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As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a workplace sexual harassment survivor (fired for reporting my incident), and as a teen and young adult male who was almost certainly guilty of sexually abusive behavior toward some of the girls and women in my life, I am really encouraged by the “Me, too” movement sweeping the world. My individual accountability is important, but unfortunately, it is not enough.

Awareness of a problem is crucial to solving it. And the “Me,Too” campaign is acknowledging and increasing that awareness. However, avoidance, denial, rationalization, minimization all contribute to our institutions not producing a comprehensive problem-solving response to sexual abuse and harassment. In part, that’s because there is no solution to it as an isolated problem. We are perpetuating the denial if we operate as if there actually is one. Unless we address this as just one bar, of the many, that keeps us in the male supremacy cage that author Marilyn Frye described many years ago, we are unlikely to ever solve this problem. Girls and women lack the right over their own bodies, their right to reproductive freedom, their right to equality under the law, their right to education, their right to control of property and money, their right to not be considered property, their right to equal pay, their right to authority over their children, and any other rights we can think of. These are all bars in that cage.

All this is a natural outgrowth of a patriarchal living system–A Dominator System, as Riane Eisler calls it, rather than A Partnership System.

As I worked for over twenty years coordinating a program to help hold men accountable for battering their partners, while I volunteered for, and sat on the local rape crisis center board, as I spent years on an anti-violence task force, and co-leading a Men Against Rape group, presenting trainings to school systems to prevent sexual harassment, according to FBI statistics, the violent crime rate in The United states steadily declined in all but two areas: domestic violence and sexual assault.  This is not a coincidence.  It is also not a coincidence that well over 90% of all violent crimes against women and men are committed by men. We are the problem—as long as we allow ourselves to be. To use an appropriate metaphor, our trained-in violence is just the tip of the spear. Boys are trained to be served by women. We are taught that we are better than women.  We are the ones that matter. We are the family of Man. Not long ago a survey showed that when boys were asked what they would do if they were suddenly turned into a girl, some said they would kill themselves.

In study after study, we find that when a work product is being identified as created by a woman, both women and men rate it as inferior to one identified as created by a man. We know that every major institution in our society is shaped by men and the values that have been perpetuated for at least 3500 years. We know that the orthodox form of all current major religions on the earth were shaped and developed in patriarchal, male dominated cultures, and they reflect those values.  These are the bars of that cage. If we want to fix the problem, we must identify it.

The sexual objectification of women, the use of women as tools for sexual gratification, the coerced or forced cooperation for that gratification, are just bars in that cage. If we want to eliminate them as a problem, men everywhere must face our own culpability, recognize and challenge the institutions that shape our attitudes and actions, make a commitment to be accountable, learn to listen to, and join with our sisters, the feminist wombin who are, and have been, leading the struggle to dismantle and transform the cage into a great table where we can all share the feast that life has to offer us.

Through this process we will gain the genuine opportunity to solve the problem of sexual harassment and assault.

River Smith is still the same troublemaking eco-feminist punk he’s always been.

Dyana Ross approached me, smiling, speaking playfully, with some attitude, “You’re a little young to be in here, aren’t you?”  A couple stools further down the bar, my cousin engaged in an animated discussion with two mean looking guys.

I told Dyana that I was old enough, and man enough to handle her, forgetting two things for the moment. Dyana wasn’t a “her” but a knockout drag queen look alike, and, as far as I knew, I was not “queer.”

My cousin grabbed me, saying we had to get going.  Many of the guys seemed quite angry at him for bringing an under aged kid into the bar, knowing they were facing frequent police raids.  If I got nailed there with no I.D., that was all the authorities would need to shut this important social center down. Joann’s was a little out of the way place on Payne Avenue in Cleveland. Like so many “queer” bars, they always had to be on the lookout for police. Sometimes, they could go for weeks with no trouble; sometimes they could expect police harassment almost every night.

