Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

These puppets explain to the Supreme Court why your boss shouldn’t make decisions about your birth control.

There’s been a strong negative reaction to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network’s (RAINN) recommendation to focus on the criminal justice response to rape on college campuses. Wagatwe Wanjuki does a great job of explaining why this approach is so problematic.

In a recent interview, the director of Girl Rising talks about the story and strategy behind this amazing film.

We—along with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs—submitted this letter to the editor of The Daily News following the arrest of a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor. We appreciate and applaud the advocacy work Emergency Support Shelter is doing in their community to support victims, their choices, and their rights. 

Dear editor:

Reading about a rape victim arrested on a material witness warrant was alarming. As your coverage noted, arresting the victim “had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will.” Further, an October 10 headline, “Family jailed for refusing to testify against dad” indicates this isn’t an isolated case or practice.

We oppose this practice. It has devastating impacts for victims; shifts focus away from perpetrators, and can lessen community safety. Arresting victims deters others who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault from reporting by promoting fear of being arrested if they can’t be available to the prosecutor; whether for lack of resources or fear of offender retaliation. Additionally it further penalizes victims who are homeless or cannot afford a phone or transportation. Punishing victims and creating barriers to reporting violence makes our communities less safe. Holding offenders accountable and responsible for violence is what we need.

Jail is not what justice for victims looks like.

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung

© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Two terrible decisions by judges are in the news this week – making it clear how far we still need to go as a nation to prioritize victims over their rapists.

The other day, my mom asked me in a super slow and emphatic way “Are you a practicing Buddhist?

photo by Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.it  "Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;  use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are."  His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

photo by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it
“Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;
use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Whoa. She didn’t even sound this shocked when I came out to her.

I did a little grimace, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, mom, I wouldn’t say that exactly.” I stammered on “I mean I’m not sure the Buddha would have called himself a Buddhist. He was this guy who just kind of woke up to experience his own life, and went around teaching about it. But I don’t think of it really as, like a religion that I could belong to or anything.”

Though I’ve been studying, and (yes mom) practicing, Buddhist philosophy for four years now, I’ve been loath to talk or write about it.

Until now.

I’m coming out of the closet. Truth is, I think about it all the time. Especially in relation to my work to end violence against women and children.

I think about it in relation to our satirical rape prevention tips post which begins “1) Don’t put drugs into women’s drinks. 2) When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone. 3) If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.” and goes on from there. I find it amazing that this post has been viewed 180,001 times.

I can’t help but think, that of all those people, it is statistically likely that at least a few readers were men who have raped someone. Or who have done other terrible things to women and children.

Back to the Buddha and what his enlightenment might have to do with rapists reading this post. The Buddha was just an ordinary man, who woke up. That’s all. He wasn’t visited by angels. He wasn’t struck by lightning. So I wonder, can these other men wake up?

Could reading a blog post that posits that rapists are responsible for not raping—instead of making women responsible for not getting raped—help these guys realize what they’ve done? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human experience of doing terrible things to others? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human capacity to stop doing those terrible things? Could they make amends by helping other men wake up and stop raping women?

I am always amazed at what a difficult concept consent seems to be. She asked for it, she started the argument, she was into making out, what did she think was going to happen if she went there/did that …. are all variations on the theme of “she consented” and used to try to confuse our understanding of rape and intimate partner violence.

Most recently, I was shocked and repulsed at Ariel Castro’s gall in asserting that “there was harmony” in his home, and that much of the sex he had with the three women he had imprisoned was “consensual” and besides, the women weren’t virgins anyway. When I heard this on NPR, I began yelling “What the F?” in my car. Fortunately I was alone.

The good news is, it seems like most people reacted like I did, and that was heartening.

How is it that someone can be so confused about what constitutes “harmony” and consent that they can say with a straight face that it existed in that situation. Castro is an extreme case, but I suspect that one of the reasons he was able to convince himself of this is because it is generally consistent with the purposefully confusing and blurred picture men in particular get about female consent.

