Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What do you think?

My sisters and I once figured out we have a tendency to over-explain things, which we attribute to having a father who would always take things wrong. You had to be the bad guy in any disagreement.

I am also aware of many circumstances in my youth where I did not have the right words to understand and explain myself in a situation. It would be frustrating and it's why I write about things so much now. Realistically, those were people being toxic anyway and more concise language probably wouldn't have helped. That doesn't change my need to figure things out.

The day after the harassment and assault, I ran into Matt again. I literally have no memories of seeing any of them in school again, except once seeing Steve and the he looked really run-down - like the other person I have seen looking like that had a drug addiction spiraling out of control - but I am not even sure that they all didn't move away. However, that day I saw Matt, and I asked him something.

I don't remember exactly how I phrased it. I wanted to know if all of that meant anything. An apology could have been nice. Because his main thing had been asking me a hundred times to go steady with him, and because I had shouted "Yes" to get him to go away, it came out as mainly a question of whether we were going steady.

I may not remember how I asked, but I remember his answer really clearly: "What do you think?"

I didn't have the words to answer, but I can come up with a few now.

I think you just reinforced that no boys could ever sincerely like me. Maybe I have been afraid of that all along, but having it confirmed is tearing me apart inside. Can you please tell me I am wrong about that?

I think that I was at a table with other nerdy girls (and some others were overweight), and that you only picking on me means that somehow there was something worse about me - something less attractive and more repulsive and less eligible for any kindness, and I have never stopped believing that.

I think it's interesting that it happened on a day when we didn't have any boys at the table. Is that why it happened? If we were clearly marked as someone else's territory we could eat in peace? Some of the boys in my social group were real jerks, but if they were also protection maybe  I should have appreciated them for that.

I think it was stupid of me to say "yes" to get you to go away. I should have let the teacher handle you coming in and disrupting the room, but I was so embarrassed that I couldn't think straight. Then again, I think that it sucks that when my friends and I were laughing together that the teacher on cafeteria duty that day told us to pipe down and be considerate of other people, but that no one had a problem with what you were doing.

I think that in that school there were at least fifty boys that I thought were cute, and there were boys in my classes that were smart, and there were boys that I talked to that were nice, and there were probably even some that were all three, so I can't understand why my most significant interaction had to be with you.

I think it's pathetic that there was nothing more interesting to you that you even have time to pick on someone.

I think I'd like to know that the problem really was you, but at least one of you got married and had children, and I never did, so I'm afraid I that am the pathetic one. And I think I'm pathetic that I got so scarred from this when it meant nothing to you.

But I didn't have the words then. I didn't even know how deeply it had affected me then. I didn't figure that out until much later.

So I swallowed it up inside and tried not to think about it. I became good at sarcasm, which doesn't require any depth or understanding, but it doesn't fix anything either.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

My sexual assault

There are two problems with the title.

It implies that there was only one. That's not true. This one isn't even the worst, really, though that gets us into the other problem.

I have a hard time calling it a sexual assault. I have given many excuses for that: it wasn't really that bad, it was just teasing that got out of hand, it could have been much worse. If you don't think it should be considered a sexual assault, pretty much any reason you have for it is one I have thought of and justified.

But it doesn't work. If it happened to someone else, I would not minimize it. Happening to me, it had a huge impact. It changed the way I saw myself and the world and how I interacted with the world in ways that are still issues.

I was in junior high and leaving school. It was after school had gotten out, so there was less supervision. Steve came up to me and ripped my shirt open. I assume the next stop would have been my breasts, because they were always the preferred destination. He did not get any farther, because I at least had good reflexes and kneed him right away. He laughed, but he also stopped. I snapped my shirt back up and kept going.

Usually that story focuses more on the harassment that had been happening at lunch. Jason asked me to go with him, and I ignored it, then Matt started repeating the question and wouldn't stop, following me to my next class. Steve was just egging them on at that point. The other two were there when Steve came for my shirt.

I have always focused on the verbal part because that was where the big lesson came from - if a guy is acting like he likes me, it's a joke. But there was another lesson with it, with that second part. It taught me that a guy doesn't have to like you to want to get under your shirt. It meant that the joke could be dangerous.

I think to fully deal with this, I need to refer to three conversations, and one event, so we'll be doing this tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday as well.

