Saturday, October 31, 2009

What a feminist bibliophile coffee connoisseur's dreams are made of

The wonderful thing about almost-impossible dreams is that even if it's 100% not feasible (at least not yet), it's still surprisingly fulfilling to daydream about. It doesn't cost a thing to make plans or have ideas.

I have a new pie-in-the-sky dream to daydream about.
The last time I had a dream this pie-in-the-sky (we're talking, like, Balloon Boy altitude here) was two and a half years ago.
During my summer internship in DC, my Smithie roommates and I were daydreaming about a nonprofit based in the Bay Area that would serve mostly (though not exclusively) female victims of domestic and sexual violence. We even drew up some google documents. Lauren even took some time out of her internship on the Hill (during the slow time of August recess) to create some business plans in a binder, and did extensive research on 501(c)(3) certification and the political/lobbying limitations of such a nonprofit classification. We talked at length about the mission statement, and whether it would encompass only direct services or expand into policy advocacy and grassroots activism, and if the latter, what kind of lobbying we could & couldn't do as a (c)(3) nonprofit. (What can I say? We were total nerds like that. This is why I count these women as some of the best friends I'll ever have.)

That dream's not quite as compelling anymore; we all found our passions in slightly different forms of feminism. Both Lauren & Elizabeth are in law school on opposite coasts, and here I am in the middle, the underpaid and overworked grassroots organizer doing my best to stretch the hours long enough to make these red states slightly friendlier - or at least not more hostile - to the idea of reproductive freedom.

So we're all in different places, and I'm not sure what Lauren's & Elizabeth's dreams are anymore. (Are law students even allowed to have dreams?)

While I love my job and I love the politics of Kansas & Missouri (it's exhilarating to work in the same states as Great-White-Hope Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and the always lovely Hunger-is-a-Positive-Motivator Cynthia Davis (R-MO), among other d-bags), it's not perfect. I think it's the flatness. Maybe if I were down near Springfield and Joplin, with the Ozarks closer, it'd be better. But then...I'd be near Joplin. And, well, no thanks.

So a girl gets to daydreaming.

Mostly, I daydream about Denver. There's something about that place that just snuck into my heart and set up camp there, like a really wonderful heartworm. Or maybe some metaphor less parasitic, but it's late, and that's what I've got.

But yesterday, a new and exciting daydream entered the picture.
I happened upon this lovely twitterer, @SugarAndSass. Well, to be accurate, she happened upon me, started following me, and I followed my email notification to check her out.

Eventually, it led me to her blog.
Here's her profile:

Um. Hi, soul mate. What's up?

I sent her a short direct message on twitter (lemme tell you, it's hard to convey the message of "Oh my god, I think you and I may be soul mates. I love your idea, and I think you might have stolen my dream. Tell me more about your dream coffee shop/bookstore/sex ed resource/awesomesauce establishment so that we can geek out over feminist coffee sweet greatness together? Email me at this address." in 140 characters or less. I ended up using 2 direct messages. Totally bad Twitter etiquette [twitiquette?], I know.), and she sent me a long email in response.

After telling me her pie-in-the-sky ideas (notice how I'm using the word "pie" a lot when referring to a potential bakery? so clever, i am), she asked me to share mine.

They're all of 24 hours in the making, but here goes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sen Kit Bond doesn't care about rape victims

The note below is the letter I sent to Sen Kit Bond today in response to his "no" vote on the Franken Amendment.

First, watch the Daily Show segment calling out those who voted against Franken's amendment to protect rape victims:

Feel free to copy & paste what you want -- or write your own letter -- and send to your own Senator if they were one of the 30 male Republican senators who voted against S.Amdt. 2588. (Find your Senator's vote here.)

I cannot WAIT to replace this man with Robin Carnahan.


Senator Bond:

I'm writing to express my extreme disappointment with your vote two weeks ago on Senator Franken's amendment (S Amdt 2588) to the Defense Appropriations Bill (HR 3326). You, along with 29 of your male Republican colleagues, voted against his non-controversial amendment to protect rape victims. His amendment will deny the granting of federal funds to contractors that prohibit their employees from pursuing their full due process rights for certain crimes.
Your "nay" vote on this amendment protects these companies, putting their financial needs above the needs and rights of their employees. It troubles me that one of my Senators, elected to represent me and the people of my state, would prioritize corporations over rape victims.

There are a lot of things I do not understand about your vote, and I am genuinely curious to hear the reasons behind the decision to vote against this amendment.

