women’s voices

Woman gamer harassed

I have been a gamer since 1980 when I purchased my first Atari console unit. I played Space Invaders, Pong, Circus and many other games for hours.

After purchasing my first PC in 1984, I played DOS games which consisted of text only or the simplest of games with limited graphics.

I purchased other console units for my oldest son over the years and always played games on those consoles (Sony Dreamcast, Nintendo, Sega Genesis, etc.).

My next PC had Windows OS which opened up the world of Myst to me and my kids. I bought educational games for the kids and played my own games while my kids sat beside me and helped me solve puzzles from the notes I took.

A decade or so later, I was introduced to the world of MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games). I joined the online gaming world and began to meet other online players. Some of them were women, but the majority were men.

In this world, there are men who play female characters and GIRLs: girl in real life.

I have made some real-life friends through online gaming, both male and female.

Within the online gaming environment you find all types of male players: protective types, kind types, gentlemanly types, socially-awkward types, controlling types, cliqueish types, macho types, quiet types, outspoken types, highly-competitive types, profane types and finally the really ugly types which portray a variety of bad male stereotypes: immature, unrestrained, abusive and sexually predatory (these behaviors are not exhibited exclusively by men, though).

In one game that I played for years, a new guild member started sending me private messages which started with this question: “Do you swallow?”

This was in response to the name of one of my characters which was inspired by a butterfly. What I thought was lovely and amazing, a male player twisted and perverted.

I reported him to our guild leaders and he was booted from the group.

This guy had started playing the game after a stint on Second Life, which is not a game at all, but actually an online community with an X-rated section for adults. I guess he thought all online games were populated by the same types of people. He was mistaken.

On other occasions, I have had character names twisted and perverted by male players in public chat (you can tell the guys who watch a lot of porn). I always reported any player who was obviously sexually harassing me. Many ended up banned from the game, not just because of my reports but because these people generally bring down the gaming environment to a low, base level which game developers do not want (especially subscription-based games where female players are valued).

Most recently, I started playing Blizzard’s first-person shooter game Overwatch. This team-based game is crazy fun, with a choice of 22 characters for each short match against other players.

There is attack and defend, capture and escort. After playing a set of matches with a 6-member team, you might find yourself playing the next set of matches with players from the other team. It is always a good idea to be a good sport after a match, a concept that seems to elude many players.

When I created my gamertag for Overwatch, I used a variation of my very female name. It was obvious that I was a female player.

Obnoxious male players have attempted to motivate our team with statements such as: “everyone get your dicks out.”

When I informed him that I didn’t have such equipment, he was not very nice.

Over the next few weeks, I found myself the subject of negative talk if I participated in voice chat and attempted to provide any leadership or guidance to my team. This negative talk was not just from male players, but younger female players as well. I was often teaming up with one of my sons who witnessed the behavior. It was an interesting dynamic.

If a guy offered the team leadership, he was usually rewarded with cooperation and thanks. If a female player attempted to provide leadership, she was often treated badly during and after the match.

When I reported to my other son that a male player had called me a “f***in bitch” after I called him out on his abusive chat, my son was upset but not surprised. As a male player, he was used to seeing and hearing such language. He had not, however, dealt with it directed toward his mother (you know, the argument that sexual harassment and/or assault isn’t a big deal until it could be your daughter, sister, mother, etc.).

I used this experience to try to educate my sons on what women must deal with in a man’s world, as gaming has been primarily male dominated for years. That is changing quickly. More and more women are populating the online gaming world.

I made a decision after yet another male player heaped abuse on me  to change my gamertag to something masculine.

For the last three weeks I have not had a single negative comment aimed at me. Not one.

Male gamers will argue that women who complain about the gaming world are just whining or being snowflakes or SJWs (social justice warriors).

The New York Times article SWSX Addresses Online Harassment of Women in Gaming is a disturbing read which I recommend to everyone.

There are YouTubers who regularly make fun of women who are trying to change the online, console, and PC gaming world so that such games do not perpetuate harmful attitudes, behaviors and stereotypes.

Indi game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn, and Anita Sarkeesian, social justice warrior who owns the Feminist Frequency blog and YouTube channel, are the favorite subjects of deniers of misogynistic and anti-femiinist themes in games. These women have received death threats and continued online harassment through Twitter and other forums.

Gamergate is the subject of many naysaying male gamer YouTubers such as Investigamer who mispronounces impartiality over and over (I know, I’m nitpicking) after gaming journalism was accused/exposed as being corrupt.

I understand that male players are just not going to see and understand what women endure in male-dominated environments because they are not on the receiving end of such behavior. I understand this. However, men need to learn to listen to female voices instead of denigrating or atttempting to silence them.

Polarizing men against women in the gaming world is not going to accomplish anything. Men and women must care about ending online harassment especially in the gaming world.

I know what I have experienced. I know that the harassment stopped when I quit using voice chat and changed my gamertag to one that is obviously masculine.

If women must disguise themselves as male players in order to avoid harassment, there is something wrong with the online gaming world.

If a female player challenges a male player because he is being a dick, her voice should be respected. If a gamer chooses to be a dick, he should expect to be called out for such behavior.

It is one thing to be upset during a game and expressing said frustration, it is another to attack a female player with the aim of humiliating and ultimately silencing her.

I have an announcement: men don’t rule the world anymore. You have to share the world with women, and this includes the military, politics, business, education, and, yes, gaming.

 

 

 

Wounds that don’t heal

IImprisoned Spring by Arthur Hacker (1911)Heartbreak and loss come in many different forms: the death of a loved one, rejection by a lover or spouse, abandonment by a parent.

As a wounded woman, I know what it is to hurt.

I won’t bore you with tales of woe from my childhood, but all was not well at home.

