Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Kyrie eleison

I admit I fit the angry feminist stereotype a little too well (though in my defense, I wouldn't be nearly so angry if men would just stop pissing me off). I'm not quite angry, enough, however, to be turning cartwheels over the fact that New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma lost his job after publishing the drooling train wreck of an essay that was Jian Ghomeshi's Reflections from a Hashtag or whatever it was called. But then Buruma gave an interview where he complained that he'd been "publicly pilloried without due process," rather ironically. And then I stopped feeling remotely bad for dude at all. What I find especially astounding about the statement is that, in drawing, albeit indirectly, a comparison between Ghomeshi and himself, he's still clearly got no understanding of the severity of Ghomeshi's crimes. Oh, poor me, I'm just like that guy who almost certainly beat women about the head during sex and defended myself by showing my boss a video of me breaking a woman's rib. But that's not what this post is about. 
But Ghomeshi's poorly-written literary enema of an essay has me thinking whether the misdeeds of monstrous men preclude them from ever having a voice again. Is there a path to redemption, forgiveness? Is there an essay that a hashtag could write that I'd have any interest in reading?
Yeah. Yeah, I think there is. Louis CK revolutionized comedy with this self-aware, introspective style. He used humor to point out flaws in himself and flaws in society that maybe changed our perspectives for the better, a bit. Which is why it's baffling to know that he was having those insights while actively engaging in sexually predatory behavior behind the scenes. I don't know that he deserves to ever show his face in public again. But if he wrote an introspective and honest essay about trying to re-earn the love and respect of his daughters in the face of what he'd done, I'd read it. If there were no lies or obfuscations or excuses, if he made genuine public and private apologies to his victims, if he said what he was doing to atone, it wouldn't earn back my respect and I'd certainly never pay to watch anything he was in, but I'd read the essay. I wouldn't be mad at whoever published it.
If Roman Polanski came back to the States and turned himself over to the authorities, served the prison term he was sentenced to before he left the country, if after doing that he wrote an essay about his rape of Samantha Geimer, I might read it. If he talked without making himself seem like a hero about why he chose to come home and face the music, if he talked about how he now understands how evil he was in drugging and raping a grade-schooler, I wouldn't be angry that it was published. If he spoke, without excuses, about the forces that make men feel entitled to the bodies of unwilling women and girls, and how we can combat that sort of evil, I'd be okay with that. I still wouldn't watch any of his movies, but I'd read the essay.
If Sherman Alexi wanted to spend some years working behind the scenes at a charity that addresses the quiet epidemic of rape and sexual assault against Native women that made his own crimes so nefarious - the same number of years he got away with sexually assaulting Native women, for instance - and then maybe personally bankrolled a collection of work from the Native women who he himself harassed or assaulted, then I'd be okay with someone publishing another of his books. I wouldn't read it, certainly, but I wouldn't boycott the publisher. 
People keep talking about how there needs to be a path to redemption for men who do evil things. That it isn't fair for men who commit sex crimes to be punished forever. I'm not sure that's true. If a guy has a job at a bank and gets caught stealing money, he's never going to get a job at a bank again and nobody's going to cry for him over it. If an ordinary person commits an act of serious malfeasance at their job, they can expect to have a hell of a hard time finding work in their field, or possibly in any other, for a long time. If we're not crying over the lady who can't get a job as a fry cook because she mugged somebody ten years ago, why are we crying over Louis CK, who will probably be able to scrape by for a while on the $52,000,000 he earned in 2017 alone? Or the CBC radio host who was replaced by someone with a resume just as impressive as his who had also managed to never show their employer a video of themselves beating the living shit out of someone?
Maybe these guys do deserve a shot at redemption, do deserve to not lose everything. I don't know. But I do know this: forgiveness must be earned, and it can't be earned with a half-assed apology and a self-serving essay. To be redeemed, a person must, at the very least, demonstrate that they understand that what they have done was wrong, that they are making amends to their victims, that they are making amends to their public. Forgiveness should ideally follow the words that so few of these men - not Louis, not Ghomeshi, have actually said: "I'm sorry." 
Photo by me

