The power of silence vs. the power of talking.

If reading about rape will trigger you, please respect your own limitations. If you need to talk to someone about any sexual assault or abuse that you or someone you love may have experienced, please call RAINN: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

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shhThe fact that the world is talking about the horrible events in Steubenville is, to put it mildly, an unusual thing. Usually, sexual assault is wrapped in silence.

The silence of social niceties, the silence of discomfort, the silence of fear. Many survivors don’t talk because they’re ashamed, or because they were told they’d be killed if they do. Many don’t want the assault to take up any more of their time than it already has, and many are sure no one wants to listen. Many can’t yet find the words to tell the world what happened.

But it’s been my experience, as a rape crisis counselor and friend of survivors, male and female, that breaking that silence is one of the most powerful tools there is for dealing with the events survivors grapple with — whether it be the assault, or the assault’s aftermath.

Moreover, telling the truth — giving voice to the lived reality of millions upon millions of women and girls, men and boys — is one of the most powerful weapons there is for dealing with those who would deny the realities of rape.

To that end, I present today a guest post, a monologue written by a woman I know named Danielle.

Writing this piece was one of the ways that Danielle has found to grapple with what happened to her. She hasn’t yet performed the piece nor seen it performed, but she hasn’t ruled out the possibility. When I asked her if I could put it on my site, here’s what she said:

I went back and forth on whether to put it out there, because some part of me fears judgment for what happened. However, that is exactly the reason to do it. Women don’t speak up, aren’t honest, because of the fear of judgment. And, maybe it is time to add to the voices that say, “Not anymore.” What happened to me affected me in a major way, but I am not defined by it, nor do I continue to carry it with me like baggage. It happened. It changed me. But, it didn’t ruin me. And, if sharing it can help someone else, then yes, let’s do it.

If you have a story you would like to share, please do so in the comments or send me an email (contact information in the About page, to the right). I promise you, this space will be safe. There will be no trolling here.

Note: I first ran this post in the wake of Lara Logan’s rape in Tahrir Square. It seemed entirely appropriate to run it again this week.

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This is written as a monologue to be delivered to an audience, part acting, part performance art (I wrote it in the style of a Chicago performance troupe the NeoFuturists). Everything in italics is stage direction.
———————-

(she walks slowly from upstage, in clothing slightly too big for her to give the effect of it almost falling off. a clear glass filled with bright pink liquid is in her hand. she is slightly unsteady, but not “drunk”…she may or may not sit down at the lip of the stage)

You made my second drink. (beat) I had a small buzz from the first…but yours tasted like rubbing alcohol. A quarter of the way through, my words began to slur. Halfway done, I couldn’t stand. (pause) “Drink up!” (stares into the glass, at the last bit of the drink…slams it back, then considers the empty glass for a moment–beat) Then I lost my sight.

You didn’t notice me trying to fade into the couch, to pass out with what dignity I could muster. When you pulled me toward you, I saw it in the distance, like when you see a tv on in someone’s home as you drive by. (beat) I pulled away. Did you notice? (pause) Your weight came down upon me as if it had always been there and I wondered if you realized that reciprocity had triumphed over reason. Your hands moving mine to you, my body a vessel for your desires, for I had none of my own. Blind, deaf, and dumb, just as a puppet should be. I followed you outside, stumbling, wondering what I could sacrifice in the name of Not Making A Scene. My clothing peeling off like shedding skin as I tried to keep it close, as if it could still protect me. But shed skin is dead skin and unchecked lust knows few bounds. Your weight pushing against me, supported by elbows abraded by fabric. I had the scars for a week. Did you hear my answer in the silence that followed your questions? Did you see me trying not to cry as you kissed my back, feigning tenderness? When you fell out, did you hear me whisper a quiet thank you, only to breathe it back in when you found your way again? Did you see the face in the window, interrupting us? No, that was only in my mind. I didn’t look you in the eye, but if I had, would you have noticed? My powers came back to me as it ended; however, too little, too late. Task completed, you bounded off with lip service, but not a second look. As you searched for scraps of food in the kitchen, I searched for scraps of myself.

