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Anita Roberts tells the story of the sexual violence she experienced in her youth, and how it helped her discover her child, her “bitch,” and ultimately, her wise woman.
Lara Logan’s Courage
Last night, I, as well as millions of other women sat on the edge of our seats as we listened to the Emmy award-winning CBS journalist tell the harrowing story of her sexual assault in Cairo. I clearly remember watching the footage of that celebration in Tahrir Square on February 11, thinking that this was a shining moment for humanity at large, not just Egyptians, never believing that that particular moment in history could be sullied by something like this. But when the news first came out about the assault, it was not widely talked about, having been overshadowed by the jubilance surrounding Egypt’s independence. Having visited Egypt three times in the past, I was very aware of the problems that Egyptian society has had with sexual violence, and was keenly disappointed that not more attention was brought to the attack on Lara Logan. When the announcement was made that she was ready to tell her story in her own voice, I felt extremely grateful for her candor and courage.
In the 60 Minutes interview, Lara shows great poise, not mincing words or using euphemisms for her experience. She talks about how the mob of more than 200 men tried to tear her limb from limb and in her own words “raped her with their hands,” for more than twenty-five minutes. She endured this assault after being separated from the protection of six men, including a local Egyptian fixer, her producer, the cameraman, two Egyptian drivers that acted as security, and a former Special Forces bodyguard, which shows the brutal force of the mob attacking her. Only when the mob dragged her into a fence, and she fell into a group of Egyptian woman, and then was finally carried out by Egyptian soldiers did she escape further assault.
Immediately upon news of the attack, there were those who asked what she was doing in that situation, somehow insinuating that she had no place there. But Lara Logan, named CBS Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent in 2008, has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous combat zones, including Zimbabwe, Kosovo, Angola, Mozambique, Gaza, the West Bank, and the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has been intrepid throughout her career, and has been committed to giving others a voice in the midst of conflict. The fact that she was able to speak so openly about her life-threatening experience should give other women hope in similar circumstances. While my own experience of assault on the subway does not even approach what Lara went through, I can speak from personal experience and say that being able to express what happened to you is not only cathartic, but is profoundly helpful to so many women who are told to keep their mouths shut and live in shame for what was done to them.
Around the same time as Lara’s assault, another woman, a Canadian tourist, was raped in the back of a taxi cab in Cairo, and upon her return home, she was told not to speak about it. This is unacceptable. How are we to heal, and own every part of our experience, without turning in on ourselves? How are we going to open society’s eyes and thereby bring about a change in the way women are viewed ~ not still as chattel, but as equals? Monkey see no evil… It’s time to lift up the rotting log in the forest of misogyny, and see what lies beneath.
It must have been an uncomfortable experience for the viewers of 60 Minutes last night to hear about such a terrifying experience, in graphic detail. But I for one appreciated this bare-bones honesty ~ Lara made no effort at covering up what happened to her, and because of this, she was able to literally bring into people’s homes the brutal reality of sexual assault. She mentions how her female colleagues thanked her for breaking her silence, because usually “women never complain about incidents of sexual violence, because you don’t want someone to say, “Well, women shouldn’t be out there.” In fact, there were those in the media and in academia who immediately jumped on the victim-blaming bandwagon, including right here in New York City.
Nir Rosen, a fellow at NYU’s Center on Law and Security, had to resign his fellowship because of wildly offensive comments he made on Twitter, belittling the seriousness of the attack on Logan. Even during his apology, he said that the comments were just meant to be a joke between friends, which is perhaps even more disturbing.
Simone Wilson of LA Weekly felt the need to point out her Lara Logan’s physical attractiveness and rumored sexual history, leading the “report” with one of Logan’s glamour shots. Besides being unforgivably tacky and insensitive, Wilson’s response shows the persistent misunderstanding by many that sexual assault is somehow motivated by sexual desire, merely akin to how a man would approach someone he found attractive for a date. This is simply not the case, as women and girls have been subjected to sexual assault at all ages, in all manner of dress, at all times of day and night, in isolated surroundings, and as in Logan’s case, in dense crowds.
Nir Rosen and Simone Wilson join the ranks of victim-blamers everywhere, but I can tell you with some relief, that their odious views have been roundly censured by everyone with a conscience. I send my warmest thanks and support out to Lara Logan, who has given a voice of empowerment to every woman who has survived sexual violence.
I was taking the train from my hometown to Sydney (a 2 hr ride), having a nice chat with a friend and enjoying having my feet up in the quite empty carriage. At the first stop after I boarded, a man came down into my carriage and stood in front of me, gesturing wordlessly that he wanted me to move my feet so he could flip the seat over, sit in front of me and put his feet up instead (in New South Wales we have seats on trains that flip so you can change the direction you’re facing or create a four-seater.)