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Beyond the hashtag

Recently, Sean Penn said that the purpose of the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women, because for some reason a reporter thought that the man who almost certainly beat Madonna in the head with a baseball bat gets a say in any of this. Penn went on to say that the movement is "shouldered by a receptacle of the salacious," whatever in the holy hell that's supposed to mean - but I guess Penn would know from salacious, considering he almost certainly also tied Madonna to a chair, beat her for several hours, left her alone bound and gagged while he went out to get more booze, then came back and beat her some more, before she finally escaped out a bathroom window. Madonna has remained protective of Penn for reasons passing understanding, but there are police reports, hospital records, first-hand accounts, and a criminal conviction. If Penn is innocent, Madonna went to a hell of a lot of trouble to frame him, only to un-frame him later.
Serial abuser Jian Ghomeshi recently slithered out from whatever pit he's been hiding in since losing his job at the CBC a few years back, and the New York Review of Books inexplicably decided that anybody on earth needed to hear this guy's story. The essay is a weepy and maudlin woe-is-me where he claims to have learned his lesson, despite not actually admitting to or apologizing for anything. The piece was filled with obvious lies and obfuscations that the NYRB would have discovered with nothing more than a Google search. Of course, in order to fact-check the story, one would have to be even passingly familiar with the crimes with which Ghomeshi was charged - in an interview with Slate, NYRB editor Ian Buruma makes it clear that he didn't even know that much. Cliff notes version: Jian got off on beating women in the head and choking them unconscious. He says all of the head beating and choking was consensual - the women whose heads he beat beg to differ. He attempted to "prove his innocence" to officials at the CCB by showing them a sexually explicit video of him beating a woman so hard he cracked her rib - which he says is okay because it was consensual. So, you know, just your friendly neighborhood misunderstood totally innocent dude.
You may have heard Louis CK gave a surprise performance at a comedy club, receiving a standing ovation and praise from alleged #MeToo supporters like Michael Ian Black, who is dead to me. And to the rest of the world, honestly. Who even knew that guy still existed? Days after CBS announced it was ousting chairman Les Moonves over sexual assault allegations, the network admitted he wasn't all the way gone, he'd be staying on in an advisory role during the transition.
It seems like the #MeToo backlash is in full swing. It seems like some men in positions of power are suspiciously eager to put this whole ugly reckoning business behind us.
But it isn't just powerful men who grow weary of the movement. I've heard lots of people, including lots of women, say the movement has "gone too far." Lots of otherwise kind, compassionate women are saying that half the time these women are making things up for attention. But as I've said before, false accusations of rape are really rare, and actually, less than half of all false rape claims even name a specific person. In big studies of false rape allegations, the motivations are rarely things like attention (Like why in the hell would people choose a fake rape, of all things, to get attention? "Ooh, I know, I'm going to do a thing that's going to make a bunch of crazed fans threaten me and call me a liar all over social media and my name is going to be associated with this whole thing forever, this is the best plan, way better than getting attention by learning to tap dance or something"). Lots of false claims come from young women who don't want to tell their parents how they really got pregnant. Or from men and women with severe psychosis who honestly believe they've been raped. Or from, in a whole lot of cases, parents who can't deal with the fact that their daughters had consensual sex and want to make the boy pay.

But statistics tell me that statistics don't convince people of things. So instead I'll remind you what Me Too is really about, why Me Too is vitally important, and why we cannot and must not let the movement go gently into that good night. The phrase "me too" was picked up in 2017 by Alyssa Milano, one of the founders of the Hollywood #MeToo movement. But the expression didn't start with Milano, and it predates the hashtag.
The seeds for the movement were sewn back in 1997 when Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist who has dedicated her life to improving the lives of young girls who belong to marginalized communities, sat across the table listening to a 13-year-old rape survivor tell her story. “I didn’t have a response or a way to help her in that moment," she said later, "and I couldn’t even say ‘me too,’ ” She says the moment "sat in [her] spirit" for a long time, and led her to found "Just Be," a nonprofit aimed at helping teen girls achieve "empowerment through empathy." Soon after, she began using the phrase "Me Too" to raise awareness of sexual assault in society.

