Monday, December 3, 2012

The "C" Word

I got this from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1680s, from L. vagina "sheath, scabbard" (pl. vaginae), from PIE *wag-ina- (cf. Lith. voziu "to cover with a hollow thing"), from root *wag- "to break, split, bite." Probably the ancient notion is of a sheath made from a split piece of wood.

Aristotle comes to mind.

As Inga Muscio says, “I ain’t got no vagina.” 

Inga, the authoress of Cunt:  A Declaration of Independence, touches on the idea that other words, such as “bitch” and “whore,” while once had “positive associations about women,” are now words with ugly connotations.  She suggests that it is a religious (read: Catholic) and patriarchal fear of women that has caused the change. 

When it comes to words with ugly connotations, there’s one word that makes people cringe when they hear it.

According to Inga, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths & Secrets, by Barbara G. Walker says the word “cunt” is “related to words from India, China, Ireland, Rome & Egypt.  Such words were either titles of respect for women, priestesses & witches, or derivatives of the names of various goddesses.”

What a cunt.

Inga Muscio’s book is a manifesto on the reconciliation between a woman and her cunt – the empowerment that occurs when you refuse to allow any man or organization to control you in any way.  We bleed, we have orgasms, we give birth – it is a source of power and pain and we must not fear it anymore even if the rest of the world does and wants us to, as well.

The book is meant to help us to understand ourselves better through a brief history of our ancestors’ foreign cultures and our treatment because of just being a woman.  Through reeducation, reconciliation and myth dispelling Inga hopes to help “empower and unite all women.” 

I plan on reviewing and discussing this book chapter by chapter, so stay tuned!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Love Thy Self

How many of you have heard of Stella Boonshoft?  About a month ago she posted this picture of herself on her blog:

With this caption:
            WARNING: Picture might be considered obscene because subject is not thin. And we all know that only skinny people can show their stomachs and celebrate themselves. Well I’m not going to stand for that. This is my body. Not yours. MINE. Meaning the choices I make about it, are none of your fucking business. Meaning my size, IS NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.
 And people went nuts.

She was featured on the Today Show, she was interviewed by, she received more than 2.4 million hits on Facebook and more than 80,000 people shared her photo. 

After years of being bullied about her weight (which is a result of her having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) Boonshoft has decided to attack sizeism by getting out the message of self-love and acceptance with her Body Love Blog.

Why are so many people offended by fat?  What is it about fleshy roundness and stretch marks that fills people with so much rage that they have to torment and torture not only adults like Stella Boonshoft, but also children and teenagers? 

On February 29, 2012 Susie Orbach of gave a speech during the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City at an event called, “Body Image in the Media:  Using Education to Challenge Stereotypes.”  Among other completely relevant and provocative issues she raised she indicated that, “Beauty is no longer seen as intrinsic to the individual. Instead the individual is judged on how well she can shape herself to today’s aesthetic which is tall, white, blonde, long haired and big breasted.” (You can read the rest of her speech, here.)

Most of us think of foot binding in ancient China or African scarification when we think of body mutilation as a beautification process – but the west really takes the cake.  Women of the west exercise some pretty extreme practices in order to reach what our society considers beautiful.

Along with starvation and bulimia (compulsive eating and then vomiting), women (and men!) surgically alter their breasts, stomachs, cheekbones, and even their labia to conform to modern beauty standards. 

Our country does not promote acceptance.  Not enough parents are teaching their children to love themselves for who they are (in the long run training them to be much more happy and well-rounded individuals [no pun intended]).  In fact so many mothers are inadvertently raising their girls to not only hate their own bodies but also become prejudiced against others.  Every time your child sees you look at your reflection in disgust, or hears you mention how fat you are or how much weight you think you need to lose you are setting a horrible example for her.  As a result the beauty “industry” is profiting off of our insecurities.  We are maiming ourselves to reach some state of being that will cause us to be more loved than we would otherwise be if we looked like our natural selves. 

Beauty is a commodity and we are selling ourselves short.

This could be me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The "F" Word

I have wrestled with a lot of terms in my life... "Nosey," "talkative," "fat," "slut," "abrasive," you get the picture.  "Are you a punk?" "What's your religion?"  "Are you Republican?" "Democrat?"  "Oh MY GOD, you're a socialist?"  Every time I've allowed myself to accept a label that someone else felt the need to slap on me - or that I slapped on myself because I felt it was the right thing to do - I realized that I was only putting myself in a box.  I was packaging myself up for society and giving myself to them with a manual that said, "This is everything I am, and this is how to use me."  

Words are powerful symbols and in the English language there are so many meanings to be gathered from one little word.  In being labeled I felt that I was merely the sum of other people's perspectives.  

I have always had a strong will.  I have never 'known my place,' nor would I have wanted to keep it if someone made me really understand.  My stepfather tried to teach me, but that only ever resulted in a black eye or a few bleeding welts.  Older people tried to teach me, by telling me that children should be seen and not heard… especially little girls. 

It was damn hard growing up.  I’m sure it was for most of you.  Sometimes I think that it was because of all the expectations and pre-conceived notions, and in moments of weakness I think it’s because I was too stubborn to conform.  But I couldn’t.  They didn’t understand, it was (and will always be) impossible.  I was who I was and there was absolutely no breaking my mold.

Or so I thought…

Being a victim of gang violence can be a major spirit breaker.  So can being held up at gunpoint.  And rape.  My whole life something has been trying to kill or control me, it seems. 

For years I lived my life in fear.  Fear of being noticed.  Fear of being liked.  Fear of being heard (see fear of being noticed).  I went from bad relationships to worse… with guys who I truly hope came away better people than they were when they were with me.  I felt worthless and out of control.  I knew in my heart I didn’t deserve anything great. 

I went through a string of relationships in which I completely gave freely of myself and asked nothing in return.  I did this for years.  I allowed men to walk all over me and I was always afraid to walk away for one reason or another.  

If you wanted you could say that I was everything a feminist was not.  I put on a fake smile and pretended to ignore it when my boyfriends would make comments about other women, or whistle at a lady on the street, or say fucked up things about their bodies.  I never complained about being expected to do all the cooking and cleaning.  I never complained when they wanted to spend all their time with their friends and I never complained when those friends indicated that whomever I was with was “pussy-whipped” because he “let me tag along.”  I objectified myself, and I watched while women I knew and cared about objectified themselves. 

The worst part about it was that I was afraid of other women.  Women always seemed so confrontational, so manipulative, petty and shallow.  So I became a loner.

I was so unhappy.  I had completely lost myself.  I had no idea who I was.  I knew something was wrong.  I knew that I couldn’t go on like that.  I was nothing like the girl in high school who knocked her boyfriend out when he tried to twist her arm behind her back.  Yep.  I did that.  I wondered where that girl was.  I wanted to get her back.

In April of 2009 I ended my final abusive relationship. 
See ya!

I packed my shit and I got the hell out and I never looked back.  I got a better paying job, I got a place with a female roommate, and I made plans to go back to school.  I realized that nobody should have to live like I had lived.  That wasn’t living.  It was existing.  Barely.

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit this much weakness in one blog entry, but I’m not ashamed.  Anything worth believing in is a concept that one should come to out of necessity and critical thinking.

I became impassioned about the female plight.  I wanted to inspire other women to take control of their lives.  I found myself being drawn to strong women, rather than being afraid of them.  I was attracted to movies that had strong female leads, I listened to a lot of Riot Grrl music, and I started to act out against sexism. 

About a year-and-a-half later I met a man who implied that I had feminist tendencies.  When he referred to me he always used words like, “progressive,” and “strong.”  I always said, “I’m not a feminist, I just hate sexism.”  I didn’t want to jump into what I perceived as a cult of man hating radicals who felt that women should rule the world. 

