Category Archives: This Is Not Just a Women’s Issue


Rhetoric is one of the most effective ways in which the disempowerment of women is perpetuated. In particular, phrases linked to femininity that are intended to be insulting are damaging. This video by the Always campaign captures this phenomenon perfectly.



Random Acts of Sexism

Lately I’ve been thinking about what specific incidents have led me to become a feminist and I really think I can attribute that to something I’d like to call “everyday sexism”. These acts are seemingly small but have long lasting impacts of the morale of a woman… I’m literally recalling incidents from over 10 years ago. One of the major issues that I’ve had is with my body; it has been over sexualized, criticized, hated, and loved. I’ve literally had people just come up to me and touch my butt because they “couldn’t resist.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is my body and if you want to touch it you need permission, objectifying me? NOT SEXY. Getting my consent? SEXY. Some of my girlfriends with larger chests have say strangers (men AND women) literally walk up to them at the bar and poke their boobs, like it’s a toy that can be played with – it’s frustrating!


But it’s acts that are even smaller than that:


It’s calling a girl that speaks her mind a bitch.


It’s calling a woman that has multiple partners a slut.


It’s honking at woman when you drive by – but actually though, can y’all not?


It’s blaming receiving unwanted attention on the clothes a woman is wearing.


It’s making a joke that makes fun of women.


It’s accusing an emotional woman of being on her period.


It’s when a dude buys you a drink and automatically feels some claim to your body.


It’s a guy friend who hates you for constantly putting them in the “friend zone.”


It’s a partner who doesn’t even think to ask if you WANT to have sex for the simple reason you’re in a relationship.


It’s not being able to twerk with your pals without some dude trying to push up on you at a dance party.


It’s feeling guilty because you said, “No.”


It’s laughing even though that joke about women not knowing how to drive just isn’t f*cking funny.


It’s body shaming.

It’s any and everything that has made you question your worth as woman or even a person in this world.



All of these things just perpetuate this hate of women that I feel is so unintentional it makes my heart hurt. But I really feel with conscious mind and heart, these obstacles can be obliterated.


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Rewriting our Story: Equal Pay

RSVP for Panel Discussion Attendance

Tuesday, April 8 is National Equal Pay Day.  A day dedicated to advocating, highlighting and eliminating the wage gap between men and women. Even after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, women in 2014 are paid $0.77 to the dollar earned by a man. On the other hand, women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) make 33 percent more on average. With the demand for STEM jobs and equal pay, join the conversation on #EqualPay and #STEM.

The YWCA’s across the US and the Department of Energy are teaming up to host a live panel and Tweet Up on “The STEM Promise: Opportunities for Economic Empowerment.” The conversation will focus on #EqualPay #STEMjobs and how the wage gap can be impacted.

TWEET with US! Raise awareness and join the conversation on April 8, 2014, from 3-4pm EST

• Watch #STEMEqualPay on Tuesday – @YWCA_NCA, @ENERGY, @YWCAUSA, @wusa9 talking #womeninSTEM

• #womeninSTEM have smaller wage gap. Join @ENERGY and @YWCAUSA on Tues to hear why. (#STEMEqualPay)

• join @ENERGY @YWCA_NCA #STEMEqualPay Tweet Up Tuesday & share entry-level #STEM job advice to advance pay equality



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Our Blindspot on Dating Abuse

Vegetable gunWhen we hear stories or statistics about dating abuse, we start to form an image in our mind about what it typically looks like, the typical abuser or the typical victim. We might even get better at recognizing a common case and maybe even doing something about it. However, the downside is that any dating abuse that does not fit this description is even less likely to be recognized or addressed.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that domestic abuse does not have to be physical and that emotional and psychological abuse are just as valid and just as damaging. Here, I want to introduce what I think is another overlooked and delicate topic.

Women can be abusers too, they are not always the victim. It sounds obvious. Even though, statistically, the vast majority (92%) of domestic abusers are male and the victims are female, occasionally it does happen the other way around (this differs in same-sex relationships). Still, I would argue because it is far less common, often looks different, and goes against most of our gender stereotypes we are less able to see it for what it is.

