Cinderella and Abuse: She Can’t “Just Leave”

IMG_0307This is not a post about Disney, or Cinderella, or the movie that I haven’t seen. This is a post about a post, by a mom who wants to explain “What Cinderella Teaches Girls About Abuse.” To paraphrase, she says that the movie teaches girls that the answer to all of life’s problems is to be kind, even when that means sacrificing your very self. She writes that this Cinderella, “is indeed kind, but somehow she thinks that courage is needed to endure abuse rather than to flee.” I have no patience for this remark, because an abusive narrative is never that simple.  Whatever the movie has to say about kindness and courage, this mother taught her girls a dangerous and false lesson about abuse.

It glares out from me in this line: “Even my seven-year-old  turned to me and said, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ Good question. ”

No! This is not a GOOD question! Every time I read and reread this, I want to rush into that moment, grab their hands, and say “This is an important question, but the answer is: she does not leave because she has nowhere else to go.”

I thought more of us knew that it is not ok to ask an abuse victim why she hasn’t left yet.

If it’s true that this Cinderella film contains an abuse narrative, then this Cinderella has no self to sacrifice. I don’t know if this iteration of Cinderella is brave, weak, simpering, courageous, selfish, annoying, and it doesn’t matter. By the time you’re old enough to go to a ball, as the child of an emotionally and verbally abusive parent figure, you don’t have a clue where you end and she begins. Or he, in my case.

I took ONE STEP outside the lines my father drew for me, and it brought down a rage that I had never experienced, not directed at me. He did it over the phone, and he left me in a puddle in the grass in the courtyard of my dorm. I will never forget how sick I felt, when I began to unpack the lies. My father’s lies, and my stepmother’s complicity, will haunt me forever, but I also have to live with memories of begging them to love me and trying with all my little heart to be everything I thought they wanted. I am not ashamed. I asked them to love me, because they were supposed to love me.

This moment describes a courage, missed by this blogger, that perhaps only an abused child can recognize: “Cinderella is locked in the attic by her step-mother in an attempt to keep the Prince from finding her. What does Cinderella do? She briefly questions her step-mother about why she is so mean and hateful towards her. ”

A single question – why?

Why do you do this to me, when I have tried all my life to be everything you want? I am good. I am kind. Why?

Every abused child asks herself this question every day. To vocalize that question, to actually ask for an answer, is not something that I ever had the courage do to. The writer mentions Stockholm Syndrome – well, I didn’t know that there was anything wrong! Call it Stockholm Syndrome or Gaslighting, but abuse victims, especially the youngest, rarely see the abuse that is so obvious to everyone on the outside, looking in.

I am angry, and I’m afraid to say that I’m angry, that this woman’s featured post received praise from so many for teaching her daughters that an abuse victim who stays is weak. Yes, she is on point when she tells them, “that they are never to sacrifice their own self-worth in order to be kind.  I let them know that girls and women can draw their own boundaries and let people know when they have crossed them. That’s okay.” But I did not see boundaries and watch my father cross them, tell him to stop, and go save myself, when he didn’t.

I did not learn to protect my self-worth effectively or to draw healthy boundaries because the person in charge of protecting me did not teach me these things. Where was my own mother, in this story? For most of my life, she was in the same predicament. Life was about survival, and to survive in an abusive home, you never rock the boat. By the time I stopped the cycle, I was married. I had a child. And the best I could do was back away, in total silence, from a great geographical distance, and simply stop answering his calls and emails. I didn’t speak up. I said nothing. I was an adult, and I am still terrified that he is right: I am worth nothing, without him.

It’s not hard to get this one right, even with Cinderella. Steven Sondheim nailed it, in Into the Woods, with “On the Steps of the Palace.”

“So then which do you pick:
Where you’re safe, out of sight,
And yourself, but where everything’s wrong?
Or where everything’s right
And you know that you’ll never belong?”

When safety and abuse are synonymous, and you do not believe that you deserve anything better, you can’t “just leave.”

When you talk to your children about self-worth and kindness, bask in the privilege that they possess, the privilege every child should possess–self-worth that no one has trampled, and boundaries no one has crossed. I pray that my own child never knows what it feels like to have his boundaries erased, to feel violated, to feel that he is worthless. Feel the sun on your faces and enjoy what ought to be a right, and seems too often, to be a privilege granted at random.


It is never a good question to ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Teach your children to stop asking that question.

Putting the STEM in Mama!

October was an absolute whirlwind. I turned 30, Walt turned 2, we had our first Trick-or-Treating Halloween. I want to share a few themed highlights. First, the moment Dada cooked dinner while Mama put together the play kitchen Grandma had sent the little guy. He still pulls the kitchen away from the wall to point at the screws you can see on the back and says “Mama!” He helped me tighten them. I read the directions upside-down, when he wouldn’t give them up, and didn’t have to take anything apart. It all went together like a dream. Which says that Mama has more spatial reasoning than she thought! HA! More importantly, I had a great moment with my kid, building together, and showing him how each step helped it look more like the kitchen on the box. (The doors that open and close were a highlight, but he surprised me by being most interested in the screws on the back…)

Untitled design (2)


Our child loves to help in the kitchen. “Dada! Up! Cook! Dada! Cook! Dada!” (It’s never annoying. At all. Noooope.) The only thing he loves more…

Untitled design (4)

He comes running into the house from an outing, saying “Choo choo! Choo choo!” I can barely get him to stop and hug me, before he goes over to play with his beloved trains. Here’s the spacial reasoning challenge: when he takes the tracks apart, I get to figure out how to put them back together in whatever configuration he demands. “Help!” (Sounds like “Hep!”) really means “Please do this for me!” I have become really good at figuring out what I can do with the track I’m given, and where the curves need to go!

This kid is all about language and building and pretending and growing so fast I can hardly keep up. At first, he wanted to build “Tuntun!” (tunnels) over the train tracks, using the cardboard, primary-colored bricks you see behind him on that (formerly book-) shelf. Now, he wants me to build the Tuntun, and then help him build a tower up up up on top of that base! He’s learning so fast. He balances, corrects.

