Content Warning: This post has some description of agressive, threating behaviour. Also it’s very personal and it got pretty long. If you decide to skip it, I totally understand.

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Oh, peeps, I feel like I owe you many apologies. First because it’s been so long since I’ve made time to blog here. Second because my last post was kind of moody in tone. Third because this one’s about rough times too.

Before I delve into what’s bugging me, I have to tell you that generally speaking life has been good. Things at school are going well. I’ve got a book in the works and other career plans that have me excited about the future. California continues to be a source of fun and family adventure. I want to write about all of those things. Time permitting I will, and soon, but today’s post is about something far less pleasant.

A couple of months ago, I was riding the subway (or BART as it’s known to locals) after school, when a man sat down beside me and proceeded to threaten me. I wrote about the incident on Facebook the night it happened, so I know some of you already know this. It’s difficult for me to recount the entire incident (I’ll explain why shortly), so I hope bullet points are okay for now:

  • I suspect this person was ill. They kept confusing me with other women in his life. They seemed to perceive me as a threat to both him and to “children”. They indicated repeatedly that his plan was to rape and kill me/these women in order to “stop” me from hurting people.
  • It was a rush hour train, very crowded, which made it very difficult for me to get up and move away from him.
  • They had a bag full of random items. I didn’t know if he had a weapon. At the time, I wasn’t very worried about being sexually assaulted but I was very afraid that if I inadvertently said  the wrong thing they would stab me, or pull out a gun on the train
  • I tried, without further agitating my seatmate, to enlist the help of the nearby passengers. I noticed some of them watching what was happening. I managed to make eye contact with a few people, but they turned away. Now it’s possible, even likely they just didn’t know what to do. It’s also possible that someone called for help after they left the train, or that someone I couldn’t see was monitoring the situation. But my perception was that I was left alone to fend for myself.
  • Ultimately, I made it off the train unharmed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been through something like this. I was definitely off-kilter for several days following the incident. I figured feeling feelings was productive. After a couple of weeks, I wasn’t exactly over it, but I felt a lot better. Life was good and I felt like I was moving past it.

Last week, I started getting weird. Not weird in my typical adorkable way. Not even weird in the way that my anxiety disorder makes me weird. My brain and my body started behaving in odd ways that I do not like at all. It’s still happening right now, which is why I’m feeling pretty desperate get some of this out of my head and into words.

The good news, is that I’m pretty sure I understand what’s going on with me. The cruddy news is that what’s going on with me is that I’m experiencing psychological trauma. Pbbbblt!

I’ve been given lots of great suggestions for how to cope, while my mind and body sort through the ickyness this experience has churned up for me. What I can’t do is make these feelings magically disappear. I know because when I Googled, “make these feelings magically disappear”, the results were, “No. In order to move past the crap, you must experience the crap.”

So, for the time being, I’m left with coping. I may not be able to change what I’m feeling, but understanding it definitely helps get me through the day. Between work and years of therapy, I had some good go-to resources to help me bone up on the symptoms of trauma. In many ways, what I’m feeling is typical. In some ways it isn’t. Which is also typical, because everyone who feels traumatized gets to experience it in their own way.

I’m gonna talk about some of what I’m feeling. Mostly because writing about this stuff kind of helps to clarify and organize my thoughts so they aren’t so overwhelming. I also thought it might be helpful if any of you are going through something similar. But remember this is totally #NormalNotNormal. If you relate, I hope this helps. But you may have felt or feel traumatized in ways that aren’t anything like what I’m feeling and that’s legit too.

Nightmares

I don’t have a lot of nightmares. Last week when I started having violent, dreams virtually every night, it raised a big, red flag. Interestingly, the dreams almost never have anything to do with what happened in real life. Often times, I’m not even in them – I’m just witnessing scary shit. I’m not quite sure what my subconscious is doing there, but I’m guessing it’s some sort of fear-processing mechanism.

What’s weird about these nightmares, is, as violent as they are, when I wake up, the cognitive part of my brain is completely unphased. I think, ‘That is not a thing I need to be afraid of in real life. I’m going to back to sleep’. Unfortunately, my body does not agree one bit. Physically, I can feel bricks of fear in my chest and stomach. Mentally and physically, I’m totally out of synch, which brings me to the other thing I’ve noticed.

Disconnect

Lately, there is a profound diffence between my thoughts and how my body feels. Mentally, I feel as rational as I ever have. Physically, I’m always afraid. Yesterday I went to an event in the city. I parked my car a block from the venue. I looked around, assessed the situation and I knew that the odds of anything dangerous happening were extremely low. In my mind, I was calm. But my body was frightened. My body had been frightened on the drive over. My body had been frightened when I got in the car. My body was frightened earlier that afternoon when I was sitting at my desk writing a book report. I feel scared even when there’s no reason for me to feel that way. It’s not overwhelming or debilitating. But it’s always there. My brain understands that I’m relatively safe. My body is like, “Whatevs, Brain! The playground at three in the afternoon is a scary-ass place to be and you’re not convincing me otherwise!”

 

Huh? What?

My brain is doing okay with the risk-assessing. Not so good with retaining information, organizing thoughts or concentrating on tasks. I’m a reasonably smart gal, but I am not on the ball. I’m constantly using the wrong words to describe things or calling folks by the wrong name. Reading is a challenge. Writing is a challenge. Getting this post together is slo-o-w-w-w going. Now, I’ve got to be real. I tend to be disorganized and a little distracted even at my best. But this is pretty bad, even for me. By all reports this is also typical of the traumatic process. Good to know, but it’s still the pits.

 

Out Of Order

At some point I will schedule a Skype session with my shrink in Ottawa. I haven’t done it yet, because I don’t want to tell her what happened. It’s really hard for me to talk about the actual incident. Not because of the emotions it triggers, but because the timeline of events is completely mixed up in my head. My memory of what happened, starts with a guy in a green shirt. He was standing in the aisle and we made eye contact, before he turned away. That happened maybe ten minutes after my seatmate started harassing me. It was neither the first, nor the most significant part of that incident. But that’s what I remember first and that’s what I remember most clearly.

The event is like a puzzle. All the pieces are there, but they aren’t cohesive. Talking about what happened in chronological order is remarkably difficult, right now.  I might write the events, as I remember them on cue cards and then try to order the cards in the order I think everything happened. I’m not up for that task right now, but I think it could be helpful down the line.

Stranger Danger

I’ve never cottoned to the “don’t talk to strangers” approach to life. First of all, how am I supposed to make friends if I can’t talk to people I don’t know? Also, my experience of strangers is that most of them are pretty helpful if you’re in a jam. The reason I love urban environments is that there’s always someone around. I normally feel more comfortable surrounded by strangers than I feel being isolated and alone.

