Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

rape culture, reprised: how can we undo it?

imageSince my earlier post on the Daisy Coleman case, I’ve received many emails from women (& men) who wander — as I do — how to undo rape culture. How do we fight it? And I confess: I don’t know.

The Buddhist in me does know that only compassion works, ultimately. Wrathful compassion is a good tool here. As is teaching. But in the long run, what needs to happen is a cultural sea change. A shift in the very foundations of American culture, much of it built on a disrespect of women, at best.


At worst? Women in many religions, groups, and families are seen primarily as baby factories. They have no rights to birth control, no rights to daycare for the children they often are dumped with, no rights to equality on many cultural fronts.

Many of my family, friends, & colleagues will dispute this, I recognise. Anti-choice voices argue that they are not against women, but for the unborn. Except that policies to support the unborn, once born, are routinely dismantled by these same voices, in the form of support for women & Children. Anti-choice advocates are the very ones behind the recent cutting of SNAP benefits, the primary beneficiaries of which are women & children.rape apologists


Religions that protect religious figures who prey on the defenseless also send a message: that only the powerful deserve protection. Women are rarely the powerful. While faiths that refuse to ordain women send yet another message: women are not truly linked with the godly. They are, at best, to be honoured as baby machines.

Please note: I stayed home with my two sons until they were almost 5 and 9. I absolutely believe that good parenting is a critical job. But it is NOT a gender-specific job. Nor is it ALL women are capable of. Here lies the fallacy, and the grievous wrong. Religions that teach a woman’s place is solely in the home, subject to the sovereignty of her husband, perpetuate an attitude of male privilege.

Religion is a deep & powerful influence in the world today. Maryville, Missouri, is only 17 miles from Conception Abbey, in nearby Conception, MO. It’s quite possible that Matthew Barnett and his family see themselves as godly people, despite his horrific treatment of Daisy Coleman.


So where do we begin? Changing the patriarchal nature of most religions is beyond even a large group of concerned believers. One thing we can do is stop blaming victims. We can stop telling girls that if they do ANYTHING, they are at fault: drink, sneak out, wear a short skirt or makeup… The list of what girls are ‘guilty of’ is long. And such a list is NOT helpful: it merely reinforces the idea that girls are at fault when boys rape them. As does the media when it laments accountability that ‘punishes’ rapist boys.

imageAs an excellent article at argues, America desperately needs “conversations about central issues: cultural entitlements and a deficit of empathy.” Rape culture is twinned with male privilege, the status quo in almost all elements of American culture. Salon notes: “Our culture essentially gives rapists the message that they’re entitled to be believed and respected; their victims aren’t.” This attitude will not go gently into that good night.


When I look to undoing a cultural wrong, I begin with my own life, as most Buddhists do. I have raised two wonderful sons –neither of whom would ever question women’s right to say no, to be respected, to be treated as fairly as they are. A friend once told me she was sorry I had sons, not daughters. I responded without hesitation: I’m raising feminists, Kerrie. What are you doing? I’ve taught human rights and social justice in every classroom I’ve been in — trying to model them, trying to make them tangible and explicit. Do I fail? With bells on, often. But I continue to try.

Wrath against injustice has always come easy for me, but compassion has been a great deal more difficult a stretch. Wrathful compassion is a lesson I practice daily, but it’s also an instrument I do not play well yet. I can tell, though, that it’s one I have an aptitude for. And I think it will serve all of us us well against rape culture.rape culture


Because it does no good to say Matthew Barnett is an awful man. Certainly what he and his friends did to Daisy & her friend is beyond terrible. But there obviously are people who see good in Barnett, despite his actions (and no one disputes his actions — only his culpability). And there are rape apologists everywhere — witness the media support for Barnett.What is our course of action when people we think are ‘good people’ do terrible things? How do we juggle the horror of the action with the person behind it? How do we turn around a culture where a 14-year-old girl is blamed for her own tragic rape?

I’m still working to figure this out. I would love to hear from each of you on how you deal with this challenge. Because my beginner’s heart is finding this all very difficult. I’m still far too heavy on the ‘wrathful’ and not nearly close enough to compassion.





the candle and the mirror

candle in mirror

There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton

When I was young, and my dreams as new-bright as clean copper, I believed I would set the world on fire. Somehow I would change what was wrong — poverty, ignorance, social injustice. There were, after all, so many of us who thought that. Surely we couldn’t fail.


So the fire of the candle — its yellow-white & blue light — lit those dreams brightly. Truth and justice would fill me, I was certain, and I would burn a path of justice through my time.

It hasn’t worked like that. :)

Teachers — and writers, really — aren’t candles. Sometimes we’re not even very good mirrors. But at our best (& luckiest), we reflect brightly the flames within our students. Our friends. Our readers. These days, I am trying every day to be a mirror.

There is little as satisfying as showing someone s/he can write. That within them are the words to tell an important, dearly cherished story. Often someone arrives in a class of mine — and this has happened as far back as my first teaching, more than 30 years ago — convinced they can do nothing well. Certainly not write. From pre-schoolers who can’t string macaroni to 94-year-old women who worry that their poetry is boring, fear of failure knows no age. And yet I’ve never met anyone who wants to learn — who wants to write — who can’t. It’s just a matter of desire, practice, and reflection.

You do need a mirror, however. To show you how brightly the flame you carry inside can burn. How brightly all our candles burn. And I’m here for that. Perfectly happy, these days, not to have blazed a flaming path. Perfectly happy to be just a mirror, spreading light.


All Hallows’ E’en

Pascal Hallowe'en 2This is my dog, Pascal, wearing the devil horns my niece Sandra bought him. It’s appropriate — Pascal is rascal of the first order. But it’s a far cry from what I grew up thinking Hallowe’en meant.

Sure it meant trick-or-treating, and candy. And decorating the house — more as my mother collected stuff, once we stopped moving.

But it also meant that the dead were there to speak with. We believed this — at least  I did. I don’t know who taught me this — and perhaps I absorbed it from one of the many books I inhaled as a child. But I vaguely recall talking about the ‘veil’ between the living and the dead parting on All Hallows’ Evening. Which I thought of as the Brits do: All Hallows’ E’en.


We weren’t Catholic, and there was no real ceremony about All Hallows. But I knew from Shakespeare that the dead walked that night. And I knew from other places — and who remembers what those sources were? — that you could talk to them, the dead.

I never tried. Everyone I loved was still alive, then. It didn’t seem like I would ever wish I could talk to the dead.

But now? This Hallowe’en I think of all my dead: my grandmothers, both beloved; my great-aunts, so many of them; my father, a dear friend, even a couple of dearly missed dogs. And I wish I could visit with them — especially my parents & my elders. I wish I could ask them more about their lives, about when they were my age, and how it was for them. I wish I knew what they knew before they left me.


I wish there were a way to hear their voices, my father’s deep baritone laughter– echoed in my younger son’s. My mother gabbing happily with her three sisters; my grandmothers in their kitchens, bossing me around.

This All Hallows’, I am grateful for the living. So very happy that there is a new generation trick-or-treating. But I wish, still, that I could let my dead know I still remember. And that for me, they are still here.



everyday glitches and first-world problems

annoyedIt’s not a big deal, really. Just email. Not my life. And yet…. I HATE it when my email screws up! Allll my hard-won calm goes right out the window. And it doesn’t help that today is the day I’m readying for a routine colonscopy tomorrow. Hence, NOTHING to eat.

First world problems, huh? They STILL rankle.

I am the first to admire and respect everyday magic. Unfortunately, I’m also the first to rail against everyday glitches. I can’t find the email confirmation of two upcoming trips. In fact, it’s like those trips never were planned, for all they show up in my email.


I rely on my email! It’s supposed to be constant — I have a totally non-Buddhist attachment to it. Sigh. In fact, it annoys me GREATLY to have it disappear like it fell into a black h0le. And my annoyance annoys me even further! bomb

So I’m trying to breeeeeathe. Stretch and relax. Remember all the folks in the world who don’t have insurance for routine medical procedures. Don’t have computers. Don’t get to go to a national conference with really cool speakers & sessions. Don’t get to go see their 5-month-old grandson.

And it helps. It helps. Because email really is a first-world benefit. As are travel schedules. And sometimes you just need to remember what’s important. Especially when you  get annoyed.

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