An Open Letter about Feminism to My Brothers

Dear Brother,

My Dad encouraged me to speak out.  He was a feminist!

My Dad encouraged me to speak out. He was a feminist!

I write to you today because I realize how uncomfortable you have been of lately. The Third Wave of Feminism (as it is being dubbed) is blooming (and praise be for it), and you are hearing women speak out about rape cultures, feminism, wage inequality, and the fact that the glass ceiling has not, no matter what PR spinners wish to say, broken. And because of social media, this third wave of feminism is loud, louder then even the first or second wave of feminism.  Women have a large medium to play with and they are using it.  But,  I see your discomfort on Facebook, on Twitter, and other social media outlets.  Many of you are feeling attacked and I am deeply sorry for this.

Please do not feel we are attacking you! We are NOT! We are attacking a system.  Many of our brothers stand with us and also reject a system that objectifies women, promoting the idea of the female as a means to an end. Many of our brothers object to a rape culture.  But what we have to say may make you uncomfortable.  When I talk about my rape, I am NOT blaming you, unless you were the one who did it and trust me, I would not be FB friends with you if that was the case!

Rather, it is important to understand something my dear brother: for decades we were asked to be silent about sexual abuse, assault and gender inequality.  And if we weren’t silent, we were threatened or attacked. Every woman in my immediate family, and yes we have all been sexually assaulted and raped, were threatened for speaking out one way or another: threatened by our attacker and by society at large. You see, this is something you don’t talk about in good company.

Nicolas Mollet, Rape, Events.

It’s like politics or religion, keep your mouth shut. That was the standard. If you did speak out, even your family could punish you for your transgression. Police force, school officials, and other authorities in our culture told us to be quiet.  And if we weren’t quiet we were more often than not, blamed for our attacks. Just like we are often blamed for encouraging an environment in which cat calls are generated: “you asked for it because you dressed like a slut.”

1920s competition

But the idea of dressing like a slut has been so subjective throughout time, and yet it still haunts us women: we exposed our ankles, we were sluts. We exposed a bit of shoulder, we were sluts. We allowed our breasts to be held up in a bra, we were sluts. We took our bra off, we were sluts. We exposed our legs in hot weather, we were sluts. We wear yoga pants, covering our bare legs, we are sluts. You see, this attitude, over time, has bubbled in the cauldron.  And the Cauldron is about ready to explode.

But should you feel threatened by this? No, my dear brother. Not unless you are contributing to the culture, you should not feel threatened by it.  But sadly many of you do. I know because I’ve had conversations with you over Facebook, on twitter, and face-to-face. I have been told that we need to get rid of the word “feminism” because it means that we hate men and are actively into male bashing. What we hate, dear brother, is a disgusting cultural norm that must be revised, but we don’t hate you. Why should we hate our counterpart?

Mabel Capper and Suffragettes with Petition

Feminism was never defined by feminists as male bashing; a matter of fact, feminism defined as a way for women to bash her fellow male counterpart was created by people, men and women alike, who wanted the status quo of gender relationships to be maintained. Why?  One reason was economics.  Consider the recession of the 1970s, and the fact that women coming into the employment market threatened men who were losing their jobs. You see, not unlike today, a corporation could hire part-time female workers for a lot less money than they were charging their male counterparts. Hell, they could hire a woman full time and still pay her less for doing the exact same job as her male counterpart. As men were laid-off from their jobs, a new market niche open, one for women, and many families were desperate for those women to go in and take those part-time jobs. But this should not be understood as male bashing feminism. It was survival.

I don’t want to give you a history lesson, but I do want to encourage you to go out and get a history lesson about feminism, my dear brother. The thing is this, people were feeling threatened, and a PR campaign was created in proclaimed that only lesbians, and male haters, were said to be feminist. The good woman, rejected feminism. This is the same bullshit that we are seeing today with the #IDon’tNeedFeminism and #WomenAgainstFeminism movement that is occurring in reaction to the third wave of feminism. Yes, history is repeating itself. And the sad thing is, most of these men and women who are part of this movement, don’t understand what feminism is. They also don’t understand that they are acting against their own self interest by rejecting feminism.

Gender Equality

So what does feminism mean? It means simply this: that men and women enjoy equal rights. These equal rights are to be understood as being enjoyed in the political realm, the economic round, the social realm, in short – in life. Equality. We ask for no more. We don’t want to rise above man, we don’t want to smash man, we don’t want to be better than men. We want equality and we want justice. Equality does not exist between the sexes presently, and it cannot exist if we continue to encourage and and nurture a culture norm that sees women as objects. That’s the truth.

