What to Yell in a Public Space if You Feel Threatened

I’ve been taking a domestic violence advocacy training over the past few weeks. Each week a group of 20 or so participants gather together to learn more about the realities of domestic violence and that the answer is never to victim blame. The victim is never the cause and to combat domestic violence we need to teach abusers to not be violent.

At the last session a police officer came in to speak to us. He is a feminist and has been training new recruits in Georgia how to handle domestic violence cases. What struck me the most was when he asked our class:

If you ever feel threatened in a public place what is the best thing to yell to get help?

We yelled out all different answers from “Help!” to telling the abuser “Leave me alone” loud enough for passers by to hear. We talked about screaming until you get someone’s attention.

The police officer told us however that the best response is:

I don’t know them!

Whether or not this is true, I know I felt an immediate reaction to these words. I knew that if someone yelled that and I was within earshot I would go to help and I don’t think I would make the same decision otherwise. This is frightening because we assume the abused (and 90-95% of the time this person is female) belongs to the abuser. We assume the woman has done something to deserve this treatment, whether it’s being bullied into leaving a store, getting into a car or unwanted attention on the street. We assume the woman is in the wrong and by sitting passively we give license to abuse.

But the moment the abused shows they are not owned by someone else (a partner or otherwise) we feel sympathy because now the abuse is no longer justified. Except, abuse is never justified.  It shouldn’t take us so long to realize no one should have ownership over another human being. But it takes time because we are used to seeing women as objects owned and controlled by their partners. The moment we realize our own misconceptions of a violent situation (including verbal and emotional abuse) is the moment we can take a stronger stand against domestic violence.

end domestic violence



Do your best

I’ve been raised to set high standards for myself. I’ve been raised that your best is never good enough and that in order to succeed you  need to push beyond your limits and go beyond your best. I’ve taught myself that if you are not perfect you have not done your best.

I returned to my dorm in Istanbul tonight and found a woman sitting in the lobby with her head in her hands.  I couldn’t tell if she was on the phone with someone or if she were asleep or listening to music. I asked if she was okay in Turkish and then in English and she didn’t respond. When I asked again she again didn’t respond.

Her hair was matted, greasy and a spider crawled its way through the black tangles. It felt like a horror movie and that as soon as she turned her face toward the light I would be met with some three eyed demon or a bloody disfigurement. Her legs and jean shorts were covered in dried blood and the lobby smelled from drugs, though I don’t know what kind.

Another Turkish girl, Asli, approached and spoke to the seated woman in Turkish. The woman responded, got up from the chair and nearly fell after a few hobbling steps. She couldn’t make the walk the fifteen feet from the lobby to her dorm room.  There were scratch marks on her and I didn’t want to look anymore.

Asli told me the woman said she did not want to go to the Health Center, but I insisted. If the woman became angry, she could be angry at me, I told Asli. What mattered was calling someone and I did not know enough Turkish to make the call myself. Asli called Dormitory Management and Dormitory Management called the Health Center.

The woman had the contents of her purse dumped out in front of her as she struggled to find her room key, when the ambulance arrived. The flashing blue lights stopped my heart, I was terrified but didn’t know of what.

I was terrified of the woman, I suppose. Terrified of what had happened to her and terrified that just by being in presence I had somehow “caught” her misfortune. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even communicate! Workers from the Health Center spoke to her and I left because I had done all I could.

The first thing I did when I got to my room was scrub my hands again and again to rid myself of her presence and cleanse myself of whatever I may have “caught”. Then I called my mom and tried desperately to articulate the situation, but my words were derailed by constant stammers and “I’m sorry”s. My mom told me I had done my best and that I had been a good human being for helping as I did.

Except  I don’t want a pat on the back for being a good person when there was nothing I could do. I did my best, yes, but my best didn’t mean much because I lack the skills to make a real impact. This shouldn’t be about me, but I feel part of the reason for my guilt right now over not being able to do more is because of how I’ve been raised regarding “my best”. My best always needs to be perfect and that is the attitude applied not just to me, but to everyone about how to succeed. We are teaching and learning a flawed principle.

Yes, we should always try our best and push ourselves. Yes, we should always strive for success. But we should also know that our best isn’t about being perfect and always knowing the answers. It’s about doing everything that we can and being proud of what we have accomplished.

Bring Back the 2% Solution

In December 1930, Albert Einstein gave a speech in New York expressing his dedication to the peace movements in America and abroad. But he did more than speak in abstract ideals of a peaceful future. He proposed a solution. He said:

Even if only two per cent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war  of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless, they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.

On December 30th 2013, the US census bureau projected that in 2014, the US population would be 317,297,938. Two percent of the American population is over 6 million people! Imagine the political strength of 6 million especially if, as Einstein suggested, each of these individuals encourages others to stand against war and militarism.

What if 2% of the American people decided to stop paying their income taxes until military spending is cut down and the money transferred to education or sustainable energy? What if 2% of the American people rallied against the NRA? What if 2% of the American people demanded Guantanamo Bay be shut down?

What if 2% of the American people realized they have a powerful voice?

