Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Lament of a Customer Service Agent

'Twas an hour before closing, and all through the shop
were vibrators and dildos piled up to the top.
Products were displayed to encourage sex drive,
with hope that some customers soon would arrive.

I, with my box cutter and things to receive,
had plenty to do, things to achieve.

Ding-Dong went the bell, our door opening sound
to warn that an imminent customer was 'round.
"Welcome!" said I, in my most friendly way,
itching to make the biggest sale of the day.

He looked 'round a while, then resettled his cap,
and bustled his way o'er to me at cash/wrap.
"Hello there" he boomed, while eying a price,
"I say, could I ask you a bit of advice?"

"Of course!" I responded, quite eager to please,
though not knowing the question, I'd no guarantees.

"It's my wife!" he exploded, "She's gon' through the change.
She used to be normal but now she is strange.
I married a hot little ticket like you,
but religious and repressed, she had not a clue.

I took her on as my protegée,
with groups and meetings, I got my way.
We had wonderful sex, but not anymore.
It's as though she now thinks of sex as a chore.
You know, you get married and have a whole lot of fun,
having sex left and right, but only when young!
Now I realize that marriage is a lie and a trap.
Having sex later on is huge load of crap!

He went on explaining how awful it was
to have sex so seldom, as "the menopause" does.

"What's that thing that they need?  Sounds like engine?"
I supplied "Estrogen*", not knowing where to begin.
"Yeah, that!" he erupted.  "Do they make it in powder?
I could spike what she eats!" he said even louder.
"She wouldn't know why, but she'd want sex all the time!
Not every few months.  That'd sure be sublime."

He went on a while about his frustration,
his lot in life and great woe of his station.
I counseled myself, as he gibbered and prattled,
as dissonance inside me started a battle.
Drugging someone for sex has such distaste,
but he couldn't leave the store feeling debased.

Consulting my merits, I named them at length:
"On clarity and kindness, now saavy and strength!"
This was a prayer that I sent overhead,
to myself, or a God, either way, I then said:

"That you get by prescription, so your time'd be misspent.
Because of cancer,** you'd want her consent.
For her, you might look into good lubrication.
And envision yourself using fun masturbation.

We have some toys that might be appealing to you
since it's normal to need some excitement in lieu
of intercourse that may not be in your wife's range,
which is normal while all of her sex hormones change."

Excited at the prospect of a toy of his own,
he thanked me for the great understanding I'd shown.
He left on a high note (he bought not a thing),
highlighting his exit, my un-proffered hand he did wring.

"What a great store this is!  I'll be back with my wife!
I'm sure, if you talk, you can help with her strife."
This he yelled through the door, with the lights burning bright,
"I'm so glad I came in!  And to you a good-night!"

*Estrogen is not the only hormone that is in play with menopause.  He didn't know this.
** Hormone replacement therapy can raise the likelihood that someone may get cancer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Retail Therapy: We Need Some

It was a strange week in the land of retail.  Perhaps it was the cold (yes, it can be cold here in the Southwest) or are we coming up on a full moon?

As a retailer, it is expected that customers be not only forgiven but also remain largely oblivious to their gaffes.  Sometimes though, my cup runeth over and you get to hear the story.

I have three short stories from last week in three acts: confusion, surprise and horror.

A gaggle of somewhat sober, recent graduates take over the store.  Each has to use our "no customers" bathroom in turn.  I smile and run around answering questions for each as they split into groups of two or three to investigate.  At checkout one tells me that one of her best friends is the first in her group to be getting married.

"I'm so excited to find this store!  I'm going to do her party.  She's really conservative.  I'm going to do penises everywhere!  Penis straws, penis water bottles, penis napkins... She's going to HATE it!"

Commentary: Wtf?  What kind of friend does something they specifically know the other person will hate?  On an important occasion?  This hurts my brain.

::ring:: ::ring::
"Hello Business Name, this is Kathryn."

"Yes, do you sell thongs for men?"

"You know, we don't.  We're a small store and it's difficult for us to carry clothing.  But there are some places I can sugges--"

"Oh that's too bad.  It's for a party tonight so I'm kinda' in a hurry."

"Well, sometimes Kohl's and JC Penney have sexy men's underwear and"

"It's a naked party.  So, I mean the underwear would just be for the time before all that comes off."

