Tag Archives: community

What Rape Culture Teaches Women

Women learn at any early age that we need to put up barriers to try to protect ourselves. We learn to be aware of our surroundings when we are alone. We learn to hold our keys between our fingers. We learn to look behind us. We learn to lock our car doors as soon as we get in. We learn to try to not be alone with a strange man. We learn to control the way we dress. We learn to keep our heads down and ignore the calls when men scream at us on the street. We learn to try to sit or stand in a protected position on subways and buses so as not to be grabbed. We learn to lock our bedroom doors. We learn to install safety lights. We learn to go in pairs to any place where we can be a victim, which is every place. We take self-defense classes. We buy mace. We learn to shoot. We learn to find safety in women’s spaces. We learn body language that might indicate we are in danger. We learn that when we talk about these things, we are being alarmist or hurting men’s feelings.

We learn that no matter how many of these things we learn, it won’t be enough. We are raped, assaulted, beat up, grabbed. We are kissed against our will. Our hair is pulled on the playground and we are told that boys will be boys. We learn that a man can brag about sexually assaulting women by grabbing their pussies and people will still proudly proclaim their support for him because boys will be boys. We learn that being raped is our fault, even when we try to say it isn’t, because people like Brock Turner rape women and still, the main fear is that the poor boy’s life will be ruined. Women learn that our lives do not have value. If you have been raped or assaulted or attacked, and if you are a woman, chances are, you have, please know that I, at least, know that it is not your fault. I know this because whether you were drinking or you were wearing a short skirt or you left your bedroom door unlocked or you forgot to look behind you when you stepped into the parking garage, you are not at fault. You are not at fault because this society has determined that you do not deserve to have autonomy over your own body because it was born female.

We are under siege and the war is being be perpetrated by males. Women learn that men who claim to be good men aren’t really good when they refuse to speak out against male violence. Women learn to protect each other or we learn to build walls around each other in an effort to try to protect ourselves.

Women learn and continue to learn and we grow and evolve and we develop more elaborate security measures and in the end, it all comes to shit, because we are not teaching men and boys that women’s bodies do not belong to them, that there is no such thing as a friend-zone, that rich, white boys who rape unconscious women are violent criminals who deserve to do hard time, that men who brag about grabbing women’s pussies are rapists.

We learn that your silence about these things means that we can’t trust you. This is rape culture.

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Dear Lisa Vogel

Dear Lisa Vogel,

I had two items on my bucket list this year for the final Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

  1. I wanted to meet Sara St. Martin Lynne.
  2. I wanted to meet you.

I met Sara. In fact, I ran into her several times. I kissed her, hugged her, drank champagne with her, told her how deeply I admire her work. I recorded my own story with her for her “voices from the land” project. She is even more gracious, beautiful, and insightful in person than she is in print.

Bur I didn’t meet you. I didn’t even see you. I looked, though. I wanted to see you just once. I think I wanted to tell you that I didn’t like who I was before I found fest. I wanted to somehow be able to make you understand that everything good in my life came from my fest experience. I wanted to see you just once so I could blink back tears and show you a picture of the women I love most in the world, my family, all of whom came to me because of fest. Lisa, the women who support me and bolster me and treat me as if I am worthy of respect and devotion are in my life because of you. I am held because of you. I am seen and heard and loved because of you.beth on womanly way

I didn’t see you, though. I looked for you while I was lying on the grass at day stage listening to Crys Matthews. I didn’t see you while I was laughing during Elvira’s performances. I didn’t see you while I tripped happily through the ferns in my bikini, proud and accepting of who I am. I didn’t see you when I wore my see-through black dress in the rain and I wanted to see you at that moment because I thought if I saw you then, I could tell you that I would never have considered wearing something like that before I came to fest. I would have hugged you and told you that four years ago, I not only didn’t love myself and my own body, but I couldn’t believe that anyone else did, either. Lisa, I wore that see-through black dress in the rain and I looked sexy as hell. I wish I would have seen you that day.

