I sit here taking deep breaths, swallowing, my chest tight, trying to write how I feel about what I’m about to tell you, but I find I don’t have words that truly convey the horror. That and the sense of standing on the precipice of change that will either truly liberate us as a species or destroy us altogether. I will say this: I’m ready to fight–to really, truly fight–and I’m wide open to ideas.
This week* RH Reality Check released the results of a study that confirmed a terrifying trend many of us have feared for some time: that women are being arrested and imprisoned for “crimes” such as having a miscarriage, delivering a stillborn child, planning to have an abortion, or declining a test recommended by their doctor.
Yes, you heard right. From RH Reality Check:
A woman in Oregon who did not comply with a doctor’s recommendation to have additional testing for gestational diabetes was subjected to involuntary civil commitment. During her detention, the additional testing was never performed.
And that’s not the worst thing. Not by far.
After a hearing that lasted less than a day, a court issued an order requiring a critically-ill pregnant woman in Washington, D.C. to undergo cesarean surgery over her objections. Neither she nor her baby survived.
People, it’s time to get serious. We’ve long known that in some people’s eyes, women are for sexing men and making babies, and now–in 20motherfucking13–it’s down to no birth control, no abortions, and you’d damned well better deliver a living child. I don’t know about you, but I feel as though I’m living in a work of dark future fiction. The world this trend implies is not the world I want for any woman on the planet, much less my daughter, my future granddaughters, or anyone I love.
What will we do to fight it? How far will we go? I know I’ll write my ass off, but that’s not enough anymore, is it? Because ANY level of complacency in the face of this information would be, for me personally, complicity.
And I will not comply.
*It turns out this report was published in January. I was apparently so upset I didn’t notice. Not sure it took until yesterday for the story to reach me, but I certainly was not aware of this, and from the reaction here and elsewhere, I get the impression others weren’t, either.
Here’s a link to the abstract of the study’s findings as published by Duke University Press Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. The right-hand sidebar has a link to the full article.
Aaaand, it turns out the UN Human Rights Council just released their 2013 “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” According to Social Justice Solutions, the main takeaway with regard to reproductive health is “the concept that limiting or entirely denying access to abortions or other reproductive rights is a form of torture.”
The title of this post is the name of a street art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh aimed at raising awareness in men that street harassment is not ok, and in women that it’s perfectly acceptable to wish–and even to insist–that men would not demand their attention and energy all day, every day, every time they walk down the street.
If you’re a woman, there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about–although I’m perfectly aware that not all women are bothered by this. When I first got boobs, I was flattered by the attention. It took years to realize how exhausted I was with parrying advances all day, every day. When I tripped over this project on Facebook, a woman claiming to be a therapist had gone from disagreeing to outright trolling, so intense was her need to convince everyone present that not only was asking women to smile not harassment, but that anyone who thought it was should obviously just sit the fuck down and stop talking. So, male or female, just in case you don’t get what the issue is, here are some hypothetical examples. We’ll start with an easy one:
Imagine you’re at a social event and you’re introduced to a gentleman by the name of Dan Bond. You say the first thing that pops into your head: “Bond. Dan Bond.” Dan gives you a look somewhere between patronizing and withering and says, “Congratulations. You’re the first person who’s ever said that.” If you’re like most people who recognize social signals, you probably feel a bit sheepish. Your aim was to be clever, and you whipped out the one line that was certain to irritate. And if you had any designs on Dan as a friend, business partner, or lover, you’d better hope you’ve got some better lines in your pocket, because at this point he’s is looking for the nearest exit and hoping you don’t follow him.
Now imagine how exhausting it might be for the nth man to say as you walk down the street: “Smile!”
Here’s a better one: Guys, imagine you’re walking down the street and seven out of ten men you see are a foot or more taller than you are and outweigh you by fifty to a hundred pounds. Imagine these guys take steroids, so that weight is all muscle, where yours is not. Now imagine that, as you walk, you’re aware of their eyes on you and the lewd comments they make, the whistles, the remarks about your body, what they’d like to do to you. Or maybe they just insist on your attention. Maybe they just tell you to smile. And another one does. And a third. And sometimes you can get past them without incident, and other times, if you don’t respond the way they hope you will, they shout insults after you.
This is what women deal with all the time, walking from home to the bus stop or from the bus stop to the office. In between the wolf whistles and the stares and the lewd gestures and critiques of our looks, is the constant insistence that we present ourselves at our pretty, perky, man-pleasing best. “Smile!” They cry. “Smile!” They exhort. “Smile!” They command, as though our faces are theirs to mold. As though our faces don’t please them as they are. As though it is our duty to paste fake grins upon them on demand even though all we really want to do is get past this fucking gauntlet and get to work.
Most of us are all for friendly conversation when the conditions are correct. But as social beings, we learn to interpret signals that tell us when the other person is open to conversation. Men do not, as a rule, insist on the attention of other men walking down the street. Men (and women) working construction sites rarely, in my experience, insist that men walking by stop and talk to them, respond to “compliments” on their appearance, or smile. And yet for some reason, some men believe that a woman is obliged to be polite when they do ignore the signals that say “I’m on my way somewhere and I’m not even looking at you so please, let me be” and demand her attention. And that’s what Stop Telling Women to Smile aims to change.
