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  • My Self-Doubting Resistance Is The Frickin’ Terminator

    It doesn’t love me. It doesn’t have my best interests at heart. It doesn’t want me to grow. And it will literally kill me if I let it. “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!” Creative Commons license photo by Daniel Oberhaus (2017) on Flickr Many mornings I wake up and think, “Shit, I’m still alive.” My favorite time of the day is night, when I sleep and enter oblivion — what death must be like, sans dreams, if atheists are right. I’ve read that a coma is one step away from death, and sleep one step from coma. Two steps from death, every night. Maybe one night I’ll get lucky, huh? I hate feeling this way. I’m not, by nature, an unhappy person. In fact my mental health support group sometimes wonders what the hell I’m doing there; I’m always smiling and cracking jokes and saying positive things to others. It’s no facade; that’s the real me. But I’m there because I’ve struggled on and off with depression since adolescence. I went through an entire life stage I call the Angry Drunken Bitch years. When sexually frustrated single guy George Sodini shot up a women’s gym in Pittsburgh screaming about feminists, I became fascinated with his blog because, as monstrous as his act and sexual entitlement were, I felt a certain uncomfortable weird kinship with him. Along with Elliott Rodgers, the Killer Virgin. I ‘got’ that sense of entitlement. They felt entitled to sex with women, and I felt entitled to romantic success, to love, perhaps spoiled by much easier pickin’s when I was under thirty and a popular belly dancer in a medieval re-creation group. It took me many years to figure out just how entitled I felt as an A.D.B. Now my jaded ennui has evolved from losing my job last year to a life re-evaluation revealing just how much my life has sucked for years and how I don’t want to do this anymore, but I don’t yet have an escape plan. Is it a good idea to just sell everything, move to an island, and die in a small community younger than I might have, or am I ignoring how I can stay put and find meaning and a happy life again right here? How much of my depression is actually my fucking Terminator trying to keep me from ever doing anything that makes me happy, and most of all personally growing? Resistance is insidious. Resistance is implacable. Resistance is indefatigable. Resistance is protean. It shape-shifts. It lies. It dissembles. Its aim is to destroy us, body and soul. The Terminator, i.e. Resistance, i.e. the yetzer hara, does not change and cannot change. — Steven Pressfield, Villain = Resistance American novelist and screenwriter Steven Pressfield writes books about the Resistance that dwells within us all and ceaselessly toils to keep us from achieving our true potential. It’s my fear of moving forward, the procrastination, the perfectionism, the excuses I make, the endless distractions I create for myself— Netflix series, movies, social media — so I can keep the Resistance — my own personal Terminator — at bay, where it waits patiently for me to get up to brush my teeth and go to bed, so it can resume whispering its destructive messages. You suck. You aren’t good enough. You’ll never succeed. Your business venture is a crock of shit. Don’t even think about trying to strike out on your own, you moron. Better than you have failed. What makes you think you can do it? You don’t deserve better. You’re the very definition of mediocrity. Yeah, you’re successful now but it’s all about to end. Then they’ll see the imposter you really are. Resistance is, as Pressfield explains, an ‘entirely negative force’ built into us whose ‘solitary aim is to block the soul from communicating with us and us from communicating with our soul.’ He defines ‘soul’ by the Jewish tradition, the part of me that wants the best for myself in a beneficent, non-selfish sense. The yetzer hara, Resistance, is my compulsion to self-obstruct and self-destruct. He compares it to The Terminator. Why the hell I have an Inner Terminator seems to be a mystery to brighter brains than mine, but we all have it. Even the most successful. It’s why so many young, promising musicians join the ’27 Club’. Why so many celebrity lives have been destroyed by drugs like cocaine and crack. I never understood why celebrities took such a self-destructive drug until I read about the sense of power and confidence it gives, especially before a big concert or performance. Okay, fair enough. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I had to perform in front of 45,000 people in Shea Stadium who’d paid good money to see me do — something or other. Someone I kind of admired, who always seemed to have his shit together, who’s more successful and more educated and more experienced, born into more privilege than I, just failed at his third attempt at being a senior leader. I know he failed this last time and I suspect he failed at his first two. He gave what I thought were inauthentic excuses for why he’d left the other jobs so soon. He got demoted at his last position and left shortly thereafter for a new job — where he’s no longer in a senior management position. Pretty sure he’s dealing with his own Resistance, as on top of the world as he often was. Something stops him, I suspect, from examining why he’s not cutting it as a senior manager when his stars are otherwise aligned. Image by Markus Distelrath from Pixabay I’ve spent the last year attempting to confront my own Terminator, a seemingly disembodied entity that lives within me trying to tear me down the way one particular guy in high school did. Dan is sort of my psychological bête noire. No matter what I did, what I tried to learn or accomplish, he was right there with me in a lengthy class hanging over my shoulder assuring me almost every damn moment that I was ugly, stupid, a dog, a Wolfwoman, that I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I’ll