Vulnerability and Misogyny

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The other day I was in a prayer group on cultivating spirituality in our daily lives. One of the questions at the end of the chapter asked, “Who are the most vulnerable in our society today? In what ways can I or we reach out for help?”

Without hesitation, all of us responded “Women—they’re the most vulnerable.” My voice was among these. I have been thinking about this issue with grave seriousness (to the point of depression) for months. We all know the on-going fights for equal pay, breast-feeding controversies, and annoyance over catcalls, but lately there has been a not-so-subtle culture of misogyny hovering over our country, nay the world.

For example, this past July CNN reported a story about an Indian woman who was brutally gang-raped, not once, but twice by the same men. The horror of that experience stayed with me for weeks, still does in fact. No one was there to protect this already scarred, vulnerable woman. She was attacked a second time coming home from college classes. There are hundreds of other international stories of honor killings, female genital mutilation, killing or disfiguring women with acid, and kidnappings of hundreds of girls around the world (e.g., Boka Horam) for torture and sexual exploitation. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around magnitude of this abuse.

And, it’s not much better over here in the “Land of the Free.”

The release of Donald Trump’s “musings” about his lack of control around beautiful women, that he deliberately tried “f***” a married women, and how he felt, as a famous person, entitled to grab any woman’s “p*****” was just the most recent example of how women are dehumanized in this country. What surprised me was my reaction to hearing this clip. I just shook my head in disgust. Just a year or two earlier, I would have been incensed, outraged. I think this is an example of how I, like many people, have become desensitized to misogyny.

In fact, during the first Republican presidential debate when moderator Megyn Kelly called Trump on his inflammatory, crude remarks about women, his response was to call her a “bimbo” and that she was so mad, “You could see blood coming out of her eyes…blood coming out of her wherever.” Her wherever? How did he get away with saying that? Of course, he insulted a lot of people that night including the sitting President and Congress. The media and the RNC made a huge mistake that evening. Trump should have been escorted off the stage for his inappropriate remarks. Shouldn’t there be some basic civility expected of our country’s leaders? That behavior should never have been tolerated then, because it just fueled his ego enough to let his mouth run amuck for months after. The man has said hateful things about darn near everyone, and it’s not that I think things like that are not said, it’s just that I’ve never seen anyone so public and unapologetic for such rantings and bad language. In the South we would say, “His mama did not raise him right.”

Trump is a spoiled, narcissistic loud mouth. He’s been making outrageous statements throughout the past few years, so that’s why, in my overexposure to this behavior, I simply rolled my eyes when it came out he felt he could get away with inappropriately touching a woman’s private parts, which by the way is sexual assault, which by the way is illegal. Cher summed it up best when she tweeted, “LADIES WE R NOT DISPOSABLE BLOW UP DOLLS,4RICH MENS PLEASURE.” Shame on me for my minimal reaction.

But, it is not just Donald Trump overtly demeaning, dehumanizing, and objectifying women. It feels as if our whole culture has agreed that treating women as “less than” and as pleasure tool is okay, fine, just boys being boys.

A Culture of Dehumanization
• Fox news and its environment of sexual harassment that started at the top with Chairmen of Fox News Roger Ailes is a recent example. Gretchen Carlson was the first to sue, but Andrea Tanteros has filed a suit as well. That’s dehumanizing women in the workplace.
• Pornography addiction is the number one addiction in America today. This is the objectifying of women as tools for one’s own pleasure. Scientist found that, like all addicts, people need to view more and more, cruder and cruder scenes to get the initial pleasure they first had when viewing pornography. What makes it an addiction is more than the inability to stop watching. People will continue to watch even though it negatively affects their job, social life, and marriages. Not only does pornography dehumanize the women who are filmed, by extension it dehumanizes all women.
• In 2012, researchers estimated that 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the armed forces, yet only one in seven victims reported the attack and only one in 10 of those cases went to trial. Dehumanizing women in the military.
• Stanford student Brock Turner received a “slap on the wrist” sentence for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Dehumanizing women by athletes.
• Bill Cosby’s long and sorted history of drugging and raping women continues to evolve in the news, and he is still a free man. Dehumanizing women in Hollywood.
• The commonness of campus rape. Just as an example, University of Michigan conducted an internal study of rape on its own campus, and found that 20 percent of the women had been sexually assaulted. Internal studies conducted at other universities show similar results, although I think 20 percent is a gross example of underreporting. Dehumanizing women at school, where they go to better their minds and futures.

