Voices To Vote For

She gasped for breath and sat up in bed. Startled by her own unconscious screaming she awoke with shaking legs and stared at the clock which hung crookedly on her bedroom wall. The paint around it was peeling and the state of her dilapidated apartment reminded her of a post-apolocolyptic movie she had seen some years earlier. You get what you pay for, she’d always think, even in the south Bronx your money won’t get you very far. Beads of sweat sat still on her forehead. She wiped them with her hands and laid back down. Biting her blanket and pressing her eyes tightly together until hot little tears appeared on her face and dripped off of her nose, she tried to fall back to sleep. Cassie was haunted by a memory that didn’t exist. Her dreams were plagued with the body of a person that had never come into being. The formation of her newborn baby wasn’t real, but the guilt she carried was. For weeks after her abortion every night was the same. She would dream of holding her baby in her arms, rocking it gently back and forth. Her dreams were so vivid that she could feel its soft, warm body pressing into her chest. She felt save and loved in a way that she never had before. Hearing its cry sent her stirring restlessly into waking. Then the dream was distant, fleeting too fast to catch it, she was stuck with the harsh reality that none of it was real, and she was alone.

The meetings helped. Every other Wednesday she sought refuge from her sadness by attending a support group for girls and women who had become pregnant and “taken care of it.” The group was put together by a social worker as part of some community outreach program. The women’s health clinic had recommended she go as a way to “alleviate the pain of having an abortion”. The nurse had handed her a box Kotex along with their card. “Every little bit helps sweetie.” She said gently, looking over the desk through tiny reading glasses, probably purchased from the Dwayne Reade around the corner. Still in shock and nauseas from the anesthesia, Cassie brushed it off. She hadn’t once considered actually going to group until the nightmares began.

“So how is everyone feeling today?” Janice, the social worker on hand that day said, as she smiled and looked around the small, lifeless room. The meetings were held in the basement of a women’s healthcare building in Spanish Harlem. The room was dark and the smell was a combination of feet and Lemon Pledge. The walls were pretty much bare aside  from a diagram of a cervix plastered on the wall. Besides a few groans and mumbled “Fine”‘s no one really responded, but no one ever did.

“Lola, I’d like to hear from you today, how is everything going? Are you still in recovery?”

Lola was a dancer for The New York Ballet and she was beautiful. She even sat like a dancer, with her back straight and her tiny feet splayed out to each side. Lola had planned to keep her baby. She was engaged to a young surgeon named Luke, and when she found out about her pregnancy the two were overjoyed. That is, until Lola started getting sick. Nausea hit her like a gust of wind pushing her into the bathroom until it threw her over the toilet. It came at all hours of the day and night. Her OB/GYN had told her it was normal, and it probably was, but what Lola was feeling wasn’t. She liked throwing up. She liked it ever since she was eight years old, when she would lean over the toilet, emptying her stomach of meals. Then in a poised manner she would gracefully stretch her long, lean leg into the air, rest her foot upon the toilet handle and flush it gently. She would dance around her Upper East Side apartment loving her thin body, catching glances of rib cage in the hallway mirror. Lola stopped when she met Luke. She was devoted to staying healthy and dreamed of enjoying cake on her wedding day like other “normal” brides. Morning sickness had caused her monster to resurface. Knowing she wasn’t ready, she made the appointment.

“I’m fine. Just worried, I guess.” Lola looked at the floor as she spoke.

“Why is that, dear? What are you worried about?”

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m gonna get a second chance, you know? Maybe that was my one shot and I blew it. Everyone thinks that I can help it, wanting to be skinny. But I can’t. If I’m not fit to be a mother yet, what if I never will be?”

“Recovery is a process Lola. It takes time and everyone’s different. There is no expiration date on grief or recovery. When you’re ready, really ready, you’ll have what you’re looking for.”

Lola bit her lip and nodded her head as she began to cry.

“I’ve got something to say.” Tanya called out from the group.

Tanya was finishing her junior year at Columbia when he took it. He didn’t take it in an alley, behind a bar, or in a parking garage. He took it in her home with the doors locked. He worked with her at the diner down the street from her building. They spent most nights talking and laughing with one another, flirting with each other and teasing the patrons behind their backs. Tanya was ecstatic when he finally made the first move and asked her out for drinks. He told her that he was working on his law degree, which wasn’t true, he also told her that his name was Allen, which wasn’t true either. His real name was Tom and he was facing three counts of sexual assault and battery in his home state of New Mexico, another fact that he forgot to mention. He had lead Tanya to believe he was from Rhode Island. Tanya was drugged, carried back to her apartment and raped in her own bed. Several people passed them on the street that night but none of them stepped in to investigate. One eye witness told police that, “Girls go out and get drunk. How was I supposed to know she didn’t have too much to drink? I thought it was her boyfriend.” The next morning Tanya awoke huddled at the edge of her bed. Her body was sore and she had no recollection of what had happened. When she looked down to see where the throbbing was coming from her heart felt like stopping. Dried semen covered the inside of her legs. She screamed into her hands. As tears flooded her face she realized that her lips were burning. Tanya stumbled wearily to her dresser and didn’t recognize the girl looking back at her. Her bottom lip was split open in a way that made it look like another set of lips. Her nose was broken and just above her brow laid a gash in the shape of a crescent moon, crusted with dried blood the color of merlot. Five weeks later Tanya found out she was pregnant.