By the time I was a young adult, I had been exposed to some pretty bad stuff, much of it a result of our male-dominated culture (exposure to pornography, sexual predators young and old, and male criticism of my female form and personality).

I was bullied by other girls, all older and bigger than me. I was also bullied by my family.

By the time I was 21 years old, I had what was termed”a serious chip” on my shoulder.

Believe it or not, I was judged harshly because I was not all smiles and compliance all the time.  Because I tried to fight back. Girls shouldn’t do that, don’t you know.

I knew the world was screwed up even when I was young, but I never knew how to express my concern. It festered. It fermented. I didn’t understand my discontent.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I wore a pretty hard, protective shell designed to keep me from getting hurt.

And then I found a church that promised “inner healing.”

Was there a chance that I could be freed from the pain that I worked so hard to keep hidden away?

I found a husband who was supposed to be loving, caring and a positive expression of patriarchy.

I believed that in this relationship, those wounds would finally begin to heal. I was in a safe relationship, a safe place, finally.

I let my guard down and exposed many of my wounds to this man.

I trusted him.

He used his power to control instead of love.

This is not a cautionary tale. I am not advocating the growth of dragon scales as a way to protect oneself. We can never truly love others if we don’t allow them to love us. And no one can love us if we don’t let down our guard.

From a psychological point of view, I am most likely dealing with abandonment issues exacerbated by fear of rejection. In a nutshell, when my father left me and my family when I was 7 years old, it affected me profoundly.

Back in the late 60s, it was not common for parents to divorce. I grew up in what was called a “broken home.” I carried that shame with me everywhere.

Thinking back, when my father was home there was an awful lot of yelling and fighting. I’m pretty sure things got physical. I don’t remember much. I liked the quiet better.

I heard a lot of stories from both of my parents over the subsequent years well into my adolescence when I finally reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I eventually refused to see my father anymore. That estrangement lasted for about two years.

I got pregnant. I got married. I had a baby. I got divorced.

I needed the quiet.

When it wasn’t quiet, when there was conflict and discord, my wounds opened up and all the pain came flooding back.

Here’s the thing: we all have wounds. My wounds are probably nothing compared to someone else’s wounds. That doesn’t matter.

We are talking pain levels here and tolerance for pain.

In life, the good times are supposed to outweigh the bad times.

Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles. Everyone has pain.

The real issue is how much pain and how often. Does the pain ever stop? Are there respites from the pain?

For some people, the answer is “No.”

I didn’t understand the insidious nature of chronic pain until a few years ago after contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite. I ended up one of the small percentage of people who experience long-term symptoms. Mine include chronic fatigue and chronic pain. I know what it is like to live with pain all the time.

The physical bite site, the terrible wound that I had from that tick bite, did heal after three weeks of antibiotics. The cause of the initial wound (about the size of a softball) moved away from the bite site and penetrated deep into my body’s tissues and even my brain. There was no healing.

Too Much Pain

The other day, I woke up and realized that I didn’t have any noticeable pain in my body. I breathed deeply and smiled. What a happy day. I want more pain-free days. Who wouldn’t? I thoroughly enjoyed that day. But such days are rare.

There is more compassion for those who suffer from physical pain than emotional pain in our society.  If someone has a back injury and must take opioids, no one holds it against that person.

For those who suffer loss and are wounded by it (and how can one not be wounded by loss???), healing is supposed to take place over time, but there is an expectation of some conclusion where the person affected finds relief and can move on with no more symptoms of grief.

For most people, grieving a loss takes time and the support of loved ones. In most cases, the pain of the loss lessens until it is merely a memory with occasional bouts of suffering that abate after a day or so.

What happens when grieving doesn’t end? Sometimes the wounds just don’t heal.

What happens to those who never stop feeling profound and unbearable pain?

There are many different endings to this kind of story.

Many can find relief through mental health services: therapy, medications and lifestyle changes. For some people this works.

Some end in the body giving up and the person fading away (yes, people can die from a broken heart). Some end in self-destructive behavior that results in death. Some end in suicide.

For some people the wounds just don’t heal. For some people the pain never stops. The thought of living a life of never ending pain is unbearable.

But wait…

 

Even though many wounds don’t heal, there is hope.

And it starts with taking back one’s power…

2014-05-04 19.24.15

I wouldn’t have seen the double rainbow if I hadn’t gone outside

 

 

Nagging

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Actually, @BrianKelm, you are wrong (see links at bottom of post).

Men and women want to direct their lives, their days and their downtime. This is true for males and females, men and women, boys and girls. No one wants to be constantly reminded that they have failed to do something that someone else wants them to do. No one.

But let’s look at what constitutes nagging, which is a negative behavior typically attributed to women, especially wives, mothers and girlfriends.

“Nagging takes the form of verbal reminders, requests and pleas,” Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW says on WebMD.com. “It goes from a reminder to a nag when the person who is being reminded gets offended.”

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The rest of the WebMD article is filled with well-meaning advice for those who suffer from the horrible habit of nagging others to get what they want.

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I propose that the behavior that is characterized as nagging is nothing more than one person who does not have enough power in a relationship attempting to communicate his or her needs.

In many cases, this behavior occurs because one person feels an unequal distribution of responsibility and desires a true partner in life. But is it just that?

I think what we most often call nagging is simply female leadership and responsibility.

I propose that calling female leadership in relationships and the family nagging constitutes silencing behavior by men and women.

It is also a part of the effort to keep women as objects for men’s pleasure and use.

screenshot rules for women

Really???

This is a perfect example of male power being asserted in potential relationships, right? Men define what is considered desirable in women and women either toe the line or get no men. Except this is a woman. I admit that I am confused by this mentality.

