A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Posts tagged “misogyny

Not All Men, But These Ones

SAYNOTALLMENAGAIN

Trigger Warning for the many ways we experience violence at the hands of (not all) men, including CSA, SA, rape, VAWG.

I saw a quote a while back that hit home for me. I can’t find it now, but it went something like this:

The issue is not that all men are violent. The issue is that nearly all women have experienced violence at the hands of men.

The sad but true fact is that while not all men are violent, men do commit violence against women and non-binary people (and other men—in fact, according to the FBI, most violent crimes are committed by men).

I have told parts of my story before here and there. And I suspect that I will do so again. In this case, I’m reprising my tale now in order to join others who have shared their litanies of violence as a counter to the superfluous yet oh-so-ubiquitous cries of “not all men.” Because FFS, dudes. Enough already.

derail“Not all men” is a derailing tactic and serves literally no other purpose than to focus attention away from male violence and center it on the man decrying the unfairness of it all.

When people who are not men say “men do this,” we’re reporting that our experience is that enough men do this that it stands out that men do this. The fact that men do this contributes to an overall feeling of oppression. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate patriarchy. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate sexism and misogyny. Men do these things without even thinking about them because the men who came before them did it and because too often no one does so much as turn away in disapproval when it happens.

Not all men did these things to me, but these men did.

The man who sucked my tongue, fondled my genitals, and taught me to give him a blow job when I was three.

The man who was my uncle by marriage and came in my mouth when I was six, then spent hours trying to get into my underwear as we camped out in the yard.

The man who fondled my nipples when I was seven or eight during a nighttime hide-and-go-seek game at my cousin’s house.

The man who flexed his exposed erection at me and my friend when we were 9 via the leg of his shorts.

The man—a trusted family friend—who gave me music lessons when I was 9 and performed oral sex on me while my parents weren’t home.

The man who used a finger cot to make his penis small enough to fit inside me when I was 10. Who also gave me a cigar tube to practice with at home.

The man who pulled his truck over as I walked down the street, opened his door, stepped out naked and masturbated while staring at me.

The 14-year-old boy who violently raped me when I was 12 and smoking weed with him in a fort behind my neighbor’s house.

The man who had sex with me in his van knowing that I was a 12-year-old rape victim (but probably not really believing that second part).

The boys and men who repeatedly “pantsed” me over my loud objections and ridiculed me when I was angry.

The two men who took turns raping me while I was passed out drunk at my first kegger when I was 14.

The many, many men—adults—who gave me alcohol and drugs and got their rocks off on me when I was a troubled teen.

The man who exposed his genitals to me in a grocery store parking lot when I was 16.

The man who spent a drunken night trying to coerce me into sleeping with him when I was 16.

The man who raped me when I was 16 because I said no after a night of partying with him and his friend.

The man who attempted to grab me on a dark street as I rode my bike to a friend’s house, 16 and pregnant, and only stopped because I scared him with my primal and guttural GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.

The man who beat the shit out of me in front of my 2-year-old for leaving a party when I was 18.

The man who decided that the fact that I was unconscious on his sofa meant he could go ahead and rape me.

The man who thought because we were friends and had been sexual in the past, it was ok to straddle my drunken body and ejaculate on my chest after I said no to sex.

The many men who have wished me harm here on my blog and on social media.

How many men is enough? How many men must commit violence upon my person before it’s ok if I just say “men did this”?

Men did these things. Not all men. But enough of them that this list is not even complete. Men did these things. And every time some dude Kool-Aid-Mans into a thread where people who are not men discuss male violence to declare that not all men did these things, the only thing he makes clear is that he is utterly ignorant and unwilling to listen to people who are not just like him.

Not all men. Just dozens of men in my case. Hundreds if you count my circle of friends and relatives. Thousands if you count their friends and the people they love.

And that’s enough.


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The Missing Stairs of Feminism

NOTE: Charlotte Clymer is a trans woman. This article was written several years before she transitioned. 

Ugh. I’ve been working on this post on and off for weeks, but have been so disgusted and discouraged (and clinically depressed, as it happens), it’s been really challenging to get it finished and put it out there. It’s not the sort of thing I like having to write about, and I think some part of me was hoping that the person who sparked it would address the issues and somehow make it less necessary, but alas, that was wishful (one might even say “magical,”) thinking. Also, I recently learned that this whole thing came out a whole lot longer ago than I thought and some of us just missed it. See my apology toward the end.
—Rosie, 7/28/14

Image: Flickr user kke227

Image: Flickr user kke227

Perhaps you’ve heard the analogy of the “missing stair.” It refers to a phenomenon wherein women warn one another about predators and other creeps in their social group because the social group is unwilling to oust said creep, makes excuses for him, or doesn’t even realize that the fact that he’s a creep is a problem to be solved. “But he’s a nice guy,” they’ll say, and list all of his good qualities, ignoring the fact that he’s at best an annoyance and at worst a danger to the women in the group.

In feminism, a missing stair can take many forms, as the author of the “missing stair” piece points out. Today I want to talk about one particular form: that of the faux feminist ally.

It recently (for some of us) came to light that a man who calls himself a feminist ally (and who many of us believed to be one) has behaved in ways and harbors attitudes that are decidedly un-ally-like. This is a person who, at first glance, seems like the perfect ally. He says all the right things, and he says them often. He just seems to “get it.” I mean, how many guys get it like this guy does? Wow. Everybody loves this guy.

Everyone, that is, except those who have already discovered that there’s more than one side to him. Or, perhaps more accurately, that there’s just one side, and it’s cleverly hidden under a fluffy sheep’s skin.

This guy is accused of silencing women on his once very popular (now defunct) feminist Facebook page as a matter of daily business. He has been accused of a number of things I’m not going to go into here, but suffice to say accusations abound. And the fact that there are so many accusations is an important piece of data. Perhaps emboldened by others speaking out, people seemed to flock to Twitter to share their stories, and many had screenshots to back them up. Put it all together, and the picture is not pretty.

And then there are the things he has admitted to: He has admitted to sending a very ugly message to a woman who criticized the way he ran his page. He has admitted that he used that page to meet women. He has freely—and one might even say proudly—admitted that his interest in feminism is at least partly based in “self-interest.” And I don’t mean in the way that feminism is good for everyone. No, this guy wants to be a professional feminist.

While dozens loudly criticized his behavior in a recent Twitter campaign to bring it to light, the dude in question ignored them and tweeted this quote:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Numerous people attempted to engage him and from what I can tell, he responded to very few (many were apparently blocked). His feminist Facebook page disappeared after folks who tried him there got the same treatment. The Twitter hashtag calling him out is still active after several weeks. So yeah, people have been talking.

But I believe when Mrs. Roosevelt said the words above, she was talking about gossip—e.g., whose car was parked in the neighbor’s driveway—and gossip is not what has been happening here. It is not “gossip” that this dude berated a woman and used his privilege to mock her for using the word “privilege.” It is not “gossip” that he called her an “idiot” for expressing her views on how he ran his page. It is not “gossip” that he has expressed a desire to make a “career” of being a prominent male feminist and that he estimates he’s about “80 percent” dedicated to the cause, with the other 20% being about him. These are all things he has said and admitted to, and reducing these criticisms to gossip indicates that he does not take them—or his critics—seriously in the least.

No, gossip is not what has been happening. Here’s what has: People have been talking about what it means that a self-styled male “feminist” does these things and continues to have a speaking spot at a major feminist rally, a platform in major publications, and a place in a movement that is meant to empower women and everyone else who isn’t a straight cis white man.

Some of us are disappointed and sickened that a man who said all the right things and really should have known better has privileged himself above women; that someone who talks so often about following women leaders thinks that what the feminist movement needs is a man who berates, verbally abuses, and silences women (and probably others), who disagree with him, insists on an apology from a Black woman who confronts his racism, thinks what we need is a man to lead us.

Some of us are angry that this person who ought to know better so often uses the word “vagina” (even as he verbally abused a woman who dared question him) in ways that ignore and even erase trans people from the equation; that someone who claims to be an expert on feminism can be so clueless about intersectionality.

Some of us are shaking our heads in disbelief and even embarrassment that we didn’t see through this facade sooner; that we didn’t take a clue from how much space this man takes up in feminist discussions—from how often he talks about himself and the good deeds he does on behalf of feminism; that we held him up as an example of what an ally looks like.

Some of us are disgusted that (though he vaguely laments his tone) this dude not only stands by the things he said to one woman he abused—which, for one thing, firmly privileged him above her in all things feminist—but fully admits that feminism is an ambition for him and that much of what he does (i.e., posting on social media) is to promote himself as a feminist “leader.”

Some are relieved that a thing they’ve known for some time is finally coming to light; that the experiences they’ve been trying to talk about for months or even years are finally validated by public disclosure of this harmful behavior.

Some of us are wondering how we can—how we should—help prevent others from falling prey to a “feminist leader” who believes it’s ok to privilege himself above women and verbally abuse them when he thinks they’re wrong. We’re wondering if the right thing to do is to name names, join in the pile-on, and drum this guy out of feminism before he can do more harm, or to quietly remind people that allies who promote themselves* as allies seldom are and thereby avoid making targets of ourselves. Because make no mistake, not only is this dude willing to verbally abuse and shame people who disagree, this “ally” has allies who have made it their business to chime in and “explain” to women who speak out about this that they are everything that is wrong with feminism. And in an ironic twist, the MRAs have joined in to support this dude and to gleefully accuse us of eating our own. And frankly? Most of us get enough of their crap on a daily basis.

Some of us are developing a better understanding of why some of our sisters have been so suspicious of men who claim to be feminists.

I have long believed that men not only can but should identify as feminists or at least feminist allies, because I believe that men have to be part of tearing down the systems that benefit them and oppress everyone else or it just won’t happen. But a man who strives to become a professional feminist is taking the concept of dominating feminist spaces to a whole new level. Men who use the feminist movement to further their own ambitions do so at our expense, which means that instead of helping us to tear down these oppressive systems, they are using feminism to benefit from them, which is pretty fucking sick if you think about it.

And men who set out to use feminism as a launchpad for, say, a talk show career ignore the fact that (as others have said before me) for us, feminism is not an ambition. It is our lives. It’s not something we do to promote ourselves—it’s what we do in response to oppression. I don’t believe that men who strive to become “professional feminists” are in it for the right reasons—not to any degree that makes a difference. And quite frankly, it is my firm belief that if anyone gets paid to do feminism, it should absolutely not be a straight cis white man. Period. (Update: Clymer has announced that he is gender non-conforming.)

That’s one big difference between guys like this and real feminist allies. Good allies understand that it’s not appropriate for men to presume to lead the movement. They get that it’s not their place to teach women about feminism any more than it would be a straight person’s place to teach gay people about LGBT issues. (What might be more appropriate would be for men to teach other men about feminism, assuming they actually know what they’re talking about and won’t do more harm than good, like this guy would.) Good male allies understand that their place is at the back of the room. Men who want to be allies need to study the behavior of failed allies and learn how not to be That Guy. Because That Guy is not only not an ally, he has the potential to do harm to our movement from within, not least by silencing people who already have a hard enough time being heard.

That Guy, these guys—men who use feminism for their own gains and do harm in the process—are the “missing stairs” of feminism. They look perfectly safe (in fact, they can look so safe that they’re practically begging you to step on them) but they will break your ankle just the same. And it will hurt, if only because you trusted them and they turned out to be just like every other entitled straight white dude on the planet.

I think we do have a duty to warn one another about these missing stairs. And then we have to work to fix the staircase. We have to raise up the voices of the marginalized and privilege them above these men and we have to deny these men access to leadership positions. Because for us, this isn’t a thing we do to make a name for ourselves. It’s what we do to live an authentic life and make our world better for our sisters and daughters and for boys and men and for everyone everywhere on the gender spectrum.

And yes, talking about this means talking about people who place themselves in our spaces.

For my own part, and to get around to the real reason I felt like I needed to write about this, I want to apologize for every instance in which I touted That Guy as a feminist ally, be it a Follow Friday on Twitter or a gushing share of a pithy feminist post on my Facebook page or the inclusion of his photo on my blog as an example of how men can do good in feminism. In doing these things, I helped give him credibility—I helped him perpetuate this image of himself as the perfect male feminist when what he turned out to be is the perfect faux ally.

