The Cold, Gaping Maw Of Winter, Etc.

16 Sep

The winter my mother was pregnant with me was one of the coldest and longest on record. And this was in Montreal, mind you, which should give you an indication of just how deeply the temperatures must have plunged. My mother, who spent her days slogging across the snowy city to work, to doctor’s appointments, to the university where my father was a law student, and finally back home again, used to joke that I would be born with frostbite. When she told me this I pictured myself as a fetus, bobbing along inside of her, my toes and fingers turning blue in spite of the many layers of flesh and fabric that swaddled me. Even then, I imagine, I must have hated the cold.

My memories of Quebec in winter are mostly of the childhood-wonder variety; I was only three when we moved to Ontario, so they really only exist in imperfect flashes, more sensation than anything else. Tottering along on tiny skates at the local outdoor rink, stuffed into a Prussian blue snowsuit so thick that my arms stuck out at an angle. Lying on the back seat of the car and listening he quiet shush of tires moving through sleet as we drove through the twilit streets of the town where my grandparents lived. Stepping out our front door and staring at the walls of snow towering over me, the whiteness neatly bisected by the path my father had shovelled. It was like living in a fairytale forest under some witch’s evil spell; fraught with danger, but still full of magic. Like Narnia, before the downfall of the White Queen; you might be chased by wolves, or you might be invited over to a faun’s cozy little den for tea. Anything could happen.

By the time I hit grade school I couldn’t stand the cold; when I was seven, I thought up a genius plan to help me avoid it. I started faking sick every day after lunch, so that I could miss the long noon-hour recess. Instead of going outside, I would sit and read quietly in the nurse’s office, murmuring a no-thank-you every time she offered to call my mother. I remember being so satisfied, sitting there in front of the blasting heater, flipping the pages of my library book. In that moment, I was sure that I was smarter than everyone I knew.

Of course, it didn’t take long before my teacher caught on to what I was doing. She was beyond furious.

“Did you know,” she said, publicly, to all of my classmates, “that Anne has been lying to us every day so that she doesn’t have to go outside for recess? Did you know that your friend has been lying to you?”

What could I say? After all, she wasn’t wrong.

These days, winter brings out a sort of doomsday fatalism in me, as if the world, silent and blank with snow, existed always just a few grim moments away from the apocalypse. The air has a heartless, metallic taste and sun flickers weakly, as if we’ve been pushed out of orbit and are slowly drifting towards poor old not-a-planet Pluto. Frostbite seems like a exceptionally accurate term, because it so precisely describes the way the cold nips at me, sinking its sharp little teeth into my skin. My joints ache until my body feels like a feels like a sour note inexpertly scraped out of a violin; familiar, but so exhaustingly distant from what it should be that I don’t even know where to begin. The nagging pain drags on and on until it becomes my default state; I forget that it’s possible to feel good in my body, and assume that this fumbling stiffness is my new normal.

The end of this ache every spring is always, somehow, a surprise. I forget that it’s coming – I even forget that it’s possible – so I don’t think to wait for it. It’s like a gift from whatever hairy horned god it is that makes sure the clumsy old clockwork of the seasons moves forward the way it should. He’s the kind of god who should have sacrifices burned in his honour. Every year I am absurdly grateful for spring.

Most of the people I know love the fall – the smell of woodsmoke, the thick woollen sweaters, the sharp, lingering sunshine. Fall is apple-picking and flannel shirts and pumpkin-spice-everything; fall is the exhale of relief after the brutally humid summer. Fall is lovely, except that it also means staring down the cold, gaping maw of winter. Fall is a dark tunnel leading to an underground room with no windows or doors. There’s a reason that November is the month of the dead.

A few years ago, my mother picked out her grave. That sounds morbid, but I guess it’s better that she does it now rather than relying on us to figure out where she wants to spend eternity. It’s not even a grave, really – more like a little alcove on a wall in Mount Royal Cemetery where her ashes will go. Her father is in that cemetery, and so are both sets of her grandparents. All of her cousins and aunts and uncles and even a few great-grandparents are there too. I think she’s got the right idea – when I die, I want to be burned, and then I want to be near my family. At least cremation is warm; I can’t imagine spending the rest of time in an uninsulated wooden box six feet deep in the soil. I want to be comfortable, even in death. Especially in death.

