Tag Archives: violence

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

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.

girlfriends

I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?

boyshugging

What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.

Respect

It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.

Toxic

This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.

Friendship

Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, 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

Another day, another shooting – can we talk about it YET?

I’ve been avoiding clicking on articles about shootings lately because the last one in Oregon hit me so hard.

I don’t even know why.

Maybe it was because my family had just been out there, and it was close to the town we lived in and had our children in – or maybe it was because it happened while I was starting to take active steps toward becoming a teacher and it happened on a college campus – making me face the fact that not only is no where safe from gun violence in this country, we’ve all accepted that, but that keeping students safe from gun violence is now part of every teacher’s job.

gun safety in america

What to do when you find a gun at your school.

And yet… As I look through my course catalog and plan my next couple of school years… There is no class on student safety, or gun safety, or violence in and around schools. We just have to follow district policy and hope that our school isn’t the next school. And there will be a next school because we still aren’t really allowed to talk about it, or take steps to make this madness stop.

When I start thinking about it, I fall into a wee puddle of despair. The intractable nature of this issue depresses me. The fact that we can’t even seem to start a conversation about it – not when kids are shot and killed in their classrooms, not when kids get a hold of guns and accidentally (or not accidentally – but, I believe, without fully realizing the permanence of the consequences) shoot a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor, not when open carry becomes open season

The closest we’ve been able to come to a conversation about this is being led by #BlackLivesMatter about our nation’s latent (and sometimes overt) racism and the militarization of our police forces.

hands up don't shoot

But in order for that conversation to be truly productive, we need it to join a larger conversation about gun violence, gun ownership, the 2nd amendment, FREEDOM and responsibility.

It is that last piece that I want to seize on – responsibility, because in all the shouting and finger-pointing and “from my cold dead hands” rhetoric… one of the things I keep hearing is that we can’t trample on the rights of “responsible gun owners” and that 30,000+ senseless deaths per year and the associated daily mayhem is simply the price we have to pay for those people’s rights, and I disagree.

I think that if you are a responsible gun owner, you should want to ensure that other people who own and use guns are also responsible. I feel like you should have a vested interest in making sure that irresponsible gun owners, along with violent people who wish to cause harm, destruction and mayhem are prevented from owning, acquiring and using guns. Or at least greatly hindered in their attempts.

I don’t want to take all the guns. (Well… That’s not strictly true. In my perfect world – sure, fuck guns. In my perfect world we wouldn’t need them, no one would need them – not the military, not the cops, not the criminals. Give all the hunters the new high powered, awesome compound bows. But, we don’t live in that world. That world is long gone. So… Working within the realms of reality – I’m not coming for your guns. No one is.)

That said… I do think we can talk about regulation.

I think we can talk about responsibility.

I think we can talk about safety and making it harder for a toddler to accidentally shoot their mom dead at the store.

I think we can talk about making it harder for people with known violent tendencies and violent intent to purchase/acquire guns. (One of the things that has been making me laugh that cold, dry, dusty laugh of despair lately is how often when there is another mass shooting, the Guns Everywhere crowd – which is distinct from the “responsible gun rights” crowd – will crow, “But he bought his guns legally!” as if this is an argument AGAINST having a conversation about gun regulation. I’m always like, “Exactly! And he shouldn’t have been able to! Thank you for pointing out that our current laws and regulations are inadequate!”)

I think we can talk about what a responsible response to a 911 call about a person brandishing a weapon should be. To my mind it is not automatically shoot to kill (See Tamir Rice and John Crawford III – both black males with toy guns in an open carry state), nor is it “Can’t help you. But call back if he opens fire.” (Response to calls about numerous white males with ACTUAL GUNS in numerous open carry states.)

I feel like we can talk about a reasonable response, perhaps one that focuses on “keeping the peace,” that starts by assessing a situation with the primary goal of de-escalation, that focuses on everyone’s rights – a responsible gun owner’s legal right to own a gun as well as everyone else’s legal right to life.

I think we can talk about requiring gun owners to be licensed, and for those licenses to require that gun owners take a gun safety class and pass a test to show their knowledge and proficiency. In my perfect world, those licenses would need to be renewed periodically – just like a driver’s license. And in my perfect world, an officer responding to a call about a person brandishing a weapon would have the legal obligation to request that license and verify it, just like an officer responding to a call of reckless driving is required to run the driver’s license and check their insurance and registration.

