Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Story of M.

Over at Panthea, my blog-buddy Grian/Lee shared a tongue-in-cheek but relevant essay on what the Goddess, if given the opportunity, might say to women who unilaterally bash men.

It was witty and touching and made a great point, so imagine the surprise that rippled through the Blogosphere when Debi, the Goddessian Harpy, swooped in for a heaping helping of jugular.

G/L handled the reactionary comments with aplomb. But Debi wouldn’t let the topic drop, crowing (pun intended) on her own blog about how she told G/L a thing or two about that. [Ed. note: be sure to read the comments, where the one-sided conversation continues.]

G/L is understandably peeved. And frankly, so am I.

But I’m not going to write about that.

Instead, I'd like to tell a story.

Back in my early college years, I worked in a record store, where I made the acquaintance of a fellow employee named M., a woman in her early thirties. We initially got along well, but, despite full working knowledge of my homosexuality (I'm nothing if not up front), she developed an intense crush on me, which quickly turned possessive.

She didn’t like my other friends, wished I wasn’t gay, mentioned both at every opportunity. Although raised Catholic and happy with her faith, she immediately converted to Paganism after learning of my interest in Wicca.

And I brushed it all off. Because I was her friend, and any occasional, uncomfortable moments aside, it never occurred to me that I might be in an unhealthy or (perish the thought) dangerous situation.

When I turned 21, the staff of our store threw a huge birthday bash for me, at which I partook of the cup mightily. Early in the morning, several party-goers decided to move the festivities to an after-hours dance club. But M. declined for the both of us, pointing out that I was in no shape to go anywhere and announcing that she was taking me home to sleep it off.

Upon arriving at her apartment, I headed for the couch. No no, she said. I should take the big, comfy bed, and she would sleep on the sofa. This sounded fine to me, so I toddled into the bedroom, kicked off my shoes, and, otherwise fully dressed, collapsed onto the mattress and passed right out.

I woke up the next morning wearing nothing but my boxer shorts, with M. sleeping soundly next to me.

My booming “What the hell?” roused her from her slumber, and she jumped into an explanation of the circumstances. She’d come in to check on me after I crashed, and while I looked okay, she was worried that I might be too warm in my clothes. So she undressed me and tucked me in. When I asked what she was doing in bed with me, she said something about back trouble and the couch not being very comfortable.

Noting the mortified look on my face, she added that she didn’t, you know, do anything to me. She thought about it, of course, and okay, so maybe a little something went on, maybe she took a peek under my boxers, and then...

“Wait, what?!” a sick panic stirred in my belly.

“Ha ha, just kidding!” she said, with a satisfied smile. And her eyes said, Maybe.

We didn’t stay friends for long after that. To this day, I have no clue what actually transpired that evening, but I do know that I may have had some kind of sexual encounter, while in an extremely vulnerable state, against my will. And I know that after this incident, her obsessive perception of our relationship crossed the line into malevolence.

She started calling my family. She started telling our co-workers that I was abusing her. She started stalking me.

This went on for a year and a half.

I'm not going to go into what happened next. Suffice it to say I got out of the situation with my psyche intact. I didn't call the authorities or have her whacked or anything, but I did what I needed to do to take care of myself. Last I heard, she was happy, healthy and dating.

The end.

I don't tell this story to garner pity, or to portray myself as a victim. Nor do I tell this story to hold M. up as an example of How Women Really Are--she was one, very disturbed individual, not representative of anyone except herself. Rather, I tell this story to show that even though we live in a society ruled by an authoritarian, Yahweh-addicted Patriarchy: Everyone, regardless of gender, has the potential to take advantage of someone else. Everyone, regardless of gender, has the potential to hurt, or scar, or rape someone else.

Everyone, regardless of gender, has potential. It's what we do with that potential that's important. And if we actualize that potential by categorizing a generalized group of people as villains, or scapegoats, or for extinction, then all we're doing is repeating unforgivable mistakes.

I would like to think that we, regardless of gender, are better than that.


Lisa Adams said...

While every once in a while male bashing is fun. I'm also quite up for a girl bashing session as well. What I'm not up for is the concept that one sex or the other is "purer".

I have to admire your friend and agree with her that the "Debi" person seems to have some massive issues. I've had my issues with men but I recognize that the ones who caused them were not the examples of men that are the norm. They were the exceptions to the rule.

Just as that stalker chick is not the example of the norm in women. Sometimes I think the gender thing gets us into too much trouble.

While there are indeed differences, claiming everything is one or the other genders fault seems senseless to me.

Thalia said...

Evn, you know I adore you. I am so, so sorry that you were assaulted. That should happen to no one.


I am with Debi Crow. Because it is not equal. In this society as it is currently "functioning," men are overwhelmingly the ones hurting, scarring, raping. And having the Goddess say that men deserve love too and that they are hurting in this society also--while I don't necessarily disagree with that--serves to minimize the harm that they are doing. As does your story.

Again, I am so, so sorry. What she did to you is no fucking good at all.

But your conclusion makes it sound like women are equally as guilty of assault as men are. And that is just not true.

Yvonne said...

