“A lie can travel around the world and back again, while the truth is lacing up it’s boots.” – Mark Twain

Words have power. They ignite revolutions, start wars, or they calm tensions. Words can enlighten, or they can spread dangerous lies. Societies have risen and fallen based on words alone.

Which is why the words the news media chooses are so important.

The media’s ability to frame the issues and the influence they have on our public consciousness is unmatched. Why else would political campaigns spend millions on messaging? Why else would autocrats go to great lengths to control the media? The news media is the fourth estate, an institution in our country. So powerful, it’s considered a check on political power.

And nowhere is their power and influence more constant and enduring – no matter the season, the year, the decade –  than when reporting on rape and sexual assault.

The words the media uses are relentless. They permeate our gray matter. We absorb them. When we hear or read a word enough times, it comes tumbling out of our own mouths unbidden. Words have a unique way of influencing thoughts and molding assumptions without us even realizing it.

Which is why the vague words the media uses to report rape and sexual abuse are so damaging. Why euphemisms and distortions are dangerous.

Tepid headlines about rape and abuse minimize the violence. When rape is called “sex,” the victims are framed as willing participants. When the rape/assault/murder is not called what it is, violent acts are protected. Every time the media fails to report the naked truth, it is serving the abusers. The desire by the media to not make us uncomfortable causes real and lasting harm to victims of abuse. And it makes future assault that much easier and more likely to go unpunished.

For every one negative thing a person is told, five positives must be told to counteract it. This is the power and the danger of words. For every lie told, the truth has to climb a bigger hill to be heard. For every misconception and minimization of sexual violence, victims have to speak out about their abuse.

Again.

Louder.

Resurrecting trauma and opening old wounds until society takes notice and listens. And then, wait for dozens more to do the same before anyone believes them.

There are few things on this Earth more powerful than words.

And every time the media sanitizes rape and abuse, it not only minimizes abuse and life long trauma, it offers a helping hand to predators.

And it happens all the time.

“Sixteen Year Old Prostitute Kills Man,” is a lie. A sixteen year old is a victim of child sex trafficking. But we don’t like to think about children being sexually abused and bought and sold. We prefer to think that she must have been at fault, that a child who can’t consent to medical treatment is old enough to consent to being sold for money. This is the cognitive dissonance that our culture and our media reinforces and likes to wrap itself in. After all, centuries of sexual abuse of altar boys in the Catholic Church didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was allowed. By hushed voices and looking away.

“Woman In Coma Gives Birth,” is a lie of omission. It ignores the the crucial part of the news-  that a woman in a vegetative state for 27 years was raped. But reading about a vulnerable woman in a coma is a lot harder to swallow with your morning coffee. We’re much more comfortable with the lie that a woman who can’t speak or move can consent to sex.

“Woman Died” is a whisper of a headline. “Husband Kills Wife,” is a scream that matches the violence and ongoing epidemic of domestic abuse that society prefers to ignore. One we say is a “private matter.” An issue to be “dealt with in the marriage.” What better way to keep our hands clean, after all? What better way to not have to deal with the fact that thousands of women and children die every year at the hands of angry men?

When the news media can’t bear to call rape, rape and to call lies, lies, victims are left to fend for the truth themselves.  Not only is the media lying when it refuses to use the correct words, it is perpetuating violence against victims.

The medias lies and evasions support rape culture. They feed it. And just so we’re clear, there is a direct line between rape culture – a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse – and violence against children and women and the LGBT+ community.

Sanitized reporting on sexual violence absolves rapists and pedophiles of their responsibility. Is this the editor’s or writer’s intent? Probably not. Their intent is to make the subject more palatable to readers. But rape and sexual abuse should not be palatable. The idea that we need to avoid discomfort is precisely why this problem persists at epidemic proportions. This is the intersection of rape culture and purity culture.

