Kathie Klages, David Pecker, Mollie Tibbetts and the Devaluing of Women

25 Aug

At the very early stages of recording Welcome to My Vagina the Almost Famous Podcast, Jessy and I talked about the sexual abuse scandal that was tearing USA gymnastics to shreds. (I wrote about it here and then again here.) We called the episode “A Girl’s Worth,” which was based off of Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement in which she asked, time and again, “how much is a little girl worth?” I find myself asking this question of myself often, but extending that to include not just little girls but grown womyn as well. I extend it to include all of us. And every time I ask myself this question and then go on to answer it, every time I think about what value I hold to society at large, how much my life is worth in the eyes of law enforcement, the justice system, the media and our very own president I can only come to the exact same conclusion over and over and over again: I am not worth very much. And then I think to myself that I was born with white skin to upper middle class parents in a safe neighborhood that had good schools and I realize that the small amount that I have determined my own worth to be in the eyes of so many is higher still than a lot of other women. It’s a lot to take in, to live in a culture that hates and diminishes you. There are constant reminders of this. A few of which I want to talk about here.

Kathie Klages

For those of you who don’t know much about the Nassar scandal in USA Gymnastics, let me give you an ever-so-brief overview. Over the 20+ years that Larry Nassar was treating gymnasts and other female athletes through his offices at Michigan State University, his ‘volunteer position’ with USA Gymnastics as the women’s national team doctor and his arrangement with John Geddert of Geddert’s Twistar’s in Lansing, Michigan, he sexually assaulted over 300 women and girls that we know of. And he did not act alone. It took other people ignoring reports or looking the other way. Kathie Klages was one of those people.

Back in 1997, a gymnast by the name of Larissa Boyce reported to Klages that Nassar had been sexually inappropriate with her during an appointment for an injury. Another woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, also reported to Klages at the same time. Klages did not go to MSU and she did not go to law enforcement. Instead, she shamed the women until they stayed silent. Kathie Klages knew about Nassar, knew that he was a predator, for 20 years and she did nothing, she said nothing. She continued coaching the MSU women’s gymnastics team until she was forced to resign in 2016 and in that time she sent countless athletes to see a doctor who she had been told had a habit of sticking his ungloved fingers into their vaginas under the guise of medical treatment. One of those women, Lindsey Lemke, gave an impact statement while she was still competing for MSU this past January, 2018, 21 years after Klages was originally told of Nassar’s behavior. Klages could have done something, could have stopped him, but the reputation of one single doctor was more important, more valuable, than the physical and mental well-being of hundreds of women. As far as Kathie Klages was concerned, a woman’s worth is but a fraction of a man with medals and awards, a man who will die in prison, a man whom she still defends.

American Media Inc.

Next we have The National Enquirer, its parent company, American Media, Inc. (AMI) and David Pecker – no, really, his last name is Pecker – the CEO and Chairman of American Media. The other night, I hunkered down on the sofa to watch Rachel Maddow explain the breaking news of the day and it was big. We had already found out that Michael Cohen had made a deal with the feds in which he plead guilty to 5 counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution and two counts that are related to the breaking of campaign-finance laws. Those last two charges were due to payments that he made to Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels. Cohen said he was directed by then-candidate, now the worst president of all times, Donald J. Trump in order to keep the two women from speaking out and therefore hurting Trump’s chances at winning the election. Each of these women were paid $130,000, which was determined to be the amount that their silence was worth. Our country’s norms and values were sold on the market for a combined total of $260,000 to a snake-oil salesman who knows nothing about the rules of grammar, let alone international politics and, you know, how to have a conscience. But that isn’t even what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the other breaking news. The Pecker stuff.

So apparently AMI, led by David Pecker, had a habit of what has been dubbed the “catch and kill.” For years they would find negative stories about Donald Trump, catch them, get exclusive rights to them, and then bury them. This happened in the case of Karen McDougal. AMI bought the life rights to McDougal’s story for a sum of $150,000, which precluded her from sharing the story of her 9-month affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, right around the time Trump’s son Barron was born, if memory serves. But AMI also interviewed Beth Ferrier, one of the women who accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her, and then buried it in exchange for an exclusive interview with Cosby. Ferrier didn’t sign the rights away and could have told her story elsewhere, although she was ever informed of the trade AMI had made. And we also know that women were speaking out about Cosby for years before any of the allegations really stuck. So how much is Beth Ferrier worth? About $7,500 that she never received from AMI and one exclusive interview with a wealthy and powerful man.

