Category Archives: Gender & Sexuality

Connections

downloadIt was 2006. I was in the airport in Nairobi, Kenya and on my way to or way home from (I can’t remember at this point) two weeks at the UNFCCC negotiations for research. I remember missing the boys—it was my first long trip away from them. But I especially and will always remember being pulled out of that place into another orbit entirely as a vivacious and beautiful woman in her 70s (I later found out) started to gush to me about going on three weeks of safari for the first time in her life. Casual conversation about all the places she was going and how she was getting there (a helicopter in some cases) quickly turned to her sharing part of her life story of how she got there.

“You see,” she said, “you know what changed my life? I’ll tell you. I was on track to live my life as a housewife in 1954—the standard thing that was expected of me, from a good family, with good prospects for a husband, etc. I was working (in Texas, I think) when Playboy started. Hugh ‘found’ me and asked me to be on the cover. I was playmate of the month.” She went on to say that it was such a crazy thing, in the 1950s, to pose nude, but that Playboy managed to cut this difficult path through the center of the culture at the time by choosing ‘girl next door’ types from obscurity. And she talked about the restrictions, about how you were supposed to act because you were a bunny. But she talked more about all of the ways it changed her, the places she went, and, most importantly, the female friends she made. She described that world as being part of a family and, more importantly, part of a sisterhood with respect to being Playmate of the Month and a Playboy bunny as you were part of the fold. It took her out of the anticipated and expected life she was on track for and changed everything. She lived a life, now in her 70s, long after her centerfold days, that, based on that one risk, led to a life that she could say was fully lived on her own terms.

What amazed me about her description of the experience were two things: first, that the women who participated in the Playboy (magazine) world were like sisters who supported one another, and not just for the moment. For life. They were there for one another as they got married, or pursued careers, and showed up when things went sideways. And second, that Hugh Hefner was at the center of a lot of it. If he found out you couldn’t pay your mortgage, it would suddenly get paid, and then some. Long after you were no longer centerfold material.

I knew about Hefner’s conflicted legacy, about his role in the sexual ethics of his day which were (again) contradictory. And I knew that there were huge issues with the magazine and the mansion along the way, particularly as it related to the difference between working at one of the clubs and being in the magazine. But I never heard this side of things: that they acted as family to one another, as a bulwark against the constricted (in the 1950s) norms of the day, and as a *sisterhood*—words that would later only come to be associated with the sexual revolution and feminism. But there she was, in the Nairobi airport, a real Playmate of the Month—one of the first—singing the praises of how it changed her life and singing Hugh Hefner’s praises for still being there for her in her 70s. On her way to a three-week safari. And glowing with the vivaciousness of a life well-constructed, empowered, and well lived.

Suffice it to say that I will always remember that momentary connection turned hour-long conversation while our lives crossed in an airport waiting area. Haven’t thought about it in a long while–in fact, until Hefner’s passing and the multitude of Facebook posts one one side or another of that coin that was his life. We are all, each of us, contradictory, aren’t we? We are never all of one thing or another. It’s important to remember this in the line of making sense of things, including ourselves.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

Shared Language

13923512_10157167362285532_6410432123883132113_oI planned to sit and think about us
To decide if what we’re doing is right or wrong
And words like patient and nice and kind came to mind
Words that tedious people use as map markers
to plot a life that’s good enough
And I hated them all
I hated them and I buried them in a dark place
where they would all quietly accept their fate
because they would never think
to scratch their way out,
never think to clench their fists and batter reality
screaming and screaming “what about me”

My mind reeled in modern dance
Spinning, kicking, grasping, landing hard on my knees
hoping the world would give up and let my need for you
stop time long enough for me to see you see me one more time
See me ice-skating with my red scarf flying,
my heart wild with possibility as I crashed
into the snow-walled edges
and got back up for another go
See me negotiating the passage from girl to woman
too fast, too soon, and all the years it took the girl
to finally catch up
See me crying on a hotel bed, curled up in a heaving ball
knowing my father would forget who I was one day
See the depths of me coming for you, for me, for us
again and again, showering us with everything that I am,
our bodies making the past and present sticky sweet

Except I can’t dance well enough to stop time

Oh, but I have words, lover
Words that can shimmy honey onto your tongue
Words that can tap into a bass line so you feel what I feel
Words that can dance all night long steaming up the place
because you are happier when you are warm
My words — I’m yours
Your words — Stay with me
Our shared language of not letting go,
of claiming time in our own way

So I don’t want to decide if we’re right or wrong
I don’t want to be fair
I want to be demanding, selfish, wild, free
I want to scream and scream “what about me” as I drip
my greedy lifeblood into your waiting wanting mouth
And then I can let the nice words live another day
Let them breathe in our poetry so they regret
— just a little —
how fucking patient they’ve been

—Shannon Wand

Why Pick-Up Artists Should Be Sued For False Advertising

“Roosh is tall and well-built and actually rather good-looking for, you know, a monster.”—Laurie Penny, “I’m With The Banned,” Medium (July 21, 2016)

roosh-v-pua2If you’re hot for a guy who’s an asshole, it’s not because he’s an asshole; it’s probably because he’s hot. This is precisely why Pick-Up Artists aren’t just evil and gross, they’re also guilty of false advertising.

