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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.

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.

Men Are the Fucking Worst

8 Nov

Sorry, guys. It’s true. Men are the fucking worst. White men, I am mostly talking to you. But before you all roll your eyes, shut the browser window and grumble about women and feminism, and #notallmen and whatever, please hear me out. I feel like you owe us that much. Or don’t. And just reinforce my theory that men are the fucking worst.

Here’s the thing. There are plenty of individual men who are not, on their own, the fucking worst. I am, in fact, dating one such person and in my opinion, which of course is biased, he is pretty great. So let’s not get all crazy here. There are lots of men who, when they are on their own, I like very much. It is men as a group that I have a problem with. And also some men that are part of that group and absolutely refuse to engage with their own privilege, their own behavior, and the ways in which those things negatively impact those around them. Those men are individually pretty shitty. As a white person, I can understand the frustration with being lumped in with a bunch of other people who just happen to share a characteristic with me and then being blamed for their bad behavior. Or for the bad behavior of the group as a whole in which I am a member. Did I choose to be part of the oppressive class? No. But I am. And much in the way that men are the fucking worst, white people are also the fucking worst. Seriously, we suck. I am Jewish and do you know who tried to kill all the Jews? White people. People who look like me actively tried to wipe people who also look like me off the face of the earth and for what reason? Some bullshit, that’s what. And I am still lumped in with white people even though if it was up to white people I wouldn’t even exist anymore. And even still I am like, well, you know what? I benefit from the way that I look and even though I might not have been around at the inception of racism, I benefit from the persistence of it whether I like it or not and whether I want to admit it or not. But what does not admitting it get me? Nothing except that it makes me even more of the fucking worst. It is my job to be better.

So in my mind the same thing applies to men. I get it. Men get mad that women blame them for all the bad treatment and shit like that. And women do, in fact, blame men for historical things that current men might not have even been alive for. I understand that is frustrating. But take a second and ask yourself, really ask yourself, do you receive benefits in your daily life solely from being male. Let me give you some direction here. The answer is YES, yes you fucking do. And that isn’t your fault, necessarily, but it does need to be acknowledged and challenged and much as white people shouldn’t task people of color with undoing racism and educating us about how our behavior negatively impacts their lived experience, women should not be tasked with constantly calling men out on their shit. And that is part of the reason why the #metoo movement pissed me off. Women were tasked with reliving their horror for the benefit of men. This has been going on for fucking ever, it is the year 2017 for crying out loud, and this is all just coming out now. And it doesn’t just take one woman to make it happen. It takes tens of thousands. Millions, even. And I still don’t see us really having large discussions about the systemic reasons why this is the case.

Part of me feels compelled to go into all those systemic things that I wish we were talking about. A lot of me wants to address the issue that, in this rare moment when women are actually being listened to, there are only some women, very few women, with a platform to speak and with a voice that people are willing to hear. Those women are mostly famous, mostly wealthy, and mostly white. And, in my personal opinion, they still aren’t really being heard. They are the most privileged among us and still they are being dismissed in many corners. They are being given this moment but I can already see the moment fading away. See people wondering why we are still talking about this. People getting frustrated. But just think about all the women that have had these experiences who are not speaking up because, for myriad reasons, they cannot. The voices coming from Hollywood might be expressing experiences that most of us have had, but they are not loud enough to drown out the silence of millions more. And they are not powerful enough to stop all of the sexual assaults and sexual mistreatment that has happened since these scandals hit the mainstream, and they cannot stop those which will happen going forward.

I don’t know how to even begin to fix that other than to tell men to listen to the women in your lives. Don’t mock us when we express fear that, to you, might seem unfounded. We have been trained to sense danger in even the most unexpected places. Don’t call us crazy when we tell you that the way you are talking to us is condescending. Don’t get into bed with us when we are too drunk to consent and then tell us our behavior was confusing or that it is our fault that you misunderstood or that we wanted it.  Don’t tell us our lived experiences are not valid. Don’t speak over us. And also, pay attention. Don’t make us do all the work. Open your eyes and see what is right in front of you. See what you, yes you, do on a daily basis that undermines women’s feelings of self worth. It is not your fault that you grew up in this system. We all did. But it is your job to work to be better and to challenge it.

