How Night of Too Many Stars is ignoring half the spectrum

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No one on my row showed up. I’m that lame.

I had the wonderful opportunity (and early birthday present) to attend in New York City Jon Stewart’s Night of Too Many Stars benefit for autism (through NEXT for Autism). I was pumped to be attending a show that featured so many of my heroes in the field of sarcastic media – Stewart, John Oliver, Jordan Klepper, Colbert, and Samantha Bee. And in the very year I got my own autism diagnosis! It was a dream come true.

Or so I incorrectly assumed.

Once there I realized that there were no Aspies in the crowd. This was not for us; it was about us. It was all dudes who wanted to see Stewart back on stage and very rich, very white Manhattanites who were going to another charity function to assuage their privileged guilt. Before the ACTUALLY LIVE (not “taped live” which is an oxymoron) broadcast on HBO began there was an auction for various dumb prizes like sitting underneath Colbert’s desk with Jon Stewart during one of his monologues.

I had a bad seat where I could barely see the stage, The Roots not at all, and yet no one on my row showed up until over half-way through the program. I can see that happening if you’re going to your local symphony and dinner runs late, but this is LIVE television! What the eff? I was sure to give them dirty looks when they made me move from the end of the row that could see the stage. I grumbled something like, “Glad to have you join us.”

Millennials, am I right?

 

Everything got off to a weird start as Stewart was carried onto the stage by a guy who was supposed to be a CGI actor playing a dragon. HBO, Game of Thrones, get it? Olivia Munn seemed to get thrown by the live-ness of the event and flubbed her lines. In fact, everyone was nervous and awkward. Even the seasoned guys.

Welcome to my world, I guess.

The format was thus: A famous person would give a little speech or do a sketch and then they would show a touching video about people living on the spectrum and the struggles their families go through as they changed the stage and got the following act ready.

It went OK until they decided to put an actual autistic person up there. Carly Fleischmann is the first nonverbal autistic talk show host and she’s amazing.

Unfortunately what happened next was indicative of one of the problems autistic people face when going out into the world. They didn’t fully plan for her. At the beginning of the telethon they dropped a lot of metallic confetti on the stage and some guys swept up most of it as a video played. But not all of it.

When they rolled Carly out already at a desk, Stephen Colbert was going to let her interview him. But before the questions could start, Carly got up and began to pick up the missed scraps of confetti. The audience and Colbert seemed confused and embarrassed, but I knew what was happening immediately – she’s got OCD features and couldn’t NOT pick up the random scraps. They were sort of bothering me the whole time as well.

She was taken off the stage and an emergency, Oh no, this is a LIVE show, filler was put up. Jon Stewart later came up and spoke for a minute to the audience about how she had a “thing” about paper and picking it up and tearing it into pieces. He called himself an asshole for not being more thoughtful.

I don’t think Jon Stewart is an asshole for the record. He’s one of my all-time favorite people, in fact. He just doesn’t understand the need to ask autistic people, especially when you are bringing them out for a stressful live performance, about ALL their “stuff.” Triggers, obsessions, sensory sensitivities, and phobias. For instance, I was not really accommodated at the venue either.

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Like the “deadlights” in IT.

During show they occasionally cut to the audience for reaction shots, so they had these insufferably weird lights glaring on us through most of it. I missed a lot of the show and being able to see well because I had my program up to block the very painful glare. It didn’t seem to be bothering anyone else though. It made me increasingly upset as the show wore on. That’s the reason I was in the bathroom for Mulaney. This lack of consideration just highlights the fact that the organizers had no expectation of anyone on the spectrum being in the audience. Because why would a disabled person want to attend a cool benefit for people like themselves? Because they don’t consider people who can go to things to be disabled.

All in all, the autistic people they featured were “people with autism” as the caretakers of the profoundly affected and nonverbal would have you believe we prefer to be called. The tone was vaguely insulting and very pitying. Jon Stewart referred to us as “whole people” and I guess it’s hard for those not familiar with the hidden depths of the autistic mind to grasp that we are “in there” whether we are verbal or nonverbal. But still. It played to the biases of the allistic audience rather than having a verbal autistic person come up there and speak to them about the range of people on the spectrum who need support.

