The Price of #MeToo (Trigger warning)

Posted on October 17, 2017

I’ve never liked the secret FB meme approach to advocacy. Susan Niebur taught me that the playful nature of standing up for breast cancer was, in fact, a big drag on those battling it. Posting the color of your bra with no explanation is confounding for some, but worse, for the women who no longer have breasts or who don’t shop in a sea of blush colored lace it’s almost mean-spirited. Usually, I just ignored the private message invites and then moved along. 

 

When #MeToo started* I was torn. I began seeing the stark updates:

 

 

#MeToo

 

 

I nodded my head, remembering the texts and DMs over the years from many of these women. We’d shared the weight of the Cosby story and how it felt to have woman after woman not believed. We revulsed in back channels over Brock Turner. We worked through why we can’t just enjoy shows like Game of Thrones, why we can’t lighten up about rape storylines.

Then the #MeToo updates started coming from people I hadn’t spoken about violence with or who hadn’t ever written about it. Soon the updates were coming with explanations of the hashtags, references to whose story they read who made them step into the light. Each one made me think of how it feels to dust off the story, unbandage old wounds. The memory of sitting in a class, on the south side of the high school, listening to a sex ed teacher say that if you are being attacked to tell the assailant you have diarrhea, but being distracted by the phantom sensation of a stranger’s pubic hair in your throat and trying to stifle the gag reflex.

It’s gotten to a point that I cannot avoid the #MeToo. It’s everywhere. We are everywhere. We always have been, but we have, for the most part, moved silently. Clutching mace by our sides as we go for jogs knowing we might get attacked. We don’t talk about that too much because society has a limit. Let it go. Move on. It was one guy. You aren’t in danger.

It’s uncomfortable to hear us. We try to laugh at the jokes, not wanting to be too loud with our discomfort. We send texts, “You ok?” and “I’m thinking about you.” Quiet thank yous get sent back and forth. We might take breaks from social media, but this particular campaign is on the news, people are talking about it.

It’s good.

It’s also really hard.

I suppose like the white people getting woke, it’s great. I get it. Racism is real. This is shitty, let’s fix it. It’s empowering on the side of revelation, but on the other side, where the people have been enduring it day in and day out, it hurts.

You can’t say “Where have you been? Why didn’t you believe me?” And yet, where the hell have you all been? We have told you. We have begged for help. We have been bloody and raw and you’ve said, “Well, it would be tough to prove” or “If there were semen and bruising then we’d have a case.”

The thing is, for there to be victims there have to be assailants. The we of “We did this to you” is every bit as vast, but they never get brought into the light. Even now there are still defenders of Brock Turner, still, judges who have the fate of the men and boys carrying greater influence than the lifelong sentence women get. Woody Allen warns of a witch hunt and “men winking at women” getting blown out of proportion. Why can’t it be, “Hey guys, stop winking.” That isn’t even the problem, its the diminishment. The inference he makes that we are upset about winking. Why do men get to be the people who decide what is crossing the line. Winks are fine, body grazes are fine, theoretically consensual sex is fine, her no was half-hearted, it’s fine. Jeff Bridges had to clarify his comments because he couldn’t get it right the first time around. It isn’t hard, men are raping women.

Yet here we are, it’s not black and white, there are still murmurs about what the women wanted, what they wore, why they went to the hotel room. The seed of doubt is some kind of Monsanto monster seed. It grows and twists to survive any conditions and cultivate the “Yes, but…”

Do I appreciate #MeToo? Does it matter if I do? Yes, I guess I am grateful that people are speaking up, but as a friend said, she’s a #MeToo and has been for a long time, but her daughter isn’t yet. She hopes she never will be.

I have my doubts. Just last night I heard a guy regale us with a story of a buxom woman and a director who said she mustn’t wear a bra. It made no sense, but we were all supposed to chuckle. The schools are still policing what the girls wear, rather than how the boys comport themselves. It’s still about our bodies. Ads like this still run:

I noticed yesterday that my level of suspicion toward men is back to where it was post-assault. I’m approaching each point a to point b like a video game.

  • How many men do I have to walk by?
  • That guy by the flower pot looks creepy so I’ll go this way.
  • Ugh, that guy is already looking at me.
  • Maybe I’ll go back to my car.
  • Is it safe?

I don’t really want to think about it anymore because I’ve done my work. I’ve spoken up, I’ve boycotted shows, I stopped listening to certain artists. Any connection to rumors of abuse I have answered with a commitment to not supporting. Is the rumors thing tricky? Nope. I will give women the benefit of the doubt every time. I don’t have to like the women. I may have loved the men. I choose to be a part of the world that believes women. Even though I am bone-tired and nursing my own wounds, I won’t stop working.

