#MeToo: what now? (and four examples from my mundane life)

#MeToo

#MeToo

I had not yet chimed in on the #MeToo movement. I am not sure my experience adds to the discourse. It is a lot to share for someone like me, as run-of-the-mill as I feel like my experience has been.  Mostly, I have been mulling over what precisely I think about the movement.

There are clear examples of outrageous behavior that require improved accountability- the college student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, for example. Someone being drugged and waking up to a nightmare.  In addition, though,there are also ambiguous encounters every day between young adults who are figuring out their approach to sex and to relationships. Who are experimenting with drinking, perhaps, or with drugs. Learning where their boundaries are.

Speaking as a mother of a college age boy, I do hope we remember those early and confusing days as we move toward better understanding each other. It takes a long time to master the language of intimacy. We give and receive mixed signals while we learn.

Setting aside force, which is never okay, there is also a learning curve when it comes to the difference between flirtation and seduction. Persuasion and coercion. What we’re comfortable with and what feels like violation. I’ve been married for over twenty years, but that was not a clearcut and straightforward journey, as I recall.

 

Anger feeds anger.

The tone of some of this wave of #MeToo feels like it may unintentionally swamp the need for frequent acceptance of the shortcomings of our life partners. It may replace that necessary understanding with reasonable, righteous, yet damaging anger. I wonder what this current outrage might do to the concept of lifelong relationships.

I am fortunate to be in a long-term, healthy relationship, however. If he demeaned me, insulted me, or hurt me, that would devastate me.  The balance with which I write this would disappear.

I would not presume to speak to the role of forgiveness in abusive relationships. I’ve written about the tragic connection between childhood abuse and its likely effect on a convicted adult abuser.  I implore anyone who’s being demeaned or threatened to get counseling and get to safety.

Not minimizing the harm done.

This may sound like I am minimizing the toll sexual harassment and sexual assault take on us as society. It may seem like I am trying to excuse it. I definitely am not.

I am emphasizing the need for us to forgive our loved ones when they let us down – not when they assault, demean, belittle or abuse us – but when our relationships momentarily derail. When their – or our – behavior is less than it could be. Within healthy limits. When a lapse is a forgivable event, not an abusive trend.

It is not my place to set that boundary for anyone else. It’s imperative to be vigilant about what healthy limits are. To protect and value ourselves. Many men are not aware how pervasive the belittling is that can lead us to undervalue ourselves or our gender. It’s difficult to hear if you’re not female.

Be an imperfect but necessary example.

So, I am speaking up. We need to teach our daughters, our friends, and anyone we influence how to value themselves. How to respond to harassment. How to guard against abuse. We need to immunize them against feeling powerless. That’s not solved by policy. although thoughtful laws about harassment and sexual assault are essential. Confidence, appropriate response and self-defense are taught, modeled, and hopefully absorbed by future generations.

Tell your #MeToo story. Here is mine.

So, with that in mind, of course, #MeToo. Harassment. #MeToo. Assault. #MeToo. Here are four examples from my life.

#MeToo: the socially inept harasser

Some encounters and offenders are simply unpleasant, inconsequential gnats who should not affect one’s otherwise happy life. For example: after college and before graduate school, I worked as a waitress in addition to my day job to better make ends meet. A guy who was a regular customer came in one night and had dinner. At the end of his meal, he said, “Will you come home with me?” I laughed and said, “Thanks, but no.” He said, “You might as well. I’m just going to go home and jack off thinking about you. So, why not come along?” I looked at him with irritated disgust and said, “And that’s why you’ll probably always eat dinner alone.”

That guy owns his abysmal, shameful, repulsive behavior. He does not deserve to have any effect on my life except to be justifiably mocked for behaving in such a gross way. It did not cross my mind I was in any way at fault. This was not in any way my problem. I thought what a sad little man he was to say such awful things to someone he barely knew.

#MeToo: the mentally ill harasser

Some harassment is scary, unpleasant, even dangerous, and a consequence of that person’s significant issues, such as mental illness. When I was in graduate school, I was followed through a drugstore by a homeless man who fondled himself while mouthing obscenities.

The security camera would have shown me hotfooting it through the pharmacy area looking for nasal spray at a frantic pace while throwing exasperated looks back at the foulmouthed irritant. Perhaps I should have been afraid. I was not. I was in a well-lit store surrounded by (regrettably oblivious) employees. Had I been worried, I would have asked for help.