“Yes, okay go ahead.”

“Yeah, well I was passing a church yesterday on my way to class and I saw all these little crosses in the front yard so I stopped to read what the sign next to them said.” She paused, turning red with anger.

“Go on dear, this is a safe place.”

“It said they were graves for aborted babies. Like, what the fuck? Are you kidding me with that bull shit? Where’s the grave for my fucking dignity? It wasn’t even a real person. It made me so angry!” Tanya began to cry, so much so that she couldn’t catch her breath. Every part of her seemed alive in that moment and she was pulsating with rage.

“Just breathe Tanya. I know it hurts but you’re doing okay. If those people who put up the signs and the markers knew how it felt to be you, if they even had a glimpse into your life then maybe they would’ve gone about things a little differently. Let’s hear from someone else in the group now.”

“But they don’t know what it’s like to be me…to be us. How could they? How could a man know what it feels like in woman’s body? How could a woman know if they’ve never had to go through it?” Laura looked up and around at the faces that stared back at her as she spoke.

Cassie hated the sound of Laura’s voice. She hated her story, hated that she was left behind by a man that didn’t want her. She felt sick when she thought about how weak Laura must have been to throw herself at a married man and toss out the product of their affair like garbage. The only lasting memory of their love and what they had made together. Cassie hated it, because it sounded all too familiar. They shared a similar experience and it was too close to her own. Laura represented something bigger to Cassie than a woman scorned. She was living presentation of Cassie’s unwavering guilt.

In an effort to distract herself from the lump that was forming in her throat Cassie directed her attention to Nikki who was kicking her feet back and forth and chewing on the zipper of her oversized coat. Like Cassie, Nikki usually didn’t say much. Mostly, Cassie guessed, because her English wasn’t very good. She lived close to Cassie and sometimes they would exchange glances on the subway but would never say anything even though they both knew they were going to the same place. One of Cassie’s friends once lived in the same building as Nikki and used to catch her and her boyfriend kissing passionately under the stairwell, which Cassie figured was probably how she found herself in group. Nikki was seventeen and her family had immigrated from Honduras some years earlier.

“She probably doesn’t even care.” Bella whispered to Cassie once, “I heard that in Honduras they’re so poor and Catholic that they have babies and just lay them down in rooms to die because they have no food to feed them and they’re going to die anyway.”

“No way!” Cassie shot back.

“Yes way! it’s the reason why the pope got rid of purgatory…”

Nikki could understand what the girls were talking about. Contrary to popular believe, her English was just fine. She chose not to speak because she was nervous and embarrassed. Her parents didn’t know about the meetings. She would tell them that she was going to the library to study and would instead take the long subway ride into Manhattan. She felt different and alone there but not as alone as she felt at home when her father ignored her at dinner and her three brothers and sisters would call her a slut and a murderer behind her back.

Taylor was fifteen when she got pregnant. She didn’t have any family members to sign the consent forms for her. Her family believed in Jesus Christ and the power of the holy ghost, who they praised rigorously and feared with the same sort of intensity. They believed that every life was a blessing, but Taylor didn’t see it that way. To Taylor, any baby born to a dirt poor, teenage mother in an already crowded Brooklyn apartment was more of a burden than anything else. Taylor had big dreams. She was smart, and wanted to be the first person in her family to go to college. Her math teacher, Mrs. Wilson accompanied her to her appointment, signed the papers, and let her spend the rest of the day watching soap operas in her bed. Taylor loved Mrs. Wilson and envied her soft blood locks. Sometimes she would look in the mirror and tug at her dry hair half heartedly. Taylor was bigger than most girls her age and had been fully developed since she was eleven. The boys at school always noticed her, which made her feel strange and embarrassed. Eddie was different than them. At nineteen was a man and his love made Taylor feel beautiful. He would hang around outside in the school yard and wait for her to get out of class then he would take her behind the laundromat and kiss her. He would start with her lips then slowly move to her neck, all the while caressing her smooth brown skin, whispering to her that it was “sweeter than chocolate.”

“I thought we were in love.” Taylor’s voice was small and shaking. “He was the only boy I ever had sex with but when I told him I was pregnant he called me a hoe and accused me of running around with all the guys in my neighborhood. I can’t tell my parents. They’d throw me out…does God hate me now?”

“No, honey, God doesn’t hate you.” Janice softened her gaze as she attempted to comfort Taylor with her words. “Nobody knows more about God, or religion than anybody else. God doesn’t hate or hurt, only people can do that. It only forgives and loves. Cassie, what about you, would you like to share something?”

“Like what?” Cassie turned red.

“Anything dear, anything you have to say is important.”

“I just wasn’t ready to be a mother…so I took care of it. That’s all.”

“I don’t understand what you mean about ‘taking care of it’. Could you explain further?”

“I was in love with a man…well, no. Let me start over, a boy. I was in love with a boy who didn’t love me back. He didn’t like condoms, so I didn’t make him wear one. I found out I was pregnant and that’s it. Accidents happen.”

