White Male Rage and the Socialisation of Violence

Content note: sexual assault and sexual violence

Today, Jessica Valenti wrote:

A cruel irony of sexual assault and harassment is that the traumas which frequently determine the trajectory of women’s lives are just as often unremarkable to the men who have inflicted them.

This is why, I suspect, these men become so shocked and enraged when they’re asked to answer for their actions: When they say “nothing happened,” it’s not just a denial — it’s that they truly believe the incident was not a big deal.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Women understand this all too well.

“Men are shit,” she declared while gazing out of the kitchen window as she filled her water bottle at the sink. I gathered the recycling in my arms to take to the outside bin. At almost 17, she’s already witnessed and experienced too much sexism and misogyny. I wanted to reassure her. Tell her it gets better. That boys grow up as they become men and stop treating women like objects, or lesser. That men respect women as equals.

But they don’t. Not always.

A few months ago, I opened a message as I switched on the car engine.

“Don’t message and drive or I’ll have to come down there and kiss you.”

My stomach turned. Sour bile rose in the back of my throat. I put the phone down and swallowed, anger burning in my cheeks. I’d just sent a friend a car emoji in response to his hello, a signal I was about to drive and unable to talk, and this was his reply.

“Inappropriate.” I replied when I arrived at work, my fingers banging the phone so hard I thought I might crack the screen. “I’ve explained to you before why those sorts of comments are a) generally unacceptable to women everywhere, and b) particularly unacceptable to me. Please don’t speak to me that way. I don’t like it and it’s not ok.”

Later, I received a text rant reply about how his behaviour was all my fault.

I am tired of explaining why “jokes” about sexual assault are not funny.

Imagine if he’d said “don’t message and drive or I’ll have to come down there and punch you.”

Threatening to kiss someone against their will is no less violent or terrifying than the threat to physically harm them.

I had already explained my personal feelings of dislike of that type of ‘banter’.

I had already explained my boundaries. Which should have been enough.

I had already explained my history of assault. Which I had hoped might evoke the seriousness of why that type of behaviour was problematic when my initial boundaries were not respected the first time.

But he still didn’t care. What he wanted was more important than how I felt about anything. And I’m sure, if you were to ask him, the whole thing was “nothing, not a big deal.”

I had previously explained it all twice and refused to do it again, so I used the block function to eliminate him from my friendship circle. He wasn’t interested in respecting my boundaries and I wasn’t interested in a friendship with someone who had so little respect for me.

Women everywhere are tired of men whose mouths say they respect us but show us by their behaviour that they really don’t

I am too tired to keep explaining things, so here is a memoir about how men and women are socialised into perpetrating and accepting violence.

Boys Will Be Boys

Music Monday | Anthem – Leonard Cohen

We are just into our fourth week of travelling with one more to go. It feels both long, and short. I miss friends at home, and those living in places I’ve already been. But I can’t be multiple places at once.

Or maybe I can.

Today we were here, though. A little park in Montreal across the road from Leonard Cohen’s former residence. I loved Leonard Cohen but I don’t grieve for him. I don’t need to. Because he already knew what life was about.

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Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in

Quantum Mechanics

1.

The First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.

The light filters through the window earlier each day. Mornings are cold but spring is here and it hasn’t been a bad winter. Not like last year when we lit a fire every evening and the cat melted in front of it, becoming liquid. There has been little rain and very few frosts. The ground is hard. Dry. Bushfire season will be dangerous, according to the news.

I stand at the kitchen counter and pop a coffee pod into the Nespresso, slide my Tinker Bell mug under the spout and wait for the thick, black liquid to pour from the nozzle. Outside, the daffodils stand tall declaring winter is at its end. Buds are sprouting on the bare trees and some of the magnolias have dared to bloom. A kookaburra laughs in the gum tree at the front of the house. The whir of the machine stops and the pod clunk-clunks down into the receptacle, breaking my reverie on the garden. I grab my coffee and sit down at the table with my computer. It’s been months since I’ve written, months since I’ve thought about writing.

Years ago I blogged regularly, an almost daily habit of recording my life, of making meaning out of madness. But my storyline changed and I didn’t know how to segue into the next scene. I was leading a new life so divergent from the previous incarnation you’d suspect I wasn’t the same person. And I wasn’t. Which had kind of been the plan all along. ‘If I’m not different at the end of this,’ I wrote early on, ‘I won’t be better.’

