new hystericisms

provocations and sundries by three anxious ladies.

Emma’s Exhausted From All This Rolling Over In Her Grave: Why Universities Need to Break the Silence About Sexual Assault

Dear Emma: The past 200 years have just flown by. Unfortunately, educational institutions are still a little wishy-washy on the whole moral thing. And also the helping others part. You know how it is, they’ve had a lot of paperwork.

For those of you who were wondering, Emma Willard was that woman who said fuck finishing school (in very proper language, I am sure) because she believed women should be able to study math, philosophy, science, and anything else they wanted to study. The problem, she said, was that “the taste of men, whatever it might happen to be, has been made into a standard for the formation of the female character.” She rallied for the same public funding as the men’s schools and, “contrary to God’s will,” opened the first school in the U.S.  to offer higher education for women.

And look how far we’ve come.

In Canada:

In The States:

The possibility or plausibility of being sexually assaulted SHOULD NOT be something a woman, or anyone, should have to consider when making a decision about her education. There was a great article in The Washington Post yesterday by Aly Neal, “Wishing rape on campus away won’t make it so.” And, while the article is specifically talking about Princeton, it is obviously not an isolated problem.

The article discusses a survey done at Princeton University in order to better understand and take action against sexual assault, supposedly. 1 in 6 female students answered affirmatively to the statement: “A man put his penis into my vagina, or someone inserted fingers or objects without my consent.” The survey was never published; in fact, the survey is five years old.

Neal says it probably never would’ve been released at all had it not been recently leaked. She hypothesizes that the reasoning for not publishing was because the statistics were close to what was expected, about the national average. Because they weren’t “surprising enough.” In The Daily Princetonian, the director of the women’s center said she thought it was because other universities weren’t publicizing similar statistics, so it wouldn’t be fair for their university to be the only one to tarnish their image. I’m sorry, did you miss that? The DIRECTOR of the WOMEN’S CENTER. Frankly, either reason is terrible and evidence that the world is a terrible, terrible place. If one in six women ISN’T SURPRISING ENOUGH to risk your school’s reputation, then it may as well still be the 1800 Emma Willard America, as far as I’m concerned. Jan Wong from The Informer points out a similar problem in Canadian schools like York University and University of Toronto in her piece, “What evil lurks: sexual assault is a serious problem at universities, and our schools are overlooking the solution.” And while I do think that the “solution” is of course not as simple as posting some statistics, I do agree with Aly Neal when she says,

 “pretending sexual assault doesn’t exist will not make it go away. Putting a stop to rape and the culture that allows it to continue begins with opening our eyes.”

So how do we make that happen?

Today, the President will sign VAWA which passed in the House last week. It now includes the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE) which mandates that schools provide support, awareness programs, and reports of sexual assault and violence in their annual statistics.  In Canada, there is a list here of organizations that have received funding this year under the “Engaging Young People to Prevent Violence against Women on Post-Secondary Campuses” initiative.

The idea of protecting a school’s reputation before protecting the women who are a part of that school still worries me, though. Does a requirement of posting statistics annually potentially open the door to the question of false reporting? Aly Neal points out the examples of Landen Gambill and Lizzy Seeburg to demonstrate how schools often deal with reports of sexual assault in the media. These highly publicized cases which slandered the girls’ names in order to avoid slandering their school’s names make it that much harder for women to report a sexual assault (and thus affects those posted “statistics”).

I think it always comes back to this blame game and how that blame is subtly and not so subtly a part of the education system even before university. Last year while giving a talk on healthy relationships at a high school, I saw these posters carrying a Government of Canada logo on them, on the walls. While I do think the intention of educating young people about internet safety is a good one, I find the posters, directed at young girls, to be all about blame. “How far would you go to get noticed? Respect yourself” is the message on the posters and it operates on a frat-boy premise of girls with low-self confidence trying to “get noticed.”  Now, I am not here to talk about EGADS! THE HORRORS OF SEXTING (I think Dr. Phil already did a whole show on it, if that’s what you’re looking for), but I think the phrasing on the posters is troublesome and places the blame on the wrong person right from a very young age. I was, however, really glad to see this recent list of “5 Things Men Can Do to Raise Boys Who Respect Women” (#1 RESPECT WOMEN) on the Government of Canada website. And, this year, VAWA included unprecedented additions regarding Native American women’s rights and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender survivors. It’s great to see the ways of thinking about sexual assault are finally starting to shift– let’s not wait another 200 years to put an end to this.

Photo credit: origamidon / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

dear Hermes Review

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The CWILA numbers were a wake up call for “anyone interested in gender equity in the literary arts,” showing much higher percentages of book reviews in Canadian literary journals by men than women. Responding to the question, where are the female reviewers?  Room Magazine has added more reviews and I would very much like to respond and be a part of changing those numbers (and I will be!) but for all the doting and/or griping I do over books with my co-writer, I have yet to sit down and actually write a review. So I am doing one on here first. Book review lite. Also, it’s the perfect book for us, with its ode to Dionysus whose female followers were called “maenads” or “the maddedned ones” (73) and were often described as frenetic, ecstatic, and violent. According to one myth, they even ripped Orpheus limb from limb. Obviously, this was because Orpheus had sworn off the ladies and, you know, without Orpheus’ virile member, their wombs would have nothing to weigh them down and would begin to rise up toward their brains. Anyway, I digress.