Stereotypes associated with women such as weak, passive and nurturing are nearly the complete opposite of those that we associate with somebody who is abusive (e.g. controlling, aggressive, angry). Acknowledging and/or rejecting stereotypes about women does not, unfortunately, mean we are not affected by them. So my point is that abusive behavior by a woman is in direct conflict how they are viewed by other people, and even how they view themselves.

Gender stereotypes in relation to domestic abuse are harmful for both men and women. When women are viewed as weak and passive, it appears more “natural” for them to be the victim and easier for all parties to justify the abuse. Yet, women who abuse will never have to be justified because it sounds like too much of an oxymoron to be taken seriously. For that reason, men who are being abused by women are just as likely to be disregarded.

For men there is so much shame around reporting abuse that a large number of cases likely go unreported. “We tell boys to “man up” and be strong, and this means that they should not have emotions, never feel weak, etc. and continues a vicious cycle of men feeling unable to express themselves about hurtful experiences,” which clashes strongly with the image of a victim.

I was surprised to see how much the statistics evened out in younger groups. One study found that in dating abuse with teen couples girls were more likely to report both being a victim (41%) and a perpetrator (35%), which was surprisingly close to boys reporting victimization (37%) and perpetration (29%). This “leveling-off” was thought to due to recognizing more female abusers, rather than an actual rise.

Emotional abuse, by either gender, is now listed as a common form of abuse, but was under the radar for a long time. Belittling a partner or criticizing them in front of others can be written off as a joke. Having to “get permission” to do something might be seen as acceptable. The silent treatment or emotional isolation might just be their way of handling things. And it’s expected that your significant other should be a priority over all others or else it means that you “don’t love them,” right?!

If it’s harder to see women as abusers and to recognize emotional abuse, in combination it would probably be very easy to overlook. What makes this even more complicated to address is that oftentimes the person does not realize that what they are doing is considered emotional abuse. A whole range exists from mild to severe, and probably fluctuates over time.

What I do feel is a very important distinction between being assertive and being abusive. I’m a huge advocate of people (especially women) being able to communicate their needs and expectations in a relationship and not backing down just to avoid a conflict. Given that, there is a difference between expecting honesty and invading the other persons privacy. In the same way that wanting to be the center of their world and isolating them to make that happen.

As an advocate for awareness of domestic abuse (and dating abuse in younger groups) especially in diverse populations, I still have a hard time getting past the stereotypical case. The man as the abuser, the woman as the victim, physically violent, and blatantly obvious. We need to push ourselves to recognize all forms of abuse and that everyone, ourselves included have the potential to fall into either role.

Missing pieceWhether it’s mild or severe, your best friend or an acquaintance you should consider doing something about it. Don’t give up on a who seems to have isolated themselves. Talk to a friends if you suspect they could be abusive. Monitor how you treat you own partner. Still, remember that not usually straightforward or clean cut so use discretion 😉

Disclaimer:  I am aware that this post is heterosexist in that it uses a heterosexual relationship as the standard and does not address these issues in the context of same-sex relationships. I wanted to specifically address the assumption that women do not abuse men and the consequences of that.

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Reflections on Violence Against Women in Guatemala

I have a lot more reading and writing to do on the subject of violence against women in Guatemala, but for starters, I can say: 1) that the state of fear women here face is historically rooted (thank you, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism, for the destruction of a people and continued institutional corruption and violence) and 2) that the collective embracing of individual sexual liberation – of women, especially – can help dismantle the culture of fear (alongside policy change, of course, such as better sexual education and more transparent spending on public services and infrastructure).

A kiss on a cheek is a typical greeting here in Guatemala. A kiss on the edge of the mouth is not, yet I’ve gotten several of those. I’ve received lingering handshakes with a squeeze at the end, vivid stares, and pushy requests for my phone number. These experiences are not Guatemala-exclusive, though they have been happening to me more often and more audibly here. And while it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between cultural norms and abuse, there have been moments of obvious harassment. Whose business is it if I have a boyfriend? What do you care if I’m traveling alone? Why am I expected to respond to a ts ts ts from across the street? As a friend of mine and fellow Latin@ poet said, “words and actions can both be sexual violence.”

