The Ying and Yang of Claire Underwood

With the release of a third season on the horizon, I have nothing except House of Cards on the brain. The multilayered characters are endlessly interesting and the women are no exception. With strong connections to Shakespeare, it is impossible to argue Claire Underwood isn’t every bit the cutthroat mastermind The Bard wrote as Lady Macbeth. Spoiler alert: Lady Macbeth is a villain, and so is Claire Underwood. However, as her husband Frank is almost a lovable villain, Claire demonstrates she is more than worthy of respect and admiration in her own right while still walking a narrow line between good and evil. Her dichotomy makes her character complex and life-like. Because of this, Claire Underwood is my favorite fictional feminist.

1. She is a bad feminist, but a feminist icon.

Claire is the “Bad Feminist” that Roxane Gay describes in her book by that title. “I have certain… interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.” This is the beauty of feminism; that flaws are embraced as part of the human condition. Through this lens, the viewer watches Claire glisten in the golden rays of self-empowerment. Frankly, she does things that make our skin crawl, like in Chapter 17 when she combines the separate events of her sexual assault and abortion into the same story during a nationally broadcast evening news interview.

One can infer she does this in an effort to justify her decision to terminate the pregnancy to the viewers. Though manipulative, who is to say she doesn’t have all the right to harness what power she can from her experience? Had the truth come out, would she be made to apologize to her rapist for defamation of character? No. Fuck that guy.The hurt she felt became the fuel that drove her. In addition, her announcing her attackers name publicly allowed another woman he victimized to come forward. Claire attempts to use her to climb the ladder further, which is where the “bad feminist” label works its way in. Forcing another victim forward is by no means something to condone, but she is human, and Claire’s flaw is her ruthlessness.

2. She and her husband are partners while still maintaining independent goals.

While Claire does things (like forego her desire to have children) in effort to progress her husband’s political career, she does it with a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality. In Chapter 25, when Claire drops the sexual assault bill she had been championing, it is for the purpose of manipulating the Majority Whip (Jackie Sharp) into backing an impeachment of the President, which would segue into Frank becoming Commander in Chief.

It could be said she is a traitor to victims of sexual violence—and it would be true. Claire is no hero, and she shouldn’t be held to the image of one. She wanted Frank to become President knowing the First Lady has more opportunities for influence than she currently had as V.P.’s wife. In the same interview where she speaks about her assault, the interviewer and her have an exchange about her role as the Vice President’s wife.

“Ashleigh: Is it hard being a politician’s wife?

Claire: It’s thrilling. Not without its challenges.

Ashleigh: Always In the background. Subsuming your goals for is goals.

Claire: I don’t see it that way. We’re two very independent people who have chosen to live our lives together. I support him. He supports me.”

They are a team, and it goes without debate that they are equals despite Frank’s position in government. When Frank undermines Claire early in Season 1, she turns on him and sides with a rival who promises her the funding her NGO needs, which Frank has been dragging his feet on obtaining. She reminds Frank his word is not gold. This, however, becomes a more rare occurrence as the series progress, for she does not want to interrupt Frank’s (and her) ascent to the Presidency.

3. Sometimes her sexuality is a vulnerability, other times it is a source of power.

The classic trope of “all’s fair in love and war” holds true to Claire’s politics, but she isn’t an unfeeling monster. Though this is still speculation on my part, I have come to the conclusion that Frank Underwood is homosexual (maybe bisexual, though his only sexual encounters with a woman, other than once with Claire, are to manipulate Zoe Barnes, the journalist.) We are given evidence in Chapter 8 when Frank reminisces with old male college friends, one of which he had a relationship with. I think we can all agree Frank isn’t above playing heterosexual to progress his career and that were it true, Claire wouldn’t be in the dark about it. In Chapter 24, she asks Frank if he is “satisfied.” He indicates that he is not, and by the episode’s end, Claire initiates a threesome with Meechum, their bodyguard. This is the only instance in the series it is implied the husband and wife have sex.

While she uses her sexuality to maintain Frank’s ruse, Claire falls victim to emotion as any feeling human would. After sacrificing an offer that would benefit her clean water initiative for Frank’s good, Claire goes to visit Adam Galloway, a photographer and former love. She stays with Adam as they rekindle their romance, only leaving once her disappearance jeopardizes Her and Frank’s career. Though it is apparent she has feelings for Adam, her priorities are with her career and husband/business partner.

In the trailer for the third season, a fission seems to be developing between the power couple, which follows Shakespeare’s structure flawlessly. My palms are sweating in anticipation of how Claire will take on her new role as First Lady and if she might unravel like her predecessor, Lady MacB. Regardless of the path she follows now that they have reached the top, Claire Underwood is and forever will be my spirit animal.

Everything Comes Down to Poop

Here at the dawn of a new year, I’m sure anyone who resolved to increase their vegetable intake in 2015 know what I mean when I say a lot of shit has already happened.  That poop joke was not the first one ever made—as I’m sure you all know—and will certainly not be the last neither in this article nor your life.

