Well, really, what did she expect? She should have known better than to have photographs taken in the first place. She was asking for trouble the moment the door was closed and she started taking of her clothes. Anyone with half a brain would have been able to know what would have happened next. Everybody always says that everything will be kept a secret and nobody else will see, but seriously. Only an idiot or someone who is far too comfortable being naked in front of strangers would fall for that, right?
Isn’t this was everyone thinks when a woman tells them she just went in for a consultation with a cosmetic surgeon? Surely this is the first thing that goes through someone’s mind when she excitedly tells about possibly having something “done”, how the procedure will take place, the recovery, and of course the vital “before” pictures to compare with the “after”. I have had these conversations with girlfriends and nobody has ever condemned anyone over photographs. Not even when one friend’s surgeon had his computer network security compromised and patient information, including photographs, were stolen. We consoled her, hugged her, and assured her that everything would work out okay. And for the most part it has.
When a recent news story broke regarding celebrities having their personal nude photographs leaked online (one news story can be found here on the Chicago Tribune) my Facebook was flooding with wagging fingers, “Don’t these girls [yes, girls] know better than to take nude pictures of themselves in the first place?!” another one, “I’ve got some advice to keep your pictures from being stolen: Don’t take them!” My favorite? “If you’re going to take nudes than you’re asking for them to be stolen.”
Ah, yes. There it is. She’s asking for it. Of course she is.
Of course a woman would be asking for a stranger to walk into her private space, go through her personal belongings with the sole purpose of finding something to violate her in the most intimate of ways, and than use that viciously humiliate her in public. Wouldn’t all women want that? And is it not true that the most violating and demeaning way for a woman to be preyed upon is her body and sexuality? After all, a woman’s sexuality might as well be the final frontier of the modern age when it comes to breaking down barriers and putting a woman firmly in her place.
If a woman is too successful in her job than she must have slept her way to the top. If a waitress earns more tips it’s because she flirts with the men at the table. If a woman earns a promotion it’s because she slept with the boss. Short skirts and low-top blouses will earn discounts and perks, right? There couldn’t possibly be any other reason for a woman to have any kind of financial, educational, social, or other advantage over a man unless it is tied to her body and sexuality. If she has sex than she is a whore, if she doesn’t have sex she is a prude or cold fish. If she drinks than of course she is a lush but if she doesn’t than she might as well be a teetotaler.
Women have no expectation to privacy, then. When they are asking for invasion than all doors are open for perusal, judgment and scorn. We are buffets for public censure, that is after all who feel like it have gotten off from whatever it is they’re into. If you’re a woman in Texas, you are no longer legally protected if someone secretly takes an up-skirt photograph without your knowledge. Of course, women should know better than to wear skirts anyway, right? Why on earth should women be wearing skirts when someone could just walk along and photograph their undersides? Obviously they are asking for that to happen. If only women wore pants all the time than men and other perverts wouldn’t succumb to their baser instincts. In Massachusetts, for that matter, Peeping Toms can peep to their hearts’ desire as long as women are at least partially clothed. And really, women are asking to be watched while they dress if they have windows in their homes anyway.
I was scolded heavily yesterday for saying my comparison of the celebrity nude leak and rape culture/victim blaming. Ironically, the person (a man, obviously) said that it was insulting to rape victims because it cheapens the impact of the crime. Since I don’t wear my rape survivor status like a merit badge, he didn’t realize how foolish he sounded by implying I was insulting myself.
This is the pernicious nature of rape culture. An excellent definition of rape culture can be found Transforming a Rape Culture by Emille Buchwald, Martha Roth and Pamela R. Fletcher:A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
It condones emotional terrorism against women, which would include a constant threat of releasing private and sexual images of the women themselves. It doesn’t matter if these women took these photographs for their own purposes or in exchanges with partners as sexting. They are consenting adults and they have not broken any crimes. That bears repeating. These women have not broken any crimes. The hackers who not only hacked the images and then projected them onto the internet, however, did break the law. Why is it, then, that the women are who carry the brunt of the shame? Ironically, a hacker who worked with Anonymous in the Steubenville rape case is facing 10 years in prison whereas the rapists themselves were only sentenced to one-two years.
Because they are women, that’s why. And they are women who were expressing their sexuality. And why shouldn’t they? Are they not as entitled to their sexuality as the men who expect them to be sexy?
Oh, but what about choices and consequences? this man berated me with. It’s not victim shaming if he is merely pointing out that some choices carry heavier consequences, especially if the choices are risky ones.
