broken walls and narratives

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Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Frankly, It Isn’t My Feminism

Reflections on Al Franken

H. Bradford

I haven’t weighed in publicly on the Al Franken sexual harassment debate.  I don’t have the time to engage in internet debates and I don’t want to alienate allies in the Democratic party, who feel very personally hurt and confused by his resignation.  At the end of the day,  all feminists must work together to end sexual harassment/assault.  Further, as a Marxist feminist, I am in the extreme margins of feminism.  I feel that my opinion means little to most people or that my opinion is a quaint anachronism that is tolerable so long as I do my best to work well with others.   Still, I do want to share my opinion, as I feel very frustrated by some of the ways this debate has been framed.   Thus the following is a laundry list of my Marxist feminist “pet peeves.”

1: Al Franken was a feminist/ally to women


Many people have expressed a sense of grief, loss, disappointment, anger, etc. because of the argument that Al Franken was an ally to women.   I fundamentally disagree with this statement.  He supported the Iraq war in 2003, he has supported airstrikes in Syria, voted for increased sanctions against Iran, approved the national defense budget, voted in favor of PROMESA, he supported Israel’s 2014 attacks on Gaza, against closing Guantanamo Bay, etc.   I have said this many times, but internationalism is central to my feminist beliefs.   US foreign policy is based upon promoting US interests in the world.   The US has violently exerted its power in the interest of profit making.  This has been done through countless coups and wars.  What benefits the continuation violent US hegemony does not benefit women, does not benefit working people, does not benefit oppressed nationalities, does not benefit people of color, does not benefit the environment, and does not benefit the vast majority of the world that lives in poverty.  It does not benefit our own people, who fight in these wars and who pay for these wars (at the expense of social spending towards education, health, jobs, environment, etc.).   Supporting Palestinians is a feminist issue.  Supporting Puerto Rican independence is a feminist issue.  Supporting the end to US wars is a feminist issue.  Politicians who support the status quo of US foreign policy- that is, those who do not question our right to play world police or the assumed moral superiority that nationalism grants us the right to starve, bomb, or destabilize other countries… is not in my opinion a feminist.  Women happen to live ALL over the world.  American women are no more important than women in Syria, Palestine, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, North Korea, or Iraq.

This woman in Gaza matters, along with thousands of other people who were killed/injured in Gaza in 2014.  (Image from International Business Times).

 

2. It isn’t Fair that He Stepped Down

The “it isn’t fair” that he stepped down while worse Republicans remain in office is weakest, least morally courageous argument I have heard.   If someone does something bad…something that has hurt women…isn’t the morally responsible thing to do …is take accountability, step back from public life, and quietly work to rebuild trust through atonement?  It doesn’t matter if someone is worse, has done more, or others are not taking accountability.  The “grown up” thing to do when a mistake is made is admit it, apologize, bravely face the consequences, reflect on what happened and how to prevent it again, and work towards remedying the offense.  Yes, it certainly stinks to get in trouble for something when others are evading the consequences of their actions- but if a person truly believes that what they did was wrong, then the punishment of others should be of little concern.   This could have been an opportunity to set an example of how to gracefully, genuinely handle the serious issue sexual harassment.  Instead, Al Franken’s unapologetic resignation made him look like a petulant child- the same sort of behavior one would expect from Donald Trump.


3. Victim Blaming

One of the grossest things throughout this ordeal is the amount of victim blaming.   Despite photographic evidence of Al Franken groping Leann Tweeden, her credibility was attacked because of the bawdy nature of comedy, her conservative interests, her history with Playboy, etc.   Victims who have not identified themselves have even been blamed for not having the courage to reveal themselves- which implies perhaps they are not credible.  Worse, some people bemoan the fact that Al Franken was SUCH a good politician.  Why, he might have had a chance at becoming president some day!  Oh my!  Well, Brock Turner was SUCH a good swimmer!  That pesky sexual assault got in the way of such a promising athletic career.  When people bemoan “what could have been” it blames victims for ruining the careers and futures of offenders.  It is true that groping a sleeping woman is not the same as raping an unconscious woman.  However, there has been a great deal of minimizing Al Franken’s behaviors.   Eight accusations of unwanted touching and kissing IS a big deal.  And yes, Trump’s pussy grabbing and Roy Moore’s grabbing, dating underage women, forcing an underage woman’s head to his crotch, and other allegations of nastiness also matter.  ALL of this matters.  Everyone should resign.  Everyone sucks.  But please, believe victims!!