I remember this one time when I was a little kid I was standing out in the schoolyard next to the climber. It was winter, and I was wearing this dorky maroon beret with a picture of Snoopy on it. I tilted my head back to look at the fat, drifting snowflakes, and suddenly I felt like I was falling up and up and up into the sky. I stopped feeling my body. I stopped feeling anything. I hovered there, as pure and weightless as the snow.

Then one of my friends yelled at me and grabbed my arm, dragging me into whatever game was going on, and the moment ended.

Whatever enchantment existed in that moment is gone; I’ve since tried to find my way back to that place, but never have. Probably I never will.

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Halifax man sentenced to only five years in prison after years of rape and abuse of young girl

9 Sep

TW for rape, child abuse, victim-blaming

There is a story in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald today about a woman who was sexually abused by her mother and her mother’s common-law boyfriend from the age of eleven. It started with the man coming into the girl’s bedroom at night and reaching up under her nightie to fondle her; she screamed for her mother, but her mother was too drunk to respond. When the girl was twelve, her mother – her own mother – coached her on giving blow jobs to this man. The abuse continued until the girl was fifteen, often taking the form of, in her words, a “sick threesome” with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.

When the girl was fifteen she told her mother’s boyfriend that she would report him to the police. He told her that she couldn’t, because her mother was too deeply implicated. “How could you do this to your own mother?” were his exact words.

After that the abuse stopped. Eleven years later the girl, now married with children of her own, pressed charges against her abusers.

Both the girl’s mother and the man, who separated several years ago, plead guilty. The mother was supposed to be sentenced this week, but her case was adjourned until the end of the month. The man was sentenced recently in a Halifax provincial court to five years in prison.

Five. Years.

This man preyed on a young girl – a young girl who also happened to be his live-in girlfriend’s daughter – for four years. For three of those years he demanded oral sex from her almost every day. From a twelve year old. With her mother’s “help.” As a child – and I cannot emphasize enough that she was a child throughout all of this – she spent four years being raped on a near-daily basis.

I can’t even imagine the toll that this has taken on her. She will live with the emotional and physical fallout of these experiences for the rest of her life.

And him? The rapist? Well, he’ll be free as a bird in five years’ time. 

Why only five years? Because, according to Crown attorney Chris Nicholson, the man was smart enough to plead guilty and he had no previous criminal record.

I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that a person required a previous criminal record in order to receive adequate sentencing for years of abuse and rape of a minor. 

This story has received almost no attention. A friend of mine in Halifax tried to contact the national media, but they just took her name and number and said they would call her back. They never called her back. They either just weren’t interested or else felt that it was too contentious – but given the high-profile treatment other rape cases have received in the media, the latter doesn’t seem very likely, does it? Perhaps they were put off by the fact that the complainant’s identity is protected by a publication ban but, again, that didn’t stop anyone when it came to Steubenville’s Jane Doe, did it? And anyway what’s important here isn’t who the complainant is, but the fact that our court system seems to have so little regard for what happened to her. What’s important is that other young girls (and boys, for that matter) feel safe coming forward with these types of accusations. A sentence of five years will not make anyone feel safe.

The unbelievably light sentencing and the lack of media attention shows how little we value the safety of young girls. I mean, we’re happy to provide them with all kinds of tips on how not to get raped, but when they are assaulted – often, as in this case, in their own home and by someone they know and trust – we check out. We’re done. We stop talking about it. Because maybe she somehow provoked it, or maybe she didn’t fight him off hard enough, or maybe it’s just too sad and uncomfortable and we don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to accept that this type of abuse is the reality for so many kids out there.

Five years in prison, you guys. That is what our court system thinks is an adequate punishment for repeatedly raping a young girl from the time she was eleven until she was fifteen. Five years for a lifetime of shame and hurt, and the media doesn’t care. No one seems to care. 

This is what rape culture looks like. 

Halifax courthouse

Halifax courthouse

On Motherhood and Losing Myself

7 Sep

I remember the first time it happened – it was shortly after Theo’s birth and I was still in the hospital. My mother and husband were in the room with me when the nurse came in to do something – maybe weigh him or help bathe him or check his vital signs. After she finished, she said, “all right, now I’ll give him back to mom,” and I was momentarily confused. Why was she handing my son off to my mother? Shouldn’t she give him to me or my husband?

And then I realized that she had, in fact, meant to give Theo back to me. Mom meant me. I was mom. My mother, meanwhile, had graduated to “Grandma.” The nurse left before I had the chance to tell her that my name was Anne, although if she’d really wanted to know that she could have just looked at my chart.

