Category Archives: patriarchy in action

Invisibility

I helped organize a recent Take Back the Night March and Rally.  It had the usual combination of march, speakers, and vigil.  We also threw in some free food and music and had a good night of anger, reflection, laughs, and sorrow.

More than once that evening, a well-known fact was cited by speakers at the microphone: women are more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger.

Women are more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger.

This is not true.

A few months ago, I started contacting local and regional programs and services that serve victims of rape and other forms of sexual and domestic violence.  I was trying to find out information about old/er women who are raped.  On all the websites I had previously checked, statistics were given only on young/er women–such as “44% of victims are under 18 and 80% are under 30” (RAINN) or “Women aged 12-34 are at the highest risk for being sexually assaulted” (National Crime Victim Survey cited here).  Only in one place did I find statistics up to age 44, and today, as I write this post I am unable to track it down.

Each of the three programs and services that I contacted could not provide me any–any–information on the rape statistics of old/er women.  We are all simply swept up together under the 20% of rape victims over 30 years of age.

So I plodded around the Internet looking for information.  I found scattered references in news pieces here and there that indicated elderly women are more likely to be raped by strangers than by people with whom they have a relationship, and that they are also more likely to be murdered during that rape than younger women.  None of these news pieces cited its source.  Then I found this, a piece from Volcano Press, that provided some of the information I was looking for.  I quote in part:

While crime statistics make it appear practically non-existent, rape of the elderly can and does occur. When it does, it frequently turns deadly. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report “Sex Offense and Offenders,” 1 in 7 sexual assault murder victims were 60 or older…Only one age group of rape victims—ages 13 through 17—had a higher murder rate, at 3.3%.

The article then describes the profile of the typical rapist-murderer of elderly women.  He is most likely to be someone who lives within six blocks of the victim, but not necessarily someone the victim knows.  Therefore, the truth of the often quoted “fact” is that a young woman is more likely to be raped by someone she knows, and an elderly woman is most likely to be raped by someone she does not know but who knows of her (vulnerability/isolation/daily patterns).

Interestingly, even though this article uncovers some of the missing information about elderly women, women in their 40s through 60s appear to be invisible in the writings about women and rape.  What happens to us?  Are we equally unsafe in our personal relationships and around strangers? Or are we in some strange safe hiatus zone between the vulnerability of youth and the vulnerability of elderly? Are we uninteresting in the research because we are not likely to be murdered and our overall risk of being raped is lower than the risk for young/er women?

The Volcano article also explores the motive of the rapist-murderer of an elderly woman. The primary motive of this crime is sexual assault, with burglary a frequent afterthought.  Many people think of the rape of older women as one of opportunity–that is, the burglar stumbled upon the woman and spontaneously raped her.  The truth is the opposite.

The article then asks, “So, why does rape of elderly women not show up in statistics?  The answer, “…the NCVS [National Crime Victim Survey] does not account for victims who do not survive, which is where elderly women are most likely to show up.”  That is, many raped elderly women are invisible in rape statistics because they have been murdered and its the murder that is statistically recorded, not the rape.

There are further provocative questions that need to be researched.  For example, why are elderly women not as vulnerable to being raped by people they know?  Is it because women tend to live longer than men, and therefore women in abusive heterosexual relationships outlive the abusers?  Is it because older women have divorced or otherwise escaped abusive relationships?  Is it because elderly women live isolated, secluded, and vulnerable lives because they are unwanted cast-asides in a youth-oriented society–that is, no one knows them?  Also provocative, and quite disturbing, is why are rapists more likely to murder elderly women?  And how does the rape-murder of an elderly woman reflect the greater cultural/societal beliefs and practices by others, by institutions, and by communities?  What do we all share in this hatred towards older women?

It’s important that all victim advocates, feminists, and our allies stop rendering older women invisible in our resistance to and dismantling of rape culture.  We must not erase older women by presenting such ageist “facts” as “a woman is more likely to be raped by someone she knows.”

At next year’s Take Back the Night Rally, I know what I will be discussing when I have the microphone.


It’s been silent here on the blog….

