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Saturday, 18 January 2014

Still in the Bloggisphere.

It's quite a testimony to the staying power of technology that, even though I rarely blog here anymore, little blips still show up in the viewer radar of this blog. For any that are interested, I have a new, slightly less serious blog here.
Blog on, bloglings.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Stuff We Still Get Wrong About Relationship Abuse

Horrible, life-sucking relationships are often swept under the rug. Sometimes that rug is (mis)labelled, "Bad Life Choices," other times it's called "Stuff I'll Remember to Forget," and most commonly in my world, "That Time I Dated the Crazy 597 more times." There are a sleigh-full of reasons why abusive, toxic, and shitty relationships are kept in the dark, with a ton of socioeconomic, and cultural factors that I won't bore you with.In light of more recent tragedy however--that somehow keeps perpetuating itself--I think we owe it to ourselves to talk about some realities of abusive relationships.
If you're a guy, who's reading this with the a lump in your throat, thinking that this post will be some whacky misandry attack, I urge you to fear not, and read on...we need your support.
1. Abuse doesn't always look like this:

As a society that is often most motivated by extreme cases, it's common for abuse to be depicted as black eyes and swollen mouths, which is all too often a reality. But, there is a large chunk of people who are being abused emotionally, financially, and/or sexually. In many cases, these methods of maltreatment are co-morbid or proceeding physical abuse.
Psychological abuse occurs in many varying forms, including Gaslighting, verbal abuse, threats, coersion etc.All forms of abuse are subject to different manifestations, some occurring slowly, over a long period of time, and others occurring as if a "switch" has been turned in the mind of the abuser.

2. Abuse can happen to anyone, even you. There seems to be this commonly accepted belief that abuse only happens to stupid or vulnerable people. Assigning the blame on the survivor in this way can distract us from the bigger societal issue at hand, and allow us to relieve the abuser of some, if not all, responsibility for intimate violence.
In reality, abuse can and does occur across cultures, races, sexual orientation and ability levels. It does not discriminate geographically, though some countries have higher instances of violence against women than others. Personally, I think it is important to remember that abuse has room to develop when one is motivated to control another. Applying that fact to your own life and maybe using your imagination a bit, you can probably understand then, just how many different variations abuse can have. It knows very few circumstantial bounds.

3. Lying, shame, and isolation are quite frequent among survivors. There's a prevalent thought that tells women they should just leave if they are being treated poorly. While this is always a desired outcome, it is hard to do, given the side-effects of abuse (See: abused woman characteristics, mid-way down). I wrote briefly about said side-effects and barriers at some point last year, dancing around the idea that the woman who has been mistreated is not the same woman she was when she entered the relationship. Factors of debilitating shame, confusion, and self-esteem make leaving sometimes seem unimaginable.

4. It's not cut-and-dry. A lot of people tend to view abuse as this bad situation, which is full of wretched treatment in any number of forms. Trust, abusive relationships are wretched, but it's not as though the perpetrator hits the girl (or guy) once and then hits them predictably for the duration of the relationship. It is much more inconsistent than that. Stats show that the typical pattern of intimate violence actually predicts a honeymoon phase, followed by building tension, explosion (peak of abuse) and apology/reconciliation.VAW centres will tell you that generally, the length of time between each phase decreases, as the relationship continues. Eventually, most abusive partners don't even bother to apologize, simply waiting for the other to "break".

5. The Trust mechanism of survivor's is smashed to bits. This problem is severely under-discussed. In my experience, people close to the survivor will note change in her (or his) behaviour, sometimes saying things like "You've become more sensitive," or "I'm kidding. You know that." But truth is, she (or he) doesn't know that. And, as a result, might push you and everyone else away. Picture getting brutal wintery Canadian frostbite and then going out into the cold the very next day. Your nerves are gonna be shot, and you might feel weird pricklies, as your fingers try to adjust to the temperature. Now combine the metaphors--Your trust mechanism has confused pricklies all over it. Yeah, you get it, right?

