Category Archives: Violence Against Women

Stop Street Harassment

Since Feminist Activism aims to be the intersection of feminism and strategic nonviolent action, it makes sense that the idea of intersectionality is deeply rooted in everything I do. Nothing exists in a vacuum, so taking one’s gender, race, age, ability, religion, location etc. into account when trying to understand a given situation is a must. This understanding of intersectionality is crucial to a feminist lens and it is with this lens that I will soon be writing in another venue. I have recently had the honor to  be chosen to blog with Stop Street Harassment for the next few months!

tlynnOnce a month from now through April I and other activist writers will contribute to the discussion of street harassment in our corners of the world and ways we can work together to stop it. I will still be writing here at Feminist Activism too, have no fear! But I will also be linking to my articles on the SSH blog. If you would like to share your ideas of how to stop street harassment or tell your own stories feel free to do so in the comments, or by emailing FeministSNVA@gmail.com. You can also tweet @StopStHarassmnt and @FeministSNVA to add to the conversation. Thank you all for your continued love and support!


You Might Be a Rapist

I know the title is startling, unless you read it in your best Jeff Foxworthy voice, but I gotta get your attention somehow. *Trigger Warning: please contact RAINN for help* And if it made you think twice about that one encounter you had in college with someone who was way drunk, or that time you pressured someone into doing something they weren’t comfortable with, you might be a rapist.

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Since the New Year is quickly approaching and making resolutions is a thing people do I thought I’d make a list for you of things that may make you a sexual predator, so you can be sure to not do them in your lifetime. Heregoes, you might be a rapist:

  • If you think you have a “right” to have sex with anyone, including your spouse
  • If you think what I’m wearing means I want to have sex with you
  • If you think you’re owed sex for buying coffee or a drink or dinner
    bad date
  • If you stare, grunt, yell, honk or touch yourself when looking at someone you find attractive
  • If you masturbate to Toddlers and Tiaras *pedophile rapist*
  • If you think “nice tits” is an appropriate compliment for anyone other than your partner (who does not object to it)
  • If you think it is complimentary to harass strangers in public
  • If you feel compelled to only compliment strangers of the gender(s) to which you are attracted
  • If you date people with whose race/ethnicity you don’t identify because you think they’re “easier”  *racist rapist*
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  • If you use the word easy to describe people
  • If you prefer porn where someone is “asleep” or looks like they are actively being violently and non-consensually assaulted
  • If you think an underage girl is a predator preying on older men, is equally responsible for her assault or has any age other than her biological age *pedophile rapist*
  • If you think someone has to have sex with you to prove they love you
  • If you use diminutive pet words when talking to people in the service industry
  • If you refuse to use condoms/birth control… Assange *cough*
    prison-rape-ad
  • If you think prisons are funny
  • If you think high school football and/or football players are more important than women’s bodily integrity
  • If you LOVE American Apparel ads
  • If you believe that “real rape” is when a black man jumps out of the bushes with a gun and rapes a white woman *racist rapist*
  • If you think rape survivors whom you don’t find attractive (ie. larger, older or disabled) should be grateful
  • If you don’t take survivors’ stories seriously
  • If you think that successful, attractive men couldn’t rape anyone
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  • If you support celebrities, politicians and international icons who are running from the law because of sexual assault charges
  • If you threaten people with rape when you don’t like what they say
  • If you think male-identified people can’t be/aren’t raped and assaulted
  • If you inversely judge men and women by the number of sex partners they’ve had
  • If you think that testing rape kits for DNA evidence is wasteful or should not be a priority for the justice system
  • If you think our legal system brings justice for survivors of assault
  • If in college you chanted about raping someone’s underage sister
    smu-frosh-chant
  • If you don’t recognize that someone drunk, sleeping or terrified cannot consent to sex
  • If you think “I know you want it” is a pick-up line
  • If you don’t take no for an answer
  • If you pester someone until their no is a “fine!”
  • If you think silence = consent
  • If you joke about rape
  • If you think rape is a women’s issue

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Ok, certainly many of these things do not actually make you a rapist, but they do absolutely make you an active, encouraging participant in rape culture, so stop it! Nothing but equality and enthusiastic consent will do!

Happy Holidays loves and remember: everyone’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, (dis)ability, class and age all factor in to how rape culture works for or against them, so check your privilege.

 


Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Except Human Rights

You’re probably all really tired of hearing about Texas and our legislator’s stupidity so this will be my last post lamenting it for a while.

