Monday, April 29, 2013

BIG NEWS!

I will no longer be blogging here at Feminist Catalyst. Yup.

I've 'Been the Change since 2007' on this site and it's been amazing trip. But, I'm not going anywhere major. I'm just centralizing all my shenanigans to a new site, where I won't simply be blogging but also providing you with updates on all the work I do.

FC will no longer be keeping my identity a secret, which is both scary and amazing at the same time.

So, grab a coffee and take a walk with me over to my new home.

For the record, I won't be canning this blog right away. It'll still be here as a way of archiving my old work. 

 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An open letter to victims of sexual assault

Sorry for the ONE YEAR LONG delay in writing. I am working on a ton of new projects, which includes retiring this blog for a brand new one. Details coming soon!

[This is kind of obvious, but trigger warning for discussions of sexual assault]

Dear Jane Does,

I hope this finds you well. Sadly, it probably doesn't. What a terrible few weeks, huh? Ugh. So horrible.

I don't need to update you on Steubenville, Rehtaeh Parsons or Audrie Pott. You've heard about them. You've read about their stories on every Facebook timeline, Twitter feed, news story, etc. Sure, it's great that their stories are getting coverage but damn, you wish they'd talk about something else, right? Listening to that stuff is tough as fuck. Hits way too close to home.

Thankfully, some people are getting the story right. Melissa Harris-Perry, a rockstar in her own right, penned a beautiful open letter to Steubenville's Jane Doe. If you want some extra support, you can check it out here.

I want you to know that I am sorry, too. To echo the powerful words of Melissa, I am so fucking sorry that we live in a world in which the heinous things you experienced are a reality. I send you a thousand apologies every single day.

You are not alone. Not just because there are tons of people in this world fighting for justice for you, but because there are tons of people in this world just like you. Conservative estimates put 1 in 4 womyn in the category of sexual assault survivors. 1 in 4. There are people in your school, at your workplace, in your synagogue who carry the same weight that you do. Sadly, some of the people who've reacted badly to your disclosure are probably carrying that weight, too. 

But I want you to know that I respect you.

I respect what you did then and what you've done since. I respect your decision to punch him out, to not have screamed, to have told everyone you know, to have told no one. I respect your decision to report it to the police, to have not reported it to the police. I respect your right to have your experience(s) define you; to reject the very notion that it's a part of who you are.

I respect you. I respect your right to navigate this world in whatever way feels right for you. You have rights. You matter.

Your experience matters, even if the police said it didn't; even if your family didn't believe you; even if your friends weren't there when it mattered.

Your life matters. You matter. 

I don't want you to think that we only care about Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons or Audrie Pott because they're dead. People cared about them when they were with us.  People care about you. Yes, you. Right now. This very second. There are people who care very, very deeply for you.


You are entitled to justice and there are people in this world who spend every waking second fighting for that justice.

I want you on this Earth. I want your abusers brought to justice and I want the pain to stop. And I commit to doing everything in my power to ending the bullshit that has traumatized too many of us.

I'm sorry for what happened to you. But an apology means shit without action. So, please know that I commit to keeping up the fight for justice. That means I will commit to talk about sexual assault, even when it makes people squirmy. I will call out people who argue that rape jokes are funny, that womyn lie about their rape and that rapists are 'good dudes who make decisions'. I will call out journalists who care more about the 'ruined lives' of our perpetrators than the trauma they've inflicted on us. I will educate those in my life on how to be an effective bystander and what it means to be an ally. I will continue to speak the truth about rape culture and will always refuse to be silenced.

You deserve that much.

The world need not be this ugly.

We deserve better.

So please, hold on.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”- Arundhati Roy

In solidarity, rage and love,

- FC


Monday, March 5, 2012

What I wish people understood about women who've been sexually assaulted

I haven't updated since October?! My bad!

As a support worker for survivors of sexual violence, a feminist academic and a friend to many womyn (and therefore, survivors!), I find myself having the same conversations over and over.

[TRIGGER WARNING for discussions of sexual assault... obviously.]

So here it is.

I wish people understood that women who've been sexually assaulted:

1- Are not fabergé eggs:
Womyn who've been sexually assaulted are not inherently fragile and ready to break(down) at any minute. Of course, the time when they start to heal is not an ideal time and they're probably not feeling their best. But if at least 1 in 4 womyn will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and humankind has existed for centuries and centuries, clearly womyn have found ways to cope and continue living their lives.

It's problematic at best and sexist at its worse to assume that womyn who've been sexually assaulted are forever 'broken' and should therefore be treated like children.