I hesitated, not wanting to move my feet just for the benefit of his but yielded I guess more out of habit of giving in to men than anything else. As I did, I said “oh, so you want me to move my feet so you can put yours up?” and as he sat down he said to me “that’s how it goes.” I was infuriated and responded at a normal volume “f–king male privilege.”
This must really have pushed his buttons because he then rose out of his seat, turned around to face me with his hands on the back of the seat in front, leaned right in over me in a truly threatening stance and was about to express his misogynist mind but never had the chance. As soon as he towered over me I put my head back, made myself tall in my seat and at the top of my voice but controlled and firmly and with pointed finger I said “HOW DARE YOU STAND OVER ME LIKE THAT! SIT DOWN! DON’T YOU THREATEN ME! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT…” I continued until he shrunk away and sat down.
It was a victory for me and I’m thrilled that I instinctively got my hackles up and stood my ground with emotional control. I was very shaken and quite upset that no one else in the carriage wanted to assist me but ultimately the threat was gone. He remained in that seat for the duration of the trip and when it came time to alight in Sydney I was ready with a piercing stare but he avoided my gaze completely. I had properly shamed him out.
Easter Monday in the Czech Republic: Not All Women Are Celebrating
by Martina Čermáková
Not too rarely, you’ll find the Czech Easter whipping tradition in one of those stories on odd holiday traditions featured in the corky-news section. From my experience, anyone who’s just learnt about the spanking of girls and women with braided willow sticks (pomlázkas) that goes down on Easter Monday will see it as that: an awkward cultural mainstay that’s probably no fun for the female population.
Within the Czech Republic, though, the pagan tradition of boys and men whipping females in exchange for eggs and ribbons doesn’t seem nowhere near as disputable as foreigners might deem it… read more
As many of you may know, there is a new MTA plan in the works to change the SubTalk messages concerning sexual harassment, which will add a needed component of bystander involvement to the current message: “Sexual Harassment is a Crime in the subway, too – A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer.” As a frequent rider of New York City mass transit, I’ve been aware of these signs since they were put up in 2008, and my initial reaction was “Wow, how have I managed to dodge that bullet time and again? If the MTA feels the need to create a campaign like this, there must be a serious problem.” Irony, of all ironies.
The MTA’s new public service message will reportedly expand on the pithy “If you see something, say something” campaign, by asking bystanders to get involved and report cases of harassment that they witness. This new approach will be such a refreshing change from the burden always being on the victim or potential victim to protect herself.
In my own situation, I was extremely grateful and fortunate to have the support of my fellow passengers. At one point during the incident, I had to yell “Men, guard the doors!”, which I think made it very clear to everyone within earshot that we were dealing with a dangerous individual that needed to be contained until law enforcement could take over. Without the help of other passengers, the perpetrator would definitely have gotten away with it, just to do it again to someone else. Not only did bystanders help to detain him in that car, they also took my lead and photographed him, shaming him as they did so, which made me feel safer and not so alone in dealing with the situation.
But the unfortunate thing is that I had to make quite a scene, and demand the help I needed from others. It was not immediately forthcoming, and certainly not offered to me. My feeling is that someone else who would not feel as confident speaking up as I did would have had a serious problem seeing justice done on that day. And justice was indeed done, with conviction and deportation of the perpetrator. A definitive result like that shows the power of a compassionate and involved citizenry. However, this outcome was sadly not the norm. What if I hadn’t spoken up about it? Then it might have been business as usual that day, as in “let’s pretend that didn’t happen, and move on with our day.” I’m all for moving on with our day and our lives, but not for playing pretend, which doesn’t help anyone. In fact, this is how sex crimes become normalized.
Many times, an individual is being victimized on mass transit without their knowledge, and the MTA’s most recent initiative will, I believe, be a turning point in combating the problem. More eyes to see what is going on, and a greater sense of overall awareness of the immediate surroundings will no doubt help. If we are to put a stop to this egregious behavior once and for all, so that we may truly call ourselves a civilized society, bystanders must be willing to step up and take some measure of responsibility for the individuals surrounding them, whether they have a personal relationship to them or not.
If a person could just imagine themselves or their loved ones in a similarly terrible situation, they might think of their own need for support from others around them. Empathy is what is called for here. For too long, many have tried to turn the other way and ignore what has been going on right in front of their own eyes, and the MTA campaign now makes it clear, that this issue will not just go away if we continue to “play ostrich” with it. Bravo, MTA ~ you’ve made a step in the right direction.
To submit a question to Nicola for next Monday’s post, please email it to her here.
Check out this article for a history lesson on dirtbags of yore. The women at the time were clearly asking for it what with their ankle-length skirts and turtleneck shirts.
