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I love true crime, and disaster documentaries, and crime procedurals. My husband thinks my interest is a little baffling. “Baby, why do you watch this stuff when you know you have anxiety?” Well, a couple of reasons: one, it’s fascinating and I enjoy it. My interest in true crime, et. al. predates the onset of my mental health problems. (Blame that early, parentally irresponsible, exposure to Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911 in the 90s.) And two, it’s part of a complex coping mechanism that can actually help lessen my anxiety by giving me the illusionary feeling of being prepared for the worst. It’s almost as if I can shield myself and those I love from terrible things with the knowledge of the absolute worst case scenario. (I know this is a logical fallacy. Just bear with me.)

My fascination with true crime in particular started shortly after I witnessed a horrible crime for myself. I was young and too ill-equipped to cope with the trauma I had experienced. Like many survivors, the idea that I could arm myself with knowledge of how bad the world can actually get occurred to me organically over time. That was over twenty years ago, but my fascination with the genre has persisted, and is what lead me to start listening to a new podcast a few months ago, called My Favorite Murder. This podcast, produced by Feral audio and featuring Karen Killgariff and Georgia Hardstark, is every late-night conversation you’ve had with your best friend after watching a horror movie or catching up on grim news stories. It’s true crime and comedy coming together in the holiest of unholy unions. I was instantly hooked.

I loved the podcast right away, but I knew I needed to take it easy and avoid binge-listening. I am already a regular consumer of other true crime media, and I am aware that I have to ration myself or risk an emotional crash. I’m one of those “highly sensitive personality” people you may have heard about — sometimes I empathize a little too much and a little too strongly. I’m just hard-wired that way. So, that plus PTSD, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can be a potent cocktail. Many times I have had to stop watching a show, return a book, or unplug from a story because it became too triggering for me. I usually don’t mind missing out. If it’s a news story or a true crime story, I can usually find out the interesting bits by researching the event using sources that are less graphic. That being said, trigger warnings are nice. It takes so little and offers so much potential relief. For instance, one of my other favorite true crime podcasts, Sword and Scale, not only offers a trigger warning at the beginning of each episode, they even tell you the nature of the potential trigger. So if you, like me, find violence against children particularly abhorrent, you know to skip this episode and listen to the one about Ted Bundy instead. Win-win!

Recently on the Facebook group page for My Favorite Murder, someone suggested having a document to keep track of potential trigger warnings for each episode of the podcast. She suggested it as a kindness to those in the fandom who live with PTSD and offered to do the bulk of the work herself. Stand-up gal, in my humble opinion. But because this is the Internet and we simply cannot have nice things, she was immediately dog-piled on.

le sigh.

It is a universal but often unacknowledged truth that human beings struggle to see the value in things that don’t personally effect their lives (I’m looking at you, anti-gay/anti-trans rights dickholes), but this sentiment coming from a group of people that are supposedly all about helping each other feel safe in an unsafe world is just preposterous.

In the early episodes of the podcast, the hosts, Karen and Georgia, speak to this issue directly when they explain how talking over true instances of horrible depravity and human aberration helps them feel as if they have some modicum of control in the chaos, because to know about what humanity is capable of is to be prepared, in a sense. The tag line of the show reflects this:

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#SSDGM

The Facebook fan page is replete with stories of listeners, usually women, who took the lessons of their fallen sisters to heart: “I said FUCK POLITENESS and got the fuck out” of a dangerous situation that might have otherwise ended in her being harmed.

These stories are celebrated with thousands of Likes and comments, but for some reason, when the hive mind is pushed to recognize that the “stay sexy don’t get murdered” message of the podcast is sometimes inaccessible for those individuals who have actually been victims of trauma, people get pissy.

While I was watching this conversation unfold on the fan page, it occurred to me that I don’t know why nuerotypical, able-bodied persons get so touchy when people with illnesses and disabilities start asking for accommodations. It’s as if our presence makes them so uncomfortable that the mere suggestion of it is too much to handle: “No I will NOT give you any trigger warnings. It interferes with my ability to pretend you don’t exist!”

Perhaps it isn’t that they want to ignore us, but they are actually hyper-aware of our existence and are thereby deeply offended by our collective “weakness”: “The world owes you nothing. Nobody treats me with kid gloves, so why should you be the exception?” This is actually the most common refrain I see from people who criticize the movement for ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. Their comments typically take the form of “well, just don’t do the thing” or “why are you so sensitive/sad/anxious?” or “it’s all in your head”. “If you don’t like/can’t participate in X, do something else.” “Pick yourself up by the bootstraps!” “You could ‘mind over matter’ this problem if you really wanted to.” The list of microaggressions is infinite. All of the typical victim-blaming bullshit that puts the onus of responsibility squarely back in the shoulders of the disadvantaged party to not only justify and defend their experience, but also to prove their need for accommodation and their right to be a full, equal participant in the world around them. Apparently, some people don’t see the value in equal access — because the world ought to be more dog-eat-dog, every man for himself, and fuck PC culture too, right? I mean, until you yourself need public assistance or SSDI or find yourself part of a marginalized group, that is.

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Intolerance first, ask questions never.

Honestly, why are people without disabilities so threatened by the other half? It isn’t as if we’re really asking anything substantial of you, just some compassion and some consideration. It doesn’t cost you anything, except perhaps a little time and a little energy. Whats the problem with that? This situation in particular is even more confounding: the poster was asking nothing of anyone! Simply posing a suggestion that she thought could be helpful.