In my English literature classes I marveled at the female writers who never married. For most young women, the idea of never getting married might seem foreign and bizarre. There must have been something wrong with Emily Dickinson; no man wanted her, right? She must have been ugly or difficult or mentally ill.

Nah, she was free to write and that was all that mattered to her (while she cared for her parents and their house, of course).

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn’t care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears—
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity—

-Emily Dickinson

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the only way a woman could have any power over her own life was to remain unmarried and have enough money (and an understanding father or brother or lover) to allow her some freedom.

What options were available to women when they had almost no legal rights, could not vote, could not own property and were not allowed to, in most cases, manage their own wealth.

What careers were open to women?

Men could legally beat and rape their wives in most cultures, and still can in some.

Fast forward to contemporary times. We have a man and a woman in a traditional relationship (this is just an example). In most cases, the man can do whatever the hell he wants without question or judgment during working hours. He has a career, might be the primary earner, so he must work long hours. He is unavailable the majority of working hours to handle the hundreds of tasks required to manage a family, assuming there are  children now. Those tasks fall upon his wife even if she works full-time outside the home.

Ask any man who has stayed home while his wife was the primary breadwinner what it is like to manage a family. I encourage you to ask a man because if you ask a woman, her voice has less weight and import to the discussion – that is a whole ‘nother blog post.

Here is an enlightening Huffington Post article from a male perspective about what it is like to be a man in a family and to stay at home with the kids: Douchebaggery and the Stay at Home Dad by Christopher Noxon.

“Must be hard on his manhood,” Noxon says. “Must make up for it in other ways.”

Noxon goes on to describe behavior such as turning “diaper changes into acts of performance art when company is around but who otherwise leave the dirty jobs to mom.”

And this is a big part of the problem: men have had a choice in what domestic tasks they undertake and women haven’t.

Watching old movies about poor women who have been left with a houseful of kids, it is common to hear the comment: “At least the kids and house are clean.”

Would anyone ever say that about a man whose wife ran off and left him with the kids? Of course not. How many times are men forgiven if their kids’ clothes don’t match, hair isn’t combed, and school lunch consists of a peanut butter sandwich and a soft drink (okay, single dad tropes abound here).

Single dads and even married dads often get a pass.

We all know that in the majority of two-income households women still do the housework, cooking, shopping and caring for children (yes, this is documented though changing slowly).

housework3_f

These are responsibilities, not just chores. If they are not done not only do the children suffer but you will end up with child services knocking at your door accompanied by a couple of cops demanding entry (Big Brother is watching).

Yes, this is the scenario that not only floats around in most female parents’ heads, but is also a reality.

So let’s talk about nagging.

In the majority of cases, women are carrying the load of family responsibilities. Most are also working full or part-time outside the home in addition to the full-time job of running a household.

There is a shit-load of stuff that must be done every single day. I can attest that this stuff is exhausting. I can attest that it all needs to be done the next day, too. Again, it is exhausting. It really never gets less exhausting (and is never fun or entertaining).

Let’s examine the common middle class family (and here are some lovely Tweets to help you with this mental picture).

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And then there are these words of wisdom from what looks like a teenage boy:

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These Tweets seem to be posted by spoiled, bratty teenagers and adults who still expect their mommy’s and women to do what? Take care of the family and household.

It is a parent’s job to prepare his or her children for the real world. This involves gradually increasing responsibility while teaching life skills.

In the U.S., there seems to be a problem with this process. Kids are spoiled and entitled and rarely work for what they possess. At what point do they learn how to deal with the responsibilities of an adult life if they are cared for well into their 20s.

Male children have historically been cared for well into adulthood, while female children were taught to care for themselves and others from a young age (I know I am generalizing, but overall this holds true).

We are living in the 21st century. We have equal rights, shared responsibilities, two incomes…

Right?

And yet, women are still taking care of the hundreds of big and small tasks that are required to maintain a household and care for a family.

wife going to bed tasks

By Becky Mansfield, YourModernFamily.com

Nagging?

Nagging???

Hell, women want men (and sons and daughters) to step up. That is what most women want. They want their men to be grownups. Do something that isn’t self-focused. Care for someone else without being reminded or told to do so.

Why does a woman have to ask a man (or a son or a daughter) to do anything? He or she should just do it.

Take out the fracking trash. Wash the dishes. Vacuum the house. Walk the damn dog.

I tell my sons that the goal is responsibility, not task completion.

One of my sons is responsible for two jobs that he does not do unless I threaten him with losing computer access. That makes me a nag, right?

No, it doesn’t. It makes me responsible for his jobs.

And for the Troglodyte young woman “Mimi” who thinks that the perfect woman should stop nagging and take care of herself and “be tight” for her man: what are you on?

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Women perpetuating the myth of nagging is just wrong.

Real men are faithful, responsible, take care of business, don’t treat their partners like servants and sex slaves, and aren’t entitled little boys.

Nagging??? That is NOT the problem.

I want to leave this blog post on a positive note. Thanks @JimParedes for Tweeting this:

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Town and Country Magazine’s article about this subject credits “nagging moms” with helping their daughters to be more successful in life.

A University of Essex in England study found that “the girls with moms who set high standards for them growing up were more likely to go on to college and earn higher wages,” Kristen Lauletti said.

Why is a mother’s leadership characterized as nagging in this article, though?

I think it is time to change the language we use to describe female behavior.

How the church silences women

shhh2I left the church, all churches, because of how the Christian religion views and treats women. I am just sharing this up front (if you haven’t read previous posts).

I have written many times about how the women in my church (and the pastor, who was a woman) used silencing behavior to shut me down, everything from intervening when I was trying to be honest with my husband in counseling sessions to handing me a list of Bible verses about “gossip” when I needed to talk to someone about my abusive husband.

