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The #SVYALit Project: When Yes is Not Really Yes, Coercion is Not Consent (part 2)

The #SVYALit Project Index

The other night at karate, the sensei was passing out lanyards and the 5-year-old wanted one even though she wasn’t a student there. So she went and asked if she could please have one. His reply was this, “if you give me a hug, I will give you one.” I suddenly appeared from across the room, panicky. I realize he thought nothing of this simple statement, but it sets such a dangerous precedent. You see, he was withholding something she wanted and suggesting that the only way she could get it was to do something to him physically. He was, in fact, coercing a hug out of her. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a hug – when it’s freely given. But coercion is not consent. In order for true consent to happen, it means both people have to have a choice in saying no and that they instead choose to say yes.

Coercion is defined as “the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats” (Dictionary.com) Sexual coercion is “the act of being persuaded to have sex (or some other sexual activity) when you don’t want to.” (Sexual Coercion Resources, this is a really good resource that outlines sexual coercion) “Coercion is a tactic used by perpetrators to intimidate, trick, or force someone to have sex with them without physical force.” (from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center discussion Coercion and Consent)

is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf
Sexual coercion is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

When we talk about sexual violence, the current cultural discussion suggests moving away from the idea that no means no to that of enthusiast consent, the idea that yes means yes. But the truth is, sometimes yes isn’t always yes. Sometimes, that yes is born out of coercion and manipulation, sometimes it is born out of a threat. It may look like a yes to an outside observer, legally it may even hold up as a yes, but ethically it is not truly a yes. That’s why when we talk about consent, it is defined as someone who is willing and able saying yes out of their own free will. Free will, self-sovereignty, is an important component of true consent.

Which brings us to Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

I read Bleed Like Me some time ago and have been waiting for months to talk about it. And that time is finally now. Bleed Like Me is a strong and powerful book because it plops us into the midst of one of the unhealthiest relationships ever and asks us to consider what that would look like and what it means – for both parties. And tucked inside there is a little nugget of truth about what many would consider the “gray areas” of consent.

Amelia Gannon, “Gannon”, is somewhat lost. Her parents adopted three younger boys from Guatamela and ever since then her life has not been the same. She’s been pushed to the outside as her parents deal with the myriad of issues that her brothers come with. She is lonely, her family is broken, and she seeks solace and comfort in the edge of a razor blade. Gannon is a cutter, she cuts to help deal with her emotions.

Michael Brooks seems to really see into the soul of Gannon. At first he seems to love her, but as the relationship develops he seems to have an almost obsessive need for her. It’s not so much love as it is a need to try and take Gannon and use her to fill up the broken places inside himself.

Neither one of these two teens should be in a relationship, and yet that is exactly where they find themselves. And there are moments where Michael manipulates Gannon into having sex with him. He doesn’t assault her, she is in fact saying yes – but she is not saying yes out of her own free will, she is saying yes because Michael insists that her saying no will somehow damage him further. He puts the burden of his emotional health and well being on her, and since she is so broken in her own ways it is so easy for him to do.

That sex that happens between Michael and Gannon is not, in any legal sense of the word, rape. She has in fact said yes. But as we see the process play out and see into Gannon’s point of view, it is also clear that this is not, in fact, what she really wants. She is not saying yes out of her own free will, but as an end result to the extremely destructive emotional coercion that Michael uses against her.

Emotional coercion occurs when one party tries to use guilt or other forms of manipulation to force the other party to consent to sex when they really don’t want to. Emotional coercion is a type of power play; it is not born out of both parties free will and it is therefore not true consent.

There are more extreme examples of coercion in both Plus One by Elizabeth Fama and The Program by Suzanne Young. In Plus One, a male police officer threatens to jail a female unless she does a sexual favor for him. In The Program the main character, Sloane, is in a treatment center for “therapy” that will remove her memories; a male attendant promises to give her pills to help her keep her memories if she will kiss him, promising that the next time it will cost her more than just a kiss. On the outside, these scenes looks like consent, but they are not true consent because the party saying “yes” is only doing so because the other party is holding something over them – whether it be emotional coercion (if you don’t have sex with me you will lose me or if you don’t have sex with me I will somehow be hurt) or some other threat (I will make sure bad things happen to you or I will permit this bad thing to happen to you).

It’s interesting to note that earlier this year I stumbled across a review of Plus One by Elizabeth Fama where the reviewer began slut shaming the young lady who was being coerced by the police officer, calling her a slut and a prostitute. The reviewer didn’t recognize that this was not truly consent but a form of sexual violence. After some discussion, she amended the review to reflect that it was not consensual and it changed her opinion of this character. But this moment demonstrated to me how deceptive sexual coercion can be, even when clearly outlined in the pages of a book many readers will still not recognize that sexual coercion is taking place and they will blame and judge the victim as opposed to the perpetrator.