"Oh, that's good.  You might also try a store called Free Radicals."

"It should be fun, but you know, I want something to show off everything before the nakedness really happens."

"Of course.  I'm not sure how much luck you'll have in finding a thong, but sometimes jock straps are made very sexy and that's essentially the same thing."

"That's true.  This is going to be a great party.  We started off with just 4 people but now we have, like, 20."

"Yes, it's difficult to make that kind of party happen, especially here."

"Yeah, hey you wanna' come?"

"Oh, thank you but I can't."

"No, really, you sound cool.  I'd like to invite you."

"Well, I don't accept invitations from people I don't know."

"I could come down to the store and you could decide then."

"Actually I can't accept anything personally while I'm in a professional role here at work."

"Oh, but, so, if we met outside of your work..."

"I'm flattered, but your party is tonight and I work late tonight."

"Oh, okay.  Well, maybe next time."

"Maybe next time."

Commentary: No, maybe not next time.  I'd be very happy to attend a sex party, but I'm concerned if someone's criteria on the people they invite is that they 'sound cool'.

I'm having a conversation with a customer about lubricant.  We're discussing the merits and drawbacks of water vs. silicone lube.  The customer needs something to take on a trip with her.
"What's this one?"

"That's a silicone lube that comes specifically in a travel case.  Silicone leaks a bit and gets on everything so that company was thinking ahead."

::Customer grabbing her right armpit:: "Leaks?"

::Me putting two and two together:: "Oh, I just meant the lubricant.  Implants are well contained and tested so they don't leak."*

"Oh, okay.  I sure hope it don't leak.  I've had this for 13 years.  It don't feel like the other."

"Yes, I've heard that you must massage them frequently if you want them to stay soft."

"Well, that makes sense because it does seem to soften up if I'm touching it.  Here, feel."

"No, thank you."

"No really, it's okay, just touch them each, you'll see they're different."

"Thank you, I'd rather not.  Actually I had a girl friend once who had a silicone implant."

Commentary: I love this.  I think I might actually be this woman if I lost some of the social conditioning I've developed.  I went through a process between the first time she asked and the second.  It took about a milisecond but in it I considered how I am curious about how implants feel (that gf had no tissue on one side of her chest so the implant was a bit different than it might have been for someone else).  I also considered how and why someone would ask a store clerk to touch their breasts and how I really did not want to touch this woman at all.  Also, it seemed she was going to argue more before I said I'd already felt a silicone implant.

*I just watched the Mythbusters' episode on silicone implants at altitude.  I feels smart.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

And The Cat Too?

Part of recovering from trauma is dealing with recurrences of trauma symptoms.  While nothing could really compare to the PTSD symptoms of the original trauma/s, whenever that little switch gets triggered, back they come, shadows of the original but the original was so immense that these are nothing at which to sneeze.

I say a 'little switch' because it feels oddly instantaneous, like a light switch.  I am using it to refer to the neural pathways that your brain learns from trauma.  You know how there are these amazing stories of someone paralyzed and their brain maps out a new way to get signals to a part of the brain so they can move again?  It is like that only in the "oh darn :(" way.

I have been assured that brains work this way with trauma, depression, etc.  That is why correcting these things quickly, with medication if necessary, is so important.  The less time the brain spends working those unpleasant neural pathways, the less likely it is the brain will stay or go back there.  Habits, you know?

The first thing I am likely to notice when I am starting to go back to that rape brain again, is my startle response goes up.  This means I scream a lot.  At anything.  Because I am startled and my brain automatically thinks I am gonna' die.  This is embarrassing.  People look at you funny and feel bad when they say "hi" and you jump out of your skin with a bloodcurdling shriek.  They might get angry at you for screaming and scaring them or hurting their ears.  And the last thing anyone wants to hear is an explanation of how you are "triggered" and you are sorry but it is a chemical response.

The second thing that comes on, is the crazy dreaming.  I dream about new trauma situations, I dream about the original trauma, I dream about snakes.

