On ‘The Man They Wanted Me To Be’ by Jared Yates Sexton

The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making by Jared Yates Sexton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been following Jared Yates Sexton on Twitter and other outlets for several years. Given his own background and my own, there’s a certain resonance that echoes loudly and clearly for me in his writing and works. His voice makes sense out of chaos, particularly since he’s living in a country which seems like a complete strange land filled with strangers to me after decades of living aboard despite always and first most being my home. It doesn’t hurt that he is an incredibly beautiful writer.

This book is equally informative and heart-breaking. I honestly just want to give him a giant hug and the offer of a shoulder because goodness me he has lived through some shit. I honestly had no idea.

But, I also want to place this book gently into the hands of so many of the men I’ve known in my life, beginning with most of those I grew up with, beginning with my uncle. Toxic masculinity does not merely hurt women — it’s just as harmful and dangerous to the men who must adhere to and live up to it. Perhaps even more so as evidenced by the self-harm and suicide they experience or rely on in order to ease their own pain.

I’ve long held the belief and attempted to live by the ideals that feminism is not simply a practice for women. If we as a society hope to live up to the idea of equality and justice for all — and I do mean all of us — then feminism must enfold men as well as women.

This books is not just a memoir or a survival tale, documenting and recounting one man’s journey through toxic masculinity, a journey he continues to traverse. It’s a treatise on how we might begin to heal very, very deep, festering, unhealing wounds. It’s a warning and an offer of hope of what we might lose if we don’t begin to unburden ourselves of ideals for men (and women) that relegate half of us to living up to standards which are far, far from possible and the other half of us as mere vehicles to reproduce a system and serve as shock absorbers for the inevitable rage that will bubble up from unending frustrations.

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We should all be feminists

We should all be feminists.

There’s a brilliant little book by the same name by one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s far more eloquent than I, and I agree with her every word. We should all be feminists.

Indeed. There’s nothing more that I really need to say about this, is there?

If I do, here’s what I have to say: More rights for you does not mean fewer for me. It means we all benefit and enjoy equal rights and protections for and of those rights. And, it might just mean that women will not receive less pay for equal amounts of work, not needing to pull double duty by caring for all things related to the home and childcare whilst also excelling in our careers. And, it might just mean that we are finally be seen as belonging in positions of leadership. That we are capable.

Because, we are more than capable. And, we do it wearing heals and whilst also taking on the primary household management responsibilities.

I’m not sure why ‘feminism’ as a word conjures up man-hating women with no tolerance for men. But, it does. And, that fundamentally speaks to the primary reason why we need feminism.

And, why we should all be feminists.

Protest postcard #9 of 50

On ‘The Color of Fear’

Yesterday evening as a few fellow American friends and I gathered to simply enjoy in-person company after months of social distancing, we found ourselves reflecting upon current events in the US. It’s hard not to. We shared our frustrations and concerns, and also shared a bit about what we were reading and what has had a profound impact upon each of us. One friend mentioned the documentary film ‘The Color of Fear’, and how ten years later it resonated with her and made a profound impact upon her.


Please spend some time really taking in this powerful, emotional and brutally honest discussion from 1994 on race in the United States among men.

The conversations we need to have will not be easy. They will make us uncomfortable and force us each to confront realities about ourselves and one another which we honestly don’t want to. But once we do, we might also achieve a better understanding of one another, and an understanding of what we need to do in order to achieve equity and justice for all.

Along with acknowledging our own flaws and culpability in how we have consciously or unconsciously sustained a system of racial inequity and inequality along with systemic and institutional racism, we might understand what we can do to dismantle it. And along with that we might just begin to heal long-festering wounds left raw and untended. It is likely we will feel rage and anger, and there will be fear and there will be pain. But, unless we have those conversations, we will never clean out the rot and truly heal. We will not change ourselves or society. And, neither will those institutions.

So,…. Listen. Learn. Do better.

