Things That Shouldn’t Have to be Said

****** Trigger Warnings ********

In the post, I discuss internet harassment, including death and rape threats, in some graphic detail, especially in the articles linked. Also, I use my more grown-up vocabulary, so if you don’t like R-rated movies, read at your own peril.

I love football. That isn’t a deep, dark secret, and it isn’t a guilty pleasure. I LOVE FOOTBALL. Sundays, at our house, are full of jerseys and chicken wings and cheering and occasional groans and outbursts of swearing. That is the game–you win some, and you lose some. When I was pulling this post together in my mind, I was going to talk about Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and the utter shit-tastrophe that last week was, PR-wise, for the NFL. I was going to write about how you can hate the things that these men did, and still enjoy the game of football. This isn’t an if/but situation. This is life, where sometimes people do bad things, and yet we must remember that ALL people associated with them are not bad. That’s what I was going to write, and that is how I feel. Do I think that the NFL should let either of these men come back to work? No… with the addendum that I believe in second chances. If either man went to counseling, saw the error of his ways, expressed honest, soul-changing remorse. Then maybe.

Adrian Peterson is still asserting that what he did to his son is just “discipline.” He’s got a long way to go before I will ever be pleased to see him in a jersey, again. Ray Rice and his wife seemed to have worked things out. Why she stayed is, quite frankly, none of our damned business, and has no bearing on how the NFL treats this situation. I’ve read a lot of victim blaming, in this situation, and it makes me sick. If you’ve watched the video (which I will not link to here, because it is disturbing and I don’t want to glorify it, any more), I would imagine that you would see that there is nothing that she did that deserved to be cold-cocked to the face. Blaming women when men are violent, or sexually aggressive, or just assholes, has gotten really old, folks. Can’t we just move past the “Boys will be boys” nonsense?

Did the Ravens have the right to cut him? You betcha. You can be let go from employment for just about any reason under the sun. Randy Moss, arguably one of the best wide receivers ever,  was traded away from the New England Patriots (for a 3rd round pick) and then cut by the Minnesota Vikings, all within a month–because he criticized the coaches. Ray Rice’s actions made the Baltimore Ravens look bad, and in that case, they have every right to protect themselves.

But where I started, with this post, and where it is going, are two different places. I’ve been somewhat horrifically mesmerized by the internet response (and the real world response) to these controversies. One woman showed up at the Vikings game on Sunday wearing a Peterson jersey and carrying a tree branch. People everywhere are watching that video of Ray Rice knocking out his fiance and saying, “Well… maybe she hit him first,” or “Well… if it was so bad, then why did she stay?” I’ve seen people defend Peterson’s actions as reasonable discipline. I’m sorry–any time a child’s genitals are lacerated during a “whipping” you’ve crossed the line beyond reasonable, a long time ago. According to the internet, Peterson was just doing his best to make sure that his son grew up to be a good person. Hell. Adrian Peterson is a damned hero.

And that’s where I fell down a toxic rabbit hole.

The internet, for good or ill, has transformed our lives in a million different ways. We now know the correct song lyrics, any time we want. (There’s no more excuse to sing “Wrapped up like a douche, another runner in the night,”–which does make me sad.) Information–vast, unadulterated piles of information–is in our back pocket. Social media gives us the opportunity to keep in contact with people we love, people we admire, people we’ve never met. The world is both bigger, and smaller, than it has ever been, before.

And mostly, that is a great thing. What’s not so great?

Anonymity.

Because it turns out that a chunk of the population is made up of people who get off on tormenting others. (Shocker, right?) And it may be that some of these douche-nozzles wouldn’t be so brave, face to face, but hiding under an anonymous avatar on Twitter, or Reddit, or 4chan, or wherever, they are willing to say some truly God awful things. “Maybe she deserved it,” or “Why did she stay?” look fairly innocent, in the light of some of the more heinous internet harassment campaigns that have taken place–Many of which, we (average, non-internet trolling citizens) will never know much about.

Take for instance the recent #GamerGate B.S.  A coder/video game designer named Zoe Quinn was “revenge-porned” by her ex-boyfriend. He wrote a detailed, graphic, 10k word rant about her sexual deviance and infidelities and posted it all over the internet. Not just one place–but dozens of places. Her name, her image, her personal details–splashed all over without her permission. That sounds bad, right?