Cassie looked around the room and could see that no one was really satisfied with her answer. Everyone seemed to be waiting for her to confess that her boyfriend beat her or her uncle raped her or something truly tragic but Cassie didn’t have any of those stories.

“Cassie, I think it would be beneficial for you to really reach down and make contact with your suffering. Can you do that for me?”

She paused for a moment and thought about yesterday. She had come home to an empty apartment filled with roaches and sour smells from the surrounding units. She sat down, unsatisfied with her new life. The life that was supposed to be truly amazing, the one she left her family and friends for, and began to cry. She cried harder than she did when the doctor laid her down on the plastic, wax paper covered table, and told her to stay still. She was more terrified than when he inserted the plastic probe covered in blue gel into her body. She was more furious than when she locked herself in the bathroom stall and saw red and blue striped throughout her white underwear. Cassie had been running for months and for the first time realized that she was alone in a city that didn’t know her.

“I can’t touch it. I don’t want to. There are entire populations and groups of people who hate me for what I’ve done, for a choice that made and they don’t even know me! You know, I want to be a mother? I do…but I wasn’t going to have somebody’s baby who didn’t want me.” Cassie’s body was buzzing with energy as her voice grew strength.  “Why? So his whole family could look down on me and my child? I wasn’t going to have his shamed baby! Every man who has ever come into my life has left me and that’s fine but I will be damned if they leave my child!” She took a deep breath and thought for a moment. “My body is a warzone. It’s hurt and it’s angry. It’s no place for somebody to grow. I let the little soul go because I wasn’t ready for it. I loved it so much that I just let it go.” Cassie’s voice was calm as she gazed at her knees. They had stopped shaking and she felt a great sense of relief come over her.

Cassie took a seat on the train and pulled her red curly hair up over her head and exhaled. Her eyes were closed for a slow moment when she felt someone sit down next to her. She quickly snapped back into the present, letting her hair fall down around her shoulders, when she looked over to her right. It was Nikki. She smiled up at her and placed her head on Cassie’s shoulder, saying nothing. Cassie responded with a weak smile and allowed herself to gently wrap her arm around Nikki’s shoulders, bringing her in close. The two walked in silence to Nikki’s building. Sometimes silence says it all and words lose their meaning at time when things felt become more powerful than things said. Cassie drifted off to sleep that night knowing in her heart she would wake up twisted with pain and guilt, but she didn’t. The guilt had faded along with her isolating silence. The next morning brought with it new hope as she smiled, admiring the newly fallen snow.

This is a fictional story meant to remind those who choose to vote what they may or may not be supporting. For millions of women throughout The United States our right to choose is being ripped from our hands while our bodies are being put on display. No matter what political party you primarily support or religion you choose to affiliate yourself with, remember that their are two sides to every story and to judge someone is to lack understanding and empathy. Your choice in this election will directly effect the health and wellbeing of women and girls. Please stand with women and reproductive rights by voting for Barrack Obama in the 2012 election. This may be a work of fiction but it was inspired by various articles, first hand accounts, and testimonies of women and girls.

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The Man Who Was a Monster

It took him three minutes to ruin my life and completely destroy my sense of self. The ownership I had over my body had vanished. I didn’t control it anymore, he controlled it. He had me, and he was in charge. I know it only lasted three minutes because I was counting, holding on to every second and pleading with time to stop. I didn’t ask him to stop until the end. The words didn’t come. I went into survival mode. I moved into a world where words didn’t exist and all I could do was react. I screamed the entire time. I screamed so loudly and powerfully that my it made my throat hurt. When it was over, he apologized, put on his pants, and told me it was an accident. He didn’t mean it and he was sorry. He did mean it, and he knew what he was doing, but I let myself believe his twisted little lies. I took what he did and pushed it down so far that it would take me two years to uncover the truth and be able to tell my story.

I was drunk. We started early and I had, had margaritas and beers upon beers with my friends all before ten thirty. The other girls I was with were tired so I went on with out them to meet up with some guys from work. I stumbled through the door, giddy and giggling and dizzy from drunkeness. I quickly found my friends and proceeded to move towards the bar. There was a man standing at the bar and he was staring at me. My stomach flipped and my hands began to shake even before I realized who he was. I looked deeply into his eyes and studied his face. I skimmed his cool, weak smirk and thats when it hit me. I knew this man. I had loved him once and for far too long. I used to tickle and touch and laugh with this man. I used to sleep in his bed and wake up with him in the morning. This was the man who raped me.

Once again the words didn’t come. He was smiling and waving at me and all I could do was turn away. None of the people I was with knew my secret. They didn’t know who he was or why I couldn’t catch my breath. I found my friend and grabbed his arm, “That’s my rapist…that’s him at the bar…” I managed, my voice still weak and wavering. I pushed through the crowd and into the bathroom. I locked the door and bent over the toilet. I held my hair back and emptied the contents of my stomach. I flushed the toilet with my foot and stood in front of the mirror. Still breathing heavily, I stared back at my reflection and hated what I saw.  I’m weak, I’m worthless, I’m dirty, I’m a whore. I pushed my makeup around my face and smoothed my hair. No, I won’t let him do this to me again. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I am none of those things, I’m strong and I can do this. 


I’m a runner. Not in the sense that I go for runs or run for exercise. Rather, when I feel threatened or scared I leave. I take off and I don’t deal with it. This urge of flight is a direct result of being raped and just another component of my PTSD. I want to run when I’m sitting in class, when we’re discussing trauma and affects of sexual abuse. I cringe and shake and sweat and the only thought in my head is I’ve got to get out, I have to leave, I need to leave, I’m not safe here, and it pounds within my skull like a bass drum. I’ve never wanted to run more than in those moments. I had no one to comfort me, no kind of support, I was frozen in space and completely alone. My friend kept telling me that it would be okay, that he wouldn’t do anything to me because they were all right there and they had my back. They didn’t understand, how could they? His presence was violent in and of itself. I was terrified and silenced all from one look.

In therapy, I’m asked what I would do if I ever saw him again. I think about it a lot. I think of saying all of these powerful things that would hurt him the way he hurt me. I think about smashing a beer bottle on the bar and thrashing it at his jugular. I even imagine punching him in the face until I remember that he towers over me. (That was the way of us, though. I was always too little to get away, or to stand up to him.) Instead I just stood there and said nothing. God, if I could have only said something.

At last call he came up to me and as I saw him walk towards me I thought my heart was going to explode within my chest. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He ripped the breath from my lungs and my mouth fell open. “You’re sorry?” As I looked at him in disgust, I thought about everything I had been through in the past year. I thought about all the times I cried myself to sleep, believing that it was all my fault. I thought about how many relationships I had ruined because I’m incapable of real intimacy. Laying in the dark and letting the tears fall from eyes after sex wasn’t rare for me. I remembered the cool fall night when I stood on my ex’s porch, facing him and crying, listening to his pleas for me to calm down, “I’m not him Liz, I’m not Joe, I would never do that to you.” I thought about the progress that I had made with the help of somatic therapy. There were times when the exercises we’d do in class stirred up too many emotions and I would cry, or try to run away but instead I remained grounded and strong. The other women in my class would put their hands on my back and tell me that I was enough and that I was safe.

My mind was flooded with memories of my entire healing process. The ups, the downs, all of the struggles and the progress I had made trying to return to my body and understand that I have a voice. So when, I heard him say “I’m sorry” I was incomplete disbelief. “You destroyed everything for me, and you want to tell me that you’re sorry?” I pushed the words out of my mouth, “Do you even know what you’re apologizing for?” “Listen, I’m just trying to apologize.” With that, he left and I felt completely trampled. My friend came towards me and I held back my tears. I told him I was okay, everything was okay, but it wasn’t. It was the least ‘okay’ I had felt in months, but nothing could be done and it was what it was.

I didn’t consent to what he did to me. It broke my heart and ripped apart what little trust I had left. My problems with men and intimacy have all stemmed from my relationship with this person. At first when I woke up this morning I was disappointed in myself for not saying more to him than I had. Now, I understand that I could never relay the fact that he had ruined my life in a matter of sentences. Sometimes I try to see the positive side of my situation. I’m more empathetic, I have a stronger voice, I am a better person because of my suffering, but most days this outlook doesn’t work. I would rather have my innocence back. It took three minutes for him to derail my young life and years to put the pieces back together.

Get Me the Hell Out of Athens: A Dating Nightmare

My hands were shaking as I tightly gripped the steering wheel of my 2001 Saturn. I couldn’t tell if it was because I was nervous or because I had downed two cups of black coffee before I hit the road. Either way, I was excitedly anticipating the night that was to come. I was on my way to visit a friend at another university about an hour or so outside of my hometown. It was mom’s weekend, which for those of you who aren’t familiar, is an annual tradition that celebrates moms and binge drinking. Could there be anything more charming? I wanted to visit my friend but there was another reason why I was feverishly speeding down Route 33, and like always this reason had a penis. I had been talking to her and her boyfriend’s mutual friend for about a month but we had never actually met in person. I decided that small talk texting and blog comments weren’t enough and I wanted to meet the man I had been talking to. So there I was, driving on a two lane highway on my way to meet some random that I had never seen outside of facebook. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I should’ve turned and gone back the way I came rather than acting on my girlish fantasies.

I was hot and the air was thick with moisture when I finally reached Athens. All I could think when I stepped out of my car was that the humidity would ruin my hair and that my makeup would soon melt off of my face. I was annoyed and I needed a drink. I met him, we exchanged hellos and I was mildly impressed. He had a beard that seemed to have a life of it’s own. (Now, I know certain men will sit there and congratulate each other on their beards and being manly men but no matter how hard I try to convince myself that it’s cool, I just can’t do it. You all look like you have a vagina stuck to your face. Shave it.) Besides his wickedly thick facial hair, he was tall and thin. To tell you the truth he closely resembled Abraham Lincoln. That is to say if old Abe wore cargo shorts and flip flops. I’ve done better, but I’m sure I’ve also done worse so I shook it off and for the most part dismissed his appearance completely. Anyway, it was that golden personality of his which everyone assured me of that I was most concerned about.