From Tatyana’s website:
The project is saying that street harassment is not okay. That feeling entitled to treat and speak to women any type of way, is not okay. That demanding a woman’s attention is not okay. That intruding on a woman’s space and thoughts is not okay. That women should be able to walk to the train, to the grocery store, to school – without having to cross the street to avoid the men that she sees already eyeing her as she approaches. That making women feel objectified, sexualized simply because they are women, is not okay. That grabbing a woman’s wrist to force her to speak to you is not okay. That requesting for a woman to “smile for you” is not okay – because women are not outside on the street for the purpose of entertaining and pleasing men. That it’s quite possible women are wonderful, happy, intelligent human beings that simply want to move through out the world comfortably and safely while wearing their face however the hell they want to.
Another project I recently learned about is They Know What They Do, by a young woman named Shreya living in Calcutta. Shreya photographs men who harass her (known as “Eve Teasing” in some countries) on her way to and from work.
There are certain structural privileges that work in the favour of the perpetrators of street sexual harassment, whether the non interference of spectators, or active participation of friends, but most of all, the assurance and continual affirmation of their own gender-based privileges by sociocultural norms. With my camera I thought I could strategically intervene within some of these processes that work against me.
I’d like to arm women like Shreya with hidden video cameras so they can film the actual harassment they experience and show it to the world. I’d like to see Stop Telling Women to Smile posters go up in every city in the world where women deal with street harassment. I’d like to see the term “Eve Teasing” (which can include assault) abolished and the crime of street harassment and assault taken seriously worldwide. And I’d love it if you would all work with me to make all this positive change happen.
My Streets, My Body: How street harassment impacts my weightloss, my eating habits, my body
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Bree
When I used to imagine what rape would be, I’d think of a masked man taking you into a back alley and beating you senseless to get what he wanted. As scary as that is by itself, it was scarier for me to realize that rape could come from someone you already knew…perhaps even someone you were dating already. That’s what it was in my case.
I started dating a boy when I was 13. It’s not shocking to say that at that age a boy would already be pushing for sex, and certainly not shocking to say that at that age I didn’t want to. At first It was mostly pressure, him touching, me pushing away and saying no, after a small fight it was stop and later resume again thus causing a bigger fight. But things kept getting progressively worse, he became more aggressive, the fights getting worse after I said no, him being more physical, then it started actually happening. After all the “no’s”…it no longer became worth the effort to fight anymore. This happened for years, getting worse progressively. It began happening in front of his friends, they would watch, not saying anything, then practically high five him afterwards.
I wouldn’t admit it to myself back then. I didn’t tell anyone about it or talk about it at all. He told me I was obligated to do those things because I was his girlfriend, and that’s what girlfriends do, whether we want to or not. It wasn’t until years later when I met someone who tried (and did) eventually save me from this that I was able to admit the dreaded “r” word and realize what it was that really happened to me. I still live with PTSD, I live with the flashbacks and mental scars while I am sure he is somewhere playing his xbox right now with a smile on his face. When I finally left he told his friends I “cheated” so no one would believe my story of the abuse from the boy on the pedestal.
After I started healing I got back into my writing poetry, and then I went on to spoken word. Anything to talk about my story and get it out of my system. I worry about the other girls out there who are in my situation…dating their rapist, and thinking its justified and not rape because they are dating…it’s not true ladies, the sooner you realize that, the sooner you bloom as well.
It gets better–you just have to fight for it.
Bree is a poet/spoken-word artist. Visit her website for more of her work.
If you need a safe place to share your story, please visit my Facebook page and contact me via the Message button. ~Rosie
Here’s a short film by Jodi Martinez featuring Bree and her story:
From the blogosphere:
Guest post by Sid
Ok folks, here’s the thing:
Someone is wrong on the internet.
Lots, really. Several, if we get right down to it, but I’m a busy gal and I’ve only got so much time. As such, let’s zero in on a Facebook conversation I watched go down just the other day. A friend of mine posted about CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville verdict, which I won’t recount here because if you don’t know it by now, you probably don’t own a computer. This was her take:
When my friend expressed hope he was kidding, he clarified:
And finally, when called out on perpetuating rape culture, he had this charming tidbit to add:
Mmmmmmk Sweetiekins…since you seem to be so very lost, allow me to break this down for you one asinine comment at a time.
1. “If laws are in place to protect the people, then people who are injured as a result of their breaking the law don’t get the same sympathy.”
A girl went to a party and got drunk. Tell me who she injured. Do not say the reputations of these boys. I want you to tell me EXACTLY WHO this girl PHYSICALLY INJURED as a result of her intoxication. Tell me.
Did she beat someone up? Did she hit people with sticks? SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS. Was she drinking underage? Yes. Yes, she was. She got drunk and she passed out. And that should be the end of this story.
2. “When a drunk driver hits a telephone pole, does anyone sympathize with him?”
Okay, I want to make sure the sentiment of my next statement is very, very clear.
WHAT THE HOLY SHITTING FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY?
Reasons we get pissed off when drunk drivers hit telephone poles:
This person drank to excess and then got behind the wheel of a vehicle.
This person drank to excess and then put the lives of EVERYONE on the road in danger.
This person drank to excess and then possibly cut my phone service.
This person drank to excess and then made DECISIONS which affected his evening.
The drunk driver who hit a pole did not just drink to excess. That is not the end of the sentence. Were that the end of the sentence, he wouldn’t have hit the telephone pole. He would have woken up the next day, possibly with a permanent-marker penis on his face. Jane Doe drank to excess…and that’s the end of her sentence. She passed out. This story should have ended with a permanent-marker penis, at the very worst.
3. “…but she consensually broke the law to place herself in a situation she knew was risky.”
Do you think going to a party is risky, Sweetiekins? When you personally get ready for a party, do you think to yourself, “Oh no, I’m heading to the danger zone!”? Do you personally find drinking at a party to be a risky thing for you—specifically you, Sweetiekins—to do? No? So you don’t view a party as a place where you should constantly have to look over your shoulder and see who’s trying to attack you?
