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.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Day 70: Open Mouth, Speak Truth.

This one has been percolating in my brain for quite a while now, so...  Might wanna hang on to something. 

Here's the gist:

You'd think it would be simple, right?  Language was created so that we could communicate, and the foundation of what we learn when we first begin to speak is to say straightforward and honest facts about ourselves.  "More" when we want more.  "No" when we are displeased.  And, in the case of one charming little cherub I know, "poop" when we need our needs tended to.

We all learn to be straightforward and truthful when we are young.  That knowledge is ingrained deeply in us, so why, then, do we spend so much of our time on lies and half-truths?  Why do we say so little of substance, and so much that is designed to mask our real feelings?  Why do we use our words to hide, rather than reveal?

Why do we do this to ourselves?

This is about to get complicated, so I'm gonna go ahead and whip out some sub-sections.

Rape Culture

Rape culture is built around a number of harmful social patterns, and I am not in the least trying to imply that a little bit of truthfulness will end in everyone walking hand in hand through a field of daisies and never aggressing against each other ever again.  There's so much more to it than that.  But, in the wake of that stupid Headphones article, I can't stop thinking about the terrible damage that gets done by the simple idea that, sometimes, "no" means "yes."

 Campaigns against rape like to plaster the slogan "No always means No" on posters.  It's also a popular chant at rallies.  And I would like to approve of this--

I can't believe I'm actually going to say this.  Please aim for the torso, not the head.

--but I don't.  I don't approve of it because it isn't true.  We all know it isn't true.  And because we know it isn't true it removes the impact of the real message, which is that we all need to act like it is 100% absolutely true all the time, unless we have explicit permission to do otherwise.

The reason we all know it isn't true is because we've all been in a place when "no" didn't mean "no." 

"Do you want the last piece of cake?" 
"Do you mind if I go out with your friend?"
"Do you wanna come back to my place?"

We say "no."  But what we mean is yes, I want that piece of cake, but I'm afraid you'll judge me.  I don't want you to go out with my friend, that's going to make things awkward, but I don't want to tell you what to do, either.  I'd love to come over, but I have hang-ups about sex.  Those are the honest answers.  But we don't use them.  We say "no" instead, because it's faster, it requires less explaining, and leaves us less vulnerable.  We don't have to reveal our soft, emotional, squishy bits when we just say "no."

 Actually, I don't say no to the last piece of cake.

And I get that.  I get that "no" is easier.  But it also leaves us all with an ingrained awareness that "no" doesn't always mean "no."  Sometimes it means something far more complicated and, occasionally, negotiable.  And because we all know this, people insist on using it as an excuse for some truly reprehensible behavior. 

Wouldn't it be better if we all just said what we actually mean?  If not fully, at least partially? 

"Yes, I want the cake, but I'm not going to eat it." 
"I think it's best if you make this decision on your own, regardless of my feelings."
"I'd love to come over, but I think it's wiser if I go home tonight."

Those are safer answers, less vulnerable, but they still have the wonderful trait of being true.  They close that loophole that people keep driving through in freight trains bearing massive loads of social conditioning and the expectation that sometimes it's okay to push a little when someone says "no."  They bring us closer to the time when "no" really does mean "no."

Hell, I'm so invested in this idea that I just taught my eight year old about safewords.  He and his grandfather were playing a tickling game, and I walked through the living room listening to him shrieking "No!  NO!" only to leap back on his grandfather the moment the tickling stopped.  I paused, looked at Elliot, and said,

"Elliot, do you have a code word for when you really mean you want him to stop?"
"A code word?"
"Yeah, like, you're saying 'no' and 'stop', but do you have a word to say when you really want him to stop?"
"Like what?"
"Like 'sardines'."  His grandfather said.
"Yeah.  Like 'sardines'."  I echoed.
"So I say 'sardines' if I want him to stop?"
"Okay."  Tickling resumes.  "No!  NOOOOOOOO!"

Boom.  Safewords.

Of course, that method relies on communication.  So, if you don't know someone well enough to set up a code, better to just stick to honesty for now.  The more of us that are honest, the smaller that stupid loophole gets.

Broken Relationships

This one... Y'all, I probably have a whole book's worth of thoughts on this, but I think I'm going to start with a brief story.

I have a friend (actual friend, not half-assed pseudonym for myself) who has been sorta, maybe, kinda, starting a relationship with this guy she works with.  It's complicated, for a variety of reasons I won't go into here, but I talk to her about it a lot.  This is only fair and right, because she talks to me about the things that are going on in my life.  We are, as far as I know, completely honest with each other (at least to the point where we only lie to each other if we're already lying to ourselves, but that's not relevant to this PARTICULAR sub-section, so we'll put it on the shelf for now.)  She tells me the things she's feeling, and I tell her what I think about what she's said, and we communicate.  Because of that, I know a lot about how she's feeling, and the reasons behind it, and I can more easily understand why she does what she does in certain situations.

You know who doesn't know any of this shit?

The dude she's interested in.

Now, I'm going to go ahead and interject that my friend is not unique in this situation.  In fact, I'd say she's pretty typical.  Forging a relationship with someone (any kind of relationship, really, not just the romantic ones) leaves us feeling vulnerable.  And what do we do when we're feeling vulnerable?

We hide. 

We take the soft, squishy parts of ourselves and we pretend they don't exist.  As though if we pretend hard enough, we won't be able to get hurt.  That's a lie we tell ourselves, but we tell it so hard that we believe it, and we stuff those emotions down deep.  Then we engage in the weirdest, most convoluted games in order to keep them hidden.  Don't sound too needy, don't sound too interested, don't tell them how you really feel. 