Review: dear Hermes, by Michelle Smith  (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2012)

dear Hermes begins with the line, “no stars danced at my birth” (“The traveller writes by the light of the liar’s star”) and ends with images of “dead rabbits” and “bruised tulips” (“A still life, with books”).  Between those bookends, however, is not merely the arc of a life, but an endless cycle of more births, more deaths, continuous entrances and exits. The poems in Michelle Smith’s debut collection explore Greek mythology, family history, and questions of immortality. As the title suggests, many of the poems are letters addressed to Greek gods, beings who, though immortal, “bled time and again” (“The traveller writes from her childhood home”), letters addressed by one “double-bound by birth and tragedy” (“the traveller writes from the edge of Aegean”). Smith’s poetry traces the line between life and death, takes us unexpectedly to babies with arthritic hands, newborns lying next to urns.

Throughout all the lives and afterlives in these poems, time behaves erractically: rushing,  crawling counter-clockwise, standing still:

“time is as malleable as air, and air is as palpable as water,
the water that brings the sky down to stone and skin, and everything
is made as slippery as the roots of the trees that grip the ground
of the village ruins as the sun sinks under a blurred horizon of hills
that look like overturned bowls”
(Dartmour)

In this image, the life-giving roots juxtaposed with the village ruins blur the lines between life and death much like the described blur of the horizon, the precarious line of the in-between. This theme sometimes manifests in the text itself as well. In “ile de la cite,” the anaphora in roman text sits still between the lyrical italicized section, much like the “still, silent heart of paris, the city’s past, present, future” it describes.

The varied tones of the poems provide a good balance, and many of the letter poems are quite funny. The titles are often humourous in their long length: “the traveller writes after a few drinks with Ceres,” for example. In that poem, Smith  plays around with  Zeus’ “postcard poetry, fatal and sauve”:

“what with your hair of golden August wheat,
your slender ankles. (or so says Zeus,
ever the exonerator of injustices
he files away under Indiscretions: Minor)”

Some of these poems feel stronger, more polished, than some of the heavier-handed meditations on death. I expected “you are too romantic, mon cherie” to have more of a twist of irony that never seemed to come. The collection has perhaps one too many image of tears and lips, “how glittering tears in starlight burn,” and at times it can feel a bit romantic.

An effective technique in these poems is the moments of displaced humour. There is the lighthearted inappropriateness of giggling in a monk’s cell in “The Annunciation” but also the visceral fear of the section in “bear dance” when “He tries to make it funny, to ignore his sense/ of hairs on the back of her neck standing on end/ when he enters.” That section of the poem ends:

“her mother’s voice rattles on
and rattles off against her skull
and a red neon sign flashes vacancy
across her white-as-a-sheet cheek”

The assonance saves the white as a sheet idiom and it’s haunting, eerie, how this girl is hollowed out. While dear Hermes has some awkward narration/ hyperbaton and some romanticization,  it is  an engaging dialogue with life, death, fear, and grief. By turns funny and halting, the collection finds new ways to grapple with the notion that “Either way you long to live forever. Either way, you lose” (How to lift the heart into the throat”).

Check out Room’s invitation to Become A Reviewer

Buy Michelle Smith’s debut collection here

Find more information on the numbers mentioned above at The Canadian Women in the Literary Arts website

Ladies Too Emotional for Politics, Tennis

omg-nfw_lIn breaking news yesterday, Hillary Clinton showed emotion. Perhaps not quite up there with the headline “Hillary Clinton staff send her a message: lose the scrunchie,” but at least as important as “Hillary Clinton goes without makeup in Bangledesh,” right? This is of course not the first time the media has jumped at the chance to portray Hillary as a harpie on her rag or a teary-eyed ball of mush who just can’t keep it together, and, okay, GOP Senators being generally annoying is nothing new but, whatever, I’ve still got something to say about it. (Or maybe I’m just another of the overly emotional womenfolk, ammiright)

News articles yesterday pointed out The Secretary of State’s voice “cracking” and “rising” as she spoke with Senator Ron Johnson, whose voice has yet to be analysed, regarding the Benghazi attack. She ended her discussion with him with this statement: “The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?” (watch the video here). Exasperated? Who wouldn’t be? But this is the story being told about that exchange:

“HILLARY CLINTON ERUPTS,”

“Hillary’s emotional outburst

“Emotional Hillary Angrily Denies…”

And even as I search the term now, so many more ridiculous descriptions come up, but you get the point. None of those headlines describe the footage I watched. I saw Clinton respond firmly, stand her ground. She was badass, and knew how to handle irrelevant heckling. But what do I know? Senator Rand Paul would’ve fired her, he said, if he could’ve. (Haha poor guy, it must be killing him) Because that’s what this ploy to generalize women as not in control of their emotion boils down to. Control. Men controlling women. When women in positions of power are portrayed as overly emotional, they are being presented as (the) weak(er sex), as not capable. And let me tell you, Madame Secretary is more than fucking capable.

On ThinkProgress right now there are three articles I can click on. On the left, a GOP rep (male) “flips on” support for Libya. On the right, an Obama official (also male) “calls for” drone transparency  In the middle, Hillary Clinton “scolds” GOP Senator Ron Johnson. Presented are two rational, objective men and a frazzled mother raising her voice (although, in this scenario RJ is a delinquent child, so there is a bright side). The use of this verb for Hillary, especially compared to the completely neutral verbs used for the two men, takes her out of the workplace, out of politics, and attempts to shove her back into an outdated stereotype. As my cowriter described it, women: narrow-minded kitchen things.

