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[The following contains a sustained reflection upon patriarchal violence and rape culture.  A fair bit of the content could be significantly triggering.  Please only read if you feel able to do so.]

There was her but it wasn’t a gun, it was a knife, and he said he was going to take her to a friend’s house and cut her into pieces, but she doesn’t mention that part, or how she pissed herself while singing hymns because he told her to, and what was she to do, on her stomach, in a car with a man with a knife, and he said he was going to take her to a friend’s house and cut her into pieces.

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!  Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Later on, she said that she hadn’t imagined that writing the song meant that total strangers could bring it up to her anywhere and anytime they wanted, like one journalist did over a plate of spaghetti or like I’m doing now.  And so she didn’t perform it – the song – anymore.  She hasn’t for decades, I believe, but it still has over 250,000 views on youtube, depending which video you view, and I listened to it over and over and over again when I first heard it a long, long time ago, and I thought of X and of X and of X and of X and of almost every woman I have ever known and loved and things happened in my heart that are still hard to put into words, but I think it was something like mourning, and I’m mourning even now when the list of women is exponentially longer and my tears are mostly gone and my insides have a lot more of nothing where something used to be.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and Mighty!  God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

In interviews, on stage – I saw her twelve years ago in Seattle and stumbled into her presence when she was doing an unannounced meet-and-greet with fans behind the venue where she was playing and I was wandering around killing time and waiting for X – she wasn’t just beautiful and brilliant and fashionable in her “very Tori way.”  She was also sexy.  In a culture that suggests that female survivors of sexual violence are supposed to be typecast as either extremely sexually promiscuous or extremely averse to sex, she was defiantly, powerfully, and completely normally, sexy.  She would never be defined by sex, or by sexual violence, or by a song.  She would be who she was, and part of who she would be was a woman, and part of who she was as a woman was sexy.  Yes, there was her, and a gun, and a man on her back, but now there is this show and this stage and this dress and these lights, and not one but two pianos.

The mistake most men make is thinking that the sexiness of women has anything at all to do with them.  Because in the vast majority of cases, it doesn’t.  But men don’t worry about this mistake too much.  It’s not fatal to them.

(In the comments of one of the youtube videos of her singing, somebody remarks on how haunting and heartbreaking the song is and a man replies: “Exactly!  No wonder he raped her.”)

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!  All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.

I have been thinking a lot about men and sex and love and I think that the truisms about these things aren’t true.  People say what men want is sex but I think men want love but they mistake sex for love and are often willing to take it by force if it is not given to them with a smile and a please and a thank you very much.  Men confuse sex for love in a way that many women do not.  From an early age, women – girls – learn that sex very often (most often?) has nothing to do with love.  Women and girls are regularly exposed to unwanted sexual attention, threats of sexual violence and microaggressions, that can all to oquickly turn into overwhelming physical force.  Women and girls learn that love is often much more than sex and sex is often much less than love.  There may be points of overlap, but often there is none.

Men are not taught this lesson.  They don’t have to learn it.  That’s the nature of patriarchy.  That’s why old male porn stars talk nostalgically about the love connection they felt with female costars.  Old female porn stars (who, unlike the men, are actually still quite young) don’t talk that way – and while they express a whole range of feelings about their involvement in porn, they never talk about it as though love was something that existed there.  Sex was work, it was a job, it was something they got done and perhaps they made a lot doing it (if they were some of the very few who make it big).  Perhaps tehy regretted it.  Perhaps they didn’t.  Perhaps there were mixed feelings.  But the talk of the women was always very professional and objective.  It’s the men who were making it all emotional and all about love.

Patriarchy is permissive when it comes to men, not only seeking to gratify their bodies but also seeking to gratify their emotions.  Men are like spoiled children who never have to grow up and who never have to realize that it’s a fucking dick move to knock over another kid and take his toy because you want it.  A good example of this is the guy who recently stabbed a woman in the leg because he had told her she had nice legs and she didn’t respond.  “Hey, I said something to you!” and “Hey, I gave you a compliment!” and “Didn’t your mom teach you to thank someone when they compliment you?” And, after stabbing her but before running away, “I guess your legs aren’t so great now.”

Men are constantly mistaking sex for love and their own gratification for the fulfillment of others.  And when the veil of this gets pulled away – when their overtures of love (“Hey, nice legs!”) are spurned — they tend to get stabby.  Or rapey.

So it goes when hierarchies are established between people.  Those using force to violate the bodies of others are always telling themselves and anyone else who will listen that this really is what is best for everyone.  The cop who says, “Stop resisting! We’re doing this for your own good!” or the social worker who takes an Indigenous child into a white foster family “for the good of the kid,” or the Canadian military that occupies Haiti out of a “responsibility to protect,” or the rapist who says, “you know you want it” are all playing the same game.

“Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and Mighty!  God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

That’s enough of that.  We’ve all had enough of that.  You can stop now.  Can we stop now?

Tori is in her mid-fifties.  X is about ten years older.  They have both suffered indescribable things.

X is younger.  She is only in her twenties, but she, too, has suffered the love of men.

My daughter is five years old.

Please, haven’t we all had enough?

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  1. One statement in particular really stood out and challenged me. But after rereading it multiple times I’m not sure if I understood it correctly.

    “The mistake most men make is thinking that the sexiness of women has anything at all to do with them.”

    When you say “them” do you mean the women or the men? I assumed the “them” refers to women.

    • Hi Joey,

      Thanks for the comment — and for catching an unclear sentence! I had intended the “them” to refer to the men. Thus, for example, a man in a specific situation sees a woman whom he considers “sexy” and assumes that this woman wants him to think that she is sexy — when in actuality that woman quite possibly wants him to not think of her at all.

  2. The way I mistakenly understood it was that a woman’s sexiness, as experienced by men, doesn’t have anything to do with women insofar as it’s something that is projected on to them. I suppose that might also mean that I was thinking of sexiness differently. I was thinking of it as something like lustfullness. So perhaps a way to rephrase the way I interpreted your statement would be: The mistake most men make is thinking that their lust for women has anything to do with the women. Not sure if that has any resonance to you. I think it’s where my mind went due to my own recent grappling with my culturally ingrained misogyny.