Monday, October 17, 2016

Day 77: It Took Over A Week...

Warning:  The following post contains discussions of sexual assault.

It's taken me over a week to write this post.

Partially because I've been busy.  Voices of Hope had our big fall Gala this Saturday, and life was sort of a whirlwind leading up to that.  But, if I'm being honest, the fact that I was in tech was just an excuse to put this off.  For once, I actually don't want to write something.  I'm not chomping at the bit to share my opinion.  I feel sick, and sad, and I kinda wish I could skip it.

But I can't.  I can't skip it because it's lingering in the back of my mind, and I don't think it will go away until I write something.  And I can't ignore it because I know that the more we talk about these things--the more light we shine on them--the harder it is for them to continue.

Still.  I don't really want to write this.  Bear with me.

 Bottom left, I'm five or six in this picture.

I was probably five the first time a man touched me inappropriately.  I don't really remember precisely, I was little enough that it's one of my earliest memories.  Certainly, I was little enough that I couldn't reach into the rabbit pen at the local pet store and pet the bunnies.  And I wanted to pet the bunnies.  That's why, when a stranger offered to pick me up and hold me so I could reach them, I agreed without hesitation.
I always trusted adults.  There were so many in my life, and they were all trustworthy.  So I assumed it was an accident when his hand--instead of staying safely on the outside of my little jean skirt--found its way beneath the hem and between my legs, hoisting me up in a very intimate grip.  I didn't like it when his fingers slipped under the edge of my underwear, though, so I squirmed until he put me down.  I remember thinking it took a long time to get him to put me down.  Then I ran to find my mother, and tried to forget about the man. 

And I almost did.

But not really.

On the right, about ten.

I was in first grade the first time an authority figure ignored what was going on, right under their nose.  There was a boy in my class--Jeremiah--and everyone knew that he didn't keep his hands to himself.  Our teacher assigned our seating, and always arranged us boy-girl-boy-girl at our little clumped up desks.  Why, I don't know, but she was adamant about sticking to it, so when Jeremiah ran his hands up the girls' legs and they complained she would just move him to sit next to another little girl.
It was warm out when he was moved to sit next to me, and I liked to wear shorts.  Jeremiah would reach out and stick his hand between my knees, sliding his sweaty fingers all the way up my inner thigh until it reached the edge of my shorts.  Then he would squeeze, and breathe hard.  When I complained to the teacher she told me there wasn't anything she could do about it.  She'd already moved him all around the room, and the end of the year was so soon.  Couldn't I just tolerate it for a few weeks?  I spent the rest of the year sitting as far away as my desk would allow, with my legs pressed tightly together.


I was nine the first time someone pinched my ass on the bus.  I was twelve the first time a boy grabbed my boobs without permission.  I was fourteen when my Sunday School teacher told me he didn't hold with rape, but if a woman was mowing the lawn in a bikini then clearly she was asking for it.  When I was sixteen a guy I disliked just announced he was my boyfriend, and started showing up places when he knew I would be there.  When I was eighteen a male friend took me to his friend's house and basically offered me up like a host gift.  We walked through the door and he said to his friend, "Here, I brought her for you."


I have thirty-seven years of stories like this.  My entire life's memory is peppered with them.  I have grown up with these incidents as a facet of my life. 

Some of them are truly frightening--like the time a man followed me from the parking lot late at night in a rest area on I-81, and was waiting when I came out of the bathroom.  He followed me back towards the car, and I started to panic, not knowing what to do.  I will be grateful to my dying day to the friendly man that saw him and stopped to talk to me, refusing to leave until the guy following me finally gave up, got in his car, and drove away.  Thinking about that still terrifies me. 

Some other stories are more commonplace, like the guy who commented loudly on my ass while I was doing some grocery shopping during the heat wave this summer.  Apparently he liked my short shorts.


All of them--every single one of these stories--are about a man who, in some way or another, treated my body like it wasn't mine.  Like he had some sort of right to it--the right to touch, the right to pass judgement, the right to offer it up.