Here are a few things I learned from this experience. It all seems so clear to me now.

  • When a straight, white man takes up more space in feminist conversations than most women, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
  • When 99% of his Facebook posts are about the Good Feminist Deeds he did today, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
  • When he is called out on bad behavior toward women and ignores his critics (many of whom are the very women making the accusations), posting passive-aggressive quotes instead of responding to criticism, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.

And from my own personal experience (because friends have urged me to share), when an “ally” solicits donations to his feminist charity event in return for pluggin your blog on his feminist network, then never seems to get around to it despite multiple promises, you might be tempted to let him off the hook because “he’s such a good guy; he does so much good” and “he must be so overwhelmed, poor bunny,” but when you find out that this behavior is part of a larger pattern of promoting himself as a great ally but actually being an awful one, you realize that you’ve been had** and…wait for it…he may be in it for the wrong reasons.

Now, because I held him up as an example of a good ally on more than one occasion and he turned out to be a missing stair (and because I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror if I didn’t), I’m going to say the thing that needs to be said out loud:

Charles Clymer can call himself a feminist if he wants to, but I do not believe he is an ally to feminism, and I’m sorry I ever helped promote him as such. In fact, I believe that he displays the same behaviors and attitudes of some of the worst MRA fuckwads who show up here and on my social media feeds to tell me I’m doing feminism wrong, except he’s way more dangerous because he does so in the name of feminism and at the expense of the people he claims to uplift and empower. He has expressed a wish that people would have come to him personally about all this, but he blocked those people. Also, if you have a strong stomach, you can see what happens to women who challenge Charles and I highly recommend you check out the discussion on Twitter for additional data. As for me, I sincerely hope he finds a different career aspiration for the sake of all the people who daily continue to be taken in by his words, knowing nothing of his bad behavior or his continued unwillingness to address it in any meaningful way. And if he really wants to be a feminist ally and not part of the problem, I hope he goes back to feminism school and also how not to be a complete jackass school.

“One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

She also said this.

I further apologize to anyone upset by this news (however, if you’re angry that I named names, I don’t know what to tell you—I’m doing what I think is right). For me, finding out about this felt like getting punched in the gut. I felt (still feel) sick and betrayed and sad and angry because not only did I trust this guy, I told other people they should trust him (again, sorry), and his actions show that he is not worthy of that trust. Ultimately, I hope my writing this helps you avoid not just this particular faux feminist ally but also others still out there saying all the right things while doing all the wrong ones behind the scenes. I know I will be less trusting in the future (I already am), and that’s sad, but it’s a difficult thing we’re doing and we have to protect ourselves. There’s an old saying about friends and enemas that applies here.

I guess I’ll just leave it at that.


*In fact, one big takeaway for me from #YourSlipIsShowing (a recent campaign launched by Black women to out fake “feminist” Twitter accounts) was the louder and more often it quacks, the less likely it is to be a duck.

**I don’t regret my donation in the slightest, as it went toward providing abortion access (I had already donated once before he made the promo offer). Also, I don’t think he set out to defraud me, just that he was far too busy promoting himself as a great feminist ally (and silencing women who disagree) to actually be one even in such a small way as this.

Note: I have made some post-publication tweaks for clarity and inclusivity.

Update #1: (9/26/14): The National Women’s Political Caucus has announced that they will present Charles Clymer with their “Good Guy Award” at their EMMA awards ceremony in October. I have emailed them to explain why this is not a good idea. Please consider doing the same. [Update to update: Victory!]

Update #2 (10/8/14): Clymer has posted a response to #StopClymer. It’s pretty gross on a number of levels, but I don’t have the energy to dig into it.


Related reading:


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Texas Students Aren’t Buying “Datable” or Justin Lookadoo

What the kids are calling him these days.

What the kids are calling him these days. (image via lookadoo.com)

This is one of those stories that warms my heart and makes me proud of the state I was born in (neither of which happens often enough these days). I missed the whole thing, and I couldn’t let that happen to you.

So, in case you missed it…

Yesterday, Richardson High School in Texas hosted an assembly (sponsored by the PTA) wherein a “motivational speaker” named Justin Lookadoo presented his philosophies (ostensibly on dating violence) to the student body.* For a little background regarding his expertise as a teen dating guru, here are some “cool rules” from Lookadoo’s website, “R U Dateable.” (If you need to go vomit now, I’ll wait.)

For girls:

  • Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves. They save some for later. They listen more than they gab.
  • God made guys as leaders. Dateable girls get that and let him do guy things, get a door, open a ketchup bottle. They relax and let guys be guys. Which means they don’t ask him out!!!

For guys:

  • Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.
  • Dateable guys aren’t tamed. They don’t live by the rules of the opposite sex. They fight battles, conquer lands, and stand up for the oppressed.

(If you didn’t vomit before, but need to now, feel free.)

Justin Lookadoo is the author of a book titled (not surprisingly) Dateable. Here’s a sample:

(Ok, one more vomit break. Ready, set, BLORF.)

How this guy gets speaking engagements at high schools is anyone’s guess. (Though it might have something to do with the fact that he claims to be a “Christian” motivational speaker, which carries a good deal of weight with some Texans. In fact, the school district’s initial response to criticism was to apologize for the “non-religious terminology” Lookadoo used to get his message across.) But though this can’t be his first rodeo, he was evidently unprepared for the reaction from students at RHS. The first hashtagged tweet came from Nate Beer, self-described “newsman.” (Beer writes for the school paper.)

What followed was a twitstorm of fairly epic proportions. Student reactions ranged from amused to enraged and back again. Here are just a few:

Parents were livid. At least one apparently created a Twitter account just to get onboard:

And Lookadoo wasn’t ready for the after-show Q&A. From local station WFAA:

Students circled around the speaker and hurled questions about his philosophies.

“Why did you tell girls to get out of abusive relationships instead of telling guys not to be abusive in the first place?” one student asked.

“I’ve done about 4,000 programs. That’s never happened,” Lookadoo confessed.

#lookadouche became a trending topic. News and media outlets picked up the story and are still running with it. Nate Beer, newsman, had to take a Twitter break because he was overwhelmed by the response (not all of it positive, I’m sure). And of course Twitter-at-large took up the cry, which is how the story came to my attention today.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that for a moment, when I heard about the speaker’s message, I was worried for these students; afraid that they’d actually buy into this bullshit and internalize it. And perhaps some did. But one thing is certain: Justin Lookadoo, misogynist “motivational speaker,” did motivate RHS students. Just not the way he intended.

Go, Richardson High School. You give me hope.

Updates:

  • Here’s a petition asking the superintendent of George West ISD to cancel Lookadoo’s upcoming speaking event at GWH.
  • Lookadoo has expressed confusion over the uproar, saying that his message at the assembly was not the same as the one in his “Dateable” rulebook. The Atlantic has excerpts from his speech at the assembly. I’ll let you be the judge.
  • *I originally stated that he “presented his rules for how to be “dateable.” I have since learned that part of the agreement with the PTA was that he would not state these rules, but it appears that he managed to get the message across just the same.
  • DallasNews has printed a letter from RHS Principal Charles Bruner, which apparently went home with students today.


If You’re Arguing With Me, Chances Are You’re a Dude

The Dude

Is this dude aware of his privilege?

This week it finally hit me like a piano out of the sky: nine out of ten* people who argue with me on points of problematic representations/treatment of women in the media and by society in general are…wait for it…dudes.

I’ve come to use the term “dude” (as in Those Dudes) ironically to mean men who are not trolls but are not my allies (though they may believe they are)  and who tend to engage in a thing the Internet has come to call “mansplaining,” specifically in response to women speaking out about sexism and misogyny and anything related to it. They seem unable to understand the concept of differing experiences and perspectives or listening and learning from others, and if they disagree on a point, they a) feel they must convince you that you’re wrong or b) believe you owe it to them to convince them you’re right. Or both. Entitlement issues, much?

So here’s a note to Those Dudes. May they give it some serious thought over their next White Russian, or whatever Those Dudes drink.

To Those Dudes:

I’m writing to you today to ask a question and offer some information and advice I hope will be useful to you in your endeavor to be a decent human being.

Here’s my question: Why is it so difficult for you to understand that experiences exist outside your own; that your perspective is yours alone; that you can’t know what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin—a woman’s skin?

Because you just can’t. You can say that you empathize, but that only goes so far because it is actually impossible for you to walk in our shoes. And most of you wouldn’t if you could. (If you bristle at that, I dare you to challenge yourself to pass as a woman in public for 24 hours, because that’s as close as you’ll get, and I guarantee you it’ll change your life.) And because you can’t know what it’s like to be us, you’d think that logic (that thing you’re always telling me my arguments are lacking) would dictate that you cannot be an expert on us, on being us, on how to be us, on how things affect us, and all that stuff you always want to advise us on. I’m really hoping that if you give it some serious, logical thought you’ll understand how your telling us how wrong we are when we talk about how we experience the world doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And yet you crawl up out of the woodwork every time we speak to tell us we’re mistaken and misguided, that we’re not seeing things clearly, that our perspectives are out of true, that we’re far too sensitive and emotional and are just creating “drama”–that because you don’t see it the way we do there’s nothing to talk about and why do we make such a BIG DEAL out of everything.

This behavior has a name. There was a time when I didn’t use the name because frankly, I didn’t want people to think I’m one of Those Feminists who hates men. I don’t want to use gender-specific terms to describe bad behavior if I can help it. I’d rather just say “That guy’s a pompous ass.” But there came a day when even I had to admit there’s a damned good reason that term exists, and that’s because it’s a fucking problem. The problem I’m talking about is “mansplaining,” and the word describes what so many of you engage in when you try to sit us down and tell us how our experiences as women are not what we believe they are and that the issues we feel passionate about are the wrong issues and that we’re going about all this in the wrong way and that you’ve got all the answers.

rothman_mansplain_post

So, here’s my advice to you, Dudes:

Stop.

Stop telling women they’ve got it wrong** when they speak out about the problems they see in the world. Stop telling us we’re thinking, writing, and saying the wrong things. Stop telling us the things we see as problems aren’t—your belief is not required, and your disbelief doesn’t magically erase an issue from existence. Stop insisting on our time and energy like needy children—if you’ll read the fine print, you’ll find we don’t actually owe you a debate, a conversation, or even a hello. Stop pretending you have any idea what it’s like to be us, and for Petunia’s sake, stop whipping out your “woman-friend-who-agrees-with-me.”

Stop with the fucking mainsplaining, and I promise I’ll stop using the term. Until then, I’m going to call you on this crap, because I’m sick of dealing with it. Learn some listening skills and some humility. Put some skill points into Self Awareness and Tact and Not Being a Dick.

If you want to be an ally, you’ll take this to heart. If you don’t, you really ought to find another hobby.

Sincerely,
Rosie

*I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote “9 out of 10.” It’s honestly more like 99/100.

**(Added post-publication for clarity.) This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree. There are ways to communicate disagreement that don’t include telling a woman she doesn’t know what she’s talking about (or implying you know better than she does) when she’s talking about woman things or her perspective as a woman. But do stop and consider whether your presence in a given conversation is necessary or you just want to disagree, because sometimes it’s just not. Read some of the articles below for tips. Also, because I feel I must say it: this article is directed at men who exhibit specific behaviors, not men in general.



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The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women

Trigger warning: violence against women.

TL;DR: Sign the petition.

UPDATE 8/29: Refocusing on DuJour

moore24f-1-webI have rewritten the petition letter to focus on DuJour, but have left The Standard as a recipient for now. This campaign is still getting press, and if the petition takes off,  would hate like hell for them to miss out on all the fun.

Please continue to share the petition and contact your media peeps.

Thank you for all your help and support!

UPDATE 8/28: On Fauxpologies and Small Victories

standard-downtown-los-angeles-logoIn activism, we have to choose our battles often accept small victories when we’d rather announce that we got everything we wanted the way we’d like to. In the case of The Standard, I’m pretty sure we’ve heard all we’re going to from them unless we step this campaign up in a major way. (DuJour has not responded yet; more on that in a bit.)