Take, for example, the reigning king of the Pick-Up Artists: Daryush Valizadeh (Roosh V). What a profoundly delusional idiot this guy is! He actually thinks that his sociopathic “skills” are what gets him laid. Of course it’s obvious to any objective outside observer with common sense—indeed, even to hard-core feminists like Laurie Penny who loathe him—that he gets laid a lot because he’s hot. Roosh V is guilty of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to as the Green Lumber Fallacy.

As Taleb makes clear in Antifragile (2012), people who are successful at something are often blissfully unaware of why they’re successful at it. They might think they know why they’re successful, but they’re often dead wrong. He refers to this as the Green Lumber Fallacy, after the trader who made a fortune buying and selling green lumber without knowing what it was. Dude thought green lumber was actually “green” as opposed to freshly cut. Funny, I know. But what’s not funny is watching a homely computer programmer trying to apply Roosh V’s creepy techniques. They fail miserably because the techniques aren’t just morally repugnant, they aren’t effective.

What is effective? I’ve noticed three discernible trends when it comes to straight guys who get a lot of play: (1) they genuinely like women and/or (2) they’re hot and/or (3) they’re powerful, which is kinda hot. Successful Pick-Up Artists need to realize that they’re getting laid in spite of their douche-y-ness, not because of it. That being said, there’s something to the whole bad boy thing that Roosh V has got going on. Once again, however, it’s not what he thinks. After three games of pool and way too many shots of Jameson, a lesbian friend of mine once said to me: “Took me ten years to realize I didn’t wanna be with a bad boy, I wanted to be a bad boy.” I’ve suspected ever since that this is central to the bad boy’s appeal. What is the bad boy, after all, if not a person who flouts society’s rules? And who’s more oppressed by society’s rules: men or women?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Celebrating Diversity

benetton-races_3481677bIf you wish to learn about Australia, talk first to Australians and those who’ve actually been to Australia; if you wish to learn about war, talk first to people who’ve actually been to war; if you wish to learn about parenting, talk first to people who actually have kids; and if you wish to learn about racial profiling, talk first to people who’ve actually experienced it. What these people have to say doesn’t have to be accepted as gospel truth. It can be criticized, even rejected; but it deserves special consideration. While it’s true that all men are created equal, it does not follow that all men’s perspectives are created equal.

Few communities are less diverse than that which clamors for diversity. And I say this as a member of that community. Most of my friends who celebrate diversity think they’re looking at real diversity when they look at a Benetton ad. These are the same people, incidentally, who’ll say a Facebook thread is insufficiently diverse for similarly superficial reasons.

We tend to think of diversity only in terms of race, gender, and, to a lesser extent, class and sexual orientation. This is a remarkably blinkered view of diversity. What about religious diversity? After all, white Pentecostals tend to have far more in common with black Pentecostals than they do with white atheists or white lesbians. What about political diversity? Ideological diversity? Linguistic diversity? Geographical diversity? Even diversity of brain function! I’ve had long conversations with high-functioning autistics. Their view of the world is radically different, and thoroughly fascinating: it’s like meeting a talking salamander. Our elders, the very old amongst us, are also often in possession of some much needed perspective. Same is true of the mentally ill, especially those who struggle with schizophrenia. Any comprehensive conception of diversity ought to include their views too.

Demanding diversity for diversity’s sake is about as silly as demanding art for art’s sake. We need to remember that there’s nothing inherently good or bad about diversity in and of itself. It’s important solely because different people bring different things to the table, and people unlike ourselves often notice things we miss. If we’re ever going to make sense of this world of ours, we’ll need a real diversity perspectives, a diversity of perspectives not presently found amongst those who celebrate diversity.

If you’re talking about diversity, “Should we or should we not be a multicultural society?” isn’t the right question. Because nobody’s trying to make our great metropolises multicultural, they already are multicultural. And they’ve been multicultural for well over a century. As such, the right question to ask is “What do we do about all of this diversity?” In the first half of the twentieth century, the prevailing solution was to enforce majority norms. Among other things, this led many immigrants to change foreign-sounding names to English-sounding names. Jerome Irving Cohen became J. I. Rodale. Charles Dennis Buchinsky became Charles Bronson. The more recent solution is to celebrate diversity. There are obvious advantages and drawbacks associated with both of these strategies. But that’s besides the point. Diversity is a fact on the ground. Anyone who fails to acknowledge that is arguing in bad faith.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

The Much Misunderstood Alpha Male

“The ‘alpha male’ exists most loudly in the fantasy of omega losers, Last Men who dream they are the Overman.”—Joseph Gresham Miller

12o6dn (1)Pretty much everything you think you know about the alpha male is wrong. Our understanding of who they are, what they do, and their function has been seriously revised by the last two decades of ethological research. Two things strike me as especially fascinating:

(1) Alpha males are just as good at following as leading. They’re exceptionally good at working with others and deferring respectfully to the skills and superiority of others. If they’ve got a problem, it’s with horizontal (as opposed to vertical) relationships. In short, real alpha males have outstanding social skills.