I got used to the name Mom, though, and faster than I’d thought I would. I started using it to refer to myself in the third person when I spoke to my son: “Mama loves you so much,” I would say to him. “Mama’s just going to change your diaper, and then you’ll be much more comfortable.” “Mama’s making your dinner, but don’t worry, she’ll be really fast!” “Ma-ma. Can you say ma-ma? Ma-ma. I’m your mama. Ma-ma.” By the time Theo was eight months old, he would howl “Maaaaaaaaa-maaaaaaaaa” every time he wanted me, and I felt a funny sense of triumph whenever I heard him call me. He knew my name. I was Mama.

I wasn’t the only one who referred to myself as “Mom” or “Mama” either. My husband did it whenever he was in front of our son, even when he was talking directly to me – after all, we wanted to keep things consistent and easy to understand for Theo, didn’t we? My mother did it, too. So did my sisters. And as my son got older and we started making the rounds of playgroups and library programs and sing-alongs, the other parents (almost exclusively women) referred to me as “Theo’s mom.” Not that I was any better – I didn’t know any of their names, either. We were all just so-and-so’s mom, as if that were our name or our job title or maybe the most fascinating fact about us. 

Admittedly, there were a lot of things in my life that made me feel as if being a mother was the most fascinating thing about me, or at least the best, most noble thing about me. Strangers smiled at me, and offered me their seat on the bus. People working in customer service were more polite and attentive, whereas before I felt as if I’d often been brushed off. Everyone took me more seriously. It was as if by giving birth I’d somehow gained some strange kind of respectability. I wasn’t just that weird girl who talked too much and cried easily; I wasn’t just another person who had never reached their full potential. I was a mother, and according to a lot of people I’d fulfilled exactly as much of my potential as I needed to. And while on some level that fact was embarrassingly gratifying, mostly because I’d never felt so much societal approval before, underneath that gratification was a restless, howling anxiety. 

I wasn’t the only one in our household to be given a new title, of course. My husband became “Daddy,” a name that also carries some baggage with it. But he didn’t seem to feel as if he was losing himself, the way that I did – and it does seem to bear pointing out that our circumstances were vastly different. Every day, while I stayed at home with our son, my husband went to work. Every day, while I sat on the couch and cried over how fucking hard breastfeeding was, while I took a deep breath and tried not to scream with frustration because my kid was inconsolably exhausted but absolutely would not nap, while I stripped off yet another urine-soaked onesie and brightly-coloured cloth diaper only to watch in horror as my son chose that exact moment to unleash a jet of poop, my husband went back to the Land of the Adults, a country that we both called home but from which I had temporarily been exiled. Every day, while I opened my laptop and tried yet again – through frighteningly hive-minded online parenting communities, frantic status updates on Facebook, and emails to my family – to find the training manual for my overwhelming new job, my husband went back to his same old job, where he could take hour-long lunches and everyone called him by his real name.

No. It wasn’t the same thing at all.

I tried not to feel like I’d somehow lost something, because how could I have lost something? I hadn’t lost anything; I was still the same person, wasn’t I? Even if I felt like I’d lost myself, I was clearly still there. I still existed. On top of that, it seemed unbelievably selfish to frame it in terms of “loss” when, in fact, I’d gained a perfect baby – especially when several of my friends were struggling in various ways to become parents. And I’d wanted this, hadn’t I? Becoming a mother had been my choice. So how could I complain?

Another layer to my unease lay in the fact that if I felt like I’d lost some part of identity, then had my mother experienced the same thing when she’d given birth to me? It seemed impossible that she had ever been anything other than what she was, namely my mother; and yet that selfish feeling of impossibility was almost certainly evidence of the part that I had played in who she had become. For a long time I’d thought that I would never grow up to be my mother, because my mother’s life had always seemed so constrained and limited. Now I saw that I was the one who had limited it. 

Maybe saying that becoming a mother was my choice wasn’t quite the right way to put it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I chose to become a parent, and then society gave me the label “mother” with all of its loaded associations. After all, what is there specifically about being a woman that says that you have to lose yourself completely once you have a kid? Isn’t it possible that if we lived in a world that treated motherhood and fatherhood equally – a world where we called it parental leave instead of maternity leave, a world that was just as accepting of stay-at-home fathers as it was of stay-at-home mothers, a world where women couldn’t expect their wage to decrease by 4% for every child they have – then women wouldn’t feel as if having children was a deeply personal sacrifice?

I mean, of course you have to give some stuff up once you have a child. I’m not saying that your life should stay exactly the same. But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice yourself.