You didn’t notice, did you?

Neither did I.

The right not to be raped is a human right.

This past week saw up-and-coming political pundit and progressive activist Zerlina Maxwell talking about rape, her own status as a rape survivor, and the fact that women shouldn’t have to carry guns in order to not be raped — because boys and men should be taught not to rape in the first place. This is not a new topic for Zerlina (see her excellent “Stop Telling Women How Not to Get Raped”), and she’s not a stranger to backlash.

However, last week the discussion was on television, which gives it much greater kick, and any conversation about guns adds an entire new layer of intensity to the process, and pretty much immediately after she was off the air, Zerlina began to be inundated with rape threats, death threats, racist slurs, and often a combination of all three, across all the various social media platforms. (You can read more about how it’s played out by clicking here to read the reaction of Josh Marshall over at TPM). I’ve tried to be supportive of Zerlina as the week has unrolled, and I’ve tried to help spread the word that her experience is very, very far from unique.

Today I kind of summed of what I’ve been saying all week on Twitter, and I just want to be on the record as saying here what I said there:

Obama, Hagel, feminism and the Middle East: A progressive’s dilemma.

Obama-hagelAs a born-and-bred Progressive and long-time advocate for both Israeli-Palestinian peace and women’s rights, I’m used to having to pick my battles. My positions are to the left of pretty much every national leader for whom I’ve ever had the opportunity to vote, in Israel or the U.S. Barack Obama was the first candidate to even come close.

Whatever the President’s opinions were and may still be regarding Israel/Palestine, though, they’ve come to seem of little importance, as his actions have thus far been little but repeats of mistakes made by past Administrations.

On the question of women’s rights, however, the record is much more to my liking: the Lily Ledbetter Act, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, health care reform, his consistent refusal to treat rape as anything less than a crime—these policy decisions and public attitudes are making America a better place for women and girls (and men and boys), right now, today.

So the record is mixed, as far as I’m concerned. Which brings us, of course, to Chuck Hagel.

From the moment that Administration sources whispered the name “Hagel” into the ether, the neocon wing of Hagel’s own party came down like a ton of bricks, spinning anti-Israel and anti-Semitic conspiracies as fast as their words could spin. It was untrue, it was ugly, and it was never really about Israel—it was and remains about the neocon vision for American power, a vision that Chuck Hagel neither shares nor respects.

As I wrote last month, I’ve long appreciated Hagel’s approach to Israel/Palestine, and his preference for diplomacy over war more broadly. As a lifelong Illinois Democrat, I don’t expect to agree with a Republican from Nebraska on much, but I’m certainly glad that we could at least agree on that.

This week I learned, however, that Hagel and I don’t agree on a whole lot else.

Far from being a feminist, in the Senate Chuck Hagel acted to prevent servicewomen from having access to abortion (even at their own expense) if they’d been raped and impregnated, and that frankly horrifies me; the Republican Party’s willing dehumanization of women generally and callousness toward rape survivors specifically is a big part of what got me so involved in Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts this fall. Like other progressives, I’m also nervous about Hagel’s positions regarding the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans, particularly (as Rachel Maddow and my colleague Sigal Samuel have noted) when the Pentagon is poised to deal with so many LGBTQ-specific issues.

But this is where I come back to the guy who hired him: Barack Obama.

I trust the President’s feminism, which I believe has been proven time and again, and while I will agree that Obama’s dedication to LGBTQ rights is less well established, I do believe that it is solid (though it should be noted that as a straight woman, I don’t have to live with the consequences of the President’s positions on these issues, and thus my awareness of them is likely not as keen as that of Americans who do). On the other hand, I am deeply concerned about Obama’s policies in the Middle East.

