Friday, July 13, 2012

Braincase: Russian dolls

I feel like I live in a society of Russian dolls sometimes. I know we all hide things, but I haven't been thinking about hidden things much lately. I've been busy with creative writing, my dissertation research, and summer things like growing peas, doing yoga on the my sun-warmed deck, and planning my next big hike. 

But, like the morning thunder that punctuated my Seattle morning today, I get jolted sometimes. Today, I was jolted by the number of sex assault stories I randomly, casually stumbled across while going through my morning. So, instead of a regular science-based news story today, I'm going to walk you though my morning: 

I check Facebook after waking up. Lindy West's article on comedian Daniel Tosh's recent joke, to the effect that it would be really funny if a woman who protested one of his rape jokes in a comedy club would get raped right then and there, popped up.

I toast some bread, spread it with goat cheese, and sit down to a dose of the NYTimes. The front-page article? An update on the Sandusky case detailing Paterno's possible involvement in covering up evidence of boys being sexually abused.

Exasperated, I turn to the Seattle Times's entertainment section for a review of the new Ice Age movie (my mom wants to go see it soon.) Directly below that is a review of 'Invisible War,' a documentary about the 20% of women who are sexually assaulted in the U.S. military. 

I want to get back to reading the latest Murakami, 1Q84, for a bit of peace, but then remember I just finished the section where the heroine, Aomame, completes training to kick men in the balls (before she learns to kill them will a tiny ice-pick to the base of the skull), because of how much trauma females in her life have experienced. 

I'm heart-broken. In the course of a normal morning, not looking for them, I've stumbled across huge stories detailing widespread sexual abuse, or at the condoning of it, in U.S. entertainment, in U.S. sports, and in the U.S. military.

Yeah, Houston, problems. Not three separate stories about isolated sex cases though. Three related stories about sexual abuse in our culture. Three incidences of sexual abuse right where we live. 

This hits home, folks. Should we live in a place we've built with our own brains and hands, where it's OK to laugh at rape fears, it's OK to hide the fact boys get raped in the showers, it's OK to forcibly penetrate women who are defending our country? And it's 'normal' to get hit with all this during Friday morning breakfast? 

Is it 'normal' to have three ex-boyfriends who have been molested at some point in their lives? To have experienced molestation myself while on the job? To know at least four friends who have been raped? To have a friend going through a sex change who doesn't know which public bathroom to use, because people might beat her up in either one? To listen to men detail violent fantasies and women talk about childhood abuse every Tuesday night? Because these things are completely true for me.

I do feel we live in Russian dolls sometimes. Inside me, or at least some of my (male AND female) friends, lurk smaller and smaller versions of ourselves, crystallizing harder and scarier fears about what might eventually happen to us. Inside at least some men: smaller and smaller versions crystallizing harder and scarier desires to hurt others. 

That's a lot of scariness and anger to unpack. It reminds me I live in a place where I DO get my keys out to walk home, where a carload of guys drove by three days ago while I was picking a watermelon at a local produce stand, yelling versions of "Nice melons!" and "Allahu akbar!" when I didn't respond to them wanting me to come greet their car in traffic. I didn't think much about it.

But today's breakfast reminds me that someday, someday soon, I want to wake up for breakfast without seeing these kinds of stories--not because these stories are being buried, but because they're not true any longer. I want to stop feeling like I'm in a weird sex-and-power underground war, boys against girls. 

Guys: I know rape is often about power. But us girls want the power to stop planning how to defend ourselves against you. Oh, and we want sex, too. Just not "like that."
Girls: Praise and treasure the honorable men in your lives, because their actions matter. Condemning disrespect matters, too.

It's not enough to get Tosh off the air. It's not enough to punish Sandusky and Paterno, or scold the military or go see Invisible War. It's more than that. It's about unpacking all those Russian dolls inside ourselves and figuring out how to make something better. It's about knowing that, just like training for a marathon or getting to graduation, learning how to live together as men and women who can respect our differences takes tremendous discipline, practice, and effort.

And all that starts with everyday decisions, as prosaic as toast and bananas in the morning, to keep choosing to respect rather than ravage one another.


  1. This world is certainly a sad and scary place and we need to have a lot more respect for one another, 100% agree so I would ask you have a bit of respect in making sure what you post on a public site is accurate... It's not the "Paterno case" as he was never charged and there is not a single bit of evidence that supports Mr's Freeh's claims that he knew what a monster Sandusky was, if you actually read everything available (which is a full time job a tthis point). He is also dead now so punishing him isn't exactly possible.
    Pedophiles are manipulative beyond our wildest imaginations and one with political supporters and money (like Sandusky) is even more scary. Unfortunately, violence has been a part of human nature since the begining of time and I don't have the answers for making this world safer other than to keep trying. To keep fighting all the evil that exists and hides among us and to do good and right by each other every chance we get.

  2. Although I feel for the overall message you are presenting, I have to object to a few problems with your article.

    The "Paterno case"??? You mean the Sandusky-Second Mile case, I assume. Paterno was never charged with a crime. He was, in fact, praised for his testimony and actions by the Grand Jury. He is now dead.

    You say Penn State "routinely covered up evidence." Do you have proof of that? The criminal cases centered around a 2001 incident have not happened yet (Jan. 2013). That incident, by the way, is the only incident that Sandusky was acquitted of during his trial. There were no further incidents reported to have happened on Penn State property. Please do more research, as there are many outside agencies who are much more culpable than anyone at Penn State, including The Second Mile, the children's charity that Sandusky used to meet his victims, and which was informed of the 1998 and 2001 incidents, and did nothing.

  3. Responding to both comments above: thank you kindly for reading my blog (no idea how you stumbled across it, but I'm still glad someone is reading it.) My apologies if it seemed I was labeling the case "The Paterno case" in a legal sense -- I meant more, in the case of Paterno's involvement with everything going on in the allegations concerning Sandusky. I'm updating my post to be more clear.

    Regarding the truth of Freeh's claims, I'm certainly no expert on any of the Penn State matters, and I don't aim to be. I'm merely pointing toward the NYTimes article I encountered during my morning.

    This is a personal blog posting focused more on pointing out how pervasive sexual harassment and abuse is, and how heartbreaking it is to encounter it on a daily basis, over breakfast, no less. Please don't think I'm out to sort through the legal details of the Sandusky case (though I don't excuse any of Sandusky's harmful actions or soft-pedal Paterno's possible involvement) -- I'd be much happier if Penn State stayed on the sports page.

    Thank you again for your comments.