Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dealing with Privileged People

This link was shared with me by a wonderful friend of mine in response to my last post. It educates the Privileged Person on how to derail any conversation with a Marginalised Person in the most arrogant, ignorant way possible. It includes tactical gems like:

You're Taking Things Too Personally

Similar to You’re Being Overemotional and yet with particular uses of its own. You see, when you say “you’re taking things too personally” you demonstrate your ignorance that these issues ARE personal for them!

That’s highly insulting and is sure to rub anyone up the wrong way. That you're already refusing to consider their reality is giving them a pretty good indication of how the conversation is going to degress, yet the natural human need for understanding will probably compel them to try and reason with you, or at least to point you in the direction of some educational resources that will help you gain insight into their experiences.

By denying the conversation is personal for them, you also reveal your own detachment: there’s really nothing at stake for you in getting into this argument, you’re just doing it for kicks. They will be all too aware of this, and it will begin to work on their emotions, preparing them nicely for the next steps you will take them through.

You're Arguing With Opinions Not Fact

If you really want to excel as a Privileged Person® you need to learn to value data, statistics, research studies and empirical evidence above all things, but especially above Lived Experience©. You can pretend you are oblivious to the fact most studies have been carried out by Privileged People® and therefore carry inherent biases, and insist that the Marginalised Person™ produce “Evidence” of what they‘re claiming.

Their Lived Experience© does not count as evidence, for it is subjective and therefore worthless.

This is very important because it works in two ways: 1) it communicates to the Marginalised Person™ that their personal testament is disbelieved and of no value, causing them great hurt; and 2) it once again reinforces your privilege.

You see, the very capacity to conduct studies, collect data and write detached “fact-based” reports on it, is an inherently privileged activity. The ability to widely access this material and research it exhaustively is also inherently privileged. Privileged People® find it easier to pursue these avenues than Marginalised People™ and so once again you are reminding them you possess this privilege and reinforcing that the world at large values a system of analysis that excludes them, and values it over what their actual personal experience has been.

The process of valuing “fact” over “opinion” is one very much rooted in preserving privilege. Through this methodology, the continued pain and othering of millions of people can be ignored because it’s supported by “opinion” (emotion) and not “fact” (rationality).

It is also important because it calls on the Marginalised Person™ to do something that is simply impossible, and that is summate the entirety of their group’s experiences into a definitive example. It is important that you establish this precedent for the next couple of steps.

Believe it or not, people--my peers, no less--actually do use these kinds of tactics whenever I bring up topics related to sexual assault and PTSD (that is, if they even deign to listen to me in the first place).

Way to go, Privileged People!


I just want to escape from everything right now. I'm dissociated, uncomfortable, exasperated, and stressed. I've been sleeping far too much in my effort to hide from the world. I don't know how to break out of this and find the motivation and happiness that lies just outside my grasp. I know it's there; I just don't know how to find it.

My fraternity is triggering me again. Last term we tried to run our own Crossing the Line-type of event. I thought it was poorly done, but in particular for me, it was a disaster. It brought back the acute frustration and pain of the aftermath last year. I thought the topics of sexual assault were poorly covered, and then when I tried to bring that up in the discussion afterwards, I was at first ignored, and then quite literally talked over by people joking around about other things. Is there any better way to tell someone you don't want to listen to that topic again and that you don't care? I left crying and triggered and was very much not okay for a good chunk of that night. I left because I could not stay.

They want to run Crossing the Line again this term, and this time they want to force people to not leave before the event is over. Needless to say, I will not be attending. I don't think we should be running our own event; as much as we don't like the College's, we do not have the necessary degree of separation or maturity to run this powerful an event ourselves. Sure, it works for most other people who don't have so much at stake, but that doesn't make it a good event. But now that I am being told that I cannot leave, no matter how triggered and desperately upset I am-- it's clear that no one understands what PTSD is like. I brought this up to everyone over email, and all the responses I got basically said "you can deal; you need to stay because it's disrespectful to us if you leave."

*insert all kinds of disbelieving laughter here*  Just that exchange of email was enough to send me spiraling down into a horrible episode. I'm currently sitting here tensed up and trying not to dig my fingernails into my palms or explode into full-blown anxiety or rage. My mind has shut down so this is the only thing I can think about. I want to scream or cry but I can't. It's freaking Thanksgiving break, which I should be spending doing work or at the very least relaxing, and instead I'm trying to keep myself from sliding into a full-blown PTSD episode.

