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Isolated by Stockholm Syndrome?: More Thoughts on Sammi of “Jersey Shore”

1 Sep

Sammi on one side ... Deena, Jenni "J-Woww", and Nicole "Snooki" on the other (courtesy of WeAllScheme.com)

Yesterday’s post was my first about “Jersey Shore” Sammi Giancola’s abusive relationship with her co-star and boyfriend Ronnie Ortiz-Magro. I’ve decided to write a mini-series on Sammi for 2 reasons: 1) I’m addicted to “Jersey Shore”, and 2) I’m interested in talking about all types of abuse, though rape will remain the focus of this blog.

Please click away now if you can’t stand “Jersey Shore” … I won’t hold it against you!

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Defending her man (courtesy of MTV.com)

Back to the Start

Sammi’s claim-to-fame for being on “Jersey Shore”, apart from being half of the most miserable reality TV couple in America, is her epic fight with Jenni “J-Woww” Farley. If you’ve been watching the show, you remember the beef. At the end of season 1, feeling punked by Sammi’s flirtation with other guys as revealed on the reunion show, Ronnie went on a vindictive trip. Season 2 in Miami began with Ronnie partying hard at nightclubs, hooking up with ladies at random, coming home to sleep with Sammi, and the rest of their housemates feeling suffocated by guilt for keeping Ronnie’s secret. Back then, Sammi was like the teased kid at school who doesn’t realize she’s been tagged with a “kick me” sign on her back. She suspected that Ronnie was cheating, but asking never got her any direct answers, and everyone was treating her awkwardly.

“Who Wrote tha Note?”

The guys in the house weren’t going to do it, so Jenni and Nicole took it upon themselves to tell Sammi about what Ronnie had been up to behind her back and put her out of her misery. They wrote an ‘anonymous’ letter detailing all of Ronnie’s dirt and left it out for Sammi to find, but Sammi hated them when she found out. In season 2, Sammi and Jenni faced off. In season 3, Sammi and Jenni faced off again. Sammi briefly left the Jersey Shore after being terrorized by Ronnie and nobody seemed to care that she was gone. Everyone in the house had such a low opinion of her that by the reunion show, the only person who was really still talking to Sammi was season 3’s new addition Deena.

Yesterday I said that I think one of the biggest problems viewers have with Sammi is that she comes across as a complete idiot. Sammi has done some bone-headed things for sure, but is it all really because she’s an airhead, or could it be something more?

Out of control (courtesy of Nj.com)

Stockholm Syndrome

according to Wikipedia.org, is a psychology term used to describe “a real paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.” It was originally coined to describe kidnapping situations, but has been found in victims of situations like domestic abuse, prisoners of war, cult members, incest, and controlling relationships. A person experiencing Stockholm Syndrome tends to show the following symptoms (found at CounsellingResource.com):

  • Positive feelings by the victim toward the abuser/controller
  • Negative feelings by the victim toward family, friends, or authorities trying to rescue/support them or win their release
  • Support of the abuser’s reasons and behaviors
  • Positive feelings by the abuser toward the victim
  • Supportive behaviors by the victim, at times helping the abuser
  • Inability to engage in behaviors that may assist in their release or detachment

Does this sound anything like Sammi?

  • She displayed positive feelings toward Ronnie, even after he cheated on her in season 2 just to get back at her.
  • She displayed negative feelings toward Jenni and Nicole when she found out that they wrote the anonymous letter. She was in 2 fist fights with Jenni over the same issue, and didn’t attempt to make up with the girls until the near end of season 3. She’s also been hateful toward Mike, who once sat her down in season 2 and tried to tell her about Ronnie’s cheating face to face – she uses Mike constantly as an excuse for relationship turmoil with Ronnie, even in season 4.
  • While Sammi may never have come out and said, “I agree with the way Ronnie treats me”, she doesn’t confront him about his painful actions. She will scream and cry, but seems afraid of telling Ronnie things like, “You were dead wrong to trash my side of the room”, “I don’t deserve to be cheated on” (which he just admitted to continuing in this week’s episode), or “You don’t have any right to put your hands on me or scream in my face”. One of the more sickening displays was at the end of season 3 (see the photo below) where everyone in the house tried to shame Sammi for having an old male friend appear at a nightclub to see her so soon after breaking up with Ronnie. She never got upset with Ronnie for being attacked, but put her frustration on her friend and Mike, who exposed her business.
  • It’s clear that Ronnie has positive feelings towards Sammi. It’s not love, but he says in confessionals that he loves her. Sammi’s the only girl Ronnie has had eyes for on the show – unless you count all the girls he made out with at random.
  • Sammi has shown her support of Ronnie’s behavior by fighting with Jenni over his cheating, as well as ganging up on Deena in the first episode of season 3. They also seem to share hate for Mike, who is Ronnie’s worst enemy. And then there are all the screaming matches Sammi has entertained from Ronnie.
  • Sammi definitely seems unable to detach from Ronnie. She’s rarely seen out on her own or with other housemates (although she’s improved a lot in season 4), and doesn’t seem to have or want any interests apart from Ronnie. Even at nightclubs where everyone seems to be having a good time, Sammi is the one that can be found with a drink in hand, watching what Ronnie is doing even while she tries to make herself have fun without him.

Defending herself (courtesy of MTV.com)

Mind control

Not every victim of an abusive relationship has Stockholm Syndrome. From CounsellingResource.com, there are 4 conditions that are usually present in a situation where Stockholm Syndrome is likely to develop:

  • The presence of a perceived threat to one’s physical or psychological survival and the belief that the abuser would carry out the threat.
  • The presence of a perceived small kindness from the abuser to the victim
  • Isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser
  • The perceived inability to escape the situation

and the list seems like it’s all there for Sammi and Ronnie. In season 1, Ronnie showed hints of his terrifying nature when he got into a bar fight over Sammi and knocked a guy out cold with one punch. He went to jail. Who wouldn’t be afraid of being on the receiving end of that rage someday? Sammi was attracted to Ronnie’s “juicehead” looks and won over by his normally sweet gestures and apparent adoration of her – so she probably already had a great image of him in her mind when Ronnie’s angry side came out, and would have found it difficult to exchange that for the real Ronnie. By isolating herself from making friendships in season 1 and sticking between Ronnie and Mike, Sammi lost perspective of anything other than Ronnie, and didn’t feel the negative effect of that until he dropped her before season 2. Now that Sammi’s a part of the “Jersey Shore” mill, she’s stuck in living quarters with Ronnie until the show is cancelled or runs its course. Where’s there for her to escape to? The housemates who were turned off by Sammi’s behavior in seasons 2 and 3? Home? Maybe after Italy.

The Lure of Abuse: Why Sammi Giancola of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” is Heading for Destruction

31 Aug

” ‘Jersey Shore’ ? Why would anyone talk about that show on a blog about surviving rape?”

Okay, I admit – I’m addicted to MTV’s reality breakout hit show “Jersey Shore”. I know it’s not the most intelligent programming to be a fan of, but my excuse is I’m still kind of young, single, and just like watching the scene of an accident from the comfort of your car as traffic control police urge you to drive past the damage, with “Jersey Shore” it’s hard to look away. :-p

From an entirely different angle, I’m dedicating myself to speaking out against abuse of any kind. Rape is the focus of my blog because I feel that the topic of rape doesn’t get the amount of attention it needs to be taken as seriously as other crimes that are just as terrible. But I think that any conversation about physical, sexual, emotional, spousal, domestic, elderly, child, or verbal abuse is worthwhile on this blog, too.

Please click away now if you can’t stand “Jersey Shore” … I won’t hold it against you!

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"Jersey Shore" Sammi Giancola and Ronnie Ortiz-Magro (courtesy of DeviantTattooGirls.blogspot.com)

Messing With A Good Thing

Season 4 began with the infamous house couple Ronnie and Sammi broken up, freshly single, and heading from the Jersey Shore to party in Florence, Italy. And really, they should have stayed that way. Ronnie seemed to want to drop Sammi for good, and Sammi was making a lot of commentary about working on herself and just wanting to have a good time. Their relationship was simply too volatile to work. They alienated a lot of fans in season 3 with all of their bullsh – I mean, arguing. I kind of like Sammi (even with her ‘smelling doo-doo’ facial expression and grating voice and being way too into herself and her looks) and wanted to see her better off this season.

But they got back together in episode 3 while viewers around the world screamed a collective “NOOOOOOO!!!”

A preview for episode 4 showed what looked like another classic “Rammi” blowout. The episode aired last week and confirmed that we’re probably in for another season of intervention-worthy fighting. Drunk Sammi spilled out her fears of Ronnie cheating again, causing a brawl between Ron and Mike ‘The Situation’ when she named Mike as the one who informed her about Ron’s desire to hook up with 5 girls in one night. Episode 5 airs in my neighborhood tomorrow, and although I don’t know what happens to Mike yet (looks like the guy may have flat-lined thanks to Ronnie), I’m pretty sure of one thing: Sammi has to get the hell out of this relationship before Ronnie kills her.

More drama (courtesy of BSideBlog.com)

HelpGuide.org has a list of questions to ask yourself if you’re worried that you might be in an abusive relationship., and Sammi and Ronnie’s relationship answers positively to most of them, including:

Does your partner (Ronnie):

  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • destroy your belongings?

Do you (Sammi):

  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?

What’s changed since they got back together? Nothing. But what is kind of stunning and at the same time sad is, Sammi came into season 4 looking dead serious about moving on from the hell that was “Rammi” Season 3. Unlike her previous appearances, Sammi stayed out of bed – all day! – and interacted with the rest of the cast in the house, and stayed away from Ron. It was obvious that it was hard for her and she admitted to missing his company (who would find it easy to live with their ex just after a break-up?), but Sammi never initiated any contact with Ron … unless she was drunk. She told the cameras that she knew how destructive their relationship was for the both of them, but in the heat of a packed nightclub with a few cocktails tossed back to blur her vision and her judgment, watching the only guy she had feelings for – however dangerous – getting close to other girls had to make her terribly alone. Being lonely is probably why Sammi decided to take Ronnie back just one more time, even though she had to basically pretend that everything that had ever gone wrong in their relationship was her fault, and ignore the fact that Ronnie once broke her reading glasses just to hurt her.

“He beats her but she stays, so she must love it.”

Sammi’s case is also an example of how hard it is to motivate yourself to get out of an abusive situation. When you live with someone that’s abusing you, you’re in contact with that person constantly. That’s a huge amount of opportunity to get inside your head, twist your thinking, and have you depending on your abuser for sanity. It’s easy to grow to feel like, if you can somehow convince your abuser of not wanting to harm you anymore, you’ll be justified in thinking you’re worth anything better. After all, your abuser is someone who is supposed to love you by the sheer nature of your relationship to him or her – because he or she is your parent, your relative, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your spouse. If he or she can’t see anything in you that’s worth loving and protecting, why should anyone else be able to? Right?

No.

