Let’s Stop Punishing Girls for the Behavior of Men and Boys, M’Kay?

When I was in middle school back in the olden days (hint: it was just after leg warmers went out and hypercolor shirts came in), I had this t-shirt that had a cartoon duck on it. It said “Tall, Duck and Handsome.” I’d done some growing, so it was a little short – it skimmed the top of my jeans, and like an inch of belly was exposed when I raised my arms. This was too much for the puritans of our local school district, who pulled me out of class, called my mom, and told her that such skimpy clothing was not allowed on awkward prepubescent girls.

My mother, who was something of a warrior, read them the riot act. She belted them with facts: we were still little kids. The shirt was cute and funny, not sexy. The shirt covered pretty much everything unless I raised my arms overhead, and if they couldn’t handle that little bit of skin, that was their problem. She had them quaking by the end of her tirade. I think they were about to give up and send me back to class, but she pulled me out of school and took me to have either ice cream or lunch – unfortunately, my memory fades on that point. We had a nice mother-daughter day, and I knew from then onward that my mom would always have my back in battles over dress codes. When they divorced, my dad took over the not giving a shit and expecting other people to accept my sartorial choices. When people would ask him how he could possibly let me wear x, y, or z, he’d calmly explain to them that I was comfortable and creative, and if they had a problem, they’d have to deal with it their own damn selves.

I grew up thinking this was how things should be. But I have discovered that we’ve gone rather backwards. Women’s clothing choices have always been policed, but when schools send girls home for dressing like this: Continue reading “Let’s Stop Punishing Girls for the Behavior of Men and Boys, M’Kay?”

Let’s Stop Punishing Girls for the Behavior of Men and Boys, M’Kay?

“The Gravity Keeping My World In Place Was Gone” – Escape Chapter 7: Marriage

All of the content warnings, people. Have your emergency kitten on standby. In the final pages of this chapter of Escape, we get a first-hand look at what a forced polygamous marriage looks like.

Two days ago, the Prophet announced Carolyn could go to college – but she has to marry virtual stranger and terrible human Merril Jessop first. Carolyn, her dad, and her two moms arrive in Salt Lake City for her wedding to a man 32 years her senior. She hasn’t spoken with him. She doesn’t even want him to touch her. But when her father only gets two hotel rooms, she realizes she’s going to be forced to sleep with Merril. As her mothers get her dressed and coiffed for the ceremony, she feels like she’s “being prepared for a ritual sacrifice.” Continue reading ““The Gravity Keeping My World In Place Was Gone” – Escape Chapter 7: Marriage”

“The Gravity Keeping My World In Place Was Gone” – Escape Chapter 7: Marriage

Fundamentalist High School Drama – Escape Chapter 6: The Nusses

After the unremitting awful that was the last chapter, it’s nice to hit a light-ish one again. This is Escape, so there’s still plenty of bullshit that will make your teeth grind, but I’ve gotta admit, it’s kind of fun to get a taste of high school drama FLDS style

There’s a new high school in town, so those folks on the Prophet Uncle Roy side of the great religious divide can finally get an education.

The split in our community was now in it’s seventh year. One of the consequences was that many families pulled their children out of the private high school so they would not be contaminated by the children of the families on the other side of the divide who supported Uncle Roy. As a result, many boys wound up working on construction jobs instead of going to high school. The girls who were forbidden to go to the private high school were confined to their homes. Most of the girls who were kept out of school were disappointed because they had wanted an education and a diploma before they were assigned to a marriage. They knew that their futures were being shortchanged.

Yep. When you’ve got your eyes on eternal salvation, you don’t give a shit about your kids’ education. You don’t care if their ignorance cripples them here on Earth, condemning them to a lifetime of misery and poverty, just so long as their souls are saved. Besides, too much book-learnin’ could lead to H-E-double-hockey-sticks. Continue reading “Fundamentalist High School Drama – Escape Chapter 6: The Nusses”

Fundamentalist High School Drama – Escape Chapter 6: The Nusses

Trapped – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom”

In our last installment of Escape, we watched Carolyn’s sister Linda flee the FLDS cult with her friend Claudel, despite the threat of losing their families and being condemned to the worst portions of hell. In the last half of this chapter, we’ll see that running from the FLDS is one thing. Hiding successfully is quite another.

