Category: Wolfpack

“The Wolfpack” by Mecca Jamilla Sullivan

Multiple narratives

Something that stood out to me in Sullivan’s “Wolfpack” was her transition into different scenes. On page 8, Sullivan describes the kiss between Arya and Margina, which is a very happy and lighthearted scene in the extract. However, this is immediately followed by a negative tone discussing the man who showed up, which was a very difficult part of the story to read about. I felt very upset while reading this extract, as Sullivan described the emotional and physical vulnerability of the characters through the multiple narrators, making the images powerful and illustrative of the reality that Sullivan wanted to portray. This is also shown through Verniece’s story, which had themes of strength, which contrasted with the encounter with the man, which came across as more vulnerable and terrifying – the threats of sexual harassment and derogatory terminology definitely put her in the victim’s position, making the audience sympathize with her.

Through the multiple viewpoints, Sullivan presented the power of words, as many of us have already highlighted, and the way she caters her writing to suit these different perspectives allows the reader to have a holistic interpretation of the experiences of the different characters. In doing so, Sullivan almost forces the reader to empathize with the incarcerated women in the story.

The Power of Words

Mecca Jamilah Sullivan’s Wolfpack revolves around a group of girls who experience both a verbal and physical attack that leaves them feeling extremely vulnerable. I honestly had a difficult time reading the story. Sullivan did a really good job of infusing her words with the characters’ emotions— more specifically, their pain and suffering. One theme I thought to be especially apparent was the power of words and the effects they have on the “Lesbian Wolfpack.”

On the night of their attack, the man verbally abuses them, calling Verniece a “goddamn elephant,” saying TaRonne “look[s] like a fucking man,” and threatening to “fuck [Sha] straight” (13). His verbal abuse leaves the women speechless and unable to defend themselves against him. Earlier on in the story, Luna differentiates animals from humans by saying, “the only real difference between people and animals is people talk. That’s it” (9). Through verbally assaulting the women and taking away their words, the man dehumanizes them and “[tears] the person out of [each of them]” (14). Even in court when the women are placed on trial, the judge again strips them of their words and minimizes the significance of the event through saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” alluding to the saying that “words will never hurt me” (16).

This story demonstrates just how powerful one’s words can be and the magnitude of the effects it has on a person. Being a person and an individual means being able to express oneself freely through using words, and these women were not able to do that. In addition to emphasizing the power of words, this story also highlights how many women’s experiences are often disregarded and deemed unimportant.  It made me really sad to think about this, but also made me realize that many women are often mistreated and not taken seriously.

Words Are Just As Hurtful As Actions

Throughout reading “Wolfpack” I saw the power that words can hold over a human, and how they can bring hope or fear to someone in an instance.  While reading Verniece’s anecdote about her experience in the church I realized how much of an impact such a small phrase can have on making someone feel strong about themselves. By Verniece finding something that helped her put aside what people said about her lifestyle she felt freer to be who she truly was, and I found that inspiring. On the other hand, I got to see how scary and hurtful words can be when the encounter with the man was discussed. Being called a derogatory name is incredibly dehumanizing and completely wrong, just because someone may not agree with the way another lives their life it is not okay to ever speak the way that man spoke to Verniece.  Not only that but the verbal threat of rape is just as scary as someone physically grabbing you.  The man continued to make them feel unsafe and provoked the attack.

I also feel that throughout the piece the way the media portrayed the group of girls was highly prejudicial. They referred to them in an unfair manner and failed to recognize that they were also attacked.  This piece was really enlightening to the injustices that certain groups of people face and I had a hard time getting through it because no matter what I feel that these girls did lose part of their lives for defending themselves in a very bad situation.

Power

In “The Wolfpack”, the story revolves around a group of girls who go through attacks that leave them powerless. The main character, and other women, were called the “lesbian wolfpack” and go through many episodes of pain. The mood is immediately set with the main character talking about being a single parent living with their mom. The “lesbian wolfpack” were attacked by a man in New York and it left these girls powerless due to the inability to use their words. This attack is so relevant to modern society with many powerless groups not being able to express malicious attacks. The pain that stays with these groups scars them for a long time and it’s crazy to imagine how much pain the lesbian wolfpack felt after the attack.

 

Another interesting aspect I picked up on in the story is how strong the narrator is, even though she has been through so much in her life. When her life is in danger, she is willing to take on the challenge, rather than flee and hide. Despite being powerless, she is powerful at the same time by not giving up. She defies the conventional norm that women are weak in combat situations and how they a need a man to protect them. She shows how a woman can be powerful without even fighting, and how she is more than just a “worthless” woman who is trying to defend themselves against an attacker.

What Is Power?

In her story “Wolfpack,” Mecca Jamilah Sullivan explores the different ways that we derive power, and she focuses specifically on the way that words and speech give us power. The story gives us an insight into the lives of several of the women included in the Jersey Seven, who are African American and lesbian women who were given time in prison for defending themselves against a man who verbally assaulted and threatened to rape them.  Throughout the entire story, there is a lot of emphasis on the effect of and power of words, or the lack thereof. For example, in the sections told from the perspective of Verniece, she constantly talks about how the night of the encounter with the man “took [her] words away” (2). The encounter as well as the public and judicial system’s reactions to it make her feel as though she is powerless, and this is expressed through her feelings that what she says makes little difference.

