“Piñata”

I love poetry.  I always have.  In the last couple of years I was introduced to slam poetry.  Poetry where words are spoken against injustices with passion?  I’m in.  My love of poetry has deepened.  The one in the video below was performed during the semi-finals at the 2013 National Poetry Slam.  It moved me to tears.  This guy gets it.

The following poem was written after he heard a man on the bus say to a woman, “You are too ugly to be raped.”

(It is kind of hard to hear, you may need to turn your speakers up)

What About the Boys?

So much of the anti-violence movement focuses on violence against women. That is often what we hear more about and statistically speaking women are more likely to have experienced violence. That doesn’t mean that we can forget about the boys and the men who have also experienced violence. This post raises some great questions and issues. I highly encourage you to check it out. It is written by a professor from my alma mater and a brilliant one at that. Also check out her blog: http://mamaunabridged.com/.

Mama Unabridged

In Quaker-speak, we have something called a “concern,” which is basically a deep-felt divine prompting to attend to a particular need. Although I’ve long felt a general sense of “concern” about injustices related to gender and sexuality, when I wrote that article about Don Draper being raped, I thought it would be a small foray for me into the issue of sexual violence against males. My main goal was to raise awareness and perhaps motivate others to speak out on their behalf.

But I can’t seem to look away. This issue of boys being sexually assaulted and shamed into silence is increasingly feeling like a “concern.” Writing that article opened a Pandora’s box for me, a box full of horrifying statistics and heartbreaking accounts of abuse. Most of the people who responded to me personally after the article came out were male survivors. Many of expressed variations of the same…

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Survivors Reclaim Body Parts

People in abusive relationships are taught (and shown) that their body is not their own, it does not belong to them.  It becomes another thing that their partner uses against them.  It can be vulnerability they weren’t prepared for.  The body can also carry memories of the abuse long after the relationship ends.

Attention: People With Body Parts is a body positivity movement started by Lexie Bean.  She started out collecting letters that friends and family members wrote to their body parts.  She’s about to publish an anthology* filled with letters survivors have written to their body parts.  Body parts that hold secrets, visible scars, and invisible memories.  Letters that focus on reclaiming those body parts and denouncing their partners control over their body.  I love this idea.

An abusive partner often takes control of the other persons body.  This can look like forced physical contact or sex, hitting, pushing, choking, and other forms of physical abuse.  It could be forcing a woman to become pregnant or to have an abortion.  It could be restraining their partner or blocking them from leaving.  Hiding birth control.  Telling their partner how to look or what to wear.

Boundaries are healthy.  Everybody has some sort of boundaries when they start a relationship.  They can change and evolve overtime as a couple gets to know each other and becomes more invested in the relationship.  In an abusive relationship those boundaries are often eroded over time or stripped away at the whims and desire of one person.  There isn’t conversation about how this will happen.  There isn’t consent.  It can be sudden and violating or it may happen slowly over time with manipulation and increasing pressure.

These letters recognize a part of the healing process that I don’t think is talked about enough.  They also recognize that people heal at different rates and that there are many layers to these relationships.  I thought I would give it a try for myself.  If anyone else would like to write a letter to a body part I would love to publish them.  Please use the contact page to send me an email.

Dear Hands,

You have become strong these past few years though I know their was a time when you felt neglected; often reaching out for comfort only to find empty space.  You protected me when you could and soothed injuries when you couldn’t.  You worked tirelessly to pacify his mood swings and write letters declaring love and loyalty.

I remember that day when he stopped noticing you.  He treated you like a nuisance instead of a comfort.  His hand reached to you, but only in secret while the other reached for another woman.  But you are strong now.  You work not only to protect me but to protect others.  You reach now not for him but to be an anchor for others.  Through you I know that they understand.  We are of the same breed.  We are survivors; you, me, and the others.  Through you I can give them comfort and show them they are not alone.  Through you we will change the world.

You survived.

Thank you.

Much love.

____________________________

*The anthology is called Portable Homes and is due to be published on December 10th of this year.

Read the original article where I heard about these letters here.

The Wrong Question

Why didn’t you leave?  I would have left a long time ago.  Don’t you want what’s best for you and your children?  Why did you stay?