And isn’t that true, for example, if a person were to drink and drive. If a person were to imbibe, a definite choice to be sure, and then to drive, it can not be denied this is a risky choice that carries with it an even heavier consequence. However, a person who drinks doesn’t generally set about with the purpose to drink with an expectation of privacy and an expectation that her drinking will be kept private on her own private property and then drive.
Taking nude photographs, then, is more or less a low risk one. Or should be. They are taken on a personal device, saved on a personal device, and shared with personally selected individuals. The only consequences would be those forced upon you.
This is primarily the problem and why rape culture is pervasive. The victim shaming and threats become so natural that such “common sense” wisdom seems so reasonable. Only it isn’t. Finger wagging does not remedy the startling fact that 61% of rapes go unreported. Clearly, there is something going wrong in our communities when the first response is “They should have known better” and not “Who would do something like that to these women?”“Rape culture is people objecting to the detritus of the rape culture being called oversensitive, rather than people who perpetuate the rape culture being regarded as not sensitive enough.
“Rape culture is the myriad ways in which rape is tacitly and overtly abetted and encouraged having saturated every corner of our culture so thoroughly that people can’t easily wrap their heads around what the rape culture actually is.” (Melissa McEwan, Rape Culture 101)
When people, like this man, say they “don’t care to be painted with the same broad brush” and patronizingly offer that I am “entitled to [my opinion]” while adamantly telling me all the ways that I am wrong, rape culture continues to entrench itself. And whether he wants to be painted with it or not, he holds the brush.
It had been a long day as was evidenced by the strained looks on mothers’ faces around me and the chorus of fussing children trailing behind them. My own child was adding to the cacophony, amazing me in her ability to harmonize with her people in the key of whine. I generally avoid the grocery store in the late afternoon for this very reason; energy is depleted by then and patience has long since dissipated. Why on earth would I try to entrap a child in a shopping cart and expect peaceful solidarity? My three year old walked into the grocery store that door and had the grace to warn me, “I’m sorry, Mama, but I just might need to be a little wild.”
And truthfully, she was. She ran up and down aisles, grabbed items to toss them into our cart and generally had a fabulous time. Every once in a while, when I could see she was about to interfere with someone’s experience, I would curtail her behavior and be met with some short term fussiness. Soon after she would zoom off again. I didn’t mind; it wasn’t a full shopping trip. I was only grabbing a few items I needed to make dinner for a neighbor that night. I nudged her towards the front and into line, carefully explaining why we were buying potatoes and not onions (for the tenth time). I was vaguely aware of another mother behind us dragging a child behind her while another little boy clomped along in cowboy boots. The cowboy was priming for a fit; I could see it. The mother was fluent in No and the boy wasn’t bilingual it seemed because he was talking to her the same way a lot of people do when met with someone who can’t speak the language: loudly. He wasn’t shouting or yelling, just loud, and his mom was about two marbles left to lost. Finally, those two marbles went spinning away because she spun around and shouted “Stop talking to me! Just be quiet!” I stood there, stunned, watching as she turned around and walked away, not noticing if he followed or not. He slowly began to tip-toe along in his cowboy boots, less up in his giddy, and little tears rolling down his cheeks.
It hurt my heart. I don’t know anything about this woman or her life or her situation. I only know this one brief snapshot and I didn’t like it. The cashier told me my total and I wrote out my check (because I still use those) and I said, “I’d be tiptoeing too if she were my mom.” The cashier took my check and said as wisely as a 16 year old boy can, “I can only imagine how difficult that kid can be after a whole day with him.” I looked up at this kid and then down at mine who at that moment was reorganizing all their packages of gum and wondered at what he said. Finally I said, “That’s not difficult, that’s normal. Adults are difficult.”
The truth is, I envy babies, toddlers, and even little children. Their emotions and passions haven’t been squelched by societal norms yet in spite of all what their parents have done to them. Who hasn’t wanted to throw a fit in a long line at the market or a tantrum when hearing their flight has been delayed (again) at the airport? To be perfectly honest, I know people who make me want to spit up every time I see them or at least burst out crying. For some reason adults have a tiresome need to reign in emotions along with behavior when teaching children how to be agreeable, and while I am all for raising a polite and pleasant generation, I think it’s tragic to only have glasses full of tepid rather than hot or cold water.
This is not an indictment on parenthood. Parents, all parents, question what the right thing to do is and the right time, all of the time. If anything, this is a hope to give ourselves permission to lighten up. All children will fuss because it’s normal, and wouldn’t it be nice if we just let them fuss? Wouldn’t it be nicer if we let ourselves fuss? It’s okay if my little girl rearranges the chewing gum. It’s just gum. And anyone who gets uptight over her rearranging gum needs to consider why gum is so damn important to be stressed out over. As a mother, I have more important things to worry about than people who get bent out of shape over kids pulling fits when they aren’t harming anyone. (I’m talking to you, fictional Pie Man.) As a mother, I would be much more relieved if someone were to say, “Hey, can I help you with something?” That’d be cool.
