If you’re going to send your kid to my house, don’t think I won’t find out that he has head lice or that he’s thrown up twice this morning. He tells me everything.
X’s & O’s,
a little rant, a little rave
If you’re going to send your kid to my house, don’t think I won’t find out that he has head lice or that he’s thrown up twice this morning. He tells me everything.
X’s & O’s,
1. She loves dogs. L-O-V-E-S dogs. She loves them so much, she even pretends to be a dog sometimes. And by “sometimes” I mean “some part of every day.” If there’s any child in the world who ought to have a dog, it’s Girlfriend. Unfortunately, neither her father nor I is willing to accept the responsibility of pet ownership. She will have to wait until she’s living in her own home to have a dog. In the meantime, she has to make do with doggy play dates (with dogs belonging to other people) and playing with stuffed dogs. She has suggested maybe getting a robot dog, but I just don’t think that would satisfy her. She needs a real dog. But I am not a good enough person to give her one.
2. She enjoys sports. She’s not especially athletic, but she likes to play soccer and basketball. This year she is planning to volunteer as a peer facilitator for the basketball program for children with disabilities that Elvis plays in. She went to basketball camp this summer to work on her skills.
3. She gets embarrassed easily. Sometimes she does something adorable and we’ll laugh because it’s so cute, but she’ll think we’re making fun of her and will hide under a table or whatever and won’t forgive you for at least ten minutes.
4. She loves to read. She’s the only one of my children who really, really loves to read. She especially likes mysteries.
5. Our next-door neighbor of ten years had a black dog named Sugar, and Sugar died in August. Girlfriend had a black plush dog she had originally named “Blackie” but she re-christened it “Sugar” in honor of the late Sugar. (And also made it a girl when it had originally been a boy, because the late, real-life Sugar was also a girl. It’s easy to give plush dogs sex changes.)
6. She’s very nurturing. In addition to having a dog, she should also have a younger sibling, but I’m not a good enough person to give her that either.
7. She likes to do everything perfectly. She doesn’t like to lose.
8. She is eight years old today.
When I started this blog, Girlfriend was not even a twinkle in her father’s eye. She was hardly even a theory in her mother’s. She is therefore the only one of my children who has been blogged about her whole life. But she hasn’t been blogged about a lot because she isn’t outrageous, just freaking adorable–and that’s a lot harder to put into writing.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GIRLFRIEND!
Contrary to what some of you might suspect, I have not given up blogging for Facebook. Would I blog more if there were no Facebook? Hmmmmmm…no. No, I don’t think I would. Because I don’t get nearly as much pleasure out of Facebook as I used to. I go on Facebook every day, but I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook. Seriously, I don’t. I used to, but I don’t anymore. These days the majority of my time-wasting is spent on reading—which you might say isn’t a waste of time, but unless you’re Facebook friends with me, you don’t know what kind of books I’m reading. Some of them certainly aren’t time wasters, but others, well, some people have a couple hundred shows on their DVR; I read trashy novels. He who is without sin, etc.
That’s a roundabout introduction to my subject for today, which was inspired by an interaction I had with a friend on Facebook. The friend in question is a woman I know from church; she and her family recently moved into our ward, and I have enjoyed making her acquaintance. She seems like a lovely person. We’ve only been Facebook friends for a few weeks. Maybe a little more than a fortnight. The other day she posted a concerned-parent rant—I hate to call it a “rant” because she really is such calm, good-natured person, I don’t really think of her as “ranting” about anything, but if it wasn’t a “rant,” maybe it was a soapbox type speech—about Oregon’s Common Core guidelines vis a vis literature and composition classes. Apparently, one of the books eleventh graders are required to read is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. She was very upset about this book being required reading because it contains very graphic descriptions of child rape, given from the rapist’s point of view. She likened it to pornography—perhaps even child pornography—and thought it was just outrageous that students would be required to read this filth.
My initial reaction was “Yowza—note to self: do not discuss books with this person.” (Especially if said books have titles like Invitation to Seduction or The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy. I’m not saying I’ve read The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t.) There are books out there I would classify as pornographic. I’ve read some of them. Can’t say I finished any of them because wanton dairymaids notwithstanding, pornography isn’t really my thing. I find it alternately gross and tedious. But I don’t consider your garden variety romance novel pornography, and I certainly wouldn’t classify your garden variety Toni Morrison novel pornography. I guess pornography is in the eye of the beholder, given people’s differing sensibilities, in addition to their differing values. To me, pornography has no purpose beyond provoking sexual arousal in the user (viewer or reader) and either has no artistic merit or is so exploitative as to render its theoretical artistic merit irrelevant. I don’t know. That’s all subjective, isn’t it? That’s why we have a constitutional right to Hustler. But whatever.