never be any good at anything. He’s not someone I think about a lot anymore, at least not until the past year when I came to realize my Terminator is a lot like Dan. It’s always there to keep me from being better than I am. Telling me I can’t do that, it’s too late, I’m too old, that’s not for me, success is for others, who do I think I am, I’m mediocre and always will be. But it’s not fair to hang this all on Dan. I only realized he’s a bit of a bête noire after I re-read my old college journal and was struck by how I was still going on about him two years after graduation. At some point I got over it. Maybe after I became a belly dancer and proved I wasn’t such an ugly dog who’d never get a guy after all. The Terminator speaks to me in a chorus of voices synthesized into one. It’s my parents overprotecting their little girl; other bullies from school; the nutty bosses who were either crazy, stupid or gaslighters; the legions of single men who found me utterly unfascinating after 35. But most of all, there’s a little girl’s voice there, feeling not-good-enough on some fundamental level that can’t be blamed on her parents, who always encouraged her to do her best, who always felt a little left out and left behind and dreamed big dreams that would never come to be. Her Birth Terminator. My Terminator has worked against me my entire life, and underlies most of my depression. Adolescence is usually when things go tits-up for kids, especially young girls. My happy life in Orlando was uprooted by a bad economy, and Dad’s job search landed us in a small Ohio town where I had little in common with the other kids and from which I nurtured a lifelong resentment for why I had to put up with these Midwestern numbnuts when things had been so much better in Orlando. It’s only in very recent years I’ve been able to release that resentment, once I realized that not only would adolescence have ended my childhood innocence no matter where I lived, but, with 20/20 hindsight, I see evidence that my life might well have grown considerably worse had we stayed in Orlando, where I’d begun attending an integrated junior high school half-filled with angry, impulse-uncontrolled black kids shaping up to hate my white middle-class blonde ass in one of America’s most racist states. ‘The road not taken’ is sometimes the one best avoided. Now I challenge my self-doubting self-image, questioning whether I’m really as much of a loser as I sometimes think. Am I lazy and unmotivated, or is this a siren call to do something different that doesn’t make me want to rip my brain out of my head? I’ve explored freelancing and becoming a solopreneur as I realize what’s truly been missing is a sense of meaning or purpose. I’ve got a lengthy career in I.T. sales and the first twenty years were awesome; only in the last eight or nine did I start taking jobs for the money, which is almost always a recipe for misery. Now I’m preoccupied with personal development and growth, which the Terminator doesn’t mind as long as I don’t actually attempt to change anything. I’m always allowed to dream, I’m just not allowed to change. I do, though. The Terminator gets over it, but always worries about the next one. “Where there is a Dream,” Steven Pressfield tells me in a different blog post, “there is Resistance. Thus: where we encounter Resistance, somewhere nearby is a Dream.” There it is: The Terminator, Resistance, exists to keep me from achieving my dreams, unless I become very good at working to overcome it or just not fucking listen. It’s a sign, however, that I’m on the right path. The Terminator doesn’t care about unimportant pursuits. It only needs to keep me in the Safe Place where it doesn’t have to face potential failure, rejection or shame. What’s on my fridge. What’s the secret? How I push past The Terminator is what I’ve always known: Just do the work. Just fucking show up to work every day, whether that’s at an office, or to look for a job, or to turn my side hustle into a real business. A few things I keep in mind about The Terminator: It’s not personal. It’s not me holding myself back. My true self wants to be happy, to achieve, to accomplish, to live a meaningful life, as long as that definition is mine and not others’ standards. Resistance is there to stop me. I don’t know why; I can’t imagine what evolutionary purpose it serves. It just is, like the mold in my bathtub. I’ll be bock! Everyone on the planet lives with their own Inner Terminator, even if they don’t show it. I’m not alone. Everyone else fights my struggle too. I don’t need to be ‘motivated’. The Terminator binges on ‘motivation’. It kicks up and convinces me I need a ‘mental health day’, often with a lot of ‘navel-gazing’, which amounts to an utterly wasted day I could have spent moving closer to my dream, and now I feel like a loser because I allowed myself to be sidetracked. I can’t work toward my goal when I feel like it; I have to show up for work and do so every damn day. I can’t kill it. Just like James Cameron’s Terminator, it will be with me until I die. But it doesn’t have to be my giant robot Adversary, blocking me at every turn. Satan tried to distract Jesus in the desert by promising riches and power; Jesus was like, “Nah.” The most important thing I must remember about my own Terminator, though: It can kill me. I hear it in myself, and the voices of friends and colleagues who fall prey to the army of Terminators tweeting, posting and botting messages of hopelessness and despair. If I listen to that negative voice long enough, it will wear me down and one day I might toss in the figurative towel and say, “Okay, I agree. Enough is enough.” And then do the deed myself.This morning I woke up and The Terminator said, “Shit, we’re still alive.” And I said, “Fuck you, Terminator.” And I settled down to work. Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash This originally appeared on Medium in August 2020.

