“Strong Women” Can Still Experience Violence

Photo of a woman's hands.

by Lyndsay Kirkham

Trigger warning for discussion of intimate partner violence.

Perched on the bathtub’s porcelain edge, cradling the phone in my hand I could hear the voice of a disbelieving woman, her whispers barely audible. She was asking how, with a degree in Women Studies, with years of working in shelters and sexual assault centres, how could this be happening to her?

It was my voice. It was me asking for help.

Embarrassment and incredulity my companions as I begged a crisis centre employee to tell me that this could happen. I needed to know that this happened to other people, that I wasn’t the only “strong woman” to experience violence in a marriage.

He slapped me before I had even asked him to share my cramped graduate school apartment. One hand had steadied my face while the other came quickly across my peripheral vision and hit me hard. I shrugged it off, giving him a pass because I was just completing a Masters that focused on feminist writers – I couldn’t possibly be a victim.

Months later, now married, he dislocated my thumb while in a drunken rage. This time, I cried, I gave myself a shake telling myself that this drinking was unacceptable, this it needed to change. For two more years I struggled silently with abuse that was emotional, psychological, physical and financial. I continued to focus on his drinking, not the violence, not on the abuse.

Every day I would wake and button myself snugly into my feminism, I was The Strong Woman. I was the one people called when they wanted to talk about the new Margaret Atwood book. I was the one organizing Take Back the Night events for my community rape crisis centre. I was the one loudly talking about a need to infuse our political and justice systems with more female role models. I marched. I organized. I wrote polemics. I raged about abortion rights. I couldn’t cop to this violence in my marriage – because, what then?

Consciously or not, I was reinforcing a stereotype that silences thousands of women who experience violence in their lives. It wasn’t until, after another weekend of observing inebriated violence and finding myself locked in a bathroom, my tears soaking through the too-thin sheets of the phone book’s crisis centre numbers, that I accepted there is a binary system that falsely links together “strong women” with lack of violence. I was forced to accept the fact that my feminism, my strength wasn’t preventing violence from seeping into my life any more than my experience with violence made me any less of a feminist.

I had internalized, like so many women, the narrative of “the strong woman.” I remember feeling thrilled as a teenager to hear that I was strong, that I was fierce, that I was smart. These qualities amounted to so much more than any off handed comment about my physical attributes. My heroes were Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf and Queen Elizabeth. I went through my teens and my early twenties with my fist in the air – I wanted nothing more than to cause a riot.

This cloak of the strong woman, which is an almost acceptable cultural stereotype for the feminist, or the single mother, or the marginalized woman who finds success in conventional arenas. They are known for their strength, their fortitude, their willingness to keep getting up no matter how many times they are beaten. We see this character in literature, in films, music culture, and social narratives.

But, like other stereotypes, this depiction of womanhood becomes a dangerous cage for women who don’t exist in monochromatic reality. By subscribing to this idea of myself as the invincible, as the tough-as-nails feminists, I was creating a situation where I wasn’t able to acknowledge, let alone share, the violence that was happening in my life. Read more

Posted on by Lyndsay Kirkham in Can-Con, Feminism, My Reality 6 Comments

My Reality: Interviewing for the Position of Wife

1950s housewife picture from adby Lisa Lo Paro

“I love your confidence,” he said, “One of the features I like best about you.” Thus I began a text relationship with a guy my friends and I met at a bar. He didn’t seem like the pushy type when he introduced himself with a boyish grin and confident charm. In fact, he seemed like the opposite of the guys my friends and I were used to encountering at the dive: he was playful, respectful, humble.

We made a fivesome, myself and my two friends and his friend. There were no “Hey, how you doin’s?” or “Can I buy you a drink, girl?” or pickup lines of any variety. We talked and laughed and even pulled a light prank on someone we knew from high school. The guy, let’s call him Simon, suggested we hang out again when he got back from Boston on vacation,  in three months. He seemed like a pal, so I gave him my number and the number of my friend so that he could call either of us. It seemed totally casual, completely platonic.