Of course, there are meltdowns over trains that have come off the track. Obviously, I found a wooden train engine in the (dry) bathtub. I am the photographer in the family, although my husband once again has a working phone (the old one was literally held together with packing tape), so there are no pictures of me putting things together. But I’m really excited about my new role! The gender role challenge is a bonus. Nathan’s a better cook. I’m better at reading directions.

With age two comes the assembly-required toy, we are learning.

As for me, I am working on writing fiction! You’ll be lucky to ever read it, but I’ll share my progress. I’ll also be posting 500 words, here, every day in November, because it’s both National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). I have friends holding me accountable! I will try to post things that are at least mildly interesting. ;)

*STEM stands for Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering. It’s important for the health of industry and creativity that boys and girls are exposed to men and women doing STEM activities (traditionally male-dominated), because those boys and girls grow up to challenge stereotypical gender roles. Mama using a screwdriver, while Dada cooks, is a darn good place to start. And yes, I’m aware of the train/kitchen balance. It makes me happy! I want “You can be anything” to be true!

The Joyful Heart Foundation: Some of the work I’ve been doing.

I’m not really ready to talk about how I’ve been doing. I’m doing better–less depressed. I have a new psychiatrist. She’s awesome. That’s sheer luck, since I found her via the insurance company directory and chose her because her office is two blocks from my house. What I am happy to talk about is some fundraising work I’ve been doing for The Joyful Heart Foundation. I turn thirty, tomorrow. Here’s what I want for my birthday: donate to or shop a fundraiser I’m running, to give money to this foundation.

I’ll explain:

Have you seen commercials that repeat “No more” or marathons of Law & Order SVU with the hashtag #nomore? That’s Joyful Heart. Have you heard about SVU’s star, Mariska Hargitay, donating money to any police department who will work with her, in order to pay for rape kits to be processed? No? Well, she created Joyful Heart, and its cornerstone project is to make a dent in the backlog of unprocessed rape kits that sit on shelves in evidence lockers, sometimes until the statute of limitations on the crime has run out. Rape victims are waiting, for years, for the DNA collected during the incredibly difficult examination that collecting a “rape kit” involves; sometimes, that DNA has degraded, before underfunded and understaffed police departments get a chance to process it. Databases are incomplete. Crimes go unsolved. I’m going to talk about the reason that this is so important to me, and it’s going to be hard to read. Fair warning.

When I was a little girl, just about 10, exactly 20 years ago this month, a man my mother trusted came into my room and sexually assaulted me. He was careful, quiet, and probably didn’t leave any DNA. I was terrified. I didn’t tell anyone at all, for another four, maybe five years. When I did tell my story, it was terrifying. My body shook, uncontrollably. My therapist at the time was pretty incompetent, so I don’t know if he actually did anything, but he told me that he had reported everything I had told him to the police, and that they would keep it on record, in case anyone came forward with a similar story. I hope that helped someone else; I was certainly not the first person he had harmed. In my mid-twenties, I went to a police station to report that a man I didn’t know had tried to walk me home from the subway, and that I was petrified that he had seen where I lived, and would come back. The atmosphere in that police station wasn’t awful; it was hardly conducive to a scared young woman remembering enough detail to make any difference. One officer made a comment about the way the clerk looked, and I could tell from the look on her face that she was used to that. I don’t think he knew that that qualified as sexual harassment, but it did, and it happened while I was reporting harassment.

My story makes me believe in Hargitay’s mission to educate, “heal the healers,” and ask police departments how her organization can work with them. I know that Rape Culture minimizes the experiences of survivors. But I believe that much of the law-enforcement side of this problem can be solved with more education, listening, and financial help directed at the right places.

The foundation's plan of action to effect real change.

The foundation’s plan of action to effect real change.

I learned about this organization from my aunt. My dad has one sister, and she has been a pillar of strength in my life. She has loved me for ME, as long as I can remember. We haven’t had a lot of time together; she has lived in California, as long as I’ve been alive, and I lived in Minnesota, for as long as I can remember. But she threw my mom a baby shower, and I have a picture of that day, and the cake she baked for us. When my family visited a few of my dad’s siblings, in California, I remember her most clearly, because she talked to the kids like we were just short people. My dad’s family yelled a lot, but I never heard her yell. One aunt-in-law, and my beloved aunt, distracted the kids, when the brothers stared up. I’ve pieced that much together. When I was processing the memories I had finally talked about, at age fourteen or fifteen, she just sat and listened to me. And she even told me to hold up, before deciding that it was all my mom’s fault, because she said she knew what it was like, as a mother, to see her children hurting, to know that it was her “fault,” and that I couldn’t understand that pain. When I wanted to punish my mother for letting that man into our house, my aunt told me that my mom was suffering and to be gentle. Her voice echoed in my head when I made the decision to start calling my mom during therapy sessions, to work through some of those feelings.

Now that I’m an adult, I know more about the life my aunt has lived. It’s not my story to tell, but she is the victim of incest, rape, domestic violence, emotional and verbal abuse, from family members, now ex-husbands, even my own father. She’s got medical problems that keep her immobile, sometimes, but every day she can, she walks for at least twenty minutes. I want to tell you about what she’s doing, now, because my heart feel stronger, every time I think about how she spends her time. She’s the one who told me about The Joyful Heart Foundation and its mission to flood cooperative police departments with money to process the backlog of rape kits that plagues our nation. She hasn’t ever had the kind of closure that DNA proof from a processed rape kit can provide, but she wants it for other survivors. You can learn more about the project to End the Backlog, here. My aunt goes to group therapy for survivors and ends up supporting the therapists by telling the younger women understand that they are making choices, even when they feel like they are trapped. She tells them about the way her own children have suffered, when she stayed with abusive husbands, after she left, just because life is hard. She’s honest about the mistakes they have made, now that they are all grown, and how she feels responsible for that. She talks, because she hopes that knowing about her life and the lives of her kids will help someone else. Her imperfections, “wrong” choices, and the sheer force of her will to keep on going – this is how she helps the rest of us.

One more thing about my aunt – she was worried about me, this month, around the same time that I was silent here on the blog, because I hadn’t returned her calls (only two, because she doesn’t want to bother me). She called my sister to make sure that I was ok. I’ve felt invisible, often. That happens when you grow up with an emotionally abusive father preoccupied by his own paranoia. I know that she’s thinking of me. She even told me once that sometimes, she might not call me back right away, because she never wanted me to have to bear the burden of her depression. It means the world to me that she is so careful to maintain healthy boundaries with me, not a little bit because my dad didn’t even understand that concept.