My dear brothers, please do not feel threatened by the stories that you are hearing women share about their rapes and sexual assaults, about the economic inequality that they are suffering, or the fact that they feel ignored in this world. They are not blaming “you;” that is, unless you have done something to be blamed for. Rather, they are blaming a cultural norm that has gone wrong, and they are asking you, dear brother, to stand with them. I am asking you to stand with me!  I need you!  I need your voice and your conviction.  I need you to be willing to question your assumptions about gender relationships. I need you to speak out when you have been treated badly as well. But above all, I need you to stand with me. I am not asking you to sit in the sidelines. Fight with us and help us make a better world.

Mahalo,
R

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Statement from the President on the House Passage of the Violence Against Women Act | The White House

WAVA - PassageStatement from the President on the House Passage of the Violence Against Women Act | The White House.

The Violence Against Women Act is one of those acts that should’ve been a no-brainer. This bill should have been passed immediately in order to protect women, no matter the woman’s background.  I am amazed and the amount of people who voted against it …. glad they were the minority. Thank goodness the VAWA finally passed the House of representatives. It breaks me heart to see how much we must fight for simple justice and equality.

Rebecca

My Sister is Getting Married!

My sister is getting married and I could not be more happy for her. Now, like me, she can understand the joys and the sorrows in marriage … What? Like she never could before?

My sister became engaged two days ago, right after Ref. 74 passed and was approved in Washington state. That is correct, my sister is gay, and until this moment in time she wasn’t allowed to get married to her partner of 17 years. So, she couldn’t have any idea what marriage really means, could she? I bring up this question simply I have heard phrases, before and after the election, which suggest my sister, and other gay individuals, couldn’t understand what “real” marriage was. But she does… for all intents and purposes, except for legal ones, because she’s been married for 17 years.

Since last Tuesday night, I have honestly tried to identify with how my sister and her partner feel. I’ve tried to place my feet into their shoes, and experience the joy they must be feeling at this moment in time. I can’t do it. I don’t think any straight individual, any individual who has always had the right get married, can. Can you imagine being denied such a basic right – especially here in the US where freedom and equality are the two qualities that are said to ring free and loud?

If you read my past blog, Death and Taxes over at blogspot, then you know I’ve written on the topic of marriage many times, and mostly because of what my sister has had to endure. One of the big complaints we’ve heard in the election, and in past elections, was that marriage should only be defined between a man and woman for, ostensibly, so called “spiritual” and “God ordained” reasons. However, this argument does not match the history of marriage – even within the church itself.  Indeed, marriage was eventually solidified because of land and inheritance rights. Marriage as we understand it today was not common until the relative modern age, and concepts on what constitutes a marriage has changed greatly throughout human history and cultural practices.  The point I wish to make is that until modernity, marriage was a practical issue: not a love or “spiritual” issue. People got married to protect property and other inheritance rights. That meant that the average person rarely got married, because he or she had nothing to protect.

Marriage is still practical issue, although it’s also an issue of love and companionship in our world today. It’s a practical issue because of the legal rights involved between married partners: everything from property rights, parenting rights, to tax rights, to the rights allotting individuals an ability to visit their loved ones in a hospital.  As such, denying these rights to same-sex partners is simply a form of prejudice. We are denying equal rights, freedom to the pursuit of happiness – there is no cutting hairs here, it’s just the truth.

So I simply can’t imagine how my sister and her partner, and their child, feel today. How does it feel to be finally given a right that should’ve been there all along? It’s funny, my sister-in-law (soon to be – finally) and I have had this discussion in the past. She pointed out to me how impossible it is to really understand how somebody else is feeling – how to really walk in someone’s shoes.  She even made me read the book Bright Lights, Big City to better understand her point of view.  Since our discussion, I have entertained and given credence to her argument. Being an actress, however, I’ve always believed I could step in the shoes of others, at least to a degree. And if I can’t step in there all the way, I do feel it is my responsibility to try. That is where empathy is born – and we all need to practice this fleeting skill. However, here I am, a few days after the election, and I am still a bit wordless/ my imagination failing me.

