“Till It Happens To You” is Lady Gaga’s powerful new song which she co-wrote for use in the documentary on campus rape in the United States called “The Hunting Ground.” The numbers make it clear that drastic action is needed to raise the kind of men who would never degrade themselves to subjecting someone to such a horrifying ordeal.
It is so important to have celebrities support such important causes, and very inspiring to have them use their art for this purpose. However, their status makes it all the more important that they deal with these causes with care and attention. While I found nothing wrong with the song itself, that millions are watching the associated video clip is of great concern.
Art is a powerful tool that can bring to our collective attention topics of societal importance. If we are to set ourselves on the long path of figuring out how to eliminate campus rape, we have to remain sensitive to this cause. Because once we stop having negative, gut-driven reactions to the horrors related to it, an automatic act of self-preservation we all have, our drive will be negatively affected.
Unfortunately, a couple my friends have been sexually assaulted, some of them on campus. Because the others in the group weren’t desensitized, we were able to cry with them and feel a small part of their pain. We felt dirty just like they did; we went through a phase during which we would take as many showers as our friends did; some of us couldn’t stop cleaning, mimicking to a limited extent what our friend was going through. All of my friends agreed that the best support they have had was from friends so horrified that their reactions made them feel validated in their pain. They didn’t feel alone because we cried with them and shivered with them and felt gross just like they did. One of them mentioned that when she realised one of her friend’s had picked up her habit of cleaning her hands a couple of times an hour, she felt completely and absolutely loved.
So on the one hand, the conversation has to be honest and has to lead to action. We have to feel some of the horror of what those who are raped are going through to keep us going on this path because it’s going to take time to solve. But on the other hand, being desensitized by the sensational aspects of rape narrows the trauma to a moment, narrowing the scope of what we will think of doing to help.
To completely get rid of a culture in which rape happens, we have to change the root cause of why this happens in the first place: a lack of respect for human dignity. How does seeing rape scenes like the ones in the video clip to Lady Gag’s song—or, for that matter, or reading graphic descriptions of rape scenes in books—help increase our appreciation for human dignity? It doesn’t, for the simple reason that we become desensitized out of sheer self-preservation. What if instead, the video had focused only on human dignity?
Which brings me to one of the immediate and powerful ways we can all contribute to this: by consciously respecting and appreciating human dignity through our thoughts, our words, our actions, and our social media posts. Another immediate way is by acting dignified by respecting our own bodies. By showing respect to ourselves and others, we are immediately contributing to the environment in which this important conversation will occur; and since change in a society is intimately related to changes in the individuals living in this society, no doubt one will feed into the other.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 10 October 2015.