Friday, 31 August 2012

3 Day Novel Contest begins in 12 hours & counting!

Ok, it's almost freak-out time. I'm at work and trying to, er, work, but all I can think about is the clock ticking down until I can start writing.

So, in a potentially vain effort to get these thoughts on paper so I can get back to being productive, here's my night-before, last-minute, really-gotta-do-it To Do List:
  1. Figure out what I'm going to write about - done (Kinda. Maybe. We'll see come midnight)
  2. Come up with a vague outline - I still haven't written it down, so I probably should before the clock strikes 12 and my mind goes blank
  3. Make meal plan - done.
  4. Get groceries from said mealplan - my partner's procuring my supplies now.
  5. Make a booze plan - done.
  6. Get booze from said booze plan - see #4 
  7. Come up with a brief plan of wordcounts - done. Whether or not I keep to it, I have no idea
  8. Figure out an appropriate music playlists - kind of, and I cleared the deleted music from my playlists, but I should add more so I don't waste hours during the contest surfing for more.
  9. Make sure the apartment is cleaned spotless - Mostly, but naturally there's more to be done tonight. When I get home I've still got to:
    • put laundry away
    • clean the sheets so I can sleep more restfully (hypothetically - REALLY hypothetically)
    • run dishwasher
    • clean kitty litters
    • take out garbage, recycling & compost
    • BBQ that package of hot dogs so I can just quickly reheat them for meals this weekend
    • cut up some veggies for tomorrow - cucumbers, carrots & celery
  10. Get the office ready - Oops. Really gotta do this.
    • clear clutter and crap off my desk
    • set up my keyboard & mouse for my laptop
    • put away craft supplies so I don't accidentally wind up painting instead of writing
  11. Get the lazies out with surfing - does this ever really work? For anyone? Really? Best case scenario I'm too burnt out from the stupidity of arguing with sexist victim-blamers and rape apologists to want to go anywhere near FB or Tumblr.
Ok, I think if I do all that I'll be more prepared come midnight to open my bottle of newfie blackberry wine and get crack-a-lackin.

Wish me luck!

But what's wrong with giving women safety advice?

For those who don't live online (lucky ducks), you may have missed the most recent example of public victim-blaming and slut-shaming that came courtesy of Krista Ford:

This comes shortly after the Toronto Police had held a public briefing about a series of sexual assaults that have been occuring around the city.

SlutWalk Toronto was on Twitter Wednesday and yesterday, and last night spoke with CTV News about this issue and about slut-shaming and victim-blaming. Because they deal quite eloquently with those issues, I'm going to focus on others that come up when safety advice against rape is the topic.

When issues come up in the news like stranger rapes and murders, I understand that it is many people's first inclination to want their friends and family to be safe, and to try to give some concrete and sensible advice as to how to do that. It may very well make them feel like they're being productive and helpful. Unfortunately, it's often more about making the advice-giver feel better because when they're told that advice isn't terrible helpful, then come the hurt and offended proclamations of "How dare you challange me?! I'm just trying to make women safe! Marches and walking in pantyhose won't keep women safe from psychos, but guns and karate will, con sarnit!!!"

Here's the thing about most of the safety advice that is generally trotted out in times like these - they tend to fall into the categories of a) Rambo, b) slut-shaming, or c) If you don't do this because of practical issues you face in your life, you're just not dedicated to avoiding sexual violence. There's also the category of d) Duh, as in "I'm assuming you're a braindead child and know nothing of keeping yourself alive and will address you as such." The last one comes up with frustrating regularity.

To clarify why I find most of the safety advice the antithesis of helpful, I'm going to go through some typical scenarios in my life and how I manage rape-prevention versus doing everything else I've gotta do during the course of my day.

I am lucky in that I live relatively close to work. It's about 4.5km from my apartment, and I've taken to walking there and back to improve my cardio and to save money. On the rape prevention side, it's great to have an opportunity to work on my cardio, leg strength, and stamina so that if I were ever attacked out of the blue, I could potentially run away.

