A History of Violence

[content: rape culture, descriptions of sexualized violence]


I remember being sexualized when I was 9. Seemingly harmless, for the uninitiated observer. But it was my first realization that my body wasn’t my own. That grown men laid claim to it. I remember my first kiss–a boy I barely knew but knew enough to know I didn’t like. I remember the second: A next door neighbour. A friend who would go on to grab my tits as I stood talking to my brother, both of us rendered speechless and frozen. A friend who would go on to, in the eloquent words of a powerful monster, “grab [me] by the pussy.” In public. In front of 40 classmates. If anyone cared, no one said a word.

Continue reading “A History of Violence”


Hollywood is filled with rapists and abusers who create the content that normalizes and reinforces rape culture

[content: sexual assault, #metoo, Harvey Weinstein, etc]

For most of my adult life I worked in the anti-violence movement, doing support work and consent education. And much of my work, both one-on-one with clients and in workshops and lectures of 10-200 (mostly) young people, involved undoing toxic messages learnt from the media and terrible Hollywood movies that normalize and reinforce rape culture.

From rape being used as a plot point (how else will we know that this literal dictator is the bad guy?!) or for titillation to the ubiquitous romantic comedy and action movie trope of the woman saying no in a thousand different ways and the man pushing through physically only to have her melt into his arms because that was what she really wanted, she just needed to be told that her desires and boundaries mean nothing, we are inundated from an early age with self-serving myths about consent, sexual assault, and rape culture more broadly.

Why self-serving? Because, as we see every single brutal day, so much of Hollywood and the media is filled with rapists and abusers who create the content that normalizes and reinforces rape culture. Continue reading “Hollywood is filled with rapists and abusers who create the content that normalizes and reinforces rape culture”

Can We Try Just Trusting Women?

trustwomen[CN: Brief discussion of sexual assault and rape culture]

You’ve no doubt seen them. Man Poses as Woman on Online Dating Site; Barely Lasts Two Hours. Men Try On Ladies’ Sexy Halloween Costumes. The Try Guys Try Labour Pain Simulation. And, most recently, Guys Experience Periods for the First Time.

They all follow the same arc: It can’t really be that bad, women are exaggerating. Oh my god I can’t handle this. Women weren’t lying! Wow, women are tougher than we thought.

It’s played sometimes for laughs, sometimes for enlightenment, often for both. And it fucking infuriates me. Continue reading “Can We Try Just Trusting Women?”

False Rape Allegations: A Victim Service Worker’s Thoughts

[CN=sexualized violence; victim-blaming; general awfulness]

Let me tell you why the “yeah, but why  now?” or “but false allegations!” or “a friend of a friend was falsely accused!” hold no water with me.

It’s not the statistics–fewer than 1 in 10 (more like 3%) of sexual assaults are ever reported to the police. Of those 3 in 100, 2-8% are found to be false (which is problematic in and of itself but that’s a post for another day). Which is to say, the same percentage as any other serious crime–robbery, murder, etc–but with significantly lower reporting rates (47% of robberies are reported; 40% of physical assaults are reported). So 2-8% of 3% of all sexual assaults are found to be false–with inconsistent and sometimes downright neglectful processes to determine which reports reflect a crime happening. That is a tiny number. That is a number so small it’s hard to conceptualize. Continue reading “False Rape Allegations: A Victim Service Worker’s Thoughts”

What Rape Is Not

Rape is not beating someone at a video game or being beaten in one.

Rape is not being under-prepared for an exam.

Rape is not rebooting a cheesy ’90s children’s show into a gritty short.

Rape is not the horrific treatment of cows in the dairy industry.

Rape is not clear-cut logging.

These are all real-life uses of the word “rape/raped” I’ve heard. And each one makes my blood boil.

Rape is a profoundly dehumanizing act of intimate terror against another person. Multiply marginalized people are disproportionately targeted and impacted by sexualized violence. One in three women is a survivor of sexualized violence. That means there is a survivor in every room.

Think about that. Statistically, there is a survivor of sexualized violence in every room of three or more people. That means that those “edgy” rape jokes, that complete misappropriation of the term rape to refer to some minor setback in your day, that use of rape to describe a legitimate issue like factory farming and environmental degradation? They’re likely reminding someone of the worst day of their life. They may be triggering someone into a state of dissociation, panic, or profound despair.