Growing up, I was taught that boys love jokes about poop and girls do not poop at all. As the years have rolled on, I’ve kept a warm place in my heart for a well-delivered poop joke, but the concept of others knowing I (a girl) passed excrement through my rectum,  was hard to warm up to. Really, the only times I spoke about dropping a twosie were in jokes. The only exception was when a fellow ashamed friend and I confessed we never poop when we spend the night at a friend’s place. She told me she once held it in a week because she was on a houseboat with family friends. I was distressed at the thought of potential damage that could inflict on her colon, but also a little jealous. I couldn’t hold it in that long… or could I?

Luckily, I was never put in the position to test the limits of my body versus my burgeoning phobia. For the first couple decades of my life, it was easy to avoid confronting my terribly irrational and borderline unhealthy fear.  I would never “go” in public restrooms, or at friends houses. I would avoid my own bathroom if I had company because I thought they would know I’d been gone too long for just a #1.  I would even wake myself up in the middle of the night at my boyfriend’s place to poop while he slept. Easy. Then comes mid-October 2014, and the proverbial shit hit the fan.

September was the climax of what had been an atypically stressful year. At work, I began nannying a newborn baby in addition the two-year-old I already worked with. At home, my sister had attempted suicide. Once the newborn had settled into her body and my sister was healing hers, I assumed it would be a smooth slope to the resolution of the year. That was when the cramps started. At first they were mild and I chalked it up to the vigorous sex life I was experiencing with my new beau. As the days passed, the cramps became worse. This wasn’t from rough sex, so I thought maybe they were just menstrual cramps.  I was happier to accept an early period than the possibility of something being wrong with me. However, that diagnosis didn’t address one of the major symptoms: I was experiencing frequent, painful bowel movements. It had to be poo issues, which until then, I had never openly spoken about, not even with my mother. I stayed silent about the stool and most people around me were content with my dismissive “stomach ache” explanation.

In all honesty, I couldn’t tell people what was wrong with me because I didn’t know and wasn’t going to hold an open forum with my friends to discuss my newly-complicated bathroom life. I turned to WebMD. I quickly reached a diagnosis: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It was relieving to know I wasn’t dying slowly, but it also explained there was no medication that could cure it. Why me? What did I do to warrant this feeling of a balloon expanding in my large intestines? Stress. It can be brought on by stress, poor diet, and a handful of other things. Stress sounded to be the likely culprit. As I read, I learned that it was just a matter of being patient and the trouble would end. I could be patient without talking about my ailments! Deal.

The days continued to pass and Thanksgiving was approaching. The cramping and back aches continued as well. The stress I was feeling from not being able to explain to loved ones what was wrong was making was making the cramps worse. This was my own personal hell. I had to tackle my senseless fear immediately or this would never end. My roommate/best friend was the first to hear that I had IBS. Next was my friend who actually initiated the conversation by joking about her own IBS symptoms. Slowly, I started to explain to each of the people in my life why I had been so unlike myself for the last month. After repeating the story enough times, it became funny. Finding humor in just how big of a problem poop was in my life helped alleviate the cramps more than the ibuprofen. Poop jokes were curing me. Finally, one day I realized I felt totally normal again and promised myself I wouldn’t let my stress level do that to my body even once more, especially stress from not being able to communicate what was bothering me.

It isn’t common to talk to your loved ones about your intestinal health. We associate discussing bowel movements with the elderly and infants, but I have grown to believe it is important to feel comfortable talking about those things, regardless of age. My condition could have drastically improved much more quickly if I hadn’t allowed it to turn into a dirty secret. The block in communication certainly tested the limits of my relationships, and I feel lucky to have had the unwavering support from my friends and partner despite my nasty mood. So in 2015, let’s talk more about poop because it a universal bodily function and we’ll all become better friends along the way.

Domestic Abuse Case in NHL Demonstrates Progression

It was well before noon when I noticed a push notification from my NHL app light up my cell phone screen. Typically, they say things like “Team X has placed so-and-so on injured reserve,” or who the NHL’s three stars of the week were this last week. This one was different. This one made my eyes grow wide and moisten. It told me Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings was suspended indefinitely due to domestic abuse charges being filed against him.
I clicked link after link to snake through all the information available about the suspension, almost expecting my heart to be shattered. It had been just weeks since the domestic abuse catastrophe shook the NFL, and I was preparing myself to lose hockey… because of a player on my team. The home team I loved as if we hung out on weekends and had family barbecues together. I dug through articles, muscles tightened in fear, and finally I cried. But not from my loss of faith in humanity, but the exact opposite. I couldn’t picture a more pro-active response by the League and it was being whole-heartedly supported by the Kings and the club’s owners. My heart’s beat slowed and warmed.
The Voynov situation came to light in the still turbulent wake of the Ray Rice incident. I don’t want to paint a picture that re-imagines the NHL as a golden child who has never done wrong. Just one year prior, a very different response to a very similar situation in the Colorado Avalanche club was genuinely what I expected as I read statement after statement from officials regarding the Voynov suspension.  But this time around, the League came down hard on Voynov, making a clear example of him that domestic abuse charges might be dismissed by insensitive ears elsewhere, but certainly not the NHL. Weeks after the story of Ray Rice’s abuse and the NFL’s blind eye blew through the media, professional hockey made it perfectly clear they were no longer on the same page as the NFL, nor NBA for that matter. The King’s owner, Dean Lombardi, responded to questions about the situation the day after the suspension was made public.