I know not everyone has a Twitter account but if you do, dear readers, I hope you saw Feminist Activism’s tweets this month on #OrangeDay, violence against women and slut-shaming. I must confess that I have been more active (but still not very) on Twitter this month because I have just been too tired to write a proper blog. There’s still so much that happened at the Capitol this summer that I want to share with you all, stories and pictures and testimonies, but I definitely burnt myself out on it. I’m also afraid I may be burning you out on Reproductive Justice since there are obviously so many other things to talk about too, like terrible Halloween costume ideas! I can’t promise you that this post will be the last one on RJ for a while, but I can promise you that no matter what I’m writing here, in my personal life I am always fighting The Patriarchy in every way I can. And just to appease you here are a few of my favorite signs from the Rally at the Capitol on July 2nd.

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One of many signs I made for the rally

One of many signs I made for the rally

As long-time readers know I am an abortion provider and work for a non-profit fighting domestic violence IRL. With the laws that went into effect this summer my reality in the doctor’s office has already changed profoundly. With women seeking the medical or pill-based abortion now force to use the outdated and less-effective FDA-approved method for taking Mifeprex and Misoprostol the cost and time commitment have increased exponentially. And until these laws reach the Supreme Court the fate of millions of Texas women who are seeking abortion will be up in the air. I am thrilled we will still be able to provide the same excellent standard of surgical care we have been since 1976,  and I hope will all my heart that our legacy of trusting women is allowed to continue. I know this isn’t the kind of in-depth feminist analysis you’ve come to expect from me and I apologize for that, but even superheroines need a break sometimes.

At this time I’d like to open the floor for topics you, dear readers, would like to see me delve into. Let me know what moves you in the comments!

 


Terrific Tenacity in Texas

Wednesday September 25th, 2013 was the evening the Lilith Fund celebrated its 10th Annual Reproductive Equity Awards, honoring those who fought for Reproductive Justice in the recent past. This year’s winners were all familiar faces: representatives Jessica Ferrar, Dawnna Dukes and Mary Gonzalez, and activists Brittany Yelverton, Jessica Luther and Andrea Grimes. Each of these women was an integral part of the fight against abortion restrictions here in Texas this summer, and their speeches reminded everyone present how special it was to have thousands of concerned citizens band together at the Capitol. Although I am not a native Texan I could not be more proud of the women of Texas had I been born here. 

Heroes in the fight for Reproductive Justice

Heroes in the fight for Reproductive Justice

Tuesday June 25th I arrived at the Capitol, eager to hear new feminist icon Wendy Davis filibuster her way into history. At 4PM the line to get into the gallery already wound around the rotunda and down the stairs, and it would only get longer from there. 

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20130625_210517I joined my friends and colleagues in the auditorium serving as the overflow room and hunkered down for the evening. Politics is a lot more fun when you get to cheer and shout and commiserate with those around you. Who needs a gallery!? Davis had to delay vote on the bill until after midnight, when it would expire. There are many excellent accounts of what transpired during Davis’ filibuster, but my most vivid memory is the people’s filibuster, the last 15 minutes of the night when the Republicans decided to call the vote.

Something stinks. And it's sure not Wendy Davis.

Something stinks. And it’s sure not Wendy Davis.

The line to the gallery swam from the third floor around the rotunda, down the staircase and around and down to the first floor. When the hour was approaching my fellow activists in Get Equal Texas and I went up to the third floor to check the scene out. The left side of the hallway was open, so we walked directly up to the doors of gallery, where we were met by State Troopers who told us no one was going in and no one was coming out.

Get Equal Texas

#StandwithTXWomen

#StandwithTXWomen

We stood there, waiting, as a crowd gathered behind us, a sea of humanity, waiting, holding our collective breath. Before too long the entire hallway was jammed full of people in orange, going crazy with the pent-up feeling that “WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!” I was standing at the threshold of the door, holding onto a brass railing for the few steps that lead into the gallery itself, with the crowd nudging me forward. The drone of people talking in the hallway sounded like a beehive, and when a State Trooper grabbed me by the arm to force me away from the stairs all I could hear was Tiffani by my side shouting “SIT!” as she linked arms with me. So we sat, arms linked, and others from Get Equal Texas sat too, then more and more people near the doors sat, until it was clear to the Troopers that we weren’t going anywhere. #StandWithWendy became #SitWithWendy and people throughout the Capitol were staging a spontaneous sit-in. Then the texts came in from friends in the gallery telling us to make noise….

