We’re having the “rape culture” converstion. Again.

This year, there has been so many conversations about ‘rape culture’; Jian Ghomeshi’s victims, verdicts of trials, women creating extraordinarily brave open letters to their rapists, run ramped on the internet. Survivor bravery is at its peak, as are memes and gifs and statuses and shares that support victim bravery, whether we know the victims or not. That is the good news.

The “bad news” of all of this is that despite all of this, we are STILL talking about rape culture. We are still lambasting media outlets and misogynistic judges and bystanders who applaud athletic effort over shunning abhorrent, disgusting behaviour of star athletes who rape — and care more about their feelings than that of those they have violated and victimized to the point where they must re-piece their lives, their agency, their sexual freedom and freedom to go to parties with the assumption that ‘nothing will happen.’ Despite positive steps in the right direction, here we are, again, collectively appalled by the results of a sexual assault trial; 6 months for being caught red-handed assaulting an unconscious woman. Because any more than that might have a significantly negative impact on the poor young rapist. And we wonder collectively why more women don’t speak up and stand up to their rapists: why? Because they are forced to be publicly scrutinized, judged, and most importantly, forced to re-live that moment again but this time, in front of everyone including lawyers and judges who clearly don’t give a shit what they have to say. Because the poor young student star athlete is suffering due to his remorseful actions (which he refuses, in the case of Brock Turner, to even acknowledge).

Because the reality of all of this is this: many people say one thing, and do another. They pretend to be male feminists, but they are still at parties taking advantage of women who won’t consent. They say they support and believe survivors, but they shun and isolate friends who have been assaulted and talk shit about them behind their back. They post memes with good intentions but then go on their merry way, ignoring anything that looks suspect at a bar because they don’t want to get involved. Because as long as there are vulnerable people, there will be people who want to take advantage of them and all of these good intentions is all for nothing because at the end of the day, rapists win in court and all the good intentions and combative posting and vehement sharing of posts like Turner’s victim’s powerful open letter to her attacker do nothing. We need to do more. We need to be better. We need to not only acknowledge and empathize with victims, but do more to fight for them, support them, listen to them, ask the right questions, make them feel validated and welcomed and most importantly of all, ‘NORMAL’. Whatever that normal looks like to the survivor.

Words I will never forget are from a former friend who once said to me in faux-concern that “[my] friends all agree that [I] need help” and that she “hopes [I] figure [my] shit out” or I will lose everyone I love. These words haunt me. When I think of them, I think of rape culture. Not from men who assault, but from women whose passive aggressiveness and their ability to attempt to use your own assault to fling back to you in your face, all the shitty things you’ve done and all your own fears of being alone or abnormal or isolated. Sometimes we assume all women and most men do their part to actively combat rape culture because they post positive messages and claim to believe survivors. And then behind closed doors they send a former best friend a private email like this and reveal that they might as well be assaulting girls and women too. This might sound harsh, but as a survivor of sexual assault, that’s how words like that feel: like a dagger in your back, like re-living your attack, by being reminded of how you often feel — as though you are nothing and nobody and it’s your fault that you were victimized.

“Rape culture” is oft-considered a buzz word that doesn’t really mean much because it means so many things. Like many areas of approaching the conversation about sexual assault, it’s best to ask victims how they see and feel and understand this supposed ‘culture’; to me, it is simply this:

Rape culture is the lack of actual support for victims. 

Rape culture is about hypocrisy, people who neglect to truly educate themselves about what survivors go through not just immediately after their assaults but possibly for months, years, decades after; rape culture is claiming to someone’s face that you believe them then going behind their back and gossiping about your “rape” to their friends; rape culture is men who take advantage of vulnerable men and women; rape culture is a lack of actively taking a stance on an individual, global or local scale against sexual assault; rape culture is claiming that women lie to entrap men; rape culture is not listening to the word “no”, and/or not understanding that rape culture is not just about ‘no means no’, but also and importantly, about ‘yes means yes’. Rape culture is isolating victims because you don’t understand them, rather than being supportive in your efforts to try to. Rape culture is acknowledging that the crime of penetration isn’t just about a penis in a vagina – it can be touching, groping, fingering, dry humping or unwanted oral sex but the feelings of the victim can still be the same regardless; all sexual assault is wrong and horrendous, no matter how the public perceives your experiences with assault and measuring it by comparing it to others’ assaults.