Using headlines like these influences the way women are viewed publicly. As Barrett and Bliss-Moreau write,

“women continue to be under-represented in positions of economic and political power that require a level head and a steady hand. Jobs that require rational decision-making and high levels of performance in demanding circumstances would presumably be unsuitable for those who cannot keep their head under pressure.”

And economic and political positions are not the only positions in which women must overcome these overly-emotional-by-nature stereotypes. Today the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat. Until today, until 2013, women were still considered too emotional for combat (Rick Santorum, presidential candidate and sulky star of UrbanDictionary.com, on the issue: “not in the best interest of men”) And, really: politics, combat, why stop there? In the Australian Open quarter finals yesterday, female tennis players were referred to as too “emotionally unstable” compared to men. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, tennis star and acclaimed scientist, explains: “It’s just about hormones and all this stuff.”  Men, on the other hand, don’t have “all these bad things,” he says. Also, he lost his match.

With these myths and exaggerations functioning as news, the media has an unfortunate influence. Sharon Begley from The Daily Beast describes a study published in Psychological Science that found that subjects attribute women’s angry facial expressions to an emotional nature but the same facial expressions on men to external circumstances. As Begley states, this study demonstrates that “this belief stems not from what men and women actually do but from the explanations given for their behaviors. What we believe determines what we see.” And this is it. We are warned women are too emotional to handle high pressure jobs and so we make it breaking news when a female politician shows emotion in order to undermine her abilities. Or, when that doesn’t work, there is always the manipulative she-devil ploy. Because after all the OMG OUTBURST headlines, the truth came out. Or Senator Paul’s version of it: Clinton planned the emotional outburst because she is a diabolical siren.

In just one day, there were three “news” stories relating to women’s emotions and their abilities in three different fields. This is ridiculous. This is a joke. This needs to change.  HilClint for president of the world.

(Also, for more laughs on the outrageousness of all of this: Feministing’s “How to deal with a mansplainer starring Hillary Clinton in gifs“)

Photo credit: numlok™ / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

#1: Anxieties of Health & Dying

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“So, don’t let Alan hit any of your pressure points because if he does, you’re not going to feel anything, but you’ll drop dead in three days. Oh, and you should always guard your face. Because, if the other guy hits you in the nose, it could drive the nose bone into your brain and you’ll release your bowels, and, well, die.”

I, too, grew up with the fear that for any number of reasons, I had somehow triggered my death in some invisible, silent way and I wouldn’t see it coming until it was too late. I had many anxieties as a child: hellfire, demons in my bedroom waiting for me to sleep (clearly I had a happy, healthy Protestant upbringing), the neighbour’s dog eating my face off, swallowing a fly and having it lay eggs in my stomach (and, the natural result, those eggs hatching and exploding out of every orifice), but by far the most pressing anxiety I faced was that I was living the plot of one of those terrifying, best-selling Lurlene McDaniel books (So Much To Live For; Mother, Help Me Live; A Time to Die; 16 and Dying; etc., etc).

In fact, I had a few troubling incidents with books. The book 13 is too Young to Die (apparently chronic illness in children was the vampire/werewolf fiction craze of my youth) absolutely convinced me that I had Lupus. Then, reading a Hardy Boys mystery, I came across a man who died seemingly out of nowhere. Someone had slipped him a tasteless, odourless poison in his food and it waited inside him for 72 hours and then bam, donezo. Obviously I became convinced I had somehow also ingested something like this (accidentally, of course, the poison would’ve been meant for someone else–restaurants, grocery stores, the like). Since I knew my parents wouldn’t believe me, I didn’t tell them, but those three nights before I was in the clear were quite tearful. I actually could never read another Hardy Boys mystery again. Also: flesh eating disease, leukemia (because, you know, bruises), the rare-yet-real child heart attack.  If it had happened to other kids, I was so sure it would happen to me.

I remember crying (again) one day while reading the Precious Moments cross-stitch on my wall that looked a little something like this (really, parents? “If I should die before I wake” ?) and, having accepted the fact that my premature death was inevitable, wept, prayed, begged that I would just live to be 16. And, at the time, I really felt like that was a lot to ask, like I was cheating fate.

Somehow, I made it to 16. And then 26. But my anxieties haven’t really lessened. I know my neuroses, while irritating and inconvenient, are not as life altering as hypochondria. This is just what goes on in my states of medical anxiety, whatever you want to call them. I have lost a lot of sleep, exasperated a lot of doctors, even endangered relationships. People get sick of it pretty fast. For example, I don’t drive because as soon as I find myself in the middle of an intersection or something, I can convince myself that I am going to pass out. So much so that I will. I laugh it off when I tell people why I don’t want to drive because it’s not really okay with anyone to readily admit that I’ve accepted this thing and just work around it. Because conquer your fears! Picture of a man standing heroically on a mountain top.

Of course I know I’m being ridiculous, illogical. But in the moment, none of that really helps.  Nor do the warnings on birth control pills and tampons. Now that I’ve passed the cutoff for child chronic illness, it’s definitely going to be blood clots or TSS that get me (see: Killer Ninja Tampons of Death). Also of no help: the internet! They  have a name for those who incessantly search their symptoms on WebMD and find the worst possible prognosis: cyberchondria. Hello, old friend. Turns out women are checking Google to find out “they have cancer or are pregnant, or are pregnant with cancer” twice as often as men (Dr. Google Thinks…)…an area I am not unfamiliar with. Because if it doesn’t look like the object of a Petrarchan love sonnet down there, everything imaginable is wrong. And because on TV, we have gorgeous girls who have sex freely but never would they ever have something ewwwww like an STI (see: that episode of Gossip Girl where Serena is photographed going into a sexual health clinic. Rumours abound. Everyone is throwing up every time they see her until she finds a way to clear her name). Because STIs are presented as the Worst Possible Thing That Could Ever Happen to You (especially if you are a woman). Which is a big part of the reason, I think, that cyberchondriacs, who convince themselves of the worst possible prognoses, could become so certain they have all the STIs and that their lives are ruined. It can take a real toll on relationships.