(2) Alpha males are basically cops. They keep the peace within the group. And the biggest ongoing threat to social peace in most primate communities isn’t angry young men, by the way; it’s mothers. Yep, mom’s Public Enemy #1. A typical scenario runs something like this: two young primates are playing; one of them gets too rough and hurts the other; hurt playmate starts crying; hurt playmate’s mom freaks out, runs over, and smacks the one who hurt her kid; now that kid starts crying; and his mom freaks out, runs over, and smacks the mom who hurt her kid. Now you’ve got two adult females in a full-blown brawl. Within seconds the grandmothers and all of the aunts jump into the fray.

Fights like this can quickly escalate, splitting a group in two, which is bad for everyone because smaller groups are less able to defend themselves against predators and other groups. Anyhow, that’s where the alpha male comes in. The job of an alpha male is to step in and break up the fight before it escalates. And he never plays favorites, even if one of the moms happens to be his sister.

The alpha male fantasy one finds amongst pick-up artists, and on websites like A Voice for Men, is largely a product of the adolescent male imagination. Real alpha males aren’t self-centered pricks who get to do whatever they want, whenever they want. All to the contrary, real alpha males are often the greatest and most selfless servants of the common good.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2016)

It Gets Us Out of the House

472775_10151424690692683_2090565344_o“It gets me out of the house.” That’s what my friend’s grandmother said when they teased her about her obsession with Bingo Night. The woman’s dedication was undeniably. The proof was all up there on her fridge calendar, like some diabolical Master Plan. Every bingo night in the city. Cataloged and accounted for. Complete with directions and estimated travel times.

May 15th @ 7:30 p.m. (basement of St. George’s)

There’s strength in numbers but peace in solitude. Hence the paradox of social life Freud ably described in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930): we need the strength in numbers that comes with social life, but, at one and the same time, social life makes demands upon us that often make us miserable.

A species composed of rugged individualists who really didn’t need each other would have gone extinct long ago. We’re not particularly strong or fast. Like bees and ants, our strength is derived from our amazing ability to work together. But why bother when people can be so annoying? Because we need them. This leads me to suspect that evolution selected for human neediness. Among other things, this explains the voracious nature of human sexuality.

Unlike tigers, bears, and salamanders, who only have sex during the mating season, we have sex all year round. What’s more, we have a great deal of sex that’s clearly not going to result in pregnancy (e.g., gay sex, straight sex after menopause, etc.). This suggests to me that sex’s primary purpose has long since transcended procreation.

Sex renders us needy and draws us to others; it makes us far less self-contained than we might otherwise be. In other words, sex gets us out of the house.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Guys Who Don’t Put It Down, Don’t Go Down

3090__the_war_of_the_roses_1989movie_SCARY PREDICTION: In 2019, the American Sociological Association’s prestigious Best Dissertation Award will go to a PhD dissertation entitled: “Guys Who Don’t Put It Down, Don’t Go Down: An Analysis of the High Correlation Between Men Who Refuse to Put the Toilet Seat Down After They Pee and Men Who Refuse to Perform Oral Sex After They Cum” (2019). An article summarizing the study’s findings will be published in the Spring 2020 edition of The Journal of Incredibly Obvious Results. Men’s rights organizations, like A Voice for Men, will immediately question the study’s methodology. Barbara Kay will claim in a National Post editorial that the very existence of this study is further proof of something she’s been saying for years: namely, that we live in a misandric society. Meanwhile, in Montreal, after hearing about the study’s findings on the clock-radio in his bedroom, our Prime Minister will smile, shake his head in agreement, and head south.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Jian etc.

The first time we meet it’s at the Ivanhoe on Main street, a bar where drug addicts and students mingle. Located by Vancouver’s bus depot which marks the border to the lower east side, it is the kind of place I would not go alone, although it is a popular enough place among my peers. Beer is cheap, two dollars a glass. I’m only 19 years old, but that’s old enough to know the beer here tastes like piss and the carpets smell the same. This is where I meet the guy who turns out to be my rapist, although I won’t know to call him by that word until much later.

Ivanhoe

After all, what is rape? It seems like something that should be relatively straight-forward in its definition, yet when you talk to people it is clearly not all that clear. What constitutes consent? What is the difference between date-rape and aggravated sexual assault? Do rapists who make an “honest mistake” get put in the same category as the armed cartoon-like stranger lurking in dark alleys?

Increasingly, popular discourse has been willing to entertain the idea that rape is not something done solely by masked criminals. Discussions of rape come in and out of public discourse with relative frequency, and the term “rape culture” which was coined by radical feminists in 1970s has received increasing attention with the spotlight now on Jian Ghomeshi.

claireAt 19, I had not heard of “rape culture”. However, my early experiences around sex were marked less by eroticism than by shame and power. My first sexual experience, when I was twelve, happened in the bedroom of a boyfriend who decided to take off my shirt and suck on my barely existent nipples. I did not object; I was too surprised. I was also too uncertain. Perhaps, I thought, this is normal. In hindsight, it was a ludicrous attempt at adult sexuality, but in truth it scarred me. What scarred me was not the act itself, which was only unpleasant, but my boyfriend’s retaliation when I broke up with him the next day. In what can only be described as a kind of public shaming ritual, he found me in the park, threw me on the ground by my hair and spat on me. He said something—slut or bitch, I can’t remember. Around me stood a circle of my peers– some of them my friends—who did nothing. Their silence was what I remember, and their lack of willingness to look at me.