Further, just as a motorcycle license dos not qualify you to drive a car, and a car license does not qualify you to drive a large truck – a rifle license should be different from a handgun license should be different from an assault rifle license. Being competent with one type of gun does not make you competent with all guns. I believe there are levels that could be distinguished and delineated.

if guns were regulated

Just a thought.

I think we can talk about liability.

If gun owners were liable for damage caused by their unsecured guns, like the woman who left her assault rifle leaning against her house to take a call and returned to find that her gun had “wandered off” without her… Or the many, many, many people who have left loaded guns unsecured in spaces where children could access them… Perhaps we would see an increase in actual responsible gun ownership. The kind that keeps guns locked up and out of reach of underage, or untrained, unqualified, dare I hope, unlicensed people – not to mention people who the law has determined should not have access to firearms.

And what about gun manufacturers? Where is their liability? Not for every death caused by their guns, but for making guns with safety features so loose that a toddler is able to disable them and shoot someone on accident. For not using and incorporating the latest safety technology to ensure less accidental deaths occur as a result of their product’s use.

Cars are not designed specifically to kill. But sometimes they do. Not all cars kill people, not all drivers kill people – but car manufacturers are still required to include certain safety features in all cars – just in case.

Why aren’t gun manufacturers required to do the same?

I think we can talk about reasonable regulation. A friend of mine once asked what that meant. He claims it is just a liberal buzz phrase trotted out to make ourselves feel better. I have to say, it doesn’t make me feel better at all, because as much as I think these things make sense without infringing on FREEDOM!, and survey after survey has shown that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, also think these things are reasonable and make sense without infringing on FREEDOM! – nothing is being done to actually enact these things. So no, I don’t feel better talking about this, I feel depressed and hopeless and powerless.

I feel like Jon Stewart toward the end of his run.

So what are these “reasonable, common sense” regulations and reforms that the majority of people agree we should enact?

Universal background checks – enacting laws that make it so everyone who purchases a gun must pass a background check – and making sure that the data included in those background checks is kept up to date.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of semi-automatic, high-capacity assault rifles.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of high-capacity magazines for all styles of guns.

Laws allowing the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue.

Laws requiring gun registration and/or licensing. (As stated above, I believe this should also require gun safety classes and both a written and a practical test to prove competency.)

I think we can, and should, have a conversation about what kind of nation we would like to live in in regards to guns and violence. I think we should be able to have a conversation about the costs of a mostly unfettered individual right to bear arms vs the costs of a more regulated individual right to bear arms. After all, we already limit people’s right to bear arms. Private citizens don’t get to own tanks, make bombs, etc. which leads me to…

I think we need to simultaneously have a conversation about the use of weapons by law enforcement. Because this is all connected. We declared a war on drugs and began to militarize our police forces to fight this war, which led to people arming themselves against the police, which led to… Well, it’s a giant snake eating its own tail isn’t it?

More guns lead to more guns lead to more guns.

But wait! Statistics show that less people own guns now than in past decades – so why all the violence? Why regulate? Clearly less gun owners doesn’t equal less gun violence. (And yet… homicide, including gun homicide is declining, so maybe there is some correlation…? And no, it isn’t declining so fast that we can skip the conversation. 30,000+ gun deaths per year is not something we should be ignoring.)

So, let’s look at who owns guns AND who is using them inappropriately and have a conversation about what that data could mean for policy.

Oh wait, we kind of can’t.

The CDC isn’t allowed to conduct that kind of research, and the government isn’t allowed to keep track of guns in our country – no registry, no licensing, nothing because they might maybe someday use that information to take all the guns because Hitler (or something. I’ve never really understood this argument and I admit, at this point I’m done trying to pretend to be nice to conspiracy theorists. No one wants to take your guns unless you are a violent a-hole who shouldn’t have them in the first place – so stop waving your arms in my face and acting like a violent a-hole who should be disarmed!!)

What we do know is that less people own guns. BUT the people who do own guns tend to own more of them. So we have less gun owners, but more owned guns.

We also know a thing or two about the people using guns for violence against others.

