Friday, November 25, 2011

An open letter to H&M from a rape survivor

Dear H&M,

I used to like you.  I really did.  Even when your clothing started to lose its funky, vintage-store-treasure style and holes started appearing in the t-shirts I bought from you, I still thought you were mostly doing things right.  You had organic collections.  You supported good causes.  You sold cool hats.

But then came your Girl with the Dragon Tattoo collection.



I'd like to be clear: I loved the original film.  It's one of the only stories I've ever come across where the hero is female, and that female comes out smarter and stronger than the male hero, whose life she saves.  But it took me a long time to watch the film, and I had to fast forward through a few scenes.  Because, like Lisbeth Salander, I was raped.

And now, H&M, you have created a line of clothing based on her character: a woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse, who is violently raped, and who is hunting down a man who violently rapes and kills other women.  Lisbeth has been through hell, and her clothing is her armor.  That's her choice, and it's an understandable choice.  But you glamorize it, putting a glossy, trendy finish on the face of sexual violence and the rage and fear it leaves behind.


I wonder if you've considered how a survivor of sexual violence chooses her or his fashion choices.  I wonder if your designers researched what we think about when we get dressed, how some of us will opt against a revealing outfit because we'd rather not deal with unwelcome advances or sexist slurs.  I am an ardent supporter of the Slutwalk movement.  I believe that what a woman wears should not have any bearing on whether or not she is sexually assaulted or harassed.  But many of us who have been there still decide against the short skirt.  We place our bets, hoping that our camouflage will protect us from a rude catcall in a subway station, and the subsequent anger, shaking, tears.  When I dress in the spirit Lisbeth Salander, it's because I want to send a message to men: to stay the fuck away.



Anna Norling, the Division Designer at H&M, says that she is “so proud” of this collection, because Lisbeth is the “very essence of an independent woman.”  Lisbeth Salander is independent woman whose mother was abused by her father, who was violently raped by a man in charge of her well being, who is harassed and bullied by men in public, and who is severely emotionally scarred.


 Stieg Larsson was inspired to write The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because he witnessed a girl getting gang raped when he was 15 years old.  I've heard it said that being raped is like getting a tattoo - it never goes away.  I hope your shoppers bear this in mind before they emulate Lisbeth Salander.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fear Itself


