Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013: What I've Learned This Year

I'm sadly not one of those helpful authors who give all sorts of advice about how to live this writer life. Frankly, most of the time I feel like I'm doing it wrong, so who am I to tell anyone else how to do it? But 2013 was my debut year and I do have some things I learned and hopefully some of this will help you all too.

1. "Write every day. Write 10k on the weekends. Write only when you feel like it." There are a million pieces of advice out there for how to do this. And that's because we're all different human beings and work differently. Do what works best for you. If deadlines work, give yourself one. If NaNo works, do that. There is no answer. There is no "way" to do it. Give yourself the time to figure out your own system. Try different things. Allow yourself to fail.

2. Find a community of other writers. Your rejections will sting less, your hurts will heal faster, your shitty reviews will be less of a big deal, everything will go better when you have people lifting you up and telling you that you are lovely and amazing. I got to know spectacular writers this year. Everything is better because of that.

3. Let go of GoodReads, Amazon/B&N rankings, blog reviews, number of FB fans, number of Twitter followers, etc. Or don't, it's really your call. But for my part, I breathed easier when I stopped checking on these things. The same with Google alerts and piracy. These are things I have no control over. Every time I got involved with them, I ended up prickly and ready to fight windmills. To what end? If I'm going to be prickly, I at least want to be mad about something I can do something about.

4. Have something other than writing in your life. Do this for your own sanity, so you don't end up engaging in shenanigans that you shouldn't. It is super easy to get sucked into a vortex of writerly/Internet drama. No good comes out of this. It's a bad reenactment of the elementary school playground and who needs to go through that more than once?

5. Do something fun. Try something new. This will make you a better writer and a better person. Earlier this year a good friend and I sat in the vibrating massage chairs in the O'hare airport oasis talking about his book. The chairs were "enthusiastic" and we ended up having this serious plot talk with our voices shaking and this constant pounding on our backs. It was hilarious and fun and stupid and I won't ever forget it and I'll probably write it into a book one day.

6. Go on a writing retreat or to a conference if you can manage it. They're fun. They make you feel like this is what I do. They allow you to commune with other people who do this too. They force you to wear clothes that aren't your jams to work. They allow you to meet the people you talk to on the Internet and decide if they're really your people.

7. Volunteer. Do something good without asking for anything back. Help other people. It doesn't matter if it's other writers or other people who are in need, just say "yes" to helping. Example: I hate asking people for money, it is way out of my comfort zone. And yet this year, more than anything, the organization that I'm a founding member of needed me out there raising funds so we could do a writer's workshop for rape survivors in New York City. So I pushed past my comfort level and did it. And now we're doing a workshop in May, and everything else about my book and my life seems less of a big deal knowing that 25 survivors are going to participate in a workshop where they learn how to tell and share their stories.

8. Approach things with grace and humility. No matter where you are in the process, someone is ahead of you and someone is behind you. That's the way of it. Remember that it's a journey not a race. If you win, it doesn't mean that someone else loses, and vice versa. Recognize victories for what they are and acknowledge yourself for them ("I finished my WIP"), but don't do this at the expense of others. No one gets EVERYTHING they want. Just like no one ends up with nothing. There are no losers here, just different stops along the way.

9. Forgive others and yourself. Everyone has days of being an asshole. Everyone has a worst self that they sometimes unleash on the world. If you say something stupid, apologize for it. If you see someone else doing something stupid, assume they're having a bad day and give them the space to later apologize for their own assholery. That's not to say I'm giving R. Kelly a pass anytime soon, but there's a difference between being a sexual assault perpetrator and saying a dumb thing on the internet about romance novels.

10. Make good choices. Support local bookstores, support libraries, support authors, buy books for gifts, tell authors you like their books, encourage kids to read, etc. You are part of a community and in my mind, the best thing you can do is to work toward the continuation of this community.

I hope you all have an amazing New Year's! Thanks for being in my life, supporting me, believing in me, and making this community awesome.

Monday, November 25, 2013

On Contradictions, Gratitude, and Faith

Last week, my agent told me I was a walking contradiction. A sex-positive feminist building an army to deconstruct rape culture. An erotic romance editor who teaches Sunday school. A brutally dark writer who watches Nicholas Sparks' movies. None of these things feel contradictory to me, but I suppose from the outside they might. To me, there are no absolutes, and the more you know about people, the more you realize we're all contradictions in one way or another.

So. This post is going to be about gratitude and faith. And if you don't believe in God, that's okay with me. I stay on my own yoga mat as a general rule, but I also try my best to tell the truth about my life. And this is what I'm thinking about today.

We're going into Thanksgiving and Christmas and I'm admittedly very sentimental about the holiday season. I can't wait for Christmas music to air on the radio. I start knitting in early November to make teacher gifts, etc. I watch the holiday Hallmark movie every Sunday. I start prepping my kids for the Christmas Eve pageant.

Part of the reason I hang on to the holidays is that it includes traditions my sister and I started when we were kids and I'm grateful to pass those on to my own kids. For me, the holiday season is sort of a protected time. Which is strange because a year ago, we were dealing with kindergarteners shot in Connecticut, and I was dealing with the death of one of my best friends from college. So I guess the truth is: there's no protected time, not really.

And yet, I can't help but be grateful going into the next month. Grateful for my family, my friends, my job. Grateful that dreams can happen. Grateful that I've found a supportive community of writers who understand me.

Yesterday in church, our pastor talked about being grateful even in the hardest times. About taking grace and faith with you when faced with darkness. To be honest, this is not my inclination. I've always thought God was with me when I was at my best, not my worst. For me, gratitude is knowing that the gifts of my life aren't really mine and that when I'm given a gift, I need to acknowledge it's by the grace of God.

And to be really honest, when Michael died a little less than a year ago, I wasn't looking to God for solace, I was looking to God in anger. YOU let my friend down. He needed someone and I wasn't there, and neither were YOU. But of course, that's not how it works. We don't pick and choose the times we are protected. We are and we aren't. This doesn't have to do with God, it has to do with us. Our humanness.

Two days ago, I said to a friend: "Most of the time, I can't imagine that God is down here with me in the dark. I look up and think, can I ever make it out? Can I ever get closer?" But then, my friend said, "Of course He is. It's all inside. If you're quiet, if you still yourself, if you turn inwards, you'll feel Him. He doesn't ever leave." And of course, my friend is right. And I'm grateful for that. But I am still me, so I couldn't help but reply, "You mean She."

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On being Haitian and "staying" with rape survivors

One of the questions that has come up several times in book clubs or classroom settings around Fault Line is my choice to make Ben half-Haitian. Even though I've heard this question a bunch, I'm still startled by it. My lens is occasionally so narrow that I forget that not everyone interacts with Haitians on a daily basis like I do.

Usually, my immediate reaction is, "Yes, he's Haitian, why else would he stay?" Which doesn't really answer the question, but it's where I go first. (Note, fwiw: there's also a part of me that thinks Ben being half-Haitian informed his decision not to tell anyone & keep the matter private).

I'm married to a Haitian man. Most of what I know about Haitians comes from my relationship with Julio and his family. He and I have been together for over 15 years (married a few less than that). A few days ago I was talking to my brother- and sister-in-law about the book, and this question of Ben staying came up again. Not from them, obviously, but in me talking about how Ben's cultural background was an important part of his decision-making. That this fierce Haitian loyalty that I've experienced for half my life spilled over into my fiction.

And part of our conversation included a discussion about whether boys would stay, and how much their own backgrounds would inform that decision. For my own part, I didn't tell my story to Julio right away when I met him. It carries so much weight and it's hard for survivors to lay all that bare before they even know if someone is a keeper. But a few months in I told him, and why that was so easy was because I knew that would never be a deal breaker for him.

