In a perfect Slut-Shame-Free World… a Compliment Could be “Just a Compliment”

Recently, U.S. President Barack Obama paid a compliment to political colleague and personal friend California Attorney General Kamala Harris, which included a mention of her as being “good looking.” A lot of people got upset about it, and a lot of others rushed to the Prez’s defense with remarks such as: “it was just a compliment, for crying out loud.”

Admittedly, being of open mind with matters concerning absurd public formalities, while also generally given to supporting Obama on most things, I had to question my own reaction of outrage at the whole affair. Why does it make me so angry that he has the freedom to say this? Is it because it’s BAD to have a moment of human admission and praise somebody’s appearance, particularly if that person is a long-time friend and colleague? I mean, it’s not like he didn’t say that she’s brilliant and all that other stuff before mentioning her appearance…  My conclusion is that basically, the compliment wasn’t so bad, given the context of their relationship and the fact that she really IS brilliant, tough, and… well yes, admittedly, in my humble opinion: beautiful. Complimenting someone’s good looks is not a bad thing, in and of itself, unless…

…the person paying the compliment is a Female political figure and the Media gets to interpret her comment.

Let’s just let our imaginations run wild with the potential headlines we might be reading if Kamala Harris had complimented Barack Obama on his good looks in the same tone that he used to compliment hers.

“Kamala Harris Makes Indirect Pass at President”

“Kamala Harris Thinks President is Hot Stuff”

“Kamala Harris Flirts Shamelessly With President in Public Forum”

“Does Kamala Harris Realize that Barack Obama is Married?”

“Kamala vs Michelle: President Has His Choice of Women”

“Kamala Harris Blurts Out That She’s Hot for the President”

“Kamala Harris Proves that Women Cannot Keep Their Minds on Business”

“Kamala Harris Mixes Business With Pleasure”

“Kamala Harris Admits She’s Attracted to President Obama”

“What’s Behind Kamala Harris’ Compliment to the President?”

What a heyday the Media would have with it all! It could roll for weeks. We’d read repeatedly that the Attorney General is single, with descriptions of her failed relationships and insinuations about her long-standing friendship with the Prez. Some articles might even speculate a possible rivalry between the Attorney General and the First Lady, backing up the assertion with twisted half-truths, leading suggestions, and, on tabloid covers, strategic photographs of the two women Photoshopped with scowls on faces to insinuate animosity.  Other journalists would launch into sexy descriptions of Kamala’s choices in clothes, shoes, perfume, and makeup, with speculations on whether or not her body language and manner of dress could be described as “coquettish” on occasions where she has been seen in public with the President.  There would be discussion of her entire dating history, questioning and subtle judgment of her social and/or romantic behavior, and probably even an underhanded suggestion that she might in fact be a Lesbian.  Harris’ family members would be interviewed to provide lame comments such as “She probably meant it platonically” as evidence of the weak argument being made in her defense.  In short, she’d be professionally crucified in a matter of minutes and Media ratings would rise like mercury in a thermometer dipped into molten lava.

In a few day’s time, Harris’ public image would have been smeared, ripped apart, taken down, and dismembered.  From that point forward, Kamala Harris would never again be taken seriously as a professional or politician, but instead she would go down in history ubiquitously as “the girl who came on to the President” and blew her career in the process.  Maybe I’ve seen too much Telemundo, but I’m certain that the subtext would go something like a telenovela: beautiful, successful politician on the outside, desperate, wanton female on the inside, and guess which aspect will win and, in the end, sink her?

Considering all of the above, and the fact that, though it may read as hilarious, it’s not far at all from the truth of slut-shame media practices, I honestly wish that the President had kept his mouth shut, or complimented his buddy in private, where none of us could catch the slick note of entitlement that he and other men enjoy: that freedom of personal expression that women still don’t have a right to.

On the day when Kamala Harris can pay Barack Obama a similar compliment in public, and have it not cost her career, reputation, and image as a moral/immoral female, I will agree that it was “just a compliment.”  In the meantime, though I realize that the President apologized, I can’t help but perceive his comment as an irritating, off-color faux pas at best; at worst, a blatant wielding of patriarchal privilege and a bristling example of yet one more human right that women still lack in the 21st Century, and men take totally for granted.

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The Lowly, Lecherous Leg of the Law: An Open Letter to Steubenville Rapists’ Defense Attorneys

Dear Adam Nemann and Walter Madison:

While following the famed Steubenville Rape Trial, one thing became especially troubling for me throughout the entire 4-day ordeal: The fact that two adult men were being paid a fortune to bully, humiliate, slut-shame, defame and discredit – while salaciously perusing naked photographs of – an unconscious, naked 16-year-old female child.  Quite honestly, I often thought: THESE guys are actually the ones who should be locked up.