Now, I’m uncomfortable around strangers. Again, there’s a brain-body disconnect. I encounter someone new and I think, “Odds are you’re a decent person,” while my body is like, “This person might be dangerous.” I dropped off Twitter for almost a month after the incident. Now I’ll make the occasional appearance, but I don’t linger. There are strangers on Twitter.

Everything I’ve read confirms that this is a normal part of a traumatic process. But I find itdifficult to accept. I identify strongly as a people-person.The most rewarding aspect of my life are my relationships. Being with others is how I derive energy and inspiration. People, for the most part, are kind and interesting and helpful. But right now I’m really struggling to engage with folks. I’m mistrustful and I don’t like it, because I know I’m not being fair.

I’m not trying to beat myself up. I know I’m allowed to feel how I feel, but this just really sucks. I don’t like feeling timid. I don’t like avoiding eye contact with people. I don’t like going into situations with all of my defenses up. And the worst part is, avoiding strangers doesn’t make me feel safer. It makes me feel lonely. I really, really hope this is temporary, because keeping people at arm’s length is not my style.

Where Do I Go From Here?

It sounds weird, but on some level the fact that I’m having all these gross feelings is a good thing. Whether or not my perception of the events on the subway were accurate, I was legitimately afraid that my seatmate might harm me. It would have been nice if that fear had resolved itself as soon as the encounter was over, but that didn’t happen. I’m not enjoying these feelings, but if they’re here, I’m probably processing them, which means they’ll probably(mostly) go away in time.

  • Writing all of this down is helpful. Sharing it and getting support is helpful. The Man of Mans is, as always, doing a phenomenal job of listening, accepting and supporting me.
  • When it feels manageable, I go out and I try to talk to new people. Meeting folks who are nice, is a helpful reminder that people are nice.
  • I’m trying to exercise most days. A lot of times it’s just going for a walk or taking a yoga class, but sometimes I feel a bit better after.
  • I make a lot of jokes. Humour is one of my most trusted coping mechanisms. Plus laughing feels good.
  • I am avoiding some things. I used to love taking BART to get around, but I just can’t handle riding the subway alone right now. I’m driving more, which I don’t love, but it’s what I can handle right now.
  • I’m thinking about how I can get more rest and feed myself well. Obviously my body is pretty stressed. She could probably use some extra sleep and nutrition.
  • Finally, I’m thinking about ways to inject a little fun, relaxation and enjoyment into each day. Processing is important, but it’s probably also important to take a break from all of that and chill out for a bit. I don’t want to spend my last months in California being all tense and miserable. This is a rough time, but if I try, I can still find moments of happiness and pleasure.

 

That’s where I’m at. I’m hoping these feelings will pass by the end of this paragraph, but experience has taught me they may linger past my concluding statement. People have survived much worse and I will survive this. And the writing does help. It has helped. If you made it all the way through, thank you.

This too shall pass.

Time to get my head on straight!

Time to get my head on straight!

After twenty-three years of chemical straightening I’ve returned to my natural hair texture. HUZZAH!

If you have the time and the patience, bear with me. Those of you who’ve read my previous post on the subject, know that I’ve got some major feelings tied up in this hair bid’ness. My shrink already has her hands full with all my other neuroses so this long, rambling blog post serves as stand-in therapy on this issue.

After years of ambivalence, I was motivated to make the change once and for all, when The Man of Mans and I began planning our move to California. One of the first things we had to figure out was we how would afford life in a pricey state on a single income while carrying the cost of my return to school.  We had some major trimming to do budget-wise,  so we began by making a spreadsheet of all our current expenses. When we added up the cost of all of my salon appointments, including taxes and tips, I was spending close to $1500 per year to relax my hair!

DAAAAAG!

Fifteen hundred dollars could cover our moving expenses. It would pay for my books. Fifteen hundred dollars would take of all my long-distance bills to friends and family. For fifteen hundred dollars, I could attend three national conference. I could buy the family a new computer. I could take my son to a major league baseball game every weekend,  enroll him in an amazing summer camp or we could take a family trip together. There were so many other uses for the money I was spending on relaxers.

It wasn’t worth it.

I’m happy to spend money on my personal care and grooming. But having straight hair hadn’t felt like an investment for quite sometime. It didn’t make me feel good, figuratively or literally. The terrible sting of chemicals on my scalp left me feeling ashamed and resentful. I was straightening my hair, not because I because it made me feel beautiful but because it made me feel safe, inconspicuous. Relaxers made my head uncontroversial. Appeasing others at my own expense is not the person I want to be. But the memory of hurtful things people used to say about my natural hair still loomed large. I was scared.

I realized that this was probably one of those situations where I’d have to face my fears in order to get past them. It was time to invest my money and my energy into better things. I cancelled my next standing appointment at the salon. I was going natural! I felt strong and empowered…for almost ten whole minutes.

Then I panicked.

It had been so long! I didn’t really remember my natural texture. I didn’t know what to do!  Did I just let it grow? Did I need a weave or wigs? Special products? New shampoo? OMG, what?!

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that my head wasn’t going to break out in nappy curls that second. With the exception of some faint kinking at the roots, my hair was still straight. I literally had to grow into this change, which meant I had time to figure stuff out.

I went to the Internet and Googled something like “RELAXED TO NATURAL OMGHAIRFLAIL!”  Bam!  A myriad of websites, blogs and vlogs about the wonderful world of natural black-people hair.

I knew of women who went natural by doing what’s know as The Big Chop. Essentially it means cutting off all your relaxed hair at once and re-growing it from scratch. That scared the crap out of me. My hair wasn’t spectacular…but I needed it. Otherwise, I’d just be a head and face which…ACK and…I couldn’t and…NO!

A second Google search revealed that going natural without a Big Chop is totally a thing. I could let the natural texture grow in while doing “mini-chops” every few weeks to gradually remove my relaxed hair. It would take a long time – a year, maybe two – to rid myself of all the processed hair. It would also be far more challenging to maintain the health of two radically different hair textures. But the alternative was super-short and that was NOT EVER HAPPENING. So I got myself a pair of trimming scissors and settled in for the long transition.

It took about ten weeks before I really started to notice a substantial change in my hair. My new growth was dense, extremely curly and kind of coarse. Managing my naps while the rest of my hair was straight was tough. My hair started snapping off at the place where the two textures met (typical during transition). I started styling my hair in flat twists and up dos. The styles keep my fragile hair reasonably protected and help conceal some of the transitional awkwardness.

Something I heard time and again from women in the natural hair community was that changing my hair was an emotional journey and I might be surprised by what came out of the experience. That was totally true. I would vacillate from one emotional state to another: fear, excitement, fear, joy, fear, fear, pride, fear, absolute terror, fear, wonderment, fear.

One day, I was in the shower, washing my emerging coils and I thought ‘I like these.’ It was nice and very new not to feel at odds with the kink. Suddenly I was overcome by curiosity. I really wanted to see what that hair would looked like all on it’s own. I got out of the shower, found my scissors and cut the relaxer off a discreet lock of hair near the nape of my neck. Once they were free, my natural strands popped back toward my scalp like a tightly wound spring. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘that’s my hair.’

