August 18, 2015 – Today I added two names and found this, listing the names (and when available, photos) of 100 unarmed Black people killed by police in 2014. In one year.
Last weekend I attend a rally in Seattle where Bernie Sanders was to speak. As you might have heard, some of Seattle’s Black Lives Matter activists staged a protest, following up on the recent action at Netroots Nation in Phoenix in July. At that event, Sanders had complained rather than choosing to listen to and empathize with the activists. (Joe Biden did a much better job dealing with the protest during his speech at Netroots Nation 2014, which by the way is a CONFERENCE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVISTS and there is a protest pretty much EVERY TIME a politician speaks, so why Bernie didn’t see that coming I’ll never know.)
Anyway, BLM takes the stage, and cue the angry white people in the audience and on every social media network criticizing tactics as though their opinions matter one whit to Black people when deciding how to shed light on the crisis of Black lives lost every day to police violence. Angry white people claiming, as the privileged always do when they don’t like the “timing” or target of a protest staged by marginalized people, that this action “did more harm than good to the movement” as if they have the first clue about what the actual goals of such an action might be (hint: pretty sure it wasn’t to make white people like them more). Angry white people announcing that, as a result of one action they don’t agree with, that they would no longer support BLM. From the boos and fuck yous and outright harassment of the activists by white people at the rally to the privilege displayed by white and non-black people since, this has been a stark reminder for me and others that “progressive” liberals just keep earning the “fauxgressive” label, and that as far as we’ve come, those of us who are not Black have so much work to do within our communities to make non-Black people aware that listening to Black people—really spending some time listening to their voices and lived experiences—is the only way they will ever come close to understanding their lives, their struggles, their pain, and how we benefit from the very system that oppresses them. It’s the only way we can ever begin to know what it is to live in this country ruled by white people.
And it’s the only way we can begin to get that while we have a job to do in this movement (see above), it sure as hell isn’t telling Black people what will and will not win us as allies. Allies in a fight to save black lives should not have to be won. If something BLM does makes you turn away from the entire movement, you were not an ally in this fight, and the movement loses nothing. If your allyship requires polite protest aimed only at targets you deem correct at times you deem appropriate, what kind of ally are you, really? (Hint: You’re not an ally.)
Bernie didn’t speak at the rally, but he wasn’t “forced off the stage.” He left after declining to engage with Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford and the organizers decided to end the event. Bernie chose to spend his time out among the mostly white crowd shaking hands and kissing babies. I saw him and thanked him for coming. He’d been smiling, but glanced at my chest where my Black Lives Matter button hung, and his expression changed.
I’ll probably write more on the BLM Bernie Sanders action and rebut some of the white fragility, derailment, etc. I have seen over the past week. For now, suffice to say that I support Black Lives Matter because I love and support Black people. The rally was uncomfortable once BLM took the stage, but the reactions of white Seattle “progressives” made me far more uncomfortable than the protest or the interruption to my plans. And here’s the thing: if we’re dedicated to working for racial equality, I believe we have to be ok with some discomfort in the service of change, and we have to support those Black people doing this work who are brave enough to take chances and make targets of themselves even if we don’t quite understand their choices, motives, or goals. It’s not about us. It’s just not.
July 27, 2015 – Yesterday I added six more names to this list. Today I added one more. Since I wrote this post, I’ve added several. All are unarmed Black people killed by police or who died in police custody under circumstances that have caused many to question the official story (and this list is not exhaustive by any means). Sadly, this doesn’t generally include the media, who report as fact whatever the police tell them and waste no time in smearing the victims. And it doesn’t include a lot of ignorant people who seem to think that “Contempt of Cop” is a capital crime.
News Flash: It’s not illegal to be rude to a cop. There is no law that says you must be courteous. A police officer does not have the right to detain or arrest a citizen for talking back, and if one chooses to do so and that citizen ends up dead at the hands of police, the fault does not lie with the victim because they should have been more polite. If police can’t keep from killing citizens because they’re pissed off that said citizens aren’t showing enough respect, the problem is with police culture, not disrespectful citizens. When police kill Black people at a rate of two per week in the United States, and when so many of those people are unarmed, the problem is racism in police culture, not Black people talking back, running away, or being terrifying lethal weapons in and of themselves. And when white people accept this state of things—worse, when we defend it—we are participating in maintaining white supremacy. We are perpetuating the very system that privileges whiteness and tramples non-white people underfoot. And those who lose their lives as a result of this system we benefit from? Their blood is on our hands.
April 30, 2015 – Another day has passed, and another officer of the law has gunned down an unarmed Black person. And still white people argue that “it’s not about black and white” and “we need to focus on the real issues.”
The real issue is institutional racism, and you’re damned right it deserves our focus. The issue is that our justice system supports white supremacy. The issue is that cop culture teaches that citizens are the enemy and that some citizens are less-than-human and at the same time more dangerous—deadly weapons in and of themselves, with the ability to Hulk out when the need arises.
The list below—which includes men and women, adults and children—keeps growing. And as it does, so does the “unrest” among citizens who wonder whether they’ll be the next name, the next hashtag.
Meanwhile, white folks lament property damage and wonder why everything has to be “about race.”
#ChristianTaylor #s #SandraBland #JonathanSanders #KindraChapman #KimberleeKing #NatashaMcKenna #TerrenceKellum #FreddieGray #CarolineSmall #ErvinEdwards #EricHarris #TamirRice #AiyanaJones #MikeBrown #JohnCrawford #RekiaBoyd #EricGarner #DontreHamilton #TonyRobinson #YvetteSmith #OscarGrant #ShellyFrey #TyreeWoodson #WalterScott #TanishaAnderson #RumainBrisbon #AkaiGurley #KajiemePowell #EzellFord #DanteParker #ShereeseFrancis #VictorWhite #TarikaWilson #KathrynJohnston #JordanBaker #JonathanFerrell #AlbertaSpruill #PearlieGolden #EleanorBumpurs #SeanBell #AmadouDiallo #LarryJackson #DeionFludd #KimaniGray #TimothyRussell #ChavisCarter #SharmelEdwards #TamonRobinson #KendrecMcDade #WendellAllen #ManuelLoggins #RamarleyGraham #KennethChamberlain #ReginaldDoucet #DerrickJones #StevenWashington #AaronCampbell #KiwaneCarrington #VictorSteen #ShemWalker #DeAuntaFarrow #HenryGlover #RonaldMadison #JamesBrisette #TimothyStansbury #OusmaneZongo #OrlandoBarlow #TimothyThomas #PrinceJones #MalcolmFerguson #StephonWatts
The other day in the train station I chatted with a Black man who joked that a problem in our station would be solved when the white people complained about it. We laughed and shook our heads and sighed. We both knew he was right on the money.
Wake the fuck up, white people. It IS about race. And it’s not going to get fixed until the white people complain. It’s not going to stop until we stop it.
Note: I am adding names to the hashtag list as I become aware of them.
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In 1991, Anita Hill captured my country’s attention when she testified before congress that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor. I was in my late 20s at the time, and I remember how brave she seemed, but the power dynamics were frankly lost on me at that point. In fact, they were lost on a lot of people. Prior to Ms. Hill’s testimony, we weren’t even talking about sexual harassment in the workplace as a nation. Like so many societal ills, it was a silent current running through our culture, accepted as just “the way things are.” Anita Hill changed that.
Now, watching the trailer for the upcoming documentary ANITA, I look at the sea of white, male faces that confronted her (literally) as she testified, and I have a far better sense of just how much courage that must have taken as a woman and especially as a Woman of Color. She spoke a hard truth to the most powerful men in her country and made herself a target not only for politicians but for racists and comedians and anyone else with an axe to grind against a Black woman who dared talk about how powerful men treat women who are subordinate to them. She did so with a grace I know I couldn’t muster in similar circumstances, and I am in awe of her. I expect I’ll be even more in awe after seeing this film.
Watch the trailer:
Yeah, this looks really, really good.
I’ve worked on Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) campaigns before and hoped at one time to start a Seattle WAM! chapter. Life got in the way and I have had to take a step back from my activism until further notice, but I’m still kicking, and when Jaclyn Friedman asked me if I’d help WAM! get people out to a local ANITA screening I was happy to oblige. But I don’t want to stop there.
Initial screenings are taking place in March and April in select cities (see below). Based on ticket sales for those screenings, distributors for the film will decide how many cities will get the film and for how long. WAM! wants to get as many people as possible out to these screenings to ensure that the film gets wide distribution and in doing so, send a message to Hollywood that “woman-helmed films about women are a good investment.”
I think this is a worthy endeavor—don’t you? I’m hoping you’ll help me get the word out so these initial screenings are as successful as they can be. And BONUS: WAM! has arranged for discounted tickets (see links below)!
Just past the 22 year anniversary, Freida Mock revisits one of the most controversial watershed events of the past century, the Anita Hill – Clarence Thomas hearings, the weekend of shocking television that made Anita Hill a household name and smashed the door open on the issues of sexual harassment and gender equality.
Attend a Screening
Screenings are happening in the following cities (courtesy of WAM!—follow links for discounted tix!):
MARCH 21 – 23, 2014
- NEW YORK, NY – ANGELIKA FILM CENTER: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film Q&A with Anita Hill herself. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- BERKELEY, CA – SHATTUCK CINEMAS 10: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film talkback hosted by Equal Rights Advocates. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- LOS ANGELES, CA – LAEMMLE ROYAL THEATRE: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film happy hour and film chat with fellow WAM!mers. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
APRIL 4 – 6, 2014
- BOSTON, MA – KENDALL SQUARE CINEMAS: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film Q&A with Anita Hill herself. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- WASHINGTON, DC – E-STREET CINEMAS: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film Q&A with director Freida Mock herself.. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- SEATTLE, WA – SUNDANCE CINEMAS SEATTLE: On sale now at a special WAM! price, and featuring a post-film happy hour and film chat with fellow WAM!mers. Click here for tickets before they sell out!
- CHICAGO, IL – RIVER EAST 21: Email us ASAP to help make a Chicago WAM! screening happen
- ATLANTA, GA – REGAL TARA CINEMAS 4: Email us ASAP to help make an Atlanta WAM! screening happen
Help Make ANITA a Success!
Watch the trailer. Spread the word about this film, these screenings (and discounted tix!), and our goal to turn out as many movie-goers as we can. If you live in one of the above cities, attend a screening! Any screening! And if you live in one of the above cities and would like to help ensure the success of ANITA in your city, or if your city is not listed and you’d like to bring a screening to your area, email WAM! and let them know.
Let’s send that message to Hollywood so more films like this one get made and seen.
Guest post by Fran Stewart
Fran is a dear friend and a great writer I was thrilled when she said she wanted to write a post for MMAS. I hope this will not be her last. ~Rosie
I started my girlhood very late. I’d reached my mid-thirties by the time I realized there’d been a mistake. Up until then I’d muddled through life as the straightest, most translucently white suburban male nerd you’d expect to see. When I came out as a transgender woman, I had a lot of catching up to do.
Fear paralyzed me in the early days: will I lose my friends? My family? My wife? Would people laugh at me in the street? Would someone beat me up for being “a he-she?”
I want to talk about a different fear today, though. I wasn’t used to one of the fundamental assumptions most women make every day: I am now a target—not just for being a T or a lesbian, but simply for being female. Just as my salary automatically went down, my risk of rape, robbery, and general mishandling jumped.
My friends began to point out risks I took without thinking. I’d jog one block down an alley to my parked car instead of walking three on the street. I’d assume the friendly intent of anyone who talked to me. I’d walk whistling through dark parking lots at night. Growing up male in a small, safe town just doesn’t breed much situational awareness.
Some people, though, went deeper. “You talk to panhandlers? I’d never do that,” I heard. “You can’t just walk down a dark street. Stick to the lighted areas. Think of what might happen.” I heard a difference in the warning tone: you’re not afraid enough.
Amidst the dizzying swirl of neoadolescent emotions, something about that message went against my grain. Not afraid enough? I was terrified to walk out of the house! I rehearsed for hours how to answer the phone with proper feminine vocal pitch. I cringed at every checkout line, waiting to hear “sir,” expecting a disapproving eyebrow raise, the look on every face that says I see you and I know what you’re up to. Now I’m not being afraid enough?
I related one story to a therapist: in a crowded public area, an aggressive panhandler stopped my wife and me in a paid parking lot. “It’s after six,” he said. “Street parking’s free! There’s a spot right over there. I’ll even hold it for you. I just ask you give me part of what the pay lot would cost.” I looked. I could see the spot he was pointing out. I agreed.
After moving the car, we gave him several dollars of the ten-dollar parking fee. “That’s it? That’s all I get after all the money I saved you? Come on! Screw you!” We apologized and walked away. My wife was upset at the risk I’d taken and my lack of awareness.
I explained my thinking: the street was busy—a plaza full of people. The man was polite initially and correct about the street parking. I felt I’d weighed the risks.
“You can’t talk to people like that. You can’t know what they’re going to do.”
“I don’t think so,” the therapist replied. “I’d never have done that. You can’t talk to people like that. You can’t know what they’re going to do. I don’t think you’re used to thinking about these things the way women do.” We discussed the event for half an hour; I left perplexed and frustrated at her flat denial of my reasoning.
I straddle a mental crevasse: for thirty-odd years I was reared as a man. I was an Eagle Scout. I had to fend off military recruiters in high school. I had no idea what lessons I should or shouldn’t have learned to be a healthy, normal woman. I looked to role models to learn those lessons. But this one still felt wrong. Was I missing something when I assessed the situation? Was risk assessment just useless for women?
As I asked more people, a divide emerged. Some friends adamantly agreed with the therapist: couldn’t I see how dumb I’d been? Some said I’d done okay, though unusual for a woman. A few said I was spot-on—women shouldn’t take shit from people for being women.
Then an activist friend, a sharp-minded New Yorker whose advice I’ve always prized, told me a story. She was at a subway stop late at night and a creep accosted her.
Without thinking twice she turned on him. “Are you serious?” she yelled. “Get the fuck out of here! What’s wrong with you?”
She chased him out of the station in a cloud of shame. “When I told my boyfriend about it he was really worried about the risks I take,” she said. “But this is me. I didn’t think about it—I just did it.”
This is the most valuable lesson she’s taught me: there are as many ways for women to look and act as there are women who’ve ever lived. Anyone who tells you there’s one right way is selling something you don’t need.
“You’re very lucky, in a way,” she said. “You’re redefining yourself. Choose what kind of woman you want to be—what bits of the old you to keep and what new stuff to bring on. Be your own kind of woman.”
