Sunday, November 15, 2009
Stanton, S. et al., “Dominance, Politics, and Physiology: Voters’ Testosterone Changes on the Night of the 2008 United States Presidential Election,” PLoS ONE (October 2009).
summary from the Boston Globe, 15 November 2009.
This study leads me to think of several possibilities:
1. What is the emotional feedback for males that varying levels of testosterone produce? Do males seek dominance contests because of the testosterone effect? Has this been studied? Is there literature on this?
2. I'd like to see more of this sort of study around sports contests. In my self-observation about sports I have come to believe that I 'invest' myself emotionally in the contest. For instance, some years I choose to invest in one team or another in the World Series and other years I choose to "care less." When I do invest myself emotionally in a team I notice that I tend to either feel elated with a win or depressed by a loss. Sometimes I try to talk myself out of the feelings (especially the depressed ones associated to a loss) by telling myself that "it really makes not a wit of difference who wins this game", but my rational self only helps my mood so much. Again, do males tend to seek the dominance contest in the "big game" because we need the testosterone kick? Are we testosterone boost seekers?
3. Is this study a bit of evidence for the proposition that females might be more steady rational leaders around contested issues, such as affairs of state that have the potential for warfare? Are females less likely to enter into dominance contests for what they promise emotionally/chemically? I don't think we have enough evidence yet to confirm this hypothesis, but this study (and others?) are a start.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
It goes without saying that men are aggressive. But that’s exactly the problem, according to psychologists. They asked men and women to imagine various conflict scenarios and found that men systematically overestimate the prevalence and social approval of aggression, even while having mixed feelings about it themselves. Moreover, men assumed that women viewed aggression as more attractive than women actually viewed it, and, indeed, the number of fights that men reported being in was correlated with how much they thought women approved aggression. In addition to increasing the risk of conflict, there was evidence that men’s misperceptions about aggression may take a psychological toll, in the form of lower self-esteem and alienation from peers.
Vandello, J. et al., “Men’s Misperceptions about the Acceptability and Attractiveness of Aggression,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).
She’s just not that into it - The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Copyright © Susan Werner
May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life
May I suggest
This time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
Just turn your head
And you'll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a world
That's been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerise
A lover's trusting smile
A tiny baby's hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a hope
That's been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith
That they invest in you
It's that you'll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what's yours to finally set right
And I suggest
And I suggest to you
And I suggest this is the best part of your life
This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they're gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we'd give anything for one more hour of light
And I suggest this is the best part of your life
Sunday, September 13, 2009
As many of you know, back in September of 2003, I experienced a medically inexplicable "miracle" remission that lasted five years; a remission that enabled me to slow down and explore the Spiritual side of life. I trained and practiced Reiki healing, and strove, with mixed results, to become a less insufferably driven writer, teacher, partner and friend.
Writing? In time, I left writing behind. Just walked away. No regrets. Never again. Done. Politics? Too stressful. No mas. Done. I devoted more time to my first love, music, and spent as much time as possible in the wild.
So it went for five years. I re-entered the work force as an assistant trailer hitch installer for U-Haul. Up to my elbows in grease all day. Learning how to read blueprints, solve problems and to drill through metal under the patient tutelage of the lead, Grandma Butterfly. Her story was such that working with her was like working side-by-side with a living beat poem.
Butterfly earned the same minimum wage I did. And--so that U-Haul wouldn't have to give her benefits--was designated as a part-time employee even though she worked 60+ hours per week. In order to feed her financially struggling children and their children, Butterfly made weekly stops at a local food bank.
For my part, I found trailer hitch installation to be absorbing. However, the pay wasn't high enough to enable me to make a dent in my medical debt. In time, I returned to teaching, and augmented my income by counseling ex-convicts and establishing a Reiki practice.
Teaching, counseling, Reiki, music, wilderness. Couldn't ask for more. Setbacks? Yes. Some life-threatening, all annoying. And none worth going into. Better to focus on the good, and the good was very good. A good life. A sweet life. One I savored all the more because I'd come so close, on so many occasions, to losing it.
Then? In September of last year, the miracle remission came to an end. My decline was precipitous. And much to my consternation, even as I was forced, for reasons of health, to resign from three jobs I loved, the literary muse awoke.
I did my best to resist, but the poetic frenzy is the poetic frenzy. Moreover, since the locus of this untreatable hence fatal flare is my brain -- well, the secret to permitting the muse to take over is simple: bypass the intellect. Don't think. Hence, with an increasingly compromised intellect -- with windows of lucidity closing daily -- bypassing the intellect was a breeze.
Within a matter of weeks, and against my will, I had an outline for a book I never wanted to write. An outline, mind you. Just an outline. I had no obligation to sweat every word in an attempt to turn that outline into a living breathing entity, aka a story. No way was I about to embark on this project. No way no way no way. And I stuck to my guns. For a week.
Then in mid-February, I met up with Barry Lopez: friend, mentor, whose every word, written or spoken, is in service to the Sacred. Barry Lopez is the Thoreau of our times. A National Book Award winner, yes. But above all a decent and generous man. A light house to many, myself included, for when we met, 25 years ago, I was most certainly drowning. My old friend took one look at me and before I had a chance to break the news to him, he broke it to me: He said "Bobby, your time is short. Please write the book."
How could I say no to this great man, this friend of the land and all who love it and mourn its passing? How, above all, could I say no to a cherished friend? So. I stand at the edge of the River. I stand there and yearn to go Home. I yearn in the deepest way. I miss my dad. I miss Bobby Kennedy. I miss the Blessed Mother.
Sometimes, during windows of peace, during windows of lucidity, during times, in short, when I ought to be at the computer, I just lie on the couch, reach over for my 15-year-old bodhisattva dog, Three Bears, and pet her soft ears, her soft soul. And weep because the time is soon, and when it comes I'll go with joy. But even as Home floats towards me and I float towards Home, I tell them, "Not yet, not quite yet. I have a promise to keep."
Writing from the middle of the crossing, writing from a place of transcendent death makes for a quiet life. I walk Three Bears. I enter the wilderness of my soul by playing Leonard Cohen's repertoire. I spin a yarn, the final yarn. I spend time with the people I love.
Looking back on my life I suppose I feel like Lou Gehrig must've felt. Yes, I know it's corny. Yes, I know: writing is an assault on cliché. (Except when it isn't.) But I really am the luckiest man alive.
Except, that is, when I'm not. I'm not St. Francis, people. I don't praise suffering while in the midst of it. Indeed, while in the throes, I have been known to utter "not nice" words as my proper Bostonian Ma might put it. Many many not nice words.
Still, during periods of peace I know in my heart, in my blood, in my bones, how fortunate I am. And I know of my good fortune (albeit in the head if not the heart) when the already-swollen brain goes on an inflammation bender, and, by so doing, renders me unable to write, to do much else besides lie on the couch and remember.
I think of the wilderness, the wolves I heard while canoeing solo for nine days in North Central B.C. years ago. Dwarfed by the Cariboos-- an astonishingly epic spur of the Rockies. There is no valley up there. The vast glacial peaks simply crash into the pristine lakes and rivers. Moose and eagles, black bears and grizzlies. The howls of the wolf packs every night. So many stars it took me minutes, some nights, to pick out the Milky Way. To find the North Star. And paddle as my late father taught me to do: using the North Star to guide me. There's no sun at night, of course. Which means, if it's not stormy, there's no wind. No chop. Just still deep water.
The music was the silence, then the sound of my paddle or a distant waterfall. I'd never felt so alone and at the same time so protected. By the stars that danced and pulsed; that lit up the glacial peaks; that reminded me of how small and insignificant I was, but that I was, simultaneously, a part of something more vast than the human mind can begin to begin to comprehend.
I think of the ex-convicts I taught. Some, many, were too predatory and violent to be set free. More than a few of those men told me they were, in fact, glad they were locked up, unable to shatter any more lives.
But then? There were the angels. Some are my friends, my brothers. These are men who performed acts of moral courage; acts that would do Gandhi proud. Prouder, even, for they did so in obscurity. In the bowels of Walla Walla prison. Where no one but God bore witness.