2- Are not going to react in the ways you expect or hope: The amount of people who've told me that their disclosure of sexual assault was dismissed because they didn't 'act like someone who has just been assaulted' is downright depressing. When someone is assaulted, they might pull a CSI victim and break down in tears, they might bury it deep and deny it, they might speak about it non-stop, they might never speak of it again. They might abstain from all sexual activity, they might sleep with anything that moves, they might quit their job or go back to work the next day. They might drink/smoke it away, they might become macrobiotic vegans.

It is absolutely absurd that we throw out all logic about the uniqueness of people when it comes to sexual assault responses.

3- Owe you absolutely nothing: Just because I've told you about my experience of trauma, that doesn't mean that I now owe you every detail of my assault(s), every detail of my therapy session, etc. To pry for more information is both inappropriate and fucking creepy.

4- Want their power back: Sexual assault is not about sex; it's about power. To assume that men sexually assault because they can't control their sexual urges it not only illogical but also offensive to men.

And so when someone is sexually assaulted, they are dealing with the fact that their power, bodily integrity and agency have been violated. And so telling them what they need to do and insisting you know what's best is not only annoying but also contributing to their disempowerment. If I've learned anything in my years as a support worker, it's that the vast majority of womyn who've been sexually assaulted and who seek out help are looking for validation, resources and the space to vent. They know what's best for them and the course of action they should take, they just want you to validate their choices and provide them with any necessary resource information.

5- Don't need your judgment: They don't need you to question why they accepted a ride with that guy, why they dressed that way, why they drank so much, why they went back to him, why they didn't report, why they did report, why they waited weeks to tell you, why they didn't self-defense classes, why they didn't leave the party, why they invited him inside their apartment, etc.

Womyn who've been sexually assaulted don't need your judgment: Society is doing that part just fine, thanks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Feminist Blogosphere

Read this if you still fail to understand the power of feminist blogging.

Oh and, this if you're one of those assholes who believes the brouhaha about 'slutty' Halloween costumes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Activism: Part II 'Finding Myself'

I wrote this piece months and months ago but it's funny to me, in light of a new Jezebel article asking 'Why Would Anyone Become a Nun?'

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My journey to becoming an activist all started with my desire to become a nun.

Let me explain.

Growing up, I went to Catholic school. In my house, we were definitely of the C&E Catholic variety. For the uninitiated, this is the type of Catholic family that will write down “Catholic” on their census but really only attend mass for Christmas and Easters. Oh and weddings and funerals, of course. (Catholics love the concept of ‘forever’).

My Catholic upbringing was rather non-existent except for some bizarro inclusions like the whole “No sex before you get married” thing which was mostly my mother’s quiet way of saying “Please don’t get knocked up and ruin your chances at a life”.

Because you see, my folks were also hella progressive in so many ways. I got the “It’s okay to be gay” talk at like… 4. And I routinely was told that I was smart first and pretty second and that I never, EVER needed a man to be happy.

I include all this because I really want to emphasize that Bible-thumping-Jesus-Praising just wasn’t a part of my reality. And yet, I really loved nuns.

See, I didn’t love Catholicism as a whole. I found the actual class boring as fuck. All the memorizing of prayers and scripture just seemed hella pointless. The occasional time that I was dragged into Sunday school, I hated the patronizing tone of the clearly-unhappy-at-home Sunday School Teachers.

The only things I loved about being Catholic was the stories and the rituals. I LOVED some of those stories. (Oh, I suppose I shouldn’t call them ‘stories’ since they are really just passages of the Bible but I can’t help but treat the Bible like Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes so yeah, they’re stories to me).

Obviously as a budding feminist, I loved the way Jesus was all down with Mary Magdalene’s sinful ways and I remember thinking “GET OFF YOUR KNEES WOMYN AND SAVE YOUR DIGNITY” when she went to wash the guy’s feet. I knew she was better than that.

I also loved this one story about a guy named Zack or something? He heard that Jesus was coming into town and he was so in awe of the guy, that he didn’t feel worthy of being in his presence. So for the fancy procession into town, little Zack went and climbed up a tree and just admired from a far. When the big JC rode into town on his ass, er, I mean donkey, he saw Zack and was all “Hey dude, come and walk with me. You’re obviously cool enough to join my posse”. (I’m paraphrasing).

I thought it was cool that Jesus was down with anyone and everyone. That he forgave folks, chilled with the disabled and homeless. He did to leprosy what Princess Diana did for HIV/AIDS.

Real talk.

And anyone who knows me at all, knows that I’m a fan of ritual. Or as my mother would say – TRADITION! (Only you have to say it in a loud booming voice while raising your hands, √† la Fiddler on the Roof).