I wanted that hair and only that hair. But I was still terrified of The Big Chop. It was too drastic. Yes, it would grow out eventually but it would take months, years even to regain any significant length. What if I looked awful in the meantime?

Yet every time I put my hands in my hair my curiosity grew. What was going on up there? The darn relaxer was in my way, distorting my texture and altering my curl pattern. I began trimming more aggressively. I cut off more near my neck. I went back to YouTube and watched videos of other women who had big chopped. Many had been afraid going into it, but they all seemed so happy once it was done. I began to think maybe, just maybe I could do it too.

Of course I’d have to find someone to do the chopping. It was one thing to self-cut small sections of my hair but no way could I shear the my entire head without making a hash of it. I didn’t want to see my old stylist for fear they would try to talk me out of my natural plans. After careful consideration, I asked my mom if she would do it during my next visit to her place. She instantly agreed to help, because my mom is lovely that way.

But even after I made the decision, I still had a great deal of anxiety about having super-short hair. (This is where I get a little heavy. I appreciate that you’ve stayed with me this long. Hang in a little longer, ‘kay?)

I was worried about what others would think. But when I told people my plans, I received an outpouring of enthusiastic support. My partner was uber-excited for me. My friends sent me pictures of women rocking short, stylish afros. I certainly didn’t have to worry about being shunned by my loved ones.

I was very concerned about the fact I didn’t know what I’d look like. A super-short style would change the dynamics of my face, even my body and who knew what the results would be. I might be less attractive. And then it struck me, in a super-clear moment of disempowering shame that thought of being unattractive, scares the crap out of me.

I legit love clothes and make-up and all that look-y look dress up stuff. I adored styling my dolls as a little girl and now that I’m grown, I’m like my own doll, except way better because I’m not plastic. I’m a real person with thoughts, a heart, a soul and a life. Score!

But even though I enjoy clothing and grooming myself (in ways that are very much line with conventional notions of femininity) I also feel I’m expected, if not to attain, to at least strive toward certain beauty standards. I should want to be pretty and if I can’t be, I should feel badly about it. There are times when I really do feel that my right to be seen, to be heard and to take up space in a room is proportional to my perceived level of attractiveness.

I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. I constantly hear people, especially women apologize and castigate themselves because they’re the “wrong” size/shape, because they lack the expected adornments or because they’ve committed some other perceived offense, which basically amounts to “I Had The Audacity To Be Out In The World Looking Like What I Actually Look Like”. I want to tell them to stop saying those things. Sometimes I do. Which might be helpful but I realize it’s also hypocritical. The truth is I struggle with those same feelings and I know I’ve buckled under the weight of those expectations more than once. I do feel, at times, that beauty is my obligation and making myself attractive is a major clause in my contract with the rest of society. I feel like I’m always expected to care about how I look or that being pretty is something I’m supposed to want.

Except it isn’t true. It’s pervasive and I feel it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a big pile of toxic bullshit crapping all over my self worth. It gives me feelings; feelings that are very strong and very real. But the truth is, I can choose to take beauty off my list of priorities and that is totally okay.

I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago and sat down to have a serious talk with myself. I said to myself, Self…

That is some toxic nonsense! Don’t make choices based on toxic nonsense. You know you have value, no matter what you look like. This is your body and your hair and you’re allowed to do whatever you want to do with it. If you don’t love the way short hair looks on you, that’s okay. You can still love who you are. So get over yourself, Nadine. It’s just hair.’

My real self-talk wasn’t nearly that Hallmark-ish,  but the gist was there. I felt more courageous about The Big Chop. And even though I’m kind of embarrassed that I needed courage to get a haircut, that’s honestly what it took. Don’t judge me too harshly, okay?

It took two decades of hair trauma and six month of transition but I’m finally learning embrace my hair, as is. I’m becoming reacquainted with my kinky, nappy head and you know what? I really am happy I did this! I’m newly minted naturalista and I’m happy to report that so far life post-relaxer is great and not so scary.

Not so scary at all.

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This is a reboot of a entry I wrote for my old blog back in September of 2010. It’s not about sex but it is very personal. I’m reposting it here as it’s directly related to a new entry coming later in the week.

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Yesterday…I got my hair did.

I have a standing appointment every eight weeks to have my hair washed, trimmed and relaxed.  If you’re unfamiliar with the intricacies of black people hair, relaxing is a chemical process that breaks down the bonds of my super-kinky, naturally nappy hair, leaving it straight.

If I had a recent picture of myself with my hair au naturel, I would post it.  But such a photo does not exist. I’ve been processing my hair for well over twenty years now.

Left to it’s own devices, not only is my hair intensely curly, it’s impossibly thick, has a coarse texture similar to that of synthetic furniture stuffing and left unbraided, prefers to point up rather than down.

As a child, I hated everything about my hair.  I hated the thickness that could obliterate lesser combs.  I hated the ordeal of having my head scrubbed every Saturday morning with the special “for-black-people” shampoo that smelled terrible, followed by two hours of pain while my mom combed out the extensive net of knots that had formed.

Young and nap-tural!

But most of all, I hated that my head was topped by stiff plaits when my friends had long, soft, easy hair that actually moved as they did.  Back then I would have gladly traded a limb in exchange for a long, swingy ponytail.

Because I’m female, because I’m black and because I live in the part of the world that I do, having healthy hair-esteem is a challenge. When we very little my cousins and I would put yellow blankets on our heads to simulate the free-flowing blondness we saw in commercials and re-runs of Charlie’s Angels. I was in my twenties, before I saw ad for hair products that included a woman of colour shaking her glorious mane with slow-motion vigour.  And even then, her hair was as straight and silken as her Caucasian compatriots.  The marketing mantra of desirable female hair has been basically then same my entire life: Long. Shiny. Bouncy. In it’s natural state, my hair is exactly the opposite of this.

When I was a girl, white people were baffled and fascinated by my hair.  I remember a woman, a stranger,  actually fingering one of my nappy braids and saying, “It doesn’t even feel like hair.”  That sucked.

It also sucked that while white women regarded my hair with insensitive astonishment, black women – primarily members of my own family – perpetuated “good hair” myths with a vengeance.  Once I hit about ten, the pressure to tame my fuzz and do “something” about my hair was ON!

“You can’t run around looking like some African wild-child,” one aunt-admonished me.   (Side note: Try-Not-To-Seem-Too-African was a driving force amongst my grandparents’ generation of Black West Indians).

I also got, “You’d be pretty if you did something with your hair.”  And the most direct criticism from a family friend, “Your hair makes you look ugly.”

