Filed under: News, Nonfiction, Opinion, Uncategorized
Now that domestic violence awareness month is over, where do we go from here?
By Karen Koch
For the Houston Area Women’s Center, October was the busiest Domestic Violence Awareness Month in recent memory. We received a huge number of requests for media interviews, no doubt fueled by the Ray Rice video making headlines and the NFL’s subsequent policy on domestic violence. As it often seems to happen with this issue, it takes something tragic for people to start thinking, and talking, about it.
But people were talking — a lot — and it was encouraging to see the increase in conversation and coverage about an issue we are so passionate about every day. It was also refreshing to see a broader range of angles discussed. For advocates, answering questions about domestic violence can feel like the film “Groundhog Day”. Even with the best of intentions, conversations can get trapped in an endless loop. People don’t tend to stray from the usual script of basic questions, and it can be discouraging for those trying to advance awareness and understanding. Given that, nationally, domestic violence affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in their lifetimes, the lack of knowledge about something so pervasive in our society is staggering.
So it was particularly encouraging to see more, and deeper, discussions about the dynamics of domestic violence. The fact that it’s about patterns of power and control and not about how he must have snapped or been provoked. That it can – and does – happen to anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status. That the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship can be when a survivor leaves, underscoring the importance of advocate tools like safety planning and lethality assessments.
It was also wonderful having the opportunity to do more myth busting and flipping of pervasive scripts. Changing the conversation from why doesn’t she leave to focus on why does someone choose to abuse? Witnessing the power of social media when the hashtag #whyistayed became a Twitter trend, and thousands of courageous survivors, regardless of gender, shared their experiences. With all the recent talk about domestic violence, some of the most poignant and impactful messages were delivered in 140 characters or less.
At the Women’s Center, we even had the chance to shed light on a topic that seldom gets much mainstream press but is near and dear to our mission: prevention and the ways we can recognize the deeply ingrained beliefs and norms we have as a society about violence … and change them.
And, of course, there’s the NFL’s new policy on domestic violence. The fact that it clearly reflects conversations and collaboration with advocates is encouraging. When it was released, we called it a good first step, and we’re hopeful that what looks promising on paper will lead to real and lasting change.
The best news of all, though, is that, in the wake of the increased coverage and attention, we had a 40% jump in calls to our 24-hour hotline. That means more survivors learned that they are not alone and that help is available.
So, now that October is over, where do we go from here?
We need to keep the conversation going so domestic violence doesn’t slink back into the shadows where it thrives. We need to build on October’s momentum so, eleven months from now, we’ve reached greater levels of awareness. And we need to constantly remind ourselves that domestic violence happens every day of the year. That video of Ray Rice was considered newsworthy, but it’s not a novelty for an abuser to knock a victim out cold. The horrible and tragic Stay family murders made local news for weeks, but seldom does a day go by in the United States without at least one person being killed as a result of domestic violence. We just don’t always hear about it. Or talk about it. But it’s happening all the same. And all the time.
So, please, talk about domestic violence. Learn about it. Share what you learn with others and encourage them to do the same. Memorize the phrases that are so crucial for a survivor to hear: It’s not your fault. You’re not alone. Make domestic violence so taboo in our society that abusers are subjected to the same degree of shame and scrutiny that’s historically been heaped upon their victims.
For more information about domestic and sexual violence and the free, confidential services offered by the Houston Area Women’s Center, please visit www.hawc.org. For information and statistics regarding the state of Texas, visit the Texas Council on Family Violence at www.tcfv.org. For national resources, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at www.ncadv.org.
And please, if you live in the greater Houston area, memorize and share our 24-hour domestic violence hotline number: 713-528-2121. Or the national hotline number: 1-800-799-7233. You never know whose life might be changed by learning that help is available. Because, while domestic violence does happens every day, each day also brings an opportunity for survivors to learn that there is a path to hope and healing.
