Review: What You Really Really Want By Jaclyn Friedman

8 Dec

Cover art from www.wyrrw.com

What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Shame-Free Sex and Safety by is a valuable and accessible guide for women to finding happy, healthy sexuality despite societal pressures to live with the “terrible trio: shame, blame and fear.”

Jaclyn Friedman is one of the most prominent 3rd wave feminist writers and thinkers of our time. A former IMPACT self-defense instructor, she may be best known for co-editing with Jessica Valenti the ground-breaking Yes Means Yes: Visions of A World Without Sexual Assault. With , a compilation of essays, Friedman and Valenti brought into popular discussion the idea that in order to create a world without sexual assault, we need to create a world in which women are equally free to say yes as we are to say no. In her new book, released in November 2011, Friedman helps readers to evaluate what it is exactly that they want to say yes and no to (which will likely change over time), and hardest of all, exactly how to have those conversations with sexual partners.

Sexuality is such an intimate and vulnerable topic that any book on the subject, particularly a how-to guide, needs to meet the basic requirement of making the reader feel safe. Friedman walks a perfect balance. She does not hold back from stating some facts and expert opinions that might make some readers uncomfortable, yet she recognizes and honors the diversity of her readership and never tells the reader what decisions she should make in her own life.

Friedman uses two main teaching tools throughout her guide: 1) Writing exercises throughout each chapter allow the reader to delve as deeply as she wants. These are an accessible jumping off point for self-discovery and make the book customizable to the individual. 2) Stories and feedback from a diverse group of women who workshopped the book throughout the writing process bring a variety of voices and experiences to each chapter. Sometimes funny or sexy, sometimes painful, these additions bring the book to life.

What impressed me most about this book was the breadth of content covered in such a concise, readable way. Friedman’s voice comes through as your friendly, approachable, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny tour guide through a whole world of ideas about sexuality. Although the intended audience is young women (I plan to give this book to my little sister when she becomes a teenager), women of all ages will find places for reflection and growth in this guide. Men, too, could gain sensitivity and understanding from reading this book– or maybe find themselves asking the same question of what it is they really really want!

If you’re still not sure whether or not this book is for you, check out the at the companion . It starts off with a quiz that you can score yourself to know if you should read WYRRW (my vote: you should!). The site is also packed with handy resources referenced throughout the book. So go ahead! Pick up a copy or two (one for a friend!) and check it out for yourself.

*If you’re in Madison, WI– please support our local independently-owned feminist by buying your copy there!

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My First Blog-iversary!

17 Nov

Today marks my first year of blogging at SAFE Women and Girls. I’ve learned a lot about writing, the feminist blogosphere, , women, friends and myself. In this Blog-iversary special I’ll share highlights from my first year.

I started this blog as a supplement to my SAFE Women’s Self Defense classes at , but it quickly morphed into something bigger than that. Check out my top 5 most widely read posts to see what I mean:

1) Too Muscular? Is That A Thing Now?

2) Men Who Want To Protect Women

3) Chicago SlutWalk Highlights

4) How To Love Push Ups (Even If You Can’t Do One Now)

5) On SlutWalks And Sisterhood

To the casual reader, these posts may not seem to be related to self defense. Where’s the screaming “NO!”? (Actually, you can just say it your normal voice most of the time.) Where do I tell women not to avoid alcohol and shadowy shrubbery? (I don’t.) Where do I say “Kick ‘em in the nuts!”? (Here.)

The reality is that self defense (while empowering) is a small part of the solution to some big problems in our society. If we want to create a world without sexual assault and other gendered violence, we need to open our focus. For example, one of my favorite writers (feminist and IMPACT self defense instructor) just published her second book– (stay tuned for my review in a week or two). She has been one of the most prominent voices arguing what should be obvious– that we simply can’t have a productive conversation about sexual violence without talking openly about sex AND “that authentic sexual liberation is a necessary condition to end the systemic sexualization and violation of women.” (From JF’s )

I consider myself to be a person of above-average confidence, but blogging challenges a person to be confident on a higher level. You are putting stuff OUT THERE and anyone can read it and respond anonymously in any way they see fit. (Anyone follow the trend?)

