For My Bama

30 Sep

** A short note. This is the eulogy that I wrote for my grandmother. I have gone back and forth over whether or not to post it but ultimately the decision was made for me by my friend Miriam who has been my guiding light through this grief journey. She believes that we all need someone(s) to be witness to our lives, to our death, to our grief, to our success. And so all of you who read this are a witness not only to my process and experience, but to the life that I was able to bear witness to. In this way, Bama’s legacy is able to spread even farther and you all get a glimpse at what a magical person she was **


There is a painting on my wall. I always say that in the event of a flood it is the only non-living thing I will take with me. It measures 4 foot by 2. It is made up of pinks, oranges and yellows – a beautiful African sunset. There is a tree off to the right side; I think it is a baobab, although it very well might be a marula. Running towards the tree is a giraffe. The giraffe is…imperfect. Too small with awkward, stumpy legs, its neck – however proportional to the rest of the animal it may be – would never reach far enough to allow the giraffe access to the leaves. If it were real this giraffe would surely starve. But I love it. I love everything about the painting. I love the detailing on the leaves, the grasses that seem to move, this one cloud that is absolute perfection – the rays of the sun illuminate its shape so clearly that I am certain that this singular cloud is real, living in an otherwise painted landscape. But the giraffe – I always come back to the giraffe. It is framed by orange, more orange than exists anywhere else on the canvass. It is something that other people might not notice but I do. I notice because I remember when Bama painted it.

She was having trouble getting the giraffe right and try as she may her hand never seemed able to recreate what was in her mind. I sat in the airy, pastel living room of the house in Florida completely in awe of her ability to recreate this magical sunset again and again and again, each one more colorful than the last. Eventually she settled on a giraffe – I don’t know that she was enamored with it but it was good enough to stay in the painting which occupied the space above her bed for decades in a perfectly chosen gold and black frame. Of all the paintings she ever created, and there are quite a few, it is by far my favorite. Partially because I feel I was part of the process – although I probably got in the way more than anything else – but also because of the bold and beautiful colors. I love colors and so did Bama – I learned that from her.

When I was younger I was quite partial to oversized t-shirts and sweatshirts, generally in dark blues and blacks. I remember one day I was hanging out with Bama and she said to me,

“Bekahboo, why don’t you wear more color? You have my skin tone, see?”

She was sporting a beautiful, billowy turquois top that just set her off. She put her forearm against mine and she was right – I had the exact same olive skin tone and so, after a discussion, we got in the car and headed to Nordstrom’s – her favorite department store – to look for clothes. We rode the escalator to the top and there in front of me was Plum, Nordstrom’s answer to the needs of the young adult market. She bought me a couple of tops – one of them was neon pink and strapless if I remember correctly – and it changed my life. I have had a color-heavy existence ever since. Except, of course, for that one day I showed up at her house fresh from a shift at Banana Republic wearing a black turtle neck and dark jeans and she said,

“Bekahboo, you look lovely in black. Why don’t you wear it more?”

It turns out that to Bama, I was perfect no matter what. And she, in turn, was perfect to me.

Bama’s was the first phone number I ever memorized. Her house was where I went when I wanted to hide, to feel safe, to eat those weird raspberry-shaped candies she had lying around for awhile, and to learn how to make things like corn bake and latkes. It was where I went when I wanted to laugh. I like to flatter myself and think that I share her sense of humor. And, in fact, if she were here right now she would probably tell me I did and then look at me and say,

“Well, you didn’t lick it off a bush!”

Which, the more I think about it, is a really weird saying. Sometimes I think maybe Bama didn’t get her due entirely. Papa was sort of an out-sized personality with his schemes, loud voice and serial obsessions but Bama was always there, always consistent, always ready with a funny comment and a smile. She was the real star of the show. The real Hollywood.

So, I guess before I stand here talking for the rest of the day I will just say this: we were lucky to have her for as long as we did. And we are lucky that her humor and her artistic talent was passed along to each and every one of us. Except for maybe my dad who is not really very artistic at all but tells a hell of a joke about a coffin. Bama, I love you, I miss you and your giraffe painting is safe with me forever.

Just a Vulva and Her Eyeballs

13 Aug

Chapter One: The Powerful

Do you remember on October 7th, 2016, a mere month before the 2016 elections when the Washington Post dropped a video and accompanying article of then presidential candidate Donald Trump and Billy Bush having a vulgar conversation about women back in 2005? Do you remember how Trump said,

I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.

