A Hellish Rebuke of the “Entrenched Self-Delusion” of Whiteness in the Wake of Charleena Lyles’ Murder

AngrySteamWoman

Image depicts a woman with fair skin and blonde hair looking indignant. There is steam coming out of her ears.

Less than a week ago, Seattle police shot and killed pregnant, 30-year-old Charleena Lyles in front of three of her children.

Making matters worse, the Seattle Times published heinous headlines describing Lyles simply as a “knife-wielding woman” (they later apologized), and SPD referred to Lyles in a Tweet as a “suspect” (she called them for help). SPD also later posted a video of Sergeant Sean Whitcomb playing a first-person-shooter (!!) video game called Destiny while he casually answered questions about the shooting. (Update: SPD decided to end the livestream following public reactions.)

Image depicts a Tweet made by the Seattle PD that shows an image of Sergeant Sean Whitcomb playing a first-person shooter video game. Above the image reads: "#FUZZFEED206: What we know so far about the ongoing investigation into Sunday's officer involved shooting." Below the image reads: "FUZZFEED #24 Charleena Lyles. Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, AKA VesperBat, provides a summary of the ongoing Seattle Police investigation into the June 18th officer involved shooting incident w..."

Image depicts a Tweet made by the Seattle PD that shows an image of Sergeant Sean Whitcomb playing a first-person shooter video game. Above the image reads: “#FUZZFEED206: What we know so far about the ongoing investigation into Sunday’s officer involved shooting.” Below the image reads: “FUZZFEED #24 Charleena Lyles. Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, AKA VesperBat, provides a summary of the ongoing Seattle Police investigation into the June 18th officer involved shooting incident w…”

The crude, tone-deaf mishandling of the events that unfolded in the aftermath of Lyles’ completely avoidable murder has been a continuation of the initial act of violence, especially for those in the immediate community. Unfortunately, institutions like SPD and the Times aren’t the only ones jockeying for control of the master narrative; white folks everywhere–even and especially “good, liberal” ones here in Seattle–have contributed by chiming in on social media conversations to insist that this shooting (and the countless others leading up to now) wasn’t about race.

Why do we feel so compelled to do this? What is at stake in making sure the official story of Lyles’ murder is about the knife or her mental health profile or whatever other red herring–anything but race?

Let’s start with some background. We know that police have proven themselves quite capable of disarming weapon-wielding white folks. In fact, SPD disarmed a man brandishing knives downtown as recently as March of this year–just three months before Lyles’ death. Last month in Portland, a man waving bloody knives while yelling racist slurs after having stabbed several people on a train was taken alive by police. Meanwhile, last week SPD shot and killed Tommy Le, who was wielding (wait for it) a pen

Nikkita Oliver, a local organizer and mayoral candidate, asks:

“Why is it white people struggling with mental health leave police encounters alive with assistance but black and brown peoples struggling with mental health are routinely executed? Why is it that white ‘suspects’ who have committed acts of violence are routinely apprehended alive but so many unarmed black and brown peoples have been killed?”

Tests like Harvard’s Implicit Assessment Tests (take this now and often if you haven’t already!) show us that implicit bias is alive and well and probably plays a pretty big role in the discrepancy Oliver describes. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports:

“[A]bout 70 percent of those who took a version of the test that measures racial attitudes have an unconscious, or implicit, preference for white people compared to blacks. This contrasts with figures generally under 20 percent for self report, or survey, measures of race bias.”

Very simply, how racist we think we are is not the same thing as how racist we actually are. In the words of Anthony Greenwald, one of the test’s creators, “[w]hen you are unaware of attitudes or stereotypes, they can unintentionally affect your behavior.” Every single white person in this country has been soaking in cultural programming that conditions us and primes us to have these biases. 

Here’s the deal: If we aren’t aware of our biases, if we aren’t deliberately working to deprogram ourselves, we walk around in the world doing unintentional and very real harm. Heck, we do harm even when we are working actively on deprogramming. The problem is, this harm is amplified when we bring our unexamined implicit bias with us into places like classrooms, courtrooms, and police forces. (Let Jerry Kang tell you all about it in this video.) The good news is we can at least reduce the harm we do by being more self-critical and self-aware.

The bad news is that it’s pretty uncomfortable (spoiler: we’ll survive). Most people–especially those of us with privilege–are made pretty uneasy by the idea that we don’t really know ourselves, which is why many of us work so hard to avoid self-knowledge. It turns out ignorance is at the heart of privilege, and it’s an awfully cruel luxury. The survival of people of color often depends on how well they know white folks and meanwhile we think our survival depends on avoiding discomfort.

Ijeoma Oluo gives the idea of survival and self-knowledge a searing, nuanced treatment in her February 2017 article, “White People: I Don’t Want You to Understand Me Better, I Want You to Understand Yourselves:”

“Your survival has never depended on your knowledge of white culture. In fact, it’s required your ignorance. The dominant culture does not have to see itself to survive because culture will shift to fit its needs. This shift is cheaper and easier when you don’t look too closely at how it’s being accomplished — if you never ask who is picking up the check. And no, you hardly see us at all — even if you love us. You can’t; we don’t exist as whole people in most of the places that you have been getting your information from.

“And as much as I’d like you to see me — as much as I’d like systemic racism to simply be a problem of different groups not seeing each other — I need you to see yourself, really see yourself, first. This is the top priority.”

So in our ignorance, we white people basically walk around releasing a constant stream of toxins at people of color, and most of us don’t even realize it.

That’s partially because we know we aren’t supposed to be racists: We know racists are bad people; we know we are not bad people, so we know we cannot possibly be racist. (See John Metta’s “I, Racist” for further unpacking of this idea.) If someone asked us to self-report if we were racist, most of us would respond with an emphatic no. This is what Oluo calls “entrenched self-delusion.”

Except we white people can’t just decide our way out of participating in and holding up white supremacy. Social conditioning and implicit bias prevent that; this is what some folks mean when they say that all white people are racist (we are). Regardless of our own self-image as non-racist people, we can and do still commit racist acts. Like, a lot.

And so here we are: Confronting the inherent racism in Charleena Lyles’ murder at the hands of police opens the door to the possibility that the rest of us probably hold similar biases. Charleena Lyles’ murder is what happens when you take centuries of implicit bias created by white supremacist conditioning and put it in body armor and give it weapons, impunity (Washington State has the most dangerous and regressive use-of-force laws in the country), and the option to choose not to carry non-lethal tools like tasers.

I’m not telling you anything new. As Oluo observes:

“People of color have been begging you to see what you are doing and why. We’ve been begging you to see what you came from and the true legacy you have inherited. We’ve begged you to see your boot on our necks as long as it’s been there.”


If we want real, lasting change, we must start by listening to people of color and believing them when they tell us what they’ve been acutely aware of all along: Yes, it’s about race. Yes, our programming kills them. Yes, our programming props up oppressive systems. Systems, after all, are designed by and made up of people with biases. Our systems kill.

It’s up to us to raze those systems to the ground.

There are a lot of ways to go about that, but one way is to begin by setting fire to our own conditioning. I hate to break it to you, but it’s going to be a slow burn and it needs to be a fire that never goes out. We will never be able to put down our torches and feel satisfied that the whole house has been burnt to ash because new rooms will always appear as the house continuously tries to rebuild itself.

We must look inward. Be vigilant. Believe Black women and femmes when they tell us that Charleena Lyles’ murder was about anti-blackness and the militarization/institutionalization of our shared implicit bias/cultural programming. When we argue, we do more harm. When we resist and deny and insist, we perpetuate the structural violence of racism.

We “good,” progressive, leftist white people in Seattle probably have more invested in the idea that we are not racist than the average US American, and that makes us and our “entrenched self-delusion” more dangerous than we could ever know. 

 

Image is a screenshot of a tweet from Ashley Black (@ashleyn1cole) and reads, "Casual racists become the juries that set murdering racists free. Don't abide casual racists. Challenge them. Ruin THanksgiving. Do something."

Image is a screenshot of a tweet from Ashley Black (@ashleyn1cole) and reads, “Casual racists become the juries that set murdering racists free. Don’t abide casual racists. Challenge them. Ruin Thanksgiving. Do something.”

 

[Please donate to Charleena Lyles’ Family’s Gofundme and respect the wishes of the family and Sand Point residents.]

 

 

 

 

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A Brief History of Argentine “Death Flights,” Their Renewed Glorification on College Campuses, and the Urgent Need for Historical Literacy

Between 1974 and 1983, Argentina’s military Junta took over the government for an extended period of state terrorism. During that time, there were death squads assembled and dispatched by the right-wing Junta; these death squads–also known as the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A, but not the kind most US Americans are used to calling for a roadside assist) hunted, disappeared, tortured, stole babies from, and experimented on those believed to be leftist dissidents: students, teachers, journalists, trade unionists, writers, artists, actors, and political organizers.

Of course, anyone could turn in their neighbor and sometimes they disappeared people (look at what happened to language–did you know a person could be disappeared?) who had nothing to do with anything, just to maintain their fear-based control.

This period of time was called La Guerra Sucia–the Dirty War. Estimates vary wildly in terms of how many people were ultimately disappeared during those years, but scholars think the range is somewhere between 13,000 and 30,000.  It is almost impossible to quantify, since so many people were simply never seen again and official channels deliberately obfuscated and destroyed any paper trail. They were, as they say, “extrajudicial” killings.

