Happy World Autism Day

Yep, happy. 

April is Autism Awareness Month, and there’s nothing wrong with being aware of something. The question is how, though, are we celebrating autistic April: the way we would Women’s History or Black History Month? Or are we mourning the loss of the children we thought we had before diagnosis, wishing things could be different? A little of both, maybe? Maybe. 

Do we talk about the accomplishments of famous and everyday autistic people in April? Do we list the strategies autistic people have used successfully so that parents of younger autistic children can learn from real experts what works for us? Or do we highlight scientific or pseudoscientific interventions that have been experienced as traumatic or dehumanizing by those who were once autistic children? 

Do we seek out success stories – and not the big names, but the small-scale, people in your neighbourhood successes, or do we look only at the tragic family breakdowns that we blame so often on autism? 

Here. I’ll start with an everyday success. Hi. I’m 40. I was diagnosed at 38 with Asperger’s Syndrome. It took a long time for me to know for sure in part because of my age, in part my gender. Believe me, though. It fits. So, here I am. I’m an extreme introvert, but that hasn’t stopped me from being successful in caring professions. I’m also really good at retail, for what it’s worth. Right now, I’m a teacher, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I’ve managed to have had effective enough social skills to make two humans. I have a few close friends, several casual friends, and a strong complex romantic relationship. I’m raising two children by myself. I pay the rent. I sometimes have three or four jobs at a time, and generally manage to stay on top of things. I’m starting a PhD program in the fall. 

That all sounds pretty successful for anyone, really. I have a good life, as an autistic adult. My friends and partner are understanding, and when something doesn’t make sense, they ask. 

Do my words sometimes stop coming when I’m stressed or overwhelmed? Yep. Do I say the wrong thing and make people really angry with me? It happens. Do my special interests sometimes take over my life? Um, see the above PhD reference. Do my sensory impairments make things harder? They make things hard, yes. But I figure it out, and I keep going. 

Parents of autistic kids, please listen to autistic adults. A lot of us are also parents of autistic kids, and we have a lot to offer you in terms of support and understanding. We can also be remarkably practical. And we want to celebrate the kid(s) you have, with you.  

Enough About Effing Yoga Pants Already

I’m thinking a lot about yoga pants these days.

And leggings.

And skinny jeans.

This is my 12-year-old daughter’s uniform. Sure, occasionally, she’ll throw on a pair of loose sweats, but by and large, I get a pretty clear view of my kid’s butt in pants every day. Let me be totally honest with you: I see the curves she’s starting to develop, and my heart stops.  Most of me wants to celebrate the fact that my child is growing into her adolescence totally confident in her body. She’s strong, and unintimidated by what others think of her. She dresses for comfort, mostly, and not for display. Most of the time, she doesn’t have any idea of the impact she already has on those around her. 

The part, however, that stops my heart, that makes me worry, that makes me angry? That impact she has on people because she’s conventionally beautiful (no, really, it’s ridiculous) is going to be framed by others throughout her adolescence as her responsibility to moderate. She will be expected to dress in ways that don’t distract her male classmates if she has any hope of getting through middle and high school without being harassed or assaulted. Because her very existence is inflammatory. Too much. Inappropriate. She and so many other 12-year-old girls in our lives are being told, over and over again, your body is the reason men may assault you. Your body is the reason men can’t control what they say around you, and throw disgusting, unwanted, sexualized comments your way already, even though you’re still a child.  Your body makes the boys your age unable to focus on school work. Your body. 

My child is not responsible for the actions of others. She is not asking for it based on her clothing choices. She will not be asking for it in leggings at 13, in yoga pants at 15, in a short skirt at 17, or in an ankle-length dress at 21. How will you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my child is “asking for it?” She’ll say something like, “I’d like to have sex, please.” 

(and as her mom, I’d like that to not happen for a very good long while yet, for a whole lot of reasons, but for it to still happen when she and the person she chooses decide they’re ready at the same time regardless of when that might be.)

