Social Experiment Proves Rape Culture Point

I decided to run an informal social experiment last Friday.  I wrote a post about locker room talk and excusing rape culture on my blog as a way to discuss the difference between sex talk and assault talk and how we as a society are contributing to the prevalence of rape culture when we don’t understand the difference.  I have been very public about my rape both in public speaking, my activism, and in my memoir, Mountain to Mountain, in which I describe in graphic detail the night I was violently raped and nearly killed walking home from work in Minneapolis at age 18.

What I haven’t talked about is all the micro-agressions that I have lived with as a woman, essentially starting in high school.  My accounting teacher got my number and started calling me after graduation, telling me how great my ass looked in my leggings, and how he wished I was sitting in front of him so he could “play with my titties”.  I was 18, he was in his 40’s.  When I was in my 20’s, I cannot count the number of times that strangers tried to slide their hands up my skirt or down my pants in crowded public spaces, or the countless times someone grabbed my ass as I leaned over the bar to shout my drink order to a bartender.

I’m a strong woman, I have worked in male dominated arenas my entire adult life; initially starting out in the outdoor industry as a guide, then a decade as a sports conditioning specialist with predominately male athletes like rugby and soccer players, and the ultimate of male dominated societies, nearly a decade of working in Afghanistan.  I know the difference between sex talk and assault talk.  Do you?

My point is and always has been consent is the backbone of the discussion and that if you excuse talk about harassment and assault, you are condoning it.  You, my friend, are intentionally or unintentionally part of our rape culture.

Here’s the problem.  Maybe you simply don’t understand what rape culture is? Let’s look at this pyramid for more clarity.

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The obvious understanding of rape culture is the top of the pyramid: explicit violence in the form of rape, incest, murder, and battery. I’d like to think this is generally understood  and that we consider rape and assault what it is – a crime.  But the most recent of several high profile rape cases is Stanford swimmer golden boy, Brock Turner, who was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious fellow college student in the street. He was caught in the act so there is no ambiguity of the he said/she said argument often used in rape cases. Yet even though Turner admitted guilt facing up to 14 years in prison, the judge reduced his sentence so that Turner only served 3 months in prison because Judge Perskey believed a tougher penalty would have a “severe impact” on Turner.  For assaulting an unconscious girl.  This is sadly, not unusual.  Ninety percent of the time rapists get away with rape.  Too often the victims in the United States are treated no better than the victims of rape I meet in Afghanistan, and for the same reason, the men’s lives must not be destroyed by one ‘mistake’, or as Brock Turner’s dad stated in court, “20 minutes of action”.  That’s 20 minutes of taking an active part in a violent felony crime.  You don’t get to walk that back.  Because the victim?  Her life is forever changed by your actions.  All of us who have survived are irrevocably changed but few of us are as eloquent and powerful as Turner’s victim whose open letter to him went viral.

It’s the bottom of this pyramid that bothers me most.  This is where things get confusing it seems.  Although for most women, this is our daily reality.  The fact is rape culture STARTS with victimization; “boys will be boys”, rape jokes, non-consensual photography, homophobia and transphobia, victim blaming.  See that last one?  Victim blaming.  THIS IS WHY WOMEN DON’T REPORT.  Every time we do, the media tears the victims apart; Why did these women wait so long to come out?  They must be lying. If he really did it they would have come forward.   The public automatically assumes that if a woman accuses a man of rape there is an implicit nod of deception, because rape isn’t a ‘real’ crime.  It’s too ambiguous.  Want proof? The three most popular excuses for rape are:

She’s lying.  Even police officers too often take it for granted that the woman is lying about being raped.  Yet the irony is that 80% of women never come forward about their assault.  False rape claims are proven to be between 2 and 10% the same as false claims about all other serious crimes.

She was wearing something provocative.  Right, because women wearing baggy jeans and sweatshirts don’t get raped?

She was drinking too much. Being drunk isn’t a open invitation to have sex. Neither is being unconscious.  Remember that pesky little word, consent?  Hard to give consent if you’re unconscious.