God, I hate this place and some of the people in it. I can't wait to leave.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I've been feeling the old depression creeping back up on me lately. Last night was pretty awful. It's a combination of academic stress, anxiety about post-graduation stuff, memories regarding the aftermath and their associated intense emotions (as one of my friends and brothers is trying to bring it back up to the forefront in my fraternity again), extremely frustrating people-problems, and the jarring absence of daylight before 5pm. Not a good combination at all.

I may have to take a brief hiatus to sort out as much of the above as I can. (Not much I can do about the darkness, unfortunately.) I will probably write some short posts here and there, but I just don't have the emotional energy to tackle a major post right now. My immediate goal is to not burn out or have a mental breakdown before the end of the term.

December 7: the magic date when my last final is due. Between now and then, I have an exam, a major presentation, a problem set, and a paper, along with routine work for each day's class. *takes a deep breath*

See you in December!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mentors Against Violence: Quick Post

Quick blog post to say that I attended a Mentors Against Violence facilitation this evening with some of our lovely pledges and pledges from three other coed houses. On the whole I thought it went well. There were several good activities and good discussion from those activities. At the end, though, we separated by house and had a more open-ended discussion, and we talked a little bit about my experience. All the pain from the aftermath came back to me, and I cried.

However, I have hope that things will get better. The new members of my house seem to care, even if the old ones don't. While I don't know how much action now can help heal the wounds of the past, the fact that some people are taking this seriously instead of rolling their eyes really warms my heart. We'll see.

More thoughts on the facilitation later-- I have a lot of homework to do tonight.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Personal Update

This is the 50th post of my blog, about a week short of two months since I started it one sleepless night. Somehow it feels proper and fitting for me to update it with the fact that I cried. No, not just any mundane leaking of tears, but a veritable flood of highly emotional, bittersweet ones, because one of my dearest friends, the friend who was there for me last year, the friend who went to the ER and the police station with me, the friend to whom I owe so much of my sanity, wrote a piece about her own feelings about the event and what it means to the fraternity that could have supported me but didn't. I've known that she feels this way, but it was so powerful to see it written down in her own words; this is the kind of support that I needed then, but I am grateful to have it now.

I long ago stopped hoping that my fraternity would help me heal. The pressure to keep quiet, the pretending it never happened, the eye-rolling at my insistence that this not be brushed under the carpet-- there was only so much that I could take. While I have pledged to myself to move on and look elsewhere for support, I will always hold some bitterness in my heart that people who called themselves my brothers would not and did not care. Sometimes, some days, the old sadness and anger reemerges, wells up, and overflows, and I need some time to cry for myself, for the girl who I was, who felt so very alone for such a long time.

This weekend is my fraternity's Sink Night, an event that is supposed to not only welcome in new members but also to strengthen brotherhood bonding. This term I have chosen not to attend. I explained my decision to the pledges (whom I do like very much) as follows: Sink Night is about affirming brotherhood through fun and games. While I think that is certainly important, I think my fraternity has lost sight of how to handle anything but fun and games. Many of the serious matters that I have seen brought up are either dismissed, mocked, or handled brusquely and disrespectfully. Until I see that this brotherhood that I used to believe in and love can treat people and situations maturely and respectfully, I will not participate in the 'fun and games' and perpetuate the idea that we are above handling things with appropriate gravitas. There is more to a family and brotherhood than superficial niceties and parties-- or at least, there should be. I hope that one day things will change.

I really look forward to moving on beyond this juvenile atmosphere into a world that recognizes it's not all about fun and games and doesn't try to keep up the illusion that it is-- and guess what? I am!

Dear world,

I started my application to grad school this afternoon.
I have confirmed housing in a wonderful place for at least the next six months.
I reached the halfway point assignments-wise in my classes.
Things are going well and finally settling down into place.

The world looks so much brighter when I stop looking through the windows of my undergraduate college fraternity.
Maybe I should invest in a regular window-washer*.
Perhaps chocolate?

Much love,

* metaphorical, of course-- chocolate would make an awful window-washer. The smears would drive me crazy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Inspiration and Empowerment in the Movies!

