Month: May 2014

And He Learned

When he noticed the naked little girl at the beach didn’t look quite like he did and asked why, they answered his questions in simple phrases painted in black and white, pink and blue, and tradition. And he learned that boys and girls were different.

When one of the neighbor kids painted his nails, they got angry. That wasn’t something boys did. And he learned that there were different rules for boys and girls, and that breaking those made people upset.

When he was handed down a pink bike from his cousin, they replaced it with a blue one, because they didn’t want him to be mocked for having a “girly” bike. And he learned that being girly was something to be mocked.

When he cried, they told him to be a man. And he learned that crying, and being not a man, was something less.

When he was being picked on at school, they told him to stand up for himself. They did not tell him how, but they showed him stories with heroes who used fists and weapons to beat the bad guy into submission. And he learned that strength and force were good.

When he tried to be his own hero, they told him he hit like a girl. And he learned that girls were weak, and as a result, bad.

When he got home, they shook their heads because boys will be boys. And he learned that violence and aggression are expected of men.

When he hung out with the adult men in the family and listened to them talk around beers and grills and whatever game happened to be on the TV, they spoke of women’s bodies in the same way they spoke about the cuts of meat sizzling before them. And he learned that women were for men and their tastes.

When he started joining sports teams himself, they bypassed curse words and skipped straight to associating anything worthy of criticism with girls, because you wouldn’t get in trouble for that. And he learned that deriding women as a whole was acceptable and manly.

When he moved up to the older leagues, the comments came with a little more bite. Qualities perceived as “girly” were now categorized as “gay” and “wrong” and something to be avoided at all costs. And he learned homophobia, or a fear of men who he associated with womanly.

When he looked at billboards and magazine ads, they showed him women’s body parts and bodies, altered to be impossible without a face to remind you of their personhood. And he learned to view them as objects.

When he looked at billbords and magazine ads, they showed him men with rippling, photoshopped muscles that didn’t reflect what he saw in the mirror. And he learned to quietly loathe this body that these objects could never desire.

When he watched television and movies (the ones with the heroes), they always got the girl. And he learned to associate manliness with female attention he wasn’t sure he’d get.

When he watched television and movies (the ones with heroes in costumes and not), they always got the girl, even if she didn’t seem all that interested or willing at first. And he learned that “no” was sexy.

When he watched television and movies, they didn’t need superpowers because they always basically knew whether a girl was interested in having sex based on how little she was wearing. And he learned that attire could mean consent.

When he saw the older boys talk about women outside the silver screen, they talked about all they would do to the women in their fantasies if given the opportunity, never once entertaining the idea of consent. And he learned that women were essentially for use.

When he took that sex ed class, they told him how to protect his penis from STDs and his future from young fatherhood, but they only taught his female classmates to be careful about rape. And he learned that consent wasn’t his concern, but theirs.

When he and his friends started getting into video games, they gave him a world where he could be as violent and cruel as he liked without repercussion. He could even rape a hooker, if he felt like it. And he learned that sexual violence could be entertainment.

When he and his friends flipped on a comedy program, they laughed uproariously as the comedian threatened to rape someone who had interrupted him. And he learned that sexual violence could be downright hilarious.

When he started attending parties, they told him that drunk girls were the easiest, and that’s where he should start. And he learned that consent was really optional.

When he lost his virginity, they congratulated him and asked him for a play-by-play of the carnal details, as they would with each hookup to come. And he learned that sex was about him and the act, not her.

When he started dating, they would reference his girlfriend as a ball and chain, deride any show of emotion, and encourage him to man up by shutting her down. And he learned emotional cruelty was masculine.

When he first experienced heartbreak, they skipped past the culprit and jumped to her gender. And he learned that deriding women as a whole was still acceptable and manly.

When he repeated a crack about women belonging in the kitchen and bedroom in front of some of his more progressive friends, they rolled their eyes or sighed or laughed. And he learned that, really, it’s not that big a deal.

When he listened to one of his female friends lament the harassment she had been experiencing to their social circle, they dismissed her as a hyperbolic exception to the rule, insisting that #NotAllMen were that bad instead of actually hearing her. And he learned that it’s ok to act like it’s really not a big deal at all, too.

It’s funny how that all changes when you hear the words, “It’s a girl…”

He thought of the lessons he had been taught, and how different they were from the lessons he would now have to pass on to her. He thought of all the cruel and “manly” things she would see and hear in her life, and how she would be told to celebrate that dehumanization in the name of masculinity. He thought of how she would have to fight to be seen as more than a punchline about cup size in the office, and how she would spend her life shouldering the weight of projected responsibility for the words and choices of the men in her life. He thought of how one day, she would tell of her frustrations to a man who would dismiss her concerns until they were wrapped up in a pink delivery blanket in his arms because suffering is only valid if he can touch it… no matter how loudly we yell #YesAllWomen.

And he cried.

Well, maybe not.

Maybe he had a little boy, and learned nothing at all. Because hey – boys don’t cry, right?

The question now: are we learning?

* * * * * * *


If your comment sounds something like, “Well, not ALL men…”

Well, I’m not publishing it. Not all men are misogynists? Well, no shit, Sherlock. Not all men are misogynists, but all women are victimized by those who are. THAT is why this conversation needs to take place.

The point of this piece isn’t to say, “This is EXACTLY HOW IT HAPPENS EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.” It’s to get us to reflect on how our choices, behavior, and words influence the world around us, what that can mean, and how we can do better.

If you have something more productive than the obvious to state, then please feel free to join the conversation.


This Performance About Mass Violence and White Male Privilege Will Take Your Breath Away

When it comes to complex social justice issues, it can be difficult to make people care enough. Sometimes, data points and bar charts fall short of encapsulating the significance of a problem – particularly when those problems require uncomfortable revelations if they’re ever to be addressed. Sometimes, singular narratives aren’t even enough to break through the cultural defenses we’ve put up as a society. Sometimes, it takes the power of creative performance to cut through the conditioning that’s preventing us from honestly engaging on an important subject.

That’s what this is. The video below is a POI peformance from Western Kentucky University alum Sarah Brazier. For those unfamiliar with the world of competitive collegiate speech and debate (aka forensics), POI, or programmed oral interpretation, is one of the many events available. To compete, students will collect materials from a wide variety of media on a specific subject. This might include plays, short stories, novels, poetry, movies, commercials, news articles, YouTube videos… use your imagination here. The goal is to to craft a performance that will explore an idea or illustrate an argument. The student will splice the material together into a ten minute program that is performed with the use of a small black book at tournaments across the country. They are judged on their program composition, creative presentation, and technical performance during competitions throughout the year, ultimately duking it out for national titles each Spring.

While trophies are nice, I’ve never met a POI competitor who valued the accolades over their argument. For many, the forum became a means of raising awareness and advancing crucial social discourse. Such was the case for Ms. Brazier during the 2012-2013 season. In the wake of the Aurora shooting, she and her coaches began researching and designing a program that would examine the connection between white male privilege and mass violence. (Too) soon after that, the Sandy Hook shooting gave the program’s message even greater relevance.

Today? Well, I’d say it’s time to turn up the volume. Sarah’s performance hits you directly in the gut. Part of that stems from the fact that she is a magnificently talented performer. But part of it comes from the fact that she paints, in vivid detail, a picture we have been so reluctant to see: one where the ideals we glorify for straight white men contribute to a culture that tolerates and advances toxic ideologies – a culture that leaves us vulnerable to senseless tragedy again and again and again.

Sharing a video of her performance on Facebook this afternoon, Ms. Brazier stated:

When Ganer Newman came to me back in the fall of 2012 after James Holmes walked into a movie theater and killed 12 people, I knew this topic was important… but I didn’t realize how important. Then, in December 2012 Adam Lanza shot 20 school children, six teachers, and his own mother. My POI became so much more than a speech round. Now, after the atrocity Elliot Rodgers committed, I think it’s incredibly important we talk about the intersection between white male privilege and mass violence. Read one article about Elliot Rodgers, and you cannot deny that there is more at play here than mental illness. Our society is sick. There is something inherently wrong with us, when, as the Onion satirically reflects in its latest headline, there is “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Atrocities like these need to be prevented. Ganer recorded this performance in the spring of 2013. Please watch, please listen, and please talk about this. This must be talked about, and not just in the speech community. #AdvocacyMatters

She more than has a point here, folks. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped the chorus of people unwilling to critically examine the cultural crisis in front of us from dismissing the conversation. Because I am completely uninterested in a world where that conversation doesn’t get its due, here’s what I’m asking you to do:

  1. Watch the video below. The performance style might be unfamiliar to you at first, but keep watching, and keep an open mind (& heart). You’ll get used to the stylistics quickly and be glad you watched the whole thing when it’s done. Here’s hoping that a different presentation of these ideas galvanizes more of those who know and wakes up more of those who don’t.
  2. Share share share. You can help engage a wider group in the conversation. You don’t want to field the prickly questions that come with the share? That’s ok – send them here.
  3. Start reflecting. Start asking questions. Start talking. The only way we start addressing this problem is if we’re willing to come to the table and do something about it. So much of the requisite changes have to take place on a personal level, which makes these personal interactions key.

You ready? Grab some tissues.




35 Things About Elliot Rodger


  1. Elliot Rodger killed six and injured thirteen in a Santa Barbara mass shooting before killing himself on Friday, May 23rd, 2014.
  2. Elliot Rodger was a straight 22 year old male from an affluent family who was described as white, but is of Malaysian Chinese descent on his mother’s side. [edited]
  3. Elliot Rodger was may or may not have been diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder; reports vary.
  4. Elliot Rodger was also mentally ill, and in treatment with multiple doctors.
  5. Elliot Rodger was a raging misogynist who believed that there was “no creature so evil or depraved as the human female.”
  6. Elliot Rodger espoused these misogynist ideals due to what he viewed as sexual rejection by women to whom he believed he was entitled.
  7. Elliot Rodger was a massive racist – idolizing white, blonde women, and enraged by white women dating men of other races.
  8. Elliot Rodger was a classist who associated wealth with personal value, assuming he could buy affection.
  9. Elliot Rodger didn’t get this way on his own.
  10. Elliot Rodger didn’t get this way for one reason alone.
  11. Elliot Rodger was incredibly privileged.
  12. Elliot Rodger did not become a killer because he was privileged.
  13. Elliot Rodger became frightening when his privilege morphed into entitlement due to toxic ideologies.
  14. Elliot Rodger became dangerous when his entitlement collided with mental illness.
  15. Elliot Rodger became lethal when he was able to arm himself.
  16. Elliot Rodger was able to arm himself because he was never involuntarily committed, despite being reported to authorities as a possible danger to himself and others.
  17. Elliot Rodger was never involuntarily committed because he was viewed as harmless by the interviewing officers, despite his extensive footprint of hate on the web.
  18. Elliot Rodger was likely viewed as harmless by the interviewing officers because feelings of entitlement and expression of animosity towards women and minorities are not perceived to be real threats.
  19. Elliot Rodger is terrifying to women because the only thing separating him and the other millions of men expressing the same kinds of ideas online and in real life is that Elliot used a gun.
  20. Elliot Rodger is terrifying to women because he is the classmate we never even realized was attempting to ask us out.
  21. Elliot Rodger is terrifying to women because he is the coworker we tried to let down gently.
  22. Elliot Rodger is terrifying to women because he is the man buying shots at the bar we turned down because it was girl’s night out.
  23. Elliot Rodger is terrifying to women because he is that first date we bailed out of because we didn’t feel comfortable or safe.
  24. Elliot Rodger is terrifying to women because he is anyone we never knew we wronged. #YesAllWomen
  25. Elliot Rodger was looking to terrorize a group of people in order to advance social ideals, but despite that being the definition of terrorism, is not considered a terrorist.
  26. Elliot Rodger would probably be labeled a terrorist if his social ideals were associated with a religion not called Christianity.
  27. Elliot Rodger would probably be labeled a terrorist if he’d used a bomb instead of a gun.
  28. Elliot Rodger would probably be labeled a terrorist if his skin wasn’t white.
  29. Elliot Rodger might have been labeled a thug, though, if he was black.
  30. Elliot Rodger targeted white people, which might be why he’s received more attention than any of the shooters in the 117 gun deaths and 666 gun injuries in Chicago year to date.
  31. Elliot Rodger makes us more comfortable if he’s just mentally ill because it makes the problem individual, excusing our culpability in building, accepting and advancing the culture that created him.
  32. Elliot Rodger makes us more comfortable if he’s just mentally ill because it means we don’t have to do anything about it personally.
  33. Elliot Rodger existed because we didn’t take it personally.
  34. Elliot Rodger will happen again if we don’t take it personally now, because cultural shifts start with personal decisions.
  35. If you’re not taking it personally, you’re part of the problem.