Sometimes, it’s really hard to identify if you’ve been, or are being, sexually coerced. You ARE being sexually coerced if the following behaviors are noted:

  • You don’t feel you have a choice 
  • You’re being pressured constantly
  • You’re being pressured even after you’ve said “no.”
  • You face possible social consequences if you don’t engage in a certain type of sexual behavior.
  • Someone uses their authority or power to get you to engage in sexual behaviors.

– See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

In contrast, there was some very interesting dialogue that happened on an episode of Glee involving the characters of Sam and Mercedes. Sam wanted to have sex, Mercedes was unsure. They have several conversations throughout the show about the topic, both of them having competing interests. Sam is experienced and he is ready for more. Mercedes is a virgin with a strong religious background and she is not sure that she is ready for sex. Although you can clearly see Sam’s frustrations at times, he does a pretty good job of respecting her and her right to wait until she is ready.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcH8cwxS4C0]

Or, to use YA literature in our comparison, we can look at the scenes in This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready. Here, it is the girl that is experienced and the boy who wants to wait. And wait they do, until the boy finally states that he is ready and both teens have a healthy, satisfying sexual encounter that harms neither of them physically or emotionally. We see a similar scene play out in the one healthy relationship that Anna has in Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. There is healthy conversation, there is respect, there is true consent. The relationship in Uses for Boys is particularly interesting because there are so many other clearly unhealthy relationships in Anna’s life that have preceded this one for readers to contrast it with.

Think of how beautiful it is in If I Stay when Mia asks Adam to play her like a musical instrument, both of them at a place in their relationships where they feel safe and valued and choose to share their bodies with one another. Or in The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel Grace and Augusts decide that they are ready to have sex with one another.

It is the subtleties of consent that often get lost in our conversations about sexual violence because it requires that we talk about the dynamics of a healthy relationship, which many sexual education courses fail to do. But YA literature can help us do this. As we read, we can ask ourselves if this is a healthy relationship. And when sex occurs, we can ask ourselves if it was truly consensual sex. And yes, we can use these titles to discuss the issue with teens. We can ask our boys, “do you want to be the guy that has sex because you manipulated a girl into it?” And we can ask our girls, “do you want to be the girl who has sex just to get it over with or because you finally decided to give in?”

Sexual coercion is part of the reason why the culture is asking that we shift from “No Means No” to the ideas that “Yes Means Yes”. And then we have to have discussions about what a true yes means. It has to come from a place of free will, without guilt, manipulation, or any type of threat. Only then is a yes truly yes. Only then is it real consent. If you’re not willing to accept their no, then it isn’t really a yes.

Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 

Sex/Romance in Fiction (including a Ted talk on Making Sexing Normal) by Carrie Mesrobian
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters
On Teachable Moments and Consent 
Sexual Violence, Drinking and Date Rape Drugs  
Voice Against Violence has a good list of some resources that discuss consent

The #SVYALit Project: Sexual Violence, Drinking and Date Rape Drugs (Triggers)

As the mom to an almost teenage girl, one of the things I am told over and over again is that I have to tell my daughter not to drink alcohol so that she doesn’t get raped. And it’s not just drinking alcohol and getting drunk that I have to tell her to worry about, but that she shouldn’t leave her drink unattended in case someone slips something in it while she steps away. And it’s not just an alcoholic drink she has to worry about, a regular old soda or fruit punch should be suspect as well. In fact, she shouldn’t even accept an unopened drink from anyone anywhere at any time, just to be safe.

Think about that for a moment, that’s a lot of vigilance. A lot of fear.

It’s also a lot of pretending. Because that is what it is, pretending. We like to pretend that if we tell our daughters to do x, y, and z that they can keep themselves safe from sexual violence. But the truth is, when you find yourself in the presence of someone who intends to do another harm, there isn’t always a lot you can do to protect yourself. And statistics tell us that most of the time sexual violence happens at the hand of someone you know and trust. Think how determined – how premeditated –  it has to be for someone to purchase and utilize date rape drugs, or any type of drugs, to make it so that the person you are with becomes so incapacitated they can’t in any real way consent.

Recently NPR had a panel discussing fraternities on the Diane Rehm show. One of the things I learned is that at some of these frat parties the punch will be spiked with 100% proof alcohol so that females become incapacitated, and more quickly. It’s not just that they may spike a drink with a roofie, it’s that female drinkers are being deliberately deceived in the types of alcohol that they may be ingesting. So while a girl may go in thinking I can handle 2 glasses of typical alcohol, they find themselves incapacitated after just one glass because of the type of alcohol being used. There is a deliberateness in which some men will try and manipulate the situation in order to deny women the opportunity to consent. And although the reverse does indeed happen, current statistics indicate that women are more frequently the victims of sexual abuse and violence.

