Seasonal Exhaustion

The holiday is pretty much directly upon me. This weekend I have Christmas with my family. We are going up tomorrow night.

But I don’t feel super merry. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin. Like butter spread over too much bread.”

It has been a long and tumultuous year. The world has continued to terrify me with its ability to be random and cruel while simultaneously delighting me with the warmth and full hearts and adorable cat photos that I have found within it.

Normally at this point in the season I am wearing a festive hat and bouncing around the house to Christmas music like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not doing either of those things. And what’s weird is that I don’t really care to.

I think the weight of everything that has happened this year has just hit me all at once. The deaths of black women, the burning of black churches, the police brutality, the trans lives that have been lost, rape culture, the everyday harassment that comes along with being femme on the internet or on a street or wherever. Shit, some asshole even killed a lion.

I’ve talked before about the exhaustion that comes from dealing with social justice stuff all the time. The compassion fatigue that we all can feel merely from having access to the internet on a daily basis.

It wears. It takes a toll.

I’m not in a place right this second where I can talk about how to cope with that toll. I’m in it. I’m just looking forward to going home tonight, slapping on some Christmas music and faking it as if I’m going to be making it while I mix up some holiday cookies.

We cope. That’s all we can do sometimes. And I’m just learning now that it’s OK to just cope. To breathe into whatever we’re going through and to be not 100% for a while.

That’s actually a pretty good Christmas gift for me to give myself, now that I think about it.


Spank a Feminist and see what happens: Twitter & MRAs

I wasn’t really that much of a Twitter person until recently. I don’t know what changed. Suddenly I just found myself using it more. I think it’s a cool platform for the most part, but I don’t live there. I do most of my socializing on Facebook and most of my ruminating on here.

Yesterday morning I woke up and found that the hashtag #SpankAFeminist was trending. I saw a couple of responses from feminists I know and automatically recognized that it was some MRA bullshit. So, I joined in.

Within a few minutes, my phone was blowing up with the pitter patter of little troll feet. These guys looked at my Twitter profile and asked me to define patriarchy. I responded with the link to Let Me Google That For You, because asking a person to define terms that you already damn well know – or could find out with a basic Google search – is just a way to make the conversation about nuanced little pieces of grammar rather than larger issues. If I tell you that the patriarchy is my favored enemy in my profile, you know what I’m talking about. And you can make all kinds of arguments based on the dictionary definition of patriarchy as meaning a government controlled by men, but the definition that I’m talking about is right there below it and your arguments are really about breaking me down so that you can tell me my points are invalid.

I’m not playing that fucking game with strangers on the internet. And as a friend said yesterday:

Of course, once I blocked them and moved on, there were other trolls accusing me of silencing the opposition and all that good garbage. Because they honestly think they’re entitled to my time and attention. Silly little trolls.

I did manage to get into a somewhat productive conversation with one person who approached me with a genuine question about my views on patriarchy. Of course, that did eventually degrade into him telling me personal anecdotes about false rape accusations and feminists not supporting men’s groups to help prevent suicide when I was on my way out the door to see a movie. Because anecdotal evidence is the best evidence? I don’t even know.

Anyway, it should be known that this hash tag didn’t just leap spontaneously into existence. It was launched by Dean Esmay, the MRA crowning jewel. In his article about why #SpankAFeminist should trend, Esmay said the following:

[A]ny time you meet a feminist, you should spank him or her until they cry. And do it every time they open their mouths to spew forth their hateful lies about standing for tolerance, inclusion, and equality, when there is no movement in the modern world that does more to fight against tolerance, inclusion, freedom, and equality than feminism. Not even real life fascists or communists can top them at this point.

So, couple of things.

First of all, equating a social movement to fascism and communism is way off the rails to begin with. As Godwin’s Law states, bringing those things into the conversation effectively ends the conversation. The fact that Esmay goes there in his announcement about this new hashtag is pretty telling.

Secondly, the people in this hashtag are trying to make the argument that this whole thing is a facetious rejoinder to the Kill All Men hashtag. I don’t think that comparison is apt at all. #KillAllMen is ironic misandry at it’s absolute finest. We are obviously not going to kill all men. We have no interest in killing all men. Esmay went ahead and quoted my Tweet yesterday as “further proof that all feminists are violent criminals” or some such nonsense. I blocked him without responding. But honestly, has there been some kind of madwoman running around cutting off the hands of men who dare to touch her ass without permission? Is there a womanhunt on the news? No. I’m joking. Calm your fucking tits, Esmay.