There is something seriously wrong going on. It is common for women who are in bad marriages, some abusive, some not, to be pressured to remain in those marriages no matter what. It is a duty, marriage is sacred, it would be a sin to divorce.

Let’s first talk about the sacred institution of marriage. This is a doctrinal thing. Marriage is mentioned in the Bible, and it is likened to Christ’s relationship to the church. From that analogy, marriage has become primary while the people (and their children) in that marriage are secondary.

“God hates divorce!!!!!!!!”

God probably hates a lot of things, but I don’t think divorce is at the top of his list.

This is a symptom of a much bigger problem. People (individuals) come last in the Christian religion.

Yep. They do.

When duty, or doctrine, is more important than relationship, then you will end up with dysfunction of some kind. And those who put the marriage before the people in that marriage are being dysfunctional. They are encouraging dysfunction. They are perpetrating dysfunction.

I have declared to anyone who wants to listen that I reject the Pauline letters in the New Testament. I think they run contrary to the teachings of Yeshua (he was Jewish, and his name is NOT Jesus — I know, picking at gnats).

Women must remain silent in church. Women must obey their husbands in everything. Women must wear head coverings. Women must wear dresses. Women must…

This is all legalism. Paul was a legalist.

In all of the years that I tried to relate to and communicate with my husband, he often told me that I needed to submit: over and over and over again. He never quoted the verse that commands husbands to love their wives as Jeshua loves the church. He never quoted the verse about how a man who does not care for his family is worse than an infidel.

I was told that it wasn’t my place to discuss _____ (fill in the blank), how I should not do this or do that, how my prayer life was even under his purview.

But when spiritual leaders in a church use the same silencing behavior on their congregations, you end up with a bunch of unthinking, repressed people.

Do you know one of the leaders in my old church stood up and said how much she hated running into this one woman she knew because she was always so down and negative (this was the same person who shut me down with a sheet of scriptures on gossip when I needed to confide in someone).

Dysfunction is prevalent in Christian relationships because of the fear of truth. There is a fear of honesty. There is a fear of reality.

“Don’t interrupt my religious moment with your unpleasant reality, please!”

“Oh, your husband is abusing you? Your reward will be in heaven. You must do your best to submit to him anyway.”

“Shhh, women should be silent.”

The judicial system, encouraged by our Christian heritage (patriarchy in general), permitted husbands to rape their wives in the no-so-distant past.

A man who beat his wife was justified in the last century.

Hell, women didn’t even have the right to vote until 1920, and then civil rights, rights over their own bodies and personal life decisions, took many more decades.

Men rant about how unfair the judicial system is because they say it favors mothers in divorces. Have they not looked at history where a hundred years ago women had almost no rights at all? Children (and their mothers) belonged to fathers/husbands.

Women had to remain in bad marriages if they wanted to keep their children, not be homeless, and have any kind of financial support. There weren’t even many professions available where women could support themselves. Women still make a lot less than men today.

Inequality is ugly.

Why are men threatened by women’s rights? I do not understand why men are threatened by women who use their voices.

And religious men can be the worst. Actually, let me correct myself: religious women can be the worst. I wonder if there is some underlying fear that if a friend has justification for leaving her husband, she might question her own marriage. Things start to get shaky and undefinable when women have autonomy and self-determination. There is a loss of control.

Oh, and here we are: control.

Silencing women comes down to the need to control. And when the church (which is the corporate body and its individual members) silences women, it is exerting control over them, control that it should not have.

What if we let women speak and then decide for themselves? Would the world come to an end?

The justification for Paul’s letter, the historical context — at least what I was taught — was that women would just stand up and speak when gathered in the early church.

Gasp! Choke!!! Oh no!

Some kind of directive was necessary to keep them under “control.”

And today, the church silences women by insisting that they wear dresses, defer to their husbands, defer to their pastors, defer to… well, everyone. Heck, women should speak quietly and not make trouble. Women should…

Silencing behavior. Control.

How long will women put up with such ridiculousness? How long?

For those who are still skeptical, I challenge you to explore gender equality in the Christian religion. The Junia Project is a lovely place to begin.

I challenge you. What do you have to lose? Control?

Bad [good] feminist

Roxane Gay has a powerful message about the many faces of feminism. It is not just about feminism, but the female voice. Listen closely starting around 9:30 of her talk about what happened to her voice and what she did about it.

We are all bad feminists if we think there is an ideal to which we must aspire. I am a human who wants equal access, equal opportunity and equal rights. Whatever that looks like, that’s what I want.

Using my voice is very important to achieving equality. It is vital. I will use my voice.

Thank you, Roxane Gay.

The myth of the “good woman”

I am heading up a project for my school’s honor society. I volunteered to serve in this role because I felt that I could organize the project and, hopefully, inspire other members to join in because of the possibilities it presented. To summarize, we were presented with a variety of themes to research. I invited feedback on the themes and, as a group, we chose the theme that had the most interest. I was thrilled that we chose a theme based on human expression.

As I am on a journey to find my own repressed feminine voice after 27 years of marriage to a man who believes women’s voices are nearly synonymous with the devil’s voice, I had a huge challenge ahead of me in finding what I lost along the way and reintegrating those lost parts of me with the present me. Sounds like crazy psychosocial speak, but it really does make sense.

This morning, with coffee in hand, fighting a horrible headache, I decided to put off taking my online final exam until I feel better. I did not, however, want to just do nothing practical in attacking my long list of things to do for school (writing emails, journaling about Honor Society progress this week, working on grant applications, ordering textbooks, etc.). I decided to begin researching what I consider very important and extremely concerning at the same time: women’s voices in the 21st century.

There is something very wrong. Up here in New England, the young women I attend class with are typically so reserved that they do not speak up much in class. There are a couple in each class that have great ideas and are willing to express them in front of others, but I noticed that those women were either older (meaning, older than 30 or 40) or already very comfortable with self expression (have tattoos, fun-colored hair, many piercings). I am just sharing some observations here.