Which leads us to Bill Cosby and the victim blame game. Bill Cosby raped over 30 women, consent was never an issue because he systematically drugged them first.  It took decades before the women came forward, and when they did, as expected the first ones were vilified in the media. Liars. Golddiggers. Opportunists.  Once that number climbed into double digits, everyone paused; Maybe they’re telling the truth?  Now that that number is over 30 it is generally accepted that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist.  It shouldn’t take 30 women to prove that. It shouldn’t take two.

Let’s get back to the bottom two rungs of the pyramid.  Because the theme of my prior blog was that words matter.  Donald Trump told Howard Stern when he was a guest on his radio show that it was okay for him to call his daughter Ivanka Trump a “piece of ass.”  Is that a crime? No. It’s on the bottom two rungs of the pyramid, it’s ‘just words’.  I cannot imagine my father calling me a hot piece of ass, much less condoning another man to do so on a popular radio program.

The tape of Trump talking about his right to kiss women without consent and that being a celebrity means he can just ‘grab them by the pussy’ outraged many, but not enough to condemn him for contributing to rape culture.  Because that is what his words are.  When I heard that tape, I felt every man that grabbed my ass, my pussy, my breasts in a public setting without consent, the men who think it’s okay to dry hump up against me in a crowded bar, and the man who raped me  at knifepoint get a free pass.  Because their actions started with the normalization of the bottom two rungs of the pyramid.  That is rape culture.  That is why words matter.

I know many kind, respectful, fabulous men who would never engage in that language, or that behavior.  They are my family members, they are my friends, they are my colleagues.  My male friends and colleagues are diverse in geographic location, nationality, color, faith, sexuality, and income.   They are the ones that need to recognize if they don’t already, that the everyday assaults that the women they love, work with, and are friends with go through is systemic and all too normal.

As members of my own family and extended social media community excuse Trump’s words and behavior as unimportant to this election, I find that the main argument isn’t that it’s right, it’s just that “Hilary and Bill are worse”.  Thereby ignoring the issue I’m talking about, the importance of recognizing rape culture when we hear it and when we see it.  At a time where my social media feed is filling up with twitter hashtags like #WhyWomenDontReport and women coming out about their own sexual assaults through blog posts and social media in an effort to illustrate how many women go through this.  1 in 3.  Somehow that doesn’t sink in that this means out of your own friends and family, that the 1 in 3 rate applies.  Look around your office or coffeeshop right now, count how many women there are and divide by 3.

I was curious how people who had no connection to me would respond to my blog post, so I reposted it to my public page and then I paid Facebook to sponsor the post.  Anyone can do this if they choose to.  I was simply curious how that works and would that expose the conversation to people outside of my circle that care about the issue like I do?  I clicked on the blue bottom “BOOST POST” underneath my post, and paid $25 for three days of promotion. Boom!  I sponsored my post as a Facebook ad and waited to see where the post went.

Here’s what I posted.

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The responses that came in were incredible.  People commented directly on the Facebook post, some sent me their thoughts in direct messages, and others hit on my actual blog comment section.   I expected to reach people that like me, wanted to discuss the distinction between locker room talk and rape culture.  Instead I got hate, insults, threats, and off topic political rants.  I believe that people forget that when they are commenting, or trolling in this case, that they are commenting in the public sphere to real people.  Perhaps they think that  their mudslinging isn’t visible.  So let’s look at what a few of them had to say and let’s not let them hide behind their words.  Here are a few of the folks that commented not the worst of the bunch, but certainly the most vocal with multiple posts and responses. The full assortment is in the comments underneath my Facebook post.  Feel free to find them on Facebook, their name and profile photo are attached to every comment they made, and feel free to message them your thoughts as they so freely gave me theirs.