5. The Jury is still out on the causes of abuse. A while ago, I attended a group for women who have been mistreated, you know, for kicks. The group was beautifully focused on us women and our self-care, but at least once a meeting someone would ask the inevitable "But WHY is he doing this/Why is this happening?WTF is going on??"And we mostly received one of two answers: 1. Because he can and 2. We don't really know, all we know is you need to focus on you. Generally, if a woman's group, based on female healing and empowerment has to answer a question of yours with the uncertainty ofwe don't really know, you best believe it's true. A little bit of research would tell you that there are a number of factors contributing to the cycle of violence, such as abuse in the abuser's childhood and gender norms that allow space for aggression to happen in the place of communication. There have been studies that relate domestic violence to economic status, reporting that lower income families generally report more domestic violence than wealthier people, but other studies show no correlation. We could blame sexism. We could blame gender identities. We could blame religion. We could combine them and make a mosaic of blame. But we still don't know why abuse happens. All we know is it's worth stopping.

If you think you might be encountering relationship abuse, check the cycle of violence , or here for a more detailed description and consider reaching out to Family Services Ottawa for counseling and support services

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Damn You, Siri!

For a while now, Apple has prided themselves on accessibility for all.Equipped with more apps than Steve Jobs had turtlenecks, the company has apps for hearing impairment, blindness, different types of learning disabilities and even an ASL app. The iHelp message board boasts that Siri’s personal assistant and voice-control options helps those with both physical/motor impairment and those with visual difficulties.

As well intended as Siri is, however, some of us, like my friend Thom, find her to be more harmful than helpful at the best of times. Thom has a speech impediment, and while Siri is supposed to warm-up to people’s differing speech, all her zero’s and ones fail to understand Thom, as heard in the hilarious audio here. To give you an idea of their conversation, it starts with Thom saying, “What will the weather be like today?”To which Siri responds, "Wherever you are, that’s where I am.” Turns out that despite her ineptness, she’s really quite loyal.

Thom: 1 Apple/Siri: 0

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Getting Over Game of Thrones

Don’t read if you’re an avid GOT watcher, whom by some fluke did not see season 3 ep. 9 this week and somehow missed all the blaring spoiler articles that lament the show’s most recent occurrence, such as the one found here.

I’m not a big TV person. I like TV alright, and enjoy the odd flick if it includes popcorn and fun flip-down movie seats, but I could care less if the screen played Friends from 20 yrs ago or the most recent episode of Nurse Jackie. Usually when a pivotal plot-changing event is happening, I am admiring the actress’ hair or wondering if their voice is quite that shrill in real life. During plot lulls I sometimes find myself writing up grocery lists or brainstorming my next witty Twitter status.

And then Episode 9 happened.

In under 5 minutes, two of the beloved Starks were taken away from us, and we were left with nothing but silent credits and aftershock.

I’ll be first to admit that before the shock set in completely, I found myself thinking, “Now Jon Snow is the only sexy man left,” with deep disappointment. Jon Snow is great and all, but sometimes his puppy-like jowls and doe-eyes just don’t do it for me.

And then of course the deeper impact started to set in. Arya, Sunsa, parentless. No more rise of the Starks. At least not for now.

Then some deep sadness, the kind you can only feel after attaching to characters like they are real and active people in your life, set in. I had to do something.

So I did what most people do when dealing with loss, and tried to put it into perspective. No, I didn’t remind myself that Peter Dinklage is still hot if I squint, or think about all the new possibilities this opens up for the Stark sisters. I went much deeper.

I watched Stephen Hawking’s Discovery Channel Documentary on The Story of Everything. Here, he explains in the most Laymen’s terms, how the universe came to be, how it will end, and that we are simply the result of billions of years of processing, destroying and re-building as the forces of gravity collide with dark energy. He also explains that in roughly 5 billion years, Earth as we know it will be nothing but lava and rock, and that 30 billion years from now, our universe will be non-existent.

Boom. Just like that my anguish over fake people dying has dissipated. And therein lies the solution I’m suggesting for all you Game of Throner’s who feel, betrayed, fooled, or like you’re experiencing some indescribable withdrawal: Watch something even more sad. Something that makes you feel like none of you passions or goals matter. Gaurenteed you’ll forget all about Talisa and her dead unborn child.