40 Inspirational Speeches in Two Minutes

It's exactly what the title says-- safe-for-work, non-triggering, empowering, and just plain awesome. I give total props to the creator for including Newsies, my 8th/9th grade obsession. <3

This feels like a fantastic way to start my homework for the night!

The embedded video doesn't quite fit in the space allotted by my blog design, so here's a direct link to the clip on YouTube if you want to see the whole screen, including the little part missing from the right side of the clip.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Belated Obligatory Polanski Post

A couple of little posts tonight to make up for the lack of a real big one. I have a major assignment due Friday, so I may not seriously blog until then, unless I get riled up about something and need to.

So, Post One of Tonight's Review of Sayrina's Many Open Google Chrome Tabs That She Meant To Blog About A While Ago:

When the Polanski crapball hit the internet, I didn't blog about it extensively, because I figured that there were so many other bloggers who were doing a better and more comprehensive job than I could. Sure, I had tons of snark and fury about the topic that I unleashed upon unsuspecting people around me, but it just never seemed to make it to my blog.

But I did want to post something I found, one little poem:

What Whoopi Goldberg ('Not a Rape-Rape'), Harvey Weinstein ('So-Called Crime'), et al. Are Saying in Their Outrage Over the Arrest of Roman Polanski

A youthful error? Yes, perhaps.
But he's been punished for this lapse--
For decades exiled from LA
He knows, as he wakes up each day,
He'll miss the movers and the shakers.
He'll never get to see the Lakers.
For just one old and small mischance,
He has to live in Paris, France.
He's suffered slurs and other stuff.
Has he not suffered quite enough?
How can these people get so riled?
He only raped a single child.

Why make him into some Darth Vader
For sodomizing one eighth grader?
This man is brilliant, that's for sure--
Authentically, a film auteur.
He gets awards that are his due.
He knows important people, too--
Important people just like us.
And we know how to make a fuss.
Celebrities would just be fools
To play by little people's rules.
So Roman's banner we unfurl.
He only raped one little girl.

The Nation

I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that one of next term's film series is Roman Polanski films. On the one hand, I understand that a certain separation must be made between the man and his art, but on the other hand, I think we all should play the Don't Support Rapists game.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Site: David Baldwin's Trauma Information Pages

I just found this site today, so I am still in the process of reading through it, but it looks fantastic. It is a well-written, informative resource about PTSD that tends towards the academic side. I think the strength of this site is the multitude of links to journal articles and scientific resources. Goodness knows that a lot of my healing and coping has come through being able to distance myself from my own experience a little bit and focus on academic treatment of sexual assault and PTSD, so this site may be helpful for a survivor looking to find validation through research or a productive distraction from his/her own trauma. Definitely worth a look.

Strong emotions as a trigger for PTSD

I think I've discovered another trigger for myself. I've read about it in fact sheets and the like, but haven't actually had it affect me until this morning.

The trigger? Strong or extreme emotion. In this case, fury. Over breakfast, I had a suspicion confirmed and became overwhelmingly angry at someone for being a coward and a liar and taking my friendship and completely sh*tting on it. I was furious. Then I had to go to class, and found that I couldn't concentrate during lecture. No biggie, right? Sometimes I have days like that, when I just space out and can't focus. I was listening most of the time, but not 100% focusing. Then I got really cold suddenly, and had to put on a jacket. I felt kind of sick to my stomach, dizzy, disoriented. It wasn't until after I left class and was walking home that I realized that I was completely dissociated. I was looking at the world through the same eyes as I did a year and a half ago, where everything was there but somehow not real. I'm not sure how to explain it. It was warm and balmy outside, but I was huddled in two jackets and detached from everything. Everything around me seemed to have an extra echo or shadow to it, because it felt like I wasn't really there and observing it first-hand. Pretty classic detachment the way I used to experience it.

The funny thing is that my fury at this dipshit has absolutely nothing to do with my rape or any previous abuse. For all his cowardice and dishonesty, I do believe that he wasn't being an asshole just because I was raped. (He's just a jerk, plain and simple.) My overwhelming, seething rage has nothing to do with the cause of my PTSD, but somehow it still triggers me. Interesting.

I remember reading that extreme emotion, whether related to the trauma or not, can be a trigger for survivors. I'll have to try to find a reference for this. When I find it, I'll edit this post or make a new one.

