Thank You, Dad

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, who raised seven of us in a house with one bathroom, worked six days a week, and didn’t seem to think it was any big deal. That’s what men do.

Happy Father’s Day to my husband, who walked the baby at 3am, who pays the bills, who critiques my creative writing, and doesn’t act like it’s any big deal. That’s what men do.

Happy Father’s Day to my father-in-law, who raised nine children in a house with one bathroom, worked in a factory so his kids could go to college, never brags about it. That’s what men do.

Happy Father’s Day to all you good men out there. You hold up your half of the sky.

Even Better Than Karate

Not to disparage the martial arts, and potentially offend some black belts, but this innovative approach to rape prevention offers ten simple behavior changes that can completely eliminate the risk of rape. Most people are already following this program, which seems completely natural once you get used to it. What to do about the others is the problem…

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

The other ten tips are here, courtesy of Salon’s Broadsheet.

Interestingly, the comments section on Broadsheet is flaming with angry men who mistake this satire for actual prevention tips or else feel it puts too much responsibility on men. The list isn’t gendered, which makes sense because women can be predators too.

When I first started studying self-defense, there were countless books that told you to ‘never do this’ and ‘always do that’. This was very blaming, and if I’d followed all the advice I would have become a recluse. There was also a lot of ‘should have done, shouldn’t have done’ even from victims themselves. One of my fellow karate students, a man, was beaten up by a gang in an act of random violence. ‘I shouldn’t have walked by them.’ he said.

If we were omniscient we would certainly avoid all dangers, but we are only human and have to live in this imperfect world. As the self-defense movement matured, and more books by women became available, there was recognition that every day we have to choose what risks to take.

I would no more say that it’s fine to live as if there was no such thing as sexual assault than I would say that you should leave your laptop on the table at Starbucks while you go out for a smoke. On the other hand, it’s the thief’s fault if they steal it.

It doesn’t make sense to talk about crime prevention if you take the criminal out of the equation. This reversal of the advice women have been hearing for years is a mind opener, and puts the responsibility where it belongs.

Today is International Women’s Day

From Laura Cherry, member of the Board of Trustees for the Women’s Center in Cambridge, MA:

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day, a day for celebrating the achievements of women worldwide, contemplating the condition of women now, and mapping a path to make the world a better place for the women of tomorrow. (For more information about International Women’s Day, see It’s fascinating!)

In acknowledgement of this day and Women’s History Month, I’d like to remind you about the ongoing efforts of the Women’s Center. Founded in Cambridge, MA, in 1971 after a non-violent building takeover, the Center has its roots in political activism. It is an organization of women helping women, with occasional but welcome assistance from our male allies. The Center helps women heal from child sexual abuse, domestic violence and other forms of abuse and discrimination; obtain resources and support; and challenge oppression. Whether through our helpline, support groups, activist groups, referral resources, or workshops, we confront and address women’s oppression in all its forms.

Tonight, from 6:20 to 6:40 pm, the Women’s Center is holding a candlelight vigil to commemorate International Women’s Day and the progress women have made and need to make. In a silent gathering, we will focus our communal energy on advancing peace and fairness throughout the world. If you are not able to attend, we invite you to take a moment to do the same, wherever you are.

Like many other feminist organizations and other nonprofits, the Women’s Center is struggling to make ends meet. Indeed, there have been points over the last two years when we thought the Center would have to close its doors. In each case, the community has rallied to keep the Center going, and the community and the Board are determined to keep fighting for this venerable and invaluable organization. We are embarking on a long-range plan to ensure the Center’s survival, while asking you, women and supporters of women, to help us keep going in the meantime.

So many women, in the Boston area and from across Massachusetts, get help from the Center each week — mothers looking for a child-friendly place to spend time; battered women seeking emotional support or a shelter referral; homeless women; women of all income levels who need information, company, computer access, or just a quiet place to make a cup of tea. We cannot let this 35-year-old resource be lost.

In honor of all the women in your life, please consider a gift to the Women’s Center to help us keep helping the women who find their way to us. A generous gift will do more than you know. To give, you can send a check to The Women’s Center, 46 Pleasant St, Cambridge MA 02139, or simply go to our donation page and click Donate Now.

In addition, for a gift of over $125, we are delighted to offer a beautiful, full-color matted art poster from activist Betsy Warrior’s original International Women Activist Series. Each of these seven prints is a tribute to an activist who has brought lasting changes to her community and the world — including Susan B. Anthony, Rigoberta Menchu, and Dr. Wangari Maathai, among others. To choose a poster, see

To learn more about the Women’s Center, our programs, and volunteer opportunities, check out And if you have any questions at all about the Center, please send an email to Finally, I hope you’ll pass the word along to anyone you know who cares about women, about the activism that has brought us so far, and about the work that’s left to do.