Well, what happened next was worse. Some a-holes over at 4chan got ahold of the rant and realized that some of these alleged infidelities were with a game reviewer. Suddenly, this woman’s personal life (mind you, the reviewer in question had not reviewed, nor ever did review, her game–especially after the relationship began) became a rabid, scathing discussion on how women in the gaming world are using SEX (the most forbidden of tools) to heighten their ascent. Not only was Zoe Quinn a slut, but she was CHEATING!!!!

Seriously. This was a thing.

Quinn’s life was turned upside down. Her bank account and Social Security number were leaked online. Her dad received phone calls, calling his daughter a whore. People sent her death and rape threats. People exposed the personal information of her friends and co-workers. Anyone who dared to speak up for her was publicly threatened, their sensitive information exposed.

This. This is bullshit. But it’s just one case, right?

WRONG.

This happens all the time. ALL THE DAMNED TIME.

(I’m going to link to several articles, because I don’t want you to take my word for it.)

There is a case facing the Supreme Court, in which a man wrote and published, online, violent, misogynistic rap lyrics, plotting his wife’s murder and rape. 

There is a great write-up regarding the prominent violence in internet harassment, aimed at women, in TIME.

There’s an article by feminist blogger, Jill Filipovic, on TPM, that chronicles her own battle with repeated, horrifying death and rape threats–including a psychotic man showing up at the place where she was studying.

And there is a piece by Amanda Hess, at Pacific Standard, that takes a hard look at how nothing is being done to protect people (although it is mostly women) from this sort of harassment. A great quote from her: “But making quick and sick threats has become so easy that many say the abuse has proliferated to the point of meaninglessness, and that expressing alarm is foolish.”

Yup. Because we shouldn’t be alarmed when strangers feel comfortable describing, in detail, the sexual pleasures that they would take with our corpse. You know, because we are women, and we dared to have an opinion. There appears to be a small sect of the population who has decided that women are getting above themselves–working in fields they have no business in, standing up for themselves, speaking out of turn, speaking at all. And this group of hate-filled monsters are using the internet as a weapon.

We hear the term “revenge-porn” and it isn’t even surprising, any more. I had to have a conversation with my teen daughter about the dangers of sexting. NOT because I was worried about her picture being seen, but because I want her protected from her picture being used against her. We’ve seen that female celebrities aren’t protected from this–and again, we hear, “Well, WHY did she have those naked pictures?” We must be clear. A woman owning a nude picture of herself is NOT a crime. Stealing it, distributing it without her consent, and dehumanizing her with it, IS.  Oh, and then there’s this guy, who took his “revenge” to a WHOLE other, brutally disturbing level.

There is a segment of the population (and it is really hard to tell if it is 0.5% or 50%) that doesn’t see what is wrong, here–women, included. But I ask you–how would it seem if someone walked up to you at work and said, “Tonight, after you go to bed, I’m going to break into your house and rape you until you bleed.”  Not cool, right? Pretty terrifying. So how is it different when someone says that, on the internet? Why do we shrug it off and say, “Oh, it’s just those crazies.” I hate to break it to you, but I bet some of you know some of those crazies. People who think that, because they cannot be identified, they have the right to say whatever twisted and disgusting thing pops into their little minds. People who believe that words have no power, or people who enjoy the power that their violent, hateful words give them.

I started off wanting to talk about the NFL. But these aren’t just NFL problems. These are problems, across the board. I was going to write that Ray Rice was a coward, that Adrian Peterson was a coward. That there was no more craven act than a man abusing someone who doesn’t have the power to stop them–and that was true.

But even more cowardly than that is to hide your fists behind words, to hide your name behind a screen. To demean, dehumanize, terrorize, and torment someone simply because you can hide, makes you a vile piece of human garbage.

I’m so tired of it. I am so tired of learning, bit by disgusting bit, that the world that we live in is still (in the 21st fucking century) so bent upon keeping women down. I am SO tired of it. I’m tired of teaching my daughter ways to protect herself from it, and I’m sick of having to explain to my son the kind of man NOT to be, in the face of so many examples. I’m exhausted and weary and pained to see that so many men haven’t gotten that memo.

Please. If you are reading this, and you are a man, take a second to think about how you treat women. I don’t want royal princess treatment or chivalrous manners. Just, you know, don’t threaten to rape us when we do something that strikes you as opinionated. Don’t punch us in the face. Recognize our humanity, acknowledge our worth. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

Forward Progress

As everyone in the world knows (due to an annual media blitz), today marks the 13th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack to ever happen on American soil. September 11, 2001 will live in our collective minds as the darkest day in United States History–hopefully forever. I don’t want to live in a place where the horror surpasses that of 9/11, so I fervently hope to never see a world where we live in more fear than we did, that day.

