This Woman’s Work: Navigating Sexual Violence, Harassment and all the other Crap

December 10th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Amber,

I was reading an older essay (trigger warning: it’s difficult to read) of Latoya’s over on Racialicious.com about her experience, and those of her friends, of “not rape” or the many forms of sexual violence. It was heavy and deep, and I suddenly began to cry as I read the comments section – so many women describing their own experiences. It was as Latoya wrote – a widespread occurrence and a culture that is too often accepted.

At first, I thought of how my own life did not reflect the experiences of these women. I was grateful that I had never experienced the violence they had. I’ve thankfully never had a boy or a man use his strength against me. But as I continued to reflect, I realized how this violence had in fact crept into my own life. It is widespread. It is invasive. It is ever-present. A threat.

I remembered the boy in grammar school whose hand went to my thigh every time we sat next to each other. How I alternated between pushing his hand away and trying to ignore him as he crept further up or rubbed my thigh until I had no choice but to try to make him stop….again. To this day, I wonder how that really affected me, an 11 year old.

I remembered standing on the corner waiting for my bus when a man walked by, stopped, turned back and asked if I wanted to wait in the front hall of his building. I wondered if another 13 year old girl was not as smart as I.

I remembered the man, clearly much older than me, staring at me at 15, practically following me (how far if I had not turned around?) – a funny story I tell, but with a definite creep factor.

I remembered the letter sent home explaining that one of my classmates had been assaulted. I remembered a friend, so inescapably broken, describing how she’d given head to all these older boys, one telling the other to go find her.

I remembered the stories told by friends of the violence they had experienced – the brokenness they carried with them. I remembered the male friend who asked me, “why do women feel ashamed after being raped? It’s not their fault,” and the shock I felt when I realized he didn’t understand what every woman, whether having been raped or not, understands.

I realized I did, in some small way, know Latoya’s story. I was not as far removed as I thought. And I began to think of all the ways we get so used to it. To the stories. To not remembering them. To casting them aside as an afterthought. We get so used to the battles.

I felt the same way when I read a post on PostBourgie. It was amazing. I felt like I had my eyes opened – “I wasn’t the only one!” She described her experience of being unable to walk down the street without someone stopping her, wanting to talk to her, wanting her number, just wanting a reaction. I read with such satisfaction to realize I wasn’t the only woman who avoided the eyes of men while walking home. I felt so amazed at realizing, hey…maybe this really wasn’t okay?! (and I call myself a [sorta] feminist.)

I have even started to really (you know…truly) notice what makes me uncomfortable. That it isn’t unreasonable for me to become irritated or closed-off when cornered by a man with that look – you know ladies, that look that is “interested” but really only in you as an object, smiling at you like they may have found a prize. You know that feeling.

But too often I second-guess my feelings, wondering if I should really just give them a chance or not be so “mean” or smile because that’s what’s expected of me. It gets so tiring. 

And inevitably these thoughts lead me to recall the fights with my father, starting in high school – his insistence on picking me up from the bus stop after dark, his wanting to know where I’m going and when I’ll be back, my resentment at these intrusions on my life – intrusions that exist because I am a woman, because I am not safe.

But these aren’t really forgotten stories. They aren’t old thoughts. They sit in the back of my mind, brought forward at the slightest prodding. They hide in my feelings – feelings of anger or discomfort or insecurity. They’re there. Always.

So…I had no purpose when I first began. I still don’t. I just needed to write. I needed the space – to respond to what I’d read, to untangle the thoughts jumbled in my head, to remind myself of my own experiences.

How do we, as women, work all this out? 




And just cuz any deep topic is better with music and I don’t want to be too depressed:

Blogging as Therapy (Cont): The Feminist Friend Zone

July 16th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Liz,

I can relate to your story all too well. If I had a dollar for the number of conversations about “Feminism” that I’ve had with men in the past couple years, I would be one wealthy sista…ya dig? They are conversations that need to happen and many times when both parties are “trying to understand, [them] listening to you and [you] to them” it can be very fruitful and a lot can be learned.

BUT, my friend, how does all of this translate when it comes to dating these men?