I heard one of your colleagues argue on the floor that this bill targets Halliburton, and is a political move against one corporation. This amendment, though it does mention Halliburton by name, does not limit its scope to one corporation. Any company found to be participating in these practices would be denied federal funds.
The denial of federal funds due to unethical practices is nothing new. You voted "yes" to Amdt 2355 to HR 3288, prohibiting federal funds from going to ACORN. This adds a particularly troubling aspect to your vote: You are willing to deny ACORN funds based on the unethical actions of some of its employees. You are not willing to deny Halliburton or KBR or other similar companies funds based on the unethical official company policy.

The fact that it seems as though you are willing to side with large corporations over rape victims scares me. Last year in Missouri, one rape was committed every 5.5 hours (this number does not count any unreported or statutory rapes, or rape committed against male victims).* It concerns me that a representative of a state with such a serious problem with rape would not take the needs of rape victims seriously.

Jen L.
Kansas City, MO

*MO's 2008 crime statistics on rape can be found here:

Friday, October 16, 2009

how to write about rape & sexual abuse

But first:

How NOT To Write About Rape & Sexual Abuse
I'm sure that with a simple overview of my internet history from the past couple weeks, I could come up with a list of about 50 articles from mainstream media sources that exemplify the utter failure of most journalists to accurately and sensitively write about issues of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual violence.

I don't have the time or the patience to compile that list, though, so I'll just stick with the one that most infuriated me.
This story is also local to Kansas City, as is the better one I'll highlight below.

On October 11, the Kansas City Star printed a story from NY Times writer Michael Cieply. The KC Star version wasn't published online, but it was an abbreviated version of the full article, published on the NYT website here.
Surprisingly enough, the full version is actually slightly less offensive than the abbreviated version that the KC Star published. They left out some of the (still problematic) nuance that Cieply provided, giving a vomit-inducing, unmistakable narrative of "gee darn, no more sex with the young'uns! Weren't the good old days grand?"
For proof, I give you this picture of the headline subtitle that I took with my phone, as seen in the print version of the Star on Sunday, Oct 11th:

I hate how often I need to say this, but it seems to bear repeating. Again.
Rape. Is. Not. Sex.
Polanski did not "have sex" with the victim. Even the article itself includes this line (though it's mentioned & not addressed again): "...even while acknowledging that the victim [name redacted] had offered grand jury testimony of forcible rape."
Cieply's article was bad enough in its original form.
And somehow, the KC Star managed to take a terrible article and make it even more offensive.

Now, I get to the better part. A publication that is responsible AND responsive. This is also partially a story of how much I love Twitter.

How To Write About Rape & Sexual Abuse
On Thursday, Oct 15th, the Pitch Plog's Twitter feed (pulled directly from their postings) showed this:

I was pretty sure that "child sex" was a misnomer, so I followed the link (the pic above is linked to the tweet pictured). Sure enough, the article that followed the misleading headline was in fact about a child sexual abuse case. The copy of the article was actually pretty well-done - factual and to the point, without any offensive mentions of "sex" with children.
I expected better from the Pitch, which is one of KC's local more alt-news papers. They're generally pretty liberal and responsible when they cover serious issues like this.

So, in a display of what I was pretty sure was naïveté, I sent this reply tweet to the Pitch:

And here's the part where I love the immediacy of Twitter.
Within a couple of hours, the headline had been corrected, and read as follows:
Settlement reached in child sex abuse case naming former KC bishop
Thank you, Pitch. (And yes, I thanked them on Twitter, too.)
I wish all media sources were as responsive when it came to journalistic sensitivity and responsibility around sexual violence.

Oh, and I received this lovely direct message from @pitchplog on Thursday night:

There you have it.
It IS possible to get it right, and to admit when you've been wrong.
Well done, Pitch.
(Disappointed, KC Star.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

quick hit: rape culture 101

So much has been said lately in the media about sexual abuse.
Unsurprisingly, the media has more often than not been pretty awful in their reporting. (See, for a quick example, MSNBC's story on Tyler Perry's revelations of childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in which they describe his abuse as being "seduced" by a friend's mother at age 10. Yes. "Seduced." MSNBC: You cannot seduce a 10-year-old.)

There's a lot I could write about, from Mackenzie Phillips' memoir that reveals the drug- and alcohol-fueled sexual abuse by her father to Tyler Perry's recent revelations of childhood abuse to the debacle with Roman Polanski finally being (re-)arrested for the rape he committed 30-some-odd years ago.

But I won't, for now.
I don't have the emotional and mental space to hold all of that today. It's been a tough week.

Instead, I implore you to read Liss' post over at Shakesville. Read it. This is not one that you should pass over. This is one that every person who interacts with any other human being needs to read.

Rape Culture 101.

