Several weeks ago, Liam Neeson was doing a press tour for his latest movie. He caused quite a stir by bringing up an event from his life from 40 years ago. Actually, it was an event that happened not to him but to a female friend. She had been raped and characterized the rapist as “a black man.” In typical male bravado, he took offense and set off to act out a what has been called “a racist revenge fantasy” by taking a weapon and looking for a black man to beat up and/or kill.
Here is a link to an article of his interview.
I am in a fairly unique position to respond as I myself was raped at knifepoint also about 40 years ago. On second thought, and truly sadly, it is unlikely that I am in a unique position. Rape is the coin of violence. It is used in war, arguments, power plays, where our bodies become the battlefield on which such violence is played out. There is truly nothing sexual about it.
Here is what rape does to the psyche. It tells us that our bodies are for someone else’s ephemeral pleasure, not our own. It tells us that we are not safe in the face of someone, usually a male’s violent whims. It tells us that we are objects without full personhood. It slashes a hole in our core selves that fills with rage and pain instead of love and wholeness.
I had already had a violent childhood history before I was raped. I grew suicidal. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the last thing that I would have wanted would have been someone to perpetrate yet more violence in my name. And especially not against a whole race of people.
One of the healing paths I took was to take karate lessons so I could learn to feel physically safe in the world. My teacher, who I will call Jeff, and I became friends. After a time, we ran classes together for rape prevention and women’s safety. But a problem quickly developed. During the Q and A sessions Jeff would expound upon how angry he would be if his wife were raped and how he would set off to kill the guy. It felt like a physical blow to hear those words. I patiently tried to explain to Jeff why those words were so painful to me. First was that it was all about him, not about the woman. Second was that his plan involved more violence in the face of already horrible violence. Third was that he would end up in jail and it’s hard to imagine how that would have helped his wife. My pleas to sanity made no impact and I could not continue with our classes.
I am torn about Liam Neeson. I certainly would not want to be judged by the worst moments in my life, especially if I had grown and changed from those moments. But I am also not compelled to talk about them in public 40 years after the fact. Why did he do that?
I have a theory. After being raped I was locked in a basement. I had to pile up the trash to reach a small window near the ceiling where I could call out for a passerby to get the police. The police had to break the door down. The officer who accompanied me to the hospital was a young man and he sat quietly with me as I cried and waited for the doctors. His stoic presence was a great gift. But he also said something to me that has stayed with me to this day: That if I had a boyfriend, I should not tell him about this rape. Through the years, I have thought about that line. Why not? It was immediately clear to me that this was a life-changing event and he felt that I would be in danger by telling the person presumably closest to me? I thought, “I needed to hide the fact because ???” Was I now damaged goods?
I am wondering if Liam Neeson was trying to show to the public how compassionate and caring he was to his friend. Instead, though, he perpetrated the sense that women’s bodies are to be fought over by men. He still believes on some level that women’s bodies are designed to be used by men. He still believes that somehow, he was the injured party when his friend was raped. It doesn’t matter if his reasons for taking off with a bat were “good” ones or “bad” ones. It’s still violence and people’s bodies are still the field of battle. Remarks like his unconsciously continue the idea that we can be damaged goods by how our bodies are treated by others or even how we use them ourselves. Or even for just existing.
And even worse, for his reaction to diminish an entire race of people shows just how de-humanizing this male toxicity is. We have seen in the news how ugly and deadly it is when black and brown bodies are de-humanized. This is also “the body as battlefield” mentality that historically allowed for lynchings and the torture of bodies of “the other.” Neeson’s comments point out how these attitudes still perpetrate our culture today.
I am so grateful that the #metoo movement has begun changing the narrative and revealing how pervasive de-humanizing stories are in our world. It is an enormous task.
One of my healing paths was to take up karate. The other was to begin walking the spirit path. I have written some blogs for this site which reflect that work. I am passionate about the need to change the foundations of our cultural stories.
If women are goods which can be damaged; If violence continues to be played out in our bodies; If the color of our skin can make us a target; If men can still feel its OK to do the male violence thing in response to feeling their own hurt, then we as a world cannot be whole.