My mom tried her best to counter all the hair negativity.  But my mother’s natural hair texture is a lot looser than mine and much more in line with conventional standards of beauty.  So every time she tried to instill me with a sense of pride in my nappy head, I’d look at her wavy, long, bouncy, shiny hair and think, ‘What the hell to you know?’

Fro-licious!

By the time I was eleven, I succumbed.  I began badgering my parents until they conceded to let me have my hair relaxed.  My mom took me to a salon on a Friday after school.   I was so excited when we arrived, I ran inside and practically jumped into the beautician’s chair.

Relaxer is a cream made of standard conditioning agents, fragrance and an assload of sodium hydroxide.  When the stylist  first applied to my head it felt goopy and kind of cold.  After a few minutes it started to tingle.  Then it kind of started itching.  And then…it began to burn.

I didn’t cry that first time, but I came close.  I was chanting the f-word very, very quietly (Mom within in earshot) and contemplating running to the bathroom and putting my head in the toilet. Finally the stylist ushered me over to the sink, hosed my head down with cold water and put me out of my misery.

 

Why would anyone do this to themselves? I wondered.  I decided that had been my first and last relaxer, because only an idiot would willing subject themselves to that type of pain of a regular basis. Then the stylist turned me around to face the mirror.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.  For the first time in my life, I had “normal” hair.  It was loose and straight and shiny and it moved! It was some sort of hair miracle!  I could not stop touching it.  The minute we got home, I tied it back and started shaking my head around like a pony-tailed fool.  The kids at school went crazy for it.  White people left me alone!  Black people nodded approvingly!   Pain? Who cared? What was 20 minutes of scalp torture when compared with unprecedented social acceptance?

Like so many black women before me, I came to fully embrace relaxer or, “the creamy crack”, as it’s wryly referred to.  Relaxer gave me the ability to experience ponytails and approval.  But there were negatives. You can’t really get relaxed hair wet, which meant wearing covering my hair in various plastic caps in the shower, when I swam and on rainy days. I had to go back to the salon every few weeks to get my roots touched up. At best it was a very painful process. Much worse were the few times I sustained chemical burns on my scalp.

I briefly broke my addiction to the creamy crack the summer after eight grade.  I wanted to swim without having to wear my granny-looking bathing cap.  So I had my hair cut short and let my ‘fro return. I was actually kind of okay with the whole thing for about five minutes. Then high school began.

I went into ninth grade full frizzy fro and NO ONE was having that!   Within a week, the popular black kids were calling me “Buckwheat”.  The popular white kids picked it up. By October, I’m pretty sure most people thought that was actually my name.  One day during art, two of my classmates decided to dump an entire tin of blue powder paint on my head.  Another kid cried out, “Hey! Buckwheat’s black and blue!”  Everyone laughed.  Even the teacher kind of chuckled for a second before he remembered that he had to pretend this wasn’t cool. (After sentencing the paint-bombers to detention, he pulled me aside and kindly suggested that perhaps I could avoid such incidences in the future, if I tried harder to fit in and look like the other students).

That was it. I felt isolated and traumatized.  My hair was not my crowning glory.  It was the bane of my existence.  Not long after, I was back on the creamy crack.  I have been ever since.

I lived many, many years, well into adulthood, simply accepting that my

natural hair was bad.  I’m not sure when I began to rethink that.  I do know that it took a long time before I decided  that my hair is just my hair.  It’s not bad.  It’s not good.  It’s just a bunch of dead protein strands coming out of my head.   The marketing, the gawking, the names, the pressure…it’s all just a remnant of a bunch of oppressive, Euro-normative crap.  I know this.

Because I know this, I have to ask myself, “Self, why do you still relax your hair?”  The answer…because generally speaking, that Euro-normative crap is still the basis for our standards of beauty.  And the truth is, I’m afraid of what it means to defy those standards…at least when it comes to my hair. I don’t want people gawking at my head and fondling my strands like I’m one woman petting zoo. I don’t want to constantly defend my tresses to family members. I don’t want to be mocked or painted blue again. There is a part of me that wants to go back to my natural texture, I’m afraid that I can’t do it in a non-provacative way.

My straight hair is a total concession to The Man. It pretty much violates my feminist and anti-oppressive beliefs.  I imagine there are those who see my hair and judge me as lacking the courage of my convictions.   I certainly judge myself that way, at times.  Casting directors have occasionally cited my hair as a barrier to getting film and TV work.  American producers prefer relaxed hair; however they prefer the long, luxurious look of a weave.  Canadian producers, like a little kink; however, it’s typically a longer, looser curl than I can achieve.

The thought of fighting the fight of race and gender on a part of my body I can’t even see unless I look in the mirror is wearying.  I hope someday I’ll find the resolve to ignore the ignorant but I have to admit that I’m not there yet. If relaxed is what it takes for people to relax for the time being I’ll do it and hope that eventually, I’ll it myself straightened out.

Trigger Warning for discussions of sexual assault/abuse, bullying and Rethaeh Parson’s suicide. Please skip this post if you need to.

Today is meant to be the question of the week. I’m sorry but I can’t. Like many of you, I’ve been reading about Rehtaeh Parsons, a young girl who died at only 17 years old. I’m sure a lot of you have read the statement her father posted yeseterday. It’s beautiful and devastating. I know I’m not the only who read it, cried and wondered why this happened.

I’m looking for answers. I’m hearing stories, reading articles that point the finger squarely at bullying. Rehtaeh was harassed at school and her classmates called her a slut. Someone took a picture of the assault and students posted it all over Facebook. There are some really cruel kids out there today and easy access to social media and technology makes them ruthless. Rethaeh took her own life because she was mocked and humiliated. Bullying caused this.

Or so the story goes. And I’m seriously disturbed by the glaring omission in that story. Rehtaeh Parsons wasn’t just bullied by her peers. She was sexually assaulted by her peers. When she sought the support from community, she was essentially told “Sorry. Nothing we can do.” The bullying was undoubtedly rough salt being rubbed in, but that’s not what caused the wound. We’re telling the story wrong. And in doing so, I feel like Rehtaeh Parsons’ experiences are being dismissed all over again.

(Aside: I’m going to use the words “we” and “us” lot in this post. I mean it in the general “we as a society” sense and not the “you and I as specific individuals” way).

When we turn this into a story about a girl who committed suicide because she was bullied, we’re spinning a convenient truth that absolves us – the adults who are largely in charge of things around here – of our responsibility. We agree that Rehteah Parsons’ death is tragic. We offer her pothumus sympathy. We empathize with her loved ones. And we tell ourselves that we didn’t do anything. It’s the kids who were wrong. They bullied her. We reassert our determination to vanquish the scourge of bullies from our school and restrict online access (because the Internet is kind of wrong too).

Yes bullying is a thing. It’s a real problem that can absolutely break people’s spirits and drive them to desperate acts like suicide.  It’s not okay that people harassed this girl or called her names. And finding ways to end bullying is important, necessary work. But the taunts and social media slander are only symptoms of what for me is a much bigger problem. Retheah Parsons was raped and we – the adults who are largely in charge around here – don’t take sexual violence seriously enough.