Campus rape is not a new thing. When I was an undergraduate at a large public university, I woke up one Sunday morning to learn that the Delta fraternity found a battered, naked woman unconscious in the their back yard. She had been gang raped and beat up, she had cigarette burn marks on her thighs, and she had the word, Delta carved into her leg. My blood ran cold because I had been to a party at the Delta house the night before. I think every woman on campus was thinking, “It could have been me.” What really happened is even worse that the original scenario. It turns out the boys (legally men) from the Pike house right next door, did all of these heinous things and tried to put the blame on the Deltas by “marking” with their frat name and dumping her, yes dumping her over the fence.

I’ve never forgotten that, and when I was a high school teacher, I often warned seniors heading off to college: Don’t go anywhere alone, especially at night; don’t wander into a boy’s room alone; watch your drinks so no one puts a date-rape drug in your beer; never leave a party or club with a man you just met no matter how safe you feel. The onus is on you I would tell them. Now, I taught at a girls’ school. I wonder if anyone was ever talking to the boys who were off to the same colleges, and what they were told. My guess is that they were told nothing; all the messages they received about how to treat women they learned from the media, big brothers or their fathers. It begs the questions,

What are boys learning about their gender counterpart? When do they stop seeing women as human beings, people with souls who should be respected, and see them as merely tools to satisfy a sexual urge? If rape, assault, pornography, sexual harassment is so prevalent, then where are the strong male voices trying to counteract this travesty?

Right now, the only strong voice boys (and girls), men (and women) are hearing is a loud mouth pseudo-politician who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to call women fat, bimbos, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals, and just plain ugly. And, no woman seems to be exempt (except Ivanka and Melania) because he has publically insulted Rosie O’Donnell, 1996 Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, Angelina Jolie, Heidi Cruz (Ted Cruz’s wife) and even supermodel Heidi Klum. There are plenty of women speaking back, like Secretary Hilary Clinton, Megyn Kelly, Cher and other noted people, but I wonder if their message is falling on deal ears.

I am no historian, but I can’t help feeling that in this country we have taken 15 steps backwards in the fight for equality. Women are more vulnerable, suppressed and demeaned than they have ever been. The irony is that all of this is going on just as woman has a real shot at the White House. I know it is no coincidence, just as race relations have taken a tragic turn for the worse while our sitting President is an African-American.

The second part of the question posed to our prayer group has me stumped: What can I do to help the vulnerable? I always feel helpless in the face of overpowering cruelty. Just writing this piece for my blog is one way to help. Another is to exercise my right to vote (a right that women in this country have had for less than 100 years) and send a message that I won’t stand for dehumanization as a political or bullying technique. Finally, I have to talk to my children: my girls will know they are worthy of the same rights, that they are children of God put on this earth to love and be loved, and that they should be warriors against anyone or anything that sends a message otherwise. Similarly, my son will know that girls and women are their equal, their partner under the law and the eyes of God, that the only way to interact with a girl or woman is with respect and reverence, and that any other action would be a betrayal to their manhood and their humanness.

Aren’t these basic things we teach all our children in preschool?
• Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
• Don’t interrupt anyone.
• Wait your turn.
• No name-calling.
• Tell the truth.

It seems to me that a lot of people need to be sent back to preschool to relearn these basic tenants for living in this world. All I can say is school’s open. Enroll your misogynist now.

Teaching my girls about the face of evil

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When my first child was just a few weeks old, I spent many-a night rocking and soothing her, trying to get this sweet baby to understand that one sleeps at night and not 13 hours during the day. One of those nights, I went downstairs and turned on the TV for some bleary-eyed diversion. At the time we had the cheap cable package so my choice viewing options were junk and more junk. What captured my attention was an hour-long infomercial for “Girls Gone Wild.”

