Whatever your opinions on the polarizing political environment in the United States, there is no refuting the fact that disinformation is beginning to play a huge part in elections worldwide. In countries like Germany, France and even places like Ukraine — disinformation is the norm rather than the exception. But what is disinformation? Disinformation is not the same as misinformation, which is information that was unintentionally false like incorrectly attributing a photo to an event.
Disinformation is intentionally spread inaccurate information meant to deceive.
You might have come across it and not even realized that you were been deceived or lied to. The whole idea behind much of this disinformation is that it hides in plain sight, and attempts to influence your own opinions. That is why it is also often also referred to as information influence activity.
A country generally conducts information influence activities because they wish to undermine key democratic processes, social institutions and to sow doubt between groups and cause societal rifts. When a country is divided, it makes not only decision-making more difficult, but also means that country is less likely to interfere or make coherent foreign policy actions on the world stage.
But as a normal person, those big picture questions aren’t particularly relevant for you.
What is important for everyday communicators, whether you are a casual social media observer, a journalist or a media official, is to a) become aware of information influence activities, b) identifying these activities, and c) countering them. The first step is becoming aware of these deceptive measures. You might recognize them when political debates are exploited and instead of helping the argument, a user rather wishes to continue the argument and polarize the two sides so that compromise is more difficult.
The second stage, identifying disinformation, is the process of examining the information that you are given. It is no longer enough to simply read an article or post on Facebook without considering its origins. Disinformation narratives tend to be disruptive, oblique and polarizing. The problem is that there are so many different kinds and often, they come about together! Hostile actors will rarely stick to one technique because with more options comes more chaos.
But you’re probably more interested in countering these activities. Unfortunately, the reality of disinformation is that you’re always one step behind. You can always prepare, evaluate the risks, build public trust and raise awareness but once disinformation strikes — that is the best time to act. You can decide whether to react aggressively or simply let the matter fade to the side. You could choose to fact-check and post an official response. However, ultimately the best defense is a strong offense. So in times when disinformation strikes, rely on the ability to be aware of it and identify it so that you are able to counter it. If you first notice it, and understand its origins, your opinions and political debates to come will be more educated and rooted.
Read more about countering information influence campaigns with Countering information
influence activities: A handbook for communicators, a handbook published by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Industry or check out Katarina Kertysova's report on Russian disinformation.
Some books find you at a perfect time—they become like a friend or even a mentor. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, spoke to us, as both.
We were initially inclined to read Hillbilly Elegy, because we desired and needed to develop an understanding of the discussed area of our country, a region often belonging to a very different political ideology and way of life. We wanted to comprehend the reason behind people's’ decisions. To do that, you need to uncover how they arrived at that conclusion by looking at what has influenced them. This means hearing their stories. Hillbilly Elegy offers a look into a world different from ours, yet one that shares the same leader.
Jospehine’s Note: While I have familial ties in some of these states, my roots are primarily based in touristic mountain towns whose populations are staunchly liberal, avid environment advocates. Growing up amongst the western mountain ranges of the United States, the destinations for many vacations, is my greatest privilege. I grew up amongst my some of country’s most breathtaking backdrops that allowed me to develop a healthy lifestyle and environmental consciousness and appreciation. I include this because there exists a stark contrast between my childhood and the author, J.D. Vance, who also grew up amongst mountains.
J.D. Vance grew up in the Appalachian region between Kentucky and Ohio, also known as the Rust Belt. In many ways the Appalachian hills were his life-long safe haven, so much so that he recently went and purchased his grandparents’ land. This is where he grew up and where he escaped as well as faced his struggles, common to the average hill person. This part of the world is built on a lost generation of families who once moved here for economic prosperity—they moved to work in the coal and steel industries, with the hope to build a life for their families. For a while, this worked, but as factories and the industry moved out of the country, these people were left in the dust.
The epidemic that is now present across the Midwest, starts at the core—the family. As Vance notes and experiences, being raised by a nuclear family is not the norm, rather grandparents step in as parents for their grandchildren. This is the common byproduct due to high rates of alcoholism and opioid use, and an educational system with little to no community support. It is a system that unfortunately perpetuates itself. Vance describes Jacksonville as a place where you make it, but only if you have someone looking out for and encouraging you, like his grandparents did for him. Otherwise there is little hope for another way out. Vance didn’t even realize this until much later in his life - that he could escape the cycle of drugs, abuse, and poverty that plagues the Rust Belt. Vance explains that a person’s lack or perception of a lack of possibilities lies within each individual and where they point their blame. For some, the government is solely to blame. This is a contradictory statement by those who misuse their food stamps to buy cheap products at a grocery store, then resell the items on the street at a higher price, so as to spend the majority of the money on alcohol. Others point their blame on an America at large that no longer depends on them, and no longer sees them as a crucial aspect of modern America. The white underclass may have thought they were forgotten, but in 2016’s presidential election, they were heard.
Today, Vance’s resume screams privilege —he is a white male, who graduated from Yale Law, and married the woman of his dreams. He resides in Cincinnati where he practices as a malpractice lawyer, but his current life deeply contrasts his roots. He is the American Dream. Hard work got Vance to high places; however, without his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, his older sister, and aunts and uncles who stepped up throughout his life, he could have easily been another kid with barely a G.E.D. and an hourly job. Vance acknowledges that he was up against the odds, and he managed through his unique support system, to come out on top. His Mamaw believed deeply as education being the ticket out and she was correct. She sacrificed so much, to ensure he had the best shot at an education. From raising Vance and giving him as stable of a home as possible to redirecting money for her own prescription meds to buy Vance a calculator, Mamaw was Vance’s backbone. These moments defined and served as a catalyst to a better life.
Throughout his memoir, Vance explores the root causes of the hillbilly states. He candidly relives his childhood on paper, but moreover, he questions it. He dives into the cultural nuances that impact the white lower class more than economic opportunities present. He believes that way-of-life choices have been passed down and while they offer comfort and familiarity, they aren’t necessarily beneficial. The hillbillies are making their own fate—and it is not a hopeful one. This poses the question: who should fix it? Is the epidemic across the hillbilly states one that is structural, and can be mended through governmental reform? Or, is it one that can only change through intrinsic nature where people hold themselves accountable?
Vance describes the epidemic in the following way: imagine a kid coming to school every day and telling his teacher “I can’t,” when in fact the kid truly can, and has done so many times before. However, at home the parents do the work for the student instead of investing time into watching the child succeed. Much is the same in the dried up steel towns spotted across the center of the United States—the people have “learned helplessness,” and decide that the situation they are in far outweighs their capacities to improve their own lives.
The fact is if you are raised in this region of the world, born to parents that are ill-equipped to parent, your likelihood of making it out of this corner of the country is slim to none. Children raised here score very high on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), a series of ten questions outlining traumas most upper-class families never endure. Children who experience abuse, have a single parent, and are exposed to drugs and alcohol during early childhood are more likely to have depression and anxiety, to develop chronic heart disease, to live shorter lives, and also to continue the cycle. Kids who have experiences ACEs “are more likely to underperform in schools and suffer from relationship instability as adults.” Harvard has found that constant stress during development actually changes the chemistry makeup of the brain. Although the conditions are hard, and Vance contributes much of his success to having his grandparents and other family members support him, he states, “no person’s childhood gives him or her a perpetual moral get-out-of-jail-free card…”Ideally, individuals change, they raise better families, and in turn future generations are made successful.
Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of a lost generation that is need of a better future. That future will come from strong families, and individuals committing to better their own lives. Change starts from the inside, but it can extend out, culturally reshaping communities at large.
Josephine's Takeaway: After reading Vance’s take on adversity and experience of ACEs, I have never felt more sure of that our actions pave our own future. In the end, situations or rather our reactions to such, are opportunities for change. Despite the trials that children suffer, it has been my experience that people are extended olive branches throughout their lives by way of coaches, teachers, a wonderful grandparent, etc. If such branches are received with grace, people truly do have the ability to make it out on the other side in order to forge forward and create a life that they desire, not that they were born into.
Jessica's Reflections: This memoir opened my eyes and my heart. As a New Yorker, I am surrounded primarily by those who think and act the same way as I do. To be able to learn about another American’s drastically different way of life, is truly a gift and a lesson I strongly recommend that others divulge in, especially given this highly polarized political context. Familiarizing oneself with the values and challenges that others are up against is key to fostering understanding and empathy. I thank J.D. Vance for sharing his story and I encourage others, across the political and geopolitical map, to do the same.
During the latest U.S. Open women's singles final match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams was first given a code violation warning followed by a point penalty and game penalty. She was later fined $17,000 for these three violations prompting Ms. Williams to call out the empire and the entire regime of tennis as sexist. We at Sub-Stances were interested in this event and wanted to share our individual thoughts with you, as women.
In almost every realm, women face some sort of double standard. People blame them for their partner’s use of drugs, most recently the case of Mac Miller and Ariana Grande. People declare that women cannot pursue their dream job while also being a rockstar of a mother. On the court, that also plays a role. Men are allowed to take off their shirts while Mia Hamm got bad press for years for her celebratory shirt take-off. This past weekend, Serena Williams was confronted with a variety of double standards, but does it justify her actions? While it is true that she may have been penalized more than her male counterparts, should she stoop lower or to their level to prove her point? I think not. While in many ways this world is shaped in a ‘men on top’ (man)ner, equality in or out of sports will only be won if women rise above those seeking to push them down. That means instead of criticizing an umpire for a questionable call, choose to take a deep breath over splitting a racket. It means winning with profound class. That is only way to make it to the top of society —to be so good they can’t deny you.
It is unfortunately not surprising that events like this still occur in many kinds of environments, particularly when it comes to sports. Despite advances being made to help give women equality in the workplace, sexism is still an ever-present challenge. It is in instances like the one faced by Serena Williams that such displays of sexism come out of the closet and into the light. However, in choosing to respond in the way she did, Serena Williams made a mistake. Losing control of her emotions has led to many pigeonholing her into the ‘hysterical women’ bracket rather than taking her complaints at the sexism seriously. The fact of the matter is that often men treat women differently. In sports, this can mean a different call or even a losing one. By remaining in control and not giving into urge to scream, women are better served by taking the high road. It may be a challenging route, but ultimately, it is the right one.
As a tennis player and tennis lover, I admire Serena Williams for the exceptional player that she is. She is a force to be reckoned with and is perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time. She breaks records and stereotypes. She fights racism, sexism, and the enormous pressure to remain on top. Not to mention, she nearly died giving birth to her daughter Olympia and then rose to play in this year's Grand Slam final, so soon after such a traumatic experience. So yes, I admire Serena for all that she is and achieves, as a woman and as a player.
Thus, my take on the incidents that unraveled at the U.S. Open women’s final is in support of Serena — to a degree. I do not think that the player should be penalized for her coach’s actions. She had no control over his actions, yet she was penalized for such. Not to mention, how much can a coach actually influence the game? After all, it only comes down to the player actually being capable to defeat his or her opponent. Plus, this is one of if not the only sport to prohibit such coaching. So, I think that the first code violation was on top of being subjective and difficult to enforce, unfair. However, I do believe that breaking or slamming a racquet is cause for penalty. When it came to Serena’s verbal response of calling umpire Ramos a thief, I do think that it was an overreaction by the umpire. A warning would have sufficed, not a game dock. This response by the umpire was not just unfair to Serena, but also to her opponent Naomi Osaka. No player wishes to win on an unfair technicality. This was a disservice to both women.
Despite all the controversy surrounding Serena’s actions and reactions, one thing is clear —how she addressed the crowd and her opponent, Naomi is laudable. She alone had the capacity to quell her supportive, angry crowd. She redirected their as well as her own frustration towards celebrating Naomi and her major achievement as the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam event. With the whole world watching, Serena used her platform to build her fellow female tennis player up, and not put down the umpire. For that, Serena is a champion to me.
If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone, you might know the feeling when the situation begins to devolve. The carefully formulated points you were prepared to make fall to the wayside of ad hominem. You’d rather point out the inadequacies of the person against you rather than actually fight about the issue in question. Why bother finding a compromise when you could just stick to your guns? The stakes raise higher and you find yourself more angry, more dramatic about your opinion. You find yourself a supporter who fuels your beliefs, and drives you to go argue further than you may have to begin with.
When a situation becomes polarized, it means that it is divided into two sharply contrasting sets of opinions. And unfortunately, that has become the case in many countries politics. There is no space for a middle ground because any move towards the center is seen as an inherent betrayal. Much as politicians and organizers might feel that polarizing their base serves to support their interest, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Choose your poison: abortion, immigration, the death penalty. Even though supporters might feel more ardent about their position, that very fact means they are less likely to come to a compromise. And politics… it depends on compromise to get things done.
In the United States, politics has become increasingly polarized. It didn’t just start in this administration or the last, rather, it’s been on the rise for decades. Admitting that you were wrong about any cause is next to impossible. Why? Because it means conceding. That also extends to lawmaking. Although Congress has experienced a remarkably productive year in 2017, we can attribute that to moment when one party controlled both houses. When the two houses are divided, little lawmaking ever gets accomplished.
In other words, polarization solves nothing. It simply divides and restricts the possibility that anyone can come to an agreement. When issues require agreement and compromise, such as funding the federal government and addressing emergency relief in places like Texas and Puerto Rico, polarization slows down the process considerably, leaving people in danger. The act of not acting because of stark differences in opinions affects real people, in real time.
Lawmakers should take a moment to consider the negative impact of their polarizing campaign strategies and actions within the government. Sticking to one’s guns might be commendable in theory, but in practice it couldn’t be more irresponsible. To take one Harry Potter quote, “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” That quote is equally as relevant in that universe as it is within our own. You cannot divide the world into people who are on your side and people who are not. Politics and progress requires compromise, concessions, and hours of discussion. It requires the ability to look at your political opponent and see them as a person rather than a bodily representation of a political belief that they hold. Polarizing arguments will solve nothing, but compromise certainly will.
The journey in The Alchemist hits home with every reader because it is the journey of life’s meaning. Santiago, a young shepherd, repeatedly has the same dream of a child telling him to go in search of the Egyptian pyramids and leave his routine life of wandering with his sheep behind. Santiago loves the sense of adventure his life has on a daily basis, however, wishes not to grow old without fulfilling his Personal Legend—his life’s spiritual purpose.
After seeking the advice of both a gypsy and an old man who claims to be a king, he sets off to find the pyramids he has only seen in his dreams. Convinced to sell his sheep, with only two stones to guide him, he sets off on his quest.
The adventure that comes is one of personal growth, situational happenings, and reminds you to listen to your heart. Paulo Coelho, proclaimed Brazilian author, writes beautifully in his most personal novel about the power of following your dreams. In many ways The Alchemist is a metaphor of Coelho’s own life. He always dreamed of being an author but received many rejections before one publisher brought The Alchemist to life in Brazil, and then to the United States, where it received endless support and affirmation.
True to everyone, the book’s lesson is about following your dreams, listening to your heart, and making the decisions to not stay complacent. The shepherd is given two stones, one black and one white, intended to operate as omens and lead him to his Personal Legend. It is the value of making a choice that has the ability to drive us to what we really want, as it is the act of the decision that sets us into motion. Each decision Santiago makes leads to a new adventure. As the reader you see Santiago unfold from a vulnerable young man to a pioneer. With each experience he is confronted with doubt but as he listens to his heart, asks questions, and seeks goodness he ultimately finds what he is looking for.
Ultimately, The Alchemist is a novel about the importance of the journey and how without the journey our meaning, our Personal Legend, will be unknown.
On Sunday August 5, 2018, I had the pleasure of being able to attend the Interfaith Commemoration of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. It was held at Judson church located adjacent to Washington Square Park in New York City. The day marked the 73rd anniversary of the bombing.
At this beautiful event, religious leaders from all faiths spoke to the need for humans coming together, regardless of faith, to prevent such another traumatic event from rocking this earth. Given the political field today, their pleas had serious weight.
From the Japanese-American youth choir to the dancers, the night was truly a night of beauty and of hope. The individual who left the greatest impact, however, was a Hiroshima survivor, Tomiko Morimoto West. She was thirteen years old when the bomb dropped on her city. Her whole family was killed immediately except for her grandfather. He died soon after from his injuries and she reflected on her strength at such a young age. Japanese soldiers were collecting bodies and she stood up to them, refusing to let them take him, for she wanted to burn him as per tradition, herself. She recounted, “If I could muster the strength to do that, I could do anything.” And here I sat in the audience, in utter and complete awe of this woman. She was standing in a room in the country which dropped the bomb on her own city, wiping out her whole world. Instead of calling for vengeance or any notion of the sort, here she stood asking everyone in the room, to always remember to love and to treat your family members with kindness. Her strength and her poise was unparalleled and humbling.
In today’s world, where nuclear buttons are boasted and threatened ever so casually over twitter, I couldn’t imagine what these survivors and descendants of survivors from the only nuclear weapons dropped, are feeling. The effects of such weaponry are still felt today and yet, the world seems to not take such devastation seriously.
Overall, I couldn’t have spent a Sunday night better. I encourage anyone reading this to heed Tomiko’s message about reaching for love and kindness. Moreover, I urge people to research the widespread effects of nuclear warfare, before entering rather casual conversations about dropping nukes. Nuclear warfare is the farthest thing from a joke and it must be taken and addressed in an appropriate, grave manner. There is a reason they have only been used in one war; let us work towards keeping it that way.
The United States distinctively remembers the 1970s as the era of hippies—when the Beatles were blasted on stereos, anti-Vietnam protests unified many of those in their twenties, and hallucinogens were on the rise. In deep contrast, the late 1970s in Cambodia will forever be remembered by Cambodians as a time of genocide. A time defined by families being uprooted from their homes and being separated while the Khmer Rouge regime under the leadership of Pol Pot, attempted to turn Cambodia into a socialist agrarian society. It’s mind boggling to consider that these events occurred during the same time. Their group remembers this past based on a series of events that occurred in close proximity to them, and impacted “their people.” This phenomenon is called collective memory, referring to how a group of people remember the past based on similar, large scale experiences or happenings that make history and forever change the landscape of the world. For instance, Germany’s collective memory of World War II has made Germans very culturally sensitive, but also now a progressive nation that has used its dark past to recreate a brighter future.
Each generation has several collective memories that has shaped their lives and also serve as as relatable conversation points. While recently speaking with my step-sister, I learned that one of her professor’s earliest collective memories was when the United States landed on the moon. He was four years old and vividly remembers playing with blocks in his living room as his family gathered around the television to watch as the U.S won the race to space. Generations later the collective memory of my time, as a United States’ citizen, is unequivocally 9/11.
Because collective memories are often marked by milestones, they have the ability to drastically change the course of history or at least record it in a certain light - for better or for worse. Over the past few weeks I have asked many people between the ages of 18-27 what their first collective memory is and nearly everyone, except our editor Jessica Hoefer, has said 9/11. Hoefer’s first collective memory is the case of Cuban Elian Gonzalez. If you don’t remember, try google image searching “Elian Gonzalez.” For those who don’t know, this was the case of the young Cuban fleeing Cuba with his mom and after having made it to Florida with his mother having died en route, Gonzalez was forced to return to his father in Cuba. This was Hoefer’s first memory of guns and they involved the U.S. federal agents pointing them at a boy her age. So, as you can imagine, it made a lasting impression. Nevertheless, as a New Yorker with many family and friends who worked in the FDNY and NYPD, as an American who heard the sirens, saw the smoke and watched the world change right in her backyard, 9/11 without a doubt will always remain Hoefer’s most powerful collective memory.
The craziest element about collective memories, such as 9/11, is that they evoke such extreme emotions and precise memories. Most people can recount exactly what they were doing when they found out or watched what was happening. I remember dropping my spoon into my large bowl of Cinnamon Life before heading to second grade where our whole school was eerily silent. Meanwhile, my sister distinctively remembers my mom screeching and then bursting into tears and later, her pre-school was canceled because of the attack on America.
Furthermore, a memory that has this power and influence over a mass of people drastically changes the trajectory of history. In the case of 9/11, to date the world’s deadliest terrorist attack killing nearly 3,000 people, deepened the divide of the West versus the rest. This landmark event was the beginning of the “War on Terror.” Rightly so, the world, and the United States was scared. Something of this magnitude had never happened before. As the military power, the U.S. immediately took action in defense of the free world being attacked.
This one collective memory changed our world. Division between the spheres (east and west) had long been in place, but this attack significantly deepened the divide. It not only hurt Americans, but it further victimized innocent people - from civilians in the Middle East to civilians in the United States, Australia, England, etc. Those who looked like they were from the east, and were living in the west became the next wave of victims. The rise of Islamophobia did not focus on the distinction between Muslim extremists and the overwhelmingly peaceful majority of Muslims. The terrorists wanted to dismantle the western world, but in turn they also ended up waging war on their own people. Since 9/11, the Middle East, collectively, has been cast as a land of terrorism —a notion that had led to the War on Terror, which includes the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since 2001, the Middle East has been perceived as the land of terrorism and Islamic extremism, but what would be the case if 9/11 never happened? Would extremism have continued to rise, ultimately leading to the creation and height of ISIS in 2014? Would Islamophobia exist? Would people be so scared of people who look different than they do? Moreover, what needs to change for this global trajectory to veer from the “us versus them” stigma?
Can the next generation’s first collective memory be one that brings people, of different walks of life, who practice different religions, together? And if so, what would that look like?
As the Brexit situation continues to claim headlines and whilst many others debate the survival rate of the European Union, it causes many Europeans to ask themselves - what exactly does the European Union (EU) do for them? Unfortunately, while the EU is successful at many things - publicity and marketing are not among them. Many do not recognize the incredible benefits that they receive as an EU citizen.
1. Freedom of Movement
Perhaps the most well-known trait of an EU citizen is the ability to live, to work and to retire anywhere you desire, in the European Union. That means a German can: live in France, work in Belgium and retire in Italy. It may seem commonplace to those who have grown up under this system but for those who hail from other countries - it’s an incredible opportunity to expand where you can live without the restrictions of a visa. In fact, it’s 28 opportunities.
2. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
Another underrated benefit of the European Union is the numerous jobs it sustains. The EU is a bureaucratic powered machine that requires millions of workers to run it. Simply put, by virtue of existing, the EU offers millions of jobs to Europeans that otherwise might have trouble finding work.
3. Safety while Traveling
Not only are Europeans free to travel where they wish across the vast continent, it’s also safer to do so than practically any other place in the world. Bureaucracy might seem like a pain but it’s that same system that makes sure airlines are safe, and that Europeans are secure when traveling. It is because of the cross coordination of all the countries that they can cooperate on fighting crime using Europol to ensure the safety of its citizens. This means less crime across all States. And not only are people physically safe, but their wallets are safe too. The EU offers a two year guarantee on all products and placed a ceiling on roaming charges across all member states.
4. Ease of Communication
Most recently, the EU passed a law meaning that any European phone number can text and communicate while abroad in another European state as though they were in their home country. This might seem like a small benefit but imagine traveling for a day or studying in another country. With this new rule, there’s no need to get a new number or plan.
The European Union is the incredible, yet often unnoticed collaboration of thousands of diplomats. Whilst it is challenging to coordinate amongst the 28 Member States, it’s even more difficult to manage monetary policy and have a strong communications strategy to show Europeans just how good they have it. Nevertheless, the benefits of the European Union for the world as well as for Europeans and travellers alike are multifold, and ought to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops - for if they aren’t careful, the EU could fade onto just another page of a history textbook.
There is no denying that we often bend or at least are more accepting of bending the rules for the ones we care about. Our siblings borrow things and sometimes break them, without asking. Our parents make mistakes, our distant relatives may break the law, our friends may test your trust. Nevertheless, you love these people and so, you let the transgressions slide.
However, it begs the question: when someone we trust continuously breaks promises, at what point do you draw the line – the one that makes or breaks the relationship?
Take for instance that boyfriend. The one that says all of the right things – things you maybe have never heard before. You are finally being seen, heard and appreciated just for being you. It’s refreshing and validating. In a word, it’s nice.
You like what he’s said and what he has promised about your future, together. The promises he makes directly correlate with what you believe in and hope for. It’s as if he’s speaking directly to your heart. Not only is he promising, but he is also powerful, in fact he was just promoted to President of his global company.
Unfortunately, not all of your friends and family approve – an issue, but not a deal-breaker. It causes rifts and arguments and even the end of some relationships, but he’s your man. And if they can’t see how good he is for you and how he can provide for you– well then, forget them.
Gradually however, he begins to lose people who are closest to him. One by one, they disassociate with him. The little voice inside your head starts to chirp a warning. But then you hear him charismatically assure you and his remaining friends that there is nothing to worry about and that voice goes away.
Time passes. More talks about what he is planning to do for you. He follows through on the smaller promises, but when it comes to the bigger goals, it surprises you how long its taking him to commit and follow through. But he’s at least trying right? Plus, you love him and have chosen to stand by him. A relationship takes work, right? So you press on.
Then scandals begin to emerge. One by one, they begin to leak out. Your man doubles down to refute such claims. His enemies are at it again. They’ll do anything to destroy him and you. So you join in and dig in to defend him, vehemently. You are closer now more than ever - united and committed to each other. It’s you and him against the world.
While you enjoy how bonded this has made you, deep down you begin to wonder how long that this backlash will last. You’re hoping that these scandals will blow over, eventually.
They don’t. More and more continue to come out, and more of his close friends leave his side. Meanwhile, his enemies only seem to grow. Instead of proving them wrong, he continues to dig in and verbally defend these scandals. That voice inside your head begins to reemerge… “A lot of talk and no action, despite their being a lot of alleged bad action.” You begin to doubt . . .
Then he does something monumental. He accepts his rival’s invitation to a round of poker on foreign soil. This is huge. No one has met with this rival before in many decades. Your man’s actions are inspiring; there may even be an end to this decades-long rivalry. The photos say it all: friendship over adversity. This is a momentous day – a huge win indeed. He returns home and you celebrate his mighty achievement. This is what you’ve been waiting for.
All the while you are celebrating, you are drowning out his loud critics. You ponder – why can’t we celebrate or at least acknowledge his achievement without bashing him? Can’t they see what he has accomplished – the end to an infamous rivalry – a laying down of weapons if you will. One of his critics gets to you when they ask “What has he accomplished?” You respond “He is talking in order to prevent and to end fighting. He has made a peace deal.” They retort “Yes, but the deal is currently being broken.” You sit there in disbelief. They continue, “He made your man look like a fool.” And that hit home. How dare they.
So, you do research to investigate how to prove this critic wrong and all of his haters, for that matter. You research and stomach reading all of the hate. You filter the bashings from the seemingly more factual based, more objective arguments. You still don’t like it, but you do begin to wonder – does this have merit? If so, how much? Doubt starts to trickle in.
His critics and scandals only seem to grow with time and fervor. How much longer will this go on? Can you both survive this?
None are more concerning to you than his alleged affair with Peter S. Burg, former spy and now president of rival company, RSA Federation. Not too long ago, he went to Peter’s headquarters and met privately with him only to then publicly state that Peter is not the threat that your man’s friends and trusted colleagues have said. You are watching this, agape. How could he negate what his own company and his own people have to say in favor of his rival? This is not helping his case in the slightest. Since he was promoted to president 2 years ago, the police have opened an investigation to see if there was any collective fraud being committed by both sides. Your man has and continues to publicly deny these claims, but the investigation is ongoing and people are being indicted and sent to jail. So for him to meet privately with this former secret agent with whom there is a lot of controversy around, for him to then speak out against his own company and people, and then proceeded to invite Peter, home, well it’s unwise to say the least. This puts not only your future together in jeopardy, but your safety as well. To reassure you, he has asserted that he has the best lawyers and is so powerful, that he won’t end up in jail. You know an innocent person does not state that.
That warning voice inside your head has never been louder.
So what now? Stay in this abusive relationship or muster the courage to leave?
Do you have a line? And will you stick to it?
The day was June 26th. It was the afternoon on the last day of school for all New York schools and I was making my way back uptown for an end-of-the-year staff celebration.
As always, at slightly after five p.m., the metro buzzed with out-of-work excitement. I also sensed the collective urgency of the crowded trains of everyone wishing and rushing to get where they needed to be —home and out of the New York summer heat that makes a person melt as soon as he or she steps outside. The train was so crowded that people were unable to board, leaving little to no room for any sort of maneuvering. Slight shifts occur at each station as people make space, or have the opportunity to sit down after a long day’s work.
As I boarded the train, I positioned myself right next to a pole, to lean on for stability as I was carrying two bags. I took out my book and started reading, occasionally glancing up to check that my bags weren’t in anyone’s way and to check the station. At one stop, I stepped closer to the doors that were not opening. The contact of strangers passing was normal.
Mid-chapter, I felt heat pushing against me from behind, so I shifted to balance my weight on my other foot, thinking it was nothing other than another person in close proximity, suffering from the heat. As I shifted, the thread of heat followed me and rubbed against me, up and down along my work pants. It was then that I turned around to stare down the outline of an erect penis in a jumpsuit that was being stroked by a man, I stood eye-level with. Startled by my realization that this man had been getting off quite literally on me, I flipped around and shoved myself away from him, appearing rude to unaware bystanders as I had disrupted the position of several other commuters. He was unruffled by my reaction and through his dark sunglasses gaped in my direction as if to indicate that his game would carry on,uninterrupted.
I stared, unable to speak, as he slyly positioned himself behind another woman, with his hips thrusted forward and his right hand firmly grasping his penis pointing it at his next target. I shooed him away from her, but still was not able to say anything. As the train approached the next station, he positioned himself at the mouth of the door —ready for his next perverted enterprise. I watched as he attempted to follow a high-school girl that had just boarded the train. I finally had it in me to tell the guy to get off at the next station. He did.
Nearing my stop, tears swelled in my eyes. No, it wasn’t rape and no, he did not physically hurt me or them, but he did violate us. He violated us more than every cat-call ever could. He violated our right to merely ride the train and again, stripped women of their voice —their consent. Frotteurism, the act of rubbing genitalia against a stranger, without consent happens at high rates, almost always in crowded places, such as subways, or escalators, so the person has no idea it has occurred, or they believe it was an accident. It’s not - it is illegal.
Disappointed in my ability to call this man out in the moment, I phoned the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). They immediately put me in contact with a detective that is solely in charge of cases of this manner. The seriousness of the the NYPD and the MTA comforted me, yet I am still frustrated.
In the past several years, women have come out in unprecedented numbers to talk about their experiences, and how they too, have a story. I have read stories about the mountain towns that I call home about which girls are scared to go home because of the reminder of high school involving peer-pressured nights that led to hook-ups that they never agreed to. They followed through because of the pressure that they felt as if they owed it to a boy who drove them around or bought them a meal. I have also talked to friends and family whose lives have been altered because of abusive relationships, suicide threats from significant others, and worse - the many women who have been raped.
I’m grateful that these stories are coming out. These stories are part of the solution vis-à-vis the formation of a culture that doesn’t value woman on 10 point scale, but rather as a valuable member of society. However, the greater solution lies in raising better men and not letting our daughters go down on a male because it is easier or he feels that as a male, that he is entitled. It’s time to erase the stereotype that a female is expected to please a man, yet should the female choose pleasure, she is labeled as an outcast, whereas her male counterpart - for the same actions, would be praised. The narrative must change. This requires people to say no, to speak out, and to report any nonconsensual acts. As a fellow woman, we can lift each other up and support one another as opposed to viewing ourselves as competition. Men have the ability to change how they speak to and about women. In turn, they will see much more than a body—but also a person with opinions, capabilities and dreams.
In the end, I think that lasting change most strongly rests with our generation raising the next in a manner that teaches them to acknowledge and to value women as human beings - not as objects or prizes to be won or possessed.
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