Telling women how not to get raped isn’t prevention; it’s victim-blaming.
I got stuck in the elevator last week.
I’ve never been stuck in an elevator before. I know a lot of people say this is their worst nightmare but for me it really wasn’t that bad. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely experienced a little adrenaline rush. I was all by myself so I gave the door one last pound with my fist, sat down on the floor, looked around and thought “Wow, I’m stuck in an elevator.” It really does wake a person up.
(Spoiler alert, I got out.)
All week, I’ve been enjoying the quirkiness of the experience and playing with it. I’ve been watching various things unfold from that wide-awake stuck-in-an elevator point of view. Like, I’ve been thinking about our national healthcare debacle, the mistrial of Bill Cosby, the happenings at my beloved alma mater The Evergreen State College; all of these as embodiments of the cosmic elevator in which our entire nation seems to be stuck.
How are we ever going to get out?
Today I’m thinking it has to be about everyday conversations where we learn to navigate the world with more finesse and not so much stuck-ness.
Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I watched two people end a heated debate with “let’s just agree to disagree.” Ever said that? Or had it said to you? That expression means so many captive things, including:
- My eyes are seeing that your mouth is moving and sound is coming out. But I am too busy in my mind thinking about how to represent and defend my point of view. When I see your mouth stop moving, I’ll tell you all about it.
- I am the one with power here (said both parties) and when this godforsaken conversation is over and we agree to disagree, each of us will return to our corners and shore up our power where we have it.
- You’re wrong.
Allow me to indulge you in a story someone told me once about “you’re wrong.”
There was a monastery in Thailand where people from the U.S. occasionally went to join the Buddhist monks to study and meditate. A woman traveled there and for several months practiced rigorously, Returning to the U.S., she found herself attracted to an evangelical church and eventually pledged herself to Christ. She vowed to return to Thailand to convert the monks. Her return to the monastery was greeted with great warmth. But as the days went on, they became increasingly confused and then annoyed by her preaching to them as they tried to study. Finally the monks went to the abbot to seek his wisdom about what to do. The abbot listened intently to their account of events, considered for a time, looked at his wide-eyed followers, shrugged and said “She could be right.”
Which is just to say, “agreeing to disagree” is to be loyal to a story that may be right. It may be wrong. Who knows?
Or may not even be the only possibility. What if there were a third, fourth, or fifth story; one we can’t even imagine because we get too stuck on the only one we know?
Or maybe all the possibilities are not mutually exclusive? What if two things that appear to be at odds, are actually not and can both be true at the same time?
What would happen if we flipped the script and committed to “Let’s agree to work to agree”? Getting unstuck. There are solutions to every problem we have created for ourselves.
Including getting out of an elevator. Half an hour after I rang the alarm, two guys from the Olympia Fire Department pried open the doors and let me out. Ultimately, I’m left with only one question. Is it possible to be stuck in an elevator and be both annoyed and dazzled at the same time?
Some stories that caught our eye this week:
I had a miscarriage. Fetal burial rules would only amplify my grief. “My son would be turning 20 this month. He was due on December 15, 1996. But in June of 1996, when I was entering the second week of my second trimester, I had a miscarriage — in medical terms, a spontaneous abortion — while preparing to deliver a paper at a prestigious women’s history conference a thousand miles from home.”
The Progress and Pitfalls of Television’s Treatment of Rape “Sexual assault is a human experience. It happens to men, children, elderly women, and it’s all traumatic. So why do screenwriters almost exclusively reserve rape for sexually attractive young women on screen?”
How white supremacist hatred drives acts of violence against powerful women “In the U.S., girls and women are twice as likely to die in school shootings as boys or men. During the past 30 years, 97 percent of the school shooters in the U.S. have been male, with 79 percent of them white. That the media has failed to attach relevance to these clear facts is “identity politics” that few people even notice.”
Flying While Fat presents the voices of fat passengers as they talk about the hatred and stress they encounter upon boarding.
Some stories that caught our eye this week:
Is My Job Forcing Me To Tell A Happy Story About Rape? “…The pressure comes from our sound-bite society. Domestic violence is complicated, and we often have to make it less complicated if we want to get people interested in our work.”
‘Going Flat’ After Breast Cancer “In promoting the surgery, doctors cite studies that suggest breast reconstruction improves a woman’s quality of life after cancer. But some women say that doctors focus too much on physical appearance, and not enough on the toll prolonged reconstructive procedures take on their bodies and their psyches.”
This Anti–Lean In Pioneer Is Teaching Men How to Behave in the Workplace “I am teaching men to actively work to end patriarchy,” she says. “The point is to eliminate privilege and my approach is, hey, you believe that this is the right thing to do.”
Some stories that caught our eye this week:
Abortion Is Health Care, So Why Aren’t Crowdfunding Sites Treating It as Such? By naming abortion access as “divisive,” YouCaring offered a flippant dismissal of those in need of important and imperative health care. And to be clear, abortion is health care.
How We Tell Campus Rape Stories After Rolling Stone Reporters must resist looking for a particular kind of story or a particular kind of victim. This is, perhaps, part of the problem with what happened at Rolling Stone. In the very first paragraph of the CJR report, the authors of the report write that Erdely found Jackie when she was “searching for a single, emblematic college rape case.”
