guest post by Sydney L.
This is not okay.
We had a fire drill at school today. An unplanned fire drill. Everyone immediately freaked out. Whispers of “what if it’s a trick?” “Should I text my mom?” “What if I get shot?” Went through my classroom. We were genuinely terrified that we were going to die.
This is not okay.
My teachers first words were not telling us where our class goes during a fire drill. Her first words to us were “everyone let me look out the door first to be safe.”
This is not okay.
My first thought was not to exit the building. My first thought was fear of being killed. Of my baby sister being shot in the school across the parking lot. To text my parents and tell them I love them. I almost did. I had the chat open.
This is not okay.
Kids exiting the building were not rushing to get out. We were slow. Almost zombie-like. Terrified that there would be a shooter waiting for us outside. Teachers were telling us to stand behind them. My sophomore year science teacher and I shared a look of what I can only describe as fear.
This is not okay.
This cannot go on. I should not have to live in fear of exiting my school because I could be killed. Because it could be a trick. I shouldn’t have to make a split second decision about rescuing my sister or texting my parents. We have to do something. Raise the minimum age to buy firearms. Take automatic weapons off the market for citizens. Make extensive background checks a requirement to buy a firearm. I should not have to live in fear of going to school.
This is not okay.
Sydney is a strong opinionated high school student. Dogs, Girl Scouts and Taekwondo. That is who she is.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape culture.
My friend Anne Thériault of The Belle Jar wrote a post a few days ago about an incident at University of Ottawa wherein several male members of student leadership gathered to chat about Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. Ms. Roy had apparently beaten a dude for the office, and these dudes were not happy. They went on for several screens talking about how someone should “punish her with their shaft,” speculating about what venereal diseases she might have, and offering to buy beers for a guy who says he’s going to “fuck her in the ass” on someone’s desk. You’ll find the whole disgusting mess over on The Belle Jar. Here’s an excerpt from Anne’s article, which you should go read right now.
Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with their shaft. This is the type of thing that’s said about women in positions of power – not a critique of their policies, but a threat of sexual violence. Not a comment on how they do their job, but graphic fantasies about how they should be sexually degraded. Nothing about their intelligence or capability, just a string of jokes about how riddled with venereal disease they are. This is misogyny, pure and simple. This is slut-shaming. This is rape culture.
As I’m sure you can imagine, Anne was immediately subjected to verbal abuse of the sort women who dare to speak out on the Internet will be familiar with. But then Anne Marie Roy received a cease-and-desist letter. From CTV News in Canada:
The letter — which identifies the four participants as Michel Fournier-Simard, Alexandre Giroux, Alexandre Larochelle and Robert-Marc Tremblay — threatened legal action against Roy if she did not “destroy” her copy of the online conversation and stop sharing it with others.
It wasn’t long before Anne Thériault received a similar letter. These individuals have now withdrawn their threats with regard to Ms. Roy. Anne is still waiting to learn whether she will be sued for her blog post.
Every single day, women are silenced when they try to speak out about rape culture. Every day we are told that “it’s not rape culture” or “it’s just how guys are,” which sound to me like conflicting statements. Why are guys just “like that”? Duh, because of rape culture, which Matthew G. P. Coe defines thusly in his follow-up at the Good Men Project:
Rape culture is the gradual normalisation, through, for example, jokes, commentary, and apologia, of the exertion of one person’s will over another, through the use of coerced or forced sex acts, such that such exertions become acceptable or justifiable as either hypothetical or practical actions.
Every time a conversation like the one Anne Marie Roy and Anne Thériault have helped bring to light takes place, it reinforces this culture of rape as acceptable. It reinforces a culture that treats women as objects, as products for men’s consumption, as sex toys, as less than human. And it reinforces a culture where women remain silent when things like this happen. Or as Anne says,
If these men face no consequences for their actions – indeed, if they are able to press charges against Roy for publicly addressing their comments – what are the students going to learn from this? They’ll learn that rape is a joke, that women can be terrorized into silence, and that it’s useless, maybe even dangerous, to speak up. Are these the lessons that we want our student leaders to be instilling in the heads of seventeen and eighteen year old kids?
I’d like to ask each of you to think about how you can help shine a light on this bullshit and show the world that we will not be silent. As for me, I’m looking forward to my cease-and-desist letter. Oh! I probably won’t get one unless I include at least part of the conversation, so here you go, bros:
And here’s my call to action:
Join me by writing your own post, reblogging/sharing Anne’s post or this one or Matt Coe’s or all of them, and tweeting on #UofOrapeculture. Let’s shine a frakking Klieg light on these assholes.
Update: All four members of student leadership involved in this conversation have resigned their positions. (I missed this article previously. Apologies.) No word on whether legal actions will continue.
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
- Rape Culture at the University of Iowa (The Belle Jar)
- So What IS Rape Culture, If Not This? (The Good Men Project)
- Rape Culture: It starts in private (The Scrawn)
- On Unlearning Rape Culture (matness)
- In Defense of Belle Jar: Sitting In The World’s Largest Pub (Cupcakes and Hoodies)
- police chiefs, board adminstrators, rape fantasties and speaking up… how the university of ottawa just dug their grave… (marois & moi)
- Sexually Violent Conversation Between Student Officials Posted Online (UofO’s Fulcrum)
- Pat Marquis Resigns from SFUO (Fulcrum)
Guest Post by Fran Stewart
Fran surprised me with another wonderful post today in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Enjoy. ~Rosie (TDoR 2013)
My name’s Fran Stewart, and I’m a transgender woman. “Transgender” is an intensely personal term, and it means different things to everyone who uses it. To me, it means that I was born with a body that didn’t make sense to my mind, and now I live in a body that fits me much better into the world. You might well know a transgender person and not be aware it. We’ve learned over the years that it’s wiser to keep it to ourselves.
I am out. Though I want the world to treat me as the woman I am, to simply BE a woman, I tell my secret.
I am out because I’m a storyteller, and some of my best stories happened when I was (or thought I was) a boy. Heck, some of the real gems happened while I was transitioning! The words come easily to me.
I’m out because it’s funny! When you get your leg hair caught in an Epilady, you can either laugh or cry, and laughing is just more fun in a group.
I am out because I’m proud. Hiding my past makes me feel like I’m ashamed of it. I’m not. This is how I was born. If I’d been born in a taxi, would I be ashamed of it?
I am out because I pass for “normal,” what ever THAT’s supposed to be. When you’ve seen me on the street, you’ve seen the woman I am, not the man we all thought I was. I can tell you my secret and surprise you, and be safely able to fade back into anonymity.
I am out because I want to learn and teach. There’s more about the spectrum of gender than I can ever know, and I’ve seen more than most. I don’t like feeling ignorant, and It’s worth learning I was wrong to find what is more right. Every discussion, I get to teach and learn things.
I am out because every person I tell is one less person who might freak out when Uncle Lloyd says she’s actually Aunt Vanessa or when the new woman at work has a rather deep voice and a notable Adam’s Apple.
I am out because I still have support. I told my family—they still love me. I told my friends—they still surround me.
I am out because I have money. Unlike many transgender people, my secret never cost me my job, or my marriage, or my safety net. I had the rare insurance that covered most of my therapy and surgery.
I am out because I have a home. I’ve never been thrown out of an apartment, exiled to a back seat or an underpass.
I am out because I’m lucky—I have never been screamed at in a mall, spat on by a passerby, chased out of a bathroom. Instead, when I’ve revealed my secret I’ve had fantastic discussions and meaningful debates, even with complete strangers and clergymen.
I am out because I’m alive—nobody ever beat my skull in or buried me in a shallow grave. Nor did I drink myself to death to save the world the trouble.
I’m out because I am a minority’s minority’s minority: a lesbian, transgender woman, who is happy, strong, secure and loved. I tell my story to give hope to the many who are miserable, sick, afraid, and alone.
I am out because I’m angry. I’ve been to groups. I’ve heard all the stories I describe above, over and over. Your mothers and fathers, your children, your uncles and aunts, shamed, ostracized, brutalized, cast aside, expurgated from your history. Wonderful, kind people. Fine people, ground up even finer for want of the tiniest amount of love, the smallest benefit of a doubt, the least amount of patience.
I’m out because with all this good fortune, I feel the need to push my luck. Good things happen when I tell my story: looks of shock, laughter, hugs. More often now, the best thing: “Really? Huh.” And then a shrug as we move on to more important things. That’s the world as it should be. It costs me nothing to be an ambassador, to answer questions. To pay back all the patience and good grace that I received.
I’m out because I can see the future. The kids I meet are even less nervous about gender and its spectrum than I am. Crossplay and fluidity allow us to figure out exactly who we are. The games they play evolve too fast for terms to even keep up. The Internet is awash in children reinventing gender.
I’m out because although the world can be horribly cruel, I find that the best way I can make it better is to live like it could be otherwise. I tell my story for those who can’t, or don’t dare to, tell their own. I speak for the murdered, the suicides, the institutionalized, the browbeaten, the homeless, the sorrowing wounded I met at every support group, the fatherless, the friendless, the child-bereft, the shamed, the terrified. Because I am proof that it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.
