Revealing the Cultural Patterns of Rape Culture

It’s been a few weeks since the #metoo hashtag prompted discussion about the widespread and systemic nature of sexual violence. As I’ve shared stories and listened to others’, I’ve been struck by frequent questioning: “Does ______ really count as sexual harassment or assault?” And that question has led me to consider the many moments of sexual intimidation that aren’t harassment or assault per se, but constitute violence and are part of rape culture nonetheless.

Here are a few examples from my life as a professor interacting with undergraduate men:

  • A student waits until everyone has left the classroom to confront me about his grade, raising his voice and moving closer until he’s towering over me.
  • A pattern emerges in which at least seven students (all men) walk into my faculty office and shut the door (only for me to re-open it), making me aware of the tension that arises in my body from their assumed control of space and uninvited move toward intimacy.
  • A student enters an otherwise empty elevator and stands in front of me, blocking both the exit and the keypad for selecting floors. My body stiffens up so that I wait until he’s left the elevator before moving forward to the keypad and pressing the button for my office floor.
  • A student brings his friend (another man) to his writing conference late in the evening when the department is empty. This friend sits outside my office, essentially guarding the hallway.

Whether intentional or not, intimidation operates in moments like these because they play into larger understandings of agency, ownership, intimacy, and control of physical space. They obstruct efforts to maintain distance, to meet in public, to plan exit routes, and so on.

While none of these experiences constitute sexual harassment or assault, they show how presumed ownership of space communicates domination. They show how rape culture, which is based in domination, operates in classrooms, offices, elevators, hallways, and other spaces. They also show how no one is immune: even the professor who holds institutional power can be intimidated and over-powered.

rape-culture-pyramid
Rape culture is rooted sexism, heterosexism, and other interlocking systems of oppression, which we see reflected in attitudes, inequities, and everyday realities. Source: http://www.11thprincipleconsent.org/consent-propaganda/rape-culture-pyramid/.

I share these moments with the hope that we might better understand rape culture as a cultural phenomenon that is constructed and performed in everyday interactions. Moments like these aren’t ones I report to our Title IX coordinator, but they are ones that stack up the longer I’m in higher education. They are moments that come to mind when I think about how gender-based intimidation and invalidation—like other microaggressions—play out in many seemingly small yet consequential ways.

I share these moments, too, because they’ve become memories that sit alongside those of harassment, assault, and other sexual violence. When I think of my own stories and those shared by others, I see how moments like these are part of larger narratives of rape culture, or a culture that perpetuates deep injustice through sexism and heterosexism, including the objectification and exploitation of women’s and marginalized peoples’ bodies. Truly, such everyday moments make up the larger culture and have cumulative impact. They erode trust, provoke fear, and increase inequitable demands for emotional labor, among other matters.

I also share these moments because they reveal patterns—like the pattern I noticed of men shutting the office door. Just as there’s potential in looking for themes and outliers for everyday divination, there’s potential in identifying patterns of sexual intimidation and other violence. Identifying patterns allows us to better witness, name, and intervene into injustice. And the patterns supporting rape culture desperately need intervention.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Me Too: Standing Against Sexual Violence” or “Microaggressions Matter.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Everyday Divination

For Halloween, I dressed as Professor Sybill Trelawney, a professor of divination at Hogwarts (within the world of Harry Potter). This has been a favorite costume of mine in past years, because I like to fashion myself the absent-minded professor. This year I’m thinking about how I’m drawn to Trelawney because she fits the archetype of the dreamer, seer, and intuitive.

2017-10-28 16.45.36

Archetypes are helpful for seeing qualities and narratives that we carry within/about ourselves. Identifying archetypes helps us explore what we’re drawn to and why and, conversely, what we’re repelled by and why. Like other self-exploration, reflection on archetypes brings additional clarity about who we are and who we want to be. And such clarity helps with becoming our best selves.

Clarity emerges for me this week in the midst of Halloween, Samhain, Día de Muertos, All Saints Day, and the Full Moon in Taurus. I find myself embracing divination through the seasonal invitation for deeper introspection in dark days. As I embrace divination (and the role of intuitive dreamer), I find myself tracing the many ways I divine meaning from everyday life.

What I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) is that there are numerous signs and signals in everyday life that help us make sense of the world and how we participate in it. These signals include embodied responses and emotional literacies. They come through moving the body or dreaming in sleep, through practicing daily habits or enacting holiday rituals. They can arise in imperfect meditation, yoga practice, or even troubling interactions.

Like an ethnographer, to find meaning, I identify recurring themes or patterns and also attend to outliers, or those bits of information that seem not to fit the pattern. I look for the repetition of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. I listen for the repetition of words, phrases, and ideas. And I remain curious about the messages these repetitions convey, using online tools and contemplative writing to identify symbolic meanings.

Perhaps the best divination tool I’ve found comes from my Reiki teacher, Marty Tribble, who says, “The absence of a strong YES is actually a no.” For years, I’ve learned how to talk myself into things, how to weigh rationale arguments, and how to make the best-informed decision based on others’ advice. And for years, I’ve gotten myself into trouble whenever doing something because I “should.”

2017-11-03 14.19.28

Instead, the more that I listen for my strong YES—the sense that, yes, I want to do this thing, or, yes, this feels like it’s directing me toward ease/joy/love—the more I’m emerging as myself.

I know that divination invokes jokes in popular culture about false prophets and fortune-tellers, and Professor Trelawney’s character embodies frequent critiques that divining meaning is full of fluff, falsehoods, and fantasy. Yet, as I fashion myself a “professor of divination” and embrace the related archetype, I hope to share the possibilities of learning to live more intuitively, more in line with divine guidance.

Truly, there is so much to learn from everyday life. The more I open to my full senses—my heart, head, and hands—the more I learn my strong YES. And the more I follow the YES, the more I remain true to myself and to my commitment to justice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Disrupting the Mind-Body Split,” “Imperfect Meditation and the Desire to ‘Slow Way Down,’” or “Playing Through Pain.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses

Several times in recent weeks I’ve found myself in conversations in which things were going wrong. White folks were talking over folks of color. Men were taking up far too much space. White, cis-gender, able-bodied women were sharing their experiences as though they were universal truths. In each of these occasions, I found my stomach churning, my heart hurting, my chest tight, and my mouth dry. And in each of these occasions, I found myself entering conversation simply by naming my embodied responses as a way of identifying that something was wrong.

Essentially, I used my body’s guidance system to enter conversation, saying: “This is scary, but I need to speak up because my stomach hurts.” I then explained what I’d witnessed about the interactions, attempting to name what my body was registering. In each instance, I felt like speaking from/about my body was taking a real risk because we tend to value explanations and evidence from the realm of logic (the head) more than emotions held within the body (the heart and the hands).

What I learned from these occasions is that naming my body’s responses served as a strategy for getting the group to stop and discuss what was happening. This strategy opened space for others to name their own tensions or felt-senses that things were going wrong. Further, because I entered conversation without the language to name or shift group dynamics—but with recognition that the dynamics weren’t working—this strategy invited others to share insights and the responsibility for the disrupting dysfunctional communication patterns.

I’ll certainly continue to reflect on this strategy, and I can imagine times it wouldn’t work … but I share what I’m learning because I know that it’s too easy to remain silent in the face of injustice because the words (the explanations for the problem) remain out of reach. What if instead of identifying the problem, we simply identify our body’s signals that there’s trouble underway? What if we commit to speaking aloud our embodied responses—whether they involve anger flushing heat or sadness leading to a contraction of one’s shoulders? What if speaking up took the form of saying, “Hey, my heart is hurting, so something’s not right”?

Going forward, when I can see that conversations need disruption but I’m not sure what to do, I’ll try naming my embodied responses with the hope that saying something—even if it’s only that I’m nauseous—might reroute conversation and the direction we’re headed.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Disrupting the Mind-Body Split” or “Heart, Head, Hands: Explaining the Blog’s Name.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Me Too: Standing Against Sexual Violence

I didn’t learn to drive in drivers ed. In fact, I never drove the car that whole semester because the teacher was a creep.

When girls would drive, he’d start off complimenting perfume or jewelry or clothing. Then he’d lean into the driver to observe them better (the perfume or jewelry or clothing). From there, he’d put his hand on the girl’s leg, sometimes leaving it there and sometimes moving it higher along the thigh. All of this with two additional students in the backseat. All of this with students feeling powerless to do anything.

That semester he asked me multiple times when I’d like to drive, and I always made one excuse or another. In the meantime, I sat in the back of the car and watched. I never told another teacher because everyone at school already knew, and nothing would be done anyway.

My parents knew, and they knew I wasn’t learning to drive. That became the immediate concern, as it seemed to relate to my physical safety. To me, physical safety meant never getting in the driver’s seat next to that instructor. I’d take my chances on the road itself.

This is one of many, many stories that come to mind as I add “me too” in solidarity on friends’ FB posts. This is one of many, many stories of sexual harassment, intimidation, and violence that are so normative, they are simply everyday. This is one of many, many stories that bring to mind the costs and consequences of this violence—with the loss of drivers education a small piece of the stories I hold, stories I bear witness to.

At what point do we say ENOUGH?

I see posts online saying that the past 24 hours of “me too” responses have been triggering as hell. I see posts online saying that one person facing this violence is too many. I see posts online questioning the political efficacy of this outpouring of raising hands and storytelling.

As I sit with the emotions, memories, and physical pain that arise, I also feel deep gratitude for the storytelling, as it feels like a moment of building trust when trust is so corroded. It feels like a moment of affirming that “yes, this really did happen” and of countering the epistemic injustice that underlies women (and people facing prejudice) not being believed. It feels like an important moment for saying aloud—again, STRONGLY—that no one should face this violence and that we must stand TALL in the commitment to justice.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Microaggressions Matter” or “Trusting the Alarm Behind Supposedly ‘Alarmist Rhetoric.’” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Gentle Yoga for Releasing Burdens

I’ve recently noticed how much tension I’m holding in my neck and shoulders. It feels as though I’ve been burdening myself with the weight of the world and carrying this extra weight in/on my body. The burden shows up in rounded shoulders—the physical manifestation of shrinking—rather than standing TALL with upright posture so that I can courageously be seen and take up space.

To change this pattern, I’ve been using this simple and slow yoga video:

I appreciate this simple practice because it somehow magically releases the tension and reminds me of the value of releasing, not carrying, burdens. Of allowing instead of trying to control. Of flowing with the rhythms of life. Of remaining open, aware, and still flexible.

I feel grateful that my body speaks my mind and that I can learn from my body’s intuitive cues (in this case, stiff neck and tight shoulders). It’s not by chance that hunching over gadgets (phones and computers) causes neck and shoulder tension, yet it’s not just the hunching that my body is asking me to address.

Rather, my body is signaling the need to address my intake of news, my response to emails, my emotional engagement in communication, and my response-abilities to myself and others. The more I can let go of false ideas that I can control or correct situations, the more I can release this tension. And the more I release this tension, the more I am poised to truly respond, as I can flexibly turn from side-to-side, from issue-to-issue.

So, I’ll keep playing this gentle yoga video with appreciation for my body directing me to s-l-o-w self-care yet again. And I’ll work on releasing what’s not mine so that I’m flexibly attending to what is.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Attending to Anger” or “Gentle Yoga Practice for Healing.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Holding Space and Being Present: Two Resolutions Following the Las Vegas Shooting

I woke yesterday morning to news of the Las Vegas shooting, continued calls for aid needed in Puerto Rico, and boos for kneeling NFL players at Sunday’s games. Though seemingly unrelated, these news stories relayed a larger message about the presence of everyday violence in our lives. My social media feeds were naming and critiquing this violence. People were already calling for action, for donations, and for prayers—for linking individual narratives with larger social ones, for recognizing the alarms of this moment, and for acting accordingly.

Though I know the dangers of going about business as usual, I spent only a little time processing before turning to my to-do list. My heart hurt, as it does with heartache, but it hurts so regularly these days, I imagined the ache would simply dissipate or accompany me into the work itself.

And I did begin to work, but I couldn’t settle into writing. I began to check off small tasks. Order humidifier filters, check. Update calendar events, check. Upload recommendation letter, check. Call museum about upcoming event . . .

So, I called to register for a Halloween party at a local museum. I called because it was a simple thing to check off the to-do list, and I thought checking it off might make me feel better. I called because I was still processing the morning’s news, and I was feeling emotionally and mentally congested (definitely not clear enough to write), even if I wasn’t admitting this to myself.

After pressing buttons through automated phone prompts, I was connected with the person who handles event registrations. Perhaps if I’d been more present, I would have heard that this person sounded weary and worn down. Instead, all I heard was a voice asking, “How may I help you?”

“I’d like to RSVP for the Halloween event,” I said. Then I proceeded to answer questions about the date, time, and registration: Yes, I’m a museum member. Yes, I’m aware my membership is for just two adults. Yes, I’m registering just two adults. Yes, I’ll be attending without children. (I’m prioritizing play for self-care, after all.)

The registration person then apologized: “Oh. It’s truly fine to come without children. I’m just having a tough day.”

Again, if I’d been more present, I might have made the connection linking our tough days. Instead, I responded, “I know Mondays can be hard. I’m sorry it’s a tough day.”

Luckily, my wrong assessment—that Monday had anything to do with the “tough day”—led to a correction: “Actually, I have friends in Las Vegas, and I’m upset about what happened.”

I rebounded: “I’m so sorry! Have you heard from your friends?”

“Yes, they’re ok, but I’m shaken up. I’m having trouble concentrating today.”

“Me too! I decided to call because I was having trouble concentrating on work.”

We laughed and finished the event registration. Before ending the call, I tried saying something more: “I really appreciate you sharing how you’re feeling today. I was going about the day struggling, but not naming it, and you’re reminding me that I need to hold space for myself and others. I want to be more present.”

“That’s what we can do for each other: hold space, and be present.”

Though I wish we’d said more and somehow continued to hold space (more than just acknowledging it’s important to do so), we wrapped up quickly with the customary “thanks for calling” and “have a great day.”

The conversation was short and felt full of missed opportunities. It was also the thing I needed at that moment, the impetus for me to stop working, to sit on my yoga mat, and to consider how better to hold space and be present—for myself and for others.

If I’d been more present, I would have been thinking about the person on the other end of the phone line and email threads and social media posts and other interactions throughout the day. How might I have interrupted my business-as-usual approach to recognize the NOT-OK nature of the day? To humanize interactions, to allow for more genuine connections, to understand this mass shooting (and me turning numb to it) within broader desensitization to violence?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post “For White Friends Using Social Media and Not Responding to Charlottesville” about our relational responsibilities when communicating with others. In that post, I describe the sense of hurt I felt when seeing white friends’ photos of food, sunsets, and cute animals that, in effect, communicate that there’s not a collective crisis around white supremacy. Today I’m thinking that registering for the Halloween party was a lot like that. I can imagine how the registration person experienced my call very much like I was experiencing these social media posts. The stark juxtaposition of a party and mass shooting can’t be ignored.

Rhetorically and relationally, I’m thinking this wasn’t the right time to call. Or if the call needed to be made, it needed to be made with mindfulness and care.

I’m glad I could learn from talking with the registration person, and the conversation was perfectly timed as a true gift for me (a gift to reflect, learn, and set new goals). But because I wasn’t holding space or being present for myself, I wasn’t holding space or being present for them.

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting—and with a lot of humility and love—I’m asking myself how I can better hold space and be present.

In times of extraordinary injustice, violence, and pain, it feels especially important to check in regularly with my heart, head, and hands. It feels especially important to relate more mindfully and compassionately with myself so that I can relate more mindfully and compassionately with others. And it feels especially important to de-automatize myself so that I can recognize my humanity and the humanity of others.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Roasted Veggies with Tahini Sauce: Linking Creativity and Self-Care

I never thought I’d be involved in recipe creation because, for years, I didn’t think of myself as a cook. I loved to eat, but I hated the time involved in food preparation. As I grew more interested in replicating foods (especially ones I’d try in restaurants or remembered from youth), I found more motivation to experiment in the kitchen. And as I thought of cooking as experimentation—as art, as play, as creative self-care—I could see why others liked it. I began to imagine myself as someone who similarly played with food.

I’m learning to experience cooking as play, and as play, cooking helps me embrace a both/and approach to self-care. It’s both relaxing, restoring, and rejuvenating and doing what’s hard, boring, and “adulting.” It’s both giving my body the nutrition it needs and enjoying the foods I eat.

*    *     *     *     *

A few years ago, I consulted a naturopath (Dr. Sarah Axtell in Milwaukee), who helped me figure out my GI issues, taught me a lot about vegan eating, and accompanied me on a journey to heal my gut. She offered advice that has stuck with me, including the recommendation to make at least half of each meal veggies.

Even as a vegan, I struggle to meet this goal:
half of what I eat = vegetables.

Especially when traveling or eating out, it’s easy for meals to center around grains and beans, processed foods and sugars. Though I add spinach and other greens to smoothies, this is hardly half. And I regularly make a meal out of banana, chocolate, and peanut butter mash. Truly, I have to bring intention to eating more vegetables, and so I often plan meals starting with the veggies and building from there.

Luckily, I love roasted vegetables. Because I prefer to cook without recipes (with what’s on hand) and to cook simply (with less time investment), roasted vegetables are a great option. Just add salt, pepper, and oil, and pop them into the oven.

2017-07-23 13.04.41

A lot of roasted vegetables—mushrooms, eggplant, and fennel (pictured here), as well as carrots, potatoes, and other root veggies—taste great together and with tahini sauce, so I’ve learned to make full meals of vegetables with tahini.

Add a simple salad like this one of tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley (in roughly equal proportion), and it’s a full meal. A meal I hope will become leftovers, because I’ll happily eat this for days.

What holds this meal together is the tahini sauce, which can be made thicker like dip or thinner like dressing. It’s salty, sweet, and savory goodness. There are a lot of quick-and-simple tahini recipes online like this one from the Minimalist Baker and this one from Vegan Richa. This recipe combines what I most enjoy from these (garlic, lemon, and oil) and can be easily adapted with other spices (cumin being my favorite). Here’s the rough recipe.

Ingredients:

All of these measurements are estimates, and I adapt them to taste and to the amount I’d like to make at a given time (easily halving or doubling the recipe):

  • Tahini— ½ cup
  • Water—½ cup
  • Salt—1 teaspoon
  • Garlic—2+ cloves
  • Lemon juice—2 tablespoons to ¼ cup
  • Extra virgin olive oil—varies substantially … I add this in while blending to taste, starting with 1-2 tablespoons and typically adding closer to ¼ cup.

Note that more water or oil can be added to thin the sauce, while less makes it thicker.

Optional Add-ins:

  • Cumin, pepper, chili powder, or other spices. In the sauce pictured here, I’ve added ½ teaspoon of cumin, which gives it a kick.

Preparation Time:

  • 10 minutes, which includes the time of gathering ingredients from cabinets, combining all ingredients, and blending.

Instructions:

  • Put all ingredients into blender (I love my Vitamix because it can process full cloves of garlic), and blend until smooth, adding additional ingredients or more oil to taste.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Banana, Chocolate, and Peanut-Butter Mash: Changing My Relationship with Sugar and Rethinking Self-Care,” other vegan + gluten-free recipes, or the series of posts answering why I’m vegan. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!