Category: Dynasty Trust

Blaming Fat Women For Our Lack of Clothing Options - August 31, 2014 by zeldalegacy
rack of floofy betsey johnson dresses

Give me the pretties, pleeeeease.

While I’m on a roll of ranting about things that piss me off, here’s another one: the recent trend of blaming the lack of plus size clothing options on the supposed buying habits of plus size customers. This piece in TIME, and this one on Fashionista are two examples, and they make me so viscerally angry that it’s hard to respond articulately–but I’ll try.

“[R]eal change for plus-size fashion will come when customers make more conscious purchasing decisions,” claims the TIME piece. Hahahahaha, no. Real change will come when companies realize that fat women are people and start making clothes in our size. It’s kind of ridiculous to insist that fat women’s shopping choices must be the issue, when our whole problem is that we don’t have enough options to choose from in the first place.

In the Fashionista article, a blogger named Sarah Conley claims that plus size women are unwilling to buy higher-priced items. I’ve seen this claim so many times, and it annoys the shit out of me for a bunch of reasons:

1.) How can retailers know that plus size women won’t buy higher-priced items if they almost never offer them? It’s like giving a group of people a choice between peanut butter sandwiches and spaghetti with meatballs, and then claiming that group has no interest in filet mignon.

2.) Plus size clothing already tends to cost more than straight size clothing. Women who wear straight sizes may be more likely to invest in the occasional expensive, high-quality statement piece because they can get the rest of their wardrobe cheaply; women who wear plus sizes have far fewer truly cheap options. A lot of plus size clothing (I’m looking at you, Torrid) is both pricey and low-quality. And most stores that sell both straight and plus sizes charge more for the latter, even though the cost of the extra fabric is negligible.

In addition, plus size women often have to pay more to find bras in our size. I’m lucky that the Playtex 18-hour bra fits me comfortably and is super-cheap on Amazon, but most fat women I know spend ridiculous amounts of money to get bras that fit, while big-box stores and department stores are full of cute, cheap bras in smaller sizes.

3.) Fat people, especially fat women, face workplace discrimination–so we make less money and therefore have less to spend in the first place.

4.) Even if it’s true that fat women genuinely have no interest in high-end designer pieces, that doesn’t explain the lack of affordable options in our size range. 

Is it really so much to ask for this to come in size fat?

Further down in the article, Conley huffs that “many women are spending money on cheaper things that they don’t necessarily like just because they’re available in their size rather than waiting to spend more money on a few special pieces they really love.

What are we supposed to do while we wait–walk around naked?  Most fat women don’t have the luxury of waiting around for the perfect, high-quality piece–we need clothing right now for work, or to wear to a friend’s wedding, or to work out in.

She mentions tailoring as an option that more plus size women should take. Although I’m pro-tailoring, I think it’s ridiculous to expect that all fat women should do it rather than, you know, ask for clothing that fits us in the first place.  Why should we have to put in the extra time, money, and energy to get our clothes tailored when straight size women can walk into almost any store and find clothing that fits them?

That brings me to another factor that always gets left out in these victim-blaming discussions: the extremely limited availability of brick-and-mortar plus size options. While the online options for plus size clothing have expanded dramatically in the last few years (and I will be the first person to celebrate that with balloons, confetti, and cupcakes), our options for in-person shopping remain–pun intended–slim.

As a woman who usually wears a size 22, I’ve pretty much given up on in-person shopping except for thrift stores, because there are so few stores in the Boston area that carry my size. I’m lucky that I can find clothing that fits me online relatively easily–I know what shapes and sizes tend to fit me, and as long as I stick with them, I don’t have to return many of my purchases. But for a lot of women, online shopping is an exercise in frustration that involves returning almost everything they buy. And then there’s the cost of shipping and returns, which is prohibitive for many women, and just annoying for others.

An anonymous blogger quoted in the Fashionista piece complains that plus size fashion “[has] become such an angry section of fashion,” as if fat women are just irrationally mad. It’s not like we face discrimination and harassment for our size, find few representations of ourselves in the media, and pay extra in both time and effort for the limited, lower-quality clothing options we do have, or anything…no, we’re just whiners who refuse to be grateful for whatever crumbs the fashion industry throws our way.

The lack of plus size clothing options is a direct result of society-wide fat-phobia, full stop. It’s not the fault of fat women, whatever our buying habits.


Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

The Strong Female Character - August 28, 2014 by zeldalegacy

I recently started watching the new TV series Outlander, based on the popular books by Diana Gabaldon. I have never read the books. The series sounded like something I might enjoy, about a woman who time-travels to 18th Century Scotland. After watching two episodes, I’m already done with it. I see people raving about the […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

What Doomed Chevy Chase\’s Early \”SNL\” Career? - August 27, 2014 by zeldalegacy

“Fame is a very unnatural human condition. When you stop to realize that Abraham Lincoln was probably never seen by more than 400 people in a single evening, and that I can enter over 40 million homes in a single evening due to the power of television, you have to admit the situation is not normal.” —Chevy Chase, in an interview

The only performer on Saturday Night whose fame in the first season transcended the show’s cult following was Chevy Chase. Chevy was not yet a superstar, by any means, but he was headed in that direction. He was the hottest new face in the country, and the timing of his breakthrough was such that his celebrity was magnified by emotional undercurrents of unusual power.

He took the stage when the press and public alike were anxious for a new diversion, not unlike the Beatles when they landed in New York soon after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. America after Watergate was ready to proclaim a new clown prince, someone whose very freshness and confidence was a relief and a renewal. In 1975, Chevy Chase was it.

Herb Schlosser was one of the first to notice that Chevy was going to be a major star. In a post-mortem telephone conversation with Dick Ebersol after Saturday Night’s first show, he exulted over how good Chevy was. He also learned from Ebersol that Chevy was signed only to a writer’s, not a performer’s, contract. “Sign him up,” Schlosser said.

The rumblings began to be picked up very quickly in the NBC Press department as well. Many of the early reviews singled out Chevy, and in late October, when publicist Les Slater set out to do biographies of the show’s cast members, he was told by his boss, Gene Walsh, to do Chevy Chase’s first. Choosing his phrasing delicately to avoid offending the other members of the rep company, Slater, two weeks after Saturday Night went on, called Chevy “one of the faces more readily identified with the show.”

Click here for all of our Saturday Night Live at 40 content and to vote for the best SNL cast member ever.

Indeed, there were many who would come to think Saturday Night in the first season was the Chevy Chase Show. It was a measure of the scant attention paid to the other cast members that in February, when Les Slater got around to doing a bio of John Belushi, Slater received a note from Gene Walsh that read, “Les…Another excellent feature. Also, it straightens me out, as I thought this guy was Danny Arvayrdk (or however he spells it).”

Certification of Chevy’s celebrity came on December 22, 1975, when New York magazine, then at the height of its trend-setting powers, put him on its cover. The article dubbed him “the heir apparent to Johnny Carson,” a label Chevy didn’t so much deny as dismiss. “I’d never be tied down for five years interviewing TV personalities,” he said.

Comments such as these did not go unnoticed in Burbank. Although New York’s article said NBC was planning to put Chevy on the Tonight Show as a guest host within six months, it would be a year and a half before Chevy even appeared on Johnny Carson’s program, and then only because he was promoting a special for NBC. He never did host it. Nor did any of the other Not Ready For Prime Time Players appear on the Tonight Show until Gilda [Radner] was a guest in 1983, long after she’d left Saturday Night. Carson’s distaste for NBC’s other late-night show (shared by many if not most comedians of his generation) was well known within the network. It surfaced publicly in an August 1976 interview with Tom Shales of The Washington Post, when Carson blasted Saturday Night for relying on drug jokes and cruelty. He also dismissed the cast as hopeless amateurs who couldn’t “ad-lib a fart at a bean-eating contest.” Saturday Night retaliated the following season with some anti-Carson jokes on Weekend Update. In one, reporting that Carson had announced plans to do the Tonight Show live instead of on videotape, anchorwoman Jane Curtin noted that he had been “doing the show dead for the past fifteen years.”

Johnny Carson notwithstanding, Chevy’s appearance on the cover of New York magazine confirmed his status as the most important new kid in town. Seldom had New York’s media had a new star so prominently placed in its lap, and suddenly Chevy’s face seemed to be in newspapers and magazines everywhere. Outshining the President in April and winning his writing and performing Emmys in May wildly accelerated the onrush of celebrity. By summer, even the stuffy New York Times had succumbed to the spell. Chevy wrote a nonsensical piece about the Democratic convention for the Times’s op-ed page. The bio box beneath it read, “Chevy Chase is Chevy Chase and you’re not. Mr. Chase is also a performer and writer for the television program Saturday Night.”

Saturday Night Live - Season 1

At first, Chevy himself didn’t notice the fame that was about to overtake him. He didn’t get out much. When he wasn’t on the 17th floor or at Lorne [Michaels's] place working he was sleeping in his small studio apartment on East Sixty-first Street. Every few weeks he’d fly out to Los Angeles to visit his fiancée, Jacqueline Carlin, a model and aspiring actress with whom he was passionately in love, and they didn’t get out that much either. So Chevy acted surprised the first time publicist Les Slater told him a reporter wanted to do a feature on him. “Talk to me?” he said.

Opportunity for such insouciance soon faded as the evidence of his celebrity became too obvious to ignore. There was a day early in the first season when Chevy arrived on the 17th floor shaking, excited and a little frightened. He’d gotten on a bus on his way to work and suddenly noticed that everyone on it was staring. At him. After a block or two he grew so flustered he got off the bus and fled down the street.