 

4. Get a Woman into Office!

Another pet peeve has been that the solution to all of this should be the appointment or election of more women into office.  Indeed, the socialization and social position of women in society has not lent itself to the same kinds of oppressive behaviors.  Women are more often the victims of sexual harassment and assault because women it is a method of social control of all women, this keeps women in their place, men feel entitled to women and have historically been entitled to women, women are not socialized to be sexually aggressive or exert control over men in this manner, victims historically and currently are not often believed, this behavior often goes on without consequence, etc.   However, this argument is troubling for a variety of reasons.  For one, it reifies gender.  That is, men and women are different, women are naturally better or less violent/gross/terrible, and the solution must be to include more women in power.  I think that this oversimplifies the problem while reinforcing the gender binary.  It assumes that there is some evil kernel within all men that makes them sexually harass/assault people.   This also ignores transgender, gender queer, gender fluid, or the many other ways to express gender and that these individuals are ALSO often the victims of sexual assault.  It also makes the issue a matter of who is in power rather than a matter of power itself.  Returning to the first point, women in power can be just as terrible- if they are promoting capitalist interests.  The world does not need more Condoleeza Rices, Madeline Albrights, Angela Merkels, Margaret Thatchers, and Hilary Clintons.  Yes, these are women, but they all promoted policies that have hurt women.  While it is less common, men can also be victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Women can sexually harass and assault each other in same sex relationships.  So…this argument is very base to me.  It does not tackle some fundamental issues of power or broader issues of feminism beyond sexual harassment. Image result for madeleine albright starved iraqi children


Beyond this critique, this is a disempowering message to feminists.  This message says that the best thing we can do is hope for a female politician to save us!  Gross.  We should be out in the streets.  Every night should be Take Back the Night.  We should be blocking roads and walking out of our work places in protest of sexual harassment/assault.  We should make power FEAR US.  We should not accept that power should be replaced by a female face.  We should take back power.  We should become power.  Politicians of both parties should fall over themselves to resign, because they fear the rage of millions of mobilized men, women, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, etc. people in the streets demanding  not only accountability….but the destruction of patriarchy itself.   This is a great opportunity for building a mass movement against the machinery of sexist oppression.  A woman will not save us.  We must save ourselves….and this planet.  The politicians will scramble to follow our lead.  If we are smart, we won’t give them the luxury of promises.


Conclusion…

I am sure I could go on, but these are some of the main “peeves” that have angered my socialist sensibilities.   I know that everyone is struggling with these issues.  I know that activism is a path- there is always room to grow and change.  I don’t wish to shame my fellow feminists.  I just…feel like I am alone in the wilderness sometimes.  I am not a Republican or a Democrat.   I don’t have any skin in that game.  I want a new game, with new rules, and new players, and a lot more winning for everyone.  I’m tired of playing Monopoly or Risk.  We are ALL losing.  We will ALL keep losing if we can’t change the discourse and step out of the realm of elections and politicians and into the realm of building the power of mass movements…and labor movement.

Bringing Bisexuality and Domestic Violence Into Focus

Bringing Bisexuality and Domestic Violence Into Focus

H. Bradford

11/22/16

Last month, Pandemonium met for the first time.  Pandemonium is a modest bisexual/pansexual/ omnisexual/generally bi+ group that I am working to organize.  Our first meeting was chaotic, but lively.  A disturbing theme that came out of our first discussion was that many of the members had experienced violence of some kind.  Since October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and LGBT history month, I thought that this theme deserved more attention.  As such, I wanted to investigate this topic further and bring my findings back to the group for our November meeting.  Indeed, being bisexual increases the likelihood that a person may be the victim of intimate partner violence.

The Statistics:


According to a 2010 report from the CDC, 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced either rape, stalking, or physical violence from an intimate partner (North, 2016).  If molestation is added to this list, the rare is 75% (Davidson, 2013).  In contrast to bisexuals, 35% of straight women and 43.8% of lesbian women have experienced stalking, rape, or physical violence (North, 2016).  If only rape is account for, 46.1% of bisexual women report having been raped, compared to 13.1% of lesbian and 14.7% of straight women.  Further, of the bisexual women who have reported domestic violence, 57.4% reported that they had experienced adverse effects such as PTSD or missed work, compared to 35.5% of lesbians and 28.2% of straight women.  This means that not only are bisexual women experiencing domestic violence at higher rates, they are suffering more adverse effects from this violence.  Finally, most bisexual victims of domestic violence had been abused by male partners, as men accounted for 89.5% of offenders (North, 2016).  As a whole, bisexual women are the number one target of domestic violence, followed by bisexual men who experience it at a rate of 47.4%.  This is followed by lesbian women, heterosexual women, gay men, and straight men (Davidson, 2013).  This is very startling, as bisexual men and women are both the targets of domestic violence.