On the other hand, there is a stretch of over half a km between my apartment building and the main road that is barren and looks shady, including the parking lot for an abandoned movie theatre. Even if I took the bus, I'd have to walk past this stretch in order to get to the bus, because public transportation is ridiculous and doesn't go past my apartment complex to the station.

Now, I could potentially take another way, but the other ways are not pedestrian friendly. There are no sidewalks and there are blind curves that vehicles fly around. That is basically a no-go-, because if I have to weigh my chances of getting raped versus my chances of getting hit by car or truck, in this case I'm more likely to get run over. And if I were to get run over, I'd be more likely to be killed than if I were sexually assaulted.

As a pedestrian, I come across scenarios like these a lot. No city I have lived in is 100% pedestrian friendly and free of areas where people have to choose between shady alleys or parking lots, etc, or of getting flattened by oncoming traffic.

Let's say for arguments sake that the bus did stop directly in front of my apartment building and that I didn't have to go through any shady areas on my way from home to work. Taking public transit doesn't guarantee my safety. Not even in the middle of the day.

Or, let's say that I take a cab from my doorstep. That's not a guarantee of safety, either.

Aside from the risks I potentially face with other modes of transportation, women aren't given hazard pay from the government to deal with taking extra safety measures against rape, such as catching a cab or moving to a "safer" neighbourhood. Or for taking self-defense classes or martial arts.

Three days a week, after work, I pay to work out with a personal trainer. It's not cheap, but it's absolutely worth it for what it's done for my strength and stamina and personal well-being. If I were to be attacked in a blind alley today, versus in February when I first started, I would have a much better chance of defending myself today. Maybe.

The thing about working out to see results is that it hurts. Some days I hurt like hell. I am in the peak shape of my life, but some days I hobble home from the gym and can do no more than flop on the couch until suppertime. So, if I were attacked on a Monday before the gym, after I've had the weekend to relax and recoup, I'd be in pretty good form. After the gym, notsomuch. Or if I've gotten a cold or flu I'd be pretty weak, too. Or an injury from working out. Or if I were attacked by someone larger and stronger than me who also goes to the gym.

How about other advice, like taking self-defense classes, or going through the list of maneuvers discusses in the "Through a Rapist's Eyes" spam that keeps getting regurgitated and recirculated? Some of it may prove useful, but we've got to take something very important into account - those emails/ FB posts/ Tumblrs, etc, don't just get distributed to potential victims or survivors. There are potential and active rapists who read those, as well. So I can try any number of those techniques and maybe they'll work, or maybe they'll have studied up on that and compensated for it. Tough to say.

After attacks like these, the police often will advise women to not walk alone. That's a great idea in theory, but who can afford to hire a body guard? How many times in a day do you have to go someplace alone, on average? I know for me, there's no one to walk to or from work with me. Some days my partner will come to the gym with me, but there's no guarantee of that since our work schedules are so different.

Taking a look at the recent attacks that have been taking place at University of Toronto, these attacks took place during the day, close to public transit. The safety advice of "travel in pairs or in groups" seems sound in theory, but someone needs to have people they trust on hand (taking into account different work schedules, class schedules, and general life schedules), and they also need to connect with those people. Maybe these women were on their way to meet up with their safety buddies. Maybe they had just left them. Maybe they thought they only needed buddies in the evening, and not at 3 pm on a weekday.

One thing that a lot of safety advice never seems to take into account, is that there are certain groups who face much higher rates of sexual violence than others. Women of colour, immigrants, native women, disabled women, and trans women are just a few groups that face much higher rates than the general population, including white women. No amount of demure clothing or avoiding alleys will remove the underlying issues of racism and transmisogyny that proliferate violence against them.

There certainly is some solid safety advice out there, but the truly helpful and productive safety advice doesn't sound as shocking or have the gratifying punch of "Wear a RapeX" or "Carry a gun and shoot anyone who threatens you".