It was no use, either, trying to find loved ones’ bodies: sometimes their charred remains were poured into the pavement of busy city sidewalks, and sometimes their bodies–still very much alive at the time–were dumped into the sea on what the Junta would call vuelos de la muerte, or “death flights.” From Wikipedia:

Victims were sometimes made to dance for joy in celebration of the freedom that they were told awaited them. In an earlier interview, in 1996, Scilingo said, “They were played lively music and made to dance for joy, because they were going to be transferred to the south. […] After that, they were told they had to be vaccinated due to the transfer, and they were injected with Pentothal. And shortly after, they became really drowsy, and from there we loaded them onto trucks and headed off for the airfield.”[3] Scilingo said that the Argentine Navy was “still hiding what happened during the dirty war”.[4]

I am telling you this because yesterday a colleague posted this image to his Facebook page. He saw it on the University of Washington’s campus and knew at once that it was a reference to Argentine death flights.

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Image header reads “ANTI-COMMUNIST ACTION JOIN THE FIGHT!” and shows a black ring festooned with the words “ANTI-COMMUNIST ACTION” surrounding an image of a helicopter throwing a person into the sky, on top of a waving flag. Below, the text reads: “We are a group of dedicated freedom fighters united against the growing threat from communists [sic] agitators and other violent left wing radicals on college campuses. We will [be silent?] no longer. Now the right fights back! Follow us on Twitter: @UW_AntiCo. Or email us at: [ripped paper].”

It would have been easy to miss, had my colleague not pointed it out, and had I not spent years in graduate school studying authoritarian regimes in Latin America’s Southern Cone.  The refrain that echoed from those days across Latin America was nunca más, never again. And yet, here we are, looking at a right-wing flier depicting the glorification of death flights, death squads, and right-wing terrorism.

You might have missed it if you never studied a certain branch of Latin American history, so here’s what you need to know:

Adolfo Scilingo, a former Navy officer responsible for the deaths of at least 30 desaparecidos during death flights, said he was told that the flights were considered “a form of communion” and “a supreme act we did for the country” (Fietlowitz 196). He said the ecclesiastic authorities “assured him that this was a Christian, basically nonviolent form of death” (to be thrown from the plane into the sea, what the clergy called “flying”) and that “if anyone had problems with this he could be assigned elsewhere” (195-6).

He added that the doctors aboard the planes would “move back to the cabin so as not to violate their Hippocratic oath” after administering the second dose of sodium pentothal. The prisoners were told they were getting “vaccinations” and were being flown to “rehabilitation camps.”

Scilingo claimed that once the prisoners were further sedated, the officers undressed them, and then two officers would drag one prisoner to the open door and “push him out into the sky.” He claims to have been haunted for the rest of his life by the sounds of the captives’ shackles and the piles of empty clothes that remained after all the “cargo” had been chucked into the sea.

After each of the flights, Scilingo claimed that he drank himself to sleep and then went to confession, where he was absolved immediately.

Marguerite Feitlowitz, author of A Lexicon of Terror, recounts Scilingo’s story, which was told for the first time on 2 March 1995 on the popular Argentine television show Hora Clave:

“It was a Christian form of death,” the priest assured [Scilingo] and, bastardizing a parable from Matthew 13:24, explained that subversives were the weeds sown by the enemy among the wheat. The tares had to be burned, so that the wheat could be gathered into the barn. “And that,” says Scilingo, “is how we were taught to save Western, Christian civilization from the Red terror” (197).

You can read all about it in this New York Times article from 1995.

My point is: We walk around nowadays in a perpetual state of scrolling-induced ephemera where we are neither here nor there, but only in some persistent present. We are no longer–if we ever were–adept at carrying history in our hearts, especially if that history belongs to a people other than our own.

“Never again” is meaningless if everything is always happening for the first time and if our historical amnesia allows right-wing, anti-communist groups to plaster our college campuses with images of “communists” being flung into the ocean, drugged on lies and Sodium Pentothol.

Three pieces of advice that I’m currently giving myself:

  • Learn the history of your people.  If you are just now waking up to the call to resist fascism, consider all the varied groups of persistent resisters that came before you. They are your people. Look at what compelled them to do what they did and how history unfolded.
  • Cast a wide net. Your people (see above) might not live where you do. Finding your people and learning their history might mean looking across an ocean or a geopolitical boundary.
  • Anti-Fa Fridays! Learn the symbols and coded language associated with Nazis and other right-wing terrorist groups; get out in your neighborhood and look for graffiti and fliers that depict them, then remove them or cover them up. You can do this alone or with friends! It’s a great community-building/neighborhood-bonding exercise. Yay, Anti-Fa Fridays! (Or, you know, whatever you want to call it… but, uh, that’s pretty catchy, right.) Carry tools in your bag if you want to do it on the fly (like this 70-year-old German woman).
  • Hold institutions accountable for hosting fliers like these.  For starters, you can email Ana Marie Cauce, UW’s current president, at pres@uw.edu.

I have to wonder how it is that UW’s administration is fine with these hateful fliers. They certainly create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, even if they accomplish it in dog-whistled images of people being flung from helicopters, which is why there is now an urgent need to be historically literate. Without that historical literacy, it is impossible to hold institutions accountable.

I share my colleague’s thoughts today as I hammer out an email to President Cauce. He shared this when he posted the image:

I wonder how our Latin American students, staff, and faculty who lived through that time feel when they see this.

I hope you wonder, too.

A Brief Memo to Other White Women on Our White Supremacist Programming

 

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Source: Robin DiAngelo’s definition on an image by The Love Life of an Asian Guy

Dear Fellow White Women,

I want to tell you a story.

Today my friend D, a Black woman, made a Facebook post about a white woman–a total stranger–approaching her at the farmers market and hugging her without her consent. My friend couched that experience as a race-based aggression. Many other black women chimed in to say they experience the same thing on the regular.

As Maisha Johnson says, “The objectification of Black bodies has been part of US culture since slavery, and it’s still going strong as one of our everyday struggles.”

In spite of this, a white woman–let’s call her Jenny–commented at length to argue that the violation had nothing to do with race at all and she, too, had been touched without consent. This is what I told her and am sharing with D’s permission:

I think we all agree that touching other people without an invitation is a violation.

What makes it totally different here is the power differential. The consequences for a white person touching a Black person are NOT the same as a Black person touching a white person. The consequences for a Black woman doing that to a white woman could be injury or death, as D already explained. The same is not true in reverse.

It is precisely BECAUSE of white supremacy that you don’t see the issue here. You don’t see the power difference because you don’t have to. D sees it because it is the material reality of her life every day. The fish, as they say, is the last to notice the water. That’s the nature of privilege.

It is precisely because of white supremacy, too, that white women feel entitled to touch black women; this is true even if it is unconscious. We can’t look at this ahistorically, as the entire foundation of interactions between white and Black women had to do with power and ownership. That doesn’t all just fall away because it’s 2017 in the farmers market.

When we tell women of color that their experience wasn’t about race, we are at the height of our ignorance and privilege. We are showing how little we have to consider issues of power and race in our daily lives because it just doesn’t apply to us. If D says it was about race, if she says she was violated, the best and only reaction is to believe her. When we question and argue, we engage in gaslighting and that (like touching women of color without their consent) is a power play and a show of white supremacy–again, whether intentional or not.

D’s analysis of what happened is built not only on her lived experience as a Black woman but also on history. I wonder if you might get curious about your resistance to taking D’s word for what happened and trusting her analysis of it. What do you think that’s about? I’d argue that your unwillingness to believe her probably says a lot more about you and white supremacy than it says about her or the event itself.

Jenny wrote back almost immediately with a wall of text, admonishing me and D for “making everything about race,” and she said we all had a “skewed reality,” that “all that stuff is behind us.”  It was almost like hysterical jabbering, as if perhaps if she could keep talking and writing she wouldn’t have to confront or interrupt her own white supremacist programming. This, too, is an effect of programming.

Fellow white women, when lots of people make an effort to educate us? That’s a thing we should be grateful for. When we feel like resisting, we have an obligation to get curious: why are we resistant?  What feels dangerous about accepting the truths that are being offered?  What does it say about us when we can’t accept the experiences of people of color and their classification of those experiences as racial violence?  Why do we feel compelled to hang on tightly to this particular piece of our white supremacist programming? What are we afraid to lose?

I’ve been schooled and returned to my lane by women of color and white women alike and sometimes I’ve handled it less gracefully than others. I understand the desire to put our pants back on (because our white asses are hanging out for sure), but that’s not the answer.  Don’t be like Jenny, who totally deleted our entire exchange and vanished; leave the embarrassing shit out there for everyone to read. Stick around and learn something. Endure the humiliation, because it’s a tiny thing, relative to the entire U.S. history of colonialism, conquest, slavery, and violation.

Here are some protips:

  • Stop talking. When we jabber about how we, too, experience pain in response to a woman of color describing violence she has experienced, we are centering ourselves. Do not pull a “me, too!” This is white supremacist programming. Instead, ask yourself, “Why am I talking right now?” Listen, acknowledge, and learn.
  • Be grateful and endure the embarrassment. When someone reveals our white supremacist programming and it feels humiliating and we want to get defensive, hide, or lash out: don’t. We ought to be grateful to be given the chance to detect a piece of the toxicwhite supremacist programming inside ourselves when it would otherwise remain invisible to us. Collecting this data gives us the chance do less harm going forward and that is part of the work. Instead of walls of text, we can simply say, “Thank you. I hadn’t thought of it that way and I appreciate what you’re saying here. I’ll change my behavior going forward.”
  • Don’t delete that shit. When we want to delete our embarrassment, we must not. Deleting is another show of white supremacist programming–it’s power and control, based in terror and shame. We need to grit our teeth, endure, and leave it out there because: 1. Deleting the exchange robs other people of the chance to learn from our mistakes. 2. It’s a form of silencing and rhetorical violence. 3. Deleting erases the labor that people put into educating us. 4. It’s some tiresome white fragility.