In Canada, 28% of bisexuals reported being victims of spousal abuse versus 7% of heterosexuals.  According to the BC Adolescent Health Survey, Bisexual girls between ages 12 and 18 were twice as likely to report dating violence than heterosexual girls (Bielski, 2016).  In the UK, one in four bisexual women and lesbian women have experienced domestic violence.  Among these victims, ⅔ reported that their abuser was a woman, versus ⅓ reported a man.  Four in ten  bisexual and lesbian women with a disability reported domestic violence.  While the UK statistics lump bisexual and lesbian women into the same grouping, the findings shows the intersectionality of abuse (Stonewall Health Briefing, 2012).  In this case, disability and sexuality put the women at greater risk of abuse.  The statistics from the UK, U.S., and Canada each suggest that bisexuality can be connected to increased incidences of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking.  This begs the question, why is this the case?

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The Media:


It is easy to blame the media for social problems, but it is a useful starting point.  Certainly, the media plays a role in shaping public perception by popularizing ideas, framing questions and ideas, focusing on some information over other information, and setting parameters of what is discussed and how it is discussed.  Davidson (2013) observed that the media, especially pornography, sends a message that bisexual women are depraved, immoral, promiscuous, and have commitment issues.  These portrayals of bisexual women actually victim blames them or justifies their abuse through negative portrayals.  This portrayal of bisexuals represents or contributes to biphobia, which often goes unnoticed or unaddressed in larger discussions of homophobia.  As a matter of example, consider the case of Amber Heard.  Before her divorce trial, many people may not have known that she was bisexual.  According to Bielski (2016), Amber Heard was painted as a gold digger in the media, even as evidence of the violence against her from her then husband Johnny Depp began to emerge.  Despite these accusations, Heard actually donated her divorce settlement money to charity.  She donated half of the settlement to the ACLU for the purpose of ending violence against women.  Aside from gold digging, her bisexuality was also used to discredit her, as tabloids portrayed her as promiscuous and that it was Depp’s jealousy that drove him to beat her.  Even in the face of grotesque evidence, such as a video of Depp kicking kitchen cupboards while shouting at her, photos of her bruised face and swollen lip, and a sexual slur scrawled on their mirror, she was blamed for making him jealous (Bielski, 2016).

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Dynamics of Domestic Violence:


While the media plays a role in shaping public perception about bisexuality, it does not explain why bisexuals are victimized to begin with.  Bisexuality may be used as an excuse by gay or straight abusers to exert control over their victim.  To the abuser, it may represent identity, power, and the possibility of sexual attraction to others.  Controlling behaviors include such things as surveillance, such as checking email or text messages and using isolation, such as not allowing bisexual victims to spend time with anyone of any gender.  To abusers, bisexuality itself may be viewed as something that needs to be controlled.  Farnsworth (2016) argued that bisexual people, along with people of color, disabled people, neurodivergent people are often treated as “others.”  “Othering” a group of people diminishes their humanity and legitimacy.  “Othered” people often have their consent ignored.  Bisexuals and other oppressed groups may be told that they deserve their abuse and that no one else would want them.  Many people in the LGBTQ community also face poverty, which is a barrier to leaving abusive relationships as these individuals may be financially dependent upon their partner. (Farnsworth, 2016).  In fact, bisexual women are twice as likely to live in poverty than lesbian women (Kristal, 2016).  Finally, in the larger society, bisexuals are demeaned, sexualized, and ignored.  Until this is changes, they will be at greater risk of violence (Farnsworth, 2016).


Beyond some of the dynamics of domestic violence, shelters may also bear some of the blame.  For instance, in testimonies gathered for a White House meeting on bisexuality, one woman reported that she was denied shelter at a Chicago domestic violence shelter because the shelter was for women with male abusers.  When she sought a resource for the gay community, she was told that because she was bi she did not qualify for their services.  Unfortunately, gender variant individuals and gay and bisexual men have few resources available to them (Hutchins, 2013).  While bisexual men are the group that is second most likely to experience domestic violence, there is only one shelter in the United States that is explicitly for male victims of domestic violence.  This shelter is located in Arkansas, has nine beds, and opened in 2015 (Markus, 2016).  Females are by far the majority of domestic violence victims, but it is important that men also have services, as well as transgender individuals.  Everyone of any sexuality and gender identity deserves to be safe from violence.


Another facet of domestic violence is mental health.  Bisexual women are at greater risk of depression and anxiety compared to gay or straight women.  This mental health risk could be because of the stigma of being bisexual (Buzzfeed).  However, if 75% of bisexual women have been stalked, raped, molested, or victims of domestic violence, this increased incidence of depression and anxiety may be related to trauma.  A study published by the University of Montreal found that among 1052 mothers who were studied over ten years, those who had experienced domestic violence were twice as likely to suffer from depression and had three times the risk of developing schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms.  Among the women who had been abused by their partner, they were more likely to have substance abuse, early pregnancy, childhood abuse, and poverty (University of Montreal, 2015).  Factors such as mental health and substance abuse create a vicious feedback effect.  Abuse creates mental health problems, financial problems, pregnancy, and substance abuse.  In turn, all of these things makes a person more vulnerable to abuse.  As abusers target often vulnerable people, the previous abuse and mental health issues experienced by bisexuals may may play into the abuse (Bielski, 2016).  This is not meant to blame them, but to show that their previous victimization may make them more vulnerable to future abuse.