Risking their lives to save a fresh fish from getting raped, a fresh fish they didn't know from Adam. Simply because it was the right thing to do. Walking away from a fight, knowing that their rep would be destroyed, that they'd be viewed as weak, as prey. But deciding nonetheless that violence was not the answer, even if the price was death.
It was not by design but necessity that I spent the years after college getting beyond and beneath the shelter of wealth and academia; living in the America that was invisible back when I attended Harvard; working blue collar jobs (as starving artists must) burnishing my soul-- beginning to, at any rate-- with calluses. Living small paycheck to small paycheck. This was during the early 1980's.
Politics? Foreign policy? Reagan's policy of torture in El Salvador, Guatemala and God knows where else? We trained the death squads, the Atlacatl Brigade, right here on U.S. soil. We threw nuns out of helicopters, tossed them into the sea. The Flying Nuns, as our Black Ops folks, the CIA's worst kept secret, used to joke. Which, for some reason, The Great Communicator neglected to mention.
Me? I was framing houses, installing mobile homes, laying sewer pipes, doing whatever it took to get by. And I experienced the decency of those "Reagan Republicans" that were scorned by some I knew back east. Not because my east coast friends are scornful by nature. They would not be my friends if they were. But children of privilege (of which I am one) do not, sometimes, appreciate what our education provides: the ability to extrapolate. To see how a policy affects those beyond our town, our state, our borders. And our concomitant responsibility to take action.
Now I was receiving a different sort of education: acquiring a visceral understanding of what it means to be poor, and discovering that the poor, the folks on the margins, watch out for one another (because no one else will) in a manner and to an extent that I hadn't experienced while growing up in a time and place where we viewed economic security as a birthright.
Then? I began to publish and became a prison teacher. The hardest (and therefore the best) twelve years before I took ill.
Life? This bittersweet life? I've experienced the extremes of beauty and suffering and who could ask for more? So. A quiet end. Music. Tale-telling. Friends and family. Infusions, hospitalizations, yes, of course, but peaceful nonetheless.
One not marred by the rough and tumble of the politics I grew up with. (Massachusetts in the 1960's? And you wonder why I have Bobby Kennedy as well as lupus on the brain?)
No more political writing. No more. If I knew anything, just one simple thing, I knew that. Which pretty much brings me to the present.
While surrendering to the gentle and poetic musical muse, the cacophonous political muse awoke. I resisted. For an hour. Less. And then surrendered to an utterly ridiculous exercise: the writing of a personal letter to the President of the United States. Knowing that my letter would never but never reach the Oval Office, I did the reasonable thing: with a timeline of weeks or months, I took three weeks off from the final tale to write a letter that would never reach the addressee.
Sent it to my wise friend Arnie Miller. Who said, "Bobby, your audience isn't Obama. This is a Public Letter." Public. Got it. The audience was not the President. The audience was the body politic. Of which I am a part.
But how to get it out there? Put it up on a major blog. Or two. Or three. Or four. Or six I was informed. (I meander. I write in spirals. The prerogative of those who've lost their minds.) I was saying: the blogs. As many of you know, I am a stubborn cuss when it comes to technology or doctors who misdiagnose me. I've made peace with my errant but truly compassionate physicians. When they tell me that my symptoms are imaginary, I only holler "Freud's hysterical women!" two to three times per minute. ( I've mellowed as you can see. )
Technology is a different matter. I was and remain a technological idiot. I will not budge. It will be a war until the bitter end. On this matter, there is no compromise. I fully intend to lose every battle. So there was no way that this public letter would go public, no way I would learn about blogging. Then? My friend, the astute and insightful writer, Paul Loeb, read my Public Letter to the President and offered his space on the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, and several other major blogs so as to get the letter into the Public Domain. An uncommonly generous act. The letter was posted.
I woke up expecting another slow, gentle day of walking, music, writing, an intravenous infusion to keep me somewhat lucid and...
The letter had struck a nerve. The deluge commenced at six am. And as I was responding to the growing numbers of comments and emails, my technologically savvy assistant, Amy, reported that the letter was spreading to other posts, to blogs and websites that no one had sent it to, and the emails kept coming and... I never got to the music.
Confession. I've never before felt a moral imperative to get an essay, a novel, any piece of writing into the public domain. If people read my books, that was fine. If they didn't, well, as time went on, as my ambition diminished, I was happy enough to have been a solid triple A minor leaguer who once made it to the Show. For all of fifteen minutes. Which turned out to be fifteen minutes too long. Obscurity, I discovered, is a gentler place to live.
But this piece? This Public Letter? This piece felt different. I felt that moral imperative to put it out there. And thanks to my friends it happened.
The power of the Net is daunting, amazing, and more than a bit frightening. The Public Letter began to go national in a matter of hours. And the trend accelerated. Our new president may or may not have read it. But that is of no consequence. My friend Arnie is right. This letter was for the Public. A public that is ill-prepared for the adversity that lies ahead. (Except for the disenfranchised, the ones who became visible for two weeks in the aftermath of Katrina, and, just as swiftly, became invisible again. Not because they don't exist, but because we chose, as per usual, because it is easier, to avert our eyes. Our loss as well as theirs. For they are the ones who can teach hence prepare us. They are the ones who know what the rest of us are about to find out: that life isn't a Make-a-Wish Foundation. That life isn't, in fact, supposed to be easy.)
Illness and impending death has served two wonderful purposes. The first and by far the most important: an opportunity to re-connect with many I have missed.
The second, provided I die on schedule, a delicious opportunity to beat the banks. You see, given the size of my existing medical debt, a second miracle remission is simply out of the question. It would do more than amplify my existing and catastrophic medical debt: it would raise my debt at an exponential rate and the resulting stress would prove to be fatal, notwithstanding the fact that I'd already be dead.
True: that's a minor detail, or so the nice manager at the credit union told me. He said that dead or twice-dead, the credit union owed it to their healthy depositors to send me post-mortem bill after post-mortem bill until my debt is paid off. That they had a moral obligation to their healthy depositors to hound my gullible 78 year old mother -- to badger my old Ma aggressively -- even though she'd be in no way liable.
"I never thought about it that way," I told the nice banker.
"That's what all our dead clients say."
The first time I received Extreme Unction was in the fall of 1998. The second time I received Extreme Unction was in the fall of 1998. The third time I received Extreme Unction was in the fall of 1998. The fourth time was either in December of 1998 or January of 1999, I forget. What I do remember is this: when I hit number ten before the end of that year, I made a decision about those ten fingers of mine: I could either use them to count or play music.
Robert Gordon is the author of When Bobby Kennedy Was a Moving Man and The Funhouse Mirror: Reflections on Prison. He's written for Esquire, the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Ploughshares, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and taught writing in Washington State prisons, juvenile institutions and inner-city high schools. He wrote Funhouse Mirror while undergoing chemotherapy, collaborating with six of his incarcerated students to let their voices be heard. The book won the 2000 Washington State Book Award. As one critic wrote of Bobby Kennedy, "Gordon's vision is at once radical and healing. It teaches us a little about Heaven and a lot about Hell."
Published on the Internet by Paul Loeb.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
"I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me," wrote George Sodini in a blog that he kept while preparing for this week’s shooting in a Pennsylvania gym in which he killed three women, wounded nine others and then killed himself.
We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.
Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.
I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.
According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.
We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.
We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.
The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.
One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.
What was unusual about Sodini was how explicit he was in his blog about his personal shame and his hatred of women. “Why do this?” he asked. “To young girls? Just read below.” In his gruesome, monthslong rant, he managed to say, among other things: “It seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little [expletive] has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason.”
I was reminded of the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in a rampage at the university in 2007. While Cho shot males as well as females, he was reported to have previously stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate said Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.
Soon after the Virginia Tech slayings, I interviewed Dr. James Gilligan, who spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard and N.Y.U. “What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”
Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation’s women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female.
A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count.
There were so many sexual attacks against women in the armed forces that the Defense Department had to revise its entire approach to the problem.
We would become much more sane, much healthier, as a society if we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way so many men feel about women, combined with the absurdly easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions.
Monday, August 03, 2009
A COUPLE sits on a beach on a brilliant July day. They’ve just had a picnic lunch, and are in that hazy sweet space of watching the waves and the gulls, the passing sailboat, or, far out, the tanker. They feel close.
