Take that patronizing pat and stuff it


While I yell from the rooftops: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

I annoyed a man at dinner recently. It’s happened before. I’m pretty good at it. But this time I didn’t do that female thing, that doubt-y obsequious internal questioning thing—Oh gosh, was I being mean? It’s that thing we do because men’s egos are purportedly more fragile than ours, and it’s woman’s job to shore up man. Just sit there and engage in some clever repartee, not too flirty. Look pretty. Be nice. And for the great-white-heterosexual-male god’s sake, don’t challenge him!

domestic violence

A portion of Rape of the Sabine Women by Pietro da Cortona

Kind of like Donald Trump’s female entourage, although I certainly hope at least one of them is giving him hell behind the debate scenes.

But, nope, at the dinner there was none of that nice placating stuff: I knew I was right. Indeed, equating domestic violence victims who resist their abusers’ arrests to relationships in the Middle East is a false equivalence—as in bogus. So, between gags, I reported that his fallacy was making me choke on my Scottish salmon. That annoyed him, and he expressed his annoyance with a little patronizing pat. Now, now, no need for hysteria, my dear.

It’s been many moons since my sense of self could be diminished by such gestures, but that pat did get me a-thinking.

Like countless women, I’ve survived violence, physical and sexual. I figure that makes me a wee bit of an expert on the topic, and I’ve shared my knowledge in various advocacy venues.

But I’ve neglected my social circle, akin, perhaps, to the shoeless cobbler’s child. And simply spending time with someone does not imbue you with her experience and resultant wisdom by osmosis. If it did, I can think of some stellar folks, dead and alive, I’d like to sit next to at dinner. Hillary Clinton would be cool. Carson McCullers. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Maya Angelou. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Katharine Hepburn. Laura Esquival. …

Anyway, I suppose I’ve slacked off the advocate role in more intimate settings, and clearly I shouldn’t have.

So I wonder what I could tell the dinner party about violence against women—what I could tell all the uninitiated in my little universe—that might prove enlightening.

Welp, I could tell them that not all domestic violence victims resist their abusers’ arrests, that many of them beg for an arrest that’s not forthcoming, because pervasive misogyny suggests she asked for it, she’s lying, she deserves it; because being terrorized by a partner doesn’t always leave bruises or blood.

I could tell them that some victims are murdered because no arrests were made until it was too late, because restraining orders were not enforced, because the campaign to control one’s partner too often turns fatal.*

domestic violenceI could tell them that some victims do not want their abusers’ arrested, because they’re deathly afraid of the repercussions when the abuser is released, because they fear the economic results of lost wages, because they don’t trust the police, because they lack any social support due to abuser-enforced isolation, because they’ve succumbed to the battering belief that they’ve caused their abuse.

I could tell them that to a survivor of sexual assault, rape is almost never a sound basis for comedy, even for a feminist comic—although I’m fond of the Ten Rape Prevention Tips Sarah Silverman tweeted last year, but even she now spurns her joke about being raped by a doctor.

I could tell them that using “rape” irreverently or blithely reduces the word’s significance and hence its victims, that it is best reserved for references to Nanking or criminal charges or prevention strategies or classical art or for gifted poets.

I could tell them that grabbing a woman’s genitalia or forcing your tongue in her mouth is not fodder for locker room banter or manly or funny, that it’s unlawful—which begs the question, why hasn’t Donald Trump been hauled into court?

Most important, though, I must remind myself that when friends and family speak ignorantly about violence against women, I have to speak up because violence thrives when we remain silent—and I have to duck faster when those patronizing pats come my way.

Love,
K-B

* In the United States, one woman is fatally shot by a spouse, ex-spouse or dating partner every 14 hours.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Learn more here.

………………………………………….
About Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Spawned by a Southern Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, K-B inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them. Now represented by Trident Media Group, she has an MFA in Creative Writing, with an emphasis on narrative nonfiction, and has taught Women’s Studies in the Cal State University system. Her political fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry have been published by The Missing SlateTrivia: Feminist Voices, Ms. Magazine blog, San Diego Poetry AnnualNew Moon Girl Media, San Diego Uptown NewsSan Diego Gay and Lesbian News, American University’s iVory TowerzSan Diego Free Press, Chiron Review, and others, including on her website www.ExcuseMeImWriting.com.

Isolation


By Sharon Thompson

 

Isolation

Restaurant.
Woman lashes
swift and snake-like
across
salad and bread.
Strikes the face of
her fair-skinned child.

I snap away to a window
too slowly to miss the smacking sound
as it ricochets off my bones.
My jaw aches.

Seconds later,
rocking the child curled in her lap,
glossed lips croon, chin and nose
nestle the thick hair of her offspring.
She inhales grief.
Shame.
I strain,
keeping the snarl of criticism at bay.

Isolated,
I am sharp and often angry.
Unforgiving of those,
like myself,
struggling to adjust
the angular shape of life
to opulent curves and rounded breasts.

My disapproval ignorant
of the world in which she dwells.

We should still live in lodges.
Unfettered.
Loose-breasted and chubby.
Free
to roll over and sleep
with whichever
fat baby
needs a nap, too.

……………………………………………………

About Sharon Thompson

Sharon ThompsonSharon Thompson has been writing for most of her life. Love of reading and writing led to a twenty-year career teaching high school English, first in Los Angeles and finally in the San Diego area. Now retired, Sharon enjoys focusing on her writing, attending workshops and reading her work for others. She lives with her dachshund, Sam, in Temecula, California, close to her two grown sons.

 

Photo credit: Simple Insomnia via a Creative Commons license.

 

Her Body Betrays Her


By Penny Perry

prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hand of the man who shoved
her son against a wall,
still sets wild fires
up her spine.

She hates his words,
yet hungers for his tongue.

She prays: Take this longing
from my lips,
rip nerve ends from my buzzing
fingers.

Make my crotch as dry
as last night’s chicken bones.

Make my shoulders a shelter
for my son.

Make my nipples
yearn only
for the new baby’s mouth.

………………………………………………

About Penny Perry

PennyPerryKateHardingMugPenny Perry is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in California Quarterly, Lilith, Redbook, Earth’s Daughter, the Paterson Literary Review and the San Diego Poetry Annual.

Her first collection of poems, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage (Garden Oak Press, 2012) earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski and Maria Mazziotti Gillan.

She writes under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.

Photo credit: Jonas Tegnerud via a Creative Commons license.

 

Why didn’t I just leave?


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

This is a modified version of an essay originally published in October 2012 by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Ms. Magazine Blog and San Diego Free Press.

Please join the Week of Action with National Network to End Domestic Violence
Oct 20 through 24.

 

2014DVmonth

Picture a sere summer night in Phoenix, Arizona, circa 1982.1

I lay on a crinkly table in a cluttered ER, joking with the doc, bribing him with a promise of homemade shortbread if he could fix my face without leaving scars, looking anywhere but in his eyes, and I noticed a police officer nearby.

When I was all stitched and tidied up, I went to the cop and heard a quavering voice tell him that I wanted to press charges against my husband for assault.

The cop looked across the waiting room at him, sitting with his face buried behind his bloodied hands, his tiny mother, herself a victim, standing next to his chair, her arm around him while she stroked his head and kissed his fevered brow.

The cop looked back at me and said, “You don’t want to do that. You’ll just make him angry all over again, and it’ll be worse the next time.”

I did eventually leave my husband, taking my battered self and VW bus and just enough money for gas from Phoenix back to LA, where I lived in a friend’s basement until I recovered.

Flash forward a decade or so, to a visit to the east coast.

On the graceful terrace of a lovely home, a cocktail party was reaching into the night with storytelling. I was puttering in the kitchen, fixing myself a drink, when someone’s words wafted through the window. They sounded something like this:

“Yeah, he beat the hell out of her. We couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just leave him.”

