Trump is only a symptom

About ten years ago, I was managing a seminar for one of the best trainers in the world. There’s an exercise called Secrets. The room is darkened and then everybody in the room, including most of the staff, has to put their hands over their eyes, or put their heads down on their desk.

Then the trainer goes through a list of questions.

“If you have ever … raise your hand.”

Because I was the course manager, I had to keep my eyes open to make sure the room stayed safe. So I was able to see how many hands went up for each question.

Most of the questions were gentle, even harmless, but all of the questions were designed to be cathartic. But a number of the questions cut right down to the bone.

There are things people carry around inside, a lot of hurt and guilt and shame and fear, but there’s no safe place to unload those feelings, so the exercise allows some relief. The participants get to keep their secrets safe, but they get to acknowledge that they are holding these things that keep gnawing at them — they get to own that part of their identity.

This particular time, however, when the trainer asked questions about abuse, about rape, about violence — nearly every woman in the room raised her hand.

Now this was not a unique group of women. These were adult women of all ages, from early twenties to late sixties. Some were students, others were working women. Some were married, others were single or divorced. Some were highly skilled professionals. Some were strong family women.

“Have you ever been raped?” “Have you ever been molested?” “Have you ever been the target of physical or emotional abuse?” “Have you ever been made to feel ashamed of your identity?” “Have you ever held yourself back…?”

And worse.

Observing this for the first time, I felt tears running down my cheeks because of the level of pain in the room. All those pale hands, silent in the dark. A testimony of unspoken hurt. I felt my chest tightening and my heart pounding — I felt myself getting angry, as angry as I felt when my son finally confessed to me how he had suffered at the hands of an abusive foster-parent. I wanted to find the perp and hurt back.

But no — all I could do was remain a silent witness. Stunned and horrified.

Later … much later, when the trainer and I went out to dinner, I had to ask. “Is this normal? All these women?” He said, “Sometimes it’s worse.”

Ever since that moment, I have had to look at women differently — with the knowledge that I am living among a population that is very much carrying a burden of oppression — not unlike the Jews in Nazi Germany, not unlike the slaves in the pre-civil war south. Not unlike so many populations here in this country and around the world.

White male privilege allows white males to exist in a bubble of ignorance and illusion. I have to generalize here, but I’m pretty sure that most men have no idea and even less understanding of just how steeply the landscape has been tilted — just how much (through our unconsciousness) we are deliberately punishing half the human race.

This week, what has been most appalling to me about Donald Trump’s despicable confession of being a sexual predator … is not the various defenses of those who are trapped in his sinking lifeboat with him. No — what’s appalling to me is how few men are able to understand that what Trump spoke about was the “normal” that women experience every day. What is appalling to me is how few men are enraged.

I have been simmering, smoldering, and finally boiling with anger the more I consider his words. I can’t get them out of my head. I can’t escape them. Despite my pacifist leanings, I still want to punch that vile bastard in the face with a jackhammer. Words are insufficient.

And if I’m feeling that way, I cannot imagine how the women who have heard those words are feeling. This isn’t a once-in-a-while occurrence. This is … just another Tuesday.

Sidebar: There’s a story about the filming of Django Unchained — that Leonardo DiCaprio was having trouble with all the racist language he had to speak. He wanted to apologize for it. But Samuel L. Jackson (allegedly) said, “Hey, Motherfucker. This is just another Tuesday for us.”

Well, I’m tired of Tuesday — and the rest of the week as well.

I grew up in a time when anti-semitism was freely expressed. I grew up in a time and lived in an environment where anti-gay sentiments were freely expressed. And eventually, that sensitized me to a lot of other prejudices — anti-black and anti-Muslim and anti-Native American, and so on.

But it wasn’t until that moment in that training room that I realized what a pernicious vile crime against women we have allowed in our culture.

Women alone will not be the solution here. It is up to men, good men, strong men, compassionate men, to draw a line in the sand and redefine what it means to be a man — and that can no longer include the reduction of women from their rightful place as leaders and partners in our society.

Trump is only a symptom. The real disease still festers in the rest of us.

trump-100-smug-republican-hate

(via David Gerrold on FB)

Every woman.