I was so aware of the existence of rape culture before I actually heard the term, that when I finally did hear it, it was like discovering the name of a bird or a flower that you’ve, quite literally, seen since childhood. Nevertheless, there are plenty of women– from bell hooks to Camilia Paglia– who reject the concept.

On the Canadian scene, rape culture made its way into The National Post with commentator Barbara Kay last year. She claims that the term mischaracterizes male behavior and results in misandry: “You can produce any culture you like if you dumb deviancy down. If you change ‘against her will’ to ‘without her consent,’ as we have, that is a huge paradigm shift from what we used to think of as rape: i.e. forced sex. And if a drunk woman can’t give her consent, another moved goalpost, she is ipso facto raped.” Kay’s comments here—which claim a radical distinction between acts that are against someone’s will and without someone’s consent—advocate a return to the masked criminal definition of rape. More significant, Kay’s comments represent questions of the law as questions of cultural definition, which is interesting for those interested in the dialectic between culture and law, but fundamentally misleading. (For a more detailed look on the importance of consciousness and active consent see Supreme Court ruling here.) Kay’s thesis is unsurprising to those familiar with her conservative anti-feminism.

More surprising (at the time) was Jian Ghomeshi’s lack of comment last year during a debate that he organized between Lise Gotell and Heather McDonald around rape culture on his radio program Q. Ghomeshi’s reluctance to intervene when McDonald’s denial of rape culture quickly turned to rape victim-blaming shocked many of CBC’s faithful listeners.

Canadians were perhaps less surprised by Ghomeshi’s lack of comment on rape culture when he fell from grace after showing CBC producers a video of him appearing to sexually assault a woman. It wasn’t exactly the first time a celebrity’s reputation has been bemoiled by a sexual assault accusation, but it was a story that I followed obsessively unlike many of the others. Why? Because in this particular instance, the person in question was somebody I liked. Also, because it appeared that the issue was not whether there was consent; the stories seemed to suggest that absence of consent was precisely (and importantly) what turned him on.

A woman goes back to a celebrity’s house. A woman who is planning on having sex with him. Instead of kissing her, he slaps her, instead of seducing her, he degrades her. He then pretends like everything is normal. He might offer her a ride home. He might ask her if she will see him again for cocktails. For those who have read accounts of the women accusing Ghomeshi, the stories all sound strangely familiar. They follow a pattern of normalcy, bizarre and disorienting violence and then normalcy again. What makes him so successful in evading reprisal is that he is, otherwise, as a lover at any rate, so incredibly boring.

My rapist is also boring. He is the nephew of my English professor. It is my second semester at Langara College, and I love this professor. The last Friday of the semester, my professor invites our class to join him at the Ivanhoe. It must be winter, which in Vancouver means rain. Class gets out at dusk and the sky, which has been heavy all day, begins to fall.

Because I love this professor so much, I’ve come to the Ivanhoe even though it is a bar I do not like. I bring my friend, Mindy (not her real name), because we plan on partying later. Mindy is hot in the most conventional sense of the word. Six feet tall, blonde, her mother was a British model when she was young. Mindy looks like a Bond girl and has also done some modelling. But she isn’t available because she’s married to a tattooed drummer named Eli (also not his real name). My professor’s nephew, let’s call him Jason, wants to sleep with Mindy. He is trying to impress her, trying to be funny and/or clever. He keeps talking about the books he has read. He’s in grad school. He doesn’t know that Mindy doesn’t take his uncle’s class, that Mindy works as a waitress and that she is not interested in college.

Mindy is not impressed. “Who is the loser?” she asks, although not loud enough for him to hear. She doesn’t like the way Jason styles his hair, which is parted in the middle and in a sort of bob; it lays flat against his head. He reminds her of a goat.

Predictably, Jason starts hitting on me when he realizes Mindy is taken. I don’t mind his hair. I think he’s kind of cute.

“What are you girls up to after?” he asks.

“We’re thinking of getting some coke,” I say.

Jason wants to hang out, wants to pay for the drugs. We let him, but we get sick of him soon. He’s trying too hard. We do not care about how smart he is. We leave him on the street corner halfway through the night, jumping into a cab and telling him bye. We are mean to him. By this point, he already has my number.

Why do some men rape?

December 2012: a group of men gang-rape and kill a young woman in Delhi. This was not a date rape. It was a premeditated, clear-cut aggravated assault. A medical student, Jyoti Singh had been to a movie with her male friend. They thought they were getting on a bus, but it would prove to be a torture chamber, where she would be repeatedly raped and beaten for hours, finally dying from internal injuries sustained after her attackers decided to rape her with a rusty steel pipe. She and her companion were found at the side of the road barely breathing, thrown from the bus after her rapists were finally through with her. Rape is fairly common in India; however the violence of the crime, the level of planning that it required and the fact that it resulted in a virtuous woman’s death, left many people around the globe stunned. Why would anyone do such a thing?