Karen Koch is Vice President of Communications for the Houston Area Women’s Center. A broadcast television veteran, she now uses her media skills to spread awareness about domestic and sexual violence and to let survivors know that they are not alone and that help is available.
Filed under: News, Nonfiction, Opinion, Politics, Uncategorized
Halloween 2014 is officially over even for those folks appropriating the Mexican and Latin American celebration of Día de los Muertos to extend the party well into the weekend. But that’s not stopping the masses from continuing to #latergram the genius of their costume selections this year. Among the most controversial and off-putting choices this season was the seemingly inevitable take on family violence as perpetrated by professional athlete Ray Rice. Over the past few weeks Angelique Imani Rodriguez, a new contributor to StS, found herself in plenty of conversations about both the Ray Rice costume and the outrageous claim that if feminists want equality, then they should be prepared to handle violence. Rodriguez took to her blog for an honest and brave exploration of the pervasive normalization of violence not only in the world at large but in her own experience. Read below for an excerpt of Yo, Don’t Step On My Feminism.
Don’t Step on My Feminism: Ray Rice and the Danger of Normalizing Violence
By Angelique Imani Rodriguez
September 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a U.S. federal law that was created to strengthen the ability of the criminal justice system to respond and support victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence. In the same month, surveillance footage from the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ, of Baltimore Ravens’ football player Ray Rice and his then-fiancée Janay surfaced, sparking a national discussion of domestic violence.
Let’s first go over the video in question.
There is no audio. Ray and Janay walk towards the hotel elevator. She swats at him before walking away and into the elevator. He follows. The footage then shows them inside the elevator. You see Janay pressing the elevator buttons with Ray standing close to her and she swats at him again. He hits her directly in the face. Janay reacts, rushing towards him, and this is when he coldcocks her with a closed fist. She hits her head on the elevator banister and is knocked unconscious. He doesn’t lean over to see if she is okay, doesn’t check to see if she is still breathing. He barely looks concerned that she is unconscious, going so far as to pick her up by her arms while the elevator doors open and then dropping her back on the floor when they close again. When they reach their floor, Ray Rice drags her to the door of the elevator and drops her on the ground face first like a side of beef. He doesn’t cover her exposed behind, doesn’t sit her up, or look into her face. He kicks her legs closed as someone approaches.
The violence in itself is appalling, but what is more shocking is his treatment of her after he punched her unconscious. He drags her, a woman he claims to love, across the floor, and drops her without any concern as to whether she is breathing, or if she is suffering or in pain. He shows no regard for her dignity, or her safety, or her well-being.
I could comment on the actions of the NFL, a multi-million dollar organization that was content with a two-game suspension until the video of the attack surfaced, then proceeded to tout its code of conduct by penalizing Ray Rice with an indefinite ban, an act that shows the NFL only cares about the bottom line much like any other capitalist business. Had the video not been released, Ray Rice would still be the burgeoning football star he had set out to become. I could also talk about Janay Rice, who after the incident, married him, then later critiqued media coverage of the incident. This may be a sign of a history of abuse, that she is a battered woman. I could comment on all of the things we, as the morally and emotionally better people we feel ourselves to be, think she “should” have done in response then and now. But to do that places judgment on her and I am in no position to do so.
What followed after the video surfaced was a series of frustrating debates. I’ll refrain from rehashing all of the she-hit-him-first-so-she-provoked-him arguments, the it’s-not-about-gender-it’s-about-respect arguments, the ludicrous what-about-justice-for-Ray-Rice arguments, because to be quite frank, it is exhausting. I do not condone violence on either side; no healthy relationship should ever involve that kind of utter disrespect. But, I am aware of how normalized violence is, from “forgiving” Chris Brown’s transgressions, to this recent incident, to the everyday it’s-not-my-business practice when we come face-to-face with someone being victimized.
