By Your Leave

Louis CK wants your permission. He wants you to make it okay that he whips out his penis in front of women who have expressed no desire to see it. He wants you to read his apology and decide that you can still like him, still stan for him, still want to see his comedy routines and his shows and his movies.

I mean, of course that’s what he wants. That’s his livelihood. So yes. That’s what he wants.

But he also wants your permission … to pretty much continue being exactly the same. He wants you to understand that his relationship with his penis is about using it to exert his privileged power over those he sees as his to dominate. He likes showing it to women, likes playing with it to their sometimes hysterical horror.

Some of us recoiled in anger and disgust when we heard Donald Trump say that, when you’re a famous man, you can do whatever you want to women. We may have recoiled, but that is exactly what Louis CK and Harvey Weinstein and every other man who’s being called out right now has banked on. They have been allowed to believe that, because of their fame or power or wealth or combination of the three, they can do whatever they want to women and to men they deem less famous, less powerful, less wealthy. Our allegiance to rape culture has allowed these men to believe in their right to behave as they wish. Our refusal to accept women’s autonomy has allowed these men to believe in their right to behave as they wish. Our refusal to believe women, our adherence to a strict code of victim-blaming, our knee-jerk slut shaming … all of these things have allowed these men to believe they can do whatever they want to women.

But Louis CK still wants your permission, still wants you to like him, to like his insistence on talking about his penis and the wacky hi-jinks he gets up to with it. He wants you to hear all the right words he has carefully crafted into his so-called apology … and ignore–or, better still, smirk at–the wrong ones he’s added for effect. And he wants you to see that he admits to the things his accusers claim: “These stories are true,” he says. And by saying that, he is expecting your instant forgiveness. He has admitted his guilt … even though he qualifies that admission, qualifies it so hard, the admission almost disappears. But he does own up to what he did. Now let’s welcome him and his penis back into the parlor with the polite company.

I will admit that it’s interesting to watch the different ways these famous men are choosing to respond when they are called out for what they’ve done. Louis CK is the first who response has so generously plumped itself up with both angry defiance and a begrudging, blame-y admission of guilt. It’s not a mix that’s completely unexpected, but it’s still unusual.

You can read his statement over at the NYTimes.

My first reaction when I read the statement was annoyance. That he had to talk about how he “never showed a woman my dick without asking first,” read like a slap in the face to every woman he abused. Here you are, performing apologetic remorse, and you need to talk about whipping it out … and you need to make the point that you only did that after asking permission first? Are you fucking kidding me?

The words in his apology statement–the ones after the repeated mention of his penis–fall into line in a way that seems right, that seems like saying sorry. They don’t totally get the job done, however. There’s far too much calling out of the fact that people admire and look up to him, of his fame and popularity.

There are other issues, too, but it’s that, “Hey! People like me!” shit that has my attention. This is why I said CK wants your permission. He wants to be able to start an “apology” for sexual aggression by talking in a sexually aggressive way, and then he wants you to nod with him when he tells you how important and well-liked he is–even by the women who are coming forward to accuse him. he can’t be truly bad if even his accusers look up to him and think he’s swell. Right? Right?

Obviously, his statement tells us, he’s not like these other men we’ve been hearing about. He asked first before assaulting anyone. Asked first! If these women could give him permission, surely you can, too.

The statement is almost a great apology. Almost. Almost. It mostly reads right, but it still goes wrong. Louis CK wants you to remember what you’ve come to know about him. You’ve loved his jokes about his desperate need to masturbate anywhere, any time. So how can you not feel for him now when you realize all of that was true?

For me, forgiveness–if there will be any offered–comes when there’s remorse, where full responsibility is taken, when the offending party apologizes to the person or people they offended. I don’t see that between the lines of Louis CK’s angry, petulant statement. And I most certainly have no desire to grant him an inch of permission.