The rest of the women in class were fairly nondescript, not unattractive, some very attractive (and obviously focused on beauty and fashion, and not ideas), but reluctant to speak up. In classes with a female professor even, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

In my online classes, the guys were more willing to engage in back and forth dialog, and even some debate about ideas while the women would simply make comments, but as soon as there was even a hint of debate, became silent.

All of this leads up to my point. I found a very interesting paper that addresses what the author calls a “silencing paradigm.” From my notes, this is what I took from the first two pages of this paper:

The author, Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, in her paper, “Listening Past The Lies That Make Us Sick: A Voice-Centered Analysis Of Strength And Depression Among Black Women,” published in Qualitative Sociology, discusses a “silencing paradigm” (392).

“Most provocatively, the silencing paradigm refutes the conceptualization of depression as a unique and pathological state, as portrayed in the medical literature, and instead depicts it as a process and a continuum with deep roots in what are largely considered “normative” conditions of femininity and representations of feminine goodness. Turning to women as guides—in part to remedy the lack of women’s perspectives on their distress in the scholarly literature (Schreiber and Hartrick 2002; Stoppard 2000)—the silencing paradigm has generated novel insights into the onset, experience of, and recovery from depression” (392).

Beauboeuf-Lafontant goes on to define feminine goodness or the feminine norm. It includes surrender to reproductive responsibilities, meeting social expectations, conforming to feminine beauty, political distancing or disenfranchisement, economic issues and much more. What was the most profound to me in my stage of recovery from emotional surrender to this myth of feminine goodness, is how this surrender starts a process of death in parts of a women’s personality over time, and that recovery from depression includes discovery, resurrection, and reintegration of these parts.

I am probably not explaining this well, but it makes so much sense, and deeply touched my own struggle at this point in my life. I have had to reject so much of what I had accepted in the past before I could begin to emerge from my own deep depression following my marital separation.

Men are not aware that they demand conformity to their standards of womanhood. It has always been this way from the beginning of time. This feminine movement away from this has created a real dilemma among women who are struggling to be free. We face rejection by our families, churches, and spouses, and sometimes criticism and rejection by communities, depending on how much focus is placed on conformity.

Women have not been free to become what they want to become, even in the face of the feminist movement.

The paper I mentioned above addresses the silencing paradigm as it particularly manifests in black women, but it is universally applicable to all women’s groups, ethnicities, cultures, and religions, in my opinion.

The good woman, or the feminine ideal, has been destructive to the development of women as people, as individuals, in ways that we are just beginning to measure.

We must begin to question such myths. We must reconsider the idea that women are good if they do this, and bad if they do that. We do not apply such standards to men. Really, we don’t. There are only a handful of behaviors that label a man “bad” in modern society (such as pedophilia, incest, etc.) whereas a woman who allows a nanny to spend more time with her child than she does because the woman has a successful career is still seen in a negative light.

I can’t wait to read more of this paper, and find similar research on the silencing of women’s voices. My journey to discover my own voice leads me to desire the same for other women. I find myself wishing to head off the silencing of young women’s voices somehow. If only they can skip the part where they lose themselves trying to conform to some mythological standard of good womanhood. If only.

Just thought I would share my morning exploration.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sorry, forgot to list the source properly (I am using MLA because that is what I have been using all year long).

Works Cited

Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Tamara. “Listening Past The Lies That Make Us Sick: A Voice-Centered Analysis Of Strength And Depression Among Black Women.” Qualitative Sociology 31.4 (2008): 391-406. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 May 2014.

Hearing voices

obey submit conformI have heard a variety of voices from many different sources over my 53 years: growing up, into young adulthood and well into middle age. I admit that a majority of those voices have been denigrating and controlling. I have never had a cheerleader in my life, EVER. Until now, that is.

Over the past 2-3 years, I have developed relationships with individuals who are cheering me on. I don’t understand those voices’ motivations, but I gratefully accept their positive impact on my life.

Sadly, I had to dismiss all of the negative chatter in my life before I was open to hearing new, positive voices. I don’t know why an emotional disconnect was necessary, but it is a definitive truth for my own experience. I still guard my emotional ears, protecting myself from family and friends who, usually due to misguided allegiance to an impersonal religion or adherence to childhood labels, believe that conformity to a random norm is necessary for my life.

Growing up, religion didn’t play a part in the controlling negativity I was surrounded by most of the time. But, thinking about what I just wrote, I wonder if it did–religion that is.

One side of my family grew up in the Church of Christ, a denomination that believes legalistically that if something is not mentioned in the New Testament, then it is not allowed in any aspect of religious life. I don’t quite understand how they justify reading the Bible in English or using hymnals printed on a printing press, neither of which were available or used in the first century A.D., even, but that is the nature of legalism. It is man’s attempt to create some kind of order out of the apparently-confusing edict by Jesus Christ to love one another, one that seems completely disordered and impossible unless man builds a structure to contain it.

Love one another: Oh, that means I must tell you what you can wear if you are to be acceptable to God.

Love one another: No, a child born out of wedlock is not accepted by God.

Love one another: Musical instruments are not allowed in worship.

Huh?

Maybe some of the voices I heard growing up were influenced by religion after all. In young adulthood, I admit that I invited those voices in and allowed them to impose new, even stricter norms. And this is where I met my husband. Yikes!

Controllers, often referred to as co-dependents, cannot be satisfied with being the best person that THEY can be. No, they focus outwardly, attempting to create structure for themselves through the lives of others. Maybe someday I will research this idea. I know that my estranged husband cannot function within a family where he is not completely in control. He moved over 700 miles away. It is easier for him that way. He still controls as much as he can, not letting even a penny out of his cold hands unless it fits his narrow view of family and responsibility.

