At work today my co-worker, a well-meaning and wonderful woman, asked me to watch a special video clip on the dangers of some type of breast cancer with her.
I was feeling unwilling. Not because I wanted to be ignorant (although some days I do want to bury my head in the sand), but because I was healthily suspicious. My suspicions bore out.
The video clip was actually a short news segment from a local television news show. You know the ones: they run about 5 minutes, they have news heads like “Your children are being poisoned by their toys and no one is telling you anything about it” or “You thought your doctor knew all the risks, but we found out that you are doomed” etc etc. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but these intense stories are generally overblown “unknown” risk stories, where you are the victim of some strange disease, or manufacturing defect, or nasty pedophile, or whatever, and you really have to pay better attention and look out for your vulnerable self in this dangerous world.
It is not coincidental that these stories are directed at women; women, who are generally portrayed as the victims or the caretakers of potential victims (ie children and the elderly). These stories have email vareities, too - “don’t buy this cough medicine” or “don’t park on a downward slope facing east near a pschiatric institution” blah blah. I feel a momentary twinge of guilt when I deny my forwarding powers. You know these scare emails - you’ve likely forwarded them, well-intentioned woman that you are - they are about the perfume killer (perfume sample offered to you is actually chloroform) and the abduction in the mall parking lot (just when you thought that being a good shopper would save you from the bandits).
The current issue of Bitch Magazine debunks many of these emails as powerful hoaxes of the urban myth variety. (The best source for debunking these things, I find, is the site www.Hoax-Slayer.com.) Finally! This scare tactic revealed for what it really is - an attempt to foster fear-mongering about women in public places - the old anti-woman, pro-domestic attempt to convince you that you are simply safer if you stay home and stay unnoticed (and cover yourself up, too!). Writer Niki Papadopoulos does a great job of pointing out that while your female relatives are ostensibly looking out for you by forwarding you this stuff, the circulation of these emails serves to reinforce a skewed picture of threats to women’s safety. (Now, I won’t even talk about how many of the forwarders are my same women friends who don’t send me links to petitions and actions on abortion, women in education, because that stuff is too “political” for them!) Now, if I seem to be overreacting, think about it this way. If we continually encourage women to not dress or act a certain way in public to avoid being scrutinzed/catcalled/raped, it is a short step from blaming women for the violence they encounter (“She was dressed like that, she asked for it!”). Once again, women must be responsible for their choices to avoid danger - men are not held accountable for their “hormonal instincts”.
In fact, men are much more likely to be the victim of a violent attack by a stranger. So warn your men. And keep forwarding emails to your women-folk that urge them to support actions to expose the epidemic of domestic abuse in our country - a far, far far greater cause of violence against women than any dude with a perfume sample.
August 7, 2007 • piKe krpan
At work today my co-worker, a well-meaning and wonderful woman, asked me to watch a special video clip on the dangers of some type of breast cancer with her.
July 22, 2007 • Stacey May Fowles
“It doesn’t say great things about me, but smoking has been a constant presence in my life for a long time- and I don’t remember what I used to do - or how I used to be without it.”
-Emily Flake, These Things Ain’t Gonna Smoke Themselves.
For the last six months I’ve been hilariously “pretending I don’t smoke.” I’ve gone from being a ten-year pack-a-day, stupidly proud, reckless, chain-smoking fiend to hiding my habit from my family, my friends, my employers and (occasionally) my live-in partner. Although I’m sure that there’s been some benefit to reducing my smoking habit considerably by means of concealing it, my life has gotten ridiculous. Who am I fooling? I am 28 years old and I am hiding my habit the same way I would when I was 16 - and yes folks, that’s how long I have been smoking.
Let’s face it: the smoking party is over. No one smokes anymore and no one is stupid enough to even vaguely believe it’s not going to kill you dead. For those of you who are young and toying with the notion, don’t fret- I’m not going to go on the “smoking is gonna get you” rant, cause quite frankly we all know it and I’d be a hypocrite if I spouted it off here. I’d rather come from a place that suggests you define yourself, and since we’d all rather define ourselves as non-smokers, let’s do that, shall we? See, that was easy enough.
So, what the heck am I doing? I’ve been a fool. I’ve been hanging on. I’ve been putting this off and putting this off, but I have to make a final decision to define myself either as a smoker or not. I think we’re all in agreement that it would be better for me to make the decision to be a non-smoker, so here I am, doing just that. I’m just not committed to smoking in the same way I was, so I’m going to do a very public dumping of the habit just so you, Shameless readers (smokers, non-smokers and “pretenders”) can watch me fall apart and pick myself up again.
