A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Activism

I Was Mobbed and Assaulted at a Conservative Rally

Trigger warning for mob intimidation and physical assault.

trumpmenfacesIt has taken me nearly a month to be ready to write this. It may not be coherent, but it is true to the best of my ability to tell it.

Just over three weeks ago, on May Day, a crowd of Trump supporters swarmed me, trapped me, worked together to intimidate me, and finally one of them physically assaulted me when I fought back. 

I was live streaming from Periscope at the time. I still can’t watch the video, but here’s what I remember:

I’d been streaming earlier in the day without incident at a rally I thought was the one I wanted to be at but turned out to be a pro-Trump rally. I left to go find my rally, and eventually came back past the Trump thing on my way back to my car. It looked like Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 12.10.04 PMsomething was happening, so I started streaming again, but it fizzled out, and I got talking with a guy. Perfectly civil conversation, but I disagreed with his take and he with mine. Then another guy walked up, and another with a MAGA hat. MAGAhat demanded that I listen to what the other guy had to say and I told him to fuck off. 

That’s when they swarmed.

At first it was just a few of them, but they formed a barrier around me, and I aimed my iPad at them and told them to get away from me. Then more of them came, surrounding me in a crowd of mostly men, some in helmets and homemade armor carrying shields, jeering and chanting shouting at me as I screamed for them to let me out. I spun in circles, streaming the whole time, yelling for the cops, who had been literally everywhere a moment before, but probably couldn’t hear me over these assholes. Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, a leering man reached a hand toward me and I swung my iPad at him. The crowd surged and someone grabbed me and started shouting that he’d seen me assault someone and he was performing a citizens arrest on me. I struggled to get away, but he held fast, and I hit the ground. A young man pulled me up and out (I fought him at first but he said he was there to help, so I let him). At this point the cops had noticed something was up and a bunch of them came through using their bikes as barriers and shouting at us, shouting at me, to move. “LADY IN THE BLACK HAT! GET BACK!” I’m hysterical, crying, and I turn to this cop and scream “I WAS JUST ASSAULTED.” He looked back at me with dead eyes and pushed his bike forward another step.

A few minutes later, more dead-eyed cops stood mere inches away and watched me hysterically telling my story to a woman with a camera on the sidewalk. They weren’t even curious.

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 12.09.01 PM

Original headline before the man who assaulted me, pictured here, contacted the paper.

My local weekly paper wrote this incident up after talking to my daughter, who was angry that coverage of this event portrayed it as peaceful with fluff stories that celebrated a “peace joint” shared between some members of opposing sides of the political spectrum late in the day. Somehow, though I saw several reporters and a lot of people with cameras, my story fell through the cracks.

The writer who told my story initially did a fairly good job. I quibbled with some details, but my daughter got him to make some clarifications, and I was relatively satisfied. 

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 12.09.32 PM

Headline after the man who assaulted me contacted the paper with his “side.”

Then the man who physically assaulted me—who grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go, eventually causing me to hit the ground hard enough that I am still in pain weeks later, contacted the publication and made claims suggesting that I somehow initiated the incident. The paper changed the headline and the story in ways that still make me furious to think about. Without contacting us for clarification, they allowed the man who assaulted me to change the narrative to state that I “initially” did something aggressive that caused the whole thing. 

The kicker? Dude was there. This writer was a witness to what happened to me and apparently tried to help me up, but I screamed at him to get the fuck away from me. But he thought the right thing to do, the “fair” thing to do, was to give “both sides” of the story by giving voice to the man who assaulted me without contacting me (or my proxy) and making sure he got it right.

My daughter contacted him and let them know how badly he’d messed up, and an editor took over the story and removed the most offensive bit that implied I was responsible for what happened to me. He left the headline that implied a two-sided scuffle. 

After that bit of gaslighting*, I had no interest in talking to the press. The fabulous Not Sorry Feminism wrote about my story and did a far better job of it than I trust the mainstream media to do. (*But wait, there’s more! I later learned that our local PBS station profiled a bunch of these guys in a fluff piece on their website and also wrote about the peace joint and the “peaceful” rally, labeling the Trump supporters “patriots” as opposed to their “liberal” counterparts.)

Note that I am not linking to any of the stories with the exception of Not Sorry Feminism, which does contain links. Please take care if you watch the video (incident starts around 10min mark). 