I’ve read a lot of Toni Morrison. It’s been a good 20 years or so since I’ve read The Bluest Eye. I only vaguely remember the story and the themes. It’s not my favorite Toni Morrison book. (That would be Song of Solomon.) But I don’t think it’s pornography. I mean, if it had been pornographic, it probably would have made a more lasting impression (unfortunately). I did recall it being somewhat sexually explicit. My FB friend was so disgusted by the excerpts she read online that she wasn’t comfortable posting a link, but through the magic of Google I found a blog or an article that gave several excerpts from the novel, and I immediately understood how a person who is not generally a prude (or may not generally be a prude—I don’t know this FB friend well enough to judge) might find this book offensive. Funny, I did not remember it being quite so…ick. Maybe because it was before I had children? I don’t know. Granted, the quotes were all out of context. Context certainly makes a big difference. It’s not fair to judge the literary merit of a book based on isolated excerpts. At the same time, these are still graphic, disturbing passages, regardless of context, and I know that if my own teenager had to read this book, she would be traumatized. Princess Zurg is particularly sensitive when it comes to certain subjects—probably more sensitive than your average teenager these days, but not the only one so sensitive, I’m sure. Certainly kids who come from conservative, religious households are more likely to be disturbed by such frank discussion of rape and incest (or anything of a sexual nature, including the consensual stuff).
I guess our household is conservative and religious. The household I grew up in was conservative and religious, but I have a high tolerance for “adult content” in books and always have. I don’t have a similarly high tolerance for such content in movies and TV. I process words differently than visual images. I’m very fastidious about what I let my kids watch—there are things I forbid them to watch–but I don’t, as a rule, censor their reading. I have a copy of The Bluest Eye in one of our (many) bookshelves. I would not forbid my teenager from reading it, if she (or he) wanted to. I really can’t imagine either of my teenagers wanting to, but theoretically, if they did, I would not forbid them. I would certainly warn them about the content because they’re the type of kids who would not care to be surprised by that sort of thing. That would probably end the issue right there. My teenagers are not such voracious readers that they’re going to pick up a Toni Morrison book for kicks and giggles, so I don’t need to think very deeply about this.
However, if Princess Zurg is expected to read The Bluest Eye next year, I will have a problem with that. I’m well aware that sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are very close to adulthood, and most of them probably don’t need sheltering. Certainly if they are college bound, they should expect to read more challenging material as they advance in their education, and some of this challenging material may offend those with more delicate sensibilities. Once they’re actually in college, of course, they will be expected to read all sorts of things. I’m of the opinion that, for the most part, “all sorts of things” can wait until college. It’s not like there’s a shortage of worthwhile literature out there. Plenty of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old kids can handle The Bluest Eye, as far as the language and subject matter go. That is, they’re not going to faint or anything. I am skeptical of how well they can appreciate the novel as literature, given that Toni Morrison is not the world’s most accessible writer. And being from a conservative religious community, I am probably more sympathetic to those kids who would be disturbed and/or scandalized by the graphic language, even though my own sensibilities are different. I am sympathetic to my daughter, who I don’t think would get any benefit from reading something like The Bluest Eye. It should be easy enough for students like her to get an alternate assignment, which is all well and good, but the thing about an alternate assignment is that it removes the student from the regular classroom curriculum for a period of a few weeks (at least a fortnight). That is less than ideal, which is why even though it is a provision of my daughter’s IEP that she be given alternate assignments when appropriate, we are reluctant to invoke that option. PZ has encountered plenty of books and plays and whatnot in her lit & comp career that have distressed her. To an extent I think she needs to learn to deal with being distressed, so I talk her through the material and she manages to complete her assignments and in the end she is okay, even if she doesn’t learn to like the books in question (in point of fact, continues to hate them). But I think something like The Bluest Eye would be a bridge too far for her.
I can see it being a bridge too far for a lot of teenagers, who are still, after all, living under their parents’ protection. No, they can’t be coddled forever, but they’re not adults yet, and most parents are probably reasonably good judges of what their kids can handle. If my FB friend thinks a book is pornographic, I can’t really blame her for being upset about her child being required to read it. Obviously, though, there’s something to offend everyone. That’s what we book-lovers are supposed to say: Where does one draw the line? Who will judge what is “inappropriate” and what is not? Well, someone has to, and it seems to me it shouldn’t be so hard to classify some books as inappropriate for required high school reading lists. Public schools are for everyone, not just for sophisticated urbane types who think there’s no such thing as an “inappropriate” book. As I said earlier, it’s not like there’s a shortage of worthwhile literature. There’s not even a shortage of challenging material that manages to discuss heavy issues like rape and racism without describing exactly what a pedophile does with a little girl’s vagina. I’m just saying.
It’s easy to understand how The Bluest Eye ends up on a recommended reading list. We want our students to read more than just the dead white males. Toni Morrison is female, black, and alive—a three-fer!—and also happens to be a Nobel Prize winner. Why shouldn’t high schoolers read her? Well, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, but there’s no compelling reason why they must¸ either. She is not the easiest author to read. She’s sort of a female, black (and alive) Faulkner, with slightly shorter sentences. Plenty of kids leave high school without ever reading Faulkner (I was one of those), so I think they’ll survive if they miss Toni Morrison too. Or they could read something she’s written that doesn’t contain graphic descriptions of child rape. I really don’t see what the big deal is. The Bluest Eye is a compelling novel in some respects, but not absolutely essential to a teenager’s education. Why court this particular controversy? When I was in high school, parents were upset about books like The Catcher in the Rye. The Bluest Eye makes The Catcher in the Rye look like The Cat in the Hat. Why would one feel so strongly about going there? Don’t we sophisticated, urbane types have enough trouble dealing with the parents who want to ban Harry Potter? Do we really want to upset a larger percentage of the parent population? Is it that worth it? I just don’t see it.