But I can relate slightly, if ever so slightly. How, well because I have always been deeply saddened about the fact that my sister was not allowed to marry. I can relate because I have spent more than one night of my life morning the prejudice my sister has received throughout her lifetime, day in and day out. I can relate because I remember how hard it was for my sister to come out to me, how she feared her family might alienate her. We didn’t, yet she feared it because of the society we live in.  So although I can’t 100% identify, I do know this: my sister understands what it means to be married

My sister probably knows what it means to be married better than most people, including myself. She has had to fight for the right. Her and her partner had to fight for the right to be parents as well. Can you imagine what this world would be like if all parents had to fight for that right?  Rather than taking marriage or parenthood for granted, we would have a world where people truly considered the consequences of entering into these partnerships and responsibilities. There would be no disposable children. There would be no unwanted children – can you imagine that? The beauty of that?

So today I celebrate my sister’s ability to get married. I don’t think there are any words, or gifts, or anything I can really give her to show her how much I love her, and am so happy for her.  But make no mistake about it, my sister and her partner have been married “spiritually.”  Now, however, they get to receive the legal rights the rest of us have – it’s about fucking time.

R

Let’s Talk about that “Rape Thing.”

Let’s Talk about that “Rape Thing.”

An Open Letter to Any More Republicans or Tea Party Folks or Others who Want to speak on Rape:

Today, I went to pick up my husband from work. I do this. We share only one car, and since he leaves it for me to run errands, or whatever during my day, it seems like the right thing to do.  He gets in the car, and I give him the driver’s seat, allowing me time to return some text messages. As he starts our vehicle headed toward home, and he asked me the following question:

“So, I am sure you hear what John Koster said today.”

“Koster?”

“Ya, The the Tea Party dude from our lovely state.”

“Yes, so what did he say?”

“Well we have another republican spouting about rape and abortion ….”

At that point I went off. I’m sure this did not surprise my husband, but I had not heard about the news: Congressman Koster calling rape “that rape thing” and then following up this unfortunate turn of phrase with his declaration that women who get pregnant from rape do not deserve the right to an abortion.  As Laura Bassett from the the Huffington Post cited:

“Incest is so rare, I mean, it’s so rare,” he said. “But the rape thing– you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept the child, gave it up for adoption, and she doesn’t regret it.” He added, “On the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime — how does that make it better? You know what I mean?” (Koster as cited by Bassett)

If I can borrow Tina Fay’s lovely rant about republican men spouting BS about rape:

“If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind. I watch these guys and I’m like: what is happening? Am I a secretary on Mad Men?”

Seriously, I’m done. I am done listening to people tell me how I should feel about being raped. I would like to wager a guess that none of these republicans with their expert reflections on sexually assault have ever been raped. I suspect they’ve never been held down, tied up, felt a knife stuck to their neck by another individual… I don’t have the words. Because I have been raped – and incest is not that rare. I know what it feels like.

But besides the fact that these men have not experienced rape, and so therefore can’t really speak to the experience of being rape, let me address their stance regarding how women who get pregnant from rape should be denied the right to abortion.

The man walks away. 

They never think of that…do they?  Indeed, why would the father, the rapist, stay around? Rape is an act of violence, an act of power domination over another human being. A rapist doesn’t care about the child, the offspring, the result. Where does this all leave the woman raped and pregnant?  I’ll tell you where – without any support, financial and/or emotional, and without any help either. Further, because many republicans and tea party folks feel that social programs are waste of money, these same politicians write off programs to help the woman raped and abandoned.  Why?  The claim of the “individual” and the need to be absolutely self-reliant in all things.  Indeed, don’t we all get what we deserve, even god endorsed rape … she brought it on herself somehow.

“What do you mean rapist father left you after you got pregnant from the rape?  What did YOU do wrong?”

My problem with these men is this: They NEVER speak to the consequences of what happens to these women and children.  It’s all well and good to sit on your high unmoving moral horse, but when it comes down to it, if you don’t bother to actually back up your high morals with a good old plan, what we can do to help and make things right, you’re just full of crap.

None of these politicians have a plan.  They get rid of social programs (oh now work houses and orphanages) to help those who have been harmed via circumstances that were out of their hands, and, in the same breath, condemn the person to live with the reality because?  Because they seem to believe in some form of predestination – Either “God intended it” or, somehow, “you made this happens, so deal with it.”

Come up with a plan. Decide what will happen to the child after the birth when there is nobody there to take care of it. Even if the mother is there, and she’s happy to of had her rape child, what if she can’t mentally and/or financially take care of the child because the rapist, Daddy dearest, took off after the rape.

Come up with a plan. That’s the problem, all these folks want to make grand claims about what is wrong and what is right, but they offer not proof, no backup to their claims.  If these guys were in my Comp class, they would all fail for a poorly composed argument.