And make noise we did.

Lead by Brittany Yelverton, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas’ Community Organizer, the hundreds of us crammed into that hallway chanted, clapped, stomped, booed, and screamed our bloody hearts out. We had sounded the alarm for every person in that giant building who cared about human rights, and for fifteen full minutes we gave everything we had, thousands of us, crying out for justice. And it worked!

Unruly Mob

The clock struck midnight and we kept screaming, just to make sure we weren’t imagining things. Of course the politicians played their dirty tricks and changed the time stamp on the official documents to show that a vote in favor of the bill had taken place before midnight even amongst the chaos, but too many intelligent citizen journalists around the country had already taken screen shots showing that the vote did not take place before the deadline.

Total hours at the Capitol: 9

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We were satisfied with ourselves but as you know it wasn’t enough to stop the bill for good, so in the words of the late, great Governor Ann Richards “I’m hardly satisfied. I’m outraged most of the time.”

Join us next time for continued coverage of Texas women’s tenacity. There’s a lot more to come, I promise you.


Tedious Tastelessness in Texas

© David Thomas Photography

© David Thomas Photography

I’ve had my ear to the ground regarding these pieces of anti-choice legislation since the legislative session started, since this is the biggest attack on my personal human rights and bodily integrity I have ever faced, and the last gem of the previous post (ASC requirements) is one that could put me out of work. The dates and days and nights in orange at the Capitol became a blur, and I am still physically and emotionally trying to recover from these “Special” Sessions. I’ve gotta rest up so I can get back out there again for the THIRD! Thank science for time stamps so I can tell you that my journey into this fray started with a simple sidewalk protest on Monday June 17th, around 5pm, just as I was becoming aware that orange is now the color of Reproductive Justice. I made a sign that read: 

Perry, Perry you’re so scary
You’ve hit an all-time low
You took our voice, we have no choice
And you forgot all about Roe!

Total hours at the Capitol: 2

One of the overflow rooms teeming with Texans for Reproductive Justice

One of the overflow rooms teeming with Texans for Reproductive Justice

Thursday June 20th me and my co-workers from both of my jobs, as well as another 700+ pro-woman Austinites, spent our afternoons and evenings at the Reagan building, testifying against the First Special Session omnibus bills in the House. That night supporters from all over the nation bought pizza and coffee and donuts for us so we could carry on into the wee hours of the morning.  Since anyone in the testimony room had to respect all 175 pages of the rules of “decorum” jazz hands were initiated there. After waiting from 6pm to testify, when the Chair shut the whole thing down sometime after midnight for being “repetitive,” I just walked up and gave them the punchline to my testimony. And shortly after I left some vagilante male allies shone the bat signal for all the world to see. “Let her speak!” became our rallying cry and the #CitizensFilibuster was officially underway.

Total hours at the Capitol: ±6

Come when you can, wear orange, stay 'till the end!

Come when you can, wear orange, stay ’till the end!

Sunday June 23rd I waited in line with many other eager Texans in orange to bear witness to the Texas House of Representatives debate the Senate omnibus bill. I arrived around 1:30pm.  The House recessed for a long while, during which lots of us in orange, the #TangerineVagilantes and #FeministArmy gathered in the rotunda to chant, clap, stomp and hold up our ever-witty signage. 

Orange Line

The line to get in to the Capitol on June 23, 2013

The discussion had started with House Dems debating whether they were dealing with calendar days or legislative days, to which Austin’s own RH Reality Check Reporter Andrea Grimes tweeted, “We can laugh about counting calendar days, but when #txlege outlaws birth control, that’s a skill we’ll all need to bone up on. #hb60.” The House didn’t reconvene until around 6:30pm, I think. So I gathered with the raucous bunch in the auditorium overflow room, which was just as well, since we didn’t have to abide by decorum. 

She understands. She was alive pre-Roe.

She understands. She was alive pre-Roe.

I had to go to work from 4:45 to midnight but my co-workers and I (at a domestic violence non-profit) were watching the Texas Tribune live feed and guffawing at the risk of arrest for jazz hands and the ridiculousness that is ALEC’s newest It Girl pawn, “Representative” Jodie Laubenberg and #OtherThingsRapeKitsDo, and cheering for Representative Thompson hanging a hanger from her mic to punctuate her speech. By that time #TXlege #StandWithTXWomen (and variants) and #HB60 were also trending worldwide on Twitter.

Woo Wu!!!

