i didn’t know that it would be the last time that i would see sj when this film was featured at hot docs. but it was, and it was through their irrepressible spirit of going off and exploring cities and film festivals that the discussion arrived in my living room, and honestly, it took the whole week to decide (and re-decide after deciding not to) to be ready to experience it.
my friend michelle was right by my side the whole time, and we discussed, as asian-canadian children who have inherited their parents’ experience of war (korean and american) the legacies that we have, and the ones that we are responsible to deconstruct and re/write when it comes to the colonial effects and present-day realities of sexual violence as part of state-sanctioned military campaigns and the tactics of dividing and conquering.
i had fully decided not to go, to be ready for it another time, when i found out that grandma gil was coming, and all of a sudden-the context of this hero of a woman who had endured so much still being strong enough to travel to do the work of activism made my process seem small, null and void. at the very least, i couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be in her presence. the mother’s day (!) screening that day was full of the strongest and most supportive asian women in the city at that time.
when michelle sent the invite that she was screening the film again at ryerson, and having a discussion with tiffany as a part of international women’s week, i had to go.
seeing it again, six years later, is not only a reminder that the fight continues (the korean women still rally every wednesday at noon in front of the japanese consulate in seoul for a simple blasted apology) and also has ushered in new realizations.
we now live in the shadow of an empire that is openly bragging about everyday sexual violence and xenophobia and recklessness in international relations. our own government continues to deny the illegal seizing of indigenous lands, and the continued environmental assault for capitalistic aims to curry favour with the aforementioned empire.
hearing tiffany talk about how difficult it was to make this film, and how angry she was that she was trying to take on this huge global project whilst dealing with the personal experience of not being able to speak to her family about her own sexual violence got me thinking about trust, and men, and accountability in general.
i don’t usually talk to the cis men in my life about the sexual violence and physical abuse that i have known. as i’ve gotten older, this has been because i don’t have the energy to support them through it, through the reality is that so many women have had some experience with sexual violence that we just have to motor through, because if not, it will crush us. but as these same men are now becoming the fathers of young girls, i’m wondering if it’s time to broach the topic so that they are better able to do their damn jobs.
but just how do you tell someone that you were molested by people that you should’ve been able to trust? how do you tell someone that you’ve been assaulted by strangers and judgements? how do you tell someone that you’ve been in non-consensual situations, with them?
worse, how do you deal with telling someone any (or all) of these things, only to have them either be so shocked that they cannot believe you, or have them react in no way at all? this is where i am at with my father-i cannot believe that he has said/done nothing when i told him that my cousin molested me (and other children in our family-i felt compelled to speak up when he had his own children because now he has easy access) and i’m angry that he may be around the corner from leaning into alzheimer’s and thus the freedom of “forgetting” what he never chose to acknowledge in the first place. be better, men and fathers-though our allegiance shouldn’t have anything to do with our rights to be seen as people.
how could i even tell him about my cousin’s husband who did it first, when i was four years old? the boarder that he took in when i was 12 to help pay the rent (who first introduced me to basketball, but also helped himself to kissing me and sticking his hands down my pants)? the men who followed me around a waterpark in hanoi masturbating and calling me fat? the boy who took my virginity even though i wasn’t quite ready? the grown man who told me he was younger so that it wouldn’t seem so predatory that he was pursuing me? the one that i listened to at 17 when he told me that i had to shave off all my pubic hair so that he would want me? the army guy that thought that spit was adequate foreplay to penetrate? his buddy who masqueraded as my friend who ultimately tried to do the same (i escaped that one-yea me) the man who “grabbed me by the pussy” when i was dressed at santa claus to promote a craft fair when i first moved to toronto and didn’t have any money? the one i was in a relationship with, to whom i awoke to inside my body in new york-did he not notice that i was sleeping, or did he not care? either way-we need to do better with consent.
what if my father is a man who doesn’t take no for an answer? or doesn’t hear no so assumes otherwise (because this is what happens)? what if he is just so paralyzed in his own failure to do anything, preventative or otherwise, that he cannot see past his own inadequacy? well, what if. all i know is that it’s no longer (and never was), my work to do this emotional heavy lifting for anyone but myself, and the women in my life that i’m so happy to have and know have me.
but i am glad that at least for this moment, it appears that we are somewhat open to having a soupcon of this discussion.
i still bristled at the men who spoke up to say “i really loved your film” and to express that “japanese men are some of the nicest people that i’ve ever met, how can they deny that they did this?” rather than-“what drives a people to systemically devise this structure of organized, international and constant girl abduction and rape?”. because while the film is heartbreakingly well-done, i don’t think i will every say that i like watching it, though i maintain that everyone needs to see it.
get uncomfortable so that we may lean into the privilege that we’ve been afforded to heal from the traumas (or levels of) that some of us have never even had to fathom.
does this sound angry?
(spoiler alert-it is).