In under 24 hours, we got The Standard’s attention and that of several media outlets, including BuzzFeed. (UPDATE: The Daily Mail apparently also picked this up yesterday, and Business Insider and The Daily Beast both covered it today.) This post has had over 2,600 hits, and has been reblogged many times. We got people talking about an image that for many of us produced a visceral reaction and sent a message that dead women make great advertising fodder. And we got an apology from The Standard.

Now let’s talk about that apology, shall we? Because it looks a lot like other apologies we’ve seen from entities in response to criticism of the type we’ve leveled at The Standard.  I’ll break it down:

“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm.”

Translation: This is art, dummies. Blame the artist, not us.

This avoids responsibility for the content by branding it “art” and hopes, I think, to make us feel a little silly for making such a big deal out of it. I mean, we didn’t ask who the artist was, and the fact that it’s art is completely irrelevant. You spent exactly four sentences on this apology, The Standard. Did this really need to be one of them?

“We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence.”

Translation: We don’t see it that way, but we’re sorry you do, and if you do, it’s not really our fault.

Ok, look, I’m asking a lot here, I know, but couldn’t we get a “We’re sorry we did a bad thing?” “We’re sorry we used this image without thinking of the implications or the impact on survivors of violence?” No, we basically got “we’re sorry you were offended,” and that not only defers responsibility for the perceived “offense” onto us, the “offended,” but it declines to acknowledge that any damage occurred.

“No offense or harm was intended.”

Translation: We didn’t mean to do anything wrong, ergo, we didn’t and/or you should let us off the hook because our intentions were not evil.

Duh. You didn’t set out to cause harm to women or survivors of violence or anyone with this ad. You intended to get people’s attention and you didn’t think about what this image might actually say about your brand–what it might say to over half the population who, presumably, you’d like to attract to your hotel. You didn’t think about the harm it might cause despite your intentions, and now you’re not really admitting to any harm, just assuring us that none was intended.

“The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”

Translation: We were done with this campaign anyway, so here’s a bone.

Yes, I’m being extremely cynical, because we should really call that line a win, dog-boney as it is. We have (as the amazing Jaclyn Friedman (Women, Action, and the Media) kindly pointed out to me yesterday) created an “opportunity cost.” We have caused this company–and anyone watching, including DuJour–to take a look at the cost vs. benefit of using ads like this in the future. That is a GOOD THING.

So yeah, this was a pretty weak apology–but it’s still a win. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As for DuJour, they ran the ad apparently thinking it was acceptable, and so far they have not responded in any way to our petition. I would sincerely like to get a response from them saying they get it, but frankly, at the rate we’re gaining signatures on the petition, I’m not sure how long that will take or whether it will happen at all. As Jaclyn pointed out, there are many ads like this out in magazines around the country and the world, and we have to choose where to focus our energies.

Your Input Needed

What do you think, readers? Should we leave the petition up, removing The Standard so DuJour keeps getting emails when someone signs? Is it worth pushing for more signatures, more media coverage? Or is it time to call this a victory and move on to the next thing? If we had 2,000 sigs instead of under 200, this wouldn’t even be a question, but I’ve only got so much energy to spend and I want your input on this. Let me know what you think in the comments section.


UPDATE 8/27: The Standard Responds

Fewer than 24-hours after we launched our petition, The Standard posted the following response to Change.org:

“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm. We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence. No offense or harm was intended. The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”

I’ll have commentary on this soon. Meanwhile, let me know what you think in the comments section below. Are you satisfied with The Standard’s apology? Have they done enough?


The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women

Last week Daisy Eagan sent me the image below. It’s a partial of a full-page ad for The Standard Hotels in DuJour magazine’s summer issue. The ad contains no text—just this image and the hotel’s logo and a bit of fine print at the bottom.

Click for full page ad.

DuJour is a new fashion/lifestyle magazine published nationally with localized issues for major cities. The Standard is a “boutique” hotel chain with locations in New York, Miami, and L.A. The image above looks to be taken from the NYC edition (based on the small print on the facing page). Somewhere in the offices where each of these companies does business, one assumes that entire teams of people looked at this and thought it was ok. At an ad agency hired by The Standard, some bright young creative type came up with this ad* in response to the challenge to market a hotel chain to rich people, a group that must certainly include many, many women. All three of these companies made the decision to use violence against women to market a product. Apparently, this isn’t the first time The Standard has been criticized for their advertising choices. Claire Darrow, creative director for Andre Balazs Properties has said these choices amount to “surrendering our ads to art, so to speak…We want to contribute to the magazines…We don’t just want to advertise.” (Update for clarity: This piece is part of a series by Erwin Wurm called “One Minute Sculptures”)

I know I don’t have to explain to most of you why this particular ad is (no,  not “offensive”) damaging, but I really have to spend some time talking about how, like recent pieces by The Onion (more info here and here), this ad trivializes violence against women, once again using victims of said violence as bait, once again for the purpose of profiting from our pain. I need to point out for anyone not clear on the concept that by using violence against women for something as crass as attempting to lure people to your “boutique” hotel chain these companies are helping to perpetuate the cycle of violence. They are normalizing it—treating it as something trivial, not worth taking seriously. Treating it as a joke. That teaches everyone regardless of gender that violence against women is No Big Deal. These messages in our media teach women to expect violence and teach men prone to violence against women that what they do is socially acceptable. And apparently The Standard Hotels, DuJour, and the as-yet unnamed advertising agency behind this ad thought that this was the right message to send to potential customers.

Daisy blogged about this ad last week asking her readers to contact The Standard and DuJour and ask them why they think this is appropriate advertising. She had this to say about it:

Dujour magazine ran an ad in its summer issue for The Standard hotels clearly meant to warn women to steer clear of the hotel or face violence and/or death.

I’ve ordered a copy of the Miami edition which should arrive soon, and since TSH has a location in Miami, I assume the ad will be present. When it comes, I’ll update this post with a full image of the ad (now available here thanks to Daisy) and any other information I can find—hopefully including the name of the agency that designed the ad.

Take Action

We’ve started a petition to let The Standard Hotels and DuJour Media know what we think of this ad and the message they’re sending about violence against women. Please sign and share so we can get their attention (tweets have so far had no effect) and make sure they understand that ads like this are not acceptable and that they do harm.

Sign the Petition

You can also write to the parties in question directly. Thanks to Daisy for finding this information. (If you decide to do this, I’d appreciate it if you also signed and shared the petition, which goes directly to their email. Numbers matter. Thanks!)

Andre Balazs Properties
23 E. 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
email: press@standardhotel.com
Twitter: @StandardHotels

Jason Binn
Dujour Magazine
2 Park Ave, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Twitter: @JasonBinn @DuJourMedia
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dujourmedia

You can also help by alerting media folks about this campaign (especially local media if you live in NYC, Miami, or L.A.). Bad press is often what penetrates otherwise impermeable entities.

Let’s make some noise.


Press Coverage

See The Ad For The Standard Hotel Accused Of Trivializing Violence Against Women (Business Insider)

The Standard hotel is accused of ‘trivializing violence against women’ in new ad showing a woman crushed by a suitcase (Daily Mail)

The Standard Hotel’s Latest Ad “Trivializes Violence Against Women” (BuzzFeed)

The Standard Hotel Comes Under Fire For Trivializing Violence Against Women In Their Latest Ad Campaign (The Frisky)

The Standard Hotel Accused of Trivializing Violence Against Women (AdRants)

Hotel Pulls Ad of Crushed Woman (The Daily Beast)

Dear Advertisers: Violence against women is not sexy (Mamamia)

The Standard Discontinues Ad Accused of Promoting Violence Against Women (the fashion spot)

Which Luxury Brand Couldn’t Resist Using Violence Against Women In Its Ads? (the gloss)

Related

Stop Violence Against…Everyone (Stuphblog)


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


Dear Trolls: Thank You

(image: getsatisfaction.com)

(image: getsatisfaction.com)

The title of this post might seem confusing. I mean, who thanks trolls? Those angry, sad individuals who dedicate themselves to spewing hate (especially, it seems, woman-hate and feminist-hate) all over the Internet are hardly contributing members of society, are they? I mean, I can’t begin to say how they spend their time when they’re not trolling, but when they are?

Under “normal” circumstances, I’d say no. They generally contribute nothing to a debate, relying on sweeping generalizations (often, in the case of anti-feminist trolls, repeating MRA talking points) to make their arguments. And they aren’t here to change hearts and minds—they mostly seem not to care about convincing anyone of anything, telling their own stories, or improving life on Planet Earth in any way.

And yet, because they exist and target women and other non-men with violent language and hate (and even rape threats and death threats), and because most people (who aren’t women/non-men on the Internet) never encounter them at their absolute worst, their 31 flavors of bullshit can sometimes serve a higher purpose. When we treat that BS as an illustration of the challenges we face, I believe we (as activists) can show readers how little power most trolls actually have while illustrating for our readers (and other trolls) the weakness of their arguments.

So with that, I’d like to thank my trolls for all these reasons:

  • Thank you for targeting me, because that tells me that I’m doing something right. Otherwise, why would you bother?

    download

    Apparently a famous troll.

  • Thank you for challenging me: by countering your lazy arguments I not only hone my own reasoning skills, but illustrate for my readers (and the rest of the trolletariat) just how lazy they are and how easily we can deconstruct and disprove them. If nothing else, our exchanges serve as a signpost: All viewpoints are welcome here, but trolls will be dealt with (more on which in a bit).
  • Thank you for being just vile enough that you distinguish yourselves from regular people who disagree rudely, allowing me to easily identify and disregard you. This doesn’t mean I won’t reply—just that I don’t give a shit what you have to say. It takes far less energy, and my reserves always seem low these days. So again, thanks for making it easy on me.
  • Thank you for those instances when you take the time to write a comment so pointless that I can disregard it completely. I get a lot of comments on some of my posts, and I like to respond to them when I can—it’s extremely considerate of you to allow me to filter you out of that process. I do wonder why you bother, though—did you really think “Your a stupid cunt” was a) a contribution, b) ever going to appear publicly on my page, c) remotely original?
  • Thank you for stepping up every single time we need an object lesson on white male privilege and/or MRA/anti-feminist/woman-hate. Whether here, on Facebook, or on Twitter, it’s like you show up just to prove my point. In any conversation about the challenges we face in a patriarchal society, one of you will show up with your cries of “Fucking feminazis!” and “What about the MEN???!” How do you keep a straight face? I can tell you that I do not. I LMFAO on a regular basis, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what you intended.
  • And thank you for those laughs. The chuckles, the cackles, the all-out guffaws you provide when you show up in a conversation about our lives and perspectives and wave your pathetic little flag—when you hurl insults as though you believe each one has any impact on me other than annoyance and audible eye-rolls. Thanks for the entertainment. I mean that.

Now, a few methods for…

Dealing with Trolls

Some folks will tell you that ignoring trolls is the best policy. Those folks have apparently never dealt with bullies, or they beat the odds somehow, because as Rocket J. Squirrell famously stated, “That trick never works.” For one thing, more trolls will come, and some will teeter on the dividing line between troll and just rude fucking asshole (i.e., making an argument, not just spewing bile). You won’t be able to ignore them all (trust me, I’ve tried) and dealing with them decisively shows other trolls what they can expect when they visit your blog (or Facebook page or Twitter mentions).

Kitten Setting

Some of you know that one of my favorite methods of dealing with trolls is the Kitten Setting. It takes time and energy, so I don’t always employ it, but when I have it has been hilarious and pretty rewarding. Fun, even–and that’s not a word most people associate with trolls (except trolls themselves, I imagine).