It was a crystallizing moment for Chevy, an instant when he realized that everything was going to change. It was also, according to those who worked with him, one of the few times Chevy Chase ever ran from stardom. More than most people who become famous very fast, Chevy walked into fame with his eyes open, expecting it, taking it as his due, seldom pausing to wonder why it was happening to him. Which is not the same as saying he took fame in stride.

The New York magazine cover was the demarcation point. “That cover,” Chevy said later, “changed my life.” It was shocking because it was so sudden: Chevy says he had no idea the cover was coming before he saw it on the newsstands, and it hadn’t really occurred to anyone on the Saturday Night team, including Chevy, that one of their members could be picked out and publicized in so prominent a fashion.

From there the proportions and the demands of Chevy’s fame only grew. Inevitably he started spending more time in interviews, going out on speaking engagements, and pondering the offers that came in. Just as inevitably, the time he spent working on the show decreased. Lorne told him soon after the New York cover appeared that he was “going to be too busy being Chevy Chase” to be as productive as he had been, and Lorne, Chevy agrees, was right.

At first it seemed the outside world had changed more than Chevy had. He was the same ham he’d always been, taking falls as he walked on the street or playing noisy pranks in restaurants. But now people were looking at him differently, muttering things like, “Look at that — he’s trying to attract attention to himself.” It was, to those who witnessed the process, one of the saddest things about Chevy’s stardom.

In many of his interviews, Chevy worried publicly about what was happening to him, fretting that he might become the very thing he’d been parodying — a plastic celebrity. It was apparent he was struggling to maintain the spirit of irreverence that got him there in the first place. In May he told Vogue magazine: “I’m a fad. In this business you can come and go in a second. I could be flushed out tomorrow with a big smile and a handshake.”

Behind the scenes, however, Chevy began to change, too, and despite the soul-searching interviews, those on the show soon began to feel he was indeed turning into just the sort of obnoxious egocentric he played so convincingly on camera. He was not, in the end, immune; nor was it likely he would be.

According to those who knew him, he liked to ride in convertibles so he could talk to fans who recognized him as he cruised down the street. He made bizarre late-night phone calls to friends, gloating to one, also a performer, that of the two of them he was by far the more famous. Once he bragged to a roomful of people, “I’ll go down to the drugstore, pick up the fan magazines, and I’ll bet my name is in more of them than any of yours.”

He grew gradually more distant from the others on the show. “Within two thirds of the first year,” says one of the writers, “it began to seem that Chevy was more worried about his next cold opening than about being part of the team. The more famous he got, the more he pulled into himself. When he was hungry he was more of a team player.”

Cocaine had something to do with that. Several of those on the show say Chevy was one of the first to begin using coke heavily, in part because he was the first who could afford to. A personal sense of insecurity — at variance with his public image but not unusual in performers — contributed to his withdrawal as well. “He wasn’t,” a writer said, “truly confident at all — that was his act.”

Even by the aggressive standards on Saturday Night, Chevy’s ego became a problem. By the end of the season he was ordering other players around on the set, telling them where to stand or how to deliver a line. He talked on and on about which household name he’d been with the night before or about how much money he was making for speaking engagements or other appearances outside the show. It was not the sort of behavior that endeared him to his colleagues, and more and more Chevy became characterized, as one writer put it, as “the asshole around the office.”

Chevy’s ascension to stardom was an education to the others on the show, a bitter lesson in the mechanics of fame. “We were innocent then,” Jane Curtin said in an interview a year later. “We were a repertory company, and we knew that repertory companies do not feature one player. We thought we would all shine. When Chevy became the star, we felt hurt, we felt bad.”

They also felt angry. Les Slater would bring a reporter up to the 17th floor for yet another interview with Chevy, and the other players would mutter, “What about me?” or “Is he the only one?” A cover story on Chevy in the magazine Photoplay was typical of the press’s view that Chevy was the only one worth taking seriously. The story referred to Jane, Laraine [Newman], and Gilda as “Chevy’s girls,” and in mentioning them briefly asked the rhetorical question “Where, oh where would Saturday Night be without these beauties?” Chevy’s girls were discussing this role the press had assigned them one afternoon on the 17th floor when Marilyn Miller suggested they put their feelings into song. They sang it on the second show of the second season, and it fairly dripped sarcasm in characterizing Chevy as a new teen idol. “Chevy, I love you when you fall down/Every night on my TV,” the lyrics went. “But oh, Chevy, when you take that fall/I wish that you were falling, falling for me.”

Of all the cast members, Belushi complained the loudest about the attention Chevy was getting. John and Chevy had been rivals since the Lampoon days. John never let Chevy forget that it was he, not Chevy, who had gotten the glowing press notices for Lemmings, or that it was he, not Chevy, who had won when both of them campaigned to be named creative director of the Lampoon Radio Hour. They had a knack for goading each other. The first day Belushi arrived on the 17th floor he walked into Chevy’s office and pointed at the picture of Jacqueline Carlin on Chevy’s desk. “Oh, you have one of those too?” he said. “You’ve got the regular one. I’ve got the one with the donkey dick.” Chevy always claimed he was responsible for making Belushi as fit as he was for civilized company by shaving his back and teaching him how to eat with a fork.

Belushi lost his ability to laugh off Chevy’s gibes when Chevy became a star before he did on Saturday Night. He was appalled at being upstaged by someone whose talent he considered decidedly inferior to his own and humiliated when people would see him on the street and say, “Hey, I love Chevy Chase.” It confirmed all John’s suspicions about what bullshit television was, and he protested violently that all he was getting were leftover supporting roles. “I go where I’m kicked,” Belushi kept saying. “They throw me bones dogs wouldn’t chew on.”

From the moment Les Slater did Chevy’s bio before the others’, Lorne did what he could to prevent Chevy’s being singled out, but it was like spitting in the ocean. At one point NBC put a poster of the cast members up in the lobby outside 8H. Chevy’s picture loomed larger than the rest, and the caption read: Chevy Chase and the Not Ready For Prime Time Players. Lorne was infuriated, and threatened he would have the promotion man responsible for the picture fired.

Chevy Chase On SNL

Lorne was astute enough, however, not to turn his back on a star when he needed one, and when NBC and the public demanded more Chevy Chase, they got more Chevy Chase. Weekend Update alone expanded from three and a half minutes on the first show to almost nine minutes by spring of the first season. Chevy’s Fall of the Week openings became such a stock routine that Chevy started writing versions that made fun of what a stock routine they’d become. That, too, provoked its share of grumbling on what was supposed to be a collaborative, risk-taking show. “I think we all got a little tired of the Fall of the Week a lot sooner than America did,” Tom Davis says.

Chevy didn’t help matters any when in interviews he failed to counter as strongly as he could have the impression that Saturday Night was essentially the Chevy Chase Show. In fact, it sometimes seemed to his colleagues he was going out of his way to promote that misconception. He claimed to be solely responsible for the writing on Weekend Update so often that Alan Zweibel, who with Herb Sargent was writing more of Update than anyone but Chevy, finally burst into Lorne’s office, waving Chevy’s latest clipping in his hands and shouting, “How long are we going to have to put up with this shit?”

Chevy explained away the comments by saying he’d been misquoted, but after a while few people bought it. Jane Curtin once confronted him with some disparaging remarks he’d made in two separate interviews. “You don’t get misquoted twice!” she yelled. On a few occasions Chevy felt obliged to correct himself in print. In an interview in the Long Island newspaper Newsday in April, for example, he repeatedly stressed how much credit the others on the show deserved. “I do [stress it] all the time when I’m interviewed,” he said. “Unfortunately, it never comes out once the interview is written.”

Whether or not he admitted it in interviews, the fact was that Chevy did indeed see Saturday Night as his show to a large degree. It wasn’t such an unreasonable point of view, considering the contribution he was making to the show itself and to its success in the media. Nor was it easy for him to dismiss all those, both in the press and in private, who were reminding him that he was Saturday Night’s centerpiece, that without him it would be nothing. And that maybe he ought to start thinking about finding a showcase more suitable for his superior talents.

Tom Schiller, who was especially close to Chevy that first year, points out an insidious process that occurs when a friend becomes famous. “You alone want to be responsible for their salvation,” Schiller says. “You say to them repeatedly, ‘Don’t do this,’ ‘Don’t do that.’ And what you eventually realize is that everybody is saying that — everybody feels they have a part of their career. And as a result they’re getting barraged from eighty different angles on what to do next.”

An NBC executive with long experience in negotiating with performers, including Chevy, adds that stars are vulnerable not only to the well-meaning advice of friends, but to agents, managers, and other business types who come to them and say, “Hey, you’re getting fucked by these guys. I can do better for you.” Show business, this executive says, is “rampant” with that.

Thus, as soon as his face appeared on the cover of New York magazine, Chevy started receiving career counseling commensurate to the scale of his success, which is to say he was inundated with it. There was, for example, the night Chevy was strolling down Park Avenue with his new friend Warren Beatty. “You should direct,” Beatty told him.

The question of what to do next took on a growing urgency as the season progressed because Chevy was still without a performer’s contract at NBC. Herb Schlosser had turned the task of signing him over to Dave Tebet soon after the first show, but as of February, Chevy still hadn’t been signed. Week by week Chevy’s negotiating position grew stronger, NBC’s weaker. Chevy was now one of the biggest stars NBC had, and despite the network’s denials, reports he was being groomed as the heir apparent to Johnny Carson were true. One executive privy to the network’s higher counsels says Herb Schlosser was definitely thinking in those terms, and the same executive quotes Dave Tebet as confiding, in his hoarse whisper, “Chase is the only white gentile comedian around today. Think what that means when Johnny leaves.”