See, there is a reason we ought to say white supremacy and not racism; it is a more specific and accurate description of the race-based system of power that is embedded in the history of this country. Calling it white supremacy and white supremacist programming reveals this history in an accurate and specific way. It does a better job of getting at the programming white women experience.

Still arguing with me and refusing to accept my friend D’s classification of her experience as a race-based violation, Jenny wrote, “I believe that there is a skewed sense here that unintentionally or intentionally touching someone whether black or white could get someone hurt. Those days are behind us.”

If multiple black women have told us that this is part of their lived experience and it can be traced back to the origin story of this nation, then we have an obligation to honor the gift of their sharing by listening with the grain (rather than against, always ready to deny and argue and re-classify). We ought to be grateful for any and all efforts to help us dismantle another piece of our chronic white supremacist programming.

If I found out I had a terrible tumor (let’s call it White Supremacy) growing inside me and it had been there my whole life but I never noticed because it had always just been there and a doctor asked me if I wanted to try to cut it out of me little by little for the rest of my life, I would know that it would hurt. But I would want to do it.

Don’t you?

Travels With Queerness and the Politics of Space: An Interview with Kim Sharp

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Image shows a postcard with vertical, rainbow stripes in a vintage fashion.  The text reads: Travels With Queerness: In Search of America

Kim Sharp is one of my favorite queer, feminist writer friends.  She recently took a big, brave risk in doing a micro-retirement so she could work on her writing.  One of the fruits of that labor is her new project, Travels With Queerness, which explores what it means to take up space as a gender-nonconforming, feminist person on the road with their best friend, who happens to be a pit bull.  I interviewed her today to find out more about the project and what it means for space to be political.

CONTENT: This interview contains descriptions of homophobia, harassment, and hate speech.

Tasha Walston:  Hi, Kim!  Thanks for doing this interview.  What is Travels With Queerness?

Kim Sharp: Travels With Queerness is a book project that’s based off a road trip I’m going to take with my dog, Petey, this September. Think Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, but through a queer, feminist lens. I came up with the idea earlier this year when I was re-reading Travels with Charley. I wanted to take Petey on a similar trip, but I knew it would present challenges because of our identities: I’m a lesbian, and Petey is a pit bull.

I’ve mapped out a route that will take us more than 5,500 miles, through 11 states in the western US over the course of 25 days. During the trip, I’m going to post short essays detailing our experiences on my website, TravelswithQueerness.com, and via Facebook and Twitter. The book will draw everything together into a cohesive narrative.

I started thinking about all the things I’d have to do before traveling–mostly how I would present, and what I would do to stay safe. I thought about getting mace, maybe growing my hair a little or dressing a little more femme. I even thought about things as simple as taking the HRC equality sticker off my car.

And that’s when the idea of a trip transformed into a project. Changing my appearance and removing that bumper sticker would mean altering my identity. Losing that authenticity would kill so much of the project’s meaning.

routemap

Image shows a map of the Northwestern United states with a travel route drawn on in blue.  Individual stops on the route are marked numerically.

TW: So it was Steinbeck’s book that made you want to go on the journey?

KS: That and a few other things. I’m doing a sort of mid-life, micro-retirement this year, and I want to make the most of it. I want to spend more time with Petey and take him on some big adventures. He’s 11–but let’s not go there.

The other really big influence: a book my grandma gave me when I was eight. It’s this beautiful coffee table book called Natural Wonders of the World. She got it free with a subscription to Reader’s Digest. I fixated on Craters of the Moon in Idaho and Crater Lake in Oregon. I’ve never seen either.

So it all started coming together: a road trip with my dog, in search of natural wonders and the open road.

Steinbeck’s book made want to go on this trip and it made me want to politicize it.

peteandkimcar

Image shows a white pit bull on the left with a brown spot over one eye and tongue lolling. On the right is a smiling person with short, brown hair wearing sunglasses, a hoodie, and a seatbelt.


TW: Why does it matter that you’re traveling as a queer, feminist woman?  Are you doing the trip because of or in spite of your identity?

Both. Absolutely both. My plans started coming together right after the Oregon stand-offs came to an end. I couldn’t help but think of the culture in some of the places I wanted to go. Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Idaho aren’t the most welcoming areas in the Northwest.

So it’s scary, right? As it would be for many women. We’re told not to travel alone and to avoid the places where we don’t feel safe–and for good reason.

If I followed that advice, though, I wouldn’t see all the places I want to see. I probably wouldn’t even leave my house. I can’t separate my fuck-it attitude from my queer, feminist identity. I shouldn’t have to. None of us should.

But here’s another thing: I’m not strongly connected to either of these communities. I’m too shy and introverted to do any sort of activism. Crowds aren’t my thing, so I don’t go to Pride or LGBT events. I’m more or less on the periphery of the LGBT community–yet I call it mine. I grapple with that a lot.

So I come back to what I am capable of and how I can contribute. I’m a writer. I believe in the power of story and I want to capture the stories that aren’t being told. Putting myself out there with this project, sharing my experiences as I seek answers to big questions, then drawing it all together in a book–that’s my contribution.

I question–constantly–who I am on this journey. Who or what am I traveling with? And it all comes back to that one day when I was at my most vulnerable, when I was threatened because I am comfortable in my skin.

TW: It would be scary for any woman to travel alone.  How do you think your queerness complicates that?

KS: One of my first girlfriends told me that lesbians in Seattle are more or less invisible. For a long time I believed that. I felt safe. That changed after I chopped off my long hair and started dressing more masculine. I’ve been harassed, and I’ve been discriminated against because of the way I present. I’m a short, fat woman with a butch-like aesthetic, and I think it’s pretty obvious I’m gay. I think about that all the time. I also think about how my experiences are nothing compared to what others in my community have experienced.

Yet, there’s something about being called “faggot” that goes far beyond the gut punch. It made me feel more connected to the LGBT community in this really weird way. It was a reminder that we’re not invisible at all. Any of us could, at some point, be a target. We are all vulnerable.

TW: Someone called you “f*ggot?”  Can you tell me about that?

KS: Sure. It started as road rage on the commute home. I honked at a guy and he started tailing me. He followed me for a couple miles and I knew it was a bad situation. He wasn’t going to back off. So I went to the safest place I could think of–somewhere where men would be outside. The guy followed me there, got out of his car, and came at me with fists raised. He was ready to lay into me.

Then he saw my tits.  It shocked him. He said he thought I was a dude. Then his fists dropped. He started shouting “faggot, fucking faggot.” Over and over and over. He was inches from me. I was rendered mute. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t move.

All it took was for him to shout that word at me once and I felt worthless and dirty. But he kept throwing it at me and the more he did, the more I believed it.

TW: That must have been terrifying.

KS: Terrifying isn’t the right word. It’s been over a year and I can’t find the right word. Of course I was terrified, but while I was being threatened I was also being told that I’m worthless, because of who I am. Because I’m gay.

TW: If you’ve experienced that kind of harassment in a “liberal” city in the Northwest, do you have any particular fears or hopes about what will happen on the road?

KS: Definitely. Here’s the thing: the harassment took place in Shoreline, literally across the street from where the Seattle PD jurisdiction stops. If I’d gone one more block, this would have been reported as a hate crime. I talked with Jim Ritter, SPD’s LGBT liaison. He couldn’t take a report, but after hearing all the details he assured me it was a hate crime. I filed a report with the Shoreline PD, and guess what–they said it’s not a crime at all. So hey, if you want to engage in a car chase, physically threaten someone, verbally assault them, go to Shoreline.

It’s not just about what happens in different areas of the country, it’s about how these things are handled.

I got a lot of great support from Jim, and plan to talk with him about the trip and safety precautions and so forth. That alone fills me fear and anger–that I even have to do this, that I have to seek this kind of support.

So, yes, I have fears. That incident taught me something I didn’t think of much before: I’m a target. That changes everything.

TW: What are some places you are particularly looking forward to visiting?

KS: I’m looking forward to seeing those places I told you about–Craters of the Moon, Crater Lake, a lot of national parks. I’m also really looking forward to going to Salinas. I want to see the Steinbeck Center. I want to see Rocinante–Steinbeck’s white privilege mobile.

Mostly, I’m looking forward to seeing the places I don’t know about. I’m fascinated by small towns. I want to talk to people there–if they’ll let me. I want to know what it’s like in other places. How does geography affect how we move through our worlds?

 

TW: What makes Travels With Queerness a necessarily feminist project?

KS: That’s a really good question. While the travel narrative genre is slowly becoming more diverse, travelogues are still written primarily by white men. This project is an attempt to fill that gap, to explore and show our country through a different lens. It’s about intent, and it’s a feminist project because I am putting emphasis on identity–particularly my identity as a gay woman–and framing the narrative of my travels through my worldview and issues of privilege.

TW: Why should folks support your project and how can they best do that?

KS: Being out there, literally exploring spaces where we can be safe, is not going to be easy, but it’s incredibly important work. After the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a lot of people are questioning the notion of the safe space, if it even exists. I don’t think it does.

I’m not scouting out safe spaces; that work has been done by a lot of organizations. What I’m doing is mapping out a vast landscape and documenting what it’s like to travel in spite of a lack of guaranteed safety.

It’s a huge undertaking, and a costly one. I’m hoping people will contribute to my Kickstarter campaign to help fund what portion of the trip I’m not able to and print and production of my book.

If you’re not able to financially support the project, please share the word with others. This is just as much a marketing campaign as a fundraiser.