Respond

In general, I don’t recommend engaging trolls. It’s an energy suck and there’s usually no point. They don’t show up to debate but to distract and derail and intimidate. However, as I’ve stated above, sometimes a troll writes something I feel is worthy of a response. Generally, this is not because he (and it’s nearly always “he”) contributed something intelligent to the conversation, but because he’s repeating MRA talking points I want to counter publicly for readers and trolls who happen by. Sometimes I don’t have the energy for this, and I let the comment through hoping my readers will take it on. I’m rarely disappointed—my readers are super smart and trolls are lazy so it’s usually short work to take them apart, and I’m so grateful to those of you who step up and do that. Thank you.

Kill Them With Kindness

This is one of the most challenging methods for me because in order to be kind, I have to feel compassion, and when it comes to trolls that takes some reaching. But understanding that most of them are a) young men or boys, b) social misfits, and c) often just misguided has helped me to find that compassion at times, especially when a troll lets slip a teeny hint of humanity. Sometimes I just have to say “I’m sorry you’re so unhappy, but you can’t play here anymore.” And leave it at that.

Get Out the Ban Hammer

When a troll ceases to be useful and becomes nothing but a sad little voice constantly raging at me from his basement lair, I ban him. There are several ways to do this, including setting his email address as a filtered word or his IP address as “direct to Spam.” Either way, that troll can never darken the doorway of my blog again unless he’s willing to go to a lot more effort to harass me.

Report

Once a troll dedicates himself to an all-out harassment campaign on your blog, it’s possible an email/IP ban will fail as he will create new accounts from new locations in order to troll you. At this point (if you haven’t already) it’s time to contact your friends at WordPress (or your service provider) and report the little fucker. And if that fails for some reason, I recommend contacting the police. Cyber-stalking/harassment laws at this point are weak in many areas, but they don’t get stronger without precedent. Ultimately, if the laws in your location don’t protect you, it might be time to contact your elected officials and find out why.

Don’t Stop

In the majority of cases, it won’t ever get to that point. Most trolls are dedicated not to trolling one blog but to spreading their love all over the Internet. If you cease to become an easy target, chances are they will move on. Believe me, there is no peace in that thought for me. I don’t want trolls harassing anyone else instead of me (kind of like teaching women to prevent rape teaches us to make sure rapists rape someone else), but there’s only so much I—or any of us—can do. A dedicated troll will pursue his hobby until, like that poor, sad man in Texas, he suffers real consequences for his actions; often the best we can do is buy ourselves some peace and help our readers understand—as I’m trying to do now—that trolls rage precisely because they have no real power (though they may enjoy privilege) over us. They are a pimple on the ass of the Internet, and as such what they mostly do is annoy and irritate (and occasionally weep pus all over the place). They’re ugly and vile but mostly impotent (though they may have an agenda that is not), and I believe it’s important that we treat them as such and avoid expending our energies either arguing with them or worrying overly about the things they say. By this, I don’t mean we should ignore what they do. Just don’t let them drain your resources if you can help it.

Whatever you do, don’t let them intimidate you into silence.*

(Note: Trolls can do real damage, such as when they target traumatized people, bully young people telling them to kill themselves, or make threats that genuinely make one feel unsafe, which is where the police may be helpful—if you see something, say something.)

So here’s to eventually popping that zit and slapping a Band-Aid on it. But in the meantime, I hope the information above helps you in some small way to deal with the trolls you encounter. If you have a favorite method I haven’t mentioned here, I’d love to hear it.

In closing, just one more word of thanks to my trolls: for the laughs, the object lessons, and the challenges. For often making my point even better than I did. For providing the constant illustration of the fact that women speaking out are still a threat to men who fear that they have little enough power already and might lose even more. And finally, thanks for providing grist for yet another blog post to which you will no doubt flock and serve all these purposes all over again.

Thanks, trolls.

Love,
Rosie

*Sometimes you have to take a break or even stop what you’re doing altogether and practice self-care. Do that without hesitation! I’m not saying you should keeping doing what you’re doing no matter what it costs you—I’m just saying don’t give them power they don’t have. I hope that makes sense.

PS: For Twitter, there’s BlockBot. Seems pretty cool.

PPS: Honestly, I have a way harder time dealing with push-back from friends and allies than I do hateful bullshit, so in case you’re new at this, be prepared for that to hurt way more than anything trolls can say to you.

Update (11/13): I’ve made some minor tweaks to this article to clarify—and reflect minor changes in—my philosophy. Also, four months later, and zero trolls have hit this post. WTF, trolls?


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


SFFragette: Moving SF/F into the 21st Century

Woman-in-Space-Suit-Reading-a-BookThis week, after news broke of yet another sexual harassment incident at a convention, I decided I needed to do something tangible to help solve the sexism, misogyny, and harassment problem in the science fiction and fantasy community.

I’ve been a part of the community since I was 19 and attended Westercon in Portland, Oregon, and I have worked and played in the field ever since (nearly thirty years). It’s home to so many friends and is part of my family life. I have always thought of it as an accepting community, and it is in a lot of ways. There are few places where people can be pretty much whatever or whomever they choose and not feel judged, and SF/F fandom is one of them.

But it was an incident at Norwescon in Seattle a couple of years ago that helped me come to the realization that I had to start talking about feminism. Living it. That I had to stop being a Feminist Butt.

I was on a panel with two men where I was ostensibly the moderator. One of the men very helpfully took over moderation duties, ran the panel, and he and the other guy proceeded to do most of the talking. I gave up trying to do my job or get a word in edgewise at some point about halfway through and just waited (with what I hoped was a patient, not-bitchy look on my face) for it to be over. It wasn’t until I walked out of the room that I allowed myself to get really pissed. Two months later I started this blog.

It wasn’t an isolated incident (and the Internet is currently brimming with women’s stories of sexism, misogyny, harassment, stalking, and assault at SF/F cons), but my decision to come out as a ranty feminist was certainly not a result of my experiences in SF/F alone. And until recently I’ve been pretty focused on the larger culture and the video games community (my other home) where we’ve finally begun talking about these issues in earnest, and haven’t really given a lot of thought to the need for activism within SF/F. Then all hell broke loose, and it broke loose again, and a writer named Kari Sperring coined a hashtag that gave me one of those “Light bulb!” moments:

The conversation was already hopping on Twitter, so I ran over and created a Facebook page and posted some of the wonderful posts coming across that feed. The idea was to get people all in one place and start talking solutions. And as I thought about solutions, I realized what I wanted to see for starters was a presence at conventions to counter sexual harassment. To that end, I and my ultra-secret partner-in-crime began designing a badge idea to propose to the community as part of a campaign to achieve three goals:

  • Don't Harass Me BroProvide information on how to report harassers.
  • Act as safety liasons (someone you can go to for immediate assistance if security isn’t around).
  • Create an awareness among potential harassers that we are watching and reporting harassment.

It soon became apparent that we were going to need a website* and a Twitter account, so that achieved, I’m now engaging members of the community on the design, the slogan, etc. and am really encouraged by the response. I’ve also learned of two groups doing similar work (Nerdiquette 101 and the Backup Ribbon Project) and I’m looking forward to talking with them about what they’ve learned and how we can work together.

All this to say if you’re a reader, writer, or SF/F con-goer and want to help make positive change in that community, join the discussion. Chime in on the blog, Facebook or Twitter, write a blog post telling your story or giving your perspective, and consider participating in the upcoming campaign to be part of the solution at cons you attend. I’d love to have your help making SF/F the accepting, safe community we all want it to be.

*SFFragette.org domain active soon!


10 Signs that Feminism May Not Be For You | The Outlier Collective

This excellent post by The Belle Jar appears today The Outlier Collective as part of a guest blogger series on Feminism. (My contribution appears tomorrow.)

10 Signs that Feminism May Not Be For You 

I’m typically a huge proponent of the idea that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for ladies! It’s for men! It’s for non-binary individuals! Feminism is for teenagers and small children! In fact, I’m even pretty sure that at least one of my cats is a feminist, although the other one just prefers to think of herself as a cat-ist, because that’s less political. Regardless, I’m usually of the opinion that feminism, as a philosophy, can and should be embraced by everyone.

Lately, though, I’m not so sure. I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable behaviours and comments, many of them coming from purported feminists. I’m starting to wonder if some people might want to re-think whether the feminist movement is right for them. With that in mind, I’ve created a handy-dandy list of ways to tell whether or not this movement is for you.

Read the 10 Signs that Feminism May Not Be For You.


Their Fear is Justified (or Why Speaking Out In Your Community Is Important)

Guest post by Zachary Jernigan

I asked Zack for a post in response to recent kerfuffles, debacles, and all-out flame-wars in the science fiction community. For background, read Chuck Wendig’s series (links to third post, where you’ll find links to 1 & 2), “Calling for the Expulsion of Theodore Beale” on Amal El-Mohtar’s blog, and “The Readercon Thing” at  Under the Beret


misogynistsattack

Created with Pulp-o-Mizer

Hi. My name is Zack, and I’m a science fiction and fantasy (sf&f) geek.

To be clear, I’m the particular kind of geek who only really cares about sf&f literature (novels and short stories, in other words). Movies, comic books, video and tabletop games: I think they’re neat on a theoretical level, but I have no practical interest. Nonetheless, I know a lot about them because I associate with other geeks, most of whom are enthusiastic partakers of all forms of media.

lf there’s one thing that’s true about being a geek, it’s that one can’t escape being inundated with information about all of geekdom.

Most of the time, this situation produces awesome results. I get to see what other geeks are crazy excited about, what they hate, and what arouses their disdain. I love passionate people and their strongly-held opinions, and geeks are among the most passionately opinionated people you’ll find in this world.

Of course, I said “most of the time” for a reason.

It stops being awesome when geeks open their mouths to espouse hate.

It’s happened a lot lately, which is why I’m writing this now.

#

Before I go on, one thing:

There are no links in the following post for a couple reasons.

One, I’m fairly sure this blog’s (amazingly cool) owner Rosie is going to provide a few, from which point you’ll be able to ping-pong around to a whole slew of other links, many of which will anger and inspire you by turns.

Two, if you’re really interested in the subject I’d encourage you to do a little experiment in order to see just how pervasive the problem that I’ll be discussing has become. Just type in “science fiction sexism” into your Google machine and see how many hits you get. You’ll end up in many of the same places that Rosie’s links took you, and a whole lot more besides.

Why do I endorse this activity? Because I think it’s important to see just how simple it is to be informed about the happenings in a scene — a scene you may never have thought twice about. If you’re inspired to look a little further into (the mostly) wonderful and welcoming world of sf&f fandom, so much the better.

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You know when you’re at a gathering of extended family — let’s say it’s a 4th of July barbecue — and you overhear a conversation you wish you hadn’t? Someone, an uncle or aunt maybe, says the word “nigger?” Or “cunt?” (Or whatever other words you associate with prejudice?)

And you’re like, Whoa, whoa, whoa… WHOA. Hold up. We’re not that kind of family.

That’s how I’ve felt lately, over and over again.

Now, in all fairness I was only adopted into the sf&f community recently — around 2010, three years before the publication of my first book — but I’ve grown to love the folks in it. To say they’ve welcomed me with open arms is to do them a great disservice: they have, so often it shocks me, been my advocates in trying to get my career off the ground. People who are as different from me as one could imagine have offered heartfelt congratulations on my small accomplishments, debated me with civility, and forgiven my occasional trespasses.

My experience, in other words, has been overwhelmingly positive.

And so it hurts — it angers to white-hot flame — to see how vociferously the men (clarification: mostly men) of my newfound and much-beloved community have behaved of late. The defense of a way of life, of a mindset so retrogressive and thoroughly lacking in compassion, makes me afraid for people.

I was at Readercon last year, when Genvieve Valentine was harassed repeatedly. I didn’t know about it at the time, but you can bet I was horrified to hear of it. And then I watched in even more horror when the convention’s board gave her harasser a slap on the wrist in direct contradiction of its own harassment policy. Hardly an encouraging development for women who want to attend the convention this year.

(Just so you know, the organizers did eventually do the right thing. I’ll be at the convention again this year, in part to see if the controversy produces a positive result.)

Anita Sarkeesian? She’s receiving rape threats. Why? For simply challenging the video game industry on its portrayal of women. Trolls line up to tell her what an insufferable bitch she is, to tell her what she needs is a good cocking. They are, point in fact, an almost neverending legion — which I suppose is not surprising: Yesterday it was reported that a Microsoft employee made a rape joke while playing a new game in front of thousands of people at the recent E3 conference.

