I have been aware of predators since childhood. Since I was four or five years old and first had a man’s penis in my mouth. Contrary to some knee-jerks here and elsewhere, the fact that I’m aware of predators in my environment does not mean that I think all men are predators. It’s one of those double-edged swords women so often find themselves at the wrong end of: If we get raped, we should have been more careful. If we’re careful, we’re alarmists (worse, we’re FEMINISTS) who believe all men are out to rape us. There’s no winning with some people.
But those are not the ones we seek to reach this month. Over the next few weeks, while the Steubenville wound is still open and oozing, it’s our job to appeal to those people who are not yet aware (or not yet aware that they’re aware) but are ready for awareness. We’re not preaching to the choir or trying to make the blind see–we just need to be vocal enough and authentic enough to reach those who are out there listening, absorbing, and becoming warriors in their own time, at their own pace.
I’ve seen it happen. I know how powerful our stories can be. Share yours. The world needs your voice.
Note: Lest anyone think that the point of #AlwaysAware is to put the onus of rape prevention on potential victims, it is not. The point is that (most) women are always aware of potential of violence. We are taught to be afraid and trained to be vigilant. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is not for us–it’s for people who don’t spend every day of their lives alert and aware and looking for ways to keep something like this from happening to them. It’s for people who don’t understand how often women experience assault. It’s for those who believe that women, not men, should be responsible for preventing male-on-female rape. Until we’re all #AlwaysAware of the problem of rape culture, women will continue to bear the weight of that awareness all 365 days of the year.
I’m adding new posters as often as I have time to make them. I’ll replace the one at the top now and then, and add alternate ones here.
The idea for “Always Aware” started with a Twitter chat with the Sin City Siren and was further inspired by the above illustration by Laura Boyea (used with permission).
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
by Robert J. Howe
Note: This story may be upsetting to some.
This story is about how authoritarian regimes deform human relationships, even—especially—the most intimate ones. It is also a story about how people can’t be controlled, and the unintended consequences of trying to do so.”
Spring at the Phyllis Schlafly Correctional Facility in Broward County. I’m here to visit my mother, who will be fifty-eight in a week. This is no kindness to her, or me. It is a state-mandated visit. I am a living reproach.
I have never seen my mother when she was not in one phase of pregnancy or another, and today is no exception. She looks tired and done to death. The lines around her mouth have solidified since my last visit; they are set in the stone of her face. She looks—she is—angry. She has been angry ever since I can remember.
“Hello, Bryan,” she says. Despite her angry expression, this comes out almost gently.
I have spent a lot of time in therapy, ostensibly coming to terms with the fact that my mother didn’t want me. I am still required to check my weapon at the prison’s armory, lest I take revenge on her. This is absurd: she could not have had any feelings on the matter one way or another, as she didn’t know me then. What she didn’t want was to raise any children for whom she couldn’t adequately provide. The alpha and omega of her life problems revolve around what she considers adequate.
She has a crooked smile, when she smiles, from where her jaw was broken. The arresting officer stepped on her face to keep her from swallowing evidence. If her dead bolt lock had held three more seconds, we would not be facing each-other across the scarred wooden table.
“Hello, Elena,” I say.
She eases herself into a chair, unnaturally skinny except where she is unnaturally round. Half a lifetime of bearing rich women’s children has left her calcium-depleted and stick fragile, and her pale, sweaty face is made more unattractive by the reflection of the green visiting room walls.
We don’t talk much during these visits; it hurts less that way. It is part, too, of my mother’s strange Bushido. What we can do, is look into one-another’s green eyes without flinching. My mother understands, as do I, that between us there can be no feelings of guilt or regret. At least, this is what I like to think. Almost everything I know about my mother, I know from reading the official reports. Prison has a way of making everyone’s life into roman à clef.
There are no guards in the room, a strong reminder that every word and gesture is being recorded. This is another reason for our sphinxlike communion. It is harder, though not impossible, to get blood from a stone. All this notwithstanding, there is something she wants to tell me.
My mother was almost as old as I am now when she had me; that pregnancy was no childish fling.
“You have got to be kidding,” was my father’s sole, and last comment to my mother. He never came home from work that day. The Legal Aid lawyer told my mother it would cost more money than it was worth to have him skip-traced, so that was the end of that.
Abortion was still legal in a few states then, but Florida wasn’t one of them. My mother regretted the necessity of an abortion, both because she had wanted what she thought was her “twilight baby,” and because she’d have to have it done illegally; New Jersey, the closest free state, was as financially inaccessible as the moon, what with residency requirements and medical records transfer fees. The day my father walked, money became the big issue. My older sister and brother were just six and seven, respectively, and no one else was going to pay to bring them up. My mother couldn’t work pregnant, and they couldn’t live on what the anemic AFDC provided.
There was a doctor who would do it at Misericordia, in Pompano, and list it as a Dilation and Curettage, and her health plan would have even paid the bill. But two days before the operation a couple of suits from the National Reproduction Administration took the doctor away in the middle of the night. It seems she’d established a questionable pattern of performing D&Cs on women with no significant medical history.
That’s when my mother started answering the classified ads in the back of women’s magazines. She was careful. She was patient. She almost got away with it.
My desk is always heaped with paperwork, and today is no exception. So many case folders cover the tabletop that I can’t find a place to set my coffee. In those folders, more often than not, is all the information I need to do my job. By the time I have finished my coffee, I’ll have closed three cases over the phone. Three more anonymous buff folders will then take their place. It is a rare day that I go into the field.
I have been asked, more than a few times, how I feel about my job. The unspoken subtext is always, Does it bother you?
There is, I’m afraid, not much to be bothered about. It isn’t a case of not seeing the forest for the trees; I am so mired in the minutiae of the profession, that it is more like not being able to see the tree for the bark. It is all statistics: looking for the deviations from the norm. I wouldn’t know half my clients if I saw them on the street. What I know are their telephone bills, mortgage payments, medical histories, grammar school grades, even preferences in movie rentals.
Some would argue that it is easier to do my job thus insulated. They are right, but not the way they mean it. It is simply that there is less to remember this way.
My mother’s wrists are chafed from the restraints. Two years ago she dove from her bed stomach-first onto the floor. The D.C. lawyer and his wife who were waiting for the baby got a million-five from the Broward Special Corrections Department for mental anguish. My mother got padded leather handcuffs.
When I look at the raw spots on her arms, I notice that she’s tensing her muscles so hard the veins stand out like the surface of a relief map. Her face is completely composed for the cameras, however. I don’t know what to make of this, but I am careful not to stare, nor look away too quickly. I’m rewarded with the ghost of a smile too quick to register until it’s passed. So, I was meant to notice the flexing.
A guard comes in, they call them matrons here. This is a deliberate choice with 1950’s connotations, I think. She stands next to the table, stolid and dumb in her blue blouse and skirt, and signals us that the visit is over. It is less than half the time normally allotted to mandated visits. This is my mother’s small victory: our silence makes them too uncomfortable to endure watching for long. I think my mother would like to say that she is proud of me today, but cannot. To say that would be a tacit confession of her guilt. Any approval of me would mean she was wrong thirty years ago when she tried to flush my fetus out of her body. Still, it is this tacit understanding that allows me to go on with my life and my job.
Our eyes do not meet while the matron is in the room, and my mother is led away without looking back.
My mother finally narrowed it down to three advertisements that looked amateurish enough not to have been planted by the NRA, and were ambiguous enough so as to draw minimal attention. All three were for Riviera Diet Supplements—bootleg Roussel Uclaf pills—black market abortions being too dangerous, too easy to track, or both. She went to the library then, and looked up back issues of the magazines. Two of the ads had run for several prior issues, so it was a good bet that they were already under surveillance. The third was brand new.
The next step was a driver’s license under the name of a cousin who’d died as a child, with an SRO address. The rooming house address served two purposes. First, when it was time to get a post office box, it was less likely that an SRO address would trip a flag in the postal computer; it was entirely reasonable for someone living in a rented room to get their mail at a p.o. box. Post office boxes in middle-class residential neighborhoods, which ours was, usually alerted the Postal Inspection Service to a violation of the mail obscenity laws. The second reason for the SRO address was that, in Florida, there were far too many to register their tenants weekly, or even monthly. The annual, retroactive registration would turn up my mother’s nom de guerre, but by then she’d be just another desperate, half-remembered face in the clerk’s mind.
All of this cost money—a mid-quality forged license, (ones that could pass at a DWI checkpoint cost much more than paper good enough to fool a bored postal clerk), p.o. box rental—and the pills. They came in lots of six, packaged like vitamins. Some unlucky women had gone through all this, in fact, and had gotten nothing but vitamins. There were six to make sure the job was done. The feminist underground calls them étui, French for “small purses.” The NRA agents call them six-guns.
In the long run, of course, it was still cheaper than having another baby and staying home for the prescribed two years. That same week she found work as a secretary in an insurance company.
I come back from lunch and find that the pattern section has left a list on my desk. Only two names are in my area of responsibility; Evans, Theresa J, and Frawley, Taneka (none). Evans can be put off; I request a background jacket and set her name aside until it comes through. The Frawley folder is on my desk, so I will start with that one.
It is, as I recall, a fairly obvious case. Multiple postal flags, feminist literature subscription—cancelled fairly recently, unmarried, works as a B-girl in a beach club on the strip. Associate’s degree in accounting. Dangerous because she is smart enough to know she’s got a high profile. If at all possible I will perform the search while she is at work.
I bring the folder to the Warrants window, where an NRA administrative justice signs, dates, and seals a premises/vehicle paper. I kill fifteen minutes waiting for the warrant to register by Teletype with the local police. I use the time to check my weapon: I don’t often go into the field, and I go to the shooting range even less frequently. My Glock automatic has a seventeen-round clip, and I carry a spare clip in my jacket pocket. If this is not overkill, I am in the wrong line of work.
The folder stays on my desk—too many classified sources to leave the building—but I slip Frawley’s photo I.D. out, an enlargement of her Florida Driver’s License, to take with me. She is a common looking Black woman, over thirty, with an old-style “natural” hairdo. In the picture she is smiling.
The light in the visiting room is always bad—the cameras can record in the infrared if need be—adding to my mother’s washed-out look. She has just delivered the thirty-fifth baby of her sentence. There is no telling how many more she will bear; she has, in the grim double entendre of Special Corrections, consecutive life sentences.
Since she did not try to throw herself on her stomach to crush the fetus, drink her own urine to poison the fetus, or commit any other act of fetal assault, my mother is entitled to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee during her seventy-day recovery period. Then it’s back to a strict pregnancy regimen as an incubator for some other privileged couple.
She draws hard on her Marlboro. In the silence of the visiting room the stale, dry commissary cigarette pops and crackles like a miniature forest fire. We stare at each other through the smoke. Her arms are no longer raw from the restraints, but she’s built up a pad of callus tissue on the inside of each wrist. There are other changes, as well.
I suddenly realize that she has a facial tic, even though she seems otherwise composed. I have never, in fact, seen her other than utterly composed, so this pad of flesh twitching under her right eye seems the equivalent of a scream. I almost comment, but then the tic stops, and reappears under the other eye.
Could she, I wonder, be doing this deliberately? If so it is a phenomenal display of fine muscle control.
The tic stops again, and for a few minutes we sit in companionable, if absolute, silence. She stubs the cigarette out and sits forward, her arms resting on the table. After a moment, I realize that the flesh on the inside of her forearm jumps every few seconds. This reminds me of the last visit, and her vein-popping muscle tensioning. That will have to be enough for today, whatever it means. The matron, battleship-like in her stiff blue uniform leads my mother back to her dormitory area.
One of the most common mistakes women in my mother’s position made was using the p.o. box solely for their illegal transactions. As camouflage, my mother used the p.o. box for all kinds of things under her assumed name: she sent away for free recipes, subscribed to inexpensive magazines, ordered little things from mail-order catalogs, and wrote herself long, innocuous letters on her word processor at work, signing them with one of three fictional childhood friends’ names that she’d picked at random from out-of-state telephone books.
She said at one point, that if nothing else, assuming her whitebread, straitlaced, alter ego’s mindset had replaced her contempt for women on the rolls with sympathy. It was always the good girls who got into trouble; too timid to go through the NRA’s red tape to apply for birth control, and too afraid to buy on the graymarket. As a result, they bred themselves deeper and deeper into poverty, using their own loneliness and the scant infant stipend as justification.
On the day the pills arrived, my mother was careful to not vary her routine. She checked her box at lunchtime, as usual, and put the pills in her purse, then went off to lunch with her friends. After work, she picked my brother and sister up at daycare, took them home, made dinner, did homework with them, and read them their bedtime stories. She put the pills in a waterproof container and hid them inside the toilet tank float, a place, in her limited experience, she thought startlingly novel.
Two days after the pills arrived, my mother was ready to go through with the abortion. She waited until a Friday night so that she would have the whole weekend for the pill to work. She called the three girlfriends most likely to phone her, and said she was taking my brother and sister upstate to an amusement park (one she’d taken them to before—no break in the pattern there), and wouldn’t be back until Sunday night. She unplugged the phone and set the answering machine. Then she sat down at the kitchen table and tried to think of anything she might have missed.
All of this, she said later, made her feel as if she were planning her own suicide.
I swing by the bar where Frawley works, to make sure she’s there. There are enough businessmen in jackets drinking lunch so that I don’t stand out and spook her. It takes almost a quarter of an hour to find her, since she has changed her hairstyle and looks younger in person than she does in the picture. She is making change for a customer when I leave for her apartment.
I could just shatter the lock and walk in, but then, even if I find nothing, she will know her apartment’s been entered. Better, in all cases, to use finesse. It takes ten minutes of finesse to get the heavy tumbler to click over, during which time two neighbors have walked by. Each time I managed to slide out of their line of sight—not that they would interfere—but if Frawley discovers that there’s been a man in a jacket and tie at her door, it might spook her as much as finding the lock smashed.
Inside the house is neat and organized, but somewhat dirty. It is the house of someone who isn’t home a great deal. There are, however, clothes in the closets, half-used toiletries in the bathroom, and fresh food in the refrigerator, all indicating that this is her real address and not stage dressing.
The current telephone bill is on her desk, opened. I don’t need to look, however; I’ve seen it already. I look through the personal papers in her desk, then get down to searching the apartment. The key, more than cleverness or intuition, is method. In my mind, I divide the room into imaginary grids, and search each one minutely. This not only insures that no spot is overlooked, but that each square foot is seen with a fresh eye.
I turn up nothing. I resist the temptation to research the odd places first, and start at the beginning of my grid again. The first search was entirely non-destructive. I left everything the way I found it, and used only my fingers to probe soft objects like pillows and cushions. This time I cut open what cannot be easily palpitated, and I pry up any loose hardware, tilework, and woodwork I find.
Still nothing. I am about to start my third, deep search when I hear the door. As much as I dislike confrontation, this one seems unavoidable.
My mother’s recovery period has stretched to two months because there are currently no sponsors. Summer is always the slowest season for surrogate wombs, and increasing competition from the private sector has lessened the demand slightly in the Special Corrections system. Whatever the reason, my mother seems to be enjoying this period of relative freedom.
“Hello, Bryan. What’s it like in the real world, these days?”
This is more than she has said to me in twelve years of bi-monthly visits. I wonder if this hiatus in her sentence is wholly the cause of her good spirits.
“About the same,” I say. “You look well.”
The truth is, she looks better—she has put on some weight, and it makes her face look years younger. Anywhere but in here, though, she could pass for someone who has just overcome a serious illness.
She sits for a long time, studying me. It is not like our usual silent communication—it is as if she is seeing me for the first time. The scrutiny makes me uncomfortable. I feel it is somehow a violation of our tacit understanding.
It occurs to me, forced back on myself like this, that it is possible my mother has finally gone insane. I have always assumed she was harder than any person or institution she came in contact with, but insanity is the second most common cause for termination of sentence. Of course, the insane trade one kind of prison for another, and if they are cured, they are returned to Special Corrections. There are precedents, though few of them.
Her voice pulls me out of my reverie.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I asked if you’ve ever seen your father.”
This, of all things, I am not prepared for. In the six months from her arrest to conviction, my mother never once uttered a word about my father, or at least none that were recorded.
“No,” I say. “Why do you ask?”
You were never curious before, I want to say, but I can’t bring myself to break our unspoken agreement, even if she has.
The silence grows again, and though she doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable, I am. I begin to wish for the matron to come, silent and implacable, and lead my mother away from me. Instead I stare at the wooden tabletop.
“I wish I had gotten to know you better, son.”
That admission is shocking, in front of God and the cameras, as it were, but no more shocking than her calling me son. It is a word that has not passed her lips in my presence in thirty years.
“Your brother and Vivian were here to see me last week. Ed apparently pulled some strings. Do you know they have three children now?”
“No,” I said, numbed by this spate of information. It is as if Reagan’s face, carved into the South Dakota hills, had suddenly come to life: the oracle of Rushmore.
“Do you ever see them, or your sister?” she asks.
“No. I know I should…” I cannot believe I am saying this.
“I don’t really think they want to see you, anyway.” She says this seemingly without a trace of spite or malice. “You would make them almost as uncomfortable as I do.”
I don’t know what to say about this. I have never been so acutely uncomfortable in my life. Mercifully, the matron enters the room then and stands next to my mother.
“Well, Bryan, goodbye,” she says, looking me directly in the eye.
I fumble for a response, but by the time I can force out the words, she has passed behind the gray steel door.
“Goodbye,” I say for the cameras.
It occurs to me, as I collect my weapon from the prison’s operations room, that none of my mother’s feats of muscle control were in evidence today. I suddenly wish I had asked her what it all meant.
The last thing my mother did, before she took out the pills, was to call her National Health Clinic branch and complain about abdominal pains. The triage nurse asked the usual questions, including whether or not my mother was pregnant. She said she didn’t know.
The nurse told her to call back if the pains got worse, or if there was any bleeding, and to stay off her feet. My mother hung up and went to get the pills from the toilet tank.
She was drying her hands when they knocked at the door. My mother started to hide the pills again, then she heard the ram against the door. She ripped open the foil package too quickly, sending the pills scattering across the floor. By the time she retrieved one, the police were through the front door and searching the apartment. There weren’t that many rooms to search.
The bathroom door exploded in just as she put the pill in her mouth. The next second her head was crushed against the tiles and something in her face snapped. She felt the officer’s blunt, bitter tasting fingers probing her mouth as she passed out.
She woke up in Broward Special Corrections’ hospital wing, and has been in one part of the compound or another since. I was born seven months later, in the prison Nursery.
I was placed in the same home as my brother and sister—though they were moved out within a year of my birth. I stayed until I was eleven, then I was sent to a military boarding school because I had become a disciplinary problem. The state paid my scholarship to the private school, with the understanding that I would enter government service as soon as I was eligible. That was pretty much what happened.
I really don’t regret it.
Frawley has just set her purse on a table in the foyer when I turn the corner. She looks at me for a split second, then snatches the purse up again and dives out the door. We burst out of the building’s lobby, she several yards ahead of me. She is wearing black tights and running shoes—her off duty clothes, I gather—and is opening up the distance between us rapidly. I have to make a split-second decision: do I continue to chase her, or do I draw my weapon now, while I am still close enough to steady myself for a shot?
Had I known I was going to arrest her today, I would have brought backup. I draw my weapon and pound to a stop in front of a parked car. She opens the distance even further while I get my sights steady. I hold my breath, using the car’s roof as a rest, and squeeze off three shots.
The last one drops her. I’m completely winded by the time I am standing over her.
She is shot through the backside and lower stomach. Blood is everywhere, and she is vomiting weakly. A woman is screaming as I go through Frawley’s purse—sure enough, the pills are there. Two packets of them, in fact.
The ambulance arrives after the local police, but before my colleagues: if they are going to save the fetus, they will have to get Frawley’s body to the operating room very quickly.
Far from being over, this incident is just starting for me. I will be held over the next two shifts writing reports, having the pills tested by the lab, being counseled by the service psychiatrist, and making my obligatory appearance before a grand jury.
At least I will get the next five working days off.
“I heard you got one,” my mother says before she’s even seated at the wooden table. “You must be proud.”
I realize that it is going to be as difficult a visit as the last one. I did only what was necessary. I don’t relish the grislier aspects of my job, as do some of my colleagues—I prefer to avoid conflict, where possible. I decide the best tack to take with my mother is silence, at least until I can puzzle out her mood.
“I heard she bled to death right there on the street.”
Where, suddenly, is all this antipathy coming from? Who knows how these rumors get started? The paramedic said Frawley died almost immediately—from shock.
“Are you embarrassed?” she asks. “That would be something, at least.”
I see that this line of questioning is not going to wither away in silence.
“I’d rather not talk about my work.”
“Not to me, at least,” she answers. “So, what would you like to talk about, son?”
That word again. Inexplicably, I feel my eyes prickle.
“How come you’re not smoking?” I ask. My voice sounds perfectly level.
“I’m back on the production line again,” she says, laughing. “You know, I was beginning to think you’d actually thrown your weight around a little to keep me off the breeding line.”
“I can’t do…”
“No, no. Don’t apologize,” she cuts me off. “I’m not blaming you. It was a crazy notion to begin with.” There really is no rancor in her voice.
For the first time ever, I am uncomfortable that the cameras are recording all this. I cast around for a safe topic, then something occurs to me.
“I noticed that you had a facial tic, last—no—the time before last. Is it some kind of medical condition?”
“Your concern is a bit belated, I think. But no, you know it wasn’t a medical condition, I think.”
“I was doing it on purpose…”
“Nobody can control their muscles like that.”
“You can, if you practice. I have nothing to do here but practice. Did you know Indian holy men could stop their heartbeats?”
I look at her blankly.
“No, I don’t imagine that’s the kind of thing you know much about. Well, it’s true. If you practice enough, you can control all the muscles in your body.”
“So I can control my body.”
We have, it seems, skated back onto thin ice again. The radical feminists have always referred to women’s reproductive offenses as taking control of their bodies.
“It’s all right,” she says, “you don’t have to say anything. I just wanted you to be here.”
“You know I come whenever…”
“No, I mean for this.”
She smiles at me, then she closes her eyes. When she opens them again, they are unfocussed and her face assumes an expression of unconscious concentration, if there is such a thing.
I see, suddenly, that the muscles of her abdomen are tensing mightily under her prison smock. It takes another few seconds for me to realize what she’s doing.
I knock the table over trying to get around it, but it is already too late; blood gushes from underneath the smock, making a crimson blotch from waist to hemline.
Guards rush into the room, and less than a minute later, the medical team.
“Christ, she’s bleeding out,” the doctor in charge says.
“What’s going on?” the guard supervisor, a man, wants to know.
“She’s got a massive hemorrhage—looks like a bad miscarriage.”
My mother’s eyes focus again, and she looks into mine. I am unable to look back without flinching.
She coughs, spraying flecks of blood across my face.
“Oh, man,” the doctor groans, “She’s bleeding from everywhere.” He’s young, and sounds afraid.
She is loaded onto an aluminum stretcher. I think about taking her hand, but the moment passes in a blur, and she is being bustled out the steel door, presumably to the prison hospital.
There are, I notice, bloody footprints left everywhere by the medical team and the guards. I right the visitor’s table before I leave.
According to the trial transcript, the triage nurse at the National Health branch—a fifty-year-old widow with the improbable name of Meredith Sanction—called NRA to report a possible reproduction violation. NRA, of course, already had a folder on my mother. Since they could not get an agent there in time, however, they authorized the state police to make the arrest.
Meredith Sanction testified that my mother’s call fit the classic self-abortion pattern. Meredith Sanction’s own marriage had been barren. It is on the record that the magistrate admonished the defense lawyer for pursuing irrelevant testimony during Mrs. Sanction’s cross examination.
The magistrate took less than fifteen minutes to reach his decision. Sentencing was delayed until my birth—presumably so that my mother would not self-abort in the face of a life sentence.
The minister concludes his ceremony over my mother’s grave, then hurries in out of the rain. My brother and sister stand as close to the grave as they can without having to look at me. My brother cries openly, and my sister stares, dry-eyed, at the brown rectangle in the turf. Only I can see the casket.
I still have two days off before I go back to work.
Robert J. Howe is a writer and editor whose fiction has appeared in Analog, Black Gate, Electric Velocipede, and other publications and anthologies. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop (1985). Learn more about him at his website.
I sit here taking deep breaths, swallowing, my chest tight, trying to write how I feel about what I’m about to tell you, but I find I don’t have words that truly convey the horror. That and the sense of standing on the precipice of change that will either truly liberate us as a species or destroy us altogether. I will say this: I’m ready to fight–to really, truly fight–and I’m wide open to ideas.
This week* RH Reality Check released the results of a study that confirmed a terrifying trend many of us have feared for some time: that women are being arrested and imprisoned for “crimes” such as having a miscarriage, delivering a stillborn child, planning to have an abortion, or declining a test recommended by their doctor.
Yes, you heard right. From RH Reality Check:
A woman in Oregon who did not comply with a doctor’s recommendation to have additional testing for gestational diabetes was subjected to involuntary civil commitment. During her detention, the additional testing was never performed.
And that’s not the worst thing. Not by far.
After a hearing that lasted less than a day, a court issued an order requiring a critically-ill pregnant woman in Washington, D.C. to undergo cesarean surgery over her objections. Neither she nor her baby survived.
People, it’s time to get serious. We’ve long known that in some people’s eyes, women are for sexing men and making babies, and now–in 20motherfucking13–it’s down to no birth control, no abortions, and you’d damned well better deliver a living child. I don’t know about you, but I feel as though I’m living in a work of dark future fiction. The world this trend implies is not the world I want for any woman on the planet, much less my daughter, my future granddaughters, or anyone I love.
What will we do to fight it? How far will we go? I know I’ll write my ass off, but that’s not enough anymore, is it? Because ANY level of complacency in the face of this information would be, for me personally, complicity.
And I will not comply.
*It turns out this report was published in January. I was apparently so upset I didn’t notice. Not sure it took until yesterday for the story to reach me, but I certainly was not aware of this, and from the reaction here and elsewhere, I get the impression others weren’t, either.
Here’s a link to the abstract of the study’s findings as published by Duke University Press Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. The right-hand sidebar has a link to the full article.
Aaaand, it turns out the UN Human Rights Council just released their 2013 “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” According to Social Justice Solutions, the main takeaway with regard to reproductive health is “the concept that limiting or entirely denying access to abortions or other reproductive rights is a form of torture.”
The title of this post is the name of a street art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh aimed at raising awareness in men that street harassment is not ok, and in women that it’s perfectly acceptable to wish–and even to insist–that men would not demand their attention and energy all day, every day, every time they walk down the street.
If you’re a woman, there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about–although I’m perfectly aware that not all women are bothered by this. When I first got boobs, I was flattered by the attention. It took years to realize how exhausted I was with parrying advances all day, every day. When I tripped over this project on Facebook, a woman claiming to be a therapist had gone from disagreeing to outright trolling, so intense was her need to convince everyone present that not only was asking women to smile not harassment, but that anyone who thought it was should obviously just sit the fuck down and stop talking. So, male or female, just in case you don’t get what the issue is, here are some hypothetical examples. We’ll start with an easy one:
Imagine you’re at a social event and you’re introduced to a gentleman by the name of Dan Bond. You say the first thing that pops into your head: “Bond. Dan Bond.” Dan gives you a look somewhere between patronizing and withering and says, “Congratulations. You’re the first person who’s ever said that.” If you’re like most people who recognize social signals, you probably feel a bit sheepish. Your aim was to be clever, and you whipped out the one line that was certain to irritate. And if you had any designs on Dan as a friend, business partner, or lover, you’d better hope you’ve got some better lines in your pocket, because at this point he’s is looking for the nearest exit and hoping you don’t follow him.
Now imagine how exhausting it might be for the nth man to say as you walk down the street: “Smile!”
Here’s a better one: Guys, imagine you’re walking down the street and seven out of ten men you see are a foot or more taller than you are and outweigh you by fifty to a hundred pounds. Imagine these guys take steroids, so that weight is all muscle, where yours is not. Now imagine that, as you walk, you’re aware of their eyes on you and the lewd comments they make, the whistles, the remarks about your body, what they’d like to do to you. Or maybe they just insist on your attention. Maybe they just tell you to smile. And another one does. And a third. And sometimes you can get past them without incident, and other times, if you don’t respond the way they hope you will, they shout insults after you.
This is what women deal with all the time, walking from home to the bus stop or from the bus stop to the office. In between the wolf whistles and the stares and the lewd gestures and critiques of our looks, is the constant insistence that we present ourselves at our pretty, perky, man-pleasing best. “Smile!” They cry. “Smile!” They exhort. “Smile!” They command, as though our faces are theirs to mold. As though our faces don’t please them as they are. As though it is our duty to paste fake grins upon them on demand even though all we really want to do is get past this fucking gauntlet and get to work.
Most of us are all for friendly conversation when the conditions are correct. But as social beings, we learn to interpret signals that tell us when the other person is open to conversation. Men do not, as a rule, insist on the attention of other men walking down the street. Men (and women) working construction sites rarely, in my experience, insist that men walking by stop and talk to them, respond to “compliments” on their appearance, or smile. And yet for some reason, some men believe that a woman is obliged to be polite when they do ignore the signals that say “I’m on my way somewhere and I’m not even looking at you so please, let me be” and demand her attention. And that’s what Stop Telling Women to Smile aims to change.
From Tatyana’s website:
The project is saying that street harassment is not okay. That feeling entitled to treat and speak to women any type of way, is not okay. That demanding a woman’s attention is not okay. That intruding on a woman’s space and thoughts is not okay. That women should be able to walk to the train, to the grocery store, to school – without having to cross the street to avoid the men that she sees already eyeing her as she approaches. That making women feel objectified, sexualized simply because they are women, is not okay. That grabbing a woman’s wrist to force her to speak to you is not okay. That requesting for a woman to “smile for you” is not okay – because women are not outside on the street for the purpose of entertaining and pleasing men. That it’s quite possible women are wonderful, happy, intelligent human beings that simply want to move through out the world comfortably and safely while wearing their face however the hell they want to.
Another project I recently learned about is They Know What They Do, by a young woman named Shreya living in Calcutta. Shreya photographs men who harass her (known as “Eve Teasing” in some countries) on her way to and from work.
There are certain structural privileges that work in the favour of the perpetrators of street sexual harassment, whether the non interference of spectators, or active participation of friends, but most of all, the assurance and continual affirmation of their own gender-based privileges by sociocultural norms. With my camera I thought I could strategically intervene within some of these processes that work against me.
I’d like to arm women like Shreya with hidden video cameras so they can film the actual harassment they experience and show it to the world. I’d like to see Stop Telling Women to Smile posters go up in every city in the world where women deal with street harassment. I’d like to see the term “Eve Teasing” (which can include assault) abolished and the crime of street harassment and assault taken seriously worldwide. And I’d love it if you would all work with me to make all this positive change happen.
My Streets, My Body: How street harassment impacts my weightloss, my eating habits, my body
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Bree
When I used to imagine what rape would be, I’d think of a masked man taking you into a back alley and beating you senseless to get what he wanted. As scary as that is by itself, it was scarier for me to realize that rape could come from someone you already knew…perhaps even someone you were dating already. That’s what it was in my case.
