Tonight in Ferguson

Tonight, my privilege means that I can close my Twitter app. I can turn the volume down and cry for our society that isn’t broken- it’s been shattered since its inception. I can shake with fury and yell at these injustices without fear of personal retribution. I can sit with pen and paper, then put my fingers to these keys and I won’t be disturbed by demonstrations, because the streets here are filled with white people indulging in the privilege of ignorance.

But to say that my town is ambivalent tonight only holds a mirror to my own acts of passive violence. How can I erase and silence the voices of all those here who push back against this unjust dominance?

Tonight, I scrolled through Twitter reposting and reposting and reposting because my own words would not come and my own words should not be elevated tonight. And as I scrolled and shared these raw jagged-edged thoughts, the university in my town posted photo after photo of smiling white children holding their acceptance letters. So I asked them to stop, because they shouldn’t be doing that now, when the only thing the rest of us can think of is Mike Brown, and the fact that he will never smile at a university.

Tonight, I watched as every media outlet displayed split screens—an empty anticipatory courtroom; streets full of protesters. They did that because they knew what would happen. Didn’t we all? I watched as the president called for peace on half the screen while the other half exploded in smoke from the canisters of tear gas police threw into crowds of citizens.

Tonight, I sat across the table from my mother and I remembered when I learned about Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams for the first time. There, in the multicultural 90s, in Washington DC, in a school that was entirely black save my sister and me, we were told rosy lies. They told us that Dr. King had peaceful dreams and he wasn’t angry because there wasn’t anything to be angry about because we used to swim in different pools and we all share now.

When I am six years old, I tell my mother this story I’ve learned in school and she looks at me sharply. I was there, you know. In 1963, the March on Washington. When she tells me this I am ecstatic and jealous because my mother had been there, she saw it happen, and I am reveling in the joys of having an older-than-average mother because none of my friend’s mothers saw Dr. King talk about his dreams. And I so wish that I had been there. Then my mother is even sharper. You do not understand. You do NOT wish you were there. I do wish I’d been there and she doesn’t understand that Dr. King’s dreams are a Big Thing because it is February and we are learning all about it.

My mother does her best to instill the sense of terror that historical period carried. She tells me about her friends who feared for their lives because they were black. She tells me of riots that scared her, even though she was white. She tries to tell me that there was nothing romantic about it, that we built such a corrupt world that violence was the only way out. She tries to tell me about the deaths that led to those dreams. She tries to tell me that they’ve taught it all wrong, that it wasn’t peaceful because there was everything to be angry about. But it’s all been lost between the decades and privilege between us so I pretend to understand, but privately I think she’s crazy for not constantly bragging about her former proximity to Dr. King’s dreams.

I don’t think I really understood what my mother was trying to tell me until tonight, and I know that’s a privilege, too. We are still living it and there is still everything to be angry about and it is not beautiful or romantic and we cannot lose this reality in the decades that span out before us. My white privilege means I am only now realizing the weight of what we have created, of what I unintentionally perpetuate. My privilege means that I can write a self-indulgent blog post about my own experiences and convince myself I’m doing something productive.

But I am doing harm if I only take up the hashtag, “Black lives matter!” in these unavoidable moments.

Tonight and every night, I am complicit. I must confront my complicity in this moment and all those innumerable moments that do not headline the national news. As a white American, I must find a way to use my position to confront what I have contributed to creating. Because black lives matter, tonight and every night. Black lives matter beyond a Twitter hashtag, and we must learn how to enact that belief. I don’t have the answers and I am finally realizing that I haven’t even been listening to the questions.

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Is Complimenting a Woman Sexual Harassment? – MarinaShutUp

Today, I want to share a video from a very smart and articulate young woman, who posts videos to the MarinaShutUp channel on YouTube. This is is a more extensive conversation about the ‘catcalling video’ I referenced in my last post. I’ve tried to express these sentiments frequently– I used a slightly different version of the ludicrous way these situations escalate from ‘compliment’ to threats of violence, and it’s sad that we can all relate to that experience.