Forsaking my Southern social graces, I stormed outside and lambasted the speaker—in front of everyone—for telling a story that was not hers to tell, for telling it with such a damnably ignorant conclusion. Unseemly of me, I know, and she responded with her own tantrum, stormed off, and didn’t speak to me for some time.

But the question lingered in the summer breeze, flirting with the fireflies—why didn’t I just leave him? It took me years to be able to answer it, and now I know why.

Because I did, because I did leave him. And I stood at the pay phone at the corner of our city block in the winter night, shivering in the t-shirt I had on when he picked me up from the bed and threw me to the sidewalk outside our front door, and I discovered that the police wouldn’t do anything because I wasn’t injured (that time) and I could always stay at a motel or with friends.

But I had no money and I had no friends—because he didn’t want me to have them.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And I was wooed back into the relationship with the promise that he had been in counseling for six months and was no longer a batterer and would live only for my forgiveness.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And, with battered psyche in tow, I was shamed back to him with the blame for making him beat me, for ruining his life, for getting blood on his mother’s car upholstery.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did, I finally did. I left him when a skinny, exhausted mama in the ER, with a passel of runny-nosed kids, that woman who, through my battered but still-privileged lens appeared to need some help, that woman who wouldn’t stop staring at me as I talked to the cop, when she came over and said, “I know what’s going on. You don’t deserve it. Come home with me. You can sleep on the sofa.”

Instead of telling a woman in possession of nothing but a t-shirt to spend the night in a motel and call back when she’s really in trouble; instead of joking with a patient about injuries consistent with assault; instead of telling the complainant to be silent or she’ll make it worse the next time; instead of looking the other way; instead of blaming the victim; instead of accepting women’s excuses for black eyes and split lips, their lies about walking into doorways and tripping on coffee tables, their pleas that they must stay for the children; instead of all that, do this —

Say: Did somebody hurt you? You don’t deserve to be hit or kicked or strangled or thrown or belittled or terrorized. It is not your fault. It’s a crime. If somebody hurt you, let me help you. There are safe places to go and people who understand. Please let me help you.

Love,
K-B

Again, please join the Week of Action with National Network to End Domestic Violence, Oct 20 through 24.

For more information:

If you are a victim of violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-SAFE (7233).

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

Same-sex relationship violence counseling in San Diego

If you want to help, visit your local domestic violence prevention agency or Futures Without Violence.

2014 Presidential Proclamation – National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Intimate partner violence (IPV) statistics One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.


1 In 1982, there were few shelters for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and little training for police. Today, there are significantly more resources, but still many law enforcement officers—and family and friends, victims and abusers—fail to treat IPV as the crime it is, and still it can be fatally difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

 

Till death do us part: Violence against women in So. Carolina


A Special Investigation from The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.
By Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff

 

More than 300 women were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade by men in South Carolina, dying at a rate of one every 12 days while the state does little to stem the carnage from domestic abuse.

More than three times as many women have died here at the hands of current or former lovers than the number of Palmetto State soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

It’s a staggering toll that for more than 15 years has placed South Carolina among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men. The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.

Awash in guns, saddled with ineffective laws and lacking enough shelters for the battered, South Carolina is a state where the deck is stacked against women trapped in the cycle of abuse, a Post and Courier investigation has found.

Couple this with deep-rooted beliefs about the sanctity of marriage and the place of women in the home, and the vows “till death do us part” take on a sinister tone. …

Click here to read the series and watch related videos.

Women’s History Month: Women in Words


 

The Olive Tree

By Saloua Saidane

For most Tunisians, an olive tree is a source of food and energy. They wait each year for the harvest season to collect the olives and transform them into an extra virgin olive, a beautiful transparent golden oil with a light tint of green, almost as thick as honey. The precious olive oil is usually shared with family, friends and neighbors. People love their olive oil, a magical elixir, for many reasons. Some believe in its medicinal values and drink a gulp of it every morning for breakfast; others eat it by dipping freshly baked bread in it. Once in your mouth, the oil triggers all your senses with its nutty and slightly bitter flavor. A taste that grabs your attention and stays with you, that seduces your palate and makes you want more. A true pleasure, a gift from the gods since the early civilizations of the Mediterranean region.

OlivesTuscanyKBYou can see rows and rows of these beautiful ancient trees covering the arid land of central coastal Tunisia. Through centuries, they have witnessed all the caprices of nature and learned to be patient. Their trunks are cracked and twisted from the many winds, yet they stand firm and resilient. They are not needy. Their roots reach down through deep layers of soil, sucking the scarce drops of water they find. They are simple survivors, their only purpose, to produce each year in the winter season beautiful small fruits that become the magical olive oil.

The olive tree in my childhood yard was huge by olive trees standards. Its branches stood tall, reaching in all directions, giving the tree a perfect round shape. Its leaves were lush, long and oval. Their colors reminded me of jade, shiny green on the top and a darker dull green-grey underneath. The trunk of the tree was short and seemed sunken in the ground from the heavy weight of its branches. It was as if the trunk was hiding, encouraging the observer to enjoy the beauty of its lush crown.

Tucked in a corner of our garden only a few feet from the walls of the house, our tree was consistent and undemanding. Its roots squeezed under the foundation of the house. Nobody took care of it or gave it much attention, yet it managed to survive feeding on filthy waters that ran through a small drain and emptied a few feet from its trunk. Nothing deterred that tree from surviving and bearing the most beautiful, meaty olives each year. Great olives that nobody cared to harvest. Some of the olives that fell on the ground were collected and soaked in brine in a large jar stored on the roof of our house. I imagined these gorgeous olives begging for a better use. I was sure they would have preferred to be pressed into a precious extra virgin olive oil. But their destiny was different: They ended their journey in brine, with their flavor, color and shape altered; trapped in a jar with no fluidity, what a sad conclusion. But maybe it was better than the olives that were never collected. They ended up abandoned to the soil, drying slowly from despair and disappearing into nature.

When we were young kids, during the long summer days, the tree provided us shade as if inviting us to keep it company. We gathered under its branches, playing with stones or simply telling each other stories. My father managed to tie a rope on one of its tallest branches, and we used it as a swing. The tree seemed to enjoy our innocent giggles and laughter and joy.

But as we grew older, things changed in our house, and so did the destiny of our olive tree. There were too many children and not enough space to contain them. When my father felt the need to control his daughters, my sisters and me, he would get a branch from the tree. He would select the longest branch. He would cut it with the sharpest knife. He would pluck away its beautiful lush leaves. Leaves that for centuries were a symbol of peace, glory and abundance, were discarded, useless. If they could have talked, they would have told my father to stop, but how can you blame them, that they didn’t have a voice. Once the branch was bare, my father would test it by whipping it in the air. It had to be strong, flexible and noisy, a noise that was light as it whipped up and louder on its way down to the target. It was an alert sound, as if asking you to get out of its way because it didn’t want to hurt you, as if the branch was weeping, begging for forgiveness for the pain it would cause. If the sound was not loud and sharp enough, my father would toss the branch in the garden and cut another one. The longer it took to find the perfect branch, the longer the agony of the anticipated torture. These preparations were under the watch of all the children, mute and motionless.

When the branch was ready, some of the kids would start crying, but the others who were the cause of my father’s anger would simply wait defiantly for the anticipated lashes. The longer and louder the younger children cried, the more defiant the older ones were and the harder my father hit. It was like a symphony that reached toward a crescendo, louder and louder sounds mixing together until one of them gave up. Sometimes it was the branch that gave up and broke. Other times it was the defiant child who gave up and started crying. On rare occasions, my father would give up from exhaustion. And then there was total silence, the entire joy and happiness machine in the universe having come to a stop.