When people defend the culture of treating women like property, it makes me sick.  I don't care if it's a presidential candidate, or a movie star, or a guy at your office.  When we say "that's just how guys talk" or "he didn't mean anything" we are reinforcing the idea that it's okay for men to think of women this way.  And it isn't.  Even if most of them wouldn't act on it, the perpetration of the thought alone makes it more acceptable for those who want to act on it to do so.

Charlotte, age six.

My daughter has already been kissed without her consent.  She's six.  It's just starting.  She will have a lifetime of stories to tell, as well, and it makes me want to scream and punch things.

Screaming and punching won't help, though.  Instead I will tell her simple truths, and hope they sink in.

Your body belongs to you, and no one else.

You alone have the right to say who can touch you.  You alone have the right to say what you will do with your body.

Enjoy sex.  Laugh at bawdy jokes.  Flirt with people.  None of those things takes away your right to have the final say.

Appreciate the men who ask if they're crossing the line.  Who tell you to let them know if they do.  Those are the men you can trust.

Never be afraid to tell someone when they've crossed a line, even if they don't ask.

Don't judge other women for internalizing this cultural lie of being public property.  They've been misled their whole lives.

Don't be afraid to say no.


I will tell her these truths.  And I will tell her all my stories, so that, as she grows, she knows what to look for.  So that she doesn't assume it was an accident.  So she doesn't sit quietly and press her legs together to not make trouble.

I will tell her so that she knows she's not alone in the experience, and that she doesn't have to be ashamed.  So she knows that she didn't do anything wrong.

So that, even if I can't help her learning to accept that this shit happens, at the very least she won't start thinking it's okay.  

It's not okay.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Day 76: I Cannot Keep It In Any Longer

Y'all, I gotta talk about bras.

Okay, look, mostly I don't wear real bras anymore.  I wear these 1/2 sports bra, 1/2 lined cami little doo-hickies that provide a moderate amount of support for daily activities and keep me from poking someone's eye out when the weather turns cold.  Most days these are all I really need out of a boob sling, and that's just fine.

You don't need undergarments when you wear pajamas.
One of life's many blessings.

I have actually promised our costume coordinator that I will continue to wear the appropriate undergarments on stage.  You might scoff and think this does not matter.

Trust me.  It matters.

Dancing.  It makes support matter.

So, anyway, I need a bra.  A real bra.  Something with hooks and cups and less elastic than not.  And you'd think this wouldn't be a big deal.  After all, I do still own some from days of yore.  Can't I just wear one of those?


Why not?

I'm glad you asked.

I, like many women, have the joy of what is basically an eternally changing body.  It's not that the fundamentals change--my bones are pretty much what they are, barring breakage, and my ROUGH outline is mostly the same from year to year.  But within that outline, there's a lot of... shifting.

Some of this is due to the natural process of bearing children.  I swelled up, shrunk a bit, swelled even more, then shrunk again.  That's all very well and good. But some of it, as far as I can tell, is because there are gremlins living beneath my skin that shift fatty tissues in the night. 

Yesterday your pants fit but your bra was too small?  No worries, in a few days your bra will be perfect and your pants will give you muffin top!

 I went searching for an image that captured what I was talking about, but got side tracked by this one.  Really?  Really?  Are EITHER of these women complaining about their bodies?  If this is them when they're bloated, what do they NORMALLY look like?

Sorry.  I digress.

Anyway, bloating is just a fact of life, and I'm not really here to complain about it.  I'm REALLY here to complain about bras.

Because they are evil.

And they are expensive.

I say this without hyperbole: the most expensive items of clothing that I own are bras.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Not evening gowns, not coats, not the custom corset I made myself... Nope.  Bras.


And yet, here we are.

There should be a therapeutic hotline for this kind of thing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Day 75: The Fine Line; A Word on Victims

(For Parts One, Two, and Three, click the links.)

Sometimes we don't name what has happened to us because we don't want to be a victim.

We don't want to make a fuss, or cause a scene, or blow things out of proportion.

We don't want to be weak, or fragile, or in need of saving.

We don't want to feel foolish, or duped, or wonder how we could have wound up in the wrong situation in the first place.