And they are definitely alienating someone. They are telling survivors in the room that you are not a safe person to disclose to. That you may not be a safe person to be around, period. They are telling a survivor at a protest that you care more about logging or veganism than about violence that disproportionately targets women, trans folks, and people of colour (and folks who occupy one or more of those identities).

When people tell me they don’t know a single woman (or person) who has experienced sexualized violence I think: Fuck that. You’ve just shown yourself to be unsafe to ever tell.

Share It Sunday

I haven’t done one of these in a long while, but I’ve read some great stuff this week.

The Hunting of Billie Holiday
Read this piece! It describes the beginning of the (failed) war on drugs and looks at the racism and misogyny that fuelled much of it and the bizarre and tragic targeting of Billie Holiday that got it started. [CN: Racism, sexualized violence, drug use.]

One day, Harry Anslinger was told that there were also white women, just as famous as Billie, who had drug problems—but he responded to them rather differently. He called Judy Garland, another heroin addict, in to see him. They had a friendly chat, in which he advised her to take longer vacations between pictures, and he wrote to her studio, assuring them she didn’t have a drug problem at all. When he discovered that a Washington society hostess he knew—“a beautiful, gracious lady,” he noted—had an illegal drug addiction, he explained he couldn’t possibly arrest her because “it would destroy… the unblemished reputation of one of the nation’s most honored families.” He helped her to wean herself off her addiction slowly, without the law becoming involved.

Thank You Margaret Wente for Exposing Rape Culture
This is both a great response to Margaret Wente (yet again) being a patriarchy-enforcing asshole, but also gives a really clear breakdown of what rape culture actually entails and how Dalhousie’s failure to adequately respond to the dental students’ disgusting comments (and privileging of the safety of the perpetrators of sexually violent comments rather than the victims) is yet one more way that rape culture is systemically entrenched. [CN: rape culture.]

Yet as Wente sees it, the systemic problem to be addressed isn’t entrenched male sexism. It’s entrenched female sexism, specifically, overly sensitive young women “monsterizing” men: “We’ve turned our brave and fearless daughters into neurotic, quivering piles of jelly,” she writes, the upshot being “an entire class of highly privileged, mostly affluent young women who feel unsafe on campus, micro-aggressed at every turn, utterly unable to cope with the garden-variety misdemeanours of boys and men, who have been behaving badly since time began, despite our many efforts (most quite successful) to civilize them.” Let’s leave aside the fact that branding a generation as “neurotic, quivering piles of jelly” suggests a lack of familiarity with today’s teenage and young adult women. Or that ridiculing women for feeling unsafe on campus ignores the actual risks that exist. The fact is that this generation is not “utterly unable” to put up with vile, women-hating crap: It’s that they are utterly unwilling to do so.

Yes Means Yes–Meet The Predators
This is a piece I go back to again and again and again. Firstly, it accords with what my experience in the anti-violence movement tells me. Secondly, it not only identifies who is primarily doing the perpetrating but it gives men step-by-step instructions on what their role is in ending rape culture. [CN: The piece deals with how rapists operate.]

Change the culture. We are not going to pull six or ten or twelve million men out of the U.S. population over any short period, so if we are going to put a dent in the prevalence of rape, we need to change the environment that the rapist operates in. Choose not to be part of a rape-supportive environment. Rape jokes are not jokes. Woman-hating jokes are not jokes. These guys are telling you what they think. When you laugh along to get their approval, you give them yours. You tell them that the social license to operate is in force; that you’ll go along with the pact to turn your eyes away from the evidence; to make excuses for them; to assume it’s a mistake, of the first time, or a confusing situation. You’re telling them that they’re at low risk.

Tofu Scramble
To end on a brighter note, here is my new favourite tofu scramble recipe. I’ve made a lot of tofu scrambles (and eaten even more) and this one is my favourite. It’s really simple, creamy, mild, and has the best attributes of scrambled eggs without actually tasting like eggs. It’s everything I want out of a tofu scramble and/or a weekend brunch.

The Truth(s) of Social Change

[CN: non-graphic talk of sexualized violence, talk of racism and the murders of unarmed black men]

Reality has a wellknown liberal bias.–Stephen Colbert

I don’t know how to write this piece. It’s intellectually hard and it’s spiritually hard.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about activist tactics, about narrative, about facts.

