Vulnerability and Misogyny

misogyny_-nhatred-of-women

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.

Haunted by the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man

I’m dating myself here, but do you remember the original Ghostbusters movie? Remember when the evil spirit inhabited the “Stay Puff Marshmallow Man,” a fictional commercial icon for, I assume, marshmallows? That thing was gi-normous! And, even though it was amusing to see something evil in a large, fluffy mass of sugary goo, it was also a bit terrifying. Today, that image is haunting me.

courtesy of chacha.com
courtesy of chacha.com

Yesterday, I swore off sugar and unhealthy carbohydrates for the like 200th time since New Year’s Day. My pants were getting snug again, and my leggings were so tight they revealed every bump and lump. Although I ate a lot of fruit and veggies this summer, I also consumed pound for pound an equal amount of sorbet and ice cream.

Alas! This is nothing new. I have been on a diet since I was 12 years old. I am the yo-yo queen. In fact, if you look up yo-yo dieter in the dictionary there are two pictures of me: one for the high you and one for the low yo. I’ve had years of therapy that sums up my eating habits like this: I like to overeat when I am nervous, stressed, overwhelmed, happy, bored, contented, overjoyed, during full moons and all the moons in between.

What can I say? I like food. Most therapists say, “No, there is something more, something deeper that causes you to turn towards the pantry.” When I heard that the first time, I wanted to say, “First of all, I don’t turn to the pantry; I run. Sometimes when I am alone, I will even skip to the pantry. The truth is I really like food.” Instead, I just nodded and said I would journal about my food obsession, paid my $160, and headed to Chick-Fil-A. After months of journaling and mindfulness exercises, I came up with this: I like to eat because I find pleasure in it. It calms my nerves, tastes good, and is the reward for doing a fine job at darn near anything—tying my shoes.

At the same time, I also know that it is not easy to give up certain foods like sugar and refined carbohydrates. Research has shown that sugar is just as addictive as heroine. It hits the pleasure center of the brain, making it very difficult to give up. So at least now I can say it’s not really my fault. Yep. I’ll blame my parents. Mom and Dad got me strung out on sugar with that first bite of birthday cake. (I did the same to my kids—we’re all pushers!!!!)

Sugar in the clay bowl isolated on whiteI am no stranger to addiction. You name it, and I’ve been addicted to it. I know all about withdrawal and how torturous it is on the mind. I quit smoking so many times, I can’t even count the attempts. I think the only reason that last one worked is that over the course of the first week, I ate an entire tub of raw chocolate chip cookie dough, and school was out so I had time to just sleep through the withdrawal symptoms. But, I am proud to say, that last attempt in 2000 took, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.

Cigarettes are one thing, but sugar and flour are another. I can go months without seeing or smelling a cigarette. Not so with sugar. It is everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. I’m not just talking about my pantry, grocery stores and ice cream parlors. There’s so much sugar around we have numbed our senses to it. For example,

  • Bubble gum and snow cones at Little League games
  • Cake at birthday parties, retirement parties, graduation parties, I pee-peed-in-the-potty parties (you get the idea)
  • Candy bars and soda at school sponsored games
  • Coffee and doughnuts after church services
  • Lollipops dolled out by well meaning pediatricians
  • Peppermint drops at the front desk at school
  • Every possible holiday function: Valentine’s Day is damned!
  • Healthy “cookies” and protein bars at the gym
  • That yogurt you just picked up for a midday snack.

young-man-eating-cake_byq-luvtro_psStart paying attention, and you will be shocked at how sugar has infiltrated our entire culture. Over the past five or ten years, researchers, politicians, and curious health nuts alike have been paying attention to the sugar effect and the sugar industry. (I won’t get into that now. Another blog, perhaps.)

So back to yesterday. Yes, I had steeled myself that I was going to resist temptation. I even went to the grocery store and snubbed my nose at the Oreos. However, by the time I picked up the kids from school, I had already blown my no-sugar contract at least three times. What? Don’t judge me. You should have heard that month-old, freezer-burned ice cream calling my name. It was like Odysseus’ Sirens. This, of course, sent me into despair, which then sent me back to the ice cream. Ah, the vicious circle.