We have to consider what happens not only to the victim, but the offspring. Our laws have devolved over time. In today’s world, we take little pains to even go after the rapist, let alone make the rapist responsible for the fact that he or she raped.  In my first book, The origins of the Magdalene Laundries, I discuss the ancient Brehon Laws of Ireland and how they actually legislated for cases of rape.  These laws covered all different kinds of sexual unions between men and women (sadly they were not enlightened enough to apply to same sex unions), the Brehons, Law Givers, including the crime of rape: Not only was the rapist held responsible and punished for the violence offered to the woman, including a breach of honor, he was responsible for all children born from the illicit union. Under these law, there was no such thing as an illegitimate child. All children were cared for by the community, and the rapist had to support the children born as well as pay restitution to the woman assaulted (108-109).

It’s mind-boggling isn’t it? In our society, we  spend a great deal of time letting the victim know that he or she is at fault: You got raped because of the way you dressed.  You got raped because of your belief system.  You got raped because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You got raped because you had a glass of wine.  you got rapped because you went to the wrong party.  You got raped because your “no” sounded more like a “yes” to me.

We spend so much time blaming the victim that we don’t remember to take equal time at really punishing and holding the perpetrator responsible.

So enough. I would like to educate these men spouting off about rape. Please, make an office appointment. Come have tea, or cup of coffee, or a beer even, I know this great sexiest pizza joint that rejects feminist poetry but serves the best pizza in town.  But, let’s talk. Let me explain to you the reality of being raped, and ethics, and consequences. Let me educate you – I be happy to do it. By the way, you need it.

Rebecca

No More Pizza For You

As some readers may know, I have been reading sections from my upcoming book, Writing the Diaphragm Blues, at a local pizza place and watering whole in Tacoma, WA. Medis Pizza has an open mic on Thursday nights, that mostly cater to musicians, but there has been slam poets, regular poets, and readers of prose.

I started reading from chapter one the week before last, and the effort was well received; so, I decided to read from chapter two this last Thursday, and invited a few friends.  The week before, one poet, reading before 9PM, had some pieces littered with harsh sexual language, visuals and images, as well as lots of cussing.  Since the restaurant/ bar allows children to be present until 9pm, a few parents were upset and left. Not wanting to recreate that experience for parents, when I signed up to read, I put the words “adult content” next to my name, to let the hosts know that they should not bring me up until after nine.  God help me for being sensitive to others!

My disclosure prompted one of the house, a different host from the week before, to come up and ask me about my presentation. I let them know I was doing a spoken word reading, that there was no foul language, or even graphic scenes, but I would be talking about coming of age and birth control. His reply was puzzling:

“… Some places don’t allow for that kind of thing.”

“What kind of thing?” I replied.

“You know, I just hope you will be entertaining.”

“Of course I’m entertaining; I did not come here to bore people. I would even say it’s quite funny.”

“okay then.” And then he left the table.

He went to tag his cohost, and the two of them walk out of the restaurant. I watch them talk about me through the doors, looking back at me as I sat at the table… “There’s a feminist here…” At least that’s what I imagine they were saying.

The person who signed up before me was a spoken word slam poet of high caliber. I enjoy listening to his work very much. As he was going on stage, the host came back to me again:

“Maybe it would be a good idea if we wait to put you up.”

“Why,” I asked.

“Well too much spoken word.”

“Is that so?”

My friends at the table started to look at the host, wondering why he was doing everything in his power to avoid having me go on stage…

“You will be entertaining, right?”

I’m not entirely sure why he was afraid that I would not be entertaining. Did he imagine I was going to go onstage, leading the greatest feminist revolution ever seen: burn my bra while downing a beer, proclaim the word vagina 56 times, possibly slowly V-A-G-I-N-A. when I finally did get up, the audience was laughing at my offerings… I’m hell of a funny person. But the two hosts got uncomfortable. I talked about the first time I got my period, and how my dad threatened to get me a chastity belt. I talked about the conversation my dad had with a man at 7-11 when he bought me my first set of menstrual pads:

“I hear those things make great odor eaters.”

True story and funny stuff, but as the audience laughed the hosts walked out of the restaurant to talk about … me? … and within moments, the co-host (the main host would not look at me, but turned his back every time he came close) came back and cut me off… Giving me less time than the slam poet. I got a whooping 5 minutes to the rest 15+ minutes.

“I’m sorry, we’re running out of time.”