Mass shooters, with exactly one exception, are male. They tend to be white. They tend to feel slighted by society, many post their grievances – as well as their violent intentions – before they act. Those are often ignored until after the bullets have flown and the blood has pooled.

Based on this, if we want to stop mass shootings, perhaps we should pay attention to angry men who say they the world has slighted them and want to hurt others as a result – and not let them purchase guns or ammo. Perhaps we should be allowed to take their pre-existing owned guns from them. Perhaps we should be allowed to put them on a “No guns, no bullets” list, like the no fly lists we’ve been allowed to create even though most passengers don’t crash planes into buildings full of people…

Since mental health is clearly a factor in these mass shootings, perhaps we should also be able to get them some mental health services! Wouldn’t that be nice!

But mass shootings, while dramatic and headline grabbing, are a small percentage of all the shootings in America. What about all the rest of them – the many, many, many handgun deaths that don’t involve high-capacity guns? The many, many shootings that the new laws outlined above wouldn’t touch? What do we do about all the day to day casual gun violence that doesn’t make the news?

If we knew who owned guns, or at least who was licensed to own a gun and what types they were licensed to own, we would also know who shouldn’t/wasn’t allowed/licensed to own guns. That might make it easier for police to confiscate illegal guns. Once confiscated, illegally owned guns should be melted down into some sort of non-weapon. This has the effect of eventually reducing the total number of guns in circulation.

Likewise any gun used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed once the case is settled (including appeals) and it is no longer needed as evidence.

Voluntary gun buyback programs should be available in more municipalities and those guns too should be permanently removed from circulation.

I keep hearing that the gun problem in America is intractable because we already have too many guns and there’s no way to get them off the street short of mass confiscation. But then I hear about gun buyback programs being shut down, or being forced to sell the guns back into the community they were just removed from and I realize that the real problem is that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Once guns are removed from circulation, let’s keep them out.

Now, I can already hear the panicked chorus of, “But what’s to keep The Government from taking everyone’s guns and, and, HITLER!”

Breathe.

We the people, and our representatives are smart enough to solve this.

First, we are already largely protected from this by the 4th Amendment, you know, the one that protects against illegal search and seizure. Now, I know this right has been eroded significantly by the war on drugs and asset forfeiture laws, not to mention the war on terror and Homeland security so – let’s use our power and strengthen it back up. (And maybe stop declaring war on everything?)

We can write the laws in such a way that if police confiscate weapons, the person they were taken from has the right, and the time, to challenge that and to prove that they were legally allowed to own and possess those weapons. If the weapons were wrongfully confiscated, the person who was wronged gets them back and is reimbursed for any legal/court fees. (See the marijuana industry as an example of this – police who raid a Colorado marijuana business are required to keep alive any plants they find until the case is closed or reimburse the owner for their loss when they are found to be operating within the law.) It would be great if we re-wrote asset forfeiture laws at the same time to reflect this as well, but hey, one dream at a time.

Perhaps you also noticed that I said weapons used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed only after all appeals have been made and the case is closed – so that if that person is found innocent they can have their gun back.

But yes, we should absolutely be taking steps to get more guns off the streets.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting the number of people who can purchase and own guns.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting what types of guns and magazines and ammunition citizens (and police and the military) can possess, own, carry and use.

Yes, we should absolutely require background checks, gun safety classes, gun licensing.

Yes, we should be talking about what responsible gun ownership actually means – and if we have to legislate what that looks like (guns kept in locked spaces, out of reach of minors, not in homes with people who are banned from owning guns, etc.) because common sense is not actually common, then so be it.

And, if we’re really not allowed to regulate guns or talk about guns, maybe we can take some advice from Chris Rock and try to control the bullets.

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Filed under Naive idealism, 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

Defining Rape, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

This a post about semantics, and how much language matters.

It’s also a post about rape.

Because, when I teach workshops about consent, when I write articles about consent, when I have conversations about consent and about rape and about what rape REALLY, ACTUALLY is, when I say “Only ‘Yes!’ means yes.”, one of the first responses I tend to get is, “Yeah, but…” As if there are exceptions, as if there is wiggle room, as if maybe if we just ask one more time what the victim was wearing, or how much the VICTIM had to drink, or whether the victim physically fought back, or whether they woke up long enough to actually say no… It somehow won’t be rape.

teach children about rape

What are we teaching our children?