At four-thirty in the morning, when I was tucked into bed awaiting sleep, he texted me with the statement above. He loved my confidence, and he had added me on Facebook. He openly “stalked” my profile pictures and told me which three he liked best. “Delete the others,” he quipped. It was past 4:45 a.m. when he told me he was leaving for Boston in two days and asked me what I was doing “later today.” I told him I was working, that I didn’t think I was available afterward. I was surprised that he was so insistent so fast, but he seemed like a nice guy so I gave him a “maybe” and said goodnight.

The next day, the bluster began. While I was at work (I am a part-time waitress), he pestered me via text about what time I would finish. He asked me to tell him how much “better he is” than other guys. He described himself as “very persistent” but only with “those worthy.” He told me to be prepared “for me to keep trying to hang out until you wear out and say yes.” By this time I was turned off and planned to cancel our tentative plans, regardless of closing time. He just seemed so arrogant.

He wrote me, “Although I do think I’d be the best waiter in town. You’d probably get laid off if I applied at your restaurant”. Arrogant, and strangely attached to me.

“We would make such a cute couple,” he wrote. And I knew he had to be joking. It’s just…it seemed like he meant it. It was like he was using humor to mask his sincerity. I felt like I was being interviewed for something, and it got more personal as the days progressed. Personal perhaps isn’t the right word. Prying would be more appropriate.

Unexpectedly, during one particularly inane text exchange, he sent me this message: “I knew you’d be dating material the night we met.” Interested in what his definition of “dating material” was, I inquired how he knew such a thing. He replied, “There are certain qualities to be watchful of, such as kindness, attractiveness, intelligence, humor.” For example, he told me, “Sluts cannot be kind. Kindness implies they don’t sleep around. And they’re not smart. If they were smart they wouldn’t be sleeping around.” My enraged reply did nothing to stem his flow of antagonism against perceived “sluts.” I changed the subject but he quickly informed me he was able to guess how many men I had slept with. Simon was convinced my number was less than five and was satisfied that I was not, as he put it, “a whore.”

Simon then proudly told me his number of sexual partners. “Keep in mind,” he wrote, “that I am a 23-year old gorgeous male.” I told him he would think his number were high if it were a woman’s and he agreed. “That’s because there’s a double standard,” he wrote and I wanted to yell, “You’re guilty of it!” But I didn’t.

I gathered from his messages that he was comfortable sleeping around but not comfortable with women doing the same, since it apparently rendered them incapable of kindness, intelligence, even humor. He wanted a girlfriend but, and I quote verbatim, “no one is worthy.” Since he wanted a girlfriend, his solution was to connect with a girl he’s met once at a bar, form an opinion of her even though he doesn’t know her and she also happens to live four hours away. Read more

Posted on by Lisa Lo Paro in Feminism, My Reality 7 Comments

My Reality: I Was Blamed for My Assault

Finger pointing at cameraby Leanore Gough

Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault, victim-blaming

When I was 16 I worked part-time at a drug store. There I met the man who became my most aggressive assailant: a man in his mid-to-late thirties with very white teeth and just a little grey hair. He came in and made small talk a few times always seeming very friendly. After a few weeks of compliments and big smiles he asked if I wanted to see him on my day off. I agreed. We went out a total of three times. Each time he became more aggressive. On the final time I saw him, we went for drinks.

“I know a place,” he said.

It was a pub down the street from his house. We sat in the back where there weren’t a lot of people. He bought me several drinks, he felt for me under the table with his hands, and eventually he came and sat right beside me. He slid his hand down my back and into the back of my pants. I wanted to go home, I did not feel well, I was uncomfortable.

He tried to be calm, said he’d take me back to his place and I could lay down. When I didn’t want to, he became upset, told me he was disappointed and that he thought I would be a lot more fun. I felt awful and eventually I went with him. By luck I didn’t go up to his apartment. We ran into one of his neighbours outside, and when they stopped to talk I backed away and ran for the train station. I puked in the garbage at the station. He never came back to my work.

As a teenager I was sexually assaulted by a total of six different men. At a concert, at a bar, twice on public transit, at a friend’s house after a movie.

Most of my assailants were between the ages of 30-40 years old. All clean-smelling, safe-looking and smiling.

Even though I remember the incidents and the men so vividly, I have never really described any of them to the people I confide in. No one ever asked. I have been asked: “Are you sure you didn’t want it?” I have been asked: “Are you sure it happened like that?” I have been asked: “Where were your parents?” I have been told I gave consent when I got in his car.