I refuse to let my parents buy a fake Christmas tree because it’s TRADITION! Tradition dictates that we go to my uncle’s, get a real tree and decorate it as a group. Then either my brother or I (we alternate years) put up the really hideous tacky star, the same star that my dad has wanted to change for years but I refused to let him because it was TRADITION!

Even as a lefty progressive person, I really value tradition and in particular, refuse to do something that is ‘traditional’ unless I know what the meaning of the tradition is. Since tradition is important to me, if I’m going to be passing it on, I wanna know what it is I’m replicating.

ANYWAY…

My love of nuns stems from this. Nuns are not only ALL ABOUT traditions but they are also hella devoted. And if there’s anything I love more than stories and rituals, is devotion. And so from afar, I would admire me some nuns. I never got to see them in real life until high school (more on that later) but the very existence of nuns intrigued me.

For one, they were the only ‘womyn’ I ever really associated with the Church. They also wore really interesting outfits and had wedding bands because they were MARRIED to God. If that’s not hardcore, what is? They also lived in some secretive convent where I first imagined giggling girl talk and later, some serious queer action.

The coolest part about nuns though is that they had been ‘called’. THIS is what I was all about. Womyn who had been handpicked by the big G-O-D to do his work. At the time, I didn’t see it as an oppressive relationship but more of a “God thinks you’re hella special? Then you’re special to me”.

As a youngster, I felt a ‘calling’. I wasn’t really sure what the calling was to do but I felt a strong feeling that I was meant to do something. Since I had no role models of other people who had a strong calling for their work, I figured this is it, I’m meant to be a nun.

Unfortunately, when I started high school where I was taught by REAL. LIVE. NUNS I realized that they actually sucked. Unlike “Sister Act”, they weren’t badass dancers in a penguin suit. They were actually homophobic, self-hating, hypocritical and BORING.

So then I thought “Fuck… now what?” If I feel a strong calling to do something and to work with people but I hate Christianity, don’t identify with nuns and quite frankly, don’t want to spend my life as a celibate, what the fuck am I supposed to do?

Thankfully for me, my parents wanted me to have what they didn’t and paid for me to move to Ottawa and get a post-secondary education. There I met tons and tons of people whose vocation was basically doing all the truly benevolent things that I wanted to do, without the colonialism and Jesus-lovin’.

My relationship with nuns has simply become this ironic fetish that involves nun action figures and Gothic Christian imagery. Got a picture of a holy virgin with some nice flashing lights and a crown of thorns? SIGN ME UP. But as for that whole “Life of celibacy and rubbing one out to pictures of a light-skinned Jesus?” No fucking way.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Activism: Part I 'Being Whole'

Lately, I've been doing lots of internal dialoguing and other fancy smancy shit that privileged activists like myself have time to do.

Here is part I that I wrote a little while ago:

--------


Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an intense person, yes, but I laugh at funerals, use sarcasm when I probably shouldn't and really do believe in a silver lining.

If you know me well you also know that there is no room in my life for religion or even much of spirituality, either. I call myself agnostic, but really I'm apathetic and really over all discussions of the sort. It just doesn't interest me in the slightest.

I say all this because the following might seem incredibly out of character but it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

I am deeply concerned about activism in my community lately and rather than complain about it, I want to make a call for a better environment and see who is interested.

I've been doing activism in an official capacity for about 8 years. Like most people, I've done things that would constitute activism for much of my life, but it's only been since I've lived in Ottawa that I've made a concerted effort to do activism and to identify it as such. The overwhelming majority of my work has centered around womyn's lives and in particular, violence against womyn, access to abortion and equity in education.

I've previously written at length about my feminism and how I came to do the work that I do now, so I won't get into that.

My issue is that the environment in which I do my activism has become ugly and I have really struggled with how to deal with it.

I know that I am a product of my environment but I am also part of my environment.

As activists, we are not car mechanics or meteorologists whose work is limited by the tools and physical structures available to us. We are the tools and structures. The only limits are our imagination.

So it is frustrating to see how people buy into the idea that we are tangible, objective entities rather than the subjects of our own doing. The rules that govern what we do or how we think are subjective and arbitrary.

There is absolutely no reason why we must treat each other the way we do.

Everyone I've ever known to have left the activist community, the feminist movement, social work, etc. did so because of the environment and their colleagues and not because of the actual work. Let me repeat this.

People whose jobs it is to listen to horrific stories, to support people who feel hopeless and to advocate for a better world in a political environment that is pessimistic and discouraging, end up leaving the work not because of their clients or because of their 'enemy' but because of their so-called allies.