“I think it’s pretty self-evident,” he said. “The biggest issue you’ve got, there’s always that line between innocent until proven guilty, right? So that’s where the rub is. ‘Are you surprised by what they did, particularly, obviously in this climate?’ No. Then the issue of ‘Well, is it appropriate considering he hadn’t [been charged], because in the old days, before this, you saw the other cases, the leagues would always say, ‘Well, wait a minute, there’s a criminal process that has to take place before they can react.’ Even in the NBA, they had nine cases in the last three years. You saw that in baseball at times with Albert Belle, Canseco. So it was always that was the way it was handled, that there’s a criminal thing, let it play out, even the players played because we were going under the premise of innocent until proven guilty. That now has obviously changed from the old days, which, I get it. So to say ‘I’m surprised’ that they acted that way, no. And do I think it’s inappropriate? No. And the danger is saying, ‘Well, he hasn’t been proven guilty.’ But that’s clearly the way leagues are headed right now, that the charge itself is enough to take action, whereas in the past it wasn’t.”

At the time of his suspension, Slava Voynov only had charges pressed against him. The investigation was about to begin, but there was no case built against him yet. No video of him punching his fiancee in an elevator, no lie detector tests, nothing. But the NHL stood on the side of his accuser. With his immediate, indefinite suspension, The League chose to believe her until the evidence was collected. To see a sport (that so many see as being excessively violent ) choose to support the female accuser and not their money-generating athlete was comforting to say the least given the septic pool of victim-blaming in which we currently wade.

While I do strongly believe in due process and the right to innocence until proven guilty, it is difficult to see that belief in black and white. I don’t believe someone should be punished for a crime before there is evidence that undeniably directs the legal system to them, but in the case of something so sensitive as domestic abuse (as well as sexual abuse), it is so much more important to show the accuser they have support as opposed to the accused. Though I don’t know anything about who Voynov’s partner is, I can assume she anticipated a backlash after reporting the crime. He is a young player (almost still a kid at just 24) and his rookie year on the team was the first season the Kings ever won the Stanley Cup in 2012. Fans loved him for what he did on the team, and she stood as a potential risk to his place on the roster. She was immensely brave and reported the abuse anyway, just to find out that the League, owners, and club were indefinitely in support of her, too.

Just a year ago, the NHL made mistakes in their handling of abuse charges. Big mistakes. But with the response they made to the charges pressed against Voynov, they demonstrated that unwavering support of the accused is no longer the norm. They are taking the steps our country needs to take as a whole in order to reconstruct a system that tears the accuser’s character apart in order to find potential flaws while raising the possible abuser up as the true victim. I am proud that the sport I love is (hopefully) setting the precedent in how abuse charges are handled in professional sports tomorrow.

The Only Sister I’ll Have: Part II

On September 11, 2014, the one-year anniversary passed since my sister’s first visit to the hospital for psychiatric reasons. She made it past this milestone only to return to the emergency room late at night on the 15th of September.

I was spending the afternoon with one of my friends when I noticed a voicemail notification pop up on my phone. The phone hadn’t rung, but I saw it was from my mother. I joked with my friend, “Let me check this; I need to see if my mom took my sister back to the hospital.” Earlier I had explained to her that my mom called me the night before to ask if I knew how Michelle was doing, and I told her she wasn’t doing well; the hospital might be a necessary choice. She told me she thinks Michelle just needs to sleep and eat more. I didn’t argue with her, despite my obvious disagreement.

I played the voicemail, and my mother sounded panicked. She told me she heard a knock at the front door and when she answered it, it was Michelle – who had just been upstairs in her old bedroom- saying that she had fallen from the balcony above the driveway. She told my mother her back hurt. According to the voicemail, I was to get to my parents’ house 15 miles away immediately in order to dog sit while Michelle and My mother were at the E.R. It was lucky my friend was with me because I could catch a ride with her since I don’t have a car of my own. Quickly, we went to my house, and I spent the night on a camping cot in my parents’ living room, calling every few hours for updates on Michelle’s status.

Over the night, we were informed that there was a fracture in my sister’s hip, but no other serious injuries. She would be sore for a while, however, since she had hit the cement driveway on her side. It was more of a concern for me to make sure there was no denial in my family about what my sister had tried to do. In the early 90s, my father’s mother hung herself in her garage and that was kept secret from us for two decades. I doubted my mother and father would want to believe Michelle had attempted to do the same.

The opportunity to level with my mother on the topic of suicide came the following morning before I went to work. She asked me if I had seen the notes Michelle left by her computer in her room. I picked up both short notes: one was addressed to Michelle’s ex-boyfriend, and the other to me. His letter was an apology, and mine explained how she wanted me to have her things. I took the notes and slipped them into my purse before finishing my make-up for work. My mother lingered nearby while I packed my bag.