Encountering someone like him was a not uncommon occurrence in New Orleans in the 90s, where people living on the street were sometimes in various states of intoxication or mental distress. In my mind, he was not a threat. He was a sadness.

At the time, I did not think of his action as harassment. I thought of it as a lack of self-control on his part, a blindness to boundaries brought on by whatever demons he faced. It did not cross my mind I was at fault in any way for his behavior. I was clear that in his mind, I was vaguely female and that sufficed for whatever odd script he was following in his head.

I did not think about other women being frightened of him. I thought about him needing medication. I thought about getting home. I may have been wrong to respond like that. I probably should have tried to get him help.

#MeToo: harassment in the workplace

Then there are the men who love power and don’t much like or respect women. A CEO at a company where I worked in the 90s hosted regular marketing offsites to report on what worked and did not and strategize on what we planned to do next.

He had a private plane and flew many of us to and from these meetings. The marketing managers were primarily women. Upon our return from one offsite, he walked up to us as we were lined up to leave and gave each of us a kiss. On the lips.

I’m no shrinking violet. Yet I let it happen. Words cannot express how repellent that man was, and still is, to me. But putting my job on the line by calling out his behavior was a risk/return ratio that, at that time, was not in my favor. Each of us knew he did that because he could. Not because he was attracted to any of us. It was an impulse, completely impersonal and completely about him. A casual expression of what he thought of, were he given to introspection or analysis, as dominance.

It never happened again. None of us would have let the opportunity present itself. That’s how women used to handle situations like that. They might happen once, but we would be intrepid about making sure they could not again.

I definitely mishandled that incident. It is obviously not enough to have avoided being in the situation again. Because a guy like that was not just saying his desires were more important than his employees. He was also saying that women are inferior. Less powerful.

My colleagues and I let that perception remain. I knew I could go somewhere else, continue my career trajectory, and finesse any future encounters like that one. That’s precisely what I did.

But people like him should not be in charge of companies. Unfortunately, narcissists can be really good at building companies to a certain level, so they’re rampant in upper management.

#MeToo: the assault

Then, there is assault. A young man broke into my apartment in New Orleans when I was in graduate school. I awoke to him standing over me, telling me he had a gun and he was going to rape me, then kill me.

I was lucky. The calculus in that situation went thusly. “I’d rather be dead than be raped by this man.”

So, I asked to see his gun. He told me to shut up. I repeated, “Show me your gun.” He said “No.” I said, “You don’t have a gun.”

Driven by adrenaline, I jumped up, picked him up and held him against the wall. It turns out the powerful, menacing shadow in the middle-of-the-night darkness was actually a skinny teenager, probably 110 pounds dripping wet, who’d likely taken something to give himself courage he should not have had.

Unfortunately, I lived by myself, though. Once he was up against the wall, I had nowhere to put him. So we scrambled and scuffled toward my front door of my small apartment, and he pushed the screen door open and escaped.

I called the police, then woke my neighbors up. The 90s New Orleans police were not particularly sympathetic. They actually laughed and told me “You should have beat the shit out of him.”

He and his buddies came back that night, slowly driving up and down the street. In the early morning hours, they slashed my neighbor’s tires.The police did not come back. They were a busy bunch, and, as I’d seen, rather indifferent.

So, I moved to Metairie ten or so miles away, to a secure apartment complex. I finished my time at Tulane commuting instead of walking.

#MeToo: the consequences

That incident changed me. I reflexively lock my doors now. I know how to use a handgun. I am wary.

But I am not afraid. I was lucky because the violence I encountered was not overpowering enough to rise to a level I could not overcome. Thousands of women have endured so much worse.

I was also lucky because my parents raised me to assume I could resolve whatever difficulty I encountered. To not to be afraid. To defend myself. To overcome. To always be thinking about solving the problem.

To avoid situations that put me at needless risk – advice I did not always follow when younger, I’m afraid. Many of us have to learn common sense.

Even with that confidence and eventual common sense, though, the main reason I am not afraid is because I have not yet encountered a situation I could not resolve. That is just the luck of the draw. Which is why #MeToo is important.

