Donald Trump, Rape Culture, and “What do I tell my daughter?”

Let’s just put it out there: a pretty despicable human being has been elected president of the United States. One of the many reactions to this has come from parents, especially mothers, who are asking “What do I tell my daughter?”

Before I share my answer to that question, I want to share with you a story only a few people in my life know but which is agonizingly common amongst women.

I was nine, one year older than my son is right now, when a friend’s older brother molested me. It takes a lot — a lot — of effort for me to let that sentence sit there. To not go back and delete it. To not edit it out of my story.

But it happened. More than once. And I didn’t tell anyone at first.

Probably the first couple times it happened, most people would have termed it “teasing,” especially back then. But anyone who has been intimidated or tricked into a position of helplessness while someone bigger and stronger has obvious control over whether you must stay or you get to leave will tell you that it’s not teasing. It’s at least bullying. Sometimes it’s assault, even if it is not much more than one person’s weight keeping you down on the floor until you promise him you will come back if he let’s you go.

Though I won’t go into details, the last time it happened, no one could deny that it was molestation. And not long after that traumatic incident, I stopped going over to my friend’s house. But I still didn’t tell anyone.

In sixth grade, I finally told someone. A teacher. I wrote out the story in a journal we kept in class. It didn’t have anything to do with the subject matter — science — it was just supposed to be us writing about anything we wanted and this teacher would be the only person who would read it. So I wrote what had happened to me. When I got my journal back the next week, my teacher had written at the top, “I hope you slapped him,” but he didn’t tell anyone. I guess mandatory reporting wasn’t a thing back then?

A couple years later, that teacher was arrested, tried, and convicted of molesting boys in his scout troop.

The one person I had reached out to was also a sex offender.

Though I doubt it was a conscious choice, the way I saw guys from that point on was fundamentally different. Boys became a force to be resisted, fought, proven wrong, and outdone. I would be better, stronger, smarter, more successful than they were. I would become someone to reckon with.

And I did. I beat nearly all of my male classmates in academics. I beat boys at arm wrestling. I bested them in Trivial Pursuit. I hit home runs. I was never afraid of the ball. I didn’t run like a girl, throw like a girl, or do shot put like a girl. I never backed down from an argument. I opened my own jars. I didn’t believe in the phrase “that’s a man’s job.” I wrote feminist poetry.  And of the girls in my graduating class, I was voted Most Likely to Be President.

I never felt that same level of competition with other girls. Only boys.

Being an outspoken young lady who carries herself with confidence can draw idiotic sexist comments from a lot of guys. Some of them might even call you a “nasty woman.” But according to more than one adult man in my life, the boys were just “intimidated” by me. When I heard that I would think to myself, “Good. They should be.” And I would go on being me.

Eventually, I told the story of my childhood molestation to my future husband (one boy who was not intimidated by me).

In college, I stopped worrying so much about beating the boys. I was comfortably engaged to my high school sweetheart, excelling in my classes, and relishing every moment spent discussing literature, history, and culture. Unlike this woman, my experience as the victim of unwanted advances or outright assault did not continue throughout my life. It may have something to do with the different circles we ran in or it may be that me “intimidating” guys had a nice scumbag repellent effect. For whatever reason, the worst thing that happened had happened a really long time ago. And when you hear what some women have gone through, my story is mild.

But that doesn’t mean that every time I walked home from a late shift at a diner on campus I wasn’t listening for footsteps behind me and constantly running through self-defense scenarios in my mind. Because I was. No matter how long ago, an experience like that never leaves you. This statement from a New York Times article regarding Donald Trump’s treatment of women rings achingly true: “They appeared to be fleeting, unimportant moments to him, but they left lasting impressions on the women who experienced them.”

It’s obvious to me in hindsight that my early experience as the victim of sexual abuse had a significant role in molding me into the person I am today. A person who, along with every other decent person out there, was disgusted by comments made (and then lamely defended) by the president elect. To some men it might be just “locker room talk” but to women, dismissing such comments is another dismissal of their own personal story of sexual harassment or abuse, another log to throw on the smoldering fire of what’s become known as rape culture, a culture in which men are rarely held accountable and women are blamed for their own life-altering assaults.

Now then, for the answer to the question, “What do I tell my daughter?”