Of course, this is Portland (or Portland suburbia), not a terribly conservative community. I don’t foresee a huge revolt among the parents here. And I’m not the revolt-starting type. What do you gentle readers think? Have any of you run up against this issue in your sending-your-kids-to-school career?
I’m sure I’ve used that title before.
Mister Bubby: That’s so retar—
Princess Zurg: You can’t say that word!
MB: I was going to say retired. That’s so retired. It’s like something Grandma would do.
Elvis has developed a friendship of sorts with a boy in his class who enjoys playing video games. Elvis has gone over to his house twice now for video game play dates. This is a record number of play dates for Elvis, just so you know. Elvis also enjoys video games, especially NCAA Football and Madden. He is used to the PlayStation system; his friend has Xbox and Wii, which Elvis is not so familiar with. His friend (who is also on the autism spectrum) is obsessed with video games and video game manuals, so he is very, very, very good at the games he plays—much better than Elvis because Elvis has not had nearly as much practice with these games (nor with the systems). So while Elvis likes going over to this friend’s house, he also gets frustrated after a while and wants to do something besides play video games. (Believe me, if he were winning, he could play video games all day.) The last time we were over there, Elvis asked, “Why does S only want to play video games?” And S said, “Because I’m a gamer!” Since then, Elvis has been calling himself a “gamer” and making pronouncements about what gamers do and do not do. “I want to use the PlayStation. Because I’m a gamer. Gamers don’t go to the grocery store. I don’t want to do anything this weekend. I’m a gamer.” “Gamers don’t do homework.” “Gamers don’t clean the room.” You get the idea. The good news is that he’s open to correction. This leads to pronouncements like, “Gamers do their homework. Yep. They do do their homework.” “Gamers go to school.” “Gamers take out the trash.” And sometimes he will ask me whether or not gamers do something. For example, this is the conversation we had the other day:
Elvis: Do gamers go to the bathroom?
Madhousewife: Everyone goes to the bathroom.
Mad: Because…everyone has to sometime.
Elvis: So they won’t be an android.
Perhaps it’s best not to explain my 10-year-old’s familiarity with this song.
Girlfriend’s birthday party is on Saturday. Three weeks ago I promised Sugar Daddy I would “thin” the amount of toys stored in the family room so that they’d all fit in the wardrobe we bought for that purpose—the idea being that if all the toys were out of sight, all the kids we’re inviting to the house will not start playing with all the toys we own. That’s a reasonably good theory, I think. I mean, why not? I’ve been meaning to pare down our toy collection for quite some time. It’s just such a daunting task. Girlfriend is really the only kid we have left who is young enough to play with toys, but not only does she play with toys, but she has friends over and they play with toys, and we host our church choir practice at our house most Sundays and the children of choir members are welcome to come play with our toys, and I keep worrying that I’m going to get rid of some kid’s favorite toy. Isn’t that an absurd worry? You might think it’s just an excuse for not doing the work, and it is that, but it’s also a genuine neurosis. Why do you think I still have all these toys in my house? I’m lazy in general, but I’m intermittently not lazy; I am, however, consistently neurotic. I never stop being neurotic. That’s why this task is so difficult for me.
I have difficulty letting go of possessions. I hate my possessions—especially the ones that aren’t really mine—but I’m also inexplicably attached to them. I can’t…seem…to get…rid of any of them. I’m not talking hoarder-level mental illness, just a mild-to-moderate mental illness that makes me afraid to make decisions I or someone else might regret. You don’t need to give me advice about getting rid of stuff. I know all the advice; it’s good stuff. I mean to follow it someday. I just haven’t yet because cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo! You know how it is.
Anyway, I promised my husband I would do this because I knew it was a good idea, but I also knew I had at least a fortnight in which to accomplish it. (Unrelated aside: Why don’t people say “fortnight” anymore? Do the British still say it? I wouldn’t know because I don’t talk to many British people. Or Canadian people, for that matter. Canadians might say “fortnight,” and I would have no idea. The point is, Americans don’t say it. Most Americans don’t. Obviously, I do, because it’s an extremely useful word—as is “fortnightly,” which is even more rarely used.) I should not promise to do things when I have that much time to do them. It always seems like a lot of time, until the time is almost up, and then it’s not nearly enough time to do much of anything. Certainly not something as daunting as confronting my neurotic attachment to possessions that should not have any emotional significance for me.
Never suggest that I’m ambivalent about leaving behind the toys-toys-everywhere phase of parenthood. Don’t even joke about it. It’s not funny.
Mister Bubby: I don’t get the point of having a Facebook.
Mad: Well, you’re the one who wanted one.
MB: But what am I supposed to post? “I took a dump today”?
Mad: Preferably not.
PZ: The other day I had really bad diarrhea.
Mad: Thank you for sharing that.
MB: Once I had diarrhea and I pooped my pants in PE.
Mad: I really don’t need to know any of this.