As far as #SpankAFeminist and #KillAllMen are concerned, the other issue with that comparison is that Esmay sounds 100% serious in his article about there being a “solution” in the idea of spanking feminists until they cry. And that shit is not OK. Describing feminism as “an intolerant, hateful, racist, anti-gay, misandrist, misogynist, gynocentric religion and hate movement” sounds pretty serious to me. Calling for violent reprisal against people who espouse it as a belief is not a joke. It’s not funny. It’s painting a group of people who have been systemically oppressed as a hate movement and calling for them to be silenced. And for a white man to do that as a member of the most privileged group on the planet is completely unacceptable.

This whole thing was my first time being involved in any kind of Twitter drama or attacks. I did not care for it. But I care even less for the legitimate attention being paid to Men’s Rights Activists and their movement. So I’m going to shout about that and take the heat rather than sit back and let them act like their disgusting venomous nonsense is at all acceptable.


As a post script, here is a beautiful poem by Shane Koyczan on trolls.


McKinney: Part Two

Today seems heavy and sad. I woke up to more news about McKinney.

Apparently the cops were called to respond to the physical attack against Tatiana Rose. However, when they showed up, they immediately went to work corralling and bullying the black kids who were at the pool. The pool apparently has a rule about how many guests that you can have at a given time. A rule that Tatiana’s mother says is never enforced, except, apparently, when black kids show up. The pool people are also saying now that they never approved the party in the first place. A claim that I find dubious in the extreme.

Brandon Brooks, 15, who shot the video, has since spoken out regarding events as he saw them unfold, saying:

When he pulled his gun my heart dropped. As soon as he pulled out his gun, I thought he was going to shoot that kid. That was very scary… I was one of the only white people in the area when that was happening. You can see in part of the video where he tells us to sit down, and he kinda like skips over me and tells all my African-American friends to go sit down.

I talked yesterday about the privilege of white bodies in a racially charged space. At the time I was under the mistaken impression that the person recording the video was the person speaking up about being related in some way to Adrian, the young man who was hauled into the shot toward the end of the video (and about whom I can find not a single news item or mention). Since Adrian is black, I assumed the videographer was as well. Which was, of course, a foolish assumption. Because I doubt Brooks would have been allowed to continue filming had he not been white.

People are talking about how Cpl Casebolt should have, logically, been on his best behavior since he knew he was being recorded. I don’t know which is the more terrifying conclusion of that train of thought: That Casebolt was on his best behavior during the events of Friday afternoon, or what might have happened if Brooks had not been there and shooting the entire time.

This whole horrible mess has brought up the painful history of segregation and, specifically, the role that pools have played in that segregation. As pointed out in an article in The Atlantic yesterday:

As African Americans fought for desegregation in the 1950s, public pools became frequent battlefields. In Marshall, Texas, for example, in 1957, a young man backed by the NAACP sued to force the integration of a brand-new swimming pool. When the judge made it clear the city would lose, citizens voted 1,758-89 to have the city sell all of its recreational facilities rather than integrate them. The pool was sold to a local Lions’ Club, which was able to operate it as a whites-only private facility.

People are trying to argue that what happened on Friday isn’t about race. There are even black people from McKinney making that argument, saying that their neighborhood is an integrated one and that they have never had trouble with their neighbors. Far be it for me to tell someone from a marginalized community that they are wrong about their experiences. I am glad beyond words that those people feel safe and comfortable within their communities.

That said, I want to challenge the assumption that a community that treats it’s black residents well can not suffer from the impact of racism. Just because a community is not putting on white hoods and trying to run you out of town with burning crosses does not mean that an isolated incident within that community is devoid of racism. I am so happy for residents of the Craig Ranch community that they do not experience racialized violence or aggression in their everyday life. But I do not believe that anyone could reasonably look at the reaction of those officers on Friday and say that it does not have something to do with race. Or at the actions of grown white women throwing racial slurs at a teenage girl. Or at the authorities of the pool who manage to overlook the guest rule until the population of the pool becomes too black for their comfort.

Increasingly, we live in a world of racism with no racists. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who’s written a book by that title, says:

“The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits. The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game.”

