Flare and Fade

Fiction and Non-Fiction

Rebecca Brink

Part 1

Feminism  is a form of radical authoritarian gender structure that came to prominence in the early 20th century. Influenced by gender syndicalism, feminism originated in America in the years leading up to World War I, combining more typically right-wing positions with elements of left-wing politics, in opposition to liberalism, Marxism, and traditional conservatism. Although feminism is usually placed on the far-right on the traditional left–right spectrum, a number of academics have said that the description is inadequate.

Feminists sought to unify their gender through an authoritarian state that promoted the mass mobilization of the female community and were characterized by having leadership that initiated a revolutionary political movement aiming to reorganize the gender along principles according to feminist ideology. Feminist movements shared certain common features, including the veneration of the gender, a devotion to a strong leader, and an emphasis on ultra-feminism and militarism. Feminism views political violence, war, and imperialism as a means to achieve feminine rejuvenation, and it asserts that stronger genders have the right to expand their socio-political power by displacing weaker genders.

Feminist ideology consistently invokes the primacy of the female. Leaders such as Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany embodied their gender and claimed immense power. Feminism borrowed theories and terminology from socialism but replaced socialism's focus on class conflict with a focus on conflict between nations and races. Feminists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky to secure female self-sufficiency and independence through protectionist and interventionist economic policies. Following World War II, few parties have openly described themselves as feminist, and the term is usually used pejoratively by political opponents. The terms neo-feminist or post-feminist are sometimes applied more formally to describe parties of the far right with ideological similarities to, or roots in, 20th century feminist movements.***

Part 2

We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” Angela Davis.

“The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism, and ought to have no place among Republicans and Christians.” Angelina Grimke.

“Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

“I speak not for myself but for those without voice, those who have fought for their rights, their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.” Malala Yousafzai.

“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” Audre Lorde.

“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.” Simone de Beauvoir.

“The authority of any governing institution must stop at its citizen's skin.” Gloria Steinem.

“Once you do away with the idea of people as fixed, static entities, then you see that people can change, and there is hope.” bell hooks.

“We too often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth.” Lucretia Mott.

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” Frederick Douglass.

“Gender is a straitjacket for the human soul. Gender works us all over, makes enemies of the people we’re supposed to love.” Laurie Penny.

 

Braindead

Rebecca Brink

Soooo this was my first week at The Frisky as Associate Editor which is great for about ten million different reasons but also I am more than a little bit braindead and haven't yet figured out how exactly to handle life as a responsible adult who writes her own blog posts ahead of time so that it doesn't get lost amongst work/marathon training/having a boyfriend. I also haven't picked up the phone when my mom has called in the last three days, the first time because I was still working and the second time because I was on the bus and all I wanted to do was get my ass home SORRY MOM. I didn't post yesterday and I'm copping out by writing this shit today.

Sorry for the placeholder. Hopefully over the weekend I'll be brilliant.

Forgive Me

Art, RhetoricRebecca Brink

Today was my first day working full-time in over a year, and I'm behind on backlogging posts for F&F. FORGIVE ME FOR MY LATENESS, DAMN IT

To make it up to you, here's a video to which I was directed from the eminent Bad at Sports which I promise will be worth your 7 minutes and 21 seconds:

I unironically love everything that's tacky or, you know, um, not so well-executed. I can't tell you how many bad movies I've watched. I'm sure this is a part of my brain that went haywire in high school, when I spent a more-than-decent chunk of my free time with a guy who intentionally sought out bad movies. I moved to my neighborhood partially because there's a record/cd/video store nearby that stocks ripped c-movies and cult stuff.

One of my friends on Facebook, a few weeks ago, posted that there was a very good-looking man in the café in which she was working who clearly knew that he was good-looking, and she knew this because whenever he caught someone staring at him, he would wink at them like "Yeah, I know, thanks." Also tacky; also love it. Why bother with faux-grace?

I also am a big big big big big big big big big big big big BIG fan of Lynda Benglis, and I'm sure that people who recreationally twist their underwear into knots, shove them up their own buttholes, and walk around like that all day will hate the fact that I'm going to call Lynda Benglis tacky, but what the fuck else is her Artforum ad?

Image via Daily Serving

Image via Daily Serving

What else are her Sparkle Knots?

