50 Shades of Consent

Christian Grey fans, eagerly awaiting February’s release of the second film in the series, Fifty Shades Darker, are going nuts over the new trailer. Aside from the fact that the books were poorly written and many reviews of the first film have indicated the actors have about as much chemistry as two floor lamps, the story brings up numerous issues pertaining to abuse, sexual assault, and consent. I have no issue with kinky bedroom activities, nor with erotic literature. I take issue not with the content of the story but the response to it. Millions of women see a wealthy, handsome sex god that leaves them a quivering mess. I see a manipulative, coercive, rapist. If a woman enjoys story about control or extreme submission, that’s her business. I’m only disturbed by the fact that so few women notice these elements are even present in the relationship between Christian Grey and Ana Steele. Christian is actually kind of awful. In real life we’d get a restraining order and stay away from him.

I have been told by 50 Shades fans that I’m way off base. Eventually, Ana “breaks” Christian so to speak, of his need to dominate, control, and beat her. You can’t fix a rapist like he’s a puppy that needs potty trained. What happens in book 2 & 3 is irrelevant. In the first he’s a controlling, abusive jerk who preys on a young, naive, sexually inexperienced girl who does not know what it means to consent and apparently can’t identify assault, either. That isn’t the kind of man to be admired. If someone is truly in a BDSM lifestyle, they don’t need to be “fixed” because there is nothing wrong with them in the first place. But BDSM shouldn’t involve confusion, fear, or begging someone not to hit you again (like Ana does). It SHOULD involve mutual trust and communication, where all parties understand what is going to happen, and what is expected of one another. I don’t see that in this story.

It has been argued that Ana does consent because she stays in the relationship and she doesn’t say “no”. Now we’re blaming the victim. Consent goes far beyond “no means no”.  If you are coerced, that is not consent. If you are too afraid to say no, that is not consent. Ana is all of the above. It appears to me than even adults are a little fuzzy on consent. I understand that in fantasy, consent is trivial, but let’s not pretend we can’t see when it’s violated.

Whites be Whitening all Over This Election

Being on a night shift schedule, it wasn’t difficult for me to stay up on election night awaiting the results. That is, until I realized Donald Trump had actually pulled off what had previously seemed like an elaborate publicity stunt. In those first few moments I was stunned. I made remarks about which I would be embarrassed had they been heard in public. Admittedly, the next day was hard. I slept most of the day, moped a lot, had an emotional outburst, and quizzed my husband on all the reasons he could give for why everything isn’t going to descend into total chaos. Day two, I got up, put on my big girl breeches (as much as one can when they are only 4’9”), and decided to go on about the business of living my life. We are probably going to be okay.

Here’s where I do get concerned. Protesters have flooded the streets. Women are crying all over Youtube. Angry mobs take to Twiter, ready to hurl insults and blame (I have plenty of opinions on that topic but I will leave these for another day). The most common recipient of this blame? White people. Christopher Keelty, in his HuffPost piece claims that white people, and white people only, are responsible for President Elect Donald Trump. He then goes on to chastise whites for trying to show their non-white neighbors that they sympathize with their concerns as minorities in a Donald Trump world. He asserts that whites only want to relieve their guilt, the guilt that of course all white people should feel because apparently zero people of color voted Trump…except the numbers say otherwise.

Blaming all white people and trying to elicit guilt isn’t just a method of further dividing an already divided nation – its intellectually lazy. There is a reason 60 million Americans voted for Trump and “white people be white” probably isn’t the full story. The reality of this election, like all of life, is more complex. Those who are more educated were more likely to vote for Clinton. Those who live in a union household were more likely to vote for Clinton. Protestants were more likely to vote for Trump. Jews more often went with Clinton. Those who identified as non-religious more often went with Clinton. Those who never attend religious services voted more often for Clinton. More than half of veterans chose Trump, while less than half of non-veterans did so. Clinton supports were more concerned about the economy and foreign affairs; Trump supporters worry about immigration and terrorism. All this to say, the shade of a person’s skin color certainly wasn’t the only factor in their decision making.

Of those who voted for Trump, 29% were Latino and 8% were Black. The exact numbers won’t be ready until next year, but we can look at the numbers from 2012. We know that 11.2 million Latinos showed up to choose between Mitt Romney and Obama. It’s believed that more voted this year. It’s probably safe to say that about 3 million Latinos voted for Donald Trump. The number of Black voters in 2012 was 17.8 million. While the total turnout for Blacks may be higher than Latinos, their support was lower, putting their number around 1.4 million (again, using last years total turnout). We also know that even Muslim women of color voted for Trump. I realize these are not huge numbers but they are far from zero and quite a distance from “we can blame this solely on white people.

While Trump did find a rather accepting audience in white people, they are not his only support and they have a wide range of reasons they chose him as our next President. If we want to know why they did so, and how we can avoid similar results in the future, we need to be prepared for difficult but meaningful conversations. I’m struggling here too but I’m trying to understand because I know it’s important. I know that for some reason, people overlooked Trump’s negative traits because they were concerned about something else they felt was more relevant. Perhaps I need to take their concerns seriously? Could it actually just be that a large percentage of Americans truly are deplorable? No. We need to be willing to listen, to try to understand, and to compromise – this is how we’re get through the next four years.
*I am no election expert ; if I have made a factual error, please let me know.

Reading Through the Bible – Genesis

I’ve made a goal to read through the Hebrew Bible. There are a number of interesting Jewish interpretations of Torah but I’m not going to get into much of those at this time. I’m simply going to read straight through to get a reminder of the basic story lines and principles found within.

