A: “Maybe I’m just a hothead”

4/10/13

1) i feel mostly safe in the world, physically and emotionally (though, intellectually, i know that the universe is NOT looking out for us, esp. for women!)–and this despite the fact that i am a woman, because i am old, white, straight, well-to-do, w/ a history of safety. @ dinner the other night, my cousin and oldest friend (having just told her “childhood trauma story”) asked me to tell mine, but i said i didn’t have one. i really do not. i was raised in a web of safety, which pretty much has held.

2) i enjoy watching beautiful women; i enjoy watching my daughters and daughter-in-law and daughters-out-law and students dress and preen. i myself feel old, and heavy (AM old and overweight), don’t like to see myself in the mirror or photos–except, occasionally, when a snapshot catches me laughing and engaged w/ others. i think others think i have a kind face, listening ears, but am old and overweight. i have developed some adult acne and am conflicted about whether to bother w/ the expensive creams to treat it–seems like fussing about such things is past….

3) i generally feel invisible when walking. i live in center city, and often walk home alone late @ night, but really don’t feel unsafe (though i lately joined the neighborhood watch, and started monitoring all the assaults/realizing how frequent they are, which has altered my complacency a bit…)

4) i was raised to be a lady (wear dresses, cross my ankles, lower my voice, do what i was told) but have always fought that particular middle-class/wanna-be high class inscription of womanhood–the more so as i have aged, and come increasingly into a sense of who i am and what i can do. i wrote this lil essay for our 360 last fall; it says a lot about my sense of power and agency, and about the complexities of identity that contribute to that; i think it speaks to a # of your questions:
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/thats-called-privilege#comment-139652

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K: “it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.”

4/8/13

 

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

i feel safe in my home. not only am i physically safe here, but i am emotionally very safe within my marriage.  one of my favorite things about my home and my marriage (which for many intents and purposes are the same space, one being the physical embodiment of the other) is that i feel completely accepted. i also feel (and this may sound odd), genderless. i’m just a person here and my husband and son are just people too. i can do stereotypically feminine things like bake cookies or stereotypically masculine things like re-tile the kitchen floor and it’s just what *i* do, it doesn’t have to stand for anything or mean anything to anyone beyond that there are cookies to eat and the floor looks awesome. not sure if that makes sense.

not having been any other sexual orientation or race. i’m not sure i can reflect on how those things would be different there. sometimes i think it would be even more awesome to be in a same-sex relationship because there are NO prescribed gender rules, but i’m sure there are other complications i can’t imagine.

i do think that our SES (more education level than income for us) helps because my husband and i both grew up in worlds where men have a wide range of identities to choose from, not just “be strong and build stuff” — because we come from very knowledge/education-based families. we also both had stay-at-home dads when we were very young (which was even less common in the 1970s than it is now) so being smart or great with the laundry is just as masculine (or feminine) as anything else for both of us. and so the freedom my husband has to feel like he’s still fully masculine even when he is not the breadwinner (as he is not right now), does not excel in athletics/manual work, or takes longer to do his hair in the morning 🙂 allows me the freedom to enact whatever feminine identity appeals to me. i don’t have to worry about hurting his feelings or making him feel somehow emasculated. i feel for boys/men who grow up without this freedom, and by extension the women who love them. it is not hard for me to see how hunting and other “manly” things take on so much meaning for working-class men who have been sold a version of “man” that hinges on strength, primarily through breadwinning…in this economy, those men have nothing but violent past-times to make them feel whole, and it f*cks things up for them and everyone else in their lives. it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.

as for unsafeness, i’m not wild about parking garages at night.  🙂

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?

