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Archive for February 18th, 2010

We live in a culture that normalizes violence and rape as appropriate responses to love and lust.

I’m sure this isn’t quite what you expected of a post on Valentine’s Day (er, okay, a few days later – this was intended to go up on Valentine’s Day), but I take my job as an advocate of women and of people with disabilities fairly seriously. And yeah, I do think of myself as being an advocate. It’s better than being a victim.

Ooh, the v-word.

This is part one woman’s experience and part a little talk about how things are. Because when it comes to how we treat love and lust, things ain’t good, honey. Things ain’t good.

The overwhelming majority of victims of domestic abuse are female. An appalling proportion of PWDs have lived through abuse. The majority of rape victims, especially date rape victims, are women. The worst part isn’t just the numbers, but how our culture normalizes and accepts these things.

Why the abuse? I’d say it has to do with power, control, and value. Culturally, we value men over women, ABs over PWDs. Women, children, and PWDs find ourselves in places where someone else can have control and power over us. That’s not to say that people who are AB or male aren’t ever abused. I’m talking about the majority.

Wow, that’s a majority you don’t want to find yourself part of.

And yet, here I am. I’ve survived abuse of multiple kinds. Oh yes, that I have lived through.

So here are my scars. I grew up in a family that yells, verbal violence if you will. One side of my extended family is prone to saying incredibly hurtful things – one of my cousins knows that he was unwanted because he was born male, my grandfather makes very nasty comments about people’s weight and general appearances, my aunt made us learn the song ‘If I only had a brain’ when we were children. When I was 17, I found myself in a relationship I didn’t intend, and one that was abusive, for all the typical reasons – I didn’t know how to say no, I didn’t think a woman who was smart and strong ended up in abusive situations, he just kept pushing and pushing, and I didn’t want to hurt him (especially this, because he was emotionally unstable and I felt like it would be my fault if he committed suicide because I hurt him). I can’t tell you how many times, when I was dating, I moved a man’s hand off of somewhere I didn’t want it and had him put it back. And the times when they de-valued my boundaries even more – when I told them to keep their hand off of a location verbally, making it absolutely clear what I meant, and was told that he ‘just couldn’t help [him]self’. When I was told that it was my mental illness that was causing the break-up, that he could see it coming, when the problem was really that he didn’t respect boundaries on ANY level. I’ve been verbally abused quite deliberately by an AB housemate (who, among other things, told me that I was faking it, that I was drug-seeking, that I was crazy and sick in the head, and that I should adopt a dog from the pound so a ‘real’ disabled person could get a service dog instead of me). Add to the list of people who have lashed out at me my AB classmates, even by an AB professor.

I have the utmost respect for a great many men in my life, so the excuse that a man is ruled by his gonads just doesn’t fly with me. I know too many men who would stop at a suggestion that their interest or touch was undesired, and men who have stepped between me and an abuser. To say that men can’t help themselves is to say that their penis has the ability to lobotamize them. Can you really believe that? No. It’s something we’ve imbedded into our culture quite thoroughly, though. And as for the blue balls argument, frankly a man is quite able to move himself into the bathroom and take care of things for himself it that’s such a problem for him.

We teach date-rape quite well. How many times do we blame women for getting drunk rather than men for taking advantage of drunkenness? If you want a particularly cringe-worthy episode of that, check out Jamie Foxx’s ‘Blame it on the Alcohol’, which includes the lovely line “Couple more shots you open up like a book”, and lists several brands of alcohol the girl should blame for what happens…rather than blaming the man who pressures or assaults her. We have enough culture of getting women drunk for sex that it’s unwanted. Women learn that they ‘owe’ someone sex if they get an expensive dinner or gifts. And of course, we’re told that we shouldn’t be mean, shouldn’t push back, shouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings by refusing. Our wants and needs should be subsumed under a veneer of ‘polite behavior’.

We create a culture of blame for women who are raped. We ask what they were wearing, if they were drunk, where they were walking, if they had suggestive conversations or behavior. We ask if they locked their doors, if they were careful to stay out of dark places. We ask if they fought back, if they yelled, if they tried to prevent their rape. We tell women that they should not walk alone after dark, that they should only drink with friends to watch out for them, and that they must watch their drinks at all time.

And then there is domestic abuse. Instead of helping women escape from abusive situations, we tell them that they need to get themselves out without any regard for the fact that they probably have been cut off from friends, family, and finances needed to break free. We say that domestic abuse is a terrible problem and we should fight it, but we show it on TV as a ‘plot point’. As a matter of fact, we are so conditioned to accept it that shows have implied threat of violence…and most people don’t even notice it.

All of this adds up to a terrible toll on women, on people with disabilities, and on children.

So what do we do?

We teach our SONS as well as our daughters that they should not just believe ‘no means no’, but they should seek ‘yes means yes’ – enthusiastic participation instead of passive lack of resistance. We stop treating women as the sexual gatekeepers who must be persuaded. We believe women when they say they have been assaulted, made uncomfortable, threatened, or hurt. We support people who have lived through this, whether they describe themselves as victims or survivors. We blame the attacker, not the person who is harmed. We support shelters, especially domestic abuse shelters. We put in better lighting. We teach women that they matter, that their feelings are important. We stop objectifying women. We stop comparing women to food, to animals, to art, to mannekins, and start treating them as people. We teach people that there is NOTHING that obligates another person to ‘give’ sex – not marriage, not expensive dinners, not dates, not even saying that they will (and later changing their minds).

Most importantly, we STOP teaching our daughters to be ‘nice girls’, because being ‘nice’ lets predators in. It’s incredibly important to create a difference between polite social behavior and de-valuing our own needs and wants.

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