Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#YesAllWomen and Me

I'm an infrequent Tweeter. Don't spend much time on Twitter, but I recently read about the #YesAllWomen movement and realized I had way too much to add to it. I chose one story I thought I could tell in 140 characters, posted it, and forgot about it.

The story is this: I was on a crowded train in Boston. I was about 18. There were no seats left, so I held onto a strap. An Asian man moved over to stand right behind me. I thought that was odd... there were other places to stand. Even right next to me would have been fine, but why did he need to stand right behind me? Then I felt him pressing up against me.

At first I thought it must have been an accident. I was profoundly uncomfortable, but said nothing. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe he was oblivious. Then he shifted and pressed into me harder. I still thought he might be oblivious, but I moved over. He followed me and did it again.

Now I was terrified. I looked around me on the train, trying to make eye contact with anyone. I thought about slapping him or kicking him or even just screaming, but I was too paralyzed with fear. No one would look at me. It seemed to me that people were intentionally looking away. This predated our obsession with cell phones, so it wasn't that everyone was preoccupied... people were just staring off into space. There were no workers around, so I just left the train at the next (unfamiliar) stop and walked home.

When I got there, I beat myself up. Why didn't I DO anything? Why didn't I SAY anything? I didn't want to talk to anyone that night. I was too busy being mad at myself for letting this guy get away with it, because I knew it meant he would do it to someone else.

I was brought up to be unfailingly polite. I'd been taught to always respect adults and never to embarrass anyone. But by this time in my life, I knew better-- I knew that politeness could get you kidnapped, raped, beat up, killed. 

It had been such a strange experience on the train that I didn't even know how to process it until it was over. I really was naive enough to think that the man was just not realizing that he was pressed up against me in a sexual way-- until he followed me after I moved. Then I knew it was no mistake. I was disturbed enough that I went online looking for stories, to see if this had happened to others. What I found out was that this wasn't a rare occurrence-- it was an epidemic in some areas of the world. There was even a word for it:


Any doubt I had about whether or not it was intentional now vanished for good. This was a crime and men were getting away with it because they counted on women being meek, like I was.

Had this been my only bad experience with men, I would count myself very lucky. It was unnerving, but mild compared to many other experiences. If you've read this blog before, you probably know that I was kidnapped and raped by a serial rapist when I was 10 years old. I took a self-defense class after that, when I was 14, but the sensei kept making comments about my breasts. My first boyfriend was physically and verbally abusive and told me what I could and could not wear and who I could talk to. He beat up any boys he found talking to me in class. I can't count how many times he got suspended from school and I had to covertly apologize to whoever he beat up. He threatened to kill my whole family if I ever left him, and I believed him. The only reason I got away was that he eventually went into the military.

With one notable exception, all the men I dated after that were nice guys. Mostly really nice guys. I never had a thing for "bad boys"-- the first guy just fooled me. Most of my friends were male; I never grew to think that all men (or even most men) were jerks.

I'm not the meek and polite kid I was once anymore, nor am I naive. Having a daughter has made me much more aware of the people around us. When a strange man leered at her in a store and asked how old she was, I didn't make polite conversation and assume his best intentions as I might have before. I walked away. Who knows? Maybe he was a kindly old man and I misinterpreted the "leering." But that's not my concern anymore. I will gladly risk being a little rude in the interest of keeping my daughter safe.

But now let me tell you about the reaction on Twitter.

I didn't know about any of this until today. I'm not sure why, but I never got any notifications of responses. Probably for the best. But today, a friend pointed me to this article: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/06/why-i-give-a-damn-about-yesallwomen-adult-content/

It made me go back and read some of the responses to my original Tweet:

Jun 1
You are aware that trains have seats so these things can't happen right?

Jun 1
is that why you love train so much?

It wasn't my fault, it was a bumpy ride.

oh please, what were you doin when he was pressing himself against you? huh? enjoying yourself?

Yes it's hard to imagine strangers on a train aren't always checking you out. The nerve of the populace not being glued 2 you

I would have watched the whole thing and probably touched myself later.

One man spoke up on my behalf and wrote this:

touched yourself later?I can only say this. You make me sad you really do. I hope your mother reads your feed.

 This was the response:

I did indeed, while imagining this very scenario. Stop white knighting you already know she puts out

I'm not sure where to even start, but I'll just address that last one... the man ascertained from my profile that I'm a single mom. Therefore, because I had sex with the man who was my husband and it resulted in a child, I "put out" and now any man is allowed to sexually assault me. No, really, that's the logic.

