Tag Archives: rape

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

Schrodinger’s Rapist Revisted

I had an experience today that got me thinking about the way we treat each other, the things we expect from one another, and the things we do to take care of ourselves in an uncertain world.

My train of thought led me back to this old post trying to explain the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist. That attempt largely failed with the very people it was meant to educate/enlighten/help…

Maybe today’s experience will prove a better example.

See, the premise of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that anyone could be a rapist – and no one knows if you are, or aren’t, until it’s too late. Thus, certain people who fall into categories that are historically, socially, statistically and physically more vulnerable to rape are right to take extra precautions around people who fall into categories that are statistically, historically, physically more likely to be rapists until they have sufficient evidence to believe they are safe.

This concept upsets a lot of people, primarily men, because they believe it amounts to saying that all men are rapists. It doesn’t. It says all people are potentially rapists, we don’t know until we “open the box.” (To stick with the Schrodinger theme) It further says, since men are more likely to be rapists than people of other genders, it is not unreasonable to practice caution around men until you feel you can move them into the “not a rapist” box.

Still, men are upset about this.

So, let me try again with a more tangible, real life example.

This afternoon I was leaving the grocery store. While I was shopping my car had gotten boxed in by three really big trucks, severely limiting my visibility as I tried to back out of my spot and head home.

I backed out very cautiously, moving slowly, checking my mirrors and turning my head to check all my blind spots frequently as I inched out. Once I broke free of my parking space, I saw an elderly woman walking up the aisle toward the store. The nose of my car was pointing in her general direction and as I straightened out my car it was clear I would be driving right past her. She was just on the other side of one of the large trucks that had been blocking me in. I cranked my wheel a little further to make sure I could swing around both her and the truck and leave enough room for her to feel safe and comfortable.

Instead of continuing to walk forward, she froze. Then she slowly inched her way closer to the bumper of the large truck, hugging it, and staying on the other side of it from me.

Now, I had a couple of options – I could take this personally. Didn’t she know I was a good, safe, nice driver? Hadn’t she seen me cautiously and slowly backing out? Why on earth would she be scared now and move to protect herself from me and my vehicle? It’s not like I was going to run her down in the King Sooper’s Parking Lot. I DO NOT COMMIT VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT?

OR

I could appreciate her caution for what it was – an act of reasonable self-protection based on decades of social training that told her that cars CAN BE dangerous. Cars have the potential to harm or even kill unwary people. Sure #NotAllCars are driven by homicidal, or even just hurried and harried, or absent-minded and distracted drivers… But, a few of them are – and YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.

In fact…

While most drivers in most parking lots drive slowly and cautiously, respecting the fact that parking lots are filled with pedestrians of all stripes as well as other cars trying to maneuver their way into and out of spaces, we’ve all seen the person who mistakes the parking lot for a race track, who cuts off pedestrians and other drivers to snag that prime spot, or who backs out and then tears through the parking lot as if Gotham has sent up the bat signal and they are Batman’s ride to a dubious and destructive heroism.

In fact… Many of us have been that driver at one time or another. In a hurry, distracted, running late and desperately trying to get through one more f’ing chore on our way to the place we’re supposed to be.

Or, perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re hungry and you’re pretty sure that getting in and out of that store AS FAST AS POSSIBLE is the only thing keeping you out of prison for mass murder, so scaring a few people in the parking lot is a small price to pay, you were paying attention, you were focused – THEY”RE STILL ALIVE AREN”T THEY!?! No matter that if a small child had wriggled free of their adult (as mine once did) and runs out from between two cars (as mine did) and dashes in front of your car (as mine did) and then panics and STOPS instead of running out of your path (as mine did) you wouldn’t be able to react in time and you’d be the bad driver we’ve been taught to fear after all… (luckily the driver my kid ran in front of was one of the much more common cautious in parking lots sort. Which did not stop me from soundly scolding said child and making sure she understood that SHE ALMOST DIED!)

No matter, you’re a good driver. You’re safe, you’re nice, considerate.  You don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.

You’re not a monster.

Most of us aren’t.

And yet… We teach our children to be cautious around cars – in parking lots, on streets, even on sidewalks – looking both ways, paying attention to reverse lights, looking around when they are riding their bikes, listening for cars as well as watching for them. We teach our children to hesitate first, to be hyper aware, to assume that drivers do not see them, and will not stop for them – even when the driver SHOULD stop for them. (Because sometimes drivers fail to stop. Sometimes drivers fail to obey the traffic rules. Even good drivers sometimes fail.)

So, when people exercise caution around cars and take steps to protect themselves against being harmed or killed by wayward drivers and their vehicles – we don’t take it personally. We don’t throw up our hands in disgust and wail, “Why don’t pedestrians TRUST ME? Why are they always so cautious? It’s rude. It’s profiling. Don’t they know that I’m a nice driver? I don’t commit vehicular manslaughter. #NotAllDrivers!”

Instead we respect their caution. We respect that they have been trained since birth to understand that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists (and smart car drivers) are all at a distinct disadvantage should they fail to be cautious at the wrong moment or let their guard down around the wrong driver. And we respect that they can’t actually know if a driver is dangerous UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE, so it is okay for them to exercise caution around ALL DRIVERS.

We understand that there is a power differential there that favors the person in the car, and so we allow, we encourage, people to exercise and express their caution. We applaud them for it.

In the same vein, there is an inherent power differential between men and women and people of other genders in our society. This is something that has been trained into non-male people. We have been taught, since birth, that men are stronger, faster, more aggressive, more powerful – physically, financially, politically… We have been taught to respect, and fear, the power differential – the same way we’ve been taught to respect the power differential between a pedestrian and a car. We’ve been taught to exercise caution, because we are at a disadvantage.

So, while #NotAllMen are rapists, men hold more power and are statistically much more likely to be rapists than people of other genders. Therefore people of other genders should not be shamed, browbeaten or yelled at for exercising caution around men in the interest of protecting themselves. Especially not while we live in a society that continues to blame the victims of sexual violence – they asked for it, they were in the wrong neighborhood/bar/club, did you see what they were wearing, they were drinking, they smiled, etc.

As long as victims must accept social responsibility for the violence inflicted on them, it stands to reason that we should allow them every and any self-protection remedy they see fit to employ, including exercising caution around all men.

We cannot simultaneously tell people in parking lots that they are responsible for their own safety and then yell at them when they press themselves into corners to avoid oncoming vehicles.

We cannot simultaneously tell people that they must protect themselves from rape, and then yell at them when they aren’t relaxed, fun, nice, flirty, whatever with all men… Or even with all nice men – because they don’t know you’re nice until you show them – and getting upset at them for protecting themselves… Yeah, maybe you’re not quite the nice guy you thought you were.