I’ve been reminded of this story, over a half century old, as I’ve listened to the news from Chechnya the last few months, regarding the systematic torture, imprisonment, and murder happening today in their country, where men are regularly arrested for being gay. One of Russia’s republics, this government recently encouraged the abduction and detention of 100 gay and bisexual men. Up to twenty of them have been reported killed or missing; the rest, beaten and tortured. Human Rights Watch and other rights organizations are seeking worldwide action as Chechnyan families are encouraged to commit honor killings against gay men, to rid the family of the stain of gayness. There are even reports of gay prisoners being released from prison early, so their families can then kill them.  The homophobia permeates the entire society.

While there were rarely these kind of honor killings in the early 1960’s, when my “queer” cousin took me to Joann’s, America was still a dangerous place for him. When they were bored, some of the teen guys from my neighborhood all those years ago, would go downtown and hang on The Mall, where “queers” who either didn’t feel comfortable going to the few bars that existed in town, or were virtually isolated in their lives, would cruise, looking for guys to pick up.  My heterosexual friends took great pleasure in bragging about “rolling a queer,”  which meant beating up and robbing a man who was seeking a sexual partner in a society that made his basic identity and orientation illegal.  This “f-g fishing,” as it was later called, provided easy money, and a way to get their aggression out, knowing that the victim would almost never go to the police.

As we condemn the Chechnyan hate campaign and the many other countries where homophobia and discrimination are commonplace, we must face that, even in our country, the insults, threats, and assaults are not ancient history. It’s been less than twenty years since Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered, just one year since the Pulse nightclub massacre claimed fifty lives. According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, hundreds of hate crimes are committed against Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer community members every year.

There are still many states with no anti-discrimination laws for employment, housing, and public accommodations, and we are not many years removed from various state efforts to bar gay and lesbian teachers from elementary school classrooms. Gay, lesbian, and transgender children are frequent victims of bullying in the schools. Now we have a president who has declared that our transgender brothers and sisters can no longer serve our country in the armed forces.  At the same time, this president’s justice dept has declared that The Civil Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation.  In the meantime, three days before this writing, a local transgender resident, after months of harassment, was attacked with a brick, a plank, and a helmet by a group that then posted a video of the attack on snapchat.

My cousin was nineteen years old when he came out to our family in about 1960, at a time when the medical community considered homosexuality a mental illness. He and his partner died in an accident over a decade later, likely never dreaming that they could have one day legally married in Ohio.

While there has been a dramatic shift in general attitudes over the past thirty years here, and in nations around the world, if we truly want to give all children a chance to be free, we must continue to challenge the homophobia, and the sexist oppression that fuels it, wherever we find them, including in ourselves.

 

River Smith is a psychologist, social justice educator/activist, and author of four books, including the soon to be published, Healing Handbook.

SEEKING READERS

I am seeking folks who are willing to read the manuscript of my new novel, and give me critical feedback.
Informed by my clinical background in post-traumatic stress healing, my work with both sexual abuse survivors and perpetrators, my twenty years coordinating a feminist based, domestic violence program for male offenders, and my own life as a sexual abuse survivor, this book address-es these issues, along with racism, classism, homophobia, the Iraq War, and the struggles of growing up in a marginalized working class family, while telling a painful but hopeful personal story.
The format of the book is inspired by Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple. The story is told through the journal of fifteen year old, Zachary (in his vernacular), as he moves through the spring and summer of 2004, as victim and perpetrator. The journal is interspersed with a running commentary being written in 2008 by his eighteen year old younger sister, Angie.
I’m an experienced writer, and I feel pretty good about what I’ve done, but I’d really like to hear how it works for readers.
Below is the text of a query letter I’m sending to agents. If you decide you’re interested, contact me at Librew2@aol.com