I just want to say, in a very loud, clear, and un-hesitating voice:

That's all bullshit.

If you're being mistreated, make all the fuss you want.  Cause a scene and make others take notice.  Don't second guess your own judgement, your proportion is likely 100% correct.

You aren't fragile, or weak, any more than the victims in a bombing were fragile or weak.  You wound up in the wrong place, in the wrong situation, and you got hurt.  It wasn't your fault and it didn't happen because you somehow earned it.

You weren't foolish.  Roughly a third of the population has been abused at some point.  ONE-THIRD.  It stretches across all demographics, and though it is heavily weighted by gender, that is the only consistent factor (and is probably skewed, due to under reporting of emotional abuse by men).  This is a bad thing that happens to roughly a third of the population and you did not cause it.

Victims aren't weak.  They are strong people who lived through something bad.

That's all.

Day 74: The Fine Line; Part Three

In The Fine Line I'm going to talk about sexual assault and abuse.  If you've been a victim, and you cannot tolerate the discussion, I completely understand and I send you on your way with a hug.  No hard feelings.

I talked about abuse in a relationship first (in Part Two) because, as horrible as it is, and as hard to spot as it can be sometimes, it's still easier to identify than many, many cases of sexual assault.  Sure, we all know Brock Tuner is a rapist--

Except of course that we don't, do we?  Not all of us.  There are people who are still uncertain he was a rapist.  Or, if they agree he was a rapist, they don't agree that he should serve a full and complete sentence for that crime.  Or, if they agree he should serve his full sentence, they don't agree that six months is a laughable amount of jail time...

My point is, sexual assault is still viewed differently depending on who you're speaking with.  Abuse we all seem to know is wrong.  Sexual assault, though, has wormed its way so deeply into our culture that it is standard to blame the victim.  If it's a male victim, well, all men are sex crazy and he must have wanted it, am I right?  And if it's a women, well, for god's sake, why was she out alone at that hour?
Why did the victim drink so much?
Why did they agree to go back to the apartment?

And this is for outright rape, the most clear cut and obvious sexual assault charge.  When we start talking about the other assaults that are so abundant in our rape culture, people get even less willing to agree that it's definitely 100% wrong.

Let's play a game.  I'm going to make a list of all the things that count as sexual assault (when they're non-consensual.  Oddly enough, we don't have a ton of words other than "rape" that include lack of consent as part of the basic definition).  See if I can find any that you're not comfortable with having on the list.

Rape: including vaginal, anal, oral, and digital sex acts
Flashing: all kinds, both in person and online.  We're talking dick pics here, people.
Voyeurism: if you're watching them and they don't know about it
Groping: touching a person's body without their permission, not limited to their ass or boobs or crotch.
Kissing: cheek, mouth, forehead... doesn't matter
Hugging: that's right, folks.  Hugs also require consent.
talking about Raping
talking about Sex
talking about Flashing
talking about Voyeurism
talking about Groping
talking about Kissing
talking about Hugging

*when I say talking about I am referring specifically to saying you would do this to a person.  Not that you can't discuss hugging in a general way in public.

Now, raise your hand if you're a little uncomfortable with some of those restrictions.

If you didn't raise your hand, you've either thought about this a lot, or you're just refusing to take orders from a blog post.  I made the damn list, and I'm uncomfortable with it.  I mean, I spent years hugging people all the time without consent.  According to this list, I am a many-times sexual aggressor.  And maybe I didn't mean to make anyone uncomfortable, and maybe I didn't even mean it in a sexual way, but that doesn't matter in the slightest.

What's important is how my hugs were received.  And without asking--without knowing they were welcome--I was crossing the line.  

I'm telling you this because I want you to know that I fully understand the import of what I'm saying when I say the following:

If you aren't sure how they'll take it, don't say it, and for damn sure don't do it.

That girl you sent explicit texts, and she didn't really respond, but you kept going just in case she was into it?
That guy you kissed because he was hot and all guys like to be kissed?
That woman you casually ground your crotch into on the subway?
That guy you dry humped while he was almost passed out on the couch?