My friends know very well that I have two main mantras for life: 1) “Follow your heart” and 2) “Safety first”. (Okay 3 if you count my self defense mantra “HIT ‘EM IN THE FACE!”) In my writing over the past year I have done very well with numbers 2 and 3, but I have to say after starting to read JF’s new book that I have held back from fully expressing my opinions in some areas for fear that my blog will be seen as too controversial, too radical, or too sexy.

That brings me to my New Blog Year’s Resolutions:

1) I will no longer avoid writing what I know to be true even if it might make someone uncomfortable.

2) I will try to include more interviews, guest blogs, and photos than last year.

3) I will make more connections with like-minded.

4) I will write my first book. Or e-book. Wish me luck!

Thank you so much to those of you who have been readers and friends this year! I invite you to celebrate SAFE’s first blog-iversary with me by commenting, sharing, subscribing, or following SAFE on Twitter (a_tm) or Facebook (SAFE Women and Girls).

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As a fitness instructor, nothing infuriates me more than hearing stories of women getting creeped on in the gym.

NOT OKAY. And you don’t have to take it. This is not a fact of life. This is harassment.

The gym is a place where you should feel safe, supported and empowered. If that’s not how you feel at your gym, it may be time to shop around.

Please consider the following:

1) There is absolutely never an excuse for you to tolerate harassment when you are PAYING for services. In a gym setting, it is the management’s JOB to keep you safe and make you feel welcome.

2) If it feels creepy, it is creepy. Don’t waste your time and energy playing the, “Is it in my head? Maybe he’s trying to be nice…” game. Life is short. You are busy. You know a creeper when you see one and it’s not your mission in life to take care of their feelings.

3) Businesses should have sexual harassment policies in place to protect both their employees and their customers. At my , our instructors watch to make sure that students treat one another with respect. When students approach any of us with concerns about classmates’ behavior, we take immediate action to deal with the situation in a way that makes the person who has been harassed the most comfortable. Usually this has involved having a conversation with the person whose behavior is inappropriate.

Once, a young man tried to bond with one of our male kickboxing instructors by saying, “I’m only here to pick up girls. I tried it before with yoga but that didn’t work out so I thought I’d give this a try.” The instructor firmly stated that the women at our studio were here to work out and that they were not interested in that kind of attention. He explained that “pick up” behavior is distracting, uncomfortable and inappropriate in this setting. The young man stopped attending classes shortly after that, and we were 100% satisfied with the outcome. We would rather lose one customer than have several people feeling uncomfortable.

Steps to take if you experience creeping or other harassment at your gym or class:

1) Report the incident to the instructor/manager. Ask if they have a harassment policy. If not, be clear about what you would like to see happen from this action. “Will someone from the gym please talk to this person and ask him not to stare at other members? Please let me know when that conversation has happened.”

If the behavior continues…

2) Try again. “You know, on (date of last complaint) someone told me they would address this situation. Did that happen? I’m still experiencing harassment and that’s not something I should have to deal with as a paying customer.”

If the behavior continues…

3) Last chance. “I’ve now complained twice about this issue and it has not been resolved. If this is not addressed I will be leaving this gym (and telling everyone I know exactly why I left).”

OR you could take the shortcut and deal directly with the creeper.

“Hey! Stop staring at me.”

 

 

 

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What’s the one time of year when your attacker is most likely to be wearing a mask?

You guessed it: Halloween. Other than that it’s not very likely, despite popular mythology.

I live in Madison, Wisconsin and Halloween is the one time of year that isdowntown than Badger football Saturdays. State Street draws tens of thousands of raucous out-of-towners in costume. Up until , things were so out of hand that the city had to grease street lights to prevent partyers from shimmying up them and some rioting crowds were tear gassed. Finally the city formalized the event, fenced in the area with aggressive lighting, and sold tickets. Since then the number of arrests has declined significantly, along with attendance.

Now I don’t know about your state, but mine has a serious . It gets more severe in any sort of holiday or celebration setting, like Halloween for example. When people are drinking heavily and wearing disguises, I would hope that my readers would know to raise a red flag.