Took my son out to the park and to visit with a friend this morning. It’s hot, so I’m wearing a vest and some baggy trousers. On the way home, a driver at the motorway junction beeped, whistled and made a kiss-face at me as I passed him.
Already pissed off (my son had been misbehaving) I stopped walking, turned to look at the “man” and shouted, “Hollaback, asshole!” then continued on my way home – feeling much better.
Only wish I’d told him to google it, too.
I was walking to catch a bus in Toronto when a man pulled up beside me in a convertible and said:
“hey, baby, do you like things that go fast?” he then revved his engine.
I flipped him the bird. He had friends in the car and they all said “boooo” and drove away (fast.)
So that’s what I actually did in that situation, but here’s how I WISH I had responded to the question “hey, baby, do you like things that go fast”:
“Sir, I don’t think you comprehend exactly how much you have failed at attempting to use what we refer to as the ‘innuendo’. You have asked me if I like things that go fast and then revved the engine of your car, suggesting that you not only care little for the environment, but also that your car does, in fact, go fast. The issue is that you are not only insinuating that I should appreaciate your car, but also you, the instigator of this poorly executed, yet entirely offensive act of sexual harassment. The problem with your innuendo is that you, as I mentioned, are using your car as a metaphor for yourself. This means that by implying that your car goes fast, you are also stating that you “go fast.” Thus, in asking if I like things that “go fast” you are asking me if I enjoy men who “go fast” in a sexual sense, meaning that they orgasm quickly. So, to answer your question honestly, do I like men that “go fast?” No, I don’t. In fact, I feel like most people prefer sex to last over long periods of time. Hardly anybody wants it to be over quickly. You and your car are both equally disappointing. Go fuck yourself.”
I didn’t get to give the above speech, and that made me sad. The moral, my friends, is that things that go fast lead to disappointment.
I feel better getting to write that here. Thanks!
By Robyn Shepherd, ACLU
Last month, the ACLU’s Louise Melling blogged about how street harassment shames and humiliates women, and is underreported because of the stigma attached to it. While that blog was making the editing rounds here at the office, I shared my own story of how I dealt with a particularly obnoxious harasser, and my esteemed colleagues suggested I share it. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, after all, here it is. And there’s gonna be swearing. I’m really sorry in advance (Mom).
I was walking to work last April, listening to a friend’s CD and not thinking of much besides that I was a little late to work, and really ought to hustle to make my train. A dude passed me as I walked, and I didn’t think much of that either.
All of a sudden…WHAM! Dude WALLOPED me on the backside and ran off.
No one saw it happen. But the gentle denizens of the Upper East Side sure knewsomething happened, because I let out an unholy yell and a good, throaty “FUCK YOU!!” I turned to see the dude hustling away in his blue and tan jacket and tan backpack.
I hesitated a moment. Did that really just happen? What should I do? Just go on with my day? I’m not sure I want to do that. And I’m pretty sure that if I just let this go, and act like it’s no big deal, or it was “just a smack on the ass,” I’m gonna feel pretty rotten about it for a long time to come. And my butt was really sore. He really went for it.
So I ran after the dude.
It’s possible this guy was crazy. This was something I needed to determine, and also I wanted to get a description, since by this point I had decided that if I was going to be late to work pursuing this mofo, I was damn well gonna call the police. I caught up to him as he was going into the Citibank.
“Hey asshole!” He looked up. He was about 20. Clean-cut. Like he was on his way to school. He did not look crazy. I think he was surprised. I think he figured the five-foot-tall redhead in the sundress and Mary Janes would have just said “Oh my stars!” and scampered away. He does not know this five-foot-tall redhead.
“You think that shit is funny? You like hitting women, huh? You think that’s the correct way to act? Whatsamatterwityou?” All of a sudden, I was Joe Pesci. I swear a lot when I’m nervous. It’s a terrible habit. Perhaps you’ve caught on.
“Ma’am I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know goddamn well what I’m talking about. YOU DON’T HIT WOMEN, ASSHOLE.” At this point I was screaming into the bank. The whole lobby was looking at me.
Dude got in my face. And this is where it gets kind of hilarious. “How dare you disrespect me in public?” he said. Oh. My. God. He. Did. Not. “I mean, call the police or something, but don’t embarrass me like that. Fuck you.”
It was now clear I was not necessarily dealing with a lunatic. But I was dealing with a moron.
“Good idea, buddy. I WILL call the police.” I called 911 and told them about the incident and the coordinates.
While I was on the phone he got in my face again. “Fuck you, bitch.”
Me: “Fuck ME? Fuck YOU!!!…
Me (to operator): “I’m sorry, ma’am it’s just he’s antagonizing me.”
Him: “You calling the police?”
Me: “Goddamn right I am.”
Him: “Fine. Fuck the police. Fuck you.”
Me: “Tell ‘em so yourself!”