So, years later, what’s the result? A new balance. I’m more aware of my surroundings in public. I’ve taken a great self-defense course. I don’t take my safety for granted. But I also feel strong in public. I consider my risks but then walk confidently. I smile at strangers. I do these things because that’s the kind of woman I am.
I feel sad to say that I’ve lived a charmed life, though I feel I have. I’m living the life everyone should have by right: my own.
Also by Fran Stewart:
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This is one of those stories that warms my heart and makes me proud of the state I was born in (neither of which happens often enough these days). I missed the whole thing, and I couldn’t let that happen to you.
So, in case you missed it…
Yesterday, Richardson High School in Texas hosted an assembly (sponsored by the PTA) wherein a “motivational speaker” named Justin Lookadoo presented his philosophies (ostensibly on dating violence) to the student body.* For a little background regarding his expertise as a teen dating guru, here are some “cool rules” from Lookadoo’s website, “R U Dateable.” (If you need to go vomit now, I’ll wait.)
- Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves. They save some for later. They listen more than they gab.
- God made guys as leaders. Dateable girls get that and let him do guy things, get a door, open a ketchup bottle. They relax and let guys be guys. Which means they don’t ask him out!!!
- Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.
- Dateable guys aren’t tamed. They don’t live by the rules of the opposite sex. They fight battles, conquer lands, and stand up for the oppressed.
(If you didn’t vomit before, but need to now, feel free.)
Justin Lookadoo is the author of a book titled (not surprisingly) Dateable. Here’s a sample:
Don’t tease the animals. Have I mentioned that guys are visual? They get turned on by what they see. … So listen: please, PLEASE don’t tease us. To show us your hot little body and then tell us we can’t touch is being a tease. You can’t look that sexy and then tell us to be on our best behavior. Check yourself – if you’re advertising sex, you’re going to get propositions. … A guy will have a tendency to treat you like you are dressed. If you are dressed like a flesh buffet, don’t be surprised when he treats you like a piece of meat.
(Ok, one more vomit break. Ready, set, BLORF.)
How this guy gets speaking engagements at high schools is anyone’s guess. (Though it might have something to do with the fact that he claims to be a “Christian” motivational speaker, which carries a good deal of weight with some Texans. In fact, the school district’s initial response to criticism was to apologize for the “non-religious terminology” Lookadoo used to get his message across.) But though this can’t be his first rodeo, he was evidently unprepared for the reaction from students at RHS. The first hashtagged tweet came from Nate Beer, self-described “newsman.” (Beer writes for the school paper.)
The easiest way to tune this guy out is being on Twitter #Lookadouche
— (@NateBeer) November 13, 2013
What followed was a twitstorm of fairly epic proportions. Student reactions ranged from amused to enraged and back again. Here are just a few:
Like I don’t think he’s prepared for the questions when he’s done. He ain’t ready. #Lookadouche
— Es†iee.♡ (@InGodsArmy_) November 13, 2013
I feel sick to my stomach #Lookadouche
— (@NateBeer) November 13, 2013
So I’m a slut now?? #lookadouche
— Kendall Fletcher (@kendallleigh96) November 13, 2013
Hey gentlemen, since y’all are stronger go kick this guys ass for us. #lookadouche
— Kimberly Martinez (@kimper16) November 13, 2013
At this rate, our speaker on Friday will be Ritchie Incognito #Lookadouche
— (@NateBeer) November 13, 2013
Walking out, I refuse to listen to the enforcement of stereotypes and gender roles. #lookadouche
— Aisleen Menezes (@aisleenmenezes) November 13, 2013
I AM SATAN AND I HAVE A VAGINA #lookadouche
— Grayson Hill (@GraysonTheHill) November 13, 2013
Parents were livid. At least one apparently created a Twitter account just to get onboard:
Daughter pulled from class for a mandatory misogynistic rant. PTA sponsored, without my Consent. Consulting w/ my attorney now #lookadouche
— sasabr (@TonySasabr) November 14, 2013
And Lookadoo wasn’t ready for the after-show Q&A. From local station WFAA:
Students circled around the speaker and hurled questions about his philosophies.
“Why did you tell girls to get out of abusive relationships instead of telling guys not to be abusive in the first place?” one student asked.
“I’ve done about 4,000 programs. That’s never happened,” Lookadoo confessed.
#lookadouche became a trending topic. News and media outlets picked up the story and are still running with it. Nate Beer, newsman, had to take a Twitter break because he was overwhelmed by the response (not all of it positive, I’m sure). And of course Twitter-at-large took up the cry, which is how the story came to my attention today.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that for a moment, when I heard about the speaker’s message, I was worried for these students; afraid that they’d actually buy into this bullshit and internalize it. And perhaps some did. But one thing is certain: Justin Lookadoo, misogynist “motivational speaker,” did motivate RHS students. Just not the way he intended.
Go, Richardson High School. You give me hope.
- Here’s a petition asking the superintendent of George West ISD to cancel Lookadoo’s upcoming speaking event at GWH.
- Lookadoo has expressed confusion over the uproar, saying that his message at the assembly was not the same as the one in his “Dateable” rulebook. The Atlantic has excerpts from his speech at the assembly. I’ll let you be the judge.
- *I originally stated that he “presented his rules for how to be “dateable.” I have since learned that part of the agreement with the PTA was that he would not state these rules, but it appears that he managed to get the message across just the same.
- DallasNews has printed a letter from RHS Principal Charles Bruner, which apparently went home with students today.
- Texas High School Holds Assembly Featuring Misogynistic Christian Speaker, So Students Complain on Twitter (patheos.com)
- Richardson High Schoolers Learned Today That “Dateable Girls Know How to Shut Up” (blogs.dallasobserver.com)
- Motivational speaker offers controversial dating tips for teens (wfaa.com)
- Justin Lookadoo and maybe lookadouche? (RHS student Aisleen Menezes)
This week it finally hit me like a piano out of the sky: nine out of ten* people who argue with me on points of problematic representations/treatment of women in the media and by society in general are…wait for it…dudes.
I’ve come to use the term “dude” (as in Those Dudes) ironically to mean men who are not trolls but are not my allies (though they may believe they are) and who tend to engage in a thing the Internet has come to call “mansplaining,” specifically in response to women speaking out about sexism and misogyny and anything related to it. They seem unable to understand the concept of differing experiences and perspectives or listening and learning from others, and if they disagree on a point, they a) feel they must convince you that you’re wrong or b) believe you owe it to them to convince them you’re right. Or both. Entitlement issues, much?
So here’s a note to Those Dudes. May they give it some serious thought over their next White Russian, or whatever Those Dudes drink.
To Those Dudes:
I’m writing to you today to ask a question and offer some information and advice I hope will be useful to you in your endeavor to be a decent human being.
Here’s my question: Why is it so difficult for you to understand that experiences exist outside your own; that your perspective is yours alone; that you can’t know what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin—a woman’s skin?
Because you just can’t. You can say that you empathize, but that only goes so far because it is actually impossible for you to walk in our shoes. And most of you wouldn’t if you could. (If you bristle at that, I dare you to challenge yourself to pass as a woman in public for 24 hours, because that’s as close as you’ll get, and I guarantee you it’ll change your life.) And because you can’t know what it’s like to be us, you’d think that logic (that thing you’re always telling me my arguments are lacking) would dictate that you cannot be an expert on us, on being us, on how to be us, on how things affect us, and all that stuff you always want to advise us on. I’m really hoping that if you give it some serious, logical thought you’ll understand how your telling us how wrong we are when we talk about how we experience the world doesn’t make a lot of sense.
And yet you crawl up out of the woodwork every time we speak to tell us we’re mistaken and misguided, that we’re not seeing things clearly, that our perspectives are out of true, that we’re far too sensitive and emotional and are just creating “drama”–that because you don’t see it the way we do there’s nothing to talk about and why do we make such a BIG DEAL out of everything.
This behavior has a name. There was a time when I didn’t use the name because frankly, I didn’t want people to think I’m one of Those Feminists who hates men. I don’t want to use gender-specific terms to describe bad behavior if I can help it. I’d rather just say “That guy’s a pompous ass.” But there came a day when even I had to admit there’s a damned good reason that term exists, and that’s because it’s a fucking problem. The problem I’m talking about is “mansplaining,” and the word describes what so many of you engage in when you try to sit us down and tell us how our experiences as women are not what we believe they are and that the issues we feel passionate about are the wrong issues and that we’re going about all this in the wrong way and that you’ve got all the answers.
So, here’s my advice to you, Dudes:
Stop telling women they’ve got it wrong** when they speak out about the problems they see in the world. Stop telling us we’re thinking, writing, and saying the wrong things. Stop telling us the things we see as problems aren’t—your belief is not required, and your disbelief doesn’t magically erase an issue from existence. Stop insisting on our time and energy like needy children—if you’ll read the fine print, you’ll find we don’t actually owe you a debate, a conversation, or even a hello. Stop pretending you have any idea what it’s like to be us, and for Petunia’s sake, stop whipping out your “woman-friend-who-agrees-with-me.”
Stop with the fucking mainsplaining, and I promise I’ll stop using the term. Until then, I’m going to call you on this crap, because I’m sick of dealing with it. Learn some listening skills and some humility. Put some skill points into Self Awareness and Tact and Not Being a Dick.
If you want to be an ally, you’ll take this to heart. If you don’t, you really ought to find another hobby.
*I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote “9 out of 10.” It’s honestly more like 99/100.
**(Added post-publication for clarity.) This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree. There are ways to communicate disagreement that don’t include telling a woman she doesn’t know what she’s talking about (or implying you know better than she does) when she’s talking about woman things or her perspective as a woman. But do stop and consider whether your presence in a given conversation is necessary or you just want to disagree, because sometimes it’s just not. Read some of the articles below for tips. Also, because I feel I must say it: this article is directed at men who exhibit specific behaviors, not men in general.
- Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass (policymic)
- A Cultural History of Mansplaining (The Atlantic)
- #497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer (captainawkward.com)
- Men who explain things (Los Angeles Times)
- I’m Tired of All the Damned Splaining So Check Your Privilege, Please (makemeasammich.org)
- Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes (makemeasammich.org)
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Trigger warning: violence against women.
TL;DR: Sign the petition.
UPDATE 8/29: Refocusing on DuJour
I have rewritten the petition letter to focus on DuJour, but have left The Standard as a recipient for now. This campaign is still getting press, and if the petition takes off, would hate like hell for them to miss out on all the fun.
Please continue to share the petition and contact your media peeps.
Thank you for all your help and support!
UPDATE 8/28: On Fauxpologies and Small Victories
In activism, we have to choose our battles often accept small victories when we’d rather announce that we got everything we wanted the way we’d like to. In the case of The Standard, I’m pretty sure we’ve heard all we’re going to from them unless we step this campaign up in a major way. (DuJour has not responded yet; more on that in a bit.)
In under 24 hours, we got The Standard’s attention and that of several media outlets, including BuzzFeed. (UPDATE: The Daily Mail apparently also picked this up yesterday, and Business Insider and The Daily Beast both covered it today.) This post has had over 2,600 hits, and has been reblogged many times. We got people talking about an image that for many of us produced a visceral reaction and sent a message that dead women make great advertising fodder. And we got an apology from The Standard.
Now let’s talk about that apology, shall we? Because it looks a lot like other apologies we’ve seen from entities in response to criticism of the type we’ve leveled at The Standard. I’ll break it down:
“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm.”
Translation: This is art, dummies. Blame the artist, not us.
This avoids responsibility for the content by branding it “art” and hopes, I think, to make us feel a little silly for making such a big deal out of it. I mean, we didn’t ask who the artist was, and the fact that it’s art is completely irrelevant. You spent exactly four sentences on this apology, The Standard. Did this really need to be one of them?
“We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence.”
Translation: We don’t see it that way, but we’re sorry you do, and if you do, it’s not really our fault.
Ok, look, I’m asking a lot here, I know, but couldn’t we get a “We’re sorry we did a bad thing?” “We’re sorry we used this image without thinking of the implications or the impact on survivors of violence?” No, we basically got “we’re sorry you were offended,” and that not only defers responsibility for the perceived “offense” onto us, the “offended,” but it declines to acknowledge that any damage occurred.
“No offense or harm was intended.”
Translation: We didn’t mean to do anything wrong, ergo, we didn’t and/or you should let us off the hook because our intentions were not evil.
Duh. You didn’t set out to cause harm to women or survivors of violence or anyone with this ad. You intended to get people’s attention and you didn’t think about what this image might actually say about your brand–what it might say to over half the population who, presumably, you’d like to attract to your hotel. You didn’t think about the harm it might cause despite your intentions, and now you’re not really admitting to any harm, just assuring us that none was intended.
“The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”
Translation: We were done with this campaign anyway, so here’s a bone.
Yes, I’m being extremely cynical, because we should really call that line a win, dog-boney as it is. We have (as the amazing Jaclyn Friedman (Women, Action, and the Media) kindly pointed out to me yesterday) created an “opportunity cost.” We have caused this company–and anyone watching, including DuJour–to take a look at the cost vs. benefit of using ads like this in the future. That is a GOOD THING.
So yeah, this was a pretty weak apology–but it’s still a win. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
As for DuJour, they ran the ad apparently thinking it was acceptable, and so far they have not responded in any way to our petition. I would sincerely like to get a response from them saying they get it, but frankly, at the rate we’re gaining signatures on the petition, I’m not sure how long that will take or whether it will happen at all. As Jaclyn pointed out, there are many ads like this out in magazines around the country and the world, and we have to choose where to focus our energies.
Your Input Needed
What do you think, readers? Should we leave the petition up, removing The Standard so DuJour keeps getting emails when someone signs? Is it worth pushing for more signatures, more media coverage? Or is it time to call this a victory and move on to the next thing? If we had 2,000 sigs instead of under 200, this wouldn’t even be a question, but I’ve only got so much energy to spend and I want your input on this. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
UPDATE 8/27: The Standard Responds
Fewer than 24-hours after we launched our petition, The Standard posted the following response to Change.org:
“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm. We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence. No offense or harm was intended. The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”
I’ll have commentary on this soon. Meanwhile, let me know what you think in the comments section below. Are you satisfied with The Standard’s apology? Have they done enough?
The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women
Last week Daisy Eagan sent me the image below. It’s a partial of a full-page ad for The Standard Hotels in DuJour magazine’s summer issue. The ad contains no text—just this image and the hotel’s logo and a bit of fine print at the bottom.
