Minnesota Feminists Speak Out!

The unofficial blog of Minnesota NOW


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I should have been in a theater on Monday night

On Monday night I should have been in a theater watching Invisible War with 116 people who want to fix a broken military judicial system that enables the continuation of pervasive sexual assault. Sadly, MN NOW and our co-sponsors fell 50 people short of the required 117 tickets sold to screen Invisible War.

I first saw Invisible War a couple years ago when Gender Justice organized a screening, and I was so disappointed in how few people showed up. They did nothing wrong in how they marketed the screening. There was no other event that any of us knew about that was drawing away any possible audience. They even lined up an amazing panel of experts to discuss the film and answer questions. To this day, I don’t know why more people didn’t show up, but I was determined to screen it again. But once again, we didn’t get the turnout that the movie deserved. We didn’t get the turnout that the survivors deserve.

So why? Maybe our potential audience was distracted because they were busy with Get out the Vote efforts. The election was on November 4, and our deadline to sell 117 tickets was just three days later on November 7. Maybe, maybe not. I have a few other thoughts about why people aren’t showing up to see this important movie.

A friend tells me that it’s available on Netflix, so why would someone pay for a ticket to see it? I’m glad that it’s on Netflix and hopefully reaching a wide audience, but I see a definite value in screening it for a group. When I saw it, I received the benefit of expert panelists who could address questions from the audience. I attended the movie with a friend who had survived sexual violence in the military, and her insights were invaluable. Additionally, this movie will challenge your heart and soul. It is not easy to watch. I would recommend that you have someone to emotionally support you after watching it.

At my social media seminar today, the organizer pulled up a meme of a baby with a scrunched up face. All of the attendees giggled, and he made the point that he chose that image because all of us in the room had some connection to the image (one pregnant lady and two doting aunties in the room), and that is why it appealed to us. The point of the lesson was that people respond to familiar and appealing images. Perhaps we don’t relate to the experience of the woman soldier on the promotional materials and so we feel somewhat removed from their lives.

I hope that the people who read this will share your thoughts about why people didn’t show up for the viewing, because we are not deterred. We will find a way to screen the movie, because the message is too important not to share.

The isolation that any rape survivor feels is multiplied times ten when it happens in the military. The process of military justice is not conducive to justice for survivors at all. Imagine if your boss raped you, and he was your only means of obtaining justice. Imagine being stationed in the middle of nowhere, and having to work alongside your rapist(s) day after day with no independent venue for justice.

This is why it is important for us to show up in droves to view Invisible War, even if we don’t serve in the military.

Here are some of the truths shared in Invisible War:

“Service members must report rape to their commanders. However, if their commanders take action and prove that rape occurred, they also prove a failure of their own leadership.”- Brian Lewis, who was 20 years old when he was raped while in the Navy.

14 percent of female veterans report experiences of gang rape.

About 40 percent of victims in one study indicated that the perpetrator was their ranking officer.

One-third of victims indicate that the perpetrator was a ranking officer’s friend.

“I was repeatedly drugged and raped by several of my superior officers over a nine-month period. …There was no one I could turn to because, like so many victims of sexual assault in the military, my attackers were in my chain of command. So I kept my mouth shut.” – Testimony of Trina McDonald, who was 18 when she was stationed in Alaska and assaulted.

62 percent of victims who reported sexual assault experienced retaliation.

Heath X reported that he was gang raped, told he was lying, threatened, bullied, assaulted again and tried to commit suicide all during his first month in the service. He left, became homeless, was incarcerated and was diagnosed as suffering “intense psychological pain.” He was taken to a naval jail, and then returned to his post where he had to serve with the “gang of molesters” that had attacked him before. He faced court-martial or dishonorable discharge. He was denied benefits because he was dishonorably discharged. He was 18.

90 percent of survivors of sexual assault in the military are involuntarily discharged.

80 percent of perpetrators and those accused are discharged with honor.

Kori Cioca was serving in the US Coast Guard when she was raped by a commanding officer. He also broke her jaw, leaving her with lifelong pain and serious depression. When she attempted to bring him to justice, she was informed by her commanding officer that she’d be court martial as a liar. The commanding officer admitted that an assault happened, but said it didn’t include rape. As such, he was only restricted to his base for 30 days without pay for a short time.

By the terms of the current military legal code of justice system a general’s decision to overturn a jury verdict is the final word.

If you find these truths to be disturbing, I encourage you to see and hear them directly from the survivors’ mouths. MN NOW will continue our efforts to screen this movie again in the Twin Cities, with your help.

~Beth Johnson, MN NOW President

This is dedicated to my dear friend, who passed away last year from injuries related to a serious drinking problem. She drank to numb the memory of the rape committed by her training officer while she was serving our country.

~The chances of a female veteran developing PTSD are nine times more likely if she has been sexually assaulted.

~Military victims of violent assault or rape are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than service members and veterans who have not experienced sexual assault and rape.


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Let’s Talk About Sexual Violence in the Military

The American military is an institution founded in patriotism and shrouded in the mystique of brotherhood and love of country. I’m grateful for the important and life-threatening responsibilities that the men and women of our military undertake on a daily basis. I also know that it’s something I could never do. The aim of this post is not to question the bravery of those who serve our country but to express my anger with how the U.S. military handles instances of sexual assault.

I read an alarming statistic the other day in my research about sexual assault in the military — a female soldier is more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat. Also, women make up 15% of armed forces, but 47% of sexual assault cases. Although women are ‘allowed’ to serve in the military along side men, in terms of their own bodily autonomy they are certainly not equal.

Soldiers — both men and women — who report sexual assault are subjected to lifelong consequences that affect their physical and emotional wellbeing as well as their career. Ninety percent of sexual assault survivors in the armed forces are involuntarily discharged. The perpetrators of these crimes aren’t usually punished in any way. In fact, 80% of those accused are actually discharged with honor.

I recently rediscovered an article in Huffington Post that lists 50 powerful and eye opening statistics about sexual assault in the military — and links to the original articles and research for your reference. I found that reading these statistics and other studies and watching “The Invisible War,” has made me realize how frequently sexual assault occurs in the military and that it’s a huge problem we have yet to solve.

We’d love to hear feedback from anyone who has served in the armed forces about their experiences with sexual assault — whether it was something you witnessed, experienced, or came across while you were serving. If you have something to contribute, please sound off in the comments or Tweet to us at @Minnesota_NOW using the hashtag #NotInvisible.

We are co-sponsoring a screening of the Invisible War on November 17th at St. Anthony Main Theater, and hosting a discussion with a panel of experts after our screening. If you haven’t seen The Invisible War, or even if you have, I highly suggest you make the time to watch it with us — we need folks from all perspectives to truly create a well-rounded discussion.

Get your tickets here!


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Wonder women rising

 Cross-posted at Shannon’s blog The Radical Housewife.  

 

Whatever your feelings about the obnoxious commercialization of Valentine’s Day, put them aside and consider the goals of today’s OTHER big campaign, One Billion Rising.

 

…and whatever your feelings about the largely symbolic nature of the One Billion Rising movement (and I share them, believe me), consider that Katie Couric, hardly a radfem, just Tweeted“1in3 women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her life.”  Anything that gets that TRUTH spoken more often in public is, to my mind, a step in the right direction.

Do you remember the first time you heard that statistic?  I do.  I couldn’t believe it–and really didn’t believe it until a friend told me what happened to her.  Then another friend told me her story.  Then another and another and another.  As a member of the randomly lucky two out of three, I was changed forever.

I am changed every time I hear the truth.  Are you?

I hope to attend tonight’s Minneapolis event, a rally, meal, and dance dedicated to the memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey, but it’s possible that I’ll be worn out after  my usual Thursday duties: volunteering for a local organization that provides services to women and children experiencing domestic violence.

As a dedicated binary rejector, I tell you this not to imply that one (direct service) is better than another (dancing at Powderhorn Park).  Each complements the other.  In fact, survivors of violence and those who work in the field are the ones who need to dance most of all!

My hope is that those who come to dance  are equally moved to put their hearts, hands and wallets to work towards domestic violence education and prevention, as well as ensuring that resources are readily available to survivors who need them.  Many of today’s dancers know where to buy a Wonder Woman outfit but remain unaware of their own power to be advocates for REAL wonder women in their own neighborhoods.

 

 

To DANCE in your community: http://www.onebillionrising.org/page/event/search_simple

To SERVE in your community: http://www.ncadv.org/

To LOBBY for reuathorization of the Violence Against Women Act: http://4vawa.org/

 


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What’s at stake when women’s bodies are “evidence”

***Trigger warning for sexual assault, victim blaming***

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Barbara Kruger created this famous poster for a women’s rights march on Washington in 1989.  That the message remains chillingly relevant is a testament both to Kruger’s talent and to the continuous, relentless attacks on women’s bodily autonomy….and just when you think you can’t be MORE shocked, MORE disgusted, or MORE outraged, you are.