Zachary Parker is a basically a good kid. This fifteen year old has some amazing qualities, some serious problems, and he also has a secret. In THE TRAGIC CRASH OF THE INCREDIBLE FLYING BOY, the reader soon discovers both the secret and the harm it does to Zach and his family.
Set in a working class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, the story unfolds through Zach’s personal journal during five months of 2004. As it unfolds, readers get a picture of a dysfunctional but loving family that has experienced tragedy, abandonment, poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, and abusive incest. The readers also watch the struggles and growth of this tragically flawed teen who helps and hurts so many who cross his path. You see, Zachary is both a survivor and an abuser; a victim and a victimizer. As readers witness the often frustrating and extraordinarily difficult journey Zach takes from denial to accountability, the story is given added perspective by Angie, Zach’s younger sister, who, writing from 2008, both introduces the reader to the journal, and makes important comments about her experience throughout the book. And, yes, if you can believe the newspapers, the flying boy really does fly.
As a psychologist who has worked extensively with both sex offenders and survivors, I was inspired to bring a story forward that more accurately depicts the tragedy of incest and other related family issues, than what is usually presented in the media. As a former weekly commentator for the local NPR affiliate, a feature writer for The City News, an occasional guest columnist for The Plain Dealer, and a widely published poet, I have written extensively on social issues relevant to this work.
Reality can be a frustrating, painful crash, but it can also be an enriching, inspiring, hopeful experience. Let Zach and Angie show you how. I hope this unique tale of a couple of working class kids in a much too common situation will interest you. The manuscript is available for immediate re-view. Thank you for your time.

Source: ap-indians-wahoo-protest-baseball_001.jpg (1000×1350)

Featured Image -- 57I don’t even remember his name. I was pretty sure he didn’t like me much. He hardly spoke to me. This was the early 1970’s, and we were involved in numerous political actions on the Tri-c metro campus at the time. He was most focused on what was being called the Black Power movement. I think he was a veteran, but I’m not sure. One time, as I conversed with other members of his group, he walked away, saying loudly, “I don’t trust white people. Just stay away from me, Man.”

He wasn’t pleasant around me, but when I heard him speak in groups, I knew he cared as much about justice as I did. He expressed a passion for fairness, and didn’t seem intimidated by the authorities during the occasional confrontations.

He was a Black man in a country where white people had kidnapped and enslaved his people for centuries, and then, through many decades, had engaged in hundreds of lynchings and systematic discrimination in all areas of public life. I knew he had no good reason to trust a white guy. In spite of that, though he had told me to stay away from him, I was convinced that if he just got to know me, we could be friends or at least active allies.  I approached him again one day during a demonstration, and to my surprise, instead of walking away, this time he turned and got right in my face. “I told you; stay the f–k away from me!”

I took his advice.

A couple months later, there was a demonstration in the commons. I don’t remember what it was about. It could have been the school administration, police brutality, the war, Black rights, or whatever. There were always good issues. I was late, and when I got to a balcony overlooking the commons, I saw that the police were present, and there were a couple scuffles going on. It looked like one of them involved three or four officers and him, but I couldn’t see for sure because the police were blocking access to the commons. Not able to get any clear information about what had happened, I moved on after a while. I had to get to work anyway.

A few days later, as I perused the newspaper, I saw a small article that reported that a county jail inmate had committed suicide.  As I read further I realized the inmate was my would-be friend.  According to the report he had somehow hanged himself.

Now, maybe he really did kill himself, but nobody I knew believed that.  We knew he would have fought the police with all the rage inside him.  He would have made life miserable for those trying to arrest and book him.  And I knew from my time on the street that many officers made sure that anybody resisting at all, paid a price. We believed that a proud, rage-filled Black man like him would be in real danger.

All these years later, maybe Sandra Bland really did kill herself in that Texas jail cell, but when I heard her story, I immediately thought of that courageous, righteously angry man. A proud, “uppity” Black woman, outraged by police behavior and the charges brought against her, arrested for assaulting an officer, would not go quietly. Given what many us know through our experience of what some individuals with unfettered police authority are capable of doing, it has to be proven to us that she was not murdered in that cell, not proven that she was. Unfortunately, American jails have always been dangerous places for Black citizens.