I’ve been dating a lot lately. I’ve gone on dinner dates, I’ve met various men for drinks, I’ve even accompanied them to parties and social affairs. I’ve acquired a taste for dating and I have certain standards that these potentials need to meet. The most important one being, do not try to stick your penis in any of my holes. Don’t put it in my hand, don’t rub it on me, for God’s sakes don’t even take it out. I have a personal space bubble and I don’t want anyones dick trying to penetrate it. Another is of course an issue of cost. Be a damn gentlemen and at least offer to pay. You don’t even have to pay for all of it, just a drink or so. Show me that you’re willing and able to treat me, if I’m interested I’ll even do the same. This leads me into another important guideline, which is politeness. Be polite, this can be accomplished by keeping the subject of conversation light and tame. Don’t attempt to hold a heated debate with someone you’re meeting for the first time because, frankly, it’s strange and off-putting. Ask me about myself in an attempt to see me as more than a walking vagina with nice hair. The last is, acknowledge my existence. Yes, at the very least, don’t leave me in a strange bar or choose to stare at me awkwardly from across the dance floor rather than actually engaging me in conversation.

He shat on my guidelines and broke every fucking rule. by morning my self esteem was as beaten and bloodied as Rodney King was in ’91. He was a renegade dater and a total psychopath. When I first noticed that for every beer he grabbed he ordered a shot of Jameson I should have ran.  The fact that he was mindlessly slurping down shot after shot should have been a clear warning of what was to come. He’s a drinker, but he’s also a writer. People love saying that, men especially love it. I remember when my brother threw back bottles of cheap whiskey, hiding the fact that he was a complete lush behind a mask of creative expression. “I drink because I’m a writer, I’m a writer because I drink.” No, you drink because you’re a child. You’re just a giant drunken baby with a beard, and you’re not Hemingway so stop it.

He was drunk, that was clear. For the most part he ignored me, aside from the occasional attempt at saying something witty and charming he stayed away. Later when I mentioned this he lurched forward and said, “I told you I would be talking to a lot of other girls and I would be surrounded by beautiful women.” The beautiful women he was referring to were all drunken mothers and it wasn’t the fact that he talking to them that bothered me, it was the fact that we wasn’t talking to me at all. For as excited as he was to meet me, he had very little to say. Instead he watched me from afar, something that should have also been a clear warning sign.

Outside of the bar he began to yell at me and argue about feminism. “Every girl in Athens is a whore, all of them walking the streets, they’re all sluts.” He stuck is arms in the air as if he was speaking of something truly profound or worth my time. My favorite was when he told me to go shave my vagina. I’m still confused about the point he was trying to make with that charming little line. Of course, he was a charmer. I mean after all that’s what everyone had told me. I’m not sure how long we argued for but I know that at one point it had to be broken up by the friend who had introduced us. I really thought he was joking, now that I’m looking back I’m not sure that he was.

Afterward, and for whatever reason, I went home with him. And there it was, my self loathing had reared it’s ugly head and my debilitatingly low self esteem had taken over along with the mass amount of alcohol I had consumed. What’s the fastest way to get into my pants? Call me ugly or stupid and add beer, it works every time! Kissing him was like making out with a brillo pad. It was all hair and no tongue. When I told him that I didn’t want to have sex with him he wined, and hurumphed, and groaned and finally told me to, “Grow up!” I got up and started to gather my things but then the tears came. Embarrassed I tried to hide them from him, I just wanted to leave but I was in a strange town and I had no where to go. Upon seeing me wipe my eyes he apologized, talked me down, and invited me back into bed. “I won’t even touch you, I’ll lay over here, and you can lay over there.” Oh right, because that’s exactly how it works. Before too long he asked if he could kiss me and I told him that was fine, but it quickly progressed. He simply kept asking for more and more and of course I accepted every time. I had previously been protested against and I felt defeated. I was not in the mood to hear him throw another temper tantrum, so rather than watching him get all huffy I just let it happen. The funny thing is, this story is astoundingly similar to how I lost my virginity. Both instances made me seriously question my heterosexuality.

This just another glaring example of how women’s choice can be easily violated. How was he supposed to understand that I haven’t embodied choice, if he doesn’t know what the inability to say NO feels like? I say YES, I say it too frequently. I say it when I really mean NO, I say it when I mean MAYBE but I know that I won’t be granted enough time to make my decision. I say YES but I don’t even know what it means. I don’t know what it feels like to say NO during sex and have it mean something. My voice is too small and my plea is overruled. This is just one of many reasons why I fear intimacy and have failed at having a healthy relationship with a man. It’s because I don’t know what healthy looks like. I do understand, however, that sleeping with someone before even knowing them isn’t healthy. I know that I’m a twenty two year old hopeless romantic and that’s okay. I can be that way, just as long as it’s not in the bed of a plastered and aggressively sexual male. I know what I want and I know that, that wasn’t it.