We don’t like people who are raped. And we really, really don’t like people who are raped and then tell us they were raped. If we know about it, we’re supposed to do something about it. We have to think about it and that’s really unpleasant. I’m not certain of the reasons for our reticence. I do have some theories but I’ll leave for those for another post.

When people like Rethaeh Parsons tell us – the adults who are largely in charge around here – that they’ve been sexually assaulted, what do we do? We turn them into defendants. We ask them why they got raped? Haven’t we told you over and over again not to let yourself get raped? We concede that sexual violence is terrible, we’re not saying that anyone deserves it. We just want to know, what did you think would happen when you put on that oufit, went to that place, drank all of those drinks?

Yet we don’t understand why Rathaeh Parsons classmates called her a slut.

When people like Rethaeh Parsons tell us that they’ve been raped, we don’t want them to be “victims”. We don’t want to know how deeply sexual violence can hurt or see the raw, messy parts of their pain. We like people who endure rape and sexual abuse in a quiet, dignified way We’re supportive of counselling, therapy and other coping methods that involve going away and dealing with it discreetly. We just can’t get too involved – not the school, not the police. Adults in positions of power and authority but we can’t help.

Yet we wonder why Rethaeh Parsons peers didn’t say anything?

We talk about people who have been raped as though they aren’t human. After Stubenville, CNN lamented the fate of two young men by describing, their scholastic acheivements, their extra curricular activities and their histories. They were portrayed as people. People who’s futures had been tragically thwarted when some girl thoughtlessly left herself vulnerable to raping. In Rethaeh Parsons’ case her father, a man gutted by grief, who tells us that she was a person. She was a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, valuable person with a past and future that was tragically altered into something she couldn’t live through. His letter was stands in heartbreaking contrast to our habit of describing people as dehumanized cautionary tales.

We ask ourselves- how students could circulate a picture of a peer being raped?

Prime Minister Harper has said we need to “call out bullying”. As usual, he’s missed the point. Yes, Rethaeh Parsons was bullied. And that is absolutely not okay. But it’s not fair for us – the adults who are largely in charge around here – to say “Hey, kids, what you did was wrong,” when we created the environment that supports this type of bullying.  This story we’re telling – the one where Rethaeh Parsons died because of bullying – obscures the issue of sexual violence. That act of pushing it into the background is what promotes the type of bullying we say we need to stop.

The youth who slut-shamed and dehumanized Rethaeh Parsons need to understand that what they did was wrong. It was destructive and almost certainly caused harm to someone who couldn’t endure more pain. But bullying isn’t just cruel actions disconnected from thoughts or emotions. The belief that Rethaeh Parsons deserved to be treated so poorly came from somewhere.

I’m pretty sure, it’s coming from us.

Trigger Warning: This post is about the result of the recent Steubenville trial and mentions rape/sexual assault. Please exercise self care and skip this post if you need to.

On Sunday Trent Mays and Mal’ik Richmond were convicted of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. In the wake of the verdict, CNN anchor Candy Crowley and correspondent Poppy Harlow had the following exchange:


 

Crowley and Harlow’s outpouring of sympathy for the convicted youth prompted a barrage of criticsm from all corners of the Internet. I count myself as a member of that angry online crowd but now a few days have passed and so has the worst of my vitriol.

Now that I’ve cooled off, I can sort of understand Crowley and Harlow’s emotional reaction. These are very young men. I don’t doubt that the verdict brought the reality of a terrifying future into focus for [Trent] and [Mal’ik]. I imagine their grief and terror were sincere. And I actually agree with those who worry about out the significant likelyhood that these boys will come out on the other side of this sentence angrier and more violent than they are now.

So I don’t fault Crowley or Harlow for their feelings. I generally regard compassion as a virtue. Even I wouldn’t say I’m happy about the verdict. The guilty verdict was the only outcome that wouldn’t have been a total fucking travesty. But still, I can’t feel glad. From my perspective nothing good has happened here. A young woman’s body and privacy were brutally violated by two boys, operating under the warped belief that they had a right invade another person’s body. It’s humanity fail on a spectacular level. There need to be consequences, serious ones at that but I find this whole suitation tremendously sad.

Crowley’s assertion that this situation is tragic? Yes, it is. I just don’t think it’s tragic for the same reasons she does. She and Harlow continually characterized the verdict as though it was something that just happened to two nice boys who could have never seen this coming. That isn’t true. But more than that it isn’t helpful. We can watch these boys and feel pity for wasted youth and opportunity. But ignoring Mays and Richmond’s responsibility doesn’t help them now, nor will it help the young people who are watching, listening and learning about their own obligations as reponsible human beings.

This rape didn’t just happen. Mays and Richmond chose to do it. We can feel compassionate; but when lawyers, CNN correspondents and the rest of us ignore the fact that these young men are responsible for what’s happened, we’re letting our sympathy trump our responsibility.

We need to stop talking about sexual assault as though it’s an act of nature, like snow in winter. Because it is exactly that attitude that contributes to youth like Hays and Richmond thinking that molesting an unconscious woman is no big deal, because hey, that’s just what happens when someone is drunk and vulnerable in a room. Furthermore, when anchors like Crowley and Harlow all but ignore the survivor in their post-mortem of these events, it reinforces the idea that this sixteen-year-old woman was a non-person. Instead of saying, “Mays and Richmond did something terrible to this girl,” she becomes the mere catalyst for two football players’ tragic fall from grace.

Crowley says, “Regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like sixteen-year-olds.”  That’s true. I am also saddened by how young these men are. They are barely more than children. Children learn from adults, especially adults who hold positions of authority and credibility. Which is why I believe it’s so important that parents, coaches, teachers and people who speak on behalf of major media outlets consider the messages that we give to young people when we talk about rape as though it happens indenpendently of the rapist’s free will. We need to watch our words. We need to be aware of the way we speak about survivors. We need to think about the message we’re sending to youth when we say, “He was a good student,” “She was drinking,” “He played football.”

This young woman’s decision to drink did NOT cause Mays and Richmond to assault her. Their academic and athletic abilities are NOT absolution from responsibility. Doing well in school DOES NOT put one on a higher plane of humanity that entitles them to treat drunk, unconscious woman as objects of amusement.

I hate that two 16-year-olds are going to prison. I hate the thought that they may grow into hardened, damaged men. I have a son. When I imagine what those boys’ parents must be feeling today I want lie down and cry all the tears. So no, I don’t think Crowley’s compassion was misplaced. But she had a job to do and in this case, I feel she failed. What she needed to say, what Harlow needed to say , what we all need to say is that these boys made a choice. This isn’t random happenstance. Their tragic circumstance came as a direct consequence of their decision to assault another human being. Don’t imply to the world this sentence is sad because Mays was a gifted footballer or Richmond got good grades. It’s sad because those two boys deliberately harmed another person.

