Tag Archives: abuse

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.

Help! I mixed up “Cinderella” and “50 Shades of Grey”

by Cleopatra Parnell

Help! I double-featured Cinderella and 50 Shades of Grey, but I forgot which film is which! Will you help me figure it out?

Let’s see…a woman gives in to suffering at the hands of those around her. This suffering has no rhyme or reason, but after she gives up her agency and allows herself to be abused, she is rewarded with a handsome man who covets her after only one brief meeting where he barely gets to know her. That was definitely…which one? Damn, I’ll need to be more specific.

OK, in one the hero is forced to wear bondage gear that was so tight the actress could only eat liquid foods while shooting the movie. That has to be 50 Shades, right?

Cinderella corset

Oops!

OK, in one the hero is definitely locked away in a life of slavery and unrealized dreams. Every day, she does backbreaking chores that please her master, who wishes nothing less than to dominate her and remind her of her place. I remember in one, the hero asks questions and learns about why this is before making her decision. In the other, the hero shuts up, accepts it, and cries alone to herself.

That MUST have been 50 Shades.

Cinderella dirty

I’m so bad at this!

Hmm. Cinderella is all about women, right? The evil stepmother, her older stepsisters, a fairy godmother, and Cinderella herself. So the one that spends the most time focusing on the relationships between men must be 50 Shades. It’s all about domination and ownership, right? It must really focus on men.

Cinderella just some dudes

Oh gosh no what a surprise!

Cinderella pushes Cinderella herself to the side to talk about how awesome men are at being men with each other. But if Cinderella invents new characters in order to create healthy relationships among men who are patient and grow to understand each other, then it must invent characters with whom Cinderella can develop healthy, communicative relationships, right? It can’t just turn a movie about Cinderella’s struggle into an ode to how awesome and understanding men are, can it?

The movie that offered its female hero a confidant and equal who was willing to talk to her about difficult decisions couldn’t have been…

50 Shades Dakota Eloise

Whaaaaat? That…that doesn’t look like Cinderella! She’s wearing jeans and eating something that’s NOT LIQUID. Now I’ll never be able to tell these movies apart!

Wait, I think I’ve got it! In one, the hero has a job and educates herself. She has friends and a family life. She gives into a potentially harmful relationship, but at least she’s worked hard enough for herself to have options. That relationship is her own choice, one which she educates herself about, and it’s not a choice made for her.

In the other, the hero scrubs floors, and she’s taught if she shuts up and scrubs floors extra hard then magic will happen and reward her for shutting up so good! What’s the reward? A man likes you! Fuck yeah!

I think I’ve almost figured out which is which now. The one that’s somehow more feminist, I remember that one! That’s 50 Shades. The one that makes you look at the big house in the nice neighborhood and tells you if you don’t rock the boat or try to change anything for the better, maybe one day you’ll live there? That’s Cinderella. Cinderella is the one where she doesn’t even put up as much fight as she did as a 1950s cartoon.

DISCLOSURE: Both BDSM and Disney movies are fine. Shitty representations of either aren’t.

Cinderella Glass Slippers

50 Shades Bind

If Only She’d Had a Gun

guns-and-domestic-violence

On Tuesday, I wrote about a friend who was beaten and stabbed by her ex last weekend. It’s been suggested to me from several sources that if she’d had a gun, her beating could have been wholly avoided.

I’d like to think these suggestions come from places of concern, and not from the navel-gazing urge to use another person’s tragedy as an opportunity to spout one’s political viewpoints.

Let’s address guns first. Perhaps if she’d had a gun, she could have shot her abuser the moment he broke into her house. If someone you were in a relationship with barged into your home, would you shoot them off the cuff, no questions asked? Probably not.

Domestic violence escalates through phases. There’s no way to tell if this is the time someone’s going to apologize, say they didn’t know what they were thinking, and leave; or if this is the time they’re going to beat and stab you.

The simple fact is that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of a woman being killed by 500%. That means a woman is five times more likely to die if there’s a gun in that house than if there isn’t.

Who’s to say, if there had been a gun in her home, that an earlier instance of abuse wouldn’t have turned into his using the gun on her?

When people speak for some level of firearm regulation, it’s not because guns in themselves make someone violent. Violent people will find ways to be violent no matter what. Guns just make that violence far easier and more efficient. Where before you could maim, now you can kill. Where before you could kill someone in particular, now you can kill a dozen or more. He was always the violent one, during and after their relationship. If a gun had ever been present, I guarantee you that he’d have been the one more likely to use it at some point.

If only she’d had a gun? She might be dead, instead of in the hospital.

Furthermore, the idea that all that’s needed to fix the situation is a gun ignores the cause of domestic violence. It treats an effect of domestic violence, a symptom, and it does so about as well as applying leeches treats a flu. The problem isn’t that women aren’t armed to the gills, the problem is that men are brought up to understand that violence is a proper solution when they’re confronted or rejected.