None of the stories we’re hearing are surprising, are they? Men in positions of power have abused their power for the whole of recorded history, and surely for all the time before that as well. This isn’t news. Victims of abuse have tried to speak up … and have been slapped down, penalized, black-balled, criminalized. Silenced. By any means necessary. All in service of protecting powerful men. (Mostly we’re talking about powerful white men, yes, but let’s not kid ourselves that the buck stops with them. Despite the realities of racism–and because of the realities of racism–the system spends some of its energy protecting powerful Black men, too. Not as much, and usually not with the same level of dedication or success, but yes.)

The moment we are living in is interesting, this sea tide of accusations swamping our news feeds, this rush to believe the accusers. Not in every case, but that it’s true at all is new and different. I won’t pretend this signals the end of powerful men being given a pass no matter their crimes. I mean, hello, this country elected the poster child for white male privilege a year ago. We ain’t changed that fast, friends.

No. But something’s happening. Yes, part of this is about numbers. So many women–mostly women–have come forward that a) they are hard(er) to ignore and brush off and b) they are creating a space in which more people can come forward. Suddenly, we don’t have one woman we can call hysterical and dismiss by saying she made a mistake and is trying to make someone else pay for it.

But is it only about numbers? It feels like something else, something more. We are still fighting back against men who abuse power, but this is different, and I wonder where it will go–how far, how deep. I want to see it wend its scorched-earth way through the careers and reputations of every man who has thought his rights extended to another person’s body, safety, autonomy.

We have had hundreds of victims step forward and name their abusers. We have millions of victims share their #MeToo stories. What we’re seeing cannot be compared to anything that’s happened before. It feels like … well … like an actual opportunity for change.

I’m not as naive as that sounds, but I do think something different is happening now. We’ve had accusations in the past, but we’ve never had such a welling up of powerful, angry energy. There are too many people caught in this storm for this to be but a moment, something to casually quash and wave on its way as the accused move on to abuse again.

I assume there will be some hideous backlash. There always is. We already see men lamenting their inability to know how to interact with women, their apparently abject terror at being called out. There are already people (women!) comforting those men, telling them not to worry about their behavior, because they are so not the kind of men who would … Feh. We already have cable news talking heads fretting over innocent ment being swept up in the rush to accuse, to judge. There are already jokes about men we “know” won’t be accused, could never be accused.

So, slowly and inevitably, the status quo of our male-dominant society has begun pushing back. I still believe what’s happening now is and will continue to be stronger than that.

 

Do I feel for Louis CK and his fraternity of abusers, particularly for those who are or will suffer real consequences (finally) for their choices? No. Really not at all. Not at all. Not because I don’t believe people can change. I absolutely believe in our ability to transform ourselves.

These men, however. Yeah, not so much. They’ve hurt people, emotionally, physically, professionally. They’ve done it repeatedly. They’ve been made aware that what they did was problematic, was upsetting, was frightening, was damaging … and they didn’t opt to change their behavior, to make better, more decent, humane choices. No, they knew they were safe, knew they could deny successfully, knew they would be protected, so they continued to do exactly what they wanted to do. Louis CK even turned his abusive behavior into jokes, making his audiences complicit in his crimes.

No, I don’t feel even a tiny bit sorry for any of these men. I am full-on disgusted with each and every one of them. I am thrilled to see them called out and, at long last, held responsible for themselves.

Maybe they can change. Maybe–if they can get past their angry, I’m-the-real-victim-here bullshit–they will find ways to change. And I’ll be happy for them then … and happier still for all the women and men who will be safe in their presence.

 

Louis CK wants your permission. Refuse him. He wants your forgiveness and acceptance. Make him–make all of them–earn it.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir’s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it’s unlikely that I’ll write 52 essays by year’s end. But I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

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Peace and power

Last week I printed out a photo of Detroit’s Joe Louis Memorial, the gloriously enormous sculpture of Louis’ mighty fist. I saw it in an article someone forwarded me and immediately knew I needed it posted on the half-wall of my cubicle. Needed it.