I often wonder what my father would have done if the tree had not been there. He would probably have used his belt. That is what belts are made for, to beat people as hard as their wearers can. I don’t blame belts, but I felt sorry for our tree. My father made it his accomplice in violence. I think the olive tree was probably sorry for being healthy, alive. It possibly felt guilty, and that was why it tried hard to produce the best olives it could, to make up for the sorrow it was causing. But nobody really cared. How sad was the destiny of this tree, to go from witnessing joy to becoming the symbol of violence, the source of pain and suffering, a tool used to tame and subdue.

When my father was angry and hitting his disobedient daughters, my mother would stand there, watching and cheering him on. She would say, yes please hit more and longer. They deserve it. They need a lesson. They need to know who is in control here. And when my father was done, my mother would look at her daughters crying and her motherly instinct would kick in. She would say, “Stop crying now and go wash your faces.” That was all she could say. That was all she could do. But then as these torture episodes increased, my mother became angry and the anger became hatred, hatred of the tree. She hated it so much that she decided to get rid of it. A tree that stood there for at least half a century had to go. She said that the tree was getting too big, that it was going to damage the house because of its big roots. We never saw the roots, but my mother kept talking about them as though they were an evil creature crawling underground and slowly destroying our house. It was a war between my mother and the evil roots that wouldn’t stop growing.

One beautiful spring day, four strong men used their saws to cut down our olive tree. It took them an entire day to cut through the trunk. It was a slow death that I imagined caused the tree a lot of pain. It took almost a week to chop the tree into large pieces of wood and dig out all the roots the men could reach. We stood there witnessing its death quietly, just as the tree on so many occasions stood there watching our torture.

To this day, that tree is the symbol of all of us sisters: resilient, consistent, undemanding, and often unappreciated. We are like the leaves, symbols of peace, glory and abundance, shiny and beautiful on the surface and dull green-gray underneath. We tried hard to be the best we could, yet our destiny lacked fluidity. But, unlike the tree, we survived, we are older now, and we own our destinies, despite the damage done to us. We stand tall, trying to set free the past and move on to a brighter future worthy of our strength, hope and inner beauty. In each her own way, we carry the soul of our olive tree; we keep it sacred and blessed in our hearts.

…………………

About Saloua Saidane, PhD

Saloua Saidane, PhD, is a full-time assistant professor at the Chemistry Department of Mesa College. Educated in Tunisia, France, and the United States, Dr. Saidane has a keen awareness of the joys and challenges of diversity, and she is dedicated to making effective education accessible to all.

 

Photo credit: ©2014 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Why didn’t she just leave?


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Originally published in October 2012 by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Ms. Magazine Blog and San Diego Free Press

 

Picture a sere summer night in Phoenix, Arizona, circa 1982.1

I lay on a crinkly table in a cluttered ER, joking with the doc, bribing him with a promise of homemade shortbread if he could fix my face without leaving scars, looking anywhere but in his eyes, and I noticed a police officer nearby.

When I was all stitched and tidied up, I went to the cop and heard a quavering voice tell him that I wanted to press charges against my husband for assault.

The cop looked across the waiting room at him, sitting with his face buried behind his bloodied hands, his tiny mother, herself a victim, standing next to his chair, her arm around him while she stroked his head and kissed his fevered brow.

The cop looked back at me and said, “You don’t want to do that. You’ll just make him angry all over again, and it’ll be worse the next time.”

I did eventually leave my husband, taking my battered self and VW bus and just enough money for gas from Phoenix back to LA, where I lived in a friend’s basement until I recovered.

Flash forward a decade or so, to a visit to the east coast.

On the graceful terrace of a lovely home, a cocktail party was reaching into the night with storytelling. I was puttering in the kitchen, fixing myself a drink, when someone’s words wafted through the window, and they sounded something like this:

“Yeah, he beat the hell out of her. We couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just leave him.”

Forsaking my Southern social graces, I stormed outside and lambasted the speaker—in front of everyone—for telling a story that was not hers to tell, for telling it with such a damnably ignorant conclusion. Unseemly of me, I know, and she responded with her own tantrum, stormed off, and didn’t speak to me for some time.

But the question lingered in the summer breeze, flirting with the fireflies—why didn’t I just leave him? It took me years to be able to answer it, and now I know why.

Because I did, because I did leave him. And I stood at the payphone at the corner of our city block in the winter night, shivering in the t-shirt I had on when he picked me up from the bed and threw me to the sidewalk outside our front door, and I discovered that the police wouldn’t do anything because I wasn’t injured (that time) and I could always stay at a motel or with friends.

But I had no money and I had no friends—because he didn’t want me to have them.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And I was wooed back into the relationship with the promise that he had been in counseling for six months and was no longer a batterer and would live only for my forgiveness.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And, with battered psyche in tow, I was shamed back to him with the blame for making him beat me, for ruining his life, for getting blood on his mother’s car upholstery.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did, I finally did. I left him when a skinny, exhausted mama in the ER, with a passel of runny-nosed kids, that woman who just wouldn’t stop staring at me as I talked to the cop, when she came over and said, “I know what’s going on. You don’t deserve it. Come home with me. You can sleep on the sofa.”

Instead of telling a woman in possession of nothing but a t-shirt to spend the night in a motel and call back when she’s really in trouble; instead of joking with a patient about injuries consistent with assault; instead of telling the complainant to be silent or she’ll make it worse the next time; instead of looking the other way; instead of blaming the victim; instead of accepting women’s excuses for black eyes and split lips, their lies about walking into doorways or tripping on coffee tables, their pleas that they must stay for the children; instead of all that, do this —

Say: Did somebody hurt you? You don’t deserve to be hit or kicked or strangled or thrown or belittled or terrorized. It is not your fault. It’s a crime. If somebody hurt you, let me help you. There are safe places to go and people who understand. Please let me help you.

Love,
K-B

For more information:

If you are a victim of violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Same-sex relationship violence counseling in San Diego

If you want to help, visit your local domestic violence prevention agency or Futures Without Violence.

Presidential Proclamation – National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 2013

Intimate partner violence (IPV) statistics from the American Psychological Association

• More than one in three women and one in four men in the United States have experienced, rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
• On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.
• One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
• IPV is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy?

 


1 In 1982, there were few shelters for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and little training for police. Today, there are significantly more resources, but still many law enforcement officers—and family and friends, victims and abusers—fail to treat IPV as the crime it is, and still it can be excruciatingly difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven


Reviewed by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

TheMangoBrideMarivi Soliven, a San Diego-based author of short stories and essays, launched her debut novel this May. The Mango Bride (Penguin NAL, May 2013) is a brilliant depiction of gender and immigration issues, bound in the restrictions of family and class.

Writing from the informed position of a Filipina immigrant to the United States, Soliven tells the entwined stories of two Filipino families and their contemporary daughters, Amparo Guerrero, a child of privilege, and Beverly Obejas, of the servant class. Soliven deftly describes the figurative and literal landscapes of Manila as the two girls come of age in their distinct social strata and geographies.

Soliven’s descriptions of Manila scenes are vivid. She pulls us through the throngs who take over the city’s cemetery on All Soul’s Day, through the markets and eateries, the wealthy neighborhoods and high-end hotels, the slums of the city. The scenes are so effectively drawn, they serve as an armchair trip to the Philippines, a land we read as being as rich in culture as it is poor in opportunity to break the bonds of one’s inherited position, whether high or low.