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Symptoms of Success, Welcome to the Club

Trigger Warning – Gendered violence, sexual assault, rape, threats, harassment.

 

I’ve only ever gotten one death threat because of this blog.

For the most part, even on those few posts that have gone viral and have traveled around the world and picked up a few of you on the way, people have generally been civil here. Or at least non-threatening. I rarely have to take out The Mallet.

And that is a HUGE relief.

This threat happened a long time ago, I barely even remember what it was about – just that I annoyed someone and they felt that threatening me with death was an acceptable response.

I remember the first fellow blogger I told said something like, “Welcome to the club. You must be getting an audience.” Then she told me her stories.

That is the most common response when I talk to other women who are active online. Nearly every one of them has a story of violent threats, many of them have stories of people actually attempting to carry out those threats.

Almost every woman I know who is successful online must accept not just daily, but hourly, minutely, near constant threats of violence including rape threats, death threats and threats against their families depending on her level of success.

“Welcome to the club.”

This creates a reality where almost every woman I know who is present and successful online must pay a very specific price for that – the price of peace of mind. It is a reality that silences many voices, some of them before they even dare to speak.

Many successful women I know have gone so far as to hire someone to read their mentions and the comments on their posts and delete, report and block violent messages. It is a full-time job. One that if the woman herself were to do it would take away all the time she had to produce new work, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it would take.

When they raise their voices about this they are often told to grow a thicker skin. Or they are told to ignore the trolls. Or they are told they are overreacting – it’s just the internet. No one is really going to hurt them… Or they are told that by talking about it they are “feeding the trolls” and encouraging more abuse.

Even after they are doxxed (Which means someone posts all of their personal information including home and work addresses, real names, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, passwords, etc.) and laid bare, even after someone is caught driving to their house with weapons and a stated intent to kill them – they are told to calm down, relax, it’s just the internet – grow a thicker skin. Even after the threats escalate enough to get the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved. “Stop whining. You’re blowing it out of proportion. It’s just twitter…”

There is no winning.

There is no escape.

There is no acceptable, allowable response other than to ignore it and move on – or just quit. It’s amazing how often women are told to quit what they love if they can’t take the abuse.

As if violence is the price we must all pay for the freedom to work, to socialize, to succeed…

“Calm down, it happens to everyone.”

But it doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to very specific types of people – vocal women – especially vocal women of color, gay people, trans* people, in other words, it happens primarily to people who are not male and cisgendered and straight and white.

I haven’t waded into this for many reasons, but today I realized that there is a commonality between this and something I experienced as a teenager and young woman beginning to make my way in the world. Something super fucked up and totally not okay.

It’s the acceptance of the idea that violence is the price women (and gay people and trans* people who don’t want to live in closets) must pay for success, for inclusion, for the right to exist. Worse, there is an idea that perhaps beyond being a price to be paid violence might actually be a symbol of success, a sign that you have made it to the next level.

“Welcome to the club.”

I remember the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was in a foreign country as an exchange student and an older man who was supposed to be taking care of me while my host parent was on vacation groped me and kissed me – while his wife was one room away! He knew I was alone and isolated and had no one to call and he took advantage of that. Eventually his actions combined with other circumstances forced me to return home early. It screwed me up pretty bad, and set the stage for how I would deal with future assaults.

I remember telling my sister about what happened. I remember her hugging me and saying something along the lines of, “Welcome to the club. It sucks, but it happens to all of us.” Then she told me her story.

This was my introduction to being a teenager, this was how I crossed the line from kid to teen, from “innocent” to “worldly” and “experienced.”

I was no longer a little girl. I was part of a new group. This act of violence somehow made me mature in a way that having boyfriends, traveling to foreign countries, having a job and taking other steps toward adulthood had not.

At the same time, this new maturity came with its own code of silence. I was assured by everyone I spoke to in those first few days back that no one wanted to hear about what had happened, no one wanted to know the real reason I was home early, no one wanted to validate my feeling that I had been punished for this man’s crime – it made them uncomfortable, they couldn’t help, they couldn’t change it, so why not just focus on the good stuff that had happened – no matter that for me, focusing on the good things meant focusing on what I had lost, what this man had taken from me – the opportunity to live in a foreign country and build my independence and confidence – the chance to grow my new friendships and finish the new courses I was taking. The chance to pursue a dream.

What I heard time and time again was, “Welcome to the club, it happens, move on. Don’t talk about it, if you talk about it, then it defines you. If you acknowledge it, you are weak.”

And so I moved on – but I moved on thinking that this type of violence was normal, and while not exactly acceptable, it was to be expected and that there was nothing I or anyone else could, or would, do about it because it made people uncomfortable.

“Welcome to the club.”

When I type it out that way, it becomes somehow much less surprising that I was raped on my 18th birthday.

Not because I asked for it, or deserved it, or should have seen it coming, or because I wasn’t strong enough – though I have been told all of those things, and told myself all of those things a bajillion times – but because like so many women I had learned to accept a certain level of violence as the price I must pay for existing.

There were warning signs – those warning signs were the reason I went to break up with my boyfriend that night. I saw the violence in him and had experienced enough of it to know that it was escalating. To know that it was reaching a dangerous plateau, one that I did not want to reach. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the literature yet that discusses time and time and time again that THE MOST DANGEROUS moment in an abusive relationship is when the victim tries to leave.

A couple of years after I was raped, I wrote a poem about it, trying to process what had happened, and why I still hadn’t been able to get all the way over it. In the poem there’s a stanza,

I’ll never forget
the night I became an adult
was the night you made me a woman.

Think about that for a minute.

That was how I processed my rape – that that act of violence, of having my basic humanity denied and taken from me – THAT was what made me a woman!

“Welcome to the club.”

It wasn’t a badge of honor in any way. It was a badge of shame. But at the same time, it was a rite of passage – a common one, and I eventually came to accept it as such. (Looking back now as an adult and as a mother – there are simply no words for how fucked up that is. I cannot imagine my daughters accepting rape as the price of admission to womanhood – but we have a hard fight ahead of us if we’re going to change this culture in time for them.)

I remember telling my college roommate about it one night, after another terrifying phone call from my rapist turned stalker left me shaking.

“Welcome to the club,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me.” And then she told me her story.

Nearly every woman I have ever opened up to about any of my experiences has come back with one of her own.

“Welcome to the club.”

And while we all know that this violence isn’t acceptable, isn’t okay, isn’t deserved or asked for… We have also all on various levels come to terms with its existence. We have all in some way come to accept that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it but pick up the pieces and move on. We have learned to see it as some sort of sick rite of passage that takes us to the next level of womanhood.

And that is truly distressing, because there are new generations of girls and boys being brought up into the culture we are creating – and we must, all of us, work to create a culture where violence is not the price anyone must pay for simply existing, where sexual violence and gendered violence aren’t the ways we “level up.”