THEN WHY THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT HER TO?
4. “At least suspend her from school to send the message that underage drinking is illegal for a reason.”
“We’re proud of you for pressing charges against your rapists. There was almost certainly a lot of social and peer pressure not to press charges, but we think you make the right decision. We know the media has been tearing you apart and you must feel like three shades of crap right now, but about that minor drinking violation…”
Folks, this is how we make people afraid to come forward with rape charges. I’m not saying you should be able to get away with whatever you want because of it, but for crying out loud, underage drinking is a victimless crime. Literally the only reason anyone wants her to get hit with a punishment for it is because they want to find a way to make this her fault, too. And it’s just not.
5. “I don’t know if a ‘rape culture’ exists, but more problematic than that is this culture of ‘not taking responsibility for one’s actions.”
First let’s touch on this culture of “not taking responsibility for one’s actions.” I think your next line really brings your feelings on this into focus, so let’s look at it:
Rape victim: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Rapist: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Mmk, this tells me that you have no idea what rape culture is. Like, at all. No sarcasm. So let’s touch on it.
Rape culture is this, the world we live in, where all the questions focus on what the victim did to deserve her rape. It’s the culture where people are honestly responding to this trial with, “Those poor boys’ lives are ruined,” when the reason their lives are ruined is because they chose to commit rape.
Rape culture is the culture where most women who are raped don’t report it, specifically because they already know they abuse they’ll get. They know that it is them, the victims (and not the rapists), who will be torn apart and made to believe that whatever they did, be it have the gall to go out for a drink in the evening or the audacity to wear a skirt in public, is the reason that they deserved their rape.
And it’s just not ever true. It isn’t ever.
6. “Rapist: You did do something wrong and need to be punished.”
Hey! Yes! You got one right!
7. “Rape victim: You didn’t do anything wrong, but don’t blame a ‘rape culture’ for your stupidity and lack of foresight.”
Aaaaaand my sympathy for you is gone again. You had it for like, an eighth of a second there.
So really, explain this to me, Sweetiekins. Is this the “women should expect to be raped at all times” song? Cuz I gotta tell ya, I’ve heard it, and I really prefer Mumford & Sons. It just makes more sense to me.
Why should I spend every moment of my life expecting to be raped? Do you have any idea how exhausting that is? I mean, do you? It takes a lot of mental energy to spend all day thinking up exit strategies or figuring out how fast you can punch the guy on the bus next to you if he puts his hand on your leg. Know how I know? Cuz I do it every fucking day.
Seriously, do this for me: spend one day—just one day—keeping yourself ready for rape at all times. When you walk out the door, look around for strangers. If you see someone who looks iffy, cross the street, even if it takes longer. Keep your keys pressed through your fingers if you walk alone at night. Look all around you every few seconds. You passed some guy walking down the street? Turn around to make sure he’s not running up to attack you but look fucking nonchalant about it you don’t want to cause a scene. Wait, is he following you?? Speed up! Quick, you don’t want him to find out where you wor—oh, he turned the corner. Nevermind.
Talk to me again about foresight, Sweetiekins.
8. “Following your logic, when my $1000 bike was stolen over Spring Break when I had it locked in the racks instead of taking it inside, I did nothing to ask for it. I did ask for it.”
I. Can’t. Even.
You locked up your bike…your bike was stolen…and it was your fault because you didn’t lock it up more?
I just…I don’t even know what to do with that.
9. “Yes, there is a bike thief out there, but I am not going to detract from my ownership of the problem by saying, ‘Oh, the problem is a Bike-Stealing Culture.’”
I’m going to set aside the sociological points of actual crime culture here, because I feel that it gets away from the primary point I wish to make. You ready for this? Cuz I’m about to blow your mind.
The invasion of a woman’s body without her consent is not nor should it ever be compared to PETTY OR GRAND THEFT.
Did I really just have to write that sentence?
What, so I have be careful for having the nerve to walk about in public in blatant possession of a vagina? What am I supposed to do, Sweetiekins? Leave it at home? Lock it up? Leave your dick at home once in a while. It’s totally possible. There’s a song about it and everything, so it must be true.
Wake. Up. Rape isn’t theft. Sticking any of your appendages into any orifice of an unconscious person is not the same thing as lifting that same unconscious person’s wallet. If you don’t go to a party expecting to get raped, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t abstain from going out for a drink, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t arrange an escort to walk home in the dark after work, why the hell should I have to?
But if you won’t help break the cycle of rape culture, I guess that means that I have to.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Lenora Davis
[Note: Trigger warning for rape.]
I can’t remember what was worse: the denial or the guilt. For months I walked around numb, refusing to acknowledge what had happened, refusing to give it a name, to refer to it, because once I said it, it would become real.
The day that he raped me was the worst day of my life. He dehumanized me, he made me feel little and helpless and vulnerable.
For years, I carried that burden with me. I felt it above me, lingering, knowing that in all possibility it could fall and crush me beneath its weight. It could break me and render me incapable and lifeless. And some days that was exactly how I felt. I felt as if a part of me was taken, and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was or where it had been taken from, but I knew that I was missing it. Some nights I awoke in a cold sweat with my heart pounding because he’d penetrated my dreams; the one place I had found solitude had been invaded. I knew I had to do something to reclaim my mind, body, and soul.
