On Violence.

I knew the jokes were coming, before I even saw them made.

That’s is the normal order of things, in the competitive jokesterism of the social age. A famous athlete, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov is arrested, charged with assault and kidnapping for an alleged act of violence against his girlfriend.

In the typical sequence of events, the Twitter jokes are the most assured next thing, before evidence is known or facts have been heard. Before we have a clue what happened, or who was hurt.

Because the Avalanche’s coach, Patrick Roy, was once arrested for the same.

And because fans were concerned Varlamov’s arrest might fuck up their fantasy team.

For the most part, people don’t make jokes because they actually find domestic violence funny, I don’t think. They make those jokes because to them, domestic violence is an abstract concept.

It was once also an abstract thing, to me.

The second that it wasn’t: a heartbeat, a sudden lunge, not long enough to scream. The hard dull thud of a fist against my cheek, I am slammed into the couch cushions now, all I know of him is weight and shrinking space, I can’t see and I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe -

And now there is no time -

And now the time has stopped -

It lasted ten seconds, maybe. But in those ten seconds I learned a lot, as my lungs stood cold and my cheek screamed hot. I learned that he could kill me, and that there would be nothing I could do. I learned what the pain of total nakedness felt like. And helplessness, too.

Let me be clear: I was lucky. For me, time started again, more quickly than it seemed, and I fled the house and ran away and tilted the rearview mirror checking for visible injuries. There were none. He didn’t leave a mark.

So I’m lucky like that, where so many are not.

I didn’t even leave him, then. I stayed. But that’s another story, more muted in the telling: I never told it, really, not for years. In the cold accounting of these things, there was too much to lose, and when I imagined telling it I imagined telling it towards suspicious eyes:

“But he would never…”

Yeah, he did.

“He’s such a fun guy, though.”

Yeah, he is.

That’s enough about that. The point is: Evgeniya Vavrinyuk went before media today, and told them that Semyon Varlamov drank, and beat her. That he had done it before. And that this was not accident or misunderstanding, but the fury of him dragging her to the floor, where -

No, not now, that’s enough.

If Varlamov is indeed guilty of these things, then she is almost impossibly brave. Because we all know what is said of women who allege abuse against rich and powerful men. Because we all know what is said of women who fuck up someone’s fantasy team.

“Innocent until proven guilty!” someone screams -

Yes, yes I agree with that. I would defend that concept with all my heart, that courts must prove guilt, that a person is innocent in the eyes of the law unless the evidence against them is strong enough to push past the threshhold of reasonable doubt.

I do not deny this, and would never give it up.

What “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t mean: that life must continue on the same. That we cannot recognize that these are serious charges. Or that we do not acknowledge that if the crime is real — and on that, time will tell - then there is a victim at its heart. Someone who felt, in that moment, time stop and pain bloom and fear send out its cold and stabbing shoots.

But here’s a strange thing: how some who shout “innocent until proven guilty” as a defense against the crime, should then convict the alleged victim of false accusation, without evidence or charge. Well, except for the evidence that she is a woman, and the suspect a rich and famous man.

Sports reporter Slava Malamud went on in this vein for quite some time.

Sports reporter Slava Malamud went on in this vein for quite some time.


I could do a lot of things, now.

I could dredge up a further dozen examples from Twitter, a hundred, even more, all people declaring the charges bullshit and lies, and naming she who went to police a liar and a whore.

I could post statistics on domestic violence.

I could elucidate how it so often goes that nice people, in public, hurt their loved ones behind closed doors. Because abusers are often charming, like that. They know how to make people like them, believe them, trust them. They know how to get control, and this is part of how they are able to wound.

Because now, who would believe you —

Who would ever believe such a cool guy could do -

“Oh, she’s just vindictive / broke / a bitch / she’s bored.”

God, the guy who did it to me wasn’t even famous and on someone’s fantasy team.

So yeah, I will leave those parts of the dialogue to other folks. Instead, I end this here: I do not know if Semyon Varlamov is guilty or innocent. His case will be decided, after some fashion, in the courts. That is the best that justice can do, since nobody who wasn’t there and didn’t see it can ever really know.

Before the courts, he is innocent until proven guilty.

And before me, Evgeniya Vavrinyuk is someone who has reported that a horrible, terrible, terrifying thing was done to her, as it was to me. And she is someone I do not know and have no factual reason to discredit or disbelieve — and who Denver police evidently believe enough to carry their investigation forward to the courts.

So I respect her as a victim of abuse, which is how she enters the records now in those same courts, and I will respect her words.

If she is, instead, a lying money-hunting bitch already to you -

Or if this is funny to you -

I hope that you never have to feel the moment where time stops, and pain blooms, and you realize that the only thing between you and the abyss is whether or not he has the will to kill you.


How Not To Have Your Eureka Moment

Sometimes, for those of us with any measure of privilege, the unraveling of that privilege begins with a Eureka moment.

By this, I mean the moment where a circumstance forced your eyelids wide, and made you see the ugly things you’d previously had the privilege to pass on by: racism, for instance, or sexism, and oppressions of all kinds. Maybe you thought you understood the issue, but never gave it too much thought — and then one day wham, this Thing happens, and you realize you had no idea how much privilege you’ve got.

I remember some of my Eureka moments. I’m not proud of them — or rather, I’m not proud they had to happen for me to grasp what millions had been saying all along. They were jolting and uncomfortable, a rough hand to shove me straight out of a cozy little nest. But I am incredibly grateful for them. They made me a better person, in the end.

Well, film critic Michael Calleri recently had his Eureka moment about sexism.

Or, as the brilliant Melissa McEwan put it: Man Notices Misogyny.

It began when the movie reviews he wrote for the Niagara Falls Reporter began to disappear into the ether. When he confronted his publisher about it, the publisher responded with an email railing against promoting movies “where women are alpha and men are beta. where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.”

By this and other rants about feminist “moral rot,” of course, the publisher was referring to Snow White and the Huntsman which, just, yeeaaaahhhhhhh okay then.

Yeah, it sucks. It all sucks. And it does suck for Calleri, who lost a writing gig in a world in which writing gigs are increasingly hard to come by. In the large scale, just add it to the list of damages that misogynists wreak on society every damn day. But on the small scale, I empathize with the shock and discomfort he must have felt.

Because boy oh boy, was Calleri shocked. Like really super shocked.

From the blog:

What you are about to read may shock you. It’s all true, and it happened to me. It involves censorship and the movies and one man’s loathing of strong contemporary women.

One man’s loathing of strong contemporary women? Well I gotta admit I’m entirely not shocked at this point, but goooo onnnnn….

(It goes on.)

This story, with its villainous treatment of strong women, is so appalling, that it borders on being unbelievable. It isn’t. It deserves to be told and really does require a detailed explanation. Many writers will recognize the trail of experience I have traveled. But I wonder if any writer has faced what I ultimately faced.

This is where I have to pause. As much as I want to salute a man’s Eureka moment that sexism is real, here’s where Calleri’s arrow officially sails far, far past the mark, clattering harmlessly into a haystack beyond. While cows look at the arrow curiously. And a baby squirrel perches on the top of the arrow, chattering tunefully.

That’s far, guys.

Again: I understand that Calleri was shocked by the raging misogynist email he received from his publisher. It would be shocking to absorb that kind of bald-faced hate for the first time, had you been sheltered — by virtue of your gender — from being on the butt-end of it before.

What is strange is that in all the time end effort Calleri poured into writing about the experience, it apparently did not occur to him before he got to just this paragraph is that yes, writers have faced this before: women writers have faced this before. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of women writers have faced this before, dating back centuries and still alive today.

We talked about it too, because we also believed it “deserved to be told.” But we found, over and over, that people didn’t want to listen.

Perhaps we were just having trouble with intergalactic communications:

I got my answer in the form of an email that is so shocking, it seems to come from another galaxy, an evil one.

N.B.: The email he received is basically half the everyday inbox haul of the average woman blogger of any renown (more if you’re Anita Sarkeesian!), so it appears the Evil Galaxy may be closer to our own than originally measured.

Way to suck, NASA.


I’ve been lucky in my career.

From the time I was 18, I largely worked for women editors and producers; where I didn’t, I never personally encountered misogyny as overt as this. I have felt it in emails from readers and read it in truly countless articles, blogs, forum posts and website comments — but never have I felt a sting so harsh from anyone in a position of direct power over me.

But having spent many years talking to women writers, I know this: thousands of us have experienced just the sort of nasty, silencing, career-limiting sexism that Calleri had thrust upon him. We’ve told what not to write (“woman stuff”) and how not to write it (“women talk too much”), passed over for certain beats or denied editorships.

In other words: it is telling that I just said I’ve been lucky in my career. It’s telling that this is how I have to think about it, as being in terms of luck.

The good news: based on reams of anecdotal experience, I absolutely believe it is getting better.

But it’s still not best, it’s still not done.

And as much as I am glad that one film critic had his Eureka moment, so I wish he had considered more deeply what working under that publisher, or men like him, would have been like for a woman. And what women writers must have seen. And what they may know. And what they may have committed to writing already, but had it be blown off as “overreaction,” shrugged off and ignored.

In short: the fact that his column is shot through with more shock than empathy suggests that we still have a long way to go.