gender

Mirror, Mirror: Representation In Media

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You guys said that instead of Flash Friday, you wanted to see an essay on something near and dear to my heart. So here ya go, loves. Let me know what you want to see in 2 weeks: flash or an essay?? Think about the last thing you watched on television. Was it a football game? A sitcom? News? Maybe you don't take commercial tv, but prefer Netflix or a similar streaming service. Did you check out the new hotness? Or catch up on an old favorite? Are you thinking about it? That last thing you watched? Now, I have another question for you: did you see yourself there? Were you represented in the show? How about the commercials? Were you there?

Unless you're a cisgendered (your biological sex and your gender match) white hetero able-bodied human with a very specific BMI and body shape, probably not.

Now, there's a very public discussion at the moment about racial diversity in film, what with the Academy Awards nominations coming out with nary a minority to be found. We've talked for years about ethnic roles in adaptations being given to white people, or transgender characters being played by cis (typically white) males. Even in female-centric films, men still have more speaking time.

There's more to diversity than race and gender, to be sure, but right now these are the issues at the fore of the societal conversation. Media--books, television, films, advertisements, toys--all have a problem. The majority of these things do not represent most people.

"Why is it important?" I hear you asking.

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Media is a mirror. It reflects our society's values, tells us what is "good", what is "bad". Media influences our thinking from what brand of cereal to buy this week at the story, to which political candidate we should vote for. Media tells us what is "normal", and what we should be in order to be a working cog in the societal machine.

When you don't see yourself reflected in that mirror, it can be damaging as fuck to a psyche. It makes you question your identity, can leave you feeling adrift and alone with no guidepost or role model. It can make you feel LESS THAN.

It's important to see a black super hero like Falcon, or a Muslim heroine like Kamala Khan, a wheel-chair bound Batgirl like Oracle, or a black Disney princess like Tiana. You want children to believe they can be more, be anything? They need to see that represented in print, on screen and in the toy aisle. They need to see themselves in positive places of power, roles with agency and control. You want a black woman to excel and become president? Show her that she can. You want oppressed people to rise up? Show them it's possible. Hell, Sesame Street understood that in the late '60s and still does!

I was excited as hell after watching one episode of Jessica Jones. Look, I'm 5'11'' and weigh over 250 pounds (thanks PCOS!). I watch an Avengers flick and I don't see myself there. I will never be the agile femme fatale like Black Widow. I'm not a soldier like Maria Hill. Though I adore her, I am too bohemian and coarse to be Peggy Carter. I have no interest in being a power CEO like Pepper Potts, nor can I personally identify with Scarlet Witch.

But Jessica Jones? While she is portrayed as skinnier and way more alcoholic than me, I see myself here. I see myself in her snark, her profanity, her "I don't give a shit if I wear the same pants for a week" mentality. I see myself in her struggle to survive the psychological abuse of Killgrave, her very real PTSD. I watch Jessica Jones and think for a moment, "yeah, I can be that heroine."

I cried when I saw The Force Awakens last month. My daughter and I were sitting beside one another while a woman took up a lightsaber in a franchise that is (historically) terrible for women. My daughter and I were there in that character. Finally. We could be Jedi. (Just for one day.)

Encouraging Stereotypes

Black roles are generally given to sidekicks. Largely they are a token role that could be played by someone white, as their race has little influence on their character. The exception being something that chooses a stereotypical portrayal of a black person, or a historical film that discusses slaves or Moors.

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Asian characters are typically martial arts gurus, fetishized, or both. If neither of the above, you're a computer expert or really good at math.

Indian? Smart character. Socially awkward. Butt of jokes. Or you work in a 7-11. If you're female, you're "exotic".

Latino/Latina? We will not differentiate between Columbian vs Honduran vs Mexican vs Puerto Rican etc and so forth, because that would mean we'd have to learn something. You're the silly friend, the drug lord or John Leguizamo who is both.

Native/Indigenous people? If we mention your race at all (without mistaking you as Latino/Latina), you're sagelike and wise. Or drunk. Or in a historical film and will likely die of cholera, small pox, or an arrow wound.

Fat? You're the plucky, funny best friend with a heart of gold. You are probably Amy Schumer or Melissa McCarthy since Janeane Garafalo go out of the game. But, on the plus side, Mattel has released a series of new Barbies with different body types. Only took 57 years.

In a wheelchair, or otherwise disabled? Yeah, the movie isn't going to be about you, but instead about how brave you are to overcome all obstacles. You can't just be a person, we have to fetishize your disability. LEGO has decided to release mini-figs with wheelchairs, though. 