Seven years later, I see the road I have traveled since that day that has led me to where I am now. It has not been a straight path. There have been twists, turns, dead ends, and horizons. It has been a long journey. Some days I felt alone, others I felt as though I was with a procession. I look at the woman I have become, the woman that the journey has turned me into, and I realize that the greatest strength has come from within me. Yes, some days I fought to put my feet to the floor and leave my bed. Some days I spent minutes crying before leaving the house. Some days I felt as though I was on the brink of absolute annihilation and that I was only a shell, incapacitated by my memories. At first, those days were frequent. I often wondered if they would ever stop, if I would ever begin to feel human again. Then one day I would wake up and feel the sunlight on my face and the coffee would taste sweeter. I would laugh. I would put on lipstick and not worry about being seen. I would make myself known.
This intermittence continued for years. Finally, the good days began to outnumber the bad. I began to love myself again. After years of blaming myself and hating myself for what I now realize was no fault of my own, I began to understand. We live in a rape culture. And although the media and society would have wanted me to believe that I deserved blame and disgrace, I slowly began to comprehend that those feelings were unjustified and unwarranted.
I began feeling the blood course through my veins again. I became able to shape the person I wanted to be. I began to feel both alive and infinite.
He took something from me – that is true. But what I have built, reclaimed, and created is bigger and more vibrant. It makes me want to live, love, and hope beyond my wildest imagination. If I ever have a daughter, I will teach her to love relentlessly and infinitely, without fear. I will teach her that yes, there are bad people in the world, but there are also good people who will listen to you, nurture you, and just be there some days when you need to cry, or laugh, or be still. I am eternally grateful to those people in my life who have, over the last seven years, watched me heal and offered themselves to help in the process. I will teach her that you are always stronger than you appear, and that nobody has the right to make you feel small without your permission.
To reclaim what I lost and to truly heal, I began writing a letter. I began writing without an addressee. I just began writing.
So to whoever is reading this, be you a survivor, a friend of a survivor, or another beautiful soul, I hope I have given you something. I hope you have read this and felt a little more at peace with yourself, or that you feel the strength to begin your own journey. I hope you find anything you may be searching for, and that you possess the love and optimism to carry on and know when you have reached your destination.
Lenora Davis is the pseudonym of a young woman who approached me via the MMAS Facebook page and wanted to tell her story. To anyone reading: please know that you can tell your story here anonymously. Feel free to add it to the comments or let me know if you’d like me to publish it in a post. ~Rosie
From the blogosphere:
This conversation needs to happen in classrooms everywhere.
Yesterday, the news invaded my classroom. I think the kids aren’t paying attention. I think the kids only care about the news as it relates to Justin Bieber. I think they aren’t listening or capable of advanced thought. Every single time I think one of those things, I sell out the ninth-graders that come traipsing through my room every day.
It started when I picked this poem to go over different ways to look at poetry:
If she says something now he’ll say
it’s not true if he says it’s not true
they’ll think it’s not true if they think
it’s not true it will be nothing new
but for her it will be a weightier
thing it will fill up the space where
he isn’t allowed it will open the door
of the room where she’s put him
away he will fill up her mind he…
View original post 1,105 more words
Trigger Warning: This post is about rape.
I was fourteen years old the night my friend G took me to my first kegger. We told my mom we were going to “a little get together.” I remember almost nothing about the evening—flashes, mostly. I remember absolutely nothing about being raped that night.
I might never have known about it, except that N–a woman I’d met the night before–mentioned it casually the next morning when I woke in a strange house with what might have been my first hangover. I don’t remember the words she used, just the image they evokedof me passed out in a bed and two men doing whatever they wanted with me.
Apparently G had left me at the party—I never learned why, but I assume that I was either passed out or otherwise resisted leaving. I never asked him. Sitting there with N that morning, I barely remembered that he’d brought me. I don’t remember worrying that I’d be in trouble for not going home the night before. I don’t remember anything but a sick feeling in my gut and the vague thought that “I guess that’s what happens when you get drunk and pass out.”
N didn’t seem particularly bothered by it. I’d soon learn that she wasn’t bothered by much. If I’d heard the term “sex positive” back then I would have assumed it applied to her because when it came to N and sex, the answer was always “yes.” By comparison, even as promiscuous as I eventually became, I always felt like a prude. And I felt like one that morning because I knew I wasn’t okay with what had happened, and yet, here was this woman ten years older than I who seemed to think it was no big deal.
So that’s how I treated it. I put it out of my mind, and I never once thought of it as rape. Rape was what happened to me when I was twelve and a boy forced himself on me and I fought with every fiber of my being. That was when I went to the police and lost friends and created a scandal in my community. This was different—it was my fault for passing out and leaving my body lying around for other people to use.
I never thought of it as rape until it happened again. I was 35 or so, out drinking, went back to someone’s place after the bar closed to smoke some pot, and woke up on a couch with a man’s penis inside me. So disoriented it took me a moment to realize what was happening and shove him off me, I first assumed that I just didn’t remember somehow letting things get started with this person I had absolutely no sexual interest in. I left him sitting on his couch looking down at his lap, and I walked home in the dark, and I blamed myself and shamed myself and felt like the most disgusting slut in the world.
And then I remembered:
We’d smoked some pot, and I’d felt really tired. I’d curled up on his couch just to rest for a moment. I had passed out. Between the alcohol, the pot, and my anti-depressants (and it’s entirely possible he slipped me something, I have no way of knowing at this point) I was good and unconscious for I don’t know how long. Until some part of me realized my body was in the middle of a sex act I hadn’t consented to.