I could tell more stories about more women I know who never had justice or closure. I can’t do anything to give that to them. But I can do something for the women whose rape kits just need more money and more pressure to get processed before the statute runs out. I can do something for the women who will be raped and whose assailants’ DNA must be included in a database, where it can be matched with the results of other rape kits.

As I leave my twenties behind, I look back on a decade spent using my wits, my will, my time – every resource I could grasp – to take back my life from the people who asked me for my power. My father. The man who assaulted me. They are the worst offenders. I learned to love my body, to feel its power. I learned that some of the people I love can be trusted, implicitly, and that where the trust is too corroded for a relationship to continue, I can love and maintain boundaries, from afar. The only thing that I needed, outside myself, were other people to believe in me. And THAT is what The Joyful Heart Foundation does. It connects the people who need healing with people who can help them heal. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, to have such an aunt, a husband, a sister, a mother, to believe in me.

Donate directly to The Joyful Heart Foundation, here.

Until Monday, October 13th, you can join a Facebook “party” where my friend Vanessa and I are selling jewelry and Jamberry nail wraps, together. I’ve made it “public” – you don’t even have to have a Facebook account to see it. If you join us by clicking “RSVP” you’ll have a chance to win discounts and free merchandise! You’ll find the short version of everything I’m about to post in that party, so go there!

If you’re not a Facebook person, keep reading. You can shop for beautiful jewelry at my friend Vanessa’s Chloe + Isabel website. See the bumble bee? I have one! It’s amazing. Mine is a charm clipped to a turquoise beaded “convertible” piece that can be one long necklace, one long + one short + one bracelet, one medium + one bracelet, etc. I wear it all the time!

c + i collage

For every $1 you spend, she will donate $0.12 to the foundation, as long as you remember to choose our “pop up shop” like this, during checkout:

c + i pop up shop choice

And, of course, I’m selling Jamberry nail wraps and lacquer for the cause! Like Vanessa, I’m donating $0.12 for every $1 you spend on my site. Choose “Gems & Jams” as your party, at checkout. Jamberry will ask you “Don’t you want to pick a party?” if you forget, and I can fix it, in case you forget twice.

I have a special project, too. If you buy order a design I did myself, I will donate 100% of my commission to the foundation. This is the design:

joyful heart 2.0 preview watermarked

And you can fill out an order form, here. It will ask you for your email address, so that I can email you an invoice for $20. (The words are a watermark–they won’t be printed on the design! And, if this form isn’t working for you, click on this link.)

Proud Welfare Mom Finds Support at #BlogHer14

I didn’t expect Proud Welfare Mom to show up at the BlogHer conference. I knew that the minute I got back, I’d need to be on the phone, dealing with the IMPOSSIBLE-to-get-on-the-phone Department of Social Services, because the process of renewing our food stamps benefits wasn’t finished. I wanted to put it out of my mind, until I got home. On the last day of the conference, though, it struck me that the words I was hearing from women of color about the abuse they encounter, when they write about their experiences as minority women, sounded all too familiar. So, when they took questions, I went straight for the microphone.

“Can we just throw income into this discussion?” I asked. “The only time I’ve been treated with the kind of abusive tone I’m hearing described by these women of color is when I write about using food stamps.”

I didn’t feel pride, and I didn’t feel brave, until some members of the audience cheered that they had been there, too – white women on food stamps. The moderator pointed out that those hostile to government assistance programs fail to realize that the person most likely to be on food stamps is an elderly white woman. The women of color shared that many people assume that they are low-income earners, and accuse them of being “takers,” even if they earn well above the average income.

intersectionality panel

I used money we didn’t have (yay, credit?) to go be with these women, because they are my tribe. They keep me going, and their words and hugs fill up my writer soul. When I stood up in front of everyone who was in the “Grand Ballroom” and told a panel of really impressive bloggers that my family uses food stamps, it wasn’t a confessional. I simply felt that it was relevant. They responded that it was, in fact, relevant, and we also exchanged empathy. Privilege was acknowledged, and so was the sadness at readers who leave hateful comments in response to the words we publish.

Proud Welfare Mom is a sort of persona I’ve developed to talk about using government assistance to help meet my family’s needs, without shame. I’m proud of my family, not proud (or ashamed – it’s simply a fact) that we use “welfare.” I will always be proud of my family, and nothing can shake that. I did feel propped up, however, in that room full of women who responded thoughtfully to my request that we include income while discussing “The Intersection of Race, Gender, Feminism and the Internet.” I spoke up because I couldn’t shake the feeling that income, real or perceived, was tied up in all of this, and Proud Welfare Mom was suddenly right there.

I’m sitting here, finishing this post, while I wait for a very kind social worker to get back to me about finishing our SNAP (food stamps) renewal. Yesterday was a really hard day, with three full hours on the phone, most of the time spent on hold, trying to get everything straightened out, and discovering that I had misunderstood a few things. I’m not supposed to be able to fax anything, but the social worker who picked up my call has allowed me to do so. I’m not in our home town, so I can’t drop off the paperwork at the main office (also not something that’s normally allowed). If she had been strict about following the rules, I would have had to mail everything and let our benefits lapse while we waited for the mail to arrive. I’m waiting for a call, right now, to confirm that I’ve finally gotten it right, this time. I was feeling pretty low, still in my pajamas and fighting a migraine caused by the stress, when I remembered what my tribe had done for me at BlogHer: applauded my contribution.

My view from the San Jose Marriott, of the convention center, a few other hotels, and the valley.

My view from the San Jose Marriott, of the convention center, a few other hotels, and the California horizon at sunset.

Contribute what you have, and your tribe will find you. “Trolls” will find you too, yes, because there’s one lurking under the bridge of every controversial topic, waiting to jump out and say something awful. They disappear, though, in the face of the people who stand with you and affirm that every voice deserves a platform. (Trolls, find your own – this one belongs to me.)

