Trump and Crickets: The end of a relationship

“Bummer about Trump, eh!”

Those words marked the beginning of the end of my latest relationship.

I was still in shock, reeling from the news I’d woken up to at 4:45am – the news that overnight, the world had changed in a way that I naively never saw coming. I was still grasping to understand how this could have happened and what it meant to me, to vulnerable people in America, and to the world. I didn’t know how to make sense of it, I couldn’t find the words, but I knew “bummer” was not one of them.

Prior to that day, I had already been starting to struggle with my partner’s lack of awareness of his privilege, his lack of deep engagement in meaningful discussions, and his seemingly superficial, self-interested approach to life.

Just a few days earlier, in response to me sharing that I’m feeling a strong and urgent pull to figure out bigger ways that I can make positive change in the world, his response was: “Not everyone can be Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.” I countered that, in fact, there are lots of people – seemingly ordinary people – who make big and small important change in the world all the time, and gave him the example of the two college change-makers in the documentary The Hunting Ground, who found a way to force colleges to deal with sexual assaults on campus. But I knew it was a bad sign that instead of lifting me up, his immediate response was to try to pull me down ‘to reality.’

I knew it was a bad sign a few weeks earlier that, when he was telling me about his first volunteering shift playing squash with underprivileged youth, his story about what made it so great was all about what a great guy he was and how much the youth talked about how great he was, but I didn’t recall him talking about how great any of the youth were.

That conversation came in the middle of a volunteering shift we did together, sorting shoes that were being sent to Haiti as part of a microloan initiative to help families build self-sustaining businesses. When I’d asked him at the end of the shift what he’d thought of it, he replied he’d been hoping we’d only have had to be there for an hour or two so we could have just gone for coffee and hung out, but it was “fine”. I couldn’t help picking up on the tone of annoyance that he was trying to hide.

And it was definitely a bad sign when he chose to dress up as Trump for Halloween, telling me “it was fun to be politically incorrect for a bit. I told some gals that I’d spank them but they were only a ‘4’ so not worth it.”

And so the day came when I learned that Trump was president-elect, and I received an email from this guy talking about how much he had killed it in his squash game the night before, how he was going to a fancy restaurant with corporate finance brokers that night, and then ended with that throwaway line, “Oh, and bummer about Trump eh!”

I replied that bummer was an understatement and explained how and why I was struggling, and that I was just trying to surround myself with like-minded people to process and work through it. I distanced myself from him for the day.

The next night when he came over, I had decided that I wouldn’t try to gloss over my feelings or pretend everything was fine just to make things more comfortable for him. Instead, I told him I was still not ok. I explained how that election decision made me feel disillusioned with society, and how I instantly felt less safe in the world as a woman. I told him about how heartbroken and hopeless I felt that the bad guy won, people made the bad guy win.

While I talked, he ‘listened’, periodically sticking his nose deep into his wine glass and breathing in deeply to once again admire just how fantastic the red wine he’d brought was.

He dismissively made comments like, “well we just have to be glad we live in Canada” and “I just don’t stress about it because there’s nothing I can do about it”. I felt deflated. His commitment to complacency was fierce.

He commented about how I’m always thinking and grinned in a self-pleased way as he said, “In my head, there’s nothing, it’s just crickets.”

Crickets.

My son said to me yesterday that I have a “big mind”. He said it with a tone of admiration and respect, which was a contrast to that almost condescending remark my so-called partner had made a couple of days earlier.

It all became crystal clear. I ended the relationship.

Because in the world I want to live in, people will choose to actively work toward creating a society that is safe for all, whether it impacts them directly or not. People actively engage in critical thinking to challenge dominant beliefs and systems that are not only holding us back as a society but, in many cases, damaging us and the world we live in. Because for me, ultimately, complacency and ignorance are not sexy and frankly are no longer acceptable. And neither are crickets.

ghandi

Advertisements

Our Broken System Needs To Be Fixed: A response to the Jian Ghomeshi verdict

For a long time now I have been increasingly frustrated and enraged by the discourse that’s happening around sexual assault, consent, violence against women. As a conflict-avoider, I have been afraid to step into the conversational battlefield. As a short-fused person, I have had to remove myself even as a spectator to avoid jumping into a battle I wouldn’t feel equipped to handle. But honestly, I don’t know how to do this anymore. I don’t know how to come to terms with the sheer ignorance and gleeful hatred with which some people are responding to the Jian Ghomeshi verdict that was released yesterday.