DuJour is a new fashion/lifestyle magazine published nationally with localized issues for major cities. The Standard is a “boutique” hotel chain with locations in New York, Miami, and L.A. The image above looks to be taken from the NYC edition (based on the small print on the facing page). Somewhere in the offices where each of these companies does business, one assumes that entire teams of people looked at this and thought it was ok. At an ad agency hired by The Standard, some bright young creative type came up with this ad* in response to the challenge to market a hotel chain to rich people, a group that must certainly include many, many women. All three of these companies made the decision to use violence against women to market a product. Apparently, this isn’t the first time The Standard has been criticized for their advertising choices. Claire Darrow, creative director for Andre Balazs Properties has said these choices amount to “surrendering our ads to art, so to speak…We want to contribute to the magazines…We don’t just want to advertise.” (Update for clarity: This piece is part of a series by Erwin Wurm called “One Minute Sculptures”)
I know I don’t have to explain to most of you why this particular ad is (no, not “offensive”) damaging, but I really have to spend some time talking about how, like recent pieces by The Onion (more info here and here), this ad trivializes violence against women, once again using victims of said violence as bait, once again for the purpose of profiting from our pain. I need to point out for anyone not clear on the concept that by using violence against women for something as crass as attempting to lure people to your “boutique” hotel chain these companies are helping to perpetuate the cycle of violence. They are normalizing it—treating it as something trivial, not worth taking seriously. Treating it as a joke. That teaches everyone regardless of gender that violence against women is No Big Deal. These messages in our media teach women to expect violence and teach men prone to violence against women that what they do is socially acceptable. And apparently The Standard Hotels, DuJour, and the as-yet unnamed advertising agency behind this ad thought that this was the right message to send to potential customers.
Daisy blogged about this ad last week asking her readers to contact The Standard and DuJour and ask them why they think this is appropriate advertising. She had this to say about it:
Dujour magazine ran an ad in its summer issue for The Standard hotels clearly meant to warn women to steer clear of the hotel or face violence and/or death.
I’ve ordered a copy of the Miami edition which should arrive soon, and since TSH has a location in Miami, I assume the ad will be present. When it comes, I’ll update this post with a full image of the ad (now available here thanks to Daisy) and any other information I can find—hopefully including the name of the agency that designed the ad.
We’ve started a petition to let The Standard Hotels and DuJour Media know what we think of this ad and the message they’re sending about violence against women. Please sign and share so we can get their attention (tweets have so far had no effect) and make sure they understand that ads like this are not acceptable and that they do harm.
You can also write to the parties in question directly. Thanks to Daisy for finding this information. (If you decide to do this, I’d appreciate it if you also signed and shared the petition, which goes directly to their email. Numbers matter. Thanks!)
Andre Balazs Properties
23 E. 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
You can also help by alerting media folks about this campaign (especially local media if you live in NYC, Miami, or L.A.). Bad press is often what penetrates otherwise impermeable entities.
Let’s make some noise.
Hotel Pulls Ad of Crushed Woman (The Daily Beast)
The Standard Discontinues Ad Accused of Promoting Violence Against Women (the fashion spot)
Stop Violence Against…Everyone (Stuphblog)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger warnings for rape, rape apologia, victim-blaming, and general rape-culture fuckery.
This week, two popular Internet publications—The Onion and The Daily Beast–apparently engaged in a competition to see who could publish the most disgusting piece of rape-culture-perpetuating clickbait on the whole entire Internet. It was almost as though TDB saw the steaming pile The Onion excreted on Tuesday (in which they appeared to be competing with their recent Chris Brown piece for some sort of internal fuckwit prize) and thought, “You know, I’ll bet we can get something out by Thursday that gives them a run for their money.”
I’m not linking to either of these pieces, but I will tell you a bit about each and how you can let these pubs know what you think, if you’re so inclined. We’ll start with The Onion’s attempt to point up the tragedy of child rape. Here’s the headline:
Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather’s Body
When I saw this, I tweeted something about finding a way to get their attention and make them aware of the damage they’re doing with this type of piece. Predictably (and I predict this will happen here, as well) I almost instantaneously got a reply from a guy who didn’t get what the big deal was. “IT’S SATIRE!” he explained. “Where’s the damage?” he wanted to know.
Many if not most of my readers will not need to read past this headline to understand—if only at a gut level—what the problem is. But here are just a few of the ways I and two fellow feminists attempted to clarify it for him.
The headline is probably the worst thing about this piece, second only to the image choice, which I’ll cover below. It tells a story not of a predator and a potential victim, but of a young girl “coming of age” and getting ready to explore sex with an adult. It practically makes the victim the aggressor, for Christ’s sake. I just can’t believe I have to explain to anyone why this is a problem.
Satire is meant to point up: to sting the people in power—the ones who perpetuate the problem the satire is spotlighting. Satire should sting the perpetrators—not the victims. This is what I call lazy or just plain bad satire: it points in the wrong direction and makes its point at the expense of the people it claims to want to help.
As was the case with the Chris Brown/Rihanna piece they did a few months ago, they made the victim the punchline. I have been a professional writer for 25 years, and I know that there’s always a way to write around a problem. There was a way—there were multiple ways—for The Onion to make the point they wanted to make—that child rape is tragic and sick and all-to-prevalent—without making the victim the joke. Why not write from the POV of a child rapist? Why involve the victim at all? And tell me why in the name of all that is good and holy you would lead with this image?
Seriously? My brain is just a whirlwind of everything that’s wrong with this, from what it does to my insides seeing it in this context, to the fact that there is an actual little girl out there to whom this face belongs. I just can’t even with this shit. FUCK.
And finally, survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse.
Again, predictably, we got nowhere. I don’t know how to make it any clearer: This type of piece perpetuates rape culture and hurts the people it purports to help.
You can contact The Onion at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let them know what you think. I personally think they are a) failing at satire, b) whoring for links, c) becoming no better than their hack competitors, d) perpetuating rape culture and violence against women by trivializing same and making victims the punchline.
On to The Daily Beast. When Chelsea Manning announced yesterday that she was a woman, the Internet exploded. I watched as the press flubbed pronouns and terminology left and right, as folks on Twitter corrected one another, got angry, called for calm, asked questions, learned things. Then TDB published a piece of rape apologia that made my hair stand on end, and if I thought the tweets had been flying before, well…it wasn’t long before TDB issued a Twitter fauxpology (and I mean a SEVERELY weak thing of weakness) and posted an editor’s note at the top of the piece pointing out that the original draft had been even worse. Then they quietly began editing out the most outrageous bits, like this:
Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur—it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then— simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality—tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.
Quiet as it’s kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened to them.
I can only imagine that the editor had an emergency root canal and this piece somehow slipped by without anyone with the words “fact-check” in their job description laying eyes on it. And if that was the case, removing the piece and issuing a sincere apology for publishing it would probably have meant that by now, we’d just be shaking our heads wondering how such a thing could happen. But removing what they perceived to be the “offending” chunks of the article without making note of the fact is sneaky as hell and this purposeful attempt to rewrite history has stripped TDB of all credibility with many of us. They’ve got a lot of work to do to fix this mess.
Prison Culture has published an article containing contact information for TDB and a list of demands they need to meet in order to start making things right. Please take a moment to let TDB know what you think about their rape apologia and utter lack of journalistic integrity.
And the winner is…The Daily Beast because they’re actually supposed to be journalists and they have failed at that in a major way. But The Onion is a very close second for learning absolutely nothing this year when they’ve had so many opportunities.
Let me know what you think in the comments (but if you’re considering explaining satire to me, please fuck right off).
The Daily Beast has issued an apology acknowledging how wrong they were to publish the piece in question. On the other hand, they have opted to leave the piece up, and have so far not edited the note at the top to include this acknowledgement. I really hope they do, and that they apologize to Chelsea Manning.
- Chelsea Manning, media bias, and cissexism (canada.com)
- Earlier today, The Daily Beast published a rape apologist, homophobic, transphobic article on Chelsea Manning. (jezebel.com)
- The Day The Onion Died (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
PS/Update: Here’s a video by The Onion showing that they do know how to do satire that sheds light on a problem without perpetuating it–instead ridiculing rapists, rape apologists, and rape culture and leaving the victim the hell out of it:
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
8/23/2015 – In the two years since I wrote this post, racism—especially racism resulting in brutality and/or murder perpetrated by police (and police wannabes like George Zimmerman) or lethal neglect by same—has finally been recognized by many as the crisis it has been for as long as any of us have been alive and so much longer. Social media has been a big part of shining a spotlight on the issue—specifically Black women on Twitter, who have been responsible for creating trending discussions on topics ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to #BlackLivesMatter, a movement created by three Black women after the Zimmerman verdict.
Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
Over the past two years dozens of Black men, women, and children have been murdered by police. And yet, fewer white and non-black people than I’d like have risen to the challenge to see outside their own gaze, their own experience, and attempt to truly gain an understanding of how our privilege blinds us to so much. Too many default to defensiveness, anger, and intolerance when faced with the truth that when they are not actively part of the solution to the problem they benefit from, they are the problem. The problem is white supremacy (not the ideology, but the system) and in the simplest and most general terms, it means the darker your skin, the harder life is going to be for you in the U.S.
I spoke with a white woman friend the other day who reminded me of a time when she and another friend of mine “fit the description” (something that happens to Black people regularly) of a couple who had just pulled off a robbery. She described how terrifying it was to see the cops coming toward her with their hands on their weapons, ready to draw in a heartbeat. And we talked about the tweet I read a year or so ago in which a Black man talked about how surprised he was to learn from his white friends that this was not something they experienced every time they encountered law enforcement. For him, that was just what cops did.
Below is what I had to say two years ago about the Zimmerman verdict. Below that are some words about what it means to be white in a country that treats white as the default and treats Black as less-than. And a challenge to white people sitting on the sidelines to actively work on shifting their perspective and hopefully, become part of the solution. Here’s another one: if you want to be part of the solution, talk to your white friends about this. Here’s one person’s advice on how to do that.
8/18/2003 – It’s past time I spoke about this. I’ve said previously that my words seem lost, but I’ve got to find some that describe the dark pit that opened up in me the day the Zimmerman verdict was announced. I’ve got to find words to talk about the fact that racism is my problem. Our problem. It’s not going away until every one of us says that to ourselves—claims it, takes it on as a very real part of ourselves and recognizes it to be a slow-growing cancer eating us alive.
I sometimes feel the need to assert that this blog is opinion first, and journalism second or third or maybe not at all. I do my best to be informed about the topics I’m writing about, but I have accepted the fact that I can’t know everything and sometimes I have to write from my heart. From my gut. I just have to write.
This piece is pure opinion. I don’t watch television. I’ve read about the case, but I can’t claim to know the nuances, and I certainly don’t know Florida law or what limitations the jurors were up against or anything like that. But there are things I know in my heart. In my gut. And I have to say them.
I believe Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered. I believe George Zimmerman is a murderer. I believe that George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated. And I believe the circus that surrounded the trial—even viewed from afar by someone who doesn’t watch tv and catches up in dribs and drabs via social media and the web—points up in no uncertain terms the fact that the United States of America is in a crisis of racism that threatens to tear us apart.
I don’t think Zimmerman woke up on the morning of February 26, 2012 with plans to find and murder Trayvon Martin or anyone else. But I do believe he was “on patrol”—out looking for trouble, and for George Zimmerman, a young black man walking in his neighborhood spelled it out in all caps. I believe that in the 911 clip most of us have heard at least once, George Zimmerman whispered not “fucking punks” as he claims, but “fucking coons.” And I believe that when Zimmerman stopped his truck, got out, and confronted Trayvon Martin, that Martin was probably terrified and very likely defended himself. Who the fuck wouldn’t? And maybe Zimmerman was in fear of his life at that point. Maybe he wasn’t. I know for sure that if he hadn’t had a gun in his hand, that boy would still be alive. I know for certain that if he had listened to the dispatcher who told him not to follow, that Trayvon Martin would never have felt the need to defend himself. I know that if George Zimmerman had not been the AGGRESSOR in this situation, no aggression could possibly have taken place between them. None. Because Trayvon Martin was not trouble in all caps or lowercase. In that moment, Trayvon Martin was a teenage boy on his way from point A to point B to enjoy a can of tea and a bag of candy. And in that moment, George Zimmerman was the boogey man—a guy following him. A guy who stopped his truck and got out and harassed him. A guy who shot him dead.
I’ll say it again in case I wasn’t clear: Despite what that jury found based on whatever broken excuse for a book of laws they’ve got down in Florida, I believe George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and I believe that racism led him to the choice do so.
George Zimmerman is a murderer. And a racist.
Now let’s talk about Rachel Jeantel. What more proof do you need that the default setting for media viewing is WHITE than the disgusting reactions to this woman as she took the stand and told her story. Self-styled critics took to Twitter to ridicule her speech and mannerisms. Some thinking themselves especially clever referred to her as “Precious.” Memes sprang up calling her “retarded,” and making Fat Albert jokes. When I searched for an image of her, it was difficult to find a shot that wasn’t a still grabbed from video in order to capture a strange expression and then use it to further the “retarded” narrative. And this is not the worst of it.
It’s tempting to write off these tweets and memes as representing a small segment of society that doesn’t really count–to label the people writing and making them as “just racists” as though the word describes other people—not people we know. Not ones we hang out with. And yet, if you pay attention, you don’t have to walk far to encounter someone who isn’t afraid to show that side of themselves to the people they trust, and from there, a couple of steps will land you face-to-face with someone who hears the things that person says and lets them pass even though they don’t agree. Turn around and you’ll find a child listening, absorbing. Follow that child outdoors and listen as she repeats the racist’s words to her friends.
It’s a virus in our heads, and we aren’t doing enough to fight it. I’m not doing enough. Talking to some teenagers recently about racism and privilege I found myself getting discouraged as their eyes glazed over, my words seeming to pass through them like atoms. But it’s them we need to reach. This fear of the Other is taught. Put a group of children together, and they may notice differences—may even ask questions about them—but the fear comes later. It’s learned. And it can be unlearned.
I remember when, as a child of three or four, a friend of my father’s came to visit. He was the first black person I’d ever seen, and I thought he was beautiful. I loved the way his smile seemed to shine so brightly–and he was always smiling. I asked my mother about some of the differences I noticed, and she answered, giving me no sense that my questions were wrong or made her uncomfortable in any way. But when I asked him why the palms of his hands were lighter than the rest of him, it was as though all the air went out of the room. My parents hissed something at me about being impolite, but the man just laughed. I was a child, and I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to understand.
As a white person, I believe it is my job to help end racism. People who say we should be colorblind miss the very important point that people are different in all sorts of ways and ignoring those differences honors no one. It erases cultures. It makes everyone white. Colorblindness is not the answer. Understanding and compassion are the answers.