 

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Then of course, it got political because I was talking about Trump, so therefore we must make this political and point fingers rather than simply acknowledging that what Trump has said, or done, is rape culture.  I believe my original post if you read it was thoughtful, respectful, and so were my comments to the few posts I engaged back with.  Yet out of the gates, it’s immediate insults, hateful commentary, the worst of which I have not included.  Needless to say it involves several iterations of filling my stupid mouth with numerous dicks to shut me up.

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“Women are not angels”  Thank you Patricia Rothenbucher for that insight.  I am getting my ‘women in line’ so that we can start ‘behaving in a ladylike manner.”  Case in point, an upcoming series of protests we’re organizing with the theme of Pussy Grabs Back.  New York City on October 29th for those of you that want to join.  I hope that’s ladylike enough for you.

You’re right, I’m am very sheltered, having lived and worked nearly half of my life abroad, working nearly 10 years of it in a war zone.  I have spoken at the Italian Parliament, in three TED talks, at the Harvard Club, on panels at universities and summits, and numerous other places about my work and gender violence.  I have worked with US and European survivors and with Afghan women who are in jail for the crime of ‘adultery’ as an excuse for rape.  But that shouldn’t matter.  Even if I was sheltered, that doesn’t make my call for better awareness and accountability of rape culture any less true.  You don’t get to write off a woman or man who lives in their hometown and has perhaps never traveled outside of their home state as irrelevant to this discussion.

You see, making this into a political argument or pointing fingers at the other candidates, rap music, and Islam (all of which my ‘thoughtful’ commentators did, you can see the post and all the commentary on my public Facebook page, minus a few of the violent threatening comments that I deleted) and calling the women that are accusing Trump of assault and harassment liars because they didn’t come forward before, simply proves my point.  Rape culture is so prevalent we are desensitized to it. When you ignore it, brush it off, or excuse it, you are complicit.  You are condoning behavior when you excuse the words about the behavior.

So everyone, repeat after me:

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Sexual Assault Isn’t Locker Room Talk

Enough already.

My heart hurts.  My soul hurts.

Several weeks have gone by now, and I’ve been listening to the media and even close family members excuse away Trump’s behavior on a number of issues that blow my mind. But now we have a new phrase; the ‘locker room’ excuse, in response to his words on a leaked tape. Grabbing pussy and forcing himself on women? Classy, just the sort of talk I know I want to hear from the future leader of my country.

This is just one more excuse in a long line of a very public and systemic attack against women that goes back decades.  Whether it’s judging women’s appearance either by insisting that we aren’t beautiful enough for his high standards, or we have gotten too fat, or by simply lying about non existent sex tapes to humiliate a woman he’s previously insulted via an uncontrollable 3am twitter rant.  Trump has a nasty habit of publicly calling women “pigs, slobs, and dogs”.  He insulted and bullied journalist Megyn Kelly after the debate she moderated for having the audacity to ask him to defend his own words.  His lowest low, he used menstruation as an insult to a woman that was doing her job.

This isn’t new.  He has spent his life, much of it public and on record, objectifying and debasing women, including one my favorite lines, “Women, you have to treat ‘em like shit.” Yeah, we love that.

Here’s the thing though, this isn’t ‘locker room’ talk.  This isn’t dirty talk between guys and this isn’t talking about sex. This isn’t the way normal guys talk about women, or dating, or sex. Just look at the number of professional athletes who hang out in locker rooms fairly regularly who have bashed the media calling this locker room talk.  Men are appalled by Trump’s words.  Appalled that their daughters would be talked to like that.  This kind of talk that Trump is shrugging off, and the media and many of you are letting him shrug off, is talk about sexual assault.  Forcing yourself upon women unasked.  This is lack of consent.

 

 

When you explain this away as a non-issue in the media and public discourse, you need to remember that our sons and daughters are watching.  At a time where college and high school sexual assault is off the chart, nearing an epidemic on our campus.  In a country where one in three women are sexually assaulted.  This isn’t something we can be making excuses for ever.  Those of us who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed are fighting tooth and nail to discuss consent in real ways with young men BEFORE they assault women.  1 in 3 women – that means you know at least one woman who has endured the crime of sexual assault.  Who has not given consent.  Who has lain there wondering, “why me?” as your life is ripped apart by a man who felt it was his right to take what he wanted.  If you’re in my family you know at least two.  Probably more.