I don’t want to see dismayed boys sobbing in court and carted off to prison, wondering how this could have possibly happened to them. If those young men don’t understand, if other young men don’t understand then we need to help them. Not by making excuses for them, but by explaining in no uncertain terms that sexual assault is a choice that -regardless of the circumstances – is wrong.

This is me.

 

This is The Man of Mans. I love him a whole lot.

 

The Man of Mans is a good and awesome dude, who treats me with heaps of kindness, respect, and affection. And while I am the sole recipient of his good husband lovin’, like many people (including myself), The MoMs sometimes finds himself attracted to other people. But I like to think of myself as a chill individual who isn’t prone to jealousy and can take it all in stride

I like to think of myself that way. But the reality is a little different.

In truth, I do get jealous.  I wish I was one of those super-confident people who can be all, “My person is having sexy feelings about some super-fine other lady. Whatevs. I KNOW my milkshake brings all the folks of my preferred gender to the yard, so I’m cool.”  Meanwhile, my reaction is usually something along the lines of “The MoMs is having sexy feelings about some super-fine other lady…

BUH!”

 

Intellectually, I understand that those mean, green feelings don’t do me a lot of good. However, the emotional part of my brain doesn’t always agree with what I think. While my rational side is saying, “No big deal. It’s totally normal to feel sexually attracted to multiple people,” my feelings are screaming “ME! ME! ME! DON’T LIKE OTHER PEOPLE! PAY ATTENTION TO ME! LOVE MEEEEEE!”

Fortunately, my rational side is (usually) loud enough to be heard through above the internal tantrum. In my moment of meltdown, it reminds me that indulging those feelings is a good way put cracks in the foundation of my most cherished relationship. And while I’m rarely able to rationalize my jealous feelings away, I find the following techniques can help to keep those icky feelings in check

 

Friendly Reminders

As I said, The MoMs has always been a wonderful partner. He loves me a great deal. In the seventeen years we’ve been together, he’s demonstrated that love in virtually every conceivable way. And I know this is hackneyed, but we are straight-up, legit best friends.

If The MoMs says to me, “So and so is really cute,” and I feel that little stabby pang in my stomach, I try to remind myself that he and are pals. Pals talk about stuff like this. What’s more, admiring the cuteness of another person doesn’t negate all the loving awesomeness The MoMs feels for me. It actually doesn’t have anything to do with me. or our relationship or anything except the fact that humans sometimes notice when other humans are cute.

 

 Check The Source

‘Hey, girl. What’s going on with you?’

That’s one of the first questions I try to ask myself when the green-eyed monster rears her ugly head. When I do a little digging, I usually find that knee-jerk jealousy happens because some deep-seeded insecurity has been triggered.

For example, I always have a micro-moment of panic when The MoMs tells me he has sexy feelings for a blonde. I grew up during a time when television showed us that California girls with sun-kissed locks were the undisputed queens of beauty and sex appeal. Then came sixth grade, also known as The Year I Read Sweet Valley everything. The Wakefield Twins and all of their fair-haired media cohorts left an indelible impression on my developing ideas about sex appeal – namely, that I didn’t have any since I am about as un-blonde as they come.

 

I’ve since learned that while blondes are very beautiful, they don’t have the monopoly on good looks. Still I spent my youth assuming that only people who could possibly see me as beautiful were my parents – and that was only because they had to. That’s a rough idea to live with when you’re girl living in a world that places so much importance on how women look.

 

When a blonde draws The MoMs admiration, the wounded twelve-year-old in me immediate feels threatened and sad, because how the hell are we going to compete with that. Fortunately the (slightly) more mature 37-year-old can remind her that there is no competition. Yes that blonde may be beautiful, but I can rest assured that The MoMs thinks that I am too.

 Make A Friend

Strange as it may, being friends or at least friendly with my husband’s crushes is one of the best ways I’ve found of getting past jealous feelings. I think it’s that whole thing where the unknown is usually way scarier than the reality. If The MoMs mentions having a crush on someone and I don’t know her,  I tend to imagine an Olympic-level snowboarder who speaks six languages and never farts.

But when I have had occasion to hang with The MoMs crushes, I almost always discover women who are outgoing, funny, kind of dorky and who like board games. Women that I almost always like, probably because we have stuff in common. Which I guess makes sense. Like many people, The MoMs has a “type” that he’s attracted to. And it always helps me feel better to realize that he doesn’t like these women because they aren’t like me, but rather, because they are.

 

Honesty IS The Best Policy

I keep describing scenarios wherein The MoMs tells me that he’s attracted to someone and then I feel jealous. You might be wondering, ‘Whassup with that? Why does he keep talking about other women to his wife?’

He does it because that’s what I want. I’ve been in a relationship where I’d chastise my partner if he mentioned another women or pout petulantly when I caught him gazing after someone as we walked down the street. We played the game where I insisted that he behave as though I were the only woman on earth and he indulged, albeit sometimes in a playful, patronizing way.

We played that game for our entire relationship. It was exhausting. And you know what? It didn’t make me feel better. In fact it made me feel worse. Because I knew he was lying to me and even though I’d explicitly asked for it, the dishonesty still eroded my trust. I also think that on some level I realized that it’s futile trying “keep” someone in that way.  I want a partner who wants to be with me. I don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who’s there because I’ve effectively eliminated all other options so I become the choice by default.

So there’s that. And there’s also the part where keeping the crush stuff out in the open makes me feel better because if The MoMs is telling me about it, I know it’s no big deal. It also means that we can chat about the true nature of his feelings, which are generally pretty low-key and non-threatening.

Keeping crushes on the down-low definitely fuels my insecurity. But knowledge has the power to tame that green-eyed beast

 

Trust And Let Go

Jealousy and possessiveness tend to go together. Which makes sense. Jealousy – at least the OMG SEXUAL COMPETITION type – is basically fear that we’re going to lose our partner. That fear can compel us to hold on a little tighter.

Seeking reassurance from The MoMs can be really helpful in jealous times. The aforementioned talking, plus extra cuddles, kisses and “I love yous” go a long way towards calming my anxious heart, when a new subject of attraction enters the mix. That having been said, I try to avoid telling my husband who he can spend time with.

The MoMs and I are married, but I don’t feel that gives either of us the right to dictate who the other associates with. The MoMs and I have a set of mutually agreeable boundaries about which interactions are exclusive to our relationship. Beyond that, I really don’t like to impose sanctions on how my partner interacts with other people. After nearly a decade and half, we have a great deal of trust in each other. For me, that trust is too valuable to discard over the occasional jealous moment.

 

So that’s more or less how I deal. What about you? Do you jealous have moments? Have you found effective strategies for coping with those  lousy, green feelings?