Here are some tips to make Halloween fun AND safe (my favorite!):

1) Drink , as usual. Or not at all.

2) Consider mobility when choosing your costume. If you can’t move very well, it makes you more vulnerable.

3) When meeting new people who are masked, ask to see their face. It’s not weird– you’re meeting a person, not a gorilla mask or whatever it may be. That way if that person turns creepy, you could describe them to police.

4) Follow your instincts and have fun!

Happy Halloween! Be safe! Make good choices! ;)

 

 

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October is . As kids are heading back to school, it is important to remember that teens experience dating violence too.

1 in 4 adolescents reports experiencing, according to the . As with adults, this violence can include a of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Emotional abuse attacks the victim’s self-esteem through put downs, humiliation, controlling their behavior, or keeping them away from friends and family.

Physical abuse might look like slapping, pushing, grabbing, throwing, hitting, shaking or choking.

Sexual abuse could include unwanted touching, peeping, nude photos or forced sex acts.

From www.acadv.org

Both victims and perpetrators of teen dating violence can experience serious consequences such as depression, decreased interest in school or other activities, drug and/or alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviors. Teens who are involved in unhealthy relationships as they are growing up are much more likely to experience a pattern of unhealthy relationships as adults, making this a serious community issue.

Warning signs that a teen may be a victim of teen dating violence may include:

  • Spending less time with friends or family
  • Making excuses for a dating partner’s behavior
  • Trouble succeeding in school or work
  • Dramatic change in weight or appearance

Only 40% of teen girls and 32% of teen boys who were victims of teen dating violence asked for help. One of the reasons for this is that teens don’t want to talk with adults about dating issues—in fact, less than 1 in 4 teens have had a conversation with their parents about teen dating violence. Parents can help teens by helping them to feel good about themselves, listening to them without judgment or criticism, and modeling positive relationship behaviors.

Healthy relationships involve equality, respect, honest and open communication and independence for both partners.

Sometimes, traditional ideas about what is normal for men and women can be a barrier to forming healthy relationships. If a teenage boy believes that the man should make all the decisions and control the woman’s life, he might be at risk for perpetrating teen dating violence.

Warning signs that a teen may be a perpetrator of teen dating violence may include:

  • Threatening to hurt others in any way
  • Insulting a dating partner in public or in private
  • Thinking that violence is a solution to problems
  • Breaking things or a dating partner’s belongings

There are consequences for perpetrators, too. They could be expelled from school or even face jail time.

Parents, teachers and others who work with youth can help prevent teen dating violence. For more information see . If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship violence, please contact your local Domestic Violence Shelter. In Madison, it’s .

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Sexual Harassment By Customers: What to Say

26 Sep

I read through the search terms that bring readers to my site, and the majority of searches on harassment had to do with situations where the customer or guest at work is the harasser, especially when that person is drunk.

I addressed the legal aspects of dealing with workplace harassment (including the employer’s responsibilities) in an earlier post, but I want to give some specific ideas about what you can say and do in the moment if a customer is harassing you at work.

Clearly state that the behavior is unwelcome and inappropriate.

This can be as simple as, “That was really disrespectful and/or inappropriate. Please don’t do/say that again.” Or just, “It’s not ok for you to do/say that to me.”

You can also state that enduring harassment is not part of your job description:

“My job is to serve drinks, not to let you slap me on the ass.”

Stand by what you have said in an assertive (not aggressive) way.

What most women fear is the response they will get from a harasser once they have taken a stance. The key is to stick to a professional tone and keep your emotions on the back burner if possible. Stand tall, make full (even if it makes you feel very uncomfortable), and speak in a clear, calm voice. It’s natural to feel emotional and stressed in a situation like this, but you want to fake composure until the encounter is over. Remember to take full, even breaths. That slows the stress response.

Potential responses and how to deal with them:

1)      They are embarrassed and they apologize. In this case, I think it is nice to reward their good behavior with a smile and friendly attitude or a “thank you” for the apology.