I’m speaking specifically about the American people because America, and specifically American youth, have become depoliticized just when the world most needs a protest movement that moves beyond internet circles.

Politics and politicization is not just for radicals, but for everyone who has something they believe in. Politics is for everyone.  It is the way to have a voice and recognize the power of that voice, especially in standing for peace in a violent world. The suffering of people in Syria, in the Ukraine, the violent attacks on protesters in Taiwan and in Turkey cannot be ignored as conflicts for others to deal with and broker peace. The US cannot take any stance for peace beyond its borders until the US government cuts down its military budget and takes steps toward a domestic peace process to end their own state monopoly on a violence. The US relies on a racist and sexist system inherent in a violent culture to control its population.

Bring back the 2% campaign! With enough people believing in a world free from militarization as a means of political  control, radical change can be made toward a realistic peace.

For more information on the history of an international peace movement I recommend reading Peace: A History of Movement and Ideas by David Cortright.

Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember. -Alan Moore, V for Vendetta


Be a Good Ally

I took a five-and-a-half hour bus ride out of Istanbul to get to the Gallipoli peninsula.

For those five-and-a-half hours, I had a long conversation with a man also studying abroad through the same program as myself. We had talked a bit before, but had never had the time to just sit and get to know each other. He’s an environmental engineer and I’m a writer, but we talked far more about real world issues we were each trying to solve through our chosen profession.

He knew about racial profiling and understood that racism is still alive today. He knew that when I was canvassing over the past summer, it must have been more difficult for me to be walking around as a woman. I told him it was worse for the canvassers of color who were stopped by the police. He was sympathetic and understood that he has privilege as a straight, white, cisgender man.

But, though he said he supported gay marriage, he would not actively pursue the issue because:

 it wasn’t his issue.

By this point in our conversation, I had explained how I do not believe American governments on any level (from local to national) are actually committed to making positive change. I told him that I wanted to use my creative writing to write better media representations of women, people of color, the queer community and any intersection or variation of the above. He was receptive to my ideas and was clearly considering his own opinions on the matter because he told me he wished he were more informed and could give a stronger opinion.

This is why his response that certain issues were not his issues floored me. By all accounts he was an ally. Not just to the queer community, but to the feminist community and to people of color. He understood that oppression is a contemporary issue that needs to be immediately addressed. So how can he see the problems of the world, know people who are affected by these problems and still believe he is only obligated to care about his issues?

His issues are environmental. I respect that. The earth needs an ally too. However, he is not a good ally.

Being a good ally is more than acknowledging issues exist. It is more than saying you support gay marriage or women’s rights. You can say all you want, but if in the end you won’t do anything because you believe you are somehow exempt from responsibility toward helping people who are not your own, you do not understand what an ally is.

The reason I believe American governments are not moving toward equality is because my friend’s reasoning is the norm. Progressive people are saying they support gay rights, anti-racist policies and gender and sexual equality for women but they are not doing anything about it. And if the people on the ground aren’t doing anything about it, how will our government know we are serious about what we say?

Be a good ally and put action to your words. Do more than tell the world you won’t sit back and let bigotry continue. Stand up and don’t let bigotry continue.

How to not Appropriate Someone’s Culture

I’m taking a Concept Development class for media and the arts and have to market a chocolate. Starting with an abstract concept I have to name the chocolate, design a package and ultimately produce a commercial.

My abstraction is feminism and my idea is that the proceeds of this chocolate would go toward aiding female cacao farmers gain economic independence. I want to name my chocolate in line with a mythology and specifically after a goddess because of the role of women in the cacao industry. Most of the cacao beans are grown in Central and South America or Africa and to be accurate I would then choose a goddess from a Central or South American lore or African lore. This, thankfully, got me thinking about cultural appropriation and that if I were to go the route I am considering I would have to do so with care, research and caution.

So, what is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when someone takes certain aspects of another culture for their own, without understanding the culture they are using and without asking permission. This occurs when someone, knowingly or unknowingly, believes the culture of another can be used as a trend, a fashion statement, or a symbol without acknowledging the origins and oppression that are ingrained in that culture’s history.

So, here is a quick list of questions to ask yourself if you think you might be in danger of appropriating another’s culture. This is not an exhaustive list and I would love to get feedback and suggestions to expand.

  1. How much do you know about the tradition/fashion/religion/symbol (etc) you seek to use? Does your use align with the original intent?
  2. Why this particular tradition/fashion/religion/symbol (etc)?
  3. Would you feel comfortable with someone using your culture’s tradition/fashion (etc) in this way?
  4. Can members of this culture practice their tradition/fashion (etc) in public without social ridicule/stigma?
  5. Does using this tradition/fashion (etc) in any way rely on stereotypes (positive and negative) of this culture?
  6. Does this using this tradition/fashion (etc) in any way elevate your culture above the one you are representing?
  7. Do you know anyone from this culture who might be able to offer some insight on your idea?

If your answer exoticizes another culture in any way, or places the culture as a trend to be used instead of an ethnic heritage to be understood, you should rethink your idea. Cultural appropriation is racist and even the best intentions are not always free from this prejudice.

Question yourself before you take a racist step. There are ways to learn about the cultures of others and appreciate their beauty, but it is through research and understanding.