Mollie Tibbets

A few days ago, the body of missing college student Mollie Tibbetts was found near her boyfriend’s home in Brooklyn, Iowa. She was murdered and buried under some corn stalks in a field by a man she did not know after she rebuffed his advances while she was out for a run.  I am a runner and I have had the same experience Mollie had, with an obviously very different ending. I have been out for my daily run and been followed by men on foot, in cars and once on a bicycle. It is terrifying and infuriating. I have been lucky. I’ve been able to shoot men down without having them rape and/or kill me. Mollie, and way too many other women, have not been as lucky. There is a lot to be said here.

First, let us engage with the reason Mollie was killed. Mollie was killed because she rejected a man and he got angry. It does not matter where this man came from, why he was in the United States or what his legal status was. He was a man who could not handle rejection and believed that the proper retribution for the fact that she didn’t want him was her death. He killed her because she said no. Plain and simple. To this man, Mollie’s life was less important than his ego.

Second, let us talk about the narrative that has arisen around her death. Predictably, the party that tells us not to talk about gun control after another mass shooting claims scores of our young people did not skip a beat before using Mollie’s death to make a plea for “The Wall” and in defense of racist immigration policies. And all of this while Mollie’s family itself has said the following:

Hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth.

It’s true that if this man wasn’t here he would not have killed Mollie. But do you know what he would have done? He would have killed another woman. I am certainly not valuing one woman’s life over another’s, but I am saying that this is a conversation about murderous misogyny and not immigration. In the aftermath of this, we need to be having a conversation about how to educate men to be better, not having one about how we should or should not spend billions of dollars to build some bullshit wall that’s going to become a symbol for racism and will ultimately be torn down. To our asshole president and many members of the Republican Party, Mollie Tibbett’s life is worth a few talking points about illegal immigration.

Third, we need to look at this case and notice one thing: Mollie Tibbets was a beautiul, strong-willed, smart, athletic, white woman. The fact that she was white matters here because in our culture, whiteness is associated with purity. That’s why our newspapers, magazines and tabloids were ablaze with the stories of Elizabeth Smart, Jonbenet Ramsey and Natalee Holloway and yet none of us have heard of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year old Muslim woman who was killed last year while walking back to her Mosque with a group of friends in Virginia. A driver, who got angry after he exchanged words with one of the young men in Hassanen’s group, grabbed Hassanen and beat her to death with a baseball bat before dropping her in a pond. There was no national coverage of her death, nor is there national coverage of African American children who go missing. Mollie Tibbett’s life was worth more than Nabra Hassanen, and is worth more than the African American children whose disappearances have never been on the cover of any newspaper or magazine. All life should be valued that same regardless of the color of your skin, your country of origin, or what you have between your legs.

***

I don’t have too much more to say here other than this: being a woman is hard. It is harder for some than it is for others but the reality is that every single one of us knows what it is to be silenced and to have our experiences devalued. And if we haven’t been silenced ourselves, although I do not know a single woman who has been so lucky, we know what it looks like because we are surrounded by it every single day. There are so many things that are not said, not heard or “caught and killed.” And that silence, that under valuing of women’s worth, has terrible, and sometimes deadly, consequences.

A Letter In Defense of Immigrants

22 Jun

To Whom it May Concern:

We are writing to you today out of concern and heartache. The atrocities that are occurring at our southern border – atrocities that have been occurring for months now – must stop immediately. As you know, in January of 1945 the Allied Forces liberated Auschwitz, the largest killing center and concentration camp of all those run by the Nazi Party. And here we sit today, in the country that spearheaded the liberation of people who were starved and tortured, families who were torn apart, communities that were decimated and we find that we are not much better. We find that this country that has, since its establishment, claimed to be a safe haven for the worlds most marginalized communities, has turned its back, as we once did on the Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, on morality and decency and is instead using the force of its laws and its enforcers to further disempower those who lack voice, who lack protection and who lack a safe space to simply live. We said never again. And now here we are, as we lose the last of the Holocaust survivors, moving close to repeating the same horrific mistakes that we once stood firmly against.

This is not who we are. This is not who we want to be. This has to end now.

So we are writing to you to ask that you do not stop acting now that the horrific policy of separating children from their parents has ended. We are asking that you stand strong and say no to Trump’s attempt to overturn the Flores decision. We are asking that you stand with the people who are fleeing gang violence, domestic violence, drug wars and oppressive governments. We are asking that you stand with those who come to this country seeking safety and opportunity for themselves and their children. We are asking that you stand with them, not against them. Let us not continue to repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. We had internment camps once before, we cannot go down that road again. Indefinite detention is simply not an option. It runs counter to international Humans Rights norms as well as American values.