…because I’ve been working on a memoir, finished that now, and now an anthology.  I’ve started a new job as a director of a feminist program.  And I’ve been enjoying myself, doing some of my favorite things.  Been pretty busy. However, the core reason I have not been blogging is the following:

Several months ago, I became overwhelmed with the pornophiles and misogynists visiting the site looking for porn of women and girls being raped by horses (see previous post).  Although none of them ever posted comments, the search terms in my “administration window” revealed that dozens of men arrive weekly at this site looking for “lesbian horse rape,” “horse woman sex,” and the like.  Because I am a researcher and lecturer on porn, I did check a few of these sites out.  Although I had felt I had already seen some of the most violent pornography on the internet, I was wrong.  And now I have these images in my mind associated with “Gray Horse Woman.”

“Gray Horse Woman” is a name that is important to me.  Therefore, my visceral response was not just political but also personal.  They were raping my name.  However, I did not want to abandon my name because they had raped it.  So I struggled with what to do.

I have decided that I am going to rename my blog.  This will include changing the name in the blog address.  Those of you who are followers should, I believe, still receive notice of my posts.  Others, however, might lose track of me for a while.

I have to ponder the new name.  When I make a decision, I will post that name and the new blog address before I click the buttons that make it all happen.

The rapists will not shut me up.


Animal welfare model, women’s welfare model: liberation is not the goal

The following is 5-step Animal Welfare Rating that is used by the Whole Foods Market.  Whole Foods uses this rating system so that customers can make informed decisions about animals they choose to eat.

Sitting in the Whole Foods cafeteria and working my way through an enormous vegan oatmeal currant muffin, I read through this chart, which was posted on the wall, and pondered the differences between the animal welfare model and the abolitionist or animal liberation model.  The animal welfare model assumes that humans will eat meat, and therefore the goal is to make the animals as comfortable as possible without compromising the end goal: reasonably-priced, reasonable-quality meat on the plate.

The animal liberation model would make at least two changes in the chart.  First, Step 5 would not be titled “animal centered.”  Step 5 is truly “human centered,” in that the animals are being raised to feed humans.  The animal liberation model would then have a Step 6, which would be genuinely animal centered:  animals would live out their entire lives for their own sake.  They would not be raised to be eaten.  The idea of “farm” would become archaic.

It was a really big muffin, so I had more thinking time.  I started to ponder how as a society we have also adopted a “women’s welfare” model, rather than a “women’s liberation” model for women’s rights.  We accept a similar set of five steps, and we also do not include the additional, ultimate ideal of women’s liberation.

5-Step Women’s Welfare Rating

Unlike Step Five + on the Animal Welfare Rating, Step Five +, on Women’s Welfare Rating denies moving forward to liberation.  Step 5+ is the work of the patriarchal mastermind.  It jams up and skews the progression towards liberation by not only convincing some women that abuse is liberation, but it also puts women in conflict with one another.  We are left arguing with each other, rather than united in the fight for true liberation.

Moreover, just as the Animal Welfare Rating is designed by humans from a human-centric perspective, the Women’s Welfare Rating is completely circumscribed by patriarchy.  At each point, women are allowed “freedoms” only in relationship to how many–or what kind of—“rights” patriarchy is willing to grant.


Jammies Party

This morning, I had a group of women over for a potluck brunch.  It was a “jammies party,” so everyone came in their jammies.  It was like a sleep over, without the actual sleeping over.  I knew only a few of the women.  The other women were new acquaintances, friends of friends of friends.

About half the women left shortly after eating and finishing off their minimum required morning dose of caffeine.  That left five of us, who ended up talking for almost five hours.  We fell into a very important conversation, and no one realized what time it was until I pointed out that the sun was low on the horizon.

This group of five, loosely associated through social connections, had some profound common experiences.  All of us were or had been treated chemically for depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and/or other mental disabilities.  At least two of the women had been in abusive relationships with men—one had had her neck broken, one had been married to a porn addict—and both of these women had PTSD.  All had struggled with the erasure of emotions and sense of self that was induced by the pharmaceutical drugs.  Four women had experienced profound “side” effects from these drugs, including black outs and inability to walk.  Three women had had profound experiences of abuse by health “care” professionals (“care” must be put in quotes in relationship to these experiences).  For example, one woman was forced to have a pap smear, even though it could not possibly have had any relationship to diagnosing or treating her mental disability.  This triggered a major dissociative episode.

