So what is the VIDA count and why does it matter?

VIDA is a group devoted to Women in Literary Arts. In 2010, in response to clear evidence of a great lack of women being published and promoted (such as the 2009 Publisher’s Weekly “Best of” list including NO BOOKS BY WOMEN), VIDA decided to do a systematic count. Their first report was issued in 2011, and their second in 2012.

It’s more than dismal out there, and putting out the hard numbers pushed some to reconsider their work and others to dig in their heels, with the all-too familiar whine that “men simply write better books.”

You can report the report yourself at: VIDA: The Count.

Go and learn, young grasshopper. Then go and make it different!


The tale of the accidentally all-women’s issue

I have three pieces coming in the next issue of the small literary journal Armchair/Shotgun. It’s a young journal, this is only issue #3, but it’s already gotten great reviews. They have a “blind” admission process, which means each piece that comes in is given a number, and names aren’t attached again until the final pieces are chosen. For this issue, ALL of the contributors turned out to be women, in a literary world where women are consistently proportionally underpublished.

This is great news, and it’s gotten some amazing coverage. The first blog to pick this up was The Millions, and then The Atlantic Wire: An accidental all-female issue

Then the editors at Armchair/Shotgun wrote this great explanation of how the issue came about: Women’s Work. The whole essay is worth reading, but here’s a great excerpt:

Because as the VIDA count demonstrates each year, many more men than women get published in literary journals, reviews of books, and other lit-type magazines. More short stories by men, more reviews by men, and more male-authored books that get reviewed. The only category in which women tend to have the edge is poetry.

There are a lot of discussions about why this might be. One theory says that a lot more men than women submit their work–either because there are more male writers or because they are more aggressive at self-promotion. That’s certainly plausible. Could our all-female issue just have been a fluke of submitter demographics?–did vastly more women than men submit their work to us this time? Nope. When we looked back at all the submissions, we saw a lot more traditionally-male names there than female.

The women’s work was just better this time.

THEN a blogger at the Poetry Foundation picked up the story at Way to Go, Ladies!

Press! Press! Press! And the first piece in the issue is by Yours Truly. You can buy a copy online here Armchair/Shotgun

Armchair/Shotgun #3

Without Consent, It is Abuse: Or “Do you have Sally Ride’s permission to use that photo?”

Thoughts on the use and misuse of images for the pornography of righteousness
Elliott batTzedek

But first, my definition of pornography

Pornography is the use of images for a commercial, social or political effect, when those images:
1. are not of the one using the image
2. are used for goal or gain of the image maker, not that of the person/people in the image
3. are intentionally framed or manipulated to create a desired effect in the viewer
4. are used to produce social, political, or economic capital

In short, what I mean by pornography has nothing to do with explicit (or implicit) sexual acts and everything to do with exploitation

1. The Pornography of Righteousness, a Case Study

On Mother’s Day in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin, we decided to take direct action against Mall Books, a porn and peep show store on State Street. All of us had been in there, many times, leading Tours of Pornography for women, to try to break through the mental barrier of “Playboy, just sex, no victims, you prudes” by showing what the materials in the store actually were, including photos of bound women submitted without their consent by husbands or boyfriends, women who were obviously way too high or strung out to be giving consent, dildos with spikes that popped out, and on and on and on. We decided to push this point by taking a photo from a “pregnant and bound” photo spread and reproducing it on flyers with the text “Happy Mother’s Day from Mall Books.”

We put these on poles and other signs all around Madison’s large Farmer’s Market on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, then watched. As we expected, women, especially pregnant women or women with kids, would draw close to the image to see what was being sold/promoted, then turn in horror, usually to the man with them—the man who would be unable to meet their eyes, or to answer the question “what the hell is this?” and would hurry the women away. Consciousness Raised! Go Activists.

And then, later, a sick feeling in my stomach—who was that woman whose picture I had used utterly without her consent in order to push my agenda? That I felt I was acting righteously on her behalf was pointless; the patriarchy was always claiming to be acting to protect the interests of “women and the family.” I had made myself a participant in the marketplace of porn by profiting in some way from that image.