The one conversation was short anyway, and it was that Jason didn't remember any of this. That was after a Facebook friend request decades later. He felt bad when I reminded him, especially because he has a daughter now, but it was not the milestone for them that it was for me.

Dealing with the legacy of that is part of any growth I hope to make, but there are several things that have me thinking of it more.

A lot of my writing about the Trump campaign focused on the racism, but there was a lot of sexism too, peaking with the release of the Access Hollywood tape. I posted on Facebook reminding people to be sensitive, because defending bragging about assault as something all guys do can be kind of hard on survivors. A lot of women liked it, some of whom I knew had personal reasons, and some of whom I found out later had those same personal reasons. I suspect that there are still more events that I don't know about.

There was also this blog post about how depression is not always strictly chemical:

I have carried some of those stories with me for a long time, but it was only putting them together that I saw the common thread: the women had all been sexually abused when young. There is an unspecified number in one group, but it's a lot.

Also there were two questions asked on Twitter by two different people, asking women about their assaults. Because they were phrased differently, they brought different things to mind. That is why I had to realize there was more than one, but it was also where I saw that they both quickly got hundreds of responses. Do you sometimes doubt those statistics about how many women get assaulted, and how many get raped? I wish they were inflated.

So the title is important. This happened and it mattered. I am acknowledging that and I am letting myself be angry about that. And I know I blogged recently about how anger isn't helpful as a long term strategy, which is still true, but it can still be important to feel and know that something is unjust. No matter who else believes in my value, I need to, and this really hurt me.

Monday, December 05, 2016

"Baby It's Cold Outside" and Consent

I will be going to a really dark place with tomorrow's post, and there will be at least a few more building on it. I didn't want to go right there without warning. Today's post is to intended to move us in that direction but give a little buffer.

I have seen arguments that "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is rape-y, and counter-arguments that at the time it was written it was clearly about a couple conspiring to flout society's rules and do what both of them wanted. Obviously the song is intended to be light-hearted, but that doesn't mean that the criticisms aren't valid.

Now I'm going to bring in a sketch from a conservative show. I'm sure I could find the clip, but I don't want to give it any recognition. They were mocking the process of teaching about consent by calling everything "rape", including a guy just asking the girl if they could have sex. Ridiculous, obviously, but also completely missing the point of what they were mocking. This happens a lot.

Here is a quote from Rush Limbaugh:

"The left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it's perfectly fine. But if the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police."

My first thought is to tell Rush that the rape police are the regular police, but given the statistics we know about reporting, prosecution, and conviction, okay. What is more to the point is how he subtly uses condemnation of immorality to sidestep the fact that if one party in the sex act doesn't want to be there, that is a problem. This happens a lot.

This is where we bring in one of the books from the Long Reading List: Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, by Leora Tanenbaum.

It wasn't a revelation like some of the other books. It was more that it fit into things that I already saw, though with many horrible examples to drive it home.

The slut label is a form of social control. It can be used to by men against women, but it is also used by women against women. One interesting aspect was in how many of the examples, the label came either because of a sexual assault, or because someone told a lie to get revenge. I do not accept a morality where lying for revenge and tormenting victims is superior to people choosing to have sex and then doing so. If their morality had any righteous base, there wouldn't be the double standard where behavior that is applauded in men is punished in women.

So let's go back to the hypothetical couple in the song, and assume that there is equal physical desire, but one of them is held back by social pressure concerns. This includes the anticipation of pressure from all family members. A respectful partner could listen to those concerns and address them, but the song just keeps changing the suspect. I would like a greater level of consideration from my potential partner - especially if the sacrifice is all on my side.

The song makes it all seem like a joke, and the sketch makes it all seem like a joke, but there are real issues there. Just by setting up an eternal conflict where men are expected to pursue sex and women are expected to decline the offer even though they really want it, then it becomes very easy for men to not take the "No!" seriously, and they can keep going and not feel like they did anything wrong. Hence the man may not feel like a rapist - he was just being a guy - but it is rape.

There is not always physical coercion or drugging, but often there is emotional pressure, where a woman may agree even though she doesn't want to. She may do this to preserve a relationship in which she is not respected but because she believes that is normal. She may give in because of guilt, or a feeling that she should never disappoint anyone. There can be a lot of reasons where a "no" that is not respected becomes a "yes". It does not stop the "yes" from being regretted. She let herself down. She surrendered, and put someone else above herself. This can lead to a lot of things, including self-loathing.