July 6, 2007 • Catherine Hayday
Anne Katz wrote an excellent article in the Fall 2004 issue of Shameless discussing young women getting comfortable with sex. I’d like to pick up on that conversation with a Summer 2007 installment: on orgasms.
Since this is a ‘non-professional’ entry, I think we can assume the usual disclaimer that I have no special training to bring to bear on this subject. However, that seems to be true of much of the information (and misinformation) flotsam out there. So I’m tossing my two cents in the ring (ah mixed metaphors, how I enjoy you).
As there is much to discuss, I’m once again going to divide the content into two parts (I promise I learnt my lesson, and Part 2 is not far behind this time).
* Part 1: O is for Orgasm
* Part 2: Ejaculation is not a male monopoly
It is jaw dropping when you consider the disparity between what we know about men’s orgasms, and what we know about women’s. (more inside…)
February 13, 2007 • Stacey May Fowles
“Hi, I’m Kate Bornstein. I’m nearly sixty years old, and a lot of people think I’m a freak for a lot of reasons. I wrote this book to help you stay alive…the world is healthier because of its outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all those catagories, so it’s no big deal to me if you don’t…”
I read a lot of books. Some are good and some are bad, but it’s rare that a book hits me with so much meaning and relevence as Kate Bornstein’s Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws (Seven Stories Press.) Bornstein is no stranger to being an outlaw - she’s spent her life as a sexual outsider and written some groundbreaking books about struggling with and battling the status quo, and she’s changed many lives in the process. 101 Alternatives is her attempt to “help you stay alive.”(more inside…)
February 5, 2007 • Catherine Hayday
In the spirit of better late than never, this entry is the follow-up to Fight Back, Part I. (I said I’d post Part II in several weeks, right? I’m pretty sure that’s what I said. No, I said a couple. I know. Mea culpa. Also possibly holidays culpa.)
This post is a follow-up on one idea: that women can’t win fights with men. As with the last post (and really, as with any post), what is written below is based on what I have experienced and read; if you have something to add, or some specialized knowledge, please jump in below with your comments.
On that note, the three-pronged reply to “women can’t win fights with men”:
* A pound of muscle is a pound of muscle, regardless of who it’s attached to;
* Women are stronger than they think; and
* Strength alone doesn’t win a fight.
December 6, 2006 • Catherine Hayday
Nicoles post Violent Times reminded me of something Ive been wanting to post about: assault and self-defense.
This entry is specifically about self-defense against sexual assault since, regardless of where you are pulling them from, the statistics on the number of women who experience sexual assault are, well, terrifying. Most statistics agree that approximately one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. In BC the numbers are even more staggering, with some studies reporting that almost 1 in 2 women (47%) have been sexually assaulted.
But the point of this entry is not to glom together yet more stats that make you want to lock yourselves and loved ones away from the big bad world. The stats above certainly are fear-inducing, and Im not for a moment suggesting that awareness of them be diminished. But if all we do is hear these sorts of numbers, the new fear I start to have is that we are just going to feel more and more helpless. And thats not how I want to live.
We need to change the way we talk about sexual assault. This was really driven home for me about a year ago while watching the news on CityTv (hardly the be-all-and-end-all news station, but I was channel surfing). The story they were covering was an attempted sexual assault. A young woman had been out for a run when she was attacked. She fought back and got away safely. And reading between the lines of the story, it was clear that she had kicked more than a little bit of ass while doing it. The assailant had gotten away, only now he had a scratched up, bleeding face.
What bothered me about this report was that there was so much possibility for a different sort of message, but it was squashed into the standard fear-mongering approach: a dangerous assailant is still at large. The woman was lucky to escape.
But heres the thing. It wasn’t luck: when women fight back against a sexual assailant, 70% manage to avoid or stop a rape.
70%. Some studies put that number even higher, closer to 80%. Only thats not what we hear about. And having a case-in-point handed to them on a silver platter, that’s not how the media portrays the situation. Its certainly not the message I received when I was growing up. Heck, where I went to school they tried to get the whole friggin (all-girls) high school to take a different route to the subway because on occasion there was a flasher on The Path (the infinitely shorter route between the school and the TTC).
That’s a minor example, but more broadly and explicitly we were told not to fight back against men who were trying to assault us. Especially not if he had a weapon. Well, this stat of 70% is regardless of whether or not the attacker had a weapon.