This sculpture is one of my favorite things in the world. The first time I saw it, driving from the airport to a conference at the Renaissance Center, I was so wowed I couldn’t breathe or speak for a minute. It is a thing of absolute, graceful power and beauty. It is magnificent.

Here’s one of the pics I took of it in 2012:

I printed the photo from the article (a slightly more close-up, angled, under-the-fist view) and tacked it to my cubicle wall.

I feel it there, casting it’s dark, black spell, enveloping me in its strength and conviction.

So many times during the days since putting it on my wall, I have hung up the phone after an annoying call or looked up after reading an email that has made me sigh and shake my head, and my eyes go right to that picture, go right to that beautiful bright light.

And I feel myself become calm.

The first time I saw it, I was with the woman who was my boss. She was appalled, thought it was “so violent.” I wondered if we were looking at the same piece of art. Violent? Where? How? Could she really not see the sleek, delicious glory of it, its heavy, soul-filling affirmation?

No, she thought it was angry. Angry.

Maybe it is angry. Maybe that’s why I love it, maybe seeing it then — two years before the finally-and-for-good emergence of Angry Stacie — was the initial push, the moment when my heart felt the vibrating resonance of recognition, felt how completely I would come to embrace my rage.

I don’t think so, though. Yes, to the vibrating resonance, but not in recognition of anger, or not anger as such. Recognition of the fullness, the beauty of being exactly who I was — as big, as loud, as angry, as strong, as emotional, as articulate, as fed-the-fuck-up, as loving, as hungry as I actually was.

Which is what it’s giving me now, too. I have to swallow myself at work sometimes, hold back my honesty, pretend to a version of myself that can be made to fit the space I’m given. Like not lashing out when a superior refers to  formerly-incarcerated youth as “little criminals” and can’t seem to understand the value proposition of creating education and job training programs for them. Like not slapping the hand of the coworker who reaches out to touch my hair.

That fist is a signpost, a reminder that I’m still here. A reminder that, even when I have to walk softly, I can still fight, can still push back. That my voice can still shout, even in the dark, especially in the dark. That fist is my mantra, my affirmation, my vision board all rolled into one.

I need the picture poster-size and on my wall at home. That fist. To wake up to it, to fall asleep under its watch. Imagine.


In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week … I’ve fallen behind, but I’m still committed to writing 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride.

Q is for: Quotation

“Land is power.” Ruby McGee

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of watching an amazing documentary, Dirt and Deeds in Mississippi. It tells another amazing “hidden figures” kind of story, some Black history that was rolled up in cotton wool and tucked way out of sight. In this case, the story of Black land-owning farmers and the role they played in the fight for rights — civil, voting, human — in Mississippi. It is an eye-opening, painful, powerful, important document of history. I could watch it on a loop for days.

Ruby McGee was the first Black person to be registered to vote in her county. Today, she owns and operates the family tree farm that gave her the freedom to take some of the chances she took as a young woman, that enabled her parents to run a Freedom School. She talks about what being a landowner gave her, says that it meant she didn’t have to work in white people’s kitchens. She talks about the idea of “knowledge is power” … and says no, “Land is power.”

And that resonated so deeply in my chest. I wanted to clap my hands and shout, “Yes!” It reminded me:

Got land to stand on,
then you can stand up,
stand up for your rights
as a woman, as a man.

“Achin’ for Acres” by Arrested Development was about exactly this, the power of owning where you live, owning the ground beneath your feet.

And it reminded me of my sadness, my personal heartache when family land has been lost, on my mother’s side, on my father’s. Those are pieces of ourselves we can never get back. I feel the empty spaces left by each even now, years later.

It reminded me of something I heard John Boyd Jr. say a while ago in an NPR profile piece: all of us are no more than two generations removed from somebody’s farm.