Woo Wu!!!

I returned to the Capitol just after midnight and was in the gallery to see Representative Wu kicking ass. Kudos to Farrar, Dukes, Wu, Menendez, Lee, Mary Gonzalez, Dutton, Eddie Rodriguez, Howard, Burnam, Naishtat, Turner, Thompson and others for killing it on the floor and battling for women’s reproductive justice. Intersectionality at its finest. And kudos to the thousands of people who donated water, food, coffee and good vibes to keep us all going!

20130623_150911The reason we needed to prolong this process as much as possible, why hundreds of us came to add our voices at the Committee hearing and why our tireless Dems threw question after question around, was that the first special session was scheduled to end at midnight on Tuesday. If we could delay the vote on the bill so much that the legislature literally ran out of time, we would win, at least for a little while….

As predicted the bill did get through this second reading around 3:30am, so my activist friends and I from Get Equal Texas encouraged everyone leaving the gallery to stop on the 2nd floor outside where the representatives normally enter/exit so we could shame them to their faces. I led the charge with a classic borrowed from the LGBTQAI movement: I am somebody! And I deserve full equality! From there a huge contingent of people stood chanting pro-choice slogans like My Body, My Choice and We Won’t Go Back! The kicker was everyone getting fired up and chanting “Shame!” until some of the Reps who spoke up for us came out to thank us. That was the night I learned to use Twitter for real. 

Stairwells flooded with hope

Stairwells flooded with hope

Total hours at the Capitol: ±7.5

Stay tuned for the next exciting post on Texas’ woman problem: Wendy Davis’ filibuster.


Terrible Tragedy in Texas

The past month has been a whirlwind here in Texas, with severe, unnecessary and unconstitutional abortion restrictions being shoved down the people’s throat in the SECOND special session of the Texas legislature, to the tune of $800,000, called by our brainless leader Rick Perry. This post is the first in what will be a series describing my personal experiences in fighting for Reproductive Justice in Texas. 

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HB-1 and SB-2 have been signed into law already. They have four parts that combined make abortion almost completely inaccessible for the women who need them most. The first three parts, barring judicial action, will go into effect 90 days after Perry signed them. The fourth will go into effect in September 2014.

The 20-week “fetal pain” ban has been touted as “reasonable” by some but the current science does not show that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, rather it does show that with very few exceptions, a fetus is not viable outside the womb until roughly 24 weeks. And in a disgusting play of politics Texas legislators refused to consider exceptions for victims of rape or incest or women dealing with “severe mental health issues.” The only exceptions legislators conceded were if the woman’s life was in immediate physical danger (and to be clear, the author of AB-1 doesn’t believe a woman threatening to kill herself qualifies as immediate physical danger,) or if the fetus had such a severe abnormality that it would die within hours or days of being born. This language excludes parents from terminating a pregnancy where the baby would die within a week of being born, of course with the guise of the “health and safety of women” as their house-of-mirrors reasoning.  

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This new law also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility where they would be practicing. This portion of the law is a blatant attempt to restrict how doctors practice medicine with regard to abortion. To earn admitting privileges a doctor must perform a requisite number of surgeries every year which result in a patient being admitted to the hospital for care afterwards. For abortion providers this requirement means they must be working outside the abortion spectrum because abortion has one of the lowest complication rates of any surgery. And the decision of whether to grant admitting privileges to a doctor or not lies solely with the hospital. The doctor has no recourse if s/he is being discriminated against for the type of medicine s/he practices.

Additionally, doctors must now follow the outdated FDA protocol for administering the medications Mifeprex and Misoprostol to induce a medical abortion. As it stood many providers followed protocol approved by the National Abortion Federation, which calls for the patient to receive one pill of Mifeprex in the doctor’s office and then be sent home with four pills of Misoprostol which she would insert buccally (between the lip and gums) 24-48 hours after the Mifeprex. FDA protocol requires a patient to take three Mifeprex in the office and return two days later to insert two Misoprostol vaginally (a practice with higher incidences of infection) before going home to pass the pregnancy. Both protocols require the doctor to urge the patient to return for a follow up exam in roughly two weeks. The differences may not sound severe but FDA protocol would make this process nearly three times more expensive, and with Texas’ mandatory 24 hour waiting period after an ultrasound, would make for four separate days a woman would need to find childcare, take time off work, and drive or be driven to the Ambulatory Surgical Center.