Then people started saying things like, “Hey, I should introduce you to so-and-so, she’s a feminist, too,” and emailing me articles about feminism.  I started writing a screenplay about two women vigilante time-travelers and caught myself calling them feminists. 

I think what really set me on the path to becoming more aware and concerned for women’s rights was working at an all girls’ college.  Mount St. Mary’s is crazy in love with raising women up.   I became a student there and studied under such amazing women as Joan Johnson, Dr. Jane Crawford, Dr. Millie Kidd, Dr. Bianca Ryan-Lopez, and many more.  I also worked with an extraordinary lady who has become one of my best friends.  I met women who worked full time, had families and were going back to school.  I met young girls who had just graduated high school and had a vision for their future that I never had at that age.  Being a writer and wanting to break into the film industry, I was very turned on by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. 

I found myself starting to defend feminists and that led me to defending the term, ‘feminism.’ Webster’s dictionary defines feminism as being “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”  It doesn’t mean you hate men, it doesn’t mean you think women are the better sex, it doesn’t mean you think women should rule the world.  It’s simply the idea that women and men should be considered and treated as equal--this idea just happens to come from a female perspective.

The past year or so I’ve been turned on to a lot of feminist Internet writers - like Soraya Chemaly - who have educated and inspired me.  In fact, it was Soraya Chemaly's article, "Why I'm a Feminist With a Big, Fat, Loud EFF" that inspired me to write this post.  

It got me to thinking that it was because of the negative connotations involved with calling oneself a feminist that I have evaded the label for years.  I have stopped denying it when someone refers to me as such, and I now refer to some of my writing as being feminist – why am I still shying away from the term?  This symbol that dictates who I am…

Tonight, I am coming out.  Even though it’s a no brainer, and most of you are going to say, “well, duh,” I’m admitting that I am a feminist.  Because even though it isn’t all I am, by definition it is true.  I am a feminist and I promote feminist ideas.  Being ashamed of being called a feminist would be like being ashamed of being woman.  It’s part of who I have become, who I am, and who I always will be.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Patriarchy in the Ancient World: Early Mesopotamia to the Dark Ages

Essay for History of Western Civilization midterm
Patriarchy in the Ancient World
            For the most part we live in a patriarchal world.  In every society men are authority figures – fathers are head of the household, only men can become priests, and in most religious families, women are to be submissive to their husbands.  On average men make $.30 more on the dollar than women do; men are allowed more options in terms of work (construction, electrician, truck-driving).  Most advertisement is geared towards men (for cars, electronics, even food such as those sexist Carl’s Junior commercials where scantily clad models eat messy burgers in a highly sexually suggestive manner).  Patriarchy is not new.  The life we know has been shaped for centuries.
            Pre-historic societies were pretty much egalitarian, and in fact, in some hunter-gatherer communities, such as those in the Paleolithic era, most revered women because they brought forth life.  It wasn’t until people became more domesticated with self-ruling city-states that patriarchy emerged.  Once people worshipped the Mother Earth Goddess or Great Mother Tiamat; however, with early Mesopotamia came the rise of polytheism.   
Venus of Willendorf
            With the exception of the Hebrews, polytheism grew among the people of Mesopotamia with the earliest cosmological myth, The Babylonian Creation.  The Babylonian Creation is a Sumerian poem in which Marduk, the “hero-god” strikes down Great Mother Tiamat and founds the holy city of Babylon and creates human beings.  While there are still goddesses that have power (such as Ishtar) the polytheistic hierarchy was patriarchal in design. 
            Aside from the creation poem there is ancient literature that implies a patriarchal society, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the king of Uruk is a rapist and until the Gods intervene, women must submit to his insatiable lust.  Probably the most implicit source of misogyny that came out of ancient Mesopotamia was the Hammurabi’s Code, which set the law and social order in Babylon.  Among rules that delt with theft and kidnapping, there were ones that ordered harsh and cruel punishments to women who disobeyed.  For example, a man could divorce his wife anytime he wanted, but if a woman wanted to divorce her husband against his will she would have been made a slave.


            Fast forward to sixth century Greece during the time of the great philosophers.  Even though Plato spoke subtly of women’s rights in terms of work and playing an important role in society, he still felt women were inferior because they were physically weaker.  His student, Aristotle, was not so kind.  His patriarchal thinking was dangerous and paved the way for a lot of Western thought.
            Aristotle viewed women as subordinate.  He felt that women were simply inferior – that they were merely deformed or “unfinished” men.  He claimed that women were “receptacles” for men and they shouldn’t be educated or seen as rational beings - either he was a complete misogynist or just a totally clueless math geek.  Either way his ideas formed the opinions of men for centuries after his death.
"I just don't understand women."

            Ancient Greek society in general was incredibly patriarchal.  Women weren’t allowed to go anywhere or do anything unless they were young and unmarried, and even then only when accompanied by their father.  They were forced to stay at home rearing children and staying out of their husband’s way. 
            The men seemed positively narcissistic – so much that statues of men were created depicting them as youthful and strong, naked and full of pride.  They seemed to rather stay in the company of other men, and young boys, rather than experience romantic entanglement with their submissive wives.  Did men hate women so much that they became homosexuals or was it that they were just so turned on by themselves?  Women, as Artistotle claimed, were indeed viewed as merely a receptacle… good only for the bringing forth of life.
You know you want me.

            It wasn’t until the rise of the Roman Empire and Egypt that we saw women being treated more fairly.  Clearly the patriarchal hierarchy still existed, but the lines were beginning to blur.  Women were allowed to go out and shop, they were educated and some – like Cleopatra – even ruled. 
            Even though original Christian societies saw women as evil – daughters of Eve – I think that over time women became more respected - that the treatment of women got better.  As we get into the Middle Ages we see faithful men becoming chivalrous, placing women on pedestals, and showing them great respect.  Of course this was mostly done to women who were the object of affection, and ultimately it still stunk of male dominance; at least women were allowed to breath fresh air; they were allowed to speak in public; they were beginning to be seen as more than just baby-makers.  

All we needed was a chance to prove it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Horror in Haryana

A 16-year-old girl in Haryana, India was snatched off the street and gang-raped by 8 men near a canal.  They filmed the whole ordeal and when they were finished with her, they fed her some sort of pill and took off.

Out of fear for her and her family’s safety, the girl kept silent.  When her mother finally dragged the story out of her daughter, she too kept silent.  Her father was so distraught over the potential disaster to his daughter’s reputation that he killed himself. 

In the sparsely populated Haryana, the past month there have been 17 reported rapes and there were over 700 reported rapes last year – a mere fraction of the estimated actual rapes that occurred according to the National Crime Records Bureau. 

Police believe that the numbers are much lower, and that all this talk of rape is just “hype.”  Local politicians are blaming the use of modern technology as the reason behind sex attacks, and that if they lower the marriageable age of women from 18 to 15, men will stop being so rapey. 

According to women's rights groups, one of the main contributors to the attacks is the unbalanced ratio of women to men, which in turn is due to many incidents of female infanticide.

This seems to me a clear-cut case of accepted pedophilia.  The officials of Haryana clearly believe that it’s perfectly fine to have sex with 16-year-old girls and that some men are raping local teenagers simply because they aren’t old enough to be married and legally forced into sex.  Are all the men in that town so insecure about their manhood that they can’t handle a real woman?  They have to resort to powering over cowering little girls who are too afraid to fight, let alone seek justice?

Luckily the 16-year-old girl who was raped in Haryana is seeking justice, and the 8 men who tried to destroy her life have been arrested.  

