Just so we’re clear on “locker room talk”

I wrote this post in 2016, when “locker room talk” was recent news. It’s been sitting in my drafts page for more than a year, because it’s a touchy subject. But, because of the encouragement of a good friend, I have decided to share it with you all. Even though “locker room talk” isn’t recent news, we in the US have finally started really talking about sexual harassment and assault, which is a good step forward. With that preface, here is my overdue post.

When I was 13, a boy in my PE class thought it would be hilarious to do whatever he could to make me feel uncomfortable. That included sitting right behind me while we were stretching and putting his arm around me as we walked around the track. He put his name inside a heart in my yearbook with the title “your boyfriend.” He terrorized me for months, even into the next school year when we were again in the same PE class. When I went to the homecoming dance in high school, I praised a friend for “saving my life” when he distracted this boy long enough for me to run away from him. The best thing about moving to a new school my junior year was that it meant I wouldn’t have to see this boy again. I’m fine now; I’m not traumatized or anything, and I only remember this situation every once in a while, as if it were a dream and didn’t actually happen. I didn’t even feel like it was serious enough for me to say #metoo (that’s the wrong response to that movement, I know). It wasn’t until recently (aka more than a year ago) that I started thinking about this more, seeing the broken situation for what it was: a reflection of rape culture.

When I was 13 and this was happening, there was a part of me that knew I should report what was happening. I’m pretty sure I was able to label it as harassment, something that should be reported, but I didn’t. And I always decided that the reason I didn’t report was because I wasn’t brave enough. I wasn’t strong enough to take a stand for myself, even though I didn’t even need to confront him to do so. I always blamed myself for the fact that it kept happening. But that’s not okay. Because I was 13. And my teachers should have been advocates for me. I remember a few admonishments; it’s not like they did nothing. But what I really needed in that time was for someone with power to tell me that what was happening was absolutely not acceptable, that they were on my side, that they would give me power where I felt I had none.

I was 13, and my biggest concern was about being strong enough to tell someone that a boy was harassing me. I was 13. And I had believed the narrative that it’s the woman’s responsibility to make sure she is not harassed, and not the man’s responsibility not to harass her. I don’t even know where I learned that story, but I memorized it and sang it back to myself, making it a part of my story too. When a woman is sexually assaulted, society asks, “What was she wearing? Did she have anything to drink? Why wasn’t she more responsible?” We don’t ask, “Why did no one teach that man the importance of consent and human decency?” And that is ugly.

Now you may be sitting back and saying, “But Brianna, he just put his arm around you and sat really close behind you. You said yourself you’re fine, so what is the big deal?” Yes, my story is tame, but it’s still significant. And the big deal is this: when we deem an action acceptable (whether that’s officially condoning said action or just tacitly allowing it to happen), we open the door for more actions similar to that.

Image result for rape culture pyramidHave you seen this picture? This picture is why I am talking about this here today. This picture is what we forget when we get outraged when people rape but are content to say that “boys only care about sex, and you can’t change that.” The idea here is that rape culture builds. Rape culture isn’t about sex; it’s about power. It’s about people with power (not always men–that’s an important point!) who think that that power means they can do whatever they want with another person’s body. And when no one criticizes the small things, that just feeds the power. If you are going to be outraged when rape happens, then you need to be outraged when any person with power and privilege takes advantage of another person, whether it’s in a sexual way or not, even if it’s “just words.” Words give power to actions, and even if they didn’t, they would still be unacceptable.

As a society, we need to do a better job of criticizing not just the top of the pyramid, but the more “harmless” actions and words that give people with power a foundation to victimize people in the future. Let’s get rid of victim blaming and actually believe the people who come forward about sexual assault. Let’s call people out for rape jokes and cat calling. Let’s not celebrate men who ask for consent like actually decent human beings. Let’s advocate who, for some reason or another, cannot advocate for themselves. And that’s just a start. As I said at the beginning of the post, the moment we’re in now is a powerful one, and I really hope it brings about real change. Some of that change is going to come from institutions and laws, but some of it will start with simple actions done by individuals. May we be empowered and empower those around us to do so.



Every Precious Story

I’m going to talk about politics today. Wow. Crazy, right? Miss “Let’s All Just Get Along” wants to speak about one of the most divisive topics: politics, specifically abortion.