In solidarity and hope,
Laura Cherry
Women’s Center Board of Trustees

“My Rapist” needs to be outed!

Back in the day we feminists had a slogan, “The personal is political.” We worked for years to expose rape as a violent crime that needs to be prosecuted in the legal system. We worked to change the system so that victims didn’t have to live in shame and isolation. The work isn’t done, and lately I feel like we’re going backwards.

The New York Times Magazine runs a weekly personal essay in a feature called “Lives”. October 29 was “My Rapist” by Maureen Gibbon. I delayed reading it, knowing it would throw me into a reverie involving creative uses for chainsaws and flamethrowers. But I’m older and less excitable now. Still it’s painful reading. In 1980 Ms. Gibbon was sixteen, working as a waitress, when she accepted a date with a customer. He drove her to a deserted area and violently raped her. She didn’t feel she could tell her parents, she got no real help when she spoke to her teacher and guidance counselor. She kept it all inside, afraid to go out, leaving her home town, never coming back for long. She saw counselors and tarot card readers and talked with friends, trying to process this awful crime, but the essential process– truth, justice and reparation, has yet to happen. All of her feelings about the crime came back to her recently, when she saw his picture in her local newspaper, with an announcement of his upcoming marriage. His fiance has a small child, this man will become a step-father.

When a woman is a victim of sexual assault, there are some things she doesn’t need to hear. Questions like– “Why did you?” or “Why didn’t you…” She doesn’t need to hear what she should do. She doesn’t need to hear what you would have done. She doesn’t need to be told whether, when or how to forgive, or not forgive. She doesn’t need to be told to keep it quiet, or judged for not reporting. Out of respect for Ms. Gibbon’s right to deal with this as she needs to, her right as a survivor who will have to bear the consequences of any action she takes or doesn’t take, I read her essay with gratitude. She spoke out honestly about how she was affected by this crime as a teenager and as an adult. It’s not she who makes me despair, it’s the reader’s response.

This Sunday the letters section had three letters responding to “My Rapist.” One letter-writer says she mailed the essay to her daughter as a warning about the dangers out there. Another talks about what “her rapist” taught her. A third almost seems to blame Gibbon for not warning the fiance of the rapist that she may be putting her child in danger. I so much wanted to hear a word of support for doing something to get justice. It’s not revenge, it’s a just legal penalty for a violent destructive crime. It is not right that a victim has to serve a life sentence while a criminal goes free.

While I again want to say that Maureen Gibbon did a service by writing honestly about the impact of rape on her life, I am frustrated that all these therapists and spiritual people and friends were not able to help her get this man put in jail. Therapy-speak can anesthesize the pain, but that’s not solving the problem. Spiritualizing a crime, or speculating about Karma, or getting cosmic about what you’ve learned is not dealing with the real material situation. The whole feeling I get from the title, “My Rapist” is confusion, a sense of violated boundaries in the writer’s own psyche. We usually want to claim as our own someone we love. But Gibbon is clear and sane about how she feels about this man. She writes, “It’s always incredible to me when I hear people talk about how forgiveness enables a person to move on. Over the years I’ve actually felt the memory of my rape dulling, and for that I am grateful. But forgive? Please.”

She’s wise enough not to blame her teenage self. A lot of women would. Anyone who’s been the victim of a personal crime needs to get their sense of power back, and one way to feel less out of control is to take the blame. If it was all your fault, then you can prevent it from happening again. For some women this is less frightening than the possibility that it could happen again no matter what they do. There are better ways to get your sense of control back, but if you are isolated in a woman-blaming culture then there’s no one to throw you a lifeline. I can’t blame Maureen Gibbon for not reporting . She would have needed psychological, legal and social support and it wasn’t there for her. As a young woman about to leave for college she had a great deal to lose, and I can understand why she would take the opportunity to get far away from the man who terrorized her and all the pain associated with the memory. I can’t say that wasn’t the right decision for her personally at the time, but her community failed her. I say community, not family. One of the saddest lines in the essay is this, “…I was ironing a shirt when my mother asked me what was wrong, because it was apparent something was wrong — but even then I didn’t say anything.” This beautifully understated line hints at the helplessness and anguish of her parents, and my heart goes out to them.