2)      They are embarrassed and resent you for making them feel uncomfortable so they retaliate with a condescending but “humorous” attitude. Ex: “Oh, she’s feisty. Hey everyone (they often try to draw attention of supporters to feel like big men again), look at this chick. She’s serious. She can’t take a compliment.” In this case I would stand very firm and repeat the initial position, adding a potential consequence. “It’s not a compliment and it’s not funny. I’m sorry you feel embarrassed, but that still does not mean you can treat me with disrespect. I’ve been perfectly professional with you. Do I need to have a male coworker/manager take care of you today? I’ll go arrange that.”

3)      They turn mean and nasty. This is a scary one, but remember that you are relatively safe in a public place. Remember if they hurl slurs like “slut”, “bitch” or “dyke”—it’s not about you. If they use a threatening tone or especially threatening words like, “You think this is bad?” or “Maybe you need to learn how to (fill in the blank that means ‘be submissive to men’),” then you should leave as soon as possible. I would say, “Now you are taking a threatening tone. I’m going to get my manager.” If you feel you are in danger, I would ask the supervisor to call the police.

If they are drunk, the same protocol applies. The important thing to remember with a drunk creeper is that they no longer register subtle hints. You need to be extra clear, sometimes using a very firm voice and often repeating yourself. Drunk people can be dangerous, so keep them just outside of grabbing distance.

Other posts you might find useful: How to Be Polite Without Inviting Unwanted Attention

Does anyone have any tips or tricks they’ve used to deal with this situation? I’d love to hear your comments!

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How Martial Arts Empowers Women

22 Aug

If you watch martial arts movies, you know that martial arts is extremely male-dominated. This often leaves women wondering if there is a place for them in martial arts classes. Am I strong enough? Will I get hurt? Will there be other women there? Will I be taken seriously? Will I be harassed?

Janice earned her black belt after 50!

Anyone can do martial arts. Male or female, any age, even people with physical or cognitive disabilities can learn to do martial arts. If an instructor tells you differently, that only demonstrates their ignorance.

Any well-qualified instructor who has integrity should make ANY new student feel welcome and supported at their school. If this is not the feeling you get from an instructor, look elsewhere! Remember, the rules for authority figures are the same for anyone else– if it feels disrespectful, it is disrespectful.

Reasons women benefit from martial arts training:

1) Feel stronger and more connected to your body. Martial arts training develops balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, speed and power. You will be amazed at what your body can do! How hard you hit has very little to do with how big you are. When you feel good about what your body can do, you feel good about your body in general.

I trust Jennifer Endres (now 5th degree Master Instructor) to strike with control in close quarters.

2) Get comfortable setting physical boundaries.Working in close quarters with classmates to practice self defense techniques may put you outside of your comfort zone initially, but you will quickly find yourself becoming more confident and less intimidated by other people who are in your space. You also learn to set clear physical boundaries through communicating with your practice partners.

Did I mention how fun it is?! Laughter is a great stress reliever!

3) Let go of stress and anger in a healthy way.There is something about the physical process of throwing strikes, in the air or on bags, that literally shakes stress out of your body. This, combined with the grounding of stance work and learning healthy breathing techniques makes martial arts an excellent stress reliever, especially for those of us who feel we need to keep our stress to ourselves (a common concern for many women).

From my 2nd degree test-- The woman in red is my mom, Master Mary Murphy. The 4th degrees on either side of me are now Master Instructors as well! There's no end to the opportunities for learning...

4) Develop a sense of achievement and success. Regular practice leads not only to significant improvement in technique, but to opportunities for rank advancement. There’s something very satisfying about tying on that shiny new belt, a visible reminder to the whole school of what you’ve accomplished through persistence and practice! Plus, rank trumps everything else in a martial arts school. When we line up to take a drink at the water fountain, it’s not “ladies first”, it’s “white belts first”!

If you are in the Madison, WI area, check out to schedule a free trial class.

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Be A Man, Not A Jackass

9 Aug

Hi everyone. I wanted to start this post off with a brief introduction. My name is Alex Girard. I’m a friend of Ali’s, one of her students and an occasional thug for the SAFE class.

Thanks Alex, for sharing your thoughts! Alex will be interning at The Daily Show this fall. We'll miss him in Madison!!

If you’re a regular reader of this or other female empowerment/feminist blogs, the concept of a man writing a piece for such a blog probably doesn’t seem like such a foreign idea; just look at the Blogroll on the right side of this page and you’ll see blogs like “Men Stopping Rape” and “The Good Men Project.” It’s certainly not a new concept, but I’m bringing it up because in my personal experience there still seems to be a broad class of men who confuse feminism with misandry, and any male contribution to gender equality discussions to be either some sort of “betrayal” or glad-handing sycophancy.

For the former, it seems that there are men who take the phrase “Bros before Hoes” as a broad social philosophy. Bros, mainly, who are coincidentally the same people who would use the term “Hoes” to refer to women. Maybe they think it sounds like a good idea because it rhymes.

Now to be fair, I’m not referring to the phrase as it’s ostensibly supposed to be used. Problematic wording aside, the original, idealized meaning of the phrase is that your relationship with your girlfriend or wife shouldn’t cut your male friends out of your life. Fair enough, but here I’m taking it here more literally as like the adult personification of throwing a “No Girls Allowed” sign on your clubhouse. Aside from Augusta, I mean.

They make it sound like normal, respectful relationships with women are some draining force that beats the masculinity out of you. The stereotypical “man of the house,” overbearing “macho” masculinity that’s fortunately been falling more and more out of cultural favor.

For an example, I was listening in on a conversation about relationships and people were discussing the often suggested date of having your lady friend over and cooking dinner for her or together. Maybe it’s because my dad did all the cooking when I was growing up, but I’ve always felt an impetus to learn how to cook well, and I enjoy dates like these because it gives me chance to show off that I’m more well-rounded than a sitcom character (which is more than I can say about some roommates I’ve had).

Turns out, nope, big mistake. Cooking dinner for a woman shows her that you’re willing to do anything for her, and that means the rest of the relationship is going to be her walking all over you. Of course you’d never want to do something nice for someone you like unless it’s because you’re a doormat. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the conversation.

Now honestly, I’ve heard this date recommended so many times that the objection to it was probably more of a half-assed effort to sound different rather than an honest argument for “willingness to cook” as a sign of weakness. At least I’d hope so. I brought this up to a female friend who told me, and I quote, “That’s bullshit. Knowing how to cook and clean will get you a girl so fast.” I’ll take her word for it.

More commonly when I hear men give each other relationship advice, they’ll recommend (and this is a line I’ve heard verbatim multiple times) being an asshole because “women like assholes.” I was under the impression that nobody likes assholes; that’s why they get called assholes. The issue here is of course a confusion between being a jerk and being a confident person.

I’ve kind of gone all over the place here, but the basic point I’m trying to make is that being nice doesn’t make you a doormat, it means you’re nice; being an asshole doesn’t mean you’re confident, it means you’re an asshole; and being macho doesn’t make you a man. That makes you an asshole too.

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Helen Aarli: 2nd Wave Feminist and Pioneer of Chicago Anti-Rape Movement

3 Aug

Saturday night I had the pleasure of meeting and having dinner with 85-year-old Helen Aarli, a pioneer in the anti-rape movement circa 1970 and a true inspiration!

Helen Aarli (Photo from http://www.cityofmadison.com/citychannel/shows/seniorbeat/)

Helen invited my girlfriend Amy and me to her apartment to talk about feminism. When we arrived, she hugged us warmly and welcomed us in to her home. Our refreshing summer meal consisted of tuna salad, quinoa, tossed salad and spicy corn bread. “I subscribe to Cooking Light,” Helen told us, “And I try to make a new recipe each week. I play games with myself like that.” Helen has more energy than many adults half her age, which I’m guessing has something to do with her extreme positivity and zest for life. Although long retired, she keeps busy with projects like hosting and producing a show on public television called “Senior Beat”, engaging in political activism, and learning all she can about topics that interest her. (Her current curiosity is memory and Alzheimer’s.)

Helen co-hosting Senior Beat with guest Tammy Baldwin!

