November 2, 2013

Me and a Network

My post from this past week's Blogger Idol competition:


The last big New Year's Eve party I attended was in 1998. A friend invited me- she told me she wanted to go but didn't know anyone. She didn't want to be alone with all the popular guys from school. So I offered to meet her there.
She never arrived, and it was me who was alone... looking out the basement windows with snow piled against them, wishing desperately for a way to escape. Part of me is still trapped, crying and puking but relieved to be alive. And ashamed of being relieved.

During the next nights I curled under my covers and listened to Tori Amos sing "Me and a Gun," a musical account of her own rape. Each time her breathless voice said, "I've never seen Barbados, so I must get out of this," my heart crumpled.

I'd never heard of RAINN- the non-profit she represented. I didn't know she'd taken her experience of being assaulted at gunpoint and turned it into something positive- a way to help other victims. A way to help me.

Eight years later one of my best friends enlisted in the military. I drove her to dinner from my apartment, biting my tongue. I had a speech I'd rehearsed- how it wasn't too late to change her mind. How she needed to be careful.

Instead I blathered vaguely about the dangers of the ultra-male military culture, how she needed to stand up for herself and refuse to be treated with anything less than respect. She smiled knowingly and told me she would be fine, and headed off to basic training.

After a year and a half, a comrade in arms slipped rohypnol into her drink while they socialized in quarters. She didn't know who, but it had to be one of the guys she worked with. People she knew. Friends.

Most rapists are not faceless strangers in dark alleys, evil men lurking in shadows. They're people you see every day. People who believe that they have more right to your body than you.

As the years pass I rely on the RAINN website. On the hotline for help in dark times, for information, for the pervasive attitude of hope.

I'm a member of the RAINN speaker's bureau.

The fact is that the only thing that can end sexual assault is a change in our culture. We live in a society where we ask a woman to explain her own fault when she becomes a victim. We live in a culture where we excuse rape in the media as "sex with an unconscious person" or "sex without consent," as though that doesn't mean the same thing.

This is rape culture. It's that nebulous thing that tells men they have no control over their sexual urges. That tells women our primary value is sexual, and that rape is our own fault. It's what allows entire towns to sympathize with a sexual predator instead of a victim.

Rape culture is what leads us to teach our daughters how to avoid being raped, without telling us how to teach our sons to understand the meaning of consent.

But there are blueprints for talking to boys about consent. The Good Men Project is a forum for sharing stories, ideas, possibilities. It explores what it means to be a man in an enlightened society. There are some incredible pieces that run on this site, a sort of Huffington Post for stories about a masculinity that don't promote sexism, misogyny, or rape culture in general.

The Good Men Project is a resource not just for parents, but for anyone trying to figure out what it means to be a man in the twenty first century. I might not be a man, and I might not have sons, but I care about the men in my life. I care about the harmful messages we as a society send. Not just to women, but to men as well. And particularly the messages we send that lead people to believe they are entitled to another person's body. Or that they are not entitled to assert their own will over their own body- that they are not allowed to say no.

Renegade MotheringThen there are a few spectacular mommy blogs out there as well that deal with the issues of changing rape culture with their own children. One of my absolute favorites is Renegade Mothering. The author, Janelle, writes about privilege a lot. White privilege, male privilege, economic privilege... and she has a son who is as much a victim of the culture of sexual violence as any girl. That is to say, the messages he receives are the same messages we all get- that boys are supposed to be tough, not have feelings, not empathize. That men should conquer and that women are prizes to be won.

If you read only one thing from her, it should be this. This story about how her young son is interacting with this culture. About how it makes her angry and sad, and how unfair it is that it is her own job to make up for all the failings of a culture that treats her son as weak for having feelings- that equates femininity with failure.

I am angry. And I am sad. But I no longer feel hopeless. When I listen to "Me and a Gun," I still feel the dropping of my heart into my gut. But I know I have the tools to talk to my children. To talk to strangers. To ask for help and to reach out and give back.

My friend and I, we're starting up our own non-profit. A support and research organization. A community. We're working together to make things better.

I've found my Barbados.

I want to help get us out of this.

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