This is often treated as fact; an inevitability.

By setting ourselves up in this way, we are doomed to fail again and again. And every time we do, the enemy wins. And I'm not okay with that.

There is no reason why we must treat each other this way.

I came into this world 'whole' and I intend to leave it the same way.

My mother is Native and an incredibly spiritual person. I deeply admire her for this. (The spirituality part, not the Native part. 'Cause no offense, ma but you had no say in the other part!)

She believes that when someone is deeply hurt in their life, either as a child or an adult, they lose a part of their soul, a part of their 'being' and then spend the rest of their life looking for it.

I believe this.

I believe that most of the issues within activist communities stem from people who've experienced (or who currently experience) deep, deep pain. Whether that pain was because of the work they're doing, or is part of the reason they started this work in the first place, they carry that pain with them. Because we've set activist communities up as 'warrior spaces' where nobody gives up, everybody does 110% and nobody admits defeat, people bury that pain. They bury that pain and bury that pain until they can't anymore but when they lash out, it is to the nearest person; regardless of whether or not that person has caused them any pain.

As people who've spent years and years listening to horror stories of violence against womyn, we do not lash out at rapists, anti-choicers, politicians, or judges. We do not lash out at racist education systems, sexist media or ableist institutions.

We lash out at our comrades.

And this needs to stop.

I am not the least bit delusional about the fact that many activists are damaging to us. Many people who claim to be activists, myself included, have done things (or do things) that are racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. We all need to challenge each other in ways that are productive and about improving the situations and not simply about lashing out.

We need to remember that the enemy is not in the room.

I firmly believe in my heart of hearts that anyone who dedicates their life to ending violence, fighting for equitable education, fighting for access to clean water, etc. is an ally and someone who should be worked with, not against.

And so as things get uglier and uglier (and then better and then ugly again, as it goes), I question why I'm here, why I do what I do and whether it's worth it.

I believe it is.

I do not believe that the revolution will cease without me or that it will fall apart. I believe that there will always be good people in this world who want to fight for a better one and who will step up and replace us all if/when we leave.

But this work is in my blood, it is a fabric of my being and I want to find a way to continue.

So this is what I'm proposing:

I want to build a movement based on the premise that anyone who joins does so in good conscience.

I want to build a movement that is a safe space for everyone, including those who have much to learn.

I want to build a movement that refuses all buzzwords, all lip service and all cliches. No more alienating people with academic language, no more preaching self-care but refusing to partake in it or demonizing those who do.

I want to build a movement that recognizes that just as survivors of violence and womyn who've had abortions deal with their lives in ways that are unique to them, so do activists. There is no 'one way' of doing activism. If you sign every petition and letter that comes across your inbox, hooray! If you march at every protest and raise your fist high, good on you! If you stuff envelopes and write letters behind the scenes, thank you! If you call out your co-workers at the water cooler and take on your racist grandpa at Christmas, you rock!

I want to build a movement that understands that sometimes, your organization is a business unlike any other. You just happen to be in the business of kicking ass and taking names. But you still need to spend time making sure you've crossed your Ts and dotted your Is. You need to be accountable to your stakeholders, you need to respect different forms of leadership and you need to know your role. A movement that understands that sometimes, you just gotta get the work done and not bog it down with checking up on every one's feelings and pussy footing around things that are 'touchy'.

I want to build a movement that is optimistic, realistic and practical.

I want to build a movement that truly recognizes that womyn are equal, that we are strong and that we need not break down into tears to be heard. We are valuable because we exist and that is enough.

I want to build a movement that rejects martyrdom, embraces creativity and remembers ALL of Andrea Smith's work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Smith_%28academic%29). In particular, the parts where she calls out activists for creating a movement that is depressing, reactive and not focused on being proactive and engaged.

I want to build a movement that allows people to enter 'whole' and to exit with all their pieces intact.

You with me?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why we need to care about DSK's charges being dropped

TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses sexual assault in concrete and theoretical ways.

I recognize that I've been an incredibly lazy blogger as of late. I apologize about that. I've been extremely busy.

And then beloved Jack Layton died and I've been reeling.

But one thing that's gotten be riled up as of late is the entire case of DSK.

Unless you have the pleasure of living under a rock, you've heard about Dominique Straus-Kahn. Even my last blog post was about the joy of being famous, referring in part to DSK's treatment even though he face(d) serious charges of sexual assault.

Since that last post, the victim in this whole story as come forward. We now know her Nafissatou Diallo, an immigrant womyn of colour who is also a single mother and chambermaid in a New York hotel. She came forward and told her story.

