America, We Need To Talk

Something has been bothering me for many years. Now that it’s become a topic in our national elections, it’s out in the open, and we need to talk about it: violence against females in America, aka our rape culture.

We’ve all heard the statistics, right? I mean is anyone really surprised? Most women are not surprised because this is our reality. Chances are you are one of these women. If not, you certainly know women who have suffered some form of sexual assault, whether verbal, psychological, or physical. I’m not talking about other anonymous women. I’m talking about your sister, spouse, daughter, cousin, aunt, or mother—someone you love. Your teacher, boss, neighbor, or co-worker—someone you see often if not daily.

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A certain Donald has never been challenged, never sued, prosecuted, or punched for the way he treats women. He has gotten away with being a misogynist and feels entitled to do whatever he wants where women are concerned.

Until now. Women are stepping forward to challenge his denial of what he said on videotape. He claims it was just guys talking and that he never behaved in the manner he bragged about. Women are saying: Wrong! He’s guilty of sexually assaulting me! He walked into our dressing room knowing full well that some of us would be naked or partially clothed.

This is the core character of someone who would be president. These are deep-seated values. Hard-wired. He and his buddy Roger Ailes, the deposed head of Fox News, apparently have no impulse control, no sense of propriety and decency, and absolutely no respect for women. Zero.

Their behavior speaks volumes. I have to wonder: Why do they hate women so much?

This is the central question regarding this epidemic of violence against females, both women and girls.

Unfortunately, they’re not alone. I hate to admit that I’ve dated men like this. They’re everywhere in society. They appear charming, but the big bad wolf is still there. They may not have the wealth and power of these guys, but their misogyny is just as toxic. Because of men like this, we have new language to describe them: toxic masculinity. Here is just one article on this subject. Google this term for more.

Talk is cheap. Action or inaction says it all.

That swimmer at Stanford who got caught raping an unconscious woman. That judge who reduced his sentence to a mere slap on the hand. Another judge in Montana in an incest trial who sentenced the criminal father to a meaningless 60 days in jail. The 12-year-old child was repeatedly raped by him. Those hundreds (thousands?) of rape kits in police departments across the country that are never processed. Those college administrators who choose to not fully investigate sexual assault incidents to avoid scandal. And these are only very recent examples.

There’s my friend who got grabbed when she was in her 20s and was working as a cocktail waitress; she got grabbed in the way that certain D (I can’t bear to even say his name) described he could do. She made a scene. The well-dressed customer denied it and she got fired. Decades later she has blogged about it. 

Women’s well-being is consistently being marginalized, declared unimportant by those holding power. That man’s behavior during the debates was especially revealing: We knew about his pathological lying, but his constant scowling, his use of intimidation (stalking and name-calling), and general lack of respect were astonishing. I can’t imagine how many thousands of women were triggered by such behavior on national television and by what was revealed on those videotapes. I can’t imagine how many women are remaining silent after being sexually assaulted by this man because they fear repercussions. Because you and I know he has done this numerous times. He gets away with it and he keeps doing it.

This kind of male privilege contributes to our rape culture. And rumors of rape have indeed surfaced in connection with this toxic man.

It’s not easy for those women who are speaking out. This is a topic I’ve written about from my own experience. It wasn’t easy to recall those events. It wasn’t easy to write about them. But it was something I had to do. I used to feel ashamed, but writing about these events made me realize this shame doesn’t belong in my body. Women are constantly being made to feel shame when they’ve done nothing wrong. Shame is being used as a weapon to keep us females in our place. It’s about power.

Like rape. Like sexual assault. It’s about exerting power over others.

When that man chants and encourages his followers (both men and women) to chant, “Lock her up,” I cringe. An involuntary physical reaction. They’re not talking about me. They’re not even really talking about Hillary. They’re talking about all women! They want to silence all women. To keep women powerless. Unequal.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

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Kudos to those stepping forward to tell their truth, speaking truth to power. Bullying and intimidation aren’t stopping them. More than ever, women need to tell their stories. Women need to use their voices. Women, we need to ROAR to stop this violence! And we need all decent men to stand and support us. Because this is not a gender war.