To the point that I forget it IS a deal breaker for a lot of guys. Especially younger guys. And I wonder if part of that is because they don't know how to talk about it. They feel paralyzed to change something that already happened and so they pull away. Or maybe it's more. Maybe they don't want the drama. Maybe they don't want to have to deal with the work required to be involved with a survivor. Not that it's work, but I do think there's a part of survivors that are always survivors and that partners need to be prepared for that.

But open communication about the issue can go really far in solving this. And the reality is that every time you get in the boat with someone else, you're inheriting their stuff. You're inheriting crazy uncles and dysfunctional family dinners and present-opening on Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve and movie-talkers and everything else that comes with merging a life with someone. We all have stuff, and it only is insurmountable if we decide it is.

So yes, I will take Haitian loyalty any day of the week, but I don't think it's the only impetus to stay in a relationship with a survivor.

Maybe if there was less of a stigma against being a survivor, and more honest conversation about it, then it would be easier to stay. Maybe it would be less about loyalty and more about compassion and understanding. Maybe it would be easier to get the right help. Maybe the question for the Bens of the world one day won't be "why would he stay?" but "why wouldn't he?"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Agony of Fear

Today I spent the afternoon talking to a class of Northwestern students about Fault Line. It was an incredibly smart and thoughtful discussion with lots of great shared ideas. And for as much as I'm awkward in public forums, I've actually gotten quite good about talking about my book. Or at least better than when I first started out ("It's a book where this horrible thing happens and it ends horribly").

But before I started today's guest lecture, we had all the students write down on post-its the reactions they thought teenagers would have to this book. Not necessarily the university students' reactions, but what they thought teens would say. And the responses were really interesting. Of course many wrote questions about the open-ending, but they also had lots of reactions including fear, shock, sadness, etc. One of them wrote, "it's too much".

That last one sort of cut through me. Made me pause and wonder.

Did these post-its have the right of it?

It's not a book you "like" in that way. It's a book that starts a conversation. And it did start one. A pretty great one, to tell the truth. But even as I was leaving, even as a guy came up to me and said, "I loved your book. I couldn't put it down. I wish all schoolwork were like this," I couldn't help but wonder if I'd messed it all up. If I pushed too hard, if in showing this situation in the way that I've experienced it as an advocate in the real world, I've inadvertently set up a wall between me and the teenagers who could use a book like this.

I don't doubt this book has engaged people. I've witnessed it over and over firsthand. But I find myself wondering if I could've been safer, if the gritty reality of this book made doors close that could've been opened. I don't have an answer to this. I wrote the book I needed to write. I will always hope that it means something to someone.

One month ago, I wrote a blog about standing on the edge of possibility of release day. Today, I find myself worried that I did it wrong. That I risked something of myself, and it didn't pay off. This fear comes from nowhere, really. I don't know sales numbers, I haven't looked at any reviews in months, the people in my world have said really nice things about it. And of course, it's been a month, anyone in publishing would tell you that it's way too early in any game to call it. And yet. The fear still exists. It has since before this class and I imagine it will for quite some time to come. Until I can settle into this published writer's life.

And unfortunately, I have found this fear setting the course of my writing. This need to be "careful" so that the words "it's too much" are never written on a post-it about my book. I once read an article about how you only write in a vacuum once. You only get the one debut. You'll only ever experience that for this heartbeat of time and so you should be grateful for it. You should hold on to that.

To me, I want the risky side of me back. The side that doesn't worry so much. The side that thinks if there's a wall between a teenager and my book, they'll figure out a way to climb over it. I miss that. I would like to wake up with it every morning like I did a year ago. I don't know if it'll ever return. I'm grateful I wrote several books in a vacuum so I'm not stalled out on my own fear.

I have more questions than answers. I usually do. That is my truth. And maybe that is the way to find my way back to the risky me. I don't know. And I guess that's okay for now.

Friday, November 1, 2013

On Protecting Ani: POV in FAULT LINE

I've been thinking about this for a while now. Every time someone asks if I would consider writing a sequel to Fault Line from Ani's POV. Every time someone asks why I chose to write Ben's story instead of Ani's.

And the answer is both simple and deeply complicated.

The simple answer is this: I didn't want to write from a rape survivor's POV because that's been done and done very well. Speak, Rape Girl, Where the Stars Shine, The Mockingbirds, Faking Normal. These are all incredible books I've read about sexual violence told from a survivor's POV. And each of these books add different and important insights into the survivor experience. 

The complicated answer is this: It would hurt too much. 

The thing about being a survivor and working in anti-rape activism in the way that I do is that I spend most of every day in that POV. People share their terrible stories and demonstrate their incredible strength and these things become part of who I am. These stories fit into the mosaic of me and make me keep fighting. They build me up so that crappy rape apologists and victim-blamers matter less, because what many of us are trying to do to end rape matters so much more.

I think all writers collect stories to a certain extent. And because of who I am and what I do, I tend to collect certain types of stories more than others. This is something I'm deeply grateful for. There is nothing I'm prouder of than being a person that survivors can disclose to and know they are safe, they will be believed and understood. You have no idea how important that is. It is frequently what keeps survivors from disclosing in the first place, this fear that they will not be believed, or worse, will somehow be blamed for what happened to them. 

But hearing stories also leaves me exposed in a way. I've talked about vicarious trauma before. It is common in anyone who works longterm in the anti-sexual violence movement. It is hard not to take on these stories as your own, especially when you have the ability to speak out and fight while survivors frequently have not found their voice to do so. And I've actually done really well with vicarious trauma over the past fifteen years I've been involved in this cause because I have an amazing support network of friends and family who have lifted me up and held me when I most needed it. And I have learned to make these stories part of who I am without losing the rest of me.

However, every time I even consider writing Ani's story I find I cannot. I'm too close. It's too personal. These characters have become real to me because they're comprised of so many real moments I've witnessed or experienced in my life. Getting inside Ani's head would require me to open the box of every story I've ever heard, open the box of my own story, and the real truth is those stories are sacred to me. I don't want them put out in the public to be criticized and torn apart. I don't want Ani left unprotected in that way, I guess.

When I first trained as a rape victim advocate, one of the things we learned was that our biggest responsibility in the ER was to do everything possible to re-empower survivors. Give them as many choices as possible. Let them know they could say no to things that made them uncomfortable. Assure them that we would advocate for them if they didn't feel they could do it themselves. 

I sort of feel the same way about Ani. In my head, I want to give her the choice to share her story or not. Even more, I want the people who know her story to recognize it as a gift, not to start criticizing her for choices, blaming her for whatever.

This post has gotten a little dark and I don't mean for it to be. I mean for it to be an explanation more than anything else. And I continue to be grateful for all the conversations started by this book. I continue to be grateful for all my readers. I continue to be grateful for everyone who is fighting in this cause. You all humble me.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cover Reveal: BLEED LIKE ME

Today, I have the awesome pleasure of sharing my cover for my Fall 2014 Simon Pulse book, Bleed Like Me. You can read the current blurb below, but here's a few things you need to know about this book:

1. It involves a blue-haired guy named Brooks who smokes Indian Spirit cigarettes and has a nipple ring.
2. It involves a zebra-stripe-haired girl named Gannon who works in a hardware store, likes 80s horror movies, and avoids her house like the plague.
3. It is the story of what happens when one hot mess falls for another hot mess and instead of saving them, their love nearly destroys them.

And now, without further ado:
Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon is overwhelmed. Her parents are pre-occupied with her high-needs adopted brothers, her best friend is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding, and her job at the hardware store feels more and more like a life sentence. She finds an escape in troubled new guy, Michael Brooks. He's obnoxious, possessive, and addictive. Gannon lets him insert himself into her life, and Brooks is just as addicted to her as she is to him. Swept into an intense relationship, their passion ultimately becomes dangerous to them both.