The autistic people who were being helped by this benefit were clearly mostly young and always visibly autistic. No verbal people were featured. There are hundreds of thousands of people with autism out there who are able, even forced, to hide our more visible symptoms and neuromotor agitation through training and powerful pressure on all fronts to seem “normal.”

We are also the spectrum people who are invisible to charity organizations. No one cares about Aspies. Especially if we are intellectually smart, but lack cognitive and social skills in other areas. Very recently there was a TEDx talk by Carrie Beckwith-Fellows about how smart, verbal autistic people are dying needlessly – because we are forgotten, no services are provided for us, and we take our lives. Please watch the below video if you have the time.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent article about our high suicide rate (emphasis mine):

“The researchers reported suicide was one of the leading causes of early death among people with ASD [At least 16 years earlier]. In fact, the researchers concluded suicide rates of people with ASD who had no cognitive disability were nine times higher than the general population. Previous studies had shown that 30 percent to 50 percent of people with ASD have considered suicide, according to a report issued last week by the nonprofit organization Autistica.

The suicide rate is higher among girls with ASD and people with milder forms of the condition. The experts said that’s because this group are more aware of their condition and possible difficulties assimilating.

In addition, bullying can be a daily occurrence for people with ASD. Anxiety and depression are common responses to such treatment. Both of those mental health stresses are leading factors in suicide.”

People who were formerly diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome are dying in droves. The lack of support, recognition, and understanding is literally killing us. I know of no one in my life on the spectrum who has not been suicidal more than once. Including me. I have no proof of this because no one has done the research yet, but we are also dying early from lack of medical care (no insurance, anxiety about doctors), drug abuse, alcoholism, and the effects of neglect (homelessness, accidents while living alone). And, just as a side note, over 80% of spectrum women, even the verbal ones, are sexually abused in their lifetime.

Including me.

The world is a precarious place for autistic people no matter the age or ability level. I wish people cared what happened to us enough to include all autistic people in fundraisers, telethons, and discussions.

P.S. I am thankful that John Oliver brought up the problem of police brutality and Edie Falco mentioned that autistic kids at some point become adults. But here was the biggest nod in our direction:

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I’m telling you – those lights were terrible.

 

The Creepening – A Tipping Point

My first memory of thinking for myself politically and socially was the Anita Hill, I want to say “trial,” because that what it looked like to me. Really it was an inquiry into the history of Supreme Court nominee and later (like in the next day or two) justice, Clarence Thomas. My grandfather, in a few ways a “deplorable,” had choice things to say about Anita Hill’s credibility, gender, and race. Some of the rare epithets he used were epic and never repeatable. But I couldn’t help but find her very cool and credible under questioning of that nature. Also very smart and patient with a cadre of old white sexist pigs. We used to call them chauvinists.

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Not at all an intimidating setup. 

Although her testimony was considered a “watershed moment” by Time magazine and others, the discussion seemed to stall out and then we were on to the whole witch-burning that was the Monica Lewinsky mess. In fact the 90s and early 00s was the age of “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” statements. Among the few girlfriends I had the party line was “While acceptable to acknowledge that things are difficult for us as women, don’t get all political about it.” In other words, lean on your sisters for support, but don’t join forces and try to change things in an activist manner.

It’s truly remarkable that it’s taken this long for us to circle back around to the pervasive problem of how men treat women and how the powerful exploit anyone they can. An awesome history prof in college announced to us one day that the Internet would change the world in ways couldn’t predict.

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Not with all the monkeys and typewriters in the world. 

A positive consequence is the way in which all people can have access to one another and we now truly have a public forum to tell our similar and awful stories. As amazing Aspie Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point:

“If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior…you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.”

This particular tipping point is about behavior, obviously. The belief being nurtured at the moment is “Women are credible and this shit happens all the time.” We are expressing our outrage at the sexually exploitative culture that has been protected and ignored. What need to practice is communication and empathy. We need to shuffle off the silence. Due diligence is very important, but numbers don’t lie even if you think women do.

