Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Respect for Boundaries

My boundaries tend to stretch and bend and break and disappear far too often. I make an exception here and an allowance there. I give in when I should stand firm and I stand too firm when I should be flexible. Still they are my boundaries to set. They are my boundaries to break or bend or erase. No one else has the right to interfere with my boundaries... No one...

Right now a lot of attention highlights what appears to be a worldwide epidemic of rape. As I think about it, I wonder if perhaps it's more of the world coming out of a deep slumber that blinded us to the truth of the pervasiveness of violence against women.

I hear a lot of excuses for rapists and a lot of blame cast on the victims  aka survivors. Talk has turned to prevention with the usual camp of people telling us how women can avoid getting raped and very little discussion about teaching boys/men not to rape...

And, yet, I find myself pondering the idea that perhaps the real problem lies someplace deeper and more insidious in our society. Perhaps the real problem is we don't teach respect for boundaries. We don't teach humanity. We don't teach equality. We don't teach basic respect.

The reality is rape doesn't happen because a girl wears the wrong clothes, goes to a party, has a drink, or makes the wrong friends. Rape happens because a boy/man uses sex as a weapon to assert his control over a girl/woman. Rape isn't about a misunderstanding or a miscommunication. Rape is about control. Rape is about an unearned sense of entitlement. Rape is about a culture that teaches that girls should be "a little weak when they speak" to paraphrase Madonna's What It Feels Like for a Girl and that real men "take what they want" no matter what. And, still, it all comes back to a total lack of respect for boundaries and other people.

If we teach boys to see girls as people rather than something to conquer or a quest to complete, we teach boys to accept no for an answer without the implication their manhood is somehow in question.Seriously, let's be really clear here, real men take "no" for an answer with pride.

When the news bemoaned the ruination of the futures of the boys who committed the Stuebenville rape, I sat agape. Seriously? They ruined their victim's life and in the process ruined their own lives. They must take responsibility for that. They are not victims. They are rapists aka criminals. Rapists are criminals. We need to be clear on this.

I realize that men and boys are also victims of rape, but men are the more often than not those committing this crime even against one another.

So what if we changed what we teach? What happens if we teach boys to respect boundaries? What happens if we teach boys that being a man isn't about conquest and control? What happens if we teach boys that girls are their equals?

What happens if we teach girls to respect boundaries including their own? What happens if we teach girls that being a woman doesn't mean making men happy? What happens if we teach girls they are equal to boys?

What happens if we teach boys and girls alike that "no" is a perfectly acceptable response that should always be honored, that a lack of response doesn't mean "yes", and that only an explicit "yes" means "yes"?

What happens if we treat people as people first and as their gender second? What happens if we decide the roles of yesterday don't have to be the roles of today? What happens if we teach the importance of boundaries and limitations to boys and girls?

Yet, I find myself pondering how women and men who don't understand how to manage their own boundaries can teach boys and girls to set and control theirs. Yet, all we can do is our very best to teach what we're still learning ourselves.

If challenging our current attitudes leads us to a society where rape and violence declines, I can't see how that's a bad thing...

Here are my boundaries... If I decide to move them, that's my decision, not yours...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Exploring Inner Strength

As I look through my poetry, I'm amazed at how often the theme of strength threads through my poems. I'm constantly reminded that I am, in fact, stronger than I realize. In the course of my life, I've faced my weaknesses and hid from my weaknesses. I've faced my strengths and hid from my strengths
I've been blind to both my strengths and my weaknesses. I've allowed others to commandeer my strength and take advantage of my weaknesses. I've willingly given up my strength because I thought it better for others. I've hidden my strength in the depths of my mind and the recesses of my heart.

I've been conquered and I've conquered. I've been victim and victor. I've been weak and strong.
As I read my poems, I often discover things I've forgotten or denied about myself.

It wasn't until I decided to embrace my own strength and stop looking for strength from outside sources that I discovered true strength.

I don't need to be saved from myself. I don't need to be saved at all. I am enough as I am. I am not perfect, but perfection is overrated anyway. I'd rather be scarred and bruised than weak.

I've learned there's more strength in vulnerability than there is in a facade of toughness.

As I explore my journey to find and secure my inner strength, I'm reminded how many people, especially women, follow a similar journey. As women we're often taught that our strength needs to be tempered in order to not offend the men in our lives. In tempering our strength, we learn to accept behavior and attitudes from others that is less than we deserve. We are taught to not voice our opinions, needs, desires, thoughts with authority in order to make the men in our lives feel better about themselves. We're taught to bolster the egos of others even if they beat us into the ground. We're taught that we're responsible when others mistreat us. We're taught it's better to be weak than to offend someone else.

If we're lucky there comes a times in life when we learn those teachings are wrong, and we refuse to be less than we are for anyone or any reason.

When we embrace our inner strength, we learn to be responsible for our own behavior and hold others accountable for theirs without sacrificing ourselves. In the process, we learn that to survive is not enough, and we seek to thrive.

Amazing how the words we write reveal us to ourselves...

My forthcoming collection of poetry, Strength in Silhouette explores my journey away from and back to my inner strength.