I love this cover so much. I love it when I look at it next to Fault Line. I love it when I read that tag line. I love the sparseness of it. I love imagining it on bookshelves. If you want to add it to your TBR pile on GoodReads, you can do so here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"She Was Raped, But..."

Less than a month ago, very few people had heard of Daisy Coleman. A now fifteen year old girl from Missouri who last January drank too much at an older boy’s house and was then left in near freezing temperatures on her porch. Taken to the hospital by her mother, her blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit and a rape kit confirmed sexual intercourse. The sheriff had confessions from two boys and a partial video of the assault on an iPhone. The prosecuting attorney decided not to pursue the case and it was dropped. Until the cyber hacker group Anonymous got involved and Daisy Coleman decided to go public with her story.

In showing her face on TV, in telling her story in XOJane’s “It Happened To Me”, in disregarding the protection afforded by rape shield laws, Daisy Coleman has given a face to that which makes us the most uncomfortable. She has acknowledged her own culpability in drinking underage, disregarding her brothers’ warnings, and sneaking out of her house too late at night. She has also put us in the position of asking what would we do different, how could we have protected our own daughters from this, and how can we separate ourselves from something like this?

The answer is: we cannot. In the last week, several well-meaning people have come forth to begin the process of dissecting all the nuances in this case that allow us to make Daisy an “other” and keep something like this from our own lives. If only we taught our kids about the dangers of alcohol, if only we created a buddy system for girls, if only we enforced curfew. And with these well-meaning discussions come the inevitable, “I’m not saying women deserved to be sexually victimized, but…” conversations. These then begin a domino effect that ultimately leads to “What did she expect when…” conversations.

The answer to every question with regards to “What did she expect” when it comes to sexual assault is “She expected not to be raped.” This should be a basic human right. There should never be a caveat on when someone deserves rape. They don’t. Ever.

And yet, we do everything we can to create a laundry list of reasons victims deserve what happened to them: drinking, wearing provocative clothes, out too late, with the wrong guy, in the wrong neighborhood, etc. But what happens when we run out of ways to separate ourselves from this reality? What happens when that really could be us or our daughters or sisters or wives? What happens when there’s no “but”? Because we are reaching a critical point where the only consistent thing about rape victims is that they were raped. There is no “profile” of what rape victims look like, dress like, act like. It’s become too much of an epidemic. There is no longer an other. We are all Daisy Coleman.

Every time we create laundry lists of things rape victims could have done differently, we are sending a message to survivors that it was their fault. We are implanting an “yeah, but” in their head and the heads of all potential victims that could keep them from coming forward. We are teaching them they must look at how they were responsible for the crime instead of holding perpetrators accountable. This leads to a culture of silence. A culture where no one speaks out and rapists are allowed to continue perpetuating sexual violence. Are we really okay with this? Is separating ourselves from the possibility of ever being Daisy Coleman worth risking the safety of all the girls who could later be victimized? This is no longer just a matter of individual justice. It has become an issue of public safety and sooner or later, if more people don’t start talking about this, we will all be left vulnerable.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

On The Open Ending In Fault Line

I originally wrote this post for Novel Thoughts and wanted to re-post it here so that it lived in this place too. 

I did not set out to write a rape book. Frankly, I didn’t think I ever would. I always thought it was too close, too personal, that I carried too many stories around from survivors to be able to do justice to one.

And then one day Ben crawled into my head and wouldn’t leave until I laid everything out on the page. When people ask if this is based on a true story, I always say, “This is no one’s story and everyone’s.” Because there is truth in that. It is a work of fiction. There’s no Ben or Ani in real life. There’s just every survivor I’ve ever met, every one I worked with in hospital ERs, every one who I’ve heard tell their stories.

And there is this deep in my bones knowledge that you never really shake rape. You heal, you move on, you survive, but there is never a time when you forget and there is never a time when this isn’t a part of who you are.

Ellen Hopkins asked me on a panel at ALA if I was prepared for the flack I was going to get about my open ending. It was such an interesting question because this ending had proven polarizing for agents and editors alike. As a matter of fact, I added more to the ending in the final version so the ARC isn’t exactly right (Take note people who read ARCs, things can change quite a bit still). Although I still leave the ending open. Leave it as this final moment where we teeter on the precipice of “I don’t know if it’s going to be okay.” I just make it more obvious I’m doing that intentionally.

I ended this book on that precipice because I think sometimes we forget that teenagers live in a constant state of it. Every day they stand on that edge. We as human beings are works in progress, there are no happy endings, just happy for nows. Why would we think it’s any different for teens? Why would we want it to be? This is the best time in their life to be a work in progress. Try new things, figure out who they are and what they want.

But specifically, in the case of Ani and Ben, I did want to say something with my open ending. I did want to add a question into the cannon of YA literature dealing with rape. I did want to add a wrinkle to the immediate assumption that survivors heal and the bad guys get it in the end.

That is not the reality of rape as I’ve seen it. Rape is largely unreported and largely underprosecuted. Bad guys getting it in the end happened less than a dozen times in the 100+ rape cases I saw in hospital ERs over a decade. But further, the assumption of rape survivors moving on and healing was one I wanted to explore. Not because I don’t believe it, it has been proven to me over and over again by the army of survivors standing beside me in this work. But I wanted to explore it because of a survivor I met named Sarah.

Sarah participated in a survivor testimonial writing workshop with me in 2011. She is an amazing woman with a harrowing story of being sexually assaulted on the Appalachian Trail with 3 other friends the summer of their junior year. During a break in the workshop, I asked her what had happened to her friends who were also raped. She told me that one is still one of her closest friends, one doesn’t really like to talk about it, and one disappeared. I asked about the one who disappeared and Sarah said, “I don’t know what happened. She could be dealing drugs, she could be homeless, she could be dead. We lost her.”

We lost her. Those words echoed through me and would not leave my head as I wrote Fault Line. Not because that’s the ending I wanted for Ani, or even expected, but because it could be. The reality is that we lose survivors sometimes. And sadly, this year with two sexual assault-related suicides prominently in the press, this has become achingly obvious to me.

So I left my ending open. I asked a question and didn’t give an answer. But I hope I started a conversation that will lead to every single person doing their absolute best to make sure that we never lose a survivor again. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Daisy Coleman, the Defn of Rape, & is Alcohol Really the Problem?

So I'm not sure how many of you are following the case around Daisy Coleman and the involvement of Anonymous and the Kansas Star paper in bringing the facts to life, but if you're not, you probably should be. There are things about that night in January that we don't know. That Daisy Coleman doesn't know. But here's what we do know:

-Her blood alcohol was twice the legal limit
-The senior boy involved admitted to having sex with her, and another boy recorded part of it on his iPhone
-She was left outside in freezing temperatures on her porch afterwards with no shoes, socks, or coat

In the state of Illinois (and I assume most other states) the legal definition of criminal sexual assault includes "the accused commits an act of sexual penetration and the accused knew that the victim was unable to understand the nature of the act or was unable to give knowing consent". So. There you have it. I'm not sure why this is still being debated. If you have sex with a person who cannot give conscious consent, this is rape.

But, let's put the legal part of this aside. Because I actually don't want to get into a legal discussion over the line of when someone "knowingly" consents. I want to get into a bigger discussion about whether we are okay with this.

Whether we are okay with our sons videotaping others having sex, whether we are okay with plying girls with alcohol and having sex with them afterwards, whether we are okay with dropping a girl off on her porch in freezing temperatures without even ringing the doorbell, whether we are okay with having sex with thirteen and fourteen year old girls to begin with.

