BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


invasive and pervasive
May 9, 2009, 6:43 pm
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a couple of days ago i went to oona and florence’s 3rd grade music performance of “how does the garden grow?”, expecting some awkward cuteness and cheesy music, and instead got some not so subtle racist doctrine.

the story began with a song about a thriving flower garden, sang by  (white) girls dressed like flowers. then the weeds (all boys) took over, with their “rap” song about being tough, invasive, rough and less refined.  and how can then the gardener get rid of the rapping weeds? by singing a hoedown. for real. so they sang their hoedown, and the first time it did not work, but when they sang it again they finally got rid of the invasive weeds.

bloomington is a mostly white town in indiana, a state with a brutal history of racism, and i just can’t dismiss the fact that such a plot is only perpetuating a certain narrative, and specific stereotypes about blacks. most kids in this town have no african american friends, and get their sense of people of color mainly from the media. it saddens me that such prejudices are put forth by the school system too.

i am so sick of just letting things go, and believing nothing is a big deal, because this shit keeps on going on if it is mostly overlooked.

i wrote to their music teacher the following email:

Ms. Nesbitt,

I really appreciated your efforts in putting together the recital for
Ms.Krothe’s class and all the time spent practicing. However, being in
the audience tonight i could not help but to be deeply uncomfortable
about the dynamics of the story.

I felt that the story had a blatant racialization of characters, and
followed stereotypes about people of color, especially considering the
lack of diversity in Bloomington and at Templeton. The story tells of
a thriving garden that is taken over by weeds. The weeds happen to
rap, which is a traditional form of African American expression, and
sing about being tough, about taking over, and being invasive, which
has been historically an accusation made by whites about blacks.
Indiana has a long history of racism, segregation, and “sundown”
counties and towns, which were and are places where ethnic groups, and
especially African Americans, were driven out by violence or not
allowed to reside. The justification that whites made for such
violence was precisely that blacks were invasive, aggressive, and
“less than”.

In the story the rapping weeds are then driven out by a hoedown, which
is undeniably a very white form of expression. Again with the history
of Indiana, and the U.S., it is appalling to me that such references
are not recognized and discouraged. Yes, the kids are young and might
not be aware of the violent history of racism of this country, but it
does not help to perpetuate stereotypes that lead to more
discrimination, and definitely do not challenge the existing
misconceptions about people of different ethnic backgrounds.

her response?

“Interesting view.”

that is it. wow!



why would you even care?

that is one of the questions i got from an anonymous middle schooler last week,  ” why would you even care about what happened to some random person?” more precisely, which is a perfectly legitimate question.

i took my time explaining the services we offer for survivors of violence, and for people around them. i spent long periods discussing  what impact people can have as bystanders, but failed to talk about emphaty.

what i omitted to elucidate is the very idea that each of us is a random person, a stranger to more people than not, an arguably insignificant being. we often revel in an artificial sense of self-importance, of indispensability. we come to believe that our pain is more significant that another’s, our joys a cause of greater celebration. we surround ourselves with people that feed that sense of uniqueness and individual worth, and end up leaving everyone else behind.

i did not say all that, i just made up some fast, unsatisfying answer about the world being a shitty place if we stopped caring about people we don’t know, if we only protect and feel for our kin and close friends. but the question really stuck with me. maybe because i ask myself that all the time.

i do care, at a visceral level. not about life itself, or the essential worth of human existence. i am well too aware of the smallness on one life, which causes me frequent fits of anxiety. no, what i react to mostly is the unnecessary nature of violence, the pain that holds people captive and could be prevented way too easily.

those are the things i want to try to change. the gratuitous hatred, the avoidable worries. we can’t do much about sickness, or death , or unrequited love. but there is so much unnecessary shittiness, so much hurt that is a choice and only that. the violence we decide to deliver, or the judgment, or the prejudice can be avoided.

i was recently listening to Karen Amstrong on PBS, a religious scholar that studies the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), and she was claiming that the base for any religion is emphaty, more precisely  the simple “golden rule” of treating others the same as you would treat yourself. she was challenging the viewers to do that, truly, even for just one day and experience how hard it is.  it made me feel like a bad person, as i am sure i don’t behave in such manner all the time.  i can justify that by calling upon an instinctual sense of preservation, or self-defense,  but there is no excuse. i know that until the time when blind egotism surpasses our sense of emphaty and compassion all the preventable pain will not cease.