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That’s right, the fourth prong of this law would require that even the administration of medications that induce abortions be performed in an Ambulatory Surgical Center. Don’t look for a logical reason behind that one, it absolutely doesn’t exist. In fact, there’s nothing logical or reasonable about anything in this legislation. The physical requirements for an office to be considered an Ambulatory Surgical Center include things like, having both men’s and women’s locker rooms, sterile ventilation systems, back-up generators, painted cement floors and hallways wide enough to spin a gurney. All of which are completely unnecessary to providing safe abortion care. Abortion is already at minimum 10 times safer than childbirth, and women are “allowed” to do that in their own living rooms. This provision alone is likely to cause 37 of the state’s 42 abortion providers to close their doors. And, combined with requiring admitting privileges, has the possibility of shutting down nearly all of Texas’ abortion providers, leaving our vast state with one destination for women who need to terminate, much like Mississippi or North Dakota. The glaring difference, obviously, is the huge size of the state and the overwhelming population of women of reproductive age in Texas.

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Here are some basic facts on abortion in the United States, just in case you were wondering what about this procedure that more than one-third of all American women experience by age 45 is so scary.

  • Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended
  • 42% of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level
  • 27% have incomes between 100-199% of the federal poverty level
  • 1/3 of all women seeking abortions travel more than 25 miles to access services
  • 54% of women who have abortions were using contraception when they became pregnant
  • 61% of women who have abortions are already mothers with at least one child at home
  • 88% of abortions occur before 12 weeks in the pregnancy
  • Nearly 60% of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money
  • Fewer than 0.3% of abortions result in the patient being hospitalized for complications  
  • In 2006, publicly funded family planning services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions.  

In my next post I’ll get into my experiences at the Capitol. Be good to yourselves, dear readers, and love one another. 

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My Right to Bodily Autonomy

SA Awareness & Prevention Month

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence* Take care of yourself. If you need to talk to someone, contact RAINN.

Meet Us On The StreetThis week, April 7-13, is International Anti-Street Harassment Week and April is both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Abortion Wellbeing Month, an overlap that is very personal to me. I have been harassed on the street more times than I can count. I am a survivor of sexual assault, rape and childhood sexual abuse. I am also an abortion provider. Though these might not seem to have anything to do with each other, since my assaults thankfully did not result in pregnancy, they are intrinsically linked. Each assault I have endured and the violence I face as an abortion provider are affronts to my right to bodily autonomy. My tragedies, however, have shaped who I am as an individual: I am a warrior for equality.

Not Public SpaceThe restricting of access to abortion and sexual assault both serve one purpose–to control women by controlling their bodies. For women in the United States and around the world to be well, to be whole, equal and productive citizens women must first have the right to control their own bodies. The right to say no to unwanted physical contact and the right to make informed decisions about what medical procedures we choose to undergo are basic human rights. If I have sex and get pregnant and do not want to continue to be pregnant, I have the right to terminate the pregnancy because my body is mine alone and the responsibility for caring for the pregnancy would be mine alone. If I am a stranger, if I say no, if I stay silent, if I am crying, you have no right to my body. Consent is sexy and only an emphatic YES! means yes.

If rape were audible

While hapless pundits wonder if violence against women is something that women really worry about, from Stubenville, Ohio to Delhi, India rape and sexual assault happen every moment of every day all around the world.

Laugh:Kill- M Atwood

And each attack transforms its victim and its perpetrator. The healing process for survivors can be long and painful but so many initiatives now exist to put an end to sexual violence that the tides may be turning. Women in Kenya have filed a lawsuit against their government for failing to protect them from rape! From tackling street harassment with Meet Us On The Street and Hollaback! to a mom taking on Facebook‘s “controversial humor” pages glorifying sexual violence to Denim Day to the No More, Who Are You? and Where is Your Line? campaigns to comics and cell phone apps, more and more people are realizing that the strength of our numbers will ultimately win.

Not in Kansas

Unfortunately in the US abortion rights are backsliding.

If men could get pregnant

While France has made contraception and abortion free for all women, here in the US we are still fighting for the right to buy prescriptions for birth control at our local pharmacies. North Dakota has banned abortion after 6 weeks, has only one abortion provider AND has a 72 hour waiting period. Ohio is working to make abortion illegal, as is Alabama. Iowa is trying to restrict abortion access for female inmates. Texas is seriously thinking about making it that much harder to get an abortion.  Kansas lawmakers have been granted the right to lie to their patients and disrespect rape victims while making all abortion basically illegal. And Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina are in on this racket too. Sadly, recent news has shown us, as has history time and again, that without access to abortion women die. The United Nations has recently declared that denying abortions is tantamount to torture.