I didn’t see you during my self love workshop when a woman approached me and told me that I had changed her entire life by giving the same workshop the year before. I wouldn’t have taken the credit, though. I would have turned to you and said, “That’s because of you. Her life is changed because you changed my life.” You would have seen the circle as a woman who once believed that the only love she was worthy of was a love that kept her oppressed and abused was now giving a workshop that taught other women to see themselves as worthy of so much more than that. So much more.

I didn’t see you at the Weird Family campsite where we cooked pizzas in the woods, drank a little sangria, laughed, cried, and held each other. I would have introduced you to each of the members of my family and we would have thanked you for changing how we see ourselves and each other.calendar 29

I didn’t see you during load out, when I finally got my period and made trip after trip up the hill in front of RV while bleeding heavily. I thought I was going to pass out as Forrest and I loaded out the dining canopy and the pizza oven and the extra tents and the coolers and the flags and the popcorn maker and the signs and the chairs and the full length mirror. I would have smiled ruefully at you and explained that we wanted to create something magical for our family back there on Easy Street. Even when I pulled the last load, I didn’t regret what we brought. We decided to send out this last festival with a bang and to us, that meant making sure our family had a safe place in the woods, a retreat where they could feel comfortable and fed and warm and loved.

At long last, when it seemed everyone else was gone, Forrest and I went to take one last shower and found the water was turned off. Regretfully, we trudged back to the parking lot, tired, sore, exhausted, sweaty, and sad to find the keys were locked in the truck. It was late. It was getting dark and the mosquitoes were biting and we were hungry. We had to call a locksmith. When Forrest went to the front gate to wait for the truck, I sat on the tailgate in the near dark, wrapped in a blanket, swatting mosquitoes and wishing for a granola bar. In the dark and the quiet, I cried over the ending of fest and tried to imagine what the universe wanted me to learn from this miserable moment. I didn’t see you there in the dark, Lisa. If I had, I would have said this wasn’t the way I wanted to leave. I wanted to leave at the peak of my fest experience, happy, and victorious, riding out in the sunshine with the wind in my hair while sisters called reminders to me to put my shirt on before I left the land.

And then I figured it out. You left victorious. You didn’t let someone destroy you. You didn’t let a beautiful old woman die a painful, tormented death. You chose your own terms. And you weren’t compromised.weird family

That’s when I realized that I *did* see you. I saw you in the ferns and I saw you at night stage. I saw you in the blond curls of the naked girl running safely through the grass. I saw you in my lover’s smile when she turned to me during Ferron’s set and took my hand. I saw you in my chosen daughter’s eyes as she stroked her facial hair and came to the realization that she was beautiful. I saw you in Elvira’s laugh and Ubaka’s drumming and in the smile of the womyn who sold me ice cream at day stage. Lisa, I saw you in the girls running wild through the woods and the womyn slowly opening their eyes. I saw you in the festie firstie who, after our shared shower, told me with wide eyed wonder that she’d never showered in front of anyone before. I saw you in the belly laughs of the audience at day stage. I saw you in the triumphant raised fist of a woman walking a slack line and realizing, for perhaps that first time in her life, that she could truly lift her feet off the ground. I saw you in the tears rolling down our faces. I saw you in my own reflection.

This may have been the final fest, but it isn’t over, not for me, not by a long shot. I see you in the way I feel empowered to find a way to carry on, to keep my family together, to keep empowering womyn to take their own power and remember that they are strong. Lisa, I didn’t meet you, but I did see you. I do see you.

Thank you, Lisa.

Love always,

Beth

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Michfest and Me. Grieving a Loss, Celebrating a Life.

In February of 2012, I was broken. I had left a toxic long term relationship in which I had spent ten years tiptoeing around in the hopes of not provoking an angry, alcoholic outburst. I didn’t realized how much I had changed myself to keep the peace until I finally broke free and started trying to figure out who I really was.