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Talking To Small Children About Race

5 Sep

Hey y’all! Here‘s an article I wrote for the Washington Post about being a white parent trying to explain racism and privilege to my white kid. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, but in light of what’s happening in Ferguson it now seems incredibly urgent.

Excerpt:

“Find books, movies, television shows that feature a diverse cast of characters, and make sure that these forms of media aren’t falling into the trap of tokenism, i.e. having mainly white lead characters with a few background characters of different races or ethnicities. If you notice that some of your child’s favorite books or shows involve problematic depictions of race, talk to them about it and try to have a conversation about what you wish was done differently in this particular story.”

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The X-Files, As Told By Me

4 Sep

gillian anderson giphy

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It’s The 24th Century, Shouldn’t We Have Fucked Up The Patriarchy More Than This By Now?

4 Sep

The other day I was chilling out on my couch, eating Cheetos and watching Star Trek (TNG, for those of you nerdy enough to care), when I had a sudden realization:

Almost all of the married women on Star Trek take their husbands’ last names.

Doctor Crusher. Keiko O’Brien. Jennifer Sisko (sidebar: I guess the name Jennifer is popular again in the 2300s?). On Voyager they actually make a hilarious joke about how weird it would be for a dude to take a woman’s last name, like haha oh man can you even imagine?

PARIS: ‘B’Elanna Paris’. That has a nice ring to it.
B’ELANNA: Thanks, but I already have a ring. Anyway, I kind of like the sound of ‘Tom Torres’.
PARIS: I hope you’re kidding.
B’ELANNA Hey… it is the 24th century.

Yes. It’s the 24TH CENTURY, TOM. It’s the 24th century, race is a social construct, humans are atheists, there’s a fucking KLINGON on the BRIDGE (not that they ever listen to him – sorry, Worf), but women are still expected to change their names when they get married.

Like seriously how can you imagine a future where dudes are totally comfortable in mini-skirts but Bev can’t be Doctor Howard?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. The other day my kid asked me why he has two last names when my husband and I only have one each and I was like, “Because I’m trying to fuck up* the patriarchy here, duh.” But names are kind of more complicated than that. I mean, sure, I didn’t take my husband’s last name, and my kid got both of our last names but, like, what about everything else? It kind of seems as if it’s just as patriarchal to keep my father’s last name – in fact, that is basically the definition of patriarchy. And what if my kid has a kid, how is that going to work? Especially if his future partner also has a double-barrelled last name? Will their kid have four names? Or will they just choose the name they like best? I mean, I assume that they’ll figure it out because by then they’ll be grownups, but still. 

The idea that women should change their names when they get married seems to be a tough one to shake; it’s all tied up with culture and tradition and the nagging conceit that it’s somehow more romantic if a woman takes her husband’s name. There’s this weird belief that if a woman doesn’t take her husband’s last name, then she’s somehow less committed. Like legit, I know some otherwise very nice, very liberal men who believe that they should have been able to foresee their marriage not working out because their ex didn’t want to change their name. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. That’s the level of shit we’re dealing with here.

One argument I’ve heard from more than a few women for why they changed their last names is because they thought it would be “confusing” for their kids to have parents with different last names. Which like first of all is totally weird because it ignores the fact that lots of kids have parents who never married and never had the same last name, and second of all just flat-out isn’t true. I know that from experience, because my mother didn’t change her name when she married my father.

I never found it confusing to have parents with different last names. At times I was annoyed, because I wanted us to be a cozy one-last-name type family unit, just like all of my friends and cousins had, but that really says more about the culture we live in than it does my capacity to understand which people I was related to. I always knew that even though my mother and I didn’t share a family name, she was still my mother. I was never confused, although I was sometimes an asshole teenager who yelled stuff like, “I’M GOING TO TAKE MY HUSBAND’S NAME WHEN I GET MARRIED AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME” in the middle of a fight. Because that’s how you rebel when your parents are liberal feminists, I guess.

Teenagers, man.

Anyway, then I grew up and realized I had a really fucking rad last name (with accents and silent letters, even!) that was tied to a really fucking rad cultural background and I knew that I absolutely didn’t want to change it ever. I also knew that I wanted my kids to have my last name because I just can’t deny them that amount of awesome. No one had any problem with either of these things, least of all my charming husband. 

Oh, and my kid? Isn’t confused. Children are hugely adaptable and have a pretty broad idea of what “normal” is. To him, mom has one last name, dad has another, and he has both. As far as he knows, that’s just how the world works.