You cannot excuse this away.  His entire campaign, his entire life, he has shown his true colors.  You just don’t seem to care.  Why? As Maya Angelou said so succinctly, “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them.

Why don’t we believe him when he says what he says over and over and over again, in public, on tape, on tv, in debates, on twitter?  Is it the same reason that when over thirty women accused Bill Cosby of rape that you didn’t believe them. Because Bill Cosby was on our tv and we thought we knew him like a real family member? The only difference is, Bill Cosby hid his predatory history.  Trump’s is front and center and bragging on tape.

And he still has your vote?

Abusive language, predatory talk, do not automatically make a man a rapist.  Just a misogynist that has no right to hold public office of any kind.

This is a man whose own wife accused him of rape under oath.  There are multiple cases filed against him for sexual assault harassment.  MULTIPLE. Google it, its all there, recently reported on and fact checked.  I’m not going to waste my time delving into it all, you can easily find out all you need to.  It pains me to tell you to dig into other victim’s lives in order to prove to you that Trump is a predator, a misogynist, and wholly unqualified to be a leader.  I shouldn’t have to.  His own words should be enough prove.

No woman should be talked about the way Trump talks about women.  It’s vile, grotesque, and cannot be allowed to go unchecked.  It’s misogyny. It’s rape culture.
Thank you for the men that speak out against him and other men like him.  Thank you for the women that are coming forward to give a face and a story to show Americans what the ramifications of rape culture actually are.  Thank you for shows like The Daily Show that don’t allow ‘locker room talk’ to be an excuse for predatory behavior.
#pussygrabsback

Fear Doesn’t Live Here

I am sitting at my kitchen table, my front door and windows wide open to let in the fresh mountain air, enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation with my best friend, Christiane, on the other side of the country, when the topic of fear came up.  “You should write about Fear, you have experienced it so deeply, and live daily with it nipping at your heels.”  I laughed wryly, “Yeah, Fear is definitely camped outside my door waiting for an invite to come on in.”

Pausing to think if Fear is rabbithole I really wanted to dive into today, two dogs burst into my kitchen.  Neither one of them belong to me and as I chase them out Christiane hears me shout, “Get out!  Out!  This is not your home, you don’t belong in here!” 

“Hmmm”, she smiles, “It’s as if they arrived on cue to spark that response!  Those words could easily apply to Fear as much as to the those dogs.”  A cosmic sign?  Or just two overly curious and cheeky canines looking for some free food?

To me, Fear is the summation of all the undefineable things that throw up resistance to change, roadblocks to experience, and an inability to love unconditionally.  Not a fan of roadblocks of any kind, Fear is not a companion I am willing to share my time, or my coffee, with.  I have experienced it keenly as rape victim – brutal violence and violation that left me in a broken heap in the dirt.  I endure its nearby presence daily as the founder of an international non profit that hasn’t yet turned the corner financially, and as a single mother that risked everything to fight for women’s rights in conflict zones like Afghanistan and at times has to choose between groceries and phone bill.  I know how closely Fear is shadowing me. 

The trick is to recognize Fear, to say hello as you would to the paranoid Tea Party supporter you see at the coffee shop every day, but to not make friends with it.   If you simply try to ignore it, it tries to engage you in conversation, sucking you into the abyss.  But acknowledging it sets boundaries.  “Hi, I see ya, but I’m too busy to chat today.”  Move along.  I’ve got things to do.