I was looking through random files on my laptop and I found this blurb I wrote a couple years ago:
“Last night I dreamed that I was watching Brokeback Mountain. I’ve never seen Brokeback Mountain, so my subconscious just had to make it up as it went along. In case you were wondering, when it comes to filmmaking, my subconscious is an uneven talent. I understand that the real Brokeback Mountain had some scenes that made some viewers uncomfortable. My version didn’t have anything like that. There was a scene where the two cowboys drank beer and made Jiffy Pop”
And that’s where it leaves off. I vaguely remember that dream, now that I read about it. It’s a shame I was apparently interrupted during the course of documenting it. I know you all feel the loss as deeply as I do.
“You can’t be an idiot when you’re driving.”
“If that car turns, he will be an idiot.”
“You can’t smash cars.”
“Can I smash pedestrians?”
“No. We never, never smash pedestrians.”
“Because then they can’t get exercise.”
“Right. That’s exactly right.”
NEW! Bonus material:
“If they don’t know how to drive, you honk at them.”
“Why do we need pedestrians?”
“No turn on red, dude!”
Two years ago I became converted to the Curly Girl method of hair care and have been wearing my hair “natural” ever since. Aside from the fact that I have been unable to find an acceptable hairstylist, which means I have not had a decent haircut in two years, I have been very satisfied with my decision—until about three months ago.
My hair is naturally curly—definitely more curly than wavy, but not tight, corkscrew curly. It is also not very thick. In point of fact, it is thin. When I was still shampooing, it was frizzy enough to give the illusion of body. Now that the frizz is (mostly) gone, so is the illusion. It was okay when I first started wearing it natural, but now that I’ve been two years without a decent haircut, my hair is no longer a thin collection of reasonably well-formed ringlets, but it is stringy and damaged-looking and unattractive. Even when I wear it in a messy ponytail, which I used to kid myself looked delightfully carefree and not just unkempt, it looks thin and limp and stringy. Pathetic, really. I want to cry when I look at myself.
I have had my hair cut in the last two years. I went to my local fancy salon in March 2012 because my husband made me promise I’d never go to Great Clips or Supercuts again. (He also bought me a gift card for the fancy salon, so that was nice.) Someone had recommended that I get my hair layered to re-create that illusion of body that I missed so much, so I asked the stylist to give me some layers. I’m sure she did the best with what she had. I really don’t have a lot of hair. That may account for why I could not tell the difference between the before and after. She also did everything to my hair that I had stopped doing—shampooing and blow-drying it—and then tried to style the resulting frizz with some gel or mousse or whatever, which resulted in crunchy frizz. Not my best look, but again, mostly the fault of the hair itself. Be that as it may—or be that as it was—I determined that I would never again let someone with straight hair cut my hair. Ever.*
*Remember that story Oprah used to tell about why she never lets white people do her hair? It’s because a white lady made her bald once. I totally don’t blame Oprah for not letting white people near her hair. A bad haircut is not nearly as bad as being bald, but still—I’m convinced that stylists who wear their hair straight can’t understand my hair’s idiosyncratic needs.
What this means is that I haven’t had my hair professionally cut in nineteen months. That may account for why my hair looks like hell. Well, that and the fact that I have attempted to trim it myself—something I have never in my life attempted to do, but in August I was just so freaking desperate, I didn’t think I could possibly make it any worse. In my defense, I had managed to trim Girlfriend’s naturally curly hair myself and it looked pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. (My sister, who is a professional hair stylist but unfortunately lives several hours away, encouraged me to watch some YouTube videos and give it a go, since it doesn’t matter so much if curly hair is “even.” So that’s what I did.) However, I now realize that the success of that venture was due mostly to the fact that Girlfriend has awesome hair. Lots of awesome hair. Her mother has difficult hair—a very small amount of very difficult hair, which makes it even more difficult than if there were more of it.
I am so discouraged by how my hair looks that I am tempted to go back to making it frizzy and then taming the frizz with a curling iron. It was a lot more time-consuming, but at least it looked like I meant to do it. What’s on my head now looks like I live in a world without mirrors. I must be a vampire because if I could see my reflection, I would never let myself go out in public like this.
It’s very difficult because I am emotionally invested in my decision to embrace my hair’s natural inclinations, to soldier through the humid bad times, and accept my hair the way it is instead of trying to make it something that it’s not. I used the word “conversion” earlier because it really was like a religious experience. My whole life I had struggled with my hair, and now I no longer had to struggle. Free at last and whatnot. Well, now I am having a faith crisis with my hair. I don’t want to go back to the way it was before—it feels like giving up. But what is it, exactly, that I’m doing now? If you Googled “giving up,” you might very well find images of my hair in the results because it is a perfect illustration of the concept even if I haven’t technically actually given up. Are you following me? My hair looks like crap. LIKE CRAP. ALL THE FREAKING TIME. And I don’t believe anyone can help me.
[Insert long-suffering, hashtag-firstworldproblems sigh]
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the progesterone. Maybe in addition to the acne, it’s also making my hair look like crap. How often do you see that listed as a side effect? Nausea, constipation, dizziness, heart failure, and crappy-looking hair. Ask your doctor if this is right for you.