Some ways that we can reduce risk and incidences of rape:
Furthermore, here's a great article on rape prevention measures one can try to undertake to reduce their exposure to risk.
Here's an awesome article on setting up and maintaining personal boundaries.
And here's a follow-up article to the previous one on boundary-setting:
We can absolutely do things to try to prevent rape, unfortunately we've gotten into bad habits of passing on "advice" that really doesn't work or deal with the realities of women's lives. Let's put more effort into things that can help.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Countdown to 3 Day Novel Contest continues

I'm more excited than a child counting down until Christmas or Halloween. For a couple months, now, I've had ants in my pants over this contest, and now it's fast-approaching this upcoming weekend!

I'm sending my partner out of town, I've let my friends and family know I shall be incommunicado, I've booked the boardroom in my apartment building for all 3 mornings, from 8:30am to 2pm, and I've started my lists of must to do's.

So, for those of you who are also participating or are still on the fence, here's my list of last-few-days to do's:
  1. Figure out what I'm going to write about - done
  2. Come up with a vague outline - if I start too detailed an outline, I'll have to suppress starting chapters, and that will just make me fall over and tantrum on the floor. I'd like to just have names, locations, and brief ideas as to where I'm going with this done before Friday midnight.
  3. Make meal plan so I can cook ahead of time and not have to worry about feeding myself all weekend
  4. Get groceries from said mealplan
  5. Make a booze plan - what can I say? I enjoy drinking and writing.
  6. Get booze from said booze plan - I've already got a bottle of newfie blackberry wine. Now I need a bottle of sparkling wine that I can pop the cork on to celebrate my success (or drown my failure)
  7. Come up with a brief plan of wordcounts; where I wanna be by when on each day - I may not be able to make all the deadlines, but they'll help keep me on track and give me an extra push if I start falling behind
  8. Figure out an appropriate music playlist that will help feed the moods I need for the story - I can't be wasting precious time on the weekend browsing Youtube for music after finding out half my playlists have been removed due to copyright violations.
  9. Make sure the apartment is cleaned spotless by midnight Friday so that I can't waste time on chores.
  10. Get the office ready, because I need a formal work space to survive this. Lounging in the Laz-E-Boy in front of the tv really won't do.
  11. Get the lazies out and surf on Thursday until my eyeballs fall out and I have no further desire to spend anymore time on the internet at all ever - it's a good idea in theory, right?
Well, hopefully my anticipation of this event will mean I'm ready to hit the ground running on Friday at midnight.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

3 Day Novel Contest coming soon! Soooooo soon!!!

Coming up in 2 1/2 weeks is the 35th annual International 3-Day Novel Contest! Today is the last day to pre-register for $50 instead of $55, and I'm registered!!! Awwwww, yeeeaaaa!!!!!!!

From the official website:
The World's Most Notorious Literary Marathon
About the contest: Can you produce a masterwork of fiction in a mere 72 hours? The annual International 3-Day Novel Contest is your chance to find out. The contest runs every Labour Day long weekend, as it has since 1977, and it now attracts writers from all over the world. It's a thrill, a grind, and an awesome creative experience. How many crazed plotlines, coffee-stained pages, pangs of doubt and moments of genius will the next contest bring forth? And what might you think up under pressure?
The 35th Annual 3-Day Novel Contest will take place September 1-3, 2012. Registration is now open. You can also read our History, Rules, FAQ, or contact us with questions or to join our mailing list.
This is the second time I'm going to have the opportunity to participate and I am stoked! The first time I particpated was in 2010 when we were living in St. John's, Newfoundland. I didn't have the cash to register officially, and I didn't wind up finishing, but golly it felt great to be a part of it. Last year I wound up being scheduled to work 4 shifts that weekend, so that was a total bust.

But this year. Oh, yes. This year. This is my year. I've paid up and got my confirmation, and I am in the clear that weekend. I've already let my nearest and dearest know that I'm going to be incommunicado that whole weekend. The only slight snag is that my work always has a planned power outage on the Sunday of Labour Day weekend to test our backups, but that should only keep me away for 2 - 3 hours max. I'll probably be ripe for a break, anyways.