I am NOT okay with this. I can't imagine any parent being okay with this. I'm not okay with living in a world where people are pointing to lines of legality instead of codes of ethics. Who are these boys perpetrating this type of crime and why do we keep seeing it? When is the decision made in a boy's mind to stop treating someone like a human being and start treating them like an object? At what point do we lose our sons?

Which brings me to Part 2 of this post, involving the publication of this article in Slate. I ended up getting into a very good Twitter debate about this essay. I argued that the set-up for this article, the headline & the structure pointed to a crap ton of victim-blaming. In spite of Yoffe's persistent declarations of not blaming victims, she quite clearly puts the onus on girls and their alcohol consumption to stop rape from happening. She then goes on to cite all sorts of statistics about alcohol consumption and its involvement in rape cases. I do not doubt this to be true. What I have a very difficult time with is the fact that YET AGAIN we are pointing to some sort of external bandaid (stop getting drunk, girls) to solve the issue of rape. As if banning alcohol is the wrecking ball that will deconstruct our deeply imbedded rape culture.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that I got drunk as a teen. I did a lot of stupid stuff I regret. And I probably would do it again. This is the reality of being a teenager and being human. If we have expectations of teens walking the road of perfect human beings, we are going to have some very big problems on our hands. But there is a difference between doing stupid stuff like drinking too much, and someone having sex with you, videotaping it, and leaving you on your porch in freezing temperatures. I'm not sure why the fault is on Daisy Coleman for drinking alcohol in this case. And if any boy thinks part of the definition of "doing stupid stuff" includes sex with a non-consenting drunk girl, videotapes, & leaving her to freeze, then we are in even bigger trouble.

What makes drunk girls rapeable? What gets us to the point that conscious consent on both parts is not essential? And why is the onus on girls to own their consent and not on boys to ask for it? The problem with Yoffe's article (well, one of the problems) is the acceptance/assumption that boys have sex with drunk girls because they're an easy mark. As if guys in general are on the prowl for sex with non-consenting partners. I'm pro-dude so I would like to think better of guys. And the reality is that many, many guys do not do this.

So what do we do with the ones that do? Are they salvageable at all? This feels pretty critical to me. And this feels like where we really need to educate. And we need to do this early. We need to build in a foundation of respect, understanding, the space where we hold guys accountable for things they do that make girls "less". We need to educate about enthusiastic consent, educate about the idea of green zones and when it's okay to have sex with someone and when it's not, educate about girls being human beings worthy of respect and also girls should be allowed to do stupid stuff without their very person being in danger.

I'm not saying we don't have conversations with girls about being safe. Those conversations are critical. But the fact is, I think we're having those conversations already. I think that we have been protecting our girls from BAD STUFF from the very beginning of their lives. I think that girls are very aware of the fact that the world isn't totally safe for them. I look at how I explain to Jojo why she can't wear a bikini. I realize that part of me is shaming her with this "You're not going to the pool dressed like that" and I'm equally aware that this shame is also my shield for her. And I think that when bad stuff happens, girls frequently blame themselves first because "they should have known better." They are hard-wired for this. And yet, they are human and should be allowed to be so.

The conversations that we are not really having are the ones where we explain to our sons why it's not okay to call a girl a slut, where we explain to our sons that if a girl is drunk at a party they should take her home or watch out for her, where we explain to our sons that consensual (and great!) sex involves getting a fully conscious yes, where we explain that rape jokes aren't okay, where we explain that social media should not be used to hurt people, where we acknowledge there is a power differential, statistically guys are way more frequently perpetrators, and the onus is on them to ensure they are having consensual sex.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Release Day: Standing on the Edge of Possible

This is what debut release day feels like to me. It feels like I've just climbed this really huge mountain and I'm a few feet from the top. A few steps from this wide open world. And all the hard parts of the mountain behind me have sort of slipped away in this moment. All the bad weather conditions and falling rocks and everything else aren't weighing me down because I'm a few steps from so much possibility.

Possibility to me isn't awards or lists or great reviews or anything like that. Possibility is the idea that somewhere today some teenager who I've never met, never tweeted, never FB-friended, never interacted with, might be standing in front of a bookshelf in a book store and pull out my book and think, "Yeah, I'll try this." Possibility is someone waking up to this book on their e-reader and finishing it and feeling like this one meant something to them. This one mattered. Possibility is the idea that half the proceeds from this book will be funneled back into a rape survivor writing workshop. Or two. Or three.

If you ask anyone who knows me, they'd say that I'm a glass is half empty sort of person. This likely comes with the territory of working in rape activism for so long. But today, right now, in this moment, I feel like I'm on the edge of something bigger than my pessimism. Something bigger than me. That I'm putting something into this world of possible. And all I have is gratitude.

Thank you, my dear friends, for being on this journey with me. Thank you for giving me this day. And thank you for tomorrow when I'll look at the next mountain and think, "Oh, I'm never going to be able to climb THAT one." Thank you for holding the ropes and bearing my weight and catching me when I fall over and over again. Thank you for standing on the edge of possible with me and reminding me that it's okay to hope for change, to want to leave the world in better shape than we found it, to believe.

And so I'll leave you with my favorite comic of all time. Bill Watterson's last comic, drawn when he was on a different edge of possible.

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Things I Learned From Teens During My Presentation On Rape

So yesterday I went into Stevenson High School to do a presentation on sexual assault for 55 peer leader teens. These teens were amazing and engaged. Great listeners, asked good questions, had really interesting things to say. Plus, they now all have the number to RAINN (1-800-656-HOPE) plugged in their cell phones so if the 90 minutes that I talked didn't cover it, then hopefully they can talk to others if they need it.

Below are the highlights from the presentation:

1. These teens don't really use FaceBook anymore. I've suspected this was coming and have heard rumblings, but there you go. It's possible this is a regional thing, but I feel much better about my general ennui re: FB. So I guess I'll just keeping posting videos of Butter singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and that's good enough. And as for all the other social, maybe I'll just keep my ancient blog and my Twitter account and call it a day.

2. Affirmative consent and "yes means yes" was a pretty new concept to these teens. We need to be better about this. A lot of issues could be solved if we educated people about getting a solid yes right before engaging in sexual activity. It's not difficult and it also helps people figure out boundaries and what they want. Lots of colleges are now making this part of their codes of conduct. Learn more here. (Side bar: it also would be helpful if every teenager knew the legal definition of rape.)

3. "Hate me now, thank me later". One of the groups yesterday said this and I loved it because it dealt with the issue of willingness to be unpopular in order to prevent problems. This could cover so many things, not just sexual assault. We talked a lot about Steubenville (though none of them had heard of the case) and how bystanders from 3 different parties had witnessed that happening and no one was willing to step in and stop it.

4. Having an adult who could help. I particularly was impressed with these teens understanding that there are times when they can't do anything and at that point, they need to find a trusted adult. In YA books, we frequently make adults disappear from the picture, but the reality is that they are still very much a part of teens lives. We even discussed having a "no questions asked" adult who you could call if things were uncomfortable.

5. Empathy and compassion. These teens were really incredible and empathetic to the survivors' stories I told. None of them disengaged. They all seemed to want to do something about this issue. I'm always worried about hitting teens with too much, overwhelming them to the point where they can no longer care, but honestly, they all seemed to be right there with me the whole time.

6. Glee. Yeah, so that reference went right over their heads. And High School Musical (which I was joking about) was definitely not on their radar. (I do know that HSM is for young children--give me some credit). The point is that there's just no way to keep up with all of this different media (what the heck is Project X?) so the best thing is to listen and ask questions.

Overall, it was a great presentation. Lots of good stuff came out of it. I could've talked for 2 more hours, but that's usually the case with me. And full disclosure: I did say the "sh--" word four times so there's a chance I'll never be asked back. Though I hope for the best.