Another recurring example of how words and freedom of speech give us power is the comparison of humans to animals. This is demonstrated when Verniece’s girlfriend says to her “the only real difference between people and animals is people talk. That’s it” (9). This statement has a real impact on Verniece, and it sticks with her throughout the story. As humans, we often think of ourselves as superior to animals due to our unique abilities and accomplishments. It’s very striking, then, when Verniece’s girlfriend says that the only thing that really distinguishes us from other animals is our ability for speech. This scene marks a shift in Verniece, who suddenly becomes very conscious of the empowerment that results from freedom of speech. It is incredibly significant to her, then, when the man calls her an “elephant” (13). In doing so, he takes away her power of free speech by lessening her to an animal. Similarly, the newspaper headline that sticks with Verniece the most following the incident refers to her and her friends as a “wolfpack” (20). By comparing the Jersey Seven to animals in this manner, their freedom of speech and thus their ability to be seen in the world as human beings is taken away.

Fear in an Unforgiving World

Mecca Jamilla Sullivan’s “Wolfpack” is not a story for the faint of heart. It is not inherently complicated; the language is straightforward, the syntax largely basic, and the plot mostly linear. The real trouble lies in its pure, emotional telling of a story strongly influenced by horrible reality. In all of this shocking (though unfortunately not surprising) tragedy, however, one emotion is almost never present: fear. Though the narrator dreads prison and resents many of the people that circumstances have put her with, she never expresses true terror in the face of danger.

When the man who degrades her and her friends begins to attack, the narrator does not express any fear. Many would be scared for their safety and the safety of their friends, but she stands unafraid of the man, though she is furious. Similarly, when she reflects on the origins of her knife that her friend uses to stab the man, the narrator remembers how her mother gave her the knife so she could protect herself after a woman in a similar situation was murdered. Throughout this description, she is not afraid for her life, and the language she uses does not reflect the desperate actions of the fearful. Instead, she talks like the knife is a practical measure, rather than a last resort in the throughs of danger.

Her lack of fear is not a coincidence; many women in somewhat similar situations are depicted as fearful, and purely victims of circumstance. While this is not necessarily negative on their character, Sullivan’s portrayal shows a strength that is often neglected. These women may have had terrible circumstances, but they were not afraid.

Human and Animal

One of the recurring themes in “Wolfpack” is the idea of humanization and dehumanization, what is considered “human” and what is considered “animal.”  Even the title of the piece introduces this dichotomy from the beginning. Verniece’s words “You are a person.  God loves you.  That’s it,”—to which she liberally alludes before revealing them to the reader—represents Verniece’s outlook on life (5).  Verniece considers herself human and, therefore, an important being who deserves respect and self-worth, commenting that “those words kept the frowns and pointing fingers at a distance, and made it so I almost didn’t see the looks people gave us” (6).  However, Luna introduces the idea that the division between humans and animals may not be as unambiguous as people think by saying, “The only real difference between people and animals is that people talk.  That’s it” (9).

This dichotomy between human and animal sets up the dehumanization that occurs with the attack—first the man calling Verniece “elephant,” which, TaRonne explains, “was something different, like she wasn’t even human” (14).  Afterwards, when the judge sentences the women to prison for defending themselves, Sha explains that the entire process of finding them guilty feels as though they are being stripped of their humanity, commenting “I wonder if either of them will ever know how hard it is to think human, to be human, when someone is threatening to knock, force, fuck the you out of you” (16).  Finally, the newspaper’s disparagement of the women by calling them a “wolfpack” makes Verniece declare, “If I cannot be a a person I decide, then anything can be anything at all” (20).  “Wolfpack’s” emphasis on the fine line between the human and the animal reveals how traumatizing and dehumanizing prejudice—especially against women attempting to defend themselves against an attacker—can be.  This experience clearly not only damaged their lives, but their own self-images as well.

The Power of Words

This story details the stories of Verniece, TaRonne, and LaShayna who along with four other women were branded as the “lesbian wolfpack” or “killer lesbians” who protected themselves after being verbally and physically attacked by a man in New York. The power of words, who has them and who doesn’t, is explored. The attack left these women without words and unable to use their words because both the man and the judge who sentenced them to prison left them powerless. The ability to express oneself and have others listen and respect those words is a power that these women were stripped of. On pg. 10, TaRonne says, “Those words meant the chance to be a person, in my own language, for real.” If she is unable to use her words, then she is unable to be a person. This moment not only stripped her of her voice, but of her personhood as well. They talk about how the difference between animals and humans is the ability to speak. When the man called her an “elephant” and therefore reducing her to an animal he inhibited her from speaking and expressing herself as well. He dehumanized these women by referring to them as animals. The judge said that “words don’t justify hurting a human being” (16) which completely disregarded the dehumanizing, traumatic experience these women went through. LaShayna argues that when someone is treating you inhumanely it is hard to “think human, to be human, when someone is threatening to knock, force, fuck the you out of you” (16). This story was a tragic and powerful example of how women’s experiences, particularly women of color, are often minimized. Here, by the assaulter, the judge, and the media that portrayed them negatively. Though this story saddened me, what impacted me even more deeply was that this mistreatment of women isn’t uncommon.