I typically move on from these uncomfortable experiences without much thought. However, a friend here described a recent and nasty verbal attack. She mentioned her resulting fears about where the line between words and actions is drawn. I reassessed my own emotions after certain experiences on the street, and decided that I, too, have been pushed to places of fear, tension, and distrust. Some of my experiences may be unique, being a foreigner, but I can confidently say that living in a constant state of fear is a very real oppression faced by all women here.

Many Guatemalans I’ve met have described Guatemala as having a culture of fear or a culture of silence. Anthropologists have used the phrases “death as a way of life” and “fear as a way of life” to describe Guatemalan existence. In her book Fear As a Way of Life: Mayan Widows in Rural Guatemala, Linda Green quotes Cynthia Enloe: “Wars don’t simply end / And wars don’t end simply.” While Guatemala’s Civil War ended over two decades ago, death and violence persist. According to the World Health Organization, 10 or more murders a day per 100,000 people is classified as an epidemic. Guatemala qualifies, along with 10 other Latin American countries. Violence has been normalized, as a legacy of ingrained intimidation, residue of the war, stubbornly persists.

What is the connection between a history of violence, current violence, and mindsets of fear? To be always afraid is to be truly oppressed. Seeing the fear that my dad manifests often evokes anger for me – I find his distrust unreasonable. But I must remind myself that he lived through a war. For him, distrust meant survival.

I hope that, through education, we can little by little dismantle the fear in which we live, replacing it with strong community ties and respect for women. Projects such as Colectiva Siluetas’ show AFUERA, about being a lesbian in Guatemala, and Rebecca Lane’s music (like this song about liberation and self love) are great first steps. Also check out this documentary about sex workers in Guatemala who started a soccer team and joined a league in order to call attention to the violence and abuse they faced. My friend also told me about a radio show on which Guatemalan women described their experiences masturbating. Revolutionary! Maybe we can even get a good burlesque class going here so women can go straight to positive pride in sexuality and self-confidence.


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Restaurant Justice is a Women’s Rights Issue

I (along with RLA founder Sarah BS) have been working quite a bit this past fall on spreading the word about the Minimum Wage Act and Paid Sick Days Act in Washington, DC that is still under consideration by the DC City Council. The DC minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.77/hr, which simply isn’t enough, given the potential variation in customer tips. Here’s a bit of background on the work, and why I as a female restaurant worker am in support of the Minimum Wage Act and Paid Sick Days Act, and why these bills are women’s rights issues.

Specific information about the state of these bills can be read about here.

Since I have lived in DC, I have had the opportunity to work at several restaurants. I am currently working at two restaurants, one of which strongly prioritize the needs of their workers and their worker’s health. However, I have come to realize that this is exceptional in the restaurant industry.

I have not had the pleasure or responsibility of children yet, but I have witnessed first hand the struggles and the compromises female co-workers with children go through to make ends meet. Even yesterday, I asked a co-worker if she could cover for my shift, she hesitated. She told me she wanted to celebrate her son’s birthday and initially told me she could not cover my shift. Then she said, she was strapped on cash, and could skip out on the event after all. At this restaurant, the most I have made in a shift in the past month has been $50 for around 5 hours of work. My co-worker with the son works at the restaurant every day, often doing double shifts from early in the morning until late at night. She is also a student. I struggle to support my own expenses and bills on this wage. And I see that female restaurant workers have to make difficult sacrifices in order to support their families. Some of them work when they are very pregnant, many of them miss the opportunity to raise their children themselves due to long work hours. This is not to mention, wage inequity based on gender and a history of sexual harassment in the industry that many female workers endure in silence because they are afraid to lose their jobs. I’m certainly included in the last, I’ve had countless instances of male co-workers or managers demanding that I touch them, asking me on dates, or harassing me when I was in the kitchen prepping a dish.

I work with an organization called the Restaurant Opportunities Center where I aim to educate others and push policy to reflect the needs of restaurant workers. In restaurants, many of us earn little more than $8.25 an hour on good weeks and less than minimum wage on bad weeks. Tips are unsteady, particularly for busboys, food runners, and bar backs, who only receive a small share of the tips waiters receive, and for waiters at less expensive restaurants.