You see, for the longest time, I thought it was a case of misinformation and missing information. That if I could just tell so-and-so enough stories, enough statistics, it would work. They’d see the error of their ways. They’d drop the casual racism and misogyny. That they just didn’t have the facts. That the truth will win out. That the truth must win out.

But what I’ve realized lately is that there isn’t just one truth. And that’s the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, there is an objective reality. One in which gendered violence and racism and transphobia are real and deadly.

But there are also huge, oppressive systems that are strongly invested in hiding that objective reality. Systems like patriarchy and white supremacy and late-stage capitalism that benefit from the ongoing oppression of Othered bodies. Systems that can only exist through the ongoing disavowal of empathy.

Because, really, isn’t that the path to justice? Not sympathy, not compassion. Empathy. The ability to recognize what another is feeling and feel it yourself. Indeed, the inability to not feel the pain of others. Which is not to say that I can understand what it is to, say, grow up as a racialized person in a racist society. But I can recognize the pain and yearning and I can feel it myself in some small measure. And, more than that, because I recognize that your liberation, my liberation, all of our liberation is tied up in each other’s. To quote Lilla Watson,

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

But there are these systems that only work so long as we don’t see that our liberations are intimately bound. Indeed, they hide, to the best of their ability, that liberation is even possible. That liberation is even necessary.

The baseline state of capitalism, if you ask Marx, is one of alienation. We are alienated from ourselves, from our work, from each other. And it is this alienation that allows not just our own subjugation, but our complicity in the subjugation of others. Because it takes a certain amount of dissociation and disembodiment to sit in a cubicle all day, ignoring our needs for movement and meaning and stimulation. And it takes that same dissociation and disembodiment to see the suffering of another and shrug, or, worse, join in the oppression of others.

We lose our own humanity through alienation, and we deny the humanity of others. Worse, we selectively grant humanity. That person who looks like me gets it, that other person doesn’t. And thus we wash our hands of the problem of empathy. Of solidarity.

So let’s go back to that idea of multiple truths. Not just the idea, but the problem of multiple truths. You see, my truth is one that recognizes the epidemic of sexualized violence, racist state violence, transphobic violence. So when I hear about a campus rape I don’t wonder what she was wearing, if it was just “sex she regretted the next day” (UGH), if she is making it up for….reasons that have never really been clear to me but reside in the fever dreams of misogynistic assholes. When I hear about a white police officer killing an unarmed black man I don’t twist myself in contortions to legitimate it, I don’t look to the domestic violence history of a dead 12 year old boys’s father to validate the murder of a child. Because these facts (and they are facts) fit into the world as I understand it.

But for those who are heavily invested in upholding the patriarchy and white supremacy, these events are aberrations if they are accepted as facts at all. You see, if you are invested in the idea that rape doesn’t happen that often and that when it does the woman was asking for it, that 1 in 3 or 6* statistic doesn’t square with your reality. And because our brains are funny things, most people will decide that the statistic must be wrong rather than that their worldview is. And if you’re a white person who has only ever experienced police officers as friendly and safe, then thousands of (mostly) people of colour rising up and protesting the ongoing racist targeting and murder of black bodies flies in the face of what you know to be the truth. And it’s a lot easier to disavow the actions of people who don’t look like you than it is to completely re-evaluate everything you know to be true about the world.

So I don’t think that we can rely on the use of statistics and facts to change the world. Because they are discounted by people whose truths don’t allow for them.

On the small scale** I think we need to focus on empathy. We need to not just insist on our own and each other’s humanity, we need to find that point in others where they can experience empathy. I can remember a conversation with my brother several years ago, where he was talking about a negative and scary experience where a large man was hitting on him, touching him, and making very graphic sexual comments to him in a situation he couldn’t easily leave. I told him that I had experienced that more times than I could count. And that working in any kind of food-service job as a woman meant multiple versions of that every week. He was visibly shaken and said something to the effect that he never realized it was that bad. He’d heard stories but didn’t know it was that bad.

When we live in a culture that so thoroughly dissuades empathy we need to seek it out and set the stage for it.