For the past three and a half weeks, I have been trying to come to terms with this event and the betrayal I feel at how my local media reported on it. Recovering physically is a matter of time. In another week, my body will probably not be hurting. But the trauma all of this has inflicted on my already traumatized self is something else entirely. And as brave as I thought I would be in a situation like this (if I’d been able to imagine it at all), I don’t know if I can do what feels like absolutely the right thing and pursue charges against these people because I know what they’re capable of—I’ve seen how they make targets of those they perceive to be their enemies—and I fear for my loved ones. Some of the people who participated in this mob streamed their own video and put it up on YouTube for people to comment on. At least one of them posted my own video, remixed to make me an object of ridicule and also to make it look as though I was somehow the aggressor. I’m honestly surprised, since I let the paper use my full name, that I haven’t been doxed yet. If I press charges, identify these people and make their lives difficult, this will almost certainly happen, and that will put me and people I care about at risk. 

18268482_10155431087914427_8402806565525823049_n

Two members of the mob we caught up with later. Note the helmets and shields.

It kills me to admit that they’ve made me afraid (apparently I screamed that they were not intimidating as they crowded around me, but I lied, I lied, I lied) but I think it’s important to talk about it because this is their goal. They want us to be afraid. They want us to believe that our time has passed and theirs has come. They want us silent.

But if they can’t have our silence, they’re happy to provoke us to violence. One man stood on the corner early in the day and seemed to be trying to provoke passersby and when I mentioned this to a nearby cop (“I think this guy is trying to get someone to punch him,”) he said “That’s exactly what they said they were going to do.” And when these people surrounded me and shouted at me and reached hands toward me, they were hoping I’d do exactly what I did: defend myself. So they could do exactly what they did: point and say, “See! She struck first!” 

I know what happened. I know what’s true. And I also know that it might be a while before I’m ready to do anything about it besides heal. I’m getting help with that, and I’m determined to process all of this (and the past traumas and pain and vulnerabilities it’s brought up) and get to a place where I can fight back the way I always thought I would. When that time comes, I’ll need all the support I can get.

Meanwhile, add this to your knowledge base. These people are itching for a fight as long as they can say they didn’t start it. They get armored up for it and trade tips on how to provoke us. They are not only willing to bully and assault a 5’4” woman, they take pride in it.

A member of this seething mob literally said to me at one point, “We’re not a violent crowd.” And yet, nearly a month (update: six weeks) later, I’m still in physical pain and spending money I don’t have on therapy to work through the emotional fallout. After all I’ve been through, let’s face it, I needed therapy. What I didn’t need was yet another trauma to process.

I’m angry when I think about what they did. I’m angry when I think of the people just after the fact who told me it was my fault because “you struck first!” I’m angry at my local media for acting like that rally was some patriotic lovefest and for gaslighting me. I’m angry at myself for not having the courage of my convictions in the face of my fear. I’m angry because I’m afraid to do anything that will mean I have to look at or deal with those people ever again. I’m angry that I’m afraid to publish this blog post.

And I’m furious because I know this is exactly what they wanted.


PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)



Not All Men, But These Ones

SAYNOTALLMENAGAIN

Trigger Warning for the many ways we experience violence at the hands of (not all) men, including CSA, SA, rape, VAWG.

I saw a quote a while back that hit home for me. I can’t find it now, but it went something like this:

The issue is not that all men are violent. The issue is that nearly all women have experienced violence at the hands of men.

The sad but true fact is that while not all men are violent, men do commit violence against women and non-binary people (and other men—in fact, according to the FBI, most violent crimes are committed by men).

I have told parts of my story before here and there. And I suspect that I will do so again. In this case, I’m reprising my tale now in order to join others who have shared their litanies of violence as a counter to the superfluous yet oh-so-ubiquitous cries of “not all men.” Because FFS, dudes. Enough already.

derail“Not all men” is a derailing tactic and serves literally no other purpose than to focus attention away from male violence and center it on the man decrying the unfairness of it all.

When people who are not men say “men do this,” we’re reporting that our experience is that enough men do this that it stands out that men do this. The fact that men do this contributes to an overall feeling of oppression. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate patriarchy. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate sexism and misogyny. Men do these things without even thinking about them because the men who came before them did it and because too often no one does so much as turn away in disapproval when it happens.

Not all men did these things to me, but these men did.