“So, you know it wasn’t an accident she fell from the balcony, right?” I probed.

“Well… I guess.” My mother wasn’t comfortable, and you could hear it in her hesitant words.

“You can’t accidentally fall from that balcony.”

“I know.”

“I told you Sunday she should go to the hospital, why didn’t you believe me?”

“She wasn’t like this on Sunday!”

That response was the one which infuriated me the most. She didn’t need to go off a balcony on Sunday in order to go to the hospital; it needed to be prevented before she hit the ground. We were lucky she didn’t grab the keys to her car that Monday night, or take out one of our grandpa’s old guns from the closer, or tie a rope around her neck. She would recover from her fall, but what happens next time?

The exchange between my mother and I became heated. I was mad she hadn’t listened to me when I said Michelle was getting really sick. The surreal nature of the night was too much for my compassion to catch up with; I was looking for someone to blame, and my mother was the closest person to me. She was steadfast in her denial that this couldn’t have been prevented. She insisted that there was nothing Michelle had been doing that would suggest suicide. I don’t know why her walls were raised against me. I’m sure she felt hurt – maybe even terrified at having been so close to losing her first-born daughter the night before. She was probably too upset with herself for not being there before it happened and feeling powerless. Neither of us were in the place emotionally to work together in those minutes. There was just too much hurt.

After my day at work ended, I walked around the corner to the hospital where my sister had been admitted the night before. I got my visitor’s badge, and I felt on edge, waiting for the receptionist who might ask what unit my sister was in. I knew her room number, and the letter representing the unit before it was a “P.” I wasn’t sure of the “P” initially, but it became pretty clear once I learned the maternity unit was prefaced by an “M.” I hadn’t visited her the first time she was in the emergency room. Or the second. I think I would have been more nervous had I not still been in a numb, emotional shock. But I finally saw her. Tiny Michelle in a giant bed, being swallowed by a one-size-fits-all hospital gown.

It was a couple weeks later before she was discharged, walking on her own with no wheelchair of walker. I was less romantic in my expectations after this release. I know there is so much work left undone that could have prevented her suicide attempt, but the wheels of her recovery move cripplingly slow. Every time I see my sister now, I remind her (and myself) that it is a marathon to maintain her stability, not a sprint. And there is no room for quitting.

How To Do Nudes Right

Since the dawn of the Internet and the invention of the camera phone  we have been warned against the dangers of sending nudes. However, let’s be honest, things happen. In my case, things happen pretty often and I have sent many pictures I would never put in a family photo album. As I am an adult woman capable of making my own choices just like all the celebrities involved in the recent leak, I struggle to see a problem with my expression of sexuality through digital photos. Though this seems to be an unfathomable concept to some, I am free to do with my body whatever I please and you are, too. And you know what? I really enjoy sending nudes to the people of my choice.
Along with the glorious benefit of turning someone on without even touching them, there come many potential side-effects which also must be addressed. Unfortunately, sometimes people are shitty. They can be untrustworthy, rude, and sometimes ungrateful. As a seasoned amateur, I’ve created a list of  tips to take into consideration before posting pictures of yourself into the endless wireless world.

The cute barista you gave your number to seems to REALLY want something to think about later while they keep their hand busy in their pants, but does sending them explicit photos benefit you?  If you’re feeling it and want them to see you naked then by all means go for it. If you aren’t comfortable with them knowing what’s under your clothes, next time you buy an iced dirty chai, then don’t do it! They might whine about it, or stop responding to your texts, or whatever their “punishment” for your denial is, but that makes them a jerk, not you. Who wants a jerk around anyway?

Personally, I embrace the idea of a casual verbal contract. It may be optimistic of me, but once I have established a sense of trust with my sexting partner, a quick playful line like “If you promise to keep it between me and you, I have something you might like. ;)” seems to do the trick. I know you’re thinking that in the heat of the sext, anyone would make that promise to progress the conversation. Probably true, but I typically only trust people with a conscience and people with a conscience don’t often make promises they intend on expressly breaking. The underlying message here is to make sure you trust your sexting partner… or, you know, ask them to reciprocate with a photo of themselves. If they trust you with their naked ass, you can hopefully trust them with yours.

I’m into weird stuff. A lot of us are. Those weird things work their ways into explicit photos. If you have a kink you want to keep buried in the box of S&M gear you have hidden under your bed, you are solely responsible with keeping that secret. As I said in tip #2, sometimes it isn’t just the barista admiring your photo in those thigh-highs and ball gag. If you can’t accept the possibility that the barista’s roommate, the bartender at your favorite dive, knows what makes your juices flow, maybe settle for something vanilla over the leather and lace. I know it hinders that artistic and sexual expression you so deeply want to express, but if you’re uncomfortable it is certainly not worth it.

We all have different ideas of what constitutes a good nude, which is why “private parts” has those little quotation marks around it. For me, I keep my face out of most pictures and my tattoos indistinguishable. I typically also keep my panties on. It is a bit of a puzzle to get the images to fit my criteria, but for me it is worth it. I know I am no celebrity and there is no mass market for my nudes, but the thin layer of anonymity some cropping and lighting provides is enough to help me sleep at night.