I don’t know that any of us could have been surprised by that verdict. If you followed the trial even loosely it was clear that the judge was going to have rule in Ghomeshi’s favour. I think that makes us have to ask the question – what is wrong with this system in which the judicially correct result is to find innocent a man who freely admits to choking women and punching them in the head?

Yes, we have to talk about what consent really means. That’s a huge problem, partly because consent usually comes down to a he-said/she-said scenario — sorry for the hetero norming, I fully acknowledge this can happen in any relationship dynamic — and in a patriarchal society which defaults to giving men power and voice, the ‘he-said’ part of that equation always holds more weight. So let’s be clear…

Consent does not mean ‘you said yes to going out with me so now I get to do whatever I want to your body’. Consent does not mean ‘you sent me a bikini photo later so you were obviously ok with what I did to you before’. Consent means that in the moment, in every moment, both parties are each individually fully capable of making the decision to engage in a behaviour, are freely choosing to do so, and are fully capable of withdrawing/ending that interaction without fear of personal harm/retribution. When you’re on a fun date with a guy and he suddenly and unexpectedly assaults you, that’s not consent.

But this case in particular wasn’t really about consent since it’s pretty clear the women couldn’t have consented to those assaults, so it became all about the women’s behaviour after the assaults occurred. So, let’s set aside consent for a moment, because we really need to talk about the system itself.

We have a system that requires traumatized people to behave in untraumatized ways in order to be believed. A system that doesn’t take any responsibility for understanding what ‘normal’ behaviour is following an assault, or years of abuse, but has full power to rule on that behaviour. A system that seems to require victims to prove that they didn’t somehow invite the assault rather than focusing on the fact that an assault occurred.

We have a system that requires victims to find strength in the exact areas they’ve been wounded – confidence, clarity, consistency – none of which are compatible with the symptoms of trauma in people who have experienced abuse. It would be like asking someone with a broken leg to prove it’s broken by jumping on it over and over again – they just can’t do it, but that doesn’t mean the leg’s not broken. A woman traumatized by assault can’t remember details with 100% fullness or precision, that doesn’t mean the assault didn’t happen. A woman traumatized by years of abuse can’t explain why she didn’t leave after the first time he hit her, that doesn’t mean he didn’t hit her. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean she consented to being hit.

This system supports abusers. Yes, there has to be presumption of innocence, but there also needs to be understanding of reality and what can be considered to be reasonable behaviour in the context of trauma. The system favours the abuser from the moment a woman is asked to tell her story while she is still confused and trying to make sense of what has happened to her, to the moment much later on when every detail of her initial report is being examined under a microscope and questioned.

‘Why did you talk to him after he suddenly punched you in the head? That doesn’t make sense.’ Neither does somebody suddenly punching you in the head.

‘Why did you make him breakfast in the morning after he raped you the night before? That doesn’t make sense.’ Neither does being raped by someone you had previously always been able to trust.

Assault and abuse don’t make sense, so of course victims are going to be confused and it can take a long time to sort out realities. There is a process called cognitive dissonance by which a person tries to reconcile mutually exclusive pieces of information – inevitably one thing has to stop being true but it can often be excruciatingly confusing to figure out which one.

If you’re on a fun date with a ‘nice guy’ who then assaults you, you have to try to make sense of that. Is he a nice guy or is he a violent guy? Which personality that was presented to you on that fun date is the right one? Taking it further, if you have years of established trust with someone who then rapes you, you are trying to reconcile a large amount of data (years of trust) with one piece of directly conflicting data (the rape). How long might it take to make sense of that?