I have this gut feeling that the Cosby exposure was a precursor to the Weinstein thing.  Recent documentaries like The Hunting Ground (campus assault), The Invisible War (assault in the military), Audrie & Daisy (assault in high school) have shined a bright and honest light on the pervasiveness of what has been going on this whole fucking time. And they’re available on Netflix so they’ve reached a wide audience. Enough exposés in print media have covered sexual harassment and assault in various milieus like national parks, the cannabis industry, state legislatures, and media outlets too numerous to link. Yeah, bitches can be crazy but that dysfunction you are seeing is the consequence of a good percentage of the population quietly dealing with trauma and deep disrespect on a daily basis. It wears you down and makes you mistrustful. So does the gas-lighting.

Well-publicized trials of rapists have also flooded the news in the past couple of years. Rapists who don’t get much of a comeuppance. Brock Turner, the (white) Vanderbilt gang rapists, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton – there’s a long list of people who have yet to face the music for their actions and the subsequent cover up of those actions.

And now there’s a simmering resentment even among women who have been apolitical. The Creepening will become the Reckoning.

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Pictured: ain’t havin’ it anymore

These last few months have been harrowing even if you’ve never personally experienced any kind of harassment or discrimination. How many men I admire will break my heart? Which means it’s been rough for nearly every woman on the planet because it’s a rare women who doesn’t have a few stories. I talk to women who claim they’ve never had anything bad happen to them, but then they’ll tell me about “this one time” when a situation got really weird and it messed them up for a while or they lost an opportunity.

The Women’s March marked the official start of a new wave of feminism. One that, hopefully, will change some policies and attitudes for the better. One that addresses the intersectional difficulties of the multiply oppressed. I’m no idealist who thinks that perfect equity (different from equality) is achievable. Human beings are also naked sex monkeys who are hardwired to assert dominance over one another and establish hierarchies. I don’t see that changing any time soon; in fact, it will be our downfall and the reason we will never populate the stars. ( . . . find new life and new civilizations.)

This time is important, but I can’t help wondering if it will peter out with only minor changes. Here’s hoping it doesn’t.

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Is it OK to “suffer from autism”?

Are we wasting time on semantics debates in the autism community?

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I’ve just finished plowing through a bunch of articles on the use of certain terms in the autism community that seem to set off flame wars on a regular basis. For instance, the person-first language debate between “person with autism” vs. “autistic person.” Parents often prefer the former and autistic people (obviously those retaining the power of speech) prefer the latter. Parents are concerned that if people refer to their kids as “being” autistic rather than “having” it, their identity as people with dignity will be infringed upon. Autistic people feel that autism is not a disease, but a much-needed identity in a world that has socially denied them a clear one.

But this article is not about that.

Autistic people suffer both directly and indirectly from the consequences of autism.

Recently, an autistic friend of mine wrote an article that mentioned the phrase “suffers from autism” as being insulting. Is it controversial? Yes. After all, it made me begin to think unceasingly (as I do) about autism and suffering. While I understand that much of the bullshit autistic people and their loved ones have to endure is due to living in a world that is uninformed, unsympathetic, and unaccommodating, a lot of it for some if us is a direct result of the condition itself. Autistic people do suffer; both directly and indirectly from the consequences of autism.

Some examples from my own experience might clarify this. A great deal of my personal suffering is because of the way the world misunderstands autistic people. Especially before I finally diagnosed myself at almost 40 year old. I was isolated as a child because teachers don’t have time to help out a kid who’s not fitting in. I was bullied because pre-Columbine, there was not much traction for anti-bullying programs or activism. Such that I only complained to a few adults before stopping altogether. I was always lectured by these adults on being sensitive to the struggles of those who were harassing me – “Her parents are going through a divorce.” – “He has a tough home life.” – “That’s just how his parents raised him.” My struggle was never the priority because adults simply didn’t want to put forth the effort to address a sticky, but far more serious than they suspected, “childhood problem.” I suppose they thought it would be over in a short number of years, but adults on the spectrum know that bullying only escalates after the school years are over and the stakes are much higher.