Gay? You get characters now, but you're going to either share exposure with an ensemble cast, or be a supporting character. We won't focus on you, and if we do we will make it all about your gayness rather than your humanity. You will always be the snarky friend in a rom-com. Sorry.

Then there's erasure to deal with. So many parts of real people are swept under the rug or dismissed, assuming they make it on the screen or page at all.

Bisexuals? Sorry! We're either portrayed as capricious children who can't make up our minds, confused kids jumping on a bandwagon, greedy, or liars. And we'll never be the lead in a rom-com unless the plot is about how we are "forced to choose". We will only ever be object lessons.

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Transgender? You're probably going to be a male-to-female character (because we can understand a woman wanting to become a man, but can't fathom a dude turning in his privilege of his own accord to be female). You may be degenerate, a villain or a laughable parody. Or you're a blatant Oscar grab for a cis male who will be seen as "so brave" for taking such a role.

Non-binary? Good luck. If you exist at all outside of niche media, you will only be background, or you'll be in an indie film starring Tilda Swinton (the goddess of androgyny) and featuring an all Bowie soundtrack.

Mental illness? No, we just need to pop a pill or try harder. Society doesn't talk about mental illness. (I was happy about Silver Linings Playbook being a bit new on this front, but we can do better.) The mentally ill characters in media are deviants, villains or object lessons.

Similarly, the Autistic Spectrum doesn't get much love. You're likely to find someone like Benedict Cumberbatch playing it off ambiguously as part of the ridiculously smart character. However, there is a character on the popular tween cartoon Monster High. Ghoulia Yelps is a "zombie", but she is a positive depiction of a girl on the Spectrum who is still valued by her friends and treated no differently than others.

Polyamory? HA! No. We get "Sister Wives" and "Big Love" bullshit on TLC that is all but mocking plural relationships. Or articles with pictures of people holding hands behind someone else's back, implying that polyamory is adultery by any other name.

 I hate this picture. Never use it again, media. Ever.

I hate this picture. Never use it again, media. Ever.

Not only is the representation in film/books flawed, it also doesn't give an accurate depiction of the world. There are more minorities than the typical blockbuster would have you believe. The reality posited by even television and print media is flawed. Your common news anchors are less racially diverse than the communities they cover. That magazine was photoshopped and otherwise manipulated to the point that we aren't seeing any truth. Reality television isn't. Print ads are distorted.

Make It Your Own.

I know I've got it easier than some by sheer dint of being white and cisgendered. There are certainly more of us in the media than, say, a trans dude, or a black non-binary amputee. But frankly, I've come to a point in my life where I'm fucking exhausted by media telling me I'm not good enough. I'm not the "right" body type. I don't have the "right" kind of job. I'm the "wrong" sexuality. My gender is "less than". I'm tired of trying to find myself in a media that refuses to acknowledge my existence.

 Me. Right now. No filters, make-up. No distortion.

Me. Right now. No filters, make-up. No distortion.

I'm a curvy, bisexual, polyamorous artist who  uses the word "fuck" like it's punctuation. I'm not between sizes or trying to lose weight. I'm not lazy, nor am I unaware of my size and the potential repercussions on my health. (I have a disorder that causes problems with my reproductive and metabolic systems among other things.) I'm "fat", and that doesn't make me less beautiful.

I have one child and lack the desire (and now the ability) to have more. And I'm okay with this. That doesn't make me less of a woman.

I am bisexual and polyamorous. I am attracted to people. I am not capriciously sexual. I find a good, deep conversation more orgasmic than sex. I am not a liar, adulteress or in any way less than ethical.

I am an artist. I don't have a traditional day job. That doesn't mean I can't contribute to society, my family or the world. My joy in being an artist does not make me less worthy.

I'm tired of trying to find myself in the mirror of the media. So I've done a few things about this.

For starters, I write the media I want to see. I write diverse characters who are more than just a race or label. I write them with those things in mind, but the character is more than skin tone or sexual orientation.

Another part of that is being more authentic. Since I stared posting blogs in 2000, I made it a point to be myself. What you see is what you get. While things in my life have changed and I do keep many aspects of my life private, I prefer to be open about who I am. We need authenticity in the world. People need to see reflections of themselves, and know that there are places where their freak flags already fly. I want to be a safe place. I want to be an ally. I want to be real. To that end, I post things like this where you see me. (I mean seriously, how could I post an article about representation in media and not represent myself honestly in my own public space?)

And recently, I've started actively seeking me-friendly media. I know it's out there. I've found poly-friendly webcomics like Kimchi Cuddles, and Twitter accounts that promote bisexual inclusion. I've started collecting images on my Pinterest boards (non-binary thinking/bisexuality/polyamory here, and plus-size here - WARNING, both boards may be NSFW) that represent me, so that on days when I need a mirror, I can find one. On days when I feel "less than" I can remember that I am enough.