Like I said, this is my contribution to an important movement. Everyone who supports Travels with Queerness in whatever way they’re able is chipping in on that contribution and making this a communal journey. And how cool is that?

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Image shows a white and brown dog on the left, tongue lolling, and a smiling person with short, brown hair wearing a hoodie, sunglasses, and a seatbelt.  Text reads, “Support us on Kickstarter.”

Long-Distance Doulas and Radical Self-Care: An Interview with The Doula Project’s Mick Moran

 

I’ve known Mick Moran for about a decade, starting back in the early 2000s when they volunteered with  me over at VaginaPagina.  Since then, Mick started working with The Doula Project in NYC. Most recently, they’ve been putting together a sort of “doula skillshare,” spreading community and radical self-care through their zine project, DIY DOULA: Self-Care for Before, During & After Your Abortion. I interviewed Mick today to find out more about the zine and The Doula Project.

Tasha Walston:  Hey, Mick.  Thanks for doing this interview.  Can you tell Hellish Rebuke readers a little bit about The Doula Project?

Mick Moran:  Sure.  The Doula Project is a volunteer-run, New York City-based 501(c)3 charitable organization that provides free compassionate care and emotional, physical, and informational support to people across the spectrum of pregnancy. Since its founding in 2007, The Doula Project doulas have supported hundreds of birth clients and over ten thousand people through abortion and fetal loss.

TW:  How long have you been involved?

MM:  I trained with the Project in January of 2014. I’d learned about the Project when I was attending the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, and I went to a workshop called something like, “Increasing Healthcare Access for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People Using Midwives and Doulas.” I wanted to write it up for VaginaPagina, who I was volunteering for at the time.

A few months later, I heard through a queer networking group that The Doula Project was recruiting new volunteers, so I started thinking about applying. When I started to talk to my friends about it, they were like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I never thought of this for you before, you would be so good at that.”

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An excerpt from DIY Doula: Self-Care for Before, During, and After your Abortion.  Art by Mick Moran.

 

TW:  What about the project really spoke to you? Was there a moment or a thing that really made you go, “Oh, I have to do this!”

MM:  It wasn’t a role I ever imagined myself doing, and I don’t think I would have ever gotten involved if it wasn’t with an organization like The Doula Project that does full-spectrum work — it’s very important to me that we support people having abortions, and that we support people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to doula care.

I’m trained as a birth doula as well, but most of my work is supporting people in clinics having first-trimester abortions. I’m also trained to support people through second-tri procedures and fetal loss, which are both things that I’d like to be more involved in.
TW:  So it was the full-spectrum, inclusive aspect of the work that really drew you?

MM:  Definitely. That and the fact that we offer support to low-income people. Most people who have access to doula support are are wealthy people who have a lot of privilege in other ways, like they’re white or they have a masters degree or whatever.

Those folks also often have better support for an event like a birth — not because low-income folks don’t have good support network, but because they may not have the money to fly family members out, or their partner may not have the kind of job that you can take off from very suddenly (or they might not be able to afford the lost wages), or they might not have childcare for their other kids. Sometimes the doula support is the only support they have available.

TW:  Does that have to do with why you decided to make a zine? Whose idea was it to create a zine, and what made you choose that format and not a website or something else

MM:  We collectively (our Leadership Circle and Board of Directors) applied for a grant with the Abortion Conversation Project for a grant with the intention of making a booklet about self-care for before, during, and after your abortion. ACP’s focus is to break down stigma surrounding abortion, so that was one of our goals.

We also wanted to talk about full-spectrum doula care, and we wanted to give our doulas an opportunity to work collectively on a project like this. The idea was to distribute printed material that folks could take home with them from the clinic, either after they’ve had doula support or if they didn’t have access to a doula, and the idea completely blew up from there.

As we explained in our IndieGoGo, it was an intentional decision: “Keeping in tradition with The Doula Project’s own radical grassroots approach, we intentionally created this guide as a zine. Zines have been a popular way to cheaply and effectively reproduce knowledge among marginalized populations and help educate and inspire without the influence of those in power. Zines are a way to create your own media when your needs are not served by mass media.”

The other reason it went in this direction, and how I came to head up the project, is because I had recently had a comic about being an abortion doula selected for publication in the 1 in 3 Campaign’s upcoming graphic novel about first-hand abortion experiences, “Our Stories Will Not Be Erased” — so that got everyone excited about how things could potentially look.

 

 

 

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An excerpt from DIY Doula: Self-Care for Before, During, and After Your Abortion.  By Alex Pitre.

TW:  Zines have a long history in punk and political movements as a way to build community. Is that something you’re interested in doing, too–I mean, aside from getting info to individuals, which is also important?

MM:  Yes, absolutely — and I think that’s part of the way that this zine can really help break down stigma. People might be more willing to talk about their experiences with each other, or ask for support from people (we try to model how to do this in the zine), or maybe even get together to do some of these self-care practices together.

And it has definitely been community-building for our doulas, who are all volunteers who lead super busy lives — we don’t get to see each other all together as often as we’d like, so it’s been really lovely to get together to work on this project and talk about our values and what messaging we want to give to people.

It’s also been almost like a doula skillshare because we all have such different styles that we all have probably picked up different things to try as we’ve had these conversations and built this toolkit.

TW:  What is your personal history with zines? What did you bring to the project?

MM:  I have some history with zines — I’ve attended NYC’s zine fest in the past and I grew up in the Jersey punk scene — but my inspiration was more related to grassroots media. When I was in high school, I was part of a non-hierarchical youth grassroots activist organization, and there was a lot of the same handmade, DIY, cut-and-paste technique used to make flyers for protests or other events. I actually wrote my thesis on that kind of DIY media activism — using what is accessible to you, whether that’s drawing comics or collaging pictures and making four-to-a-page photocopies because that’s cheap.

The Doula Project’s media coordinator and several people on the zine committee also brought some zine background. We took a field trip to the zine fest at Barnard College for inspiration.

TW:  Did you take away any ideas from Zine Fest?

MM:  I think the biggest takeaway was that people were excited for our zine. We had some conversations about it and people were already asking if we had a flyer or something about it. It’ll be great to go back next year and be able to distribute them there.

TW:  Awesome! Who do you most hope you’ll reach with the zine? What do you hope to achieve with the project?

MM:  We really hope to reach people who don’t have access to a doula in their communities. When we first stated working on the project, we were thinking a lot about practical stuff, like the DIY heat pack. But as we talked more, we realized we wanted to try to give people doula care even if we couldn’t be there. And that meant that we needed to give them the messaging that we give people. We trust you. You know your body best. You know how to make good decisions for yourself. You are strong and you can handle this. All of that stuff.

We know that some people aren’t getting that from their partners or families or providers for whatever reason. Being a doula isn’t about *giving* someone strength, it’s about helping them find their own strength — that’s easier to do in person, but we hope that we can do that at least a little, long-distance.

TW:  I was going to ask you what is the most important thing you wanted folks to take away from the project, but it sounds like you’re already hitting on it when you talk about helping folks find their own strength. Is there anything else?

MM:  Not just strength, but comfort, and that they can trust themselves. We want people to know that there are so many different ways that people feel before, during, and after an abortion, and that it’s normal.

It’s normal to feel relief, it’s normal to feel sad, it’s normal to feel numb. It’s ok to be scared, it’s ok to make jokes. It’s ok to have so much hard stuff happening in your life that you think that being told to drink a cup of tea and take a deep breath is bullshit. We meet people where they’re at, and we’ve tried to do that on paper, too.

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An excerpt from DIY Doula: Self-Care for Before, During, and After Your Abortion.  By Annelise Stabeneau.


TW:
 How can people get involved and/or help support The Doula Project and the zine?

MM:  We’re selling pre-orders of the zine on Generosity (part of IndieGoGo).

People have the option to buy one for themselves and donate one for us to give away. They can also use #DIYDoulaZine and share the campaign so we can make sure folks know about it, and if they have a relationship with any pro-choice groups, make sure they know this new resource is out there.

You can also support our work by donating directly to The Doula Project or by setting up your Amazon Smile account to donate to us.

We have a newsletter and a Facebook page if you want to keep up with our work.

TW:  Is there anything else you want folks to know?

MM:  The more pre-orders we get, the more free zines we’ll be able to give away! We’re really excited to see where we can take this.

This project received a Seed Support grant from the Abortion Conversation Project to reduce abortion stigma.  If you want to know more about the zine project, you can contact Mick at zine@doulaproject.org.  
MICK MORAN trained with The Doula Project in January of 2014 and joined the Leadership Circle as a Site Coordinator later that year. Mick has spoken at institutions such as Hunter College and NYU about topics such as media activism and reproductive justice for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex people. 
THE DOULA PROJECT‘s founders, Mary Mahoney and Lauren Mitchell, have a book coming out later this year detailing their commitment to supporting a pregnancy no matter the outcome—whether it results in birth, abortion, miscarriage, or adoption.  Check it out/preorder on Amazon:  The Doulas: Radical Care for Pregnant People.  

Screaming Without Being Heard: Rape Culture in the Hardcore Music Scene

By Stacey Spencer
June 9, 2016

 
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Street art by Grrrl Army–women and allies from the Seattle hardcore scene (read more about the project here)

This morning I woke up with horrible laryngitis, went to urgent care, and discovered that I’ve been fighting bronchitis for the last month. It’s ironic that during the time I’ve wanted to scream the most, I’ve been completely voiceless. All day I’ve been thinking about how to put what I want to say into words. I’ll do my best:

The last 24 hours have become a completely gut-wrenching examination of everything I’ve experienced in the punk & hardcore scene for what is now over half of my life. By now, everyone has heard the 30+ allegations against Jim Hesketh, former singer for bands like Champion and True Identity, and, like me, you’ve likely been watching that unravel all day today. You’ve seen the horrifying comments, the dismissal of the survivor(s) by people all over the internet, as well as the folks coming forward to support his victims and try to give women space to tell their stories.