There were instances that I’ve earned as little as $30 in tips after working at ten hour shift. Often, my $2.77/hr paycheck went to taxes, leaving me with blank checks. Much of my money went to rent, which is fixed, and I was unable to buy healthy foods, or have much, if any, expendable income. In addition to being burdensome, this low pay makes me and others, particularly those who choose restaurant service as a career, feel disrespected professionally. I can’t imagine how much more difficult this would be if I had children, or couldn’t get paid sick days for either a personal health issue or my children’s health.

That is why I support the raising the minimum wage, which would help ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and are able to provide for their families, as they work so hard to do.

This Upworthy has important and easy to understand information about hard statistics that industry workers face, and why restaurant work brings issues of race, class, and gender together in policy and organizing.

If you are interested in the issue, I would also suggest taking a look at this website: or to get involved with ROC.

And if you live in DC, I strong urge you Tweet at @VincentOrangeDC and @marionbarryjr to stay firm on their support of #paidsickdays with no amendments.

This article was written by Anna Hovland. Her bio can be found on RLA’s “About” page:

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Feeling Invalidated as Women in The Work Place

This is a collaborative piece.

Having recently graduated from college and entering the working (“real”) world, we have begun to notice the gross reality of gender dynamics that exist in the work place. We’ve talked to other women about our experiences and feelings and found that many could relate.

Many argue that we have come a long way as a society in terms of educating and employing women. But if we get into professions just to be made to feel invalidated by particular male colleagues, then how far have we come culturally?

The purpose of this post is to share experiences that women face in the work place  that often go unnoticed, unspoken, and in many cases have become normalized. Four stories are shared below and the women who have opted to contribute have also chosen to remain anonymous for the sake of their employment. Fear is something that comes along with speaking out and the risk involved in saying something is a very real chance we take. We would, of course, prefer to feel safe sharing these stories openly, but that is not a place that we have yet reached, as individuals and as a society.


I’m not a fan of having to get dressed up for work. By all means, I like to look nice but if I could do my job in leggings and a loose tee every day, you bet I would. But I know that in my position, I gain respect from my clients by looking professional and put together. My clients need all the help and respect they can get in their lives so I take the dress code seriously balancing pencil skirts, blazers, heels, the ordinary combination of a professional female business wardrobe.

I’ll admit, I do feel more the part when I’m dressed-up, a bit more powerful and confident about my ability, a bit more assured that my clients trust me to do my job and help them instead of write them off like everyone else in their lives. Most of my clients and colleagues are men.  I can keep up with the office banter, grant it it’s a good thing I play fantasy football and can talk the normal Sports Center and beer lingo, being from Wisconsin. I sometimes wonder how they would react if I randomly decided to go on a tangent about what color I’m planning on dying my hair, but that’s besides the point.

I’ve come to love my job, even the dressing-up; it feels good to look good I can’t lie. But I absolutely, full-heartedly detest, no, loathe the extra shall we say “attention” I receive for the way my body looks in my clothing. I’m curvaceous, I have quite the rack (brought to you by both sides of the family), but never do I try to intentionally flaunt this at work. One day I borrowed a roommates dress that was a little tight; not doing that again. The first guy I see in the office says to me “well that is quite the pretty necklace you have, which boyfriend of yours got that for you?” If you know me, you know I was contemplating smacking him. EXCUSE ME. Thoughts in my head:

1 – Yeah, you’re looking at my necklace, my ass. He was staring directly at  my rack and the dress I was wearing even went up to my neck. Subtle.

2 – I can buy my own fricken jewelry thank you very much, hell no do I need a man for that.

And 3 – To even imply that I would date multiple guys at once like some kinda gold digger is beyond insulting.

Sadly I’ve gotten use to the reactions I get any day I come to work looking a little too, let’s say appealing and my coworkers and clients alike, can’t help but issue a slew of “well ain’t you looking fancy today” or my personal favorite, “I see you white girl.” Shut-up.

My co-worker put it really well the other day. He said to me, “someone was talking to me about you the other day and the first thing that came out of the guy’s mouth was ‘she’s beautiful.’” My co-worker goes on to say how frustrating that is, that I’m chalked up to be a pretty girl, completely omitting the work that I do and the passion that I have for my job.

Compliments about appearance are nice; as someone who’s dealt with major body and confidence issues for a long while, sometimes it’s the morale boost I need. But if looking nice and professional comes at the price of being just another pretty girl in the office, peace out, I’m done.