Sometimes, this kind of conversation can put me into a funk.  However, tonight I feel a renewed energy.  Our conversation was not at all like a lethargic support group in which women are dragged through personal disclosure by a professional making a lucrative living off of women’s misery in a violent and abusive society.  Instead it involved an almost covert sharing of information.  It involved stories of will and resistance.  It involved sharing how-tos for navigating the woman-hell that the mental health industry can be.  It involved three women sharing how they were now either completely or nearly off of all pharmaceutical drugs.

It is unfortunate, although predictable, that the mental health industry is collusive with women’s oppression.  As a major institution under patriarchy, its interests lie with maintaining the status quo, rather than challenging or dismantling it.

But as women, both alone and in groups, we resist.


One of these stories is true

ONE

I was a co-conspirator in mocking my mother.  My father would make fun of how she spoke, especially her folksy use of sayings, her feminine speech patterns, and her use of hand gestures to illustrate her words.  My father was an academic.  My father was better.

There was no power in being a woman in the house in which I grew up.  My father drifted freely in and out of the house, often gone all day even on weekends when he didn’t work.  My mother was home almost all of the time that she wasn’t at her outside job.  And she worked constantly while at home.

My mother dressed up my room in pink, and me, too.  Although I rebelled against the pink clothes and dresses, tossing them aside permanently for jeans and shirts when I was in third grade, my room still had pink curtains until I went to college.  They were cut specifically for the girly shutters over the windows, and without them there would be too much light for me to sleep.  So I left them be.

When my older brother swore, he got scolded.  But my mother would wash out my mouth with soap.

When my younger brother would perversely grope me as I walked by him in the kitchen, my complaints were only met with my mother saying, “Just move away from him.  Then it won’t happen.”  So I took matters into my own hands, and hit him hard each time.  I was sent to my room.

So I found power in allying with my father in his mockery of my mother.  I would join his game.  And he would encourage it.  Together we would sit at the table while she attempted to engage in simple conversation, and we would mock her, interrupting her to repeat with exaggerated feminine intonations what she had said or flail our hands in the air to grossly mimic her gestures.  It would not take much time to silence her.

By high school, I had made a decision.  I would never be my mother.  I would never be the woman who was groped.  Pink, never again.  I wanted the power to move about freely, I wanted the public sphere to be mine.  I would not be a woman.

Four years later, I began taking testosterone.  My very perceptions of the world began to change.  There was a new sexual urgency that had a power of its own that I had never experienced.  The facial hair began to camouflage my femininity.  I was being reborn.  I was surprisingly adept at learning masculine language and mannerisms.  I simply mimicked my brothers and my father.

The day of my top surgery was the most liberating.  I had had my mother’s breasts.  But those were hers, not mine.  After the surgery, when I looked down, I knew that I was finally free of my mother.  I was becoming me.

TWO

I was a co-conspirator in mocking my mother.  My father would make fun of how she spoke, especially her folksy use of sayings, her feminine speech patterns, and her use of hand gestures to illustrate her words.  My father was an academic.  My father was better.

There was no power in being a woman in the house in which I grew up.  My father drifted freely in and out of the house, often gone all day even on weekends when he didn’t work.  My mother was home almost all of the time that she wasn’t at her outside job.  And she worked constantly while at home.

My mother dressed up my room in pink, and me, too.  Although I rebelled against the pink clothes and dresses, tossing them aside permanently for jeans and shirts when I was in third grade, my room still had pink curtains until I went to college.  They were cut specifically for the girly shutters over the windows, and without them there would be too much light for me to sleep.  So I left them be.

When my older brother swore, he got scolded.  But my mother would wash out my mouth with soap.

When my younger brother would perversely grope me as I walked by him in the kitchen, my complaints were only met with my mother saying, “Just move away from him.  Then it won’t happen.”  So I took matters into my own hands, and hit him hard each time.  I was sent to my room.

So I found power in allying with my father in his mockery of my mother.  I would join his game.  And he would encourage it.  Together we would sit at the table while she attempted to engage in simple conversation, and we would mock her, interrupting her to repeat with exaggerated feminine intonations what she had said or flail our hands in the air to grossly mimic her gestures.  It would not take much time to silence her.

