Category Archives: Social Media Dialogue

Trauma Memories: Listening to the Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh Hearing

After listening to both testimonies for the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, like many I ended the day feeling cognitive dissonance fracturing my mind and jangling my nerves. Two completely different possible truths. One was delivered humbly, with strength, but also trepidation: in a one-piece bathing suit she had practiced her dives. The other was delivered forcefully with anger, indignation, and bitter upset: he lifted weights, played football, and drank beers with the guys. The two narratives spoke volumes about the effects of patriarchy. Each voice could be credible, depending on one’s construct of reality, of what’s right and what’s wrong … of what is really going on here.

I took a long walk down my dirt road.

I thought about my sex education as a young woman growing up in the ‘70s, just a few years earlier than Blasey Ford, in a small town. I got a booklet from my mom, but learned the details on the playground, like many of us did. One boy in elementary school told me, as I sat casually, legs sprawled: “Close your legs; the war is over.” I had no idea what he meant. I am not sure he did either. I felt terribly embarrassed and did not feel confident to ever sit with my legs sprawled again.

As I progressed into middle school, some girls already having sex, I learned from peers, TV, movies, and jokes told by adults:

  • Girls with big boobs got male attention. I developed quite late, not until the very end of high school. Strike one.
  • Girls who had sex were desirable, popular, and got the cutest boyfriends. They dated the sports stars. I held out until I was 17. Strike two.
  • “Boys will be boys.” Whatever boys did or desired should get preference. Home run.

The last, most damaging message was: If you teased a boy—if you flirted, made out, or put yourself in close proximity unsupervised by adults—and you got the boy excited, he had every right to do whatever he wished, because … you asked for it. It was your fault. Especially if you were drinking. Because guys, well, they have this “uncontrollable” physical reaction. It was cruel, once arousing them, not to follow through. Girls who teased were chided with the phrase “blue balls.”

I am not sure if these messages were pervasive, then, for all girls my age, in all towns, and all schools, but these were planted in my adolescent psyche, and, I suspect, in the minds of most of my peers.

Fast-forward to my senior year. When I finally went “all the way,” it felt like a badge of honor. I was in the club! Not long after this dubiously victorious moment, I went out with my friends on Halloween. Somehow over the course of the night, in three cars, we got separated. We were hanging out near our high school, thirty minutes away from home, and decided to meet at this party a classmate told us about. Driving alone for some reason, I found my way to the party at a house out in the middle of nowhere on a back road. I waited in my car in the driveway, but my friends never showed up. Not wanting the night to be a total loss and miffed at my girlfriends, I put on my witch hat and cape and went inside. It was packed and loud music was playing. I did not know a soul.

Turns out many there were a bit older and from a motorcycle gang. I didn’t drink anything, or talk to many people. I didn’t stay long. But I remember two encounters: a short, thin woman, wearing a leather biker hat, took a swig from a bottle of wine as she told me she’d just taken two valiums. Then she confided she was pregnant. I remember feeling panicked. Oh my god! I must have looked out of place and startled. The owner of the house, a stocky guy with medium-length blond hair, came over and for the rest of the short time I was there, he was nice to me. I don’t remember why, or what he did, just that he was nice.

Fast-forward to some evening in some month following this party. I visited this guy. I don’t remember how it was arranged, or why. I don’t remember exactly when—not what day, what week, or even what month. I know it was my senior year. I know it was cold out. I know this because he was fixing his furnace, which wasn’t working. That’s what he did for a living. He fixed furnaces. I don’t remember how I got there, or how I got home. I suppose I drove. Who else would drive me way up to this house out in the boondocks? I have no recollection of where it was; I could not ever find it today.

I suppose this was a stupid thing to do. But he had been nice. Perhaps I wanted a boyfriend. Perhaps I hoped for love. Perhaps I wanted to be cool. Perhaps I was simply looking for a diversion. Our senior class was tiny and here was someone new, outside our small circle. I don’t remember what we did after he fixed the furnace. We might have eaten a little dinner, listened to music. I don’t think I had more than a beer, maybe two. If I had any.

What I do remember is this:

A narrow, dirty-white couch in the middle of an otherwise sparse living room. Making out on this couch with this blond-haired guy I barely knew. Saying, “Stop” when he wanted to keep going past making out. His look of disgust. I remember telling him it was my time of the month, hoping to dissuade him with a decent excuse. It did not stop him. He asked me how many days was I into my cycle. I said, “near the end.” I was shocked when he pushed forward, saying, “no big deal.”

I don’t remember if I said stop again. I might have just gone along with him, because, well, boys will be boys. He was stocky; I didn’t know him very well. I had aroused him, so it was my duty to deliver. I remember my humiliation when he removed my monthly protection and dangled it in the air, almost mocking me. I don’t remember the act itself. I think it was rather quick and business-like. I remember a sick feeling when we were done. Something wasn’t right. But I didn’t know what. And I remember the month of terror after, hoping I wouldn’t become pregnant. Luckily I did not.