Helen, who has two masters degrees and was an inter-generational communication program director, kicked off discussion with questions about the . (The Third Wave refers to the current generation of feminists. The refers to the feminists behind the “Women’s Liberation” movement which we think of as happening mainly from the late 60′s through the early 70′s. Activists from the Second Wave helped pass (1973), protecting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health, as well as which protects women’s rights in education. They also pioneered the , making important institutional changes, teaching the first women’s self-defense courses and coining the phrase “No means no.”) I told Helen that my generation was born out of the 80′s in which there was a severe backlash against feminism that is still felt today, so many young women hesitate to even identify themselves as feminists. Recently, what many are calling the “War on Women” has energized young activists.

Rally supporting Planned Parenthood

I was surprised that Helen had not yet heard of Slutwalks, and I was excited to tell her the story. When I reached the punch line– that thousands of women have taken to the streets in protest of victim-blaming and slut-shaming, some scantily clad and almost all holding clever signs, in Slutwalks all over the world– she laughed and laughed! Her eyes sparkled and she exclaimed, “Oh! To throw it in their faces!” Her demeanor suggested that she thought the whole thing to be cute, fun, and perfectly appropriate for the issue at hand. She immediately connected the concept to when she first heard her gay friends starting to reclaim the word “queer”, which one could easily argue was as strongly associated with violence as the word “slut”. She remembered being shocked also by the use of the upside-down pink triangle to show safe spaces for LGBT people,

Do we remember today where this triangle came from?

because as a Jewish woman, she of course knew that it was to identify homosexuals for persecution. As someone who has been educated to conclude that we can’t reclaim hateful words, I was secretly embarrassed to be reminded that “queer”, a term I use freely to describe myself as a bisexual woman and to generalize about the LGBT community when my tongue tires of acronyms, was and still is used as a homophobic slur. As someone who always thinks she is right, I started to think I should hang out with much older people much more often.

Helen asked what my issue was, and I told her it was sexual assault prevention. She asked about how things were going in that field and I told her I didn’t think all that much had changed. Her face darkened and she said, “I’m very disappointed to hear that.” I asked her what her issue was. “It was the Anti-Rape Movement.” I was immediately struck both with a deep sense of humility and a feeling that I had just put my foot in my mouth. Oops.

My girlfriend brought this magnet as a gift for Helen but of course she already had one from her daughter on her fridge!

Helen told the story of her participation in the movement in Chicago, from when she lead consciousness-raising groups for self-defined “older women” (she was in her early 40′s at the time) to when she saw a passionate anti-rape speaker smash a misogynist record over her knee on stage and felt she had found her issue. Together with a group of other activist housewives, they hit the ground running. She and her sisters used space in a church to staff a rape crisis line. Two women always worked together, and in the snowy winters they would wait to make sure that both of their cars would start before leaving, in order not to leave the other woman stranded alone at night.

Helen's favorite 2nd Wave poster by her friend Estelle Carol of the Chicago Women's Graphics Collective which distributed thousands of feminist posters world-wide.

They decided that the institutions that needed to change were 1) the hospitals, 2) the police and 3) the courts. One Chicago hospital refused even to admit rape victims. Helen let the hospital’s name slip to the press and they changed their policy the next day. The activists (who were viewed by professionals as “just housewives”) took it upon themselves to go into the hospitals and train staff on compassionate care, insisting that a woman be present in the room rather than having only a male doctor who launched into an internal exam on a traumatized patient. They also trained hospital staff in collecting physical evidence to be used in trials.

I told Helen about the program used in Wisconsin hospitals as well as many other states and she was pleased to hear what a long way care for rape victims has come.