Image via MOCA

Image via MOCA

Lynda Benglis saw a connection between what people call "tacky" and therefore unfit for the art world, and the arts and crafts materials that women and girls are encouraged to use, which seems simultaneously like an insult to femininity, a stereotyping of femininity, and a discouragement of girls and women to engage with "higher" forms of art. And why? Why is glitter tacky? Why is acrylic tacky? What makes it not sophisticated enough?

There's a sort of implication that to be forthright and obvious isn't elegant enough to qualify an object or a product or a mode of behavior as intelligent or engaging, but part of the problem with the contemporary art world is that a lot of art historians obscure their critiques with unintelligible language, and a lot of artists either obscure meaning behind excessive language about symbology that isn't that complicated. I mean, fuck, just listen to Jeff Koons, for god's sake. It's not that I agree with Morley Safer, it's that I understand why he's so fucking confused.

And lord knows, I appreciate a piece of art that's elegantly executed. But obfuscation isn't elegance; there's a line between them that I'd rather not cross, even if that means that the greater part of my time consuming art works (of various media) will be spent on products like "Maximum Wage" or Computer Beach Party. At least they're honest.

The Richard Dawkins Delusion

Fact Check, Feminism, AtheismRebecca Brink

O RLY? I mean, look, I can call myself a unicorn. But it doesn’t mean I have a horn on my head which, when ground, makes magic dust. It doesn’t mean that my tears are collectible for potions. It doesn’t mean that I have any idea whatsoever what the intentions, motivations, and experiences are of unicorns, and since I’ve never had the chance to talk to a unicorn about its intentions, motivations, and experiences, I can’t even act like a unicorn in good faith upon that knowledge. But, I mean, I can call myself anything I want to.

How do I know that Richard Dawkins isn’t a feminist? Because he doesn’t think, act, or talk like a feminist. And I’m not talking about the “radical” feminists he’s tweeted and retweeted about in the last week, I’m talking about those of us who don’t just talk and wank off theorizing, but those of us who hear, for instance, an allegation of assault, and choose to proceed in as level-headed a manner as possible.

Mark Oppenheimer at Buzzfeed fleshed out the course of events that led to the whole Richard Dawkins rape-tweet debacle, and I’ll summarize here:

  • Allison Smith and Michael Shermer met at the 2008 TAM conference in Las Vegas, specifically at an after-party.

  • They started drinking.

  • Shermer started hiding his drinks under the table without Smith’s knowledge.

  • Both parties knew that Smith was more inebriated than Shermer.

  • Shermer and Smith walked back to the hotel where they were both staying.

  • At some point, they had sex.

  • Smith was drunk enough that she didn’t remember everything that happened.

  • Shermer, after rumors started circulating that he had taken advantage of Smith, wrote an e-mail stating that they had not had sex and that two guys who had wanted to have sex with Smith had started those rumors.

  • Five years later, PZ Myers received an anonymous e-mail from Smith saying that she had, in fact, been “coerced… into a position where I could not consent,” and stated that she had heard similar stories about Shermer from other women in the atheist community. (Oppenheimer mentions that he was able to get two women to go on record about their experiences, though neither of them explicitly accused Shermer of rape.)

  • Shermer then changed his story about the events at TAM 2008, stating in a blog post that he and Smith had had sex, but that it was consensual.

  • Neither Smith nor any of the other women pressed legal charges against Shermer.

Richard Dawkins’ reaction?

I swear, we should invent a dance called the Dawkins Backpedal.

Dawkins has misrepresented the course of events here. His narrative goes, essentially, Smith got drunk, consented to sex with Shermer, and then accused him of rape to get him arrested and jailed. This is a common narrative among rape apologists that operates on the assumption that women who are assaulted while drunk just regret their decisions and try to accuse their assailant in order to clear their consciences of their own bad behavior.

It’s a misunderstanding of the point of talking publicly about sexual assault that involves alcohol. Notice that no one filed a police report against Richard Shermer. No one tried to get him jailed. This is the great red herring of rape apology - the idea that women do this with the intent in mind of ruining a man’s life via jail time and subsequent sex offender registry. Then, when we - and I will say we because I was raped while I was drunk and did not ultimately press charges for a plurality of reasons - when we don’t follow through either with a police report or formal charges, we’re labeled as liars, because apparently the only way to validate a trauma or a violation or sexual violence is by involving the law.

Nope, guys. Nope nope nope. Smith stated her motivations for talking about it in the e-mail she wrote to Myers: “I wanted to share this story in case it helps anyone else ward off a similar situation from happening.” There are three ways to cope with a rape when you are the victim: Legal consequences, social sanctioning, and healing yourself emotionally. Smith decided, for whatever reason, that she wasn’t going to press charges. That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t raped. I’m sure that in the ensuing five years, it has probably occurred to her to seek help to heal from the trauma. Part of that might have been the decision, borne of a conviction that there’s a troubling pattern in the atheist/freethought community, to speak out publicly about Shermer taking advantage of women repeatedly.

And here’s the thing: We feminists do actually know that there are nuances in the experience of rape, something that people like Dawkins and other rape apologists don’t understand, which I’ll get to momentarily. No one ever accused Michael Shermer of rape. No one used the word rape. They did question his sense of responsibility, however. Rather than saying “it’s her fault for getting drunk,” can we explore the possibility that Shermer has allegedly made a habit of drinking quite a bit less than the women he has sex with, thereby putting them in a questionable position to actually, consciously, enthusiastically consent, and that that is irresponsible of him?

That conversation is the goal. The conversation that asks, when is it appropriate to expect someone to be able to consent? No one is trying to get Michael Shermer put in jail. They’re having a conversation about what is apparently a pattern of behavior on his part that they would like to see change.

Thing is, though, Richard Dawkins doesn’t even validate that conversation. Last week, he retweeted a link to an article from the Daily Caller, a right-wing publication that Dawkins himself has criticized in the past, claiming that California’s affirmative consent legislation is “bizarre” and will make “sex a legalistic nightmare for college males.” I don’t think I’m wrong to assume that this retweet constitutes support on Dawkins’ part, considering his attitude toward women in the past and, of course, presently.

What really got me about this article was this quote: “Communication of consent can be vague and muddled - a nod of the head, say, or perhaps some kind of lean-in movement.”

Lean-in movement = “Yes, I absolutely want to have sex with you, where’s the condoms”? Um, no, it’s not the same thing. I know from fairly recent experience - I was dating pretty heavily in late 2012 and early 2013 - that it is simply not that difficult to take a minute before proceeding with intercourse to verbally check that your partner is on board. Even when you’re drunk. And, frankly, if one of you is too drunk to hold a conversation well or potentially, you know, remember whether or not they consented, it might be a good idea to just save it for later. The only argument that I’ve heard against this kind of behavior is “Well it’s not very sexy to do that; it breaks the flow of the moment.” Oh, boo hoo. 1) Yes, it is sexy to know that the other person is completely on board with having sex with you. Enthusiastic verbal consent is a huge ego-boost. 2) You’re willing to compromise your ethics to keep your mojo flowing? Stop. Just stop it.

I wish that, as a society, we hadn’t gotten to the point where it felt necessary to legislate consent. But that’s where we are - the campus rape epidemic is bad enough that as of June, 64 schools were being investigated by the Department of Education for Title IX violations. Campus rape investigations are a mess that too often ends with a victim who has at best received no justice and at worst been pressured off of campus by her peers while she’s trying to recover from trauma. And the more that rape apologists dig their heels in and say that this isn’t happening, that women are liars, that there is no rape problem, while women continue to be raped, the more it’s going to come to legislation.

Really and truly, we just want to change the conversation about how sex happens in this country. Because one in five women will be sexually assaulted during our lifetimes, according to the best and most recent information that we have from the CDC, and that is too many. To keep denying or qualifying it is counterproductive and constitutes an endorsement of rape.

You would think that the atheist and freethought communities would be behind feminism as a rational cause (you know, one that is founded on statistics and data about women being viably less than equal to men and wanting to change that), but the number of anti-feminist atheists boggles the mind. I have an idea where these atheists-against-feminism come from, though, and it might have something to do with atheist thought leaders who sneer down their noses at women who are tired of being constantly harassed by strangers either for sex or about our looks or any number of other topics that generally have to do with reducing us to our bodies in complete denial of the fact that we have brains at all, and then take three years to issue a then further problematic pseudo-apology that kind of reiterated the asshole statement in the first place, that street harassment and violent rape aren’t the same thing, which Rebecca Watson already knew when she very mildly requested in 2011 that men not harass her at conferences.

Which is the same attitude that led to another troubling tweet that Dawkins published and then deleted, just a few days before he issued his kind-of-sort-of apology for “Dear Muslima,” stating this: “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and think.”

Holy missing the point, Batman! By saying that stranger rape at knifepoint is worse, you’re qualifying date rape as “better,” implying that date rape victims might have something to be thankful for (it could’ve been worse, after all!), which just isn’t even the issue here. Can we start from the assumption that all rape is bad, and then go on to say that every single rape is different without necessarily needing to qualify it as “better” or “worse” than something else? I get that Dawkins appears to be concerned with the legal consequences of criminal accusations, and therefore would be interested in discerning what punishment is appropriate for date rape versus rape at knifepoint (although I’m not sure why the rapist being a stranger or not would make a difference if there’s a weapon involved).

But even if we’re going to assume that it’s appropriate for Dawkins - who is a biologist and a freethought advocate, not a legal scholar - to continue pondering aloud about what a viable legal punishment for different kinds of sexual assault would be, I would like him to start by noting that in the United States, rape reporting rates are low (40%), rape investigation rates are even lower (10%), and rape prosecution rates are lower still (8%). Which is to say that rape rarely leads to any viable kind of punishment at all in the U.S., despite the fact that false reporting rates are only 2-8%, the same as for any other crime.

So was it better or worse for me that I was raped by someone I know - twice - rather than being raped by a stranger at knife- or gunpoint? I don’t really care. I just care that as a society, we do better at acknowledging the validity of rape claims and supporting victims through their recovery and, if appropriate, legal process, instead of haranguing them about whether or not they were REALLY raped or just assuming they’re lying from the get-go. I care that we talk about rape like it’s a real thing that really happens at quite an alarming rate and is incredibly painful and traumatic for victims instead of talking about it like this theory that feminists have that we’re just pulling out of our asses to make men feel bad.

Instead, of course (of course), Dawkins is making feminists out to be hysterical reactionists. Yes, some of us have strong visceral feelings about being raped while drunk and not being taken seriously because some of us were raped while drunk and not taken seriously, or our friends were, or a classmate, and we're tired of living in communities in which our experiences are treated as if at best they're just topics for thinkpieces and pithy tweets instead of real events and real traumas that have a real impact on our lives and are judged and abstracted by the community at large but not given justice or even very much basic compassion. The atheist community is that, for women atheists. And Richard Dawkins is one of the largest reasons why.

It's Just A Compliment

Feminism, Fact Check, RhetoricRebecca Brink

Will I ever shut up about street harassment? NO, I WILL NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT STREET HARASSMENT.

Yesterday, I was minding my own business, waiting for a light to change and reading Women, Race and Class - which, by the way, I would assume would be your FIRST sign not to approach a woman. Guys, pro tip: If you see a woman on the street and you think she might appreciate being told what you think about her looks, check to see if she's reading Angela Davis first. If so, don't bother.

But I was minding my own business, and a guy came up to me while I was reading and said, "You're a very beautiful woman."

I turned around, and before I even said anything, he said, "It's just a compliment!"

First of all, it's obviously not just a compliment if, before I even open my mouth to say anything, you feel you have to defend your actions.

Second and more importantly, dafuck are you to tell me what's a compliment to me? Ladies, we should be excited: We've found the arbiter of all that is insulting or complimentary in the universe. Never mind your own experiences and opinions, This Guy knows what is a compliment to you because he's decided it for you ahead of time.

That's not how compliments work, This Guy (and all This Guys out there). I know that catcallers and street harassers are operating on the basic assumption that women do not have brains with which we can judge for ourselves what we find complimentary and what we find insulting and rather merely exist as bodies to look at and comment upon, but that is the fact of the matter: We do have brains. We do think for ourselves. We can determine what we find insulting or complimentary on our own.

For example, there are a great many things that are said to me that are intended to insult me that I do not find insulting, based on my own personal experiences:

  • "Tranny": I only hate it because of its long, hurtful history in the trans* community. Telling me I look like a transwoman is not an insult because being a transwoman is normal and OK. Being a woman who has masculine features is also normal and OK.
  • "Cunt": Yes, I have a vagina. I am not literally 100% made of vagina, though.
  • "Slut": The implication is that I have had sex with people. Yes, I have. It's kind of weird that anyone else thinks that's important in their lives?
  • "Fat": Means nothing. 

There are a number of things that are meant as compliments that I do find complimentary:

  • Brave
  • Ambitious
  • Hard-working
  • Funny
  • Generous
  • Compassionate
  • Talented

But there's just one thing that I find really and truly and utterly insulting, and that's any statement that reduces me to being less than a whole human being. For example, when a stranger comes up to me and, by stating to me that I am a beautiful woman, reduces me to my external appearance.

I am more than my body. I am much, much more than my body.

So no, it is not a compliment, because I say it is not a compliment. Street harassment is never a compliment. 

I reacted badly, of course, and he told me I should back off. I should back off? Maybe y'all shouldn't be starting conversations with strangers about their bodies because THAT IS HELLA RUDE.

When I Left

Feminism, Narrative Non-FictionRebecca Brink

Asha's wedding was on Saturday. He sent me a curt text message on Thursday while I was at school, so I called him between classes and asked him to tell me why he was upset. He begrudged that he was angry with me because I wasn't around. How were we supposed to heal as a married couple if I wasn't even going to be physically present?

I said, "Don't you think this is kind of what you always do? You pick a fight with me for no good reason a few days before a big event and then expect me to go anyway. I told you what to expect from me during this separation. We see each other plenty, and we talk every day. I'm not moving back in yet. This is what a separation is."

He went on. It wasn't fair of me. It was my fault we weren't doing well.

"Excuse me?"

"Well, you know, there's two sides to every story," he said. "You've done plenty wrong. And now you're not even around to fix it."

"And yet I've apologized for the things I've done wrong. I've gone to therapy and worked hard on myself. I've held up my end of our agreements. When I left I didn't ask you to do anything that wouldn't directly benefit you." I paused. He was trying to make me concede for Asha's sake. This happened before every birthday, every holiday, every time my sister came into town from Texas, my mother's graduation, every time we had plans with friends: A fight, and then I'd have to concede for the sake of the people we loved, suck it up, and go with him, sweeping his behavior under the rug. "You know what, I think I need a few days to myself to think about things. Please don't call or write. Tell Asha I'm sorry I had to miss the wedding."

***

He proceeded to call and write. He called me at work, on my cell, at my mom's house; he texted me several times an hour, he wrote e-mails. I was appalled by this: Not even a few hours to myself? Not even a few hours without him interrupting? My mother was less surprised.

On Saturday I finally gave in to the waves of his persistence pounding against my walls of silence and picked up the phone.

"Why aren't you getting ready for Asha's wedding?" I asked.

"I'm not going," he said.

"What?"

"How would I even get there? You were supposed to drive me."

"Ask your mother! Call a cab! It's just up the road!"

"I'm not going to go to someone's wedding while my marriage is falling apart."

"She's your oldest friend. You've known her since you two were three. You're being selfish! My cousin came to our wedding while she and her husband were splitting up."

"I'm not going."

"You can't put yourself aside for one measly afternoon? It's her day. You're her friend. You should be there for her."

"You should be here with me!"

That was it. Me. Me. Me. "You know, I asked you not to call me. You called me. You called me at work. I asked you not to write me. You texted and e-mailed. I told you to go to your friend's wedding because I wanted to know where your priorities were. Your priorities are yourself. I'm done. I want a divorce."

***

He called and called and called. Finally, I picked up. "What?"

"Go outside."

"Why?"

"Just go out on the front porch."

I looked out of the third-floor window of my bedroom. "Why? What's there? I don't see anything."

"Just go outside."

I sighed and went downstairs with the phone in my hand. I looked out the large glass pane of the front door. "There's nothing there. What are you doing?"

"Go out further."

I took pause at this. Was he there? Was he watching me? I opened the door and tentatively stepped outside, looking in all directions - both ways down the street, down into the yard.

"There's nothing there. What's going on?"

"There should be a package. Look down the stairs."

Did he plant a bomb?

"Would you just tell me what's going on?"

He sighed. "I ordered you some flowers. I ordered a rush delivery. They're not there yet?"

My fury grabbed hold of my ankles and wrists. "Flowers," I repeated. "Your oldest friend's wedding was today, and instead of spending money on a cab to go and at least witness the ceremony and wish her well, you spent the whole day moping, harassing me, and trying to rush me flowers. I'm done. I'm done!"

***

Well and truly and thoroughly and completely done. Layers and layers fell off of my body: I had no obligation to this man anymore. I had asked him to get his driver's license, and he had not done it. I had asked him to go to therapy, and he had gone to two sessions, decided it was too expensive, ignored my suggestions for sliding-scale clinics, gone to self-help books, and insisted that we had to see a marriage counselor before he would work on his own individual problems, as a way of changing the terms of our separation to fit his convenience. I had asked him to try to stop being racist, sexist, and homophobic, and when I told him about a Black friend of mine at work, he sneered over the phone, "Oh, so you love Black guys now?"

No more tip-toeing around his insane idiosyncrasies, no more worrying about what he thought of who I hung out with. No more dancing around names that he didn't like, no matter who they belonged to. I was free to do as I wished.

And so on Sunday I went on r4r, and on Monday I had a lovely one-night stand with a beautiful half-Greek, half-Englishman. The tattoo I'd gotten with my ex's name on my wrist made me withdraw my wrist across the table at the café where we'd met for coffee after my shift. "It's OK," he said, smiling.

And later, because I couldn't really make eye contact with him, "You really don't know how beautiful you are, do you?"

I blushed, I was overwhelmed. "Well, you know, you're a four or five at best," said my husband's memory.

The half-Greek, half-Englishman gushed over my eyes and the shape of my body; the half-Greek, half-Englishman drew me in to him, and we paused with our mouths apart and opposite for half a second, feeling our breath with our breath, before we closed the last parts of our lives, together.

***

On Tuesday, I returned from school through the back door, the door that leads into my mother's kitchen. There was a short fuschia vase on the counter with yellow, fuschia, and white flowers - in it, standing maybe a foot tall - our wedding colors, a way of saying "This is your obligation, your duty, you must live up to your promises" that was louder than the gesture itself of buying the flowers. My mom's tenant was in the kitchen. "Yeah, those came for you today," he said, smiling, because he knew what had happened on Saturday and in less detail what had happened on Monday. I read the card. Dear Becky, something something something something, Love always forever, Bear. Becky. I always hated being called Becky. I ripped up the card and threw it in the trash. I looked over the flowers. For that shape, and those flowers, with a vase and a delivery fee, it would have cost him about thirty dollars.

"I'm sorry, could you throw them out?" I asked the tenant. "I don't even want to touch them."

"Well, I could see if my girlfriend wants them," he offered. "Might as well not have them go to waste."

"Sure," I said. "If she wants them, consider them a gift from me."

I went upstairs and dialed my friend Rick. He teased me about the flowers for a little bit, but then when "Late" came on and Ben Folds sang to me, "Someone came and took away your hard-earned peace of mind," I cried, and I cried and cried.

"I'm a thirty-dollar wife," I cried.

***

Before I left, I had fantasized about leaving. I fantasized about traveling to Greece, or to Germany to really and truly study the history I loved studying. I fantasized about learning Japanese and about Japanese film. I fantasized about grad school, I fantasized about making art and singing, I fantasized about moving to the city, and I fantasized the most, the most vividly, about saying I was sorry; it wasn't so much that I fantasized about it as the fantasy invaded and possessed me. To my mother and sisters for asserting the priority of my relationship so loudly and so adamantly that I'd hurt them, to my father for asking him to constantly mediate my relationship, to my friends for letting them fall by the wayside, and to one who had become, over time, a myth and an idol: P, P who was the art kid, P who made witty, abstract jokes and watched cult movies in his basement with all his friends and a Costco bag of gummi bears, P who created things, P who didn't scold me for crying, P who was always just a little cooler than I could hope to be, P who didn't make fun of my hair or my clothes, P who welcomed me, P who included me, P who freed me up to be whatever I was, when I was a teenager; P who loved me, P who I loved; P who came back; P who never, never, never put himself out there to be hurt or rejected, and I knew it, P who lived behind very thick walls, and yet P whose voice - "Can we talk about it?" came rushing back into my brain in the middle of my eighteenth-century economic history course, made me scribble out a long screed as if I was possessed by the Holy Spirit itself, that basically just said: "I lost you, you lost me, I lost myself."

***

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave her boyfriend the instant he called her a whore, but I didn't leave when I was called a whore, even when I was called a whore for having been raped, because he explained to me how much it hurt him that he had waited for me but I hadn't waited for him, and although I'd be able to proudly say for the rest of my life that my husband had waited for me, I had denied him the same privilege.

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if she had been raped, and then her current boyfriend pinned her on the bed while she was having a panic attack because of the things he was saying about her, to her, and covered her mouth the way he knew her rapist had, and said, "Isn't this how you like it?" But I didn't leave when that happened, because he explained to me that he knew I was scared, but I had scared him, too.

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend told her she was "asking for it" by wearing spaghetti strap tank-tops and shorts at the age of nineteen, but I didn't leave, because he told me that his thoughts about my clothes were in line with his Christian values, and I should respect his religion.

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend insisted on watching porn together, but then told her that she was a pervert and a sexual deviant for getting aroused by it. But I didn't leave, because he told me it was my fault that it was so hard for me to get aroused otherwise, because I had permitted my rapist to rape me.

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend insisted on having sex every day, whether or not it hurt her, and got angry at her when she wouldn't. But I didn't leave, because I was a teenager and he was six years older than me, and when he told me that this is how normal relationships worked, and I was the one who was abnormal, and all he wanted to be was normal, I didn't know better, and I believed him.

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend told her to go ahead and kill herself and then got angry at her when she tried to. But I didn't leave, because he told me I was manipulating him by making suicide threats.

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if he kicked her in the stomach, onto the floor, and knocked the wind out of her. I would've told a friend to leave if he pinned her against the floor and put her in finger locks and arm locks while she was having panic attacks. But I didn't leave, because he told me that when I pushed him on the shoulders - because I wanted to be alone and calm down by myself, and he wouldn't leave, wouldn't stop talking, wouldn't stop telling me I was crazy and making a fool of myself - that I had abused him, and so it was only in self-defense that he had hurt me.

In high school, I would've told a friend to leave if her boyfriend sullenly glared at all of her friends and family when they all got together, whispered insults about them, in their presence, in her ear, and so made it impossible for her to spend time with the people she loved without both hurting them and making him angry. But I didn't leave, because he told me that I was hurting him by associating with people who didn't like him, and he loved me so much, why couldn't they see that? Why couldn't I?

***

I dated some very nice men who, yes, were also coming out of long relationships, but who had a sense of self-assurance I didn't have. The divorce was not going through yet. All I knew was that whatever I had been, I didn't want to be anymore. I didn't have a great job and I couldn't define myself by that. I had gathered a few new friends, but I didn't really know who they were. I had no space of my own, not really, living in my mother's converted attic, across a wall from her. I had ideas, and I didn't follow them. I was simply not that woman anymore

"Not that woman anymore" left a wealth of other options that were all foreign to me. All right: now, I am a woman who drinks. Now, I am a woman who talks to strangers in other countries on Skype. Now, I am a woman who takes pictures of herself in her underwear for fun. Now, I am a woman with a new set of clothes. Now, I am a woman who stays out late with her friends. Now, I am a woman who looks for studio apartments on the North side. Now, I am a woman who takes a pay cut to get a job in a better location. Now, I am a woman who dates men with handlebar mustaches. Now, I am a woman who talks philosophy. Now, I am a woman who goes on four-hour walks through the city with her new friends. Now, I am a woman who urges people to come to Chicago to visit. Now, I am a woman who sleeps with a man in the back seat of her car and then doesn't sleep with him again, but attends, and enjoys, the plays he's in. Now, I am a woman who gets five tattoos at once. Now, I am a woman who goes to bars after work. Now I am a woman who buys art supplies. Now, I am a woman who is alternating between alcohol at night and coffee in the morning. Now, I am a woman who buys cult movies. Now, I am a woman who goes to two different house parties on New Year's Eve and stays up until 6 am in bed with her date. Now, I am a woman who signs up for advanced non-fiction workshops. Now, I am a woman who meets up for coffee with an old acquaintance from my former life. Now, I am a woman who has been rejected quite badly. Now, I am a woman who makes friends with a dominant and lets him choke her out just to see what it's like. Now, I am a woman who takes satirically violent nude photos. Now, I am a woman who forces a man to be her friend so that he'll stop isolating himself in his apartment. Now, I am a woman who has been raped again, at 25. Now, I am a woman who doesn't drink so much. Now, I am a woman who bleeds her heart into words. Now, I am a woman who breaks down. Now, I am a woman who stays home. Now, I am a woman who loses bad friends and gains good friends. Now, I am a woman who bikes. Now, I am a woman who loses her job. Now, I am a woman who takes photographs of street art. Now, I am a woman who falls in with anarchists. Now, I am a woman who breaks up with a wonderful man. Now I am a woman who loves him too much to stay away. Now, I am a woman who loves her family. Now, I am a woman who has a bad job. Now, I am a woman who travels. Now, I am a woman who is resigned. Now, I am a woman who writes. Now, I am a woman who works. Now, I am a woman who goes to therapy. Now, I am woman who takes medication, now I am a woman who doesn't. Now I am a woman who is successful. Now I am a woman who can't sleep.

But what do those things all mean about me? Are doing and being the same thing? Are doing, and being, and wanting then same thing? 

***

When I left, I divested myself of predictability, of guilt, of shame, of isolation, of limitation, of obligation, of duty, of presumption, of terror, and of seven straight years of one very particular kind of pain, and I had nothing with which to immediately replace those things. I was empty and I was making guesses, and the guesses were sometimes wrong. When I left, I experienced new kinds of pain that I had no pre-set system to cope with. When I left, I failed miserably over and over and over. When I left, I depended on other people telling me that my failures were normal, because I didn't know what was normal for a twenty-five-year-old woman in my position. When I left, I sacrificed the control I had asserted over my surroundings by choosing to stay for so long, and I let chance offer the course of my life. When I left, I accepted that I was falling backward blindfolded, that I didn't know what was going to happen next.

***

When I left, it was years before I learned how to control my own life, before I learned to control who I was, but when I left I didn't know that it would ever happen at all.

So today...

Rebecca Brink

...I'm writing a very long-form blog post that may take me into tomorrow to finish. If I don't post anything else today, I apologize, but I will at least have it up tomorrow.

I Am

Rhetoric, PhilosophyRebecca Brink

I used to live by Occam's razor - the simplest answer is usually the correct one. Now I live in a reality that's full of constant, unrelenting anxiety, and anxiety is basically the opposite of Occam's Razor. Anxiety is what happens when you work from the base assumption that EVERYTHING IS REALLY REALLY COMPLICATED. Anxiety is what happens when your brain is convinced that you will die or fail in improbable ways. Just check out anxiety meditations: They'll say, "What's really going on?" and "I know you're afraid something terrible will happen, but it will not happen. It has never happened before, and it will not happen now." Books about anxiety attacks will tell you exactly how probable it is that you will die of a heart attack because of a panic attack (spoiler: not at all probable). Anxiety is basically you being completely detached from the basic simplicity of human existence and skewing toward believing that human existence is inherently negative.

And, like, I get it. I analyze shit in depth for funsies, here. I go into the reasons that words like "prove" and "deserve" and "fair" are loaded with all sorts of fucked-up meanings and why you should be careful about the way you use words. Lots of things have layers. People lie about their motivations and intentions and that makes it harder for the rest of us to have simple, constructive conversations. 

And I think that exhaustion with looking at all those layers, and trying to decode what people really mean when they say the things they do - especially when what they say and what they do don't even up, or when they say things that are inherently contradictory - is what causes people to be like, "You know what? You're a fucking misogynist," for example. Occam's razor. It's the simplest way of putting it.

It's also why the I Believe You | It's Not Your Fault movement is taking off: Because at some point, you can hypothesize all the crazy, complicated notions you want into the stories that people tell about being victimized, or you can just be like, "You are a victim, and I'm so sorry you were hurt." It's simpler. It's easier. It doesn't hurt anyone. It only helps. It's the most beautiful, elegant social application of Occam's razor I've seen.

Back to my original paragraph, because I want to address the idea that anxiety is skewing toward believing that human existence is inherently negative. That is not Occam's razor. It's not Occam's razor to read emotion into the fact of existence, period. Existence itself has no moral quality. It just happens. It's not good, or fair, or chaotic, or crazy, or ordered, or anything. If you start thinking that way, you complicate existence. You start making assumptions about what existence is and then you start making assumptions about what existence is supposed to be and then you start getting upset because your existence isn't living up to what your existence is supposed to be.

Trust me, I do it all the fucking time.

If life had a syntax, it'd be pretty simple. If life was a sentence, I'm pretty sure it'd be "I am."