This blog began as a place for me to share my experience with anti-anxiety medication and pregnancy; as my family has grown, this space has grown, to encompass my experience with motherhood, trying to pay the bills, needing help, staying healthy. I write what’s known as a “Personal Blog,” and I’m so glad I do. I don’t know enough about “Lifestyle” or fashion or DIY projects to write that kind of blog. I do know that when I share my story, others come to stand with me. I call you my tribe, dear readers, and I thank you for coming here to think and feel with me. I thank you for your comments, emails, silent readership. I have come home from BlogHer feeling more certain than ever that we thrive, when we share our stories. Our communities may not overlap entirely, but they do intersect, and sharing those parts of ourselves can only make us stronger.

Sorry for getting a little bit saccharine. It just felt so amazing to thank these amazing writers for their contributions, and to hear “thank you” right back. I wanted to keep that going.

Inside Misogyny: #YesAllWomen Live in a Sexist System

All the trigger warnings. Even that phrase makes me shudder. Violence, sexism, sexual assault, general and specific.


I did not know how to write about everything I have felt in the wake of the shootings that happened last Friday night at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on a street where my friend used to live. I don’t know anyone directly involved in the violence. The best I can do to explain why I have retreated from the world and felt so much grief is to say that I have known since I was 10 years old, since before I knew this word, that I live inside misogyny. Our culture is a sexist culture. The man who assaulted me felt entitled to my body.

The point of the conversation is to say, ‘Alright this is the system that we’ve created, but we can also change this system through awareness.’ – Soraya Chemaly

There have been over a million tweets that have used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to tell stories. We have been telling stories about being told to smile by a stranger on the street, to avoid “bad” boys as if date rape is the victim’s fault, and about surviving incest, rape, domestic violence. Until I heard Soraya Chemaly and other guests on NPR’s program On Point discuss the way that misogyny defines the way we live, I did not understand fully why this brought up such a primal fear in me.

Misogyny, as Chemaly points out, includes both the hatred of women/girls AND the hatred of all things feminine. Our boys are under so much pressure, because femininity is viewed as weak. Our girls are under so much pressure, because they are bombarded with the message that they must protect themselves from (masculine) aggression.

I am still processing my feelings on this. My conscious mind knows that this fear will not overwhelm me to the point of tears, for much longer. But I will not feel as safe as I might feel. I may no longer feel that I’m in immediate danger, the way my early trauma is telling me right now. But as the mother of a boy, and the spouse of a man, and a member of this society, it is my job to face my fears and work to change this system from inside it. I am fortunate to work with this man and this boy, my family, in this project. I grieve that my father and his father did more than I will ever write about, here, to perpetuate that system. Those stories, from those generations, aren’t mine to tell. I am free from admonitions to protect my reputation by not being alone with a boy “for no reason” and to “be careful who I date” that punctuated my teen years. Without actively telling me that women were less valuable than men, or that he hated women, my father told me to adapt to a misogynistic system. My family, now – my husband and son – will be working hard to question that system. As we question, and as we ask women, “tell me more of your story,” even when it might be tempting to defend the “good” men, we will change it.


Why I Believe Dylan Farrow, Part II: I Wasn’t Lying, Even When I Was

I will repeat my earlier ::TRIGGER WARNING:: from my post Why I Believe Dylan Farrow, Part I before I discuss child sexual abuse, divorce/separation, emotional abuse, including child emotional abuse, all in relation to recent news regarding Woody Allen and his former adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, as well as my own childhood and parents’ divorce.



First, a bit of fact checking:

I have learned this week that Dylan Farrow’s “supporters,” as we are called, are often accused of “embellishing” facts, so I want to make sure that I get them right. Thus, I need to correct a fact that I got wrong in my post, Why I Believe Dylan Farrow, Part I – Woody Allen’s wife is not his former adoptive daughter. Mia Farrow and a previous significant other adopted the child who grew up and is now the woman now married to Allen. Even Woody Allen’s defenders admit that they understand why some people find this creepy. They admit that his children were raised alongside his wife, and that she is both their sister and mother-in-law. I just want to make sure I’m getting my facts straight, and I didn’t know about those details, until today, while doing research for this post.

My research actually consisted of reading links helpfully provided by my dear friend, at her blog, A Place of Greater Safety. Specifically, I found these two pieces most helpful in understanding the details of “the Allen case.” To just quote directly from my friend:

She has many other great links up, though, so go and check out her post.

Nothing chills me to the bone quite like the way Woody Allen’s defenders casually pick apart Mia Farrow’s romantic history and sex life. It is wrong to use a mother’s sex life, let alone rumors and suggestions about a mother’s sex life, to suggest that a child has invented her own sexual abuse. My father convinced me that many awful things were true about my mother, and he used her sexual history against her, even he had none of his facts straight. I even believed, for a short time, that she had never wanted to have a second child (me) at all and wished that I didn’t exist. My father told me that, and I believed him. But he did not convince me to invent sexual abuse out of thin air. His firm belief that my mother knew about the abuse and let it happen, on purpose, to keep a man in her life, did not even last long, with me. 

LET ME BE CRYSTAL CLEAR: I believe Dylan Farrow’s story. Every word that is in her letter. I am NOT saying that she told lies during that infamous custody battle. I AM saying that, even if she has said anything untrue, she would NEVER have made up the abuse. We are almost the same age. In the past twenty years, we have both been confused about details and said contradictory things. Neither of us has ever wavered on one thing: THIS HAPPENED.

And that marks the end of my participation in the “did he or didn’t he” conversation. I’m done. It’s too painful.

I am going to be as “objective” (as if that were possible, in any family matter) as I can, and lay out what I now believe happened to ME. I want to set my own record straight, because I spent so long believing and repeating lies.

In 1999, memories of having been sexually molested began to surface in my mind, and I had to purge them. They began to rise up, in shards and fragments, just after my mother told me that she was dating a man, and that his name was David. I didn’t know him, and she wasn’t sure I had ever even met him. My relationship with my mother was a rocky one, and had been for a years, even though I was still only fourteen. By late summer, I had a collection of bits and pieces that did not arrange themselves into a neat chronology. I also felt so angry at my mother that I refused to see her or speak to her. I did what any confused, hurt child would do; I turned to my father for help in making sense of these feelings and the images that haunted my nightmares.