Honestly, I never came to love my mother.  For two decades after I left home, I grappled with the complexity of my life and the ways in which my connections to her had caused such injury.  But I also came to richer, more meaningful understandings of the dynamics in my family and the greater power structures that fed it.

When I was in my thirties and my mother was in her sixties, I took her out for lunch.  I apologized for the times that I collaborated with my father in mocking who she was.  I had not come to the conversation with any expectations, and I certainly did not expect to be forgiven.  I just wanted her to know that I acknowledged the wrongness of what I had done.

My mother said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

But her face revealed that she did.  I looked at her and wondered, “Why would she deny this?”  And then I understood.  We were two women, each negotiating and surviving the spaces of our different lives in different ways.  At this point in her life, this was not the time for this discussion. It would not be a catharsis, nor a revelation.  She would choose when, if ever, this would be discussed.

So we intently read the menu and ordered our lunch, and talked about other things.


Struggling with the personal narrative

I just finished writing a post that as I re-read it, my heart began to beat a bit harder.  Anxiety began to rise.  It contains personal narrative.  It tells some of the parts my life.  I can’t get myself to hit the Publish button.  Even though this blog is anonymous.

It’s amazing the power of silencing around women’s lives.  How we learn that speaking about the most simple part of our lives is, well, boring.  Talking about the complex parts, taboo.

I decided some weeks ago that I would write a book.  I’ve vacillated back and forth as to whether it should be fictionalized memoir presented wholly as fiction or a true memoir.  Either way, I haven’t been able write more than a couple of lines.  I haven’t been able to overcome the anxieties of truth telling as a woman.  If I write the book, there will be repercussions.  Of course.

So instead of publishing the essay I wrote this morning, I post this.  But tomorrow, or later today, or next week, maybe I’ll claim that courageous audacity that it takes for a woman to talk about the narratives of her life.  Now is just not the time.


Mother-in-law

My former mother-in-law so loved her sons.  She had pet names for each of them, by which she still referred to them even when they were adults in professional careers.  There was The Smart One, The Handsome One, The Strong One, The Creative One.  The perfect quadrumvirate, “the boys.”  They adored her.

Her husband called her mother, as if he were a son in an incestuous affair.  And he did adore her, too.

They adored her so much, that they kept her all to themselves.  Driving, this she was not allowed to do.  A mandate of the father, uncontested by the boys.  Walking out on their country road, this her husband eventually granted, as it made her slimmer and better to look at.

One day, she sighed, and left the house, telling her husband she was going for a walk.

It was a bright day, sunny, spring and warm. Unwitnessed, she walked into the path of an oncoming car.


On agency

I was reading a course-required blog by a very articulate graduate student in a women’s studies course.  She was reviewing a novel in which the main character, a young girl who is trafficked, is “not established as a victim.”  The character “chooses” and has “agency throughout the novel.”  The student wrote that she “appreciated” the non-victim characterization of the trafficked child.

Recent feminisms (i-feminism, “sex-positive” feminisms, et al), which are all “in” in academia, are reproducing, through biased curricula, another generation of feminists with distorted views about liberating feminist theories and practices.  One of the great mistruths of recent feminisms is that “old” radical feminism is an ideology of victimhood that doesn’t endorse—or even worse, believe in—the agency of women and children.

Quite the opposite. Yes, it is true that radical theory refuses to ignore and appropriately uses the word “victim” to describe the recipients of such acts as racial violence, sexual violence, hate crimes, and domestic violence.  But we do that in order to name and hold accountable the individuals (eg. predators, traffickers, perpetrators of lesbian and gay hate crimes, perpetrators of race hate crimes, rapists) and the power structures (eg. patriarchy, institutionalized white racism, skewed legal systems, capitalism) that create, maintain, and benefit from victims.  If victims are rendered invisible, then those individuals and power structures are in turn rendered benign, unaccountable, and unnamed.

Equally important:  radical feminism does not stand in opposition to or deny women’s agency.  We recognize the truism that victimhood and agency can and do co-exist.  Moreover, our endorsement of agency is why we are such a threat.  We are all about unleashing women’s agency, full force, unfettered.