Thank you, Stevenson High Peer Leaders. You all are incredible and I'm super proud of the work you're doing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

My IndieGoGo Campaign and the awkwardness of asking for money

As most of you know, the plan for my book Fault Line was always to donate 50% of the proceeds from it back to the Voices & Faces Project survivor testimonial writing workshop. Last year, my advance helped to fund a Chicago workshop. But this project and this work means so much to me, I wanted to do more. So two friends and I came up with the idea of doing a crowd funding campaign (via IndieGoGo) to sponsor a rape survivor workshop in New York City.

Okay, it's one thing to donate your money to something you believe in, but it is TOTALLY different to ask people you care about for money. I mean TOTALLY different. It's awkward and makes me itch a little bit. I imagine it makes the person I ask it from itch a little bit too. What if they can't do it right now? What if they already have a cause they support and don't want to split themselves in two? What if they just don't have extra cash on hand? What if they're tired of hearing about rape victims from me? What if they are just overall experiencing compassion fatigue?

Here's the positive: as of day 5 of the campaign, we've raised $1100. This is amazing. I mean SO amazing that I cry every time I see that number. And I cry at every email about new donations (because that $1100 came from the hearts of many, many people). There's been so much online support and love and RTing this campaign on Twitter, and mentioning it on FB and Tumblr. You have NO idea what it means that so many of you are spreading the word about this.

Here's the hard stuff: we have a ways to go. And I don't know rich people. We're writers, most of our spare money is spent on books or conferences. And I'm grateful that we have 40 days left of this campaign, and I'm grateful that I have two friends doing it with me so I don't have to raise this huge number by myself. But...$13,900 in 40 days, and it still makes me itchy to ask for money.

I talked to a friend about how hard it was and she said that maybe I needed to remember what I loved about the workshop and talk about that. And maybe then instead of stressing about the awkwardness of asking so much, I could be in a place where I could put 100% of my energy into just appreciating how much love people have shown for this project.

So here's what I loved about the workshop:
It was two days of reading and writing with a very eclectic tribe of people who all came from different places and who all had one commonality: they were survivors of violence. And in those two days, I learned more about the strength of the human spirit and the bottomless well of compassion than I ever had in my life. I walked out of the door at the end of the workshop knowing that something had changed in me, something had changed in all of us. And it wasn't just that we knew we weren't alone, it was more that I knew this was the way to start slowly building an army to take on the seemingly insurmountable task of dismantling rape culture. Being in that room with these incredibly strong people who had not only survived violence but had committed to doing everything they could to stop its perpetuation was like seeing the start of a revolution.

And if you'd like to spread the word about this campaign or if you'd like to help fund it, you can do so here:

I'm so incredibly grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you for listening, reading, caring.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Love Letter to Writers...

So I was originally going to title this post, "I gave him my heart, he gave me a pen" and discuss reviews and how to weather them and all of the feelings that come with public critique. But the fact is, I don't really know the answer to that and I'm sure there are many writers out there with way more skills in teaching you to develop a thick skin than I have.

Instead, I'm going to blog about writers. So as some of you know, I just got back from a writer's retreat in Savannah with my online author debut group The Fourteenery (yes, my debut is 2013, but it's pretty late in the year so they let me slide in).
The trip itself was pretty amazing. Yes, I started writing again (woot!). Yes, I ate a ton of food. Yes, I got lost on a run and had a panic attack. Yes, I cried a lot. Yes, I laughed even more. And yes, Amber Lough did refer to me as Jesus at one point during the weekend.

Here's the thing about writers: when you meet them, wherever they are in the process, they are generally so FOR you. I suppose there is competition and weirdness about publishing and indie vs traditional and for hire writers vs stand alone writers and commercial vs literary vs whatever the hell you call my broken kind of writing (psychopathological drama?), but I have been pretty lucky in not experiencing that. Mostly, I've been completely gobsmacked by the kindness and love of other writers.

I see it every day, all over the place. A general willingness and excitement for others to succeed. I see writers offering crits and feedback to other writers. I see writers beta reading and helping line edit and generally supporting other writers on days of suck. The fact of the matter is: we are each other's biggest allies. We promote each other's books, we read, we tell people about the books we love, we buy books as gifts, we go to book signings, we squee online when cover reveals happen, we congratulate and console. This is the writer life.

And it mostly happens online, which for some people is a bit weird. But to be honest, this is where our colleagues are unless we go to retreats or conferences. So I guess you sort of need to get used to it. And be willing to put yourself out there a little bit.

The bottom line: I adore you, writer friends of mine. I'm grateful for your presence and for all the gifts you give me. I hope you all succeed. I hope you sell the books and are happy with your lives. You all deserve it.


P.S. Speaking of conferences, Jolene and I and many of you all are going to SCBWI in LA in one week. I love this conference because I get to see old friends and I get to see Jo who lives in Alaska so it isn't easy for us to connect otherwise. And I'm so very grateful for this. For all my writer people. Come find me if you're there. I'm the sort of tall, loud one.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Silencing the Voiceless

So yesterday, I stumbled upon this article about the banning of Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. I'm going to put aside the ridiculousness of considering a book about rape to be "child pornography" for the time being and instead just talk about book banning.

We all joke that we should be so lucky to have our books banned because it will increase our sales. Kids love to read that which they aren't supposed to, right? And while that may be true, the reality is that book banning sucks. It sucks for authors, but more importantly it sucks for readers. Because no matter what banned books might do in bringing up issues of freedom of speech, etc., the truth is that banning books keep people from reading books that they may desperately need.

And now I'll talk about banning books that address difficult issues. I think why it hurts me on such a visceral level that SPEAK continues to be banned is because I know so many people who needed that book. Similarly, I know so many people who didn't realize they needed it and it turned out to be life-changing for them.

The fact of the matter is that for teens, disclosing rape is often difficult and more often than not, they do not first disclose to parents, teachers, social workers, authorities, etc. They disclose to their friends. Did you hear that? They disclose to their friends. So now, we have completely untrained teenagers being the first people to hear when a rape happens. And that is a turning point for them and for the survivors. Because what these friends say MATTERS. If friends victim blame or slut shame or ask questions like, "What were you doing with that guy? How come you drank so much? Why did you wear that? How come you stayed out so late?" then the survivor will absorb that information and that may be the thing that stops them from ever talking about it again.

Which, let me tell you if it hasn't become abundantly clear with recent media, this silence will eat them alive. So the irony of Laurie's SPEAK being silenced is so sad and sickening. Because of course the theme of the book is about talking. Which we must do, whether it makes us uncomfortable or not.

The article stated that the blogger felt that boys were made to feel uncomfortable reading passages out loud. I don't even really know what to say about this. I'm not super interested in people's comfort levels when it comes to rape and open discussions. I am drawn to things that help open minds and hearts, help teach people, help people respond appropriately to hard topics. SPEAK does this. 13 REASONS WHY does this. THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE STORY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN does this. These books have all been banned. A lot.

Teens are first responders to a multitude of issues that their friends face. If we give them no tools, no resources, if we refuse to engage in discussions that might make them uncomfortable, we perpetuate silence. We make rape victims who already have been disempowered feel as if they have no voice.

I cannot condone this. Ever. SPEAK. SPEAK. SPEAK.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Fear of Change...

The last few weeks have been filled with all manner of "endings" and "new beginnings". I know, it is the WORST kind of cliche, but the end of the school year always brings about a lot of goodbyes (graduation, "moving up" parties, girl scout "bridging" ceremony, end of the year picnic, last day of Sunday school). And the start of summer always brings about a lot of firsts (first day of summer reading program, first day of summer vacation, first day of camp). May is typically a BRUTAL month for me because, to be perfectly honest, I am TERRIBLE at transitions.

