On Essaying the Violence Against “Women These Days”
May 21, 2018 § 2 Comments
Amy Butcher’s essay “Women These Days,” in the Brevity issue launched last week, was constructed from a series of Google news story searches using the keyword “women” combined with various common verbs ( “dating,” “walking,” “running,” “shopping,” “cooking”) We asked the author to reveal more about the origins of the powerful, difficult essay that resulted:
For years, I’ve taught Torrey Peters’ heartbreaking found essay, “Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Found Essay,” which first appeared in Brevity‘s May 2015 issue, and recently I’ve begun to teach it alongside her “On ‘Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Found Essay’” which appeared in Wave-Form: Twenty-First-Century Essays By Women. That initial essay is so profound and deeply moving and unflinching in its approach, but I understand, too, the hesitation and uncertainty she felt which led to the addendum.
As an essayist, I believe very deeply in the value of complication, and in essays that are provocative in their approach. I think, in many ways, this is the most effective way we have as essayists to shake readers into being perhaps a little less accepting of any number of current situations—the state of violence against women in this country being only one of them. I understand Peters’ conflict intimately, as my first book is one for which I often feel very conflicting truths. I think of Mark Doty’s “Return to Sender,” a rumination on writing his memoir Firebird, and how he ends the essay with a moving back-and-forth interior monologue about whether or not he’d make the same artistic decisions if he could make them all over again. The best essays I’ve ever read occupy this space.
For me, writing “Women These Days” was deeply cathartic, and unlike Peters’ essay, which is uncomfortably (and brilliantly) objective, I allowed myself to become present in the piece because so much of what these deaths represent—beyond their abhorrent and inherent horror—is an ongoing and daily threat against my person and half the people around me. Why do we not care more? I’m working now on a book about women and fear and danger, and one of the hardest parts of writing it is grappling with the fact that male intimate partners—husbands, boyfriends, fiancés, lovers—take the lives of three American women on average daily. That’s more than death by car accident, death by suicide, death by cancer. We think of war and imagine combat in desert places, suicide vests, IEDS. But while the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq saw the deaths of 6,488 American troops between 2001 and 2012, those same eleven years yielded the death of 11,766 American women, murdered by current or former male partners in their backyards and their bedrooms, their living rooms and cars. The risks are greater if you’re a woman of color, greater if you are gay, greater still if you’re transgender. Why does it not unsettle us more? These deaths exceed the causalities of 9/11 every three years, and yet no one dares declare war on this uniquely particular, domestic terror, not foreign or distant at all but in the very same spaces where we throw birthday parties, flip pancakes, string Christmas lights, grill ballpark franks. I’m grateful this essay has had the reception it has, and I’m grateful to Brevity for publishing it.
Amy Butcher is an essayist with recent work in Granta Magazine, Harper’s, The New York Times, Lit Hub, and others. Her first book, Visiting Hours, earned starred reviews and praise from The New York Times Sunday Review of Books, NPR, The Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and others. She teaches writing at Ohio Wesleyan University and annually for the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.