I’m challenging myself to reach out and find ways to end racism in my lifetime. I’m working to increase my understanding and compassion around racism, and through that understanding and compassion, I hope to reach others. I’m talking to people about racism—especially young people. I’m becoming aware of the programming in my own head, noticing the white gaze through which I have learned to see the world and through which so much media and art is presented to us—presented as the norm, just as the male gaze is presented as the norm.
Guess what? They’re not. White isn’t “normal” any more than male is. Normal is a world full of people from all walks of life. Normal is cultures upon cultures, each one more fascinating than the last, and many of them living and thriving within the mostly white one some of us think of as the “norm.” Normal is pretty much anyone and everyone you meet when you walk outside your little bubble, put your smart phone away, and look around you.
There’s a world of color out there, and it’s time white people woke up and tuned it in. It’s time we actively took control of our gaze and shifted it to include everyone. I’m calling on all of you to challenge yourselves–notice the programming and change it. Help others to change theirs. We have to do it. We’re the only ones who can.
It’s worth noting that when I checked the WordPress thingy for related articles, one option was something about GZ’s “media lynching.” I seriously have no words. I keep typing and backspacing. Just…ugh.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Today I have a guest post up at The Outlier Collective for their week of conversation about Feminism. Have a look at this and the other contributions, as well as the conversations that have ensued. Fascinating stuff. I’m proud to be a part of it!
Here’s an excerpt from my post:
Why it took 47 years and six months or so for me to get to that place, I’m not certain, but I do know one thing: I had met the type of feminist who feels the need to speak up every single time someone says something that might be construed as sexist in any situation, and I did NOT want to be one of them. I don’t remember ever saying, “I’m not a feminist, but…” but if I did, then I was–I was a Feminist Butt. I wanted everything feminists want, I disliked everything (most) feminists dislike and work to change, but I did absolutely nothing to promote equality, and I certainly didn’t call myself a feminist because yikes, what if someone thought I was one of those feminists?
10 Signs that Feminism May Not Be For You
I’m typically a huge proponent of the idea that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for ladies! It’s for men! It’s for non-binary individuals! Feminism is for teenagers and small children! In fact, I’m even pretty sure that at least one of my cats is a feminist, although the other one just prefers to think of herself as a cat-ist, because that’s less political. Regardless, I’m usually of the opinion that feminism, as a philosophy, can and should be embraced by everyone.
Lately, though, I’m not so sure. I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable behaviours and comments, many of them coming from purported feminists. I’m starting to wonder if some people might want to re-think whether the feminist movement is right for them. With that in mind, I’ve created a handy-dandy list of ways to tell whether or not this movement is for you.
I’ve been at this blogger-activist thing less than a year, but I know I’ve said it more than once: I strongly believe we have to hold ourselves and our allies to the same standards we do our opponents. This means we can’t allow ourselves to place anyone on a pedestal where criticism can’t reach them, and we can’t sweep bad behavior under the proverbial rug. It means we don’t let one another off the hook when we slip up and contribute to the problems we’re all trying to fight.
It means no sacred cows.
It doesn’t mean we have to point fingers and assign blame—at least not in my personal best-case scenario. To me, it means we point out the problems we see with what someone said/did/wrote, and then we stand back and let the person respond, hopefully taking some time to consider and form a thoughtful rebuttal or explanation or mea culpa. I know this can work—I see it all the time. But people have to be willing to ask the uncomfortable questions, like “Did you mean to say X? Because that’s what I heard.” And then follow up with “Here are all the ways that’s problematic.” And that’s difficult to do. But I think there’s too much at stake not to at least try to do it more often.
Lately, I’ve had a number of encounters with people who are fairly hardcore about responding when a stranger or celebrity or faceless entity they care nothing about says or does something out of line, but seem very reluctant to call out people (or entities) they consider allies even if they behave really badly. And some of these folks can be extremely critical of those who do call out bad behavior from people (or entities) they deem “good.” For example, some critics point to a given target of my activist ire and a) tell me all the things to like about them and b) draw comparisons among the issues I could be focusing on and finding my choices lacking—particularly in the face of how awesome the target is if I could only see all the good they do. But the fact that a person or company or organization might be otherwise awesome is precisely why I have to speak out when they do something less-than-awesome. If I let someone off the hook for bad behavior because they also do good, I’m making a conscious decision to condone that bad behavior under certain very particular circumstances (i.e., ones that suit me in a given situation). There’s a word for someone who does that: hypocrite.
Sacred cows are everywhere, even in our social circles. Like that one guy people apologize for because he’s a “good guy” who goes to church or gives to charity or volunteers with underprivileged puppies or whatever even though he did something really awful to another member of your social circle (this probably sounds like I’m talking about someone specific, but it happens all the time—see Captain Awkward #322 & #323 and #393 for examples). Or that woman who really is a great person who helps people and does all kinds of good, and when she says or does something really awful, no one will call her on it because she probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded, or she was just having an off day, someone provoked her, or don’t pick on her because look at all the GOOD she does. When we let these people off the hook, we’re sending a message that they can behave as they wish without consequence. We’re sending a message to anyone these people have wronged that the wrongs they suffered don’t count. And that can be pretty harmful. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. (In fact, Sid wrote about it here.)
So what is at stake? Because we’re all tacitly condoning it, the behavior will very likely continue. Within the framework of activism, allies may decide to adopt the behavior and perpetuate the problem, while opponents will certainly make as much hay out of the offense as possible—especially since we’ve chosen to ignore it and laud the offender’s accomplishments instead. These are just some of the risks we take when we apply a double standard.
But the most important thing at stake here for me? My integrity.
When I do this thing I am describing—when I choose to apply my standards to only those unfortunate enough not to be among my sacred cows—I compromise my principles. And what value is there in anything I do or say if I don’t defend my principles with everything I’ve got?
The most high-profile sacred cow we liberals hold dear is President Obama. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy as hell that he became president and that he got reelected. But there are things he does that have me scratching my head and I have spoken out about them in the past (not here I don’t think, but on my previous blog for certain). I had a (very unrealistic) hope that we would get modern-day equivalent of a fireside chat out of this guy where he loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves, parked his butt on the corner of his desk, and leveled with us on the day-to-day struggles of governing this country. I want to understand why we’re killing civilians with drones, why Gitmo can’t be closed (yes, I’ve read the reasons), and why the HELL he thinks fracking is a good idea. I wanted him to explain how he didn’t agree with some provisions of the NDAA but had to sign it into law anyway (for reasons I’ve also read). And that’s just for starters. The President of the United States is the very LAST person we should be letting off the hook.
Penny Arcade, PAX, and front-men Gabe and Tycho, are sacred cows in the games industry where I’ve mostly made my living for the past 25 years. When I asked friends recently whether PA had ever acknowledged what the real problem was with the way they handled what’s now known as the Dickwolves Debacle (i.e., did they ever apologize, or did everyone just sweep it under the rug and keep going to PAX?), I heard two things: 1) No, they haven’t done anything to illustrate an understanding of what they did wrong. 2) PAX is too important a networking opportunity for some folks to miss, especially given the current economic climate. I sympathize, but I think we have to demand better from people with as much pull in the industry–especially among youth–as Penny Arcade enjoys. But we don’t, and so Gabe goes along his merry way being a rape apologist (he recently decried the unfairness of Kickstarter’s decision to pull a game called “Tentacle Bento”–in which the player’s goal was to accost as many schoolgirls as possible as an alien tentacle monster) and all around ignorant ass, and steadfastly refuses to hear anyone who attempts to help him understand people whose experiences differ from his and correct his course to avoid causing harm in the future. He consistently trivializes issues people ask him to take seriously, poking fun at or even ridiculing critics (and thereby encouraging his followers to do the same). And anymore, Tycho just seems to pretend none of it is happening. PA continues to be a major influencer, with the industry flocking to PAX where a lot of people still think Dickwolves was a kick in the pants because PA never stood up and said “We were wrong–here’s what we learned.” They have explicitly chosen not to use their influence to help solve the problems they continue to help perpetuate. And frankly, too few in the industry have asked them to.
The rape joke that got Penny Arcade into trouble in the first place (but was ultimately minor compared to their handling of the fallout) fell into that oh-so-holy space just outside reality where people are supposedly allowed to say and do anything: comedy. I’ll let Lindy West speak to that (via Jezebel):
But it’s just a joke. Calm down.
Yeah, dude, but this shit isn’t magic. It’s not a game. It’s not like you get to declare the comedy stage “base” and the rest of the world “hot lava” (spewing from the vaginas of feminazi gargoyles, I’m sure) and everything you say on the stage exists in some sacred loophole that’s exempt from criticism and the expectation of hard work. Rape, domestic violence, brutalization, marginalization, the struggle to make yourself heard—all of this shit is REAL to a lot of people. They’re not cute little thought experiments for you to mess around with without pushback. You can lie to yourself all you want, but if you say something awful to somebody in the course of your regular day, it is exactly the same as if you say it on stage. If anything, its emotional impact is magnified.
And anyway, anyone who says “but it’s just a joke” has never had their life profoundly changed by a joke.
In the same article, Lindy has this to say about sacred cows:
But Louis CK!
Ugh, this part is so boring. Okay. Do you know what else Louis CK does? He changes. He evolves. He thinks. And when he fucks up, he gets criticized like crazy, and some of that criticism makes it into his brain—and, eventually, his act. Also, just because one of comedy’s sacred god-kings manages to be funny and smart when broaching certain sensitive topics doesn’t mean they can’t also be harmful. You know, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Etc. Just because Jeffrey Ross can (debatably) pull off a “haha, faggot” once in a while doesn’t mean that identical “haha, faggot”s aren’t actively moving gay kids to kill themselves all over the fucking country. It’s real, and it deserves critical thought, not kneejerk defensiveness.
Also, you’re not Louis CK. Maybe don’t invite the comparison.
It’s not easy to realize your behavior might be contributing to the very problems you claim to want to solve. But if you’re lucky enough to reach a certain level of self-awareness, you realize that you’d rather be right—really right—than be wrong and defend your wrong position like a stubborn jackass. I have been known to say you can be Jesus H. Christ and heal the sick all day long, but if you’re an asshole, I’m going to say, “Jesus! Don’t be an asshole!” But even I didn’t want to heap criticism on the president at election time in 2012. And that made me a hypocrite. A well-meaning hypocrite with what felt like good reasons for being so, but a hypocrite nonetheless.
So, this is my mea culpa for that and for how hard it is for me to call out my sacred cows when I think something they have said or done has caused harm. I can’t say it will never happen again. I’m not going on a witch hunt; believe it or not, I’m actually non-confrontational by nature. But I want to do better. I’d like to call on anyone reading to consider joining me in making a commitment to hold ourselves and each other to the highest possible standard so we all strive to do and be better. At the very least, we’ll give our opponents less ammunition. At best, we will raise the level of discourse, which is always worthwhile.
Either way, we’ll have our integrity.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Joseph Paul Haines
Joe posted this “rant” on Facebook yesterday and kindly gave me permission to share it here. Enjoy. ~Rosie
Hell, I’ll even show you how to use it with a series of statements and where it applies.
Statement: Women only pretend to be interested in cons.
WYST: (What you should think): Maybe. That could be true, depending on the woman. I’m sure that there are some women in the world who couldn’t give a flying fuck about geek culture but see it as a great place to meet fairly affluent single men. Then again, some of them could school your ass a hundred ways to Sunday on almost anything you think you know.
Statement: Women are physically weaker than men.
WYST: Maybe. Some women are, due to their physique, less able to perform certain feats of strength than a similarly built man. Then again, I’ve also had my ass handed to me in sparring matches with women of all shapes and sizes, depending upon their skill level and mine.
Statement: Women are more emotional.
WYST: Maybe. I’ve known women who on the surface seemed to react more strongly to certain external stimuli than other men I’ve known. Then again, it seems I keep running into men who I would classify more strongly as “little whiny bitches” than any woman I’d met in years.
Statement: Women need someone to take care of them.
WYST: Maybe. There have been people on this planet who have experienced situations and trauma that left them temporarily incapable of tending to their own needs in a proficient manner. Then again, maybe you can move out of your parent’s basement before you start whining about it.
Statement: So maybe? How am I supposed to operate off of maybe?
WYST: The same way you do with every other human being on the planet. Some people are better than others at certain things. It has absolutely nothing to do with their gender. As a matter of fact, the gender should be the last thing you consider when getting to understand another human being. Is it true that some women are hyper-emotional? Damn straight. Some men, too. You should deal with the state of being, not the gender. It’s not your job to somehow behave in a different manner with women than you do with men. You don’t have to behave like a “knight.” You don’t have to behave like a “perfect gentleman” although manners never hurt anyone. (Side note: If you think that your behavior has to change in so-called mixed company, you might take some time to think about your manners in a general, overall sort of way. Just a thought.)
Most of all, when you consider a person’s abilities or behavior, it should be based upon their actions and demonstrated talents. So in other words, all this clichéd nonsense about women? Yeah, it could possibly be true in specific instances when dealing with one particular human being.
STATEMENT: Most men aren’t capable of getting past their own cocks and learning this lesson.
WYST: Maybe. But maybe not.
See now? That wasn’t so difficult, was it?
Note: Today Joe posted this PSA, which I know he won’t mind me adding here:
Gentlemen, I’m going to provide you with another safety tip here today. Never, and I mean EVER, start a sentence to a woman with the following phrase:
“Jeez, don’t get so hysterical,” or “Calm down, already,” or “Let’s not get all emotional now . . .”
If you don’t understand why not, well, just take my word for it. If she’s standing in front of you and waving a gun or a knife or hitting herself in the face with a sledgehammer, then and ONLY then would the use of any of these phrases be justified.
Just don’t do it. And you’re welcome.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
[Trigger warning: graphic discussion of domestic violence]
Or at least, one can hope, because these assholes obviously haven’t learned anything. (It’s been dead to me since Quvenzhané.)
Hey, The Onion? Violence against women isn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at the Oscars, and it isn’t funny now. It’s time for you to sit the fuck down and take a time out. Forever.*
Beyond that, I have far too much rage to form words right now. More later.
Full disclosure: One of my exes beat me because we fought and I left a party without him and caught ride home with a passing car that happened to be driven by a man. This particular ex always figured if I could talk to another man–Hell, if I could look at him–I might as well be fucking him. So, you know, I might as well have fucked that guy who gave me a ride home. Fuckhead beat me, cut my face with a paint-scraper (so no one would find me attractive again), poked my eyes with his fingers (I still have scars I can see when the light is right and I look at a blank surface), and told me that when he was done with me he was going to bury me in a field where no one would find me.