2. Fat Girl, Watching Local News, Dreams of Class-Action Lawsuit

You know those news stories, the ones that come on nearly every day, in between commercial for high-calorie, no nutritive-value, processed foods? The ones where a skinny young thing reporter begins to reveal the results of the “latest study” about weight loss or obesity, and the video cuts to a street scene where fat people are walking—usually women, and usually women who are clearly poor or working class. The camera zooms in to close-ups of their bellies and breasts, seeking a place where a roll of fat is obvious or even revealed by a loose shirt or poorly-fitting elastic waist pants. The video feed is always careful not to show the faces, so that they don’t have to get consent to use the footage.

That is, the video is shot in such a way that it can be used, without the consent of those people in front of the camera, in order to make economic or political gain for the people behind the camera. And the smugness of the camera crew, the video editor, the reporter—they are so righteousness, so pleased at sitting in judgment, at making a point, at putting The Bad People on display in all their sloth and wickedness.

Watching, I want to see the faces. I want the names. I want a class-action lawsuit on behalf of every fat woman whose body has been photographed or filmed and then exhibited without her consent to prove that she is bad or horrid or nearly unthinkable. I want the Pornography of Righteousness to be illegal, for without consent it is abuse. And just walking down the street is NOT consent. Consent is the saying of “yes,” not being denied the right to say “no.”

3. Dr. Sally Ride

I assume most anyone who reads my blog has followed the controversy about how and when Sally Ride came out as a lesbian, and has seen this image:

Image created by The Courage Campaign

About the former controversy, I’ll say only this: while I strongly believe in outing people who are actively prosecuting any minority or oppressed group, I also believe in the right to privacy. My wish that my heroes would be open, would embrace the rich tradition of lesbian culture, is exactly that—my wish, not someone else’s agenda. And do you actually remember the 1980’s? What it would have meant for a female astronaut to have come out? Or for a male astronaut to have come out? When you ask, “why didn’t she come out?” you are essentially asking, “why wasn’t she willing to flush her career?”

But this image is another matter entirely, for it has nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with exploitation. Do you think Sally Ride gave her permission to have her photo used, her name used, her relationship leveraged to meet the agenda of the Courage Campaign? Have you yet stopped to ask, “Hey, who’s behind this? What is The Courage Campaign? What do they hope to gain from this?”

Why haven’t you asked this? My theory—because one of the main ways that pornography functions is by avoiding the part of our brain that asks questions. The images porn creates goes right to our lizard brain, both the fear and the pleasure centers. This image does both, by triggering our fear of having our relationships not counted and our pleasure at seeing a familiar face with all kinds of positive emotions adhered to it. The image isn’t even logical—the party being harmed in the argument the text makes isn’t Dr. Sally Ride, but her partner Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, the one is now being denied benefits. Or at least that’s the claim of the poster, a claim made on Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s behalf with NO evidence that she played in role in the creation of the image nor that she had absolutely anything to do with this. For goddess sake, her partner of 27 years just died, and now they are both expected to be poster children for other people’s agendas?

Consider the full obscenity of this—less than a week after Dr. Ride’s death and her life and her partner are being used for political/economic gain without their consent. Feel that, then ask yourself, “Why are people so upset at her for not coming out sooner?” Honestly, would you want your life splashed across the internet for someone else’s purposes?

Then ask this—what exactly is “The Courage Campaign”? Who are these people? What do they want? I spent a little time on their web site this morning; they are “an online organizing network that empowers more than 750,000 grassroots and netroots activists to push for progressive change and full equality in California and across the country.” Which makes them the good guys, right? Guys being an operative word here; less than 20% of the staff listed on the web site are women. And, no surprise to me, the staff leadership all have backgrounds in film, which matters because of a decision made when photography was invented that the pictures, and later the film footage, belong to the people behind the camera rather than the people in front of it.

Don’t get me wrong—I love a good movie, and I deeply appreciate the power of an image or film to tell a truth, reveal a story, create beauty, and be profoundly important art. But there is nonetheless something disturbing about that the fact that I can take a photo of you and own the image the and right to the image—in a very real sense, I am “taking” your image. And that sense of “owning” an image creates the groundwork for both the pornography of sexual violence and the pornography of righteousness. Once Dr. Ride was outed, the people at this “equality campaign” felt they had the RIGHT to use her image for their purposes. No need for her consent, no need to consult her partner, just grab a stock image and open up InDesign and slap on some text and let viral marketing do the rest.

Do you feel the obscenity of that assumption? How this group used Dr. Ride’s life, our pride in her, and our fear about right-wing assaults on our lives to market their agenda? They hit our pleasure center and our fear center simultaneously, and wow did we ever respond, “sharing” their creation over and over and over and feeling SO righteous about how “they” would dare deny anything to Dr. Ride.

