Hey there. Yeah, you, the fierce teenager I know so well. I know you are having a time of it, trying to find your way out of the vituperative situations thrust upon you by circumstance. I only wish you knew then what I know now.
It’s hard to watch you struggle with your self-esteem and self-worth, as you berate yourself often, and weave truth into the lies your father told you. It saddens me so that you believed them, but in retrospect, I’m not surprised. It’s normal to want to believe your parents, even though in your case, they were full of crap. 40 years and a lot of nicks later, I can tell you they were, in fact, lying, and those untruths had nothing to do with you. You really are enough, dear one More than enough. And when you hurt yourself, you let them win.
You won’t believe this now, but you are a survivor and a warrior. You have always had the intrinsic ability to see the truth and tell it like it is. You are compassionate, and kind, but it will take time for you to embrace this and stop hiding behind your anger. Eventually, I know you’ll come around.
I want you to know that you find safety and solace from the pain and trauma you’re swimming in. The weight of your secrets and pain won’t break your back but will be the very thing that carry you to safety. Only then will you find the right place to unburden yourself and let go. You really will be ok. Trust me, as the adult you, we have almost 19 years clean, a wonderful child, and a loving husband that wants nothing but happiness and success for us.
There was a time when I ignored you and thought doing so would make the nightmares go away, but it wasn’t until I embraced you and your strength that I realized how incredible you are. Your mom’s boyfriend who tried to kill you was afraid of your moxie; the bastard in high school who raped you tried to kill your spirit with rumors and shame; the ex-boyfriend who hit you wanted to control your spirit. They lost and you prevailed, eventually directing your life to one of service and love. You were a badass for asking for help and seeking therapy on your own at 16. Talk about willingness, how inspiring!
I wish I could tell you that your grandmother loved you like the daughter she never had. I wish I could stop you from making some of the choices you made, but I can’t. They are what they are, and they ended up making you into the woman you become. I wish I could tell you not to stop singing, and not to believe the hate your father spewed at you. He was wrong. You are talented. You are smart. You are normal.
You, dear one, are worthy of all the love in the world. It’s going to be okay. Be safe; Be kind to yourself; Follow your heart. I love you, songbird.
Dear Sweet 16,
It’s me, the 39-year-old you with a little advice, lots of love, and tons of gratitude.
I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’m writing to let you know that I’m thinking about you. In fact, I think of you often and you need to know it. I think you’re a remarkable, crafty and capable young woman and I’m grateful to you for giving me this life; a beautiful son, a deep love and appreciation of art and nature, a rewarding career, and some kick-ass friends. Yeah, really. That’s what’s going on now and you’re the one to thank. You don’t give yourself enough credit, grrl. You’re fierce.
I wish I could remind you of these admirable traits more often, especially in those nagging moments of doubt and uncertainty that seem to be becoming more frequent. I’d love to regularly celebrate your accomplishments and triumphs with you. So I’m here now, offering you support and words of encouragement because I know you need it. I know you feel inadequate far too often. You think you’re not cool enough, pretty enough or smart enough. I know that you feel alone, especially since your greatest champion, Opa, passed away earlier this year. I know it sucks that you lost him so early. But be glad you had such a rich relationship with your grandfather while you did. His gifts to you last a lifetime. His memory never leaves you.
It’s Not You
But the guy you’re with now, the guy you’ve been dating for almost two years is another story. He’s a problem. He’s a huge reason your self-esteem has tanked. May I remind you of your joyful spirit? Your sense of wonder? He’s made you feel inadequate and you’ve lost yourself along the way.
I know you blame yourself for his abusive behavior. Too often he makes you feel crazy and erratic- he causes you to question your worth. You think you’re the reason he changed. You keep waiting for him to come around- to treat you the way he did when you met. He was so kind, attentive and loving. Maybe he’d change if you changed—if you were better.
I know it may be hard to believe now, but it’s not your fault and there’s nothing about you that needs to be fixed (and you certainly shouldn’t be wasting your time trying to fix him). You’re smart, you’re talented and capable. Really, it’s not you. Besides, I’ve seen him recently and, honey, it ain’t pretty. If you keep waiting on him to change, you’ll be waiting forever and your life will pass you by. He’s well over 40 now and not much different than you know him now.
And why do you have a boyfriend anyway? You’re much too young for a serious (and seriously dysfunctional) relationship. I know it seems like anyone who is anyone is dating, but don’t cave into the pressure. There’s plenty of time for dating. Your relationship status isn’t a sign of your worth. Yeah, I know- he’s hot, he surfs, he plays guitar. Well, even those charms fade, believe me. You’ll meet other guys, better ones. Don’t let him treat you badly. It isn’t you.