I’ll continue to dress the part for the sake of my clients, but the next person that says “dang you look fine,” watch out. And for the love of women, can we design some professional clothing that aren’t created to make my butt look tight, my waste look small, and my legs look built!

Submitted anonymously

I Can Build My Own Damn Bike

Ooh, I bet you got a lot of whistles this morning.” This is what I heard when I walked into work one day. I was dressed in a black pencil skirt, flowy top, tights and some pretty sleek boots. I looked good. Felt confident. But of course I knew I’d be receiving a comment about it. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, raging more and more every day. But when I dress for work, for anything, I do it for myself. Not to get stared at by every man on the bus, the street, at work. And certainly not to get whistled at like a dog.

Now, this comment was a compliment. But it bothered me. Especially because it came from a woman. We’ve become subliminally trained to dress to impress. Because that’s how we draw attention. That’s how we hold power. By how we put ourselves together in the morning. True, I feel more confident when I look good. But I do it for myself. Anyways, maybe I’m ranting too much and not getting into the real thick of it. The things that really get beneath my skin because I am a woman in my workplace.

Whenever I need to move something or take on a task that’s not so ladylike, I  most certainly, without a doubt, will hear “Oh, you need a man to help you with that!”. Sometimes, I do need a hand, but I’ll be damned if I hand over a box or a task to a guy that thinks I can’t handle it. I recently got a new bike through work and planned to assemble it on my own. I can’t tell you how many pushy offers I received to have one of our male residents put it together. I’m a pretty avid bike rider, know how to fix a flat, and most importantly, know how to read instructions. So I felt like I was qualified enough to put a bike together. But at least 5 people didn’t think so.

Maybe it’s because I’m so headstrong, but I assembled that bike all by my damn self. I got stares of amazement. Many from fellow females who thought I should have handed the task to a man. This is what irked me the most. Where along the line were these women told they needed a man to help them? That they were less than capable. Perhaps I’m a raging, headstrong feminist, but I prefer to be thought of as a capable woman. Especially at work.

Submitted anonymously

The Skanky Shorts

I have begun a new job at a progressive, young, nonprofit organization. The man who hands me my check each month is friendly, flirty even. It honestly makes me feel uncomfortable but I have never said anything about it. I mean, I am new here, I am young, and he is in a position of power. So, I think, flirting is harmless and avoid him.

A few weeks into the job I make it out to a happy hour with a few co-workers. It feels good to finally get out of the work cloths and hang out with the people I am around all day. I show up in jean shorts and a tee shirt, my typical summer apparel. My uncomfortably flirty friend shows up and offers to buy me drinks. I’m broke so hey, why not? We all sit together and are enjoying each other’s company.

The flirting coworker’s next move changed my mood for the remainder of the night. The man who hands me my pay checks looks at me, to poke fun, and in front of our entire group says “She can’t be trusted, just look at her skanky shorts.” My face just went blank, I was confused, shocked. The first thought that popped into my head was, first of all, how dumb his joke was. It made no sense (so if you are scratching your head wondering what the point of the joke was, there was none). It felt like it was just a random opportunity for him to say something about my clothing choice.  That in itself confused and infuriated me.

Because he pointed out my clothing in front of a large group, I naturally felt everyone’s gaze. I just sat there, feeling exposed. I tugged at my shorts as if I could disprove his statement, maybe avoid the potential judgement of my colleagues who’s attention was now on my lower half. I didn’t want to stand up for the rest of the evening out of fear that everyone would look at my ass and judge the clothing I had chosen to wear. He, in that one statement, caused me to feel embarrassment, anger, fear, shame. I questioned how long he had been looking at my shorts, thinking they were skanky. Was it when he bought me a drink? I felt angry. He embarrassed me. I felt violated by his analysis of my outfit.

I sat in my own silence turning the comment over and over in my head. Why the fuck was he even looking at my shorts? Who gave him the right to draw his own conclusions on the style of clothes I choose to wear out? Weather it was in or out of the work place, he has no right to call my clothing skanky. What was he saying about me in that comment about my shorts? I don’t wear those shorts out anymore. He continues to flirt at work. I wonder if he thinks about what his simple words and actions have the power to make me feel.