When I stood up to leave he poked his up and said, “Argue with you again sometime soon then?” The look on my face had to have said it all. Really?? Making me cry wasn’t a clear indication that this didn’t go well? Upon telling him that this was the last time we’d meet he raised his arms in protest and said, “You used me! I was just a one night stand to you, then!” Never have I ever had the urge to spit on someone the way I did in that moment.  I walked out of his room with out saying much of anything. I got lost, and couldn’t find the front door to his architecturally demented apartment. Once I found it I began my long walk back to my friends house. I passed mothers passed out in their own vomit and sleeping on front porches. On arrival, I opened her door in one solid motion, looked her dead in the eye and with all the seriousness I could muster I mouthed, “Get me the hell out of Athens.”

now let us love: Womanism and Spirituality

I can remember sitting on the stiff pews of Our Lady of Peace church on Tuesday mornings. I couldn’t have been much older than six or perhaps seven. No matter the time of day the church was always dark and the twelve red candles which were placed under Christ’s bloodied image glowed against the dusty wood paneling. I hated being in church. It reminded me of the time my older cousins trapped me in my grandpa’s basement and turned out the light. Dark, old, and alone. This is how I saw religion. When father Grimes would take his place on the stage and pontificate about our vengeful lord I would imagine God sitting beside me and giggling along. I had decided quite early on that whatever strange things my teachers told me about life and God, they were not the truth. From the moment my bottom hit the pew, I would turn off and shut down.

Although I didn’t believe in God the way the old priests described him I still followed some of the bible stories. Until one December evening when I was on my way to my school’s Christmas pageant where I was starring as the Virgin Mary. My mother told me that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, my brother agreed with her, and I cried the whole way to the pageant. Even our beloved Christmas pageant seemed hypocritical and blasphemous. I was the mother of our lord and I only had one song and one line, while the cow, Betsy, stole the show with her four solos and twelve lines. Looking back it does seem twistedly accurate that a farm animal would be aloud more talk time then the blessed virgin.

I learned to resent religion early on. I hated it, I poked fun at it, I cut it out of my life completely and I never looked back. There was however, always a deep spiritual pull that resided within me. As a child I would climb to the top of my favorite tree and sit on it’s branches. I would spend hours wondering about reincarnation. I would develop stories of my past lives and become fixated on the details of them. I would wonder about heaven and hell and what the face of God looked like. On summer days I would run outside into the green of my backyard hungry and I would return hours later full. I was feeding on my spiritual connection with nature and deep thought.

I found spirituality again in my high school English class. There, we discussed dozens of books of which I had never dreamed of. These precious texts weren’t traditional or scholarly and most importantly they weren’t written by men. They were written by women, all kinds of women, and for the first time I was allowed to hear their voices. I had never before been able to connect with someones story the way I could then. It wasn’t just the stories that spoke to me. Everything down to the words these women chose were different. Even the sound became something other worldly and uniquely feminine. I explain feminism as something spiritual because for me it was. It opened a door which allowed me to connect with women on a deeper level than similar life events. I could connect through bodily and emotional experiences of the familiar feminine. Feminism was a snack for my soul, but still my hunger grew.

I was introduced to Universal Kabbalah in the spring of 2008 and I have been studying it ever since. I was young and living in New York City on an internship experience when I was taken in by the loving embrace of Naam yoga and all that it could offer me. I can still recall the way it felt sitting in the studio under the skylight, breathing deeply and letting my mind clear. In a moment of meditation I became genderless, and lifeless all at once. I had no sense of future or past that I could recall, I simply was. That single drop of time allowed to begin an important realization. We must stay connected with our bodies while remembering that we are not a product of them. We are simply spiritual beings having a human experience, and we all came from the same place, and we are all connected.

I believed that I was learning the truth. What I did not realize however, was the extent or power of it. What I was learning and had spent my entire life hungry for, was true love. This is not a romantic love, or a love for one other. Instead it describes a love and empathy for all. Recently I’ve been exploring texts by Layli Maparyan, Gloria Anzaldua, and Buddhist nun, Sister Chang Khong who have written extensively on spiritual activism and womanism. I have interpreted the idea of womanism as one that is fully inclusive of all people and lies in the belief that all beings are interconnected. To inflict harm on one, is to inflict harm on oneself because we cannot survive with out one another. This idea reaches far beyond viewing others as only human to include all living beings. In her memoir Learning True Love, Khong explains that we must help uplift one another in the present moment and we must work with love in order to find what we seek. In now let us shift, Anzaldua explains that spiritual activism takes place when the our inward transformation begins transform our outward actions.

By cultivating spirituality and allowing a space for it in our social movements and actions I believe that activists such as myself can find greater mobility for our causes. When we are outraged by a policy or an event that we see compromising our human rights or damaging our community, the most comfortable response would be to work from anger. Our horror is what pushes us into action. We want to fight against the enemy for our cause. When we stop and practice mindfulness, as Khong explains in her book, we can begin to move away from viewing the one who inflicts violence on us as our “enemy”. I personally like to use the example of “I am the rapist, I am the victim” By identifying with a rapist we are in no way condoning rape. We are simply acknowledging that we live in a society that allows for rape to occur, and that if we were to walk a mile in his shoes, perhaps we too would have made the same mistake or become the same kind of person. When we are able to see God in every living thing then we will be able to move from a place of love rather than hate. Hate and anger fizzle out very quickly. They are exhausting emotions and if you base a social movement in them, your cause will never succeed. True love is immensely powerful and it will provide the mobility needed to bring about social change.

If this concept is an uncomfortable one that’s okay, be patient with it. We must remember the real reason why we strive for social change. We recycle and vote for green policies because we love our earth. We push for a better educational system because we love our children and teachers. We speak up about violence against women because we love our sisters. This is where our outward actions should live. By becoming powerful we can create equality and change our society and we can do this by learning true love.