The man who sucked my tongue, fondled my genitals, and taught me to give him a blow job when I was three.

The man who was my uncle by marriage and came in my mouth when I was six, then spent hours trying to get into my underwear as we camped out in the yard.

The man who fondled my nipples when I was seven or eight during a nighttime hide-and-go-seek game at my cousin’s house.

The man who flexed his exposed erection at me and my friend when we were 9 via the leg of his shorts.

The man—a trusted family friend—who gave me music lessons when I was 9 and performed oral sex on me while my parents weren’t home.

The man who used a finger cot to make his penis small enough to fit inside me when I was 10. Who also gave me a cigar tube to practice with at home.

The man who pulled his truck over as I walked down the street, opened his door, stepped out naked and masturbated while staring at me.

The 14-year-old boy who violently raped me when I was 12 and smoking weed with him in a fort behind my neighbor’s house.

The man who had sex with me in his van knowing that I was a 12-year-old rape victim (but probably not really believing that second part).

The boys and men who repeatedly “pantsed” me over my loud objections and ridiculed me when I was angry.

The two men who took turns raping me while I was passed out drunk at my first kegger when I was 14.

The many, many men—adults—who gave me alcohol and drugs and got their rocks off on me when I was a troubled teen.

The man who exposed his genitals to me in a grocery store parking lot when I was 16.

The man who spent a drunken night trying to coerce me into sleeping with him when I was 16.

The man who raped me when I was 16 because I said no after a night of partying with him and his friend.

The man who attempted to grab me on a dark street as I rode my bike to a friend’s house, 16 and pregnant, and only stopped because I scared him with my primal and guttural GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.

The man who beat the shit out of me in front of my 2-year-old for leaving a party when I was 18.

The man who decided that the fact that I was unconscious on his sofa meant he could go ahead and rape me.

The man who thought because we were friends and had been sexual in the past, it was ok to straddle my drunken body and ejaculate on my chest after I said no to sex.

The many men who have wished me harm here on my blog and on social media.

How many men is enough? How many men must commit violence upon my person before it’s ok if I just say “men did this”?

Men did these things. Not all men. But enough of them that this list is not even complete. Men did these things. And every time some dude Kool-Aid-Mans into a thread where people who are not men discuss male violence to declare that not all men did these things, the only thing he makes clear is that he is utterly ignorant and unwilling to listen to people who are not just like him.

Not all men. Just dozens of men in my case. Hundreds if you count my circle of friends and relatives. Thousands if you count their friends and the people they love.

And that’s enough.


PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


Related on MMAS:

 


Actions Speak Louder Than Prayers: Be the Helpers

pulseribboneqfl

via Equality Florida’s GoFundMe

As I struggled to form words to begin this post, a CNN notification just popped up to tell me that—as the world reels from the terror attack on Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed at least 50 people and injured at least 50 more making it the “deadliest mass shooting in US history”—police in Los Angeles have in custody a person who was armed to the teeth and headed to a Pride celebration in the LA area. So far, the events seem to be unrelated in the strictest sense—i.e., these men likely did not know one another or coordinate in any way—but any attack, or any attempted or planned attack, on a gathering place for LGBTQ people during Pride week can certainly be said to have at least a couple of things in common.

“We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate.” ~President Obama

In times like this, it’s often difficult to know how best to help. My thoughts—and my prayers, such as they are—do go out to the LGBTQ community today, but I will not pretend my thoughts and prayers are magical and will create change in and of themselves. That takes action.

As a straight, cis woman, I’m focusing my efforts today on amplifying the voices of LGBTQ people on social media and also, with thanks to @PrisonCulture on Twitter for the prompt, I’m shining light on organizations that work to support LGBTQ people and fight for equality and justice in the LGBTQ sphere. These are the folks who are out there right now doing the work that needs to get done, and the one of the best ways to help in times like this is to support them either financially or by letting others know about the important work they do. I hope you can join me in these efforts to whatever degree you’re able.

Need Support?

If you need support services, many of the orgs listed below offer them, and Scarleteen has a helpful guide as well. You can also contact the Trevor Project and their Trevor Lifeline: 866-488-7386.