The Chicago Police were the toughest and scariest crowd she had to address. She told us of the first time that they went to the sexual assault department and she saw that over the department sign they had hung a gigantic pair of pink ladies’ bloomers. Tears came to her eyes as she recounted the memory. “It was a big joke to them,” she said. When they returned with an undercover investigative reporter, they had taken the panties down. She described the police as extremely insensitive to the issue. Once she came in with a victim as an advocate (although the police assumed she was “just the mother”) and the officer said, “If you’ve been raped, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.” She asked the police, “Isn’t it true that you have a manual that instructs police, when dealing with a rape victim, to first question whether the rape actually occurred?” The officer replied, “There is no such manual.” As she was leaving, someone who worked behind the scenes pulled Helen aside and said, “That manual he just said doesn’t exist? Here is a copy.” The next time she brought it up in front of the press and the police denied the manual’s existence, she pulled it out. “Oh, they did not like me very much,” she said seriously. “I was afraid of them.” A friend of hers had warned her that the police would probably see it as a big joke to rape the women who came in to the station as advocates.

Although I think the police still have some ways to go, I was happy to tell her about who works closely with the and trains law enforcement on how to sensitively interview victims and follow up with investigation of the perpetrators (rather than the victims).

When dealing with the legal system, Helen and her fellow feminists attempted to train lawyers in how to address rape cases with sensitivity. When speaking with one lawyer, she said, “He asked, ‘Are you a lawyer?’ and I said ‘No.’ I thought he was going to hit me! Who was I, a woman, who was not even a lawyer, to tell him how to do his job?” She remembered in one case, an African-American woman named Paulette who “had dared to go into a bar alone to dance and have fun” was gang-raped by several men in the bar. When the case was brought to court, the judge said, “Boys will be boys.” Helen stood up, shocked, from her seat and was immediately surrounded by security who instructed her to sit down or be removed from the courtroom. Helen told this story to TV host Lee Philips who was inspired to make the film The Rape of Paulette.

Helen and the film Paulette's story inspired are featured in this book

Another time, a group of 7 African-American women told Helen they wanted to speak with her. She went to meet with them and, one by one, they each recounted their experiences of rape. (Trigger warning) They told her that one of the women wasn’t there to tell her story herself. She was at a bus stop holding her baby, and the attacker raped her at knife point in front of her baby and then slit her throat, leaving her for dead. Fearing for her life, she fled with her baby. One of the women could not bear to tell her husband what had happened to her, but she walked her daughter to school every day afterwards. They were all brought together by something they had in common: they were all raped by the same man. They knew his identity, but he kept getting off on mistaken identity when he was brought to court. There was a law that did not allow multiple charges to be brought against the same person and Helen asked the courts, “Can’t you get creative and find a way around that?” She shook her head, “They did not like me for saying that!”

Helen and her group called themselves Chicago Legal Action for Women, or CLAW. One woman suggested they should make their logo a big claw, but they decided to downplay it instead. “Like we didn’t know,” Helen laughed, “Like we were just innocent little housewives.” Together they wrote and printed a comprehensive handbook for lay advocates. “I don’t know,” Helen shrugged, “We just figured we were experts based on our experience on the ground. We just thought we could do it.” So they did.

Helen with CLAW Handbook! How cool is she??!

Helen showed me the materials she had saved from that time, including  business cards from the rape crisis line they staffed, the CLAW handbook and brochures, a 1971 “Stop Rape” handbook that included (of particular interest to me) an article called “Fighting Back” by Cate Stadelman, which included some of the earliest self-defense tips for women, and– I almost died when I saw this– the second printing of Our Bodies Our Selves by The Boston Women’s Health Collective. 35 cents. It was a thick pamphlet. I asked her, “Did they have any idea then how big these things would become?” Helen shook her head, smiling, “Oh I don’t think so.”

Second Wave Literature, probably printed with mimeograph (never seen one myself!)

Thinking back on my idiotic statement from earlier in the night that things had not changed, I told Helen, “You know, I think what happened is that the institutions changed, but the culture has not changed very much.” I cited statistics that show the majority of college-aged men (84%) who commit rape do not identify their actions as rape and the majority of college-aged women (88%) who are raped do not recognize themselves as victims. “Somehow,” I told her, “People still don’t get the most basic message of ‘No means no’.” She was very interested and surprised to hear that. I guess I’m surprised too.