Weapon of Choice

Traveling about in Istanbul, I finally made it to Sulanhamet and then the Topkapi Palace.


Now, while I hate to skip over a description of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, you can find descriptions and pictures of these buildings anywhere. I need to speak not on the sightseeing experience, but one room I saw in the innermost courtyard of the Topkapi Palace: the armory.

The group I was with saw swords that were jeweled along the hilt with stones in every imaginable color. We saw curved swords, impossibly sharp daggers, sheathes that sparkled with gold inlay even under the harsh museum lights. We saw guns over four feet long and strung up behind glass. There were great-swords with hilts over a foot wide and blades at least six feet long. The artistic peak at the top of the helmets never ceased to amaze and armor made for horses lay flat on black velvet, the eye sockets blindly staring.

It was breathtaking. It was jaw dropping. It was violence done up in finery.

You forget (or you make yourself forget) that each of these weapons was a weapon. It’s purpose was never to sit in a museum to but to stain itself with blood or gun powder and always to kill. Even the ceremonial weapons were not innocent because ceremonial weapons exist to perpetuate and glorify violence and war.

I do not seek to make judgments on Turkey’s past or present. But upon exiting the museum, the people I was with began talking about their “weapon of choice” still lost in the fantasy of war heroics and the glory bestowed upon warriors. If it registered with them that these are dangerous objects, I couldn’t tell. The group was irreverent toward the history we saw but burned with desire and laughed and joked about what they could do with their weapon of choice. They chose their swords and their daggers and I had to struggle not to choose with them.

I understand the temptation to equate heroics with violence and I understand that our world showers glory upon the heroism of battle. I’m a Lord of the Rings fan, I know how breathtaking and appealing it can be to imagine yourself as the hero wielding a sword, or a bow or an ax. But this temptation is dangerous and perpetuates the myth of glorious warfare and masculinity on the battlefield.

The exhibit needed to address the wars these weapons were used in. We needed more than a small placard telling us the type of sword and the century. We needed to be turned away from our fantasies with the bloody facts of what war really is.

Museums should value history over violence. Museums should take responsibility to educate its patrons that though violence and history have gone hand in hand, this does not need to be the future and it should be no one’s fantasy.

Use the “F-Word” in Polite Company

I don’t swear. My friends are shocked if I casually say “damn.” But I think it is important to reclaim the “f-word” and not just on bumper-stickers. It is all well and good to proclaim from the back of your car: Reclaim the F-Word: Feminism,

but now, we need to proclaim it in the streets, in our homes, and in our work place. Feminism cannot be a silent presence, not when it can be so easy to look the other way and claim sexism is from a by-gone age.

I have a friend who is going into video game design and the last time she and I met up we talked about female characters in films. We talked about Tauriel in The Hobbit (I plan on making a post on my hatred of Tauriel, keep on the look out), the women of Frozen and Tooth from Rise of the Guardians. Without delving too deep into our entire discussion, it was clear we agreed that women in all forms of media deserved to be treated with respect and not rely on a male character to define them. We watched Wreck it Ralph and as my friend gushed at all the video game references, I told her about Feminist Frequency’s video series on Tropes Against Women in Video Games.

I mentioned the word “feminist” and her face darkened. She said she might look into it, but I doubt it. But, she is a feminist: she believes in equality for women. She is a woman going into a male-dominated field who believes she is just as good as her male peers. She is a feminist, but right now would not admit it.

I do not blame her. When I first proclaimed myself a feminist, it was entirely on this blog. I was ashamed of admitting it out loud for fear that I would be fighting a dead fight, that I would be viewed as a man-hater, that I would be insulted by strangers and family for my beliefs. And I cannot say my life as a feminist has been completely devoid of any of this, I do not need to compromise my morals by claiming to be anything that I am not.

I am a feminist. When I began my blog, I was terrified to publish even my about page . I had to whisper to myself “I am a feminist” until the words became easier to say. Now, I do not whisper. But about two years ago I wouldn’t even have dared to let the word “feminism” cross my mind. It was the f-word, and I didn’t swear. At my women’s college, we have a festival in the fall where different diversity organizations set up booths for arts and crafts. The Feminist Club had a booth to make buttons and pre-printed on every piece of paper was one word:


Friends grabbed at the buttons and wrote slogans already made famous by t-shirts, but no less powerful in meaning.

I, on the other hand was threatened by the word feminist so much that I nearly took a button and wrote “I am not a feminist” in large black marker to offset myself from the hordes of women who were deluding themselves into believing women were not yet equal. Thankfully I did not make this mistake as I do not know how I would have gotten over the shame of my sexist views.

However, I have gotten over the shame of feminism. I do my absolute best to let my friends, their family, my family, co-workers and bosses know exactly where I stand on the issue of gender equality. It doesn’t have to be the first thing out of my mouth, but there is nothing wrong with using the f-word in “polite company” because feminism is not impolite. If those who hear it disagree or are offended, then they are offended. But at least you stood up and did more than whisper or put a bumper sticker on the car. The words need to come from our mouths and the words need to be loud and spoken with certainty.