Between Brock and a Hard Place

Boulder

The other day I posted a photo of Briar and Finley on Instagram hugging it out, but what you didn’t see was the crumpled face of  Finley in tears of regret and the jutting chin of indignation and righteousness on Briar. Their emotions were justified, but absolutely counter to everything I want for my family. I did not give Fin a pass for being mean, I did not deny Briar her resentment. We all suffered through it and emerged on the other side.

 

One of the hardest things about parenting (I reserve the right to change my answer down the road because I know experiences change our views) is watching my kids suffer for the consequences of their actions. I do not believe that my job is to soften every edge, though I desperately wish gentle lives for my girls. I need them to know that when they do something wrong they will be held accountable, unfortunately I also have to tell them that people won’t always be held accountable—kind of leaves a gaping hole of, “Wait a minute, how come…?”

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My responsibility is to cultivate a self-awareness and code of ethics that will steer the girls to make the right decision when no one is watching, to own up to the times when they do not, and mostly, to acknowledge each day how the choices they make influence their happiness, well-being, and impact on the world. Because they are female I also have to include how their actions impact their safety. Women do not get to assume a base level of safety, for us there will always be exceptions and fine print.

I need to address what has happened at Stanford. Let me say that I don’t want to be the woman who harps on rape. I don’t seek to be the angry feminist or the ranty past-prime woman.

I want to be happy-go-lucky.
I want to be lighthearted with men and women.
I want to have a healthy appreciation of sex.
I want to enjoy entertainment.
I want to laugh at jokes.

And yet:

  • Men make jokes about “getting raped at the dealership.”
  • People use “rapey” as an adjective.
  • What did she wear?
  • Was she drunk?
  • Does she have a history of black outs?
  • Did she kiss him?
  • Does she have visible bruising?
  • Is there semen present inside of her?
  • Were there witnesses?
  • Did she report it immediately?

The question to the man rarely seems to be about what he did, what he wore, who he was with, or who witnessed any moment of consent.

The men say, “I can’t remember if she said yes, but she never said no.”

I am off track from the grooves worn in the path by:

  • “You don’t have enough evidence.”
  • “It would be a very hard case for you to win.”
  • “The fact that you know his penis was crooked is great.”
  • “It’s also compelling that you’d never met before.
  • It’s good you weren’t drunk. Do you usually drink?”
  • “You weren’t dressed promiscuously but, rape is hard to prove.”

I’ll go back to the facts of parenting and code of ethics. I am raising my daughters to know that I will call bullshit so fast on excuses that avoid responsibility they’ll get dizzy. They know it when they’ve screwed up; it’s something we have developed together over time, a mutual understanding. It isn’t so perfect that it keeps them from wrongdoing, but they do understand when they have made a mistake in judgement.

We practice “if this, then that,” but explaining why you can’t walk into a house that isn’t yours, you cannot use things that aren’t yours without asking, and you have to think about how what you do makes someone feel when it does not seem to apply to America, and in particular America’s justice system or higher education realm is tough. These are places where the enormous burden of not just proof, but of character, moral fiber, and documentable intentions and behavior seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of women.

Stanford. It’s a school where my grandfather worked, it is the stage for commencement address by Steve Jobs that Briar has been quoting, and it stands as one of the top schools in the nation. A while back a rape occurred, it was perpetrated by a student at Stanford, a standout swimmer they said.

The thing about rape is that it feels like it happened another lifetime ago and yet, certain stories, smells, and qualities of light can take me right back. I can feel the way the bench seat dug into my back as my knees banged against the glove box and his knees rested on my shoulders. I remember gagging, choking, crying.

It’s not pleasant, I know, and I am sorry. I am also sorry for Mr. Turner, father of Brock Turner, who was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Mr. Turner is pained by Brock’s loss of appetite and general listlessness over what was but “20 minutes of action.” He is respectfully distressed about what these 20 minutes will mean over the course of a lifetime to his son, “…incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock.” He goes on to talk about the lack of criminal history and the potential he had for life.