I had heard of this before, and had seen some tamer commercials for it. I would shake my head, and simply change the channel. I wanted no part of the sexual exploitation of drunk college women. That night, however, as I rocked my innocent baby girl, that commercial seized my heart and injected terror in my veins. Suddenly I was transported 20 years in the future praying that my little girl would never be involved in something like that. Watching these inebriated young women lift their shirts for the camera and accept dares to participate in sexual acts, made me cringe.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m a prude, and I certainly can’t say I made the best choices when I had had a few too many beers (or wine, or shots). Quite frankly, I can think of a few situations, especially when I was a young college student, in which I was remarkably lucky that I was not sexually assaulted. But, motherhood changed me. I went from disgust to plain fear. In my head I kept asking myself, “What do I have to do as a parent to make sure my daughter does not feel she has to use her body to be accepted, liked or admired? What can I do to protect her from men who only want to use her or see her as a source for their pleasure?” I do not have a definitive answer, but figured out that so much of her safety is related to self-esteem and good choices.

Reading about Brook Turner, the Stanford student who was convicted of raping an inebriated, unconscious woman behind a dumpster, has renewed those fears I have for my daughters. Often “experts” spend a great deal of time talking about what women should or should not do to put themselves in the position to be raped:

  • Don’t walk alone at night.
  • Don’t dress “like a slut.”
  • Don’t drink too much.
  • Only drink from a bottle at a club so you don’t accidentally or otherwise ingest a drug like roofies (or Quaaludes), making you easy prey for sexual predators.
  • Be aware of your surroundings (e.g., parking lots, empty streets).
  • Don’t party alone. Always bring a friend who can watch your back.

These are all great suggestions, and when the time is right, I will make sure my two daughters understand them. But, I will also be sure to tell them that even if they do dress provocatively or drink too much, they are never the ones who are at fault for a rape or sexual assault. That blame only rests squarely on the rapist.

The rapist is the one who does not recognize a woman as a human being, but rather an object of pleasure. The rapist is the one whose sick need for dominance leads him to violate and demean another person. The rapist is the one who perverts his sexual desires and his moral reasoning to allow himself to touch a woman’s body however he wishes and without her consent. I will let my daughters know that they not responsible for other’s actions just as they are responsible for their own actions and choices.

And, when the time is right, I will show my daughters Brock Turner’s face, and talk about how this seemingly harmless, Howdy Doody look-alike is the face of evil. They need to know that evil is not necessarily the villain dressed in black, lurking in dark alleys. Rather, I will tell them than evil comes in so many shapes and sizes and colors and backgrounds.

  • Evil can come from “nice homes” raised by “nice parents” and go to “great schools”—like Stanford.
  • Evil can look like the funniest of all-American dads, a TV icon even.
  • Evil can look like a star athlete with potential to compete in the Olympics.
  • Evil can even be disguised as their caring boyfriend or husband whose mask of a loving person will melt away to reveal the dark overpowering villain that he is.
  • Evil can sound like a middle class dad who makes excuses (like he was a victim of a culture of campus partying) for his sociopathic son.
  • And evil can look like a civic-minded judge who is nothing but complicit with the entire system that dismisses rape as “boys will be boys” or it was only “20 minutes of action.”

Just as important, I will sit my son down and tell him how he should treat a woman, how women were not put on this earth to satisfy men’s sexual issues, how women are smart and accomplished in thousands of ways, and how all women (all people) deserve his respect. I will also let him know that, just like the PhD students from Sweden who chased after Brock Turner, it is his responsibility to protect those who are weaker than he is, and to alert authorities when he sees or senses that someone else is in danger. And, I will tell him this is just common sense and common decency.

In some ways I think it is pathetic that I would have to make all of these things explicit to my kids. Shouldn’t they just know this? Don’t people know they should treat others with kindness and compassion? After reading about Brock Turner and how he has never admitted to any wrong-doing and how his father is more torn up about his son’s poor appetite than his victim’s pain, I think this is now a world where knowing right and wrong cannot be assumed. After reading that Brock Turner’s friends and siblings believe he is not a danger to others because he is a shy and hard-working young man, I have to be very clear when I tell my children that psychopaths can be shy, hard-working and bright with a glorious future ahead of them.

My daughters are no longer babies. The oldest will be 13 in a few days. This rape case has made me realize that now is the time I need to have these conversations with them. I’m not relishing these talks, but I know that this conversation is just as necessary as teaching them other fundamentals like using crosswalks, not talking to strangers, locking doors at night, and not engaging with strangers on the Internet.  One day their lives may depend on this lesson.

The Black Hole in my House

A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. This can happen when a star is dying.

Because no light can get out, people can’t see black holes. They are invisible. Space telescopes with special tools can help find black holes. (NASA, NASA Know, 2015).

Fire Visualization

I have a black hole hanging around my house. Because it is invisible, I do not know where it is. The only reason I know it exists is because it is the only reasonable explanation as to where random objects in our house go.

• Pacifiers desperately needed before naps lost 9 years ago? Never found.

• Girl Scout cookie money/checks from four years ago? Never found.

• Coupon books bought from a neighbor’s fundraiser? Never found.

A piece of my mother’s jewelry, one shoe from a favorite pair, Annie’s religion project, Will’s baseball cup, Katie’s music stand, Mike’s favorite pen. These are just a few of the items that our black hole has stolen.

I know you space scientists—both casual and real—are shaking your heads saying, “This lady has no conception of what a black hole really is. A black hole sucks up everything.”

Well, for your information all you Smarty Pants out there, I do know what a black hole is. I learned about them whether I wanted to or not. I am married to a chemical engineer who I believe secretly longs to be an astrophysicist. (As a matter of fact, I just heard to term gravitational wave from my husband’s computer. See? This is my life.)

But, the black hole I am talking about is just as real as those light-sucking phenomena out there in space. It just happens to hang in my space. Let’s call it Turner Inner Space, which is mostly at my house. Sometimes it travels in my minivan, which is like a house on wheels. Don’t believe me? Besides a home (or dump or Walmart), where else can you find toothbrushes, water bottles, socks, pencils, a can opener, four smashed Skittles, a complete set of Sharpies, and dirty Corning Ware?

This black hole is not as powerful as the ones that hang out in the galaxy. For example, it has not yet sucked up the dog or my washing machine. Socks? Yes. Water heater? No. And, it is random. For example, it never ever sucks up dog hair or leftover string cheese wrappers. Those nasty old tennis shoes are still around, and not once has it taken out the garbage. Why be useful?

Now, lest you think I am just using this as an excuse for weak or lazy searching habits, I want to set the record straight now that I am a thorough investigator. I always search in the regular places—random piles in kitchen and bathroom, under kids’ beds (can you say health hazard?) and all known drawers in the house. I overturn every item in the garage (aka Man Cave). I also hunt in the deepest darkest corners of my house, like way back in closets, dilapidated cardboard boxes that say “Taxes-1997,” and way back in the refrigerator where sticky green slime survives.

Sometimes I call in the heavy hitters for help. No, not any member of my family. I have already established they are all “bad lookers.” Besides, if I involved my husband I have to listen to three days of ranting about how we have too much stuff (the polite word) and we need to take trip to Good Will. No, I am talking about St. Anthony.

My mama always taught me to say a prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. Said he always came through for her. The prayer goes like this: “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and needs to be found.” I have to say it worked for me as a kid. However, as much as I would like to say this is a foolproof system for retrieving lost articles, this saint has not come through for me as an adult. I don’t mean to be dissin’ the saint, but I think he’s on a coffee break every time I’ve called on him. Either that or my house really is cursed. (That’s another story altogether.) I know people who have their house blessed by a priest or minister. Maybe that would be the way to go.

