A Chronicle of the Internet, Oct. 6-13, 2016

It’s been nine days since I informed the internet that I have been sexually assaulted more than once.

To be honest, I didn’t really mean to ‘come out’ like that. I’ve been shocked at the feeback I’ve gotten. I’ve heard that I’m brave for sharing. I’ve been asked why I’m sharing at all. I’ve been encouraged to continue writing. And, for the first time ever, I’ve actually gotten private messages from people sharing their own experiences and thoughts.

I don’t know if I’m brave because I share or if I share to make myself brave. I do know that I will continue to write. Somehow, that post came out just two days before sharing stories like that became the ‘normal’ thing to do.

It’s been one week days since a video came out of Donald Trump and Billy Bush privately talking about how being rich and powerful is helpful when assaulting women.

Suddenly, sexual assault became a hot topic. Trump’s poll numbers have plummetted as he called the conversation “locker room talk”. Republicans have withdrawn their support for him. Athletes have corrected him, telling him what locker room talk really sounds like. It’s seeming unlikely that he can win the presidency (thank God, but how did he get this far, and also just because he probably won’t win doesn’t mean you don’t need to VOTE!!!)

It’s been one week since Kelly Oxford asked women on Twitter to share their experiences of sexual assault using the hashtag #notokay.

Suddenly, my blog post from last week didn’t feel so personal. I’ve started wondering if the fact that Donald Trump is actually the nominee for President of the United States of America is part of the reason I’ve been writing so much about gender recently. As I’ve been reading tweets and exploring the world wide web, I’ve realized just how many women have had experiences similar to my own. I’ve also realized how important it is to keep talking, keep asking, and keep listening. To everyone.

It’s been five days days since I saw a Tweet arguing that talking about all this does nothing.

There are a lot of people out there who still don’t believe this is happening. And way more who just can’t fathom it (like a good male friend of mine who once asked me and two other girls in the most casual way he could manage if it was “actually true” that “all of us had been groped on public transportation”.  Yes, we all have, and also it’s super cool (in a non-sarcastic way) you were brave enough to ask. Obviously, this isn’t something you probably want to bring up with someone you just met. But talk to your friends who are different from you. It really doesn’t do much (other than provide some much needed relief and camraderie) to have a bunch of women in a room together talking about things that men aren’t even aware of.

It’s been three days since Michelle Obama personally responded to Trump’s comments, telling us that this is ‘not politics as usual’.

Just go watch the speech if you haven’t seen it already. Honestly.

And it’s been over a week since I’ve written a blog post.

Because I just don’t understand how the only good thing coming out of Donald Trump’s (he’s running for President) campaign seems to be thousands of women (and men) understanding for the first time what assault is, how rape culture works, and feeling like they might be listened to for the first time ever.

And at the same time, Donald Trump is the official nominee of the Republican Party. That means that many many many Americans support him. That means that he might be the loudest one right now, but he’s definitely not the only one. He’s legitimizing xenophobia, racism, sexism, and so many more  bad -isms. Even if he doesn’t win, it seems that we have a long way to go.

 

 

 

A Message to the Good Guys (or: I’m a Feminist and I don’t hate you)

CW: sexual violence

About four years ago, I found myself sitting in a room with five-hundred other incoming freshmen at Macalester College. I can’t say I remember a whole lot from my college orientation. It was a lot of what I expected: meeting new people, learning how the meal plan works, seminars on being away from home for the first time, and, of course, lectures on safety and sexual violence.

This particular hour was one of what seemed like many focused on sexual assault/harassment/violence. I remember it was one of the first times that I’d heard a good definition of what any of these things were. In particular, they announced the definition of assault. In front of 500 eighteen year olds:

Sexual assault is any form of unwanted sexual touching (fondling) or sexual penetration (rape) obtained without consent and/or obtained through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion. 

They went on to talk about statistics, saying that many of us who were sitting in that room either had been or would be assaulted at some point prior to or during our four years at Macalester.