Where do we go from here? 

It saddens me that the #YesAllWomen tag that was supposed to help others see what women go through on a regular basis just to stay safe has turned out this way... it's like shining a light on cockroaches. What it's done is to show exactly why we need this movement-- because there ARE lots of other Elliott Rodgers in the world, who feel entitled to have sex with any women they want. Who brag about how many women they've raped. Who get off on intimidating and victimizing us, and then insulting any man who would stand up for us. "White knighting?" Yes, thank you-- we need lots more of those. 

Let's be clear: It is not okay to sexually assault anyone at any time under any circumstances.

No matter what they're wearing. No matter what they're doing. No matter what you think of their life choices. No matter who you are, who they are, who your parents are, or how entitled you feel. 

It's not okay to blame the victim for being victimized.

No matter what they're wearing. No matter what they're doing. No matter what you think of their life choices. No matter who you are, who they are, who your parents are, or how entitled you feel.

I'm not normally one to link profanity-laden tirades, but I'll make an exception here. If all witnesses took a stand like this, don't you think rape culture would end?


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

When "Free Range Parenting" Goes Too Far

I just read an article on Salon that bothered me a lot.

It's here: The Day I Left My Son In the Car.

In short, the writer tried to run an errand with her 4-year-old, but he didn't want to go into the store, so she left him in the car for 5 minutes or so while she went in to shop.

A bystander saw this, recorded it, and called police. The writer spends much of the article minimizing her actions: it wasn't hot, it was just a quick errand, all her friends are doing it, it's no big deal. She's very mad at the person who called police. And the comments mostly mirror her thoughts-- no big deal, no real risk.

In fact, the comment that set me off was this one: "The risk of anything bad happening in those 5 minutes was so absolutely miniscule to not be worth mentioning."

I'm here as a reminder of that miniscule risk.

I was kidnapped and raped by a serial rapist when I was 10 years old. Maybe others don't think it's worth mentioning, but it was quite not fun when it happened to me.

Every time I see parents getting all huffy about how they should be allowed to let their kids roam free, walk to school, and so on, all I can think is this: You never think it's going to happen to you until it happens to you.

Earlier this year, a baby was kidnapped when his mother left him unattended in a car while she went in to a store. Here's a teenage girl who was abducted on her way to school this April. Leiby Kletsky was 8 when he was murdered and dismembered walking home from camp for the first time. Etan Patz has been missing since he was 6 years old because he was allowed to walk two blocks to school alone. This 2-month old was kidnapped from a car last month while her mother was unloading groceries. This 5-year-old girl was kidnapped from her front yard, where she'd been left unattended, last year.

We are not just statistics. We exist. Far too many of us. Learn from us so that these things don't happen to your children. It's not some self-righteous feminist movement to let kids roam free... it's lazy parenting that needs to stop.


Monday, June 02, 2014

The Care and Feeding of Your Ghostwriter

People sometimes say to me, "It must be SO HARD having someone else get credit for your writing!" But it's not, really. Just about all of my clients have remained my friends, and I'm very happy to see them succeed. And maybe I've just worked with really nice people, but the majority of them not only do give me a shared cover credit (by So and So with Jenna Glatzer), but also make it a point to thank me in the acknowledgments and mention me in interviews when they can. I feel I get plenty of credit most of the time. (If you're wondering who usually doesn't want to acknowledge my role, I'll tell you: doctors. I guess they worry it puts their expertise in question.)

What I usually write are memoirs and true crime stories, and here's what really IS hard: dialogue.

Often, the toughest part of writing someone else's story is trying to come up with dialogue that will help the reader get a sense of everyone's voice and personality. But interviewees rarely want to tell me what a conversation went like because they're worried they're not saying it just right, or misremembering some of it. But listen, if you're working with a ghostwriter, understand this: No one expects the dialogue to be exact. None of us have perfect memories. Readers don't need exact dialogue unless it's some key part of the story where words really count, like a crime confession or someone's last words.

A memoir without dialogue is really boring. Readers need breaks from paragraphs of exposition, and dialogue keeps things lively. So keep that in mind when a ghostwriter interviews you: Try to give more than a few words when the writer asks, "What was that conversation like?" Whatever you remember will be helpful. We don't know these people and their voices; we need you to give us a sense of it.

Here are some other ways you can help your ghostwriter:

-Don't cancel interviews at the last minute. Of course we know that emergencies happen, but understand that most of us plan out our work schedules based around interviews.

-Write out a timeline. If your story is intricate, give the writer a page or two of background showing the important dates and events.