Thing is, yes there are more male rapists than female rapists, more violent men than women, etc etc, but THAT IS NOT THE NORM of male behaviour. Grian/Lee was merely pointing out that fact, and Debi seems to have taken issue with that.

OF COURSE we should resist injustice, violence, etc (and acknowledge that some of it might be due to how we teach boys to be men) but let's not get stuck in an essentialist view that says it's some sort of innate property of the male psyche. I have been bullied by more women than men, for example. (And I mean grown women, not girls at school.)

Evn said...

Thalia, I totally misread your comment. Instead of "I am with Debi Crow," I thought you said, "I am Debi Crow." And I was all, "Well, this is awkward."

I also don't think I handled this topic as well as I could have. It was emphatically not my intent to say that women, as a group, are responsible for as many sexual assaults as are perpretrated by men, or that we are in any way living in an egalitarian society, so I apologize if it came across that way. I do think, though, that as Pagans, if we label an entire gender as agressively sexual creatures who are unable to control their base desires, and we use our religious beliefs to back us up, then we're repeating the past, not moving forward. You know?

I hope that makes sense. Overall, this may not have been my best choice in terms of subject matter. (But I adore you, too. Yay for adoration!)

Mertseger said...

Wow, Debi Crow would hate the Third Road. We routinely assign the roles for rituals using the Tarot with no regard for gender, and so Francesca once ended up as the Winter King and Matt as the Queen of the May. She'd probably rip my poem Gwydion (which hinges on the rape of Goewin) to shreds.

But the Goddess draws a lot of hurting people to Her, and, often, all you can do is listen and sit with them in their pain. An example unrelated to gender issues is the Christian bashing which goes on in the community. I give my time as an Elder in the Presbyterian Church guiding seminarians through the ordination process, and I am also an initiated witch. I heard terrible stories of how today's Pagans have been abused by their Christian communities. I understand that pain and systematized abuse is real. I would not expect a person in that place not to bash Christianity even were they to know the extent of my involvement in my church. And so I just support them in any way I can. I trust the Goddess to take that energy and heal all of us, and I work to purify myself of my biases and hurts.

I think your reaction is valid here, Evn. It sounds like you've taken and are taking the right steps to address your pain. I hear the pain of Debi Crow and her sisters as well. I do not accept that we must separate the "Goddessians" from us. I will abide. The Goddess will abide. Nevertheless as I once wrote:

"And there is a way for us to be men fully
Beyond the violence
     the competition
     the greediness
     the repression
     the fear of impotence
And we will gladly wear the mantle of the new mythic man power
As equal soul kindred of the reborn goddess women."

Thalia said...

I suppose I should state up front that I am a radical feminist. And that stuff that I thought was way out there and not at all representative of reality a year ago now looks like basic common sense to me.

Yvonne, seriously, when 88.8% of homicides in the US are committed by men, I have a very hard time not thinking that men, in general, are the violent ones. I do not, however, believe that it is an "innate property of the male psyche;" if I believed that I'd have killed myself long ago, because there'd be no use living in this world is that's just the way it is. (Of course, then there's my pesky belief in reincarnation. No way out!) I believe it is taught by the culture, and that it can be untaught, or, failing that if it's too late already, not taught to the next generation.

I also think that labeling men as "aggressively sexual creatures who are unable to control their base desires" is something common to the society, and if it's in Paganism it's because Paganism is within the society.

I do not currently know how to reconcile my radical feminism with my Paganism in a lot of ways, it's true. The whole "men are like this/women are like that" binary no longer makes sense to me, but it is deeply ingrained in Paganism, or Wicca, at least. So I don't know.

Evn said...

I believe it is taught by the culture, and that it can be untaught, or, failing that if it's too late already, not taught to the next generation.

I like the way you believe. I believe the same thing.

…if it's in Paganism it's because Paganism is within the society.

Which makes me wonder if Paganism should start removing itself from society. And by making this statement, I freely admit to reading too much Daniel Quinn.

The whole "men are like this/women are like that" binary no longer makes sense to me, but it is deeply ingrained in Paganism, or Wicca, at least. So I don't know.

This totally gives me an idea for a post. It’ll take me awhile to get it together, so have patience. But I’ll preface it with the (possibly) blasphemous statement that strict duotheism has no place in Wicca.

We’ll see what I come up with.

Oh, and binary’s only good for geomancy and computer science. Which, it turns out, have the same roots. Another post in the making.

Thalia said...

Ha! Here I am, not even tryin' to be a Muse, and there you go getting all inspired or something.

Though I have to laugh at the idea of Paganism "removing itself from society." That's kind of like saying, "Well, since the air is polluted I just won't use it." Not strictly possible, you know?

I'm not sure what you mean by "strict duotheism"; I'm not all that versed in terms like that, (stuff like "panentheism" or whatever), if you mean that Goddess and God are just Goddess and God and not Athena, Flidais, Estanatlehi, &c., and Shiva, Obatala, Tlaloc, well then, sure, Wicca encompasses that. But if you mean that within Wicca the Divine is rather more muddled that just girl/boy stuff then I don't know. I don't actually know all that much about Wicca I guess when you come right down to it, always having been more interested in the historical ways the Gods and Goddesses have been worshiped. And the more I read about Wicca (especially its founding) the less I like it.