You’re resourceful. You’re a survivor. It’s because of you that I’ve been able to accomplish all that I have. In fact, whenever you run into old friends, the friends you’re hanging out with now, they’re amazed, absolutely amazed, at how you turned out. You truly defied the odds and I am eternally grateful for your fierce commitment to improve your life.
Don’t Waste Time
You deserve better. No high school sophomore should have a bruise on her face in her yearbook picture. Once you come to recognize, believe in, and appreciate your own worth, you’ll lose interest him and demand better. I promise. Don’t waste your time seeking external validation from anyone, especially him. When you do that, you’re vulnerable and at the mercy of his fickle moods and desires. He is not the most important relationship in your life. He does not determine your value.
Love Yourself Fiercely and Unconditionally
You determine your own value. Nurture yourself, respect yourself, and cultivate self-love.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Don’t second-guess yourself.
Don’t judge yourself.
Don’t self-sabotage your own success.
Don’t make yourself small.
Use your voice.
Focus on your art, your poetry and what’s in the truth of your heart. You’re not going to do everything perfectly, nor should you expect to. You do end up making mistakes both small and large (along with some epic ones). It’s OK. It all works out. Don’t beat yourself up. Make amends and move on. Yes, people get hurt along the way, including you. It’s all part of the process. Learn your lessons and don’t repeat your mistakes (not too many times anyway).
Be open to the nice guys. You know, the ones that like you the way you are. The guys who treat you well, laugh at your jokes, share in conversations and don’t tell you that nobody else will ever love you. Nice guys aren’t boring–I swear, and they’re not full of it. When you believe you’re valuable, you’ll believe others. Like I said, work on that self-love thing before you dive into anything with anyone else. In fact, ditch the boyfriend you’re with now. Don’t wait another six years. Trust me on this one.
One day, you’ll thank me in the same way I thank you for all you’ve given me. I’m proud of you and I love you completely.
Daena Title‘s “Drown the Dolls” exhibit at the Koplin del Rio Gallery in Culver City, CA has been drawing attention (and mixed reviews) since it was first announced on the Ms. blog by Stephanie Hallett 3 weeks ago. I’ll be part of a panel this Saturday that will critically examine and discuss Title’s body of work. View the show and join us for a conversation on beauty norms, body image, girlhood play, childhood socialization, violence against women and all things Barbie.
Dead women, clad in lingerie, hang by chains around their necks
West makes sexual moves toward dead or drugged women propped up in a bed
A naked dead or drugged woman lays sprawled on a sofa
Rick Ross sits in view of a dead/drugged woman & a plate of raw meat
If that’s not enough, a behind-the-scenes clip of the video includes a semi-naked dead woman laying spread eagled on a table in front of Rick Ross as he eats a plate of raw meat. It is likely we can expect more brutal images in the full-length video.
The victims in this video are clearly women. Only women. And the men, Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z are far from bothered by the female corpses. They seem to enjoy being surrounded by lifeless female bodies, apparent victims of a serial killing.
The official release date of the full-length video has not yet been announced. Let’s make it clear to Universal Music Group, the controlling company of West’s record label, Roc-A-Fella Records, and MTV that the music industry’s portrayals of women’s pain, suffering, abuse, objectification, and victimization as valid forms of entertainment are not acceptable.
Dead women hang by chains
We call on Universal Music Group and MTV to combat violence against women by refusing to support, promote, and/or give airtime to West’s “Monster” video.
Our media landscape is populated with endless streams of images and messages glorifying, eroticizing and diminishing the serious nature of violence against women, an issue that some have called a hidden pandemic and others have labeled an epidemic of global proportions.
Lohan and the photographer have angrily responded that the images are just art and people shouldn’t get so upset. That, of course, isn’t the point. The bigger question is why photographers, artists, fashion editors, and others continue to find images of sexualized violence toward women compelling.
What is important to remember when photographs like these are released is that they are part of a spectrum. They do not stand alone as just one photograph or just one photo shoot. These images are part of a larger trend of images that feature domination, aggression, violence against women, and “dead” women (or as Jennifer Pozner dubs them, “beautiful corpses“). Through the use of body language, make-up and clothing victimization is implied and violence becomes commonplace. This gory stream of images, featuring mangled women with mouths agape and eyes glazed, is practically unremarkable in the pop culture landscape, especially in advertising. These 3 sets of images follow close on the heels of my recentposts critically examining the rampant misogyny and striking resemblance between Marc Jacobs ad campaigns and images of actual crime scenes of murdered women.
“Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem featuring Rihanna is certainly not the first song to discuss domestic violence and intimate partner abuse. From the first recording of “Banks of the Ohio” – a 19th century “murder ballad” in which a man drowns his girlfriend after she refuses to marry him – in 1927 by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers to Lesley Gore’s outright “You Don’t Own Me” released in 1964, the “Golden Oldies” are rife with lyrics discussing sexism, abuse (Both physical and emotional), and domestic violence. More recently, I recall from my own adolescence the music videos of Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboy’s Gone?,” Jewel’s “Foolish Games,” and – what might be seen as a precursor to “Love the Way You Lie” – Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home.” Released in the later 90s, these songs and their accompanying videos may be seen as the mainstream’s cooptation of the Riot Grrrls’ brand of music and feminism.
I play video games, but I’m picky. As a huge fan of Deadwood, I was excited when I learned about the release of Red Dead Redemption – Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West, stealing horses instead of cars. Like a video game version of one of my favorite television shows. And then yesterday, I learned of a hidden achievement in the game, and
all my excitement and anticipation was flushed down the toilet.
In trying to pay homage to the classic westerns of yesteryear, where women were tied up on train tracks by a cartoon-y villain with a handlebar mustache, the game offers an achievement for tying up a woman and throwing her onto a set of train tracks. Except there’s no hero to save the day and untie her before the train comes, the points
are only awarded if you stand and watch as you let her be run over. It’s unfortunate that they made the achievement gender specific. Why couldn’t it have been a man or just a person? Rock Star Games does not exactly have a stellar record when it comes to females in their video games – most in the Grand Theft Auto series are prostitutes, drug addicts, victims, and strippers. While they were a little better in Red Dead Redemption – it’s a woman who saves the main character in the intro and women are shown talking about religion and politics in the opening credits sequence, they negated the little good they did by offering five measly gamer points for violently assaulting and killing a woman.
Youtube is already filling up with videos of gamers recording themselves getting the “Dastardly” achievement.
By the end of 2010 there will officially be more women in the workforce than men. Both the Speaker of the House and the Secretary of State are women. And, 20% of U.S. armed forces are female. Because of these aberrant shifts we feel like we’ve won the war when the reality is that those are only a few battles. We tend to take for granted the positions that most women in America find themselves in in this “post-feminist” society.
In recent weeks, both Time magazine and The New York Times have published articles on the egregious number of women being raped in the military. Time reported that…
“…a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”
I was shocked to read that female soldiers stop drinking water at 7 p.m. so that they don’t have to go the bathroom in the middle of the night as this reduces their risk of being raped. Though the NY Timesreported that the number of assults reported is up 11% from last year, Timestatesthat the Defense Department still estimates that 80-90% of sexual assaults go unreported. Additionally, they differentiate an assault from sexual harassment which undoubtedly brings the number of women assaulted OR harassed up exponentially. They may as well just say, “If you’re female and you join the military you will be abused in some way.”
We live in a world where we fight to have universities install campus security buttons and cameras and we teach women how to protect & defend themselves against attackers and we create program upon program for victims of sexual assault. All of the security measures we take only further perpetuate the idea that WOMEN need to learn how to protect themselves. Why aren’t we teaching men how to be respectful and responsible? How do we transform the dialogue from Women’s Issues to EVERY ONE’S issues??
I don’t say any of this to discourage women from joining the military or going to college (or from leaving your house!) or to promote the fear that is already so rampant, I say this because as a woman living in a supposedly “post-feminist” world, I believe we need to inspire more people – NOT just women – to struggle, to act!
There was a great article in The Guardian, the UK based newspaper about men and feminism. In it they mentioned a program that was started by Oxfam called “Gender Equality and Men.” Here is a quote from their page:
There are potential gains from focusing on men and boys. As Kaufman has suggested , such efforts may:
create a broad social consensus among men and women on issues that previously have been marginalised as only of importance to women;
mobilise resources and institutions controlled by men, resulting in a net gain in resources available to meet the needs of women and girls;
isolate those men working to preserve men’s power and privilege and to deny rights to women and children;
contribute to raising the next generation of boys and girls in a framework of gender equality;
change the attitudes and behaviour of men and boys, and improve the lives of women and girls in the home, workplace, and community.
That about sums it up! So, instead of continuing to shake my fist and scream about men not taking responsibility for violence and ignorance – I’ve made a list of some ways in which men (and women!) can become involved in the movement…..which despite those post-feminist doubters…..is still very much moving!
1) Start simple: Read This
2) Take a Women’s Studies class!
3) Join the feminist club on campus or START one!
4) Get involved in community outreach organizations. Lead by example and show young men and boys how to be!
5) Encourage local organization to implement programs like Oxfam UK did!
6) Be creative! Find ways to encourage change through things you like to do or are good at! Activism isn’t the only way. Music and art speak volumes!
And, if you’re still confused and wondering what you can do – come to WAM! Los Angeles next week Thursday, March 25, 2010!