I am out, on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we note the HUNDREDS of transgender people brutally and violently killed this year, because…because it’s so easy to make it better. To ask “Is it sir or ma’am, please?” To say “Why should I care what bits you were born with? You’re a woman!” To say “I don’t understand, but I love you and I’ll try.” To say “You look good today.” To say “What’s your damn problem? Leave her alone!” To say “Please tell me about it, when you’re ready.” To say “Let me teach you some basics.” To simply say “Around me, you don’t need to be afraid, or watch your words, or be on edge. Just be yourself, the best you know how.”
I’m out because so far it’s worked for me, and I’ve seen my good fortune spread. I hope that if you read this far, you will keep it going, and that one day November can become a month of thanks and family, unalloyed with sadness.
Also by Fran Stewart:
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
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:
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Someone I care about has been going through a rough time recently, and talking to her reminded me of a time not very long ago when I felt much as she has been feeling. It was one of the worst periods of my life and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy*, so seeing a friend going through it made me wish I had a magic wand to make the pain go away. But I don’t, and we have to live through these things in order to get to the other side of them, so…
I thought back to the things that helped me through the hardest weeks of that time for me, and this is what I came up with: Not a cure, but a reminder that when the world treats us cruelly, that is the time when it’s most important to treat ourselves gently.
To treat a broken heart:
- 2 cups of water (taken often—to rehydrate your powdered soul)
- 1 cup of warmth (applied constantly as long as required)
- 1 cup of family and friends (as needed)
- 6 heaping tablespoons of forgiveness (for yourself first and others second—keep the jar handy)
- 1 truckload of sleep (and another truckload as soon as you need it—repeat as necessary)
- Breathe. Even when it hurts.
Wishing you all love and joy and freedom from pain.
*Almost. I can almost say this honestly.
“Don’t get offended.”
“People are so easily offended.”
“It’s the ‘in thing’ to be offended by something.”
It isn’t about offense. It’s about acknowledgement, disappointment, and standing up for change. Every time you say some version of “don’t get offended,” what you’re really doing is trying to control the conversation. By painting my words with the “offended” brush, you strip them of their worth and value, and often create a straw effigy that looks and speaks like me, but sounds like a whiny child.
I’m onto your game. You cannot control this conversation anymore.
What you so abrasively call offense is often first the acknowledgement of a social issue that needs change. Let’s take a recent example I posted to Twitter.
Posted to forum: “Do you plan to add any non-white characters?” Answer: “No need for it.” Hilarious.
— Sid (@SeeSidWrite) April 22, 2013
This was for a game that I enjoy quite a bit. You have a handful of playable characters, and you can switch them up pretty often, because you usually die a lot. It’s part of the charm of the game. All the playable characters are white. I posted on the forum, not because I hoped to get an insightful answer from the playerbase, but because I like to go on the assumption that things like that aren’t intentional—that they’re oversights.
Now, once I saw a couple of replies to that forum post, I didn’t go back to it, because I know what will be there—scathing remarks about offense, political correctness, and so on. But all I did was acknowledge that the game world does not reflect the real world.
I acknowledged it, I was disappointed, and I stood up for change.
Now, one forum post isn’t a movement, but standing up for change doesn’t have to be a huge gesture. In fact, most of the time, it can’t be. Big gestures (marches, protests, and the like) get a lot of attention and can definitely raise awareness, but without the small gestures—the day-to-day standing up that we can each individually do—the larger ones are meaningless. Change can be inspired on a large scale, but must be implemented piecemeal, bit by bit, as we slowly seed it into the culture around us.
You keep telling me not to get offended, but I’m not. We hear or say “offense” and we think of pearl-clutching and people who say, “Oh, my stars!” and people who can’t hear the word “fuck” without casting a disapproving look. None of those are me. I’m not “taking things too seriously” when I politely wonder why a movie fails the Bechdel test. Rather, I’m acknowledging that a film could not have two named female characters talk to each other about something other than a man, I am disappointed in that, and I am standing up for change.
You can’t strip my words of value just because you would rather I stay quiet. I know how to counter you now. You can keep telling me I’m offended, but you’ll keep being wrong. And if your goal is to make me stop talking, you will fail.
I’m not “one of those people who has to bring race and gender into everything.” I’m one of those people who acknowledges there is a problem, and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m one of those people who is disappointed there still is problem, and I’m not ashamed of that.
I’m one of those people who stands up for change in the small ways that I know how. I will never be ashamed of that.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
There Will Be Sammiches
This Saturday I’m hosting the first-ever Make Me a Sammich Meet-up. It’s going to be a purely social event with no agenda (not even a little one*), just a great view from Seattle’s Jefferson Park, good company, and, of course, sammiches.
I know it’s short notice, but if you live in or around Seattle, I hope you can join me. I’ll have some goodies to give away.
And did I mention sammiches?
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.
Guest post by Zachary Jernigan
I asked Zack for a post in response to recent kerfuffles, debacles, and all-out flame-wars in the science fiction community. For background, read Chuck Wendig’s series (links to third post, where you’ll find links to 1 & 2), “Calling for the Expulsion of Theodore Beale” on Amal El-Mohtar’s blog, and “The Readercon Thing” at Under the Beret.
Hi. My name is Zack, and I’m a science fiction and fantasy (sf&f) geek.
To be clear, I’m the particular kind of geek who only really cares about sf&f literature (novels and short stories, in other words). Movies, comic books, video and tabletop games: I think they’re neat on a theoretical level, but I have no practical interest. Nonetheless, I know a lot about them because I associate with other geeks, most of whom are enthusiastic partakers of all forms of media.
lf there’s one thing that’s true about being a geek, it’s that one can’t escape being inundated with information about all of geekdom.
Most of the time, this situation produces awesome results. I get to see what other geeks are crazy excited about, what they hate, and what arouses their disdain. I love passionate people and their strongly-held opinions, and geeks are among the most passionately opinionated people you’ll find in this world.
Of course, I said “most of the time” for a reason.
It stops being awesome when geeks open their mouths to espouse hate.
It’s happened a lot lately, which is why I’m writing this now.
Before I go on, one thing:
There are no links in the following post for a couple reasons.
One, I’m fairly sure this blog’s (amazingly cool) owner Rosie is going to provide a few, from which point you’ll be able to ping-pong around to a whole slew of other links, many of which will anger and inspire you by turns.
Two, if you’re really interested in the subject I’d encourage you to do a little experiment in order to see just how pervasive the problem that I’ll be discussing has become. Just type in “science fiction sexism” into your Google machine and see how many hits you get. You’ll end up in many of the same places that Rosie’s links took you, and a whole lot more besides.
Why do I endorse this activity? Because I think it’s important to see just how simple it is to be informed about the happenings in a scene — a scene you may never have thought twice about. If you’re inspired to look a little further into (the mostly) wonderful and welcoming world of sf&f fandom, so much the better.
You know when you’re at a gathering of extended family — let’s say it’s a 4th of July barbecue — and you overhear a conversation you wish you hadn’t? Someone, an uncle or aunt maybe, says the word “nigger?” Or “cunt?” (Or whatever other words you associate with prejudice?)
And you’re like, Whoa, whoa, whoa… WHOA. Hold up. We’re not that kind of family.
That’s how I’ve felt lately, over and over again.
Now, in all fairness I was only adopted into the sf&f community recently — around 2010, three years before the publication of my first book — but I’ve grown to love the folks in it. To say they’ve welcomed me with open arms is to do them a great disservice: they have, so often it shocks me, been my advocates in trying to get my career off the ground. People who are as different from me as one could imagine have offered heartfelt congratulations on my small accomplishments, debated me with civility, and forgiven my occasional trespasses.
My experience, in other words, has been overwhelmingly positive.
And so it hurts — it angers to white-hot flame — to see how vociferously the men (clarification: mostly men) of my newfound and much-beloved community have behaved of late. The defense of a way of life, of a mindset so retrogressive and thoroughly lacking in compassion, makes me afraid for people.
I was at Readercon last year, when Genvieve Valentine was harassed repeatedly. I didn’t know about it at the time, but you can bet I was horrified to hear of it. And then I watched in even more horror when the convention’s board gave her harasser a slap on the wrist in direct contradiction of its own harassment policy. Hardly an encouraging development for women who want to attend the convention this year.
(Just so you know, the organizers did eventually do the right thing. I’ll be at the convention again this year, in part to see if the controversy produces a positive result.)
Anita Sarkeesian? She’s receiving rape threats. Why? For simply challenging the video game industry on its portrayal of women. Trolls line up to tell her what an insufferable bitch she is, to tell her what she needs is a good cocking. They are, point in fact, an almost neverending legion — which I suppose is not surprising: Yesterday it was reported that a Microsoft employee made a rape joke while playing a new game in front of thousands of people at the recent E3 conference.
These are just two examples among many, more of which are being reported all the time.
Of course, I’m not just afraid for people (though that is obviously the most pressing concern).
I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to be associated with any scene, no matter how tangentially I’m related to parts of it, that produces and endorses the kind of mindsets recently on display. I hate how it misrepresents the rest of us, how it warps perceptions of what is overall a very well-intentioned group of people.
I want better for my adopted community than to be relegated to the status we are increasingly in danger of being relegated to.
In order to avoid this marginalization, we need voices shouting in opposition.
We need people — men just as much as women, all of us unafraid of stepping on toes (I don’t kid myself that this isn’t riskier for women; it always is, and will continue to be until the situation changes) — insisting that equality is not a subjective matter.
It is not open for debate, the issue of prejudice, of undeserved privilege. I’m tired of hearing that it is.
It is not a matter of free speech. You are not being censored. I’m tired of hearing that there is a force telling you that you cannot be you.
You, Mister (or Misses) Bigot, will still be free to be as fucking stupid as your atrophied heart desires, but you will not be free to have a voice everywhere. If you espouse a hateful rhetoric, one that objectifies women and encourages violence against them, you will be shouted down by our culture, by our collective weight of Objective Rightness. You will not be allowed to act on your hate publicly and push others down. You will not be able to get away with pinching asses, putting your arm around the shoulders of complete strangers, making unwelcome suggestive comments.
You will find yourself increasingly marginalized by your baseless judgments and entitlement, pushed ever further into the corner.
You will be put on Time Out until you can behave like a rational adult. Sometimes, you won’t be forgiven at all, because it’s too risky to trust you again.
It would be easy to say goodbye to all this, to quit thinking about The Problem of Being a Geek and go live in some virtual land free of idiots. I don’t need to concern myself with this crap. As I said, I haven’t been in the community for long. I could be like the respected author Nick Mamatas, who early this month announced his retirement from the sf&f community over some of the very issues I’ve outlined — and it would be easier for me than for him, being that I’m a relative noob.
And yet I won’t do that.*
I love how sf&f causes the reader (viewer, and/or participant) to look at the world in new ways. I love what I’ve already accomplished in the genre, and the potential I have to accomplish more. I love my friends, and the potential they have to do great things — as authors, as commentators, as people simply taking inspiration from what they read (view, and/or participate in). I love so, so much about the community that continues to bolster me.
More than anything, I love that I see change happening. The confidence I displayed above, when I used all those “You will…” statements? That doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from seeing more and more people stepping out and asserting what is right. It comes from seeing our enemy on the ropes, throwing weaker and wilder and ever more desperate punches at us.
This is a war, and we’re winning.
The sf&f community, of course, can be a metaphor. For anyone not in the thick of it, it’s perhaps best viewed this way. All communities, large and small, meatworld and virtual, have their problems. Sexism (and its even more disgusting neighbor, misogyny) is a normative throughout all of the world. It’s a universal problem, and perhaps always has been.
It’s important, for those of us who would have the problem solved for good, to take courage from developments. To not feel too much despair.
All those rape threats Anita Sarkeesian is getting?
They’re proof that she’s struck a nerve, that she’s aroused a defensive reaction from her attackers. They’re proof that the bigot’s bluster is just that — a pretense, a façade of confidence to cover what they really feel, which is fear.
Oh, yes: the fact that such men (in my particular community, but also throughout civilization) are frightened, desperately trying to hold onto what they have, is obvious to anyone with a brain. They’re scared of living in a world where they don’t have that one unearned thing that makes them automatically higher on the ladder than the “other” half the population. They’re petrified by the thought that they won’t continue to be listened to — coddled and made comfortable — simply because of that Y chromosome. They’re worried to death that someone, somewhere, is going to call them out, and that the voice will have hundreds of thousands behind it, a clear moral weight.
They’re afraid that the sun has already set on their unearned privilege.
And you know what?
Their fear is justified.
*This isn’t said in criticism of Mamatas. I respect his decision to leave the sf&f community. I think it’s a gutsy, principled move, and I applaud him for it.
Author Note, for those even more invested in this subject:
It may seem odd that I haven’t touched upon the recent SFWA controversy (which has been one of the most recent spurs to conversation on the matter of sexism and misogyny in sf&f), and I understand that. I chose not to comment on it for a few reasons.
One, I don’t want more people to make the following leap of ill logic: “The SFWA Bulletin had sexist stuff in it, thus SFWA must be an awful organization.” This is hardly the case.
Two, I wanted to concentrate on more obvious examples of aggression towards women. As much as I disagree with some of the SFWA Bulletin’s content recently, it is mild compared to some of the reactions it has inspired, many of which are in my not-so-humble opinion bordering on the kind of behavior toward women I talk about above.
Three, I had no intention of politicizing this post. The SFWA debate has become very politicized, and though I stand firmly on the left side (as I very nearly always do) I recognize that it is false to assume that encampment signifies actual conviction. The more politicized an issue becomes, the harder it is to convince would-be allies — those who’ve fallen on “the other side” of the debate because others of their political stripe did so before them — of your position. I’m speaking to anyone who cares about equality in the sf&f community, not simply to those individuals who are likely to agree with me on all fronts.
- SFFragette: Moving SF/F into the 21st Century (makemeasammich.org)
- Reconciliation: A Response To Theodore Beale (fozmeadows.wordpress.com)
- We’re Watching (sffragette.wordpress.com)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by FrabjousLinz
I’ve always struggled with body image. Wait, no, let’s be blunt. I’ve always hated the way I look, alternating with thinking I look OK at best. It’s worse the last few years, since I’ve put on weight, and since I’m older and don’t have youth working for me. But truthfully, I’ve never been happy with my body, or my face, or my hair. Or my personality, but let’s not get into that one right now.
I remember wanting to be pretty from a very young age, about when I realized that it’s a girl’s job to be pretty in this world, and that without it, society thinks she doesn’t have any worth. So what, about 4 years old? 5? I remember my brother pointing out to me what models were the prettiest in the JC Penny catalogue. I remember thinking, along with a lot of girls I’m sure, that my only hope was to grow up pretty, because that was the only way to be happy and have friends. I remember hoping that, like the ugly duckling, I would turn into something gorgeous and show-stopping. Because I knew, just knew, that I was ugly right then and there.
Looking back at pictures of myself, I was not an ugly child. I was just a child. I was even, maybe, a cute child. See? It’s hard to really be objective, even now. But at the time, I remember feeling ugly and ungainly and weird looking. I wasn’t popular among most of my classmates, which didn’t help. I was weird, or at least a lot different from many of the kids I grew up with. And one of the regular insults thrown around at kids by kids is always “ugly.” Which doesn’t have to be true to feel true. As I grew older, I only felt more ugly and awkward and weird and ungainly. Some of the ungainly and awkward is true for all kids at those stages – growing is a strange process, and not everything goes together in a cohesive way. But I was certain I was more awkward, more weird looking, more ugly, than basically everyone else around me. I did not know how to wear the right clothes, or the right hair. Of course, those are skills that can be taught, but no one taught them to me, and not having them only served to make me feel even less attractive. Because even when I tried, I felt like I failed. People told me I failed. The society around me told me I failed.
My mom did try to help, but since she suffers from a lot of the same feelings about herself, it didn’t help as much as she would have liked. And while I know that she had no desire to pass on these neuroses to me, she almost couldn’t help herself. She always called herself unattractive and fat. In fact, we all joked about it all the time, which was horribly cruel of us. “Oh, we’re just joking,” we’d all say, even my dad. “Mom’s not really fat or ugly. It’s just funny to say she is.” That joke lived a lot longer than it should have. My mom – tiny, thin, pocket-sized, bird-like mom – is always trying to lose weight. Always. She denigrates the way she looks. She deflects, is humorously negative about herself, makes her own jokes about being awkward and aging and imperfect. Everyone loves her. Everyone – although she would disagree, and laugh that off. Everyone loves my mom. She’s great. She’s funny and talented and articulate and smart and caring, and yes, she’s also very pretty. But she would never admit to any of that. So I grew up watching this fantastic person constantly put herself down.
I am more like my mom than I like to admit. Uh, and I think I just called myself fantastic. I can’t even describe how panicked and weird I feel about that. I want to take it back. Not me – I’m not fantastic. My mom is. I’m just like her in that I hate myself. Uh. That sounds bad. Quick, how do I make this funny?
Moving on. As a kid I was always on the short side, and skinny, shaped kind of like a medium-sized pole. Until I grew two inches and got hips right about 14. (And ended up with an impressive set of stretch marks, which were very confusing and distressing at 14. OK, they’re always distressing.) So then I was skinny, taller than 90% of the people (boys, too) in school, and shaped a bit like a taller pole with saddle bags in the middle. At least that’s how I saw it. Weird-looking. There was a standard of beauty, and I didn’t meet it in any way. I tried different hair, which was a disaster. I tried different clothes, which I didn’t understand and almost always had the wrong ones. I tried very hard to be likeable, with varying results. But I still wasn’t pretty, not really. Not as far as I could tell. And if you’re a girl, and not pretty, then you are close to worthless. That’s the message I received, and whether I wanted to or not, I believed it. Deep down, somewhere in my psyche, I believed – believe – I was worth less, because I didn’t measure up on the attractiveness scale. Some people told me I was pretty, but family members and close friends never count, even though they should. And even if I’d had other outside confirmation, I don’t know that I’d have believed it.