It’s the same on a mountain bike.  I have donated my fair share of blood and skin to the Gods of Dirt and Rock along with a cracked rib and broken elbow.  One in particularly pricey donation came while bombing down the backside of Hall Ranch chasing a much faster, and experienced, friend.  I washed out on a slab of rock covered in a veil of loose dirt and ripped the better part of my forearm and elbow off.   I spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out what was me and was rock, and I know that by continuing to ride donations like this are part of the contract.   Fear whispers, “Slow down, use your brakes.  Dismount before the rock garden.  Don’t try to lift your wheel over that ledge, you’ll get hurt again!” But what Fear doesn’t realize is getting hurt is part of the game.  No one is invincible, we’re not built that way.  Life is meant to PLAY!

The therapy I get from two wheels, one gear, and miles of singletrack, overwhelmingly outweighs the risks.  The combination of a clear head, burned out quads, and dirt in my teeth is far exceeds the occasional bodily appeasement to the deities.   

The irony is that by conquering Fear on my bike, I keep the daily Fear of life at bay, much like the old song, by Little Richard, “I hear you knocking but you can’t come in”, I call out. The little victories on the bike translate into confidence and courage and than equals bigger victories off the bike.  Choosing to get back on the bike knowing it may draw blood is a choice, and one I make willingly, even happily knowing that 95% of the time I’ll come off my bike, sore and dirty, but also gloriously happy.

I embrace the risks I’ve taken, without them I wouldn’t have ridden my singlespeed across the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan.  I probably wouldn’t have started mountain biking in the first place.  I wouldn’t have lived abroad for ten years.  I wouldn’t have started a business, or a non profit.  I wouldn’t have entered the fight for women’s rights.  I wouldn’t vacation in war zones.   I wouldn’t have fallen in love.  Twice.  I wouldn’t have lived abroad for ten years.  Hell, I wouldn’t have even become a mother, by far the scariest thing I’ve done to date, as anyone that has stared down a three-year-old’s tantrum can attest to. 

Sorry, Fear, but you have to stay outside with the dogs. 

Miniskirt or Hijab? The Clothing isn’t to Blame.

It’s not about the clothes.

Following a spate of unsolved sexual assaults in Brooklyn, New York City Police are asking women to show a little less skin.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, an officer explained to women on the street that such clothing could make the suspect think he had ‘easy access.’  You’re exactly the kind of girl this guy is targeting.”   Apparently the reason the officer felt compelled to spell it out so bluntly is that the previous victims were often wearing skirts at the time of their attack.

One woman’s online comment to the article hit the nail on the head, “This is why several handicapped women in diapers at nursing facility were raped recently.”

What a woman wears is not the issue.  Sure, you could argue that miniskirts, stilettos, and midriff baring tank tops are provocative.   Does that mean women are ‘asking for it’?  Is it right to focus on the clothing when attention should be focused on advocacy and education?  Blaming the victims is getting old, as the international success of SlutWalks is proving.

While, I’m not personally a fan of using the word slut as part of a national movement to fight for women’s rights, I understand the desire to take possession of the word and throw it back in the face of those that dare call a women slut or whore because of who she is dressed.  And the controversial word in a marketing sense, has created a global movement.  Elizabeth Webb, the organizer of SlutWalk Dallas said it best,  “If someone breaks into a house, do you blame the owner for having a house that looks appetizing?”  Indeed, a crime should be blamed on the criminal, not the victim.

And let’s face it.  If simply covering up would solve the problem, countries like Afghanistan should be one of the safest countries in the world to be a woman.  Yet in a country where women are often shielded from prying eyes so completely that you can’t even pick one woman out from another in a line up, rape is just as prevalent as in countries where women flash their breasts at college frat parties to get on the latest “Girls Gone Wild” video.   The land of headscarves, hijabs, and burqas, Afghanistan is repeatedly ranked as the number one worst place in the world to be a woman.  The worst.  In the world.   In Afghanistan, many rape victims are in jail under morality codes, while their attackers walk free without even disapproving look.  If the victims live in a rural community away from an urban center, ie. the majority of Afghanistan, then its more likely that the family or community leaders will ‘take care’ of the problem themselves, which doesn’t mean a lecture on covering up or jail time.

