Movie Review: Thor

Screen shot 2012-12-01 at 10.04.20 PM(This is a film review of Thor. Spoilers may follow.)

I promise I’ll get back to posting about running, training, etc. in a couple of days. But now for something completely different. I ended up with some free Redbox codes after they rented me a bad DVD last week, so I decided to get some light-hearted flicks as long as I’m renting on the company’s dime. Tonight’s selection: 2011’s blockbuster Thor.

Inspired by some comic books I’ve never read and Norse mythology that I know little about, Thor is the story of the titular “God” of Thunder (who is really more of an interdimensional/interplanetary being, played by Chris Hemsworth), the impetuous elder son of King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who rules over Asgard. As he is introduced, Thor is kind of a butthead who enjoys harassing other civilizations, twirling his magic hammer like a drum majorette, and hanging out with his underdeveloped but smartly dressed clan of warrior friends. Oh, and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who, in typical little brother fashion, seems just happy to be there. Their idyllic, peaceful world becomes threatened when Thor disobeys Odin’s orders and provokes a war with a neighboring civilization of snow misers, inspiring Odin to disinherit Thor and leaving Loki to unleash havoc in Asgard. Oh, and there’s also a portal to Earth and Thor ends up saving New Mexico. Huh?

What’s goodCompared to the usual crop of superhero films, this boasts an impressive cast. In addition to Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman plays Earthling love interest Jane, Stellan Skarsgård is Dr. Selvig, Kat Dennings of Two Broke Girls plays Darcy, and Kenneth “Hamlet” Branagh directs. Some of the special effects are good, and the movie is overall mildly amusing. This is also good, though there’s not nearly enough of it:

Screen shot 2012-12-01 at 10.16.08 PM

What’s not good: Unfortunately, most of the film. If you’re looking for character development, don’t get your hopes up. Even at the most basic level, when I get to the end of a movie and can’t name several characters let alone understand what their powers are, the script obviously has some issues. Beyond that, characters seem to behave erratically with no apparent catalyst. Thor falls in love with Jane and undergoes a complete personality transplant with little explanation. Loki also maybe loves, maybe hates the snow misers and maybe loves, maybe hates Odin and Thor. There is an interdimensional gate keeper who watches the vaguely phallic portal to other dimensions, and he is loyal to… who knows? Maybe Odin? Loki? Thor?

Dancing his way to Asgard

Dancing his way to Asgard

The female roles here are also disappointing, though perhaps unsurprisingly so considering the genre. Jaimie Alexander as Sif is very cool, but gets little screen time. Renee Russo as Frigga does almost nothing. Kat Dennings has some pithy one-liners, but the worst of all of them is Natalie Portman. As female scientists go, she ranks right up there with Denise Richards for believability. Which is to say, she is not believable at all in this role. I say this not just because she’s too young or too pretty, mind you (although anyone who knows anything about academia will tell you just how implausible it is that a scientist in her late 20s/early 30s would be running a major expedition with an established, senior scientist as her assistant and a political science major hanging around for no apparent reason), but it’s because Jane doesn’t seem to do anything scientific. Her research activities appear to consist primarily of moving things around in her lab, squinting at photographs, and chasing extraterrestrial beings. Other than that, she sits around doe-eyed listening to Thor’s tales of nine realms and swallowing all of it. Oh, honey, and you think you’re getting this research published? I was also unconvinced by her chemistry with Thor, which is surprising because I’d have thought that Chris Hemsworth would have chemistry with a cup of tepid water. Instead, their relationship comes off more like a weird puppy love than anything smoldering or passionate.

 

Science cat displays more scientific knowledge than Natalie Portman does in this entire movie.

On a more cynical level, I also found myself annoyed by the relentless marketing of the Marvel Brand in this movie. It’s not enough that at the beginning of the DVD, the viewer is force-fed promos for the tie-in video game and various other Marvel films; cross-references are embedded throughout to Iron ManCaptain America, and The Avengers. A not-so-secret “secret” scene at the end of the film is all about hyping The Avengers and ensures us that the characters presented here will return. I’m sure the entire audience breathes a sigh of relief. Honestly, I’m glad I saw this movie for free because I’d be resentful if I paid $10 to see this in theaters only to be bombarded with tie-in advertising and not-so-subtle product placement. My sympathy is also with parents who take their kids to these films only to find they’re a gateway drug to a dizzying array of spin-offs, sequels, and merchandising. Yes, I know–It’s a capitalist world we live in and thank goodness folks like Thor are here to protect it. Or, at least to protect isolated its desert towns.