Great parents and subsequent good judgment provide tools for a woman’s defenses and her ability to assess whatever happens to her from a healthy perspective.. They do not, however, stop sexual violence.  They do not stop sexual harassment.

We need to address the impetus that drives some men to act this way. (And some women – I have seen the men saying #MeToo.)

Men, wonderful men

I’ll close this by noting that I respect and adore men. I treasure the deep connections that are my most sacred relationships in addition to my bond with my mother: that of husband and wife, son and mother, daughter and father, brother and sister. I have spent my life surrounded by extraordinary men.

Old-fashioned strength, protectiveness, gallantry are honorable and precious things. #IHearYou – they say, and they really do hear us. They listen. We should not throw them out because we want to get rid of the toxic behavior of violent men. The puerile behavior of immature men. The predatory behavior of sociopathic men.

The dance between the sexes is an essential treasure worth preserving as well. The subtle, sensual mutual admiration that is flirtation at its best: respectful, mischievous, complimentary and harmlessly entertaining. It is an art worth keeping.

We can have all of that and still fix this. So, with a focus on solving the problem in addition to just calling out the scope of it, and with an abundance of love and respect for the fineness of the men and women in my life – #MeToo.

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Hope your Father’s Day is just ducky

GranDad on his Father's Day duck

GranDad on his Father’s Day duck

Making ducks for Father’s Day

When my son was a (very verbal) toddler, he noticed that flatulence sounded like a duck quacking. One day, his grandfather was umm, feeling gassy, and did what comes naturally. Nic said loudly and with amusement, “GranDad, you made a duck!” My dad the linguist was enchanted by the phrase, and a lifelong silly inside family joke was born.

A Mardi Gras duck mask purchased by my mischievous father. celebrated on this Father's Day

Sometimes, the joke was a mask at Mardi Gras.

A duck jigsaw puzzle I made, which would make a great Father's Day gift.

Sometimes, it showed up in other ways, such as this duck-themed jigsaw puzzle I made. But it’s been a running joke for well over a decade.

Last month, we visited our little place on Fowl River that’s close to where my parents live in Alabama and everything broke – the air conditioner, the boat, the refrigerator, the car, the air mattress. Dad did everything he could to help us fix it all, as he always does.

We knew he’d check the place after we left, especially after all the disasters. So, we bought a seven foot inflatable duck we saw at Walmart. The morning we departed, we inflated the creature, wrote Dad a Father’s Day card, and left it waiting for him in the living room.

Ever practical, he says he is going to use it for naps.

Dad’s lasting influence

I love you, Dad. Everyone says they have the best dad there is. All I know is that my horizons are limitless because I grew up with a dad who

  • * Assured me I could do anything I set my mind to and
  • * Encouraged my brother and me equally at a time when that equal opportunity thinking was not necessarily the norm.

My father, my role model

Aside from his sense of mischief, scatological or otherwise, my father is a great role model because he

  • * Loves to learn all things, whether poetry, science, math, history or what have you;
  • * Shows me that a road trip is as much about the journey as the destination
  • * Demonstrated by his lifelong love affair with my mother that marrying someone who challenges me, lights me up, and I love with all my heart is the only reason to get married.
  • * Defines success as a balanced, happy life that includes family time; interesting career and life experiences and accomplishments; financial security; a wide circle of friends and acquaintances; being of quiet help to others; and ever-evolving new interests.

Dad, you also suggested – more than once – I be selective and avoid drama. Maybe not overshare. I’m still working on those .

I sure love you, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day to you and all the dads out there who occupy the same special place in their children’s heart that you do.Those of us with great fathers never lose our (not inconsiderable) smidgen of hero worship. It’s a unique and irreplaceable intersection of love, fun and joy, tinged with more than a little childish awe.

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Thoughts on the horrifying shooting of Republicans in Alexandria, Illinois today

Words to think about after the shooting in Illinois today

Words to consider after five people are shot today, including majority whip Steve Scalise, in Illinois in what appears to be an attack targeting Republicans.

We’re all in this together

The violence in Illinois this morning, when Republican majority whip Steve Scalise was one of five people shot as they practiced for a Republican vs Democrat charity event that will take place this Sunday, was inevitable. It’s the natural outcome of our insistence of defining who’s “us” vs. who’s “them.” We need to remember we’re all “us.”