I pity people who need to control the lives of others. Some do it by gossiping. There is typically one member of each larger, extended family who keeps the failings of their loved ones up for discussion so everyone can ignore their own flaws. There might be a strong patriarch who controls the family fortune or heritage (my family refused to help me work on discovering my roots as punishment for not speaking to another family member when I was at my worst physically and emotionally). There may be a matriarch who rules by terror or the withholding of affection and approval. Controllers are miserable people who are not even the least bit happy unless everyone around them is equally miserable.

For those emerging from a life that is no longer acceptable to them, whether it was in an abusive relationship or merely the decision to seek a different, better life, determining which voices you hear is vital.

How can you find your own voice when all you hear are the voices of others?

Silence the voices of dissent and negativity.

Embrace the positive voices out there. If you can’t find them, then you have not successfully silenced the raucous clamor of negativity yet.

Did I mention that I listened to music every waking moment of my day for at least a year after my second, permanent marital separation? Music was essential to silencing many of the voices that tormented me, voices that spoke to me even when they weren’t present. This was one of my favorites from that time:


 

Stupid Boy by Keith Urban

Well, she was precious like a flower.
She grew wild, wild but innocent.
A perfect prayer in a desperate hour;
She was everything beautiful, and different.
Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in.
Stupid boy, it’s like holding back the wind.
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands.
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans.
She never even knew she even had a choice,
And that’s what happens when the only
Voice she hears is telling her she can’t.
You stupid boy, you always had to be right.
And now you’ve lost the only thing
That ever made you feel alive.

This song tells a sacred story: little girls are precious, beautiful and a gift to mankind. They are not put on this earth to fulfill man’s idea of womanhood. If man is created in the image of God, male and female He created them, then that girl, that woman, that mother, that sister, that daughter is a sacred being to be treasured, respected, and honored.

I was born a spirited, sensitive, barefooted, exploring child who loved life. When I got married, I opened myself up to another person, loved and trusted like I had never done before in my life, only to be criticized and rejected for who I was as a person, all with the goal of making me submit before God to some ethereal model of religious womanhood. I was crushed and nearly destroyed before I tore myself away from that path and put myself on a new path to self-determination, one in which my personhood was paramount and my voice valid. Anyone or anything that does not respect who I am and who I want to be is not welcome in my life. Period.

What voices do you hear?

Self-advocacy for emotionally-abused women

selfconfidence-smallI had an unpleasant confrontation with a staff member at my college yesterday. Up to that point, absolutely everyone, including instructors and administration, have been absolutely amazing. The atmosphere on that campus is perfect for someone like me who struggles with general anxiety and chronic fatigue: calm and peaceful.

The good part about yesterday’s conflict is that I stood my ground in the presence of a much-younger student. We (the other student and I) then talked about the interaction, discussing the law, hostile educational and work environments, even the Constitution.

Over the last few years, I have had to evaluate associations, relationships, my religion and even my marriage. I had to make some really hard decisions that benefited me, many for the sake of self preservation. I began to learn self-advocacy.

When I started college in January 2013, I was suffering from many things, the worst being virtually no self-confidence. I began the financial aid process expecting denial. I entered the college program of choice expecting to do poorly. I did my work, almost killed myself to succeed, and was told several times by professors that I am worrying too much about grades. I couldn’t help it. I had something to prove . . . to myself.

I still get failing grades in a couple of areas of my personal life when it comes to self-advocacy, but those are on my list to get through in the near future. I too often allow pride to interfere with seeking the help I need to merely survive (like going off SNAP when I couldn’t afford to do so).

I learned that there are no white knights out there. As a woman, I must advocate for myself. What is delightful is when I find other men and women who support me in my journey. There have been many (sadly, none of them my family).

grant flyer screenshotI am embarking on a new adventure: applying for grants. This is difficult for me.

It requires that I sell myself, or my need, effectively. While I have always been able to sell my skills in job interviews, I feel all anxious inside at thinking about people reviewing my life and thinking that I am not worthy of assistance.

It requires that I ask people for letters of recommendation. I am very nervous any time I must ask someone I know to do something for me. I set myself up for rejection and refusal because that is mostly what I have experienced in my life (but not always).

But not always . . . there have been people there at vital times in my life, willing to give me encouragement, even assistance, when I needed it the most. This is what encourages me. That, and the fact that I have worked very hard since starting school, putting myself out there.

When I joined the college newspaper, I interviewed two of the three deans for an article on mental health. When I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, I made a point to introduce myself and speak with the third dean that I had not met yet. These professors and administrators are there for students just like me; they are passionate about seeing individuals succeed because then the college succeeds. Whenever my instructors and professors offer assistance, office hours, and help of any kind, I make an appointment and avail myself of that. They have so much to give, so much to teach me, that I would be stupid not to take advantage of their willingness to teach and mentor me. On Tuesday, one of my English professors stayed after class to help me work through (mentally) what I want out of a 4-year university when I am ready to transfer. I feel so much more empowered.

As I have said, every single interaction on campus has been positive except for that one incident. That is life, though. Learning to deal with unpleasantness is just as important as accepting success, which I admit is not easy for me, either. In this case, this incident cannot be ignored because it involves First Amendment rights and the press. I am not alone, though. The instructor who has been teaching me journalism offered to go with me to speak with one of the deans because it is a serious issue. I am NOT alone.
selfadvocacy-medium
I get a bit emotional thinking about this part of my new life. Denial of my experience by others has been such an integral part of my life that when people believe me and agree to stand by me I am flabbergasted. Deep down inside I know — false knowledge, by the way — that I am not worth the effort or confidence of others. That is the biggest demon that I fight. I am fighting it, though. My shield is up, my sword is out, and this shield-maiden is ready for battle (while trembling inside). Notice that my biggest battles are within myself, always.

