The Answer to Hate Speech Isn’t Legislation: Lessons from Watching Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot recently released a couple new videos, one a direct warning about Trump, the other an anthem to vaginas (which is awesome as fuck!).

It inspired me to watch the documentary about them that’s available on Netflix right now, and I want to encourage everyone to watch it.

Protest is such an important form of free speech, and this documentary gives a stark example of what happens when totalitarian religion and government try to outlaw “offensive” and “hateful” speech.

We’ve been experiencing an erosion of the rights to protest and free speech…driven as much by the militarized response to human rights  and environmental protests (far too many examples to link to) as by the liberal anger towards “hate speech.”

It’s a dangerous trend. And neither conservatives nor liberals seem to realize that if you make it punishable for the other to have protests and free speech, as offensive as it may be, you set yourself up for the same.

In the documentary, you can see how the former intolerance for religious freedom has changed to intolerance for “blasphemy.” But nothing’s really changed. The foundation–that the government has the power to punish one for their beliefs and expression–is the same.

With the recent videos, Pussy Riot does a brilliant job of showing how Trump represents an overt threat to freedom, but the documentary carries a dire warning of another kind.

Free speech is only as secure as the right for the most offensive person to speak without legal retaliation.

As a bi feminist, I may not like it when someone speaks misogynistic or homophobic things, but I realize that their right to that opinion is my right to mine (and you’d better believe I want to be able to respond).

As we head into the future, with whoever becomes President, we as a nation really must consider what kind of nation we want to live in.

Will we support the rights of those we disagree with to have their voice so that we can protect our own?

Or will we support the comfort that comes when a police force can shut down those who make us uncomfortable and thus begin crafting our own gags?

 

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The Continuing Horror of Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby is one of those old classics in the supernatural horror genre. I saw the movie several years ago and scooped up the book when I found it at a library sale. I decided to give the print version a spin this Halloween.

As I’ve written about before, one of my reasons for loving horror is due to the rich symbolism. It’s not enough to just have the surface plot. The best horror movies, for me, are the ones that manage to portray the horrors of real life as monsters and ghosts.

And for Rosemary’s Baby, the horror was all in the subtext. The plot point about sex with Satan and birthing the anti-Christ wasn’t particularly scary to me, but the terror of having those you trust gaslight and manipulate you is always terrifying.

Early on in the book, Rosemary is drugged and raped. She is partially conscious throughout it, conscious enough to know that something happened the next morning, but when she confronts her husband, she has her feelings of violation dismissed. He didn’t want to “miss” the window of opportunity for impregnation.

Since she wants a baby so much…and since she thinks it was her husband who raped her, she convinces herself that her feelings are silly, that she’s making a big deal out of nothing–even that she is partially to blame.

Later, when she finds out she’s pregnant, the circumstances surrounding how she became pregnant become even further buried as everyone around her celebrates her “good fortune.”

Immediately, the reader begins to see how Rosemary’s desires and concerns are overridden by others, beginning with being pushed into going to a doctor who ignores her concerns about her pregnancy complications and scares her away from talking to her friends, telling her that the only information she needs will come from him.

When she does want to get a second opinion from a different doctor, her husband shames her for being disloyal to the doctor she currently has. Protecting his ego as doctor takes precedence over her comfort as the patient.

As things progress, she becomes more and more suspicious of the motives of her husband and neighbors. When she finally figures out that they have been manipulating her for their Satanic rituals, she flees, seeking protection and help from another doctor.

Bur rather than believing her, he assumes that she is psychotic. After all, her doctor and her husband are both well-respected men.Rosemary is even aware that the way she tells her story will affect whether she is believed and takes every precaution to seem calm in order to avoid being accused of hysterics, but to no avail.

In a move familiar to every woman who has ever been disbelieved about sexual assault or domestic violence, the reputation of the men she is accusing of conspiracy undermines the believability of her fear.

After she has been handed back over to her captives, who now make no pretense of hiding the fact that they are drugging her to keep her docile, she goes into labor and delivers her baby. It is quickly whisked away, and she is told that it died.

The gaslighting continues when she hears a baby crying and feels her body responding to its hunger but is told that she is imagining it…then that it is the upstairs neighbor’s child.

Rosemary fights to hold onto her sense of reality and succeeds to an extent, but at the expense of her will. Once she is brought face to face with the horror of her rape baby and the truth surrounding the conspiracy to use her body for their own ends, she finds herself succumbing to the pressure to accept the situation. Surrounded by so many people who have completely disregarded her own boundaries, she finally submits to her role.

The demonic aspect of her pregnancy and birth are almost secondary to the horror of how she is consistently used and abused and then convinced that she is the one over-reacting when she is upset about it.

And perhaps the scariest part is that women in this day and age don’t have much more guarantee of being believed when they come forward to accuse men in power. They’re still convinced to overlook increasing violations against their autonomy and duped into thinking that they want what others are forcing them into.

Ultimately, Rosemary’s Baby isn’t a horror story about religion. It’s a horror story about patriarchy.

 

Irreconcilable Differences

The last month or so has been incredibly intense for me. Back in the beginning of the summer, I wrote about how I had reached a point where I was no longer satisfied with merely avoiding conflict with my family at the expense of myself, keeping a delicate balance that indicated more about the fragility of the relationship than it did about actual peace. I resolved to pursue allowing myself to be more present in visits, not hiding out of fear of a fight.

Little did I know what door I was opening. Before I even had a chance to challenge myself to live up to my own dedication to authenticity, I found myself embroiled in a toxic stew of insults, cold shoulders, and hostility. Maybe they had always been there and I was just more aware. Maybe this visit was coincidentally bad. It’s hard to say.

Being around my family in that way, with everyone interacting with each other as if they were held hostage rather than fulfilling a desire to see me, opened my eyes.

For the first time, I realized that I don’t really ever interact with my family—I interact with the cult. I am not part of that family anymore. I am a stranger. I could not one of them because I am not of the cult.

For the first time, I realized that nothing has really changed. They may not be able to physically abuse me anymore, but the psychological game was still present, jerking me around.

For the first time, I realized I couldn’t save my parents—from the cult, from the awareness that their abuse had hurt me, or from the consequences that accompanied not taking responsibility for that abuse.

For the first time, I thought about how if this were a friendship, I would have ended it years ago. If it were a marriage, I would have gotten a divorce.

It was then that I knew I couldn’t maintain a relationship with them. I was healthier when they weren’t in my life. The more I tried to hold onto them while they strung me along, the more I betrayed myself.

I wasn’t able to take action on that knowledge until a few weeks ago.

There’s something primal and terrifying about letting go of the illusion of family even if you’ve never had the actual experience of a loving family. Yet each time I tried to talk myself out of this move, telling myself it was “one bad visit” and that “things could get better,” I knew I couldn’t bear to walk into that house ever again.

My own pain is to be expected—managed even.

What intrigues me is the response that others have.

For the most part, we have gotten over the stigma of divorce. There are still pockets of judgment, but they are rare these days. If I were to tell the average person that I was divorcing my husband because he had been physically and emotionally abusive and had refused to take responsibility for that or make any effort to change, I would be praised for the strength it took to make my decision and offered assistance and comfort. If I never wanted to speak to him again after the divorce, no one would question that.

We’ve come to accept that break ups with romantic partners, while unfortunate and painful, are sometimes necessary.

That is not guaranteed to be true for blood relatives.

There is no legal recourse to divorce my parents. Articles and self-help guides that offer support and advice on parent-child relationships more often talk about reconciliation after confrontation or setting boundaries.

If I choose to tell someone that I have chosen to cut my family off, I’m just as likely to be accused of being unforgiving and over-dramatic as I am to be offered comfort and support.

And I don’t understand why that is…

What is it about shared genes that makes toxic relationships something to cling to when, in other circumstances, it would be considered more unhealthy not to end the relationship?

My decision did not come easily. It was years in the making and driven by a multitude of incidents. This last visit was merely the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and came at a time when I had tremendous support to help me through. I don’t think it is meant to be an easy decision, but I wonder if it might have been easier if there had been just a smidge more acceptance for the idea that break ups are sometimes just as necessary with family as they are with partners.

There is a part of me that wants to keep this private because of how painful it is, but I realize if I do that, I contribute to the stigma. If I am willing to talk about my journey when boundary-setting or confrontation are on the table, but I shy away from sharing when I realize that there are irreconcilable differences, I am no better as an author and blogger than the self-help books that I resent right now.

So I share my pain, aware that others may read in horror, judging…but mostly hoping that some who read realize they aren’t alone.

 

Reclaiming Healing Part IV: The Relationship

Over the month of September, I’ve been exploring what healing means to me, starting with dismantling the idea that healing is a destination. From there, I explored healing as a multi-faceted phenomenon and as a progressive cycle of Underworld journeying.

For this final week on reclaiming healing, I’ve been thinking about how healing is a relationship to myself as well as to my trauma and wounds. It’s about being able to meet myself wherever I am.

Remember in the story of Inanna how the only function of the creatures sent to rescue Inanna from the Underworld was to wail alongside Ereshkigal, empathize with her until she had spent her grief. Then she released Inanna and the two were able to integrate some of the aspects of the other—to heal the split between the Goddess of Heaven and her shadow side.

Pulling away from myself in moments of pain and trying to make the memories or feelings go away only makes things worse. That’s when I get an angry Underworld goddess who tortures me.

Rather, leaning into myself in those moments, greeting the sadness and memories, listening to them the way I might listen to a friend or child—there’s magic in that because relationships are magic.

Relationships are healing.

Especially when trauma has been caused by a relationship, I think the view of healing as relational is particularly important. Trauma needs safety in order to heal, and the more safe I can make my internal world, the more my trauma will be able to tell its story and feel heard and held.

With healing as an internal relationship, the ebbs and flows of the various emotions and memories are an invitation to draw closer to myself, to love myself more, to listen deeper, and to be present.

Suddenly whatever is happening in that moment is exactly what needs to happen. Whether I’m feeling strong and capable in the face of something which used to terrify me or whether I’m cradling myself as I cry after a nightmare, I’m healing in that moment because I’m being with myself.

At the same time, I don’t expect myself to be the sole relational support for my healing. Other healing relationships are important too, including my therapist, my partner, my friends.

The trick is that they can provide an external safety and relationship to support my healing, but I have to, in turn, have that internal relationship in order to actually heal.

Often with relational trauma, that internal relationship has to be built. It starts off as an acquaintance and grows as the relationship is deemed tolerable.

My therapist had to create a holding environment where I could briefly meet with my shadow parts before pushing them away again (going back to the progressive cycle!). I couldn’t tolerate extended contact with myself. That had to be developed up along with my self-compassion, tolerance for pain, and ability to stabilize and anchor to my core.

But the more I got to know myself, the more I came to understand that I was strong enough to be with the intensity of my emotions. I was strong enough to hear the stories of the parts I had tried to bury.

Today, I can invite my difficult parts and emotions to come in, sit down, and drink tea with me.

Not always, of course. I still have moments of trying to push away or “move on” to the point of erasing them. That’s where I know I need more healing–when I don’t feel capable of meeting myself and, as Rumi describes, welcoming all of my emotions as my guides in healing.