Part of the reason for this is that I don't want to say goodbye to anyone. Ever. If you are one of the rare people who I've ever dropped off at the airport at the END of a trip, you'll know why. I am a blubbering mass of sobs. And don't even get me started about when I'm saying goodbye to people who are leaving for their next big life adventures. Poor Ricardo (my awesome teen beta for the past few years who is headed to college) must have thought I was never going to let go of the hug I gave him on Sunday.

The other part of the reason is that I just don't do well with change. I'm not OCD about it, but I do take longer than the average person to adjust to things. This is sort of hilarious considering the number of jobs I've had, the number of places I've traveled to, and the number of times I've started to write new books. But the fact of the matter is, while I do accept and roll with changes, there is always a certain amount of time needed wherein I am paralyzed by what I've decided will be "inevitable defeat". Where I fear my choices, where I second guess everything, where I convince myself I'm a total lunatic for doing this and should crawl back into my shell of safety.

These past few weeks, I've had to deal with a lot of changes both personally and professionally. And yes, I'm sure everything will work out in the end and really many great things have started to happen already, but that does not change the fact that I SUCK at accepting change.

Nor does it change the fact that change happens whether I want it to or not. Kids grow older, people quit jobs, teens go to college, teachers have babies and don't come back to school, friends leave for new adventures, life moves on.

So I've had to go back to the wisdom of magnet that was on my fridge for almost all of my childhood. You know, the cliche that actually is grounded in a lot of smartness if you think about it. The one about God granting you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. (No, my parents weren't working the 12-steps or anything, they just liked to pick up these sorts of things at craft fairs).

So here's what I can't change: I can't change other people's timelines. I can't change other people's choices. I can't change other people's emotional landscapes (as much as I want so much to make them better). I can't change the weather. I can't change the passage of time. I can't change which books sell awesome and which books don't (if only). I can't change contract negotiations between book sellers and publishers. I can't change the reviews on GoodReads. I can't change that boneheads exist who say ridiculous racist things about Cheerios ads.

Here's what I can do: Believe in myself. Ask forgiveness. Ask for help. Pray. Spend time with my friends and family when I'm lonely. Hug my kids longer. Choose to let go of insecurity, jealousy, doubt, shame and whatever other garbage is keeping me from doing my job. Write. Revise. Edit. Read. Be my word as much as I can. Say yes. Say no.

It is sort of amazing how much burden can be offloaded by the words, "Well, there's nothing I can do about THAT so I guess I'll just keep going." How much time do you spend stressing over things you can do nothing about? For me, in the past, it's been quite a lot. But now I realize how heavy the sack I'm carrying has gotten and really it's partly because of all the bricks in there that are out of my control. So this summer, my goal is to leave those at the side of the road and only carry that which I can do something about.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Things They Don't Tell You...

Writing, like most jobs, seems sort of awesome from the outside. You tell people you write YA and they're all, "Cool. I read Twilight..." and you're off on a conversation. And there are many parts that are awesome (I think I've mentioned wearing my Wii PJ bottoms all day). But also, like most jobs, there are things that you don't know about until you're on the inside. And I'm not talking about things in the "journey to publication" because frankly, I think that you can find a blog about almost any part of that. I'm talking about the things that happen to your psyche as a writer.

So, since I'm awkwardly candid about many things in my life, I'm going to discuss some of them today.

I'm an extrovert. Spending long days in front of my computer, not talking to anyone but my dog, can make me a little batty. I pick up my kids from school and I can't stop talking. I get on the phone with writer friends and I can't stop talking. I go to a school BBQ on the weekend and I can't stop talking. It's sort of embarrassing really. But after spending 6-8 hours every day in my own head, I am DESPERATE for communication.

Yes, I have a day job. But my day job is editing the voices in other people's heads and I do that from home. When we have editorial conference calls, my days are always better because I've heard other people talking.

The tricky thing about this is that it seems solvable. I should just have lunch with friends. Go to the gym. Take walks with neighbors. Volunteer at the kids' school. Pop on Twitter and start interacting with virtual friends. Call my parents. BUT, I have a job. I have writing deadlines. I have edit deadlines for my day job. When I say I'm lonely, the solution isn't to start doing all the things and getting out in the world, because I honestly can't.

So I compensate by going to conferences, book signings, etc. I sop up the energy of people by teaching Sunday school, going to church, sitting at tball games, being part of an author group (14ery!), having short phone calls with friends while I walk the dog.

This is not a new concept for most writers, but for those in the outside world who see us staring out of our windows or staring up at the same spot on the ceiling, we appear to be slacking. And if you go on social media platforms and start following writers, you see that they're all: "1k in 1 hour. I wrote 9k today." And basically, for those of us who have many days of writing 59 words or less, we are ever reminded of our own mediocrity. The outside world thinks we're slacking, and even worse, WE think we're slacking. How has XXX author sold 7 books in two years while I am 30k into a book that I hate so much I'm ready to throw my computer in the toilet?

Everyone has days where every word they write is crap. Some people say, "Write anyway." That doesn't work for me. Why do I need to sit in front of my computer being faced with my own suck? It's better for me to walk away and come back to it. I imagine that this is different for every person. But believe me, writing is hard. And once you've written more than one book, and you've sold one of those books, you have a whole new layer to start worrying about. Because then author "brands" and sales teams and publicity and marketing and every other damn thing starts getting in the way of your writing. And you second guess everything you do. After you've sold a book, you get to spend time in the place of raging insecurity that in some ways is even worse than the initial insecurity of putting your stuff out there. The stakes are higher. The pool is bigger and for all the times you practiced jumping off the side, the high dive is a lot higher than you could ever imagine.

I say this out of a great deal of affection. I know that there are many, many people who need the additional income of their writing to support their families (including me). More, I know there are people who do this for a living and their writing is the only income for their families. I would never tell anyone not to write.
But writing isn't a 9-5 job, it's pretty much 24/7. For me, at least. And I think for most writers. I don't know many who can just "turn it off". If we have a story in our head, there's no powering down. Yes, we can walk away from the computer. But our head is in a different game. Believe me, I've cheered more than once for the opposite team at a tball game because I was trying to solve a plot hole. I've gone to the grocery store to get something for my husband, bought something totally different, and returned to him an hour and a half later without his thing. I've been late for carpool pick-up because I wanted to finish a scene.
I spent an entire spa vacation with my mom and sisters, holed up in my room, writing the first draft of Fault Line. I've missed spending time with my kids because even if I've been there, I haven't been THERE.
And yes, mental health-wise, it is a good thing that I do write because it mostly makes me happy and all the voices and ideas have a place to go. But I understand that this life choice isn't without a great deal of tolerance and sacrifice from the people that I love. And I want to honestly acknowledge that. When I'm in the writer mode, I'm a bit of a sucky wife, mom, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, etc.

There are days when we've written the perfect words. There are days when amazing things have happened. There are days when the other writers/bloggers/readers we've met along the way have said wonderful things that make us so grateful for their existence. There are days when we're walking the dog and picking our kids up and wearing our Wii PJ bottoms and think, "I live the best fricking life in all the world." And it is a greater rush than anything we've known. Because the highs can be very high. And we maybe don't say that enough either.
We worry about the things we can't control. We compare ourselves to others. We fret. We regret. We spend too much time on what we could be instead of what we are.
And yet, if we're lucky, we have more moments when we say, "this is perfect and I am so grateful for it" than when we say, "I suck."