  • Child Abuse: Where Abusers & Victims Learn Their Craft

    Why do we still not understand this? Free for commercial use photo from PxFuel I haven’t wanted children since I first gave it serious consideration, as I prepared to catapult into adulthood upon high school graduation. Growing up, I’d always assumed, as most people do, that I’d have children one day. It never seemed real, and once I actually began to consider it (not soon!) around 17, I found that kids didn’t fit into my plans. Granted, my ‘plans’ at the time were pretty stupid: I wanted to go to Hollywood and be an actress. My father had other plans: I would go to college, which he had been saving up for since I was nine. I wouldn’t have cut it as an actress. I was like Penny on The Big Bang Theory — more enthralled with being a Movie Star than any real interest in the craft. I’m glad I stuck to my guns on children rather than my childish fantasy. I thought it through, like birth control and what I’d do if I got pregnant anyway. No question: Abortion. Not everyone should have children. Too many do it without thinking, or by default. Oopsie, I’m pregnant, well, I don’t want to make the ugly abortion decision so I guess I’ll have the baby. Worse, society takes a dim view of adoption and women who consider it are ‘mom-shamed’ with, “How can you possibly give up your own child?” If they’re not ready for parenthood, they shouldn’t assume the mantle. They deny that child the possibility of a better life. (I’m thinking of someone I know whose mother did the right thing by choosing the adoption route.) The decision is easier for the guy. He can choose to opt out if he wants. It’s not fair, but that’s biology. The onus is mostly on the woman. Still, both need to take the potential oopsie seriously. Men need to think about where they shoot their seed and women need to consider harder whom they allow to shoot their seed into them. Because raising children isn’t for the uncommitted, and ruining children for life is always a joint effort, regardless of who’s present, or not. Recently I wrote about the toxic vulnerability in female psychology that impels some women to fall in love with abusers or even worse, serial killers and other prison cons. I am reminded once again of just how much some people shouldn’t have children. Like, the sort of people who breed abusers and serial killers. The research started for a friend’s movie project, just as I was finishing up, ironically, a book called When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence by Canadian writer Patricia Pearson. She describes how female serial killers and abusers may be far more common than believed, and how polite society is far more willing to excuse violent female behavior than males’, especially if she claims prior abuse. The abuse defense doesn’t hold for men raised in similar circumstances. Prior to the Pearson book I re-read James Gilligan’s now-classic Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic which catalogues how some of the most violent men in prison can detail hair-raising stories of physical, sexual, and mental abuse growing up. Tales of being locked in closets, burned, starved, neglected, raped, tortured. Consider this: Behind many hateful, misogynist, violent men are little boys who were abused and neglected by Dear Old Mom. Not all men abused by the early women in their lives grow up to become abusers. Some learn to be victims. Not all women growing up with abuse become victims; some become abusers. Until very recently, women haven’t had many career options apart from traditional roles like nurse, teacher, and the wank fantasy of misogynist men everywhere, the stay-at-home mother. Throw in some pretty outdated expectations in a seven-billion-and-counting world that we need to ‘go forth and multiply’, and you’ve got a helluva lot of people making babies who shouldn’t be, not without a LOT of forethought and soul-searching. After all, not all abuse victims grow up to be abusers. Some make the deliberate effort to be a better parent than their own. The Hallmark moment. Image by Bessi from Pixabay Children who are beaten by their fathers tend to grow up to become victims, whether they are boys or girls. Children who are beaten by their mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to become victimizers. — Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence We don’t appreciate the awesome responsibility of raising another human being nearly enough. I have maintained for many years, quite literally, that being a parent is the most important job in the world. Raising another human being to the best of your ability makes all the difference as to how that human will impact their environment and the people around them. You can’t avoid making mistakes, and sometimes you do your level best and the child still turns out a huge disappointment. Good parents sometimes raise mass murderers not because they were bad parents, but because the child is genetically predisposed somehow. Humans are incredibly messy, complex creations. The human brain, many scientists agree, is THE most complex creation in the entire Universe. As any engineer knows, the more complex a system (like 100 billion neurons in our brains with up to 15,000 connections for each), the more likely things will go wrong. Child abuse, whether it’s physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, creates disturbed adult humans. Most aren’t extremes, but they often become victims or abusers or maybe a bit of both. We speak mostly about male abusers and female victims and don’t ask about the abusers’ childhoods, nor do we seem to much care if they grew up in the circumstances under which they now make their spouse or partner suffer. We use abuse histories to excuse women’s behavior and ignore men’s. Pearson notes just about every woman in Da Clink blames her violence on prior abuse. Courts often grant more lenient sentences to women who claim this, or who fall back on a traditionalist, patriarchal facade of helpless woman without agency to excuse her violent behavior, even for murdering her own child. When we think about child abuse, we assume the abuser was the father. After all, men are more violent, right? Pearson explores SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and whether they’re all as accidental as advertised. Deeper forensic investigation reveals ugly truth sometimes — when it occurs. Often it doesn’t because it’s widely believed maternal