So NBC was very anxious to get Chevy Chase under contract, and started offering him the world to sign a deal; nobody wanted to take the blame for letting the next Johnny Carson slip through their fingers. Chevy even wrote a sketch about NBC’s entreaties, in which he played a gambler from a foreign country who made up all his own rules in a poker game and kept taking all the money. Nor were the offers only from television. Movies beckoned. The studios in Hollywood were among those bidding for Chevy Chase, and to a generation of performers united in their contempt for TV, movies were infinitely more alluring.

Chevy’s manager (and Lorne’s), Bernie Brillstein, was advising Chevy to stay with the show another season. Consolidate your success, Bernie told him; capitalize on the foundation you’ve started. Saturday Night was big now, but it was only going to get bigger. Lorne, although he purposely avoided pressuring Chevy, advised the same thing. His theory was that it took three years’ exposure to make a superstar on TV. Saturday Night was a big hit in the industry, but the public hadn’t really caught on yet. He told Chevy he was like a great pitcher for a championship baseball team. If he left, the team would lose a few games, but they’d keep winning. “Think how rare it is to play with a championship team,” Lorne said. “You think it’s going to happen all the time, especially when you’re young, but it doesn’t happen that often.… Play another season, then decide.”

Chevy wasn’t sure. One problem, he told Lorne, was that his fiancée had given him an ultimatum: Either he return to her in Los Angeles and get married or she’d start seeing other men. Their relationship had been tumultuous all along — friends saw them get into major arguments over such minor matters as what they were going to order in restaurants. Jackie hated the idea of spending another year by herself in Los Angeles while Chevy stayed with the show in New York, where literally thousands of glamorous women would be his for the asking.

Chevy would later say Jackie was the primary impetus for his leaving Saturday Night, a bit of reasoning that one of the women on the show described as an example of the “blame the bitch” school of logic. Whatever Jacqueline Carlin’s role, it’s likely the temptation of other offers carried equal weight at least. Just as important were Chevy’s doubts that the show would take him any further than it had already. Saturday Night might be a championship team, but Chevy began to think of it as a team at “the top of the minors.” He was ready to play in a different league.

Chevy had long talks with Lorne as the first season wore on about where Saturday Night would go from there. In those talks he was openly critical of the show and openly skeptical that it would improve. He was tired of the three-week-a-month grind, he didn’t know at that point if there’d be any significant change in the show’s minuscule budget, and he wasn’t confident that the rest of the Saturday Night team could maintain standards as high as his own. He thought maybe he’d done everything he was going to be able to do on the show and that he’d only be repeating himself if he came back. He wanted assurances from Lorne that certain things were going to change if he did.

Those talks were the beginning of the end of the friendship between Chevy and Lorne. According to those Lorne confided in at the time, it seemed to him that Chevy was trying to encroach upon his territory as producer, “trying to get behind Lorne’s desk,” as one friend put it. Lorne felt that Chevy, in the throes of his success, was rankled by the margin of power Lorne still had over him and over the show, and that he wanted to shift that balance of power more in his favor. “Lorne,” an intimate says, “was horrified that Chevy was thinking that way. He had made Chevy a star, nurtured him, created the showplace for Chevy’s talent, made him look good.”

Friends who were closer to Chevy argue that in fact it was Chevy who had made Lorne a star, not the other way around, and that Chevy’s contribution to the show was such in the first season that he was “a de facto co-producer.” Therefore he had a right, these friends believe, to a voice in determining the creative direction of the show.

In any event, there’s no question there was a rupture between them. Lorne said later he had mistakenly put friendship ahead of the show and kept quiet so as not to unduly influence Chevy’s decision. Chevy would later say that he interpreted Lorne’s silence as a lack of concern about whether he stayed or not. Thus the contract negotiations with NBC that led to Chevy’s leaving Saturday Night took place under a cloud of hurt feelings, doubt, and suspicion.

According to Chevy, Bernie Brillstein started the negotiations and called him with “great news.” NBC, Bernie said, was willing to give Chevy a raise of ,000 the second season, a thousand more per show. That didn’t sound like a lot of money to Chevy. He knew that under Lorne’s favored nations policy, anything he got, the other players got. NBC would go only so far on those terms. Chevy also knew that Bernie’s first allegiance as a manager and friend was to Lorne. For Chevy the idea of favored nations had begun to seem less than equitable, and he began to suspect that Bernie had a conflict of interest in representing both him and Lorne.

Without saying anything to Bernie, Chevy sought the advice of his brother Ned, who happened to be a lawyer. His brother in turn asked the advice of a lawyer friend of his named Bruce Bodner, who had more experience in contract negotiations. Bodner, too, thought he smelled a conflict of interest and began doing some investigating of his own. He consulted with Art Fuhrer, a chief negotiator at the William Morris talent agency, where Chevy remained a client. It was decided Chevy could do better than the deal Bernie Brillstein had negotiated.

Lorne’s old agent, Sandy Wernick, who by then had joined Bernie Brillstein’s firm, was in Canada on a business trip when he was called to an emergency meeting with Chevy in New York on May 10, 1976, a week before the Emmy awards ceremony. The meeting was held in the conference room of Bodner’s law firm, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, in the General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue, across from the Plaza Hotel. Wernick entered the meeting confident that Chevy was coming back to Saturday Night for the second season. That, Wernick says, was the last indication Brillstein’s office had gotten from Chevy. Wernick had said as much to both Lorne and NBC’s negotiator, Mike Grossman, earlier in the day.

Sitting in the plush conference room, Wernick listened, stunned, as Bruce Bodner and Art Fuhrer explained that they had decided to negotiate a different deal for Chevy. He could, they said, get substantially more money for substantially less time and effort if he signed a contract to do a few prime-time specials instead of returning to Saturday Night.

“But you can’t do that,” Wernick said, several times.

They responded that what they were doing was in their client’s best interest. Wernick’s view was that they were going for the quick money instead of thinking of Chevy’s long-term career. He pointed out too that William Morris’s 10 percent commission would be significantly higher on a specials package than on the modest salary increase Brillstein had negotiated for Chevy’s second season on Saturday Night.

Chevy himself mostly stood by silently while Wernick, Fuhrer, and Bodner had it out. Wernick says it was mentioned several times that Chevy would be the executive producer of his specials and that Chevy indicated how important it was to him that he be able to have creative control of his work.

There wasn’t much Wernick could do other than return to NBC and tell Lorne what had happened. Lorne, Wernick and others say, was devastated by the news. Chevy was leaving the show. He had gone behind Lorne’s back to pursue a deal that was completely independent of Lorne or anyone else in the Saturday Night family. To someone with Lorne’s paternal instincts it was an unthinkable breach of loyalty. “Lorne felt,” a writer said, “like King Lear: His first daughter had betrayed him.”

Bodner and Fuhrer came to terms with NBC’s Mike Grossman a few days later. Grossman was at first as shocked as Sandy Wernick had been that Bodner had taken over Chevy’s negotiations. “No, no, no, we have a deal!” Grossman protested. Bodner explained that Chevy’s plans had changed.

The new deal, which was refined in subsequent negotiating sessions, called for Chevy to be the executive producer and star of two prime-time specials for NBC, with an option, at Chevy’s discretion, for a third. The network would pay him 0,000 to produce the first, 0,000 for the second, and 0,000 for the third, plus a bonus for signing of 0,000. Chevy’s profit from these specials would depend on how much of that money he spent producing them; what he paid himself was up to him. NBC’s offer also specified that Chevy, except for guest appearances, couldn’t work at any other network for a period of three years.

Later Chevy called Bernie Brillstein to tell him his services as a manager were no longer required. Chevy offered to pay Bernie his commission on the deal, about ,000, but Brillstein refused it.

Technically it was still possible Chevy could return to Saturday Night. The official story, circulated to many of those on the show as well as to the press, was that Chevy was still debating his decision as the second season began. Lorne and Chevy both insist that was the case. It’s undoubtedly true that Chevy could have decided at any time to stay with the show — he could do just about whatever he wanted at that stage — and surely he continued to give it considerable thought as the summer wore on. And despite Lorne’s feelings of betrayal, it’s apparent he would still have welcomed back his biggest star. But it’s also apparent that Chevy intended to quit Saturday Night when he agreed to the specials deal. There was a clause in that deal, drafted in May, specifying that he would leave the show in October of the second season. Chevy says the clause was dropped; nonetheless, that’s exactly when he did leave.

Chevy says NBC didn’t really care if he returned to Saturday Night or not — all the network was interested in was getting him into prime time. Those involved with the negotiations for NBC say that, to the contrary, they would have done more to keep Chevy on Saturday Night if they could have, but that it was clear Chevy intended to leave the show because of his falling-out with Lorne. NBC wanted Chevy to come back to Saturday Night for the first few shows of the season, these executives say, because the network was concerned that the show would fall apart without him, and they wanted him there to help get it rolling for another year. Bruce Bodner confirms that scenario. “It was clear,” Bodner said, “that Chevy didn’t want to continue on the show.” An executive involved with the negotiations for William Morris similarly confirms that Chevy’s intention to leave was “absolute” from the outset.

A week after the meeting with Wernick, Chevy won his Emmy awards, which further convinced him it was time to move on. He spent some time in California with Lorne, Belushi, [Dan] Aykroyd, Zweibel, and others from the show that summer while they were working on a special Lorne was producing featuring the Beach Boys. But except for some conversations with Lorne, he said little or nothing about his plans to anyone on Saturday Night.