I wish that for all of you.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

We Don't Need Another Hero

How we expect teenage boys to look
How teenage boys actually look

So I've been thinking a lot lately about our desire as young adult readers to cast boys in the role of hero. How the way we talk about them sort of predicates this because there's frequently an element of romance in a story. But I find myself more and more frustrated when I hear readers wanting this. Particularly because, to be honest, I don't write heroes and I'm concerned that people will assign my guys those roles anyway.

Why do we expect teenage boys to always make the right choices? Why do we want them to be heroes? Is reader insistence on this a projection of the world as we'd like it to be as opposed to the world as it is? And if so, what sort of message are we sending to teen girls and boys by assigning boys the role of hero?

In thinking about this blog post, I went back and reviewed some of my favorite contemporary YA books. Certainly not everyone's favorite, but definitely books that I loved: Boy Toy, 13 Reasons Why, Flawed, Sex and Violence, The DUFF, Dash and Lily's Book of Dares (yes, I can read "light" books). I realize that one of the things I loved about all these books were the bad choices that the guys in them made. That for one reason or another, they didn't always make good choices and therefore I connected with them in a way that I otherwise wouldn't.

This feels real to me. This feels like good modeling for our teens, and for all of us. How can we get boys engaged in reading if we can't give them characters that make mistakes? I'm not talking about bad boy alphas who end up doing good (or even bad boy alphas who are unapologetically bad), I'm talking about boys who are written in very real ways as being human "works in progress". Boys who make good choices and bad choices, but in the end, boys who are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

Next time you as a reader are about to slam a male character for not being likable, for having moments of being an a-hole or making stupid decisions, think hard about the importance of the message you are sending to teenagers. By not allowing for bad choices, but insisting on heroes, we are unilaterally saying to teens that they must only ever do the right thing. Which frankly is a disservice to them.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month---Male Ally Tips

Male Ally Tips – Things You Can Do Every Day!
By Stephen Adler, Prevention Education Specialist – Rape Victim Advocates

  1. Watch how much space you take up. Often when we are sitting on the train or bus, men tend to take up more space than women. In some cases, it may be because we are physically bigger than women, but in others it is an unearned (and unnoticed) sense of entitlement. When you ride the train, compare and contrast how much space men take up versus women. Remember that your size can be intimidating.
  2. Learn to step back... From an early age, boys are encouraged to voice our opinions and to speak when we feel something needs to be said. However, that can lead us to dominate a conversation or meeting. Instead, practice not talking. Let others, particularly female-identified people, speak first. If they have said something you thought about saying, you don’t need to echo it.
  3. …and to step up! Use your voice for good – when you hear other men telling a sexist joke, or statements that support rape myths, or words that belittle survivors of domestic and sexual violence, interject! You’ll be surprised at how effective (and appreciated!) a statement such as “I really don’t think that (joke/comment/remark) is funny” really is.
  4. Attend feminist events. If male-identified people are welcomed at the space, show your support by attending talks by feminist authors, film screenings by female filmmakers, and concerts with feminist performers.
  5. Support feminist media. Go one step further – if we want to put a stop to rape culture, we need to work on dismantling it. Supporting alternatives to mainstream, corporate-owned media is imperative. Get a subscription to Bitch magazine, buy albums of feminist performers and buy tickets to movies that feature strong female leads and/or positive depictions of gender non-conforming folks. As the old saying goes, “money talks”- if companies see these movies doing well they are more likely to continue making them!
  6. Volunteer! If you have the time, volunteer for a rape crisis or domestic violence center. Men NEED to be doing this work. Most of the time violence is perpetrated, a man is the perpetrator. This is not being anti-male, it’s just being honest. Call your local rape crisis or domestic violence center and find out how you can help. You may not be able to work directly with survivors, but you can do prevention work – which involves talking to other men – and that is equally important.
  7. Make your space feminist. We don’t want to take up more space than necessary, but rather, to make the space we do take up feminist. If you work in an office, push for a sexual assault 101 training. Hang up posters in your cubicle that are supportive of gender-equality. If you’re a member of a fraternity, do a service project that benefits a local rape crisis or DV center. It’s possible to do this in any space – not just the social work field!
  8. Be an active bystander. Obviously if we see a sexual assault taking place we should intervene, as anyone would do. However, sexual violence exists on a continuum. Verbal street harassment and groping are also forms of sexual violence, though they are commonly accepted. If you see a man talking to a woman on the train, ask the woman if the man is bothering her. When you see a man taking upskirt pictures on his iPhone, tell him that is not only illegal but wrong. If a man grabs a woman, tell him, in your own words, to leave her alone. Most of these behaviors continue because the men who perpetrate the actions feel justified since they have never had another man call them out on it. Equally important, we want to think of our own safety – intervene if you feel comfortable, but we’re not superheroes, nor do we want to feel that just because we are men we need to be “strong” enough to fix everything. Taking your own safety account is imperative!
  9. Reflect the type of masculinity you want to see in the world. If we want to break the association of masculinity and violence, we need to portray the type of masculinity we want to see. This means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, being nurturing and supportive of children, taking responsibility for our actions, and apologizing when we’ve hurt someone’s feelings. It also means supporting men who are “outside the gender box,” as well as supporting women and gender non-conforming folks. If we continue to harbor the negative qualities of masculinity, we can’t effectively change it.
  10. Be accountable. Finally, recognize the ways that you are being oppressive. Always keep yourself in check. Being an ally means being accountable to feminists and to female-identified and gender non-conforming people. Though we may have the best of intentions, it is common to make mistakes. That’s how privilege works, after all – we will always be unlearning sexism. Being an ally is a lifelong process, and you’ve started on the road to making the world a safer place for women and girls (as well as boys and men!). That should be commended. However, we do not deserve praise for doing the work we should be doing; for taking responsibility. Make sure you are self-critical, self-aware, and knowledgeable about your words and actions.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month---Men in the Movement: The Final Installment

So before I post my final question to these awesome guys working in the anti-rape movement, I want to say how ABSOLUTELY GRATEFUL I am for their participation in this blog series as well as for their participation in trying to end sexual violence. I have so much positive hope for our future because of this blog series and because these voices exist in the world. 

Now, my final question: Is there part of the anti-sexual violence movement that you think keeps men from engaging in it?

A1. "What we say matters.  I've attended workshops and lectures where well-meaning facilitators and speakers use language that implies that sexual violence is a women's issue.  For example, by only using female pronouns when talking generally about victims, we perpetuate the misconception that men cannot be victims of rape.  Another problem is representing perpetrators of sexual violence as "evil monsters," rather than as people who make terrible decisions.  If we dehumanize the perpetrators of any atrocity, then we are telling ourselves that we, and those we love and respect, are incapable of committing such crimes.  The truth is that we are all capable of violent acts, just as we are all capable of self-control and compassion."

A2. "a.     The misandry movement. When women paint all men with the brush of irredeemable rapists there’s no room for dialogue and no reason to be engaged if all the effort doesn’t see an effect.
b.     Fear. I’ve seen it at gaming conventions where someone is displaying harassing behaviour and there’s looks of disgust and embarrassment and shame but that’s all they are is looks. I’ve felt absolutely terrified when speaking out against certain behaviour because I didn’t want to be seen as causing trouble or embarrassing someone who may just be socially inept and not on a slippery slope to sexual predation. That being said I have spoken out, and have been chastised as less than a man for doing so, but that’s the culture we live in: a feminist is someone who hates men, and a ‘beta rabbit’ (which is what I was called, some allusion to being prey for alphas) is a man who is seen to have feminist (or at least common decency) ideals."

A3. "There’s definitely a stigma to being a male feminist. I constantly have it questioned, people assume you have some other motives. It’s also less comfortable than ignoring it. Life is short and if you have won the privilege lottery and do not have any discrimination that’s making your life difficult then ignoring them all and just saying “them’s the brakes” can be a tempting option. Normalising feminism should be the key. Making it part of the curriculum at an early age, teaching boys about sexual harassment before it’s too late to change their thought process, applying zero tolerance towards rape culture and it’s supporters."