The last insult, although it might be a compliment… But from him probably an insult, was the recognition that maybe I should be on NPR and not reading at the open mic. He’s probably right.

The next two people who got up were guitar players, and they were told, and I kid you not, “play long as you want, you are a last to ask for the night.”

When I started to write my book, I was frustrated at the amount of sexism, and genderism I read about and hear about daily. But I am still surprised when I am faced with sexism, face-to-face, in such a blunt manner. The host was rude, condescending, and even after declaring how he was a “big ol’ liberal …. but . . . ” but not when it comes to women?  Yep, that about sums it up.

Defining Civil Rights

Aristotle depicted by Raphael, holding his ”Ethics”: detail from the Vatican fresco ”The School of Athens”, 1510 – 1511.

How do you define civil rights? This is a big question, and although it seems like the concept should be self evident, to many people it’s not. Let me start by offering my understanding, my definition of the term civil rights: Civil and political rights and equality guaranteed to each and every citizen through law.  It would be nice if civil rights could be guarantee via culture, but that is impossible.

With this said, I must admit that when people talk about civil rights, we are often talking about black Americans. But just because we connect the “civil rights movement” with black Americans, this doesn’t mean we should limit the definition to one group of people … any ONE group of people.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, Ann Coulter on ABC “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, was discussing her thoughts on civil rights and she linked this concept to black Americans because of the “legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws.” The term “black Americans” is extremely important because Coulter is not interested in offering civil rights to blacks who are not legal Americans. Furthermore, she continued her definition of civil rights by stating: “We don’t owe the homeless. We don’t owe feminists. We don’t owe women who are desirous of having abortions, or gays who want to get married to one another.”

I am not the biggest fan of Coulter or her philosophies. But I wanted to look at the motivation for creating a definition so limited that it would only include one narrow group of people. To me the motivation is transparent: if we want to limit government, and limit what government does for its people, then we must somehow exclude people who would otherwise have rights or claims to government programs. Such as, women having the ability to have birth control covered by their insurance policies, free of charge.

What I find astounding is that many people, such as Coulter and even personal friends of mine, people who see government programs and civil rights as “entitlements,” are almost always willing to take from those “entitlement” the moment their lives goes to hell. When we are healthy, we would like to suggest that we rise above such things, that we do not need a helping hand, that we can do everything ourselves, that we are strong individuals.

But there is a reason we take out insurance policies, isn’t there? There is a reason we think ahead to that moment when our car might be hit, or our house might be robbed. We take out insurance because we know that there is a good chance life will not be as perfect as it is, or might be, at this moment in time. Isn’t this why most states require drivers to have driving insurance? Homeowner’s insurance?

Civil rights law is a type of insurance policy. If we create laws that guarantee equality in both civil and political arenas, then we can safeguard against those moments when hate, discrimination, and other realities of inequality, such as class warfare, shows it’s ugly little head. Limiting civil rights to one group of people limits our ability to take care of our nation. That is what Ann Coulter is missing. Maybe she has been blessed with a happy life to date. I am sure that she has had her own share of hardships, we all do to differing degrees, but what about that moment when she loses everything? Her right as a woman to go out in public and offer her political opinions. Her right as a person to have access to food or health care, should she lose everything in a blink of an eye. Then, what will she do? What if she had no family? What if she had no resources? What happens when the money runs out? The question we must ask ourselves is this: what are we willing to do for those living in our country? Are we willing to sit back, and watch a person’s voice, their political rights, and access to services such as food and health care be taken away? Are we willing to watch as a person live on the street, possibly dying because of lack of care? It happens every day. I’ve seen it.  Have you?

Robbing people access to the definition of civil rights is like disenfranchising most of the nation. You may disagree with what I see as a civil right, but that disagreement does not necessarily mean I should not have access to civil rights.

And yet, the act of redefining an idea or concept so that it can fit into one’s mode of ideology, is a very worrisome and troublesome technique being used by politicians and taking-heads today. Imagine, if you will, the effort of redefining birth-control as a form of abortion.  In a sense, this is what Arizona is doing when state lawmakers redefined the moment of conception as being two weeks before the actual moment of conception. By redefining this concept, birth control pills, any form of birth control, becomes an “abortant.”  Definition is a very powerful tool, and when people can make a strong argument, or at least persuasive argument-those two things are not exclusive, about redefining an idea that works to exclude large portions of the nation, we should all not only be wary, but on high alert.

Watch the George Stephanopoulos with Ann Coulter interview here.