Extracurricular Assault

School is back in session.  You wouldn’t know it by the weather.  The stores may be showing Halloween costumes and candy, but the heat is still devastating like the desert.  Still, even you don’t have kids, you would know it.

You would know it from the news.  You would know it by the sudden swell of stories concerning the sexual assault of local students.

Here in Palo Alto, the city’s public school district is — again — under fire for failing to follow federal and state law —much less their own policies — when it comes to reporting, researching, resolving, and redressing sexual battery against students as perpetrated by faculty, staff, and especially, other students.

In one particularly egregious case, a male high school student was allowed to remain on-campus without penalty after violating three different female students.

Nearby at Stanford, the national epicenter of college sexual assault, new incidents surfaced as soon as students began returning to town for the fall semester.  The university is on track to top the 2016 record of 33 rapes.  Of course, no one knows how many victims have yet to find their voice.

Last year, Stanford became world-famous for more than academics and athletics after undergraduate Brock Turner sexually attacked an intoxicated, unconscious woman in the dirt behind a dumpster at an on-campus fraternity house.

The victim’s horror was compounded when the perpetrator — convicted in the Santa Clara County Superior Court — was given a shockingly lenient sentence resulting in only three months at the county jail, much less than the mandatory minimum, and, far short of the prosecutor’s plea.

The trial had important statewide consequences.  California law was revised to expand the definition of rape to include sexual assaults other than intercourse and to disallow judges from giving lesser sentences in cases where the victim was intoxicated or unconscious.

More regionally, citizen groups have been petitioning for a special election to recall the judge, Aaron Persky, after it came to light that he has a history of bias favoring privileged, white, male, student frat-letes accused or convicted of crimes involving sexual violence.

To say the least, this seemingly ceaseless cycle of student sexual abuse is discouraging.  But what is most disheartening for me, is that each time a new article is published, the accompanying online comments section quickly fills with assertions that the incident was consensual, accusations that the victim is lying, and proclamations that the perpetrator is innocent of any wrong-doing.

Now, my fellow Palo Alto and Santa Clara County residents are considered among the most highly-educated and liberal-minded people in the country.  Regardless, when it comes to students and alcohol and sex, the majority opinion appears to spring from men and women who have never learned the meaning of consent.

Unfortunately, this concept of consent; well, this is a topic with which I have personal experience.  More accurately, I have personal experience with *lack* of consent, specifically as it concerns students, alcohol, intoxication, unconsciousness, and sex.

In my younger days, I became friendly with a guy from school.  Although I did not consider him “boyfriend material”, there was an undeniable attraction and we had “made out” three times, each session with somewhat increasing intensity.  Still, we had always remained fully dressed and had not engaged in any touching beneath our clothes.

The next time we met alone, I was visiting him at his home.  I wasn’t feeling well.  I told him I had my period and did not want to be touched.  While he did not disguise his disappointment, we just hung out, sitting in separate chairs; talking.

When he offered me a drink, I accepted without any real caution.  While we had never imbibed together, if alcohol was available, it was normal to catch a buzz.  I was not unaware of the risks imposed by this sort of situation, but I felt safe.  He had never been forceful with me, and, of course, I would limit my consumption.

Besides, in my naivety, it just did not cross my mind that anyone would want to have sex during menstruation.  If it had, I am sure I would have thought “eww” and dismissed the idea at once.

Anyway, I was not accustomed to drinking whiskey, and though my glass had never seemed empty, I quickly became extremely intoxicated.

Clearly, I passed out, because the next thing I knew, I was lying on his bed, completely naked.  Immediately, I blacked out again.  Then, in a fleeting moment, I became aware he was having sex with my body.  Unable to move or speak, I was certainly unable to give consent.  Straightaway, I was unconscious once more.

When I awoke, sober, it was obvious that he was terribly pleased with the events that had transpired.  I told him that it was not very nice; that I had been very drunk.  He said it had happened very naturally and that he did not regret it.  It was evident he had not used a condom.

I did not tell anyone.  “Drunk Girl Loses Virginity” was not exactly headline news.  It was then, and still is now, an all-too-common circumstance.  I had not been physically injured and did not feel emotionally traumatized.  In all honesty, the idea that anyone should care about my wishes and feelings, or what happened to me, had never been properly implanted in my brain.

With maturity, of course, I came to understand that I should have reported the incident.  Not for any personal vindication; back then, even the most violent rape cases were seldom given appropriate attention.  But because so much as a minor reprimand from some independent authority might have made him think twice about his actions and possibly saved some other young woman from the same fate.