I was broken. I was unsafe and I was broken. I came back home to Ohio from the Virgin Islands and I put one foot in front of the other to get through every day. I didn’t miss her, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I was, or where to go, or what to do to make a living. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I didn’t have many friends and the ones that I had were far scattered. Living that long with someone who had a tendency to piss off everyone I knew left me without a circle of friends. I felt wholly alone.

I was unsure in my skin. I hated my body. I didn’t like being naked. I was sure I was a terrible lover. I felt insecure and nervous. I had anxiety. I was afraid.

I had heard of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival many years before and it sounded incredible. I brought it up with my ex a few times and she wouldn’t even consider it. She used to say she hated lesbians. I didn’t hate lesbians and I didn’t hate women, but I think a small part of me must have hated myself because I let her keep me from going. The thought of me going by myself wasn’t even an option.

Being single meant adjusting to a lot of things I hadn’t had to consider in many long years, but it also meant that for the first time, I was free to make my own decisions. And one of the first decisions I made was to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

I posted an announcement on Facebook and my BFF of all time immediately responded that she was going to fly to Cleveland and come with me. There was no backing out after that. I went to fest that year. It changed my life.

I’ve written before about my first fest, and my second fest, and my third. This year, I will write about my fourth and last. Lisa Vogel, the amazing Amazon who started this life changing space, has announced that fest is ending after the 40th anniversary.

I’ve gone through various stages of grief. The sadness comes in waves as I remember moments from fest or I think about things that I haven’t yet done. I feel sorrow for those who will never attend, for the girls who won’t scamper safely through the woods, unafraid and confident in a way I never was. I’ve shed tears over involuntary thoughts about the future. The community of women have gathered on Facebook and through phone calls and in person and through text to grieve together something that we all share whether we’ve been going for forty years or we’ve only been once. The understanding that there is nothing else like this in the world. The knowledge that Lisa and all of the other women who have worked to build this community year after year have created something that is so much more than a music festival. So much more than a camping trip. So much more than a week in the woods. They (we) created a tribe. We created safety. We created, we continue to create, a community of women who bolster and love each other. We’ve created a space where women can see, for perhaps the first time in their lives, that women are powerful, that women will rise up, that women can create any fucking thing that they want. That’s what fest is… it isn’t a week in the woods. It’s a revelation. It’s a revolution. It’s belief. It’s love.

Fest has brought so much to me. Every lover I’ve had in the past three years has been a fest woman. I have friends who see me and hear me and just get me and love me down to my toes. I met my current partner at fest. I learned about radical honesty from fest women. I first heard the term self-love at fest. I bought my first dildo there. I tanned topless in the sun there. I danced. I sang. I kissed. I laughed. I walked and walked and walked through the woods in the light and the dark and I wasn’t afraid for my safety. Not once. Not ever.

When I got the news, all I wanted was my tribe. I wanted my love and my family all gathered around so we could all hold each other and share memories and laugh and cry together. It felt like a death or an impending death of someone we couldn’t bear to live without. I needed my arms around my loves, so we could grieve and be grateful that whatever amount of time we have had at fest, we had that time.

Laying in bed last night, thinking about my chosen family and fest, and all of the things that it means to me, I realized that I am myself. I’ve *become*. That somewhere between that first fest when I timidly crept into the shy shower after dark and could barely convince myself to even say hi to strangers to my last fest where I gave a workshop on self love, basked in the glow of my tribe, and walked around the land like I OWNED it, I have become myself. I have found my own power. I’ve cast off the years of oppression and I’ve forgiven myself for letting it happen. I’ve not only marveled in the idea that women can create anything, I’ve come to realize that I myself can create anything. I took the lessons that the generations of women at fest have given to me and I’ve used them to build a fortress of self love around my soul. I’m me. I’m Beth Burnett. I am an Amazon. I’m a lover. I’m a mother earth goddess sexy brilliant warrior of love. I *am* Michfest.

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New Set of Creating Self Love classes…. and a part two!

