Hearing Katie Speak

September 9, 2009 § 2 Comments

Hey everyone!

As Miranda posted earlier this summer, I packed up and went to college this fall. This is my third full day on campus, actually.

Last night, my school’s entire class of 2013 had the privilege of seeing Katie Kessler speak on the topic of sexual assault and violence. Katie is a well-known and highly effective speaker. She was raped by a date on the tenth day of her freshman year at William and Mary. The police department in VA wouldn’t give her a trial because they didn’t want to spend the money on a case that they probably wouldn’t win (Katie’s attacker had a very wealthy judge for a father), so she was merely granted a 7 hour campus trial. Her attacker was found guilty at that trial, but was allowed to stay in the college. The rapist’s girlfriend (whom he beat without reprimand) made a petition against Katie’s continued place at the school; 2,000 students (of William and Mary’s 5,000) signed it. She was voted Most Dangerous Man on the campus. “Katie is a Slut Whore Bitch” was posted on the library walls. Her parents chastised her for having a boy in her room in the first place. They have never even seen her speak. Katie was given no rape kit when she went to the school’s health services, just sleeping pills and the directive to “sleep it off.”

But Katie graduated from William and Mary. She got the school to put artwork over the slander about her in the library (it’s still there, actually). She staked out a Board meeting and popped out of the bushes to introduce herself to the Trustees. She made the committee that voted her Most Dangerous Man change the name of the contest to Most Dangerous Person. And now she jets all over the country to speak to students and government officials about her story, and is founder of the organization Take Back the Night.

Katie’s story was vivid and heartbreaking. And it really effectively communicated the complexities and nuances of acquaintance rape. But I also loved how she reminded us that her story isn’t what is necessarily important. She asked us to remember that 1 in 4 women experience sexual assault within their lifetimes. And 1 in 8 men. She asked us to look at the immensity of the issue, but also at the extreme luck that we all enjoy as young people in a college setting. And how transformative we can be within our own communities, if we actively choose to protect ourselves and our friends, listen to survivors, and watch for violence. She managed to make the point that prevention and support are necessarily both individual and community efforts. My favorite part, though, was when Katie admitted that as a white, attractive, blonde woman, she speaks from a very privileged podium. As a Christian, daughter of an FBI agent, and defiled virgin, she said, “my resume was perfect.” Women of color and transpeople do not enjoy the press she does. A victimized prostitute would not be able to speak at the Pentagon as she has.

I was happy that the kids in my class were so respective of Katie and so engaged in her story, especially after hearing a nightmarish story from a new friend who attended the Hotchkiss school, where Katie spoke last year. One boy there asked her what she expected when she invited the boy back to her room. Another asked how her sex life had been affected by the ordeal, a question which she simply refused to answer. At a single-sex boy’s high school in VA, one student said “Well look at you Katie, I would have raped you too.” I go to a liberal school, a safe school, an awesome school. There are about 3,000 women in our undergraduate program. And statistically, one in four of them will be sexually assaulted. That is 750 people that I now share a home with. That is disheartening.

But I heard something when I left those lectures that made me hopeful. As we streamed out of the talk, I heard scores of people committing to protecting one another. Mind you, we’ve known each other for three days. I heard young men and young women soaking up her message and appreciating it. One of my new friends said that he would punch anyone in the face if he observed any aggressive behaviors.

I am so happy that I got to listen to Katie. But I am even happier for the reminder that there is a whole world to listen to- my world at Brown, my world at home, my world at large. Our world at large!  