I might’ve said the same thing about myself after my rape. I struggled to eat too, but it wasn’t guilt, it was the gag reflex, a memory from the time, maybe less than 20 minutes, that my rapist forced himself on me. I was conscious, I was able to recount my story, I did not get to press charges. The brave woman at Stanford who has spoken up about what she’s going through wasn’t conscious for the rape, but like so many women, she has her eyes wide open and the public watching as she endures the second assault.

The deliberate, sober process of Judge Aaron Persky determining that her past (those twenty minutes of the attack, which actually have long lasting aftershocks, so a ‘respectful’ fuck you to Brock’s dad) are somehow less important than the future of the accused rapist.

The suggestion that the burden of registering as a sex offender and losing the swim team are punishment in and of themselves completely ignores what Brock’s actions created.

The photo being circulated is of the convicted rapist in a blazer and tie smiling at the camera. All that we know about the woman is from how she has been written about: having been loaded and then later having written a brave letter. Does she have to be well-spoken to be worthy of our trust? Does she have to check enough boxes to be at the level of this fair-faced, strawberry-haired athlete?

Is there a level of brutality that would have changed the judge’s mind?

Is there an age limit?

I wonder if there are any circumstances under which Brock’s dad would be able to look at him and say, “Well son, I still love you, but you did this and we’ve just got to see you through the consequences of it and then start again. I believe in you. I know you won’t do it again, but you did it, so you have to pay the price.”

I was at a work event one night and our sitter called to say that one of our girls had spit in her sister’s face at the dinner table.

“I had no idea what to do. I sent her to her room,” she said to me.

I was speechless but managed to sputter, “That sounds right. I’m sorry. I am in shock.”

We laughed about it later, but there was also incredulity and a bit of shame. How could that have happened? No, it isn’t rape, but it is something my kid did and we talked about it. I need her not to think spitting in faces is an option to conflict. Brock and other men need to know that penetration isn’t an option with a prone body.

Would Mr. Turner have penetrated a woman behind a dumpster?

I hope not, but honestly it feels like in this country he could do it and society would say, “Well, she shouldn’t have been there.”

Do better, America.

 

 

Nothing Lost About This Girl

I saw something shared online today that made me laugh out loud. The title was Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults and despite my optimistic heart, I know it has shades of truth. I’ve made a concerted effort to try and identify the areas I think I need to work on the most—calling myself stupid, being vocal about not liking how I look, and not thinking about the implication of something before I say it out loud. The truth is I have been doing a really great job.

Yes, I still struggle.
Yes, I still have an internal voice that could peel paint and melt ice.

The thing is, striving to not perpetuate certain things for my daughters has allowed me to caretake myself in a way that I have never done before. I don’t mean taking time to luxuriate in a bath or unapologetically answer no to a request so that I can do something for myself (baby steps) but I have been tender and considered that I am worthy of a kind word.

I might go so far as to say that I started getting smug about how the girls and I have been doing. We’ve talked about sex. We’ve talked about drugs. We’ve talked about mean girls and aggressive boys. We’ve talked about family dynamics. I’ve explained why work is important to me. We explored why family is sometimes all we have. Today after seeing an “Obama-Mart” bumper sticker we talked about the merits of fiscally conservative viewpoints even though they are counter to just about everything that I believe to be true. I want my daughters to be aware of a larger picture.

They know I smoked. They know I dated guys before Sean. They know that one day I will die. I say none of this to posture about being perfect, but I really thought I had smacked with a mallet all the predictable screw ups. I also know there is no perfect parenting, no matter how hard I try or how much I sacrifice.

When I’m in the car with Briar I see her without filter. She is ravenous for time with me, but she is also eerily able to completely tune me out and in those moments, when I look beyond the sting I feel, I see a young woman. Her current infatuation musically is Lost Boy. It’s a gorgeous wisp of a song, quiet and gentle, but with a crescendo of subtext that puts our divide in relief—she is a soon-to-be-teenager and I am not.

I watch her brow furrow and her lips purse as she hits the lines in the song she loves the most. She looks ahead not at the road, but at what I imagine is the future as she contemplates growing up, staying young, and the torture of the middleness of where she is now.

 

The other day we were goofing around and she apologized. She said “Sorry” when there was absolutely nothing for which to apologize. I winced.