A Minnesota NOW friend who wishes to remain anonymous wrote us this powerful account of her reaction to the news that a New Mexico legislator would criminalize abortions after rape on the grounds that it would be “tampering with evidence.”

No, your eyes didn’t just explode–that’s actually what Rep. Cathrynn Brown suggested in a bill she introduced on January 24.

From our friend:

At age 17 I was raped by a young man I knew, at age 24 I was raped by two men I knew.  At age 17 I had an abortion, at age 24 I was escaping a violent marriage. Unfortunately I had a miscarriage 5 months later in my parent’s bathroom. I had no idea I was pregnant, and was told she probably died at 3 months because of the beatings I took from my ex-husband.

A bill has been introduced that rape victims carry their rapists’ child as evidence.

If I had to carry my rapist’s child (my ex-husband would not have been named a rapist) his friend may have…. what would I have told my son, 18 months old.  What would I have told him about his sibling especially if it wasn’t his father’s? What would I have told my son about his sibling while I went to court? What would I have told my son about his sibling if my rapist wanted joint custody and his father didn’t? What would happen when my husband adopts my son, but isn’t allowed to adopt my rapist’s child because a rapist has more rights than my husband?

For the men introducing these bills on behalf of the religious organizations that supported you and the other pro-life organizations that endorsed you, I know you have been asked what if this happened to your daughter. Well that doesn’t matter because all of you can afford the back room abortions, while people like me, would have had to rely on a shop vac, coat hanger, or many other life threatening devices.

If I had to give my rights to my rapists, I tell you right now, I would have dropped my son off at my parents and drove out to the country and shot myself in the head. I would not have put my parents and my son through the blind, bogus, bigoted, treatment, which you decided to enact.

Rep. Brown has since attempted to clarify that the bill would charge the rapist with a third-degree felony for evidence tampering, not the impregnated rape victim herself, though this flip-flopping most likely reflects her embarrassment at being in the middle of a national news story, not a serious change of heart.

The War on Women is real.  Your body is a battleground.  We can’t stop fighting.

TAKE ACTION!

Contact Rep. Cathrynn Brown via the New Mexico state legislature (she has removed her direct contact information–gee, I wonder why?!): http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/contactus.aspx

Sign a petition demanding her resignation here: http://signon.org/sign/cathrynn-brown-should.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=6899454


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What a “family man” looks like

Cross-posted at Shannon’s blog  The Radical Housewife.

 

Dear New York Times,

I would like to introduce you to a family man who loves football.  His name is Matt, and he is my husband and my kids’ father.

 

New York Times, I know that you will hide behind the fact that your source, Ruben Marshall, is the one who called a man who just committed a domestic homicide  “a good man. A good, loving father, a family man.”  You will say that you are merely repeating the, er,  “facts” of the case.

Hmm.

Let’s take a moment and look at the adorable little girl in this photograph, my daughter.  Isn’t she cute?

Back to you, New York Times.  If we move forward with the idea that you presenting the story of a murder-suicide in all its complexity, then why didn’t you interview Becky Gonzalez?  You could have asked what she thought about the man who killed her daughter, Kasandra Perkins.  Though Jovan Belcher was the father of Gonzalez’s three-month-old granddaughter, Zoey, I HIGHLY DOUBT she would call Belcher a family man.  She might call him a sick fuck. A perpetrator of domestic violence and terror.  A murderer.

But you didn’t ask her, did you?

I quote my friend, the fab freelance feminist Erin Matson“Imagine your sister, mom or friend being murdered by her boyfriend with their child in the next room and the newspaper story ending by calling him ‘a family man.'”

Once again, New York Times, I must ask that you look into the eyes of my cute daughter.  Perhaps your perception of any act of violence against her would be colored (pun very much intended) by the fact that she is very young, very blue-eyed blonde, and very much a football fan, not a football girlfriend.

Football girlfriends must subsume their cuteness and vulnerability to the service of their lovers.  Football players are HEROES, amirite?  Which is part of why you used heroic apologetics to describe the football player’s sudden and shocking death as if it were a bizarrely random tragedy, rather than what it really was: part and parcel of the seemingly intractable culture of violence that happens every day, to daughters, mothers and wives from all walks of life.