I don’t know how many people have been murdered while in police custody–maybe not as many as I imagine–maybe a lot more.  And that’s the problem with authority.  How do we trust those in power? Anyone who knows the history of racism and classism in this country knows that those with unchecked power can do whatever they want to you, regardless of your supposed rights. Sometimes they suffer consequences; most times they don’t. There are thousands of union organizers, rights workers, civil disobedience activists, or just people with the “wrong” attitude that can attest to that.

As we discuss current police violence, these deaths and others like them are a reminder that all aspects of state control in a democratic society must be scrutinized and monitored by a vigilant public committed to justice and liberty. The current conversation must name racism and racist violence. It must also lead us to methods to ensure all citizens protection from arbitrary violence from those delegated to serve us. We all deserve that.

River Smith is a psychologist and social justice educator.

cosby2Hey, hey, Hey!  Fat Albert must be doing back flips in his video grave.  America’s 1980’s safe Black man, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, has turned out to be the creep that women have to fear. Finally, Bill Cosby’s sworn testimony that he drugged women to have sex with (Rape) them has been released.

That’s the inconvenient thing about heroes and celebrities; they’re just people. Some of them are mean spirited; some unethical; some vindictive; some violent; some also victimizers, in about the same numbers that we in the rest of the population are. They are also subject to the same misogynist, sexually oppressive training almost all of us get.

Growing up as a pre-teen in the Cudell neighborhood of Cleveland half a century ago I used to hang at the corner sometimes with the older boys.  There I heard the legends about Spanish Fly from these fourteen to sixteen year olds.  It was considered the magic bullet for achieving sexual success. Though nobody that any of us actually knew seemed to know anyone who had utilized it themselves in their efforts to “get some,” there were always the stories of some girl, after drinking a coke secretly dosed with fly, getting so excited that she hurt herself on a gear shift knob.  Really.  This is what they talked about.

The lesson I learned as a ten year old was that I was supposed to use any way I could to get a girl to have sex. Of course without online video pornography available, I wasn’t exactly clear what having sex actually was. Nevertheless, the initiation into manhood was successfully “scoring,” even if that meant using a prostitute. Women were seemingly a foreign species that wanted us to overcome their defenses. The theory was that girls really wanted the sex, but had to act like they didn’t. “No” really meant “please try harder.” I imagine Bill Cosby received similar training, including the fantastic tales of Spanish Fly.

As I grew older and overcame the misinformation, gradually learned more about my sisters, life, and the meaning of consent, like many males, I reduced my abusive male behaviors.  Bill Cosby became a thoughtful humorist, and, evidently, a serial rapist like many other men of various backgrounds, committing repeated crimes against women. Due to statute of limitations provisions, he cannot be held criminally responsible. He is just one more of the countless acquaintance rapists who goes unpunished under the law.

In my twenty-plus years as a psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress, I have heard many stories of rape and sexual assault, and witnessed the life altering wounds. I also have heard dozens of stories of men coercing partners into sex, and women on dates being pressured into sexual situations.  As recently as the 1990’s I saw studies that showed that 40% of college aged men approved of “rape behaviors” as long as they weren’t labeled “rape.”  Nicholas Syrett documents in his new book, The Company He Keeps, how fraternity culture presently promotes rape attitudes among their members. Of the scores of men I worked with in batterers groups in recent years, a substantial minority believed it was their partner’s duty to have sex with them. It’s only been about twenty-five years since Ohio finally changed the law so that a man can be charged with the rape of his wife. Until then, a man physically forcing sex on his wife was not considered a criminal.

Over the last three decades violent crime rates have steadily declined in all categories except rape and battering. Our culture is only now beginning to face the epidemic of campus rapes.

We know the cause of this scourge. It’s not about some unique male monsters. Many people have named it. It’s male training. Unfortunately, that training is shaped by the sexist, woman hating, toxic, patriarchal culture in which we live. In this culture where men dominate the politics, the financial marketplace, the education system, the media, and the arts, it is a dysfunctional male structured vision that defines the function and focus of manhood. That includes the accepted attitudes toward women. This also causes many women to suffer from an internalized oppression which trains them to accept these conditions.

