Friday, March 22, 2013

Fear and Loathing in the Ladies' Lounge

I've been thinking a lot about woman on woman hate.  The way we can turn on each other and tear each other down.  The way we can turn on ourselves and tear ourselves down.  It seems to me that we are, as a rule, more likely to destroy ourselves than we are to destroy the system and culture that holds us hostage.

The question is:  Why?

There has been an astronomical amount of coverage of the Stuebenville Rape case over the past couple of weeks.  There has been far too much focus on the males who perpetrated the crime and very little acknowledgement given to the female victim.  So, I want to take the boys completely out of this discussion and focus on the ladies.  I want to focus on the victim of the rape and the female reaction to her. In particular I want to examine why many women of Steubenville and, if social media is any accurate gauge, the rest of the country are continuing  to victimize this woman with death threats, hate mail and victim-blaming.

Then I want us to look at ourselves.  You and me, kind readers. I want us to take a hard look at our own practices of female on female violence and self-loathing and then I want us to think about where this practice eventually leads us.

I think this might be a little scary.

In the wake of the guilty verdict (Yay!) that was levied against the two Steubenville football players who raped a 16 year old girl, an epidemic of victim-blaming has lit up news sites and social media.  It is frankly, disgusting.  However, one of the most disturbing developments that I have read about is the arrest of two female Steubenville teens ( 15 & 16) who have made death-threats against the 16 year-old victim.

Why would a woman blame another woman for being raped, reporting a rape, or seeking justice?

How many of us, the women reading this post, our friends, our families secretly (or openly) judge the girl for getting so wasted that she had no control over herself?  How many of us shake our heads and then take our daughters aside and warn them that this could happen to them too, rather than taking our sons aside and telling them how to help someone in need rather than victimize her?

I am not saying girls shouldn't be taught to protect themselves, they absolutely MUST be, but we must also look at why we are so willing to make this a WOMAN's problem.

Why would another woman insist that it was the victim's fault for being drunk?

(The following are all actual tweets from Women regarding #Steubenville)

I think we do this because we are afraid.

We are afraid that the next time, it could be us.

I think we blame other women and ourselves because it gives us a sense of control over events that are largely out of our control.  If we can put the blame on the victims, it means that we can protect ourselves from the same fate.  If we can create a set of social rules for women to follow dictating behavior, dress code, and acceptable social environments, and then hold ourselves and each other accountable for adhereing to those behaviors, it affords us the insurance that we can control wether or not we become the victims of one of the most horrifying types of violent crime imaginable.

If it is OUR fault, It is also within our power to FIX it, or PREVENT it.

Sadly, this is a lie.

It is a lie we tell ourselves so that we can sleep at night.  It is a lie we buy into because it helps us function in our daily lives.  Otherwise, we might never leave the house, otherwise, we might hold our daughters hostage with us.

And yet, buying into this idea, this idea that preventing rape by adhering to a set of Female Rules of Behavior is not only WRONG, it is perpetuating the system of oppression that holds us hostage in the first place.

It is a sad and scary fact that Rape happens.  It even happens in societies where women are completely imprisoned by social dictates of behavior and dress to the extreme:

Saudi Arabia, a country where women are forced to war a burka and follow the strictest of behavior codes also has a horrific amount of rape as a part of its every-day culture:

Jonathan Turley writes a  blog post regarding an experience that Michael Slackman, jounalist for the NY Times and a fellow female journalist had when they interviewed young Saudi soldiers:

Recently, he went out into the desert where many Saudi youths go. He was traveling with a female Egyptian journalist to meet with six Saudi men in the military, ages 19 to 26.
One of the men immediately observed that it was “reckless” to travel with a female who was not a relative.
One of the men said that it was only because he was friends with one of the people in the group that he did not “try something.” When pressed on what he would do, by the woman, he had the following exchange about first trying to get rid of her companion:
“I would get rid of him and try something with you,’’ he replied. “Not rape, I would try to do something, to get you to do something.”
“And if I said no?” she asked.
“Then I would rape you.”
That was it. None of the other young men seemed surprised, or sounded an objection.
Another example is that of the Qatif rape case, in which a teenage girl after being harassed and threatened by a male with whom she had been conversing over the phone met with the boy in his car and was gang raped as he drove her home