What do I say to her as we leave an administration led by an honorable man who set up the Council on Women and Girls and eloquently explained the problems and solutions to rape culture, and enter the administration of this guy? (For the record, I don’t think he’s actually done what he says there, but parsing all of that out is a little beyond the scope of this essay.)

Well, you could tell her the truth.

Tell her that while the office of the presidency is to be respected, there have been a number of men who held that position who have been less than honorable in their conduct toward women.

Tell her that unfortunately we live in a world where she needs to be vigilant, on guard against people who might want to take advantage of her. That while sexual assault is never her fault, she can reduce her vulnerability by taking smart precautionary measures, like never walking alone at night, learning basic self defense, supporting her female friends, and remaining sober-minded and alert in potentially dangerous situations.

Tell her that women are not exempt from feeding into a culture that devalues and blames women. Sometimes, while they are trying to protect their own hearts, lives, careers, and families, they do and say things that harm other women. They excuse terrible behavior to protect a reputation that, let’s face it, is bordering on unredeemable. (I say bordering, because if the man actually humbled himself and repented, he absolutely could be redeemed. But at this point his “conversion” is obviously a false one because he doesn’t believe he needs forgiveness, doesn’t understand the meaning of the Eucharist, and tries to make up for the bad things he does with works rather than accepting God’s grace.) They may even perpetuate the view of women as sex objects and call it empowerment. They make bad choices, and may regret them later, but they feel like they have to double down to retain their integrity because there are so many ways to make missteps in our judge now, ask questions later culture.

Tell her that nothing, fundamentally, has changed. Before Trump we lived in a dangerous and fallen world. During Trump we live in a dangerous and fallen world. After Trump we will live in a dangerous and fallen world.

And you might even tell her that the kind of people who put sexual pressure on others or who desire to feel power over others, are often the past victims of sexual pressure, harassment, or assault.

Remember the story of the friend’s older brother who molested me? When I finally told my childhood best friend and my sister about it last year, both of them immediately said, “I wonder what happened to him.”

Those twin statements kind of hit me broadside. I had often wondered why he had done what he’d done, especially since he was only four or five years older than me, still a kid himself. But it had never occurred to me that he might be acting out a scenario that had happened to him in the past, only this time he could be the one who felt in control rather than the one who felt powerless. Leave it to my always compassionate best friend and my former Child Protective Services worker sister to immediately see him as more than a perpetrator, to see him as a unique individual who might have his own difficult past.

Remember that teacher who was sent to prison for molesting boys in his scout troop? The boys who had come forward with the allegations were the same age as the boy who molested me. And it’s possible that he was even in that troop. That he had either heard about this teacher’s abuse or that he was a victim himself. I don’t know. We’re not exactly in touch and I can’t ask his sister because sadly she died after an on again, off again struggle with substance abuse.

The last time I talked to him I was a freshman in high school. He had already graduated. I contacted him and asked him if he wanted to come back for the school’s talent show and do a duet with me. It was a carefully considered ploy on my part to get the chance to put the incident, which I had still not told anyone about, to rest. To get it out of my mind. Surprisingly, he agreed. I chose the song: “Always on My Mind.” I chose it because it would make a good duet. I didn’t think any deeper about the title or lyrics for many years.

We got together a few times to practice. We watched a movie. He taught me how to drive his car, a stick shift, even though I was underage and didn’t have a license. We drove out to the Saginaw Bay, to a remote little spot at the end of a very long pier. In telling my sister the story years later, this is where she interrupted and said, “Without even a cell phone?” I stopped to think about it and said, “Yeah, I guess that was really dumb.”

We stood and watched the sun sinking over the bay and I finally got up the nerve. I asked him if he remembered luring me into his bedroom, forcing me down, and laying on top of me. If he remembered cornering me in the tent they had up in their back yard or groping me in their van when we were all playing hide and seek. He did remember. I asked him why he did all of that. All he could say was, “I don’t know.”

And maybe he didn’t. Or maybe deep down he did, but unlike me he was not ready to talk about it, to admit that something may have happened to him.

Again, I don’t know that anything did. But it might have. Because eighth grade boys don’t normally grope fourth grade girls. And that big “maybe” has helped me move past what happened to me twenty-seven years ago. Were I given the opportunity, I’d love to talk to him again and tell him that I think I have finally completely forgiven him. In case you’re wondering, we never did perform that song at the talent show.

