Tag Archives: consent

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.

 

(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Taking Responsibility for Rape

I wrote this post over a week ago.

I meant to publish it then, but life has been busy and it got away from me.

Then another rape story hit the news cycle, and another round of hand-wringing and victim blaming – complete with literally burning the victim’s house to the ground – made the rounds. Lot’s of things have been said like, “What did she expect at 1am?

Another woman took the time to write a piece saying that if we want to end rape, we’ll just teach women not to drink.

Lots of people jumped all over that, as they should – because female sobriety doesn’t stop rape.

Then someone I generally respect tweeted out:

“Sooo interesting: Is it supporting “rape culture” to remind young women not to binge drink & leave selves vulnerable? http://bit.ly/15MCDxy

Here’s the thing – WE ALREADY KNOW THAT!!!

dont drink dont get raped

Ad in a women’s restroom – stop drinking if you don’t want to get raped tonight!

Women are told on the daily how to not get raped. We are taught not to drink, not to wear revealing clothing, not to walk alone at night – or in the day, especially in “bad” neighborhoods. We are taught not to smile at men, but also to not be stand-offish because that too might provoke them. We are taught to guard our beverages if there are men around, whether those beverages are alcoholic or not, because we might be roofied. We are taught that we trust men at our own peril – not only strangers, but also men we know.

We are taught that any time we go out in public, the price we might pay is rape – and that we should expect that and accept it if we want to have a social life.

I for one am sick of it.

What this does is give the impression that all men are rapists. What this does is tell men – and women – that men can’t help themselves. And that is insulting to the many, many, many great men I know.

What the “don’t get raped” and “don’t be so rapeable” conversation also does is convince victims that they are ultimately responsible for their own rapes, because they broke one of the “don’t get raped” rules. It teaches victims to not blame the rapist – after all, they couldn’t help themselves. It encourages victims to not report their rapes, to not get the help they need, to deny the seriousness of the crime.

It also empowers people to look for ways to blame the victim and scapegoat the rapist if a victim does come forward.

The conversation has to change.

Rape should NOT be the price women have to pay for social freedom. Potential victims should not be responsible for preventing their own victimhood.

Which brings me to the original trigger for this post. It was a man who said that letting women who go to parties, get drunk and wake up raped prosecute their rapists allows the women to abdicate personal responsibility for the choices they made that put them in that predicament.

WHAT ABOUT THE CHOICES THE MAN MADE? WHY DOESN’T HE HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY?

Rapists cause rape

A rapist caused my rape.

So – the post. (Written in an angry rage late at night on my phone.)

If getting raped is an “acceptable” consequence for women who drink, then going to jail for being a rapist should be an acceptable consequence for men who rape.
Why is it that some people think that calling rapists rapists is letting women avoid responsibility for their choices?
The man made a choice too. He chose to have sex with someone who did not consent.
If rape is her punishment for being drunk in public, what is his punishment for taking advantage of her? If she should learn from her mistakes, shouldn’t he?
This is one of the ways rape culture supports the status quo, by convincing us that we aren’t victim blaming when we say things like yeah, she was raped a little, but what did she expect? Or, yeah she was raped, but if he goes to jail, what are we teaching HER?
We need to change the conversation.
We need to change the definition of consent.
“No means no” clearly isn’t enough, there are too many ways to prevent someone from saying no that still aren’t them saying yes.
We need to teach everyone what a positive model of consent looks, and feels, like. We need to teach people that sex isn’t about conquest, it’s about pleasure FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED.
I don’t want to raise girls in a world where they are seen as “rapebait” by any of their peers.
I don’t want to raise them in a world where I have to tell them that they can have the same social freedoms as men. But only if they are willing to accept a little rape as the price of admission.
That’s not okay.
It’s not okay that women are expected to carry the burden, not only of their own sexuality, but also that of every male they encounter. It’s not okay that people rush to defend boys behaving badly as. “In my day, that was a hot date.” While simultaneously condemning the girls who were out trying to have the same good time for being stupid and therefore deserving of rape and abuse.
If we are going to hold women to this high standard of conduct wherein she is expected to be responsible not only for her own actions – getting drunk, wearing clothing (or not), dancing with boys, maybe even kissing some, as well as holding her responsible for other people’s reactions to her – getting aroused, acting on that arousal without her consent… Then why shouldn’t we be holding boys and men to the same standards?
I keep hearing that if I get drunk at a party I need to accept the consequences of that and take responsibility for my choices.
What about the men at that party?
When do they have to step up and take responsibility?
They were drinking too.
They got flirty.
They took off their shirts, and pants.
They passed out.
So, if I bend them over and peg them, is that okay?
Is that what they should expect and accept as the natural consequence of having fun in mixed company?
No.
Because violence isn’t the price of admission. Because I don’t have the right to violate their body just because they’re drunk and having fun. Because getting wasted and passing out naked IS NOT CONSENTING TO SEX.
It’s the same lesson we need to be teaching our boys.