At no point did my father tell me what to believe. Given the fact that my mother’s news about her boyfriend, if he was even a boyfriend, had triggered the most epic panic attack I’ve ever experienced, I asked my father whether he knew who this David person might be, and I asked whether he had dark hair and a dark, thick mustache. (I know, the mustache is almost too much, isn’t it?) Yes, he had met him, and yes, that’s what he looked like. I asked when it was that I slept in the bedroom with the pink carpet–I occupied one across the hall with blue carpet, at various points. I remember the carpet and the shape of the room, but not how old I was or anything about what it looked like outside. We went over each memory fragment and tried to put it in its proper place in some sort of chronology.

I know that it happened in October, 1993, because that is the only time that makes sense, when I take both my parents’ histories into account. I know who it was, because they both confirmed my description. I know what happened and where, because the physical sensations will not leave me alone.

By the following logic, my father and I added details: because I had memories that seemed disjointed, it must have happened more than once. Because my father believed that mother had spent many nights with this man, while I was in her custody, despite the short duration of their separation, we decided that he had had the opportunity to molest me in the middle of the night. This lead to the conclusion that my memory of noise outside the door was a separate incident, backed up by the theory that disjointed memories were obvious indications of multiple assaults. And so on.

I cannot begin to describe the pain that I feel, when I remember those conversations with my dad. He was so calm and rational. I needed one of the people in charge to be calm and rational, after all, and he was the one with the house, this time. I needed a trustworthy parent, and my father gave me good reason to believe that he was the parent to trust. I will not dignify the lies he told me about my mother, but the rundown is not unlike what you might have read this week about Mia Farrow. Accusations of sexual promiscuity, particularly during teenage years, adultery, a hedonistic attitude towards casual sex. My love of old Hollywood could not have prompted my mother to give me, a voracious reader, a biography of Marilyn Monroe–when I threw out the book because it was explicit about Monroe’s early sexual life and based entirely on rumor, my father casually suggested that it was probably an attempt to convince me that sex was not a big deal, just as it was clearly not a big deal for my mom. When a bar called our house after finding my mom’s wallet, her driver’s license inside, to return it to her, my father confided to me that he had heard rumors of her drinking and going out with men.

I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, forced to listen to these details about my own mother’s supposed sex life, because my father told me that it was what I needed to hear. I needed to hear it, he said, so that I could protect myself from her. Now that I am an adult, I shudder at how dramatically inappropriate it all was, to put it mildly.

It has taken me over a decade to unravel the lies told so casually (and probably fully believed) that it never occurred to me to question their voracity. As an adult, I began to acknowledge the gut feeling that something in my story just did not add up. When my father began accusing me of abusing him (yelling while I was an angry teenager constituted verbal abuse, in his first accusation), I felt confident that I could start questioning a lot. First, I asked my mother about her teenage years. She was so angry, so confused, and so disheartened. The real story is not mine to tell, but hers, so I will simply say that it has nothing in common with what I was told. My mom was not the most level-headed, responsible parent you’ve ever met, but she made a point not to talk about my father, after they separated. Their fight was not mine, in her mind. Meanwhile, in our house, he told me that he was fighting to protect me from her “evil” (yes, he used that word).

If my mother is no villain, does that make my father the bad guy? Because I turned away from my mother completely during the year their divorce was being processed, he got sole custody of me. But he did not have Woody Allen’s bank account. He ended up with sole custody and no child support to pay, but he also ended up with a heavily mortgaged and not-quite-finished geodesic dome house. (That house is another story altogether.) I don’t see any reason to claim that he manipulated me because he is cold-hearted or evil. I believe that my father manipulates his loved ones in repetition of a pattern of emotional abuse that began, at least, with his father, and I believe that he does not know that his behavior constitutes abuse. I believe that, in his mind, wracked as it is by mental illness, he has protected and loved me. The idea that he has emotionally and verbally abused me is a new wound, compared to the scars I have shown you, this week. I am so very angry at him. And I still can’t bring myself to believe that he did any of this in cold blood.

Me, summer 2006.

Me, summer 2006.

Just today, I learned about another lie, the strangest one he has ever told me, and I still can’t convince myself that he lies, knowingly. I called my mother this afternoon, heart aching at all the things I once said to her and about her. Telling her about the guilt I was feeling lead to a question about another source of guilt: was my abuser still involved with the elementary school system in that neighboring county? She had no idea what I was talking about. Fifteen years ago, my father told me that my abuse was particularly tragic at the hands of this particular man, because this person was a substitute art teacher in a particular school district. I have carried guilt around for years, thinking he was spending his days with ten-year-old girls just like me. It was a complete fabrication. Did my dad get this man confused with someone else, combine the two people, and somehow arrive at this fictitious job? My mom hasn’t a clue. Me either. My abuser was neither an artist nor a teacher at any point in his life, as far as she knows.

The story I told earlier this week feels true, in my heart, because this narrative happened in a safe space, under professional supervision. Just three years ago, my mother visited me and bravely sat with me, in my therapist’s office, to hash it all out and answer my questions, as best she could. My lack of trust in her was something we just could not move past. She was willing to put herself in this very vulnerable place in the hope that we could repair that trust. It just so happens that my therapist is a licensed clinical social worker. She is uniquely qualified to work through this kind of thing. With her help, we both left with enough shared memories to confirm a version of events that finally let her believe me, and grieve with me.

Yes, she remembered my abuser being in the house, but only once, and it would have been a time when there were several friends in the house. We started there. I looked hard at the fragments of memory I felt sure about–the tactile memories, the sounds, the lighting, the shape of the room, etc. I held that close. Then, I asked her what she found difficult to believe. Opening myself up to that question was terrifying, to say the least. The sticking point was my accusation that she had opened my door, seen what that man was doing to me, and turned her back. I took a deep breath, and I asked her–was it possible that I had placed that memory in the wrong order? Was it possible that she had stood in my doorway and then turned around, at some other time, that same night? Well, yes, of course. To check on a child put to bed, before going to bed herself. Alone. The more I asked, the more answers she had, and the more peace I felt. Unlike my teenage interactions with my father, this was more like an interview. I checked in with my therapist (MY therapist, this time) to make sure everything rang true, to her, too. I asked her, in her professional experience, could the sense of betrayal that permeated this memory of my mother, alone, framed by the hall light, have come from a child’s shock that my attack had gone unnoticed? Yes.