Friday, 22 March 2013

In the Name of Religion? The UN's Status of Women Negotiations 2013

This time last week, the UN Commission on the Status of Women commenced their agreement on policy to prevent violence against women. The annual conference had over 6000 participants this year , and nearly 200 of those were government officials and reps. Despite over two months of negotiation over the contents of the new policies, common ground was hard to come by on some major issues.

Originally, complaints from the Muslim Brotherhood (with their support from the Vatican), claimed that the policies being drafted with the Status of Women stuck it to traditions. They said that, “[The new policies] are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution. They would subvert the entire society and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance." In effect, these religious leaders believe that by granting girls with things like rights for same-sex women, control over their sexuality, and getting rid of practices such as female mutilation, the sanctity of their culture was being threatened.

Damn right it is. If by “pre-Islamic ignorance” you mean a place where they don’t cut out women’s sexual organs in the name of sacrifice or honor, the Status of Women is trying to head in that general direction. Sorry, dudes.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that religious/cultural arguments like this (with multiple supporters) would even be permitted to surface at a huge meeting to make policy that aims to end violence against women. I’m surprised because the people who support the degrading of women in the name of such traditions say they are trying to be part of the solution. They’re the one-foot-in type, who likely agreed to such a conference thinking it’d be good PR, perhaps not knowing the gravity of what an attempt to eradicate VAW means. Why not? They thought. 189 other officials and representatives are doing it right? It must be a good thing. Sign me up.

This is the only plausible explanation I can imagine for why individuals who aren’t all for completely ending violence against women would hop aboard the UN policy boat to do just that. Please don’t misunderstand, I believe in freedom of religion. BUT when freedom of religion clashes with human rights, human rights win out. Every time. In my opinion, it should be a no-brainer. And each time religious interpretations are used to counter women’s freedoms, religious leaders look bad. They are like that beautiful ring on your finger which turns a little more green with every shower, until it looks completely fake. To avoiding tarnishing themselves, these religious leaders might benefit from picking a more subtle battle then the UN’s annual Women’s conference. Where there aren’t 6000 people in opposition.

All of this said, the religion/tradition arguments were overruled at the last minute. A little too close for comfort though, in a world where the violence against women stats have been higher this year than in a while.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Disabled Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

As a kid, I thought the idea of mutual attraction between two people was positively magical. And as I did with all magical ideas back then, I laid on my bed, praying to a child’s god about it: “It’s so wonderful that You let two people love each other. Please let someone love me. Anyone.” I scrunched my eyes tightly and pictured the ugliest man I could muster. He was a Crusty-the-Clown figure, with tufts of orange curly hair around his otherwise bald head, bags under his eyes and a belly pouch. “Even him.” I thought, letting God know that my desire to love and be loved knew no bounds.
Many girls grow up praying to the trusty ceiling about their most recent desire to marry the boy in science class or that dude from Full House. And with their hands clutched and faces scrunched, they wish for those silly things, with full intention of fairy dusty failing on the one they desire, followed by a big old happily ever after. Not me though. I sat around wishing with all the fibres in my disabled-kid being, for Crusty The Real Life Clown.

So. How come I was praying for a white-faced, big-footed sadsack while every other kid was bent on John Stamos? I chalk it up to a negative internalization of disability, on top of all the other body-image related things us feminines have to feel bad about. By negative internalization, I mean the discouraging thoughts that tell us there is a problem with our disabilities, our bodies, or both. Being a person with a disability is almost always, at some point or another, accompanied by negative internalization. As we’ll see in some recent research, this internalization can manifest in many ways, but there are a few which stick out.

