Category Archives: General

This is Why John Grisham’s Child Porn Comments Are So Dangerous

john grisham child porn

Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“This is Why John Grisham’s Child Porn Comments Are So Dangerous”) which has been published over at The Daily Dot. I encourage you to go read it.

“The idea that 10-year-old boys being exploited are more deserving of our shock and disgust than sixteen-year-old girls being made up to look like adult women displays not only profound misogyny but a callous lack of understanding about the way sexual exploitation, rape culture, and sex trafficking work. Eighty percent of transnational victims of sex trafficking are girls. Seventy percent of victims who are trafficked into the commercial sex industry are girls. Rape culture decrees that girls are inherently exploitable: that their bodies were never their own to begin with and, therefore, consent is a fluid concept. “Some girls, they rape so easy,” Wisconsin State Representative Roger Rivard infamously said, illustrating the ideas held by many about consent and how little it means to those who don’t view women and girls as whole human beings.”

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5 Ways Chicago Transit Authority Shows It Hates Chicagoans

If you live here, you have felt it. Perhaps you’ve thought, “I have been standing on this platform/bus stop for half of my life. Why? Someone must hate me.” The answer is…someone does hate you. It’s Chicago Transit Authority. If you live in Chicago and have felt the keen sting of CTA’s loathing, then read on and perhaps find some small comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

1. Ventra

Any true Chicagoan knows that this must be the first item on this list. If you need to see proof that CTA hates us, you need look no further than Ventra. CTA inflicting Ventra on us was, for all intents and purposes, an unprovoked attack. No one hated the old system: no one was tweeting @cta railing against the Chicago Card. No one was creating parody accounts mocking the absolutely absurd functionality of the Chicago Card. The old system worked…and then along came Ventra. From bank cards being charged in addition to the Ventra card, to inexplicably nonfunctional cards, to a completely and utterly mystifying account interface online, to fundamentally clueless Customer Care employees, to hour-long hotline waits, and oh, let’s not forget the fact that you are instructed to pay cash when your already-paid-for Ventra card doesn’t work on their worthless scanner…Ventra has been (and continues to be) a nightmare. Every single day the line to board the bus is at a standstill while each person must tap their card 3-4 times before it’s actually read. Meanwhile:

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Oh, of course. We’re being double-charged when we’re forced to double-tap. Of course.

Even worse: Ventra and CTA continue to pretend we’re all crazy for not liking the new system. See this lovely exchange on Twitter:

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“which is pretty rare?” <cue uproarious laughter>

Yeah. Right. You’re not fooling anyone.

2. Bus Bunching

Bus bunching is, to the CTA, like the common cold. It seems like such a simple thing, but the CTA cannot—I repeat, cannot—find a cure. Like most Chicagoans, I waste precious time every day of my mortal life waiting. Just waiting. Staring at potholes that will never be fixed, and waiting. I live on the near South Side and catch the 29 every day, a bus which is always full of people trying to get to work and kids trying to get to school. But at any given time while trying to catch the 29, there is a 20-30 minute wait. But it’s more than just a long, empty window. It’s the fact that at the end of that long, empty window…two or three buses come all at once.

I have many questions for CTA, but here’s one: what good does 3 buses all at once do anyone? Great, the thirty people now crowded on the bus stop can now get on multiple buses. But now there are three buses all in a row at every bus stop until Congress: traffic is congested, streets are blocked, people are pissed. Why not just have the buses come every 8 minutes? Like they’re supposed to? What is happening at your depots where every…single…day this occurs? It happened when I lived on the North Side too: the 147, the 151. North Siders, you hear me. Bus bunching is a blight. But CTA doesn’t care. Which leads me to my next point.

3. Abysmal Customer Service

I’m not even talking about Ventra, because everyone knows that the dunces they have working at Ventra are a bunch of salespeople trying to convince you to use your Ventra card as a credit card too—yay corporations interfering with civil life!—and maybe attempt (attempt) to troubleshoot your nonfunctional, worthless plastic Ventra card. I’m talking about CTA. Never have I encountered more apathetic, defensive, blame-shifting grunts in my entire life. Here’s the conversation I had this morning after calling to complain about bus bunching:

Me: “Is there a manager I can speak to?”

CTA: “No.”

Me: “Okay…well can I tell you my complaint?”