It wasn’t my fault. I feel the need to say that because it wasn’t, and because I want anyone reading this who has experienced something similar to know that it isn’t your fault, either. We never know when we walk out the door when we’re going to find ourselves in the presence of a rapist. We can take precautions and self-defense classes, maintain a constant state of awareness of our surroundings, only ever drink at home, and still get raped. I know because the first time I got raped I was just hanging out with friends smoking a joint. I know because most women who experience rape are not drunk or dressed provocatively or in any way “asking for it.” Most victims are raped by someone they know, and it usually happens in their own home or that of a friend or relative.
Rape isn’t the logical conclusion to a night of drink ending in unconsciousness. In a civilized society, it should never be a thing about which we say, “What did she expect?” If the crime was murder, we never would. Because drunk girls don’t cause murder any more than they cause rape.
What causes rape? Rapists. People who believe on some level or other that they are entitled to use someone else’s body for their sexual gratification or rage/power/fantasy-fulfillment.
I’m grateful for the guilty verdict in the Steubenville case today. I’m outraged that the judge verbally admonished the boys for irresponsible behavior while drinking (including texting dirty pictures), but not for rape. I’m disgusted at the slap on the wrist these boys got in the form of one- and two-year sentences. But I’m hoping out of all this comes a real conversation about the culture that produces boys who aren’t even sure what rape is when they see it, and a system that treats rape victims like criminals.
Also, Jane Doe is donating all funds sent her way to her local women’s shelter and is asking that others do the same. (Worth reading.)
For more background on my history of abuse, read A Brief History (the Bad-Parts Version).
For a great breakdown of Steubenville and rape culture, read So You’re Tired of Hearing About “Rape Culture”?
And for commenters who would still like me to take responsibility for my rapes:
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
On Make Me a Sammich:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- #IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- 10 Things Rape is Not
- #SAAM Facts: Arm Yourself
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story
From the web:
Guest post by Bhagwan (originally posted on Bhagwan@Large)
But I will not share this letter myself. Not today, anyway, and certainly not linked to the original facebook posting (put forth by the brave souls at FCKH8.com) [That’s it to the left–click to embiggen. -Rosie]
For the record, I support the sentiment, the letter, and the hypothetical father and son. I was going to forward on the message, hoping to boost my own algorithmic exposure to LGBT posts and images over and above my deep and abiding admiration for George Takei.
Then I saw the following idiotic comment in the stream.
“We will have more Dads like this when you females stop having babies with guys that are not like this. Hate is hate, no matter what form it’s in.”
Despite the poor construction of the comment (and the deplorable use of “females” instead of “ladies,” but that’s another rant) this one pushed a big button for me.
Enough so that I’ve now wasted your time reading to this point, and am about to take up some more. This is my own portion of the universe, and I get to talk about pretty much whatever I want here.
So listen up, you primitive screwheads!
I am sick and tired of apologizing for my gender. I realize that simply looking the way I do I’ve hit a big part of the universal Pick 6 jackpot. But at what point is it even nominally acceptable to climb on a soapbox when expressing agreement with a concept such as a father’s love for his son?
At what point is a hypothetical woman’s decision to have a child the source of intolerance? How did the majority of our species somehow become responsible for a minority opinion?
And in what universe is spewing hate in a comment thread otherwise dominated by love justified by the words, “hate is hate, no matter what form it’s in?”
There are an infinite number of better places to draw a line in the sand. I happen to have been standing in this one for too many years to abandon my position, even as the ocean of time pours in over my fragile bulwark.
So here’s what I want people who will never read these words to do. Think of it as my own brand of soapboxing.
Stop blaming me for the actions of other asshats. I have plenty of my own problems, and hold numerous opinions that may make me a less than ideal person in your eyes. Dislike me for those, instead of your own flaws reflected.
Never, EVER, blame a woman for the actions of a man.
Start treating our fellow travelers with a modicum of respect, and don’t assume you are not part of the problem.
Don’t be a pinhead. Be the kind of person who asks your son to pick up Orange Juice when he brings his boyfriend over for a visit.
UPDATE: COLORADO RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR! (See updates at bottom.)
This is Coy Mathis. She’s six years old and, until recently, attended first grade at a school in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District in Colorado. In December 2012 Coy’s school contacted her parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, and told them that Coy would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ restroom, as she has done since Kindergarten.
You see, Coy Mathis was assigned “male” at birth. But she has known since she was able to know things that she is a girl.
You’re probably imagining a horrific tale of parental complaints and classroom bullying, but none of that has happened. The school district has decided to preemptively address a problem that does not exist, but that they imagine might occur in the future.
From Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis:
They gave Coy three options for where to go to the bathroom; the boys’ room, the staff bathroom with adults, or the nurse’s bathroom which is used by sick children.
Coy is not sick, she is not an adult, and she is not a boy.
Coy is a girl. She wears girls’ clothes, is addressed by everyone at the school using female pronouns, and has been accepted by her classmates and teachers as a girl. But if the school separates her from all her classmates to use the bathroom, they are singling her out for mistreatment, and teaching her classmates that it’s okay to discriminate.
Coy’s parents have removed her from school and have brought suit against the school district. The attorney for the district, W. Kelly Dude, provided the following explanation (using male pronouns to describe Coy):
The school “took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents, and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.” He went on to add, “However, I’m certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.” (via Housing Works Advocate)
The fact that Coy first told her parents that something was wrong with her body when she was four–the fact that Coy’s doctors have diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and recommended that she live as, and be treated as, a girl–well, the facts of Coy’s life and identity apparently don’t count. But imaginary possible future student discomfort and parent complaints? These are IMPORTANT and we MUST ACT NOW. You know, just in case.
Here’s Coy’s mom Kathryn Mathis on how Coy described the feelings she was having:
“She just kept crying and said she was scared that she was going to grow up and have a beard and a hairy chest and everybody would know she was born a boy.”