You are enough, too.

When popular media includes things like Donald Trump spewing rhetoric against Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, women and more; when echo chambers turn into houses of mirrors that stretch and twist reality, we need diverse media. We need representation. We all need to know that we are enough.

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Don't Stop Me Now

41a9efd8c71bfc3a0295d87ce8decaadSo there are two facts about me that many of you know by now: 1) I am a Whovian. (A fan of Doctor Who, for those who don't speak my brand of geek.)

and 2) I have a very righteous, active and at times insane fantasy life.

When you combine these two things about me, and my profession as a writer, you get a distinct, burning desire on my part to write for Doctor Who. Now, I am under no delusions that I am, at this stage in my career, going to find that falling into my lap like a purring kitten. However, it's a goal that I strive toward much the same way other pursue Oscars, Hugos or the ice cream truck. (Seriously, my episode of Doctor Who will be how I win my Hugo. Then I'll buy an ice cream truck.)

So, you can imagine that my heart sank a little when I saw agency sibling and rock awesome story spelunker Paul Kreuger post this article at the Daily Dot. According to the Daily Dot, the next season of Doctor Who will see many writers who are old friends of the show. (Show-runner Steven Moffat has said himself he likes to keep things "in the family", as it were, and does not try to deny nepotism. This is well-documented in terms of his other hit show, Sherlock.) A few new hands have joined this season.

And not a single one of them are women.

From the article:

"...this is now the fourth season in a row that has employed precisely zero female writers.

In fact, since Steven Moffat took over as showrunner in 2009 he has never hired a single female writer. And only once has he brought on a female director, back in season five. Needless to say, this track record only adds fuel to the ever-growing number of fans who say Moffat is taking Doctor Who in a more conservative and sexist direction."

The internet is full of evidence and speculation about Moffat and his potential to be a misogynist. You can look that up elsewhere. I'll say that at the moment my jury is still out. I have really enjoyed watching Sherlock, and think that Mr. Moffat has a gift for creating engaging stories. However, having watched Coupling and his episodes of Doctor Who, I have issues with the way he portrays women. I'm sure that Mr. Moffat himself is a lovely person but can neither confirm nor deny this from firsthand experience.

cautionmenworkingNow, I'll be honest, I'm only about half-way through the first Matt Smith season of Doctor Who. Already, though, I'm pissed about some of the writing decisions. Those decisions are, invariably, tied to the way women are written or treated. Specifically, women who are given monumental power and then divested of it almost immediately. It has happened with Donna Noble and it happened with Amy Pond... the woman had a pivotal choice to make that could save or condemn the universe...and when she made her choice she was strong. She owned. She saved the day.

And then... (Spoilers, sweetie.)

The choice didn't matter.

In Donna's case, within the same episode we take the choice she made and the being she had become and took it away from her in a horrifying way. Everything she'd been to us up to that point simply erased. All of her past mattered in the grand scheme of the universe, but that moment of her becoming more than herself? Robbed of it. And put back into a world where she is slow on the uptake and flakey because she "missed" huge world events (that she played a major part in!!!) In a way it's worse than death or being marooned in another dimension.

In Amy's case? Wow... she made her choice to live in a world with Rory in it no matter what that might mean in the long run. Her love for him (and the fact that it eclipsed her infatuation with the Doctor) was so fucking amazing and heartrending at the end of that episode! She realizes in that moment something she hasn't admitted to the audience, to the Doctor or to herself! She needs, loves and wants Rory in her world. WOOT!

And then...

In the next episode, Rory is killed. (Yes, I know, shut up. Not there yet. Grr.)

It feels like they gave Amy the choice: The Doctor or Rory? And then when she made her choice, someone (*coughMOFFATcough*) said, "You know what, you didn't make the choice I wanted you to make. So guess what. Oh, and I'm going to take your memory, too."

In both cases, the woman was given the +1 Stompy Boots of Awesome. In both cases it is up to the Doctor's companion to save not just the Doctor and those in the immediate area, but the world as they know it! In both cases, the women make the clutch decisions, regardless of the odds or how difficult it may be. And in both cases, their actions and memories are deleted so that the Doctor can have a moment. (In one case, the moment is morose and bitter, while in the other...well, he's now #1 and doesn't have to compete with poor Rory any more.)

(As an aside, I don't remember thinking "poor Mickey" every episode, but damn, do I pity Rory.)

While I can't know the writers' motives on the matter, or how it went down in story planning, it plays out like this weird situation where Amy and Donna are working away merrily when the Doctor steps up to look over their shoulders. "Oh, no, that won't do. You'd better let me," he says. Then he shoulders them aside and does things his own way.