Clearly these difficulties are due to a lack of understanding and accommodation – including my own gross misdiagnosis for so many decades.

We mustn’t allow arguments over words and internecine debates to obscure the most urgent problems we face.

But we have to remember that autism is not just a mental condition – it affects many other systems of the body and this seems to be a little known fact in the wider world. As a young adult my mind was screaming to be released from the shallow neurotypical facade I had forced myself to produce due to the constant prodding from influences both personal and cultural. This led to increased gastro-intestinal issues which resulted in my being in extreme pain because I was digesting my own esophagus with severe acid reflux.

I suffered.

Years after this problem was resolved, I began to feel a little twinge of sharp pain in the end of my pinkie finger. I tried to ignore it but the pain kept increasing over time and eventually I was having nerve paroxysms so severe that the upper right half of my body was useless, the tendons in my neck and shoulder froze, and still no one could identify what the problem was – when they believed me about the pain at all, of course. Finally, through a charity organization (no health care) I was able to see a hand specialist.

I care less about the semantics and culturally-loaded terms used to describe ourselves and more about discussing the degree of suffering itself.

I had an exceedingly rare type of neuroma made up of an overgrowth of sensory nerves in my extremities. They tend to occur at the base of the skull, on the tympanic membrane, and under finger and toenails – anywhere there is a high concentration of sensory nerves. I don’t need to tell you that there is a direct connection to neuropathy and conditions of the sensory nerves in autistic people. This type of tumor is so rare that there has been little research on it and therefore it is not known if they occur more in autistic individuals, but several other members of my family on the spectrum have had rare nerve tumors in other parts of their bodies that caused extreme pain and required surgeries.

I can’t go into detail here about the excruciating five year process I went through, all the while unable to work or bathe regularly or function, in order to get these tumors removed. In addition to the other consequences of being mentally misdiagnosed. My fingernail had to be excised several times and the microsurgery performed to remove the overgrown nerve cluster required weeks of recovery every time. I’ve never found another medical description that emphasizes the quality of the pain of a condition like this one does. Most request the amputation of their fingertips and require psychological consultations for the mental effects of chronic pain. As did I.

 

So again, I really suffered. Clearly I have no problem with this phrase in reference to myself.

But is it OK for non-autistic people to refer to someone as “suffering from autism”? Perhaps not, but I’m a bit jaded after all this time. I care less about the semantics and culturally-loaded terms used to describe ourselves and more about discussing the degree of suffering itself.

One day we will learn to ride the delicate line between pathologizing and romanticizing autistic people.

I know from having met and loved many other autistic people throughout my life that they have some of the most hair-raising personal stories of any group of people. It’s worth noting that most of the popular books written by autistic adults are by those who have seemingly been more successful and supported than the majority. Far be it from me to get bogged down in the Comparative Suffering Olympics that stymie special interest groups from time to time – See white feminists vs. feminists of color. However, the autistics who are the most marginalized, impoverished, and challenged are rarely the ones with the support network and means to get their stories written and published and promoted. 

I don’t want to continue to gloss over the horrible experiences of autistic people. I want us to collect and share our stories with one another and the wider world.

Therefore, we are having our tales of injustice and medical malpractice buried along with our unique perspectives. I know as a woman and sexual assault victim (another loaded word I have no problem using), that those who want to maintain the status quo and not go to the trouble of understanding us or helping change the world to accommodate and protect us, want us to just shut up about our suffering. In fact, the demonization of the word “victim” is an example of that. When we tell our stories we are accused of “being victims” in order to defame us as being “too sensitive.” Assholes don’t want to acknowledge that broken institutions and predators cause great suffering for people of different demographics and circumstances. They definitely don’t want you going into the details of your ordeal to bring a personal, human face to certain societal issues.

This is an invitation to silence that must shouted over.