Anyone I ever told knew my home life wasn’t great and then made a judgement based on my class and statistics of kids who come from broken homes, and personal assumptions of what girls like me are like. They didn’t realize or care that all of that was irrelevant. My parents could have been happily married, sober and involved; I still would have gone to concerts, movies, and rode on public transit. I still would have had a part-time job.

No one ever asked: “Why would a grown man think it’s ok to stick his hand down the back of a teenager’s pants?” No one ever asked: “Why did an adult man think it was ok to feed a teenager drinks and assault her?”

The answer, I think, to those questions is very simple. While society knows and largely accepts that the behaviours displayed by my assailant as not ok, no one is really enforcing that idea. According to RAINN, 54% of sexual assaults are never reported. Many that do come forward are faced with the same questions I was faced with.

Instead of being upset or sympathetic towards my situation, the people closest to me were suspicious and even hostile. If keeping girls and women safe is a priority, family and friends need to stop blaming the victims and start looking at the assailants. The pressure needs to be on them. As a society we need to realize that it is not possible to protect women and children from sexual assault unless men are held accountable for assaulting them.

(photo by Pablo Pecora, CC-licensed via Flickr)

Posted on by Leanore Gough in My Reality 1 Comment

My Reality: My Rapist Was a Feminist

by Lola Davidson

Trigger Warning: Rape, Mental Abuse

When I first met my rapist, I was 18 years old, I was independent, I believed in equality, I hated the idea of men paying for my dates with them, yet I didn’t consider myself a feminist at the time. I had never been taught about feminism in school or growing up. I knew very little about feminism except that a girl in my school who constantly harassed and physically assaulted me was a feminist, so when I met the man who would come to be my rapist and he asked me whether I was a feminist, I said: “Oh, God no, I am so not a feminist.”

“Why not? Feminism is amazing, it helps so many people,” he responded. I felt embarrassed then, and later on I did my research on the topic, took classes on Women’s Studies and realized that feminism was in fact amazing. Feminism helped me deal with my eating disorders, with past abuse. It helped me understand life so much better. I felt so much admiration for this man because in a world full of misogyny, here was a man who actually took the time to be on our side. What an amazing guy, I thought.

He was constantly praised for being a feminist, especially by me. He started grooming me to act a certain way so that his sexist remarks would fly under the radar. He acted from an unconscious belief that feminism wasn’t supposed to protect all women, just the ones that he felt were worthy of it, and I did not fit into that group.

I always felt the need to laugh off any microagressions he made towards me because if I didn’t, he would point out how flawed I was for getting my feelings hurt. He would praise women who were successful and belittle women who had any chink in their armor.

He was a feminist but girls who went after modelling were stupid, he was a feminist but when I wore a dress and stockings I was asking for it. He was a feminist but my bisexuality meant I owed him a threesome with another girl. He was a feminist but when he was aroused and I was asleep my consent was unnecessary. He was a feminist but calling me a dumb slut and penetrating me while I shook and cried was “not a big deal”. He was a feminist but he mentally abused me for two years because of my gender and how inferior he believed it was to his.

My rapist doesn’t know he raped me because he thinks the label “feminist” protects him from being a bad person – Hell, if someone told him what he did to me was rape, he wouldn’t believe them because I did not physically push him away. To him, my fear was a flaw in my character, not his. However, it doesn’t matter what he believes because your labels do not excuse you from being a monster.

Posted on by Lola Davidson in Feminism, My Reality 1 Comment

My Reality: It Took Me 7 Years to Figure Out How to Use a Reusable Menstrual Cup, and I’m Never Going Back

Hand holding blue Meluna cupby Alicia Costa

Like many women, part of learning to love and accept my body also included dealing with the shame I had around menstruation. I started menstruating when I was 10 years old and it was a confusing and terrifying experience. My mom (bless you, mom) was not great with the explaining of the bodily functions. So I was handed a jumbo super plus tampon with a cardboard applicator and sent into the bathroom. I was so baffled about what this thing was and where it was supposed to go.