I thought that I had put this topic to rest (at least for a little while) and found peace and contentment in seeking my “wholeness.” As you may recall, in my earlier “Blogging as Therapy” post, I emphasized that “wholeness” is the ultimate goal—but let’s be real. Getting there is a journey all on its own that is much easier said than done. So as I continue to tread along this path, how do I deal with all the obstacles (to achieving said wholeness) along the way?

What reopened this pandora’s box (of sorts) was a blog post that I read on The Crunk Feminist Collective entitled, “Dating While Feminist: Anatomy of an Intellectual Affair,” which I found via my boyfriend in my head, Marc Lamont Hill’s, twitter page. This post is completely different from the “F*cking While Feminist” interview with Jaclyn Friedman that I posted on several weeks ago. Although I found Friedman’s interview entertaining, I must admit that I didn’t really identify with it. While reading this post on the CFC, however, I found myself rolling my eyes, laughing out loud, and giving the author, Crunktastic, a fierce, “Okkkkkaaaaay….” *snaps*

In the post, Crunktastic shares a snapshot of her own experiences with dating and in effect, highlights what many single, successful, educated women who identify as feminist go through on dates with single, successful, educated, brothas who identify as the same. She writes:

You and a brother meet at an academic event. Perhaps you’re both guest panelists on some discussion about Black life, culture, or politics. You hear what he has to say and think to yourself depending on your needs at the time, “The brother is intelligent, articulate, and cute to boot. I wanna get to know him better.” And if you’re honest, you probably also think, “Wow. He could get it.” The brother sees you and thinks (apparently, and I’m most certainly speculating), “Wow. She’s attractive and really, really smart. Probably couldn’t pull her though. I don’t have enough degrees [money, etc, etc]. There are basically three types of dude reactions in this scenario: dude A will ignore you entirely. Dude B the educated, but intimidated jerk will attempt to diminish you to make himself feel better. Dude C has home-training and considers himself progressive. He respects strong, intelligent women. His mama probably is one. So he befriends you. For you, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship with tantalizing possibilities. For him, it is and will only ever be friendship, because he perceives that you are more intelligent and accomplished than he. And that makes you friendable, but not datable, and certainly not f*ckable. Why the two are mutually exclusive is absolutely beyond me.”

Gaaah. So deep. Friend Zoned Feminist = no fun. I must say that I have seen this time and time again–guys who are interested in working out all of their personal ish with you (the stuff that they don’t really feel comfortable talking about with their boys, i.e. emotional baggage, insecurities, and vulnerabilities) and fostering a deep emotional connection without the committment or much reciprocity. As one commentor put it, “Doing girlfriend duty, without the girlfriend benefits.” Hmph.

So, what is a feminist to do? And more importantly, what is the real conversation that we need to be having here? Successful, motivated women aren’t the problem. It goes much much deeper than that…

Ugh. All I have is questions and very few answers. But, at the end of the day, I can honestly agree with Crunktastic–“Dating While Feminist*” is DEEP, to say the least.

*Sort of

I Am Woman: White Privilege and Feminism

July 7th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Amber,
Picture this: Fellowship Hour at church with some good chili. Myself and three others get into a discussion about feminism. I ask the two guys: are you a feminist? Both are hesitant to simply say “yes.” Those pesky “extreme” feminists get in the way. And so proceeds an hour long conversation about feminism. I’m not sure I didn’t scare some grown folks – I get very passionate. ;)

But here were two examples of guys who were trying to understand, who were listening to me and I to them. It’s always wonderful to have those kinds of conversations. I want to work so hard at dispelling the myth that feminism is only for women. It is also for men. And it isn’t just about “women can do whatever men can do,” but understanding the standards and social constructs that privilege men. Often I respond angrily in situations because of how I am made to feel, as a woman, whether belittled or silenced or inadequate or objectified.

So I am feminist.

But I sometimes have trouble saying that. It’s loaded. It means so much to so many different people – many times unflattering perspectives. Not only that but it is just complicated. As we had this conversation, I was well aware that I was speaking to a black man and a white man. Gender is not the only factor at play in our experiences and relationships. Because, while I lack one privilege, I have another.

I hesitate to firmly announce “I am feminist, hear me roar,” when feminism historically has been a space for the voices of white women. White women have employed their white privilege, even as they demand men to relinquish theirs. And because of that, as you suggest, white women sacrifice their wholeness.