“I may start introducing you as my daughter, Sorry. Yup, this is my daughter Sorry, she likes to apologize for everything.” She tilted her head my way and bonked it against my side.

“Mom!”

We laughed.

“Seriously though, honey, knock it off. Save your sorry for when it matters. I love you.”

She smiled and stared at me. “Ok, mom, I love you too. So much.”

I smiled and ran my hand along the top of her head. I felt good, confident in our path.

Less than 24 hours later I was waiting for her in my car at the bus stop as the sky unlocked a furious rain. She was lamenting the ongoing annoyances of the bus ride. I have been caught in a swirl of eliminating the bus and using it to condition all three girls to stick up for themselves, both options feel flawed and so we go back and forth. Some days they are pick ups, others they ride the bus.

My phone beeped.

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I had to read it a couple of times to realize that she had put together that I apologize a lot for things that are not my fault and, are in fact, entirely out of my control.

It hurt at first. A habit of mine I had overlooked entirely. She called me on it in the lightest and yet most direct way imaginable. There was no denying it. I sat with my guilt at the absentminded sorry habit and felt my pride that she identified it.

She needs me, but more and more she needs herself. She is calibrating how she reads situations and opportunities and if I try to force my views on her, she won’t ever develop those skills. I realize that I don’t need to worry about her missing out, I need to worry more about my tendency to superimpose the things I think are most threatening. I can’t see the truth if I construct a false image of the present.

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What I can see is that my first born is smart, strong, resilient, and truly wise beyond what I give her credit for on a given day.

 

 

 

Not Like That

I was sitting in civics class my senior year of high school. My teacher said, “Amanda, looking hot as usual, I see.” I was mortified. I slunk out as soon as the bell rang. “See you tomorrow, Amanda,” he called drawing my name out long and slow. I held on to my backpack strap with one hand and wiped my other on the frayed edge of my cut off jeans to wipe away the feeling of his stare.
Later I was told by an adult, “He’s entitled to say that. No harm.”
Guess he didn’t mean it like that.

Cycles
Three months later I stood in a line for the bathroom at a party about four blocks from my house. I had not had anything to drink, but when a guy offered me a beer, I walked out to his car with him to get one. He raped me, saying as he thrust himself in me, “You like that?” About an hour later after gagging and biting him as he forced himself in my mouth, I was lying huddled between a car and the curb as the rumble of the car moved slowly through the neighborhood.
Later I was told there wasn’t enough to press charges. You were at a party. You walked to the car with him. What were you wearing? Had you been drinking?
Successful cases don’t look like that.
A year later I was a Rotary exchange student in Spain. I was standing against a wall waiting for my turn to order in a cafe. A man walked over to me, pressed his lips almost close enough to touch my ear and told me, “You better be careful with that neck, you never know what it will do to a man.”
Later I was told, “You should be grateful. He was saying you were beautiful.”
Don’t be frigid, don’t you like men?
A few years later I was studying in Mexico. Every day on my way to the school I would pass a garage where the workers would call things to me, “Look at those legs” and “You keep walking by but you never stop, come in here.” One day when I got back to my host family’s house I explained that I talked back to them and told them to leave me alone or I’d use the legs that they watch so closely to kick them.
“Amanda, you cannot say these things. You have to let them talk. Now we must apologize.”

Don’t resist like that, it makes them angry.

Ten years ago I was standing on my front porch talking to a friend about a couple of guys at work framing me to cover the laziness and incompetence of a co-worker. “It’s crap,” I said. “I bust my ass and they—”

“Shhh, be more quiet. You can’t talk like that,” he told me.
You can be mad, but not like that, not so loud.

I’m in my 40s now, the overt sexual come-ons are not as intense or as frequent, but I have meetings where men stare at my breasts rather than meeting my eyes or they listen to me talk and then turn to a man in the room to have my statements qualified. I have learned to navigate in ways that keep people from telling me to be quiet or to settle down. I understand that I don’t just have to size up people; I have to anticipate how they will react to me, because time and again society has taught me that I am responsible for men’s actions.

My clothing.
My neck.
My legs.
My yes for one thing negates my no for another.
Don’t be loud.
Don’t be cold.
Be pretty, but be careful.