Of course, the girls who were considered pretty didn’t have it easy, either. And most of them didn’t even consider themselves pretty. Because it’s not just our job, as females, to be pretty. We have to be prettier. Not just prettier than each other (which is a terrible thing, just by the way), but prettier than we were before. Prettier every day. Fix all the things that are wrong, and then find new things to fix. Continue fixing. I remember one male classmate, at some lazy lunchtime, ticking off how he’d build the perfect girl from our various good body parts, those of us girls who were in the group that day. I think mine was legs. I felt insulted, and also a little sizzle of happy at the same time. He thinks I have good legs! But he was insulting all of us. I said nothing, although now I’m older, I wish I’d said “Each of us is perfect as we are. Pygmalion was an asshole. So what does that make you?” Or something along those lines: possibly more clever. But clever didn’t occur to me at the time. So that guy got away with treating all of us like crap, and none of us said anything about it, that I recall. Not the first or last time general misogyny was present in my high school. But it sticks in my memory. I have (had) attractive legs! That guy was a jerk! I don’t know how to process this! I’m probably not the only one who felt like that. Teenage girls, at least when I was one, were more likely to just ignore sexist remarks than do anything about them. And we internalized that sexism, and believed it about ourselves and sometimes each other.
I was skinny, and continued skinny for a good part of my adult years. When I got out of college, and (due to having more regular income, and food that was not ramen noodles) I gained 15 pounds, I immediately thought I needed to lose 10 of them. I wanted to lose 10 or 15 pounds at all times, as soon as I hit my mid 20s. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my weight. I just wasn’t underweight anymore. I ate plenty, I never had an eating disorder, although I kept thinking I should probably eat better, but never did. I just had the kind of metabolism that all women, and plenty of men, wish for. Heck, I wish for it, now that it’s gone. I could eat whatever I wanted, and I did, and my body mostly stayed the same. Lots of people were disgusted with me for that. For good reason – I was kind of obnoxious with it. Not on purpose, but in that clueless way that a person who is clueless is. But I was still horrified at that little poochy belly, the slightly larger thighs. My mom and I constantly discussed how we could lose 10 pounds. I, at least, never lost any. My mom stopped eating her one small handful of M&Ms per day that she allowed herself as a treat, and lost two pounds. She didn’t need to. She still felt like it was a victory. I felt depressed, because a life lived eating only dry toast, nonfat yogurt, and unbuttered popcorn for a treat just sounds awful. Not that Mom doesn’t sometimes eat cookies, but mostly she eats yogurt. And dry toast. She started eating that way in college because she put on weight then, and hasn’t been happy with her body since. Sometimes she skips the toast, too, because bread. It makes me want to weep.
Here I was in my 20s and then 30s – I was young, skinny, I had healthy hair, my skin was decent, I had (have) basically even features, and while I never had much in the way of a bust, that really shouldn’t have mattered. I had (have) curvy hips and long legs. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me.
I hated my body. I wanted to fix every part of it. My arms were too skinny and shapeless. My shoulders were too wide. My ribcage was too wide. My breasts were too small. My hips were saddlebaggy. I had a little poochy belly. My face was too small and round. My nose was weird. My hair was boring and thin and frizzy. My ankles were too thick. My feet were too big. I liked my legs, but that’s it, really. I felt this way about myself all the time, adding in new imperfections as I identified them. Now I had more of a double chin, now my thighs weren’t as smooth, now my arms were starting to sag. Always something to be unhappy about.
When I turned 35, a lot happened. Among them, my marriage ended after a long struggle and decline, and I began a new relationship just a few months after its last gasps. I moved from a house into a tiny apartment. Pets died. Lots of big changes. Over those couple of years, I gained 30 pounds. Suddenly I not only felt kind of ugly, and a little fat, I felt REALLY ugly, and A LOT fat. Objectively, I am not fat. I am almost 5’9”, and I’m about a size 14. (I say about, because women’s sizing is arbitrary and ridiculous.) While it’s larger than I’ve ever been before, it’s pretty average. It’s not even considered plus size, although I’m closer to that than I’ve ever been. A lot of stores stop at a size 14, and some stop at 12. So the clothing-sales world is also making me feel huge and ugly and fat. Imagine how it makes people feel who are just a little, or even a lot, bigger? I know some of it is my internalization of our fat-shaming world. But how hard is it to feel good when you can’t find clothes that fit and look good, and most of the clothes on the rack are sized 6 and under? Even when I was skinny, I couldn’t wear a size 6. Too tall, too broad shouldered and wide-ribbed. Hips too curvy. (Of course, the reason those clothes are left on the rack: Average sizes women wear in this country are 10-16, so those clothes go first. But still, it makes you feel worse.)
There’s nothing wrong with being the size I am. There’s nothing wrong with being larger. There’s nothing wrong with being smaller. I mean, health reasons aside, but many people are perfectly healthy at whatever size they are right now, and the health things are between themselves, their healthcare professionals, and their loved ones. But shame feels forced on all of us, anyway. I feel it all the time. I feel judged. I don’t know for certain that I am judged, but I feel it. And I judge myself. All things being equal, I should be able to find love and acceptance in at least one place in the world, and that should be for myself. But I don’t. I look at other people of all shapes and sizes, and I find them perfectly fine just the way they are, beautiful, even. I look at myself, and I find myself awful.
The reasons I gained the weight are relatively straightforward – I’m older, so my metabolism changed. And due to my separation and divorce, my metabolism changed while under a lot of stress, which exacerbated any changes going on. My body feels a lot different than it used to. I have a huge chest now, it seems to me. I always used to want a bigger chest, but now I want a smaller one, because these things are in the way. I had to learn how to wear entirely different clothes, because the kinds of things I was used to wearing don’t work for busty. I call them adult-onset boobage. It’s honestly a real shock – another thing my body has done to betray me. But really, it’s the same basic body. My bust to waist ratio has not changed. They’re just bigger numbers. So I’m still kind of square on top, with curvy hips, and long legs. But none of it feels the same, and I still hate it. So I hated my body when it was skinny and young and smooth and strong. And I hate it now that it’s curvier and busty. Although who wants older and saggier and lumpier? It’s hard to find acceptance for that. I should. It’s just a body, right? Bodies do this. They change. They change all the time, and agonizing over it and wanting something different is just an exercise in futility. So why can’t we all just learn to love our changing bodies?
I think it’s partly because our society doesn’t want us to. Our society, for whatever reasons (possibly capitalism), wants us to strive for prettier, younger, more perfection, whatever the current definition of perfection is. So I have to hate my body, because that’s how it works. Then I’ll buy the things that I hope will make me prettier. Then I’ll pass on my self-hatred to my children, when I have some, and keep the cycle going. Then we’ll work hard at the impossible. Pretty is still a woman’s main job, even when we denounce it, even when we shout that it’s not true. But to many, if a woman isn’t pretty, or isn’t the right kind of pretty, then she is substandard. Definitions of pretty change, but the job stays the same. And it’s very hard to measure up to the definition, since that definition is always some guy, or corporation, pulling apart different women and putting their body parts back together. Here, this random amalgam of parts, this patchwork inhuman thing we have sewn together as though we were Dr. Frankenstein, this is perfection. Perfection that no one really has, certainly not any human girls, because they are human and not carvings or pictures or statues. Because someone can always find another fault, another reason to nitpick, another reason to hate your body. Something to fix.
I don’t want to hate my body. I’ve spent my whole life hating this body, and it’s been really good to me, all in all. It doesn’t deserve all this hate. I certainly don’t want my future children to hate themselves, to spend their time trying to figure out how to be perfect. It’s such a waste. And yet I can’t help myself. I know this is a struggle for so many – to love ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with striving, until there is. Striving for better, when better means happier and healthier, is one thing. Striving for perfection is hurtful and leaves people defeated and full of self-hatred. I want to feel kindness and love toward myself. I just haven’t figured out how, yet. Maybe we can all learn help each other with that.
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.
Guest post by FrabjousLinz (originally appeared at her LiveJournal)
(Trigger warning: this post talks about sexual assault and rape. It isn’t graphic, but be warned if you have triggering around this kind of discussion.)
I’ve been holding off on this post for a few weeks, what with one thing and another. It didn’t seem so extreme, in light of other stories. But I feel like we need to acknowledge that the less extreme offenses are still offenses. Being silent about them adds to rape culture. Shoutout to Rosie, Sid and the gang at makemeasammich.org.
I didn’t realize I was sexually assaulted for a long time. I wouldn’t have called it that. I didn’t call it anything, really, except for wrong and infuriating, until years later. I have been sexually assaulted besides that time; the kind that most people agree is assault – a stranger grabs my body in passing, because I’m a woman and to those people, my having a vagina means I’m available for fondling. No one disputes that as assault, although no one does anything about it, either. But this one I didn’t even recognize.
It was the first few weeks of college. I was, along with all the other freshman kids in my dorm and around the school, trying to figure out how this whole living without parents and with a bunch of strangers thing worked. All of us on our floor kept our room doors open, my roommate and I included, for large swaths of that first week. People wandered by to introduce themselves, hang out maybe. It was awkward and weird for me as a shy introvert desperately trying to be an extrovert and OK and not homesick and overwhelmed. Desperately trying to reinvent myself into someone everyone would think of as wonderful, witty, and fun. I can’t have been the only one who felt lost and weird and alone. I can’t have been the only one who just kept quiet in the face of constant socialization, even when I would rather have just told everyone to go away.
There were several people who made me very uncomfortable from the moment I met them. Most of them turned out to be harmless, if not people I wanted to be friends with. But one guy made me feel stupid and ashamed for everything about myself just as soon as he spoke, every time he spoke. He had a smug, certain look in his eyes that measured and found everything you did as a sexual come-on, and said so. The first time he came into our room, my roommate and I exchanged a lot of looks, but did and said little to discourage him. I remember I was sitting on the floor, eating a banana. He made a lot of comments about that. (He wasn’t the only one to do that, that year. To this day, I eat bananas by tearing off pieces one by one, instead of just biting it. I’ve gotten so I like the ripping noise and feel, but I started doing it because apparently women aren’t allowed to just eat a freaking piece of fruit without being told it’s all about sex.) I remember him touching my legs, which weren’t shaved, but it was still warm out, so I was wearing shorts. I was embarrassed about the stubble. I was irritated and nervous that he was touching me. I don’t remember when I told him enough, but I do remember I let him touch me for longer than I wanted to. Which was at all. I was trying to be a new, adventurous me. I was trying for urbane, sophisticated, raising my eyebrow at him instead of just jerking away and snarling. It didn’t work. I had to eventually tell him to just stop it. I remember he acted amused and sneering, like he was just testing me. His actions sent up many red flags, but I had put up with a lot of generalized sexual harassment in high school that wasn’t so dissimilar, from boys who were friends. I didn’t like that guy, but I didn’t make a fuss.
Sometime during the next few weeks, I was in another dorm room down the hall from mine with five or six other people, my roommate included. It was a girl’s room, but not everyone in there was female. The guy, the predator, burst into the room with us and threw me down onto the closest bed, dry humped me while I struggled. He was laughing, saying “Oh baby, Oh baby, yes, yes!” in a high pitched voice. It happened so fast, I barely registered he was in the room before he threw me. I flew like I’d been thrown from a merry-go-round. Once I was on the bed, he was on top of me so fast, blocking out the light, blocking out everyone else. I yelled. I thrashed. I could not move him: I was completely stuck. I couldn’t breathe because of his weight, because of the way he had me positioned. I couldn’t get any leverage to knee him or move my arms the way he held me down. I could feel his movement, his laughter, his breath. I couldn’t get him off of me, and my yelling “Stop it! Get off! GET OFF!” meant nothing to him. I was suddenly so angry that if I had had a weapon when he let me up, I would have used it. I am not a violent person, usually, but I felt such a wash of violence come over me like prickly heat: all nausea and sweat and fury. I wanted a knife and I wanted to stab him.
When he did let me up, I screamed, I hit him, I shrieked that he was never to touch me again, if he ever touched me again I would string him up by his balls, I would tear out his guts with a boat hook, I would flay him and leave him to be eaten by buzzards. (Yes, I did. I used to work on imaginative curses for my fiction, so I had these in my head already.) I kept hitting him and kicking him and screaming, which he at first took like “Hah, you’re crazy, what? Why are you mad? It was just a joke!” Looking to the room for confirmation of the joke, of my craziness, fending me off. Eventually he backed up, fled the room, calling me names. I followed him out into the hall, shrieking like mad, yelling anything and everything I could think of. His very large, also football player friends came up to me to block me, back me up, ask me “Why are you treating my friend like that?” I told them to tell their friend if he ever came near me again I would kill him, I would feed his eyeballs to snakes, I would remove his testicles with a rusty fork. I was not quiet. I did not stop screaming. I did back up, and retreated back to my room, still yelling.
The other people in the dorm room when this all happened? Stood there. They laughed when he laughed, laughed when he held me down. Laughed when I started hitting him. They then tried to get me to calm down. I ignored them. My roommate reported to me later that everyone thought I had overreacted, that I was crazy. I told her that I didn’t want to ever be near that guy again, and I didn’t care what everyone else thought. I lost some potential friends for that. I can’t regret it. Mostly we were just thrown together due to our being freshman and living in the same dorm, and while I was sad and felt a little isolated for a bit, I made other friends elsewhere later. But some of those people never really spoke to me again.
I learned a couple of things from this. When I get really angry, I am prone to violence. If you push me far enough, I will make a lot of noise. So much noise. I also learned that it doesn’t matter how much noise I make, how upset I am: most people will ignore me or try to shut me up. The important thing to them wasn’t that I was assaulted, and no one there would have called that assault. The important thing was that I was crazy. I was loud. I was untrustworthy in a gathering where someone might want to do something to me that I didn’t like. So I couldn’t be around those people.
Maybe that’s unfair – we were all very young and unsure. And it’s possible the laughter I heard was as unsure as the people – uncomfortable, trying to understand where the line is and failing. But I do think it was a failure that those people didn’t try to stop him, not so I noticed. And that when I quite reasonably lost my temper and my cool, and fought back, they said I was crazy. Overreacting. To being held down and dry humped like a sex doll, as though I weren’t a person at all. I have no doubt that if I had just taken it, laughed it off, most of them would have thought that I was a slut. That I was asking for it. If he had ever raped me later, and I hadn’t fought him then, during that first assault, they’d think, well, she probably liked it. I cannot regret that I am not friends with most of those people.
I hope that my shrieking and hitting shocked him. I’m glad it made him retreat. It may be that he didn’t want to escalate with an audience. It may be that the other football players talked him out of retaliating later. It may be that other issues stopped him from retaliating, which I know nothing about. I don’t remember ever speaking to him again. I must have avoided him from then on, because I don’t remember any further interaction at all. He didn’t live on my floor, although he had friends living next door to me. But dorms are small places, and I heard things. I know for a fact that that guy raped at least two women later that year. I know for a fact that one of those rapes went unreported. I know for a fact that guy was a predator, looking for prey. I refused to be quiet prey.
I don’t know exactly why he didn’t try again, but I’m glad he didn’t. I wonder if it’s because I was loud, and people saw it. I wonder if I just seemed like too much work. I do feel terrible for those other women. I hope they got help. I hope they know it wasn’t their fault. I admit to small, petty feelings of vindication when I heard I was right about him. I’m not particularly proud of that, but there’s a part of me that just wanted to shout “I was right!” to certain people. But those rapes weren’t about me, and I also admit to being so relieved I never saw him anymore. Mostly I felt awful they’d happened, and awful that it would probably happen again. I hoped he’d get caught, and stopped. It didn’t occur to me that I could have reported the assault. I didn’t even know it counted. Frankly, I doubt the police or campus police would have thought so, either. But I wish I’d reported it anyway.
It wasn’t until the last few years that I recognized what happened as assault. Because it’s not like I was injured or truly hurt, so it can’t have really been assault, could it? We are told, as women, that we should just expect that men will treat us as objects, treat us as subhuman, treat us as though we don’t have any agency or will. That a man can touch us, throw us around, and as long as he’s laughing, that it’s just how men are. (It’s also just how men are when they’re not laughing, but if you’re lucky, you might get to call that assault.) Men just dry hump struggling women on beds. Men just touch women who don’t want them to and make sexual comments about them, what they’d like to do with them. About fruit they’re eating. About clothes they’re wearing. Men just do that, so it’s normal. Assault isn’t normal, so what that can’t have been assault, right?
Wrong. That was assault. Do not accept that men do those things, because most men don’t. People should not do those things. Ever. We, meaning society, have to tell people that they don’t get to do those things, and they’ll be stopped if they do. So that when a predator does those things, we all know that person is a predator. So that young people know assault when they see it, when it happens to them. So it doesn’t happen to them.
We need to change this conversation.
Related on MMAS:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- 10 Things Rape is Not
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
I don’t like being touched. It’s a thing. That whole “three feet of personal space”? Me all over. Get too close and you may notice me inching away (if you pick up on social cues, that is). Unilaterally decide that you need to initiate physical contact, and you may notice my entire body tensing up. Seriously, just don’t do it.