And yet…

This same mentality, that violence is the cost of, perhaps even the measure of, success if you are female has taken over the internet. Being harassed and threatened until you feel so unsafe that you leave your home, or quit your job  (or are fired from your job because your harassers are causing a disturbance to the company), or go dark, or… This is the new rite of passage.

It’s not a badge of honor, it is not a status anyone covets – but at the same time… There is this idea that you must be making progress, you must be doing something right, you must be successful – or they wouldn’t try so hard to push you back down.

I see this mentality taking its toll – there are voices going dark, there are women disappearing from public life, there are people being chased out of their homes and jobs and careers and leaving their passions because daily, hourly, minutely threats of violence are simply more than they can carry – and quite frankly, that is more than we should be asking anyone to carry in order to do their job or exist in public spaces.

Violence, or the threat of violence is not an acceptable rite of passage. Not here, not anywhere.

And if you think that online threats are small potatoes, or there are bigger problems we should be dealing with first, or that this is a first world problem – let me be the one to tell you, you are wrong.

Violence does not exist in isolation, it exists on a continuum. If you wonder why so many women take online threats more seriously than many men think we should – it’s because most of us have been on the receiving end of actual violence, we have already lived through that, we know how it feels to have those threats carried out – and we’d like to not have to go through it again.

We’d like to not have to remember and relive and reprocess that violence every day.

These threats that people see as jokes, or banter, or a rebuttal to an opinion (really, a threat of rape is an acceptable rebuttal to, “that shirt is tacky.” Are you sure?) exist in a context of routine, physical violence against women. Street harassment that so many people see as “a compliment” exists inside the context of routine, physical assaults against women.

We cannot separate the words from the potential reality because all too many of us have LIVED the reality of violence. We do not have a sense of humor about this because we are still healing from the last physical assault. We are still recovering from the last threat that became reality in a flash too fast for us to run from.

We have to treat all threats as real threats – because enough of them have been.

You might know you’re just joking – we do not, and we cannot take that chance with our safety. No one should be asking us to.

I am so very appreciative of the many women right now who are taking a stand, from the victims of Gamer Gate to Ashley Judd and saying, enough, this is NOT acceptable, this is not okay, this is not a fair price to pay for being female with an opinion and the “audacity” to express it in public.

I am even more appreciative of the men who have come out to say, “Enough, this is not acceptable.” because the violence is largely coming from men, and it will take the courage of other men standing up and saying “enough” to make them listen.

Men who threaten and carry out violence against women tend not to be the type who listen when women ask them to stop! They tend to be the type of men who defer only to other men, which is why we need more men willing to take this seriously, willing to stand up and say, this is not what masculinity looks like, this is not what manhood looks like, violence is not an acceptable way to get what you want.

We must, all of us with the power to do so, move forward together on this. We must stop welcoming people to the club and start helping each other burn this club to the ground. It’s a terrible club and I don’t want the next generation to have to join us here. I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing violence is normal or to be expected – because once we learn to expect it, we come to accept it.

And violence is not an acceptable price to pay for existing.

If women must take responsibility for what they say and do in public, then shouldn’t people who attack them also be asked to take responsibility for those attacks?

Not everyone who is threatened with violence has the voice and the resources and the power to call it out, fight back and bring it to the attention of people with the power to shut it down. But for those of us who do – we should. We should be standing up for all of the victims of violence who are powerless against their abusers. We should not be tolerating threats online, or in person. We should not be tolerating violence directed toward ourselves or others.

We should not be brushing off violent threats as jokes, or banter or rebuttals. Threats of violence exist to silence opposition, not to brighten anyone’s day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from dissent, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept violence in order to be heard.

I am taking my inspiration from the women and men who are using their voice and their power to say, “No more.” and joining them.

“Welcome to the club.”

And in one of those fortuitous moments of synchronicity, just as I was about to hit publish on this post, this video from Anita Sarkeesian popped up in my feed.

 

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

What I mean when I say it isn’t the victim’s fault

The world is an inherently risky place.

There are all kinds of things out there that can, and will, hurt us if given the chance.

Some of these risks come in the form of natural disasters, toxins, disease, allergies, loose rocks, animal attacks – whatever. They are risks that stem from living on a volatile planet in the middle of space. We have little to no control over these “When nature attacks” kind of threats. I mean, yes, we can talk about global climate change, and human settlements encroaching into wildlife habitat, and how in our desire to over-sanitize the world we are simultaneously creating super-bugs and increasing the instances and severity of allergies… But that is a whole other blog post.

This one is about the risks of living in society – with other people. This is an important point to make because often when I try to have this conversation many of the arguments against putting blame on perpetrators of certain types of violence instead of their victims use these kinds of “false equivalence” comparisons to try to make their point. But taking steps to avoid the risk of falling off a cliff is different than taking steps to avoid “provoking,” “inviting,” “encouraging,” or “inspiring” violent behavior from another person.

Because the risks inherent in living in society stem from the reality that we cannot control each other’s behaviors or actions. We are only ever directly responsible for ourselves.

This is not to say that there are not things that we can do to reduce many of the risks of cohabitation – not eliminate them, but reduce them.

We can look both ways before we cross a street. We can lock our doors. We can avoid certain venues that have a reputation for being violent or dangerous.

As a society we can enact laws that say, “We as a group have decided that this action is not okay and there will be artificially imposed consequences for anyone who commits it.” We do this to deter actions such as theft, murder, drunk driving, consuming certain intoxicants and then getting behind the wheel of a car…

But taking those actions does not eliminate risk, taking those actions does not guarantee our safety.

And choosing not to take those actions is not the same as consenting to violence.

Most of the time we, as a society, remember this.

I drive a piece of shit car. I rarely, if ever, lock it. I don’t leave the keys in the ignition (usually) but if someone wanted to go in and dig through the mountains of garbage littering the floorboards to steal my old CDs, there’s really nothing stopping them. If they wanted to hotwire my car and take it for a joyride, they wouldn’t even have to smash the window first.

And yet, if someone did decide to take my unlocked car, society at large would still call that theft. If I called the police and reported it, they would still investigate and arrest the thief. Because me leaving my car unlocked (or even unlocked and running) is not the same as me giving someone permission to take it.

We understand that.

If someone comes into my house without my permission, even if I left the front door unlocked – I have the right to shoot them. Yeah, I can take away their “right to life” just because they stumbled into the wrong house. If I choose not to shoot them, I can still call the police and they will be arrested for trespassing. They might also be charged with attempted burglary, or attempted assault, or attempted whatever potentially criminal act we think they were trying to do when they opened a door that wasn’t theirs.