Thanks to the US presidential election, there has been a lot of discussion lately about sexual assault, attitudes towards women and how men conduct themselves when they are in the private company of other men.  It’s really quite hard to ignore at the moment as the media is in the grips of what must be the very exemplar of a true media frenzy. For most women, the topic of sexual assault and sexual harassment hits us somewhere deep and personal that we’d rather not think about.  It brings ugly memories to the surface and dredges up life experiences that we’d prefer to leave quietly filed away in The Past™.  Many of us have these long suppressed and often ignored, but never forgotten, unpleasant memories of how we have subjected to the abysmally inequitable status quo that continues to exist in our society.  To varying degrees, most women I know have had a lifetime of unsolicited sexual attention.  All women live with the awareness of possible sexual harassment and assault every day – it is the background noise of our lives.  It hurts us, it scars us, it sure as hell scares us, and it follows us around our entire lives. And more often than not, it starts really young. So goddamn young.

I was 5 or 6 years old and at primary school, when a man we called ‘Window Willy’, lived in a house adjacent to our playground. He gained this nickname from his habit of flashing his penis at us little girls during our lunch breaks. Despite repeatedly reporting it to teachers the message always came back to just stay away from that area of the playground.

I was about 8 years old when one day, I was up at the Carina Terminus shops waiting for my mother in the haberdasher.  A man who was seated outside the shop had been staring at me through the window, and I thought nothing of it.  While my mum was busy with her purchase, he shifted the leg of his c.1970s very short shorts, and displayed his penis and scrotum to me – a little girl.  I told my mum and the lady in the shop… they just told me not to look at him.

I was an athletic, short, blonde, tanned and already busty 12 or 13 year old, when I came out of the surf at Stradbroke Island one holiday with my hair slicked back wet to my head, and a ‘friend’ of the family said I looked like Bo Derek.  My Dad gave me a towel and told me to cover up.

I was 13 when I had recently joined the Army Cadets and a Cadet Under Officer came over to me while we were at attention on the parade ground and fiddled with the lanyard attached to my breast pocket, saying it wasn’t sitting right.  Seemed innocent enough but then I caught the satisfied and smug look on his face as he walked away because he had touched up my boobs in front of everyone.

I was a little over 14 when I went to the movies in the city with a large group of (mostly male) friends one Anzac Day. The boy I was sitting with thought it was appropriate to pull out his dick and put my hand on it in the dark. I screamed, everyone laughed, I switched seats.

I was barely 15 when a 21 year old man, an officer of the same Cadet Unit decided to single me out. I was flattered at the attentions of this older guy, so it never occurred to me to object when he woke me up in my tent at 1am, and encouraged me to go for a walk with him.  He took me to his panel van and convinced me to ‘come talk with me’.  After a while he kissed me and that was okay, but when he started to grope under my shirt and and tried to pull down my pants, I had to fight tooth and nail to get out of there without pissing him off and causing more aggression… or god help me, violence.

I was nearly 16 when another CO – this time a 23 year old man – took me and two other 16 year old friends to the Gold Coast for a ‘night off’, while we were supposed to be on bivouac.  He bought two bottles of vodka and got us all drunk. I vaguely remember doing cartwheels and round-offs over a campfire that night.  I absolutely, 100%, clearly remember waking up in the early hours of the morning in his car with his hands inside in my pants and him saying, ‘Let’s finish what we started.’ Those words have simultaneously haunted and comforted me.  If things needed ‘finishing’, then maybe my fuzzy drunken memory lapse wasn’t covering up something even worse…

I was 17 when I was waitressing at the local Leagues Club, helping out some friends with their catering business, when a drunk footballer stood up and waved his dick at me to the amusement of his friends.  I ran and hid in the kitchen, shaking my head in disbelief and discouraging my black belt boyfriend from going out there and smashing his face in. One of the older women who was also waiting tables with me offered to take over that table.  He didn’t flash at her.