Still, the possibility of change arises in circumstances that force each of the young women to immigrate to the United States. Amparo must leave to maintain her wealthy family’s crackled façade of respectability and Beverly, to pursue a better life unattainable in the Philippines. Inevitably, Amparo’s journey reveals even more of her family’s ugly underbelly and Beverly learns the futility of becoming a mail-order bride of a damaged U.S. veteran.

Marivi SolivenBut Soliven has written something more than a multigenerational family drama. She has incorporated compelling issues that humanize current news headlines as they help create vital characters. Immigration, gender and prejudice, class conflict, domestic violence—particularly its devastating effects on immigrants without U.S. citizenship—and the definition of family all drive the novel’s plot and the characters’ resolutions, both sorrowful and hopeful.

While The Mango Bride’s conclusion suggests that only the privileged can win the immigrant struggle for freedom, and the under classes are doomed to oppression and failed dreams, this disappointing notion is countered by Soliven’s insightful and sometimes lyrical rendering of the formidable social and economic structures that women must challenge to achieve their freedom.

Soliven will discuss The Mango Bride Tuesday, July 9, at the free, monthly Writers Read at Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission, in the Community Room. The reading begins at 6 p.m. with open mic for original poetry and prose, followed by Soliven’s reading, discussion and book signing.

For more information, contact K-B at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

Published by San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

V-Day – Until the Violence Stops


V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls.

Today, one billion people are rising up to demand an end to violence.

Because around the globe, 1 in 3 females will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

Demand an end to violence. Don’t ignore it. Don’t perpetrate it. Report it. Get help.

ABOUT ONE BILLION RISING

ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.

ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY

ONE BILLION WOMEN DANCING IS A REVOLUTION

On V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, 14 February 2013, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.

What does ONE BILLION look like? On 14 February 2013, it will look like a REVOLUTION.

ONE BILLION RISING IS:

A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being

Helping domestic violence victims in Hurricane Sandy aftermath


From Feminist Peace Network:

As FPN has pointed out many times before, in the aftermath of any weather disaster, women often face different needs than men. In particular, people, mostly women and children, who are living in an abusive situation may be more vulnerable to violence because stress is often a trigger for acts of domestic violence as is feeling powerless as one might well feel if you have been flooded or burned out of your home, or you are cut off by water, no transit and no electricity. And if you are the primary caregiver for children or elder relatives, fleeing an abuser is all the more complicated.

Compounding the problem, shelters and other facilities that might normally be available to help may also be without electricity and phones or have been flooded or be short-staffed and unavailable or less available to help and police may have a harder time responding to calls if the victim even has a phone (which as I write this a great many people in New York and New Jersey still don’t have).

If you know people who may be particularly vulnerable to intimate violence in their lives and who have been affected by this horrendous storm, please do what you can to reach out to them and also, please consider making a donation to domestic violence shelters that may have been impacted as they may really be scrambling to provide additional services or rebuild.

And while we clean up here in the U.S. please be mindful that we were not the only country impacted by the storm and women in Haiti, still recovering from multiple weather disasters in the last few years, are very vulnerable, particularly in refuge camps, where rape and sexual assault have been serious problems and where access to such basics as food for infants and feminine hygiene products may be hard to get.

Why didn’t she just leave?


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Picture a sere summer night in Phoenix, Arizona, circa 1982.1

I lay on a crinkly table in a cluttered ER, joking with the doc, bribing him with a promise of homemade shortbread if he could fix my face without leaving scars, looking anywhere but in his eyes, and I noticed a police officer nearby.

When I was all stitched and tidied up, I went to the cop and heard a quavering voice tell him that I wanted to press charges against my husband for assault.

The cop looked across the waiting room at him, sitting with his face buried behind his bloodied hands, his tiny mother, herself a victim, standing next to his chair, her arm around him while she stroked his head and kissed his fevered brow.

The cop looked back at me and said, “You don’t want to do that. You’ll just make him angry all over again, and it’ll be worse the next time.”

I did eventually leave my husband, taking my battered self and VW bus and just enough money for gas from Phoenix back to LA, where I lived in a friend’s basement until I recovered.

Flash forward a decade or so, to a visit to the east coast.

On the graceful terrace of a lovely home, a cocktail party was reaching into the night with storytelling. I was puttering in the kitchen, fixing myself a drink, when someone’s words wafted through the window, and they sounded something like this:

“Yeah, he beat the hell out of her. We couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just leave him.”

Forsaking my Southern social graces, I stormed outside and lambasted the speaker—in front of everyone—for telling a story that was not hers to tell, for telling it with such a damnably ignorant conclusion. Unseemly of me, I know, and she responded with her own tantrum, stormed off, and didn’t speak to me for some time.

But the question lingered in the summer breeze, flirting with the fireflies—why didn’t I just leave him? It took me years to be able to answer it, and now I know why.

Because I did, because I did leave him. And I stood at the payphone at the corner of our block in the winter night, shivering in the t-shirt I had on when he picked me up from the bed and threw me to the sidewalk outside our front door, and I discovered that the police wouldn’t do anything because I wasn’t injured (that time) and I could always stay at a motel or with friends.

But I had no money and I had no friends—because he didn’t want me to have them.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And I was wooed back into the relationship with the promise that he had been in counseling for six months and was no longer a batterer and would live only for my forgiveness.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And, with battered psyche in tow, I was shamed back to him with the blame for making him beat me, for ruining his life, for getting blood on his mother’s car upholstery.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did, I finally did. I left him when a skinny, exhausted mama in the ER, with a passel of runny-nosed kids, that woman who just wouldn’t stop staring at me as I talked to the cop, when she came over and said, “I know what’s going on. You don’t deserve it. Come home with me. You can sleep on the sofa. …”

Instead of telling a woman in possession of nothing but a t-shirt to spend the night in a motel and call back when she’s really in trouble; instead of joking with a patient about injuries consistent with assault; instead of telling the complainant to be silent or she’ll make it worse the next time; instead of looking the other way; instead of blaming the victim; instead of accepting women’s excuses for black eyes and split lips, their lies about walking into doorways or tripping on coffee tables, their pleas that they must stay for the children; instead of all that, do this —

Say: Did somebody hurt you? You don’t deserve to be hit or kicked or strangled or thrown or belittled or terrorized. It is not your fault. It’s a crime. If somebody hurt you, let me help you. There are safe places to go and people who understand. Please let me help you.

Love,
K-B

For more information:

If you are a victim of violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Same-sex relationship violence counseling in San Diego

If you want to help, visit your local domestic violence prevention agency or Futures Without Violence.

Presidential Proclamation – National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 2012

Intimate partner violence (IPV) statistics from the American Psychological Association

• More than one in three women and one in four men in the United States have experienced, rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
• On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.
• One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
• IPV is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy?

 


1 In 1982, there were few shelters for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and little training for police. Today, there are significantly more resources, but still many police officers—and family and friends of victims and abusers—fail to treat IPV as the crime it is, and still it is excruciatingly difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

Crossposted at Ms. Magazine BlogSan Diego Gay & Lesbian News and San Diego Free Press.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH:


The Other Side of the Wire

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

You’d think a survivor of an abusive relationship would lend one of the most empathic of ears to women incarcerated for charges related to domestic violence. Women who committed crimes because their abusers forced them to. Or women who, without the resources to leverage or buy a get-out-of-jail-free card, were caught up when the men who terrorized them broke the law and then skated off free. Or women who ultimately erupted in one excruciating moment of self-preservation, one violent demand for freedom, and killed their abusers.

Yes, you’d think someone who came close, but managed to avoid that final step, would be exquisitely understanding.

But I’m not. Or, to cut myself some slack, I wasn’t. I wasn’t at all understanding.