I kept wondering how YOU went to sleep at night. I kept asking myself: do they have daughters? What are they telling their daughters? What will they tell their own daughter if/when this happens to HER?

My mind became so full of unanswerable questions regarding the lowliness, filth and banality of YOUR respective characters, that I will share with you all of the places my mind went to in the following list of questions that I came up with to ask you.

1) What are your ages?  I assume that both of you are around 40, from the photos you both look to be at least 35. In other words, each of you is roughly 20 years older than the rape victim whose naked pictures you got to look at a million times in a courtroom filled with other adult men?

2) Given the fact that you argued for days that your clients’ behavior toward the 16-year-old rape victim was within the expected, acceptable, normal, masculine sexual behavior of ANY normal, healthy guy under the circumstances, I wonder: how many times did YOU each experience the expected, acceptable, normal, healthy masculine reaction of getting an erection while ogling that naturally-provocative image of a naked, unconscious 16-year-old female child?

3) And, related to that last question, I will even dare to ask the unthinkable.  After all, isn’t it unthinkable that given the evidence presented in that courtroom you sunk to the level of attempting to blame this crime on the VICTIM? So here goes, unfiltered: Given that no one could possibly expect a normal, healthy, masculine  guy to resist the automatic, natural sexual arousal provoked by the sight of an  unconscious naked female child, I wonder: how did YOU TWO battle the natural, acceptable, normal, masculine sexual excitement and natural, irrepressible, masculine urge to ejaculate while poring over those pictures?  Or…  did you ever actually surrender to that urge?

4) And, since Guys will be Guys, and taunting and laughing at rape victims are all just a part of the natural, normal, healthy, masculine FUN of being a Guy: How much FUN was it to spend four days smearing the reputation of a brutally-traumatized, injured child in the eyes of the entire world by insinuating that SHE was merely an immoral little slut who was asking to enjoy this healthy, masculine bit of FUN at her expense? Did it perhaps remind you of your glory days when maybe YOU TOO enjoyed the normal, healthy, masculine FUN activity of slut-shaming girls, and particularly rape victims, in High School?

5) Then again, since drinking to the point of unconsciousness, by your argument, constitutes consent to sexual acts and indicates beyond refute that a victim is WILLING to be used and defiled sexually as well as allowing photographs of the act to be published on the Internet, I wonder: How many times during your high school or college days did either of YOU indulge in drinking to the point of passing out with the hopes that a few guys would rape YOU and publicize pictures of it?  Were you ever fortunate enough to have the fantasy fulfilled?

5) Given the fact that 1 in 3 Women is Raped in her lifetime, it very likely WILL happen to somebody in your family.  Will your arguments remain the same when someone you love – a woman, child, or in the rare instance, a man: maybe even YOU – is raped by the same Rape Culture that you work so ardently to uphold and defend?  Will you sink to such an abominable low as to blame your own daughter, mother, or sister and hold her up in a courtroom to face the same humiliation, violation of privacy, smearing, defaming, bullying and slut-shaming that you inflicted on Jane Doe?

5) And, last but not least: given your views on consent and certain sexual behavior that you clearly see as non-criminal – how many times have each of YOU enjoyed some normal, healthy, masculine FUN by performing sexual acts on the body of an unconscious victim such as this one, and managed to get away with it because maybe you guys were star athletes – or perhaps, successful attorneys?  How proud are you of your contribution to a culture that regularly slut-shames rape victims and defends sexual assault as normal?

I realize my questions are highly offensive and suggest vile things about you. They probe the nature of your personal, private, and sexual behavior, the respectability of your character, your hidden personal agendas, and the moral fiber that governs and determines your attitude towards Rape, consent, and presumably, women in general. But then again, as i understand it, didn’t you probe, insult and humiliate the 16-year-old victim in much the same way, with the exception that you were paid handsomely for doing so?  Didn’t you attempt to defame her character and blame HER for the heinous crime committed against her, in the attempt to add another courtroom victory notch to your CV and expand your client base to include defending MORE rapists?  Didn’t you, in order to accomplish this, seek to discredit HER character and ruin HER reputation, convincing the judge as well as the entire world of HER vile and filthy character and HER immoral fantasies and conduct?