It is my opinion—and I cannot stress this enough: I do not pretend to know for sure—that a Defense Secretary Hagel serving under President Obama the Feminist will find that his opportunity to oppose basic human and civil rights for women and/or LGBTQ Americans will be sharply limited by his boss’s policies and positions, whereas President Obama the Failed Two-State Facilitator might have appointed a Defense Secretary Hagel precisely in order to help create movement on the ground regarding Israel and Palestine (and Iran) that will lead to real, desperately-needed change in the region.

Do I love the pick? No, and I love it even less now that I know more about Hagel’s record. But I still like Hagel better than Michele Flourney, for reasons that speak very directly to the Defense Secretary’s primary mission, and I do think that as an official in the Obama White House, there’s greater potential for him to do good, than harm.

None of which is to say that we shouldn’t hold the President’s feet to the fire on these issues, because we should—indeed, I hope the Senate questions Hagel very closely at his confirmation hearings. In a democracy, it’s the job of citizens and our elected officials to insist that government reflect our highest values, and I’m pretty sure that “equality for all” is top of the American list.

And of course, my cautious optimism might be proven wrong. But for the time being, I remain an American-Israeli progressive feminist peacenik who is cautiously optimistic about Chuck Hagel. So it goes.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Recreating humanity.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Photograph_of_a_baby_standing_in_front_of_a_mirror.jpgOk, here’s what occurred to me the other day: We’re a generation engaged in building an entirely new kind of human society. Possibly an entirely new kind of human.

Consider just a few 21st century facts, and then try to project them back 50 years: Openly gay and transgender people serving in our government and legislative branch as we fight for marriage equality. America’s last two Secretaries of State? Women, one of them black, one of them a serious contender for the White House. Black man in the current White House. Well-known and well-respected women publicly and often angrily expressing women’s right to bodily autonomy; well-known and well-respected men supporting them, publicly, and often angrily.

I know I frequently say some version of “Hey, look, things are so much better than they used to be,” but I’m not saying that here. I’m not comparing today to the day I was born. I’m comparing today to every single moment of human history. And we’re recreating ourselves.

Because every single one of the items mentioned above was effectively unimaginable once, and not at all long ago either. If we consider the entire expanse of human history, and then look at the changes wrought in Western society in the last four decades alone, it’s actually quite startling.

Each of the examples I’ve provided (and many, many others that are not reducible to a single sentence or sentence fragment) represents in turn the hopes and dreams and literal blood and tears of uncounted, uncountable people. People who died dreaming only of the vote. Or of a life lived without violence. Or of the freedom to make decisions based on internal truths, rather than external pressures. People who died never, ever imagining the world as it looks today.

What we’re doing today has never been done before. Sure, there was that thousand year stretch when dudes who were brown (roughly and metaphorically speaking) ruled the known world (starting with the dudes in the Arabian Peninsula and eventually leading to the dudes in Istanbul), and one would be hard-pressed not to notice that Asian dudes ruled the Asian Empires — but: a) DUDES, and b) in each of those cases, one had to be of the right clan/color/faith system/what-have-you to wield power or even personal autonomy. The kind of radical, universal equality that so many of us have begun to see as the default of human existence has literally never existed in human history.

And so my point is: That’s why it’s hard.

That’s why it all moves in fits and starts and we have fights about words and about who gets to say what about whom and every two steps forward serve as but a precursor to one step right the hell back. Because we have never, ever done this before. We are creating something New, and we don’t even, really, know how to imagine it yet.

I’m not saying that the battles have be won. They haven’t. They’ll never be won. Every time that something Gets Better, we’ll uncover something else we didn’t realize we had to do. There are questions that my grandchildren will face that I cannot even imagine in 2012.

And having said that: Wow. Think about it. Think about the fact that gay men and lesbians got married before God and family in Washington state this weekend, and then think about the entire rest of human history.

Holy cow.

Update: Speaking of which…. Just look at these pictures from Seattle’s City Hall.