These are just two examples among many, more of which are being reported all the time.

#

Of course, I’m not just afraid for people (though that is obviously the most pressing concern).

I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to be associated with any scene, no matter how tangentially I’m related to parts of it, that produces and endorses the kind of mindsets recently on display. I hate how it misrepresents the rest of us, how it warps perceptions of what is overall a very well-intentioned group of people.

I want better for my adopted community than to be relegated to the status we are increasingly in danger of being relegated to.

In order to avoid this marginalization, we need voices shouting in opposition.

We need people — men just as much as women, all of us unafraid of stepping on toes (I don’t kid myself that this isn’t riskier for women; it always is, and will continue to be until the situation changes) — insisting that equality is not a subjective matter.

It is not open for debate, the issue of prejudice, of undeserved privilege. I’m tired of hearing that it is.

It is not a matter of free speech. You are not being censored. I’m tired of hearing that there is a force telling you that you cannot be you.

You, Mister (or Misses) Bigot, will still be free to be as fucking stupid as your atrophied heart desires, but you will not be free to have a voice everywhere. If you espouse a hateful rhetoric, one that objectifies women and encourages violence against them, you will be shouted down by our culture, by our collective weight of Objective Rightness. You will not be allowed to act on your hate publicly and push others down. You will not be able to get away with pinching asses, putting your arm around the shoulders of complete strangers, making unwelcome suggestive comments.

You will find yourself increasingly marginalized by your baseless judgments and entitlement, pushed ever further into the corner.

You will be put on Time Out until you can behave like a rational adult. Sometimes, you won’t be forgiven at all, because it’s too risky to trust you again.

#

It would be easy to say goodbye to all this, to quit thinking about The Problem of Being a Geek and go live in some virtual land free of idiots. I don’t need to concern myself with this crap. As I said, I haven’t been in the community for long. I could be like the respected author Nick Mamatas, who early this month announced his retirement from the sf&f community over some of the very issues I’ve outlined — and it would be easier for me than for him, being that I’m a relative noob.

And yet I won’t do that.*

Why?

Love.

I love how sf&f causes the reader (viewer, and/or participant) to look at the world in new ways. I love what I’ve already accomplished in the genre, and the potential I have to accomplish more. I love my friends, and the potential they have to do great things — as authors, as commentators, as people simply taking inspiration from what they read (view, and/or participate in). I love so, so much about the community that continues to bolster me.

More than anything, I love that I see change happening. The confidence I displayed above, when I used all those “You will…” statements? That doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from seeing more and more people stepping out and asserting what is right. It comes from seeing our enemy on the ropes, throwing weaker and wilder and ever more desperate punches at us.

This is a war, and we’re winning.

#

The sf&f community, of course, can be a metaphor. For anyone not in the thick of it, it’s perhaps best viewed this way. All communities, large and small, meatworld and virtual, have their problems. Sexism (and its even more disgusting neighbor, misogyny) is a normative throughout all of the world. It’s a universal problem, and perhaps always has been.

It’s important, for those of us who would have the problem solved for good, to take courage from developments. To not feel too much despair.

All those rape threats Anita Sarkeesian is getting?

They’re proof that she’s struck a nerve, that she’s aroused a defensive reaction from her attackers. They’re proof that the bigot’s bluster is just that — a pretense, a façade of confidence to cover what they really feel, which is fear.

Oh, yes: the fact that such men (in my particular community, but also throughout civilization) are frightened, desperately trying to hold onto what they have, is obvious to anyone with a brain. They’re scared of living in a world where they don’t have that one unearned thing that makes them automatically higher on the ladder than the “other” half the population. They’re petrified by the thought that they won’t continue to be listened to — coddled and made comfortable — simply because of that Y chromosome. They’re worried to death that someone, somewhere, is going to call them out, and that the voice will have hundreds of thousands behind it, a clear moral weight.

They’re afraid that the sun has already set on their unearned privilege.

And you know what?

Their fear is justified.

#

*This isn’t said in criticism of Mamatas. I respect his decision to leave the sf&f community. I think it’s a gutsy, principled move, and I applaud him for it.

#

Author Note, for those even more invested in this subject:

It may seem odd that I haven’t touched upon the recent SFWA controversy (which has been one of the most recent spurs to conversation on the matter of sexism and misogyny in sf&f), and I understand that. I chose not to comment on it for a few reasons.

One, I don’t want more people to make the following leap of ill logic: “The SFWA Bulletin had sexist stuff in it, thus SFWA must be an awful organization.” This is hardly the case.

            Two, I wanted to concentrate on more obvious examples of aggression towards women. As much as I disagree with some of the SFWA Bulletin’s content recently, it is mild compared to some of the reactions it has inspired, many of which are in my not-so-humble opinion bordering on the kind of behavior toward women I talk about above.

            Three, I had no intention of politicizing this post. The SFWA debate has become very politicized, and though I stand firmly on the left side (as I very nearly always do) I recognize that it is false to assume that encampment signifies actual conviction. The more politicized an issue becomes, the harder it is to convince would-be allies — those who’ve fallen on “the other side” of the debate because others of their political stripe did so before them — of your position. I’m speaking to anyone who cares about equality in the sf&f community, not simply to those individuals who are likely to agree with me on all fronts.


Zachary Jernigan is a writer living in Northern Arizona. His novel No Return (Night Shade Books) was published in March 2013. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction and elsewhere.


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


A Quick Note to Those Who Threatened Lindy West (and People Like Her)

[Trigger Warning for Rape and Rape Threats]

To Whom it May Concern:

 “You’re too ugly to be raped. I want to rape you just to shut you up.”

Look at what you just did.

Seriously. Stop, right now, and reread that.

You started by pretending that you believe rape is about sex and desire. That rape is something you do when you can’t control your hormones any longer and must bed someone immediately, with or without their consent. You want to continue to push the idea that rape is about sex and desire because it helps you keep control, and it helps you silence those who speak out.

But you immediately betrayed yourself.

Immediately, you demonstrated that you actually know that rape is about violence, that it’s about control, that it’s about power. You know it isn’t about sex or desire. You push that it’s about sex because that helps you continue to use it as a control mechanism. If I convince you that my machine gun is really just a fluffy bunny, you’ll stop trying to take it away from me, and I can continue to use it against you.

You aren’t stupid. Rather, you feign stupidity in the hopes that your opponents will believe you or finally shut up and submit to you. It won’t work, though. You’ve shown your hand. You’ve shown that you do understand rape, and you do know exactly what you’re doing.

You can’t hide behind your lies anymore.

xoxo,

Sid


Read Sid’s previous MMAS articles in Sid’s Stuff. Follow her at @SeeSidWrite.


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Why #FBrape is Not About Free Speech

Speech is an action.

Speech is an action.

This is an opinion piece I submitted to the Seattle Times in response to an ACLU blog post claiming Facebook’s decision to apply their existing standards to gendered hate speech is bad for “free speech” on the Internet. I disagree for a number of reasons, among them the fact that Facebook is not the Internet-at-large (but one community within the larger Internet that doesn’t allow hate speech–there are many that do), and does not traditionally maintain any sort of existing “free speech” standard as the blogger implied (in fact, they already ban a lot of content that violates their stated terms). As I have said before, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences, and one consequence is counter-speech–and counter-action if the community you’re in believes that your “free speech” is harmful to the group. You’re still free to say what you want, but you might have to take it somewhere else if you get voted off the island. That’s just life.

All that said, I only had 600 words to play with, so I focused on my belief that this speech not only contributes to rape culture (which teaches us that rape is acceptable) but encourages (read: incites) rape and violence against women, and as such is not (or should not be) protected. By anyone. I’m about as far from a lawyer as people come, and I doubt there’s any legal precedent for my position, which is probably why the Times declined to publish (i.e., they did not respond within the requisite time). Nevertheless, I believe this to be true.

Today [5/30/13] Jay Stanley took issue on the ACLU blog with Facebook’s decision to remove content promoting violence against women in response to the #FBrape campaign, citing “free speech” and the need to protect it at all costs. I would like to point out that where the First Amendment of the US Constitution is concerned (which should be the primary concern of the ACLU), speech that incites violence is not protected, and can indeed be grounds for arrest. I believe that the content the #FBrape campaign objected to has the potential to incite violence.

Some of the images in question depicted real women and girls unconscious, tied up, bruised, bloody, and even dead–all presented as humor. They bore captions like, “Next time, don’t get pregnant,” “She didn’t make my sammich fast enough,” and “Tape her and rape her.”

There is a term that describes the toxic culture we live in where rape and violence against women are trivialized and normalized in this and many other ways. That term is “rape culture.” It’s a controversial term to some who believe it implies that all men are potential rapists. It doesn’t, but that’s beside the point, which is that rape culture is bad for everyone. It teaches boys that girls are objects made for sex and that they are entitled to sex. It teaches girls that their bodies are not their own; that their consent doesn’t matter, only that they play defense and remain pure. It praises men who have sex while shaming women as “sluts.” It makes light of prison rape and male victims of sexual assault. And it makes a joke of rape and violence against women.

You know who loves a rape joke? Rapists. Rape jokes, and people laughing at them, tell rapists that rape is acceptable when what they need to hear is “Dude. No.” And there are far too many rapists out there. They don’t wear a sign—they look just like everyone else. And they’re listening.

A 1987 study (The Scope of Rape: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Higher Education Students) found that “The frequency with which men reported having perpetrated each form of sexual aggression ranged from 19% of men who indicated that they had obtained sexual contact through the use of coercion to 1% of men who indicated that they had obtained oral or anal penetration through the use of force.” That means that even if you only count “forcible rape” with oral or anal penetration, approximately one in a hundred men are rapists. This is not an insignificant number. When you include vaginal penetration by force, the numbers must increase considerably. And when you begin adding crimes sometimes referred to as “gray rapes” they skyrocket—if not to one in five, then significantly nonetheless.

According to at least one ACLU website, hate speech is not protected:

But this right doesn’t extend to libel, slander, obscenity, “true threats,” or speech that incites imminent violence or law-breaking.

Obscenity arguments aside, one question is this: How imminent is the threat of violence by a rapist against a woman? It is estimated that three women are raped every hour in the US military. In the general US population an estimated 78 women are forcibly raped ever hour (this number does not include those so-called “gray rapes”). Promoting rape as acceptable, inevitable, and funny not only gives rapists tacit permission to rape, it is responsible for the idea that “all men are rapists.” All men are not rapists, but the ones who are thrive on society’s acceptance of rape.

And the ones who aren’t yet rapists but might be under the right circumstances? They’re listening, too.


References:

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/malamuth/pdf/81Jrp15.pdf

http://www.apa.org/divisions/div46/articles/malamuth.pdf

http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/womeninperil/study.pdf

http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/pubs/ThatsWhatHeSaid.pdf

http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/SOO.PDF

http://www.soci270.carvajal.ca/documents/KossTheScopeofRape.pdf

http://www.musc.edu/ncvc/resources_prof/rape_in_america.pdf

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/36/2/156/

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2009/11/12/rapists-who-dont-think-theyre-rapists/


Related on Make Me a Sammich:


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Five Things I Know After #FBrape

Oui.

Oui.

I’m exceedingly proud to have worked on the #FBrape campaign to end gendered hate speech on Facebook, and of our success in getting the corporate giant to back down. It was an exhausting week, but the rewards were many, and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. Not even to avoid the inevitable trolling that has followed.

Yeah, they did. It’s amazing to me how many people seem to think that rape culture on Facebook is something to be protected and defended by coming to #FBrape and calling campaigners “bitches” and “cunts” and “fascists” and claiming that our victory is some kind of blow to everything thinking people ought to hold dear.

I just can’t even. But as I said, I’m proud, exhausted, and mostly satisfied. We did an important thing, and we’re still doing it.