Almost anyone who chooses to stay in an abusive relationship hears some form of these words in their lifetime.  What might not be understood by those outside of the relationship are that there are so many complicated factors that play into this.  A better way to ask the question, why do women stay in abusive relationships, might be what keeps women in abusive relationships?  The first question sounds accusatory and produces feelings of guilt and shame.  It makes women feel defensive, embarrassed, stupid, and wrong.  The last thing we want to do as someone outside the relationship is push her further into isolation.  The second question can be answered more readily by women in the relationship.  It acknowledges the fact that there are things beyond their control that play in the decision to stay.

When asked this question here are some of the responses we hear.  There is a fear of the abusive partner and his ability to retaliate.  Staying with him provides security.  He may be the only source of income for the family.  If she leaves she will have no money, nowhere to go.  So she has to ask herself is it better to stay or to be homeless?  “Better the devil you know…”  He may have threatened her, her children, or her friends and family.  The most dangerous time is when she’s leaving and she is more likely to be killed.  There may be pressure from her community, culture and/or family to stay.  Sometimes women who leave are blamed, shunned, or disowned.  She may want to keep the family together.  He may not be a bad father to the children.

No one is all bad all the time.  Many abusers are quite charming and friendly at first.  What we know about abuse is that it happens in cycles.  There is a period of “making up” where he promises to change.  And she loves him so she wants to believe him.  Most of the time she doesn’t want the relationship to end, she wants the abuse to end.

It is never just one of these reasons.  It is 2 or 3 combined, and it is more likely all of them.  There are infinite more factors that keep women in abusive relationships, because while we can see general trends in these relationships each situation is different.  Each women and each man has a different story.  The most common reasons that keep women in abusive relationships are low self-esteem/poor self-concept, economic deprivation, witnessing violence as a child, and wanting to keep the family together for the sake of the children.

So the questions why didn’t you leave, or why did you stay, are not questions that encompass the complexity of the relationship and abuse she’s experienced.  Instead we should be asking why is he abusive?  Why doesn’t he stop?

Why do men abuse women?

As an anti domestic violence movement we pushed hard for a woman’s right to leave the relationship.  What we are discovering now is that the pendulum has swung too far.  She has the right to stay in the relationship as well.  I know that sounds a little weird but this is a movement about empowering women.  It is not empowering to fail.  It is not empowering to leave before she is ready because everyone else is telling her it’s the right thing to do.  Sometimes it really is safer to stay.  She knows how to keep herself safe and was been doing so long before she reached out to anyone.  So again, the question should not be about her, but him.

What is he doing to keep her in that relationship?  Why is he abusing her?  How is the larger culture teaching him that it is okay to be violent toward women?

_________________________

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a free, confidential, and safe hotline staffed 24/7.  Advocates are there not only for those in abusive relationsips but for friends, family, and allies as well.  Please call if you are looking for support or answers.

1-800-799-7233

How to be an Ally

It can be hard to know what to do or say if someone comes to you and shares their story of abuse, especially if it is not part of your trauma narrative.  And even if it is, even if you’ve experienced something similar it can be hard to hear another person’s story.  You may not have dealt with your own trauma and listening to someone else can be triggering.  It can bring out not so great feeling feelings like jealousy, fear, and even realization.  Jealousy that they were able to come forward and you still don’t feel ready.  Fear that they came to you because they know what you went through, or are going through.  The possible realization that you may be going through something similar.  Any of these feelings can also produce guilt.  Guilt that you are thinking about yourself while someone else is opening up to you.

It doesn’t matter if the abuse is currently happening or if it happened in the past, it can make you feel helpless.  You may want to fix it and bust into their life guns blazing, ready to save them.  You may want to move faster than they do.  Imagine if you are the very first person to believe their story.  On average women (and girls) have to tell 6-8 people before they are believed.  They may still be getting over the shock of your belief while you are gearing up for battle.  It’s natural to want to protect those we love.  But it is important to let the person sharing with you set the pace.  It is important to let them name what is happening or has happened.

There are several things I want to share in this post about how to be a good ally to a survivor.  The first is an article by The Healing Center.  This is a great website and a great resource to both survivors and their friends and family.  The article is called “How to be an Ally” and if offers 12 suggestions of ways to be supportive of the survivors in your life including, listen, believe, and educate yourself.  Read the full article here.  I originally saw this posted on another woman’s blog, Purposefully Scarred.  On her “About” page she shares her own story and states that the purpose of her blog is to “[raise] awareness for survivors of abuse and [help] one another find purpose in our scars.”  I encourage your to click around her site, she’s got a lot of great articles and stories.