I don’t have to post “No trespassing” signs on my front door to invoke this right, or lock my door, or even close my front door. My home is my castle and you don’t get to come inside unless I invite you.

But… my body?

Not so much. At least not according to current legal rulings. Not according to people looking for a way to excuse certain types of violence directed at other people.

Too often when it comes to personal violence, especially sexual violence, we (as a society) try to use the victim’s actions against them to excuse the actions of the perpetrator.

This is called this “victim-blaming.” And no, it is not feminazi’s attempt to make it so that victims are not held accountable for their actions, or so that victims can do anything they want consequence free. We are simply saying that perpetrators of violence should be held accountable for their choice to commit violence regardless of how “easy” their target made it for them.

When a bunch of TV personalities support the thesis that the biggest threat to fraternities is drunk girls coming in and tempting all those upstanding young men – that is a case of victim blaming. It also erases the long and storied history of fraternities throwing parties for the express purpose of getting women too drunk to say no. (Because in a “no means no” model of consent, that isn’t rape. But in the up and coming “yes means yes” model, which so many people are freaking out about, that is rape.)

So, when I say that it does not matter if a victim is drunk, dressed in skimpy clothing, completely naked, flirty, passed out or otherwise making themselves an “easy target” for violence, what I mean is that the victim’s behavior should not alter the sentencing of the perpetrator of the violence, nor be used to excuse their behavior or actions.Did the victim make a choice to engage in certain actions? Yes. Does that mean they consented to violence? No.

Simple.

I am not asking for victims of violence to be coddled, or saying that actions shouldn’t have consequences – I am saying that violence is not the price someone should have to pay for being in public or living in society. I am saying that violence is not the price that anyone should be expected to pay for enjoying the same social privileges as their peers such as enjoying a drink – or several, wearing revealing clothing, walking at night…

not asking for violence

Clearly asking for it.

I am saying that the victim’s actions and choices do not negate the responsibility of the perpetrator, nor invalidate THEIR actions and choices to commit a crime.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples.

Late last year a Montana judge sentenced a teacher who repeatedly raped one of his students to only 30 days in jail. Why? Because, he claimed, the student was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation as her teacher.”

Here’s the thing, there is a reason that there are rules prohibiting teachers from having sex with their students – there is an inherent power-imbalance at play there. This is also why there are statutory rape laws, because a 49-year-old man should know better than to have sex with a 14-year-old, but 14-year-old children more often than not don’t have the information, emotional maturity, or psychological understanding of long-term consequences, etc. to make that call. Again, there are power dynamics at play in that age differential, not to mention differences in knowledge about healthy relationships, sex and sexuality, etc. Those differences are easy for the older person to exploit to their own ends, severely damaging the youth in the process.

The victim in this case committed suicide while the case against her attacker was still pending.

This is a case where a judge seemed to be trying to do everything he could to create wiggle room for the perpetrator of a violent crime. In defending his sentencing of the teacher to only 30 days, the judge said, “This wasn’t forcible beat-up rape.” which is a way of saying that the victim wasn’t victimized hard enough to punish her attacker even to the MINIMUM requirements laid out by the state in which this judge presides.

We also have a case out of Texas from earlier this year in which a young man plead guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl. Both the victim and the accused testified that the girl said “no” and “stop” repeatedly. The man was facing 20 years in prison for this crime, the judge instead handed down a 45 day sentence because the victim “was not the victim she claimed to be” according to the judge, because the victim had had consensual sex with three other partners at some point in her life prior to the rape.

There are two problems with this argument – the first, if we take the judge’s statement about the victim as truth, is that it assumes that once a person has consensual sex once with someone, they are somehow consenting to all sex forever with everyone. This is a common argument in rape cases, as if people lose the right to sexual discretion once their “cherry” has been popped.

I don’t understand this argument at all. I don’t believe we lose the right of refusal once we’ve said yes once, or twice, or a thousand times. I don’t think that a person who has consensual sex becomes magically unrapeable.

The second problem is that the victim claims she was a virgin before the rape. While the judge says she has access to confidential medical records that show the girl had three previous sexual partners and gave birth to a child – both the victim and the victim’s parents deny this. That is worthy of an investigation right there. How did the judge get these medical records – and why? Shouldn’t it be the perpetrator being investigated, not the victim?

But all too often in rape cases, defense attorneys are encouraged to go for the “slut” defense – “The victim slept around, so this couldn’t have been rape.” and both judges and juries are willing to give those arguments weight.

We saw this in another big news rape case recently, Steubenville, OH. Where, despite video footage of the rape taking place, the defense still tried to go for the “she was a slut” and “she was asking for it” defense. I am not sure how someone who is passed out drunk can ask for anything… But then we are back at only “yes means yes” rather than, “See, the victim didn’t say no.”

Did this girl’s actions make it easier for someone to rape her? Yes. Does that in any way excuse the actions of her rapists, or the crowd of peers who watched, photographed, filmed and cheered on the rape? NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Does she deserve rape as the natural consequence of getting drunk at a party? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Should she be allowed to report her rape and, with the support of a thorough police investigation, be able to prosecute her rapists? YOU BETCHA!

Just as the woman who left her car running to dash into the store made it easier for someone to steal her car, that did not excuse the actions of the person who took advantage of that opportunity. Her actions did not prevent police from investigating the crime, nor did they absolve the criminal of choosing to commit their crime.

When people say they are not victim blaming, they just want to help victims protect themselves from rape, I think that they are forgetting – we’ve already heard it. What we are asking for is that we talk to perpetrators and potential perpetrators as well, that we focus at least half our energy educating people on what rape is and how to avoid committing it. We are asking for police, medical personnel, judges, advocates and allies to step back from asking what “don’t get raped” rule the victim may have broken and instead focus on what the perpetrator chose to do wrong.

We live in a country where only 50% of rapes are even reported, and it is estimated that only 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a jail. Rape is a hard crime to report – the victim’s body becomes the evidence and collecting and cataloging that evidence for trial is invasive and unpleasant and often performed by people with little sympathy. While I fully support the “innocent until proven guilty” judicial standards in our country, when other violent crimes are committed we rarely try to deny the existence of the crime in order to set the perpetrator free, we instead acknowledge that there was a crime and simply quibble over who committed it.

When we focus on what the victim did wrong, or what the victim did to invite this crime, or how the victim wasn’t victimized enough to take seriously we are giving perpetrators of violence a pass and telling them that their actions are justifiable because they picked a an easy victim. So many rapes, the majority of them, are opportunistic rapes. Serial rapists know which victims to prey on – the kind who won’t be taken seriously, the ones who are a little too tipsy to be reliable witnesses, the ones who have a reputation for sleeping around, the ones who are too young or immature to fight back…

But if we treated rape and sexual assault the way we treat other crimes – by starting with the assumption that the crime being reported actually happened, and that the job now is to discover the perpetrator and bring them to justice, instead of questioning the integrity of the victim, this dynamic would shift in really important ways.

