Land of the Free

“Some of the soldiers found themselves in situations where they had to kill a child.”

What situation was that? Was the child running at them with a machine gun, firing wildly?

“They might have had to blow up buildings with women and children in them.”

They “had to” or what–they might die? Are soldiers’ lives more important than anybody else’s? Who makes that call–the government, the soldiers? The soldiers are still babies themselves. Vietnam vets were called “baby killers” but perhaps the epithet should have been reserved for the government that sanctioned the sacrifice of thousands of its recent high school graduates. 

Eighteen is the age the US government decided was old enough to die but not old enough to vote, so they lowered the age of majority. At least 21 is closer to the age at which our brains stop developing. But now you’re considered an adult at the age of eighteen. Old enough to vote, old enough to die, old enough to be killed by our government. 

Don’t try to build pride in our country. History should not be about patriotism–it should be about truth. What happened, who did it affect, and what can we do to keep from repeating past mistakes? We’re living in an age when history is repeating itself before our very eyes and we refuse to acknowledge it. Blacklisting, censorship, witch hunts–all of them blights on our history, yet we soldier on toward “progress” no matter the cost.inclusa02

 

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History After Awakening

It’s a painful thing sitting through high school history lessons after waking up to the reality of patriarchy. I feel the angst of being left out of every written document, every invention, every pivotal moment. Today, the US History teacher showed her class a video entitled The Men Who Built America. Every minute of the presentation was filled with dramatic tension surrounding the thoughts and actions of these “great” men of The Gilded Age. The World Civilizations teacher taught a lesson about Henry VIII with zeal, describing the tyrant’s wives as if they were nothing more than sitting ducks being picked off one by one.

Again, women were an afterthought. a footnote, punctuation if they were even remembered. What is the message? “Men are strong and powerful–men make things happen. Women are only present when they’re needed for sex and childbirth. We are only important when we’re sexually desirable and if we’re not…we don’t matter.”

This is just some of what was missing from today’s lectures:

1869–For the first time, women sit on a grand jury in Cheyenne,Wyoming

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Belva Lockwood

1879–Belva Lockwood is the first woman to try a case before the supreme court

1890–women get the vote in Wyoming

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Margaret Sanger

1916–“Margaret Sanger tests the validity of New York’s anti-contraception law by establishing a clinic in Brooklyn. The most well-known of birth control advocates, she is one of hundreds arrested over a 40-year period for working to establish women’s right to control their own bodies.”

1920–The nineteenth amendment is ratified in the US

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Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon was born in 1485 in Spain. As a child, she was educated in Latin, French and philosophy. She was married off twice and her refusal to annul the second marriage (to Henry) resulted in the creation of the Church of England.

Anne Boleyn was born around 1501 in England. She lived for a time in France before returning to England to become one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting. Despite being an object of ridicule and suspicion, Anne focused on improvements for the poor during her time as queen. She was a spirited woman and endured much harsh treatment until her murder in 1536.

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Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour was born in 1509 in England. Although descended from wealthy parents, Jane was denied a proper education. After acting as lady in waiting to both Katherine and Anne before her, she married Henry 11 days after Anne’s murder. She died after childbirth at the age of 26.

Anne Cleeves was born in 1515 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Like so many other women of the time, she was a mere pawn, married off for purely political reasons. Henry blamed his inability to consummate the marriage on her, saying she was too ugly but more likely it was due to his own impotence and poor health. Luckily, she escaped the marriage after only six months and reportedly remained on good terms with Henry afterward.

Catherine Howard was born in 1522 (notice a pattern here?) into poverty. However, she had some powerful male family members and was married to the lecherous king around the age of 18. He accused her of sleeping around and had her murdered in 1542.

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Katerynn Parr

Katerynn Parr was born in 1512 in London England. Her father died when she was very young but she maintained a close relationship with her mother. She had a passion for learning and became fluent in multiple languages. During her marriage to Henry, she helped him reconcile with his daughters and maintained a good relationship with his son. As circumstances would have it, Katerynn was endowed with many rights and responsibilities to act on behalf of her husband. It is believed that her strength of character greatly influenced her stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth. Luckily, Katerynn outlived Henry.

It’s hard to find information about women that’s unrelated to men. In historical texts, men seem to exist without women whereas women only exist in relation to men. Today, many women are still known only by their relationships to men: “So-and-so’s wife, mother, sister, daughter.” I long for the day when this will not be so.

Real Horror

I just finished watching a horror movie on Netflix and it got me thinking. I love the horror genre–partially, because my older brother loved it and, growing up, I wanted to be close to him and partially, because I like a good scare. During my last round of therapy, my counselor and I discussed how horror in the movies is at least somewhat more palatable and even fun compared to the horrors of real life.

I  began thinking of the horrors of my family: specifically, those that manifested while I lived with my mom. Before I was pushed out of my home by various factors, we lived in squalor. I never wanted to have people over because of the state of things: the smell, the piles, the holes and cracks in the walls, the mice, cockroaches, fleas and spiders that lurked in every corner. But the most horrifying manifestation of the sickness of my family, of my mother’s impenetrable denial, lived in her shower.