infanticide is rare. Some maternal murders that are undeniably not accidental, like the woman who put her incessantly crying baby in the middle of the road and ran over it with her car. Pearson examines women with cases of Munchhausen-By-Proxy, who make up or even create fictitious illnesses for their children, and in the most extreme cases kill them, seeking the love and attention they get from people afterward. Because no one believes women can be murderous predators, especially regarding their own children, they can get away with it for an incredible amount of time. One mother killed eight of her nine children before police investigated. Those are the kids who don’t grow up to be abusers or victims. What happens to the ones who do? “Children who are beaten by their fathers tend to grow up to become victims, whether they are boys or girls. Children who are beaten by their mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to become victimizers,” Pearson notes. And if they victimize the ‘right’ people, men, like serial killer Aileen Wuornos, they’re admired and sympathized with. “Imagine,” Pearson asks, “a TV movie about the Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy, assaulted by his father as a boy…Or the movie Helter Skelter, about child abuse victim Charles Manson, pitching him to us as a pitiable. From infancy, Manson was unwanted, neglected, mistreated, bounced from one rejecting adult to another.” Or Henry Lee Lucas, beaten all throughout his childhood and forced to cross-dress in public by his mother. And we wonder why he hated women? Yes, by all means let’s have a TV movie fetishizing these guys for striking a blow against ‘The Matriarchy’ for a change. NOT. I’d rather we not make excuses for either gender. Equality means we treat men and women equally, and give up flimsy excuses for victimhood. No one’s childhood is perfect, and we can all reflect back to try and get at the source of whatever emotionally or psychologically ails us. Parents aren’t perfect, and they’re never responsible for everything wrong with our lives. The quick jump to blame parents for everything, the mindless go-to for too many lazy therapists and others in the psychology profession, abrogates critical thinking. We are more than just our parents, after all. Our peer groups, for example, impact us as well. But no one, except maybe people in weird religious cults, think it’s a good idea to raise children in abusive environments. Parents who abuse contribute future abusers and victims, even though not all abusers/victims were necessarily mistreated in childhood. As we debate victims and abusers, as we challenge traditionalist thinking and previously unchallengeable narratives about who’s responsible (the abuser, ultimately), we need also to challenge the same thinking and narratives surrounding parenthood — more specifically, Is parenthood right for me? Enough already with what you ‘should’ to do please others — your family, your friends, your church, your insular community where things have ‘always’ been this way. What kind of a parent would I make? Am I really willing to put my full effort into raising children? (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work or be made to feel guilty for doing so.) Do I truly understand the ‘sacrifices’ I will make raising other humans? Better decisions before birth may well result in fewer violent people, fewer victims of violence, and a psychologically healthier world overall. We need to think longer-term, to prevention rather than cleaning up the messes afterward. We feel horror, pity, and sorrow when we read about a small child starved or beaten to death by their caretakers and wish we could have done something to save him or her. Perhaps decades later that child would have grown up to horribly victimize others, with many screaming for the electric chair. It’s easy to feel sorry for a helpless child, much harder to feel sorry for an adult accused of raping, torturing, and murdering. Something to think about. This post originally appeared in The Bad Influence on Medium in August 2020.

  • Why I Don’t Take Crap From Partners

    My mother called Marisol ‘a doormat’ because she tolerated verbal abuse. I learned never to be one. Wipe your feet here. Photo by Zipnon on Needpix My mother was a radical feminist before it was cool. Not ‘radical’ the way we know it today. Her radicalism stemmed from her uncommon conviction that on some level, women possess a certain amount of control over whether they’re abused. Mom never suffered physical abuse herself, nor do I know of any friends she had who did. They sometimes suffered what today we recognize as psychological or emotional abuse. Including Mom, who could deal it herself if Dad provoked her enough. If men possess the physical edge over women, one can argue women possess the same between the ears. We’re better wired to understand and process feelings, we express language with greater precision, we understand better the value of relationships and how to manage them, with which we’ve refined our darker powers of emotional manipulation. Men can kill us, but we can still destroy them. It wasn’t just the lessons Mom drummed into me growing up, making it crystal clear I had the power to decide how a boy or man would treat me. It was all those dinner conversations about Don and Marisol. Dad met Don, a fellow engineer, at the large U.S. government contractor where they worked in Orlando. Don was from France and a fast friendship grew with my American-born French immigrant family father. Mom and Marisol, both young mothers, hit it off. Sometimes we’d visit Marisol. I played with her two youngest while the moms chit-chatted. Mom regaled Dad over dinner with Marisol’s stories. Don was a real pain in the ass — dismissive, combative, rude. Once he called Marisol’s mother ‘a big fat cow’. Other times, he insulted or criticized Marisol or the way she handled their four kids. There’s no reigning expert on parenthood quite like a man in an office five days a week. “So I said, ‘Marisol, why do you put up with this? Why do you let him talk to you that way? I told her, ‘He treats you like a doormat.’” Later, I asked Mom what she meant. She replied, “Mr. V mistreats Mrs. V and forgets about her. It’s like he wipes his feet on her and she doesn’t argue. Neither does a doormat.” In the 1960s, women didn’t often recognize abuse for what it was. But Mom recognized the power Marisol wouldn’t claim. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, an unrealistic view. We’re responsible for ourselves, always, and in a modern world we possess far more agency than women had over fifty years ago. We have more power to decide who to allow into our lives, and how we’ll let them treat us. One can argue 1967 ain’t 2020. True. Marisol had her reasons for staying with or tolerating Don. But Mom didn’t tolerate crap from my father, a product of the same generation that produced Don. I sometimes wonder how many men — and women — would be more abusive if their partners allowed it. Respect. It starts at the beginning. Thanks to Harli Marten for sharing their work on Unsplash. The ones who disrespect women, who try to control and dictate their choices, who insult and condescend to get their way, need to depart forthwith, and never darken her doorstep again. Before the beatings begin. I’ve finished a book on the psychology of abusive men and the author, a male counselor who’s worked with them all his life, notes how difficult, almost impossible it is, to root out the entrenched sense of ownership and entitlement these men feel. Mom knew then what we’re only beginning to understand today: You can’t change another person, but you can change yourself. You decide how you’ll be treated. The sooner, the better. Prevention, etc. Her words of wisdom defined my life, even if she didn’t always take her own advice. I repeated her words back when she railed years later about how my emotionally remote father needed to change for her. Marisol may have not had as much choice with four kids, but today she would. She met Don at her dream job working for a cultural attache in a foreign country. Single motherhood today is no picnic, nor an option for all, but with 60% of divorces initiated by women, it’s not the entrapment it once was, either. Every child she bore for Don was a choice to stay, and to further tighten the bonds with him. Mom never liked Don. She told me years later she put up with him because of Dad’s friendship, and because she liked Marisol. Don once put the moves on her when Dad and Marisol were out of the room. Mom demanded my father never leave her alone with him again. His kids seemed to react against him. Mom believed they committed deliberate acts of rebellion. Once they crushed an Easter marshmallow bunny in Don’s workbench vise. It solidified before he discovered it, making it even more of a devil to fix and clean. I complained that Mr. V hugged me too hard. Mom said Mrs. V complained he was sometimes too harsh in his punishments with the children. I don’t know if it was abuse or not. I don’t remember the details. In one of our hoary old family movies, Don is at a 1968 Christmas party hosted by my parents. I love it for the sheer kitsch/camp value of a bunch of ‘squares’ celebrating like the party scene in The Graduate. Don is on the couch. When the camera points his way he makes a few silly, rude gestures, then a Seig Heil move. It wasn’t his only expression of racism according to Mom. She got mad one year when the avowed atheist blasphemously referred to Jesus as ‘That cat on the cross’. She didn’t say anything, of course. Good ’60s wives didn’t call out their husband’s friends. I don’t remember all my parents’ dinner conversations. Most had little to offer a preschooler. Dad talked about work, Mom about friends, church junk, boring adult stuff. I knew, though, anything involving the V family was bound to be engaging, even for a four-year-old. Don was a source of endless drama and Marisol an abject lesson in how to be a doormat. I didn’t realize how ingrained was my notion that women have control over their own lives until I caught a badly-imagined passage in my first dark fantasy novel. The main character, Samantha, has just broken up with her more-casual-than-she-would-have-liked boyfriend. She flees to a friend’s house after a demon set upon her by a frenemy almost beats her to death after she resists its sexual advances. A young male friend comes over to give her something and sees her bruised face. “Samantha,” [he says, assuming her ex was responsible], “how could you let him do this to you?” It took six or seven drafts before I realized how horribly misogynist it sounded. Especially from a male character who treated women well. But that’s how I thought. Still do. How can she let him treat her that way? The revision reads: “If it was that movie Indian asshole, I’ll kill him.” Dunham leaned back against the door and crossed his arms, leveling me with his own steely gaze. Samantha is a strong, powerful character. Her sort-of boyfriend Andrew isn’t an abuser, but he has a wandering eye. When she finds out he had sex with a friend who didn’t know about her own involvement with Andrew, she breaks up with him. In my mind, Dunham saw her the way I see women like her: As someone who, whether her trust or body was abused by a man, would never allow it to happen again. I realized how screwed up the passage was, and I changed it. Old thought patterns die hard. One can’t obliterate millennia of patriarchy, female ownership and entrenched male privilege in one century since the advent of modern-day feminism. Toxic beliefs and values permeate our beings as they do men’s, including women’s greater willingness, I believe, to accept victimhood and tolerate abusive behavior. Our brains are wired by our biological sex along with our evolutionary social conditioning, although we always have the power to change. Our neural pathways connect in malleable brains, not cement. We can change our thinking patterns, values, beliefs and perceptions. We can decide not to be slaves to our cave brains. If men need to uproot their entrenched toxic patriarchal belief systems, so do women. Men don’t have to abuse. Women don’t have to be abused. We can choose not to be victims. But first we have to recognize that power. Then seize it. This appeared on Medium in September 2020.

  • My Mother Taught Me Never To Tolerate Abuse