On Celebrations, On Difference

July 22, 2009 § 2 Comments

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Provincetown, a small beachside town in Cape Cod, MA that has a really bustling queer scene. Though I wasn’t there during their annual celebration, Carnivale, I have been to P-Town in the past during that festive week. Individuals flaunt deliciously glamorous drag costumes, men walk around naked promoting various community theater ventures, tourists can be seen hugging the huge Y-shaped statues that read ‘Discriminate’ down the side. My gut reaction to Carnivale has always been a positive one; I think it’s great that individuals who might normally feel like outsiders have a safe space to show that they love who they are. Expression and pride are wonderful things that I wholeheartedly support. But something about celebrations like Carnivale — Earth Day, the Gay Pride Parade, Black History Month, Women’s History Month — always give me pause. I just can’t get over the feeling that when we designate something as a a celebration of difference or our ideals, we actually end up creating a vacuum that ignores some of the bigger complexities at hand. I think that the celebratory weeks, days, and months that spot our calendars can actually work to stunt dialogue; we devote a certain chunk of time to an issue and then feel okay about ignoring it for the other 364 days, 51 weeks, or 11 months. This is not to say that I think we should do away with any of those aforementioned celebrations. I just don’t really know why we can’t make the celebration permanent. Why isn’t every day an affirmation of the importance of women, transgendered individuals, immigrants, homosexuals, our earth?

One of my biggest confusions pertaining to Carnivale is the very common practice of posing for photographs with individuals dressed in drag. When I was younger, I loved finding the most outrageous looking drag queens, sidling up to them, and getting a ‘hilarious’ snapshot. And now I look at these pictures and sort of cringe, without even knowing why. The strangers in these pictures totally agreed to be in them; indeed, they were standing in the middle of the street precisely to be noticed, photographed, and talked about. And that’s obviously a personal decision that I respect entirely. Maybe it just complicates my idea of pride — pride in the genders, races, religions, and isms we all align ourselves with. I am proud of being a woman! I am actively trying to create a world for myself that includes a lot of consideration for the condition of my sisters, my femininity. Should I put on my most womanly (?) outfit and head to the streets to pose with strangers? Should I vamp up my feminism in March to correspond with Women’s History Month? I genuinely don’t know the answers to these questions. What are your thoughts?

Two P-Towners, me, my rabid ginger afro, my friend Molly.

Two P-Towners, me, my rabid ginger afro, my friend Molly.

A Hypocritical Tragedy

May 31, 2009 § 2 Comments

UPDATE: There will be a vigil in honor of Dr. Tiller TONIGHT, May 1st, at 6pm in Union Square. I hope some of you can make it.

I just got word (via an email from NARAL Pro-Choice America) that a Kansas doctor, Dr. George Tiller, was killed for his “commitment to providing abortion services and other reproductive health care services to women and their families.” Apparently, Dr. Tiller had been violently harassed in the past by anti-abortion protestors, but he never stopped using his resources, time, and education to help those around him. Here’s NARAL’s apt and eloquent expression of grief and vision for the future:

“Dr. Tiller’s murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive-health centers that serve women across this country. We want them to know that they have our support as they move forward in providing these essential services in the aftermath of the shocking news from Wichita.

We understand that the investigation is ongoing and that law-enforcement officials have detained a suspect. If it proves to be an act of anti-abortion violence, as we suspect it is, then the full weight of the law must be used to send a clear message that these types of attacks will be prosecuted fully and swiftly.”

Here is another example of the terrible ‘weighing of lives’ that goes on within anti-abortion groups and minds. The life of a fetus is sacred, but Dr. Tiller’s wasn’t? It’s wrong to kill…unless you’re exterminating someone who threatens your system of beliefs? The sheer hypocrisy makes me mad, and the malicious intent underlying that hypocrisy makes me scared.

End Abstinence-Only Sex Education Once and For All!

May 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Exciting news! President Obama has just submitted a budget proposal that includes ABSOLUTELY NO FUNDING for the slut-shaming, ‘purity’-loving, factually inaccurate abstinence-only sexual education programs that plague this country.

But now the tricky part comes: the budget needs to make its way through Congress without getting attacked by whack amendments and caveats that might enable abstinence-only programs. Tell your representatives (via email- yay green petitioning!) that you support our president’s budget JUST THE WAY IT IS.

And happy Friday! It’s nice to be posting again.

Good News for Members of the Hassidic Community (and everyone else)

April 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

Last night on the news, I saw an exciting piece about a new branch of the NYPD that will cater specifically to the needs and concerns of NYC Hassidic Jews who have experienced some form of sexual abuse. Breaking the silence can be particularly hard in the Hassidic community, especially when a victim is trying to implicate a religious leader. Hopefully this new department will be able to effectively navigate the complexities of our Hassidic community so that more men and women can break free of their abusers without the fear of losing their religion or tight-knit community. 