My thoughts and prayers go out to Congressman Steve Scalise‘s family; Zachary Barth and his family; Matt Mika and his family; Special Agent David Bailey and Special Agent Crystal Griner, along with all others affected by today’s shooting. The shooting was apparently motivated by political antipathy. Reports say the gunman asked if those practicing were Republicans or Democrats before opening fire.

It’s not us vs them: it’s unity vs division, progress vs regression, overall gain vs overall loss

We’re buying into a false narrative when it comes to our choices. The division is not rich vs poor; black vs white; men vs women; LGBTQ vs straight; Republican vs Democrat; Christian vs Muslim; or gun owners vs gun control advocates – though there are those in each group who would make it so. The real contest is between anger and logic. Peace and violence. Self-centeredness vs open-mindedness. Unity and connection vs division and indifference. Thoughtless heckling vs useful problem-solving. Openness vs sneakiness (because if you don’t discuss your ideas in the open, you cannot hear opposing views that may challenge and enrich or even change those beliefs.)

This kind of overheated, exaggerated rhetoric needs to end on both sides. Verbal personal attacks have become the norm. Many of my friends - people I love and respect - regularly say things on Facebook I know they would not say in person. It's not political activism - it's the online equivalent of a middle school slam book.

The attacker’s Facebook page indicates he was vehemently anti-Trump.

If you flame people online, you’re encouraging the dysfunction

The kind of overheated, exaggerated rhetoric found in James T. Hodgkinson’s social media needs to end. Vicious online personal attacks have become the norm. Many of my friends – people I love and respect – regularly say things on Facebook and Twitter I know they would not say in person. That’s not political activism – it’s the online equivalent of a middle school slam book.

Those verbal attacks call to those who are unbalanced enough to launch physical attacks. The physical attacks lead to outrage from most, but chilling indifference, like this from others.

Online attacks call to those who are unbalanced enough to launch physical attacks. The physical attacks lead to outrage from most, but chilling indifference, like this, from others.

Don’t assume everyone who reads your posts is as balanced as you are

The real choice is always between love or hate. The worst – and easiest – choice is corrosive indifference. If someone doesn’t matter to you, you may more easily opt to call them names online, revile their intelligence, reject their beliefs, diminish their humanity, and, eventually, be indifferent to their fate. 

People who are unbalanced for whatever reason may hear this rhetoric differently than the rest of us. You and I hear snark. They hear a call to action. They do not have the same boundaries. People get hurt.

Perhaps victims are “only” shamed and vilified online. What’s the harm in mockery, a meme, a rumor, a misrepresentation that is repeated over and over? Their reputations may be damaged, but hey – it’s legal so it must be moral. Everybody else does it. Except we don’t. Plus,the blame-and-shame mindset, along with the idea that one person’s immaturity makes mine okay, should be discarded by the end of elementary school. In extreme cases like today, people are physically harmed.

Time to move forward

Let’s stop this. It is purposeless to gin up strangers’ anger, to rally people around personal attacks and accusations, to ratchet up the emotional volatility. We have to stop the drama and come together. It’s a lot more boring to intentionally decide to respect each other and have occasionally tough discussions from a basis of mutual respect, but let’s do it anyway. We have to commit to discuss issues, not people. We have to pressure our news outlets to simply report the issues and quit making politics so personal.

 

Deterrence

So, how do we stop similar future occurrences? First, we have to detox the environment that allows the hate to thrive. In order to do that, we need to ratchet down our political antipathy toward each other. Republicans and Democrats need to work together, find common ground, and quit tearing each other apart. Elections, local to national, need to quit being so viscerally personal. Otherwise, we will not ever get a diverse pool of qualified and motivated candidates – who wants to run for public office only to be vilified and possibly have their lives genuinely threatened?

Some genuine geniuses undoubtedly voted for Trump. Some voted for Hillary. Some voted for Bernie. Time to find points of agreement.

We start by leaning toward each other, rather than draw further away. Though this may be obvious, here’s some truthiness for you. People who voted for President Trump are not a monolithic bunch of racist, homophobic, sexist misanthropes. They had a wide variety of valid reasons for voting for him. Likewise, people who voted for Hillary Clinton are not all ignorant, arrogant “feminazi” liars. They thought she was the best and most experienced candidate for the job. Nor is every Bernie Sanders supporter a “commie” or a “snowflake.”  They saw him as the best candidate to lead the change they wanted. There are areas where we each agree. We have to talk to each other and find that common ground, then move from there to work on the areas where we disagree. 