Now granted, there is an enormous distinction in how the victims are blamed in a country like Afghanistan, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the victims are still blamed here in the West.  In New York, the police ask women to show a little less skin.  In Toronto, a policeman stated to legal students, “I’m not supposed to say this, but to prevent being sexually assaulted?  Avoid dressing like sluts.”

In other cases women are made to defend themselves in court against their attacker having their previous sexual history trotted out as though its proof that she was complicit in the attack in some way.   Questioning even if they could have been actually raped wearing jeans, implying it must have been consensual due the logistics of access.  Women must defend their actions of owning vibrators, or getting drunk, or being sexually promiscuous instead of the attention landing squarely at the foot of the attacker.

Male rape occurs as well worldwide, it’s much less reported, but common in countries like Afghanistan with their ‘dancing boys’, and as a weapon of war in countries like Congo. It is no less horrific or humiliating, but not once have I ever seen or heard comments about how the man was dressed, his sexual proclivities, or how often he masturbates.  Men are not asked to cover themselves up to be less tempting.

The time has come to stop the gross inequity between how men and women are perceived sexually.  Men in Afghanistan should be lectured to ‘look away’ if they feel tempted by a women’s beauty, not force the women remove his temptation by hiding under a burqa.  This implies that sexual assault is about sex, temptation, and desire.  More often its about power and control.

Stop blaming the sweet little corvette for being to tempting to carjackers and start arresting the carjackers.

What’s Blonde Got to Do With It?

According to Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft, “Lara Logan is lucky she’s alive. Her liberal belief system almost got her killed on Friday. This talented reporter will never be the same.”

I almost spilled my coffee when I read this on Media Matters this morning. Thinking it must be a mistake, I read on:

Why did this attractive blonde female reporter wander into Tahrir Square last Friday? Why would she think this was a good idea? Did she not see the violence in the square the last three weeks? Did she not see the rock throwing? Did she miss the camels? What was she thinking?

Well, Jim, here’s a newsflash: this is sexist BS, pure and simple. Lara Logan didn’t wander. She wasn’t in Tahrir Square because she took a wrong turn. She knew exactly where she was and why. Lara Logan was in the square on purpose, covering the revolution in Egypt because IT’S HER JOB. What in the world does attractive and blonde have to do with it? Are you suggesting that she was inviting rape because she is an attractive blonde? Did anyone suggest that Anderson Cooper was attacked repeatedly in Cairo because he is handsome or that Google executive, Wael Ghonim, was kidnapped because he is young and “cute”?

I am tall, blonde and the hardworking founder of Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit organization working to advance gender equity in Afghanistan and create opportunity for woman and girls. Some may say that I am attractive.

I read most of the online commentary and media coverage about my work in Afghanistan and the comment “tall and blonde” is a frequent lead to stories about me. I get it. I’m tall and blonde, and I stand out in Afghanistan. Does this make me, or Lara Logan, ineffective at what we do? Does it mean we shouldn’t go about our work because of how we look? Judge us on the work we do, not on what we look like.

Even more despicable is your use of a woman’s attractiveness as an excuse for sexual assault. My own rape and assault was a long time ago, very few people knew about it, and I wasn’t a public figure like Lara. Luckily for me, years later, when I did talk about it publicly, it was not front-page news. You should not castigate Lara Logan because she’s an “attractive blonde female reporter.” She is a reporter who, while heroically covering one of the most important events of the decade, was the victim of a terrible crime. Period.

The other thing that disturbs me about the coverage is pinning the attack on culture. The Daily Beast articlestates: “Logan faced an ugly side of Egypt that Egyptian and foreign women here are all too familiar–and fed up–with.” I can only imagine how the Fox News coverage will spin this into the Islamaphobia-sphere.

Women all over the world are facing the “ugly side” of culture, and we are fed up with it. Congolese women are raped as weapons of war and as a means to frighten and control them. Afghan women are jailed or ostracized for being raped and brutalized and, to add insult to injury, often victimized and assaulted inside the prison by male guards. Women are raped systematically in war zones and developing countries for a variety of reasons that dehumanize them.

