Last week’s theme of silence leads perfectly into this week’s focus of Speaking Out. All week women (and some men) from many occupations have been openly discussing the sexual harassment and abuse they have endured: from Viola Davis to America Ferrera and Reese Witherspoon; author Emma Cline; and just this morning, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney.
My journey to sharing my story(s) began when I was 25. The first person I ever told that I’d been sexually abused and raped was the first man I had consensual sexual with, a man who turned out to be a violent abuser. In the early days I did not see the anger under Kevin’s charming demeanor. When I told him about the abuse, he didn’t blame me, he believed me, and he didn’t use it against me. Looking back, I question my motivation for sharing the truth. It wasn’t because I felt a closeness to him; it was more a culturally inherited “need” to come “clean.” Part of me saw myself as “damaged goods,” and I believed he had the right to know about my past since we were now intimate. Because I thought so little of myself, I was giving him an out, in case he wanted to leave.
Two of my brothers, visiting me in New Hampshire a few years later, were the next to hear my story. We’d been drinking at the bar where I waited tables and something prompted the conversation on our ride home. I spilled the truth about an incestuous uncle. Both brothers were disgusted, shocked and furious. Somewhere in this time, I also talked to a couple of girlfriends who it turns out had experienced similar incidents. I started writing about it in code in journals. Once I became involved in the book The Artist’s Way, my stories began to trickle out. Then I joined a life changing weekly writing workshop led by my first mentor Genie Zeiger. Writing the abuse, sharing the stories aloud with group members, made me stronger. That led to me leading writing groups at The Survivors’ Project, for women who had been sexually abused as children. Helping others claim their stories and share them, watching their heads lift, their smiles come more easily, was some of the best work I’ve ever done.
What got me there were books by other female writers: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Go Ask Alice when I was younger. Later, books like Bastard Out of Carolina and The Color Purple helped me feel less alone. Other people’s stories can fuel our own. Can give us the fire to keep walking. But as Madelyn Kent says in her recent Guernica interview, “Not having your story makes you vulnerable, but having only one also does.” I learned that the hard way when I first began reading my work aloud in public forums. At a local library, I was part of a Women’s Reading and a reporter asked me about a poem I’d read which was as I’d described at the reading, a watershed poem, the first I’d ever written about surviving domestic violence. I answered her questions hurriedly and without real consideration, because I had friends in the audience from Boston and I was more interested in speaking with them. When the article was published, I was painted as a woman who was nothing but a D.V. Survivor.
I began writing and telling my story on the page because I wanted to be believed. I wanted to be validated. I wanted to claim it, instead of hiding it. But it’s not the only story I have. I’m not just a survivor of abuse. I’m also a writer of many subjects and a painter of landscapes and brightly colored visual narratives. I’m a woman who loves traveling the United States and Europe alone. My life is rich with friends and family and laughter and former students who still stay in touch. I fly fish and collect random objects for assemblage art pieces. I play “Spit” and Poker with young nieces who always, legit, beat me! I love visiting the family cemetery and pouring libations over the graves of those who’ve gone before me. I love wolves and ravens and hiking and sitting on the back deck gazing through tree branches, listening for the fall of deer hooves and the cackles of pileated woodpeckers.
And I have the greatest respect for anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they don’t feel they can tell their stories, those who still don’t feel safe doing so. Because Speaking Out isn’t always the best option. And maybe, as a friend said recently, keeping the story inside is another way of claiming it. It’s certainly a way of having control over it, when the experience of being overpowered took all control away.
As many of us took to facebook and twitter this week with #me too, it’s important to note, for those unaware, that Tarana Burke, a woman of color, initiated the Me Too movement ten years ago. See her response to this week’s events in Colorlines. On a similar note, Dame Magazine published an article titled, “When Will We Learn to Listen to Black Women?” that furthers the discourse on white feminism.
Other articles this week include the unveiling of a new Comfort Women statue in San Francisco; a Muslim Travel Guide; a response to Rose McGowan’s twitter message about James Corden’s joke; an article prompted by Woody Allen’s fears of a “witch hunt;” and an update on devastating conditions in Puerto Rico. I have also chosen to include Jane Dykema’s essay, “What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch,’” a powerful piece on “believing and being believed.” It is followed here with Carmen Machado’s original fictional story, which I believe is a Must Read.
So, for these stories and more, Read On! Your comments are always welcome.
1. The work that I’m doing, in this movement, is really about survivors talking to survivors. “Me too” is about using the power of empathy to stomp out shame. So we need to keep talking about it. I appreciate the hashtag elevating the conversation, but it’s not a hashtag, it’s not a moment. This is a movement. The reason people didn’t know my name is because people don’t think about this unless there is something big happening. So what needs to happen is that we need to stop just popping up when somebody famous does something, and we need to look at the numbers, people and survivors, and think strategically. I think like an organizer, and this is an epidemic.
“WATCH: ‘#MeToo’ Creator Tarana Burke on Resurgence of the Movement for Sexual Assault Survivors”/ by Sameer Rao/ Colorlines/ October 17, 2017
2. Black women see this treatment from all sides now despite history showing just how wrong it is. We are culturally silenced as well. I have lost count of the number of white women who have asked me to forget being black in favor of their movement. The recent Twitter boycott is a good example. The boycott was created as a day where women would leave Twitter in protest of Rose McGowan’s account being suspended briefly after she spoke out about Harvey Weinstein. I did not participate, not because I don’t support Rose and victims of sexual assault, but because women of color, especially Black women, are never supported when we are harassed or threatened on social media, and because we are silenced so much by so many that the idea of silencing ourselves does not feel empowering. When the women who participated in the boycott returned to Twitter, some were upset to find that April Reign had started the #WOCAffirmation hashtag in their absence. Black women are silenced enough in this country in ways both obvious and not, and many black women took issue with the idea of further silencing ourselves. Some women took our stance as a personal attack on them and a way to divide feminism, refusing to consider that the boycott may have been flawed and that they themselves had long ignored us in the same way they felt they were being ignored by others.
“When Will We Learn to Listen to Black Women?”/ by Keah Brown/ DAME/ October 17, 2017
3. Hill posits that we as a society are in a “critical moment,” and the way forward is with public and private institutions diversifying leadership, “and finally giv[ing] more real power to those who have experienced inequality firsthand in order to stop devaluing women.”
“Anita Hill on the Weinstein Scandal: This Type of Shit Happens Every Day”/ by Angela Helm/ The Root/ October 15, 2017
4. So, Mr. Allen et al., I know you hate gossip and rumor mills, but unfortunately they’re the only recourse we have. We wish it were different too. In a just system, Weinstein would have faced career-ruining social and professional consequences the first time he changed into a bathrobe and begged a horrified woman for a massage. In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets. Weinstein’s life, like Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall. It’s the story of someone who got away with it.
“Yes, This is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You.”/ Lindy West/ New York Times/ October 17, 2017
5. So instead of co-opting the struggle of black people by making false equivalencies such as these, McGowan should have been preoccupied with putting in some damn work and finding some way to call out James Corden without throwing black women (and black people at large) under the bus. Again.
“#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, Part 2: On Rose McGowan and the Continued Failure of White Feminism”/ Clarkisha Kent/ The Root/ October 18, 2017
6. Helen Malson writes in her book The Thin Woman that while thin, boyish bodies might be seen as “cultural rejections of the feminine” and seem to “signify power and control,” thin, boyish bodies do not subvert gender entirely. “This construction also resonates with constructions of the thin body as childlike, as powerless, dependent and femininely fragile; a construction which seems far from liberatory.”
“Hunger Inside My Queer Body”/ by Genevieve Hudson/ Catapult/ October 17, 2017
7. Andrés landed in Puerto Rico on Sept. 25 and immediately started working with chef José Enrique, whose eponymous San Juan restaurant was already preparing batches of sancocho — a Puerto Rican beef stew — for hungry residents. In their first couple of days together, the chefs produced enough food to feed 1,000 or 2,000 people. Within a week of Andrés’s appearance on the island, their numbers skyrocketed to 25,000 meals per day, now including sandwiches and paella.
“After Maria, José Andrés and His Team Have Served More Meals in Puerto Rico than the Red Cross”/ by Tim Carman/ Washington Post/ October 18, 2017
8. I was first introduced to the husband stitch in 2014, when a friend in medical school told me about a birth her classmate observed. After the baby was delivered, the doctor said to the woman’s husband, “Don’t worry, I’ll sew her up nice and tight for you,” and the two men laughed while the woman lay between them, covered in her own and her baby’s blood and feces. The story terrified me, the laughter in particular, signaling some understanding of wrongdoing, some sheepishness in doing it anyway. The helplessness of the woman, her body being altered without her consent by two people she has to trust: her partner, her doctor.
“What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch’”/ by Jane Dykema/ Electric Literature/ October 10, 2017
9. How much to get that extra stitch? he asks. You offer that, right?– Please, I say to him. But it comes out slurred and twisted and possibly no more than a small moan. Neither man turns his head toward me.
“The Husband Stitch”/ by Carmen Maria Machado/ Granta/ October 28, 2014
10. But when specific acts of harassment were mentioned, like sexual coercion or crude jokes, 60 percent of women reported having experienced some form of sexual or gender harassment.
“Study Finds 75 Percent of Workplace Harassment Victims Experienced Retaliation When They Spoke Up”/ by Tara Golshan/ VOX/ October 15, 2017
11. The problem is not the Indian Act; the Act and the apparatus that supports it are manifestations of a mentality that sees “Indian” people as an issue to be confronted and to be solved. We are still living in a relationship framed in colonial terms; the language we use today has changed over the years, but the perspective is still straight out of the seventeenth century. Newcomer people in this land, their governments and the powerful interests that have dominion in this society still see a need for the Original People to be in a certain place (out of the way of development), to be defined in a certain way (aspiring to be just like the rest of us), and to be prevented from doing certain things (living the ways of their ancestors). The Indian Act simply puts this mentality into effect.
“For Indigenous Nations to Live, Colonial Mentalities Must Die”/ by Taiaiake Alfred/ Policy Options/ October 13, 2017
12. Sing had come to the park that day with Julie Tang, another retired judge and her co-chair in the project to create the memorial. “What they did was so brave,” Tang said, as she gazed up at the three girls. Chinese, Korean, and Filipino, they represent the estimated two hundred thousand women from countries across East and Southeast Asia occupied by Japan who were held in brutal state-run rape camps—a crime that went largely unacknowledged until the nineties. That was when Kim’s declaration inspired surviving comfort women in Korea, China, and elsewhere to come forward with their stories. Tang shook her head. “They were silent for fifty years, holding this shame inside them,” she said. “Victims think they are to blame. They think they did it to themselves.” With this statue—the first to be erected in a major U.S. city, though smaller memorials to comfort women exist in places like Glendale, California, and Palisades Park, New Jersey—Tang, Sing, and the local coalition they assembled want to change that kind of thinking. By bringing attention to the comfort women’s history, they hope to draw attention to ongoing problems of human trafficking and sex crimes.
“ An Important Statue for “Comfort Women” in San Francisco”/ by Sally McGrane/ The New Yorker/ October 12, 2017
13. We all have stories that protect us, that keep the meaning in our lives, all these particular stories that we’ve told ourselves and others, consciously and unconsciously, but there’s a lot to gain in allowing the multiplicity and the intricacies of those other, less explored stories too. There are so many different beginnings, middles, and endings to these stories, and we have to allow ourselves to have these as well. In whatever realm– memory, imagination. It shows us we have more options for expression and other choices in life. Not having your story makes you vulnerable, but having only one also does.
“Madelyn Kent: The Place Before Language”/ by Raluca Albu/ Guernica/ August 16, 2017
14. The departure from your hometown makes you study yourself, explain yourself, and doubt yourself. And when you finally return, you mother will fill you with pita and shorbat adas after you’ve cried yourself empty. Remember she spends her days sweating the salt of the Dead Sea, tries to cleanse you of demonic shadows until your high-maintenance body thwarts her. Muslim women tuck grief into their wombs and let it cultivate, hardening into a child of despair that can only be cut out with a sword. We somehow hold together with the faith that someone will hold our hands as we stumble through darkness.
“A Comprehensive Travel Guide for Muslims in America”/ by Farah Kader/ Electric Literature/ October 9, 2017
15. I had admitted my biggest weakness, and the world didn’t fall apart. My cousin accommodated me. She wore something noticeable and made sure to meet me somewhere visible. She didn’t prod me for a diagnosis or medical details, and it was obvious she believed me, even though our abilities differ.
“’Coming Out’ As Face Blind”/ Alaina Leary/ Narratively/ October 16, 2017
Joyce Hayden left her university teaching job two years ago in order to pursue her own artistic work. An assemblage artist, painter, and writer, Joyce is currently in the process of acquiring an agent to represent her memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which describes her 8 year relationship with a charismatic gambler and the dangerous road that eventually led to her freedom. Her chapbook of poems, Lost Handprint, is forthcoming from Dandelion Review. A freelance editor and writing coach, Joyce’s writing services and a selection of her artwork can be found at her website joycehayden.com. Joyce is available for commission art work, including celebration shrines for loved ones and pets.