ResponsibilitySome states are defending Reproductive Justice; Oregon is considering a bill that would require Crisis Pregnancy Centers (non-medically licensed religiously affiliated centers that lie to women to prevent them from having abortions) to disclose what services they actually offer and comply with federal medical regulations regarding patient confidentiality. Also, Washington is trying to mandate insurance coverage for abortion care, and New York is attempting to broaden the availability of abortion. One recent victory for women in the US is the ruling that Emergency Contraception, also known as Plan B or The Morning After Pill, must be made available over-the-counter for all women. Health professionals and activists have been fighting for this for years and even though some states still oppose regular daily oral contraceptives, making EC more available will reduce abortion rates, which ultimately is everyone’s goal. And though Christian and Republican arguments against birth control and EC defy logic, it is a reasonable assumption that if everyone had access to comprehensive sex education and contraception that the rates of unintended pregnancy, and by default abortion, would be lower. The voice of reason now, our voices, must be heard if we want to see any change in this War on Women.

Fierce FloresOne courageous lawmaker this week, Assemblymember Lucy Flores (D-Nevada), disclosed to the public that she has had an abortion. Her compelling personal story of abortion being a positive life-changing experience for her comes at a time when most women would never dream of telling anyone they had an abortion. Though more than 1/3 of all American women will have an abortion at least once by age 45, a good 80% of my patients believe they don’t know anyone else who has had an abortion. The trepidation that women feel at disclosing this is both maddening and understandable: Flores has received death threats since admitting she does not regret having an abortion. This stifling of choice, and backlash against women who exercise their legal right to abortion, is one more spark igniting violence against women in the United States.

North Dakota

If we want equality, and I know some people don’t, we must respect women. We must respect women’s right to bodily autonomy. If women’s bodily autonomy were respected the rates of sexual assault would plummet, and women who have abortions would not be demonized for their choices. For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, share resources with your friends, be supportive of those who have been assaulted, speak out against rape jokes, and volunteer with or donate to your local rape crisis center. For Abortion Wellbeing Month, share your stories with your friends, be supportive of women or couples facing unwanted pregnancies, speak out against politicians interfering in medicine, and volunteer as an escort at your local clinic, or donate to your local abortion fund. Below are some tips on respecting bodily autonomy: what constitutes consent and how male allies can get in on the good fight and stop rape and street harassment. As always any comments, links, ideas and critiques are welcome as long as they are respectful and constructive. Carry on, dear reader, the fight for human rights needs you!

Only Yes Means Yes

Teach Men Not to Rape

6 Things Men Can Do To Stop Street Harassment


Is Violence the Answer?

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I am so sick and tired of being treated like public property by men who feel entitled to my body when I leave my house. I wish my first post during Women’s History Month was more uplifting but I really have to ask, and I wish my feminist foremothers were here to give me an answer: What do you do when you are publicly harassed/groped/sexually assaulted?

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Obviously this post is the result of a personal issue but of course the personal is political so my story is that of countless billions of other women in the world too. Just today a black woman of roughly my age, waiting for the same bus as me, was being “talked up” by a mid-50s white guy. She clearly wasn’t interested and yet he kept talking at her. I nearly interjected, “Bro, she doesn’t want to talk to  you.” But by persistently ignoring him she eventually shut him up. I know she wasn’t interested by the look on her face, and because I know exactly how she felt because not 15 minutes earlier at the same stop another old white guy came up to me.

“Can I ask you a question?EndingStreetHarassment
“Mmhmm.” (Hoping it would be about what number bus, etc.)
“Why is your hair so much better than mine? (He was bald)
“Genes.” (And a fake, fuck off smile)
“Hahaha, exactly. You are beautiful.”

Fuck man, seriously?!? I can’t just wait for the fucking bus without you feeling like you have to tell me that I live up to your socially constructed beauty standards? And I’m sick, not wearing make up, covered from head to toe because I’m cold and wearing sunglasses and headphones. How much clearer could, “Don’t talk to me” get? It shouldn’t surprise me though because yesterday a young white guy started talking at me as he approached the bus stop where I was sitting and did the same thing. I had headphones on (my normal defense mechanism against misogyny and douchbaggery) so I didn’t hear the first part of his ode, but once he was close enough I heard “You’re absolutely gorgeous.” And then he disappeared around the corner. What the fuck was the point of that!?!?