Another important note is that while this video rightly focuses on street harassment, abuse happens everywhere and by all sorts of people. It’s common to be harassed by a stranger on the street, but it’s also unfortunately common to be manipulated and made to feel controlled and uncomfortable by people you know well, in an environment that should feel safe to you. There’s a bit of a Stranger Danger myth surrounding who we cast as perpetrators of violence in our mind’s eye.

If someone close to you, a person with any kind of emotional or physical proximity, makes you feel uncomfortable, gaslights you (a term from a Hitchcock film that means you’re made to think you’re the crazy one), or is in any way making you feel unsafe, know that there are people who care and resources available to help you. Not every situation, especially those at an institutional level, are handled the way they should be. That’s something I’m hopeful to see change, especially given the attention these matters have been paid to college campuses recently. Know that it is never your fault if you’ve been abused, and even if you can’t find the support where you are, you are a good and valuable person who doesn’t deserve to be sexually, emotionally, physically, or psychologically harassed.

If you’re a person who doesn’t believe stories of harassment and abuse, please check out the website Marina lists at the end of her video: Everyday Harassment. Listening to the firsthand experiences of survivors (which is what we are) is one of the most important things you can do.


 

One final note, it’s been a long time coming and I’m sad to do it, but comments have been closed down for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, I have enough harassment to handle in my offline life and I’m not up for it cluttering my online life as well. We’ve had some really good and productive conversations here, and I’ve received enough vitriolic and abusive comments to know that this blog needs to keep running– you know that old saying, the comments on any article about feminism prove the necessity of feminism. I may reinstate them in the future, but for now, seek out information from many sources, engage in conversations with the people around you, start your own blogs– and stay fierce, feminists.

Wicked Kind of Women

This weekend, I was honored to perform at the Denver Art Society alongside a group of incredibly talented, smart, and savvy women. Being surrounded by fearless women has been and continues to be one of the most important parts of my life, and I feel so lucky to be supported, challenged, and loved by such a wonderful group. Below is a rough transcript of the piece I performed at the Wicked Kind of Women reading– just imagine it embodied with a lot of improv and sass! And stay wicked, women.

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When my friend Whitney told me about this all women reading, I was so excited. I love women. I think women are so cool and important and should always have a platform for telling their stories. Louis CK once said, “I don’t think women are better than men. I think men are worse than women.” And I relate to that so much. When I see a woman, I’m like, “Cool! I bet she is smart and funny and has had fascinating life experiences that I would love to hear about!” I feel like I am that Bikini Kill song—Rebel girls you are the queens of my world!

I saw a tweet once that said, “You know the old saying, boys will be trash.” And I relate to that so much. When I see men, what I usually think is, “Well. Looks like you crawled out of a semi-decent dumpster this morning.” Men usually find this really offensive and say, “You CANT hate ALL men!” I mean, first of all, don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, but secondly, let’s unpack this idea. There’s a difference between the individual and the collective. So, while, yes, there are good men and I know many of them, all men do belong to a collective nebulous system that gives them privileges to the detriment of others. That’s what I’m most concerned about—not even the inequity of men being advanced, but the part where the privilege causes tangible harm. If you’re so upset that I’m saying that this system of male privilege and toxic masculinity contributes to the continued murder of people who are not men, you’re probably not someone I want to spend my time with. I feel like I have to say ALL men, yes, ALL men. If I don’t, nothing will ever change because every man will assume they’re in the good man group– which is like the Blue Man Group with slightly less body paint. If it makes all you men and men sympathizers feel better, I have to consider this exact same thing with all of my privileged identities—being white and straight and able-bodied and about a thousand other things. Yes, I’m an individual who tries to do active good, but I’m still a member of those nebulous groups that do active harm.