Trivializing the experiences of survivors and those with disabilities is not only cruel to the individual, it is also undermines our society as a whole. When we cite “PC culture” and scream obscenities at “social justice warriors”, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Instead of empowering those who have been victimized, we are emboldening the perpetrators to continue mistreating others and shirking responsibility for their actions. The world is scary and dangerous enough, what with super volcanoes being overdue to detonate, and serial killers on the rampage, and Donald Trump in the White House; do we really need to make our surroundings more hostile by attacking each other? Let alone attacking each other over the mere suggestion of increased compassion for others — that just doesn’t make one lick of sense. We can do better, y’all.

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Women can be misogynists, too.

In the wake of the shooting in Isla Vista, a conversation entered the mainstream media about the idea of male entitlement and the associated societal structures that breed this sort of mentality. Rape culture. Ingrained misogyny. Got me thinking, where else do I observe the abuse of dominance? It’s not just in the minds of the “friend-zoned” or out-and-out woman-haters. It’s in all of us. It’s everywhere. And women contribute, too.

In particular, it occurred to me that there is a fundamental conflict between what women say and what we do. For example, there are scores of books and movies dedicated to the average American woman’s notion of romance. You could call it “girl porn”, as seen in the film Don Jon: Men like to watch people getting it on, but women? Women like romantic comedies, romantic dramas, harlequin romance novels, Disney-style fairytales. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that OF COURSE there are females that enjoy pornography. But I’m going to wager a guess that most women go for the “romance porn” stuff.)

In these books and films we see male characters who are often disrespectful of a woman’s right to her own body, tending to act forcefully, or even aggressively, to assert their male right to female attention. These characters are written as Alpha-males, dominant over their women and their environment — they know what they want, they feel entitled to it, they are persistent, and they get it. Alternately, we have the “wounded soul” male — a person whose whole life experience has been so fraught that we can hardly blame him for being so flawed. We read Twilight (crazy obsessive stalker) and 50 Shades of Grey (emotionally unstable man-child who is borderline abusive, but has a heart of gold) and we swoon over these damaged male characters who treat their women poorly and possessively. Somehow, the lonely, needing quality gives these fictional men the right to exhibit aggressively toxic masculinity, particularly in their pursuit of the female protagonist. The stalking, the jealous rage, the single-minded focus of the male’s attention on the female — our culture has conditioned us to believe that these stunts are romantic. And we just eat that shit up. Men see that, see the hypocrisy in it, and come to the conclusion that all women a.) don’t really know what they want, b.) are sending mixed messages/being manipulative, and c.) that this crap:

This is what women want.
This is what women want.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read them all. I like them. They’re my guilty little pleasure. Some romance novels are actually very well-written and well-balanced, depicting not an over-hyped ideal, but a realistic struggle that we can all relate to. In a genre largely written for women by women, there is a tremendous opportunity to extol the virtues of sexual equality. But even when it comes to less delicately written erotica, I enjoy getting lost in the romance, the intrigue — mentally substituting the weak female protagonist for myself (because that’s exactly what these books are for), and embarking on a whirlwind romantic flight of fancy.

But then I stop. I put the book down. And I think about how I would never, ever, EVER accept that kind of treatment from my partner in real life. I think it’s time to own up to the truth: that, unfortunately, my partaking of this form of media is complicit acceptance ingrained misogyny. And that it is a bit hypocritical.

Women can, and sometimes do, send mixed messages. But it isn’t because we’re emotionally manipulative or cunning. We’re taught that clear, explicit messages of arousal or consent are unromantic. That being assertive is slutty. That you have to wait for the man to make the move. A woman that propositions a man is a slut, but women who are selective or discerning when selecting a sexual partner are prudish and condescending. Those words in bold? I don’t want to be any of those things, but it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” proposition. I know a lot of women who feel the same way.

I think it’s time that we all start taking responsibility for the ways in which our culture has altered our consciousness on sexual norms. For women, that means coming to grips with the fact that we are literally buying into patriarchy — not just by spending money on “romance porn”, but also spending billions of dollars every year on attempts to embody a standard of beauty that is unrealistic and psychologically, economically, and politically damaging.

Truthfully, I like getting dolled-up. I do my hair and make-up like a 1950’s pin-up model, not to attract male attention, but because it makes me feel good about myself and gives me confidence. But lest I forget that I am a product of my culture and my environment, I have to ask myself, how much of what I like is because I really like it and how much is because I’ve been conditioned to like it?

Girls grow up in a world where we are taught that our primary (if not our only) commodity is our beauty. While it’s not necessarily taboo to be an intelligent, articulate, or independent girl, it’s not so often praised either. I, for one, clearly remember feeling the need at eight years old to suck in my tummy when passing boys in the supermarket, but I didn’t begin pride myself on my smarts until I was in my 20’s. And that wasn’t because I was raised by misogynists (I wasn’t) or because I grew up in an environment that devalued educational accomplishments (I didn’t). It’s because even at that young age, I understood that my worth as a human being was inextricably bound to my appearance, so I had better make it good.

Women and men alike need to come together in the spirit of finding balance and establishing equality — first by confronting our previously unacknowledged hypocrisies and universally accepted “truths”, and then by making a commitment to change them. In the last few weeks I’ve heard a lot of people say “feminist” like it’s a dirty word, I think because there is a common misconception that being a feminist means “a women who hates men“. To assume such a thing is to miss the point entirely, and ultimately, to doom the fight by misdirecting the conversation (once again) towards hate and extremism. It’s about equality — and if that’s what we want, ladies and gents, then we all need to come to terms with the ways in which we directly or inadvertently add to the imbalance.