Maybe I need a different conditioner. Maybe I need to get another haircut, even if it’s wrong. I don’t know. My life is really too meaningful for me to be this hung up about my hair. Or it should be. Maybe what I need is a new hobby.
* This progesterone that the SuperGyno prescribed for me is very effective at neutralizing my PMS, but it has the side effect of making my skin oilier, which means I am getting more acne. More acne is something I do not need, now that I’m 42 and my frown lines have become pronounced. It should be wrinkles OR acne, not both. Have I already forgotten what it’s like to have PMS? No. No, I have not. Will I therefore continue to take my progesterone? Yes. Yes, I will. But can I avoid complaining about my acne? No, I can’t, because it is unfair. [more frowning, more frown lines] It’s like nature doesn’t want women to be happy. Also, right before I started taking progesterone, I stocked up on facial care products for combination-dry skin (which is what I used to have), and now I guess I have to go out and buy a different line. It’s like nature doesn’t want me to save money either.
* I strongly suspect that some of the “laundry” my husband brought back from his business trip was not laundry at all but clean, unworn clothes that he couldn’t be bothered to separate from his dirty clothes. This is something his son also does when he’s cleaning his room. (“If I don’t feel like putting it away, it must need to be washed.”) This would bother me less if I didn’t already have so much necessary laundry. A few additional articles shouldn’t make that much difference, but the resentment builds. Fortunately, I don’t take it out on anybody.
OR WILL I????
* Every time I clear off the coffee table, people dump more crap on it. Then my husband complains that there’s crap all over the coffee table, and I’m the only one who cares that he complains. Incidentally, there is crap all over my coffee table as I type this.
* I can’t think of a single thing I want to eat for dinner, let alone make for dinner. This is a rerun, isn’t it? How many times have I typed this sentence in this space? Too bad it isn’t like a TV show going into syndication. I don’t get royalties or anything for typing it. I don’t even get dinner ideas.
* I’ve eaten so many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to combat my ennui that I have gotten tired of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I never get tired of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and yet I just have. It makes me wonder what will happen next. Obviously not starvation. FATAL ENNUI, PERHAPS???
* I have to go pick up Princess Zurg from school. Yeah, that’s bugging me. Because I don’t want to get off the couch, but I can’t drive the car and sit on the couch at the same time.
1. He grew several inches over the summer and is now the tallest kid in the family, much to his older sister’s dismay. It’s possible that he may grow to be taller than his father someday. Maybe. A year ago I would not have said so.
2. He can pick me up and lift me off the ground for several seconds, despite the fact that I weigh as much as he does. Must be a center of gravity thing.
3. He still likes to be tucked in at night.
4. He just got his Facebook account, which thing he was very much looking forward to, for reasons I don’t fully understand. Most of his peers are not on the Facebook. I told him he had to be friends with me and his dad and also his sister. He balked at being friends with his sister, but eventually agreed.
5. He has gotten very good at playing the trombone. He is section leader for the seventh grade band, but he lost out to an eighth grader for section leader of the jazz band. He was very upset about the latter because he felt he didn’t play his best at the audition. Since then, he has been practicing every morning before school. Amazing!
6. His voice is changing.
7. He enjoys being a deacon at church. He hasn’t let the power go to his head. Much.
8. He looks very handsome. I think girls might like him. I think he likes the idea of girls more than girls themselves.
9. He is still obsessed with football, especially the Ducks.
10. He’s taken to punctuating all his smart[alec] remarks with “OHHHHHHH, SNAP!” which should be annoying, but so far it just amuses me.
11. His e-mail address includes several digits of pi. He still likes pi an awful lot.
12. He just got his First Class rank in Boy Scouts. Actually, he earned it a million years ago, but he was just awarded it. You know I’m kind of reaching for fun facts when I have to bring up Boy Scouts.
13. He is thirteen years old today.
(Tangentially-related fun fact: When I started this blog, he was three and couldn’t pronounce his L’s and R’s properly. Cwazy!)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MISTER BUBBY!
Yesterday I shared this article by Emily Yoffe (the woman who writes the “Dear Prudence” column for Slate) on Facebook. It is about the role alcohol plays in sexual assaults on college campuses and it advocates putting a greater emphasis on warning young women about the risks inherent in drinking excessively, which unfortunately include rape. I shared it because this is a topic that I have very strong feelings about–strong enough that I am willing to risk being told that I don’t understand rape culture and am insensitive to the experiences of rape victims. I am perfectly aware that I never took a women’s studies class and am not super-clear on what constitutes “rape culture.” The term “rape culture” wasn’t really bandied about when I was studying feminism. I did manage to get a handle on the definition of rape. I’m a late-twentieth century kind of gal. I’m not interested in blaming anyone for getting raped. I really don’t see the point of that, even if it weren’t an extremely ignorant and cruel thing to do. I am interested in women not getting raped, and the fact is that excessive alcohol consumption plays a major role in many sexual assaults on college campuses.