Submitted anonymously

The Questions Behind My Silence

I feel two simultaneous jabs on either side of my torso, just below my ribs. You know, the type that you might get teasingly from a significant other, or pesteringly from a little sibling. The kind meant to get a rise out of you, meant to make you jump, giggle, and turn around to teasingly slap the person who did the jabbing. This is not one of those times. I’m at work.

I’m caught off guard by the pokes. My body tenses involuntarily. My head whips around and my mind races. What was that? Who touched me? Why?

In the few split seconds that it took for me to turn around, my mind had not decided how I felt, let alone come up with how to react. I was surprised but not quite offended, confused but not quite angry. Mostly, I was just shocked and weirded out.

My eyes caught a glimpse of one of my male co-workers walking behind me. His head turned back to meet my bewildered glance and he smiled. I immediately knew then that he had poked me on my sides.

A hundred questions flooded my mind.

Is this normal? Should I be mad? Am I offended? Is this harassment? Should I tell someone? Why would he even do that? He’s married. Is he trying to bug me? I would never do that to anyone. Ever. Especially at work. He is a man and he is much older than me. I know he would never go up behind another male co-worker and do that. Is this a gender thing? An age thing? Do people even take me seriously? Or am I just some kid they can pick on? Is it a cultural thing? Is this teasing okay in some places? What am I supposed to do? How do I react? They never tell you what to do in these situations. Am I being silly? Should this not be something that bothers me? Does it bother me?

They, you know, the teachers, youth leaders, parents, and counselors, they always tell you to report sexual abuse. They tell you to let someone know if anyone verbally or physically harasses you. But what about all that grey area. What about when a male co-worker sneaks up and teasingly pokes you in your sides? What about when you don’t know whether it’s something inappropriate or if you’re just being too sensitive? What about when that person who makes you uncomfortable is one of your bosses?

I still don’t know exactly what I should have done in that situation. I told a few of my female co-workers that I trust about the incident and I was surprised to hear that they have had similar, and some worse, situations and stories involving that same male co-worker. One co-worker even reported one of the incidents, but apparently nothing really changed.

So what is my solution? For now, I avoid being alone with him. I respect him less. Sometimes I’m rude to him. Sometimes I rehearse in my mind how I will react or what I will say if he tries something else or says something inappropriate. Is that the right answer? I don’t really know, and I think the not knowing how to asses these situations bothers me just as much as the fact that these things happen in the first place.

 Submitted anonymously

So the days come to an end. The weeks pass by. The comments are made and then they fade. We get stares and whistles, snide comments, uncomfortable feelings. We hope for an end. Some of us will speak up. Some of us won’t. Some of us will get angry and take action. Some of us will be scared. We will stand up for ourselves and for women as a whole, for equality and for liberty.

We will speak and act for the future and for hope. For now, we hope that you join us in this effort and raise the awareness and share your own stories. Listen to other’s stories and listen to yourself.

We hope that the accounts you read and the real women behind them stirred your hearts. We hope that you will bring this challenge and this awareness into your own communities, families, and workplaces, and give someone else hope.

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Domestic Abuse in a Fish Bowl

ImageDomestic abuse is like dirty water in the fish bowl analogy. In the fish bowl analogy, the fish doesn’t recognize that it’s underwater because it has only known the world from that perspective. We can look at the fish and it’s limited reality, yet we don’t recognize that we are in our own fish bowl of our perspective in the context of our lives.
To extend the analogy, the water in the bowl might get dirtier and dirtier, but the more gradual the change the less difference that the fish will notice. If the water never really gets clean, eventually dirty water will be normal and all that the fish expects.
Even though I was not the direct victim of domestic abuse, I still didn’t recognize it until I was out of that context. It doesn’t look like the definition I had in my head and it’s so much more complex than I ever though it could be.
The media gives us an image of what it should look like: physically violent, obvious to both the victim and the abuser, the abuser is a horrible person, the victim is helpless. In reality, it may look nothing like this and it often does not. This discrepancy keeps us from recognizing it for what it really is and doing something about it.
It was so gradual that nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary. Don’t to that or it causes a fight, don’t bring that up because it’s not worth it. It’s like walking on eggshells to keep the other person calm and content. Slowly more activities and cut out and more habits are changed according to what has been deemed acceptable. Eventually there is a new set of norms and nobody notices until they are already in place.
The complicated part is that it’s not all bad, especially at the beginning. The abuser probably has some really good qualities; after all, the relationship formed somehow. Maybe they fix things and cook and clean and handle everything that was not being handled before. Maybe they have so much in common with the other, the same difficult past, the same taste in music. And maybe they showed up at just the right moment and said just the right thing.
At a certain point the dirty water becomes noticeable, no matter how gradually it appeared. By then there are so many obstacles because their lives are entwined. How would I pay for everything? Where would one of us go? What else would I have left? Would I be safe? On top of that, would I even find anybody better?
Now that I see it, what is there even to do? At one point I would have said “just leave.” But now I know better, there is a lot more to it than that. I feel that all I can do is be understanding, supportive and non-judgmental. It’s possible that it may never end or even greatly improve, but she is smart, and creative and resilient and I know she’s dug herself out of a worse mess than this.