I’m not saying all of this to excuse anyone, least of all our president elect, from criminal behavior toward women, lewd comments, or even general skeeviness. Nothing makes me feel more capable of extreme physical violence than talk of sexual assault. If I had 20 minutes, a baseball bat, and the promise of no legal consequences, it would take every ounce of my willpower not to beat Brock Turner to a raw, bloody pulp, and ask for a few shots at that judge as well.

But Donald Trump being president (How? How? How did it come to this?) will not make humanity worse. Or better. Humanity has been broken and sinful since the Fall and anyone who can look at our world and still think that people are basically good is wishing for something that is demonstrably untrue.

We all wish other people were better people. But we only have control over the behavior of one person — ourselves.

So what do you tell your daughter?

Tell her to live in such a way that she intimidates the boys.

When you pair self-confidence with self-control and self-reliance, you get someone like her. And she is a fantastic role model.

Someday, if she can ever be prevailed upon to run, your daughter might even get a chance to vote for her for president. And that would be a very proud day indeed.

Kicking and Screaming My Way into the 21st Century

My husband and I have been longtime holdouts in the cell phone world, dragging our heels and hanging onto phones that do little more than call or text. We’ve had good reasons — the cost seems ridiculous, we’re Luddites at heart, they can become a colossal time-suck in people’s lives. But mainly it’s been that we don’t want to become pointless-amusement-obsessed zombies who can’t even be fully in a conversation with another person without itching to check (or actually checking) our phones. Is anything more frustrating that being in a room of people who are pretty much ignoring you as they work on developing their “iPhone chins” by constantly checking Facebook or playing Words with Friends on their phones? (Probably there’s lots of more frustrating situations, but for the sake of this post, these are the most insufferable people in the world, and I don’t want to become one.)

I am definitely a late adopter in most cases of technology development (though for some reason I got on Facebook relatively early). But there have always been several features about smartphones I’ve been keenly interested in using. MyFitnessPal, instantly posting photos to Facebook, easily finding restaurants near you in an unfamiliar town, instantly finding out what awesome song was playing on the speakers at the coffee shop and being able to buy that song right then and there…. And Instagram. Not necessarily to send photos of my food out into the world (though if it looks amazing, why not?) but to get beautiful photos fed to me and to share the occasional beautiful photo myself. Plus there’s just a really fun kind of Polaroid vibe on Instagram I’ve kind of felt left out of.

Zach (who still proudly uses a c. 2003 Palm Pilot daily, mind you) had to get out of his old but beloved phone’s grip (cost benefit ratio did not add up) and found a very inexpensive Android phone that wouldn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money each month (thus satisfying his cheap Dutchman’s heart) but would also interact with his Palm platform, thus not rendering his Palm obsolete, the specter of which I’m sure kept him up nights. And every time he told me something else very practical he could now do, I coveted that new phone. So, now we have his and hers.

And now I’m on Instagram, just in time for gorgeous summer travel Up North and another trip to the Southwest come September. If you want to follow me there, you can by clicking here. At the moment my photo stream is sparse and lacking in variety (hey, I haven’t left the house since I started it — give a girl a break) but I’m hoping to remedy that in the coming weeks. I’d love to see you over there. 🙂

 

He Is Risen Indeed!

I know not all of my readers share my faith, so thanks for this indulgence as I share a bit of it with you. Keith and Kristyn Getty are two fantastic Irish musicians I’ve been privileged to see live several times. They truly capture the spirit of this most joyous of days.

 

A February First

I’m not sure when I’ve been quite this chipper on the first day of February — especially with no snow on the ground. I’m finally shaking a week long sickness, I’ve hit the ground running with a revision of a work-in-progress, and the birds have been singing their springtime songs. Yesterday afternoon (and into the evening) I cleaned out and cleared off my desk while bingeing on Design on a Dime. (Aside: Do you know that both bingeing and binging are acceptable, yet WordPress claims both are misspellings?)