I remember sitting in that room, thinking of all the times I had already, at age 18, experienced things that fall under the ‘official’ definition of assault. And I remember thinking to myself: “Does that count? I knew him. Maybe it was okay…I should have said no, it was my bad. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong? That has happened so many times and I’m fine, there’s no way that falls under assault. No, not me, there’s no way. I don’t want to put myself into that category.”

So I didn’t. I moved on with my life, started classes, and congratulated myself on really having a good understanding of the term ‘consent’, because Macalester gives out t-shirts that say Consent is Mac and consent is a buzzword and so I obviously knew what it meant.

Three and a half years later, I found myself on the phone with my mom, in tears because my ex boyfriend who I’d broken up with more than a year previously was still controlling my thoughts in ways I didn’t like. That conversation led to a lot of thought and a lot of writing and self-reflection. And that conversation ultimately led me to really understand consent. And to really understand just how often I had not given it.

I remember talking to my therapist about a month after that phone call. I was there to talk about my ex, but instead I was telling her about things that had happened four years previously, about the things I had shoved out of my mind during freshman orientation.

I remember saying to her “I don’t know if this counts as assault, but…”, and her response being “Well, yeah, it does”.

And that was confusing. Because what was I supposed to do with that information? How does putting a label on something that happened five years ago (or four, or three or two or one) really change me or the way I see myself? What was I even doing there if I’d decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to label any of that stuff?

My biggest questions remain: Why then? Why did his (my ex’s) behavior make me realize what was going on, when it clearly was a pattern in my life that involved more than just him? Why do I blame him more than the others? Is that fair?

Maybe it’s not fair. Maybe I should have done some deeper thinking (and admitting) that day during orientation. And the truth is, I don’t think admitting any of this to myself in March of 2016 did change the way I see myself, other than allowing me to recognize a pattern. And, as depressing as it may be, the very fact that I (and I consider myself to be a pretty ‘normal’ person, with a working brain, a fair amount of ambition, but still dependent on ‘society’ for how I see myself in the world) have experienced this pattern means that it’s definitely happening to other people, too.

In a certain sense, it’s comforting to know that it’s not just one person acting on another. And it’s comforting to know that most people out there contributing to this pattern have no idea that they’ve done anything wrong. Even more bizarre, a lot of people are like me, and have no idea (or don’t want to admit) that he would do something like that.

Does that mean it’s not happening? No. Does that mean it’s okay? No. But, it means that we have something to work towards: we don’t need to educate individuals, we need to educate the culture.

And that’s why so much of my writing has to do with gender. My dad yesterday told me that he had to re-read my recent post called Things Men Have Told Me, because he didn’t understand at first that the things listed there were things men had actually, literally, not-in-a-joking-way said to me. It’s not his fault that that wasn’t immediately clear to him. He’s one of the good guys, someone who would say the things listed in the second part of the post. But, at the same time, I was shocked that he hadn’t immediately understood. Because there is a reason that part 1 of that post is so much longer than part 2 is. Those things are such a normal part of my everyday experience that I sometimes forget that even the good guys don’t always know just how common it is.

Sometimes I feel like I’m overdoing it here with the gender stuff. Sometimes I think I’m just writing a bunch of things that are obvious and that everyone knows already. And tell me if I am. But I suspect it’s not as obvious as I think it is. I think I forget that less than a year ago, it wasn’t even obvious to me. I think it would do all of us human beings some good to do a little more thinking and a little more talking (with each other, not at each other). I think it would do us some good to make the bad things a little more obvious. I think, for me at least, the pain of that realization is worth it. Because if I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that even a good definition in front of five hundred eighteen year olds and a red t-shirt with the words Consent is Mac scrawled across the front is not enough to stop assault.

 

This is a Secret

I write to be vulnerable.

When you write, and especially when you write something that people actually read, it’s pretty scary. Unlike real life, when you write something and post it online for the whole world to read, there is no going back. Unlike real life, you can’t backtrack and pretend you didn’t mean it. You can’t compromise your opinion in order to validate someone else. The words themselves may be silent, but putting them in writing and adding an “About Me” page makes them feel loud, and above all, permanent.

