Es solamente una bofetada de telenovelas (It’s just a soap opera slap)

(scroll down for English translation)

El otro día, mi pareja y yo estábamos mirando una comedia en la cual uno de los personajes principales iba a ser la dama de honor en la boda de su ex pareja. La women-slapcomedia continúa a través de una series de incidentes cómicos cuando de repente la dama de honor abofetea a su ex (y futura pareja al final de la película). Yo me encontré a carcajadas por la bofeteada e incluso pensando que la otra persona se lo merecía por haber sido tan desconsiderada. Pero segundos después comencé a cuestionar mi reacción. Ignorando mi propio consejo de que tenía que relajarme porque es solo una película, me puse a analizar la situación. ¡De todas maneras cuestionar mi posición acerca de quien se merece una bofetada me parece razonable! Me molestó que esa bofetada sea tan casual—casi normal. Nadie se disculpó. ¡Solamente sucedió! El hecho de que se trataba de una pareja del mismo género no cambio la sensación incómoda por la agresión. No es la primera vez que veo una  bofetada ocasional, al contrario estuvo presente en todas las telenovelas que seguí de adolescente y adulta. Incluso he visto bofetadas en novelas americanas como All My Children (Todos mis Niños), General Hospital (Hospital General) y también Modern Family (Familia Moderna).

Me puse a pensar de cuando hablamos de abuso en las relaciones, siempre hablamos de la presencia del poder y control como patrón de conducta. Algunos de nosotros creemos que un solo incidente de abuso no es suficiente para calificar a la relación de abusiva. ¿Sería entonces apropiado que nos riéramos si una persona recibe una bofetada sólo una vez? ¿O estas bofetadas ocasionales que vemos en las telenovelas y películas nos llevan a aceptar la violencia que ocurre en las relaciones reales? Personalmente, yo creo que las bofetadas ocasionales que vemos en la televisión promueven violencia y en algunos contextos contribuyen a varios sistemas de opresión. Ahora, ¿deberíamos de parar de mirar las películas y telenovelas que tanto nos gustan porque esto ocurre? Independientemente de la respuesta, me gustaría alentar a las personas a reconocer la bofetada ocasional la próxima vez que la vean. Incluso tal vez puedan hablar con alguien acerca de ello. Quizás pueden decir, “que buena película o episodio pero ¿qué pensaste de la bofetada?

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My sweetie and I were watching a romantic comedy the other day in which one of the main characters was asked to be the Maid of Honor for her ex—a woman she is still in love with. The plot continues through a series of comic events that lead to the Maid of Honor suddenly slapping the bride (her ex- and future lover)! I caught myself laughing and even thinking that the person at the end of that slap deserved it for all the pain she had caused. But then I started to question my reaction. I decided to ignore my own advice that I should relax because it’s just a movie. After all, questioning one’s judgment of who deserves to be slapped seems to me to be a reasonable standard to have. It bothered me that the slap seemed so casual—almost acceptable. It just happened. No one even apologized! The fact that it was a same-gendered couple did not make it any less troublesome to me. I am not unfamiliar with the occasional movie slap—they are ubiquitous to the telenovelas I watched growing up. I have also seen them on All My Children, General Hospital, and even Modern Family.

It got me thinking, when we discuss abuse in relationships we always talk about power and control as a pattern of behavior. Some of us believe that a one-time incident is not enough to call a relationship abusive. So, is it ok to laugh if someone gets slapped just one time? Or do these occasional slaps in the movies and telenovelas lead us to accept real-life violence in relationships? Personally, I believe that the occasional slap does promote violence and oppression. Now, should we stop watching the movies and soap operas that we enjoy so much because of it? Either way, I would encourage you to acknowledge a slap the next time you see it. Maybe talk to someone about it. Say, “What a great movie/episode, but what do you think about that slap?”