Please, stand strong. Just because we have a president who lacks a moral compass, a president who uses the plight of others to drum up his hateful base in an effort to continue eroding our democracy, does not mean that we should follow along blindly. It means we must be stronger than we have ever been before. And the first step is to show the people arriving at our southern border the respect they deserve. They are human beings just like us and should be treated as such. We urge you to do what we put you in office for: to help those who cannot help themselves and to stand in the way of Trump and the GOP’s effort to make the United States a place that is only for the white and the wealthy. This is a country of immigrants and underdogs and that is what makes it so special. We are begging you, please, do the right thing.

Your constituents

Jessy Caron and Rebekah Frank

Neural Pathways and the Patriarchy

9 Apr

In case you didn’t already know this, I am the co-host of an almost famous podcast called Welcome To My Vagina with my good friend Jessy Caron. You should listen to it. It’s great. And Jessy and I aren’t the only ones who think so. My brother and sister-in-law agree. And a bunch of our friends. And some people we don’t even know. So, you know, we’re basically crushing it. The reason for informing you of this is that I have been trying to up my feminist game by doing some more focused reading so I can speak from a place informed by more than my personal experience. And so as part of this project I recently bought the following books (and am open to suggestions if you have any):

  1. This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
  2. When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Khan-Cullors
  3. Headscarfs and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
  4. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
  5. Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti

I decided the best plan of attack was to start closest to home and read Jessica Valenti’s book. I have been reading her writing since its early days on Feministing, the website she cofounded with her sister, and then followed her over to Jezebel and now read her at The Guardian. I like her. I relate to her. We are both white women who grew up on the East Coast at roughly the same time. We both write (although she far more successfully than me.) We both hate the patriarchy. Also, the other books on my list haven’t arrived at my house yet. (Shoulder shrug.) Anyway, the strangest thing happened. So yesterday during the afternoon I was casually thinking to myself about the possible connection between female victimhood and neural pathways. I have always been of the understanding that neural pathways are created as we gain knowledge and that

(a) those pathways are part of what allows us to retain that knowledge and then                       build upon it and
(b) that then allows us to learn how to interact with the world in which we live.

So then I started thinking about this article I read a while back about trauma. The article basically summarized a study that had been done involving veterans of the Vietnam War. Scientists interviewed the soldiers upon returning home from the war, and then interviewed them again a number of decades later. They found that for the men who suffered from PTSD, their memories of their experience in combat did not change over time. They still remembered all of the events in the same detail and had similar feelings about them. The men who did not suffer from PTSD had a change in feeling between the initial interview and the one carried out later. In the first interview they might have had complicated feelings about their time in combat and in the army, but decades later they remembered it mostly positively, as a time of camaraderie amongst buddies. (Obviously I am over simplifying this in a HUGE way.) I have thought about this article a lot. I’ve thought a lot about the memory of events in my life that have changed or grown muddy over time and those that I remember in intense, unchanging detail. I wouldn’t say that I have PTSD relating to the latter events, but that perhaps they qualify as trauma. Perhaps those memories have been burned deeply enough into my brain that they cannot be altered.

What does this have to do with Jessica Valenti? Well, while I was on this little adventure of mine, I began thinking about women’s experiences. I started thinking about the ways we are treated in our day-to-day lives and how we internalize those experiences, how they shape who we are, how we behave and the ways in which we live in, and relate to, the world around us. I started thinking about how our subconscious understanding of our status as women limits us and causes us to limit ourselves. I wondered when those neural pathways are initially formed and who we could be if we weren’t constantly living in fear for our safety and under the ever-looming presence of the patriarchy. I wondered about how much this world has missed out on because of the way women (and POC and the LGBTQ community and Jews and Muslims and, and, and) are disenfranchised. And then, a few hours later, I read this passage on page 15 of Sex Object:

“We know that direct violence causes trauma — we have shelters for it, counselors, services. We know that children who live in violent neighborhoods are more likely to develop PTSD, the daily fear changing their brains and psychological makeup so drastically that flashbacks and disassociation become common. We know people who are bullied get depressed and sometimes commit suicide.

“Yet despite all these things we know to be true — despite the preponderance of evidence showing the mental and emotional distress people demonstrate in violent and harassing environments — we still have no name for what happens to women living in a culture that hates them.”

And if we wonder why it is that we have no name for it then let me put forward an idea. It is because we cannot name what we cannot separate out and study. Not all children grow up in the midst of violence; not all veterans develop PTSD. We can study the difference amongst people in society but we cannot, not even with all that we know, study something which is all-pervasive, something that exists everywhere and is so instrumental to every single aspect of our culture that it cannot be separated out. We cannot create a control group and a test group because we are all part of the same group. Our personal experiences might vary by degree but the over-arching system that makes those experiences possible is shared by all of us. And perhaps this is what makes it so difficult for many people, men and women alike, to acknowledge the existence of the patriarchy. We know what water is, but we cannot separate the elements – the hydrogens from the oxygen – that make it what it is. It would cease to be water and we would no longer have a context in which to understand it.