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If you’re going to compliment someone, wait until you get their attention, if they don’t seem utterly annoyed that you’ve pulled them away from their music/book/laptop/phone, proceed with your compliment, then wait for an appropriate response.

You may be thinking, what’s the big deal, guys think you’re pretty, it’s a compliment, just be thankful. I refuse to be thankful that my body is not considered my own, and that simply because I am a woman I am subject to harassment when I enter public space. The very same thought process that says, be thankful, is the one that condones and promotes rape culture and victim blaming, after all, women want it, right?

Cycle of Insecure Cultures

Here’s the example that prompted today’s blog of fury. I was sitting on a crowded bus with my bag in the window seat next to me. A young black man comes up and says something while pointing at the seat. Headphones on I have no idea what he said but I grab my bag and get up so he can sit. Once he sits he spreads his legs so that he’s taking up half my seat and is holding onto the outside of his pocket so that he brushes my thigh until I scoot so far over that half of my ass is off my seat. He tries to talk to me, I pretend I can’t hear him, use my phone and silently beg the universe to let another seat open so I can get away from him. He pulls something out of his pocket and taps me with it. I take out my left headphone to hear him offer my what appears to be grape-flavored lip gloss. I say, “No. Thanks,”  and put my headphone back in. Finally the universe listens and a bunch of people get off the bus.

deal with it

I move over into the same row on the other side of the aisle, with my bag again in the window seat. He is staring at me, and with Austin traffic for the kite festival he has all the time in the world. I make it a point to look out the window on my side, trying desperately not to look at him, engage him or let him know how uncomfortable I am. Out of the corner of my eye I’m fairly sure he’s masturbating but I don’t dare look. The rage and sadness and fear that I felt meant that if I had seen him my reaction would have been violent, and I try so hard to practice peace in my personal life. Once the frantic movement across the aisle stopped I quickly glanced his direction only to see him flash open his jacket. Luckily I was just glancing or I probably would have seen more than I should have.

By this time nearly everyone else has gotten off the bus and since it was on detour I feared my stop was coming up soon. I was genuinely afraid he was going to follow me off the bus, so I went to the bus driver and asked her if the detour would indeed go where I needed to. She said it would but it would be another 45 minutes. Then I told her I thought the guy was masturbating and her face was a mix of anger, sadness and understanding. “I’m so sorry honey,” she said. “Who is it?” I clarified and when he didn’t get off at the next stop she called back to him, “Are you ok?” He responded and then got off at the next stop. She asked, “Was that the one?” and I confirmed it and she apologized again. After that it was a long but uneventful ride.

street-harassment

My question to you–and please give me answers–is this: What is the appropriate response when a stranger stares at you? Circles the block to look you up and down as you wait for the bus? Tells you you’re beautiful or you’re working your boots or there’s a party you should come to or you’re got a slammin’ ass or vulgarly suggests you do something sexual to him? What is the appropriate response when a stranger touches you? When he jacks off at you?

Because in those moments, violence is the only response I have been able to fantasize, so instead I just ignore them and let a piece of my soul die.

 

stop street harassment

hhhhsss

 


Ode to Street Harassers

Freedom of speech?
How about freedom of the streets?
You’re free to get your dick sucked
So how am I not free to breathe?

All your “Hey babys!” are leaving me weak in the knees.

But it’s not in a good way
It’s not how you want
Because cat calls in general
Just feel like taunts

When you yell from your car
Or whistle in the street
What you’re really saying is:

“This place is for me.”

Women and girls treated like property
And your attitude towards us leaves our souls in poverty.

Everyday we face you
Everyday we hate you
Everyday we wish
We wish
We wish we could erase you!

Ok maybe not you, that’s taking it too far
But your ideas and your sexism spewed from afar.

Do you get it now, how unsafe we feel?

Street harassment is hate and your hatred is real.

So what can you do, how can you help?
Speak up!
Speak out!
Tell your boys how it felt
To know that your words
About sexy and hot
Make us feel like victims

When that’s something we’re not.

Sexism kills
In more ways than one
So stop street harassment
‘Cause this shit ain’t fun.

 


The Gendered Privileges of Emotions

Anger is the emotion of the privileged.