The woman, wanting to feel even more close, asks: “What are you feeling, hon?’’
Startled, the man blinks, glances at her, and not knowing what to say, says nothing.
The woman asks, “Can you tell me?’’
The man, wanting to respond and trying to gather his thoughts and feelings to do so, still comes up blank. A sense of panic blossoms in his gut and rises to his chest, cold and damp as if clenching his heart. Trying to stay calm he says, “I don’t know.’’
“Sure you do. Can you tell me?’’
The cold rises into his brain, all ice. Through gritted teeth he says, “Don’t spoil it!’’
The woman, startled by his tone and the glazed look in his eyes, says, “I’m spoiling it?’’
Things go downhill. They wind up miles apart, staring at nothing.
What is going on? In our work leading gender dialogues between thousands of men and women, boys and girls, Dr. Janet Surrey and I have come to understand this as a “relational impasse’’ - the “dread/yearning impasse.’’ If the woman, yearning to feel closer, approaches, often the man starts to feel “male relational dread,’’ and retreats. In his head is a little voice: “Nothing good can come of my going into this, it’s just a matter of how bad it will be before it’s over. And it will never be over!’’
As one man put it: “I woke up this morning and she turned to me and I was in dreadlock!’’ The paralytic feeling of dread is familiar to many men. It contains a sense of failure, humiliation, shame, and paranoia. It is part of normal male development - and it is hell on relationships. Anything, even the cap let off a tube of toothpaste, can trigger it. Relational dread is a basic human experience, although the male and female versions may take different forms. This is the male version.
How does male dread develop? A patient’s story gave me a clue. When he was 6, he had been beaten up at school. He wasn’t hurt physically, but felt terrible. He walked home up the railroad tracks through the woods so no one would see him crying, and couldn’t wait to tell his mother. He went in through the back door into the kitchen, anxious to tell her. She was at the sink. She turned around, saw the tears, and with concern asked, “What’s wrong, dear?’’ Despite wanting to tell her, he said, “Nothing,’’ turned away and walked back out.
What had arisen was not just in him - after all, he walked into the kitchen intending to tell her. But when she moved toward him emotionally - in the interaction between them - he felt exposed, and dread suddenly arose and did its damage. It was a relational impasse.
Although we all - boys and girls - come into the world with a primary desire for connection, there is an early fork in the path. Many boys are pushed by the culture to disconnect from their relationship with mother in order to grow, and become less valued for their relationships and more valued for themselves; while many girls continue to grow in relationships, and are valued as the carriers of connection in the culture.
But scratch our surface and you find that we men desire connection every bit as much as women, and get sick and even do sick things - think of all the destruction wrought by male “loners’’ - if we don’t experience it. Given the chance, we’re just as good at it as women - witness the revolution in fathering in the past few generations, fathers as caregivers. Male relational dread may arise from time to time, but male relational love, living “in the we’’ with a partner or a child or a dog or a student or a shortstop-or-dancer-in-training, is right there in us, waiting to prevail. We men yearn more than anything to live not in the “I’’ or the “you,’’ but in the “we.’’
Stephen Bergman, MD, is a guest columnist. Under the pen name Samuel Shem, he is the author of “The House of God’’ and “The Spirit of the Place.’’
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
Here, in an article adapted from her book, she outlines the threat of sexual violence that women face from their fellow soldiers while on the frontline, and provides testimony from three of the women she interviewed for her book.
More American women have fought and died in Iraq than in any war since World War II.
Over 206,000 have served in the Middle East since March 2003, most of them in Iraq. Some 600 have been wounded, and 104 have died.
Yet, even as their numbers increase, women soldiers are painfully alone.
In Iraq, women still only make up one in 10 troops, and because they are not evenly distributed, they often serve in a platoon with few other women or none at all.
This isolation, along with the military's traditional and deep-seated hostility towards women, can cause problems that many female soldiers find as hard to cope with as war itself - degradation and sexual persecution by their comrades, and loneliness instead of the camaraderie that every soldier depends on for comfort and survival.
Between 2006 and 2008, some 40 women who served in the Iraq War spoke to me of their experiences at war. Twenty-eight of them had been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped while serving.
They were not exceptions. According to several studies of the US military funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, 30% of military women are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted, and 90% are sexually harassed.
The Department of Defense acknowledges the problem, estimating in its 2009 annual report on sexual assault (issued last month) that some 90% of military sexual assaults are never reported.
The department claims that since 2005, its updated rape reporting options have created a "climate of confidentiality" that allows women to report without fear of being disbelieved, blamed, or punished, but the fact remains that most of the cases I describe in my book happened after the reforms of 2005.
Army specialist Chantelle Henneberry served in Iraq from 2005-6, with the 172nd Stryker Brigade out of Alaska. I was the only female in my platoon of 50 to 60 men. I was also the youngest, 17.
Because I was the only female, men would forget in front of me and say these terrible derogatory things about women all the time.
I had to hear these things every day. I'd have to say 'Hey!' Then they'd look at me, all surprised, and say, 'Oh we don't mean you.'
I was less scared of the mortar rounds that came in every day than I was of the men who shared my food.
One of the guys I thought was my friend tried to rape me. Two of my sergeants wouldn't stop making passes at me.
Everybody's supposed to have a battle buddy in the army, and females are supposed to have one to go to the latrines with, or to the showers - that's so you don't get raped by one of the men on your own side.
But because I was the only female there, I didn't have a battle buddy. My battle buddy was my gun and my knife.
During my first few months in Iraq, my sergeant assaulted and harassed me so much I couldn't take it any more. So I decided to report him.
But when I turned him in, they said, 'The one common factor in all these problems is you. Don't see this as a punishment, but we're going to have you transferred.'
Then that same sergeant was promoted right away. I didn't get my promotion for six months.
They transferred me from Mosul to Rawah. There were over 1,500 men in the camp and less than 18 women, so it wasn't any better there than the first platoon I was in. I was fresh meat to the hungry men there.
I was less scared of the mortar rounds that came in every day than I was of the men who shared my food.
I never would drink late in the day, even though it was so hot, because the Port-a-Johns were so far away it was dangerous.
So I'd go for 16 hours in 140-degree heat and not drink. I just ate Skittles to keep my mouth from being too dry.
I collapsed from dehydration so often I have IV track lines from all the times they had to re-hydrate me.
Army specialist Mickiela Montoya served in Iraq for 11 months from 2005-6, with the California National Guard. She was 19 years old. The whole time I was in Iraq I was in a daze the whole time I was there 'cause I worked nights and I was shot at every night.
Mortars were coming in - and mortars is death! When they say only men are allowed on the front lines, that's the biggest crock of shit! I was a gunner! But when I say I was in the war, nobody listens. Nobody believes I was a soldier. And you know why? Because I'm a female.
There are only three things the guys let you be if you're a girl in the military - a bitch, a ho, or a dyke. You're a bitch if you won't sleep with them. A ho if you've even got one boyfriend. A dyke if they don't like you. So you can't win.
I wasn't carrying the knife for the enemy, I was carrying it for the guys on my own side”
A lot of the men didn't want us there. One guy told me the military sends women soldiers over to give the guys eye-candy to keep them sane.
He told me in Vietnam they had prostitutes, but they don't have those in Iraq, so they have women soldiers instead.
At the end of my shift one night, I was walking back to my trailer with this guy who was supposed to be my battle buddy when he said: 'You know, if I was to rape you right now nobody could hear you scream, nobody would see you. What would you do?'
'I'd stab you.'
'You don't have a knife,' he said to me.
'Oh yes I do.'
Actually I didn't have one, but after that, I always carried one.
I practiced how to take it out of my pocket and swing it out fast. But I wasn't carrying the knife for the enemy, I was carrying it for the guys on my own side.
Air Force Sergeant Marti Ribeiro was assaulted by a fellow serviceman while she was on duty in Afghanistan in 2006. It's taken me more than a year to realise that it wasn't my fault, so I didn't tell anyone about it.
The military has a way of making females believe they brought this upon themselves. That's wrong.
There's an unwritten code of silence when it comes to sexual assault in the military.
But if this happened to me and nobody knew about it, I know it's happening to other females as well.
Adapted from The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq by Helen Benedict, just released from Beacon Press.