To an outsider it may seem black and white, but imagine a trusted person in your life did this to you right now, would it be so clear to you? Imagine through your whole life you have been conditioned to believe that if something bad happens to you, it’s probably your fault – you asked for it, you made yourself too pretty, you laughed too much – would it be so clear to you? Imagine everyone else thinks this other person is such a great person and they suggest that maybe it was all just a big misunderstanding – would it be so clear to you then? How hard would you work to try to find some answers, to make it all make sense somehow? Would you talk to other people? Would you try to talk to or see this ‘trusted person’ again, to try to gather more data? Would you be confused?

Until you’re in the situation yourself you can’t possibly know how you’d react, but if you listen to the stories of people who have been there, and if you read some of the studies that have gathered information from large groups of survivors, you can start to get an idea that ‘normal’ takes on a whole new meaning after abuse.Normal isn’t what outsiders would judge it to be, it’s shifted and confusing and messy. Don’t judge what you don’t know, and if you want to judge, then learn what you don’t know.

Our broken system needs to be fixed.

We need in-depth training for everyone from police officers to judges so that they can understand the impact of trauma on survivors of violence. We need society to stop blaming victims, and start deciding that it is simply not acceptable for men to abuse women (physically, sexually, financially, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually). We need women to stop competing with each other for men’s attention and start supporting each other to create a stronger, safer society for all of us. And we need men to recognize that we’re simply asking for fairness and safety and the right to control our own bodies, which are not unreasonable demands.

I believe that most people fundamentally support the ideas of safety and fairness for women and accountability for crimes committed, but I think some people are afraid of what change would look like and what that might mean for them. In the absence of knowledge and understanding, these people are resorting to extremist illogical arguments to try to protect the status quo. I get it, change is uncomfortable, but change is also necessary.

I would like us all to be able to work together, to have open and respectful discourse to try to problem solve our way to a reasonable solution for this serious problem. But if that’s not possible, then I just want to be very clear: no matter how many generations it takes, no matter how many insults and personal attacks are thrown at us along the way, we will not stop, we will not be silenced, and change will come, whether you like it or not.

Before You Apply For That Job: 10 Harsh Truths for Applicants

I am in the midst of hiring for a position in my organization. On Friday, the posting went up onto a fairly well-known online job site which forces applicants to submit their postings through the site. Every day, I tackle the deluge of applications determined to find the gems in the quarry but I am quickly become fatigued. Having now seen how it works on the other side, I have some tips for applicants:

pruned a tree1) If you’ve never done the most important aspects of that job before, don’t apply for it.  If you once did a placement alongside somebody who was doing the job, or you once imagined you would love the job and are very confident that you have the skills to do it well – that’s not enough. This is a competitive job market. Get the experience through volunteering or placements that will actually let you do the work hands-on, or you will just not be able to compete with the other people who have proven they can do the work.

2) I’m probably not going to read your cover letter, but you still have to submit one anyway. I’m serious. I can’t believe how many people aren’t submitting cover letters. I realize it’s obnoxious of me to demand a cover letter since in many cases I won’t even read it, but not submitting a cover letter sends a message of apathy and very minimal effort. If you don’t care enough about the job to tell me why you want it, then I don’t care enough about giving you a chance to come in for an interview.

3) If you don’t update your resume and cover letter to state the current position you’re applying for, I will instantly delete your application. I am spending my evenings reading through applications because I’m too busy at work all day. If I open up your application and you haven’t bothered to update your career goal that states how ardently you hope to obtain some other position in some other company, I will assume you care more about that other job and will not consider you for the one I’m hiring for. And hey, I get it, I’ve been there, it sucks to make mistakes like that, so make sure you check over your application before you submit it and don’t just automatically use whatever file you’ve uploaded before.

4) Don’t submit a four-page resume. If I can get my 20-year career summarized into two pages, then I’m sure you can get your ‘I graduated 3 months ago’ resume edited down from 4 pages. I don’t have the time or the will to wade through four pages of words to try to figure out if you have the skills for this job. If anything, four pages is a red flag that alerts me to the fact that you’re trying to talk your way past having absolutely no experience.