#MeToo has to extend beyond all of us who belong to it. Because even though we move on and heal, it never stops being a part of us, just as the assaulting women will always be a part of the aggressors and, in all honesty, a part of the people who don’t believe us. You become another layer of the violation.

My question is what does #MeToo mean to you and will you let is fade away like all the other hashtags?

 

 

#MeToo started. It actually began ten years ago by Tarana Burke. Thank you Addye Nieves for keeping us straight.

Our Bodies Aren’t Coatracks for Your Guilt

Posted on October 14, 2017

“Be careful with that neck, it’s dangerous. Men can’t resist a neck like that.”

I was 18 and his name was Jesús. I was an exchange student in Spain and had never met him before. He was ten years my senior.

Photo Credit: Sean Magee

 

Already I was so conditioned to believe that attention from men was a success—I am good enough —that I struggled to find balance between the programmed response and the way my hair stood on end on the back of my neck. I felt danger.

It had only been about a year since a man had raped me in the front seat of his car. The whole time he spoke to me like I’d asked for it, like I was enjoying it.

Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case.*

I don’t know that this falls into gas lighting. I can say that as I bucked against him he literally made me wonder if I was wrong. Was it really happening?

Is he right? Did I somehow agree to have sex with a complete stranger with no preamble in a nasty muscle car, beneath the sickly yellow glow of a street light?

Hell no.

“Amanda, Amanda, my vixen kitten,” he was my high school drama teacher and I was back to visit two years after graduation. He’d been a mentor.

I was sitting on the counter in the back of the classroom and he walked toward me and wedged himself between my legs.

“Been too long,” were the words he said, but it was not the meaning that passed from his bearded face to my skin.

Do high school teachers have the right to snack on teen age girls with their eyes? Does the mere presence of a female indicate consent?  Is acquiescence enough? Is it different if the girls are in sweatshirts and jeans? Do tank tops make the lechery ok? Is the curve of a breast something a girl has to hide?

Lately the answer seems to be yes.

It’s on women to shut it down. On girls to not be sexual, but it’s not even that, it’s don’t leave any chance that an adult man will become dizzied by his need to have you.

Dress different. Don’t send the wrong message. Stop asking for it.

It’s never on men to stop looking for it. Stop forcing it. Stop taking it. The idea that women are sexually assaulted, not that men sexually assault.

 

Society, the media, and friends and family question the veracity of sexual assault accusations. People say, “I hope he conquers his demons” before they say, “I hope she can feel safe again.” When do we believe her?

I wonder, if we were all in the room would we still blame the woman? Does it take watching a man force himself on a woman? Do we only trust her if she isn’t sexy? If there is nothing “to be gained?”

The guy revs his engine a bit as I move toward the crosswalk. His eyes move from my ass to my chest. How do I know? Girls learn early to read a room, to gauge how to speak in order to not seem too bossy, too girlie, too whiny. As a professional I can tell when a client can hear it from me and when it needs to come from a man. Yes, this still happens.

Back to the street, I still have half the crosswalk to pass. If I move too quickly he nods approvingly. I curse my body for moving. I thrash inside, “I am not here for you to stare at.” He waves his fingers out the window, makes a kissing sound.  I feel naked.

It’s one street, there are eight more to go and a guy walking toward me on the sidewalk. Every single day I choose a side of the street based on the men I’ll have to pass. It does not matter what I wear, whether I smile, or what time of day it is. It just is.

We layer the blame on women, burying them like coatracks beneath the weight of our reasons why.

If she had pleasured her husband he wouldn’t have stepped out on her.

If she’d taken care of herself he wouldn’t have had to visit prostitutes.

If she hadn’t been there he wouldn’t have raped her.

If she had dressed differently…

If she had been more aware…

If she had said no…

If she had said yes…

If she hadn’t been drinking…

If her pants had been looser…

If she’d run faster…

Why didn’t she just…

He didn’t really mean it…

Think of his future…

You were both drinking…

There is neither room nor time to lay out all the excuses or all the instances when a man has crossed a line.

It’s Harvey, it’s Bill, it’s Brock, and it’s the neighbor boys who are “just playing.”

It most certainly isn’t about how attractive we are. Ugly women get raped. Attractive men rape women. It doesn’t have to be rape to be horrifying, traumatizing, and against the law.

There is no trick to outsmarting this. You can’t pray cancer away and you can’t dress assault away. So, thank you Mayim Bialik for writing from your perspective, but in doing so, like so many people before you, you put the blame on women. I read your words and was reminded so much of being raped. Was this me? Did I start this? Was I the wrong kind of feminist?