In our 7th episode of the WTMV podcast Jessy asked me what I would change using science if I could choose one thing. And I said I would like to somehow create an environment free from the patriarchy. Not the environment in which we live now, where we try to figure out and unravel one aspect of it at a time, finding lined up behind that partially solved issue a never-ending cavalcade of injustices. I wanted to see what women would be like, what women could do and achieve and dream and be, without the shroud of patriarchal culture that we live wrapped up in. Because let me tell you right now that I have absolutely no idea what that would look like. Every time I try to conjure it, I realize that the pathways in my brain are burned too deeply to be able to even imagine that world. The pathways in all of our brains are etched beyond repair.

We all have our own experiences and we all react to them, and handle them, in profoundly different and personal ways. We as women spend a lot of time being afraid, even when we don’t actively realize that we are. We spend a lot of time wondering what might happen if we walk down this block instead of that one; what we might encounter if we comment on that Tweet; what house we are walking into when we go home with a new partner; what ways our bodies and minds might be used against us. It is a hard world to navigate, some of us managing it seemingly more easily than others. But I believe it is true that we are all traumatized by the patriarchy and I think that Jessica Valenti agrees with me.

Tip #21 on Being a Good Bar Customer

28 Mar

Wow you guys. I haven’t written one of these since this one back in August of 2016, and that one included positive reinforcement. I know they were a popular part of my blog, but almost getting fired over writing them sort of took the shine off the whole thing, you know? Well, whatever. That was then and this is now. And I still don’t actually think I did anything wrong, as long as you don’t consider hurting the feelings of a couple of arrogant, misogynist assholes “something wrong.” I certainly don’t. So, that being said, let us continue.

So this post is a lot less about someone actually doing something awful and a lot more about one of my biggest pet peeves as a bartender. And it’s not just me! I did a (very limited) survey of some of the bartenders that I know and discovered that this is a pet peeve shared by all two of them! So I will extrapolate this data and apply it to all other bartenders and voila! I declare this pet peeve universally held. What is the pet peeve, you may ask? Let me tell you a little story.

So there I am, behind the bar. A new customer walks in. I greet him with a peppy(ish)

Hey! How are you?

as I reach over, grab a coaster and toss it in front of him. He replies that he is okay, takes his phone out of his pocket, puts it down, takes his seat and orders his drink. I make the drink, engaging in polite conversation as I do it. But then when I return to his seat and make a move to put his drink on the coaster that I have placed in front of him in preparation for this exact moment I realize it’s gone. But I swear that I put it there. I always put down a coaster. That’s part of the whole steps of service thing that I am so accustomed to. So where could it be? And then I see it: his phone. He has put it on the coaster. And I am immediately reminded of the hundreds and hundreds of times this exact scenario has played itself out over the past decade and change during which I have occupied space behind the stick.

And I am left wondering, why? Why do people do this? Do they have coasters on their coffee tables that they use as resting places for their phones while they watch TV, placing their beer or whisky on the rocks directly on the wood, potentially leaving a ring? Do they always have two coasters present, one for the phone and one for the drink, just so that their phone doesn’t some how feel less welcome? Do they enjoy constantly wiping up small puddles of condensation that has accumulated on their surfaces? Is this just a small expression of their concern for the environment, and their worry of our ever-expanding landfills and its effects on the planet that we call home? Am I missing something?

I am also left standing there with a prepared drink and no pre-placed (and available) coaster upon which to place it. What is a bartender to do? Well, there are a number of different possible next steps.

  1. Shrug your shoulders and place the drink directly on the bar;
  2. Grab a new coaster, toss it either casually or angrily next to the original coaster (this is entirely dependent on the bartender’s mood and/or the number of times she has faced this exact same scenario that shift), and place the drink atop its new throne;
  3. Reach down, grab the phone (AKA coaster stealer), move it and then place the drink down on the original coaster all while making eye contact with the customer;
  4. Place the drink on top of the phone which has now become the de facto coaster after its successful ouster of the previous coaster which was not fairly elected in the first place.

Personally, I oscillate between options 2 and 3. They are direct and instructive (two things I love being!) all without putting myself at risk of an accusation of destruction of property even though, really, putting your phone on the bar is pretty dumb.* One of the two people I surveyed for this post recently made use of option 4 and told me that although it didn’t go over that well in the moment (PSA: no phone was harmed in the placing of the drink) it is pretty funny in hindsight. He doesn’t, however, recommend that particular course of action for the faint of heart. So, I don’t know, maybe I will leave that for the blessed day that I work my last ever bartending shift. Which will probably never happen. Whatever, a girl can dream.