If you intend on becoming a straight-laced public figure, it goes without saying that you must constantly work to maintain the image you want to represent you. I’m not saying that if you’re a rising starlet in Hollywood who won over theater audiences in your portrayal of an emotionally vulnerable widow who helps heal a broken-hearted man struggling with mental illness through the power of dance, you should not send nudes. You can do whatever you please. However, the risk of exploitation does exist. Be careful about who you trust. Be cautious where you store or save your photos. This also extends into the realm of anyone who is in a position that could be compromised by scandalous photos surfacing. I personally don’t believe nude photos are much leverage, but until the rest of the country agrees, know that your choices may have career consequences.

The culture of victim-blaming is pretty apparent when it comes to scandals like the celebrity nude leak. Don’t take the pictures if you don’t want them everywhere, right? No. Not right at all. It is absolutely your choice to send private pictures to someone you want to get hot and bothered. If that person uses them inappropriately, the shame is on them, not you. You’re just a total fox sharing what the universe gifted you. Know what’s comfortable for you, go forth, and blow some lucky recipients minds.

From the Mouths of Mothers

One of, if not the single most, influential women in any young feminists’ life most likely will never grace the covers of any magazine. She will, more likely than not, never receive any public praise for the things she’s accomplished in her life, let alone any kind of positive impact she left. Regardless of the type of mother she was or where she is now, every mother of a feminist played a role in forming who their child is today.

As a woman in her twenties, my generation’s mothers ranged from children to young adults during the time of the second feminist movement. The movement began in the early 1960s with the intention to bring women’s rights – in regards to a number of areas including reproductive choices, problems in the workplace, as well as many more – equal to the rights of men. As the children of this generation, third-wave feminists have expanded the issues being discussed in our parents’ youth. However, with the inclusion of new groups to the feminist community, has a generational gap formed? Are our mothers not progressive enough to keep up with how and where our Internet-catalyzed movement goes?

I met with my best friend’s mother – better known as Second Mom, Anne – to have a conversation and get more insight about what our moms consider feminism. Obviously, a couple of hours pass and, we had discussed a plethora of topics that can’t all be contained in this article. Between conversations about how my family has been and who her daughter is dating, Anne and I came across a topic that has seen drastic change between the feminist movements. While not the priority of the second wave, the third wave is known for more vocal support of both queer and non-white people. Though I know one of her daughters is in a relationship with a woman, I wanted to gain her perspective on my parents’ generation’s progress.

Kerrie: Do you see that people of your generation are evolving?
Anne: I think we evolve when we interact with people who are trans, or gay.

Kerrie: Do you feel like your peers (people who grew up in the 60s and 70s) are more prone to more conservative views on LGBT issues?
Anne: Absolutely, but I think that is because we are far below the learning curve than your generation. In the 60s and 70s, much of the LGBT community was in the closet, so we didn’t talk about it. It wasn’t until the 80s when HIV started claiming lives, notably lives of famous actors, that people began coming out of the closet and society was suddenly confronted with the issues affecting the LGBT community.

I have known Anne’s politics when it comes to LGBT rights for some time. However, I was unsure of if she saw them as part of feminism.

Kerrie:  So do you, personally, consider the trans community and gay community part of the feminist movement?
Anne: Men and women? Or just women? But sure, I do see them as part of the feminine movement, absolutely.

Kerrie: The third wave of feminism is thought to be more focused on the queer community. Do you think it makes sense that this has become included in the feminist movement?
Anne: Yes it does, because feminism is about equal rights, and both women and the queer community still do not have the same rights, or the same opportunities to achieve in the workforce, as the straight, white men in this country, particularly in the Bible Belt states. Moreover, women have had a much longer history of fighting for our rights, so it is only natural that feminism lends a hand to the LGBT community.

A shift was made between the second and third waves of feminism to bring higher awareness to sexuality and broaden the scope of people being supported beyond the white, cisgender female community. Of course, with any alteration or addition, not everyone can personally progress at the same rate. However, as Anne demonstrated, this is on a personal basis, not indicative of an entire generation. Anne is a suburban mother of two adult women. Though she isn’t at every protest to support the causes she believes in, neither am I. She is just as involved in the current wave of feminism, no matter the beliefs she was brought up with nor what assumptions are made of a generation that is frequently being critiqued on its socially conservative viewpoints.

As we left the coffee shop to beat the parking authority to our cars before the meters ran out, Anne and I made plans to meet again soon to continue the discussion. She promised to bring some of her friends. I could never be convinced that every mother is capable of the sensitivity and openness Anne embraces, but I do look forward to meeting more women who do understand the relevance of the third wave of feminism. To be ageist and a feminist is an oxymoron. No matter the year one was born, they are just as influenced by the world around them as any other person, making even the concept of allowing a generational gap to occur outrageous. Over coffee, Anne explained that homosexuality wasn’t something her parents ever brought up to her. When her best friend in college came out to her, it was him who sparked her evolution. She was the one to bring it up to her mother, and now it is our turn to include our own mothers  — and fathers. The bonds between every member of our community shouldn’t be dictated by anything, age included. We are all working towards making tomorrow a better day than today.