The reality is, kids are the normal ones and adults aren’t. Adults are the people who make life far more complicated that what it needs to be. Kids just play and sleep, really. They eat what they like, throw what they don’t like, and cry when they’re tiredmadsadconfusedhotcold or for no reason at all. They laugh with their whole entire bodies, sleep with their whole souls, love with their entire natures, and they even vomit with the entire force of physics and quite possibly with something supernatural. Unfortunately, they grow up to master all the Don’ts which breaks my heart.
If only adults could shuffle along in cowboy boots, speaking loudly just because we feel like it’s a 12-inch voice day, not an 8-inch voice day, and tell people “I don’t have to share my toys with you if I don’t want to, my Mama said.”
Even better, I’d like to just put a sign on my door that says, “I’m sorry. I just have to be a little wild today.”
Grief is a strange thing. It ebbs and flows as if it were the tide being pulled by a moon that seems to reflect only on the past. There is a constant struggle between a shore that wants to be wrapped in the water’s constant presence and the water that longs to be free to the horizon.
I found out about his death over Labor Day Weekend. In between Facebook updates about BBQ’s and yard work I saw one on my timeline that was a reminder to treasure friends because they won’t always be around. Soon after photographs were being posted and I recognized him, my dear friend from high school. His mischievous eyes and smile, the look that said he was probably mocking someone in his head and would tell me later. I scrolled through photograph after photograph, smiling with him and replayed old conversations in my mind, catching his voice in the dream catcher I keep in my heart so as to never lose it. He was gone. Only he isn’t.
Peculiarly enough, my 20th high school reunion will be held at the end of this month and I am not going. I haven’t attended any reunions and don’t plan on attending any of them. However, my friend’s death gave me pause. We are all almost 40 years old — an age we all thought, I am sure, was horrifically old on that day in June when we were given our fake diplomas. Nobody dies younger than 40. Only they do.
Most of us are familiar with the grief cycle, the five stages identified neat and tidy in textbooks and webpages for the grieving the check off once completed.
- Monday: Do the laundry, balance the checkbook and complete the denial stage.
- Tuesday: Clean the bathrooms, sew buttons, be angry.
- Wednesday: Grocery shop, post office, bargain.
- Thursday: Leave things unfinished, depressed.
- Friday: Get hair done, go to lunch with friends, acceptance.
It must be so gratifying to see everything checked off and be done. To no longer be sad or cry, to not feel confused or grief, or guilty because there is no time to even ugly mourn the way you want to because time won’t stop they way you think it should. Why does the sun insist on rising every damn day when you want to stay in bed and cry? Why do I have to continue cooking dinner, drive my kids where they need to go, be a mother, and brush my hair when all I want to do is shove ashes all over my face and rip my clothes, fall to my knees and weep?“I hear this guy tells the same inspirational get off your ass story at each assembly he does, and the people in the story never age…” Chris tells me. “Huh, really? Do you think that makes it less inspirational or more fake?” I ask. “Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s probably still inspirational if you’re into that shit. But I think he should at least make the people grow up to make it more authentic.” And we laughed and laughed as we walked into the gym.
I was crying in a parking lot when I remembered that conversation. We were sophomores and cynical but respectful during the assembly. It was corny and I remember there being some kind of song about rainbows and a kid being stuck in a tree. I laughed again as I thought about it and wondered if there were kids somewhere in America still listening to the same rainbow song and the same inspirational story with kids who never age.
I suppose this is what is the truth about grief. People grow up and that is what makes it more authentic. Grown ups don’t have the ability to fit authentic feelings in neat bulleted lists to check off when completed; grief is messy and time-consuming, it’s complicated and confusing. It’s unique to every day and to every person. I won’t be able to fit it in to a schedule between soccer games and tumbling classes.
It will ebb and it will flow, smothering the shore at times while flowing freely out to the horizon at others. Its tide will come with a moon that reflects on an ache inside me. An ache that remains but will always shine. The water there is endless, as it should be, in the silent distance.
Rape is not something that my family is comfortable with, but then is there anyone who would ever say they were? My mother was sincerely invested in my overprotection throughout my entire life, even so far as not allowing me to participate in extracurricular activities or ever walking to a friend’s home who only lived two houses away from my home unless she watched me until I turned up my friend’s walkway. Without a doubt, my safety would be ensured when I transferred to the university as a junior and lived with my sister — not the dorms (which were not coed anyway).