"Snakes?" you say.  Yes.  It is a funny thing.  I have been phobic of snakes most of my life.  Some years ago I went through a bout of therapy to solve the snake issue that was keeping me from walking on grass, much less the woods or anyplace that was not covered in cement or asphalt.  It worked, and every year I hold a snake the keep up with the improvements.  So there must be a similar pathway in my brain between trauma and phobia because when one is triggered, so is the other.

After bad dreams, there is general fatigue, nausea, headaches; all this stuff that could be from something else, but is not.  Sometimes depression fits in here, but not this time.  I do not think.  Sometimes it is hard to tell.

And then there is the cat dying.

"What???" you ask.  Yeah, totally weird.  So, the first time I can definitively say I was raped, a few weeks later my beautiful and charismatic tuxedo cat was diagnosed with cancer and died.

Yesterday, my other cat, a super sweet and soft orange and white tabby died suddenly of heart failure.

I am beginning to see a pattern here, and I do not like it.

There is good news.  The good news is that all of these recurring symptoms are not a full list nor as pronounced as that original trauma produced (except the cat).  That was some crazy shit then.  And I have grown to have better coping mechanisms for these things.  Also, I have no more cats.

Gallows-cat humor aside, I wish I could be more humorous and more poetic about this topic.  That is what makes these topics palatable to read about.  But I try to find the humor in this process and fail.  I think about all the people I have met since my rape and how many people came out of the woodwork as survivors and all the stories and all the pain and a new view of the world emerged from which this blog springs.  I am not a duck; I can no longer let creepy things roll off my back.  I have to write about them.  I only hope that I can make it worth reading.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Past Over Hard

I am weary.  The sort of weary one might be after taking the SATs, GREs, MCAT then LSAT all in the same 24 hours.  The kind of weary that Frodo and Sam look as they leave Mordor.  This is the end of my two week trip to try, in vain, to finish clearing out my late mother's house.

I have eaten lobster that I can not get at home.  I have had a break spent at my favorite retreat with cherished people.  There's been dinner with Robin*, and a visit from my partner in VT.

I have listened for days on end to my loved god-mother's health issues.  I have talked to my sister about a faster process, but we're still doing the same slow method.  I have sciatic pain, shoulder pain and neck pain.  I have run out of money, gotten more, run out again, and have eaten the same Chinese leftovers for four days straight.  I have slept on the couch of my god parents, in one hotel, then another, then another.  I have had a combined total of 40 minutes of alone time in the past weeks.  I have found not only a folded piece of paper with $179 in it, but also my mother's bag of adult items plus naked pictures of her with the family dog. 

I am ready to go home.

* * * * * * *

I arrive later than desired at my hotel by the airport.  It's 7:30 and although I consider going to bed right away, it's still light out and I decide it might be nice to do something.  Robin has been texting to see if we can get together again before I leave, so I tell her to come by.

"Take me somewhere with alcohol or ice cream" I instruct her when she arrives; "I don't care which."

After ice cream, we sit in the parking lot of my hotel.  I've asked to be dropped off.  She is persistent.  We go inside together.

Two different agendas, and had I realized, had I given it more import ... well... maybe I would, maybe she would not, maybe maybe.

She worries if I want her there I worry that I've made the wrong decision
I try to do what I want She tries to do what she wants
I don't want that She wants to know if it's her body
I say no, please don't She is ashamed of how she looks
I offer alternatives She tries again, in a different way
I realize... She wants...
I tell her I won't let her use me like that She is horrified
I am afraid and sad and want to protect her She leaves

People see issues of assault, rape and violence in black and white.  We break it down that way to make judgment easier.  It is not wrong, there are things that are black and white.  But in the world of actions, it can be fuzzy, confused, distressing and wrought with messages softer than necessary because we care for her, and harder than necessary because we are selfish.  There are lines of difference between saying, showing, coercing, pushing.  There can be shades of confusion in how we say no, I don't want that, I'm scared.

It doesn't take much to retrigger old wounds.  Trauma, whether recognized or not, comes back to claim us.  I am seeing this scene over and over.  Intellectual chewing gum. I try to figure out where I went wrong, what I should have done, why did it happen?  It's not helpful.

I wish, it hadn't been like that
I wish we hadn't assumed the wrong things
I wish I had been more clear
I wish she had heard
I wish she had been able to explain
I wish I had understood
It's not your fault
It's not mine either

I lay and a tear, hot with chemicals, rolls and drops into my left ear.  We have to move.  We just have to keep moving.  I am weary.