Some things allies can do:

  1. Support and lift up the voices of the LGBTQ people in your social and social media circles. Today is a day to hear from those who are most affected by this tragedy and for the rest of us to stand with them.
  2. If you’re on Twitter, visit @PrisonCulture‘s timeline and retweet the list of organizations she tweeted out.
  3. Donate to and/or share links to the organizations listed below. Orgs local to Orlando are in particular need right now as they are experiencing a high volume of requests for support services. You can also donate directly to two victim funds linked below.
  4. Contact your local LGBTQ orgs for volunteer opportunities.
  5. (Update) Check out this guide from Scarleteen for even more info on getting support and ways to help.

Note: Mission statements are from each website respectively.

Orlando/FL Local Organizations

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Commmunity Center of Central Florida (The Center)

The Center offers many services, counseling, meetings and community groups open to all. Our facility also houses board rooms, a cyber center and huge community room that can be rented out for parties, wedding receptions or very large meetings.

The Center has set up a GoFundMe page to benefit victims of the shooting.

Zebra Coalition

The Coalition assists young people facing homelessness; bullying; physical, sexual and drug abuse; and isolation from their families with individualized programs to guide them to recovery and stability.

Orlando Youth Alliance

The Orlando Youth Alliance (OYA) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which provides a safe space for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning (GLBTQ) youth to gather, talk about issues and concerns that are important in their lives, as well as meet other gay youth. OYA is a peer based youth group with members ranging from the ages of 13 to 24.

Equality Florida

Equality Florida consists of two organizations – Equality Florida Institute, Inc., our 501(c)(3) educational charity and Equality Florida Action, Inc., our 501(c)(4) advocacy organization. Together, these organizations form the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Through education, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and lobbying, we are changing Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Equality Florida has also set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations for the victims.

Other US LGBTQ Orgs to Support

FIERCE

FIERCE is a membership-based organization building the leadership and power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth of color in New York City. We develop politically conscious leaders who are invested in improving ourselves and our communities through youth-led campaigns, leadership development programs, and cultural expression through arts and media. FIERCE is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of social justice movement leaders who are dedicated to ending all forms of oppression.

SONG

Southerners On New Ground (SONG) is a regional Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town, LGBTQ people in the South. We believe that we are bound together by a shared desire for ourselves, each other, and our communities to survive and thrive. We believe that Community Organizing is the best way for us to build collective power and transform the South. Out of this belief we are committed to building freedom movements rooted in southern traditions like community organizing, political education, storytelling, music, breaking bread, resistance, humor, performance, critical thinking, and celebration.

Audre Lorde Project

The Audre Lorde Project is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color center for community organizing, focusing on the New York City area. Through mobilization, education and capacity-building, we work for community wellness and progressive social and economic justice. Committed to struggling across differences, we seek to responsibly reflect, represent and serve our various communities.

Black & Pink

Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.

Youth BreakOUT

BreakOUT! seeks to end the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth to build a safer and more just New Orleans.

We build on the rich cultural tradition of resistance in the South to build the power of LGBTQ youth ages 13-25 and directly impacted by the criminal justice system through youth organizing, healing justice, and leadership development programs.

Broadway Youth Center

For more than 1,500 teens and young adults, the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) of Howard Brown Health is a haven to seek refuge, medical care, social services, clothes and other much-needed care. All of our services are for youth, ages 12 to 24. BYC sees anyone, regardless of ability to pay.

Sylvia Rivera Law Project

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.

The Trevor Project 

Trevor Lifeline: 866-488-7386
Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.


Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 11.14.31 AM.pngIn an outpouring of solidarity, citizens are lining up to donate blood at local blood centers—in fact, some are so overwhelmed with donors, they’ve asked people to come back at a future date. (A rumor, apparently false, circulated earlier that OneBlood had lifted the ban on blood donations for gay men. OneBlood has issued a statement saying that the homophobic ban is still, unfortunately, in place.) As my friend Jaclyn Friedman said of this image, “Look for the helpers.”

I hope that those of you who need support today are finding the helpers in your community. And for those of us who count ourselves allies to LGBTQ people, let’s be the helpers. Today and every day.


Note: Some edits have been made for clarity and to add information not known at the time of publication.


PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


Related:


Why #StopWoody Is Important to Me

A girl very much like I was.

A girl very much like I was.