I feel that Maureen Gibbon is still trying to resolve the unfinished business of bringing her attacker to justice. I can think of two examples of victims speaking out to the benefit of everyone, perpetrators included.

A friend told me this story when we were in a women’s spirituality group together. A Buddhist monk she had trusted as a counselor during a difficult time played on her emotional vulnerability to seduce her into sex. She felt horrible, she felt that her trust was violated. She tried various spiritual ways of dealing with the pain but it wouldn’t resolve. Finally she decided to confront the man. She prayed to Kali, the goddess of destruction, to keep her anger alive. Then she told him what he had done to her. When she told him how angry she was, how betrayed she felt, he just kept saying, “thank you.” He acknowledged that he had wronged her and that he knew that what he did was wrong. She was finally able to forgive and move on, because he asked for her forgiveness. I have hope that he was telling her the truth when he said he wouldn’t do anything like that again.

I also thought about a talk I heard by Frank Fitzpatrick, who as a child was molested by a Catholic priest, James Porter. The statute of limitations had long-since run out, but Mr. Fitzpatrick decided to try for what justice he could get. He outed his molester, warned the authorities, recorded a phone call with the priest, now ex and married with children. It emerged that James Porter had victimized children wherever he lived. Porter was charged for more recent offenses, made a plea bargain, and died in prison while serving his sentence. He was believed to have molested hundreds of children, but would never have served a day without Frank Fitzpatrick.

If you think in terms of Karma, you could see it as an act of compassion to let an offender take the consequences in this life. You may save them from being reincarnated as a cockroach. You may be ending the Karmic chain by saving other innocent people from being victimized. The man who raped Maureen Gibbon was violent. He had planned the crime. He fits the profile of a sexual predator. It’s unlikely she was his only victim. He may still be a danger.

I want to believe that people can change, and I do. I believe in redemption. If this man has changed, if he has a conscience, he will be better with a chance to admit the truth and make amends. If he has no conscience, then people should be warned. He’s probably beyond the reach of the law for the crime he committed against Maureen Gibbon, but there could be more recent crimes he hasn’t answered for.

I’m not going to tell Maureen Gibbon what she should do. She bears the consequences of whatever action she takes or doesn’t take, it’s her decision. I thank her for being brave enough to write her essay, she’s helped a lot of women to know they’re not alone. At the same time, I want to exhort her, “He’s not your rapist. He has a name. Don’t keep his secret, don’t bear his burden. He has a name. Someone needs to say it, someone needs to call him out.”

Women in Government: More Needed

This Opinion Editorial by Shanna Wells, director of the Rhode Island Commission on Women, has some good statistical information about the shrinking number of women in the legislature in Rhode Island, and the general lack of women in U.S. government.

Since 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed and established a women’s right to vote in the United States, the percentage of women who register and vote has steadily risen. Furthermore, the percentage of women who vote today is higher than the percentage of men who vote. This holds true in Rhode Island as well.

Unfortunately, the higher voting rates have not translated into electing women to political office. In terms of political representation, Rhode Island women have lost ground and today are not well represented in elected positions.

Nationally, women make up 46 percent of the work force and 52 percent of the electorate, but represent only 14 percent of the U.S. House and 14 percent of the Senate. And, though 52 percent of Rhode Islanders are women, only 16.8 percent of elected state officials are female, down from 26 percent in 1998. According to the Center for Women and Politics, Rhode Island ranks last in New England in female state legislators and 37th nationally.

In a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women’s presence in legislatures and other state-level elected offices is closely associated with better policy for women. Among “women-friendly” policies are those that address violence against women, child support, welfare, education and employment. The findings point to a continued need for targeted efforts to increase women’s representation.

Women’s organizations, political parties and leaders of both genders can all play a role in recruiting women to run for office, supporting women’s candidacies and encouraging both women and men to vote for women. With more Rhode Island women in political office, we will have more balanced discussions, which will lead to improved policies. The Rhode Island Commission on Women encourages women to participate fully in the political process to assure gender-specific input into public policy. The Rhode Island Commission on Women wants Rhode Island to lead the nation in legislative representation that truly reflects the constituency it serves.

For more information on running for office, visit the Secretary of State’s website at

Shanna Wells, M.Ed. is director Rhode Island Commission on Women. The Rhode Island Commission on Women is a nonpartisan state agency whose purpose is to advance women toward full equity in all areas of life and promote rights and opportunities for all women. For more information, visit the website at

Blog Against Sexism

I’m blogging against sexism today, along with hundreds of other cyberfeminists who would like to alleviate the world from some of the burdensome sexist propaganda that keeps our girls from growing up to be everything they want to be. Below are two great helpers in this effort: a short movie and a book that are well-crafted and also convey important messages to girls about the reality of sexism and the importance of fighting for equal opportunity.