Many on the 17th floor doubted even as the second season began that Chevy would really go. The official announcement of his departure came in October. There were some on Saturday Night who sympathized with his decision and wished him well, but the prevailing opinion was that Chevy had shamelessly betrayed them to cash in on stardom. “Chevy was a scumbag the way he left,” one of the writers said. “Deceitful and dishonest about the whole thing.…Chevy’s word meant nothing after a while.”

Tom Davis was shocked when he learned Chevy was leaving and went to his office to ask him why.

“Money,” Chevy responded. “Lots of money.”

Saturday Night Live

On the first show of the second season Chevy, playing Gerald Ford, injured himself on his fall into the podium. Some believe that the injury, after a million falls, had a psychological component. “Chevy was ready to injure himself,” says Rosie Shuster. “He didn’t know where he was going.”

Nursing his injured testicles, Chevy missed the next two shows. He filled out his contractual obligations to Saturday Night three shows later. There was no farewell celebration. Chevy came back in brief cameo appearances for the next few shows, weaning himself, he says, from Saturday Night and, by agreement with Lorne, weaning Saturday Night’s audience from his presence. On his next-to-last show there was the first of what would become periodic jokes at Chevy’s expense. In a futuristic parody of the game show Jeopardy!, called “Jeopardy 1999,” the moderator asked the panelists to name the comedian whose career fizzled after leaving Saturday Night. No one could remember.

Some on the show experienced a twinge of fear that maybe Saturday Night would indeed go downhill once Chevy left, but that quickly gave way to a spirit one writer described as “Fuck him, we’ll make it even better.” Many, including Belushi, were glad to see him go. He was taking up too much air time anyway. Lorne now sat, another writer said, by himself on the Saturday Night throne. He drew closer to Paul Simon as his most trusted friend and confidant. Simon was someone Lorne felt he could count on because he had no self-interest in the show. Chevy says Paul Simon never spoke to him after he left.

Chevy married Jacqueline Carlin on December 4, 1976, and took up residence in Hollywood. People who worked and socialized with him that first year after he left Saturday Night say he talked constantly about whether he’d made the right decision in quitting the show, always asking about those he’d left behind in New York. “What do they think of me back there?” he wanted to know. He also lost control during this period with booze and cocaine. His coke consumption, witnesses say, often exceeded two grams a day, an amount that caused him to swing at times between megalomania and paranoia, and on occasion left him all but incoherent.

One friend remembers visiting Chevy in Los Angeles that year. He was surrounded in his living room by hangers-on, all of them listening to the rambling piano tapes Chevy had recorded, all nodding their heads as they helped themselves to Chevy’s coke.

“Yea, man,” they were saying. “Great, Chevy. Great.”

Jacqueline Carlin sued Chevy for divorce seventeen months after their wedding. Citing threats of violence from her husband, she asked the court to keep him away from their house. Chevy, she said, had “lost perspective.” 

Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live is available now from Untreed Reads wherever ebooks are sold. The paperback edition of the book is available for preorder here and will be available from your favorite bookseller before the end of August.

Illustration by Linsey Fields


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A Romeo and Juliet Love Story from Iraq - August 25, 2014 by zeldalegacy
Mike and me in Baghdad in early April, 2006. He believed in love. I wonder if he still does.

Mike and me in Baghdad in April, 2006. He believed in love. I wonder if he still does.

I met Mike when sectarian strife exploded in Baghdad in 2006. That was not his real name, of course, but it was what he went by in his job as a translator for American soldiers.

Mike and I spent several evenings chatting at a coffee shop on the vast Camp Liberty complex. He was a smart well-spoken man with Antonio Banderas looks. He told me about his life in Iraq before the war. He taught computer science at a small Baghdad college and ran a photo processing shop.

He told me about the hope he’d held in 2003 after the ouster of Saddam, after which he worked as a security guard for Kellogg, Brown & Root. Eventually he found a job as an interpreter for the U.S. Army.

But things did not progress the way he’d expected and his homeland seemed on the verge of civil war.

The Georgia Army National Guard unit I was embedded with was then patrolling the streets of southwest Baghdad. Sometimes, Mike would peer out the sliver of a bullet-proof window in the back of a  Bradley Fighting Machine and look for a small stucco house on one of the main thoroughfares.

Over coffee one day, I asked him why he stared so intently through the glass.

“Asra,” he said.

“Asra? Who is that?” I asked.

She was the woman he adored. They shared dreams. Of going to Sulaimaniyah to see snow for the first time in their lives. Of getting married, having children.

He bought American shampoo for her from the PX at Liberty. She had long, thick hair, he told me.

Sometimes, he broke Baghdad’s curfew and snuck into Asra’s house late at night. They knew they could not be seen together.

But he could no longer do that. They knew their love could bring them serious trouble.

Mike was Shiite and Asra, Sunni.

Mike was unwanted as a Montague in the house of Capulet.

Mike wished Asra would stand on her balcony when the Bradley thundered past her house. But she didn’t step outside anymore. It wasn’t safe.

A month earlier, the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra worsened the sectarian violence in Baghdad. I remember seeing bodies strewn on the streets of the capital. I could see that many had been tortured or mutilated or shot in the head, execution-style. Revenge killings soared. Neighborhoods in which Sunni and Shiite lived side by side went one way or the other. Thousands of Iraqis were driven from their homes.

I have been thinking of Mike a lot lately as I watch the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents battle towards Baghdad. I fear there will be all-out sectarian war. Sunni against Shiite. Blood spilled on the very soil where the division began with the killing in 680 AD of Muhammad’s grandsons in Kerbala.

We may never know modern-day Iraq again. I can see how borders might get redrawn. I am not necessarily opposed to that – the lines, after all, were drawn by the British to serve colonial interests and Iraq was, in many ways, an artificially assembled nation. But it is heartbreaking to see the carnage.

ISIS makes al Qaida look friendly. There have been reports of crucifixions, mass executions and beheadings. The atrocities make Iraq look like Yugoslavia on speed. That’s how Middle East politics expert Gareth Stansfield described the situation in a recent National Geographic interview.

I wonder if Mike and Asra were ever able to be together, start the family they wanted. I don’t have any way of contacting him anymore. I wish I did.

He told me once that it made no difference to him that Asra was Sunni, though her family didn’t see it that way. He saved a huge chunk of his American paycheck every month to build a house for Asra and himself in a Baghdad neighborhood that was then still very mixed.

He knew he was fighting the odds. He told me it would take a miracle to realize his dreams in a country fraught with war. But he wasn’t going to give up — he still believed in love.

I wonder if he still feels that way.

Filed under: Iraq, Middle East, U.S. Army, War, War & Conflict Tagged: Baghdad, Iraq, ISIS, love, Rome and Juliet, Shiite, Sunni, war
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

Tony Judt’s Life with ALS: A Reading List - August 20, 2014 by zeldalegacy

The Ice Bucket challenge has raised millions for ALS research, not to mention awareness about the disease: the motor neuron disorder, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects thousands of Americans. It’s also served as a reminder about the work that Tony Judt did to convey what it was like to live with ALS, in his diary entries for the New York Review of Books. Judt died in August 2010. Here is a short collection of stories:

Night (2010)

In effect, ALS constitutes progressive imprisonment without parole. First you lose the use of a digit or two; then a limb; then and almost inevitably, all four. The muscles of the torso decline into near torpor, a practical problem from the digestive point of view but also life-threatening, in that breathing becomes at first difficult and eventually impossible without external assistance in the form of a tube-and-pump apparatus. In the more extreme variants of the disease, associated with dysfunction of the upper motor neurons (the rest of the body is driven by the so-called lower motor neurons), swallowing, speaking, and even controlling the jaw and head become impossible. I do not (yet) suffer from this aspect of the disease, or else I could not dictate this text.

The Fresh Air Interview: Tony Judt (2010)

“This disease is best described as being in a prison cell that gets steadily smaller. You don’t know when it’s going to get so small it’s going to crush you to death. But you do know it’s going to happen, the only question is when. So the only question you have to ask yourself is, ‘What am I going to do.’”

The Liveliest Mind in New York (Wesley Yang, New York magazine, 2010)

“I use words to make sense of my life,” explains Judt. “Words can make the illness a subject I can master, and not one that one simply emotes over.” Longtime admirers believe Judt’s writing is stronger than it has ever been. “He has been able to do some of his best work,” says Robert Silvers, the editor of TheNew York Review of Books, who has assigned Judt more than 60 pieces over the years. “The pure intensity of effort and courage needed to arrive at the ability to do it is something difficult to imagine. It’s a great victory for him.”

A Final Victory (Jennifer Homans, 2012)

When Tony was first diagnosed with ALS he knew he would die, soon. He knew it before any doctor told him; and he continued to know it even as we pursued every possible alternative explanation and cure. He knew it because it was happening to him every day: hands, arms, legs, breathing passed out of his control with terrifying speed. It was impossible to keep up, a dizzying and exhausting time of doctors and tests and daily crises; of emotions too large and consequential to bear; of bewilderment and determination; of anger, grief, desperation, and love.

At some point—it is hard to say exactly when, but it was about the time he began Thinking the Twentieth Century—we entered what we came to call the bubble. The bubble was a closed world, an alternate reality, a place that we lived in and peered out of. It had walls—transparent, filmy walls—but they were like one-way mirrors: we could see out, but no one could really see in, or at least that is how it felt from the inside. We knew our world was strange and apart, governed by the rules of illness and dying rather than the rules of life. I could pierce through, sometimes, by taking a walk and seeing the sky, but Tony could not—and increasingly would not.

