Tag Archives: Violence

Is Violence the Answer?

public artwork

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?

street-harassment-comic

 

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!?!?

jess_fink_comic.JPG1_

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

 


The Damning Effects of Militarization

Militarization is the process of making society believe that violence, especially war, is an effective way to solve conflict to the point that any nonviolent attempt to solve conflict is snidely dismissed as ineffective, liberal, feminine, sissy or a whole host of other derogatorily used terms. The global problem of militarization takes different forms in every country, and even within each community. In Israel and Palestine troops attack women protesting the occupation. In Colombia women are participants and victims of violence perpetrated at every level of society. In Uganda those participating in the Walk to Work protest have been met with tear gas and bullets by the government’s security forces. I should be upfront here and say flat-out that I am very far left in my ideas of effective government: I don’t believe in borders or states. Imagine if the $553 billion defense bill just approved by the House was money spent on education, or healthcare, or ending violence….

Militarization is a gender issue. A gender issue is anything that disproportionately affects men, women, boys, girls and/or intersex or transgender adults or youth. Therefore, because militarization has a hugely disproportionate effect on men, men’s violences, and masculinities, it is a gender issue. It is also a gender issue in that anything defined as masculine can only be defined in opposition to that which is feminine, and because militarization of a given society negatively impacts men’s attitudes towards and treatment of women.

Many right-wing misogynists claim that feminists hate men, or that gender issues are only women’s issues, but militarization is a prime example of the genuine concern for well-being that many feminists around the world have for men who are part of the military. In graduate school one of my most influential professors, Dr. Sara Sharratt, opened my eyes to a reality that is often denied: killing people is not natural for anyone, male or female; men must be trained to kill. And as her work as a psychologist working with soldiers returning from war taught her, many men react negatively to having killed someone. The stress, trauma and horror that soldiers endure in battle is much too high a price for the false promise of “protecting freedom.”

Here in Turkey males are required by law to serve in the military, reinforcing the idea that there is honor in using violence. The belief in the effectiveness of violence is so strong in Turkey that even liberal, feminist groups condone the use of violence in protests and do not see the need or efficacy of strategic nonviolent action. Very few groups speak out against militarization here. One effect of this belief is that, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, 47% of women in Turkey experience some kind of physical or sexual intimate partner violence within their lifetimes, regardless of education, class, religion, or region and much too few women’s shelters to accommodate the need. Violence between a couple is seen by police, the government, and society, to be a personal problem and victims are constantly told that they cannot expect their partners to be nonviolent.

In the United States there is better enforcement of laws against domestic violence and yet 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the US are victims of intimate violence at some point in their lives. Militarization in America is slightly more subtle than in Turkey, but commercials to “Go Navy,” be “Army Strong,” and join “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” constantly inundate television viewers. At the same time military recruiters are present on junior high, high school and college campuses to convince children that the military is their best route out of their hometown. Militarization is therefore a compounded heap of inequalities: class, race, gender, education, location, language, ability, and age.

Militarization in the US is forced on Americans at a very young age, when children at sporting events see the poorly named Blue Angels fly overhead with a roar as a giant American flag is unfurled across the playing field. The idealization of being a servant of war as a good, honorable thing is fed to Americans to serve the greed of the corporate world. We are taught from the time we can talk that America is the best place in the world, the most just, the most equal, the fairest. We have been lied to. We are told these things so that when our Commander-in-Chief calls on us to “protect freedom and liberty” and “stand up to injustice” our first response is to join the military killing machine so we can “serve our great nation.” This idea that the best thing a person can do for his country, the most masculine act possible, is serve in the military totally discounts the experiences of a great number of people in America including disabled men, transgender or intersex men, openly gay or bisexual men, men who believe in nonviolence, and women.