* Name changed as usual.  Robin and I met in March 2013, had a fun time at an event where neither of us knew many people and shared some kissing at the end of the evening.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Park Particulars

Since getting our dog, we've become regulars at the dog park.  I mean, we practically live there.  The dog goes at least once a day, twice on the weekends, plus we check out other dog parks in between.  And there seems to be no place better to see creepitude played out than where everyone is projecting it onto their animal.

Case in point: humping.  The dog park's third favorite activity (preceded by sniffing and peeing).  Oh how uncomfortable people are with dogs humping each other!

Of course, there's been real research into how dogs live, what they communicate and what their goals are.  Knowing that in any research, we're presupposing our own anthropomorphic ideas by the nature of asking the question, it doesn't surprise me that many dog park goers bypass animal research and just do their own anthropomorphizing.

In other words, people make up reasons for what their dogs are doing based on what would be true if the dogs were human.

Two days ago, our dog was playing with a dog a bit smaller than him.  The other dog's agenda: hump, hump more.  He would have humped our dog all day except his owners were sooper uncomfortable.  "No!" his female owner screamed, grabbing the dog and smacking him hard on the butt.  Then she laughed, hugged the dog, and smacked him in the face, giving the dog a cement-like mixed signal.

::Sidenote:: I think it's fine if someone wants to teach their dog not to hump.  We try to teach ours not to bark while playing.  Scares people, you know?  But hitting a dog is 1. not affective and 2. abuse. 

We think we know from research, that humping (since there weren't any dogs in heat) is about dominance.  I'd like to say that people are uncomfortable with displays of dominance, but I know that's not true.  Just look at our media.  People revel in displays of dominance.  Potentially, folks are upset about displays of homosexuality, but I rather doubt this too.  When someone notices their dog mounting a dog of the same sex, they laugh nervously and pull their dog off describing it as "a big homo", which means that they see humping behavior as sexual.  I think it's discomfort with sex (and perceived discomfort) that is behind the issues with humping.

This hang up, when applied to animals is silly.*  When our dog doesn't want to be humped, he runs out from under the other dog.  Or he sits down.  Sometimes he rolls over and kicks his foot into the crotch of the other dog.  Voila!  When this discomfort gets applied in real life, we end up with ridiculous decisions being made about access like this: CNM Chronical Suspended.


Here's something else that mirrors human life too much at the dog park: people who feel entitled to touch dogs, regardless of what the dog appears to want.

We got our dog as a rescue.  We know little about his past, but symptomatically it's clear that he has a hard time with some people, especially men.  We sometimes joke with strangers that he "barks first and asks questions later" when we want to soothe ruffled feelings.  We call him away from the strangers at whom he barks; no need to have people fearing they're going to be a late afternoon doggy snack.

Despite how clear our dog is in how he feels about certain people, they reach down to touch him anyway.  I'm not talking about letting him sniff a hand, or similar "make nice" gestures.  I'm talking about "I am going to pet you, and I'm ignoring your clear signals that it's not okay".  Some people literally chase our dog so that they can touch him.

Really, folks?  Really?  I know how this feels, do you?  In this past week alone a customer touched me inappropriately, I was kissed on the head by someone I don't really know when I refused to accept his advances of a hug and a friend pulled me into a hug that I would have been fine with if I'd been asked first.

To our dog's credit, when those people succeed in touching him, he only shies away and barks some more.  He's never bitten anyone as far as we know, and although I'd like to bite the people who do this to him, it's good he doesn't.

The dog park is a microcosm of little creepy things we do as humans.  It's ignoring your dog so you can honestly say you never saw her take a poo (as validation for why you didn't scoop it).  It's smacking your dog to discipline him.  It's also telling your dog a command and then permissively ignoring when he doesn't do as you say, laughingly saying that "he doesn't feel like it".  All these things that indicate that as a culture we are people who don't want to take responsibility, and we believe in violence to solve problems, that we take what we want and don't bother to think about the impact.