Photo: Edward Steichen, Moonlit Landscape, 1903, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

I Am for An Art - August 19, 2014 by zeldalegacy

A hundred years ago, when I was an artist and an art student and a lover and a free spirit, I wrote a manifesto on art based on Claes Oldenburg’s I am For… from 1961. And so I dug it out from under a stone, wiped off the dirt and dust, updated it for the modern Jen, and gently laid it here. It’s a good reminder that not every child needs to be controlled by a stoplight clock (I love that ding-dang thing), not every piece of art needs to be beautiful, and most importantly, I wasn’t always Mama Art.

Once upon a time, I was For an Art...

 

I am for an art that reveals itself unabashedly. I am for an art that keeps deep secrets.

I am for an art that lives in dark spaces under stairwells, below dark dusty beds in musty basements and other people’s garbage.

Under the Stairs  oil on panel, by Jennifer Groeber Summer 1998

Under the Stairs
oil on panel, by Jennifer Groeber
Summer 1998

I am for an art that wanders through nightmares, places of discomfort, frustration, loss.

I am for the art of dreams, visitations by the dead, flying through the sky, talking faceless ones.

I am for the art of pink curlers, the pulling off of a doll’s head, the odor of burning doll hair on a curling iron.

I am for the art of a weighty grandfather’s tool chest carrying mysteries and tales of pain and hardship, for the steelworker and the waitress, the housewife and the businessman, and their stumbling, tumbling progeny.

I am for the art of scary clowns, sleeping babies and the stale smell of Marlboro cigarettes.

I am for the art of the squeak of leg braces, of the rising of bile in one’s throat for an unnameable fear. I am for an art of a devotion and obsession that is two parts resentment and dread and three parts pulsing, pressing, throat-clenching love.

J.Groeber.ButchBraces.FV.A

Butch Braces
woodcut, by Jennifer Groeber
2012

I am for an art that witnesses moments of absurd despair and self-loathing. I am for an art that celebrates the gritty, fearsome strength of the obese woman living inside of small women.

 

I am for an art of too much sugar, too much color, too much pattern, too many treasures, too many thoughts, flowers, crabapples and children.

I am for an art that expands like a turnpike, repeats itself like stripmalls and is deceptively comforting like suburbia.

I am for an art of the attic, the garage sale, the folded photograph and stories handed down, once truth, now lore.

I am for an art of the clenched fist, the pinching of one’s own flesh, the scratching of skin to erase the fear, the bone and skin and muscle.

image

I Felt My Toenails Growing
graphite and latex on panel, by Jennifer Groeber
2002

 

I am for an art that counts the number of days left, years of marriage, pounds lost.

I am for an art that you can hold in your hand, that makes your nose run and mucus slide down the back of your throat, that you can stare at but never see, that embarrasses you or reminds.

I am for an art of diaries, billboards, caution signs, Charlie Brown, National Geographic magazines and hastily scribbled postcards.

I am for an art that envelops you, that makes you like a rat in a maze or a fish in a bowl or a baby in a crib or a fingernail on the page of the Sunday comics.

I am for an art that stumbles and is embarrassed, looking back to see that there was nothing to stumble on, pretending to never have stumbled.

I am for an art that lifts its skirt, that throws its skirt in the air, that gingerly peeks below its skirt, that forces you to look up its skirt, that didn’t realize its skirt was tucked into its waistband.

 

I am for art that is honest, that tells all. I am for art that conceals in rambling sentences of excuses and sidetracks.

I am for the art of a pregnant woman trying to sit on the ground, of a child dancing a whirling dervish, of a self-conscious teenager painted and pressed and primped.

I am for the art of sticky fingers in your hair, hands clutching your skirt, your pants, your shirt, of baby fingers curled under the edge of a bra strap as a hungry mouth sucks the milk of your marrow.

 

Life-Size  Self-portrait, graphite  May 2007

Life-Size
Self-portrait, graphite, by Jennifer Groeber
May 2007

I am for the art of chance, of decision, of a changed mind, of a coincidence.

I am for the art of duty and honor, fear and betrayal, of resentment and jealousy, of humor and serendipity.

I am for the art of spinning until you throw up, of a lover’s sweaty embrace, of realizing you were wrong, of flipping through the TV channels, of wanting to be liked, of hating the way these pants fit, of a child’s tantrum, of laughing until your stomach hurts, of a beeping alarm on a hospital machine in the master bedroom, of telling a hurtful truth, of ads and radio jingles that you hum all day, of black magic markers and shiny house paint breathed deeply.

I am for an art of more, more, more. At all cost.

 

 

(I write this as part of the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge, Manifesto, as a tribute to Claes Oldenburg’s chutzpah and as a reminder to myself that I am still for an art.)


Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

An American Doctor Experiences an NHS Emergency Room - August 14, 2014 by zeldalegacy

You know it’s going to be one of those days when one of the first tweets on vacation inquires about the closest hospital.

IMG_8896Victor, one of my 11-year-olds, had something in his eye courtesy of a big gust of wind outside of Westminster Abby. He was complaining enough to let me flip his eyelid and irrigate his eye on the square in front of Big Ben. (I’m sure several people thought I was torturing him).  Despite an extensive search and rinse mission no object or relief was to be found. I fretted about going to the hospital. It wasn’t the prospect of navigating a slightly foreign ER, but simply the prospect of the wait. While I am a staunch supporter of the British NHS in the back of my mind I envisioned a paralyzingly full emergency room and an agonizing 18 hour wait only to find he had nothing in his eye (the basic antechamber of Hell scenario). To ensure we really needed to go I gave Victor a choice between the emergency room and a toy store (Gunter’s 3rd rule), but he declined the toys so off we went to St. Thomas hospital, conveniently right over the bridge.

The hospital was on the aging side and a little drab, but clean and well-marked. I didn’t have to ask anyone for directions. We had to take a number to be registered, but waited less than 5 minutes. I gritted my teeth a bit in preparation for the we-are-not-from-the-UK conversation, but it wasn’t an issue at all. I offered my US insurance number for billing, but was told they didn’t need it. The clerk was, however, impressed with the fact that I flipped his eyelid and irrigated his eye before coming. “Well, you did all the right things,” and looking at his red and watering eye she smiled and said. “Looks like you are in the right place.”

Registration completed, we waited to be seen by the children’s part of the ER. A registrar (resident) did a quick triage within 5 minutes of our registering (also impressed with the eye irrigation) and then a nurse did his vitals and took a history. After that we waited less than 15 minutes for the registrar to do a formal assessment. He wanted ophthalmology to do the evaluation. I was a bit surprised the ER doc wouldn’t do it, but every facility is different and when they found out that Victor was born at 26 weeks and had retinopathy of prematurity they got a bit jumpy. Everyone does. I was ok with ophthalmology checking him out. What I have learned from years of medicine is don’t mess with the local order.

We were walked over to the urgent care clinic and were warned that the ophthalmology registrar was covering the whole hospitalIMG_8897 so it might be a while. This was our longest wait, about 20-30 minutes. She was very nice (also working on her PhD). Dr. Katie Williams (she gave me permission to use her name and her photo) diagnosed Victor with a corneal abrasion and easily snagged the offending speck of dirt wedged under his eyelid.  Once removed Victor exclaimed, “It’s gone!,” and within a minute or two the redness cleared up. She put in antibiotic ointment and gave us a tube to use at home.

“So where do I pay?” I asked Dr. Williams.

The answer: you don’t. Perhaps they might bill us, she just wasn’t sure.

I was about as dumfounded at her answer as she was at my asking.

I protested that it wasn’t fair. We had used services and I was very prepared to pay. I also have insurance that covers emergencies when out of network, so I was pretty sure I would be reimbursed at least some of the visit. However, we were just sent away. They do have my address so it is possible I will get a bill in the mail.

 

Victor and Dr. Williams

Victor and Dr. Williams

 

I am very curious what similar care would have cost in the US. The saddest commentary of all is that it is really impossible to tell as billing practices are so bizarre and opaque. My guess is it would be a minimum of 00 in America for cash (which is egregious). If I ever get a bill from the UK, I’ll post a follow-up. If anyone has had similar care in the US and received a bill please do post in the comments. You can remain anonymous if you like.

But what of this idea that national health care means DMV-purgatory worthy waits, Dementor-staffed death panels, Saxon-age medical equipment, and incompetent care? Well, I can tell you we had great care at St. Thomas and Dr. Williams was fantastic. The slit lamp wasn’t brand new, but it worked just fine. Sure it’s an N of one, but I’ve been to the ER more times than I can count with my other son and this was as smooth as the best care we’ve had in the United States.

We could have hit the ER at an opportune time, but to expand my N I’ve also asked many people about their medical care while I’ve been in the UK. Not one person wanted to abandon the NHS. I’ve heard of excellent care and some care that was lacking, but the bad care has nothing to do with the “national” part. Rather it was diagnostic errors or a full hospice unit, things that I hear about with the same incidence back in the world of commercial insurance. Take away the accents and I could easily have been listening to a group of Americans discussing their care. With one exception, no one in the UK is left wondering what the price will be or gets an egregious bill.

It makes you wonder exactly what frightens Americans about the NHS?


Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

A Thank You Note - August 13, 2014 by zeldalegacy

robin

Robin Williams died today.

It seems surreal to write that.

But since writing is the way I process the incomprehensible — I find myself writing.

Everyone is tweeting and facebooking and calling into radio shows about what a great talent Robin was.

Yeah. He was. But that wasn’t what I adored about him. It was the fact that he was an incredibly kind human being.

When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy. My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a “non-traditional” student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.