5) If you call my workplace to try to ask about the job, I will not be impressed with your passion, I will be annoyed with your inability to follow rules. We are averaging 20 applications a day for this position, and maybe 2% of them are actually suitable. If I want to talk to you, I will call you after I’ve reviewed your application. If you disregard the request for no phone calls and you call me anyway and interrupt my very busy day, I can promise you that call is not going to go well and it’s just going to work against you.

6) Emailing your resume is not necessarily to your benefit. This may not be true for every other hiring manager, but because I am reviewing applications on my own time outside of the office and ranking those applications directly within the job site’s backend, by emailing your resume I have no way of ranking you or keeping you in the shortlist pile. You are now – at best – sitting separately in a pile of miscellaneous papers on my desk where there is a chance you will get lost in the shuffle. You also risk not having your resume read at all because I don’t actually have time to read resumes during the day, whereas when I go onto the job site I am dedicating time to reading every application.

ability to smell fear7) Having a full page (or more) where you list all your skills in detail is not fooling anyone into thinking you have experience. All I’m doing is scrolling past that long skills section to try to figure out what your actual hands-on work experience is, and the longer I have to scroll the more annoyed I’m becoming with your application. Don’t take it personally. I believe you have the skills but in some positions the lack of experience can result in real damage to both yourself and your client and it would be irresponsible of me to hire someone without meaningful hands-on experience.

8) Proofread. Again. I can’t believe in this time of spellcheckers that people are still submitting resumes with so many mistakes. Use your spellcheck, ask a friend to edit, go to an employment agency. Do whatever you have to do, but don’t submit an application with spelling mistakes, especially if you’re applying for a job that requires any amount of computer work. If you’re making mistakes on applications where you have all the time in the world to get it right, I have every reason to believe you are going to make a lot of mistakes at work and mess up all our record keeping. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

9) If an online site gives you the opportunity to upload a document, put your cover letter and resume into the same document. In the past, I have submitted my cover letter as a separate document but I will never do that again. Every separate link I have to open is more time out of my day/evening, so I am going to the meat and potatoes document first – your resume. In almost all cases, I am making a decision right from there – shortlist or discard. Those applicants that included their cover letter are having it read before I look at the resume, and those applicants that included the cover letter as a separate document are most often not having that letter read. If you want to make sure I see it, include it as the first page in your resume document.

10) Apply for jobs you really, really want. I can’t believe how easy it is to tell when someone is just blanket applying to every posting just to get a job. I understand, you need a paycheque. But I have a team that needs someone who’s going to be in the trenches with them, I have clients that are going to put all their hopes into the hands of this someone, and I need to know we’re all in this together because it’s hard work and you have to love it to do it well. Write compelling objective statements, give meaningful details about your work experience, and tie it all together with a cover letter that tells me why you want this job, not why you want a job. If I like your resume enough, I will read your cover letter.

To those of you doing it well, thank you – you are sitting on our shortlists. You are rising to the top, and it will pay off eventually. I hope to be meeting some of you gems in person someday soon.

Hire_the_Eagle

The Other Side of the Story

Recently a friend of mine had to meet with my ex for work reasons. She wasn’t sure if he remembered her from four years ago, but throughout the meeting she felt very uncomfortable. In a moment of anxiety when he left the room, she shared with a woman in the room that it felt weird for her and that she used to work for his ex-girlfriend. The woman tartly replied, “Well I know the other side of the story.”

Over the four years since the breakup, I’ve heard from various people snippets of what the Other Side of the Story sounds like, and it’s pretty amazing to me how he has managed to reframe himself from perpetrator to victim.

I bet the Other Side of the Story doesn’t include how he was making plans with me one morning to get a shared financial advisor to plan for our future, and then on the same day after I left for work how he packed every single item of his from my house and moved out. He even thought to grab the kayak – on a cold February morning – and drive it home 45 minutes away. He then even stopped to get a new haircut before he finally showed up at our shared workplace, came to my office at the end of the day, closed the door and announced, “I’m not going home with you, I’m breaking up with you.” No conversation, no dialogue, the decision had been made and that was the end of that.

Maybe the Other Side of the Story talks about how he repeatedly asked me to take him back just a few months later, but I bet it doesn’t include the part about how I had told him on the day he broke up with me that he’d better be completely sure that’s what he wants because there would be no going back from this decision, the way he was carrying it out.

