I was taught to yell "fire" [a poem]

Mathilde Roussel, 25.08.79 #1, 2010


"A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life."

Virginia Woolf


I was taught to yell "fire"
     for all my sisters and brothers who know,
     and all my sisters and brothers who gratefully don't

Even today, I carry my key like a knife when I walk home.

The restaurant is one block from my apartment.  Yet in the time it takes to release my left hand from its pocket and transfer my keys to my right, I could be attacked. 

It is not quite so simple, I suppose.  Most women are abused by men they know.
Most women – American women, anyway – are not like Jyoti Singh, the 23-year-old student who was raped by six men on a bus in Delhi before being thrown out into the street to die.
Mukesh Singh, one of her six attackers, now says Jyoti wouldn't have been killed if she had just allowed it; that if she hadn't been screaming "Help me, help me," then they wouldn't have had to kill her; that "a girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy." 

At least where I live, most women are abused by men they know.

I once read that when a man puts an uninvited hand on my leg, I should grab his fingers
and bend them backwards until they break
not to stop his molestations, but to prove, many months later,
when I am sitting in a courtroom,
that I was unwelcoming to advances. 

In the schoolyard we learn that when a boy likes a girl, he teases her and pushes her to the ground.  In tenth grade health class, I learned that every third American woman will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.  Our teacher showed us, counting off in threes, and nine among us stood: harbingers of what awaited out in the world.

When I am raped, so I was taught, I should yell "fire"
because if I yell "rape", no one will come to save me. 

The truth cannot help us here, inside our bodies.  This place belongs to myths and fairy tales:
deities born into existence without the stain of our creating them,
fabricated desires made temptations by our simple being.

I wish I could say that I don't need protecting, but I do.  Dear gods, save me from the men who will use us as rewards for their devotion.  One day I too will pray to you, and you will listen.


My current project, ASKING FOR IT, seeks to redirect the dialogue surrounding sexual assault.  Learn more and contribute your story at ASKINGFORIT.net