I met Jackie Fox of the Runaways in 2015 after I wrote an article on Boing Boing in response to her rape disclosure and the treatment it was getting in the press. Jackie was drugged and raped in front of a large group of people at a party. Jason Cherkis, an investigative reporter for Huffington Post, wrote an exhaustively researched piece about the rape, interviewed many witnesses, and outlined the complex reasons Jackie was coming forward 40 years later. Her story was not only rock solid–she had witnesses. Still, her former bandmate, Joan Jett, put out a statement essentially calling Jackie's rape part of a "bizarre relationship."
I was angry watching the public tide turn against Jackie after Joan's dismissive statement was released, especially as a fellow assault survivor. Around the same time, more Cosby women were coming forward, and I was disgusted with the default reaction of seeing women doubted, disparaged, and denigrated. I wrote the piece, Neil Gaiman tweeted it out, and people took note. And so, my friendship with Jackie Fox began. It was coincidental that I was also the bassist in an all-female band, Babes in Toyland, but it gave us a natural camaraderie.
So when Jackie invited me to go to the recent #MeTooMarch in Hollywood, I was honored to join her. The #MeToo movement had sprung up amid the Weinstein scandal after actress Alyssa Milano encouraged others to share their sexual abuse, assault, and harassment experiences with the hashtag #MeToo, and rightly credited Tarana Burke of Just BE Inc., founder of an advocacy organization for girls of color based in Brooklyn, for the original use of the phrase.
The response was overwhelming and sustained, the numbers heartbreakingly staggering. The voices got louder and louder. Women organized, and the #MeToo march was announced in Los Angeles.
The morning of the march, we made signs at Jackie's house with red duct tape. Mine said, "I'm Telling," and hers named her offenders, "Kim, Jerry…" the ellipses representing the names from other encounters that could not fit on the sign. Most women have more than one story. That is the reality that the #MeToo campaign brought to light. The signal to perpetrators that they would be held accountable felt like sweet justice I never thought I'd see. On social media, men were starting to stand up for women, too. My white male friend, actor Jim Turner, posted something refreshing on Facebook:
"I know it's not good to stereotype but…if you're white & male, why don't you sit down and shut up for a while? Sit down right where you are, and shut up, and don't grope anybody, or shoot anybody or, actually do anything for a long, long time. Just stop. Stop whatever it is you're doing. You're very clearly the bulk of the problem. Stop embarrassing, and molesting, and killing people. If you're white and male and not doing those things, it's okay to just sit still and shut up anyway. Let some other people see if they can straighten things out and fix some shit without you (and I include me) fucking it up even more. Right now: Sit down. Shut up. Keep your hands to yourself."
It was starting to feel like a revolution. So, when we gathered at the CNN building in Hollywood, the mood was triumphant and I felt energized. Multiple speakers echoed the defiant sentiment that the crowd vocally shared, "Enough." To be out and open and vocal felt empowering to me. The culture was shifting, and those who had been protected by secrecy were falling like dominoes. We held our signs high. The group marched to Hollywood Boulevard and assembled again for the closing rally. We were in high spirits and had a great spot right in front, just behind the press line.
The rally opened with a group of women doing a "healing" ceremony. In it, the speaker said that on some realm our spirits "chose" to have these experiences, and they made us who we are today. She summed up the "prayer" by saying:
"Everything that we go through, it's the same thing. We have scars, but that means that we're healing, so we have to accept the healing. Everybody, each and every one of you, myself included, has gone through some horrible painful things, whether we lost a mother, a brother, a father, or just experienced something that maybe we felt shouldn't have been done. But we have to remember that we have come here on this planet as a human being, and our spirit form has decided to come here and we chose to experience things because that is what makes our spirits stronger. All the inflicted pain, it helps us to be stronger. So keep that in mind and move forward and allow yourself to be healed.