In no way do I perceive her swatting or nudging him away as her “provoking” him to punch her in the face. I do not see what she did as provocation enough to be treated so carelessly and so violently. “Enough.” That word alone is a sign that there is an issue. It implies that if she had done something else, kicked him, thrown a shoe at him, literally slapped him; that those actions would have been enough to warrant a punch in the face. The very language we use in discussing this situation reveals how normalized violence is, how acceptable we find it. There is no “enough” for me. I don’t believe anything justifies what Ray Rice did. This man is physically stronger than she is, is trained daily to be so, and could have easily held her at bay if she did in fact become violent first. Instead, he chose to coldcock the woman he loved and to leave her unconscious on the elevator floor with no regard for her well-being at all. My question to those who argue the she-provoked-it angle: if her head injury had not allowed her to stand, if she had died from a blood clot in her brain caused by the blow to her head….would we justify it by saying she had provoked him to his “breaking point”?
This idea of a “breaking point” is problematic because it is another term used to normalize violence when we discuss domestic abuse. “Everybody has a breaking point,” means that if someone provokes you, it is okay and justifiable to attack them. I mean, we’ve all been taught, if someone hits you, hit them back, right? But here’s some food for thought for you to consider: What’s your breaking point? Is it a nudge or a swat like Ray Rice? Is it a punch in the face, a kick in the shin? Would Janay have been justified if she took a bat out on him later that evening for getting KO’d in the elevator? I mean, after all, he punched her. He provoked her to her breaking point. It goes both ways. That’s what’s claimed, right?
Furthermore, this concept of male “breaking points” merely relegates male behavior to sheer violence at the slightest provocation. Men are not animals that cannot control themselves. I refuse to believe that. If you feel like you can’t control yourself, learn how. Take a lesson from my father, for instance, who I’m told would smash plates on the floor if he felt himself losing his cool with my mother, who in her Aries ram glory can butt heads like a pro. A congero with hands hardened by years of drum playing, who would have rather slapped himself in the face than slap her. Or my brother, who instead of yoking up his girlfriend at the time for becoming aggressive with him, chose instead to leave a gaping hole in the wall with his fist and left her standing alone and fuming. I am aware these actions are classified as warning signs of domestic and sexual abuse, none of which occurred in these specific situations, but I bring them up to explain that these two men were at their breaking points. They were at the point where they too felt overwhelmed, and yet they chose not to inflict any of it on the women they were dealing with, despite the women’s aggression. More importantly, they didn’t use the women’s behavior as permission to harm them. Knowing that as a man you can be violent, that you can overpower her, and choosing not to: that is manhood. Violence is not a definition of maleness. Ever.
Again, this is not to justify or condone women raising their hands to men in a relationship, though admittedly, a part of me cringed when men debating with me about this situation referred to what Janay did as “abusing” Ray. In fact, a female using violence reveals how women’s internalization of this violence has also become normalized. This, of course, deserves ample analysis and discussion, but not in the often-said and unsettling now-she-should-suffer-the-consequences-of-his-breaking-point angle. That only reinforces what we already have ingrained in us. The tit-for-tat argument is baseless in that it justifies the cyclical nature of violent behavior on both sides. We need to come up with a better argument, or better yet, stop trying to justify violence in relationships.
But I haven’t always thought in this way.
Let me paint you a picture.
I am sixteen years old. I am dating a twenty-one year-old male who I am too ashamed to tell my friends about because he is, essentially, the meanest person I have ever been around. A spastic, where-did-that-come-from mean. I am no better. I am in the midst of a grief I am too young to understand, dealing with the death of someone close to me, the separation of my parents and my oldest brother moving out, all of which have shifted my heart in ways I have yet to navigate. I fight with this male every time I see him and nine times out of ten, I end up getting louder and more aggressive, he grabs me by the arms or the shoulders, I throw a punch or push him, and then he shakes me or throws me to the ground. I always justify his reactions with, “I started it.” I always know he’ll lose his shit. I only know that I won’t be “played” by him, won’t be made a fool. If he puts his hands on me, I’m going crazy. I never realize we both are.