After the trial, not only were the perpetrators of the rape punished, but the victims were punished and then later the victims had their sentences doubled due to the amount of press the case received.  After outcry from human rights groups and the international community, the female victim was pardoned in 2007, which has its own complicated message regarding female behavior as described in the Wikipeadia article:

On December 17, 2007, Saudi newspapers reported that King Abdullah had issued a pardon for the girl, citing his ultimate authority as monarch to overrule "discretionary" punishments (punishments not expressly prescribed by Islamic legal canon) in accordance with the public good. However, he maintained that the pardon did not reflect any lack of confidence in the Saudi justice system or the initial verdicts, and in fact the King trusted "that the verdicts are just and fair."[18]Although the pardon was good news for the girl from Qatif, human rights activists voiced concern that it was not a practical solution to the problem, as "the pardon means that she did something wrong and was kindly pardoned later." They called for reform of the law and clear legislation that differentiates between rape and adultery, as there are many similar cases which do not receive such international exposure and not every victim will get a royal pardon afterward.[19]

In many of the contries with the most restrictive rules about female behavior there are what we term "Morality Police." Women take an active part in the enforcement of laws restricting the movements and behaviors of other women.  The following quote is from the article, "Iran’s morality police target women who test rules for dress" by Jason Rezaian of the Boston Globe:

The government’s offensive this year has been marked by the stationing of mixed-gender*  teams of morality police in Tehran’s main squares. 
In recent weeks, 53 coffee shops and 87 restaurants have been closed in Tehran for serving customers with improper hijab or for other gender-related offenses, such as permitting women to smoke hookah pipes.
Concerts have been abruptly canceled because of inappropriate dress and too much contact between male and female fans. Approximately 80 stands at an international food fair were closed last month because, officials said, the women working at them were either breaking hijab rules or wearing too much makeup.
Those arrested face up to two months in prison or even lashing, penalties that have been on the books for years but have rarely been imposed. 
The aggressive enforcement and stiff penalties have spawned resentment. But authorities have made the case this year that un-Islamic dress is a matter of national security and a symptom of longtime Western meddling in Iranian affairs. Officials routinely cite the improper wearing of hijab as the cause of a variety of social maladies, from women who marry later in life to those who go into prostitution. 

The stories go on and on.  But my point is simply this:  NO AMOUNT OF RULES OF BEHAVIOR AND DRESS imposed and reinforced by society and ourselves will prevent the rape of women. To lash out against ourselves and each other, merely helps to further victimize us and keep women from ever changing the social dynamics that are at the root of these crimes to begin with.

We become accomplices in our own subjugation and imprisonment.

Much has been written regarding women being catty toward other women on a surface level. We criticize each other's appearance and behaviors.  I want to take this conversation a step further. When we take this woman on woman loathing down to a personal level, a microcosmic level, what we discover is our own personal self-loathing and victim-blaming.  Women engage in so many types of self-hatred on a daily basis, it is almost invisible to us in it's more universal forms:

1. The infinite quest for physical perfection manifested in billions of dollars worth of:
  • diets
  • cosmetics
  • plastic surgeries
2. Overwhelming instances of female depression stemming from the belief that we are not enough:
  • not beautiful enough
  • not smart enough
  • not successful enough
  • not popular enough
  • not worthy enough
  • not good enough parents
3. We fall into the pattern of blaming ourselves and ourselves alone for:
  • The failures of our spouses
  • The failures of our children
  • The failures of our marriages
  • sometimes even the failures of the world

The research and statistics are alarming:

young women far outnumber men in terms of self-injury. There are many possible reasons for this, associated with the different experiences, roles and perceptions applied to women and men in society. What is clear from talking to women who self injure is that it is linked with (chronically) low self-esteem.The majority of women who self-harm say the self harming immediately follows feelings of either emotional pain (sadness, grief, hopelessness and desperation), self-hatred (shame, guilt, dirtiness) or anger (frustration, powerlessness). Self-injury can be a way of achieving a sense of power and control over these feelings. Women who self-harm say that it is easier to cope with the physical pain than their emotional pain.  ( )
Copyright, Threshold Women’s Mental Health Initiative 

and from

  • 75% of American women surveyed endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies Source: Three Out Of Four American Women Have Disordered Eating, Survey Suggests, Science News, RetrievedJuly 18, 2011, from (
  • Almost half of American children between 1st– 3rd grade want to be thinner and half of 9 - 10 year old girls are dieting. Source: Rate of Eating Disorders in Kids Keeps Rising, US Department of Health and Human Services, Retrieved July 18, 2011, from ( 
  • The “obesity industry” (commercial weight-loss programs, weight-loss drug manufacturers and bariatric surgery centers) will likely top $315 billion this year. Nearly 3% of the overall U.S. economy. Source: “The War On Obesity" was declared on American soil by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 
    1996. Big Fat Facts Blog, Retrieved July 18, 2011, from (

So, what do we /do/ with all of this?  How do we change it?  How do we break out of a pattern of continuing our own subjugation within the larger society and the world?

We have to begin with ourselves.  We need to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we are not our own enemy.  We must each begin to behave like an ally to the woman in the mirror only then, can we branch out and begin to look at one another, our fellow women-in-arms, as allies.

If we stop spending so much time and energy fighting ourselves and each other, perhaps we can wake up to the truth.  The truth is that the only way to fight this beast of female oppression is by working together to defeat lookism, sexism and violence against women.

We have been suffocating in a death-bed of self-loathing and it is time for us to rise up together and take on the world.

When sleeping women wake, Mountains Move.

*emphasis is my own.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pneumonia with a side of Sinus Infection

I was planning to continue with Part 2 of my story this week.  At the very least, I was hoping to get a post up about something interesting or funny or full of whimsy (actually the last is total BS, whimsy isn't really my thing).  Instead, I have been reduced to this:

Ever since the December holidays, someone in my family has been sick.  SICK SICK SICK.  It's sickening how sick we've been.  Come January, I too fell ill.  Happily, after a first round of antibiotics and nasal sprays, I was On The Mend.  But I still had this funny little rattle in my left lung.  All breathing tests pointed to better, however, so I was sent home with a reminder to return in a couple of weeks, "Just to make sure."

I was doing ok, regaining my energy, finally conquering the enormous mess that had been left for me by my loving husband and children...but then this past weekend, things took a turn for the worse.  The biggest tip-off that my health was not progressing as it should be was that I lost my voice.  Now, for those who know me this is BIG TROUBLE.  You see, I am quite a talker, sometimes a singer and also a laugher.  And, truth be told, I am occasionally a shouter when all else fails to penetrate the skulls of my delightful (but sometimes deaf) children.  And by "occasionally" I mean on every occasion that calls for it, (which is far more often than I would like).

In this case, no voice for Upsidedown was the calm before the storm.

Yesterday was day three of being vocally challenged with increasing bouts of coughing,  a perpetual head-ache and a wheeze.  I packed myself back off to the doctor.  She was not pleased with what she saw or heard.  I think she was particularly disgusted with my whispered (no voice) description of my personal brand of lung butter: green with a consistency between rubber cement and paste.  She ordered me off for xrays:  one of the lungs, one of the sinuses.


Sure enough, I have pneumonia and a sinus infection.  This really bums me out.

Hallelujah for the blog, however.  For even with no voice, a hideous diagnosis and relegation to bed, the powers that be still haven't managed to shut me up.  Due to my forced silence, I have turned to you, my unfortunate readers, to spread the word of my illness.  Aren't you lucky?  I promise not to breathe on you.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Resurrection of a Reformed Actress

*Note to readers - I had intended to make this story a single blog post, but as I started writing, I realized that I had a lot more to say than I had initially thought.  I could have cut back, but what the hell, it's my blog and I kind of want to explore this thing that is my identity.  So, I have decided to post this story in multiple parts.