I’m going to come right out and admit that I have never been raped. I don’t claim to know what it’s like to be raped. But as a woman, I do understand how unfair it is that women have to walk around ever-conscious of the dangers that they face just because they’re women. As the old survey said, women are afraid that men will hurt them, beat them, rape them; men are afraid that women will laugh at them. These are not comparable fears. I also like to think that I’m a reasonably empathetic person. While I have no first-hand knowledge of rape–for which I am grateful and take no personal credit because that’s just how my life has shaken out thusfar–when I hear the experiences of women who have been raped, I imagine that I would feel and react in similar ways if I were in their place. It breaks my heart when I hear or read stories about girls who got drunk, passed out, and were raped, sometimes by multiple assailants. In the internet age there is also the possibility that their assaults will be documented and publicized by those who find it amusing to humiliate people when they’re helpless. When I find out that a rape victim was drunk, I don’t think, “Well, what did she expect? She should have known better.” I think, “I want this to stop happening.”
This response to Yoffe’s article, by Amanda Hess (also on Slate), argues that the way to stop these sexual assaults is to focus on the rapists, not the victims. I think that when it comes to assigning blame, one can safely focus like a laser beam on the rapists, since they’re the reason rapes occur. However, I found the following quote from psychologist Antonia Abbey naive in the extreme: “If the costs of sexual assault are obvious, undesirable and immediate, then intoxication-driven sexual assaults are less likely to occur because the potential perpetrator cannot forget about the likely, undesirable consequences.” Certainly the costs of sexual assault should be obvious, undesirable and immediate. It does not follow, however, that a potential perpetrator will find it impossible to forget about the “likely, undesirable consequences,” even when they’re drunk. I mean, really? Have you ever seen a drunk person? And someone who is evil enough to prey on drunk women while sober is probably not terribly concerned with the costs of sexual assault; they are only concerned about what they can get away with, and the fact is that if your victim is drunk, you can get away with a lot. It’s hard enough to prove rape under any circumstances, which is one reason so many women don’t even bother to report their rapes. (Why put yourself through that when the chances of prosecution, let alone successful prosecution, are so slim?) When the victim doesn’t even remember what happened or who did it to her or where she was at the time and there are no witnesses (aside from the people who have a vested interest in not testifying against themselves), how are these immediate and undesirable consequences going to assert themselves?
I think we have all seen the Rape Prevention Tips meme that addresses the potential rapist rather than the potential victim. “If you’re about to rape someone, STOP. Don’t do it.” “Carry a whistle with you. If you think you’re about to rape somebody, blow it as loud as you can.” Who doesn’t love that meme? But the reason we love it is that it appeals to our sense of how the world ought to be. In a just world, people wouldn’t have to be afraid of rape because no one would rape anyone. And let’s face it, it’s also funny to think about rapists stopping to think, “Wait…I’m not supposed to rape people. BWEEEEEEEEET!!! Somebody stop me!”—because that is something that would never happen on planet Earth. Are there men who rape without realizing that they’re raping? Are there women who are raped and blame themselves for their attack? Yes, and that is why it’s important to educate men and women about what rape is.
There are two scenarios in which one can reasonably assume that a woman consents to sex: 1) Your wedding night. 2) When you say, “Hey, let’s have sex,” and she says, “Yes, let’s do that!” Aside from that, there is always ambiguity, and you would do best to clear that up before you put down the whistle, so to speak. …I’m not really sure what I just said. But back to my point. Even if it is your wedding night, it’s probably a good idea to nail down some specifics beforehand. For example, “Do you want to have sex at the wedding breakfast or wait until we get to the hotel?” Are there a lot of non-verbal cues people give each other to indicate that they would like to have sex? Yes. Can you be 100% positive that the message you’re receiving is the one she intended to give? Not unless it’s accompanied by an explicit “Yes, that is what I meant—definitely want to have sex with you!” I know that sounds unromantic, and most established couples certainly don’t follow that protocol with any consistency, but it is the best way to make sure you’re not raping anyone.
At minimum, you must understand that if someone is unconscious, they don’t want to have sex with you. They’re incapable of wanting it; they’re unconscious. If you have sex with them while they’re unconscious, you are raping them. Stop! Blow the whistle!
Also: If you need to use a weapon or threats or drugs to get a “yes,” you are raping someone. Stop! Blow the whistle! Call a friend and ask them to come immediately and remove you from the situation. If you don’t have any friends, call the police.
Now that we’re done with that, let’s talk about alcohol intoxication and sexual assault.
How many sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption on the part of one or both (or all) parties? The study that Yoffe cites says 80 percent of campus assaults involve alcohol. I’m not super-big on studies, but even if the number isn’t 80 percent (no one can know the real number), it seems intuitively obvious that alcohol consumption would be a major contributor to sexual assault on college campuses, given how alcohol impairs people’s judgment and given how much alcohol college students consume. How common is it that women (and girls) have too much to drink, lose their ability to consent or to make informed decisions, and are sexually assaulted by men who have intentionally taken advantage of their vulnerability and use their alcohol consumption as an excuse—or alternatively, were honestly drunk off their asses themselves and didn’t quite “get” that the girls didn’t (technically) consent, or just didn’t remember what exactly happened? I’m imagining it’s very common, and my imagination isn’t that remarkable. Women metabolize alcohol differently than men; they get drunker faster and are therefore more vulnerable to assault. Women are more vulnerable to assault in the first place because very few women are physically capable of overpowering a man who intends to rape them. There is a good reason to warn young women—even lecture them–about the dangers of drinking to excess. It is dangerous for a woman to get drunk. It is dangerous for anyone to get drunk, for obvious reasons, but women are the ones who are getting raped, not men. (Which is not to say that men are never raped while drunk; it is just much less statistically likely, for whatever sexist reason you want to assign.)