Jodie Foster

Rookie of the Year

I remember seeing this afterschool special as a child. I was probably 6 or 7 years old and it made a tremendous impression on me. In fact, I credit it with planting in me the seed of feminism. Why? Because I watched Jodie Foster as Sharon Lee, the little girl who wanted to play baseball with the boys, and I totally identified with her. I wanted to be that little girl who would fight gender stereotypes.

Now my daughter, age 6, watches the movie. It’s one of her favorites. I love watching it with her, since it absolutely transports me back to my childhood with the strange flutey soundtrack and the scenes of suburbia circa 1975.

In case you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, here’s a short synopsis from The New York Times:

ABC Afterschool Special opened its second season with one of its most popular and best-beloved efforts. Eleven-year-old Jodie Foster stars as Sharon Lee, a peppery young baseball enthusiast who lands a spot on her brother’s all-male Little League team. Despite Sharon’s talent and enthusiasm, she runs up against the stone wall of gender prejudice. But by the time we’ve reached the last of the ninth, everyone has learned a valuable lesson — especially the boys! The script for the Emmy-winning Rookie of the Year was written by Gloria Banta, of The Mary Tyler Moore Show fame.

Ruby's Wish

Ruby’s Wish

This book features Ruby, a young girl living in China in the earlier part of last century. The story is rich in realistic detail about the gender lines that were clearly drawn between Ruby and her boy cousins in her grandfather’s Chinese dynasty, a product of his good fortune in the California Gold Rush.

The illustrations, though, are what make this book really magnificent. True to Chinese design and style, they are a joy to study and linger over long after the words have been read.

And now, on a more sobering note, here are some statistics from the National Council for Research on Women, with commentary by blogger Vegankid:

  • Data on women’s struggle for equality has gone missing in the Bush Administration. The current administration continues to engage in a pattern of omission, distortion, and spin when it comes to information about women and girls. Data on the Department of Labor website has gone missing and the FDA continues to block approval of Emergency Contraception despite research findings that support its use.
  • Women are still underpaid. Women earn only 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. (Former MA democratic Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy is doing great things to shake this up…check out Also, can 1 million women against WalMart be hallucinating? This is serious!
  • Women are still massively underrepresented in the sciences. Despite substantial gains in the number of women pursuing graduate degrees in the sciences, women currently earn only 20% of all PhDs in computer science, less than 27% in physics, and only 17% in engineering. Studies show that women in science experience discrimination and double standards (sorry Larry Summers, but its really true.)
  • There are too few female tenured professors. Despite the fact that women have been at least half of all college undergraduates since 1978, women represent only 36% of all tenured faculty nationwide, and only 13% of doctoral granting universities boast women presidents. Many women in academic settings report discrimination.
  • Women are underrepresented in corporate leadership. Women have made up more than 40% of the workforce since 1977, and are currently almost 50%, yet only 9 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
  • Too few women lawyers make partner. Women have been 40% of all law school students since 1995, and over half since 2001, but are only 15% of partners in law firms nationwide. Many female lawyers attest to double standards and discrimination.
  • Men still dominate the airwaves, music industry, film industry, etc, and are most decisionmakers and critics (often with a silent or not so silent male perspective.) Women make up only 11% of the national experts on Sunday morning political talk shows, and only 6% to 7% of the repeat guests. No major record label is headed by a woman. Most major film studios are headed by men, and nine out of ten music videos are produced by men. For the most part, women need to be sex objects and to be young to be successful in music and to some extent, films, TV. (Men, not so much…can you say Sean Connery? Harrison Ford? Woody Allen? David Letterman? Larry King?) Women are chosen/allowed to direct only 5 – 7 % of major Hollywood films, and rarely are nominated for or win major awards for directing (despite some very talented female directors out there.) This is not just Hollywood insanity — it’s workplace discrimination.
  • Women are poorer. Women constitute about 70% of the world’s absolute poor – those living on less than a dollar a day. In the United States in 2004, there were 20.1 million women living below the poverty level. Worldwide, women’s access to resources and education still lags behind boys/men due to double standards.
  • Slavery still exists! Women and girls are the majority of the 800,000 to nearly 4 million people trafficked (bought and sold as property) internationally every year.
  • We still have a long way to go. I hope you’ll join in today and do something to raise awareness about sexism and how it continues to harm women and girls.