Sammi will never read this blog, but I really believe she’s a combination of low self-worth and bad friends and family, who doesn’t deserve all the hate she gets for being an idiot. Run, Sammi, run! After all, this wasn’t too long ago:

Season 3 in a nutshell (courtesy of Crushable.com)

Famous Survivors of Rape: Part 4

23 Aug

This is the final post of a 4-part series that began last week. Click the link if you would like read about Ashley Judd, Billie Holiday, Connie Francis, Fiona Apple, and Fran Drescher, here if you would like to read about Joyce Meyer, Kelly McGillis, Mackenzie Phillips, Marilyn van Derbur Atler, and Mary J. Blige, or here if you would like to read about Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Pamela Anderson, Queen Latifah, and Rita Hayworth. I’ve also done posts on Gabrielle Union and Fantasia Barrino that may interest you!

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Here is the last set of 5 rape survivors you may (or may not!) already know about:

Sandra Dee (April 23, 1942 – February 20, 2005)

Sandra DeeThe American child actress of the ’50s was most famous for her starring role in the movie Gidget and her marriage to heartthrob singer and actor Bobby Darin (also once famously involved with Connie Francis). But Sandra grew up confused by the trappings of life as a performer (her modeling and acting career began at the tender age of 2), and later when her mother remarried to real estate developer Eugene Douvan after divorcing Sandra’s father, she was forced into sexual intercourse with her stepfather from the age of 5 until Douvan’s death when Sandra was 12. In an 1991 interview, several years after her career ended and she had married and had a son, Sandra recalled:

“Gene didn’t molest me only in the mornings, but during the day, the night, whenever he wanted to and there was an opportunity. “He’d say, ‘Let’s snuggle’, and I never fought back – I was too small. Too young. “

Teri Hatcher

Teri HatcherToday the 46-year-old actress is most recognizable as ‘Susan Mayer’ from the primetime hit series Desperate Housewives, but Teri first got her start as a showgirl, model, and star as Lois Lane to Superman’s Clark Kent in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Once upon a time she was also the most frequently Google-d woman on the Internet! In May 2006 Teri first revealed to Vanity Fair magazine that she had been a child victim of incest at the hands of her uncle-in-law, Richard Hays Stone. He would take her on car rides under the guise of going to pick up her cousins from school and molest her in seclusion, graduating to rape when she was 7. Teri wasn’t able to tell the rest of her family about her pain until she heard about a 14-year-old girl from Santa Clara County, California, who committed suicide and left a note implicating Teri’s uncle as the man who had molested her. In 2002 Teri helped prosecutors convict Richard Hays Stone of his crimes by telling her story in court, and she is a vocal advocate for sexual abuse victims today.

Tim Roth

Tim RothHe was born in Dulwich, London, England, but the 50-year-old English actor’s most notable roles are in the American films Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Planet of the Apes, and his hit television show Lie To Me, for which Tim won a People’s Choice Award in 2011. Growing up, he was a victim of incest, as he said in an interview with The Daily Mail:

“It happened during my childhood up to my early teens and although I’m not going to say who it was, he’s long gone now – and I hasten to add it wasn’t my father or mother. Things happen to you in your life, but you don’t want to consider yourself to be a victim – you want to be a survivor and the first thing that helps you do that and helps you get through it is speaking and finding your voice. I’d been wanting to direct a film for years and told my agent to start looking for a script. The first one that came through the door was the one for The War Zone. If you are a survivor of abuse and you get the opportunity to tell a story about that subject, then you can really get in there and tell the truth. It was a fantastic chance for me to exorcise a lot of demons. I’m very proud of the film and proud of the fact that it’s even been used as a teaching tool.”

Tori Amos
Tori AmosShe was a piano-playing child prodigy from the age of 2, and after a highly successful career as an alternative rock singer, songwriter, and composer in the 1990s, 48-year-old Tori Amos is one of the top live acts of all time according to Rolling Stone magazine. She was nominated for 8 Grammy Awards and has sold over 12 million albums across the world. But just before her rock career began, Tori was raped by a fan who approached her on her way home after performing in a local bar, and kept the horror of what she had experienced deep inside her memory for years before she wrote the song Me and a Gun, which tells her story. Her song made such a great impact with fans that Tori reached out to do more, and created RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) – the only nationwide-available toll-free hotline for rape and sexual abuse survivors in America. She is still a supporter of the organization to this day!

Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry When he dons a woman suit and totes a rifle as the wild matriarch character ‘Madea’ from his well-known plays and films, Tyler Perry is almost unrecognizable as a 41-year-old actor, director, playwright, screenwriter and producer who ranks as the 6th-highest paid actor in Hollywood by Forbes magazine. He’s friends with stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, and Janet Jackson, and worked with stars such as Gabrielle Union, Idris Elba, and Whoopi Goldberg, to name a few. He’s been outspoken about once being homeless, his abusive father, and Tyler has also shared his story of rape with the world. The mother of one of his childhood friend’s would lock Tyler into a room with her in her house and refuse to let him free or give him the key to let himself out unless he would allow her to have sex with him. His movies may be obnoxious to some, entertaining to others, and downright offensive to many more, but say what you will about Tyler Perry – he’s pulled himself out of a history of horrors.

There are so many people in the world to draw hope from, survivors who have been brave and willing to share their stories and sympathize with you. Who inspires you most?