Quiet Suburbia Receives Quieter Law Enforcement

Before my sister arrived, I had been feeling that this night would be long. Tara* had recently moved back into our parents’ home after a break-up with her boyfriend of 3 years and I assumed living with our parents again was a hard adjustment. When she arrived that evening, she could scarcely wait for the door to shut behind her before her calm demeanor crumbled and she began sobbing. I had anticipated an ulterior motive for her visit, but I never imagined it would be what she explained to me. Through her tear-choked voice she explained to me that her ex-boyfriend had sexually assaulted her, which catalyzed her moving out. I asked if she had gone to the police; she hadn’t. I understood her apprehension, but we talked for a little longer and Tara decided that she wanted to press charges. I told her we could leave right away, but realized I didn’t know if the police station in our quiet suburban city closed early, like the rest of the city. I found the phone number online and my call was answered by a woman.

“Hi, I was wondering if you close at any time today?”
“What is it you’re looking to do?”
“To file a police report.”
“About what?”
“Uh… a sexual assault.”
Her voice lowered.
“Oh. Well, we usually send an officer to your house to do those sorts of things.”
“I don’t think that would be possible.”
Our mother was having a hard time grasping what Tara had told her happened. We didn’t want to have a police car come and park outside her house on a street where the neighbors are always watching and asking.
“You can come here anytime, but you’ll have to wait until and available officer can see you.”
“Okay, thank you.”
I decided not to tell Tara the woman had whispered her response to me after I said it was for a sexual assault. I was dreading what might happen when we go to the police station. I hoped I could sit with her in the interrogation room, I assumed they would take her into when we explained the nature of report. Part of me also hoped I couldn’t sit with her, selfishly. I didn’t know what I would do when it came down to the moment I either stayed by her side or in the waiting room.
We got into the car and began what felt like the beginning of an odyssey. I didn’t know what to say to Tara. I reached over and held her hand in mine until we reached our destination. We walked into the police station and were greeted at the reception counter by two male officers. I explained that my sister wanted to file a report. They asked what kind. I said sexual assault. Their eyes darted to the left where a middle-aged man sat in the chairs by a pay phone, certainly within earshot. The officers asked me to have a seat while they spoke to my sister. I wished they had asked me to stay with her. I sat next to the man, expecting Tara to be lead through the door to the rest of the station. She wasn’t. They asked her to begin and just listened while she cried through her story for the second time that night. I writhed in my seat, as they had Tara describe her sexual assault in the lobby of the station with a random man sitting front row. Tara was being incredibly brave. I couldn’t handle it and approached the officers.
“Excuse me, could you do this somewhere more private?”
“This is where we usually do this… but we can move over to the side here, though.”
I turned to Tara.
“Are you okay with that?”
She paused before nodding. They moved to the side and I sat down again. I wished a female officer was there to speak with Tara, as well as the obvious need for privacy met. However, this is what they could do for us, and we couldn’t do anything more.
As Tara told them what happened, I watched the officers faces contort mildly when she would explain the things that occurred. They kept focus on her, though, and I appreciated that as the least they could do. After they had the information they needed, one of the officers explained to us what would happen next. We understood, thanked them, and left the station.
The ride home was quiet. I couldn’t fathom the pain she was going through having someone she loved take advantage of her, then repeating the experience verbally until she found help. She told our mom what he did, but she didn’t know what to do. It was later demonstrated the even at the police station, hushed voices were the best comfort they could offer. Though sexual assault and rape have been more openly spoken about in recent times, it seems the ability to handle victims with respect and sensitivity hasn’t yet been developed in civilians and law enforcement officials alike. Tara demonstrated a strength in herself that I struggle to believe would be in me at a time when one feels so vulnerable.
It seems that we, as a whole, need to learn more about helping those who come to us it a time that feels so alienating. This goes twice for law enforcement who are so critical in bringing justice to those who are made victims. The officers we spoke to that night did try their best, and you could see they genuinely wanted to help. The knowledge of how to do that was the factor that was lost. No, Tara was not attacked by a violent stranger, but the pain and mistrust she must have been feeling are certainly worthy of more than a conversation over the counter of a lobby. I think the best time learn more and better ourselves is now.
*name changed

Small Town Mentality Finds Room for LGBT Members

At the end of May, our country celebrated the life and impact made by Harvey Milk with the release of a postage stamp bearing his image. While still a tremendous move overall towards garnering respect for groundbreaking members of the LGBT community, the shockwave had special meaning to suburban city just north of Los Angeles. Santa Clarita is known by its residents (and not many else) for being a very conservative community. In recent years, clashes over political and social issues have made the division between progressive and conservative community members apparent. However, in an unprecedented event held to celebrate Harvey Milk and the LGBT community as a whole, the community came together for an afternoon barbecue and was met with virtually no adversity. The local chapter of PFLAG organized the Give ‘Em Hope family barbecue over the course of a year, culminating in the type of summertime fun you’d see in an ABC Family original movie. This massive change in the acceptance of LGBT community members was unexpected, to say the least, given the recent history of the city.
I met with Cheryl Bernstein, the driving force behind this event, to talk about how she made what seemed like the impossible happen.