But the Courage Campaign denied her right to privacy, her right to self-determination, her right to control how and when her image, which represents her life’s work, is used.

So that image doesn’t make me feel righteous. It makes me feel sick, in that place that opened inside me when I realized how I had used another woman’s image to make myself feel Righteous. The same place where I feel sick when The Huffington Post makes millions of dollars in advertising by flaunting photos of famous women drunk or high and/or in mental/emotional breakdown . The same place where I felt sick upon learning that the Murdoch clan had hacked the voice mail of a girl who had been murdered in order to sell more papers.

There’s no real difference between the pornography of profit and the pornography of political righteousness, not when understood from the point-of-view of the person being used without their consent.

When you see an image and don’t see consent for the image to be used. you are witnessing exploitation. Every time. Even in the service of what you say you believe.

On Casey Anthony and Incest Statistics

On Casey Anthony and Incest Statistics

Look, I don’t know what happened in Florida years ago. A child is dead. I wish for her sake that the death was a painless accident, one with no fear, violence, terror. I am not being callous when I say that so many many children are dead, ones the press never describes as pretty, beautiful, precious, cute, tragic — ones the press never describes at all, like all the Pakistani and Afghani children killed by drones which are, by definition, heartless, soul-less, premeditated murders.

I do know this: while most everyone I know claims to “know” the statistics about rates of incest, “know” that men rape and terrorize and murder children every single damn day, when any one woman stands and says, “This happened to me” she is immediately disbelieved. As if “those children” child rape happens to are aliens, out there, somewhere. As if the adults who rape children are even more alien, evil outsiders, half mythological boogeymen.

Since none of us know what happened, how has the press created a narrative so strong that hundreds of thousands of people are ready to lynch this woman? The 13 people that did get to see and hear what exists of the evidence said, quickly, that it was not enough to prove anything.

Since none of us know what happened, let’s try on a different narrative, one that all kinds of official FBI statistics and years of sociological and therapeutic studies say could be true. Casey Anthony, as a girl, was raped, humiliated, and terrorized by a father obsessed with controlling everything about her. Her brother was, on occasion, part of this abuse. She therefore grew up in a web of fear and lies, probably with a high level of dissociation, one that would allow her to live through hell at night and get up and go to school as if life were normal in the morning. Both the lying and the dissociation became habitual, such that even Casey’s closest friends had no idea what was true. When Casey became pregnant, she at first “didn’t know” for many months, and then never told a consistent story about who the father was. With no real life skills, and under her father’s obsessive control, she continued to stay intertwined with her family, ensuring the lying and dissociation remained uninterruptable. She was, her friends report, an extremely loving and attentive mother. But then again, her friends were also always being lied to about basic details of her life.

Then, at her parents’ house with her mother gone, something happened, which resulted in her father saying that Caylee was dead and that they would have to cover up the death. How did Caylee die? Casey reported that her father reported the girl had drowned. If so, why not call an ambulance, call the police, report the horrible accident?

Exactly. Without really knowing what happened, let’s suppose, as we’re supposing all of this, that Caylee died the way plenty of girls have died, while being orally raped by an adult male. (Sorry if even reading that upsets you, but reality is reality and it ain’t pretty or easy or nice.) Or maybe she died some other way under this man’s hands – since the body was missing for so long, we may never know. We do know that the body, when found, had been treated the exact same way Daddy George buried family pets, mouth and feet duct taped and the body then wrapped in a blanket. And we do know that Casey pretty much lost her mind at that point, descending in a dark fantasy world where the child had never existed, then, pulled out of that world, into a pathetic, amateur web of lies.

(Here’s where I can’t agree with the press conclusion that’s she a classic sociopath – she just doesn’t seem that smart or calculating. Latina nanny is right up there with Susan Smith’s black car jacker. And need I remind you that Susan Smith’s daddy started raping her as a young teen and continued into her 20’s?)

Why did the story of the incest, her father’s “discovery” of Caylee’s body, the cover-up, only come out at trial? One proven theory – that, after three years in jail away from her family, Casey finally had enough distance from the terror to begin to move out of the lying and dissociative breaks. One theory, but it’s been true plenty of times in the history of incarceration, including folks who finally get sober, finally are safe from some kinds of violence (and victim to others in the horror that is our prison system), finally stop running and begin to have their lives catch up to them.

