The poem “Sexual Assault Awareness Week” was posted earlier this week on SJS. We’ve heard what many of you thought of the poem, but let’s hear what the Author, Monica Wendel has to say about her piece: <!–more–>
‘We are who we are because we believe what we believe,’ a creative writing teacher once told me. She meant it as a statement about life as well as a statement about creating realistic characters. Writing this poem, I created a speaker (the “I” of the poem) who is caught between different beliefs. She struggles to balance her ideals (the rapist should be the one blowing the whistle!) with the real world (of course a rapist would never blow a whistle).
I’m skeptical of art that is written with an agenda behind it, which might seem contradicatory considering that this poem is published on a Social Justice website and in an anthology called Women Write Resistence: Poets Resist Gender Violence. But when I sat down in Bluestockings Bookstore (a collectively-run bookstore on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) to write this poem I was thinking about character and language, not about politics. In other words, I was interested in how the speaker is shaped by the choices she is presented with, and furthermore about the language (presented on checklists and posters) that shapes those choices.
The poem ends on a note of absurdity. A rape whistle is not going to prevent rape, not if it’s only given to potential rape victims or potential rapists. If I could change anything about this poem, it would be that I wish the poem offered a solution to the problems of sexual violence. The ending lacks resolution: is the speaker making fun of the so-called “feminist brigade?” Is she smirking at their impotence? Or is there space for a better future – and better self-identity – somewhere between labeling all people as either potential victims or potential rapists?
And so in the absurdity of the last lines is also a note of truth. If we (metaphorically) “blow the whistle,” who is going to come to save us? A hero? A police officer? Well, for better or worse, the only people who will “come running” are ourselves.