But let’s not forget what happens right here at home.

My own rape was in Minnesota. My sister’s was in Colorado. Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. That’s 1 in 6 women. While rape victims are not routinely jailed as they are in some countries, neither are their attackers. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.

News came out this week that Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates are being sued over their failure to deal with the cases of rape and sexual assault in our own military. A group of American servicemen and women accuse the two of failing “to take reasonable steps to prevent plaintiffs from being repeatedly raped, sexually assaulted and sexually harassed by federal military personnel.”

Sexual assault is not a problem that belongs only to the Middle East, the developing world and war zones. This is a systemic problem that spans the globe, including our own backyard. It is rooted in how we value women. How do you change perceptions of value and respect? Things will never change until violence against women moves from a women’s right issue to a human rights issue that EVERYONE gets behind. Using World Bank data for 2008, there were 2,982,865,203 women of all ages; approximately 44.3% of the total world population. Nearly 3 billion mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends.

Recently, Ben Affleck said, “As long as violence against women, sexually or otherwise, remains exclusively a women’s issue, it will always be an issue. We men must own this and we must recognize it as vital to our own survival. And we must help our brothers see it as such.”

Rape is a weapon of control and of power. Until we all stand up and take a hard look at the realities of perception, accusation, and systematic dehumanization that occur all around us, this “problem” will never be resolved.

Jim. You owe Lara Logan an apology. And another three billion for every women in the world.

 

The Authentic Truth

Authentic seems to be word of the weekend.  The authentic self.

Authentic implies truth.  Embracing one’s true self and allowing others to see it, unedited.

I have a hard time with that – I edit my public personae when it comes to a few things that I keep close to my chest.  There are things I have spent most of my adult life keeping private.  Nothing wrong that.   One’s skeletons are their own.  Right?

Interestingly, one of skeletons emerged from the closet very publicly last May when I was interviewed by Ann Curry on Dateline in regards to the work I am doing with my non profit, Mountain 2 Mountain.

Some hard questions were asked, and I found it difficult to answer.  Since then, the same questions have arisen again and again in interviews, discussions, and heart to hearts with good friends.  One of the most common runs along the theme, “Aren’t you scared?”  “Why do you do it?”

This comes up because my non profit focuses on Afghanistan and I have travelled there three times in the last year.   Its is not the safest place for a 5’9 blond American woman to work to be sure.  I have a 5 year old daughter who needs her mother to come home to her.

I have struggled with these two questions over the past year, coming up with vague answers that are less than fully authentic, but seemingly unable to articulate the grains of truth that would make the answers resonate with clarity.

Then recently I was asked to rewatch the Dateline piece with a good friend and a stranger.  Uncomfortable with this for two reasons, the first is that I don’t love seeing myself on television.  Its a little painful and no one is a stronger critic than one’s self.  The second reason is that one of skeletons emerged unexpectedly under the gaze of Ms. Curry.  Nearly two decades ago I was was raped.   A dozen or so people knew of this around the time it happened, close friends and family and eventually serious romantic relationships would be told.  But it was never discussed per se, and the majority of my close friends I made later in life never knew.

I never felt it defined me.  I never allowed myself to feel the victim.  I never met with other survivors.  I never considered the role it played in my life and my development.  It was simply an act that I endured in the past.  Chapter closed.

Until last weekend.  Watching the Dateline piece alongside a stranger, watching their reaction, and the consequent discussion that followed, I felt myself acknowledging a few home truths.

It did define me.  How could it not?  While I vowed not to let it define me, I really meant that I would not be the victim.  Without my realization, it has led me down a path towards the work I am now fully committed to in Afghanistan.  It was an integral part of the reason that I was determined to work to empower the women and children of Afghanistan.

The question again came up.  “Are you scared?”

“Nope.”

“Why?”