We must never forget that a huge portion of victims of rape and sexual abuse victims are children. We must never forget that most feel so much guilt and shame over their abuse that they do not tell anyone about what they've experienced. We must never forget how very often children are disbelieved when they report abuse. In addition to PTSD, kids who experience sexual assault are more likely to contemplate suicide later in life, use drugs, have problems at work or in school. Kids in marginalized communities are especially vulnerable, as are LGBT kids, in OR out of the closet. And here's what's important:
Every time we say "She's just making it up for attention" within earshot of a child, we're making it less likely that the child will come forward should he or she be sexually assaulted. Every time we say that "me too" has gone too far, we are teaching vulnerable people that society will condemn them if they speak up. Every time we choose to side with a celebrity we like over a woman we don't know, we're teaching victims that they shouldn't come forward to anyone who considers the perpetrator a friend. 

Now, personally, I don't believe in believing all accusers unconditionally. What I believe is that every woman should be heard and taken seriously, that we need to do away with the societal default of presuming every accuser a liar until he or she produces a high-definition video and a signed affidavit proving otherwise. I believe no woman or girl should be bullied or condemned for coming forward, and that every time we mistreat a woman for making an accusation we frighten an untold number of victims into silence. 
I believe that evidence should be evaluated thoroughly and objectively, and that men should not be made to suffer consequences without corroborating evidence. But that can be done without treating the accuser like a worthless, lying sack of shit.
Jian Ghomeshi and Sean Penn, however, should absolutely be treated like the worthless, lying sacks of shit they are.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Do not go gentle - in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day

Today, social media is full of affirmations: stay strong and life is precious and never give up and all of that. Admonitions to check on your depressed friends abound. And though the sentiment is kind, platitudes don't do shit in the face of this disease. A text or a social media ping to your favorite depressive is kind, but hardly an adequate aid to someone facing down demons as vast and magnificent as those of depression; are whispers barely heard over the call of the void. 
One of my go-to depression songs, and
soundtrack for this post

I've spent more of my life desperately lashing myself to the mast of life with the siren songs of oblivion blasting through my brain than I like to think about. Spent so much of my life with thoughts of my death swarming through my head like the most intractable earworm. And so I can say, if you really want to help, if you really want to make a difference in the life of someone with a mental illness, here's what you can do.
Call us. Visit us. Invite us to spend time with you even if you know the answer will be no. 
Ask us when we see our therapist next. 
Offer to call and set up an appointment for us - sometimes the act of picking up a phone is to great a burden to bear. 
Ask us if we need help paying for our meds this month. 
Need a ride to the doctor. 
Need company in a waiting room. Leave a casserole on our porch even if we refuse to answer the door. 
Call us, even when you know we won't answer, and remind us why you're glad we're alive. Be specific. 
If you see us start to spiral, offer to breathe with us. Ask us whether we've worked out a crisis plan with our therapists, and help us walk through it. Gently ask if we need to go to the Emergency Room, and remind us there's no shame in it. 
Offer to come water our plants or walk the dog or watch the kids; the simplest tasks often feel impossible, and the piling up of things we can't do contributes to our anxiety and guilt and shame.

And, um, if you've got an opinion on "happy pills" and how we shouldn't depend on medicine and all of that, maybe keep it to yourself, like, all the time, not just around depressed people. That kind of talk gets under our skin and into the collective unconscious until it convinces people not to get the help they need. Convinces people on meds to go off them. 
Don't perpetuate the uninformed notion that all mental health professionals do is push drugs these days. Most therapists, the good ones, absolutely respect their clients' pharmacological decisions.
Stop using words like "loony bin" and "nut house" to refer to inpatient mental health services. The stigma associated with inpatient care leads so many to refuse it when they need it.
Stop using "get help" as an insult.
Stop calling suicide a selfish choice. Our mental illness bombards us with the message that our loved ones are so much better off without us, that suicide is the most unselfish choice. Don't make us feel guilty for thoughts we can't control.
Don't post scare-mongering news articles about the hidden dangers of anti-depressants. They're almost always inaccurate. Leave the weighing of the risks of treatment to the actual mental health professionals.
Be nice to people who are LGBTQ, even if you don't approve. Suicide rates are way higher among this population. 

