justice, Uncategorized

To: white, straight women who did not vote for Trump and yet remain silent post-election

I know the outcome of this election is not what you expected.  During the campaign you expressed disbelief over the vile, hateful and misogynist comments made by Trump.  These among other reasons were guiding your conviction to vote for another candidate and now that the president-elect is Trump, I—we have yet, to hear from you.

Surely you’ve heard of the terror and fear that so many have been feeling since the election results.  Men and women from marginalized groups all over the United States know what a Trump presidency will mean for themselves and their families.  Immigrant children have been scared that they will have to move out of the country.  LGBTQ people have been beaten, bloodied and verbally harassed.  Black churches have been burned down and defiled.  Muslim Americans have been told by Trump supporters that now that the United States has a ‘real’ president they need to go back to where they belong.  All the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, hate-filled rhetoric by Trump has encouraged acts of hate and discrimination against brown people, black people, Muslim people, immigrants and LGBTQ people.

Yes, over the past two years it has been painful to endure rhetoric that has been filled with hate.  It’s been re-traumatizing as it has reopened old wounds and memories of verbal and physical abuse within our shared history.

Now those words have been followed by hate crimes and violence against disenfranchised communities—leaving us to worry about our daily safety when navigating public spaces or even when we sit in our places of worship.

As if that is not enough, we realize that our basic human and constitutional rights are threatened with a Trump administration.  What protection or legal right will we have if our marriages and relationships are deemed invalid; if we are forced out of our country because of what we believe or what we look like; if we as immigrants find no safe haven here in the U.S.; if we lose our jobs or our housing because of who we are; if we are assaulted or harassed sexually or physically in the workplace?

We have no assurances of safety, dignity or protection in the present or the future.  The outcome of this election stripped all of that away.  We are filled with unspeakable terror and pain.

You know this because we’ve had conversations regarding these realities and still you choose silence in the wake of incredible devastation, terror, grief and uncertainty.

It’s hard to make sense of your silence and I draw from past conversations and inaction and I am dissatisfied with the conclusions I come to in the wake of your silence and withdrawal.

I try to see it from your perspective— as a white woman there are also risks to your safety, which is overwhelming and troubling.

I know this patriarchal & misogynist society views your life void of value and seeks to silence you, too.

Yet, when I ask you about this reality you say, “it sucks and you hate it, but it’s just part of life”.  When you’re pressed about that you say:

I’m not very political or

My life is too busy to fight it or

I can’t deal with conflict—it’s just too stressful or

I have kids that keep me busy or

I have a job and too many responsibilities to be bothered with politics

As a brown, queer woman and mother of a trans child, I tell you I have all those things too… a job, kids, responsibilities—a busy, full life, but I do not have the privilege to disengage the results of this election or oppression because it’s my very life, family and community who face a future that is uncertain and there is no time for inaction.

You say that you love me and that you want to be a safe place for my venting, but you refuse to show up for me/for us—to use your civil liberties and constitutionally protected freedoms to demand those same rights for all people in the United States.

I can’t help but feel unloved.

You are secure in your civil liberties and constitutional rights and are comfortable with this status quo—even if it is a false sense of safety.

I can’t help but feel envious of your privilege to prioritize yourself in such a way because you have little fear that your life or your family will be threatened or be forced to change significantly.

You are the norm.

I tell you how this is bound to affect my gender non-conforming son’s existence and you say:

That’s too bad, but I don’t believe in that.  I believe in my right as a woman to consent and to make decisions about my body, but I don’t believe that this applies to others’ rights to express or identify who he or she is outside of our social gender structure and traditions.

I ask you to reconsider because we need all people and all voices to stand up for our rights and you say you need to pray about it or go to church and get the green light from your pastor or your priest.

I can’t help but feel tired, frustrated and neglected because I know that when you came to me and told me that you were raped by an acquaintance:

I was the one who told you that I believed you when no one else would and we went together to the hospital.  I stayed with you through the rape kit and the criminal report. When you were questioned about your clothing and your choices I was the one who stood up for you to those who would shame and blame you.

When you told me that your family friend had molested you as a child and you were filled with shame:

I told you that what happened to you was wrong and horrific and that you were beautiful and beloved and wronged in the most ugly way.

When you told me that you’d been beaten by your partner:

I told you that in no way did you bear any fault and that I’d help you find safety.  I went to the court with you to file a no-contact order and stayed with you throughout the process.

