Remarkable Woman: Anne Ream
Shedding light on the stories of sexual violence survivors
"Being 'nice' is not the same thing as being good, and I suppose one of my biggest regrets is that I didn't learn that sooner," say Remarkable Woman Anne Ream. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / November 20, 2011)
Ream braves a culture that assigns rape survivors to a life of shame. She braves the climates that foster sexual violence and the powerful, deeply ingrained reflex to keep its victims silent. She braved, two decades ago, a kidnapping and rape at the hands of a stranger — an event whose horrors shaped but by no means define her.
She braves it all daily and quite publicly with the Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit digital documentary project she created to bring attention to the stories of trafficking and sexual violence survivors. Ream and her colleagues travel the world to meet, interview and write about women who reject the notion that blurring their faces and shielding their names goes far enough in addressing the larger epidemic of sexual violence. She shares their stories at voicesandfaces.org.
"These stories are so powerful, and the hunger these women have to share them is so profound, and the potential implications are so great," says Ream, 46. "A story can be a conduit to change people's minds and hearts about public policy, about institutions, about the way we look at victims of sexual violence and trafficking. The only way we can challenge and change the way the world responds to sexual violence is to bring these stories to the attention of the public."
Social justice has long held high esteem in Ream's universe, from her days of sneaking off to her childhood bedroom to read Rolling Stone magazines from the Wheaton public library.
Rolling Stone fueled a passion for both rock 'n' roll and literature, which in turn fueled a career in advertising, a path Ream was beginning to pursue at age 25 in Washington, D.C., when she was attacked.
"I remember realizing this experience suddenly rendered me an authority," she says. "We're so wedded in this culture to the politics of identity — 'As a victim of violence, I feel …' 'As a woman in the workplace, I feel …' — and I reject that in a lot of ways. Yet I recognize I've been granted this authority, and the question became what would I do with it.
"I wanted my story to be a window into the worlds of other women's stories. Because in a way what I went through is almost irrelevant, in broader social terms. It's not irrelevant to me, but it doesn't matter significantly when you think of the sheer number of women around the world who are victims. So to the degree it allows people to look at the issue differently and then learn and grow — well, that's really the genesis of the project."
Q: Who is your living hero?
A: There are really too many to mention. But when Patricia Evans (the documentary photographer on the Voices and Faces Project) and I traveled to Mexico to interview and photograph the women of Atenco, who were victims of rape and torture at the hands of Mexican police, I felt that we were witness to a rare sort of courage in action. These women are speaking out about the unspeakable, fully aware that it could cost them their lives. Yet they are deeply certain that if this leads to a Mexico that is safer and more just, their risk is worth it. When Claudia Martinez, one of the women I interviewed, said, "We know that if we speak out, our stories will never go away — our words will live on, even without us," my heart just broke for her, and at the same time, I felt a sort of awe. Her courage serves as a reminder that when we fail to speak out about the injustices we've witnessed, we fail ourselves and, more importantly, we fail the world.
Q: What is your greatest possession?
A: I would have a very hard time living without my record collection. Long before I knew that there was a larger world than the one I grew up in, I heard its soundtrack, which for me was rock 'n' roll. I think imagining ourselves elsewhere is often the first step toward getting there. Rock 'n' roll created a longing in me, and that longing led to everything else.
Q: What is the best lesson you learned from your father or mother?
A: One of the extraordinary things about my mother is her capacity for change. She listens, she learns and she is constantly evolving. She is not afraid to completely change course when her heart or her mind tells her that change is warranted. At the same time, she remains true to a set of larger values that are timeless: kindness, fairness, a willingness to meet other people where they are. She strikes a really important balance there, and I try to learn from that.
Q: What would you say is the one secret to success?
A: Years ago, a mentor told me that I should become a "multihyphenate" — someone with multiple professional identities and passions (activist-writer-creative director is the moniker I am wearing right now). I love the notion that our identities can be both fluid and also dimensional.
Q: What is your biggest mistake?
A: My greatest regrets tend to be about things that I haven't done, not things that I have done. I am probably like many women in that I was raised — and socialized — to be liked, or at least to be likable. Learning to forgo that has been important for me. Being "nice" is not the same thing as being good, and I suppose one of my biggest regrets is that I didn't learn that sooner.
Q: Which side gets cheated more often: Personal or professional?
A: One of the lovely things about doing work that you are passionate about is the ways that the boundaries between the personal and the professional become blurred. I've met some of the most extraordinary people through the work I'm doing, and so many of these people are now very close to me. Conversely, many of the people who have been closest to me since childhood — my family and long-standing friends and colleagues — have become really engaged in the projects that I am working on now, particularly in my documentary work with the Voices and Faces Project.
Q: Who is your favorite musician?
A: I'm mad about the Arctic Monkeys, and I am listening to a lot of Neko Case right now. She's on our first Voices and Faces Project benefit album, and I love her voice. But my favorite artist of all time would have to be David Bowie. "Ziggy Stardust" is a brilliant rock album that is also a collection of life lessons in the form of 11 perfect songs.
Q: What did you want to be at age 13?
A: An archaeologist. There's something oddly metaphorical about that, really.
Q: What's your professional mantra, in fewer than 10 words?
A: Just try.