No laughing matter.

While funny, it is also sometimes fatal. I resent having to be super careful around men, but I know that it is my own life I protect – and the life of other women around him.

A man, uncivilized, is like a wild animal.

If I stand up to a man who is harassing me and he feels shamed or embarrassed because of it – I could be attacked by him later. Or he could take it out on another woman he knows who he feels is submissive. This is no laughing matter.

Yes – we have to address this and change society. This cannot continue. But until we have a population of men who can control themselves, women are at risk.

Sister trouble

He thought he had the upper hand. He had the gun, after all. He was only eight years old, but he had been trained all too well by his father and uncles. Women were to obey men, no matter what. If they didn’t, they had to be forced to, or killed.

His elders hadn’t told him exactly when he need this knowledge, but he figured now was as good as any. His younger sister was annoyingly taller than he was, and annoyingly got better grades to0. Their parents seemed to like her better, as well. He was sure it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that she never caused any trouble, never talked back, always gave more than she took. Because if any of that were the case, then he’d have to change his own behavior and that wasn’t going to happen.

So he decided today was the day he would make his sister pay for his mistreatment. She had to understand that he was in charge, simply because he was male and he was older than her. Somehow talent and ability were irrelevant. Somehow the fact that their parents were actually in charge escaped him too. Now was the time to assert his dominance, and if she didn’t accept it, he’d be forced to kill her. It was for her own good, after all. If she wouldn’t submit to her brother, then how would she act around her future boyfriends? Best to get that train headed in the right direction early or else there was no telling what trouble could happen. It would be an embarrassment to the family name.

Little Susie smiled at Bobby when he pulled out the gun that Sunday afternoon in their backyard. She’d just gotten through cleaning out the birdcage for Mr. Peepers, their three-year-old budgie. She was the primary caretaker of the bird, even though it was Bobby who’d demanded the pet. After a week of owning it, when the novelty wore off, their parents realized he wasn’t taking care of the bird so they assigned the chore to her. For some unknown reason they didn’t insist on Bobby picking up the slack. It was his pet, after all, the one he’d begged and pleaded for all those months. They could have told him he’d have to care for it or they’d give it away to another family, but that never crossed their minds.

This injustice never crossed Bobby’s mind either. It told him he could do whatever he wanted with no repercussions. If only their parents could have looked into the future and seen how this lesson would warp him, resulting in a string of divorces and bankruptcies and get-rich-quick schemes that never quite seemed to work.

That Sunday was the final straw. Susie had gotten a gold star in Sunday school, while he got nothing. He’d not done the worksheet, so of course he got nothing, but the truth didn’t phase him. He was angry at her because he hadn’t gotten a gold star and she had.

So when he pulled a gun on her, she wasn’t surprised. She laughed at him, as she had learned to do. It wouldn’t do to get upset or frightened. That was what he wanted after all. Or so she thought. This time, he didn’t want the upper hand. He wanted all the cards. He wanted her dead. Only then will he reign supreme. No more being compared to his sister, always unfavorably. There would be no more competition because there would be no more her. Today was the day where he would prove he was better than her once and for all and no longer would he have to look at her smirk.

And then it happened. He pulled the trigger. And just like that she was dead. For once in his life he’d done something right the first time instead of halfway. There was no trip to the emergency room here. This was a one-way trip to the morgue.

Bobby thought all his troubles were over. Turns out they had just begun. Of course he had to go through counseling. Jail wasn’t even considered, since he was so young and the family assumed it was an accident since he was so feckless in every other situation. There was no way this was intentional in their minds – he wasn’t clever or determined enough.

But even though he was never punished physically he was punished metaphysically. Susie came back, but only for him. She first appeared in his dreams, with the same gunshot wound to the chest that had killed her. He could see right through her. Every night she appeared, and every night she looked a little more sallow, the blood around the wound a little more crusty and black. He never told anyone about this. On the year anniversary of her death she began to appear in front of him while he was awake as well, but only he could see her. She never left his side. Instead of being rid of her, he saw her more in death than he ever had in life. He ended up having to be institutionalized. Everyone felt sorry for him. Well, everyone except Susie, who knew better.

(Finished October 28, 2019)

What it means to be in a female body

TW, CW: verbal and sexual assault.

I am grateful for the #MeToo movement for letting me know that I am not alone, that my experiences as a female, in a female body, are normal.  Well – they aren’t normal.  They involve verbal and physical sexual assault and abuse.  Repeatedly.  But it lets me know that this is something that has happened and is happening to all women, and that the only thing that has allowed this to continue is secrecy. 

Men have assumed their behavior is normal.  Women have assumed men’s behavior is normal.  It isn’t normal. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t safe.