On ‘Not That Bad’, edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape CultureNot That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This should be required reading for every single man and boy, particularly for those who continue to objectify women and girls, who think we’re just ‘asking for it’ because of how we look or dress, or that catcalling and leers and unwelcome attention are simply their way of telling us we look good.

This should be required reading for all those who question women and girls who step forward and name their harassers and attackers. Who scream foul when we who have survived remember some details so, so vividly and others escape us. We lived through our nightmares, and we continue to do so years later.

And, this should be read aloud every single minute of every single day out loud to Brett Kavanaugh. Just play it in his inner ear and mind on endless repeat until he and those who enabled him get it. In fact, the same treatment should apply to all those who supported and voted for his nomination and confirmation to sit on the Supreme Court. Because watching Dr Blasey-Ford reminded all of us who do not need reminding that it was just that bad.

Here’s to the survivors.

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On ‘Men Without Women’

Men Without WomenMen Without Women by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Haruki Murakami.

I love the way he is able to transport his readers to the exact place he’s describing. How he can weave tales which seem utterly outlandish and yet entirely plausible. How he can create emotions, particularly those of longing and loss and a sense of wanting, simply through his characters’ thoughts and actions.

For each of these stories describing Men Without Women, I’d like more. I’d like to know what happens next to each of them.

More than anything, I’m reminded once again why Murakami is amongst my most favourite authors. Thank you once again, Maestro. You are a genre unto yourself.

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Silent majority

Across social media, women (and others) declare ‘me too‘ in an effort to shed light on just how prolific sexual harassment and violence are. Yes, it’s incredibly empowering to make a declaration and to publicly describe instances—not all of them by any means, but a sufficient number—attempting to wake others, primarily men, to the realities women live. It is also gut-wrenchingly disgusting. It’s disgusting because women have no problem believing it isn’t most but all of us who have lived with this shit our entire lives.

Whilst my mother’s generation took sexual harassment and assault as a fact of life, likely internalising most if not all of the blame, I suspect most women in my own generation are less reluctant or at least more idealistic about speaking up and out. Yet, we, too, have been silenced. And, we, too internalise it. For every ‘me too’ post we see, countless others remain silent. Why matters, naturally. But, that silent majority has their reasons, and all I or anyone else can really say is ‘you are loved, you are valued and you are believed’. Perhaps more importantly, ‘you are believed and I hope you are safe’.

I’d like to thank those men in particular who have voiced their support, their love and their horror reading our histories. Please, whilst you continue to support us, call out your buddies. Most of us women have tried, and often we’ve failed simply because we are not the dominant nor equal sex.

Simultaneously, and more startling, are the posts I’ve seen by men and more shockingly women suggesting that we all need to speak up. I suspect for many it is far, far too hard to do so. Hell, it’s been nearly 20 years since I was assaulted by someone I trusted and thought I knew better than most of those in my social network. Nearly 20 years later, after posting about my own experiences yesterday, the nightmares I experienced for a least a decade returned. A very large ocean and continent, not to mention a lot of therapy and healing, stand between me and that individual now. I know unequivocally that I am safe. Yet, last night subconsciously I did not feel safe at all. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a husband who not only gets the pain and horror I felt then but continues to support those dark days that return each year around the time of my attack, reminding me that I am loved and believed and safe. And, yet, in an instant, I can return to that incredibly vulnerable place I found myself in nearly 20 years ago.

The worst case involves those countless individuals currently living with similar experiences who do not have any sense of safety or support. Too many still fear their attackers because they cannot escape for whatever reason.  And, just as many are not believed. We may believe them, but those in their immediate surroundings do not. Those who have the power to step in and stop such attacks don’t. Those are the silent majority.

The voices of the silent majority are not to blame for not speaking up just as they are not to blame for the attack(s) they experience(d). Instead, let’s blame their tormentor and attacker. If we ever hope to allow all those who have experienced sexual harassment or violence in any form to speak freely and openly, we have to stop blaming and doubting them. From my very privileged position, it took the case of Brock Turner and nearly 20 years to feel like I could speak up openly.

Out_Of_1000_Rapes 122016.png

Taken from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system.

