Category Archives: Silent All These Years

Silent All These Years — The Accounting of a Woman

by Vanessa Tottle

She had a personality once. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include baking cookies. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include choosing drapery.

It included being a lawyer, going undercover to investigate racial integration in schools, offering legal aid to those who couldn’t afford it, having a career.

And the 1990s asked us how we could trust her if she wasn’t baking cookies.

So she baked you some fucking cookies in between declaring my rights are human rights, and getting health insurance for 11 million previously uninsured children through S-CHIP.

You don’t remember S-CHIP. You aren’t a child who lived because of it, or who avoided pain because of it. You proclaim her 1990s health care drive a failure.

You don’t remember when women’s rights weren’t human rights, or live where they still aren’t, or suffer because they closed your Planned Parenthood down. You proclaim Hillary Clinton a failure.

Then there are those who need her. There are the marginalized communities who supported her. Latinx voters like myself. Women voters like myself. And Black voters. And LGBTQ voters. And more. We all asked for your help. We all asked for your vote.

Did you give it?

She is the victim of a philandering husband, yet Bill is her fault. From the Right, she couldn’t satisfy him. From the Left, she couldn’t keep him leashed. Why didn’t she divorce him, you ask. Your news feed answers with Angelina Jolie and Amber Heard and Gwyneth Paltrow, a parade of men’s voices screaming hate and vitriol and threats for the simple act of leaving their men.

Now you tell her she has no personality, she’s cold, she can’t be trusted.

Let me tell you something: I have no personality. I am cold. I cannot be trusted.

When I was the best student in class and I was told my grade would be held down unless I sucked my professor’s dick, I took the lesser grade and brought it up to the administration. He kept his job. Nothing changed, except I lost a piece of what makes me a person.

When my passport was held at bay in a foreign country unless I slept with my host, I became warm and gracious and cloying, but that was all a lie. Inside, I was as cold as I have ever been. He didn’t get a thing, but I left behind the warmth of trust.

When I’ve been at a bar, and I’ve lied that I have a boyfriend, or that I’m married, or that I have an STD, or I spilled a hot toddy to get a hand off my arm but called it an accident, I couldn’t be trusted. There are a hundred environments where a woman is prepared to be untrustworthy just to survive, just to be listened to, just to be legitimate.

You contemplated your vote and saw that she has no personality, that she’s cold, that she can’t be trusted.

If your career is under threat, your goals are under threat, your legitimacy is under threat, you look back across your life and see the history that combination covers, the evolution from there to here of self-protection: the loss of personality, of warmth, of trust.

Many turn to us and tell us the act of voting for Hillary Clinton proved how little we know. But we look upon our experiences, and the pieces of us those experiences have wrought: the personality, and warmth, and trust it’s cost.

We wonder what a privilege it is to not recognize these losses in another because you have never lost them. You think these are simply traits of a woman’s personality, instead of badges women earn through time. They are marks of survival. They are deep scars. They are how I understood a warrior who held onto herself through it all; they are how you understood a whore, a nasty woman, a lack of character.

I saw a woman who offered me freedom from the scars I earn; you chanted, “Lock her up.”

The costs for a woman’s place at the table vary, but those costs are asked of us everywhere.

We finally saw a woman who could become president. She had paid some of these costs and refused to pay others, and she threatened to rewrite all of this ugly accounting that asks women to pay in the currency of our personalities, and warmth, and trust.

Your response was to tell us she lacked personality, and warmth, and trust.

How do we reply to you? With anger, with laughter, with tears? Or with a straight face because that is the practice this accounting asks of us? With ledgers in our eyes? With all the numbers in the red that we’ve accrued? With a history of costs and a map of the pieces left behind?

She just wasn’t trustworthy, you’ll explain. In the back of your mind, you’ll wonder why I don’t smile more. Shall I for you, after what you’ve done?

Yes. I think I’ll bare these teeth at last.

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Their Desperate Arsenal: Beasts with No Leashes

by Vanessa Tottle

The gall of them:

The gall of some little bitch with a bowl cut, son of some proud lineage of death in South Carolina.

The gall of a Chicago cop who treated his trigger finger like that of a Ferguson cop or a Cleveland cop.

The gall of a man in a movie theater with a gun and the anger to use it.

The gall of Roseburg, Oregon. The gall of San Bernardino, California. The gall of Houston, Texas. This is the 355th mass shooting this year.

The gall of a man who once lived in a town called Black Mountain, like a beast from mythology. We best not return him there, in the fog of a cabin lonely in the woods where police will hear a man has hit his wife and shot at dogs and do nothing because that is the purpose of living in the fog of a cabin lonely in the woods.