It’s devastating, at 14, to have your formal education terminated. I felt like a freak and a reject. When I arrived at work the next day, Robin noticed that I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I explained what had happened, and the next day, he handed me a letter that he wrote to my school. He explained that I was just trying to continue my education while pursuing my career. He wrote embarrassingly kind things about my character and my work, and requested that they reconsider and allow me to return to my classes.

When I told him I still didn’t think they would take me back, he said, “It’s kinda like Amnesty International. That school just needs to know that people know the truth.”

The school framed the letter. They hung it in the principal’s office. But they didn’t invite me to return to school.

But here’s what matters from that story. Robin stood up for me. He was in my corner. I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.

I know I said thank you at the time and I’m sure I wrote one of those stiff thank you notes that 14-year-olds write with slanting lines and spelling mistakes. But that all seems so insufficient now.

Even though I had not spoken with Robin in a very long time, I always assumed there would be some future opportunity to tell him that his letter changed my life. It taught me that you stand up for the things that matter. And even if your attempts fail, you tried. You told the truth. You took care of your friends. You fought back.

None of us really know what fights Robin was battling, but I know his struggles were not uncommon. It’s estimated that 16 million people in the US have struggled with depression – and I include myself in that statistic. It’s real and it’s not shameful and there is help available.

You can bring it to the light, you can tell the truth, you can go to a meeting, you can reach out to a friend.

None of us are alone.

And if you have someone in your life that you are grateful for — someone to whom you want to write another heartfelt, slanted, misspelled thank you note – do it. Tell them they made you feel loved and supported. That they made you feel like you belonged somewhere and that you were not a freak.

Tell them all of that.

Tell them today.

 

—————–

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

—————–

(ETA: If you are interested in reading the letter, you can see it here.)

 


Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

What Does Being “Cis” Mean For A Woman? - August 12, 2014 by zeldalegacy

Today I got a bit cross. I do that occasionally. I have been watching the non-binary versus feminism wars getting increasingly heated and thinking, one day, I’ll write a considered post on this. It is an important issue that deserves my time and effort – but it is such an important issue that it deserves […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks

\”No Means No\” — What Don\’t You Understand? - August 10, 2014 by zeldalegacy

Margot Singer | The Normal School | 2012 | 23 minutes (5,683 words)

The Normal SchoolThanks to Margot Singer and The Normal School for sharing this story with the Longreads community.
Subscribe to The Normal School

* * *

 

Still life with man and gun

Three girls are smoking on the back porch of their high school dorm. It’s near midnight on a Saturday in early autumn, the leaves not yet fallen, the darkness thick. A man steps out of the woods. He is wearing a black ski mask, a hooded jacket, leather gloves. He has a gun. He tells the girls to follow him, that if they make a noise or run he’ll shoot. He makes them lie face down on the ground. He rapes first one and then the others. He walks away.

It is September, 1978. Two of the girls are my classmates; the third is a friend of theirs, visiting for the weekend. As a day student, I hear the news on Monday morning. I am fifteen and, like most of us—good girls at an all-girls boarding school—my experience of sex so far consists of sweaty slow dances and a few nights of awkward groping and beery kisses with boys I never see again. At the special all-school meeting convened that morning, the headmistress informs us of the security guard that has been hired, the safety lights that soon will be installed. Another woman, a cop or counselor, steps up to the microphone. “Rape is a crime of violence, not sex,” she says. She repeats it, like a mantra, to make sure we understand.

I try to picture the girls out there in that ravine behind the dorm, dead leaves and pine needles and dirt cold against their skin. The porch light shining dimly through the trees. The man, the mask and gloves and gun. But there the tableau freezes. I simply can’t imagine it: the logistics of it, the lying there, the terrible anticipation, and then. Wasn’t there something they could have done, I can’t help thinking, three-on-one like that?

Still, the incident does not make me fearful. I’m not afraid to be home alone in my parents’ house, just a few miles down the road. I’m not afraid to walk home from my music lessons along the wooded path that winds around the pond behind my house or to take the T into Boston by myself. I don’t believe that what happened to those girls could happen to me. More precisely, it doesn’t even occur to me that it could. I can’t make any of it touch me: the powerlessness, the fear, the shame.

A few weeks after the rapes, a man is arrested, a tennis pro from a respected local family. Everyone is shocked, relieved. The girls stay in school. They get over it, or so we all believe.

The word rape comes from

The word “rape” comes from the Latin verb rapere: to seize, to take by force, to carry off. Rape, in its original sense, was a property crime, a form of theft. The early Romans famously seized and carried off the Sabine women, being short on wives. Poussin depicts the Sabine women flung over the Romans’ shoulders, abandoned infants wailing on the ground, fathers wrestling the soldiers to get their daughters back. But in the center of the canvas, in the midst of all the chaos, a slender, blue-gowned woman can be seen strolling off arm-in-arm with her assailant, her head tilted amorously toward his. The Roman historian Livy records that the Sabine women were advised to “cool their anger and give their hearts to the men who had already taken their bodies.” A happy ending for an imperial foundation-myth.

Other words come from the same Latin root as “rape”: raptureravagerapt, ravenousrapaciousravishing. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is filled with stories of ravishing nymphs seized and carried off by rapacious gods: Io, Daphne, Callisto, Europa, Andromeda, Leda, Persephone. (There are more than fifty sexual attacks in Ovid, by one scholar’s count.) Correggio paints Io in an erotic swoon, her head tipped back, her lips parted, her body one long, sensuous curve of flesh. You might be forgiven for forgetting that Jupiter has just chased her into the woods, whereupon, in Ovid’s words, “he hid the wide earth in a covering of fog, caught the fleeing girl, and raped her.” Titian pictures Europa in a similar state of rapture, sprawled blowsily across the back of a muscular white bull (Jupiter), her fleshy thighs parted, her translucent gown in disarray, a milky breast exposed. Inspired by Titian, Rubens depicts the abduction of the daughters of Leucippus by the twins Castor and Pollux as a Baroque spiral of rearing horses, gleaming armor, flowing golden hair, creamy female skin. The daughters, languidly reaching out for help, do not look exactly happy, but neither do they seem especially distressed.[ad]

I read Ovid and study Roman history in high school. For a fine arts course in college, I go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and study Titian’s Rape of Europa and Botticelli’s Tragedy of Lucretia. I write essays on the aesthetic qualities and cultural contexts of the art. But as far as I can remember, I never consider the fact that these scenes are all depicted from the perspective of a man. It doesn’t occur to me to ask what it means to glorify sexual violence, to conflate rapture and ravishment and rape.

Cossacks

My mother stands before the bathroom mirror, putting on lipstick, brushing her hair. I am watching her get ready to go out, as I have done since I was a little girl—my beautiful mother, with her slender wrists and ankles and thick dark hair. She sprays on her perfume, Hermès’s “Calèche,” its blend of rose and iris, oak moss, and woods, even now the essence of my mother, a luxuriant, sexy smell. My father brings her gifts of perfume when he travels abroad for work.

My mother has hazel eyes, high cheekbones. She brushes rouge onto her cheeks, tilting her face before the mirror. They are a good-looking couple, my parents, romantic, although often enough, they fight. My father mutters curses under his breath when he is angry, hissed first syllables hinting at awful names: “fu—– cu–,” “stu— sh–.” He makes all the money and has all the power, my mother complains. She urges me to pursue a career, to be independent, not to marry young the way she did.

My mother inherited her high cheekbones from her mother, she tells me, whose parents emigrated from Czarist Russia at the turn of the century, fleeing the pogroms. My image of pogroms comes from Fiddler on the Roof’s horseback-riding, vodka-swilling Cossacks in their leather boots and belted tunics. Who squat and kick their heels out as they dance, their arms folded across their chests. Who rip their spears through Motel and Tzeitel’s down pillows and wedding quilts.

My mother takes a tissue and blots her lips, leaving a coral lip-print kiss. “The Cossacks had high cheekbones,” she says. “There must have been some Cossack blood back there, somewhere.”

Somehow I understand that she is talking about rape. About the vestiges of that history of violence, helixed like a secret in the DNA of every cell inside her body, and in mine.

Lois Lane

The summer after my first year in college, I get a job working as a reporter for a suburban Massachusetts newspaper, The Middlesex News. I am assigned to the Waltham bureau, a dingy storefront office on Moody Street. The editors and reporters sit at metal desks along one side of the room. The opposite side belongs to circulation, and every morning the delivery people (not boys on bikes, but shuffling adults in beat-up cars) file in to deposit their collections, interrupting the buzz and clack of our electric typewriters with the jangle of the coin-sorting machine. I write features on a diner-turned-Chinese restaurant, on neighborhood objections over a cut-down tree, on a museum of industry, on a summer camp for gifted kids. After a few weeks, I am promoted to editorial assistant and assigned the police and court beats.[ad]

I have never had a real job before. In the mornings, I sleep too late and arrive at the police station with my hair dripping down the back of my skimpy tee shirt or the summer dress my mother probably should have advised me not to wear to work. The cops hoot when I approach to read the blotter. When they learn my name is Margot, they call me Lois Lane.

“Hey, Lois! Howya doin’?” they shout when I walk in, their Boston accents thick. “Where’s Clark?”

On Monday mornings, they say, “Hey, Lois, you get married yet?”