*Please note that this would be a different matter if the dog showed signs of not being able to stand up for himself.  Of course then we'd be interpreting his behavior, which leads to oddness.  Let's say, if this was a human, it'd be different.  But that's the point, we don't need to posit our human discomfort with sex on a dog act that probably isn't sexual.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When to Give Up

My sister is searching for a husband.  It keeps not working out because she keeps getting with men who are creepy.  Her newest non-marriage-material man is creepy in that he won't hear her tell him that they are not going to get married.  In other words, she said "no" and he doesn't believe her.

Last night he wrote me this note:*
hi chutzpahgrrl,

this is joe schmoe**.

i want to talk to you, if possible.

i have questions for you about someone that we both care about, your sister. 

please keep this between us for now.  when you hear what i have to say, you will understand.

### ### ####
Oh what I wanted to say to him!  Or not say... or maybe I wanted to kick him.  
This guy is seriously out of line.  First, he should not be giving my sister a hard time.  Yes, I disagree with her that she is still talking with him, but she's said no, and remember -no means no.  Second, my only context with him was talking on a three-way video chat so that I could check him for bugs for my sister.  That's how he has my email address.  I feel that isn't enough consensual contact for him to email me out of the blue to ask for help in his relationship with my sister, unless possibly things were super awesome and he wants to know her favorite color so he can get her flowers.

I considered not responding at all.  I also considered telling him what he's doing wrong (harassing my sister) and telling him how to do it right ("I'm _______ that we won't be getting married.  I hope that you find what you're looking for because I care about you.")  How much energy do I want to spend on this?  Is it worth it?  In the end, I almost always decide to reply in some way that I hope will show the person insight into my thinking, but not so much that I sound preachy or overly condescending.  And I also try to strike a balance between being a jerk and being too soft.  I want things crystal clear without being mean.

Here's my response:
Hi Joe,
I would not like to talk. 

I feel it's inappropriate for me to be involved in a situation between you and my sister when my sister has no knowledge of it.  I find it creepy that you asked me to keep your message a secret.  I feel manipulated that you've drawn a likeness between us because I care about my sister.

Food for thought: it's a serious issue when someone says "no" and isn't believed or is coerced into changing his or her mind.

The best response he could have given me at this point would have been no response.  I guess I didn't say "I don't want to have a conversation about this" but I think saying I don't want to talk, is quite similar.  If he'd sent a message saying "Okay, that's cool" or similar, I would have been okay.  Instead he wrote back an assenting note, then a defensive note, then another note. 

Assent (also pouty):

I know. I know for sure what you are saying. And any such creepiness could be read into such a conversation without serious consideration of what I might say.

Ok so forget it.  I' ll deal with things from my little corner if the world.

There are no pure motives in this life...other than very basic.

There is more than a little paranoia in our relationship so I would ask you not to mention this regardless of the fact that we won't be speaking in depth. 
We are still talking...

And lastly I will say that I do want your sister to be very happy no matter what she chooses.

And you should be blessed and do well, too.

This is what I just read: you didn't think what I have to say is worth it to you to listen!  Fine!  I'll do it all on my own.  Sure, maybe there were some ulterior motives in my request.  OMG!  Don't tell your sister!  Be well (sorta').


We have no third party mentors or any other community between us so try and take it easy on me, ok?

I wrote to you both with selfish and unselfish motives.

I would not expect you to come from any place other than care for your sister.
Life is not a game and relationships are not easy, certainly not when they are truly fulfilling.

Your sister and I are still talking and planning to visit some time in the future.
Nothing mean or disrepectful ever passed between us so, yeah, we have hit our obligatory road bumps as a couple and they aren't easy.

Please play it cool and don't throw gas on the fire, stirring things up by telling her I contacted you.

I wanted to talk to you about emotional damage that affects how people relate...
Let's not then.

The situation as I have observed it is neither extremely bad nor is it ignore-able.  So we will just continue to deal.

I sincerely care about your sister and if circumstances develop in a positive direction, I look forward to spending time getting to know you better, too.

Peace out

What I heard: Hey, I feel hurt by some things you said.  I'm not all bad.  I'm still going to get with your sister.  Woo!  It hurts that you didn't think what I have to say is worth listening to.  OMFG! Don't tell your sister about this!!!!  I'll still be your friend (maybe...).
Additionally, lastly, I will say this in defense/explanation of my attempt to talk to you.
Abusers seek to isolate people from communications, not to engage in communication.
That's all folks!

