Monday, February 24, 2014

The Thing About Rape.

(I forgot to mention over the weekend that I am participating in Conversion Diary's Seven Posts in Seven Days. It will be a good thing for me to work through all of these violence against women posts that have been stirring around in my head! Head over to Conversion Diary for more 7 in 7!)

Women. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, attitudes. They have different religions, different families, different strengths, different extra curricular activities. Introverted and extroverted. Attached or unattached. Young and old, experienced or inexperienced and everything in-between.

A few days ago, I wrote about the concept of not enough, or scarcity. Sometimes, not enough is a bit normal. Think back to being an adolescent: trying to figure out hormones and the inexperience of youth trying to be adult. I think I had what would be considered a normal amount of this back in the day. I remember bursting into tears one day over a school photo, and "too much forehead." My mom suggested a new haircut, and I was off to find something else about myself that I needed to critique. Today, it seems much worse for young girls.

Let me get back on track before I hijack my own post with Mean Girls and tales of my youth. The point: I had parents that talked to me about sex, dating and even rape. I was just an average kid, trying to get used to growing up. 

 Left: Eighth grader me

Right: college me
I didn't really feel comfortable in my own skin until college. My freshmen year and most of my sophomore year, I was just happy. Things may not have been perfect in my life, but I felt comfortable with who I was. The following is an excerpt from a post I wrote for The Guiding Star Project (Parts One and Two) last March:

It was Thanksgiving my freshmen year of college. After the standard family time, I had plans to spend some time with one of my best friends. He picked me up and we went to his parent’s house so we could catch up. He told me how his classes were going and all about his most recent break up. I told him about my classes and how I had just started seeing someone new. I remember gushing a little, because I just felt really happy. Within a few moments, the conversation turned and suddenly he was on top of me in the dark. I asked him repeatedly to stop: I reminded him that I was seeing someone. It was as though he could not hear me. I was terrified of the person I thought was my best friend. I retreated inside my head and repeated the Hail Mary as I was certain the night would end in my virginity being stolen. After a few minutes, he sat up and I asked if he could take me home. He talked to me the entire ride home nonchalantly as I stared out the passenger window, relieved that he only assaulted me. I asked my dad to take me back to school early so I could be alone.

It took some time for me to come to terms with what had happened. I over-analyzed everything I had said to him, certain that I just had not been clear enough with him. My confidence was shattered, and I felt used.

I was lucky in a twisted way.

It was a few weeks before I told anyone what had happened. I was fortunate enough to have a best friend that loved me, and encouraged me to be honest and truthful about the situation. That half an hour of my life was powerful enough to have lasting consequences for me and my self-worth. It also impacted my perception of sexual assault victims, especially in one specific way:

This is a photo of the outfit I was wearing that night. My favorite pair of well worn, boot-cut, dark wash jeans. My favorite fuzzy sweater hoodie with a t-shirt underneath it: perfect for a Kansas November night. I had spent all day with my family and was just visiting my friend. I was not stumbling out of  a bar, in a tube top and Daisy Duke shorts. Even if I was, it did not mean anyone had the right to assault me.

I have hesitated to make this point. The comparison is a moot point, because it truly doesn't matter what you are doing or wearing. If you are unable to give consent, or you say no, it is assault. Period. 
One of the campaigns that I love right now, is from Men Can Stop Rape. An Example:

 photo MCSR-TakeaStand-Poster-3.jpg

The reason I am writing this post? It is far past time to change our attitudes about rape. Rape culture is pervasive: it victim blames, it gives rapists excuses, and otherwise good people crappy reasons to ignore and minimize rape. Rape should not feel like "the great equalizer" for women. The truth about rape and sexual assault is that it can happen to anyone. It does not just happen outside a bar. The thing about rape, is that it is not ever "understandable" or deserved. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Daring Greatly and IPV

You may not know this about me, but I do not board the Self Help Reading Train very often. When I was an advocate, I read a great deal of books that would help me to become a better advocate. Those books ranged from books like The Courage To Heal, memoirs written by abuse survivors, art therapy books that might help me to think about how I interact as an advocate, finance... trust me. It ran the gamut. Now that I stay at home with my children, my reading as turned more towards things that interest me, but when I heard several people talk about the book Daring Greatly, it seemed time to pick it up. If I am being completely candid, my face looked like this for a few months:

The more I listened to the sort of information and tolls that people were taking away from the book, the more curious I became. So, I bought it. I really do find Brown's research fascinating.

Brown talks about the concept of scarcity in her first chapter, as a way to "collect" all the "not enough" sentiments: not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not strong enough, not enough. This is a concept that has not escaped the feminism movement, no matter what branch or tree of the movement with which you identify. Feminism seeks to eradicate the concept that women are not enough. Sure, there are different ideas and approaches, but equality means equality.