But there are some expertly crafted scenes in young adult literature that can provide us with examples and guide us in conversation with teens as we discuss the role of alcohol in the topic of sexual consent.

The prologue scene to Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick (coming in October from Simon & Schuster, full review next week), which I just finished reading, is one of the most terrifying and yet illuminating examples on this subject. Lauren is in a bar, drinking. She wants to get lost in the fuzziness of it all, her attempt to get drunk is intentional and born out of a desire to escape. But something goes horribly wrong. One of her drinks tastes funny she thinks, bitter. She can feel herself slipping away as a man escorts her out of the bar. They arrive at a cabin with a pole. There is a camera. There are handcuffs. She wants to scream out no, but she can’t – her tongue has become thick and heavy. She can’t move her legs. And in this one scene, Fitzpatrick gives us an inside look at the fear and desperation that can happen when in one moment – everything changes. While Lauren thought one thing was happening, something very different was happening and she very quickly has gone from being in control of herself and the situation to being a victim. And we see it all from inside Lauren’s mind, fully feeling her very intense fear. Although Black Ice is not Lauren’s story, it sets the scene for the very intense thrill ride that follows as our main character Britt Pfeiffer tries to survive a snow storm while backpacking in the Teton Range.

” . . . she wanted to protest. But she couldn’t get her mouth around the words.”Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, page 3.

In Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt, Anna gets intoxicated at a party and she goes upstairs to an empty bedroom to sleep it off. Eventually, a boy creeps in. He sees her there, asleep. He knows that she is drunk. He knows that she is sleeping. But he doesn’t care, he starts to violate her any way. And in what is one of the most horrific scenes I have ever read, we see first hand what it is like to be in that type of a situation and want to say no, but be unable to. This scene, it ripped me to shreds with its frank and stark realism. And every time I hear someone say that a girl is partially responsible for her rape because she got drunk, I want them to read this scene so that they can better understand the dynamics of what happens. I want them to read what it is like inside the mind of Anna, struggling underneath the body of a boy who does not care that she can not say no.

In contrast, one of my favorite consent affirming scenes occurs in the book This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales (which I love by the way). In it, a group of teens participate in an underground club scene, and yes there is frequently drinking. In one scene, Vicky sees some boys literally holding up her intoxicated friend Pippa against a wall as they “make out” with her. Pippa is in the very literal sense of the word falling down drunk. Seeing this, Vicky approaches and tells them that they have to stop, that Pippa is too drunk to consent. This is a spot on conversation about what consent does not, in fact, look like:

“Thinking of Pippa, I glanced over at her. One of the tall guys who had been talking to her now had her pressed up against the wall. He was grinding into her, holding her head upright. . . .

Vicky looked over to where Pippa’s rag-doll body was stuffed between a wall and a guy groping her chest. ‘Shit,’ she said, and in about two second she was across the room grabbing the guy, pulling him off of Pippa . . .

And after the boy protests that Pippa wants this, that she is “fine with it”, Vicky replies:

‘This is now what fine with it look like,’ Vicky retorted. ‘Girls who are fine with it are able to keep their eyes open without help, and they can speak in full sentences. I guess you haven’t had much success with that kind of girl, and I can see why. You’re a pervert.'” (This Song Can Save Your Life by Leila Sales, pages 80 and 81).

The first time I ever had an alcoholic drink was in my thirties. I was at a small home bible study group and I had a glass of wine with our dinner. Almost immediately, I fell asleep on the couch. Do you know what happened? Nothing. Someone covered me up with a blanket. And when I woke up 20 minutes later they made fun of me for “passing out” after only 1 glass of wine. But nothing bad happened to me that night, because there was no one in that room who decided to make something bad happen. The truth is, that scenario could have played out much differently for me if just one person in that house that evening had decided to take advantage of the situation. And do you know whose fault it would have been? His. 100% his.

So yes, I will tell my daughter the litany of rules about drinking to try and keep herself safe because if she gets lucky, maybe they will work for her. And we will read these books and use these scenes to talk about why we are having these conversations. They are important scenes that skillfully present the complexities of the situation and provide us with both good talking points and examples to discuss the role of alcohol and date rape drugs in sexual violence. At the same time, I refuse to ever concede that a woman may be partially at fault for any sexual violence committed against her because she chose to drink or maybe even got intoxicated in the same way I refuse to blame you for having a TV if your house gets robbed.  By focusing on the victim we minimize the culpability of the perpetrator and we give women everywhere a false sense of security. The truth is, if you find yourself in the proximity of a man who wants to rape a woman or is willing to take advantage of an intoxicated woman when presented with the opportunity, well then all bets are off. And it will always be the perpetrators fault. Always.