When I say that we need to teach men not to rape because clearly teaching victims not to get raped isn’t working, people tell me that is impossible, that rapists be raping and there’s nothing we can do about it. They already know rape is wrong – they just don’t care.

BUT, here’s the thing – A LOT of rapists don’t actually consider themselves to BE rapists!

About a year ago I fell into the rape research rabbit hole – and it was TERRIFYING.

Because if you ask a thousand CONVICTED RAPISTS if they have ever committed rape, 999 of them say no.

BUT, if you remove the word rape, and instead ask a series of questions, all of which meet the legal definition of rape… Suddenly ALL of them are like, “Yeah, I did that. And that. And that too. But, it wasn’t like, RAPE rape.” (That’s all convicted rapists, remember – NOT all men.)

Language MATTERS.

When you realize that even convicted rapists who admit to performing acts that meet the legal definition of rape don’t consider themselves to BE rapists, suddenly making sure that EVERYONE knows and understands what rape is feels really fucking crucial.

If the people who are CONVICTED of rape don’t define their actions as such – what about the many, many, many more people (primarily men, but not all men) who are perpetuating rape and sexual assault and are not being reported, not being prosecuted, not being convicted – Turns out, they don’t believe they are committing rape either!

And what about the (often male) police, medical staff,  lawyers and judges when a victim does report their rape? How many of them actually understand what rape is? We would hope all of them, but… Not so fast.

This is one of the most terrifying aspects of being raped – the fear that you will not be believed.

And that fear is born out again and again and again in the news, from judges who claim an eleven year old girl was asking to be repeatedly gang raped by 20 men, to police who won’t file charges because the victim didn’t act victimized enough, to family and friends who ask “What did YOU do to deserve it?”, or who assure you that it wasn’t a “real” rape because you don’t have any broken bones, or the rapist wasn’t a stranger, or…

Not to mention politicians who don’t want rape exceptions on their abortion bans because “the female body has a way of shutting that whole thing down.” Or who don’t believe husbands can rape their wives because sometimes wives wear lingerie, which is clearly the same as saying yes. Or who believe that rape kits magically clean a woman out and make her whole again. Or who believe it isn’t real rape if the victim doesn’t fight hard enough, but then turn around and say that if it’s going to happen the victim should just lay back and try to enjoy it. YES, these things, and more, have been said.

And THAT is why it is important to educate people about what rape is, and what it is not. So that EVERYONE, from victims, to advocates, to police, to medical personnel, to judges, to juries, to politicians, to journalists, to rapists are ALL working from the same dictionary, using the same word to mean the same set of things.

Defining rape

Defining rape

And I DO believe that making sure everyone knows what rape is will decrease the number of rapes that happen, because I do believe that most men (because rape is most often perpetuated by men, not because most men rape.) DO NOT WANT TO RAPE.

I believe that most men want consensual sex, that they want their partner to enjoy it and come back for seconds – or at least advertise their prowess to other potentially willing friends. I don’t believe that men want to be labeled rapists, or have their names written on “rape walls“. I believe that if most rapists truly understood what their victim experienced, they would be appalled and ashamed.

But, most rapists reject that label, they defend their actions using rape myths, propped up by rape culture, supported by the media.

There was an article about “Gray Rape” or “Grape” – and the slant of the article seemed to be trying to create more wiggle room for rapists. “The victim was drunk, flirty, didn’t say no properly…”

But when I read it, I saw – rape. Rape. Rape again.

And I think that what we need to be teaching is that… If you find yourself in that gray area, where you really, truly aren’t sure – STOP! DON’T “GRAPE”!

If someone seems too drunk to stand, to talk, to walk away – THEY ARE TOO DRUNK TO CONSENT.

If someone is asleep – THEY CANNOT CONSENT UNLESS YOU WAKE THEM UP FIRST. And not with sex. THAT IS RAPE.

If someone said yes earlier, but something has changed or they’re acting different now – ASK AGAIN (and respect the answer). Having sex with someone who doesn’t want to, but is too uncomfortable to speak up or doesn’t know how to say stop may not get you prosecuted for rape, but there’s a good chance that it will feel like rape to the person you just had sex with. And you don’t want to be that guy, right?