Violence against females hurts EVERYONE.

 

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Hitting the Refresh Button for May

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One of the big events for May is Mother’s Day. This year I was thrilled to be selected one of twelve writers for the Seattle production of “Listen To Your Mother.” We presented personal stories about our mothers or being a mother. The words originated in each writer’s heart and rang true for an appreciative crowd at Town Hall on Sat., May 7.

LTYM programs were presented in 41 cities in North America this year. That’s nearly 500 stories! Many thanks to Seattle coordinators Jill Ginsberg and Jennifer Scharf for making this amazing event happen!

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The fabulous women of “Listen To Your Mother” 2016.

I want to acknowledge the range of emotions that Mother’s Day generates for people. Not all mothers are loving. Not all mothers will inspire their children to think about them with gratitude, about buying cards and gifts, flowers and candy. People are complex, and it’s not unusual for love/hate relationships to develop between parents and children. Or it could even be worse. Like other people, mothers are capable of extreme cruelty, awful decisions, even life-threatening ones, and harmful, irrational behavior that can traumatize their children. For the children of such mothers, Mother’s Day might conjure up anything but celebration. Survival might be a more appropriate word.

Still, Mother’s Day is only one category of women.  Motherhood is a huge commitment and an enormous job. No question. Even though I have no children, I’ve observed my friends who are mothers, sometimes up close and personal. The challenges are many. This is a job that’s never done. This is a job that’s not for everyone. And many women are choosing to be childless.

Not only is Mother’s Day only for mothers and grandmothers, it is only one day out of  the year when we think about honoring women and the importance of their role in society.

Generally speaking, women should be respected and honored every day. Instead, what I’m seeing is evidence of misogyny at all levels. This concerns me. For example, on May 24, 2016, The Seattle Times featured three disturbing stories about women.

One featured Bill Cosby. Eleven years after a woman reported that Cosby sexually assaulted her, the case if finally headed to trial in Pennsylvania. For years we have been hearing about dozens of women coming forward with their allegations about Cosby’s misconduct: drugging and raping them.

Why has it taken the authorities so long? Are these women’s stories discounted because of Cosby’s celebrity status or simply because of male privilege?

The second story described the “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia where up to 50 indigenous women have disappeared or become unsolved homicides. These crimes are happening in all parts of Canada, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada estimates the number of disappearances and homicides could be closer to 4,000 instead of the official count of 1,200 cases.

If these were white women, there would be a public outcry. If these were men disappearing, resources would have been found to solve these crimes for a manhunt to  find and prosecute the perpetrators.

The third story reported about the working conditions for women employed on Wall Street. Twenty years ago, 23 women working at Smith Barney filed a class-action suit against their employer for sexual harassment and unequal pay. If you saw the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, you have a good idea about the outrageous behavior and sexism that this male-dominated culture encouraged. Almost 2,000 women eventually joined the case.

Even though Smith Barney paid out $150 million in settlements and awards, women still are frustrated today about disparities in income and promotions. In other words, conditions have not changed much. In addition, women’s hands are being tied in bringing legal action because they are required to sign away these legal rights if they want a job on Wall Street. Instead, they have to submit to mandatory arbitration.

Violence against women takes so many forms: economic, physical, emotional, cultural, medical, even judicial. It’s happening with such frequency everywhere.

In our rape culture, the latest outrage was the rape of an unconscious young woman behind a frat house at Stanford University in January 2015. Good people actually caught the rapist and he was charged. There was no question of Brock Turner’s guilt. He committed a violent crime. The prosecutor expected a sentence of six years for three felony counts. But he was a white male athlete attending a prestigious university, and the judge sentenced him to six months in prison and three months probation. Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County thought this was fair. Instead, he was violating the victim once again.

White male privilege? You bet! The old boys’ network is alive and well, and violence against women will continue because apparently there are no consequences.  When will women’s lives matter in our society??

Mother’s Day. Women, let’s not be lulled into accepting this one day out of 365 when the reality is persistent and pernicious misogyny.