To say what is indisputably true—that getting drunk increases a woman’s risk of sexual assault—is not to blame the victim. Advising girls and young women about danger and risk is not teaching them to blame themselves if they are raped—not any more than advising people about safe sexual practices (condom use; committed, monogamous relationships) is teaching them to blame themselves if they get AIDS. It’s doing them a favor. You aren’t telling them that it’s their own fault if they get raped. As a woman, you can’t be confident that you will never be raped—unfortunately. If you have never been raped, it is not due to being smart; it is due to being lucky. That doesn’t mean you can’t also be smart. If you habitually avoid getting drunk and thereby losing your ability to give consent, you reduce your risk of sexual assault. That doesn’t mean you are immune from risk. That doesn’t mean that if you do get drunk, you are giving a man (or men) permission to rape you. Rapists don’t need permission. They only need opportunity. Fewer drunk women = decreased opportunity for rapists = good for women. Yes, it does.
If women never went out at night alone—if they never went out anywhere, except in groups and with chaperones—I reckon fewer women would get raped. But it’s not reasonable to expect a woman to restrict her movements and her personal liberty just to avoid getting raped. Not getting drunk decreases a woman’s risk of getting raped; it increases her safety; and it is something any woman can do without suffering an unreasonable restriction of her liberty. In fact, not getting drunk will increase her personal liberty because you are always freer when you have your wits about you than you are when you’ve lost control of all your faculties. As I said elsewhere (i.e. Facebook), I can hardly think of anything less empowering for women than the implication that they can’t do anything to decrease their risk of sexual assault, which is exactly what you are implying when you fail to give her adequate warning about the increased risk inherent in binge drinking because you don’t want to be seen as blaming the victim. That is a frightening world for a woman to live in. It infantilizes her and renders her helpless.
I’m 100 percent certain that no one in the “telling women not to get drunk is blaming them for their own rapes” camp wants to infantilize women or make them feel helpless. On the contrary, they want women to be empowered by the understanding that they have the right not to be raped, regardless of where they were, what they were wearing, or how much they’d been drinking. And it’s true—women have the right not to be raped, regardless of where they are, what they’re wearing, or how much they’ve been drinking. I buy the argument that women won’t really be safe from rape until men stop raping. It’s true—women will never be safe from rape until men stop raping. It would be wrong to tell women that they’re responsible for preventing themselves from getting raped—because that is not true; rape is not a thing you do to yourself. But there’s such a thing as throwing out the baby with the bath water. Teaching people what rape is and holding rapists accountable does not preclude a campaign advising women to take reasonable measures on behalf of their personal safety. It is 100 percent reasonable to tell women to avoid binge drinking. It is 100 percent reasonable to tell men to avoid binge drinking; binge drinking pretty much does no one any good. But as I said earlier, it’s the women who are getting raped; they have that much more incentive not to engage in that particular pastime.
If a woman tells you she was raped when she was passed out drunk, the correct response is, “That’s terrible! How can we catch the person responsible and bring them to justice?” If a woman tells you she’s planning to go out to a party and get wasted, the correct response is, “Are you insane? Don’t do that!” (Stop! Blow the whistle!)
In fairness, Yoffe also says something in her article that is pretty darn naïve—that if women stop imbibing excessively, perhaps their restraint will “trickle down” to the men. Yeah, I wouldn’t count on that. Which is why something else she says earlier is so important:
I don’t believe any of these statistics will move in the right direction until binge drinking joins smoking, drunk driving, and domestic abuse as behaviors that were once typical and are now unacceptable. … Puking in your hair, peeing in your pants, and engaging in dangerous behaviors have to stop being considered hilarious escapades or proud war stories and become a source of disgust and embarrassment.
Definitely teach your sons not to rape, but also teach them not to drink so much that they lose their good judgment and end up doing something they probably wouldn’t do sober—something like have sex with a woman without her consent. Stop thinking and talking about getting wasted as if it’s something funny and harmless, a rite of passage for young people sowing their wild oats. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt (or raped or killed).
And now is when I sound like a scold and a square—the middle-aged Mormon lady who’s never had a drink in her life is lecturing people on the evils of alcohol. Believe me, I’m well aware that I wouldn’t know anything about the pleasures of alcohol consumption. I have no experience in that area. I can certainly understand—or imagine, rather—why having a drink or two would be appealing to some people. It’s not appealing to me personally because I’m pretty attached to my inhibitions, and I can’t really afford to make my brain fuzzier than it is. I enjoy knowing what’s going on. Still, that’s just me. I know plenty of folks who drink responsibly, and if they say it improves their quality of life, I believe them. I can think of plenty of things that would improve my quality of life that other people probably don’t need to be happy. So the issue isn’t drinking alcohol. It’s getting drunk, which I don’t get the appeal of. I met a lot of drunk people when I was in college; none of them seemed happy to me. Frankly, they just seemed rude, inconsiderate, and ridiculous (in a pathetic, not funny, way), and they smelled bad. Occasionally they were lying in their own vomit and/or feces, which also seemed incompatible with a state of happiness. And that was before they were hung over. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that no matter how much fun it is to get drunk—and I’ll just have to take your word for it—it can’t possibly be worth the damage it does. Why is the right to get drunk at parties a feminist hill to die on?