Famous Survivors of Rape: Part 3

19 Aug

This is a continuation of the 4-part series that began on Monday. Click the link if you would like read about Ashley Judd, Billie Holiday, Connie Francis, Fiona Apple, and Fran Drescher, or here if you would like to read about Joyce Meyer, Kelly McGillis, Mackenzie Phillips, Marilyn van Derbur Atler, and Mary J. Blige. I’ve also done posts on Gabrielle Union and Fantasia Barrino that may interest you!

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Here’s 5 more rape survivors you may (or may not!) already know about:

Maya Angelou

Maya AngelouThe 83-year-old renowned poet is also the author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which is given in many American high schools as required reading for students. She also holds more than 30 honorary degrees and is a Pulitzer Prize nominee, as well as the recipient of 3 Grammy Awards for her spoken word albums. Maya was 3 years old when her parents divorced, and lived under the sole care of her mother from the age of 7 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother’s then boyfriend, a man named Freeman, raped Maya when she was 8, and she found the courage to tell her older brother, who told the rest of their family members. Freeman was found guilty in court, jailed for one day, and four days later was found beaten to death, which filled young Maya with so much guilt that she didn’t speak again for almost 5 years afterward. But today her voice is heard around the world as one of inspiration!

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah WinfreyEasily the most influential woman in the world, 57-year-old Oprah Winfrey (actually born with the name “Orpah”, named after a character in the Bible’s Book of Ruth) is a former American television host, the owner of her own television network and countless programs, an actress, a producer, and a philanthropist – and she’s also the wealthiest woman of the 20th century.

At the age of 6, Oprah and her single mother Vernita Lee moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but spent much of her time alone while her mother worked long hours to support their family. She was constantly molested by her uncle and a family friend, and when she was 9 a 19-year-old male cousin began to rape Oprah, forcing her to run away from home  once when she was 13. She never dared to tell anyone about the abuse she had suffered until she confessed everything to her family more than 10 years later, but nobody believed her story or even acknowledged her suffering … until she got her own talk show.

Pamela Anderson

Pamela AndersonThe 44-year-old actress-model is most famous for her starring role in the ’90s hit show Baywatch, her stint as Playmate of the Month for Playboy magazine’s February 1990 issue, and her marriages to Motley Crue’s lead singer Tommy Lee and rock singer Kid Rock. Before she was famous, as a teenager growing up in Canada, Pamela was raped twice. She once said in an interview that:

“My first experience with sex was non-consensual. The guy ran around in a panic afterwards saying ‘What have I done, what have I done’. Looking back it was awful. I felt like everyone knew that I had had sex, like it was tattooed on my forehead.”

In the same interview with Jane magazine, she told the story of her second assault:

“I started growing breasts, discovered make-up and had my clothes ripped off by a crazy abusive guy I was dating who locked me outside my house naked. I’ve been naked ever since.”

Queen Latifah

Queen LatifahToday she glows at 41 years of age, is a former singer and rapper turned into a successful Hollywood actress, and she’s a spokeswoman for CoverGirl cosmetics. Queen Latifah is also the recipient of a Golden Globe award, 2 Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, 2 Image Awards, a Grammy Award, and several nominations for Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Awards. But about a year ago she opened up to Essence magazine about the sexual abuse she suffered when she was a little girl. In the care of a babysitter, Queen Latifah (then a young Dana Elaine Owens) was raped. She said to Essence:

“He violated me. I never told anybody. I just buried it as deeply as I could and kept people at an arms length. I never really let a person get too close to me. I could have been married years ago, but I had a commitment issue.”

 

Rita Hayworth (October 17, 1918 – May 14, 1987)

Rita HayworthThe late American film actress and dancer was one of the greatest names of her time. Her cute and innocent image was made famous as a pin-up photo, and she worked with other Hollywood greats such as Fred Astaire and was once married to Orson Welles and Prince Aly Khan. She was tutored as a dancer by her father Eduardo, but traveling across the country as a young performing girl with her mother Volga far away at home, her father saw the opportunity to abuse Rita. Eduardo often beat his 10-year-old daughter into submission, slammed her into walls, and began to rape her as often as twice a day. Rita was confused and believed that their relationship of incest was normal for a father and daughter. It wasn’t until many years later when Rita told her husband Orson Welles about her abuse, that she began to see the truth for what it really was.

 

The final part of the series will be posted Monday, and this time you’ll get to read the stories of a few male rape survivors. Come back for more inspiration!  

Famous Survivors of Rape: Part 2

18 Aug

This is a continuation of the 4-part series that began on Monday. Click the link if you would like read about Ashley Judd, Billie Holiday, Connie Francis, Fiona Apple, and Fran Drescher. Sorry for the delay, everyone! It’s been a busy week for me, but I appreciate you hanging in there :).

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Here are 5 more famous rape survivors you may (or may not!) already know about:

Joyce Meyer

Joyce MeyerThe 68-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri is a world famous Christian author and speaker. Her televangelist program Enjoying Everyday Life is shown and heard in 200 countries around the world, and she has written more than 90 books on self-help and Christian life improvement topics. Before her ministry began, as a young girl Joyce was raped continually by her father (more than 200 times!), and grew up believing that she would never amount to anything. She’s said in interviews:

“Because I was raised in an abusive environment, I married the first guy that came along out of fear. I was afraid that no one would want me and I would end up alone. Fear makes you desperate and I know many women marry the wrong guy out of fear. He left me to go and stay with another woman and I was pregnant at the time. He was claiming that the baby wasn’t his. I left the marriage and the girl who did my hair took me in because I had nowhere to stay and I couldn’t go to work anymore. All these things happened to me – but I am still here.”

Kelly McGillis

Kelly McGillisRemember the pretty leading lady from the 1986 Tom Cruise movie Top Gun? Well, today she’s 54 and no longer acting, but happily married to her lesbian partner of more than 10 years. However, Kelly made headlines as one of the first actresses in Hollywood ever to go public with her story of rape. Before she landed her role in Top Gun, Kelly was studying drama at Juilliard School in Manhattan when, one day, her apartment was broken into by 2 teenaged boys. She and her then girlfriend were gagged and bound, beaten and raped, and Kelly was interviewed as saying that she long believed God had punished her for secretly being a lesbian. One of her attackers, a 15-year-old boy named Leroy Johnson, was caught and sent to jail for 3 years after confessing to the rape. She went on to play a rape advocate in the movie The Accuser.

 

Mackenzie Phillips

Mackenzie Phillips 51-year-old Mackenzie is best known for acting in the movie American Graffiti, the TV sitcom One Day at a Time, and for being the daughter of John Phillips, a singer behind The Mamas & the Papas. She shocked her fans in 2009 during an interview with Oprah Winfrey when she accused her father of introducing her to (and encouraging) a drug habit, and beginning to rape Mackenzie from the age of 19. Mackenzie told her family members, but only her half-sister, singer Chynna Phillips, believed her claim. Mackenzie has been denounced by the rest of her family, even though Jessica Woods, the daughter of Denny Doherty (another singer from The Mamas & the Papas) publicly stated that her father knew about the incest.

Marilyn van Derbur Atler

Marilyn van Derbur AtlerShe won the title of the 1958 Miss America pageant. Today the 74-year-old beauty is an author and founder of the American Coalition for Abuse Awareness, as well as One Voice. As a youth, Marilyn was raped repeatedly by her father, the millionaire socialite Francis S. van Derbur, but suppressed the pain of her assaults until she was 24. She spoke of suffering from anxiety, physical paralysis, and depression throughout her life in an interview with People magazine, and described facing her father with the truth:

“After seeing a psychiatrist, I decided I had to talk to my father. When I went to him at his house, I started by saying that it was the most difficult thing I had ever done. He said, ‘Just a minute,’ and climbed the winding staircase, two steps at a time to the second floor. I didn’t hear a toilet flush or a phone call being made, and when he came back, I knew instinctively that he had a gun. He had always kept them around the house. I talked for almost 20 minutes, and my father didn’t deny anything. He said, ‘If I had known what this would do to you, I never would have done it.’ I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. After our conversation, he pulled out the gun. He said, ‘If you had come in any other way [which I took to mean public exposure], I would have killed myself.’ I believe if he had used the gun, he would have killed us both. From that day on, we never spoke of it again. The month before he died, he knew my life was beginning to shut down, but he never reached out to help me.”

Today she describes surviving incest as “the greatest accomplishment of my life”.

Mary J. Blige

Mary J. BligeThe 40-year-old ‘queen of R&B’ has recorded 8 albums (all certified multi-platinum), as well as ranked on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 100 list of the greatest singers of all time, and she is the only recording artist ever to have won a Grammy each in Pop, Rap, Gospel, and R&B. She revealed during an interview with VH1’s Behind the Music that she was raped as a 5-year-old girl by a family friend, saying:

“I remember feeling, literally right before it happened, I just could not believe that this person was going to do this to me. That thing followed me all my life. The shame of thinking my molestation was my fault – it led me to believe I wasn’t worth anything. I ended up becoming my environment. It was bigger than me. I had no self-respect. I hated myself. I thought I was ugly. Alcohol, sex, drugs – I’d do whatever it took to feel better.”

But Mary J. is happily married as of 2003, and on top of her career success she is the co-founder of The Mary J. Blige and Steve Stoute Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now, Inc.

 

The series continues tomorrow, with a poet and talk show host to add to the inspiration list. Come back and take a look!

“Am I Gone Believe What Them Fools Say About Me Today?”: A Lesson I Got From the Movie “The Help”

17 Aug

Promotion poster for "The Help"

I went to see the movie “The Help”  with my closest girl friend last night and am sad to report that it wasn’t really good, in my humble opinion. I didn’t read the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett beforehand, though – maybe that had something to do with my disappointment? Anyway, my review doesn’t have much to do with what I’d like to say today. But if you’re interested in chatting about the movie, feel free to send me an e-mail or message  and we’ll definitely talk!

“Every morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make a decision. You gone have to ask yourself, ‘Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?’ “

After the movie ended, this was the one quote I remembered that stuck with me on the way home. (Without spoiling the movie for you if you haven’t seen it already), it was said by one of the housemaid characters, Constantine, who spent a large part of her life raising the main character, a plucky privileged character named Eugenia/”Skeeter”. 13-year-old Skeeter is feeling sorry for herself after another boy her age tells her that she’s ugly. Constantine sees her crying, sits down with her, and gives her the quoted line of advice that Skeeter never forgets. The “fools” Constantine was talking about were white racists. I think the line is powerful, because it can be applied to anybody.

As a victim of any kind of abuse – not just rape – you’re going to come across a handful of people who will try to put you down for being in a weaker position … that is, if you haven’t or aren’t already dealing with those kind of people.

“You’re not good enough for __ in life.”

“No one will ever love you.”

“You’re fat/dumb/ugly/worthless, and you need to know your place.”

“Don’t nobody give a damn about you! What, you think you got problems, so you’re special, huh?”

“That’s what you get for being fat/dumb/ugly/worthless.”

“You deserved it.”

“Get over it, for God’s sake.”

It hurts like hell to feel like the bottom of the world’s shoe – so don’t allow yourself to feel that way. I know it’s easier said than done, trust me. Every day it’s a struggle for me after years of receiving messages that I allowed to weigh my spirit down. But take notice of the word I used in that last sentence: allow. Take a look at the quote from the movie again, and notice that it says: make a decision. Whether you find it difficult to believe or not, you have complete and total control over your self-image. Anybody can have any opinion about you, but no one has enough power over you to make their opinion fact.

It’s impossible to fix everything all at once, so like the quote says, try taking your feelings one day at a time. Just one for day at a time, try not to absorb anyone’s opinion about yourself but your own. If you want to believe that you’re strong enough to get out of poverty, or leave an abusive partner, or make friends who value you the way you deserve to be valued as a human being, then believe it just for today and see what happens. Ignore the fools who say or do anything that doesn’t agree with you.

The American Civil Rights movement began when a few people decided to reject the idea that they were inferior to anyone. Will you do the same for your future?

Famous Survivors of Rape: Part 1

15 Aug

Knowing that you’re not the only person in the world to live through sexual assault can be the greatest relief if you’re a victim. Being able to meet and talk to survivors who are willing to share their stories with you is an amazing privilege. It can also help to have recognizable faces to look up to, public figures who prove through achievement that there is life after rape.

I’ve written about two Hollywood stars in the past, Fantasia Barrino and Gabrielle Union. Here are 5 other famous rape survivors you may (or may not!) already know about:

Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd  The 43-year-old actress (famous for her roles in American films like Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy, Where the Heart is, and A Time to Kill, as well as being the daughter of country music singer Naomi Judd and younger half-sister of Wynonna Judd) revealed that she was raped many times as a child in her autobiography All That Is Bitter & Sweet. After her parents divorced when she was 7 and her mother moved the family to Kentucky, Ashley remembers that she was cornered by a old man who offered her a quarter to play the pinball machine, and instead pulled her into a dark and empty store. When she tried to tell trusted adults about what happened to her, however, no one believed her story.

Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959)

Billie Holiday One of the best African-American jazz singers in American history began life with a difficult childhood, raised by her half-sister and other caretakers in place of her traveling mother until she was 11, already a school drop-out. On December 24, 1926 while the young Holiday was alone, a neighbor named Wilbur Rich broke into her family home and raped Billie before he was caught by Billie’s mother. He was jailed for his crime, but Billie had to live as a temporary ward of the state in protective custody, and then in a brothel with her mother after the age of 12, before she was able to climb her way out to stardom. 


Connie Francis

Connie Francis The 72-year-old songstress is known for her pop hits “Where The Boys Are”, “Who’s Sorry Now”, “Stupid Cupid” and many more recorded in her youth. After a live performance in New York in the latter half of her career, Connie was raped upon returning to the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson’s Lodge where she had been staying. Her attacker was never found, but Connie sued the hotel for neglecting to provide accurate security for patrons, and won an astonishing $3 million judgment. She took 7 years off from her career, and resumed singing in 1989.

Fiona Apple

Fiona AppleShe’s 33 and won a Grammy Award for her ’90s hit single “Criminal” at the age of 21, as well as an MTV Video Music Award for the single “Sleep to Dream” coming off her critically-acclaimed debut album Tidal. Fiona was raped by a stranger on her way home from school when she was 12, and today says about being a role model:

That’s the only reason I ever brought the whole rape thing up. It’s a terrible thing, but it happens to so many people. I mean, 80 percent of the people I’ve told have said right back to me, “That happened to me too.” It’s so common, and so ridiculous that it’s a hard thing to talk about. It angers me so much because something like that happens to you and you carry it around for the rest of your life. No matter how much therapy you go through, no matter how much healing you go through, it’s part of you. I just feel that it’s such a tragedy that so many people have to bear the extra burden of having to keep it secret from everyone else. As if it’s too icky a subject to burden other people with and everyone’s going to think you’re a victim forever. Then you’ve labeled yourself a victim, and you’ve been taken advantage of, and you’re ruined, and you’re soiled, and you’re not pure, you know.

If I’m in a position where people are looking up to me in any way, then it’s absolutely my responsibility to be open and honest about this, because if I’m not, what does that say to people? It doesn’t change a person — well, it does change a person but it doesn’t take anything away from you. It can only strengthen you. It has made me so angry in the past. Like I wanted to say it to somebody. I really wanted somebody to connect with, somebody to understand me, somebody to comfort me. But I felt like I couldn’t say anything about because it was taboo to talk about.

Fran Drescher

Fran DrescherFran is a 53-year-old actress and comedienne, probably best recognized as the title character in the ’90s American sitcom The Nanny. In 1985 while Fran was still married to her then-husband, writer and producer Peter Marc Jacobson, the couple returned home from an outing to find 2 armed robbers in their Los Angeles apartment. Fran and a girlfriend were raped at gunpoint, and her husband was forced to watch the ordeal. The rapist ended up being sentenced to 2 life sentences in prison.

The series continues tomorrow, with a televangelist and former Miss America to add to the inspiration list. Come back and take a look!

Why I Admire Gabrielle Union

12 Aug
Gabrielle Union (courtesy of Feministe.us)

Gabrielle Union (courtesy of Feministe.us)

She’s gorgeous, talented, and one of the most sought-after young actresses in Hollywood. You’ll probably know her from any one of her hit movies – 10 Things I Hate about You, Bring it On, Two Can Play That Game, Deliver Us from Eva, Bad Boys II, Breakin’ All The Rules, The Honeymooners, Daddy’s Little Girls, Running with Scissors, The Perfect Holiday, Cadillac Records – or her appearances on television shows like Moesha, 7th Heaven, Ugly Betty and FlashForward. But did you know that before 38-year-old Gabrielle Union became a star, she was a rape victim?

Makings of a Great Future

Gabrielle was born in Omaha, Nebraska and raised in Pleasanton, California along with an elder and younger sister. She enjoyed a comfortable life growing up in upper-middle class suburbia. During her years attending Foothill High, Gabrielle established herself as an athletic star, excelling at soccer, track and field, and basketball, and she even made the dean’s list for her academic performance. She had all the makings of a great future, supported and encouraged by her parents Sylvester and Teresa, who also came from affluent hard-working families. Her father, especially, kept her motivated. Gabrielle once quoted him in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying:

” ‘You are the only black person in your whole class. You’re gonna have to prove to them every day that you’re just as smart, if not smarter. Just as good, if not better. Just as fast, if not faster.’ So not only am I trying to beat all my classmates, I’m trying to prove to my dad that I’m living up to his expectations.”

She attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln after her high school graduation, but switched out after one semester to attend Cuesta College in Southern College, where she dropped out, unsure of what to do with her life. Taking the summer off, Gabrielle decided to work at a Payless shoe store. There, she was attacked.

Fighting Back

It was during one of her late evening shifts when a man and his gun entered and robbed the store, then forced Gabrielle and her co-worker into a back room, ordered them to strip, and raped them both. Gabrielle described the ordeal in another interview with Teen Vogue:

“As he was raping me, I felt as though I was floating over myself, thinking, ‘This isn’t happening,’ and ‘I’m perfect, I’m a good person, I’m a good student’.”

Once the rape was over, she grabbed the man’s gun and tried to shoot him, but was too shaken up by the assault. Her attacker responded by beating and punching her, and once she gave up the fight, he asked for directions on leaving the store – instead of shooting her dead. She was 19 years old at the time.

Gabrielle found the strength to tell her family and close friends, and they supported her through a difficult recovery. She also began counseling with a group of other sexual assault victims, and sued Payless when she found out that her attacker had actually been a former employee of another Payless store which he had robbed, and where he had also raped another employee. The man was charged criminally and finally sentenced to 33 years in prison, and Gabrielle won her negligence lawsuit against Payless.

Moving On

Making a decision to try studying again at the University of California in Los Angeles was the first big step for Gabrielle back into the world, and she graduated with a degree in sociology 4 years later, hoping to become a lawyer. She worked as an intern at a modeling agency and was offered a modeling contract shortly after her graduation, which she accepted thinking the money could help to pay off her tuition loans. Instead, modeling propelled her to stardom. Gabrielle was sent to acting auditions after appearing in Teen Magazine, landed a guest role on Saved by the Bell: The New Class, and she switched career paths for good.

Gabrielle Union and John Cho @ KourtneyRichard

Gabrielle Union and John Cho (courtesy of KourtneyRichard.com)

Role Model

To me, Gabrielle Union is one of the best examples of what I think it means to survive and thrive after rape – or really, any traumatic experience that one might suffer in life. If she ever had anyone tell her that she was “damaged goods” because of what she went through, or that she had to resign herself to a life of depression and self-loathing, Gabrielle clearly didn’t accept that for herself. Maybe she even worried at one point that being raped would cast a shadow on her future, but she kept going ahead with life. I love that she has a fighter’s spirit. I love that Gabrielle took a stand against her rapist and did whatever she could to have him face the consequences of his crime. Today she is still a vocal advocate for women’s issues and sexual assault victims, occasionally touring across the country to speak to young girls and women about her experiences. Just recently, she spoke her mind about Rihanna’s music video “Man Down” (which I actually found out about while researching for my post on the controversy surrounding the video)! Even though she moved on to success, Gabrielle seems like a humble and down-to-earth lady. It looks like she knows and believes that she has the biggest say in her own destiny – no one else, and certainly nothing from her past.

I’d love to be just like that.

Rihanna Shoots Her Rapist in Music Video for “Man Down”: Tell Me Why We’re Mad?

10 Aug

The latest single from American pop star Rihanna’s album Loud is “Man Down”. You can watch the music video below if you haven’t seen it already, but be forewarned: there are graphic depictions of violence.

 

 

This video generated a LOT of controversy in only a few months, with Rihanna herself speaking out to defend it on the social networking website Twitter. Organizations like The Parents Television Council, Industry Ears, and a campaign called ‘Enough is Enough’ went straight to work against Viacom, the company that owns the BET channel that premiered “Man Down” during one of its programs aimed at urban youth, to take the video off the air. People were calling in to their local radio stations outraged that Rihanna could get away with such a violent music video that could influence young people to mimic what they saw.

Then we had people, including her fans, applauding Rihanna’s video for being so empowering to women.

My two cents are late to the conversation (hey, the video premiered in June), but I want to ask: why is “Man Down” the absolute WORST video young people are ever going to see?

Stop B.S.-ing

I’m not going to pretend that murder is okay, but I think some people need to be real with what they’re trying to say. The PTC (Parents Television Council) and Industry Ears said that:

“Man Down is an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song. In my 30 years of viewing BET, I have never witnessed such a cold, calculated execution of murder in primetime.”

and I, for one, think that’s ridiculous. If you listen to the lyrics and/or watch the video with just half an attention span, it’s not difficult to hear that Rihanna was singing about her guilt over paying back evil for evil by killing someone who hurt her. How is that a “cold, calculated execution”? As she approaches the man to shoot (in the video), it’s obvious that she’s distraught. She looks dazed and like she’s been crying, not like somebody who’s itching to try their hand at assassination.

Violence is everywhere in the media – again, not that it’s right, but I’m just stating what I think we all know. Kids’ movies and TV programs have depicted violence all the time, and there’s a whole genre of ‘violence porn’ films created solely to engage American youth: teen slasher flicks. But I can’t remember the last time I heard of anybody rallying against the release of Final Destination or Saw. THOSE are arguably “shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme” movies, right? So where’s the outrage? If we’re going to condemn one shocker, shouldn’t we be condemning them all? Rihanna’s character was raped in the video. Where’s the outcry in showing that?

Could it really be that some people are mad that Rihanna dared to act as a character who retaliated after being viciously attacked – even if it wasn’t the moral way to go about it? I think so.

Let’s just say…

What would happen if young people actually DID follow Rihanna’s example, and suddenly anytime you heard of a rape in the news, the headline in the paper would read something like: “Teen Victim Fatally Shoots Attacker after Alleged Rape”? That would be a problem for a society that feels best about keeping rape and sexual abuse a “hush hush” topic, never to be talked about, and never to be acknowledged as something serious that damages lives almost the same way that murder does. Potential rapists wouldn’t get away with so many crimes, and be hidden by their communities, never facing criminal charges, or serving jail time that amounts to a slap on the wrist whenever they were actually charged and tried. They wouldn’t want to try raping anybody – a crazy young’un out there could just shoot them up for it. I’m not saying anyone should go out and pick up a gun. I’m saying that we need to be honest – rape is real violence, too, but a lot of us don’t care.

You might think I’m a Rihanna stan after reading this post. I like some of her songs (really liked “Only Girl in the World”) and bits of her personal style, but apart from that she’s cool to me, not much more. I’m not defending Rihanna’s video because I’m in love with her or anything. I’m defending it because I identify.

Why Fantasia Barrino Scares Me

4 Aug

She was the winner of the 3rd season of American Idol in 2004, and today she’s famously known as just ‘Fantasia’, the R&B and soul singer, and one of the most successful former contestants from the show. Since her debut album Free Yourself (which made history with Fantasia’s first single, I Believe, being the first new recording artist single ever to debut in the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list) Fantasia has been nominated for 7 Grammy Awards and won 1, had two albums certified platinum and gold, and starred in the Broadway musical version of The Color Purple produced by Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones.

And with all of that success under her belt, her life is arguably a royal mess.

Fairy Tale Beginning

I remember watching the 3rd season of American Idol, being Fantasia’s biggest fan, and how ecstatic I was when she won. Then I watched the made-for-TV movie Life is Not a Fairytale which she starred in, based on her life before her win. She had something of a ‘Partridge Family’ beginning, performing and touring as a young girl with her parents and two brothers in churches across the country. She led the youth choir at her family church. But when Fantasia entered high school in her hometown of High Point, North Carolina, she was cornered in an empty gym by a classmate and raped, and from then on it wasn’t hard to notice the nose-dive in her self-esteem. She endured so much harrassment and humiliation from her peers that she felt her only option was to drop out of school, without even knowing how to read. Her family didn’t offer much in the way of support besides “life comes with the good and the bad, dust your shoulders off and move on”. Fantasia got into a relationship which resulted in her first child at the age of 16, and physical abuse at the hands of the father. A few years later she tried out for American Idol, and that was where the movie ended and her rise to stardom began.

Depressing Reality

Fantasia’s personal story never seemed to find a happy ending, though. After the memoir version of Life is Not a Fairytale was released in 2006, her father Joseph sued her for $10 million claiming that the descriptions she gave of him in the book were untrue. One of her two homes in Charlotte, North Carolina went into foreclosure and was almost auctioned off. Oprah interviewed Fantasia before she was set to appear on Broadway, offering her support, but Fantasia was absent for nearly 50 performances of The Color Purple without any notice or excuse until almost a year after the show had closed – still, Oprah selected her for the starring role in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical. In 2010 Fantasia got her own reality TV show on VH1 titled Fantasia For Real – the show basically chronicled her efforts in taking care of her family members financially. Finally, Fantasia began a relationship with Antwaun Cook, a married man whose wife named Fantasia as a cause of distress in her file for divorce in August 2010. The stress of the public accusation brought Fantasia to overdose on aspirin in a suicide attempt that had her hospitalized, and in divorce court Fantasia had to testify that she had been pregnant with Cook’s child and aborted it before trying to commit suicide. Cook’s marriage ended, but his affair with Fantasia continued, and just a few days ago on August 1, 2011, Fantasia announced to the crowd at a charity concert that she was pregnant again – this child was a “gift from God”. Oh, and allegedly there’s a Fantasia-Antwaun sex tape out there further damaging her image.

The Edge

I used to be inspired by Fantasia, but now I’m terrified: terrified for what’s happening to her life, and terrified of ending up like her. Our stories are similar in some ways. I’m definitely not a star and I can’t sing, but I can relate to having big dreams – I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I don’t know exactly what her experiences were like, but I’ve been raped. I’ve had people shun me, put me down, laugh (sometimes right in my face), spread rumors to paint me as a slut after I opened my mouth and told on my rapist. I’ve had family members not care. I’ve been abused in so many ways, and left to fend for myself with nowhere to go or any hope for my future. And I guess I’m scared that someday, potential and opportunity might show up and I won’t be able to see clear enough through the cloud of disappointments to recognize that I can keep it from following me to my success. That somehow I can keep my past from dictating my self-worth and the decisions I make, and from going over the edge.