For a few years now, working on a collection of epistolary poems, addressed to my estranged father, I’ve been pronouncing epistles like “epistols.”
It is a vulnerable making process to write to a father who has been absent from my life for over three decades—an absence that has required me to listen, and therefore write, in a new way. The collection, dear Gerald, is me talking to the silence, out of it, around it, but always aware that it is there, unknown and important and a critical part of my personal history.
I know a smattering of details about my father, Gerald. His father and brother were in the police force, and from my research on Guyana, the police force is a paramilitary arm of the government. The “epistol” evokes this family history. Maybe I need a pistol on this journey; one that’s loaded with words and unexpressed emotion, and when the trigger is pulled, my voice is liberated. Ringing through the air, announcing I am here. There is a report. Father, do you hear me?
My mother reminds me
of a time when I bumped
into you on Nostrand Ave.
I was near graduating
elementary school and
don’t remember this.
Not a beard or brow,
style of shirt doesn’t
come to mind, how
you said hello moved
northbound with traffic.
Where you stood, blank
and scent of curry.
My eyes look
and in looking
they find nothing and
that nothing is everything.
Musk and incense,
knotty-dread chewing bark—
knock-off handbags, bootleg
held inside his coat. He’s
tempted to find my need,
so he can make a sail.
Is it true they deported
you back to Guyana
for killing a man?
Your countrymen risked
their lives, stowed away
in refrigerators to American
land to stand on.
When I tally kerchiefs
of your kin, flagging pockets,
heads, antennae clearing waves,
it must have been a sweet
conflagration that took
the avenue to ash.
I’m a woman born to widow
and eat veils. I herd my self
through smoke and bells,
sky-sure when seeing my departed.
bell hooks writes in Talking Back that
“Moving from silence into speech is for the oppressed, the colonized, the exploited, and those who stand and struggle side by side a gesture of defiance that heals, that makes new life and new growth possible. It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject—the liberated voice.”
My mother asked me the day of my 33rd birthday if I wanted to write my father in Guyana, his homeland, where he was deported for involvement in a criminal case. She had an address. My father is part real and part mythology for me—he’s made up from a pastiche of stories, collected from others. What to say to a man who is my father and my imagination?
dear Gerald is biomythography, a term coined by poet Audre Lorde to describe her book Zami. Ted Wharton describes biomythography as “weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.” The intertexuality of the genre provided an approach for translating the degrees of silences nestled inside me, the preverbal unsaid and things I’m afraid to say. There are typographical poems, prose is used, free verse and formal, and references to the Torah, Obama’s 2012 election speech, popular culture, mensuration, oh my.
Addressing these poems to my father, a patriarchal and absent figure—the model for all our governance—is an act of empowering myself and holding my lived experiences as universal truths. I put myself at the center of the narrative, as well as those like me, and I’m transformed by this shift in consciousness. I declare my presence with the force that made abandonment possible. I’ve learned my power. Father, you will see me. I will speak in metaphors, lyrically, subject-verbs in disagreement, from the vestiges of English creole you left in my three-year-old ears.
I’m one of those people who find letters on the sidewalk, left behind on public transportation, read them and keep them as if they were written to me. The letters are always addressed to lovers: making a plea to stay, making a case for leaving. It’s terribly romantic, even in how those letters aligned themselves with the literary tradition of Romanticism—colloquial language and powerful feelings. I never found the final draft of a letter, instead what I got were missives with paragraphs crossed out, no signature, and the writer was very clear in her emotion. She wasn’t concerned, as much I was with dear Gerald, about how to translate these emotive responses into poetic form. For the following, excerpted poem, “rain,” I played with the idea of how to make a poem cry. There’s something very sentimental about that, but I wanted each drop, each fragment, to be it’s own unit of meaning; it’s own tear:
In Talking Back, hooks, brings up the issue of audience:
“To make the liberated voice, one must confront the issue of audience—we must know to whom we speak. When I began writing my first book, Ain’t I A Woman: black women and feminism, the initial completed manuscript was excessively long and very repetitious. Reading it critically . . . my words were written to explain, to placate, to appease. They contained the fear of speaking that often characterizes the way those in a lower position within a hierarchy address those in a higher position of authority. . . . Writing this book was for me a radical gesture. It not only brought me face-to-face with this question of power; it forced me to resolve this question, to act, to find my voice, to become that subject who could place herself and those like her at the center of feminist discourse. I was transformed in consciousness and being.”
My father, as an audience, called up fear. A fear of rejection, primarily for being a queer woman in an interracial relationship, and I would hit up against that anxiety when I started to write about my romances. I have a natural impulse to share, unless I’m fearful in some way, and therefore don’t feel safe. It became all those homophobic voices I heard, especially from those closest to me like, “We don’t need to know who you sleep with,” yet all around us children and the heteros that made them. The same kind of anxiety when talking about getting my period—the feminine/queer details of my life felt taboo and there was the protective urge to quiet them. When you speak up or speak about yourself, you talk back to all the narratives that have mastered you, so that you can be centered in a voice of your own authority. I countered the censors with “What is there to lose? He’s been out of your life longer than he’s been in it;” as well as made connections through cultural and personal history, using what little I knew about him to mend the foundation of our relationship. In the end, what took priority was creating an honest portrait of a poet and a woman.
Why do I partner up with women who can’t find their things?
These aren’t things they seldom use—these are objects for the daily.
Keys and wallets, agendas and phones. My things have their places
and I’ve a strategy for bringing them back into my possession.
If I need her help, that’s the final option; and what irks me
is finding her things in the open, in her jacket she wore
the night before, or on the table, peeking from underneath
the cable bill.
All their stuff in nooks, spread and sprawled, commands attention,
requires care, and they can’t keep their eyes on it. These fatherless
women I love, my mother included, on the daily make their selves lost
to be found and I retrieve what’s missing, which reminds them they
haven’t been abandoned.
I don’t entrust them to find what belongs to me. I don’t expect them
to get stressed out, neck tight, and shallow breaths to look for what’s mine.
I resent their empty hands when I pretend these expectations don’t exist,
and I ask, Are you my daddy?
Send me your “epistols”: I know there are others who are estranged from their fathers, who are bastards, forgotten, or who have lost a father who was never present, and I want your letters in exchange for a copy of dear Gerald. Seriously. Your “epistols” will be inspiration for a second collection, which I’m considering to title: Who’s Your Daddy? Visit http://atoguyana.wordpress.com/dear-gerald-letter-submissions/ to learn about how to submit.
ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon. One of the founding editors for HER KIND, an online literary community powered by VIDA, she is a Kore Biters’ columnist at Kore Press. A native New Yorker, living in Oakland, CA, with her wife, Arisa is an advisory board member for Flying Object and a BFA Creative Writing faculty member at Goddard College. She was awarded a 2013-14 Cultural Funding Grant from the City of Oakland to create the libretto and score for Post Pardon: The Opera, and received, in that same year, an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation to fund the dear Gerald, A to Guyana, project, which takes a personal and collective look at absent fathers.
Filed under: Nonfiction, Politics, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized
The Rise of the Asian-American Female Troll
Should I, as a long-silenced Asian-American female, be proud or horrified at the rise of the Asian-American female media troll? Yes troll, as in someone saying insane, oppositional, provocative things on any form of media, particularly social/internet-related, to gain attention, albeit negative in form?
Many are unfortunately familiar with the bipolar extreme stereotypes of the Asian American female personality: the quiet, submissive Lotus Flower Girl and the deathly, vampy Dragon Lady. Both types inhabit a subterranean space of mystery that can be easily digested and dismissed by other non-Asians, or better yet, used as sexual fantasy templates.
When it comes to the entertainment industry, there has been minimal progress in moving past these tropes for Asian women. As for the mainstream media, attractive TV journalism Connie Chung-clones aside, there haven’t been any significant Asian-American female (or even many male) thought leaders or public intellectuals. Until the rise of the Asian-American female troll.
One might argue that the first one was Filipina-American Michelle Malkin, the Clarence Thomas of Asian-Americans. Like Thomas, she rose through the conservative ranks by trolling in right-wing values at the cost of highly curated self-denial. Her heavily affected pseudo-WASP accent, her alliterative married surname, her defiant arrogance in spouting the party line of an old rich white male GOP’er, all successfully gave her the most political commentary screen time an Asian-American female has ever seen (if she’d even categorize herself as one). The banana queen proved that Borg-style assimilation can be richly rewarded.
Until something hotter came along. Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, upended everyone’s fear of an Asian planet and richly trafficked in the glory of it. Dragon Lady to the max, she married that trope with that of the enduring Mommie Dearest, resulting in a nightmarish hybrid that brought out the rage of coddling, academically indifferent American parents and children everywhere. Asian-Americans also cried out in horror at the unveiling of something they thought was their own hidden household secret, meant to be kept as an awkward inside joke. Yes there’s a dark reason behind those straight A’s and gold medal wins at competitions.
That controversy gave me mixed emotions. I never had to deal with a Tiger Mom (Tiger Dad in my case) but the single-minded pursuit of Ivy League admission perfection was very familiar to me, and it was interesting to see those values debated as popular public discourse. It was a form of brainwashing that I easily adopted, until I left the nest and realized it left me existentially empty. So I’m at Yale, and I have no social skills or inner confidence. Now what?
I also had to struggle with having been raised to actually be the Lotus Flower Girl. My father fell into another unfortunately common if less publicly known Asian stereotype, the chauvinist abusive father figure. I was berated for talking back or acting too “American” when I asserted my independence. I watched my mother insulted and mocked while being forced to be the perfect Stepford housewife.
So in the increasingly competitive arenas of college and medical school, my trained mousiness became a major handicap. I developed worsening social phobias around speaking in class and talking to teachers. In the gung-ho self-driven hospital learning culture, as a medical student at the bottom of the totem pole, I floundered, afraid of offending or doing something wrong or just being wrong. My evaluations repeatedly said, “quiet,” “needs to be more assertive,” “timid.” One supervisor outright said, “She’s just a shy Oriental girl.”
Frustrated, I started going to therapy and gradually built up my confidence, but not without some troubled forays to the other extreme: my own Dragon Lady started to come out. As I learned to suppress less emotion, some underlying anger started to leak out at inopportune moments, and I wasn’t allowed to wear mental Depends. As I rose in my professional career and had to take leadership roles, I overcompensated with aggression at times, and not always without reason. It was harder to get people to listen, to respect your authority, when in society, you aren’t considered a natural leader. I would see countless instances of even quiet men saying a few soft, deep-voiced phrases, and everyone bending over backwards to get it done. But when it came to my request, people often reacted like schoolkids throwing spitballs instead and looking the other way. Sometimes I’d wonder if the only way to get people to do what you want was to be a bitch.
Sadly, Amy Chua has used that tactic with great success, getting attention but also death threats. Not to be dissuaded, her second book is even more distasteful. The Triple Package turns self-aggrandizing racism into a happy cultural self-help perk. Now you too can achieve my brand of trashy single-minded success by following a mindless tripartite formula than only ten special ethnic groups have figured out! The rest of you, too bad!
Yet, despite what ought to be ambivalent shame towards her “success,” Yale’s Asian-American Alumni Association invited her this past April as a panel speaker to their first-ever alumni reunion event, alongside other luminaries like David Henry Hwang the famous playwright and Gary Locke the former Governor of Washington. Somehow, she is still considered an Asian-American celebrity role model, for trolling her way to the top on the carcasses of eugenics and child abuse.
Earlier this year, Suey Park, Twitter legend and social critic, added rocket fuel to her meteoric twenty-something rise by adding gasoline to the March #CancelColbert controversy. After starting an interesting Twitter feed called #NotyourAsiansidekick and promoting fresh dialogue on neglected Asian-American feminist issues, Suey Park was profiled in the Washington Post and the Guardian. My initial reaction was appreciative; she was using her hip Social Media savvy to bring attention to voices and issues that often don’t go mainstream. She was the new confident generation of Asian-American woman: smart and outspoken.
Until she decided to cheaply hijack the Colbert media storm. I will be blunt about how I feel about that “controversy”: Colbert was mocking racism with an ironic racist quote. To call that racist is wrong, even idiotic.
Instead, Suey Park went on a rant on Salon about the “white ally industrial complex” and rambled about how somehow the joke was still racist since a white man told it (albeit a very liberal one). She became the main ongoing momentum behind #CancelColbert. Her notoriety continues to climb.
But at what cost? She has every right to her opinions and to showcase them as she sees fit, as does Amy Chua and Michelle Malkin. But when our public Asian-American female voices are so few and far between, is this the only way to get mainstream American to hear us? By espousing extremist, reverse-racist, rabblerousing viewpoints? The American Media is highly complicit as well; they clearly relish and promote these women for the publicity storm they create, all the while having ignored the more moderate Asian-American, let alone any female, voices waiting in the wings, begging to be heard.
With time and experience, I’ve learned that balance is the way to go; that quiet strength is not an oxymoron, while speaking up when needed is a virtue. I would ask for similar Asian-American role models and messages to be heard by the mainstream media, in a room now full of senseless shouting.
Jean Kim works as a psychiatrist in Washington, DC and lives in Bethesda, MD. She is working on her M.A. in Nonfiction Writing at Johns Hopkins and has been a Nonfiction fellow at the Writers’ Institute of CUNY (City University of NY)’s Graduate Center. She will be published in an anthology on mental health by Creative Nonfiction, and has also been published in Bethesda Magazine, Medical Student JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), Pharos, The New Physician, and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine.
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.