When women flee the FLDS, they’re hunted down like fugitives on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, only with less of a chance to evade capture. Linda and Claudel only manage a few days of freedom before they’re tracked and surrounded by a posse of their male relatives. The woman they’re staying with has to call the police to get rid of them, and even when told by the cops that the girls are legal adults and can do whatever they want, so scram, Linda’s dad won’t leave until he’s talked to her. She finally relents when he promises to leave her alone after they’ve spoken.

Pro tip: when an abusive asshole or a cult authority tells you they’ll stop bothering you if you’ll just talk to them this once, they’re lying. So, y’know, don’t bother. Continue reading “Trapped – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom””

Trapped – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom”

Bringing Warren Jeffs to Justice: The Witness Wore Red Review

If you’ve read Elissa Wall’s harrowing Stolen Innocence, you already know a sliver of Rebecca Musser’s story. She’s Elissa’s sister, and was introduced under the pseudonym Kassandra. You’ll remember her as the vivacious young woman married to elderly prophet Rulon Jeffs. She had tried to make Elissa’s underage coerced wedding day less painful, became her lifeline, and left her devastated when she fled the cult. Later, Rebecca helped Elissa begin her escape by giving her a taste of life outside the FLDS. The sisters would later be instrumental in bringing Warren Jeffs to justice.

In The Witness Wore Red, we not only get Rebecca’s own story: we get aspects of Elissa’s story through her sister’s eyes, which helps broaden and deepen the context of both their lives. We see the Wall family as it was in the earlier days, before the new house, when Elissa and Rebecca’s part of the family would have to hide in the basement to escape the violent jealousy of their father’s other wife. We’re shown some of the domestic violence endemic to FLDS families, and the child sexual assault perpetrated so often within them – in addition to the violent other mother, Rebecca has to endure groping and attempted rape by an older half-brother. She, of course, is the one who gets called a whore when he assaults her.

If you’ve read Stolen Innocence first, it’s a bit confusing at first to navigate this book, which is using different names for people we already know from Elissa’s book, but you soon get everyone sorted out. And you’re too wrapped up in the trainwrecks of all these various lives to mind. Rebecca and her co-author are very good at putting you in Rebecca’s shoes, experiencing the stomach-clenching anxiety, anger, and despair of a girl trying to navigate the minefields of her religiously-smothered life.

She survives the FLDS school where Warren Jeffs rules, and gets a brief taste of adult life as a teacher, before being betrothed to 85 year-old Rulon Jeffs at the age of 18. Shortly after her 19th birthday, she becomes his 19th wife, very much against her own wishes. She’s never been given counseling to help her sort out the guilt and shame from her half-brother’s sexual assault, and on her wedding night, is desperately hoping humans are indeed higher than animals and that she won’t be forced to endure Rulon’s sexual advances. FLDS members are supposed to only have sex for procreation, and Rulon is far too old to sire children. But he has no regard for religious rules or Rebecca’s own wishes. Her only reprieve is the notion that with so many wives, he won’t be able to sleep with her often – but then learns that he only sleeps with his youngest wives, ignoring the older ones.

She’s able to go back to teaching, but it’s a difficult life for her. She witnesses the truth of the Jeffs men: they’re not exalted beings, but selfish, grasping men who love to degrade women. When Rulon has a stroke, she watches his son Warren step in and lie to the people. She looks on in horror as he begins to marry off younger and younger women. And then her young sister Elissa is forced into marriage at 14. We see Rebecca ordered to make Elissa happy, and watch her doing her best to cheer her while crying inside.