I have three daughters and what I hear over and over, “Oh, you’re in for trouble,” and I think, “No, I’m not. Fuck you.” I don’t say it, though. I smile sweetly and say, “Thank you.”
Don’t make them angry.

Many say, “Does your husband have a rifle ready?” and I think, “You think it’s cute to look at a grade school age child and think about sex?” I let a slow smile spread across my face and laugh delicately.
Don’t be frigid.

I got a call from my eldest daughter’s school one day after she ran out of the gym during a dance. I asked what happened. They told me that there was a situation that involved a boy wanting to talk to her. I asked what the problem was and was told that she had run away from the boy. I asked what they were doing about it. They said they were questioning my daughter. “And the boy?” I asked. They were not talking to him. “She should have let him talk to her. He just wanted to tell her something.” I took a deep breath, made my tone even, and said, “But when does her desire not to talk with the boy become as important as his desire to talk to her?” Silence. “Will you be talking to him?” They answer weakly, something about staffing and the day being nearly done, and maybe my daughter will calm down and feel differently.
The cycle repeats as if nothing has changed.

I understand that I must teach my daughters that in our culture they are responsible for their actions and the actions of the men and boys around them. All the lessons they have been taught about right and wrong, kindness, respect, and standing up for yourself will be thrown out the window. It is easier to manage the girls. It is less complicated to focus on what the girls are doing. Experience suggests that I need to teach them to be quiet, to not talk back, to not allow their bodies to incite actions that will be their fault, to keep themselves safe.
I wish I had a tidy ending for this, but I am a woman in a society that thinks we are here for entertainment. I want to tell my daughters it doesn’t have to be like this, but this is what it is. I clench my teeth and breathe through flaming cheeks as I teach them both sides. Because I want them to have everything that they want, but I also want them to have their eyes open. They need to understand that injustice persists.
I wish I didn’t think that speaking up and teaching my daughters to do the same would end up with us getting hurt, but I do. I want to be braver, but I don’t trust my life or my daughters’ to be valued more than men’s freedom to do whatever they please.


Men will touch what isn’t theirs and be protected.
Men will demand gratitude for unwanted attention.
Men will label, discount, and judge women differently.
Society and women will side with them; them being men, not my daughters. That’s the world I grew up in, it’s the world I live in now, and it’s the world I have to prepare my daughters to occupy.
I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t want to be like that.
I can’t let it continue, not like that. I have to find a way.

Can’t You See You Like I Do?

“Mama, you are so pretty in that shirt,” I turned to look at where the voice had come from and saw Briar. I had known it was her talking, but the words were so out of context with how I was feeling. Her lips were turned up in the sweetest little smile and her eyes danced, happy.

“Thank you, sweet love,” I said smiling at her. My smile was genuine, my face calm, but my insides were racing. I’d gone through the morning bedraggled, stretched out pajama bottoms hanging from my frame, a t-shirt with just a tank top underneath, and my hair doing that 40-something, morning halo of kinks. The bags under my eyes taunt me, even after a night of more than 8 hours I can look like it’s finals week and I have the flu.

“Your face looks really pretty right now too, mama,” she was nodding and kicking her feet in her chair. I laughed out loud, which made her beam even brighter.

“Wow, honey, that’s really, really sweet of you. I was feeling kind of messy,” I said. She shook her head and nibbled at her toast. I walked back into the kitchen to finish with lunches. My mind wandered as I spread mustard on wraps.

When exactly was it that I became ashamed of not being done up? Just the other day I confessed to other moms on twitter that despite wanting to not ram a superficial agenda for the girls, I yearn to be pretty for them. When Finley watches a performance and says, “Mama, that girl is so pretty,” a little flame of fear and defeat flickers. Am I not pretty enough? Does she wish I was prettier? It’s absurd, but it’s there.

I look at the girls in the morning and revel in their bed head and pillow wrinkles, always have. The slow process of their skin settling back into normal as they grow more alert is a delight. When I consider my own morning cycle it is nothing like that. It is all judgement and critique.

I look over at Briar who is now playing on Sean’s iPad, scrolling through pictures she and her sisters have taken with Photo Booth. They take these pictures to make themselves look silly, completely unafraid of being ‘not pretty’.