Someone gets in your face? Violence. Someone challenges your authority? You’ve got to out-man him, be bigger and stronger and tougher. Someone rejects you? You’ve just got to push harder and be more relentless. It’s ridiculous. There’s always got to be a winner. Compromise isn’t something we’re brought up to value.

I say this as a 6’3” black belt in taekwondo, who’s also trained variously in ninjutsu, aikido, and kickboxing: I’m far prouder of the fights I’ve avoided than the ones I’ve had. Believe me, there are times I wish the world were run on Conan the Barbarian levels of violence. I’d do pretty well and those loin cloths look damn comfortable, but the problem becomes that the more violent a world is, the more it’s being run by those who lack control and can think of no other way to regain it.

The truth is violence comes from one place – Panic. When you resort to violence, it’s because you’ve lost control over something or someone other than yourself – a relationship, someone’s opinion of your manliness, even something as simple as how your day turned out – and you can think of no other way to regain that control but through exerting your will over someone else.

The problem isn’t that women and others who are put in subjugated or subservient positions in our society aren’t well armed. The problem is that too many of us are very well armed, and have it in our minds that our superior firepower – be it through guns or fists – is all the license we need to utilize it. The better our firepower, the more we rely upon it to resolve our problems.

It’s systemic, it’s cultural, and we see it in every level of our society. We see it in our militarized police forces, such as the one that recently fired on unarmed civilians in Ferguson, MO. We see it in administrations so fearful that public opinion will view them as weak that we send in troops again and again where we once would have exhausted diplomatic compromise. And we see it in the plague of domestic abuse cases, the vast majority of which involve men who feel they’ve lost the control they had or imagined they had over a woman.

I was lucky – I had an instructor who drilled into our heads that the fight was the last solution, only to be used when cornered and no other options were available. To fight without exhausting every other solution was deeply shameful. If it didn’t get you kicked out of the school, he’d work you class after class until you wanted to quit. The better trained we were, the more responsibility we had never to exert that training on someone else unless absolutely necessary. In other words, it’s sometimes better to lose control of something outside yourself than it is to lose control of what’s inside yourself.

But we raise a culture of men trained to never admit defeat. It’s intrinsic to the American spirit – Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone wouldn’t stop, so why should I? All the sidekicks on TV get the girl after years of rejection, just by virtue of staying dutifully obsessed (and showrunners running out of other ideas). That’s what we’re raised to do. Be relentless, not listen, and value rejection and pain as signals that we’re on the right path to getting what we want. One day, rejection will be a story we both laugh over, that pain will be a battle scar we pridefully show off as evidence of how relentless and unforgiving we were in pursuit of our prize. If it weren’t so real, it’d be hilariously absurd.

What I’ve just described is not assertiveness, by the way. Some will tell you it is, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. What I’ve just described is addiction.

Men need to understand that losing isn’t just what happens externally, what other people see. Losing can be internal, too, and it can do far more in damaging who we become. When we control ourselves, our own decisions, when we don’t panic in the face of adversity, when we calmly seek solutions, that’s assertiveness. When we have so little control of ourselves, we seek to control others to compensate, when panic overtakes us so much that our most immediate reaction is violence, we’re just seeking a quick fix, another hit to numb our real loss of control.

Yeah, if only she’d had a gun… How about if only someone had taught him that no means no, that over means over, that women have a right to their own lives, that it’s OK to admit defeat so long as you don’t lose control of yourself, that a relationship means compromise and not control, that rejection at most deserves, “Can we talk about it,” and not broken bones, broken teeth, ruptured organs, and hundreds of thousands in medical bills?

If only she’d had a gun. If that’s what you take away from this, if that’s the lesson you feel you need to impart on others who are going through pain, then you are not part of a solution. You are part of an arms race.

A Timely Allegory, a Unique Opportunity — “Maleficent”

Maleficent lead

A man wants the respect of the other men around him. Acquiring that respect means he has to display his worth. This display becomes a grotesque act of violence against a woman. This is the broad allegory at work in Maleficent, defined in its first 20 minutes. After the Isla Vista shootings, I don’t know that there’s a more appropriate 20 minutes of film we need to see.

The film is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s perspective. We’re introduced to Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) as a child. A fairy from a fantastical land, she falls in love with a human boy, whose thirst for respect and power causes him to betray her and cut off her wings. The power of allegory is that this can all be accomplished with a PG rating. Children will marvel at the film’s fantasy land and understand the tale of vengeance at the film’s heart. They will comprehend the allegory at face value, but they thankfully won’t have the experience to be able to apply it. Adults will recognize the trademarks of scenes we’re used to seeing in other genres. When Maleficent wakes up after being drugged and finds her wings have been cut from her, it’s not a hard metaphor to grasp. Unfortunately, too many adults in the audience will have had the experience to be able to apply it.

