Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Rules of Rape Culture: On Self-Help and Self-Blaming

The neglectful blogger returns!  So for the extremely small number of readers that have remained, I finished the MLIS and have now embarked upon the PhD in Library and Information Science.  Right now, I'm in a tiny limbo for another week or so until the PhD classes start.  Since I'm just taking Storytelling and International Children's Literature in the first part of the summer, I have been cramming all the extracurricular reading I can manage into the nooks and crannies.  My current read is Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Promise Land:  My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture, and chapter 2 horrified me.

A little confession:  I kind of hate self-help as a genre.  For the most part to me the books seem disingenuous and creepy.  I know that some people claim they worked for them, and I am genuinely glad that they were helped.  But I still hate the whole lot of it.  I particularly hate the "find-a-man," marriage section and their seeming need to time warp back to the 1950s to "help" people with relationships.  When I was in high school, a book called The Rules came out.  I never read it; I was then in the throes of my I'm-going-to-hell-because-I-like-girls thing.  The Rules was about as far from my interests as you could have gotten at that point.  I truthfully don't know if girls I went to school with read the thing, but I think I remember some talking about it my senior year.  Regardless of my memory, my age group would have at least known about and been cognizant of the book.

Like I said, I never read it.  In fact, I can say with certainty that until I started chapter 2 of Lamb-Shapiro's books, I knew next to zero about the content.  I knew it was gaggingly old-fashioned and led women to believe that they could control men and relationships with weird rules.  What I didn't know is that it is completely crazy and suggests crap straight out of a 1952 Ladies Home Journal.  In the book and seminars (which are still apparently a thing), women are counseled to play the ever-popular hard-to-get and manipulate the men they are dating at the same time.  Some advice from the book, quoted by Lamb-Shapiro:

  • Don't sound cynical or depressed...act as if you were born happy.
  • Be quiet...Sometimes men want to drive in silence...Don't ruin his concentration.
  • Hide self-help books, Prozac, bathrobes, and apparently anything that might let him in on the secret that you aren't a Stepford girlfriend before he comes over.
They also tell women how many times a week the man should be allowed to see her (only once a week the first month and only a very little more as the relationship progresses).  He is supposed to be driven crazy by the lack of access to you.  Right now, some of you are saying, well, even though this advice seems a bit archaic and icky around the edges, it doesn't seem to deserve the blog title.  

I'm getting to that.

So, in Lamb-Shapiro's book, she is attending a Rules seminar, and a woman stands up to give her "success story."  You know, to be the after image.  She supposedly followed the book and purchased the private sessions with the authors for a makeover and consultation (which incidentally includes advice on plastic surgery), and BAM! she lands her a man.  She mentions that there are a few problems during the engagement, but she just kept throwing the Rules at him hoping to fix it.  They married, and she finds out he's a touch on the abusive and angry side.  The authors, who of course have written The Rules for Marriage, help her once again, and she once again throws Rules at him trying to fix the relationship.  Luckily, she got out of the marriage before it escalated, but her explanation is that she did not follow the Rules closely enough.

Pause.  Read that again.  This woman blamed her abusive marriage on the fact that she did not follow some arcane and ridiculous self-help book closely enough.  The book explicitly states, "Abuse doesn't happen in a Rules relationship because when you play hard to get and he works like hell to get you, he thinks you're the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world, even if you're not.  He treats you like a precious jewel."  In another part of the book, they claim, "It's good when men get upset; it means they care about you.  If they're not angry, they're indifferent, and if they're indifferent, they've got one foot out the door."  Women are counseled to be sexually distant and not talking about "your needs" unless asked.  What we have here is a recipe for a dangerous relationship.

I am perfectly aware that the self-help genre in general thrives because it makes users believe that if what they're peddling doesn't work, it's because they didn't try hard enough.  That's bad enough when you're talking  How to Be More Positive, but when you're making people believe it is their supposed bad direction following that caused a spouse to abuse them?  The brakes need to be put on, folks.  

In a related vein, during the seminar one of the authors is discussing "allowing" the man to see you.  She says that she limited her now-husband to the recommended number of times in the book.  He wasn't "allowed" to talk to her more than five minutes a day, but now that they're married he can talk to her all he wants.  "But he gave me rings, he bought me a house; he owns me now, so it's okay."  

This, people, this sort of derivative drivel out of the stone ages is what's driving rape culture.  People are brought up hearing this sort of "advice" and believe it.  Women aren't supposed to make their sexual voices heard, so they don't.  They believe that being raped or in an abusive relationship is the end result of their own lack of ability to be a "proper woman" of some sort.  Can we please agree that this is not the way to create a functional society?

The Rules may not be relevant in itself anymore, but the advice it gives is still here.  The seminars they offer still get paid for and attended.  Yet more women are being set up as victims and told they cannot be the main character in their own lives.  This is not okay.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why We're Fighting

Some days, days like today, all I want to do is curl up on my couch and cry and hide and hug my wife.  Apparently in Missouri, a gay man was arrested for trying to see his partner in the hospital.  The sick man's family didn't want him there, and the nurse refused to look at the power of attorney papers they had.  He was handcuffed and removed from the hospital.  Now he can't return at all because the hospital has placed him under a restraining order.  You can read the full story here.