*Trigger warning for CSA*

Some of you will know that I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). When I heard that Amazon has signed Woody Allen to create a new TV show for them, it reminded me of this story:

When I was nine years old, a family friend was sexually abusing me. This was unfortunately not my first experience with CSA, but it was my first experience with ongoing abuse. I was utterly terrified my mom would find out what was going on and *I* would be in trouble. When I say “terrified” please understand that I lived my life in fear. When I finally, in a screaming fit of terror, confessed “my” crimes to my mother, she did her best to help me understand it wasn’t my fault.

Soon after, as we got in the car as a family to go somewhere together, my abuser pulled up in his car behind us and my stomach lurched as my mom told my dad he needed to go deal with it. I had no idea what to expect, but a confrontation of some sort seemed to be on the menu. I watched in the rearview window as my dad smiled, shook my abuser’s hand, and got back into the car.

The feeling I have when I think of that moment is the feeling that keeps coming back to me whenever I think of this—whenever I think of scrolling through my Amazon options and coming across a thumbnail of Woody’s latest offering. It’s that feeling that my abuse doesn’t count—that my abuser is “acceptable” to the society I live in.

I’m not alone in this, I know.

And can you even imagine how Dylan will feel?

THIS IS NOT OK WITH ME. None of it.

I am fighting for the kids who can’t fight for themselves. I am fighting for the kid I was—the kid my dad didn’t fight for.

This is why I started #StopWoody and wrote this petition to ask Amazon to drop him.

Please stand with Dylan and me and all CSA survivors. Sign the petition. Tweet on the hashtag and at @RoyPrice, @Amazon, @Amazon_Studios. Help us fight this culture that uplifts powerful predators at the expense of their victims.

Click to sign.

Click to sign.

Love,
Rosie


PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


Related:


Amazon Studios: Stand With CSA Survivors and #StopWoody

Today I learned that Amazon Studios has signed child predator Woody Allen to create a new TV show. That’s all I wanted to know about that, so I don’t have any other details. I’ve been tweeting in protest today on the hashtag #StopWoody along with other survivors and allies, and have also worked up a petition at Change.org. The text is below.

Here is a post explaining why #StopWoody is important to me.

Please, if you can, stand with me as I fight for the kids who can’t fight for themselves. For the kid I was.

Please sign and share the petition.

StopWoody

Click to sign!

We, the undersigned, are survivors of childhood sexual abuse and people who love and support survivors. We stand together against Amazon Studio’s decision to contract with Woody Allen, accused of sexually abusing Dylan Farrow, to create a television show.

While Woody Allen has not been convicted of a crime, the judge in Allen’s custody suit expressed deep concerns about Allen’s behavior toward Dylan:

In his 33-page decision, Judge Wilk found that Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was “grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.” The judge also recounts Farrow’s misgivings regarding Allen’s behavior toward Dylan from the time she was between two and three years old. According to the judge’s decision, Farrow told Allen, “You look at her [Dylan] in a sexual way. You fondled her . . . You don’t give her any breathing room. You look at her when she’s naked.” (Vanity Fair)

StopWoodyWilkQuote

After the judge denied Allen visitation rights, the state attorney decided to drop the case in order to spare Dylan from further trauma:

The state attorney, Maco, said publicly he did have probable cause to press charges against Allen but declined, due to the fragility of the “child victim.” Maco told me that he refused to put Dylan through an exhausting trial, and without her on the stand, he could not prosecute Allen. (Vanity Fair)

What is clear from the facts is that we have every reason to believe Dylan and none to stand with and protect her abuser. By partnering with Allen, Amazon and Amazon Studios sends the message to survivors that you don’t believe Dylan Farrow’s account of her abuse at his hands. This is a tragically common reaction to children and adults reporting sexual abuse. We often contend with disbelief from the moment we ask for help, a fact that is not lost on victims currently weighing whether to report their abuse—nor is it lost on predators rationalizing their own behavior. When Amazon sends the message that you don’t believe Dylan, you tell us that you don’t believe us, either. You contribute to a culture that protects and supports and validates predators while treating victims like liars and criminals.

StopWoodyWilkQuote3

You make it harder for victims to report their abuse.

We must make it clear to Allen and other predators that what they do is in no way acceptable. And to do that, we must deny Woody Allen access to a platform. We must deny him and his actions our approval as a society or we are complicit in those actions and in the harm they do. To continue to reward people like Allen, Cosby, and Polanski is to betray every child who has ever been a victim of sexual abuse.

Childhood sexual abuse destroys lives.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, over 62,000 children were sexually abused in the US in 2012. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) revealed in 2010 that 42% of female rape
victims were raped before they turned 18 and 28% of male victims were first raped before age ten. The impact on victims ranges from short-term anxiety to long-term depression to adulthood sexual dysfunction to suicide, and there are millions of us living in the United States.

Click to sign.

Click to sign.

We deserve better.

StopWoodyWilkQuote2Dylan deserves better than to see her abuser rewarded yet again. All survivors of childhood sexual abuse deserve better than this continued culture of acceptance for predators and dismissal of victims.

As survivors of childhood sexual abuse and people who love them, we the undersigned are asking Amazon and Amazon Studios to stand with survivors and take a stand against childhood sexual abuse. Because make no mistake—if you move forward with this partnership, the statement you make will be “We support child predators—not CSA survivors.”

sign


PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


Related:


American Girl: Representation Matters

image: Flickr user terren in Virginia

image: Flickr user terren in Virginia

I missed out on American Girl dolls, and somehow my daughter did, too. But for many women and girls in the US, they were and continue to be a big part of growing up. Their historical character dolls offer a glimpse into the lives of girls who lived through different times and also encourage a love of reading (each comes with a book detailing her adventures). Some characters get “sidekicks,” and each year American Girl releases a “Girl of the Year” doll. That’s a lot of opportunities to give little girls a chance to see themselves represented among other American Girls.

But the overwhelming majority of historical character, sidekick, and “Girl of the Year” dolls have one thing in common: they are white and able-bodied.

AGGoY

Girls of the year 2001-2010. Note that Sonali is a sidekick.

The line of My American Girl dolls, which lets girls order “dolls that look like me,” offers three skin tone choices: light, medium, and dark. There are nearly forty “My American Girl” models on offer to real American girls, but a look at the site reveals that girls who don’t have “light skin” get far fewer choices.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 11.16.02 AM

That’s twenty-eight eye color, hairstyle, and hair color combination choices for little white girls, including dolls with freckles, so if you’re a little white girl, you’ll have no trouble finding a doll that looks a lot like you. Little dark-skinned girls choose from four dolls (aka hairstyles). Little girls with “medium skin” have a few more choices when it comes to hair and eye combos, though all but one of these dolls uses the same face mold as the “light skin” dolls. No freckles for brown and black girls. And no “dolls that look like you” for little Asian girls. In other words, not much diversity happening here.

L to R: light skin, dark skin, medium skin

L to R: light skin, dark skin, medium skin

While you might conclude (as I did) from looking at the choices for these dolls that American Girl made only two molds and that was that, you’d be wrong (as I was). But I know way more about this than I did when I woke up this morning thanks to Sarah Hannah Gómez (more on why in a moment) and now I can tell you that there are apparently a total of seven face molds, most of which have been retired. The mold used in the “dark skin” dolls is known as the Addy Mold. There’s the mold created for Sonali (from the Girls of the Year graphic above). There’s the Asian Mold and one called the Jess Mold. The point is, it would be a simple thing for this company to do a better job representing the diversity of actual American girls.

“Have you looked around at the America you live in?” asks Sarah Hannah Gómez in her new petition on Change.org. “At the girls who were your first customers? 43% of us are nonwhite. And as for your current generation of customers? Of the approximately 22 million United States citizens under the age of 19, around 36% are nonwhite. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2042, whites will be the minority.”

This is not the first time women and girls have called on American Girl to do better. Sisters Eva and Melissa Shang created a petition that netted nearly 150 thousand signatures—and a fair amount of press—asking American Girl to consider a disabled Girl of the Year. The company’s response was fairly dismissive:

“We appreciate the enthusiasm and trust our fans have in us to create products and stories that speak to diversity and inclusion, and we applaud Melissa Shang for her amazing spirit and positive attitude … We receive hundreds of passionate requests to create a variety of dolls and books based on a wide range of circumstances, and we are always considering new ways to enhance our product lines.”

So, no plans for the Girl of the Year to represent a disabled child anytime soon. (Positive side-note: You can special-order a My American Girl doll with a hearing aid, and AG-sized wheelchairs are available.)

Sarah Hanna Gómez’ petition goes on to explain to American Girl how their lack of diversity makes an experience that should be happy—sharing something she loved as a child with a new generation of girls—into a painful one, instead:

You made us who we are. You made us readers; you taught us to delve into history; you gave us toys that encouraged imaginative and creative play.

But more important: we made you. It is because of our love for you that your brand still stands strong today.

Now, as adults, we have the chance to share American Girl with our younger sisters, nieces, and daughters. But much as we love nostalgia, there’s something that hurts us when we try to delve into it. You keep misunderstanding your own name – American Girl – and erasing us from the story of America.

click to sign

Click to sign the petition.

Are you listening, American Girl? Because this is a key message companies like yours need to hear: lack of representation equals erasure. When you represent “American Girls” as primarily white and able-bodied, you participate in a system that a) treats people with those qualities as “normal” and thus b) devalues and dehumanizes those who don’t have those qualities and c) fails to tell their stories, erasing them from the narrative. As Eva Shang said,

“What makes girls love American Girl is that it’s not just a doll. It comes with a story. It’s compelling to Melissa because her own story is so unique. So what we are really campaigning for is that her story be told.”

And Sarah Hannah Gómez points out that there are two important sides to the representation coin—mirrors that let us see ourselves and windows into the lives of others:

Without mirrors and windows, white, able bodied, Christian children grow up thinking that they are the norm from which everyone else deviates. Without mirrors and windows, children of color, children with disabilities, or children of different religious backgrounds grow up thinking that they are less than, that they are other, that they are strange.

I highly recommend reading her beautifully written petition in full and, of course, signing and sharing it so that this company gets the message that they must do better when it comes to representing real American girls. (You can follow Sarah Hannah Gómez on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog.)

Bottom line: If you’re going to call yourself “American Girl” in 2015, you need to make it a priority to represent the wide range of girls who live in this Great American Melting Pot. Do better, AG, or expect to keep hearing from us.


Update: Soon after publishing this, I tweeted about it, tagging American Girl. Here’s what they had to say:

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 5.36.41 PM

Well, that doesn’t answer the question, which was “Why are nearly all the Girl of the Year dolls white?” But since I didn’t actually expect an answer to that question (or any answer at all, truth be told), I’ll address the statement above. AG responded within an hour (and from a corporate account on a Saturday!) so I’m assuming they had this one canned and ready. This tells me they have to address this topic from time to time, so you’d think they’d do a better job of it. I mean, if the best you can claim is “one of the most diverse and inclusive” then obviously you can do better in this area, so why not at least go with the “we’re always considering ways to enhance” line they gave the Shangs? But to me it sounds like AG is pretty satisfied with the status quo, so no, they probably aren’t actually looking for ways to improve—just ways to respond to critics that get them to go away.

Update 2 (1/5/15): A live Twitter chat is beginning now (11:30 am Pacific time) on the hashtag #LiveUptoAmericanGirl.


Note: As is often the case, I have made some post-publication edits for clarity.

PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)


Choosing My Words and Introducing Rosie’s Phenomenal Insult Machine!

BULLSHITwordshurtbr

Trigger warning for discussion of multiple potentially difficult topics.

Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But words can never hurt me.

A few years ago, I posted to my Facebook page a wish that parents would stop (or at least stop and think before) repeating this to their children. Words can and do hurt, I pointed out, and parents argued, “Yes, but this is a tool that maybe empowers them. Something they can say back to a bully.”

Ok, but it seems to me that two things happen when we give them this “tool” to wield: 1. We lie to them (because those words do hurt!) and tell them to go forth and lie some more. 2. We we tell them that their feelings are invalid or abnormal or both, and that they should hide those feelings from others. So the “tool” is a weapon to help them feel/seem stronger and they must hide the hurt lest they be seen as (or heaven forbid feel) weak.

This doesn’t seem healthy to me. The people my age who grew up using this “tool” became adults who often believe that words don’t have power and that people who claim to be hurt by them are either attention-seekers or whiners or both. In other words, the people who claim harm are either lying (because words don’t hurt!) or they’re weak. But…

Words hurt.  

privilege (1)Another symptom of this belief that words are “just words” is the fact that the idea of using “politically correct” language is a Bad Thing even among some progressives. While the term itself was coined as a jab, the “PC” movement was really just an attempt to create awareness of the harm some words do to people on the margins of society. I remember people joking years ago after making an off-color comment that it wasn’t “PC,” half-heartedly apologizing for the potential offense while effectively dismissing any criticism preemptively. Now there seems to be a culture of intolerance of tolerance itself which has spawned (or partly spawned by?) a misguided backlash against a misunderstood idea. Whereas the point was to remind people who gave a shit how simple (if not always easy) it is to choose words that don’t cause harm, the people who complain about it the most are ones who seem to feel persecuted because they have to worry that if they say something people don’t like then consequences might result.