We’ve spent thirteen years rehashing the stories, remembering the heroes and those that died so tragically, and needlessly. I wasn’t in New York, and I didn’t know anyone that was. I was in the hospital, in pre-term labor with my second child. I was terrified for my baby’s survival, already, when the planes struck, and that juxtaposition of the horror outside–in the stark, unforgiving world–and the war that my own body was fighting against me, will always be a part of my life story. It will always be a part of my son’s life story, even though he was not even born on the events of that day.

My son is now going from a boy, to a man, and as such transitions tend to be–some days are harder than others. He is nearly as tall as I am, and his shoulders grow broader, each day. Some days, he is sweet and kind-hearted, offering hugs and help–a bigger, stronger version of the little boy I’ve always known. And some days, his fuse is short and his grudges are long. His sense of fairness is skewed, and the ribcage that protects his heart from hurt is thin and inconsequential. In short, he is learning how to navigate the world–how to be a citizen of the world. He is learning how to treat others, and how he wants to be treated. He is becoming something other than he was.

I’d like to think that our thoughts on 9/11 are becoming other, as well.

I’d like to think that as a nation–as a world–we can begin to move past fear and hatred. That we have grown enough to see that a small, non-representative group of extremists do not represent a greater culture. I’d like to think that we can remember and memorialize those that lost their lives, that day, without a renewed call to arms and bile and venom and mistrust. I’d like to think optimistically.

We live in a world full of ugliness and violence. Ferguson. Ray Rice. ISIS. Unrest and war and pain. Control and domination and abuse of power. The United States feels divided and broken–us vs. them–like some schoolyard rumble.

And yet, I see so much hope for the future. I see my children making friends with people from a diverse number of cultures, and backgrounds. I see women rising up and being recognized as capable, admirable leaders of society. I see marriage equality winning the day. I see the discussion for an ecologically sound America moving forward. I see America, growing.

September 11, 2001 was a dark, terrible day, and the deeds done on that day–both heroic and villainous–were epic in proportion. Those that did wrong, that day, did unforgivable wrongs, and those that risked themselves–those that died, needlessly–they will always be heroes in our collective memories. But I believe that we–as a nation, as a culture, as a species–must move forward. We must make progress. We must continue to grow, and change. Our transformation is not complete.

The United States is–in the scheme of world history–merely a teenager. We do not always respond to situations with the best possible response. In regards to September 11th, we are all, quite literally, teenagers, now. It is time that we begin to see the entire picture. Let go of our grudge against those that are only associated with the villains in this tale through cultural and religious ties–those that reject extremism and wish, like us, for a better world.

I, for one, plan to remember those that lost their lives, thirteen years ago. I plan to honor them by continuing to hope and pray for forward progress for humanity. And though the ribcage that protects our heart is thin, and vulnerable–the bones newly knitted back together–I have hope.

Ears Open, Mouths Closed.

This is the phrase that my son’s kindergarten teacher used to use, when she wanted her students’ attention, and I think it is appropriate, today. I’ve spent most of today reading an assortment of social media, blog posts, and news articles regarding the YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter.

If you aren’t familiar with this hashtag, it is a collection of accounts from women, detailing the reasons why and how they have been made to feel unsafe by men, throughout their lifetimes.  This is hard stuff to read. The accounts range from women being followed on the street by men who are begging for sexual favors and/or asking to pay for sex, to women be beaten and raped by men they had broken up with. It includes stories of children–girls only twelve or thirteen years old–who were harassed, touched, and hurt. It is not fun stuff to read, and it is easy to step back and say, “Not all men are like that.”

Of course, not all men are like that. No one believes that they are. The problem is that there is a general stereotype that is held about women. And the really, REALLY big problem is that WE, as women, are helping to continue those generalizations. You know the ones that I’m talking about. Women are sluts if they want sex (or dress in a certain manner, or talk a certain way, or are confident in their sexuality). Women are prudes if they don’t want sex, or don’t dress a certain way, or don’t nod appreciatively when random strangers comment on their ass. Strong, intelligent women are often considered bossy, or worse, bitchy.

And I find myself contributing to the problem, all the time.