She says that she walked in to clean DSK's room and found him partially undressed/exposing himself. She apologized, he told her she didn't have to and then sexually assaulted her.

DSK has since done what most men do in those situations do: Claimed it was consensual.

It was recently announced that all charges against DSK in the United States have been dropped because of inconsistencies on the part of Ms. Diallo. He will however go on to face similar charges in France for a sexual assault that he committed against a journalist there. Or rather, is "alleged" to have committed.

And that's where I start feeling a little.... stabby.

As an outspoken advocate against sexual violence and as someone who works as a front-line, support worker, Ms. Diallo's story is all to damn common.

On the one hand, you have a poor, single mother who also happens to be an immigrant of colour. On the other, you have a rich, powerful and 'important' man. In many circumstances, people like DSK would deny having any 'sexual relations with that womyn' (Sound familiar?) But in this case, like in Clinton's case, once you get to the point where all evidence leads to some sexual contact, then they play the 'Cried rape' card.

"It was entirely consensual!" they say "It makes total sense that a womyn who makes barely over minimum wage in a precarious job would risk it all to bone me, even though it was not until she saw my face on TV that she knew I was famous. And even though I'm a married rich powerful man, it makes total sense that she would just walk into my room and say 'I WANT TO SUCK YOUR COCK' and then go home. Yup that makes perfect sense".

Let's not kid ourselves folks. That is exactly what DSK is saying. I'm just doing you the favour of sparing you the BS elements of it.

Meanwhile, DSK's wife diligently stands by his side, even though at best, he had oral sex with a complete stranger in a hotel room and at worst, he sexually assaulted her.

"But! But! He should still be in the running for France's President and we should definitely be supporting him, because 'bitches be lyin'."

This narrative happens over and over and over. And then we wonder why 8 womyn a day are sexually assaulted in Ottawa and only 1 reports it to the police. (Source: OCTEVAW)

Because it doesn't matter if you're white, of colour, rich, poor, able bodied, disAbled, queer, straight, etc. It doesn't even really matter if he is either. (Although that's not always the case, particularly around men of colour, queer men and men with disAbilities or mental illnesses, but that's a whole other story).

It doesn't matter what the circumstances are because 'bitches by lying' and 'men getting framed'. ALL THE TIME.

And so in this case, you have a womyn saying she was sexually assaulted by a complete stranger. She got a high powered lawyer, had a publicity machine and she STILL wasn't believed. So do you think that someone who was assaulted by their partner/coach/professor/parent is going to be believed? What if that person was intoxicated? Good luck with that.

Nobody knows for sure what happened except for Ms. Diallo and DSK. Let me clear about that. I cannot prove that she was sexually assaulted just like I can't prove that he didn't. What I can say is that the way in which we talk about this case says a great deal about the culture we live in and the way we treat survivors.

Language is important. I wish I was half as eloquent as fabulous anti-violence advocate Jackson Katz but since I am not, I will let him say it for me "Every time we call [Ms. Diallo] an accuser, we undermine her credibility and bolster [DSK's]". AMEN.

I know that personally, I use the term 'survivor' but I know that's not legally appropriate or universal. I use the term 'survivor' for very political reasons, but also because it's what people who've been sexually assaulted have asked me to refer to them as. So I listen. But I know that we can't all use that term and that's fine.

But in this case, I'll take victim 100x before 'accuser'. Using the term 'accuser' in the case of DSK is the equivalent of the time the New York Post called her a 'hooker', even though they had absolutely no proof she was a sex worker. (Newsflash: She isn't).

Why is that we insist that DSK is innocent until proven guilty but Ms. Diallo? "Oh clearly she's a lying, money grubbing prostitute who is accusing him of a crime he didn't commit!"





The double standard is so blatantly obvious that it's shocking how rarely it is mentioned.




Yes, in strictly legal terms, he is accused of a crime by Ms. Diallo and that makes Ms. Diallo the accuser. I understand this. But let's not pretend that legally, socially or otherwise, we treat sexual assault as we do other crimes. We just don't. When people say they've been robbed and have 'proof' that their items are stolen, do we say 'The supposed victim of a robbery'? No, we don't. Even though people make up that their items were stolen, their houses were burnt down, their cars were jacked, etc. So if we treat the accused of sexual assault with kid gloves, why don't we do the same for the 'victims' of sexual assault?

All in all, the DSK case leaves me feeling sad.

There are no winners here. Well, except for the patriarchy, of course. In this case, the patriarchy keeps on marchin' on.