*A word on that statistic. We don’t actually know how prevalent violence is for reasons that make a lot of sense (low reporting rates, a culture which downplays violence and can cause people to spend years explaining abuse away as “a weird thing that happened”). RAINN says 1 in 6 American women will experience sexualized violence in her lifetime. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates 1 in 4 Canadian women will experience sexualized violence or domestic violence in her lifetime. The Violence Against Women Survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 1993 found that 1 in 3 women respondents reported experiencing sexualized violence at some point in their lives and 1 in 2 women had experienced sexualized or domestic violence. While we know that violence rates have decreased in Canada since then, that survey has never been repeated so we don’t actually have a reliable number. But if we go with 1 in 4 women will experience some form of sexual/intimate violence, that is still outrageously high.

**Large scale I think we need civil disobedience and to remember that no holders of power have ever granted rights out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they were mildly inconvenienced.

Dec 6 Is a Hard Day or “When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them”

[CN: violence against women, December 6th Massacre, vague mentions of sexualized violence]

Every year I dread December 6. Facebook becomes covered in pledges to end violence against women and a listing of the names, while the mainstream media presents a sanitized and de-politicized version.

And every year I am reminded how profoundly the world hates me and every other woman. It is not just the Marc Lépines and Elliot Rodgers of the world–though they are bad enough. It is the media who carefully elides Lépine’s targeting of feminists, Rodgers’ misogynistic screeds, it is the men in my life who, at best, are silent, at worst, are scoffing. Don’t make something out of nothing. Elliot Rodgers killed men too. We need to talk about gun control. We need to talk about mental health. Don’t lump me in!

It is the piece of shit Justice Minister who said this week,

This week, we remember the horrific events that took place in Montreal at École Polytechnique 25 years ago, and while we may never understand what occurred — why this happened, why these women were singled out for this horrific act of violence, we have to stand together.

No! We know! We know because Marc Lépine told us! He didn’t make us guess. He didn’t make us puzzle over the fact that he divided the men and the women, let the men go, and then started systematically murdering 14 young women. He wrote it down. He told the world that he hates feminists. That he blames feminists for all that has gone wrong in his life. That he would target and murder feminists. He shouted, as he was murdering 14 women, that he was murdering them for being feminists (the irony being that we don’t actually know how many of the women murdered and injured actually identified as feminists).

Elliot Rodgers, too, told us who he was targeting, and why. He was going to murder women because he felt entitled to them. Because if they wouldn’t fuck him then they didn’t deserve to live.

And all these men said But he killed men too! Stop making this about sexism! He killed men too! Let’s talk about gun control! Let’s talk about mental health!

I was told once, by a man close to me, that I needed to “think about who I was spending my time with” when I cited a rape statistic.As if the government of Canada’s statistics were influenced by my spending time with feminists. As if the government of Canada was including a man saying “hello” to a woman as “rape.”

As if my own grasp of statistics was suspect because I was a woman and an advocate for survivors. As if the violence I have experienced–the catcalling, the following, the groping–negates anything I could have to say on the matter. As if the fact that I have spent the last five years of my professional and academic life working in the field, immersed in the statistics and policy and lived experiences of violence against women, counts for nothing. Worse, makes me “biased.” Unreliable.

And after all this, after having not just my lived experience challenged, but my professional and academic experience challenged, my citing of government statistics challenged, after being obliviously gaslight, I am supposed to trust this person.

I am supposed to trust the men who are remarkably silent on December 6th, the men who posit that Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby just might be victims of mass conspiracies of women wanting…(?), the men who decry the “politicization” of instances of violence against women while doing their damned best to shut us up–their privilege letting them ignore that this, in itself, is a political act. The Justice Minister who ignores Lépine’s own words to throw his hands up in confusion over the gosh darn unsolvable motive behind the murder of 14 women.

And yes, yes, #notallmen. Whatever. Here’s the thing, though. You need to prove it. You’re #notallmen? Prove it. Don’t whine, don’t recenter yourself and your experience. Prove it. Be an actual ally. Shut up and listen when women talk. Educate and shame when men victim blame or make rape jokes or otherwise contribute to rape culture. Signal boost women’s voices. Talk about December 6th. Talk about what you do to end violence against women.

December 6th makes me feel unsafe in a way that transcends words. It makes me feel less safe than I have felt when men have done me actual physical harm. It wrecks my sleep and wrecks my stomach and reminds me that I will never be truly safe until men step up.