First, it would help victims come forward, knowing they would be respected, listened to, trusted. Knowing that they would be believed. Second, it would help encourage a culture where bystanders would want to intervene lest they be charged as accessories. Third, hopefully it would make perpetrators of this kind of violence think twice, if they knew that their victims would be heard.

Last, it would let people know that social freedoms, privileges and responsibilities are the same for everyone, shared by everyone and that violence is not an okay price to pay for exercising them.

In fact the first social responsibility we all share is the responsibility to treat others with decency and respect and not violence, and I’m pretty sure that we as a society have agreed that violating that responsibility should come with some judicially imposed consequences.

asking for justice

The only thing she’s asking for is justice.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Challenging the Roots of Violence

Just a quickie before I dash out the door –

I’m on my way to an interview that has me thinking about violence – a lot. (Again.)

So often in our society we react to violence – we pick up the pieces, we console the victims, we incarcerate the perpetrators. But we rarely talk about or implement policy, or take action to really address the root causes of violence – to actually work to bring the number of violent crimes down.

When I think about the conversations I’ve had on this topic, so often I’m told that there are just violent people in the world, there’s nothing I, or anyone else, can do. This is why so often the onus for prevention falls to the victims themselves. Or why we are told that if we are scared we should get a gun so we can escalate the violence in our favor

But, while I was getting ready for this interview I was thinking about what I understand are the root causes of most violence – a desire for control coupled with a fear of loss of that control. (Read that advice about getting a gun in order to escalate violence in your favor again – it is driven by a desire to control the situation and a fear of what will happen if control is lost.)

That’s a really simplified break down, clearly – but if you look at most conflicts – that’s what it boils down to. Hamas vs Israel – both want control of land and the people in it – both fear the loss of that control, and the subsequent loss of their people.

My kids arguing in the backyard – both of them want control over the same swing, both fear that losing control will mean they won’t get to do their trick before I call them in for dinner.

Then I think back to my childhood. During my early childhood my dad has some serious anger management issues. He had what you might call an explosive temper – most often taken out on toys, pillows and the occasional wall. We spent tax season tiptoeing on eggshells. We learned to feel the energy in the air and tiptoe away when it started getting volatile.

One day my dad crossed the line, he got physical with my sister. It scared her more than it hurt her, but my mom drew a hard-line in the sand – he had exactly zero seconds to figure his shit out or she was done. If he couldn’t learn to control and/or express his anger in healthier ways he would NEVER see her or us again.

You kinda don’t want to fuck with my mom.

But here’s the thing – it worked. My dad realized that he was letting his anger win, and that by doing so he was risking losing the people he cared most about.

He took a long walk, and he got his shit together.

He learned to sense when he was getting “hot” and to take a step back, to go for a walk, to go for a bike ride, to go work in the garden… He also learned that sometimes the best thing to do with his anger was to point and laugh, to see the crazy humorous side of whatever was making him mad. He learned that it was okay to cry. There was no shame in that.

I have some things in common with my dad. I feel my anger in a very physical, visceral way. My blood rages, my vision clouds, my ears thrum with static, my breath catches, my fists clench…

I too had to learn more productive ways of managing those feelings that seemed too strong for my body to contain.

Yes, I’m making Hulk analogies because they are apt.

Like the Hulk, my dad and I – and many people like us – have the ability to go full rage machine, and to do real damage in the process.

But, like Bruce Banner, we spent time away with our anger and our emotions and we learned how to feel them coming, we learned how to sense when our triggers were being pulled, we learned how to blow off steam in healthier ways than with fists or knives or guns – or even explosively hurtful words (most of the time).

We had help doing this. My dad had my mom, who after informing him of the consequences of his actions, stood by him while he learned new ways to process and express his emotions. I had both my mom and my dad who helped by validating my emotions while steering me toward non-destructive, or at least non-harmful outlets. (Destroying bubble wrap, balloons and other things that make good loud noises can be super cathartic while also being non-harmful. Sometimes we “need” to squeeze/hit/scream – there are healthy ways to do that.)

I think about the violent criminals who are in jail right now – and yes, some of them are psychotic, sociopathic, sadistic individuals – but many more, I think, just didn’t know how to handle what they were feeling in that critical moment.

I think if we want to prevent violence, instead of just cleaning up the pieces after someone loses it, we need to start by teaching kids how to name and express their emotions. I know that a lot of this work is being done in some schools, many of the preschools my daughters went to worked on this sort of thing. But it needs to continue beyond pre-school and keep going through high school.

I was at a training this past week for Askable Adults, the last segment of the training came from two groups working to stop teen dating violence. They had some really powerful educational tools that helped break down what violence looks like, what the warning signs are and what the triggers are, so that victims and potential victims could identify if they were in a harmful or potentially harmful relationship and create a safety plan to get out – but that still leaves the onus of prevention on the victim.

Those same tools could be used to educate perpetrators and potential perpetrators – people at high risk of becoming violent. They could start a conversation about that need to control, and those fears of what will happen if they lose control. They could lead into great conversations about alternatives to violence, ways of calming that rush of RED HOT energy that starts pumping through you.

I know that education won’t reach all people, I know that some people have genuine psychological and mental disorders that genuinely make them resistant to non-violence. But I truly believe that there are far more people out there like my dad who just need to be taught better, healthier, safer ways of managing those crazy strong emotions. And I think if we can reach people when they are young, and teach them early and give them opportunities to practice, we’d see a whole lot less people “losing it” and hurting people they love. I got lucky, I learned these skills in my youth, I still consciously practice them today.

I think too often we write off violent offenders as “monsters” or paint them as hopeless. We lock them up, but we don’t ever really help them address what caused their violence. Then, a few years down the road, we let them out and… somehow we’re surprised when they bounce right back into the system. But the system hasn’t given them any tools for change. Our prison system isn’t about rehabilitation, it’s about punishment – doing your time to pay for your crime.

I listened to this news piece on NPR this morning about a liberal and a Republican coming together in Alabama to reform the prison system and reduce the prison population. The Republican Senator Cam Ward mentioned that many of the prisoners in Alabama have mental illnesses and drug addiction going in to the system, and that prison is not set up to address those issues, so when those people are released, those underlying issues are still there and, as he says, the public is no safer than before.

I would say that reforming our justice system to address mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, lack of education and other underlying causes of crime would do wonders not just to lower prison populations, but to make society stronger. As part of this, every prison should have a violence prevention and education program to address those root causes of violence and teach real alternatives.