This is not to say I don’t touch anyone ever. My best friend comes up and throws her arms around me at work, and this is welcome. She and I have built up that relationship, though. We didn’t behave that way when we first met. Physical contact is a form of intimacy, and I’m very protective of intimate interactions relating to my person. You don’t get to unilaterally decide we should share an intimate moment any more than I should unilaterally decide that. This is something we come to together, over time.
Some people don’t get that, though. Or they feel like they’re close enough friends with me that they should be able to touch me whenever they choose. They don’t get that even with my closest friends, I sometimes really need that three feet. I mean, really. I can get some really bad reactions, though. And honestly? Those bad reactions make me really uncomfortable.
The more you complain about not being able to touch me, the less I want you to touch me.
Super simple inverse relationship.
Anyway, I wanted to lay down some rules. You may have seen the image I made for Rosie on this topic. Most of those were best as short and snarky, though—when I got down to writing it all out, it turned out I really only had three rules
1. Don’t touch me.
Boom. Simple. No twists, no turns, just…don’t do it. This is especially perplexing with two groups: strangers and coworkers. I don’t understand how anyone thinks it’s okay to touch a person they do not know. I can’t even wrap my head around the thought process there.
Likewise, I don’t understand why you would ever think it was okay to walk up and touch your coworker. Two days in a row at work, I had two separate men come up and touch me—one rubbed my back and one reached around me as I sat at my desk to touch both my arms. Just…why? Why would you do that? (The former, I may as well note, was after no fewer than three years of conversations where I’ve explained to him that I don’t like to be touched. So, yanno…that’s festive.)
2. If I tell you not to touch me, don’t pout.
I had a coworker once who, when he got really close to explain something and I asked him to back up, would make these little irritated noises and say, “Okay…” in that “Whatever, Crazypants” voice. I don’t know what that even is except an attempt to tell me I was not allowed to have personal space and I was wrong for requesting it.
I am allowed personal space, by the way, and I’m not ever wrong for requesting it.
Not only is this juvenile, it’s attempted manipulation. Part of it, I think, is a defense mechanism—but it’s the kind of defense mechanism that places fault on the person exercising their boundaries. It’s an attempt to show them that they are wrong and should come around to the boundary-breaker’s point off view.
3. Don’t complain about not being able to touch me. Ever.
This is possibly the creepiest thing in the ENTIRE. WORLD. I walked in on such a conversation at work once. At work. I was coming back from I’m not sure where, and two (count them, two) of my coworkers were talking to my best friend, complaining about how they couldn’t touch me the way she could. Upon my arrival, they didn’t even try to deny the conversation—in fact, they turned their complaints directly to me. “Yeah,” one said, “I tried to hug you once and you almost jumped over the cubicle wall.”
“Well then don’t do that.”
It seemed like an obvious answer to me.
And yet they continued. On an on until I finally said, “Okay…I don’t feel like should have to apologize for where my boundaries are.” Because that was obviously what they wanted—for me to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry! No, please—come on, group hug! I didn’t mean it!” But no…I did mean it, I’ve always meant it, I still mean it.
This is the creepiest conversation I have ever walked in on, and I cannot begin to express how angry I was. I tried to tell my boss about it, but I was still so shaken, I don’t think it came across that I was trying to lodge a real complaint. I think it just sounded like I was relaying this funny thing that happened—but I sure as shit wasn’t laughing.
I’m writing this right now, and I’m getting angry all over again. You do not guilt other human beings into going beyond their comfort zones just because their comfort zones hurt your feelings. You are a grown-up. Fucking act like it.
I don’t mean to keep harping on rape culture, but honestly, this is part of it. This sense that just because Person A feels a certain way about Person B, then Person B must feel the same sort of intimacy toward Person A. That sort of thought process is what leads to the attitude of “Jane wouldn’t say no” and the assumption of rights to her body.
So there you go. Those are my rules. They may not apply to you, but they may apply to people in your life. Don’t just assume you have the right to touch anyone else, and if you must, watch for signals that your touch may not be welcome.
And seriously? Your feelings don’t trump anyone else’s comfort zone. Ever. Period.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the 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.
Today my friend Anne is on the receiving end of all sorts of criticism for the post I shared with you yesterday in which she bravely considered a future when her son might cross a line despite her best efforts. You see, Anne realizes that even though her little boy is two years old now and loves his mother more than anything, one day he will experience–as we all do–a need to go his own way and take his cues from sources that do not love him with all their hearts and want him to be and have the absolute best.
I have known Anne less than a year, but in that time (in addition to getting to know her personally and coming to call her a friend) I have read many of her posts on The Belle Jar and have been at turns moved to tears, anger, nostalgia, a strong sense of simpatico, and fits of giggles. Her ability to bring herself–her personal stories–to her constant struggle to contribute to the greater good means that her work (on TBJ and elsewhere) reaches more and more people every day. And that means that in addition to the thousands of people who need her stories and words–either because they weren’t quite awake and she splashed their faces or because, like me, they’re out here fighting the same fight and desperately need the solidarity and ideas and perspectives and common vocabulary to do what we do–there are those who will tear her down.
Some of these people just don’t get it. Others are on a crusade to expose the evils of feminism. As for the former, I can only hope that some seed has been planted and germinates even now in the depths of their brains. But the latter? Allow me to submit that they are the true measure of the impact Anne is making. I don’t envy her the negative attention, the stress, the bad feels that I know even now are making it hard for her to do the important work she’s doing. But I, for one, want to say that I’m counting on Anne to take what strength she can from all of us who love her, love what she does, love her stories and her strength and her courage, and remember that what all of this means is that she’s doing something right.
And I’ve known that all along. <3
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
As always, The Belle Jar explores the questions facing us all with courage and strength. I learn so much from my fellow bloggers, and I’m so grateful. Each of our stories and voices are unique, and as long as we write from the heart like Anne does, I believe we’ll reach the people who need to hear them and encourage others to do the same.
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.
Guest post by Sid
Ok folks, here’s the thing:
Someone is wrong on the internet.
Lots, really. Several, if we get right down to it, but I’m a busy gal and I’ve only got so much time. As such, let’s zero in on a Facebook conversation I watched go down just the other day. A friend of mine posted about CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville verdict, which I won’t recount here because if you don’t know it by now, you probably don’t own a computer. This was her take:
When my friend expressed hope he was kidding, he clarified:
And finally, when called out on perpetuating rape culture, he had this charming tidbit to add:
Mmmmmmk Sweetiekins…since you seem to be so very lost, allow me to break this down for you one asinine comment at a time.
1. “If laws are in place to protect the people, then people who are injured as a result of their breaking the law don’t get the same sympathy.”
A girl went to a party and got drunk. Tell me who she injured. Do not say the reputations of these boys. I want you to tell me EXACTLY WHO this girl PHYSICALLY INJURED as a result of her intoxication. Tell me.
Did she beat someone up? Did she hit people with sticks? SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS. Was she drinking underage? Yes. Yes, she was. She got drunk and she passed out. And that should be the end of this story.
2. “When a drunk driver hits a telephone pole, does anyone sympathize with him?”
Okay, I want to make sure the sentiment of my next statement is very, very clear.
WHAT THE HOLY SHITTING FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY?
Reasons we get pissed off when drunk drivers hit telephone poles:
This person drank to excess and then got behind the wheel of a vehicle.
This person drank to excess and then put the lives of EVERYONE on the road in danger.
This person drank to excess and then possibly cut my phone service.
This person drank to excess and then made DECISIONS which affected his evening.
The drunk driver who hit a pole did not just drink to excess. That is not the end of the sentence. Were that the end of the sentence, he wouldn’t have hit the telephone pole. He would have woken up the next day, possibly with a permanent-marker penis on his face. Jane Doe drank to excess…and that’s the end of her sentence. She passed out. This story should have ended with a permanent-marker penis, at the very worst.
3. “…but she consensually broke the law to place herself in a situation she knew was risky.”
Do you think going to a party is risky, Sweetiekins? When you personally get ready for a party, do you think to yourself, “Oh no, I’m heading to the danger zone!”? Do you personally find drinking at a party to be a risky thing for you—specifically you, Sweetiekins—to do? No? So you don’t view a party as a place where you should constantly have to look over your shoulder and see who’s trying to attack you?
THEN WHY THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT HER TO?
4. “At least suspend her from school to send the message that underage drinking is illegal for a reason.”
“We’re proud of you for pressing charges against your rapists. There was almost certainly a lot of social and peer pressure not to press charges, but we think you make the right decision. We know the media has been tearing you apart and you must feel like three shades of crap right now, but about that minor drinking violation…”
Folks, this is how we make people afraid to come forward with rape charges. I’m not saying you should be able to get away with whatever you want because of it, but for crying out loud, underage drinking is a victimless crime. Literally the only reason anyone wants her to get hit with a punishment for it is because they want to find a way to make this her fault, too. And it’s just not.
5. “I don’t know if a ‘rape culture’ exists, but more problematic than that is this culture of ‘not taking responsibility for one’s actions.”