We tend to think of racism as having something to do with the words that people say. But many people nowadays know that it’s not acceptable to say the “n-word” or to vocally discriminate based on the color of someone’s skin. Of course, actions speak louder than words, and in the case of racism the actions that are continually taken against people of color have not gone away entirely, they have merely gotten less obvious to white people.

Racism is by no means dead, it simply hides in microagressions and in discriminatory policies enacted every day while white people protest that they can’t be racist because they “can’t see race” – thus obliterating the heritage of the people around them – or that they “have black friends” – as if their friends are a trophy or a badge of honor that put them above such things as racial profiling.

When a bunch of black children are violently suppressed at an end of year pool party, when they have guns pulled on them merely for being in a place, when they are told to “go back to their section 8 housing,” there is no word for that type of behavior other than racist.

Get Outraged: Police brutality in McKinney, Texas

Content Advisory: For those of you who did not choose to watch the video of the events in McKinney, Texas this past Friday, be aware that I have provided a description of two portions of the video that could be upsetting to some. I will include a warning before detailing those portions of the video.

I am saying this mostly because I know so many people for whom this is too close to their hearts to speak. I am going to try to articulate events as clearly as possible.

Over the weekend a video surfaced of police officers descending upon a pool party attended by a group of teenagers. In the video, the police attempt to gain control of the situation by brutalizing, belittling, terrorizing, and manhandling a crowd of local teens.

Here is what I have been able to glean from the numerous articles that have been published over the weekend. It appears that the original altercation occurred because several white members of the community began hurling racial slurs at the teens who were having a pool party. The girl who was throwing the party, identified as Tatiana Rhodes, 19, is a member at the pool. According to Tatiana in the video linked above, all of the teens who were attending are members of the surrounding community. Additional video has surfaced of two adult white women locked in a physical altercation with Tatiana before the police arrived.

I, like many of you, resisted watching the video at first. I knew that what I would see would be terrible just from reading the comments I had seen on my social media outlets. Do not watch the video if you think that you would be upset by watching this type of brutality. For those of you who have opted to avoid watching what transpired this Friday in McKinney, Texas, I will summarize, Having finally watched it this morning.

[CA: Do not read the next two paragraphs if you think you would be upset by reading about the brutality in the video.]

The video shows a police officer (who has since been placed on administrative leave) bullying and shouting at teenagers. You can see several cop cars and what I believe can safely be called an overwhelming police presence. At one point, the officer around whom the video centers pulls his gun and runs off screen. He returns dragging a 15 year old girl, who he swings around and manhandles to the ground like a rag doll. He then proceeds to kneel on her back. The girl is sobbing and screaming for those around her to “Call my mama! Oh my god!” One of her friends is standing by with a cell phone and does just that.

While the officer threatens and chases after the young people who have gathered around the girl on the ground, two more officers drag into the frame a young man, handcuffed and dazed. The camera man immediately responds to the young man being brought onto the scene by asking him if he is all right. Adrian (or maybe Andrew?) is placed on the ground on his back. He is breathing heavily and appears to be in respiratory distress. His face appears slack in the video and it is hard to discern whether or not there is blood on his mouth and chin. The camera man repeatedly asks him whether or not he is all right, telling bystanders that he is his cousin, but the young man appears unable to respond.

The rage that I felt watching this video was overwhelming. And there was one person in particular at whom my rage was directed.

Of course I hated the police officer sitting on the sobbing girl in her bikini. I hated him for whipping his gun out and threatening these children. I hated the officers responding to the scene for not directing their authority at the women who had attacked a teenage girl before they arrived. I hated the officers dragging Adrian helpless and limp to the scene. I hated these officers for the pain and fear that I saw in the faces of these kids. I hated them for their failure as police officers to represent themselves and the uniforms they wore with dignity and honor. Overall I despised them for their actions as people in a position of learning and authority who chose not to employ empathy or direct their authority in a helpful and non-violent way.

But there was someone I hated more.

Roaming back and forth and creating a perimeter for the police officer is an older white man. During the course of the video, he actively takes a stance between the officer and the teenagers at one point when the cop is wrestling the girl to the ground. He stands by. He lurks. He ensures that the cop is not interrupted. His white presence being allowed to wander the scene freely is a really strong counterpoint to the bodies of black teenagers as they are corralled and shouted at to leave the vicinity or handcuffed and forced to lay down on their faces.