i have no idea how others perceive me physically (except my husband, who i can tell finds me attractive). i lived for our 4 years in nashville without a full-length mirror (not by accident, this coincided with pregnancy and my first 3 years as a mom) and it was extraordinarily freeing. we have one full-length mirror now but it’s in morgan’s room and i look in it exactly once per day (in the morning, to make sure i’m actually fully dressed, not always a given i’ll remember two socks, etc.) and i don’t miss it. i think being over 35 (!) and someone’s mother has allowed me to go back to the way i felt in childhood — i’m just a person in a body who has THINGS TO DO! so who has time to think about how it looks? i’m surrounded by women most of the day at work, and the things that stand out to me about my students is how young and skinny they are, how effortless their beauty is, particularly when they are in class, not all dolled up to go out, just wearing sweats and thinking about things.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

i think my age (again) plays a role here. i can remember, in my 20s particularly, living in philadelphia, feeling the male gaze in public spaces very strongly. sometimes i enjoyed it and other times i did not. i went through a phase where i thought muslim women have it all figured out because they control who gets to perceive them sexually (by covering their hair). unfortunately, in my later years i’ve come to see that less as empowering and more as central to a rape culture — the hijab (as i understand it) is worn because of a belief that men can’t/shouldn’t have to control themselves when they can see women’s hair. and that’s messed up.

but back to now, i just feel busy most of the time, pre-occupied with things i have to do or ideas i’m grappling with. i almost never go out at night bc i’m busy being someone’s mother. i also don’t live in a city, don’t take public transit, hate to shop, and almost never go to bars anymore, so i don’t spend much time in so-called “public” spaces…i spend most of my “outside” time on the playground at my son’s school with almost exclusively other moms my age. sometimes i walk across campus but there i am constantly struck by how much i feel like i should be one of the college kids walking around, not someone who is old enough to be their mother!

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you? I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

as is captured in my responses above, i think, the intersection of woman-ness and age has been most interesting as i’ve gone from adolescence to adulthood to mommy-dom. sometimes i miss the feeling i used to have that men were paying attention to how i look, but most of the time i’m too caught up in the business of living to worry about it, and i think it’s freeing that i don’t care much about how i look at preschool dropoff in the morning (sweats and a hat? yes please!) because i’m not trying to impress anyone or get laid.  🙂  a friend once told me how excited she was to be turning 30 because no one expects you to look good after 30 so you can stop worrying about it. indeed. also, not sure if you ever watched “six feet under” but in one episode, kathy bates’s character convinces another character (also a woman in her late 50s/early 60s) to shoplift at a nice department store — she says “women our age are invisible, so we can get away with anything” — so true. my mom is that age (and single) and very bitter about it, but it doesn’t bother me now so i can’t imagine it will when i’m her age. i think my marital status has a lot to do with my gender-based perceptions w.r.t. myself.

“Is America A ‘Rape Culture’?”

4/8/13

Reposted without permission: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/03/28/is_america_a_rape_culture_117710.html

Is America A “Rape Culture”?

By Cathy Young – March 28, 2013

This claim, advanced by a cadre of feminist activists and bloggers, has been gaining mainstream currency—particularly in the wake of the nationally publicized Steubenville, Ohio rape case which exposed some very ugly attitudes and behaviors.  While no one would deny that sexual violence is a grave problem, the crusade against “the rape culture” is a dubious cure: it distorts truth, fosters anger and divisiveness instead of respect and equality, and ultimately endangers justice for all.

There is, of course, some truth to the feminist argument that traditional sexual norms have often led to tolerance toward sexual coercion in certain situations (especially when the woman’s conduct is seen as “loose” or seductive).  Even now, such sentiments are echoed in vile Internet comments bashing the 16-year-old Steubenville victim as a drunken slut—very much a minority view, but voiced frequently enough to be troubling.

But it’s quite a leap from acknowledging these attitudes to depicting modern Western—and especially American—culture as a misogynist cesspit in which rape is routinely condoned and validated. Indeed, indictments of the “rape culture” typically rely on falsified or out-of-context “facts.”

Thus, according to Nation magazine blogger Jessica Valenti, “we live in a country where politicians call rape a ‘gift from God’”—a reference to Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.  But what Mourdock actually said, in explaining his anti-abortion stance with no rape exception, was quite different: that “life is [a] gift from God … even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape.”  What’s more, the comment was roundly condemned, and the outrage over it helped ensure Mourdock’s defeat in a traditionally Republican district.