In other words, it’s not that far out of normal, and that is the scary part. Blurring the idea of consent plays out in all sorts of ways in our culture. And it is useful because it helps the dominant group pretend/ignore/claim that the subjugated group isn’t really being oppressed, but that they actually CHOSE or consented to their situation. This alleviates their responsibility to grapple with what relationships would look like if each person truly had equal value, dignity, and respect.

So in the interest of clarity, let me explain something about consent.

It is really quite simple: if a person can’t freely say no, then yes (or silence) has no meaning. Yes only means something if NO is a real—no negative consequences— possibility, something one can say free of the fear of violence, force, humiliation, murder, homelessness, loss of economic security, the safety of one’s children. If NO is dangerous, then YES is empty. It’s not consent.

Consent-Flowchart

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Day one of my 60th swing around the sun. I’m pretty excited about it.

So I hope you will forgive me as I indulge in a brief feminist retrospective of my first six decades. I was thinking about it on my way to work today, specifically about:

SPORTS. Huge progress.

I missed Title IX by only a smidge. This is a great sadness to me. People often mistake me for a coordinated person (and a vegetarian). Sadly, I am neither, but I often think that I would have benefitted enormously from playing full court basketball, hanging in the outfield, diving headfirst, slaloming a steep course, running fast. I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters who joyfully play, experiencing the rough and tumble, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. This is no idle nostalgia or longing. Girls today are healthier, safer, and more self-possessed because they play sports. And it was not an accident. It was not an idea whose time had come. Women fought for and won the right to play.

JOBS. Pretty good progress.

Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason - Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows

Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason – Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows

In the 1960s, my dad encouraged me to be an oceanographer. I thought he was nuts. I knew my only real options were secretary, nurse, or vampire victim. An enduring love of office supply stores is all that remains of this particular personal legacy, because the women’s movement flung hundreds of doors wide open to us. It’s not all roses. We know that, but oh, what a difference half a century makes.

RAPE. Standing still.

I am sure people are going to disagree with me here, because we have so many laws on the books now about rape. Right? But functionally? How much have things really changed? When I was a young teen, my dad’s lone foray into sex ed was an off-hand warning—something like “once a man gets started, he can’t stop.” Start? Stop? What? I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. But he was very much speaking from fear for his daughter, and the social norms of his day. These norms have not changed in significant enough ways. There may be more talk, but there is also a wider variety of fail. That we have made so little progress in ending rape is the biggest disappointment of my feminist career.

And finally PINK AND BLUE. Going backwards.

Come on now. This is ridiculous. This whole pink and blue genderfication thing is just plain wrong-headed. Two good books make this point. Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America and Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It. As gender becomes more nuanced, more complex, we get nervous and try to get all binary again. This is not good for girls and women. It’s not good for boys and men. It’s not good for intersex and trans people. It does not help us express our humanity as individuals and it’s not good for our relationships.

Perhaps if I live to be 70, or even 80, I’ll be able to shop for baby presents in all colors of the rainbow. Maybe all genders will give and get consent. Maybe there will be a Madame President. Maybe I’ll get my knees replaced and run a marathon (just kidding).

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • The heroic story of Amanda Berry’s survival and escape was made possible by a neighbor who “figured it was a domestic violence dispute” and got involved instead of looking the other way.
  • In the super-disturbing category: getting lots of press this week is the new life-sized ex-girlfriend “tactical mannequin target” that bleeds when you shoot her. OK, “super-disturbing” might be way too kind of a description.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • NCAA basketball has provided more than the usual share of madness this time around. Plenty of upsets and broken dreams (not to mention broken bones). And then, of course, there’s the firing of Rutgers abusive and homophobic coach. This commentary helps put things into context: “as much as Rice is the crux of this particular problem, the issue is bigger than him…which is why it keeps happening.”
  • Check out this article on some cool strategies young people in Bangladesh are using to engage their communities to end violence against women.
  • We all know there are far fewer women than men in politics. But why? Because they’re not getting elected? Not running? Not even thinking about it? Some new research is breaking down the gender gap in politics.
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