After her betrayer is named king, Maleficent curses his daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning) – she will prick her finger on a spinning needle at the age of 16 and fall into a “sleep like death.” I won’t give anything away beyond these basics, but Maleficent is filled with metaphors of social shaming, divorce, and abuse. Like the best fairy tales, these darker meanings are only hinted at, giving the tale greater relevance and more value in being retold.

Maleficent Elle Fanning

As an allegorical reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is powerful and more timely than its filmmakers could ever have imagined. As a film, it suffers from some dodgy craftsmanship. There are very beautiful moments – its creature, costume, and set design are brilliant. Little details, from the filigree on the king’s armor to the embroidery of the pillows on which Aurora rests, fill out the world with the texture of unspoken history. Some very overlooked technical elements take away from this, though – the sound design is thin and the musical score feels recycled. The visual effects can range from breathtaking to amateurish, and they have a markedly different tone from dialogue scenes. The 3-D is strained and muddies a great deal of detail – opt for 2-D showings. Maleficent doesn’t feel like a finished film. It feels like a very promising rough cut.

Only a few actors in the world are dynamic enough to command our attention through such a litany of technical dilemmas. Foremost among them is Angelina Jolie. There is dialogue here no actor can pull off, and yet she grounds it with a regal bearing that is at once overacted and tender. Director Robert Stromberg often focuses exclusively on her eyes, putting the rest of her face in shadow, and she has the ability to convey so many emotions in quick succession it leaves you reeling. Every time a slapstick scene clunks or an action scene only half-works, we return to Jolie’s performance and the film recovers almost entirely.

Maleficent link

That scene in which Maleficent wakes up to discover her wings are gone – it’s not filmed well. The set’s beautiful, but the shot choices take away from the moment. None of that matters – Jolie’s performance in that scene is so wrenching and haunting that she could’ve filmed it on a bare stage free from the context of the plot, and we’d still understand its every nuance. Fanning also deserves credit for her bright turn as Aurora, as does Sharlto Copley for his nasty, emotionally lean performance as the betrayer-turned-king, Stefan.

Maleficent is more important for its values and performances than its cinematic accomplishments, but this may make it a better film than something less ambitious and more polished. It joins a growing trend in summer entertainment of discussing issues we as a society are often too slow to address. Add to this the rarity of a performance as outlandish and commanding as Jolie’s, and Maleficent is a very solid recommendation, especially as family entertainment. It hits some heavy issues that – like it or not – children have to be prepared for as they grow up. It’s up to you how much you’d like to discuss afterward. Maleficent leaves the door open to those discussions in a unique and comfortable way.

Maleficent cap

Their Desperate Arsenal: Isla Vista and the War at Hand

Too Familiar

by Vanessa Tottle

The gall of them. The gall of one young shit in Isla Vista. He used a Sig-Sauer P226, which is what James Bond used in Bolivia after getting a woman killed because he fucked her like a prize.

He also had a Glock 34. Denzel Washington used that once in Man on Fire. He looked very good in slow-motion gunfights. He needed to. There was a white, blonde, baby Dakota Fanning to save from endless Mexicans.

I was owned once. It was not in the way that Elliot Rodger would have liked. It was in the way that an abusive family owns you, like a vase they don’t know where to put, so they stick you out of sight and out of mind, but still you’re owned, and your chief quality is your quietness, and sometimes that is reinforced.

I weigh 105 pounds. I am a 105 pound vase. I crack myself because my quality is quietness. I have a black belt in krav maga. It has cost me three cracked ribs and a broken jaw. Try getting the flu with a broken jaw.

I lead paleontology digs now. I have taken assistant leadership roles in Canada, the United States, China, and South America. I almost have my Ph.D. It has cost me a broken ankle, a concussion, and cool-looking parasites. Once, I stood looking at a bear while friends climbed up river banks to safety, and I was all that was between my friends and the bear. The bear didn’t move. Maybe it saw a vase whose quality was quietness, with too many cracks to give a shit about one more. Maybe it was disinterested.

The gall of one young shit in Isla Vista, to think I can be owned, to think I would go back to that, to think I would move aside for him, to think that Bond and Denzel gave him strength enough to move a woman. I was thin as ragged bones until I left my parents’ house and learned I was crafted out of more than quietness.

What has he to show for pain? Disappointed misogyny? Three guns and nowhere to use them? Pain is real. You don’t come back from it. You feel it all the time. I don’t doubt that he felt pain. I doubt that he had ever earned it.