    And you don't have to, either. Mother teaching daughter how to sit in yoga butterfly pose — "Did you ever notice it’s the short guys who hit?” Michelle’s question came out of left field. My first thought was, What on earth makes you think I’d know? “No, I’ve never been hit by a man,” I replied in a steady voice, otherwise hornswoggled. “I’ve dated plenty of short men, but none of them had Short Guy Disease.” You know That Guy. The little man who struts around overcompensating for his perceived lack of manhood because he’s not towering over you like a cactus in the Arizona desert. Who’s more hypermasculine than Stallone and hits women because he thinks they’re secretly laughing at him. And because they’re weaker than he, and if he can’t get respect for his height, dammit, people and especially those bitches will respect his superior strength. Not the kind of man I ever went out with. Michelle believed this was normal, and part of every woman’s existence. She didn’t know I’d made conscious choices my entire life, thanks to the greatest gift from my mother. “Never put up with a man who hits you,” my mother instructed as soon as my hormones bubbled like shaken ginger ale. “If he hits you once, that’s it, he’s over. Don’t let him apologize and swear it’ll never happen again. He’ll give you gifts or take you out to dinner and tell you how much he loves you. He’ll shower you with crap and treat you great for a while, until you’re over it, and then it happens again. It ALWAYS happens again. ALWAYS.” Mom was never abused. Not by my grandfather, her first husband, or my father. Nor by any boyfriends. She never mentioned anyone she knew who was battered. Probably she didn’t know. Good wives knew how to whip up a great cake for a neighborly kaffeeklatsch. The best ones knew precisely how much vodka to mix into the pitcher of screwdrivers. Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay Mom taught me how boys and men manipulated women to get sex. “He’ll say whatever he thinks will get you into bed,” she said. “He guilt-trips you. He’ll say if you really loved him you’d do this for him. If he really loves you he won’t push you to do anything you’re not ready for. “Or he’ll claim he’s got ‘blue balls’ from sexual arousal. It’s a made-up condition. He’ll claim it hurts. He’ll say it’s your fault so you need to relieve it. I don’t know if it hurts if they get worked up but they can masturbate if it’s that bad. They don’t require you. “He’ll tell you all the other girls are doing it. Don’t believe them! He’ll threaten to find a girl who will if you won’t. Let him go if he does. If all he cares about is himself he’s not good enough for you!” Mom made it crystal-clear I had the power to say no to abuse, never to tolerate it. In the 1970s ‘those damn women’s libbers’ as my feminist-in-denial mother always called them, had begun to focus attention on the problems of rape, sexual assault, and battering. Mom was furious one night at dinner over a woman she’d seen on an afternoon talk show. “This dimbulb was married to this man who constantly beat her, and she put up with this for years, and you know what she did? She burnt him alive in his bed! She poured gasoline on him while he was sleeping and she set fire to him! How the hell can you do that to another human being, even if he was a monster? WHY THE HELL DIDN’T SHE LEAVE HIM? “And you know what the audience did after she told this story? They APPLAUDED HER!” Mom finished, livid with rage. The Burning Bed was published in 1980, the infancy of understanding the complex dynamics of abusive relationships. Fortunately, a seminal and better book was released the same year, The Battered Woman. Mom’s frustration with women who stayed with abusers was rooted in a common ignorance of how different life was for women who often came from violent, dysfunctional homes as The Burning Bed’s Francine Hughes had. But her underlying belief in women’s personal power, at least early on, is a vision we need to embrace today. Mom may have lacked compassion in an era with little common example or discussion about male abuse, but she recognized the personal power women possessed but didn’t use. She challenged the prevailing wisdom and imparted it to her daughter, who never allowed a man to treat her badly either. I got lucky in the birth lottery. Born middle-class with parents who cared deeply for my brother and I, we had our dysfunctions like every family, but we grew up without physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Our parents made mistakes, some of which eat at me a bit even today, but I also keep it in perspective. My cobwebbed complaints are definitely small potatoes compared to the stories I heard from other girls in high school and came to believe I was the only girl in town who wasn’t being visited at night by her father or some male relative. I’ve spent a lifetime not being abused by men. I’ve been harassed, and subjected to misogyny and double standards and all the other female crap, but I’ve never been whacked around by a partner, never been seriously sexually assaulted, never dealt with any remarkable psychological or emotional abuse. I’ve been manipulated, sure. I’ve given up my power many times and I’ve been pretty damn lucky when I’ve pulled some seriously dumb shit which could have ended badly and for which I’d have been partly responsible, for putting myself in danger. I excuse no man for what he does to others, but I own my responsibility to myself. Mom taught me never to tolerate misogyny. I identified on my own some of the toxic male subcultures where one must tread with great caution and to recognize key elements — degrading comments about women, severe homophobia, hypermasculinity — as red flags. Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels Mom, and the take-charge protect-yourself feminism of the times taught me how not to act like an easy target. I believe abusive men can detect a woman with a victim mentality, or who is compliant enough to put up with misogyny. I know women who are sexually assaulted have an increased likelihood of it happening again. I’m not sure why; no one else does either. It’s like predators can smell it on them. I’m doing something right. And I’m not doing other things right. I’ve never been attracted to abusive men, nor do I fancy Danger Boys. I act like I don’t take any shit. It’s like they can smell it on me. I want to help other women see they don’t have to tolerate abuse. And men too; I have an ex-partner whose ex-wife used to hit him, and he didn’t hit back because ‘You don’t hit girls.’ It’s controversial to say women have a certain level of choice but I recognize many are blind to it, and it’s not their fault. I want to open their eyes to their power, and break the toxic traumatic bonds with abuse. I want every baby girl to grow up with my mother. I want everyone to just say no to control, manipulation and abuse. This first appeared on Medium in September 2020.