I was maybe all of 19 when a colleague who I had been reasonably friendly with, cornered me in the copy room late one Friday at work. He pushed me up against a photocopier and pressed his erection into my thigh saying that he thought I was really sexy and he couldn’t help himself.  Knowing that more than 80% of the office had left for the weekend already, I talked fast,telling him I had a boyfriend and asking him what his wife would think. I never scrambled so fast to get the fuck out of a place in my life.

When I was about 20 we used to hang out down at Fisherman’s Wharf for lazy afternoons of live music and cheap drinks.  After one of these nights, we ended back at my boyfriend’s best mate’s place.  My boyfriend passed out drunk in a spare room, leaving me in a strange house with a guy I had met only once before.  This guy. This ‘best friend’, decided this was a good opportunity to pin me down on the carpet, stick his tongue down my throat and have sex with me.  I was too drunk to say no… I was too drunk to say yes.

Thus began my life of never drinking to the point where I might lose control. Of my wits. Of the situation. Of myself.

I was 23 the FIRST time I felt the penis of a complete stranger digging into me when riding a packed train in London.  I’ve lost count of occasions when I have been on trains, buses, or in a tight packed crowd at a concert, and someone has pushed their erection into me, or an anonymous hand opportunistically groped at my breasts, or grabbed on my arse. What do you do?  What do you do?  Sometimes you don’t even know who did it.

I was 35 when a man in Pakistan at a tailor’s shop, slid his hand up my thigh.  I stepped away, only for him to sidle over to me and do it again. Culturally this was seriously creepy – I know how little men value women in countries like this. I was over 40 when a skeezy little Chinese guy in Shanghai pretended to sneeze – face first right into my chest. Fucker.

Thankfully, it happens less and less these days… perhaps because I’m getting older and I am no longer as desirable as the younger version of me was. Perhaps because I no longer frequent pubs and taverns without the protection of a group of trusted friends.  Perhaps, because like many older women, I have carefully cultivated a general ‘fuck off’ vibe, that I arm myself with whenever I leave the house.

I am not in any way tormented or traumatised by my experiences. Have my behaviours evolved to ensure my personal safety and to avoid situations like this?  God, yes.  I don’t go out by myself at night, I am careful about my alcohol consumption (even among friends), I dress fairly modestly most of the time – primarily because I prefer people to talk to my face and not my tits, but also because I don’t want to offer encouragement. Mostly I don’t think about these things because is just the background noise of my life – this constantly and habitually minimising risk.  I don’t dwell on these experiences or in anyway, nor do I feel myself to be any sort of victim.  I’ve never sought justice or expected sympathy over any of this.  These are just things that happened to me.  Sometimes I think the fact that I am not traumatised from these incidents is an indicator of how normalised sexual harassment and sexual assault is in our lives and in our thinking. Other times my thought patterns are more: ‘Yeah, that happened. I can’t change it. I wasn’t seriously hurt. I’m still here. Could have been worse. Who cares?’

Mostly I just don’t think about it at all… but at the moment, with the current media climate, I don’t know how NOT to think critically about my past experiences and how/if they have effected me. What I do know is that sexual assault of varying degrees is so completely pervasive in all our societies. It doesn’t matter what your background is –  it leaves no girl or woman untouched.  I may not have suffered the torment and horror of a complete stranger raping me behind a dumpster – but every single woman I know has stories of unwanted sexual attention.  Every. Single. Woman.

And now, whenever that simply horrid, overblown buffoon of a billionaire, wannabe President, opens his mouth – all I hear and see are these men from my past.  These men who took liberties with my person because I am female. Fuck them and fuck him. If this self professed pig of a man wins the White House and sets a shining example for people all over the world – how do we even begin to try and fix this if it?  I can’t believe he is even being considered as remotely suitable.

consent-sexual-assault

I REFUSE!

andrea-mendez

When I was 5, I sat on the edge of my chair with my legs spread. I felt an itch between them, so I reached down to scratch, but my grandma grabbed my wrist to stop me and hissed: “Girls don’t do that!” I asked her why, because I had seen my father doing it, I had seen all the boys in primary school doing it, too. And it itched and I wanted to scratch it. Her answer was: “It’s just how it is. Girlsdon’t do that. Also, don’t sit there with your legs spread like that. Girls don’t do that, either.”