Needless to say there were tears and I used pads the size of a toddler diaper for the next several years. My mom (again bless you, mom, you tried) would place my pad in a paper bag in an attempt to conceal it. Added to my mortification was the lack of sanitary napkin disposals in the stalls at my elementary school which lead me to live in constant terror that just as I was burying my pad in the communal trash the door would be flung open and I would be met with horror and ridicule from my non-menstruating classmates. Horrifying. There is not enough therapy in the world to get rid of that memory.

Animated gif of a girl talking about tampons

Anyway, clearly I survived into adulthood somehow and have lived to tell all the Internet my most mortifying moments. You’re welcome.

Connecting with my body has been a long road for me. Navigating sex and sexuality as a big woman has been a journey that I am still on. I believe the negative experiences I had when I first started menstruating only added to the dissociation I felt with my body. I was ashamed and scared. Not a single adult took the time to explain to me that what was happening to my body was normal and natural and that all women go through it.

So I started a quest in my early 20s to better connect with my body and my sacred moon blood. And that was when I discovered this amazing invention of a reusable menstrual cup. It’s a small internally worn cup made of medical grade silicone that collects menstrual blood and is reusable over and over. It can be worn for 10-12 hours without the fear of getting toxic shock syndrome and does not absorb those good juices in your lady bits. Also, they cost between $20-$40 and last for years! Years! Think of all the savings!

The only cup available in Canada at the retail level at the time (and I think currently) is the DivaCup. So I marched to the nearest London Drugs and scooped one up in the size 1 (for women under 30 who have not given birth). I ran home with high hopes that yes- I am a progressive sexual woman! I am getting in touch with my moons! I am going to save BOATLOADS of cash!

And once again I found myself in a bathroom looking at a baffling foreign object near tears. And I just could never get the DivaCup to work for me. Over the years I’d dig it out of the drawer. Give it another try. And it always ended up the same way: with my sweaty, swearing, and throwing the cup against the wall and reaching for my multipack of Tampax Pearls. Read more

Posted on by Alicia Costa in My Reality 2 Comments

Happy Self-Talk and Beating the Poo

"Think Positive" written on the side of a cargo containerby Matilda Branson

I talk to myself all the time. For example, this morning on my walk to work  (an adventure in itself navigating the crumbling who-needs-infrastructure streets of Kathmandu) I stepped in what looked and smelled distinctly like – ok, was – a human poo (no point judging – when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, and open defecation is just one of those things in Nepal, slowly improving as water and sanitation practices improve). Anyway although my initial reaction was wanting to scream in fury at the sheer inconvenience of the world, instead I found myself talking…aloud:

“Well, that sucks. Stepped in a poo. Cool. Stinks a fair bit and looks like that person liked corn. Ah well. Buck up Matilda, onwards and upwards! The day is definitely – can only be – all uphill from here.”

This is a pretty flippant example, but talking to myself – both aloud and internally, consciously and unconsciously – influences my days, and their general outcomes and my impression of them, completely, and I think a lot of this boils down to how I talk to myself. (However, if you are one of Life’s people who can look in the mirror, pull down your cool sunglasses and with a beaming twinkle of a smile go with the “Hey hey good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’ today? Growr!” 100% of the time, there is no need for you to read on).

Sometimes we can be super harsh on ourselves. Sometimes if I catch myself in the mirror after a big night out, or when an enormous bowl of pasta consumed during a 10 p.m. indulgent dinner  is still chilling in my tum at 8 a.m. the next morning, my immediate thoughts will inevitably centre around, “Why hello Madame Wobbly Jobbly, how are we today?” usually joined by a detailed examination of cellulite on the upper legs.

Obviously, such self-talk really leaves you feeling positive about your body and self (insert Australian sarcasm here), and it’s amazing how quickly this can  turn to “what am I doing with my life/what is it all about/what is the point of it all?” thoughts – particularly if hungover. Even slightly banal self-talk can be unconsciously negative, and have an impact on our thoughts and actions, and not for the better. When was the last time you thought about how you talk to yourself?  How does it influence your day to day functioning, your relationships, your general self-perception?