Unfortunately it is only after the damage of war has been done that many of the wide-eyed military recruits become hardened advocates for peace. The brave men and women who understand the error of the US’s ways in using violence and force to fill corporate pockets have formed a number of anti-war groups. Founded in 1985, Veterans for Peace, is seeking signatures for a petition to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. One of the newer organizations, Iraq Veterans Against the War, seeks an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and is pressuring the military to provide better care for returning vets. Vietnam Veterans Against the War states “We believe that service to our country and communities did not end when we were discharged. We remain committed to the struggle for peace and for social and economic justice for all people. We will continue to oppose senseless military adventures and to teach the real lessons of the Vietnam War. We will do all we can to prevent another generation from being put through a similar tragedy and we will continue to demand dignity and respect for veterans of all eras. This is real patriotism and we remain true to our mission.”

Cynthia Enloe renowned author and feminist, is one of the voices at the forefront of the anti-militarization effort. This piece nicely summarizes Enloe’s main arguments against militarization and its effects on women. Even non-governmental organizations, international organizations and peacekeeping missions are fraught with problems because of militarization, as Enloe and my professor Nadine Puechguirbal explain in a talk here on Haiti. For me, the most compelling argument against militarization is that violence does not work. It is ineffective! Nonviolent action, especially when used strategically, is an extremely effective tool for change and one that I hope more people will begin to utilize once they understand its efficacy. I will forever be indebted to Dr. Mary King for teaching me the strategy of nonviolence. In the future I will write a post summarizing the ideas behind SNVA.

If you want to do something to help end the militarization that is damaging the world here are a few ideas: teach girls to be strong, both physically and emotionally; teach boys they have a right to feel emotions and express them; teach all children the importance of respectful problem solving and dialogue; teach young people that there are many ways they can serve their country other than military service, including the Peace CorpsAmeriCorps, Job Corps, the Medical Reserve Corps, Citizen Corps, the Civilian Response Corps, and Serve Corps, as well as through thousands of non-governmental and non-profit groups; learn about strategic nonviolent action and then share what you know; and most importantly, practice strategic nonviolent action to bring an end to injustices around the world!


Day 19- Women in Black

Over the past four days we have seen various organizations that hold awareness raising events to combat violence against women. Today’s organization is different in many ways, but the overwhelming similarity it shares with its predecessors is that this group these groups are made up of women who are saying no to violence.

Women in Black started in 1988 in Israel as an anti-war movement. Today Women in Black (and many translations of it) are active in at least 17 countries (with possibly as many as 150 separate groups) around the world, and are estimated to include roughly 10,000 members. The WiB motto “For justice. Against war.” is the minimal guidance new groups have in launching their own protests against violence. Annually the international chapters meet at a conference; this year’s meeting will take place in Bogota, Colombia in August.

WiB classifies itself as “not an organization, but a means of communicating and a formula for action.” Women in Black “is a world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence.”

Women in Black is not a typical nonviolent organization; there is no formal structure, there is no recipe for a good protest or vigil, the only requirement is that women wearing black come together to take a stand against violence, usually on a weekly basis. Often these protests are silent, but placards are used to convey succinct messages.

Other forms of strategic nonviolent action used by Women in Black include occupying public (or forbidden governmental) space, marches or processions, vigils, masks, effigies, music, and obviously, symbolic colors. To download Gene Sharp’s list of 198 nonviolent actions YOU could be taking to speak out against violence, go here.

Seattle WiB is very active, as are the Northern California Bay Area Women in Black, Mujeres de Negro en Uruguay, Italy’s Donne in Nero and Zene u Crnom in Belgrade, and many other groups.

Other anti-war groups around the world respect and honor Women in Black and use their actions to exemplify what anti-violence should look like. One such group is Savaş Kaşıtları here in Turkey. But not everyone supports what WiB does, this video shows some of the attacks faced by anti-war, anti-violence, and anti-occupation protesters.

The main lesson to be learned from all of the participants in Women in Black is that if you are persistent, you can make yourself known, make your views heard, and make a difference.


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