Like I said, I am trying to sort all this out myself. I'm looking forward to what you come up with.

Oh, and, no, no blasphemy. That's kind of the whole point of the religion, isn't it?

Thalia said...

Whoop, that should read:

"if you mean that Goddess and God are not just Goddess and God and are for example Athena, Flidais, Estanatlehi, &c., and Shiva, Obatala, Tlaloc, &c. well then, sure, Wicca encompasses that."

I knew that sentence wasn't parsing correctly.

Evn said...

...if you mean that Goddess and God are not just Goddess and God and are for example Athena, Flidais, Estanatlehi, &c., and Shiva, Obatala, Tlaloc, &c. well then, sure, Wicca encompasses that. But if you mean that within Wicca the Divine is rather more muddled that just girl/boy stuff then I don't know.

And see, if I explain what I mean in my comments section, then I'm short a good post. ;)

But I promise I'll explain what I mean. You'll totally see where I'm coming from.

And it's not my fault you're inspriring. You're the Muse. You've got, like, genetics.

Thalia said...

Oh it's like a virus, then, and I'm a carrier? Who knew.

And see, if I explain what I mean in my comments section, then I'm short a good post. ;)

Okay, fair enough.

Evn said...

Less viral, more hereditary predisposition.

Grian/Lee said...

Evn, thanks for the mention my friend. I was just trying to say something that I thought was "nice" and also put out my opinions on the subject. Maybe I'm an idealist. I don't know. I am pretty sure I still have some gender related posts up my sleeve though. Wonder who will come over to flog me next time. As always, you rock.

Grian/Lee said...

Also, it sucks what happened to you. Whether anything physical happened or not, I would think there would still be some emotional trauma. Your story makes a very relevant point.

Oh and I am loving the use of G/L. I think that's soon to be my next bloggy moniker.

Evn said...

Tag! You're monikered!

And you're very welcome. :)

Deborah said...

No one should be assaulted, and your assault is real and important and meaningful.

I'm speaking generally here. I didn't read the links, because I don't like to watch people performing Stupid Internet Tricks. I totally believe you that there are assholes in the world and don't need to establish further proof.

One individual's assault by another individual is not the same as a society being structured around the notion that one gender's assault of the other gender is a means of enforcing normative social control. Rape and sexual violence are how the patriarchy enforces sexism (and homophobia, not for nothin'). Every woman knows that she could be assaulted, and that if she is, she will be unlikely to be believed or defended. A woman isn't raped in our media, she "cries rape." A man isn't an "alleged rapist" so much as a woman is an "alleged victim" in most news stories. Other crimes have victims and alleged perps in the media, but not rape.

Women are taught to guard against rape, and we hear every day that our clothes, looks, attitudes, drinking habits, neighborhoods, etc. etc. etc. "asked for it." We are forced every day to listen to jokes about how much we want to be raped (including by presidential candidates). So the context of a male assault against women is different.

Most men are not rapists. But when 90% or more of the perpatrators of a crime are from the same group of people, we need to look at WTF is happening among that group of people. The way we raise men is FUCKED. UP.

Dan Savage had this great interview where he said that sexism is the source of homophobia. I quoted it on PoaL; if you search for Dan Savage you'll find it. I totally agree with him. We raise our men to hate women, to be monstrous towards women in order not to be like women, and to be terrified of being gay in order not to be like women, and therefore to be monstrous to gays.

And many men DO NOT act out this upbringing. But even among the vast majority of men who do not rape, many laugh at or tell rape jokes, or misogynist jokes, or read articles about assaults and wonder if the woman was just lying, or write such articles, or punish men by feminizing them, or use feminine language as an insult (you girly man) etc.

So there's a reality underlying the issue of assault that really is different for women.

Evn said...

Like I told Thalia, I really don't think I handled this topic well. My original intent was to write a witty-but-to-the-point critique on Netiquette, but instead this story sort of burbled out, so I went with it.

What I should have done is gone, "Well, got that out of my system," then kept working on what I initially wanted to say. But at the same time, I realize that, had I gone to my straight friends back then and said, "This woman may have molested me while I was passed out," they would've said, "Good job!" and wanted to celebrate.

So maybe it's better I shared the story after all.

Deborah said...

Being able to tell your truth is always valuable. Victims of assault who remain silent risk re-injuring themselves through shame. I applaud you for sharing the story.

Lisa Adams said...

I feel kinda like the weird one out here.

While I recognize that the majority of rape and assault is perpetrated by men, I also realize that the culture they are brought up in causes it.

I don't agree with the culture but I don't believe that all the men in my life deserve to be treated like possible rapists either.

I've been through sexual assault etc. I had issues with it but I'm mostly over them.

On the other hand, I've met guys who have been harassed by women and they're not obliged to treat it as harassment. Even though it is exactly that.

I hate the culture that pushes the blame on the victim. Rape, regardless of sex is pushed on the victim NOT the perp.