I once condemned women who committed or abetted crimes at their partners’ insistence. I rejected the defense of those who killed their abusers. And I reviled those who failed to protect their children from abusive partners. I had conveniently forgotten how grateful I was that I had no offspring with my abuser, how uncertain I was of what I might have done had I borne a baby into a violent family, how terrified I was that I might have taught a child how to submit, how to disappear into the background, how to cry silently, how to duck.

I, however, had gotten away from my abuser, rescued by a woman who didn’t even know me — “I know what’s going on,” she said. “Come home with me.” Despite her generous gift of freedom, though, I grew stingy with those who had none, who were paralyzed by the fear of the next assault, who could do no more than cower among smaller victims.

Instead of generosity, I offered criticism — perhaps to distance myself from the woman I once was, to deny I had ever been a victim “like that,” to refuse to acknowledge that they and I are one. I don’t know.

Then in 1988, I looked into the disfigured face of Hedda Nussbaum, read the evidence of her 12 years of horrifying abuse and utter degradation.   I listened to the testimony of her sitting on the bathroom floor with the dying child her partner had beaten. And I realized what an unconscionable act it was to blame her. To blame a brutalized victim for failing to behave like a good girl, like a good mother — as though no fist had ever silenced her, no fear had ever paralyzed her, no foot had ever kicked her, no words had ever cut her, no weapon had ever shattered her.

Then in 2011, I watched a new documentary called Sin By Silence, the story of the creation of Convicted Women Against Abuse — an organization formed inside the California Institute for Women to help educate the system about domestic violence (click here to find screenings). And I read a new book, Razor Wire Women, edited by Jodie Michelle Lawston and Ashley E. Lucas, a collection of stories, essays, poetry and art by abused, incarcerated women and those concerned for them. And then I knew at once that even though I was free, I was only one kind stranger away from the other side of the wire. There or in my grave.

And in that knowledge grows empathy.

Love,
K-B

Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Koala at CSUSM rings in Domestic Violence Awareness Month touting rape, violence against women, racism, homophobia


 

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Warning: Adult content

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a designation first recognized in 1989. And it is still relevant. Despite the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Despite the growing understanding that battering one’s partner is a crime, not spousal privilege. Despite the vast number of people who think they don’t know anyone who has been harmed by an intimate partner.

Because they are wrong. National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) is still relevant because at least one in four women in the United States — LBTQ or straight — will be assaulted some time in her life.

Name four women you know. One of them likely was, is being, or will be punched, kicked, strangled, burned, stabbed, raped — physically harmed by an intimate.

That’s startling, isn’t it. That’s why this month is a welcome opportunity to focus on raising awareness of the ongoing severity of the problem and on educating people to help prevent domestic violence.

And how did The Koala welcome the month? Tabloid owner George Lee Liddle III, of San Diego, released the latest issue of The Koala at Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM), bearing the message that rape, violence, racism, homophobia, sodomy of minors and forced pornography are laughable entertainment.

Liddle and the students he manages at the three San Diego County public universities where The Koala is distributed call the tabloid satire, but their content makes clear that the publisher, writers and editors of The Koala don’t know satire from scripture. What they are doing is not funny; it fails as satire; it has no redeeming features. What they are doing is purveying violence, prejudice and hate. These predominantly white heterosexual men use these forms of violence to attract attention to The Koala and then giggle at the fear and outrage, the humiliation and damage that it causes. And they elicit these reactions from their victims with such content as the following (with The Koala‘s errors intact):

Top Five Phrases Never Heard at CSUSM 4. I’ve never been raped before

Women secretly want to be raped

Why do Mexicans classify themselves as people? THEY ARE A FUCKING SWARM OF BROWN SHIT.

Dear koala, Does drugging and raping my roommate make me gay?

Top Ten Advantages To Dating An Underage Girl: 4. They don’t know yet that ass to mouth isn’t acceptable; 6. If you knock her teeth out, they grow back

Top Five Signs Your Girlfriend is Dead: 2. She stopped struggling under the rope

… [W]hen you’re done appeasing our each and every obnoxious and whimsical demand, we’re still gonna fuck the old broad sweeping the stairs.

I couldn’t tell if the fishy smell was escaping fromt the fridge or if all these beautiful azian women had some of the stankiest pussys ever

To black guys: make your cocks smaller please.

To all the fat bitches out there: Suck a fart out of my ass, choke on it and die.

Dilcie, go to the top of the parking structure and jump…

And, in the recent CSUSM issue, Liddle published an image of a female student leader who was running for Homecoming King, Photoshopped into a pornographic scene, with the following headline and copy:

Please ask and do tell … and take pictures

Remember those fantasies of Homecoming you had back in high school? Imagining what it would be like to have a “lezzed-out” homecoming court. Wishing that the Jock who won the title of King were actually an exotic and stunning babe that could scissor the shit out of the queen?

In our rapidly changing times this dream has now become a reality. Thanks to the courageous and open-minded women who are running to be the Queen of King [student’s name redacted], we can all look forward to a Royal Fisting. The question remains, which princess will become the lucky Queen?

This is the product Liddle publishes and promotes on public university campuses, a product funded by commercial advertisers — and supported as a sanctioned student organization at University of California San Diego (UCSD).

And this is, statistics being what they are, what the 1,500 female students at CSUSM, the 3,675 at UCSD, and the 4,350 at SDSU who have been, are, or will be victims of domestic violence are subjected to each time The Koala is distributed.

Outrageous, eh? Are you outraged enough to do something about it?

Many of us at CSUSM are, and we are planning some actions that will protect First Amendment rights while attempting to protect students, faculty and staff from The Koala’s hate.

If you’d like to join us, visit www.CallOutTheKoala.com and subscribe to receive our updates or click the Call Out The Koala Facebook page Like button.

In the meantime, call The Koala advertisers and encourage them to stop funding hate. If you live in the same legislative district as UCSD, call your state legislators and ask them to help UCSD find a way to stop lending public support to a hate tabloid passing as a student organization.

Whatever you do…

Do something. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance — by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. Decent people must take action; if we don’t, hate persists.

—   Southern Poverty Law Center

Love,
K-B

Crossposted at East County Magazine and  San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

 

What does it mean to be a feminist?


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

I vaguely recall the first time someone asked me what it means to be a feminist. I was still a kid, freshly baptized in the blaze of radical feminism. Or so it seemed, as our consciousness-raising group met in Anita’s living room. She was into her middle years, a professional woman returned to college, and the group was a school project. Its existence in our small town was a damn miracle for us and a disturbing mystery for the men, who didn’t understand why a gaggle of gals would get together for no better purpose than to talk — just talk — to each other! — what the hell? — and we weren’t too sure ourselves, at first, although their reactions were reason enough, and enlightenment shortly followed.

Ensconced in pastoral adornment — brocade throw pillows, hand-tatted antimacassars, ceramic tchotchkes — we spoke of goddesses and orgasms, of Shulamith Firestone and her Dialectic of Sex. We gasped and caressed the images of female genitalia in Our Bodies, Ourselves. We dreamt of Feminist Revolution amid fiery Redstockings. And we strode boldly forth to spread the good word of equality of the sexes.

That’s when one of the boys on the farm asked me about feminism (yes, there literally was a dairy farm, with a lot of eager boys on it). But the acrid sarcasm in his inflection neutralized the need for a serious response, along with his chances. Were it not for my oh-so proper upbringing — the gendered training that turns Southern females into well-coiffed boot scrapers and males, into manure-crusted boots — I’d have asked him what it means to be a teeny sexist turd.

Of course, I didn’t. As one of the elite white males who has claimed the exclusive U.S. leadership mantle said years later, “Wouldn’t be prudent”[1] — no matter that belittling my passions annoyed me. But, alas, back then I still clasped the remnants of ladylikeness as a virgin bride clutches the coverlet to her chin on her wedding night.