Perhaps some of you who think I don’t “get” satire will understand that some things just aren’t funny to some people. And considering HOW FUCKING MANY OF US HAVE BEEN THROUGH THIS (and how many haven’t survived it), I don’t think asking for a little sensitivity is out of order. I don’t think asking the Onion to find a way to poke fun at Chris Brown without making a joke out of domestic violence is too much to ask. I just don’t. Chris Brown deserves whatever shit life throws at him, but I think it’s ok to ask questions about whether a work of satire meant to draw attention to domestic violence might actually be harming the people it seeks to help.
And no matter how many of you come here to tell me I really ought to get mad at something else or someone else or expend my energy elsewhere and stop making feminists look bad, I’m not shutting up. When something strikes me as wrong–when it hits me in the gut like this did–I’m going to talk about it. Write about it. And as so many have said to me here and elsewhere regarding just “not reading” the Onion? If you don’t like what I have to say, you know how to avoid this page.
*Something an acquaintance said today reminded me of the above line, written in a fit of rage, which I didn’t mean literally and have neglected to address before now (3/10). I’m never in favor of shutting anyone up. I do think The Onion needs to examine whether they are actually achieving their goals (I don’t pretend to know what those goals are, but I used to feel they were more aligned with my own). Satire should point up, and too often, The Onion ridicules and trivializes the people it seeks to champion.
Hope Fiending has written something very like what I would have if I’d been able, so off you go to read her piece:
Also, Salon chimes in:
Aaaand here’s an article written from the POV of the three Cleveland, OH women recently freed in which they lay the blame for all of society’s ills squarely at the feet of men. I don’t even know what to say about that except #FUCKTHEONION.
- And the Award for the Most Vile Piece of Crap on the Internet Goes to… (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
I know, I’m late to the party, but it’s my turn to chime in on the ubiquitous Friend Zone conversation/debate/debacle. And like many other sensible people, I’m here to tell you that this is a non-issue invented by dudes who don’t understand how attraction works and believe if a woman likes them well enough to be friends, that ought to be enough foundation for True Love to bloom. They believe that time spent with a woman is an investment, and when that investment doesn’t pay off, you’re not only in the Friend Zone, but you were obviously not man enough for the job.
As Erin Riordan points out in her post, The Friend Zone is a Sexist Myth, the movie Just Friends contains a scene that sums up the Friend Zone perfectly. It also does a great job of illustrating what some men believe it means to be (or not to be) friends with a woman:
Chris: What about Sheila? You making any headway?
Ray: We’ll see. I’m taking her to lunch today.
Chris: Oh, whoa, whoa whoa. Don’t – don’t do that. Okay? Don’t do lunch.
Chris: That’s like the express lane to the friend zone.
Ray: What the hell’s the friend zone?
Chris: See when a girl decides that you’re her friend, you’re no longer a dating option. You become this complete non-sexual entity in her eyes, like her brother, or a lamp.
Ray: I don’t want to be a lamp.
Chris: Yea well then don’t be her friend, okay? Take that guy for example…
[points to a clumsy guy and a gorgeous girl skating together]
Ray: You mean that couple?
Chris: No, I mean the guy that *wishes* they were a couple.
Ray: What is your point?
Chris: My point is – Call Sheila, Ray. Call her right now. Move your day date to tonight. Play the entire thing aloof and no matter what you do, kiss her at the end. ‘Cause friends don’t kiss.
See, dudes who think like this are confused. They think that there’s this window of opportunity with a woman, and that if they miss it, FRIENDSHIP will set in like an infection and all hope is lost. There are so many things wrong with this philosophy. For one, it assumes that once a man and woman are friends, there is no longer potential for sexual attraction. That is patently false: I know from (repeated) personal experience an attraction can spring up at any time between people for whom it just didn’t exist before. And because of its ignorance of this, it also ignores the fact that some of the best relationships start as friendships. It paints friendship between a man and a woman as a sad, pathetic thing and implies that the man wasn’t man enough to make it something more than that. (This, my friends, is one of the ways that patriarchy hurts us all.)
And that brings me to my next point: Choice. Let’s talk about the mistaken idea that a woman a) can choose to be sexually attracted to a person whom, for whatever reason, she currently isn’t, and b) that a woman should somehow be obligated to “choose” a man based on how much time he’s spent with her, how many favors he’s done for her, or any other such perceived “investment.” The former is about chemistry; the latter is about entitlement.
More on entitlement later. Let’s start with a science lesson, shall we?
You see, “attraction” and “liking” someone are two completely different things. I like my postal carrier, but I’m not attracted to him. Attraction is a physical thing that happens within people, and at the heart of it, it’s a chemical process. Person A’s chemicals and Person B’s chemicals are either compatible at any given time or they aren’t. No, I’m not a scientist, but I understand the basics and I think I’m right about this. The only thing I can figure is that the people who believe in the Friend Zone have never once had someone crush on them and not feel the same way back. (That or, sadly, they have never been in a relationship where attraction was reciprocal.)
Yes, I have been “guilty” of not being attracted to men who were attracted to me and really wanted me to return their feelings. And believe it or not, I (and many other women) have wished fervently for that attraction for a friend who meets so many other criteria. Sometimes we’ve even given in to the idea that you don’t have to feel an attraction for someone in order to be happy with them, and then we have learned the hard way that for many of us, that’s just not true. And ultimately, we’ve had to walk away not only from those relationships with people who were once friends, but from the friendships as well.
Though there seems to be some controversy over the actual meaning of the song “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon, for me it has always spoken to those times when a close friendship had everything but physical chemistry:
He’s everything you want
He’s everything you need
He’s everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
He says all the right things
At exactly the right time
But he means nothing to you
And you don’t know why
And I have been in the place they call the Friend Zone. I have been crazy about people who didn’t return my feelings. But it never once occurred to me to say “Guys only like women who mistreat them and do X, Y, and Z for them, and there’s no winning, waaaaa.” Because other times in my life, the attraction has been mutual. (And again, I’m sorry for anyone who hasn’t experienced that. But it doesn’t mean women are evil bitches who want rich bad boys who treat them like shit.) For the times it wasn’t, the second chorus of the above song was me all over:
I am everything you want
I am everything you need
I am everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
I say all the right things
At exactly the right time
But I mean nothing to you and I don’t know why…
Now let’s talk about entitlement.
People who believe in the Friend Zone seem to think that if a guy is nice enough to a woman for long enough, he’s entitled to something. (Spoiler: He’s not.) Again, this assumes an awful lot about a woman’s right to choose who the fuck she has a relationship with and pretty much anything else–in fact, it actually removes that right to choose and transforms it into the man’s right to be her boyfriend. In other words, a dude is entitled to a woman once he’s made a sufficient investment in her. If she disagrees, and heaven forbid if she’s interested in someone else, she’s a bitch–or worse, a slut.
Can you even imagine the situation in reverse?
Chris: So, how’s it going with Sheila? Any progress?
Ray: She’s really nice, and I love hanging out with her. We’ve got a ton in common. But I’m just not attracted to her, you know? I like her as a friend.
Chris: But you’d still do her, right?
Ray: If I was a total asshole, yeah, sure, but I’m not, so…
Chris: Ok, glad we got that out of the way. Next question: you’ve been hanging out with her a lot, right?
Chris: And she made you dinner that one time, right?
Ray: Lasagna. It was really good. From scratch.
Chris: And she picked you up at the airport what, three times?
Chris: Dude. You’re in the Boyfriend Zone.
Ray: What? But I don’t want to be her boyfriend. I’m cool with things how they are. I mean, I wish there was something more there, but…
Chris: Doesn’t matter. She’s been super nice to you. You owe her.
Ray: I what? No I don’t. I just don’t feel that way about her. I wish I did, but I don’t. Besides, I met this other girl I really like. Lisa. I’m attracted to her. We’ve got a lot in common, too, and we’re going out tonight.
Chris: You can’t do that. If you do that, you’re a slut.
Ray: I’m a…WTF?
Chris: Sorry, dude. I don’t make the rules.
Poor Ray! He’s stuck in the BOYFRIEND ZONE. Now he has to have a relationship with someone he’s not attracted to (though he really does like her) just because she was nice to him! It doesn’t seem fair, does it?
But what about this poor guy, Rosie? And all the guys like him?
Sigh. Deep breath…
Yes, there are women who take advantage of good men just like there are men who take advantage of good women, so if you’re this guy and she doesn’t have a sprained ankle or something? Yeah, she’s not very nice and you’re not being very nice to yourself by letting her do that to you. But that’s about individuals with low self-esteem and inconsiderate assholes who take advantage of them, not some global phenomenon of women mistreating men.
The Friend Zone as described by the dudes who whine about it doesn’t exist. In reality, it’s just the place each and every one of us finds ourself when we get our hearts broken. And broken hearts are a global phenomenon. They’re the reason poetry gets written and songs get sung–or one of the big ones anyway. If you’ve got a broken heart, I feel for you. I really do.
But seriously? Quit with the Friend Zone bullshit.
We Need to Talk About the Friend Zone (Feminists-at-Large)
The Friend Zone is a Sexist Myth (Hello)
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Trigger Warning for discussion of rape.
This post was originally part of Change the Conversation: A Day of Blogging About Sexual Assault (#pghSAAM) in April 2013. It has been edited since that time.
One of the most damaging rape culture myths facing us today is that of the prevalence of stranger-rape: that is, a stranger following the perfect victim down a dark street, pulling him/her into an alley, and raping him/her. Yes, it happens. I’m not denying that. But I am here to tell you, in case you weren’t aware, that it is the exception—not the rule.
I’m not here to talk statistics, however. While they’re very important when it comes to forming opinions based on factual information, the point of this exercise is to share my perspective. And my perspective is this:
I have been raped multiple times. Some of my rapes have been pooh-poohed by others due to the circumstances—these are the “gray-rape” scenarios. Others get a pass from those same folks because there was apparently sufficient force or lack of substance abuse involved for the responsibility to lie firmly in the lap of my rapists (my cup runneth over). My sexual abuse started when I was four and continued into adulthood. And not one single time did a scary stranger pull me into a dark place and rape me at knifepoint. Not one single time.
The same goes for nearly every survivor I have spoken to in my over half-a-century on this planet. Many have been raped. Many have experienced rape multiple times. But right now I can’t think of a single example of scary stranger rape of the kind rape culture tells us are hands-down, no-question, “legitimate” rape.
Date-rape. Acquaintance-rape. Passed-out-drunk-rape. Too-paralyzed-with-fear-to-resist-or speak-rape. You-didn’t-say-no-enough-times-rape. Making-out-and holy-shit-your-boyfriend’s-penis-somehow-found-its way-around-the-crotch-of-your-short-shorts-and-past-your-underwear-into-your-vagina-rape.
No scary strangers. No dark alleys.
And most rapes of the kinds described above go unreported because, like the woman in the last scenario I describe above, maybe you didn’t even realize it was rape because you never said anything and you even continued to date the guy, but when you think back and remember that night, you know you didn’t want or expect sex, and now you remember—why didn’t you remember this before?—that you burst into tears at that moment and he asked you what was wrong and you said, “Nothing.”
And it was still rape.
It kills me to realize how many are living with the very wrong belief that what happened to them wasn’t rape because it wasn’t perpetrated by a stranger with a knife in a dirty, dark alley behind a dumpster. When we perpetuate the myth that only forcible, stranger-rape is “legitimate” rape, we create a culture wherein victims are not only disbelieved, they disbelieve their own senses—their own inner knowledge that someone they know and trusted has violated them.
Rape is rape no matter where it happens. No matter who the rapist was to you in the moments before the rape occurred. Rape is rape even if your friend/lover/spouse didn’t set out to rape you. Rape is lack of consent. Period.
And I’m not going to shut up about it.
- Most Victims Know Their Attacker – National Institute of Justice
- Female Victims Of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010 – Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Law and Order: SVU (Shakesville)
- #SAAM Facts: Arm Yourself (makemeasammich.org)
- I Am Jane Doe (makemeasammich.org)
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Guest post by Ro
Note: Ro transitioned several years ago. However, she lived in an isolated setting and had no access to transportation. Late last year, she moved to a village and what follows is her incredible experience. (Originally published on Facebook.)
This is perhaps the most important post I have made on Facebook. Please read.
I am blessed with the best friends ever. What follows should stun you. In November, I moved to a very small village in Wales. When I got here, I didn’t know anyone. I would go down the pub and hang out. I wanted people to get to know me. For the most part, I would just sit there and nod and smile at people. However, I did meet two of the most amazing people I have ever known.I have known this couple for only two months now. Absolutely the nicest people I’ve met in Wales. They live very close to me. It’s one of those friendships where you feel like you’ve known them for years. They have known and supported my new gender identity since the first time I met them.The wife and and another female friend went with me to the pub when I first used the woman’s loo two weeks ago. They came as my support team. How cool is that?
I went back to the pub with the wife again last Thursday when I was told by the bartender that I couldn’t use the proper loo. Even though we had just met, my friend was outraged. She walked out of the pub with me and was so very concerned about how I was feeling. She knows me better than I know myself. I was sort of in shock and it took a few days to sort out my emotions. I posted about it here and got remarkable advice and support. Thank you!
She and her husband are boycotting the pub. How cool is that?
I met her, her husband and their 2 wonderful children at a different pub on Sunday. They told me they had been talking with their families and friends about what had happened. They made an offer that totally floored me.
They, their relatives and their friends have made an incredible offer: they want to go to the pub with me again. Not only are they going there to stand up for me, they are offering to go dressed in the clothing of their opposite gender.
Not only will the men dress as women and the women as men: they will go to the loo for the gender they present.
Let me repeat that: New friends, their family and friends (who I haven’t met) will not only support me in my legal right to use the appropriate loo, they will cross dress and use the appropriate loo. Most of them have never met me.
As soon as I was alone, I had a good type of cry. How do I deserve friends like this?
Again, I live in a sleepy little village where everyone knows everyone. A couple I only recently met, their friends and family (again, who I haven’t yet met) are willing to do this wonderful, amazing and brave thing.
I told them that I want to meet with the pub landlord first and discuss the issue. If he doesn’t agree to do the legal thing, I don’t know if I will take them up on their offer.
But, regardless, I stand taller and more confident that these amazing people are willing to stand with me.
I am blessed. I am amazed. I am lucky.
This is why we’re here people: to stand up for each other. I never thought I would meet such wonderful people.
I am grateful to them beyond words. And I am grateful to each of you who support me here on FB.
If others stand tall for me, I must stand tall as well.
Life has never been better. How cool is that?