-Don't ask your writer to interview every person you've ever met. I'm not sure why this is, but there is a tendency among people whose books I've written to want me to talk to dozens of people... the book is in your voice. It's your memories. There are often a few key people who the ghostwriter should talk to, to get a fuller picture-- people who may remember things that you've forgotten, or who can put things in context. But keep a limit on this, knowing that the writer is going to spend time interviewing and transcribing each call. She probably doesn't need to talk to your 4th grade softball coach.

-Remember that she doesn't necessarily know your industry/acronyms/slang. I've had clients who've said things like, "So I went to the RBA to get my t-drat from the Magman," and I'm not even sure where to start the question... "Wait, you went to the who-what-where now?" When in doubt, spell it out.

-If you've written diaries, letters, or notes of any kind relating to your story, we want to read them. Don't be afraid to send us things-- we're not going to judge your writing skills. We're pretty glad you're not professional writers... that's why we get to have jobs.

-Don't use speakerphone. One of the most frustating experiences in ghostwriting is when I go to transcribe an interview and can't make out half of what the person said... because the phone connection is bad, the person is using speakerphone or a bad Bluetooth device, or because the person mumbles.

-Slow down. The other difficult thing about transcribing is speed: Whether the writer transcribes with a voice recognition program or by typing, we still need time between phrases. It really helps when interviewees speak clearly and slowly.

-Don't expect us to follow feedback from multiple people. As your writer, I expect to get editing notes from you and your editor (and your agent during the book proposal stage). Anyone beyond that is too many people. I can't be expected to take feedback from your brother, your cousin, your best friend, and your former English teacher. Everyone is going to have an opinion, but you have to trust that your writer and editor are the professionals and that we're going to have your best interest and the book's best interest at heart.

...And that's about it! We ghostwriters aren't that hard to please. Most of us know that we have pretty awesome jobs, after all.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Yes, All Women and Not All Men

I've followed a bit of the "YesAllWomen" and "NotAllMen" Twitter stuff, and as usual, it's taken me a few days to put my thoughts together.

Here's what I'd like to say to the men:

Guys, of course we know that you're not all woman-hating sleazebuckets. But too many men are. That's why women are too often put into situations where we have to worry about our personal safety, even when we've been cautious.

I don't go to bars because men do creepy things there. Do you ever think to yourself, "I'm not going to go to a bar tonight because a woman may scare me, follow me to my car, and not take 'no' for an answer?"

I can't put those cute little stickers on the back of my car showing my real family dynamic: just me and my daughter, because if I do, it's more likely that a man will see that I'm unprotected and break into my home.

I hold my keys between my fingers in parking garages in case I need to jab a would-be attacker.

I've been stalked online and in person-- once by a professor. (My online stalker killed himself in police custody.) I've been followed from the train to the subway to my would-be college (decided I couldn't handle the city as a young woman). It's made it much harder to trust anyone.

I was riding the train, holding a strap, when a man came over and pressed himself up against my backside and insisted on sharing my strap even though there were several straps open all over the car.

My first boyfriend hit me with a seatbelt to my face. I was 14. My father said I probably deserved it.

I cannot say "I'm not interested" to a man who hits on me. I have to say, "I have a boyfriend," because I know from experience that "I'm not interested" doesn't stop most men. It turns into, "Why not?" and "You're a bitch." (Of course, even "I have a boyfriend" doesn't always work. "I have a boyfriend who has served prison time for assault, and he's on his way over here" sometimes works better.)

I've given fake phone numbers for the same reason-- because it's less dangerous than saying, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to give you my phone number."

There should not be pepper spray in my bag and 911 programmed into my phone when I go on a first date.

Guys, I still think the majority of you are A-OK, but you have to understand that this fear and defensiveness shouldn't be part of a woman's daily existence. It would be pretty amazing if more of you paid attention and put other guys in their place when they're being creepy to women. I really don't know what effect it would have because I've so rarely seen it, but maybe next time you see a drunken butthead invading a woman's personal space and not leaving her alone, you could join forces with a friend and "redirect" the man to the nearest exit. Maybe when you hear guys making sexist or hateful jokes about women, you could say, "Not cool" instead of laughing along. I don't understand why many decent men stay friends with that one jerk who makes all the women uncomfortable. Straighten him out or ditch him. He isn't funny.

Just recognizing that the problem exists and wanting to do more than just throw your hands in the air and say, "I'M not like that" would go a long way toward helping. At the very least, it would be nice to know that our surroundings are mostly made up of our allies.