But then again, I’m a naive idealist. I really do think that most people want to be “good” people, most people don’t want to hurt others – but there’s that fear and that feeling of being out of control and needing control, of something, anything. And too often violence feels like control, even if only for that second.

I think we can change that conversation though. I’ve seen it work. I’ve lived that change. I know it’s possible. I’m hoping to begin working toward creating that change on a larger scale. I’d love it if some of you wanted to join that conversation.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Guns, rape and self-defense

This is part one in a planned three-part discussion on gun culture in America. This post is a response to something a friend sent me. The other two posts will have a broader focus.

A friend of mine sent me this article, which is a response to something John Scalzi wrote about the desirability of guns for self-defense. He wanted my take.

To save you from having to follow the links, here’s my breakdown:

On the desirability of guns for self-defense – a former Marine talked about his perception of the reality of owning/using guns for self-defense.

His basic response was that, guns kill people. Given that, unless you are going to take the time to get trained to use the weapon properly and safely you are putting more people at risk than you will ever help, that even people who are trained miss the person they are aiming at more often than not (70% of the time) because fast-paced, high stress moments do not make for good marksmanship. And last, that if you do use your gun in self-defense and you use it correctly and you hit your “target” there is a solid chance that you will kill another human being. Make sure you are okay with that before you decide on a gun as your primary self-defense tool.

Scalzi’s response was to say that he agreed with many of this man’s points, while also supporting a person’s right to own guns as part of their personal security system, but that he hopes gun owners engage in significant training and be responsible with them. And then he infuriated gun fetishists, the folk who open carry AK-47s because GUNS EVERYWHERE!, by saying that when he sees them he doesn’t see a strong, confident patriot, he sees someone who is afraid of everything all the time.

So, the response – a long piece about how using guns for self-defense is really the only rational thing to do in this world, especially when it comes to preventing rape.

First this man talks about prevention of rape and sexual assault. He does give a passing nod to education – making sure that everyone knows what rape is, not using taking advantage of drunk people as a humor device in movies, and otherwise giving more people a clue and compassion for what rape is and what it does to the victims.

Then he talks about sociopathic rapists, not just the clueless, bumbling “oops, was that rape?” nice guy rapists, but the drug your drink with the intent to rape you, jump out of the bushes to ravage you type rapists. He says there is no preventing them, just as you can’t prevent a rabid dog from biting, or an arsonist from lighting things on fire.

I want to pause for a moment here to say that I think he paints the sociopathic rapist with a very broad brush. I personally believe that there are a lot of social and cultural factors that go into creating people (often male) who believe that other people’s bodies (especially women’s) are up for grabs. While it is intimidating to think about changing our culture because it feels like a huge task, it is not an impossible one. Culture shifts all the time, I don’t understand the resistance to doing it with deliberation and foresight to create a better, safer world. Unless, of course, you are one of the people who benefits from the current power dynamics and who would lose status by promoting equality.

Saying, “This is the way the world is, live with it.” sounds depressingly defeatist to me. Especially as a historian who knows that this is not the way the world has always been, and therefore this is not the way the world has to be. Nor is it the way the world is everywhere now. There are cultures where rape is statistically at zero. Rape is not an inevitable consequence of sharing space, it is a result of imbalanced power structures.

So to me, the sociopathic rapist is, like the sociopathic arsonist, a product of our culture, which means that if we really want to, we can change not the individual, but the circumstances that created them, over time. It is within our power.

create change

It’s not a question of can we do it, it’s a question of WILL WE?

However, in the meantime, in this current reality, yes, we have rapists.

So – what do we do about them right now?

The author discusses avoidance. He states that educating people on ways to avoid attack is not blaming the victim, because the agency is on the attacker always.

And… In many areas of life this is true. While I am encouraged to lock my car doors, and my house doors, if I fail to do so and my car is stolen or my house is broken into, the police will still come, they will still file a report, they will still follow-up if there is enough evidence for them to do so – and in the meantime hopefully I have insurance that will reimburse me for those losses, regardless of how lax I was in protecting my possessions.

If I am violently assaulted or killed, the police will again arrive, take reports, collect evidence, process the evidence and (unless I am a person of color) do their best to find the perpetrator and bring them to “justice.”

However, if I am raped… That all breaks down. Yes, the police might gather evidence and put together my rape kit. But the chances of them processing it… slim to none. (Though that is starting to change.) The chance of them pursuing the case – that will depend entirely on who the alleged rapist was, whether I act properly victimized, and how many of the “don’t get raped” rules I broke, because while this author believes that agency always belongs to the attacker – when it comes to rape, our culture and our justice system disagree.

Again, that is the part we have to change as a society. And all the guns in the world aren’t going to move that needle.

But yes, by all means, let’s avoid dangerous situations. For women that means wearing burkas and never leaving the house. Oh wait, that doesn’t prevent rape either. Damn, what’s a girl who wants to exist to do?

And so we get to: Reaction – how to react or respond to your rapist.

Guns and violence.

The author states that, “The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage.” And he does list a bunch of links and studies which show that guns and violent resistance do deter aggressors.

And then after making sure we know and believe that violence ends violence, he states that therefore bringing a gun to your rape is the best way to prevent the rapist from completing the rape.

EXCEPT (and these are his words, so I don’t even have to do the dirty work here!) “It’s less effective for date rape, rape involving drugs, marital rape.  It’s most effective against direct physical attack, which may or may not be part of the above.”

In other words, bringing your gun (that you are trained to use) to your surprise attack rape could, possibly prevent it. But, that still leaves the other 90% of rapes (on college campuses) or 78% of rapes nationally.

And this is really where the “just get a gun” argument falls apart for me, and for most rape survivors that I know. Bringing a gun to our rape means pointing a gun at and possibly using a gun against someone we know, and possibly even someone we love. And that is true for the VAST MAJORITY of rape victims.

Date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape… These are the most common forms of rape. And yet they are taken the least seriously unless they are accompanied by additional violence and are the least talked about because – what the fuck do we do about them? Do we really shoot the perpetrators? Because it turns out, women who do that tend to end up in jail. Oddly “Stand Your Ground” and even basic self-defense arguments don’t seem to work out so well for us. Funny that.

stand your ground

Stand your ground. Unless you’re a woman.

And even if going to jail for defending ourselves wasn’t likely, we would still have to live with killing someone!

When I think back to my rapes, my sexual assaults, my stalkers even… Could I have killed any of them? Who would I be now if I had to add that to my conscience?