It reminded me of Constance Curry’s amazing book, Silver Rights, also about Mississipi.

This movie touched so many chords. And it spilled over into tonight’s chōka.

I have so much pride
seeing my ancestors fight
seeing them stand up
refusing to cave, to give.
This is what it means:
strength, power, faith, love, honor.
This is who we are,
fierce, unendingly stubborn
and sure. Sure of us,
sure of the fact we were right.
Sure that — live or die — we’d win.

My family isn’t from Mississippi — at least no one I’ve found yet — but Dirt and Deeds felt like home all the same.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



Speak the Word

Speak the Word (excerpt)

These weakened knees
Have not touched ground or pew in ages
I haven’t bowed my head
To offer thanks to any god or to ask for favors
But watch me now
I’m falling down
Praying
To speak the word that precedes bliss
To speak the word
To speak the word

— Tracy Chapman

The poem I wanted to share tonight is less gentle.  Today Staceyann Chin responded to some of the hateful, misogynistic filth that was flung at her.  She posted an amazing poem that blew back my hair, blew my mind, blew the haters out of the water.  Rather than post it here with a content warning, I’ve linked to it and will encourage you to read every amazing word.  Just as I couldn’t believe the racist tweets I wrote about last week, I can’t believe the disgusting things people (okay, men) say to Chin.  What I can believe is how she doesn’t take their crap sitting down, how she won’t sit down, sit back, hold back.  She goes hard, with a fire and eloquence I can only dream about.  How grateful am I that her voice is in the world?

__________

So it’s poetry month.  Poetry month and I’ve saddled myself with another challenge, not just the write-a-poem-every-day challenge, which would be a big enough mountain to climb.  I seem wed to the idea of writing one of these Zeno poems every day (or until I collapse under the strain of it).  To recap, here are the syllable and rhyme patterns of the Zeno:

8/4/2/1/4/2/1/4/2/1
a/b/c/d/e/f/d/g/h/d

Got it?  Yeah.  Like Othello: a minute to learn, a lifetime to master and all that.  As almost always happens with these challenges, I did okay in my first attempt.  I like the poem I wrote after making the mandala at the WE LEARN conference.  But then it all went down hill.  So very far down.

But I am nothing if not dogged in my pursuit of impossible goals.  I had already done a month of tankas when I borrowed this idea from Sonia Sanchez two years ago.  I liked the idea because writing the same form over and over again every day for a month seemed like a kind of meditation, a window into a lot more than how to write that particular form.  The last three years have shown me that there can be breakthrough moments in this month for me.  The tanka month in 2009 was full of surprises, but even the painfully difficult Rhyme Royale month in 2010 and last year’s excruciating Nove Otto month gave me a few cloud-parting flashes of inspiration.  Surely the Zeno has some hidden gifts just waiting to shower themselves over me.

But not tonight.

fine gauge

my stitches follow one, one more —
knit, yarn-over,
knit two
purl.
patterns taught, learned
as a
girl
each stitch a piece,
story,
world.

Oh, it’s early days.  Still a lot of work to do.  Never mind me.  Go read Staceyann’s amazing piece.  Let her show you how it’s done.

Let Love Be at the End

let there be new flowering

let there be new flowering
in the fields let the fields
turn mellow for the men
let the men keep tender
through the time let the time
be wrested from the war
let the war be won
let love be
at the end

— Lucille Clifton

__________

Today my colleague and I presented our Intimate Partner Violence workshop for one of the teen groups in our peer mentoring program.  I was pretty nervous about doing this.  I really wanted to, but wasn’t sure we’d had enough time to put everything together, wasn’t sure the kids (ahem, excuse me: the young people) would respond well to us … just wasn’t sure.