maya angelou speaks
March 6, 2009, 7:55 pm
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angeloulast night i had the privilege to see maya angelou speak here in bloomington.

to be honest, i had no expectations for her speech, and it ended up being one of the best i have witnessed. i have been looking for a podcast of it without much luck, but i will post it as soon as i find one. 

i often feel very anxious about the relentlessness of time passing, and try to fill my minutes to escape the sense of smallness that accompanies the experience of being human. there is not much that can distract me from that, or leave me with a true sense of meaning.  Ms. Angelou weaved a careful net of stories about the weight each one of us has, that we are very much unaware of, and unmistakably left me with a mysterious sense of purpose. each of us cannot change the world, or escape death, or be indispensable, but we have no idea how much each action impacts our surroundings, and how far the ramifications of our choices will reach.

she also gracefully defied the apologetical demeanor that often accompanies the elderly in our society, the self-deprecating jokes about slowness, and bodies functioning at a significantly different speed than someone in their twenties. Ms. Angelou exuded an obviously hard won sense of comfort in her own skin, in her surrounding and in her 81 year old body that felt so rare and precious.

she talked about race with ease, without discounting the weight of privilege, and without choosing divisive words, or sentences that would have provoked easy cheers from the crowd. she also spoke of her experience as a survivor of rape , and the lingering sense of self-blame that comes with that experience…which i see as being so true and prevalent.

thanks, Ms. angelou ( and riley for standing in line and getting free tickets)



more Q&A

i am trying to post more questions from students as i get them, because there see, to be a never ending avalanche of them, and it is often a challenge for me to try to answer in a way that feels appropriate and thoughtful, accurate and helpful…

so there:

  1. Why are guys into sex at a young age (13)? Why are men more sexually attracted to porn than women?

These two questions are similar and both ask about men and boy’s feelings about sex.

Not all guys are into sex. There is a lot of pressure on guys to act or speak as if they were really interested in sex. We talked about gender and different messages we get from society on the first day we were there, and saw that for a guy it is expected to like girls, and to care a lot about sex. A guy might not really care or know much about sex and still feel like he has to talk/act as if he does, to get attention or to feel accepted by his peers. Similarly, it is more accepted for men in our society to use porn. Every person’s sexual desire is different and personal, and should be respected.

  1. Has anyone received threats while staying at the middle way?

Shelter was created as a safe place for women and children to live away from violence. The middle way staff and volunteers put in their best efforts to make it a welcoming and comfortable environment for the residents. We keep information about residents confidential, and respect their privacy. We also have specific plans to respond to threats or to abusers looking survivors at shelter.

  1. Why do people rape? Why do men rape more that women?

That’s a really good question! We talked a bit about that already. People assault mostly because they want to feel in control of another person, and have power over them. Many times people that rape/assault feel entitled to force someone to have sex with them, many times because they feel that they are better than the other person because of sexism, classism, or racism. Unfortunately we live in a society where rape and sexual assault are sometimes seen as acceptable and not a big deal. It’s up to all of us to change that, and to push for a society where people engage in healthy behaviors, and see each other’s as equals.

There can be many different answers to the question of why men assault more than women, and some research has been done to try to find out why rapists decide to assault. The most accurate answer I can give goes back to the ideas of gender we talked about on the first day, when we did the girl and boy box activity. Many boys and men still grow up in an environment that teaches them to be aggressive, insensitive and to see women as less then them. Interviews and studies done on rapists show that the vast majority of rapists hold very traditional beliefs about gender, and feel that having sex is their right, no matter what the person that they raped wanted .

    As Lisa Vetten , the Gender Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa explains: “men rape because they believe they have the right to control and to punish women who do not obey their rules of behavior. Rape is an expression of unequal power relations between men and women. Such unequal power relations are not the result of nature or evolution but societies which, through legislation and social custom, have made women second-class citizens”
    I want to make it clear that even though men account for over 95% or rapes (Kats, 2006), most men don’t rape. Since most rapists are men though, men are in a unique position to help in the movement against sexual violence. I am attaching a few resources from men’s organizations committed to ending gender violence.

TEN THINGS MEN CAN DO TO PREVENT GENDER VIOLENCE

  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a teacher, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz. www.jacksonkatz.com
Reprint freely with credit.

  1. How many calls do you get about rape?

It really depends; some weeks are busier than others, especially around the start of the school year and little 500. We have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital.