Thor is rated PG-13 and runs about 1 hour 50 minutes. It is available on DVD now.

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The Day of the Girl

Malala Yousafzai

Today, October 11, has been declared by the UN as the first worldwide Day of the Girl. There are a lot of international action days out there, but I want to highlight today because recent events have shown us that there are so many challenges faced by girls worldwide:

  • Child Marriage is a special focus of action today. UN Women shares these factoids: Globally, one-third of young women were entered into marriage before age 18. One in six were married by age 15. 90% of teen pregnancies in developing countries are to girls who are married; child marriage legitimates pregnancies early in life, which can be detrimental to the health of these girls.
  • Maternal mortality is a related issue, since complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death for women aged 15-19 in developing countries. (UN) These problems are further exacerbated by the problem of female genital mutilation, which is widely practiced on girls in several African countries.
  • While access to education for girls has improved, many women and girls still face barriers to receiving a secondary and tertiary (university) education, and even completing primary school can be impossible in some parts of the world. If you haven’t read about Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban after speaking out for female education, please check out her story. Malala is still fighting for her life, and her father (who supported her fight for an education) is also on a Taliban hit list.

If you want to take action for girls today, the AAUW has some suggestions. Use social media to share information about the Day of the Girl today, and write to your Congressperson–or Congressional candidates–to ask where they stand on HR2103 (The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act) and other efforts to protect women and girls worldwide. Find a volunteer program close to home that helps girls, like the Girl Scouts or Girls on the Run, and find out how you can support their efforts. Remember that girls in your community may also be affected by poverty and malnutrition. Internationally, consider supporting the efforts of UNICEF, Camfed, and other charities that support the health, education, and welfare of girls. We all have a role in helping to support girls, whether you are male or female. The girls of today are the mothers, the workers, and the hope of tomorrow. Let’s make a better world for them.

Half the Sky: Responses and Further Resources

As a follow-up to my earlier review of Half the Sky, here are some further thoughts and resources. If you haven’t seen the entire series, check it out through next week (10/8-10/9) at PBS online here.

I was referred to this interesting blog post about the series by Anna North. I want to clarify that I agree we shouldn’t accept the insights of Kristof and WuDunn’s Half the Sky project uncritically. My earlier review mentions my discomfort with the use of beautiful American actresses in the special to lend the project awareness and pop appeal. In classes I have taught where we used the Half the Sky book as an instructional tool, we also discussed the issue of “rescuing” sex workers in particular. What kind of moral judgment is involved in this? Is sex work universally bad and, if not, how do we untangle that? Most importantly, when individuals “rescue” girls from sex work, what new complications/dangers/ideas are we introducing into their lives? What ripple effects does it have for those who remain in the system or are vulnerable to this? None of this can be adequately engaged in a 40-minute TV segment. But I also take issue with some of the criticisms advanced by North and others:

