As Black-mother-lesbian-warrior-poet Audre Lorde stated, “Caring for myself isn’t self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Like the very spirited warrior woman, Lorde, I wholeheartedly believe that there is a need for women, especially those of us from traumatized communities and families, to engage in self-care practices that preserve our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Today, with a focus on women's empowerment, many conversations about healing from trauma typically begin with discussions about one’s engagement in self-care practices.
However, conversations of self-care need to be extended to include bold and spirited discussions about self-love. How many of us can say that we really love ourselves exactly the way that we are? What does radical self-love look like and feel like?
I spend much of my time speaking with women who look really good on the outside (thanks to proper self-care); however, they admit to feeling emotionally empty on the inside. They want to know how to love themselves from the inside-out. For many women, our society’s over-indulgence in self-care simply veils what they truly are feeling internally. Many do not know how to love themselves. They do not know what self-love looks like or feels like, because they have been taught to wait on someone to love them, or they have been taught that it is conceited or selfish to love thyself.
Somewhere between Hollywood scripted notions of romantic love and reality tv’s overly intoxicating, and at times violent, depictions of love, many women are left confused about the importance self-love plays in their mental health.
For me, I prefer to think of love as a feeling or psychological drive that comes and go like any other drive, such as hunger, thirst, or fatigue. If we consider love a psychological drive, then it is a subtle, or at times intense, feeling that is going to come and go; therefore, we need to learn how to love ourselves and engage daily in practices that satisfy our need for love.
When you are hungry or famished, you eat food, right? When you are thirsty or dehydrated, you drink water or liquid to quench your thirst, correct? When you are fatigued, you find a way to rest your eyes and body, yes? Now answer this: In moments when you feel like you need to be loved, how do you quench your desire for love? In other words, how do you fulfill the internal (the self) need for love (a psychological desire)?
Self-love involves matters of the heart and mind. We would never go without eating, drinking, and sleeping, but many of us attempt to go without love. We are waiting for someone else to bring us love; instead of us loving ourselves. For example, when we are hungry, we do not wait on someone to feed us—unless you are a child or someone physically or mentally incapable of caring for herself.
In fact, every healthy person knows that you should eat, drink, and sleep before you even get to a state of hunger, thirst, or fatigue! You are already in the red zone when your brain sends out a reminder to the body that you are in a state of disequilibrium! And, this is when we make bad choices that are not good for our bodies (Hint: those McDonald fries or that large sugary, caffeinated soda be calling your name in the drive-thru window).
In other words, if you are telling your friends or yourself that you are feeling the need for love, then you are already WAY overdue for love. We do not even want to talk about what the red zone looks like when one is in desperate need of love. Hmm…
But, guess what? YOU are able to satisfy your own need for love! You do not have to wait on someone else to sweep you off of your feet, no more than you need someone to bring you water or food (although it would be nice). Meaning, sometimes we all need to be reminded and motivated to love ourselves. A woman engaged in self-love is radical as fuck!
So, how are you preparing to meet your human desire for love so that you do not end up in the red zone?!
Please share your responses in the comments' section below or on Twitter @DrVenusEvansWinters.
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. Dr. V)
"Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach."
#Me Too, Sis
In this post, I explain how the attempted white-washing and decontextualizing of the #MeToo catchphrase threatened to leave many rape survivors vulnerable and left out of the conversation.
The #MeToo campaign was the brainchild of Black woman activist, Taraka Burke, in 2007. The campaign has recently regained momentum on social media.
In describing the #MeToo campaign, Burke articulates for Ebony magazine:
“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” (Source: https://goo.gl/2466ho).
The activist wanted to give voice and a face to rape survivors and their silenced experiences with violence.
Voyeurism and Rape
An often overlooked aspect of rape culture is voyeurism. Even though feelings of internalized shame is a major reason why many girls and women remain silent about being raped, the voyeuristic aspect of rape culture also plays a major role in why many women rape survivors do not readily come forward. Voyeurism is a HUGE aspect of rape culture. Voyeurism plays out in different ways in American rape culture.
Some perpetrators celebrate their conquests in multiple ways that are actually rewarded. Sometimes these celebrations are overt, whereas, other times they are more subtle. For example, rapists at times brag to male friends, fellow athletes and fraternity brothers. Rapists have even been known to video-record assaults for their own pleasure or others (Allegedly R. Kelly. Blink, blink)!
And, many girls and women survivors report being victims of voyeurism and stalked by their rapists before or after a rape.
Objects of The Gaze
Voyeurism in rape culture is witnessed in mainstream literature, art, movies and television shows, music, and print media like magazine ads.
Sexual aggression is common in pornography, for instance. Pornography is a multibillion dollar a year industry (source: https://goo.gl/3kGPym); and child pornography continues to be a major problem for law enforcement.