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Biphobia and Bi-Erasure:


All bisexuals experience biphobia and bi-erasure to some degree.  Biphobia is hatred and prejudice against bisexuals.  A 2015 study in the Journal of Bisexuality found that heterosexuals and gays and lesbians had almost identical prejudices against bisexuals.  According to the reported experiences of the surveyed bisexuals, both heterosexuals and homosexuals treated bisexuals as if they were more likely cheat and were sexually confused.  Both group also excluded bisexuals from their social networks (Allen, 2016).  While bisexuals may be viewed negatively as promiscuous, wild, immoral, and disloyal, their voices, histories, identities, and experiences are ignored.  This is called bi-erasure.  Biphobia and bi-erasure can make coming out harder for bisexuals.  Their partners may not understand or think that a bi person is not satisfied (Farnsworth, 2016).  For individuals who are not “out”, they may face challenges when leaving their abuser.  For instance, in the book, Violence against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and the Persistence of Anti-LBGT Descrimination, a woman named Dorothy reported facing an additional barrier when she left her husband since she left him to enter her first same-sex relationship (it should be noted that in this example she identified as a lesbian).  Thus, leaving the relationship made harder by the fact that this would “out” her to others.  A woman named Leslie reported that her bisexuality was used to legitimize the abuse and control her.  The abuse worsened after she was married.  She was accused of flirting with both men and women.  After she was pregnant, he accused her of wanting to sleep with their waitress when they went out to dinner together (Meyer, 2015).  Once again, her bisexuality was something threatening to her partner.  In a 2012 Human Rights Campaign survey, bisexual teen girls reported that they were called “whores” or forced to make out with other girls for their partner (Kristal, 2016).  Again, negative stereotypes about bisexuals resulted in slut shaming and coercive sexual acts.  Because bisexual women are believed to be promiscuous and sexually adventurous, consent is assumed (Bielski, 2016).  Thus, it is no wonder why bisexuals are victims of sexual assault at a greater rate per their population than individuals with other sexual identities.

bisexual_erasure_image


 

Relationship/Sexual Norms:


At some level, bisexuality challenges sexual norms.  While this is not true of all bisexuals, a study that appeared in Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity found that bisexuals reported that monogamy was a sacrifice at greater rates than straights and gays.  An equal amount of bisexuals found monogamy to be a sacrifice as there were bisexuals who found it rewarding.  Nevertheless, gays and straights both reported monogamy as more rewarding than bisexuals.  Thus, while viewing monogamy as a sacrifice does not indicate that the respondents were polyamorous and promiscuous, it does indicate that they were less likely than their straight and gay counterparts to find monogamy rewarding (Vrangalova, 2014).  Many bisexuals that I have spoken with are perfectly capable of monogamy, myself included.  However, to those whom I spoken with, there is often a sense of sacrifice or duty involved with this monogamy.  It is often framed as a sacrifice made for the sake of companionship or a stable relationship with a particular individual.  At some level, bisexuality does threaten monosexual partners.  It does play into their insecurities and jealousies.  This is no excuse for abuse, but this represents a flaw with our relationships.  Society normalizes jealousy and insecurity.  Countless films and television shows feature couples who show their love through jealous behaviors.  An individual who is not jealous, is not viewed as emotional.  Taken to the extreme, jealousy can be abusive.  But, all monogamous relationships involve some level of control over the sexuality of another human being.  So, while bisexuals are capable of monogamous relationship, they are at the same time more apt to question monogamy.  This is very threatening to patriarchy and capitalism, which has treated women as the sexual property of men.


It is only recently, and with that advent of the feminist movement, that women have begun to be seen as having rights to their sexuality.  Today, some states continue to treat marital rape as something different than rape outside of marriage.  It was only in the 1990s that laws began to change so that rape within marriage was considered the same kind of crime, with the same punishments, as rape.  Prior to this, men were viewed as having a right to sex from their wives and implicit consent as part of their marriage.  Since the majority of women have traditionally married, rape is built into the tradition of marriage.  Marriage itself is institutionalized monogamy.  By extension, marriage was institutionalized rape.  Now, certainly there are people who have loving relationships and consensual sex within the context of marriage.  And, bisexuals certainly fought for and benefited from the legalization of same sex marriage.  But, I cannot shake my disgust at the notion that marriage granted men the right to sex without consequence, consent, or criminality.  While consent is considered a part of healthy relationships today, control will always be a part of relationships so long as people attach their self-esteem and happiness to the sexual loyalty of their partner.  In the popular imagination, there is sympathy for “crimes of passion.”  A man who kills his wife after she cheats on him has a legitimate defense.  These circumstances can result in lesser charges or a lower sentence.  A woman who cheats on her husband may be denied alimony.  To some degree, even non-abusive people accept the legitimacy of violence and control for the sake of monogamy.  Control and abuse are enshrined in the law. 47ade34b8769d8976fe72916ab19f89a


What is to be done?