I have used my voice, my resources, my passion and my energies to stand in the gap for your rights… to call for justice when you were violated and abused.  I have zero regret about this—I would do this time and time again, but what I want to know is will you show up for me?  Will you show up for us—those that do not look like you, act like you, relate to you?

When it comes to oppression, discrimination and violence showing up has been a one sided experience.  You seem to overlook the sense of urgency and fear that I feel—even though I show up for you, for your kids, for your troubles… your fears… your concerns without question or hesitation.

I’m learning that real, authentic relationships are reciprocal and are paved on paths that go both ways.  It is times like these we all have to put ourselves on the line.

I am not going to lie to you… I am angry that you choose to not hear me.  I am angry that you choose the convenience of silence.  I am hurt that you feel no urgency when you see this pain.

As a brown woman I appeal to you:

Please do not exploit our generosity and our burning conviction in human rights for all people.  Do not use our necessity to speak and to assemble to support yourself and your interests at your convenience and then when it doesn’t directly impact you disappear.  Please do not call yourself ally or friend in private, but when called upon in public circles and public policies look the other way.  Please do not try to comfort me by saying, “I don’t judge you”, because even if you were outwardly bigoted toward us your judgement holds no power and we don’t need your moral pardon.  Please recognize that being a ‘safe person’ and indicating so with your safety pins may require you to actually stand up to bullies on the bus or at the movie theater or at church or at the mall.  Thus far, being a safe person has not count the cost when hearing a friend or family member brag about their candidate winning and how they finally have their country back.  For years, you’ve claimed that you believe that racism and sexism are inexcusable, but remain silent when you’ve heard your family member or friend use a homophobic joke or racial slur.  But enough is enough—we can’t afford your silence—it is causing additional pain.  Your silence is creating barriers and broken bridges and we do not have the energy to mend them.  Please consider the radical nature of love… love is never inaction… love is not based on convenience… love is not negotiated… love is not just spoken in private—no, rather, radical, transformational love is lived out in public.  So if you say that you love me—love us—consider coming out from the shadows and stand with us—speak.

Uncategorized

Our bodies are our own

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Recently, I was writing a paper on violence against women and Women’s Rights and again was hit with the staggering statistics on violence against women worldwide.  In all of the world, 35% or approximately 1 in 4 women are brutally beaten, psychologically demeaned, sexually assaulted or verbally abused by an intimate partner.  In some parts of the world these statistics rise to a heart-wrenching 70% of women.  Over 120 million girls are raped, sexually violated and molested.  Get this, 200 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) (UN Women, 2016).  FGM has significant long-term consequences on a woman’s health.  FGM makes it difficult to have intercourse, to bear and birth children and to urinate without excruciating physical pain.  The psychological pain in all of these instances of violence is immeasurable.  Studies are scant and have yet to gather the psychological consequences, but one can imagine that the emotional suffering one bears runs incredibly deep.

Here’s why: violence against women in any form (physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and psychological) has perpetuated the ideological view that a woman’s body, personhood and mind are not her own.  The terms have been determined and set for her.  Her personhood can be violated and used at any point because her body is not her own— she is property of someone else (i.e. family, culture, community, husband, boyfriend, father).  And because she psychologically and physically belongs to someone else she can be bought, sold, rejected, suppressed and oppressed and it is all justified under this socially accepted ideology (that exists in nearly all parts of the world).

I talk about all of these issues a decent amount and it always surprises me when people say, “oh no that doesn’t happen…” or “well maybe that happens but only in developing parts of the world” blah blah blah.

I implore you to explore what the denial is about, because this ideology exists in nearly all parts of the world.  This ideology is thriving here in the U.S.  Sure, the U.S. doesn’t practice FGM, but we have our own forms of female subjugation practices that promote the ideology of external ownership of a woman’s body and mind.

In the United States 1 in 4 or between 25% to 33% of women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.  

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In the 21st century with 30+ years of the women’s movement researching and educating society on the harm of rape culture we still have more than a quarter of our female population sexually violated and dismissed.  (Rape culture- is the cultural norms and behaviors that reinforce the notion that it is okay for a male to rape a woman because she must have done something to bring it on herself.  Male’s violent or sexual aggressive behavior is viewed as a normative aspect of being male.  These behaviors are not viewed as criminal or even wrong because the behavior is to be expected among men.  As is demonstrated in the old adage: “boys will be boys”).

This socialized reality and the consistent threat in the air send a message to women that their bodies can be taken and violated at any point and that her voice does not matter- not before, not during and certainly, not after.