Five ideas for personal change

  1. Talk more about what we each support, less on what we are against. It is easy but not that useful to protest the status quo. It is very difficult but infinitely more useful and lasting to work to enact meaningful change.
  2. Focus on making the changes we can. It’s easy to bemoan things that are beyond my control. It’s harder to commit to work to make things better than I know I can affect.
  3. Personally commit to discuss issues, not people, especially online. 
  4. Pressure our news outlets to simply report the issues and quit making politics so personal. Post requests on their Facebook pages. tweet to them. Less editorializing, more unbiased news, please.
  5. Ultimately, define each problem statement – poverty, violence, mental health, health care, terrorism – and find common ground on solutions rather than deliberately moving further apart.
So, perhaps, we should consider this. I have intentionally not posted the wrongs of others, the insults to Hillary Clinton, the ridicule of Bernie Sanders, and on and on. It's all wrong. It all has to stop. The idea that one person's immaturity makes mine okay should be discarded by the end of elementary school. We are so much better than this. Please, let's encourage the greatness in each other. We are all connected. (Hat tip to F W Rick Meyers for the though-provoking slide show he posted yesterday, which is where I found this slide on change and perspective.)

So, perhaps, we should consider this.  (Hat tip to F W Rick Meyers for the though-provoking slide show he posted yesterday, which is where I found this slide on change and perspective.)

1. Define and agree on the problem before insisting there’s only one possible solution. 2. Problem solve rather than self-promote.

Today, many in the Twitterverse did not stop to mourn but immediately started debating gun control.  “If the Sandy Hook massacre had been GOP congressmen instead of children at school, we’d have had #GunControl a long time ago.” versus “Today, good guys with guns bravely prevented a mass political assassination. Let that be your only take away from the events today.”

Instead of moving immediately to a solution that we may assume is best for all based on our individual experience, let’s define the problem we want to solve. Neither of those posters wanted this guy to shoot those people.  They could find common ground on how to prevent future incidents if their goal was to do that rather than to score points with like-minded people.

 

A final prayer

Last, my thoughts and prayers also go out to James Hodgkinson’s loved ones. I just saw a gentleman on television who was his childhood friend, who said he was a nice guy, and that he did not think was capable of such an act. It’s much easier for the rest of us to revile the sinner than the sin, because then we can hope the sin dies with the twisted, unknown individual. But the hate that infected James “Tommy” Hodgkinson lives on and continues to corrupt. We have to each decide to actively discourage the environment that encourages it to fester. We have the choice to be so much better than this.

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In honor of National Tater(s) Day

In honor of National Tater(s) Day

In honor of National Taters Day, here’s something I wrote about  our our beloved Jack Russell terrier, Tater when he passed away a few years ago.  Anyone who’s ever loved a dog may recognize the bittersweet mixture of sorrow and gratitude I felt when he died after sharing eighteen splendid years with us.

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I see good people

I see good people

Cole Sear: I see dead people.
Malcolm Crowe: In your dreams?
[Cole shakes his head no]
Malcolm Crowe: While you’re awake?
[Cole nods]
Malcolm Crowe: How often do you see them?
Cole Sear: All the time. They’re everywhere. The Sixth Sense (1999)

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Mother love

Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Today, one of our cashmere goats gave birth to a tiny, new and utterly perfect kid. I helped, after we determined it looked like it was breech. I took those little hooves in my clumsy hands and pulled carefully, gently and consistently as the mama strained and bleated until the little one emerged.

The birth of our kid

The birth of our kid

Once out, she was not feet first. Rather, she entered the world in a perfect pike position, nose almost touching her ankles. We should name her Greg Louganis.

My beloved husband asked me later if goat midwifing was on my bucket list and my answer was no. That’s an incomplete response. It wasn’t on my bucket list because I had no idea how amazing it would be to help another mama guide her new little one into the world. Seeing the miracle of  a living, breathing, alert little soul emerge was an unasked-for, now treasured, privilege. It evoked a reverence that came from some timeless place within me.

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