.


That Sunday night, I chewed glass. Again. Spoonful by spoonful. That Sunday night—after a man I scarcely know tossed his tiny bits of misogyny at me under the guise of casual bar talk, after I said only a fraction of what I wanted to say in efforts to keep peace, after I bit my tongue and rolled the shame and rage in my head for the duration of the basketball game, after other folks asked me to give him a chance: he’s really a good guy, they said, he didn’t mean it, they said (and I’m sure he is a good guy, I certainly don’t hold him as the epitome of evil)—I woke at 3:00 a.m. chewing glass. Still hurt, still angry. Baffled at how I was encouraged to get over it and accept him as he is—instead of him being encouraged to examine his misogyny and accept women as we are: people.


Turner’s survivor got a life sentence. Turner faces six months.

My assaults return to me in dreams and startle me in crowded spaces. All of my abusers are free.

Rice and Heard and Rhianna have had to eat glass.

Sadaqat is gone. Spears is gone. Talton-Jackson is gone. They were occupying space.

Every day, women are threatened, stalked, beaten, raped, and murdered at staggering rates—women of color and trans women suffering vastly disproportionately—yet I am gleefully prodded to confess that women are only concerned with men’s money.

Sir, we are concerned for our lives.


I signed a petition to punish the men who burned alive Maria Sadaqat. I signed a petition to recall judge Adam Persky from office for undermining the severity of Brock Turner’s crimes. I signed a petition to pass the acid attack bill, to pass legislation to combat sex trafficking, to make revenge porn a criminal offense, to end gender taxation. I sign petitions all the time. I donate to programs and advocacy groups when I can. (I make my own money.) Petitions aren’t going to resurrect Maria Sadaqat or Mary Spears or Janese Talton-Jackson. Petitions are not going to right Adam Persky’s perspective or un-rape Brock Turner’s survivor. Petitions aren’t going to gender equalize or gift women autonomy in the eyes of patriarchy or do much more than rattle a few windows. (Though rattle we will.) So, note to self: when I’m goaded to help a couple of cis men determine whether women are either sinister gold-diggers or callous heartbreakers—even when I can be sure it will devolve into an argument—I have an obligation to my self-worth to spit out the glass, occupy the space, and speak. 

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

New York, NY

JEANANN VERLEE is author of two books: Said the Manic to the Muse and Racing Hummingbirds, winner of the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in poetry. She has also been awarded the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Her work appears in failbetter, Rattle, Adroit, and BuzzFeed, among others. Verlee wears polka dots and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you. Find her at

JEANANN VERLEE is an author, performance poet, editor, and former punk rocker based in New York City.

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