When it comes to IPV (intimate partner violence), sometimes it feels different. Folks that typically would fight the concept of mommy wars, or fight for women's equality seem to feel uncomfortable when a woman experiences violence in her relationship. Here are some things I have actually heard said about women in violent relationships:

- She must like the drama.
- She deserves it for having kids with him.
-She is a grown-ass woman and should fight back.

This sort of talk leads me to believe that, in general, most people do not understand the dynamics of IPV. Or how "domestic issues" are handled sometimes with the legal system, but that is another conversation. Why isn't it as simple as being drawn to drama, or deserving it, or fighting back?

 Yep. I am posting it again. I think in many ways, the concept of scarcity applies to this. It is one thing to live in a world filled with messages from the media, advertisers, maybe a few so-called friends that you are not enough. It is a horse of a different color to live in a world where the person that is supposed to choose to love you no matter what and more than anything else in the world, and the person that you love no matter what and you have given your heart to fills you to the brim with not enough. Imagine for a moment that your loved one:

-Told you that, because you are a woman, you are not good enough to me more than his servant.
-Told you that you are not a good enough mother to your kids, and if you left, he would surely take them away.
-Told you he only treats you the way he does because, if you were thinner, he might love you again.
-Told you that your family and friends can't come to your home because you are a slob and not clean enough.
-Said all of the above and then used threats of or actual violence, emotion abuse, sexual abuse and limited your financial access as well.

The fact is that every instance of IPV is different, yet strikingly the same. It is set up to manipulate and control the victim. It is never as simple as leaving, especially since we know the threats and likelihood of lethality increase when a woman leaves.

I read the first chapter of Daring Greatly, and instantly thought about the women I have known that lived with abuse. If we fight to end the "not enough" messages that women encounter daily, then that means fighting to end IPV, and helping women survive abuse and its aftermath.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

To Be Pro Life and Against Violence Towards Women...

... seems to feel like more of a rarity than it should be. In my experience as an advocate, I worked hard to take a deep breath and speak up when abortion was discussed with coworkers. I will admit that I certainly feel more well-versed on the subject matter now, but I did not have it in me to stay silent on the matter. I never was faced with the situation where a survivor asked for abortion resources, but I did provide many a shoulder to cry on and comfort for women that had abortions or were overwhelmed with pregnancy or miscarriage. It taught me that there are scary, real, and harmful situations for women in this world. It taught me that women sometimes feel they must do the unimaginable to survive. I hate that I know these things.
Power and Control Wheel:
This graph illustrates many of the tactics abusers use to control their partners.

Being an advocate means knowing these awful things, and knowing that there are others trying to combat violence and rape in a culture that blames women for rape and sees IPV as "relationship" or "domestic" issues. The advocates that fight in the trenches every day to help women heal from abuse and rape go to court with survivors and see the gamut of outcomes: conviction, charges dismissed, custody given to abusive partners, battered women held responsible for their partner's abuse, rape trials turned into a parade of the victim's sexual past. They see women judged by society and they have no legal or social support. They see women raped and left in pieces, sometimes with a child as a result. They see women beaten and forced into sex get pregnant, stay pregnant or beaten until they miscarry. It is no wonder that abortion looks like the better option.

The religious affiliation statistic is heart breaking.
 It shows a real gap in the love we are asked to show and that love in action.

Being a (small) voice in the pro life movement means encountering all kinds of pro life individuals. This movement is filled with loving, caring, and compassionate people. It is filled with the voices of my generation: those that survived the abortion statistics. It is also filled with Christians, non-Christians, atheists, men, women, and children. There are also those that call women who have had abortions murderers and whores. There are those that think that shaming and blaming women for abortion is the "tough love" approach that will save lives. These people are wrong.

Now you have an idea of what I see: Pro choicers determined to find a way to avoid trauma and alleviate some pain. Pro choicers wary of those against abortion but unwilling to fight IPV and rape culture. Pro lifers that know children cannot be the cost of equality. Pro lifers wary of those that promote abortion because they see them as trying to destroy the family unit.

No one wins in this deadlock, especially not women. People on both sides of the abortion debate must start to acknowledge the pieces of truth the other side holds.

Rape is not as simple as reporting it if we shame victims and blame them for their own assault.

If you are pro life and reading this post, I challenge you to seek more information on the cycle of violence. Find out more about rape.

If you are pro choice and reading this post, I encourage you to engage in real conversation with someone you know that is pro life, or research Feminists For Life to find out more about how the pro life cause does not mean saving children at the expense of women.