I’m not asking you to take this as truth, or to take it whole-cloth. I’m only asking that you hold this story up to the story the press has been telling, and measure for yourself the gaps, the unlikely moments, the prejudices, of each. I’m very clear about my prejudices and assumptions here, as an incest survivor myself. My great-uncle would sometimes call me by his daughter’s name, making me wonder if Daddy George knew the difference between Casey Anthony and Caylee Anthony. I know that incest survivors, as young adults, often drink, sleep around, take stupid risks, and get into to awful situations way over their heads, and that this is a pattern started by the abuse.

Who in the press will be so honest about the assumptions driving THEIR version?

April 25 – None of us deserved this

None of us deserved this

None of us deserved this, but still
we are held accountable. We’d bought
the lie that sexy was the same as having
power, we’d believed we had a right
to walk to work, to go to school, to live
in the city, to live in the country. We’d survived
through everything it took to bring us to post
an ad for sex on Craig’s list. Undeserved,
how our lives were as invisible as our bodies
left to rot in brush. They have his skull
but my mandible and don’t know it yet.
My skull, current-washed, now rests
between Natalee’s legs and Laci’s head,
in the great barrier reef of the disposable dead.

April 11 – found poem, NYTimes follow-up story

Megan Waterman, 22; Melissa Barthelemy, 24; Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27

vanished drew little or no notice—prospect of a serial killer
four more bodies—that changed

Shannan Gilbert, 24, a prostitute but much more
aspiring actress oldest daughter of Mari Gilbert

Mari Gilbert said police failed to take her seriously until
Long Island’s latest serial-killer case

Look at them: throwaway, margins, anonymous, addiction,
invisible, vulnerable, prey

[average age girls enter prostitution: 13]

estrangement from their families

[57% of prostitutes report sexual abuse as children,
by an average of 3 perpetrators

few notice

Joel Rifkin, an unemployed landscaper, 17 prostitutes
Robert Shulman, a former postal worker, 5 prostitutes
Kendall L. Francois, 8 prostitutes
Gary Ridgway, 48 prostitutes:

I picked prostitutes because I could kill as many of them as I wanted

Evidence: brush and grassy dunes, bodies of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of murdered prostitutes — women, men and transgender people

Message: “They should be very careful with their contacts”

April 5th – found poem, New York Times

Long Island barrier beach, Monday,
Found poem from New York Times 4/5/2011

remains of three more people
bringing number to eight
[not people but]
missing prostitutes.

Grim December, bodies of four
female prostitutes, a fifth
last Tuesday.

Authorities would not speculate
about the identities;
four, in their 20s, advertised
on Craigslist.

Eyewitnesses, phone records, budget hotels.

Police began last year the search for
Shannan Gilbert, 24, prostitute
who went missing last May.

None of the bodies were hers.

Melanie Englert, 34, driving from work, saw investigators
unloading big cardboard boxes, said “Oh boy, it’s
super shocking.

Brendan Byrne, 36, who lives near, texted
“They’re in our backyard. Literally.”

Let The Translating Begin!

So, having finished my MFA in poetry, and taken a semester to rest, I’ll be going back to school in late June to work on the poetry in translation track of Drew’s MFA program. Yes, me, translating, even though I’ve pretty much utterly failed to succeed in learning any other language, ever, and the thought of coming up against things I can’t read makes me feel more than a little shaky. So why do it? Because the translators I’ve met through Drew are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, because what they have to say about poetry pushes my thinking to the limit, because what I’ll learn about language will increase exponentially in the process. Because I’m a slut for being in over my head.

I’m searching for a poet or project, and on the recommendation of a friend found the Israeli Jewish poet Jean Shez, who describes herself as a lesbian writing about lesbian love and child abuse from a feminist perspective. Instantly intriguing me, of course. I’ve found a few of her poems on the web, and am trying to slog through a couple to get a sense of her as a writer. Here’s my first attempt, still missing a couple key words that my usual go-to folks for Hebrew questions couldn’t answer. First in Hebrew, then my working translation. Stay tuned, as I’ll be posting updates every time I manage to make a little more sense of her poem.