The man who pushed for this program, whose name I didn’t have time to take down, is a former Hassidic who was abused by his rabbi at age eight. Unfortunately, by the time he came forward, his abuser was legally protected by virtue of the amount of time that had lapsed between the event and the accusation. Whack. The abusive rabbi still teaches children in Brooklyn!  

But other than that disheartening legality, the story seems like good news for everyone who loves children, anti-violence, and cultural tolerance. Woopee!

Irritating Bleach Ad

March 30, 2009 § 4 Comments

So today I saw an unnerving ad for a bleach product whose name and manufacturer currently escapes me. 

This ad, which I also cannot find online to link here (I’m sucking today), features a man lecturing a group of eager-to-please, neurotic women. What have these bad, bad, ladies done wrong? They have used bleach on their clothes that specifically say NO BLEACH. *GASP*

Thank God that we have whatever-company-makes-said-bleach to shame us about our bad housekeeping habits.

But it’s not really the shaming that gets me (although that’s really lovely). What I find particularly gross about this ad is that is features a MAN telling a group of WOMEN about this heavenly new science-y detergent. Because women, with their simply lady minds (I love you, Haskins) couldn’t possibly figure out that bleach shouldn’t touch non-bleach clothes! That’s beyond us, duh.

It would be awesome if the commercial were somehow teaching people that men can also pitch in around the house (something we never see in the commercial sector), but I don’t think it is making that statement at all.

But then, of course, when I step back from it all, I wonder whether or not I’m projecting feminist issues all over the place. But I guess that someone has to spew ‘agenda’ all over the place, because that helps us get to what’s really important. I don’t know. What do YOU think?

Women in the Work Force: Quit or Throw a Shit Fit?

March 9, 2009 § 2 Comments

Today, I found myself reading a puzzling article about women in the work force. The author, Laurie Ruettimann, claims that the best way for women to make a statement about sexual harassment in the work force is to quit if they’ve been subjected to inappropriate behaviors. Raising a fuss, she says, will only expose the abused woman to damaging and insulting inquiries from HR:

Your HR representative is tasked with moving quickly to protect the organization’s image, and the system for investigating the claim of harassment is callous. The goal of a harassment investigation is to establish blame and shift liability away from your employer. The burden of proof falls on your shoulders. Rather than asking how you want the situation to be resolved, Human Resources is primarily concerned with determining if you are lying or telling the truth. Even though you are a victim and your HR rep may sympathize, your feelings will only be addressed to the extent that it protects the company.

Yeah, you’re right, victim blaming does really suck, and it must be really, really hard to face that kind of bullshit when you’re just trying to do the right thing and get a creepy person out of your life. But just because HR can be big and scary does not mean that you should just give up on the situation if you feel in your heart that it’s worth the fight. 

Ruettimann claims that quitting the job is the most courageous and active move a woman can make, which I have a hard time believing. It seems like it would reinforce the terrible trend of women not reporting abuse, but perhaps more importantly, it’s not a viable option for a woman who is struggling to support herself or a family. People need to hold tight to their jobs in this economy, and I think it’s important for abused women to know that they don’t have to move jobs OR put up with abuse in the workplace. Pushing for that middle ground — a sensitive, productive HR inquiry –is the most active thing we can do. 

I also have an issue with how Ruettimann characterizes perps. “If your employer hires…someone who thinks it’s okay to treat you like a second-class citizen, that means your company is already broken,” she says. I think it’s problematic to assume that all perps are clearly creepy people. Brilliant, Harvard grads can be abusive co-workers. Men, women, and transpeople can be perps. Black, white, Hispanic, and Asian people can participate in inappropriate behaviors. And unless someone has a criminal record from previous instances of reported abuse, the employer simply won’t know that they have an asshole on staff. That is, until someone reports their abusive behaviors. Perps don’t walk around with their privates hanging out (well, mostly). It would be great if it were that easy to recognize a creeper, but that’s not the way things work, especially in the corporate workforce. 