The reason I share this snapshot is to acknowledge how I too had normalized the violence in my actions and in my justifications of his. How the violence became a cyclical thing. How I had no resources to navigate my own anger, much less his. How it never ended. How little he valued me. How little I valued myself. How little we valued each other. I speak from experience when I speak on these things. Knowing what I know now does not whitewash my own past actions. I reveal this part of myself, because it is something I had to unlearn, that we all have to unlearn.
One of the most alarming things about the debates I have had about the Ray Rice situation is the way that some throw feminism and its concepts into the mix when trying to prove their point. Let’s face it; it happens all the time. It’s exhausting and ludicrous, and in this case, is done to avert our gaze from the dangerous reality of the normalization of violence in relationships. Saying that equal treatment means we are deserving of violence is so beyond stupid and so far from what feminism is that I resent the comments to the fullest.
Feminism—or at least the brand of feminism I align my thinking with, does not condone violent behavior. On the contrary, feminism implores us to think critically about the way that gendered binaries exist in all areas of our lives, to really look at how pervasive these binaries are for both women and men. The brand of feminism I follow does indeed critique the dominance of heterosexual male ideologies in our society, but it doesn’t excuse or justify how some women have internalized that very same dominance. Therefore, to use feminism as a way to justify the normalized behaviors and language that it is designed to analyze and dismantle is itself a patriarchal response which demeans and devalues the true purpose of feminism.
Stop that. Don’t step on my feminism, yo.
There are way too many stories of domestic violence that never see the light of day, way too many individuals who are absolutely oblivious to the need for VAWA, let alone its recent 20th anniversary. The publicity of the Ray Rice fiasco has brought these issues to the forefront of national coverage in many ways, but the problem is bigger than the Rice couple and that video. Look at how many took to social media to show themselves dressed as Ray Rice dragging a blow-up doll supposed to be Janay, crudely and tastelessly poking fun at the incident. This, to me, is proof of how cavalier people are about domestic violence, how truly normalized violence is in relationships. Every time we turn away from these realities, every time we stand back and critique what was done to “deserve” the violence instead of admonishing the violence itself continues its normalization. Every time someone uses warped ideas of feminism to prove how some women “deserve” violence instead of reproaching violence in relationships at all is continues normalization.
One of the goals of the feminism I align myself with is to discuss and dismantle the ingrained behaviors and language that create this culture of normalized violence. The debates I have had over the Rice couple and the popularity of the Ray Rice Halloween costume have only shown me how much further we have yet to go.
Angelique Imani Rodriguez is a second generation Puerto Rican writer born and bred in the Bronx, NY. She double majored in Multi-Ethnic Literature and Multi-Ethnic Women and Gender Studies at CUNY BA. Angelique attended the 2014 VONA workshops in Berkeley, California. An alumni of both the Acentos Poetry workshops and the first round of Vanessa Martir’s Writing Our Lives workshop, Angelique is currently working on a collection of short stories with the nine-month Writing From The Womb workshop with Alicia Anabel Santos, as well as updating her blog Pen Hitting Paper.
By Maurice Carlos Ruffin
She had it coming.
She should have known her place.
Sometimes it seems as if women are simply guilty of the sin of womanhood i.e. not being men. Violence against women is on my mind. A few months ago, a man in Santa Barbara, California, went on a shooting spree. After he was shot to death by other men, a manifesto was found. In the manifesto, the shooter named women as the cause of his rage. Chicks didn’t like him. Since he was clearly born superior (i.e. not a woman) that meant they had to die.
Nearly 8,000 miles away in Gonda, India, two young women, Murti and Pushpa, were gang-raped, their bodies strewn from a mango tree like lanterns. Local officials were slow to investigate the crimes as many believed justice was served on the girls; the suspects took the girls lives in deference to the country’s “honour killing” tradition. If those girls were killed because they allowed themselves to be “deflowered,” their murders were not only justified, their murders were praiseworthy. It’s the price our gendered world market will bear for the mistake of falling prey to men behaving monstrously.