And casts "obliviate" on them. Quit fucking with women's heads and memories, Moffat!

moffat

 

But I digress.

 (/end Spoilers.)

capaldireactions6New season of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi manning the TARDIS...no female writers. As I said, I saw this link when my friend Paul Kreuger posted it to Facebook. Someone commented on that thread, "Why does it matter?"

*raises hand*

Allow me to explain.

I watch Doctor Who and I don't see myself in the women there any more. The change happened shortly after Russel T. Davies and Julie Gardner left the show, to be replaced by current showrunner, Mr. Moffat.

In the RTD era, I could empathize with Rose because I remember what it was like to be 20-something and listless with a shit-paying job and no idea what I wanted in life. I could see the allure of running away with the Doctor. I could see myself in Sarah Jane whose heart had developed a scar in the shape of the Time Lord. Martha was smart, capable and invisible to the man she loved. But once she got over that crush on the Doctor, she continued to be a badass! She was more WITHOUT him. (In fact... Rose became MORE without the Doctor. As did Sarah Jane. Those women grew and took their time with the Doctor as a foundation. They built wonders.) And Donna? Never once was she dewy-eyed and lovestruck by him. She was the "mate" he'd been looking for! A take-no-bullshit partner.

But then...Donna didn't get to be more. She was diminished.

Amy? River? Don't get me wrong, Amy has had some choice moments, and River has had some great dialogue. But, thus far, these two women have been defined by their relationship to the Doctor. They are props, set pieces and plot points bowing dutifully or batting their eyelashes at the Doctor. They aren't whole people.

And that is a problem.

For one thing, in terms of story? It gets old. I'm tired of seeing the Doctor with young companions who just fawn over him! It's a hope I have with Capaldi in the role: older companions who aren't trying to bed him or wed him. I want him to have a companion again.

For another... I want to see women written as fully-formed human beings (or aliens, or whatever). I want them to be written from places of truth where they have real motivations and histories and needs and fears that have NOTHING to do with the Doctor! Men on this same show get that. Captain Jack, the Master, even Mickey "the Idiot". They all have fully-realized characters who have the opportunity to grow in--and because of--their time with the Doctor.

That is why it's important to have diverse writers. For more points of view, and more satisfying, emotionally engaging stories where everyone can see themselves portrayed in a positive role.

keep-calm-and-no-girls-allowedMore importantly, though...

....when such a high-profile show has no women writing or directing episodes, what does that do to the crop of female writers? In my case, it pushes me. It's not going to deter me, though it might hobble me. It's another obstacle for me to circumvent, climb, think my way out of or blast into rubble. (Just like the Doctor, Martha, Donna, Rose etc etc have done time and again.)

But what about others? What about young girls? Kids like my daughter. If they don't see women directing, writing or collaborating on the things they love, they may think they are not allowed to do those things. My daughter has already said she feels "more like a boy" sometimes because she likes comics, video games and Doctor Who. Why are these boy things? They aren't! They are for everyone. So when little girls look at the lists of creators on a show and don't see female representation...they may believe that this is something they can't do. And sweetie, let me tell you, the only things a woman can't do that men can involve peeing while standing.

This move--this continuation of keeping Doctor Who a Boy's Club--is dangerous because it says to women and minorities that we are not welcome. And sci-fi has always been about exploration, finding humanity and ourselves in the alien.

By excluding us, you're limiting yourself.

Now, I am not professionally ready to write an episode of Doctor Who at this point. My writing is not at that caliber, and I need more experience with the older Doctors (plus I'm not caught up). But that doesn't mean I'm not going to keep my head down and work toward that goal. Moffat might not be the showrunner when it's my time, but my time will come.

I'm the same woman who said, "I'm going to drum on stage of the Briar  Street Theater in Chicago with Eric Gebow (my Blue Man Group idol)". And I did.

I've never let my gender stop me. So why should you?

Not For Me

I'm going to voice an unholy, unpopular opinion...

I didn't like the Joss Whedon "Much Ado About Nothing". 

There. I said it.

Look, I love Joss Whedon's other works. I find his writing to be impeccable, sharp and entertaining. His direction and filmmaking abilities are some of the best in the current crop of Hollywood. In short, I dig Joss Whedon. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed his take on this particular Shakespeare play. I much prefer the Catherine Tate/David Tennant stage production directed by Josie Rourke. I could write an entire blog post about my issues with the Whedon version, but, in the end it comes down to four words: It's not for me.