I heard some stories yesterday from students about unethical instructor behavior and hostile educational and work environments on my college campus. Oh, I so want to help build in young women (and men) the ability to use their voices effectively and with confidence. Maybe my experiences, struggles and eventual emergence (I am still such a work in progress) can help others learn to effectively self-advocate in the future — this is the impractical part of me that wants to study law (which I will not be doing — I think I can use an English degree much more effectively).

So . . . I will be applying for grants regularly. I know that once I get through the process of applying for the first one I will have much more confidence to apply for others in the future. Applying for scholarships and grants is the epitome of self-advocacy. Yep, I can do this.

Where women are silenced

Many cultures and religions around the world, namely Islam and Christianity, place a lesser value on the voices of women. These two cultures more than any other modern cultures also seem the most dogmatic and violent in opinions, and oftentimes, behavior. I see a trend here: where women are less valued and given little to no voice and where men are dominant and authoritative, there is less civil discourse and more war.

I was talking to a friend the other day about the condition of our country. We both agree that as a nation, the United States is in decline. It had its heyday and is now seeing the downward spiral of its culture, economy and people. We then discussed what typically follows a decline: political upheaval, economic collapse, war, revolution. We considered that revolution might be the only thing that can save this nation (you would be shocked at how common this position is held among liberals and conservatives in Connecticut). I declared that this time women should be in charge of the revolution. That way no one gets shot. I was joking, but not.

Women may have been given the vote nearly 100 years ago, but they certainly have not been given an equal voice in the running of things. In the home, in business, in communities and in politics, women are still a minority. We tread lightly. We are careful. We understand the precariousness of freedom. Our voices must hold a certain tenor, sing a delicate refrain, or we are brushed aside and silenced. Men are still running things.

Now, I really don’t think women need to take over the world and enslave men, but I honestly believe it is time to consider the feminine point of view on the most important issues we face as a nation, as a people, and around the world.

If women were in charge in Syria, do you really think chemical weapons would be a threat? I can’t even conceive of using such a thing, of killing innocent babies and their mothers because of hatred for an opposing faction. I can’t imagine choosing to do that. And I am not a pacifist by any means. I have decided that if anyone tried to hurt me or my children I could defend us with deadly force. I had to work through that in my brain, in my psyche, and come to terms with the concept and am comfortable with my choice (and this is something that should be thought through before one is in the midst of a home invasion or rape). But I would not go pick a fight with someone I didn’t like or agree with.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am well aware that women can be violent, deadly, even serial killers. Women love power and can be cruel. I know that the tendency toward violence is there within every woman. Women are not morally superior to men. Women are not in any way better than men. Women are just different than men. We see and perceive things differently. We think differently. The key here is consideration, equal consideration. And as long as women’s voices are controlled and silenced, as long as women are not given an equal say on the running of things, I believe we will continue to see humanity decline.

What is the root of this decline? Corruption. The United States is close to becoming a plutocracy. Corporations have so deeply infiltrated our government that they write the bills that our elected officials pass. I see this corruption clearly. I can sniff it out all the way from the woods of Connecticut. And those in power are not going to give it up. The mistake they make is in thinking that their power is unwavering, that their ship is unsinkable, that they have so much power that the people of the United States can do nothing about it. These men in power are wrong.

Women now lead men in college enrollment in most liberal arts colleges. Women not only know how to think, they know how to write. And these women are still raising the kids. So many men still seem content to mostly do their own thing oblivious to the needs of their families while their wives work full-time, care for the house full-time and raise the kids full-time. Something is going to break. Really, if this doesn’t concern men in power, I don’t know what will.

I kind of chuckle at Kim Jong-Il thinking he is all that, so full of himself that he enslaves his people in work camps, has confiscated privately-owned guns, and shoots his little missiles into the sea. He thinks he is invincible. It is not so. He will fall. I think about Communist China slowly losing its hold on its people as they reject traditional Chinese, male-dominated culture and embrace Western culture. I think about Vladymir Putin playing conqueror on the world stage and know that he will fail. I think about the misguided men in the Taliban thinking that it is important in the eternal scheme of things that women be kept at home, the property of their fathers and husbands, and that little girls not be allowed to go to school. These men are all fools. They are deceived and lost. They are not listening to any voices but their own, and it will ultimately destroy them.

Here in the United States most meaningful jobs, the middle class jobs, are disappearing. A lot of young men are lost and feel hopeless because there are no jobs where they can be promoted. The merit system in this country that rewarded hard work is gone. I know of so many middle-aged men who gave their younger years to corporations that then fired them and rehired them at a fraction of their previous pay. Skilled jobs are outsourced or given to men and women from other countries who will not ask questions or make waves when they are not treated very well (these are the “H” visas, the number of which were just last year increased from 65,000 to 110,000 per year). Apparently, according to many big corporations, there are not enough workers in the United States to fill skilled jobs. What? I know so many IT people who have either no jobs, low-paid jobs, or are only hired part-time so that their employers can save money.

Again, we have male corporation owners pushing through legislation that benefits them and further destroys the economy. Manufacturing has been moved out of the United States. Farming is moving outside of the United States. We all laugh about the outsourcing of customer support to India and other nations where we are lucky to get someone who speaks English well enough to understand. But none of this is funny.

On the other side of the issue are women activists. Women (and men) fighting against genetically modified crops. Women (and men) fighting to protect the environment. Women (and men) fighting to keep pesticides off of school grounds. None of these bills or issues will benefit corporations, so they are an uphill battle. Yes, there are a lot of men involved, but the faces of these movements is oftentimes women. Heck, the latest trend is the “1 Million Moms” for or against something.