Meanwhile, 4,500 miles away down in Borno, Nigeria, hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped. Boko Haram, the group responsible for the abductions, apparently justified its actions this way: The girls were receiving an education. Educating girls is a sin because girls have but one purpose in this life—to serve men. We’ve put an end to the abomination of filling their minds with knowledge so that they can be married off to us, the men.
Closer to home, NFL star Ray Rice knocked his then-fiancee unconscious and dragged her body into a public lobby. Although there was video of this event, law enforcement, the NFL, and even the public shrugged its collective shoulders. It wasn’t until months later when another video emerged actually showing Rice’s attack that the NFL suspended the running back. Message: it’s okay to attack a woman as long as you’re gentleman enough to do it off camera. If the second, more explicit video had not come to light, Rice would still be playing ball.
The market for young, female bodies, including sex trafficking and prostitution, is by most measures rampant. Domestic abuse against women—like that committed by Rice—is common enough that if you sit between two women in an auditorium, there’s a good chance that one of the women to your left or right were physically abused by a man at some point. Or maybe you’re the one.
It makes me wonder where the anger comes from. Why are men so mad at people who aren’t men?
Following the California shooting, a hashtag campaign swept the internet. #YesAllWomen would encourage women to tell their own stories about the effects of misogyny on their lives. On one of my satirical Twitter accounts, I posted a comment as if I were POTUS answering questions at a press conference. I tweeted: “Yes. All women deserve our respect. Next question.” The tweet was generally well-received, but I was surprised at some of the responses. One stated, “let’s face it. Some truly don’t deserve [respect].” And another, “respect is earned not granted as a default.” Or my least favorite, “What if (as I know in one case) they destroy 2 marriages, and two bi relationships to get what they want and need?” It’s particularly disturbing to me that some of these comebacks were written by women, but for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the fellas. After all, talking smack is one thing. But the crimes mentioned above are just a tiny sampling of what’s happening all around the world as you, dear reader, peruse this post.
I don’t mean for this to be a blanket accusation against men since, according to my driver’s license, I’m XY-chromosome positive. However, I can’t help but notice that every time one of these cultural tsunamis wash ashore and people on either side of the debate poke their tongues out at each other there’s something missing: Group reflection and accountability among men. We have plenty of women saying that men suck. But where are the men of good conscience?
If it’s statistically true that men are doing the lion’s share of beating, raping, and killing of women (and quite often men, too), then shouldn’t men be a significant part of the chorus singing that we can do better? Simply saying that #NotAllMen (to quote the now notorious counter hashtag to #YesAllWomen) are vicious abusers is lame. Obviously, not all men go on spree killings or kidnap villages of schoolgirls. But doesn’t it fall on husbands, fathers, brothers, and boyfriends to interrogate our beliefs about women? Isn’t it our obligation to oppose the culture of misogyny on our own?
It’s easy enough for me to sit here and throw bombs at other men. I’m in no danger of losing my man-card and last I checked no one can lock me out of the Man Cave. Yet, I can only offer what I do when one of these terrible incidents occurs. I imagine the girls and women who have been violated are my sisters or aunts. Or better yet, I imagine they are me. Because perhaps at the center of endemic, violent misogyny is the thought that somehow women are “The Other” in the same way that undocumented workers, slaves (both historic and modern), Jews in WWII-era Europe, and any foreign soldier fighting against our military are The Other. It’s impossible to respect The Other because they are subhuman, shameful, and not worthy of humane consideration. For any male out there who metaphorically looks down on women, just remember that you had a fifty percent chance of being born female, too.
You just weren’t that lucky.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin is a graduate of the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop and a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance and the Melanated Writers Collective. His work has appeared in Redivider, the Apalachee Review, and Unfathomable City: a New Orleans Atlas edited by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedecker. He is the winner of the 2014 Iowa Review Fiction Award and the 2014 William Faulkner Competition for Novel in Progress.