CTA: <silence>

Me: “Hello?”

CTA: “Go ahead.”

Me: “Well, the 29 has been really bad lately. There are old ladies waiting on a stop with no benches waiting for 30 minutes, and then a bus comes and they can’t even get on it because it’s so packed and—”

CTA: “Give me your phone number. I’ll have a manager call you back.”

Me: “Um…okay. Here’s my number.”

CTA: “I see in the system that you already complained about this.”

Me: “Yes, last week.”

CTA: “Oh, a manager called and left you a voicemail.”

Here’s a screenshot of my phone:

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Guess what, CTA? No, a manager never called me back. No, they didn’t leave a voicemail. See? My voicemail box is empty. So what are we supposed to do when we have a complaint or a grievance against CTA? Well, some people might take to social media, but CTA’s Twitter often seems to be run by what appears to be a petulant teenager. See, the Twitter account runs fine when they’re just reporting outages, service disruption, etc. But when they actually have to interact with customers who are complaining? They take the apathy you experience when you call them on the phone and add a pinch of defensiveness and a sprinkle of subtle sarcasm. Tweet at them. You’ll see. If you like being treated with contempt and thinly-veiled indifference, tweeting at @cta is the hobby for you.

4. Cattle Cars

I have been told a story by different people a few times in my lifetime: a story about public transportation in Japan and how there are guys that stand on the platforms with sticks to shove people into the subways to fit more people into the crowded cars. People always tell this story with a kind of amused awe: “can you believe they do that over there?” and no one ever really knows if that little tidbit is true or not. But this story always annoys me, for two reasons. 1) It’s racist. “Oooh look how weird and intense Japanese people are!” and 2) Do you really think that is not your life here? Okay, there are no people with sticks shoving people into train cars, but every day riding a bus or a train in Chicago during rush hour (and often outside of rush hour) is like transforming into a heifer for thirty minutes of my life. It might as well be a mosh pit. A combination of delayed trains/buses, route cuts, and not enough actual vehicles in the city creates the cattle car effect: people are smashed against one another. So forget riding CTA if you’re claustrophobic in any way, but cattle cars lead to other problems too.

Sexual harassment. Violence. Theft. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve witnessed/experienced taking advantage of the tight train situation in order to cop a feel. Same with people taking stuff from people’s purses, pockets, backpacks. And as for violence: well, people get pretty testy when they’re forced to be pressed against a stranger’s usually-odorous body for long periods of time. “Waiting for signal clearance”—those dreaded words— means you’re not even making any progress in your trip: you’re just cuddled (standing) with a stranger for no reason. Tempers flare. Fights erupt. It happens all the time.

But does CTA care? Who do you call when you’ve just been crammed into a train car for 45 minutes, had your ass groped, and your wallet stolen? CTA? Ha. You must have already forgotten #3 on this list. Go back and reread that. Short answer: They…don’t…care.

5. No Change

No, I don’t mean that they won’t make change if you’re paying cash. (Which, speaking of cash: you’re out of luck. Ventra wants to be credit card dependent. And your fare increases if you don’t use Ventra and continue to pay cash.) What I mean is that nothing has changed. Unlike anything else, where there are complaints, outcry, protests against a company and apologies are made, processes are tweaked, Ventra and CTA just dig in. One of the complaints about Ventra (mentioned above) is that, unlike the old system, you can’t tap your wallet in order to scan your Ventra card without your bank cards also being charged. This complaint has been made since the initial roll out, with Ventra reps promising to look into the problem. But now, this is what you get as response when you ask Ventra about it:

They have no intention of making a change: not about Ventra and not about anything else. The onus is on Chicagoans, like it is for everything else, and the ripples of CTA’s ineptitude extend beyond delays. The fact of the matter is, that CTA’s refusal to find solutions for the problems they are charged with creating every single day in Chicago leads to things more problematic than delays. Kids can’t get to school on time. Adults can’t get to work on time. The elderly and disabled are forced to wait (often at stops without benches, and often in bad weather) for up to 40 minutes in some parts of the city. Groping and sexual harassment increase. Theft increases. Anger increases.