Along those same lines, I don't like lima beans, country music, reality television or skinny jeans. I'm not into Clown Dominant BDSM porn. These things and the people who dig them are not inherently bad (though I ask for a slight dram of understanding when I look at you funny for the clown thing). They are, however, not for me.

In general I am a "live and let live" person. If you eat lima beans while listening to your Keith Urban, I'm not going to rage at you or call you names. I'll be over here with my chai, watching the Tate/Tennant version of "Much Ado" for the tenth time in as many days.

But I realized recently that there is one avenue where I have an extreme prejudice. And that arena is BOOKS. I posted on Twitter quite happily that if your book is poorly written (ie riddled with spelling and grammar errors, rife with poor characterization and otherwise chock full of suck) I will rip it apart. I can, when it comes to the written word, be a judgmental bitch.

Now, my personal Facebook account is set to "friends only" for various reasons, the most pressing of which is that I like to have some semblance of space that is for myself, friends, family and close colleagues. Otherwise, I've got a fan page or my Twitter feed or this blog or conventions et al for everyone else. Anyway, I used my personal Facebook account to ridicule a self-published novella for its horrible cover and the atrocious writing quality. I started off being vague about it, not naming names or using the copy/paste function. After a while, however, I posted a link to the book on Amazon to share with others so they would see, "This is why I'm gagging here!"

I have amazing friends. Not only will they laugh with me, they will take me aside and say, "This time, I think you need to check yourself." One such friend sent me a private message offering a different point of view that I had, admittedly, been ignorant of. He suggested that this book was written that way specifically because it was aimed at a particular audience. The book used a cultural language and plays to the values of a specific kind of person.

In short, this book was not for me.

It wasn't written for me. It was written for another woman with a different life experience.

I think what we've seen recently in the news with Ferguson and the like has highlighted that while many of us are trying to live colorblind, we are instead blinded to other experiences. It's not out of anger, hatred or racism, but it is a flaw. In trying to see only people and treat everyone equally, we forget that everyone lives different experiences. Women walk to their cars holding their keys like a weapon. Black men are stopped for carrying a can of tea and Skittles. These are details of every day life for some people that the rest of us do not necessarily understand. A man doesn't know what it is to grow up in rape culture from a woman's perspective any more than I--a middle-class, cis white woman--can truly understand what it must be like to live the life of a black teen in middle America. Or a Latina immigrant. Or a transgender male. I can--and do--have sympathy. I can imagine or put myself in his/her shoes. But I can never truly know what that person's life is with cultural heritage and social conditioning.

That being the case, this particular book was not for me.

And I know that some of you are sitting there shaking your heads wondering how this can possibly be an epiphany for me. Well, I know that there are divisions. I know there are sects, schisms and denominations in the world. I know well that there are cultural/racial divides. But the one place I forget these things exist is in a library. It may be my naivete showing, but I think of libraries as huge, open areas where anyone can peruse any section at length and read any volume they choose. There isn't a room set aside for this class or this color or this creed. Books are accessible to all, in my mind, and I try to make my own writing equally open.

But, yeah... guess what, Jamie. This book isn't for you.

Coming to this conclusion throws the issue of diversity-in-fiction into even sharper relief, and adds new questions to the mix:

When writing The Other (be it People of Color, other genders or sexual preferences etc), where is the line between writing people--fully-generated characters--and ignoring their differences? For example, we don't want our strong female characters to be "men with tits" any more than we want to whitewash PoC. I think we can agree that white-cis-heteronormative male is not the default human setting (regardless of what popular media would show). However, we don't want to have token black characters or Sassy Gay Friends just for the sake of them being there, either. Personally, I write people. Some of my characters are black, some are white. Some are satyrs and gods. Some are bi, some are cis, some are Pan. To me, though, these are things that inform who they are without defining who they are. My characters have fears and desires that resonate on a human level.

However, is this also a problem? Does being colorblind turn into erasure? I'm thinking here of a discussion way back in high school about how shows like Cosby and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn't depict "blackness" but black people in white roles. The idea of "the Carlton" being the equivalent of a house slave. (Not my personal feeling or argument, but one I've heard often and take into consideration when developing characters.) That argument stuck with me, though, and it does play in the back of my head sometimes when I'm working on character development. Am I writing a fleshed out character who is black, or am I writing a Carlton?

Where is the line between writing a dialect and poor writing? It's been pointed out to me that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is considered to have its own rules. If that's the case, and we say that AAVE has its own set of standards, where is the line between "poor writing" and "following a different set of rules"? And along this same line, by deciding that AAVE is acceptable, are we allowing writers to "write down" to people? And to that point, is that good for anyone? It almost sounds like--in some cases--we would lower standards and turn out poorer product for certain audiences. I find that as insulting to both creator and audience as I do seeing men portrayed as having dull minds and uncontrollable libidos, or women used as plot devices.