So I went to bed not feeling so hot about my sense of will power, and as luck would have it, I had a scary dream. I dreamed that the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man was possessed by the devil and trying to lure me to a ball pit. Instead of balls, however, the pit was full of jawbreakers. It was horrible because I was simultaneously repulsed and attracted to the giant devil in white. He was so big I could see the individual sugar crystals on this smiling face. I awoke before the ending, but I did wake with a new revelation. That is, the devil makes me do it. This time I’m not looking for an excuse. I’ve used them all to no avail anyway: I’m gluten intolerant, I have big bones, I’m allergic to something that puts on weight, I would exercise more but my knees hurt, etc., etc. etc.

Yep, it’s the devil. It has to be. Who is the biggest tempter known to man? The devil, Beelzebub, Satan, and the Fallen Angel—whatever you want to call him—is the master manipulator of all of this. So logic would have it, if this is truly the case—that Satan is standing around every corner just waiting to shove sugar in my path or he is sitting in my brain stimulating my desire for biscuits, Baby Ruth’s, and peanut brittle—then the only way to fight him is with prayer. After all, Satan tried to take on the Father, and he failed. He tried to tempt the Son, and he bombed that one too. So I think my only hope at conquering my sugar/refined foods addiction is to call on some help from the God. God vs. the Devil (cleverly disguised as the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man).  Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

Writer’s Block and Other Angst

Man writing with large pencil
From GraphicStock

My blog has been conspicuously silent over the past several weeks. I’d like to blame my writing inertia on the Taliban, or ISIS, or breast cancer, the worldwide epidemic of raping women, or suicide—all issues I either read about, talk about, or mourn over. I find each of these events so depressing in an all-consuming manner because they are so horrifying that mental paralysis sets in. I’m not trying to make light of any of these topics or others (e.g., school shootings, the Presidential race, human trafficking). In fact, I am so sensitive that I take these stories into my soul and wonder about mankind in general. How can one human being be so cruel to another human being?

Although these stories do get to me, I cannot use them as an excuse as to why I have stopped writing. Other excuses aren’t the reason for my hiatus either. Yes, we just had summer break. Yes, we took vacation. And, yes, the kids are now back in school (for better or for worse). No excuse. I have been able to write during these events before. When I’m on fire, I can write in a hotel room, carpool, and even during a church service (don’t repeat that please). Hell, I was even able to write during a hurricane once . Now, that is fortitude.

The truth is I think I have had a bout of writer’s block. (Gasp!) I want to write, particularly for this blog, but I can’t seem to find my voice or a compelling reason to write. The more I fixate on the fact that it’s been X number of days since I’ve written a blog, the more it just fertilizes the angst until my writer’s block is the size of Jack’s beanstalk—minus the gold goose, of course. I know there is a scientific name for this—you know, something like inaction breeding only inaction. I am no scientist.

So, what does a former teacher/professor of English and writing do? She googles (yes, now a verb) writer’s block to see if she can get unstuck. It is no surprise that I find a slew of books on how to deal with writer’s block. These are famous books by famous people like Peter Elbow, Natalie Goldberg, and Anne Lamont. They talk about their own problems with writer’s block and then offer solutions and writing prompts to get those wordy juices flowing again.

The funny thing about writer’s block is that writers find it so commonplace that they make jokes about it. I’m not kidding. Punch in writer’s block on Pinterest and you will journey to the land known as “Painful (yet funny) Subculture of Writing.” The new mantra for writer’s block is the following definition: “Writer’s block: When your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.” Humorous, yet there is a lot of truth in that because fiction writers often feel as if they have multiple personalities screaming insane thoughts at them. And, cartoonists like Charles Schultz (Peanuts), Gary Larson (The Far Side) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbs) succinctly add their amusing slant to this awful but inevitable experience.