Words With Friends

I walked into the dusty cool house before letting my eyes adjust to the sunlight outside. I looked around, feeling terrible from the night before, I gave a wave and said nothing. “Sup Slut McGee!” My coworker held his hand out for me to shake. Ugh, so it begins. Apparently this has become my new name. I had to admit, it had a certain ring to it although it was a definite downgrade from the more familiar “Tits McGee”. It was Sunday, a day that should be honored by laying around in sweatpants rather than guzzling flat forties.

When the drinking games commenced suddenly anyone who couldn’t finish a cup of beer in twelve seconds became a “pussy”. Yes, because that’s exactly how we should be referring to female sex organs. In the midst of my fuzzy drunk fog I couldn’t help but picture everyone standing around the beer pong table as walking vaginas. I squinted my eyes and shook my head.

I’ve been surrounded by words like slut, pussy and the always heartwarming bitch, since before middle school. Sometimes these words were thrown at me in anger, spat by a serpent’s tongue. Other times they were nudged in my direction, “I don’t sleep around because I’m not a slut.” Then the eyes of the girl across the room moved gently in my direction. For as long as these words have been used to hurt me, or describe me, they’ve also been used in a way that’s playful and inviting. “I love you Bitch!” “I’m proud of you slut!” When we really sit and analyze the meaning behind these words it’s absurd to think that we use them in everyday diction. No respectable individual would throw around racist slurs, so why then are we allowed to get away gendered insults and slut shaming?

I stepped away from noise and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Upon returning to the table I was startled by my friend yelling “You slut! Why didn’t you grab me one?!” How did he know that the real reason why I forgot his beer was because I was blowing the rest of the party in the bathroom? Damn he’s good. I rolled my eyes in silent protest, turned the can towards the Ceiling and drank.

The truth is that I hate even hearing words like slut or whore because they hurt. They’ve been used to stab me in the heart so many times that the sound of them makes me cringe. Pussy doesn’t give me the chills, instead I find it absolutely infuriating. To refer to part of the female anatomy as weak is nonsensical at best. Men enter into this world through vaginas, they grow up fantasizing about them, they make love to them, and then they have the audacity to call them weak or worthless. My vagina and your drinking buddy are not one in the same.

Even worse than slut shaming or degrading the female form, are rape jokes. Last Tuesday I was sitting in my Spanish class and a particularly rowdy male in the back yelled “Dude, the culture section of the exam totally raped me, it was so stupid!” Oh really? Those three little multiple choice questions forced themselves inside of you? He later apologized for saying that they were “stupid” while completely disregarding the more insulting part of his comment. Rape isn’t something that should be played with. I don’t want to get comfortable with rape. It’s not funny to me or the countless other victims who have suffered through it. It’s more than a word, it’s a scar, a tear, a constant pain in my chest. Laughing about rape will only perpetuate it. In the same way that making words like slut, pussy, whore, and bitch appropriate for recreational use perpetuates gender discrimination.

I congratulate movements like Slutwalk for trying to reclaim language that has been used to divide and shame women but it is still very much a work in progress. There’s an idea floating around our society which insists that “words don’t hurt”, but I assure you that they do.  If you know how it feels to be hurt by a word, any word, than why would you use another to hurt someone else? We have to be conscious of our language and what we are actually saying before we say it. If you’re a gay man, stop using the word dyke because you know how it feels to be called a fag. If you’re a black man, stop using words to discriminate against gender, because you know it feels to be ostracized for your race, and for God’s sakes us women must stop using slut shaming to police the sexuality of our sisters. Using positive language and behavior is the first step to eliminating inequality.

The Divided States of America

I sat on a bench that ran along the north side of Ohio State’s legendary oval while I sipped my coffee and stared out across the green. It was a beautiful morning which was sure to turn into an idyllic spring day. But then suddenly something caught my eye. It was a sign, and after further concentration I noticed that there were more. Big, with blaring reds and pinks. I strained my eyes to see what they were displaying and then it hit me. The antiabortion crusaders had found their way back to our cheery campus to spread their hellfire and blame. They come every year to swarm the paths we women use to walk to class. Glaring and staring they shove their brutally vicious signs in our faces. Signs which carry grotesque images of aborted fetuses, as if that’s anyway to respect the dead. I wanted to scream loud enough for them to hear me. I wanted to run over to them and kick down their signs and make them see that I was right there and they wouldn’t scare me away. But I didn’t, instead I just watched. I let the blood boil up inside me and the tears well up in my eyes, and I sat.

I fumed silently the whole way home. I pressed my face to the Cota Bus window and closed my eyes. What are they still protesting against? Aren’t they winning? My inbox is constantly flooded with news about the attack on women’s health. Email after email telling me that my rights are slipping from my grasp. They scream at me and I scream back in protest, furiously signing every petition I can then throwing it out to a community that doesn’t care.