And, while I’m dreaming, you can journey around my blog and read all the previous tip as well as all the other random shit I write about. It’ll be fun (and sometimes infuriating). But mostly fun. I swear.

*I do it all the time.

Women Are Not The Problem

30 Jan

Hysterical. Emotional. Hormonal. Unreasonable. These are some of the words that are used to disempower women. These are the words that are used to cast doubt on women’s own experiences, make us think that we are the problem rather than those around us who are causing us pain, unease or discomfort.

___

I have watched a lot of Larry Nassar’s victims give impact statements recently. My entire YouTube feed is links to videos of woman after woman, talking about their experiences at the hands of this monster, about the organizations that created an environment that allowed for him to thrive, unhindered, for over 30 years, and about the way that made them feel. I listened as woman after woman testified to her experience of knowing something was off but doubting it, because she was taught to trust doctors, because the adults in the room assured her everything was okay. Everything was not okay and many of the women knew. Take Rachael Denhollander, the one whose outcry and dogged work finally brought this atrocity to the surface. Take the words that she spoke in her almost 40-minute long statement:

One of the worst parts of this entire process was knowing as I began to realize what had happened to me how many other little girls had been left destroyed, too. I was barely 15 when Larry began to abuse me and as I lay on the table each time and try to reconcile what was happening with the man Larry was held out to be, there were three things I was very sure of. First, it was clear to me this was something Larry did regularly. Second, because this was something Larry did regularly, it was impossible that at least some women and girls had not described what was going on to officials at MSU and USAG. I was confident of this. And third, I was confident that because people at MSU and USAG had to be aware of what Larry was doing and had not stopped him, there could surely be no question about the legitimacy of his treatment. This must be medical treatment. The problem must be me.

The problem must be me.

This is a woman who was violated brazenly by a man who was supposed to help her. This is a woman who knew something was wrong. This is a woman who then waited 18 long years for a sign that when she came forward she would actually be heard, be believed. She sat with what she had gone through — what she knew other people had gone through, were going through, would go through — because she knew that no one would believe her, that her story would be cast aside and doubted along with so many others who were silenced. She waited until people would see that the problem wasn’t her. That the problem was him, was USAG, was MSU, was the USOC, was this society that we live in that constantly discredits and undermines women. And yet even as she and over 160 other survivors stood in front of their abuser and explained their experiences and tried, through tears and anger, to take their power back, the Internet went after another woman who was the problem. As Judge Aquilina sat from her bench letting each and every “sister-survivor” know that their voice mattered, that they were not the problem, she was criticized. God forbid these women are finally able to start to free themselves of the burden they carried for so long. God forbid their words are heard and believed without question. How dare she.

___

The silencing of women is not always that sinister, does not always lead to the sort of event that we saw unfold in that courtroom in Michigan 30 years too late. But the consistent silencing of women is part of what allowed Nassar to carry on the way he did for so long. The consistent silencing of women is part of what allowed Nassar to remain one of the most respected sports medicine doctors in the world while he was penetrating I would posit thousands of young women and girls with his ungloved fingers. Every day we doubt our experiences, apologize for our existence, replay events time and again trying to figure out where we went wrong because it’s always us. We are always the problem. At least that’s what we are taught.

Let me tell you a story.

I was out the other night with a friend of mine having a conversation. We were drinking, probably a little too much for a few too many hours, but we were having fun, completely engulfed in our own night. We had our seats angled towards one another making it clear that we were there for each other, for this conversation, and for nothing else. A man behind me, hearing me recount a story to my friend about a shitty falafel, interrupted, telling us the best falafel place in the city according to all the experience his 3 months in New York had to offer him. I told him I didn’t need to venture all the way to the Jefferson Avenue stop when there are plenty of excellent places just down on Atlantic Avenue. I told him about one. I was curt but polite, and ignored his continued musings. My friend and I went back to our conversation which meandered from shitty falafel to being robbed while traveling and finally landed on dating. At this point, he interrupted again, asking us questions about the guy we were discussing. I felt my face fill with rage. I turned around and said, less politely and more curtly this time,

“I am having drinks with my friend. Our conversation does not concern you. Please stop interrupting us.”

At this point it became my fault. Our fault. We were crazy. The bar is a public space and he has the right to interject in any conversation he sees fit. As I tried to explain to him why he was incorrect, why what he did was rude, he kept talking over me, discrediting my experience, saying I was over reacting, he kept trying to use his voice to silence me. My friend would not have it and stopped him, telling him that he was the one being rude, that he does not get to enter into a conversation to which he was not invited and then make the rules, that he does not get to silence us. He paid his bill (barely) and then said to the bartender

Well, they scared me out. These women chased me out.