Equally misleading is Valenti’s assertion that “a rape victim may see her case fall flat because she isn’t married.”  This example comes from a bizarre California case in which a woman was assaulted in her sleep by a fellow houseguest at a relative’s house; prosecutors argued both non-consent due to her being unconscious and deception due to the defendant impersonating her boyfriend (who had been sleeping next to her earlier).  The conviction was reversed on appeal because, under a 19th Century state law, rape by deception requires impersonating a spouse.  However, the appellate panel sent the case back for retrial—with the charges based on non-consent alone—and urged the legislature to revise the antiquated law.

Or take the claim that thirty-one states allow rapists who impregnate their victims to seek child custody or visitation rights.  In fact, these states simply don’t have laws explicitly barring such suits—not due to concern for the rights of rapist fathers but mainly, says activist and attorney Shauna Prewitt, because the issue is assumed to be non-existent.  While recourse may indeed be needed, no one has cited a single known instance of a rapist (or accused rapist) actually getting parental rights; Prewitt appears to be the only woman on record as stating that she had to fight a custody suit from her assailant.

Is the Steubenville case, as the crusaders claim, prime evidence of “the rape culture”?  The incident in which a severely intoxicated, unconscious or barely conscious girl was stripped, penetrated with fingers, and otherwise molested by two boys during a party—and several other boys took photos and made videos of these acts—certainly shows something rotten in large swaths of adolescent culture.  No decent person could fail to be sickened by the text messages in which one of the perpetrators, Trent Mays, flippantly discussed the girl’s abuse and shared her nude photo, or by the YouTube video in which an ex-classmate delivered a drunken monologue about “the dead girl” along with a string of rape jokes.  The story also offers real evidence of the seamy side of the “football culture” that caused many locals to rally around the boys—star players on the Steubenville High School football team—and, in some cases, malign the girl.

Yet the sordid details also rebut a key premise of the “rape culture” argument: that our society generally does not view non-consensual sex as rape.  The Steubenville boys used the term repeatedly and seemed well aware that intercourse with the unconscious girl would have been rape—though apparently not that Ohio’s legal definition of the crime includes digital penetration.  Judging by the text messages, they also knew early on that they might be in trouble with the law if the girl and her parents found out what had happened.

To blogger Amanda Marcotte, the mere fact that the attackers were initially eager to broadcast their deeds shows that they expected social support and even approval.  But maybe it shows simply that they weren’t very bright; Mays and his friends actually discussed deleting incriminating messages in case their cell phones were seized by the police, but never followed up.  There is nothing new about adolescents flaunting socially unacceptable behavior.  Consider girls making videos of beating up other girls to post them on the Internet; or a recent incident in Homer, Alaska in which an unconscious 16-year-old boy at an alcohol-soaked football team party was sodomized with a beer bottle while other teens, boys and girls, looked on and some took pictures. The case got virtually no national media attention, perhaps because it does not fit the “rape culture” paradigm: no sane person would argue that our culture views male rape with beer bottles as normal boyish hijinks.

The Steubenville story is a cautionary tale not only about attitudes that facilitate sexual assault, but also about the dangers of the war against “the rape culture.”  The Internet warriors who championed the victim, including the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, have been praised for bringing the case into the national spotlight and exposing social media items that documented vile conduct by the attackers and their friends; but their crusade also had a darker side.

The activists have disseminated wild rumors about the victim being drugged, kidnapped, repeatedly gang-raped, urinated on, and dumped on her parents’ lawn; about a (named) female accomplice luring her into a trap; about a “rape crew” of Steubenville football players that systematically assaulted young women while an adult fan of the team mentored them and collected photos of the attacks.  (“Proof” of the latter was that one of the man’s hacked emails contained a photo supposedly resembling Savannah Dietrich, a high school student who went public last year about being sexually assaulted by two lacrosse players at a party—in Louisville, Kentucky, some 350 miles from Steubenville, and not Louisville, Ohio as Anonymous claimed.)  Even respected feminist academics joined the rumor mill: on the Ms. Magazine blog, State University of New York sociologist Michael Kimmel averred that the girl had “an iron rod shoved inside her.” Many of these stories still circulate, despite being completely unsupported and often directly disproved by trial evidence.