There’s a middle school in Illinois right now dealing with this issue, and not well. The students, however, have launched a protest against what they consider unfair treatment: are my pants lowering your test scores, they ask. 

There’s another side, though, and as the mother of an almost 14-year-old son, it’s offensive to me that he is painted as someone who is incapable of compassion, empathy, communication, and self-control where it comes to his sexual desires. I expect better of him, and he expects better of himself. How about we try something out: instead of investing all of our time and energy into reinforcing the idea that girls provoke boys into sexual violence by how they look, we take that time and energy and support our children regardless of gender in understanding that we do have the ability to negotiate interactions with each other that are respectful. Are boys going to be distracted by girls? Some will, sure. But pubescent boys are distracted by EVERYTHING. Encouraging mutual respect will go a lot further than banning tight pants. 

Your semi-annual reminder: autism isn’t the problem.

A friend just asked if I’d read what was happening on Gina Crosley-Corcoran’s The Feminist Breeder Facebook page. (as an aside, the question referred to The Dentist Breeder, which made me kind of scared, because, well, breeding dentists sounds terrifying.) I went to check it out, and I’m left with a lot of feelings. I too am feminist, and a breeder, and the autistic mom of autistic kids. So when self-identified feminist breeders say they wish they could wish away something like autism, I pay attention.

I get why so many parents of autistic kids wish their kids weren’t autistic. I’ve been there myself, more than once. I’ve supported parents who have gone as far to say that if they had it to do all over again, they’d rather not have had any child if an autistic child were their only option.* To be clear, that’s not what Crosley-Corcoran has said (though maybe she has said it somewhere, I haven’t come across it).

Yes. I have wished that my kids weren’t autistic. I’ve wished that I wasn’t autistic. When things are dark and hard and nothing feels good, I dream about the greener grass many tell me comes with neurotypicality. Is the autism what I need to hold up as the cause of my distress, though? Sure, sometimes. There are definitely parts of being autistic that I would consider impairments that need support. My executive functioning goes out the window when my stress levels get high, and it takes much more energy to stay on top of everything that needs doing. I’ve had some success with reducing that feeling of shut down by cutting gluten out of my diet. It’s a treatment strategy that works for some of us, and is completely useless for others. As a lovely side effect, the absence of gluten in my life has also reduced a lot of my chronic pain issues. I also see a psychotherapist on a regular basis, as well as a massage therapist. I don’t take medication for my anxiety and depression at this point, but I’m not against it, either.

Are my kids gluten-free? Nope. Are they dairy-free? Not even a little. Do they see any specialists related to their autism? Nope. Might they benefit? Sure, they might, but at 13 and almost 12, they do have a fair amount of sovereignty over their bodies. They have the right to be involved in decision-making over how they want to make things work better for them.

I should mention something about my kids. I was talking to them about the IEP process, as I think it’s important they know when I’m talking about them with the other adults in their lives. I explained that it’s a document that’s mostly for kids with a number of different disabilities, to ensure that their learning needs are met well in the classroom. My 13-year-old’s reaction was telling:

“Wait, what? I have a disability?”

He’s known since diagnosis (at 3.75) that he’s autistic. We started off with All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, which I cannot recommend strongly enough. Seriously, if you have a child in your family who has recently been diagnosed, this is a great introduction to what it means (though I get frustrated at all the male pronouns, given that there are two people in our household who do not use them).

But I digress. Where was I? Oh. Yes. There are times I wish I weren’t autistic, or that they weren’t autistic. When I ask myself what it is I wish was different, though, it’s almost never the autism that’s the problem. It’s the world that’s the problem.

Did you see that?

It’s the world that’s the problem.

Do I want to change some fundamental parts of me, of them, to fit the world better? Or do I want to work to changing the world to fit us better? That’s the question we all have to ask ourselves, disabled and able-bodied alike. As a feminist who does her best to see the world through an intersectional lens, I can tell you that my understanding of where disability fits into my identity is inseparable from where woman, queer, mad, and white fit. I’m not sometimes only a disabled person any more than I’m ever only white. I am all of these things, and just as I wouldn’t de-queer myself (and I chose this one because it came up as being particularly contentious on Crosley-Corcoran’s page) because it’s easier to be heterosexual in the world, I will not choose to eliminate my identity as disabled person. It’s not my autism/queerness/madness/femaleness that creates disadvantage, after all. It’s others’ interpretations of what that all means. It’s not skin colour that creates disadvantage – it’s racism. It’s not autism – it’s ableism.

Do I have privilege because my kids and I are (most of the time) verbal, because we don’t have any intellectual impairments, because two out of three of us could easily pass (and I often do, and feel a lot of ambivalence about)? Yep, I sure do. I’m raising two kids entirely on my own, generally hold down at least two jobs at a time, have never bounced a cheque, and I have many complex and wonderful friendships. I’m the effing poster girl for what high functioning looks like, and lots of people have it harder. I will never tell anyone that their parenting load isn’t as heavy as they think it is, because who the hell am I to do something like that?

What I will say is that your kid is your kid, and please be careful that they don’t grow up internalizing the message, “We love everything about you except your autism.” If parents of autistic kids could say (and believe) “We love our autistic kid, and we’re working to help them love all of themselves,” that would be so great. And you know what? Loving your kid doesn’t mean not looking for ways to make some things easier. Fight for access. Help your kids develop good coping strategies. Love their quirks, and reassure them that we’re all a little different in our own ways. Help them learn to self-advocate to minimize the impact of their impairments on their school and work and independent lives.

Reassure them (and yourselves) that autism isn’t the problem.

*By “supported” I mean offered emotional support, not agreed with, in case that isn’t clear.

Advice for teachers: do this.

As I was rushing to work this afternoon, I missed a call from my son’s school. I had the usual reaction I do when I see the name on the screen: I held my breath.

Anyone who’s a parent of a kid in school has probably had that reaction at least once. When they’re little, our thoughts turn to vomit or bleeding, or for some, anaphylaxis. As they get bigger, those medical things are still on the list, but they’re joined by fears of fights, poor grades, or that our kid just didn’t show up that day.

I started to breathe again, and called my voicemail. I heard the boy’s teacher’s voice, and my heart started to beat a little faster. A little part of me was sure he’d just poked his eye out. A bigger part of me worried he’d hit someone (er, again.) (Long story). But I listened. And I’m so glad I did.

He called to tell me how great my kid’s been doing since returning to school after the holidays: He brought his high school enrolment forms in today, and handed them in. He admitted he hadn’t finished an assignment due this morning, asked for another copy of the rubric, and stayed in at lunch to complete it. He asked for another copy of the rubric for an upcoming presentation.

If you’ve got kids who often have not so good days, hearing about the great ones is an incredible gift. I think my kid is amazing, and I worry so much that the rest of the world doesn’t get to see him the way I do. When someone takes a moment out of their day to tell me that they see him, they like him, they get him? I win the jackpot of feels.

I send this tall gangly piece of my heart into the world every day, hoping for the best.

Today, that hope was met.

One Side of the Story

We only know one side of the story.

I keep seeing this, hearing it, and every time I do, it tears out a couple of the ragged stitches I rely on to keep myself together. I’m a practiced mender, and usually catch the holes before they get too dangerous, but stuff seeps out around the threads I pull through my flesh as I keep on keepin’ on.

We only know one side of the story is something we hear for very specific events. When someone stole my bicycle, no one needed to know the thief’s story. Mine was sufficient. When my daughter experienced street harassment, someone assumed she was dressed immodestly. The other side of the story – men policing my child over her choice to exist in public.

A few weeks ago, a man who is well-known and revered for his art was publicly celebrated with a prestigious award. His son and ex-partner spoke out against him for sexual violence he committed against his daughter when she was only seven years old.

We only know one side of the story, crowds yelled from all corners of the online world. We don’t know if this is true.

Let me tell you what is true.

It is true that there is nothing to gain from being seen as a child who has been sexually abused.

It is true that the court system is itself an assault on someone who has already experienced violence.

It is true that the assumption of innocence of a perpetrator takes priority over the lived experience of the victim.

It is true that people believe that children and women are liars.

We only know one side of the story.

The words echo in my head, make me doubt my own narratives of violence.

Did I overreact? Was it simply a miscommunication? Was I unclear? Could I have stopped it, somehow?

I blame myself when I hear those words. Beyond all reason, I hear them and think my story means less than some interpretation of objectivity that can’t possibly exist.

My stitches start to pull apart as that doubt grows; I can’t hold the pain inside my too-small bag of skin.

We only know one side of the story.

And our side doesn’t matter.

 

My Dog Ate My Homework

I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now, talking myself down from the edges of a panic attack. 

For those new to my blog, I waffle between identifying as obnoxiously lazy and ridiculously over-scheduled. In those moments where I feel I’m not doing enough, I concoct diversions to occupy my time in what I think are productive ways. Then I look back when I’m drowning and wonder why I didn’t remember that life always has a way of filling that void, whether or not I make a conscious choice to do so. This week’s moment of “What the holy hell was I thinking” is brought to you by a chapter I’m writing. 

Oh, I had lofty goals when I submitted the abstract 7 months ago. I was just finishing my Master’s, was still in school brain mode, and was immersed in my topic already. How hard could it be? 

When it was accepted 4 months ago, I was given a 3-month period to get it written. No problem! I was finishing up a course, and had started job searching in earnest, but this was totally doable, right?

Except for the getting my kids back into the swing of school (which has been bumpier than average, even for us). 

Except for some kid mental health stuff.

Except for the mental health break I had to enforce on myself because apparently immersing myself in all things rape culture isn’t really that good for me. 

Except for the job search leading to my leaving the house at 9 and getting home at 9 or 10, much of my time taken up by transit between four workplaces.

Except for the ongoing job search because my four jobs don’t cover our expenses.

Oh hey, that doesn’t look like obnoxiously lazy when it’s all in one place. It doesn’t look like procrastination, or poor time management. It looks like life, and too much life for one person to navigate. 

I’m now over a month past deadline, and  it’s coming together. Slowly. If I can get beyond the anxiety that’s shutting me down, if I can just put one word on the screen at a time. I can do this. And I can do it today.

Deep breaths, big girl panties, here I go. 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering

Full disclosure: I have a white poppy on my coat right now. This is apparently a contentious thing these days, though I’ve not yet experienced much more than a raised eyebrow or two.

Apparently, there’s a cultural conclusion being made that anyone who chooses to wear anything other than the red poppy (including nothing at all) is showing disrespect for veterans, for those lost in combat, and for current soldiers. Canada’s current Veterans’ Affairs Minister Julian Fantino considers the white poppy “offensive” to veterans. I would argue that it is far more offensive that disabled veterans need to sue the Canadian government in order to regain benefits. 

My understanding of the meaning of the white poppy is not that it’s better, or that the red poppy glorifies war. I’ve stayed out of the poppy debate altogether because my reasons for wearing it are not reflected by the words of the Rideau Institute. 

I’d like to talk for a sec about history. The white poppy campaign was started by the mothers, wives, and sisters of soldiers of WWI: both those who were killed in combat, and those who returned home. The women who knew these soldiers best wanted to create a world where they would never again have to go back to fight, where no one else would be lost – soldier and civilian alike. The women who knew these soldiers experienced the untreated mental illness many soldiers brought home with them in the form of alcoholism, drug addiction, abandonment, and physical and sexual abuse.

Soldiers are still coming home in body bags, almost 100 years later. Soldiers are still coming back broken. Female soldiers are at particular risk, less from combat as they are from their fellow soldiers. Partners and children of soldiers who return are still at risk of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, financial. Canadian soldiers, like their civilian counterparts, have poor access to mental health supports and arguably need them far more than the average Canadian struggling with their mental health.