I don’t want to continue to gloss over the horrible experiences of autistic people. I want us to collect and share our stories with one another and the wider world. The disabled and neurodiverse are the most impoverished demographic in America – indeed in the world. We are the most sexually assaulted and exploited.  We are still fighting for jobs, reasonable medical treatments, and accommodations. We are dealing with stigma and fear. We are even gunned down by police regardless of race. Semantics can go on the back burner as far as I’m concerned.

One day we will learn to ride the delicate line between pathologizing and romanticizing autistic people, but we mustn’t allow arguments over words and internecine debates to obscure the most urgent problems we face.

Jump Outs: The WTF police tactic you’ve never heard of

It’s already happening in a town near you.

I recently recalled an incident that happened at least 15 years ago on New Year’s Eve when I experienced a seldom-discussed insane policing tactic. I had only begun my evening when I left one bar – on foot – to see what was going on at another one. I carried a clear plastic cup filled with plain water, no ice, wasn’t intoxicated yet, but planning on it and trying to keep hydrated.

Out of the ether, a nice SUV screeched to a halt beside me and a preppy-looking dude with a short haircut jumped out and accosted me in a loud commanding voice.

“What’ve you got in that cup there?!! You got booze?!!” Without giving me time to process what was happening or identifying himself he barged into my personal space, which is precious to me, and grabbed at the cup in my hands. I was confused and frightened. My night just went from zero to WTF in 2.5 seconds.

I thought I was being aggressively harassed and reacted defensively like any woman alone on a sidewalk at night would who is suddenly swooped down upon by a SUV-load of psycho dude-bros . I got upset is what I’m sayin.’

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What is this shit? Ride ‘n’ Rape?

I shoved my cup at him and yelled, “It’s water, asshole!” He sniffed it like he was the Official Street Beverage Inspector-General, angrily threw it down on the ground, and just as quickly vanished back into the vehicle and roared away.

Without another word.  Like fart fairies in a fucking wind tunnel.

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Although the SUV was completely unmarked, all the guys in it were dressed like 2017 Nazis, and he never identified himself or why they pulled over to harass me, I got the distinct, no, certain sense that they were plainclothes cops. I had encountered police and military types before and they can take the cop out of the uniform, but not the uniform out of the cop. However, this type of police behavior was so beyond the pale of what I thought was constitutional that I was never for sure.

But in the past few years I’ve read a lot of books about policing, and I came across a few descriptions of this wild and typically discriminatory police tactic. Usually only black men in urban areas experience anything like this. It’s an aggressive, unconstitutional form of “stop and frisk.” Cops will see a group of black youth hanging out in a “crime prone” area, and will jump out of unmarked vehicles sometimes in plainclothes and sometimes pointing weapons at the group. They are lined up against a wall and frisked.

However, in this excellent article on ThinkProgress a 16-year-old black girl explains that although these happen all the time in Washington DC, “They check the boys. They don’t check the girls.” This article from three years ago states, “Girls have yet to be targeted by these actions.”

Well, I’m a girl and a white one too. And this was years ago.

I’ve combed the Internet and found absolutely no example of this tactic being used as a New Years Eve vice squad operation to hassle people who are possibly drunk in public. So far I’m the only white woman on record who has ever encountered this method.

Guess I’m just extra special.

Of course, the DC police chief Cathy Lanier vehemently denies that this is a method still used on a daily basis. (As do all police chiefs who have to address this practice in their departments.) Even Norm Stamper in his seminal book Breaking Rank makes no mention of this particular method.

ICE is currently using plainclothes agents to aggressively approach possible illegal immigrants outside of courthouses. And getting it wrong like in the video below.

The greatest danger of this is that people who are undocumented will avoid going to the police or courts to report crimes committed against them. The other danger as Ana Kasparian points out in the above clip, is that when you are approached like this you have no idea you are dealing with state or government officials. Who may or may not be armed and ready to shoot.

What if I’d actually hit that cop who jumped out at me in defense? What might you do if some randos who rolled up on you began to speak and act in an aggressive, frightening manner?

This is just another way that police actions are putting citizens at greater risk rather than reducing it.