Perhaps I’m feeling peppy because my own personal new year starts today. All of my overwhelming activities I stepped back from last year are truly done now and I have the delightful feeling of a carnival pony that’s been released from the wheel that kept me going around in circles and I can now follow where my fancy leads me. And this month it is leading me to get my next manuscript in shape, get the house in order, and check off a couple more items on my list of things to do before we possibly put the house on the market later this year.

The January thaw has us delirious with thoughts of spring even though we know better. Still, it was lovely yesterday to wear a light jacket to church and imagine the season to come. It should be in the low 40s the next few days, with wind and rain, but winter should return later this month. And that’s all for the good. I have firewood yet to burn…

New Year, Same Me (and That’s Okay)

A thin blanket of silent snow has freshened my world. The last gift of what has been a busy and (mostly) joyful few weeks of holiday celebrations. December, that hasty month, is over, and I sit in the sunroom in the early morning dark, heater buzzing, sipping dark roast coffee, and contemplating the year to come.

This post might seem to be a few days late by worldly reckoning; all of the New Year’s posts have already been rapturously read and promptly forgotten, after all. But who has time for deep thought when the kid is home from school and the house is still in shambles? And anyway, my holidays don’t end until my anniversary (Dec. 30th) and my birthday (Jan. 2nd) have come and gone.

I’ve felt no burning desire to make resolutions, but I do intend to do a few things this year nonetheless. One of those is paint a self portrait. Another is to learn to play bar chords. Another is to get up early five mornings a week to read and write. I’d like to learn how to do one or two interesting hairstyles with my ever-lengthening locks. I’d like to spend less time on Facebook, more time reading articles that feed me as a writer.

But I haven’t any hard and fast goals — write 1000 words each day, lose fifty pounds, quit this, start that — beyond these vague ideas. The whole idea behind letting some commitments go was to invite more white space into my life, not to then fill that extra time with obligations of my own making. So on those early mornings, my only agenda is to get out of bed and enjoy the quiet time to read, journal, write, edit, blog, and the like. Maybe watch an interview with a writer on YouTube. Something that enhances my life. Something that makes me content.

I’m excited by the possibilities this new year brings, aware of potential disappointments. There’s no “brand new you” I’m working on. Just another year being me, another 365 days to love my family, do my art, and reflect my Creator.

On the Beauty of Stepping Back

A Rose Blooms on Veteran's DayLike it or not, twenty-four hours is all you get. Subtract sleep (eight hours if you’re lucky) and work (another eight hours if you work full time) and you have eight left. Personal hygiene, prepping and eating meals, doing dishes and laundry and picking up after yourself, gassing up the car, driving to and from work, getting the kids off to school and activities, church and volunteering, hopefully getting in some reading time or an episode of Brooklyn 99 or The Man in the High Castle

Friend, your day is slipping away fast. And that means your week is slipping away. In aggregate, your life is slipping away and you probably don’t have the time to properly lament that fact.

I have been asked on more than one occasion how I “do it all.” Work, kid, writing, gardening, canning, sewing, teaching, etc.

Well, here’s the dirty little secret: I don’t. Not all at once, at least. I haven’t sewed a piece of clothing for myself in well over a year. I didn’t manage to can cherries, raspberries, pears, or apples this year. I did the absolute bare minimum in the garden this summer. I also barely manage to keep my house in working order. I often go to bed with dishes in the sink (and on the counter), with laundry getting wrinkled in the dryer, and with toys strewn all over the house.

And every once in a while I have to step back, look at where I’m spending my time, and reevaluate. I did this back in 2007; the result was quitting grad school. I did it again in 2012 and decided I needed to quit being a docent at the zoo. Suddenly during this crazy fall, I felt the need to reevaluate once more.

I realized that I was overcommitted in general, but specifically in two places: in my local writing group and at church.

As a board member and the marketing/communications chair of CCWA, I was committed to monthly meetings, but also to developing and keeping up the website, helping to plan events that required extra meetings, attending as many organizational events as possible, blogging and asking others to blog, trying to remember to tweet, developing and giving talks, etc. It wasn’t an everyday commitment, but over the year it amounted to a lot of time away from family and, ironically, from writing.

At church I have been prepping and teaching an adult Sunday school class, serving as a deacon, practicing and singing in the choir, attending two worship services, doing building renovations, and often leading singing, lay leading, prepping and serving communion, and trying to be a semi-decent pastor’s wife type person on top of that. On Sunday mornings especially I was rushing from activity to activity with not a moment to stop and chat with church members or visitors on the way. On some weeks, I might find myself at church three or even four days out of the week.

