“Mom, please?”

Posted on November 3, 2017

The times that I close may laptop or the laundry room door almost always result in something I would have kept putting off until the requests faded to nothing. A couple of weeks ago Sean decided to take us all on a bike ride. Originally it was going to be a quick loop around the neighborhood, but he suggested the bike trail. It was, as I am sure some people reading this are already surmising, an ordeal.

Flat tires.

Missing bike helmets.

Modest interest.

Broken water bottle holders.

Somehow we made it. Briar stayed home and I borrowed her bike. Avery and Finley were tired about 1 mile into a 7 mile ride. Scattered leaves and pine needles made for a treacherous course, and yet, we kept going. We decided that rather than doing a round trip with all of us, after a quick lunch, Sean would ride back while Ave, Finley and I stayed at the beach.

This is where the magic happened. Sean happily pedaled off, providing a solution that made everyone happy. Avery and Finley played along the water’s edge until the inevitable happened—they got a glimmer in their eyes and approached me.

“No, absolutely not. You cannot swim,” I said as they moved toward me.

“But mom….”

“Listen, I don’t know how long Dad will take, you can’t risk getting sick before the show, and I have no towels.”

They tilted their heads, “We’ll air dry.”

I was a goner. The truth was I wanted to swim too. It’s just who we are.

“Ok, fine. You can go in as deep as your underwear, but no more. Ok?”

 

 

I Want To Remember This

Posted on November 2, 2017

The girls and Sean are in a production of Oliver, which opens tomorrow night. I have been in intermittent attendance, lending a hand for load-in and construction, ferrying dinner and forgotten things to rehearsal, and finally tonight to help out with make-up and quick changes.

It’s strange to be there, feeling at times like a pronounced outlier but also like I am home—only the home is old memories, different faces. A different theatre and another time. I try to fade to the edges.

Briar walked me through what she needed and explained to me what she’d be ok not having enough time to manage. I smiled and quietly nodded as I hooked her cap in my back pocket, set her dress shirt on my arm, and looped the suspenders on the outside of her slacks and slapped her socks on my shoulder.

We sat beyond the wings stage right. She prattled on with excitement, occasionally interrupting herself to mouth the words someone was singing on stage. I smiled and sat, soaking in the familiar sounds and crackle of backstage.

“Mom, can I have your phone? I want to remember this. I never want to forget you being here with me and being a part of the show.” She took my phone and began snapping, tilting her head to capture us in a kiss.

 

I am not used to the feeling of not being viewed as competent. It’s hard to not want to hijack things and project my opinion. It has been a struggle, I won’t deny that for a second. It hasn’t been a bad thing either, I need to be reminded of how many spheres of influence and belonging there are and that it is literally impossible to be a part of all of them.

This isn’t my production, but these are my people. I was taken aback by Briar wanting to capture this moment, but I savored the realization that in a moment that was entirely hers, she wanted to preserve my presence. It was absolutely spectacular.

Hope is Like Love, You Can’t force It

Posted on November 1, 2017

 

I remember when the scent of a new super ball made me feel like I was on top of the world, or how if I pressed my face to the cracked window and inhaled the gas wafting in as the attendant filled the tank of our car, I felt intensely alive and capable.

Back when the call to wrap things up came as the sun set it seemed so easy to find hope, to really feel it. Of course, back then I didn’t call it hope and I didn’t recognize how dearly I depended on those moments of being uplifted.

I’ve stopped keeping track of how many weeks and months it’s been since I began living in a reality of bracing for the next catastrophe, flinching at the inevitable betrayal, or seething at the people who refuse to believe.

Believe.

It used to be about Santa and goodness, it continues to be about having the courage to believe, but now it’s can people believe the woman speaking up or the stories about a candidate.

Hope.

How I hope that people will believe, but I can’t make it happen—for myself or the next person. Seems to me that believing and hope are coming back to the raw ingredients of being aware and being open.

Sometimes you need to believe (or be believed) and if you are lucky, something that gives you hope will arrive in the smell that lifts from the shelf in the kitchen as boiling water awakens traces of popped corn in the fibers. It might be a leaf that skitters across the lot and grabs on to your shoe lace and no matter how you kick or swat, that bit of crimson sticks.

I’m not here to lecture, only to marvel at what is out there; good and bad.

If you are trying or struggling,
you aren’t alone.

If you are angry and weary,
you aren’t alone.

If you are trying to force hope or belief,
you aren’t wrong,
but you also aren’t failing.

Wishing you patience and persistence.

 

 

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.

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