In my head: congratulations, Joe, you are not abusing me.  I am aware of this.  Also, abusers come in different shapes and sizes.  Also, keeping contact between us a secret is about isolation of my sister.  I mean, doing something you know wouldn't be okay with her is antithetical to trying to make her want to marry you.

Here's the thing, if he hadn't been so adamant about not telling my sister, I might have forgotten until the next time I spoke with her, which really could have been over a week or more.  I found myself thinking that there might be a very good reason my sister should know because he was so insistent.  So I called and said "You're not getting back together with Joe, right?  Okay, because he's contacted me and asked me not to tell."  Jerk?  Yeah, I'm sure I am to him.  But you can barely share a secret with someone and expect them to keep it, especially from someone with whom they're very close.

I can't say for sure how Joe specifically got the notion that pushing when someone says no is the right thing to do.  Certainly we see a lot of permissive parenting in the world.  Maybe he did get ice cream after someone said "no" initially.

There are certainly a lot of examples that suggest that romance seekers (or sex seekers) should keep pushing and eventually s/he will realize how perfect you are.  Aren't most romantic comedies like that?  These are really poor messages to be feeding to people.  We've all been the one spurned, and these stories are mostly fantasies built to help us, the undesired, feel better.  The cost of these tactics is that they supersede things that actually help us respect people we say we care about.

*I have debated for years if it is ethical to use someone else's words, verbatim, when describing how I dislike their actions.  I've decided that as long as I don't say who it is, and most people won't know by context, it's acceptable.

**Obviously I changed names again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

UNM Hotties and Messages from the Car

The sunny day has brought out students and shorts and skin.  Although winter here is nothing like winter in New England, our response to spring ubiquitously sings our joy at tunneling out from darkness under protective coverings.  And maybe it also brings out some strange behavior.

While stopped at a street light at the intersection of Central and Cornell, two young students crossed, their blond hair reflecting the sun as much as their gait spoke of celebration.

"Woooooo!"  I hear.

And "Yeee-aaaah, cut those jeans a little more!"

"You must be sweethearts going to UNM!"

Three young men in the car next to mine are whooping it up, feeding off the support each of them receives hearing his friend's cat call.

I'm surprised that I'm surprised.  How can someone not know at this point how blatant that objectification is?  And how inappropriate?!  And knowing what I know, seeing what I've seen, how can I not expect this?  I sit there for a moment, in the relative safety of my own vehicle, shocked into that silence that comes from our training to hide and get really small when we feel threatened.

It's a testament to the fact that I'm working on not hiding, that I slid down my window and called out of it "You know, that's really gross to overhear". 

"What's really gross?  Your hair?" one of them calls back, but by then the light has turned and I'm saved the discomfort of ignoring a request for an exchange by my utilization of the clutch and the gas pedal.  As I slow for the next light, they zoom past yelling "Sorry, I thought you were a dude!" which is laughably ridiculous.  It was clearly fine with them to make all those loud comments in a way those students could hear, and the idea that saying it only around other men is fine misses a huge portion of the point.  For those of you keeping track, that portion is about how the ways we usually define and appreciate women (for their sexual attributes only) are not okay no matter with whom you are doing so.

On hindsight, I hope next time I say "that's a really gross way to talk about women" or "that's a really disrespectful way to talk about women".  It makes the issue about their action and not about my distress.  All in good time.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Good Point

A good point was recently made about my post Guns, Rape and Culture in which I state: "The idea that women should own guns to stop rape, or wear covering clothing, or not wear ponytails or have long hair, or not drink or never walk alone or always park under a streetlight or any of the other ridiculous things we're told we have to do to not get raped is part of what is called "rape culture". "

It was pointed out that although it is ideal that people simply not rape other people (or anything really), the world is in the state in which it is, and protecting oneself is not in fact "bullshit" as it seemed I said it was.

This is a fair point and one that deserves discussion.  After all, it's natural that we protect ourselves from pterodactyls, raging rhinos and trans fatty acids.  All of these things will harm humans and to not protect ourselves is shortsighted.  Of course, all of those things are easy to see as harmful.  When it comes to other humans, what happens when our first reaction is fear of harm?  (Actually, I can tell you.  This happens as a result of PTSD and it's a crummy way to live.)