Obviously, though, it’s not true that all women are more likely to have health anxieties than men. Take for instance:

The call wound down and I asked the lady if there were any other warning signs I should look out for. She said that some people about to experience a heart attack have a sense of dread and impending doom.“But I have that all the time”, I said. 

Spoken by a guy after my own heart. (And I just wanted an excuse to include it because it was so perfect).  But I think where it becomes more specific to women is when it comes to the deep, dark mysterious lady-parts. The horror of nothing to see, and all that. So,  those of us who happen to have both vaginas and unfounded health anxieties are not just crazy because our uteruses (uteri?) wandered up into our brains. If more women than men are cyberchondriac-ing, the stigma around issues of women’s sexual health is certainly not helping. As for all the other possible ailments, I am trying to take my doctor’s latest advice: “People get headaches. You’re fine”

Auld Lang Syne

Next year it will be me alone portending demise like always:

ImageAnd, hopefully, we will post more things. Sorry, friends! New year, resolutions, out with the old and all that. Or, in the words of Liz Lemon, anchoress, “Yes to love, yes to life, yes to staying in more.” Stay tuned.

“She Picked The Wrong Thing To Lie About” and Other Casually Blame-y Statements from the Good Detectives over at Special Victims.

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The new season of SVU premieres tonight on NBC and, before it does, I’d like to voice a few concerns. No matter how much it hit me right in the goddam heart when Benson said, “I’m just. so. tired” after another rapist walked free, or how many government conspiracy rants Munch got to go on, or even how badass it was when Rollins waited with her feet kicked up for some creeper from ep. 10 to come home asking for his hostage girlfriend, so she could drawl, “Naw, how bout some handcuffs instead, baby?” there were still a lot of things about last season that pissed me off.

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Better stop doing this to Liv’s character, Writing Staff. I can fashion this goatee to accentuate my frown WAY MORE THAN THIS.

What Ice T said. I don’t know if it was just an attempt to cover their bases if Mariska Hargitay didn’t return to the show, or if someone thought it seemed like a “realistic” response to Stabler’s departure, but it seemed like the point of season 13 was Ruin Olivia For Everyone (and also to come up with ridiculous fake social networking sites; FaceUnion, I’m looking at you). Well, guess what, she’s back, haterz. And not just to suck face with Harry Connick Jr., either. So, bring the old Benson back already. You know, the one who would shoot you the Glare of Death if you even insinuated blaming a victim. And also maybe just shoot you, if you deserved it. Not the one who doubts survivors to the point where ADA Cabot (Fuck Yeah, Alex Cabot) basically has to yell “Well, I believe her!” at her (ep. 1). And definitely not the one who responded to Rollin’s disclosure that she had been assaulted with some weird chastise-y thing about how she was letting “them” win by not reporting (ep. 8). Um, yeah, was she letting “them” win last episode when she SHOT THAT GUY IN THE CHEST and saved your ass? There’s this thing called compassion. You used to kind of be known for it. But seriously, guys, Olivia Benson is (was?) a great female character—an empowered, independent  sympathetic, intelligent, badass advocate for survivors of violence. What, may I ask, is the reason for changing that?

So, aside from The Detective Formerly Known as Olivia Benson, some of my biggest problems with last season are as follows. First of all, lady-perps. Look, I know, everyone likes a good she-devil. It makes for Good TeeVee, or something. But I’m gonna get serious for a second. While it’s not SVU‘s responsibility to be a PSA for Violence Against Women, they are probably the main show on television that deals with the issue. Interesting and compelling plots may be their number one priority (HA just kidding), but let’s face it. This show is actually shaping people’s perception of sexual assault. Over at Gender Focus they point out that “[r]ealism on television can impact our perceptions of reality. Law and Order: SVU has over 14 million viewers in the United States alone each week, making it a leading source of information on violence against women.” And here’s the thing: sexual assault is a gendered form of violence. Most victims are women and almost all perpetrators are men. 98% of sexual assaults are committed by men, but there is a whole lotta denial around this (mainly spewing from the mouths of conservative politicians) and we need to recognize the problem and admit to it before we can eliminate it. Law & Order: SVU, right now you’re not really helping.

So, we have the  preppy girls straight out of Gossip Girl sexually assaulting a vulnerable boy, the female teacher sexually assaulting a male student, the cold-hearted siren who tricks all the male police officers with her Feminine Wiles And Charms and laughs maniacally with no remorse (oh, sorry writers, you forgot for a second you weren’t writing lines for Ursula the Sea Witch?) and then, of course, the Poor Ugly Outcast who wants her Pretty Popular Roommate to get raped because, everyone knows, bitchez be jealous. Ugh. And to top it all off they say something horrific about how they interrogated all those men but in the end it was a Fellow Woman. I’d go get the exact quote but I just really don’t want to listen to it again.