Giving voice to survivors of sexual assault

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College TownMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You’d have to be living under a rock this year to avoid stories of entitled, young male athletes sexually assaulting young women and serving little or no jail time for such crimes.

Missoula, Montana may not be unique in the number of young women who are vilified or simply not believed when they step forward naming their assailants. Jon Krakauer gives those young women who’ve survived rape a powerful voice, one we should all listen and respond to.

Whatever we are teaching young men, it shouldn’t be that they can get away with rape. From prosecutors to communities, we all have a responsibility to clearly and definitively say, ‘this is not okay’. Perhaps, we’ve woken up in the wake of cases like Brock Turner’s outrageously light sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman. Judging by the reactions and words of his father — diminishing rape to a mere ‘20 minutes of action‘ — as well as some of the reactions and character assassinations all too common in Missoula and elsewhere, we have a long way to go.

Whilst Krakauer pens a particularly difficult book to read given the understandably horrendous descriptions and details throughout, it’s an incredibly important read. We need to listen to those who come forward after being sexually assaulted. We need to approach their assaults from a place of belief and seeking truth and justice rather than giving their attackers the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, the shame and guilt and fear each woman experienced in the immediate aftermath of their living nightmares will never heal. They will never find peace.

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Day 48: Proekt 365 (El Día del Maestro)

Day 48: Proekt 365 Día del Maestro

Day 48: Proekt 365
Día del Maestro

This post could easily be entitled ‘Like father, like son: part 2’. But, I’ve opted for Día del Maestro for a reason: today is the birthday of my beloved father-in-law, El Maestro.

If we could, we’d be spoiling him rotten today. Hell, we’d declare it the week of El Maestro and throw the man a parade if we could! Alas, half a world away, we can only send him loads of love from this side of the globe, and that we have in abundance.

He’s a rare treat of a man. Kind. Incredibly witty and bright. Compassionate to a fault. Moments of both brilliance and extreme silliness abound when he is near. Thoughtful. Contemplative. A brilliant cook. And, a great father judging by the quality of the man he raised. As nervous as I was meeting him for the first time, that quickly subsided and all that replaced it was a sense of being home and of being completely accepted as a member of his family. If only I could return a gift that carries a fraction of what that has meant to me.

My only wish is that I spoke Spanish. I’d love to take a class in physics from him—the man is obviously loved by his students and colleagues alike given the number of accolades he’s received and students who continue to surround and adore him. He is El Maestro for a multitude of reasons.

¡Feliz cumpleaños, El Maestro! We’ll save the homemade brownies for you, we’ll always find the Russian mustard for you and our casa is forever your casa. Thank you for being the most awesome father-in-law a girl could ever ask for. ¡Felicidad felicidad felicidad! Besitos x

Day 16: Proekt 365 (Like father, like son)

Day 16: Proekt 365 Despite distance and time, the similarites are profound

Day 16: Proekt 365
Despite distance and time, these two are so much alike

‘Like father, like son’. That phrase has been on constant repeat this week much as it was this past summer when my father-in-law visited us. Neither time nor distance can alter the similarities between these three generations of men. Perhaps, ‘like father, like son, like son’ is more appropriate.

The Jr Cuban is a young man now, and his own young man at that. He’s changed so much in the few years since we’ve seen him last and has ‘grown up’. His own young man he may be, but he is definitely The Jr Cuban. Witnessing the little cues and hints that he is my husband’s son through the unconscious expressions and behaviours is such a treat. As one example, they both wore the exact same expressions when I was taking a series of photos yesterday. Exactly the same. How does that happen, particularly when The Jr Cuban is with us far too infrequently?

This summer on a long walk with the elder Cuban (aka El Maestro) when he was visiting us, I witnessed my husband (The Cuban) doing exactly the same thing his son does when they are peripatetically bonding. It was an instant and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It made The Jr Cuban’s behaviour so much more relevant and meaningful. There have been other moments when I’ve seen all three of them exhibit subtle cues that they are indeed all part of a longer thread separated only by time. Each observation brings a mixture of smiles and tears — these seemingly insignificant behaviours are normally the things I love most about my husband (and also those which drive me crazy at times!).