So, let me expand on what I actually mean is bullshit.

There are a lot of messages out there about what women and girls need to do to avoid rape (please note that I also mean sexual assault).  These messages are in advertising campaigns, parents repeat them, they're learned in school, repeated in media, etc.  I see almost no messages designed to keep people from committing rape.

It might be that I just don't see them.  I have seen one campaign about consent in which the posters show a heterosexual couple and the wording shows the male talking about how he asked when he wasn't sure, or something similar.  It's awesome.  It's the only campaign I've seen.  Period.

So, my fear is that while we might be giving accurate information on ways that people (okay, it really targets women) can protect themselves, the emphasis is almost entirely on that.  As my mother would say, "that puts the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle".  The emphasis ought to be on people not attacking other people.  I don't yet see that happening enough.

It is easy for people also to take ideas about advice on not getting raped and think of them as absolute.  If it's an onlooker, that person might end up blaming the victim because "the rules say you were supposed to carry an umbrella, and if you had, this wouldn't have happened".  Likewise, the person who was attacked might blame themselves for not taking every precaution.  Also, no precaution has the power to entirely stop rape from happening.  It's as if people think if they follow "the rules", they are invincible.  This is like when you thought that getting a college education would guarantee you a good job and you still ended up working in a burger joint.  (No offense meant to burger joint workers.  We need you!)

Rape, among other things, removes, in a significant and terrifying way, a person's sense of having complete control over themselves.  Have you ever found out that something you believe is completely untrue and then your world is turned upside down?  It's a little like that, only it's also like you ate a cement block with a burning fish in the middle.

Anyway, the problem with giving advice about not getting raped is that it's coercive.  That thing where rape takes away the sense of power and control in your life?  These ideas about protecting yourself do that too!  They limit freedom.  The advice not to drink, or not have long hair, or not walk alone at night or early in the morning... these aren't realistic.  I get with the idea that anyone might curtail certain behavior to protect themselves; it might be appropriate, but it is bullshit to suggest limiting the activities of women (anyone) and not the activities of rapists.

What would work better is to make the information available and then let everyone decide what kind of precautions they want to take.  It would go something like this:

"It's been happening that people have been drugging the drinks of other people, especially at parties and then raping them.  It might help if you always watch your drink being poured at a party to make sure nothing but the drink goes into it."

In what other ways is a list of precautions a useful thing or a tool of rape culture?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Guns, Rape and Culture

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and The Store is raising money for The Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico.  I've been really excited about this!  How many hours of therapy have I received at the center?  Um... maybe 300 hours?  And although I donate to them myself, I don't pay them.  Also the therapy I've received there has been on par with the highest quality therapy I've ever had (I've had a lot of therapy).  I owe a lot of fabulous changes in my Self to them.  So, fundraising for them is on my awesome-list.

I was waiting on three customers.  It looked like someone was buying someone else a first toy.  They were boisterous and giggly and disrespectful around things that suggested people might like something they did not.  I was not surprised when they didn't want to donate.  But then one of them said "the best way to stop rape is for all women to get guns... and learn how to use them."

Now, I feel like I shouldn't need to tell anyone why this is awful and creepy.  I feel like there are plenty of websites out there that tell us all about that.  And yet, this kind of attitude is still rampant.  On the off chance someone stumbles across here, or forwards this to someone who needs to know, let's take a closer look.