However, if you subscribe to the random-black-hole theory as I do, these valuable articles are simply gone and not lost. So, St. Anthony must know there is no use in searching. (Wow, I have completely moved to a place of hopelessness.)

So, all you astrophysicists, or better yet, moms out there? Do you know how I might retrieve these items that have been sucked away to no-where’s-ville? I am completely open to suggestions from anyone. Completely open.

2016 Yoga Journal Entry #1: A Venture in My First Slow-Burn Class of the Year

From GraphicStock This is NO WAY resembles me in a yoga position.
From GraphicStock
This is NO WAY resembles me in a yoga position.

Two days ago I went to my first yoga class of the year. I arrived early because I knew all the other end-of-the-year slackers, those whose workout routines were like medieval sailors and fell of the end of the earth in November and December, would be anxious to renew their resolves for a healthy lifestyle. I was right. The room was packed with experienced yogis practicing their pretzel poses well before the instructor came; packed with wide-eyed newbies who nervously talked to their friends (because first time yoga-goers should never go alone) and fidgeted with their mats; and packed with people like me, those in-betweeners who have never mastered yoga, know how hard the damn thing is, and keep coming back for more, even if it is inconsistently. We were the ones lying face down on our mats waiting for the torture to begin—no warm-ups and no chitchatting. We knew what was coming.

Even though I was 15 minutes early, most coveted spots were taken. When I saw all space at the back of the room was filled, I whispered, “Shit,” knowing I had to move close to where the teacher sat. That messed with my calm meditative state. Let’s face it, when you are in tight spandex clothes—even if they are a slimming black—and every bulge, including the bagel you ate this morning and the now “outie” belly button from your last kid is popping out like a strange remake of The Blob, you do not want to draw attention to yourself. I’m already a walking yoga charity case; I don’t need to advertise in neon.

Now, I am not just being self-effacing. I really am a yoga charity case. If you look up the word INFLEXIBLE in the dictionary, my picture is the illustration. I can’t touch my toes, but more importantly, I’ve never been able to touch my toes—not at 3, not at 13 when I tried out for the JV cheer squad (It’s okay to laugh), and not when I a thin size 6 in my 20s. I’ve had trainers who have pushed on my body trying to get me to touch to my toes, and to no avail. These were professionals who were certified, trained, and educated and kinesiology and human anatomy. They couldn’t do it. Despite my warnings, they all had to give it a try. The result was utter failure on their part and searing pain in my hamstrings on mine. I think I made one trainer reconsider his whole career path after working with me for months.

There seems as if there are a hundred different types of yoga classes. I am very careful to read the descriptions since the first time I took a class it was called a Vinyasa class. I am pretty sure Vinyasa is a term that means “turbo torture” because this was the fastest yoga class I have ever seen, and afterwards I was sick for three days. And, I mean In-my bed-with-no-need-for-the-latest-Hollywood-Cleanse sick. The class I took two days ago was a Slow Burn yoga class. I think the instructor got the wrong memo because the title of the class was half right. Yes, there was a lot of burn. Oh did my muscles burn, when I tried to plank, down dog, and twist my right leg over my left and put it behind my ear. So, he got the burn part down, but there was nothing slow about this class. In fact, we went at a good pace. The rough part of a yoga class with any pace at all is two-fold:

First, I don’t go often enough that I have the whole language thing down. So when I should be in a Half Moon Pose, I am in a Half Frog Pose, and I only realize this when I look up to see the rest of the class mooning not frogging. There seems to be a lot of animal poses: Downward Facing Dog, One-Legged Pigeon, and Feathered Peacock to name a few. After a series of planking and Downward Dogs mixed with some Warrior this-and-that, I longed for the Dead Dog pose and said so…out loud, breaking everyone’s collective body (enlightenment). (Incidentally, there is no Dead Dog pose. Just a little mid-yoga fantasy on my part.)