Dear GOP: You do know how pregnancy works, right? (I think they weren’t listening the first time).

I first ran the following back in May; at the time it went kind of crazy viral, but the evidence of the past few days suggests that the leadership of the Republican Party was not among my readers. And so I offer it again…. Please feel free to share broadly — last time, the little post that could got FB-ed more than 10,000 times, and garnered more than 400 comments. O_O! 

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I have been pregnant four times.

These pregnancies led to the following four results, in this order: abortion, baby, miscarriage, baby.

These pregnancies occurred over a span of many years, across two continents, and in three different homes. There were at least seven different health care professionals involved, my hair styles varied widely, as did my levels of nausea. The only constant, in all four cases, other than me, was the presence of a penis.

It happened to be the penis I eventually married, but regardless, that is how pregnancy works. No matter who you are, no matter your sexuality, ability to reproduce, or family make-up, if there are children in your life, at some point along the way, there was a penis involved.

I mention this only because it seems the GOP may have forgotten.

Because as we trundle along, shaming women for having any kind of sex, ever, that is not entirely focused on producing babies — even if we are married, even if it wasn’t so much “sex” as “rape,” even if having a baby would threaten our health and thus the well-being of the children we already have — we are completely and utterly ignoring the fact that the single, solitary way for humans to reproduce is for sperm to meet egg. And sperm, you may recall, come from penises.

Which are attached to men.

If women are having too much sex, so are men. If women are producing babies, so are men. If women are making irresponsible reproductive choices with which they want to burden “the American people” — so.are.men.

Birth control, abortions, prenatal care, postpartum care, child care — whatever we may think, whatever we may have been told — are not women’s issues. THEY ARE HUMAN ISSUES.

There is a purely incandescent rage that comes over me now on a nearly daily basis over the blatant dehumanization of women that is currently sweeping the nation. It is exhausting. It is heart breaking. It is spirit crushing. And there’s nothing to be done but to continue to feel it, because I refuse to stop fighting for my right, my daughter’s right, my mother’s right, my sister’s right — the inalienable right of all women everywhere — to human dignity.

But every once and a while, a particularly galling aspect of the GOP’s War on Women floats to the top of the filth, and I am gobsmacked anew. And today it is as simple as this: Women do not reproduce on their own.

If the Republican Party is so anxious to control women’s sexuality (and it clearly is), it had better start shaming men, too.

That is, unless its representatives are willing to argue that men are constitutionally incapable of not sticking their junk into the nearest available lady bits, and we gals have all the power.

I, for one, have too much respect for men to buy that.

Progressives are feminists or they’re not Progressives.

Here’s a radical notion: If you’re a man and you call yourself a Progressive, you can’t sling sexist insults at women.

Any women.

Not just Progressive women. Not just women you like. Not just your mom.

If you want me to take you seriously and believe that you are genuinely committed to the Progressive agenda, you may not take sexist swipes at Conservative women, either — not even the really awful ones.

Not Michele Bachmann.

Not Sarah Palin.

Not New York Daily News columnist SE Cupp, of whom I had never heard until Hustler magazine (a decidedly questionable source of Progressivism, I admit, despite what Larry Flynt might think) photoshopped an image of her with a penis in her mouth, and opined:

S.E. Cupp is a lovely young lady who read too much Ayn Rand in high school and ended up joining the dark side. Cupp, an author and media commentator who often shows up on Fox News programs, is undeniably cute. But her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood. Perhaps the method pictured here is Ms. Cupp’s suggestion for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

So yes, the latest example of men on the left who think it’s ok to viciously dehumanize Conservative women by reducing them to their sexual organs and/or conventional attractiveness is provided by Hustler — a publication predicated on dehumanizing women by reducing them to their sexual organs and/or conventional attractiveness. BUT.

But, as can be seen by clicking on the links embedded in the names of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin above, Hustler is far from the first or last example. Need more?