There are many reasons why bisexuals are abused at higher rates than other groups.  Bisexuals are more likely to experience mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and poverty, which both puts them at risk of abuse, but also results from abuse.  Bisexuals experience bi-phobia and bi-erasure.  Their abuse is justified because it is considered a means to control them, out them, that they were sexually confused to begin with, and their consent is ignored.  Bisexuality itself is seen as something that must be controlled.  It is misunderstood.  At some level, it challenges some aspects of monogamy.


Hopefully, this piece offers some insight to why bisexuals may experience greater rates of abuse.  Certainly, more research on this topic should be done.  For instance, I could not find research pertaining to how many bisexuals actually identify as poly-amorous or monogamous.  Besides continued research, more work should be done to end bi-phobia and bi-erasure.  To this end, I hope that Pandemonium can work to create a community of bi+ activists, while fostering discussion, awareness of issues, a sense of identity and history, and action.  As for advocates within the field of domestic violence, I hope that more can be done to become aware of LGBT issues and become more responsive to their needs.  I am a domestic violence advocate myself, and I believe that this very rudimentary research has given me some food for thought in how I approach my work and frame problems.  Finally, if nothing else, this demonstrates the connections between fighting for LGBT rights and the fight for feminism, but also other fights, such as the fight to end poverty and the fight for more mental health services.

fence-sitter-shirt

Travel and Overcoming Fear

Travel and Overcoming Fear

by H. Bradford

When I was younger, I never really considered going to Africa.  Although I could make some basic differentiation between countries and histories, it always seemed like a place that that was scary.  It was a place where there was war, disease, poverty, crime, and uncertainty.   It is only in becoming an activist, and by extension, becoming interested in issues of racism and anti-colonial struggle, that I developed any interest in Africa at all.  In subtle and not so subtle ways, racism shapes the way that many people view Africa.  Racism is such an inescapable American experience, that it is not possible to think of Africa as a continent in the same way we think of other continents.  With that said, I recognized a long time ago that I was afraid to travel there.  I was afraid to get sick or that something bad would happen.  I feared this more than other destinations.  But, I often tell myself, “life begins where fear ends.”  Yeah, some Indian mystic said that.  I would almost rather that Cecil Rhodes or Theodore Roosevelt said it.  I believe that the things that we fear limit our lives.  I have a lot of fear, but I don’t want to let fear limit what I do in life.  My life is already limited by my geography, gender, class, place in history, etc.  While I can never overcome fear, I can at least challenge it from time to time.  So, that is one reason why I wanted to go to Africa.  I simply didn’t want to miss out on going out of fear!  And, after figuring out where I wanted to go and how I wanted to go about it, I started to feel a lot less fearful.  Of course, my brother injected some more fear into my mind.  He was also of the impression that Africa was a monolithic continent of war, poverty, and disease.  He had a rough time visiting some Pacific Island nations and questioned if I was ready to take on the third world.  Life begins where fear ends…so, I set off anyway, despite some advice to reconsider.  Thus, here are some reflections on my fears, some scary situations, and how I overcame them.


Lions:

I have never actually been anywhere where the wildlife is something to fear.  In Minnesota, we have bear and wolves, but both mostly leave people alone.  Deaths connected to bear and wolf attacks on humans happen by the handful in a century in Minnesota.  In southern Africa, this wasn’t the case.  There is so much wildlife in some areas, that it hardly seems real.  There is a false sense of security, since animals are everywhere.  They hardly seem wild at all, as they become a normal part of the adventure.  However, while camping in the Okavango delta, we met some lion researchers.  A group of lions was staying on the other side of the river from our camp site.  In fact, I could hear them at night.  Elephants also were known to pass through the campground from time to time.  This made for a very interesting night of sleeping, as I could hear many animal noises outside of my tent.  A tent is not a very secure sleeping arrangement in the midst of lions and elephants.  Worse than this, I had to use the restroom at about 4 in the morning.  This involved unzipping my tent and walking through a narrow path…a path lined with tall grass…about 200 meters to the toilets.  Now, I was very afraid.  It was dark out and I had to walk through a gauntlet of grass that seemed like the perfect hideout for a giant cat.  I overcame the fear by trying to be rational.  A.) What are the chances that a wild animal has been waiting in that very spot for my passing?  B.) How often our tourists actually killed by wild animals?  C.) I need to use the restroom so what other choice is there?   Still, there is nothing like the darkness of night, the call of nature, and the sound of unfamiliar animals to draw out a primal fear of being mauled to death.