I don’t want to fight with people. I want to create space for dialogue in which we can talk about the impact of the loss of a parent or partner or family member to war. I want to talk about the impact of a soldier returning to their family. I want to talk about the everyday realities of those affected by what a member of their family has experienced. I want politicians like Fantino to understand that dissension is not offensive: it’s freedom of expression. I also want Fantino in particular to understand that engaging in name-calling while actively making the lives of soldiers and their families harder is far more offensive than the act of wearing a white poppy.

I want us to remember.

Then, I want us to act.

Thoughts as I wait for the light to change at Yonge and Wellesley

Every day, I wear my sexuality as a weapon
In your face to keep me safe
Tits out
Short skirts
Femme ’cause it’s me and also fuck you
Overflowing with ferocity
Expecting your looks
Defying your expectations of
Proper

I will not hide
It makes no difference
If anything
I get catcalled less when I’m
In your face

I’ve had your eyes on me for thirty years
I’ve felt shame
Fear
Rage
And now, resistance

But now I’m back to rage
Because you aren’t only looking at me

Your new target
My fierce
Shameless
Confident
Imperfectly perfect
Barely pubescent
Child

I don’t know if she heard you
This morning on her bike
At the stop light
When you said

Oh that’s a cute one
But wait I think she’s still a bit young

You don’t get to break this one
To create shame where there’s none
To instil fear
You don’t get to have this one

Not only will I not let you have her
She won’t let you either.

What Christie Blatchford doesn’t know about rape

I woke this morning to my Twitter feed warning me not to read an article published in today’s National Post by Christie Blatchford. I won’t link to it, because it’s easy enough to find if you really want to read it without my needing to directly send traffic their way.

Anyway.

I read it regardless of the warnings that it was shaming and awful, and yeah. It was shaming and awful. And, not surprisingly, pretty triggering for me as well. I’m okay, for those who might be worried, but I’m definitely feeling the need to process this out loud, so thank you for your indulgence.

I feel an affinity to Rehtaeh Parsons, in spite of many significant differences in our stories.

She was 15 when she was sexually assaulted. I was 18 the first time it happened to me.

She was photographed while it happened, and had no control over the distribution of said photo. It being 1992, no one would have been brave enough at that time to snap a shot of my assault; as no one in the room at the time had darkroom experience or access, it would have had to have been developed in a shop.

She was shamed out of her high school. I was assaulted on grad night, and only had a few weeks left before the end.

She died at 17. 21 years later, I’m still here.

Now, for the pieces that are too similar to not talk about, the pieces Blatchford shrugs off as being “a mess.”

“It was only a week later, after the picture surfaced and made the rounds at her high school, that police were first called by Ms. Parsons.”

That she called the police at all is amazing. Most don’t, for a lot of very good reasons. I never have. Is a week really that long to wait post-assault to start talking about it? Not in my experience. I didn’t even process that what had happened to me *was* sexual assault until a year after it happened. A year it took my brain to piece everything together, to feel safe enough to make connections that wouldn’t kill me, to remember details that alcohol and trauma had blocked out when I was not ready to deal with them.

“The girlfriend of Rehtaeh’s who was at the party told police Rehtaeh was being flirtatious, even egging the boys on.”

How does this have anything to do with anything? I too flirted with the young man who assaulted me. I willingly and enthusiastically engaged in a drunken make-out session, with him. That doesn’t mean I consented to what happened afterwards.

“Add to all this conversations police know Rehtaeh had with friends the day after the party, which revealed a young woman filled with regret for what she portrayed as consensual sex with two boys and who was now afraid her friends would think her ‘a slut.'”

I thought I’d had bad sex. The people who were in the hotel room when it was happening heard me crying, and thought I was making “sex noises.” I was embarrassed, as if I’d had some kind of control over the situation*. I shrugged it off. I made jokes about it. I deflected. I ignored. I buried. I got out of the city 3 months later when I left for university, where I started sleeping 18-20 hours per day and only got up to go to class or eat.