The second reason a fast-paced yoga class is hard for me is because, well because, I am overweight. I am still in the process of losing the baby fat from my last childbirth. Granted it was 10 years ago, but what can I say? I am a plugger. The Little Engine that Can (one day…when I get my act together…when that damn hill doesn’t seem so big). After having my first child, I ordered a Pilates tape, and tried that for a while, but I was so discouraged by the ballerinas on the screen who could fold over their bodies with little effort while I had this giant post-partum belly in between my thighs and my boobs preventing me from any Pilate-like movement. So, the second reason has to do more with my belly than anything else. It’s hard to do 90 percent of the yoga poses with a big ole’ belly. Plus, I sweat so much—more than any other exercise I’ve ever done—that any pose that requires me to grab, say an ankle, is tough because I am as slippery as a porpoise.

I will say, however, that I do have the Happy Baby pose down. The Happy Baby pose is when you lie on your back, bend your knees up towards your sides and grab your big toes with your hands. My belly is totally irrelevant for this pose. Sometimes in the Happy Baby pose, you get to rock your body side to side. Ah, now that is nice. I also love it when the instructor tells you to simply lie flat on your back. Of course, this is at the end of the session, but it is my favorite part. I love to relax all my muscles and wade in a pool of my own sweat and think about how much my hamstring and shoulder and even my scalp muscles are going to hurt in just three hours. This is exactly what I did two days ago.

I got through the class the best I could, taking the advice of the yogi that I had to go at my own pace because this was my own practice. I was on fire—with pride and pain—and I just wanted to meditate a bit on my accomplishment. After the Namaste ending, the instructor said, “Take your time getting up. There is no rush.” Normally, that would be the case, but because of the New Year’s Resolution Frenzy at the gym, people were already piling in the class to reserve their spot a half hour before the next class, and I didn’t want to hog a space so I go up ever so reluctantly. Besides, I was afraid I would fall asleep on the floor and be mistaken for a real dead dog. With that, I will end with the traditional “Namaste!”

New Year’s Resolutions: Seeking Progress Not Perfection

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With our bellies peeking (or protruding) over belt buckles and the thought of another sugar cookie churning queasiness in our bellies, it is time to drag our overindulged bodies and minds out of the cocoon of denial and start resolving.

I am the first to admit that, just like most holidays this year, I am not ready for New Year’s. My brain is still trying to process where 2013 went. Alas, the day is upon us all, and it would do us well to think about what we want to accomplish in 2016. That’s right. I’m talking to you. Get your mushy tushy out of that warm bed, grab a pencil, and pay attention. (Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I am usually not this bossy.)

Don’t worry. I’m not giving you my list of resolutions. Rather, I thought I would present some questions to think about. These questions came to me a few days back when I was trying to pray and reflect, and I thought I would share them with you. They helped me put my life in perspective, and maybe it will help you too.

  • How am I managing my life?
  • How am I managing my finances?
  • How am I managing my household?
  • How am I managing my work?
  • How am I managing my health and the health of my loved ones?
  • How am I managing my children (or pets even)?
  • How am I managing my spiritual life?
  • Am I being fulfilled intellectually?
  • Am I being fulfilled creatively?

After you answer these questions, go through each one and ask yourself the following: In what ways can I be more effective?

For example, in examining the health of my loved ones, I realized I need to nudge my husband to see a dentist, and my pups are well overdue for a checkup. In thinking about managing my work, I know I need to be more committed and serious about my blog, set and stick to a writing schedule, and learn more about WordPress. Recognizing the areas that I have neglected or put off for whatever reason helps me make a plan.

Now, I have learned a great deal about myself in the past 49 years. I am not the most disciplined person and can easily become overwhelmed, which leads to mental paralysis, which in turns leads to…well…total failure to meet any objectives. (Sounds so serious.) So, I will take baby steps and not create mile-long lists of things to do. I will try to set a few goals for the year and then smaller goals for each month.

Of course, in Blog Land it all sounds so organized. It may all go to “hell in a hand basket,” as my grandmother would say, by January 5. I just need to keep reassuring myself that I am seeking PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.

Send me a note if you were able to garner something helpful from this.

Happy New Year!