I am constantly told by straight people, both ally and enemy to the gay community, that full marriage is not required.  That we have the capability of being just as protected as any hetero couple out there if we just have the correct legal papers in order.  Well, here's a newsflash for those who agree with that idea:


One more time in case you didn't quite understand:


Regardless of the fact that Obama signed something "guaranteeing" that we would not have to deal with situations like this, apparently we still do.  Full legal marriage would prevent things like this.  A stack of papers "simulating" marital status does not.  This poor man just wanted to see his partner, who was lying sick in the hospital, probably just wondering where his partner was.  There is no telling what the stupid family told him about the absence.  They were obviously not the most supportive of the relationship from what I can tell.

THIS is why we keep fighting for marriage. Not civil unions or domestic partnerships, but full, protected marriage.  Yes, we take these lesser items when offered because any protection is better than none at all.  I will sure as hell be in line May 1 when Leon County, Florida starts letting us register as domestic partners.  We need the protection.  Just last year my partner had to have a surgical procedure, and I damn near gave myself an ulcer being terrified and worried that if (Goddess forbid) something happened I would be denied access and decision making ability.  That her family, which is 6 hours away and Jehovah's Witness affiliated, would be the only ones allowed to choose what happened.  I live my life this terrified.  What if I get hurt at work or somewhere, and they don't let her in to see me or make decisions for me?  What if...what if...what if... 

I'm tired as hell of living life terrified.  I decided long ago that my orientation and relationship were not secrets to be hidden.  I have not once changed a pronoun or deferred a conversation because I was worried about the consequences.  I am proud to be who I am, and I am certainly proud to be with my awesome wife of 15 years.  She's amazing and beautiful and brilliant and wonderfully geeky, but my pride will not protect us.  It will not grant either of us the power to control decisions if the worst happens.  And apparently neither will those papers of approximation. Think about that the next time you want to tell me a union or partnership or talk with a lawyer will be enough.    

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

She has such pretty face...

A good friend of ours is expecting a daughter, and I was picking up a few more things for her baby shower gift in Wal-Mart today.  I came around the corner and found this:

This is a onesie starting in size 0-3 months.  ZERO TO THREE MONTHS!  On the other side of the rack was one intended for boys in gray that said "Don't call me chubby. This is all muscle."  

So what?  A lot of people (including the woman working the infants section) think this is cute.  It is not cute, and let me tell you why.  I've pretty much always been a big girl.  I started gaining weight in fourth grade, and it has fluctuated up and down my whole life.  As a kid, I dieted all the time.  I tried all the ones in the women's magazines laying around the house, and I even checked weight loss books out of the library aimed at kids.  People took it upon themselves to tell me "You have such a pretty face." and "You'd be so much prettier if you just lost a few pounds."  Bullies at school called me a variety of uninspired and cruel names.  I learned to hate my body, hate what it looked like, and it has only been in the last couple of years that I have finally come to a cease fire.  I'm 33.  So for 20+ years, I put tons of energy into hating and hating and hating the one and only body I have.  Yes, I am heavier than I would like.  I would  not be averse to dropping a few pounds in order to be able to buy some of the clothes I like that do not come in my current size.  However, no matter how big or small I am, it has nothing to do with who I actually am, but I was brought up in a society in which one's worth is believed to be tied to one's weight.  Is this really a tradition we want to continue?

No child, girl or boy, needs to grow up in an environment of shame and self-hatred.  There is nothing wrong with promoting healthy living, but there's a fine line between that and the area in which fat-shaming and the offensive onesie live.  The baby I was buying gifts for is not my own, and I do not plan on having any.  I do, however, have very fertile friends, and I want more than anything to promote a world in which our friends' daughters and sons are brought up to value their intelligence, kindness, and courage rather than the size of their jeans.  A world in which onesies like this are not a reality.  A world in which no one hears "But you have such a pretty face" anymore.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Waxing Poetic the Tenth, Poetry Month Day 9: Just Give Me a Chance

I don't want to jinx things, so I'll just say that the title and some of the sentiment of today's choice is all I want to scream.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Waxing Poetic the Ninth, Poetry Month Day 8: "We Didn't Vilify White People..."

Continuing with my spoken word series here, I present you the amazing Suheir Hammad, a woman of Palestinian heritage with more talent in her little finger than I have in my whole head.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Waxing Poetic the Eighth, Poetry Month Day 7: What Teachers Make

I have had some brilliant teachers in my time, both as a kid and in college. Not only that, but I have some awesome friends who are teachers. AND I have discovered just how much I love to teach while guest lecturing to Women's Studies classes. So needless to say, I adore Taylor Mali's poem "What Teachers Make." If you haven't heard it before, you are in for a treat, and if you have, do yourself a favor and check out some of his other work. You will not be sorry. I heard him last year on campus, and it was one of the best readings I have ever been to, bar none.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Waxing Poetic the Seventh, Poetry Month Day 6: Why So Damn Serious?

According to some of my former workshop members, poetry is not supposed to be funny. When faced with a perfectly brilliant verse about how some other girl's shoe ruined everything or an equally awesome one in praise of asses, they turned their noses (already in the air as it was) up and declared them unworthy. And while I am no expert, I am capable of identifying good poetry, and these were great. But they weren't serious. They weren't good enough to join the "He-Man Stuck Up Poets Club." Well, pardon my French, but fuck them. Poetry is the language of humanity, and we are not serious all the time.

In that vein, here's Beau Sia: