Armchair activism doesn’t stop rape.

By now, everyone has heard about the reprehensible sexual assault that took place at Stanford by Brock Turner, a 20 year old student athlete, who was convicted and sentenced to a mere six months in jail for his crime. This alone caused an outcry, and then his father, seemingly the most tone-deaf individual on the planet, wrote a letter defending his son, and lamenting the mental and emotional toll his ’20 minutes of action’ and their consequences have had on him. As someone who has experienced sexual assault, and as a human being in general, this story has made me ill. It’s made a lot of people ill-everyone has been talking in depth about it across social media, sharing their strong reactions to the heinous act, as well as the abdication of justice, with Turner being given such a short sentence. Good, I thought. People need to be talking about these things. And then I came across a blog post that I am assuming has gone viral, as many of my friends have reposted it. It’s titled “We With the Pitchforks”-you can read it here.

I share in the author’s frustration, as well as those who re-posted it. And a large part of me agrees with every single word written. But, there is something about the angry mob mentality that just seems counterproductive to me.I say this not out of defense for Turner…he doesn’t deserve defense. He’s dug his own grave, and this will follow him for the rest of his days, both personally and professionally, as it should. I say this out of a pure desire to want better for us, as a society. Armchair activism so easy, in the age of social media. It’s easy to share a blog post on social media, it’s easy to rant about it over a dinner party (and these are all things I’ve done, about a myriad of issues, myself). What’s not easy, though, is to change the culture of rape that we’ve so blindly allowed for far too long. This happens every single day, across the world. Fighting a hateful act with more hate is not the answer. Filling the world with the righteous courage necessary to act up against the institutions and systems that treat these crimes as permissible, is. And it’s not just about sexual assault-it’s about all forms of gendered inequities and violence.

My point is, by all means, share information…but share productive information. Share statistics on the prevalence of assault across the country. If you know someone who is willing to share their own story of assault, help them put it out into the world. Learn about rape crisis programs in your area, and support them, whether financially, or through interfacing with your legislators about the importance of these services. Stop teaching little girls and women that it is THEIR responsibility to avoid being raped, and start creating the expectation for boys and men NOT TO RAPE. Stop laughing at jokes about gender stereotypes, or sexual assault, or feminism. It’s not all in good fun. It creates an environment of acceptability, and of women being lesser than whole. If you’re a dad or uncle or any other man with a special child in your life, model how to respect and speak about and equitably interact with women. I promise you, they are ALL watching. Challenge your own beliefs and values (you too, women, because we all internalize it) on relationships and interactions between men and women, and how we view “roles.”

Let’s create a world where the Brock Turners fade into the ether, a bad dream, and where women can move freely without the threat of violation.

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Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.

A different diet for the new year.

I’m exhausted, you guys. I’m talking, physically and emotionally, right-into-your-bones, sort of tired. Life is crazy, as it is for all of us at this particular stage in life-career, relationships, kids, adult stuff. Those are OK things, though-I can handle them, keep them in balance.

What I can no longer keep in balance, however, is the flood of negativity, vitriol, hatred, violence, horror and general terribleness that rushes into my life every time I lazily step into any sort of online environment-facebook being the number one offender, as it usually compiles all of these different avenues of media into one little neat stream. But, man…does anyone else feel like they are being crushed under the weight of all the terrible things that are happening in the world?

I’ve always been pretty tapped into world events, for better or worse. I like to know what’s going on, I want to better understand humanity. And with that, comes the unfortunate side effect of taking some of it on, personally. But lately, I don’t know-I can’t handle it. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe (likely) it’s because I’m raising a tiny human to become an adult human who will be left to make his way in this world, and I’d like that world to not be burned to the proverbial ground by then. I’d like his spirit to remain intact, to not be jaded by what he sees and hears. I want MY spirit to remain intact.

This has all been accelerating for me over the past few months, thinking about the need to pull the plug for awhile on being so “connected” all the time. A poor choice of words, for sure, given that I can’t think of anything more DISconnected than looking around in a public space and seeing literally everyone’s face buried in their phones. When did we stop understanding that human interaction is necessary, that it makes us who we are?

I believe in the power of media, of social media in particular, and the rise of citizen journalism and what that means for accountability and transparency on all levels. However, what I can no longer deal with, is absent-mindedly hopping online in the same manner that people continually open their fridges even though they know nothing has changed inside, and reading that overnight,  a man has thrown his 5 year old daughter over a bridge, killing her. Or that attempts at forced censorship include a mass murder of illustrators and editors. It has officially infiltrated my heart, and it is just another thing weighing me down, that I don’t want.

So, all this to say, I’m going on a diet. A crash diet that includes no social media and very limited news exposure. I am not deleting anything (as evidenced by the fact that you guys are reading this, through a linkage between WordPress and FB or Twitter), but I removed the phone apps, and let’s face it-who the hell is on a laptop or desktop more than they ever have to be? For 30 days, I’m going to focus on remaining present, at all times, and allowing what is good to flow into my world (how’s that for some weird, new-age garbage?).

I’ll be back, at some point, if for no other reason than my son’s apparent internet celebrity. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my blog to get updates on new posts (because I’m going to be writing a lot more), or shoot me an email at JenniferLHurlburt@gmail.com, if you want some occasional photo updates on what the Ginger is up to. Or, be like, “Eh, whatever, who the hell cares?” Either way, see you on the other side.