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
[TRIGGER WARNING: rape, sexual assault]
When I was 22 years old, I went to a party at a coworker’s house. Between the alcohol and the intervening years, the night is mostly a blur of photos I saw the next day, but a few parts of the evening remain clear to me—particularly toward the end.
It was a party of the “we’re young enough to still be super excited about legally buying booze” variety, and I’m not even sure exactly who was there anymore. Toward the end of the night, though, I found myself in the garage with a few people—it was set up like an extra living room, with a rug, a lamp, and a couple couches. People slowly filtered out until it was me and two guys.
I’m sure they were both perfectly fine looking (I don’t remember), but I was particularly attracted to one of them. No idea what his name was or how old he was now—I knew him for maybe an hour out of my entire life—but I remember that I really wanted to make out with him. Not have sex with him. Just make out with him.
So three of us are in the garage. I forget the specifics of the conversation that led to this, but we were joking around and Other Guy asks some question like, “Why are you in still in the garage?” I said, “I’m waiting for you to leave.” It sounds mean, but I remember it not feeling mean in context, and we all laughed. I just don’t remember the context.
They exchanged a knowing look and Other Guy left. I got off my couch and went to sit at the edge of the couch where the guy I fancied was lying down. We started making out. Yay me, right? Then suddenly, I remembered—my obligation.
I’ve never had sex, see. To this day. I have reasons, but they’re irrelevant to this conversation. The point is that I knew I wasn’t “allowed” to kiss someone for too long without telling him we weren’t going to have sex, because otherwise he would get super pissed off (whoever he was). I prided myself on not being naïve, see. I prided myself on “not being stupid enough” to expect someone to respect my not wanting to have sex right that moment.
Let’s rephrase for just a second: I had already accepted that my role as “sexual partner of any kind” universally meant that I was expected to do whatever my “partner” wanted. I understood that I was a minority and a freak, so I felt it was my obligation to get it out of the way early.
I need to put this as plainly as possible: I was wrong on every count.
I sat up quickly and spat out, “We’re not going to have sex.”
The words hung in the air for a second, and he looked at me as though I’d said, “I like pie!”—not upset, not pleased, just…thrown. “Okay,” he said and, satisfied, we went back to making out.
Under a minute later, he was unbuttoning my pants.
I sat up again and pushed his hands away—we struggled gently for control of the button, and finally I refastened it and covered it with my hands. I looked up, and he was irritated.
“Just because we’re not having sex means you can’t take your pants off?”
My brain said, “Well…yeah,” but my mouth only stuttered. I finally managed to get out something like, “I don’t want to,” and he didn’t force it as such, but he was pissy as hell. And I believed that I deserved it, because I was the freak. I was the outlier. I remembered the look he and Other Guy had exchanged. They had both thought he’d be out in the garage getting laid. I had made them both believe that, and I had implied sex by wanting to be alone with a boy I thought was cute.
In case you’re just tuning in, let me be clear: I was wrong on every count.
But because he was now pissy as hell, I felt like I had to make it up to him. So I tried to make him not angry with me by going further than I actually felt comfortable—not very far, but definitely further than I’d wanted. And I felt ashamed.
I was ashamed that it made me uncomfortable.
Not that I was doing something that made me uncomfortable. The actual feeling of being uncomfortable shamed me.
I froze. The combination of discomfort and shame and the shame of being ashamed all spiraled together until I melted down and had a panic attack right there in the garage. I cried and apologized ten or twenty times before I ran out. He made no effort to pretend like he gave a shit about anything except the fact that I was no longer touching his body. I locked myself in the bathroom to collect myself—the house was dark with people sleeping on the floor scattered across two rooms. When the guy finally came out of the garage, Other Guy made a rude comment about how long I’d been in the bathroom (har har, asshole) and I just felt even more humiliated. I finally went to lie down on the floor in the other room. I wanted nothing more than to go home, but I was in no shape to drive.
After lying there for at least an hour, though, I knew I wouldn’t fall asleep. I didn’t want to see him in the morning, and what if he came over to me during the night?
I say night, but it was 4 a.m. when I finally walked out the door and crawled into my Jeep. I should not have been on the road. My last drink had been hours ago and I lived nearby, but neither of those are the point. I was too drunk to drive.
But that’s the choice. Stay in a house where I was deeply uncomfortable on a number of levels (some part of me was aware how aggressive he’d been, but I was too busy blaming myself to properly acknowledge it), or don’t stay in the house and risk driving home. (And yes, now I understand the concept of getting a cab, but I was 22 and lived in Southern California—hell, what’s a cab?)
I wonder sometimes—if I’d been more sexually active at 22, would things have turned out differently? To be clear, I am in no way making comment on anyone else’s life choices—those are your own, just as mine are my own. But for me, personally, I wonder if he would have pushed harder if I hadn’t blurted out that sex wasn’t an option. I wonder if I would have been too afraid to stop him from unbuttoning my pants. If I had already had sex, I think I was just insecure enough that I would have wanted him to think I was cool…by not protesting.
This knowledge scares me. Because I shouldn’t have had to stop someone from trying to remove my clothing. Forcefully stop, actually. I should never have had to answer a question like, “Just because we aren’t having sex means you can’t take your pants off?” Because honestly, what the fuck kind of question is that? If that’s not blatant manipulation, then I need to re-up my Merriam-Webster subscription.
The night I didn’t get raped came down to luck. It was nothing I did or didn’t do—I was so insecure at 22, I barely did what I did. It shouldn’t have had to come down to luck. I shouldn’t have had to push someone’s hands away from my pants once, let alone multiple times. I shouldn’t have had to struggle for control of my clothing.
I was lucky. So many women are not. And this, folks? This is rape culture.
This is our culture.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Last fall  when the GOP was falling all over itself to determine who in their ranks could make the most asinine comment revealing their ignorance about rape and biology and pretty much everything, Soraya Chemaly wrote this article on HuffPo reminding us of some very relevant (sourced) facts re: rape. I’ve chosen a few I think are particularly interesting/topical/important/timely to explore a bit. (See the above article for additional sources.)
Most Rapes Go Unreported
Many, many survivors do not report their rapes. The Department of Justice estimates that fewer than 50% of rapes are reported each year, and gives a low estimate of 300,000 yearly rapes nationwide. The Center for Disease Control has placed their high estimate at 1.3 million. I’m inclined to go with the higher number since, of my rapes, I’ve reported fewer than 50% myself (only one went to arrest/prosecution), and none of the many cases of child molestation (some of which were absolutely rape or attempted rape, and yet see how I still make a distinction) were ever reported to the police.
Most Rapists Never Serve Time
The statistic says that 97% of rapists never serve time. That’s based on the following from RAINN:
Of the 46 rapes (out of this statistical 100) that are reported, only 12 of those reports lead to an arrest. Let’s think about that for a moment:
In 34 out of 46 instances, when a rape victim files a police report regarding his/her rape, the police don’t even bother to make an arrest.
Consider that statistics have also shown that most rapes are not, in fact, stranger rapes, but are committed by someone the victim knows. And then remember the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that sit untested on shelves in police department evidence lockers across the US (one of mine in Dallas, TX). Because prosecuting rape is clearly not a priority in this country.
From Wikipedia via the National Institute of Justice:
“18 percent of unsolved alleged sexual assaults that occurred from 2002 to 2007 contained forensic evidence that was still in police custody (not submitted to a crime lab for analysis)”; 2) One major challenge is that 43% of law enforcement agencies “do not have a computerized system for tracking forensic evidence, either in their inventory or after it is sent to the crime lab”; 3) On average, 50–60% of kits test positive for biological material that does not belong to the victim; 4) Survey responses indicated that there may be some misunderstanding of the value of biological evidence. 44% of the law enforcement agencies said that one of the reasons they did not send evidence to the lab was that a suspect had not been identified. 15% said that they did not submit evidence because “analysis had not been requested by a prosecutor.”
So, we don’t bother testing rape kits if no one asks us to, or because we haven’t identified a suspect. Wait, I watch cop shows—isn’t DNA one of the ways cops ID suspects who have raped before? Oh, for that to work they’d need to test even more rape kits, and in this country, we’re way too busy with the war on medical marijuana to worry about justice for rape survivors.
32,000 Women Become Pregnant Resulting from Rape Each Year
That’s right, Todd Akin: According to the National Institute of Health, rape results in 32,000 pregnancies yearly. In fact, in a 2003 study, scientists found that pregnancy occurs twice as often as a result of rape than of consensual sex.
Our analysis suggests that per-incident rape-pregnancy rates exceed per-incident consensual pregnancy rates by a sizable margin, even before adjusting for the use of relevant forms of birth control.
And yet, right-wing politicians who think their hearts are in the right places believe it’s perfectly ok to restrict Plan B, the “morning after” pill to “emergency rapes.” You know, those stranger rapes that happen more often on television than they do in real life. Thanks, GOP.
In 31 of these United States, Rapists Have Parental Rights
Imagine for a moment that you’re a woman who has survived rape and become pregnant. Should you desire an abortion, 24 states require a waiting period. Should you decide to keep the child, the rapist can sue for parental rights in 31. This is a nightmare I can’t even bring myself to imagine for more than a moment. And yet thousands of women face this in our country each year–hundreds of thousands live with it even as I write.
Here’s a handy graphic from Huffington Post showing how each state rates when it comes to laws regarding pregnancy resulting from rape:
Most Military Rapes Go Unreported
The Pentagon estimates that in the US Armed Forces, 80-90% of rapes go unreported. In 2011, 16,500 rapes were reported. I’ll let you do the math. Estimates place the number of male rape survivors in the military at anywhere from 8-37%—much higher than in civilian life (but possibly lower than in the prison system, depending on who you ask).
Also, I’m going to quote this one directly from the list:
I have no words for how fucked up that is. <—Except those ones.
Prison is a Rape Culture All Its Own
It is estimated by some that prison rape is one of the most underreported forms of rape. Some will tell you that when it comes to rape culture, prison has the outside world beat hands down. Personally, I don’t see it as a competition, but I am well-aware (as are most of us, I think) that prison rape is a huge problem not only in our prisons, but for our society. Our “correctional system” breaks people and then releases them back into the world where they’re completely unequipped to survive and thrive. At least 20% of prison inmates experience rape, and if you’re LGBT, your chances increase significantly.
From the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
- An estimated 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months.
- Female inmates in prison (4.7%) or jail (3.1%) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9%) or jail (1.3%) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.
- Among inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 13% of male prison inmates and 19% of male jail inmates said they were victimized within the first 24 hours after admission, compared to 4% of female inmates in prison and jail.
- Among heterosexual state and federal prisoners, an estimated 1.3% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 2.5% reported being victimized by staff (table 8). In contrast, among prison inmates with a sexual orientation
other than heterosexual (including bisexual, homosexual, gay or lesbian, or other), 11.2% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 6.6% reported being sexually victimized by staff.
- Similar differences were reported among jail inmates, with heterosexual inmates reporting lower rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization (1.1%) and staff sexual misconduct (1.9%) than nonheterosexual inmates (7.2% and 3.5%, respectively).
Rape as a Weapon of War
Again, I’m going to take these directly from the list. These numbers serve as a startling reminder that rape—especially male-on-female rape—is and has always been considered a good way to humiliate your enemy and reward the troops for a job well done.
- Number of rapes noted in commonly used World War II statistics: 0
- Number of rapes of WWII concentration camp inmates: Untallied millions
- Number of rapes of German women by Russian soldiers at the end of WWII: between 1m and 2m
- Number of women raped in 1990s Bosnian conflict: 60,000+
- Number of women raped per hour in Congo during war: 48
Actions vs. Words
The above only scratches the surface. There is so much work to be done. A reader commented today on Always Aware that we need less talk and more action. I’m in total agreement, and yet I feel paralyzed in the face of all this to do anything but read and learn and write and discuss and try to understand what it is that will turn our culture around—to understand what actions I can take out in the world to make real change.
I’m planning a road-trip sometime in the future, and I’d like it to be a thing of action and not just words. I’ll be thinking more about what that means, but if you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know.
- Most Victims Know Their Attacker – National Institute of Justice
- Female Victims Of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010 – Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Rape-related pregnancy: estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women – National Library of Medicine
- Sexual Victimization In Prisons And Jails Reported By Inmates, 2008-09 – Bureau of Justice Statistics
On the Web:
- Why I Won’t Publish Your Comments About False Rape Accusations – Rethink the Rant
- Is the United States the only country where more men are raped every year than women? – Feministe
- Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – TIME
- Always Aware: Keeping Our Eye on the Meaning of SAAM – The Sin City Siren
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- Always Aware
- I Am Jane Doe
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Sara
Sara asked me to help her share this story of coming to terms with who she is and how she feels about the way the world treats her. More about Sara at the bottom of the article.
From a very young age, I remember being subjected to the idea that I needed a man to “rescue me”, to “make me complete”. We are shown Disney movies in which the princess needs to be rescued, comedies where the leading lady is doing everything she can to nab a man, and movies in which women are portrayed as “lacking” if they aren’t married to a man.
So while I’ve been conditioned my whole life to believe I need “rescuing” and that my life is not full unless I’m sharing it with a man, is there any wonder I’ve hesitated to name myself as gay?
Is it any wonder that I’ve spent my dating life cycling through men, trying to find the one that would fit, yet never been able to be fully happy?
The feelings I had towards women were shameful and disgraceful, according to my religion, my parents, and even society. I wasn’t allowed to be attracted to women. I wasn’t allowed to act on those feelings. I was expected to grow up, get married (to a man of course), and pop out babies.
Yet at the age of 16, I couldn’t deny the attraction to women any longer. I started telling people I was bisexual, because that seemed to cause less revulsion than stating I was actually gay. I truly thought this was the truth at the time, and for many years afterwards, because I believed I was attracted to men. There may even have been a period in my life where I was attracted to men, just not sexually. I just went along with the gender paradigm and did what was expected of me.
I can honestly say that I still find some men attractive. Don’t get me wrong, I do. But as soon as I remember they have a penis hidden beneath their clothes, that’s it. I’m out. I just can’t do it anymore.
I can’t stand feeling disgusted, dirty, and guilty after sexual encounters with men. I can’t stand feeling this way even during these encounters, which happens a lot more often these days.
I can’t deny who I am any longer.
I. Am. Gay.
But, it’s come to my attention that I’m not gay enough for some people.
Let that statement sink into your brains for a few minutes there, folks.
I’m not gay enough.
When I had identified myself as a bisexual woman, I felt like I never really had a place. I wasn’t straight enough to be straight, and now I’m not gay enough to be gay. What the hell?
