Disproportionately Large Emotions from Search Terms that Lead to my Blog

This is potentially the most interesting search term that has ever come up as having led someone to my blog:

do abusers not want to be alone

Man, that sentence causes me pain. I only write indirectly about the experience of violence and abuse, and now my struggle is almost entirely based on escaping from the mental patterns that result from having been abused in the past, not about actually getting away from an abusive partner or family member. I think I’m struggling, I think I have a lot of cognitive traps from which I still need to escape (and obviously, I do), but that sentence smacks me in the face with a denial-force that I can’t even imagine feeling at this point.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I hear someone who desperately wants to understand an abuser, either because s/he is in an abusive relationship s/he can’t figure out how to leave/has just left and is struggling with emotionally, or cares about someone who is going through that very process. I hear someone looking for answers to why abuse happens and how someone can hurt another person so goddamn badly and what the hell might be going through that abuser’s head, because the abuser just seems so completely not human and that’s not a tolerable thought for someone who is. Human, I mean.

Again, maybe I’m reading too much into that search term. But I know people who are thinking those things, and that just reminded me of it, which in turn made me really, really sad.

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Hope & Strength

I think a lot about charity, in all senses of the word. That much is presumably apparent from reading any single post on this blog. As to faith, I probably think more about that than any other single topic in my life–if there were a competition in my brain for the most frequently contemplated individual word, it would be a close finish between “faith” and “serenity”.

Of the cardinal virtues, that leaves hope out. I have been struggling a lot lately, in a variety of ways, and at least part of the struggle is due to the attempt not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering around me. Many of the people I love most are in incredible amounts of pain right now, for whatever reason. And it hurts to see it.

I’m not a strong person. I get mistaken for a strong person a lot of the time, because I’m a loud person and I’m an outspoken person and I’m an opinionated person. But I am absolutely not strong. I say this, and I connect it to hope, faith, charity and the relative role of each of those virtues because I’m recognizing my “charity”–my activism, my outreach, my concern for others, my support to friends–as the mere surface of what matters. In order to have made any steps toward having faith–having faith in a God who can restore me to health, having faith that not only can there be happiness and joy in this world, I can participate in both giving and feeling it–I had to have hope that it was possible for something to be different. In my life as well as in the world. In order to behave charitably to others–materially, emotionally, spiritually–I have to have faith that, well, it matters.

The charity is built on the faith is built on the hope, but as I’ve progressed in my spiritual life, I’ve forgotten how to go back to the beginning of the loop, to cultivate the hope. My charitable behaviour is actually a manifestation of my weakness rather than of my strength–I can be loud and outspoken and assertive…when the problem is not staring me in the face. I can be mistaken for strong because I’m charitable with situations that don’t require me to really feel the pain all that deeply, to really be conscious of someone else’s difficulties. I’m good with empathy and I’m good with getting pissed off at invisible people who might be hurting these people.

But then I get to the pain that I see in the people around me, and it’s the kind of core, driving pain that has no obvious source, and I get to the stuff I’m struggling with in my own life, the stuff that is so deeply rooted and that still manages to find new ways to damage me, and I just have no idea what to do about any of it. Because I haven’t really even figured out how to hope yet.

My favourite quote from the entire Sandman run is when Morpheus is in the “one thing defeats the next” competition in hell, and at the very end of the exchange, you get the demon, thinking he’s won, with a facial expression that says “I’ve got you, I’ve trapped you, you are mine”, saying:

I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgement. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

To which Morpheus reponds:

I am hope.

It’s Morpheus’ face that makes this so perfect–he knows he’s won, but without the smugness of the demon. His victory is a victory that is something, but that only leads to more work. Because that’s what hope does–it inevitably leads to faith and to charity and yes, when it’s real, to victory. But in the form of work.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the work without cultivating the hope, and while it’s possible, it’s what makes me fundamentally not strong.

What Is Wrong With You People?

I understand very, very little about the political implications of the Benazir Bhutto assassination. I’m of the general opinion that killing people is bad, and that murdering her and a dozen or so other individuals is pretty much just staggeringly fucked up. I just don’t know what to say beyond that. What I do understand well enough to talk about is the “what the hell is wrong with you people” factor of Time and CNN.

Time’s obituary for Bhutto uses the tagline

Almost an iconic figure in the West, the Pakistani politician never truly figured out how to exercise her power

What the hell does that even mean? I really want to unpack just that phrase, but I find it so convoluted, and in the context of a woman who was just murdered, more than a little victim-blaming. She never really figured it out? Like, she was just kinda slow on the uptake on how this “power” thing worked? Not that, you know, her power was seriously limited by the presence of people around her who were willing to go so far as to kill her in order to prevent her from “exercising” it.