As painful as it has been to relive my trauma this week, I have undergone so much healing. A child abuse investigator writing about “the Allen case” explains, “Children who are repeatedly interviewed about the same incident often change an answer to please the person doing the interview.  We see this in custody cases all the time. When the kids at mom’s they say they hate dad, when they’re at dad’s vice versa.” In my case, there was no time “at mom’s.” Obviously, talking only to my father and his own therapist of a decade or more, set me up for the “lies” I told. The investigator/journalist has answered me there, too: “In the Allen case, Dylan should NEVER have been questioned by a doctor in a hospital room with her mom there. Unfortunately, it was 1993.  Now children are interviewed in safe one-on-one settings, for the most part.” I had no specialist in child abuse or recovered memory or even in child psychology to talk with, in any sort of safe, one-on-one, setting.

Finally, I feel an incredible sense of freedom, because the statement I just quoted says, “Unfortunately, it was 1993.” As the full article makes abundantly clear, coming forward in 1993, even immediately after I had been touched, would likely have ended in no proof, no criminal charges and possibly a great deal of trauma for me, given the era’s lack of sensitivity towards the fragility of children in my position. Having my credibility questioned was the worst feeling I have ever experience, even greater than the betrayal I felt on that awful night. But I could fight back. I was fourteen, and I faced doubts by my mother and people who loved her and couldn’t see a coldness in her that would allow her to watch me suffer in the way I described. My current therapist didn’t see that in her, either, so it’s no wonder that her close friends were doubtful. No one defended my abuser. No police officer or doctor questioned me. I would not have fought for myself at age ten. I would not have been prepared to defend my credibility.


Why I Believe Dylan Farrow, Part I

HUGE TRIGGER WARNING: this post discuses childhood sex abuse in explicit terms. I will not shy away from detail, because rape culture feeds on silence. Sex abuse happens more often the less often we speak about it. Get prepared to be uncomfortable, or click away.


I was sexually abused as a child, and Woody Allen’s alleged abuse of his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, is everywhere I turn, this week. Well, I have flashed back to my own horrible experience often enough to know that I can stand it, so I think that this time, I will put it to some use. I was once an abused child whose story was a central part of one of the ugliest divorces in history. You can take it from me, now that I have spent over a decade in therapy, processing all the feelings about all the memories and even all the gaps in my memory–

The Truth of what Woody Allen did to Dylan Farrow doesn’t matter. Not being members of a jury, we are under no obligation to look for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Our obligation in this, as it always is with survivors of abuse, particularly children, is simple: we must listen to their stories.

Nicholas Kristof, of the New York Times, has given us a chance to do just that by publishing An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow. The letter relates, in a few stark words, Dylan Farrow’s childhood sexual abuse by Woody Allen and her life since his very public breakup with her mother, Mia Farrow. And here is what shocks me, every time I think about it–this is the first time the public has heard from Dylan, herself.

Woody Allen has long enjoyed a platform as wide as the world to express every last feeling he has ever had. Dylan Farrow has had just under 1,000 words in one column in one newspaper. Why are so many people concerned with the repercussions of those words on his life? Why can we not stop to look, for just a moment, at hers?

It’s a common refrain that sex abuse should be “dealt with” quietly, lest the accusation damage the reputation of the (insert the implication: falsely) accused. But it doesn’t play out that way. Even before we find out whether the victim is telling the truth, and we rarely do, the accused almost always simply moves on with life, as though it had never happened. How many public allegations of rape or abuse have ruined the abuser’s life? R. Kelly’s pedophilia is a now a joke for late-night comedy, and his Wikipedia page has more details about his throat surgery than about the dozens of accusations of statutory rape and possession of or solicitation of child pornography made against him (note: he was fount not guilty one case that made it to court, and another was dropped after a judge ruled that the police did not have probable cause for the search that revealed the photos of underage girls on his digital camera). Kobe Bryant still plays for the Lakers, and he’s better known for fathering Kim Kardashian’s child than for the accusation of rape made against him by a hotel employee in 2003. A freshman football player won the Heisman Trophy last year, even under the “shadow” of accusations of sexual assault. Roman Polanski pled guilty to statutory rape (she was 13, he was in his 40s) in order to reduce the charges against him, but fled before sentencing and simply stays out of the United States to avoid being arrested. He continues to make films and accept awards for them from abroad. Woody Allen remains married to a woman who was a girl, and his adopted daughter, when their sexual relationship began. These men all have the following in common: they have all won the highest accolades and awards achievable in their careers while under strong suspicion of having committed sex abuse.

Not only is Woody Allen nominated for an Academy Award, but his nomination has brought his former girlfriend, Mia Farrow, and the daughter he abused under harsh public scrutiny. For lying. Maybe. For manipulating “the truth” to get more money in an ugly separation. Maybe.

Whose lives have really been “ruined” by Dylan’s story having been made public? Which–the accuser or the accused–ends up holding the shame at the end of it all?

From Dylan’s perspective: “That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, ‘who can say what happened,’ to pretend that nothing was wrong.”

Unlike Allen and his defenders, Farrow does not ask her readers to believe her. She asks, instead, that we stop telling survivors of sexual abuse to “shut up and go away.” She explains that her first ever public statement has been prompted by Allen’s Academy Award nomination and the publicity that has come with it. She says that “For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance [by the world] silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.”

That’s it. Her entire agenda. She just wants to talk about it. Why not? This all became public in 1993! Surely, we have had time enough to process the shock that we can now handle listening to Dylan.

Now, I told you that this case haunted me. Here’s a big reason why: guess what happened in my life, in 1993?

Yes, that’s right–I was sexually assaulted.

In October, 1993, my parents were separated, and my mother was dating a man she introduced to me as David. I was nine or ten years old (I’m not sure if it happened before my birthday, or after), and at some point later that evening, David used the “party” (there was almost never any alcohol in my house–they were probably meditating and burning incense in my hippie living room) as a cover, while he came back to my room. Somehow, I ended up on the floor, on my back. He touched my chest and nipples, and put his fingers inside my vagina. It hurt. I didn’t bleed. He was in my house only once. He was in my room for no more than ten minutes. I didn’t tell anyone. I know now that my mother never knew what happened, but when she came in later to check in on me, I felt shocked and betrayed that she couldn’t see how much I suffered.