So, because I’ve had long term relationships with men, instead of women, I am not a viable prospective mate for a lesbian. I’ve been told that they would be too worried that I’m just “going through a phase” and would eventually leave and go back to a man.
It doesn’t seem to matter that during every sexual encounter I’ve ever had with a man, I’ve been picturing a woman so that I could get through it.
Oh, you’ve been raped? Abused? Molested? I don’t want to date someone who’s choosing women just because she hates or is sick of men.
You know what? I’m not sick of men. I also don’t hate men. I’m just not sexually attracted to them. The thought of having sex with a member of the opposite sex literally causes me the most horrendous anxiety attacks.
I’ve been told that early sexual trauma can cause homosexuality. I don’t know how true that is. What about the men who were molested by other men when they were little? Does it make sense that they would choose to be attracted to the same gender that caused them so much heartache? In my case sure, maybe it makes sense. After all the horrific sexual abuses that were perpetrated on me, maybe I do feel safer with my own gender. Maybe that is why I am more attracted, sexually, to women.
I certainly don’t feel like I had a choice in my attraction to my gender. But I’ve stuck with men for all my serious relationships, because I was conditioned to believe that it was expected, nay, required of me. I wanted to get married and raise a family, and God forbid I try to do that with a woman!
So I stuck with what I knew: Men. Even though I wasn’t attracted to them sexually. Even though I had to close my eyes and picture a woman every time I had sex. Even though by doing this, I was shutting away a very large part of myself in the process, and causing problems in my relationships.
I remember actually saying the words to my first long-term ex, “I think I might actually be gay.” I can’t say that I remember his reaction to that, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a positive one.
But finally, I’m ready to admit the truth. No matter how much easier it would be for me to be straight, no matter how much I wish I could be straight, I’m not.
I. Am. Gay.
I brought it up at a very small prayer meeting the other night with a few other women and my pastor. They were so loving and supportive, and told me that they will love and accept me no matter what. That means so much to me.
I got the strength that same night to finally admit it to my husband. He was shell-shocked and very discouraged, but he didn’t get angry with me, and he didn’t say that he hated me. He did say that he wished I knew this 4 years ago before we met, or at least 2 years ago before we got married. I feel badly because I know this is hard for him, he doesn’t know how to handle everything, and I wish I could somehow make it easier on him.
But then on my way in to work this morning, I remembered these conversations I’d had with openly gay women in the past, and it bothered me. A lot. Which is why I’m writing this.
You don’t have the right to judge me just because I’ve always dated men.
You don’t have the right to tell me that I’m not gay, or that I’m not gay enough.
You don’t know my story, and it’s not fair for you to jump to conclusions about me before you do.
Hasn’t the gay community suffered enough from discrimination? Why would you want to put me through the same things that others have put you through? I deserve to be loved and accepted too, flaws and all, just as I would do for you.
But if I’m not gay enough for you, then maybe you’re just too narrow-minded for me.
I work for a game company. Of late, I’ve taken issue with some of the content we’re receiving, and I’ve been everything but quiet about it. I’ve written letters to management and blatantly refused to work on it. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably heard me talk about it.
I was actually the second person on our team of three to get up in arms about it. The first was my boss (we’ll call him Joe for ease of storytelling)—the only male on our team. Joe was far and away the angriest person in the building about it—up until the day he quit over it. Before he quit, though, Joe made plenty of noise about it himself. We were deep into this discussion before we realized the higher-ups thought he’d been raising such a fuss on behalf of his team, comprising two females.
I spoke to HR about the content a few days later, and many aspects of my most recent letter came up. As we spoke, however, I discovered that everyone assumed my female coworker and I were the truly upset folks—despite the fact that Joe never implied a single thing to that end. When I corrected HR, she was shocked. “Joe??”
She said he needed to tell the company how he felt about this content. As a man.
Yes, he was my boss, and had she said “as a manager,” that’d be a whole different story. But those weren’t the words, and that wasn’t the intent. He had written numerous emails, attended a number of meetings, and made his feelings very plainly known, but the whole time, management assumed he was batting for us—myself and my female coworker. His words would have inherently carried more weight if he had made it clear that he had been speaking for himself as a man rather than speaking for two women.
So here’s what I can discern from this:
- The automatic assumption is that a man simply wouldn’t disagree with this content; therefore, he must be speaking for a woman.
- When the assumption was that he spoke on behalf on two women, his words carried almost no weight.
- Were he to speak explicitly for himself as a man, the words would carry significantly more weight than when he was thought to be speaking for two women.
At the end of the day, when his resignation letter made it clear exactly who he was speaking for, the content still went through. Even so, that doesn’t negate everything that came before it. It doesn’t take this bad taste out of my mouth.
How many women equal one man? Obviously more than two, but how many? Three? Five? How many female voices carry the same weight as one male voice?
How many of me do I need to be taken seriously?
I have been aware of predators since childhood. Since I was four or five years old and first had a man’s penis in my mouth. Contrary to some knee-jerks here and elsewhere, the fact that I’m aware of predators in my environment does not mean that I think all men are predators. It’s one of those double-edged swords women so often find themselves at the wrong end of: If we get raped, we should have been more careful. If we’re careful, we’re alarmists (worse, we’re FEMINISTS) who believe all men are out to rape us. There’s no winning with some people.
But those are not the ones we seek to reach this month. Over the next few weeks, while the Steubenville wound is still open and oozing, it’s our job to appeal to those people who are not yet aware (or not yet aware that they’re aware) but are ready for awareness. We’re not preaching to the choir or trying to make the blind see–we just need to be vocal enough and authentic enough to reach those who are out there listening, absorbing, and becoming warriors in their own time, at their own pace.
I’ve seen it happen. I know how powerful our stories can be. Share yours. The world needs your voice.
Note: Lest anyone think that the point of #AlwaysAware is to put the onus of rape prevention on potential victims, it is not. The point is that (most) women are always aware of potential of violence. We are taught to be afraid and trained to be vigilant. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is not for us–it’s for people who don’t spend every day of their lives alert and aware and looking for ways to keep something like this from happening to them. It’s for people who don’t understand how often women experience assault. It’s for those who believe that women, not men, should be responsible for preventing male-on-female rape. Until we’re all #AlwaysAware of the problem of rape culture, women will continue to bear the weight of that awareness all 365 days of the year.
I’m adding new posters as often as I have time to make them. I’ll replace the one at the top now and then, and add alternate ones here.
The idea for “Always Aware” started with a Twitter chat with the Sin City Siren and was further inspired by the above illustration by Laura Boyea (used with permission).
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
by Robert J. Howe
Note: This story may be upsetting to some.
This story is about how authoritarian regimes deform human relationships, even—especially—the most intimate ones. It is also a story about how people can’t be controlled, and the unintended consequences of trying to do so.”
Spring at the Phyllis Schlafly Correctional Facility in Broward County. I’m here to visit my mother, who will be fifty-eight in a week. This is no kindness to her, or me. It is a state-mandated visit. I am a living reproach.
I have never seen my mother when she was not in one phase of pregnancy or another, and today is no exception. She looks tired and done to death. The lines around her mouth have solidified since my last visit; they are set in the stone of her face. She looks—she is—angry. She has been angry ever since I can remember.
“Hello, Bryan,” she says. Despite her angry expression, this comes out almost gently.
I have spent a lot of time in therapy, ostensibly coming to terms with the fact that my mother didn’t want me. I am still required to check my weapon at the prison’s armory, lest I take revenge on her. This is absurd: she could not have had any feelings on the matter one way or another, as she didn’t know me then. What she didn’t want was to raise any children for whom she couldn’t adequately provide. The alpha and omega of her life problems revolve around what she considers adequate.
She has a crooked smile, when she smiles, from where her jaw was broken. The arresting officer stepped on her face to keep her from swallowing evidence. If her dead bolt lock had held three more seconds, we would not be facing each-other across the scarred wooden table.
“Hello, Elena,” I say.
She eases herself into a chair, unnaturally skinny except where she is unnaturally round. Half a lifetime of bearing rich women’s children has left her calcium-depleted and stick fragile, and her pale, sweaty face is made more unattractive by the reflection of the green visiting room walls.
We don’t talk much during these visits; it hurts less that way. It is part, too, of my mother’s strange Bushido. What we can do, is look into one-another’s green eyes without flinching. My mother understands, as do I, that between us there can be no feelings of guilt or regret. At least, this is what I like to think. Almost everything I know about my mother, I know from reading the official reports. Prison has a way of making everyone’s life into roman à clef.
There are no guards in the room, a strong reminder that every word and gesture is being recorded. This is another reason for our sphinxlike communion. It is harder, though not impossible, to get blood from a stone. All this notwithstanding, there is something she wants to tell me.
My mother was almost as old as I am now when she had me; that pregnancy was no childish fling.
“You have got to be kidding,” was my father’s sole, and last comment to my mother. He never came home from work that day. The Legal Aid lawyer told my mother it would cost more money than it was worth to have him skip-traced, so that was the end of that.
Abortion was still legal in a few states then, but Florida wasn’t one of them. My mother regretted the necessity of an abortion, both because she had wanted what she thought was her “twilight baby,” and because she’d have to have it done illegally; New Jersey, the closest free state, was as financially inaccessible as the moon, what with residency requirements and medical records transfer fees. The day my father walked, money became the big issue. My older sister and brother were just six and seven, respectively, and no one else was going to pay to bring them up. My mother couldn’t work pregnant, and they couldn’t live on what the anemic AFDC provided.
There was a doctor who would do it at Misericordia, in Pompano, and list it as a Dilation and Curettage, and her health plan would have even paid the bill. But two days before the operation a couple of suits from the National Reproduction Administration took the doctor away in the middle of the night. It seems she’d established a questionable pattern of performing D&Cs on women with no significant medical history.
That’s when my mother started answering the classified ads in the back of women’s magazines. She was careful. She was patient. She almost got away with it.
My desk is always heaped with paperwork, and today is no exception. So many case folders cover the tabletop that I can’t find a place to set my coffee. In those folders, more often than not, is all the information I need to do my job. By the time I have finished my coffee, I’ll have closed three cases over the phone. Three more anonymous buff folders will then take their place. It is a rare day that I go into the field.
I have been asked, more than a few times, how I feel about my job. The unspoken subtext is always, Does it bother you?
There is, I’m afraid, not much to be bothered about. It isn’t a case of not seeing the forest for the trees; I am so mired in the minutiae of the profession, that it is more like not being able to see the tree for the bark. It is all statistics: looking for the deviations from the norm. I wouldn’t know half my clients if I saw them on the street. What I know are their telephone bills, mortgage payments, medical histories, grammar school grades, even preferences in movie rentals.
Some would argue that it is easier to do my job thus insulated. They are right, but not the way they mean it. It is simply that there is less to remember this way.
My mother’s wrists are chafed from the restraints. Two years ago she dove from her bed stomach-first onto the floor. The D.C. lawyer and his wife who were waiting for the baby got a million-five from the Broward Special Corrections Department for mental anguish. My mother got padded leather handcuffs.
When I look at the raw spots on her arms, I notice that she’s tensing her muscles so hard the veins stand out like the surface of a relief map. Her face is completely composed for the cameras, however. I don’t know what to make of this, but I am careful not to stare, nor look away too quickly. I’m rewarded with the ghost of a smile too quick to register until it’s passed. So, I was meant to notice the flexing.
A guard comes in, they call them matrons here. This is a deliberate choice with 1950’s connotations, I think. She stands next to the table, stolid and dumb in her blue blouse and skirt, and signals us that the visit is over. It is less than half the time normally allotted to mandated visits. This is my mother’s small victory: our silence makes them too uncomfortable to endure watching for long. I think my mother would like to say that she is proud of me today, but cannot. To say that would be a tacit confession of her guilt. Any approval of me would mean she was wrong thirty years ago when she tried to flush my fetus out of her body. Still, it is this tacit understanding that allows me to go on with my life and my job.
Our eyes do not meet while the matron is in the room, and my mother is led away without looking back.
My mother finally narrowed it down to three advertisements that looked amateurish enough not to have been planted by the NRA, and were ambiguous enough so as to draw minimal attention. All three were for Riviera Diet Supplements—bootleg Roussel Uclaf pills—black market abortions being too dangerous, too easy to track, or both. She went to the library then, and looked up back issues of the magazines. Two of the ads had run for several prior issues, so it was a good bet that they were already under surveillance. The third was brand new.
The next step was a driver’s license under the name of a cousin who’d died as a child, with an SRO address. The rooming house address served two purposes. First, when it was time to get a post office box, it was less likely that an SRO address would trip a flag in the postal computer; it was entirely reasonable for someone living in a rented room to get their mail at a p.o. box. Post office boxes in middle-class residential neighborhoods, which ours was, usually alerted the Postal Inspection Service to a violation of the mail obscenity laws. The second reason for the SRO address was that, in Florida, there were far too many to register their tenants weekly, or even monthly. The annual, retroactive registration would turn up my mother’s nom de guerre, but by then she’d be just another desperate, half-remembered face in the clerk’s mind.
All of this cost money—a mid-quality forged license, (ones that could pass at a DWI checkpoint cost much more than paper good enough to fool a bored postal clerk), p.o. box rental—and the pills. They came in lots of six, packaged like vitamins. Some unlucky women had gone through all this, in fact, and had gotten nothing but vitamins. There were six to make sure the job was done. The feminist underground calls them étui, French for “small purses.” The NRA agents call them six-guns.
In the long run, of course, it was still cheaper than having another baby and staying home for the prescribed two years. That same week she found work as a secretary in an insurance company.
I come back from lunch and find that the pattern section has left a list on my desk. Only two names are in my area of responsibility; Evans, Theresa J, and Frawley, Taneka (none). Evans can be put off; I request a background jacket and set her name aside until it comes through. The Frawley folder is on my desk, so I will start with that one.
It is, as I recall, a fairly obvious case. Multiple postal flags, feminist literature subscription—cancelled fairly recently, unmarried, works as a B-girl in a beach club on the strip. Associate’s degree in accounting. Dangerous because she is smart enough to know she’s got a high profile. If at all possible I will perform the search while she is at work.
I bring the folder to the Warrants window, where an NRA administrative justice signs, dates, and seals a premises/vehicle paper. I kill fifteen minutes waiting for the warrant to register by Teletype with the local police. I use the time to check my weapon: I don’t often go into the field, and I go to the shooting range even less frequently. My Glock automatic has a seventeen-round clip, and I carry a spare clip in my jacket pocket. If this is not overkill, I am in the wrong line of work.
The folder stays on my desk—too many classified sources to leave the building—but I slip Frawley’s photo I.D. out, an enlargement of her Florida Driver’s License, to take with me. She is a common looking Black woman, over thirty, with an old-style “natural” hairdo. In the picture she is smiling.