I started dating a boy when I was 13. It’s not shocking to say that at that age a boy would already be pushing for sex, and certainly not shocking to say that at that age I didn’t want to. At first It was mostly pressure, him touching, me pushing away and saying no, after a small fight it was stop and later resume again thus causing a bigger fight. But things kept getting progressively worse, he became more aggressive, the fights getting worse after I said no, him being more physical, then it started actually happening. After all the “no’s”…it no longer became worth the effort to fight anymore. This happened for years, getting worse progressively. It began happening in front of his friends, they would watch, not saying anything, then practically high five him afterwards.
I wouldn’t admit it to myself back then. I didn’t tell anyone about it or talk about it at all. He told me I was obligated to do those things because I was his girlfriend, and that’s what girlfriends do, whether we want to or not. It wasn’t until years later when I met someone who tried (and did) eventually save me from this that I was able to admit the dreaded “r” word and realize what it was that really happened to me. I still live with PTSD, I live with the flashbacks and mental scars while I am sure he is somewhere playing his xbox right now with a smile on his face. When I finally left he told his friends I “cheated” so no one would believe my story of the abuse from the boy on the pedestal.
After I started healing I got back into my writing poetry, and then I went on to spoken word. Anything to talk about my story and get it out of my system. I worry about the other girls out there who are in my situation…dating their rapist, and thinking its justified and not rape because they are dating…it’s not true ladies, the sooner you realize that, the sooner you bloom as well.
It gets better–you just have to fight for it.
Bree is a poet/spoken-word artist. Visit her website for more of her work.
If you need a safe place to share your story, please visit my Facebook page and contact me via the Message button. ~Rosie
Here’s a short film by Jodi Martinez featuring Bree and her story:
From the blogosphere:
Guest post by Sid
Ok folks, here’s the thing:
Someone is wrong on the internet.
Lots, really. Several, if we get right down to it, but I’m a busy gal and I’ve only got so much time. As such, let’s zero in on a Facebook conversation I watched go down just the other day. A friend of mine posted about CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville verdict, which I won’t recount here because if you don’t know it by now, you probably don’t own a computer. This was her take:
When my friend expressed hope he was kidding, he clarified:
And finally, when called out on perpetuating rape culture, he had this charming tidbit to add:
Mmmmmmk Sweetiekins…since you seem to be so very lost, allow me to break this down for you one asinine comment at a time.
1. “If laws are in place to protect the people, then people who are injured as a result of their breaking the law don’t get the same sympathy.”
A girl went to a party and got drunk. Tell me who she injured. Do not say the reputations of these boys. I want you to tell me EXACTLY WHO this girl PHYSICALLY INJURED as a result of her intoxication. Tell me.
Did she beat someone up? Did she hit people with sticks? SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS. Was she drinking underage? Yes. Yes, she was. She got drunk and she passed out. And that should be the end of this story.
2. “When a drunk driver hits a telephone pole, does anyone sympathize with him?”
Okay, I want to make sure the sentiment of my next statement is very, very clear.
WHAT THE HOLY SHITTING FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY?
Reasons we get pissed off when drunk drivers hit telephone poles:
This person drank to excess and then got behind the wheel of a vehicle.
This person drank to excess and then put the lives of EVERYONE on the road in danger.
This person drank to excess and then possibly cut my phone service.
This person drank to excess and then made DECISIONS which affected his evening.
The drunk driver who hit a pole did not just drink to excess. That is not the end of the sentence. Were that the end of the sentence, he wouldn’t have hit the telephone pole. He would have woken up the next day, possibly with a permanent-marker penis on his face. Jane Doe drank to excess…and that’s the end of her sentence. She passed out. This story should have ended with a permanent-marker penis, at the very worst.
3. “…but she consensually broke the law to place herself in a situation she knew was risky.”
Do you think going to a party is risky, Sweetiekins? When you personally get ready for a party, do you think to yourself, “Oh no, I’m heading to the danger zone!”? Do you personally find drinking at a party to be a risky thing for you—specifically you, Sweetiekins—to do? No? So you don’t view a party as a place where you should constantly have to look over your shoulder and see who’s trying to attack you?
THEN WHY THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT HER TO?
4. “At least suspend her from school to send the message that underage drinking is illegal for a reason.”
“We’re proud of you for pressing charges against your rapists. There was almost certainly a lot of social and peer pressure not to press charges, but we think you make the right decision. We know the media has been tearing you apart and you must feel like three shades of crap right now, but about that minor drinking violation…”
Folks, this is how we make people afraid to come forward with rape charges. I’m not saying you should be able to get away with whatever you want because of it, but for crying out loud, underage drinking is a victimless crime. Literally the only reason anyone wants her to get hit with a punishment for it is because they want to find a way to make this her fault, too. And it’s just not.
5. “I don’t know if a ‘rape culture’ exists, but more problematic than that is this culture of ‘not taking responsibility for one’s actions.”
First let’s touch on this culture of “not taking responsibility for one’s actions.” I think your next line really brings your feelings on this into focus, so let’s look at it:
Rape victim: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Rapist: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Mmk, this tells me that you have no idea what rape culture is. Like, at all. No sarcasm. So let’s touch on it.
Rape culture is this, the world we live in, where all the questions focus on what the victim did to deserve her rape. It’s the culture where people are honestly responding to this trial with, “Those poor boys’ lives are ruined,” when the reason their lives are ruined is because they chose to commit rape.
Rape culture is the culture where most women who are raped don’t report it, specifically because they already know they abuse they’ll get. They know that it is them, the victims (and not the rapists), who will be torn apart and made to believe that whatever they did, be it have the gall to go out for a drink in the evening or the audacity to wear a skirt in public, is the reason that they deserved their rape.
And it’s just not ever true. It isn’t ever.
6. “Rapist: You did do something wrong and need to be punished.”
Hey! Yes! You got one right!
7. “Rape victim: You didn’t do anything wrong, but don’t blame a ‘rape culture’ for your stupidity and lack of foresight.”
Aaaaaand my sympathy for you is gone again. You had it for like, an eighth of a second there.
So really, explain this to me, Sweetiekins. Is this the “women should expect to be raped at all times” song? Cuz I gotta tell ya, I’ve heard it, and I really prefer Mumford & Sons. It just makes more sense to me.
Why should I spend every moment of my life expecting to be raped? Do you have any idea how exhausting that is? I mean, do you? It takes a lot of mental energy to spend all day thinking up exit strategies or figuring out how fast you can punch the guy on the bus next to you if he puts his hand on your leg. Know how I know? Cuz I do it every fucking day.
Seriously, do this for me: spend one day—just one day—keeping yourself ready for rape at all times. When you walk out the door, look around for strangers. If you see someone who looks iffy, cross the street, even if it takes longer. Keep your keys pressed through your fingers if you walk alone at night. Look all around you every few seconds. You passed some guy walking down the street? Turn around to make sure he’s not running up to attack you but look fucking nonchalant about it you don’t want to cause a scene. Wait, is he following you?? Speed up! Quick, you don’t want him to find out where you wor—oh, he turned the corner. Nevermind.
Talk to me again about foresight, Sweetiekins.
8. “Following your logic, when my $1000 bike was stolen over Spring Break when I had it locked in the racks instead of taking it inside, I did nothing to ask for it. I did ask for it.”
I. Can’t. Even.
You locked up your bike…your bike was stolen…and it was your fault because you didn’t lock it up more?
I just…I don’t even know what to do with that.
9. “Yes, there is a bike thief out there, but I am not going to detract from my ownership of the problem by saying, ‘Oh, the problem is a Bike-Stealing Culture.’”
I’m going to set aside the sociological points of actual crime culture here, because I feel that it gets away from the primary point I wish to make. You ready for this? Cuz I’m about to blow your mind.
The invasion of a woman’s body without her consent is not nor should it ever be compared to PETTY OR GRAND THEFT.
Did I really just have to write that sentence?
What, so I have be careful for having the nerve to walk about in public in blatant possession of a vagina? What am I supposed to do, Sweetiekins? Leave it at home? Lock it up? Leave your dick at home once in a while. It’s totally possible. There’s a song about it and everything, so it must be true.
Wake. Up. Rape isn’t theft. Sticking any of your appendages into any orifice of an unconscious person is not the same thing as lifting that same unconscious person’s wallet. If you don’t go to a party expecting to get raped, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t abstain from going out for a drink, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t arrange an escort to walk home in the dark after work, why the hell should I have to?
But if you won’t help break the cycle of rape culture, I guess that means that I have to.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Lenora Davis
[Note: Trigger warning for rape.]
I can’t remember what was worse: the denial or the guilt. For months I walked around numb, refusing to acknowledge what had happened, refusing to give it a name, to refer to it, because once I said it, it would become real.
The day that he raped me was the worst day of my life. He dehumanized me, he made me feel little and helpless and vulnerable.
For years, I carried that burden with me. I felt it above me, lingering, knowing that in all possibility it could fall and crush me beneath its weight. It could break me and render me incapable and lifeless. And some days that was exactly how I felt. I felt as if a part of me was taken, and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was or where it had been taken from, but I knew that I was missing it. Some nights I awoke in a cold sweat with my heart pounding because he’d penetrated my dreams; the one place I had found solitude had been invaded. I knew I had to do something to reclaim my mind, body, and soul.
Seven years later, I see the road I have traveled since that day that has led me to where I am now. It has not been a straight path. There have been twists, turns, dead ends, and horizons. It has been a long journey. Some days I felt alone, others I felt as though I was with a procession. I look at the woman I have become, the woman that the journey has turned me into, and I realize that the greatest strength has come from within me. Yes, some days I fought to put my feet to the floor and leave my bed. Some days I spent minutes crying before leaving the house. Some days I felt as though I was on the brink of absolute annihilation and that I was only a shell, incapacitated by my memories. At first, those days were frequent. I often wondered if they would ever stop, if I would ever begin to feel human again. Then one day I would wake up and feel the sunlight on my face and the coffee would taste sweeter. I would laugh. I would put on lipstick and not worry about being seen. I would make myself known.
This intermittence continued for years. Finally, the good days began to outnumber the bad. I began to love myself again. After years of blaming myself and hating myself for what I now realize was no fault of my own, I began to understand. We live in a rape culture. And although the media and society would have wanted me to believe that I deserved blame and disgrace, I slowly began to comprehend that those feelings were unjustified and unwarranted.
I began feeling the blood course through my veins again. I became able to shape the person I wanted to be. I began to feel both alive and infinite.