And he left it to us to explain. The problem, clearly, was us. I felt in the moment that we were in the right, that this man was unapologetically rude, that if he had just paid attention to the body language – back turned – and listened to the curt response – please don’t interject here this conversation does not include you – this all could have been avoided. If he had just listened to us, respected us, acknowledged us rather than continuing to force his way in where he was not invited, was not welcome, and then blaming us for our reaction. This morning I woke up angry. I was angry at him and I was angry at myself as I replayed the interaction again and again and again and again trying to ascertain the truth: was I the problem? was I crazy? was I unreasonable? I must have been.

I know intellectually that the answer to those questions is no, no and no but somewhere inside me I fall back on what I have always been taught: men’s voices, men’s experiences, are the real ones while women’s are not to be trusted. Women are not to be trusted to understand and engage with our own feelings and reactions. Men are correct. Women are the problem. So I woke up this morning feeling like I do a lot of mornings. I woke up this morning feeling like the problem.

___

Hysterical. Emotional. Hormonal. Unreasonable. These are the weapons lobbed at us to make us feel like the problem, to silence us, to force us to silence ourselves. These words, and the feelings of self doubt and disempowerment that accompany them, are my enemies. And it isn’t just men who do it, women do it to each other. That’s the thing about the patriarchy – we were all raised in it and it is incredibly effective and efficient. We do it’s bidding and advance its cause without even realizing it. And in return it diminishes us.

You know what I have to say to that? Fuck the patriarchy. I am not the problem. We are not the problem. Not this time.

ICYMI: The Gymnastics Sex Abuse Scandal Broke 14 Months Ago

24 Jan

As many of you who know me personally are probably aware, I am a HUGE gymnastics fan. While friends are binge watching the newest series on Netflix and Hulu, I am rewatching National Championships from the late 90’s, exploring NCAA gymnastics meets and reviewing some of my favorite routines and gymnasts from over the years, amazed by what they have been able to do with their bodies in such limited pieces of air. It is death defying, beautiful, seemingly impossible and yet they do it. And what’s even more amazing is that they make it look easy.

As many of you also know, being a gymnastics fan right now is a very unenviable position to be in. I have watched over the past year and change as my favorite sport has been ripped apart from the inside out, slowly, methodically, and the world has paid no attention. Not until the past few weeks, anyway, and I am so angry. I am so angry that I feel as though I could punch a hole through a brick wall. I am so angry that I am afraid that if I didn’t stop myself from clenching my jaw my entire face might explode. I am so angry that if I ever met Larry Nassar in person I think I could do something I never thought possible of myself; I think I could actually kill him with my bare hands and feel no remorse whatsoever. I am so angry that I want to shake every single person in this entire fucking country and ask them where they were, why they haven’t been listening and why, when the Indy Star broke this story over 14 months ago, why no other goddamn news source picked it up. Where were you, New York Times? Washington Post? NPR? ESPN? Where were you when these women were coming to terms with what was done to them? Where were you to tell them that we were listening, that we cared, when people ignored their pleas for help for decades?

Let us not forget, these were children.

I remember back in 2015 when Larry Nassar disappeared from USA Gymnastics with no fanfare, not even a word. As an avid fan I knew how well respected he was, I knew that he was touted as the best gymnastics doctor in the world. He was a miracle worker, he could fix anything. But then one day, leading up to the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games when we were expected to sweep the field yet again, he was gone. Just poof. Shortly thereafter Marvin Sharpe, coach of 2008 Olympians Bridget Sloan and Sam Peszek, was arrested on child pornography charges. He was later found dead of an apparent suicide. No one said a word. And then it came out that the national governing body of the sport, USA Gymnastics (USAG) had been covering up abuse charges for decades, Catholic Church style. They had complaints about 50 coaches spanning decades. Coaches who they allowed to transfer to different facilities around the country without informing the owners and other coaches of the monsters that were in their ranks, monsters that were training young boys and girls who entrusted them with their safety. When the story broke in the Star it became clear that USAG was an organization capable of covering up the worst in the interest of maintaining a clean reputation all in an effort to win medals, and money, on the backs of young athletes whom they mistreated and did not protect.

These were children.

There were reports about Nassar going back decades. Athletes who went to school counselors, local police departments, coaches, Child Protective Services, university athletic directors going all the way back to the 1990s. No one said anything. No one stopped him. We are talking about a man who stuck his ungloved fingers inside the vaginas of scores of young women under the guise of medical treatment. We are talking about a man so vile that he told girls he could help them achieve their dreams, all while robbing them of their innocence. We are talking about a man who angled himself into a career, a position, where he would have unfettered access to girls who thought he was their friend, their protector. And we are talking about organizations – USAG, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), Michigan State University (MSU), Geddert’s Twistars – who looked the other way for decades as this man violated women who they were obligated to protect. And then, when they couldn’t ignore it any more, they tried to sweep it under the rug and hope that no one would notice and they almost managed it.