Seriously? This is all my kid would ever have to say to me (and it should be all anyone needs to hear). And I would fight the whole world to protect her right to be who she is.
We can all join the Mathis family in fighting for Coy by signing their petition on Change.org.You can also contact the Fountain-Fort Carson School District and let them know what you think. Let’s make a world that loves, accepts, and celebrates Coy and kids like her for who they are.
I went looking for news on the case, and there isn’t much, but I wanted to include this from Coy’s mom, which goes a bit farther toward explaining the process they went to before deciding the right way to proceed. From Huffington Post:
“It was kind of a long process because she had been telling us for some time, and we thought, ‘Well maybe it’s a phase, maybe if we just confirm to her that she really is a boy?’ you know, try and encourage her toward boy things, then her phase would be over maybe,” Kathryn Mathis said. “So it really took a lot of learning, research on our part because she was consistently telling us the same thing, that she was a girl. So we read lots of books, we contacted lots of support groups. We contacted her pediatrician and a child psychologist and it was very lengthy. And eventually we were told that we needed to support her and how she was, and you know, how she really was.”
Jill Filipovic also writes about Coy in a recent article on the Guardian.
Watch a 17 minute Dateline video featuring Coy: Crossover Kids
CO. RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR!
From the New York Times (6/23/13):
In a sharply worded ruling, the division concluded that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District needlessly created a situation in which the student, Coy Mathis, would be subject to harassment when it barred her from the girls’ bathroom even though she clearly identified as female.
Telling Coy “that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive,” Steven Chavez, the division director, wrote in the decision.
The dispute over whether Coy, 6, should be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom was seen by some as a critical test of how state antidiscrimination laws were applied to transgender students.
Read more at NYT.
Poem by MMAS reader Karl Jesse, published with permission.
when I was young, I didn’t care.
The other was a fascination.
A mystery I wanted to swim with.
Now, seeing how complex is our predicament,
I begin to understand.
But I am not afraid.
Because I have walked with you.
Talked with you.
We have wound together.
Stronger, wiser, inseparable.
Something I will never forget.
No, it never got easier,
but it sure got a lot more interesting.
The Belle Jar rocks my world!
A is for Austen, the Regency hellion
B is for Boudica, who raised a rebellion
C is Cleopatra, fierce Queen of the Nile
D is Diana, whose voice does beguile
E is for Ella, breaking down barriers
F is for Franklin, who made DNA merrier
G is Gloriana, anything but conventional
H is for hooks (lower case is intentional)
I is Isadora, who loved modern dance
J is Jo March, who wrote and wore pants
K is for Kennedy, who understood duty
L is Lamarr, who mixed science with beauty
M is MacPhail, political and proud
N is for Nellie, strident and loud
O is for Olave, keen about guiding
P is for Parker, whose wit was so biting
Q is Quvenzhané, who lights up the screen
R is for Rosa, who sat like a queen
S is Suu Kyi…
View original post 60 more words
I think it was the day I first learned the phrase “trigger warning” that I realized what it is that happens to me when people reach lazily for the word that describes my nightmare and use it to describe what their wife did to them in their divorce or what their buddy did to them in HALO the night before. That sick feeling, the inevitable visualization of what the word means–to me, personally, based on my experience having survived rape. The reminder that although at least one in four women have experienced sexual assault (and 1 in 33 men), for many people that experience is so foreign that it can easily, casually, and sometimes it seems, constantly, be reduced to an analogy or even a punchline.
When the whole Daniel Tosh fiasco happened, I wanted to write about it. I really did. I started a draft. I collected reference articles. But I just couldn’t do it. Maybe it’s because I’d already gotten up a head of steam over the topic. A few years ago, on a long-dead blog, I wrote a post about many of the reasons rape jokes and analogies should be used with care, if at all. Everyone else had done a great job of explaining all the reasons why Daniel Tosh is a jackass, so I let that pass, but I still find myself on probably a weekly basis wanting to link people to that old article that explains why I wish they’d just stop with the rape jokes and analogies already. So today I made the postcard above, and now I’m resurrecting my old post below.
Rape: It’s Not Funny (or Cool)
After seeing the word “rape” used as a punchline and an analogy for everything from the financial crisis to a sports victory, I’m utterly and completely over it. I’ll admit that this is a personal thing for me: I have been raped. I understand that’s not true of everyone, and I don’t expect my world to be scrubbed clean of all references to rape. But too many of us, male and female, have experienced this violent, debasing act for any of us to be tossing the word around carelessly. Consider the following reasons to find a new analogy—a different punchline.
Rape Analogies Aren’t Cool
I’m as outraged as anyone about the mess Wall Street has made (that our government has allowed them to make) of our economy. And who doesn’t love to see their team win? But to use “raped” to mean “was victorious over” indicates that we believe rape is a cool way to assert power. To use it to mean “victimized” (as in Wall Street victimized America) is at least in the ballpark, but I think it really boils down to a crude attempt to be edgy or even provocative. Johnny Depp compared photo shoots to rape. Really, Johnny? I expected better. When we let these analogies slide we’re contributing to a culture that trivializes rape, and that’s not ok.
Comedian Dane Cook, who doesn’t think twice about making sexist and racist jokes, had this to say about rape analogies:
“I think the word raped gets thrown around far too casually. You ever listen to a bunch of guys playing video games with each other online? It’s like, ‘Ah man you shot me in the back dude. You raped me dude!’ I’m pretty sure if I talked to a woman who’s been through that horrific situation and I said, ‘What was it like, you know, being raped?’ she’s not gonna look at me and go, ‘Have you ever played Halo?’”