So, men, I am telling you that as a group you are the fucking worst and I don’t really like you. As a group, you make my life worse, more difficult. As a group, you make me feel less valuable, less valued, less human. So as individuals, try to be better. And in an effort to help, because I am feeling charitable today, I am going to start doing something. I am going to take my power back. Because what I have come to realize is that I don’t care if you like me or not. Did you hear that, men? I, Rebekah Frank, do not care whether you like me or think I am the biggest bitch in the entire world. I spent a lot of time caring. A lot of time protecting your feelings where you didn’t protect mine. A lot of time dressing a certain way, acting a certain way and doing certain things I didn’t want to do to make you like me but I am done with all that. In fact, I am going to do you a favor. When I don’t like what you’re doing, I’m going to tell you. And I might not be nice about it. And I hope you are man enough to take a step back and realize that what I am addressing did not happen in a vacuum, it has the full power of history behind it. And that history might not be your fault, personally, but you benefit from it so it is up to you to fight against its persistence. Just try and be a little bit less the worst. It won’t be easy and you won’t always get it right, but we’ll all be better because of it.

It is up to every man, just like it is up to every white person, to be less of the worst. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Be About Consent: My Thoughts on the #MeToo Movement

23 Oct

Me Too. Yes. Of course. Me fucking too.  I’ve written about it so many times here. Talked about it so much with friends and family. Gotten into deep discussions with people about the nature of consent and the evils of the patriarchy. And in ways I am happy to see that people responded to Alyssa Milano’s call. But at the same time goddamnit am I pissed, and sad, and frankly, in some ways, dumbfounded. Why? Oh, let me count the ways.

***

One. I am pissed that the burden of this has fallen, once again, on women. That always seems to be the case. We are supposed to take self defense classes to protect ourselves when we go about our daily lives. We are supposed to keep an eye on our drinks, never leaving them unattended, even around men who we consider our friends. We are tasked with walking home in groups, with putting our friends in cars, with connecting with each other through apps for our short, yet perilous, rides or walks home. We are supposed to be careful what we wear, where we go, who we smile at or talk to, who we trust. And then, almost inevitably when at some point in our lives something happens to us, we feel guilty, we are blamed, we are tasked with telling our painful stories, reliving horrifying events, walking back through a door we worked so goddamn hard to close. We have to do those things. And we do. And yet here we are, doing them again.

Two. I am saddened by the fact that people, mostly men, seem so surprised by the magnitude of this problem. I guess that was the point. But the thing that this says to me is that a lot of the men out there haven’t been listening all along. That we had to turn our experiences into a hashtag for them to finally be listened to. We go through this shit every single mother fucking day and we talk about it. Oh god do we talk about it! Because it is part of our daily lives. And we aren’t doing it to ourselves. It is being done to us. Mostly by men. And so my logical conclusion is that if most women have experienced some sort of sexual abuse or sexual harassment or sexual assault, then there are A LOT of men who have perpetrated it. It’s not like there are 10 guys out there making the rounds like fucking Rapey Santa Claus, dropping through chimneys, into work places, dorm rooms, company parties, first dates, marriages. If what this hashtag campaign has taught us is that if most women have experienced this, then it stands to reason that at some point or another most men have perpetrated it.

Three. We have a consent issue. And a power dynamic issue. And a huge fucking gender issue. Not to mention a value issue. And what, in my mind, this hashtag has not done, at least in my experience, is force those topics into daily conversation. It’s all well and good to retweet things, write notes of support and ruminate on the number of your friends who have gone through different versions of the same nightmare. It is an entirely different thing to take all of that information and ask yourself one simple question: why. Why is this happening? There are so many reasons but one of them is that women’s stories, our experiences, are not heard, they are not respected and they are not taken as real. How many women did it take to finally bring down Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Larry Nasser? How many Lupita Nyong’os or Angelina Jolies or Rose McGowans equal one Harvey Weinstein? How many victims could have been spared if we were believed, if we felt empowered, if we actually thought that sharing our stories would save others? Because the reality is that sharing oftentimes has the effect of turning our lives upside-down. Just ask Anita Hill.

Four. The number of people who asked why the hashtag only applied to women because men get sexually abused too. Way to “all lives matter” this shit. It is true. Men do get sexually assaulted. And it is an issue that is not discussed nearly enough. It also is deeply rooted in power dynamics, our fucked up way of engaging with gender and sexual expression as well as aspects of shame and control. What I don’t think it is, and correct me if I am wrong, is a massive systemic problem. So please, let’s talk about that. Definitely. But let us not, once again, let the plight of some men overtake the experience of the vast majority of women. I am not arguing that it is less important, or less horrible to experience, or less life altering. What I am saying is that this is not the place for it. This is about systemic and institutionalized sexism that doesn’t only exist in Hollywood. It is in politics, it is at work, it is in our homes, at school. This is about Women, as a group, being undervalued, controlled, disempowered, abused and about it being the year 2017 and all we can do is come up with a damn hashtag.