I write to practice living day-to-day without knowing who knows what I think about when I go home at night.

And I write to learn to be okay with that.

Because while my writing is my opinion, my writing is not a lie.

While the things I say out loud are my opinions, the things I say out loud are not lies.

But somehow, even though I’m the same person when I write as I am when I speak, the things that come out of my mouth are not the things that end up on the page. The things that I say feel less definite, often starting with phrases like “Maybe” or “I wonder if…” or “I was just thinking today”, no matter how sure I feel or how long I’ve been thinking. Talking like that lets me retract my opinions. It builds a wall around my persona, allowing people to listen to me without feeling intimidated, and to respond to me without thinking too hard about how hard I’ve thought about an issue.

But with writing, it’s different. When I write, it’s not about anyone else’s opinion. When I write, it’s not to listen. When I write, it’s not to be interrupted. When I write, my words become powerful and authoritative, and that makes my person become vulnerable, open to attack, prone to being dubbed ‘wrong’.

Because although I don’t write when I talk to people in real life, those people that I talk to might be the same people who are reading this right now. No matter how many “Maybe” and “I wonder if” and “I was just thinking today”s I pepper my words with, those real life humans have the potential to know what I really think. Those real life humans could potentially find out just how strong some of my opinions are. And even though all of those writing-opinions exist even when I’m not writing, the thought of people “finding me out” still terrifies me. What if I offend someone? What if someone thinks I’m wrong?

But if you’re offended, maybe that’s good. If you think I’m wrong, maybe that’s good. Maybe that means I’m getting somewhere with all of this. Maybe by writing all of this down I’m really just confronting myself with my own opinions. Maybe my writing is my personal cheerleader, a constant reminder that going back on a strong opinion just to satisfy someone else isn’t gonna fly. It’s all written down. I could be found out.

PS: This post originally compared writing to love. I decided it was too cheesy. That does not mean it’s wrong or that I disagree with myself. I firmly believe that love brings out many of these same vulnerabilities. In a good way.

Things Men Have Told Me

Part 1: In Which One Reminds Me of the Place of my Body [That which I may not own]

  1. “Really? I have to try this hard?”
  2. “Punch like a girl”
  3. “Just because there’s a goal keeper doesn’t mean you can’t score!”
  4. “You’re really just planning on watching TV for two hours when we’re the only ones here?”
  5. “You aren’t interested in me because I have a girlfriend?”
  6. “If you aren’t lesbian and you aren’t in a relationship, just explain to me why you aren’t interested and I’ll leave you alone”
  7. “Don’t worry, you’re beautiful”
  8. “I’m sorry, I just need to be the one to wear the pants”
  9. “If you look at history, you can tell women are naturally more submissive than men”

 

Part 2: In Which One Helps Me to Reclaim my Brain [That which I may own]

  1. “If it matters to you, that means it’s important”
  2. “Everyone is worth the same amount, just half the population lacks confidence”
  3. “What do you want?”
  4. “Why do you always say ‘I should’? No one is judging you.”

 

I cannot own my body without help training my mind. What of those who do not have that help?

Thanks, Mr. Cole

Mr. Cole, elementary school teacher, had three rules for his classroom.

  1. Be Nice
  2. Try Hard
  3. Have Fun

At age seven of course, I didn’t know that those are not rules for the classroom, those are rules for life. Especially in the last year or so, whenever I start feeling discouraged, I go back to Mr. Cole’s rules. They’re a simplification of everything I’ve ever learned. But one thing I don’t think he ever mentioned was that rule #2 is both the most important and the hardest one to follow. You aren’t being nice? Try harder. You aren’t having fun? Try harder (or go to bed, you might just be tired). You aren’t trying hard? Try harder.