A4. "Two reasons. First I think a lot of guys think that it’s not a real problem. That they do not understand the ways and magnitudes sexual assault can hurt people- not only the victim but also the people who love them. Second, I think a lot of guys feel that this is a woman’s issue. And that they would be intruding or unwanted.  

To the first point I would say that listening to women (and men) who do tell their stories will show the degree to which these actions rend apart relationships, families and communities. Hopefully that will help convince them that this is not just a woman’s issue, and that as long as they are compassionate, earnest and willing to listen then they will be welcomed into the movement."

A5. "I think there are misconceptions about the anti-sexual violence movement, and the feminist movement in particular. The most prevalent being that feminists are women who hate men – quite the contrary, I’ve found. The current patriarchal definition of masculinity assumes we’re animals who can’t control our actions and can’t take responsibility or be committed to true equality. Feminism believes that men can be better. Feminism demands that men be better.

Many men don’t believe that sexual violence affects them. To those men, I would suggest they talk to a woman in their life that they care about and ask them how their lives would be different if the threat of men’s violence against women didn’t exist(sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and stalking) - and really listen to what they say. Don’t talk or respond. As men we are socialized to fix the situation. Resist that urge. From there, think about the ways you can support women in your life and work to end sexual violence."

A6. "Having not been deeply involved in it myself, outside of reading about it, and talking to people online, I've never personally felt pushed out of the movement, but I can imagine a scenario in which I might feel uncomfortable. I'm very aware of other people's emotional needs, and I think sometimes women need an opportunity to commune with each other without any men around. Male students dominating classrooms discussions comes to mind, for example, but that said, I think there's no reason men can't be involved in the movement against sexual violence against women while being willing to stand on the sidelines sometimes. You don't always have to be the focus of an issue to lend a hand. Sometimes just being an ally is enough."

Stay tuned tomorrow where I will post Male Ally Tips from the Prevention and Education Specialist at Rape Victim Advocates!!! And thanks again, guys.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Men in the Movement--Part 4

Today's question to the awesome guys who have weighed in on the role of men in the anti-rape movement: What would you like to say to people who don't understand your interest in this issue?

A1. "A culture of sexual violence survives and thrives through collective bystanderism, apathy, and silence.  The culture of sexual violence permitted by our society reflects an absence of social responsibility and empathy for others.  Storytelling is key.  We have to share real stories -- and fictionalized stories, if necessary -- to help people connect.  We have to create compelling entry points and learning experiences -- through news articles, blogs, Tweets, Facebook updates, museum exhibitions, fiction, film, television storylines -- that force people to confront other people's violent realities.  But we can't stop there.  We also have to give people the tools to take action and speak out."

A2. "I think a lot of people are confused about my advocacy here, because it’s definitely an outlier from most of the things I talk about. However, to me it represents a way to help people who have been hurt and betrayed, to lend my voice to those who are unable to speak at this time, and to provide a different measure by which to define my masculinity."

A3. "Do you know more than four women? Statistically one will be a victim of some type of sexual assault, all will probably be a victim of sexual harassment and certainly all will be victims of sexual discrimination. Why would you not be interested?"

A4. "That what some men do reflects on what all men do. I’m not asking for people to march in a parade, or arrange boycotts; what I am doing and asking others to do is stop being the silent conscientious objectors."

A5. "There’s nothing to not understand! Men are part of the solution to ending (men’s) violence against women – only a small part of us are the problem so we shouldn’t let the actions of the few define the many. Again, when our gender is committing the vast majority of the violence it is up to us to take responsibility."

A6. "If you don't think it's important for men to get stand up as allies in the movement to stop sexual violence against women, you're straight trippin'."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Men in the Movement--Part 3

Thank you all for continuing to follow this blog series. I'm so glad there are people out there reading these posts and learning how awesome and important men in the anti-rape movement are.

Today's question: What do you believe the future for men in the anti-rape movement looks like? Is there something that more male voices might do to change the culture?

A1: "We have to keep talking about rape and sexual violence, especially with young people.  We have to empower victims and witnesses of sexual violence to speak out and tell their stories.  We have to give people the tools to take action when they find themselves as bystanders of sexual violence.  And we have to prevent people from becoming perpetrators.  I suspect that some of my students are surprised when I talk so frankly about sexual violence.  I hope that by being unwilling to remain silent, I'm giving permission for all my students to engage.  We need to help as many people as possible come to question why sexual violence is so pervasive yet remains taboo."

A2. "I think men have a huge role to play. In particular, well known men with public personas. I really loved what Henry Rollins had to say about Steubenville, and I think we need a lot more voices like that. As a fan of hip-hop, I think about its stars a lot, and what they have to say. I like conscious music, and hip-hop that talks about real issues, instead of whips, guns, and slinging drugs (not to mention objectifying women). I think pop stars, athletes, actors, and other famous men should be a lot more vocal about violence against women. I know Macklemore is pretty well known for speaking out about gay rights, and I'd like to see more stuff like that regarding sexual violence against women."

A3. "I look at my two sons and I wonder what kinds of men they will grow up to be. I want them to be kind and compassionate people who are courageous to stand up to their peers when those peers perpetuate a rape friendly culture.  I need to move beyond a simple message of “It is NEVER ok to take advantage of a woman” to a more holistic approach. From the kinds of music we listen to, to the way masculinity is portrayed in media, there are many opportunities to critically view the messages they get. It isn’t enough to say “we are not listening to that”, rather we need to use these pieces as an entry point to how these messages create a culture that is permissive of rape.

Similarly more men need to take a stand. I think the issue of invisibility in sexual assault is really interesting. Many men, I hope, would take a stand if they knew a woman who was raped. However because of the stigma that is associated with being raped, many women are reticent about the experience. I’m not saying that a woman who was raped should do anything she’s not comfortable with, to do so would only compound the experience. Rather I am saying that men should not wait until someone tells them that they were a victim of sexual assault to join the movement. Because, honestly they probably already know multiple women who are survivors, they just may not know who those women are."

A4. "I think being a feminist needs to start becoming a default position for people that are not sexist. There are too many people, especially men, sitting on the fence. The position needs to become socially unacceptable. Men need to stand up and be counted. We often have a platform and position that women do not and should be using this to our fullest. I’d love so much for some famous men to come out publicly backing these movements. I believe the affect would be huge but distressingly “coming out” as feminist is something which a lot of guys feel uncomfortable doing."

A5. "The future looks bright – more and more young men are open to hearing feminist ideas, and that obviously has to do with women laying the groundwork for this consciousness raising in men over many years. In the wake of Newtown, and especially Steubenville, we will see more discussion in the media about manhood and masculinity as social constructs, and begin to see patriarchal masculinity deconstructed. The more men openly question patriarchy, and the more men stand against men’s violence against women, the more we will see a cultural shift towards gender equality."

A6. "The future of men in the anti-rape movement has to take shape as a more vocal voice for change. Right now I believe a lot of men who support a change in rape culture are silent, or pass it off as socially awkward behaviour (harassment) or justification (“She led them on.”)
It’s not enough that we support our friends who are harassed or assaulted, and it’s not enough that we don’t act a certain way ourselves. If we ever want to see change, real change in how rape culture is perpetuated through society men must be vocal. Not just reactionary expressions of disgust (Meagan Marie’s blog about an incident has several hundred supported posts) but a proactive, visible movement of men calling the harassers out on their behaviour without justifying it “he’s a decent guy...” and creating a dialogue that shows that misandrists are wrong about some men."