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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It’s time to tell our stories.

When I was nineteen, I was raped, just a few days after returning to school for my sophomore year. It was something that took me almost seven years to fully process. And by fully process, I mean that I dealt with horrible anxiety/depression, an interruption in my education, weight gain, an inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, and this uncomfortable startle reflex whenever anyone approaches or touches me without warning. These last two issues, while less severe, still linger. It took me a long time to stop feeling like I did something to warrant what happened to me, the ever-expanding list of “I shouldn’t have” statements growing in my mind.

I never reported what happened to me, to the school or police. I told my friends, who supported me in the best way they could. The boy approached me a few days later, as I was pouring cereal into a bowl at the dining hall, to offer a half-hearted apology for “getting out of control”. I didn’t know his name. My body felt hot as I stammered back, “It’s ok”. It wasn’t. I couldn’t meet his eyes. I wonder if he felt absolved. I went to Planned Parenthood, where they tested me for every lingering consequence. Everything was fine, thank God. I still consider those women who treated me to be some of the most important people I’ve encountered in my life. They saved me in a lot of ways, when I had no one else, and changed the way I viewed the world. I couldn’t bear to tell my parents at the time, or the person I was dating. I felt like it would destroy them, that they would find fault with me. I kept this from them, and started therapy, thinking it would help lift the feeling of being suffocated. It didn’t.

I told my boyfriend. He promptly dumped me. I told my mother, and in response, I got “Oh, we’ve all made dumb decisions when we’ve been drinking. Stop beating yourself up about it.” I’d like to believe she was just misunderstanding what I was telling her, but I don’t know how much clearer it could’ve been. I didn’t dare tell my father, as I honestly had no idea how he’d react. I’m not sure if my mother did. These responses from the people I needed the most, sent a very clear message: you did this to yourself. It took me a long time to realize that was incorrect. I never believed that women could feel they were at fault, after a sexual assault. Until it happened to me.

I’ve told a small number of people this story over the years, and the response has always been the same: Why didn’t you report it? And while the 33 year old me has the wisdom to know that I should’ve, the 19 year old me didn’t. I had no voice. I felt like I would be blamed, my actions picked apart, my reputation destroyed. I was smart enough to know how these things panned out, but not smart or strong enough to know how to fight back against it. To say that nothing I did gave anyone permission to violate me in the most heinous of ways. The panic and trauma coursing through me sent one clear message: get away from this. Put it away. Otherwise, I feared at the time, it would follow me. I needed to just move past it.

But it did follow me, an apparition reminding me that life would always be divided into “before the thing that happened at school” and “after the thing that happened at school”. Until just a few years ago, I couldn’t even say the word “rape”, in regards to my situation. It was always “the thing that happened”. The more I thought I was distancing myself from it, the more I realize now that it was tethering me back even tighter.

I’m sharing this not for you to feel sorry or angry for me, I’ve done enough of that for all of us over the years, and I have finally made peace with it. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience the past few days, after reading this article from the NY Times, about the alleged mishandling of a sexual misconduct case of a young woman named Anna at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, here in Geneva. After reading the article, as well as the HWS official response on their website, I can’t help but feel like there’s a fair amount of accuracy in the NYT article, and a fair amount of backpedaling and “Let’s quote our policy and practices to cover our asses” in their response. In my opinion, HWS grossly mishandled this situation, and failed not only this student, but any student who has ever kept quiet about a similar experience, for fear of reprisal or dismissal of its severity. Regardless of all that, more than the pain I feel for the young woman, I feel incredibly proud of her bravery. She is so young and so vulnerable after such a trauma, to have found her voice, and gone to such great lengths to tell her story, her truth. I lay in bed last night, trying to imagine the firestorm that is surrounding her now, how dizzying that must be. I wondered if she second guesses her decision now, and the feedback she’s getting from people. I love that despite the fear and apprehension she’s likely feeling, that she plans to return to HWS in the fall, to continue her education. “Someone needs to help survivors there,” she said.

And she’s right. Interactive videos or other vague educational tools are not going to stop sexual violence. It’s going to take a cultural shift to change people’s attitudes about power, assault, and sex in general. That shift will only come from people speaking up about their experience, and taking individuals and institutions to task their slut-shaming, scrutinizing of a victim’s actions prior to an assault, and dismissing of claims. Boys need to be taught from a young age that girls are not merely there for the touching or invading of space, and girls need to be taught to be strong and comfortable in the claiming of their bodies as their own. Women (and men, in those cases) need to come forward, share their stories, and remind others that without exception, no always means no. Because as I’ve said before-if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

If you’ve read the article and HWS response, and are compelled to voice your support for the improvement of the colleges’ handling of sexual assaults, you can do so by signing the following petition:

https://www.change.org/petitions/to-president-gearan-and-the-hws-senior-staff-president-gearan-and-hws-senior-staff-take-action-to-prevent-further-mismanagement-of-campus-assault-cases#

Sorry I’m Not Sorry.

Have you guys read this post? A few people have shared it via Facebook and for me, it was one of those things you may hear a thousand times, but then on that 1001st time, you really listen. And then you start thinking: what are all the things I am apologizing for, things for which I am not even remotely remorseful?