The true grassroots movements are greatly outnumbered by the corporate or politically-sponsored fake grassroots movements such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense which used to be called Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence. The new name is more accurate because nothing in their rhetoric addresses the inner-city gun culture, all of which is based on illegal gun ownership. Funded by the same billionaire who started the Mayors Against Illegals Guns, Public Relations executive Shannon Watts AKA Shannon Troughton, had her “grassroots” organization ready to launch and did so the day after the Sandy Hook shooting. Her clients have included Monsanto, other big corporations and some big political names. She is not merely a stay-at-home mom as she states. In California, when the GMO labeling initiative was being debated, Big Food created shell grassroots organizations that plastered the fresh, young faces of family farmers over the corporate machine they represented, scaring voters into shying away from requiring food manufacturers to identify genetically-modified food ingredients in their products.

Women are being used to create a false pathos, funded by powerful men (beware of women politicians backed by rich and powerful men — I honestly am not sure it is possible to be a politician and be true to one’s values). In my opinion, this is worse than being silenced. Women are being used, or making so much money in their false grassroots organizations they don’t care how honest their voices are. Did I mention that women can be just as greedy as men?

What to do? On the one hand we have powerful, wealthy men using women to create a false sense of voice while on the other hand honest voices have little real influence in world events.

I believe the key is women finding their own honest voices and learning to wield them effectively. As the primary consumers in the United States we have great power: I use my voice every time I purchase or refuse to purchase a particular product. I write emails to corporations and my representatives. I comment on pending FDA approvals. I read and comment on articles at the New York Times and BBC where people from all over the world can read my comments and “hear” my voice.

We have a world filled with the angry sound of men’s voices. I believe it is time to add the honest voices of honest women who truly care. We must begin to influence our world more, speak up more, and stand up for what is right because where women are silenced, there is no peace.

Women as counselors, conciliators, and interpreters

I had lunch last month with my estranged husband. He had a work thing so he came up to Connecticut from his southern home and decided to attempt to reconnect with his children and me. This visit was good because we were able to talk without fighting for the first time in four years. He was being heavily coached by some friends on what to do and what not to do with the goal, of course, of winning us all back to him so we can be a family again. These misguided Christian friends don’t have a clue. But I digress.

At one point my husband admitted to me that he needed me to be the go-between, the person who helps him connect with his children. I had naturally assumed that position from the moment each of our children was born, but he always resented it and eventually told me to shut up and butt out, that he didn’t need me to get involved with how he interacted with HIS children. Yes, those were almost the exact words spoken years and years ago that brought me to a place where I only intervened when I felt the children were being bullied. In all other ways I stayed out.

What was amazing was that this man finally admitted that he needed me in that role again, almost begged me to help him connect with his kids. Of course, I declined. That wasn’t my place anymore. I had been fired and wasn’t willing to consider taking on that responsibility again. He was on his own. I wasn’t this blunt with him, but basically conveyed this position.

And then this morning as I was double-checking the spelling of “Wealhtheow” from Beowulf (King Hrothgar’s queen) for an essay I was writing, I stumbled upon a wonderful work by Jennifer Michelle Gardner entitled, “The Peace Weaver: Wealhtheow in Beowulf.” The title is so telling.

In reading the introduction — never, ever skip introductions written by authors — I saw something that is probably obvious to everyone else on the planet, but had eluded me because I grew up in a single parent household with a father that was not around except a few times a year: mothers are typically the family “peace weavers.” Gardner refers to scholarly analyses she studied in researching Wealhtheow that identify the value a woman has in this position. In her novellette, she presents Wealtheow in the revered position as interpreter, conciliator, and counselor not to the other women, but to the men. What a fascinating concept. It makes so much sense, though, when you think about it. On a much smaller scale, women provide this honorable service within families every day.

Mothers assist each member of the family in relating to the others, interpreting difficult communications, conveying important information, but most importantly, aiding a father in relating to his children. Apparently, children speak a different relational language than most fathers. At least that was commonplace when patriarchal family structures were more common. I believe this is less common in families where the fathers are involved in infant care from the beginning, fathers bond deeply with their children and work at relating. For those fathers, this is less of a need until adolescence when things get dicey for fathers who typically do not like abrupt change (and adolescence is characterized by dramatic changes, often from day to day). But for the father who is fairly traditional, who sees himself as a guardian and protector, provider and overseer, and not necessarily a co-nurturer, the importance of the mother as family counselor, conveyer and interpreter of important information and situations is vital to the relational health of a family.

As amazing as this revelation is to me, it is even more amazing that my children’s father recognized this need for a go-between in relating to his children. If only he had listened to his wife. Right? (Yes, you are correctly sensing just a teensy little bit of smugness.) The great part about this whole thing is that it doesn’t hurt me anymore to think about how I had been pushed aside as inconsequential to our family welfare, as though my voice was less valued than the dog’s. I am not in that place anymore, and I don’t have that denigrating voice in my head now. I am learning the value of my own voice. The most freeing part is that I do not need to make others agree with me; I can just have my say and move on. What freedom! Getting to this place was not easy, though.

Women are faced with a multitude of roles in this world. Too often we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, as was the case in my situation. I think we can learn a lot from the warrior cultures of the past. They were primal in nature yet possessed a delicate, almost advanced social order, one that recognized the value in women’s voices, and in some cases, their warrior hearts — cue up the scene from The Return of the King where the the shield-maiden Eowyn is standing before the Witch-King ready to take him on. Back when the fictional Wealhtheow lived men were manly men, but women were allowed to be manly women and feminine women, too. In many cases, the voices of women were valued, almost sacred, and considered integral to a well-ordered society.

Always learning in my little cubicle of academia. Always learning.