If you don’t support survivors, you support rape culture. It’s for this reason, rape culture still persists to this day. And why we all sit here angrily wondering how someone caught RED-HANDED can be sentenced to 6 months in prison. Why someone’s athletic career is prominently featured in an article about the crime they were convicted of. We don’t do enough to believe and support victims. We’re catty, we’re apathetic, we naturally exclude or fear what we don’t understand. We are sometimes people who take advantage of others And when we continue to stoop down to the lowest common denomination of what it means to be human, that’s when we continue a cycle of rape and assault.

 

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Ex-friends.

I had a whole life 7-8 years ago and that life has been completely destroyed. I look back at old photos and think about old memories as if I’m someone looking at the rubble of their former city. I wonder sometimes how I even go to a place in my life when almost everyone and everything that was so important to me — that once made me feel complete, and alive, and safe – dissipated entirely until it was 100% nothing. People that I once shared everything with from jewelry, to Halloweens, to annual birthday trips, are now just old crumbled foundations of buildings – strong, beautiful buildings — that have been burnt to the ground. They’re glimpses of something that is long, long gone as if in an old decrepit and unrelateable photo in a history book. I never expected life to turn out that way.

Losing people so catastrophically, violently and grandly feels like a divorce, a death, a train crash. It’s so much more than just letting events and people and memories go. It’s rebuilding your life, a new life where you have to consider that everyone and everything you trusted, held true and believed so deeply in, was all a big, nasty lie. That there are no such thing as the ‘bffs’ that your first real love told you in his cynical, sardonic tone did not in fact exist. That there’s no such thing as retiring to Palm Springs with your lifelong college mates as Carol Shields suggests in “The Stone Diaries”. That the notion of girlhood and everything associated with it as you believed it, to be washed away as simply as waves dredging rogue seaweed scraps onto barren sand. Losing people this way- with betrayal on one end and yelling and purposeful hurt on the other – is something you don’t really forget. You may not lose sleep over it, but what happens instead is this pang. This realization whenever these people come to mind, that out there in this big wide universe, you have enemies. Enemies that couldn’t even be bothered to make things right. Enemies that talked shit about you on social media in their late twenties. Enemies who at one point cried in your arms because of the boy who ghosted. Enemies who at one point you sent care packages to when they moved across the country. Enemies you texted so often each day that you literally blew up each other’s phones with mundane and frivolous conversations. Enemies that make you an enemy, too. When you never wanted to be ‘enemies’. The most hurtful thing is that you both became enemies. And if you encounter each other again, there will be either death stares, or side eye, or worse: truly, painfully awkward silence. Enemies who are all still as close as anything in the world with one another but who have all decided to kick you to the curb.

Why did this happen? How does this happen? What I lost is different from similar losses. The enemies I have made now were so close with me we received joint wedding invitations; we were never seen apart; when in the same classes during our undergrad years, we literally blew our TA’s mind with our thinking alike and acting alike and laughing alike. We weren’t just friends. We weren’t just friends who had a ‘falling out’. We were family whose family tree rotted, died, turned black, fell apart into irreparable ash. And when I think about it, even for more than the split millisecond I think about each day, I cannot fathom that pain, that shattered dream, that ruined close connection. If I dwell on this for even one split millisecond longer, I get suddenly so angry and sad and confused and ask again: WHY? WHY and HOW do people who were  this close with me, completely disappear? Why can’t things ever be like they were? What happened to the formative years of my twenties and when can or will something replace that notion of girlhood that has been cruelly ripped out of my gut? Why do people get divorced, why do we have to let go of the ones we love so much that an old photo just triggers so much of this incredible anger that I feel towards people that I would have done anything for?