I am embarrassed and a little offended but mostly flattered by the teasing. I squirm as I copy into my reporter’s notebook the previous days’ offenses: vandalized mailboxes, minor drug busts, stolen bikes, toilet-papered trees. Then in August there’s a rape. The victim, a single woman in her twenties, is awakened at five a.m. by an intruder (“a stocky, powerful man with an Italian accent,” I improbably report) who climbs in through her ground floor bedroom window with a white sack over his head. He holds a knife to her throat and threatens to kill her if she makes a sound or tries to run for help. It’s an August heat wave: oppressive, muggy, East Coast heat. Fans whir in the windows of the station house. Sweat trickles down my chest as I stand in the police chief’s office, pen in hand, the cover of my notebook flipped back.

Deputy Chief Rooney leans back in his desk chair and sighs. He is a heavy man, his collar tight around his ruddy neck. He says, “It’s hot. People get crazy, you know, when it’s hot.”

I know only enough to roll my eyes, afterward, when I tell people what he said. I do not know that this was the third rape in less than three weeks in Waltham. That the only female rape counselor on the Waltham force was laid off in the last round of budget cuts. That an average of 1.5 women are sexually assaulted in Boston every day. At seventeen, I consider myself a feminist, but I have not read Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 book, Against Our Will. I have not heard of the slogan “Take Back the Night.”

I am Lois Lane. “Wednesday I had a big story—rape!” I write in my journal at the end of the week. “My story made the front page on Thursday. It was all very exciting. Went out to dinner with Mom and Dad.”

Denial

Not long ago I read a memoir, Denial, written by a terrorism expert named Jessica Stern. Stern was fifteen in 1973 when she was raped, along with her fourteen-year-old sister, at gunpoint in her Concord, Massachusetts, home. In 2006, at Stern’s request, the Concord police reopened the case files and connected her assault to forty-four other similar rapes in the Boston area. Eighteen of the rapes occurred within an eight-block radius in Harvard Square; victims included the thirteen-year-old daughter of Harvard Law School’s dean. Other rapes occurred at nearby boarding schools. Two girls were raped in their dorm at Concord Academy. Two girls were raped at a private school in Natick. Two girls were raped at my high school, Dana Hall.

Whoa, I think. I know this story. That guy— the tennis pro?—raped forty-something other girls as well? But the details do not add up. I remember three girls being raped, not two. Moreover, the man who police say assaulted Stern and her sister was arrested in 1973 and spent the next eighteen years in jail. In 1973, I was ten, not in high school. Have I misremembered what happened? Or did the police make a mistake? Finally, searching the Boston Globe archives, I find an article detailing the rapes that I remember, dated November, 1978. It opens with this lead:

Lt. Victor Maccini has been a Wellesley policeman for 32 years. His memory faltered the other day when he was asked when his department had conducted its last intensive rape investigation. He gazed out of his office window and shook his head slowly before answering. “Gee . . . a rape case? I don’t remember,” he said. “We’ve had them, though, but they’ve always been on the outskirts, like Needham or Newton.”

But buried a dozen paragraphs down, the same article states:

Police concede, however, that the case is almost identical to a case in 1971 in which two Dana Hall students reported that they were raped at gunpoint by a masked gunman. That case was never solved.

It takes a minute before I comprehend that we are talking about two different incidents, both at my high school, just seven years apart. Until now, I’d never heard of the 1971 rapes. I can’t find a single mention of them in the press. Thirty-three years later, I am stunned. So many girls, raped, not “on the outskirts,” not in the crazy heat of August, but in their homes and dorms, in the tony Boston suburbs where I grew up. I was right there, but I had no idea.

In an op-ed piece published in the Boston Globe in 2010, Amy Vorenberg reveals that she is the girl Stern refers to in her book as “Lucy,” the daughter of the Harvard Law School dean, raped in 1971 by a masked gunman in an upstairs bathroom of her mother’s house while her family and friends talked and laughed downstairs. The police issued no warning. The next night, the same man raped two more girls just down the street. No one said a thing. “I have been silent long enough,” Vorenberg writes. “Although 40 years have passed, respected institutions still suppress information about sexual assault, and rape remains the most underreported of violent crimes.”

The tennis pro, as it turns out, was not the rapist. He was acquitted after a short trial at the end of November, 1978. The case was never solved.

Red running shorts

It is the end of exam period of my senior year in college. I am finishing a thirty-five-page paper, and I have stretched it right to the end. I sit at my desk, chewing on my pencil, riffling through my stacks of notes, the scribbled pages of my draft. The paper is due at five p.m., and it is already mid-afternoon, and I have not yet finished writing, have not yet begun to type.

I phone my professor to ask for an extension. Just until the morning, I plead. Just for time to type. I expect him to be sympathetic. I’m a senior, a good student, a hard worker. I’ve already turned in my honors thesis, passed my orals, won a prestigious scholarship to graduate school. There is a faint buzzing on the line. I wait.

He says, “If that paper is not at my house by nine o’clock tomorrow morning, I’m giving you an F.”

Right.

I pull an all-nighter finishing the paper. In the morning, I walk across Harvard Square to the address the professor has given me. It’s a long walk; I don’t have a car. I haven’t showered or changed my clothes. My eyes are gritty, my hair greasy. People are strolling along the sidewalks, new leaves fluttering on the trees, but in my fatigue, nothing feels quite real. I climb the steps and ring the bell.[ad]

He comes to the door wearing bright red running shorts and nothing else. He is bare-chested, barelegged, barefoot, practically naked, except for those red shorts. He is square-jawed and blond-bearded and runner-thin. He motions for me to come in.

I step into the living room. He picks up a telephone that is lying on the table off the hook and, cradling the receiver between his shoulder and his cheek, continues whatever conversation he was having before my arrival. He flips rapidly through the pages of my paper, the one I’ve worked so hard on, the one I stayed up all night to type. He is skimming, making a show of disinterest, I think. He flips the pages, murmuring into the phone. I perch on the edge of the couch and wait. A clock ticks in the kitchen, which I can see through an open door. There is no one else in the house, as near as I can tell. After a little while, he hangs up the phone and fixes me with a look.

“I would have given you an A,” he says, “but the paper is late. So I’m giving you a B instead.” He comes around the table to me. My heart is beating hard. I’d like to protest—I wrote a thirty-five-page paper, after all, and it’s good!—but I do not, cannot, speak.

He writes something on a card, slides it into an envelope. He holds it out to me. “I want you to go over to University Hall now,” he says, “and turn in my grades.”

Grades are not due for several days, I am quite sure. He has no right to make me run his errands for him. But he is giving me an order, not an option. He stands there in his red running shorts, bare-chested, practically naked, holding out that envelope. It’s clear that he would have no compunction about ripping it open and changing the B to an F if I refuse. It’s clear he could do anything he wants.

He could, for example, push my head down to those red running shorts and make me suck his dick.

He does not do it, but he could.

I take the envelope and walk back across the square and turn it in.

Oleanna

Anita Hill is on the radio, promoting her new book. It has been twenty years since the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings in which Hill accused Judge Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. People are calling in to thank her: women and men who admire her bravery, mothers whose daughters have grown up taking it for granted that it’s not okay to tell lewd jokes in the workplace, to touch a woman without asking, to hold out rewards in exchange for sex. I’m thinking of my teenage daughter, what she will encounter soon at school or work. How much has changed?

David Mamet’s play, Oleanna—which I saw at its Harvard Square premiere in 1992, just seven months after the Thomas hearings— dramatizes a power struggle between a college student, Carol, and a young professor, John. Carol is on the verge of failing and desperate to pass John’s course. John patronizes Carol’s lack of understanding, interrupts their conversation to talk to his wife on the phone, then tells Carol that if she comes to his office for private tutorials, he’ll give her an “A.”

In a gesture that might or might not be paternal, John reaches out to touch her shoulder. Carol files a sexual harassment complaint. John’s tenure bid is put on hold. When John tries to talk Carol into dropping the charges, he grows angry and grabs her arm, and she raises the charges to attempted rape. In the play’s final scene, John loses control and beats Carol with a chair. “Oh, my God,” he says, realizing what he has done. From where she cowers on the floor, Carol looks up at him and says slowly, “Yes, that’s right.”

Mamet complicates the narrative of sexual harassment, giving Carol the power to destroy John, making John both a monster and a dupe. Watching the play, I find that I am shocked that Carol has such power. It has not dawned on me until now that in my own run-in with my red-running-shorts-clad professor, six years earlier, I had power, too. (Like John, my professor did not have tenure. All I would have had to do was file a complaint!) Yet I can’t help feeling that John, for all his smugness and paternalistic hypocrisy—or, for that matter, my professor— does not deserve to be destroyed. Does power necessarily corrupt? Or are we more complicit in protecting privilege than we’d like to think?

Campus watch

I am now a college professor, the one with power (such as it is) over deadlines, extensions, grades. Since the eighties, of course, things have changed. I keep my office door open during student conferences, watch my gestures and my language, encourage students to engage with questions of power, privilege, race, gender, class. College is no longer a boys’ club. These days, in the classroom, the women outperform the men. They raise their hands and voice opinions. They are diligent, articulate, and bright.

At the college where I teach, as elsewhere, kids drink, hook up. Here, as elsewhere, girls get drunk at parties, black out, and wake up to discover they’ve been raped. Girls are assaulted walking across campus and in their dorms, by strangers and by friends. A study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one in five female students will be raped during their college years. But over eighty percent of victims do not report the crime.

A former student of mine is one of the few who does speak up. Almost nothing about her case is clear. She says she did shots before going to a party and can’t remember anything that happened after that. The boy in question says she came on to him aggressively at a party and clearly wanted sex. She says she only discovered she’d gone back to his room when she heard the gossip the next day. People who were at the party confirm they saw her grinding with him on the dance floor. After a disciplinary hearing, the boy is suspended for the year. She receives vicious messages, calling her a slut, accusing her of ruining his life.