And then all the liars! SVU loves the liars. The “completely fictional” DSK episode, to which I have nothing more to say except that I can’t even. Then, the ensuing girls who maybe probably told the truth about this particular rape but lied about what type of juice they drank for breakfast or something so their credibility goes down the tube and NOW WE’LL NEVER KNOW. It’s episodes like those that make the movie I discussed in my previous post, Gone, stand out even more. If  you doubted the survivor in that movie, in the end you got proven hella wrong. All too often in SVU episodes, the opposite happens. You are left to wonder. It’s in cases like those that I think Johanson’s snark would be much better placed.

And then Chloe Sevigny’s character happened. If SVU has a liar, it’s not just a scared or confused woman, it’s a woman who loves lying about rape and even pretends to be raped in front of her husband for more of a thrill. Because rape fantasies! And then she gets away with it because she charms a man on the jury (much like the aforementioned Russian Siren who puts all the male policemen under her spell because evil women are everywhere. I can just hear Ryan Lochte shouting JEAH! in agreement somewhere). Meanwhile, over here in real life, women are scared to come forward because they have been treated with suspicion and disbelief. Shall we look for a connection? Instead, how about everyone just Starts By Believing because, like Olivia, I’m just. so. tired.

But that’s not all. There’s also the Men Who Didn’t Mean to Rape so It’s Not Their Fault and They are the Real Victims. Hold on before you yell. I’m not saying I mind that they did an episode about a football player who sustained injuries that caused dementia so he didn’t know what he was doing, but, to be blunt, I kind of don’t think that changes anything for the girl. Yet they COMPLETELY drop her from the story once it’s been determined that he didn’t mean to. They act like she never even existed and  the episode was about him the whole time. And then he kills himself and it’s supposed to be really sad and it ends without ever going back to her story. Similarly, there was the episode where the girl pretended to be her roommate while chatting online to a man (a judge!) and  told him she wanted to be fake-raped so that she could get her roommate actually raped. But then even though that girl fought for her fucking life, she didn’t say the “safe word” so the judge had no idea, so it’s not his fault. Is it just me or is it a little hard to believe that he didn’t have the slightest hint that she was genuinely terrified? And, okay, maybe, but then on top of that they want me to feel bad for him instead of her? What part of that makes her any less raped?

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This is how I felt, too.

So, why do I care so much? Why hold them to a high standard? Well, I think it’s because there is also so much good in this show. Even, I’ll admit, in this past season. In the episode “True Believers,” they take on the issue of completely unrelated aspects of a survivor’s personal life being used in an attempt to undermine her credibility. Like having a one night stand. Because having a one night stand means you can’t ever be raped because you are a Loose Woman and there’s this thing called Legitimate Rape. Also, SVU actually takes on the fact that reporting isn’t for everyone and that the system isn’t perfect. And that, sometimes, it can make things horrible for a woman coming forward.  At the end of the episode, after her rapist walks free, the survivor says to Olivia, “Don’t you dare tell me that was worth it. That was UGLY.”

They also did an episode on a girl in a psychiatric ward who nobody has ever believed. Those are the episodes that I admire. More of that! Either way, of course, I’m probably still going to watch every episode of this season (Lindy West has a few theories as to why: What Is It With Women and SVU?). But I am hoping for just a little more reality infused into the episodes this time around. Because it helps to have a show that acknowledges the truths about sexual assault when so many other voices in the media are denying them. SVU has absolutely started down that road; I’d love to see them continue further on it this season. And, like Lindy West says,

Yes… they seem weirdly focused on “showing both sides” even when one side is a bunch of backwards anti-woman douchebags, and sometimes they get shit completely wrong. But with all the rape apologia out there, the denial of rape culture from every direction.. I can’t get too mad about a show that actually acknowledges some of the violent truths about being a woman.

Photos: NBC

(While searching for quotes from specific episodes, I found Emma’s hilarious episode recaps over at The Popsicle. If she does them again this season, you should probably read every single one.)

Women not to be trusted! Warn doughnuts in cop uniforms, Ryan Lochte, Todd Akin and other moral compasses of North America

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“Is there a decent girl out there who doesn’t lie?” Olympian and soothsayer Ryan Lochte asked ESPN (rhetorically, of course, as he already knew the answer). “They all lie. They’re all evil… They all say the same thing […] ‘I don’t play games. I’m a good person. You can trust me.’ I’ve heard that all before.” Excuse me while I adjust my broomstick, but here’s the thing, bro, I too have heard that all before. Grouping all women as untrustworthy or even evil is nothing new— the dangers of feminine wiles, etc., etc.—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an unfair and dangerous generalization.

I say dangerous, especially, since the scope seems to be narrowing to women lying about being attacked or raped. Take, for example,  Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin. I’m sure I don’t need to refresh anyone’s memory of the Missouri Rep. verbally projectile vomiting all over women everywhere when he basically said that getting pregnant from legitimate rape isn’t a real thing because the mysterious inner workings of female reproductive organs have a mystical, magical way of detecting rape-sperm and “shutting the whole thing down.” Oh, really? You didn’t know about your little vagina-bouncer, asking sperm for i.d. before gaining access to the nine month long rager in your uterus? It’s hard to keep up with all these scientific breakthroughs, I know, but that’s what conservative lawmakers are there for, am I right? Sigh. And it’s not even the unfathomable level of ignorance that I am taking issue with here, it’s the insinuation of the illegitimacy of some rapes and the implications of dishonesty: if a woman was really raped, she wouldn’t be pregnant. So any pregnant woman who said she was raped is really lying, guys! Because Todd Akin and also Iowa Rep. Steve King said they never heard of it happening so obviously it must Never. Happen. Ever. Ladies, you can’t get pregnant from rape because wandering wombs! Science!