In life now I have the most amazing career someone could ever ask for. I live in a place that doesn’t feel like home but it’s quiet, charming even, and full of incredibly wonderful people. I have a partner who I’ve gone to hell and back with and still value our Friday night dinner dates as much as I did when we were first falling in love. I have reconnected with my oldest friends and realized the qualities they possess, and the qualities they awaken in me, have been more worthwhile and important than I ever realized and that realization has both made me feel guilty, but also made me feel grateful. We can’t have it all, and we can’t sometimes let things go as easily as we’d like but we also can’t ignore the hope that the good things have brought in the wake of what has been broken. The world is incredibly complicated and strange and shocking. There are things that pain and things that heal, and things that lay dormant in the small, cozy caves of your mind before one day out of nowhere they sneak out of their hideaways just long enough to make you feel that pale-faced, hand-shaking anger and springing tears just one more stupid time before you cram them back into the place where they came from. I took a day today to think of and honour those feelings in a way I haven’t really done in a long time.

 

Now I’m going to floss my teeth, and turn on Sports Net, and then go back to the tedium of my idle Tuesday in late April.

“Good Enough”.

In this day and age we look at celebrities, people we know, models in advertisements, strangers on the street, people who are out there doing amazing things for themselves and for others (though for the purposes of this piece, we are mostly talking about people who ‘help themselves’ and even ‘help’ a loose term) and we compare. We look at the world and the people within it and wonder why we can’t practice what we preach on all those Pinterest quotes and Facebook memes and thoughts in our heads that we remember from cat posters on our classroom walls. Because the grass is greener elsewhere and we’re constantly searching for the greenest grass; for most of us, it’s rarely on our own lawn. And so we feel lost and we feel inadequate because we are exposed constantly to the wealths, successes and enjoyments of others. We wonder why we can’t be as thin, as rich, as ‘good’ as another person. We feel inadequate, undeserving of love or goodness or promotions. Because we’re not as good as someone else.

But we are.

We are good enough. We are good enough for our jobs, our loved ones, our bodies. We shouldn’t be ashamed of who we are and we should embrace that we are able to get up every morning, leave the house, dress ourselves, and be on our own. We should understand every single moment that we’re alive is an opportunity to celebrate what we are and what we’re made of. What we’re made of is this: we’re made of air and water and blood, sweat, tears, soft skin, and we’re designed to enjoy life in all its forms, from eating pizza to staring into the darkest depths of a Francisco Goya painting. We were born of someone who maybe thought we were the greatest miracle ever created, or else we chose a family member who thought this of us. We were born to make others happy and we were born to learn how to be adults and find our own families and our own places in the world, and regardless of what we think, we all have a place. Each and every one of us has a place. Maybe it’s covert and will take searching and digging and maybe it’s right there in front of us when we wake up in the morning and stare over to the right side of the bed. But we all do. All of us.

So many people, myself included, feel like we’re not pretty enough, strong enough, adult enough, woman enough, fit enough, athletic enough, brave enough, hardworking enough. And we must remind ourselves however we can, that we are. We are good enough. I am good enough. As I am. I don’t need to break my back and kill myself and dress a certain way or spend money on certain things or keep up appearances or feel that how I spend my day isn’t worthwhile. I am worthwhile. My loved ones think I’m worthwhile. My friends think I’m worthwhile. I just have to believe it. Today, I believe it.

A Rant About Loving Your Body, and Posting Your Stupid Workouts on Social Media.

There are so many opinions on loving one’s body in the information age. There is the “fit fam” camp who claim they are working out to showcase ‘their best selves’; there are sites and articles and companies trying to influence women and men to love themselves for who they are; there’s the “proud of our curves” camp; there are eating disorder survivors striving to love themselves again and recover from debilitating physical and mental illnesses. The uglier side of all of this is ‘girls in yoga pants’ on Twitter, pro-eating disorder websites, and so on. Women are usually at the forefront of this tug of war; they are objectified and have expectations thrust upon them. Suddenly it becomes frowned upon to not work out; suddenly not frequenting the gym and focusing on your body are taboo and the lack of working out induces guilt and a loss in social standing.

Why?

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion necessarily, but this is genuinely how I feel: I don’t care or believe women who say they’re working out for their ‘best selves’ if they’re continuously posting about it on social media. If you are posting it on social media you are leading a charge that is glorifying your self while inadvertently putting other women down and making them feel badly about their bodies. They are boasting that you have a ‘better’ body than them, you’re less lazy, and you have more will power. You are advertising that you measure your self worth by your thinness. You are perpetuating a problem of young women and girls believing they must be attractive for men, that the only way they will be socially accepted is if they are working out and placing it on importance above all else. And I refuse to participate in this outrageous bullshit.

I am lucky in my life that right now, I am bigger than I have been in quite a few years but I am with the love of my life who makes me feel sexier than I have ever felt. I am fortunate that he isn’t obsessed with the idea of a trophy wife and loves me for other great qualities I bring to the relationship that are more from how thin my body is and how often I frequent the gym after work. He appreciates that I can get drunk with him and eat red meat and dessert when I see him. And he makes me feel beautiful on the inside, and by proxy, on the outside as well. I’m not with someone who wants to make me feel pressure to be ‘perfect’ for him or that he won’t find me attractive if I’m 10lb heavier than I want to be. He tells me I’m beautiful and that he loves me, and I don’t worry about impressing him or feeling fat when I have moments of intimacy with him. I am comfortable with that, and happy, and I don’t need to kill myself for him or anyone else.

If I ever have daughters, the last thing I want is for them to be praised for their ‘beauty’ more than their accomplishments. I don’t want them to feel inadequate to men or their teachers or their peers or their family members because of their looks. I don’t want them to feel like they need to pump iron and be in pain and discomfort to try desperately to work out to impress anyone, to feel good about themselves, and because other people on the internet and in life expect that of them. I want them to remember that they are smart and sweet and loved and cherished and bring love and joy and talents and brains into the world. If/when they are also beautiful on top of all of that, that’s great. But I don’t want to gripe to my kids about being fat. I don’t want to deny them cheesecake on Saturday nights because I’m ‘worried’ other people will judge them based on their weight and appearance. I don’t want to be the kind of mother who is ashamed of her ‘fat’ kids and harps on them for something that should not ever matter.

I’m not here to please anyone else in my life. I’m here to please myself. I’m not here to post every day about all my stupid workouts, nor should I feel shunned and embarassed and judged for skipping the gym or eating a cookie to up my blood sugar on a Wednesday afternoon. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for eating a whole bar of chocolate or half a bag of Oreos. I spent a long, long time in my life – almost a decade – being very overweight and hating my body, and now that I’m (mostly) on the other side of that I fluctuate – I’m not always super thin but I’ve done enough to not retreat to being very overweight. I do what I do for me. I don’t need to instagram my running shoes or my plan for my abs. I don’t need to push myself to do something I find painful, unpleasant or uncomfortable just because I feel the need to be competitive with other girls or have everyone on social media marvel at how great my body is. Beauty and appearance come in many shapes, sizes and colours. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is beauty, and beauty should not involve bragging, shaming, boasting, and objectifying yourself.

I am done with these fucking games. I’m done with feeling badly about myself because other girls try and make me feel this way. I am done with obsessing over superficial trivialities because the whole internet seems to think that the most important thing to be is thin and hot. Done. Finished. I’m not going to look and allow these things to make me feel badly. I’m going to focus on myself and hope that my journey t loving myself will continue triumphantly and I can finally believe people who LOVE me rather than people who are trying to one-up me, myself included, when they tell me I am beautiful.