Part 1:  Childhood

So, I am in a show.  And, I'm super excited!  When I left the DC Theater Scene over 8 years ago, I wasn't sure if there would ever come a day when I would say those words again.  It has been a long, transformative journey there and back.  A journey that parallels the story of My Life.  So, let's start at the beginning, shall we?

My Parents on their wedding day, 1962
Like so many artsy-fartsy types, I grew up with a tumultuous family life. My father was a disappointed artist/genius who had early success as a photographer in New York City, but later career frustrations once he began working for NBC and later CBS.  My mother was a former dancer who, after a particularly satisfying but difficult season with Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, had given up her career in performance to support my father in his endeavors and pay the bills once he was drafted to Vietnam.   I suspect the choice to hang up her toe shoes and start working for Pan Am also had a lot to do with a fundamental lack of self-esteem coupled with a need for financial security. Ultimately, these personal and artistic disappointments led my parents down the path of bitterness, anger and exhaustion which, when coupled with the responsibilities of two young children, eroded their once dramatic and charismatic union.   After 19 years of marriage, they acrimoniously divorced when I was 7 and my brother was 9. This was back in the 70's and early 80s when none of the families in our neighborhood had working mothers (we did) much less divorced parents.

I was a painfully shy, bespectacled, asthmatic child with mild learning disabilities that led my family to pronounce me, "a ball of fluff and a future Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader."  I found this puzzling because other than my obvious lack of intellect, I felt totally unsuited to this glamorous career.  I was definitely not considered popular or pretty or vivacious.

Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, 1978

Me at 8, definitely not
a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader

In our early childhoods, my brother won all of the academic and social accolades from my parents and the community at large. He would roam our neighborhood with a pack of kids.  Children and adults alike found him amusing, friendly and precocious.  He played chess at 6!  He was a lego genius!  He was gifted and talented!

I, on the other hand, would run around behind my brother and the other cool kids, hoping some of the acceptance would wear off.  The one friend I had, I clung to with a death-grip, praying that she would not figure out what a dork I was and leave me behind.   I cried on every single first day of school until the ninth grade.  The idea of riding the bus unsure of a seat partner and then navigating a new classroom of strange and terrifying faces all while holding myself together simply overwhelmed me.  I would be so alone.  And awkward. There was nothing about me that would appeal to anybody.

However, in private, locked in my room, or wandering around the woods that lined the golf-course near our house, I would create an alternate universe.  It was a universe where I was a star.  I was beautiful and graceful.  I was full of promise, and people would come to watch me, ME, dance on soft stages of grass lined by trees.  Every beam of light that filtered through the summer leaves would touch me and it would feel like the hand of God, a God that I spent a lot of time pondering and praying to in those days.  I prayed for him to help me and my family.

I started taking ballet when I was 5 after over a year of begging my mother for classes.  Thus began an unbalanced, and sometimes unhealthy love affair with dance that continued into my teen years.  Unfortunately, even from that young age,  although I loved, deeply loved the discipline of dance, I was so terrified of making a mistake that I would become sick with nerves and forget the routines that we were to practice during center floor time.  More than once, I left a class in tears, frustrated once again with my ineptitude.  Other girls were taller, slimmer and had better memories for choreography.  Although it seemed that I worked the hardest, I could never get ahead.  I would be praised for my form or technique, only to fumble as soon as all eyes were upon me.  Plus, there was my Mother.  I lived in fear of her disapproval.  She had danced professionally.
ANNIE! My alter-ego!

It was not until a desperate book-report in seventh grade that I became aware of Acting.  Oh sure, in my lonely days I would sing all the songs to Annie and day-dream about starring in the revival, but that had to do with Song! and Dance! and Broadway! as much as anything else.  No, it was an unconventional book report that my seventh-grade teacher assigned to our class that changed my life.  We had the opportunity to do anything we chose for this book report.  We could paint pictures, make a tri-fold display board, create dioramas, anything.  But it had to be good.  And it had to show effort.