In the early days after news of the Delhi attack spread Heather Timmons asked this question to psychologist David Lisak. Lisak lists biological, historical and cultural explanations for rape, but ultimately warns against seeing rape as motivated by something purely sexual: “I think sometimes the sexual element clouds our understanding of what rape is. Fundamentally, it is targeting a group of people they hold hate for.” In short, rape is a hate crime, motivated by a profound antipathy towards women and targeting that part of her anatomy that makes her female. But rape is also about entitlement and control. If a man feels that he is superior to a woman, then rape is a way of asserting that superiority, of proving to her and to himself that she is the weaker sex.

What happens when the victim doesn’t die? What happens when she doesn’t even act damaged? The date rape survivors who move on with their lives–we are harder to immortalize. We are easier to hate.

Jason calls me to see if I might like to come to Victoria to visit him. With Mindy’s negative impression of him out of the way, I say yes.

“Bring some work to do,” he says. “I have a paper to write that weekend, but I’d really like to see you.”

Jason is a graduate student at the university that I am thinking of applying to for my undergraduate degree. I am attracted to him. I want to see him. I know that I will probably have sex with him.

Saturday morning, I catch the ferry from Tsawwassen to Vancouver Island. It is a grey day. The sky is heavy. I feel nervous, knowing that I am going to the house of someone I do not know very well, but I don’t really worry too much. He is my professor’s nephew after all.

At the ferry terminal, Jason is waiting in a black Tercel. He waves to me, and I throw my bag in the back of his car. We give each other an awkward hug.

“Sorry about being rude to you that night,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says, “that was pretty lame.”

I don’t say anything. I know he’s right. The conversation shifts to innocuous subjects. He is casual, friendly. I feel that I have been forgiven, and notice that he has changed the style of his hair. I also notice that he is older than me, well-established in his twenties. His hand, clutching the steering wheel, looks bonier than my own hand which is still soft and girl like. The tendons stick out like ropes along his forearm.

Jason lives in the basement suite of a house. Glass doors lead onto a patio. The apartment is nice, sparse but well-lit with only one room, a bed in one corner next to the bathroom and a small screen which separates the bed from the desk. Immediately upon arrival, Jason gets into the shower. I am surprised by this, but I don’t say anything. Instead, I put down my bag and sit on his bed. I remove my hairpins and lay them on the bedside table. I wait.

A few minutes later he gets out of the shower. He comes to me on the bed and removes his towel. He has an erection which is level with my face. I think I laugh. I can’t remember. He then leans over and kisses me, but without tenderness. He is pressing my shoulders down on the bed. My feet are still on the floor, and I feel them lift as his weight settles on me. I am surprised, but I kiss him back. After all, this is why I am here. Then he is fumbling with my jeans. He pulls them down, pulls down my underpants, and thrusts his penis inside me.

“Wait,” I say. I am not ready, he is hurting me.

He says nothing. His eyes look into mine but they are not friendly. He does not try to kiss me again. His eyes are black, opaque, like drops of crude oil.

“Stop,” I say.

“Shut up,” he says. He is holding my hands on the bed, his arms weighted against my arms. I squirm but it only excites him.

He finishes, a short hard grunt. Then he gets up and dresses.

“Do you want to get something to eat?” he asks.

His face is now casual, friendly. I know that something important has happened but I don’t know what to call it.

According to the American Psychological Association, normal responses to sexual abuse include shock, fear and disbelief. However, these are short term responses and are often replaced by defense mechanisms that have more far-reaching effects. Of the various defense mechanisms which are a response to trauma, repression and denial are considered two of the worst, since they alter the nature of reality and can lead to maladaptive behaviors. Unlike repression, suppression, the conscious effort not to think about traumatic events, is actually quite adaptive. According to Harvard researcher George Vaillant, suppression is “the defensive style most closely associated with successful adaptation.” Humor is also thought to be one of these more adaptive defenses against trauma, as is sublimation—the use of art, writing, sports or other socially acceptable pursuits to channel the negative energy generated from a traumatic event.

In rape cases where a high-profile figure is the accused, public backlash against the accusers is almost a given. People like me, who watched events unfold in Ghomeshi’s case last year, were fascinated to see how this progressed. First one accusation, the predictable argument, the now cliche invocation of Fifty Shades of Grey, and finally the shattering of Ghomeshi’s defense with a slew of credible women all claiming to have been assaulted by him at one point. The backlash against these women was also predictable—why didn’t they come forward sooner? Why not press charges? I’m guessing that most of these women chose to forget about it. They chose to forget about it because it was something they could, more or less, forget about. Was the backlash against these women that they had not come forward, or was it because they weren’t damaged enough? The expectation that a woman be somehow destroyed by sexual assault, permanently damaged, incapable of moving on with her life is part of the same cultural attitude that permits rape and sees women as natural victims. And if Jian is allowed to be irrational and mercurial why can’t the same defense work for those he assaulted?

Objections are made when date-rape is discussed at the same time as rape’s more violent manifestations, but I think this objection is misplaced. No one is disputing that what happened to Jyoti Singh is worse than what happened to me or many other women who have been date raped, just as no one would dispute the distinction between petty theft and armed robbery. However, both are theft, and in the case of date-rape and aggravated sexual assault, both are rape. They follow a similar logic; they are both defended and supported by rape-culture.

claire againSunday morning I leave before dawn and take the bus to the ferry terminal. Jason is still sleeping and I make sure not to wake him. The air is damp and it plays lightly in my hair, which I now wear loose around my shoulders. In September, I will go to the university. I will see Jason around campus. I will chat with him. I see him around campus with his girlfriend. I store what has happened between us, a kernel for a future mind, an event that is so mysterious and so banal that it becomes archetypal. Or perhaps, an event that is so universal that it needs a symbol, something feminine and ordinary, like an egg or a lost hairpin.

—Claire Russell

*Originally published at Slattern. Republished with permission.

Trudeau’s Hotness

11230109_10156175696195068_6632135282872998127_nDISCLAIMER: While I do in fact have eyes, and can therefore note the new Leader of the Great White North is in fact …. smoking fuckin’ hot… I have to confess, having actually met him on a number of occasions, that while he’s pretty to look at? He’s actually not my type. I’m 5′ even on a day when I stand up super duper straight and fluff my hair a bit. And I feel like a little kid when I am with guys his size, as I barely come up to his rib cage! (The new PM is also super ridiculously crazy tall. Well, compared to me, anyway). I actually used to have “if you’re over 5’8″ please don’t bother messaging me!” in my online dating profiles, and I wasn’t kidding. On one of our first dates, my husband told me he was 5’5″, and I jumped across the table and kissed him, because I’d never heard a man admit outloud that he was less than 5’7″ before. Fifteen months later, I married him. So while I can indeed see that Canada’s Favourite Boy Scout is fiiiiine, I am not one of the many women who has JT on her “Freebie List.” This piece is in defence of those men and women who do!

Recently, there’s been an outcry that it’s not okay to point out that in the case of our new Prime Minister, it seems PM stands for Pretty Manly and Positively Magnificent. The argument goes something along the lines of either “it’s not okay to say that about women so why is it okay to say about him?!” or something about how talking about someone’s sexuality without their consent isn’t cool, is objectifying, and reducing them to a “thing”.

With regard to the second argument, I think there’s a way to point out someone is attractive without being gross. Being gross is never okay. And I’ll totally admit that some of the commentary on our completely fine PM is way over the top, the kind of stuff that should be reserved for bedrooms, not boardrooms! Stuff that is disrespectful to someone’s marriage and their own personhood. That’s completely not cool.

But I will take issue with the argument that because it’s not okay to say something about women leaders, it’s not okay to say that same something about male leaders.

There is a huge, massive, major difference between how men and women and their sexuality are viewed in mainstream society. A man’s sexuality has never, EVER taken away from the assumption he is also competent and capable. It, a woman’s sexuality that is, does take away from the assumption she is competent and capable when we’re talking about a woman’s hot factor. Well, actually, no, maybe it doesn’t, because it’s always assumed women are, well, women first, and competent later. If ever. So adding that she’s hot on top of it is just another layer of stuff to dig through before mainstream society sees her as competent and capable.

There is absolutely a double standard, and that’s because they are different. Men and women are equally capable of being competent, effective leaders. Of learning, of leading, of governing. But when it comes to how women and men are perceived as sexual and intellectual beings, It’s apples and oranges. Pointing out the fact the good Lord spent just a little extra time on Justin doesn’t demean Mr Trudeau as a PM, or imply he’s just a hot body and great hair. But there’s no way to seriously put forward the idea his sex appeal is not part of his overall appeal. Let’s face it, he won the election when the accompanying picture here went all over Canada, and women fell in love with the guy who handed a woman beater’s ass to him in the boxing ring, and then got kissed passionately by his wife after as if she was breathing fire into him. That has to be one of the hottest, sexiest pictures ever taken of a national leader in any country!

And no one thinks that makes him less capable as a leader. Now, a woman would absolutely be thought of as less capable due to the fact she’s a woman and seen as sexual. Somehow, we can’t be seen as sexual and be taken seriously at the same time. And so no, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to point out the sky is blue the PM is hot simply because it’s inappropriate to point out a woman in his position is hot. Instead, I lament that women have to be stripped of their hotness to be taken seriously as leaders. Because I’d prefer to live in a world where one could admit they find a woman sexually appealing without that being either a physical threat to her safety*, or essentially saying that her value as a human begins and ends with the fact that she is sexually appealing.

But we don’t live in that world. Yet.

*let’s face it, the world we live in, that is in fact what it is for many women when they are told some man finds them sexually appealing: sure, most men probably won’t rape us. And we aren’t stupid; we know that! But here’s the thing: we don’t know which men will, and which men will not, until after we’ve put ourselves in the position where he can… and yet chooses not to do so. And yeah . . . that’s not a risk many women are willing to take until we know a man quite well

—Wendy KH

Untouchable

“Philosophy’s first and most general task, in the war against anger and fear, is to make things clear—to give the soul an understanding of its own situation and its possibilities. . . . the anxiety that gives rise to strife can be put to flight only by knowledge and self-knowledge . . . . Anxiety is the soul’s darkness, philosophy its light. . . . The triumph of philosophy, in short, is a triumph not through political action . . . but within each human soul in relation to itself—as the soul learns . . . to understand and accept the ways in which a human life is necessarily vulnerable and incomplete, to be willing to live as a soft body rather than an armed fortress.”—Martha Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (1994)

