Tag Archives: women

Sexual Violence and (Non) Survivors’ Guilt

The title of this post is confusing because when we talk about “survivors” in the context of sexual violence, we are talking about people who have survived it. When we talk about “survivors’ guilt,” though, we are talking about someone who narrowly escapes the primary impact of a tragedy.

I read and write about rape and rape culture A LOT. And that’s partly because it’s impacted me personally. I can name fifteen people who have been victims of sexual violence off the top of my head without thinking too hard (but I won’t, because outing survivors isn’t cool), members of my biological and chosen family. But one name that ISN’T on that list is mine.

I have never been the victim of any kind of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or sustained sexual harassment, and sometimes that makes me feel guilty like I survived a car crash that maimed and killed everybody else.

Admitting that feels insulting to my friends who have been victims of violence, the way admitting you feel bad for walking away from the car crash feels insulting to your friend who lost his legs. But that’s exactly why I feel so bad – because there is not one goddamn thing that makes me better or smarter or more deserving of keeping my metaphorical legs than my friends who were raped and abused.

And guilt is an insane thing to feel! Because it’s not like I was driving my rape culture truck down the street and crashed into one third of the population. And the asshole drunk driving the rape culture truck doesn’t feel bad at all – he’s sitting in his jail cell (because drunk driving is more jailable than rape) going, “man, this is bullshit, why can’t you just let me live my life” and crying because his football career is over. And I am sitting in the hospital waiting room feeling guilty because I’m not in critical condition. Where’s the sense in that?

File this under “depressing feminist thoughts that saw the light of day because of wine.”


And I’ll Cry If I Want To: an open letter from a basket case

I am a crier. I have always been a crier and I always will be a crier. Both of my parents describe themselves as criers (relative to their age and gender – more on that later) but neither are such prolific criers as I am. I erupt into tears at the first sign of distress, even when I know with my entire brain that the distress is stupid, insignificant, or temporary.

As a crier, this is what I would like you people who do not cry very often (and those of you who cry very often and feel shitty about it) to know:

Crying is a physiological response to stress. It is an involuntary reaction, like raising your voice slightly when agitated, not a decision like screaming at someone or cursing or calling people names.

Crying is not a guilt trip. It’s not “manipulative.” Can you imagine if we read other physical signs of stress as manipulative? “God, that last applicant started sweating during the job interview. Can you believe that? What kind of person tries to guilt trip you into giving them a job like that?”

I don’t cry to make you feel bad. If we’re having a tough conversation and I start crying, the message I’m sending is “I am experiencing abnormally high levels of stress,” not  “look what you did!” Causing me stress does not necessarily mean you have done anything wrong. People cause each other stress all the time. If I am crying but I say you haven’t done anything wrong, you should believe me, because if you are mistreating me I will sure as hell tell you. 

 I am aware that you may be experiencing as much if not more stress than I am, but that your crying threshold is probably higher than mine. Do not assume based on your own crying threshold that my tears mean that my whole life is crashing down around me and I am beside myself. That is not what crying means for me. If I say I will be fine in twenty minutes and that we can either continue the conversation as though I’m not crying, or resume it when I’m finished, depending on which makes you more comfortable, believe me.

If I tell you that you haven’t done anything wrong and that I will be fine in twenty minutes and you still feel personally attacked and indicted by the fact that I am crying, that is your damn problem. It is a problem that I’m sympathetic to, because the cultural conditioning that makes you feel that way makes my life difficult as well, but it is still your problem and not mine. I’ll do my best to work with you around it, but what I will not do from now on is fight a losing battle to stop crying in order to spare your feelings, because:

Crying is good for me. Many researchers believe that crying is good   for you in general, with some exceptions. The vast majority of people report feeling better after doing it. It reduces heart rate and blood pressure from pre-cry levels, and releases toxins that build up in your system. But I KNOW crying is good for ME, for the simple reasons that:

1. I feel better after I do it, and

2. I feel like absolute, grade-A shit if I force myself not to do it.

Crying makes me feel so much better that yesterday when I was emotional over leaving all my friends behind in Pittsburgh, I forced myself to cry on the Megabus by listening to a sappy song on repeat, because being very-sad-and-on-the-verge-of-tears-but-not-crying for two hours sucked ten thousand times more than just sobbing it out. I am sure that I looked a hot mess, and if anyone (I had my own seat, for the record) noticed me sobbing like a hot mess on the Megabus, they might have felt uncomfortable, but that discomfort, like the previously discussed feelings of guilt-trippery, is their cross to bear because it is my one-woman Megabus pity party and I will cry (at a courteous volume) if I want to. 

Finally, treating crying as an optional, hysterically dramatic, manipulative outburst that anyone with good sense or decency would refrain from doing, at least in front of people, is totally sexist. 

Studies show that women cry an average of forty-seven times a year (I haven’t counted but my personal normal is probably twice that, for real) and men cry around seven times a year. This split happens at puberty – prepubescent boys and girls cry at the same rate. While harmful social conditioning no doubt plays a serious role in this, scientists think it also has something to do with the fact that men, on average, sweat more and thus have somewhat less need to release toxins by crying.

In other words, the Men’s Rights-tinged view that men don’t cry because they were taught to be tough, and if women want to be tough they should be like men and stop crying (in other words, BOOTSTRAPS!!!!1!), might honestly be akin to a woman saying that if men wanted to be civilized then they ought to sweat less. (Although men do struggle more on average with high blood pressure so if anything, it is y’all who need to cry more.)

Even if they aren’t “allowed” to cry, men have different ways of being “emotional” which are often penalized less in the public arena than women’s tears, as wonderfully outlined in this blog. The likes of Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly have built whole careers off of yelling at people on television, but can you imagine if Rachel Maddow cried during a debate on gay adoption? Jesus. And that’s an issue that affects her personally.

I’m not saying that Rachel Maddow SHOULD go around crying on TV. Her ability to keep cool under pressure is one of the reasons she is on TV, and my penchant for tearful outbursts is one of the reasons I am not. But there is a double standard apparent in letting folks like Rush Limbaugh go shrieking all over town while my journalism professor fervently warns her female students never to be caught dead crying at work (something she didn’t have the heart to tell me, six months earlier, when I cried in her office. in front of my editor. over a story I hadn’t even written yet.)

P.S. I am aware that this post does nothing really to address the issue, and very real struggles, of highly sensitive people (especially men and people being raised as men) who have nevertheless trained themselves not to cry. I figure it is probably best for those people to get together and discuss, decide on and publicize what they need from the rest of us. That said, I have always thought that people should get safe space stickers like LGBT-friendly high school teachers have in their classrooms that indicate “You can cry in front of me. I won’t treat you like a hysterical leaking alien.” Actually, that would do us criers a lot of good too.

Pitt Before Roe

I was late posting this, because I wanted to post it with a more in-depth blog about my gigantic screwup with my source Deborah, whose last name I originally forgot to edit out of the column. Thankfully, though, my editor fixed it within the day (the linked story contains no trace of her full name), and Deborah doesn’t hate me – in fact, she doesn’t hate me so much that she took me out for a drink at the Beehive tonight, because we had never gotten to meet in person.

The column, for better and for worse, didn’t get a lot of attention – not even close to what I saw with the rape column, though this one was more controversial and, I think, better written. There was no comment war, and no angry letter from Pitt Students for Life. On a professional and political level, that’s a little disappointing, but under the circumstances, with my forgetting to abridge Deborah’s name at first, it’s a relief. Revealing in a public venue that someone helped women get illegal abortions when she was an undergrad… if the column hadn’t flopped, I actually could have put her at risk.

So, the moral of the story is, do not unthinkingly out your sources, especially when they are incredibly generous with their stories, and especially when those stories are about abortion. Not everyone is as magnanimous as Deborah, and you would really hate yourself if they started getting death threats.

Without further ado!

Let me take you on a trip. You are a female Pitt student, and the year is 1970.

The Roe v. Wade decision hasn’t been made yet, and although 95 percent of Americans at the time engage in sex before marriage, birth control is taboo. You and the others in Holland Hall have a curfew — although your male classmates don’t — but its effectiveness is belied by the number of girls who drop out because of unintended pregnancies.

Student Health Services doesn’t prescribe birth control, but if you unintentionally get pregnant, you can appeal to the Student Government Board for a loan to pay for an abortion and the cost of traveling to New York, where the procedure is legal.

We Won’t Go Back: Reflections on the Pre-Roe Era at Pitt

P.S. The only comment on this link somewhat skeptically asks for the source on the 95 percent statistic. I am barred from  commenting on the website, but the figure is from Guttmacher. I listed it when I handed in the column, but it wasn’t published. http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2006/12/19/index.html

Follow Up, Victim Blaming at Pitt


So yesterday a whole bunch of people shared my column on rape and victim-blaming on college campuses, which is unbelievable and I am so grateful.

Sadly, the column could have been better if I’d read the paper thoroughly last Friday, when the Pitt Police ran the “crime tip” featured above. For anyone who can’t read it, it says:


The Pitt Police Department has recently received reports that female students have encountered some dangerous experiences while drinking at local bars. We have heard the following scenario: A female student under the age of 21 produces a fake ID to the bouncer at the front door of the bar and enters. The female student is intentionally separated from her friends or may be alone when she purchases an alcoholic beverage. She then has no recollection of events until the next day when she wakes up in a strange apartment with an unknown male.

The purpose of this tip is to alert other female students to be on guard when socializing with alcohol.

Things To Consider

  • Don’t place yourself in danger; use your instincts.
  • Fake IDs are illegal and punishable under the law. This can jeopardize your future employment.
  • Don’t be separated from friends. Always arrive and leave with your friends and keep your beverage in your control at all times.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember you have options:

Contact Sexual Assault Services 412-648-7856

Contact Pitt PD 412-624-2121

The victim or witness is not required to leave a name or phone number.

So, the tip never mentions sexual assault – in fact, they dance so far around it that it looks ridiculous. “dangerous experiences”? – until the very end when they list the hotlines, which is strange, since usually they list the crime in question up front (i.e. “CRIME ALERT: ROBBERY.”) For that matter, I have never learned from the Pitt Police whether a kid who was mugged had been drinking, whether they were underage, how much loot they were carrying, or whether they were foolishly walking alone at night. I have CERTAINLY never seen a robbery tip say “Don’t place yourself in danger; use your instincts.”

The ad veers toward the absurd with the “don’t get separated from your friends” tip, listed right underneath the fact that the perpetrator is intentionally separating victims from their friends. That is like describing a kidnapping where some thugs dragged a woman into their car, and then coolly advising, “Don’t get into a stranger’s car.”

It honestly reads like a moral tale the police made up to discourage women from using fake IDs – I’m confident that it’s not, but it does read like one. The focus on the fake IDs is so prominent that it nearly obscures the rape – in fact, the ad even goes out of its way to remind us of the penalties for getting into a bar with a fake identification, without even a nod at the perpetrator with a refresher course on Rape Is A Felony.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think victim-targeted warning messages are appropriate sometimes. I do not, for example, think that whatever serial rapist/group of rapists is drugging women on my campus would likely be dissuaded by a newspaper ad telling them to please not do that.

I would actually VERY MUCH APPRECIATE a newspaper ad warning me about a recent spate of drug-assisted rapes on my campus, if it said something like this:


The Pitt Police Department has recently received several reports of sexual assaults with similar features. The assailant(s) are targeting female students in bars, separating them from their friends and possibly altering their drinks with [insert whatever the Pitt Police knows, if anything, about what was actually put in these women’s drinks.] The perpetrator may be targeting students using fake IDs.

PPD is investigating these claims. In the meantime, we urge students to practice extra caution when drinking, and keep a close eye on their friends and their drinks.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, or have more information about these incidents, please contact:

Sexual Assault Services 412-648-7856

Pitt PD 412-624-2121

The victim or witness is not required to leave a name or phone number.

Do you see what I did there, with the treating sexual assault like an actual crime? Do you see how it WASN’T THAT HARD?

Bad Pitt Police. No biscuit.

New Pitt News column about Crisis Pregnancy Centers!

In a valiant and reluctant show of moderation and not-libeling-anyone, I changed my thesis for this piece over the course of a month from “Crisis Pregnancy Centers are Creepy and Should Go Home” (still my personal opinion) to “Pitt Needs To Do Research Before Recommending Sexual Health Clinics (Including CPCs).”

I felt really guilty writing this, because the lady I spoke to from the Women’s Choice Network was actually very nice on the phone, but the things I’ve heard from some people who went to her clinic are not nice at all. Also, not sure if I did a good enough job stressing that contrary to what they desperately want you to think, the Women’s Choice Network offers literally nothing in the way of tests, pre-natal care, options and post-abortion counseling that you cannot get from Planned Parenthood, except for a strong anti-abortion spin factor.

The stated purpose of the medical clinics behind imissedmyperiod.com is to “help you get all the facts before you decide whether an abortion is right for you.” For the clinics behind mypregnancycenter.org, their goal is to “empower abortion-vulnerable women to choose life.”

To me, those sound like two different missions, and Women’s Choice Network — the organization represented by both websites — sounds like a misleading name for an organization whose ultimate goal is to convince women to carry their pregnancies to term. But Amy Scheuring, the clinics’ executive director, says there’s nothing deceitful about her clinics.

Pitt Student Health’s Referrals for Reproductive Services Need Standards

My Past Work: Miscellaneous Roundup

I posted a few other roundups, but here are some highlights from my other work!


When the perpetrators of unpleasant historical events don’t look — or practice religion — like the archetypal God-fearing white American, we’re all too eager to ensure that their trespasses are, to paraphrase the famous slogan, “never forgotten.” Yet we’re happy to forget decades of colonialist military interventions in Latin American countries, the colonialist intentions and white supremacist flavor of the Mexican War and the deportation of countless Mexican-American citizens in the 1930s to free up jobs for white men.

“Stop Censoring History in the Classroom,” January 2012.


At first glance, this policy doesn’t seem to be in anybody’s interest. But upon closer inspection, the rapid expansion of prisons does benefit some.

For instance, it can benefit politicians to have prisons in their jurisdictions. Prisoners are counted as being registered in the district where the prison is located, which inflates the official population of those districts, giving some rural areas more districts, and thus more votes and more power; this is known as prison-based gerrymandering.

Primarily, though, the fast-growing prison system benefits corporations, who use the incarcerated as a source of cheap labor.

“Decarcerate PA: Fighting the School-To-Prison-To-Exploited-Labor Pipeline,” January 2012.


To those familiar with the realities of poverty and food insecurity in America, that a recipient would feel compelled to explain that food stamps don’t buy a life of luxury seems a bit strange – one would think it obvious that people who receive government assistance aren’t exactly “living large.” But with his remarks about food stamps – particularly food stamps and the African-American community – Gingrich is building on the foundation President Ronald Reagan laid when he invented the “welfare queen.”

The phrase “welfare queen” has decidedly ignoble origins. During his administration, President Reagan often illustrated the need for welfare reformby telling the story of a “Chicago welfare queen” who collected over $150,000 from the government using “eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards, and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she’s collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, is getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.” He continued to refer to this woman as a classic example of welfare abuse in America even after the press corrected him that the woman he was referring to was convicted in 1977 of using two names in order to collect $8,000.

“Gingrich Food Stamp Remarks Reflect Common, Harmful Misconceptions,” February 2012.


What would it take to turn the Violence Against Women Act, which enjoyed overwhelming congressional support since Bill Clinton first signed it in 1994 and helped increase reportage of domestic violence by 51 percent, into partisan legislation?

Simply put, not much. The new incarnation of the Violence Against Women Act, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), who is not, passed the Judiciary Committee earlier this month on a party line vote of 10-8. Apparently, expanding visa options for abused immigrants and forbidding domestic violence centers that receive government funding from turning away victims on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity are so controversial that not a single Republican in the Committee could bring himself or herself to reauthorize the Act.

“GOP Opposition to Violence Against Women Act Reprehensible,” February 2012.


The participation of fathers in the “child care arrangement” formerly known as “parenting” has been increasing rapidly since women entered the workforce, with 32% of children with working mothers being looked after full-time by their dads in 2010, as opposed to 26% in 2005. The leap from one in four fathers acting as a primary childcare provider to one in three, over the course of only five years, is absolutely significant.

But the Census Bureau undermines the good news by continuing to assign the label of “designated parent” to the woman in the house, for no statistically valid reason. It’s great to study “gender norms” and their evolution over time; it’s irresponsible to actively reinforce them in the process, and the United States’ biggest and most powerful data-collection agency should know better.

“Census Bureau: Mom is Designated ‘Parent,’ Dad is ‘Childcare Arrangement’,” February 2012.


Under the “Stand Your Ground Law” in Florida, one is immune from prosecution for use of lethal force under such circumstances as when one “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

To say that Zimmerman is exempt under this law is to say that it is reasonable to believe that an unarmed black teenager walking through a mostly white neighborhood must be about to commit a forcible felony. It’s saying that it’s reasonable to pursue said juvenile with a gun and, when a physical confrontation does or does not ensue — depending on whose witnesses you choose to believe on that point — to shoot him fatally. To allow Zimmerman to go free based on the “Stand Your Ground Law” is to publicly state that a 17-year-old black male, by his very nature, may reasonably be considered a threat so great as to justify the use of lethal force.

“Stand Your Ground” is meant to allow a person to defend himself in places other than his own home; it is not a declaration of open season on anyone that any armed person finds suspicious-looking. It’s all well and good to presume Zimmerman innocent until proven guilty in court. But by failing even to arrest him at the scene of the crime, the Sanford police went well beyond presuming Zimmerman innocent; they actually presumed Trayvon Martin guilty.

“Race Plays An Important Role in Trayvon Martin Case,” April 2012.

My Past Work: On Reproductive Justice

Between my column and the blog I maintained as an intern for the Women’s Law Project, I wrote A LOT about reproductive justice. Here’s a roundup!



Fact 1: Abortion providers in Pennsylvania already comply with up to four different sets of guidelines, and all the facilities currently in operation have been praised for their high standards of safety and care.

Fact 2: Facilities that perform other minor surgeries such as oral surgery, foot surgery and laser eye surgery are not required to comply with ASF guidelines.

Fact 3: ASF guidelines are cumbersome, expensive and largely irrelevant to patient safety in abortion cases. SB 732 would require freestanding abortion clinics to as much as quadruple the size of their operating rooms and install hospital-grade elevators capable of lifting a small car, with no proven safety gains to justify these expensive measures. Some clinics would have to relocate to comply with additional zoning requirements. And although every licensed clinic has a registered nurse present when abortions are being performed, SB 732 would require that an RN be in attendance “at all hours when patients are present.” This means that all abortion care facilities, many of which only perform abortions one or two days per week, would have to hire an RN to oversee the regular gynecological exams, STD testing and birth-control consultations that constitute more than 90 percent of the services they provide.

Fact 4: Because no public funds can be used for abortion, the cost of hiring a full-time RN and installing a hospital-grade elevator cannot be reimbursed by Medicaid.

“Proposed Abortion Regulations Endanger Women,” October 2011


Karnamaya Mongar didn’t die because the elevators in Gosnell’s clinic were too small. She died because the regulations already in place were ignored.  If the cost of a safe, legal abortion increases or the number of safe providers decreases as a result of SB 732, stories like Mongar’s will become a lot more common in our state. Making abortion harder to access for all women is, to paraphrase David Bowie, like fighting fire with gasoline. These regulations are a backdoor tactic to severely limit abortion care, a hypocritical and disingenuous response to the atrocities allegedly committed by Dr. Gosnell.

“In Remembrance: Illegal Abortion Kills” October 2011.


These new guidelines encourage ob-gyns to do the following: ask patients about their gender open-endedly on their patient intake forms rather than requiring they check “male” or “female,” to post LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies visibly in their offices, and train staff to handle transgender patients professionally and with compassion.  ACOG says that physicians must be prepared to offer gender-nonconforming patients the same basic preventive services as their cisgendered patients (those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth), such as STD testing and cancer screenings.

This is a huge, much-needed victory in LGBT health and wellness. In October 2010, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released the results of the largest survey of transgender people on healthcare discrimination to date, and the results were dismal.

“American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Time to Treat Trans Patients Right,” January 2012.


Religious institutions that oppose premarital sex may declare that they don’t want to pay for a woman’s sexual immorality, but unless Catholic hospitals refuse to cover prenatal care if the pregnant employee is not married to the father of her child — needless to say, probably not what Jesus would do — they’re paying for it anyway. Because prenatal healthcare — to say nothing of the astronomical costs of a hospital birth — is hundreds of times more expensive than birth control, refusing to cover the latter ultimately costs your insurance company, and anyone whose taxes subsidize it, a great deal more money. According to the Guttmacher Institute, unintended pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers $11.1 billion dollars a year, and that’s only factoring in public insurance costs for prenatal and first-year infant care.

“Religious Views Shouldn’t Exempt Hospitals From Insurance Mandate,” February 2012.


According to the Family Research Council (an ultra-conservative group that actively opposes abortiondivorce,LGBT rights, and embryonic stem-cell research), “eight in ten pregnancy resource centers report that ‘abortion-minded’ women decide to keep their babies after seeing ultrasound images,” and “[a]ccording to an executive director of an Iowa pregnancy resource center, 90 percent of women who see their baby by ultrasound choose life.” Americans United for Life insists that “medical evidence indicates that women feel bonded to their children after seeing them on the ultrasound screen” – as evidence, they refer to a 1983 study that reported exactly two cases of women, around three months pregnant, feeling bonded with their fetuses after viewing ultrasounds.

Now, almost thirty years later, assistant medical professor Tracy Weitz is conducting a more comprehensive study – interviewing twenty abortion-seeking women in two states and surveying ultrasound clinicians about their practices – to determine whether ultrasound advocates’ claims are accurate. And while research is far from over, preliminary results suggest that women consistently choosing to carry their pregnancies to term after viewing the ultrasound image is less documented phenomenon, and more pro-life fantasy.

“Ongoing Study: Mandatory Ultrasounds Have Very Little Impact on Abortion Decision,” March 2012.


I don’t think a woman should have to decide whether to keep taking a birth control pill that gives her terrible side effects, because it’s the only brand whose copay she can afford. I don’t think a woman should have to decide whether to enroll in a birth control study and rely on a pill that isn’t on the market yet, not because the compensation is great, but because it’s the only way to get contraception for free.

I don’t think a woman who lives with Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder should have to choose whether to suffer every month because the pill that gives her fewer periods has a higher co-pay than she can afford on her part-time salary, and I don’t think a woman should have to decide, when money is tight, whether it’d be smarter to go a week without her birth control or without her thyroid medication.

“One Less Tough Decision: What Birth Control Without Co-Pays Means For College Women,” August 2012


With the majority of Republican lawmakers apparently supporting an across-the-board abortion ban undaunted by the plight of rape or incest victims, it is worth asking exactly why so many of them are calling for Todd Akin to drop out of his Senate race.

I’m glad that the majority of GOP lawmakers are willing to believe the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology when it reports that “among adult women, an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.” But if they accept those statistics, they have to accept that what they’re advocating is 32,101 women every year involuntarily carrying a rape-conceived pregnancy to term. And frankly, I wish they’d act a little more embarrassed about that.

“Pro-life Platform Hurts ‘Legitimate Rape’ Survivors,” September 2012