When I was 6, I spent a day on the beach with my family. I was excited about the new bikini my mum got me, but confused as to why she asked me to keep the top on when I went for a swim. She hadn’t made me wear it the years before, but suddenly, she was very fussy about it. “Look, I’ve got one on, too.”, she said to me. And I thought I understood: Women had to cover their breasts, because they were bigger than mens’. But I wasn’t a woman. I was a child. Later, I overheard a talk she had with my dad. “I don’t want old men to stare at her.”, she whispered. I interrupted them and asked her why she thought old men would look at me. Her answer was: “It’s just how it is. It’s because you’re a girl. And men do that.”

When I was 9, I got in a fight with my best friend. I went home and complained about it to my grandma, who lived with us. She told me I should have seen it coming. “That’s how girls are.”, she said. “A friendship between girls is always also a competition. Girls are jealous, manipulative and backstabbing. You can’t trust them.” But I had never fought with my best friend before and I knew we’d forgive and forget the next day, anyway. So, I asked my grandma why, and her answer was: “It’s just how it is. Catfights will happen. It’s normal. That’s how girls are.”

When I was 13, I fell in love with a boy from the neighbourhood. I couldn’t hide my excitement. He was on my mind all the time and I caught myself wishing we were together, so I could hold his hand and kiss him, too. I wanted to meet him, get to know him better, and I told my dad about my plan of asking him out. “Don’t do that.”, my dad said. “It’s not appropriate for a girl to ask a boy out.” Though I partly agreed, since I had never seen a woman proposing to the man in a movie, or read about a girl kissing her crush first, I still didn’t understand what would be so bad about being an exception, so I asked my dad why I had to wait for a boy to show interest in me in order to be allowed to openly requite it. His answer was: “It’s just how it is, darling. The man makes the first move. It’s always been this way. Boys like to conquer, and girls love being chased.”

When I was 17, I was part of a large group of friends. There was a boy who fancied me. I didn’t like him back, but I wasn’t used to anyone crushing on me, so I enjoyed the attention. He’d always tell me I was special. One of a kind. Different. “You’re not like other girls.”, he said. “You’re not a bitch. You’re funny, laid back, intelligent. You don’t just care about your nails or your hair. You get my sense of humour. You’re not like most girls. You’re my best guy friend. But with tits.” I was flattered in the beginning, but soon, I started to wonder if his compliments were any at all. I began to feel disgusted with him. I didn’t want to be his best guy friend with tits. So I asked him what’s so good about a girl like me, a girl unlike what he called a typical one, and his answer was: “That’s easy to explain. A pretty model type of girl is good enough to jack off to, but in the end, a guy wants some drama free pussy. You’re an exception. The majority of girls is superficial and slutty. The kind of girl you fuck, but dump when you’re ready to settle down. Or they’re just plain boring and prude. This sounds harsh, but it’s just how it is.”

When I was 19, there was a boy I regularly had sex with. It was nice. Not the breathtaking kind of passionate, ecstatic fucking I had dreamed of; maybe we lacked chemistry, maybe it would have been nicer if we had been in love; but I was alright with it. I adapted, obeyed and swallowed. Of course I did. In the beginning, he really put an effort in giving me what I gave him. He really tried. But his attempts at putting his tongue to good work quickly faded into halfheartedly rubbing me dry and at some point, he said: “I’m giving up.” I asked him why. His answer was: “It’s so hard to get a girl off. You women need ages to cum. It’s so exhausting.” I laughed and told him I needed about two minutes when I did it on my own. “Then stick to that.”, he said. “I’ve got a cramp in my wrist. Women are so complicated. It’s just how it is. I’m sorry.”

I am 20 now, and I’ve come to realize that my female identity has been shaped by a biased, hypocritical excuse based on ridiculous gender roles: “It’s just how it is.” All my life, I have asked them why, and all they said was “It’s just how it is.” And it didn’t matter whether I’ve asked men or women. Internalized misogyny is just as harmful. There were as many women as men who said: “It’s just how it is.” But that is not the answer I wanted. Not the answer I needed. These few words don’t fucking answer the countless questions concerning my gender identity.