Monday, March 30, 2009
how educated and wealthy we are,
how gifted in math
and how fluent in English,
and even how ambitious,
are overwhelmingly a function of who our parents happened to be
and of other equally arbitrary contingencies.
Not even the most narcissistic self-made man
could think that he fixed the parental dice
in advance of entering this world.
from What's Wrong with a Free Lunch?, Boston: Beacon Press, 2001. p.25.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
interested in participating.
If you are male, please consider completing the survey by clicking the following link:
Your participation is voluntary, but greatly appreciated. You will be asked to provide some demographic information; however, no identifying information will be associated with your answers. Once you have completed the entire survey, you will be redirected to a separate page to enter your name and e-mail address for a chance to WIN one of FOUR $50 Amazon.com gift cards. The information you enter for the drawing will not be linked to your answers.
The questionnaires should take approximately 30 minutes to complete. Please read and answer all questions. Thank you in advance for your participation in the study!
Also, we would greatly appreciate if you would forward this email to other men who may be interested in participating.
Any questions may be directed to Samantha Daniel at samd15nau(at)yahoo.com.
life ain't never been promised to nobody
that's what grandma lottie used to say
her youngest daughter
and youngest of six children
snuck into the city
on a greyhound bus
with my mother
and scraped the side of a boarding house for good luck
as your life stretched beyond
the wooden shacks
and cotton fields
and the sandy school room floors of south carolina
and you were alive
in a city
away from the
comforting stench of down south
and in the big city
and gasoline breath
and you took all ten years of your schoolin'
and applied for a job as a factory worker
on the assembly line
and you assembled parts
and the parts assembled you into
the permanence of minimum wages
and time clocks
and bosses who thought a black woman
was supposed to like work
hell, y'all had been conditioned to be oxes
and when you wasn't producing like an ox
their tucked-in pot bellies would ask:
why you moving so slow cathy?
and on the inside you licked your tongue
at them the way you used to do
when my mother and my aunt birdie yelled at you
and your heart tightened around your waist
and you ate what your feet could produce
for eight hours a day
40 hours a week
one 15 minute break a day
if you was doing your job
and you needed something else
to keep your tears from spitting out
thoughts and words that would send you
back down south
in a fit of fear
and you met him
and he was fine
and you liked him
and he liked you
and like became love
and like became lust
and he and you
exploded into anthony
my cousin anthony
one april day in 1966
and now you had a shield
to hold against the world
you had a world to shield you against
the heartaches of him
the foot aches of work
and the headaches
of city life
and you raised anthony
the best way you knew how
just like my mother raised me
and anthony grew and i grew
with our frustrated imaginations
to resent each other
to hate you, our mothers
to despise our very existences
in that tiny
cramped three-room apartment
two mothers and two sons
in a three-room apartment
and the roaches
who always found their way
into our food
no matter how thick
the layers of aluminum foil
and that thirsty, tingling sensation
would often reappear
crawling between your toes
up your legs
across your thighs
teasing your crotch
but it couldn't get any further
some man between my legs
so you stuffed your womb
with the world of anthony
because your spirit
was tired of being probed
by social workers, mailmen, and would-be husbands
for having an illegitimate son
and in spite of reality
burning down every hope we had
we managed to spread out
to a better part of the ghetto
and we even had separate apartments now
but you and my mother
always was in the same building because
my mother was the mean one
who scoffed at the world
with her angry eyes
and you was the nice one
who wanted to be like my mother
but you couldn't
so you followed my mother
because at least you'd be safe
and when we finally moved out of the ghetto
around white folks
you felt good
we was movin' up
and flying like birds released from their mother's grip for the first time
and we was happy to be around
and didn't mind being called niggas
because at least we was good niggas
and me and anthony
knocked off the weight of
that restless city
that dirty city
and we left:
me to college
anthony to the navy
leaving you and my mother
grazing in the pastures of mid-life
and my mother was happy to be free of a man-child
but you was sad
because anthony had been your reason to live
your reason to work
your reason to exist
and now his departure meant your death
and you were dying
a slow death
dancing with mid-life and dying a muted death
the years of working were gone
the years of sharing were gone
the years of being were gone
and the woman inside of your crouching body
died one may day in 1988 when grandma lottie was buried
and as we wiped the tears from our eyes
no one noticed you sinking through the church pew
through the floor
into the earth to join grandma lottie
and even though anthony was there at the funeral
he left again
back to the navy
back to japan
to some strange place
that was not him
because he hated himself
and he hated you
for being him
and he nailed shut
on your life
and no one noticed you drowning in your pain
until you began having conversations with yourself
and tellin' everyone how you was hearing things
and seeing movies on your living room wall
how you was the star in those movies
and even my mother
with her superstitious ways
could not believe
that you were a victim of roots and magic spells
and my mother and aunt birdie did it;
they tricked you with a meal and had you straight-jacketed
and they didn't tell me
but i found out and i found you
and i leaped inside your body
and begged you to wake up
i swam inside your dried up tears
and turned back the currents
to your childhood
to your adolescence
to your early adulthood
to anthony's father
to my mother and aunt birdie and grandma lottie
and i cried between the lines of your history
and you told me you were not crazy
and i said i know
and you told me you could not understand
why my mother and aunt birdie had put you there
and i said i know
and you told me how they drugged you
how they called you by a number
how they monitored your phone calls
and i knew that you had become a prisoner of your worst fears
of your own death
and i looked at you and i didn't see you
instead i saw an old black woman
inside your 45-year-old body
and i wanted to rush to you and shake your youth
out of that impostor
but it was you...
and now i understand those sounds you heard
and those movies you saw on your walls
you are not crazy
it took me a long time
but i understand
anthony knows what you've been through
but he doesn't know you
i know you
my mother and aunt birdie know what you've been through
but they don't know you
i know you
i carry you with me every day
i see you when i see that black woman
lying on the ground with a mcdonald's cup in her hand
at 34th street
i see you and i say
this is all i got"
and i drop a tear into your cup
and curse myself and my mother and aunt birdie
and anthony and anthony's father
and i kiss you with a prayer
because now i understand
why black bodies sag the way they do
and why black hearts don't birth emotions anymore
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
by Robert Jensen
“What is the most important challenge facing women in the 21st century, and why?”
That one isn’t easy for anyone to answer, especially in 300 words or less. But that was the assignment from editors of the University of Texas’ web site for faculty members contributing to the “Many Voices of Feminism” collection, which is online at http://www.utexas.edu/features/2009/03/09/feminisms/.
It is an especially tricky question for a man to try to answer. Rather than pretending to speak for women or for feminism, I wanted to explain why I embraced feminism as a method for analyzing hierarchy that could be useful in all social movements. Although men often treat feminism as a threat, in the 20 years I have been involved in feminist projects I have come to recognize it as a gift to men who want to understand and critique not only gender but other oppressive systems. For me, feminism is a crucial part of the struggle for social justice and sustainability.
Below are the 306 words that I came up with, not to answer the question but to hint at the compelling reasons we all should commit to feminism and the other progressive social movements that are necessary if there is to be a hope for a decent future, or any future at all.
Given the disastrous consequences of the human assault on the ecosystem that makes our lives possible, the most important 21st-century challenge for women is the same as for men: Can we change the way we organize ourselves socially, politically, and economically in time to reverse this ecological collapse? Can we learn to live in sustainable balance with the non-human world so that we might make it to the end of the 21st century with our humanity intact?
In facing these social, political, and economic challenges, I believe women have a crucial contribution to make through feminism. My own intellectual and political development is rooted in the feminism I learned from women, both in the classroom and community. Much of my work has addressed men’s use and abuse of women and their sexuality in the sexual-exploitation industries: prostitution, stripping, and pornography. But from those women I also learned that feminism was not merely a concern for “women’s issues” but also a way of understanding power and critiquing the domination/subordination dynamic that is central to so much of modern life. The roots of that dynamic are in patriarchy, the system of male dominance that arose only a few thousand years ago but that has been so destructive to people and the earth. Patriarchy is incompatible with justice and sustainability.