Maybe you were lucky.  Maybe you took a chance and it turned out they really were into it and by sheer luck you didn't end up making someone really uncomfortable.  Here's a better question:  would you know?  I mean, the silence surrounding sexual assault is legendary.  Sometimes victims don't ever confront those that assault them, let alone report it to the police.

Forgive me for sailing into gendered territory but... if you present female, you probably already know what I'm talking about.  If you present male, just go find a few of your women friends, and ask if they're willing to answer the following questions for you:

Have you ever found a hug going on longer than you'd like, or someone taking the opportunity to kiss you hello, and you felt you had no choice but to endure it because to do otherwise would make a scene?

Has anyone ever said anything sexual to you that made you uncomfortable, but you didn't know what to do, so you laughed it off?

Has anyone ever taken your silence as an excuse to keep going?

Most women will answer yes to at least one if not all three of these.  Many men will, too.  Don't assume that just because no one has ever said anything that you must be in the clear.

The thing is, we have the most amazingly articulate communication system in our species.  This is an easy problem to fix.

Just ask.

Only proceed if you get an enthusiastic yes.

It's that simple.

But--and I hate to harp on this, but I have to--it only works if we all admit how frequently we come too close to the line.  How maybe we've even crossed it a few times.  How it's not okay to cross it, and that means we've got to be a bit more adult in our approach to getting with some hottie.  How this culture of permission keeps perpetrating because we're all buying into it, and that simply isn't a thing we can continue.

Okay.  Damn, this is so long.  But I've got one more thing.  A Word on Victims.

Day 73: The Fine Line; Part Two

In The Fine Line I'm going to talk about sexual assault and abuse.  If you've been a victim, and you cannot tolerate the discussion, I completely understand and I send you on your way with a hug.  No hard feelings.

In Part One I suggested that most of us had probably crossed the line into abuse at one time or another.  If we're all perpetrators, it's also true that we're all victims.

I imagine a bunch of people will balk at this idea, none of us really wants to be a victim.  But let me ask you:

Have you ever been hit by a partner?
Has someone you're in an intimate relationship with ever been violent or threatened violence to someone/something else as a way of bringing you in line?
Has your partner ever called you a slut, a prude, a whore, a tease, frigid, a bitch or anything else that was meant to shame or hurt you? (excluding consensual dirty talk)
Have you ever been afraid to tell your partner the truth, or to act naturally around them, because of how they might behave?  (this can include worrying that they'll hurt you, hurt themselves, or verbally attack you)
Has your partner ever interfered with who you are allowed to see/spend time with/be friends with?
Has your partner ever shut down on you, and refused to engage with you, because you would not behave how they wanted you to behave?

Abuse isn't always straightforward, and it isn't always easy to spot.  That guy you know, who wants to leave his girlfriend but is afraid she'll spiral out of control?  He's being abused.  That girl you know, who fell out of touch with all her friends once she started seeing her boyfriend, because he doesn't like her to go out without him?  She's being abused.  That couple you know, where one of them likes to talk about how hopeless and useless the other one is?  They have an abusive relationship.

If these things--any of these things--have ever happened to you, then you have been the victim of abuse.  And if you're pretty sure your partner is a decent person, and doesn't realize what they're doing, you need to sit down with them and have a talk about it.  If you're too scared to talk to them, that's a big warning flag right there, and you need to think long and hard about the relationship you're in.

If these things are happening to a friend, sit down and talk to them, and encourage them to talk to their partner.  Don't become a bully in your own right--if your friend is being abused in a non-overt way, it may take them a while to see it, and they certainly don't need you being mean to them while they're coming to terms with it--but let them know that you don't think they're being treated in a loving and respectful way.

If you think you might be doing some of these things, sit down and talk to your partner about it.  Don't assume that, just because they never said anything, everything is okay.  Maybe you both come away with an understanding that they just love it when you get all jealous and demand that they stop seeing their friends, but you won't know unless you ask.  And if you ask, and it turns out they don't love it, be prepared to change.

Part Three is here.