Ed Schultz and Laura Ingram. Keith Olbermann and Ann Coulter. Keith Olbermann and Carrie “opposite marriage” Prejean. Matt Taibbi and Michelle Malkin. Bill Maher and Karen Santorum. Bill Maher and Megyn Kelly. Michael Moore and… all women (some of whom are, presumably, Conservative).

And perhaps unsurprisingly (to me, at least) it doesn’t stop at the Republican Party door — it turns out that so-called Progressive men are often happy to say these things about women they don’t like on the left, too: Chris Matthews and Hillary Clinton. Keith Olbermann and Hillary Clinton. Matt Taibbi and Hillary Clinton. Matt Taibbi and Erica Jong.

In some of these cases, the men in question apologized, and did so in a fashion that to me seemed sincere (Olbermann, for instance, and Schultz), and that’s to be respected.

But I’m not going to applaud it, because I am just so damn tired of the whole thing, and honest to God: I know I have to expect this from the other side of the aisle — but from my compatriots, too?

It’s everywhere, this treatment of women, everywhere. And it is most certainly not limited to Famous Men. It’s in conversations, and on Twitter, and on reddit, and in blogposts, and among comments on blogs, and on Youtube, and at the work place, and at school, and on the street.

It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s fucking everywhere.

If you are a man somewhere on the left side of America’s political map and you don’t understand these facts well enough to understand that pulling old-school sexism out of your back pocket and wielding it against Conservative women is just plain wrong — you’re betraying me. You’re betraying me, and all the Progressive women in your life, and any daughters you may have, and ultimately, the cause of Progressives everywhere.

Just as I support the right of Log Cabin Republicans to get married (despite their party’s efforts to prevent it) and the right of African-American Republicans to vote (despite their party’s efforts to roll back the Voting Rights Act), I support the right of Conservative women to be treated as human beings (despite their party’s efforts to legislate women as something less).

This is not about party affiliation — this is about the radical notion that women are people. All women.

Even the Conservative ones.

My President is a feminist II – President Obama addresses Planned Parenthood supporters.

“Let’s be clear here: Women are not an interest group…. They’re half of this country.”

“If you truly values families, you shouldn’t play politics with a woman’s health.”

Word.

(Do you think the President saw my tweet?)

Helping anti-choice terrorists, one name at a time.

Last week, I got all caught up in my anti-War on Women fury and tweeted an article that, it transpired, was three years old. Oopsie!

In my defense, though, it was about a law in Oklahoma that was really, really heinous and had actually passed, so my brain was a bit addled. This law (later struck down by the courts) would have required that the details of every abortion conducted in the state be posted on a public website:

The questionnaire doesn’t include the woman’s name or “any information specifically identifying the patient,” but it does ask for age, race, level of education, marital status, number of previous pregnancies, and the county in which the abortion was performed, information which opponents of the bill argue would be enough to identify a woman in a small town. The questionnaire also asks about the mother’s reason for the abortion, her method of payment, and even what type of insurance she has, as well as whether the fetus received anaesthetic and whether there was “an infant born alive as a result of the abortion.”

So, you know – phew! At least we dodged that one!

Except we didn’t.

It’s not happening in Oklahoma anymore – but it is on the cusp of happening in Tennessee (also sadly known as the “don’t say gay” state) — with this particular bill boasting the added bonus of distributing helpful information to those who might want to murder abortion providers:

A new bill moving through the Tennessee House of Representatives would require the state to publish the names of each doctor who performs an abortion and detailed statistics about the woman having the procedure, which opponents worry will spur anti-abortion violence in the state.

The Life Defense Act of 2012, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesboro), mandates that the Tennessee Department of Health make detailed demographic information about every woman who has an abortion available to the public, including her age, race, county, marital status, education level, number of children, the location of the procedure and how many times she has been pregnant. Each report would also have to include the name of the doctor who performed the procedure.