New York Times, you know that journalism does not occur in a vacuum.  Each writer and editor brings his (YES, HIS) perspective to his writing.  When you trot out “family man” tropes like these about men like Jovan Belcher, you trivialize the seriousness of domestic violence–and worst of all, you erase the stories and voices of women like Kasandra Perkins.  You contribute to the problem.

As a small act of repentance for your part in this culture of silence, I suggest you interview Perkins’ family and friends for their perspectives, then gather your editorial board to issue a strong statement in support of reauthorizing the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. VAWA has stalled in Congress due to political dithering that reflects the cultural myth that domestic violence is something weird, something “other,” something not worthy of our Congress’s time and energy, when the truth is that domestic violence impacts 24 people in the United States every minute. 

And if you need a family man to profile for an upcoming issue of the Sunday magazine, my husband’s schedule is WIDE OPEN.

xoxo,

The Radical Housewife

 

 


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“All this, over a bathroom.”

Editor’s Note: today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to honor all those who have lost their lives due to transphobia. The following commentary by a Minnesota NOW board member is both a call to political action and a personal plea for compassion as the antidote to intolerance and violence. Links about TDoR and local observances appear at the end of the piece. –Shannon

 

By Andrea Persephone Sand

The entire concept of public sex-segregated bathrooms is a catch-22 for trans folk in its entirety. If we ask for gender neutral bathrooms, we are a minority demanding special rights at the cost of taxpayer dollars. If we ask to use the bathroom we know is ours, we are sexual predators and deviants who want to watch the “other sex” go potty. If we use the bathroom we were begrudgingly born in to, we risk being ostracized or yelled at, even running the risk of physical or sexual assault. Hell, we run the risk of assault no matter which restroom we use. No matter what happens, we’re in the wrong.

We’re told “just go to the bathroom!” I love my friends, and how beautifully naïve they are, how cute it is that they lack the hate I see every day. I love them so much, because they remind me of the good parts of humanity. They ask “why don’t you just go? Are you embarrassed?” No. I am scared. I just want to go to the bathroom without rolling the dice. Wherever we go, we face persecution just for wanting to tinkle or do things like use the gym, swim in a community pool, or use the restroom of a fast-food chain to do our thing before going about the rest of our goddamn day.

The above video is a report on the case of Chrissy Lee Polis, who was assaulted in a McDonalds bathroom by two teenagers, an unnamed 14 year old and an 18 year old Teonna Monae Brown.  The attack ended with Polis on the floor, convulsing from a seizure triggered from the savage beating and the store manager, Vernon Hackett, telling the perpetrators to leave because 911 had been called. The only person who truly stepped in was an aging woman who, for her troubles, was assaulted as well; but if not for her, the teens would have murdered Polis. For what looked an awful lot like attempted murder, the 14 year old received something tantamount to a slap on the wrist. Brown only got five years for first degree assault with the hate crime modifier. Vernon Hackett was not charged at all. Tax evasion carries a five year sentence, too. Hackett alone should have gotten five years for what he did; Brown deserved far, far worse. Are our lives somehow worth less because of who we are and how we were born?

In Chrissy’s own words: “I felt like I was going to die that day. I continue to suffer seizures, bouts of crying, mental anguish and anxiety. I fear being alone. I have flashbacks about the attacks. I do not forgive them for what they did to me.” All this, over a bathroom.

I worked at a beautiful restaurant, and I loved it because the bathrooms, despite being gendered, were single-occupancy, with locks. If I could just get in, I could lock the door and be safe and do what I needed to do. After one shift, I had changed to my cycling get and came out ready to bike it home when I heard a customer, “You know that says ‘ladies room’, right?!” and then I saw it. She, and he. She was shorter than me, skinnier than me, prettier than me, and more attractive; but god was her personality ugly. He was taller, stronger, bigger, and more ready to kick my ass than most people. To say I was scared was an understatement. Our bathrooms were in the back corner of the restaurant; that is to say I was very close to being cornered before running between them and making like a gazelle out the back door after mentioning, “Funny. I thought my license says ‘female’.”