On a more optimistic note, I've been better overall at controlling my responses to triggers. Lately there have been a lot because I've been around people who remind me of my rapist in little ways, but I've been able to take note of the resemblance, take a deep breath, and control any panic before it spirals out of control. I'm doing better with that.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NOM: Cute!

As an apology for being too tired to write a substantial post, I bring you oodles and noodles of cuteness.


PS- I very much like "Non-sequitur of the Moment" = NOM. That's the prefix from now on. :D

Legal question?

If anyone has an answer to this, please leave a comment or email me-- I would be much obliged!

Are there liability issues surrounding telling your story? When I was told by an officer of my fraternity not to speak about my rape outside of the house, he later claimed he was doing so in the interest of the house not being sued. (Never mind that that's a load of crap, because after telling me to keep quiet, he continued on to say that if I talked to other people and word got out, our reputation would be ruined and people wouldn't want to come by the house any more and that would be my fault. Anyway.)

What are the legal issues surrounding this? I imagine that verbally telling your story to a friend is fairly safe, but what about writing it down? I am planning to work on spreading this blog, especially on campus*, and so I would like to know if any issues may arise. I will not name specific names, but I do make allusions to real people, places, and events. I chose not to pursue my case through criminal court, so I don't have anything to back up what I say as fact. I spoke to a friend on Wednesday, and he advised me to put a disclaimer on my blog that says that everything here is my opinion or an account of my experiences as I understand them, which clarifies that this is speech and nothing claiming to be fact, which therefore protects me from accusations of libel.

* I love my campus, but people really need to stop turning away and pretending that rape only happens somewhere else to other people. It does happen here, and I will publicly identify myself as a survivor to try to get people to stop denying the problems we have on campus.

Have I covered my bases?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

PTSD and Sleep

(Lately here on my blog I've kind of veered off into personal musings about stuff, and I want to try to bring it back a little to posts about PTSD that might be helpful for other survivors (or people who want to try to understand what a survivor experiences). I remember being so relieved when I first read personal accounts of PTSD because it meant that I wasn't crazy or making things up and that what I was experiencing was legitimate. In this post I talk about the weird relationship I had with sleep (which was a part of my more complicated relationship with time, in general) during the aftermath of my trauma.)

Sleep is complicated. PTSD can affect sleep habits in several different ways; most often, survivors of a traumatic event have problems falling asleep. A fact sheet by the National Center for PTSD lists several reasons for this, including hyperalertness, physical medical problems (e.g. chronic pain, stomach problems), intrusive worries and thoughts, drug or alcohol abuse, and nightmares.

For the first few months after my trauma, I became nocturnal because I was unable or afraid to sleep. Then I had an abrupt reversal and started to seek sleep to comfort myself, pass the time, and hide from the rest of the world. It has taken me over a year to reach a happy medium without the use of sleep-inducing medication.

(That was the short version of this post. The elaborated version is below.)

I've had a love-hate relationship with sleep since middle school, when I first got internet access at my house. I slept six hours a night in high school and the first two years of college. Then I transferred to my current college, met more people, met more people who stayed up later, and began to stay up much later myself. I had terms where three to four hours a night was normal and five was excellent. Then I had a term with weekly all-nighters, which happened to be when I was first starting to un-repress memories of an abusive relationship, and everything started to spiral downhill. When the incident happened in March of 2009, that was it-- sleep and I were officially at odds with each other.

It happened in the wee hours of the morning, around 5 AM. I stayed up until 8 AM talking about it to a friend, and I was finally so exhausted and worn out that I changed clothes, crawled into bed, and fell asleep for a few hours. It wasn't until the next night that the shock and exhaustion began to wear off and the PTSD symptoms started to set in. I was jumping at the slightest sound, coming to full alertness bordering on wild panic at every little movement or noise. When I tried to sleep that night, the plant on my windowsill rustled and I froze; after that, I couldn't calm down, so I had to leave my room and go downstairs to be in the light with people I knew and felt safe with.

My relationship with sleep became erratic. In the months before the incident, when I was already wading through murky and sometimes severe depression, I had begun to use sleeping as a method of fighting off severe depressive episodes-- my rationale was that if I couldn't be happy, I might as well be comfortable. I would huddle in my bed with my stuffed dog and stare at the wall or cry until I fell asleep. Things were usually better when I woke up two hours later.