He started walking away after that. The 911 lady advised me to stay put. Good call. I figured I had enough of him without backup. The police came a few minutes later, and I told them the story. I told them I knew they dealt with bigger things than this. But if it doesn’t get reported, it will keep happening. And maybe we can scare this dude enough that that will be one less guy hitting women in the street. The cops had me ride around in the car with them to see if we could find them. (Incidentally, those squad cars? Absolutely no legroom to speak of. In case you ever need extra incentive to not get arrested. Not comfy.)
We couldn’t find him, but the cops (there were four of them by the end of this) took my statement and contact info. They commended me on my description. Which is good, as that validates a lot of Law and Order viewing.
I’m realistic. I knew they were never going to arrest this guy. But here’s the thing, and the point to this whole long, profane story. I know there are a lot of people who think it wasn’t that big a deal. But the truth of the matter is, what this guy did was sexual assault. “Forcible touching and harassment,” if you want to get specific.
Sexual assault doesn’t always necessarily mean something as horrible as rape. And too often street harassment is unreported, and douchebags like this think they can get away with it because the girl is gonna be too embarrassed or too meek to do anything about it. Or they think it’s “just a slap on the ass.” And that’s not right, you guys. I don’t know how other women feel about their posteriors, but you don’t very well get to smack the hell out of it willy-nilly because you feel entitled to do so. There will be repercussions.
To the NYPD’s credit, they did follow up, and the detective told me that if I really wanted to press charges, she would help me do that, even if it meant looking through a lot of surveillance tape and looking at lineups and all that stuff. I opted not to, figuring that they had this guy’s description, and if he did it again, he’d be in a lot of trouble. But something tells me he’s not going to. I think I scared him. Or as the detective said, “So you ran up and confronted him and screamed at him in a bank.”
I know what happened to me could have been a lot, lot worse. But someone doesn’t have to be raped to be humiliated, violated and hurt. Sometimes, all it takes is a smack on the ass.
This was the response a man gave to me on a Paris metro car, after I shouted at him, “Why are you bothering me?” For the past several minutes, he’d made sure to stand too close to me, causing me to move away from him twice, and put his hand on top of mine, while holding the support pole in the middle of the car. All threatening behavior ~ claiming space, pushing my boundaries, seeing how far he could go. I remember looking around, but no one else was in the car to see what was happening. It made me so angry and resentful to think that I would have to change cars and essentially run away from this creep, but I did.
At the time, I was just twenty years old, living abroad for my junior year in college. I had come from the protected and respectful environment of my college campus, Sarah Lawrence, and wasn’t used to this type of treatment at all.
However, it was his WORDS, perhaps even more than his actions that shocked the hell out of me. I’m embarrassed to say that instead of instantly recognizing his statement for what it was ~ a dangerous manipulation ~ I immediately took stock of what I was wearing, which I still remember to this day: black opaque stockings, black high-heeled Mary Janes, a black turtleneck with a cream-striped wool skirt with attached suspenders that my grandmother had made for me. It was above-the-knee, but I thought the sensibility was more cute than come-hither.
Now admit it, did you find yourself, even for just a second, evaluating the modesty of my outfit, even if it was to agree with me about the “un-sexiness” of it? If so, you are not alone, because it’s the tendency of every human being to wonder how WE could have controlled circumstances better, how WE could be less vulnerable to attack, and of course, to ask ourselves why WE were the unlucky target of a predator.
We, We, We, indeed.
We are assaulted in the street because we are women, not because we are “packaged” like women. Assault and harassment are about domination, not about sexual attraction, but it’s still so easy to fall into internalizing responsibility for an attack. One of the reasons that it’s so hard to get beyond this, is the fact that so many powerful segments of society still believe a woman can defend herself merely by putting on the “right” piece of clothing when she walks out the door.
Just this February, a member of the Toronto police force was censured for making the comment to Osgoode Hall Law School students that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Yes, he really went there. Let’s take yet another ride on the victim-blaming carousel. This did not occur in some backwater, but on the campus of a major metropolitan center which had been the scene of violent sexual attacks in recent years.
Mistreating people, then informing them that it’s their fault are the actions of an abuser. This manipulation is designed to cause guilt, shame, and a sense of responsibility in the victim. If there are even small pockets of law enforcement that still feel the way this officer did, then we’ve got an entirely new class of abusers to deal with ~ the second tier, so to speak, which we’ve got to educate and at the same time, mentally steel ourselves against, if we are victims. This is imperative, because it’s clear that predators are just one link in the cycle of violence against women.
What will it take for us to wake up, to stop shifting responsibility away from predators? Perhaps a sense of empathy for others, and the certain knowledge that self-expression in the form of dress can never be an acceptable excuse to victimize someone, not in a truly free society.
Peace and Balance,