Like father, like son, like son.

It’s a shame all three of them can’t be here at the same time. Of course, it’d also probably be the end of every last hair on my head since getting out the door requires infinitely more patience than I am ever going to be capable of (which also makes me smile!). Still, any visit is better than no visit at all. And, I’m loving this one.

I may not ‘get’ 95% of what is going on (my Spanish is non-existent, and they speak incredibly quickly). But, I see that they ‘get’ one another. At the end of the day, that’s most important. From their adoring concern for Che Fufu, to discussions of the best type of cheese for pastelitos de guayaba, parkour and more pressing and touchy (as well as necessary) topics, the sound of these two bonding (The Cuban and Jr Cuban) is like music. And, a sweeter melody exists nowhere. (Well, except perhaps the dulcet tones of El Maestro and The Cuban bonding… .)

I love these men who are now my family. Oh, what a family it is.

A tribute to the Fuller men

I have never met my own father. Father’s Day as celebrated in the US has always been about the father figures in my life, largely my grandfather and my uncle. Neither one my father, but both served as the best substitutes a girl growing up could ever need.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was growing up. Each summer until I was 14 or 15, I would spend with them. From the time I was 7, this would often involve trips to various destinations across North America in a fantastic motor home they bought for their retirement. My grandfather would mostly drive, although occasionally my tiny little grandmother could be seen behind the wheel of that great big huge thing. It was grand. We’d drive from historical site to national park, all the while my grandfather quizzing me on state capitals and past presidents and other factoids which I still remember without blinking.

I also remember his lovely imitations of Santa Claus with a deep East Texas twang on the cassette tapes he’d send to me before Christmas, advocating on my behalf that I had indeed been a good girl and deserved more than a lump of coal in my stocking. He was the perfect grandfather and I can’t help but smile when I think of him. He spoiled me rotten, and I worshiped him.

My uncle lies somewhere between a brother and an uncle. We are very nearly polar opposites on just about everything in life. From our beliefs to our politics to our interests to what we do for a living. I love him dearly because of and in spite of these differences.

Because he and my grandfather shared a dental practice, I would hang out there when I was very young. Just out of dental school, my uncle was working on my mother and a rather common occurrence rendered half of my mom’s face black and blue. It was harmless, but has provided our family with much laughter and chiding in the years since. However, as a four-year-old precocious sh*t watching my uncle at work a few days later, I said something like, ‘are you going to make that nice lady all black and blue like you did my mommy, Uncle Ralph?’ He simply said, ‘Out,’ at which point I left the room. His hygienist at the time stifled laughter I’m sure. But, he did not. And, the patient certainly didn’t.

One of my fondest memories of time spent with my uncle was during a visit home several years ago. He plays golf regularly with a group of very close friends. They’re all a hoot and I certainly cramped their style as the only woman in the bunch. I tagged along with him as his ‘caddy’ (even though they take advantage of the golf carts), and they all behaved as fine Texas gentleman do. It was a bit chilly on the back nine, but lovely and quiet and still in the spring morning. Deer roamed freely through the course (this is Texas, after all), and one of his oldest friends played through 18 holes with him that morning. It was lovely.

He was so happy on the golf course and it was a joy to see him so relaxed and in his element. We went home after a few cocktails in the clubhouse and made ribs (his finest meal by far and a real accomplishment on the BBQ). I helped by making the trimmings. It was one of my favourite days spent with just my uncle. And, I cherish it.

The memories I have of these two men are countless. I love them both dearly and think of them often. The two men are more alike than either’d care to admit, most likely. Proud, strong, stubborn, intelligent men surrounded by equally strong, proud, stubborn and intelligent Southern women. Poor fellas, as we say in Texas.

Happy Father’s Day to my Papa (Ralph Shaw Fuller, Sr) and my Uncle Ralph (Ralph Shaw Fuller, Jr). Thank you both for always being there for me. I love you both dearly and miss you terribly.