Five. This is somewhat tangential but I am really sick of people being like “I believe this is bad because I have a mother.” Congratulations, you have a mom. It stands to reason that since, you know, we all exist then probably at some point we all also had mothers. And think about this. Your mother was more likely than not the victim of sexual violence of some kind at some point in her life. Your mother. Because she is a woman and if this hashtag has taught us anything it is that most women have been assaulted in some way. It shouldn’t take you having a mom, or a sister, or a daughter, or an aunt, or a best friend who also happens to be a girl to give a shit. We are people. And we deserve to be treated as such regardless of our decision to procreate or our relation to someone of the opposite sex. We are not important because of the roles we play in men’s lives. We are simply important. Period. End of story.

Six. It is 2017. TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN! This has been written about so much. And talked about. And so much of that has been done so poorly but it doesn’t take a genius to know that Brock Turner is a garbage human and so is his dad and so is the judge who let him off easy. And it doesn’t take a genius to know that our President has sexually assaulted women. He admitted to it! On tape! And it doesn’t seem to matter! And really, I know that a lot of big names are being taken down right now. But these dudes are old. They are ooooooold. They have been doing this for so long. And do you know what? There are young, powerful men who are doing the same fucking thing right now. Because while we hashtag and have conversations about Harvey Weinstein, and Bill O’Reilly, and all the other pieces of shit we are not talking about MEN. We are not talking about toxic masculinity, the patriarchy and what that does to society as a whole. We are not talking about how we raise our boys and how we blame our girls. We are not taking on the bigger issue, instead we just bought a huge Harvey Weinstein shaped bandaid and acted like something really got done. He is a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself.

***

I don’t think I am offering any sort of new analysis here so I don’t know what the point is. I’m just frustrated. I am frustrated because this has been happening to all of us for so long. So long. And I think that our definition of sexual assault is too limited. There are so many experiences that I have had, that my friends have had, that I believe qualify. It is as simple as your girlfriend, or wife, saying no to sex and you continuing to push and her eventually just giving in. No one wants to just give in to having a penis inserted into her body. It’s incredibly invasive. And I know that men have this experience too. But the difference is the system. The way we value things. The way we doubt women and their experiences. And the way we, as a society, are somehow shocked that this is as big a problem as it is. I can’t tell you the number of times I have read the RAINN statistics and thought they were actually too damn low. We have a problem. We have had a problem for a long time. And no hashtag is going to miraculously fix it. Be an ally. Be an ear. Be compassionate. And for crying outloud, be about consent.

Enough is Enough

21 Sep

I don’t know how you all have been feeling recently, but I have not been feeling good. I have been feeling really angry, really anxious, really sad, really depleted. I have been feeling like all the sexism that I have always talked about has just been pummeling me, dragging me down, and then telling me that it isn’t what it appears, that it isn’t sexism at all.

Let me just tell you a little bit about how this last year and change has felt. Take it for what you will. Feel free to disagree with my recollection of events, but please keep your opinions about how those experiences have led to a specific way of feeling to yourself. Because the way I feel is weak, powerless, unimportant and fucking exhausted. Let me tell you why.

It has always sucked a little bit to be a woman. Sometimes it has sucked a lot. It sucks to be catcalled, to have men try and run alongside you when you are out for a few miles, to have people question your experience and opinion. It sucks to read about backlogged rape kits that could have stopped countless serial rapists but were never tested because the cost – $500 – $1500 per kit – was deemed prohibitive. Because our lives, our sanity, our safety is not worth the money. It sucks to read about sexual assault and rape and, inevitably, have some asshole dude bring up the Duke lacrosse team. I cannot tell you how many times I have been instructed to read “Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case”  or “The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of our Great Universities.” I don’t need to read those books to know that a false rape claim was made against a group of athletes and that that one false rape claim made it harder for every other victim to make her case. Every single damn time a woman makes a high profile rape allegation someone brings that damn case up. Enough already. But if you need proof, just look at Brock Turner, the swimmer from Stanford University. The woman he assaulted was found unconscious behind a dumpster while he was humping her, after he manually penetrated her, and that was barely enough to convict him; it wasn’t even nearly enough to send him to jail for any reasonable amount of time. The cards are stacked against us. I mean, I don’t know how else to put this other than by saying this: rape means that someone stuck a foreign object or a piece of their body, like their penis or their finger (depending on the laws of the specific state) inside the body of someone else. Just let that sink in, really think about it. When it comes to the criminal justice system and how it deals with rape allegations, the victims are guilty until proven innocent, not the criminals, and you just try and prove to me otherwise. I have stats on stats. I dare you.