The Question of Convenience

I just read a study comparing women with disabilities to able-bodied women, specifically in the areas of relationships, marriage, self esteem, body image and abuse. Weird compilation of topics, I know, but read the study, it’ll make more sense, I promise. One of the things this study found was that women with disabilities--though in this sample they experience sexual abuse at the same rate as able-bodied women--they are more likely to be sexually violated by attendants, strangers and health care professionals than able-bodied women. While there is a bit of a duh factor here, I’d like to focus in on the strangers finding. Researchers tell us that women with disabilities are more likely to be raped by strangers “because of the stereotype that they are more dependent, passive, and are easy prey.”
Even without proof in numbers, this rang sadly true with me. To an extent, the thought of men approaching me for what they think will be “easy access” into my special place is a permanent fixture in my mind. More often than, if I’m approached by a guy at a bar, they will oogle a little bit before caving and asking variations of what he really wants to know: Can you have sex? I don’t mind informing them that I can, education is a part of my life, and I see it as an educational opportunity if nothing else. Depending on the guy, they will either take my openess as a cue that they can be open in return (sometimes too open), or stare blankly, wondering what to do with this information.
During these interactions, I tend to feel responsible for dealing with people’s processing of my disability. I make jokes. I look them and the eye and try to laugh their ignorance off. But the whole time they are dancing delicately around the subject of my vagina, I too am processing. I am wondering why they decided to buy me a drink instead of one of the 50 other girls with their clutch purses and their known working vaginas. Do they think that if I tell them my sweet spot functions, it’s an offer to take me home, simply because they’ve figured me to be easy prey? Were they banking on that “yes” to seal the deal with someone tonight? It’s almost always impossible to know.

Do You Like, Even Like Sex?

Perhaps more annoying than the concern that men might only be chasing my tail because of their “easy prey” belief, is the one that says I’m altogether uninterested in sex. Really, guys? I have nothing against asexual people at all, but I thought this poorly-based assumption taken to the electric chair long ago. Apparently not.
According to the national survey of women with disabilities, (whose researchers, by the way, seem a little too surprised by the fact that many women with disabilities have “overcome this stereotype assault.” Hmph.), women with physical disabilities sometimes, “adopted the societal view that they are no longer eligible for dating, that they have become asexual and should no longer expect anyone to be attracted to them.”
Oh dear. When described in this way, asexuality sounds like the depressing end to the tragedy that is being disabled. It describes women giving up on themselves, on sexual pleasure, and on seeing themselves as sexual beings.
In case you haven’t noticed, I have a bone to pick with this part of the research. Not only have I never considered myself “asexual due to despair,” but my brief stint with what these researchers would categorize as a trigger for asexuality completely backfired. The incident went something like this:
I was about 14 or 15. My dad was helping me get dressed and ready for school, a part of my daily routine, while I was still half-asleep (also part of my daily routine) I remember looking at my stomach, which was protruding because I was sitting, and saying, “Ugh. How will a guy ever like me?” I was mostly mumbling to myself and expected the usual, “Don’t be silly,” response from my dad, if any response at all, when he said:
“Things are going to be different for you.”
I woke up in that moment.
“What do you mean?” I asked, unsure I wanted his answer.
“Some boys might not see you like that because you’re disabled. It might make things more difficult for you,” he answered, in his usual frank way.
That tid-bit of truth given to me as a teen is the closest I’ve come to asexuality. It was discouraging, but I knew enough to realize it was real. And rather than becoming asexual, it made me more boy-crazy than ever (that’s a story for a whole other entry).
Unfortunately, the concept of asexuality is not discreetly defined within the study, but in its context throughout the study, it seems to refer to a lack-luster toward sex. I can’t help but wonder how asexual people would feel about this interpretation. From what I understand, asexuality is a sexual orientation, not a switch to flick on and off according to individual circumstance. It is not a symptom of a greater problem, or even a conscious choice, but a way of being. A lifestyle.
Whether or not it is asexuality that the research is actually reporting, its findings admit that loss of sexual interest is both a choice and a societal stereotype that is internalized by disabled women. This is the thinking that, “No one will find me attractive, therefore I am not attractive, and never will be.” It is upsetting to me that a different societal approach is not taken, something more along the lines of, “Sexual until proven uninterested.” because clearly this stereotype not only perpetuates ignorance among able-bodies, but is harmful to disabled women'self-image as well.

Having to wonder about the motives of men buying them drinks or personal body image issues is something every woman will find themselves worrying about at some point. But with the added layers of what I call the convenience motive, as well as the badgering of undesirability stereotypes, the sexual satisfaction of disabled women becomes extra complicated. And only by breaking these assumptions, can we work towards sexual satisfaction for everybody.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Why Does She Stay?