Why can’t I sit with my legs spread? What’s so shameful about what I keep between them? Why must I cover my breasts? Why am I being sexualized long before I’m even told when sex is? Why am I being taught to mistrust other girls? Why do I have to compete with other girls? Why am I only a good girl when I’m not like most girls? Why do I have to keep quiet about the way I feel? Why am I not allowed to show affection like men do? Can’t I conquer a boy’s heart, too? Why must love be about conquering, anyway? What if I don’t like being chased? What if it scares me? Why do boys scare me, anyway? Why do you make me feel inferior to them? And why do I have to like a boy in order to be liked? Why am I being shamed for being a “slut”, them shamed for being “prude”? Why am I expected to adapt, obey and swallow without praise when boys who return the favour are considered grateful, dedicated lovers, heroes, almost ,because to the majority of them, it’s not fucking understood that if I make them cum, they should make me cum, too? Why am I exhausting to be with? Why am I complicated?

Is it because I’m a bitch? Because I’m an oversensitive little baby? Is it because I’m a slut? A prude virgin? Is it because I’m on my period? Cause women are just crazy? Cause I am jealous, manipulative, backstabbing, competitive or any of the other countless negative traits that are immediately connected with the female identity? All summed up, is it because I’m a girl?

I’ve asked them. And they said yes.

And when I asked “But why?”, they said it again: “It’s just how it is.”

“It” is that context, is a never ending circle of resigning acceptance of the circumstance that girls are being raised to disrespect their own gender from their childhood on. I was, and am, expected to accept the fact that being female automatically makes me inferior, and that I should be thankful for being treated equally, because that’s not the standard. I was, and am, expected to appreciate and take it as a compliment when people tell me that I’m not like other women. Because I was, and am, expected to look down on women even though I am a woman myself. But I refuse. I refuse to adapt, obey and swallow. I refuse to accept that “it’s just how it is”. I refuse to take this as an answer, and I will not stop asking why. I won’t ever stop asking why. Not because I want people to give me a proper response, but because I want them to question themselves, too. I want them to start wondering. Want them to start doubting the concept of the role I’ve learned to stick to before I knew how to spell my “typically female” name. I want them to think about it, lose their sleep about it, until they ask, too: “Why?”

In order to eliminate misogynic stereotypes, we must unlearn to understand them. We must refuse to accept “It’s just how it is” as an answer, until we forget what “it” stands for. Keep asking why, until nobody knows an answer anymore. “It’s just how it is” is not an answer. Neither is “It’s cause you’re a girl”. Or “That’s how girls are”. Because girls can be everything and anything they want to be. That’s how it really is.

—Mia Morgan, I REFUSE! A rant on how my female identity has been shaped by excuses and lies.

Artwork by Andrea Mendez (FB) and published here for safe keeping.

Why AR-15s? Buckley Jeppson’s post.

Buckley Jeppson gun store challenge

Today I went to my local gun store (US Guns, 9063 SW Barbur Blvd.) to ask about AR-15 guns. I didn’t go in to berate, but to try to understand why a store would sell such weapons. The two young guys in the store were understandably jittery but tried to answer my questions.

ME: I’m trying to learn more about the AR-15 and why an ordinary citizen would want one. I already know that the AR does not stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle” but for ArmaLite, the company that developed it.

CLERK at US Guns: Most people use them to shoot cans and stuff.

ME: You’d have to be a very bad shot to need that kind of gun to shoot cans. I did just fine with my BB gun and my dad’s 30-06 deer hunting rifle. I didn’t need 45 rounds per minute.

CLERK #2: They are good for shooting coyotes and ground hogs because those little suckers really move fast.

ME: It seems that the AR rifles are nearly all you have here, except for the hand guns.

CLERK: Yes, they are our most popular.

ME: But surely everyone isn’t buying them to hunt coyotes, ground hogs, and tin cans.

CLERK #2: They are good for wild pigs in Texas. They’re a real problem in some parts there.

ME: But we don’t have wild pigs in Portland. Why do people in Portland buy these types of guns?