In Steubenville, at least, the activists were on the right side (which does not excuse their methods).  But their brand of righteous zealotry could easily raise a virtual lynch mob against the falsely accused, as the Duke University rape hoax from a few years ago should remind us.

To the zealots, any talk of false rape allegations is itself a part of the rape culture.  But, while it is hard to get reliable statistics on false accusations, there is plenty of research to show that the problem is not negligible. There are real-life stories, too: last May, another former high school football star, Brian Banks, was cleared a decade after a rape charge sent him to prison for six years and destroyed his hopes for a professional athlete’s career.  Banks’s “victim,” Wanetta Gibson—who had received a settlement from the school district for failing to ensure her safety—contacted Banks to apologize for her lie but still refused to come forward; a secret recording of her confession allowed him to be exonerated.

The women’s movement has made invaluable progress in lifting the stigma of rape and reforming sexist laws—ones that, as recently as the 1970s, required women to fight back to prove rape and instructed juries that an accuser’s unchaste morals could detract from her credibility.  The fact that today, a rape case can be successfully prosecuted even when the victim was drunk and flirtatious, or engaged in consensual intimacies before the attack, is a victory for justice as well as women’s rights.  Yet the fact remains that charges of sexual assault involving people who knows each other in a “he said/she said” situation are very difficult to prove in court—not because of “rape culture,” but because of the presumption of innocence.  Gender equality requires equal concern for the rights of accused men.

Let us, by all means, confront ugly, sexist, victim-blaming attitudes when we see them.  But this can be done without promoting sexist attitudes in feminist clothing: that a woman’s word automatically deserves more weight than a man’s; that all men bear responsibility for rape and “normal” men need to be taught not to rape; or that a woman who is inebriated but fully conscious is not responsible for her actions while an equally inebriated man is.

These ideological shibboleths will do little to help real victims of sexual violence, and may even hurt them by inviting an inevitable backlash.

stories of hair

3/29/13

Story:

When someone shared in class that she was doing sexism for her portfolio as well (which coincidentally this is- a portfolio-), and said she had cut off her hair as “the thing that makes her a woman,” I decided I should probably do a post about my hair.  It’s pretty important, after all.

For my early life, I had a headful of curly tangled frizzy hair like no one else in my family except my grandmother, who kept hers shorts and picked it.  I took another route: envied my cousins’ hair deeply (one White and White, one White and Chinese) while refusing to let my wavy-haired mother brush it, or touch it.  I washed it with some likely unsuitable product, not “knowing any better.” How to take care of hair was part of being a girl that my hippie non-shaving no-deoderant and EASILY-MANAGED-HAIRED mother never showed me.

When we moved to the suburbs, I was teased relentlessly by boys: “mophead,” and “can I turn you upside down and clean my floor?”   All the other Jewish girls in my new neighborhood straightened their hair and the Black girls were perplexed by it: was I mixed? And if so, why didn’t I have a Woman of Color in my life to teach me what to do with it?  And if I wasn’t, what was up with that hair anyway?  For a while I thought that meant I had Black hair.  I didn’t.  That didn’t stop me in college, from trying to dread it.  After I cut them off, I sat on my parents’ steps and cried about “looking like a boy.”  A Black woman in my Intro to Feminism class told me, “Thank God you cut those off.  I thought you were cool but I can’t have a White friend with dreads.”  I asked her what she was talking about and at her advice, googled “cultural co-optation.”

Over the years friends have taught me to iron my hair, which I did sometimes frequently and sometimes not at all.  This began in high school and again in the latter part of college.  I had a feeling guys liked my hair better straight and “flowy” but secretly treasured it when a guy preferred my curliness.  This, I thought, meant he liked the REAL me.  

Annotation/reflection:

Hair seems to play an important role in so many women’s lives. I’ve noticed I often judge a woman’s level of attractiveness based at least somewhat on her hair. Recently I’ve been aware that I also often decide their sexual orientation based on short or long hair as well. The notion of “good hair” is one that has been taught to me by Women of Color, not one I grew up with, but it has always resonated. The first time I heard it, I knew this was the problem. I didn’t have “good hair.”

Yes, women dress and groom and primp for one another. This does NOT mean that it is not still through the male gaze. I’m starting to think my reaction to what men think of my hair really means, not that there is a real or fake me, but that it’s still more important to me what guys think, what that outside world, that male gazing world, thinks, than what I think.  

Part of me has always wanted to be “exotic,” which brings up the question of what IS exotic and to whom and why? My hair would be exotic in another country perhaps but in an entirely different way than I experience WOC’s hair as exotic in the US (the way I thought I could pick and choose, in my Whiteness, to have dreads in my hair and the privilege that I could, in the literal sense). A little part of me still, at 27, wants to look like all the other White Jewish girls in my middle school, which is not who I am.  Which of course, leaves the melodramatic question of, who am I?  My hair is somehow integral to this, I know.  I have a lot of respect for women who experiment with their hair,  and even cut it all off.  Hair is rarely meaningless to us, even if the meanings we ascribe are just the troublesome things we have been taught.

Update: my hair narrative-

It’s been 6 months or so since I last ironed my hair, curled the thick black cord around my finger
and tried not to listen to the sizzle
not six months if you count my finals presents to myself, sitting in the salon seat cringing
while someone else burned my ears
but I don’t count that.

6 months because I had hoped it would be too busy here in this busy school in this busy city
but I think I just got tired
it was not a victory

So six months, maybe 8, since each saturday morning when I devotedly washed, wrapped, sectioned, and pressed each bit until I felt like a really regular girl.
The Whitest, skinniest, straightest of hair and sexuality

for some intangible everpresent male gaze that now lives inside of me-
she says, “you are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own
voyeur.”

so when you told me you always liked me better with my curls I thought thank you
for my saturday mornings back
and from then on I asked each one after you
curly or straight?
As if this answer was the key to true connection,
do you see me, I was asking.

But then after all, after all, you like it messy and you like it smooth and you like it
bouncy and you like it natural and you lied because you just like something to hold onto

never stopping to ask, how do I like it?
I don’t ask you anymore but in December sat in that salon seat and when you said you like me better with my curls, I turned around,
looked behind me for some newly-straight-haired woman who might have asked
for your opinion.

Pretty girl

3/27/13

Story:

Between classes this afternoon, I went to do a little “self-care”: get my hair done down the street.  When I sat down the hair stylist started shampooing, then asked why I would want my hair straightened when I had curls, curls are so great, etc.  I get this fairly frequently so didn’t think much of it.  Then he said “most of my girlfriends have had curly hair.”  I felt a little uncomfortable but tried to relax.  Then he brought me to the chair and called me “pretty girl.”

I don’t like that.  I might feel differently if it was a boyfriend, I don’t know.  In general I don’t mind endearments but not from men I don’t know.  I felt increasingly uncomfortable as he did my hair.  What is relaxing when done by an older woman (heterosexist ageism much?) felt sexual and scary. When he finished he said, “Get in your house quickly” and smiled.  I didn’t understand, partially because he had a fairly thick accent.  I felt bad asking him to repeat himself but finally I understood when he said, “Get in your house, because you are so beauful, you understand,” and motioned to the windows as if men outside were waiting to accost me.  Which, since I sometimes feel like that, was not a particularly funny joke.

After I left, I thought, well something interactive for my misogyny blog/portfolio.  So the questions/thoughts I’m left with-

Annotation:

There is this idea that men can say whatever they want to women and if it’s “complimentary” it should be and will be taken as such.  I did nothing to counteract this idea.  Some people would say this makes me part of the problem.  I think they should know.  Is it really my responsibility to tell a man he is making me uncomfortable?  I don’t think so, but this is the norm.  You cannot tell a woman she looks bad, but you can tell her she looks good in almost any way and try to justify it.

Would my reaction have been different in another scenario/context/with another person?  I felt somewhat embarrassed by my inability to understand some of what he was saying and i think this may have softened my reaction.  I also think I unconsciously (until now) wrote some of it off to a certain unnamed “cultural” element that I should therefore, not be rude to or offended by him.  Hello, intersection of misogyny and racism.  I would’ve felt more considering of the option of speaking up if it had been a White man without an accent. And to be a thousand percent honest, I think this is because i am the least afraid of White men.  I think this is the first time I have verbalized (written) why I usually do not respond to street harassment: I don’t feel safe yelling back at men of color. There is also the class element that always makes me feel small and spoiled simultaneously when someone performs a “service” for me, such as doing my hair.

Damn.

That being said, and alongside it, I am angry.  I want to be able to feel safe with men.  But there’s a reason I prefer to interact with women in almost all (pretty much only excepting intimate relationships) areas of life.  Because I keep feeling like I feel now: unsafe, just a face, invisible, highly visible, and mute all at once. And yet my assumption that the woman doing my hair would be straight is also problematic. I don’t know how to change these unquestioned assumptions…except I suppose, by beginning to question them.

Who is the true victim in a rape case?

3/22/13

Reposted without permission from: http://blog.pennlive.com/life/2013/03/nancy_eshelman.html

Who is the true victim in a rape case?: Nancy Eshelman

It’s something of a mystery. Why do some crimes rate so much media attention while others go virtually unnoticed? Why do some people accused of a crime become a household name?

What makes Jodi Arias infamous? Why does her trial rate gavel to gavel coverage?

How did Casey Anthony’s name become instantly recognizable?

Why does the accidental death of a pregnant lacrosse coach rate front page coverage while the driver of the bus, also dead, goes largely unmentioned?

Nancy Eshelman Nancy Eshelman File

If you’re expecting an answer, I don’t have one.

I also wonder how and why some national media seemed to be so sympathetic to two teens found guilty of raping a drunken girl.

Maybe I don’t pay enough attention, but I don’t remember reading about the rape in Steubenville, Ohio, until last Sunday.

That’s the day a juvenile court judge found Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays guilty. That’s when the bloggers began huffing and puffing, and rightfully so.

It seems a couple of women TV reporters on a prominent channel lamented that these poor high school boys, star football players who had such promising futures, would be spending a year or more in a juvenile facility.

I have to admit their lack of professionalism, on that network and others, is what drew me into learning more about this crime. And the more I read, the worse it got.

The crime was raping a teenage girl who was so drunk she could not remember the rape. Then it got worse when one of the two young men posted photos and bragged about their deeds on social media.

Next I read that “friends” watched the crime and did nothing to stop the rape and humiliation of the victim.

And make no mistake, she was the victim and became more of a victim when the high school football coach tried to hush up the crime in favor of keeping players on a winning team.

So, as one commentator said, these young men’s lives are destroyed and as registered sex offenders, they will carry a stigma forever, which diminishes their chances of being gainfully employed.

Well, boo hoo.

After the judge announced the verdict, Richmond turned to his lawyer and said, “My life is over.”

These young men’s lives are destroyed. … Well, boo hoo.

What did their actions during an alcohol-fueled night do to the future of the true victim of this crime? How is she supposed to get beyond what happened to her? How will this impact her future?

I come down on the side of the Ohio attorney general who said these young men (and others who participated by watching or posting on social media) had an “unbelievable casualness about rape and about sex.”

Not that the Ohio victim is unique, according to RAINN, the country’s largest sexual abuse network. She fits the profile, in that 44 percent of victims are under age 18 and 80 percent are under age 30. Annually, on average, there are 207,754 victims, age 12 or older, and two-thirds of the perpetrators are known to the victim.

Saddest of all, to me, is that since Sunday the Ohio victim also has become a target of threats from losers who weigh a promising football career as more important than this young girl’s trauma.

So far, two people have been charged with making threats, both of them women. So much for sisterhood.

Shame on them. Shame on those who watched as this girl was raped. Shame on those who tried to cover up their crime. And most of all, shame on the boys found guilty.

Frankly, if I had a daughter, I’d be relieved to know they won’t be sharing a college campus with her.