Because we’ve been marching. Generations of women have been marching and shouting and letter-writing. And while we’ve seen some real gains (did you know marital rape wasn’t a crime in Canada until 1983?) the fight isn’t half over.

Read more about Ecole Polytechnique here. Or watch the haunting and important film, Polytechnique.

And a commenting note: I moderate comments and will usually allow dissenting but respectful opinions to stand. On this post I will brook no shit.

Why I Don’t Subscribe to “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

The past few months have been a weird time, with the media finally having to focus on some of the issues that progressives have been talking about for a long time: violence against women; victim-blaming; police-brutality and the racist deaths of young black men at the hands of (white) cops; collusion with predators; collusion with oppressors. And you, like me, are probably inundated with stories and conversations and facebook posts (and facebook arguments) taking every angle on the issue. And no matter which angle, you are also hearing this bleated at you: “Innocent until proven guilty!! Innocent until proven guilty!” like it’s an ace in the hole. Can’t argue with that, can you? So we better just stop talking about it.

Have you ever noticed that those shouting “Innocent until proven guilty[IUPB]” use it as a way to shut down conversation? Have you ever noticed that those shouting IUPB use it to shut down conversation that is critical of the status quo? Critical of the systems that allow, enable, and collude with oppressors and abusers and victimizers?

Have you ever noticed that IUPB is used to shut down conversations that implicate not just the wrongdoer but those around him and those around you that engage in similar behaviour?

Have you ever noticed that eschewing the IUPB framework is treated like it’s worse than the offense itself? Much like how calling someone racist has become worse (in the minds of many white people) than actually being racist, talking about Jian Ghomeshi or Bill Cosby or Darren Wilson without throwing in “allegedly” and “of course we can’t really know what happened” and “INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY” is treated like more of a social faux pas than actually being a sexual predator or murderer.

There are four reasons I don’t subscribe to the IUPB framework:

1. I’m not a criminal court. They have a duty to presume innocence unless and until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t. I am free to make up my mind based on the publicly available information as well as historical context. For example, publicly available information tells me 15+ women have accused Bill Cosby of raping them, while historical context tells me that false rape allegations are made very (very, very) rarely, and that victims who come out publicly are pilloried, shamed, and blamed (so why on earth would someone come out with a rape accusation for funsies? And against a hugely rich and powerful man to boot?). In fact, I’d say taking Cosby’s side in this instance is not only ethically troublesome, but logically troublesome.

2. My refusing to grant innocence until guilt is proven of some powerful dude thousands of miles away doesn’t impact them at all. But it does impact the survivors in my life. My saying “I believe the accusers” tells survivors I am a safe person to talk to, that I will believe them too, that I understand the pressures and systems in place to prevent victims coming forward.

3. The IUPB framework is applied selectively. (Alleged) rapists are granted it, while their victims are presumed to be lying until proven innocent (in the extraordinarily rare case that sexual assault is actually convicted). Darren Wilson is presumed to be innocent while Michael Brown is presumed to have been guilty of and deserving of a death sentence for…? Indeed, Darren Wilson has been granted a permanent presumption of innocence through incredibly corrupt grand jury proceedings. The IUPB framework is applied in ways that maintain the power structures of the world that privilege men, whiteness, and wealth at the expense of people of colour, women, and the poor.

4. The criminal justice system is set up by–and for–those in power. Grand juries rarely indict police officers and the courts are simply not set up to attend to the realities of most sexualized violence. So if you are a vulnerable person (a woman, a person of colour, any number of intersecting identities), relying on the court to tell you who to stay away from, who to keep your eye on, who to warn your loved ones away from, you’re trusting a rigged system to keep you safe. And if you take a failure to indict or a failure to convict as proof of innocence, especially in situations where the accused has power and the victim has none, especially in cases where we have centuries of precedent showing that perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, you’re trusting a rigged system to keep you safe. And if you think the only way you can trust a victim is after a rigged system has found their abuser guilty, you’re collaborating with a rigged system.

I’m not saying do away with the legal presumption of innocence, I’m saying that buying into the (somehow) pervasive idea that you and I have the same responsibility, that believing victims is somehow stripping accused abusers of their right to a fair trial, is dangerous, harmful, and ethically suspect.