  • Just as Kristof is an “elite,” many of those criticizing the HtS project are also elites–other members of the media, academic elites, etc. North quotes critics as stating that a view of the lives of women in the developing world “should include women in the developing world creating their own media.” There’s a very fine line here, namely that it makes me uncomfortable to see elite women chastising non-Western women activists for not doing more, which is essentially what this statement implies to me. I have to wonder how the average rape crisis worker or a rape victim in Sierra Leone is going to be able to effectively make their own media and get their own message out without further resources. Do we live in an age of YouTube and Twitter? Sure. But does the average woman living in conditions of extreme poverty have access to the technology, the time, even the safe space to engage with these fora? I don’t think so. However, Half the Sky is the kind of project that might make such engagement more possible. Case in point, Edna Adan is on Twitter as of yesterday and already has nearly 500 followers, Somaly Mam also has a Twitter page in place with nearly 400,000 followers. This is the kind of media that will allow these women to speak directly without using Kristof as a mouthpiece, but would these pages exist or would they receive such attention without this documentary? Even on my blog, I noticed a spike in hits on my review after the special aired. There is clearly an impact here.
  • There also seems to be a larger backlash lately against any attempts by Westerners to intervene in developing world issues. Some of this debate goes back to the Kony 2012 campaign earlier this year and before, but this dialogue makes me uncomfortable as well. Take, for example, Anne Elizabeth Moore’s statement, quoted by North: “Readers should be asking themselves, ‘Who’s being quoted? Are they all white? Are they young? Is there a translator present?’ If everyone involved is speaking perfect English, they may be tailoring what they say to an English-speaking audience (though of course translators can tailor as well).” A statement like this is overly simplistic, and it should be made clear that this is only one of many ways to determine an individual’s audience–I assume by “perfect English” she is implying unaccented or American English, but it’s worth noting that English is the first or a primary language in much of the developing world. Speaking English well is a poor criteria for judging someone’s veracity and, as Moore points out, speaking through a translator also poses pitfalls. So what insight is this statement really giving us? Being Western or speaking English is not by itself what we should be emphasizing as criteria for legitimacy. Instead, a better litmus test might be: “Are these Western, English-speaking activists knowledgable? Do they have dialogue with those they are helping? Have they adequately assessed the community’s needs?” Just as a Westerner may not always be the best person to help, they also aren’t necessarily doing more harm than good because of their identity.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit on this but I wanted to respond to these points. I sometimes get resentful when I see some feminists (and this is particularly true of academic feminists) implying that all feminists should or should not like a project or consider it acceptable. The critical response to Half the Sky from these women is unsurprising and in some ways is valid, but it’s also disappointing. My point is that criticism should be constructive, and to tear down this project without offering ways to move forward or make something better is not beneficial. It also runs the risk of alienating allies and casting feminist political projects in a poor light. To be critical is often good, but to place individuals in such a quandary that they throw up their hands and decide to do nothing is dangerous. Where do we draw that line?

I am following Edna Adan, Somaly Mam, and others on social media because I want to hear more of what they have to say. I believe the impact of Half the Sky will encourage others to do the same, and I hope it encourages some of you to do so as well.

TV Review: Half the Sky

[FYI: This post contains some graphic descriptions of female genital mutilation, and links to related material.]

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening of part of the new PBS/Independent Lens series Half the Sky. The series doesn’t air on public television until October 1 & 2, but screenings are taking place at public libraries now across the country.

This series, based on the bestselling book by authors and NY Times journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, highlights issues affecting women worldwide. The entire 4-hour series will cover several issues dealt with in the book including education, human trafficking, maternal mortality, and violence against women. In my screening, we saw a 45-minute segment focused on maternal mortality and female genital mutilation.

I hope everyone will check your local listings and tune into this series. Even as someone who has read the book and understands the issues involved, I still found this episode powerful, moving, and informative. While maternal health was the focus of this episode, Kristof and the filmmakers do a great job of showing this issue in a holistic way. Most of this segment takes place in Somaliland, where the problem of women dying from preventable causes like obstructed labor, infections, and eclampsia are tied to larger problems within the society. First, no type of family planning exists for these women, and we are told that it is not uncommon for a woman to have 8-10 babies over her lifetime. One woman interviewed in the film has 15 children. Having too many children too close together poses obvious health risks.

Somaliland

Another, more horrifying problem is that of female genital mutilation. While maternal mortality is billed as the focus of the episode, I think FGM is really the story here. Most Americans probably don’t know this practice exists, and many that do probably don’t grasp the brutality of it. Even this episode shies away from fully explaining or illustrating the problem, and I think that’s a shame. While I understand the limits of what can be shown on TV, this practice needs to be brought out into the light. People need to understand that FGM still happens, and they need to understand that it’s not “female circumcision” as some kind of counterpart to male “circumcision.” Circumcision as we know it for boy children involves removal of the foreskin, often for religious or cultural reasons, and while there is debate about the practice in the U.S. today, it is often done in safe and sanitary conditions and doesn’t hinder male reproductive functions or sexual enjoyment. FGM, on the other hand, is a practice that has as its primary purpose to control women. To protect female honor, FGM is practiced to make sex less enjoyable for a woman. Extreme forms also make childbirth and premarital sex impossible.

In the most basic form of FGM, the clitoris and/or clitoral hood are removed. This inhibits sexual pleasure. In more intensive forms like that practiced in Somaliland, though, the process goes even further. All of the external parts of the genitalia, including the inner and outer labia are also cut away. Then, a girl undergoing the process is literally immobilized, her legs tied up for as much as 40 days while her genital area heals together, literally healing itself shut except for a small hole–sometimes as small as a matchstick–through which she can pee and menstruate. During the healing process, she also often receives little or no food or water because she has been so intensely mutilated that she can’t excrete properly. After experiencing all of this horror, once a girl comes of age to marry she will literally have to be sliced open again so that she can have sex or deliver children. And all of this is usually done by traditional “cutters” without anesthesia or proper sanitation. (You can see diagrams of various procedures here.)