Purity culture uses women’s bodies to sell products, but revolts at a bare breast feeding a baby. Purity culture refuses to teach it’s children about autonomy and consent and reproductive rights and birth control, for fear it will induce promiscuity- yet turns away when those same children are sexually assaulted and raped. In purity culture women and children are to serve as props. To stroke egos and stroke men. We are to take the abuse and stuff it down, not speak up about it. We are to be proper and polite and absolutely, unflinchingly accommodating in our manner and speech. And when we are abused at the hands of those more powerful, we are only allowed to whisper of it to people who aren’t in a position to help.

This is what the media is endorsing and selling every time they diminish violence against our bodies and souls.

The ripple effect of how it’s reported is never ending. It shows up in how law enforcement and District Attorneys interpret a victim’s story. In pop culture. In the way schools and churches try to cover it up. You see it when judges and juries and neighbors refuse to believe victims. When society treats the victims like a collaborator. An accomplice in their own abuse.

When you do this, dear media, you are telling every little child who has had their soul shattered by sexual abuse that they were complicit. You are telling every teen girl who gets groped by grown men that they are to silence the sick feeling.  You tell every person living in denial about what is going on in their own home or their school or church that sticking their head in the sand is not only acceptable, but how polite society handles such unsavory subjects. You tell every man who has the desire to rape and abuse that you’ve got his back and you will soften his sick cruelty when you speak of it to the world.

Every time you water it down or sanitize the truth you perpetuate rape myths. The myth of the false accuser. The myth of the victimless crime. The myth that rape is only rape if it’s in a dark alley at the hands of a stranger. And cuts and bruises better be present or it’s not “legitimate rape.” The myth that a victim’s clothes render a predator unable to control their actions. Every single one of these myths you’re feeding is weaponized against victims- in courtrooms and in jury pools and in schools and the town rumor mill. These are the things whispered in the ears of victims who fight back. It’s what rapists tell their victims “no one will believe you, you filthy whore. You know you want it. You asked for it.” Intentional or not, you’re sending the same message as every abuser and rapist in their most violent moments. It’s as if you lifted his script and cleaned it up for the evening news.

And you wonder why victims don’t report.

When news reports of rape or sexual abuse are doused in antiseptic, the lie travels around the world twice before survivors have even had a chance to speak their truth. The retractions and corrections will land with a dull thud, barely making a sound. Your words are carnival music playing during the carnage scene of a bad movie. One that they are trying to rewrite with every breath and every step forward. And it leaves victims feeling alone in a world that doesn’t want to see or hear what they can’t forget.

And with each muddled headline the media looks increasingly like the puppet, with the likes of R. Kelly, and Harvey Weinstein – and every other disgusting abuser bloated with his own self imposed entitlement – pulling your strings. From the creepy network executive, to the slimy anchor with a door lock button under his desk, to the filthy man grabbing girls on the bus, you are their flunky. Repeating their message for them, taking the horrors they’ve visited upon the innocent and making it sound not that bad, really.  Brave people are coming forward to tell their stories. And each of them is showing the world what truth looks like, making the lie harder for you to sell.

What would happen, dear media, if you stopped shrouding the truth in soft words? What would happen if the news spoke to these things plainly, clearly, every time?

Maybe judges will stop telling young victims they should have kept their legs closed.

Maybe it won’t take 265 women coming forward before a man receives due justice and is finally stopped from abusing young girls.

Maybe rape kits will get processed and rapes will get prosecuted.

Maybe we’ll start believing victims. One single victim. Without a chorus of victims behind them.

Maybe judges won’t hand out light sentences for predators and maybe fathers of rapists won’t call it “twenty minutes of action” and maybe the public will stop worrying about a college-bound rapist’s future and maybe children will actually be safe in their homes and their schools and their churches and at sports practice and maybe women will be able to go to college without being one in four and maybe women will be able to go to work without their bodies being groped while their ideas are ignored and maybe black trans women will not be murdered and immediately forgotten and maybe you can see that this is a very real problem you’re perpetuating every time you speak of it softly.

Maybe it won’t take a hashtag movement before the world starts believing the stories we’ve been telling. The stories that have existed since the beginning of time, yet somehow half the population is bewildered at all the #MeToo’s.

Maybe victims can take a break from the fight for truth about abuse. Because we’re tired of carrying water for the media and a society that doesn’t want to hear or see it.

Maybe our children will grow up in a different world. One that no longer offers shelter to abusers.

Those who’ve opened up their wounds to bleed, to right the wrongs still being done, will not stand by while the media continues to soft-peddle acts of violence. We will scream the truth until it circles the globe, before the limp words drip out of your mouth.

Dear media, words matter. The false propriety you hide behind is a facade. An excuse. They make you the collaborator. The mouthpiece of the predators. The foothold to power structures that profit off of victims. They make you complicit, even if you didn’t intend to be a participant.

Time’s up on your ancillary reporting.

Do better.

“Will we ever understand? Or is the fate of man at hand? Will we live or shall we die?

How will we ever know if we never try?”

-Lenny Kravitz, What the Fuck Are We Saying

Them.

It can mean different things. It can be people who look different. It can be people of different nations. Different cultures. People who pray to a different god. People who love differently. People who live a different lifestyle.

Them. It’s a lie. I don’t believe in it. I don’t subscribe to the cult of judgement that seems to accompany the mentality of them.

They must be savages to riot in the street.

They must have done something to deserve being shot while unarmed.

They must not be strong enough/ have enough faith/ love enough to take their own life.

They must be filthy and ignorant to be ravaged with a horrendous virus.

They must believe in an evil god to live in perpetual war.

Statements dripping in self righteousness and contempt. Statements born of fear or ignorance or shame. Or all three. But nothing written or shouted or proclaimed from such a place is ever true. These things are not uttered in an attempt to help, to discuss, to heal. To rectify or repair. No, these words and others like them are a fallacy meant to perpetuate the myth of them.

Is it comforting, the idea of them? Is it a primal mindset we have yet to outgrow?

Lately it’s been too much to take. The harshness. The shrill. It’s become deafening. The evening news has become my affliction. Social media has become a playground for the ignorant to show their bitter hearts. And I’m wondering when it will all be done. When will we collectively say enough? When will people push through the bullshit of themThe other people. People not like you. It is so simplistic in it’s thinking that I wonder how this mindset has survived all these years. Decades. Centuries. How does fallacy survive? How does it endure?

“The government’s the devil’s hands. It’s a lie and it’s a scam. They wind us up, put us down and watch us go. And if you close your eyes, there’s a big surprise”

A piece of dirt in a disputed land. A land claimed by both sides as holy ground. Powers on both sides committing crimes and atrocities. All in the name of religion. People dying and children orphaned or maimed or traumatized. Because of them. They pray to a different god. They tread on our sacred ground. They are different from us. Propaganda demonizes the enemy. Because war cannot continue if people don’t believe in them. People on both sides. They will grow weary and war tired if they are allowed to see similarities.

Palestinians crying after seven children were killed by bombs in a refugee camp (Mahmud Hams/ AFP)
Palestinians crying after seven children were killed by bombs in a refugee camp (Mahmud Hams/ AFP)
Israeli's taking refuge from Hamas rockets in a sewer pipe (Reuters)
Israeli’s taking refuge from Hamas rockets in a sewer pipe (Reuters)

And the people caught in the middle? The people who retreat to a bomb shelter throughout the day? The people who’s children are killed and who’s homes are destroyed? They aren’t that different. They want to live in peace. Comfort. Security. They want it all to stop. They want to be able to eat and work and play and raise their families. But it won’t stop. Not until we stop seeing them. Not until we start seeing us. Seeing our children’s faces in a sewer pipe. Seeing our lives and hearts ripped apart because our child was killed by a senseless war that rages on. One that feeds on the notion of them.

 “I’ve been lost in the name of love. And we kill our brothers daily in the name of god. We’d better chill before we take on some tribulation. And if we realized? Then we’d make a little love”

Yet another young black man killed. Unarmed. Shot. More than once. Unarmed and walking down the street. Not a new story. A story as old as our nation. A story that continues to play out with heartbreaking frequency. A story that continues because of them.

And I’m angry. Because we should be better than this. I’m angry because I don’t care what he was wearing or what symbols or signs he flashed in a photo that seems to become some kind of implicit justification. Because he was shot. He was unarmed and he was killed. And this has happened again. And again.

(N.Y. Daily News)
(N.Y. Daily News)

I’m angry because it is clear that if you look a certain way you are living in danger every day that you venture out in the world. Because of how you look. Because of assumptions rooted in ignorance and hatred. Because of ideas that are so ingrained that many people don’t even realize they subscribe to them. And it doesn’t matter that he was college bound. But the nature of such incidents is to place the burden on the deceased to prove that they had a future. It cannot be assumed that they had a future. It must be stated and reiterated and shouted from a megaphone. That he had a future. The sick cruel nature of our world. To value the life of someone over another based on a certain path deemed worthy. Because if he wasn’t on a particular path, he wasn’t us. He was them.

There is no them.

There’s just us.

Strip away the superficial. The colors, the accents, the mannerisms, the dialects.

The religions.

Eliminate them because they are superfluous. They don’t matter.

And what do you have? The same. The same red blood coursing through blue veins. The same hearts, four chambers pumping life sustaining blood. The same brains firing off directions and information and knowledge. The same hearts. The hearts that ache with loss. The hearts that want peace and safety. The hearts that yearn for life and joy and love. Boil it all down. That’s what we all want. The rest is bullshit. Life. Laughter. Dignity. Security. That’s what they want. Just like you. They are like you.

I’ve had enough of them.

I’m tired of political leaders and power grabbers and game players and antiquated prejudice telling me about them. I’m tired of the delusion being repeated. Causing damage. Destruction. Death. Shame. Disgrace. Someone somewhere has a stake in them. Someone needs to keep us in fear. Someone profits or exalts or rejoices in division rather than unity. Someone wants to inhibit change and progress. Someone wants to see only the differences instead of the similarities.

Look around. Watch. Listen to what people say. Look for them. Whether it’s politicians from disparate parties. Whether it is land hungry dictators. Whether its someone trying to justify a boy being gunned down. Whether it is people offering an overly simplistic view of mental illness and suicide. Whether its people advocating sending immigrant children back to the horrors they just fled. If they are speaking in them, then there’s an agenda. If they are speaking in them, there’s no will to unite or to bring together or to resolve. The aim is to divide further. To fortify the barriers to progress. To keep us in a place of judgement and hate.

And when you see it, don’t buy into it.

Don’t let them cloud your thinking.

Call them out.

Call bullshit on them. 

‘Cause I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of them.

 

“Brainstorm take me away from the norm,

I’ve got to tell you something.  This phenomenon, I had to put it in a song.  And it goes like

Whoa, Amber is the color of your energy,

Whoa, Shades of gold display naturally…”

-311, Amber

I have a confession to make. I am actually a very open person. My Mom calls me her “Open Book” because I will tell anyone my thoughts, feelings, my shortcomings, my insecurities. (No this isn’t the confession, I’m getting to that). And it’s true. In real life I have no secrets. I start spilling my guts to people even when I’m just getting to know them. This baffles my husband who is much more private by nature. What I’m beginning to realize is that while I’m open in real life and share everything with people I interact with in real life, I am uncharacteristically private here. In this format, on this blog. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it would be documented in word. In print. That kind of makes it more revealing and people tend to remember what they read more than what they hear (not a scientific fact, just my assumption). Maybe it’s because this place matters so much to me. It matters more to me than I thought it would when I started blogging. It is possible that I’m worried that if I reveal too much of the real me that I will sully this place that I love. I will ruin what I’ve started and what I have grown to love. So, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and making a confession(finally). I am vain.

This is the part where I’m going to try to make that sound not so bad. I am not vain in the “I think I’m awesome, I look awesome, everyone look at me” kind of way. I am vain in the more quiet, fly under the radar way. I am vain in the “Ewww, don’t take a picture of me” kind of way. I am vain in the I want to view myself with the fuzzy, memory infused haze of how I used to look instead of the reality of what 41 years and three kids have done to my appearance. (Yes, I just blamed my precious children for ruining my looks.)

It’s not that I hate the way I look.  I’m generally o.k. with my appearance.  I’ve accepted certain things (I will always have dark circles and bags under my eyes) and other things I actually like.  Probably  a better way of putting it is I accept and even like my appearance, it’s grown on me over the last 41 years. But it wasn’t easy arriving at this place.  I was a dorky, awkward kid.  My awkward phase was unusually long.  There are times that I still see myself as that dorky kid with big teeth and Greg Brady hair.

I would love to tell you that my looks don’t matter to me.  For the most part they don’t, but there is a small part of me that really cares.  We are often our own worst critic.  I have torn myself down visually on more than one occasion.  My critical eye doesn’t extend to other people.  I see beautiful people everywhere.  In the carpool line, at the grocery store.  I don’t look at others and even consider applying the standards of “conventional beauty” to them.  I think society’s ideas about what is beautiful is bullshit.  I always have.  I think confidence and humor go a long way in making someone beautiful.  I have always been more attracted to someone who is interesting and unique looking rather than your typical good looking guy.  I was the girl who fell for the guys that left some of my friends scratching their heads.  They didn’t always see what I saw in some guys.

It’s also worth noting the difference between pretty and beautiful.  Pretty is someone who was given the genetic makeup to fit into society’s idea of what is attractive.  You know- tall, thin, perfectly symmetrical features, high cheekbones…  Beautiful is a different thing altogether.  Beauty comes in many different shapes, colors, sizes.  True beauty is something that shines form within.  It can be a smile, a laugh, a sparkle in the eye.  It can be a flair for being mischievous, it can be a spirit of adventure, it can be wit and humor.  It can be the way someone carries themselves, the way they tilt their head or the way they walk. It can be so many different things. I see beautiful people all around me.  Everyday.  And many of them likely don’t think of themselves as beautiful. Many of them would never make it on the cover of a magazine.

All of that being said, my vanity is not based in logic.  I know that the way I look is not important.  I know that people in my life don’t like me because of the way I look.  But vanity and insecurity, like so many negative emotions aren’t rational.  But it’s there.  I am acknowledging that it resides deep inside me and I’m not particularly proud of it.

I recently heard about the #feministselfie project.  The idea behind it is for women to take a selfie every day for a year.  The point is for women to put themselves in front of the camera, to show themselves.  Show themselves glammed up or au natural, in joy or in pain… however they feel or whatever mood strikes them.  Social media will be flooded with pictures of real women, positive selfies.  And ultimately, through this exercise of seeing themselves and seeing other women embrace themselves, some of that will infiltrate our subconscious via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram….  We will hopefully see real beauty.  Not the commercialized watered down homogenized version of beauty that is thrust in our faces every day by the media and by our society.

A lot of fellow bloggers are participating.  I saw their pictures on Twitter.  I was impressed.  I was intrigued.  And I was a little envious.  I scrolled through their selfies and I saw women who looked confident.  I saw women who looked comfortable in their own skin.  I saw women who were fearlessly putting themselves out there for the whole world to see.  And I saw women who were beautiful.  I read some of their blogs.  I realized that some of them were not so comfortable in front of the camera.  They were stepping outside of their comfort zones.  And many of them said that as they went through this process, they started to view themselves differently.  They weren’t as critical of every picture.  They started to embrace the beauty that each and everyone of them uniquely own.  I sighed with resignation knowing that I should participate.  This was something that scared me, which probably meant it would be good for me.  I am going to do this for those fellow bloggers.  For the women who are tired of only seeing the perfection waved in front of them as an unattainable and unrealistic goal.  For my daughters so that maybe the public conscious will eventually shift and they won’t grow up in a world that places priority on the sameness and the superficial.  But I’m also doing it for me.  I want to be in my family’s photo album.  I want to be in front of the camera once in a while.  I want to not care about what the version of me in my head says I need to be.  I want to take myself when I’m glammed up or au natural, in joy or in pain.  I want to take myself for better of for worse.

My first one, writing this post….
My first one, writing this post….