The verdict is still out on the role of pornography in rape culture, but plainly spoken, people "get off" on watching people being sexually dominated and objectified.
Pornography aside, Americans’ obsession with Reality TV (including my own—no judgment) may be further evidence of many individuals' enjoyment in watching someone else’s pain and pleasure in life. Thus, it is understandable when survivors of rape are hesitant to disclose their #MeToo “status” on social media. They do not want to feel re-victimized by the “Gaze”.
For Black women, rape coupled with being on display has historical context. Black women's public displays of suffering was instigated by White men for the pleasure of his audience and the demonstration of his personal power, during enslavement and the colonial period. Many are educated on the story of the African Khoikhoi woman Sara Baartman. She was sexually and physically abused by her European captors. Not only was she sexually violated, but she was also paraded around like a circus animal at the pleasure of her captors and their awed audiences.
Sara Baartman's silence screamed #MeToo!
Even though the declaration #MeToo serves to reclaim power, the voyeuristic aspect of rape culture makes the public act present as a double edge sword for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Not coming forward is not simply about fear of the ramifications of exposing the perpetrator, but not coming forward is also a protective factor to prevent survivors from what feels like giving Americans exactly what they want:
Pleasure from experiencing someone’s else’s story of pain and abuse.
Ironically, as I look at all the women in social media who are coming forward, and many, if not most, are already public personalities, people of influence, or women with social capital. In many ways they have mastered public perception, or don’t give a rat's ass about public perception. And, some are even at a point in their careers where they might capitalize from sharing their story publicly.
I believe Burke in her Ebony interview was acknowledging this privilege in her call for a movement for radical healing.
"A Movement for Radical Healing" ~T. Burke
The next PUBLIC phase of the #MeToo campaign must be to question, challenge, and correct America’s fascination and obsession with witnessing the suffering of girls and women. We especially must protect poor young women and girls of color. We must question our culture’s love affair with being witnesses to and passive onlookers of sexual violence, and question how the nation has become so desensitized toward sexual violence. Desensitization births passivity and inaction.
Once more, we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a voyeuristic society. Therefore, that little bit of privacy is all that we have left to reclaim our power. To heed sister Taraka Burke's original call for a movement for radical healing, collectively us rape survivors and other women's rights advocates must ponder the questions:
(1) How do we give a face and voice to the realities of rape while pushing back against voyeurism in rape culture?
(2) How do we declare #MeToo without further normalizing rape and potentially violating survivors?
(3) How do we give voice to women’s experiences with rape without further marginalizing other girls and women who choose not (or currently are not in a position) to reveal their story publicly?
Please share your responses in the comments' section below or on Twitter @DrVenusEvansWinters.
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. Dr. V)
"Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach."
Mass shootings are acts of terrorism because they cause pain, fear, and confusion to immediate direct victims and onlookers near and far. Mass shootings equate to mass trauma. Because mass shootings in the U.S. are predominately a White male phenomenon, with victims representing every racial, ethnic, social class, and gender group, it can be stated unequivocally that all social groups are victims of White male heteropatriarchy violence.
Our nation was founded on White male violence: the attempted genocide and colonization of indigenous people and other natural resources, enslavement of Africans and the pillaging of their land, and domestic and sexual domination of women. To be blunt, rape and lynching like mass shootings are American as American pie (and I ain’t talkin’ about your grandmother's peach cobbler here).
White men are the face of American terrorism, even when media and politicians scapegoat Black and Brown people to justify U.S. terrorism, domestically and overseas.
Daily, immigrants, Black, and Brown Americans are treated on our streets, in classrooms and airports as potential terrorists or threats to America's peace and tranquility.
However, for women and non-White Americans of all genders, White men represent present-day symbolic and material threats to our mental and physical well-being. Unfortunately, for every mass shooting aired on news channels and social media feeds, people of color and women of various hues are psychologically wounded and re-traumatized.
Phallic-narcissism coupled with White supremacy (as political, economic, and racial ideology) are deeply engrained in U.S. culture, and consequently, trauma is deeply engrained in American citizens' psyches.
For example, our welfare policies are archaic and unforgiving of poor women and children, necropolitics in urban epicenters serve to criminalize the poor and youth of color, and our schools attempt to culturally assimilate and/or psychologically assassinate young people of color with the implicit (and often explicit) objective of preventing suspected future violence.
Undoubtedly, after this post, I will be told that I make everything about race. Or, that I am anti-American. And my all-time favorite, that I am racist against White people.
My response: when will Americans begin to question the motives, psyches, and behaviors of its White men (collectively speaking, of course); and stop attacking the victims of White male terrorism, and stop interrogating the individuals who seek to understand the historical pattern of White male violence?
Our critical questioning and pushback (or Black girl clap backs) serve to prevent structural/intimate/interpersonal violence driven by White male heteropatriarchal terrorism. Our nation’s politicians, social workers, police officers, educators, and everyday taxpayers spend (or should I say earn) millions trying to solve the Black male, welfare queen, and immigrant "problem" (i.e. the prison industrial complex, non-profit industrial complex, and "border control").
Oddly, enough all of these imagined "social problems" are related back to a White male masculinity problem, which is evidenced as a history of economic exploitation, political and education disenfranchisement, state sanctioned violence, colonization, and pervasive and persistent acts of terror.
The problem with unchecked, uncompassionate capitalism and White supremacy is that White male pathology actually yields economic profits for the elite. Gun sells, gated communities, security systems, and private prisons equal millions in profits for White males. Conversely, trauma causes loss wages and debt for White supremacy's traumatized victims.
White male terrorism (or fears of castration and impotence) is a profit industry.
To conclude, mental health advocacy must actively seek the eradication of White male patriarchy supremacy. Historically, attention was given to understanding European male psychology. Unfortunately, most of that pseudo/science has been used to dominate, mutilate, and annihilate those that appear as a threat to the White male psyche.
But, it's time to flip the script. We can combat White male heteropatriarchy terrorism and the mass trauma it causes.
However, if we truly believe in humanity and human rights, we do not need to “lock up” all White men, or screen them extra hard at the airports, or shoot them down in the streets like dogs, or build border walls to keep them completely out of the country, or put in place education programs that strip them of their masculinity, cultural identity, or of human dignity.
But, we can teach boys and men empathy for the human race (and land, animal, and plant life), and put in place policies that prevent and mediate unchecked masculinity, such as gun control laws, roll back on funding of the military industrial complex, and hold serious legislation discussions on pornography laws (that discussion is for another post).
Lastly, we can teach and model in schools, churches, and family homes, that violence and aggression are not equal to manhood (or Whiteness), and that love and compassion are universal human traits across sexes and genders. All of these suggestions are beginnings, not the end all.
At the same time, we have to keep in mind that it took centuries to get to a place in America where violence is commonplace, thus, it will take many more decades to clean up the traumatic messes of White male heteropatriarchy violence.
What do you believe is a practical response to White male terrorism?
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters
"Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach"
I run to discipline my body. No, I do not need to lose weight. But, I want to discipline my physical body. Not to cause myself pain, but to remind myself that my body is present and a part of who I am.
When I first start off running, it feels like dancing; like bouncing to my favorite beats and lip syncing to my favorite rhymes on the dance floor. I'm that person that you see running down the street, pointing my finger, and mouthing the hook line. My neighbors must think I'm crazy. Or, a gangster-runner.
After about 5 minutes into the run, my leg muscles decide to join the party. Luckily, my brain starts playing tricks on me and chooses to focus my attention on the song lyrics.
The run is no longer carried by sounds and beats; I'm being carried by the rhythmic words flowing between my earbuds and my ear drums. This is about the time when I turn the volume up a notch (I will probably be hard of hearing by 50). I begin to analyze the lyrics to the song.
I've heard the song dozens of times by the time it makes it into my playlist titled, "Work it, V". Yet, while I run, I imagine what the artist must've been feeling and thinking when they wrote the song.
Yes, I analyze the hell out of everything. I like to get into people's heads.
When I run, I'm in my head imagining what is going on in the artist's head. Who is she in real life? What is she sacrificing to become this public "character"? What are the lyrics saying about the person, if anything? What's the message? Is there a message?
Before I know it, I'm about 15 minutes into the run. It's at this moment that I realize that I have a body! Feet, legs, stomach, arms, mouth, and a big head that I have to hold up....
I do a quick RoboCop scan of my body. Let the internal dialogue begin:
"My achilles is tight."
"One day I'm going to get on that hamstring machine."
"I need to do squats."
"I got my mama's ass."
"Arms at a 90 degree angle. Check."
"My titties aren't bouncing. Where did I buy this sports bra?"
After the full body scan, my mind realizes that my body is still working...and in motion.
And, every time, I come really close to what feels like a panic attack. "Oh, shit, my lungs are going to explode!" Consciously, I spend the next 5 minutes convincing myself that I will not have a heart attack.
Deep breath in, exhale out. "Please, God, don't let a bug fly in my mouth."
For whatever reason, once I catch my breath and realize that I am not dying, my brain is ready to get this run over with, and tries to convince me that I will die of something, even if it is not a heart attack.
"Will I be hit by a car?"
"Will I be kidnapped by a crazy White man?"
"Will I be attacked by a deer?" Then again, a possum attack is more realistic.
At this point in the run, I realize that Venus has showed back up. I am no longer in the "zone". It is time to wrap up the run. It is actually in this moment that I am consciously disciplining my body.
See my body wants to give up on me, however, I still need to cover ground and make it to my destination. This is the point where my mind and body have to come together in unison in order to conquer my environment (e.g. wild animals, rocks and concrete, grass and dog poop, flying insects, and deranged people).
I spend the last 10-15 minutes of the run choosing to push my body pass its comfort zone. Not only do I realize that I have a body, but I also realize that I am in control of my body.
At this point, Beyonce' or Jazzy, or Rihanna, or maybe it's Nicki Minaj or Kendrick Lamar, are blaring in my ears. But at this point in the run, I am not their therapist--they are my personal cheering section. The beat carries me; my foot plants at the same time the baseline drops. I pump up the volume.
The chorus and the artist screaming in my ear are my hype music. The sound becomes a war cry.
At this point, it is not about time or distance. My body is convinced that it can run forever. I know that it is not ready to run forever--maybe 15 more minutes tops.
Nearing the end of the 55-minute run, I feel nothing but my breath; my lungs actually. I speed up. My legs turn over quickly (Is hyperbole a side-effect of runner's high?), because I need to get done with the run, before my body gives up on me.
Damn, my body is strong. (Sasha or Tina Turner?) Fierce. Resilient. Capable.
My body has been through some shit, but it still belongs to me and has yet to fail me. Thus, every time I run, I become witness to a miracle.
Before long, the run is over. I bust into a warm damp sweat. Not a dripping sweat, but a dewy wetness that attempts to cool off my body. Now that I am stopped, I hear the music. The sound irritates me.
I turn off the music, or the noise coming from my cheering section, grab water, shed my dreadfully hot, moist clothes, and just sit. Strangely, after a run, I have more energy than I had all day. I am not sure if I want to dance or read or maybe write.
My disciplined body sits. Be still. And know that I am.
So, what do you do regularly to discipline your body and mind? Leave a comment below or tweet a response @DrVEvansWinters.
~Dr. Venus Evans-Winters
I write this letter to you as a daughter, sister, mother, and friend whom has been wounded in the past by personal acquaintances, strangers, and enemies alike. Reading about the horrific death and possibly alleged* assault of Kenneka Jenkins was like handing my psyche over to a public firing squad.
Sister, over the next few days or weeks people are going to blame another young sister for Kenneka's death and alleged assault; others will attempt to blame her Black mother for not supervising her whereabouts; and people will blame Kenneka herself for being at a hotel and being overly trusting of her friends.
People will even blame the police and media for not covering the story and seeking out answers. In turn, the media will turn the lens back on Kenneka herself, her mother, friends, or Black people in general. Inevitably, somehow Black women will become simultaneously the overlooked victims and targets of this tragedy.
Compassion and empathy will be lost to blame. Sister, how do we begin to move the conversation from self-blame to healing?
For me, I was overwhelmed by the nonchalant attitude of possible witnesses of violence* occurring in various renditions of circulating videos, but I was more disheartened by the amount of young women who openly admitted that they needed to stop watching or could not watch any longer the videos and tweets titled, #KennekaJenkins, because it brought back too many memories of their own rape or experience with physical violence and betrayal.
Last night, I went to sleep feeling emotionally exhausted and saddened. I even had a nightmare that involved guns and the threat of rape. The hypothesis of Kenneka's final moments before her death coupled with the realization that dozens of Black women were admitting online in social media that they were once violated and survivors of rape caused me to be emotionally depleted.
Women spoke of the words and images describing the brutal assault as a trigger.
These public disclosures made me wonder:
1)Exactly how many young Black women are survivors of rape and never report the rape?
2) How many young Black women are required to cope in silence with their memories of a rape and/or assault with no one to talk to?
3) How many Black girls and women have to live out over and over again their assault via music, television, or social media?
4) Worse yet, how many mothers are burdened with the helpless feeling that no matter how much she loves her daughter, tries to protect her daughter, and teaches her daughter to stand up and fight for herself that she still will not be able to protect her daughter from being physically harmed, maimed, or death?
At some point, we even have to consider the pain of the so-called friend depicted* in the video. How much pain must a young woman must have experienced in her lifetime that she could sit back, record, and numb herself to another nearby sister in pain or in harm's way? It is easy to point fingers and to place blame, but I also wonder how have we failed this young sister.
Sister, we will do more to heal you and to protect your future daughters from rape, sexual assault, and other forms of physical abuse.
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. DrV)
Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Why We Must Focus on Black Girls: http://www.theroot.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-why-we-must-focus-on-bl-1794400667
Women of Color and Sexual Assault: https://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/women-of-color-and-sexual-assault/
*Indicates language change related to updates of the Kenneka Jenkins case: http://trib.in/2xo4DMz
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a Dr. V)
Activist Scholar. Cultural Worker. Healer. Mother.