By popular demand, Continued Self Love is now live. Starting May 5 at 8 PM EST, I will be doing a part two to the online Creating Self Love classes. I’ll also be starting a new set of the original self love classes. Monday, May 4th at 9:00 PM EST and Wed, May 6th at 8:00 PM EST. Email me for more information. Classes are limited to ten each, so register quickly by emailing bethburnett70@yahoo.com

The classes are six week online courses that cover everything from abolishing negative self talk to dealing with toxic people to overcoming self doubt and fear. I charge sixty dollars for a six week class. I give some lectures, show slides, have a few in class assignments and give homework. Homework is not mandatory, but it does help to participate in the class.The class includes a weekly one hour online class and access to the Facebook page for mid week support, encouragement, and positive posts. The students have thrived in this course and it has allowed many of them to start living a more joyful life of self love. I have some students who have learned to conquer anxiety, some who have lessened panic attacks, some who have just used the course as a refresher to living in joy. The women in these classes are inspired to make positive changes in their lives, whether the change is going back to school or learning to stop being so hard on themselves. Come join me for this journey into self confidence and joy.

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Women Learning to Value Themselves

A couple of years ago, I saw a woman at the grocery store who just embodied funky and cool. She was wearing what looked like a homemade crochet skirt and a vest and red cowboy boots. She had such a fun style, I had to stop and tell her that I thought she looked awesome. She looked back at me and said, “Are you making fun of me?”

Fast forward a couple of months…. I was doing a guided meditation with a group of women, most of whom were survivors of rape, sexual assault, abuse. At the end of the meditation, I asked them what came up for them in the meditation and the majority of them said things such as, “I was worried my stomach was growling and everyone could hear it,” or “I’m sure my nose was running and I was sniffing loudly the whole time.”

Fast forward…I was giving a live workshop on creating self love and I asked the women to raise their hands if they believed that if they showed their true selves to their loved ones, those loved ones would no longer want to be with them.

Fast forward… Just last week a woman on FB posted a meme about the electric carts at grocery stores being for the elderly and disabled not for “your fat ass.”

Why are women self-conscious? Why do they devalue themselves? And why do they feel a need to judge and mock other women for their appearances? I think it all stems from the societal idea that we are not enough. We aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough. We’re told we need to conform to certain impossible standards of conventional beauty. We’re told that our houses should be clean and our kids should be model citizens and we can get out into the workplace, but not too far into it. We’re taught that girls shouldn’t be loud and that being dirty is wrong. We’re taught that whatever way we are doing it is wrong. We hate it when people judge us, but then we turn around and do it to other women. Think about it. Have you ever said, “She shouldn’t be wearing that outfit at her size?” Have you ever said, “Women shouldn’t wear (X) after fifty?” If so, you’re doing it, too. You’re helping to put women into the prison of not being able to be themselves.

Self-love is an act of rebellion. In this world, a woman who loves and values herself is a radical. The very act of saying, “I won’t allow you to talk to me that way” is an incitement for war in some people’s minds. That’s what I teach. My self love classes and workshops are about teaching women to value themselves so they no longer judge themselves by someone else’s measure. My mission in life is to empower other women so they themselves can go on to empower other women.

Come with me on a journey to lessen anxiety, stop negative self-talk, deal with toxic people, set your own boundaries, and learn to live in joy. bethburnett70@yahoo.com

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The Fest of Love

Four womyn meet on a path in Michigan.

Four womyn meet on a path in Michigan.

This year was my third year (in a row) of attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. You can find my virgin year blog here. My first year, I spent the whole time wandering around in wide-eyed awe, barely able to wrap my mind around the fact that I was in this incredible place with all of these WOMYN…. womyn who were building things and talking about ideas and taking care of each other and cooking food and supporting the dreams of other womyn.

Last year was even better. I had spent the entire magical year after my first fest building on the love and acceptance I found there. I became more involved in women’s causes and I became a big proponent of self-love. I had started meditating and abolishing negative self-talk and taking care of myself. At my second fest, I spent the entire time smiling and hugging. I did my workshifts in the kitchen because there is something so earth-motheresque about being part of nourishing hundreds, or thousands, or women with soul-feeding, healthy food. Made with love…. every time.  My second fest was just beautiful from start to finish.