  1. What should you do if someone is trying to rape you?

Every person has a different reaction to being assaulted. There is not one “right” way to react. Some people freeze, and become really still during the assault because of fear, some cry, some try to push the perpetrator away. It’s important to listen to your instincts. Many people that are raped say that they felt uncomfortable with the person and unsafe even before the assault happened. If you feel unsafe/uncomfortable with someone leave the situation if you can, call a friend or trusted adult. And whatever happens know that it is not your fault, the person that decided to hurt you is responsible for it!

Here are some more general tips from the University of California rape Prevention Center.
IN GENERAL

  • Know the real picture. Most rapes (85%) are committed by non-strangers and in familiar, social situations.
  • Men who rape usually try to gain trust to test your boundaries.
  • Trust your very first feeling of uneasiness.
  • Don’t dismiss that feeling.
  • Act on it by firmly saying “no”, “leave me alone” or leave if necessary.
  • Don’t worry about hurting feelings or appearing rude.
  • Use a strong, serious voice. Don’t plead or play cute.
  • Don’t apologize.
  • Look for others to assist if you need to.
  • If the aggressor is an intimate partner, tell them in a serious tone that you are not comfortable and want them to stop. Now.
  • Believe in your right to your own body.

    AT PARTIES
  • Be aware that men who rape often use alcohol to exploit your vulnerability. They tend to try to make you drink more than you intended.
  • Keep in control of your drinking.
  • Don’t leave a drink unattended, or accept a drink that someone else has given you. Most times this is harmless, but you are trying to avoid the one time it isn’t.
  • Think ahead. Have a safe way to get home already planned.
  • If in a group, plan ahead to watch out for one another.
  • If a friend looks as though she or he is losing control, step in and take care of them.
  • If a friend is harassing women, make it your concern.
  • Remember you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys by appearance or good looks.
  • Watch out for someone who is pressuring you; who keeps giving you drinks; who wants to get you alone; who guilt trips you if you are reluctant.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for help if someone is making you feel threatened.
  1. How do boys rape boys (like physically how)? How do girls rape girls?

Remember that when we talked about rape we clarified that rape is any non-consensual intercourse. It can happen if someone pressures, threatens or tricks another person, and not just with physical force.  The law says that rape is any unwanted intercourse, meaning any unwanted vaginal or anal penetration.

  1. If someone is over the age of 18 and has sex with a 16 yr old, can the parents do anything about it since the 16 year old is under the age of consent, but still a minor?
    The legal age for consent in Indiana is 16 years old. Legally speaking a person that is 16 can consent to sexual activity. However, we discussed how there is more to consent than just the legal factors of being 16, sober, and awake. Consent is giving permission, meaning that a person has the information and the time to think in order to make a decision they are happy with. In a relationship where one partner is much older than the other, it can be difficult to maintain an equal relationship, and it may be easier for the younger person to feel pressured, or to be manipulated. Your parents or guardians are legally responsible for you until you turn 18, so they have the legal right to stop you from seeing someone that they don’t approve of. However they could not press charges against the person that is over 18 if the sex was consensual and you are over 16.
  1. Does the middle way help people in romantic relationships who are having problems but no evidence?
    Absolutely! In the majority of cases there is little evidence, in the traditional sense of DNA or witnesses, for sexual assault and rape. We support and advocate for anyone that needs it, and we believe what people say. Our role is not to prove crimes or question people, but to empower, support, and advocate for you.
  1. How many sexual assault cases happen and go to Bloomington hospital in a year? How many are female and how many are male?
    It is really difficult to figure out how many cases of sexual assault happen every year, because sexual assault is a widely underreported crime. In terms of the Middle way, we have gotten as many as 10/15 calls in a week for sexual assault and rape, or none at times. In 2007 we had about 70 calls to the hospital fro sexual assault.
    The majority of people that call for sexual assault are female, but we get calls from males also sometimes.
  1. What is the best was to fight or stop a situation that is going the wrong way?
    It’s hard to answer this question because it’s a bit vague. We discussed the difference between fighting and arguing. Healthy disagreements and discussion can happen between people and are characterized by open communication, listening, and feeling safe around the person you are arguing with. If someone is using intimidation, put downs, cuss words, and violence than it’s unhealthy and scary. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their relationships.
    In terms of stopping a situation that is going the wrong way, if someone is being violent towards you it’s their choice to do that, and they are responsible for stopping themselves.
    If the violence is happening to you, you have every right to be safe and to be in a healthy relationship. There can be many options to get out of a violent situation: You can decide to call for the police or if you are at school, you can call a teacher that you trust. If you see someone getting inappropriate attention you can also engage them directly and ask them if they are ok, if they need help or resources. You can also simply tell the assaulter to stop, many times people that assault rely on everyone around them being silent about what is going on, and calling attention to it can be a powerful deterrent. And remember the crisis line and the middle way resources are there for you.
  1. Does your “cherry” pop the first time for every girl?
    From the Sinclair Intimacy and Health Institute (Copyright 2002)
    The hymen, colloquially referred to as “the cherry”, has historically been a marker of a woman’s virginity. The belief that since the hymen blocked the vaginal opening, it should remain intact as long as a woman did not have sexual intercourse was widely propagated, especially in cultures where a woman’s virginity was highly valued.
    But it is scientific fact that the hymen can be separated for reasons quite unconnected to sexual intercourse. It can separate when the body is stretched strenuously, as in athletics; it can be separated by inserting a tampon during menstruation or through masturbation; and sometimes it is separated for no apparent reason.