And the thing is that it isn’t just about sexual assault it is about everything. God forbid we have a female superhero without a bunch of dudes getting their panties in a bunch about her being too sexy, not good enough at fighting, too easy to jerk off to, not super not hero enough.  Was she perfect? No. Could she have been better? Of course. But the reality is that male superheroes have been in movies for a long time and the casting still isn’t perfect, the storylines still could be better, the fight scenes still could be more convincing. But I have never, in all the times I have read reviews of superhero movies where the men are the stars read quite so many complaints that this person or that person was cast specifically to be jerked off to. That is not our problem. That is not the problem of the casting. That is not the problem of Gal Gadot. That is not the problem of her and all the women who played the Amazons in that movie who worked their butts off for months to prepare to be picked apart by you for being too this or not enough that. That is your limitation. Yours and yours alone.

And while I am on about that, don’t act like your criticism about Wonder Woman isn’t based in sexism. Ask yourself if you would make the same critique if the lead were a guy. And then think about what you are so afraid of. Because this isn’t about the movie, really. It is about challenging your own perspective, taking a step back, thinking, and then stopping yourself and saying “if I have to specifically say that I am not being  sexist then maybe I should rethink this.” What is it they say about people who say “I’m not racist but…?” Because the same thing applies here. There are, as I said, multiple legitimate criticisms to be made about this movie. The fact that Gal Gadot is too easy to jerk off to is not one of them. Honestly, most people I know – male and female – would fantasize about that woman if she was wearing a potato sack.

Let me just put this into perspective a little bit. This movie came out over the summer, the summer after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in a contest between him and arguably the most qualified presidential candidate ever. This man is racist, he is anti-semitic, he is an elitist schmuck masquearading as a man of the people, and he is an admitted sexual abuser. He grabs women without their consent. That is assault. And he was elected president. How do you think that made a lot of us feel? And how do you think it made us feel that white women, who have drank the Kool-aid of their own oppression, helped put him there? And how do you think it makes us feel now to see people, women and men, tell Hillary to “shut the fuck up.” Well I will tell you how it makes me feel, it makes me feel like shit. And seeing Wonder Woman, watching Gal Gadot kick some ass, made me feel just a teensy bit better and honestly, at this point, I will take what I can get.

Because here’s the thing: I honestly don’t care if you like Hillary or not. I don’t care if you voted for Bernie in the primaries and still think he is some sort of savior. (If you voted for Trump instead of Hillary for whatever bullshit reason, kindly fuck right off because I have exactly zero time for you now and in the future.) What I care about is that you think about this critically. Since the publication of Hillary’s book, people have been saying that maybe she should do something good for the country rather than write a book that no one cares about, that Bernie is still working to make a difference. Bernie, I will remind you, wrote a book already and is still in government. Hillary is a private citizen and therefore can do what the fuck she wants and if she wants to write a goddamn book about what it was like to be the first woman to run for president as a major party candidate then fuck yes she should do it. You’d better believe I would. Because whether or not you like her, her story matters, she matters, and her experience will help shape the campaign of the next woman to run for president, the next woman who might have seen Hillary get so close and thought to herself “you know what, I could do that.” And i the same way, Wonder Woman has made little girls, and some of us grown women, think we could grow up to be a super hero too.

And so for me, every time I hear someone say Hillary should shut up or go away or disappear, I take it personally. Because honestly, I don’t remember seeing countless front page articles in major publications telling Mitt Romney and Al Gore and John McCain that they don’t matter. And it fucking sucks. Because, no, Hillary wasn’t perfect. No one is. But the treatment that she has endured since the beginning of her presence in the public eye, but especially in the months leading up to and following this election has been disgusting. And we should be ashamed. I know I am.

So yeah, I am tired. So in the future, don’t come at me with your opinions about Wonder Woman or Hillary Clinton or Leslie Jones or whatever other woman you for some reason think is undeserving. Unless you really think. I think before I speak because I have to. I’m a woman. I have something to prove all the time. So does Gal Gadot. And so does Hillary Clinton. Just remember that. We don’t get the benefit of the doubt, we get your bullshit.