The name game is tricky, I get that. There’s so much pressure for women to change their name when they get married, both from society at large and possibly from their partner or their partner’s family. On top of that, there’s the question of how to escape patriarchal ideas about names if your only choices are your father’s name or your male partner’s name – and for sure you could take your mother’s last name, but eventually that runs into the same patriarchal problem of her name coming from her father. All names lead to dudes, is I guess what I’m saying, which isn’t really a big deal except that it kind of feels like one sometimes, you know?

But I have faith that we can figure this shit out. And unlikely Gene Roddenberry et al, I think we can figure it out sometime before the 24th century. I mean, c’mon. We will for sure have fucked up the patriarchy real good by then! We have like over two hundred years to make things more equal. We’ve totally got this, you guys.

*I did not actually say “fuck up” to my kid, I promise

 

 

 

What Happened To Jennifer Lawrence Was Sexual Assault

2 Sep

TW for talk of sexual assault, victim blaming, misogyny

You’ve probably heard about the nude photographs of Jennifer Lawrence that were leaked online yesterday. The leak also included nude pictures of Kirsten Dunst, Ariana Grande, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and several other women, but, naturally, it’s Lawrence who’s drawing most of the heat because she’s super-famous right now. She’s also known for being charmingly awkward and honestly if I had to place any bets I would guess that most people were hoping that she would respond to this with some kind of hilariously crass Real Talk about sex and her body and being naked. I keep seeing comments by people who want her to provide the punchline to this joke; what they don’t seem to understand is that this is not a joke, this is a form of sexual assault.

Jennifer Lawrence and the other women involved in this leak were photographed in the nude with their consent – however, they did not consent to having those pictures published publicly. And just to be very, very clear here because the last thing that I want is for someone to misunderstand what I’m saying: lack of consent in a sexual act – in this case sharing nude photographs against someone’s will – is what makes this sexual assault. The person or people who leaked these photographs committed a sex crime, and it should be treated as one. Anyone who chooses to look at those photographs is complicit in that crime. Unless Jennifer Lawrence has specifically given you permission to look at these specific nude pictures of her, doing so violates her privacy. It doesn’t matter that she’s famous, or that you don’t know her personally. It double doesn’t matter that she’s hot. Looking at those photographs is a violation of her person, end of sentence, full stop.

Another thing that we need to be very clear about: this leak was not Jennifer Lawrence’s fault, or the fault of anyone else whose nude pictures were shared without their consent. It did not happen because they had nude pictures stored on their phones or in iCloud. It did not happen because their passwords weren’t good enough. It was not an accident. It happened because someone decided to deliberately commit a theft of personal property. It happened because someone leaked that private personal property online. It happened because of an illegal act committed on purpose by one or several people. It did not happen because some hot famous women just weren’t careful enough.

But women can never be careful enough, can we? If we take naked pictures of ourselves, we’re asking for it. If someone can manage to hack into our accounts, we’re asking for it. If we’re not wearing anti-rape nail polish, we’re asking for it. If we don’t take self-defence classes, we’re asking for it. If we get drunk, we’re asking for it. If our skirts are too short, we’re asking for it. If we pass out at a party, we’re asking for it. If we are not hyper-vigilant every single fucking second of every single fucking day, we are asking for it. Even when we are hyper-vigilant, we’re still asking for it. The fact that we exist is asking for it.

This is what rape culture looks like.

This is what misogyny looks like.

They look like Perez Hilton posting Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photographs on his site, and then refusing to take them down because the story is “too big to ignore,” and anyway the pictures are “no big deal” and “HOT.”

They look like this dude, whose response to one of the leak victims was to tell her that he masturbated to her pictures:

ETA: @zaiger has apparently deleted his tweet, but it was in response to this:

They look like this notice on Reddit, where the nude photographs are being shared without any consequences, forbidding anyone from posting information about the people who leaked the photographs.

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And these are just a few small samples. If you need more evidence of how disgusting people are being, feel free to search for “Jennifer Lawrence” on twitter and take a quick gander at how many people are blaming her for being the victim of a crime, or else celebrating the fact that they have access to pictures of her that she had intended to keep private. Many people are doing both in the same fucking tweet, because that’s the world we live in. Because it’s fine to participate in a sex crime as long as you think it was the victim’s fault. Because women are just never careful enough, and they deserve whatever’s coming to them. After all, that’s the real message here, isn’t it?

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