Probably the Other Side of the Story includes how “controlling” or “selfish” I was because ‘we always did what I wanted to do’, despite my constant requests that he tell me what he wants and needs, something he was ultimately unable or unwilling to do. I suppose it’s much easier to blame someone else for your unhappiness than to take responsibility for it yourself.

But definitely the Other Side of the Story doesn’t include the night he raped me about a year after we had broken up. I was extremely vulnerable, having quickly entered a complicated relationship with an emotionally abusive man who had effectively crushed whatever self worth I’d had left after the breakup. And despite the fact I told this ex he could stay over but I absolutely didn’t want to have sex with him, and despite the fact that I said no several times as he kept climbing all over me, he didn’t care and ultimately got what he wanted when I gave up and laid still to hurry up and get it over with. The next day he had the audacity to tell me how special the night was, I replied that I was angry and reminded him that I didn’t want that to happen and that I had told him so repeatedly. I didn’t call it rape that morning, but he recognized that’s what it was and eventually I was able to name it that, too.

I can’t help but remember stories he’d told me about how his ex-wife (before me) was disengaged during sex, and how after several unhappy years and a period of time without sex, he decided maybe if they had sex again it would help the relationship. She ended up getting pregnant, the relationship didn’t get better and he left her while she was still pregnant. I wonder if that’s part of the Other Side of the Story he tells other women about his ex-wife? Probably not, though I remember when he told me, he still managed to somehow come out sounding like the victim. If I knew then what I know now…

I don’t tell people the bad things he’s done because I don’t want my experiences with him to cloud other people’s friendships/working relationships with him, I don’t want to put people into difficult positions of feeling they have to take sides, and I believe whatever happened between us should stay between us. But I’m getting pretty tired of hearing from third parties that so many women are sitting around saying “that poor guy, he deserves to have a nice girl.” I bet girls say the same thing about the emotionally abusive asshole who came after him, too. People have no idea.

So please, if ever you feel compelled to take sides after an acquaintance’s relationship ends, try to remember that no matter how nice this person seems, there’s an OTHER Other Side of the Story and you have no idea what it is. But maybe if you knew it, it might change the way you see the person, maybe in pretty significant ways. At the end of the day, all you know is nothing more than just that… a story.

My Secret Life as a 15 Year Old

Do you ever feel like you have a secret life? Maybe it’s a side of you your coworkers would never expect, or a secret hobby your best friend knows nothing about, or a way of thinking your family would never identify as being yours. Regardless of what it is, it’s something you keep secret because somehow it just feels safer than putting it out there for the judgement of others.

This morning, I realized one of my secret selves is a 15 year old girl. When I woke up today, I saw a post that my favourite band had finally – finally! – released a new song and video, and the new album is finally – finally! – being released in May, and they’re going on tour in the Fall! My heart immediately started racing and I wasted not a second as I pressed play on the video link. Then I watched it again on the official band website, and then again on YouTube where I read the comments and started to notice some of the subtleties in the video.

At this point I should have been doing grown up things like my morning yoga, making a healthy breakfast and showering, but instead I checked Twitter to see what everyone was saying about the song, posted my own excitement about the release, checked the singer’s Twitter feed, then the drummer’s, and then the official Twitter feed for the band.

I eagerly soaked up everyone’s perspectives and, after watching the video five more times, I finally came to my own understanding of the lyrics and the excitement and anticipation for the new album began to explode inside me. I haven’t felt this excited about (perhaps even addicted to) a band in at least twenty one years. It’s a fun and weird place to be as a 40 year old woman.

Yesterday at work we had talked about age and life stages, and this experience has reminded me just how much my life stages are out of order. I had a baby when I was a teenager, so I lived two decades of serious adulthood and responsibility at a time when my friends were partying and exploring and self-discovering. Now, when society dictates I should be responsible and mature, I feel like I’m going back to finish that interrupted experience of adolescence.