I am lucky that I have not been attacked.  I am lucky that I have not been forcibly raped. 

But I have been raped.

Rape is not always about force. It is any time there is sexual penetration without consent.  It can be with a boyfriend you have dated for many years.  It can be with a new guy, a potential boyfriend. It can be with a husband.  There doesn’t have to be force. It doesn’t have to be a stranger. It is any time you have sex when you don’t want to have sex. Period.

I will not go into much detail about the time a boyfriend raped me. It didn’t feel like rape at the time. It was the first time we’d had sex. I wasn’t ready. He thought I was. He didn’t ask. We’d fooled around before. But I wasn’t ready to make that next step.  Next thing I knew he’d put his penis inside me. So I didn’t get to decide.  It was happening. I didn’t want it, but it was too late.

It wasn’t like I was a virgin. But I’d not had sex with him before. We hadn’t talked about when we wanted to cross that line.

That is rape. Even though the sex wasn’t forced, it wasn’t welcome. He made me think that I’d asked for it, that I wanted it. But it wasn’t just him – it was years and years of other boyfriends teaching me (and other women) that my body was not my own. That I was a thing for them to use.

There are microaggresions – forceful words, ideas, thoughts – where guys program women into thinking they are things, they are objects of desire, they are objects – period.  We are repeatedly taught through words and actions and stories that we exist only to please men – that we do not have value on our own. This is a form of mind-rape, where we are taught to submit.

Even women’s fiction teaches women this, over and over, that their only purpose in life is to have a man – any man. That is her happy ending – to have a husband, a house, a family – and nothing else. This is programming.

So what does it mean to be in a female body?

It means that you have to think about what you wear when you go on a date. I learned early on that boys thought it was OK to start taking off my clothing without my permission. They would search for buttons and clasps while we were kissing. They didn’t ask.  I hadn’t said it was OK.  I hadn’t said that I wanted “to go past first base”. I started wearing difficult clothing to make them stop. Saying no wasn’t enough. I had a pair of pants that buttoned on the side, at the pockets.  This was unusual – and the guy was trying to undress me without my permission.  He stopped and asked how to undo my pants and I told him I had not said that was what I wanted.  He was frustrated and confused.  He had never thought to ask a woman what she wanted.  It was always about what he wanted.

On another date with a different guy I had on my favorite shirt. It was a beautiful green, long sleeves, really comfortable.  But it had snap buttons.  He started undressing me and I said no. He was confused. There was a lot of discussion, and I said I didn’t want to have sex. We’d just met – this was our first date. He said that I shouldn’t have worn a shirt with snap buttons then. That was a sign (to him) that I wanted to have sex.

They are not alone.  This is normal behavior of men towards women.  People in male bodies don’t experience this. They don’t go on dates and worry about if things will progress further than they want.  Most guys want things to progress to a “home run”. 

On the first date.

Without any talking about it.

Without any discussion at all.

I went out with a guy to a movie. When we got back to his dorm room, he wanted to have sex.  This was our first (and last) date.  He was surprised that I said no. His argument as to why we should have sex – he’d paid for the movie.  It was owed him, he thought.  As if I was a $10 whore.  As if I owed him sex. When I said no, he asked he could at least jerk off between my breasts. I said no.

Note that he was only interested in his sexual pleasure – not mine.  Note that only his needs were important.

Another guy, another first and last date, didn’t undress me but pulled out his penis and began jerking off while we were kissing. I said I was uncomfortable with him doing that and he put it back. We kissed a little more and he began jerking off again. I walked away, and he said that he’d finish up thinking about me.

This is disturbing behavior.  This isn’t OK.

I feel lucky that I have always been able to get away from these experiences without being raped. Some men don’t take no for an answer.  I know that women have been forced to have sex – under duress, under guilt, under wheedling and whining with the classic “blue balls” sob story. Guilt-trip sex is rape.

Women are taught over and over to please, to take care of others.

Women are taught that to be “good” we must put our needs and wishes second.

Men know this, and they use it against us.

Sometimes the problems aren’t so dramatic, but they still are scarring. They are still wrong. They are still abusive.

I’ve had a boss say “while you’re down there” – smirking and glancing at his crotch while I was getting something out of a cabinet.  He was standing up right next to me.  This was at a Record Bar in Eastgate Mall, in Chattanooga. The store was open to the public. He thought it was perfectly normal to ask me to give him a blow job. At work. We weren’t dating. He was married.

This was right before the term “sexual harassment” was normalized. Another employee turned him and the assistant manager (also male) in for sexual harassment against her. They were so confused about it. They didn’t think they had done anything wrong, ever.  The assistant manager even called me at home to ask me to call corporate to put in the good word for them – to say they weren’t guilty.