I knew it was living because it grew. It was some sort of fungus that looked like hair coming out of the drain, just longer and blood red. I was deathly afraid of it. In the night, when I needed to use the bathroom and the hall bathroom was occupied, I would wrestle with myself, deciding whether or not I could work up the courage to go into my mom’s bathroom knowing what was in there. More than once, I resorted to relieving myself in the back yard in order to avoid the thing in the shower.

Years later, when facing homelessness, an ex I was living with asked me “Why don’t you just go live with your mom?!” I couldn’t even begin to imagine how to make him understand. I could never go back. Because the fungus slowly creeping out of her shower drain, the mice, the cockroaches crawling across my face at night were just visible symptoms of the real horror of my family, the sickness of abuse and denial. The truly sick people working to make you believe it’s all in your head and you’re the one who’s sick. My mom let me and my older brother be hospitalized multiple times in order to cover up her abuse. She’d let us die before she’d ever admit to anything.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen true horror captured in a movie. Maybe glimpses of it. But I far prefer horror movies to real-life horror. With a horror movie, you pretty much know what’s coming; sometimes you can even laugh it off and the scare feels exhilarating instead of draining and awful. I also love a villain you can kill. Real life horror is harder to pin down–sometimes, it’s invisible to everyone except the sufferer. I was just thinking that people with mental illness, especially depression and PTSD are haunted people–they’re haunted by the horror of their lives. One of the best things you can do is listen and believe them.

“Dead Prostitute”

I work at a high school as a paraeducator (an underpaid teacher without a credential). I love the work that I do. My students are awesome. Today, in American Lit. the class discussed Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane. In the story, a young girl loses her dreams and her innocence and resorts to prostitution to get by. As often happens in these situations, the girl is killed by a John. The class discussion left me pained and exhausted. So I need to work through it:

“A dead prostitute” *laughter*

Why are they laughing?

“(teacher)What’s the moral of the story?…(student)You’ll end up as a dead prostitute?” *laughter*

Maybe they’re nervous or something.

“A ‘lady of the night’ as they were called.”

“…dead prostitute…”*laughter*

Jesus, I wish she’d address the laughter, this is awful. I know they’re just teenagers but they gotta know this is reality–real women and children being turned out by abusive pimps, used as cum rags then dumped or murdered…forgotten. What is funny about the idea of a young girl being murdered? Is it because she’s not a girl anymore? Not their friend…their sister? When she opens her legs she becomes sub-human? Why is the teacher just letting this go?

I feel sick inside, heavy, achy. I want to yell or cry or leave. There’s no excuse for my silence. Shit. What’s wrong with me?  I just want them to understand. Girls die every day and they’re not strangers; they’re our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our best friends. They’re dying and we’re letting it happen. We’re not remembering all the murdered women with candles or ribbons. We’re laughing nervously about it in high school classrooms. We’re using euphemisms to talk about murder–not just physical murder but murder of the spirit. Becuase that’s what happens, isn’t it? We die; maybe not all at once, but slowly, we die.

Reflections on: Body

I decided to stretch today. I haven’t adequately stretched in a really long time. It hurt more than I thought it would. I reflected on how I’ve been feeling about my body lately. I’ve gained weight. My clothes still fit, they’re just tighter. I’m unhappy with the way my body feels and looks.

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When I stopped moving, moving on to the next thing and the next, I began thinking about how much of a hit my self-esteem took when I was being abused by my ex. I acknowledge my self-esteem was nowhere near perfect before he started abusing me but I’d worked hard to get to what felt like a good place for me. But somehow he found the one loose thread in the fabric of my self-esteem and unraveled me completely. I hadn’t felt so low since I was a teenager and abused laxatives to stay thin. After I moved out, the relationship continued with my ex and so did the degradation. Even after I cut off contact with him I don’t think I ever fully regained contact with myself.

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I medicated with loads of Ben & Jerry’s which, while delicious, merely masked my pain with saccharine sweetness.  When I regained enough of a foothold to work again, I also regained some weight. Another fine literary device: not only did I feel like I didn’t fit into the world any longer, I also didn’t fit into my clothes the way I used to.

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Many of these feelings came to a head over the last few weeks at my new job. I’m in the world again: seen, acknowledged, questioned, commented on–I hate it. I’ve written before about my ambivalent relationship with invisibility. I long to remain invisible until I want to be seen and inevitably it works out the opposite. The other day at work, I had an uncomfortable moment with a male student as I sat with him at a table in a classroom. The rest of the class and teachers were present but I felt utterly alone as I noticed him grab his crotch underneath the table. Nobody else saw.

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I think now of how from the moment we’re born, girls are taught their bodies are not their own. Our bodies are legislated, penetrated, traded and degraded. I thought of my ex and angry tears came to my eyes as I stretched out on the floor, knees in the air. I thought of how men and even teenage boys can violate us without even touching us–from across a room, with a look, a gesture, underneath a table.

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After escaping overt abuse, I became more aware of my looks, how I dressed, what “message I was sending” without intending. I wore a black blazer, black jeans, and a black shirt buttoned up to my neck yesterday and three boys asked me why I wore a suit. I’d give anything to disappear in jeans and a t-shirt like them but no matter what, there are the comments–about my clothes, my body, my hair. I keep trying to hide from others at the same time I’m trying to reestablish a relationship with my body–one where I don’t ignore it.