Fear Level: 3

Fear Strategy: Trying to use reason

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Scorpions:

Early on in the trip, I became fixated on scorpions.  While there are snakes and spiders to worry about, scorpions made me feel the most uneasy.  No one else seemed to share this concern.  There is something villainous about scorpions.  Even their dens are shaped like the letter v.  V for Villain.  Some scorpions glow in the dark.  Some are deadly.  Even a relatively benign scorpion could create a sting that might require medical attention.  Doctors and medical facilities were not always easy to access.  Now, to overcome the fear of scorpions, I became angry!  I actually told myself, “I am not going to get stung by some f’ing scorpion.”  I would say this as I checked my bag, shoes, the corners of the tent, and under the mattress.  The anger created determination to hunt down the little villains and prevent them from ruining my day.  Anger creates action and purpose.  Some say it leads to the dark side, but, clearly they have never dealt with scorpions.  Oh, I didn’t see any scorpions the entire trip.  I saw some scorpion holes and one or two were spotted near our campsite.  However, no one was bothered by them.


Fear Level 2:

Fear Strategy: Anger

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Even the home of the scorpion looks menacing.

 

Spiders:

I do not have a phobia of spiders, but at the same time, I rarely find them to be a welcome addition to my life.  While in Namibia, I went on an educational hike with a San guide.  The purpose of the hike was to learn more about San culture and survival techniques.  The guide was wonderful and taught us many things about the wildlife.  Towards the end, he spotted some spider tracks and began digging into the sand.  Soon, he uncovered a spider tunnel and grabbed the spider in his hand.  The spider was folded up, gently sleeping in the cold, early morning.  This was a pleasant way to “enjoy” a spider.  But, just when I thought that I was safe, the spider uncurled itself, doubled in size, and hurled itself towards the group.  I actually let out a scream.  Yes, I screamed.  I was so surprised by the sudden explosion in the spider’s activity that I screamed.  This was embarrassing.  The guide talked about how he and his father lived around deadly animals, yet remained calm.  He said that when confronted with a deadly snake, like a black mamba, he learned to remain still, even letting it crawl over him, and it would go on its way.  Finally, he said that people who fear/hate spiders, snakes, or other creatures are the same people who hate San people.  This made me feel bad for my fear of the spider, or for that matter the scorpions.  Fear sometimes comes from a lack of control, experience, or understanding, so I can see why people who fear animals might also fear people.  At least for me, I find that my fear of creatures lessens as I have more experience and knowledge.  Thus, I tried to reframe my fear.  The spider was actually quite beautiful, my my reaction was because it surprised me.  As for scorpions, my relationship remained pretty antagonistic, but I guess it is neat that some of them can glow in the dark and spray their venom.  They are 430 million years old, so we are evolutionary embryos compared to their long history on this planet.  I can appreciate their place in the world.  I think they have a fierce looking appearance.  The constellation Scorpio appeared brightly in the Southern Hemisphere sky, a reminder of their hidden existence all around me.


Fear Level: 1

Fear Strategy: Cultivate Understanding

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Sickness:

I have emetophobia, or the fear of throwing up.  This is an actual phobia.  However, my fear has diminished over the years as I have been thrust into confronting it.  I work at a Domestic Violence shelter, thus I am constantly exposed to a lot of germs and vomiting.  I have become pretty sick over the past few years, with a very memorable bout of extreme nausea and explosive diarrhea on my flight back from Prague.  I have had to accept that I really don’t have a lot of control over vomiting.  Yet, the fear remains.  Travel to less developed countries results in exposure to more diseases and more challenging food and water situations.  Overcoming this fear requires all of my fear strategies.  I need to be reasonable.  I need to give up my need to be in control.  But, at the same time I make preparations in case the worst happens.  As such, I always pack ginger candies, pepto-bismol, and Emetrol.  These things can stave off mild digestive problems and comfort major digestive episodes.  I also try to pack a plastic bag in my purse, so that if I must vomit, I have a baggy for it.  One part of my fear is that I will have to vomit, but that there will be nowhere to do it (thus I make a mess on myself, others, or the floor).  These precautions allow me to face the digestive unknowns that travel present.   At the same time, I have to be rational.  A person can get food poisoning here in the U.S., and often this does happen!  So, even though our water sanitation and refrigeration is more predictable, nowhere in the world is safe from sickness!


Besides my phobia of run of the mill vomiting, I was worried about more serious health risks.  It seems that almost every traveler that I speak with has some horror story of a great sickness they obtained.  Sometimes it is malaria.  Sometimes it is dysentery.  These tales often end with the traveler waking up in a foreign hospital or passing out somewhere, only to be attended to by a friendly denizen of their destination.  One story resulted in an unconscious trip directly to the Mayo Clinic.  Travelers laugh about these stories, since they lived to tell them.  They terrify me.  Well, I really don’t want a story like this.  So, again, I sought out some pre-trip preparation.  This brought me to a travel clinic and resulted in a barrage of vaccines, malaria pills, and anti-diarrhea tablets.  However, it also bought me the confidence that perhaps I wouldn’t become deathly ill.  Thankfully, I didn’t!


