November, 2009

Damn, It Feels Good to Set Boundaries!

Recently, I voiced my boundaries for the first time and was successful, which not only surprised me but also made me surprisingly giddy. Here’s the story:

After a film screening at IFC, I went to an after-party at a nearby bar with a group of dear friends. There was an older man there who kept approaching me and flirting throughout the evening. First, it was small talk about the film we just saw, and then it became a more intimate conversation. He was quite charming (and a fairly famous director at least among some circles) and one of the most interesting people I’ve met in a while. My friends kept slipping by to discreetly ask if I was okay, which I appreciated, but truthfully…  I was totally enjoying myself. Although he’s much older than I am, and not realistic in terms of a partner, I was having more fun than I’ve had at a bar, with a stranger, in a long time.

Eventually, people started drifting off. After making sure I was happy, my friends also left. 2 am rolls around and we’ve closed down the bar. Standing outside while hailing a taxi, he asked if he could kiss me. OK. Then he asked me if he could come to my house. NO. Then he asked if I would like to accompany him to his hotel.

One cab after another drove by, while I took my time to think about this proposition. I wanted to continue the conversation, but I didn’t want to sleep with him. With a confidence that I’ve never had my entire (sexual) life, I looked at him and said: “I will get in a taxi with you, go back to your hotel with you to continue our conversation, only if you promise NOT to remove any article of clothing from my body.” He agreed, and I made him pinky swear on it.

We go back to his hotel and continued our fun evening…  even my boots stayed on.

For the longest time I was GI Jane at a party – if I had been drinking, there was no way a stranger had a chance of coming home with me or taking me to his place. This vigilance goes back nearly 14 years to a horrible drunk night when I was in high school, but that’s a different kind of story. The truth is, it felt good to let loose a bit, set a boundary, and have confidence that we would both respect it. In fact, it felt so good, I was laughing in my 4am taxi home, all the next day and even as I write this.

I wanted to share this success story and feel like I owe much of my renewed confidence to THE LINE Campaign. Thanks for reminding me that boundaries are possible to set, can be respected and can even be pleasurable.

Willamette University- House Party!

Hi Nancy,

Attached is a picture of the Lines that were on the wall. We passed out stickers too but most people wanted to take them to think about / have mementos, so they didn’t actually write on them.
We’ll get the movie back in the mail soon. Thanks for everything!

P.S. And I don’t have a blog so here is a post that you can put on the website blog:

Hi, my name is Michelle and I’m a Resident Assistant at Willamette University. Every year, the Office of Residence Life puts on a sexual assault and wellness program, and this year we wanted to show the Line! We had the Director of the Health Center there, as well as a representative from Willamette University Men Against Violence (which, like it sounds, is a male-run social activism group), one from the Gay-Straight Alliance, and I myself am a volunteer for a sexual assault and domestic abuse hotline. Sadly, the turnout wasn’t as large as we had hoped for, but oh well.

We watched the film and then we split into two different discussion groups, one that was mixed gender and one that was female only. We did this for the comfort of the participants, in case there were any survivors who maybe wanted to share experiences but didn’t want to do it in front of guys. I facilitated discussion in the women-only group, and two other people headed up the other group. We asked questions like, “Why is it important to know your own line? How can you know your partner’s and how does perception of gender play into this? What do you think about our justice system and do you agree with the perceptions presented in the film?”

In our group, the discussion focused on rape culture, and how guys who are otherwise nice guys can be saturated with really backwards ideas of how to treat women, and what small things can be done to change this. In the mixed-gender group, they focused on the sexiness of consent, the nature of sexual relationships, and what respect means. One thing that was said was, if you are about to have sex with someone and you say “Do you want to have sex?” And they say, “Yes!” that’s pretty much the sexiest thing you could hear right then. And if they say anything but “Yes,” well, aren’t you really really glad you asked then?

Everyone had a really good time and there were many who suggested that our area do more documentary and discussion style events. Overall, a success!