I don’t know what to think. My mother says, “Why should the boy take all the blame? In my day, as a girl, you knew you had to take responsibility for yourself.” My husband says, “It’s not that complicated. You just don’t mess around with a girl who’s drunk.”

When we meet for coffee, my student says her parents are planning to appeal the verdict; his parents have filed suit. She’s looking into transferring to a different college, although so far this semester, her grades are not so great. “It’s been pretty rough,” she says. She shakes back her long hair and fiddles with her coffee cup. “You are not a victim,” I want to tell her, but we both know it is too late. You become a victim once you call it rape.

The morning after

In the late 1980s, after graduate school, I go to work for a consulting firm in New York. It’s the kind of job that, not even a generation ago, was the sole domain of men. But the group of associates I am hired with is nearly forty percent women, and we’re sure the senior ranks—scarcely four percent women—will catch up soon enough. We’re well educated, well paid, and young enough to believe that you can have a high-powered job like this and still get married and have kids. I want it all and I want it now, reads a button I’ve tacked up on my bulletin board.

Office romance is officially against the rules but common nonetheless. At an off-site meeting in Arizona during a business trip, one of the partners—I’ll call him Rick—approaches me after dinner on the final night. He invites me to skip the party and go out for a drink with him instead. He is a few years older than me and more senior in the firm, but I don’t work with him directly, and he’s not my boss. He is single and athletic and not bad looking and has a reputation for being really smart. I say sure.

The bellman calls us a taxi. As soon as we leave the irrigated grounds of our hotel, the Sonoran Desert opens up, a bleak expanse of sand and scrub grass cooling beneath the evening sun. The cab driver takes us to a bar on the outskirts of Scottsdale, a converted bunkhouse with a row of dusty Harleys parked out front. We settle at a picnic table, and Rick fetches himself a nonalcoholic beer and me an Amstel Light. He is fun to talk with, and I like his blue eyes and his smile. The possibility, even the likelihood, of sex flares between us like the distant heat lightning forking over the ridge of the McDowells.[ad]

I go back with Rick to his hotel room of my own free will. I am not drunk. I let him take off my clothes and lead me to the bed, filled with the strange attraction of a stranger’s body touching mine. We enter such situations with certain expectations. We expect intelligent people to behave intelligently, colleagues to behave collegially, people with whom we have a lot in common to think the way we think. So when I ask if he has a condom, I don’t expect him to laugh and say, “Oh, I don’t do condoms.” I don’t expect that he won’t stop. We are two bodies in motion, and momentum exerts its force. My mind whirls, but no words come out.

Very quickly, it is over. He sighs and rolls away. I phone my doctor the next day and ask for the morning-after pill. I hear only what I take for disapproval in her voice as she gives me instructions, her tone clinical and clipped. I don’t remember if she asks me about what happened. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t use the word consent. Anyway, I consented, didn’t I? I could have said no, could have tried to stopped him, but I didn’t.
 I fill the prescription, swallow the pills, and for the next twenty-four hours, I throw up. I don’t talk to Rick. I tell my friends I must have caught a stomach bug. The wretchedness of my secret feels like the punishment I deserve.

What is it about no means no

Jury duty, Salt Lake City, 2004. At the courthouse, people wait in rows of plastic chairs, mumbling into cell phones, as a film plays overhead about the civic importance and personal rewards of jury service. Finally, a few of us are called up to the courtroom for the voir dire. We stand in turn and answer questions printed on a laminated sheet. One of the questions asks what kinds of things we read. A number of people say “only religious material.” I’m an East Coast liberal, working toward an English Ph.D.; I tell them: The New Yorker, literary fiction, Derrida. I’m thinking that I’ll be dismissed.

After the questioning, the judge informs us that the criminal trial we’re being selected for is a rape case. The defendant, who is married to the victim, is being tried on five counts of rape. The judge asks if anyone feels they cannot be objective in this kind of case. She asks if anyone has a problem with the concept that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Several people raise their hands and are excused. I’m in.

Spousal rape has been against the law in Utah, as in most states, since 1991, but the concept is still not so easy to digest. The wife and husband in this case are young and poor and have two small kids. She works in a gas station convenience store. He is out of work. We’re told they fight over child care and who gets to use the car. We watch a video of him being interrogated by a detective who appears to be coercing him to confess. We watch as the wife takes the stand and starts to cry, her waist-length brown hair hanging in her face, as she says she loves her husband, has always loved him, loves him still.

We understand that the law says you don’t have to kick and scream or struggle for an unwanted sexual act to be considered rape. That you don’t have to be physically threatened or forcibly pinned down. That you have to be capable of consent, and that you can withdraw that consent at any point. That rape is not the victim’s fault. We understand all this and yet. We struggle, listening to the testimony, with the fact that this man did not use force, that his wife did not fight back. We sit around the table in the jury room and argue for hours, conflicted and confused:

“What bothers me is that she didn’t do anything to stop him.”

“Come on, what could she have done? She said she knew she couldn’t stop him no matter what she did.”

“She told him, ‘Stop, you’ll wake the kids.’”

“But was she like, ‘Oh, we really should stop, honey,’ or like, ‘You need to stop right this minute?’ How can you tell?”

“Look, it’s not as if he hurt her. Bad sex isn’t a crime.”

“It doesn’t make any difference whether or not he hurt her. She didn’t want to do it. That’s her right.”

“Haven’t we all done things we didn’t want to do? That’s called life.”

“She got up there on the stand and said she loves him.”

In the end, we can’t agree to call it rape. They’re both young and foolish, we rationalize. None of us wants to be responsible for ruining a young man’s life.

After we deliver our not-guilty verdict, the prosecutor comes storming back. She is furious, her red hair ablaze.

She says, “What is it about ‘no means no’ that you all don’t understand?”

Antipodes

Traveling in New Zealand, I strike up a conversation with an American in a Queenstown café. He’s thirty-something, my age as well, a high school science teacher who, like me, has taken a leave of absence from work. His accent is appealingly familiar. He seems like any number of the fellow travelers I’ve met while on the road alone: friendly, companionable, polite. After we finish eating, he invites me to walk back with him to his hostel to watch a movie on the common room TV. It’s a pleasant, early autumn evening—March in the antipodes—and I have nothing else to do, so I agree. We meander across town, chatting about Wanaka and the Milford Sound, our hikes along the Franz Josef Glacier, the sea-eroded rocks at Hokitika, the seals basking on the beach at Jackson Bay.

At the hostel, the common room is deserted and nothing good is playing on TV. I look around for the proprietor of the hostel, other guests, but there’s no one else in sight. The fluorescent lights buzz overhead. Sitting beside him on the couch as he clicks through the channels, I feel the energy between us shift. After a bit, he puts his arm around me and pulls me to him. He tries to kiss me, but I shake my head, pull back. “I’m sorry,” I say, feeling like a jerk. I didn’t mean to lead him on. It really didn’t occur to me this is what he had in mind.

He stiffens, but instead of backing off, he presses closer, fumbling with the zipper of his pants with one hand, pushing my head down with the other, angling his pelvis toward my face. He does not hurt me, but there is nothing but aggression in his actions. For a moment, I consider giving in. It’s just a blow job, after all. But instead I pull free, stand up. His anger radiates toward me, hard and petulant, like a child’s, only he is no child.

“I’d better go,” I say.

He says, “You fucking bitch.”

I leave him sitting on the couch. Outside in the darkness, fear catches me by the throat. It is quite a long distance back to where I’m staying, and I’m not sure I know the way. I walk as quickly as I can without running, scanning the dark streets for a taxi, for attackers, my room keys threaded through my fingers, adrenaline vibrating through my limbs. I am less angry with him than with myself.

I thought I knew how to take care of myself, but I fucked up.

In my journal, I write only: “Met F. at dinner. Took a walk back to his hostel.” I edit out the details but not the shame, which lingers, even after all these years.

Rape is rape

Rape happens behind closed doors, between the sheets, in locker rooms, in prisons, in churches, in refugee camps, in dorms, in back alleys, in three-thousand-dollar per night luxury hotel suites. It happens between the powerful and the weak, between men and women, men and boys, husbands and wives, adults and children, strangers and lovers, between ordinary people like you and me. You might say you’re just having a little fun, horsing around, hooking up. Sometimes there’s a knife or gun. Sometimes there’s a kiss. It isn’t so easy to tell lie from truth, intention from mistake.

After a Toronto cop tells a group of college women that they shouldn’t dress provocatively if they don’t want to get raped, women around the world take to the streets dressed in bras and camisoles and fishnet tights, the word SLUT scrawled in Sharpie across their bare arms and backs. Bloggers rail against rape culture. Activists wage campaigns for better information and awareness, trumpeting the slogan “rape is rape.” All this talk gives me a bit of hope. I’d like to think my children will grow up to a world where girls are not attacked at gunpoint in their homes or dorms or taken advantage of when drunk, where threats or accusations of rape are not used to gain political advantage, where women can express their sexuality without being shamed as sluts, where men and women understand that no means no and yes means yes. But I’m not so sure.

Maybe anatomy is destiny; maybe Freud was right. The language of desire is the language of violence, after all. Sexy women are knockouts, bombshells, stunning, dressed to kill, femmes fatales. Love is an abduction: your heart is stolen. You’re smitten, hooked, swept off your feet. Cupid’s weapon is an arrow. Sex and violence, violence and sex, twine together in a knot that cannot be undone.

* * *

Originally published in The Normal School, fall 2012. Subscribe to the magazine.

Photo: Kjell Reigstad


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