To which I’d normally reply some vague answer of the risks versus benefits, etc.  I now know the authentic reply is admitting the authentic, deeply personal reasons.  “Because I am more scared that we won’t raise the money to allow us to continue our work than I am of getting hurt.”  “Because my daughter is safe with her father and those that love her, and I can endure anything that may happen to me.  I already have.”  “Because women are often victimized and in Afghanistan its acceptable and tolerated and it infuriates me.”

to the question oft asked, “Why do you take the risks, when you have a young daughter?”

“Because these girls deserve the same opportunities that she has.  They deserve to be protected.  Their lives are just as valuable as hers.  They need someone to advocate for them and fight for them.”

Being able to answer authentically, instead of worrying about how to answer in a way that explains its best in its careful thought-out way, is both scary and freeing.

While I’ve never been ashamed of my rape.  I’ve also never voiced it publicly.  Even know I find that I am not comfortable saying the word, or hearing it.   So my authentic self must acknowledge that nearly 20 years later I need to share so that its not a skeleton in my closet, but simply one of the many experiences, good and bad, that has played its role in creating the life I lead.

December 31st, 2009|Categories: internal growth|Tags: |1 Comment

Media CAN Change the World

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Here I go, sounding all Pollyanna again. 

I’ve been trying to find a way to work this title statement into my non profits’s mission since I first founded Mountain to Mountain.  Its something I feel on a gut level and yet can’t find the words to back up the gut.  

It became even more clear to me in Kabul after sitting down for several talks with the editor of Kabul Weekly, Faheem Dashty.   Faheem Dashty is more than just the editor of Kabul Weekly, he is also the President of AINA Photo Agency.  This is Afghanistan’s first and only Afghan owned and run photography agency.  A group of men and women photojournalists trained and created this agency to further the country’s ability to tell its own stories through photography and media.   

Dashty told me of death threats, some subtle, others more blatant due to the unbiased content of Kabul Weekly.  He works hard to maintain his job as editor in chief and not be swayed by the whims of politicians, leaders, and warlords.  His office is taken up by a lifesize portrait of Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, who fought the Taliban and inspired a nation.  The ‘Lion of Panjshir” serves as a moral compass to Dashty who refers to him in speech as ‘Chief”.   If it wasn’t for journalists and editors like Dashty, in countries like Afghanistan, corrupt and violent groups and individuals could run rampant without fear of having a spotlight shoved in their faces.   

It is painfully apparent how the work of journalists and photographers serve to tell the stories that would otherwise remain hidden.  Whether to highlight the atrocities brushed under the rug, or to tell stories of individual bravery and random acts of kindness that can inspire others to do the same.   Yet, to tell these stories, often puts the storytellers at great risk.   Corrupt governments, bribed policy makers, and the like don’t want their story told.  And Afghanistan has no shortage of corruption, violence, atrocities, and brave souls.   

Beyond the storytelling and the ability to educate and inspire, is the use of media as a weapon against tyranny and violence.   A recent example on a separate continent proves, yet again, the importance of the media to create change.   In the Congo, the systematic rape of over 40,000 women has been on my radar for a couple of years.  The rapes are in addition to the appalling genocide that has long since surpassed the numbers of those in better known Rwanda.  Yet, little to no mainstream news covers this in the West, worse still is the lack of coverage within a country that despite the high numbers of rape didn’t even have a word for it in its language.  

Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu is changing that through the airwaves.  Through the power of the radio, individual testimonials of rape are broadcast, helping women understand they are not alone, encouraging women to seek medical attention, and even providing ammunition against the perpetrators.   Nabintu’s become a fearless voice in journalism and an important advocate for the rights of women in her country.   “As a journalist I found that Congolese women were silenced, and I decided to battle for their freedom of expression.”  

Could a better example of the importance of media be out there?  So while newspapers are shutting down daily in the United States, and public radio cuts programming, the power of the internet and blogging emerges as a potential tool to remind us all of the importance of skilled journalism and its role in improving the world we live in!

 

photo by Di Zinno

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