The scariest bathroom moment for me, though, was at a club. I biked there, and I needed to change in to partying clothes [you’d be amazed what a good Chrome bag can hold!]. Walking in, I saw the mens rooms and kept walking. A young man following me in missed it, or just wanted to follow me. As I walked in to the right bathroom, I heard the bartender yelling at me “That’s the ladies room”; what went through my head is “He’s talking to the guy behind me.”, and the guy behind me tried to stop me. I yelled “My license says ‘female’!” and I refused to leave. Hearing the commotion, the other woman in the bathroom peeked out, saw me, and locked herself back in her stall after a look of “what the utter fuck is that?!” I clarified myself, and was dismissed bluntly by the bartender; better than nothing. The look of “oh god what have I gotten myself in to” on his face was priceless though. After locking the stall and starting to change, I could hear the poor girl next to me having what sounded like a panic attack. Labored breathing, unhappy sounds, rushed motions; she was scared, and she ran. Or so I thought.

It took me a few minutes after I thought she left to finish changing [I rock a certain style that takes time and refinement. And bell bottoms.] but when I came out, she was waiting for me. Just standing there, staring at my door. Staring at me as I came out. The notion that I was in there to spy on other people became suddenly laughable to me; other people were spying on me as I did my business, just wanting to do my thing in peace. I was being victimized in much the same way people feared I would do to others. Projection much?

I’m tired of holding it, I’m tired of bladder infections I have to treat myself because of how rude and inappropriate medical “professionals” are.  I’m tired of almost wetting myself, and I’m tired of squatting in bushes. I’m so goddamn tired. All I want is some nice porcelain under my ass; is that too much to ask? I suppose that’s why I love some of the clubs I go to; the women there will not only not question me being in there, but watch the stall for me too because not all the locks work [I love you, ladies!] After all the few times I’m using a stall in public I am either in need of place to relieve myself, or in need of a place to be physically ill. I don’t know what gender-conformative people do in there, but apparently I should be concerned because they think I’m doing it.

You can’t have it both ways. You just can’t. You can’t deny us gender-neutral bathrooms that are safe for us and also deny protections for us if we’re harmed for going to pee in a proper public space. There has to be a concession, you have to meet us in the middle.

I miss going to swim, but I know full well I’d be putting myself in harms way if I went to the local community center and tried to put a two piece on. I suppose I could be upset about never being able to go to LA Fitness, but I have a bicycle that works year-round, and I don’t really care about feeling excluded from paying $25 a month to run on a treadmill like a gerbil. The swimming thing though, that gets me. I love swimming, but I’m not rich and I don’t have a home with an indoor pool. YMCA or YWCA?  I can’t win, and nobody cares. I agree with Vice President Biden when he calls transgender discrimination the civil rights issue of our time.

We’re still waiting for our Rosa Parks, our Emily Davison, our Mahatma Ghandi, and our Crispus Attucks. Perhaps we’ve already had our Attucks; but this call to revolution is too damn slow and there’s not nearly enough people fighting for freedom. We demand bathroom equality and safety now!

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Transgender Day of Remembrance events in Minneapolis (via PFLAG Twin Cities)

About the Transgender Day of Remembrance

Trans Youth Support Network, Minneapolis

 


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A survivor’s voice to #PassVAWA2012

TODAY, November 14,  is the #PassVAWA2012 Day of Action.  Why?

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  You can be forgiven for being “unaware,” for the presidential election seemed to swallow up the world’s attention. The issue of violence against women barely made a ripple in the ocean of campaign ads, debates, and literature, though the reauthorization of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act has been held up in Congress for nearly two years, subject to partisan bickering over what should be a very simple vote in support of fully funding resources to combat violence in our communities across the country.

One woman didn’t forget–she couldn’t.  She is our friend and colleague Laurie Olmon, and she is a survivor.  She made this video to remind us all of what’s at stake.

Please watch and tell others–especially your Senators and Representatives–that domestic violence affects everyone, every day, in every community.

Take action NOW! Join the #PassVAWA2012 Social Media Campaign! 

From our friends at the National Task Force to End Sexual & Domestic Violence Against Women:

Be a part of a ground-breaking campaign to leverage the full power of social media in fighting for the Reauthorization of VAWA! Join the #PassVAWA2012 Facebook Photo Campaign to tell Congress that it’s time to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act!  It’s easy, just snap photos of you, your friends, your colleagues, & sympathetic strangers holding up signs saying why we need to Pass VAWA NOW!  Submit your photos via email to lccref@gmail.com or tweetpic with #PassVAWA2012. 

Join the Task Force at 12:00pm Eastern on Thursday, November 8th for a very important VAWA update and organizing call. Dial-in Number: 1-213-226-0400 Conference Code: 451747

Additional information:

Alexandra House, providing support, resources, and advocacy for survivors of violence and the families in the Twin Cities and across Minnesota

National NOW Core Issues: Violence Against Women

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