I might have told a friend or two. Otherwise I filed this incident away as one of the dumb things I did as a teen. It was my fault. I filed it away initially as evidence that those early messages were true. But one was not true: I was not cool or desirable to have put myself in such a position. I filed away a sense of my powerlessness as a young woman, as a woman of any age. My “Stop” did not matter. Not to him. Not to our culture. I had no name for this until I was in my early 30s—date rape.

The snarky, hateful comments about Blasey Ford on social media run the gamut, but one refrain, even chanted by the President, ridicules her spotty memory of her trauma: How can she not remember how she got there and back? Why can’t she remember how much she drank? When it was? Where it was? Why she went in the first place?

Walking down my dirt road, thinking back on my own trauma, I realized I was missing all the same puzzle pieces. Yet, like Blasey Ford, the moment of violation was crystal clear some 36 years later. I have a similar residual trauma from the incident, though it has manifested in me differently than hers.

But Blasey Ford has at least one memory I don’t have. She remembers his name.

 

 

A Positive Observation on the Great American Divide

With the fascination of a latent sociologist I’ve been studying the dialogue of the “Great American Divide,” a seemingly terrifying fissure that appears to have suddenly cracked open in the past couple of years, though many say this division has been present and growing for some time. Before the election, few people were discussing politics on social media. I am sure some of you are wistfully uttering, “Those were the days.” During the election we were screaming at each other on Twitter and Facebook like lunatics. But now…something else is emerging. And I think it’s good.

In response to the appearance of the fissure, I’ve been frantically amending what I thought was a more than adequate and comprehensive education in order to get up to speed on just what the heck is going on. That is, when I can find the time in the midst of, like many Americans right now, “working my fanny off just to pay the bills,” which is a sad thing as I don’t have much of a fanny to begin with since I inherited my father’s flat-as-a pancake derriere, which means I have to earn even more money to keep myself in a selection of stylish belts. But I digress…I would argue that this workaholic condition that afflicts many of us (because if we don’t adopt it, we sink) has most definitely contributed to these trying, divisive times. How can any of us take enough time to roll up our fraying pant-legs and wade through the mire in order to pluck out the truth about the latest political crisis from the swamp on any given day…and since the election, the onslaught of political crises seems relentless.

To get educated, I first reread The Constitution. Wow, it’s a lot more interesting than I remember in 8th grade when we were more focused on which one of us was shooting spitballs at the somewhat plain and boring social studies teacher in his white button down shirt and khaki pants (still, he had a pretty amazing afro for a white guy). I’ve also been reading a range of online media sources that relay wide perspectives (sometimes alarmingly wide!) on the significant issues we face, trying to bookmark the least biased sources of information (quite a tough undertaking). I’ve been listening to a range of radio news and noting (okay, I admit it, sometimes welcoming) the biases of my favorite sources, such as Democracy Now, NPR’s Morning Edition, and On Point. I regularly tune into Vermont’s WDEV’s somewhat right-leaning Open Mike and Common Sense Radio. Occasionally, I even venture into far right Christian radio land just to see what they are saying. And lo and behold, they appear to care about the same human concerns as most of us, like friends and family, helping the downtrodden, and living a compassionate life. It’s just that their narrative of how and why to live this way is different than mine. By far, my favorite program has been Indivisible and I was sorry to see it go when the current administration passed the 100-day mark. I am sure I am not alone in craving “centrist” news and discussion…if anything today, many of us are seeking dialogue between extremes.

While some friends have plain opted out of Facebook, others have gone back to posting videos of cute animal antics, and others are still ranting and raving, I have taken to “limited Facebook exposure,” like one tends to limit exposing pale bare skin to especially bright and damaging sunlight. I walk the fence between posting benign, quirky life observations and occasional political commentary. So, following the passage of the AHCA in the House this week, I bravely ventured into two different Facebook threads—one post by a solidly conservative friend and one post by a solidly liberal friend.

Both posts started out, predictably, on an emotional level. The rightwing post was the equivalent of “Yay! Goodbye Obamacare!” And the leftwing post echoed the sentiments of Henny Penny: “The sky is falling!” As a liberal I did not share the view of my conservative friend, so of course, I reacted emotionally, but as respectfully as I could—something to the effect of “women, children, and the elderly are not going to be able to afford appropriate care under the new bill, the rich are going to get richer, and how dare they put sexual and domestic assault on a list of pre-existing conditions??” Meanwhile, something akin to the liberal post had coursed on a wave of adrenaline through my veins when I heard the AHCA had passed the House by a narrow margin. What did this potentially mean for my healthcare going forward? I was having enough trouble making my insurance payments and out of pocket expenses already. Riveted to the radio on my way to teach my morning class at a local college, I had decided that it was most definitely going to get worse. Thus, I “Liked” the liberal post and was about to log off and rejoin the world of the real.