Social media has been blowing up (as it should) about the Stanford swimmer who was given a 6-month jail sentence for raping a woman while she was unconscious.  There is so much wrong about this.  The man was found guilty for THREE counts of sexual assault.  His punishment was to be up to  14 years in prison, but the judge felt that this was too harsh and would be too damaging to him… So he was given 6 months in county jail.

Where is the justice for the damage that was done to her?  Where is the concern about her damage?

The thing is I can’t stop hearing the pain in her voice when she shares the suffering with her perpetrator’s complete disregard for her.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she describes how her lack of consent was scrutinized and called into question.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she talks about the year of life lost.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she shares how she was the one put on trial.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she says:

Never mentioned me voicing consent, never mentioned us even speaking, a back rub. One more time, in public news, I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my half naked, unconscious body. But I don’t remember, so how do I prove I didn’t like it.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she describes:

I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.

I can’t stop hearing her pain when she shares how someone outside her, her perpetrator, places meaning and value of the events that happened to her:

To sit under oath and inform all of us, that yes I wanted it, yes I permitted it, and that you are the true victim attacked by Swedes for reasons unknown to you is appalling, is demented, is selfish, is damaging. It is enough to be suffering. It is another thing to have someone ruthlessly working to diminish the gravity of validity of this suffering.

Her entire letter is here.

The outcome of this hearing is a loss for all us women.  It is an invalidation of our worth.  It reinforces what women have been saying for so long that economically, socially, legally and intellectually we are less than in this system.

Our society has a form of sexism that systematically vilifies, diminishes and deconstructs the female experience.  This brand of sexism is reinforced in every institution of society.  We can’t even rest assured that criminal acts against our bodies will be dealt with justly.  We can’t be confident in knowing that our voices will be heard and believed.

The battle is for our bodies.  Society wants to hold our bodies for it’s own.  Society wants the commodity of our bodies to use for their benefit and gain.

The battle is for our bodies.

The survivor in this case took back the narrative… She changed the societal narrative that her body was not her own– when she courageously spoke to just how wrong and despicable it is for her perpetrator to invalidate her experience.  She spoke to the seriously wrong actions of him defiling her body and then diminishing his sins against her.

And it is unfair that she bears the burden of having to take back the narrative… It is unfair and she is a courageous example of what it looks like to take back the narrative.

I stand with her.

Changing the narrative:

When I was a small girl I was sexually abused by someone I trusted.  When I finally was able to tell my family, they didn’t know what to believe so it was business as usual.  My abuser continued to be invited to family events and get togethers.

I began to think maybe I couldn’t trust myself… I couldn’t trust my memory or the way my body felt when the memory would invade my thoughts.  If no one else believed me and it was expected to continue as though nothing had happened maybe there was something wrong with me.

Then five years after I had shared my experience my abuser came forward and confessed what he had done.  This didn’t change the situation much with the exception of: 1) my brain was finally validated and now I knew that what I remembered was true and 2) there was pressure to “forgive” my abuser.

The narrative I internalized was:

  1. My body is not my own. (In exchange for just the slightest bit of attention my body was his to control, touch and explore.  My body was for his pleasure and so my body must not be my own)
  2. My body betrayed me.  (As an 8 year old I couldn’t physically defend or protect myself.  Furthermore, I didn’t understand what was taking place– so maybe it was my body’s fault)
  3. My voice is not my own. (People outside of me created a narrative that fit what they could handle and be comfortable with)
  4. The terms and boundaries were not my own. (The pressure to forgive seemed more important than my need to protect myself and process my feelings.  I didn’t even get to choose the path of reconciliation.  To not forgive was to be unkind and unChristian.  My abuser could and would corner me at family events to explain his actions… to try to get me to understand his situation… This seemed normal to everyone around me.  I wasn’t even afforded the right to dictate when and if I wanted to speak with him)

After embarking on a great deal of healing work I was able to take back the narrative.  In a way every day is an exercise of taking back the narrative that my body is not my own.

Taking back the narrative invited me to recognize that I inhabit a body of dignity.  Even when I’m not feeling great in my body or particularly self-loving toward my body I believe that I, just as everyone else, is born free and equal with dignity and rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948).

My dignity affords me the freedom to:

  • Choose who I am with
  • Set the terms and conditions for how I need and want to be treated
  • To be unapologetic in my voice– to speak my truth

I’m not sure when a change will happen in society.  It needs to happen in our society. I am tired of the battle, but I am committed to it, too.  I am committed to using my voice for myself, my daughter and my sisters from all over the world.  I am committed because I believe that we all inhabit glorious bodies of dignity.

I am committed because there is just too much at stake.