And while I am having these conversations with my daughters, I also want us to be having these conversations with our sons. I want us to be talking about what consent is and what it looks like. I want us to be talking about how it is never okay to take advantage of a person who is intoxicated. I want us to be talking about more than just the fact that no means no, because sometimes out of fear or because of inability, we can’t always find the way to say the word no. Instead, we need to be talking to our sons and daughters about the importance of enthusiastic consent, where two abled people both say yes out of their own free will and desire.

Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent

Sex/Romance in Fiction (including a Ted talk on Making Sexing Normal) by Carrie Mesrobian
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters
On Teachable Moments and Consent 
How to Have the Consent Talk with Your Kids (Slate) 

There are a variety of consent education resources and curriculums at The #SVYALit Project Tumblr as well 

Emotionally Abandoned Teens at Your Library: Seeing Annas All Around Us, a reflection on Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

When you see a kid at your library day after day, showing up right after school and staying until closing – which is 9 PM – you start to wonder things like, what are you doing about food, why aren’t you going home, and does someone know (or care) where you are. There once was this boy, a teen. He came every day. For hours. And I never saw him eat. So one day I asked him, why don’t you go home and eat something. It turns out his family worked odd hours and there was no one at home.

I was a latch key kid. I wore a house key on a chain around my neck every day. I let myself into our house. My brother and I, we made snacks, we watched TV, we did homework. Well, we watched TV and ate snacks mostly. But this kid, he was not permitted to have a key to his house. He was not allowed to be there home alone. So he was forced to wander around town all day until someone was home. He came to the library. It was warm, it was dry, but we didn’t have food.

There could be a lot of reasons why his parents didn’t trust him home alone. But the truth is, he seemed like a good kid. We never had an issue. He was not the first and he was not the last. He was one of the many kids – teens really – I have encountered who came from what we call a “broken home”. Each broken home is broken in their own unique way, but one of these things I have seen over and over again is just this sense of abandonment, this sense that they are truly alone in this world.

And he was just one of the many kids I have talked to over the years who, for whatever reason, their parents had abandoned them in some way or another. Some of them quite literally, as they were now being raised by a single parent, an aunt, a grandparent. Sometimes their parents just decided they didn’t want to be a parent anymore so even though they were “there” in the physical sense, they weren’t really there in the ways that matter.

There are lots of reasons why families fall apart. Sometimes it truly is better. When my parents divorced I was always aware that this created a more peaceful home life for us all. But it came with its unique challenges. For a while, new people – with their own children – came in and out of our home like it had a revolving door. They would want you to build a relationship but after a while you learned there was no point, they would probably be gone again soon enough. I, like many children before and after me, learned very quickly about the impermanence of relationship and how fickle a mistress “love” could be. For a while I had a “sister” and a “brother”. I have no idea where they are now and if I’m going to be honest, I never developed a relationship enough with them to truly care.

So when I read Uses for Boys, I knew Anna right away. I could easily have been Anna. I see her all the time at the libraries I work at. Annas who are being raised by lonely, emotionally insecure mothers and fathers who spend more time trying to fill the empty space with love then concentrating on raising their children. Annas who spend so much time alone that they develop their own empty spaces inside and look to unhealthy behaviors to try and fill the echoing void inside. Annas who come home to an empty house, make macaroni and cheese in the microwave night after night, and eat alone in front of the TV. There are Annas everywhere among us, both male and female.

When Anna is invited into a home that is whole – not perfect, because no family is perfect, but whole – her universe shifts. She sees for the first time that there is something more to strive for. She didn’t know what it could look like, had never developed a real picture of it in her mind because she had no real life experience to draw on. But this, she sees, is a family. And it doesn’t matter how many people are in a family to make it a family, what matters is how they relate to one another. It matters that they feel safe to be authentically themselves, and that they feel loved and supported. Anna and her mother could have been a family, but her mother didn’t have it in herself at that time to give Anna the family she wanted and needed, because she was still so empty inside herself.

The teens that I meet, often their parents have forgotten how to try because of their own brokenness. They turn to drugs and alcohol, they turn to a dysfunctional idea of love. Sometimes there are mental health issues. The thing is that they turn away because being a loving and supportive parent is exhausting and they are tired. Sometimes they are angry. Sometimes they are lost or lonely or they just don’t know how to find the tools they need to parent well.

When people ask me why there should be darkness in YA books, I think of some of the teens I have worked with in my library over the years. Some of our teens live very dark lives. Some of our teens are living lives just like Anna in Uses for Boys. Anna’s story may be fiction, but for a percentage of our teens it is all too real.