This week I’ve gotten a little bit sick of trying. The friends I have in Denmark are, according to my boyfriend (Hi, Eivind, thanks for giving me perspective on life), “one month friends”. That doesn’t mean they aren’t friends. That doesn’t mean they won’t become good friends. That just means that right now, I have to try hard every time I want to have fun. I have to convince myself it’s worth it to have conversations about things my five-year and ten-year and lifelong- friends already know. And at the moment, every social move I make feels so important: If I go here instead of there, does that mean I like these people better? Does that mean I’m choosing who I’ll be friends with for the rest of forever? Is it the right decision? What if I have a bad time and regret my choice later on?

My brain knows it doesn’t really matter and probably I can have more than one friend in Denmark. But I have to try hard to remember that.

That’s why (other than the fact I had a little too much fun on Friday night and was feeling a tad bit dizzy until around 2pm) I stayed home all day yesterday. Sometimes it’s just too hard to try hard. Even when the weather is nice and you’re pretty sure that the one-month friends you could go be in the sun with probably could turn into 2-month, 3-month, and then 5-year friends. Sometimes you just have to hang out with yourself while you wait for time to pass and friendships to form.

Soon, I know I won’t have to try quite so hard. It’ll seem natural to go where I go and do what I do with the people I’m with. But for now, I’ll just have to keep trying.

They’re Almost Always Hitting on You

Yesterday, I decided I would try (at least for the next couple of weeks) to wake up early (6 or 7) and go to bed early (10 ish) to see how it feels and to give myself some time in the morning to wake up and just experience the morning without talking to anyone else.

Now, it’s day two of going to bed early and I just got home at 11:15 because I was busy at a mansplaining session. This particular mansplanation was a better than average one to analyze for a couple of reasons. First, I saw it coming from a mile (or more) away. “Oh, you’re American? From Colorado? What’s the income tax there?” Don’t know why anyone would ask that before something like “What are you doing in Denmark?” or “I think I’ve heard of that–it’s the one with the mountains/weed/Boulder, right?” unless they’re preparing for an extra long discussion about American income taxes. Strange thing for a Danish chemical engineer to be such an expert on, but what do I know? I’m just a girl.

Second, this mansplanation went on for a very very long time, and I was a captive audience, doing dishes at the rowing club I just joined. That meant I had lots of time to analyze exactly what was going on, from what he said, to how I reacted, to what he said again. Lucky for me, I’m an anthropology geek, a feminist, AND an optimist, so instead of seeing this as the annoying situation that it was, I allowed myself to create the field around me and to use my observation skills to figure out what was really happening and why. In that sense, the longevity of the ‘conversation’ was optimal. Also, just a quick note on my interest in feminism–it’s fairly easy to specialize in anything having to do with women when you are a woman. You don’t even have to try and you suddenly have weird stuff happening to you.

Anyway. I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

He walks in, greets the other guy working in Danish. I do a little head bob that means “Hi, I acknowledge your presence, but I’m not going to say anything because then you’ll know I don’t speak Danish and I haven’t decided we’re going to be in the same room long enough to have that conversation”. I keep doing the dishes. They chat a bit in Danish. Then he says something to me, not sure what language it’s in over the noise of the kitchen. So I go closer and say “Was that in Danish or English because I don’t speak Danish.” He tells me it was in Russian and then asks me about the income tax in Colorado.

I tell him I don’t know or think much about the income tax in Colorado because I don’t really have an income and so it doesn’t affect me all that much at the moment. He counters that with a “Yes it does”, asks what I think about Reagan and Woodrow Wilson, and then guesses that I’ll probably be voting for Hilary. Got that one right at least. At this point, he’s name dropping both American politicians and economists from various places, as well as explaining the difference between the Chicago school of Economics and the Austrian one. I don’t really know how we (he?) got onto that topic. But I was feeling a bit uncomfortable because a) I didn’t really feel like talking about it b) I don’t know that many details about all these economists, and c) I think usually when people are mansplaining it’s because they’re hitting on you. C is of course nothing you would want to assume outright, so you have to play it cool and act like you’re just having a conversation even if you’re pretty sure you’re not. Also though, because you’re the girl and therefore the one learning and therefore on the lower end of the power spectrum in this (and other) situations, it’s probably a good idea to keep your guard up just in case C is what’s happening. So be sure not to show too much interest, but just enough that you’re being friendly. And smile and/or laugh on cue, but not in a flirty way because you’re not trying to flirt because he’s probably not hitting on you anyway.