My fifteen year old daughter is 5’10” tall. Shorts and skirts that are “short” on others are “super-short” on her, and her legs are so long that they seem even shorter. As summer arrives, I find myself inwardly cringing when she comes down, in the morning. My gut reaction, all wrapped up in a socially appropriate bow, is that she needs to cover up. Not because she isn’t beautiful. Not because there is some crime committed by showing leg. Nope. It’s because I fear that boys (and men) will become aroused looking at her. And the thing is, there is nothing wrong with arousal. It is a natural, human reaction. The problem is that we haven’t had this conversation enough–often enough, loud enough, honest enough–and I worry for her. Arousal can lead to danger. Arousal can lead to pain. Her pain. Her in danger.

A high school in Utah photoshopped some female students’ yearbook photos, without their permission, to make them more “appropriate.” Basically, what that looks like, is covering up the incredibly offensive shoulders and sternums of young girls. Shoulders. And sternums. Because women’s bodies are so provocative that they must be covered up. The arousal of the men around them can incite trouble. Women are troublemakers.

I read an account, today, of a woman who, during the production of a skit, was (without her prior permission or knowledge) held down, mouth taped, and “fake raped.” Her clothes were torn, HER MOUTH WAS TAPED. This was in a professional setting, guys. This was in a place where she should have felt safe.

We have to talk about this. We have to tell people, everyone, that these things are happening. When I was eighteen, I waited tables at a bar. Not the best job for a college freshman, but it was good money, and I needed the money. In my tenure there, I was propositioned, harassed, groped, pulled onto a man’s lap that was well-older than my father, had a man reach up my skirt and into my underwear, and generally belittled. But the money was good.

And because the money was good, I was expected to put up with it. My body was not my own, to make decisions for, or use as I wish. My body was a toy that was to be played with, as desired, by the patrons that tipped me. I was eighteen years old. I was fully clothed, in a college bar. This was not a strip club–it was just a bar. And it was normal.

I have seen forty-year-old men’s heads pivot as my daughter walks past, and the one time that I dared speak up, “She’s a child,” I was told, “Don’t be jealous, Mom.” Yes. Because her safety wasn’t my concern. I was simply asking you to put your eyes back in your head because I was jealous of your pajama-pants wearing attention.  How did you ever guess?

So, I am perusing stories like mine–stories much, much worse than mine–and I start to see the trolls coming out. Men, demanding that women respect their rights, as well. The women, distancing themselves from the “feminist psychos” who don’t understand love. The people wishing cancer on women who dare speak out about being afraid, or hurt, or belittled. Cancer. I worried for humanity, in that moment.

And there will be other moments, I am sure. There is a backlash going on–Men’s Rights Activists–shouting that women are oppressing them, by trying to claim that ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS. You dudes have so missed the point, and you are only feeding the flames. I believe in a very basic set of human rights–the right to be fed, and clothed, the right to be safe. The right to be happy. But none of these shall come at the cost of the rights of others. My feeling safe when I walk across a parking lot at night, in an elevator alone with a stranger, in a bar having a drink, alone–none of these things will harm your safety, or your happiness.

We have to keep talking about this, until it is made clear that consent isn’t implied just because a woman does not state, “I don’t want you to do that.” Don’t do it, until you have consent. Ask permission. If you want to touch a woman, ask. And if she says, “No,” then by all means, don’t touch her. Consent doesn’t just apply to rape, gentlemen. It applies to buying a woman a drink, it applies to stroking her hair, it applies to commenting on her ass or her rack.

It was pointed out to me, today, quite rightly, that women are not the only ones at risk for such . We live in a world where we are finally coming to understand that gender is not binary–there are more “versions” than just box A or box B. Men, too, are abused and mistreated, sometimes by women. I am not glossing over this, or denying it.And that, too, must stop. Human dignity is a right, for everyone. Safety is a right–not a privilege.

And the numbers don’t lie. Women are being hurt. Women are being damaged. Women are being mutilated, raped, sold, and tortured.

We embrace religious canons that say that women are damned, that they are inherently evil. We name them bitch, we call them sluts. We turn women into pieces of meat. Evolution takes a long time. Revolution is quicker. Be the voice of reason. Be the voice of dignity. Don’t be afraid to say, “This is wrong.” What you say, what you do, how you look at someone–it matters. If you are a woman, stand strong, and speak your truth. Say no, or yes, with confidence. Know that there is a noisy, pissed off sisterhood standing behind you. Raise your sons to be allies. Raise your daughters to be strong. If you are a man, be an ally. Hear your own words, analyze your thoughts. See the damage that can be done with words, and fists, and unwanted advances. Learn that consent is sexy as hell. Raise your sons to be allies. Raise your daughters to be strong. Be the voice of dignity. In the long run, it will make a better world, safer for all of us.