When did you first have the idea to put together a community event like this? Was there something that triggered it?

Yes, there was. Last year, the Antelope Valley Pride Center invited the Saugus High School GSA to come to their welcoming prom. Saugus GSA reached out to PFLAG and asked if we would help them raise money. We were ecstatic. So, we helped them raise money (more than they asked for) and the first thing we did was everybody jumped up and down and said “we helped them raise money! Our kids are gonna go!” But then a second later we were like “why do we have to send our kids out of this valley to feel welcome?” We were really happy to do this, but our kids should not have to go out of this valley to go to the prom. So originally, we were going to to do a prom and then we realized we’re PFLAG, which is Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, we’re families, so we wanted to do a family event and the family even turned into a community barbecue.
Did you receive a lot of support from the community as a whole, or was it met with an adversity?
The community was amazing. So, my roots in this community of LGBT issues go back to the 2008 election and the Prop 8 campaign. At that time, the community was NOT welcoming and it was not a pretty sight. That was a really rough time. Fast-forward to now, going out into the community, and I have to tell you I was very nervous and I didn’t know how I would be received. And I joke, one day I decided I’m putting on my big-girl make-up and I got all dressed up and I thought “I’m going to go hit the auto mall.” That was an amazing experience. They were so welcoming and interested and no one was rude. That first experience invigorated me and took the fear away. So I was now fearless going out into the community and… one person wasn’t thrilled with me. But really, overwhelmingly, my stories are positive…. No one kicked me out of their store. I would go back every time to the kids once a month on our Sunday meeting with the kids and team leaders and I would relay the stories and the kids, you could see them getting so happy when they heard how welcoming the community was. It was a very big deal. I felt honored representing PFLAG in the community.
Do you think that is might be a turning point for the community in terms of opening more doors and leading to more acceptance?
I hope so, that was the point, but just from me going out in the community, I think it is turning on its own. I think we are definitely headed in the right direction and I think it’s important for, especially the kids to know, that they are more accepted and we are moving forward, whether we had our event or not. The interesting thing is that we were supported by three churches. I think we need to get that out into the community that churches do support what we’re doing that there is no one monolithic group that really is anti-gay or homophobic. It’s small pockets within and I think that is changing. I also think that we had this barbecue at the right time in history. I don’t think that the community would have been ready a couple of years ago. My favorite part of the barbecue was that there were so many families with little kids; that people weren’t afraid to bring their kids around “the gays.” The families were very welcoming and very open. We’re moving to that place where it’s going to be a non-issue.
Do you plan on holding a similar event in following years?
I keep getting asked that question. This took a lot of work. It was fun, I enjoyed every minute of it, but can you ask me that again in a couple of months? The community wants it, I get asked that a lot. I don’t believe in closing doors, but I’m a little tired. (She laughs.)
Though the support seemed effortless and adversity was nearly nonexistent, it hadn’t been a week before a news article showed up to knock everyone back into reality. While the justness of the actor being fired for his response to a homophobic heckler is debatable, the fact that someone who would shout derogatory terms unabashedly shows that there is a long way to go. However, it also shows that no longer are supporters of equal rights and respect being silenced by a “moral” majority. Harvey Milk continues to be proven correct when he said that “hope will never be silent.”

Isla Vista Was a Tragedy… and Call to Action, Says Sorority Girl

Sarah* graduated high school having already known the future would bring her to Santa Barbara, California. She began classes at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Fall of 2010 and began the task of building her life in a new city. The promise of a community of support offered by sorority membership enticed her to pursue, and be accepted into, one of the many sororities that are based in Isla Vista (IV) – an unincorporated area adjacent to the University campus. By Fall of 2013, Sarah had left the dormitories and moved into her sorority house. This is when the mayhem became unavoidable. The beautiful seaside location of IV masks a dangerous interior that seems to have nothing to say about its elevated violent crime rate. In many cases, women are the victims. 

On the night of the Isla Vista Tragedy, I received a text message from Sarah telling me there was a shooting a block away from her. I’ve become used to these texts informing me of rapes, stabbings, and the riot during Deltopia. My response is always the same; Get out of IV. She didn’t know many details, but she did say she was not being allowed to leave her sorority house. The following day, the news of what happened broke. It was announced that Elliott Rodger, 22, went on a shooting spree, killing 7 and injuring 7 more. Signs are pointing to his cause for the attack being rejection by women. In the video he posted to YouTube before the rampage, Rodger describes his idea to walk into a sorority house and kill all the women present. Sheer luck placed Sarah a block away instead of in the gunman’s fire.
His desire for sexual interactions and women’s refusal to engage, made him feel as if we, as women, were withholding something with which he was entitled. Yes, it was an individual decision that Rodger made, however the notion that he was entitled to sex just because he was male is indicative of a much more wide-spread problem. Reports of rape at universities have been on a quick rise since 2009, echoing a culture that has fostered the concept of taking what you want despite other’s right to say “no.” This tragedy is the product of an issue that has been swept so far under the rug that the darkness surrounding it has claimed 7 more victims. A spree like this, happening just this once, is a failure by our society to raise young members with the knowledge that every person is entitled to the freedom to make their own choice about sex, even if that means they will not be having it with you.
Sarah made the two-hour drive back to her hometown to spend Memorial Day weekend with her family and friends. Here, I spoke to her briefly about the other issues brought to light by the tragedy:

