Archive | December 2015

En Garde: sexual expectations and rape culture

Last night I was casually watching re-runs of The Big Bang Theory on my local NBC station.  It was one of the episodes where newly wed Howard was still on the International Space Station and having difficulties dealing with the closed quarters of life in space.

At the very end of that episode Howard has just been given an anti-anxiety drug and decides to strip down to his pants (underwear) on a video call to his wife.  For several seconds we see the contours of the actor’s man parts under that minimal clothing.  Instead of being turned on  I found I was absolutely revulsed.  No, I really DON’T want see a man’s parts on television like that, not even indirectly through his clothing.

Thinking about my feelings and sharing them with my best friend my contemplative nature found itself exploring the deeper aspects to my gut reaction to this very quick final scene to the show.  Why are women expected to enjoy the public display of a man’s sexual features?  Why are we supposed to be turned on by every man and want sex any time anyone expresses the slightest interest?

Looking back at my past I noticed a pattern:  flirting with someone not because I wanted sex with him but too often to distract him from abusive impulses that might suddenly explode and endanger my safety.  I also realized that there is an unconscious pressure and expectation put upon me as a woman that I should be sexually ready and interested in the men in my life and consent to their advances any time and any where they might occur.  The second half to this is more frightening still:  failure to be  whatever a man wants or expects of me sexually means that he is likely to simply impose himself on me in the form of sexual assault.

Or thought of another way:  I either force myself to say yes or I will suffer a more violent response from him that still results in sex anyway.  Hence the forced flirtations as a defense strategy.

Though we tend to deny it to ourselves and those close to us, women too often have to live in a sexual minefield where the potential for sexual assault is everywhere.  So we engage in unconscious defensive behaviours.  We flirt.  We pretend to like people we don’t.  We smile at people behind gritted teeth.  We pretend to be okay with behaviours we find uncomfortable. We play act, concealing our real opinions and emotions in an effort to keep unwanted advances at bay.  There’s a mind game to this, even when we are not aware of it.  We even convince ourselves that we find something sexually appealing when it really frightens or repels us.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Nowhere is this mind game more evident than the infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” where main character Anastasia Steele forces herself to consent to sexually abusive and highly controlling behaviours from Christian Grey, often making excuses for him.

Like Anastasia, we too often pretend to like things sexually that we do not.  We pretend interest we lack.  Society tells us that the way a woman is supposed to express her romantic love is sex.  And not just sex but the any time, any where, any way that the man wants.  To love is to become his sexual servant.  Add in religion to the mix and women are told that our needs do not matter.  We are inferior.  God made man in His image–but women are the source of evil in this world, born flawed and incapable of Goodness on our own without a man directing us and telling us who to be and what to do.  So it is only right that men should rule over us; we women are not capable of making our own choices, especially when it comes to our bodies.  Especially when it comes to sex.  Can it be any wonder then that so many male politicians feel duty-bound to regulate the intimate affairs of women?  How can they trust women to make their own choices?

Sex is something I want in my life — but not just sex.  I want a healthy sexuality.  I want to express myself sexually from a genuine place of love and devotion.  Yet who can do that when we must continually and often unconsciously living our lives defensively?  When the world around us is so unsafe and sexual assault persists as a constant danger?  How can any woman feel truly at ease even in her own home with those she loves?

These are very real questions that must be addressed by our society.  We must stop making excuses and fight against both institutional sexism and rape culture.  As women we need to learn how to say “no” and be true to our actual feelings.  We need to be okay inside ourselves and with those we love with expressing love in many different ways instead of tightly correlating love and sex.  Because they are genuinely not the same thing.  Not all acts of sex come from love and not all acts of love are sex — even in romantic relationships, even in our marriages.

Love can take many forms.  We need to embrace that.  We need to stop pressuring ourselves and others into this very unhealthy idea that sex and romantic love are one and the same.  Just because I love you does not mean I want to have sex with you or sex with you right now.  Love is not a blank cheque to sex.  Saying no to sex is not a rejection of the other person.  As a matter of fact, it takes courage to say no to sex when you love someone, to love yourself and respect your partner enough to only be sexual with her or him when you really truly feel you want to be.  The easy road, the one drilled into women from a very early age, is that we shouldn’t say no when we don’t want sex — just lay there and take it because it will soon be over.

That’s no way to live.  That is no way to love.

 

 

 

 

Discussion: Is Jesus’ birth worth celebrating?

manger-620x412This morning I found this fascinating article entitled “Is Jesus’ birth worth celebrating?”  In it Valarie Talerico takes us beneath the surface of the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth and looks at the inherent messages about female sexuality.

“A woman used is a woman soiled. A woman raped is a woman ruined. A girl who explores her body with a boy is a licked lollypop.  A divorced woman shouldn’t get married in white. Only an unbedded and so unsullied female—a virgin—could be pure enough to birth a perfect child, the son of God.”