Hmmm, that image might be a tad sexist. Blame it on the South, the South and the more generic sublimation of female anger. We were not allowed to be angry; it would interfere with our being gracious, accommodating, acquiescent — boot scrapers.

But I changed — with the seasons, with the years, with the geography — and by the 1990s I took to slinging the Oxford English Dictionary definition of feminism at California’s political candidates, who proudly proclaimed their befuddled disaffection for the moniker by answering “No” to the question “Are you a feminist?” and “Yes” to the question “Do you support granting women the same rights as men?”

“Ahem, sir,” I’d say, “that is feminism.” And the hapless hucksters would stumble over their reassurances that they both advocated for women’s equality and abjured feminism.

Go figure.

Now, thirty-five years removed from my feminist birthing, I am asked yet again what it means to be a feminist, a feminist in an anti-feminist culture, a culture as far removed from the feminism of the 1960s and 70s as we were then from the suffragists of the previous century’s turning. But there is a difference. This time, the query is posed without sarcasm. It comes from a women’s studies professor, a smart woman with wild hair and more books than her institution deems seemly. She’s been plunked into a new office with shelves enough for half her books. When I saw this, I couldn’t help but imagine the architect wondering how many words women really need to pack into their pretty little heads. Idiot.

Do I seem angry? I’m not supposed to be. But after thirty-five years of surveilling our patriarchal system, I am.

Or no, I’m not angry. I’m thinking, thinking of that classic Southern aphorism — that horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies glow. I recall telling Mother, once, that I was sweating like a stuck pig. I don’t recall that she laughed, but I hope she would laugh at my suggestion now — that ladies clench their sphincters and remain silent, women become understandably yet politely angry, and feminists get mad. Because I am mad. I am a mad feminist. And I get mad better than most. Because mad is a tool for change. Silent acquiescence and clenched sphincters, polite anger, they are not tools for change — not at the turn of the century, not in the 60s and 70s, and not today.

What does it mean to be a feminist today, a mad feminist? I think it means a lot of things, some I’m still learning.

But I do know it means seeing people roll their eyes at the mention of consciousness-raising groups, those silly little things that turned on our voices, that aroused our sexuality, that confirmed our personhood.

It means a persistent gendered wage gap that in 2009 paid women a median wage equating to about 80¢ to each $1.00 men earned.[2]

It means fuming as women’s bodies serve as capitalism’s primary tools, our breasts selling beer, our genitalia pitching the latest fashions, our undeveloped hands assembling the endless stream of consumer goods from Third World countries that keep the elite in power around the globe.

It means mourning the loss of Congresswoman Bella Abzug’s trailblazing path to the United State’s lackluster ranking of 70th of 186 nations in the percentage of females in national legislatures[3] — behind such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

It means gasping as young women succumb to the fallacy that fellatio is not sex and their bodies, themselves are not worthy of respect — their own or their partner’s.

It means flinching as nearly one in every four women in the United States reports experiencing violence at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.[4]

It means wailing as each of more than 500 women per day reports being raped or sexually assaulted.[5]

And still — still! — we blame them for their abuse. Perhaps this is why experts suggest the actual numbers for domestic violence, rape and sexual assault are double or triple what is reported — or more.

It means that the U.S. government has barely begun to collect comparable data for lesbians and bisexual and transgender women.

It means — all of this means — that we need to do something about it, something to declare that this is how it is and that how it is, is not right, is not sane, cannot continue.

And that means we need to be activists for equality all the time, everywhere we go, always insisting on having difficult conversations we might rather avoid, the kind we would have shied from before our do-it-yourself-home-inspection-speculum days, when it was easier to fake an orgasm than to talk about it, to explore what it would take to achieve it, to tell a partner to try this instead of that. It’s not that different from equality. Seriously. Female orgasms and equality require the recognition that they are absent when they shouldn’t be, the desire for them, and the commitment to talk about them for the purpose of obtaining them. Orgasms are just a lot easier.

Equality, equality is a toughy. Which brings me back to the question of what it means to be a feminist today. Although I’m still working on the answer, I’m certain it means I have to be mad. I’ll let you know what else I figure out. And then I’ll call Anita, to thank her.

Love,
K-B

Crossposted at the Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.


[1] Fickle feminist denier George H.W. Bush, who dropped his membership in Planned Parenthood to woo conservative voters and become the 41st U.S. President.

[2] http://www.iwpr.org/press-room/archive/on-equal-pay-day-study-finds-women-earn-less-than-men-2013-whether-they-do-the-same-job-or-different-jobs/view

[3] Inter-Parliamentary Union. Published 31 July 2011. Accessed 10 September 2011. http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.

[4] Adverse Health Conditions and Health Risk Behaviors Associated with Intimate Partner Violence, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. February 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5705a1.htm.

[5] National Crime Victimization Survey: Criminal Victimization, 2007.  2008.  U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cv07.pdf.

Image from Redstockings website, www.redstockings.org.

 

Diary of a Mad Coed in her Prime: Hate by any Other Name


 

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


Of the many things I’ve learned since traipsing off with my book bag and lunchbox to return to full-time studenthood, none is quite as dismaying as the persistence of the rape culture that pervades U.S. media and, hence, the daily lives of media consumers.

Rape culture is so pervasive, it seems innocuous to many and is ignored by most, except some in academia and alternative news media — and, of course, those in rape and domestic violence programs. Oh, and in the psyches of the culture’s victims.

Rape culture was first named 35 years ago, when I fancied myself invincible and, hence, dismissed it. But rape culture has continued to provide succor to attitudes that condone rape and violence against women and girls (and, actually, any perceived minority), attitudes that promote the normalcy of rape and violence, that contrive humor from rape and violence, that all too often result in blaming women and girls for their rapes and the violence perpetrated against them.

If you think this particular cultural phenomenon is simply a figment of feminist imagination, take a gander at the article I found in The New York Times March 9 edition, while waiting for my Chemistry for Idiots class.

The article reports that 18 males have been charged in the rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Tex. The suspects are 27 years old to middle-school age. Some of them apparently were so enamored of the alleged assault that they taped it and distributed the video, which ultimately led to the charges — and, one would think, makes them difficult to refute.

Yet The New York Times article, by James C. McKinley, Jr., with reporting by Mauricio Guerrero, poses the question: “If the allegations are proved, how could [the neighborhood’s] young men have been drawn into such an act?”

“Drawn” is an odd choice of words for the journalists to have used and for their editor to have approved. Odd, because the word suggests that the suspects did not make the decision to rape the 11-year-old girl, but, rather, were somehow compelled by an external force to rape her.

In essence, The New York Times has suggested that, even if any of the suspects are found guilty, they are not responsible for the 11-year-old girl’s rape.

If not the suspects, who then is responsible?

Well, the article goes on to report that “[r]esidents in the neighborhood … said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.”

The paper does not mention that the vast majority of television shows, advertisements and magazines targeting the victim’s age group — from Hannah Montana to Teen Vogue — encourage such behaviors, representing them as the norm.

Nonetheless, with this deft reporting of unattributed hearsay, the paper has provided the answer: The New York Times has implied it is the victim’s fault.

An 11-year-old girl, using the force of her appearance, her makeup and dress, her choice of companions, “drew” a gang of men and boys into raping her. That’s rape culture.

But it is unacceptable to blame a victim for her or his rape. Blaming the victim is never OK. Ever.

If you find this article dismaying, write to The New York Times ombudsman, Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane, at public@nytimes.com and let him know. Although he found some fault in the article, he only went so far as to say that it “lacked a critical balancing element.”