I Don’t Want to be Afraid

I wrote this poem about a form of sexual harassment that happens almost everyday to many women, most of the time we don’t even think about it.  I will preface the piece by noting that it is probably one of the most mild forms of harassment, but I still wanted to shed light on the event in order to point out how little occurrences can still have a profound impact on their victims. It is not right or fair for me or anyone to accept these events as a normalized part of our culture, but often we do.  I decided to write and post this piece to describe my experience and explain how unbelievably frustrating it feels for me to accept this behavior on almost a daily basis. 

I don’t want to be afraid
September 2013

I don’t want to be afraid anymore

A man looks me up and down as I walk by
Dominates me with his eyes
He wont take them off of my body
He knows that I can see him staring

Stern fire, angered passion
All together, his stare tightens
Looks at my chest, my thighs
My fear begins to rise

He, in this moment, has the power
The power to terrify me
For a millisecond my mind wanders
To what he is capable of doing
He just told me with his eyes
That he, at the very least,
Is capable of dominating me
Without moving a limb on his body

Staring at me
As if he has the right
To use my body as he pleases
My flesh
My figure
His eyes are fixed

His eyes alone show me
That he has the power
To make me feel uncomfortable
To make me feel threatened
To make me feel objectified
For his pleasure
So that he can be pleased
Staring at me

My mind wanders
To what he is capable of doing
Wondering if he will follow me
Touch me
Grab me
Attack me
Who gave him the right?
My heart rate continues to rise

I say nothing, do nothing
I can’t look back as I pass by
But I can still feel his uncomfortable stare
In this moment he won
Heart pounding
Chest tightening
Fear engulfing
So many emotions
In a matter of seconds

And just as fast
I brush it off
Knowing that it will happen again

Anger comes later
I bet he never thought about what his gaze does
Lingering far too long
What power he has
What dominating culture he represents
It is unbelievably frustrating how often this happens

I am afraid
Even if it was only a moment
I was afraid
Felt like I got away
This time
It was just a gaze

I don’t want to be afraid anymore

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Not Enough: Being an Ally

A few weeks ago, this list of ways men can be allies to women was circulating all over Facebook. It’s an important read, just like Peggy McIntosh’s go-to piece on white privilege. But thinking about the privileges of one faction of society is not enough. We need to acknowledge that our struggles are intertwined. I fear that focusing on how men can be allies makes fighting patriarchy a woman’s issue, when it is really something we are all involved in.

The ally talk, while perhaps not as paternalistic as the concept of helping, does not get to the root of the matter. In struggles against oppression, we need to celebrate both solidarity and mutual aid. We don’t all have the same stakes in these battles but we ALL have much to gain from each other and from the destruction of oppressive systems.

Yes, men stand to gain the ability to express emotions in ways other than fighting. But they also have inherent stake in the liberation of women. I don’t believe a person is free while others (women, prisoners, the list goes on…) around them are not. Liberation accompanied by the oppression of others doesn’t sound quite right. As the Wobblies say, an injury to one is an injury to all.

I constantly struggle with all that I just said. I believe in caucuses. I think oppressed people’s deserve their own spaces. I also think that privileged peoples need their own spaces. But we can’t pretend that we don’t all have a lot to gain. We can’t continue to throw around the word ally and think we’ve found the answer.

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