We can take this thing all the way back to the ancient Greeks; it’s nothing new. But it doesn’t seem to be going away, either. As the writers at Jezebel have pointed out, now, in order to be believed, women must prove they were Legitimately Raped (Akin) Truly Raped (Henry Aldridge) Forcibly Raped (Todd Akin/Paul Ryan) or Rape-raped (Whoopi Goldberg) and must definitely not end up pregnant. So have things really come that far since the 1970s when a woman’s testimony regarding a sexual assault wouldn’t be accepted without a third-party witness? We are still being told that a woman’s voice alone cannot be trusted, that women lie about rape and violence all the time. Which brings me to the main reason I wrote this blog:

Gone (2012) starring Amanda Seyfried and its critical response.

Quick recap: Gone revolves around Jill, who was kidnapped by a serial killer and escaped. The police did not believe her and assigned her pyshciatric treatment. When Jill comes home to her sister missing, she’s sure her sister has been kidnapped by the same man. The police, of course, don’t take her seriously and Jill takes on the search herself (spoiler alert) finding the man as well as photos of all the girls he has killed. She kills him, her sister is saved, and now the police need her help as she’s the only one alive who knows all about the killer. The movie ends with Jill turning to face the police and refusing them, telling them they were right, she made it all up. The one female cop smirks in approval (if only because she is played by Shane from The L Word and therefore has to have at least a little bit of awesome), and I was all, hell yeah, Jill, send their stupid words right back at them. And apparently I was the only one.

Since I was impressed that a movie took on the topic of police not believing women, I searched for some reviews to see what others had to say. Noone else was impressed. In this review by MaryAnn Johanson (titled, of course, “Never Trust a Woman”) the reviewer goes so far as to call the movie an enemy of the feminist cause. How, then, did we end up on two completely different sides of the spectrum at the end of this story? Well, let’s wade through the sarcasm together to find out.

Jill escaped from a serial killer last year — because, you know, that happens — and her perfectly understandable trauma after this terrible event is exacerbated by the fact that the cops don’t believe her: they think she invented her kidnapping and terrorizing — because, you know, women do that — not out of malice or deceit but because, you know, she’s looney tunes. As women are.

So, upon first read, you might just think this reviewer is snarking at the implausibility of a woman making up a story of kidnapping and terrorizing. As she should. But she is also the snarking at the plausibility of the whole situation. And that is where she loses me. First of all the sarcastic “because, you know, that happens,” referring to Jill’s escape, followed by the line about the cops saying she invented the story “because, you know, women do that” makes it sound as if its a fault of the movie to portray such an unrealistic situation. But it’s not. It’s a fault of the police in the movie as well as in real life—and, yes, actually, it does happen. For instance, in 2008, a woman who escaped from serial killer and rapist Anthony Sowell (because, you know, that happens) ran to the police bleeding and screaming for help. Police “did not believe the woman was credible” and wrote “unfounded” on the report. Sound familiar? Then, in 2009, Sowell was arrested and charged with numerous counts of rape and murder when the bodies of 11 women were found decomposing in his home. Not to mention the Court Judge who ordered three victims of sexual assault to take polygraph tests after the accused had already been found guilty. Or when Sarah Reedy was robbed and raped at gunpoint and, after reporting, was arrested, jailed, and charged with filing a false report. Her rapist was later arrested and confessed to committing a total of 12 sexual assaults, some of which would have been prevented had the detectives believed Reedy.  Because, you know, that happens.

I see the urge for snark, I do, because it seems utterly unbelievable that the court officials, the law enforcement officers, the parents, friends, and lovers of women who are victims of sexual assault or violence would be so quick to disbelieve. But we have to stop denying that it happens because this attitude needs to be addressed and needs to be changed. (The news articles mentioned as well as more examples can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/user/StartByBelieving/feed?feature=context)

The kicker of Gone is, we’re meant to wonder whether the cops don’t have the correct end of the stick, because isn’t it perfectly reasonable that women invent their own traumatic near-death fantasies? (With “friends” like this movie, the feminist cause doesn’t need enemies.)

The issue I have here is the assumption that the movie believes “it’s perfectly reasonable that women invent… blah blah blah.” I don’t. I think the movie allows for some interesting self-reflection. After seeing the movie, if, as a viewer, your first instinct was to doubt Jill, is that the movie’s fault? Or does it show something about this attitude of distrust towards women? I didn’t think Jill was insane—I thought they made a nice little dig at those who forced her into psychiatric care with the alarm for her meds saying “Smile!” just like sexist goons on the street who take it upon themselves to dictate the look on women’s faces. But, then again, I seem to disagree with the reviewers of this movie on just about everything. Johanson also took issue with the creepy cop who is on Jill’s side because he “likes crazy girls.” Johanson sneers, “Yeah, there’s a ringing endorsement for women’s agency.” Um, did you watch the same movie that I did? He wanted to be on Jill’s side and she basically told him to go fuck himself and did everything on her own. So, allow me, once again, to echo you; I would say, yeah, there is a ringing endorsement for women’s agency.