In a similar but more insidious vein, I learned in a Women’s Studies class about Comedy Central’s attempt to capture the 16- to 35-year-old male audience by promoting the comedy of Daniel Tosh. Here are a couple excerpts for your edification:

Excerpt 1. My sister’s off the charts. I play practical jokes on her constantly, though. I got her so good a few weeks ago. I replaced her mustard spray with silly string. Anyway, that night she got raped. And she called me the next day going, ‘You son of a bitch. You got me so good.’

This riff was well into a Tosh routine, a point at which, if he had exposed his penis to pee on someone in the front row of his audience, plenty of people would have laughed. A skilled comedian can elicit a laugh from some folks at just about anything.

Including rape.

But there is nothing funny about rape. Rape is never funny. Ever.

Excerpt 2. ‘There’s no excuse for domestic violence.’ It sounds like a challenge. I mean does everything have to be so black and white in this Kindergarten country of ours? ‘There’s no excuse for domestic violence.’ What if you go home from a long day of work, and your wife has drowned two of your kids? She’s about to dunk the third one. Can you run over and pop her then? ‘Unfortunately no; there’s no excuse. You’re gonna have to let her drown that third one.’

Now, Comedy Central is home to such progressive comedy as John Stewart’s The Daily Show, and the juxtaposition of Tosh and Stewart is certainly a contrast — enough to cause whiplash.

But there is nothing funny about domestic violence. Domestic violence is never funny. Ever.

If you find Tosh’s humor dismaying, send Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless an email and let her know: michele.ganeless@mtvn.com or michele.ganeless@comedycentral.com. While you’re at it, copy Steve Albani, head of corporate communications, at steve.albani@comedycentral.com.

And if you find yourself sitting with someone who laughs at a joke about rape or violence against women and girls, consider telling him or her it’s not funny.

I find being an old student is mostly a blast, but watching young people accept hate as humor — hate that targets most of them — that is heartbreaking.

Love,
K-B

Note: The Associated Press has reported multiple instances of Cleveland residents’ clearly blaming the victim here and here.

Crossposted at the Ocean Beach Rag and San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

Daniel Tosh image from comedycentral.com. Baby doll image by  needoll {away}/Natasha via a Creative Commons license.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Tornado Warning by Elin Stebbins Waldal


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Tornado Warning, a memoir by San Diego County author Elin Stebbins Waldal, will likely prove an effective catalyst for introducing an issue that rarely makes it into polite conversation: domestic violence, in particular teen dating violence.

For that reason alone, the book is a valuable tool for parents of adolescents on the verge of dating. In Tornado Warning, they will learn of Waldal’s gradual and secretive descent into a violent relationship at age 17, her survival, and her eventual campaign to share her experience so that it might help others.

Waldal tells her story in two voices that alternate throughout the book: the resurrected journal entries of a naïve teenage girl and the contemplations of a woman, wife and mother more than two decades later. The journal entries reflect the self-absorption of the teen years and the excruciating loss of a girl’s identity to the ravages of persistent intimate violence. Waldal captures both (maybe a little too much of the former), along with the shame and denial of the victim and the denial of her family members, who managed to be only peripherally aware of a problem, common in extended families that live with domestic violence.

Waldal’s contemporary reflections are written in sometimes lovely prose that reveals the long-lasting effects of abuse and her eventual struggles to use her experience to enlighten her children and others. She writes of the triggers that can return a former victim of violence to the desperate and fearful moments of her past. She writes of recovery, the creation of healthier relationships and, eventually, her need to acknowledge her past and transform it into something positive.

Tornado Warning was launched this month, coinciding with National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month, a national recognition in only its second year in the United States. The relatively new attention to the issue makes the book all the more valuable a resource, because “teen dating violence” has not yet entered the common lexicon. Waldal makes it clear in her memoir and on her website that she believes it should.

Tornado Warning exposes the individual realty of the national statistics of teen dating violence. According to the National Resource Center for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, one in three female adolescents is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse by a dating partner; females between ages 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average; and violent behavior often begins between the ages of 12 and 18. (For more information, visit http://www.teendvmonth.org/.)

While Waldal’s book is likely to serve the important purpose she has set for it — to educate parents and, ultimately, help other girls and women — the memoir lacks some insight and, hence, the resulting explanation of the more complex dynamics that sustain a violent relationship and that bring it to an end.

There is little discussion of the forces affecting family and friends that stymies intervention by those who care for the victim and suspect — or even know — that there is a problem, but do not act to protect her. And, most noticeably, Waldal’s description of her departure from the relationship seems vague, without clear understanding of what it took to reclaim her freedom and her life. Yet this is the crux of abusive relationships: why people remain in them and why they leave, when they are able to leave alive.

Tornado Warning is an important memoir, but an unresolved one. What it lacks suggests the author might still be seeking some understanding of her theme. Yet Waldal’s prose is tender and lyrical. Perhaps she will lend it to another effort to further enlighten those she hopes to help.

Note: Help is available at National Dating Abuse Helpline: 866-331-9474.

Crossposted at the North County Times.

The Cowardice of Hate


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Back in November, I wrote about returning to school, a woman of cumulative years in the throes of selecting a college major — along with thousands of teenagers.

It has now been two weeks since the spring semester started at Cal State University San Marcos, and, well, wow. Simply, wow. Dinner-table conversation has certainly been invigorated with the daily diary entries of a mad coed in her prime.

I am immersed in a university community unlike anything I experienced in what my new peers would consider the olden days. I’m awash in the contemporary jargon of academia that requires more memory capacity than I can muster; in students who looked askance when I first took a seat among them instead of heading to the front of the class; in professors who pronounce their charges “stupid clay” whom they must mold and professors who are as eager to teach as to learn from their students; in youthful fingers furiously texting under desks, while I rub my arthritic basal joints; in snippets of the fearful braggadocio of lingering adolescence.

My enculturation thus begun, I have already learned all sorts of great stuff — a trove of revelations.

I’ve learned that, despite having avoided deconstructing anything since my days of building and demolishing forts with the kids on my block, deconstruction is now an honored academic device; one, it turns out, I am bound to employ in order to make the grade.

I’ve learned that I am exhibiting an adjustment reaction to post-feminist spread: I fear my ovaries will be gradually crushed by young women who claim their rights but are discomfited by the second-wave feminism that won them, while my aging hips gradually exceed the breadth of those annoying study-top chair-desks.

I’ve learned that school is a hell of a lot more fun than it was when I thought I had to go to college. In those days of yore, professors were just extensions of parents hounding us to brush our teeth before bed. I wasn’t about to do anything any old fart told me to do, when I could traipse off to march for the Equal Rights Amendment or for social justice or for better French fries in the dining hall.

Excerpt, Koala at San Marcos, Winter 2011

And I’ve learned that some students wield their freedom of speech as a weapon, while disdaining the rights of others to speak freely. In contrast to the campus activists of my past, who exercised their right to free speech in order to publicly oppose racism, sexism and homophobia, a vocal minority at Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM), the staff of The Koala, exercise their free speech in order to publish racism, sexism and homophobia — along with rape and abuse scenarios and pedophilia — sheathed in the guise of  humor, or so they describe it.

Their retreat behind humor is reminiscent of my long-ago breakfast with racist Tom Metzger, founder of White Aryan Resistance (WAR), who proclaimed his WAR tabloid’s caricatures of lynched African Americans as humor.

Oh — and here’s a “wow!” — I’ve learned the Koalans do not like to be criticized. In fact, it makes them so uncomfortable that they attempt to intimidate their critics into silence — with obscenities, intended slurs, threats and deception. (They also remove their faces from Facebook pages and hope their parents don’t find out what it is they are actually doing at college.)