You see, what CTA doesn’t realize is that their behavior doesn’t just mean a bad train ride. It means a bad start to the day. Take one look at the Twitter account @ctafails and you can see the negativity that begins from the moment Chicagoans step onto the bus stop in the morning, which is then reanimated when they’re trying to return home at night. The CTA website reports that on an average weekday, 1.6 million rides are taken on Chicago public transportation. When you fail even a fraction of those customers, interrupting their days, ruining their commute, making them late to work, what does it mean for the morale of a city? This makes me think of an article I read recently on Salon, “The Troubling Reasons Americans Are So Depressed.” In it, the author discusses “learned helplessness” and how Americans, due to corporations and call center hold times (among other things) are becoming depressed and angry because of the amount of our lives we spend waiting on hold, waiting in line, and (I add)…waiting for buses. The helplessness, the author says, is the helplessness of those who are resigned to the indifference of the institutions we depend on.

What else can we do? I’m not sure. Rant in blogs like this? Perhaps. I see the helplessness that the Salon author examines in his article. I feel it. What do you do when the buses won’t come and you’re late to work and you can’t afford a cab and you call customer service and if someone answers (if they answer) they don’t care and no one ever calls you back and nothing ever changes?

It’s funny…the CTA Twitter account recently tweeted this article: Public Transportation Shapes Where Millennials Decide to Live, where I found this stat: “54 percent of the participants said they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around.”

Careful, Chicago. You might just be the city we’re moving from, not the one we’re moving to.

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These are the words of Jessica Estelle Huggins, independent filmmaker in Chicago:

“Ultimately, my intention is to provide a platform for youth to creatively express themselves in regards to the youth violence in Chicago. If I was ever to have a child(ren), I would want them to look like me: brown skin, kinky hair. And to constantly watch images of brown and black skin youth in stories of violence in the news has always been heartbreaking for me. For almost a year, I have been able to build a very strong team that believes in similar ideas of progression in the African-American community as I do. Personally, I believe that everything starts with the children. We need to go back to the basics: Love, support and patience. Change starts within ourselves. As a filmmaker, my way of expression is through visuals. I want Chi~Voices to serve not only as art therapy for those affected by violence, but to also serve at an action component, a way for people to want to actively become involved in changing our communities for the better.”

Some of you may remember last summer, when Huggins gathered a couple of Chicago’s incredibly talented spoken word artists and created Chi~Voices: A Poetic Film Series. The film series is focused on spoken word artists creatively exploring youth violence occurring in Chicago. Since then, Chi~Voices sponsor, The BRIJ Fund, L3C created the collaboration of Chi~Voices with the Institute For Positive Living (IPL) in Bronzeville to host a six-week comprehensive workshop for the youth at IPL. During these workshops, a few of the Chi~Voices poets came in and helped increase the literacy skill sets of these youth. You can check out their beautiful work here: http://chivoices.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/chivoices-workshop-5-1102014/

Currently, the team is weaving the youth at IPL’s pieces into the current story with the original poets. Now, Chi~Voices is launching their Kickstarter campaign to raise the last $2,000 for production costs. Once the team raises the funds, they will begin to prep to begin production in April. The film premiere is slated to happen during Fall 2014.

The purpose of this blog has always been to talk about issues I feel strongly about. This is one of those issues. It’s only February, and already there have been 31 murders in Chicago in 2014. If we want to change the lives of youth in this city, then we have to start with initiatives like this. Share this campaign. Donate if you can.

Chi-Voices Seeks to End Chicago Youth Violence

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10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Watch the George Zimmerman Boxing Match

george zimmerman boxing match

I write this on February 5th, Trayvon Martin’s birthday, and despite all the things I would like to say to that young man, I’m going to say this one thing to you: don’t you dare watch the George Zimmerman “celebrity” boxing match.

The word “celebrity” comes from the word “celebrate.” When we celebrate people’s accomplishments we call them celebrities. Ask yourself right now: Do I celebrate what George Zimmerman has done? If the answer is no—and it damn well better be—then you should already know that watching this match violates the memory of a 17-year old boy whose life was taken violently and unjustly. But in case you need a few reasons why, I’ll provide you with some here.