But it really is true that I don’t hate all men. Here’s a story of a man I don’t hate at all. Art. The post office guy. We have this whole comedy bit down where I go in to mail a package and he says, “Liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous?” And I say, “No!” And he says, “This isn’t a care package full of batteries?!” And I say, “No!” but sometimes I like to mix it up. Yesterday, when Art said, “Liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous?” I said, “Oh yes, all of those things.” And he said, “Batteries?” “No, Art. A six page handwritten letter analyzing the new Taylor Swift album.” And without even missing a beat he goes, “Then we’d better insure it for at least $100.” Yes, Art. You bet we’d better. I like Art so much!

It is possible that Art is always so sweet to me because he thinks of me as his 12 year old granddaughter. This is not unusual in my life. I have to try really hard to look like a legal adult. Once, recently, I had put a lot of effort into looking like an actual adult human. I was flying on an aeroplane which is always a great opportunity to pretend to be terribly sophisticated. You can sit in an airport bar looking mysterious and unapproachable. So that’s the look I was going for. But on my way to the airport bar, my hair tie set off the TSA’s body scanners. And the TSA agent pulled me aside and said, “Okay, we have to pat your hair but I’ll need you to wait right here until we call in a representative from unaccompanied minors.” At which point I said, “I am not an unaccompanied minor! I am on my way to look mysterious and unapproachable in the terminal bar! Look at my sophisticated outfit!” And she said, “You look 12.”

I went to a literary costume party once and I decided to simultaneously make my youthful appearance work for me while providing social commentary on sexual abuse of young girls. Which is to say, I went as Lolita. My friend went as Humbert Humbert and I really thought we were illustrating, once and for all, that Lolita is not a book that should not be romanticized. I put a lot of effort into my costume. I wore a nametag that said Dolores Haze, which is Lolita’s actual name. I was out to rehumanize her! I wore an incredibly non-sexy work-appropriate outfit that I wear all the time in my non-costume party life. It’s actually my most complimented outfit. The last time I wore it I was stopped by no less than five women, all who told me it was super cute. For the costume party, all I did was slap a nametag on that outfit and put my hair in pigtails.

But all I remember from that night is being incredibly uncomfortable. I have never been catcalled or hit on or sexually propositioned so much in my entire life. This is deeply disturbing to me because I did not look sexy. I looked like a twelve year old. I was trying and succeeding to look like an actual child and that’s when I was most attractive to men. All kinds of men, too. Men my age, men much older than me, homeless men on the street, the PhD holding men who paid to go to that literary costume party. A former professor of mine- who did not recognize me- tried to pick me up. He called me a seductress. Even though I felt completely creeped out by this evening, I was mostly terrified for actual 12 year old girls. Who is keeping them safe? Who is stopping men from shouting these horrible things at them?

Have you waltzed through the girl’s clothing section of any store recently? If you haven’t, take a quick goosey gander the next time you’re in Target. Actually, maybe you shouldn’t aimlessly wander through the girl’s section… I’ll just tell you about it now. There is no longer a difference between women’s fashion and girl’s fashion. Sometimes I’ll pause next to a very cute ensemble that I would wear out in public and I’ll look a little closer only to realize it’s made for a literal four year old. And before you get any fancy pants ideas, no, I do not have the sartorial tastes of the recently potty trained. I’ve been to middle school. All that fearless abandon and willingness to mix prints was stomped out of me years ago.

When I was a kid, the girl’s clothing section was filled with, like, spandex bodysuits in every color. On the one hand, I’m glad nobody has to experience that kind of humiliation, although I do believe that kind of embarrassment builds character. On the other hand though, I really worry that we’re taking something away from kids by making them wear tiny versions of grown up clothing. And I feel really conflicted about that feeling, because I don’t want to censor anyone’s body or fashion choices. That’s what high school dress codes are for. You know why those dress codes exist, right? Because we’d rather send girls home from school than teach boys not to lose it over three inches of exposed shoulder. And if that doesn’t tell you exactly who we value and who we believe deserves education, I just don’t know what to tell you.

