From silence to action

One of the insidious things about rape culture is silence. Survivors of sexual assault remain silent, fearing retribution, shunning or disbelief. Community members remain silent unsure of how to respond. Is she lying? Is {insert celebrity or well-liked neighbor here} the type of person who would do something like that? The perpetrator is often silent. Sometimes because he scarcely believes he is guilty, or perhaps to keep a low profile in preparation for the next victim.

But just as there is silence, there is often sound. We hear the voices of perpetrators, maintaining innocence in some cases; claiming she deserved it in others. Voices of community members who support the offender and/or berate the survivor. Voices of advocates who offer comfort, righteous indignation and activism for survivors.

And sometimes we hear the voices of survivors, telling their own stories and demanding to be acknowledged. They do it for legal reasons. To agitate. For peace of mind. Or in the case of Tamara Green, to lend credibility to another survivor:

A lawyer told me I would be crazy to come out after 20 years and accuse him [Bill Cosby]. But I waited and waited to see who would back this girl up, and nobody else would. The Cosby team started smearing her, making her seem petty and loose and cheap.

I saw how nobody believed her. She had trusted him, and he had drugged her and then assaulted her, just like what happened to me. I saw that nobody was going to take him on, so I felt like it was my duty to risk my neck and stand [up] for all the other women who’ve been assaulted by him.

Read the Newsweek interview here.


Suggested reading: The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action by Audre Lorde. 

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Powerful and Feminine

Power Posing is heralded as a technique women can use to close the gender gap at work. Women can raise their testosterone (which brings more confidence) and lower their cortisol (which lessens stress) by adopting certain poses before high stress situations. This, in theory, helps to level the playing field.

Writer Jessica Bennett referenced the work of Amy Cuddy, whose TEDTalk details the research behind power posing. Inspired by dramatic differences in class participation between male and female MBA students, Amy sought to encourage women to participate more – to “fake it until they make it.”

We understand the power of nonverbal communication with others, Amy explained, but we often forget that our nonverbals can also influence ourselves. She and her colleague, Dana Carney, asked two research questions:

  1. Do nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves?
  2. We know our minds change our bodies, but can our bodies change our minds?

In other words, by adopting the postures of powerful beings, can we convince ourselves that we are, in fact, powerful, and begin to behave more powerfully?

Shy people and those who’ve ever experienced the impostor syndrome, understand what it’s like to shrink on purpose; to take up less space in a given environment. But what if those who would normally make themselves smaller, purposely enlarged themselves? Could that make a difference when it mattered? If you need to adopt a big presence – in the classroom or the boardroom – could you do it at will? Amy’s research suggests yes.

Taking a cue from the animal kingdom, powerful individuals take up space on purpose. They stand tall. They spread out. They expand. She found when humans adopted powerful poses for two minutes, they changed their chemical balance for a time. It turns out, inhabiting big poses and taking up space, raises your testosterone and lowers your cortisol, thereby making you more assertive and less anxious.

Faking confidence by posing “confidently,” actually makes you feel more confident, and you are able to behave more confidently. When you’re more confident and less stressed, in an interview for instance, you can shift the balance of power in your favor.

Power posing is just one of a number of ways many ambitious young women are adjusting their behavior, ever so slightly, to try to correct for a system in which stereotypically male leadership traits (assertiveness, dominance) are rewarded. ~Jessica Bennet

powerful and feminineAmy is encouraging women to adopt masculine techniques in an effort to gain more power in professional settings. But women can be more powerful and simultaneously more feminine. Explains Sojo of the Whiskey, Wine and Moonshine podcast, women can connect with their wombs, adopt feminine movements, and feel grounded and powerful without pretending to be manly.

I’ve spent the past few years actively engaging my femininity, sometimes with astounding results. As a professional who has to perform under a degree of stress regularly, power posing was an interesting idea at first glance. I tried it recently, but it wasn’t right for me. I feel more like me when I am grounded, centered, cheerful, and connecting with others – feelings I access through feminine poses, behaviors and rituals.

What strategies do you use to be your best you? Are you a person who takes up space?

Freedom Fighters

Freedom fighting, creation and imagination my favorite topics to mull. Last night I was  awake past my bedtime, and a trip down the rabbit hole known as the Internet led me to this great find.

It’s a podcast in two main parts. The first features Angela Davis and Grace Lee Boggs speaking at the Empowering Women of Color Conference. The second features an excerpt from Daniel Rasmussen’s book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt.

The cast is from 2012, but conversations about freedom are always timely.

Shout out to Renina Jarmon for the recommendation.

My Lover Kissed My Belly

I wrote a piece for the Body Narratives, a project founded and curated by Hana Riaz. The project creates space for women of color to reclaim and share their experiences. It’s a beautiful platform, and I’m honored to have a piece included in this body of work.

Here’s Hana’s introduction:

Our bodies are often physically and emotionally tied, and yet the disconnect experienced, the gap between the two can often seem overwhelming, painful, difficult. In this moving and deeply honest piece, nicole d. collier talks about living with fibroids and the body as a site of trauma.

Read the piece here.

At dusk, I’m thinking

It’s Wednesday and the sun is setting. I’m enduring a rare headache. It has not drowned in water nor drifted away in sleep, despite my best efforts. I guess it’s here to stay a bit. I’m due to stay up this evening and watch American Horror Story. I’m not normally a night owl, but I’m doing it this one time in solidarity with Sojo and Ms. Smart so we can do one of these. Just this one time though…

I’m thinking about compassionate capitalism. I imagine such a thing exists. I want you to imagine it, too. I aim to find it, and write about it, as to expand our understanding about what’s possible in a loving society. 

I’m thinking about practitioners of restorative justice, especially those in Georgia or in the south. I want to know more about what they do and what impact it has in their respective communities. I want to interview them and document their stories. 

I’m thinking about abolitionists. Those who would abolish the death penalty as well as those who would dismantle the prison-industrial complex. Although some states still murder prisoners, others are slowing and/or stopping the practice.  Meanwhile, budget cuts are forcing states to question caging as the default response to nonconforming behavior. In many states it costs more per year than college tuition. With no restoration and no education. Just revenge. I want less revenge. More evolution. More solutions. More healing. More love.

I’m pondering the ways these elements are interwoven. And the fact that any discussion of these ideas must eventually include public schooling… from the zero tolerance policies leading to the school to prison pipeline, to the capitalist ideals underpinning school policy and curriculum.

Things I’m thinking about this Wednesday evening. What’s on your mind?

Today at lunch…

I mentioned my plans to transition out of K-12 and into reading/writing/teaching about women’s issues. I highlighted rape culture and sexual violence and fibroids by name, although my net is cast a bit wider than these. The woman who inquired about my goals made the raised eyebrow/pulled down lips/impressed face and nodded. “Wow. Good for you. What got you moving in that direction?”

Who knows?

It brings to mind a similar question asked of Angela Davis. In a lecture recorded as The Prison Industrial Complex, she discussed her activist beginnings: “What made you decide to become an activist? What was that pivotal event in your life? And for years and years I thought about it.” She went on to mention the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, and how she initially believed that to be the catalyst. Upon further reflection, she realized that wasn’t it:

Finally, after struggling with this for years, I decided that there really was no particular moment when I decided to become an activist. As a matter of fact, I grew up with the idea that in order to live in segregated circumstances… my parents basically taught us that we had to be critical of the way things were. Otherwise, we could not affirm our own humanity. And that we had to dedicate our lives to the kind of transformation that would make this a better world to live in for all of us. And so I’ve learned that wherever I am, whatever I happen to be doing at the moment, I have to fulfill that commitment that has informed my life.