Watching this video I wanted to leap through my computer screen and shake that man. I wanted to push him down and yell at him. I wanted to say “How can you let this happen to children? How can you be a bystander and allow this kind of abuse to continue? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

I wanted to shout him into allyhood. I wanted to ignite him with my rage and turn him back against the men he was smugly and separately observing. It kills me to see people with so much privilege squander it in support of such odious behavior. Being a white male in that situation put this man in a unique position to challenge the officers involved with little to no fear of violent reciprocation. And for that, I hated him.

It should be noted that he was not the only white male taking this position in the video, just the most active. There were several more men milling around on the scene. And their presence was no more positive than his. I spent the entire video waiting for a single white person to walk up to the police and tell them that they were in the wrong. Instead, videos from various angles show these men walking up to the young people trying to defend their friends and telling them to leave.

With everything I have just said, I feel that it must be said that I am deeply ashamed of the behavior of white people in these videos. I feel overwhelming shame that people who look like me could not muster the strength or sanity to stand up for the children in their community against the obviously racist system they were up against this past Friday.

We should do better. We can do better. We need to do more.

There are a lot of things that are still unclear about this story, as it is still developing.

With all of that said, I have the following questions:

  • Why were the women who attacked the young girl who was throwing the party not arrested?
  • Why, when the police were called to deal with an altercation between a teenage girl and an adult woman, was more than one police car sent to the scene?
  • Why did every child at the pool need to be harassed and corralled to deal with an altercation between two older women and a young girl?
  • Why did a 15 year old girl need to be chased down and sat on by a fully grown police officer?
  • What happened to Adrian? Why was he detained at all? Will the police responsible for his treatment be penalized?

More than anything, I will never understand why the police who showed up on the scene in such great numbers were unable to utilize their considerable training in order to deal with an altercation between a small number of people without terrorizing and brutalizing the teens in the vicinity. The fact that this entire altercation began because of the hurling of racial slurs that escalated to racially-motivated violence by adults against teenagers feeds my fury on behalf of these kids and their families.

I hope against all recent evidence that this event will end in punishment being meted out against the officers involved. Their behavior was egregious and unacceptable.

7:00PM EDIT: The officer involved in the incident has been identified as Corporal Eric Casebolt. Cpl Casebolt has previously been charged with profiling, harassment, failure to render aid and sexual assault back in 2008.

Reality Television and Altruism Porn

I’ve never been a really big fan of reality TV shows. The limit to my watching of those shows has usually been competition shows like Hell’s Kitchen or even Master Chef. Or Halloween Wars. Because oh my goodness, making magic with cake is super awesome.

This zombie wedding is made of cake, pumpkins, and sugar, y'all. Witness the awesome.
This zombie wedding is made of cake, pumpkins, and sugar, y’all. Witness the awesome.

So most of my reality TV centers around watching people make beautiful things and Gordon Ramsay shouting at people while they make beautiful things. Because both of those things are super entertaining to me.

It almost goes without saying that there is a darker side to reality television. And it comes in degrees. With shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians at the lower end of the despicability scale and shows like 19 Kids and Counting at the higher end (for obvious reasons).

But CBS has gone ahead and upped the ante on terrible reality shows with their new show The Briefcase. In case you aren’t familiar, this CBS’s write up of the show:

THE BRIEFCASE features hard-working American families experiencing financial setbacks who are presented with a briefcase containing a large sum of money and a potentially life-altering decision: they can keep all of the money for themselves, or give all or part of it to another family in need.

The sum of money they are talking about is $101,000. And the life-altering decision they are faced with is to either keep all the money or to give some portion of it to another family who is also in need. The show basically walks both families through each other’s lives – including sending them to each other’s houses – so that they can make the downright Faustian decision about whether or not they will choose to share their new-found larder with another desperate family.

There are so many things wrong with this show I wasn’t even sure where to start talking about it. So I’ll just dive right in. Take a deep breath.

First of all: The last thing we need is another show wherein the viewer gets to gawk in pity at people who are worse off than the average person watching the show. Can we all just agree that this kind of emotional pornography is not OK and move on? Good.

Secondly: Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS, made over $54 million last year. Which means that he made more in a single day in 2014 than the total amount that each of these families are competing with each other to win. The amount of villainy involved involved in making these people go through an incredibly emotional choice in order to take the scraps from his table is immeasurable.