Interesting sidenote: There’s actually a reality TV show called Jump Outs that “pits contestants against elite police Jump Out Teams. Contestants must plan and move a [fucking] amulet across a wasteland all while being tracked and chased by police.” I guess the entertainment industry is more willing than police officials to admit that this is common practice.

 

 

 

 

 

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Speaking Ill of the Dead

Chris Cornell sexed up my teens and Roger Ailes killed my grandfather.

Yesterday we lost two famous dudes, Chris “Spoonman” Cornell and Roger “Kiss Me or I’ll Ruin You” Ailes. Two more different folks I cannot imagine. One committed suicide, but if you are familiar with his music, it’s under the category of Tragic But Not Shocking – like Hunter S. Thompson or Michael Jackson. The other is soon to be bunkies in Hell with Bill Cosby and Fred Phelps.  I hope.

I am so sorry that yet another person of worth felt the almighty tug of the abyss and got sucked in. It seems like the good ones torture themselves to death too soon and the shitty ones keel over after a long and enriched existence. I was in high school in the early 90s, so Cornell’s constipated, but sexy, voice serenaded my own self-flagellating teen years. He embodied the angsty music of the grunge era and always got confused with Alice in Chains.

I now wonder why the music of the 90s was so angsty. Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, NIN, Radiohead et al. are far more appropriate for the 21st century. Hell, Ok Computer and Kid A are the perfect accompaniment for most of last year and the current, uh, situation. I knew they sounded ahead of their time. But things back then were comparatively sane.

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But still ridiculous.

A big contributor to the fix we find ourselves in was the other guy. A right-wing Hut. Along with a rogues gallery of psychopaths like Roger Stone, Rupert Murdoch, and Bill “Phone Spanker” O’Reilly.

I have a special place in my gall bladder for Fox News. I was forced to watch Crossfire with my grandpa when I was a kid. He tried to raise me up angry Republican, but it didn’t take. His attitude towards the Anita Hill testimony was enough to convince me I didn’t want to be like him. Also I listened to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage.

I learned in church that Christians who “get it” are identified by their love. And that wasn’t the tone or philosophy that came across on Fox. They had a real Scroogian contempt for the poor and seemed to have it in for women and minorities. It’s an ugly way to think and live.

In fact, Fox News was a major contributor to my grandfather’s death. He got increasingly sucked into watching Fox all the time. Their format did exactly as it intended and a documentary called The Brainwashing of My Dad explains it better than I can. Towards the very end of his life he was doing strange things like taking actual “screen shots,” with a film camera, of Fox News crawls on the TV. We found them after he passed.

He became irritable and argumentative and fearful and depressed. The attitudes on Fox stoked his already racist outlook. I mean, the guy was a blue collar WWII vet born in the rural South in 1923. There were going to be certain biases.

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Exhibit A

Such was his fear of a black planet that he refused life-saving medical help when he saw that Obama would likely win the 2008 election.

One of the last things he said on his deathbed was, “I guess we have new president.” All my grandmother could do was nod. He died a few days after the election.

Thanks, Obama.

There is this cultural rule that I’ve never understood whereby it’s considered bad taste to badmouth people who are dead. Someone on TV made an ugly comment about Ailes and my mother gasped a bit and said, “That’s a low blow to Ailes.” That’s right, she defended the honor of the man who brainwashed her dad and made his last years anxious and angry.

From a logical standpoint, the very best time to talk shit about someone is when it can’t possibly get back to them or hurt their feelings. And why does keeling over in his mansion at age 77 magically transform a terrible man into a holy relic?

It’s just nonsense. (Even though I kind of did that in a post about Nancy Reagan.)

So fair thee well Chris Cornell, you are probably crooning on a cloud with Prince. R.I.P.

Roger, even though you are only the second worst person with your name, suck it.