However, after I was raped, nighttime terrified me. As my friends began to drift off in search of their beds around midnight or so, I busied myself making sure I had plenty of diversions for the night-- usually novels and movies to pass the time and keep myself entertained or at the very least occupied. Around 1 AM, I would turn on all the lights in my room and settle in for the quiet hours, as I called them. If I was well-prepared for the night, I actually enjoyed it-- there was something about the peacefulness of the seemingly endless night that soothed me. I felt like I could somehow stay this way forever and ward off the coming of the next day. When the sun finally came up around 7 AM, the vague notion of sleep would make its first pass through my mind, and I would finally allow myself to drift off between 7-9 AM. I would then wake up around 4-5 PM and pass the time playing spider solitaire on my laptop until a friend of mine (who was absolutely instrumental in taking care of me and to whom I absolutely owe my sanity) left work and came to find me.

I think my problems with sleep were inextricably linked to my disorientation and lost sense of time. For about three months after my rape, it felt like time had stopped completely for me. I'm not sure how to explain it-- I felt frozen, stuck in the moment, unable to move on with my life. After the first week, it became clear to me that everyone else's lives were still moving forward, and it was extremely disorienting to watch that while I myself was incapable of basic things like eating and sleeping. I honestly don't remember most of those three months. I remember certain specific events, like going to the police station and the hospital and meeting with my dean, and I remember one night when I watched Sense and Sensibility and read Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith, and actually felt completely content. Otherwise, I have no idea how I spent those three months. This would have been my senior spring, my last term as an undergraduate, and I don't remember how I spent most of it. I don't know where those three months of my life went.

My sleep schedule started to fix itself when I became closer to the friend I mentioned previously. We began to sleep together (platonically, just sleep) in the TV room downstairs. Since he had a job with normal hours, he had some semblance of a sleep schedule, and I kind of went along with it. It became a ritual to watch Star Trek then fall asleep. I think not sleeping alone helped a lot, because I could be comforted when I had nightmares or woke up tensed in fear of some unknown thing.

In May we started officially dating. I got a small part-time job for the summer in the afternoons everyday. I would wake up around 9:30 when he left for work, then go back to sleep until 1 PM, wake up, eat lunch, go to work, then meet back up with him at 5 PM. Sleep became less frightening and anxiety-ridden, and I soon grew to see it as comforting.

After a few especially severe depressive/suicidal episodes at the beginning of the summer, my therapist recommended that I see a psychiatrist about medication. She put me on Zoloft, and I suddenly started wanting to sleep 12+ hours a day. I'd come home from work and want to fall asleep right after dinner. Sometimes I would go to sleep at 8 PM or 9PM -- absolutely unheard of since early elementary school. In the fall I got a part-time job with more hours. I became obsessed with sleep, anxious that I wouldn't get enough, afraid that I would be tired the next day. I was convinced that sleep was The Most Important Thing In The World, the be-all-end-all of, well, everything.

Suddenly I started having a hard time falling asleep. Panicked, I got a prescription for Ambien from my psychiatrist. I took one pill religiously every night, my anxiety abated, and I was finally able to sleep. On hindsight, I see now that my trouble falling asleep was probably because I was so anxious about not being able to fall asleep. (Productive cycle, no?) I've always been pretty good about drifting off within a few minutes of my head hitting the pillow, so it wasn't actual biological insomnia; it was the fear of being tired the next day that caused me so much anxiety that I was unable to fall asleep. And so I turned to the idea of the little pill-- importantly, not necessarily the pill itself, just the idea of it-- to soothe myself and allow myself to fall asleep. I couldn't-- or wouldn't?-- sleep without taking the pill.

I took Ambien every night for almost a year. I had some notably terrifying nightmares, but oddly enough, none of the actual rape itself. I had one horrifically violent dream that I could not get out of my head for days, another that played like a movie with an acquaintance-rape scenario starring yours truly, but most of my nightmares were about the aftermath and people's harsh, hurtful reactions. Those I woke up sobbing to, countless times over the course of the year.