The challenge for feminism is to articulate an alternative to the illegitimate hierarchies that structure our lives: men over women, white over non-white, rich over poor, First World over Third. That isn’t “women’s work” but “feminism’s work,” which we all should undertake, in conjunction with the many other intellectual and political movements concerned with real justice. If we can change the way we treat each other, those new non-hierarchical social arrangements may help us solve the fundamental problem of the destruction inherent in human domination over the non-human world.___________
Author's Bio: Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. His latest book, All My Bones Shake: Radical Politics in the Prophetic Voice, will be published in 2009 by Soft Skull Press. He also is the author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen's articles can be found online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
One of the best-kept secrets about feminism is this: women’s liberation is good for men. We have heard a great deal about how much greater equality between men and women improves the lives of women, but we have heard not so much about what this means for men—leaving us with the wrong impression that if women gain, men lose.
Feminism sets out to liberate men, as it does women. It’s a mistake to think that feminism is about turning power over to women—to “give the girls a chance to steer the ship,” as some have put it. Some may see it that way, but to me the core objective of feminism has always been about the liberation of women from the imaginary meanings attached to their bodies, in a similar way that anti-racism is about seeking freedom from the attachments put to skin, hair and bones. Feminism intervened to say, for example, that just because women had wombs did not mean that all women had to be, could only be mothers, just because they had body parts and body shapes that most men found sexually appealing did not mean the entirety of their experience was reducible to their sexualities. Like anti-racists, feminists pointed out the truth: that bodies alone bore no relationship to intelligence, creativity or skill.
I learned this lesson early on from the examples of Caribbean women in my life: grandmothers who often did things that might sometimes seem ungrandmotherly (like chop cane, climb coconut trees, have a drink with the boys), Aunts who kissed off rules about when and even if they should get married, teachers both at temple and at school who shared their unique views of the world, cousins who have gave as good as they got, in the yard, girl friends who expressed their womanliness in all kinds of ways, and my mother—who chose to be a mother in the manner that she wanted to be a mother.
In the process of freeing themselves, these women also demonstrated to me that I could also be free to be: that just as they could unshackle themselves from the social expectations put upon them just because they happened to be in women’s bodies, that I too could be any kind of man I wanted to be.
Feminism is not just about freeing women from their bodies, it’s also about liberating men from theirs as well—to free men from the burdens of masculinities, from the limited range of behaviors and activities that are supposed to be available to them. In my life, that has meant imagination of a world with more choices and less pressure.
When I compare the men of my father’s generation to those of his children’s, it’s not difficult to see how feminism has benefited men. Even with the advantages patriarchal culture has afforded to them, the older men suffer the pressures of living up to certain expectations of being a man, whether that means being the main breadwinner, living up to a certain sexual or physical virility or showing no signs of vulnerability—stresses that, research has shown, weaken men’s health and well-being, and ultimately shortens their lives.
Younger men, even while they still certainly many burdens of masculinity, have already benefited from feminist challenges to a patriarchy that has also been harmful to men—more anticipate being in relationships where earning income is not expected to be their responsibility alone, where it’s possible to express emotions, including vulnerability and fear, where it’s okay to lean on others for support, and where there is a broader imagination of ways in which they are free to be. The suggestion is often made that women’s liberation is behind absentee parenting by young Caribbean men, their falling behind girls at school and high unemployment rates, but these are largely consequences of global economic conditions and failures of the state to adequately understand and respond to state crises. Advanced capitalism, not women’s gains, are to blame.
Feminism: it’s a good thing, for men.
(Trinidad born and raised, Andil Gosine teaches Sociology at York University in Toronto.)
re-posted from the Stabroek News: http://www.stabroeknews.com
Friday, March 06, 2009
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Where have all the 'real' men gone?
by Jay Atkinson, The Boston Globe, 28 February 2009
IN ITS PUERILE, lowest-common-denominator way, Hollywood has always reflected society. The movies "Taken," starring Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative, and "The Wrestler," with Mickey Rourke as an aging grappler whose life and career have reached terminal velocity, share in their depictions of the Alpha Male separated from his kin by the vicissitudes of the warrior profession.
In "Taken," Neeson's Mills pursues the mobsters who have kidnapped his 17-year-old daughter. Midway through, Mills accuses a former colleague of skimming money from the bad guys, asking the man why he'd do such a thing. I have to take care of my family, says the sleazy agent.
Mills notes that he's doing the same thing, and then shoots the man's wife to clarify his point. "It's only a flesh wound," he says.
In "The Wrestler," Rourke's character, Randy "the Ram" Robinson, suffers an array of flesh wounds every weekend, some of them self-inflicted, in third-rate melees. A gimpy, steroid-addled wreck, the Ram is estranged from his daughter. When she was young, Robinson was in his heyday - a blustery hulk in the era of Hulkamania, partaking in Dianabol, HGH, cocaine, and hordes of groupies.
Just like Mills, the Ram is nearing the end of his tether. Off doing what they were trained to do, these warriors are befuddled when they find their own castles are closed to them. In Neeson's case, his estranged wife requires his expertise one last time. Upon his return, Neeson takes a solo cab ride home. The warrior is trained to work alone, even when he's lonely.
The Ram's situation is trickier, and sadder. It was his job to make a spectacle of himself and now, tired, arthritic, with the sagging muscles of an old circus bear, he wants his little girl to take care of him. But she won't, so the Ram starts training for another bout. He's a man who gave the world nothing, and has nothing left to give.
These days, it's no longer fashionable to be a man - to inhabit one's masculinity as previous generations have done. Compare baseball star Alex Rodriquez, under scrutiny for using steroids, with Red Sox great Ted Williams, who sacrificed the prime of his career to serve as a Marine aviator. (Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea and crash-landed after taking small-arms fire.) Williams's baseball statistics, including a lifetime batting average of .344, compare favorably with A-Rod's. And in this age of the pseudo-man, it's hard to imagine Rodriquez visiting the troops in Iraq, let alone volunteering to serve there.
CIA agent Bryan Mills and pro wrestler Randy the Ram worked long hours, far from home; as "real" men, their wives and children expected them to be intrepid, warlike, and venturesome. Today, the American warrior is an anachronism - witness how we outsource some of the fighting in the Middle East to companies like Blackwater, then turn their operatives into pariahs when they come home with blood on their hands. In yesteryear, suburban dads taught their sons how to kick a football, or pitch horseshoes. Nowadays, they hire private coaches and personal trainers, then stand aside for these professionals. Meanwhile, soldiers and airmen in nondescript Virginia office parks kill aspiring insurgents half a world away, via predator drones.
There are a few holdouts. Recently I met an out-of-work carpenter in Fitzwilliam, N.H.; because of the poor economy, he and his ex-wife and three children continue to share their modest, two-bedroom home. To give everyone a break, the carpenter, an avid hunter, goes out and sits in the woods until dark; he's killed two deer that way, dressing them out on the back porch so his kids could see how it's done.
Any single dad will tell you that family court punishes those men who persist in doing what men were once mandated to do: range wide in hunting, bringing back the kill at irregular intervals, adorned with its blood. In today's world, you must produce the trophy without being the one who kills it. In Hollywood, anyway, the only acceptable role is man-by-proxy: You must get someone else to do your dirty work, or risk losing everything.
Jay Atkinson is the author, most recently, of "City in Amber" and "Legends of Winter Hill." He teaches in the journalism department at Boston University.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Sexual assault against males is primarily a crime against boys. Young males are much more likely to be sexually assaulted than are adults. Sixty-eight percent of the most recent sexual assaults committed against men in New Hampshire occurred before the victim was 18. Fifty percent of reported assaults occurred when the victim was age 12 or younger; another 18% occurred between ages 13 and 17. Again, these figures are conservative, since only the most recent assaults were reported. The sexual assaults reported by survey respondents most frequently involved being forced to engage in oral sex.
excerpted from the New Hampshire Violence Against Men Survey, 2008.
What to make of the problem of control when we consider sexuality? Feminists have already learned a lot about males dominating and controlling female sexuality. Clearly males must give up control of female sexuality.
But what of controlling male sexuality?
What do we think about control of our own sexuality?
What do we think about control of the sexuality of other males?
These questions deserve more discussion and thought.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The murder of a Pakistani-American woman forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about the prevalence of domestic violence
A wake-up call for the community
by Wajahat Ali
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 19 February 2009
The brutal beheading of Aasiya Hassan, a Muslim Pakistani-American mother of four, will finally force a community to confront and remedy the overwhelming – but frequently ignored and intentionally hidden – demon of domestic violence that has persecuted its silenced women for far too long.
