Commentary Violence

Jana’s Story: Swimming Against the Undertow of Violence Against Women

Kari Ann Rinker

The sorrow from the loss of a woman like Jana and the prospect of losing other Janas is sobering to a strong woman. It is a stark reminder that there are some things that are simply out of any one woman’s control.

Jana Mackey and I lobbied together a few times in Topeka and sat together on the Kansas NOW Board of Directors.  I remember her being vivacious, energetic, smart, beautiful and full of resolve.  In July 2008, Jana was murdered at the age of 25.  I attended her funeral along with 1100 other people in Lawrence, Kansas. 

Many of those people present that day knew Jana much better than I.  I attended her funeral to respect a fellow feminist ally, but I could not claim a close friendship with her. The closeness that I feel to Jana Mackey now comes as a result of her passing.  She continues to have a deep impact on my life.  I think about her weekly, sometimes daily. Sometimes it’s not so much thinking, but the presence of alternating feelings of deep sorrow, conviction and strength.

The sorrow is a mixture of the circumstance in which she was lost and grief for a society full of inequalities that contributed to that loss.  Women are abused and sometimes murdered, because our culture devalues their ability to make choices and swim freely in the daily stream of life.  Women find themselves swimming upstream against strong currents in an effort to live out their destinies. 

Cultural attitudes contribute to men seeing women as expendable, as objects. The women that fight against these attitudes are sometimes met with fury. When she tried to leave him, Jana became the object of one man’s fury.  Women encounter that fury in the fight for reproductive justice too.  Jana understood this.  Her knowledge of the existence of this lurking fury did not grant her immunity, however.  These cultural tides are great and when the stream of life presents an unexpected forceful undertow, even the strongest woman can drown. 

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The sorrow from the loss of a woman like Jana and the prospect of losing other Janas is sobering to a strong woman.  It is a stark reminder that there are some things that are simply out of any one woman’s control.  No amount of gumption, education or tough girl swagger can undo these wrongs, metastasized in our culture despite centuries of feminist fight.  It feels downright crippling to someone who believes in feminine power, might and justice.

At Jana’s memorial there was a large screen that projected images of her with a smile on her face.  The photos captured her in the midst of her activism, her friendships and her interactions with a loving family.  Her mom was there and was handed a Kansas flag that had flown over the capitol in Topeka, where Jana had fought for women’s rights.  I remember thinking that there could be no adequate recourse for a mother’s sorrow, no form of justice could ever fill the void of a loss of a daughter.   

Curt and Christie Brungardt are Jana’s parents.  They have chosen not to fill Jana’s void with retribution, anger or solitude.  They have instead chosen to seek justice through positive action.  Their sorrow has been transformed into hope, positive intent and actions.  I have watched them through the years since Jana’s murder.  I have sat in the audience of numerous venues where they have told Jana’s story.   Christie has had to overcome the emotional difficulty of speaking about her saddest day, over and over again.  Her husband, Curt has become a champion for gender equality.  He encourages men to reevaluate their view of women in this society, teaching them to treat women as equals and not as outlets for their fury.

These parents of Jana Mackey have taught me how to tap into conviction and strength to overcome the crippling feeling of sorrow.  Curt and Christie continue to prove that swimming is the better option in spite of the ever-present possibility of an undertow, for once a person stops swimming… drowning becomes inevitable.

Please help me in spreading the message of Jana, and Curt and Christie.  Please share this video and do something to fight injustice today. 

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