First let’s touch on this culture of “not taking responsibility for one’s actions.” I think your next line really brings your feelings on this into focus, so let’s look at it:
Rape victim: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Rapist: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Mmk, this tells me that you have no idea what rape culture is. Like, at all. No sarcasm. So let’s touch on it.
Rape culture is this, the world we live in, where all the questions focus on what the victim did to deserve her rape. It’s the culture where people are honestly responding to this trial with, “Those poor boys’ lives are ruined,” when the reason their lives are ruined is because they chose to commit rape.
Rape culture is the culture where most women who are raped don’t report it, specifically because they already know they abuse they’ll get. They know that it is them, the victims (and not the rapists), who will be torn apart and made to believe that whatever they did, be it have the gall to go out for a drink in the evening or the audacity to wear a skirt in public, is the reason that they deserved their rape.
And it’s just not ever true. It isn’t ever.
6. “Rapist: You did do something wrong and need to be punished.”
Hey! Yes! You got one right!
7. “Rape victim: You didn’t do anything wrong, but don’t blame a ‘rape culture’ for your stupidity and lack of foresight.”
Aaaaaand my sympathy for you is gone again. You had it for like, an eighth of a second there.
So really, explain this to me, Sweetiekins. Is this the “women should expect to be raped at all times” song? Cuz I gotta tell ya, I’ve heard it, and I really prefer Mumford & Sons. It just makes more sense to me.
Why should I spend every moment of my life expecting to be raped? Do you have any idea how exhausting that is? I mean, do you? It takes a lot of mental energy to spend all day thinking up exit strategies or figuring out how fast you can punch the guy on the bus next to you if he puts his hand on your leg. Know how I know? Cuz I do it every fucking day.
Seriously, do this for me: spend one day—just one day—keeping yourself ready for rape at all times. When you walk out the door, look around for strangers. If you see someone who looks iffy, cross the street, even if it takes longer. Keep your keys pressed through your fingers if you walk alone at night. Look all around you every few seconds. You passed some guy walking down the street? Turn around to make sure he’s not running up to attack you but look fucking nonchalant about it you don’t want to cause a scene. Wait, is he following you?? Speed up! Quick, you don’t want him to find out where you wor—oh, he turned the corner. Nevermind.
Talk to me again about foresight, Sweetiekins.
8. “Following your logic, when my $1000 bike was stolen over Spring Break when I had it locked in the racks instead of taking it inside, I did nothing to ask for it. I did ask for it.”
I. Can’t. Even.
You locked up your bike…your bike was stolen…and it was your fault because you didn’t lock it up more?
I just…I don’t even know what to do with that.
9. “Yes, there is a bike thief out there, but I am not going to detract from my ownership of the problem by saying, ‘Oh, the problem is a Bike-Stealing Culture.’”
I’m going to set aside the sociological points of actual crime culture here, because I feel that it gets away from the primary point I wish to make. You ready for this? Cuz I’m about to blow your mind.
The invasion of a woman’s body without her consent is not nor should it ever be compared to PETTY OR GRAND THEFT.
Did I really just have to write that sentence?
What, so I have be careful for having the nerve to walk about in public in blatant possession of a vagina? What am I supposed to do, Sweetiekins? Leave it at home? Lock it up? Leave your dick at home once in a while. It’s totally possible. There’s a song about it and everything, so it must be true.
Wake. Up. Rape isn’t theft. Sticking any of your appendages into any orifice of an unconscious person is not the same thing as lifting that same unconscious person’s wallet. If you don’t go to a party expecting to get raped, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t abstain from going out for a drink, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t arrange an escort to walk home in the dark after work, why the hell should I have to?
But if you won’t help break the cycle of rape culture, I guess that means that I have to.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Lenora Davis
[Note: Trigger warning for rape.]
I can’t remember what was worse: the denial or the guilt. For months I walked around numb, refusing to acknowledge what had happened, refusing to give it a name, to refer to it, because once I said it, it would become real.
The day that he raped me was the worst day of my life. He dehumanized me, he made me feel little and helpless and vulnerable.
For years, I carried that burden with me. I felt it above me, lingering, knowing that in all possibility it could fall and crush me beneath its weight. It could break me and render me incapable and lifeless. And some days that was exactly how I felt. I felt as if a part of me was taken, and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was or where it had been taken from, but I knew that I was missing it. Some nights I awoke in a cold sweat with my heart pounding because he’d penetrated my dreams; the one place I had found solitude had been invaded. I knew I had to do something to reclaim my mind, body, and soul.
Seven years later, I see the road I have traveled since that day that has led me to where I am now. It has not been a straight path. There have been twists, turns, dead ends, and horizons. It has been a long journey. Some days I felt alone, others I felt as though I was with a procession. I look at the woman I have become, the woman that the journey has turned me into, and I realize that the greatest strength has come from within me. Yes, some days I fought to put my feet to the floor and leave my bed. Some days I spent minutes crying before leaving the house. Some days I felt as though I was on the brink of absolute annihilation and that I was only a shell, incapacitated by my memories. At first, those days were frequent. I often wondered if they would ever stop, if I would ever begin to feel human again. Then one day I would wake up and feel the sunlight on my face and the coffee would taste sweeter. I would laugh. I would put on lipstick and not worry about being seen. I would make myself known.
This intermittence continued for years. Finally, the good days began to outnumber the bad. I began to love myself again. After years of blaming myself and hating myself for what I now realize was no fault of my own, I began to understand. We live in a rape culture. And although the media and society would have wanted me to believe that I deserved blame and disgrace, I slowly began to comprehend that those feelings were unjustified and unwarranted.
I began feeling the blood course through my veins again. I became able to shape the person I wanted to be. I began to feel both alive and infinite.
He took something from me – that is true. But what I have built, reclaimed, and created is bigger and more vibrant. It makes me want to live, love, and hope beyond my wildest imagination. If I ever have a daughter, I will teach her to love relentlessly and infinitely, without fear. I will teach her that yes, there are bad people in the world, but there are also good people who will listen to you, nurture you, and just be there some days when you need to cry, or laugh, or be still. I am eternally grateful to those people in my life who have, over the last seven years, watched me heal and offered themselves to help in the process. I will teach her that you are always stronger than you appear, and that nobody has the right to make you feel small without your permission.
To reclaim what I lost and to truly heal, I began writing a letter. I began writing without an addressee. I just began writing.
So to whoever is reading this, be you a survivor, a friend of a survivor, or another beautiful soul, I hope I have given you something. I hope you have read this and felt a little more at peace with yourself, or that you feel the strength to begin your own journey. I hope you find anything you may be searching for, and that you possess the love and optimism to carry on and know when you have reached your destination.
Lenora Davis is the pseudonym of a young woman who approached me via the MMAS Facebook page and wanted to tell her story. To anyone reading: please know that you can tell your story here anonymously. Feel free to add it to the comments or let me know if you’d like me to publish it in a post. ~Rosie
From the blogosphere:
Guest post by Bhagwan (originally posted on Bhagwan@Large)
But I will not share this letter myself. Not today, anyway, and certainly not linked to the original facebook posting (put forth by the brave souls at FCKH8.com) [That’s it to the left–click to embiggen. -Rosie]
For the record, I support the sentiment, the letter, and the hypothetical father and son. I was going to forward on the message, hoping to boost my own algorithmic exposure to LGBT posts and images over and above my deep and abiding admiration for George Takei.
Then I saw the following idiotic comment in the stream.
“We will have more Dads like this when you females stop having babies with guys that are not like this. Hate is hate, no matter what form it’s in.”
Despite the poor construction of the comment (and the deplorable use of “females” instead of “ladies,” but that’s another rant) this one pushed a big button for me.
Enough so that I’ve now wasted your time reading to this point, and am about to take up some more. This is my own portion of the universe, and I get to talk about pretty much whatever I want here.
So listen up, you primitive screwheads!
I am sick and tired of apologizing for my gender. I realize that simply looking the way I do I’ve hit a big part of the universal Pick 6 jackpot. But at what point is it even nominally acceptable to climb on a soapbox when expressing agreement with a concept such as a father’s love for his son?
At what point is a hypothetical woman’s decision to have a child the source of intolerance? How did the majority of our species somehow become responsible for a minority opinion?
And in what universe is spewing hate in a comment thread otherwise dominated by love justified by the words, “hate is hate, no matter what form it’s in?”
There are an infinite number of better places to draw a line in the sand. I happen to have been standing in this one for too many years to abandon my position, even as the ocean of time pours in over my fragile bulwark.
So here’s what I want people who will never read these words to do. Think of it as my own brand of soapboxing.
Stop blaming me for the actions of other asshats. I have plenty of my own problems, and hold numerous opinions that may make me a less than ideal person in your eyes. Dislike me for those, instead of your own flaws reflected.
Never, EVER, blame a woman for the actions of a man.
Start treating our fellow travelers with a modicum of respect, and don’t assume you are not part of the problem.