As for me, I had to relearn how to love. I had to learn how to channel my anger, grief and sadness into something transformative. I had to learn that I am not damaged goods. I had to learn how to love all the parts of myself, even the more challenging parts. On bad days I still struggle with these lessons. On good days these lessons sing to me.
Janet Rudolph is a twice ordained shaman, the latest as an alaka’i which is a Hawaiian spiritual guide. Rudolph has walked this path for over 20 years traveling around the world to learn and experience original teachings from differing cultures. Using a technique she calls “spiritual forensics” which includes cross-cultural explorations and ancient Hebrew translations, she has delved into the Bible’s pagan roots to uncover its hidden magic. Rudolph has written two books on the subject of ancient Biblical teachings. One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible and When Eve Was a Goddess: A Shamanic Look at the Bible. A third book, When Moses Was a Shaman will be out soon.
34 thoughts on “Liam Neeson and White Toxic Masculinity by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”
Wise words and thanks for getting to the root of what was wrong in what Liam Neeson said he felt like doing. Imagine him going out to beat up a “white man”? Who would he have chosen? (He could have just beat up on himself I suppose but that wouldn’t have helped anyone either.) And as you say his feeling that he had to get revenge was all about him and not about the woman who was raped.
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Thanks Carol. It is amazing to me that it is so hard to for people in general to understand why this is a problem. It even took me a few days of meditation to get the crux of it and why his words bothered me so much.
Great post, Janet. I think this sentence is right on target: “I am passionate about the need to change the foundations of our cultural stories.” Our cultural stories create us by informing us how to be(have) in the world. The foundations that uphold those stories/narratives have taken years and years to create and set in place. It’s a daunting task to dismantle those foundations.
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Thank you Esther, And thanks for pointing out that sentence. Love the be(have) take of yours. Yep quite daunting. The stories have been created and upheld over thousands of years and they just seep into our consciousness to the point that we often aren’t even aware. That is one reason I love this site, all the excellent writings bring to awareness so much about our lives and “how we be(have) in the world.”
Another note to Esther Nelson, regards the playful spirit in your thought, that is, how we might best be(have) in the world — love that expression be(have) — priceless!
Janet, thank you for this thoughtful, heart-wrenching post. I am so sorry for what happened to you. I’ve read accounts by rape survivors who said: “You never ‘get over’ it. You integrate the fact of the rape into your life and go on.” It sounds as if you have accomplished that goal.
The idea that women’s bodies are public territory for any passing male to fertilize at whim or will is anathema to me. I’m one who believes all girls should start learning martial arts at age three. I also believe survivors should say “a man raped me” instead of the patriarchally approved “I was raped.” The passive voice absolves men of responsibility. Yet it’s male humans who commit the crime, not other women. One of the most difficult aspects of talking about this is having to use the word “men.” Not all men are rapists or evil, we know that. Many of us are married to men who aren’t and mothers of boys and men who aren’t.
Let’s find new ways to refer to rogue males: as “perverts” perhaps, and as “patriarchs” for men who, powerless and disaffected themselves, think the way to feel powerful is to regulate women’s bodies by forbidding contraception and abortion.
Above all we should promote the idea of women as powerful, autonomous beings, rather than as property. This is going to be difficult because patriarchal religion promotes the opposite view. However, we have to start somewhere.
Janet, thanks again for this post and for pointing out that Liam Neeson, like other men, somehow managed to make the crime all about his own feelings. Violence is not the answer: the answer is reeducation as to the role of women in society and respect for our miraculous selves.
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Thank you for your words goddessfiction. Your points are all excellent. Rape is so connected with violence. It used as such in war time.
In the past I have been asked to refer to the man as “my rapist.” What? Like he is “mine” and I have to “own” him in some way. I still can’t really do that. A new vocabulary for this is well needed.
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While the article and the comments correctly expose the patriarchal and misogynistic idea that rape is a crime against ‘the men who “own” the woman”, rather than a multilayered and traumatizing attack on a woman’s emotional, intellectual, bodily and spiritual sovereignty, I am deeply saddened by the fact that the racial bias involved was not as highlighted in the discussion. I understand that the author was focusing on centering a rape-survivors voice – and that she has a right to do so.
However, while I applaud her analysis of the ways in which patriarchy minimizes our presence as actual subjects rather than objects – as persons of power rather than objects to be protected, I also believe that there is an intersectional aspect of oppression that must be acknowledged in our discussions. It is not always present – but in this case it is so highlighted that I was unable not to address it.
If the rapist had been white, I don’t believe that Liam Neeson would have gone out and sought to beat up or kill another white man. The fact that he asked what race the man was, points to the fact that the racist ideology that paints all Black men as rapists – and that declares that the rape of a White woman by a Black man is “worse” than the rape of a white woman by a white man already existed in his head. The Black man he went looking for would most likely have been innocent – and could have been my son, my friend, or my partner. It could even have been a Black gay man. This is also a traumatic and traumatizing experience that marginalized communities still live with.
There is a long history of blaming a targeted “other” for a heinous crime – especially a sexually heinous crime – whether the perpetrator is said to be Jewish, Black, working class, or (more recently) Mexican (in the case of Trump). Patriarchal racism always points to the “other”, disguising the fact that rape is one of the most common crimes of patriarchy – as Freud initially documented. As a Black woman who has been raped by a Black middle-class, peace activist in Africa, I am acutely aware of the reality of Black-on-Black rape. And, while I acknowledge the existence of Black on White rape (see Eldridge Cleaver), I am also aware of the many times that Black men were falsely accused of the rape of white women and subsequently lynched. According to Ida B. Wells’ research on southern lynchings, in many instances southern white women were often forced to declare that consensual relations with Black men were acts of rape since the racist patriarchy of the times refused to acknowledge that consensual sexual relations between Black men and white women could exist. (The rape of Black women by White men was either denied or blamed on the victims.)
There is also a class aspect to this crime. Neeson did not fantasize about going to an upper-class enclave to find someone to beat up; he went to working class areas even though there is a clear pattern of upper class men raping working class women, children and men. (See sexual assault case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Nafissatou Diallo). As a mixed-class woman who was a single mother for much of her life, the loss of a partner is an economic hardship for a working class woman as well as an emotional one. Neeson’s choice of where to find a ‘victim’ also speaks to the way in which the violence enacted in marginalized communities is not something the state protects us from.
I strongly believe that in the times we are living in, we are called to acknowledge and analyse not only our own oppression, but all the ways in which our oppression is linked with and to the oppression of others. I don’t think that we can make the alliances that will help all the world’s people survive if we don’t do this. I also understand that everyone does not need to do this in every conversation. While I applaud the presentation of a rape survivor’s perspective in this narrative, as a Black womanist-feminist rape survivor, my perspective calls for a highlighting of both a rape survivor’s perspective, a Black perspective, and a class perspective. Both-and rather than either-or – they are indissolubly linked in my body, my mind, my heart and my spirit. Both-and rather than either-or – my body-mind-psyche-heart is the physical ground on which these oppressions are enacted.
Following the example of Buddhist teacher Larry Yang, I want to apologize if my words – which are by definition imperfect – have had an unintended negative impact on anyone in this thread. This is not my intent – however, given that so many of you are speaking out as survivors, I deeply apologize if the sharing of my thoughts has been harmful to you.
Wow Arisika, What a beautiful and strong voice you have. And thank you for sharing your harrowing story. You have certainly added a perspective that I don’t have and I appreciate that. I can only speak from my own truth and experience and I love that you are speaking from yours as it adds such dimension – unfortunately such painful dimension.
I hadn’t even realized the class aspect of this but there it is as you point out so poignantly!
I hope we can walk hand in hand, spirit to spirit and heart to heart and help each other to heal. I can certainly use it.
When men make any crime or even a disagreement against women about THEM and THEIR FEELINGS the woman in question is dismissed and rendered invisible. I have a neighbor that does this routinely and wonders why I have no time for him.
Your story is such a moving one – I loved this post.
Old, old messages. A neighbor must be tough, hard to get away from. Glad you are keeping your distance. So true about that invisibleness. This is something I have struggled with my entire life. With abuse and rape invisibleness can also become a protection (although it doesn’t really work) and it can be painful to poke our heads out. I am so honored to be able to post here on this blog as it allowing me to be “seen” in small doses. Thanks Sara.
As you say, old old messages…I am at the point in my life where I cannot tolerable feeling invisible, so it is easy to keep distance. Invisible brings back sexual abuse, rape, no one home – all of it – and the moment I experience invisibility I can feel myself shrinking – very scary how easily we can get stuck in that place of miserable objectivity. I loved your post.
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Women rely on women friends I think much more now, and so they can demand much more respect from the men in their life. That’s a good outcome in our era of independence and robust feminism, etc.
Yes, Fran, to women friends. Conversely, I don’t have a lot of experience with women friendships. I wish I were better at it. My husband, however, he is the one who has taught me by his words and actions and love to know what unconditional love is. He has helped me to heal and to learn to love. I have an adult son who is an awesome gentle soul as well as a wonderful friend.
I just returned from a spiritual retreat in Ecuador. We were 5 women. I am hoping this work will help me to change some old patterns in regards to women friendships.
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Thank you for sharing your story, Janet, and for witnessing that men’s desire for vengeance is making the rape about themselves rather than listening to and supporting the woman who is the actual victim not only of one violent act but of systemic violence towards women. Thank you Goddess Fiction for the noting the distinction between saying I was raped and a man raped me.
I may be giving Neeson too much benefit of doubt, but it seemed to me, as I listened, that his shame was not only for his racism and lust for vengeance but also for his disregard of his friend–to whom he lied about where he was going and what he intended to do. Why bring it up forty years later? Because he was silent for that long about behavior of which he is deeply and rightly ashamed.
People often demand of victims, why didn’t she say/do something at the time? Why did she wait so long to report the crime? Because of justified fear of not being believed, justified fear of being blamed–and shamed for someone else’s shameful act.
I hope more men will claim and shoulder their shame instead of expecting/demanding that women carry it for them.
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Thank you for bringing this up Elizabeth. In the writing I was a bit worried about piling on Liam Neeson. He has had a hard life. His wife died in that horrible skiing accident when their kids were still young. I am hoping that he is a good man. Perhaps because his work is so public, he thought to process this publicly. And certainly I, for one, would not want to be judged by my worst moments in life. It would be ugly. Still, his words do betray, at least for me, an underlying belief that is harmful to all. If Liam Neeson could hear me, I would say to him that I hope he has healed this rent in his life for when someone does their own healing work, those around them heal as well. He does seem like a good man.
I love your line about men claiming shouldering their part in these actions.
BTW I think of myself as a survivor not as a victim.
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Thank you for the distinction between survivor and victim. Right on, write on!
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Look what showed up in my news feed Elizabeth:
I think its a start although I do wish that he had shown more of an awareness of why his remarks were so cutting. Step by step, I suppose. I do hope it wasn’t just a publicity stunt.
Thank you so much for your truth telling. You have summed up beautifully the conundrum women still find themselves in and shared your path to healing.
Thank you listeningtomylife7
Powerful story, Janet, with that clarity and strength and commitment that marks all your writing, and that comes from everything you’ve done in your life. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Oh Rachel, just make me cry why don’t you! As I told you, this came from a conversation that we had. Thanks for rocking my world and making me think about this in deeper terms.
I was also told I didn’t have to “tell my future husband” – by my mother. That was 70 years ago, and while we still struggle to break free of being “the weaker sex” or “sexual objects” or “baby producers”, work like yours, Janet, is a great leap forward. It also provides the words to explain why I don’t think some “jokes” are funny.
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Oh Barbara, my heart is with you. And your mother, no less. Those issues are so hard to untangle. Thank you for sharing your words. I am sorry that we share this painful sisterhood where we treated as “damaged” as if our bodies were not our own. We are not alone. I hope you have found a healing path.