Invisible-woman-artwork-20060626041749688_640w_1205023163_7756It is most likely a defense mechanism against extensive physical, verbal and emotional abuse in childhood that led me to believe that I was untouchable. Maybe it was some sort of ‘never again’ reaction but I just sort of naturally came to believe that if I thought myself untouchable I was untouchable: I couldn’t be abused, just wasn’t possible. This belief system was delusional on many levels. If I was nice to anyone who made fun of me or harassed me, then they were my friends and I remained untouched; if I scrutinized myself and offered up what I had done wrong and apologized to someone bullying me, then we were just having a disagreement and I had managed to resolve it, and so I remained untouchable; if something done to me was too bad, I would try to bury it – refusing to talk or think about it (although the inevitable period of obsessive rumination would lead me to justify burying the events to prevent others from seeing how deeply flawed I must be to provoke such violence) and so I was tenuously untouchable.

I had to appear untouchable because or else, I believed, everyone would see the fatal flaw of who I really was and join in, turn their backs on me and hurt me. I had to be untouchable because the cost of being touched was too high.

jalba13And so I never really addressed anything that happened to me. Just ran away from it – either physically through travel or mentally through books and a rich fantasy life of one day achieving something. Anything, really. Though I was so ‘nice and friendly’, I did everything alone. I travelled alone, I walked alone, I read alone, I wrote alone, I dreamed alone. The only thing I did not do alone was go out at night alone – too many sexual assaults led me to believe in all honesty that a woman should not go out alone at night. Never mind that none of that had happened while I had been out alone. It’s just that the only way I could cope with all that was by beating myself up about things like my blonde hair being ‘bad’, being too nice or not nice enough, the clothes that I wore, etc.. I stopped drinking for years because I wanted to better be able to gauge other’s behaviour; if I failed to do that the consequences were obviously my fault.

And yet through all this I really thought I was untouchable. It was completely delusional.

It took an extremely abusive ex-boyfriend to get me to confront the ways in which I enable abusers by constantly seeking compromise with them, refusing to judge them for their behaviour and placing full responsibility on me to control other’s behaviours. It’s delusional to think I can act in such a way that nothing bad will ever happen to me. Obviously, I still believe a person’s behaviour influences generally the kind of reactions they will get, but it does not control specific reactions. And while as a general rule my approach to life was extremely successful, in a narrow way there were pathological people that could pick-up on signals I was sending that I would do anything to refuse to acknowledge I was experiencing an instance or a sequence of abuse : that I was really a wet noodle with no spine. And even just with luck of the draw, as most women will definitely experience, a crazy random guy that just pinballs his way through life only knowing that I am the only one trying to be nice and understanding, and not telling him to shove off.

So I’ve been learning how to do fight instead of flight. The worst part is that that some people think suddenly I’m a bitch or that I’ve gone crazy, thinking that there are all these crazy men out there when surely it must be me. Trust me, I’ve gone over the possibility that I’m the person at fault about thirty-three thousand times already. I’m not perfect, but it’s not me. It’s just that I went from having blinders on and thinking abuse was something that exclusively happened to others to suddenly realizing, wow, there’s a real sense in which I do not know how to draw proper limits around myself.

In one case, I verbally expressed to a house guest that I was not in a good mood and wanted to be left alone. He became infuriated and screamed insults at me until I cried and he vaguely threatened about ‘really getting mad’ (his girlfriend made him leave). At this point, it might seem like it’s my fault but think about it : everyone has bad days and especially if someone verbalizes their needs, an emotionally adequate response is to give the person space, not attack them. The next day when I said good morning to his girl friend he was apparently still mad and came one inch away from my face screaming extremely personal insults; he was very much in my personal space and when someone does this in a threatening matter your gut reaction is to push the person – I knew if I did he would knock me unconscious and his girlfriend had locked herself in the bathroom when he entered the room, he was refusing to leave my house when I asked him 3 times, I informed him if he did not leave immediately I would call the cops, he left the room and sat on the couch still yelling insults so I called the cops. Oh man did I ever cry and beat myself up about this hair trigger reaction. I felt I had no right to remove him from my space and send him home. I was so mad at myself. Why didn’t I calmly walk away? Why wasn’t I the bigger person? The truth is he would likely have started again next time he saw me (since a day away had not calmed him down) and in even if he calmed down he would learn that he had the right to talk to me that way. I knew I had made the right choice – so why was I so sad?

I wasn’t untouchable.