The second thing I wanted to share is a YouTube video I found posted on One Woman, another blog written by an amazing and brave woman who has been sharing her story.  I encourage you to check out her blog as well.  The video is a young man sharing words that are important for every survivor to hear, whether it is from him or from you.

As we continue to move through October and domestic violence awareness month I encourage you to be sensitive to the people around you.  1 in 3 women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime.  So the chances are high that  either you or several women in your life have been affected by violence.  Love each other well.

________________

Update:  Read another article and part two of “How to be an Ally” here.

There is Power in Storytelling

I facilitate a weekly support group for the women I serve who have experienced intimate partner violence.  Often times all I do is pose a question or topic and it takes off from there.  I am constantly being surprised and touched by the women in this group and what sticks with me the most is the power in their storytelling.  First of all it allows each woman to see and hear the similarities in each others stories.  They know and connect with other women who have been in violent, unhealthy, and abusive relationships.  An abusive person often keeps his or her partner isolated from their friends and family.  Sharing what they went through helps to break this isolation.  They learn that the relationship they were in was not normal or healthy.  They hear their experiences being spoken in another woman’s voice and they feel connected to something bigger than themselves.  Through sharing they help to break the silence surrounding intimate partner violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) and this week is the Week Without Violence at my work.  For this we decided to participate in something called The Clothesline Project.  This is a project that was started in Massachusetts in 1990 to address violence against women.  It is a way for *women who have been or know someone who has been affected by violence to share their stories by decorating a t-shirt.  After the t-shirts are finished they are hung up on display as a testimony to these women and their stories.  Originally different colored t-shirts meant different things.  For example, a white t-shirt symbolized a woman killed by an intimate partner, blue for sexual abuse and incest, purple for women who were attacked based on their sexual orientation, etc.  But it has grown from there mostly based on availability and economics (white shirts come in larger packs…).  The project has also grown to a world-wide one.

Last week during support group I explained this project and we painted t-shirts.  The experience was an incredibly moving one.  Mostly we painted in silence; each woman lost in her own memory.  But as they began to finish they began to share about their t-shirts.  There were a lot of tears, hugs, and nods of understanding.  This project served to connect this group of women in such a powerful way, more so than the rest of the groups we had done in the weeks prior.

One woman had painted a scene with flowers under a sky that was half sun and half clouds.  She explained that the flowers were for her and each of her children, and that they were growing through what they had gone through.  The smaller flowers were for the children because they were still growing and had so much potential still.  There were both clouds and the sun because tomorrow is always another day.  They had the chance to run and start over, and they took it.  Another woman put what she called her “freedom date” on the shirt; the date she left.  Another women wrote, “I have rights.”  And still another wrote that “love shouldn’t hurt” surrounded by the initials of women she knew who had survived.  Another woman painted a heart with wings in a cage.  On the back was the same picture but with the cage door open.  Still others wrote things like, “Stop the Silence,” “Never Again,” and simply “I survived.”  Others painted a purple ribbon with the names of those they knew who had been killed.

As they explained and held up the t-shirts they shared their experiences.  They named their abusers.  It was powerful for everyone involved.  This week the t-shirts will be put on display with others.  I am excited to share these t-shirts and vicariously be a voice for the women I work with.  For me DVAM is about more than making those in the community aware about domestic violence, it’s about sharing stories and breaking the silence for those who may be in abusive relationships themselves.  It is about connecting survivors with other survivors and letting them know they are not alone.

Clothesline Project

If you ever get the chance to view a Clothesline Project in your community I would highly suggest that you do it.

____________________________________________

*Please note that the language I am using is reflected by the project itself.  Domestic violence can affect anyone and does not discriminate based on gender, sex, religion, economic status, or education level.