It wasn’t until after I had moved home in May, almost a year to the day after it had happened, that I remembered. And felt. And collapsed in tears on the curb down the street from a dear friend’s house one evening as I experienced a full sensory flashback to that night, and the week preceding it. (this could get triggering, so if you’re worried, don’t read anything in italics.)

Sunday before, I run into him in the park. We talk about the cottage party we’d both attended the night before. He asks about a rumour he’d heard about my having sex that night with aforementioned dear friend. I cop to it, having no shame about my sexual choices, not realizing I’d set myself up in that moment as an easy target.

The week leading up: not a lot of academics being accomplished, with the excitement of grad night in just a few days. 

Saturday night. Grad night. Fancy clothes, crappy food, same night, same location as the Much Music Video Awards, though we don’t see anyone famous (except Dan Gallagher). 

Many of us rented rooms at a downtown hotel. We’d crossed the river earlier that day to buy alcohol legally (though drink it illegally, I suppose). My (platonic) date wanders away to take care of some student council schmoozing, and comes back to find me half in the bag, giggly, and already obviously vulnerable. Date asks friend to keep an eye on me, goes back out. 

Friend stays close, offering more wine. Flirtation abounds, and we make out. I tell him I don’t have any condoms, and have absolutely no intentions of having sex with him. 

Date comes back. Disgusted with what he finds. Disappears for rest of the night, finding somewhere else to bunk (I think – that part, admittedly fuzzy). 

Two other friends are in the room a lot of this time as well, are in and out. Also drinking, sometimes interacting conversationally. Blurry. 

Missing time. 

I’m naked. I’m in a hotel room bed, with someone I know trying to penetrate me. I’m crying, it hurts, I feel so bruised. I can’t make my limbs move, or make words. 

I feel shamed that my body won’t do what he wants it to, that my body refused to let him fuck me. I feel him in my mouth. I can’t breathe. The tears and the snot and the choking and gagging are all too much. I shut it all out. 

Except the sounds. The sounds of my friends judging us for our shenanigans, being grossed out by our “choosing” to fuck in the same room as them. And I can’t talk. And I can’t push him off. And really, I’m not even in my body anymore at that point. 

On that curb, a year later, I smelled the port on his breath. I felt the bruises starting on my body, where his fingers held me, where he battered me as he tried to penetrate me. I heard the voices of my friends, of his breath in my ear, as if they were beside me. I heard myself so clearly say I did not want to have sex without a condom, and I watched as that was completely ignored. I watched myself be plied with alcohol to render me more vulnerable. I saw my friends see what they wanted to see, not what they needed to see. 

The “other side” to my story? I went to university as a Women’s Studies major. I came home with a “rape story” because I’d been indoctrinated into believing that all sex between women and men is, by its nature, nonconsensual. Yes. This is what the young man who assaulted me said to me. This is what he said to everyone else, when I started to talk about my experience, to process it out loud, to name it. This is what many of the people he told believed. This was the “other side.”

Please let me reiterate something I’ve had to explain too many times to count. There is no cachet in being identified as a rape victim. It’s not “better” than being seen as a slut. Mostly because you’re seen as a slut anyway, but now you have more people thinking it. What Blatchford’s article today has done is slut-shamed a young woman who died in large part as a result of that same behaviour. Blatchford, rather than recognizing that we need to work on our culture of empathy and respect, validated the behaviours of those who tortured Rehtaeh to death.

She’s right, though: it’s never as simple as what it looks like at first glance. She just chose to stop looking too soon.

* One thing a lot of people don’t understand is that tolerance for alcohol is widely variable. I am a tiny person. At 18, I was 5’2″, and weighed about 115 pounds. Two drinks made me a happy drunk. Three left me unable to walk or speak clearly. The assault happened after 3.5 drinks.

This can’t continue (a probably triggering post about sexual violence)

I’m not sure how coherent I’m going to be as I write this. 

My heart is in a very bad state right now. This week has been stupidly hard for anyone who gives a damn about ending sexual violence. 