 

I’m sure Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, authors of the infamous dating manual The Rules, are swell gals. If I ever have the chance to meet them, I’d love to go shopping with them. At the drugstore. For Advil. Because while their intentions are no doubt good, their philosphy about dating, marriage and relationships make my head pound with dismay and anger.

Recently, the Ottawa Citizen republished an interview with the co-authors. The original Rules sold over 2 million copies worldwide and Fein and Schneider have written an update volume, The New Rules: Dating Dos and Dont’s For The Digital Generation. I read their first book way back when and throbbing temples ensued. After reading the Citizen piece (shout out to reader Christopher for sending it my way), I think it’s best that I stay for away from the sequel, lest I suffer a stroke.

To be fair, not everything that Fein and Schneider suggest make my heart hurt. Apparently there’s a chapter called “Don’t Sext or Send a Guy Anything You Wouldn’t Want Him To Have If You Broke Up”. On the surface that seems like pretty sensible advice, though I don’t see why it needs to be gender specific.

But apparently The Rules are all about the gender specifics (and binary). The things men do. The things women do. The things women should do to get with men. According to Fein ““Women can chase apartments and jobs, but not men. It’s biology.”

The sum total of my scientific expertise is exactly zero. But I’m pretty sure that distorting your personally preferred courtship rituals into The Way That All Women Are does not biology make. It’s lazy persuasion. It’s a way of trying to convince readers that they should accept the methods proposed in The Rules without question because “Hey, biology! That’s a kind of science. No one can dispute science!”

Except it’s not science and I DO dispute it.

The interview with the authors are jammed packed with inflammtory quotes, like the following:

“We know what works with men,” says Schneider, with a shrug. “Oh, never go Dutch. Even if he has no money and you have a mansion he should take you out for pizza”.

Imma need some Extra-Strength Tylenol, stat.

“If a woman does what she wants — whether talking to a guy or eating a piece of cake — it is the antithesis of discipline,” Schneider says. “Many women are doing what they want and failing miserably, having one-night stands and so on. 

Can someone please massage my temples?

“Work can only make you so happy,” Schneider claims. “Women want to be fulfilled by a partner and children. Take that away and they’re devastated.”

Fuck extra strength. I need some maximum strength painkilling action right now, because I cannot even!

The article goes to on to descibe the new rules. Advice about how 20-year-old women should wait one hour to respond to a text. 50-year-old women should wait four hours. Unless it’s night time, in which case they shouldn’t respond at all. And never booty calls. Also, women should make it look like you have a fabulous life…because more important for a guy to think we enjoy your lives than it is for us to, you know, actually enjoy our lives.

Also this:

“We tell women a man is not your friend. Until he proposes he has the power to hurt you by never calling, by sleeping with you and never calling. Men can be cruel, not because they want to be — they just don’t love you.”

QUA?

It’s not just the outmoded approach to dating or a commodity model of sex Fein and Schneider’s rules that are breaking my brain. It’s also this bullshit assumption that at their core, men are assholes.

Maybe Fein and Scheinder have encountered a disproportionate number of mean men in their life? Because the notion that men are just hardwired for cruelty and not loving people? Is ludicrous and offensive.

And can we talk about the logic being applied here? Fein and Schneider  are basically saying to women, “Men are cruel. Men do not really love you. If you make yourself vulnerable, men will hurt you. You need to protect yourself emotionally by using our patented set of passive aggressive courtship tactics in order to maintain the upper hand. If you do it right, you will be successful in getting these men to marry you.”

Which, okay but they haven’t answered one burning question:

Why do women want to marry these men? You know, the cruel ones who are one ill-timed text away from crushing their hearts.

For reals, yo? Why am I trying to Rules my way into a lifetime commitment with someone I don’t trust? Why on earth should women – or anyone – waste their time and energy monitoring the intervals between text messages, cultivating illusions of a fabulous life, denying themselves sexual pleasure all to wind up married to someone they can’t be real with?

Fein and Schneider are self-proclaimed feminists. And because I’m not Queen of the Feminists*, I can’t deny their claim. But if we were chillin’ and shopping for drugs, I might point out that telling women, get married is an accomplishment can be problematic. I don’t object to marriage per se. In fact, I’m in one myself. But treating a wedding as the ultimate gal goal suggests that women always have more value if they’re married. It also places a disproportionate importance of the act of getting married versus the reality of the relationship. And the reality is, that if you’re going to share your life with each other, sooner or later The Rules go out the window. True colours always shine through. And I firmly believe that in order for a long-term relationship to work the people involved have to really see and accept one another as they truly are.

So yeah, I can hang with these gals but I won’t be reading their latest without a full supply of analgesics. But I would love to hear from you. Are you familiar with The Rules? What do you think? What are some of your tried and true dating tips?

*I kind of wish I was Queen of the Feminists

 

 

I feel like it’s been awhile since I went off on a good and proper rant. When I first saw this ad last week and my feathers got all ruffled, I immediately thought ‘Score! Blog fodder!’

So, let me get this straight…

Doug is a runner but it’s not about fitness. Because Doug is a GUY. Guys aren’t into that shit. Guys are all about congratulatory backslapping while eating pimped out burgers and drinking full calorie beer!

Durr! Feh! And ARGH!

This ad peeves me for two reasons. First, it’s predicated on the bullshit trope that “real” men must avoid things that are typically considered feminine at all cost. You know, things like pink and feelings and calorie reduction!  We gals are okay, except for the crummy way our stuff corrupts masculinity and turns guys into dainty, mangled mutants.

My other gripe is the inference that a burger and a beer is actually Guy Chow Specially Formulated For Guys. Attention advertisers. We’re 50 years past the Mad Men era. Yes, I know you have to tell a story in 30 seconds. Yes, I know stereotyping cuts down on time.  But do me a solid, will you?

STOP GENDERING FOOD!

Yes, I am also talking to you, Everyone Who Has Written A Yogurt Commercial EVER!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge any man the indulgence of beer and onion-y things. But the idea that we’re meant to make food choices based on our gender identity is weird and kind of foolish. A guy is a guy. The caloric intake of his beer is irrelevant.

So thumbs down to you, Molson Canadian. You and your gender-normative portmanteaus can bite it…and I’m not taking about a thick, juicy burger!

 

 

In the past couple of days, I’ve had an influx requests asking for my response to various news items.

Four. That qualifies as an influx, right?

I’m jazzed  that people outside my immediate family care what I think. And as much as I enjoy getting ranty, I feel like I’ve been doing that an awful lately. I’m always happy to share my thoughts in other forums, but in the interest of maintaining a bit  of balance in this space, I’m only gonna blog about my first request, so I can get back to writing about dildos and stuff.

My friend, Alexis wanted to know what I thought about the claim that Jenny MaCarthy sexually assaulted/harassed Justin Bieber at the AMA’s.