Consider donating to the Suicide Prevention Hotline, check out for more practical advice about helping people who need it. 

And, just, remind us that you love us. Be a broken record about it. It's not advice or social media posts we need; we need to know that we are capable of being loved.
My favorite platitude. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Even educated fleas do it

It is super weird that Americans refer to "the sex talk" as "the birds and the bees." As I've mentioned before, bee mating is kind of like the Hunger Games of reproduction. A virgin queen goes on a little flyabout, a male bee buzzes by, mounts her, puts his endophallus (tiny bee weenie) inside her, gets busy for a minute, then ejaculates so hard his freaking penis explodes, part of his abdomen gets ripped off, and he falls to his death. Then, mate #2, apparently having learned nothing from mate #1, flies up, mounts the queen, sucks out all the previous bee's sperm, and then repeats the whole exploding penis procedure. Finally, the queen, I don't know, gets bored with all the phallic pyrotechnics and heads back to the hive with about a hundred million sperm stored in her oviducts, and then she just makes babies at her leisure. Eventually she'll lay a new queen, whose first order of business is to eat all her siblings before, I don't know, beheading her mother and wearing her head as a hat to teach all the other bees who's in charge? 
I'm just saying, there's not much in there that's analogous to human reproduction. Unless you're in Westeros, I guess.

Bird sex is, I guess, a little bit closer to how humans get it on in that it doesn't involve exploding penises. Actually, for most bird species, there's no penis involved at all. Most boy birdies don't have anything resembling a penis, instead they've got a cloaca that's externally identical to the cloaca of the ladies. To mate, they kind of smoosh their cloacae together. And then there are waterfowl, who do tend to have penises and vaginas, but like, really freakishly weird ones. Lady ducks, for instance, have corkscrew shaped vaginas to go along with gentlemen ducks' long, twisty, noodly man meat. And when I say long, I don't mean that it's long for a duck, no. That sucker can grow to seventeen inches and twice the length of the duck's actual body. Oh, and it's got spikes. 
Rubber Ducky I'm awfully fond of--
oh for the love of god put that thing away
what in the hell is wrong with you
do do be do.

So again, not really all that analogous to human sex. Although it would be pretty freaking hilarious to try and convince your kid that his penis is gonna explode the first time he has sex.
There's a reason I don't have kids.
Oh, and I'm just gonna let this video of mating bald eagles speak for itself.

Speaking of reasons it's good I don't have kids, the point of this post, yes, it has a point, is that I want to talk to you about sex. Or anyway, I want to talk to you about a woman who is striving to change the way we talk about sex when we talk about sex with kids. The author is my professor, my mentor, my kinda hero, Bonnie J. Rough. The book is called Beyond Birds and Bees (you should NOT confuse it with "Beyond THE Birds and THE Bees," by Greg and Lisa Popcak), and if you've got kids, or you're a teacher, or if you just want to learn about bodies and sex divorced from shame, this is a must freaking read.

I didn't really think I was the right audience for this book, what with the fact that I don't have kids. But then I discovered that actually, the book helped me think of my own body differently. Bonnie talks about how in The Netherlands, people are way less weird about teaching their kids about sex. They're frank and open, using correct terminology and explaining without euphemism or moralizing. Dutch parents are less likely to pull an after-school-special on their kids, describing all the ways their children will get pregnant and die if they even think of bumping cloacae. Sex ed starts in kindergarten there, and parents of young kids think nothing of letting the munchkins run around naked in the park. 
And probably not coincidentally, The Netherlands have some of the lowest rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, and STIs in the world. Are The Netherlands some kind of sex utopia? Bonnie says no - there are problems there, just as there are here. But wouldn't it be good, wouldn't it be better to raise children unashamed of their bodies, unafraid to talk about them, willing to assert their agency? That's the question Bonnie explores in this amazing book that you should absolutely freaking read right now.