At an especially busy time, I realized that my entire week was spoken for by these two very worthy, fun, and rewarding aspects of my life, plus my son’s one extracurricular activity:

  • Monday night: deacon meeting during which my son had to entertain himself at church (family grabs fast food on way home, son gets to bed too late)
  • Tuesday night: take the boy to karate (family eats whatever I can scrounge up and make into a meal at home)
  • Wednesday night: choir practice and midweek service (husband takes the boy to karate; family either scarfs down early dinner at home or eats separately)
  • Thursday night: CCWA board meeting (family eats out again, again separately)
  • Friday night: take the boy to karate (family would eat at home but no one has had time to plan meals or cook, plus the kitchen, somehow, is still a disaster even though we’ve eaten out nearly every night)
  • Saturday: spend 9 hours at church sanding floor, prep for Sunday school at night
  • Sunday: teach Sunday school, practice choir number, sing choir number in service, come home to crazy-messy house and try to reacquaint myself with my husband and son

It was easy to see that this was just too much, despite the fact that, taken individually, I valued each of these things. I had no margin, no white space, no mental rest or physical rest, no time to let my mind breathe, no time to take care of myself or my family or my home.

So I looked at all of the things I was doing and found the ones that could be done by others. No one can be my husband’s wife but me. No one can be my son’s mom but me. No one can write my books but me.

But could someone else be a deacon? Absolutely. Could someone else serve on the CCWA board? Absolutely. Could someone else sing soprano? Absolutely. And probably there is someone out there dying for the chance to do those things, looking for an open spot, for a need to fill. Me stepping down could create that open spot.

So that’s what I did. I contacted the leaders and supervisors and directors of those groups and let them know that, come 2016, I was stepping back. Not one of them was upset with me. All of them understood. And once they had all been told, a weight lifted off my shoulders I hadn’t realized was there, even though I hadn’t really gotten anything off my plate just yet. There are still Christmas baskets to distribute as a deacon. There’s still the Christmas cantata and all the extra practices that entails for choir. There’s still the annual writer’s conference (Write on the Red Cedar) to advertise and execute for CCWA in January. But just knowing that within a matter of months those commitments would be over put my mind at ease.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation — overcommitted and exhausted and wondering where each day is going, unable to find the time or mental energy to serve your family, take care of yourself, or pursue your passion. Why not take some time as this year draws to a close to reevaluate where you’re spending your time and energy. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I doing this out of a sense of obligation?
  • Does this bring me joy?
  • Is this good for my family?
  • Could someone else do this?
  • Is this how I want to spend my time?
  • What do I really want to do — both now and in the future — and how do each of my current activities feed that dream or drain time and energy and imagination from that dream?

I think you’ll find that the answers you give will tell you what you can step back from and what you really want (and need) to do with your precious twenty-four hours.

The Hits Just Keep Coming

2015 doesn’t seem to like me much. My stitches are gone–removed by yours truly when I just couldn’t stand them anymore. But I’ve recently been laid out by tonsillitis and a sinus infection. Boo. I’ve just started antibiotics and the doc says I should be able to talk like a normal person soon (which is good since I’ll be doing a heck of a lot of talking on Friday and Saturday at Write on the Red Cedar). I’m hoping that perhaps the year is getting all the bad stuff out of the way early on and after this it will be smooth sailing.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far from this experience:

  • Any time you’re offered an antibiotic, you should take it, even if the PA at the urgent care says she’s not sure it will help.
  • I don’t like seeing a medical professional who asks me what I want her to prescribe (see above). Seriously? That fills me with confidence.
  • You should take the extra effort needed to make an appointment with your real doctor rather than going to the urgent care that is two minutes away (see above again).
  • There is something about being in bed for days that really makes my hips and lower back ache.
  • I have the sweetest and most helpful husband in the world (I already knew this, but it just reinforces it).

If you’re reading this and you’re a praying person, I would appreciate a prayer that I’ll be in top form on Friday and Saturday, not just for the workshop I’ll be teaching, but to get the most out of the sessions I’ll be attending as well!