By the way – the assistant manager had asked me to be part of a threesome with him and his wife.

These two men thought this was all normal.

Sometimes sexual assault isn’t so obvious.  I had a male boss who thought it was OK to come up behind me while I was at my counter at JoAnn’s fabric store in Cool Springs and “goose” me.  I was in a tight space, with the counter in front of me, not room to move away. He would poke me on my sides to tickle me. I had not asked for this. I didn’t want this. I told him to stop. I understood in the back of my mind that this could mean I’d get low marks on my performance review.

That too is sexual harassment and assault.

Any unwanted physical contact isn’t OK.

So now guys are wondering what is OK. They say they are afraid of us now. They are afraid of lawsuits and criminal records. They are afraid of us damaging their reputations.

To this I say, good. We’ve been afraid of men for thousands of years. We’ve been threatened, coerced, and psychologically assaulted by men for too long. And what has continued this assault is secrecy. No longer.

Yes, not all men. Some men are good. But the chances of being harmed are high, and we’ve gotten scarred.  Being out in public is like playing a game of Russian roulette – where women are always the losers.

Then there are situations where it isn’t so obvious.

Men think it is normal to dump their emotional baggage on me while I’m at work, assuming that because I’m a woman I want to hear them complain about all the things going wrong in their lives. They don’t talk to other men like this.

I have worked behind a desk for most of my life – in retail and in other service industries. I’m not a counselor or a therapist but they treat me as if I am one.  This relationship is not two-way. They don’t want to hear about my life. This is not a friendship.  They want to use me as their emotional garbage dump, just because I am female. This is exhausting.  It is yet another way men condition women to be their servants, to be their objects.

Women are taught to beware of their surroundings at all times to protect against attack. Just walking across a mall parking lot can be as dangerous as walking in the wilderness. Being attacked by a bear and a man require the same precautions. I could go on and on about how our “normal” isn’t normal, and how men do not grasp how much some men (and sometimes they themselves) complicate the lives of women.  But I won’t right now.

I now live my life in my own power.

I now live my life in truth.

I now am a powerful, truthful, and whole woman.

So be it.

Little Red Riding Hood

red-riding2

This is not a simple fairy tale. This is a story designed to control young girls. The moral – stay on the path, or else you will get hurt. This is victim blaming at the core. It teaches that it is Little Red Riding Hood’s fault that she and her grandmother got eaten by the wolf.

The wolf is every single male she ever encounters in her life. The “being eaten” is everything from getting a lesser job to getting raped or killed. This story teaches girls – and only girls – that if we don’t stay in our defined roles then we deserve everything bad that happens to us.

Notice she isn’t even named. Her “name” is what she wears – exterior only. She isn’t even real, just a placeholder. She isn’t a person, but a thing. People look at her outside only.

Notice that it is a strong male who saves her – the hunter comes by and hears the grandmother snoring and decides to investigate. Why is snoring loudly seen as a sign that something is wrong? Do women not snore? Are we expected to maintain control over ourselves at all times – even while unconscious?

Notice that the townspeople don’t send the hunters into the forest to clear it of dangerous animals. They don’t make it safe for her or others.

red-riding

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Art made on a Strathmore art journal – mixed media paper, using various pens and painted using Distress Ink. Words are photocopied from a book about Little Red Riding Hood and then dyed/stamped/inked.

The real problem with Trump

I rarely discuss politics, but this topic has reached a head and it is time to say something.

Trump is not saying anything new. But by his position of authority he is validating it.

He is saying that it is OK, and even praiseworthy, to be violent against women and others. He pretends that it is seen as manly. That is the problem.

He and his followers represent the very worst of our society. They are people who put down women, the handicapped, immigrants, veterans with PTSD – in short, anyone that they see as weaker than themselves. This is bully mentality.

I had hoped that by 2016 we would be past this kind of thinking, but it turns out that the mean people just went quiet for a while – just long enough for their champion to crawl out from the woodwork.

All the rights of the disenfranchised are at risk if he wins.  All the civil rights progress that has been made in the past century are on the table.  Marriage for all – questionable. The Americans with Disabilities Act – questionable. Do we really need to go backwards in being kind and accommodating and inclusive?

He even talks about taking away the right of women to vote.  People say he’s joking – surely he can’t be serious. But I’m sure they said that in Iran before the government changed ideologies.  Women used to be able to dress however they wanted.  They could be doctors, teachers, lawyers.   Now, they are almost invisible.  It can happen here too.