People have “invented” items to help with the blockage of the pen. From Aqua Notes (water proof writing pad for the shower) to Magnetic Poetry in a Jar to perfume and lotions with a “paperback” scent, marketing geniuses are capitalizing on this sad state of creative affairs.

This one company has manufactured a soap and a candle to help. They claim, “Soap for writer’s block: Smells like regurgitated ideas and probably a vampire.” The Whiskey River Soap Company’s promo reads,

Tired of feeling like a bone-dry hack? So the wordsmith’s well has run dry? Try this specially-crafted Writer’s Block candle. If this candle doesn’t help you churn out regurgitated ideas and probably a vampire, I’ll eat my hat. It’s a fedora, by the way. Cool vampires wear fedoras now. Put that in your crack pipe and smoke it. Or in your book. Either way, you’re gonna need this candle ASAP. Your ideas are terrible. Cheap whiskey scented Net Weight: Approximately 17 oz. Burn time: 60 hours …. Product Code: HACKCANDLE

I love the stream of consciousness flair! You can even buy a magnet that reads, “Back away from the fridge. Good. Now go back to your desk and start writing.” Yes, overdoing it with food and drink is almost always a side effect of this illness.

I am happy to report that in researching writer’s block and sharing my findings with you, I have become unblocked. The ideas are beginning to flow…sometimes like a picturesque river and sometimes like a toilet. But, at least it is all flowing again.

More Mom Guilt: An Aversion to Summer Learning

Boy tired of playing his portable game console.
Picture from GraphicStock

It’s the middle of July, and in the Turner household we have reached new heights in the aversion to anything that might possibly be related to learning or school.

Seriously, I took my kids to the library once this summer, and they sat around playing in the toddler area until I was finished finding my own books. How embarrassing was that? I thought I would find them sitting on the floor in the young adult section engrossed in some fascinating story. Instead, they were competing to build the tallest tower with Legos, just laughing away like it was recess, while the normally serene children’s librarian was sending eyeball death rays to the back of their heads. I had to do the whisper-scream to get their attention and shuffle them out. I am pretty sure their faces are plastered on the Fort Bend Library site warning librarians all over the county to been the look out for these toddler-like tweens. Now you know why I only took them once.

The other day my teen, who sleeps like 15 hours, had an Oscar-winning meltdown when I was explaining something that involved percentages. It was nothing complicated, I promise.  We were talking about those who rank in the top 10 percent of their class.  “I hate percents!” she screamed. I think she had an automatic visceral reaction to math. The irony is she is a stellar math student.

I blame technology. My kids are all woefully addicted to anything with a screen. In fact, last night I picked up my middle child from two weeks of Girl Scout camp (no technology allowed—heck, no air conditioning in Texas), and the very first thing she said after the welcoming bear hug was, “Where’s my phone?” Where’s my phone? Not one word about earning her certification in canoeing; not one story about how she was introduced to riflry or how many bull’s eyes she made in archery. Nothing about the intense friendships she formed over two weeks with some pretty neat girls from all over world. Nope. It was, “Where is my phone?” I wanted to say, “Hum, I last saw it at the bottom of the pool.”

My son is even worse. He passed into full-blown technology addiction four years ago, and he’s only 10. I fear that he will end up like one of those twenty-somethings sitting in an adult diaper so he can play endless rounds of some shoot-‘em-up computer game. I fear someone will find him in his dorm room (if he even makes it to college) passed up from dehydration with the game controller in his hands.

It may sound as if we have no rules or limits. No, we do, but I have to admit I have been a little loosey-goosey about them myself. Texas in the summer is like Minnesota in the winter. Most days the heat index is around 108 degrees, and so we are housebound until about 5 when we head to the neighborhood pool. We have no TV in our house, and so the kids do spend a lot of time playing video games and watching YouTube. And, as an older mom, my energy for policing devices and the fights that ensue from them is zapped by noon. Sometimes, I just shut off the Internet and send them into the streets to “play like we did in the 70s.”