*NOTE: Although I’ve written this based on Helen’s stories and experiences as an individual, she would not want to be viewed as a “one-woman wonder.” “We prided ourselves on being made up of collectives,” she said. “Part of second wave feminism was ‘shared leadership’ as opposed to the male model of the one person in charge and the rest somehow subordinate.” I hope my readers will recognize that sisterhood fueled feminist collective actions during the 2nd wave, and Helen was one of many who worked to create changes we benefit from today.

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Women and Drinking and Creepers, Oh My!

12 Jul

Not only are drunken creepers unpleasant, they can be dangerous, especially when our own inhibitions and judgment are impaired by alcohol and other drugs.

90% of all campus rapes occur when alcohol has been used by either the assailant or the victim. (, 2007)

Alcohol is, in fact, the most widely used predatory drug. Think about everyone you know who has been sexually assaulted or raped and ask yourself if they or the perpetrator were using alcohol or other drugs. I don’t know about you, but in my social network the statistic looks more like 100%.

Yes, more widely talked about drugs like GHB and Rohypnol are still an issue, but only in about 3% of cases. More commonly, we need to be watching the use of alcohol (present in 55-63% of victims) and marijuana (present in 30% of victims).

While binge drinking is harmful in so many ways (physically, psychologically, socially), I don’t feel I can convince the devoted drinkers to drink less with a blog post so instead…

Here are some tips for partying safely:

  • Use the buddy system. When you go out, make sure you have friends who you trust (and who are deserving of your trust) to be your better judgement if you overdo it. It’s a good idea to have a designated sober person even if nobody is driving. Do NOT separate from your group. You may have learned from experience that looking out for your drunkest friends can be a thankless job (I’ve had to physically fight with friends to keep them from going home with strangers) but it beats the alternative.
  • Resist the drunken “hook up”. First of all, you know it’s not going to be very good even in the best scenario (you may not even remember it well), and the worst scenario is that it may turn into sexual assault. One of my best friends had to stop one of his friends from going home with a creeper and he reasoned with them “If you two really think you have something here, then why don’t you exchange numbers and get together when you are sober.” Wise words.
  • Don’t let a man walk you (or your friend) home unless it is someone you trust deeply. In Madison a few years back, a young woman was kidnapped and violently murdered by a man who claimed to know her. The woman was drunk to the point where she was not fully functioning and this man told the bartender he was her friend and he would get her home safe. He was never found after the murder. I’ve also heard of more than one case in which a “friend” walked a woman home, then forced his way into her house and raped her.

I helped plan this ad campaign when I was a student! Remember: a person cannot give consent if they are incoherent or incapacitated by alcohol.

Now, to address The Drunk Creeper. Sometimes he is overtly predatory, but sometimes misguided nice guys who lack social skills can get a little creepy too when they get a little liquid courage.

From U of Minnesota's brilliant "The Other Hangover" Campaign

Things to keep in mind when dealing with drunken creepers:

  • Drunk people don’t recognize subtle social cues. I imagine I am talking to a cross between a naughty child/dog and someone who doesn’t hear very well. I use a firm voice, simple wording, and a clear message. “NO. Leave me alone NOW. I have NO interest in you now or EVER.” or “STOP. TOUCHING. HER. NOW. or I will get a bouncer to throw you OUT.” Not only are they not offended, they often still seem confused, like they think this might be a flirtatious game, so you may have to follow up with, “I am NOT joking. I am SERIOUS. Leave NOW. Bye!.. BYE! (*shooing away motions*)” etc.
  • Don’t try to reason with drunk people. If they try to argue for continued creeping, do not engage! A trick is to put your hand out firmly in front of their face like you are saying “STOP.” Drunk people can’t help but to stop when they see this, at least momentarily. In the pause, cut them off and resume assertive communication from the step above. “STOP arguing. GO AWAY NOW.” Or you can go away, if that seems like the better option.
  • Your friend may have an inner creep that comes out when he is drunk. Just because someone is a nice guy normally, doesn’t mean he gets a free pass to creep when drunk. Here you may take a slightly more compassionate stance with something like, “You’re not acting like yourself, and I don’t like this side of you. (Name the behavior:) You are being rude and you are making me feel uncomfortable. Let’s talk again when you are sober.” Then leave the situation.

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