Grinding at the homecoming dance

My newly minted high school teenagers just attended their first homecoming dance and complained grinding was the dominant form of dancing (video spoiler alert—parents prepare to be perplexed or horrified). I’m glad to know there are some good suggestions out there of how schools can prohibit grinding and promote equitable relationships among teens. Yet, as a parent, talking to teenagers about grinding is difficult and frustrating.

I do it because I want to them to believe in their own power and know that they deserve respect. But talking about grinding with your mom is gross, awkward, and not appreciated. I want to yell “No, no, no! Those boys do not deserve to touch you in that meaningless way!” or something equally unhelpful. Instead, I say things like, “Grinding treats you like a body part, not a person; and he doesn’t even have to look you in the eye.”

While I can’t protect my children—gone are the days I could literally lift them out of harm’s way—I can have influence. I can ask the school why they don’t have a no grinding policy, instruct the DJ to play a variety of music, ask kids who are grinding to leave (not just momentarily separate them with a beam of a flashlight), and openly talk about the policy at school.

I think the attitude “kids will be kids” is an excuse for parents to avoid the whole issue. Yes, you do have to talk to boys about their power, objectifying girls, curiosity and arousal, and the best ways to build friendship and intimacy. Yes, you do have to talk to girls about all of these same things. Oh, so much easier said than done. But if we are willing to initiate a conversation about grinding then hopefully our kids will continue to talk to us about things that make them uncomfortable.

Misrepresentation

Have you heard about the documentary Miss Representation? It’s a film about how women are portrayed in the media and the effect it has on every last one of us. This is not news to me. Probably not news to any woman out there. But I watched the film anyway, because I was wondering how it might inform my work on behalf of battered women.

I was not prepared for its emotional impact. Like I said, this is OLD NEWS. I thought I had moved beyond the hurt and into a place of toughness, channeling my feelings into productive work for women! WRONG. The way the film so clearly illuminates the media’s systematic degrading of strong, intelligent, powerful women in our society hit me like a freight train. This is hurting all of us. Women and men. Girls and boys.

I also just saw Tony Porter’s TED talk about the “Man Box,” his term for the collective socialization of men. Take a few minutes to watch this video. It’s 12 minutes very well spent. He explains that forcing boys to fit in to the “Man Box” (boys don’t cry, boys are in charge, boys don’t act like girls) creates the conditions that make violence against women acceptable. The media’s incessant barrage of negative images and remarks about women do the same. So the bad news is—this stuff still makes me sad and angry. The good news is—it still makes me sad and angry!

And here’s what I want you to do about it. What makes Tony Porter so powerful is that he tells stories. Relatable stories. And it really challenges the way people think about things. So go on Facebook and tell a story about how the media’s take on women or the “Man Box” has affected your life in a concrete way. We’re not going to start any revolutions talking about things in the abstract.

It matters to me

What an interesting crazy-making time we live in.

We have a country blowing up about birth control and rolling back reproductive rights at the same time as fashion trends and pop culture role models continue to impose sexy sexy sexy on our girls.

I am so tired of the heavy burden girls bear; to be sexy, young-looking sex objects, but not have sex. But if you do have sex, don’t get pregnant. But don’t use birth control. And definitely do not have an abortion.

Photo by michelleavitia@gmail.com at SoCalFeminist

We are giving girls the message: we only care about your uterus and what might grow in it. What happens to you before a pregnancy―rape, relationship violence, poverty, lack of access to sex education and birth control―does not matter. What happens to you during your pregnancy―besides the continued growth of the fetus―does not matter. What happens to you and the baby after it’s born―does not matter.

Why are the dominant messages so simplistic, so binary, so… stupid? How are we as a populace putting up with ourselves for being such liars―professing to value families, while simultaneously whittling away all the resources that support families?

I am eager to see us shift towards talking about healthy, positive sexuality, based on individual preferences and (where applicable) faith. Without imposing one (tiny, revealing) size fits all.