If someone’s “yes” sounds less than enthusiastic – BACK OFF. Because if they are feeling threatened or coerced and that is why they are saying yes – THAT IS RAPE.

If someone says no – Believe them. Don’t pressure them, don’t ask again, don’t badger them, don’t “come on, just the tip?” at them, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND BACK OFF. Having sex with someone who has said no, or “stop”, or pushed you away – IS RAPE.

If you are unsure, for any reason, BACK OFF. DON’T RISK IT. DON’T GRAPE, because “Gray Rape” IS STILL RAPE.

See, we, as a culture, want rape to be a violent crime that psychotic monsters perpetuate on innocent girls. Because that means that none of our friends, our brothers, our fathers would ever do it. We want that, because… No one wants to think their loved one is a rapist. And certainly no one wants to label themselves that way – look at all the men who admit to rape, as long as that isn’t the word that is used.

The truth is much harder to face, that most rapes take place between people who know each other. That most rapists are trusted by their victims prior to the rape. That most rapes are not what many people consider “violent” (Victims will argue that one with you all day long if you let them. Having something forcefully shoved in your body against your will feels pretty f’ing violent in the moment. But most rapes don’t result in broken bones or even black eyes. The wounds are much, much deeper – and much, much harder to see, and heal.)

The truth is that most rapists fly under the radar, they are “Nice Guys”, they are neighbors and friends and brothers and fathers and cousins and uncles and sports heroes and pastors and priests and…

The truth is, while rape IS about power and dominance, it is also about sex – and there is a certain group of (mostly male) people who feel entitled to sex, who think it is part of their birthright, who believe that it is owed to them, and who believe they have the right to take it if it is denied to them.

When I read the rape research, over and over and over again I read testimony from convicted rapists who said it wasn’t really rape because she owed him, she deserved it, she secretly wanted it (all women do), she got what was coming, he needed it, he couldn’t help himself, he deserved it, he earned it – and she had NO RIGHT to refuse. That is how rapists think. And when we blame victims because of what they were wearing, or how they were acting, or what they were drinking – we contribute to that culture where rapists see wiggle room to take something that isn’t theirs to take.

The truth is, while some rapes are planned out, many rapes – and especially “Grapes” are crimes of opportunity – a victim is too drunk to say no or fight back, or they are passed out, or they are disabled in some way, or they are someone no one would believe, like a stripper or a prostitute.

The truth is that not all rape victims are virgins. And that doesn’t matter. Because having consensual sex once, or twice, or a thousand times – does not mean you are available for all sex, everywhere, anytime, from anyone. No matter how many times you have had sex, nor with how many people – you still get to exercise personal discretion EVERY SINGLE TIME. You NEVER lose the right to say no.

The truth is, until we ALL understand and agree that sex without enthusiastic consent is RAPE, we can’t hope to make a dent in the numbers. Until we ALL understand and agree that all people have the right to bodily autonomy, regardless of their gender, sexuality, career, time of day, sobriety, ability, etc… We can’t hope to make a dent in the numbers.

Until we teach that NO ONE is entitled to sex, that NO ONE owes anyone else sex EVER, that consent is a continual process – that yes to a kiss is not yes to everything, that yes to sex once is not yes to sex forever, that consent can be revoked AT ANY TIME and the action MUST STOP… Until everyone understands that they do not EVER have the right to physical pleasure at the expense of someone else’s autonomy, we can’t hope to make a dent in the numbers.

rape stats

Rape is NEVER okay!

So, when I say we need to teach men not to rape – first we have to start by making sure EVERYONE really understands what rape is.

Rape is sex without enthusiastic, non-coerced consent. Period.

Sexual assault is sexual contact with another person without their enthusiastic, non-coerced consent. Period.

“Gray rape” is rape. Don’t do it. If you’re not sure and your partner can’t tell you – STOP. BACK OFF.

And then, we have to dismantle the ideas that support rapists – the ideas that a person who has had sex previously has lost their right to say no, that buying dinner for date means they owe you sex, that spouses have given forever consent and thus cannot be raped, that people who have sex for a living cannot be raped, that the way someone dresses implies consent and thus sex with them cannot be rape, that if you can prevent them from saying “no,” it isn’t rape… We have to stop slut-shaming and scapegoating rape victims, and stop trying to find new ways to excuse and apologize for rapists.