  1. Watching this spectacle financially supports a man who gained notoriety by murdering a black boy. Let me phrase that another way: the man who got away with murdering a 17-year old will get your money if you watch him on TV. You will be financially supporting George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin.
  2. Watching this spectacle will ensure we continue to see Zimmerman’s face until the end of time. Do you think the media will rest at one match? No. As long as there is green in the udder of the cash cow, they will milk it. One boxing match becomes another boxing match becomes more television exposure becomes a reality show. You know how it is. Do you want to see George Zimmerman on TV for the rest of your life? No? Then do not watch this match.
  3. You will be financially supporting George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin.
  4. The match is being promoted by Damon Feldman, a guy who was charged with fixing celebrity boxing matches and promoting without a license. Do you really want to watch George Zimmerman win with a loaded deck? Again?
  5. You will be financially supporting George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin.
  6. You are going to make yourself crazy. Every time I see Zimmerman’s face on TV or on the internet, I feel a little piece of my sanity start to burn. He is alive. Trayvon is dead. Zimmerman loses in the ring. Trayvon will still be dead, and Zimmerman will be even richer than he already is after all those donations from what I can only assume are members of Stormfront. The boxing match will change nothing. Not even for us, who would watch hoping for some twisted version of justice. We will not get it.
  7. You will be financially supporting George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin.
  8. By turning on something called a “celebrity boxing match” that features George Zimmerman, you are implicitly agreeing with the media’s soulless categorization of Zimmerman as a celebrity. Your own soul will suffer.
  9. You will be financially supporting George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin.
  10. And ten. This is the most important point. By watching this boxing match, by giving in to the notion that George Zimmerman is indeed a celebrity, you are accepting the subtle message that what Zimmerman did does deserve to be celebrated. By resting your eyes on the program for one moment, you are accepting that black boys who are murdered before their 18th birthdays don’t deserve justice at all, that their murderers should be allowed to profit from their crimes. By allowing George Zimmerman onto your television screen, you are contributing to a world in which the death of a black boy is one soulless scene in a shiny reality show; one meaningless event on a path to fame and fortune.

While Trayvon Martin is in his grave, George Zimmerman will be smiling for the camera. My greatest wish is that he will find himself there alone: the cameras unmanned, the opposing corner empty, the audience nonexistent: just roaches crawling in the stands waiting for popcorn that will never fall. My greatest wish is that, while Trayvon Martin is in his grave but wrapped in the love of all who preserve his memory, George Zimmerman will be alone in this world…wrapped in nothing.

Do not wrap him. Not even in your hate. Do not give his pockets a single penny. Turn your back on this spectacle, and turn your back on George Zimmerman. It’s all that he deserves.

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Chris Brown and A Nation of Raped Boys

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Yesterday I read an article in which Chris Brown discussed the age at which he lost his virginity. He was 8, he says, and the girl was 14 or 15. He mentions that in “the country” he and his cousins watched a lot of porn, so by age 8 he was “hot to trot.” Maybe so. Children can have sexual feelings at 8, but whether they can consent to sex at age 8 is an entirely different subject. Sex at age 8 is rape, especially given the fact that the girl involved was significantly older, a teenager. Chris Brown was raped, but to hear him tell it, that experience was positive, healthy. Something to brag about. “At eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it.”

And the worst part? This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this from a man.

I’ve personally dated two men who described these early sexual experiences, and have heard these stories from friends as well. In terms of my former boyfriends, one was seven when he lost his virginity, the other nine. Both saw this as a notch in their tiny, child-like belts. The girls in their experiences were teenagers also, so the men seemed to think that this was a testament to their own irresistibility: at eight years old, their sex appeal was so overwhelming, so potent, that teenage girls were compelled to have sex with them. The idea that this was rape—and it was—never crossed their minds. Why? Because the same poisonous system that tells women they are rape-able tells men that they are not.

We know some of the behavioral signals that occur when girls have been raped. Depression, promiscuity, unexplained anger, anxiety. These are words we use when we describe the ways victims behave. It’s interesting that I have seen these same symptoms in young boys—alongside me in class when I was a child, in boyfriends as I got older, in men beside me on the bus in Chicago—yet no one looks at male anger and male promiscuity as symptoms of anything. These are just classic male behaviors. “Boys will be boys,” and boys sleep around. Boys have bad tempers. Right?

Wrong.

