new hystericisms

provocations and sundries by three anxious ladies.

Category: hysteria

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

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#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”

“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.

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.

Did you mean ‘New Historicism’?

Did you mean New Historicism? Because if you did, we could recommend some books for you, but that’s not why we’re here. Welcome to New Hystericisms, where we will elucidate the finer points of 20-something dementia and hysteric living.