I have no words to describe the level of despicable that I see you as. You are not only an embarrassment to men everywhere, but to the entire human species. You represent, in my opinion, the vilest element of society: those that are willing to harm, humiliate and damage an innocent child for their own gain.

Since the Laws Laid by Men are banal and unjust, i pray: May the Law of Karma prevail in both of your lives.

The Ladies’ Room

IMG_4743

People are a little surprised when i explain that i want to present mujer_cita_MIA in public rest rooms, specifically Women’s rest rooms.  Like, ew… really? Yes, really.  Initially, the conversation has been: “Are you going to interview women in public Ladies’ Rooms?” No. I am going to use the Ladies’ Room as an exhibition space for the video projects.  “What will it look like?” Like a loop of moving image art on a flat screen. “Will it be like a commercial for feminism?” No, it’s actually contemporary video art in a public rest room. “What is it about?”  It’s about our existence as women.

The layers of meaning that the Ladies’ Room brings to the piece are many: Presumably, the Ladies’ Room is a private, female-only space in which women feel safe; yet public rest rooms rank alarmingly high among the places of highest risk for rape. And then there’s the systematic attempt to define “female” and “femininity” and the issues trans and androgynous people face with regards to using the Ladies’ Room.  At this time I won’t expand upon my belief that the myth of the binary gender system is a patriarchal form of social, political and economic oppression, as that subject deserves its own post, but do keep that in mind as you read.

The Ladies’ Room is that ironic place of utmost privacy in public. It is a place where fleeting intimacy occurs between random strangers as we wash our hands and apply lipstick in a mirror together, greet each other politely, make small talk, and wish each other a nice day, having just taken care of other, more delicate, personal matters.  Imagine if, as we do this, we are surprised by the presence of a unique video art piece on the wall. And if, furthermore, the work is layered with references to the issues that we are confronted with daily and discussing through social media, among friends in private and public places, and quite possibly, in the Ladies’ Room itself. Imagine if the work addresses our strength as women, the difficulties that we face daily and our power to continuously evolve. Imagine if the video is telling our stories through an abstract and universal visual language.

mujer_cita_MIA wants to reach a specific population of people and make a subliminal commentary on society from the perspective of a Latina immigrant in Miami, along with others who enter into the dialogue via social media. The conversations that i am having on facebook, and particularly on Twitter, with women from all over the world, are the basis for the images that i am creating for this city-wide film and video art project.

The idea first came to me in 2007 while working on a piece made with recycled vintage porn footage and television commercials on 16mm which i also hand-colored and scratched on. My first impulse at the time was to propose exhibiting the work in the Rest Rooms of some of Miami’s most popular nightclubs.  I even came up with a sort of business plan for it, thinking it a great ménage-à-trois between fine art, public service, and commercial potential. That piece grew into an installation that was instead presented in the closet of a local gallery, but the idea of the public rest room stayed in my mind.

So my first choice of venues would be Ladies’ Rooms in local nightclubs, as I really want to address rape and sexual assault in that context, where sexual nuances and cues are flying about.  The point of the work is not to moralize upon those nuances, but to stimulate the psyche through moving imagery that subliminally empowers us to feel more confident about our bodies and the social and sexual choices we make, both within the specific space and, by extension, within the dynamics of our personal relationships.

There will be several versions of the videos designed for different types of spaces, some more suitable for younger viewers to be installed in venues such as restaurants, libraries, and youth centers where the target audiences are girls of varying ages.  The piece is multilingual and filmed mostly in Miami.  And for guys who want to see the work: videos will be posted online so that you can also see them and comment on them. i want to get this message out there and love exhibiting my work in public space.

And… If anybody knows of a cool venue that might be interested in featuring this work, drop me a line. Likewise if you are a composer, musician or sound artist interested in contributing work to the piece. At this time, i am in the development stage of this project. Any leads to potential funders, contributors or sponsors is also greatly appreciated.  info@solislandmediaworks.com

Love to you all! please visit often.