Don’t be a pinhead. Be the kind of person who asks your son to pick up Orange Juice when he brings his boyfriend over for a visit.
Poem by MMAS reader Karl Jesse, published with permission.
when I was young, I didn’t care.
The other was a fascination.
A mystery I wanted to swim with.
Now, seeing how complex is our predicament,
I begin to understand.
But I am not afraid.
Because I have walked with you.
Talked with you.
We have wound together.
Stronger, wiser, inseparable.
Something I will never forget.
No, it never got easier,
but it sure got a lot more interesting.
Guest post by Sid
Three of those relationships were abusive.
Guy one (G1) was fine in this regard, as was guy five (G5). They each had their own issues, of course, but they weren’t abusive.
Guy number two (G2) choked me one day. We had been together for well over a year, closing in on a year and a half. Some months later, he dragged me with his car for about twenty feet. Any time I tried to break up with him, he sobbed and sobbed, berating himself until I recanted. He yelled at me if I disagreed with him, prayed before a meal, or called him out on one of dozens of pathological lies.
Guy number three (G3) also choked me, but it was much softer. It was as though he didn’t intend to actually hurt me, but wanted to remind me what being choked was like (because of course he knew G2 had done it) and wanted to show me he could do it just as easily. To my mind, this is just as bad. It was more threat than act, but it amounted to the same. Some months later, he was holding my hand while angry and crushed it. It hurt for several days.
Guy number four (G4), though…he’s the tricky one. He didn’t choke me. He didn’t drag me with a car or crush my hand. His thing was all about how much I wasn’t listening to him. He was also quite tall, so when he felt I wasn’t listening to him, he would bring himself up to his full height and grab me by the arms—tightly, so that I couldn’t get away. He would then push his face into mine so that my head went back, and he would scream at me.
I struggled away whenever I could, but often I was backed up against a wall or into a corner and had nowhere to go.
I would scream back, of course, because I felt trapped and threatened, and I was trying to understand what was happening. Any time we had an argument, if I tried to step away from it to calm down and sort my thoughts, he would follow me after just a few minutes. In one of our homes, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind me, I would sneak out the sliding glass door and walk down the street so I could get some peace. It wasn’t long before he figured that out, though, and ran down the street after me. A couple times, when I’d gotten far enough that he couldn’t see me, he came after me in his car, window rolled down and sobbing for me to get in.
Honestly, I just wanted thirty minutes to be alone. I couldn’t get five.
When we moved, my office didn’t have a sliding glass door (or a window on the first floor), but that’s still where I went when I wanted space. When he still wouldn’t respect my request to be alone, I started sitting in front of the door. It didn’t have a lock.
This worked for about ten minutes, at which point he panicked and forced himself into the room. This happened so many times, I couldn’t even tell you how many. I often ended up hurt because the door would throw me into the wall or would hit me, or he would step on me on accident because I was right there on the floor. Once he was in the room, he would start calm, but would eventually escalate, sobbing about how we had to work this out right now and no I couldn’t take any time to work through the problem on my own. Often, it would take us back to him grabbing me by the arms and pushing his face into mine, and screaming.
Like I said, my office didn’t have a lock. But the bathroom did. Once I locked myself in there with my back against the door. He used a credit card and forced his way in. I got hurt this time because I was leveraging myself against the door by pushing against the toilet with my feet, and eventually my knees gave out.
I started leaving the apartment when we argued. But I would literally need to run, because he would be after me in about two minutes. It was kind of amazing, actually. The first time I went to leave, he looked at me and said, “Really? You really think you have to leave the apartment?” He was aghast at my lack of trust—after all, he’d agreed to give me time to think in my office. Again. Two minutes later, he was behind me on the street, begging me to come back with him.
Finally, I started heading for the stairs instead of the elevator—but I went upstairs instead of down. That was the one thing he never figured out. I finally had some time and space to think—about being a grown woman who was hiding on the floor above her own just to escape her boyfriend who literally made a habit of chasing her.
This relationship did not last.
Now, was I an angel in this relationship? Good God, no. I mean, I tried. The good times were so good that we were engaged, and we both thought our relationship was fine. (I didn’t notice the pattern, see. Not at first. Not for a long time.) At the end of the day, though, I was not my best in this relationship, as much as I wanted to be. As much as I tried to be. But that doesn’t mean—and will never mean—that I deserved what I got.
What makes him tricky, though, isn’t that he never choked me or took a direct swing. What makes him tricky is how entwined he was with so many of my other friends. They had become our friends, and it didn’t seem right to air all our dirty laundry to them. I told two of my very closest friends, though, which was difficult because they were also very close to him. And then one of my friends said something I didn’t expect.
“Well, you know, I think a lot of it came down to you two just not being right for each other. I mean, I don’t think that’s his real personality.”
I could have the very specifics of the words wrong—it was a few years ago now—but the sentiment is dead-on. And I was confused. I had been trying to attach the word “abusive” to this relationship as I sorted through the wreckage (I say “trying” because, as with many things, it is difficult for a victim to call out what is true), and this reaction made me feel all the more like I shouldn’t attach that word. It made me feel even more strongly that the problem wasn’t him—the problem was that I evoked the reaction.
I fought with myself for a long time on this one, and honestly I don’t know when in the last three years I settled on the word “abusive,” but I know it was more recent than not. Maybe it was when I heard this same friend say that she couldn’t imagine what goes through people’s heads when they defend a friend of theirs who was called out for assaulting another friend. “How can you look someone in the face and say that he wouldn’t do that? That it was just a misunderstanding?”
I don’t know. How can you?
Or maybe it was just this last week when I stood two feet away as she hugged Rosie and said, “I unfriended that guy because I couldn’t stand to hear him say on Facebook how he was…” something. I didn’t hear the end of the sentence. I was too far inside my own head trying to figure out how it was that B was so despicable she couldn’t stand to be friends with him on Facebook, yet she had managed to remain very close friends with my abuser since I left him.
Abuser. That’s such a strong word. I look at it even now and think, “Come on now, Sid. Surely that’s not the right word. He didn’t even hit you.” Honestly. That’s the thought: “He didn’t even hit you.” I know better than that, and still.
The thing with a lot of victim blaming, I think, is that it comes from a place not of malice but of pleading. When you say, “You must have misinterpreted the situation,” you’re not really saying, “You’re a liar and I don’t believe you.” At least not most of the time. Sure, there are people who outright say that, but I think even they are really saying, “Don’t let this be true. Please, just leave me any margin for error so I can continue to hang out with my friend who has never shown this horrible side to me.”
It works like this, I think:
- You acknowledge the accusation is horrible.
- If the accusation is true, then you feel you can no longer be friends with the accused.
- You have never seen the accused display any behavior like this; in fact, you would declare the accused to be one of the nicest fellows you know.
- As a result of (3), you choose to believe that it couldn’t have been as bad as it sounds. Your natural inclination is to assume there was a misunderstanding.
- You report this to the accusing party.
You aren’t trying to disregard your friend’s feelings—in truth, you’re just trying to protect your own—but what you’ve done here is opened the door for second-guessing. Second-guessing something that was probably hard to talk about in the first place. Without even intending to, you have silenced her.
Victim blaming isn’t something any friend sets out to do. (Anyone who does so openly and candidly is honestly not a friend—I have stories about that, too.) Victim blaming is something so subtle it can slip by us without so much as a glance.
After my first two abusive relationships (G2 and G3), I was re-applying for a job as a dispatcher. During one of the interviews, the abuse came up in conversation. My interviewers informed me that these relationships proved I had poor decision-making skills and denied me the job. (Before you jump into legality, I can’t prove that was the reason. It was, though.)
It took me several years to get over the shame and the self-blame of those first two, but now I won’t apologize when I tell you that I have been abused. I won’t shrink away and say, “I…I know I should have gotten out sooner, but…” I notice the signs now, and I avoid them. In the case of G4, it took a while to notice the pattern, but when I did—and I realized it was slowly getting worse and worse—I got out, six months before the wedding.
Getting out isn’t as easy as it sounds, and I won’t look down on anyone going through a similar experience. Women in these situations need help and encouragement—not shame, not blame, not doubt. Strength.
My roommate once asked me what my biggest regret was, and I said I didn’t have any. “None at all?” “Nope. Because it’s all important. Our pasts make up who we are, and I like who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am without everything that’s brought me to this point. It’s all important.”
It’s a part of my history. I can’t change it, and honestly, I don’t know that I would given the chance. Not changing your past doesn’t mean you have to relive it, after all. I love and appreciate every lesson I’ve learned, however hard it was.
I don’t make billboards about my abusive relationships, but I don’t make any effort to hide them. And sometimes people still try to shame me—whether it’s with words, body language, or a sudden, superior attitude. It doesn’t work, though. Here’s a quick tip: you can’t shame me about my life, my choices, my hobbies, my aspirations, my friends, or my past. It’s pointless trying.
You can’t shame me because I am not ashamed.