I went into my third year bit of trepidation. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been under attack in the media and an awful lot of online bullying has been aimed toward the womyn who perform and attend. Facebook was blowing up with heated arguments that culminated in some pretty violent and angry threats against the womyn who support fest. I had to keep reminding myself that the internet is not fest. People get behind their computers and say anything that comes to mind, regardless of civility or manners. There was never a question in my mind that I was going to fest – I will not let negative, angry people ruin something I love. Some people don’t want to understand why Michfest is so important and no matter how we try to explain, they will refuse to listen.

There’s a feeling I get when I first walk on the land… it’s almost a heaviness and as I set up my camp and greet old and new friends and head down to the meet and greet, I realize the heaviness is gravity. It’s the lowering of my shoulders, and the settling in of my hips to a slower, more relaxed walk. It’s the way my arms swing more naturally and my chin tilts up. It’s the weight of myself sinking into the land and allowing me to walk openly, without fear, without wondering if someone is going to make a comment at me when I walk down the street. It’s the safety, it’s the way I don’t have to keep my eyes constantly moving to see if there might be a threat approaching.

My plan for this year was to create my fest. I love what fest has given me, but this year, I wanted to give something back. I stated out loud that this was going to be the best fest of all time.

Thanks to a new friend, People Called Women Bookstore, the bookseller in the crafts tent at fest agreed to sell my books. It was the first time having my books sold at fest and I was elated. I must have told everyone I met because they ended up selling out of my books! (It might have had something to do with the fact that I offered to write wildly inappropriate sexual things in the covers.)

I submitted a workshop proposal to do my self-love seminar at fest. This is such an important mission in my life – helping to empower women to love themselves. 62 womyn showed up at the workshop and we had an amazing hour together. The energy exchange was incredible. We talked about ways to open yourself to self-love and ways to learn to recognize and abolish negative self-talk. We touched on bringing joy into your life even when life kind of sucks. After the workshop, many womyn approached me to talk about their own personal stories of self-doubt and perceived failures and lots of tears were shed. I got a barrage of friend requests on Facebook after that, and have even had several message exchanges from womyn who are continuing their self-love work and want to be able to touch base with questions or to share small victories or setbacks.

As my friend Mable said, “I OWNED this fest.” It was a spectacular fest in every way that it is possible to categorize. Love, sex, career, friendship, healing, health, fun, relaxation, work, new adventures…. Every aspect of this fest was beautiful to me. I made a new lifetime friend and I got closer to a woman who is becoming very important in my life. I opened myself up to any woman who wanted to talk or needed a hug. I tried to project nothing but love and acceptance to every woman in every way. It didn’t always work. I’m human. I sometimes disagreed with things that were said. I didn’t like every single woman I met. But I honored all of them. I loved all of them. I respected and valued all of the womyn who come to fest to see for themselves what it is like to escape the patriarchy once a year in one of the only safe spaces left to womyn in the world. I gave love. I gave all of the love I had as unconditionally as I could to every womyn I could.

Beautiful Saturday night stage date.

Beautiful Saturday night stage date.

And that was it. Again, no matter what the bullies say, no matter what anyone else thinks, no matter what organizations blacklist fest performers, at the end of the week, they can’t take away that important truth. Fest is about love. Fest is about womyn learning to love themselves and therefore, each other. Fest is about womyn remembering that women are worthy of that self-love.

Some womyn come to fest for the fun. Some for the music. Some for the friends. Some for sex. Some for sitting around a fire talking about ideas. Some come to work and some come to play. Some come to spend a week in quiet contemplation and some come to party and yell and do ALL OF THE THINGS. We all come to fest for different reasons, but ultimately, we all come to realize that whatever reasons brought us to fest,, we are all coming away with the same lesson – that is, whatever you have been told about your place in this society is wrong. You are good enough. You are amazing. You are worth your own self-love.