Thirdly: The people in this show are told that they will be participating in a documentary film about money. Not that they will be faced with a heart-wrenching decision made in the face of another family’s suffering under the weight of crippling debt. Which just… regardless of whether they signed waivers at the end of all this to say that they could, in fact, use the footage made in the taping of the show, still feels shockingly exploitative and fucked up to me.

Forth and finally: In Vulture, Margaret Lyons aptly called what the show is doing “altruism porn,” stating that:

The Briefcase‘s altruism pornography lets us think that shows like this “help.” I mean, those families could have gotten nothing, right? At least this way they have $202,000 between them! Except that’s not what anyone actually cares about, because if it were, this wouldn’t be a TV show: It would be a charity.

If CBS wanted to make a difference in the lives of “hardworking American families experiencing financial setbacks,” they could set up a charity. But they want to be able to watch the agony of these families while they decide whether or not to keep money that would barely even help to lift them out of debt. Over at The Billfold, Nicole Dieker points out that

You might have noticed, in the trailer, that one of the families is $490,000 in debt; $101,000 after taxes is only going to make a small dent in that burden. Likewise, if you aren’t bringing in enough money to support your family, $101,000 may help with your bills but won’t be a long-term solution.

So not only are these people being put into a position to make an impossibly emotional decision regarding the welfare of two families in similarly dire straits, but regardless of whoever gets the money, it’s not even going to really help that much?
If everything else weren’t enough, that’s about the point where I would have to check out of the entire premise of this show. All of the emotional outpourings of these families (one woman becomes so overwrought that she actually vomits) come down to almost nothing when compared with the hideous reality of the struggles they are facing.
I am deeply, profoundly disturbed by the fact that this show exists. After reading so much about it today, I need to go home and spend some quality time watching a kid’s movie and pretending that it doesn’t exist for a few hours.

Sexual violence as a literary device in A Song of Ice and Fire

As a follow up to my post last week on A Song of Ice and Fire and the issue of rape on television, it turns out that Tumblr user Tafkar did an analysis of all of the rape scenes in the books and the television show. Here’s the quick overview of what they found.

Rape acts in Game of Thrones the TV series (to date): 50
Rape victims in Game of Thrones (to date): 29

Rape acts in ASOIAF the book series (to date): 214
Rape victims in ASOIAF (to date): 117

The books contain over 4 times as much rape as the show (and probably even more; the method of analysis likely underestimates the rape in the books).

You can look in the link above for more detail, but be warned, they included somewhat graphic descriptions of some of the things they were discussing, so maybe cuddle a stuffed animal while you read it or just wait until you are in a strong place before going through the whole thing.

I had two thoughts when I was reading Tafkar’s analysis of the preponderance of rape in the books versus the series.

Thought #1: Wow! It’s not just HBO that has a rape problem, George RR Martin has a rape problem too!
Thought #2: I really didn’t remember half the rapes that happened in the books until this person reminded me…

I still stand by the idea that HBO has a rape problem that needs to be addressed. Titillating viewers with scenes of sexual violence or using said sexual violence to turn women into steel-hearted warriors is problematic in the extreme. But then I’ve said all that before.

My new problem now lies with the fact that I genuinely didn’t remember most of the scenes of rape that were mentioned in the books. I think there are two things happening there. The first thing is that GRRM’s prose is so ponderous and agonizing that I did, at times, skip whole pages of exposition in order to keep from falling asleep. So it is likely that I missed one or two rapes in the process. And the second thing that is happening there is that GRRM uses rape so frequently as a set dressing for other, “more important,” things that I became blind to it as a serious recurring theme.

In a way, this sort of mirrors everyday culture. Rape and the culture surrounding rape are so ubiquitous that most people reacting to it with anything more than a shrug seems a rarity nowadays (see shows like SVU for an example of how little fucks are given about sexual violence on television). Between reading stories of female comics who are regularly sexually harassed and even assaulted by their male colleagues while doing their jobs and hearing horror stories from women who have worked in the sex industry about the exploitation that arises in that kind of work. Shit, even just sitting around and talking with friends so often leads to stories about how regularly they are harassed or groped by men on the street, or how many of them have histories of having endured sexual violence. Being surrounded by it every day is a terrible reality of the lives of so many women that my heart sometimes can’t handle it and I just give up and watch a Disney movie.