Right.  Can I be so bold as to say we rocked?  No, but we really did.  And part of that was because we put together a great workshop, but a lot of that was because of this wonderful group of young people.  I’d met some of them before, but never had the chance to work with them, the chance to just sit and listen to them talk.  This group has been working together since the fall, so they’ve had a lot of time to come together as a team, and it shows.  They are so warm and funny with each other, so encouraging and supportive.  And they were a perfect group for us as presenters: immediately into each activity, so talkative, really focused on the issue, full of questions.  In short, a complete pleasure to work with.  Here is the result of the first activity.  We put out markers and asked them to come up and write whatever came to mind when they heard terms like Intimate Partner Violence and Domestic Violence:

(I’m sad this picture isn’t better, but I’m glad I caught even this much.)

And how can I be so sure that the workshop was a hit?  Before it was even half over, they wanted to know when we’d be back, wanted to know if we’d help them work on the theater piece they’re developing about domestic violence.  (Easy answer to that last: YES!)

Tonight’s rhyme royal is dedicated to the wonderful, intelligent, inspiring Theater Team:

Like a noonday equatorial sun
their rhythm is strong.
Given free run,
it is full of their light, their youth, their song
their energy a-kindle as they fly headlong
into each challenge, each new thing
and I watch in wonder as their power takes wing.

Painful Inspiration

The director of our counseling program and I are developing a workshop for the young people (teens aged 14 to 19) in our peer education program.  The kids are creating a music / theater / spoken word piece that deals, among other things, with domestic violence.  The stories that have emerged as part of the creative process have been moving and disturbing, and the group leaders approached us to come up with a presentation that would help put some of that into perspective as well as provide some resources for participants or audience members who wanted or needed more information or assistance.

Just as I started thinking of what I’d want to include in the workshop, I went up to Providence for the WE LEARN conference.  Walking into the downtown campus of the University of Rhode Island, I found that the striking and intense work of The Clothesline Project was on display along with a series of artworks also addressing issues of domestic violence.  Clotheslines were strung with t-shirts from the second floor staircase down to the ground floor.  Some were very simple, others quite involved, all were powerful.  I want to incorporate these images and ideas into the workshop, but haven’t figured out the “how” of that yet.

The most painful part of the exhibit was the gallery of women lost to DV:

We have a lot of work to do to pull our presentation together, but I hope there’s room to include some of these, a way to include them that won’t shut us all down with pain and anger.

Please allow me to define you.

So now it’s John Mayer.  He said ‘nigger’ in an interview with Playboy.  He talked about his penis being a white supremacist and then went on to say some offensive things about black women and particularly actress Kerry Washington.  He’s been apologizing for it, of course: on Twitter, in his concerts, in subsequent interviews.  Of course.  And it’s annoying and it pisses me off, but as Jay points out (see below), I really can’t be spending all my energy on this kind of crap.  There are more important places for me to work.

True.  Completely true.  But then there’s this other bit of the interview, the part I found the most offensive:

“What is being black? It’s making the most of your life, not taking a single moment for granted. Taking something that’s seen as a struggle and making it work for you, or you’ll die inside,” he stated. “Not to say that my struggle is like the collective struggle of black America. But maybe my struggle is similar to one black dude’s.”

No, it’s not the arrogance of this ridiculous young, white man saying his struggle can be equated to the struggle of black people — or even of ‘one black dude’ — although that’s entirely gag-worthy.  No, my gag reflex is triggered earlier in the quote, when he asks, “What is being black?” and proceeds to answer his question.

Yes, thank you John Mayer for defining my race for me, for helping me to understand what ‘being black’ means.  I have often found that, as a black person, I’m not able to figure out who I am or what I think until some white person — preferably one who is significantly younger than I am and who can have no real idea of what my experience might be — comes along and tells me.  If only I didn’t now know that your penis is David Duke, I might try throwing myself at you in gratitude. <<sigh>>

_____

One man’s intelligent take on the whole issue (though I wish he’d spent more time on the “stereotypes about sex, race and desirability” part).

And another man’s intelligent take on not making this be the issue: