Recent Must Reads: A Weekly Roundup

To the best of my recollection, the last time I saw my molester/uncle Bob was one weekend when my family had taken a trip to the western part of New York state. I’d specifically asked my parents if we were going to stop at his house. They said no. My parents were unaware of the molestations that occurred there, but I hadn’t gone to Bob’s house for a couple years at this point. I agreed to go on the weekend trip, but on the way home, as I slept in the back seat, Dad drove us to Laurens, NY. I was furious. My parents tried to console me by saying we would only stay a short time.

When we pulled up to the house, Uncle Bob was in the garage. Everyone but me got out of the car. Uncle Bob stood staring at me, grinning. I couldn’t breathe. I felt betrayed. I locked all the car doors and rolled the windows closed, despite the fact that it was a hot summer day. My parents laughed and shook their heads. They must have thought I was being my rebellious teenage self. Bob approached the car, squatting low and sneering at me. “What’s wrong, Joyce? Come on out and play.” He was leering and taunting me, and waving his hands, inches away from me with only the glass between us. The adults found it quite funny. My blood was boiling. I wanted to spit. I wanted to kick him. I wanted to ROAR the truth.

As Rebecca Solnit says in her Literary Hub piece this week, “If you’re a woman, this stuff shapes you; it scars you, it tells you you are worthless, no one, voiceless, that this is not a world in which you are safe or equal or free.” I sat in the airless hot car, sweating, scared to death to roll a window down an inch. This man was capable of molesting me even when my mother was in the next room with all the doors open. I said nothing. I sat in the back seat hating him, hating myself, waiting for my parents to return to the car, to get back on the road. I knew my story would not be believed. I knew at the age of 14 that I had no power in the adult world. The only power I ever found in my teen years was the skill of lies which kept me far from Laurens, NY, and the power of the pen. I wrote everything down in my hidden diary, whose entries I penned to “Dear World”. The world listened. The world understood. The world on those pages believed me and kept me sane. I knew that no one else could keep me safe. I believed the only way to be free was to be forever alone.

When I was seven, a 15 year old boy molested me. He swore me to silence by threatening to kill my youngest brother if I ever said anything. I never said a word until I was in a writing group in Amherst, MA in 1996, nearly 30 years after the event. I cried as I read my piece aloud. To my consternation, the well known writer/facilitator shamed me for my emotions. It took all I had inside to leave that shame in her living room, to leave at the end of the weekend feeling proud that I’d shared a hard truth. Even now, 20 years since then, I’m still telling stories I’ve never revealed before. Because it’s taken all my life to find the courage; to feel the relief in being believed; and to ultimately not give a damn at this point what anyone else thinks.

This week I have included several inspiring, if difficult, essays and interviews that deal with women’s stories, experiences and silences. You’ll find pieces by Lidia Yuknavitch, Rachel Hoge, Seo-Young Chu, and Megan Stielstra that demonstrate the abuse, the fear, and the resilience that come from a history of misogyny. Other articles this week cover the state of mental health in Puerto Rico; a horrendous piece on the reality of modern slavery; the brutal shooting of a 14 year old Native American boy; and another mass shooter whose actions began with a domestic violence murder. The National Book Awards were announced this week, and I have included an important article by non-fiction winner Masha Gessen, “When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?”

So for these stories and more, Read On! Your comments are always welcome!


  1. After the auction, we met two of the men who had been sold. They were so traumatized by what they’d been through that they could not speak, and so scared that they were suspicious of everyone they met.
“People For Sale”/ by Nima Elbagir, Raja Razek, Alex Platt, and Bryony Jones/ CNN/ November 14, 2017

 


2. “I know that lunging could also mean taking a step. It’s all on what words they want to include in their report,” Gauthier said. “It’s almost like they are trying to make my 14-year-old boy look like a man, and he did not. He had a baby face and a boy’s voice.”
 “Teen Made 911 Report That Preceded Policeman Killing Him, Investigators Say”/ by Eliott C. McLaughlin and Tony Marco/ CNN/ November 14, 2017

 


3. The problem is not just that this reduces the amount of sex people are likely to be having; it also serves to blur the boundaries between rape, nonviolent sexual coercion, and bad, fumbling, drunken sex. The effect is both to criminalize bad sex and trivialize rape.
“When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?”/ by Masha Gessen/ The New Yorker/ November 14, 2017

 


4. This is what I find most unsettling: men felt wholly justified in their approach. They weren’t quiet or sheepish, mumbling their words or apologizing once I seemed uncomfortable. When I ignored them, there was a visible look of disbelief or anger on their faces — as if they couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want the attention.
 “Dear Men: Please Stop Approaching Women at Gas Stations”/ by Rachel Hoge/ ravishly/ November 15, 2017 

 


5. “In general I write for marginalized people. I start with black women because I think black women are the least respected and least heard voices in the world. So I always put that first before anything else, because when I’m walking down the street people see my blackness first—and my size.” She also thinks about people of color, in general, as well as those with different abilities, queer people, and “all of those who don’t get enough of a voice,” she says. “I’m thinking about all of us before I ever, in my life, think about a white man and what the hell he thinks.”
“Roxane Gay Wants You to See Fat People as Humans”/ by Kea Brown/ Harper’s Bazaar/ November 13, 2017

 


6. Rose wanted more than anything to protect her daughter because when she herself was 6, she too was molested by an older girl. Studies show that 1 in 3 Native American women is sexually assaulted in her life. But Rose wanted to stop that cycle of abuse.

“For Native Americans Facing Sexual Assault, Justice Feels Out of Reach”/ by Melodie Edwards/ NPR/ November 14, 2017

 


7. “I wanted to show the reality of Cuba, without verbal violence, simply as it is,” she said. “I wanted to show this reality in a society where reality is manipulated constantly; I wanted to show it to a community that was aching. Every day I ask myself why this country is not the country that we were promised as children.”
“Cuba is a Motherland”/ by Vanessa Garcia/ BitchMedia/ November 14, 2017

 


8. I hear time and time again from men who want me to make it clear when talking about rape culture that not all men are rapists. I hear time and time again from men who want me to believe that it’s only a few sick monsters committing all the rapes, and also that maybe women are all lying and there are no rapes. These are often the same men who also try to say in the same breath that “boys will be boys” and that men can’t control their desires as long as women continue to stubbornly exist in their corporeal form.
“When You Can’t Throw All Men Into The Ocean And Start Over, What CAN You Do?”/ by Ijeoma Oluo/ The Establishment/ November 10, 2017

 


9. Significant family trauma(s): the Korean War (which orphaned my father and made him watch his beloved elder brother die); my mother’s sister’s suicide when I was a child; being run over by a car as a child while waiting for the schoolbus; struggling as a Roman Catholic teenager with my romantic feelings for a female classmate; being hospitalized during my senior year of college following my first suicide attempt; being raped soon after my first suicide attempt by a professor at Stanford University, where I was just starting a PhD program in English language and literature.
“A Refuge For Jae-In Doe: Fugues In The Key Of English Major”/ by Seo-Young Chu/ Entropy/ November 3, 2017

 


10. “When it starts raining, they have episodes of anxiety because they think their house is going to flood again,” said Dr. Carlos del Toro Ortiz, the clinical psychologist who treated Ms. Serrano Ortiz. “They have heart palpitations, sweating, catastrophic thoughts. They think ‘I’m going to drown,’ ‘I’m going to die,’ ‘I’m going to lose everything.’ ”
 “After Hurricane, Signs of a Mental Health Crisis Haunt Puerto Rico”/ by Caitlin Dickerson/ New York Times/ November 13, 2017

 


11. Shannon, 32, medical sales representative in Washington state: Almost all of my co-workers were male. They would talk about “eating taco.” When I came back from having a child, one of them said, “Can somebody cry like a baby to make Shannon leak?” It was a fraternity. You either played along or you got maligned, and in the end, I wasn’t playing along.
They Were Sexually Harassed at Work. They Reported It. Here’s What Happened.”/ by Jessica Contrera/ Washington Post/ November 15, 2017

  


12. As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.
 “Can My Children Be Friends With White People”/ by Ekow N. Yankah/ New York Times/ November 11, 2017

 


13. Because here’s a thing you might have forgotten about women being menaced or assaulted or beaten or raped: we think we might be murdered before it’s over. I have. And because there’s often a second layer of threat “if you tell.” From your assailant, or from the people who don’t want to hear about what he did and what you need. Patriarchy kills off stories and women to maintain its power. If you’re a woman, this stuff shapes you; it scars you, it tells you you are worthless, no one, voiceless, that this is not a world in which you are safe or equal or free. That your life is something someone else may steal from you, even a complete stranger, just because you’re a woman. And that society will look the other way most of the time, or blame you, this society that is itself a system of punishment for being a woman. Silence over these things is its default setting, the silence feminism has been striving to break, and is breaking.
“Rebecca Solnit: Let This Flood of Women’s Stories Never Cease”/ by Rebecca Solnit/ Literary Hub/ November 14, 2017

 


14. “We really embrace that,” Greenberg continues. “We think of it as a matrixed approach to activism, where groups are determining what’s the agenda of activism that makes the most sense for them based on where they are, what their community looks like, and what their political situation looks like.” The tagline on the Indivisible website succinctly captures this view: “We’re not the leaders of this movement: you are.”
“The Resistance to Trump is Blossoming – and Building a Movement to Last”/ by LA Kauffman/ The Guardian/ November 9, 2017

 


15. When detectives searched the couple’s residence on Bobcat Lane late Tuesday night, their fears were confirmed. The wife’s car was still there. Her body, shot several times, was hidden beneath the floor.
“Rancho Tehama Gunman Targeted Wife, Neighbor Before Attacking Passersby at Random”/ by Paige St. John, Joseph Serna, Ruben Vives, and Hailey Branson-Potts/ Los Angeles Times/ November 16, 2017

 


16. Mourn the people whose lives and jobs were jeopardized. Mourn the contributions and commitment to his artistic vision by talented, passionate people who got accidentally swept up in his bullshit. Mourn the survivors who have yet to speak up, who may never feel safe to, who continue to navigate their pain in forced silence. Mourn the creators who never got a chance, the work that was never created, the potential that was crushed, all because too many people were too wrapped up in maintaining the status quo to call out those who abused it.
 “Instead of Mourning Great Art Tainted by Awful Men, Mourn the Work We Lost From Their Victims”/ by Caroline Framke/ VOX/ November 13, 2017

 


17. How to break the cycle? Jesus. Can we start by examining how we teach American history? Who decides what stories are literature and what stories are history? Whose stories are being told and whose are missing? A thing that I find really alarming is how textbooks are being written. There’s one in Texas that describes slavery like, Black people coming here to work. That is a violent erasure of our history, our cruelty, and the truths we need to reckon with if we’re ever going to move forward.
“What Do I Do With My Fear?: A Conversation With Megan Stielstra”/ by S. Ferdowsi/ The Rumpus/ November 13, 2017

 


18. Except that my last showdown in the garage with my father is an image emblazoned forever on my brain, his fist hanging suspended in the air like love gone wrong, my face so close, so close, so red and hot, my breathing caught in my lungs the moment before the rest of my god damn life.
“I Was Already Leaving Florida When I Arrived”/ by Lidia Yuknavitch/ Literary Hub/ November 13, 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.

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