###

One of the other pieces that we need to re-examine is the “rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power” narrative.

Certainly, on many levels rape is about power. It IS an act of violence. But it IS also a sexual act. Sex is one of the motivators for rape.

The rape as power narrative eliminates many of the “date rape” scenarios where a person (often a male) feels entitled to get physical pleasure from another person’s body regardless of their consent. These people will use coercion, threats, force, alcohol, date rape drugs – anything they need to – to get sex from this other person. For them consent is irrelevant. They want sex, and they’re going to get it. In their minds, their actions don’t constitute rape. It’s just sex, that the other person didn’t want…

Until the definition of what is and isn’t rape matches up in the minds of both the perpetrators and the victims, we can’t win. We can’t even nudge the needle.

We have to start teaching EVERYONE what rape is, what it looks like, what it does – and what the consequences are. We have to start taking rape seriously.

And we have to start teaching EVERYONE a positive model of consent. We have to teach people what YES! looks like – and that without it, sex is off the table, it’s not an option.

Only Yes means Yes.

Only Yes means Yes.

No one has the right to use another person’s body without that person’s explicit, enthusiastic consent. Period.

If women have to take responsibility for having a social life, then men need to take responsibility for crossing the line.

Not sure where the line is? Step back and ask. If that doesn’t clarify it – walk away.

consent

Get consent.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Bully Culture

We hear a lot these days about rape culture.

It’s a worthy conversation, but the truth is, it’s just one small piece of a larger issue.

Bully culture.

While we do hear a whole lot about bullying – it’s everywhere to the point that I have had to re-educate my children to understand that not every act of violence or aggression is bullying – we’re not hearing much about it in a larger cultural context.

Bully culture, like rape culture, is a culture where certain traits are puffed up above others, where certain types of behavior are excused, and where the victims are made responsible for preventing their own victimization.

I have been researching bullying prevention as part of my work around consent and in creating some workshops geared at the pre-k level around these issues.

In 95% of the sites I have checked out, the bully “prevention” tips look a whole lot like the rape “prevention” tips.

They imply that it is up to the victim to prevent the behavior of the perpetrator – and if the victim fails to do so, the crime becomes the victim’s fault. This leads to guilt and shame and compounds issues around reporting. No one wants to admit they failed to stop the bully. No one wants to admit they broke one of the “rules” of prevention and got themselves in trouble.

Aside from putting the onus for stopping bullying on the victims, bullying prevention tips for schools often include punitive measures. Punishing bullies does not stop bullies. Just like our “department of corrections” does not correct behavior, it just locks it up behind razor wire.

Punishing bullies or instituting zero tolerance policies is NOT preventative, because neither one addresses the actual causes of bullying – people who believe their desires trump someone else’s rights.

I read a great piece by Soraya Chemaly, who also recently took this whole “Boys will be boys” bullpucky to task.

In her piece she describes a boy who routinely knocked down her daughter’s castle at pre-school.

She talked about how she and her daughter worked through all of the bully prevention tips – like asking him nicely to not knock down her castle – and engaging other adults, including his parents – and… How none of it worked, because no one told the kid straight up, “stop knocking down her stuff – that’s not your stuff and you don’t have the right to destroy her project/property without her permission.”

She then went on to talk about two other boys, one who was given a stern talking to by his parents for knocking down the castle – and never did it again. And another who ASKED first AND – LISTENED TO/RESPECTED THE ANSWER. That boy became friends with Soraya’s daughter and they became a team, building masterpieces only to gleefully demolish them together once they AGREED that the project was ready to be demolished. Their friendship was based on communication, collaboration, trust and respect.

Things that all adults need to get ahead.

Or… do they?

Because it seems like an awful lot of bullies and cheats are getting ahead these days, and an awful lot of people who advocate these positive behavior traits of cooperation and collaboration are being called weak, ineffective, impotent, inadequate and incompetent.

Are we, as a nation, promoting this bullying culture then?

Is our national race to “get ahead” at all costs, creating the very problems we claim we’re trying to do away with?

corporate bully

Get ahead – at all cost.

Is the very idea of a competitive, dominator culture really just a breeding ground for bullying?

Anytime we exalt, excuse or sympathize with people who put their desires before someone else’s rights – we are promoting and celebrating bully culture.

When we excuse Charlie Sheen for beating 3 wives, when we excuse Mel Gibson for going on anti semitic rants (and beating his wife), when we apologize for Paula Deen’s racist remarks, when we make national heroes out of bullies like Steve Jobs and give airspace to bullies like Rush Limbaugh, when we make allowances for companies who profit at the expense of their employees

We are perpetuating and celebrating bully culture.

A culture that tells people that other humans are only obstacles and stepping-stones on their way to the top.

So… How do we fix this?

Well, we look at what’s working – go back up to Soraya’s story about those boys. Remember the one who ASKED first, negotiated terms and then destroyed the castle after he had permission – that works.

Teaching children to communicate, and to respect their peers as full human beings with the same inalienable rights as them is the first step.

Reinforcing and rewarding that behavior is the second step.

Emphasizing empathy, and actively teaching it every chance we get is the third step.

Disciplining and refusing to reward people who take without asking, trample without permission, ignore the word no, disrespect others and put their desires before other people’s rights is the final – reactionary – step.

My father raised me with a single rule, “Take care of yourself, without hurting others.” (And a bonus suggestion, “If you have extra, share.”)

Our culture currently extols the many virtues of taking care of ourselves, but we keep forgetting to add-on the second piece of the rule – WITHOUT HURTING OTHERS.

My right to the pursuit of happiness does not trump your rights to life, liberty or your own pursuit of happiness.

If we want to stop rape culture, maybe we need to start sooner – maybe we need to start with bully culture.

Maybe we need to start with reminding everyone that the responsibility to take care of yourself does not include the right to hurt others, that it’s okay to feel angry – but there are appropriate ways to express that feeling and being a troll isn’t one of them.

It seems basic, but every time we write off bad behavior as “kids these days”, or good business strategy, we’re complicit in sending the message that being a jerk is an acceptable way to get ahead.

Every time we excuse bullying or let it slide, we’re telling our kids that it’s okay to put their wants above another person’s humanity.

I think it’s time we hold people accountable and start teaching a little common decency and respect.

I think it’s time we start teaching bullies how not to bully – by giving them better tools, and by not rewarding or excusing their bad behavior.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Rant

Making Waves

I got an amazing phone call last night from the teen librarian at my local library.

By the end of the conversation I was running around my house like a mad woman yelling “Yes! I made change happen!”

What in the heck was I so excited about?

Well, I guess to understand that, I have to make my long awaited announcement first.

I am changing careers.

This has been years, a lifetime really, in the making. I just didn’t realize it until recently.

As many of you have probably noted, this space has become a whole lot less about books lately and a whole lot more about politics, gender issues, sexuality issues, and social justice issues. More and more of my posts are landing in the “Of Course I’m a Feminist” category, and less and less are being labeled books or writing.

In the past several months I have struggled with how to take all the news I read, all the stories I hear, all the passion I feel and do something positive with it all.

When I taught my Writing Sex in Young Adult Literature course the first time, I felt a tingle of what that could be. Teaching writers how to handle sex and sexuality in a responsible, respectful and helpful manner was powerful.

When I presented a similar lecture at the Colorado Teen Literature Conference to a room filled with actual teens, and I got their feedback, their thanks, their admissions of “Wow, I always thought I was so righteous, thanks for showing me that even I slip into stereotype mode sometimes, I’ll try to do better.” my vision solidified and I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I am stepping into the field of sex, sexuality and reproductive health education.

sex talk

Because not everyone can talk about sex.

I am the anti Pam Stenzel.

So, what does this have to do with the call from the teen librarian?

Well, I went down to the local library to see what resources they had for teens, for parents, for educators. I wanted to know exactly what was available, what was being said, and where the gaps were.

I was disappointed at the slim pickings in the teen section. Pam’s book was there, along with a really scary Christian book for teen girls about how to be submissive to their boyfriends, why they should subvert their happiness to ensure his, and why asking him to make you feel good or valued tears him down and makes him feel bad… (seriously, I cried, right there on the library floor.) There were a couple of good books about LGBT issues, including It Gets Better, which was heartening, and some books about the mechanics of puberty. But then, I went up to the adult section and – there were all the teen sex and sexuality books!

Now, I know that teens are not prevented in any way from going up to the adult section. But teens need access to this information. They need to be able to stumble upon it, discover it and not have to go out of their way to do so.

So, I wrote a letter to the director of the library. I noted the titles and call numbers of the books I found in the teen section, as well as the titles and call numbers of the books I found in the adult section that I believed should be reshelved in the teen section. It was a polite letter stating my concerns and why I believed these books should be easily accessible to teens.

My email was forwarded to the teen librarian who “just had to call” to thank me. This, she said, was the last push she needed to move the ball forward on this critical issue of teen access. (Thus proving that a single person CAN make change happen, if we’re just brave enough to try.)

While the complete change will take some time, talks are happening in regards to expanding the teen section (much of the difficulty around this rests on the fact that the teen section is small and the non-fiction section is even smaller. They have had to make choices about what they can fit in this area) and ways to include more non-fiction titles, especially those dealing with difficult issues such as sex, sexuality, gender, drugs, abuse, violence, etc.

Then, the librarian invited me to give a talk to parents through their outreach program. Details have not been finalized, but the offer confirmed that this is the correct path for me.

I have always loved talking about sex. I grew up being the most well-informed kid in my school (tied with my sister). I remember getting invited to slumber parties just so kids could get real information about what was happening with their bodies, and whether what they were thinking, feeling, experiencing was “normal”, healthy, and generally okay. I helped friends access birth control in high school, counseled pregnant friends about all of their options and supported them through whatever choice they made. I continue to talk to kids, teens and adults about issues of consent, trying to show them that all those “gray areas” are a lot less gray than many would like to believe. I have always been an advocate of LGBT rights and I am actively working to learn more about the gender and sexuality spectrum and to reach out to those communities and ensure that they too are getting the support, education and information they need to make healthy decisions about their lives.

I recently applied for a sexual health education position with a well-known and well-respected organization. I have not heard back from them yet, but regardless of their answer, I know that this is what I want to do with my life. This is who I am.

I am the healthy sex-ed lady.

I believe that sex is a normal, natural, healthy part of life. I believe that teaching kids that sex is dirty, wrong, ugly and bad harms them in both the short and the long-term and damages their future relationships. I believe that we need to change the conversations we are having about sex so that Steubenville doesn’t happen again, and so that girls and boys are not killing themselves because of something that happened to them.

Elizabeth Smart has come out to say that shame-based abstinence only sex education helped her captor keep and control her. Abstinence only sex education taught her that she was worthless after she was raped, because her value as a woman, and as a human, disappeared when she lost her virginity. That belief made it so that she did not run when she had the chance, because who would take her now?

That’s not the message we want to give our daughters, or our sons.

empowered kids are safe kids

Abstinence Only “Education”

So – I am reaching out to all of you, to my community. If you know of a school, college (I really, really want to reach the dorms, sororities, fraternities, sports clubs, faculty, etc.), youth group, parent group (because parents need help learning how to talk to their kids about these issues too), or other community organization that needs to hear from a sexual health educator – please pass on my information.

It’s time to have The Talk.

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Filed under Business, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant