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The Silent Protest from students’ perspective

Silent protest

Two personal accounts from a female and male student that both participated in this years Silent Protest: A Silent Voice and The 2012 Silent Protest: A Journal.

A Silent Voice

By Gabriela Masson

I can feel the damp of my clothes from the drizzle, the restriction of the tape on my mouth, and the warmth of my friend’s hand, as we march down Prince Albert Street.

I look to my right and see a girl walking next to the Drama Department. She looks up and sees us, before quickly averting her eyes and hurrying on.

A man is so preoccupied with watching us march that he accidentally reverses into the car behind him, before pulling off and driving away down the wrong side of the street. I see him again, stopping at the intersection as we flow onto Somerset. He does not look at us this time.

We reach the Main Administration building, and for the first time I realise how many people are taking part in the march, as I am confronted with a mass of purple.

The only sound is of peoples’ feet shuffling along the tar of the road as they walk, and the faint clicking of the cameras as photographs are taken.

Larissa asks all the men participating in the march to stand up, which they do. There is a complete hush as she says that these are what real men look like, and then everyone bursts into applause. I can see some of the women smiling under their tape, because their eyes are crinkled.

The day ahead begins as we all rise to either go to lectures, the library or other parts of campus. I begin to understand what they meant when they warned us that the protest would be difficult, when I see a man standing near the Chemistry building, staring at me in disgust, before turning away and entering the building. I feel a terrible pain in my chest at this. The expression on his face will stay with me for a very long time.

The reactions of people throughout the day vary. From one man I know smiling and giving me a thumbs up, as I climbed the stairs to the fourth floor of the library, to a woman standing at the short loans desk staring at me as if she had never seen another human being before. People mostly try and avoid eye contact with me, as if they are afraid to look at me. I do not think any less of them for this. I do feel pity for them, however.

At noon I make my way to the Die-In, where I lay down on the road and close my eyes. When it begins to rain I do not care. I carry on lying there because I know that my resolve is stronger than to let rain deter me.

During the fifteen minute silence I can hear the sound of laughter in the distance, and I wonder how anyone can laugh when so many of us are lying on the road and pavement, in positions resembling the dead. I feel angry and ashamed for them. But then I hear the birds overhead, and I open my eyes and see something that amazes me. Something which is rooted in reality, but must be a dream. I see the woman who I am doing the protest for lying beside me, and even though I know she is not really there, I can feel her holding my hand. I begin to cry. It is this moment that gets me through the rest of the day.

At five o’ clock, we gather outside the Main Administration building once more, and begin the march towards the cathedral with the rape survivors leading us.

I look around me, and see waiters have come out of restaurants, and people in their cars slowing down, to watch us march. A group of people are leaning against a wall like mannequins, their eyes moving in unison. On the island in the middle of the road, a woman is standing quite close to us. She looks at me as if she wants to say something, but then she turns away and crosses the street.

As we enter the cathedral, I look back and see a sea of purple against the grey sky.

I cannot, and would never even think of, recounting what the rape survivors shared with us in that place of sanctuary. I can only say that I, as cliché as it may sound, have no way in which to express the myriad of emotions that existed simultaneously during those hours when they told their stories. All I can say is that I truly will never forget. I cannot forget. I will not allow myself to forget. I want to remember so that I can take part in the protest again next year, and be sure of why I am doing so. I want to remember so that when someone says anything about the fact that it is someone’s fault that they got raped, I can tell them that the only person whose fault it is, is the rapist’s.

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The 2012 Silent Protest: A Journal

By Tristan de Robillard

“We who are an institution of words will today become silent.”

These were the words that, at roughly half-past six in the morning on Friday the 23rd of March, put the aims of the 2012 Silent Protest into plain English: It is time to put what can’t be expressed in words into action. It is time to make a statement.

There were nearly 1500 women in Alec Mullins Hall having their mouths taped up for an entire day in solidarity with women who speak out about their survival of rape. As a man, a member of the sex that had brought such pain upon them, I felt exposed and trepidatious. We men were not going to tape up our mouths or forego meals and water for the day. It felt as if we were outsiders, not meant to be part of something that seemed to be exclusively for women.

There was no time to mull over this, however, as following the taping of the mouths, or “The silencing”, as it was called, we marched from the hall to the main administration block. The silencing was already making its weight felt as, in contrast to the chanting typical of a protest march, all that could be heard was the steady shuffling of feet as they moved purposefully toward their goal. The whole experience was completely unnerving, and I found myself taking it far more seriously than any other protest I’d witnessed. In keeping with its theme, it did not have to make any verbal statements – it was making its point by doing just the opposite.

When we gathered at the admin building, Larrissa Klazinga – the co-ordinator of the march – asked the men to stand up. At this point I was somewhat worried about what might be said of us, but my concern was utterly unfounded, because she then said, “Ladies, this is what a real man looks like.” From that point on, there was no doubt as to what our role was in the march. We were not just there to show support, but to demonstrate a new attitude towards an issue that all too often is avoided out of embarrassment. “Do not ignore it”, seems to be the cry, “Stand beside the survivors, and deal with it.” After that, I was proud to be a part of the movement.

Being in lectures at the time, I was regrettably not present for the “Die-in” (where the protestors all lie still on the floor for an hour to honour those who have died as a result of sexual violence) but I did attend the “Breaking the silence” in the cathedral on High Street. The tape was removed from everyone’s mouths and the survivors came forward to speak about their ordeals.

It was an intensely emotional experience as speaker by speaker broke down after bringing all the old wounds back to the surface. The hall was awash with tears as this all happened, and one got the feeling that it was not just the survivors who were hurting, but also those who heard such harrowing stories of men who did not know when “no” meant precisely that.

As deeply cathartic as it was, one thing really did stand out that evening. There were many things the speakers had in common, and one of them was an initial feeling of guilt, followed by a conviction that there is not one thing a woman can do differently on any given day to prevent rape. When a man makes that choice a woman can fight him, but if he is bigger and stronger he will win. The reason why us men had to be there, hear what we heard and see what we saw became even clearer in light of this: Men, regrettably, can hold that power over women. Not always, but generally it is true. It is we, as much as women, who must change the culture of rape, because ultimately we are the ones who decide if it will happen. Women can only do so much to stop it.

The 23rd of March was the type of day that changes people. It is impossible for one to be the same after witnessing such a moving event. It was a difficult but utterly worthwhile experience, and I have learnt perhaps the most important lesson out of the many life-lessons I have learnt at Rhodes: When women say “no”, that is only part of what stops rape. The one thing that ends rape permanently is when we as men say “no” to ourselves.

 

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