I got home and threw my keys on the counter. Digging frantically through my cupboard I found my tea and put the kettle on the stove. My phone buzzed from within my jacket pocket, “God, now what?” I read the received message and my mouth fell open. The Ethnic Studies building, Hale hall, had been defaced. This morning had brought with it more than a cool spring chill, it brought the realization of racism on our campus. At some point early this morning it was discovered that someone had spray painted “Long Live Zimmerman” on the side of the building.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Trayvon Martin case, get familiar, because it is quickly dividing our nation. Martin was a 17 year old black male who was shot and killed on his return to a gated community in Sanford FL, by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman described Trayvon as being “suspicious” because he was wearing a hoodie. Well, and he was black. After all there are no black families living in gated communities in this country. It’s a tragic case of racial profiling, a case that in this day and age shouldn’t be tolerated.

All politics and arguments aside, there was wrongful death. A young boy died because of his race and unfortunately that’s the reality of the situation. His grieving family, friends, and community must carry on his name as they strive for justice. I do not believe that George Zimmerman is an evil man, nor do I believe that his rash decision was completely his fault. Our society is a racist institution that sets both parties up for failure. Zimmerman was conditioned by the media and perpetual racist notions to believe that all young black men are criminals. This has got to stop. This separation of human beings based on their gender, race, and class. We are all people deserving of a community which loves, connects, and protects us, and quite frankly The United States isn’t it.

These battles being fought against marginalized races and ethnic groups as well as the ones being fought against women are tearing this country apart. Everyone has a side, or an agenda. We’re all seeking the benefit of one, but what ever happened to one for all? In this constant uphill march for equality and social justice are we losing our footing? When I stared at the picture of the defaced Hale hall I found myself lost in fear and confusion. In the same way I would respond to an adult bullying another, I want to step away from America and ask “Aren’t we too old for this?”

I’m sick of my own government attacking my rights as a woman, and even sicker of my brothers not standing up with me. I am sick racism and profiling, and overall ignorant behavior. No one loses in a society that is built upon equality. This is my country and I want it to be a safe place for everyone in it. I refuse to let oppression run my life and rip my community apart, I am standing up and demanding justice. It’s time for the Divided States of America to once again become United.

Oxygen: Television for Morons

I was in the midst of a romantic rendezvous with Across the Universe’s leading man, Jim Sturgess, when uninvited noise and clatter began entering my dream. Suddenly my delusions became dark and ridden with anxiety as I struggled to open my eyes. My make up from the night before had become a sticky glue. As I pealed my eyes open I directed them towards the television screen that lay before me. Sick with hangover and trapped helplessly between the cushions of an old leather sofa I began to comprehend what I was watching. What I saw disturbed and confused me. “What is this?” I muttered into the leg which lay next to my head. “It’s the Bad Girl’s Club. It’s awful but I can’t stop watching.” My friend sat staring off in a morbid trance. Rather than protesting I slid up on the couch and joined her.

If you have never seen Oxygen’s hit show The Bad Girl’s Club I would like you to first take a moment to congratulate yourself on not falling victim to mindless reality television. The series encompasses girl on girl victimization, violence, alcoholism, and overt sexuality. So basically, it’s old fashioned fun for the whole family. For whatever reason nine or so girls are placed in a lavish mansion in Beverly Hills, CA where they are pumped with alcohol and rewarded for their “bad” behavior with cheap fame. There is no lesson to be learned or encouragement to change their ways, only camera crews willing to instigate drunken fist fights and orgies. The Bad Girl’s Club is essentially Girl’s Gone Wild, gone mainstream.

Unfortunately this is most likely why it is Oxygen’s most popular, (possibly only popular) series. In today’s shock hungry society sex and violence sells and women are paying the price. So why then, would a television network who claims to be for women, exploit women? It’s simple really, the Oxygen network is playing into the market allotted for them by popular culture. Creating dramatic reality shows which display “independent” women as shameless, violent, lushes feeds the anti-feministic stereotype which our society has grown to love.

“See dude, bitches are crazy.” I cocked my head to the left to see where the voice was coming from. An unidentified male sat on the couch opposite from me and slurped up the pink milk from his fruity pebbles as he spoke, “Like this is why girls shouldn’t live together, you guys are catty and just plain nuts.” I turned back to the T.V. in time to witness drinks being thrown and hair being pulled. A one hour show had managed to push women’s efforts back to the stone age for my age group. Thank you Oxygen, for making my life as a twenty something feminist that much harder.

One must understand that I’m not basing my entire opinion on the effects of this show on someone who already refers to women as “bitches”, but at the same time isn’t this the reaction it evokes from it’s viewers? This series avidly promotes girl on girl violence as well as competitiveness which is a debilitating issue for women as is. These producers are banking on young women dividing and conquering each other like gamblers who throw down money at a cock fight.

I rolled from the couch and stumbled awkwardly into the nearby kitchen. As I sat down at the table I could still hear muffled screams from the television. I gained the strength to leave when seven girls attacked one girl in an argument on of all things, who was the “baddest bitch” in the house. Our stomachs turn when we see homemade videos of girls mercilessly attacking other girls on CNN, and think what has the world come to? Where did they learn this?  Well, this is where they learned it. Women learn to hate and to hurt at different levels through out their lives and competitiveness is intrinsically integrated into all parts of our culture, but it is here, on a television network targeted toward women where this kind of disgusting behavior is so obviously played out. It’s as if The Bad Girl’s Club is a step by step guide on how to exactly fit the stereotype of the new American woman.