A 19-year-old young man went to police immediately after being sexually assaulted by four women. He was widely ridiculed over Twitter, but Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno decided that wasn’t enough attention. Jokes have been made at his expense about how this is some men’s ultimate fantasy, that the description of the women involved was the reason he reported it as sexual assault and not as consensual sex (because 4 short fat women would never be part of that fantasy), that there must be something wrong with this guy to have not just shrugged off the whole thing. He’s 19, and he felt his power was taken from him. His right to choose what happens to his body was taken from him by four women who have bought into the myth that all men want indiscriminate sex all the time. 

But he has, so far, survived. 

The same cannot be said about two teenaged girls who committed suicide within the last week, after being sexually assaulted, photographed during the assault, and having the photos distributed either via cellular phone or social media. 17. 15. Their peers, rather than standing up to protect them, did the opposite. They attacked. They slut shamed. They took the photographic evidence of what happened to these girls and used it as justification to police their sexuality. Bad enough to do when a young woman makes choices that lead to exposure, but when the two young women were NOT consenting to the acts being forced on them, when they did NOT consent to photos being taken of them, and when they certainly did not consent to those photos being distributed as rapist badges of honour … I can’t even finish the sentence, I’m so exhausted by the emotion that went into writing it. 

I learned something last night, from someone just on the outskirts of one of these events. Someone who had received a copy of a photo, and deleted it. When I first found out that someone would seemingly thoughtlessly delete the photo of a crime, I was angry. Then we talked about it a bit. This person didn’t know the act captured in the photo was sexual assault. This person couldn’t identify the girl in the photo, as her face was not in the shot. This person had no understanding of the legal implications of having a photo of 15-year-old “having sex” on their phone. Had this person known that they were in possession of child pornography, maybe they would have made different choices around deleting and reporting to police who had sent it. 

Here’s the thing: if you don’t know, it makes sense there’s not a lot you can do. Is it really the act of a bystander letting things happen if they don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t? 

I’m not excusing the behaviour of the students who made these girls’ lives hell. What they did was reprehensible. But as I started to talk about above, we’re socialized in a Canadian/USian context to believe there is something shameful about being a woman (young or otherwise) who has sex. Not only is it shameful, but we must actively shame those who are bold enough to transgress. “Dressing like a slut” is threatening, but I think there may also be perceived safety for many, girls and women in particular, in constructing the sexually available woman as she most likely to be raped. If I don’t flaunt my sexuality, I won’t draw attention to myself, and I won’t get raped. If I don’t make it known that I like sex at all, boys won’t get the wrong idea about me and make me have sex when I don’t want to. Having a “slut” keeps the herd safe. One sacrifice makes life easier for everyone. 

But it doesn’t. Because this is the part that’s missing. If we, as a community, think it’s okay to treat one person with such disdain, such negation, such dehumanization, we think it’s okay to treat anyone that way. Slut-shaming doesn’t keep the rest of us safe from being raped, it just takes even more power away from individuals who have already been disempowered. It deludes us into thinking that it will never happen to us. It deludes us into thinking that we will never be the rapists who do this to others, with or without the designation of slut. 

So how do we fix this? Can we? 

I’m going to continue to try. I’ve done a lot of work to anonymize this blog as much as possible, but I think it’s time to come out again. 

I’m working on a project right now to more easily incorporate a consent-based education approach into classrooms. The document I’m working on will be a k-12 resource, made for teachers. It will be tired directly to curriculum streams, with concrete lesson plans, secondary resource suggestions, and lists of possible questions that may come up with students at specific ages (with suggestions on how to respond). 

More information about this project can be found at Indiegogo, where I launched a crowdfunding campaign to help me develop this text. I am thrilled to tell you that there are many amazing people who believe in my vision and who have funded me to my initial goal. There is still time left to donate, though, and while I am now funded to develop an Ontario-specific resource, I can now focus on raising funds to adapt the text to provincial and territorial curriculum requirements across Canada.Oh, and every resource I produce will be free. Forever.

I won’t pretend that what I’m doing is the answer. But it is an answer.

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