Tuesday, November 11, 2014

PBS PREVIEWS: THE WAR | Extended Preview | PBS

When I was a kid, our neighborhoods were full of world war two vets, and some world war one vets too. They're almost all gone now. I wish now we'd understood them better back then, and what they had gone through. It boggles my mind to think of all those young men, and women, plucked from farms, small towns, tenements,  and sent off to strange foreign countries to face unthinkable horror every day. If you haven't seen the Ken Burns' documentary The War, it's one of the best I know of for taking you into the minds of these men.

We still expect this of men today, to give up their lives young in wars, no questions asked. #LestWeForget

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lena Dunham

Here's my wholly amateur armchair analysis of Lena Dunham. While the language in the passages (of her book Not That Kind of Girl) about her sister make me a little uncomfortable, I see it as the typical dark-sick New York humor of young writers. It softens with age. She is not a narcissist. She is a self-reflector. Narcissism leads one to toxic self-love and denial (Jian Ghomeshi). Self-reflection leads one to the conclusion that "I'm a schmuck too sometimes, like everyone else." It leads to self-acceptance. I found the comment by her co-star Allison Williams interesting, that Dunham deliberately makes herself look less attractive on TV than in real life. There's something noble and generous about that.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Even though I'm sure Ghomeshi is guilty, based on the testimony I've heard/read and barring any last minute earth-shattering exculpatory evidence from Ghomeshi, I reserve the right to take every such case on a case-by-case basis in the future and think for myself. I'm disheartened by the smug, self-congratulatory tone of the hardcore anti-Ghomeshi twitter bullies (although pretty sure the pro-Ghomeshi bullies would have been as bad and probably worse).  If these women get justice and the system is reformed to be fairer, that's a very good thing. If we come to a clearer understanding of consent, that's a good thing. If we make men understand the peril we can be in just walking down the street and the damage done to us in sexual assault and any followup police or court action, that's a good thing.  There's not much else to feel happy about in this sad and ugly situation.

It's not true that if you reserve judgment it means you don't believe the accusers, as some suggest, or support the accused. It means you're waiting for enough information to make a wise and prudent judgment about what to believe. In reading and discussing this case, I've seen the phrase, "women don't lie," and been told by someone who actually knew very little about the case, "women just know." Which women? Let's identify them so we can turn to them and them alone whenever things are complicated and murky.  The women in 17th  century Salem? The woman involved in the 1920s Duluth lynchings and those who supported her? Those who supported McCarthyism? Those involved in the coverage and prosecution of the McMartin preschool case? Those who supported Tawana Brawley?  Who thought in 2003 the Iraq war was a good idea, and believed the government when it declared the war won?  Those two bitches in your office who whisper and snicker behind their hands whenever you pass by?

The culture and justice system are geared towards rapists over victims, and we need to be sympathetic and helpful to all alleged victims and try to change things. Statistically speaking, they are probably telling the truth. But that doesn't mean we have to set aside critical thinking and not ask questions, not think for ourselves. We are all human beings, men and women, limited and flawed, and acknowledging that might help us make progress towards a better understanding between all genders and a better system to deal with the conflicts. It won't be perfect, can't be, but it can be better.

Update:   I just heard this from a friend, not the first time I've heard it this week, "I reserve the right to believe the women." They're the kind of people you hope rape victims will have around after an attack, and chances are, they're right. It's a bit of a contradiction after what I just said, but it makes me happy to hear that, because I want women who report assaults to feel believed, comforted, safe, allied. But they didn't say I had to believe, automatically, before I know anything. A few people have, some not so nicely.  It's dangerous in the long run and I think the Ghomeshi public media trial showed it's not necessary. The power of the internet in this case was bringing people forward to offer evidence and testimony, connecting them, and drawing attention to the way sexual assault cases are viewed and prosecuted, not in two sides bullying each other into trying to make the other see it their way, or at least say they do. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Yes I Said Yes I Said Yes

Things are different now.

Or they should be.

For my generation and those before, consent was an unspoken negotiation that happened progressively.  A guy put his arm around you in the back of a dark theater. If you didn't say no, or push it off, or shift away, that was considered implied consent to continue to the next step, a kiss, and so on.

Boys did not feel they should, or could, or had to, ask, "Can I kiss you?" "Do you want to have sex?" It could put the girl in the uncomfortable position of admitting that she did, and everything around us told us that made us loose.  We were expected to pretend we didn't, at least until marriage.

We girls did not feel we could simply say, "You can kiss me." It would have been seen as forward and slutty.

It still is by too many people.

I've had several conversations with men the last week about consent.  I listen to men now, without shouting them down, because shouting gets us nowhere. Men get a lot of mixed messages about this, from women, from each other, from the media.  When was the last time you saw someone ask for consent in a rom-com? The big romantic kiss almost always comes spontaneously, and yes, this can be romantic--with someone you know, trust and find attractive.  Otherwise?  It could be sexual assault.  Don't take the chance.

I get how confusing and murky it is to men.  But it shouldn't be.  Asking for consent can be very romantic and sexy.  This is great:

Women have to feel free and powerful enough to be able to say Yes without being slut-shamed. Women, if you're afraid a guy will judge you if you're honest about what you want and don't want, he's not a guy you want to be with, despite what a fluttery heart might tell you. It will only get worse. You'll have no power in that relationship, and no real communication.

I have a feeling Ghomeshi's defense, if this case goes to court, will focus in part on some kind of "implied consent." Which is bullshit. If you grab a woman's hair hard, uninvited, and she doesn't protest, this is not implied consent to proceed. She might well, and for good reason, be afraid to say no lest it mean an escalation in violence. Even if she says, "Yes, I want this," it's not consent because you are physically threatening her at the time.