Dude, it doesn’t affect you, so you don’t give a shit. We get it. But crying “WORD POLICE!” and “FREE SPEECH!” every time someone calls you out just makes you look like a jackass (and kind of a whiny one, at that). Because this is Earth and on Earth (say it with me now)…

freedomofspeech

As an activist, I have learned to choose my words more carefully partly because I have listened to marginalized people who express how though it might seem like a small thing to someone who doesn’t deal with it regularly, a single dehumanizing word is a drop in a bucket that collects those drops all day every day until that person feels like they are drowning in them. Recently a commenter on my Facebook page (one of the many dudes who stop by to tell me I’m doing my feminism wrong) said that focusing on microagressions like this is somehow detracting from work done in other areas. Yeah, no. Like drops in the bucket, these microaggressions become a part of a storm that beats people down until depression, anxiety, even PTSD result. When you consider that you could be a part of that storm or not, well…I’d rather not.

So many words we (we as individuals with varying levels of privilege and power, we as a society) use casually reinforce stereotypes or make insults of things that shouldn’t be insulting or trivialize things that are not trivial…the words we use to tell boys not to ever get caught behaving like girls and to practice strict masculinity at all costs (words which also tell all the girls who hear them that to be a girl is to be less-than); the words we use to tell girls and women that we are, as a group, unstable and prone to hysteria, not credible as witnesses to our own lives; the words we—cisbodied people—use to tell trans and nonbinary people that we don’t view them as quite “real” and that their role is comic relief, and the ones straight people use to tell gay people that who they love makes them abnormal; the words we—able-bodied and/or neurotypical people—use to dehumanize people with mental and physical differences, that paint them as everything from inspirational tragedies to animals to jokes; the words we—white people—use remind Black people that it is our privilege to go from birth to death with zero understanding of their experiences; the words we use to tell victims of sexual assault that if their attacker didn’t come out of a dark alley or if they drank or wore a short skirt, we will not believe them.

alisonrowan.com

alisonrowan.com

Words matter.

And so I am trying to be conscious of the words I choose and yes, it’s sometimes uncomfortable. Learning is hard. Growing pains. What’s the alternative? Ignorance. Stagnation. Regression. No thank you.

Still with me? Good. This is the fun part.

As a woman who is a feminist who is also on the Internet, words hurt me more than I let on, partly because of my social training and partly because I would rather laugh than rage or cry. So, as often as possible, I find a way to laugh or otherwise release some stress. Sometimes I make comics. Sometimes I write angry blog posts.

And sometimes (like since the baby anti-feminists found my Facebook page) I find that I need (ok, want—ok, no, need) to employ an insult in response to or about someone who is wrong on the Internet (usually some antifeminist with the privilege of being utterly unaware of their own privilege or a company or organization or website or…). When I do, I want that insult to hit only one target with zero collateral damage. I want an insult that sums up the problem behavior/person without participating in the dehumanization of marginalized people or perpetuating oppressive systems in any way.

In other words, I want a precision strike.

That’s why I created Rosie’s Phenomenal Precision Insult Machine. Behold:

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.38.30 AM

RPPIM takes terms from two columns and randomly combines them into one insult. You can choose how many insults to display in the upper right where it says “Amount.” Click “DO IT!” or refresh to generate new insults. I made this a while ago using RandomGen by Orteil and have shared it a few times, and friends have helpfully suggested additions. (If you’d like to do the same, use the comments or hit me up on Twitter.) It was mostly just a way to blow off steam and also a reminder that there are SO MANY alternatives to some of our go-to words and phrases. I love the fact that the people who tried it said it made them laugh and that they couldn’t stop clicking.

DO IT!

DO IT!

Words can do harm. But we’re not going to stop using them to describe bad behavior and the people doing bad things. So as long as that’s true, I’m going to make it a point to use fewer words that contribute to the problems in the world in the ways that contribute to those problems.

And I’m going to keep finding ways to laugh.


Note: As is often the case, I have made some post-publication edits for clarity.

PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)