Obviously, it doesn’t take a Sigmund Freud to appreciate my aggravation at the all-too-prevalent attitude among the public of accepting such student-on-student sexual attack as merely “kids being kids”.

Or, for that matter, my abhorrence at an American president who boasts of his own history of sexually harassing and violating women, including teenage girls.  Not to mention, my scorn for a Secretary of Education who promises to pare protections for students who suffer sexual abuse.

Recently, I asked a high school student who works at my gym to share her thoughts about the rampant sexual assault plaguing our community’s educational centers.  She feels the only realistic hope for prevention lies in the values that parents teach to their sons.

Based on the standards of behavior expressed by so many of our local fathers and mothers, I am not optimistic.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

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Buying Black

Whenever we needed any sort of professional services, my parents always got a guy from the shul.  The attorney, the dermatologist, the tailor, the whatever.  Except when we needed a dog doctor or a wall painter or a hairdresser.  These don’t come in Jewish.

Apparently this is a thing.  And not only among the chosen people.  The newspaper advertises real estate agents specializing in the Chinese community.  Maggie Anderson’s Our Black Year chronicles her African-American family’s attempt to buy from only Black-owned businesses for an entire year.

And Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald’s Blindspot acknowledges a bias that takes the form of a secret preference for your own group rather than any active discrimination against other groups.

Sounds about right.  Much as I hate to admit it, I am one of those otherwise egalitarian people with a tendency to favor my own landesman.  Certainly when all the other things are equal.  And perhaps even when they are not.

When my parents needed to buy a car, naturally, they went to a dealer from the synagogue.  A man my mother did not like.  OK, she didn’t like anyone, but she really, really did not like this guy.

My mother never referred to the dealer as Mr. ———, as was custom for business relationships in those days.  She never referred to him as Bob, though she would call other acquaintances from the temple by their first name.  It was always “that momzeh gonif Bob ———”.  Like “momzeh gonif” was his title.

Certainly, there were other lots in the area, but again and again, she returned to the lying thief.  Go figure.

It is this kind of irrational communal loyalty that has led me to make all kinds of questionable purchasing decisions despite the clear and present danger.

Like a few years ago, an eatery called The Roast Shop opened a few blocks from my apartment.  Kosher, closed on Shabbes, the whole megillah.  The only such restaurant in the neighborhood and only one of two in town.

Not a delicatessen type of place, they advertised as specialists in roasted meats.  In either case, not really my style, especially when there are so many wonderful Mediterranean and vegetarian options within a few blocks walk.

Also, they received terrible reviews.  The Yelp, the Chowhound, the Urbanspoon, the whole internet seemed to agree they were just awful.  And yet I felt compelled to go there and waste some hard-earned money.

As soon as I entered the restaurant, I wanted to back myself out the door.  The tables were empty, never a good sign.  They had been open a couple months, there should be at least a few customers.

Still, I ordered a plate and I tried to eat.  I tried but I did not succeed.  It was truly one of the worst restaurant meals I had ever been served.  And I have been served at a roadhouse in rural Indiana.  I have been served on a shrimp boat in redneck Georgia.  I have been served by a hofbräuhaus in Baden-Württemberg.

Though I have never tasted shoe leather, I am sure it would be a close culinary cousin to this so-called brisket.  Pure gristle.  I could not cut it with a knife.  I could not shred it with my teeth.  I could not be certain it was actually meat.  Feh!

The side of cholent was both flavorless and uncooked and contained bits of gristle.  I have eaten black beans by the Mexican restaurant.  I have cooked garbanzo beans by my own hand.  Beans are never supposed to be hard and crunchy.

The side of mixed greens — this is California — was acceptable.  Multi-colored and slightly bitter.  A few thin rings of red onion.  Nothing special but nothing to complain.  It was the only thing I could stomach.

The meal was more than $24.  Absolutely outrageous.  And I didn’t even get a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry.

The funny thing — and the point of the story — is that I kept thinking I really should give them another chance.  Fortunately, and perhaps predictably, they went out of business before an opportunity presented itself.

Anyway, so it happened, when Bernie Sanders announced he was running for President, I was immediately drawn to his candidacy.

To be fair, my attraction was based on firm political footing.  I can’t count the number of times I have said, “I’m so liberal, I’m practically a Socialist”.  In my heart, I agreed with many of his proposals, such as Medicare for all, though I thought the rich people could very well pay for their own kids’ college educations.

Also, I was impressed that Mr. Sanders’ fundraising focused on small donations from individual citizens rather than big bundles from corporate interests.  But, let’s face it, the way he talks, a Jew from Brooklyn, it makes me to feel right at home.

Alas, the way Mr. Sanders seems to shun his Jewish heritage quickly cooled my keen.

OK, maybe the man doesn’t believe, he doesn’t practice, that’s his prerogative.  But, to refer to his parents as Polish immigrants?  They were not Poles, they were Jews.  It is not the same thing.

And when he speaks about his Jewishness, he is really describing humanism, which is not a bad thing, but it is, by definition, anti-religious.  My strong sense is that he is not being forthright about his feelings.

Even so, I wanted desperately to feel the Bern.  Hillary Clinton has her pluses and minuses, but I could muster no enthusiasm.  I would watch the debates to make my decision.

Indeed, it was those debates that finally convinced me.  It wasn’t anything that either candidate said, it was the non-verbal cues.  It was the way Mr. Sanders kept making faces and laughing and wagging his finger whenever it was Mrs. Clinton’s turn to make her schpiel.

It felt annoying.  It felt disrespectful.  It felt like something I did not want to watch for the next four or eight years.

So today, as we cast our ballots in the California primary, I am not “buying Black”.

I’m with her.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Life Is a Cabaret

Amazon.com is streaming a new series, The Man In the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dicks novel that imagines a universe where Hitler won the second world war and the Third Reich encompasses the United States.

To promote the show, Amazon has decorated a working New York subway car with nazified American symbols, for example, the seats are wrapped with a version of the American flag that replaces the familiar fifty stars with the Nazi Iron Eagle.

I can’t tell you what it must feel like for some elderly Holocaust survivor to step into that car and be surrounded by images reminiscent of those that once terrorized their youth and continue to haunt their dreams.

But I can tell you this.  Some while back, I was in the audience enjoying a production of Cabaret, the musical depicting Berlin during the years in which the Nazis came to power.

All of the sudden, in a single beat, the orchestra and the company went completely silent as red ceiling-to-floor banners bearing the Nazi swastika loudly unfurled throughout the theater.

Instantly, I rose from my seat with the intention of running toward the exit.

While it took only a moment for me to regain my sense of time and place, my response had been visceral, automatic.  And I am born in America, many years after the Shoah.

So, this advertising, we can argue about free speech until the cows come home, but such a stunt seems very cruel indeed.

The MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) standards call for maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all customers and employees.  Yeah, right.

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

A Gay Old Time

After graduate school, my friend Bob finally admitted — to select friends — that he was gay.  I mean, it was hardly a secret.  Not after we went to see the Streetcar revival at the Barrymore and he pulled out his binoculars every time Alec Baldwin pulled off his shirt.

Newly liberated, Bob was eager to introduce me to his new lifestyle.  Of course, there is no singular gay lifestyle; just like straight people, gay people enjoy a multiplicity of alternatives.  Still, having only one gay friend meant that Bob’s variation was the only option readily available for me to sample.

At the time, my home was in Boston and Bob had moved to DC.  So we would meet midway — New York — for the weekend, usually staying with his priceless Aunt Ellie, who would not let us sleep together in the same room.  If she only knew!

Inevitably, we would gather with Bob’s friends and go to a club.  A gay club.  A large vibrating venue with pulsating lights where dancers, packed like sardines, moved rhythmically below massive monitors playing Madonna’s Vogue video or some other gay anthem of the day.

Let me tell you, those clubs provided quite an education.   Back then, there was a terrible stigma associated with being gay.  AIDS was rampant and gay-bashing was regular.  Even in educated, professional circles, many gay people feared revealing themselves would lead to harm and ruin.

We talked a lot about the gay experience.  What it was like to lead a masked life, to be constantly vigilant, to be careful of every word.  What we never talked about was the notion that gay people would some day be able to marry.  It was simply inconceivable.

And in many parts of the country, it remained so, until today, when five US Supreme Court justices held fast to our highest American ideals.  Mazel tov!

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Ain’t I a Woman?

In celebration of her transition from man to woman, Caitlyn — née Bruce — Jenner is on the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair.  She gained fame as a male Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star.  Now she is the most well-known transgender person in the world.

And she is gorgeous.

Normally, I would agree with Jon Stewart’s criticism of the media focus on Caitlyn’s appearance.  But, let’s face it, you don’t put your picture on the exterior of this particular glossy unless you want people should talk about the way you look.  “Vanity”, after all, it means self-admiration.

She is very feminine.

I say this as a woman who is not.  I, too, have wavy brown hair, broad shoulders, sizable breasts, and narrow hips.  But the resemblance ends there.  I do not think even the fabulous Annie Leibovitz could do for me what she has done for Caitlyn.  I mean, Jeez Louise!

I’ll have what she’s having!

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Pfc. Knapp

I have only ever known one veteran who was on active duty during the time of our acquaintance.  Besides a few older relations who fought in the second world war, I have had little interaction with warriors of any stripe.

See, with the exception of those who grew up in Israel where participation in the defense forces is mandatory, my demographic really doesn’t do firearms or battles.  By my family, even toy weapons and team sports were forbidden.

For the most part, we are people of words and summits and treaties.  By and large, we have considered the major combat hostilities of the past fifty plus years both unnecessary and unwise.  Certainly, we do not volunteer for activities where violence and bloodshed are the intended outcome.

In the early 90s, it was the time of the first Gulf War — it’s funny, I don’t even remember the patriotic catchphrase given to this engagement — Operation Something-Something.  Anyway, during this period, Harold Knapp was assigned the office next to mine at work.

We didn’t belong to the same department and we weren’t really “work friends”.  He was a nice enough guy, but as a computer programmer sports fanatic farm boy from Michigan, there wasn’t much to connect us.

Anyway, as it happened, Harold was in the reserves and his unit was deployed to Kuwait.  This was the place on the television where it looked like the whole country was covered by black flames.

Although I favored sanctions and thought the war misguided, every day I worried for Harold.  Every day I watched the Generals Powell and Schwarzkopf on the news.  When Harold finally returned home, I hugged him with unexpected fierceness and cried with surprising joy and relief.

Of course, my experience in no way compares with those separated by land mines and ocean missiles from those they hold most dear.  But still, I think of Harold on days like today, when we are confronted with the horror of wars past and present.

© 2014 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The TMFN Club

A jury in Florida pronounced white neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman not guilty of murder — or even manslaughter — for the uncontested shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.  In doing so, the justice system found his actions in line with the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense laws.

Beginning the night of the tragedy and continuing through the aftermath of the verdict and the recent demonstrations, details of the case and constant media coverage have focused attention on apparent race-related aspects of the situation.

Although I didn’t follow the saga, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Martin might not have been killed had he been white and Mr. Zimmerman might not have been acquitted had he been black.  Racial bias and unequal justice remain stubborn realities here in America.

It’s always been this way, even in my seemingly liberal life.  By junior high, the place very much resembled one of those prison documentaries where the inmates self-segregate into ethnic tribes, mixing only when forced to share a common space for some required activity.

By high school, the students wanted to proclaim their social gang for all to see.  Tattoos weren’t a thing back then but there was a tradition where a circle of friends would make up a fake club and put it in the yearbook along with their legitimate school affiliations.  Like some kind of secret fraternity or sorority.

So underneath someone’s picture it might say “Viking Voice (Editor), Tennis (Co-Captain), Fiddler on the Roof (Golde), S&P Olympics” where the S&P Olympics was not some school-sponsored investing competition but rather the most definitely unsanctioned “Shot & Pot” tournament featuring the champion boozers and burnouts.

Anyway, it’s the senior year and several of the boys in my group list themselves as members of the TMFN Club.  TMFN?  Some of these guys I know since the kindergarten but I never heard this acronym.  Of course, inquiring minds want to know.

But no one would tell me.  Clearly, all of the friends, both the boys and the girls, were wise to the words.  I asked and I asked, only to be told again and again “it’s not very nice” or “you wouldn’t like it”.

I didn’t understand why I was being singled for exclusion.  I had a good sense of humor.  I was a world-class secret keeper.  Still, I was being left in the dark and I felt hurt.

Finally, I asked Jennifer, a recent transfer from somewhere in the deep south.

When she told me, I had to ask her to repeat.  She had a bit of an accent.  I must have misunderstood.  These young men were athletes and scholars from “good” families and headed to top universities.  They would become teachers.  They would become fathers.  They would become jurors.

The horrible truth is that TMFN stood for Too Many F*ck*ng N*gg*rs.

Immediately, I felt shame.  Red hot shame.  I don’t know if I was ashamed of them or if I was ashamed for them, but I did know that I would never again associate with the members of this particular brotherhood.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.