I have no idea what I'm going to write about, and I'm not sure if I'm going to come up with an outline beforehand. What I do know I'll have ready is three days worth of ready-made meals, lots of caffeine, and a healthy supply of booze.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Rapex and the enduring myth of the rape-prevention tool

As someone who has worked with rape crisis centres and many survivors of all gender expressions, I absolutely understand the desire to have a simple solution to rape. Whether it be avoiding a particular alley, a particular kind of person, a particular article of clothing, or by using a particular device. A simple solution to rape is the holy grail to survivors.

This, I'm certain, is why the Rapex has been doing the rounds on Facebook and Tumblr (and everywhere else I don't frequent, probably).

In terms of rape-prevention, it seems to have everything we commonly look for: a heart-wrenching story, someone determined to make the world a better place, and a cheap, tangible, and easy-to-use product that we can see and share pictures of.

Now, I have no issue if people personally want to try this device and incorporate it into their arsenal of self-defense tools. But, I have serious concerns about this device that prevent me from being able to endorse it as the tool-to-end-all-rape that many have lauded it to be.

*CONTENT WARNING - RAPE: I'm going to graphically describe some rape scenarios to illustrate some of my concerns, so if you think that might prove triggering, here's a photo of a kitten. Please procede no further unless you're up for it*

1. Not all rape is vaginal. And if this item becomes common, it is more likely that rapes in the areas where these are employed will perpetrated in other orifices.

2. Not all rape is carried out using a penis. If this item becomes common, it won’t take long for perpetrators to figure out to use an object to check for this device or to use an object to generally inflict rape upon their victim. Rapists don't exist in another plane, away from the social media that we use - if a lot of potential survivors are finding out about this via Facebook, so are a lot of rapists.

3. Another concern is retaliation from the rapist. What started off as a rape may turn into a severe assault or murder if they’re caught in this device.

4. People tout this as a way to incapacitate rapists because an object that punctures the penis sounds scary and painful. However, I know a lot of men who have one or multiple piercings on their genitalia, and they were all done without sedation or any kind of numbing agent, and they were quite capable of getting themselves home on their own power afterwards. The small size of the barbs would indeed make this item shocking and unpleasant, but I highly doubt it would be incapacitating.

5. I know the designer/ manufacturer states this device will protect against STIs, HIV, pregnancy, etc, because it won’t draw blood, but how do they know? Have they run human trials? Some rape victims freeze, but some fight back, and as such it’s not unreasonable to worry that a struggle would cause this to draw blood that could infect the victim with an STI or HIV/AIDS.

6. Women would have to wear these at all times to use them as a safety measure. When it comes down to it, a lot of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim - a partner/ ex/ family member/ friend/ acquaintance, etc, which further complicates using such a device.

7. The problem with low reporting rates cannot be solved as simply as charging a man who goes into the ER with one of these attached to him. He could say that (and it’s plausible that) his partner consensually engaged with him without telling him she was wearing the device. If she’s one of the women who’s decided to wear it at all times ever, then it’s plausible she could have even forgotten she had it in. The problem with low reporting rates is that victims often aren’t believed or are blamed for the crimes committed against them. This device doesn’t deal with the societal issues as to why that happens.

8. In terms of this being marketed to South African women and therefore immune to criticisms from North American women, if we're talking about people being raped as a tool of war, then often that is gang rape and object rape. If the victim is being raped by a solider, then the chances of being killed in retaliation are exponentially high.

I also need to address the issue of the White Saviour Complex when bringing up women from "Third World Countries" whom this would apparently benefit. Yes, I understand that women in areas of conflict, such as the Congo, are at an excruciatingly high risk of rape. Anything that can mitigate their risks is important. But, in my opinion, marketing a passive device like this that could put them at even greater risk of retalitory violence, is short-sighted and dangerous. If there were simple solutions, the women living in conflict would have come up with them. There are no simple solutions when dealing with rape as a weapon of war.

9. On a note about its functionality, I use a diva cup, which is a silicone cup used for menstruation that is shaped somewhat similarly to the Rapex, only inserted upside down. From using those, I have my doubts as to whether the Rapex would stay in place in order to latch onto a penis, as is being advertised. Unless the Rapex were long enough to anchor itself on the cervix, it could just get pushed out of the way. And if the penis or object is large enough it doesn't fit in the Rapex, the Rapex could wind up getting pushed into the victim's cervix and cause even more internal damage.