SPOILER ALERT: HE’S ALMOST ALWAYS HITTING ON YOU

So anyway, I keep doing dishes, trying not to flirt but also laughing sort of nervously because all of the things I just listed are going through my head and it’s kind of hard to control nervous reactions when you’re just feeling a little nervous. And sometimes people you just meet can’t tell the difference between a nervous laugh and a flirty laugh because in a lot of ways they’re really similar.

Then he tells me I should come up with three stories: a good one, a bad one, and a fairy tale. Make sure they’re American. OK, fine. I can do that. It’ll keep the time going. I thought of some stories (definitely not my best ones but I guess they count because they’re American) and started to tell them. At some point during this exchange, the kitchen closes and the other guy (non-mansplainer) leaves for the night. So then I’m in the kitchen alone with this guy. And it’s raining kind of hard so I don’t want to bike home in the rain which makes me even more stuck.

This is when the good stuff started. “I wish I had time to teach this (economics and why big government is bad) to you!” “The New Deal didn’t help anyone” “If you only understood why equal pay laws are actually hurting everyone” etc. etc. etc. etc. I honestly don’t know what question I asked to get this all started. He did call it a lecture at one point. He mentioned multiple times that he was teaching me. I said a few sentences, but the prize in feminist anthropology I just won gave me no points against his arguments about whether and how women were discriminated against.

And then, and here’s the best part, after about an hour or maybe a bit more:

“Can I show you my home town?”

It came out of nowhere, and I wasn’t sure at first what he was asking. He had to clarify:

“Katherine, I’m asking you on a date.”

My response to all of this is perhaps more interesting than the fact that it actually happened. My ‘ideal’ feminist self would have left and biked home in the rain and maybe not done the nervous laugh that mis-led him. And my ideal feminist self definitely would have said something other than “Oh…uh…I have a boyfriend”as if that were the only reason I didn’t want to go on a date with him. It turns out though, that because he was controlling the situation from the very beginning, my ideal feminst got a little lost. It takes so much more energy to be the ideal feminist than to just go along with it. And as noted above, I just wasn’t really in the mood to talk about any of this tonight (or any night when I’m just trying to do the dishes) His name dropping reminded me that anything I might know probably isn’t so important (Taylor Swift once said “Why do you have to make me feel small so you can feel whole inside?”). Talking incessantly is a huge boost for his confidence and a giant feeling of me not knowing anything even though there were clearly some holes in his argument.

I actually went away from this whole situation feeling like he had proven me wrong about something. Luckily, I quickly remembered that I hadn’t said anything so there was nothing really for him to prove wrong. But still…what an incredible rush it must be to feel like you can prove someone wrong without even knowing what they think (other than equal pay is good and cops shooting black men is bad–I did get those points across).

Although this chemical engineer may be a pro on American economic theory, he definitely didn’t notice how little I said over the course of those 2 hours.

“I just feel like a sponge when I’m around Americans-I love the culture and hearing what they think”.

“You feel like a sponge?”

“Yeah!”

“Hm. I need to go to bed…did it stop raining yet?”

 

Americans Abroad

Every time I move out of the United States, my relationship with the United States changes a little bit. All of the things that are obvious to me and everyone else in the US suddenly become things that people ask me about. Yesterday, a japanese guy asked me what the differences are between the United States and Europe. I found myself unable to answer. As the American in the room, I become the authority on all the United States–the election, race relations, police violence, cost of higher education, healthcare etc etc etc. I often find myself saying things I wouldn’t dare say in the United States because people might notice that I don’t actually know the intricacies of ObamaCare or the details about where those $55,000 per year for private education actually goes. Not sure if you noticed, but the list above is limited to negative realities of the United States. When I say I become the authority, what I really mean is that I am put in the position of needing to choose sides. Am I one of those Americans that doesn’t believe in universal healthcare and thinks a wall built for Mexicans, by Mexicans might be a good idea? Or am I one of the good Americans that can fit in to the socialist (relativeto the United States) paradise which is Europe?