The totally awesome decorator

One of the things about having been alive for a number of decades is that you get to watch the evolution of language.  Verbs such as snuck, which were purely slang forty years ago, are now grammatically acceptable.  Some words come and go.  Some are regionalisms.  Political words, such as “feminist,” are co-opted and muddied.  Other words are completely transformed.  Many words and phrases are born fresh from old stereotypes, oppressions, and the deep roots of patriarchy.  For example, “that’s so gay” was born in the mid-1990s, around the time I first heard it uttered by an intern at a feminist organization.

However, widespread co-options and transformations in political and social language aren’t merely simple shifts in language.  Widespread changes in the usage of words reflect widespread cultural beliefs.  Patriarchy is amazingly efficient.  When any radical social change group begins to push back against patriarchy’s self-declared authority, patriarchy implements numerous counter strategies.  One is the manipulation of language.

Over the past decade, the language of prostitution and pornography has gone mainstream.  It has also taken on an unassuming benignity.  Pimp, for example, has morphed from meaning to prostitute women and girls to now meaning to decorate or make something fancy.  You can pimp a car, a room, your wedding.  Pimping is a lovely thing.  Hardcore used to refer to extreme forms of pornography.  Now hardcore is synonymous with “awesome.”  On Urban Dictionary, a contributor offers this definition for hardcore: “Really tough and awesome. Socially accepted and worshiped.”

When the language of prostitution and pornography is co-mingling in people’s minds with idea of awesome worship—or bizarrely of awesome home decorating—it creates a surreal space into which radical activists and writers must continually fight to insert the fundamental language, the fundamental truths, surrounding men’s violence against women and girls.


Child prostitution, parental consent, and the erasure of victimhood

I came across this quote while following a link in an article on the Anti-Porn Feminists blog:

In the United States the system of care for trafficked children has been developed within a framework based on middle-class Western ideals about childhood as a time of dependency and innocence during which children are socialized by adults and become competent social actors. Economic and social responsibilities are generally mediated by adults so that the children can grow up free from pressures of responsibilities such as work and child care. Children who are not raised in this way are considered “victims” who have had their childhood stolen from them. . . . many of the children did not consider themselves trafficked victims, but thought of their experiences as migration in search of better opportunities that turned into exploitation. Many also did not think of their traffickers as perpetrators of crime and villains; after all in some instances the traffickers were parents or close relatives. — Elzbieta M. Gozdziak, On challenges, dilemmas, and opportunities in studying trafficked children

It immediately reminded me of this quote:

….phrases such as “prostituted children” or “children exploited by the sex industry”…deny some of the reality of the children’s lives and ignore the strategies that are employed….The search for victims of child abuse sometimes obscures the acknowledgement of the children’s agency…it was their money that supported their parents and kept families together.  Even though they were socially and economically very marginal, by most definitions they were dutiful children whose respect and difference [sic] towards their parents was honorable and admirable…Personally I felt that the children were exploited but that this exploitation came not through prostitution but through their general poverty and social exclusion. — Heather Montgomery, Children, Prostitution, and Identity: A Case Study from a Tourist Resort in Thailand

Response:

The idea of universal human rights engages in the truth that there are violations against persons which are de facto violations.

It is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child to be prostituted because young children’s bodies cannot endure adult penetrative sex without physical harm.  All prostituted women and children experience physical trauma such as “broken bones, concussions, STDs, chronic pelvic pain” inflicted upon them through rape and battering within the violent institution of prostitution (see Raymond).

It is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child to be prostituted because that child is put at high risk for HIV/AIDS.  In Northern Thailand, for example, 50% of prostituted women and girls have HIV/AIDS (CATW).  These women and girls will die.

If parental consent and cultural practices erase the idea of universal human rights, then we would have to accept as unproblematic a parental choice or cultural practice that involves throwing children into oncoming traffic in which 50% of the children sustain injuries that will eventually result in premature death.

The exchange of capital for goods or services is not an ethical practice.  It is simply the exchange of capital for goods or services.  It is neither ethical nor unethical in itself.  Therefore, the fact that money is earned by a child through trafficking or prostitution does not make trafficking or prostitution ethical.  It is irrelevant.

Trafficked children are unable to attend school.  The denial of education to a child is a de facto violation of the universal rights of a child.  According to the UN, education is “the smartest investment for breaking the poverty cycle and achieving social justice” for women and girls.

These are not the classist, racist ideas of white, middle-class Americans.  These are ideas embraced by women in the struggle for justice all over the world.