To bring you up to speed, last Sunday at the American Music Awards, actor Jenny McCarthy presented Justin Bieber with an award for rock/pop album of the year. She then proceeded to neck hug him, kiss him and pinch him on the butt. Behold:

Maybe Ms. McCarthy wanted to have a little fun. I like fun. Maybe she likes cute young men. I like cute men.  And maybe she likes kisses and bum shenanigans. Me too. I don’t begrudge Jenny McCarthy or anyone the pleasure of getting frisky with someone…under one condition: ASK FIRST!

By her own account Jenny McCarthy didn’t ask. Immediately after the incident, reporters backstage asked McCarthy if her actions had been spontaneous. Her response:

“It better be, because that’s just weird if it isn’t.”

No, Jenny McCarthy, it’s not weird. It’s called consent. It’s a totally un-weird thing that people do when they want to touch someone else’s body.

McCarthy then went to explain that there were extenuating circumstances that precluded her from getting a green light from the Biebs.

“I couldn’t help myself”

I’m pretty sure you could, Jenny McCarthy. I’m reasonably certain that you’re not afflicted with a specific type of palsy that causes uncontrollable spasms of neck grabbing and butt-pinching. My guess is that you just wanted to touch the Biebs. Maybe because you thought it would be funny or you wanted attention or maybe even because you genuinely like him. Doesn’t matter. The point is, you did what you wanted without knowing what he wanted and that’s not cool because it wasn’t your body.

Was it sexual assault?  Apparently Jenny McCarthy thinks so. During a subsequent interview with Entertainment Tonight she jokingly described her behaviour thusly,

“It was a little cougar scary…but I took the opportunity in the window, considering I’ll never get to do it again, and kind of molested him.”

I was unaware of the loophole that says that kiss-mauling people is okay as long as it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!

So all of this to say that yes, I do think it was sexual assault. And – sarcastic vitriol aside – I’d like to explain why.

Sexual assault is a loaded term. For many people, it carries very personal significance. For others, the term conjures images of specific, overtly violent sexual acts. For some, labeling a brief transgression by a celebrity during an awards show as sexual assault may seem sensationalist. It might also feel as though it using the same term, somehow diminishes the severity or intensity of other people’s experiences, which isn’t my intention at all.

Like physical assault, I believe that sexual assault encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviour. Sexual assault can be motivated by malicious behaviour.  Sometimes, it may not be. Similarly, the emotional, physical and psychological effects of enduring sexual assault are vast, varied and totally individual. But in my opinion, the common thread in any of these situations, is the perpetrator’s choice to touch another person’s body without permission. It stems from a perpetrator’s belief that what they want to/with someone, is more important than what that person may want for themselves. It’s a disrespectful, dehumanizing attitude that, in my opinion, always carries the potential for great harm.

So some may say that a few slobbery seconds under the lips of a pretty, blond celebrity isn’t troubling enough to warrant the label sexual assault. But I find McCarthy’s feelings of entitlement regarding Justin Bieber troubling and I think her actions constitute a legitimate violation.

So that’s my opinion, for what it’s worth. If you have thoughts on this issue, I’d love to hear about them. The comment sections is all yours – opinionate away!

 

The Man of Mans has written what I think is a pretty rad letter regarding a popular, but in my opinion, disturbing new song. I’m posting it here with his permission.  The letter quotes  song lyrics which might be triggering for some. As always, take care of yourself and skip this post if you’d like.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to you to express my concern over the song “Kiss You Inside Out” by Hedley, which is currently receiving significant airplay on your station.  I find the content of this song highly objectionable and do not feel it is appropriate music for the radio.  I recognize that your mandate is to play contemporary hit music, and that this song is quite popular.  However, I believe that as a privately owned radio station, you have the right to play, or not play, whatever you wish, and I hope that you will exercise that right and remove “Kiss You Inside Out” from your rotation.

I first heard “Kiss You Inside Out” on your station (which I listen to regularly) approximately two weeks ago, and was immediately struck at how the words and tone of this song strongly hint at sexual assault under the guise of romance.  I include here the first part of the lyrics in their entirety (as found on lyricsmode.com) to provide full context, but I have taken the liberty of highlighting lines that I find particularly problematic.

I don’t know if you’re ready to go
Where I’m willing to take you girl

I will feel every inch of your skin
And you know I can rock your world
Imma be the calm in the storm you’re looking for
I’ll be the shipwreck that takes you down
I don’t mind if you lie in my bed
We can stay here forever now.
Ouuu oohhh
Turn off the lights
Take off your clothes
Turn on the stereo
Ouuu oohhh
Give up the fight
I’m in control

Why don’t you let it go.
Yeah, I wanna know you inside out
I’ll spend my life trying to figure out
Just close your eyes and shut your mouth
And let me kiss you inside out.

The entire song reads as an attempt to initiate sex that is coercive and demanding.  The highlighted portions above (the latter of which are repeated 3 times) show this most strongly, implying consent has not been given, or even asked for, that the woman has no control over the situation, and that she should keep her mouth shut and accept what is happening.

I find the message of this song extremely offensive, all the more so because the music behind it clearly shows that this is supposed to be a love song, implying that women should actually want to be with a man who expresses himself in this way.  This is not a song about love, it is a song about rape, and as such, it has no place on the airwaves.

Because this is a letter as opposed to a conversation, I feel obliged to try and speak to what I imagine may be some arguments against my request.  I am not implying that you or your station will make these statements, but I have heard variations on them from many people on several occasions, so as said, I feel obliged to pre-respond to them.

“This song is romantic; it’s what women want.”

Romance has always been portrayed in an incredibly narrow way in popular culture, and at no time has this portrayal been particularly indicative of “what women want”, in part because there is no such thing; women are far too large a demographic to collectively “want” anything.  But I believe it is fair to say that virtually no one wants to be sexually assaulted, and that very few women would describe being coercive and demanding as romantic traits.  The real problem with songs like this is that they make it harder for everyone, but especially young and impressionable people, to tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

“It’s no worse than anything else out there.”

First, I hope that your station strives to a higher standard than this.  Second, as said above, amongst the dozens of songs I hear on the radio every day, this song immediately stood out as particularly offensive.

“You’re taking certain lyrics out of context.”

I feel the full context, which can be seen above, only strengthens the distastefulness of the highlighted lyrics.

“Not playing a song because you think it’s offensive is censorship.”

Every company has a code of ethics under which it operates, and it has the right to not engage in practices that violate those ethics.  This is not censorship, it’s a private company conducting business in the way it sees fit.

I hope that you are willing to take a stand against the misleading and dangerous portrayal of sexual assault as love, and that you will choose to no longer play “Kiss You Inside Out”.  Thank you in advance for your consideration.

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Do you have anything to say about this song? Please share you thoughts in the comments.

If you’d like to contact KISS FM directly, you can reach them here.  You can also contact KISS FM’s parent company Rogers Digital Media (Radio) here.