But then I was drawn further into the threads of both posts, past the ranting against government regulation and those dastardly democrats, past the pronouncements of disgust about the new administration and how we are all going to die in the streets, bereft and shoeless. And here is what happened.

In the conservative thread, my friend who made the post, happy to see a step taken towards repealing Obamacare, was relaying the exact same struggles I felt: unmanageable, unaffordable insurance premiums, high deductibles, a convoluted system that was not working so well, painful out of pocket costs, and feeling broke as hell. The only difference was she saw the AHCA as a step towards a solution and I saw it as a giant step away from a solution. (Personally, I would love to see a single-payer system such as has worked well in Canada and Europe for years and be done with the whole mess.) Because I saw commonality, I started dialoguing with her and some of the strangers on her thread, and guess what? I lived! Some of the responders went into detail about their medical costs and illness woes. We were all in the same boat. People posted this and that resource—some biased sources, some not. Some people chided others for not having their facts straight, but in a respectful manner. Those who were chided appeared to research and revise their opinions. Was this a miracle?

What I observed was a shift. Where a couple of months ago, condescending, derogatory comments would have flown, name calling would have started, and the F-word would have been typed as fast as fingers could fly, instead, we were talking, listening, teaching, and learning. I read the articles they posted and followed links to even more articles. When I left the thread, I felt better informed on the AHCA, though I still disagree with many of the bill’s points. I felt like President Obama’s statement in The New Yorker following this election was right: “This is not the apocalypse.”

In the liberal thread, I noticed one lone conservative voice. The friend who had made the initial post, which was a list of pre-existing conditions for which Americans would struggle to get coverage if the AHCA becomes law, had dismissed this lone naysayer and said, “We will have to agree to disagree.” Okay, fair enough. But what if this voice of dissent had something important to share about the legislation poised to impact our lives to such a great degree? I followed her link to read about the misinformation being spread about pre-existing conditions. If it was misinformation, I wanted to know. While exhibiting a subtle condescension towards all things liberal, the information in her chosen article was actually on par with what I had managed to glean about the AHCA bill by poking around online and listening to a variety of radio news. Of course her source was right-biased and there were nuances that the article downplayed—namely that if one has a lapse in coverage, the potential is to pay much higher premiums for pre-existing conditions. However, this woman’s article showed that the post that my liberal friend had made was incorrect and misleading. There is no “list” of conditions in the bill. And the decision falls to the states as to whether to allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums if there is a lapse in coverage (a 60-day lapse, as I learned from a guy on the conservative thread). There is, apparently, no denial of coverage of pre-existing conditions as my friend’s post had intimated, and even higher premiums are not a given. “Thank god I live in Vermont,” I thought, as my representatives will not likely seek a waiver from the community rating. Still, this bill weakens pre-existing condition protections because if one is unlucky enough to live in a state that seeks a waiver, and has some bum luck that causes a lapse of coverage, a person could quickly be out-priced and out of luck on pre-existing conditions. Yes, there would be a high-risk pool, but is this funding enough?

Surprisingly, little ole liberal me then jumped in to stand with the conservative woman in the thread, because what I want is accurate information, not to be right. As I stood with her, others came to the center and the dialogue deepened.

On the subject of being right, I also discovered, thanks to her and because I did some more sleuthing after reading her article, that I was not “right” in regards to my freak out about sexual and domestic assault being on the AHCA’s list of pre-existing conditions—a point about which liberal bloggers had also been freaking out the day before—because, well, there is no list of pre-existing conditions in the bill, and second, those items are not on the lists of common pre-existing conditions identified by insurers. Here was another nuance: many conditions that assault victims may suffer from, such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, and STDs, ARE on such lists. And so, by default, IF a person is assaulted, has a lapse in coverage longer than 60 days, and suffers from some of those conditions, she might have to pay higher premiums to get treatment. Whether this nuance is ethical or not will need to be saved for another debate.

So…I had to pull up my Big Girl frayed pants over my hardworking, flat fanny and go back to the conservative thread to amend my position on the sexual assault point I had made the day before, and I included a link to a solid article on Politifact that I found about how the initial freak out had been off base. No one tore me apart.

Here is the thing. What I see happening that I think is a good development in our country is that we ARE talking about politics and we are growing up past the “Green and Yellow Told Ya!” unproductive shouting phase. In social media we are now quickly identifying trolls; we are chiding anyone who name calls or swears. We are asking challenging questions and checking each other’s facts. And, best of all, we are listening and learning. And this, this is the gem of our current time. This is the heart of the Socratic method that I have seen over and over bring diverse students in my classrooms to a common discourse that deepens understanding of any text or issue on the table.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all puppies and rainbows. But it never was and never will be. Respectful discourse—like what I just experienced on both sides of the political fence while discussing a highly charged issue on a social media platform infamous for knockdown-drag outs—is what will bridge our divide and help us to find logical solutions to our complex problems. Now if it could only plump up my rump…