I had no idea what I was going to do.

Over the years, I had quietly set about proving to my brainy family and the world that I was not in fact, stupid, but smart.  Smart enough to be a member of my family In Good Standing.  After the divorce,  my brother and I had moved with my Mom and her new husband to another school district.  Interestingly, as soon as I got away from where I had grown up, teachers began to notice me.  A few glorious teachers took the time to work with me one-on-one to overcome my dyslexic tendencies and ultimately, I was tested and brought into the gifted and talented program in my new school.  My life as a determined perfectionist had begun.  The funny thing about perfectionists, though, is that those of us whose strive for perfection is coupled with crippling self-doubt often find ourselves procrastinating out of the fear of failure.  We must then work ten times as hard and at a feverish pace to finish our projects.

This was exactly the predicament in which I found my 11 year-old self.

I was quickly running out of time.  The project that we had had over 3 weeks to complete was due in a matter of days, and I had not yet begun.  The book that I had read (I don't remember the name) was about two young sisters who discover a world of fairies. In a panic, I decided to make a tape-recording of all of the different characters interacting, children, fairies, etc.  This would absolve me from coming up with a fancy art project.  If I bluffed well enough, I could make it interesting and dramatic but most-importantly, it would sound cool.  So, with about three days remaining, I set to work.

Each day after school, I would record different scenes of my inventing based around the story.  The book was set in England, so I took advantage of my time with my new step-mother and step-sisters, who were British, and mimicked their voices.  Americans LOVE English accents, I figured.  Even at the age of 11, I knew simply speaking like a Brit would give me instant intellectual cred.

Winston Churchill
For the written portion of the project, I decided to create a "journal" in the voice of one of the sisters who discovered fairyland.  I wrote days of "journal entries" describing the oral adventures recorded on tape.   I then wrapped the tape and "journal" into a box with a letter (soaked in tea for the appearance age) the recipient was the subject of the book's "grandchildren."  The letter explained that within the box were a secret recording and diary proving that fairyland really existed.  It occurs to me now, that this project could actually be considered my very first theatrical writing as well as my first performance.

I was terrified about how the thing would be received...

The book report was a HIT.  A SMASH.  A GIANT COUP FOR INVISIBLE ME!

My teacher was so impressed that she played the whole tape for the class.  She later called my Mom to tell her what a talented child I was and to encourage her to send me to theater camp!    Other students suddenly noticed me.  They thought I was cool and interesting.  "How did I talk like that?" they wanted to know.  "How did I come up with such an awesome idea?"  I beamed.  I made up some sort of clever answers, and an idea began to form:  I was not such a loser after all, I was good at something!

That summer, my mom scraped together the funds to send me to a fairly prestigious theater camp in Texas, a whole continent away from the East Coast, my fractured family, and my ailing father who had recently been diagnosed with Cancer.  I suspect her willingness to spend her hard-earned money on this venture was as much due to her acknowledging that I needed a break from my further crumbling home-life as it did with her encouragement of my newfound talent.

The first day of camp, auditions were held.  We were putting on a youth production of Oklahoma!  There would be professional sets, music, and costumes.  The show would be a paid performance.  It was a big deal.  The camp participants ranged in ages from 10 -18.  Although I don't remember the precise numbers, I do remember that there were a lot of us.  I had never auditioned for anything in my life.
I took my song, (Matchmaker - haha!) and I performed it as loudly as I could, I even did a dance that I had choreographed for myself.  I wore make-up and had done my hair.  Round after round of auditions were held.  I kept getting called up, again and again.  We read from the script, we sang and we danced, until finally there were only two of us left standing.  We had to do a kissing scene with the 16 year-old boy who was, by this point, already cast as Curley.  I had never kissed a boy in my life.  But, let me tell you, I put everything I had into that kiss.  After a seemingly endless break while the adults consulted with one another, the final cast list was announced.  I was to be the lead in the production,  Laurie.  I was 12 years old and my first kiss had been onstage.

That summer in Texas, I was reborn.