In the words of Rep. Gary Odom (D-Nashville), this bill “puts a target on women’s and physicians’ backs. I think it’s a very dangerous piece of legislation and serves no purpose I can tell other than trying to intimidate women and physicians.”

Indeed.

And some people wonder why I’m so engulfed in rage these days.

Dear GOP: You do know how pregnancy works, right?

I have been pregnant four times.

These pregnancies led to the following four results, in this order: abortion, baby, miscarriage, baby.

These pregnancies occurred over a span of many years, across two continents, and in three different homes. There were at least seven different health care professionals involved, my hair styles varied widely, as did my levels of nausea. The only constant, in all four cases, other than me, was the presence of a penis.

It happened to be the penis I eventually married, but regardless, that is how pregnancy works. No matter who you are, no matter your sexuality, ability to reproduce, or family make-up, if there are children in your life, at some point along the way, there was a penis involved.

I mention this only because it seems the GOP may have forgotten.

Because as we trundle along, shaming women for having any kind of sex, ever, that is not entirely focused on producing babies — even if we are married, even if it wasn’t so much “sex” as “rape,” even if having a baby would threaten our health and thus the well-being of the children we already have — we are completely and utterly ignoring the fact that the single, solitary way for humans to reproduce is for sperm to meet egg. And sperm, you may recall, come from penises.

Which are attached to men.

If women are having too much sex, so are men. If women are producing babies, so are men. If women are making irresponsible reproductive choices with which they want to burden “the American people” — so.are.men.

Birth control, abortions, prenatal care, postpartum care, child care — whatever we may think, whatever we may have been told — are not women’s issues. THEY ARE HUMAN ISSUES.

There is a purely incandescent rage that comes over me now on a nearly daily basis over the blatant dehumanization of women that is currently sweeping the nation. It is exhausting. It is heart breaking. It is spirit crushing. And there’s nothing to be done but to continue to feel it, because I refuse to stop fighting for my right, my daughter’s right, my mother’s right, my sister’s right — the inalienable right of all women everywhere — to human dignity.

But every once and a while, a particularly galling aspect of the GOP’s War on Women floats to the top of the filth, and I am gobsmacked anew. And today it is as simple as this: Women do not reproduce on their own.

If the Republican Party is so anxious to control women’s sexuality (and it clearly is), it had better start shaming men, too.

That is, unless its representatives are willing to argue that men are constitutionally incapable of not sticking their junk into the nearest available lady bits, and we gals have all the power.

I, for one, have too much respect for men to buy that.

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UPDATE – NOTE ON COMMENTING.

I’m so glad you’re here and if you’d like to comment, that’s lovely! I have an About Commenting page, but the rules boil down to: Treat people as you would like to be treated.

What that means for me is that even when we disagree (perhaps especially when we disagree), it’s very important that we treat each other with respect and basic good manners. What that further means is that I do not allow trolling (yelling for the sake of yelling) or rude pronouncements of someone else’s stupidity/mendacity/general fail (my own, or any commenters). People can, and on this blog often do, disagree politely. I ask that you do so here.

ALSO: Every first comment goes into moderation. A) I’ll get you out as soon as I can! unless B) I decide you’ve been rude and/or troll-y, in which case, you’ll go to spam. Them’s the breaks.

AND FINALLY: I don’t work on Shabbat (sundown Friday to just after sundown Saturday, CST) so you may get stuck for even longer…! But I’ll get to you, I promise.

A day in the life of the GOP. And American women.

Over on TPM, Evan McMorris-Santoro sums up the day on which the GOP decided it was time to time-travel back at least sixty years, and drag us all along with them for the trip.

Today. That day was today:

There you have it: modern women being told by Republicans that they’re not qualified to talk about their own sexual health, are dressed like “whores” and probably need birth control because they’re so slutty. And this is just in one day.

For details, click here. But hold on tight, because that time machine moves fast.

And here you were worrying that I was being over optimistic in yesterday’s post. Tch.

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