I wonder what fear motivates Trump and his followers?  Are they afraid that by including more people at the table, there won’t be enough for them?  Are they afraid that granting rights to more people will take away their own rights?

Inclusion doesn’t work like that.  When we grant civil rights to people, we open up more opportunity, rather than take away.  Allowing gay people to marry doesn’t threaten the rights of straight people to marry.  This isn’t a game of musical chairs.  We can all win.  There isn’t a limited amount of freedom available.  Nothing is getting taken away.

But perhaps that is their fear, because make no doubt about it – fear is the motivator here.  They’ve been in power for so long, they are afraid that they will lose it by granting freedom to others.

Think of it this way – Buddha once said “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Civil rights are the same.  Granting civil rights to others doesn’t take away from anyone.  It expands, not contracts.  Nobody is losing anything.

 

Perhaps the poet Edwin Markham has the answer –

He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him In!”

 

Uncomfortable tale

(Trigger warning – sexual abuse)

After his 34-year-old wife Laura Levis suffered a devastating asthma attack and later died, the Boston writer Peter DeMarco wrote the following letter to the ICU staff of CHA Cambridge Hospital who cared for her and helped him cope.

His letter, published online in the New York Times on October 6th, went viral.  It goes on for quite a long time in detail about the incredibly kind and compassionate care that the nurses gave him and his wife.

Here is the part that I have a huge problem with. This occurred in the hour just before she was to go into organ donor surgery – where her organs were to be what is euphemistically termed as “harvested”.

These are his words.

“I nestled my body against hers. She looked so beautiful, and I told her so, stroking her hair and face. Pulling her gown down slightly, I kissed her breasts, and laid my head on her chest, feeling it rise and fall with each breath, her heartbeat in my ear. It was our last tender moment as a husband and a wife, and it was more natural and pure and comforting than anything I’ve ever felt. And then I fell asleep.”

This is from the same person who observed earlier in his letter, in talking about the nurses –  “When you listened to her heart and lungs through your stethoscopes, and her gown began to slip, you pulled it up to respectfully cover her.”

His wife was comatose and dying.  Yet he found it acceptable to engage in a sexual act on her  – obviously without her consent.  It wasn’t “with” her – she was present in body only.  She did not participate.

He thought it was respectful for the staff to cover her up – yet he felt it was OK for him to uncover her.

And then he felt it was OK to write about it in a public way.

I am sickened by this man.

I’m sorry that his wife died, but I’m more sorry for her spirit that he felt it was OK to violate her dignity by his action – and then again by publicizing it.

Let’s make this clear –

Just because he is married doesn’t mean he has full access to her body, at all times.  It is still her body, and her decision as to what happens to her.  It is never OK to perform a sexual act on anyone if they are unconscious – even if they are married to you.

 

 

We have failed our boys.

We have failed our boys. Every day I see more and more boys who say they don’t want to read. Knowing how to read but choosing not to is the same as being illiterate. The result is the same whether they know how to read but don’t or they never knew how. Every day I see boys who – if they read at all, read far below their age level, only able to read books that have many pictures in them. They are either unwilling or unable to read a book that has only words in it. They choose graphic novels and comic books if they choose books at all. There’s a whole series of books geared towards boys now that are written very simply and have many illustrations in them. It is as if they need training wheels in order to read. It is a disturbing trend.

Then if they read, the subject matter is concerning. Their parents steer them toward “boy” books. “Girl” books are about relationships – sharing, making friends, learning how to compromise. “Boy” books are about relationships as well – dominating others, being a soldier, being in charge. They learn this script too well. They learn that they must control every relationship they are in. They learn nothing about sharing or cooperating. Anything other than domination is seen as a failure. It is easy to see that it is impossible for everyone to be a winner with such a scenario. This sets them up for a lifetime of disappointment.

We have failed our boys. By telling them that “boys don’t cry” we are telling them that they are not allowed to express their emotions. Those feelings have to go somewhere. When you don’t allow someone to cry the feeling turns around upon itself and transforms, metastasizes, goes dark.

We have failed our boys. When we say “boys will be boys” to excuse bad behavior we’re saying that they don’t have to try better. We’re saying that there’s no reason for them to act in a respectful manner. Any behavior that you would want to see in your boy when he grows up into a man should be encouraged when he’s young. When we let boys get off the hook from punching others or pulling on girl’s pigtails (or worse forms of abuse), we are saying that they are not accountable for their actions.

Is all of this why so many acts of violence have happened recently? Is this why so many boys and young men have decided to express themselves, to be heard, to be noticed, by taking a gun into a public place and shooting random strangers? Have we done this to ourselves?

More importantly how can we make it stop?