Folks, this isn’t like the circumcision that men experience. I can’t emphasize how inappropriate the term “circumcision” is. This is like if circumcision involved cutting off a boy’s entire penis and foreskin, sewing up his genital area, and then slicing him open again when it was time for his testes to drop. It is unimaginable, barbaric, and it would never be done to a male child the way it is done to females.

Crusader Edna Adan

This segment of Half the Sky does a lot to educate about the procedure. We meet a “cutter,” an elderly female who says she continues to perform the procedure mostly to make money. We see a traditional birth assistant and hear how she has sliced open several women with the same blade. We hear mothers explain that the procedure continues because it is demanded by the community; no one would marry their son off to a non-mutilated girl. We hear from Edna Adan–a former UN diplomat and the true hero of this episode–about how dangerous the procedure is not only because it obstructs labor, but also because mutilated and scarred tissue cannot properly stretch for delivery. Adan is fighting this practice with education, building a hospital and training midwives to go out in the community and fight this tradition. But she has a long road ahead.

This is just one of the six Half the Sky segments you will see on PBS, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to watch them all. As I said, the series avoids some of the more graphic details I’ve provided here, which is both a plus and a minus. The series is appropriate for older teens and young adults, but at the same time I hope it will spur viewers to pick up the Half the Sky book, hit the Internet, and research these issues further. Kristof and WuDunn make credible narrators for the series, though some of their celebrity co-hosts seem unnecessary. Watching Diane Lane talk to Somaliland women, constantly looking shocked and asking silly questions… it’s probably the typical reaction a lot of privileged U.S. women would have to the problem, but she was the least engaging part of the episode for me. I didn’t even know who she was at first.

If you’d like to know more, please check the Half the Sky web site for more info and showtimes for the series. You can also learn more about Edna Adan’s hospital online, and Tostan is another organization that fights the FGM practice and accepts donations, interns, or volunteers. FGM is a practice that should not exist in any form, anywhere in today’s world.

On Todd Akin

I am angry. Todd Akin has pissed me off. I don’t want his comments to get under my skin, I didn’t want to write this blog entry–which I’m sure will once again have someone noting how sad and pathetic my life is. I don’t want to think about my own rape, but it’s hard to think about anything else when the word rape is all over the fucking news. I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to stick a big **trigger warning** as I list off some of the many ways rape has fucked with my life. (See also, last week’s pity party on the subject.)

  • When I was raped, I had to take drugs. Lots of them. I took emergency contraception, because it turns out you can get pregnant after all. And did he wear a condom? Who knows. It’s just a bit hard to think straight when you’ve been slipped so much GHB that your memory comes in spurts, that you lose consciousness, and that you wake up semi-aware, but completely unable to move your body for what seems like an eternity–unable to run away and unable to push him off you. Does that sound like a “legitimate rape?” When you tell the hospital staff you don’t know if he used a condom, they give you more drugs. The anti-retroviral drugs that you get to prevent HIV are the worst. After being raped, after being poked and prodded by a rape kit, after letting strangers take photos of the intimate parts of your body, they hand you a supply of drugs almost guaranteed to make you vomit over and over again.

  • The drug regimen ends, though. What doesn’t end is the anger and mistrust. Eight years later, I’m still surprised by my own responses. Rape jokes make me angry.  Any man could be a rapist. A lot of men see me as just an object or a sexual target, I can see it in their eyes (or at least I imagine I do). I can’t forget the look that I got this morning from a man who decided to drive by me reeeeal slow and get a good look as I was walking my dog. At 6:30AM. I try not to wear shorts and a tank top when I walk the dog anymore. It doesn’t really change anything. When that guy leered at me, my mind just thought: Predator.
  • I drank too much. For years. Now I get to feel shame about that, too. I was a “monster.” Yet, since I quit drinking, I find that just being in a bar makes me intensely uncomfortable. Going to parties makes me uncomfortable. So I stay home, night after night. It feels like there’s no winning. If there’s a middle ground between social anxiety and full-on drunk, I haven’t found it yet.
  • I am also afraid. I am afraid I will never find love, because who wants to love a nutcase like me? I am afraid that I have no future and nothing to live for. I am afraid I might hurt myself sometimes. I am afraid to run before dawn. I have panic attacks where I can’t stop crying. I cried this morning in the pet store. I am afraid of myself. Sometimes I don’t want to be alive anymore. Sometimes I think surviving was a mistake.