Now, in my own writing, I look at dialect as something that individual characters have. If writing in first person, I will allow slang and dialect to a point, but not over do. In third person, the prose I keep in standard American English with all the grammatical trappings and spellings of MLA and Chicago Style manuals. If a character is Cajun, or African American, or has a thick Geordie accent, I let that come through in dialogue. Spellings and grammar be damned, if it's what that character would say, so be it. However, I don't let it leak into the prose. (I will admit that my lead character speaks in Internet English sometimes in her prose, but that's who she is.) So don't misunderstand; something like the works of Twain written in Southern American English is not going to be held to the same yardstick as Shakespeare.

Furthermore, if we posit that there are not only books that are "not for everyone" but entire genres written with one subset of humanity in mind, is this in some way segregating? Is it just as limiting as omission? We have black publishers, women's publishers, LGBTQ publishers...groups set aside to make sure all voices are heard. But at what point does that swing the pendulum to separate but equal?

These are more philosophical points, perhaps, and I know that they only scratch the surface of issues. These questions are not going to be answered in a day or Twitter post. But I'm keen to open a dialogue with you about them. I don't pretend to have The Answers to this. I have ideas, but I also will admit that in some matters I'm ignorant.

 

Your thoughts?

PS: And no, "Much Ado" is not up for debate. Tate/Tennat FOREVAH!!!

I've Got Your Back

992856_588564477849817_946136430_nCon season is upon us, and unfortunately, that means an uptick in horrific stories of people being harassed. People are made to feel unsafe at an event they paid to attend because they have a passion. That, frankly, sucks. Being that I'm trying to decrease some of the suck output of the world, I would like to tell you about the Backup Ribbon Project.

So, I heard about this from Karina Cooper last year. (Oddly enough, I met Tina, the woman who started the Backup Ribbon Project, at a New Year's party. Small world.) The Backup Ribbon is a purple ribbon you add to your Con badge to let people know that you are willing to help. If you see someone being harassed, you will step in. You will listen. You won't judge or say, "Well look what you're wearing. What did you expect?" I think this is amazing.

Anywho, I'd been talking with Emma Lysyk about it and we were going to do this, but in light of the recent tragedy at UCSB, it seems this is even more important. Next week, at Phoenix Comic Con, I am teaming up with Emma Lysyk to offer Backup badge ribbons.

The Backup Ribbon Project site (link above) says it like this:

If you take a Backup ribbon or you wear a Backup t-shirt, you are promising one very simple thing: You WILL help out anybody being harassed. Gender, orientation, presentation is irrelevant. You WILL find a way to help, whether by directly intervening, getting help from elsewhere, or simply listening the person being harassed. You WILL be there for them. You WILL accept that they believe they have been harassed. You WILL NOT question them or doubt them, You WILL give them whatever help they wish.

No judgement. No exceptions. We got your back.

And that's what we mean. Emma's booth (#1838) will not only have her awesome swag for sale, but it is also a Safe Place. If you need help, she or a likewise helpful person will be there. If you are being harassed or do not feel safe, if you need a ride or escort because you had too much to drink, if you are in danger... we want to be your backup. And if we can't help you, we will make sure you get to the people who can and we will back you up.

1170745_621996504506614_689080441_nSo yeah... Emma will be at her booth. I'll be at my table (#2432) when I'm not at panels, or gaming at night.  I am a safe place. I'm an ear if you need it. And I've got enough friends on the PHX CC staff that I can get you to Security or whatever you need. We'll have ribbons on us for $1 each (to cover the printing/shipping costs). If you choose to donate extra it will go directly to the Backup Ribbon Project. Supplies are limited to 250 ribbons. (I will have 125, Emma will have the other half.)

Also, this is not gender specific. Men, women, gay, straight, bi, cis, trans or Siamese... doesn't matter. We'll back you up if you need help. Everyone has the right to enjoy their con without being harassed or made to feel afraid.

EDITED TO ADD: When you get your ribbon, selfie that and post it to Twitter with the hashtag #PHXBackup!

#YesAllWomen... Even Me.

WARNING: This post will have some very personal information detailing my experiences with abuse and misogyny. Family may not want to read this post. Also, it may contain triggers for those who have had similar experiences with violence, sexual assault, molestation and rape. Please feel free to click away and join me at another time. Also, I suggest that everyone who feels they can take the time to read the #YesAllWomen thread on Twitter. It is illuminating, inspiring, sickening and devastating.  So... I've been sitting here staring at this blank screen for a while now. I spent a lot of yesterday the same way. Just looking at this blank space to write a blog post and wondering how or where to begin. If I should write it at all.