Here are a few things I took away from the campaign:

  1. We need each other: Women are sick and tired of being in the majority and yet being treated as though our right to safe public spaces don’t matter. We are fighting back. Thousands of us pulled together, and we couldn’t have done it any other way.
  2. We need men: Rape culture will not go away unless men participate in the fight. Many men joined us in the #FBrape campaign, and their voices helped so much to counter those who showed up to ridicule us. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, men who campaigned, for being with us during this week of intensive work.
  3. We need our allies to be present during our struggles, not just during our successes: Feminists who couldn’t seem to find time for the campaign while it was happening are jumping on the bandwagon (and the popularity of the hashtag) now that we’ve won. I can’t help but wonder where they were when the hard work was getting done. I hoped for better.*
  4. We’re ending rape culture: Ending rape culture on Facebook is a huge step toward ending it in society as a whole. Facebook is a microcosm of our society. It is a community that has set a standard of behavior for its members, and finally, it has stated for the record that violence against women is strictly counter to that standard. Their response was very corporate, but it was a complete turnaround from their “our system is working” response three days previous. There is work to be done. We have to keep them honest. But this is a WIN and I’m CELEBRATING.
  5. This is not about free speech: Free speech, while important, is only one of our civil rights. Much as your right to own a gun doesn’t preclude my right to not get shot, your right to free speech does not trump my right not to be surrounded by images suggesting that beating, raping, and killing people like me is acceptable, expected, and funny. This is hate speech, it encourages (read: incites) violence against women,  and it cannot be tolerated in civilized society anymore than we allow racists to harass and threaten people of color in public spaces. We don’t. We can’t. My right to exist safely trumps every rape-joker’s right to free speech, and I will fight to ensure that my right—and every other woman’s—is protected.

*This is not directed at anyone who is likely to read this, but at high-profile professional feminists (the most conspicuous of whom was Sheryl Sandberg, of course) who suddenly had articles in major publications after Facebook caved. It just made me a little sad, that’s all.

largemarge.png


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How to Report an Asshole on Twitter

[TW: Rape, Assholery]

Douche is the word...

Douche is the word…

Today’s Asshole: Jose Canseco

Mr. Canseco, a Very Famous Athlete, is accused of rape. Today he decided the best possible course of action was to out his accuser on Twitter.

Via the Atlantic Wire:

Jose Canseco — former All-Star outfielder, admitted steroid user, part-time fantastic Twitter idiot — apparently just live-tweeted the police arriving at his Las Vegas home, then said he has been accused of rape, then proceeded to publicly name his apparent accuser to his more than 500,000 followers, with bikini photos, and the woman’s phone number, and talk shows, and cats… then proceeded to delete the whole thing. Except her name.

Canseco also tweeted the name and address of the woman’s gym and invited followers to stop by:

Image

So, using Jose’s illegal activities as a model for a) how to report assholes and b) how Twitter’s “report” function fails to provide adequate reporting options for illegal activities like this one, here are some instructions (click images for larger versions):

(UPDATE: JC has deleted most of offending tweets because his lawyers are smarter than he is, fortunately for him. But there’s still this one. Yes, that’s her. Report his ass.)

      1. Point your browser to https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser.
      2. Click the option that best describes the situation. In this case, that’s “offensive content.” That doesn’t really cover it, but as you can see, it’s the only option that comes close:Image
      3. Type in the Twitter handle of the offending tweeter, in this case JoseCanseco:Image
      4. Next, you need to paste in URLs to the offending tweets (like this and this).(UPDATE: JC has deleted most of offending tweets because his lawyers are smarter than he is, fortunately for him. But there’s still this one. Yes, that’s her. Report his ass.)Image

        Click “Report another Tweet” for another link box.
      5. Answer the miscellaneous questions, then fill in the details box. I suggest something along the lines of “Jose Canseco has published the name, photo, and gym of the woman who accused him of rape. This is illegal. Please suspend his account.”Image
      6. Now you’re ready to hit the Submit button and hope Twitter does the right thing.

It only takes a moment of your time, and if enough people do it, maybe they’ll get the message. Maybe Canseco will get the message that bullying his accuser is not only illegal, it is not only dangerous, but it is also socially unacceptable behavior with consequences. Because rape culture has taught him that this is the right way to handle a rape accusation, and as a VFE he, in turn, is teaching young people the same lesson.


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The Perfection Myth

Guest post by FrabjousLinz

86536628I’ve always struggled with body image. Wait, no, let’s be blunt. I’ve always hated the way I look, alternating with thinking I look OK at best. It’s worse the last few years, since I’ve put on weight, and since I’m older and don’t have youth working for me. But truthfully, I’ve never been happy with my body, or my face, or my hair. Or my personality, but let’s not get into that one right now.

I remember wanting to be pretty from a very young age, about when I realized that it’s a girl’s job to be pretty in this world, and that without it, society thinks she doesn’t have any worth. So what, about 4 years old? 5? I remember my brother pointing out to me what models were the prettiest in the JC Penny catalogue. I remember thinking, along with a lot of girls I’m sure, that my only hope was to grow up pretty, because that was the only way to be happy and have friends. I remember hoping that, like the ugly duckling, I would turn into something gorgeous and show-stopping. Because I knew, just knew, that I was ugly right then and there.

Looking back at pictures of myself, I was not an ugly child. I was just a child. I was even, maybe, a cute child. See? It’s hard to really be objective, even now. But at the time, I remember feeling ugly and ungainly and weird looking. I wasn’t popular among most of my classmates, which didn’t help. I was weird, or at least a lot different from many of the kids I grew up with. And one of the regular insults thrown around at kids by kids is always “ugly.” Which doesn’t have to be true to feel true. As I grew older, I only felt more ugly and awkward and weird and ungainly. Some of the ungainly and awkward is true for all kids at those stages – growing is a strange process, and not everything goes together in a cohesive way. But I was certain I was more awkward, more weird looking, more ugly, than basically everyone else around me. I did not know how to wear the right clothes, or the right hair. Of course, those are skills that can be taught, but no one taught them to me, and not having them only served to make me feel even less attractive. Because even when I tried, I felt like I failed. People told me I failed. The society around me told me I failed.

old photo

Someone else’s mom.

My mom did try to help, but since she suffers from a lot of the same feelings about herself, it didn’t help as much as she would have liked. And while I know that she had no desire to pass on these neuroses to me, she almost couldn’t help herself. She always called herself unattractive and fat. In fact, we all joked about it all the time, which was horribly cruel of us. “Oh, we’re just joking,” we’d all say, even my dad. “Mom’s not really fat or ugly. It’s just funny to say she is.” That joke lived a lot longer than it should have. My mom – tiny, thin, pocket-sized, bird-like mom – is always trying to lose weight. Always. She denigrates the way she looks. She deflects, is humorously negative about herself, makes her own jokes about being awkward and aging and imperfect. Everyone loves her. Everyone – although she would disagree, and laugh that off. Everyone loves my mom. She’s great. She’s funny and talented and articulate and smart and caring, and yes, she’s also very pretty. But she would never admit to any of that. So I grew up watching this fantastic person constantly put herself down.

I am more like my mom than I like to admit. Uh, and I think I just called myself fantastic. I can’t even describe how panicked and weird I feel about that. I want to take it back. Not me – I’m not fantastic. My mom is. I’m just like her in that I hate myself. Uh. That sounds bad. Quick, how do I make this funny?

Moving on. As a kid I was always on the short side, and skinny, shaped kind of like a medium-sized pole. Until I grew two inches and got hips right about 14. (And ended up with an impressive set of stretch marks, which were very confusing and distressing at 14. OK, they’re always distressing.) So then I was skinny, taller than 90% of the people (boys, too) in school, and shaped a bit like a taller pole with saddle bags in the middle. At least that’s how I saw it. Weird-looking. There was a standard of beauty, and I didn’t meet it in any way. I tried different hair, which was a disaster. I tried different clothes, which I didn’t understand and almost always had the wrong ones. I tried very hard to be likeable, with varying results. But I still wasn’t pretty, not really. Not as far as I could tell. And if you’re a girl, and not pretty, then you are close to worthless. That’s the message I received, and whether I wanted to or not, I believed it. Deep down, somewhere in my psyche, I believed – believe – I was worth less, because I didn’t measure up on the attractiveness scale. Some people told me I was pretty, but family members and close friends never count, even though they should. And even if I’d had other outside confirmation, I don’t know that I’d have believed it.

20130419-Women-and-PerfectionOf course, the girls who were considered pretty didn’t have it easy, either. And most of them didn’t even consider themselves pretty. Because it’s not just our job, as females, to be pretty. We have to be prettier. Not just prettier than each other (which is a terrible thing, just by the way), but prettier than we were before. Prettier every day. Fix all the things that are wrong, and then find new things to fix. Continue fixing. I remember one male classmate, at some lazy lunchtime, ticking off how he’d build the perfect girl from our various good body parts, those of us girls who were in the group that day. I think mine was legs. I felt insulted, and also a little sizzle of happy at the same time. He thinks I have good legs! But he was insulting all of us. I said nothing, although now I’m older, I wish I’d said “Each of us is perfect as we are. Pygmalion was an asshole. So what does that make you?” Or something along those lines: possibly more clever. But clever didn’t occur to me at the time. So that guy got away with treating all of us like crap, and none of us said anything about it, that I recall. Not the first or last time general misogyny was present in my high school. But it sticks in my memory. I have (had) attractive legs! That guy was a jerk! I don’t know how to process this! I’m probably not the only one who felt like that. Teenage girls, at least when I was one, were more likely to just ignore sexist remarks than do anything about them. And we internalized that sexism, and believed it about ourselves and sometimes each other.

I was skinny, and continued skinny for a good part of my adult years. When I got out of college, and (due to having more regular income, and food that was not ramen noodles) I gained 15 pounds, I immediately thought I needed to lose 10 of them. I wanted to lose 10 or 15 pounds at all times, as soon as I hit my mid 20s. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my weight. I just wasn’t underweight anymore. I ate plenty, I never had an eating disorder, although I kept thinking I should probably eat better, but never did. I just had the kind of metabolism that all women, and plenty of men, wish for. Heck, I wish for it, now that it’s gone. I could eat whatever I wanted, and I did, and my body mostly stayed the same. Lots of people were disgusted with me for that. For good reason – I was kind of obnoxious with it. Not on purpose, but in that clueless way that a person who is clueless is. But I was still horrified at that little poochy belly, the slightly larger thighs. My mom and I constantly discussed how we could lose 10 pounds. I, at least, never lost any. My mom stopped eating her one small handful of M&Ms per day that she allowed herself as a treat, and lost two pounds. She didn’t need to. She still felt like it was a victory. I felt depressed, because a life lived eating only dry toast, nonfat yogurt, and unbuttered popcorn for a treat just sounds awful. Not that Mom doesn’t sometimes eat cookies, but mostly she eats yogurt. And dry toast. She started eating that way in college because she put on weight then, and hasn’t been happy with her body since. Sometimes she skips the toast, too, because bread. It makes me want to weep.

Here I was in my 20s and then 30s – I was young, skinny, I had healthy hair, my skin was decent, I had (have) basically even features, and while I never had much in the way of a bust, that really shouldn’t have mattered. I had (have) curvy hips and long legs. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me.

I hated my body. I wanted to fix every part of it. My arms were too skinny and shapeless. My shoulders were too wide. My ribcage was too wide. My breasts were too small. My hips were saddlebaggy. I had a little poochy belly. My face was too small and round. My nose was weird. My hair was boring and thin and frizzy. My ankles were too thick. My feet were too big. I liked my legs, but that’s it, really.  I felt this way about myself all the time, adding in new imperfections as I identified them. Now I had more of a double chin, now my thighs weren’t as smooth, now my arms were starting to sag. Always something to be unhappy about.