Unsurprisingly, this behavioral assessment made by Trump himself exactly matches some of the 25 allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual assault and rape lobbed against our current president. There’s Jill Harth, who says that in 1993 she was attacked by Trump in one of the children’s bedrooms at Mar-a-Lago when he tried to rape her and forcibly kissed her on the lips. Then there was Cathy Heller who reported that in 1997 Trump grabbed her and forcibly kissed her. Same thing happened to Temple Taggart in 1997, Jennifer Murphy and Rachel Crooks in 2005, Jessica Drake and her two friends in 2006 and Summer Zervos in 2007. And these are just the ones we know about.

The point is that we live in an environment that is openly hostile to women. Our President is a rapist; there are two members of the Supreme Court who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment and/or rape; and then there are/were people like Roger Ailes, Jeffrey Epstein, Rob Porter, R. Kelly, Larry Nassar, Harvey Weinstein and so so many more who for years were, and in a lot of unnamed cases continue to be, immune to any sort of real, lasting justice because we do not care about or value the experience of non-cis men. But it isn’t just about the justice system and it isn’t just about rape; this cultural toxicity travels through every single bit of our society and poisons just about everything, including but by no means limited to, education and art.


Chapter Two: The Law

A few months back my podcast cohost Jessy and I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Mistress/Master Leigh for Welcome To My Vagina. During our conversation, Leigh spoke to us about FOSTA/SESTA, a combined House and Senate bill that was designed to try to curb child sex trafficking but was worded so incredibly loosely that it threatens to change the internet as we know it – and it is already happening. What started out as a push to get the selling of underage children – primarily girls – off of Backpage.com turned into an all-out assault on the consensual sex work industry, forcing sex workers offline and therefore separating them from their number one means of safety: the ability to vet their clients prior to an in-person encounter. As we know, there is a difference between consensual and non-consensual sex work, and writing legislation without the input of those intimately aware of that difference – sex workers themselves as well as activists and advocates for sex workers – is highly problematic. It also ends up doing a disservice to victims of sex trafficking themselves. Backpage wasn’t the only place where they were advertised, it was just perhaps the most accessible. Now those same people who were advertised there are being advertised elsewhere. But on what websites? I don’t really know.

Although the safety of sex workers and sex trafficking victims is of course the highest priority here (and both those populations have been done a serious disservice by this law), there is also another way that FOSTA/SESTA fails us, a way that it fails all of us. What FOSTA/SESTA did so effectively was it poked a gaping hole in what was known as the “safe harbors” rule of the internet, AKA Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. This is usually regarded as one of the most important pieces of internet legislation ever created. It reads,

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another content provider.

According to Aja Romano of Vox, “Section 230 has allowed the internet to thrive on user-generated content without holding platforms and ISPs responsible for whatever those users might create.” But FOSTA/SESTA creates an exception to Section 230 that shifts responsibility when it comes to advertisements for prostitution – including consensual sex work – from third party users to the websites themselves. The goal of the bill is ostensibly to make the policing of sex trafficking rings easier, although to be honest I am not entirely sure how this has that effect. However, the wording of the legislation is so sweeping and so vague that many websites immediately removed whole swaths of their services. Have you been wondering where the personal ads on Craigslist went? Or all of the porn that used to live on Tumblr? Websites across the internet have been forced to preemptively remove or censor tons of content before they get mired in costly lawsuits that puts them out of business. Keep in mind this is not because there is necessarily advertisements for sex work on all of these sites, but because monitoring every corner of their sites is simply too difficult and too costly. The onus is too big. So now anything that can be perceived as even vaguely pornographic gets tossed.


Chapter Three: The Creators

Have you seen our vulva? She is very cute, with giant unmatching eyeballs and beautiful long lashes. Marvel at her in all her glory. Isn’t she great? We think so. Unfortunately, the internet under FOSTA/SESTA does not agree.

logo2 copy

This is where the issues with education and art that I spoke of earlier come in. What Jessy and I are working tirelessly to do through our podcast, and what Jessy has worked hard on for over five years with her YouTube series of the same name, is to use humor to educate people about topics considered taboo. This has included, but is certainly not limited to, interviews with a woman who suffers from endometriosis, the CEO of a wellness website, an incredible doula, a Puerto Rican trans-activist, as well as conversations about body hair, labiaplasty, the word hysteria and, you guessed it, the fact that our president is 100% a rapist. And what we want to do is to continue to create content and to broaden our audience because what we are doing matters. There are important conversations that are not happening in public and a gaping hole in our education system through which sex ed has plummeted. And this all effects everyone but it effects the marginalized more. Women, people of color, the impoverished, the LGBTQ community are not getting the information that we need through public resources and so the private sector is working hard to fill in the void. But FOSTA/SESTA is standing there, right in the way. How? Let me tell you how it has effected me and Jessy.

Take another look at our vulva. She is anatomically correct (minus the eyes) and she is a cartoon. She is not pornographic, or vulgar, or overtly sexual. She is simply a drawing of body part that more than half of the population has, a body part that is misunderstood and called by the wrong name, a body part on which heaps and heaps of shame are piled. And for as much as having a vulva has worked against us as individuals for so long, having a vulva as a logo is making our ability to reach more people and make some money off the hours of work we put in seemingly impossible. So far, we have not been allowed to pay Instagram to promote our podcast because our logo goes against their new community guidelines. Just to make this clear we cannot give Instagram money to broaden our reach because, under FOSTA/SESTA, our logo is vulgar. We also cannot give Spotify money to play our trailer unless we lose the vulva and “vaginal flatulence,” their words not mine. This leaves me wondering where they stand on anal flatulence, whether they have an in-house expert to distinguish between the two and whether anyone at Spotify has ever attended a yoga class. And just today Zazzle returned the money we sent them to pay for a few beer steins that we ordered because

the product contains a design that includes adult content…Zazzle will not fulfill orders of merchandise that may be viewed as pornographic, obscene and/or contain nudity that is not artistic in nature.

Put aside the fact that we ordered exactly 3 steins – one for each of us and one for our awesome producer, Cait. What Zazzle has done here aside from censor us, was that they became the arbiter of what is considered art, what is considered pornographic and what is considered obscene. Is our vulva not art because it is anatomically correct? Or is it not art because it depicts female genitalia? What is Zazzle’s definition of obscenity? And if someone happens to be turned on by a cartoon vulva with eyes, what’s the damn problem? No one is getting hurt here. No one is getting trafficked. And you know what else? No one is getting PAID. Not Instagram, not Spotify, not Zazzle and certainly not us.

And yeah, it’s frustrating, but it is also dangerous. Because as I said before, people need the information that we and thousands of others are providing and they need to be able to find it and with the way all this is going, that is becoming more and more difficult. And there will be people – because of lack of access to an income – who will be forced out of this field and that will have real consequences. Because let’s be honest, our schools are not teaching proper sex education and the information coming from our president, many of our elected officials and “news” analysts on TV is oftentimes wrong. The internet is supposed to be a place that can be used by the masses to educate ourselves and others. FOSTA/SESTA is making that increasingly difficult.


Chapter Four: This is all one fight

It might seem from the outside that this is all disconnected. What does Welcome To My Vagina have to do with president Trump? What does an unfilled order for a few vulva-decorated beer steins have to do with child sex trafficking? Honestly, everything.

This is all a story of power: who has it and who doesn’t. Donald Trump can post whatever he wants online because everything he does is considered “news worthy” and therefore operates above the law that all of the rest of us live under. FOSTA/SESTA has no impact on him. And it’s true, that a lot of children who are trafficked are targeted online and then sold online and that is really fucked up. I wish it didn’t happen. And I wish we could come up with a better way to keep kids safe. One step towards achieving that is through access to information. Kids, and adults, need to be able to find community. And they need to be trusted with the truth. Kids can learn to protect themselves from predators by learning what sorts of things to look for. And that information can be taught to them online, through trusted sources that are made easily available. There are a lot of other things that can be taught online. As I said earlier, we live in a society that is toxic to women – one of the ways it is toxic is that women are kept uneducated about their own bodies and are taught that they exist primarily to be consumed by others and to make babies. That is simply not true and we need access to counter narratives and imagery. We need to see more vulvas and we need to hear more queefs. Vulvas are beautiful and queefs, like farts, are fucking hilarious and I stand by that.

I guess in summation it just feels like a lot of times the most important things get swept under the rug. FOSTA/SESTA is potentially one of the most crucial, free-speech impacting legislative changes of our lifetimes and no one knows anything about it. But you will. Because it’s coming for you. It’s coming for all of us and it feels like we are completely powerless to stop it.

What’s the Difference Between Donald Trump and a Poop Train? The Media Reported Truthfully on One of Them.

6 Aug

I have written a number of times about how much I hate Donald Trump. At least once was well before he became president and one was in the days immediately following his election. My feelings haven’t really changed much although his stature in society certainly has. The reality is that no matter how we slice it, no matter how much people cite his changing politics and past relationships with powerful men on whatever part of the political spectrum, Donald Trump has always been a hot, steaming pile of garbage. But not just any garbage. He is middle of August New York City garbage when workers for the Sanitation Department have been on strike for weeks. The kind of garbage that you can smell, taste and feel seeping through your pores as you walk down a shadeless sidewalk at noon on a 95 degree day. A pile of trash that has been absorbing and reflecting heat for weeks so the fetid stench assaults your senses from every single angle. It runs down the streets in thick, gooey streams and floats through the air, invisible. That is the kind of garbage that Donald Trump is. He is soiled diapers, dead rats, rotting meat, liquified vegetables, used tampons and discarded chicken bones all mashed together and served to you daily compliments of Twitter, your racist uncle and every single news outlet available. He is everywhere and not going anywhere. He is that poop train that got stuck in a small Alabama town. Was that caboose stuffed with millions of pounds of human excrement stuck in bureaucratic purgatory a parallel to our lived reality? Perhaps. After all, it took months for Parrish, Alabama (population 982) to get that train a’moving and here we are, 2 1/2 years into a Trump Regime with no obvious exit and no definitive end in sight. Purgatory? It’s more like hell.

And it is a hell that he understands better than any of us. For all his idiocy, immaturity and bluster Donald Trump knows one thing: he knows how to create loyalty and then squeeze everything he can out of it. He was right when, in his campaign for the presidency he said,

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.

It is incredible. Imagine it, the President of the United States of America shoots someone dead on Fifth Avenue, in broad daylight, the incident is caught on camera and nothing happens. Nothing. I didn’t believe it when he said it in Iowa back in 2016 but I believe it now. I believe that Trump could kill someone and that still wouldn’t make his reelection impossible. I don’t think it would really change all that much at all. Donald Trump could stand atop that poop train and declare that the entire town of Parrish does not reek of tons and tons of actual shit but instead smells like butterfly bushes, jasmine and rosemary. It would get reported as news and people would believe him. He is only as strong as the loyalty given him and he knows that – that is how he has always operated, it is a tried and true approach. It isn’t about love. Instead, it’s about an unquestioned, unshakeable adulation that allows him to operate the way he has always operated: completely unfettered and unaffected by all his misdoings, by the ways he has wronged people and by any sort of moral or ethical code. Our president, much like the poop train, operates outside the law and outside of common decency.

So what do we do about it? Oh, I don’t know. We could and perhaps should take a page out of Beto O’Rourke’s book. Following the recent shooting in El Paso a journalist asked O’Rourke if there was anything he could do to fix the problem. O’Rourke responded,

What do you think? You know the shit he has been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals… I mean members of the press – what the fuck?!

Set aside for a moment the fact that Beto O’Rourke should for sure sit down the 2020 race for the presidency and instead use this moment to enter the 2020 Senate race to unseat John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. He would be much more useful in that role and has a much better chance of winning that race than he does the presidency. But either way other candidates, politicians and all of us normals need to seize on Beto’s feelings and start taking the media to task. I know there was some stuff with Russia and whatnot that led to us having Trump, but do you know what else helped? The media. And if we don’t do something and keep taking them to task we will end up with Trump AGAIN.

This went in a different direction than I anticipated but I guess I will sum it up by saying this: media awareness about the presence of the poop train and how inhumane having it sitting there stinking up a town for months on end was effective in remedying the situation. The poop train moved and New York no longer sends its shit down to Alabama. If the media can help move the poop train along, then it would stand to reason it could also help remove the shitbag currently fouling up the Oval Office, when he decides to take a break from racist Twitter rants and rounds of golf, that is. So, let’s hold their feet to the fire. That’s how we win.

 

What Would Your Super Power Be?

13 May

Aaaaaand after a 7 month break I am back. Let’s see what happens.

I have been thinking about old people a lot. Partially because old people really like my dog, Goose, and that makes me happy. It’s made me think about maybe training her to visit old folks homes to bring a few smiles and a little spunk into what I imagine can sometimes be a dreary life. I’ve been thinking about how when I walk Goose I am very aware of how people react to her. People are afraid of dogs and she is not small. But I have noticed that for some reason a lot of older people are drawn to her. Their faces light up, eyes brighten, mouths turn up into a grin. And so Goose and I stop so they can say hello and I think to myself about how this world erases the old people among us and how lonely it must be to walk along the streets unnoticed. And how important it is not to stop and smell the flowers, although that is nice too, but to take notice of the lady slowly pushing her cart to the store or the gentleman sitting out front of his house on a vinyl chair, a pocket full of treats for the dogs walking by.

I’ve also been thinking about old people because my grandma is an old person. And not just any old person. She is my old person, my Bama. She is hilarious. One time my dad brought her a sandwich and she made some sort of comment about how she might die soon (Jews, am I right?!), and my dad said that he hoped she wouldn’t die too soon and do you know what she said? She said, yeah, because then you would have wasted money on this sandwich. I don’t know. I think it’s comedy genius but maybe you had to be there.

In an effort to grapple with the fact that my last remaining grandparent is 93 and not in the very best of health, I have been doing what I often do: I have been hiding in the big picture. I’ve been thinking a lot about systems and causes and humanity. I’ve been thinking about how we got here and where we go from here. How we move forward from what I think of as an expensive, yet substandard, approach to care and towards something better. I’ve been thinking about compassion and empathy. I’ve been thinking about how we, as a society, define the idea of being human and how that classification may or may not change over the course of a lifetime. How we cycle through different levels of value simply by existing and those values are almost always placed on us by the world in which we live.

It is an interesting thing, thinking about the trajectory of a life. How the rights of a zygote are valued more than those of the women who carry that zygote. How maybe sometimes those women give birth to a baby girl, whose rights and values will be added to and chipped away from depending on how old she is, how attractive, whether she gets pregnant, if she is assaulted, how opinionated she is and so many other factors. How one day, inevitably, she will cycle from youth to adulthood to middle age to old age and she will become less and less visible. And then, maybe, depending on the family in which she is a member, she will be forgotten. Overlooked. Gone before she is even dead.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about because that will be me some day, assuming I don’t get ill or run over by a self-driving bus. And it just makes me wonder, what will late in life look like for me? What am I owed as an engaged, mostly good person on this planet? But, way more importantly, what do I owe to those who came before me? And how do I continually do better?

This all makes me think of that question people used to ask when I was younger – and, to be honest, that some people still ask me to this day: if you could have any super power, what would it be? And while my answer for the past 2 decades has been to be able to speak every single language, it used to be invisibility. I used to want to be invisible sometimes. Not for any nefarious reasons, just so I could occasionally disappear. But then one day I realized that as a person on this earth, and more specifically as a woman on this earth, invisibility is an inevitability so wishing for it is a waste. I will be invisible one day whether I want to be or not.

Trauma is a Mother Fucker

30 Sep

This has been an especially rough week. Few weeks, actually. I remember a while back I read this article that summarized a study that had been carried out on Vietnam Vets. Please excuse my lapse in memory since I read this a long time ago and am a little fuzzy on the details but the gist of it is as follows:

Following the Vietnam War, some social scientists questioned a number of soldiers returning from battle. They asked them specific questions about their experiences, what happened, how they felt. They took detailed notes, took down their names and said they would follow up in a few decades time. The years passed and then, 30 or 40 years later, they tracked down the people that they could find and asked the exact same questions they had asked upon their initial return. The vets fell distinctly into two different groups: those whose memories had changed, and those whose memories had not. They had all experienced some horrible things while overseas but some of them had the distinct markers of trauma and some of them did not. Those whose memories had changed over time – who in hindsight saw their experience at war through rose-colored glasses – had not developed PTSD. It was the returnees who explained scenarios exactly as they had decades before, those who remembered all the details of specific events as if they had happened just yesterday, that were suffering the longterm psychological effects of war.

I think about that study a lot in regards to myself and my life. What do I have unwavering memory of and what has faded and changed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot these past few weeks as we have read about Christine Blasey Ford and as we watched her speak before the Senate Judicial Committee. I thought about it while she talked about her hippocampus and the fact that she installed a second front door in her home. You see, we never forget. Trauma simply does not allow for that.

But there’s more there than just that. I have been watching as the women in my life have struggled. How we have all been sad and in pain; how we have had old wounds torn open; how we have seen women on the subway, walking down the street, in cafes huddled over their phones crying. We all know why. It is because all of us, or at least most of us, have either been or almost been Christine Blasey Ford. We have either reported our experiences, not reported our experiences, or tried to report our experiences and been turned away or dissuaded. Her story is not just hers it is mine, it is yours, it is all of ours. How do I figure? I’ll tell you.

Last night I finished an especially busy shift at work and decided to sit down and have a shift drink and a chat with my coworkers. I was sitting at the bar talking to my friend to my left when I felt a quick *tap tap* on my right shoulder. I turned but no one was there. And then I saw hands and realized that the man who had tapped me had then used my distraction to place one hand on either side of me on the bar, essentially trapping me in my seat. I was immediately transported back to my senior year in college when at a frat party a “friend” of mine, upset with me for who knows what reason (he always seemed to have a reason) trapped me against a wall by placing one hand on either side of my shoulders and leaning his body towards me, making escape feel impossible. Not that it matters but I’ll say it anyway: he was drunk, I was not. And I know that because he had tricked me into driving our mutual friend to the airport at 3 in the morning because he wanted to enjoy the party; he knew me well enough to know I was too responsible, even at 21, to put my friends at risk or cause someone to miss their flight home. I don’t remember how long we stood like that, me cowering and him talking loudly at me before I broke free, he lost interest or someone came to my rescue. But I specifically remembered that feeling of knowing that anything could happen, anything could be done to me in that moment and I would have very little ability to stop it. I experienced that feeling again last night and I realized something.

The man who trapped me wasn’t trying to scare me. He wasn’t trying to make me feel powerless or intimidate me. He was just treating me the way a lot of people treat and think of women: as slightly less human than men. My personal space wasn’t his concern, nor my personal safety. He could do what he wanted because even though we are not friends and have never had more than casual conversation he owns me a little bit. He is entitled to me. And even though he might not have been actively thinking that in the moment, or been actively trying to make me feel like I had  no right to take up space, that’s exactly what he did. He reminded me in that small yet aggressive action that I, and women in general, are only permitted to taking up exactly the amount of space a man deems necessary and that amount of space is subject to change at any time depending on any specific man’s mood or level of intoxication.

Let’s bring it back a little. Back when the #MeToo movement had its second life (it was originally conceived by Tarana Burke and, surprise surprise, co-opted by wealthy white women) a lot of people were afraid of an impending sex panic. How will men ride in elevators with women? How will they hit on us? How will they interview for and secure jobs? How will they have sex? How will they do all of this when any woman at any time can accuse them of sexual misconduct, sexual assault or rape and ruin their lives? Clearly women are unhinged and it is the men who are really at risk here. But let me remind you of something:

  • Donald Trump has 16 credible accusations of sexual misconduct, assault and rape and he is the president of the United States (vomit)
  • Larry Nassar sexually assaulted 400 women and counting; he was first accused back in 1997 and nothing was done for 20 years
  • Louis C.K. jerked off in front of women, stopped performing for 9 months and then walked on stage at the Comedy Cellar here in New York City and got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth
  • Bill Cosby was sentenced 3-10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He drugged and assaulted or raped other women as well, something he admitted to in front of a grand jury in the early 2000s
  • Brett Kavanaugh had been accused of rape by 3 women – one of whom detailed “train rapes” that he and his childhood friend Mark Judge participated in – and there is a very good chance he will be confirmed and end up with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court

So I guess what I am trying to tell you is this: yes, things have been changing. Yes, women are being heard now (whether or not they are being believed is still up for debate). But remind yourself which women are being heard. And remind yourself that the entire country just watched, transfixed, as a giant man baby blubbered to a group of politicians about how his life was being ruined.  And while you’re thinking about that, don’t forget about the woman who had carefully, and respectfully, testified earlier that morning about how her life had been turned upside down by actions taken by a young Brett Kavanaugh. She wasn’t just effected by this now, in 2018. She has been dealing with this, and living with it, since the early 1980s. While every one is saying that we need due process, that we cannot “just believe the victims,” that she is probably part of some conspiracy to keep the court from becoming more conservative just remember that it is Dr. Ford who was hacked, it is Dr. Ford who is being called a slut and a liar, it is Dr. Ford who had to move her family out of their home and hire protection. She is not guaranteed a right to space, to her story and to her humanity. None of us are. And trauma? Trauma doesn’t allow us to forget. That is what this is about.

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