Oh, and then there’s the criticism that the killer isn’t complex and doesn’t have any cool fetishes or anything. Yep. I can’t even. Maybe this movie isn’t about how interesting rapists and serial killers can be. Maybe some of the tv shows and movies that do focus on that should think about the implications of that romanticization ( just sayin). Now, let me just say, I know this film is not about rape. But it is the attitude toward Jill’s character in the movie that seems to be the attitude of so many male lawmakers, politicians, celebrities, and law enforcement officers towards female victims of assault, specifically sexual assault.

“Do women lie about rape?” asks the title of a Ms. Magazine article. A commenter replies, “I hate rape, but I hate liars more. Why does it seem like feminists are so quick to jump on a figurative rape bandwagon?” Well, I don’t know what a rape bandwagon is, but I sure as hell am not jumping on it. (But that douche can maybe go jump off something.) What I am doing, though, is helping to organize the Take Back the Night March here in Fredericton this week. Inspired by the Start By Believing Campaign, the theme of the event is BELIEVE HER because the most important thing we can do when someone says she has been sexually assaulted is to start by believing. We need to put an end to this ridiculous notion that these suspicions are reasonable or justified. Check out our FB or twitter, upload your photo to our Start By Believing album or join us at 8pm on Sept 21 in front of City Hall.

Room Magazine

Two of our writers are published in this quarter’s Room Magazine. We are very proud! Room is Canada’s oldest literary journal by and about women. Get a copy and support the growing editorial collective.

Indulging the Provocateur: Privilege and the Culture of Male Arrogance in the Publishing Industry

Sometime last year, The Guardian online posted an article about V.S. Naipaul in which the Nobel laureate explains that he is a much, much better writer than all the ladies. Even Jane Austen. Especially Jane Austen, because Austen is one of those writers who is obviously a lady, Naipaul explains. To wit, “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think it unequal to me.” Women: sentimental, narrow-minded kitchen things. You know, the usual stuff. Leaving aside his particular antipathy for Jane Austen, a writer of a different period who, incidentally, at least had a sense of humour, this interview with Naipaul should have annoyed people. I should have thought that Nobel laureates are, for the most part, forward-thinking people who at least try to control their biases. Women’s issues not your thing? That’s fine, but let’s not aid in the undoing of progress.

The article annoyed me. My co-writer, also annoyed, posted a link to the offending piece of writing on her Facebook wall. The comments can be summed up thus: Why are you so offended? He’s a provocateur.

Here’s the thing: he’s not a provocateur. He’s a schmuck.

Provocateur is a word that covers all manner of men’s sins. It’s a French word, masculine, and there’s no feminine equivalent in common use in English. She’s not a provocatrice; she’s a bitch, am I right?

No. Fuck you. Excuse my French.

Why am I talking about this year-old article? It’s suddenly relevant. It’s relevant because of a recent debate in Canadian publishing that began with a ten-year-old article of Jan Zwicky’s and evolved into a discussion of gender. Specifically, what the denouement of the debate actually speaks to is the industry’s championing of the male perspective, encouragement of male arrogance and indulgence of provocateurs.

Once upon a time, Jan Zwicky wrote an article called “The Ethics of the Negative Review.” In it, she says that writing a vitriolic review of a book is a needless exercise that serves no one. Though it has been much misinterpreted, what Zwicky’s article is saying is that if a book does not engage you, your review of it will not be intelligent. Silence can be more powerful, she says. Nowhere does she say that all reviews have to positive; on the contrary, and as she goes on to clarify in a more recent essay, there is a difference between “respectful disagreement” and “adolescent snark.”

The Canadian Women in the Literary Arts website recently republished the article as part of a wider discussion on women and reviews. Soon after, Michael Lista, some guy, wrote an article in the National Post that might be described as “thick,” which creatively employs a certain logical fallacy known as a straw-man argument in order to respond, point by point, to Zwicky. He uses numbers and everything. There’s a joke in here somewhere.

What’s striking about the article by self-styled provocateur and local guy Michael Lista is, yes, his anger. His inability to differentiate between debate and vitriol is just as evident in the form of his article. It’s a clever, though not intelligent essai in systematic meanness. Here, then, is the point at which the debate devolved into kvetching tweets from a few (only a few) rather stupid men who felt that if they couldn’t get their hate on in canliterary mags, well, then, they should just move to America, where they’ve got the uteruses under control and guns in every pen! Or whatever. Logic. It’s a thing.

At the time, my co-writer and I wondered why these men were positively demanding their right to be disrespectful, claiming their right to be cruel. Cruel, not critical. The two are not the same, and everybody – even, deep down, that guy Michael Lista – knows it. Cruelty is not a gendered trait, and no matter what anyone tells you, and people will tell you, this has nothing to do with biological imperative. Claiming as prerogative being heard above all and being right, god damn it, however, smacks of male privilege and the publishing industry’s culture of male arrogance. One need only look as far as the recent Fareed Zakaria or Jonah Lehrer debacles to see this in action.

It’s not far from this kind of arrogance to the disrespect that occasions pointlessly nasty reviews. And don’t kid yourself. It is an issue of respect. Undergirding the kind of reviews these writers demand to have published is the notion that what they have to say has more value than the work in question, which itself is of so little significance that it sometimes is not even quoted directly. The review ceases to be a review at all and becomes a sort of self-congratulatory personal essay on the reviewer’s own merits, thrown into relief by the failure of the, etc. Take, for instance, this Salon.com article on Stephen King. The writer of the piece, the first person ever to cast doubt on the literary merits of King’s canon, has read a book or two in his day, let him tell you. Also, he has a son who one time read King when he was, like, a baby, but now he reads books by Pynchon and Bolano and DFW. Books for grown-up men. There it is: the line in the sand, this impulse to be on the winning side. Naipaul, for instance, distinguishes between his writing – “literary” – and “women’s writing.” At least he’s honest about it; at least we can see, here, what we are up against.