I think my hesitation in fully claiming the “feminist” title (no caveats) is a part of my own attempt at claiming wholeness. The idea of wholeness gives me shivers. The idea of claiming myself – no caveats – is miraculous. But as I strive, I will continue to add my asterisks: I am feminist.*


*Sort of. 

PS – I love blogging. This post went in a direction I didn’t intend and I love it – blogging as therapy indeed. 

Blogging as Therapy Vol. 1: Male Privilege, Dating, and Feminism

June 15th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink


Liz,

I’ve been in a bit of a funk (#Glee!) lately. I must admit that said funk is a contributor to why I haven’t posted for several weeks. There are so many topics that have been swimming around in my head, but to actually sit and write about them has proven to be pretty daunting. With that said, it’s no fun being in a funk and sitting around thinking about how you are in a funk just makes it worse. We kind of started this blog, on the “blogging as therapy” tip and if you don’t mind, I think that I’m going to take it back there for a little while.

As a first post on this “blogging as therapy” series, which is bound to become a trend (due to the funk), I’ve decided to tackle a topic that has become an extremely relevant part of my everyday life and that one reader (s/o to JCH!) suggested we publicly consider—the complicated intersection of male privilege, feminism, and relationships between men and women (platonic and otherwise). Deep (But really though, I just always want to talk about this. Let’s be real.)

I recently read an interview done by The Sexist, a blog on Washingtoncitypaper.com that focuses on sex and gender in Washington, D.C., entitled “Fucking While Feminist.” In the piece, Amanda Hess, blogger for The Sexist, interviewed feminist activist and author, Jaclyn Friedman.

In the interview Hess asks Friedman several questions about the difficulties of “dating while feminist” including whether or not she has a “feminist litmus test” that she references when getting to know a guy. Overall, I thought the interview was pretty light-hearted and entertaining, and I do think that Friedman brought up some very interesting points that I have considered in regard to my own interactions with men.

I don’t know if I would quite label myself a feminist for my own personal reasons, but I am one to actively challenge traditional understandings of gender and societal roles assigned to men and women. With that said, sexism has definitely become an important factor for me in forming relationships with men and to be honest has proven to be a very real source of frustration. How does one compromise? IS there a litmus test?

I recently attended a panel discussion on Black Male Privilege put together by the Brecht Forum in New York City. The panelists included Marc Lamont Hill, Associate Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; Byron Hurt, award winning filmmaker, anti-sexism activist, and essayist; R.L. Heureux Lewis, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York; and Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke University & author of “The New Black Man: Redefining Black Masculinity.” The discussion was organized and moderated by Esther Armah, international award winning journalist, playwright and radio host of Wake Up Call & Off The Page (WBAI 99.5 FM).

I went to the discussion skeptical about the fact that there were no women on the panel (except for Armah serving as the moderator) and eager to hear what was to be said because panel discussions on Black Male Privilege just don’t happen. Apparently, lots of other individuals felt the same way, because the place was packed. I arrived about ten minutes before the discussion began, and it was already standing room only. Armah began by asking each of the panelists if they thought Black male privilege was real and if so, how would they define it. Two and half hours later the room was still full, the discussion was still going strong, and I left feeling a little more hopeful about the Black community generally, and relationships with men in particular.

Going into depth on the panel would require a whole other post to do it justice, but a significant theme that each of the panelists continued to emphasize was that feminism is not just a women’s movement, and sexism is not just a women’s problem, it affects all of us. Although there are many benefits to privilege, there are also many limitations and constraints, which may be easier to ignore, but are just as damaging (interdisciplinary/cultural studies 101, but we are quick to forget). It is when we start to recognize the parts of ourselves that we are forced to repress and the ways that we are still put into boxes, even while claiming privilege, that we can truly begin to see that with these constraints none of us can ever really be whole. And really, what more can you ask for out of life than to be whole, intact, complete—fully content with who you are and in the ability to express yourself. Wholeness is the goal.

With that said, in searching for my wholeness, I would like to think that I have become a little more patient with individuals who are also searching for theirs, that is unafraid to be introspective and challenge their beliefs and opinions. So when it comes to friendship and dating, it may sound cliché, but I think an open mind goes a very long way.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the wholeness category at That's So Deep.