I’m writing this from a picnic table under the sun, at my local dog park.   Some might call this strange, or even work-obsessed.   They’d only be half right.
I’ve always struggled to quiet my mind.  Even in places where I feel my thoughts should shut off, like the dog park, or yoga class, or looking out at a sunset over a lake, they still yammer away like a bunch of old Greek ladies on Nescafe. There I am, balancing my body weight on one elbow*, mentally going over my To Do list and screaming at myself like a drill sergeant for not having gotten enough of it done.  Why didn’t I call the insurance company?  Crap, I didn’t defrost the chicken!  If I’d gone to the grocery store this afternoon, I could have gotten two more hours of work done afterwards...  why am I so bad at managing my time?  And I don’t even have kids!  AndwhatamIgoingtodowiththoseapplesthatareabouttogooffIreallyshouldn’tbehere Namaste.
I began to perfect the drill sergeant routine when I started writing from home.  At first, creating something I cared about and believed in was good, like a small, crackling fire under my ass, or at least a citronella candle.  But soon, whenever I wasn’t writing, I was panicking.  And by not writing, I mean going to the bathroom, or doing the dishes, or eating lunch.  Even when I was doing the paid work I needed to do to so I could keep writing, I’d be in a state of full-body anxiety, because I wasn’t writing.  I’d add up how many hours I’d written that day, and tell myself it wasn’t enough, no matter how high the number was.  (This was while being fully aware that many successful writers claim they only write for 4 hours a day.)  I berated myself for not working as much as people with “real jobs,” conveniently forgetting those people have meetings and coffee breaks and water coolers to chat around, where they can exercise a different part of their brain, whereas I go all day speaking to no one, except my dog Ruble, and sometimes the fruit flies in my kitchen. 
And then, a few weeks ago, I went to see a… healing person.
You see, for the last three years, my hair has been falling out.  Yup, those curly locks I spent 31 years of my life trying to straighten and bleach and thin and flatten are now taking residence in the shower drain, my hairbrush, my sweaters.  I’ve been to a family doctor, a dermatologist, an endocrinologist, a naturopath, two homeopaths and a cranio-sacral therapist, and none of them can figure it out.  It has not been fun.
Do I realize there are worse fates in life than losing hair?  Yes.  Am I aware that there are a lot of awful reasons one’s hair can fall out, and how lucky I am that none of them apply to me?  God, yes.  Very much so.  But if it’s all the same to you, I’d still like it to stop.  I like my hair, and I apologize to it, publicly, for all the humiliation I’ve caused it over the years. 
So as wary as I am of admitting this, for fear that you will no longer take me seriously as a cynic…
I went to a healing person, and had energy work done.
Before he did anything, he asked all kinds of questions I didn’t want to answer, like how Tony and I had been getting along lately, and what I did for fun. (“Fun? I’m not sure what you mean by that.”)  Then I lay down on a mat.  I managed to go into a deep meditation, and he put his hands lightly on different parts of me, which went cold and warm, and sometimes felt as if currents were moving through them.
Coming out of the session 45 minutes later, I felt like I’d just run a marathon.  I could have stayed on that mat and gone to sleep for the next 12 hours.  But I forced myself up and back into a chair, and the healing person said,
“You’ve got to stop being afraid all the time.”
He wasn’t saying it in a demeaning way.  He was saying it straightforwardly, matter-of-factly.  Fear, he said, was something I carried with me everywhere I went.
Naturally, my first reaction was to be afraid. 
“How?” I asked.  I felt like he was telling me to stop breathing.  Was this what it was going to take for my hair to stop falling out?  Well forget it, I was going to have to get a wig, but those were really expensive, and would I have to take it off to shower?  How about to swim?  Would I sleep in it?  I could never rock the bald look – my head shape is too -   
“Just be aware of it,” the healer said.  “You tell yourself constantly that life is hard.  That’s not helping you.”
I knew, in that moment, that I had a choice.  I could roll my eyes, leave his office, and decide that anyone who equates hair loss with fear has obviously eaten one too many gluten-free spacecakes.  Or, I could believe him.  Because he was right.  I am steeped in fear.  I marinate in it.  And take what you want from this, but my hair started falling out just a few months after I started writing from home.
I walked out into the street that evening feeling light and clear, as if my emotions and thoughts were passing through me, instead of getting stuck like the fruit flies do to the sticky tape I put up in the kitchen.  I met up with Tony to help him go shopping for new clothes -  a bi-yearly event I both look forward to and dread - and watched as the little fear bursts ignited, even at the most insignificant things.  I began to see how I instantly translate rejection, even when it’s from my husband, about a men’s shirt I’m holding up to show him in the basement of The Bay, to “you’re not good enough.”  It’s as logical, and no doubt as helpful, as telling myself that my inability to accomplish 36 hours worth of tasks in 17 means I am a failure as a human being, or when I decide that the pain in my left shoulder blade means I probably have three weeks left to live.
Since my meeting with the healing person, some days have been easier than others.  I’m getting better at doing just one thing at a time, on focusing on how many things I have gotten done in the day, and staying conscious – mostly - of the voices that tell me I’m not doing enough.  Other days, I go back to old habits.  But even then, part of me is aware that what those voices are saying may not actually be true.
And for the first time, I’m actually grateful for the hair loss.  It’s led me to a place I really needed to go: a place that is much more enjoyable, where being alive isn’t a chore, and where there’s actually room for fun.  Yes, fun.  Which brings me back to the dog park, and the next item on my To Do list: Throw squeaky toy. 

* slight dramatization. I can't balance my body weight on anything, except the couch