NObody’s fucking victim

marie en el monte

i am not the victim of the swine

who think they stole

my body’s secrets:

i am in fact

NObody’s fucking victim.

i am the 1 billion women

that are being counted

as we rise, dance & awaken

the earth from centuries of

rotting stench, and the

other 2 billion that nobody’s

talking about

because we are too terrified to talk

struck dumb like tombs

hiding the decay of love, innocence

hope, beauty and our precious

femininity

however we choose to define it

for ourselves.

i am those women who get up

and pee, drink, sweat, laugh, fuck, cry, shit

and apply

a full face of makeup so as to

play out the drama on the streets again

defying the incessant banging

of the constant

threat

that stalks the gutters out there

and rises from sewers all around us.

i am those women who clench their fists

inside boxing gloves

punching the living shit out of

every demon

every nightmare

every shred of shame & terror

that clings to the walls of

our inner selves

while we walk

that beautiful

womanly walk

all 3 billion of us.

i am those 3 billion women that cover this earth

with our blood, sweat, tears, love & persistence

the 3 billion women who will each in her lifetime

perform at least 3 billion miracles

of healing, nurturing and giving

restoring with every act her own

breath

heart

mind

body

spirit

and power.

i am All women:

NObody’s fucking victim.

you hear me?

NObody’s fucking victim.

i am too beautiful for your defilement

too strong to be damaged by you

too large in numbers to be overpowered by you

and my mission is far too important

for you to detain me

any longer.

rape by any other name…

color 1

i have no proof that he put something in my drink, but outside of this incident i have never blacked out from drinking in my life. i am not a saint, but i am not a heavy drinker, and i had ONE mojito that night. it was a Tall mojito and i deliberately didn’t finish it because i hadn’t eaten dinner. halfway through the drink, i started feeling like i was getting too drunk too quickly, so i ordered a club soda with lime, and as far as i can remember, i never finished that mojito.

It never crossed my mind that the drink could have been roofied. Presumably i was safe. this was my third date with him. we were friends. i had effectively friend-zoned him on prior dates with swift pecks to cheek and actually saying out loud: “I am not interested in casual sex.”  He had responded with the appropriately respectful behavior that made me trust him enough to accept his invitation out dancing…  so i was safe, so Safe in fact that i never imagined anything could happen to me with such a nice, big, friendly, Safe & Respectful guy at my side.

i wanted to dance. the whole mission had been for him to practice the Salsa steps he had learned in his professional Salsa lessons with me: i was born bailando Salsa.  But on the dance floor, almost immediately i started feeling dizzy and losing my balance, my rhythm, my step, timing, my whole relationship to the music and to the band. i blamed it on the fact that i was far too drunk and that all he was doing was spinning me like a damn top: otherwise he couldn’t dance a lick. i kept trying to teach him how to just HOLD rhythm and stop all the goddamn spinning. i remember saying: “Watch the other couples.” Dancing Salsa can be a living nightmare with a guy that doesn’t get it. under my breath i was cursing the day i ever agreed to do this with a muhf*ckn European….

But i trusted him and attempted to enjoy myself. i remember laughing and trying to make the best of it.  i chalked it up to being drunk, but i was losing control in a way that isn’t normal for me.  i fell against him on the dance floor.  i saw people staring at me, but everything was spinning. everyone must have assumed that i was okay and that of course, my big, respectful, gentlemanly European date would take care of me. but people were looking at me with worried faces, and stepping aside as i fell. i was confused as hell, but managed to amble my way back to the table and insisted that i needed some  food. He said, “let’s go get something to eat.” i assumed of course that we’d go to a restaurant, but by that time i was seriously slipping and i cannot even remember leaving the club.

i must’ve passed out instantly as i don’t recall driving with him. i woke up fleetingly in his car in the parking lot of his apartment building, not knowing where i was, and wondering why we were there, angry and nauseous. Rarely in my life have i ever fallen asleep in a car or moving vehicle so i couldn’t understand how this had happened.  But i must have passed out again, or just don’t remember what transpired.  In hindsight, i realized that approximately 5 to 6 hours elapsed between the time we left the club (they close at midnight) and the time that i woke up in his bed at sunrise.  i was still dressed, but he had unlatched my bra, and my skirt was pulled up around my hips. i was laying on my back, splayed open. my stomach was gurgling, i felt completely acidic, floods of nausea kept sweeping over me.

He had left a slimy used condom beside the bed, and was in the kitchen preparing food, humming and acting as though we had just finished making love like any normal couple. he called me “cherie” & asked how i was feeling. i wanted to vomit but couldn’t. i was numb, confused, dizzy, teetering, and trying with all my might to remember what had happened. i tried to imagine myself having sex with him, had i agreed to this? i could recall fleeting glimpses of him on top of me. i might have been in and out of consciousness, i could recall some bits, but no context. what had happened before and after? how much had been real and how much was the illusion of my obscured memory? had i responded to him, invited this at some point?  all that was clear to me was that i was horrifically sick and felt like shit.