With all of that, having rape be included in entertainment as some kind of “fun” or meaningful backdrop for male heroism is just a step too far. Anita Sarkeesian did an excellent analysis of this particular trope in video games (that you should totally watch when you have an hour if you haven’t already), but I think that you can apply what she is talking about in those videos to what we see going on in television and books all the time.

One of the biggest arguments that I get in defense of rape in GRRM’s work (either screen or text) are citing some kind of “historical accuracy.” To that I say this:

First of all, I must have missed the part of history that covered goddamn dragons and white walkers. Which, you know, somebody needs to fill me in on, because I am missing out.

Second of all, if you are defending rape used as a lazy writing trope in order to push men to do stuff or to harden women enough so that they can do stuff, you are barking up the wrong goddamn tree with me. The laziness of your favorite writer is not my problem.

Which brings me to my final point. I know rape has happened throughout history. I have a history degree. I know that rape still happens today. I would have to live in a hole to not know that. But here’s the thing: the writers of any given world get to make the rules for that world. They get to show you the things that are happening within it. They can use any manner of things in order to fan the flames of your loyalty with their characters. In other words, just because rape happened doesn’t mean they have to use it. Using rape is a choice. Using rape frequently and with seeming relish is also a choice. It is a choice writers like GRRM and the writers at HBO continue to make. And it is the wrong choice.

Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to think really hard about why they are working so intently on propping up and defending the use of sexual violence against the protests of so many.

Bullying is Bullshit

I went to seven grade schools.

Kindergarten was basically normal. I fingerpainted. My best friend was in the class with me. I remember making paper feathers for a hat at Thanksgiving. It was uncomplicated.

My first grade teacher was evil. We found out later that she wasn’t even qualified to be a teacher. She put children in closets. Including me. She punished you for squirming. I kicked my first boy in the crotch. He would confide in me when we were both 18 that he still possessed a scar. I would tell him that the scar was a lesson that you should listen to girls when they tell you to let them go or leave them alone. Mom moved me because the environment there was so toxic.

I don’t remember much of second grade. I think that it was fine, though. I was bullied, but I don’t remember to what extent. It must have been bad, because Mom moved me to a local Baptist school.

Third grade was the best grade. I was not being bullied. My best friend was in my class. My teacher was red-haired and beautiful. She brought us back cheese from Wisconsin. Someone in the class cut themselves on safety scissors. It was the first time that I had seen blood in that amount. They went home in an ambulance.

In forth grade my teacher was also a Civil War reenactor like my dad. I accidentally told her that I loved her one night when leaving the Civil War museum. She was kind. And warm. And nurturing. Like a favorite aunt. I really did love her.

My best friend left my school in fifth grade. Suddenly the bullying was too much to bear. Girls in my class telling me that I could be the servant when we played princesses on Church days because my dresses were not as nice as theirs… suddenly stung. And my old retreat between a building and a wire fence where I would pretend to be a pilot, sketching out drawings in chalk on the stone and pressing buttons that would take me to Where They Were Not, was profoundly isolating without a co-pilot. My mother elected to move my brother and I to home schooling.

Sixth and seventh grade were spent at home. My dad was my history teacher. I spent hours with my mom out in the woods learning the names of trees and rocks and rivers. I poured over Civil War era maps with my father. I had a few friends from local home schooling groups. One of them had a deer named Dawn who lived in her back yard and would gently take offered grain from my hand. Most of the home schooling groups were fundamentalist Christians, however, and I grew tired quickly of having them tell me that my family was going to Hell. Additionally, I had a hard time adjusting to the idea of my mother as a teacher and respecting her as such. So the decision was made to send me back to school. I did not pass the entrance test for eighth grade, however.

The second go of seventh grade was more difficult than school had been to that point. I was close enough to walk home, but my bully followed me. She whispered death threats in my ear in class and followed me home until, one day, terrified, I threw a metal trash can at her face and ran. After a quarter of the year had gone by, my mother was fed up and I was terrified. The Principle told my mother than I could deal with the problem or get out. We got out.

Seventh grade part three was easier. I was not afraid of what passed for a bully in the new school. She tried to push me down the hill at lunch. I stood stock still and laughed. She made fun of my pads and the boys joined in, so I threw them at the crowd of shrinking boys and they scattered like schools of fish before me. I felt the flavor of future power as I laughed off her pale attempts at playground butchery.

In eighth grade I had a new best friend. I was a little in love with her. I had followed her around the playground and begged her to be my friend. Eventually she would come on vacations with me and my family. I was so grateful to have a friend. And she was so lovely.

In high school my fifth grade bully would find me, now a grade ahead of me because of my having repeated seventh grade. She asked me if she could be my “big sister” and show me the ropes.

I threw my head back and I laughed.

On being an angry feminist, tone policing, and allyship.

When I was at West Chester, I performed in the Vagina Monologues as part of my initiation into left wing feminist lesbianism. Appropriately, I was cast in the role of the “angry” vagina. That particular monologue began with me marching down the center aisle of the theater as intermission wound down and shouting, at the top of my lungs:

“My vagina is ANGRY!”

I went on to explain.

“It is. It’s pissed off. My vagina’s furious and it needs to talk. It needs to talk about all this shit. It needs to talk to you. I mean what’s the deal – an army of people out there thinking up ways to torture my poor-ass, gentle, loving vagina. Spending their days constructing psycho products, and nasty ideas to undermine my pussy. Vagina Motherfuckers.”

I still feel guilty for the woman who was sitting in the front row the first evening who jumped up when I shouted while walking past her. She actually squeaked out the words “Oh dear! I’m sorry!” and then flopped down in her chair.

I’m still angry. I see shit all the time that pisses me off. Even my article from earlier this week was a reaction to things that I was reading that just made me go all Mrs. White in reaction.

Flames... on the side of my face. Heaving... breathless... heaving breaths.
Flames… on the side of my face. Heaving… breathless… heaving breaths.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting mad. I’m pretty sure that getting mad is a prerequisite for getting any kind of change started. And I also think that it’s a pretty natural and acceptable reaction to having someone tell you that your cares or concerns are not valid ones.

But a lot of people seem to think that anger is a bad thing. There’s the trope about the angry feminist or the angry black guy. It’s super damaging to think of anger in that way. Anger is a necessary human emotion. Especially when you spend a lot of time advocating for social justice. But the idea of anger as a bad guy in any given situation gets used maliciously a lot.

For example, here is an argument that I see very often on the internet:

Person 1: *posts a very heartfelt comment about an article relating to an area of social justice that they feel passionately about* Very frequently this person is posting about a group to which they are closely tied (i.e. a woman posting on feminism or a person of color posting on issues having to do with race).
Person 2: *calls into question the relevance of that article* Very frequently this person is someone with  no skin in the game (i.e. a man commenting on feminism or a white person commenting on issues of systemic racism).
Person 1: *responds calmly, explaining the relevance as thoroughly as possible*
Person 2: *calls into question the relevance of the article*
Person 1: *continues calmly explaining, despite rising frustration and anger at being willfully misunderstood*

Persons number 1 & 2 will repeat the last two steps until this happens:

Person 2: *continues to calmly call out the issues raised by the article and/or the relevance of it existing at all*
Person 1: *gets pissed off and starts being snarky or mean or swearing because they have had enough*

Person 2 at this point will say some variation of “why are you so angry?” or “I never called you any names” or “let’s keep it civil.” And at that point, Person 1 might as well just throw in the towel as far as the second person is concerned. Because the second you get visibly angry, you have lost the argument. I don’t necessarily think that is true, but the person who started the whole controversy tends to flounce off at that point, assured in their innocence and suffering at the hands of the big mean social justice warrior or whatever.

Epic eye roll: activate!
Epic eye roll: activate!

The exchange above is an example of tone policing, the whole concept and execution of which makes me super angry, and here’s why. It’s super easy for Person 2 to remain calm. They have no stake in the discussion. Except maybe their own perception that they are somehow losing rights to women or people of color as those groups gain rights. But that’s not how rights work, so we will just ignore that nonsense. But for people whose lived experiences are tied closely to the things they talk about and share with the world, these are not objective issues. They are the solid facts of their everyday world. And having them dismissed out of hand would be enough to make anybody angry.

As a person who frequently plays the role of Person 1 in discussions like this one, I can say that conversations like these are also exhausting. And when the other person persists in putting forth their idea that the very real bullshit you are dealing with in your life does not exist or is not valid for some reason, it’s really hard not to fly off the handle. I’ve gotten better at in recent years, but even now I will admit to having a pretty short fuse when it comes to this kind of obnoxious behavior.

So let me close by saying this: If you see someone somewhere being tone policed, call the person out who is doing the policing. And stand up for the person who is being told that their feelings are somehow invalid because they are frustrated and upset. Having those conversations is exhausting. Defending yourself and your group of humans against relentless attacks on the validity of their concerns is a battle that never seems to end for some segments of our communities.

If you want to be an ally, stand up for the people around you and help lift the burden that they are carrying when you can. Remember that you can safely walk away from conversations that they will spend their entire lives fighting about. So take some of your energy and give it to them if you are able.

Spread the love and support around when you can, kids. It never goes amiss.

GoT Spoiler Alert: Rape


I would call it a spoiler alert if we didn’t all know that it was coming. It’s not so much a spoiler alert as it is a given. Which is depressing.

I should preface what follows by saying that I did not watch the recent Game of Thrones episode wherein yet another decent character gets raped. I didn’t watch it for the same reason that I have not watched the show so far: because I have already done enough harm to my psyche by reading the books. Why on earth would I want to watch again the unsatisfying non-conclusion of hours of torture and severing of limbs and heads and moral compasses? At least a book doesn’t let me hear every excruciating detail of what is being described to me.

It was around the time when Reek came on the scene that I had to put down George RR Martin’s endlessly tormented series and never pick it up again. I did this for several reasons. First of all, after reading four books in the series, I was starting to get really irritated by the torture that was going on, both emotional and physical. Second of all, the description of what was happening to that poor man was egregious and overwhelming in so many ways. It was easily the worst thing that I had read in the series. And finally, and most importantly, I knew there wasn’t going to be any pay off.

Now I know what you’re thinking, we don’t always need a Hollywood Ending where the Hero gets revenge on the Dude Who Wronged Him. And I agree with you. And denying the hero that chance is fine. It’s good, even. Challenging the easy outcome in works of fiction is a really good, powerful thing to do. My problem with GRRM is that he has written over 5,000 pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the chief theme seems to be that the bad guys are going to just kill and fuck up everything that you like with no discernible consequences. I mean, yea, they might kinda be worse people afterward? But they still have money and power and they still keep using it to destroy everything that you love. And after 5,000 pages, that tactic is draining, disheartening, and honestly makes me never want to read a word written by the man ever again.

Needless to say, the combination of GRRM and rape-happy HBO did not leave me thrilled at the prospect of the television series. I watched the first episode or two because I, like many people, could not resist the lure of the lush fantasy world I had invested so much time in being projected on a screen so that I could really see it. I will also admit to being drawn to garbage television, because that is a very real thing in my life.

Needless to say, I was not surprised in the least when they decided to rape Sansa in the show. I mean, how else were they going to make sure that she suffered? Having her father beheaded in front of her and his head paraded around by her sadistic and insane fiance wasn’t bad enough, clearly. Neither was being publicly beaten and humiliated by that fiance. Or being accused of murdering that same dude (which, to be fair, I totally would have actually done). Or having her uncle creep on her. Or being nearly thrown to her death by her insane aunt. Nope. A real strong female character is made strong by the introduction of a man’s penis forcibly inside her. Nothing more, nothing less.

The problem that I have with rape as a plot device is that it feeds into this idea that women need to suffer a specific type of trauma in order to become heroines. They cannot be considered serious contenders unless they have been broken and dehumanized by other characters first, which is, to me, totally unacceptable.

On top of this entire pile of issues with rape as a plot device, the idea that a woman has to be changed into the best version of herself after being brutally violated by a man lights my blood on fire. Like oh, wait, she can’t have just gone through some serious shit, she needs to have a dick inside her before she really decides to play the game. It all goes hand in hand with the idea that women are somehow fundamentally changed – and by “changed,” I mean “devalued” – when they lose their virginity. Which is, of course, horse shit of the highest order.

And if rape isn’t being used in order to destroy a woman enough so that she can be justified in her role as a cut throat contender for The Big Plot Thing of a given story, it’s being used in order to motivate a male character to kill other men so that he can be a contender for The Big Plot Thing. So women are either raped into being cutthroat contenders, or raped as a plot device to anger men enough into making change happen.

Good. Great. Glad we covered all of that. And you wonder why we need feminism.

TL; DR: Rape as a plot device is lazy, played out, sensationalist, ratings-hungry bullshit.