We have to educate ourselves, and our peers. We have to educate our children. We have to educate our teens. We have to stop excusing bad behavior as something that can’t be helped.

We CAN stop rape culture, but it’s going to take some work. I hope you all are ready to pitch in.

 

take action

Your action plan

 

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

#YesAllWomen, but what do we DO about it?

I was working Sunday when the #YesAllWomen twitter hashtag got started up in response to Elliot Rodger, an openly rage filled misogynist shooting down 6 people and killing himself in Santa Barbara. A friend DMed me the link, in case somehow I had missed it.

When I first followed it, I was a bit confused. It didn’t seem to make sense. How were all of these posts connected, what exactly did #YesAllWomen mean. So, I asked the google.

What I discovered was that this was a response, not just to the violence which took the lives of 5 men and 2 women, but to the all too common response that women hear when we speak up about misogyny and sexism in our lives. #NotAllMen. As in, “Not all men are like that.

Very often if I speak of something that men, plural, as in more than one man, have done to me in my lived experience, I am called out for attacking ALL men. Which… I’m not. But this tactic has a silencing effect. Because, I have been conditioned to try to be nice, polite, considerate – to not hurt other people’s feelings, even at the expense of my own. As have many women.

So, when men (plural – not synonymous with ALL) take a conversation about trauma that I, or other women, have experienced and make it about their hurt feelings because we used the plural of man, as in I have been sexually assaulted by multiple men, it does a couple of things – first, it reminds me that my feelings of trauma, my physical safety and my desire to speak about it are less valid, less important and less worthy than those particular men’s hurt feelings over being the same gender as the person who hurt me.

Second, it tells me that I should quiet down because it is MY FAULT, perhaps not for being hurt in the first place, but for using my injury to make other men uncomfortable about the violence, threats, harassment and sexism I experience regularly. That I should not draw attention to these abuses because it makes the “good men” uncomfortable.

So, in response a few, and then a couple hundred, and then thousands and then a million or so women on twitter began to talk about #YesAllWomen. Because, no, not all men are violent or sexist or misogynistic or dangerous. BUT, enough of them are that it makes the world feel very unsafe for most, if not all, women.

Under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, women began to speak, to open up, to talk about their own experiences of sexism and violence. We began to talk about our lives, the things we do to protect ourselves, the ways we feel we are asked to change and hide and bury pieces of who we are in order to be safe – or are told that if we refuse to break, then we need to shut up and accept the consequences of living in public. As if violence is an acceptable price to pay for leaving the house.

And I know, I know, I know – men experience violence too – most often at the hands of other men. BUT I know, I know, I know – women perpetuate violence too. There, I’ve said it.

Here’s the thing – and here’s where this particular hashtag became so powerful for so many people, for a brief time we created a space where we didn’t feel we needed to restate the obvious. Where we didn’t have to defend our right to talk about our experiences or stop and placate bruised male egos who are uncomfortable hearing that yes, some of their brethren are violent a-holes or acknowledge that yes, some women are violent a-holes too in order to talk about our lived experiences and our hopes for change.

It was brutal and beautiful and raw and cathartic and traumatic and inspiring and ultimately empowering.

I watched and I saw women speaking up for the first time about their experiences. I saw women exhaling as they realized that they were not alone – they were not crazy for feeling afraid, they were not the only ones covering themselves in metaphorical armor before they left the house, they were not the only ones who spent more time planning safe routes home than they did getting ready to go out, they were not the only ones who felt guilty for failing to protect themselves from violence, for not doing enough to anticipate who their attacker would be, because after all they were out in public, they should have known they were a target and accepted their fate…

They were not crazy for being wary, or being skeptical of Nice Guys™, or second guessing their outfits before they walked out the door (too sexy and you’re asking for it, not sexy enough and you risk being abused for not trying to please the male gaze). They were not crazy for being frustrated by the sexual double standards that force breastfeeding moms and young girls to cover up while men and boys run around half naked whenever they want.

They were not crazy for being afraid.

In fact, that was the sanest response to their lived experiences that they could have.