Try not to cringe, but I've written a whole post on why women stay in abusive relationships. If you think it's tough to read about, count your lucky ducks you haven't lived it.
It’s common for people to be nonchalant about violence against women, because there’s often this train of thought that whispers, “If she was really being treated that badly, she would just leave.” After all, if you touch a stove, and the stove burns you, you don’t put your hand there next time. But abuse is hardly ever that simple. I could write a whole book on the logic which keeps women intertwined in abusive relationship, but I’ll conserve space. Here’s my condensed version:

1. Safety. At first it seems backward that a woman would stay with a violent guy because they fear for their physical safety. One too many outbursts with the guy and the girl could find herself hospitalized, right? But think for a second, of the alternative. Abusers are at their peak every time a woman tries to leave.(fourth paragraph down of link). If he’s verbally and/or emotionally abusive while you’re still with him, it’s bound to escalate, and quite possibly become physical when you’re trying to get out. Women that live with their abusive partners then, are often left weighing the lesser of two terrifying evils: If you stay he’ll hurt you, if you try to leave, he’ll hurt you badly, or kill you.
2. One Big Mindfuck. I remember entering into my counselor's office for the first time when I was trying to leave my abusive relationship. It was a whole big thing for me, this counseling thing. She started off by asking how he mistreated me. I explained that he had a way of cutting me down and then being nice the next day (or soon after) and acting as if nothing had ever happened. My counselor nodded understandably, asking if he had ever hit me or done anything physically unwanted. “Only a couple times, not really though.” I didn’t want her to think I was looking for attention. And, I didn’t want to make it any bigger or more real than it already felt.
“Not really though,” is key here. Not only does it show the extreme denial of circumstance and intense minimization, but the deep confusion that resulted from a lot of emotional manipulation. Being hit or touched in a way that is unwanted is usually pretty cut-and-dry, and yet I wasn’t sure what I had encountered. As a coping mechanism, many women repress and deny what is happening to them in order not to breakdown, or because they can’t deal with their worst fears being their reality. When they are in such a state of natural denial and perpetual minimization, the concept of leaving is almost unfathomable.
3. Stockholm Syndrome. This is a branch off the Mindfuck tree, but it is big enough to stand on its own. It means that the woman stays not only because she thinks the man needs her, but because the man regularly attempts to persuade her that he can’t live without her. This can be as subtle as a million texts about wanting to blow his own head off while she’s out at the bar (after a breakup), or as overt as showing up unwelcomed, threatening to kill himself if she actually leaves. As with all abuse scenarios, there’s a plethora of different varieties and methods under which this emotional manipulation occurs, but the end goal is the same: power and control.
4. Financial Obligation/ Reliance. Sometimes, amongst all the emotional manipulation, the abuser has gained control of the woman’s finances. This happens most evidently in marriages or unions where children are involved. I’ve heard of girls being given weekly “allowances” in marriages, giving them barely enough to get by and leaving them stranded if they run. The money dangles over their head as a reminder of the ties they have with their partner, making it nearly impossible to leave.
I once had it explained to me that being in an abusive relationship is like standing too close to a painting. You can see all the colors and have taken in many of the details, but it isn’t until you step back that you see what the painting really is. Abuse can be like that. We as women become so used to the patterns and intricacies involved in the mistreatment, that everytime an abusive partner gaslights us or throws an apology our way, we fail to see the bigger picture, and the abuse cycle continues on. On average, a woman in an abusive relationship makes 7 attempts to leave before she gets out for good(see last paragraph of this link). And that doesn't count "breaks" or short-lived break-ups, these are 7 whopping big attempts. As in, moving a suitcase of your stuff in and out 5+2 times before the big good riddance.And maybe now, you know a bit more about why that is.
**Please note that I am in no way an expert and have left a lot out, for the sake of my short-attentioned readers. If you want to add or complain, feel free to comment. If you think you might be in a shitty relationship, here's a good summary of the cycle of abuse.