Starting at the beginning, it seems that the earth already exists. Of course, we realize the Bible is not a scientific book (obviously) but even from a theological perspective, this should mean something to those who hold to literal interpretations of the text. Another interesting note in the commentary is that the word בָּרָא, translated as the verb “create” never means to create out of nothing. At least at the start, the Bible does not assert that god created the world from nothing.

Skip ahead to Adam and Eve. The story from a Christian perspectives takes on literal meaning but in other traditions, there is room for interpretation. Adam and Eve eat the fruit of knowledge, thereby learning wrong from right. One could say this marks their entry into adulthood. Just like Adam and Eve, we too one day reach adulthood where we begin to know what is right and what is wrong. We’re then held responsible by our families, friends, communities and governments to act accordingly. As Adam and Eve had to leave the safety and security of the garden, we leave our homes and start our lives as adults in the wider world.

At this point, looking superficially, we see Genesis degrade into lying, murder, worldwide genocide, more lying, child sacrifice, citywide genocide, offering up one’s own children for rape, incest, deception, seething jealousy, family conflict and general bad behavior. The most appealing theme in all of Genesis, I think, is that of brotherly reconciliation. After having stolen his birthright and blessing, Jacob meets up with his brother Esau (both the sons of Issac; Grandchildren of Abraham) twenty years later with fear that he and his family may be killed. Rather, his brother greets him with a hug.

Later, Jacob’s son Joseph is sold by his brothers who despise him. Jacob is understandably distraught but has been lead to believe the young boy is dead. Many years later, the men meet their brother in Egypt and after a few tricks to determine their character, Joseph tells them he is their long lost brother. Jacob is reunited with his son.
I noticed the tales of Abraham are more detailed than the first few. Once the book opens up to Jacob and his children, there is also more emotional drama. The reader is told of Jacob’s despair when his child is missing and repeatedly the text mentions Joseph crying in regards to seeing his brothers again.

That isn’t to say these stories aren’t still gruesome. This the same family wherein a daughter is raped, the boys murder the perpetrator (and his associates) and take all of the women and children in his clan for their own. The same family where envy for one brother leads them to consider killing him and then decide eh, they will just sell him instead. They also tend to lie. In short, they have problems.

Justice for Harambe

On Saturday, May 28th the staff of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens in Ohio had to make a terrible decision. Both they and the country now mourn the loss of an endangered western lowland gorilla, Harambe. While the public makes a collective call for justice, we must remember that our moral outrage over neglectful parenting will not resurrect Harambe. Shouting our opinions on social media will not resurrect Harambe. There is nothing we can do to change what happened. The zoo had to make a decision and they had to make it quickly. It is not a position that I envy. I will not speak about whether they were right or wrong, but only where we can go from here. I respect zoo director Thane Maynard for his ability to handle the response from the public while also comforting zoo staff during a difficult time. I have no doubt that Harambe was loved; not simply as a creature to admire, but as an individual with his own presence and personality.

While we are all shocked at this situation, we must remember that gorillas are threatened every day. They are at risk due to human population growth, logging, mining, and road building. They are the victims when humans engage in violent conflict. Their young are left behind when their mothers are killed. They succumb to the same diseases that kill us. Gorillas, as well as other apes, are dying in the wild due to our own negligent behavior. We can sit in judgment of the child’s mother. We can sit in judgment of zoo staff. But who wins that game? It’s much easier recognize the failings of others than to recognize our own. We are all guilty.
Let’s not make decisions based on ignorance. We should seek out information from those who are knowable about primate behavior, as well as primate threats in the wild. Social media is abuzz with comments made from a place of misunderstanding. A misunderstanding of conservation, a misunderstanding of primate behavior, and I think, a misunderstanding of the child welfare system. I do not claim the public should not be outraged, but when we speak or act, we should do so from an educated perspective. Anything otherwise could be detrimental to the welfare of endangered species.

I do sometimes struggle with the idea of keeping great apes in captivity. At the same time, I think the public romanticizes life in the wild. Gorillas are not living wild and free as they should be able to do. Would you feel free if you were continually at risk of being killed for meat or having your home bulldozed? This is the reality they face. Perhaps we will learn that zoos were not the best place for our ancestral cousins, but the wild has not been kind to them either – for we are there too.
If we truly want justice for Harambe, we are going to have to work for it. If we are angry about the incident that took place at this zoo, then we should outraged at what is occurring every day and we should DO something about it. We have to be willing to educate ourselves and analyze where we need to change. We need to be aware that the choices we make have an impact on wildlife, including gorillas. This tragic event has shown us the public does care about the welfare of the great apes. We should use this as an opportunity to further educate our communities on the threats to ape populations, as well as what they can do to help. What better way to honor Harambe than to save lives?

Things you can do:
• Recycle your cell phone.
• Limit or curb your purchase of rayon clothing.
• Buy FSC sustainable timber.
• Buy products made with sustainable palm oil or products without.
• Volunteer at a primate rescue.
• If you are not opposed to zoos, volunteer with your local accredited zoo to educate the public on primate conservation.

• Support reputable organizations like the World Wildlife Fund.
For more information on the threat to apes and what you can do, please visit: The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Mbeli Bai Study.
For information on how palm oil (a common ingredient in products you probably have in your home) is a threat to the orangutan, please visit: Orangutan Foundation International.