The Link Between Oil Pipelines and Sexual Assault Survivor-led art and activism group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture put together this infographic showing how the construction of oil pipelines—like the one proposed near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation—could contribute to an increased risk of sexual assault for Native women.
Some stories that caught our eye this week:
How Men Can Help End Domestic Violence “It’s also our responsibility to talk about this issue and teach others what a healthy relationship looks like. It doesn’t matter how you start that conversation. What’s important is having the courage to do it.”
Argentina: hundreds of thousands of women set to protest against violence “This violence is trying to teach us a lesson, it wants to put us back in a traditional role into which we don’t fit any more,” says Cantabria. “It’s not a specific blow by a specific man against one woman in particular, it’s a message to all women to return to our stereotypical roles.”
Domestic Violence Shelters Are Turning Away LGBTQ Victims “Transgender women had a particularly tough time finding services that wouldn’t slam the door in their faces, but gay, bisexual, and transgender men also reported that domestic violence shelters for men rarely even exist.”
I am going to interrupt the first paragraph of this blog to tell you the aftermath of writing it. This is simple too ironically delicious to pass up.
Go to Google images and search “Fire Drill 1960s.” I mean, really.
I went looking for a good picture idea to illustrate a story of growing up in the 1960s and doing fire drills at my little rural school. A story I don’t need to tell you now.
What I found was NOT a fire drill 1960s style, but rather an atomic bomb drill 1960s style.
What tickled me so much about these pictures of children huddling under their desks (which, by the way I did not experience as funny at the time) is that how we prepare our children these days for the actual threats they face is very much like this google-search-gone-sideways result: we are leaving our children huddled under their desks when the real problem is that the building is on fire.
I thought of a couple stories to illustrate how we can use the notion of the fire drill to practice things with our beloved kids before it is an actual emergency. And to show how weirdly odd we grownups behave in the face of actual emergencies.
Fire drill: unintended pregnancy
I once asked a young woman friend of mine who was headed off to college what kind of birth control she was using or thinking about using. She’d had a serious boyfriend in recent months and I was thinking they were likely sexually active so I was just curious. She looked at me with a stricken look on her face and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then she blurted out, “I’m not opposed to abortion.”
“Um, sweetie” I replied “you know there are ways to avoid getting pregnant if you don’t want to be right?” And the conversation unfolded from there.
We grownups waste unimaginable quantities of energy and money arguing about whether abortion should be illegal or legal. Available or unavailable. In the meantime this is the stupidity our children are saddled with. By losing our focus on what is actually happening with our kids, we outright deprive them of meaningful access to the information they need. Metaphorically, we leave our teens huddled under their desks. Come on. We can do better than this.
Another time, some friends and I were talking about Plan B (the emergency contraceptive) when their teenaged son walked in. It struck me suddenly that teenagers may not even have any idea what the concept of a plan B is. I mean, do you? Plan A is we meet at the corner to walk together to lunch. Plan B, we meet at the restaurant and I’ll save us a table. Right?
No surprise, the young man didn’t have any idea what plan A and plan B meant. But then, poor thing, I subjected him to some questions about the contraceptive Plan B. What followed was a wildly entertaining conversation which I will leave for another time.
Back to Plan B which is, after all, the fallback. It is not the first line of action for young heterosexual sexually-active people. And yet we adults leave our children huddled under their desks while we argue about regulating the actual drug of Plan B–in fact, all the way to the Supreme Court. The building is on fire people. Grownups get your act together and help kids with Plan A for sexual health and wellbeing, contraceptive and otherwise!
Fire drill: gun violence
I don’t own a gun, but I got a free gun lock at a recent event and gave it to a friend of mine who has school-aged kids. She doesn’t have guns either, but we gabbed about if and how she asks about guns when her kids go to play in their friends’ homes. She said she has struggled with this in a mighty way but has not yet figured out how to ask. It is just so hard to talk about it.
And this is completely understandable. We have locked down the conversation around guns rather than the guns themselves. Even the most basic common sense actions are taboo because any mention of guns leads straight to the second amendment. Even when all we’re talking about is keeping our children from accidentally shooting themselves or someone else. Children have a natural curiosity around guns, secured or not. Again, we leave them huddled under their desks while we argue about politics.
Fire drill: rape and domestic violence
Let’s face it. Even approaching thoughts about a beloved child raping or being raped—being battered or battering is more than most of us can endure.
And yet, no victim or rapist, no victim or batterer comes into this world as such. We unintentionally put our children on a path the moment they are born with our ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. And we follow that up with a million actions, individually and culturally.
But we do not need to fix all of our million transgressions against our children at once. One at a time works. Each one of us doing one at a time.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month. And I’m here to tell you that in the same way that we don’t have to wait until our daughter or son is accidentally pregnant or our child shot to do something, there are simple ways to help kids learn about and navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships. You may never know if something very simple that you say or do plants a seed for a child or young person and helps them avoid a small problem or a large catastrophe.
Grownups. We can do this. It is not hard. It is actually really fun and, I have found, often hilarious. Try these ideas and let us know what happens. Write about your stories in the comment section below, or on our Twitter or Facebook page. We can help each other learn how to safely usher our kids out to the playground!