  • Confronting Our Inner Dinosaur

    Why do personally strong women refuse to challenge the outdated feminist narratives in their head? Confronting our inner dinosaur. Image by Lothar Dieterich from Pixabay I’ve always been disappointed when personally strong female friends, who would never take crap from a man, much less outright abuse, passively enable continued female victimhood with their outdated, unchallenged views. This ain’t the ’80s anymore. Second wave feminism was barely old enough to get into bars when I became a young adult and could only legally drink super-light beer. In university, I took part in my first and only feminist protest march for Take Back The Night. Violence against women was greater, part of a crime spike that began in the 1960s and didn’t abate until the ’90s. Rapes and sexual assaults were far higher, and women weren’t much believed by the courts. The victim received the blame. Nobody talked about male privilege. It was much harder for women to get better-paying jobs, and fewer graduated from college or university than they do today. We had little political representation in Washington. In short, the same problems we have today except — back then, with far less economic, educational, and political power. Not all women yet understand we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 35–40 years. Some still point the finger at men, which they should do, but only if they point their other finger at themselves, which they rarely do. Disappointing women are the ones I know to be strong and personally powerful, but don’t seem to have challenged the narratives in their head as dated as the coifs from bad ’80s hair bands. Anyone who thinks dinosaurs and humans haven’t lived together isn’t alive in the 21st century. Lead singer of the ’80s band Def Lizard. Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash Most recently, a friend and former roommate in the year or so after I graduated university accused me of ‘blaming the victim’. I forget why, but it was probably one of my Facebook feminism critiques observing how much women allow mistreatment of themselves. She was quite liberal back when we lived together, and still ‘progressive’ (the newer word) today. I think I’d upset her suggesting, as I often do, that women now have more control over how they’ll be treated by men than we acknowledge. I’d expect her reaction from a garden-variety younger feminist, the kind steeped in victimhood mentality, but I knew this gal to be strong and powerful even when she was twenty. She’d dated a friend of ours who was famously controlling and ‘patriarchal’ (a word we never used back then) and she never took any of his shit. He had to accept her as a full equal. There are many other examples I can think of where she exhibited the kind of take-no-shit attitude you found among many feminists back then, before they neutered themselves in the ‘90s. I responded, as I always do to her cliche, “Why are some women BEING the victim?” It dismays me to think that in the 35 or so years since we’d lived together, her feminism was as calcified as the outdated views of the Trumpies who are still fighting their feminism Waterloo. She hasn’t challenged her Inner Dinosaur. She hasn’t acknowledged how too many women are aiding and enabling female victimhood by ignoring what women do to put and keep themselves in danger. She’s never, to my knowledge, been abused by a partner and neither have I. She’s still on her first husband, thirty-plus years and counting. Any man who tried to bitch-slap either of us in the ’80s would have found himself hanging by a tree from his testicles tied around a low-hanging branch. I want other women to be as intolerant of abuse as we were and still are. I just wish my friend would embrace it for all women. Other friends I’d considered strong women got mad when I took a more balanced view of Toronto’s Jian Ghomeshi trial a few years back. The scandal that erupted in 2014 and culminated in a ‘sexual assault’ trial in 2015 was a personal watershed moment, when I realized just how weakened modern feminism had become. Ghomeshi was accused by a few women, 10+ years after the fact, of ‘sexually assaulting’ them even though by my own admittedly American standards it was physical rather than sexual. Not only was it weird to see face-slapping and neck-throttling defined as ‘sexual’ under the flimsiest of pretexts, but the trial turned into a giant feminist embarrassment as emails dug up by Ghomeshi’s attorney demonstrated the women weren’t nearly as traumatized as they’d claimed. Victim feminists twisted themselves into knots to avoid admitting these starstruck groupies deliberately put themselves back in danger trying to get into Ghomeshi’s pants after each initial physical assault. Then the case really fell apart when the court discovered private collusion between the witnesses. Ghomeshi was acquitted. Victim feminists threw tantrums about how women are ‘never’ believed, a gross exaggeration in a case where pretty much everyone believed the women, only the hardest-core anti-feminists supported Ghomeshi, and even the judge said he thought he was guilty but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. I was as disgusted by my so-called ‘feminist’ friends whining about victimization when Ghomeshi’s dizzy bimboes were anything but. My friends’ Inner Dinosaurs ran rogue, unconsciously denying other women the agency that they themselves owned. I expect squishy reactions from the perma-victim set but I expect better from those who know their boundaries and have never, ever, let a man assault them. For whom a ‘date’ with Jian Ghomeshi would have ended right after the first slap-’n’-throttle incident. They’d have never emailed him ‘I love your hands’, or photos of the emailer wearing a bikini, or given him a hand job in a park later. Worst of all: “You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to fuck your brains out.” Sure makes it sounds like she ‘enjoyed’ the abuse, huh? That’s what feminists with calcified thinking won’t question, even as they would never tolerate such treatment of themselves. Instead, they ignore female ‘agency’ and refuse to ask women to be as accountable for themselves as they do of men. My mother taught me well: “The first time a man hits you should be his last. No second chances. He’ll do it again if you let him.” They went back for more. But he had sex with none of them. One wonders what might have happened if he had. We should want for others what we claim for ourselves. We should also be willing to revisit what we believe in periodically and see if it still remains valid today. Back when my friend and I were twenty, ‘Don’t blame the victim,’ was pretty relevant. Women simply had less power back then and they weren’t supported if they claimed a rape. #MeToo has changed all that. The court of ‘justice’ may still not believe an assault victim but there’s much power and support to be found on social media. Today, women have far more power to Just Say No than we had. At least those of us who’d defined our boundaries. I don’t fault young women who don’t. They’re young and inexperienced. Not everyone had my mother growing up. So reciting the venerable mantra, ‘Don’t blame the victim,’ is getting a little tattered around the edges. I think of this as I better understand the dynamics of abuse for both the abuser and the victim as I finish up the book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Mind of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. It was recommended to me by a fellow Medium writer. It’s an amazing book. He only touches upon the mistakes women make, how they keep believing the abuser’s lies and keep hoping the ‘good periods’ will eventually take over and eliminate the ‘bad periods’, and how they don’t listen to their friends and family who try to warn them this guy’s bad news. I wish he’d have acknowledged the bad decisions women make in this regard, but the book is eighteen years old so he’s a product of his time. I don’t know if he’s revised his views since then. Maybe it’s difficult, when you work so closely with abusers. An unwavering commitment to ‘don’t blame the victim,’ is an example of calcified feminist thinking. Asking why a particular woman did this or that or made this or that decision is more of a ‘post-mortem’, I believe, like the corporate world engages in after a completed project. You figure out what went right, what went wrong, and resolve to the right things again and to not repeat the wrong things. I can’t swear I’m not calcified in some of my thinking either, but I make an honest effort not to be. It’s why I’ve moved more toward the ‘Murky Middle’ politically, and try to see more sides than the blinkered view of my own ideological persuasions (still left, but closer to the center than before). I have never been abused or seriously sexually assaulted, partly due to occasionally doing dumb shit and being fortunate nothing bad happened, but more often because of the decisions I’ve made, most of all in who I allow into my environment, social circles and dating realm. Controllers and potential abusers get the boot pretty quickly. I make conscious decisions. I want that for other women. I especially want to get the word out to young girls and young women who aren’t as experienced. I want them to understand that they have more control over their lives than they know, and I want to empower them to make the right decisions. I seek my tribe of women, men and anyone else who feel empowered and want others to be as well. Who aren’t calcified in their thinking, ‘dinosaur’ lefties who haven’t had an original thought since Reagan talked about a ‘nuclear umbrella’. They’re no more able to think critically than the Trumpies who operate from their own increasingly-shrinking political bubble. The world evolves, and our thinking should too. Some values and beliefs never change — like that people of color are as entitled to the same rights and treatment as white people in America — and other values and beliefs may not be as applicable anymore. It ain’t the ’80s anymore. It also ain’t the ’60s, ’70s, ’90s or the ‘oughts’. As we head into Decade Three of the 21st century, we need to remember that one day it ‘won’t be the ‘Teens or the Twenties’ anymore. Whatever you believe today…..may not work as well tomorrow. This post originally appeared on Medium in September 2020.