Officially, to outsider eyes, I’m too old to be feeling this way and behaving this way. But really can you give me any good reason why? We’re all looking for something to relate to in life and, with all the crazy censorship and stigma around certain topics, if music is saying something I can connect to then of course I’m going to gravitate towards it. The messages in these songs have so much more authenticity and meaning than 90% of the conversations I engage in with the people around me on a day to day basis. Something about adulthood makes us feel like we need to be “fine” and “have it all together” or “fake it til we make it” – we stop having honest interactions; we learn to suppress and endure.

At some point I’d like to work up the courage to foster absolute authenticity in my real adult life, but I’m still figuring things out and not quite ready to fuse the fragments of my self into one coherent, public identity. I can’t help but wonder, though, how many of us actually have that soundly formed identity and how many of us are living secret lives just pretending we’ve got it all figured out. I wonder if anyone else I know has a secret teenager inside that comes out when they’re alone.

I wish I knew, I wish we talked about that, because I think it would be pretty cool for our teenagers to hang out sometime.

Car Salesmen

Tonight I spent two hours in a car dealership, representing my organization at a fundraising event the dealership was hosting. I arrived ready to talk to the public about what we do, the great programs we offer to women 18 and older. The problem was, nobody came. So, instead, I spent two hours trying to navigate the really strange world of car salesmen.

I immediately felt uncomfortable.

I spied a pretty regular-looking guy and started a conversation with him. Within two minutes, aggressive sales guy inserted himself into the conversation. The other boys mocked him for his lame pickup line (something about us both being in good shape). He made a weird, semi-insulting remark towards me then said, “that’s what I do, I pour the salt in the wound and then I make it better.” It sounded like it was right out of the PUA (pick up artist) playbook; it was revolting.

I reminded him that I work for a women’s organization, and that probably wasn’t the best tactic with me. He responded with a sideways insult about my sense of humour. A short while later he called me over to show me all the health food he had in his office space, including a giant jug of protein powder.

Time check: only twenty minutes into my two hour shift. Oh my god.

A young-looking guy stepped into the conversation, ‘apologizing’ for the first guy’s behaviour. I felt like a deer in a meadow, slowly being surrounded by hyenas closing in on me. Eventually, however, I managed to get him into a deeper conversation which turned out to be very enlightening.

Firstly, I didn’t know that car salesmen are solely commission-based, no base pay. This means they will say and do just about anything for the sale. He freely admits they don’t have a customer’s best interests at heart, they just want the sale. The average car has $1000-2000 profit to be made on it, so you can imagine how many they need to sell to make a decent living.

This young guy turned out to be the manager, at age 26. He said he had been scouted by a dealership straight from business school because he had the highest GPA in his class. He spoke with the cocky arrogance of someone who got too much money too quickly.

His whole job is to stand and watch his team working. If it looks like they’re going to lose the sale, he’ll intervene. If a customer is waffling about price, he’ll walk in and offer the deal, but it’s only good for that day. I asked him what he would do if someone came back the next day and told him they would buy the car elsewhere if he didn’t honour the price from the day before. He said he once let a person walk out over thirty cents, because he doesn’t want people like them (hagglers) in his dealership, they’ll just bring more people like them.

We had talked earlier about whether we love what we do. I told him I love my job, and that when I had been in corporate, I’d felt a piece of my soul die every day. He said he feels a piece of his soul die every day, but it doesn’t bother him.

He talked about the poverty he grew up in as a child, and how that is what drives him to care about nothing more than money. “I chase the dollar,” he said. “Money is what puts food on my table, nothing will ever be more important to me than money.” And he admitted it’s never enough, he’ll always want more.

He talked about how he’ll soon be relocating to a different town to help start up another dealership. He said he doesn’t have anybody to worry about so he’s free to move as much as he wants. He pointed to the ring on his ring finger. “I just wear this because it makes you trust me more.”

I was starting to feel a little sick. I joked that I was going to have nightmares tonight after being at this dealership. He said, “Because of the other guy right? I’m trying to make it better for you.” I responded it was because of the collective experience, but he didn’t understand.

Our conversation quickly ended as he was pulled away to a sales call and immediately protein guy returned. He had been observing me with the other guys and was starting to catch on that being aggressive with me was not the way to go. He tried a softer approach.

