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.