When I turned 35, a lot happened. Among them, my marriage ended after a long struggle and decline, and I began a new relationship just a few months after its last gasps. I moved from a house into a tiny apartment. Pets died. Lots of big changes. Over those couple of years, I gained 30 pounds. Suddenly I not only felt kind of ugly, and a little fat, I felt REALLY ugly, and A LOT fat. Objectively, I am not fat. I am almost 5’9”, and I’m about a size 14. (I say about, because women’s sizing is arbitrary and ridiculous.) While it’s larger than I’ve ever been before, it’s pretty average. It’s not even considered plus size, although I’m closer to that than I’ve ever been. A lot of stores stop at a size 14, and some stop at 12. So the clothing-sales world is also making me feel huge and ugly and fat. Imagine how it makes people feel who are just a little, or even a lot, bigger? I know some of it is my internalization of our fat-shaming world. But how hard is it to feel good when you can’t find clothes that fit and look good, and most of the clothes on the rack are sized 6 and under? Even when I was skinny, I couldn’t wear a size 6. Too tall, too broad shouldered and wide-ribbed. Hips too curvy. (Of course, the reason those clothes are left on the rack: Average sizes women wear in this country are 10-16, so those clothes go first. But still, it makes you feel worse.)

192388215302202217_bizCSl3i_c1-e1357576849117There’s nothing wrong with being the size I am. There’s nothing wrong with being larger. There’s nothing wrong with being smaller. I mean, health reasons aside, but many people are perfectly healthy at whatever size they are right now, and the health things are between themselves, their healthcare professionals, and their loved ones. But shame feels forced on all of us, anyway. I feel it all the time. I feel judged. I don’t know for certain that I am judged, but I feel it. And I judge myself. All things being equal, I should be able to find love and acceptance in at least one place in the world, and that should be for myself. But I don’t. I look at other people of all shapes and sizes, and I find them perfectly fine just the way they are, beautiful, even. I look at myself, and I find myself awful.

The reasons I gained the weight are relatively straightforward – I’m older, so my metabolism changed. And due to my separation and divorce, my metabolism changed while under a lot of stress, which exacerbated any changes going on. My body feels a lot different than it used to. I have a huge chest now, it seems to me. I always used to want a bigger chest, but now I want a smaller one, because these things are in the way. I had to learn how to wear entirely different clothes, because the kinds of things I was used to wearing don’t work for busty. I call them adult-onset boobage. It’s honestly a real shock – another thing my body has done to betray me. But really, it’s the same basic body. My bust to waist ratio has not changed. They’re just bigger numbers. So I’m still kind of square on top, with curvy hips, and long legs. But none of it feels the same, and I still hate it. So I hated my body when it was skinny and young and smooth and strong. And I hate it now that it’s curvier and busty. Although who wants older and saggier and lumpier? It’s hard to find acceptance for that. I should. It’s just a body, right? Bodies do this. They change. They change all the time, and agonizing over it and wanting something different is just an exercise in futility. So why can’t we all just learn to love our changing bodies?

tumblr_mlpyrcaLpi1qb89uwo1_400I think it’s partly because our society doesn’t want us to. Our society, for whatever reasons (possibly capitalism), wants us to strive for prettier, younger, more perfection, whatever the current definition of perfection is. So I have to hate my body, because that’s how it works. Then I’ll buy the things that I hope will make me prettier. Then I’ll pass on my self-hatred to my children, when I have some, and keep the cycle going. Then we’ll work hard at the impossible. Pretty is still a woman’s main job, even when we denounce it, even when we shout that it’s not true. But to many, if a woman isn’t pretty, or isn’t the right kind of pretty, then she is substandard. Definitions of pretty change, but the job stays the same. And it’s very hard to measure up to the definition, since that definition is always some guy, or corporation, pulling apart different women and putting their body parts back together. Here, this random amalgam of parts, this patchwork inhuman thing we have sewn together as though we were Dr. Frankenstein, this is perfection. Perfection that no one really has, certainly not any human girls, because they are human and not carvings or pictures or statues. Because someone can always find another fault, another reason to nitpick, another reason to hate your body. Something to fix.

pretty

I don’t want to hate my body. I’ve spent my whole life hating this body, and it’s been really good to me, all in all. It doesn’t deserve all this hate. I certainly don’t want my future children to hate themselves, to spend their time trying to figure out how to be perfect. It’s such a waste. And yet I can’t help myself. I know this is a struggle for so many – to love ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with striving, until there is. Striving for better, when better means happier and healthier, is one thing. Striving for perfection is hurtful and leaves people defeated and full of self-hatred. I want to feel kindness and love toward myself. I just haven’t figured out how, yet. Maybe we can all learn help each other with that.


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Learn This Word: Maybe

Guest post by Joseph Paul Haines

Joe posted this “rant” on Facebook yesterday and kindly gave me permission to share it here. Enjoy. ~Rosie

thinkAfter listening to a bunch of misogynistic bullshit lately I’d like to make a small suggestion. Learn this word: Maybe.

Hell, I’ll even show you how to use it with a series of statements and where it applies.

Statement: Women only pretend to be interested in cons.
WYST: (What you should think): Maybe. That could be true, depending on the woman. I’m sure that there are some women in the world who couldn’t give a flying fuck about geek culture but see it as a great place to meet fairly affluent single men. Then again, some of them could school your ass a hundred ways to Sunday on almost anything you think you know.

Statement: Women are physically weaker than men.
WYST: Maybe. Some women are, due to their physique, less able to perform certain feats of strength than a similarly built man. Then again, I’ve also had my ass handed to me in sparring matches with women of all shapes and sizes, depending upon their skill level and mine.

Statement: Women are more emotional.
WYST: Maybe. I’ve known women who on the surface seemed to react more strongly to certain external stimuli than other men I’ve known. Then again, it seems I keep running into men who I would classify more strongly as “little whiny bitches” than any woman I’d met in years.

Statement: Women need someone to take care of them.
WYST: Maybe. There have been people on this planet who have experienced situations and trauma that left them temporarily incapable of tending to their own needs in a proficient manner. Then again, maybe you can move out of your parent’s basement before you start whining about it.

Rodin_ThinkerStatement: So maybe? How am I supposed to operate off of maybe?
WYST: The same way you do with every other human being on the planet. Some people are better than others at certain things. It has absolutely nothing to do with their gender. As a matter of fact, the gender should be the last thing you consider when getting to understand another human being. Is it true that some women are hyper-emotional? Damn straight. Some men, too. You should deal with the state of being, not the gender. It’s not your job to somehow behave in a different manner with women than you do with men. You don’t have to behave like a “knight.” You don’t have to behave like a “perfect gentleman” although manners never hurt anyone. (Side note: If you think that your behavior has to change in so-called mixed company, you might take some time to think about your manners in a general, overall sort of way. Just a thought.)

Most of all, when you consider a person’s abilities or behavior, it should be based upon their actions and demonstrated talents. So in other words, all this clichéd nonsense about women? Yeah, it could possibly be true in specific instances when dealing with one particular human being.

images (5)Here’s one more example:

STATEMENT: Most men aren’t capable of getting past their own cocks and learning this lesson.

WYST: Maybe. But maybe not.

 

See now? That wasn’t so difficult, was it?


Note: Today Joe posted this PSA, which I know he won’t mind me adding here:

Gentlemen, I’m going to provide you with another safety tip here today. Never, and I mean EVER, start a sentence to a woman with the following phrase:

“Jeez, don’t get so hysterical,” or “Calm down, already,” or “Let’s not get all emotional now . . .”

If you don’t understand why not, well, just take my word for it. If she’s standing in front of you and waving a gun or a knife or hitting herself in the face with a sledgehammer, then and ONLY then would the use of any of these phrases be justified.

Just don’t do it. And you’re welcome.


600402_226783124129220_998911497_nJoseph Paul Haines is a fiction writer and feminist ally. His short story “Ten with a Flag” was recently made into a short film. You can find his books on Amazon.


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


The Day the Onion Died

[Trigger warning: graphic discussion of domestic violence]

Or at least, one can hope, because these assholes obviously haven’t learned anything. (It’s been dead to me since Quvenzhané.)

Image

Hey, The Onion? Violence against women isn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at the Oscars, and it isn’t funny now. It’s time for you to sit the fuck down and take a time out. Forever.*

Beyond that, I have far too much rage to form words right now. More later.

Follow-up:

Full disclosure: One of my exes beat me because we fought and I left a party without him and caught  ride home with a passing car that happened to be driven by a man. This particular ex always figured if I could talk to another man–Hell, if I could look at him–I might as well be fucking him. So, you know, I might as well have fucked that guy who gave me a ride home. Fuckhead beat me, cut my face with a paint-scraper (so no one would find me attractive again), poked my eyes with his fingers (I still have scars I can see when the light is right and I look at a blank surface), and told me that when he was done with me he was going to bury me in a field where no one would find me.

Perhaps some of you who think I don’t “get” satire will understand that some things just aren’t funny to some people. And considering HOW FUCKING MANY OF US HAVE BEEN THROUGH THIS (and how many haven’t survived it), I don’t think asking for a little sensitivity is out of order. I don’t think asking the Onion to find a way to poke fun at Chris Brown without making a joke out of domestic violence is too much to ask. I just don’t. Chris Brown deserves whatever shit life throws at him, but I think it’s ok to ask questions about whether a work of satire meant to draw attention to domestic violence might actually be harming the people it seeks to help.

onionquote

And no matter how many of you come here to tell me I really ought to get mad at something else or someone else or expend my energy elsewhere and stop making feminists look bad, I’m not shutting up. When something strikes me as wrong–when it hits me in the gut like this did–I’m going to talk about it. Write about it. And as so many have said to me here and elsewhere regarding just “not reading” the Onion? If you don’t like what I have to say, you know how to avoid this page.

*Something an acquaintance said today reminded me of the above line, written in a fit of rage, which I didn’t mean literally and have neglected to address before now (3/10). I’m never in favor of shutting anyone up. I do think The Onion needs to examine whether they are actually achieving their goals (I don’t pretend to know what those goals are, but I used to feel they were more aligned with my own). Satire should point up, and too often, The Onion ridicules and trivializes the people it seeks to champion.

Additional Updates:

Hope Fiending has written something very like what I would have if I’d been able, so off you go to read her piece:

I’M PRETTY SICK OF PEOPLE USING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AS AN EASY “PUNCHLINE.” IF YOU CAN EVEN CALL IT A PUNCHLINE. PUN PROBABLY INTENDED.

Buzzfeed featured my post, and The New Republic quoted me. Apparently “a hardcore of feminist bloggers” is a thing. Like a murder of crows. Neat!

Also, Salon chimes in:

Has the Onion gotten mean?

Aaaand here’s an article written from the POV of the three Cleveland, OH women recently freed in which they lay the blame for all of society’s ills squarely at the feet of men. I don’t even know what to say about that except #FUCKTHEONION.


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


The Kitten Setting: An Experiment

kitteh

This is how I will imagine trolls from now on….

Recently Mandaray told me about the Kitten Setting: a method for dealing with trolls on the Internet. I’ve been dying to try it out. Behold my first attempt at employing the Kitten Setting. For SCIENCE!

Kittehfied.

Kittehfied.

See the ongoing saga here (see warning below):

The Kitten Setting: An Experiment (with tweets) · MMASammich · Storify.

Now including…

Part I: FUN

Part II: The Troll Came Back…

Part III: Disappointment (sad trombone) [Warning: Contains porn.]

Part IV: The Silence of the Kittens

Part V: Kitten Claims VICTORY


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


I Found Your Old Wallet.

ImageIt was empty except for two things: a photo of me and one of us together.

You asshole.

Really, I ought to capitalize that: Asshole. Because that’s my name for you now. Used to be, when you popped into my head, I thought words like “love” and “sweetie” and “baby” and “honey.” Now, without even thinking about it and without my permission, I think–and say out loud every single time–“Asshole.” Or “Fucking Asshole.” Or “What a Fucking Asshole.”

I can’t believe I ever thought you were one of the Good Guys. That I ever thought you were my friend. I’m so sorry that I trusted you–that I didn’t retain some modicum of protection that might allow me to see you for who and what you really are. I can’t believe I let you hurt me–that you still have the power to hurt me.

I once told you I’d forgiven you. I really wanted that to be true. But it’s not. I can’t forgive you. I don’t know how. I know how to say the words, but not how to make them true. The last time I talked to you I told you how hard the week of our anniversary was for me, and you responded by ignoring me on that very day. Ignoring every attempt at communication and then claiming paralysis, and THEN whining about the unfairness of it all when I told you what an asshole you were. You just kept piling hurt upon hurt, but really, it didn’t matter. You had already done the unforgivable by doing everything you did and then leaving me alone to deal with it all by myself.