So, I don’t want to go all high school dress code on girl’s wardrobes. But I also feel like we’re not saying, “2nd graders, you are people and we respect that even at 7 years old, you do have bodily autonomy, and you can wear whatever you want and we will all respect that.” I feel like what we’re saying is, “You must wear this padded bra, even though you haven’t learned long division yet.” Those are a real thing, by the way—padded bras for baby girls. It’s a sick sick world. And I know that there’s really never been a time where it’s been safe to be a girl or woman in this world, and maybe I’m just more aware of it now, but I feel like we’re publicly declaring that we think of children as tiny adults and because of that, we’re not properly outraged when terrible things happen to children. I think we should all be horrified when women are threatened and catcalled and most people aren’t horrified at all. But it feels even worse when it happens to a kid who already has very little agency in this world. So many girls and women have stories about being sexually propositioned in the street when they were actual children and I don’t get why we’re not freaking out about it.

Have you all seen that CNN video where a woman of color and a white guy ‘debate’ catcalling? I don’t suggest watching it, because it’s just rage-inducing. It’s basically just this sad white guy yelling about how he should be allowed to threaten and harass women and the woman listening to this rant makes the most beautiful reaction faces. You should watch the video just to see her incredible facial expressions. Well, this week, some guy posted that on my Facebook page and said, “Let’s critically discuss this!” And, like, what? What do you want to critically discuss here? The fact that men are trash? Because I think I’ve already established that. But then, some other random trashman shows up and says, “Any fem who says catcalling is never okay is just being a bitch. Because cold approaching is different from catcalling and that’s always okay.” I got so furious that I just deleted the whole thing, because I don’t need that misogynistic bullshit anywhere in my life. Anyone who refers to women as “fems” or “females” should not be trusted. That is a dehumanizing tactic. Anyone who believes that a woman is a “bitch” for stating she doesn’t want to be violently threatened, should not be trusted. And anyone who really thinks that it’s harassment to yell, “Nice ass, suck my dick!” but thinks it’s completely acceptable to walk up to a woman, block her path, make her feel trapped, and say, “Hello female with a lovely rump, put your lips on my penis.” Should definitely never be trusted. That person should probably be on some kind of watchlist. These men who pretend to be feminists while espousing deeply harmful ideologies are what Margaret Mitchell would call mules in horse’s harnesses. More succinctly put, they’re asses.

They’re the kind of guys who think women shouldn’t wear makeup. Just this week, I overheard a guy say, “Yeah, but, like, I couldn’t honestly tell a woman that she’s pretty if she has makeup on because I don’t know what she really looks like.” And what I want to know is, when I come into work wearing one outfit one day and then wear a completely different outfit the next day, does that rock your world? Do you find that deeply unsettling?

These are the kind of people who believe in the friendzone. The thing that kills me about this idea of the ‘friendzone’ is that by the time a guy thinks he’s been ‘friendzoned’ the woman doing the zoning did not consider him a friend. I have never thought, “Oh, yay! Here comes my BFF Jim. He’s such a good and dear friend. My favorite part about him is the way he keeps trying to force me into a romantic relationship!” No. The guy who gets ‘friendzoned’ is the guy I run away from every time I see him coming. I’ve stopped using the term ‘friendzone’ actually. I’ve never ‘friendzoned’ anyone. I have been ‘girlfriend zoned’ many times. You can’t just decide that I’m obligated to be your girlfriend and then have a fit when I don’t agree. And honestly, the way you go from “Date me!” to “You dumbass ho bitch!” in 2.5 seconds does not endear you to me in any way.

I feel like I got off track for a bit there. The point I was trying to make is that when my friend Whitney told me about this all women reading, I was so excited. Because sometimes it feels like the whole world is actively working against women, so it’s really important to have this space where we can tell our stories.

SO ANYWAY YAY WOMEN