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.

 

The amazing disappearing ‘women’

Beautifully written, important post!

language: a feminist guide

September began with some good news: Purvi Patel, the woman sentenced to 20 years for ‘feticide’ by an Indiana court, was finally released from prison after her conviction was overturned. But the pro-choice organisation Planned Parenthood warned that the fight wasn’t over. ‘People’, it said, ‘are still being criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes’. The organisation had already commented on another welcome development, New York State’s decision to stop levying sales tax on sanitary products. Once again, though, there was a hitch: not all drugstores had implemented the change, and some ‘menstruators’ were still being charged.

Planned Parenthood is not alone in its careful avoidance of the word ‘women’. Last year the Midwives’ Alliance of North America rewrote its core competencies document using ‘inclusive’ terms like ‘pregnant individuals’, to acknowledge that some of the individuals in question do not identify as women. And let’s not forget the UK Green Party’s…

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Invasion

For all my sisters who’ve ever been invaded.

pressing, pushing

into our space

into our bodies

into our lives

“accommodate me, listen to me, let me in, take it, say yes”

forever receptacles

constantly making room for others

for their problems, for their bodies, for their time, for their needs

grieving the loss

of our time

our lives

control

choice

don’t let go just yet

for I am with you

struggling

pushing back

fighting

for our rights

solidarity

for what is rightfully ours

we are not receptacles

we are full to overflowing

we need our own space

time

respect

don’t give up

I will not be seeing “Birth of a Nation”

After learning of the rape allegations against Nate Parker on feminist current  and subsequently reading further damning articles  and evidence, I will not be seeing the new Birth of a Nation movie. Some of Parker’s comments and even the event itself sound eerily similar to things said and events recounted by my sociopathic, horrifically abusive ex. I’m absolutely disgusted by Parker and others like him (e.g. Polanski and Woody Allen). I encourage others to join me in boycotting movies by any of these men.

Motto Ideas

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So I was perusing the new Beautiful Rising website which showcases tactics for change. I was thinking about our beautiful manifesto and how useful it would be to come up with different mottos that condense our message into a phrase that gets people questioning the status quo and effectively disrupts the patriarchy. This motto could be scrawled on paper money, inside books and magazines, or on bathroom stalls. It would have to be short and thought-provoking. So I put it to you, Gender Rebels:

If we had a motto, what would it be?  

Benevolent Abuse

One of the most insidious aspects of abuse is manipulation through money and gift-giving. People often wonder how women are lured into abusive relationships and why they stay so long. Gifts and money play a huge part. Abusers often use physical things as substitutes for true emotion and genuine caring. They initially shower their partner with what seems to be generosity and adoration–buying dinner, flowers or going on trips. When the abuse starts to surface and they begin breaking their partner down, the gifts become intermittent and usually come with apologies for mistreatment.

Sometimes, an abuser will create dependency in the relationship by “helping” their partner to pay for life’s necessities. These “favors” come with no explicit price and may even be presented as gifts. “I just want to help out.” The abuser will not reveal their price until they need it. Even then, the price is often vague and only hinted at in terms of “showing gratitude.” Payment can be any amount and repayment can be drawn out for any amount of time, giving the abuser complete control.  Playing off of their victim’s sense of guilt and fairness is readily employed.

By “helping” and “gifting,” abusers gain the upper hand and keep their victims indebted to them. Victims are enslaved by guilt and fear and most of all–manipulation. In the abuser’s twisted mind, they might see themselves as benevolent benefactors, philanthropists even. And to the public, they seem generous and caring. Their partners carry the weight of their debt which only grows heavier when outsiders gush about how lucky they are to have such a generous partner. To contradict such comments is to appear ungrateful, greedy, or selfish.

A good example of this type of behavior can be seen in movies about organized crime. Mafia or gang bosses will give lavish gifts, loans, or “help” only to ask for a “favor” when the time comes. These favors usually involve some sort of moral compromise and might even cause injury or prove fatal. Whether it be organized crime, romantic relationships or family relationships–the tactics and the goals are the same.