Pain can be taught. I’m a Harry Potter fan, I think every abused kid is, so let me describe it like this: pain can be cast like a charm over you. Pain can be offered as an excuse by people who want to master you. You think it’s real. You think you won’t come back from it. You think you feel it all the time. But it isn’t real. You are bewitched. You are the victim of an illusion.

Believe in any pain for long enough, and you become a thing, owned by whoever made you believe in it. The boy in Isla Vista belonged to someone else. He belonged to the Male Rights Association. He belonged to a philosophy. He had found a family who taught him the pain he should believe in, and who taught him being owned by their philosophy was the only outlet for that pain. He became a vase they didn’t know where to put, but one they crafted out of violence.

If you want to temper a human being, you give her hope. You tell her that her enemies are behind her, that they cannot hurt her anymore. You teach her cracking can be beautiful. You teach her to look at herself as a leader.

If you want to temper a weapon, you give him hate. You tell him that his enemies are all around him, that they only think of hurting him. You teach him cracking isn’t acceptable. You teach him to follow you.

I was a vase, stuck out of sight and out of mind. So was he. To pretend we started any different is a lie. To call him evil is to isolate the repercussions to a dead man. I hate him, but I won’t ease my mind with excuses. He was shaped this way by others. He was tempered through a process. He was taught who to blame and who to hate. His life was not a war, he was just a weapon made by others. He was an amateur. The professionals don’t get their hands dirty. The ones who teach young men to think this way are waging the war. The politicians who seek to control our rights to our bodies are waging the war. They teach men to be mastered. They teach women to be tired. Before we see what other weapons that philosophy can make, we need to treat this like a war as well. Our weapons are leadership, creativity, knowledge, communication, and relentlessness.

They try to take away our leadership by destroying Head Start and Acorn and unions across North America. They reinforce the idea that one president’s too black to lead and the next president is too much of a woman to lead. They try to take away our creativity by stealing from PBS and NPR, by foisting us with Common Core education and standardized testing. They try to take away our knowledge by making higher education unaffordable. They consolidate media into a handful of channels, and these channels interrupt discussions of hate crimes and government deadlock with breaking Justin Bieber news. They try to take away our communication by bankrupting the postal service and making plans to sell the internet chunk by chunk like parcels of land. They replace these with false alternatives, hoping we don’t notice. They try to take away our relentlessness by making us re-fight the battles we have already won – abortion, voting rights, fair pay, social security, veteran care. Women are exhausted from fighting for our bodies. Minorities are exhausted from working harder for the right to vote. The poor are exhausted from working more to make the same. The elderly are exhausted from a broken promise they worked all their lives to earn. Soldiers are exhausted from physical and emotional scars that go untreated.

This isn’t by conspiracy, not entirely. It’s by mentality, but when a mentality is so deeply and overwhelmingly ingrained in us, it exhibits the same traits as the conspiracies we make up to distract ourselves. But why do they fight so desperately? Why do they take away so much? Because our fate is progress, and theirs is to dwindle.

When you’re in a corner, your training takes over. You don’t think. You react from years of being taught what to do. When I broke my jaw, I was sparring two men who are twice my size and ranked above me. One was my instructor. Krav Maga is never fair. You’re not meant to win fights. You’re meant to learn to keep on going despite being broken. I believe that’s why I take to it. I remained sparring for five minutes after my jaw cracked. I could barely see or hear through the pain. Breath came and went. My body took over as my mind receded. All I could think of was not being cornered. Don’t get cornered, don’t get cornered. I had been cornered years of my life; I would not go back to that. I was given the option to stop. I would not stop. Classmates told me I became vicious. I had no chance to begin with, and then my jaw broke. I lost the match, that was always the point. But I understood then: I was tempered through a process.

Theirs is a different process: Right to rape. Oppression by exhaustion. Destroying the middle class. Imprisoning minorities. Ownership via hatred. They have been tempered by an ugly mentality. But their desperation is no different. We can recognize it if we stop to think and consider their ridiculousness. They have the option to stop, but they react from years of being taught what to do. They are still mastered by their mentality and those who preach it. It is because they will lose that they have become so vicious on its behalf.

I have overheard friends say there’s nothing we can do. I have been told change is a process that takes place over decades. No shit. What number decade is this in that process? My right to vote was established in 1920. The Civil Rights Act happened in 1964. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

Change doesn’t happen for people out of sight and out of mind. It doesn’t happen for the quiet. It certainly doesn’t happen for those afraid of being cracked. I think we’re all done with that. I hope we’re all done with that. They have brandished their weapons. Now let us brandish ours: Let us lead. Let us create. Let us teach. Let us communicate. Let us be relentless. Ours are not the backs against the wall anymore, so let us refuse to act the part.

Long ago, our chief quality was quietness. We are crafted out of so much more than that.

Isla Vista lead