Thursday, June 12, 2014

Elliot Rodgers, The F-word, and Why I Can't Do This Anymore

Today, I unsubscribed from all of my feminist websites and newsletters.

Not because I disagree with their message (a.k.a. promoting equality for all human beings), but because I just couldn't read another sickening story about atrocities that still happen to women in the 21st century. And this post is not about unpacking what feminism is and what feminism is not. I'm not here to argue what the feminists should or should not be doing. Put aside "the word" and think about one woman in your life.

I mean, have you read the news lately? As a human being, it's all a bit heart-breaking:
  • Elliot Rodger's May 23 shooting spree provoked by women who wouldn't have sex with him.
  • A group within the Men's Rights Movement that says "drunk women are freaking begging to be raped." And other on-line threats that are so appalling, I was even afraid to mention them here at all. 
  • The Steubenville boys who repeatedly raped a teenage girl and posted videos about it on-line.
  • One in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
  • Every year 683,000 adult American women are forcibly raped each year, that's 59,916 per month, 1,871 per day, 78 per hour, and 1.3 per minute.
  • It's estimated that 60% of rapes are not reported to police and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. 
  • And oftentimes women do not report the rape to police because of the incredible shame that is bestowed on women instead of their attackers. From women being interrogated with "What were you wearing?" and "Did you kind of like it?"
  • There are 400,000 untested rape kits sitting in evidence rooms across the country. Which means that 400,000 women went through a second unwanted violation in the hopes that their attackers would be punished and then...absolutely nothing happened.
  • Rape jokes exist. And people laugh at them. Ya know, because rape is hilarious!
  • Domestic violence.
  • Molestation.
  • Incest.
  • Gang rapes.
  • "Corrective" rape of lesbian women.
  • Honor killings.
  • Female genital mutilation.
  • Child brides.
  • Child pornography.
  • Gonzo pornography which presents women as just objectified "things" and degrades them using sexual cruelty.
  • Cat calls on the street.
  • Women who are being killed for rejecting a man's sexual advances.

The world is not a safe place for women. 

As Nicholas D. Kristof writes in Half the Sky:
“More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century...That should be an international scandal.” 

But it's not.

It's almost like we expect violence in men. It's become so normal we hardly notice it. After all, 83% of crimes are committed by men. And it's not all men. It's some men who violate and dehumanize women. I can easily find one hundred good men who are fighting the good fight to protect and honor women. But I can't find you one woman--not one--who has not been harassed or assaulted at the hands of a man. And sadly, women are not the only victims of violence and I know many of these atrocities are happening to men too (particularly gay men, but that's a whole 'nother blog).

 And it's maddening. And it's saddening. And it feels like this:

Like I'm trying my darndest to carry all of this stuff.
I read these stories everyday.
And it breaks my heart.

But I carry.
I hold on to these stories.
I continue reading and learning.
Because it's the least I can do.
Surely, I can feel uncomfortable and horrified for fifteen minutes of my day.
Because another woman is living this everyday.
The least I can do is give a damn, right?

And so, I do.
I read.
I sign on-line petitions.
I "share" relevant issues and articles on-line.
I write letters to Amnesty International.
I talk about the work of feminism with anyone who will listen.
I hurt for these women because they are my sisters.

I can't carry all of this.
It's impossible.
But I can't unsee it either because it's everywhere.
And I'm afraid to be home alone.
Afraid to walk to my car at night. 
Fearful of male strangers.
I worry about the safety of women in my life.
And you can't tell me I have no reason
because I have every reason.

So, what's girl to do?

Being scared isn't helping me, only paralyzing me.
On-line activism is limited and feels meaningless.
Carrying these stories on my shoulders is not sustainable.
But putting them down feels like defeat.
Like I'm giving up on them.
Letting this slide.

And at the end of the day, I wonder:  How is what I'm doing actually helping women? 

So, I'm curious:

How do you process injustice and stay present in your own life?

How do you face a world of persistent bad news and still remain optimistic?

How do you combat compassion fatigue?

How do you fight for justice without becoming jaded?

How do you care deeply without being traumatized--or worse yet--indifferent?


Mindy said...

Thank you, Heather, for this honest and extremely relevant post. My own response to this issue is ever evolving... But I have found that as a feminist, compassionate self-care is the realization that self-traumatizing does NOT help anyone. Not women. Not men. Not the fight for justice. Not my own soul. It’s not effective.

And the realities you are talking about ARE traumatizing. They are real. They are horrific. We should be traumatized by them.

But I had to realize early on that allowing my inner optimist to become battered and immobilized by chronic exposure to the sheer awfulness simply makes me yet another victim. It hands the darkness too much power.

So I guess the best I’ve come up with is a constant balancing act between ongoing self-education/activism and self-care/preservation. Learning that it’s okay to filter when and how much I take on. Not as a form of escapism, apathy or denial. Not to turn a blind eye. But in a conscious and concerted effort to extend to myself the very same principles of love and compassion that I wish to extend to the world at large. If I wish to promulgate a worldview that fights against these atrocities through human kindness, awareness and understanding, I must extend these very same principles to myself. As in: Learning when to take a step back and just breathe. Learning to recognize within myself when I may need to lay it down and actively seek out joy. Learning to take emotional and empathetic timeouts. So that: I can then be even more effective when I pick it all back up. I will have the inner strength to push onward in the struggle for a better world. I can bear witness and provide a voice on behalf of those victimized. I am able make a difference. I can stay true to what feminism means to me.

Its understanding on at a very basic level, that if I allow myself to become empty, I’ll have nothing left to give. It’s actively filling myself up with all the good I can hold, so that I am then able to fight against the bad. We change the world—not all at once, not on a grand scale and not by telling others how they should be—but through what we allow ourselves to learn through our own life metamorphosis. Its understanding that compassionate self-care is the MOST unselfish and powerful thing we can do for the world.

But of course, just like everything else I have good and bad days with being able to apply all this in my own life…and that’s okay too. :) Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and insights in this blog.

(BTW: I really love the picture you drew!)

Heather said...

Thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts here, Mindy. I thought I would have heard from a few more voices and have been admittedly a little bit disappointed that I didn't because I really need some guidance on how to move forward. But you said, quite artfully, what I know to be true: there's no quick fix, self-care is not the same as a blind eye, we're all just doing our best. Onward.