I personally don’t have my own stories about Jim’s predatory nature – our bands toured together, we hung out without incident – but I have witnessed and experienced enough in the hardcore scene to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his victims are speaking truth. And that presents a larger story which I think this conversation needs to evolve into, in time. Yes, Jim Hesketh is a problem. But Jim is not THE problem. We cannot simply denounce him and then let this conversation end.

When I started going to hardcore shows at 15 years old, I was received with mixed reactions. I was invited into the scene genuinely and whole-heartedly by some. My intentions were questioned by others – punks of all genders who doubted my sincerity, who felt threatened by new kids entering the arena.

And then there were the worst kind of dudes – the ones who were “welcoming” and excited about a new girl joining the ranks – only to try to date or sleep with me. At the time, it felt like a compliment. Being flirted with by men who were a decade older than me was flattering. I felt like I was “cool” and “accepted” when I turned 16 and a guy in his thirties started giving me sexual attention.

Young women are always taught that “girls mature faster than boys” – and older men sexualizing young girls is so normalized in mainstream culture – it didn’t strike me how bizarre it was that someone literally twice my age would want me in that way. Our mutual friends knew what was going on and nobody said or did anything. It just felt normal.

As I became more immersed in the scene and To See You Broken started touring, I began to see the rampant sexism all over the country. There were the never ending micro-aggressions (“is the band here yet?”) when we were setting our gear up on stage, constant questions like “do you write your own music?” and backhanded compliments like “you’re pretty good for a girl band!”

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To See You Broken, circa 2003.

There was outward misogyny (like dudes yelling “show us your tits” when we got on stage, or the now infamous “no clit in the pit” signs at shows). There were so many sexual propositions that TSYB actually made a rule that we would NOT hook up with any men while we were on tour, for fear of inheriting a reputation for being promiscuous. Dudes were constantly badgering us for sex, and yet we were frightened that WE would be ostracized for our behavior if we ever succumb to their advances.

We wrote songs about scene sexism and rape, and the backlash was intense at times – one record review in particular stands out in my head because it compared Sara to a “bitch barking,” and I remember being ashamed for having a voice. At times it felt like everything would be easier if we would just shut up.

As I got older and began dating and having relationships with men, it took me a long time to learn how to communicate consent. Far too many partners were either ignorant about how enthusiastic / verbal consent works, or unwilling to practice it. I have dealt with a disturbing and embarrassing number of men who actively did not ask for my consent.

Men who were coercive when I was hesitant, who ridiculed me for being nervous about particular sex acts. Men who would compare me to other partners they’d had to make me feel ashamed about things I’d never done. Then, men who were disgusted with me when I admitted I HAD tried particular sex acts or slept with more people than they had. Men who said things like, “I thought you were just being coy!” when I explicitly told them “no.” Men who assaulted me while I was asleep. Men who non-consensually hit me during sex because they thought it was a turn on.

Most of these men are people that my friends are still friends with. Some are men that I am still friends with. Some that I am even empathetic towards. This is the problem with rape culture: it is so ubiquitous, so normalized, that people sincerely don’t understand the difference between sex and rape.

And as women, we are taught to be so self-conscious about our sexuality, we rarely speak out when these things happen. Even now, writing this, I am mortified that my family or colleagues will read it. I am still ashamed.

Recently, I’ve seen more women come forward to confront the men who have coerced, abused, and taken advantage of them. The reactions have been all over the map. I will be the first to admit that my own responses have been unfair and shitty at times. When an acquaintance first came forward about Kyle Oels years ago, I took part in a failed accountability process for him and actively tried to help him resolve his issues, despite his blatant disregard for the women involved.

When news about Andrew Arellano hit my radar, I gave him a chance to tell his story – and I was duped by his bullshit lies for months because I didn’t want to accept his victims’ experiences at face value. I have since vowed to never make that mistake again. I have realized that if we are ever going to make progress as a community, we need to tune out the manipulative rationalizations that abusers spew, and amplify the voices of their survivors. I am making a promise to myself and to my community to be better. I hope that you all will too.

With all of that said, I’d like to quickly point out the fact that I have 33 mutual friends with a rape apologist who has been accused of sexually assaulting at least two women. I have 29 mutual friends with a known abuser who has been confirmed to use sexual coercion and emotional manipulation to control his partners. I also have friends who continue to maintain their relationships with one of my ex-partners, even after hearing about his verbal abuse, control tactics, and sexual assault.

I’m honestly not trying to put these people on blast – my point is that we ALL have work to do when it comes to figuring out what we are going to accept from our friends and the people in our community. And we ALL need to figure out how to resolve these problems – preferably without the use of the cops and the courts who have failed survivors over and over again.

Women: we need your voices heard. It breaks my heart to see so many of your comments stating things like, “this is why I stopped going to shows.” While I have to respect your decision, WE NEED YOU. Don’t let these garbage humans destroy what you once loved. If you can find it in you to join this conversation, please do so. The hardcore scene needs to hear you.

Men: it’s time to sit down and listen. Women have been trying to tell you for literal decades how difficult it is for us in this subculture. So many of you constantly say things like “how come more girls don’t come to shows?” one minute, then the next minute you’re sending unsolicited dick pics to the women that do show up. Or you’re questioning the legitimacy of a new girl in the scene. Or you’re spin-kicking into an unsuspecting bystanders face with no regard for anyone’s space at a show.

(Mosh etiquette is a whole other subject that I can rant about: bands constantly tell us on to come into the pit because it’s “not just boys fun,” but what are you going to do to protect us once we’re there? I am guilty of this too, don’t get me wrong. Just two nights ago at the Angel Dust show in Portland, some shitty dude was aggressively wind-milling into folks who were clearly not enthused, crowd killing to the back of the room and making everyone uncomfortable… and even I was scared to say something to him because I didn’t know who he was, didn’t want to start a fight, and didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting to someone just trying to have fun. UGH.)

I hope my voice comes back soon because I really want to talk to you all about this. You have my word that I will do the best I can to help make things better for our community. Please don’t let Jim Hesketh’s dishonorable discharge from hardcore be the end of this conversation.

Locally in Seattle, Brian Skiffington, Sam Lee, and others are working on facilitating an open meeting to get a dialogue going. Get involved if you can. Tell your stories. Listen to one another. Maybe NWHC can be an example for the rest of the country for creating something that is truly accepting, truly radical, and truly inclusive. I’m not giving up on us yet.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge my partner, Sean, for being an amazing example of a super radical human being, a person who consistently and intentionally practices consent, and who has been listening to me rant about this nonstop and encouraging me to speak my mind. Also, to Carey, Sara, Lisa, and Katy for being in the trenches with me during the TSYB years – I learned so much from you, thank you. Let’s keep this going, please.

Remember: “Fuck you – the sexism ends here… I don’t want to keep screaming, without being heard.”

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To See You Broken, circa 2003.

Fathers of Sons: 8 Steps to Avoid Being Dan Turner

Just yesterday I wrote a hellish rebuke of Brock Turner and rape culture, but it turns out I’m not done.  And if you’re a father, neither are you.

Dan Turner’s shitty letter defending his son is an act of violence.  It positions him clearly as an agent and ambassador of rape culture, blaming everything but his son for the rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.  It positions Brock as a victim of alcohol and (his victim’s) promiscuity and, worst of all, it completely erases the the actual victim of the crime.  (By the way, @alexandraozeri on Twitter fixed the letter.)

But alcohol and promiscuity aren’t the problems.  Men are speaking up about that fallacy all over social media, thankfully.  Matt Lang notes:

I’ve been drunk many times, even in the presence of promiscuous women who were also drunk, and I managed not to rape them, so I don’t think drinking and promiscuity are the problems.

This here is the problem: some guys are entitled pricks, and they’re entitled pricks because their fathers and coaches and friends taught them to be entitled pricks. Because they are entitled pricks, they think they can have whatever they want, and that their worth is defined by what they have and what they take.

Chris Taylor echoes Lang in a piece he published on Mashable yesterday titled, “Dear Dads, This is what rape culture looks like and you’re responsible:”

Rape culture is a thing. I’m sorry if you bristle at that notion, guys, but it just is. Any time you put the onus on our daughters — don’t wear that dress, don’t get drunk, don’t lead guys on — you’re perpetuating it. Any time you make a rape joke, you’re perpetuating it.

And any time you miss an opportunity to educate our sons about the concept of consent — even if you prefer to talk abstinence because you’re not comfortable talking about sex, or if you just say something vague that conflates drunkenness and rape — you’re perpetuating it.

See, educating one’s children about consent and sexual assault is a responsibility that typically falls to mothers as a matter of course in the form of somber, hushed conversations between mothers and daughters.  (Of course, leaving that kind of educating to mothers also adds to the heaping pile of invisible labor that we already do, but that’s a post for another day.)

“Well,” you might say, “It falls to mothers because rape is a women’s issue.”

But when we frame rape as “a women’s issue,” we make it women’s problem, and we make it women’s responsibility to prevent our own assault. That is victim blaming and rape culture, full stop.  Don’t believe me?  Let Jackson Katz tell you about it in his TEDTalk,  “Violence Against Women–It’s a Men’s Issue.”

Until we make rape everyone’s problem, we excuse it with our silence.

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WaPo published this infographic.  The system is fine, right?