The entire world reacted with shock and outrage as Muzzammil Hassan, a Pakistani-American businessman and co-founder of Bridges TV, was arrested for the gruesome murder of his estranged wife. Aasiya Hassan, an architect and MBA student, had recently filed for divorce and received a restraining order against Muzzammil as of 6 February 2009.
Contrary to some spurious reporting, this was not an "honour killing", a barbaric practice that has its own unique motivations and historical culture, rather it personifies the all too common phenomenon of domestic abuse. Asma Firfirey, the sister of the deceased, stated Aasiya suffered last year from injuries that required nearly $3,000 of medical bills – allegedly the result of spousal abuse.
According to Zerqa Abid, first cousin of Hassan's first wife, "Both of his earlier wives filed divorce on the same grounds of severe domestic violence and abuses … it took [my cousin] several years to get rid of the fear of living with a man in marriage."
Despite his shameful history, Hassan mind-bogglingly remained a prominent and adulated figure in Muslim American circles for his contributions to the media. His example, amongst several others, highlights the egregious failure of foresight and insight of American Muslim leadership to carefully vet, screen and ultimately renounce appointed representatives with reprehensible backgrounds.
This horrific tale is one example from the epidemic of violence against women that has been intentionally ignored by all communities – not just Muslim and Pakistani. For example, in the United States, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44.
Sadly, despite the universality of the problem, the antiquated tropes of "the savage Muslim" have emerged to crudely tar all Muslims and South Asians with the same brush.
Kneejerk reactions like this ignore the millions of Muslim, Pakistani and immigrant couples who share the same joys and burdens of marriage like any other, yet never resort to violence, abuse or murder.
Many assume the root cause of such atrocious behaviour towards women exists within Islam itself and legitimised by the Qur'an and sanctioned by the Prophet Muhammad. However, Dr Muhammad Rajabally, chairman of The North American Islamic Shelter for the Abused (NISA), established in 2002 as a vehicle towards alleviating issues related to abuse and domestic violence, strongly disagrees: "There is no room for domestic violence in Islam. Moreover the Prophet, peace be upon him, said 'the best among you is he who is best with his wife.'"
Imam Tahir Anwar, an Imam at South Bay Islamic Association located in San Jose, California, concurs and says instead the problem lies in a "culture" of misogyny that induces fear and shame: "Culturally, women are taught to 'not speak out' even if they are beaten. They have to 'save' the family and honor."
Rima Chaudry, a domestic violence victims advocate and counselor based in San Francisco, CA, says survivors of abuse often "face a community that is ignorant about domestic violence and unsupportive."
However, there is still hope. It seems the absolute brutality of Aasiya's murder has served as a clarion call to many American Muslims who have passionately responded to the tragedy with a resounding desire to confront this festering calamity.
Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, vice-president of The Islamic Society of North America – one of the largest and most influential Muslim organisations in the US – exhorts: "This is a wake up call to all of us, that violence against women is real and can not be ignored. It must be addressed collectively by every member of our community."
A nationwide, unified effort entitled "Imams Speak Out: Domestic Violence Will Not Be Tolerated in Our Communities" has commenced to ask all imams and religious leaders to finally discuss this recent tragedy, as well as domestic violence, in their weekly sermon on their upcoming Friday prayer services.
It is sad yet ultimately hopeful that it has taken the heinous murder of Aasiya Hassan for the community to insist that a platform for the silenced voices of abused and battered women to finally be heard.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
by Gunner Scott
I have noticed that the word "tranny" has been being used by progressive organizations and people to describe transgender people. I am not saying that these organizations are using the word as say Fox News or the Boston Herald, that is in a derogatory manner, but that said, tranny is an insider term. It is still consider an offensive term by many in the transgender community, much like the word queer for some in the GLB community. In addition, it started to pick up steam a couple of year back when Christian Serano from project runway used the phrase "hot tranny mess" to describe what he thought were ugly outfits. Being transgender is not a bad thing, its not an ugly thing, and it is not a mess... Serano later apologized for using this phrase and defended himself by saying he had transgender friends, but he himself does not identify as transgender. I found this apology a bit too late... it was after t-shirts where marketed with the phrase on it.
Reclaiming words has always been controversial in the LGBT communities and other marginalized communities. To often marginalized communities have had experts define who and what they are. So why I am pushing buttons around the the word tranny? To get people to think about their use of the word, their own privilege, and to notice how it is being used and by whom.
I, like many transgender people, have to fight, sometimes daily, to be able to define our own gender and language that we use for ourselves and be recognized as we say we are. One of the privileges of those who are not transgender is that you are not questioned about the language you use to describe your gender.
So who draws the line at insider and outsider language, I don't have the answer to that. What happens when a person inhabits multiple communities, as I would say for myself, being trans and queer? I also don't have the answer. I guess what makes me cringe is when the mainstream majority starts using the word "tranny" with little to no analysis to the origins of the word, but use cause it is "hip."
I, definitely do think the transgender community should not divorce itself from the LGB community (although I have heard some LGB's wish we would just go away... but that is an entirely different rant). I do think it is time for us, the transgender community, to speak for ourselves and for the LGB community to make space for us to do so.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Given all the hype and controversy around Chris Brown's alleged beating of Rihanna, I feel compelled to post this essay I originally wrote in late 2007, so that some of us can have an honest jump off point to discuss male violence against females, to discuss the need for ownership of past pains and traumas, to discuss the critical importance of therapy and healing. Let us pray for Rihanna, first and foremost, because no one deserves to be beaten, or beaten up. No one. And let us also pray that Chris Brown gets the help he needs by way of long-term counseling and alternative definitions of manhood rooted in nonviolence, real love, and, alas, real peace. And let us not forget that Rihanna and Chris Brown happen to be major pop stars, hence all the media coverage, blogs, etc. Violence against women and girls happen every single day on this planet without any notice from most of us. Until we begin to address that hard fact, until we all, males and females alike, make a commitment to ending the conditions that create that destructive behavior in the first place, it will not end any time soon. There will be more Rihannas and more Chris Browns.
In my recent travels and political and community work and speeches around the country, it became so very obvious that many American males are unaware of the monumental problems of domestic violence and sexual assault, against women and girls, in our nation. This seems as good a time as any to address this urgent and overlooked issue. Why is it that so few of us actually think about violence against women and girls, or think that it's our problem? Why do we go on believing it's all good, even as our sisters, our mothers, and our daughters suffer and a growing number of us participate in the brutality of berating, beating, or killing our female counterparts?
All you have to do is scan the local newspapers or ask the right questions of your circle of friends, neighbors, or co-workers on a regular basis, and you'll see and hear similar stories coming up again and again. There's the horribly tragic case of Megan Williams, a 20-year-old West Virginia woman, who was kidnapped for several days. The woman's captors forced her to eat rat droppings, choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her, a Black female, a racial slur, according to criminal complaints. They also poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet, and beat and sexually assaulted her during a span of about a week, the documents say. There's the woman I knew, in Atlanta, Georgia, whose enraged husband pummeled her at home, stalked her at work and, finally, in a fit of fury, stabbed her to death as her six-year-old son watched in horror. There's the woman from Minnesota, who showed up at a national male conference I organized a few months back with her two sons. She had heard about the conference through the media, and was essentially using the conference as a safe space away from her husband of fifteen years who, she said, savagely assaulted her throughout the entire marriage. The beatings were so bad, she said, both in front of her two boys and when she was alone with her husband that she had come to believe it was just a matter of time before her husband would end her life. She came to the conference out of desperation, because she felt all her pleas for help had fallen on deaf ears. There's my friend from Brooklyn, New York who knew, even as a little boy, that his father was hurting his mother, but the grim reality of the situation did not hit home for him until, while playing in a courtyard beneath his housing development, he saw his mother thrown from their apartment window by his father. There's my other friend from Indiana who grew up watching his father viciously kick his mother with his work boots, time and again, all the while angrily proclaiming that he was the man of the house, and that she needed to obey his orders.