He took something from me – that is true. But what I have built, reclaimed, and created is bigger and more vibrant. It makes me want to live, love, and hope beyond my wildest imagination. If I ever have a daughter, I will teach her to love relentlessly and infinitely, without fear. I will teach her that yes, there are bad people in the world, but there are also good people who will listen to you, nurture you, and just be there some days when you need to cry, or laugh, or be still. I am eternally grateful to those people in my life who have, over the last seven years, watched me heal and offered themselves to help in the process. I will teach her that you are always stronger than you appear, and that nobody has the right to make you feel small without your permission.
To reclaim what I lost and to truly heal, I began writing a letter. I began writing without an addressee. I just began writing.
So to whoever is reading this, be you a survivor, a friend of a survivor, or another beautiful soul, I hope I have given you something. I hope you have read this and felt a little more at peace with yourself, or that you feel the strength to begin your own journey. I hope you find anything you may be searching for, and that you possess the love and optimism to carry on and know when you have reached your destination.
Lenora Davis is the pseudonym of a young woman who approached me via the MMAS Facebook page and wanted to tell her story. To anyone reading: please know that you can tell your story here anonymously. Feel free to add it to the comments or let me know if you’d like me to publish it in a post. ~Rosie
From the blogosphere:
Trigger Warning: This post is about rape.
I was fourteen years old the night my friend G took me to my first kegger. We told my mom we were going to “a little get together.” I remember almost nothing about the evening—flashes, mostly. I remember absolutely nothing about being raped that night.
I might never have known about it, except that N–a woman I’d met the night before–mentioned it casually the next morning when I woke in a strange house with what might have been my first hangover. I don’t remember the words she used, just the image they evokedof me passed out in a bed and two men doing whatever they wanted with me.
Apparently G had left me at the party—I never learned why, but I assume that I was either passed out or otherwise resisted leaving. I never asked him. Sitting there with N that morning, I barely remembered that he’d brought me. I don’t remember worrying that I’d be in trouble for not going home the night before. I don’t remember anything but a sick feeling in my gut and the vague thought that “I guess that’s what happens when you get drunk and pass out.”
N didn’t seem particularly bothered by it. I’d soon learn that she wasn’t bothered by much. If I’d heard the term “sex positive” back then I would have assumed it applied to her because when it came to N and sex, the answer was always “yes.” By comparison, even as promiscuous as I eventually became, I always felt like a prude. And I felt like one that morning because I knew I wasn’t okay with what had happened, and yet, here was this woman ten years older than I who seemed to think it was no big deal.
So that’s how I treated it. I put it out of my mind, and I never once thought of it as rape. Rape was what happened to me when I was twelve and a boy forced himself on me and I fought with every fiber of my being. That was when I went to the police and lost friends and created a scandal in my community. This was different—it was my fault for passing out and leaving my body lying around for other people to use.
I never thought of it as rape until it happened again. I was 35 or so, out drinking, went back to someone’s place after the bar closed to smoke some pot, and woke up on a couch with a man’s penis inside me. So disoriented it took me a moment to realize what was happening and shove him off me, I first assumed that I just didn’t remember somehow letting things get started with this person I had absolutely no sexual interest in. I left him sitting on his couch looking down at his lap, and I walked home in the dark, and I blamed myself and shamed myself and felt like the most disgusting slut in the world.
And then I remembered:
We’d smoked some pot, and I’d felt really tired. I’d curled up on his couch just to rest for a moment. I had passed out. Between the alcohol, the pot, and my anti-depressants (and it’s entirely possible he slipped me something, I have no way of knowing at this point) I was good and unconscious for I don’t know how long. Until some part of me realized my body was in the middle of a sex act I hadn’t consented to.
It wasn’t my fault. I feel the need to say that because it wasn’t, and because I want anyone reading this who has experienced something similar to know that it isn’t your fault, either. We never know when we walk out the door when we’re going to find ourselves in the presence of a rapist. We can take precautions and self-defense classes, maintain a constant state of awareness of our surroundings, only ever drink at home, and still get raped. I know because the first time I got raped I was just hanging out with friends smoking a joint. I know because most women who experience rape are not drunk or dressed provocatively or in any way “asking for it.” Most victims are raped by someone they know, and it usually happens in their own home or that of a friend or relative.
Rape isn’t the logical conclusion to a night of drink ending in unconsciousness. In a civilized society, it should never be a thing about which we say, “What did she expect?” If the crime was murder, we never would. Because drunk girls don’t cause murder any more than they cause rape.
What causes rape? Rapists. People who believe on some level or other that they are entitled to use someone else’s body for their sexual gratification or rage/power/fantasy-fulfillment.
I’m grateful for the guilty verdict in the Steubenville case today. I’m outraged that the judge verbally admonished the boys for irresponsible behavior while drinking (including texting dirty pictures), but not for rape. I’m disgusted at the slap on the wrist these boys got in the form of one- and two-year sentences. But I’m hoping out of all this comes a real conversation about the culture that produces boys who aren’t even sure what rape is when they see it, and a system that treats rape victims like criminals.
Also, Jane Doe is donating all funds sent her way to her local women’s shelter and is asking that others do the same. (Worth reading.)
For more background on my history of abuse, read A Brief History (the Bad-Parts Version).
For a great breakdown of Steubenville and rape culture, read So You’re Tired of Hearing About “Rape Culture”?
And for commenters who would still like me to take responsibility for my rapes:
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
On Make Me a Sammich:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- #IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- 10 Things Rape is Not
- #SAAM Facts: Arm Yourself
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story
From the web:
Guest post by Bhagwan (originally posted on Bhagwan@Large)
But I will not share this letter myself. Not today, anyway, and certainly not linked to the original facebook posting (put forth by the brave souls at FCKH8.com) [That’s it to the left–click to embiggen. -Rosie]
For the record, I support the sentiment, the letter, and the hypothetical father and son. I was going to forward on the message, hoping to boost my own algorithmic exposure to LGBT posts and images over and above my deep and abiding admiration for George Takei.
Then I saw the following idiotic comment in the stream.
“We will have more Dads like this when you females stop having babies with guys that are not like this. Hate is hate, no matter what form it’s in.”
Despite the poor construction of the comment (and the deplorable use of “females” instead of “ladies,” but that’s another rant) this one pushed a big button for me.
Enough so that I’ve now wasted your time reading to this point, and am about to take up some more. This is my own portion of the universe, and I get to talk about pretty much whatever I want here.
So listen up, you primitive screwheads!
I am sick and tired of apologizing for my gender. I realize that simply looking the way I do I’ve hit a big part of the universal Pick 6 jackpot. But at what point is it even nominally acceptable to climb on a soapbox when expressing agreement with a concept such as a father’s love for his son?
At what point is a hypothetical woman’s decision to have a child the source of intolerance? How did the majority of our species somehow become responsible for a minority opinion?
And in what universe is spewing hate in a comment thread otherwise dominated by love justified by the words, “hate is hate, no matter what form it’s in?”
There are an infinite number of better places to draw a line in the sand. I happen to have been standing in this one for too many years to abandon my position, even as the ocean of time pours in over my fragile bulwark.
So here’s what I want people who will never read these words to do. Think of it as my own brand of soapboxing.
Stop blaming me for the actions of other asshats. I have plenty of my own problems, and hold numerous opinions that may make me a less than ideal person in your eyes. Dislike me for those, instead of your own flaws reflected.
Never, EVER, blame a woman for the actions of a man.
Start treating our fellow travelers with a modicum of respect, and don’t assume you are not part of the problem.
Don’t be a pinhead. Be the kind of person who asks your son to pick up Orange Juice when he brings his boyfriend over for a visit.
UPDATE: COLORADO RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR! (See updates at bottom.)
This is Coy Mathis. She’s six years old and, until recently, attended first grade at a school in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District in Colorado. In December 2012 Coy’s school contacted her parents, Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis, and told them that Coy would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ restroom, as she has done since Kindergarten.
You see, Coy Mathis was assigned “male” at birth. But she has known since she was able to know things that she is a girl.
You’re probably imagining a horrific tale of parental complaints and classroom bullying, but none of that has happened. The school district has decided to preemptively address a problem that does not exist, but that they imagine might occur in the future.
From Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis:
They gave Coy three options for where to go to the bathroom; the boys’ room, the staff bathroom with adults, or the nurse’s bathroom which is used by sick children.
Coy is not sick, she is not an adult, and she is not a boy.
Coy is a girl. She wears girls’ clothes, is addressed by everyone at the school using female pronouns, and has been accepted by her classmates and teachers as a girl. But if the school separates her from all her classmates to use the bathroom, they are singling her out for mistreatment, and teaching her classmates that it’s okay to discriminate.
Coy’s parents have removed her from school and have brought suit against the school district. The attorney for the district, W. Kelly Dude, provided the following explanation (using male pronouns to describe Coy):
The school “took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents, and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.” He went on to add, “However, I’m certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.” (via Housing Works Advocate)
The fact that Coy first told her parents that something was wrong with her body when she was four–the fact that Coy’s doctors have diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and recommended that she live as, and be treated as, a girl–well, the facts of Coy’s life and identity apparently don’t count. But imaginary possible future student discomfort and parent complaints? These are IMPORTANT and we MUST ACT NOW. You know, just in case.
Here’s Coy’s mom Kathryn Mathis on how Coy described the feelings she was having:
“She just kept crying and said she was scared that she was going to grow up and have a beard and a hairy chest and everybody would know she was born a boy.”
Seriously? This is all my kid would ever have to say to me (and it should be all anyone needs to hear). And I would fight the whole world to protect her right to be who she is.
We can all join the Mathis family in fighting for Coy by signing their petition on Change.org.You can also contact the Fountain-Fort Carson School District and let them know what you think. Let’s make a world that loves, accepts, and celebrates Coy and kids like her for who they are.
I went looking for news on the case, and there isn’t much, but I wanted to include this from Coy’s mom, which goes a bit farther toward explaining the process they went to before deciding the right way to proceed. From Huffington Post:
“It was kind of a long process because she had been telling us for some time, and we thought, ‘Well maybe it’s a phase, maybe if we just confirm to her that she really is a boy?’ you know, try and encourage her toward boy things, then her phase would be over maybe,” Kathryn Mathis said. “So it really took a lot of learning, research on our part because she was consistently telling us the same thing, that she was a girl. So we read lots of books, we contacted lots of support groups. We contacted her pediatrician and a child psychologist and it was very lengthy. And eventually we were told that we needed to support her and how she was, and you know, how she really was.”
Jill Filipovic also writes about Coy in a recent article on the Guardian.