And here’s the phrase from the obituary that fills me with boiling rage (emphasis mine):

However, in the final analysis, her career was an almost tawdry cycle of exile, house arrest, ascent into power and dismissal, much sound and fury and signifying little.

It’s like the American news media just has to see things as soap operas. Like their/our brains have been so addled by casual entertainment that exile and house arrest, the constant presence of violence (having seen multiple family members executed or murdered), threats, rampant misogyny and innumerable other insanities have to be slotted in to a narrative style that makes such things trite. Tawdry. Ho-hum. I saw that on Days last year–couldn’t you people write a better storyline? Exile went out with Napoleon.

Not to mention that again, there is some serious victim-blaming going on here. As though she actively engineered such a tawdry career. The woman was just murdered, and already we have to talk about why she wasn’t good enough, why she didn’t do enough, how all she could do was act as a figure, an icon. Sound and fury.

Well, this is a tale told by an idiot.

And About that “Yes Means Yes” Thing…

Today’s earlier post was mainly designed to situate myself in a given context, without really spelling out my opinion on the issue itself, but I’ve also been thinking about the Yes Means Yes book proposal/call for submissions itself. The language of the call is one thing, the response to criticism of the concept is another, but then there’s that…the concept.

On the surface, I’m all for teaching “enthusiastic consent”, or whatever you want to call it. I think it’s really really important to be teaching boys and men what it means to actually respect a sexual partner, really solidly emphasizing the definition of mutuality and consent, and getting far, far away from the idea that women “play” hard to get or good girls don’t or seduction is part of the point or whatever whatever whatever. But there’s a caveat to the importance of that message, and it’s a big one: who are we talking to, here?

The relevant target audience for that particular message is boys (or young men…or, hell, older men if they’re even still a little bit teachable). It’s not feminists, and it’s not women. It has a role in women’s discussion of sexual violence, sure, but that role is mainly in recovery, not in prevention. I kind of didn’t get it initially when I read the critique that suggested (among many other things) that all this was doing was placing an emphasis on women who felt pressured to consent to do so more “enthusiastically”, but the more I think about that, the more it makes sense.

Rape culture includes these notions of male virility, sexual potency and dominance at the same time as it incorporates messages that women require coercion and convincing in order to enjoy sex. So targeting a collection of essays about rape prevention at women by focusing on announcing female sexual enjoyment is something, but it seems like we’re putting the cart before the horse, here. Because as long as we’ve skipped the part where we actually teach these misguided young men the true meaning of consent, and the part where we mention that breaking down her “defenses” and “scoring” and competition and etc etc etc are not actually a de facto presumed part of sex or even, possibly, the best part of sex, and the part where we acknowledge that in many, many cases, this “excuse” is total bullshit, then I can absolutely imagine being in a scenario where I know that what the man I’m not entirely interested in fucking wants to hear from me is that he’s the best I’ve ever had and that I just can’t resist and that I’ve been turned with one switch into exactly the little porn star he’s always wanted, and I know that it’s a hell of a lot easier just to act that part than it is to really try to assert that I’m not all that interested…and then we’re right back where we started, aren’t we?

Defining rape is really, really important. To my mind, being able to define instances when I’ve been raped has been a huge part of the battle…in my recovery. In at least a couple of cases, including the first and by far the most physically violent, I didn’t actually say “no”, and it was damned important for me to recognize all the ways I was communicating my lack of consent without actually using that word. But that’s all after the fact. Targeting this at me, or even targeting this at younger women who are still learning that it’s okay to be a sexual entity, it’s not up to them to play out the standard hard-to-get good girl script, and who haven’t yet learned the asserting boundaries concept is not the key to dismantling rape culture. It’s just not.

There’s a difference between feminism that centralizes and genuinely empowers women and feminism that continues to place the onus for problems on the shoulders of the women who are affected by it in the first place. And while I’ve been somewhat hesitant to declare an opinion in any of these issues, and I’ve been inclined to sit back and say “well, what the hell do I know anyway, and isn’t it arrogant of me to say I can tell one way or another, and I’m just a nobody while the women who are writing these things are clearly so much better than me so I should just shut up”, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, point blank, that this is one of the latter.

I wrote a post a few months ago on the Hathor feminism site called Feminist Victim-Blaming. I think the points I made there stand with respect to this kind of thing as well. Telling women that if we can just be feminist enough, if we just embrace our own sexuality enough, if we just assert ourselves, if we just acknowledge our enjoyment of sex and use our willingness to dismantle the gatekeeper imagery, if, if, if…well, it’s still about what women can do to keep themselves from being assaulted and abused and hurt, isn’t it? Which is not to say women can do nothing, and we need to sit back and wait for the men to do all the work and let’s-create-another-false-dichotomy of the issue, but…

Here’s what I said then, and I think it applies to this idea as well:

Feminism represents strength and empowerment for women collectively, but it can’t provide a cloak and shield for individual women. At best, I’ve got some added knowledge of the early warning signs of abusive behaviour, but my feminist club membership kit didn’t come with a beeper that detects the “abusive entitled asshole” level in every individual I encounter.

The number of times/number of guys to whom I say yes and the extent to which I understand that only yes, yes, yes is enjoyable sex is not going to help me if and when I meet one of the guys who not only doesn’t give a crap what I say, but who would actually rather I put up a bit of a fight, because it makes him feel like more of a man. And I think lots of these women know it and miss it anyway, just as they missed it when they were blaming the feminist victim because it was way more fun to giggle and say “feminists do it better”.

No, seriously: Can we do this?

From Rainbow Girl:

I propose adding an “asshole or not” section the the LSAT in order to prevent morons like this from entering the profession. Basic questions, like “Your country has a law that states that 10-year olds cannot consent to sex. Therefore, can a judge rule that a ten-year old consented to sex?” can be added to see if applicants understand simple logic in addition to complex logic. For every wrong answer, points will be deducted by striking the applicant’s head with a rubber chicken. With a brick in it.

It was a while ago that an Australian judge ruled that a ten-year-old aboriginal girl who was gang-raped by nine men “probably” consented. I honestly wish I could say that I still found this surprising, which is why I often say nothing at all, but seriously: there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between what is actually in the law and what happens in sexual violence cases in every single country in the world.

If you’ve read the post below, you may have noted that my vocabulary has maybe shifted a bit again…I guess this kind of thing is why, because words beyond “what the fuck is up with that?” completely fail me.

In Which I Take A Side (or, When Feminists Don’t Get It)

I haven’t been long for reading the feminist blogosphere. It’s been maybe a year or so, but as with everything else I do, I’ve thrown myself into it pretty whole-heartedly, despite my late bloomer status. So I started off somewhat enamoured of the big names. I’m also a white twenty-something, well-educated and raised in a middle class family, so initially the issues they confront and their style suited me just fine.

In general, I’m not much for confrontation, which is on the list of reasons it’s fortunate nobody knows who I am. Being mostly invisible, it’s not like anybody’s looking to me to say “hey, I wonder what Purtek thinks of this?” so I have no obligation to write on whatever standard stuff is going around. And blog or no blog, I have no illusions about the fact that if anyone does read me, it’s not really because they’re that interested in me per se.

Which sets up both my irrelevance and my naiveté well enough, I hope, that I can now ask: how is it that feminists can manage to miss the point so freaking badly? How is it that they can’t see just how much they sound like all the men who have ever dismissed women as hysterical, irrelevant, special issues? So that when WOC start pointing out that claiming that a book about “empowering female sexuality” is not exactly the be-all-and-end-all of rape prevention that the marketing suggests, and that a book talking about how only yes means yes is unlikely to include stories of rape used in environments of blatant hate, in war, by authority figures, on reserves, and, given the publicity the book might get, that a book like this certainly acts to help in privileging the voices of a certain kind of feminist, certain kind of voice, certain kind of woman.

And excuse me, but fuck that. How can we not hear ourselves when we say “You’re not the target audience of this book” to WOC, when the subject of the book is why feminism is relevant today, in real people’s lives? How can we not hear that when we say “Go write your own”, or “The next one will be about you” that we’re might as well be quoting our own fucking bingo cards? What the hell is wrong with people who are well-versed in the impact vs. intent theory — for fuck’s sakes, the book Yes Means Yes emerges practically verbatim from discussions of this concept — but who still say things like “You’re really arguing more with the rhetorical posturing than the idea behind the book. I don’t think they’re trying to promote feminist in-fighting or denying radical feminist theory at all.” (Amanda Marcotte, over here).

I have a number of related thoughts I want to explore, but in this post, maybe I’m just expressing my feminist coming-of-age or something…I’ve been embarrassed recently to admit some stuff that’s been sparking those lightbulb moments (embarrassed that it’s happening only now, embarrassed at the many that are still to come) but whatever…the problem I’m getting at here, and it’s one that’s been striking me for quite some time now, is: How the fuck is it that feminists, activists, brilliant people, can become completely incapable of holding that mirror back up against themselves? I fundamentally do not understand how some of these words can unironically emerge from the mouths of people who know. I just don’t understand, and maybe I hope I’m never going to be important enough (in whatever little corner of the world I operate) that I can even try.

For reference:
Magniloquence
Firefly
Black Amazon
Sudy
Sylvia

That’s not a comprehensive list, and there are links within those links, or follow-up posts by those same bloggers. But it gets you started, if that’s what you want.

The Invisible Abuser — Thoughts on Speaking Out and Knowing

I wrote this several hours ago and am wanting to publish something, but not feeling up to editing/re-reading anything, so here we are, thoughts unvarnished and edit-free. 

This place is currently a very, very secret chord, as I don’t have very many readers. I suspect this is at least partially due to the fact that I haven’t quite figured out my audience yet–I vary between wanting to write to the “advanced patriarchy blamers” on whose blogs I comment and whose traffic sometimes stops by here and using this as a space to work out arguments I need to make in real life, where sometimes it’s hard to even begin to express my political opinions through the layers of unquestioned conditioning. Maybe that’s not why nobody’s reading me, but regardless, it’s something that I struggle with as I’m finding my voice.

This is one of the latter. I had a rough week last week for a number of reasons, but one of them was that on Saturday, I attended a bit of an impromptu rally protesting hate crimes against LGBTQ people. The impetus behind it was that the preceding week, three 20-something year old men attacked, beat and yelled homophobic slurs at two men who were leaving the gay bar downtown. The incidents were separate–the perpetrators were the same, but the men weren’t leaving together, so these guys stuck around after beating the first guy to take on another. The hate crimes investigator for the Hamilton police department was at the rally, and indicated that he is aware of a staggering number of hate crimes against gay people that go unreported, and spoke very supportively encouraging people to come forward as part of erasing the invisibility of this violence.

The organizer of the event was rightfully pleased with the turnout that came together on one day’s notice, in the snow and on a not-very-warm December day. In addition to members of the LGBTQ community organizations, the police and the local media, people came from a couple of the unions or labour groups in town and made me fall a little bit more in love with Hamilton with what they said. The last thing the organizer said was “If we can do this much in a day, think how much we can do in a year?”

Which is a nice thought, but this is the one that made me depressed. Because unfortunately, it takes something in-your-face and on-the-surface and extreme to make most people bother to say anything, let alone pick up a sign and protest. The reality is that we can’t multiply that action by 365 in a year, because we can’t make people continue to care that much extra with every passing day that they’re not hearing about hate crimes and the kinds of violence and fear some people live with every day.

When I heard about these beatings, I was admittedly surprised that this level of blatant homophobia was right there down the street from me. I hear about this stuff all the time–on the internet. Not here, not right where I live. Not perpetrated by people I walk by–possibly even people that I talk to–every day. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I was surprised, because it isn’t like I really thought it had gone away.

What this kind of crime brings to the surface, for me, is just how much I’m uncomfortable admitting that I am in contact with people who actively participate in violence. This old post from Kate Harding is something I go back to repeatedly in thinking about why to bother saying something against the seemingly small manifestations of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. The choice quote:

‘Cause the thing is, you and the guys you hang out with may not really mean anything by it when you talk about crazy bitches and dumb sluts and heh-heh-I’d-hit-that and you just can’t reason with them and you can’t live with ‘em can’t shoot ‘em and she’s obviously only dressed like that because she wants to get laid and if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen and if they can’t play by the rules they don’t belong here and if they can’t take a little teasing they should quit and heh heh they’re only good for fucking and cleaning and they’re not fit to be leaders and they’re too emotional to run a business and they just want to get their hands on our money and if they’d just stop overreacting and telling themselves they’re victims they’d realize they actually have all the power in this society and white men aren’t even allowed to do anything anymore and and and…

I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.

But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates womento the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one. And you probably didn’t know which one he was.

And that guy? Thought you were on his side.

That line comes back into my head a hell of a lot of the time, and usually, it’s about fighting the sense of complacency, futility or irrelevance that pervades the universe, but for some reason, this week has brought out something else–that guy. I’ve talked to that guy. I have to have talked to that guy in the course of my daily life.

It’s not like I’m unaware of the invisibility of rapists/abusers when we talk about “abused women” and “survivors” and passive-voice them right out of the conversation. And it’s not like I don’t know that they don’t have a big scarlet “R” tattooed on their foreheads, and that they’re generally capable of pretending to be normal human beings. It’s not like I don’t know I’ve met rapists and abusers, since some of them have chosen to rape and abuse me.

But hell if I want to think about that when I’m interacting with people in my daily life. It’s one thing to think about my workplace as one in which it would be extremely unsafe to come out as queer (which is bad enough), or one in which gender role assumptions and fat-phobic and woman-shaming body expectations fly around literally constantly, and serious sexism pervades the treatment of our female boss, but it’s completely another to be constantly conscious of the possibility that someone in that office is actually going to beat his wife or rape the woman at the bar when he goes out tonight.

I can speak out against the little things and I can know the big things are out there. But a lot of the time my coping skills can’t handle knowing the big things that are right in front of me.