What if we have been normalizing male rape victims’ symptoms for centuries? This is not to say that every man has been the victim of sexual abuse, but I know more than a few who have been, and their cries for help—the ones that get such attention when our “ladylike” daughters act out sexually and/or aggressively—went unnoticed, chalked up to a male standard of behavior that not only turns a blind eye to promiscuity but rewards it. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being sexually abused and then growing up being told that this is a good thing? That your sexual potency has been enhanced? That rape was a “head-start” into the wonderful world of sex? The damaging system that tells girls they are worthless after rape has a disgusting flip side for boys: you have worth now. This violence has made you a god.

And we wonder why our boys grow up sex-obsessed, equating violence with pleasure (“be a beast at it”), and imagining that rape is only something that happens to women. We wonder why they grow up hating women; women who might look like their abuser, or women who were raped and actually had their violence addressed by a society that believes men are immune from that kind of crime, a crime that when committed against a male goes woefully under-reported.

Boys will be boys. And boys can be hurt. We must stop viewing patriarchy as a weapon that wounds only women. To do so silences generations of victims…and often creates more.

Update 10/08/2013: I just came across this post by Colorlines on this same subject and I encourage you to read it as well.

Update 10/09/2013: I’ve been told numerous times that I am misinterpreting the phrase “be a beast at it.” I am aware of this and it was done deliberately, as I believe it’s important to acknowledge and understand the role of semantics in patriarchy and rape culture.

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The First Time I Shaved My Legs

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The first time I shaved my legs, my mother cried.

Not because “her little girl was growing up” but because her little girl was entering a world that is cruel to little girls.

I did it in Florida, on family vacation. I was twelve. I’d been in the pool playing with some girls I didn’t know and they were laughing at me, at my legs. They didn’t say why, but somehow I knew. Girls are programmed with shame. We are only clean for so long and then must start doing the things that keep the dirt off: shaving our legs and underarms, stripping all the hair from our bodies, douching, lasering, scraping, bleaching. A little girl is only a little girl until she is not, and then the shame settles on her like a blanket. She wraps herself in it, sometimes forever.

My mother had tried to keep me safe. She let me do what I wanted. She said, “There is nothing that you have to do.” I believed her. I wanted to be like my brothers and pierce only one ear. I wanted my hair short like my brothers. She let me. I was a wild brown pony, barefoot in the yard and wearing Spiderman shirts. I had a pair of jeans with “Chic” stitched on the pocket. She took the thread out because I asked her to, because I thought it said “chick” and god knew I didn’t want to be one of those.

She was saving me from a world that hated girls, but somehow it leaked in: it was in my one earring, my short hair. Seven years old and already I knew which was the better sex to be. By the time the razor scraped my shin, the damage was done. Now comes the undoing.

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Wednesday: A Poem

This is a rant. A soft rant, but a rant.

I made this video in 2010 with a dear friend while in college. I have never made it available for public consumption, but now seems as good a time as any. Only three years ago, but I was such a kid when we collaborated on this. Still….I feel much the same now as I did then when I wrote this poem. Some things never change.

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Internet Jungle

Approaching the Internet is like approaching a recently-domesticated tiger. Is it ever really tame? You had a good experience last time—but this doesn’t mean you won’t get mauled on your next visit. I remember the Internet from when I was a tourist; a far cry from the convert, the citizen, the card-carrier I am now. I was ten or eleven. My brother and I were old enough to type “sex” into the search engine (AskJeeves or something similarly phased-out) but young enough to still giggle at the contorted orgiastic renderings we came across. The pages were shittily built: shady message boards populated with excitedly prowling pedophiles—“a/s/l? oh you’re so mature for your age, come visit me in New York ;)”—and exuberant racists, stoked at the idea of real anonymity; the kind of anonymity even a white hood doesn’t provide.

Every now and then I still get glimpses of that version of the Internet. The comment threads on Fox News articles; YouTube trolls; posts on politicians’ Facebook pages. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed—not anonymous, but alike in its enthusiasm for all things vile and vapid. I wonder what everyone wonders: what did these people do with their bile before the Internet came along and gave them the microphone their cringing malice required?

As my first post on my (new) blog, I will begin with this: this is not a place for that side of the Internet. That side of the Internet can stay among its company of #racisthashtags and suicide encouragement on teenage girls’ Facebook walls. Stay over there. This may not always be a place for unicorns and Cresty smiles…but it will never be a place for ugliness.

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