Watch a 17 minute Dateline video featuring Coy: Crossover Kids
CO. RIGHTS DIVISION RULES IN COY’S FAVOR!
From the New York Times (6/23/13):
In a sharply worded ruling, the division concluded that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District needlessly created a situation in which the student, Coy Mathis, would be subject to harassment when it barred her from the girls’ bathroom even though she clearly identified as female.
Telling Coy “that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive,” Steven Chavez, the division director, wrote in the decision.
The dispute over whether Coy, 6, should be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom was seen by some as a critical test of how state antidiscrimination laws were applied to transgender students.
Read more at NYT.
Poem by MMAS reader Karl Jesse, published with permission.
when I was young, I didn’t care.
The other was a fascination.
A mystery I wanted to swim with.
Now, seeing how complex is our predicament,
I begin to understand.
But I am not afraid.
Because I have walked with you.
Talked with you.
We have wound together.
Stronger, wiser, inseparable.
Something I will never forget.
No, it never got easier,
but it sure got a lot more interesting.
I think it was the day I first learned the phrase “trigger warning” that I realized what it is that happens to me when people reach lazily for the word that describes my nightmare and use it to describe what their wife did to them in their divorce or what their buddy did to them in HALO the night before. That sick feeling, the inevitable visualization of what the word means–to me, personally, based on my experience having survived rape. The reminder that although at least one in four women have experienced sexual assault (and 1 in 33 men), for many people that experience is so foreign that it can easily, casually, and sometimes it seems, constantly, be reduced to an analogy or even a punchline.
When the whole Daniel Tosh fiasco happened, I wanted to write about it. I really did. I started a draft. I collected reference articles. But I just couldn’t do it. Maybe it’s because I’d already gotten up a head of steam over the topic. A few years ago, on a long-dead blog, I wrote a post about many of the reasons rape jokes and analogies should be used with care, if at all. Everyone else had done a great job of explaining all the reasons why Daniel Tosh is a jackass, so I let that pass, but I still find myself on probably a weekly basis wanting to link people to that old article that explains why I wish they’d just stop with the rape jokes and analogies already. So today I made the postcard above, and now I’m resurrecting my old post below.
Rape: It’s Not Funny (or Cool)
After seeing the word “rape” used as a punchline and an analogy for everything from the financial crisis to a sports victory, I’m utterly and completely over it. I’ll admit that this is a personal thing for me: I have been raped. I understand that’s not true of everyone, and I don’t expect my world to be scrubbed clean of all references to rape. But too many of us, male and female, have experienced this violent, debasing act for any of us to be tossing the word around carelessly. Consider the following reasons to find a new analogy—a different punchline.
Rape Analogies Aren’t Cool
I’m as outraged as anyone about the mess Wall Street has made (that our government has allowed them to make) of our economy. And who doesn’t love to see their team win? But to use “raped” to mean “was victorious over” indicates that we believe rape is a cool way to assert power. To use it to mean “victimized” (as in Wall Street victimized America) is at least in the ballpark, but I think it really boils down to a crude attempt to be edgy or even provocative. Johnny Depp compared photo shoots to rape. Really, Johnny? I expected better. When we let these analogies slide we’re contributing to a culture that trivializes rape, and that’s not ok.
Comedian Dane Cook, who doesn’t think twice about making sexist and racist jokes, had this to say about rape analogies:
“I think the word raped gets thrown around far too casually. You ever listen to a bunch of guys playing video games with each other online? It’s like, ‘Ah man you shot me in the back dude. You raped me dude!’ I’m pretty sure if I talked to a woman who’s been through that horrific situation and I said, ‘What was it like, you know, being raped?’ she’s not gonna look at me and go, ‘Have you ever played Halo?’”
I’ve only ever seen one rape analogy that I thought worked, and that’s because the objective was to point out the stupidity of victim blaming in rape cases.
Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny
We use humor and analogy to help us understand our world, and humor in particular relies on (among other things) pushing the boundaries of comfort and social acceptance. People joke about religion, politics, gender, crime—even race and homosexuality still get a workout from some standup comedians. Is rape a special case? Perhaps not; maybe it’s fair game like so much else. Except that it isn’t. Rape is a violent, humiliating, abusive act that is damaging on a scale that I’m not sure one can grasp without experiencing it. I wouldn’t wish something like that on my worst enemy, but I think anyone who believes it’s ok to make rape jokes should take a moment to imagine it: someone pins you down (or threatens your life or drugs your drink or waits until you’re asleep) and penetrates you without your consent. Imagine the fear, the pain, the violation, the humiliation, the disgust…do you think you would ever find humor in that situation? Do you think you would be ok—really ok—with people making your trauma the source of their amusement?
Some humor makes us laugh and cringe simultaneously. Disasters and gruesome celebrity deaths usually give rise to at least one groaner, and though we know we shouldn’t be laughing, it’s as if our bodies betray us (though there’s a part of me that always feels a little dirty afterward). But there are some lines that we seem to agree on some level shouldn’t be crossed, and when they are, nearly everyone in the room shuffles their feet and coughs uncomfortably. Race is one of these, in what I like to think of as the more enlightened circles. Homophobia and transphobia are also not considered acceptable. And there are things that it doesn’t even occur to most of us to joke about, like Hiroshima or hate crimes. That’s because these are violent, horrifying acts and events that we recognize as worthy of some gravity. Rape should, in my opinion, be among those.
But that’s only part of the problem.
Rape Jokes and Analogies Can Do Harm
Two things happen when people make rape jokes and analogies: one is that they can help reinforce a culture in which rape is somehow acceptable. Because I can’t say it any better myself, Wikipedia offers this:
Rape culture is a term which originated in women’s studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification and rape apologism. Use of the term has recently become more common.
The other thing that happens when people use rape to get a laugh or describe a victory or make a comparison is that those of us who have been raped may be “triggered*”—that is, we may react adversely to unexpectedly encountering a thoughtless remark, for instance, using our trauma to describe what one team did to the other one on the football field today. Some of us have stronger reactions than others. Personally, depending on the remark, I cringe, my stomach clenches, I might experience some nausea or anxiety. This is a mild reaction—other people, for various reasons, can be triggered to a much greater degree. Rape survivors are traumatized people, many (or most, or all) of whom suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to one degree or another. Their reactions can range from panic attacks to flash-backs to the desire to hurt themselves to escape feelings of rage, shame, and fear.
It All Comes Down to Empathy
We’ve all got our sensitivities, and I believe political correctness can go too far. Some people seem to spend all their time looking for offense—and finding it—and I think they should really lighten up. But I also believe we can all benefit from an understanding of how our thoughtless comments can affect others whose experience might be so much different from our own. Sure, you can write people off as “too sensitive” or invoke your right to free speech or state self-righteously that “it’s not my job to keep other people from being offended,” but ultimately, if our words hurt someone, that person remains hurt despite our rights and entitlements. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. We all have to decide whether our right to use rape as a punchline or an analogy is worth the consequences.
This article on Shakesville makes an important point that I did not:
Here’s another article that tells it like it is:
And a petition:
FOX Sports, a division of News Corp.: Tell FOX to drop the UFC unless they clean up their act!
And if you have a strong stomach, here’s a look at 10 minutes on Twitter. This is what rape culture looks like. Oh, and here’s an entire World of Warcraft fansite forum thread dedicated to rape jokes.
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
I want to apologize–for so many things. For myself and for the culture we live in. Because we are failing you and girls like you and we have to do better.
I’ll start by apologizing for myself. I’m sorry for not knowing until now what to say about the way Seth MacFarlane and the Onion treated you on Oscar night. They singled you out for a laugh never thinking of what effect that might have on you. On a night when they should have been celebrating your achievements, they commodified you. They used you in a way that comedians and satirist use lots of people, except that children ought to be exempt. Especially on what is possibly the biggest night of their lives to date, when they’re sitting right there in the room listening attentively. And I was outraged, and I said so, but only in passing. I didn’t feel equipped to deal with the complexity of the racial side of this (if it can even be called a side–maybe it’s the whole thing). I felt as though it wasn’t my place. And I read what other people had to say and I asked questions and I learned. And now I know that my silence was perhaps interpreted by some as acceptance or at the very least, complacency, laziness, and lack of concern. I realize that if you or any young woman of color came to my blog, you would find that I’d dedicated exactly zero time and energy to saying (here, where I talk about things that matter to me) that they treated you badly, that they were wrong, that this is a symptom of so much of what is wrong with us as a society, and that it’s important to understand that race is a big part of the equation because of the way black girls and women have historically been treated–and exploited–in this country.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané, that I didn’t write about this before now.
Now I want to apologize for the culture that allows this to happen, because I know I have been part of the problem and because I own that each of us (adults) is partly responsible for allowing it to be this way. We raise our girls to believe they are somehow less than boys, and our boys to think that the worst possible thing someone can say to them is that they’re behaving like (or running like, or throwing like, or crying like) a girl. We reward young men for the “conquest” of having sex, and shame young women for being “sluts.” We create and consume media that sets unattainable standards, reinforces harmful gender and racial stereotypes, and perpetuates rape culture. This culture we have created and continue to allow to thrive is what made Seth MacFarlane believe it was acceptable to use you for a laugh. It’s what made some fans claim that our outrage over that and the Onion’s ill-considered attempt at satire are because people like us “have no sense of humor.” It’s the reason hundreds of people retweeted the Onion’s tweet.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané. I’m sorry we aren’t living in a post-sexist, post-racist society by 2013. I’m sorry they couldn’t just let you have your night in the spotlight and celebrate your talent and your achievements and the fact that you made history. I hope the night was wonderful and that none of this spoiled anything for you.
I learned to pronounce your name partly because I was so angry that people who make their living talking to and about celebrities on television did not take the time before meeting you to do so, but also because I wanted to know how to say it. Now I find myself saying it over and over again: Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané…because it sounds like a song. Those people who didn’t bother to learn your name really missed out–they could have done their jobs and had the joy of saying your lovely name out loud.
I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Update 1/12/15: It has been nearly two years and they are still mispronouncing her name.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Meet Kristi Noem. Yesterday she distinguished herself as the only woman in Congress to vote against both the House and Senate versions of the Violence Against Women Act. While you ponder that, here’s a bit about her from Wikipedia:
Kristi Noem (born November 30, 1971) is the U.S. Representative for South Dakota’s at-large congressional district, serving since January 2011. She is a member of the Republican Party and has been elected to the Republican Leadership for the 112th Congress as one of its two freshman representatives. She previously represented the 6th District in the South Dakota House of Representatives for four years, serving as an Assistant Majority Leader during her final year. She is a farmer, rancher and small business owner by profession.