A separated hymen is not an indication of having had intercourse, nor can it prove a loss of virginity. When the hymen is separated, whether during first intercourse or at some other time, there may be some slight bleeding and a little pain. Both the bleeding and the pain are quite normal and both usually stop after a short time. Some women experience no discomfort at all during this process that is commonly referred to as “losing your cherry”.



the past 2 days
February 12, 2009, 12:46 am
Filed under: gender violence | Tags: , , ,

US-CHINA-CRIME-SCHOOL

i have read today about the killing of Xin Yang on January 22. i don’t understand how it went under the radar. i read newspapers everyday, listen to the news, go on a couple of favorite blogs, but nothing. no word of Haiyang Zhu decapitating with a kitchen knife Xin in a cafe on the Virginia Tech campus. how not? why is this not talked about? is this kind of violence just normal now, no longer worthy of news? all i could find were short snippets describing the  murder, without any analysis or elaboration.

at the same time there has been much coverage of Chris Brown’s violence against Rhianna, most of it vague, and much of it supporting stereotypes about violence against women: she provoked him, she is too jealous, she is clingy, he is a good guy. I have not yet seen any connections being made about this violence, or even locally to the rape that happened in bloomington last night, when a man that had been already convicted twice of rape and sexual assault hurt another woman.

aren’t these just pieces of a broader picture? they are not isolated incidents, they are not just individual decisions.  why are these men deciding to hurt women? i don’t want to go into some trite, easy sociological theories about this. just the way these examples of gender violence have been covered in the media feeds the trend towards  normalization. well, it’s not normal. it’s not ok, and i wish i could say it louder, it’s fucked, and it needs to stop.

i have been thinking about how to create a reality were men’s violence against women is a thing of the past for a long time, and i wish i had a single answer, but i don’t. it will not take one single answer, but tens, thousands, millions.

what is yours?



AMC!!!!!
June 24, 2008, 5:46 pm
Filed under: rants and such | Tags: , ,

damn.

i just got back from detroit and the Allied Media Conference, and my mind feels sluggish and overloaded. it was amazing. and saying amazing says nothing, right? it made me feel alive to be around people capable of imagining the world being different, and not just waiting for those changes to happen, but being part of it all.

and maybe was was so powerful was not so much witnessing all the inspiring projects and work that people are doing aorund the country, the inventiveness and committment, or the strenght and humility. what hit me was how comfortable i felt in that space, where i didn’t have to chose one identity, one self, but i could be me, a woman, a parent, a non- american person, a poor person, someone that has a disability, a not straight person,and everything else that i am.

the ones i met also had complicated identities, and there was no need to make them simpler in order for us to relate, or understand each other. it was a space of acceptance, but also inquiry and curiousity.

still, my mind was blown by many actual projects people are organizing, namely the “generation 5” project, “the center for digital storytelling“, and “Silence Speaks“.

undoubtedly coming back to bloomington comes with a range of feelings. i have been questioning for a long time whether this could be the place i call home, and not just where i went to college. i have tried to imagine how i could make my life the way i want it here, and no matter the amount of openness, the answer is pretty clear. i can’t shake the sense of isolation that lingers in seeing the priorities of the people around me being so different. not better or worse, but different.