And it's pretty hard to say no if you're being choked.

No gray area here.  There is no way Ghomeshi couldn't know this, even if he hadn't been a women's studies major in college.

Agreeing to be alone with a guy, drinking with him, flirting with him, are not consent.

And consent can be revoked at any time.  That doesn't make the woman a "cock tease."

If you're worried about your blue balls, well, that's why God gave you hands.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No Reasonable Doubt

I hate trial by media and twitter. It's dangerous and unfair. But if victims of sexual abuse, and so many of them, can't go to the police for courts and justice, where can they go?

Once I heard this woman tell her story in her own words, I was ready to convict.  Now, so many more.  What does it say about our procedures for treating sexual assault that so many women did not file charges?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Men, Women, Sex, Consent and Jian Ghomeshi

I'm about to step into controversy again. I don't know why I can't keep my big mouth shut and stay safe. It's not like people are beating down my door for my valuable opinions. But when I see angles that aren't being covered and know things that aren't being said, I can't keep quiet for long.  If I do, I make myself sick.

This latest compulsion started with two events. First, reading about the Jian Ghomeshi case.  If he was using kink and consent  as a cover to beat women because that's the only way he can get off, to hell with him.  But I don't want to fry anyone without a thorough examination and hearing from all sides. I think it's possible to be sympathetic and understanding of the accusers without presuming anyone's guilt until we have as much information as possible. For the record, I don't know him, don't recall ever listening to his show, and my only contact was once sending his show a press release about an Iranian human rights campaign I was involved with. (I didn't get a response.)

The second thing that sparked me up was re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird.
I wonder how the Tom Robinson-Mayella Ewell case, with its emotionally fraught issues of race, class, sex, and gender, would play out in today's world.

Yes, it was a fictional case but it was inspired by many true cases. When I was a child, men, and sometimes women, were still being lynched on untried and patently false charges. Black men and other minorities were particular targets of untried rape charges that led to lynching. Accusations were brought  despite the fact that women were horribly shamed, stigmatized and victim-blamed not just for consensual sexual behavior but for being raped.

It's better now, but in essence, these things still go on to varying degrees.

I know what it is to be the victim of attempted sexual abuse and have known since I was a kid and a male babysitter tried to molest me. I told my mother, she told his mother, and every time that woman saw me in public she said loudly, "There's that little liar, Sparkle Hayter." I know what it is to be date-raped by a boyfriend and derided, victim-blamed and emotionally abused for it.  I know what it is to be the subject of nasty online harassment and gaslighting.  I know the powerful pressures on women to be "good girls."  I understand why women are afraid to come forward.

I know what it is to be a public figure and have people envy it, try to exploit it, to subject me to intense scrutiny, and go out of the way to pull me down. I know what it is to feel envy, to feel unjustly thwarted, and try to even the score.

I know what it is to be colluded against and lied about by girls, women, boys, men to protect themselves or promote themselves and their agendas--and sometimes for sheer sadistic pleasure. Anyone who has come up against a clique of powerful, popular kids knows this.  It only gets worse as you get older, when those popular kids are richer, more powerful, better connected, have more access to and control of society's institutions, and have more to lose.

I know what it feels like to learn you've been tried in absentia and in secret, to not know what the specific charges are, to have no chance to defend against them or face one's accusers.   I know how badly one can get burned by trying to fight fire with fire, or indirect fire with indirect fire.  If you're not as savvy and strategic as your adversaries, you can get badly burned, and feel shitty about yourself to boot. I know how hard it is to just walk away and move on.

I understand that men and women are different, they're treated differently by society, by their own gender and by the other(s).  Sexism is not the exclusive province of men. I know that evolution made men with a steady drum beat of sexual desire, whereas for women it fluctuates with hormonal changes.  It's easier for men to have orgasms than women, for physical and psychological reasons, and great inequalities arise from this.

I know that many people are squeamish about sex, and how not being able to discuss it openly, for fear of stigmatization or condemnation or because of sexist expectations, leads to gross misunderstandings between men and women on issues like consent. A woman may be reluctant to consent in a forthright way because she'll look pushy or slutty. Men may find a bold statement of consent or invitation slutty or even threatening.

I know how women are encouraged to talk themselves into being in love because they've had sex, because sex under the banner of love is more acceptable than sex for its own sake. I know what it is to be told someone loves you in order to get sex, then be cast off callously. I know what it is to feel victimized after the fact, and want to get even.

I know how self-interest and other biases can cloud my judgment.

I understand how frustrating it must be for men to hear women talk about how we want to be treated as equals with no double standards, while accused rapists are named and accusers are unnamed. I understand why this is done (see victim-blaming and slut-shaming, above), and how painful this is for women in a society that is still patriarchal, a word I use economically, and unequal, a society that still judges us largely on attributes like sexual attractiveness, maternal competency and traditional good girl qualities.  At the same time, men are also judged by superficial criteria, like the size of their wallets (ability to provide for women and children),  their power in the wider world, and even their looks (to a lesser degree).

I don't have the answers and I don't mean to imply I'm morally superior.  I'm not. I don't want to encourage promiscuity in young men or women, because sex is fraught with dangers, especially for women, and the odds of a happy ending, especially for women, are not good.

These are talking points based on the experiences I've had in my many lives over what feels like a very long time.  The one thing I can say with confidence is that I've tried to follow the advice of Atticus Finch and walk in the shoes of others before judging.  That, and the suggestion that we all have a deep, honest and patient discussion of these issues, are the only answers I can offer.

Want to discuss? We're doing that on Facebook, here.

Update:  Other women have now come forward, and one was brave enough to speak about it on the radio so you can her story from her, here.

Update: Lucy DeCoutere, a well known and respected Canadian actress, has now come forward.