Me, around the age when I was attacked, with my friend, just being an innocent kid.

Me, around the age when I was assaulted, with my friend, just being an innocent kid.

My mother couldn’t see what had happened, of course, because my body bore no marks of any visible damage. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, let alone why it had happened or what I ought to feel about it. I didn’t understand why my father was living in a hotel, then an apartment. My parents’ separation had been sudden, because they had been fighting for years. I hadn’t noticed any distinct change. Then, my dad was just living somewhere else. It ripped my world apart. David, whose full name I have never even heard, took advantage of my broken world. I don’t remember considering telling anyone; I didn’t think or reason. I just held it inside. I survived. My secret eventually wrapped itself in a protective ball of rage, guilt and terror.

If you have ever felt fundamentally and truly unsafe, then you know this: rational thought disappears, when you are afraid that you will not survive.

I will explain, in my next post, why my secret couldn’t stay hidden and how it became involved in my parents’ horrifically ugly divorce, years after my assault took place. For now, I will simply say that this story is different from the story I used to tell. I suspect that a few of you reading this will be feeling surprise at how it has changed. The heart of my story remains true, and it is the same. An adult man violated me, when I was a child, for his own sexual gratification.

I don’t want coos of sympathy. The event itself was worked through years ago. Reliving it doesn’t even make me cry, anymore. Stories like Dylan’s break my heart, though, because they paint such a clear picture of the devastation we cause survivors of abuse, when we demand their silence. It is hard enough to live with the physical, emotional and psychological trauma caused by sexual assault, without asking that survivors defend our credibility, too.

Please, ask yourselves, why is it so automatic to our media to question Dylan’s story? And not just hers, but all the women and girls in all the cases I mentioned, and all the cases you know about.

Why is the response still, after all these years, “Well, we can’t know what happened,” just as it was in 1993?

Why is her credibility, as fully-functioning member of society, instantly questioned?

Why can’t we just listen?

I believe Dylan Farrow. If you have any doubts, ask yourself where they came from. Were you manipulated into believing that the Great Genius, towering icon of Hollywood, was too harmless to have done such things?

Were you made suggestible by your youth, when you first began watching him onscreen? Are you perhaps inclined to feel defensive, because you find his Hollywood persona endearing?

Can we appreciate the art and believe that the artist belongs behind bars?

If we ask, what if Dylan Farrow was manipulated into believing a lie, then we must also ask–what if we are the ones who have been duped? It’s only fair to question both the guilt she asserts and the innocence he proclaims.

Isn’t it a bit backwards that we find it easier, smoother, simpler, to question the alleged victim?

A final note about Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine: Inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, Allen’s film removes the cause for the heroine’s ultimate decline into madness, leaving his audience with no one to blame but her. Guess what he removes? Her rape. He removes her rape, and then sets about convincing his audience that nothing she says can be trusted. Streetcar features, Blanche, who is clearly hiding a great deal, who has been shamed by scandal, and who adopts the attitude of a higher social class than she occupies. She is tragic, nonetheless, as her brother-in-law, Stanley, becomes increasingly barbaric in his effort to silence her, viewing her as a threat to his marriage and masculinity. Allen turns Blanche into Jasmine, still desperate and destitute, but far more calculating. There is an objectionable brother-in-law figure, but he poses no real threat to Jasmine. He seems downright hapless compared with Williams’s vengeful Stanley. There is no ruthless, relentless, attempt to keep Jasmine silent about the way life “should” be. Blanche is haunted by a scandal involving sexuality and an underage boy, but Williams makes it clear that men hold the true power when Stanley rapes Blanche and then denies that it ever happened, finally toppling her fragile mind into madness. While Williams makes very clear that any power his women possess can be erased by a man willing to use sex to gain power, the women in Allen’s Blue Jasmine attract and repel men as they please. These men are responsible for their behavior, good or bad, only in the sense that “boys will be boys,” as though it were only natural for men to drink too much, commit adultery and use physical violence as an outlet for their anger. By the end of the film, which explains much more of the past than Williams’s Streetcar, Jasmine seems entirely culpable for her destruction; she brings about her own insanity. Blanche is literally dragged from her sister’s home, but Jasmine walks right out the front door. To top it all off, I want to vomit just thinking about the scene in which Jasmine screams at the husband who has just announced his plan to leave her for their friends’ au pair, “She’s a fucking teenager!” It is her reaction to this news that brings about her own destruction, and Allen uses her own child to voice the opinion that this is a mistake worthy of blame and punishment.

Written and directed by none other than a man who left his adult partner for the teenager they had agreed to raise as their child. Remind me, again, why are we questioning Dylan Farrow, instead of demanding answers from Woody Allen?

Sex and the Child NFL Fan: An Open Letter

To The NFL:

Yesterday, I went to a Jets game with my husband, to celebrate his birthday; it was the first time either of us had ever been to a regular-season game. As the mother of a one-year-old who already has more than his fair share of Jets gear, I was really impressed at all the ways that you found to get kids involved. This GenJets program you’ve come up with seems pretty great, especially because your “kids only” autograph area encourages parents to take their kids to see the athletes practice. I’m not sure how well the NFL’s well-publicized “Play60” effort is going, in terms of actually increasing physical activity among your youngest fans, but it’s just common sense that kids who see a pro football team practice will think “WOW! How can I do THAT?” It’s really neat that the kids whose parents are season ticket holders get the chance to run out of the tunnel and help welcome the players on the field, and I loved seeing this same group learn how to be “Kid Reporters” by interviewing players. It’s also awesome that kids whose families do not have seasons tickets are welcome to join a “Just for Kids conference call with players and coaches.” I’ve picked out those “member benefits” to highlight, because they show children, rather than simply offer lip service, what it’s like to play a sport this demanding. Oh, and I like the reporter thing, because I’d really rather my kid want to interview people than risk brain injury by playing a sport with such a high rate of head injuries, but that’s a story for another day.

