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The Drunken Feminist

A guy once told me that I quickly go from bad-ass to vulnerable when I have been drinking,  That after two or three whiskeys, I lose grasp of my typically substantive demeanor, only to become a self-destructive, emotional train wreck.  In need of constant reassurance of both my self-worth and of my sexuality, I participate in unsafe behavior with men and find myself in dangerous, sordid situations – often soliciting attention from men that I wouldn’t if otherwise sober.   And this is not an usual occurrence, but a regular struggle where the desire to drink to the point of escape outweighs the repeated consequences of doing so.  In my life outside of drinking, these actions would be abhorrent.  As a self-proclaimed feminist woman, I deliberately avoid typical forms of external approbation of femininity, especially the forms that stem from patriarchy and social control, and seek out appropriate venues for stress and self-defeating thoughts.  But something changes after that first whiskey.   After taking a critical look at the behavior I express when drinking, I started to question the origin of my actions: What motivates otherwise  stable women to demonstrate behaviors that often lead to self-harm when drunk?

Drinking to the point of blacking-out is a form of self-harm.  Not only is the act of blacking-out dangerous, but the behavior one often exhibits while under a black-out can be fatal. A study by the Journal of Adolescence, which was recently quoted on the web site Mind Hacks, examined the motivations behind self-harm.  From the article, six forms of “magical thinking” take place that allow the subject to inflict self- harm.  They are as follows:

1. Magic substitutions. This term refers to the magic belief in the transformation of one category of phenomena into another, e.g. emotional pain into physical, bad self into blood. For example, “I can’t handle mental or emotional pain, so I turn it into something I can handle, which is physical pain.”

2. Transanimation of objects. Scored if an inanimate object, such as the blood, body or cutting instrument, is described as an active subject independent of the self. For example, “the blade is always so nice, like with every cut it lets the pain flow out; it lets it flood like a river of blood.” This example would also be scored as a magical substitution, where blood magically substitutes for emotional pain.

3. Transanimation of processes. Scored as present if a behavior or phenomenon is seen as having autonomous agency. For example, “I still cut myself. Because to me that is my only true friend.”

4. Auto-relatedness. Scored if the narrator wrote about himself or herself as a separate person or a poorly integrated part. For example, “Don’t worry me, me will take care of you. It’s okay me, me is here now.”

5. Split between inside and outside. Scored if the narrator describes a metaphysical difference between the inside and outside of the body. For example, “I feel so ugly inside, so dark and cold, on the outside I’m not exactly warm, but I’m not as cold.”

6. Scars reminding and communicating. Scored if scars or cuts communicate with or remind the narrator or others. For example, “I feel better when I see the cuts on my arms, I don’t know why, I mean I hate them. But they seem to make me feel like I guess someone gets it, gets why I do this to myself.” (Bell)

Though the study focuses on cutting as a form of self-harm, I believe that it can be applicable to the degree of self-harm caused by drinking. Once I take that first shot of whiskey, my anxiety begins to dissipate. Regardless of the feeling – sadness, happiness, other forms of emotional pain – the introduction of alcohol translates the emotions into more manageable parts; I lack the proper mechanisms to process every day emotions, but I can handle being drunk. (Magic Substitutions) The whiskey bottle itself is a form of comfort and I immediately feel better when I know that I have one in my freezer or, better yet, in my hand. (Transanimation of objects) Despite the many, many consequences that I have accrued over the years, a shot of whiskey is still my closest companion.  It is the only thing that I know will be there for me when I am too emotional overwhelmed. (Transanimation of processes) The empty bottles that I keep around my apartment are reminders of this relationship. (Scars reminding and communicating)

Living a life controlled by the social structures that dictate modern American life can be confining and leave little room for deviant expression.  This forces feelings of depression, self-harm, and mental illness to the periphery where they can only be expressed in isolated environments and under certain social situations. An example of this type of environment is one that includes alcohol, along with the expectation for participants to get drunk, often  to the degree of self-inflicted harm. Imagine the dynamics of a college party, if you will.  In these types of environments, one must not only be willing to consume a large, and often unsafe, amount of alcohol, but to exhibit the appropriate behaviors that indicate inebriation.  For women, these behaviors tend to range along the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Women are supposed to be either innocent or deviant. A virgin or a slut. This stereotype can become especially dangerous for women who lack productive, safe outlets to release self-destructive behavior outside of an inebriated state.  Without a productive outlet to express these feelings of self-harm, it is not unfeasible that they would manifest in moments of intoxication and lack of control.

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A Poem About Domestic Violence

His baby girl heard

blat!

blat!

blat!

Smacking her cheekbones

Crushing her capillaries

Tattooing red splotches

on white skin.

He was crying

as he hit her

He was crying

as he forced her

He was crying

as he stared into her eyes.

He was crying

as he pushed her

He was crying

as he slapped her

He was crying

as he spread her

legs open wide

just enough

to see

the emotion

change.

His baby girl heard

her best friend’s voice

through the sounds of

skin slapping skin.

She heard the

poems and the

lyrics and the

big bass drum beats.

She heard

He’ll do it again.

His baby girl decided

to die if he decided to

stick it in.

Decided to take her life

under motel lights.

Taking shattered bottles

to blue-veined skin.

He always said

that he would hurt her

He always said

that he was bad

He always said

that he was an abuser

He always said

that he had

too many issues

for anything to ever come of this.

She just never listened.

His baby girl promised

herself to never let

this happen again.

To leave the black-hearted boys

under graffiti-sprayed bridges.

To hold her breath

before ever letting them in.

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My Vagina Enters the Conversation

There are some social situations that not only bring together a variety of people, but force them to interact within structures that may conflict with individual motivations.   Specifically speaking, the workplace – an environment where one spends the majority of her or his time – is often compounded by the idiosyncrasies of its employees and the culture of the organization.   This forced interaction can have both positive and negative implications; there is an opportunity to interact with people outside of one’s social circle, and yet it can be caustic when personal prejudice prevents genuine relationships from forming.   Elijah Anderson touches on this phenomenon in his latest book The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life.

I recently started a new restaurant job after about a year of unemployment.  In addition to relearning the role of a productive employee, I have been engaging in conversation with my mostly male peers about everything from the tedium of restaurant work to music to sports.  What underlies every conversation, however, is a discussion about the power ascribed to those who continually mention the possession of a penis.

As it turns out, I work in an environment where all women are relegated to chicks and where it is acceptable to make jokes about sex.  Here is a conversation from yesterday:

Man A:  Hey, when do you think that you will get your next raise.

Man B: Probably the next time I watch porn.

Language is important.  Though the above joke is not outwardly offensive, it is significant.   With the men that I work with, it seems that one is quick to remind the group of his penis when he feels the need to assert his authority, he is trying to impress the group, or if he feels undervalued.  The cultural narratives that are perpetuated through these types of conversations often have a great influence on the continuation and enforcement of  gender norms, and the workplace breeds no expectation.  This façade of comedic expression allows for my male peers to assert power with little social consequence in an environment where he may have limited control.

So what if at work tomorrow I causally included my vagina into the conversation?  Would it have the same implications? How would my male peers react?

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Have you lost weight?

Have you lost weight?

You look really good. How much do you weigh now?

Are you a size four? Oh, uh size two, eh? You look great.

For a person with an eating disorder, these questions do not come as a compliment.  No matter how much she weighs, what size pant she wears, or how skinny she looks in the mirror, it will never be enough. No matter what you say, it will never be enough.  No matter how healthy she is, it will never be enough.  And that is why I ask that you take a few things in consideration when commenting on a woman’s appearance:

1. Don’t assume that just because she has lost weight, it means that she is trying to lose weight.

Women lose weight for a lot of different reasons.  It could be because of health or because of some sort of life change.  It could be because of an illness or low self-esteem. It could be on accident or on purpose.  The point is that you don’t know.

2. Don’t assume that she is comfortable with her appearance just because she is skinny.

You never know where a woman is on her journey towards self-acceptance.  It is important not to focus on something that could be a source of anxiety when giving a compliment.  Talk to her.  Ask her what she is working towards and talk about that.  Don’t focus on something as superficial as appearance.

3. Don’t center activities around food if you know that a guest may have an eating disorder.

This can be especially tough during the holidays.  If someone you love is dealing with an eating disorder, make the effort to talk to them before a big event.  Talk about food options and be sure that the person feels comfortable participating.  Ask for suggestions on how to accommodate.  Be on her side.

4.  Tell her that you love her.

Seriously.  It is as simple as that.  Eating disorders are wrought with anxiety, depression, and loneliness.  Talk to your friend and tell her honestly how you feel.  Be prepared to let her reflect on those words before responding and to be there when she is ready to talk.

5.  Reflect on how you own actions may affect your loved one’s disorder.

Be aware of your comments, beliefs, and actions.  This is not to say that you should change how you think, but to be respectful.  Take a look at how you interact with a friend who has an eating disorder.  Are you always talking about your personal diet plan? Are you always commenting on how skinny someone is? Are you always equating conventional  beauty with happiness?

In the end, I am asking you to be there.  To be available to your friend when she needs you.  To be conscious of your actions and how they may impact her live.

For more on the topic, check out an amazing art project that was recently highlighted on elephantjournal.com: http://tiny.cc/igx0v.  The project used Craigslist.com to recruit woman who felt comfortable reveling their weight.  And, as any research project goes, so much more was reveled.

Do you have an eating disorder? What suggestions would you like to add?  Any thoughts? 

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Taking the Test

(Originally posted at sherights.com)

I took an HIV test on October 4, 2011, four days before my 28th birthday.   A week or so prior, I decided that I needed to accomplish three things in my life:  get a job, move into my own apartment, and take an HIV test.  The first two things were relatively easy to accomplish. It was taking the test that scared me.

A little background on why I decided to take an HIV test.  I was black-out drunk when I met the man that I eventually called my boyfriend, who I’ll call Ronald.  I had gone out earlier in the night with a close friend, but ended up stumbling home alone after drinking a few too many whiskies. It was during my walk home that he and I met. What followed next is hazy; I can only recall bits and pieces of the evening. The one thing that I know for sure, though, is that I had unprotected sex with him that night.

As I would later find out, in 2008 Ronald had unprotected sex with a woman who was HIV-positive. When he finally told me, I was devastated.  I felt overwhelmed with thoughts of my own future and scared that I couldn’t trust him. Even though he claimed to be HIV-negative, thoughts about being HIV-positive were always in the back of my mind. When I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to take the test for myself, I had a long conversation with my sister and called Planned Parenthood to schedule an appointment.

It’s hard for me to describe the feelings of gratitude I have for the women working at Planned Parenthood.  As I walked into the waiting room, the two women at the front desk recognized my feelings of anxiety, and were extremely professional when answering my questions. I immediately felt calm and more in control of the situation; I felt like I was in a safe space. These feelings of safety and support remained, even after I left an hour and a half later with my test result. Which, by the way, was negative.

I decided to tell my story for a number of reasons. Of all the emotions that I experienced while waiting for my test results, the feelings of guilt and fear created by the stigma surrounding HIV were the hardest to deal with. This needs to change. Accurate and real world accounts of people living with HIV should be accessible to young adults as they make decide to become sexually active. In order to be effective, these accounts must be based on facts and experience, not fear.

Along with the stress caused by social stigmas surrounding the virus, the stereotypes and misconceptions that are associated with taking an HIV test need to be addressed.  I was terrified to tell my loved ones and felt ashamed when I finally told my sister. No one should deal with the anxiety of taking an HIV test alone, especially when the source of those feelings is deeply rooted in misinformation.

If you have never taken an HIV test and feel like there may be a possibility that you have the virus, go take the test.  Find a Planned Parenthood in your area.  Surround yourself with people who care about you and do whatever you need to do to get there. The anxiety that you are feeling now is far worse than knowing the truth.  Whatever the result may be.

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When Feminist Thought Isn’t Enough

Without much effort, we constantly make decisions that develop and reaffirm our sense of self-identity. The most predictable decisions that we make in our everyday routine are included in this.  And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Without this consistency, it would be hard to form meaningful relationships and function in a socially accepted manner. This becomes blatantly apparent when a person behaves in a way that seemingly contradicts her or his self-identity; it suddenly becomes obvious that the decision to continue to affirm those predictable decisions was taken for granted. Generally speaking, people become emotional when this happens.  Some feel betrayed and get angry.  Some become apathetic and walk away.  And some take an objective look at the situation and are as supportive as possible. Each decision that a person makes is incredibly important.

During the last few weeks, I tested the relevance of my self-identity.  On a subconscious level, I needed to know if the current things that I valued, believed in, and identified with still accurately represented my own sense of self.  During the midst of my existential crisis, I stumbled across someone who was as equally confused.  This relationship ultimately served as a catalyst for self-reflection and forced me to take control of my life in a very real way.  I was either going to live in Baltimore or live in Cincinnati.  I was either going to stay with him or stay with family.  I was either going to give in or continue to fight. The relationship also provided the opportunity to articulate my subconscious need for identity affirmation in a public and tangible way.  What I valued and believed in would become obvious through my decision-making process.  And I found this empowering.

Feminism in theory wasn’t strong enough to support me during the last few weeks.  Instead of facilitating growth, it left me feeling guilty for not acting in a historically responsible feminist fashion.  I even felt guilty for being in such a stereotypical crisis situation. It is, however, feminism in practice that saved me. I wouldn’t have been able to manage such an extreme deconstruction of self without the application of feminist thought to my everyday life. I had to live feminism, not just believe in it.

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Get Involved!

My Planned Parenthood: raise your voice. tell your story. July 7.

(The excerpt below is from Shakesville)

Join What Tami Said and Shakesville for “My Planned Parenthood,” a blog carnival devoted to sharing the stories of the women and men helped by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and other Planned Parenthood branches.

What:
Share your personal story of being helped by Planned Parenthood of Indiana or Planned Parenthood in another state. Link your story to why it is important that the organization continue to thrive. We are particularly interested in the stories of Indiana residents, but welcome other bloggers to take part. Planned Parenthood is under attack in states throughout the country, including Kansas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas. We need to hear ALL voices.

When:
All posts should be scheduled to publish by 9 a.m. Eastern, Thursday, July 7.

How:
— Spread the word about this blog carnival through your blog, word of mouth and social media. On Twitter, use hashtag #MyPP. Post the My Planned Parenthood graphic on your blog and link it to this announcement. (See code below.)

— Email whattamisaid@gmail.com or melissa.mcewan@hotmail.com with your intention to participate. Include the name of your blog and its URL.

— Write your post. We may ask you to include a .jpg carnival graphic with information on how to support Planned Parenthood in your post.

— Schedule your post to publish by 9 a.m. Eastern, Thursday, July 7. If you can, send a direct link to your post to one of the email addresses above before July 7. What Tami Said and Shakesville will publish the names and links to all participating blogs in a stub post on July 7.

— Continue to spread the word and direct people to blog carnival posts.

If you are not a blogger, but would like to share your story, send it to one of the emails above and we will publish it on our websites. (Material published on our blogs is subject to our editorial approval.) Be sure to include your home state and a “handle” that needn’t be your real name.

We will NOT link to any anti-choice or anti-Planned Parenthood posts. We will verify content at links.

Neither What Tami Said nor Shakesville are affiliated with Planned Parenthood or Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Planned Parenthood is not involved in this effort. Melissa and I are simply two Hoosier women concerned by conservative legislatures’ attacks on women and the organizations that serve them, as well as continued distortions about Planned Parenthood’s services disseminated by opponents of reproductive freedom and choice.

We hope you will join us in our stand.

If you or a loved one has ever used Planned Parenthood’s services, please donate to Planned Parenthood of Indiana, or a Planned Parenthood in your state today.

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