My point here is not to make you feel sorry for me. (Although, wow have I done a great job of making myself look bad here…) My point is that rape can ruin your life. It can mess with your head. Years later, after you start a new life and when you think things are fine and when you think you might have a bright future after all–WHAM! A news story, a scene in a movie, even the word “rape” sneaks up behind you and knocks you to the ground.

If my life is this unmanageable now, imagine how I would have felt if I had been pregnant and had to carry my rapist’s baby to term. Imagine, amongst all I already feel, if I carried the knowledge that I’d given birth to that child and gave it away, or if I kept it and was reminded of rape all the time. Abortion is not a win, either, mind you. But don’t these women deserve a right to make a choice they can maybe live with? Don’t they deserve to at least have their suffering called “legitimate?”

Todd Akin, you did not misspeak. You did not show empathy. You cannot possibly have empathy for my life, or the life of a victim who is pregnant here in the U.S. or in Rwanda, Bosnia, or the Congo. You cannot imagine, and I’d never wish it upon you or anyone you love. Fuck you.

Olympic Wrap-Up: Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some of the many things I enjoyed about the London 2012 games. This post reflects on some ways that organizers and broadcasters could make Rio 2016 even better. Here are some semi-random thoughts from a semi-anonymous Internet blogger. 🙂

Advice for the IOC and Rio 2016 Organizers

I have every confidence that Rio 2016 will be unforgettable. How could it not be, set in one of the world’s most beautiful places? I really hope Rio uses the games as an opportunity to show off its natural beauty and diverse culture. I also hope the games bring a financial boost that can help the country address the very real issues of crime and poverty that it faces. I know many of the 2016 venues are probably under construction already (especially with the World Cup coming up in 2014), but Rio could take a page from London’s book by using the games to highlight and revitalize many of the neighborhoods of Rio that tourists don’t often see. The city is really, really big—so show it off as much as possible!

In a more controversial suggestion, I’d love to see more co-ed events in the Olympics. 2012 was such a big year for women in the games, why not take it one step further? As a runner, I like women’s races… but I also sometimes like racing with men. Why stage two marathons when you could stage one? The same goes for triathlons. I’m hard pressed to see the downside of men and women racing together. There may be cultural issues here, sure, but the IOC already kind of forces countries to allow women to compete alongside men… it’s a short step to putting them in the same events. Some of the games, like equestrian competitions, already have co-ed teams, and separating the genders in some sports just seems archaic. Sure, it’s also more bodies on the field of play at once… but we all know that marathons and triathlons can be staged with thousands of participants. The marginal cost would be small, and the result would be a lot more excitement and the ability to more easily broadcast distance events. (See also my note below on the coverage of distance events, generally.)

My favorite pic from Brazil

Advice for NBC: Fixing an #nbcfail

In the U.S., NBC also really needs work on its coverage. I know that in broadcasting the games, it’s impossible to please everyone… but NBC does need to listen to criticism in a few areas. In Rio, there’s no reason not to show the opening ceremonies live. Given how long the broadcast is, even folks on the West Coast can tune in and catch part of it if they’re just getting home. If not, then just air it live in the East and repeat it for those in other time zones. It was baffling to me here out West that marquee events like the triathlons and the marathons were covered live at 3 or 4AM local time and then weren’t replayed during the afternoon/evening. Also, good luck if you wanted to see the open water swim marathon, which was barely promoted and buried in a weird time slot. What’s with the disdain for distance events?

It also incensed me that NBC continually touted “live online coverage of every event” when it wasn’t really available to everyone. If you had a premium cable package with a major provider, you were golden. But those of us who rely on broadcast TV couldn’t get live coverage—even of events that were being shown over the air! That wasn’t a classy move; it was false advertising. NBC should make at least some events free and live for everyone. They should also think about showing a more diverse selection of events over the air. Archery was very highly rated on cable, but I never saw it on broadcast. By contrast, volleyball and water polo were on almost every freaking day, and NBC seemed to have an aggressive marketing campaign for water polo that was totally baffling. I don’t care how many times you tell me that water polo is “just like ice hockey”; it isn’t ice hockey. That’s why we have Winter Olympics.

Yep, still not an ice rink.