The light in the visiting room is always bad—the cameras can record in the infrared if need be—adding to my mother’s washed-out look. She has just delivered the thirty-fifth baby of her sentence. There is no telling how many more she will bear; she has, in the grim double entendre of Special Corrections, consecutive life sentences.
Since she did not try to throw herself on her stomach to crush the fetus, drink her own urine to poison the fetus, or commit any other act of fetal assault, my mother is entitled to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee during her seventy-day recovery period. Then it’s back to a strict pregnancy regimen as an incubator for some other privileged couple.
She draws hard on her Marlboro. In the silence of the visiting room the stale, dry commissary cigarette pops and crackles like a miniature forest fire. We stare at each other through the smoke. Her arms are no longer raw from the restraints, but she’s built up a pad of callus tissue on the inside of each wrist. There are other changes, as well.
I suddenly realize that she has a facial tic, even though she seems otherwise composed. I have never, in fact, seen her other than utterly composed, so this pad of flesh twitching under her right eye seems the equivalent of a scream. I almost comment, but then the tic stops, and reappears under the other eye.
Could she, I wonder, be doing this deliberately? If so it is a phenomenal display of fine muscle control.
The tic stops again, and for a few minutes we sit in companionable, if absolute, silence. She stubs the cigarette out and sits forward, her arms resting on the table. After a moment, I realize that the flesh on the inside of her forearm jumps every few seconds. This reminds me of the last visit, and her vein-popping muscle tensioning. That will have to be enough for today, whatever it means. The matron, battleship-like in her stiff blue uniform leads my mother back to her dormitory area.
One of the most common mistakes women in my mother’s position made was using the p.o. box solely for their illegal transactions. As camouflage, my mother used the p.o. box for all kinds of things under her assumed name: she sent away for free recipes, subscribed to inexpensive magazines, ordered little things from mail-order catalogs, and wrote herself long, innocuous letters on her word processor at work, signing them with one of three fictional childhood friends’ names that she’d picked at random from out-of-state telephone books.
She said at one point, that if nothing else, assuming her whitebread, straitlaced, alter ego’s mindset had replaced her contempt for women on the rolls with sympathy. It was always the good girls who got into trouble; too timid to go through the NRA’s red tape to apply for birth control, and too afraid to buy on the graymarket. As a result, they bred themselves deeper and deeper into poverty, using their own loneliness and the scant infant stipend as justification.
On the day the pills arrived, my mother was careful to not vary her routine. She checked her box at lunchtime, as usual, and put the pills in her purse, then went off to lunch with her friends. After work, she picked my brother and sister up at daycare, took them home, made dinner, did homework with them, and read them their bedtime stories. She put the pills in a waterproof container and hid them inside the toilet tank float, a place, in her limited experience, she thought startlingly novel.
Two days after the pills arrived, my mother was ready to go through with the abortion. She waited until a Friday night so that she would have the whole weekend for the pill to work. She called the three girlfriends most likely to phone her, and said she was taking my brother and sister upstate to an amusement park (one she’d taken them to before—no break in the pattern there), and wouldn’t be back until Sunday night. She unplugged the phone and set the answering machine. Then she sat down at the kitchen table and tried to think of anything she might have missed.
All of this, she said later, made her feel as if she were planning her own suicide.
I swing by the bar where Frawley works, to make sure she’s there. There are enough businessmen in jackets drinking lunch so that I don’t stand out and spook her. It takes almost a quarter of an hour to find her, since she has changed her hairstyle and looks younger in person than she does in the picture. She is making change for a customer when I leave for her apartment.
I could just shatter the lock and walk in, but then, even if I find nothing, she will know her apartment’s been entered. Better, in all cases, to use finesse. It takes ten minutes of finesse to get the heavy tumbler to click over, during which time two neighbors have walked by. Each time I managed to slide out of their line of sight—not that they would interfere—but if Frawley discovers that there’s been a man in a jacket and tie at her door, it might spook her as much as finding the lock smashed.
Inside the house is neat and organized, but somewhat dirty. It is the house of someone who isn’t home a great deal. There are, however, clothes in the closets, half-used toiletries in the bathroom, and fresh food in the refrigerator, all indicating that this is her real address and not stage dressing.
The current telephone bill is on her desk, opened. I don’t need to look, however; I’ve seen it already. I look through the personal papers in her desk, then get down to searching the apartment. The key, more than cleverness or intuition, is method. In my mind, I divide the room into imaginary grids, and search each one minutely. This not only insures that no spot is overlooked, but that each square foot is seen with a fresh eye.
I turn up nothing. I resist the temptation to research the odd places first, and start at the beginning of my grid again. The first search was entirely non-destructive. I left everything the way I found it, and used only my fingers to probe soft objects like pillows and cushions. This time I cut open what cannot be easily palpitated, and I pry up any loose hardware, tilework, and woodwork I find.
Still nothing. I am about to start my third, deep search when I hear the door. As much as I dislike confrontation, this one seems unavoidable.
My mother’s recovery period has stretched to two months because there are currently no sponsors. Summer is always the slowest season for surrogate wombs, and increasing competition from the private sector has lessened the demand slightly in the Special Corrections system. Whatever the reason, my mother seems to be enjoying this period of relative freedom.
“Hello, Bryan. What’s it like in the real world, these days?”
This is more than she has said to me in twelve years of bi-monthly visits. I wonder if this hiatus in her sentence is wholly the cause of her good spirits.
“About the same,” I say. “You look well.”
The truth is, she looks better—she has put on some weight, and it makes her face look years younger. Anywhere but in here, though, she could pass for someone who has just overcome a serious illness.
She sits for a long time, studying me. It is not like our usual silent communication—it is as if she is seeing me for the first time. The scrutiny makes me uncomfortable. I feel it is somehow a violation of our tacit understanding.
It occurs to me, forced back on myself like this, that it is possible my mother has finally gone insane. I have always assumed she was harder than any person or institution she came in contact with, but insanity is the second most common cause for termination of sentence. Of course, the insane trade one kind of prison for another, and if they are cured, they are returned to Special Corrections. There are precedents, though few of them.
Her voice pulls me out of my reverie.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I asked if you’ve ever seen your father.”
This, of all things, I am not prepared for. In the six months from her arrest to conviction, my mother never once uttered a word about my father, or at least none that were recorded.
“No,” I say. “Why do you ask?”
You were never curious before, I want to say, but I can’t bring myself to break our unspoken agreement, even if she has.
The silence grows again, and though she doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable, I am. I begin to wish for the matron to come, silent and implacable, and lead my mother away from me. Instead I stare at the wooden tabletop.
“I wish I had gotten to know you better, son.”
That admission is shocking, in front of God and the cameras, as it were, but no more shocking than her calling me son. It is a word that has not passed her lips in my presence in thirty years.
“Your brother and Vivian were here to see me last week. Ed apparently pulled some strings. Do you know they have three children now?”
“No,” I said, numbed by this spate of information. It is as if Reagan’s face, carved into the South Dakota hills, had suddenly come to life: the oracle of Rushmore.
“Do you ever see them, or your sister?” she asks.
“No. I know I should…” I cannot believe I am saying this.
“I don’t really think they want to see you, anyway.” She says this seemingly without a trace of spite or malice. “You would make them almost as uncomfortable as I do.”
I don’t know what to say about this. I have never been so acutely uncomfortable in my life. Mercifully, the matron enters the room then and stands next to my mother.
“Well, Bryan, goodbye,” she says, looking me directly in the eye.
I fumble for a response, but by the time I can force out the words, she has passed behind the gray steel door.
“Goodbye,” I say for the cameras.
It occurs to me, as I collect my weapon from the prison’s operations room, that none of my mother’s feats of muscle control were in evidence today. I suddenly wish I had asked her what it all meant.
The last thing my mother did, before she took out the pills, was to call her National Health Clinic branch and complain about abdominal pains. The triage nurse asked the usual questions, including whether or not my mother was pregnant. She said she didn’t know.
The nurse told her to call back if the pains got worse, or if there was any bleeding, and to stay off her feet. My mother hung up and went to get the pills from the toilet tank.
She was drying her hands when they knocked at the door. My mother started to hide the pills again, then she heard the ram against the door. She ripped open the foil package too quickly, sending the pills scattering across the floor. By the time she retrieved one, the police were through the front door and searching the apartment. There weren’t that many rooms to search.
The bathroom door exploded in just as she put the pill in her mouth. The next second her head was crushed against the tiles and something in her face snapped. She felt the officer’s blunt, bitter tasting fingers probing her mouth as she passed out.
She woke up in Broward Special Corrections’ hospital wing, and has been in one part of the compound or another since. I was born seven months later, in the prison Nursery.
I was placed in the same home as my brother and sister—though they were moved out within a year of my birth. I stayed until I was eleven, then I was sent to a military boarding school because I had become a disciplinary problem. The state paid my scholarship to the private school, with the understanding that I would enter government service as soon as I was eligible. That was pretty much what happened.
I really don’t regret it.
Frawley has just set her purse on a table in the foyer when I turn the corner. She looks at me for a split second, then snatches the purse up again and dives out the door. We burst out of the building’s lobby, she several yards ahead of me. She is wearing black tights and running shoes—her off duty clothes, I gather—and is opening up the distance between us rapidly. I have to make a split-second decision: do I continue to chase her, or do I draw my weapon now, while I am still close enough to steady myself for a shot?
Had I known I was going to arrest her today, I would have brought backup. I draw my weapon and pound to a stop in front of a parked car. She opens the distance even further while I get my sights steady. I hold my breath, using the car’s roof as a rest, and squeeze off three shots.
The last one drops her. I’m completely winded by the time I am standing over her.
She is shot through the backside and lower stomach. Blood is everywhere, and she is vomiting weakly. A woman is screaming as I go through Frawley’s purse—sure enough, the pills are there. Two packets of them, in fact.
The ambulance arrives after the local police, but before my colleagues: if they are going to save the fetus, they will have to get Frawley’s body to the operating room very quickly.
Far from being over, this incident is just starting for me. I will be held over the next two shifts writing reports, having the pills tested by the lab, being counseled by the service psychiatrist, and making my obligatory appearance before a grand jury.
At least I will get the next five working days off.
“I heard you got one,” my mother says before she’s even seated at the wooden table. “You must be proud.”
I realize that it is going to be as difficult a visit as the last one. I did only what was necessary. I don’t relish the grislier aspects of my job, as do some of my colleagues—I prefer to avoid conflict, where possible. I decide the best tack to take with my mother is silence, at least until I can puzzle out her mood.
“I heard she bled to death right there on the street.”
Where, suddenly, is all this antipathy coming from? Who knows how these rumors get started? The paramedic said Frawley died almost immediately—from shock.
“Are you embarrassed?” she asks. “That would be something, at least.”
I see that this line of questioning is not going to wither away in silence.
“I’d rather not talk about my work.”
“Not to me, at least,” she answers. “So, what would you like to talk about, son?”
That word again. Inexplicably, I feel my eyes prickle.
“How come you’re not smoking?” I ask. My voice sounds perfectly level.
“I’m back on the production line again,” she says, laughing. “You know, I was beginning to think you’d actually thrown your weight around a little to keep me off the breeding line.”
“I can’t do…”
“No, no. Don’t apologize,” she cuts me off. “I’m not blaming you. It was a crazy notion to begin with.” There really is no rancor in her voice.
For the first time ever, I am uncomfortable that the cameras are recording all this. I cast around for a safe topic, then something occurs to me.
“I noticed that you had a facial tic, last—no—the time before last. Is it some kind of medical condition?”
“Your concern is a bit belated, I think. But no, you know it wasn’t a medical condition, I think.”
“I was doing it on purpose…”
“Nobody can control their muscles like that.”
“You can, if you practice. I have nothing to do here but practice. Did you know Indian holy men could stop their heartbeats?”
I look at her blankly.
“No, I don’t imagine that’s the kind of thing you know much about. Well, it’s true. If you practice enough, you can control all the muscles in your body.”
“So I can control my body.”
We have, it seems, skated back onto thin ice again. The radical feminists have always referred to women’s reproductive offenses as taking control of their bodies.
“It’s all right,” she says, “you don’t have to say anything. I just wanted you to be here.”
“You know I come whenever…”
“No, I mean for this.”
She smiles at me, then she closes her eyes. When she opens them again, they are unfocussed and her face assumes an expression of unconscious concentration, if there is such a thing.
I see, suddenly, that the muscles of her abdomen are tensing mightily under her prison smock. It takes another few seconds for me to realize what she’s doing.
I knock the table over trying to get around it, but it is already too late; blood gushes from underneath the smock, making a crimson blotch from waist to hemline.
Guards rush into the room, and less than a minute later, the medical team.
“Christ, she’s bleeding out,” the doctor in charge says.
“What’s going on?” the guard supervisor, a man, wants to know.
“She’s got a massive hemorrhage—looks like a bad miscarriage.”
My mother’s eyes focus again, and she looks into mine. I am unable to look back without flinching.
She coughs, spraying flecks of blood across my face.
“Oh, man,” the doctor groans, “She’s bleeding from everywhere.” He’s young, and sounds afraid.
She is loaded onto an aluminum stretcher. I think about taking her hand, but the moment passes in a blur, and she is being bustled out the steel door, presumably to the prison hospital.
There are, I notice, bloody footprints left everywhere by the medical team and the guards. I right the visitor’s table before I leave.
According to the trial transcript, the triage nurse at the National Health branch—a fifty-year-old widow with the improbable name of Meredith Sanction—called NRA to report a possible reproduction violation. NRA, of course, already had a folder on my mother. Since they could not get an agent there in time, however, they authorized the state police to make the arrest.
Meredith Sanction testified that my mother’s call fit the classic self-abortion pattern. Meredith Sanction’s own marriage had been barren. It is on the record that the magistrate admonished the defense lawyer for pursuing irrelevant testimony during Mrs. Sanction’s cross examination.
The magistrate took less than fifteen minutes to reach his decision. Sentencing was delayed until my birth—presumably so that my mother would not self-abort in the face of a life sentence.
The minister concludes his ceremony over my mother’s grave, then hurries in out of the rain. My brother and sister stand as close to the grave as they can without having to look at me. My brother cries openly, and my sister stares, dry-eyed, at the brown rectangle in the turf. Only I can see the casket.
I still have two days off before I go back to work.
Robert J. Howe is a writer and editor whose fiction has appeared in Analog, Black Gate, Electric Velocipede, and other publications and anthologies. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop (1985). Learn more about him at his website.