Read what Christa Desir had to say about this topic earlier today here, it’s brilliant.

You can join us tonight at 7 PM Central on Twitter as we discuss Uses for Boys with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt using the hashtag #SVYALit.

What we can learn about the gift of security and foundation from USES FOR BOYS by Erica Lorraine Scheidt (by Christa Desir)

A long time ago, I sat at a lecture where the speaker said, “Don’t be afraid to tell your kids ‘I love you, but no’. This is the very best gift that you can ever give them. It is the gift of security, of them knowing that someone is driving the bus.”

I think about this a lot. Mostly I think about those of us who for one reason or another didn’t have parents who said no. The unprotected ones. The ones with no boundaries, no one driving the bus. Or maybe someone was driving the bus, but only sometimes, and it was erratic enough to feel unsafe.

There are a lot of different reactions to being left unprotected as a child, but at the end of the day, it all ends up in the same place: with the undeniable knowledge that however you’re going to navigate this world, you are on your own.

It’s a tall order for a small child.

When I read USES FOR BOYS, I felt this narrative creep back inside me. The narrative of someone who grew up with few boundaries, with no parent around to say “I love you, but no.” Anna was unprotected. Her early life was peppered with a revolving door of men and/or her mom notably absent. And the gaping hole inside her got bigger with each interaction she had with guys. 
To me, there is a lot of solace in reading a book that lets you know you’re not alone. But Erica Lorraine Scheidt takes it a step further. By Anna so frequently creating her own fairy tale in her mind, desperately trying to control the narrative of her own existence (i.e. posing herself the first time that she goes on a date with Sam), the reader is pushed into considering how we could change Anna’s story, both from her perspective and from her mom’s. We are left to think: at what point along this path could we have made this better so that Anna is not so incredibly unprotected. What lessons could we have offered Anna or what could we have helped her avoid. 
You cannot protect your child 100% of the time. They don’t live in bubbles. It’s a wide world of a lot of shitty things. But there are tools to give them, resources to provide them with enough of an emotional landscape that when confronted with hard things they can get through. People say that kids are resilient. I think they are only if they have enough resources to be. If someone along the way has given them enough of something to cobble together a workable life. They deserve this. And Erica Lorraine Scheidt spends a lot of her time trying to provide this. (Ask her about her job/non-profit). 
This book is about sex and not about sex at the same time. It is about want. It is about seeking wholeness in the only way that Anna knows, through interactions with boys. Over and over again we see Anna trying to fix herself through boys and over and over again it doesn’t work. And to me, Anna’s journey in this book is more about figuring out what she wants than anything else.

But for girls (and boys!) to figure out what they really want, they have to be asked. They have to know that what they want matters. They have to consider themselves as part of the equation in all things that they do. They have to feel protected enough to fail and know that they still have a safety net.

Which is the role of Sam in this book. Sam is the protected one and through him, Anna figures out what she wants. Not because he tells her, but because he asks. A lot. And then his mom does. And Anna finds her way into something that starts to solidify the broken foundation she had been existing on. Which ultimately leaves us with enough hope at the end of the book to believe it might be okay for Anna. That she might have the tools she needs to make it through after all.

Christa Desir is an activist, editor and the author of FaultlineFaultline is the story of a girl (Ani) who was gang raped at a party and how her boyfriend, Ben, deals with his guilt and feelings in the aftermath. She is also the author of the forthcoming title Bleed Like Me. Desir is one of the moderators of the #SVYALit Project and guest blogs with us here on topics involving sexual violence, slut shaming, and consent.

You can join us tonight at 7 PM Central on Twitter as we discuss Uses for Boys with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt using the hashtag #SVYALit. 

A New Street Harassment Report, USES FOR BOYS, and our Upcoming Twitter Chat

“The sun is on my face and I’m thinking about nothing at all. 
About half a block past the school I hear a knocking. A rhythmic tapping and I look at the building I’m passing and then into the street where the cars are rushing by. I look all around and the tapping continues and then I see him, knuckles against the window, in a parked car by the sidewalk.
He’s sitting in the passenger seat. He’s skinny and white and not wearing any pants. His hand tugs at his penis. He stares at me with wet eyes and an open mouth and he’s not smiling, but I can see his gums. He’s searching out my eyes and for a second I look right at him. Then I look away. I walk faster. I feel a floodrush of nausea, like something rotten is stuck in my throat. I try to swallow past it. The feeling chases me back to my apartment. The street is empty, but I look around before unlocking the front door to my building.”