Being subject to this type of abuse has deeply diminished my trust in others. It has also impacted my self-esteem in that it’s made me feel selfish and low–first for ever needing help, then for not showing my gratitude enough or in the right way. Most of all, it’s caused me to accept more abuse. When I’ve asked for kindness, respect or compassion, I hear, “After all I’ve done for you!..I’ve never heard a thank you…When is it ever enough for you?” Then, on top of feeling slighted, I also feel selfish and less-than.

I contemplated different ways to escape my last relationship. I attempted to run away only to be followed and brought back. I even managed to leave a couple of times, only to be lured back. One of the hardest parts about leaving is you have to have some place to go–not just physically, but in your heart. There has to be a piece of you that loves you more. Leaving almost killed me. And when I left, I thought I was done for good. I was taken in by another ex who wasn’t much better than the last. As we were packing my things, my roommate reminded me of all he’d done for me and how ungrateful I was. I wanted to hit him and spit in his face.

Tomorrow I will move to a new town an hour away. I have a new job and live ten minutes away from a good friend. My roommate previously told me I wouldn’t owe him anything once I’d left but later decided he would “appreciate it” if I’d pay him back. I thought about giving him some of my art (my most valued possessions) and telling him to sell them. I’ve also thought about just leaving him a bunch of bloody tampons or taking a crap on his doorstep.

 

Update RE: Michigan State Correspondence

After receiving my last correspondence from Michigan State, I grappled with whether or not to pursue the issue. I gave myself a while to cool off and then sent this email:

I then received a reply that my email was forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator, Jessica Norris who subsequently emailed me an invitation to speak with her on the phone or meet in person. I’m puzzled as to why the correspondence cannot continue via email and reticent to speak with her on the phone. Any thoughts?
P.S. If you haven’t done so already, sign the petition to reopen the women’s lounge–it only needs 99 more signatures.

Reply from Michigan State RE: Closure of the Women’s Lounge

I was so incensed by the news that Michigan State’s women’s lounge was closing in favor of something more “inclusive” that I wrote the university’s president imploring her to re-open it. I kept it short and to-the-point:

This is the reply I received:
When I looked up Title IX, I was surprised (or not) to find that last year, the university was the subject of a Title IX civil lawsuit brought by four women citing the university’s mishandling of their sexual assault cases. This lawsuit followed U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights findings that the university had mishandled several other sexual assault cases in previous years. Talk about adding insult to injury!
So, Michigan State was already subject to public censure for their mishandling of sexual assault cases, then decides it’s a good idea to get rid of the women’s lounge altogether??? Not only is this a slap-in-the-face to all the women who’ve been assaulted on the university’s campus, but seems to be an attempt to avoid further suit by giving the appearance of  “compliance” with Title IX.
Furthermore, the aforementioned U.S. Department of Education’s OCR findings stipulate:
Additionally, there was information in many of the other grievance files that OCR reviewed to support that the complainants were subjected to a sexually hostile environment and in some cases there was information to support that the University’s failure to respond appropriately might have led the complainant or others to continue to be subjected to a sexually hostile environment. Further, in two of the grievance files OCR reviewed, both of which involved complaints of sexual harassment filed against University employees, OCR determined that the files reflected flawed analysis. In these cases, the University’s own documentation strongly supported that a sexually hostile environment existed. In one of these cases, the University’s documentation supported that the University’s failure to respond adequately to initial complaints regarding an employee’s behavior, and the employee’s continued additional acts of harassment after the University failed to adequately address his behavior, led to a continuing hostile environment for a number of other employees. (emphasis mine)
The current call for closure of the women’s lounge was helmed by a university employee! Mark J. Perry, a self-proclaimed men’s rights activist, shirks responsibility for the closure but doesn’t exactly shy away from all the publicity it’s given him. He states numerous times on his blog that the university had already decided to abolish the women’s lounge when he cried “discrimination against men.” Please don’t visit his blog, it’s not worth it and it feeds into his narcissism.
Michigan State is only one of many universities around the country creating a safe space for rapists and abusers. If you need any convincing of the gravity of the situation, watch The Hunting Ground on Netflix. I can’t think straight enough to write anymore, I’m so angry. Use the information I’ve posted here. Write personal letters to the university. Post their responses publicly. Solidarity and strength, my sisters.