"Because 25 years later I'm scared to tell..."

I've written before that I was molested before the age of 10. I've told people--mostly women and my sexual partners--bits and pieces of that experience. But I've never told any one single person the entirety of it. I've been too scared to give any one person that much power. Even the people I know who love me and would never abuse that power. I have been too afraid to grant it. I've doled out certain details of my experience while holding back. For 25 years.

He was my neighbor. He was 13. I was 9.

Don't write this, Jamie. You can't tell. You'll hurt people. You didn't know what was going on so you misinterpreted it. He was scared and coming from an abusive home. He was dealing with homosexuality and didn't know how to cope with his own shit. Don't write this. It won't help anyone.

You see? This is what it's like in my head. And that's what it was like before I tweeted EVERY. SINGLE. TWEET. to the #YesAllWomen hashtag. That reluctance to speak up.

Don't make waves. Be a good girl. It's over. That was 25 years ago. Don't go back to the past and dredge it all up. It can stay where it is locked inside. You're over it. 

Apparently, I'm not. Because I've not only tapped into my own shame and self-doubt, I've also found catharsis in reading the #YesAllWomen feed. And I've found strength. The courage to say...

...he tricked me. We were playing a game. Pretending to be Ghostbusters. We went into the apartment building across the street from our townhouses and...

Don't do this. You've never told anyone all of it. How can you possibly think about blogging it? Telling EVERYONE? Don't do this. 

...he took me to a closet downstairs. It was supposed to be a laundry area with a single washer and dryer for the tenants to use, but it was empty.

My hands are shaking as I type this. 

He said we could pretend it was an elevator.  Then, "Uhoh...looks like the elevator broke." He put his arms around me and shoved his knee between mine, forcing my legs apart. He started to kiss me.

I didn't like it. I felt uncomfortable. Like I would get in trouble. And I was afraid, though I couldn't quite understand why. I pushed him away with an awkward smile. "Nope. It works just fine."

I made to open the door and he got in front of me. "Nope. Broken again. Looks like we're stuck."

He put himself between me and the door, locked me in his arms and again put his knee between my legs. He started kissing me again, rubbing his hands on me and grinding against me.

My stomach knotted. This was wrong. I didn't want this and I didn't feel safe. I felt scared. But is this what boyfriends and girlfriends were supposed to do? If I stopped him, would he--then my only friend in the new apartment--stop being my friend? Seriously...these were my thoughts at the time. I was 9 years old and already I'd been conditioned to worry about what he would do if I tried to stop him (again). I'd heard him screaming outside at night, yelling at his mother. I'd seen the holes punched in his walls. He'd said his stepdad did that. Right? What would he do if I tried to make him stop?

All while I'm thinking this stuff, I'm frozen. I'm not kissing him back or doing anything to physically urge him on. I couldn't say anything because my brain was locked up. And I was afraid. I could see his eyes in the dark closet and they were hungry. He didn't seem to see me. It was like he saw prey.

Scared, uncertain, stunned, I just stood there while he touched me and kissed me.

Then someone came up to the closet and pounded on the door. "I know you're in there!"

He shoved me over into the corner and blocked my body with his. I ducked down, making myself as small as possible...relieved that we'd been interrupted but also terrified that we'd been busted. What if they told my mom? What if I got in trouble?

The woman (late teens, early twenties I think? I never paid her much attention) who lived across the street from me was there with the head maintenance man of the apartment complex. I couldn't see them well, but I saw enough to know they were there. I stayed down and out of the way, hoping they wouldn't see me.

"I know you've got that girl in there," she snapped. He made excuses. I stayed quiet. She kept saying he was lying. The maintenance guy finally pulled her away, giving Bobby the benefit of the doubt or something. Rather than closing the door, though, Bobby was scared and pulled me out of the closet. We sneaked out of the building and around.

That was the first of 3 times he molested me...each time nothing more than touching above the clothes, but all of them terrified me.

I told an adult that he'd tried to rape me. I didn't know the words for what he did. What I knew was that he made me afraid and if we hadn't been discovered, I would've been in a very bad position. The adult I told didn't believe me. "You didn't understand. You don't know what you're saying. That's not what happened." And left it at that. I didn't tell anyone else because I didn't want to look stupid. I didn't want someone to not believe me again. And maybe I didn't know. Maybe that's not what really happened, right?

When I told someone that I thought we were boyfriend/girlfriend, he started chasing me home from school every day, screaming at me and hitting me.

He moved away a few months later.  I contemplated suicide. I went to a therapist but never mentioned anything about him or our time in the closet. No one asked.