  • Forget The Coronavirus; The Sun's Megastorm May Destroy Us All!

    This is just a taste of what we might get if the Sun goes all megastormy on us this year. By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center — Flickr: Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun — CC BY 2.0 Look, I don’t mean to panic you, I know you’ve got the coronavirus to worry about and stuff, but there’s a 12% chance a Sun megastorm could erupt this year, and it could be very, very bad for whatever part of the Earth is facing it. So said a Wired Magazine article from 2012 that didn’t seem to have appeared anywhere else except in one esteemed periodical like National Geographic, and somewhat a less esteemed source like UK’s Express, a nutty site that broke the major news story of a potential fairy space alien corpse in Mexico City. That’s according to Media Bias Fact Checker, which dings the site for being right-wing and factually mixed. If this goes down, you’re going to wish your biggest problem was a spiky little bastard that looks like a microscopic World War I landmine. It could be even more catastrophic than the last time, which was the 1859 Carrington Event, named after a guy named Carrington (duh) who happened to witness a mega-speedy solar flare that sparked beautiful auroras when it hit the Earth’s atmosphere, and set not-so-beautiful fire to telegraph stations. It also booted magnetic observatory recordings sky-high and made the scientists working there go all WTF??? Hawaiians and Chileans were all like, Ooooohhh, look at the pretty auroras! and New Yorkers were all like, Hello! I can read the New York Times by the light of the auroras alone! which is what Americans exclaimed until the far more modern Gadzooks! was invented in 1945. So, like, back in 1859 there wasn’t nearly as much of an electronic infrastructure as there is today. If the Solar Apocalypse hits us this year (Wired pointed out eight years ago it might happen ‘in the next decade’ so it might not be until next year, or the year after, or quite possibly at all), it will trash electrical power grids in a way that’ll make the Great Blackout of 2003 look like your drunk neighbor hitting the telephone pole outside your house. It’ll also hose up oil and gas pipelines, mess up GPS satellites and potentially destroy all radio communication on earth. But don’t worry, it won’t hurt actual people, animals or plants. I mean, we won’t get fried to a crisp like in a nuclear war. No, it’ll just be chaos and panic and doom and really annoying Jesus freaks on the street. Don’t think it’ll be all kum-ba-ya like it was during the Great Blackout because that only lasted a few days; The Great Blackout Of Like 202X will cost us trillions of dollars and last for an entire decade! Look, I’ll leave you and your overactive imagination currently on overdrive paying scalper prices for Purell and toilet paper, to speculate on just how bad the world’s going to get with no refrigeration, no functioning hospitals, spoiled food, and Gen Z going all Lord of the Flies on everyone without access to Instagram or TikTok. Greta Thunberg got downright stern and pissy in her media release about the potential impending doomsday. Greta Thunberg would like to have a word with you. Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license by Anders Hellberg on Flickr With brows knit together so tightly some reporters mistook them for two caterpillars fighting over the bridge of her nose, the teenage activist blamed everyone older than her, the oil companies and Donald Trump’s gross incompetence in failing to prevent this toasty nightmare, thundering, “How dare you! You have stolen my obsession with global warming and my heavily-exploited childhood with an even worse thing to think about than dead polar bears and banana crops in Canada! Entire social media ecosystems are collapsing! I can’t make a damn phone call! I’ll be nearly thirty before my ATM card will work again and I’ll have to run faster than the massive sewage blob chasing me!” Then she sent all world leaders to their rooms to think about what they’d done. Or not, as the case may be. So look, I’m just saying, you’re worrying about dying from something that most people recover from, and that can be washed away with old-fashioned soap and water, so you might as well worry about something that would wreak far more havoc than canceling tech conferences and the Summer Olympics. And which will probably never happen. And if it does, all the Purell in the world isn’t going to save you from F2F-phobic Gen Zs. This first appeared on Medium in March 2020.

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