Rihanna and Chris

My recent discovery of Spotify has me wading back into the world of pop music for the first time since Salt-N-Pepa were on MTV (does MTV still exist?) With the recent sparks flying around Chris Brown and Rihanna’s latest collaborations, I thought I would take a listen to their music. I discovered that I’m not a fan, but you certainly can’t miss the passion in their songs. And yet it’s alarming that this passion sounds a lot like violence. Blogger Yolo Akili is right on when he says “Pop songs about love sound more and more like war every day. And that should be frightening to us all.” Pop music has often been criticized for its portrayal of women and relationships, and most of the time for good reason—but that’s another post entirely.

Today I’m talking about Rihanna and Chris Brown. Maybe it’s just industry smoke and mirrors, or maybe there is still passion and even affection between these two. Either way, I was struck by the lack of compassion for Rihanna as the public opinion swirled around their new collaborations. Here’s a newsflash: people who have been abused often have contact with their abusers after they leave. Sometimes it’s about kids, but often it’s about reconnecting, giving a second chance, knowing the good in a person and hoping for a better outcome.

I’m not in any way minimizing what Chris Brown did. That was despicable. But Rihanna reconnecting with him, whether personally or professionally, does not equal her accepting or condoning the abuse. I’ve heard the outcry that she’s a role model for young women… what is she thinking? What are we thinking that we are holding her responsible for exemplifying the kind of relationship we want for our kids? Why aren’t we saying that it’s Chris Brown’s responsibility as a role model to not use violence to control his partner?

Although I am alarmed by a lot of what is being said, I’m glad people are talking about it. Let’s keep the conversation going. Reese Witherspoon is talking to her kids about it. Talk with the young people in your life and ask them what they think. Did you know a recent study found that most teens said they knew what a healthy relationship looked like, but didn’t expect to be in one? Come on, we can do better than that!

S*!t people say

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to say about Martin Luther King, Jr. day, racial justice and equality … and then I came across the video “S*!t White Girls Say … to Black Girls.” Not everyone is amused, but the fact is it went viral. Franchesca Ramsey had her experiences to make this video and said that even impacting one person made it worth it.

This video resonated with me because I have my own collection of things people say to me. For example, when I get asked if I’m from India, I usually answer “I’m from Zambia.” Then, I hear things like “Wow, you’re black?” (an attorney) OR “My best friend in college was from India.” (a well-traveled person) OR “Oh, so you’re a Zamboni-an.” (a person of color).

Women are often judged or undermined because of what they said, what they drank, or what they may be wearing. Similarly, survivors of domestic and sexual violence have heard “why don’t you just leave?”. It’s just s*!t people say … even some well-intentioned people. It’s me, it’s you, and yeah, it’s the people you hang out with.

So be informed, use your own strategy to educate yourself and others. And be willing to be educated, whether it’s acknowledging a thoughtless remark or asking good questions about what you don’t know.

Occupy breast cancer

My girlfriend and I used to have four breasts between us. Then 16 years ago, we lost one. Then another last year. As of December 21, we are down to one.

Quite honestly, breast cancer is not the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it is painful, time consuming and expensive. I doubt this cancer is going to kill me―though several of my friends have not been so lucky.

Because I had weeks to sit around and think about it, I connected even more dots than the last time I blogged about this topic. My cancers were caused by all the toxic chemicals I’ve encountered in my lifetime. As a woman, I’m at a huge disadvantage in a toxic world. As one of my radiologists said to me “I hate to break it to you, but breasts are mostly fat.” Get it? Fat = storage. My breasts were like bank accounts for a ready flow of chemical cash.

Okay, that’s gross, but do you want to hear something super ironic? This from Barbara Ehrenreich in her brutal essay “Welcome to Cancerland”―one chemical company that manufactures carcinogenic pesticides is the same company that makes one of the most common treatments for breast cancer. Causing and curing cancer―flip sides of the same profit.

Profit. Corporate greed. Follow the thread.

Sitting in twelve clinic waiting rooms last month, I also got a big dose of magazine popular culture. All I can say is &^@*$. One ridiculous manifestation of a woman’s image after another selling absolutely nothing that anyone really needs. Profitable images. That’s all. Profit. And again women are paying the price.