I’ve only ever seen one rape analogy that I thought worked, and that’s because the objective was to point out the stupidity of victim blaming in rape cases.
Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny
We use humor and analogy to help us understand our world, and humor in particular relies on (among other things) pushing the boundaries of comfort and social acceptance. People joke about religion, politics, gender, crime—even race and homosexuality still get a workout from some standup comedians. Is rape a special case? Perhaps not; maybe it’s fair game like so much else. Except that it isn’t. Rape is a violent, humiliating, abusive act that is damaging on a scale that I’m not sure one can grasp without experiencing it. I wouldn’t wish something like that on my worst enemy, but I think anyone who believes it’s ok to make rape jokes should take a moment to imagine it: someone pins you down (or threatens your life or drugs your drink or waits until you’re asleep) and penetrates you without your consent. Imagine the fear, the pain, the violation, the humiliation, the disgust…do you think you would ever find humor in that situation? Do you think you would be ok—really ok—with people making your trauma the source of their amusement?
Some humor makes us laugh and cringe simultaneously. Disasters and gruesome celebrity deaths usually give rise to at least one groaner, and though we know we shouldn’t be laughing, it’s as if our bodies betray us (though there’s a part of me that always feels a little dirty afterward). But there are some lines that we seem to agree on some level shouldn’t be crossed, and when they are, nearly everyone in the room shuffles their feet and coughs uncomfortably. Race is one of these, in what I like to think of as the more enlightened circles. Homophobia and transphobia are also not considered acceptable. And there are things that it doesn’t even occur to most of us to joke about, like Hiroshima or hate crimes. That’s because these are violent, horrifying acts and events that we recognize as worthy of some gravity. Rape should, in my opinion, be among those.
But that’s only part of the problem.
Rape Jokes and Analogies Can Do Harm
Two things happen when people make rape jokes and analogies: one is that they can help reinforce a culture in which rape is somehow acceptable. Because I can’t say it any better myself, Wikipedia offers this:
Rape culture is a term which originated in women’s studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification and rape apologism. Use of the term has recently become more common.
The other thing that happens when people use rape to get a laugh or describe a victory or make a comparison is that those of us who have been raped may be “triggered*”—that is, we may react adversely to unexpectedly encountering a thoughtless remark, for instance, using our trauma to describe what one team did to the other one on the football field today. Some of us have stronger reactions than others. Personally, depending on the remark, I cringe, my stomach clenches, I might experience some nausea or anxiety. This is a mild reaction—other people, for various reasons, can be triggered to a much greater degree. Rape survivors are traumatized people, many (or most, or all) of whom suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to one degree or another. Their reactions can range from panic attacks to flash-backs to the desire to hurt themselves to escape feelings of rage, shame, and fear.
It All Comes Down to Empathy
We’ve all got our sensitivities, and I believe political correctness can go too far. Some people seem to spend all their time looking for offense—and finding it—and I think they should really lighten up. But I also believe we can all benefit from an understanding of how our thoughtless comments can affect others whose experience might be so much different from our own. Sure, you can write people off as “too sensitive” or invoke your right to free speech or state self-righteously that “it’s not my job to keep other people from being offended,” but ultimately, if our words hurt someone, that person remains hurt despite our rights and entitlements. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. We all have to decide whether our right to use rape as a punchline or an analogy is worth the consequences.
This article on Shakesville makes an important point that I did not:
Here’s another article that tells it like it is:
And a petition:
FOX Sports, a division of News Corp.: Tell FOX to drop the UFC unless they clean up their act!
And if you have a strong stomach, here’s a look at 10 minutes on Twitter. This is what rape culture looks like. Oh, and here’s an entire World of Warcraft fansite forum thread dedicated to rape jokes.
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I want to apologize–for so many things. For myself and for the culture we live in. Because we are failing you and girls like you and we have to do better.
I’ll start by apologizing for myself. I’m sorry for not knowing until now what to say about the way Seth MacFarlane and the Onion treated you on Oscar night. They singled you out for a laugh never thinking of what effect that might have on you. On a night when they should have been celebrating your achievements, they commodified you. They used you in a way that comedians and satirist use lots of people, except that children ought to be exempt. Especially on what is possibly the biggest night of their lives to date, when they’re sitting right there in the room listening attentively. And I was outraged, and I said so, but only in passing. I didn’t feel equipped to deal with the complexity of the racial side of this (if it can even be called a side–maybe it’s the whole thing). I felt as though it wasn’t my place. And I read what other people had to say and I asked questions and I learned. And now I know that my silence was perhaps interpreted by some as acceptance or at the very least, complacency, laziness, and lack of concern. I realize that if you or any young woman of color came to my blog, you would find that I’d dedicated exactly zero time and energy to saying (here, where I talk about things that matter to me) that they treated you badly, that they were wrong, that this is a symptom of so much of what is wrong with us as a society, and that it’s important to understand that race is a big part of the equation because of the way black girls and women have historically been treated–and exploited–in this country.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané, that I didn’t write about this before now.