The author says that by calling the police on my stalker I was committing violence by proxy (except, of course, the cops never showed up. But in their defense they did say that if he managed to break in and rape me they would come collect evidence afterward, so there’s that.) and that really, I should have taken matters (violence) into my own hands instead of outsourcing it. And sure… I was already there. If I’d had a gun I could have killed him and felt safer for a minute. But somehow I imagine that the same cops who wouldn’t come to my defense when I called them, would have arrived in a flash if I shot my stalker off my porch. Cops tend to frown on citizens taking matters into their own gun warmed hands. And even if I did get off on a self-defense plea… Once the initial feeling of safety wore off, I would still have to live with having killed someone. I don’t know about that.

(And as for simply brandishing the gun to get him to go away, this is a person who my father dangled over a three-story balcony while threatening to rip his balls off and force him to eat them if he ever came near me again. And that didn’t work. Clearly his fear response was underdeveloped.)

Even this author, a male survivor of sexual assault, admits that a gun would not have prevented his assault – because he was drugged and could not use it.Which is sort of ironic since the person who drugs a drink and rapes is the exact example of the sociopathic rapist that cannot be stopped, except by a gun, that he cites to remind us feminists that insisting on culture change is somehow enabling the aggressor.

Meanwhile, in many of those drug & rape scenarios there are witnesses and additional participants who do nothing. Do not speak up, do not intervene, do not call the police and certainly do not pull out a gun and insist that the rapist stop raping on behalf of the drugged victim. Why? Because of the culture that we have created that says other people’s bodies (especially women’s) are up for grabs. But yeah, changing that and getting people to intervene when they see sexual violence happening is totes enabling the aggressor.

Bringing a gun to your rape, might prevent it. But… I wonder, and I would love to see the study that says how determined and able to use the gun you have to be for it to work as a deterrent. Is it enough to point a shaky gun in the general direction of an aggressor while sobbing? Do you have to have clear eyes and something that looks like good aim from the barrel end of the gun? Do you have to look like you really will, and are able to, pull the trigger?

ready to fire

Are you feeling lucky, punk?

As someone who was taught gun safety at a young age and who married a gun owner, the first lesson I was taught was only point it at things you INTEND to put a hole in. Ie; if you’re not planning on firing it, don’t point it. If you can’t follow through it’s better not to get it out at all. So bluffing with a gun is out.

Finally, the author talks about the “myth” of being disarmed and having your gun used against you – but says he can’t find any examples of that.

So, I’ll give him two. I am a 5’6″ 135ish pound, untrained civilian woman and I have disarmed two men with guns. In both instances I was in my 20s and much smaller than I am now. I disarmed one physically, taking the gun from him and disarmed the other by talking him down. Granted the one I talked down was threatening himself, not me. But the one that I disarmed physically was pointing it at me. It was not hard to take it away from him. I could teach most able-bodied people how to do it in a couple of minutes of practice. Why? Because most people with guns think the gun will protect them from action. They rely on your panic to stop you from moving at them.

As for women having their own guns used against them, yes, there are records of that happening too. Remember that most rapes occur within the framework of an intimate relationship or solid acquaintanceship. This means that many perpetrators have access to the victim’s gun, and that even if the victim is holding the gun – there are some confusing emotions roiling around in there and her grip/aim/resolve might not be as strong as that of the person who thinks he is entitled to her body.

Yes, sometimes guns have stopped violence. They have also escalated it. And redirected it. And made it worse.

Ultimately, do I think women should be allowed to own guns for self-defense. Yes, if that is the method they choose – but like Scalzi, I think they should engage in significant and ongoing training and be responsible with their guns. Also, I think that all people who use guns as their primary method of self-defense should recognize that having a gun is not a guarantee of safety.

As a nation, I would like us to consider whether adding more guns to the gun pool instead of limiting who gets to go swimming in the gun pool is the national safety strategy we want to pursue.

More on that in Guns in America – Part II & III

It’s less effective for date rape, rape involving drugs, marital rape.  It’s most effective against direct physical attack, which may or may not be part of the above. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Age Inappropriate

I got in an argument on twitter a couple of nights ago. Shocking, I know.

It was about a topic that I’ve been trying to address for a while now, and that night it boiled over. My brain stayed awake all night working on this post while the rest of me tried to sleep.

It’s once again about semantics, about words and phrases not meaning what people want them to mean.

In this case, age appropriate sex education.

There are two parts to this that people seem to need to get their heads around.

First – too many people hear “sex education” and interpret that as, “teaching kids how to have sex.” Which is super weird to me, because – no. That’s not what it’s about. AT ALL.

In fact, these days it’s mostly only telling kids to “Just say no!” which is completely unhelpful and often harmful.

Kids need, and deserve more than that. Kids have the right to know about their bodies and how they work. They have a right to know about relationships, about intimacy – and all the forms that can take. And they have a right to that information BEFORE it is too late for them to use it, not AFTER the adults in their lives are comfortable sharing it.

And that is the second part that people need get get their heads around. “Age Appropriate” is not what most adults think it is.

This is how the twitter “discussion” started. A very angry man was yelling at an abortion provider that teens shouldn’t be having sex and therefore shouldn’t need abortions. A supporter responded, “So you support universal sex education?”

He screamed back, “Of course, but what’s the point of teaching younger and younger children this? Wait until they’re old enough.”

My response infuriated him. “8 year old girls are getting their periods & being pressured into sex. They need to be educated BEFORE, not after.”

He interpreted my statement to mean that I thought 8 year olds should be having sex and we should teach them how.

Seriously? That’s what you read?

It didn’t matter how many times I sent him the link explaining that we know unequivocally that educating children about their bodies, including the correct names for all their body parts helps predator proof them and protect them, he could only see that I said 8-year-olds were having sex. He just kept shouting back that that was illegal, ignoring my distinction that it is less about it being illegal for an 8-year-old to have sex, and more that it is illegal to have sex with an 8-year-old. Feel the difference – don’t blame the 8-year-old. They don’t know any better, because WE ARE NOT TEACHING THEM.

Here’s the thing –

Our youth live in a world where they are constantly bombarded with highly sexualized images. They are constantly given messages that women should be sexy and crave male attention, that to be a successful male you have to be “getting some” from a hot girl. Sex is everywhere, all around them.

fast cheap sex sells

Wait, what are they selling!?

Watch the Disney channel sometime, and think about the words of Peggy Orenstein who wrote a book about the Princess to pole dancer trajectory that Disney has created for girls. The idea that for girls sexuality is something they perform, it’s about how they look and how they make other people feel, not how they themselves feel or what they want for themselves. And look at the messages those same shows are giving boys about their role, how it shows that they should be the instigator, the aggressor and how no means maybe and maybe means yes.

Dominate

Sexuality – a public performance, or an intimate experience?

Right now the adults in charge seem to be interpreting “Age Appropriate” as “The age WE are comfortable thinking a child might use this information.”

We need to knock that off and start thinking about age appropriate as, “The age a child is curious about a thing.” “The age BEFORE a child NEEDS to know.” “The age when a child is introduced to a thing by society at large and might need help understanding it.”