10. Not everyone has the same access to justice or the same relationship with the justice system. While it feels very gratifying to imagine exacting painful, bloody violence upon a rapist, there can be very damaging and long-term consequences for the survivor for harming her assailant, even in self-defense. This is especially a concern for people whom are already regularly marginalized by the justice system, such as persons of colour, queers, trans folks, undocumented immigrants, sex workers, and persons with mental disabilities, to name a few.

This may seem counter-intuitive, like, "Why don't you want victims to fight back? Every victim wants the rape to end as soon as possible so how can you try to tell them not to fight?"

Frankly, not all victims react the same when they are being assaulted or after their assault. There is no right or wrong way to survive an assault because all one has to rely on in the moment is their instincts and ability to gauge threat/benefit to fighting back. Even if someone wanted to fight back, sometimes the body's natural reaction is to freeze.

Also, not all victims are abused and attacked by strangers or by people they know but whom they could conceivably physically hurt back without being inflicted with even more severe punishments. Take as an example the recent cases of Cece McDonald, and Marissa Alexander, two women of colour who were jailed for acting in self-defense. No, these were not rape cases, but the same denial of access to justice applies.

11. The Rapex doesn't actually stop rape. In order for the Rapex to be used as a weapon against the assailant, the victim has to be penetrated. Perhaps the duration of the rape would be shortened, but this isn't a rape-prevention device in the traditional sense. Maybe its use will prevent future victims because of the damage and potential legal consequences meted out upon the rapist, but that's a pretty big but. More likely, in the future the rapist will use an object to check for the device or assault new victims using other orifices. Either way, the potential safety of future victims is a lot of responsibility to erroneously place on a victim whose first and only responsibility should be to their own safety and healing.

12. Aside from the practical use of the product, or how it may or may not be circumvented by rapists, devices like this and the Rape Drug Straw, are doing the exact same thing that all the other rape prevention strategies do - they take the onus off of rapists to not commit crimes and onto potential victims to juggle every rape prevention technique out there to stop their own rape. These tools can all provide some individual level of safety, and can prevent individuals from becoming victims. They cannot and do not stop rapists from working around these new tools to create new victims. If I use the rape drug straw, maybe I'll detect a drug that could have had serious and long-term effects on me. That's a good outcome. But that doesn't stop the rapist from trying to use those drugs on persons who don't have the straws or from trying to incapacitate me with alcohol or violence. This isn't a design flaw with the straw, it's a flaw in thinking that this will stop the net number of rapes.

And when we use these products and they fail, or if they're available and we don't use them and are assaulted, then there's another open opportunity for victim-blaming. If one victim uses this and another doesn't, then there's another open opportunity to pit "good" victims against "bad" victims. Even being skeptical of these items in the war against sexual violence is enough for people to question my "dedication" to ending rape, as opposed to having a practical understanding of the realities of rape and not letting Liam Neeson guide my self-defense measures.

13. Lastly, but definitely very high up the list of importance, how would a woman keep this device clean? If clean drinking water is of life-threatening concern, how would one wash this? I keep my diva cup clean by regularly boiling it in a pot of water, and even that I only use for a couple days once a month. If this device is not kept clean, there is the possibility of it making the women wearing it sick, with yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or toxic shock syndrome. Unless these devices are created as one-time use (and that creates a whole new issue of affordability and waste), then they could pose serious health threats to the women who use them.

All in all, I can see why someone would want to design such a “simple” solution, but because of the concerns I’ve mentioned and more, I absolutely cannot support this device being touted as a “rape prevention” measure.

The funny thing is, there are some very simple ways we can help reduce rape. We can not give rapists a social license to operate. We can not make rape jokes so that we make our culture safer for survivors and less amenable to rapists. We can believe people when they report. We can understand the many different forms rape takes, and hold abusers accountable for the crimes they've committed, rather than let them off because their rapes weren't rapey enough.

Let's hope those rape-prevention tips catch on more so we can really make a dent in the number of rapes.

Thanks for hanging in there for this tough topic. Here's a funny ermine.