בַּלֵּילוֹת הָאַיָּלָה חוֹלֶמֶת עַל
נִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד
שֶׁתָּבוֹא כְּבָר לִתְקֹעַ חֵץ
שֶׁתַּעֲמֹד פְּשׂוּק רַגְלַיִם מֵעַל
גּוּפָתִי הַדּוֹמֶמֶת
שֶׁתַּעֲרִיץ אֶת הַבָּשָׂר הַזֶה

In the evenings the fawn dreams
of Nimrad, the mighty hunter,
who will come to press an arrow
inside me
to straddle my unmoving body,
to lord over this meat

Asking the Unasked Question About Gay Teen Suicide

Asking the Unasked Question About Gay Teen Suicide

Elliott batTzedek

On Coming Out Day, October 11, 1987, I was supposed to be in DC. Instead, I’d stayed in Madison, WI, and agreed to have my parents come for an awkward, difficult visit, spilling over with things not said.

That Sunday morning, after they’d left on Saturday night, I stood in my kitchen, my three-theophyllines-a-day in one hand, the whole bottle in the other. I took the bottle. I didn’t plan to, I hadn’t been contemplating suicide, I didn’t want to die. I got to the hospital, went through the horrible charcoal-swallowing, stomach pumping procedure, was put on suicide watch for 36 hours, and sent home.

No, I hadn’t been able to tell my parents I was a dyke, and yes, that was because of the intense homophobia I had always witnessed in my small home town. But I wasn’t a mess because I was lesbian. I loved being lesbian, loved everything about it, had no qualms, poured my whole self into the lesbian community. Seeing my parents made me fall apart because I’d been falling apart for months under the pressure of constant flashbacks of childhood sexual abuse. My mind was remembering images, my body remembering blows, my nose the smell of him. All of this was painful beyond my capacity to process, and I was desperate to just make it stop. Spending two days with my family increased that pain exponentially, and that morning I snapped.

Watching the coverage of gay teen suicide this fall, I am pushed back to that day. If I had died, would it have been spun as a “gay youth” suicide? If it were covered at all, I think it probably would have. And that would have been a lie about my life.

And because I know that would have been a lie, I wonder constantly about these teens. While I am generally dubious about any sort of statistical statement about what is suppressed, for the sake of argument I’m going with the stats as they stand – 1 in 10 kids is gay/queer/lesbian/gender queer/etc, but 6-8 out of 10 kids are victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18.

Who is counting the suicides among these 60-80% of children?

And of the gay kids who kill themselves, how many are also survivors of sexual abuse? Is bullying really THE issue here?

By which I mean this – I don’t doubt for a second that physical and psychological assault cause depression and can lead to suicidality. But what other assaults are we pretending not to see? How much easier is it to blame “bullies at school” than to really know what that child’s life was at home? Are we, yet again, looking for an easy exterior identified problem so we can as a culture go on lying about sexual abuse?

That is – is the current focus on “bullies” another form of Megan’s Law? Megan’s Law, and all similar laws, which unload the entire, vast, damage of sexual abuse of children onto the very small percentage of sexual predators who are unknown to their victims and “snatch them away from loving families.” Of course this happens, and of course it is horrible, but 90+% of sexual abuse of children is by an adult the child knows, usually is related to, and has been taught to trust. That’s a whole lot of social resources and fear-mongering for a “solution” which avoids completely the real problem.

The focus on “school bullies” is starting to feel the same to me in the way it is the evening news feed, the only explanation, the “we can fix this with laws and enforcement of laws” false surety. The single most dangerous place for a child is home; the most dangerous people are the adults given access to the child. When I count through everyone I know who has managed to kill themselves, or come damn close to it, every single one of them was sexually assaulted as a child, sometimes for years and years. No anti-bullying initiative in the world could have protected them.

And yes, some of them were also bullied, including me, my life in high school made miserable by my peers; bullies, after all, tend to repeatedly assault kids who are timid, who collapse in on themselves, who, in fact, act like prey. But what do you think would make a child, born whole, be acting like prey by high school, or middle school, or elementary school? Going after only the bullies who target vulnerable children is like blaming the vultures for eating the carcass of a deer killed by a hunter.

But it is so much easier to blame the vultures, who live out there somewhere, than to blame the hunters who live in our homes. And as long as we’re looking out there somewhere, and not inside the home, the sexual abuse of the majority of our children will continue to be accepted and acceptable, and children and teens will go on killing themselves or acting out their abuse on themselves and other children.

So, do we go for the feel-good media blitz of the 10% (if that) solution, or do we really, finally, try to save all our children?