The article goes into depth into the cultural and religious history behind these ideas that a woman who has never been sexually touched is superior to all other females.

Looking deeper than the article does, I must point out that these same cultures and religions often employ rape as a sort of weapon:  once used by the rapist, a woman is considered wholly unsuitable for marriage.

Though rape is a traumatic experience for the girl or woman, in societies and religious traditions where female conduct reflects on her male owners, the intent of the rapist is revealed to be more an attack on the men in her life, a way of dishonouring them through her.

Boudicca artist concept chariotThat is, in fact, the primary reason why Roman soldiers raped Queen Boudicca’s daughters:  they were sending a terrorist message that just as they ruined and shamed the Iceni (to rape their princesses is to shame the entire tribe), they were perfectly prepared to shame and terrorize any Briton daring to stand up to them.

And so we must examine in our own hearts what our values are and what we really want them to be.  Do we want to continue to measure a woman’s worth based on how many male genitals have touched her body and in what fashion?  Do we want to continue to weigh a person’s worth based on another person’s behaviour or experiences?  Do we still want to confuse service/nurturing with subservience and demand women treat themselves as inferiors to men?

Libby bird iconOr do we want something better for ourselves, our families, and our societies?  Do we truly believe in the equality of all people and the rights of every person to act according to her or his own conscience and convictions or will we persist on judging and condemning others for choices and circumstances that differ from our own?

Will we take the dark road of hate and judgement or will we take the harder road of love, acceptance, and peace?

I cannot answer that question for you; only for myself.  I choose love and peace.  I choose to accept you just the way you are — free of judgement.  You are wonderful just because you are you.

 

Merry Christmas!

–Laurel A. Rockefeller

 

Five Facts about Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland You Probably Did Not Know

Mary Queen of ScotsMerry Christmas and Happy New Year!  As the holidays begin to wind down a bit (Yule was Monday Night/Tuesday) I thought I would share five things about Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland (1542 -1587) you probably did not know which I learned researching and writing “Mary Queen of the Scots” for the Legendary Women of World History Series.

  1. Queen Mary was born in December. The 8th of December to be exact.  Upon learning of his daughter’s birth, King James V predicted the ruin of his dynasty because she was a girl instead of a boy.
  2. Queen Mary’s love of her life (as evidenced in the poetry she wrote in French), King Francis II of France was incapable of having children.  As much as Mary loved him, too many generations of close marriage resulted in birth defects making children impossible for the happy couple.  As dangerous as the political situation turned out for Mary after Francis’ death in 1560, had he lived longer the situation would have likely become far worse for Mary and for Scotland as a whole.
  3. Lord Darnley was the healthiest suitor to Queen Mary–but not her first choice.  Understanding her duty to remarry following Francis’ death, Mary actually considered many possible suitors from across Europe.  The 16th century royals however were especially plagued with health issues (including King Edward VI of England whom Henry VIII tried to force Mary to marry).  Unwilling to marry beneath her class, Henry Stewart (also descended of Queen Consort Margaret Tudor) was Mary’s best chance at producing an heir.
  4. Protestant reformer John Knox was both her dangerous enemy and her friend.  True to the complexities of Mary’s court and her life as a whole, Queen Mary found John Knox to be an amiable companion when hunting or shooting her bow despite his efforts to impose radical Protestantism onto Scotland and depose Mary as queen.
  5. Queen Mary’s return from France transformed Edinburgh Castle into the bright and beautiful place it is today. Prior to Queen Mary’s reign Edinburgh Castle was a cold, dark, and dreary place.  This was in sharp contrast with the glittering palaces of Paris where she grew up and eventually reigned (briefly) as queen.  Partially to make Edinburgh Castle a proper and comfortable home for herself, Mary commissioned numerous improvements, adding beauty and glamour that was previously absent in Scottish courts.

 

Mary Queen of the Scots web

Learn more about Queen Mary Stuart in “Mary Queen of the Scots,” book three of the Legendary Women of World History Series.  Available for kindle, Nook, iBookstore, and in paperback on Amazon, Createspace, and at a retailer near you.

Createspace shoppers receive 25% off the paperback with coupon code XC3LXRCF.

Biography includes comprehensive bibliography, extensive timeline, and translations of Roman Catholic prayers from Latin to English.

Ghosts of the Past: the Dark Side of Medieval politics

Ghost of the Past Chinese webLast week the Ghosts of the Past debuted in Chinese language edition thanks to the careful work of some of the best translators in all of Beijing.  One measure of feedback I received from my editor was just how dark and sexy the book was.  Given my well deserved scholarly reputation as a historian, Ghosts of the Past and its equally saucy sequel Princess Anyu Returns might seem out of place from the rest of my work.  Out of place until you look deeper into history and explore the treacherous realm of sexual politics that was the experience for most medieval noble and royal women.

Life for women has always been somewhat of a treacherous experience filled with dangers.  With few or no legal rights or protections, women rarely decided for themselves who to have sex with, let alone marry.  Instead the men in their families, their governments, and their religions held almost complete control over their bodies.  Among women of high social status this meant that women’s bodies were tools for gaining wealth, power, and social status by those in position to use them.

Ghosts of the Past cover webThis social and political reality for women underscores the sometimes brutally dark sides to Beinarian society.  Sex and childbearing are tools the villains (both female and male) use at their leisure to impose their will on others, advancing mysterious agendas that only become clear after Princess Anyu Returns from her exile.   These agendas add spice to both Ghosts of the Past and Princess Anyu Returns with twists and turns around every corner.  Villains use sex and violence freely to achieve their goals, predating on the innocent and using every method at their disposal to thwart the heroes and heroines.  They are just as likely to kill as seduce and use offspring created at the expense of their enemies as weapons against them.

It is a dark, dystopic realm where only the bravest dare tread.

Are you brave enough to travel there?

 

Find the Ghosts of the Past in English on Amazon, Barnes/Noble, Smashwords, and iTunes or in Chinese on Amazon, Chinese Amazon, and Douban.

Myopia Epidemic: Get Outside and Play

This morning twitter gifted me with a fascinating study published this year in Nature magazine entitled, “The myopia boom: Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions. Some scientists think they have found a reason why.”

Myopia2The study reports alarming and very dramatic increases in myopia (the scientific term for near-sightedness/short-sightedness) worldwide with Asian myopia rates now well over 90% compared to 10-20% just sixty years ago.

Intriguing in the analysis is the finding that time spent outside correlates with myopia with the highest risk for developing myopia among children and adolescents spending the greatest amount of time indoors and the lowest risk experienced by those spending the most time out of doors.  Activity level was surprisingly not a factor, but light exposure is.

Our eyes need light, especially unfiltered, natural sunlight in order to be healthy.  We need to get out of doors and play.  And on nice days we need to move our classrooms out of doors, something I am pleased to say my teachers did from time to time, especially in springtime.

So get outside — even when the weather is a less than ideal — and help preserve and protect your sight.  You deserve nothing less than healthy eyes.

The fine print: why the Rite Aid brand helps my skin better than Aveeno

Hives are painful.  Hives are common.  Though sometimes they have a clear cause, often the real cause of hives cannot be tracked, even by painful allergy tests.

Since August of this year I’ve been daily attacked by hives, especially at night when dozens of welts erupt all over my body.  At first I did nothing.  Then I tried cream after ointment after cream before going the classic route and picking up a bottle of plain calamine lotion from Rite Aid.  But that lotion is very runny and without anyone available to apply it to my back, I’ve been suffering.  That is when a friend suggested I try Aveeno’s Anti-Itch concentrated lotion which is creamy and easy to apply.

AVO-03690-1

This lotion costs around $12 for only 4 ounces — per ounce more than double the cost of the store brand calamine.  So I had high expectations for it.

To my shock however it does not work — at least not compared to the calamine lotion from the drug store.  This despite the known benefits to the skin of its oat complex and the excellent reputation of the Aveno problem.

A look at the fine print however is revealing.  Because when you strip aside the brand image and look only at active ingredients the answer becomes obvious:  it only contains 3% calamine and 1% pramoxine.  That means the lotion relies mostly on the oat complex the brand is famous for instead of the calamine solution that families have used for decades to successfully address skin diseases and conditions.

By contrast the Rite-Aid calamine lotion contains 8% calamine and 8% zinc oxide, both of them tried and true ingredients for healing and soothing the skin.  Though runny and a bit inconvenient to use, the lotion works — reducing pain and deterring scratching so the skin can heal.

And when that fails another very simple remedy helps me with the pain and swelling:  ICE PACK.

 

 

My gift to teachers: free LWWH books for your classroom

Education is very important to me.  Education is how we best combat violence, hatred, and hopelessness.  Learning is the key to problem solving, to living life deliberately instead of simply reacting to whatever problems come our way.  Learning is empowering.

 

Sadly changes in our educational systems too often focus on teaching to the test.  Gone are the days when teachers could tailor activities and studies to the individual needs and interests of each class, when development of critical thinking and creative problem solving skills infused each day’s lessons.

That’s where the Legendary Women of World History series comes in, filling in the gaps created by “No Child Left Behind” and similar measures to empower parents, students, and educators to make learning fun again and the study of history relevant to young people again.

Broadly available through retailers world wide in digital, paperback, and audio editions narrated by Richard Mann, I have decided that this work is so important it needs to be in every classroom in every school worldwide.

So here’s my offer:  I will provide a digital copy of any LWWH free of charge to any educator requesting it involved in teaching classrooms of six or more students. Simply fill out the form below and if I approve your request I will be in touch within 1-2 business days.