Filed under: Announcements, Contests, Fiction, News, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Starring Local Feminists
Like many people who love school (or have residual nightmares of it), for me, January 1st has never felt like the start of a new year. Rather it’s September, the time of backpacks and book buying, that signals a fresh start. Whether I’m a student, a teacher, or working in a non-academic job, the new school year signals a time for reflection. How do I want to be this year?
Now, as I begin my first autumn as Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak, I wonder, too: what kind of feminist do I want to be? Initially, answers are easy. I want to be a strong feminist. I want to treat others—women who are and are not self-identifying feminists, men, myself—equally and with respect. I want to challenge the patriarchy and stand up for equality. I want to spread the message of feminism with both gentleness and strength, through words, actions, and my own thoughts. I believe that feminism, though often made up of individual choices, is also a communal paradigm, movement, and experience. As with empathy, generosity, and random acts of loving kindness, individual feminism—my feminism, your feminism—increases through being a shared experience. It can inspire others, make them think. That is what I want to do: I want to be a “good, strong feminist,” to inspire others to consider or adopt or increase their own feminist lives. I want So to Speak to do that.
But here’s the reality: all through high school, Septembers passed and I never stopped procrastinating on my Spanish homework. New Januaries turn to Februaries and I never get around to eating more kale. And I know that, most likely, October of this year will enter with its orange leaves and swollen pumpkins and I will still be struggling to be the kind of feminist that I want to be.
I’ve identified as a feminist for going on fifteen years, since high school. I can speak of Helene Cixous and Simone deBeauvoir; I support pro-choice causes; I feel comfortable with the notion that one can be feminist and be a stay-at-home mom, and also that one can be a feminist and burn her bra. The concept of what feminism is, and how open it can be, is not especially troubling to me. What is troubling is doing it: turning beliefs and intellectual knowledge into action and attitude.
I am a feminist, but the other day I still thought nastily that another woman shouldn’t wear her short-shorts because of her body type. I routinely make stereotypical assumptions about what men want women to be—agreeable, needless, pretty objects—which are disrespectful and condescending toward all genders. I catch myself thinking that my female gym instructor is bossy and annoying, while accepting a similarly tough male instructor as motivational. But I want to be better. I want to not have these thoughts, and the first step to not having them is acknowledging that I do.
My point is that being a feminist is a journey. It’s filled with obstacles and struggles. Feminism as a movement struggles, and individual feminists struggle within their own minds. We are all on a journey to be better feminists and better people. As a new (school) year starts, I realize that that’s what I really want to be: someone who takes steps on her journey.
That’s also what I want So to Speak to do. Stories of empowerment and success are always welcome, but so are stories of struggle. I invite you, readers and writers, to share with us your stories of setbacks in your feminist lives. Perhaps you’ve taken steps to overcome your problems. Perhaps you’re just acknowledging them for the first time and beginning your walk toward being the type of feminist, the type of person, that you want to be.
So to Speak is a feminist journal, which to me means that at its core it is a human journal. It is a place that celebrates humanity in its various forms—the beautiful and good, the ugly and difficult. I look forward to hearing your stories and engaging with your art, however it explores the complexities of life, and wherever you are on your own journey.
Our reading period is currently in full swing. Click here for submission guidelines for our blog, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry categories. And don’t forget to enter our Spring 2015 Nonfiction Contest!
Filed under: Announcements, Art, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Uncategorized
As of today, August 20th, and until October 25th, we’ll be accepting submissions for our print spring issue. Look into your feminist archives for your best work of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or visual art, put it through a last round of tough love, and submit!
We know you know this but let us show you our love with a friendly reminder that we recommend reading past issues for a feel of what makes our feminist hearts swell and minds soar. If you simply cannot endure waiting for your subscription to kick in, may I recommend our fourth annual summer issue, gratis and online for your reading pleasure.
Most important, take a moment to look over our Submit page where you’ll find guidelines for all genres, including the So to Speak blog.
Now begins the waiting game! Happy submission season!