A long-ish teaser:

Rape culture is 1 in 33 men being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is encouraging men to use the language of rape to establish dominance over one another ("I'll make you my bitch"). Rape culture is making rape a ubiquitous part of male-exclusive bonding. Rape culture is ignoring the cavernous need for men's prison reform in part because the threat of being raped in prison is considered an acceptable deterrent to committing crime, and the threat only works if actual men are actually being raped.

Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is not even talking about the reality that many women are sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives. Rape culture is the way in which the constant threat of sexual assault affects women's daily movements. Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you're alone, if you're with a stranger, if you're in a group, if you're in a group of strangers, if it's dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you're carrying something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you're wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what jewelry you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who's around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who's at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch your back always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and didn't follow all the rules it's your fault.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

autumn is the most delicious season

Quick update, 'cause there's a lot happening that should probably be recorded.

So, here's September, in a very small nutshell that's probably leaving out a lot:

I went home! I spent a glorious day and a half in lovely Northampton with the fam before heading to a weekend conference. I got a fantastic massage from my masseuse, paid for in part with gift certificates from my friend-mom's café. (i really wish i had a title for her. friend doesn't work, but surrogate mom is awkward, and i'm not sure what's in between.) It was really, really wonderful.

The weekend conference I went to was the amazing Women & Power conference at the Omega Women's Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.

The theme was "connecting across the generations," and I met some absolutely incredible people. One of my roommates there, Nina, is a freelance writer for WireTap. I met Katie, a 17-year-old high school senior from outside Boston. She started her own nonprofit when she was 14. No, really. Now 501(c)3 official and has spread across the country and everything. Minga is a completely youth-run nonprofit that empowers other youth to take action against the child sex trade. Ann from Feministing and I had a bonding moment over midwestern feminists. (There weren't many of us there. And we're kind of amazing.)
There were so many other incredible people there, I can't even begin to explain. Feministing live-blogged the whole thing, which was great. And we really did connect across the generations. Sure, there were problems. There was a serious lack of queer representation, for one. But it was great, and amazing, and on and on and on.
AND Omega is absolutely beautiful. Mmm.

My heart broke a little bit when the fam drove me to the airport on Monday afternoon. It breaks a little bit every time I leave my beloved valley next to the Berkshires. And then it melted when my 5-year-old little bro wouldn't let me go to get through security. And when he reached for his mama's wallet so he could "use all your money so jen can stay."
Broken, melty heart all over the place. What a mess.

Two days after I got back to KC, I left again, this time for Denver. First was a training for work -- we're switching data management to the VAN, which my inner geek couldn't be happier about. And then I stayed in Denver for the rest of the weekend with my friend. I spent the day wandering around downtown, we went to a show, I met & kissed a cute girl, we went to brunch, we hiked Red Rocks, and it was wonderful. As Denver always is.

And I decided that I'm 95% sure that Denver will be the next stop on this journey. (Always leave 5% of certainty to unexpected twists of fate.) Possibly, this will be soon. My beloved employer, like most employers and most nonprofits, is having a rough time, financially. The future of my position in the organization is no longer sure, and is currently only funded through a grant that will end soon. I could stay here in Kansas City if I lose my job. A friend offered to help me get a job at the used bookstore chain he manages -- which, to be honest, is a pretty close second to the work I'm so passionate about doing now. I could stay here and volunteer at what would then be my former employer and make my money slinging coffee and selling books.

But I would have to want to stay in Kansas City.
And, to be honest?
I don't.
It's not that there aren't amazing people here -- there absolutely are. I'm amazed and in love with a lot of the incredible, wonderful people I've met here. And some of them will hopefully stay in my life after I leave.
And it's not that I'm unhappy -- I absolutely love my work. I love the politics of these red states. I love the challenge of finding common ground. I love that it's not east coast politics, and not everyone thinks alike. I love the political champions I've met, and I'm impressed by their willingness to stand up, even in the face of the secret hotbed of crazy that is Missouri and the sometimes-violence that is Kansas.

But the place doesn't feel right.
I didn't know that place could have such a profound impact. Or maybe I did, but I thought maybe if you carried "home" and love with you, place wouldn't be a big deal. There's just something about Kansas City that doesn't fit with me, with who I am. Maybe it's the energy. I think it has a lot to do with the flatness. I grew up in the foothills of the Alleghenies and found home in the foothills of the Berkshires. There's beauty in the flatness, but it just doesn't feel right. I couldn't settle down here. I've learned and am learning so much, and I've grown and am growing so much. But I'm almost ready to go, to move on to the next thing.

Denver, though. Denver feels right. For one: mountains. Serious mountains. The Rockies don't mess around. For another: the feel of the city. The energy of it. It fits.

I mean, look at this place. It looks like a postcard, but I swear, this is real. I took it with my own camera and saw it with my own two eyes.