Perhaps the most traumatic tale for me these past few years was the vile murder of Shani Baraka and her partner Rayshon Holmes in the summer of 2003. Shani, the daughter of eminent Newark, New Jersey poets and activists Amiri and Amina Baraka, had been living with her oldest sister, Wanda, part-time. Wanda was married to a man who was mad abusive--he was foul, vicious, dangerous. And it should be added that this man was "a community organizer." Wanda tried, on a number of occasions, to get away from this man. She called the police several times, sought protection and a restraining order. But even after Wanda's estranged husband had finally moved out, and after a restraining order was in place, he came back to terrorize his wife--twice. One time he threatened to kill her. Another time he tried to demolish the pool in the backyard, and Wanda's car. The Baraka parents were understandably worried. Their oldest daughter was living as a victim of perpetual domestic violence, and their youngest daughter, a teacher, a girls' basketball coach, and a role model for scores of inner city youth, was living under the same roof. Shani was warned, several times, to pack up her belongings and get away from that situation. Finally, Shani and Rayshon went, one sweltering August day, to retrieve the remainder of Shani's possessions. Shani's oldest sister was out of town, and it remains unclear, even now, if the estranged husband had already been there at his former home, forcibly, or if he had arrived after Shani and Rayshon. No matter. This much is true: he hated his wife Wanda and he hated Shani for being Wanda's sister, and he hated Shani and Rayshon for being two women in love, for being lesbians. His revolver blew Shani away immediately. Dead. Next, there was an apparent struggle between Rayshon and this man. She was battered and bruised, then blown away as well. Gone. Just like that. Because I have known the Baraka family for years, this double murder was especially difficult to handle. It was the saddest funeral I have ever attended in my life. Two tiny women in two tiny caskets. I howled so hard and long that I doubled over in pain in the church pew and nearly fell to the floor beneath the pew in front of me.
Violence against women and girls knows no race, no color, no class background, no religion. It may be the husband or the fiancé, the grandfather or the father, the boyfriend or the lover, the son or the nephew, the neighbor or the co-worker. I cannot begin to tell you how many women--from preteens to senior citizens and multiple ages in between--have told me of their battering at the hands of a male, usually someone they knew very well, or what is commonly referred to as an intimate partner. Why have these women and girls shared these experiences with me, a man? I feel it is because, through the years, I have been brutally honest, in my writings and speeches and workshops, in admitting that the sort of abusive male they are describing, the type of man they are fleeing, the kind of man they've been getting those restraining orders against--was once me. Between the years 1987 and 1991 I was a very different kind of person, a very different kind of male. During that time frame I assaulted and or threatened four different young women. I was one of those typical American males: hyper-masculine, overly competitive, and drenched in the belief system that I could talk to women any way I felt, treat women any way I felt, with no repercussions whatsoever. As I sought therapy during and especially after that period, I came to realize that I and other males in this country treated women and girls in this dehumanizing way because somewhere along our journey we were told we could. It may have been in our households; it may have been on our block or in our neighborhoods; it may have been the numerous times these actions were reinforced for us in our favorite music, our favorite television programs, or our favorite films.
All these years later I feel, very strongly, that violence against women and girls is not going to end until we men and boys become active participants in the fight against such behavior. I recall those early years of feeling clueless when confronted--by both women and men--about my actions. This past life was brought back to me very recently when I met with a political associate who reminded me that he was, then and now, close friends with the last woman I assaulted. We, this political associate and I, had a very long and emotionally charged conversation about my past, about what I had done to his friend. We both had watery eyes by the time we were finished talking. It hurt me that this woman remains wounded by what I did in 1991, in spite of the fact that she accepted an apology from me around the year 2000. I left that meeting with pangs of guilt, and a deep sadness about the woman with whom I had lived for about a year.
Later that day, a few very close female friends reminded me of the work that some of us men had done, to begin to reconfigure how we define manhood, how some of us have been helping in the fight to end violence against women and girls. And those conversations led me to put on paper The Seven Steps For Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. These are the rules that I have followed for myself, and that I have shared with men and boys throughout America since the early 1990s:
1. Own the fact that you have made a very serious mistake, that you've committed an offense, whatever it is, against a woman or a girl. Denial, passing blame, and not taking full responsibility, is simply not acceptable.
2. Get help as quickly as you can in the form of counseling or therapy for your violent behavior. YOU must be willing to take this very necessary step. If you don't know where to turn for help, I advise visiting the website www.menstoppingviolence.org, an important organization, based in Atlanta, that can give you a starting point and some suggestions. Also visit www.usdoj.gov/ovw/pledge.htm where you can find helpful information on what men and boys can do to get help for themselves. Get your hands on and watch Aishah Shahidah Simmons' critically important documentary film NO! as soon as you are able. You can order it at www.notherapedocumentary.org. NO! is, specifically, about the history of rape and sexual assault in Black America, but that film has made its way around the globe and from that very specific narrative comes some very hard and real truths about male violence against females that is universal, that applies to us all, regardless of our race or culture. Also get a copy of Byron Hurt's Beyond Beats and Rhymes, perhaps the most important documentary film ever made about the relationship between American popular culture and American manhood. Don't just watch these films, watch them with other men, and watch them with an eye toward critical thinking, healing, and growth, even if they make you angry or very comfortable. And although it may be difficult and painful, you must be willing to dig into your past, into the family and environment you've come from, to begin to understand the root causes of your violent behavior. For me that meant acknowledging the fact that, beginning in the home with my young single mother, and continuing through what I encountered on the streets or navigated in the parks and the schoolyards, was the attitude that violence was how every single conflict should be dealt with. More often than not, this violence was tied to a false sense of power, of being in control. Of course the opposite is the reality: violence towards women has everything to do with powerlessness and being completely out of control. Also, we need to be clear that some men simply hate or have a very low regard for women and girls. Some of us, like me, were the victims of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse at the hands of mothers who had been completely dissed by our fathers, so we caught the brunt of our mothers' hurt and anger. Some of us were abandoned by our mothers. Some of us were sexually assaulted by our mothers or other women in our lives as boys. Some of us watched our fathers or other men terrorize our mothers, batter our mothers, abuse our mothers, and we simply grew up thinking that that male-female dynamic was the norm. Whatever the case may be, part of that "getting help" must involve the word forgiveness. Forgiveness of ourselves for our inhuman behavioral patterns and attitudes, and forgiveness of any female who we feel has wronged us at some point in our lives. Yes, my mother did hurt me as a child but as an adult I had to realize I was acting out that hurt with the women I was encountering. I had to forgive my mother, over a period of time, with the help of counseling and a heavy dose of soul-searching to understand who she was, as well as the world that created her. And I had to acknowledge that one woman's actions should not justify a lifetime of backward and destructive reactions to women and girls. And, most importantly, we must have the courage to apologize to any female we have wronged. Ask for her forgiveness, and accept the fact that she may not be open to your apology. That is her right.
3. Learn to listen to the voices of women and girls. And once we learn how to listen, we must truly hear their concerns, their hopes and their fears. Given that America was founded on sexism--on the belief system of male dominance and privilege--as much as it was founded on the belief systems of racism and classism, all of us are raised and socialized to believe that women and girls are unequal to men and boys, that they are nothing more than mothers, lovers, or sexual objects, that it is okay to call them names, to touch them without their permission, to be violent toward them physically, emotionally, spiritually--or all of the above. This mindset, unfortunately, is reinforced in much of our educational curriculum, from preschool right through college, through the popular culture we digest every single day through music, sports, books, films, and the internet, and through our male peers who often do not know any better either--because they had not learned to listen to women's voices either. For me that meant owning the fact that throughout my years of college, for example, I never read more than a book or two by women writers. Or that I never really paid attention to the stories of the women in my family, in my community, to female friends, colleagues, and lovers who, unbeknownst to me, had been the victims of violence at some point in their lives. So when I began to listen to and absorb the voices, the stories, and the ideas of women like Pearl Cleage, Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Alice Walker, of the housekeeper, of the hair stylist, of the receptionist, of the school crossing guard, of the nurse's aid, and many others, it was nothing short of liberating, to me. Terribly difficult for me as a man, yes, because it was forcing me to rethink everything I once believed. But I really had no other choice but to listen if I was serious about healing. And if I was serious about my own personal growth. It all begins with a very simple question we males should ask each and every woman in our lives: Have you ever been physically abused or battered by a man?