When does that go away? I wonder. My chest feels heavy thinking of them having days when the natural state of their face or hair makes them ashamed. Is it avoidable? Considering my own habits and tendencies, it occurs to me that maybe, like so much of what we are supposed to teach, there is no template, no surefire recipe for avoiding it. Perhaps like happiness, the harder you chase the perfect vision of contentment and acceptance, the more elusive it becomes. The best thing that I can do, for me, for the girls, for our whole little family, is look in the mirror and go about my day caring for myself as unconditionally as I do our girls.

“Hey B, you about ready to go to the bus?” I ask Briar.

“Sure, but do you think maybe you could drive me today and we could be together for a little more time?” She is wearing the leggings I bought her, birds running up and down her slender legs, a long tunic poking out from beneath the cardigan she sewed. I smile again.

“Of course, I’ll meet you downstairs.”

She pops out of the chair and darts off to grab her backpack as I look down at my pajama bottoms reconsidering how they look. Maybe this morning me is special because no one else sees her. Or maybe I do look pretty in this shirt. Could be that it has anything to do with shirts or hair, and way more to do with the way being with me feels. Briar makes me feel incredibly lucky and beautiful. She and her sisters help me see everything and everyone in new light.

SidewalkWisdom

Fighting the Darkness

Sometimes things alight on me, magical things—good moods, optimism, luck, butterflies. I revel in their arrival and do my best to enjoy them while they’re here. Other times things come to roost that aren’t the kind of thing that you share on Instagram or gush about over lunch.

Anger, despair, even defeat.

They cling to me without warning, more like oil than solid weight, suffocating me and defying any sort of strength or resistance. I do my best to avoid what I think may be triggers—comparisons to other people’s lives, reading the headlines, but sometimes the emotions are here before I realize it.

The video that made the rounds yesterday about a woman getting catcalled switched my spirit to darkness like a switch. I cringed as I watched the video, anticipating the ways it would be interpreted to be her fault. I deflected the assault on her character and motives in my mind with firsthand experiences of my own. Stories that I always wonder, “Was it just me?” Then the anger swelled, how can I question my emotional response to a situation? If I felt scared or threatened, does that mean it’s true, or does that mean I am overreacting? Why is a person saying, “That doesn’t make me uncomfortable” treated as a defense? If I say that I am not allergic to shellfish, does that negate the reaction of someone who is?

I have learned that the comment section is never a place to find hope, at least the comments sections of large news sites or YouTube. It is where you find the most sweeping, cutting, unrelenting surge of “you are wrong” and “you should die” or “I can’t imagine anyone loving you,” vitriol. I guess I hoped that this time would be different. That the commenters would consider a different view, largely, they did not.

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Just as I hoped that things would be different with Rehteah Parsons, Steubenville, Sayerville, and harbor hope that one day one of these scenarios would end with a lift a tide of “No more.” It never seems to be different. Victims are mocked.

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Women who speak up are attacked. You can probably set your watch by the inevitable rape and death threats that come from speaking up against any of it.

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It actually becomes easy to see why you wouldn’t speak up, it’s too likely that you will be mocked. The ridiculing of women and the incessant reference to women as opinion-less vehicles for sexual pleasure has got me at a fork in the road.

 

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One path has me just not caring, accepting that it is what it is. Boys will be boys, it’s not a big deal. The other is ignoring how my cheeks flamed as I looked back on my passionate, outspoken college years and swore I’d be more moderate. I’m all for listening to both sides and for considering different perspectives, but when it comes to harassment on the street, jokes about rape, and women receiving death and rape threats being ok, but photos of breastfeeding are censored, I’m ready to bring back the loudmouth twenty-something. Because while she made a lot of mistakes, she believed that women were worth more and was willing to speak up and challenge the crowds who preferred her to shut up.

 

YesAllWomen

 

I don’t think so, internet commenters and silent citizens.

I will stop watching shows featuring child molesters. I will stop buying books by authors who dismiss abuse. I will call out organizations who diminish the weight of violent acts. I will support women who are speaking out.

They may say these issues aren’t going away, but neither am I. I will use my voice, my buying power, and whatever platform that I have to combat the idea that it’s not that bad.