Dear Colorado Springs,

Here’s my body, dictate it.

“No more baby parts,” he said.

We fight a war of remembrance, the names too many. Across the nation, victims will be remembered for their relation to others, for cruel fates, for last moments spent wanting to be a child again hiding under covers.

I want to hide under the covers. I don’t want to be saddled with memory now.

“No more baby parts,” he said, like a Fiorina or a Cruz. Like a Rubio or a Trump.

We tell the shooters this: I swear to God I will forget you. I swear to God I will forget you. I swear to God I will forget you.

Yet I can’t. We strive to keep terrorists out, but their sponsors hold debates on CNN and say that women bleed too much to ask questions on national TV, that a woman’s body is given too much freedom, that we must be kept, or dangerous if escaped, or shot if dangerous, or forgotten if shot, or meaningless if forgotten, so why spend so much time on women at all?

They are beasts with no leashes, they are footsteps coming closer in the hall outside with the lights off. Hiding under the covers won’t prolong what comes next. I know.

Which is more dangerous, the gun or the camera? The gun points one at a time. The camera points 45 million men with guns in the U.S. alone.

He once lived in a town called Black Mountain, like a beast from mythology, and beasts beget beasts, and to return these beasts to myth is to make them myth, is to beget beasts, is to hide under covers at night with the lights off and footsteps coming closer in the hall.

We are not crafted of hiding under covers. We are not crafted of anticipating our own pain. We are not crafted of covering this over with Star Wars and Christmastime and ‘It will get better: because.’

We are made of voices, all. Support what they hate. Support feminism with a fury. Support freedom of religion for Muslims and Christians and everyone else. Accept and offer asylum for refugees, whether victimized by ISIS across oceans or a man with a fist who lives in your own town. Ban guns and fucking mean it. Get the KKK out of our police departments. Haul everyone you know to vote.

We can ignore them endlessly, we can hide under covers endlessly until the day it’s not our problem anymore, and the young look up and see us hiding under covers and think it must be a good example to follow. Or we can make them obsolete. And we can make them obsolete.

“No more baby parts,” the gunman said. Just body parts.

To him, that is all we are.

We are crafted out of so much more than that.

 

For more:

“Their Desperate Arsenal: Isla Vista and the War at Hand”

“Silent All These Years – American Terror Story”

“If Only She’d Had a Gun”

Silent All These Years — F*ck “Cinderella”

by Vanessa Tottle

What does Cinderella look like to a victim of child abuse? If you’ve been hit, or beaten, or terrorized, or tortured – what does Cinderella tell you? “Shut up, take it, know your place. God sorts out the rest.”

Or, in Kenneth Branagh’s latest re-imagining: “Have courage and be kind.”

“Courage.”

Courage is to not sit there happily like a dumb puppy glad even for negative attention, wagging her tail for more. Courage is to not stay silent and accept that being abused is your destiny in life. Courage is to say, God may get to it eventually, but if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and I’m here now.

“Be kind.”

Be kind doesn’t mean to take the slights of abusers like a whimpering simp. It doesn’t mean to knuckle under.

If you’re getting beaten, terrorized, tortured, enslaved, we don’t need a fairy tale or a movie or a Disney movement being sold to little girls telling you to shut up, take it, and know your place.

And don’t tell me that it’s just a movie or just a princess. It’s “just” part of a multi-billion dollar industry with more than 25,000 princess products, and “Cinderella” conveys messages to children seeing their first movies about what is and isn’t heroic, what is and isn’t courage, what is and isn’t being kind. What it teaches them about those values is wrong and dangerous.

I knew my place once and that was getting hit and having my life threatened day after day. I was Cinderella, told she was destined to be nothing and sit in her attic and think of why she deserved this abuse, who looked out the window and wondered what was wrong with her – just her – so special in all the wrong ways that she became determined to accept it, live it, suffer it quietly and cry and cry and cry, but only when no one was looking.

“Have courage and be kind.”

That’s what I believed. It sounds like a good message, but not to women, not to abuse victims, not the way it’s perverted and redefined by Cinderella and especially Branagh as, “Shut up, take it, know your place.”

I believed that courage was being quiet and kindness was to be forgotten. Branagh’s Cinderella – most Cinderellas – follow suit.

As Cleopatra pointed out, Cinderella – especially Branagh’s lavish but insane retelling of it – is at its heart a way of reinforcing the idea that if you suffer now and don’t complain, you’ll be rewarded later. Disney-brand Indulgences are on sale in the lobby.

Branagh’s Cinderella tells an abuse victim, “Have courage and be kind.” It tells her suffering is its own reward, so don’t fight, don’t object, just accept, and get locked in that attic with a stiff upper lip.

Others may watch it and see the pretty dresses and the handsome hair and the CGI slippers. I watch and I see myself as a child, not knowing better than to accept. Courage was being quiet. Kindness was to be forgotten.

I know better now than to think those are the marks of a role model, of a hero. These aren’t traits to emulate, this is a character to pity, and for most women in similar situations, no magic will arrive. They will have what they’ve been taught is courage, which is the courage to stay with their abusers. They will be too kind, forgiving every hit they take. They will have this courage and be this kind until they are broken, until they are abusers themselves, or until they are dead.

This is what Branagh teaches in a Cinderella more conservative and patriarchal than any other version: accept the abuse, but look good enough in public to hide it. Don’t breathe a word about it, just smile and be polite. If you sustain enough without objection, your reward will find you.

“Have courage and be kind.” Courage was being quiet. Kindness was to be forgotten…

Those weren’t the exact words I whispered to myself every night, but they’re close. I used to wake up drenched in sweat. I used to piss the bed. I used to hit myself to stop from crying because I was quieter that way. I took the long way home to weep behind bushes where classmates couldn’t see me. I believed myself courageous. I believed myself kind. Nobody taught me what those things really were. All I had were tales like Cinderella that taught me wrong.

And even if the magic does save you, and I was very lucky to get out, you don’t stop the screaming in your head, you never lose that urge to cause yourself pain to quell the wound that never heals, you never trust the way that you see other people trust, the way that you see Cinderella trust. You still wake up in the middle of the night. You still take the long way home.

Branagh’s Cinderella teaches that abuse leaves no lasting impression, that if you suffer quietly enough you will be rewarded, and it misrepresents courage and kindness as meekness and self-subjugation. It is the wrong message to send to abuse victims, to women, to children, to society. I don’t care how “classic” it is. I care how dangerous it is.

So fuck you, Kenneth Branagh. And fuck your dangerous, damaging movie, too.

Silent All These Years — American Terror Story

WARNING: This post contains graphic, documented footage of police and military brutality.

by Vanessa Tottle

What is there to say about being black? I held a weeping friend last night. She had clawed scratches in her deep black face. I thought that only happened in the movies.

What is there to say about being a woman? I wish I weren’t. That is what you’ve made of us: I wish I was a white man with a gun and the badge to give me freedom to exorcise my demons on the body of another.

What is there to say to you, America? You have taken all my freedoms to give to new Middle Eastern despots who do not want them, who in 20 years will turn around and need fresh wars to overthrow their horrors.

And you will send in our black babies and brown babies and red babies and yellow babies who are by then old enough to go to college but won’t, because college will be a luxury and useless in the service economy that serves white men with guns and the badge to give them freedom to exorcise their demons on my body. On the body of the daughter I may one day have. On her daughter’s body. As tradition dictates.

Covered Not Covered NARAL

Ask not what you can give for your country, it was never handed out. You have to give a life in service behind a counter at minimum wage, or a life in service behind a rifle at even less.

Women have to give our bodies, which were never fully ours. They are rentals, waiting for the day their mark is called and we submit ourselves to what we’re often told is duty. The mistake was thinking we were never built on bodies, swaddled in the blisters of smallpox blankets. The mistake was thinking we were never built on bodies, on the backs of bent black slaves. The mistake was thinking we were never built on bodies, on a Mexico that stretched to Washington State. On the Iroquois and Mohawk, on Comanche, on Aztlan and Navajo and Inuit, on Puerto Ricans and Spaniards and Filipinos, on the corpses of Latin America, on Cubans, Guatemalans, on Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Egyptians, Libyans, Afghans, Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, and how many dead little kids making shoes and jeans in pan-Pacific firetrap workshops.

The mistake was thinking democracy made us better than dictatorships and communists. The mistake was thinking democracy was anything but brand loyalty. The mistake was thinking a serial killer deserves to be the world’s police.

And now we are the world’s police. And look how they act. They shoot the black and poor in store aisles, at gas stations, outside convenience stores. We shoot Muslims in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan. We are the country with a gun and the badge that gives us freedom to exorcise our demons on the bodies of others.

I am terrified to be a woman in America.

I am terrified to be a human in America.

I am terrified to step out of my home when in America.

I am not the only one.

If I could cut this uterus from me and lay it in Congress’ chambers as their prize, I would. If I could bleach my skin a blinding white, I would. That is what you’ve made of us. You could have it all, America, and I could go about my life free from all your terror.

Thank you to Amanda Smith for verifying all video is real footage.

Silent All These Years — Why Scarlett Johansson Needs to Play Hannibal Lecter

Liver and fava beans

by Vanessa Tottle

Gabe asked me to write a second opinion on Under the Skin. Back in April. Here it is:

“One day, I’d like to see Scarlett Johansson play Hannibal Lecter.”