i was starving, but by now i could not eat the cheese that he was putting in front of me, and the nausea continued to well up in me. i was pissed that he had not offered food sooner.  but i was too incoherent to articulate or understand anything.  i do remember a moment when, from the balcony of his apartment, i saw the sun rising over the Bay.

i found my shoes in the living room, with my panties. All i could say was “i’m sick and i need to go home.” i cannot clearly remember descending in the elevator, nor any conversation while riding in the car with him. thankfully he did take me home, as I could not have mustered a way to get home by myself in the condition I was in. the sun was up when i found myself at my front door.

my daughter was waiting up for me, quite concerned, as she had been texting me for hours during the night with no response. i vomited profusely and took a bath in baking soda, my go-to spiritual detox of choice. i told her what i could remember of what had happened, but I never called it rape nor even considered a roofie. Instead, i stated it as: “I drank too much and slept with a guy and can’t even remember any of it. I’ve never done this before in my life. i’m so ashamed.” It was She who looked stunned and horrified, and asked “are you sure he didn’t put something in your drink?” i felt a huge stab of shame and guilt at that thought: At my age how could i have LET this happen to me?  i was 55 years old when this took place. i replied, “No. I just got so drunk that I slept with the guy & can’t remember any of it.” For me, it was far more comfortable to think that i had actually DONE this, than to say i had ALLOWED myself to be raped again, for the third time in my adult life. Also, at that moment, my recollection of the evening, even of how much I’d drunk, was pretty vague, and my body just wanted to vomit and go to sleep.

It wasn’t until the next day or the following (both of those days still feel like a blur) that I began to suspect that it might have actually been a rape drug, as the lingering effects of drowsiness and difficulty with concentration began to feel less and less like any normal after-effects of alcohol i had ever experienced.

but the critical blow arrived when i happened to see my ex-husband two days after the incident. i told him what happened. he replied very matter-of-factly: “You let it happen.”  Hearing that remark, from a man with whom i lived for almost 20 years, the father of my children, and someone who claims he “loves” me and is my “friend,” it’s not hard to imagine why I decided not to pursue the nightmare of pressing a rape charge via the U.S. judicial system. like most of us who choose not to report, i stand by that decision and my right to privacy, particularly at a time when i was especially vulnerable and already violated. We all know it is virtually impossible to get a conviction for “just plain old rape” unless additional crimes such as battery are also included, which was not the case here, though Rohypnol – the drug I believe I was given, based on the descriptions of its symptoms on the manufacturer’s website – can be fatal when mixed with alcohol, so technically, this rape could have turned to murder had i consumed enough of the drug. i still get a creepy feeling when i think “what would have happened to me if i had FINISHED that drink?”

i am a feminist. i am a peer rape counselor. i am a past rape survivor. i know better. I know how we internalize, block, hide, and blame ourselves. i know how it stays deep inside of us, working on our behavior for years. i know just how hard it is to take on the overwhelming guilt, fear, anger and shame that comes with the thought: “I was raped.”  nonetheless, i blamed myself for this incident until very recently.  This happened almost nine months ago, but i can only begin to speak about it now. i am grateful to those in my life that are catching the flying pieces of me that come undone as i process this. i know there is love out there, and i feel it.  i don’t have any proof of anything so i cannot call this asshole out by name (though a group of friends are helping me set up a sting operation on him). There was no physical evidence of abuse, and i was actually grateful to know he had used a condom. All i have is my story: i am releasing it to join the other billions of stories out there, across cultures and continents.  May it clear the air for any woman who needs to hear this: it wasn’t your fault, mamita. You didn’t do this. neither did i.

ruins

ruins still 10

when i am spilling the moon

i long for the crimson-bright river of blood

current of continuous surrendering

pain as palpable and sopping wet as

life, breath, organs

the scarlet fire of youth served

as food

for my mysterious, passionate

caged vampire

but time and the body

free every beast

drown every hunger, moisten

every flame: the womanly lips

surface and resurface in the pool

of their beloved blood

sucking its nutrients

spitting life out

moon after moon

for eons until the source

is depleted: dried blood

a cracked brown stain on the inner thigh

the soul now spills

drops of moonlight

glistening nectar of what was once

youth: crystallized dew

at first silently coaxing, caressing

the bud to unfold, then ripening

like afternoon sky ruptured

by torrents, downpours,

steaming geysers

hurricanes, floods and tsunamis

i become

the quiet and terrifying aftermath

of mud and splinters floating

in rivulets of still life wetness

i become

the ruins of

passion

i become

liquid elixir rising

to meet the moon