We don’t get out of this by shopping from a different catalog, bypassing surgery or make-overs, or “keeping our sexual self for private situations.” The women abused by Harvey weren’t being sexual. He masturbated over sleeping women.

We begin to dig out by understanding that there may be people we have respected and loved who are predators. Rapists and abusers are as varied as the people who are raped and abused.

There is no profile. There isn’t room for, “Yes, but he has done so much good” or “She has always been super sexual.” It is wrong. It is happening and we are allowing it.

The question is, are you going to keep hoping the Harveys get better or start working to make sure they aren’t protected into being repeat offenders?

 

*Quote from this damning article about how it’s not about the Weinsteins of the world, but more the world itself.

Misogyny, sexism, Trump, & my daughters

Posted on October 10, 2017

I want to write about the girls, gush about how they’ve grown inches in months and how their heads sit differently on their necks. I crave exclaiming that when Ave hugs me she puts her arms over my shoulders without going on tip-toe.

 

I want to revel in this moment of being aloft on a wave of growing up, but there is another headline about a man who used his power and was given pass after pass to mistreat women. Three decades of settlements and confidentiality agreements, longer than some of his victims have been alive.

 

 

I peek over Briar’s shoulder at something she has discovered on Instagram that makes her whole face light up. The screen I’d been looking at before she called me bore a story of a girl close to Briar’s age who was raped and impregnated and 9 years later has to share custody with her rapist.

 

Raped at 12, violated again at 21 by the judge. A country bent on forwarding men’s needs.

 

I want to write about the girls having one foot still in a LEGO storage bin and another pointed toward Broadway as they belt mature lyrics from Dear Evan Hansen. We’re talking about periods and hormones and it’s amazing, but the President has rolled back the mandate on birth control.

 

A president who has admitted to assault and who has stories that circle him about girls—no need to say too young, girls and another white man in power having his way and the country lets it go.

 

“I just don’t like to get political and it’s kind of not what I want to read. Can’t you just let that live in a different space?’

 

Writing about the President, Weinstein, Cosby, healthcare, is writing about my daughters. When Donna Karan suggests that women have to consider what they are communicating through their fashion, “are they asking for it,” she is talking about all of our daughters.

 

I don’t understand how it’s all gotten so twisted that the blame rests on the shoulders of women and girls. How is it that we are responsible for the behavior of others? Why are so many adults content to shift responsibility?

 

This cycle of abuse has nothing to do with what women or girls are wearing, it has to do with the assumption men have and the clearance society gives them to consider our bodies public domain.

 

We are set dressing. We are props. We are arm candy.

We are guilty.

Our shorts are too short, our tank top straps are too thin, our “no” wasn’t specific enough, not loud enough, not emphatic enough.

 

I want to write about being a mom of daughters, which means I must write about these men, whether they’re politicians, producers, or educators, in positions of power.

 

If we continue to allow decades of abuse to go by without intervening, if we allow access to birth control to be spun as encouraging ‘risky behavior’, we send our girls and our boys down a corridor that leads to expecting everything of girls and never allowing our boys a chance to be decent.

 

I want to write about my girls and your boys and our world in a different light.

 

 

 

It’s time to step up-Gun Control

Posted on October 2, 2017

A few months ago I participated in a campaign to promote #WearOrange . The truth is, I happened to be wearing orange on that day. The campaign was completely in line with my views and I appreciated Moms Demand Action for taking the initiative to mount the campaign among people in my circle. It was Wendy who first tipped me off to the hashtag. I had Ave take my picture, Fin asked to sit in my lap, and BOOM, I had acted.

But had I really? Sure, I sent money to Newtown, I shared articles, and ached for a writing friend whose nephew died in the school, but did I really do anything?

Fast forward from the hashtag 4 months, and 4 years from Newtown. Here we are again. A country music festival this time. A white male shooter. A bunch of praying politicians and weepy people.

Pardon me, but I call bullshit. Senator Craig Murphy has taken on the gun lobby. Would he have done so without Newtown? Who knows. Are you going to wait until it’s your kid? Either as victim or shooter? What are we afraid of? If you love guns, protect them. Do so through the enforcement and respect for laws around the acquisition of guns.

I’m sharing a bit of what I wrote on twitter tonight, not because I am great at political debate, but because I want it crystal clear where I stand. We all need to be accountable. Period.

 

+++++

Yes.

“Complicity.” @ChrisMurphyCT

4 years w/o progress since #Newtown , the failure and inaction really are complicity. #MomsDemandAction

Legislators as co-conspirators has a truthful ring to it. Do your jobs. I don’t buy the idea that 600 country music fans with guns could’ve fixed this.