Enough diagnosis. Let’s get on to the treatment plan.

The main thing I want to say about this is that there is absolutely NOTHING you can do as one lone individual to create the level of change our world needs. Individual actions serve as a reminder of the immediacy of the problem, but they don’t solve it.

The other main thing I want to say is that you as an individual are the ONLY person who can create the change our world so desperately needs. Yes. You. And you. And you. All of us―together.

Editor’s note: We are remembering Ellen Pence, who died last week of breast cancer. We note with sadness our growing losses. 

Gamers’ paradise: “Prepare for unseen consequences!” *

I am clearly not a gaming expert. But my strong reaction to Halo made me wonder about my friend’s son and what he is being exposed to. How are these video games impacting young men? How are they undermining the conversations I am having about violence against women?

“But mom, don’t you want your son to protect you?” said my friend’s seven-year-old when she told him no more video games for the night. “With your controller?!” was my friend’s response.

Compared to this boy, I have a much simpler life – one with no TV and no gaming system. So naturally, when I recently saw a male friend playing Halo 3, I was not only appalled at the intense graphics and use of violence, but I actually wanted to flee the room.

I am clearly not a gaming expert. But my strong reaction to Halo made me wonder about my friend’s son and what he is being exposed to. How are these video games impacting young men? How are they undermining the conversations I am having about violence against women?

Look, I don’t think video games are simply good or bad. I have male friends who are brilliant, kind, and sensitive, and play video games that are violent, just as I know people who never play video games, but are real pieces of work.

I will never be a fan of these games. When I spend my days studying domestic violence homicides, it’s hard to imagine playing a game about killing others for entertainment. But what I really want to know is what your take is on violent video games, like Halo, and how (or if) you think it impacts violence against women?

*“Prepare for unseen consequences!”

Who’s losing if Charlie is winning?

No you can't be Charlie Sheen for Halloween!
Steve Breen for the San Diego Union-Tribune

I can’t believe it took an 8.9 magnitude earthquake to shake us out of our bizarre fascination with Charlie Sheen.

I don’t want to be yet another person talking about him. But as Jacob Weisberg said, “while I am not much interested in celebrities, I am extremely interested in why other people are so interested in them.”

Suffice it to say that I’m not a fan of the way he’s treated women over the years. But as the media frenzy has unfolded over the last few weeks, I’ve become especially alarmed to see folks within my circle of friends showing admiration for him – rooting for him like he’s some kind of underdog and proudly wallpapering their cell phones with him.

It has forced me to ponder: What is up with us? Why are we so attracted to someone like Charlie Sheen?

Maybe we’re vicariously enjoying his self-indulgent disregard for all the usual rules and boundaries that constrain our lives. And I’m not saying  it’s wrong to hedonistically pursue one’s own interests. But as blogger Melissa McEwan often states, “my rights end where yours begin.”  You can buck the establishment and carve out your own path without being callous, arrogant, and abusive towards women.

So what does it say about us that we give him so much attention? And what messages are we giving young people about which behaviors get rewarded? If Charlie Sheen is winning, then he’s right: the rest of us are losing.

Gaga about activism?

My job involves studying domestic violence homicides. So it’s no surprise that I’m against violent images in music videos. And when stars wear outrageous clothing to get more attention, I am even less interested in the politics of their fame.

Lady Gaga does both these things. But I’m inspired by how she uses her popularity for social and political activism, like taking a stand against SB1070 and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

So how do I reconcile all this? Or should I even try? A coworker told me that to her, Lady Gaga “embodies the complexity of the human experience. She makes me realize that we can’t look at what she is doing in a binary way.”

Maybe we should take this as an opportunity to re-think our views on feminism? And maybe the outrageousness of Lady Gaga’s videos is a brilliant way of challenging our societal norms around sexuality, power and violence?

While I think about Lady Gaga’s choices and messages, I think I’ll listen to (not watch) “Just Dance.”

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