Reviews like this define and neatly cordon off what is “literary” or worthwhile from everything else, and the rhetoric of humiliation writers like Lista employ serves to police the bounds: disagree with me. I dare you.

Is this really what the state of reviews has come to? Instead of intelligent discussion and critical engagement, these men are arguing for the literary equivalent of pounding their bare torsos with their fists. Why? It’s true that it’s much easier to write a slick gloss than it is to actually appraise something seriously. Are they afraid that behind the snark, the provocation, they don’t have anything interesting to say?

Yes, fear. The schoolyard bully’s fear that if he starts pulling punches, people will see him for what he really is.

And what is that, exactly?

Flickr image via shelisrael1, who does not endorse the use to which I’ve put his photo.

40 Days Celebrates Ever-Popular Institutional Bullying of Women

Fall is upon us again, all too soon, the inexorable changing of the seasons brings me ever closer to my death, etc, etc…

It’s September 2011 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, a fact that can only signal the coming of one thing: 40 Days for Life (followed by, one hopes, a natural disaster that destroys the population). This, ahem, event is a kind of culmination of the protesting, shouting, rosary-shaking, and general harassment that goes on each week outside of the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic, at which I am a volunteer escort (more on that to follow).

For forty days, from 28 September through 6 November, the woman-haters of New Brunswick will hold court in front of the clinic on Brunswick Street. What do they propose to do? Well, according to their website, “prayer and fasting,” holding a so-called “peaceful vigil,” and “community outreach.” Ah, the cunning euphemisms of the Catholic Church never cease to amuse (you know, community outreach, crusades, same thing). No, but seriously. I wasn’t here in 2009 (and thank god for that), but from what I hear, there was a lot of hymn-singing (yawn), rosary-clicking (yawn again), and all the usual blood! murderers! Abby Johnson! rhetoric, if rhetoric you can call it. I think we can expect more of the same, since “innovation”… Oh, never mind.

I’ve been volunteering at the clinic since May. In that time, the so-called editor of the so-called newspaper in Fredericton wrote an editorial suggesting that some unnamed “Morgentaler supporters” were responsible for vandalising the adjacent New Brunswick Right to Life Association (NBRLA) building. The editor alleged that these same person or persons unknown were “harassing” the protesters. She also had some quotes from protector-of-the-patriarchy extraordinare, Peter Ryan, whom you may know from his also being the director of the NBRLA.

This so-called editor went on to compare the issue to the Irish Troubles, adding that, unlike in Ireland, where the Catholics and the Protestants have “kiss[ed] and ma[de] up” (I’m not kidding, a real wordsmith this one), the hostilities in Fredericton are unlikely to be resolved. This is the kind of (so-called) social commentary one can expect in a city like Fredericton, in a province like New Brunswick, the 1950s of Canada.

Besides containing an altogether appalling historical rendering, the letter, with its slanderous accusations and name-calling, neglects to address what’s really important: the matter of the patients and how to protect them from harassment.

After the Morgentaler opened on Brunswick Street, the NBLRA, masquerading as a “women’s care centre” began operating out of the building next door. In this case, “women’s care” is – at best – something of a misnomer. At worst, and perhaps closer to the truth, this organisation’s name is a deliberate attempt to mislead Morgentaler patients.

The Morgentaler holds clinics once a week. Every week, anti-choice protesters filter in and out of their so-called women’s care centre, like so many Uruk-hai out of Isengard, and they picket (also, they make Orc-like grunting noises). As there is no Bubble Zone around the clinic, the protesters are able to (and do) get quite close to the patients. Volunteer escorts are only there to walk patients in to the clinic, smile, and try to block out the inevitable braying of the anti-choicers. In the past, volunteers have actually had holy water thrown on them. More recently, one of the more toothless protesters told a volunteer he wishes he could push him into traffic. We get called communists (because, you know, the Soviets are still a relevant threat here), murder-enablers, and all manner of things. But we don’t talk to the protesters, those poor, harassed, people who choose to leave their homes each week to shout hostilities at frightened young women entering a medical clinic.

Part of the problem in New Brunswick is the absence of a critical mass of engaged and educated women (and men!). Women’s reproductive rights continue to erode in New Brunswick. Provincial law stipulates that abortions can only be covered by Medicare if two doctors deem the procedure “medically necessary.” This is a problem in a province with only two or three doctors who actually perform abortions. Further, the province’s allotment of Medicare funds is such that it’s one of the only provinces in Canada that does not cover abortions performed in clinics, so women are paying between $500 and $750 out of pocket. These policies are among the most prohibitive in the country, second only to PEI, where there is zero access.

In New Brunswick, women’s privacy is being violated, their reproductive health choices are being interfered with, and nobody cares. Or else, not enough people care. The great descent of the 40 Days for Life lunatics upon the fair (to middling) city of Fredericton is a symbol of that. So, here’s what I propose: if you are in the Fredericton area, come counter-protest on 28 September and the following thirty-nine days (extra points if you show up on a horse and perform Théoden’s speech from the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, but no swords, please). Contact the clinic to volunteer as an escort and show your faith in and support for the decision-making ability of women.