Many on her Facebook page (male and female–even some Republicans) are asking for an explanation, but I found no official statement on her page. Apparently this is not a cut and dried issue for her, as she has waffled on it before. According to a statement to press after the vote, she believes the VAWA will “muddy the waters with constitutionally questionable provisions that will likely only delay justice.”
Also, according to the Argus Leader, Noem has plans to…compensate? for voting against women by introducing new legislation in future:
Noem said she soon will introduce a bill to help victims of domestic abuse in Indian tribes. The measure will include a series of provisions, including improving coordination between U.S. and tribal law enforcement.
Yeah, sorry, but…no.
To see Ms. Noem among these white Republican men in this context is so bizarre to me. As one Facebook commenter said, “How could anyone with a uterus vote against VAWA?” But even more bizarre was seeing this from one female commenter:
And this, also from a woman:
I’m never surprised to see men bashing VAWA. To be clear, I’m never surprised to see men defending VAWA, either–it’s just that most VAWA opposition I’ve encountered comes directly from Men’s Rights Activists who claim that the Violence Against Women Act is a conspiracy by feminists to strip them of their parental rights and destroy the institution of the traditional American family. The rest has come from white, male politicians who honestly seem worried that they or one of their friends might find themselves subject to reservation justice, which when you think about it is pretty gross. But why else oppose protections for Native American women raped by men who are not members of the reservation they chose to perpetrate their crime (often repeatedly)?
But when I see women caught up in opposing their own rights and protections, I just feel sick. Who are these women, and how did someone convince them that VAWA was bad for them (or for anyone)? And more importantly, how do we counter this tendency?
A male commenter on MMAS recently said that women need to stand together and watch one another’s backs the way men do. I think he’s right in that women have been trained to see one another as competition for males and while some of us have risen above that and are embracing sisterhood, too many still don’t want to be seen as One of “Those” Girls. Men are competitive, too, but it’s just not the same, I think. When women buy into the cultural stereotypes that tell us that our sex is bitchy, naggy, and oh-so-crazy, but tolerable as long as we look cute and don’t make waves…well, what chance to we have? When women buy into conservative/MRA lies that tell them VAWA is a feminist plot or a way to complicate legal proceedings or persecute white men…how the hell do we counter that?
With the truth. Here’s some from the White House VAWA Fact Sheet:
VAWA has improved the criminal justice response to violence against women by:
- holding rapists accountable for their crimes by strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and creating a federal “rape shield law,” which is intended to prevent offenders from using victims’ past sexual conduct against them during a rape trial;
- mandating that victims, no matter their income levels, are not forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams or for service of a protection order;
- keeping victims safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order will be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the United States;
- increasing rates of prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of offenders by helping communities develop dedicated law enforcement and prosecution units and domestic violence dockets;
- ensuring that police respond to crisis calls and judges understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence by training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates and judges; VAWA funds train over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel every year;
- providing additional tools for protecting women in Indian country by creating a new federal habitual offender crime and authorizing warrantless arrest authority for federal law enforcement officers who determine there is probable cause when responding to domestic violence cases.
VAWA also provides services for victims of domestic violence and their families. The National Domestic Violence Hotline answers 22,000 calls a month, and is the first call most victims make when they decide to seek help. And since VAWA passed in 1994, domestic violence is down nearly 70%. Programs VAWA created have resulted in greater awareness of what constitutes abuse, resulting in higher reporting rates, so more abuse victims are getting out and getting the help they need. Because of VAWA, more women understand that abuse is not “normal” and is never okay. And I’m sorry to report that making abuse a black-and-white issue is one of the things opponents of VAWA really dislike. Because some men believe they have the right to visit all manner of punishment on women so long as they don’t actually lay a hand on them, and they’d really rather we didn’t label their behavior as abusive. Well, sorry, dickheads. You lose.
As for women working against their own interests, all I can say is fight it wherever you find it, people. Women like Rep. Noem may be a lost cause (although I encourage you to let her know what you think), but too many are just asleep. And it’s time for a wake-up call.
That’s the theme question and writing prompt for Day 2 of #FemFest. This is my answer–today, anyway.
Yesterday I spent a considerable portion of my day thinking about how to talk to two young women who–independent of one another–pooh-poohed the very idea and existence of feminism as something that either didn’t concern them or that they didn’t feel a part of. In talking to the first woman, I learned that as a “working-class black woman,” she didn’t feel at all welcome in or comfortable with feminism–in fact, she believes feminism is pretty exclusive. Being white and new to active feminism, I don’t feel equipped to talk much about why that is (I’ll write more about this in a future post), but I did my best to assure her that my brand of feminism, and that of most of the feminists I’ve encountered, is the inclusive kind.
In the second case, a young blogger declared that feminists are a bunch of whiners who feel inferior–who believe they’re not yet equal to men and are fighting to become equal, which is silly because duh, we already are. She declared that, as a strong woman, she couldn’t possibly be a feminist, because feminists are obviously weak if they think they’re not equal.
In both cases I gave it my best shot, but I have no idea whether I got through. Frustrated, I turned to Jenn Pozner for help during her daily waiting-for-the-subway-Q-and-A.
@jennpozner How do you talk to young women who buy into the stereotypes about feminism and feminists?
— Rosie R. (@MMASammich) February 27, 2013
While I waited for her to respond, I pondered whether my question was a) stupid, and b) answerable via Twitter. After ten minutes, I was certain I’d caused poor Jenn to roll her eyes so hard she passed out. I wondered whether I should call 911. Then this popped into my feed:
Patience+info+clarity+humor…& I listen. MT @mmasammich How do u talk 2young women who buy into stereotypes about feminism &feminists?
— Jennifer L. Pozner (@jennpozner) February 27, 2013
I went back over my attempts at communicating with these two women, and I felt pretty good about them. And I realized how close I’d come in the second case to not even trying. Who was I to tell a young woman that she was wrong in her assumptions about feminism? And why would she listen to me? I’m one of THEM! I even closed the tab with her post in it and tried to move on, but it just kept niggling at the back of my brain, so I went and found it again and I told her some of the reasons I think feminism is important:
It took me many years to get past the lies society taught me about feminists and feminism and to call myself a feminist. Feminism is not about seeing your gender as unequal. It’s about noticing that our society doesn’t treat us as equal and deciding we’re fed up with that and want it to change. Feminists are the reason women have the right to vote, own property, get a bank account without our husband’s signature.
I still shave my legs and wear makeup, and I don’t hate men. I don’t feel inferior–but I am tired of being treated as though I’m inferior, and I’ve decided not to tolerate it anymore. Believe it or not, I’m stronger than a lot of people. I’ve survived some of the worst humanity can dish out, and I’m still here. Still fighting for what I believe in. As for things that aren’t fair, I’d much rather write about them and talk about them and work to change them than do nothing, but I certainly do my best not to whine. ;)
I think you’ll find that there are as many kinds of feminism as there are women (and men) who identify as feminists. Some of us are pretty cool people, once you get to know us. :)
That comment has not been approved and published, and it may not be. But I believe there’s a good chance that blogger will see things at least a little bit differently over time because I took a few minutes to be patient, provide clear and concise information, keep things light, and most importantly, to pay attention to what she was saying and respond to her specific criticisms.
And this is why my feminism is important. Because when I hear that something I wrote helped someone “get it” or made them feel something or helped bring them to a place where they felt comfortable declaring, “Yes! I am a feminist!” I know that I have to keep writing and talking and working for change. When I see my daughters’ eyes opening to the patriarchy that oppresses all of us (male and female), I know their lives will be better for that understanding, and that they will go forward and carry on the fight until there’s nothing left to fight anymore.
Feminism is important because there are still people out there who think women ought not to vote, work, or have a place in government. Because rape culture teaches us that our bodies are not our own, but made for men’s pleasure. Because boys are taught that it’s bad to be “girly.” Because the patriarchy hurts us all.
I am more than my body. More than my role as a mother and lover. I am more than a vehicle to transport my breasts and vagina to a man’s bed. I am more than a baby-making machine. And so are my daughters. And I will fight until the day I die to create a world in which they don’t feel the need to apologize for being female.
This post has been part of Feminisms Fest (#FemFest on Twitter). Learn more.
What is feminism to you? Why is it important?
As some of you are aware, today many people on Twitter are taking the opportunity to #TellAFeministThankYou. Most of us are thanking feminists for things like the fact that it’s socially acceptable for us to wear pants out to dinner, or for the hard work they do campaigning for women’s health and safety, or for the way they support and inspire other feminists.
And of course, you’ve joined the party to impart your wisdom, which consists mostly of “why don’t you go make me a sammich?” And feminists all over the Internet are laughing our asses off. After all this time, is that really the best you can come up with?
It’s sad and pathetic and all that, but if I’m honest, I owe you my thanks. You, Trolls, and people who think like you, are one of the reasons this site exists. And I certainly have you to thank for its name, don’t I? It’s absolutely perfect and I wouldn’t have it if you weren’t so gosh darned clever!
So, thank you, Trolls, for being what you are—an ever-present object lesson wherever one is needed. A perfect illustration of why we must keep fighting. Not because you exist (because you’re pathetic); not because of the things you say (because mostly they don’t matter). It’s because you breed. Your hatred breeds. You poison young minds—male and female—against each other, against themselves. Your anonymous mob-mentality is contagious and sometimes deadly. And when the real Anonymous big boys and girls go after one of you and out you to the world, I can’t feel sorry for you even when you beg for their forgiveness and say it was all a joke and you never meant any harm. We as a society have to put your like in the middle of town square in stocks and throw rotten fruit until bored, sad, unimaginative, cruel people like you learn that this behavior won’t be tolerated.
Keep showing up, by all means. Keep harassing women on the Internet and showing the rest of us what the worst of us look like. But don’t expect us to tolerate you. I won’t ignore you any longer, and given the chance, I’ll expose you. And if I don’t, someone else will.
Oh, and here’s your sammich:
This week I saw this dress on Facebook and I LOVED it. LOVED the image, the fact the dress exists, that the woman wearing it probably made it herself, the fact that I could possibly own such a thing or make something that clever or cool. I shared it with my beloved Geek Girls Book Club* (GGBC) because I knew everyone there (male and female) would love it as much as I did.
It never occurred to me (and never would to anyone in GGBC) to shame this woman for her size. But I’m lucky that way–I hang out with a better class of people than the ones you’re about to meet. (Also, I think she’s gorgeous.)