Day 72: The Fine Line; Part One

In The Fine Line I'm going to talk about sexual assault and domestic abuse.  If you've been a victim, and you cannot tolerate the discussion, I completely understand and I send you on your way with a hug.  No hard feelings.

Let's start with some definitions.  Sexual assault is sexual contact or behavior that is unwelcome.  This ranges from someone being raped behind a dumpster to someone having unsolicited dick pics sent to them.  Sometimes we like to call this by less intense names.  "Harassment," maybe, or in far too many cases "just some over the top flirting."  But I'm not going to beat around the bush.  If it's sexual in nature, and the recipient didn't want it, that's sexual assault.

Abuse is a much broader umbrella term than sexual assault, but for today I'm interested in the types of abuse that occur within a relationship.  These include: physical, sexual, social, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect and intimidation.  They can manifest in a lot of different ways, from hitting your partner, to controlling their life, to ignoring them, to bullying them.  We call this a lot of different things in a lot of different scenarios, but many times we shy away from naming it as abuse outright.

Now that the definitions are laid out, I want to say a few words about why I think we are so hesitant to acknowledge the sexual assault and abuse we see going on around us, or even as it's happening to us.  Basically, it all boils down to the following:

The perpetrator is someone we know, and we think they're a good person.

Here's the thing--you don't have to be a bad person to abuse someone.  Not all abuse is intentional.  Some of it is a cycle of behavior you never even reflected on, and so it just continues.

Not all sexual assault is intentional.  People misread signals, and humans in general seem to really suck at clear cut sexual communication.  More over, we've done a really bad job of appropriately labeling sexual assault in particular, which means sometimes people who are committing it literally do not know that what they're doing isn't just aggressive flirting.   

And I get it.  It's easy to make excuses.  Especially when we see what someone else is doing and know that even if we haven't done the exact same thing, we've done something very similar ourselves.  And none of us would ever sexually assault someone, would we?  None of us are abusers, right?


Maybe the key to ending abuse and sexual assault is to stop pretending that the perpetrators are somehow different than the rest of us.  Sure, not all of us would break into someone's house and rape them.  Not all of us would go after our partner with our fists.  But assault and abuse, like most things, aren't a binary.  They're a continuum, and at one time or another we've probably all crossed the fine line.  That time I meant to joke, but instead was cruel.  The time you wanted to flatter, and instead were creepy.

I think the measure of each of us is not in whether or not we've ever crossed the line by accident.  It's what we did after that line got crossed.  Did we apologize sincerely and try to avoid it ever again?  Or did we bluster and hold our ground, insisting that, since we didn't mean any harm, we couldn't possibly have caused any harm?

The more willing we are to see the times we came too close to the line, the easier it is to admit when other good, decent, totally human people--people just like us--do the same thing.  We don't have to defend them in their error, because we're not trying to defend ourselves by proxy.

Everyone good and uncomfortable?  Great, go ahead and move on to Part Two

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Day 71: Hello, Brick Wall

Sometimes things all just happen in a succession of awful, and you run into a brick wall.

 Wall, meet head.  Head, wall.  You two play nice.

Now, let's be clear.  For the most part, when this happens, none of the awful is that awful.  Sure, sometimes things are actually horrible and there are hospital visits involved, but for the most part the brick wall is made up of things that are just average, every day awful.

Like, a major parenting decision goes awry, and you end up feeling like you're foundering.

And something else happens, and it just emphasizes how very on-your-own you are when it comes to this whole parenting thing.

And then, while you're discussing how awful being a single parent is with your friends, your child (in what can only be deemed an attempt to emphasize the thing you've been dwelling on) throws up all over the place. 

So you clean everything up, and you go home*, and you put your kids to bed.  Then you go sit in your room and hold your teddy bear while you try to remember that you are a strong, capable woman.

 Do not let the Teddy Bear fool you.
This is the face of a strong, capable woman.

You know, sometimes there are things in your life that are just hard to accept.

*Also, as an added bonus, your dog tries to kill your beloved friend's beloved pet.  It isn't really topical, but it sure does manage to add to the pile of crap.