Fear Level: 4

Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Sexual Assault/Crime:

Another one of my travel fears is that I will be the victim of sexual assault or a crime.  South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.  40% of South African women have been raped.  This is a terrifying number.  I have never been sexually assaulted while traveling, but as a solo female traveler, I worry about it.  This is why I often join up with groups when I travel (though I try to do activities on my own, I like to have a group so that if something were to happen, there is a group that expects my return).   I don’t know what I can do to absolutely safe guard myself against sexual assault.  I don’t drink alcohol.  I avoid walking alone at night (though the next items on my list will show that this doesn’t always work out).  I am not a very social person, so when I travel, I am not really hanging out with men.  Still, it is impossible to avoid all risks.  While sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim, there are instances of strangers doing this.  The best I can do is try to be alert of my surroundings.  At the same time, I know that because of rape culture, if anything happens to me, I would be blamed for being foolish, going out alone, or putting myself in danger.  It angers me.  Maybe the best defense against being raped is to fight against rape culture.


I also worry about being the victim of a crime.  This is a more plausible concern, since muggings and pick-pocketing are common travel experiences.  My trip was going to end in Johannesburg, which has reputation of having a high crime rate.  At least as of 2010, 50 people were murdered each day in South Africa.  I think my fear of crime did limit my enjoyment of Johannesburg in particular.  I did not stay there long at the end of my trip.  Even the resident taxi and shuttle drivers said that it was unsafe to drive after 9pm.  I went on a Hop-on/Hop-off tour, but that was about all I did in Johannesburg (and that tour was far less eventful than the Cape Town one, which you will read about next!).  Beyond limiting my time in Johannesburg, I was afraid of having my money stolen.  While I am certainly wealthy compared to the majority of people in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, I am not a wealthy person.  I had a fixed budget.  Having money stolen would have been a hardship.  Also, because many of the places I travelled did not have ATMs or accept my Mastercard Debit card, I carried almost all of my money with me in cash.  This made me feel particularly vulnerable.  However, I did take a few precautions.  A.) I wore a money belt under my pants.  B.) I carried some money in a bra (I purchased a sports bra with re-moveable pads and put the money where the pads would have gone.  This was cheaper than buying a special travel bra).  C.) I carried a fake wallet with some expired cards, a few dollars, and some old IDs- so that I would have something to give someone in the case of a mugging.  D. )  I secured my travel purse zippers with carabiners, so that it could not be easily opened.   Thankfully, I have never been the victim of a pickpocket or mugger.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Hop on Hop off Bus from Hell:

Hop on/Hop off Buses are super dorky and ultra touristy.  You ride around in a giant red double decker bus while listening to an audio recording of your route.  Cities all around the world have them, and Cape Town is no different.  After returning from Robben Island, I thought that catching the Hop on/Hop off bus would be a great way to see the city, but also head to the Table Mountain.  Yes, the Hop on/Hop off bus actually went all the way to the Table Mountain!  It was a really extensive route with a lot to see.  So, off I went.  I made a stop at the Table Mountain, took the cable car up, and explored.  It was wonderful.  I felt like it had been a productive day.  Then, I took the bus back to the harbor.  I had studied the time table and the buses were in operation for another hour when I arrived back to the harbor.  Thus, I decided to stay on the same Hop on Hop off bus to do part of another loop (as this would take me back to near my hotel).


All of the tourists disembarked from the bus at the harbor.  I didn’t worry, as I figured that I was alone because it was near the end of the day and no one was interested in doing the loop at that time.  So, I stayed on the bus.  The driver said nothing and continued on the route.  Only, after a few stops on the route, the bus deviated from the route.  The driver picked up some friends and began making unofficial stops.  The bus veered further and further away from the route.  The recording stopped.  The bus deposited the driver’s friends.  I grew increasingly terrified with each passing second.  Finally, I just asked to get off of the bus- as I had no idea where it was going and no one seemed to mind the one white tourist who was sitting in their midst on what was clearly NOT the scheduled tour.  In retrospect, that particular bus was probably done for the day, even though the routes themselves had another hour.  I was terrified, so I disembarked…


Fear Level: 6

Fear Strategy: Flee

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 Run for your life!

This is part two of the previous story.  I thought my day was going to end with a Hop on/Hop off Tour.  Instead, the bus went rogue and I got off!  The only problem was that I wasn’t sure where I was or how to get back to my hotel.  The other problem was that it was getting dark.  After all, it was winter and the sun set pretty quickly once six pm rolled around.  As the sun set, the area took on a sinister look.  Markets folded up.  Businesses shuttered their windows and doors with metal gates.  I had a map, but I didn’t want to look vulnerable by opening it up on the street.  So, I ducked into a Burger King to study the map.  This was difficult, as I was not on the street, with the ability to compare streets with the map as I moved.  I ducked in and out a few times.  I thought I had a general idea of which way to walk, so I set off.