We don’t need good guys with guns, we need elected officials with convictions.

And prayer? My only prayer is that it doesn’t take a shooting hitting home-or theatre, or church, or concert venue, or school, for you to stand up for what’s needed.

Nobody wants to take anyone’s guns, let’s make a system that proves worthy gun owners can have guns.

You don’t have to wear orange, but you do have to step up, because the alternative really is complicity.

 

The Power of Language

Posted on September 30, 2017

Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never break me.

 

The rhyme rattles around in my memory, the words a threadbare security blanket I used in grade school to keep the tears from breaking through. I had an image to uphold. I notice the same tendency in Finley. She doesn’t want to be seen upset and she works hard at it, sometimes even here at home. Tears are for private.

Finley is acutely aware of the power of language. She has the words that she’s collected and categorized as hurtful. She bans them from her vocabulary and is vigilant about defending anyone who she witnesses them being used on at school.

I try to model behavior that she can be proud of, rarely using the word hate, calling out when people say retard or fag. I have failed in the “I’m sorry” category, using it too much, too loosely. I’m working on it.

This morning when I saw the President’s tweets about Puerto Rico a lot of words bubbled forward. They would not have made Finley very proud of me.

President Trump proving yet again that he is guided entirely by his own ego.

I have heard people say that Trump is a “straight talker” and that he is “a refreshing change.” I listened as we were told that his conversation with Billy Bush was locker room talk. I watched the debates and interviews surrounding them. The way his lips moved around the words he used to insult people, mostly women, reminded me of how it feels when the bile shoots from my belly and forces its way through my esophagus before splashing in the toilet.

I looked at his words on the screen and then other words came to mind.

I can’t.

No words.

It’s hopeless.

When will it stop?

I thought about the times people have defended silence by saying they aren’t comfortable speaking up and it won’t matter. My voice still shakes when I speak in public, sometimes to the point that it makes people uncomfortable. I haven’t run out of a room from embarrassment since pushing away from the podium in Mr. Fishback’s English class in 1989. I talk through the tremors.

 

Now, as I reach a breaking point with words and whether or not they matter, I realize that they can break us. Words can immobilize us. I don’t mean the words of this vile individual who is at our country’s helm. I mean our own words.

I can’t even is popular and kind of satisfying to say, but it isn’t harmless. Even if we say it in jest, I think we are in a moment when we must talk about what we will do. The shock and horror must be overpowered by the push to action.

It will not stop. It will be hopeless. And I swear that it will get worse if we don’t start putting words to this.

 

 

 

Disgraceful

Appalling

Inhumane

Unethical

Unconscionable

 

It’s time to realize that the words apply to us if we stand by and let people die because the President has a beef with someone. He needs to do his job. We need to do more, and not just at the humanitarian crisis level.

 

Be kind eyes at the grocery store to the person having to send an item back because their WIC won’t cover it.

 

Call the school and ask if they need gently used clothes in the nurse’s office.

 

See if any local organizations take recycling to help fund their programs.

 

Look the person at the service counter in the eye and ask them how their day is going.

 

Hold the door.

 

Take a quick look, are you harboring any racism or prejudice? You don’t have to hide it, you an resolve it. Eliminate it.

 

Protect yourself from scenarios that tear you down. A huge part of being available to others is making sure that you take care of yourself.

 

Our acts don’t have to be about money, but we certainly have to act.

 

I keep saying it—whether it’s taking a knee, taking a stand, calling it out, or working it out, the reality is that we have a choice and it comes down to doing something or doing nothing.

 

It’s harsh, it’s uncomfortable, and it just is where we are.

 

Maybe tears aren’t for private anymore.

 

This morning as I sent out a tweet about the President’s comments, it gnawed at me that I wasn’t doing anything new. I was speaking up, sure, but I wasn’t doing more than before.

 

Sean and Briar’s voices traveled up the stairs. They were in the basement practicing a song for a funeral. Briar had never met the woman and she barely knows the friend of Sean’s who requested the song. Still, she was down there singing her heart out, willing to go and stand before a crowd in a church she’d never been in to bring comfort to people.

 

I wanted to share a little bit of it. I don’t have their permission and it was an early morning run through, both of them sick and dusting off the morning grogginess—for me it makes it that much more beautiful.

 

Together we can do more.

 

Donate to Puerto Rico. Even sharing the link is helpful. Or read more here. Cool Mom Picks did a great round up.

March for racial justice.

Find out more about transgender rights. Learn about how to support transgender teens.

Dig into intersectionality.

Volunteer…you can ask the Chamber of Commerce in your town, reach out the YMCA, or ask the foundation of the hospital.

Talk to friends. Maybe you can create a new way to help.

 

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