Unfortunately, we all know they’re out there. And as this awesome blog post on The Teresa Jusino Experience articulates so eloquently, when it comes to these sorts of Internet “critics,” women find themselves between a rock and a hard place:
Apparently, a woman cosplaying at ALL, no matter what she looks like, is risking some kind of backlash. If she’s thin (and thus, “hot”), she’s criticized for being “fake.” If she’s overweight, she’s criticized for not being “hot” enough. It seems that women in the geek community just can’t win.
The article’s overall thrust goes deeper, though–to the core of one of society’s most stubborn prejudices: fat-shaming. Male or female, people who exceed our collective, unspoken, ever-evolving body-size limit can expect us to treat them as somehow undeserving of our respect simply because of the extra weight they (we) carry around.
I am overweight by medical and societal standards. Men have called me “fat bitch” or “fat ass” on the street (or in my back yard). I’m not obese (by the above standards), so women don’t usually get in on the act (though it’s always hilarious to have a thin friend sit across from me at a restaurant and talk about how fat she is–I don’t take it personally because it’s not about me). But I grew up with a father who disdained fat, shamed my mother if he thought she’d gained weight while he was away on one of his trips, made crude comments about “fat girls,” and started shaming me when I was a teenager as soon as my body began displaying some curves. Between that and what I saw in the media, it was always clear to me that I didn’t measure up. And for people larger than I am, the problem goes from a voice on the inside saying “I’m not good enough” to people saying “You’re not good enough” in so many ways both literally and by treating “fat” people like they’re somehow failing at life.
I’ve been guilty of making stupid assumptions about all sorts of people, including “fat” people. But I learned as a child the difference between cruelty and kindness, and as an adult I learned about tolerance, and acknowledging privilege, and that mistakes are part of learning and I can grow and be a better person. What I haven’t learned is how to reach people like the ones above who still think it’s ok to shame someone for any reason because, like with so many people who make asshole comments like this, it seems that anyone who calls them out on it simply has “no sense of humor.”
That’s all I’ve got in me for today, friends. Sorry for the sporadic nature of my posts of late, but in addition to everything else, my old dog left me this week and I’m trying to keep up with work and life one day at a time. I’ll get it back together sometime soon. Meanwhile, thanks for sticking with me. It’s good to know you’re out there.
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.
Today a teacher I follow on Facebook posted a letter she’d written to a local paper in response to a letter to the editor. The original letter from Rob Cobb, printed in the Nevada Appeal, in Carson City, NV, is in the image below. The paper wanted her to cut 250 words, so I helped her do that, and offered to print her letter in its entirety here.
Guest post by TvB
There are quite a few reasons why teachers shouldn’t carry guns in schools, all of which can be saved for another day and a different letter to the editor. I, however, write today to respond to Rob Cobb’s letter in which he states his reasons why teachers shouldn’t carry guns.
1. “Most teachers have never really functioned in the real world.”
Saying I’m offended by this comment is an understatement. What exactly is the “real world” Mr. Cobb? Teaching your children about a subject is just a small part of our job. How about the kids you send through our doors who we need to counsel and console because their parent beat them senseless the night before? How about the kid that can’t afford to eat because mom or dad is so strung out on drugs and spends the food money on getting high so that kid comes to school starving and so we give them food or money out of our own pocket to buy lunch? How about the student that wants to commit suicide because her parents don’t support her being gay? How about the student who’s been raised by gang members and has recently become a gang member also? You don’t think that this is “real world” for us? The real world, is something we try to CLEAN UP and make better for your children everyday. The real world is more real to us than it is for you who think we don’t “function in the real world.” I function highly in this world and I help your child function also.
2. “They went through school, maybe if their parents had money they went to Europe one summer to see the world. Then after college they got a job teaching, and have never worked or lived outside of a school.”
Many of us had different careers before we became teachers. For example, in my building alone, I work with former carpenters, construction workers, nurses, federal government workers, policemen, firefighters, and career military personnel. Are you implying that these former careers of many of our teachers don’t qualify as “real world?” Many of our teachers gave up lucrative careers to be with your kids, helping them understand what the real world actually is. We bring to the table a wealth of “real world” experience and hands-on knowledge to your children. Your comment is not only offensive, but downright ignorant.
As a teacher, I don’t want to carry a gun in school. But what I do possess in my weaponry are some things called, respect, love, knowledge, and common sense. These are the weapons I use to help teach your children how to function in the “real world.” I believe a lot of these “weapons” will go a lot farther than anything the bullets of a gun could ever instill upon the young minds of our children.
Follow Teacher vs. Bieber on Facebook.
We interrupt this story-in-progress to bring you an update from the future. Ok, now that you’re here, it’s the present. Welcome back!
I ran out of words a few days ago. Words about my current life, that is. I started a new freelance gig, and all my words are currently going there. It’s a welcome distraction from reality and gives me a sense of forward motion. It restores some of my confidence. It reminds me that I’m ok on my own.
B and I are on speaking–even friendly–terms following a series of talks. I unloaded a lot of anger on him in person –which I very much needed to do–when he came to move his stuff. Then we talked as friends and cried together a bit. (I did most of the crying–B never has been able to really let loose in that department, and I think he needs to learn how. I told him that the other day.) That was two weeks to the day after he left, and it was a very, very hard day. We’ve talked twice since then and kept in touch via email and text.
I had my first therapy appointment today. It was good. I wish I could have gone sooner, but my crisis happened right when everyone else was having theirs, and vacations and all that. Going back weekly. Also have an appointment with B and a couples counselor Tuesday. I don’t know what to hope for at this point.
Now and then it hits me all over again, but in between I have found some peace. I am getting stronger every day.
Never fear–I’ll get back to publishing regular stuff on a more regular basis just as soon as possible. Right now it’s all I can do to juggle one ball at a time.
When the two returned home to their houses in the same town, in the same neighborhood, on the same street, four houses apart, neither could stop thinking about the other. The girl barely slept and couldn’t eat. When she awoke in the morning, she looked the man up and sent him an email–something short and sweet and hopeful. In her mailbox, she found a painting from the man of a purple snail. Her heart sang and she sent another email admonishing him for causing her to make undignified girly noises. She immediately sculpted a matching snail for him in blue. Into it she poured everything she was feeling–all the joy and hope and dare she even think it? Yes: Love. And she brought it to him that very day and they sat across from one another at a small table and tasted every beer on tap as they talked, and talked, and talked.
Later that night they went back to the office from which he ran his “mighty publishing empire” and he played music for her and they resisted so many temptations as they listened and talked, their brains awash in love chemicals.
Over the next several weeks, the two met tentatively, as friends, as the man sorted out the life he’d neglected for far too long. And when the two were apart, the girl marveled at the string of coincidences and the seeming serendipity that had brought them together and kept reaffirming for them every step of the way that this was good and right and expected and deserved.
He moved house within a week and still kept the promise he’d made himself that until he was sure he was doing the right thing, the girl and the man would be just friends. Just friends who were falling ever more desperately in love by the day. They talked for hours at a time, stared into one another’s eyes, wondered whether the whole thing was some cosmic joke on them. They longed for their first kiss, and when the man finally gave in, they melted together in that kiss. They waited much longer to be together unclothed, but when that happened, the fireworks were spectacular.
And they loved, and they loved, and they loved.
[To be continued.]
Over the course of the evening the girl and the man continued the dance, spiraling in and away, engaging for a moment and then disengaging because the intensity was almost too much to bear. The girl found herself grinning like a fool, and saw that he was, too. She said his name to herself quietly, trying it on for size–not to wear it, but to learn what it might be like for that name to become familiar to her, cherished, like a comfortable sweater or a favorite book or the name of her true love.
As they moved together and apart, the girl and the man learned that though they were both away from home, they lived in the same town. That they lived in the same neighborhood. On the same street. Within four houses of one another. The sparred with words and glances and jibes and wondered at the magic of it all. Each one felt as though the Universe had reached down and shaken their little snow-globe into utter, ecstatic chaos. In the wee hours they said goodnight, embracing for the first time, him mumbling, “I hope to see you soon,” into her hair, her whispering, “Just try to avoid me,” into his neck.
The girl barely slept that night, and the next day the two sat down to their first meal together. The girl was nervous and giddy. The man ordered a salad and the girl ordered a hummus plate, but neither ate much. They talked about their favorite things (his favorite color: blue) and hobbies (she sculpted snails, among other things) and interests and how strange it was, this thing that seemed to be happening between them.
The man mentioned how, when one is away from home for a weekend, it can be a simple thing to get lost in a fantasy. The girl felt a little sad because she knew it was true–the odds were against this being anything as earth-shattering as it felt at that moment. Then the man said, “I sense reality here,” and the girl thought, “Who is this man who isn’t afraid to talk to me about feelings? Where has he been all these years? Can he be real?”
Then, “Please, let him be real.”
[To be continued.]
Once upon a time there was a girl–a woman on the outside, but on the inside, just a girl–and she was sad. Her life–like everyone’s–had been a series of ups and downs, and this was decidedly a down period. Unemployed, depressed, and unable to see a happy future for herself, she read self-help books, gave herself tarot readings, read her horoscope and the I Ching, tentatively started a blog, filed her unemployment paperwork–reminded each time that for the first time ever she’d been fired from what she’d only a month previously referred to as her “dream job.” Boys and girls, our heroine was in a funk.
One day she read somewhere that in order to get what she wanted, she needed to know what she wanted. Sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t. So she created a sort of electronic totem and poured into it everything she could imagine that her life could be. For Home, Work, Love, Health…for every aspect of her life, she created a place with words and images describing her perfect life and tied it all together and left it there to do its work.
Within a month or so, things began to change. Small changes at first, hints of changes. Coincidences. Portents. The Universe seemed to be telling her “Something BIG is about to happen. Get ready.”
She didn’t feel ready. But she went out into the world and one night she met a man and knew when she saw the back of his head (though she’d only met him in passing once before) who he was and that she would now go and introduce herself to him.
It was his eyes struck her first, or maybe his wide, joyful smile as she shook his hand. Or maybe it was sheer chemistry. But while they talked only briefly, she went to bed that night thinking of him, wondering. Telling herself to stop being a silly girl. But she looked for him the next day, saw him across a hotel lobby, and felt a twinge of something like hope. And felt silly all over again.
The next night she met him again, and when they spoke, her heart vibrated in her chest. They moved among dozens of people as if in a dance, each always aware of the other’s presence in the room. She knew his exact location every second and when they came together to share a toast or a joke, their eyes met and she saw fire there–a fire meant for her. It was clear to them both and anyone else who was paying attention:
Something BIG was happening.
[To be continued.]