That’s as far as I got.

I couldn’t think of anything to say that Gabe hadn’t already, and then he rubbed it in by interviewing Michel Faber (the author) like some big show-off.

I recently came across my aborted article, and you know what? Days after the release of female celebrities’ naked photos across the internet, endearingly nicknamed “The Fappening” cause 4Chan and Reddit can go fuck themselves (I’m sure they already know how), I finally figured out why I want to see Scarlett Johansson play Hannibal Lecter.

Power.

Gabe’s been pushing for more women in protagonist roles, and he gets a little confused when something like Guardians of the Galaxy comes out. For all its awesomeness, it has a green-skinned Zoe Saldana kicking a few aliens before the guy from Parks and Rec has to save her twice. Congratulations, we got 20% of the protagonist share. That’s half what the movie gave to anthropomorphized wildlife found in your backyard at midnight.

There’s a common misconception when we talk about more movies with better parts for women. We’re not saying that this should be a requirement for EVERY SINGLE movie. Neither are we saying that there need be a quota or regulation placed on the entertainment industry. All we’re talking about is raised expectations and the changes a more aware audience can effect.

Lawrence of Arabia is implicitly about T.E. Lawrence’s homosexuality. It was made in 1962 for approximately a bazillion dollars, so it couldn’t really be about Lawrence’s sexuality in any explicit way. It had to be intimated to the audience. It achieves this in part through its all-male speaking cast.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is the best horror movie ever filmed and it doesn’t have any women in it. Since the horror in it is a fleshy Freudian conceit for men’s fear of possessing and being possessed through sex, full of snapping extendo-vagina monsters, phallic emasculations, and male pregnancy metaphors, it wouldn’t work as well if it wasn’t full of bearded, 80s uberdudes drinking, gambling, and watching porn. Besides, Mary Elizabeth Winstead came along in a prequel and proved a woman could blow shit up just as well as Kurt Russell.

MEW The Thing

The point is we aren’t saying that all movies lacking or minimizing women are terrible. We’re saying there are simply far too many of them. We are never saying that we want old ways of making movies to go away. We only want those old styles to be better balanced with new ways of writing, casting, and making movies that have thus far been resisted by a backwards entertainment industry.

I even like – hell, love – Guardians of the Galaxy. But there’s no denying they missed a big opportunity with Saldana’s character Gamora. While the men are away killing nameless henchmen by the thousands and getting a crack at the big bad, Gamora is cordoned into a one-on-one against the only other woman in a lead.

Others have written about needing more female leaders portrayed in movies, and I agree. But you know what else I want to see? I want to see women playing all those powerful character roles we reserve exclusively for men. Which brings me back to Scarlett Johansson and Hannibal Lecter. I want to be terrified by a woman in the same way movies tell me I should be terrified by a man. That’s the real power on-screen.

I want to see Cate Blanchett in Training Day telling Kerry Washington that King Kong ain’t got shit on her. I want the evil general in however many Avatar sequels they’re filming to be played by Sigourney Weaver (they’re bringing her back as a new character anyway, why not the bad guy). I’m not scared of a shouty, musclebound crew cut who looks like he soaked up too much California sun, but if Sigourney lowered her voice in anger, I wouldn’t be able to look elsewhere. I want the new Star Wars villain, the inheritor of Darth Vader himself, to be a woman. And you know who could put Daniel Craig’s James Bond in his place? A terrorist mastermind Helen Mirren.

The real staying power on screen belongs to the iconic villain. Do you see kids borrowing their parents’ bathrobes to dress up as Luke Skywalker every Halloween? No, you see them spending time and money buying and making costumes so they can be Darth Vader for a day. They understand the villain represents power, and icons of power last the test of time.

Marvel’s making a Black Widow movie with Johansson. That’s a great step, and I applaud them for having it scheduled to launch shortly after their 10th movie centered on a white guy named Chris. Way to get on that.

Now make a movie where a female villain is something other than a male villain’s henchman with daddy issues. You just got wallpaper performances out of Guy Pearce, Chris Eccleston, and Lee Pace, and they’re all great actors. Meanwhile, Karen Gillan killed it in Guardians despite limited screen time.

Change up the formula. Write more heroic women, but while you’re at it, write more powerful women who want to rule the galaxy, too. That’s why I want to see Scarlett Johansson as Hannibal Lecter one day.

“Can you hear them, Jesse Eisenberg? Can you hear the silence of the lambs?”

And Jennifer Lawrence can make you put the lotion in the basket while she dances in the skins of dead men.

How’s that for a Fappening?