When the Hits Keep Coming

I’ve been a little absent from the blogosphere for the past several months.  Looking through my archives my last post was May 21st.  It really doesn’t feel like it has been that long but a lot has happened in the last five months.  There are so many things I wanted to write about but every time I sat down to start I felt overwhelmed or something came up.  The time has come to give up my self-proclaimed title of “Queen of Excuses” and share some of what has been happening in my life.  To my regular readers, if I still have any that is, please forgive the slight deviation from my regular topics of gender and sexuality.  I will get back to that soon enough.  I promise.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month after all and that is a cause near and dear to my heart.

For the last three years or so I have been grappling with widespread and unexplained chronic pain.  As a young woman in her 20s I refused to believe whatever I was dealing with did not have a cure.  There had to be an end in sight.  I went to the doctor several times a month and had more tests done that I can keep track of.  I was told I might have an infection, it might be rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus, or several other things I cannot remember or pronounce.  Each time though the tests came back negative.  At the time the pain started I was working in an extremely unhealthy and stressful environment.  Often times the body reacts physically to stress and things going on in our lives.  I was told this was probably it.  But the pain persisted even after I quit my job.  It continued after I moved to another town, away from people who knew me, and more importantly away from people who had hurt me.

I quickly became tired of all the tests and the receptionist at the doctor’s office typing in my ID number without needing my card.  I became more and more frustrated with not having any results, of not having a diagnosis to go with what was often crippling pain.  It became wearisome having to defend myself and explain that yes, for whatever reason, I was still hurting although nothing on my medical chart could tell anyone why.  So, I did what any normal person would do at this point (right?) and I stopped.  I stopped going to the doctor.  I stopped telling people when it hurt to walk, or sit, or stand, or lay down.  When I wasn’t actively trying to deal with it I was ignoring it.  I pushed my body because I’m in my 20s dammit and I should not have to accept that I have limits.  I held out hope that if I just ignored it long enough it would go away.

Then in February of this year I slipped in the bathtub and fell.  I cut my shin open and banged my shoulder, hip, and forearm on the way down.  I instinctively reached out an arm to stop myself and ended up with my full body weight pressing my wrist into the ground.  It was a pretty nasty fall and even though the doctor assured me that falls in the tub are one of the most common way people injure themselves I was not healing.  The bruises on my shoulder, hip, and arm lasted for months.  I ended up with my wrist in a brace months later.  The cut on my leg did not heal and continued to look sunken in and red.  Then I developed a rash on my leg.  It appeared one night and continued to spread.  I of course continued to ignore it, telling myself the body is amazing  and is perfectly capable of healing itself.  When August came around and I still wasn’t healing I sucked it up and called the doctor.

By this point it had been over a year since I’d gone.  For anything.  Including pain that had become a constant companion, often waking me in the night and keeping me from doing simple things like riding the bus to work.  I finally got a doctor who not only believed me but committed to working with me to find out what was going on.  She referred me to a rheumatologist and after a couple more meetings and several more tests I finally had a diagnosis.

Fibromyalgia.  The word hung in the air and I could feel my hope dying.  This was not something that would go away.  Instead it is something that I will be dealing with for the rest of my life.  There is no cure.  There is nothing that will make the pain go away.  No magic pill, no surgery, nothing.  There is nothing I can do but try to manage it.  I spent the next couple of months researching the disease and staying in communication with my doctor to try to find the best treatment plan for me.  And that’s where I am still.  Research.  Management.  Research.  Management.

I’ve learned that I need to grieve.  I need to go through the process of letting go.  I need to accept that I have limits and if I can learn to respect those limits I may feel better sometimes.  I need to mourn the fact that I’m in my 20s and will be in pain for the rest of my life.  How is that fair?  Like at all.  I’ve come to recognize that I am in the anger stage of the grieving process.  And well I don’t want to live here and just want to be angry right now.  I want to rant, scream, cry, and punch my pillow into a pulp.  I want to yell profanities at the sky before falling to my knees and beating the ground with my fists.

Luckily I have found a few friends who deal with chronic pain and have for a while.  They’ve been my rock throughout this.  They understand the difference between the days where I just want to be angry and the days where I need advice and wisdom.  They’ve introduced me to the concept of the spoon theory.  Please, if you get a chance read it.  It is a great analogy for me and many others who deal with chronic pain.

I won’t go into the specifics of my pain but one good thing this diagnosis has done for me is explain and connect many different facets of my life and what’s been going on with my body.  It is nice to have an explanation.  Even if it isn’t what I wanted.  I feel permission to start dealing with it and moving forward now.