I need to dedicate this post to my Norwegian-American boyfriend who’s good at noticing things about me and other people that I often don’t see or want to admit. I could go into analyzing why being both European and American might allow him to do that, but I don’t want to. About a month and a half ago, I was with him and his extended family in Norway. It was the first time I’ve been to out of the United States with him, and the first time I’d been home with him to Norway. I can’t say that I recall the exact situation, but at some point just before bed, he said, “You have a very ambivalent relationship with being American, don’t you?”

Well, yeah, obviously I do. I’m constantly asked to explain why Trump and why no healthcare and why guns and why $55,000. All of those are things that I truly don’t understand or agree with. So if that’s what it means to be American, then maybe I’m not American and I should join in on making fun of it and just move to Europe permanently because obviously everything is better here.

But despite the fact that I’ve lived outside of the United States for almost 20% of my life, I can’t escape my Americanness. It’s how I was raised, how I was socialised (I guess if I were a real American I would say socialiZed?), and it’s at the root of how I think. I’m definitely not French (lived in France to figure that one out), a little bit less definitely not German (lived in Germany too), and I’m really really really not Turkish (also tried it out). From that pattern, I’m going to guess I’m not Danish either. It turns out, not surprisingly I suppose, that despite the imperfections in the United States and the fact that I disagree with some of the ways the country works, I am an American. Of course the ambivalence is still there, but I’m working on it.

Fast forward a bit, to Denmark. I’ve met quite a few Americans, both in my masters program and other places. Some of them have never spent much time outside the United States. Some are here because they married Danes. Some are like me and keep leaving the US even though there’s no particular reason to do it. Some are proud Americans, some are what I’ll call ‘ambivalent’ Americans, and some are doing their very very best to rid themselves of being American. Most of the people who fall into this last category are people who left the United States at some point and decided, for one reason or another, that they are never going back. The narrative goes something like “I can’t believe how awful that country is, it’s so messed up because of ___ and ____ and ___. I hope I never have to live there again”

As I was describing this phenomenon to the Norwegian-American (who is currently in the United States, so all communication is virtual), he gave me another vocabulary word to work with. “Oh, so that’s like an ‘enlightened’ American?” Enlightened in this case means “has made the decision that the United States is bad because policies that work and are effective in a place with a different history and context from the US are not in effect in the United States”. Or, alternatively “has understood that problems that exist in the United States do not exist in *insert country*, and therefore *insert country* has no problems”.

As I was saying above, it’s obvious that the United States has its fair share of problems. But, like it or not, the constitution does say that people are allowed to own guns. Like it or not, the United States does have a two-party political system. And, like it or not, Europe is in the middle of an identity crisis because there are refugees with different cultural and religious beliefs flooding its borders. It’s becoming more and more obvious that it’s easier to claim you aren’t racist if you’ve never met someone with vastly different views. Europe’s identity crisis, to me, exposes the reasons that the ‘socialist paradise’ has been able to exist for so long (it’s easy to govern a lot of blond people who have lived in Denmark or at least Europe for centuries and therefore have a lot of the same wants and needs) and the reasons that far-right parties are on the rise as well (not everyone is blond anymore, and some of them aren’t even Christian!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that America isn’t all that bad. Obviously we have our problems. But so does Germany, so does France, and so does Denmark. Assuming that policies that work in Europe would work the same way in the United States ignores the history of both places. Assuming that there are no policies that are effective in the United States is similarly naïve. Let’s try to move away from ambivalence, away from pride, and away from enlightenment. I don’t know what the word is for context-based understanding of histories and policies, stemming neither from shame nor pride, but also not shying away from an emotional connection to country or place. Maybe my boyfriend can help?