But what about the other 16 possible rape victims this month alone?  Women and girls who have been forced into silence, and dishonor within their communities.  I can't understand how a community could punish a child so coldly for something she had no control over.  How could the victim be made out to be the criminal and left to live with a nightmare as if she was the monster and not a child who's innocence has been stolen from her?  

When I think of rape as shameful, that doesn't spark an image of a victim.  It sparks the rage I have for the rapist and the community that refuses to show even a shred of empathy to the one who was violated.   

The Little Dog Laughed: Saving Women, Children, and Pets through Animal-Assisted Therapy

On Monday, October 15, 2012, at 10:30am I interviewed Linda D. Keast, Director, and Lead Handler of The Little Dog Laughed Animal-Assisted Therapy.  Tina Arth, President of the Board at Animal Aid, Inc, introduced me to her.  Tina is my soon to be mother-in-law, and I want to thank her for setting this interview up.  Thanks, Tina!

The Interview

Jennifer:  Okay, shall we get started?

Linda:  I'm going to be a bit clumsy at this (so) be gentle.

Jennifer:  I am timing this, going to keep it at 10 mins - and this is my first interview since high school, so don't worry about being clumsy.  You just answer everything to the best of your ability - and if there is anything you say that you would like "stricken from the record" just let me know.

Linda:  Gotcha.

Jennifer:  So first I want to say that I've taken a look at the website - there's a lot of literature available so I had a hard time coming up with pertinent questions to ask.

Linda:  The FAQ sheets would be new.

Jennifer:  And even though a few of my questions were answered, I thought maybe we could go into more detail.  It is a very thorough site and I am impressed with the amount of work and detail that has gone into it and the charity.  It's a wonderful thing you all are doing.  And quite interesting!

Linda:  And fun!

Jennifer:  Oh, I bet!  So my first question is... Can you tell me a bit about the Washington County Animal Protection Multi-Disciplinary Team – its background and how you got involved with them?

Linda:  The Washington County MDT was formed by Whitney Zigler (now Whitney Zigler-Kubli) of the DAs office, with enthusiastic support from Deborah Wood, the head of Washington County Animal Services. They brought together representatives from law enforcement, animal services, human services, and independent animal rescue organizations to address the well-documented link between domestic violence and animal abuse.  

Jennifer:  There are a ton of statistics on the website, would you mind going into that a bit for us?

Linda:  Between 18 % and 48 % of battered women have delayed their decision to leave their batterer, or have returned to their batterer, out of fear for the welfare of their pets or livestock.  In one study, 71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control them; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals. 

In another study, 68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals. 87% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the women, and 75% in the presence of the children, to psychologically control and coerce them. 

The specific mission of the MDT was to cross-train animal services and human services personnel to look outside their own department focus - to take a wider view and act proactively to protect both the humans and the animals involved in any violence situation. This means knowing who to contact to report reasonable suspicions for example, in animal abuse cases, human services needs to be alerted to possible harm to human victims, and vice versa…

Jennifer:  Right

Linda - continued:  and getting BOTH the human AND the animal victims to safety.  My involvement was through my work with Animal Aid. Animal Aid not only helped the MDT build the first kennels at a domestic violence shelter so that dogs could be evacuated with their families, it also gives "safe harbor" housing for cats while the victims get stabilized.

Jennifer:  That’s great!

Linda:  To me, this left a serious piece of the puzzle out altogether - the children who had been exposed to this violence. The most statistically reliable predictor for determining if a child will grow up to be a violent offender of any kind is witnessing animal abuse as a child. What a child sees he is likely to repeat. Early intervention is critical. The ugly memories need to be overwritten by a much more compelling, positive view of human/animal relationships.

And I suggested what, to me, was a perfect fit:  introducing those kids to clicker-training therapy dogs. My viewpoint is the logical result of years of active exposure to Project POOCH, Delta/Pet Partners therapy work, SMART Reading with kids, and positive training methods like clicker-training.  Our dog/handler teams could teach the children life-skills via a novel method - with carefully structured classes on positive dog training. By actively being involved in the process, kids learn how to build empathetic, coercion-free relationships based on trust rather than intimidation. AND, of course, it's a total rush! The kids love it!  We named it STAR.