Turner’s joke of a sentence reminds us that–at least with matters of sexual assault–we can’t count on the legal system to do what is just, moral, or ethical. We must rewind, look deeper, and take control of the narrative ourselves.  What interventions should have happened along the way, before it seemed drunkenly reasonable for Brock Turner to unrepentantly drag a woman behind a dumpster and rape her?


A 2015 study from the University of North Dakota found that 1 in 3 young men would force a woman to have sex with them if they knew there would be no consequences and they wouldn’t be caught (and isn’t that what the Brock Turner sentence confirms?); however, here’s where it gets interesting:

But, when the researchers actually used the word “rape” in their question, those numbers dropped much lower — suggesting that many college men don’t associate the act of forcing a woman to have sex with them with the crime of committing rape.

So young men understand they should think rape is wrong, but they don’t really know what rape is.

That’s obviously a huge problem, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone.  We live in a society that, in every way conceivable, sends the message to women that we are less human than men, only valuable in relation to men, and they are entitled to our bodies.  It’s oppressive and misogynistic and it’s way worse for women of color and LGBTQ folks.

So what do we do?  If you’re the father to some sons, the best thing is to get in on the conversation early and often.  You probably already have the best of intentions and a lot of love for your kids, but you might not be aware of some of the things you yourself have absorbed around masculinity and rape culture.  Here are some ideas to get started:

1. Get curious about your own privilege and take nothing for granted.  The first step is figuring out your own privilege and the ways in which masculinity and rape culture have been part of your life. Things that seem natural might suddenly start looking kind of messed up and it’ll be uncomfortable and hard.  Watch The Mask You Live In and Tough Guise 2 and then talk about them with other dads/men. Ask why.  Ask who benefits, who is harmed. Being self-aware will make everything I suggest after this a lot easier and already puts you leaps and bounds ahead of Dan Turner.

2. Abandon the stand-alone lecture. Start talking early and make messages about consent ongoing, consistent, and age appropriate.  Embed consent in your family culture/code of honor.Outside of the fortress of your home (and even in it as long as we have TVs and internet access), violent masculinity and misogyny are everywhere.  And guess what?  Those two are the grotesque parents of rape culture.

See, rape culture isn’t just manifested in an isolated, sudden act of brutality like the one rapist Brock Turner committed; rape culture is everywhere we are.  It’s in music, movies, pop culture, advertisements, conversations, and so much more.That means that whatever messages you try to share with your kids about consent will run counter to everything else they’re soaking in.

So you can’t do the one-time lecture and be done; you have to start early and make consent culture a part of your everyday family life.

3. Early messages about consent don’t have to be about sex, but can focus on bodily autonomy. Teach your young son to honor the bodily autonomy of other people by having him ask before he touches others.  If he’s too young to form sentences, model it for him. “I think Buddy here wants to give Aisha a hug–is that all right with you, Aisha?”

Another way to model consent is to ask before you tickle or roughhouse with your children.  At our house, we also do safewords for starting and stopping a tickling session–“time out” to stop, and “time in” to resume.

Don’t make your kid give hugs and kisses to relatives and friends if they don’t want to.  Instead of saying, “Go give Auntie Gretchen a hug and a kiss,” try, “Do you want to give Auntie Gretchen a hug, a high five, or a wave?”

Show them that their own bodily autonomy matters so they might think to value the bodily autonomy of others as well.

4. Teach your sons that women’s and girls’ bodies don’t exist for their pleasure and judgment. Never, ever comment about other people’s weight loss/gain or clothing choices.  You might say to your younger child, “In our family, the rule is we don’t comment on other people’s bodies.”  At the same time, follow your own advice and don’t disparage your own body or the bodies of others in front of your children.

If you are having a play date with younger kids, don’t comment on a girl’s appearance or clothing.  Resist the urge to tell her how pretty she is or that you like her dress; you wouldn’t tell a boy the same thing, and that’s because we want boys to value–and know we ourselves value–other things most.

If you have older sons, find out if there’s a dress code at their school and talk to them about how dress codes can be oppressive and they value the education of boys at the expense of that of girls.  Ask your sons what they think about the idea that an exposed collar bone on a girl will make them incapable of doing school work. What does that say about people of all genders?

5. Don’t buy into the heteronormative gender binary (which is not real anyway) by saying things to your sons like, “boys will be boys.”  We’ve all seen it–boys roughhouse or play-hit a girl and we joke that they’re showing affection.  It might sound harsh, but these are early displays of violent masculinity and heteronormativity (assuming a boy will be interested in girls and not other boys), and they are the precursors to rape culture. These precursors start early and so should you.

There is real harm when we say things like “boys will be boys,” because we plant the seed that there is an inherent, insuperable, irresistible drive inside boys to dominate and conquer.  “Boys will be boys” promotes the idea of boys as savages who can’t control their violent–and later sexual–urges.  We tell them that to be a boy and a man, they have to be heterosexual and aggressive. Similarly, we teach our daughters that aggression and violence are healthy ways for their male partners to express affection.

So when you hear comments like “boys will be boys”–especially in front of your sons, name it and talk about it.  Don’t let your silence be an endorsement.  Those little silences add up into a loud message down the line. (The Mask You Live In is a good documentary to watch with teen sons.)

6. Name rape culture when you see it.  When your kids are old enough, start conversations about the music, ads, movies, jokes, and comments they encounter that seem to promote rape culture.  If you see the Budweiser ad that says, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night,” ask your son what he thinks of it and if it seems problematic. Ask who benefits and who is harmed.

With teens, expose the intersections of race and class with rape culture by noticing the disparity in sentences for kids like Brock Turner and Cory Batey.  Talk about how young men of color are serving decades in prison for lesser, non-violent charges and get curious with your sons about why that is.

7. Observe and comment on representations of women. Get curious about what they’re watching and watch it with them, or have a family movie night.With younger kids, watch things that show women as three-dimensional, powerful agents of change in their own lives. Ask questions during bedtime stories about why it seems like the main characters in a lot of books are boys.

With older kids, ask questions about representations of women when you watch a movie together.  Things like the Bechdel test for films (a tool so simple it’s absurd) can be useful in exposing misogyny, sexism, and male privilege. Look at this graph showing the disparity of dialogue between men and women in movies and see what your sons think and if they noticed.

When your sons see messages all around them that women are objects and no one contradicts it, those messages become lessons that they take into their relationships.  Make yours a voice in the conversation.

8. Don’t enforce rigid notions of masculinity.  So many of the messages we send boys about how they should act comes from the way we ourselves were raised and things that seem natural or normal to us.  When we subtly guide kids toward one of two extreme, rigid gender poles, we run the risk of erasing their identities and sense of agency.

Please don’t tell boys not to cry.  Don’t make them play sports if they’d rather take ballet.  Don’t show them that withdrawal, anger, and humor are the only safe emotions to show.  Don’t make homophobic, sexist, or rape jokes.  Don’t laugh at homophobic, sexist, or rape jokes.

Show boys that men can–and should–be sensitive.  Show them that being gay doesn’t make them less of a man.  Share their interest in art or theater.  Teach them empathy and compassion for animals and other people–especially women and other marginalized folks.  Show them affection and let them see you cry. Believe women, girls, and non-binary people  and stand up for them.

Because when you don’t do these things, and even if you don’t mean to, you teach them to conflate weakness with femininity and to despise and devalue both. When you can’t empathize with someone and you don’t see their value as equal to yours, it’s a whole lot easier to dehumanize them and treat them like their pain and life and feelings don’t matter–especially if you’ve been doing it your whole life and adults brushed it off.

We must be able and willing to transform our own actions to be more in line with our ideals.  All parents can do this, but dads of sons have the added benefit of being able to consistently model what it means to be a man who respects boundaries, communicates clearly about consent, and values women and other marginalized people as human beings.  You can embody it, live it, not just lecture about it.  So much of what kids learn is from what is not said.

The bottom line is, if we don’t want to raise more Brock Turners, if we want to raise more kids like the ones who stopped Turner from continuing to rape his victim, then we need fewer Dan Turners in the mix.  Dan Turner loves his son and surely doesn’t see himself as a rape apologist, so the best and first step to avoid becoming a father like Dan is to cultivate self-awareness and reflection in yourself.

Believe me, women are watching.  We notice when men say nothing and when men take a stand against rape culture. And you know who else is watching?

Our sons.

A Hellish Rebuke of Brock Turner and Rape Culture

brock

Portrait of a rapist on the occasion of his booking.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the joke sentencing of rapist Brock Turner.

You’ve probably also seen his victim’s searing 12-page indictment, and maybe you’ve even seen Brock’s father’s preciously written, tone-deaf “defense” of his son (WHO NO LONGER EATS STEAK OR WANTS SNACKS!! Wahhh!), which turns out to be the embodiment of several key points in Brock’s victim’s scathing statement.  There’s also a Change.org petition calling for the removal of Judge Aaron Persky (for showing bias toward a particular class).

No doubt about it, the entire thing–start to finish–is a stunning example of rape culture and systems of oppression in action.

Rape culture is the normalization of rape. It is the interrogation of a victim’s past and the mourning of a rapist’s potential and future. It is the systemic devaluing of women’s bodies/lives and the systemic valuing of rich, white, male lives.

Look, here’s how it works, and how it has always worked:  You can drag an unconscious person behind a dumpster while scraping her head on the ground, remove her clothing, and then get caught in the actual act of raping her.

There can be witnesses and zero doubt that a brutal crime took place. In fact, you can try to run away when you are caught by two bystanders, and one can even tackle you to the ground. (Why did you run if you are not guilty of a crime?  Why didn’t you tell them to go talk to your consenting partner to get the whole thing straightened out?)

The person you raped can go to the hospital and endure a brutally invasive exam that confirms everything the eyewitnesses saw when they interrupted.  You can even be charged with FIVE felonies.

Then, if you’re white and male and young, and especially if you go to a really good school and you’re an athlete, you can get sentenced to what will amount to THREE MONTHS (after time served) in county jail for a crime that would cost someone in a different identity bracket a DECADE or more of their life in prison.

This is white supremacy. This is misogyny and classism and rape culture.

It is also bullshit.

There should be no doubt–and there has never been, for many of us–that the system does not exist to protect victims; it exists to protect its own interests, which means perpetuating systems of power and privilege.

The system will, in its disinterest and tone deafness, repeatedly send messages to men that raping someone is probably not that big a deal, even if you’re caught in the act.  As Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber noted, there’s also a message for women: “[Judge] Aaron Persky is telling these women don’t bother calling police.”

All this will perpetuate rape culture and patriarchal values.  The system –which is made up of actual human beings like Judge Persky with a lot of power–will violate victims a second time, only worse.  And when that gets done enough in repetition, it starts becoming expected and normal.

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Here’s Turner a few months later at his sentencing, after he’d Richie Rich-ed himself all up.

In her article, “We With the Pitchforks,” Kristen Mae points out the failures of these systems and issues a call to arms, addressing Turner directly:

But I am going to do something to you that might be worse than jail, Brock Allen Turner. Actually, we all are. All of us who are enraged at what you did, at the fact that to this day you continue to deny wrongdoing aside from getting too drunk, that you continue to feign ignorance as to the egregiousness of your actions. All of us who are enraged by the fact that the not-very-honorable Judge Aaron Persky* was so clearly more concerned with your life than with your victim’s, together, we are going to put you in a new kind of jail.

We are going to splatter your name and face across social media so that everyone knows who you are and what you look like. So that everyone knows what you’ve done. So that women know that they’d better not get drunk in your presence…or even…be in your presence at all.

Responses like hers are important because Brock Turner, his father, and judge Persky continue to center Brock’s distress at the heart of the ordeal–hallmarks of male privilege.  Brock and his father assert that the real perpetrators are alcohol and promiscuity (whose, though?). Even when there is an actual, identifiable victim in a brutal crime, we are still asked to pay attention to the feelings of the male perpetrator. In fact, the actual victim is nowhere to be found in Brock’s father’s statement.

Along those lines, folks on social media are calling out the Washington Post for its misogynistic reporting of the case.  The article is littered with sycophantic descriptions of Turner’s career as a swimmer:

Turner turned down scholarships at a host of universities to attend Stanford, where he joined a top-10-in-the-country swim team. But on Jan. 17, 2015, midway through his freshman year and first swim season at Stanford, Turner’s life and career were upended during a night of drinking.

One Facebook user, Ellie Fialk, feels no pity for Turner and takes WaPo to task:

Thank you, Washington Post, for this detailed track record of Brock Turner’s swimming career, which is so incredibly relevant to the fact that he was just found unanimously guilty of committing an unforgivable act. I’m sorry things were so sudden for you, Brock. That your career was “upended during a night of drinking.” Since you know, that’s all it was, just a casual night of drinking when you raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

[…]

I’m so sorry, Brock, that you’ve suffered so greatly from your own actions. That you believe you are the victim. That this act has stripped you of your degree and titles at the age of 20. Yes, 20 is young, but not young enough to misinterpret an unconscious woman for sexual consent, nor young enough for the malicious and immoral nature of rape to go unrecognized. I do not pity you.

Brock was sentenced to only 6 months in jail, on the basis that, “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” As if being raped did not take a severe and irreversible emotional toll on the female victim. This boy is apparently too intelligent, too wealthy, too white, too athletic, to belong in jail.

But as his victim reminds us:

Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.

The wounds on her body and psyche–both invisible and material–are wounds we all share.  Rape culture is violence, a gash that never closes or heals, and it hurts us all.

Now what? Maybe some people have the patience and resources to pursue institutional, systemic, legal change, but I’d argue that’s a privilege of the few.  In the meantime, the rest of us can do a little more than wring our hands.

We can, as Kristen Mae suggested, take up our pitchforks.  And pitchforks can look like a lot of different things.  Women and other marginalized people are no strangers to taking matters into our own hands when systems fail.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Use Brock Turner’s full name and mugshot when you share images of him. Be curious about the media’s use of Brock’s smiling, be-suited, teeth-gleaming yearbook photo.  Wonder–preferably aloud and with other people–why that image was the first to circulate when dead kids of color who haven’t even committed a crime don’t get the same courtesy.  Even if it wasn’t a case of ill intent, it matters because it adds to the racial bias and victim blaming.  That stupid blazer photo is an act of violence.
  2. Name it.  Do not permit passive, slippery, unethical language: Brock Turner raped someone.  He did not, as his father suggested, experience “20 minutes of action.” That kind of imprecise wording lets Turner off the hook (without an active verb, there is no subject doing anything–it’s just a vague happening-thing), it minimizes the seriousness of the crime, and it completely erases the person he victimized in the process.
  3. Ask questions about why the rape of female bodies is treated differently than other violent crimes.  A lot of shitty things, including murder, can happen in “20 minutes of action;” that doesn’t mean we let the perpetrators off the hook. Press yourself and the people around you to wonder what it is about rape that leads to preferential treatment for rapists.  Could it be… DUN DUN DUN!… misogyny?
  4.  Talk about the ways in which race and class compound gender oppression.  There is no way in the world this would have played out at all the same had Turner been poor or a person of color.  Let Shaun King tell you more about that if you’re not feeling it (or even if you are).
  5. If you live in Santa Clara County, California, vote Judge Aaron Persky out of office and push for his removal.  He had a chance to do something just and surprising that might have challenged the prevailing narrative around rape and whose lives/bodies are valued, but he didn’t. Instead, he used his race, class, and gender bias to prop up oppression and rape culture–to excuse a rapist because Turner is too ambitious, too white, too rich, too educated for prison.
  6. Understand that this case is not an exception, but the rule.  Look for patterns and connections.  Be suspicious of the emphasis on Turner’s achievements and the scrutiny over his victim’s past. Call that what it is: rape culture.  Bullshit.  Violence. Misogyny.
  7. Interrogate your own privilege.  Privilege is often invisible and becoming aware of it, finally, is usually uncomfortable.  But you can survive it.  In fact, it’ll be a piece of cake compared to surviving sexual assault and then the probable retraumatization at the hands of the legal system.  The stakes are high and the risks to you are low, so what are you waiting for?  Letting privilege go uninterrogated feeds oppression.

So, yeah.  Keep talking.  Don’t let it become a fast-fading “20 minutes of action” on the internet.  Remember his name:  Brock Allen Turner, Rapist.

Remember, too, that apart from his class, gender, and skin privilege, he is no one in particular.

People like him get away with rape all the time, and we should be outraged.

The Time I Didn’t Get Murdered IRL after Inviting 7 Grown Men into my Home to Play D&D

3D model of an adventuring warlock holding an orb and wearing a scowl. A red d20 is next to tge model for scale.

My current D&D character, who is basically the warlock version of Darlene from Roseanne.

 

Last year I joined a Dungeons & Dragons group that was made up of seven grown men and me.

The only person I knew was Davey, the dungeon master, who was DMing his first campaign. I knew Davey from other, anti-oppression circles; I trusted him, but as the date of our first gaming session approached, I got nervous.

As the minutes ticked by that night and our characters got to know each other through time rifts and creepy, badly done taxidermy, I monitored the low buzzing in my ears and the slight tremble in my hands as I rolled d20s and scooted my LEGO mini-fig around on the map.

Well, I told myself out of character, it’s pretty normal to be nervous.  After all, it’s been a lot of years since you played D&D and you forgot so much.  It’s nerve-wracking to be a beginner at something, especially with male nerds.  But these were Real Nice Nerds, like me, and some of them were beginners, too.

Maybe my nerves are on account of role playing feeling a little awkward, I thought. I felt a little goofy after all; every time I had my character do anything, I kept recalling the fully armored LARPers (no shame) who meet at a local park to carry out campaigns and wondered how far removed from them I now was, having now announced things like, “I compel my familiar to collect a sample of the ooze for my collection.”

I’ll let you take that in for a second. I know how cool it sounds. (So cool.)

When everyone left at the end of the night, I realized I let out a sigh of relief and my body unclenched.  Suddenly, it hit me:

I was relieved because I had not been murdered.

Let me repeat that.  I was relieved because I had invited seven grown men that I did not know into my home to play Dungeons & Dragons (5e, if you must know), and I survived the night without being raped or murdered.  To be clear, I’m talking about me, the actual person, and not my character, whose survival continues to be deliciously precarious (thanks, Davey).

Knowing this bunch of dudes as I do now, it seems absurd to even think it. (I have actually said since then that we should campaign together until we are 109.) Yet, there it is.

Like a lot of folks, I imagine, I play games to escape the unpleasantries of life. Yet here was rape culture, showing up uninvited, stealing my enjoyment and my focus, destroying my suspension of disbelief, and defiling a good thing.  Again. Still.

You probably know about Gamergate.  Maybe you’ve read articles like this one by Latonya Pennington about how even if you aren’t subject to direct violence or threats when you dare to step into male-dominated gaming spaces (that’s pretty much all of them, FYI), dudes will (inadvertently or sometimes deliberately) push you out by making the group culture so vaguely hostile that you’ll eventually give up and go away–and then they’ll call you crazy for it.  The whole thing is exacerbated if you’re queer or a person of color.

Pushing back can lead to being alienated or less respected.  If you can’t stand the heat, they say, get out of the kitchen.  Better yet, stay there and make me a sandwich.  (That is an actual thing someone said to me once.) As if rape jokes come standard with gaming culture and there’s nothing we can do about it except continue to issue them while denying that anything is wrong.  Death to false logic!

Before my latest D&D stint, I played World of Warcraft for a number of years.  I deliberately chose an ugly, male troll as my avatar and named him something that sounded like the German word for goblin puke.  I played a warrior and eventually became a guild officer and class lead. I did that because it was fun, but also to protect myself from harassment.

My very unfeminine, aggressive, powerful character was an effective shield. When new guild members would hear my voice over Vent, they’d often be taken aback that I wasn’t a guy and I was in charge of them.  The jig was up.  My elaborate ruse to create a fantasy world/character untouched by the daily realities of misogyny and rape culture inevitably ended when my voice shattered the illusion.

Even though I was mostly playing with a bunch of people that had been gaming together for years and knew each other to varying degrees, there were still rape jokes.  Unfortunate or undesirable things were called “gay” and “retarded.”  Players were advised to not be pussies or fags. There were attempts to rename the guild after pornographic acts that demeaned women.  It was all “just joking around,” you see.

There is a hatred and fear of the feminine in mainstream culture and it’s (in my experience) more amplified in gaming culture.  Guild chat, player-vs-player combat, and talking into headsets for everyone to hear become proving grounds for masculinity.  Gaming–whether it’s tabletop or online–is creative and awesome, but absolutely not approved by the arbiters of all things masculine.

To make up for it, gamers can work hard, level up, and become more powerful, thus allowing them to dominate their enemies in evermore fantastic ways.  Things like tea-bagging someone you just killed (bouncing up and down to simulate repeatedly putting one’s testicle’s on another avatar’s face) are displays of dominant masculinity, but they are also a feminization of the enemy.  There is shame in being feminized, in being feminine.  Here, weakness, gayness, and ineptitude are all conflated with the quality of being feminine.

mi·sog·y·ny
məˈsäjənē/

noun

dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.
“she felt she was struggling against thinly disguised misogyny”

It could be argued that the constant numerical, measurable ascension toward ever greater power in games reinforces a culture of entitlement that is already prevalent in rape culture among white, hetero, cisgender men.  I did the thing!  You give me reward! (P.S. You’re the reward.)

In fact, everything about gaming reflects that entitlement back at male gamers: the objectification of female avatars, the absence of complex female heroes, the tired save-the-princess tropes, women as rewards, women as ornamentation or backdrops, the hyper-sexualization of female avatars, etc.  Anita Sarkeesian explored these themes in her seminal series, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” and–wait for it–got rape and death threats for her trouble.

When the entitlement math breaks down, when the prize is denied, that’s when things get lethal and terrifying for women and gender-diverse people.  I mean, just openly being a woman or gender diverse (or not white) on the Internet is scary; doing it in gaming spaces ups the ante exponentially.

So I walked into my new D&D crew with some considerable apprehension.  What if the men I was going to play with ended up being those kind of gamers?  What if it wasn’t safe?  What is the entire night was full of microaggressions and I wouldn’t be able to come back? There are no headsets; I can’t just turn off Vent and ghost out when I’ve had enough or need a break.

In the end, it was totally safe.  Davey put together a group of compassionate, reflexive, creative thinkers and a campaign full of surprises that honors gender diversity.  The players, too, brought surprising, atypical characters to the campaign. The guy that role plays a female character does so with nuance and care. When things come up, we deal with it.  The men I play with call each other out (“Tasha has been trying to suggest something for a while–let’s listen”) with minimal trauma and zero male tears. I want to go all the way to Mordor and back with these guys!  The long way, too–not the trick with the eagles.

But it could have gone the other way, and you just never know.  That’s the thing.

Rape culture is all around us, whether we game or not.  But gaming adds new stakes that I didn’t even know existed until we all sat around the table.

I lived to tell the tale, but how many women and gender-diverse gamers will never pick up a bag of dice or a keyboard because it doesn’t feel safe or they’ve been pushed out of the scene already?  We need some serious Title IX enforcement for gaming.

Look: Men may be the most dominant gamer group, but they aren’t the most numerous.  If you’re a guy who games, use your dominant voice to call out other guys on bullshit behavior.

Gaming culture is a living, organic thing.  It’s not static.  It hasn’t “always been this way.”  We can decide what defines it and whether or not we want rape culture and misogyny to be a part of it.

How about not.

Ingrid Lyne’s Murder Is Every Woman’s Worst Fear

 

Photo of Ingrid Lyne and her children (children's faces are blurred for privacy)

Image shows Ingrid Lyne with her arms her three children (whose faces are blurred for privacy), all sporting Seahawks gear and smiling into the camera. (Image courtesy of the GoFundMe campaign to benefit Lyne’s children.)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the murder of single mom, Ingrid Lyne. As a single mom myself who lives not too far from where Ingrid was raising her kids (and was then later found in a recycling bin), the whole thing gives me the chills.

Frankly, women everywhere are getting the chills. Unlike most of the men I talk to, they don’t see it as a freak occurrence, but as the realization of their worst fear and the ultimate failure of their ongoing efforts to avoid their own rape or murder.

Every woman I’ve talked to knows it could have been her. People of all genders are remarking on how Lyne “took every reasonable precaution” and yet it still happened. Do you know what that means to women? It means that you can do everything right–check off all the items on your personal safety list–and you can still be killed by a man. It means that the idea that you can prevent your own rape or murder is bullshit, an illusion of rape culture that promotes victim blaming and misogyny. It means the perpetual precautions you take every moment of your waking life are quite probably a colossal waste of time.

Perhaps more than anyone, women have internalized victim blaming. Without thinking too much about it, we spend our days avoiding rape and murder. It begins when we wake up with the clothes we put on. It continues as we walk out the door and worry about the consequences of wearing a hood even though it’s raining, as we weigh the risks of looking at a screen while we walk, have 911 on speed dial, square our shoulders and walk with the “right” posture, avoid certain routes, shield ourselves from strangers on public transport, screen potential dates, not reject street harassment too rudely, and so much more.

We do these things without thinking and we do them in perpetuity. I’ll say it again: We spend nearly 100% of our time doing things that we believe will help us avoid being raped or murdered. We have been doing it our whole lives, which is a long time. It almost doesn’t seem like it’s costing us any effort at all because it’s second nature, dialed up on auto-pilot. “Natural.” But it’s not natural and it’s still energy spent. It takes away from other ways we could be using our brains/time and it means that it’s dangerous to be in our bodies.

So when the news broke that Ingrid Lyne went on a date with John Charlton and got murdered for it, women everywhere unconsciously evaluated her behavior and interrogated the situation, walking ourselves through Lyne’s paces. Sure, she met him online, but Charlton wasn’t a stranger to Lyne; they’d been dating for 6-8 weeks (check). Their date was in a public place (the Mariners game–check) and she told folks where she was going (check).

So we wonder if Lyne missed warning signs. We start asking about Charlton’s criminal background and we discover his history of drugs, theft, assault and battery, the creepy threat he made to his mother in 2006 when, after some macho chest-bumping and a few hours of verbal assault, he presented her with the movie Hannibal and told her to “beware.” Maybe we need to add “get an assault-and-battery background check” to our list of murder-avoidance rituals before we go on dates–even if it’s someone we’ve been dating a little while.

It would make us feel safer if we could find some hole in Lyne’s actions leading up to her murder because it would mean that maybe–just maybe–we have some control.

Think about it: Before we could even talk about the crime, we had to make sure Lyne wasn’t culpable somehow. That’s victim blaming, one of the most deeply ingrained forms of internalized misogyny I know. Looking it in the eye and explicitly rejecting it means letting go of the notion that we are in any way agents of our own safety where men are concerned. The reality is, there are no sufficiently “reasonable precautions” we can take or “right” ways to behave that will ensure we won’t be raped or murdered by a man.

The unfortunate alternative to victim blaming is that it doesn’t fucking matter what you do: You can “take every reasonable precaution” and still end up in pieces in a stranger’s recycling bin.

So now what?

Ingrid Lyne’s murder did not happen in a vacuum. I didn’t know her, but I’m also a single mom with two kids and, like most women, have spent my entire life practicing ongoing rape-and-murder avoidance rituals (at times with better results than others). It’s not a theoretical, hypothetical conversation for me and I know from talking to other women that they feel similarly.

Ingrid Lyne’s murder does two contradictory things: It confirms the need for women to continue our vigilance (because look what happened!) and it also points out the uselessness of that vigilance (because look what happened!).

So when you hear people talking about the very “reasonable” precautions Lyne took to avoid being murdered, point out the absurdity of it. Interrogate the master narrative. Get curious. Point out the inherent toxic masculinity and victim blaming of it, since those things are perpetuated by our silence and passive acceptance. You have a particular duty to call it out if you’re a beneficiary of rape culture.

Men, if your women friends talk about it with you, listen. Don’t ask them to be reasonable. Don’t tell them to calm down (tone policing). Don’t tell them they’re imagining the gendered nature of the crime (gaslighting). Just because you haven’t experienced living in constant fear of rape and murder doesn’t mean it’s not real 24/7 for over half of the population.

People of color, transfolk, and the queer community are at even greater risk for this type of violence , though it certainly doesn’t get the same–or often any–attention in the media. We have a particular responsibility to call that out, too.

This much is clear: Although it might be more comforting to do so, dismissing the murder of Ingrid Lyne as a freak occurrence isn’t doing anyone any favors.

 

P.S. You can donate money to support Ingrid Lyne’s three children here.