I should have been safe. At 19 years old I was raped and I have never been the same even though I didn’t know it at the time. Memory is a strange thing and it wrapped me in its own sort of overprotective blanket so that I didn’t have to look out at the monster in my mind. Years later it was time for me to come out from under my blanket fort and understand where I fit in this strange community of survivor and victim. And that is perhaps what is the most frustrating about who I am is not always knowing who I am. There are days when I still feel victimized and others when I feel the strength of having survived.
Who I am now is who I am supposed to be, and there is some sort of intuitive flame inside me that tells me it is because of the passport I carry between Victim and Survivor. Clearly, I am not grateful for the experience — in no way am I glad I have PTSD or an anxiety disorder or the agoraphobia. At the same time, I do know that much of my resiliency and fighting spirit comes from having travelled through hell so many times.
I am able to discuss what happened to me with almost anybody except for most of my family, primarily my parents. I don’t find this hurtful as much as I see it as unfortunate as they are choosing to ignore an enormous piece to the puzzle of what has created me. Whenever they don’t understand why I struggle with certain parts of my mental health they aren’t able to connect the dots. Likewise, when I triumph in other ways they don’t see “the big deal”. My father is only able to understand in that he also suffers from depression and anxiety while my mother only is able to remind me that she always told me to never do A, B, and C. (If I had followed her instructions, of course, I never would have been raped.)
For a long while I thought it was best to just not talk about the very things that made my parents uncomfortable. If they were uncomfortable that means everyone would be uncomfortable, right? Surely they were the litmus test of what was socially acceptable. Only they weren’t. I am the keeper of the gate and as such I hold the key to what truth I feel is necessary to reveal.
It has been an evolutionary process in what stories I choose to share, but I no longer allow the worry of who I could have been haunt me. I can’t. That person doesn’t exist and I can’t mourn who never was. I can only celebrate who is.
I squirm with questions like these. Anyone who truly knows me would confirm how much discomfort I feel in receiving attention or any other sort of recognition. For anything. I like to quietly go about my day and business, do stuff and live my life. It takes a great deal of effort to appear outgoing and extroverted. In reality, I am happiest when nobody notices me at all. And so, actually having to purposely highlight myself like this makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable. In fact, I much rather joke about being the most hated in the neighborhood and trying to get the neighborhood kids to be afraid of me. Unfortunately, they still show up here so I must try harder. My husband has hidden my son’s bb gun, though, and so that option is definitely off the table.
However, when I am caught being nice or pleasant, it is usually because I try to be helpful and charitable. My grandfather had made a strong impression on me from the time I was young to always be of service to my fellow man. I often watched him take tomatoes from his garden to his neighbors or share ice cream (his most favorite commodity). He would chat with people he knew were lonely or didn’t have many friends or always take some time to stop by someone’s home who he knew was sick. He and his brothers would pull some of the tar off the roads that had gotten warm in order to have “chewing gum” during the Depression. Because of this unpleasant memory, my grandfather would carry extra chewing gum with him all the time to offer children. He would tell me that children should always have some gum if possible. By far, my grandfather is the greatest example to me of someone who always put other people first.
I want my children to have that same example and have I tried to show them the joy that comes from being charitable. Because I am uncomfortable with acknowledgement or attention, they have seen me do many things and often not receive thanks. My son was frustrated by this when he was younger, and perhaps he still is on occasion, but he also knows that I believe charity is for the receiver and not the giver.
My heart is tender towards people who are unable to provide for their families. I have always been so fortunate in this regard even in the most financially difficult of times. I was so broken hearted for a woman at Walmart whose husband had been deployed and his pay hadn’t been transferred yet. She and I had been talking in line about this was another Thanksgiving they would be away from each other, her kids racing around their cart full of groceries. I have felt that same embarrassment that burned her cheeks when the cashier told her that her card had been denied. I have cried the same tears. It’s not a good place to be in, a place where you don’t know exactly what to do. I understand. I don’t hesitate to pay for other people’s groceries or meals or gas. It’s not about receiving thanks or accolades, I get embarrassed by such. It’s about thinking of my grandfather chewing tar as a little boy and collecting discarded coal thrown to him by train conductors so that he could heat his home.
I want my children to grow up into good people. Charitable people. People who remember to give freely with their actions whenever possible because words don’t feed hungry children. Yes, it is nice to be told ‘Thank you’, but it’s even better knowing you’ve given happiness. Even if they’re mom was the mean lady in cul-de-sac. Kind of.