Womyn are often raised without that understanding. We are raised to keep our voices down. We’re told that behavior is inappropriate for a girl. We’re told we aren’t pretty enough or thin enough or happy enough. We’re told to smile so that we don’t make people uncomfortable. We’re taught that we aren’t as valuable in the workplace as men. We’re taught that we need to learn all of the ways to change ourselves in order to avoid being raped or assaulted or beat up, as if it’s our fault that male violence isn’t controlled by the perpetrators. Womyn are in danger every day in every way and the Michigan Womyn’s music festival wraps a protective arm around us when we walk onto the land. Fest embraces us with love and lets us cast off the danger, the doubt, and the fear. Fest gives us that week of freedom from the oppression so that we can build our strength to go back into the world and try to use it to offer ourselves a shield from the aggression and violence. Fest SAVES womyn. It saved me. I need fest. And more than that, I need for girls who are growing up right now to come to fest and realize that there is a place where they are valued and honored and lifted and free.

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Creating Community

I went to a writer’s group a couple of weeks ago. There were eight of us. One was a gamer who is writing a role playing game about the death of the Ice Lord or something like that…. Another is working on a historical fantasy novel. One wants to write a book and is there for guidance. Three have self-published at least one book. One was the daughter of the historical fantasy guy. And there was me.

It turned out that we didn’t do much comparing our notes about writing. We introduced ourselves. I was the only new person, so they asked me a lot of questions about my book, about publishing, about editing, etc. Then we all just kind of basically chatted. It was nice, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for. What I really want in a writer’s group is a place where we are all forced to write something every week, then bring it to the group and critique each other. Still, it was nice to be around other writers, if only for the sense of community.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is great. I have a lot of virtual writer friends and belong to a couple of online author’s groups where I can throw out questions and get answers. But there is nothing like the back and forth of actual face to face interaction and I miss that.

It isn’t just the forced accountability. It’s knowing that once a week (or month or whatever) you are going to be with a group of people who understand what you are going through and who are possibly going through the same things. It’s having a place to ask questions and being able to answer others. I don’t know about you, but if someone just randomly throws out to me, “So, do you have any questions about writing?” I draw a blank. The questions come in the discourse, in the give and take, when there is a quick and joyful conversation going on and everyone’s neurons are being stimulated. *Then* the questions lead to more questions and the answers lead to more questions and the conversation becomes a living and breathing thing that grows into one big ball of creativity. Or something like that.

At any rate, *that* is what I am looking for. A round table discussion with a bunch of writers who will help to stimulate my creativity and get me excited about marketing and editing and publishing and all of that icky behind the scenes stuff that isn’t nearly as exciting as writing, but still just as important.

And you know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a writer’s group. It could be a group of creative individuals. It could be a group of feminists. It could be a group of people who like to drink coffee and talk about Neil Gaiman books. It could be a circle of middle aged college students. It could be anything.

I think this has become important to me lately because I am lonely. I miss being around people. I miss having circles… whether it is a circle of writers, a circle of lesbians, a circle of friends, or a circle of family, I think I am used to being around groups of people who care about me and stimulate me intellectually. I don’t think I am meant to be one of those solitary writers, living alone in the woods, not bathing, growing a long beard, and communing with wolves. (Well, I can’t really grow a beard, but it has been a while since I shaved my legs.) (Not, of course, that it isn’t wonderful to be with my love and my dogs, but I miss people… plural.)

And maybe that is why I am still mourning for Mich fest, though a few months have passed. There was a community to end all communities. Thousands of womyn, working together, eating together, walking in the woods, playing music, writing, shooting arrows, throwing tomahawks, sharing stories around bonfires, dancing, loving, embracing each other in spirit and reality and just generally having an amazing time.

I want to go back to Michigan. I want Michfest to exist every day. But since it doesn’t, maybe it is up to me to create a community wherever I am. Maybe I need to figure out a way to get out there and meet people with common interests and common goals and bring them together to create little circles of inspiration and action.

What do you all think? How do you create community in your lives?

http://www.amazon.com/Man-Enough-ebook/dp/B008GVR7BK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1341484984&sr=1-1

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