I truly hope you get better and cease to cause pain to every woman foolish enough to become involved with you. But my experience has taught me this:

You are a narcissist. You are a serial monogamist. You are a sex addict. You are a man who pretends to be good and then lies and cheats and hurts women over and over again. You are a man who believes you are entitled to have your needs met at the expense of other people. You are a man who has learned what he needs to say after he destroys a life (or several) that will make people see him as a good guy who just makes mistakes and never meant to hurt anyone even though you set out every single day for several months fully intending to lie to me, betray my trust in you, and fuck another woman behind my back in downtown hotel rooms while wondering aloud at home where all our money went. You are a liar and a cheater and you don’t know how to be a friend or a partner or even a good human being.

You are an Asshole.


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


The Belle Jar Blog is a Great Feminist, Mother, Writer, Friend

Anne, Matt, and baby Theo

Today my friend Anne is on the receiving end of all sorts of criticism for the post I shared with you yesterday in which she bravely considered a future when her son might cross a line despite her best efforts. You see, Anne realizes that even though her little boy is two years old now and loves his mother more than anything, one day he will experience–as we all do–a need to go his own way and take his cues from sources that do not love him with all their hearts and want him to be and have the absolute best.

I have known Anne less than a year, but in that time (in addition to getting to know her personally and coming to call her a friend) I have read many of her posts on The Belle Jar and have been at turns moved to tears, anger, nostalgia, a strong sense of simpatico, and fits of giggles. Her ability to bring herself–her personal stories–to her constant struggle to contribute to the greater good means that her work (on TBJ and elsewhere) reaches more and more people every day. And that means that in addition to the thousands of people who need her stories and words–either because they weren’t quite awake and she splashed their faces or because, like me, they’re out here fighting the same fight and desperately need the solidarity and ideas and perspectives and common vocabulary to do what we do–there are those who will tear her down.

Some of these people just don’t get it. Others are on a crusade to expose the evils of feminism. As for the former, I can only hope that some seed has been planted and germinates even now in the depths of their brains. But the latter? Allow me to submit that they are the true measure of the impact Anne is making. I don’t envy her the negative attention, the stress, the bad feels that I know even now are making it hard for her to do the important work she’s doing. But I, for one, want to say that I’m counting on Anne to take what strength she can from all of us who love her, love what she does, love her stories and her strength and her courage, and remember that what all of this means is that she’s doing something right.

And I’ve known that all along. <3


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


#SAAM Facts: Arm Yourself

Last fall [2012] when the GOP was falling all over itself to determine who in their ranks could make the most asinine comment revealing their ignorance about rape and biology and pretty much everything, Soraya Chemaly wrote this article on HuffPo reminding us of some very relevant (sourced) facts re: rape. I’ve chosen a few I think are particularly interesting/topical/important/timely to explore a bit. (See the above article for additional sources.)

Most Rapes Go Unreported

Many, many survivors do not report their rapes. The Department of Justice estimates that fewer than 50% of rapes are reported each year, and gives a low estimate of 300,000 yearly rapes nationwide. The Center for Disease Control has placed their high estimate at 1.3 million. I’m inclined to go with the higher number since, of my rapes, I’ve reported fewer than 50% myself (only one went to arrest/prosecution), and none of the many cases of child molestation (some of which were absolutely rape or attempted rape, and yet see how I still make a distinction) were ever reported to the police.

Most Rapists Never Serve Time

The statistic says that 97% of rapists never serve time. That’s based on the following from RAINN:

No matter how you look at it, this sucks.

Of the 46 rapes (out of this statistical 100) that are reported, only 12 of those reports lead to an arrest. Let’s think about that for a moment:

In 34 out of 46 instances, when a rape victim files a police report regarding his/her rape, the police don’t even bother to make an arrest.

Consider that statistics have also shown that most rapes are not, in fact, stranger rapes, but are committed by someone the victim knows. And then remember the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that sit untested on shelves in police department evidence lockers across the US (one of mine in Dallas, TX). Because prosecuting rape is clearly not a priority in this country.

From Wikipedia via the National Institute of Justice:

“18 percent of unsolved alleged sexual assaults that occurred from 2002 to 2007 contained forensic evidence that was still in police custody (not submitted to a crime lab for analysis)”; 2) One major challenge is that 43% of law enforcement agencies “do not have a computerized system for tracking forensic evidence, either in their inventory or after it is sent to the crime lab”; 3) On average, 50–60% of kits test positive for biological material that does not belong to the victim; 4) Survey responses indicated that there may be some misunderstanding of the value of biological evidence. 44% of the law enforcement agencies said that one of the reasons they did not send evidence to the lab was that a suspect had not been identified. 15% said that they did not submit evidence because “analysis had not been requested by a prosecutor.”[12]

So, we don’t bother testing rape kits if no one asks us to, or because we haven’t identified a suspect. Wait, I watch cop shows—isn’t DNA one of the ways cops ID suspects who have raped before? Oh, for that to work they’d need to test even more rape kits, and in this country, we’re way too busy with the war on medical marijuana to worry about justice for rape survivors.

32,000 Women Become Pregnant Resulting from Rape Each Year

That’s right, Todd Akin: According to the National Institute of Health, rape results in 32,000 pregnancies yearly. In fact, in a 2003 study, scientists found that pregnancy occurs twice as often as a result of rape than of consensual sex.

Our analysis suggests that per-incident rape-pregnancy rates exceed per-incident consensual pregnancy rates by a sizable margin, even before adjusting for the use of relevant forms of birth control.

And yet, right-wing politicians who think their hearts are in the right places believe it’s perfectly ok to restrict Plan B, the “morning after” pill to “emergency rapes.” You know, those stranger rapes that happen more often on television than they do in real life. Thanks, GOP.

In 31 of these United States, Rapists Have Parental Rights

Imagine for a moment that you’re a woman who has survived rape and become pregnant. Should you desire an abortion, 24 states require a waiting period. Should you decide to keep the child, the rapist can sue for parental rights in 31. This is a nightmare I can’t even bring myself to imagine for more than a moment. And yet thousands of women face this in our country each year–hundreds of thousands live with it even as I write.

Here’s a handy graphic from Huffington Post showing how each state rates when it comes to laws regarding pregnancy resulting from rape:

Most Military Rapes Go Unreported

The Pentagon estimates that in the US Armed Forces, 80-90% of rapes go unreported. In 2011, 16,500 rapes were reported. I’ll let you do the math. Estimates place the number of male rape survivors in the military at anywhere from 8-37%—much higher than in civilian life (but possibly lower than in the prison system, depending on who you ask).

Also, I’m going to quote this one directly from the list:

Percentage of military victims who get an “involuntarily” discharge compared to percentage of charged and accused who are discharged with honor: 90 percent involuntary to 80 percent with honor

I have no words for how fucked up that is. <—Except those ones.

Prison is a Rape Culture All Its Own

It is estimated by some that prison rape is one of the most underreported forms of rape. Some will tell you that when it comes to rape culture, prison has the outside world beat hands down. Personally, I don’t see it as a competition, but I am well-aware (as are most of us, I think) that prison rape is a huge problem not only in our prisons, but for our society. Our “correctional system” breaks people and then releases them back into the world where they’re completely unequipped to survive and thrive. At least 20% of prison inmates experience rape, and if you’re LGBT, your chances increase significantly.

From the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

    • An estimated 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months.
    • Female inmates in prison (4.7%) or jail (3.1%) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9%) or jail (1.3%) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.
    • Among inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 13% of male prison inmates and 19% of male jail inmates said they were victimized within the first 24 hours after admission, compared to 4% of female inmates in prison and jail.
    • Among heterosexual state and federal prisoners, an estimated 1.3% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 2.5% reported being victimized by staff (table 8). In contrast, among prison inmates with a sexual orientation
      other than heterosexual (including bisexual, homosexual, gay or lesbian, or other), 11.2% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 6.6% reported being sexually victimized by staff.
    • Similar differences were reported among jail inmates, with heterosexual inmates reporting lower rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization (1.1%) and staff sexual misconduct (1.9%) than nonheterosexual inmates (7.2% and 3.5%, respectively).

Rape as a Weapon of War

Again, I’m going to take these directly from the list. These numbers serve as a startling reminder that rape—especially male-on-female rape—is and has always been considered a good way to humiliate your enemy and reward the troops for a job well done.

Actions vs. Words

The above only scratches the surface. There is so much work to be done. A reader commented today on Always Aware that we need less talk and more action. I’m in total agreement, and yet I feel paralyzed in the face of all this to do anything but read and learn and write and discuss and try to understand what it is that will turn our culture around—to understand what actions I can take out in the world to make real change.

I’m planning a road-trip sometime in the future, and I’d like it to be a thing of action and not just words. I’ll be thinking more about what that means, but if you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know.


Related

Reference:

On the Web:

On MMAS:


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


How Many of Me Equals One Man?

by Sid

talking to a brick wall

Is this thing on?

I work for a game company. Of late, I’ve taken issue with some of the content we’re receiving, and I’ve been everything but quiet about it. I’ve written letters to management and blatantly refused to work on it. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably heard me talk about it.

I was actually the second person on our team of three to get up in arms about it. The first was my boss (we’ll call him Joe for ease of storytelling)—the only male on our team. Joe was far and away the angriest person in the building about it—up until the day he quit over it. Before he quit, though, Joe made plenty of noise about it himself. We were deep into this discussion before we realized the higher-ups thought he’d been raising such a fuss on behalf of his team, comprising two females.

I spoke to HR about the content a few days later, and many aspects of my most recent letter came up. As we spoke, however, I discovered that everyone assumed my female coworker and I were the truly upset folks—despite the fact that Joe never implied a single thing to that end. When I corrected HR, she was shocked. “Joe??”

She said he needed to tell the company how he felt about this content. As a man.

Yes, he was my boss, and had she said “as a manager,” that’d be a whole different story. But those weren’t the words, and that wasn’t the intent. He had written numerous emails, attended a number of meetings, and made his feelings very plainly known, but the whole time, management assumed he was batting for us—myself and my female coworker. His words would have inherently carried more weight if he had made it clear that he had been speaking for himself as a man rather than speaking for two women.

So here’s what I can discern from this:

  1. The automatic assumption is that a man simply wouldn’t disagree with this content; therefore, he must be speaking for a woman.
  2. When the assumption was that he spoke on behalf on two women, his words carried almost no weight.
  3. Were he to speak explicitly for himself as a man, the words would carry significantly more weight than when he was thought to be speaking for two women.

At the end of the day, when his resignation letter made it clear exactly who he was speaking for, the content still went through. Even so, that doesn’t negate everything that came before it. It doesn’t take this bad taste out of my mouth.

How many women equal one man? Obviously more than two, but how many? Three? Five? How many female voices carry the same weight as one male voice?

How many of me do I need to be taken seriously?

This doesn't add up.

This doesn’t add up.


Read Sid’s previous MMAS articles in Sid’s Stuff. Follow her at @SeeSidWrite.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


Life Sentences

by Robert J. Howe

Note: This story may be upsetting to some.

“Life Sentences” originally appeared in Salon in March 2004 as “Miscarriage of Justice.” It also appeared in Aeon Speculative Fiction, Issue 9 (2006).  

Author’s Note:

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.”

via Aeon

via Aeon

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?”

“Just curious.”

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.”

“Then what?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.”

“For what?”

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 GateElectric Velocipede, and other publications and anthologies. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop (1985). Learn more about him at his website.


Related:

Crimes of the Uterus: Imprisonment and Death in the US

Patriot Girls


Crimes of the Uterus: Imprisonment and Death in the US

NOW

NOW

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.

I'm awake.

I’m awake.

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.


Updates:

*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.”


Related

Life Sentences
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.


Stop Telling Women to Smile

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 6.51.16 AMThe 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!”

fazHere’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.

street harassers, calcutta

via The Banjari Manifesto

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.


Related:

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.