One thing that was really interesting that someone shared in our group, she was at a party and this guy was talking to her, but just brushing her hand or her shoulder, or lightly brushing his hand across her hair once in a while, and it really freaked her out. It crossed a line for her. She just escaped the situation and shrugged it off, but she wondered, if she had called him out on it, he probably would have gotten mad and found some other woman to flirt with. But what if that next woman had also called him out on it? What if every woman he did that to called him out on it and rejected his line-crossing? It just reminded me that we as women can’t just wait for some guys to be respectful, but as a movement, as a group we have to demand it and not accept anything less.

Can You Look At Yourself In The Mirror?

Fresh from the glossy coffee table of our amazing designer Thomas Cabus, who also moonlights as the daily photographer toto. He lives and works in Paris, taking snapshots of city life, dark bars and trashy locals. Two friends came by his groovy apartment for a private Parisian screening and came up with:

Jamais si je peux pas me regarder le lendemain dans la glace

Jamais defoncee

Want to hazard a translation?

A few clues: Never, mirror & trashed

Paradigm Shift & SAFER Present


Film, Conversation, & Community

THE LINE, documentary screening
see trailer
Panel discussion featuring:
ERIN BURROWS, Students Active For Ending Rape
JOSEPH SAMALIN, Men Can Stop Rape, Campus Strength Coordinator
IGNACIO RIVERA, Sex educator, Organizer & Performance Artist

Attendees are welcome to discuss & document their thoughts on consent for the “Where is Your Line?” campaign

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
7PM at Gallery Bar, 120 Orchard Street (between Delancey & Rivington)

Cost: $7 if you RSVP before Dec. 1st, 12:00 noon / Students FREE / $10 at door

RSVP (include full name and guests):

Calling all progressives! Promote this event and we’ll help promote your organization!

Identity House

NOW NYS Young Feminist Task Force

Amy Mitten Photography

Feminist Men & Fantastic Fallout Day #2

I knew there were benefits to waiting!

Men’s Plenary — disaster

Courtney Martin got us started with her piece What’s the Alternative to Tucker Max? Underlying the hot mess of issues, concepts and varying degrees of guilt/readiness/action and clarity the various participants.

And then a shitstorm blew up on Jezebel, when Anna North asked Do Young Men Need a New Kind of Masculinity? Only by reading the crazy commentary that blew up around the question do we realize how critical it is for there to be a viable, clear, diverse community of feminist men. The thing that annoys me the most about the collective response, is this idea that: “just because you’re a good guy, or your father or boyfriend is a good guy, patriarchy doesn’t exist, and/or gender based violence isn’t a men’s issue. Paradigm shift, anybody?

I love that as much who caused a shit storm on the internet about Masuclinity in Jezebel/American prospect

Spitting Game — shit show (tweets)

Shira Tarrant wrote a tidy piece in Ms. Magazine (and subsequent comments)

Homo comments

The notion that

I'm A Woman. I Love Sex.

Yale. Some seriously smart, sex-positive students. Yes!

We Forgot To Talk About Pleasure…

‘The line’ won’t protect you… it can just set you up for failure.” — female student

Thoughts sparked from a follow up workshop from last week’s screening at the New School. Students watched THE LINE and had a week to process, and bring back some writing. This class was the first to tangle with and challenge using “the line” as a rhetorical tool and as a metaphor. Lots of participation and energy.

The writing prompts were: discuss a time when you asked for what you wanted, discuss a time when you had to negotiate your line, or discuss how the film made you feel. Our goal was to mirror the blogging process, where you take a story, bring it to a place beyond “personal catharsis” and share it with a larger public, and open up questions. We asked that listeners pipe up about what they wanted more of, and what were the cross-cutting themes.

I had nine students. Some questions that came up, I’ll put my group’s general responses in parenthesis:

When a line is crossed, but there’s no malicious intent… what’s that? (Hmm)

Where’s the line between rough play and real violence? (Hmm)

How do you “know” when its real violence? (You just know! Your body knows!)

Can sex become aggressive in the “heat of the moment” or is that deliberate?

Can you really be intimate with someone anonymous, or is that bullshit? (Bullshit! Its possible!)