Now, I don’t have years invested in feminist activism and advocacy, so it’s not like I have a long history to consider. Despite my brief affiliation, I’m hard pressed to supply a satisfying answer. In fact, today was my first encounter with the question; I’ve simply never thought about why. So I sputtered. In fact, I’m writing now, more as a think-aloud, than to offer a definitive answer.

I think it’s a series of dots that are just now being connected. For instance, I’ve practiced Nichiren Buddhism for 13 years now. Studying and practicing a life philosophy grounded in human potential and equality leans one ever toward more progressive and compassionate ways of knowing and being. Encountering Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy in graduate school 5 years ago is another dot. A huge one really. Unlike the constant flow of the water of Buddhism, reading Freire and studying critical inquiry pedagogy caused a fiery, seismic shift.

Then there was the class that wasn’t. The University of Georgia offered a course on Black women’s narratives. I attended the first day, but enrollment was low, and the class didn’t make. The professor showed Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on the Danger of the Single Story – which became seed as much as dot – and I eventually ordered all the books on her syllabus. I started my own class really, and began reading (and writing) when I could. Dot.

A series of shares in the Red Clay Writing Project’s Summer Institute led me to brainstorm a study on teenage rape narratives, and I wrote and studied my own as a pilot. Dot. An article here or there would move me to anger, tears, or elation. Dot. And suddenly, here we are. At the beginning, still. And like any other journey, each day is an opportunity for another step.

Onward.

Pondering love.

Love has been on my mind a lot in recent years. Romantic love, sure, but most often I’m mulling societal love. See, I have a theory: much of what ails society is rooted in distrust and competitionThe way we go about healing is rooted in love.

Love is as love does. Love is an act of will – namely,
both an intention and an action.
Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.
~M. Scott Peck as quoted by bell hooks

From where I stand, it seems a lot of what transpires in daily life is a deliberate choice to avoid love. It’s like we go out of our way to be cold and closed off or simply mean. All day in schools we yell at children who were yelled at or ignored at home the night before, and we wonder why they aren’t more “civilized.” We criminalize any behavior we think is the least bit out of bounds, and put forth little effort into prevention in the first place, or rehabilitation in the second. We sue folks for trying to come to our aid, so people live in fear of being helpful. We do any and everything but love.

And that’s why love is a revolutionary act – because there isn’t enough of the doing of love these days. There’s more than enough talk about finding a mate, or keeping one. But it’s a might too quiet on the love thy neighbor front. It’s sad really, and ultimately dangerous. A loveless society can only create more of the same, no? Physical and mental abuse are not born of love. Wars are not initiated by people who are acting from love. Fear. Domination. Revenge. Power. But not love.

We are taught to believe love just happens. And you fall in it, or as the creatives now say, you rise in it. In any case, allegedly love happens to you, and then you respond. But let’s consider that maybe love is something you do, rather than something that shows up out of the clear blue sky. Then we can be more intentional in our actions, as M. Scott Peck suggests. Think of an active participation in love, rather than a passive one. So what, then, might doing love entail?

To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients –
care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust,
as well as honest and open communication.
~bell hooks

The affection part is what we know and feel most readily, but what of the rest? Caring for something or someone takes effort. Think about house plants or your pet. When you care for them, you’re doing something – feeding, nurturing, soothing, what have you. You’re not just feeling affection; you’re acting.

And what of recognition? If we would engage the effort to recognize one another for who we really are, rather than who we imagine, what a loving act that would be. How often do you feel seen, truly seen, recognized, for who you are? What would it take to be recognized? Honest communication is certainly a start. And I would go so far as to say that communication must happen within oneself as surely as it must happen between ourselves and others. In other words, our responsibility to societal love is grounded, in part, in our responsibility to care for, recognize, respect, and trust ourselves.

Let’s spend more time pondering a theory of love. And then more time still practicing love with ourselves and those around us. Your time and attention to love moves us all closer to healing.