That is what has been going on over the last couple months and why I’ve been so lax in my blogging.  I just haven’t had the energy or the motivation to write.  But that is slowly, yet surely coming back to me.  Thank you for sticking with me and look forward to good things to come on Unladylike Musings.

___________

If you are interested in reading more about Fibromyalgia click here.  For more about “invisible illnesses” click here.

Bees in My Bonnet: Time to Speak Out

Bee in the Lavender

Welcome to Bees in My Bonnet.  If this is your first time reading one of these posts check out some previous ones from the archives here, here, here, and here.

1.  “…when it comes to domestic violence, the silence can be deafening.”  This is so true it hurts.  Abusers benefits not only from the silence of their victims but the silence of everyone else as well.

2.  In case you haven’t heard yet Angelina Jolie chose to reduce her chances of developing breast cancer from around 80% to less than 5% by undergoing a preventative double mastectomy.  I will have more to say about this in another post but for now please read her article, My Medical Choice.

3.  Vows of Silence Aren’t Always Holy.  Naked Pastor writes an article to go with his cartoon “Don’t Tell” explaining that sadly there is a lot of groundwork that has been laid to keep victims of abuse in the church silent.

4.  I love slam poetry.  Check out this poem called “Dear Straight People: We Have to Talk” by Denice Frohman, a world poetry slam champion.  Also “i know girls (body love)” by Mary Lambert, another amazing slam poet.  Mary Lambert’s voice is featured in the song Same Love by Macklemore.

5.  Read a wonderful fictional piece inspired by Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll and his latest sermon series.

What are your thoughts on the below cartoon?

Shopping

Found at Funny Times.

 

Be gentle with the childless on Mother’s Day

A post written by a dear friend of mine.  Read more about her journey on her blog, Walk With Us.

Walk With Us

Here it is, nearly Mother’s Day. Can’t believe how unremarkable the day is to me, nor how little I want to write about it. Almost as if, now that the pain of childlessness is mostly gone, I just don’t want to go there anymore.

So there’s a wee bit of hope for you, women with aching arms! One day the pain may subside. But today I write a post for those who ache still, who cower at this upcoming holiday that pours acid on their hearts.

Actually, I’m writing to all you husbands, parents, siblings, and friends of those hurting women. Because YOU CAN HELP. Here’s how:

But first, a disclaimer. Please use your own best judgment. You are the ones who love and know the women you’re thinking of right now. I write from my experience and personality. Ignore the suggestions that would be an obvious poor choice for…

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For Your Eyes Only

No, I’m not talking about a James Bond movie.  In Spain an organization called Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk Foundation (ANAR) came up with the idea to create an ad that shows adults and children different messages.  Depending on the angle you look at the ad you either see a child’s face with the words “sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it,” or you see the same face with bruises on it and the message becomes, “if somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you.”  It has to do with the height of the person looking at the ad.  Smaller people, ie children, are able to see the message if they are under a certain height.  The idea is that the child can see this message, along with the organizations help line number, even in the presence of their abuser, or aggressor.

I think this is an awesome idea.  In reading some of the comments on the video and other articles I’ve seen something that has come up for other readers/viewers is that this ad is exposing the “normal” or “innocent” children to abuse.  Disclaimer, I do not have children.  But if I did I would have no problem with them seeing this ad.  It is important for children to understand that bad things happen, and that bad things can happen to children.  I also believe in teaching children the correct and real names for their private parts.  Teaching children about abuse, letting them see this ad, is a form of empowering them to have a voice.  Even if that child is not being abused one of their friends might be.  We need to give children more credit sometimes.  They see and notice more than we think they do.  I’m not saying that you should go into graphic detail with a child about the types and forms of abuse but there is nothing wrong with teaching a child to recognize it.  Same thing with teaching them proper names for their genitalia.  First of all the words vagina and penis are not bad words.  They are part of our bodies.  Teaching that they are bad creates a culture of shame.  Second of all if a child is being abused and they do not have the language to express what is happening, or where someone is touching them, it is dangerous.  It keeps children in the dark, and their abusers in power.

So, without further ado here is the video.  What are your thoughts?  Do you think the ad has the potential to do any good?