Scientists recently discovered that humans are hardwired to be afraid of snakes. Even though #NotAllSnakes are dangerous and many are actually beneficial, it turns out that people who flinch first when they see a snake live longer – long enough to reproduce! Because if you flinch first and it’s venomous, you live! And if you flinch first and it’s benign, you can still approach after you’ve confidently identified it.

I posit, that right now – and perhaps always, written history shows us that the world has long been hard on women – women who are wary of men, who flinch first, who approach with caution, live longer. Not because all men are dangerous, nor because all men are to blame, nor because all men are violent, but because enough of them are.

Almost every woman I know has some story of violence, threatening harassment, assault, rape – something that colors how she faces the world. It is true, it’s #NotAllMen, but the flip side is that, #YesAllWomen have experienced some level of violence, harassment or intimidation from men.

Last night I talked to my husband about the conversations I had on #YesAllWomen. First because they brought up heavy and intense emotions and I needed to talk that through. But also because I wanted to see his reaction. And because I wanted to brain storm solutions.

Ultimately, this isn’t a woman’s issue – it’s a men’s issue. Because statistically speaking, men are much more likely to express violent aggression than women are – against women and against other men. Men are much more likely to become physically and lethally violent. So, I wanted a man’s perspective on what to do about it, how to curb it – whether that was something I could even dare to ask for. (I did, I dared. We HAVE to. What’s that saying about all progress being made by unreasonable men who expect the world to adapt to them!?! Women, don’t you think it is WELL PAST TIME that we got a little – okay a lot – more unreasonable here!!!)

The conversation was rough. It was uncomfortable. It was that same brutal, beautiful, raw and tender that my online conversations had been. It took some back and forth for us to get to the root of it, the heart of the discomfort. It stems, I think, from a place of genuinely wanting to help – but not knowing how, not knowing what to do with this information. It all feels too big, too entrenched, too ingrained. And, it’s uncomfortable because no one wants to admit they are complicit in perpetuating a world where people they love are hurt and afraid. It’s uncomfortable because no one really wants to hear about someone they love being abused or harassed, especially if there is nothing they can do to change it.

But… There are things that we can do to change it. And I think that’s why these conversations are so important to have. That’s why this hashtag is so powerful. Because… One of the things my husband said last night shocked me, but shouldn’t have because it’s the same thing I hear echoed over and over every time I talk about this issue in mixed company.

“But, I don’t see it. It’s not me. It’s not my friends. It isn’t happening in my spaces. How can I change the culture when I don’t see it – at all?”

For any man courageous enough to read #YesAllWomen for a while, you’ll begin to see it. But, you have to remind yourself that word men is plural as in more than one man, not synonymous with ALL men. Women talking about things that have happened to them, things that they have lived through and experienced is not the same as women attacking you for being a man.

Because, the truth is, this is out there, it’s happening all the time, all around us and it’s visible if you look – but it’s small and insidious and hiding in plain sight. And so many of us are so accustomed to it that we fail to register it. However, once you start to see it, it becomes impossible to unsee.

It’s misogynistic jokes that degrade women, it’s catcalls on the street that some men think are compliments but many women feel threatened by, it’s boys in my daughter’s 3rd grade class vocally rating the fuckability of their female classmates, it’s revenge porn, it’s right there when my husband admitted that fully 2/3 of the women he knows have experienced sexual assault.

If that is true – then this violence DOES exist in his world. It is there. And he is living with the consequences, because those experiences color and shape how those women move through the world. I repeat, this is not a women’s issue. This is a cultural and social issue – and right now men still have more political and social power than women.

Look at the laws being written, passed and enacted that REQUIRE DOCTORS in some states to LIE TO THEIR FEMALE PATIENTS before providing certain medical services, thus undermining doctor/patient trust during an incredibly vulnerable time in a woman’s life. Look at the laws in 31 states that allow a rapist to claim parental rights over any child created during that rape. The list goes on, but this post is already too long.

So, for the men who want to help, who are uncomfortable with this discussion because they don’t know what to do with it, what to do with the feelings it creates and the discomfort it provokes… Here are some things that you can do to help.

First – listen. Listen through the discomfort. Listen. Don’t try to deflect, or change the topic or get defensive. Again, we are not attacking YOU, we are talking about things that we have experienced, so unless we specifically say, “You did XYZ”, it’s not about you, it is about US.

Last night, my husband created a safe space where even though he was uncomfortable and even though part of him felt like I was dragging him through my old trauma. (Didn’t we deal with this 12 years ago, why are you making me have these yucky feelings again now, there’s nothing I can do, what do you want from me? Am I supposed to apologize for having a penis? – These are NOT things he said in the moment – that would have made me feel disrespected, and unsafe, these are things he admitted feeling afterward, when the conversation had moved to that point.) In the space he created, I felt able to talk about my experiences and not be judged for them, I felt able to talk about my fear, my solidarity with women who are living their lives the way I lived mine in college – never going out without a switch blade in one hand and pepper spray in the other, for 3 years! I was able to talk about my hopes for our daughters and for our friends’ children of all genders. I was able to let my shields down and be raw and vulnerable and angry and hurt – and trust that I would not be attacked in that moment of open weakness.

When women say they want a man to make them feel safe – well, I won’t speak for all women, but for myself – that is the kind of safe I mean. I don’t want a white knight to protect me from the outside world, I want a partner who makes me feel safe to be me, who makes me feel loved and cherished and valuable and worthy even when I’m a mess, who makes me feel like it’s okay to be imperfect, to be wounded, to carry some scars.

LISTEN. Create a safe space for the women in your life.

Second – If what they say makes you uncomfortable and angry and frustrated and powerless, remember it is not their fault. They feel the same way. The trauma they are sharing with you was done to them. Sympathize. Don’t attack or get defensive. Many, many, many survivors of violence feel ashamed, it is one of the biggest emotions we need help with. We need compassion and understanding, we need to hear that it’s not our fault, that we didn’t ask for it, invite it, trigger it, allow it. We need to hear it over and over and over until it sinks in.

Third – don’t rush out to battle their demons for them.

This is a hard one for many of the men I know to hear and understand, but many women just want you to listen. They aren’t asking for action, at least not immediate action. They are asking for compassion and understanding. They are asking for someone to validate their feelings to tell them it’s okay for them to be angry, hurt, scared, frustrated, pissed off, furious… It might seem stupid to you that we feel we have to ask permission to have negative feelings, but… many of us don’t have much experience with it and feel like we’re always supposed to be smiling and be polite and be nice. Just as many, but #NotAllMen, need permission to cry or show tenderness or other “feminine” emotions…

Sympathize with them, it’s okay for you to say you are angry along with them, saddened, hurt, scared… Let them know you’re on their side, that you get it, that yes, what happened to them sucks and is unjust and unfair and shitty. Just like you would sympathize with a friend who got jumped in an ally and got his ass kicked by some punk.

Last – take what you hear, what you learn, and let it change the way you see the world and move through it. Let it open your eyes to another point of view. Of course you’re one of the good guys, but are you one of the good guys when it counts?

Can you stand up to your peers when they are crossing the line and tell them that they are being offensive, or that they are being more aggressive than a situation warrants, or that they need to back off? And can you do it in a way that doesn’t perpetuate further violence? (ie; punching a guy for grabbing a girl’s ass is, to my mind, counter productive. You are teaching that men need to respect women when there is a stronger male there to protect her, not that they need to respect women because women are humans worthy of respect.)

women are people

Treat ALL people with respect and dignity.

Treat misogynistic speech the same way you would treat racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or other hate-speech, because that’s what it is. Call it out when you hear it, use those opportunities to educate your peers. (And if it is not safe to call it out, because sometimes it isn’t, then simply don’t join in, don’t validate sexist jokes with your laughter, don’t try to one up with an even more abusive joke. Or, be sly and subtle, look up some good feminist jokes, yes they exist, and up the ante with one of those.)

If you can do that – awesome! Please – go forth and be an ally! Because often, when women say these things we are whining, nagging, bitching, being overly sensitive and need to grow a pair or get a sense of humor – it’s all just good fun. But… Often, when a man calls out these behaviors from within the group, some members of that group have an easier time hearing it.

When I stand up for myself and call out sexism, I am often told that I need to get a thicker skin – but a thicker skin won’t stop bullets, or fists, or rape. And when women speak up for themselves, it isn’t just words we are threatened with.

A Margaret Atwood quote has been going around the #YesAllWomen conversation that really says it all: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women’ are afraid that men will kill them.

 

 

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