Three years later, when I was in 7th grade, I saw him again at my junior high. I started having nightmares where he came back to my house and raped me, killed me. I had panic attacks every day because we passed each other in the halls. He moved up to the high school. I had another bout of suicidal depression.

Tenth grade... I walked into my psych class to find him sitting there. PSYCH CLASS! With the guy who'd caused a shit ton of my psychological issues. I remember one day the teacher started talking about aversions. He wrote the word "RAT" on the board and talked about how if people were afraid of rats, they might not even be able to look at that word. When someone chuffed a laugh at how stupid this was, the teacher changed the word from rat to "RAPE". People grew a little more somber. I crouched in my seat, burning with embarrassment and fear. Bobby was still sitting two rows away... just sitting there. The teacher described how someone who'd been raped might react to seeing that word... he described me to a tee.... burrowing down, shaking, sweating, red-faced.

I couldn't get out of that class... that would mean telling. That would mean dredging up the past. So I stuck it out. On the last day of class, I handed Bobby a note saying he had no more power over me.

I thought it was over.

I saw him a few times after that... and still had panic attacks. I still look him up online 25 years later to make sure I won't be surprised to see him at the grocery store. That's how I found out that Bobby is gay.

It has taken me 25 years to understand that he was dealing with shit. His stepdad was abusive. He was probably very scared to be gay in that house and trying to understand himself. I've made excuses for Bobby and what he did to me. It's also taken me 25 years to understand that the woman who discovered us in that closet wasn't trying to get us into trouble. She wasn't trying to haul me out and brand me with some scarlet letter.... she was trying to help. She knew--at least on some level--what was going on. And she was trying to stop it.

My daughter is one year younger than I was when all of this happened. And that's a fact that terrifies me. She seems so little. So young and innocent.

25 years later I still make excuses and question myself. Maybe it's not real. Maybe it wasn't actually so sinister. He was confused.

And that's what women deal with daily. We excuse the behavior of others. "boys will be boys". Or "he's just mean because he likes you". Or "he couldn't help himself". Or "You should take it as a compliment."

There's a constant prattle of shame and doubt and it's not just in the media or our culture it's IN OUR HEADS! We do this to ourselves. AND EACH OTHER! There are women using the #YesAllWomen to shame others into silence.

Misogyny, violence against women, rape culture, male entitlement... it's all real. We know it's not all men, but we're trained from an early age to be on guard because it could be ANY man. Friends, uncles, fathers, neighbors... you can't tell from looking. We know it's not all men! I'm blessed with a husband, and my father, and male friends that I've never feared.

But I have stories. That one time at a concert when I said hi to a guy who then thought that was an invitation to get into my car and make out with me. AND HE WAS MARRIED! The time I was at marching band rehearsal and we were on a break. I left my drums on, but pulled them up to lighten the stress on my hips and a guy said, "What's the matter, bitch? Does your pussy hurt?" AND NO ONE THOUGHT THERE WAS A DAMN THING WRONG WITH THAT COMMENT. Just two weeks ago I told a complete stranger that I would pretend to be her girlfriend to get the creeper to leave her alone!

The catcalls. The slaps on the ass. The crass comments and rude gestures. The leers at the bus stop or patronizing comments at conventions. They are all symptoms of this BULLSHIT.

And that's not all of them. And I'm not the only one.

Someone tweeted to the #YesAllWomen thread yesterday that it's part of female bonding to begin comparing survival stories. It's true. I've been in a group of women where we traded stories and survival techniques. Being "just one of the guys" is not just part of my personality, it's a survival skill. Carrying your keys like a weapon. Having a knife under your pillow or in your purse. Fake names, fake numbers, fake wedding rings. Knowing where the exits are. Going to the bathroom in packs. Having code phrases to alert your friends that you need help. These are things that we have developed in response to societal cues that tell us we are prey. We are objects. That men can't help themselves.

It's all in our heads like a low drone. "Is my bra strap showing? Is this outfit too revealing? Call or text me when you get home so I know you made it okay." Walking quickly. Look over your shoulder but don't act afraid. It's all there. And it's part of EVERY WOMAN'S life experience. We may not all experience rape or sexual assault, but every woman knows fear and our social position. We all experience misogyny and harassment.

We know it's not all men who will shoot up a sorority house in response to being rejected by women, but all women have to deal with misogyny. You need only to see some of the comments from men saying, "See? A woman could've been a hero if she'd just given him some sweetness. Then no one would've died." It's a fucked up and flawed world. But we shouldn't be silent about it. We need to change this.

And that's why I had to tell the whole fucking world something I've not told a single soul in 25 years.

This needs to stop. What are you going to do about it?