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on this very tic (which is what it feels like), catching myself apologizing, then following that up with, “No, actually, I’m not sorry”. Which, admittedly, probably sounds a little off-putting to whomever happens to be there, but I don’t care. It’s the only way I can reinforce my commitment to stopping that knee-jerk response. I think that as women, we are given a very clear message from infancy-that we need to act like ladies. What does that even mean? It means that we need to not take up too much space, we need to be quiet, agreeable, and please everyone around us, to the very real sacrifice of ourselves, of what makes us who we are. And, my friends, is bullshit.

Take little girls, for example. Before the world swallows them up, and spits them back out into the world of adolescence, they are vivacious, joyful, spirited, and confident. I watched my niece stand around in her bathing suit recently, little belly jutting out, dripping a popsicle gleefully down her face and arms, and I was jealous. I was actually jealous of the fact that she has no concept of being painfully conscious of her body, her visibility, the eyes of others following those rivulets of melted popsicle as they trickle down her chin. That, is freedom. Not automatically trying to shrink herself into invisibility, wondering what people are thinking about her belly, her legs, the fact that she’s eating for pleasure. That’s all going to erode, though; in 3, 4, 5 years, she’ll start to doubt herself, her body, her voice. She’ll start to be sorry.

And think about all of the apologizing we do to ourselves-the way we might lament speaking “out of turn” at work, or how we hunch over, wearing dark colors and high necklines, because we feel like our breasts are too big, a liability for own safety, and for being taken seriously. Or, my personal favorite-gathering the courage to ask for what you want…and then immediately following that up with “Is that OK? Sorry to ask, but…”.

This article helped me to better evaluate the things I’m apologizing for, overtly or otherwise. And I needed it, because this age of 33, this journey into what I consider true adulthood after the extended adolescence of our twenties, is a beautiful thing. I’m becoming so much more comfortable with who I am, what I represent, and the things and people I value. So, no…I’m not sorry for my body, or my desire to be by myself at times, or my political bent, or for making jokes that “women shouldn’t make”. I’m not sorry for a million things. Those things make me who I am, and I happen to think that I am pretty fucking awesome. I do, however, apologize if you find issue with that. That, is a genuine apology.

Tell me ladies (and you boys, too, if you’re so inclined)-what are you ready to stop apologizing for?

The goodness of people (or lack thereof).

Despite my snark and sarcasm and at-times judge-iness (is that a word? No? It is now), I really do believe in the general goodness of people.  I believe, against all logic, that people have good spirits and souls and hearts and have a deep, basic need to connect to others in a meaningful way.

And then I get confronted by drunk, college kids.

I got home last night around 12:15, and there was no parking in my building’s lot. You know, the off-street parking I pay for, monthly.  I drove down my one-way street, looking for alternative spaces, of which there were none, due to all the excess snow mucking things up. So, I circled back into my lot, and created a sort of non-space, that was obstructing an already snow-blocked sidewalk. I got out, and saw 6 guys and 1 girl walking my way, clearly fueled by an evening of Monroe Avenue boozin’.  The exchange went like this:

Girl: Excuse me, but you’re blocking the sidewalk.

Me: Excuse ME, but I live here, there’s no parking and I am 5 months pregnant.

Girl: Ooooh, sorry…just trying to look out for your slut, knocked-up ass.

Entire group erupts into laughter, and are now within feet of me.

Boy, getting nearly right into my face, yells  “SLUT!” at me.

The sudden gesture, and his entrance into my space caused me to lose balance on the uneven snow, and I fell back into a fairly large snowpile. I didn’t get hurt, but given the shock of all I immediately started to cry, and they all just continued laughing and went on their way, still yelling things over their shoulders. Now, I share this with you not for you to feel any pity, but because I fundamentally can’t wrap my head around what would allow them to feel as though they could do or say any of that.  Nothing in my  heart would ever, EVER permit me to feel as though I could treat someone that way, alcohol or not.

I take issue with the girl, for violating all that I find sacred between women, with her attempt to demean and humiliate me. A stranger she doesn’t even know.  To paraphrase Tina Fey in Mean Girls, a woman calling another woman a slut or a whore just makes it OK for men to think they can call you that.  A silly example, perhaps, but it’s fundamentally true.  And for that boy to feel entitled to enter my personal space because I’m a woman, to invade me that way, and call me something that tries to subdue me, intimidate me, made me wish for things to occur to him that I am not proud of, in the clear light of day.  And for the rest of them, complicit in their laughter, their unwillingness to do the right thing, and call their friends out, is also highly foul to me.

The thing is, it’s hard not to understand how people develop such hardened hearts when it comes to the world-at-large, when there are things like this happening  everyday, and on much more severe levels.  I laid awake last night, still fueled by adrenaline, and felt alternately grateful and horrified by the fact that I’m naive enough to believe that people wouldn’t do such things.  I’m so sheltered from experiences like that, and I wonder now if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I want to keep an open heart, I don’t want to grow fearful or resentful of others, but I also don’t want to hold a blind eye to the fact that people can be kind of shitty (and that’s a charitable description).  And how I help this child we’re having navigate a sometimes nasty world with the strength and fortitude to defend him/herself, and be a force for good, in all situations?

I witnessed a very small, yet still hurtful, example of unprovoked hate last night-which is the very worst variety.  And I believe those are the seeds that produce the large-scale atrocities that we see around us-because no one does anything to stop it.  It’s virulent if left unchecked-even if it seems harmless enough.  So do me a favor, my friends…and join me in doing the right thing, and committing to be more proactive about  being that force for good the world so badly needs, even when it’s hard.  Because whenever something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.