Finally, the moment I'd been waiting for came-- I was going to return to classes to finish what was left of my degree. Oddly enough, it was my parents who convinced me to try sleeping without Ambien, and through the most unexpected way: my mom told me about her college years and convinced me that college was more flexible than work, so I could sleep when I needed to. She told me that if I couldn't fall asleep at night, I could wake up and read or play games or amuse myself somehow, and sleep later during the day when I was tired. She finally impressed upon me that sleep was not the be-all-end-all of college, and so one night I tried sleeping without taking Ambien. Lo and behold-- it was exactly the same as sleeping with it. I had absolutely no problem falling asleep once I convinced myself that it was okay if I couldn't.

Since then sleep and I have reached a truce of sorts. I now try to sleep nine hours a night if I can (I usually end up getting six to seven and napping once during the day). I have been off Ambien since the beginning of the summer. I'm actually working on lowering the dosage of my SSRI too, so eventually I will be able to stand on my own two feet again without medication. Despite the complicated relationship I've had with sleep (yes, reference to Facebook silliness fully intended), we seem to be doing okay now.

And we plan to live happily ever after. 

The End!

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Hey, er, sweetie? I have something I want to tell you..."

The topic of this post was suggested to me by a friend. (Thank you!) It's a follow-up to my How To Tell A Friend post.

How Do You Tell A [Potential] Significant Other?

When do you tell him/her? What do you say? What reactions should you look for? How much can you expect?

The worries are endless. This is trickier than telling a friend, because on the one hand, you want to make this all work out and you hope your [potential] significant other will be fine with it, but on the other, you want to figure out right then and there if s/he is actually comfortable with it-- no self-delusion here. As sad as I would be if someone I was interested in decided he wasn't comfortable with me because of my passion for survivor advocacy, I would rather know now than be more hurt later on, because that's a part of who I am and I won't give it up. If someone rejects my friendship because of it, I would probably judge them for it, but I do try to understand and accept that not every guy is going to be the right kind of caring, interest, and support for me, and so he and I might just be better off as friends. The bar is higher for a relationship, and this is one test for you to see if s/he passes.

So, I'll be honest here-- I've only ever had to do this once, and I was so nervous about it that I wrote out a little script for myself. Let's start with that:

There's something about me that I want to share with you. Some of this you might have deduced from earlier conversations with me. You know that I took a year and half off, right? Part of the reason was that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and so I went out to work and explore different fields. I was also really burnt out from classes. But the main reason I went on leave my senior spring was for post-traumatic stress disorder-- for several instances of rape and coercion in my earlier college years, and the one final time my senior spring that set it all off.

I don't want to burden you with more information than you want to hear, but I am willing to share some of the details if you want to know. I am not ashamed of what happened to me, and I am willing to talk about it. I understand that this makes some people uncomfortable, though. This is why I wanted to tell you now, so you know, and so you can decide if you're still comfortable with me. I won't judge you or be upset with you if you're not. It's all right.

(Why would anyone be uncomfortable with me because of this, you ask? For some people, it's because they still believe myths about rape. Some people would feel like I wanted it, or enjoyed it, or deserved it. For others, it's because now I'm somehow sullied or tainted. But for many, it's just a general sense of discomfort, that somehow I remind them that anyone could be a victim of assault. I certainly talk about the issues of rape and sexual assault a great deal; it's become a passion of mine, and I am not ashamed of what happened to me. This makes some people uncomfortable.)

So I guess this is what I want to say: if this affects our friendship, I will be a little hurt. But I would understand if you would rather just be friends and not something more, because this is an important issue in my life. For what it's worth, I like you, and I'd like to see where this goes, but I wanted to tell you this now, so you can make a decision about whether or not you're still comfortable with me, now that you know this. If you have any doubts, better you acknowledge them now rather than later.

If you need some time to think about this, that's fine. I'll give you space until you decide you'd like to discuss it.

That general script worked out fine for me, I think, because he had already guessed to some degree. I talk about the issue of sexual assault and rape culture and PTSD a lot. To my friends, definitely, but in particular to anyone I'm interested in being more than friends with. I'm not sure if I do this on purpose or if I do it just because my passion about this spills over into everything (and sometimes I talk a lot), but it kind of primes them for The Talk, I guess? It's like testing the waters. If they seem okay with it from brief mentions and allusions, then I'll step it up a little more, then finally actually sit down with them and talk.