We all have two lives, a dubiously attributed quote begins (really? Confucius? I think not), the second starts when we realise we only have one. (Tom Hiddleston? Perhaps.)

I’ve already lived more than twice in this current span of time. And yet, my handwritten journals would suggest that little has changed. Things look different now, sure; daily tasks and duties, responsibilities reshuffled and realigned. So much chaos from the past has settled out but my desires have not changed. My humanness – my energy, although transformed – is the same.

2.

Heat is a form of energy. It always flows from the hotter body to the colder body. Heat can be transferred via conduction, convection or radiation.

In bed, my partner snuggles behind me. Dialogue from my old Bikram hot yoga class pops into my head. ‘From the side you should look like a Japanese ham sandwich,’ the instructor shouts during Pada-Hasthasana, the forward fold, ‘no gap anywhere’.

‘I’m very tactile,’ I tell him when we first meet, ‘you’ll probably get sick of it after a while.’ He laughs, eyes sparkling. Every night, going on four years, our bodies touch from head to toe. His chest against my back, breath on my neck, legs pressed against mine, feet tangled. No gap anywhere. The heat radiates between us and eventually drives us to roll over and reverse the position. We dance like this for most of the night.

3.

Pauli’s Exclusion Principle says that every electron must be in its own unique state. In other words, no electrons in an atom are permitted to have an identical set of quantum numbers.

You might be reading this on your phone, holding it in your hand. Or on your computer. You pressed some keys to access it. You touched them.

Didn’t you?

Atoms are made up of three particles. A nucleus that contains most of the mass, protons, and electrons. Electrons are negatively charged and can exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves. Particles are attracted to particles with the opposite charge and repel similarly charged particles. So electrostatic repulsion prevents electrons coming into direct contact with each other in both an atomic and literal sense.

This, and Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, also prevents you, me, us…from touching anything. Instead, we hover above things at a microscopically small distance. Gaps everywhere. The sensation of touch is simply our brain’s interpretation of our electrons’ interaction with other electrons in the electromagnetic field, the medium through which electron waves propagate.

4.

Electromagnetic fields are physical fields produced by electrically charged objects. They affect the behaviour of charged objects within the vicinity of the field. Electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field which radiate through space-time, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy.

The human heart is the first organ to function during fetal development at approximately 20 days. The brain doesn’t begin to function until about 90 days. First the heart, then the head.

The heart generates an electrical field of up to 60 times greater in amplitude than that created by the brain and the electromagnetic field of the heart can be measured up to several feet away from the body. When individuals are in close proximity, their electromagnetic fields interact.

5.

Perhaps, in the end, all we can touch is hearts.

Science Sunday | The Fire Triangle

img_1903The fire triangle is a simple model for understanding the three key requirements for a fire; a fuel source, oxygen and heat (an ignition source). A fire will occur naturally when these three conditions are present. To extinguish a fire, remove one of these elements.

 

 

Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable. ~Bruce Lee

Likewise, a relationship needs the same conditions; fuel, air and a spark. Remove any one of these and it cannot survive.

 

Today I Met A Lighthouse

birch-2The silver birches, white trunks gleaming against the blue grey sky, stand in a sea of daffodils. They are early this year, the daffodils. But everything is. Our winter has been unseasonably warm. The magnolias have bloomed. The irises are unfolding. We are barely in August and already it feels like Spring. I noticed them today because I was out walking. I was out walking because an earlier accident had rendered my car undriveable.

I’d been leaving to meet a friend for coffee when perfect alignment occurred. Somehow, while reversing down the driveway, a garden light became lodged between my front wheel and the bumper. I did not realise this at first, subsequently dismantling the front bumper, the fog light, parking sensor and associated electricals. But the incident did not negate my requirement for coffee, only increased it, so after making the necessary arrangements for repair, I set out on foot.

park-2Our acreage is several kilometers out of town and in order to shorten the journey, I took a path through the park. A shirtless, tattooed man was playing a didgeridoo. Two teens were skateboarding in the amphitheater. Four youths were swaggering towards me, scowling. I could have created narratives about all these people. Imagined who they might be, how they might hurt me. It would have been easy, particularly considering I had already had “something go wrong”. A self-destructive, anxiety-inducing spiral could have eventuated. And in the past, would have.

sky-2

Instead, I noticed that the sky above the bare trees was a thick blanket of grey. But parts of it were glowing, lit from behind, where the cloud cover was thinner. The air was cool and still, a perfect walking temperature. The water in the creek was flowing gently, rippling as leaves fell to become little boats, floating to a new port of call.

trees and sky-2

I arrived for coffee with Crystal. We ate, drank. Wandered around. I bought some tops I had spotted earlier in the week, and vowed not to purchase until I finished the book. We parted, heading for home in opposite directions. At the corner of the highway, a woman wheeling a walking frame stopped me.