By the time Rulon dies, Rebecca is already almost at the end of her tether, having endured too much abuse and been forced to witness too many awful things. When Warren Jeffs starts marrying his father’s widows (an act prohibited by FLDS incest taboos, which he as prophet feels free to ignore), she finds herself questioning her faith. She begins a cautious friendship with Ben Musser, the only man she’s ever felt safe with. But after Ben kisses her, Warren tells her she’s cost Ben his salvation, and she’s going to be married to someone else within a week. She’s allowed to tell him her choice of men, but she’ll be forced to do something she’s adamantly against: enter another marriage.

She breaks. Then she makes a break for it, trusting a few scattered memories of the kindness of strangers on the outside. Ben escapes with her, and they begin a new life among the apostates, helped by her brothers who have already been kicked out of or left the cult. She describes how hard the transition is, how it’s difficult to make her own decisions, and learn how to function outside of the FLDS.

Ben begins a relationship with her, one that comes across as dubiously consensual to me. Soon, she’s pregnant, which causes a whole new set of issues. Ben stays with her, but the FLDS life is all they’ve ever known, and they fall into the old patterns of male dominance, which causes considerable strain.

When Warren Jeffs is arrested and Elissa’s former husband is brought up on charges of child rape, Rebecca becomes a witness against them. The last third of the book is her quest for justice, and freedom for the women still trapped inside the cult. She ends up testifying in many trials, always wearing red – a color Warren Jeffs had for forbidden.

Her work with the prosecution exposes her to the extent of the horrors Jeffs perpetrated. She’s there when his Texas compound is raided, and explains the significance of what they find there. Through her, we see the room in the FLDS temple where plural wives would have to witness their husband having sex with each of them, complete with a clerk to record the act. Girls as young as twelve were recorded being raped there. Rebecca listens to the audio of one child rape, and it is horrific, even though she shields us somewhat.

In the end, Rebecca can’t save all of her sisters from the cult. She can’t save her marriage as the strain of repeated trials and diverging worldviews destroys it. But she is able to get justice for Elissa and many other girls harmed by the FLDS cult. And with her story, she shows the way out for many more.

It’s an infuriating, heart-rending book. But it’s also infused with hope. It’s more than worth your time.

Image is the cover of The Witness Wore Red. On top, there is a picture of Rulon Jeffs with many of his wives, all of whom are wearing white. Rebecca's dress has been photoshopped to be red. Below the title is a picture of Rebecca Musser dressed in red and flanked by Texas lawmen, ready to enter the courtroom to testify against Warren Jeffs.

Bringing Warren Jeffs to Justice: The Witness Wore Red Review

‘Today is a Good Day to Deny’: The American Right Wing Refusal to Face Facts

I hope it’s only in America that a young white man can walk into a historic black church, tell the black people inside he’s there to kill them because they’re black, murder nine black people, tell the police he murdered them because they’re black, and publish a manifesto explaining he’s killing black people because they’re black… and end up with right wing blowhards claiming the crime has nothing to do with racism. People, if racism can’t be defined in part as “murdering a bunch of people because they’re black,” it’s time we strike the sapiens from our species’ name. We’re in no way wise if we can’t recognize the blatant racism that drove this horrific crime.

Image is nine photographs of the idividuals murdered in Charleston. The women are on the sides, the men down the middle.
The nine people murdered in Emmanuel AME Church. Via Ophelia Benson.

Continue reading “‘Today is a Good Day to Deny’: The American Right Wing Refusal to Face Facts”

‘Today is a Good Day to Deny’: The American Right Wing Refusal to Face Facts

Fleeing Marriage – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom”

I informed you last week, after that relatively light chapter of Escape, that we’d be right back into the horror show. People, it’s bad. You might want to grab a mouth guard, because you’re going to be spitting nails and gnashing your teeth to nubs. Content notice for emotional abuse, creepy old men, stalking, spiritual abuse, and coerced marriage.

We’re plunged eyebrow-deep in awful right from the first paragraph, when we learn that a creep in his fifties has been stalking Carolyn’s seventeen year-old sister, Linda. He reports to her father things he disapproves of: her skirt’s too short one day, her heels too high another, and why did she comb her hair differently today?

The girls’ mother, Nurylon, is incensed enough to tell her husband “that she didn’t trust this man.” This does zero good: Continue reading “Fleeing Marriage – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom””

Fleeing Marriage – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom”

Really Terrible Bible Inspirations: Craven Hubbies Edition

I’m about a third of the way through Really Terrible Bible Stories vol. 2: Exodus, and I am already longing for the days of Genesis. I mean, God was still a complete asshole, and the people were mostly awful, but at least God wasn’t quite so sadistic. He was still a complete bully who delights in others’ pain, but in Exodus, he’s really refined his tormenting technique. And yet, for all the blood and gore and evil, it’s a hideously boring book in a lot of places. So I’ve got a job o’ work ahead of me, not merely stripping off God’s mask to reveal the shitlord beneath, but also stripping out the boring bits.

One thing Exodus is mercifully free of is cowardly husbands. You know the ones. Remember Abraham, who tried to pass Sarah off as his sister? Twice? And then it turns out that she is his sister! He married his half-sister. Ew. And then he was too much of a coward to stand up to other men, but made her pretend to be unmarried so the horny dudes would creep on her without trying to kill him. What a mensch. Continue reading “Really Terrible Bible Inspirations: Craven Hubbies Edition”

Really Terrible Bible Inspirations: Craven Hubbies Edition

Teenagers Stampede to Avoid Marriage – Escape Chapter 4: “New Wife, New Mother”

This chapter of Escape is a welcome break from the last. It’s practically sunshine and puppies in comparison, although there’s still plenty to be horrified by.

When you hear the words “new wife, new mother,” do you immediately think of a newlywed who’s just had her first child? Then you’re probably not FLDS. In this chapter title, Carolyn’s talking about her dad, Arthur, getting another wife, who will become Carolyn and her siblings’ new mother. Fortunately, the FLDS prophet has paired her dad with a woman everyone already likes: their mom’s niece Rosie.

Yep. Niece. Carolyn tells us that it’s “not at all unusual for sisters to be married to the same husband, and it was certainly not unusual for a niece to share a husband with her aunt.” Oof. We also learn that some men never get a second wife. Those who do generally wait 10-15 years after their first one. The more wives a man has, the more powerful he is.

Lovely. Continue reading “Teenagers Stampede to Avoid Marriage – Escape Chapter 4: “New Wife, New Mother””

Teenagers Stampede to Avoid Marriage – Escape Chapter 4: “New Wife, New Mother”

“Scripture and Whip” – Escape Chapter 3: School Days

This is one of the worst chapters in Escape. Considering how much abuse we’ve seen already, and how bad it gets later on, that’s saying something. Needless to say: Content Notice for severe child physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse.

Carolyn starts the chapter with her excitement at finally being old enough to start school. She’s now six and a half. We learn that FLDS kids don’t attend kindergarten; supposedly home is better. But Carolyn’s home is one without books, without even fairy tales. I can’t even stand this. My mom filled my childhood with books. I started to read a bit on my own by age 3, and some of my best memories are of afternoon reading time with my mom. I became a writer because she’d told me every fairy tale she knew and run out of ideas for new ones by the time I was six, so she encouraged me to make up my own. My thirst to learn and imagine was never quenched – that would be impossible – but Mom gave me bottomless springs to drink from. Carolyn was just as thirsty, and was only given a few pitiful drops to drink.

There wasn’t even a public library, in a town of several thousand people, overflowing with children. That’s practically criminal. And no, I’m not being sarcastic.

Just before Carolyn starts school, they have one of those magnificent southwestern summer downpours that turns the desert into an instant wetland. Continue reading ““Scripture and Whip” – Escape Chapter 3: School Days”

“Scripture and Whip” – Escape Chapter 3: School Days