I’m not really. In business, that is. But I am back.
So remember how my husband went back to work on Friday? He came home early, took a nap, then took three of the kids to a football game that evening. It was our high school’s homecoming game, but did our child who goes to that high school choose to go to the game? No, she stayed here with me. Actually, we went out for gyros and then we came home and didn’t speak to each other because we’d had enough togetherness for one evening. Just kidding. We did have a very pleasant dinner together. And the guy at the gyro place asked if we were sisters. We do look a great deal alike, but there is a 27-year age difference. Princess Zurg said, “I hope he thought you looked young and not that I looked old.” Indeed. Most teenage girls would like to look older than they are, but not 27 years older. Or even 15 years older. I think the braces help me look younger than I am, at least on a galloping horse. When they finally come off, I wonder how many years it will add to my face.
By the time my braces come off, I could be very old indeed. I’m coming up on my third anniversary soon. Well, in February. I’m not in any particular rush, since getting them off means getting my jaw surgery, and I’m not looking forward to my jaw surgery. I’m looking forward to about two months after my jaw surgery, when everything’s healed (theoretically). But that’s neither here nor there.
I totally lost my train of thought. Sugar Daddy went out Friday night, then was out and busy all day Saturday and Saturday night, and then he crashed again on Sunday and he’s been home sick all week. Has he gone to the doctor? Yes, he has. I guess he has the flu. Or that’s his doctor’s guess. The doctor said he should not go back to work until he is 100 percent. SD said he is definitely going back to work tomorrow. He is not quite 100 percent today, but I guess he is anticipating being 100 percent tomorrow. Naturally, tomorrow is the day all the kids are home from school. I am taking them to get their pictures taken. None of them is happy about it. I’m not happy about it, but it has to be done. I am going to bribe them with going out to lunch afterward. It will be expensive, but maybe it will keep most of them from whining the whole two hours we’ll be at the portrait studio.
Speaking of pictures, you know what I’m totally behind on? So far behind I can’t imagine how I’ll ever, ever catch up? My family blog, which I maintain mostly for the benefit of grandparents and other relatives young enough to understand the internet. (Not that all the grandparents understand the internet equally well.) Last year was disgraceful. I posted a whole bunch of pictures in June and then nothing again until December, when I made a last-minute resolution for 2012 that I would finish posting all of the 2012 pictures before 2013. I did manage that (mostly–I did not get Christmas up there). I resolved to do better in 2013, but in January the USB port in our camera went kaput, and I kept waiting for a remedy to reveal itself, and it did not. So finally in August or something I posted the only pictures I had access to, which were on my iPod–all of them pretty poor quality–and that prompted my husband to remedy my USB problem, so I finally uploaded the camera pictures to my computer, and then we got a new camera right before we went on vacation. But have I posted any more pictures since then? No, my friends, I have not. Because I’m just so effing lazy. No, that’s not it. It’s because photo blogging is just so effing tedious, I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s tedious and time-consuming and I don’t get nearly enough adulation in return for my investment. Also, people in my household don’t value the family blog enough not to complain when I go on a photo-blogging binge. I can’t just do a little bit at a time. I have to tackle it all at once. It’s like swallowing bad-tasting medicine. You don’t sip it. That’s stupid. You know what I’m saying? Anyway, it’s very upsetting to think about how much work I have to do on that front. I think I’ll just stop thinking about it.
Where was I? Oh. I got an e-mail in my Yahoo yesterday informing me that I’d won a drawing that I’d entered for a gift card to our favorite pizza place. I guess I would call it our favorite pizza place because it’s where we usually get our pizza, and we usually have pizza twice a month, so we’re there a lot. Is it our favorite in the sense that it’s the best tasting pizza around? No, perhaps not. It’s good pizza, but more to the point, it’s affordable pizza. The price-to-good ratio is very favorable. So yes, I guess it’s our favorite place. Anyway, I’m now the proud winner of this gift card. I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised in my life. I never win anything. Ever! But now I can’t say that, because here I am, already a winner. I suspect that there weren’t that many names in the drawing, but that’s neither here nor there because I seriously never win anything, even when the odds are in my favor, even when the competition isn’t stiff. What’s the opposite of stiff competition? Limp competition? Flexible competition? Smooshy competition? In any case, even if there are only two names in a hat and one of them is mine, I would advise you betting against my name being drawn. That is how devoid of good luck I ordinarily am. So this pizza gift card is like a kind of miracle. An early Columbus Day miracle, if you will.
And with that, I have to end because I want to pick up my Columbus Day miracle on my way to picking up my school-spiritless high schooler. So long, gentle readers. May you have many mighty miracles of your own this weekend.
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