Do you think that the views Elliott Rodgers expresses in his videos reflects the Isla Vista community as a whole?

It’s definitely an extremist version of it, but a lot of the ideas he’s talking about (like the anger he feels towards girls for not hooking up with him) is very much a part of the “hook-up culture,” I guess you could call it. The way men in Isla Vista act towards women is with a sense of entitlement. As a woman, you are there to be hooked up with and if you’re not okay with that [as a woman] you’re in the wrong and you’re being a bitch. Guys get angry if you don’t want to hook up with them.
In your experience, have you ever seen aggression from men who are rejected?
I’ve heard about guys yelling things like, “You’re a slut,” or, “You’re a bitch,” or “You’re being a fucking tease.” Not super often, but there is a very aggressive type of behavior that goes on a lot when you’re out in Isla Vista. Like, one time I was walking on the street and a guy just grabbed me and stuck his tongue down my throat. That just happened, and I was thinking, “What the fuck?” And it’s not that uncommon.
Do you expect to see a change in behavior when you return after this weekend, or do you think it will take something (I can’t imagine what would be) more than this?
The Elliott Rodgers shooting was definitely an isolated incident, that’s not something that happens every day in Isla Vista. But, I don’t think it’s going to change the way guys act towards girls or think about them in any way because that’s not what people are focusing on. They’re focusing on him having a mental illness and shooting a bunch of people, not on from where some of his aggression stemmed. Isla Vista has been violent for a while; we just had the riot, there are stabbings all the time, and a lot of sexual assaults. It doesn’t feel like there is a lot of progress in making it safer.
Sarah returned to Isla Visa the following Tuesday. She submitted applications for transfer earlier this year and will receive a response from the schools in early June. As her friends and family, our fingers are crossed that she will be able to leave Isla Vista. However, many students and residents cannot escape the harassment and assault they endure daily because of a belief system like Elliott Rodger’s. As a community it is, now more than ever, up to us to help protect women from people, thoughts, and events like this.
*Not actually her name. The name of her sorority is also withheld.


I Wanna Be Conned

I had this idea, and I want to pitch it to you.
Ready? Okay, so, everyone loves surprises. Surprise birthday parties are great; all of friends “forget” your birthday and then surprise you to show they love you tons. Now, let’s change that scenario to something more interesting… maybe along the lines of your lover confessing that they lied about everything they’ve told you. Have you ever seen the train wreck after people find out their lover has been lying to them? That’s grade-A reality show heartbreak, so it’d probably be a smash hit. I would definitely cash in on this if I was a producer – and soulless.
Unfortunately, as with all my big ideas, I dragged my feet, and someone stole this gem. Except because they have a bigger budget, FOX is blowing up my idea with their new show, I Wanna Marry Harry. The concept is similar to the Bachelor (which is perplexing on its own), except this time the women participating are lead to believe the potential groom is Prince Harry himself.
The concept is elevated to its extreme, including living in a countryside castle, extravagant dates, and a full serving staff. It is implied the female participants are never outright lied to about with whom they are dating. Instead, they are pushed to draw the assumption together, where they will not be corrected. It sounds a lot like lying in my opinion, but hey, I’m just an average American female, not unlike the ones who had the misfortune of participating in this joke-gone-too-far.
Now, I don’t hate surprise parties. Please throw me a surprise party, because the lingering sentiment after is “these people love me, they did all this to make my birthday memorable.” I struggle to see the lingering sentiment after participating in “I Wanna Marry Harry” being anything positive. I would go so far as to say that the leading-most cause of lasting trust issues is deception by a loved one. Given I am similar to them, I can only assume these respectable women will feel embarrassed, hurt, and lonely when they are told the nasty little surprise. Is this all for the “ha ha, you are so dumb, I would never have been fooled like that” factor? I beg to differ, sir or madam, but yes, you would be fooled just like this, too.
Every figure of authority surrounding these women is encouraging them to believe this is the genuine Prince Harry. If they don’t believe at first, maybe it’ll be a date on a luxury speed boat that will convince them. Not sure, yet? How about a helicopter ride, or a dinner on a private beach? You would believe he is Prince Harry, too. The participants do not stand a chance discovering this fraud, and therefore are never given the opportunity to shield themselves from the reality-shaking revelation that awaits. What kind of society enjoys watching forcibly un-empowered people having their reality dismantled, purely for the viewer’s enjoyment?
 Oh, I guess us.