He talked about how some people put so much importance on the status symbols for their sense of self-worth, their identity. I asked him what kind of car he drives. He replied, “An old beater.” Status symbols don’t matter to him, he said. What matters is being smart with his money – saving, investing, not splurging.

I asked if he’d grown up in a family that was good with money, suspecting that likely his childhood was probably not all that different from his manager’s. Sure enough, he said both parents had been terrible with money. It makes sense, then, that money is so important to him too. We want what we don’t get as children.

It helped to begin to understand why these men were the way they were. They say we fear what we don’t understand and I have to say, through the two hours in that car dealership, I constantly caught myself holding my breath. It didn’t feel safe. I felt surrounded by deception, and the many tactics the car salesmen shared with me confirmed that’s what their gig is all about.

“You’re thinking about a white car, I’ll tell you they’re saying white is the hottest trend in cars this year. Who’s to say it’s not? If I say it to you, you say it someone else, maybe that makes it so. It’s all about perception.”

All I can say is, I’m going to start taking really good care of my car so that I don’t need to buy a car again for a very, very long time.

Suppression of Oppression

Today I went to a conference organized by the Women Empowerment Club of a local university. The conference theme was “Suppression of Oppression.” Given that the conference was at a university and my special price was only $5, I had really low expectations.

When I arrived this morning and discovered their “full breakfast” was a bag of bagels and no coffee – I repeat no coffee on a Saturday morning – I feared that I had made a bad decision, but I was 45 minutes from home and figured I may as well stick it out. I’m so glad I did.

Today I was inspired by women sharing their voices in the hopes of helping us to uncover little pieces of the activists within us; I was inspired by university students expanding their views in ways I could not even have imagined at their age; and I was encouraged to see a handful of men there, listening and learning about women’s experiences of oppression in the world.

We talked about being silenced and feeling shame, and how those things are so pervasive and deeply embedded in our lives that we don’t even know how they got there until we start ‘unpacking’ them.

We talked about online violence and about ways that we can and must become involved. We talked about how bystander involvement isn’t always about confronting the bully, sometimes it’s about getting someone else to help and sometimes it’s about offering support to the target. (Read more about the 4 D’s of bystander involvement.) We have options, there are lots of ways to make a difference.

We talked about how going to the police rarely results in justice for female victims because the judicial system, and really society at large, is not set up to support or even believe the victim. How many women had to come forward about Jian Ghomeshi before the first woman was believed? Why do we give so much benefit of the doubt to somebody just because he’s famous? Well-spoken? A man?

We talked about the use of rape as a war tactic, and how young girls who were taken from their homes to be raped for years by Japanese soldiers are now old women still waiting for the Japanese government to acknowledge and apologize for forcing them to be sexual slaves to the military in the second world war. (You can read more about “comfort women” and sign a petition here.)

And we talked about our own battle against rape here at home, finally taking a step forward with consent finally being added to the sex education curriculum in Ontario.

At lunch, I shared with a group of young women the story of a Manitoba judge who only a few years ago didn’t send a rapist to jail because the judge felt the woman’s attire, drinking and flirtatious behaviour that night made it reasonable for the man to believe she was up for sex. The judge called the man who raped her “a clumsy Don Juan”. I remember that story was the first time in my life that I really began to think about victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and began to question my beliefs and my understanding of the world around me.

One of the women at my lunch table had recently begun to work for an agency that supports immigrants and newcomers, organizing programs for women. She asked if I would come speak at a future event she is organizing. I smiled and politely declined her offer – I hate public speaking – but it seems inevitable that I am heading in that direction.

Though I’m not ready yet to speak quite as loudly and publicly as the inspiring women who presented today – I am still finding and shaping my voice – I can feel my voice is becoming clearer and stronger every day, as is my awareness that in this world every one of us stands for something. We can show it through our action or we can show it through our inaction, but either way we have an impact in shaping the world we live in; the world we will leave to the generations of women who will come after us. Today, inspired and emboldened, I choose for my impact to be in the suppression of oppression, and it’s clear to me that I am in great company.