It was calling those situations rape that the sketch mocked, but no one is calling them rape. They still belong in a conversation about consent, because it matters. It matters for people to know that they have a right to refuse, and it matters for people to know that others have a right to refuse and that the only appropriate response to that is acceptance. If the types of confusion tend to mainly fall along specific gender lines, there's a lot of tradition that goes with that. It is not tradition that should be respected.

Some men only think about this when they have daughters, and realize that their girls' will now be in the position of all of those other girls. Their standard response is often a hyper-masculine threat to any potential evildoers, because they have guns and shovels available. It's not practical based on the many potential threats, but it also falls into the same culture. Their desire to defend their property merely perpetuates the system where a woman is only protected when she is under the protection of a specific man.

It's important to look at the system. Maybe you would never rape a woman using physical force or drugs. That is something, but then do you blame her when someone else does? Do you think she brought it on herself when maybe her first time drinking she miscalculated how much it would affect her? Do you laugh at the other dudes' stories? Do you assume she's lying because he's a "nice" guy?

Here is an article with some things to think about, even though I kind of hate how much I like some of the examples:

Friday, December 02, 2016

Band Review: Rowdy City

On the Rowdy City Twitter account there are a lot of references to "Dope Lyrics Matter", which is a track from one of their members, Ready Rock Dee. His solo work at this time is overwhelming the Soundcloud and Youtube pages.

That is interesting to me, because based on their description the larger group has been very successful, with a lot of touring. However, one member had died, and it seems like that might have thrown off the balance.

That has made it harder to get a sense of Rowdy City, but also their music itself isn't doing it for me. The lyrics are not that dope, and songs are remarkably free of hooks. Nothing has stuck in my head the way some of Litefoot's songs - including ones I did not like - did. Even the music videos are dull.

So I can't really recommend Rowdy City as they are, but maybe what they really need is to regroup; who are they now, without HD? Is that something they want to preserve?

If they decide then to change to support for Ready Rock Dee, that can be okay, but it should be a choice and not a default.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Band Review: Matt Steady

Matt Steady is an independent musician from Leicester whose music draws from folk and blues, with strong Celtic influences.

"Jack O'kent" sounds very Irish, but I am most interested in the more blues-infused songs. It sounds like the blues, and not country at all, and yet he still reminds me of Johnny Cash. There are at times a depth and richness to the Steady's performance that brings Cash to mind, without a strong musical resemblance.

(Steady does versions of "Ring of Fire" and "Hurt", and they don't sound the same there.)

So that vocal quality is what struck me most, and may be the best reason to listen further.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gender Stricture

I'll be starting with a completely unscientific and possibly offensive observation.

I had heard once that the percentage of the population that identifies as queer (and at the time it was "gay", but I think "queer" works better here) was ten percent. The last data I saw estimated it was closer to four percent, but I had ten in mind for a long time. However, among professional entertainers - especially dancers and figure skaters - that percentage seemed much higher, with maybe as many as fifty percent among the men. However yet again, that did not seem to be the case with the Russians, where there were many more straight men performing.

Other things I have read don't really indicate that Russian society is more accepting of homosexuality, so I didn't think that was the reason. It does seem possible that the Russian concept of masculinity is better at including artistic expression. Honestly, that doesn't require being that open-minded, because there is a lot of strength and athleticism involved in those pursuits.

My point in even mentioning this is that it seems likely that the demands of masculinity - at least in US culture - can discourage many boys from pursuing various artistic paths. There are probably many who could have been really great, and it would have been satisfying for them and edifying for the people who got to see them perform, but the possibilities get discarded, because it's for sissies.

This is where I write about Suzanne Pharr's Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism.

A couple of things stood out early. Part of her early work was with domestic violence. Many of the battered women had been called "lesbians" by their batterers. Often they were not lesbians, but the term was used to justify the beatings.

Pharr started giving workshops on homophobia for both straight and lesbian women, and it was energizing for all of them. She asked them to visualize what the world would be like without homophobia, and it was huge for them. Part of that is that when you are surrounded by domestic crisis, so much time is spent in responding to damage that you don't get to spend a lot of time on vision. And a big part of it was just imagining taking away those restraints.

By imagining a world without homophobia, they were able to envision a world where children won't be labeled, or pushed into one direction or another. That would free children up to realize their potential. They imagined a world where people could be more affectionate - not just with partners, but with all kinds of relationships because you don't have to worry about it being misconstrued and getting you harmfully labeled. Women will be able to work any job without being called masculine. There will be less violence because men will not need to prove their manhood. People will be able to wear whatever they want.

That's one thing that people often seem to miss about social justice work. Feminism makes things better for men. Anti-racism work succeeding makes a better world for white people. Eliminating homophobia makes a better world for straight people. As important as it is to realize that marginalized people suffer more, the bigotry isn't good for anyone.

Some of my favorite male dancers have been straight, so going back to the opening, I have to admire them for persisting. I am sure there was name-calling and mockery, but they had gifts, and they developed them and shared them. That is great, and art is important.

Think about it beyond that. What do we lose by putting up barriers? Which mind that could have figured out a new technique for fighting cancer, or harnessing solar for cars, or cleaning up the oceans, was discouraged and discarded? If we weren't so consistently comfortable with marginalizing other people, pollution and disease wouldn't be allowed to take the toll they have even without new technologies.

If we want a better world, it will start with valuing each other. Each and every other one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


One book that almost ended up on the Long Reading List was Sir Thomas More's Utopia. So many teens are looking for the place where they will fit in, and so often that perfect place is no place, that it felt like it could be relevant. I decided that More's ideal would probably be different enough from a modern teen's ideal that it wouldn't be a huge help.

Having now read Utopia, I can see some correlations, but it fits in better with the context of my current reading. (I really believe I have a good book sense of what to read when.)

The first thing I noticed was the enforced lack of individuality. Everyone is happy in Utopia because their needs are met, but they only play one of two games, they eat all of their meals together, they all dress alike, and they regularly move homes so that nothing is really theirs. Knowing that More really loved the monastic lifestyle and only refrained from choosing it because of his desire for a family makes it all understandable, but still not desirable for someone who values choice. I had to wonder whether that sort of conformity was even necessary for a tranquil society.

That became more interesting in reading Why We Lost the ERA, when this came up:

"Rosabeth Moss Kanter's study of nineteenth-century communes found that when communes institutionalized exclusivity they were more likely to survive. The most successful communes discouraged relationships outside the group through geographic isolation, economic self-sufficiency, a special language and style of dress, and rules that controlled the members' and outsiders' movements across the boundaries of the community. Three-quarters of Kanter's successful communes did not recognize the traditional American patriotic holidays. Half read no outside newspapers. More than a quarter specifically characterized the outside world as wicked."

I had some thoughts about limiting news sources anyway, and that was the part that stuck out when I first read it. Reading it again, the same manner of dress becomes not only a matter of conformity within the community but a marker of opposition to the world outside the community. No wonder the outsiders start to look wicked.

Then I moved into my Native American Heritage Month reading, and also felt compelled to start The Invention of the White Race, which has been fitting in well. Here we keep finding colonial societies needed to eradicate more communal societies, not just in the Americas but also in the British Isles. Here the more communal societies are welcoming to outsiders, and build strength by marriage, adoption, and foster relationships. This time it is the capitalistic society feeling the need to eradicate perceived threats. There may be specific roles that are necessary, and I have been surprised by some of the strong Yurok class distinctions, but still, there are things that seem to work better without turning the entire society into a cloister.

I mention that because it seems like whether your revolution was socialist or fascist it often ends up with the same results. That includes putting a lot of people on the trash pile. There does seem to be a deep-rooted belief that rooting out differences is necessary, but I don't believe it.

Someone who is actively hurting people, or destroying crops, or burning things down - there may be necessary actions there. Wanting to wear black instead of grey, or purple stripes that clash with green checks - that is not a threat. Listening to punk rock instead of classical is not a threat. Collecting coins instead of playing video games is not a threat. Not unless you are really insecure, and then it's not about them.

I admit I don't fully understand the need to have other people be like you and do like you. I get that it's awesome to find people who like the same things, but part of what makes that awesome is because not everyone does. Then finding your matches is a treat.

I do have some thoughts about cultural expectations for tomorrow, but for now I suspect the most perfect place for teenagers is that place where they can be accepted.