“Excuse me,” she said, “do you know where Pat’s Sewing and Alterations is? I’m sure it used to be around here somewhere.”

“Oh, um. I’m not sure, do they sell sewing machines as well? I think there is a sewing store on the next block over.”

“Yes,” she said, “they do.”

“Ah, ok. I think it’s on Post Office Place around the corner.”

“Thank you,” she said and went to walk away. She turned back towards me and said “you know, I was out walking the other day and a lady approached me. She pointed at my walking frame and said ‘I’m supposed to use one of those. But I don’t, I don’t like the look of them, even though when I was walking a while ago, I rolled my ankle and broke it.'”

She paused for a moment, leaned closer, then said “She wanted sympathy from me. But I said ‘Oh, well. That’s your problem.'” She laughed. “It’s not my problem. And I didn’t need to make it my problem.”

“It sure isn’t your problem!” I chuckled as she shifted her walking frame forward and went back to her day. Here was a woman who was not creating narratives around other people or their problems. In all likelihood, she wasn’t creating them around herself, either. It was a much-needed reminder that other people’s problems are not mine and I do not need to make them mine. I don’t even need to make my problems “problems.”

A long-time favourite web comic Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand recently posted this:

my-problems

A debunked urban legend does the rounds occasionally, billed as an ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”

Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”

Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

The thing is, lighthouses can only shine the way, they cannot make you follow the course.

He’ll light your way but that is all
Steer your own ship back to shore

Humans love to create stories. We are masters of narrative. But who would we be without our stories?

Without your story, you’re perfectly fine.

Byron Katie has a process called The Work which teaches us how to question the stressful thoughts that cause suffering. I won’t pretend it’s easy. We are often far too into our own stories to want to give them up. But it is simple, and anyone with an open mind can do it.

It consists of four questions and what she calls a turnaround which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. You put these questions up against a stressful thought, such as “I’m too fat” or “My husband should listen to me” or “Life is unfair.” The questions are:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

I could have created a story about my accident. About the money it will cost me for the repair. About the inconvenience it will be to have my car off the road. About how I’m going to get to work for the next few weeks. But would those thoughts be true? How would I react if I believed them? And who am I, without those thoughts?

An invented narrative is not worth my energy or my sanity.

lit from within-2

Because without the accident today, I’d not have met my lighthouse. And without my story, I am perfectly fine.

The End: What To Do When You Finish Writing A Book

Today I wrote two little words I wasn’t expecting to write until tomorrow. And yet, here we are. At this point.

My feet are tingling like they do when you have pins and needles, numb, as if you’ve been sitting awkwardly cutting off your circulation, but in that sweet spot, before the blood rushes back into the capillaries and it starts to sting.

The cells, the atoms in my cells, are vibrating with energy. The energy of having finished. It is a gentle excitement. Soft. Like the way you realise you are recovered. After the fact. You do not notice it at first because recovery, like writing, feels like a slog. Every step is an effort. You wade through concrete. You make progress. And you don’t. There is resistance. The task seems overwhelming and you pause at various points to take a breath. To rest. There is no ticker-tape parade upon success. No party. There might have been, if you’d noticed it at the time. But even as you were thinking your last disordered thought, even as you were writing your final sentence, you didn’t know. And then you did.

So what do you do when you finish writing a book?

  1. You write the end
  2. You drink cider in the sunshine with a friend
  3. You buy yourself some flowers
  4. You go for a run
  5. You make dinner for the family
  6. You water your plants
  7. You hug your partner
  8. You feed the cat
  9. You write a blog post
  10. You begin again, a new story

I have been finished with the story I’ve written for longer than I’ve been writing it. Soon, lovely readers, I will hand it over to you.