My two cents on abuse in the workforce: throw a fucking shit fit. If your company doesn’t pull out all the stops to make you feel safe on company time, THAT’s when you quit. When it’s clear that you’re working for, not just with, fucking pigs. But I also recognize that abuse can change your whole mindset. I don’t wish to criticize women who have left their unsafe workplaces, I just want to point out that there is a feasible course of action that, in my opinion, would really expel abusive behavior from the workplace. 

But what do you think?

Womanly Sports?

March 4, 2009 § 3 Comments

Check out this article that ran in the New York Times today about women’s soccer in a distant country I hold dear: Turkey. 

Journalist Yigal Shleifer writes on the emerging prominence of women’s soccer teams in Turkey, and the challenges that the movement faces. 

Because soccer is viewed as a man’s sport, many Turkish parents are hesitant to let their daughters participate at any level. Turkish gym classes, which are usually split according to gender, often do not even include the sport in their girls’ curriculum. One worried parent of a 20-year-old female soccer player remarked:”In the beginning, we didn’t want our daughter to play…We were worried that it would affect her posture, her character, even her sexual orientation. We put her in volleyball, in track, but nothing could stop her.” Players sometimes face shouts to the effect of “go home to the kitchen” when they play, even as the sport picks up popularity and acceptance across the nation. 

Aside from the obviously sexist sentiments that emerge from the article, I noticed another important thing: the idea that sports have genders. 

So, what the hell is a woman’s sport? We already have track and volleyball….What else are us damsels fit to play? Is it stuff that won’t jiggle our wombs around too much? And what do you think defines and sustains this idea of feminine and masculine sports?

Compliment v. Harassment: Where’s Your Line?

March 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

In response to some of the great posts written recently about street harassment and inappropriate comments, I’d like to share one of my own stories. 

I was in a deli on Friday when a young man said “Miss, you have very nice eyes.” I thanked him and continued on with my day, not phased or annoyed at all. 

Had he picked a different body part, particularly a female-specific body part, I probably would have freaked out. But he picked my eyes- a body part that everyone (hopefully) has. He could have said the same thing to a man or to a transperson. Is the difference between a compliment and harassment that a compliment is gender- neutral? 

I also appreciated the tone he used. I obviously couldn’t gauge his intentions, but from what I could tell, he really just wanted to tell me that he thought that my eyes were nice. I guess I’m saying that I didn’t sense guile or malice in his voice, and it didn’t make me feel degraded or self-conscious. But how do we define a tone that makes us comfortable v. a tone that makes us uncomfortable? 

Ultimately, all of this is personal. Some people argue that no person should ever make a comment about your body, regardless of their intentions, tone, etc. 

But what do YOU think? What is a compliment and what is harassment? What makes you feel comfortable and what creeps you out? Where is that line? 

Have a productive Sunday night and a painless Monday!

Second Life: A Dream World?

February 17, 2009 § 3 Comments

For a research project for my Seminar class, I had to create a Second Life account. For those of you unfamiliar with Second Life, it’s a virtual world in which users’ avatars can fly, ski, dance, ride dinosaurs, etc. Second Life’s motto is “Your World. Your Imagination.” 

The first thing you do when creating a Second Life account is pick an avatar. There are about 12 initial avatars from which to pick, 6 women and 6 men. There are no transavatars, and all of the female avatars have that Barbie-esque hourglass figure that all us chicks are JUST DYING to have. You can edit the skin color, hair style, weight, height, etc. of you avatar, but only once you have arrived in your Community. Personally, I couldn’t even figure out how to do it once I arrived at my Australian beachside Community. But that’s just me. 

And so right away I was skeptical. Yeah you can change your appearance, but the website basically assumes that the ‘norm’ for female avatars will be the tiny waste/huge boobs look. 

My skepticism concerning Second Life only grew. As I wandered around the Australian island that I selected as my Community, I saw literally hundreds of virtual billboards. Because my project is largely about advertising in Second Life, I paused to look at them all. I was horrified to find that every single one featured a scantily-clad hourglassy woman.

I guess I’m just disappointed. Second Life bills itself as a utopian fantasy land where you can choose your looks, friends, setting, and everything else. But I would rather see equality than ride a unicorn.

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