So, when we suggest that male training must be changed to stop this violence against women, we must ask ourselves how we will help our communities to do the extraordinary work to raise their consciousness and awareness enough to transform oppression into liberation. Only then will we change masculinity in the fundamental ways needed to really stop this male insanity.

No more rape. No more battering. No more intimidation. Let’s try living in a free world.

River Smith is a psychologist, social justice educator, former co-chair of The National Organization for Men Against Sexism, and author of A Conspiracy to Love: Living A Life of Joy, Generosity, and Power (revised edition), 2012, Satyagraha Publishing Collective, Cleveland, OH.cosby2

America does not torture! That was one of the absolutes that I learned growing up. We stand for freedom. We stand for justice. We only go to war when we are attacked. We fight fair. And, we don’t torture.
It turns out, we do interrogate in an enhanced way, however.

According to the thousands of pages in the 2014 Senate Report, we do simulate drowning over and over again. We do put people for hours on end in little boxes the size of coffins. We do strip Orthodox, modest men down to nakedness in the presence of women. We do put people in physical positions of extreme pain for extended periods. We do practice something called rectal “feeding,” a practice which would be considered criminal rape by almost every state in the union, and every developed democracy in the world. We do chain naked men to cold concrete floors and allow them to die there. We do detain innocent men and do any and all of the above to them, virtually destroying their lives, and not even apologize afterwards in any way. But we don’t torture. At least that’s what Dick Cheney says. And I’ve been told Dick Cheney is an honorable man.

Mr. Cheney does practice a seemingly time honored behavior in our American history. He apparently lies about it. Just as the pilgrims in a 1637 war burned down an Indian village, not allowing a single man, woman, or child to escape, and then reported that they had fought a great battle which they won; Just as we called the Indians savages as our own colonial, and later, state governments paid bounties for the scalps of native men, women, and children; just as we repeatedly violated flags of truce and slaughtered women, children, and old men at Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, and scores of other scenes; just as we eventually violated treaty after treaty that we made with Native Americans; just as we tolerated the forced labor and imprisonment of generations of men, women, and children forcibly imported from Africa, and lied about it all, Dick Cheney appears to do it now.

It was The United States armed forces that raised the water torture to practically an art against the Filipino rebels over a hundred years ago. It was called the water cure then, and according to soldiers’ congressional testimonies, it ended up killing hundreds of those tortured. Many American leaders claimed at the time that the “cure” did not seriously harm anyone. Sound familiar? In just the last generation The Phoenix Program against the Vietnamese, which included the torture of hundreds of suspected Viet Cong, hardly received any attention, and plenty of denial that it had not seriously harmed anyone. Dick Cheney is only following the tradition.

We aspire to a noble goal in international affairs. It is one that we should hold high. The United States has for decades been a primary force behind international no torture agreements. All signatories to the agreements have sworn to not use torture under any circumstances because the world community has concluded that torture is morally repugnant, and should no more be accepted than murder or rape as acts of war. Those that sanction, order, or perform these acts can be prosecuted by The World Court, and many have.

Given our media’s willingness to accept the Cheney-Bush rationalizations and euphemisms for their torture policy, we have to wonder whether the two psychologists, paid $81 million to design and evaluate the torture program for the CIA, will ever be prosecuted. Will Dick Cheney, George Bush, and their CIA executives and operatives who carried out their program ever be prosecuted here or in The World Court?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is, Maybe. In December our ally, Germany, allowed war crime charges to be filed against the Bush administration people who developed and enforced their torture policies. Other nations have already done this. Just because our media is accepting the cover stories the torturers supply, doesn’t mean the rest of the world will. Of course Dick Cheney says he would do it all again in a second. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so eager if he knew humanity would hold him accountable.

River Smith is a psychologist, social justice educator, former co-chair of The National Organization for Men Against Sexism, and author of A Conspiracy to Love: Living A Life of Joy, Generosity, and Power (revised edition), 2012, Satyagraha Publishing Collective, Cleveland, Ohio.