Woman of the Day: Olivia Benson

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The unthinkable happens and a bad man harms you. Never fear, Olivia’s here. If you live in New York, that is. Before you know it, a tall woman with the doe eyes of a movie star will tell you, unequivocally, that none of this was your fault and we are going after him like Leo goes after the Oscar. {Congrats Leo; you should’ve won for Gilbert Grape.} Your case will receive the utmost priority and Olivia will be at your beck and call with soothing sympathy and big-sister hugs. God, I love her. I wish Special Victims Units were a real thing that actually existed. I wish the process was as fast as a 42 minute show. I wish all dangerous people were prosecuted and put away the first time they are charged with a terrible crime.

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I think my monkey’s paw is defective.

But Olivia Benson is actually Mariska Hargitay. She’s an actress on a TV show. An awesome actress, but not a person you will ever see at the worst time of your life. Some grizzled cop with a drinking problem will take down your story and then ask a bunch of questions about drugs and alcohol. What were you doing out late, partying? Do you have a boyfriend? Why didn’t you fight him? Are you sure those marks weren’t self-inflicted? Huh? Why did you say goodbye after it was over if it wasn’t consensual? Why did you decide to go to work before you went to the police? Why aren’t you standing in the rain screaming at the cruel heavens?

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Simmer down, Leo!

And, for the most part, those guys will get away, go about their business, and never even see the inside of a jail or courtroom. Mostly because women (and men) know the cops won’t be sympathetic, or won’t believe you, or will actively protect the interests of the accused instead of the traumatized. Mostly because it’s hard to face the justice system and risk being torn apart again. Olivia Benson and the attractive, yet flawed warriors of SVU are a collective wish fulfilled. Much like Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, SVU is a palliative that has reached many, many people, to assure us that sanity rules in these areas of life when the reality is far messier, discouraging.

In fact, Mariska tells of the shock she got when she began receiving direct letters from people who have seen the show. “I remember my breath going out of me when the first letter came, and I’ve gotten thousands like it since then. That these individuals would reveal something so intensely personal—often for the very first time—to someone they knew only as a character on television demonstrated to me how desperate they were to be heard, believed, supported, and healed,” says she on her site for the Joyful Heart Foundation.

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Providing spa retreats for rape counselors since 2004.

That’s what happens when you are the only show on TV that spotlights victims of exploitative and sexual crimes. No lie, victims don’t know where to go. In my city we have one state-sponsored rape crisis center that is very hard to find or call.  No Planned Parenthood and the nearest clinic to get any kind of abortion or free birth control is hundreds of miles away in every direction. The police are known to be sexually abusive to women. Not many rapes go to trial here, but they happen here a lot. Scores of exploited women go to jail, but the Johns and pimps don’t have any consequences.

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Not an empowered career choice.

So what do you do? You reach out to who you do see talking about a problem you have. Olivia Benson is a bit pushy sometimes, but she’s always understanding and patient. Cops are just pushy and usually male. Olivia is empowered to sling a rape kit right to a sympathetic ME for fast results. She can bully a perp into confession without so much as a request for a lawyer. She has no pesky paperwork to grind through. She can be on call all the time (before baby Noah came into there life, that is). No lawyers or obtuse officers succeed in stopping SVU from getting to the bottom of the truth.

Thanks for your years of service Olivia Benson.

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Review: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

In recognition of the Super Sunday victories of Hillary and Donald Dumpf, I finally read Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. The title is but one of the essays in this collection of musings about the status of women as we stand today – all around the world as well as in America. But it was this one that got my dander up the most because she addresses the basic nature of the “war of the sexes.” We tend to compartmentalize different women’s issues into separate institutions and causes. Domestic violence, all manner of rape and harassment, as well as reproductive freedom should be addressed as stemming from the root issues we don’t hear about: credibility and agency.

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Not ad agency.

 Credibility is the crazy idea that a woman’s word should be taken as legitimate before it is run through a barrage of doubtful questions. Solnit writes that she once had a dinner with a boyfriend’s father. He told of an incident in his neighborhood (in Oak Ridge, TN apparently) when a neighbor’s wife ran into the street naked one night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. He was merely bemused. Mrs. Solnit asked how he knew her husband wasn’t trying to kill her and he explained that they were simply respectable people. So, to him, the more credible possibility was that the woman was crazy.