After she said the word "chose," Jackie let out an audible moan as though she'd been punched in the stomach, and I buried my head in my hands. I was completely offended and deflated upon hearing this said to a group of women who had survived sexual harassment and assault. We were standing right in front. Jackie and I are not known for our poker faces when riled. Our disagreement was apparent to the speaker from the stage, and she went back to the microphone and addressed Jackie:
Did you have something that you wanted to say?
But it was not delivered as an invitation, more as a challenge. I could tell Jackie very much wanted to say something, but she did not want to hijack the rally, so she said, "No." Her face reflected her frustration. Instead of leaving the stage, the speaker singled her out for a spiritual lesson and said, "I'm trying to bring healing. Our community needs healing now. It's time to leave the anger behind and allow ourselves to heal."
Being silent was the furthest thing from healing for Jackie, and went against everything she stood for. To make matters worse, the speaker then insinuated that Jackie did not know how to heal properly, and said:
I have a song called "Dolores," about a young woman who was raped. You might want to listen to it. It helps us to heal. That's what we need. And I pray for your healing, ma'am.
Jackie, wearing a pink hat that said "Trouble" on it, turned to me and said, "Great. Thoughts and prayers. I thought we were here to change things." In fairness, I realize the speaker didn't know the discography of two middle-aged women standing in the crowd, but as bassists and songwriters in all-female bands from two different eras, we were annoyed as fuck. For me, seeing this person lecture Jackie, who wrote songs for The Runaways, who stood up two years ago when no one was saying "me too," and telling her to use music to heal made me cringe–especially since every time Jackie hears a Runaways song it is literally a trigger for her.
But that's not what upset us. What we were incensed about was someone telling a crowd of sexual assault survivors at a protest rally–some coming out publicly for the first time–that this was not a time for anger. Telling a survivor how to feel and how to heal was not just insulting, it was damaging. We knew that blaming ourselves for our sexual assaults by being told we co-authored our spiritual blueprints with a male deity, whom the speaker had referenced as "grandfather" of all things, and that we had invited and planned these traumatic experiences for our earthly selves was consummate victim blaming–not to mention a stretch.
It is the same sentiment as "everything happens for a reason. No. The only "reason" I got molested at 5, had a roommate masturbate in front of me at 32, and raped at 35, was because men molested me, exposed themselves to me, and raped me. My spirit did not need rape fertilizer to grow. Jackie did not need to be drugged and raped in front of people at a party to evolve as a human. We both could have had happier, more successful lives without these experiences. They did not make us stronger. They damaged us permanently. Are we strong? Yes. But that's because of us, not our rapists.
To us, the opening healing ceremony message was literally that we asked for it. I know they were well-intentioned, but I think they got this part very wrong, and it set a terrible tone. I did not go to the #MeTooMarch for religious rituals that involve grandfather deities, probably a pretty triggering association for some attendees anyway.
No. We were there to say stop. Enough. No more. Tell. We were there to let the world know there is a reckoning, and it is now. Thankfully, all of the other speakers at the #MeToo march reflected these sentiments and were able to harness the power of the crowd's collective voice. After the opening prayer, the #MeToo march was back on target with the intention and courage of the online campaign that inspired it. We held our signs and felt the sisterhood. It felt good to be with others.
After the event, Jackie was able to express the thoughts she kept to herself after the speaker challenged her:
"I went through this over 40 years ago, and I don't feel better for having gone through it. It is something that changes who you are and damages you forever. I'm hopeful that now that it's easier to talk about, women will get the help they need more quickly, be believed, and not have to go through what I went through–that's why I'm here. I'm not here today to heal. I'm here today to stop it. Your sage burning is not going to make it OK that somebody put a hairbrush in my vagina in front of a group of people when I was 16 years old. I don't need to be told when to heal or how to heal or that it's part of my spiritual journey. I will hopefully use everything that's happened to me as growth, but I didn't need to be raped in order to grow. Let's get that out of our heads, right now."
Maybe I am making too much of one small part of what was an admittedly victorious day. But it is in nuances that these incidents happen. The slightly uncomfortable gaze from a co-worker. The exclusion from after-hours drinks with the guys, or the comments about how we look. So I think it's important to call out victim blaming at all levels, big and small, real and spiritual, especially when it is couched in shaming about "right" ways to heal. Assault and harassment are not invited by our clothes, nor our spirits. They are crimes, and we are moving into a time when they will be increasingly treated as such.
I think religion has fucked up women's rights quite enough. I appreciated the intent of the healing prayer and I am positive the organizers invited the group as a uniting gesture. But American religion is no exception when it comes to patriarchal attitudes. American culture, like all culture, has a troubled history in dealing with rape. New age appropriation of indigenous beliefs mixed with fatalistic and karmic overtones that tell us we needed and asked for our traumas in order to be whole, are dangerous beliefs. They perpetuate the myth that what men do to women and our bodies without consent is invited–and part of life.
I'm very glad I went to the #MeTooMarch. On the whole, I found it empowering. The last thing I want to do is interrupt the momentum of #MeToo. Writing this piece is not meant to take away from this important movement or where it's heading–both very good things. Which is why criticizing something so powerful is awkward and intimidating for me. But coming forward with my assault stories was awkward and intimidating, too. If there's one thing I've learned through my experiences, it's to speak up when something is wrong. Blaming a sexual assault or harassment survivor for someone else's crime, on a spiritual plane or otherwise, is dead wrong.
As my sign said, "I'm Telling," because silence is what made that crowd bigger than it needed to be in the first place. Silence protects predators and exposes other women to abusers. We've got to get it right. Victim-blaming messages like this need to be challenged if we are to truly unify and empower the millions of women who have suffered abuse, assault, and harassment. It is not their fault on any level. Enough. What I was there to symbolize as part of that crowd is that It is a dangerous time for men who are dangerous to women. That is why I marched.
My spirit is made of my laughter, my words, my solitude, my stories. It is not made up of tragedies I summoned. Those were crimes, not opportunities for growth. I grow in spite of those things, not because of them. No one chooses it, on any level, and that message was salvaged and clarified in the other speakers, especially when actress and activist Frances Fisher read Eve Ensler's letter to the marchers. Ensler, a writer, performer, activist and survivor has been a consistent and tireless advocate for the changes the #MeToo march really stood for. I will end with a part of her powerful letter, which I think distills the essence of the #MeToo movement that attracted me and so many others survivors:
"I am over women still being silent about rape because they're made to believe it's their fault, because they did something to make it happen, like wearing the wrong clothes, because they are terrified they will get fired, or won't get the part, or ever work again.
I am over violence against women not being a #1 international priority, when 1 out of 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. The destruction, and muting, and undermining of women is the destruction of life itself. No women, no future, guys. I am over the endless resurrection of careers of rapists and sexual exploiters. Film directors, world leaders, corporate executives, shamans, priests, rabbis, imans, gurus, coaches, doctors, movie stars, athletes–you put in the rest. While the lives of women are violated, devastated, often forcing them to live in social and emotional exile.
I am over being polite about rape. It's been too long now. We have been too understanding. We need it to end now. We need people truly try to imagine, once and for all, what it feels like to have your body invaded, your mind splintered, your soul shattered, and really, deeply, I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you? You live with us, work with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get us, that you're nurtured, you're mothered, you're eternally supported by us. So why aren't you standing with us? Why aren't you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and harassment, degradation, and humiliation of us? . Why aren't you rising in droves, going beyond apologies and confessions, Realizing this is your issue, not ours.
The whole thing could change overnight. There are approximately one billion women on the planet who have already been violated. One billion women and girls. Can we rise together? Can we change the paradigm? Can we rebirth the culture? Because we know that when women are free, and safe, and equal, and allowed to be alive in all their intensity, the whole story will finally change. Yes? Me too."
Image: CBS LA/ YouTube