Thesis: women should have guns to prevent rape
This statement has two distinct parts: first, that women should own guns and second, that guns can prevent rape.  We'll address them separately.
  1. This first part, that women should have guns, is problematic because it invalidates any choice a woman makes about not owning or using a gun. 
  2. This statement also presupposes that either, only women can prevent rape by using a gun, or that only women get raped.  I'm assuming the second is meant, but both are just not true.  1 in 20 men are raped in New Mexico.*  While that's a lower number than the number of women, rape is awful for anyone who experiences it, so let's count men, ok?
  3. Moving on to the idea that guns could prevent rape.  No.  They can't.  They might in some circumstances, but it is unrealistic to think it's a solution.  I know that the after school specials show rape as this dramatic business where some guy follows a woman through a parking garage, or jumps out from behind a bush and practically announces that he's going to rape her.  "Boo!  I'm the scary sexual assault monster!  I am going to violently invade your body.  I don't care about you, nor do I recognize that you are a legitimate human who might have as much ability to feel as I do.  Also, the last time I showered was 1982 and I have halitosis because my last meal was a huge pile of rotten sardines atop a pile of dog doo."
    1. This type of stranger rape (perhaps minus the dog doo) does happen, but not very often.  Approximately 15% of rapes happen this way in New Mexico.*  Using a gun here might work.
      1. The success of this would depend on the brain of the attackee behaving in a way that the fight part of the natural fight/flight/freeze response was activated.  More on that later.
      2. It would also depend on space.  How far away from the attacker is this person?  Do they have time to draw a gun?  
      3. It also depends on if the attacker has a gun.  People going out to do crimes often plan these things... so I've heard.  They have the upper hand in the element of surprise and in what nefarious tools they choose.
    2. If 15% of rapes happen by strangers... then 85% of rapes happen by people we know (and incidentally somewhere between 10-20% are someone we're already sexually involved with).*  Is it likely that if you've known someone, you will think of having a gun ready next time they are around?  Just in case they try to rape you, where they haven't tried that in the past?
  4. The power of a gun, is in its threat and its ability to harm.  In order to threaten someone, the gun should be obvious.  If someone is already on top of you, particularly from behind, it will be difficult to draw a gun, have the attacker see it and have them not try to wrestle it from you and then use it against you.  You might, at this point, use the gun to kill or disable your attacker.  That would also be very traumatic.  Just being attacked, whether the rape is carried out or not, would likely require services from someplace like... hmmmm, a rape crisis center!
  5. We must take into account the body's response to trauma.  You've heard of the fight/flight/freeze response?  This is a physiological reaction.  You might think you know how you'd react.  Or you might plan how you would react.  But until you're actually in a situation, you really don't know how you'll react.  You do not have a choice about this because, as I mentioned, the reaction is physiological.  People have different physiologies and that is why we react differently.  So, if you're one of those people who does not react with "fight", that's normal.  And it's the right thing for you to do.  Whatever your reaction style is, it helps you survive.  Go you!
  6. The idea that women should own guns to stop rape infers that rape victims are at fault if they don't fight back.  Did you get that?  It blames the victims!  Because of the different things our physiology might make us do, which are all normal, this is bullshit. 
  7. This also places the responsibility of not getting raped on the potential victims.  This is also bullshit.
  8. The idea that guns can stop rape takes all responsibility away from rapists.  Rapists make a choice to rape.  It's everyone's responsibility to control their own urges to do things that aren't okay.  If you have a tendency to cut your toenails in bed, it is not your toenail's fault that you are then uncomfortable lying in bed.  Similarly, it's not your toenail's fault that they grow to need clipping.
The idea that women should own guns to stop rape, or wear covering clothing, or not wear ponytails or have long hair, or not drink or never walk alone or always park under a streetlight or any of the other ridiculous things we're told we have to do to not get raped is part of what is called "rape culture".

Rape culture is what tells boys and men that they have to be powerful in order to be manly.  It perpetuates the normalcy of violence against women, other minorities, disenfranchised groups and reinforces rigid gender roles through media.  It tells us that it's the responsibility of someone to avoid rape rather than telling us it's our job to treat other human beings with respect and kindness.

I know a lot of people don't believe in rape culture.  I don't know what to say to them except, go listen to a class or presentation about it and then, once you have information, make another decision.  If it's a good presentation, it won't blame groups of people (nor individuals).  Fault is beside the point.  We are inured to what is right in front of us.  Meaning, we don't bother to look at things we see day in, day out.  This is how rape culture is.  It's so big and so... everywhere, we don't see it.  We're used to it. 

If you want to donate to the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico (incidentally, NM and AK have the highest rates of rape in the country) this month you can go to:
Rape Crisis Donation Through Self Serve

If you're reading this after April 2013, go to:
Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico Donations

*The stats in this blog are from a survey done in NM in 2011 that I heard about through the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico.  If you want the details about what survey and other stats, you can contact their education department.