— Street harassment scene from USES FOR BOYS, by Erica Lorraine Scheidt, “The Wrong Way Down a One Way Street”

We’ve talked a lot about Street Harassment here at TLT. And when we talk about Street Harassment, I am also talking about teenagers on their way to and from school. I’m talking about students being harassed in the hallways as they change classes. I’m talking about in the lunchroom and at after school events. I’m talking about stories like this: “I was entering the eighth grade building when classes were ending and a boy I barely knew wrapped an arm around my waist and stole all my joy when he told me he’d fuck me anytime.” (one of the many moments from You and I are a Miracle).

Next Thursday, HollaBack, one of the organizations dedicated to raising awareness about and fighting against Street Harassment, will be joining us for the Twitter chat of USES FOR BOYS by Erica Lorrainne Scheidt.

Today, you can read the survey results from the National Street Harassment survey done by Stop Street Harassment, one of the other main organizations dedicated to raising awareness about and fighting against Street Harassment. Some of the key findings from this survey include the following:

In a survey of 2,000 people, “65% of all women had experienced street harassment. Among all women, 23%  had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual.”

In addition, “among men, 25% had been street harassed (a higher percentage of LGBT-identified men than heterosexual men reported this) and their most common form of harassment was homophobic or transphobic slurs (9%).”

There’s a lot of information here and I encourage you to read through it all and read their links to other articles on the topic.

Join on Thursday at 7:00 Central as we talk with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt, HollaBack and more to talk about Street Harassment, USES FOR BOYS and more in the #SVYALit Project.

Discuss this powerful, haunting book and its stunning contrast of both sexual violence and consent all month with the hashtag #SVYALit with moderators @TLT16, @CarrieMesrobian, @TrishDoller, @ChristaDesir, and @ericalorraine. You can also follow @iHollaback on Twitter.

A one hour twitter chat, on June 12 at 7pm Central, will bring together YA authors and sexual health educators in a discussion of sexual agency, sexual assault, and consent in USES FOR BOYS. Join the conversation, using #SVYALit.


Uses for Boys, St. Martin’s Press 2013, was named a Best First Book for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist and a 2014 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. This polarizing debut from Erica Lorraine Scheidt, has been called “grim, gritty, and heart-breakingly real.”

Talking with Teens About Street Harassment
Street Harassment
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
#EndSHWeek is March 30th – April 5th

Join us for the June USES FOR BOYS Reread and Twitter Chat with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Join us in June for the inaugural twitter read-along of the #SVYALIT Project: USES FOR BOYS by Erica Lorraine Scheidt.

Discuss this powerful, haunting book and its stunning contrast of both sexual violence and consent all month with the hashtag #SVYALit with moderators @TLT16, @CarrieMesrobian, @TrishDoller, @ChristaDesir, and @ericalorraine. 

A one hour twitter chat, on June 12 at 7pm Central, will bring together YA authors and sexual health educators in a discussion of sexual agency, sexual assault, and consent in USES FOR BOYS. Join the conversation, using #SVYALit. 


Uses for Boys, St. Martin’s Press 2013, was named a Best First Book for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist and a 2014 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. This polarizing debut from Erica Lorraine Scheidt, has been called “grim, gritty, and heart-breakingly real.” 

Here is my (very spoilery) review

In July, we will have our next Google+ Hangout:
When Past Meets Present, a look at the issues in terms of historical fiction and what we can learn from the past

Date: July 30th

Moderator: Christa Desir

Confirmed: Jenn McGowan (MAID OF SECRETS/MAID OF DECEPTION, Katherine Longshore (GILT), Sharon Biggs Waller (A MAD, WICKED FOLLY)

And in August we will be having our next #SVYALit Book Club hosted by author Rachele Alpine, look for announcements in June but it looks like we may be reading and discussing Inexcusable by Chris Lynch.

Stop Street Harassment Week (March 30th – April 5th, 2014)

Last year, I wrote a very controversial post regarding something that the actor Matt Smith said about the actress Jennifer Lawrence at Comic Con. My basic premise was that I felt that his actions seemed similar to me to street harassment. In some ways, today, I would say they were possibly more like sexual harassment in the workplace. But that post is not the point, because people’s reactions to it were. I heard time and time again from Middle School and High School students responding to this post about how they were harassed walking down the hallways of their schools from boys around them commenting on their bodies, propositioning them for sex, etc. And I recalled that even I, in the 8th grade, had a student that I had never seen before reach out and grab my breast as I passed him in the school hallway. This, too, is a form of street harassment.

According to Stop Street Harassment, street harassment is “catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. Most women (more than 80% worldwide) and LGBQT folks will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop.”

Follow #EndSHWeek and @hkearl on Twitter for Info

And yes, street harassment happens in our schools. It happens on the way to and from school both on the street and on the buses, it happens in the hallways, and it happens at school sponsored events.  “According to a 2008 study of 811 women conducted by stopstreetharassment.com, almost one in four women had experienced street harassment by age 12 and nearly 90% had by age 19″, as reported in this excellent YCteen Story: Street Harassment is No Compliment. Just think on that for a moment, by age 12 – the age my daughter will be this year – 1 in 4 girls surveyed had already been subjected to some type of street harassment. And in the responses from teens that I received, many of them have resigned themselves to this fate saying things like, it’s always been this way, boys will be boys, etc.

If we are looking for examples of street harassment in YA literature, there are some really good examples in both Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama and in Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt.

In Monstrous Beauty, the main character, Hester, is working at a historical re-enactment tourist trap when a group of boys begin to harass her:

“What have we here?” a cocky teenage voice said.
A group of boys ducked under the short door frame into the room.  A particularly tall one stared through the open window with his mouth gaping, as if she were an animal in the zoo
“Good day t’ ye,” Hester said. “I did not see ye at my door, or I should not have carried out such a graceless act.  Would one of ye care to rest yourself?” She motioned to the chair near the door.
A boy with a Boston t-shirt who looked to be about her age pushed his way past the others. He pointed in the direction of the bed. “I’d like to rest myself there, with you.” Machine-gun laughter burst from behind him.” – Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama


Infographic found at Hollaback

And in Uses for Boys, the main character, Anna, is walking home from work when she sees a man masturbating in his car and trying to engage the women around him. In one interview, Scheidt even mentions how nobody seems to comment on this scene: “That some see the book as dark, unrelentingly dark, was a surprise. I think Anna has some terrible experiences–nobody even comments on the street harassment, which to me is one of the really dark moments in the book–but I don’t see her story, the way that she tries and reaches and keeps moving forward, as dark” from an interview at The Rejectionist. Is street harassment so commonplace at this point in our lives that when we read about it in books we don’t even feel it’s worth discussing? My fear is that perhaps yes, yes it is.

In fact, the street harassment depicted in Monstrous Beauty was so profound to me that I wrote an entire post on the topic. It made me want to talk about street harassment and how it affected the way I now moved through the world.

In the past couple of years, there have been major movements, in part spearheaded by author John Scazli, to put anti-harassment codes of conduct in place at cons around the globe. And this year ALA even put forth one at it’s own national convention, which was met with very mixed reactions. But what about our schools? Our schools need to have clear sexual harassment policies in place and clearly outline the steps of recourse that students can take in the event that they are harassed. In addition, they need to have training – the same way that work places are required to have training – that engages teens in the discussion of respect, harassment, and what the consequences are. Our schools now have zero tolerance policies for violence, but why don’t they have zero tolerance policies for sexual harassment?

This week is a week dedicated to raising awareness about Street Harassment. Street Harassment is an issue that affects our teens. We need to be engaged in the discussion and raising awareness. It’s a good time to go to your administrator and make sure that you have the policies in place to protect your teens, either at school or in the public library. And it’s a good time to be putting up displays and sharing resources. The bottom line is this: all people deserve to walk through their daily routine without fear and harassment, are we doing our part to make sure we are moving in that direction?

To learn more and get involved visit these organizations:

Talking with Teens About Street Harassment (a part of the #SVYALit Project)
Street Harassment
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con

Book Review: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt (Very Spoilery, In Depth)

This is perhaps the saddest yet most beautiful book I have ever read. The loneliness and longing drips off of every page.  Instead of simply reviewing this book, I really want to talk about it. So if you haven’t read it, be warned now, there be HUGE SPOILERS ahead.

In the tell me again times, Anna’s mom tells her the story of how she was alone and had always wanted a daughter. But Anna slowly learns the truth, having a daughter is not enough to fill the void inside her mother. So she watches as her mother marries, divorces, marries, divorces, and then spends a great deal of time dating man after man and leaving Anna in the house alone.

Anna often spends night after night alone in the lying house. It looks beautiful, but it is empty. She turns on the TV to fill it with noise. She wanders from room to room. And when nothing she can do fills that emptiness, she begins to try and fill it with boys in much the same way she sees her mother trying to fill her own emptiness with men.

“And then he hugs me. Really hugs me. Like he thinks that there’s only one of me and I’m special and I’m enough for him. Like he doesn’t need anything else. Like he was alone and then I came along.” 

Through a variety of short chapters, some as short as a half a page, Scheidt is able to use her words sparingly and yet perfectly to create a tale of longing so real, so visceral, that you will want to hold everyone in your life a little closer, a little tighter. The melancholy of this book – you want to step into the story and just take Anna into your arms and hold her tight.

She knows how it is with boys. “It’s always romantic in the beginning,” she says.” 

Anna’s story is a series of relationships, very few of them real or fulfilling:
Her mother – absent, distant, unaware
The first boy – a boy who assaults her on the school bus, although she doesn’t realize at the time what it is
Joey – For a while, he fills the void. But then just as her mother told her all men do, he leaves.
The rapist – he haunts her.
Toy – the best friend, lost herself, but Anna doesn’t recognize this until much later
Josh – For a while, he too fills the void.
And then Sam – here she sees for the first time what a real family must look like, and it creates in her a longing so real, so palpable that the world around her shifts.

There are several elements that make this an excellent addition to the #SVYALit Project:

1. Sex is Not Love and Love is Not Sex

In Anna we see a clear example of how easy it is to mistake sex for love. We see clearly how all the sex in the world doesn’t fill the emptiness inside of her. We see that you must first find ways to love yourself before you can truly learn to love and be loved by others. We see Anna try and fill the emptiness inside of her with boy after boy after boy until she sees something else and decides she is going to find a way to make it happen for herself. And it is also important because Anna realizes this for herself and acts upon it for herself.

“I want Toy to know that I know. That no matter how many boys tell her they love her, how many boys tell her she’s beautiful, how many boys crawl into her window at night and make love to her, it doesn’t help.” 
“If you give boys what they want, they give you what you need. Right?”

2. Consent vs. No Consent

Uses for Boys provides very straightforward talking points about consent and contrasts it with it very clear examples of assault and rape, including a scene on a school bus and a scene where Anna is passed out at a party. The school bus scene is also important because it reminds us that assault doesn’t have to involve full intercourse. Scheidt does not shy away from the sex, there is no fade to black here, but this is necessary in order to have those contrasting scenes and understand the underlying emotions and after effects of both the consensual sex and the rape. With such clear and straightforward examples, it provides good talking points.

3. We See a Boy Asking to Wait

By the time Anna meets Sam, she is very experienced. Sam, however, is a virgin. This time the relationship is slower, Sam is asking Anna to wait until he is ready. This reversal is so profound and boys – and girls – need to know that yes, sometimes, boys want to wait and that is okay. And then when he is ready, that too is another example of consent.

“He’s not saying slow down. He’s looking at me and we can’t wait. We can’t help ourselves. He’s everywhere.”

4. Protection is Used (Most of the Time)

I am noticing more and more that authors are addressing the issue of protection in YA literature. This is important because if we are going to have teens engaging in sex (as we know that some of them do), then we also need to make sure we are being realistic with the inclusion of discussions and use of protection. Anna does end up pregnant at one point (and has an abortion, also rare in YA literature), but it never seemed like punishment for having sex as it sometimes can in YA literature. It just seemed like the natural course of events for someone who is actively and regularly engaged in sex because even protection has a chance of failure.

5. The Stark Reminder that Teens Still Need Active Parents

As someone who works regularly with teens, I have seen time and time again the way that parents seem to somehow start disengaging when their kids reach the teenage years. Parenting is exhausting and teens can be difficult. But teens still need parents, families. They need someone to love them unconditionally, to help them navigate the world, and to be a shoulder to cry on. Anna is someone who has been emotionally abandoned by her mother. She is also someone who has seen and learned through osmosis a lot of negative lessons about life, love, appearance, growing older and more. As much as teens should read this book, every parent should read this book as it is an example of how children learn what they see, of how we can put our own issues onto our children, and what a powerful force emotional neglect can be.

In the happy times, in the tell-me-again times, when I’m seven and there are no stepbrothers and it’s before the stepfathers, my mom lets me sleep in her bed.
Her bed is a raft on the ocean. It’s a cloud, a forest, a spaceship, a cocoon we share. I stretch out big as I can, a five-pointed star, and she bundles me back up in her arms. When I wake I’m tangled in her hair.
“Tell me again,” I say and she tells me again how she wanted me more than anything.
“More than anything in the world,” she says, “I wanted a little girl.” 

This is not an easy read because the loneliness is so stark and some of the scenes are so graphic, though it is oddly beautiful in its melancholy feel and the language that is used. I began listening to the story on audio book and the rape scene was so difficult to listen to I switched over to print because it gave me more control over how I heard the story in my head. 

This book will haunt me for a long time.  No, Anna’s voice will haunt me for a long time, her stark, naked, barren loneliness and the intense need that she wears on her like a badge. We all know far too many Annas and this look into the heart of them, well it just makes me want to wrap them up in a blanket of confidence and self acceptance. Unfortunately, the world is cruel and much like some of the men in this book it seems to sense this need as if the need itself is blood in the water and they are a shark just hunting for the next victim. Be kinder to the Anna’s around you. And read this book; it is actually one of the best books I have read for discussing a lot of the important and revelant topics related to sexual violence because of the contrasting examples presented within its pages.

Please note: this title contains mature content and triggering scenes.