Monday, March 14, 2016

South Louisiana: A Woman's Experience

Woman with no name of her own. Abbeville, Louisiana.

The sparkle

In South Louisiana, there's always this .... I don't know .... electrostatic charge in the air, gravitational waves, sub-atomic magnetic field, whatever .... that plays between men and women. The daily language itself is intimate, even among strangers, at check-out counters, at the auto repair shop, on the street, wherever, what with both genders infusing statements with warm "sha's" and "baby's" and for women, the amiable, comfortable "girl," said in the same way you'd say it to your sister.

There's an acknowledgement of each other as sensual human beings that is frank and natural.

I like it. As a young dancer said to me at the Feed 'n Seed one night, "Let's put a little sparkle in this waltz."

There's a sparkle in South Louisiana.

But there's a yang to every yin, and in South Louisiana, there is an historical timeline of cultural pathology against women, still burbling its oily toxin today, like an uncapped oil leak in the beautiful land of the bayous.

I've got my theories on why this is, but I'll save that for another post.

In the meantime, below are a couple of my less-sparkly experiences as a woman in South Louisiana.

The sludge

I was physically accosted twice while in South Louisiana, in both cases:
  • By men with whom I'd talked and danced a number of times;
  • With whom I'd been clear about my lack of romantic interest; and
  • In public.

With the first man, I had seen some red flags that spoke to a damaged character, but I thought the boundaries I'd set were well-defined, and I believed I could manage the situation. 

With the second man - I never saw it coming.

In the first incident, the man apparently held the belief that some women want a man to be the aggressor, like in a bodice-ripper novel. I use the word "aggressor" deliberately because this is the exact word he used to me, stating that "obviously" he was going to have to be the aggressor. In other words, this is what he told himself that I wanted him to do. The word "aggressor" is quite different from the word "initiator." One word is about force. The other is neutral - merely the idea of who will start an action. He's a smart guy. He knew exactly what he meant when he chose "aggressor."

In the second incident, I have no idea what the man was thinking. I'd been bamboozled by his self-narrative, that he was a non-drinking, non-drugging man who lived by a strong code of personal and business ethics, and who was devoted to a well-regarded profession that allowed him to serve others.

Later, I learned second-hand that the same man had allegedly sexually assaulted another woman in a far more serious way than he had me. When I say "second-hand," I mean that the other woman reported the assault to the person who told me about it.

I also learned after the fact that the first man was notorious in some circles for troubling behavior with women, details of which are still unclear to me.

The assaults I experienced were sexual assaults, make no mistake. But they joined the legions of unreported incidents because they didn't rise up to the level of what one would report to the police with any realistic expectation of ... what? And there's not a clear path on what to say - or to whom - to alert other women that these two men are unsafe. It's quite possible these two men are serial offenders against ... how many women? A handful? Dozens? Scores? A hundred?

Louisiana's track record on violence against women

In 2010, Louisiana ranked 4th highest for femicide (murders of girls or women). Source: Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Now, I've got to tell you, I think there is an ick factor that the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence's youtube channel has exactly three videos, all of which feature men speaking out about domestic violence against women. Yes, I get that it's a man-to-man kinda thing to try and achieve a cultural change where men are on board about this. But my first reaction was that it smacks of a husband or brother or son doing the talking for "his" woman. Like a woman's voice doesn't have enough heft to deliver the message. Not to mention the political juice that the state office-holders got from being in the videos. Show me the funding money for LCADV, gentlemen.

In 2012, Louisiana ranked 14th highest for (reported) rape. Source: CNN.


Julie said...

This deserves a comment, but all I can think of is "wow" and good for you for writing about it.

Mzuri said...

Thanks, Julie! It's kind of weird how timely it is in the current national dialogue.