Another common one: being super busy – at work, socially, with family, chores, washing, picking up things, getting to the bank, appointments – and having that “Oh, I have to do this/I should do that…”  and feeling a bit frazzled, stressy and stretched a bit thin. A handy technique can be to switch such thoughts from “I have to” and “I should” to, “I choose to…”  Suddenly, it’s not the world controlling your life and making you tired – it’s you realising you choose to do these things (ok, to be fair, at the far end of such a spectrum is the “I choose to wash my clothes so as not to be socially excluded because of my stench.”) But you see what I mean.

If you suddenly start to realise you choose to do a lot of the things in your life, and you’re finding it too hectic – maybe you can choose not to do all of them, or not all at once, or maybe just a bit less, and you can then choose to take up that course/job hunt/brilliant-but-scary opportunity you’ve convinced yourself you don’t have time for because you have to do all those other things.

Sometimes you can feel like crap. And that’s fine too, particularly when something really, really cruddy has happened, like a traumatic incident. Sometimes there’s nothing worse than someone saying, “It’s okay” when it’s really not, or “These things happen”, when you really wish they plurry well wouldn’t, and actually, they really shouldn’t happen. Then it’s ok to say, “Well, yeah, life is just dang cruddy right now, and it sucks.”  That’s ok too, as long as when the time comes, you can see the positives again.

Have a go at first listening to how you speak to yourself – and then actually talking to yourself positively. Sometimes it can be surprising how harsh you can be on yourself at times. So be gentle. Practice thinking (at the risk of sounding like My Little Pony-meets-Enthusiastic-Life-Coach-meets-Peter-Pan) happy thoughts, focusing on the enjoyable, nice parts of life, and how awesome you, and your place in it, is.

All I can recommend is: don’t let an innocent little poo ruin your whole day. Make sure you spend a bit of time every day thinking about how cool, awesome and amazing you really are.

(image CC-licensed by Jean.julius via Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on by Matilda Branson in My Reality Leave a comment

My Reality: My Abortion Experience

"Never Going Back!" written in sidewalk chalk on pavement with a drawing of a coat hanger crossed out

“Never Going Back!” written in sidewalk chalk on pavement with a drawing of a coat hanger crossed out

by Jane Person

This afternoon I had an abortion. This is not a sentence I ever thought I would utter. I’m pro-choice. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy writing about, advocating for, and protecting a woman’s right to choice. I never thought this would be a choice I personally would make, no matter how adamantly I support other women’s right to make this choice. It was an important issue to me before this point as a woman, as someone who vehemently believes that every single woman can be trusted to make right choices for herself about her own body.

In a culture dominated by patriarchy where women are not yet equal, bodily autonomy is one of the most important issues there is. If we cannot be agents of our own bodies, what rights have we as human beings? Men’s bodies are not similarity legislated, controlled, and shamed.


A few weeks ago my breasts began to get sore. “Great. My period is coming” was the thought I had. But after a couple of weeks they became increasingly sore and my period was late. That’s not uncommon for me. My cycle is very irregular.

But then I started feeling nauseated. I threw up one morning while at work. I couldn’t stand the smells of people on the bus. I couldn’t eat. Everything made me feel sick.

I went to the nearest drug store to purchase a pregnancy test. I still didn’t think I was pregnant. I simply wanted to assuage my anxiety and affirm that my period was simply delayed and my regular menstrual symptoms were just a little more intense this month.

I took the test as soon as I got home. Within seconds of urinating on the stick, a positive indication of pregnancy came up.


I’m sure my daughter heard my shout from downstairs. I didn’t waste a moment after finding out I was pregnant. I knew what I wanted, needed, to do.

First I called the sexual health clinic. They told me I could come by Monday afternoon to get a referral from a doctor, required for access to an abortion in Ontario.

Monday afternoon doesn’t work for me. I’ve got a job interview.” was my dismayed reply. It was Friday afternoon. I hid the panic I was feeling. I felt a sense of urgency, a desire to handle this as quickly as possible. I asked for alternative options with a calmness I wasn’t feeling.

I then called the university health centre. I made an appointment for Wednesday the following week.

I knew I wanted the referral sooner than later. My preference was for a medical abortion over a surgical abortion, if at all possible. The efficacy of medical abortion decreases as pregnancy progresses.

The four days leading up to my appointment were agonizing. I was sick. My body doesn’t handle pregnancy well. I just wanted this over with. Read more

Posted on by Jane Person in Can-Con, Feminism, My Reality 13 Comments