The Koala crew launched a wee bit of an online attack in response to my last column on the publication (profanity alert: avert your eyes oh faint of heart). They posted such descriptions of me as an “old wrinkely [sic] homosexual” who doesn’t belong at CSUSM and should depart posthaste, “a dumass,” “a complete retard” and “completly [sic] fucking retarded.” They implied I should be “scared [they] might do something to” my photo, “[l]ike… photoshop it and post it up in an upcoming issue? Too late…”

The folks who posted these comments used pseudonyms, other students’ names without their permission (surely a no-no!), and the paradoxical nickname “Balls,” which lent no credence to the commentary, given that Balls hadn’t the gonads to use his or her real name.

Speaking of which, while the university staff response has ranged from gracious and helpful to passionate and determined to scurrying into the rapid deployment of avoidance tactics, the administration’s response for the news media was unfortunate legal pabulum: “The Koala is not currently a registered student organization at CSUSM and expressed views are solely those of The Koala and its members. While The Koala falls under the first amendment’s freedom of speech, its content does not reflect the core values of CSUSM such as inclusiveness, diversity and respect.” Neither does Mary Had a Little Lamb, and I hope that’s not the best they can do.

Wouldn’t it be dandy if they were to broadcast a message to the university community that said something substantive? It would be even dandier if the administration would muster the chutzpah to, if not condemn the publication for what it is — hate speech, albeit legal — at least address the palpable fear the publication’s content elicits in some students, a fear likely prolonged by the administration’s prolonged silence.

Much more clear and direct than the administration’s response, were the reactions of the publication’s first issue advertisers, who were apparently hoodwinked by the publishers: They have both withdrawn their ads, and one of them wrote, “Cougar Book Rentals will not be advertising in the Koala newspaper in the future, due to the offensive nature of the content. We neither condone nor appreciate the content, nor did we have access to it in advance.”

Ah, the joys of a free market — and free speech — including the snippy little comments that came my way indicating that the loss of some advertisers has tweaked the Koalans a bit, revealing a possible vulnerability and their ignorance of the actual meaning of free speech. They wrote that by encouraging folks to contact the publication’s advertisers, I violated the Koalans’ free speech and “dictate[d] the thoughts of others.”

Alas, they are wrong: Were I able, I would “dictate” some common sense into the Koalans’ predominantly young white male thoughts, but I can’t — and their older editor-in-chief just might be a lost cause, given the years he’s devoted to the various Koalas.

What I will do is continue to pursue their advertisers, because I learned long before arriving at CSUSM that passive avoidance of overt hate is often the death knell of freedom. In this case, the rights of the students targeted by The Koala’s content are at risk: Their right to free speech and to a public education free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation are at risk of being lost to fear and bullying.

Thankfully, I’m too old to succumb to that idiocy. Besides, I’m having too much fun.

Love,
K-B

Crossposted at The Progressive Post and  San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

Free-for-All Speech at CSUSM


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

UPDATE: The Koala CSUSM editor-in-chief is not a CSUSM student. See more of the faces of The Koala below.

 
The Koala, a tabloid launched last week by some California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) students, has achieved its publishers’ apparent goal: to inflame the university community with hate speech.

“Apparent” because, while The Koala has certainly engendered impassioned responses, the predominantly white males behind the publication have refused to discuss what it is they have wrought — or to identify themselves. At a recent recruitment meeting, they would not give their names and avoided being photographed; they moved the meeting to a private dorm room to exclude critics and news media; and they demanded 30-packs of beer from journalists who requested interviews, which, given their likely ages, smacks of soliciting criminal acts — and challenges their legitimacy as a newspaper, as they describe The Koala.

It is The Koala’s content (downloadable at csusmkoala.com) that most effectively challenges the newspaper claim. Just about every demographic — except straight, white males — is addressed with violent, prurient and/or grotesque language: gays and lesbians, women, rape and pedophilia victims, pediatric cancer and burn patients, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Muslims. The Koala is a miasma of isms.

The Koala recommends used bikini wax as “lip balm for lesbos,” suggests leaving c-section incisions “open for easier future abortions,” and reports that one advantage of dating a 10-year-old girl is “If you knock her teeth out, they grow back.” It includes statements that glorify and encourage pedophilia, rape of a teaching assistant, domestic violence, date rape and physically assaulting campus police.

Anecdotally, the “reasonable person” test of The Koala’s content suggests that many CSUSM students and staff indeed find much of the content obscene — obscene and hateful. But obscenity remains in the eye of the beholder, and in the United States we can speak freely whether our speech is hateful, loving or indifferent.

More interesting are the test results of The Koala’s two advertisers, cougarbookrentals.com and Miramar Wellness Center — “interesting” because it takes funding to publish any speech.

The textbook-rental service is, according to bookrenter.com Vice President of Marketing Michael Geller (at 650-288-3500), an independent bookstore using bookrenter.com’s open platform, an “entrepreneur” who can “choose to market it any way they want.”

Nonetheless, when read content from The Koala, Geller’s response was, “Oh! Oh god! Okay, that’s enough!” An articulate man — and pragmatic — he disavowed any responsibility for cougarbookrental’s ad and declared that bookrenter.com “would never, ever, ever” advertise in The Koala. He also said, “I’m going to contact the owner of [csusmbookrentals.com] and first make sure he or she is aware of what this is all about.” Then the company will “evaluate whether or not we should attempt to restrict our store partners’ advertising.” Whether or not? Hmmm.

The Miramar Wellness Center (at 858-689-9098), a marijuana dispensary, had a slightly more definitive response. An employee who did not identify herself said the Wellness Center had received “a lot of upset calls, a whole lot” and that the manager would not take any more, but she added, “I heard [the ad] was a mistake and they are trying to get it removed.”

That’s promising, but, in the meantime, what to do about the privileged young men who publish hate with anonymity?

Read The Koala so you can make informed comments about it (available at csusmkoala.com). Although the thing is no joy, condemning something you haven’t read is shallow commentary. And ignorance is not bliss.

Contact The Koala’s advertisers to reinforce the message that their ad dollars are supporting content that encourages pedophilia, racism, misogyny, rape and domestic violence. If a second issue comes out, contact any new advertisers. Eventually The Koala publishers will run out of businesses they can dupe into supporting them, if they haven’t already. Any advertisers left deserve to be boycotted.

State your opinion of The Koala freely and frequently. The right to free speech goes both ways: They have the right to speak and you have the right to criticize what they say — maybe even the responsibility. Hate that goes unchallenged goes on and on and on.

Call or email CSUSM President Karen Haynes’ office (760-750-4040 or pres@csusm.edu) to ask what the administration can do about the content that promotes rape and pedophilia; how they can protect students under age 18 from The Koala’s obscene content; and what they can do about students who appear to be below the drinking age soliciting alcohol on campus.

Identify, if you can, the fellows involved with The Koala, in the photos below. They are accountable for the speech they publish. No one — white, male student or anyone else — has the privilege of anonymous hate masquerading as “lighthearted humor.” If they can say it, they can own it for all the world to see.

Then, find some peace in this thought: What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet, and one day in the next few years The Koala’s publishers will be looking for jobs in competitive marketplaces where respect for diversity, social maturity and the ability to self-edit will be deciding factors for employment. These young men have already round-filed their job applications by exercising a most wonderful right irresponsibly.

Free speech is a messy, exquisite, ugly, glorious and precious free-for-all; comeuppance is delicious.

Love,
K-B

The Koala staff: George Liddle, editor-in-chief of The Koala at CSUSM and a former editor-in-chief of The Koala at UCSD (circa 2002 — probably not a CSUSM student, eh?); and CSUSM students identified to date Aaron JaffeScott Middough, Blake MacKenzie, a Jeff W. and…

Anyone know the other two fellows?

Read more about this topic: The Cowardice of Hate.

Crossposted at the OB Rag and San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.