They almost fucking managed it. Here were are, in the middle of the #MeToo movement and #TimesUP and a serial pedophile who preyed on young girls for decades was almost tried and convicted with no media acknowledgment whatsoever. USAG, MSU and the USOC have been putting out toothless statements about the bravery of the young women who have come forward and have done absolutely nothing to take on some of that work themselves. These women are survivors and, as is always the case, they are out there alone doing the heavy lifting. These women, women who have been trying to get people to listen to them for decades, some of whom have brought fame on USAG and the USOC through their performance on the national and international stage have been cast aside. They have been made to feel as though they only hold worth as long as they fly through the air in sparkly leotards adorned with the Stars and Stripes. So I have to ask, where has everyone been? At this moment when people are finally, finally listening to women, why did it take 14 goddamn months of a constant cascade of information for The New York Times to put this on the front fucking page? This is the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history and they were children and it was not deemed important enough to print until now. I’ll tell you why. Because for as important as the #MeToo Movement has been we are still knee deep in a disgusting patriarchal culture that does not listen to the voices of women even while news outlets congratulate themselves on how much space they have been giving to our voices. If they cannot make space to out a serial pedophile and the organizations that stood blindly by all while creating an environment that was just aching to host a monster like Nassar then we have gotten no where, our voices, our pain, still mean nothing.

I have been saying since the beginning that our downfall is our tendency to valuate the experiences of victims in order to decide whether the career of one man is worth being ruined. How many of our voices does it take? How many of our careers, our lives, have to be stymied in order to protect the trajectory of a man’s life? How many young girls coming forward to the people whom they trusted with their safety and their happiness and their innocence does it take to get one serial fucking pedophile put behind bars? I think we have our number and it is higher than we know.

When will people start listening? At what point will one abuse be enough to end it? When will our stories permanently stop being relegated to women’s interest subsites as if our experiences do not have universal effects on the societies in which we live. Our experiences matter. What we endure shapes the world around us. I would love to tell everyone to shut up and listen but the problem is that they claim to be but they simply aren’t. How long did it take the news to go crazy over some bullshit story about tide pods? Not 14 months, I can tell you that much. The bottom line is that we as a society simply do not care about women and we do not care about little girls. This story has made that abundantly clear and it breaks my heart every single day.

Am I happy that this monster will die in jail? Yes. If there was a way for us to keep him alive for every single second of his 175 year sentence, I would support it. I want that man to suffer for every moment of the rest of his miserable life. When he is sleeping I hope he replays these past few days in his mind until his very last day. But that is not all that I want. I want USA Gymnastics to be decertified as a governing body until they completely clean house. Every person that worked at that organization while this was allowed to happen has got to go and we need to start fresh. If that means less medals, so be it. The athletes must always come first. I want Marta and Bela Karolyi investigated for their role in this atrocity and fuck them if they think they get to retire in peace and determine their own legacies. They did this. I want every person who had involvement with the athletic department at MSU gone, starting with the president of the University, Lou Anna Simon. I want a complete overhaul at the USOC because that is clearly not an organization that can or should be trusted with the safety of any athlete. And I want people to finally listen to women and girls when we speak. I want people to trust that we understand the difference between a good touch and a bad one, that we can discern a joke from abuse. We are raised to protect ourselves from men, it is the only thing that allows us to survive.

So no, I am not happy and I am not relieved. I am fucking angry. Remember Dominique Moceanu? That little girl who danced into our hearts in 1996? She has been trying to expose the abuse within USA Gymnastics for years and she was maligned. And here’s a name you might not know: Rachel Denhollander. She was the one who started this whole process by reaching out to the Indy Star over a year ago when they published an article critical of the culture of USA Gymnastics. She knew what Nassar did was wrong when it happened to her but she didn’t report it until now. Why? Because she knew no one would listen to her, no one would believe her. And she was right.

This is not just about one man. This is not just about one sport or a few governing bodies. This is not just about the countless adults who did nothing in the face of decades of abuse. This is about all of us. We need to start caring. And not just paying lip service. We need to demand that these stories are told front and center because that is the only way we can stop this from happening again. Because if we continue the way we are, it will happen again. Who knows, it might be happening right now.