It’s one of the most pervasive and damaging myths I think women are told about sexual assault — that you should not resist the attack, because somehow that will make it worse. When the only thing fighting back does is dramatically increase your chances of getting out of the situation safely.
Studies have also shown that begging or reasoning with a rapist (strategies suggested by some police programs) are some of the least effective strategies. Rape is about power. It is not about sexual frustration. Begging, crying and pleading does not help to take away from the aggressors feeling of control. Not the same way a swift knee to the balls does.
And speaking of a knee to the balls, here are a few tips on fighting back:
* Act Out. Many women find it difficult to draw attention to themselves. Not wanting to appear foolish if youre wrong about that weird feeling you have. So practice trusting your gut. Theres nothing to be ashamed of about looking out for yourself. If someone is trying to move you and you dont want to be moved, drop to the ground. Scream. Create a disturbance. Almost universally attackers do not want attention drawn to themselves. He doesnt want to be caught. Make the biggest scene you can think of making. As one source says, even if you dont think there are people coming to help you, making noise will still let you take advantage of his fear of being caught.
* Keep it Simple. As the great little book, Kung Fu for Girls says: Keep It Simple. Simple Is Effective. Fancy high-kicks are nice in the movies, but they’re slow to execute and take practice to do properly. Remembering the complex but effective 5-step move is probably just not going to happen. So stick to some basic principles, such as:
- Dont risk injury to yourself. This includes punching (unless you have practice and know what youre doing). Use a palm strike. Its just as effective, much easier to do, and much less likely to injure you if you dont get it right. Drop your chin to protect your throat.
- Be vicious. This one might sound strange, or make you uncomfortable, but youre defending yourself. Make him regret choosing you.
- Use any and everything you have at your disposal to win. Stab at your attacker’s eyes and throat with your lipstick, your mascara, your cell phone. Use keys to scratch and gouge. Use your bag to keep a weapon away from you. Put obstacles between you - whatever you can find. Control his hips and his hands.
There is so much to discuss when it comes to personal comfort, ability and safety in the face of assault. Which is why I’m splitting this into two parts. The second part I’ll post over the coming week deals with one of the fundamental myths which stops women from fighting back: “Women can’t win fights with men.”
Teaser: Like heck we can’t.
In the meantime, if you click on the “more” link below, Ive put together from a few sources some more of these myths (and realities) about sexual assault.
November 21, 2006 • Stacey May Fowles
For the past 8 months I have been in the neurotic and distracted mess of a headspace brought on by a cervical cancer scare. From a questionably “bad PAP” in June to a biopsy in October, and a thousand questions and confusions in between, I have been navigating the unclear world of my cervix and its wayward cells. As someone who has been avoiding a PAP for far too long (not recommended), to suddenly have that many people looking at my sickly cervix was a tad overwhelming.
Lately HPV (the most common sexually transmitted viral infection in the world) has gotten a lot of awareness campaigns, press and attention with the recent release of an HPV vaccine available to women, but I was amazed to hear that 87% of teens had not heard of the disease. For those of us familiar with HPV, we’ve heard the statistic that HPV is responsible for 90% of cervical cancer cases, and that up to 1 in 3 women have the virus, but statistics such as these can cause the average owner of a cervix to panic and expect the very worse. And expect the worse is what I did. In the past 8 months I have gone from being stoic and reasonable, to crying hysterically in front of med students, convinced I was at death’s door with few answers to console me.
The problem with HPV is that there are so may different varieties (over 100) with so many varying degrees of worry- some will indeed cause cervical cancer, but others cause very treatable genital warts, others do nothing and some simply go away on their own. Testing for HPV is also not very common - my personal HPV testing only tested for a small number of high risk strains of the virus and had to happen at a hospital, not at my local doctor.
In all my neurotic panic stricken 8 month madness, I did find some solace in this piece of advice (half way down the page) that I came across by accident while waiting for my biopsy results. Sasha’s advice to a partner concerned by his girlfriend’s HPV diagnosis answered a whole wack o’ questions the doctors in all their “doctor-speak” simply couldn’t:
“HPV doesn’t help its intelligibility at all by being so deranged. Transitory, incurable, cancerous, benign… Jesus H., make up your mind!”
Yesterday, my biopsy came back cancer-free and my HPV results negative. My cells are still a bit wayward but I’ll take the follow up exam over the confusion any day. If you want to learn more about loving your cervix and what you can do to take care of it, read more here.
Page 2 of 2