I had a deep and wonderful and safe conversation with my 8 year old about sex and rape and consent last year, when she was still seven. I didn’t start the conversation, she did. I just answered her questions, with honesty – and yes… I threw the ball a little high. I discarded the tired advice that you give children only enough information to barely answer their question. Instead, I pushed a little, opened the door a little wider and gave her MORE.

That conversation has helped her feel safer about the images she sees in the world around her, it has helped clarify the boundaries that she can set for herself and the ways that she can do that, it helped make her feel strong and empowered and capable. It gave her the words to set boundaries, not just with a firm “no!” but also with an emphatic “yes!”

(Because one of the problems for girls is that we have told them they are the gatekeepers of sexuality and that their job is to say no. Has anyone else ever considered that perhaps the reason girls “tease” or sometimes start out with no, and slide into maybe, and finally cave into yes – thus fulfilling the damaging and rape enabling stereotype of no means maybe and maybe means yes – is because girls by and large have not been taught that they CAN SAY YES? Because girls who say yes are sluts and whores and BAD GIRLS.)

The other thing this conversation did, is it told my daughter that I was safe, that her home was safe, that she had a person and a place where she could discuss anything without shame or fear, where she could get information BEFORE it was too late to use it.

I’ve had similar conversations with my oldest daughter.

These conversations did not destroy my children’s childhood. I did not ruin them by answering their questions respectfully or by giving them a safe space to ask them. Because this is an argument that is thrown at me ALL THE FREAKING TIME when I advocate for educating children about their bodies, about sex & sexuality.

“Why not just let them be kids?” This was the heart of President Obama’s ignorant comments against selling emergency birth control over the counter to all females of reproductive age.

As if giving a child who is clearly already having sex (or they wouldn’t need Plan B) access to medicine to help them not become a mother ruins childhood! Um – BECOMING A MOTHER RUINS CHILDHOOD.

I want to cyber shout that over and over and over again.

You want to protect childhood – you make damn sure children aren’t becoming parents.

“Let them be kids” is the same argument I hear when I advocate for open, inclusive sex education that discusses homosexuality, trans* people, and the full spectrum of gender expression, and other non-reproductive, heteronormative sexual issues.

As if some kids don’t already have parents who don’t fit that narrow heterosexual box. As if some kids don’t already know that THEY don’t fit in that narrow hetero box. As if those kids don’t also deserve healthy, accurate, truthful information about their bodies, their sexuality, their gender expression.

As if we don’t already have kids being bullied to death because they don’t perform their gender and sexuality the way society at large tells them to.

Refusing to teach kids about their bodies, refusing to teach them about sex, refusing to create safe spaces for them to ask questions and get honest, medically accurate answers because it makes US uncomfortable to think about IS NOT HELPING. Refusing to teach ALL kids about the WHOLE rainbow of human sexuality is NOT HELPING.

You may disagree with 9-year-olds having sex – most of the 9-years-old having sex also disagree with it – but denying them information, medical services and a safe space to talk about what is happening is NOT protecting their childhood. It is simply denying them agency in their own lives. And it is creating more space for predators to work.

You may be scared of homosexuality, or not understand trans* people, or be confused by all the variance that exists outside of a very narrow one man, one woman in wedded bliss sexuality – but denying kids information about it, doesn’t help them. It hurts them. And it allows room for bigotry and hate to spread.

Denying a reality you don’t like won’t make it go away. It just makes it darker and harder for the people living it.

I remember a friend who found out in middle school sex ed that she’d been being abused and raped for 3 years. She didn’t know because she didn’t have the words. She didn’t know because it had started so young. And even afterward, it took her months before she was able to really believe it and to feel safe enough to speak it, to name it, to ask for help.

I could share countless stories of kids with parents less liberal than mine who only realized AFTER they’d been abused, assaulted, raped that that was what had happened, because sex ed came too late for them. Or who didn’t feel like they could call it rape, even after they learned the words, because they hadn’t actually said no, because they didn’t know how to say no safely, they didn’t know how to say no without putting themselves in further harms way. Or they didn’t say no because they didn’t really understand that what was happening to them was sex and that they could say no!

The common denominator in the vast majority of child sex abuse is that the children didn’t have the words, the information, the power to get help.

The common denominator is that WE FAILED THEM as a society, because we did not educate and empower them.

And it isn’t just the victims we are failing. I remember a boy in my middle school who really didn’t know that he was walking the halls sexually assaulting girls by grabbing their breasts, who was genuinely shocked when my friend accused him of rape and prosecuted him – because the last girl he’d had sex with that way hadn’t said anything, and anyway my friend had already had sex with another guy, so how could he even have raped her? He didn’t have the words either, he was just doing what the world around him said he could and should do to “be a man.”

While I don’t want to create wiggle room or excuses for people who commit sexual assault or rape – the brutal truth is, they are often victims of social conditioning. Conditioning that tells them that THEIR JOB is to get sexual favors from other people, that tells them their self-worth is counted in the number of notches on their bed post, that tells them that in order to “be a real man” they have to get the girl – at any cost.

Just as many victims of rape are additionally victims of social conditioning which never gave them the tools to be more than passive recipients of sexual attention, that says their self-worth is tied to the number of men who want to “tap that”, that tells them in order to be a “real woman” they have to be pleasing to men – no matter the price.

alcohol date rape drug

Don’t ask, just get her drunk…

This is rape culture.

This is the battle we are fighting. It isn’t about saving kids from sex. It is about educating our youth about this culture. It is about giving them the tools and information they need to make healthy decisions. It is about breaking down the millions of messages they get in the media every day telling them how to perform their sexuality.

sexuality images

Is this the idea of sexuality we want our youth to carry?

So we have a choice – accept those messages and let our children embrace them as Truth, or push back.

And we push back with education. Education that empowers them. Education that helps them question the way the world is presented in movies, on TV and radio, on billboards.

We push back by creating more safe spaces for children to ask questions and get real answers, by empowering more adults to become askable adults.

We do it by ending the wall of silence and shame that surrounds genuine sex and sexuality in our culture and replace it with vast open spaces for real discussions.

We push back by teaching children about their bodies, about bodily autonomy and sexual empowerment, and about the whole rainbow of gender and sexual expression that exists in this world.

We do it by teaching them the truth that sex is supposed to feel good for everyone involved, that the primary reason adults have sex is BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD, and that if it isn’t feeling good – it’s time to call a time-out.

We push back by preparing our children to live in the world we’ve created, rather than trying to protect them from it.

Face it – if telling our children the truth about our world will destroy their childhood, then we’re doing it wrong and we need to change the world we’re creating for them, not put blindfolds over their eyes and then blame them when they stumble.

 

 

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