CLERK: Well, some are for protecting their families and property.

ME: Protecting them from whom?

CLERK: I don’t know, that’s just what they say.

ME: Have you ever had someone you love killed by a gun, and I don’t mean while hunting rabbits?

CLERK: No

ME: I have. You are young, and the older you get the more likely you are to lose a loved one. Whether you think they are killed by a gun or a person you will discover they are dead. What would happen if you stopped selling AR rifles?

BOTH CLERKS: We’d be out of business.

ME: So it’s about the money.

CLERK: Yeah.

ME: I ask you to reconsider and to stop selling these guns. Thank you.

And I left. But wait, there’s more:

Part II
As I headed to my car I was approached by a guy who was in the store and followed me out.

GUY: They are lying. They sell the guns to people to protect themselves when “they” come?

ME: Who is “they,” zombies?

GUY: Yeah, that and all the others who might try to steal your food after an earthquake or take your guns or imprison your family members.

ME: Is that something that really concerns you?

GUY: Yeah, with the way the country has been going the last 7 years. . .
ME: You mean since we got a black president?

GUY: Well, not just that but look at all the Muslims and immigrants streaming across the border to get us. I have six ARs, and plenty of ammunition.

ME: But you can only shoot one gun at a time.

GUY: But I bet I feel lots safer than you do.

ME: No, I’m not afraid of hoards of zombies, Blacks, Mexicans, or Muslims coming after me and my family. I’m more afraid of going out dancing, or to church, or the movies, or school.

GUY: Nah, those are pretty safe places.

I drove away proud that I hadn’t screamed at anyone, but just asked questions, hoping I would learn something. I did, and it made me cry a bit as I drove home.

I thought of my friend John, a husband and father, who was depressed about school and couldn’t buy beer in Utah because it was Sunday, so he bought a gun and shot himself.

I thought of my daughter, who wanted to clean the carpets but was turned away because she was wasn’t old enough to rent a Rug Doctor. But she was old enough to have bought a gun if she wanted.

There is something very wrong here and the only way it will get fixed is if we all get off our butts and do something about it. Everyone start by finding your neighborhood gun store and go in and ask questions. Challenge them a bit to think about it and to come clean with the real reasons for these guns. It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It has to do with the money they make from paranoid people, made even more paranoid by the NRA. We all have a gun story. Tell them your story and ask them to stop selling AR guns. They probably won’t, but you will have made them think about it.

Buckley Jeppson  June 15 at 10:18am · Portland, OR, United States  on Facebook

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Finally, America starts to be waking up to itself, but is it too later?  Have they allowed this hate peddling, fear-monger the microphone for too long?

An Open Letter to Donald Trump:

Mr. Trump,

I try my hardest not to be political. I’ve refused to interview several of your fellow candidates. I didn’t want to risk any personal goodwill by appearing to take sides in a contentious election. I thought: ‘Maybe the timing is not right.’ But I realize now that there is no correct time to oppose violence and prejudice. The time is always now. Because along with millions of Americans, I’ve come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.

I’ve watched you retweet racist images. I’ve watched you retweet racist lies. I’ve watched you take 48 hours to disavow white supremacy. I’ve watched you joyfully encourage violence, and promise to ‘pay the legal fees’ of those who commit violence on your behalf. I’ve watched you advocate the use of torture and the murder of terrorists’ families. I’ve watched you gleefully tell stories of executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood. I’ve watched you compare refugees to ‘snakes,’ and claim that ‘Islam hates us.’

I am a journalist, Mr. Trump. And over the last two years I have conducted extensive interviews with hundreds of Muslims, chosen at random, on the streets of Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees across seven different countries. And I can confirm— the hateful one is you.

Those of us who have been paying attention will not allow you to rebrand yourself. You are not a ‘unifier.’ You are not ‘presidential.’ You are not a ‘victim’ of the very anger that you’ve joyfully enflamed for months. You are a man who has encouraged prejudice and violence in the pursuit of personal power. And though your words will no doubt change over the next few months, you will always remain who you are.

Sincerely,
Brandon Stanton

(Via Humans of New York on FB…)