And then dissent came over my group, and real frustrations were voiced. An outspoken mother of a teenage boy expressed  discomfort where her instincts and her socialization collide.  Her conflict came from knowing in her gut my story was a rape, but struggling to match it with her notions of rape. (I hope she contributes here, she has a lot to say!)

Mom continued with the idea of ongoing consent:

I don’t have a line. No means no and yes means yes is all bullshit. I don’t want to define it as “a line” its a feeling, a bodily response, its more subtle

Next to her a gal piped up:

Well, why do we have to label it as “rape”? Can’t we just call this “fucked up shit”, or “what the fuck was that?”, why do we need labels? And for that matter, why do I (a female) have to define my line? Isn’t that part of rape culture, making it my job?

A woman next to her was adamant:

Your line should be fought for and maintained, it is your responsibility. And if you wake up in the morning and realize what happened, and its not what you wanted and it was fucked up, well, you should just move on.

I jumped in here to suggest that “just moving on” doesn’t really change anything or effect dialogue. Not to mention that the notion of fighting or defending sort of eliminates the idea of sex for mutual pleasure.

From Melissa’s group:

My line, like, me, changes as I get to know you

Don’t make assumptions about me because of my gender

Assuming isn’t asking! It’s Cool to ask!

Can you read minds? I didn’t think so – so ask me!

Cross cutting themes: Power. Negotiation. Vocabulary. Communication. Respect. Frustration.

We forgot to talk about pleasure.

F*cking Dilemma…How To Kiss A Girl?

500_scratchThis is a great idea!

Does this have to be about rape? If so, I cannot contribute. If not, here’s my 2ct.

I’ve had one girl who crossed my line. At a party she groped me to make another guy jealous, and she told me. It wasn’t the inappropriate touching itself that made it offensive, but the fact that it wasn’t even about me. I felt she had crossed a line. But I wouldn’t call it sexual assault or anything, just particularly bad manners.

But for me, the problem was usually the other way around, a different kind of line. I’m a guy and my problem was always that there is no way to know anyone else’s line without exploring, finding the line, and not rarely that will mean to at least tangentially touch it. As a teenager, I was so scared of me and my potentially violent sexuality that I didn’t even explore any lines. I exploded on the inside, but I was too afraid to accidentally hurt someone to even try to make out with a girl. As a result, I’m still a virgin at 34, and I’ve only kissed a girl at 32. I’ve done therapy to get over my sexual guilt, but it’s not easy to change one’s self concept if it is as deeply engrained.

As I’ve found out later, I’ve broken a lot of hearts because I was too afraid to explore. I was/am afraid of crossing lines even when the gates are apparently wide open. But I just did not and do not want to become *that* guy. Problem is, our lines aren’t put in stone, they are negotiated with every word and, possibly every touch, then with every kiss. Lines move. And that implies that we need to explore, there’s just no way around it.

And most women tell me that they expect the men in their lives to be the initiators. They expect me to explore where their lines are. I’ve tried asking about kissing explicitly, but most of the time (well, the couple of times I did ask), they did not seem to appreciate it – women seem to prefer it if men test their lines and both move them and miraculously respect them at the same time. No wonder there are people who call seduction an art.

So where’s my line? I don’t know. I am still far too afraid when it comes to making any move, even though, these days, women literally throw themselves on me. Technically, I may not be far away from not being a virgin, but mentally, it’s a distant future. Because I can’t cross my mental line because I’m afraid I may be crossing her physical line.
F****g dilemma, quite literally, because parallel lines only meet in infinity, but no one will live forever…

In My Heart


We All Have A Stake in Having Better Sex!


Feminist Men Conference Day #1

I will attempt to break into chunks, and round up some of the conversations, feed back, fall out and continuing dialogue sparked at the first ever National Conference for Campus Based Men’s Gender Equality and Antiviolence Groups Conference. For the sake of brevity, let’s call this the “Feminist Men” conference. Hosted at Saint John’s University, about 90 minutes outside Minneapolis, St. John’s is a Benedictine Catholic all boys school, which made me feel a little bit like Lauren Hutton in “Once Bitten“.