There. I said it.

meme-privilegeIf you’re not familiar with the politics of privilege, it’s basically the idea that with certain categories of humanness come certain privileges, or gifts. For example, being white in the USA means never feeling like people with a skin color comparable to yours are not well represented on television. Too abstract? How about this, being a cis-man in the US means you have the privilege of using a bathroom designated for men without fear someone will be violent with you because you chose to use that restroom. Ok, ok, here’s an easy one, being rich in America means you have the privilege of going to the doctor when you’re sick.

This entry isn’t about privilege in general though. Much has been written about white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, white heterosexual male privilege, and even how to talk about privilege. In the US, generally speaking, white, Christian, heterosexual, non-disabled, middle-to-upper class, cis-men hold the most privilege, and anyone falling into any of those categories holds some. If you really want to get into it read the article up there on the politics of privilege. Hell, just google any identifier + privilege and marvel at the results. What I want to focus on here is the ways in which expressing specific emotions in American society are privileged according to gender.

In dominant American culture masculinity and femininity (as if there is only one of each) are opposites and thus the people who are “supposed to” embody these characteristics are also opposites, i.e. men vs. women. Name some characteristic emotions of women or femininity. Go ahead, I won’t be offended.

Ok, maybe I will be, but that’s not your fault, it’s society’s, so if you’re helping to change socially constructed gender roles, don’t worry about it, lots of things offend me. Moving on.

What emotions would you prescribe for this baby?

What emotions would you prescribe for this baby?

Emotions normally associated with women: sadness, fear, love.

Happiness seems to be the only gender-neutral emotion, which is awesome, since happiness is what everyone deserves.

Emotions normally associated with men: anger. Full stop.

I know you’re thinking, “Men are allowed and even expected to love too.” Yes, but not as much as women. Men are expected to tell a crying son to keep his chin up, and never to tell their male friends they love them. (Just think about how much crap a guy in high school gets for writing a love poem for his girlfriend!) Men who are loving are often subject to ridicule and emasculated because obviously the worst thing you can call a man is a woman. Some of the world’s most influential men–John Lennon, Gandhi, MLK Jr. and JFK–were all assassinated for telling people to love one another. How much nicer would the world be if everyone could and would express all the love they really feel?!

Newton PoliceNow, when it comes to negative emotions like sadness, women hold nearly all the cards. Women are stereotyped as overly emotional and thus are expected, or at least allowed, to cry, scream and become “hysterical” from sadness. Men are not allowed to cry because they are sad or scream because they are scared. Again, much of the time either reaction (no matter how primal) will result in being ridiculed for expressing something “feminine.” Obviously there are exceptions to every rule like this heartbreaking photo of police officers embracing after clearing the scene at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. But exceptions do not make the rule.

Sentencing differencesWomen, on the other hand, are not allowed to express anger. According to some prominent politicians, anger is not ladylike. Indeed even police officers, judges and the legal system as a whole are much more comfortable seeing women in the victim role rather than as aggressors, as evidenced by the generally ridiculous sentences many women receive when they kill an abuser in self-defense. Sometimes the sentences are the result of a lack of knowledge that domestic violence is not always physical, but even in a high profile murder case the victim’s reality is often overshadowed. In some states even sentencing for first-time non-violent offenders is absurd. Women’s incarceration rates have grown over 600% since 1980, a direct result of the War on Drugs and punitive Three Strikes laws, while abuse of women in prisons is rampant across the nation.

Obviously a considerably higher percentage of prison inmates are men. While it does seem that statistically men just commit more crimes than women, this is directly due to the thinking that says that masculinity must be expressed through overt displays of power and domination and often the kind of anger and aggression that lead to violence. Men are allowed to be angry, yell, beat their chests, use threatening language, and even commit overt acts of violence. In any situation though it is the person or people in power who have the privilege of getting angry: marginalized voices are not allowed to yell. Indeed when women do express anger they are chastised and labeled man-hating feminist lesbians. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, (well, except for the hating part, that gets us nowhere) but dividing marginalized groups is the easiest way for dominant groups to retain their power.

Despite the fact that the public is generally more comfortable seeing men as violent and women as victims, even when women are frequently sexually assaulted they receive little to no help, are put on trial for their sexual histories and rarely get justice. There are lots of us working to end domestic violence and sexual assault, and you can do your part too, by demanding the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. As we leave behind the wonder and horror of 2012 I wish you all a happy, equal 2013. Have a safe New Year’s celebration and do your damnedest to break out of the cage!

Regardless where any of us sits in this picture, we are all inside the cage.

Regardless where any of us sits in this picture, we are all inside the cage.

 


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