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Don’t google “crazy woman meme”

If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted or harassed on the job, most of the battle towards justice is getting authorities to believe you. Even your first brave outcry is met with questions about the nature of your relationship with the offender and whether you have a boyfriend or husband. Apparently cops think women are prone to crying rape after a consensual encounter so their partners won’t get mad if they find out.

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Seems convoluted.

“Credibility is a basic

survival tool.”

-R.  Solnit

 

But on a less extreme level, “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they are talking about. Some men.” Every time I am in a discussion with men about a man subject – such as policy, religion, or science fiction/fact – I have a creeping feeling that most are biding time before they can speak again and they have gone to whatever white noise space in their giant heads they go to when a woman opines. That is, after I have yelled them down enough to listen to me. Frequently they don’t care for my sass.

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This witch doth know her shit. Devilry!

My least favorite man-phrase is “Okay. Hmmm. I’ll buy that.” As if I am possibly selling some sort of snake oil instead of describing a lucid idea – or the truth as I know it. As Solnit succinctly writes, ” . . . I objected to the behavior of a man only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all like I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest – in a nutshell, female.” Add strident, shrill, and harping to that list whenever we have a complaint. Any complaint. (Whereas “to hold forth” is a very masculine action verb.)  She calls this an “invitation to silence.”

The best way to maintain the silence of women is by destroying their rights as sovereign beings. Agency is the notion that women own themselves, body and mind, and have the means to be heard and advocate for themselves. We should have enough power in society to be able to change things for ourselves. Right now we do not.

A fabulous documentary with a lot of super kick-ass ladies like Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Cho, Gina Davis, et al. is Miss Representation.  It exposes how mainstream media contribute to the massive under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. We are 51% of the population and 17% of our lawmakers. (And the laid back not-quite-half of SCOTUS).

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I can’t do everything for you!

When you understand what having agency means, a lot of touchy issues become a little more clear. Take abortion and reproductive rights. The touchiest. No matter what choice a woman does or does not make about becoming a mother, an unwanted pregnancy is fucking terrifying. If you will be bearing the brunt of the expense and insanity a new human brings with it into the world, knowing what we all do about the state of employment and benefits for single women, you are staring down a problem that will cause heartbreak no matter what happens.

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Hang in there! I’m making a point!

That’s the reality. We are never going to “solve” abortion. All women need to understand that if you limit another woman’s agency in one arena of society you erode it on every level. Even though anti-choice activists fervently believe they are saving a pregnant woman (or child) from their own bad decisions and future regret,  they are still stealing her ability to control the course of the life that belongs to her. I am a woman of faith (a Christian faith *gasp*) and firmly believe that free will is ordained by God.

Is it not?

The laws they advocate for strip our rights as a whole. No man will ever have an abortion or a baby. Of all the issues that women should control in the legislative body, this is the only that is exclusive to us. But men and the misguided women who work with them are robbing women I know of health care services in all respects.

Alright. Enough of that.

Here I will mention a recent silencing. The women (and men) who were targets of the #Gamergate harassment campaign are being silenced through raw fear for their lives. The threat of violence is frequently as limiting and life destroying as violence itself. That these sorts of coordinated attacks are never as aggressively investigated and prosecuted as other actions which directly harm a person, is either a massively stupid interpretation of what free speech means or we’ve still got a really long way to go, baby.  (#Gamergate is still officially referred to as a “controversy” by the way).

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Here’s an example of the shit scared guys say.

Again, any sensible woman would understand the seriousness of using the vast influence of inconnectivity to destroy a person’s safety, livelihood, and participation in a chosen field. But we are not, for the most part, the gender who decides what laws are needed to keep us safe and healthy.

It seems to make no sense. It does not compute.

“One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences.”

-Anita Sarkeesian,

of the Feminist Frequency

 

But I have digressed. Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection is an amazing introduction for anyone (especially an ally) who is wondering why feminism is now necessary and won’t stop growing anytime soon.

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She’s pretending to be an intellectual. How charming!