Nothing here to see.

Because god forbid you should tell someone what's actually going on in your head. 

They might not like it. 

They might reject you.

But--and this is what I cannot fathom--why does anyone want to be with someone who would reject them for how they feel?  Your feelings are what they are.  If they are unacceptable to someone, then that is someone you do not need in your life.  If you keep them in your life--this person who needs you to hide your feelings away--then you are doing yourself a terrible disservice.  How long will you hide?  A month?  A year?  A lifetime?

Another friend (again, real friend) has pointed out that this is not the same thing as compromise.  Relationships are grounded in compromise, and we all need to be willing to meet on some middle ground.  Perhaps, in your relationship, your partner hates doing the dishes, but will load the dishwasher because it's important to you, and you hate taking out the trash, but will do it because it's important to them.  In that case, both of you know the reality, you are merely compromising.  It is entirely different than if you secretly hate doing the dishes, but you once told them you loved it, because you thought that was what they wanted to hear, and now you do them all the time, and your partner even volunteers you to clean up after big holiday meals.

One is compromise.  The other is remaining a stranger to those closest to you.  Hiding who you are, and how you feel, in the hopes that it will make you more acceptable to someone.  But--and this is so important, I just have to repeat it--why do you want to be acceptable to someone who does not like who you truly are? 

print by Liz Climo

Open your mouth and say what is true about yourself.  If they don't like it, they were never a good fit for you, anyway.

Becoming Who We Are Not

This leads me tidily into my last sub-section, where I stop talking about my friends, and speak from personal experience.

If you spend long enough hiding the parts of yourself that you worry are unacceptable, eventually you'll forget they're there.  You won't just be lying to other people at that point, you'll be lying to yourself.  Telling yourself that the person you have hidden is not who you truly are. 

Mental Disorder by tiffanydraws

If you tell this lie to yourself long enough, eventually you will become someone you are not.

The words that come from your mouth will be what you think someone else wants to hear, and not what you want to say. 

The things that you do will be to please others, rather than to please yourself.

And all the time, while you turn yourself into a puppet that dances to other people's expectations, you will not understand why you feel so frustrated.  So confused.  So twisted up.  Because you have forgotten that these things you are doing were never what you wanted.  You have forgotten who you are, on the inside.

 Marionette by Trisha McNally

Lies spread.  The longer they last, the more people believe them.  Sometimes even the one who told them in the first place.  Sometimes even the one they are about.  The only way to combat this is to tell the truth.  To be relentless in representing yourself as you really are, even if there are people who do not care for that person. 

Not everyone will.  But hopefully you will. 

So... be honest. 

Be honest because society needs it.  We need people who are unafraid to be truthful even when it's scary, who are not so desperate to hide their vulnerabilities and oddities that we make deception a part of the culture.

Be honest because it's the only way to foster truly worthwhile relationships, where you can love and respect one another without having to agree on every detail.  Where you can be who you are and not fear constant censure.

And be honest because, in the end, it's the best gift you can give yourself.  To let yourself be who you are is a worthy and valuable thing, and no one else can do it for you. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Day 69: How to Talk to a Woman

Guys, I knew it was a mistake...
I've been seeing that damn "How to Talk to a Woman Wearing Headphones" thing going by all day, and I thought to myself "Don't do it, Jessica. You're only going to regret it. Just let this one go by. You don't need to read it. You don't. You really, really, don't..."
Guess what?
I read it.
Then my head exploded. 

Actual representation of my exploding head.

I... I...


Let's just go ahead and dive right into some of the more gut-wrenchingly awful things, shall we?

Pardon?  I'm sorry, that is the cause and effect you recognize?  That women aren't open to being approached because they aren't single (and therefore looking for a partner)?  Not that a woman might not be open to being approached because she's tired, or busy, or concerned with her OWN DAMN LIFE that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with YOU?!  NOT THAT?

Oh, well, my bad.  When I ignored that guy who tried to talk to me the other day, it must have been because of MY INVISIBLE BOYFRIEND, GEORGE.  George gets real jealous when I talk to other guys.  Otherwise I would have TOTALLY wanted that dude to hit on me. 


I have some corrections for this list.

1. Stand anywhere from 20 to 30 meters away, far enough that she will most likely not notice your asinine attempt to demand her attention.

2. Should you happen to not be able to get that far away, make sure your face looks EXTREMELY apologetic.

3. Keep your stupid hands to yourself, because she is not a fucking taxicab and does not need to be flagged down.

4.  Please don't ever act like a mime in ANY situation, unless you happen to actually BE a mime, in which case you should be busking somewhere and not ambushing random women in the street.

Uh... I don't actually believe this is true.  I think this is an urban myth among men who get rejected, to ease their feelings, or to give them permission to come at her again, harder.  But, just to hedge my bets, lemme go ahead and give a kind word to all the awesome guys out there:

If this does happen to be the case, do not let anyone do this to you, ever.  You deserve more than a woman who makes you jump through hoops.  "Hard to get" is a supremely destructive social behavior.  Almost as bad as "don't take no for an answer."  If a woman is playing hard to get then walk away and find someone a little less into playing stupid power games.  You'll thank me in the long run.

There is not a font big enough for my rage over this one.

Lemme be real straightforward here.  Do I know you?  Have we had a conversation about boundaries, and where mine lie?  Have I given you explicit, verbal permission to control any kind of interaction with me?


Now, if anyone needs me I'll be seething in my home.  Anyone who wants to join can come seethe with me.  I think I've got enough anger to keep it going a good long while.