I can almost always see every side to a debate. That’s probably because I value harmony so much, or maybe because I have difficulty making up my mind. I dunno. But with most debates, I see both sides, and then I struggle to make a decision until I see a way to unite them. So it is with this issue. On one side, I see many of my Christian brothers and sisters fighting for the beautiful, valuable lives of the unborn (they’re not always Christians, but Christians are the most vocal in this demographic). On the other side, I see most of my progressive classmates fighting for the importance of choice and the health of the beautiful, valuable women who make that choice. I have a foot in both pastures, but I’m not here because I can’t decide. I am here because I think that there is, in fact, a way to balance both.

I think every life has value. I know I’ve already said that, but I do. I think every life deserves a second chance and that every person can do beautiful things. I want all of those lives to be lived out to the fullest. So I think that every abortion is a tragedy. I think God cries for the unborn children, as do so many who are burdened for them. I think it’s foolish to believe that life starts having value at a certain point in time. From the moment the egg is fertilized, there is life and the potential for a beautiful human soul to walk upon the beautiful earth we call home. Life is sacred, and it deserves to be preserved.

But I don’t think banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood are the ways to do that. You can ban abortion, but that won’t stop people from getting abortions. It will probably reduce the number of people getting abortions, but it won’t stop them entirely. And if they do it when it’s illegal, it will probably be much more difficult, dangerous, and maybe even more expensive for them. And if there’s anything we want less than abortions, it’s abortions that are also putting the life of the mother in danger. GUYS. THIS IS HUGE. The problem is not merely that it is legal for women to have abortions. It’s that women feel the need to have abortions in the first place.

The woman who can barely feed the children she already has will feel like she has no choice but to terminate the life of the child inside her. To her, that is more merciful. And that’s tragic. That shouldn’t be the only choice for her. And to solve her problem by simply banning or allowing all abortions is incredibly reductive. I think we can do better than that. Her nuanced, multifaceted problem should not be solved by a single, simple law, but rather with a series of specific, intentional reforms that give her life and the life she carries the dignity they both hold. And yeah, maybe we won’t be able to do all of these things. But we can still try.

So what are some of the problems? Unplanned pregnancy is definitely one. I think there should be better sex education and more access to contraceptives that reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies. What else can we do? Oh, how about rape? Maybe, just maybe (please note the sarcasm), men should stop raping women, which can cause emotionally charged and painful unplanned pregnancies. The objectification of women is a whole other issue that you can read about elsewhere on the internet (not saying it’s not important; it’s just a big topic that I don’t want to get into at the moment but that other people have gotten into. I also want to emphasize that it’s not just women who are raped, but that’s what’s mostly relevant to this discussion.).

Another question: why don’t more people go through with pregnancies and give their child up for adoption? Because society isn’t very helpful to women who are pregnant. I think there should be better health practices that make every pregnancy and birth as safe as possible for every woman, so that health is not a concern with going through538317_293248474104546_166862026_n with a pregnancy. I think society should care for every child that needs a home, whether through adoption or through the foster care system. I think maternity (and paternity) leave should be something employers do more so that it’s easier for a woman not to be anxious about expenses when she’s pregnant. Wow, guys. Treating women like they’re valuable both to do work and to carry life are such crazy concepts, but maybe we’ll get on board eventually.

I also think we should reduce the stigma that women face, whether it’s for pregnancy out of wedlock or for the women who do end up having abortions. Because sometimes, abortion does end up being the best, most merciful option. And we shouldn’t silence those who make that choice. They still have value and worth, and though we may be saddened at the life lost, we cannot do so at the expense of the woman who is standing in front of us. We should be less quick to judge and more eager to listen to each person’s individual story. Fred Allen (don’t really know who he is; I just found this quote in a book) said that “A human being is nothing but a story with skin around it.” Let’s listen to each other’s stories. They are truly gorgeous stories.

In conclusion I suppose I am both pro-choice (more like pro-all-the-choices) and pro-life, as in pro-every-life. I want to reduce the number of abortions happening, even, make this phenomenon disappear entirely, but I want us to recognize that it’s a complicated issue. I think women should have the viable option to choose life. Because life is beautiful, and we all have beautiful stories to tell.

Epylle Spydre

p.s. Here’s the excellent article talking about this issue from a feminist perspective that first sparked the thoughts that went into this post. And here’s another article that is more a critique specifically of the church’s involvement in the pro-life discussion, urging us to consider the full implications of what it means to protest abortion. These are both golden, so please read them.

p.p.s. I am almost certain there are aspects of this that I am forgetting. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you disagree with me? Let’s talk about it, friends!

Edit: 1/22/16 I changed the wording of one phrase in the fourth paragraph to specifically be about the legality of abortion. I also added the second sentence in the last paragraph before my signature on this date.