There are some things I try to do while wandering around in unfamiliar places if I feel unsafe.  One, I try not to look lost.  I try to walk quickly and confidently.  Two, I try to find a group of women to follow or walk with.  There is safety in numbers.  Well, there were zero women.  None.  Not one woman.  There were plenty of men loitering outside the closed businesses, socializing, smoking, and talking.  I was the only tourist, white person, and woman around.  It was scary to be different.  People asked me for money as I walked by.  I walked quickly, ignored everyone, and tried to just keep moving, even though I was lost and terrified.  A man grabbed my arm as I passed through group.  After that, I jerked my arm away and started running.


I don’t remember being that afraid before.  I am really glad that although I am a terrible jogger, I can run for a half an hour to an hour.  I kept jogging.  I watched an arm guard walk a car dealer to his car.  I jogged by police, asking them for directions.  They looked at me as if I was crazy.  There was a concern look in their faces as they told me how far I had to go to my hotel and how to get there.  I kept jogging.  I stopped at another hotel to make sure I was going the right way.  The bellman also looked concerned.


I finally made it back to my hotel.  This was met with relief and a rush of adrenaline that I had made it.  I made it!  I survived the crazy bus and my jog!  Was it wise to run?  Travel advice always says to be inconspicuous and purposeful.  Jogging draws attention.  However, I figured that if anyone wanted to hassle me, it would be too much trouble if I was moving too quickly.


Fear Level: 8

Fear Strategy: Flee

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I am a terrible runner.  But, I am thankful that I CAN jog.


Keep Calm and Don’t Get Trampled On:

There is a time to run and a time when it is not good to run.  I think that getting off the bus and running when I was afraid of my surroundings in Cape Town was an okay time to run.  I will end with a story about not running.  Now, I had camped in Africa for over 22 days before arriving in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe.  Throughout my trip I went on many wildlife drives.  These drives consisted of sitting in an open vehicle and searching for wildlife, often at watering holes.  There were many close encounters with wildlife, but at no point were we allowed to disembark from the vehicle.  This was the pattern throughout Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe thus far.  As such, when we went on our final wildlife drive in Matopos National Park, I assumed that it would follow this same pattern.  I was mistaken!


After driving some ways, the truck stopped and we were allowed to get out of the vehicle for a quick refreshment from the cooler of sodas.  I assumed that we would resume our drive, but the guide informed us that we were going for a hike.  This was really exciting!  I wasn’t offered many hiking opportunities because hiking is not safe in animal reserves.  Then, we were told that not only were we going to go for a hike, we were going to try to sneak up on some white rhinos.  Okay…what?


The guide was a rhinoceros expert who had actually been on the Animal Planet.  He told us that we could get close to the rhinos, as they couldn’t see very well.  However, our ability to get close to them required us to move carefully, stick together, and NOT RUN.  So, if anyone in the group got scared, they were not allowed to run or leave suddenly.  Our safety depended upon everyone in the group’s ability to remain collectively calm.  We were told that if we ran, we could get charged and trampled.


The group had some hesitations, but we headed out together in some scrubby brush and tall grass.  It didn’t take long before we spotted some rhinos.  We slowed down and those at the front of the group crouched in the grass.  By crouching and moving slowly, we were able to follow the small group as they grazed.  We took turns moving to the front to get a better view and better photos, tenderly stepping our way closer.  It was a little frightening.  Rhinos are enormous.  These enormous endangered animals were just a few feet away from us.  Each time they moved or stepped closer to us, I became a little afraid.  It seemed impossible that they didn’t see us, yet, they kept munching on their food and minding their own business.  Eventually they moved on, deeper into the thicket.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Staying Calm

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Trying to be as cool as a cucumber.


This isn’t a comprehensive list of every one of my fears!  And, I fear that talking about my fears makes light of the real conditions that people live in.  While it is funny to talk about my fears, it is not funny that so much of the world lives in conditions of poverty, disease, and danger.  At the end of the day, I get to return home, where there is clean water to drink and no threat of polio or typhoid.  At the end of the day, while I fear having money stolen, it would not sentence me to grinding poverty.  Nevertheless, I hope that the discussion of my fears helps to offer insight into how fear can be managed.  The world is amazing.  Fearless people inspire me.  I met a medical worker who traveled to West Africa during the ebola crisis as a volunteer.  That is fearless.  I met a woman who was in her 60s and went scuba diving with crocodiles at Victoria Falls.  Amazing!  I also hung out with a young Korean woman who was traveling across the entire continent of Africa all by herself, with limited English skills.  That is pretty fearless!  I will probably always be more limited by fear by those people.  Some fears can be overcome.  But, sometimes there is no negotiating with fear and you really do have to run!

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