(Side note: It makes having this blog a little awkward, actually. It's my major project right now, so I like to talk to my friends about how things are going with it, but I try to make sure people know my story before they find this so they can hear it first from me and not just get overwhelmed by me doing nothing but talking about it here. While I do try to find the right time to tell friends, it's not something I stress about as much as trying to figure out the Opportune Moment to tell someone I'm interested in.)

So, yes, I don't really have great answers to all the questions at the beginning, because I've only ever had to do this once (and things with him didn't work out soon afterward for various reasons, so I don't even really have long-term feedback and success evaluation). I think the only tidbit I picked up from my one experience is that it's a good idea to try to test the waters little by little to see how your [potential] significant other responds, and then if things look good, talk to him/her towards the beginning of the relationship. You don't have to spill your guts, but at least put the notion in his/her head that a) this is a major part of your life and who you are; b) you are not ashamed of it because you shouldn't be; and c) it's up to him/her to adapt and respond appropriately. The ball's in their court now.


Non-sequitur of the moment (NOM?)

I am going to beat the next person who


Pet peeve as a sociolinguist: propagation of the "the Eskimo language has 50/200/1000/etc. words for snow" myth.

1) There is no such language as "Eskimo." There are a number of Eskimo-Aleut languages.
2a) Franz Boaz, the linguist/anthropologist who started this all, said that there were four distinct roots for snow. Roots, not words. Also four-- where do all these other numbers come from?
2b) Eskimo languages, like many native North American languages, are polysynthetic. Therefore, by the popular definition of "word" (i.e. freestanding set of letters/sounds that is unique), the number of Eskimo words for snow is basically as large as the number of English sentences that can contain "snow."

Bill Bryson, you disappoint me. I will be returning The Mother Tongue to the library tomorrow after having read only the first chapter because you didn't bother to do your research. I will also most likely never read any of your other books because I lost my respect for you as an author. Fail.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Some scattered ponderings on revenge and justification for taking a life

This past week, I had several assignments due (hence the total absence of updates). One of them was film notes for the movie Dead Man Walking. It's a 1995 award-winning US film, with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Brief summary taken from IMdb:

A caring nun receives a desperate letter from a death row inmate trying to find help to avoid execution for murder. Over the course of the time to the convict's death, the nun begins to show empathy, not only with the pathetic man, but also with the victims and their families. In the end, that nun must decide how she will deal with the paradox of caring for that condemned man while understanding the heinousness of his crimes.

The man was on death row for rape and murder. I decided to write my film notes on the history of capital punishment, to give the readers a little social context for the movie. However, I have not actually seen the film; I borrowed the DVD from the library, and I could have seen the showing here on campus tonight, but I wasn't sure I was ready to see it, not just because of the brutal rape scene(s) in the film, but more because I wasn't sure I could contain my emotions if I felt there was sympathy for the rapist.

I have been thinking a lot about healing, revenge, and the taking of a life lately. It started a while ago with the debate I had about abortion of a pregnancy resulting from rape. Surprisingly, the debate was fairly civil, and it actually got me thinking. I personally believe that women have the right to choose, and that life does not begin immediately at conception. However, I talked to several people who do believe that life begins at conception, and that all life is sacred, and therefore do not support abortion even after rape or incest. At first I was fuming, with smoke coming out of my ears and all that jazz, but after I calmed down and talked to a (for what it's worth, pro-choice) friend online, I began to understand a little more. I have developed a respectful agree-to-disagree stance with the people I debated with, and I emphasize "respectful," because I respect that their views are at least consistent. If they do not support abortion because it is murder, then it's still murder no matter how the pregnancy happened. I disagree with them because of our differing views on when life begins. Fair enough-- agreeing to disagree here works.

That makes me wonder about people who condemn abortion except in the case of rape/incest. They can't be condemning abortion because it's murder, so what are their reasons? The only thing I can think of is that it's a moral judgment against women who choose to have sex when they do not want children. Because rape and incest victims did not have that choice, they are protected from that moral judgment and so abortion is an acceptable option. While of course I agree strongly with that sentiment, I'm frowning at the original moral judgment bit. I don't think laws should be passed to regulate lifestyle choices, and I say this as someone who herself has a hard time not frowning at women who are irresponsible about protection during sex and therefore need to have multiple abortions (does that make me not completely pro-choice? I don't know). While I'm glad that there are people who understand the terrible situation rape and incest victims are in, I'm not sure how I feel about this middle-ground moral judgment situation in general. I admit that I have not had the time to do much reading about this stance, so I apologize in advance if I have made some egregious errors in my reasoning, and I welcome all kinds of explanations and insights if you have any to offer.