Today, I’d like to talk to you about the unadvertised messages you are selling and modeling to the NFL’s youngest fans by showcasing the Jets Flight Crew cheerleaders in a way that focuses attention on women as sex objects. It is not necessary for cheerleaders to be sex objects; I have been educated about this by a professional cheerleading coach and former cheer captain, who explained the athletic elements I wasn’t seeing. The women I saw on the field today can dance. They are talented, and they are entertaining! They sparkle and shine from all the way up in the last rows, where we were sitting, and they seem to be having a great time. But the way you showcase these women on the huge screens in your stadiums, in your merchandise and online treats them as sex objects, rather than talented dancers who help energize the crowd and provide entertainment.

To be perfectly frank, I didn’t even notice that you were doing this until the eleven-year-old boy who was sitting next to me returned from the concession stands while the camera feed you put on the big screens panned across a row of women in poses that could only have been intended to scream “SEX.” My discomfort made me squirm, literally, when adult men seated in front of me cheered and jeered at those women onscreen, while sitting next to other young boys. I thought the festive costumes were cute, as a matter of fact, until I saw just where their hemlines ended, and just how specifically that fuzzy trim around the bottom had been designed, to the inch, to give viewers a peek at the spandex beneath those “skirts.” I’ll provide an example, for readers who haven’t already conjured up a good image of the kind of thing I’m talking about:

This photo is from the official Jets website, specifically, from the photo gallery devoted to the Flight Crew from a December, 2012, game.

This photo is from the official Jets website, specifically, from the photo gallery devoted to the Flight Crew from a December, 2012, game.

I’m not saying that this surprises me. It doesn’t. I know that your audience is largely comprised of adult men, and that sex sells. But it surprise me that children were confronted with images like this one in your actual stadiums, during your games, and even during programs specifically designed for children. My husband made a comment about the Jets Flight Crew Calendar on his return from the concession stands with hot chocolate for us, and only when my new young friend’s appearance made me uncomfortable with the images onscreen did it occur to me that this same young boy had probably noticed that calendar, too. I am absolutely certain that adult men could enjoy the talents of these beautiful women without poses like this one and costumes meant to show off the crotch. There are children watching. Always. On TV and in your stadiums. Take some responsibility for what you are selling those kids. If you want to claim that you can convince them to “Play60” and get them active and that your players are role modeling for them, then you need to model respect for all the athletes on your field, not just the ones with helmets.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the “jumpsuit” costume my husband mentioned, one that covers a bit more skin; it’s not the skin I object to, but rather, the poses you highlight. Your Flight Crew can be as covered up as I am, on any given Sunday, and still cater to our society’s basest instincts about women and sex.

jets flight crew jumpsuit

Really, Choreographer? REALLY? (Again–from the official Jets Flight Crew photo gallery, December, 2011.

I wanted to end there, until I saw the way you showcased the boys and girls in your GenJets club, separately and, of course, perfectly aligned with every stereotype about what we value in men and women. I was just trying to find official images and good links for this blog post. I wasn’t looking to destroy my hopes about your club for kids. I wasn’t looking for a reason to think this would be anything other than fun for my own child. And then, I saw this little array of photos and links:

Where are the girls in that photo of young fans? Why are the only girls on this page signing up for your cheerleading camp? Why not show girls admiring Super Bowl trophies, too? I saw young girls at the game today! Why aren't those fans represented, here?

Where are the girls in that photo of young fans? Why are the only girls on this page signing up for your cheerleading camp? Why not show girls admiring Super Bowl trophies, too? I saw young girls at the game today! Why aren’t those fans represented, here?

For the love! Just show a little girl enjoying a game! Put ONE girl in just ONE of your general calls to join your club! I checked. There aren’t any images of girls in those general ads. There were girls in the Kids Tunnel today! Where are their pictures? I think Jets Flight Crew cheer camp sounds like it would be a lot of fun for girls who like cheerleading, so I’m obviously not asking you to take down that image. I just want to see young female fans enjoying the game the way I do–from the stands. It’s normal! SELL THAT, TOO. Sell fandom to young girls as well as young boys. Stop feeding stereotypes. And while we’re at it–stop putting costumes on women that you can’t get away with putting on little girls. If those costumes were ok, at all, you’d have the shorter females in this photo wearing matching outfits. But they are covered up, and we both know that’s because you’d get flak for putting girls in anything this ridiculous:

Enough. Said.

Enough. Said.

Adults know beautiful and sexy when we see it. You don’t need to shove it down our throats in a way that also sells our young children a particularly offensive brand of “sexy,” and a tired set of stereotypes about women. Everyone really can have all the fun, without the part that made me blush to see a child watching. Even a tablespoon of subtlety would help me believe that you care at all about the physical or mental well-being of your youngest fans; at this point, I’m pretty much convinced that you care only about selling the brand to the next generation.


A Disappointed Mother and Fan-By-Marriage

HerStories: the Book, the Launch Day, the Dream

Ever since I read about how Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women (I’m guessing I was eight or nine), I have known that one day, I would be a published author. It may be on page 212 of a (FANTASTIC) collection of essays by many other authors, but Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March gets HER first story published in a magazine (or is it a newspaper?). I’m doing much better, if we account for the company I’m keeping, here. Seriously–these women are amazing. I’ve been on the verge of happy tears since I got my copy of the book, today. Look at her. She’s beautiful!

In person, she’s all shiny and gorgeous. And my NAME is in there! It’s in the table of contents of a REAL BOOK. Library of congress, people! It’s on the page my essay is in. Page 212. Happy Launch Day to everyone, especially my wonderful fellow contributors and MOST especially to Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. The HerStories Project is so important. It’s no accident that I feel like Jo March and a strong link to Louisa May Alcott, LM Montgomery and Jane Austen, my first favorite female authors. Without books about female friendship, I would never have loved reading so much, nor would I have aspired to write. Did I mention that I FEEL LIKE JO MARCH? Because that is an awesome feeling. All the people in your life need this book, dear readers.


If you are still reading this, I will tell you that IF you cannot afford $10 on a book, even a super special awesome book that probably has super special super powers, today, Launch Day, you may download it for free in Kindle format. But please only do that if you must. We’ve all worked really hard on this, and it would be pretty great if the women who worked hardest, Jessica and Stephanie, actually earn a dollar or two. This is self-published, and it’s a beautiful a book as any in my collection, so that is what I call impressive.