4. To paraphrase Gandhi, make a conscious decision to be the change we need to see. Question where and how you've received your definitions of manhood to this point. This is not easy as a man in a male-dominated society because it means you have to question every single privilege men have vis-à-vis women. It means that you might have to give up something or some things that have historically benefited you because of your gender. And people who are privileged, who are in positions of power, are seldom willing to give up that privilege or power. But we must, because the alternative is to continue to hear stories of women and girls being beaten, raped, or murdered by some male in their environment, be it the college campus, the inner city, the church, or corporate America. And we men and boys need to come to a realization that sexism--the belief that women and girls are inferior to men and boys, that this really is a man's world, and the female is just here to serve our needs regardless of how we treat them--is as destructive to ourselves as it is to women and girls. As I've said in many speeches through the years, even if you are not the kind of man who would ever yell at a woman, curse at a woman, touch a woman in a public or private space without her permission, hit or beat a woman, much less kill a woman--you are just as guilty if you see other men and boys doing these things and you say or do nothing to stop them.
5. Become a consistent and reliable male ally to women and girls. More of us men and boys need to take public stands in opposition to violence against women and girls. That means we cannot be afraid to be the only male speaking out against such an injustice. It also means that no matter what kind of male you are, working-class or middle-class or super-wealthy, no matter what race, no matter what educational background, and so on, that you can begin to use language that supports and affirms the lives and humanity of women and girls. You can actually be friends with females, and not merely view them as sexual partners to be conquered. Stop saying "boys will be boys" when you see male children fighting or being aggressive or acting up. Do not sexually harass women you work with then try to brush it off if a woman challenges you on the harassment. If you can't get over a breakup, get counseling. As a male ally, help women friends leave bad or abusive relationships. Do not criticize economically independent women because this independence helps free them in many cases from staying in abusive situations. Donate money, food, or clothing to battered women's shelters or other women's causes. Do not ever respond to a female friend with "Oh you're just an angry woman." This diminishes the real criticisms women may have about their male partners. American male voices I greatly admire, who also put forth suggestions for what we men and boys can do to be allies to women and girls, include Michael Kimmel, Jackson Katz, Charles Knight, Mark Anthony Neal, Jelani Cobb, Charlie Braxton, and Byron Hurt. Of course standing up for anything carries risks. You may--as I have--find things that you say and do taken out of context, misunderstood or misinterpreted, maligned and attacked, dismissed, or just outright ignored. But you have to do it anyway because you never know how the essay or book you've written, the speech or workshop you've led, or just the one-on-one conversations you've had, might impact on the life of someone who's struggling for help. I will give two examples: A few years back, after giving a lecture at an elite East Coast college, I noticed a young woman milling about as I was signing books and shaking hands. I could see that she wanted to talk with me, but I had no idea the gravity of her situation. Once the room had virtually cleared out, this 17-year-old first-year student proceeded to tell me that her pastor had been having sex with her since the time she was four, and had been physically and emotionally violent toward her on a number of occasions. Suffice to say, I was floored. This young woman was badly in need of help. I quickly alerted school administrators who pledged to assist her, and I followed up to make sure that they did. But what if I had not made a conscious decision to talk about sexism and violence against women and girls, in every single speech I gave--regardless of the topic? This young woman might not have felt comfortable enough to open up to me about such a deeply personal pain. My other example involves a young male to whom I have been a mentor for the past few years. He is incredibly brilliant and talented, but, like me, comes from a dysfunctional home, has had serious anger issues, and, also like me, has had to work through painful feelings of abandonment as a result of his absent father. This, unfortunately, is a perfect recipe for disaster in a relationship with a woman. True to form, this young man was going through turbulent times with a woman he both loved and resented. His relationship with the young woman may have been the first time in his 20-something life he'd ever felt deep affection for another being. But he felt resentment because he could not stomach--despite his declarations otherwise--the fact that this woman had the audacity to challenge him about his anger, his attitude, and his behavior toward her. So she left him, cut him off, and he confessed to me that he wanted to hit her. In his mind, she was dissin' him. I was honestly stunned because I thought I knew this young man fairly well, but here he was, feeling completely powerless while thoughts of committing violence against this woman bombarded his mind and spirit. We had a long conversation, over the course of a few days, and, thank God, he eventually accepted the fact that his relationship with this woman was over. He also began to seek help for his anger, his feelings of abandonment, and all the long-repressed childhood hurts that had nothing to do with this woman, but everything to do with how he had treated her. But what if he did not have somebody to turn to when he needed help? What if he'd become yet another man lurking at his ex's job or place of residence, who saw in his ability to terrorize that woman some twisted form of power?
6. Challenge other males about their physical, emotional, and spiritual violence towards women and girls. Again, this is not a popular thing to do, especially when so many men and boys do not even believe that there is a gender violence problem in America. But challenge we must when we hear about abusive or destructive behavior being committed by our friends or peers. I have to say I really respect the aforementioned political associate who looked me straight in the eyes, 16 long years after I pushed his close female friend and my ex-girlfriend into a bathroom door, and asked me why I did what I did, and, essentially, why he should work with me all these years later? American males don't often have these kinds of difficult but necessary conversations with each other. But his point was that he needed to understand what had happened, what work I had done to prevent that kind of behavior from happening again, and why I had committed such an act in the first place. Just for the record: No, it has not happened since, and no, it never will again. But I respect the fact that, in spite of my being very honest about past behavior, that women and men and girls and boys of diverse backgrounds have felt compelled to ask hard questions, to challenge me after hearing me speak, after reading one of my essays about sexism and redefining American manhood. We must ask and answer some hard questions. This also means that we need to challenge those men--as I was forced to do twice in the past week--who bring up the fact that some males are the victims of domestic violence at the hands of females. While this may be true in a few cases (and I do know some men who have been attacked or beaten by women), there is not even a remote comparison between the number of women who are battered and murdered on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis in America and the number of men who suffer the same fate at the hands of women. Second, we men need to understand that we cannot just use our maleness to switch the dialogue away from the very real concerns of women to what men are suffering, or what we perceive men to be suffering. That's what step number three in the seven steps to ending violence against women and girls is all about. So many of us American males have such a distorted definition of manhood that we don't even have the basic respect to listen to women's voices when they talk about violence and abuse, without becoming uncomfortable, without becoming defensive, without feeling the need to bring the conversation, the dialogue, to us and our needs and our concerns, as if the needs and concerns of women and girls do not matter.
7. Create a new kind of man, a new kind of boy. Violence against women and girls will never end if we males continue to live according to definitions of self that are rooted in violence, domination, and sexism. I have been saying for the past few years that more American males have got to make a conscious decision to redefine who we are, to look ourselves in the mirror and ask where we got these definitions of manhood and masculinity, to which we cling so tightly. Who do these definitions benefit and whom do they hurt? Who said manhood has to be connected to violence, competition, ego, and the inability to express ourselves? And while we're asking questions, we need to thoroughly question the heroes we worship, too. How can we continue to salute Bill Clinton as a great president yet never ask why he has never taken full ownership for the numerous sexual indiscretions he has committed during his long marriage to Senator Hillary Clinton? How can we in the hip-hop nation continue to blindly idolize Tupac Shakur (whom I interviewed numerous times while working at Vibe, and whom I loved like a brother) but never question how he could celebrate women in songs like "Keep Ya Head Up?" and "Dear Mama," on the one hand, but completely denigrate women in songs like "Wonda Y They Call U Bitch"? What I am saying is that as we examine and struggle to redefine ourselves as men, we also have to make a commitment to questioning the manifestations of sexism all around us. If we fail to do so, if we do not begin to ask males, on a regular basis, why we refer to women and girls with despicable words, why we talk about women and girls as if they are nothing more than playthings, why we think its cool to "slap a woman around," why we don't think the rape, torture, and kidnap of Megan Williams in West Virginia should matter to us as much as the Jena 6 case in Louisiana, then the beginning of the end of violence against women and girls will be a long time coming.
Kevin Powell is a writer, activist, and author or editor of 9 books. A native of Jersey City, NJ, Kevin is a long-time resident of Brooklyn, NY, where he ran for Congress in 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.