Anyway, back to the original topic-- Dead Man Walking. As I was researching the death penalty for my film notes, I of course stumbled upon arguments both for and against capital punishment, in both abstract/moral and pragmatic realms. One thing that struck me and embedded itself in my memory was someone's statement that the death penalty isn't justice-- it's revenge. It's taking someone else's life out of anger for what happened to you or a loved one. So there's abortion--taking the life of a child to try to salvage your own life*-- and then there's the death penalty, taking the life of the perpetrator him/herself. It made me ponder things like revenge and forgiveness.

*assuming you believe that life begins at conception and that you would heal better without carrying the child to term

Lex talionis: "an eye for an eye." This sentiment is often condemned as barbaric, but is it so wrong? Let's say we apply it not one hundred percent literally, and it more or less means revenge of some sort. I'm going to go out on a limb (i.e. my intuition) here and say that most people would not be in support of vigilante justice, the whole taking-matters-into-your-own-hands kind of thing, so the only vehicle of revenge is the state and its judicial system. Is it so wrong to want revenge against someone who has ruined your life or the life of someone you love? If someone steals something, they are fined and/or jailed. If someone commits rape or murder, which I think we would all agree is a more serious crime than theft, why shouldn't they be punished accordingly? I feel like a lot of the anti-capital punishment sentiment is that victims' families are acting selfishly by wanting to take the perpetrator's life in revenge for the life of their lost loved one. Speaking of selfishness, I've been told that I was being selfish by asking someone I used to consider a friend to not make rape jokes to or around me. If that's selfish, I'm not sure that's so bad.

On the flip side of revenge, I began to think about forgiveness. Personally, I guess I've been more inclined to forgive than to continue to hate and condemn. In the first case, in one of my relationships, I realized that his intent was never malicious. While being pressured and coerced and forced into non-consensual acts was damaging to my mental health, time has helped me see that we were both young and terrible at communication, and so I was able to work through my feelings, forgive him, and become friends with him again. In the second case, I will never see the man again. He's not stupid, and I think he knows to keep far away from me or my family. I know it was pre-meditated. He is a terrible person, and I sincerely, fervently hope that the threat of being prosecuted and jailed has scared him into never attempting to rape anyone ever again. However, the combination of time, distance, and therapy has lessened/dulled my anger at him, almost to the point where I don't waste the energy to hate him anymore. He means nothing to me, and therefore is not worth my time or thought.

Which leads me back to two previous posts I've made, where I tried to vent my anger and frustration at former friends/acquaintances of mine whom I do genuinely hate. The man who raped me is far, far away, and does not directly affect me anymore. However, people around me, people who knew me before it happened and still know me and still see me-- it does make me angry that they have so arrogantly dismissed requests for sensitivity. I cannot help but hate them. What does it mean that I have let go of my hate for the rapist but not for these people? I feel like their actions are just as awful. It is precisely because of them that rape culture flourishes and rapists feel free to do as they please. While the public can generally be convinced to condemn a proven rapist, it is almost impossible to ask anyone to hold these other people accountable for their rape-supporting attitudes. Because they are free to express their virulent, harmful views and rarely will anyone confront them about it, these people are just as terrible as the rapists themselves. I am by no means minimizing my utter condemnation of rapists-- I am saying that I think more people should be held accountable for the frightening rape culture that exists in America and so many other parts of the world today.

I wish I had a profound conclusion to put here that would tie everything together, but I don't. :-(  All I have to offer is my set of scattered thoughts. I do apologize for not having structured my post terribly well. I think I touched upon a couple issues that I'd like to elaborate on in future posts.

I should also put a disclaimer here that my views on abortion and capital punishment should be taken with a grain of salt, because I am writing as a woman who thankfully has never had to request an abortion, as a survivor who chose not to pursue charges through criminal court, and especially as a college student who has not had the time to thoroughly research any of these issues. *sheepish look*