NBC should also dial down the “filler.” Showing lengthy documentaries on the host country and past Olympic teams is not in and of itself a bad thing, but when you air this programming unannounced in the time slot reserved for Olympic coverage, viewers again feel cheated. Consider moving more of this filler to online content or air it in the weeks leading up to the game. As much as I love Oscar Pistorius, it was interesting to me that NBC aired Mary Carillo’s in-depth story on him once before the games on Rock Center, and then aired the same piece at least two more times during the games. I just found it odd that I saw that three times… and yet would have had to wake up at 3AM for the marathon coverage. Hmm.

With that being said, I’m sorry to see the Summer Olympics end for another four years. I hope some of you enjoyed them as much as I did!

Damage

Eight years ago this month my life changed forever when I was raped. It’s an issue I’ve tried to avoid writing about, because it’s hard for me to look at directly—even though I think about it every day. Lately I feel haunted by it, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m spending too much time alone, or because I’m anxious, or because it just happens to be August.

It turns out, you can’t really talk about rape. It shows up in movies, it’s almost a weekly feature on Law & Order, but you can never really talk about the time that it happened to you. For one thing, it’s painful to discuss… though it is sometimes equally painful to hold it inside. For another, it makes people uncomfortable. In spite of the shockingly widespread nature of the crime—RAINN reports that someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes—it’s something we speak about in hushed tones. It seems generally expected that outside of “appropriate” venues, like a support group, we do not discuss our experience of rape. Break that taboo and you get stared at, or people look at the floor, or some people even get angry that you dared to speak out. Fear of people’s reactions is another reason to be quiet. I learned this early on when, during my rapist’s trial, the prosecutor handing my case (a wonderful woman to whom I am tremendously grateful) told me that the officer to whom I reported my rape would not be testifying at trial. It turns out that officer—who was a woman—told the prosecutor she didn’t initially believe I was raped because the guy who did it was “too good looking.” Since then, I’ve had other people express disbelief at my story. The fact is that I was one of the first victims to go to trial in the state of New York with definitive evidence of a date rape drug. Given how much I still had in my system mid-morning the following day, a toxicologist testified at trial there was no way I could have given consent. But that’s not enough evidence for some people; for some people there is always a question mark.

For a long time I wanted to speak about what happened to me, because I think that people don’t speak enough about it. Since all this happened, I’ve had friends tell me in hushed tones about how it happened to them too, and how they never told anyone. Or how they never went to police. These days, I understand the value in silence. For me, I went to police because I knew I could never live with myself if my rapist remained free and went on to hurt someone else. But it came at a very high cost. It took over a year from the rape to the end of the trial. In that time, I was terrified he would find me or try to do something to me. I feel tremendous guilt about what it did to my parents, knowing I was raped and having to sit through a trial, and I wonder if I would have been better off not telling them. I have still never told other members of my family. At the time of the rape I had a boyfriend, who later became my fiancé. We split the year after the trial. I know in my heart there were other things wrong with the relationship, but I always wonder if the rape is what ultimately doomed us.

I have not been in another serious relationship since. I was always an introvert and a workaholic; I’ve never had great luck with men. But I wonder all the time if I’m too damaged now to be loved. Who can blame anyone for not loving a woman who constantly has her defenses up, who scrutinizes her clothing choices before walking the dog because she doesn’t want attention? Who could blame someone for not loving a woman who gets irrationally angry when guys on the street honk at her or when she feels threatened? Who would want to stand by someone who used alcohol over and over to get past anxiety and to make friends? I’ve been criticized for being depressed and sad and insecure. I’ve also been criticized for pushing myself too hard. I know I get anxious and over-defensive. No one knows my shortcomings better than me. But I sometimes just want someone to understand. There is no way to understand what this all does to you if you haven’t been through it.

When I was raped, I didn’t want it to change me. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be the girl who had a happy ending. I am angry at myself constantly for not being there yet… but I’m trying to be forgiving. I’ve stopped drinking, something that required tremendous willpower. In the next year I’ll be done with my Ph.D., I’ll (hopefully) have a new job, and I’ll finish my third half marathon. I also study sexual violence as part of my research and I discuss it in classes because I still want it to be talked about. I still hope I can make a difference in someone’s life. There’s a zen saying that I think about often: “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.” I spend a lot of time trying to understand what happened to me and a lot of time trying to see the future. I will probably never do either. My life is what it is, and I’m trying to be grateful just to have the chance to move forward. I’m at least doing a better job of it than I used to do.