Just In Time for Domestic Violence Month:
A look back at Mary “Unique” Spears’ murder
Last October, while reading artist and scholar Bettina Judd’s account of at the hands of a man to whom she would not give her phone number in a club, I realized that I’d unconsciously put my hands over my heart.
Last October, while reading artist and scholar Bettina Judd’s account of Mary “Unique” Spears’ death at the hands of a man to whom she would not give her phone number in a club, I realized that I’d unconsciously put my hands over my heart.
One hand over the other, across my heart, a gesture of protection and comfort. I felt heart sick in a way that my hands couldn’t soothe, straight through my core.
I stopped to look up the case online and realized the stinging irony that Mary Spears was murdered during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Mary Spears should not be dead. She was 27, engaged to be married. Her three children should not be motherless because a man thought she owed him attention.
There but for the grace of God go I, and every other woman who dares to enter this world and claim her space.
There have been countless, yes, countless times when I have been publicly harassed, followed and hounded by a male who believed he had the right to refuse to accept no for an answer.
It isn’t because I’m some raving beauty; attractiveness has nothing to do with it. It isn’t about attraction, it’s about power.
Any female is fair game around a toxic male who believes the ownership of male genitalia entitles him to the type of response he demands.
Every woman I know has a grip-full of war stories such as mine, some mundane, some much worse. I thank God that I survived all such encounters with body and soul still connected, if worse for the wear.
One incident in my early 20s, that devolved into a bar brawl between the harasser and a male classmate with whom I was dancing, left me so scared and scarred I did not go out alone at night for two years. Oddly enough, it was not the worst incident
I had put the drunkenly persistent man off, over and over, that humid summer night, and then sent him away with a false phone number.
He left the club only to come back minutes later to see me dancing with my friend and subsequently lose his grip on reality. He grabbed me, screamed obscenities in my face, swung at me and missed.
When I broke free and ran, he turned his attention to my friend, a pacifist who somehow found the wherewithal to defend himself until the club’s security intervened.
One of my female friends, who witnessed the fiasco and helped me escape out a side door, said, ‘We can’t take you out. You’re not safe to bring to the club!”
She was genuinely angry, as if I had done something to provoke that man’s loud and sloppy attention that devolved into violence when he didn’t get what he thought he deserved.
No woman accosted in public has ever done anything to provoke unwanted attention, brutality, or death. I tried to calmly explain this to my friend, because I believed it, then and now.
Yet, for a long time I felt guilty of somehow causing the trouble. Did I have to wear that short, tight dress? (No, but I wanted to.) Did I wear too much make-up? (No. I wiped most of it off after the first hour of dancing.) Was I flirtatious without intending it? (No.)
But I felt guilty.
Just as I had felt guilty every time I was followed at night, bothered while out walking in broad daylight, while riding the subway with friends on the way to a party, and later in life, while pushing a stroller, while watching a parade in a crowd, while buying my son a Slurpee at a 7–11.
A long while later I learned, or rather unlearned, enough to stop feeling that way. Yet, it took more time, and intense self-defense classes, to feel brave enough to occupy the outside world at night.
Notice I said brave enough, not safe enough.
I’m certain the fact that I’d been raped during my last year of high school played a part in my reaction to the incident at the club. I’ve spoken to many other survivors of sexual violence; nearly every one spoke of going into “survival mode” when dealing with street harassment and violence post initial assault.
The UN Women;s organization reports that worldwide 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime . – See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures#sthash.H3qty6J5.dpuf
I admire how in her essay, Mary Spears’ Death Reminds Us The World Is Not Safe for Women, Bettina Judd so strongly and clearly, acknowledges the reality of what women, especially women of color and lesbian/bi/transgender women, face every day.
Take the burden of “keeping safe” off of women. We aren’t safe. That’s done. We were unsafe before we left the house. Sometimes we are unsafe in our homes.” ~Bettina Judd
She proclaims the true state of affairs—”Women are not safe. That’s done.”, and maps out the real cause of this troubling truth: hegemonic masculinity.
I will pause here to be explicitly clear that there are good, strong, mature, self-actualized men in the world who stand by women as we protest street harassment/street violence/domestic violence and other forms of male-directed violence against women.
These men understand a woman’s right to bodily integrity, privacy, self-determination, and safety. These men do not make excuses, mansplain the issues away, or blame women for not keeping themselves safe. Onward.
Even when women learn to defend ourselves, with martial arts, or a loaded gun, we quickly learn that the dominant culture does not often support our right to defend ourselves, our children, our lives.
This is especially true if we are any variation of Black or Brown, or if we are LGBQT.
Ask Marissa Alexander, who was jailed for firing a warning shot towards her abusive ex.
Ask CeCe McDonald, a Minnesota transgender woman, who found herself imprisoned for second-degree manslaughter in the aftermath of a violent racist and trans-phobic attack by a group of men, one of whom later died.
A study conducted in 2013 found that black females were murdered by males at a rate over two and a half times that of white females.
That’s 2.61 per 100,000 v. 0.99 per 100,000.
The overall rate is just as dismal: this year’s study reported in the new Violence Policy Center Report titled When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2012 Homicide Data, found that in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available for study, over 1,700 women were murdered by men in the U.S.
Of those women who lost their lives, over 90 percent knew their murderer.
If you think those numbers are not so very high, consider this: a 2002 study of 25 high income nations, conducted by Harvard University, found that while the United States accounted for only 32 percent of the female population worldwide, it also accounted for 70 percent of murders of women and 84 percent of female murders via firearm.
A change is seriously overdue; a change must come.
The Violence Poverty Center (VPC )released their report in September of 2014 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was signed into law on September 13, 1994.
Gwendolyn Brooks was oh, so right when she said, “Leaving my house is a political act.”
Even when we find the courage to venture out alone— with our invisible armor in place — often accompanied by the inner voice that tells us–You can do this–we can never know what we may encounter around the corner, around the way, at the whim of a male steeped in the corrosive brew of toxic masculinity.
Acknowledging the problem first is a given; all groups involved working together intersectionaly, including male allies, to solve the problems of street harassment, violence, and the perpetuation of rape culture, is the next step.
Maura Alia Badji is a writer, poet, artist, mother living in Southeast Virginia. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, Seattle; and an M.Ed in Special Education/Migrant Education from the State University of New York, New Paltz. Her writing has appeared in Barely South Review; Cobalt; The Buffalo News; The Woodstock Times; Soul Music of The World; Half Tones to Jubilee; convolvulus; teenytiny. ArtVoice, Eat.Drink.Memory/piquant; The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal; cups: a café journal. Her work was included in the anthology In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself (Volume 4) (Mw Enterprises May 15, 2002); This Far Together (Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, 1995); Go Gently (The Healing Woman, 1995). She is a member of The Watering Hole, an online community for poets of color.