 

 

To The Accused: I Do Not Accept Your Apologies

17 Nov

These past few weeks have been overwhelming. Weeks? Months, maybe. It’s hard to keep track. It has to be months, though, because it all started with Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. It started with a flurry and it turned into a blizzard. I wonder if there will be an avalanche before it is all over, and if there is one who will be buried – the accused or the accusers. I wonder whether all the people coming forward are empowered by their sisters and brothers in trauma or whether they are afraid, like I am, that we have to seize this moment, right now, and run with it as far and as fast as we can before we lose it. Before it becomes about something else. Before this reckoning gets silenced and the conversations I have been hearing all around me start happening less and less; until eventually they become once again what they were – a bunch of us women talking in hushed tones, telling each other who to avoid, where not to go, and offering hugs and tears and sheer unbridled rage because that is all we have to give. We have, it seems, an unending well of that. Of rage and of support for each other.

I don’t know about all of you but what we are living through right now is hard. It physically hurts. I have felt like I’ve been punched in the gut, in the face. Like my heart has been ripped out of my chest again and again with every new allegation, every new story. There are just so many. And I knew there were, of course I knew. I’m not stupid. My girl friends, every single one of them, has experienced some sort of sexual abuse, sexual harassment. We’ve been touched, raped, followed, stalked, catcalled, sent unwanted photographs, masturbated in front of. Me and my group of friends are not unique, no. We are the norm. We are representative of just about every single woman who walks the face of this planet. We all have stories. We all have experiences. And now, once again, we are doing the work. We are coming forward, telling our stories, defending ourselves, explaining rape culture.

Every single time I have to say the same things I have been saying to the seemingly never ending parade of clueless men I feel defeated. It’s like an assembly line that just never seems to end. Honestly, I am heart broken and I am angry. So very, very angry. We all are. Sometimes I think if we could harness all the female rage built up over the centuries we could power every single electrical grid in the world with plenty of energy left over. That is how real this anger is, how deep it goes. And it isn’t just about men, it is about us too. We were raised by the patriarchy just the same as everyone else. So at the same time we were reading about equality and learning about women’s rights and paying lip service to how far we have come, we were being sexually abused and it was so damn normalized that we didn’t even know to call it what it was.

***

I came to political consciousness a few years before Monica Lewinsky was labeled a slut by the national media. It happened in 1998. I was 15 years old. I remember talking to my mom about it, not understanding why what the President did in his bedroom concerned us. I didn’t think someone’s extra-marital affair should overshadow the important things that were happening at the time like the assault of Abner Louima by the New York City Police Department or the fact that after 156 years of British Rule Hong Kong was turned over to China. I didn’t understand why we weren’t discussing our tragic and embarrassing response to the Rwandan Genocide or how scary The Unabomber was. But Monica Lewinsky’s experience was a huge deal for reasons that I could not understand because I was raised in a social climate that blames women, calls us gold diggers and power seekers. While out society lives and dies by the Church of Male Power, it refuses to acknowledge how that power is wielded as a weapon and how women are so often the victims. Bill Clinton had sexual contact with his 22-year-old intern and then he lied about it. He was impeached but not for his treatment of Lewinsky because that simply didn’t matter. He was impeached because he lied about it. And then, since we have been talking about apologies recently, he said something that I find to be so incredibly insulting, so incredibly dehumanizing to every single woman everywhere

I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

He did not have sexual relations “with that woman.” It makes me queasy to just type those words. That woman. I can hear his voice in my head saying those words. And to think, Lewinsky didn’t even want to come forward with what had happened. Yet she at 22 was dragged through the mud. Still to this day, 20 years later, “Monica Lewinsky dress” is one of the first items to come up when you google her. Bill Clinton was able to go on and finish his presidency, to continue to play an important in world politics. She will always be associated with that dress and its semen stain.

***

I guess the point I am trying to make is that we all grew up steeped in it. And some of us were victimized and, at the time, we didn’t even know it. And as we have gotten older we started to realize that the way men treat women, although it is normalized, is not normal. It is not right. And for as complicated as we make it, something that I believe we as a society do in order to justify its continuation, it actually isn’t that complicated. Sexual abuse, sexual misconduct and sexual assault is wrong. It has always been wrong. It is wrong whether it was at the hands of Roy Moore or Al Franken; Bill O’Reilly or Harvey Weinstein; Kevin Spacey or one of the presidents of the United States. They should all get the same treatment. They should all be taken down. They should have been taken down years ago. I have no sympathy for any of them. I don’t care what they thought the “social climate” was like when they did what they did. I don’t care how they justified it to themselves over all the years they tried to keep it quiet. Some of them, I’m sure, never thought it was wrong to begin with. They never thought about a day that for them was so normal but for the victim could have changed the course of her or his life. But that is not my problem. It is theirs. So I want them all to shut the hell up. It’s our turn.