In the other case, a man I had met through friends was just a text maniac. The day after meeting him, I took two hours for dinner and returned to 8 messages asking me why I wasn’t answering and what he had done. Plus to be honest half the things he messaged me sounded like straight up lies. I really did not like this person and I was having a hard time remaining patient. Still I wanted to be nice and not just ghost. So I told him I did not like to text, that I was extremely busy and that I was sorry but that maybe in a month if I had time I would let him know. Pretty obvious – but, yes, ever so slightly ambiguous. Well, he started calling (because I didn’t like texting). I never picked up. More texts. Like six in an hour. Never answered. Than he wrote me asking if I thought I was stalking him. I told him listen, you are a very nice guy, you are not a stalker but yes I was overwhelmed by his communication style and did not see this working. Responded that when I had more free time we should hang out. More calls. More texts. Now Facebook messages – ten of them(!) going from ‘hey how are you’ to angry ‘I do not like how you make it look like I’m chasing after you by not responding, I’ve made my intentions clear and I’d like you to make your intentions clear’. So I responded ‘I think I have. I’m confused’. 8 responses including ‘Oh I think you must have messaged the wrong person’. So I bite the bullet, tell him that I’m sorry for being harsh but I feel he will misinterpret anything else, that I have multiple times said I was not interested and that there were no mixed signals (that ‘you are not a stalker does not = I’m interested’ (!)) and that at this point I wanted absolutely no further contact with him. The messages just kept coming ‘I’m not done with you’, ‘I don’t want to talk your head off’, ‘the texts are psychological warfare’ at which point I tell him I’m considering blocking him. 6 messages later I block him. Then he starts texting me. At which point I tell him that this is why I’m blocking him and to please not turn into a weird cliché before I figure out how to block texts on Android 5.0. I know I did the right thing and was actually considerably patient with him… just not the kind of patient I used to be. Just not the kind of person that would figure out a way to make things OK for this guy at the expense of my time and energy. But also to avoid feeling, well, contaminated. If I ended things well and platonically with him than there was nothing to feel weird and exhausted about. It was in my control to decide if this ended though blocking or mutual agreement, right? It wasn’t delusional at all to think somehow I could control the behaviour of someone that I had met once amongst all the other factors contributing to how he chooses to communicate? Right?

Why else do I feel so sad? Why else do I only want to sleep? Why else do I not want to see anyone again? I admire people that medicate their anxiety with activity. Me, I just stare at the wall and ruminate all the ways this is my fault and what I could have done differently for this never to have happened so that I can be untouchable. Actually, it’s not that all the time, but it is that often enough that it always surprises me when people think I go out a lot and do, you know, stuff.

I don’t want people to know these are the kind of people that have been in my life this last month because what if they think that I must be attracting this kind of attention, that I love and crave drama, that I’m provoking otherwise normal people into odd patterns of behaviour, that somehow I’m beyond just manipulative and I actually have this power to make people behave in odd ways because I’m so abnormal and flawed that I would drive anyone to madness — much the way I’m driving myself to madness… But I’m driving myself mad trying to cope with a world in which I’ve had to experience some pretty horrible things at an age so young that my mind was not equipped to explain it. When the only ways I was taught to cope with these things was silence, shame, secrecy and self-reprimands. These tools worked as a delusional child who believed that you could just keep these things a secret and strive to be perfect and untouchable and that was the way the world worked. People that did not have horrible things happen to them were normal. I just wanted to be normal. But I was so abnormal I had to be stronger. I had to be untouchable. The times I have been manipulative almost exclusively are in times I sensed physical danger was imminent. Have you ever manipulated violence into love? I had to be delusional because reality was strangling me.

It’s cognitive dissonance in motion, but is this a ‘girl thing’? Surely a lot of women experience these frustrating stereotypes about women, strange double-binds and never-ending prescriptive demands and come out semi-normal? Is this a ‘child of abuse thing’? Surely it’s like some sort of Stockholm Syndrome where you identify with your aggressors more than with your own plight because, well, they have the power to end this nightmare, not you — so if you identify with them you have the illusion of power… Is this ‘my own special brand of weirdness’? God knows I’m convinced I’m weirder than I probably am because I just want to make myself interesting because that’s the kind of piece of shit I am that drives people so crazy. I don’t know. I really don’t know.

But now I know I’m not untouchable. I’ve cut the hippie karma krap and have started being bitchy and defensive sometimes. I do not do it because I enjoy it but because I want to truly and genuinely feel safe. People have hurt me and will continue to hurt me. But I have the right and the ability to defend myself and set limits for appropriate interactions. It will always hurt me to do so because it reminds me that I’m not untouchable. A limit I’m setting for appropriate interaction is you do not have the right to question the limits I set for behaviour I don’t feel comfortable handling. My limit might be lower than yours, or maybe my limit rebuffed someone you know and you think that makes me ‘too sensitive’ or ‘crazy’– well yes I’m too sensitive. I set a limit because the behaviour was more than I could handle. Even with the limit I’m the one sitting alone crying for a couple of days wondering what I did to deserve this. I set the limit so that it wouldn’t trigger a full-on depression. You questioning my limit in a mean-spirited manner or in a way in which you are trying to shift blame onto me is stepping on that limit. Maybe try understanding why I have a limit with the same care you are putting into understanding the behaviour of the person who went loco and contributed to me temporarily retreating from the world in fear tomorrow will bring just some other bullshit that I do not want in my life.

I’m extremely sensitive and have to be careful the people I allow into my life as I easily set myself aside to try and figure out how they can be happy. Yes, a certain happiness comes from casting aside one’s own ego – but I no longer believe trying to create a void in the self to suppress negative emotions about one’s self is ‘healthy’. I don’t know what the answer is but I’m in my own body and mind and I’m going to start by placing limits around me because I’m not untouchable.

—V. Lynn Therrien