Jennifer:  And the MDT…?

Linda:  The MDT promptly took me up on developing the program, with all of us assuming that Delta would let us operate under their insurance umbrella. To our surprise, not only “no” but “HELL no.” Clickers, off-leash work, treats and training by the kids were specifically banned. Also by Therapy Dogs, Inc. Since we'd already lined up some pilot classes, I quickly formed The Little Dog Laughed, LLC to support STAR so that I could buy the necessary insurance. Since that time we've become a non-profit corporation, hoping this would facilitate grants, donations, recruiting, etc.

Jennifer:  Can you tell me a little more about what “clicker-training” is?  I’ve heard OF it, but never knew what it was.

Linda:  Clicker-training (actually, "marker-based” training) combines to totally different notions. One is that animals do NOT understand what we're saying -- they primarily use body language and scent.

Jennifer:  Right

Linda:  The clicker is a clear, never-differing signal paired with something the animal likes ALWAYS so that the critter recognizes it as a meaning "good thing". Based on that common first "word" the trainer builds a language unique to the animal and the trainer. Second concept: positive reinforcement - every living thing will repeat an action that rewards them. By clicking what we LIKE rather than punishing what we DON'T like, training becomes a highly enjoyable game for both the handler and the animal. Wrong moves are never punished - they just don't result in a reward.

Eli, being taught how to ride a skateboard by the youngsters at McKay Elementary.

Jennifer:  Great!  I love the idea of positive reinforcement... I try it on my cat, but so far it's not working all that well. Cats are stubborn, though.  It would be nice to see the MDT and STAR program branch out to other states.  Where do you see the STAR program in five years?

Linda:  There has been a change - actually, an expansion - in the target audience over the last year. Initially, the focus was on kids in a specific DV shelter (Monika's House). However they have been through four changes of management since this started, and have never settled down long enough to work us into their program. BUT! At-risk youths are not all at Monika's House, it turns out. They are identified by concerned professionals in elementary schools, in-group foster homes, in juvenile pre-adjudication holding facilities. My youngest clients are in a local elementary school. My oldest are teens in a Chehalem Youth and Family Services foster home - they spent the summer writing a script, training the dogs, and filming a video to be published someday on YouTube.

Jennifer:  That’s wonderful! 

Linda:  The hope of the MDT was to create and document a model program so that it could be picked up and used elsewhere in the country. I'm doing the same for STAR - everything I do is documented, why decisions were made, wrong steps, right steps, evolving focus, the works.

The MDT is a county-funded program, and STAR is not. I get a lot of moral support but zip for monetary assistance. And because we don't charge our customers (who are ALSO cash strapped) this is a bit of a problem.  If we can even cover our insurance expenses, I'm a happy camper.
Jennifer:  In the meantime, what are you doing to gather funding?

Linda:  Given that the served population is children and animals, you would think we'd be a shoo-in for grants. That said I find that I have no time to dig into this. The best I could do was use my personal connections with local businesses to, for instance, give handlers a discount on pet supplies.

Jennifer:  what can people do in other counties to get their city to pick up on the model?

Linda:  As far as setting up similar operations elsewhere, I'd say that information sharing is key. I'd welcome contact with other interested folks - particularly if they have therapy team experience.

Jennifer:  I'm just a lowly student with a blog, but I will do my best to get the word out!  Well, I have taken a little bit more of your time than I said I would - thank you so much for helping me out.  I will send you a transcript of our interview once I have put it all together.  And I'll send you a link to my blog

Linda:  You're very welcome - I'm glad you are active in this arena!

Jennifer:  I feel connected to your cause.  Thanks again, Linda.

For more information regarding the STAR program, please visit the Little Dog Laughed Animal-Assited Therapy website.