Friday, November 30, 2012

on violence and our culture of victim blaming.

More of my own story in an earlier post this year.

A friend recently confessed to me about a moment when an instructor in college came onto her. While telling me this story, she followed it up quickly with, "I didn't tell anyone because I was so embarrassed." She was afraid people would think horrible things about her, and she felt like she brought it onto herself for being too nice or perhaps because she dressed the wrong way.

I immediately jumped up on my portable soapbox after she told me this. (Kidding--I don't carry one around with me, although sometimes I wish I did.) "You shouldn't feel embarrassed or scared!" I said, ranting about this culture of victim blaming we live in.

But over the next day, I thought more about this--how my friend, a very smart, very confident young woman, could think that this violation of her being was somehow her fault. For years, I've reported on sexual violence and abuse, and it always shocked me to hear men and women of all ages say they are at fault for another person's violent actions against them.I remember a moment while reporting this story for NPR when Jenny and I were outside a coffee shop around Georgetown talking with a group of college girls about sexual harassment. One of the girls, a first year, made the suggestion that a woman's choice of clothing might "bring on" harassment, and her friend, a third year, immediately jumped on that comment.

It was that conversation that made me really see how important it was for sexual violence to be discussed in public. It doesn't matter who you are--assault and abuse can still happen, and when it does, the fear can be paralyzing and you aren't sure what to do next.

Or maybe you do speak up, but society still is programmed to work against you. One victim of assault I spoke with about a year ago told me one of the first things that happened after she went to the police was an interrogation by a group of male officers about her attack. The one thing they did that they thought would make her feel better? They put a female officer in the room to hold her hand.

The issue hits close to home for many reasons: since coming forward and speaking myself about my own experience as a survivor, I've had friends and strangers come to me with their stories too. Online projects like Project Unbreakable have also given survivors a platform to speak in a society where their voices are often buried. Slowly, but surely, there must be a way to give power back to the broken and abused?

Perhaps this is why the recent details surrounding Rihanna and Chris Brown's rekindled relationship strikes so hard. Here was a very public relationship gone wrong before the cameras. People were shocked because now we were having to talk about violence and abuse. We couldn't avoid it.

Survivors felt empowered in 2009 after Rihanna's first interview after the high-profile assault, where she boldly admitted, "It was a wake-up call for me. Big time. I will say that to any young girl who is going through domestic violence: don't react off of love. F--- love. Come out of the situation and look at it in the third person and for what it really is... I even went back after he beat me, which was wrong."

And yet, in popular culture today, Brown is still celebrated and rewarded. He has a loyal fanbase who have no shame in tweeting things like, "I'd let Chris Brown beat me up anytime ;) #womenbeater." Then there's the recent event of Brown deleting his Twitter account after an online fight with comedian Jenny Johnson, in which Brown tweeted, "Just ask Rihanna if she mad??????"

So...now what? A recent New York Magazine piece articulates the confusion well: "Most of us know it's never cool to blame the victim," Ann Friedman writes. "We know that Chris Brown is the real asshole here. But how do we support [Rihanna] when she just wants us to support him?" And that's the real question, right? How do we condemn this behavior without lashing out at the woman who has returned to her attacker?

Maybe we can remind Rihanna of what she said three years ago in that ABC interview:
"It's completely normal to go back. It's not right. I learned the hard way, but again, this is what I want people to know. When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn't be held responsible for going back."

Monday, November 26, 2012

a changing season.

Friendsgiving 2012.
Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday growing up. It was a time when dozens of us would gather at my grandparents' house, in matching outfits when we were kids, and watch movies and laugh and eat. There was something simple and fun about the evening, something that set it apart from the other times we would gather to watch movies and laugh and eat.

Things were already changing when I left for college, but I knew that turning point would never be the same. I've missed four years of holidays and birthdays and other family events--from sicknesses to celebrations. Leaping across the country after graduation was another major step away from everyone I knew and who knew me.

Thanksgiving last year in Albany was lovely; this year, I wanted it to be just as wonderful here in the city. It truly was beyond any expectations, and I forgot how wonderful it was to spend time with people you never thought you'd be looking in the eye on a Thursday night and thinking, "I love them."

For the past month or two, I'd been feeling like New York was another dead end, a place I wanted to run away to only to be chased and hurt within the walls of my own home. I'd already run from the west coast, run from every place that held too many memories that cluttered my mind, and I was looking to start over. When that was taken from me here, I thought there would be nothing that could help ease me away from the stinging pain of loving back into the joyful pain of living.

The city is changing in a slow yet subtle way and I, with it, can only imagine a future where everything that once burned is now bright.

Friday, November 9, 2012

New York City's Sunday punch.

I think New Yorkers are more expressive than a lot of people because they're constantly having to deal with and confront their, and others', emotions. New Yorkers are used to living, working, breathing in a city that throws you into crowds with zero hesitation, and they never get a moment of privacy while they're out and about living their lives. That argument on the train, that tear-soaked confession on the sidewalk, that really funny moment in the park...it's all there, on display, and it's not just yours to enjoy; it belongs to the city.

I remember the first time I had a panic attack on the train. It was in the early days of moving to the city, and there was something overwhelming about the events in between work and my apartment, and I fought back tears so hard that I ended up blinding myself and having to let them loose anyways.


And nobody really noticed. One look around a subway car on any commute, and you'll see a thousand different emotions on the faces of the tired, the angry, the heartbroken, the joyful. It's not weird to sit on the subway and cry, and once in awhile, a kind stranger offers you a tissue or napkin to dry your face.

In California, people find sanctuary in their cars. You get inside and you turn up the music until whatever it is you're feeling subsides. People don't stand on sidewalks in California and cry like lost five-year-olds. I've stood on many sidewalks in New York and fallen apart. But so have a lot of people.

Earlier, after work, I got on the F to Brooklyn and immediately fell apart. Three seats down, there was another girl doing the exact same thing.

Living in New York has made me more emotional than I've ever been in my life. Through college, I was guarded (for many reasons), but there's something about this city that has forced me to open up. Perhaps it's the fact that the city literally fights its residents every day, with subway delays and other minor inconveniences that add up to a lot, until your soul splits open and your mind screams, "WAIT, but don't you know me??" Or maybe I've just changed so much from the person I was when I left California more than a year ago, and only now have I finally caught up to the pace of the world I live in. Or maybe it was the oddly-timed arrival of a shadowy figure who turned out to be nothing more than a metaphorical sledgehammer to my whole being (warning, friends: be careful who you trust to carry your deepest, darkest secrets) and left me with these thoughts to share, and nobody to share them with.

New York is supposed to exhaust you as much as it exhilarates you too. It's supposed to drain you and make you feel like you've given everything you have until you have no choice but to sit on a subway and cry. I think that's how you know you're doing it right: when the pangs of growing and changing, and the challenges associated with it, hit you over and over each day until you become numb, and then one day--somehow--you stand up a little bit taller and hit back.

I'll get there someday, I think.