Initially I was concerned that being so far into the woods would prevent me from finding a bar. Instead, I found a beautifully designed campus full of clean Scandinavian lines, pane glass, a lake, slightly menacing church structure and a cozy single bed in the “Episcopal House of Prayer”. The House of Prayer had communal bathrooms, a fireplace, and the incredible Meditation Chapel that functioned as a confessional chamber (due to the excess of urban Jews shacked up in the House of Prayer, we did more talking then meditating). Turns out the bar was a short car ride into town and everyone was eager to find it. Aside from the rifle shots blazing in the woods – there was a deer hunt coinciding with the conference – it was the perfect blend of pastoral and accessible.

The mission of the conference was: “For the first time, campus-based pro-feminsit men’s groups from across the country are meeting toether to share resources, trade their best ideas, discuss strategies and simply find out what’s happening on other campuses.”

The opening plenary was moderated by sociologist and author Dr. Michael Kimmel. He is an early pioneer of the movement, getting his start in DV shelters, and author of “History of Masculinity” among other books. He kindly drove me from the airport to the woods at breakneck speed. The panel featured Patricia Eng of the Ms. Foundtion, Dr. Shira Tarrant, editor of “Men Speak Out” and “Men and Feminism”, and Courtney Martin, author of “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” and a blogger for of Feministing. Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall was unable to make it.

Articulate and inspiring are words that come to mind when taking in this panel. I got to soak it up and then use the themes and ideas in my own intro remarks an hour later. Courtney talked about authenticity, and figuring out how to be authentic in whatever space she was entering as a person, activist and resource. Pat Eng talked about growing up the youngest of 5 daughters, and the burden of not being a boy. The panel discussed the idea that gender equality is not a zero sum game, men don’t lose if women gain. Shira piped in that the real frontier is a place where we express multiple gender identities and leave the gender binary behind. Michael Kimmel joked that some men doing this work suffer from “pre-mature congratulations.” Resounding message from amazing women addressing a room of eager men was: Don’t Rescue Us.

Other topics tossed around: Accountability. Having a personal stake in the work. How do we project a vision what we want in the world?

I scribbled furiously. What is the message that can go out to folks who are less inclined to call themselves “feminists” or “activists” or “progressive”?  How about: we all have a stake in having better sex. Only a total asshole would disagree with that statement, right?

My presentation was next. Excited Mobile Facebook Status Update:

is screening to a full house of activist men!

I gave my intro addressing the notion of our collective personal stake in the work of better sex and better relationships. I addressed my deep belief in the power of storytelling and my trajectory from feminist to “slut” to filmmaker to survivor to activist and to the current state where all those identities mash together. I showed the film and we had a spirited Q/A.

Essentially I traveled to Minnesota to meet and get to know the folks who do this work, on the ground, addressing men. Would they find my film useful? I know there are things that men and women won’t say if I’m in the room – out of politeness, or because the audience or their peers might shut them down. It is absolutely critical that the message of the film, and those tough issues and disagreements are framed and addressed in the most constructive way possible. Folks in the room included: CALCASA, Men Can Stop Rape, White Ribbon Campaign, Man-up, V-Men, SAFER, and activists from Tacoma Washington and Iowa City. Basically this concentrated brain trust accelerated about six months of emails and phone calls into a two hour bite.

The afternoon included “Voices of Men” by activist and lovely person all around Ben Atherton-Zeman, and the tail end of Byron Hurt answering questions following clips from Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Filmmaker/speaker tip! We can all learn from the gracious, grounded and authentic manner that Byron addresses complex issues raised in the film, accepts praise, and accepts criticism. Especially the “why didn’t you make this kind of film instead of the one you made?”

The day wrapped up with a little cocktail hour where the University of Iowa feminist men + Courtney Martin + white wine resulted in a barrage of nonsensical Facebook updates including:

is with Derrius from Iowa who sweats my sexy French designer

just learned the term “nut cup”

is with real life cast of “Glee” from Iowa, feeling patriotic

is about to take it to Old Chicago Bar with @shiratarrant @mencanstoprape and the state of Iowa

We wound down the evening with fireside chats at the Episcopal House of Prayer and a little twin bed sleep over party with Dr. Shira Tarrant.

Highlights from day #2 are next…

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