Thank you Janet. I have found healing, and also growth in living with my history. The biggest step was talking about it and giving my mother back the shame she loaded on me by no longer accepting it as mine. She was dead by that time, so I did it ritually, and sensed her being there and her own pain and healing. My grandfather, I suspect, also thought his daughters were available for his pleasure.
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Wow Barbara, It sounds like you have broken the chain of abuse of generation of family members and done healing for your whole family. I’d love to hear more about the ritual you speak about. It sounds like a powerful experience. Brava!
I am sure this was not an easy post for you to write and relive but honestly, thank you for writing it. It was so brave and honest and open. When I first heard Liam Neeson’s words, I too thought the same thing: it just makes the subject of what happened HIS anger and HIS feelings over the injustice of HIS friend – not the fear or hatred or pain she was experiencing. While at face value, it sounds like a valiant thing to do, taking care of your friend it really is anything but. In the future, hopefully it will become a discussion or dialogue rather than a revenge trope. Thank you again for writing on this. I hope you were able to find some peace and comfort in writing out your feelings on this subject and wish you lots of self-compassion and peace.
Thank you Tara, yes writing (and still no so much-speaking) does does give me the space to own and process my own life experiences without the shame I felt when I was younger. The #Metoo movement has helped. As has RAINN.
May your words about discussion and dialog come to pass.
Wow, thank for sharing your story and your path of healing. It is so helpful to me, as a fellow rape survivor.
Not wanting to get into a lot of thought about Liam Neesoin and why he said what he did (and not haing read anythign about it), I just want to say that for me, because it was and sometimes still is so hard to have my own anger over what happened to me, I am actually grateful when people are angry on my behalf. I say “Thank you for being angry, becasue it’s so hard for me to feel it.”
Having said that, I entirely agree with you that violence after violence does not solve problems or bring healing. I used to wish violence on my perpetrators, now I ask for healing.
I am glad we are slowly changing the narrative and understanding of violence against women (and against each other generally), but I have been around long enough now to understand that this change takes time and is generational. Too slow for many of us, but there it is–slow is better than never.
P/a I am copying a couple of quotes from this into my inspiration journal.
Also, an addendum–while women may not be able to rape physically in the same way that men can, they can absolutely sexually molest and abuse both girls and boys. It is just a as devastating, IMHO. In some ways the sexaul abuse by my mother was more damaging than that by my father. It is something to be aware of as we talk about who abuses and who doesn’t. While men are more culturally socialized for it, women are not absolved of their own actions.
There’s lots of work to do all across the board.
Sexual abuse by your mother too? Oh my heart touches yours. Was there any safe place for you as a child? Any loving people?
I was also abused by my father (my mother didn’t actively abuse but she did ignore it until the day she died which is just short of a year now – is that abuse?) I wonder what your take is on this – does early abuse make us easier targets for rape later on? I feel that it did for me. I walked with my shoulders hunched, mostly unaware of my environment, in short . . an easy target for a predator. It was why I eventually ended up in karate. To at least change my physical story.
Please forgive me if I offend you by the question. I am most definitely NOT saying that I think its in any way our fault.
Thank you for sharing your story Iris. I am sorry for membership in this painful sisterhood. Interesting take on when other’s feel angry for us. I do hate owning my own anger. But when I manage to do it in appropriate ways, I do find it cleansing. I used to “spew” a lot and that wasn’t so good for anyone, esp me and those who have loved me.
By changing ourselves we change the narrative and understanding. I hope we can all work to speed it up. There are movements afoot that seem to be doing just that.
Wow, I am so glad I found this site through Aunt Polly’s Rants. I felt sick when I heard what Liam Neeson said about what happened and what he did. (I already was turned off by his opposition to taking horses off the streets of NYC because he and Natasha had ridden in a carriage; frankly, I love horses far more than people, particularly entitled, self-absorbed men.) As a white woman who grew up with two parents involved in the civil rights movement I am painfully aware of how brutal white Americans are; to quote James Baldwin, we are the sickest, most dangerous people in the world. To read this essay from the point of view of someone who was raped is tremendously moving and profound, and I thank you for it.
Thank you for your words of support susansiens. And good points all, thank you for sharing.