Now I want to apologize for the culture that allows this to happen, because I know I have been part of the problem and because I own that each of us (adults) is partly responsible for allowing it to be this way. We raise our girls to believe they are somehow less than boys, and our boys to think that the worst possible thing someone can say to them is that they’re behaving like (or running like, or throwing like, or crying like) a girl. We reward young men for the “conquest” of having sex, and shame young women for being “sluts.” We create and consume media that sets unattainable standards, reinforces harmful gender and racial stereotypes, and perpetuates rape culture. This culture we have created and continue to allow to thrive is what made Seth MacFarlane believe it was acceptable to use you for a laugh. It’s what made some fans claim that our outrage over that and the Onion’s ill-considered attempt at satire are because people like us “have no sense of humor.” It’s the reason hundreds of people retweeted the Onion’s tweet.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané. I’m sorry we aren’t living in a post-sexist, post-racist society by 2013. I’m sorry they couldn’t just let you have your night in the spotlight and celebrate your talent and your achievements and the fact that you made history. I hope the night was wonderful and that none of this spoiled anything for you.
I learned to pronounce your name partly because I was so angry that people who make their living talking to and about celebrities on television did not take the time before meeting you to do so, but also because I wanted to know how to say it. Now I find myself saying it over and over again: Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané…because it sounds like a song. Those people who didn’t bother to learn your name really missed out–they could have done their jobs and had the joy of saying your lovely name out loud.
I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Update 1/12/15: It has been nearly two years and they are still mispronouncing her name.
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Meet Kristi Noem. Yesterday she distinguished herself as the only woman in Congress to vote against both the House and Senate versions of the Violence Against Women Act. While you ponder that, here’s a bit about her from Wikipedia:
Kristi Noem (born November 30, 1971) is the U.S. Representative for South Dakota’s at-large congressional district, serving since January 2011. She is a member of the Republican Party and has been elected to the Republican Leadership for the 112th Congress as one of its two freshman representatives. She previously represented the 6th District in the South Dakota House of Representatives for four years, serving as an Assistant Majority Leader during her final year. She is a farmer, rancher and small business owner by profession.
Many on her Facebook page (male and female–even some Republicans) are asking for an explanation, but I found no official statement on her page. Apparently this is not a cut and dried issue for her, as she has waffled on it before. According to a statement to press after the vote, she believes the VAWA will “muddy the waters with constitutionally questionable provisions that will likely only delay justice.”
Also, according to the Argus Leader, Noem has plans to…compensate? for voting against women by introducing new legislation in future:
Noem said she soon will introduce a bill to help victims of domestic abuse in Indian tribes. The measure will include a series of provisions, including improving coordination between U.S. and tribal law enforcement.
Yeah, sorry, but…no.
To see Ms. Noem among these white Republican men in this context is so bizarre to me. As one Facebook commenter said, “How could anyone with a uterus vote against VAWA?” But even more bizarre was seeing this from one female commenter:
And this, also from a woman:
I’m never surprised to see men bashing VAWA. To be clear, I’m never surprised to see men defending VAWA, either–it’s just that most VAWA opposition I’ve encountered comes directly from Men’s Rights Activists who claim that the Violence Against Women Act is a conspiracy by feminists to strip them of their parental rights and destroy the institution of the traditional American family. The rest has come from white, male politicians who honestly seem worried that they or one of their friends might find themselves subject to reservation justice, which when you think about it is pretty gross. But why else oppose protections for Native American women raped by men who are not members of the reservation they chose to perpetrate their crime (often repeatedly)?
But when I see women caught up in opposing their own rights and protections, I just feel sick. Who are these women, and how did someone convince them that VAWA was bad for them (or for anyone)? And more importantly, how do we counter this tendency?
A male commenter on MMAS recently said that women need to stand together and watch one another’s backs the way men do. I think he’s right in that women have been trained to see one another as competition for males and while some of us have risen above that and are embracing sisterhood, too many still don’t want to be seen as One of “Those” Girls. Men are competitive, too, but it’s just not the same, I think. When women buy into the cultural stereotypes that tell us that our sex is bitchy, naggy, and oh-so-crazy, but tolerable as long as we look cute and don’t make waves…well, what chance to we have? When women buy into conservative/MRA lies that tell them VAWA is a feminist plot or a way to complicate legal proceedings or persecute white men…how the hell do we counter that?
With the truth. Here’s some from the White House VAWA Fact Sheet:
VAWA has improved the criminal justice response to violence against women by:
- holding rapists accountable for their crimes by strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and creating a federal “rape shield law,” which is intended to prevent offenders from using victims’ past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial;
- mandating that victims, no matter their income levels, are not forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams or for service of a protection order;
- keeping victims safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order will be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the United States;
- increasing rates of prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of offenders by helping communities develop dedicated law enforcement and prosecution units and domestic violence dockets;
- ensuring that police respond to crisis calls and judges understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence by training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates and judges; VAWA funds train over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel every year;
- providing additional tools for protecting women in Indian country by creating a new federal habitual offender crime and authorizing warrantless arrest authority for federal law enforcement officers who determine there is probable cause when responding to domestic violence cases.
VAWA also provides services for victims of domestic violence and their families. The National Domestic Violence Hotline answers 22,000 calls a month, and is the first call most victims make when they decide to seek help. And since VAWA passed in 1994, domestic violence is down nearly 70%. Programs VAWA created have resulted in greater awareness of what constitutes abuse, resulting in higher reporting rates, so more abuse victims are getting out and getting the help they need. Because of VAWA, more women understand that abuse is not “normal” and is never okay. And I’m sorry to report that making abuse a black-and-white issue is one of the things opponents of VAWA really dislike. Because some men believe they have the right to visit all manner of punishment on women so long as they don’t actually lay a hand on them, and they’d really rather we didn’t label their behavior as abusive. Well, sorry, dickheads. You lose.
As for women working against their own interests, all I can say is fight it wherever you find it, people. Women like Rep. Noem may be a lost cause (although I encourage you to let her know what you think), but too many are just asleep. And it’s time for a wake-up call.