Of course, the mom guilt meter is registering EXTREME: SEEK MENTAL HELP. This is especially true when I hear the following from some of my friends:

  • Susan has read almost 50 books this summer. She just loves reading.
  • I signed my kids up for an on-line class on government studies just for fun.
  • My kids spend an hour a day on mental math exercises. Last week we were working on pre-calculus.
  • My kids are always begging me to take them to the science museum.
  • Janie has completed an entire portfolio of paintings and sketches.

Arggghhh! My kids do fairly well in school, but they are not that kid practicing for the geography or spelling bee all summer. None of them has touched an instrument once. They pretend they are playing an educational game on-line, but I’ve discovered it is just Minecraft. Their favorite thing is to go on YouTube and watch other people play video games. They just laugh and laugh over the most inane commentaries.

I guess what I am trying to say is that they are not self-starters in the educational realm, and as a non-helicopter mom, I have failed to motivate them or push them or threaten them into any formal learning this summer. Thus, the guilt. So, I get depressed wondering if my kids will end up like Chris Farley use to say on SNL, “living in a van down by the river.” Yeah, my mind works in extremes like that.

But, today I have pushed aside the guilt and have psyched myself into believing it is not too late to salvage some summer learnin’. So, now am I venturing to the local parent-teacher store wearing my Super Mom cape in search of workbooks and flashcards. I am the Mom of Steel. I have already compiled my responses to the inevitable whines and pushbacks. There will be no turning back. Wish me luck.  I’m going to need it.

Let me know what your kids are doing to preserve their brains this summer.

 

Independence Day: Celebrating and Desiring Freedom

4th-of-july-american-independence-day-flyer_Gynb5_DO_L

Celebrating the 4th of July was a big event in my family when I was growing up. It was all very wholesome and Americana: Cousins, aunts, uncles, babies, kids, BBQ, hotdogs, bathing suits, games, and, of course, fireworks. Amazing memories that I am blest to have.

As a kid, however, I really did not understand what it was we were celebrating. Yes, I knew about the Declaration of Independence, George Washington, Paul Revere, the Minutemen, and Betsy Ross. I loved that part of our history. It was so exciting to think that people rebelled against a tyrannical government and secured freedom for its people. Let’s face it—it’s nice to be a part of the winning team.

What I did not understand until much later in life was this radical notion of freedom and how very unusual it was in the Western world at the time. Freedom to self-govern, freedom to worship however we wish, freedom to own property, freedom from undue governmental burdens, and so much more. As an adult, I am profoundly grateful for these freedoms, but I do believe we have miles to go before we have true freedom in this country or any country. These are the freedoms for which I still long:

  • Freedom for my children to play outside, ride their bikes, and go to the mall without fear that someone will take them and defile and kill them.
  • Freedom for me—a woman—to take a walk alone at night.
  • Freedom for my nieces and nephews who are biracial to live without discrimination, hate, and vile epithets.
  • Freedom for teachers to concentrate on curriculum, instruction, and meeting individual needs of students; thus, freedom from the anxiety of standardized tests.
  • Freedom from taking off my shoes in airport security.
  • Freedom from identity theft.
  • Freedom to wear whatever clothing is customary for my culture and religion without mockery or stares or worse.
  • Freedom of schools and teachers to focus on instruction instead of how to “shelter in place” in the event a madman with a gun infiltrates the campus.
  • Freedom for a young woman to go to a bar or fraternity party without the fear that someone will drug their drink or rape them.
  • Freedom from white hoods and burning crosses.
  • Freedom from concealed weapons.

I know that each of you could add to this list, and I encourage you to do so.  I understand that most of these freedoms will probably never exist while we are here on Earth. Mankind is flawed, and the reality is that humans have always done horrible things to their fellow humans. This is not utopia. This is not heaven. However, if we could eliminate even a portion of these problems, we would be continuing the work that we celebrate today. In a way, the list of freedoms I present is my own Declaration of Independence.