You Too: A Rallying Cry for All Men

Disclaimer: This post is not in any way saying that women are not capable of standing up for themselves, or that women do not also need to support other women and men who have experienced sexual harassment or assault. 

This post is specifically for any man who thinks that sexual violence doesn’t affect him.

In the aftermath of the media firestorm as person after person came forward accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and/or assault over the past few decades, I was horrified that such heinous acts could be hushed up for so long. My heart and prayers go out to the victims, those who have spoken out and those who choose to remain silent because they are not ready to or willing to relive their trauma, and my anger rises up at the realization that we as a society are not doing nearly enough to break the cycle of violence against women.

I was one of the hundreds of women and men who posted “Me too,” across social media to demonstrate the widespread problem of sexual harassment and assault. Many of my dear friends, relatives, coworkers, and classmates shared that they had been victims of sexual violence, and it was devastating to see post after post denoting another person with a story (or multiple) of assault or harassment.

With so many people bravely coming forward to share their experiences, it can be easy to despair. However, I would like to share a personal story with you, and I pray it gives you hope.

In seventh grade, when it was too cold to go out for recess in the winter, we would all go to the auditorium, where we were expected to “find something to do” and be quiet. Most kids totally disregarded this rule, but nerd that I was, I took the opportunity to catch up on my homework.

At some point during these long indoor weeks, one of the boys in my class thought it was funny to sit next to me, say “Hey baby,” and stroke my arm while purring. Just thinking about it now makes me sick. I was 12 years old. No one had ever approached me like a sexual object before, and I had no idea what to do. I was too disgusted and scared to do anything except cringe and turn away until he got bored and left me alone.

One day, a male friend of mine (let’s call him Brian) was sitting on one side of me. When that boy came over to harass me as usual, Brian turned to him and said something like, “Hey! What’s your problem? Leave her alone!” My harasser made a face and left.

Brian then turned to me and said, “Vicky, he shouldn’t be treating you like that. You should tell someone.” But I brushed it off.

I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to make that boy stop. But deep down, I was terrified. What if the teachers didn’t believe me? What if my harasser ignored any reprimand and kept at it? What if he told the whole school I was a liar and a tattletale? What if I got punished instead of him? Or even worse, what if it was my fault all along?

This is why so many victims don’t speak up. It’s disgusting that I have to explain this in 2017, when we’ve seen this situation time and time again. Abuse or harassment is never OK. Period. Abuse or harassment is never the victim’s fault. Period. We’ve heard this a million times at this point and yet we still don’t get it, so it needs to be said over and over again.

After a few more weeks of me consistently declining to tell someone, Brian couldn’t stand by any longer. One day, I was called down to the guidance office. Brian was sitting there when I walked in, and in the presence of him and the guidance counselor, I finally admitted what was going on. The counselor was very understanding. She told me explicitly that it was not my fault, that anyone who touched me in such a way or said something that made me uncomfortable was out of line and their behavior would not be tolerated. I don’t remember what disciplinary actions were taken against my harasser, but he didn’t speak to me again all the way up to graduation, and I’ve never seen him since.

Over the past few days, my heart has been full of gratitude for Brian. We lost contact after high school, but if he is reading this, I hope he knows how grateful I am that he had the courage and wisdom beyond his years to stand up for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself. Unfortunately, many people who experience sexual harassment and/or assault don’t have a Brian. Their cries for help are silenced or ignored. Blame often falls on the victims and not on the perpetrators. And sometimes these perpetrators are promoted or simply moved out of the situation, but their predatory behavior continues.

Men, and all people who believe in the dignity of every human being, this is a rallying cry for you.

I’d like to speak specifically to any man who thinks that sexual violence is not his problem. I know it’s scary to speak up because so often the perpetrators of these actions are your relatives, your friends, your teammates, and your coaches. You’re afraid of being considered “less manly” if you defend the dignity of sexual violence victims. You think that you’d be overreacting because after all, it’s just “locker room talk.”

Let me tell you something. The world doesn’t need any more Harvey Weinsteins or Bill Cosbys or Donald Trumps. The world doesn’t need any more men who stay silent when others are being abused. Simply not engaging in harassment or abuse is no longer good enough. Men, we need you to take a stand. We, as survivors of sexual harassment or abuse, cannot win this war without all of humanity on our side. If you are not actively fighting for us, you are part of the problem.

Here are a few simple ways you can help. Pay attention to your surroundings at a bar or party, in the classroom, the locker room, and the office. If you see something that looks or sounds like harassment or assault, it probably is. Don’t just ignore it; shut it down. If someone you know comes to you saying they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, listen to them. Ask how you can help. But above all, believe them, believe them, believe them, and tell them you believe them again and again and again.

The world will try to tell you you’re an uncivilized animal with no self-control. I know you’re better than that, and you know you’re better than that.

Please understand that I’m not telling you this out of condemnation or malice, but out of love for you, my brothers, and out of my belief in your individual and collective ability to build a safer, more respectful world for all people. In a world of Weinsteins, be a Brian.

Survivors of sexual violence: I love you. I hear you. I believe you.

Men and all other bystanders: We love you. We believe in you. We’re counting on you.

À bientôt

– Vicky

On Leaving (and Coming Home)

“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’” – Maya Angelou

Since the summer I turned 17, my life has been a series of comings and goings. My first time leaving home for an extended period of time was in July 2009, where I attended a month-long theater conservatory two hours away. Then, when I was 18, I left New Jersey to go to college in upstate New York. In both cases, I was more than ready to leave the suburban bubble I grew up in and see the world, not really thinking about what and who I was leaving behind. When I was 20, I left for France for the first time with the comfortable notion that I would be home at the end of the semester. And two years later, I went back to France with the same comfortable notion, though the time of return was significantly further away.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to live in so many places and meet all different kinds of people. However, in my wild dreams of adventure and ambition, I rarely thought about the people I was leaving behind.

In the coming weeks, several good friends, including my own sister, will be leaving the New York metropolitan area to pursue the next step in their education and/or careers. Most likely, I won’t see some of them for many months or years. In past situations, I could handle the separation easily because more often than not, I would be leaving too; graduation never really affected me because I was so focused on where I was going next. This time was different. They were leaving for an extended period of time. I was staying with no immediate prospect of leaving.

It is always easier to leave than to be left behind.

After I left book club Tuesday night, this crushing realization moved me to tears. I was angry with God and with myself. I felt like I was being punished for my insatiable wanderlust and my disregard for the sacrifices made by my family and friends, especially my parents, so I could travel. I wondered if I had thrown away relationships and opportunities at home, and if I had made the right decision in leaving at all.

As I stood on line for the bus, I saw a familiar face a few people behind me. It was the face of a high school friend I hadn’t spoken to in years. Both of us, in our turn, had left our hometown for college, study abroad and different jobs. Now, we had returned. We spent the whole ride catching up, talking about old times and books and current plans, and parted with hopes of seeing each other again. As she got off the bus, I thought of the other friends I had made and remade since coming home, of the opportunies I’ve had in New York, and of my growing relationship with my family. I knew that I was back in New Jersey because there was something for me to do here.

A voice in my heart spoke to me and said, “You see, you of little faith? I am not taking these people away from you. I am calling them to something greater. Do you think it was easy for all the people in your life to let you go? No. They didn’t let you go because they didn’t care; they did it because they love you. My question to you is: do you love your friends enough to let them go?”

I did. I do love my friends and my sister well enough to let them go. Go ahead and laugh and say, “Well that’s the harsh reality of life.” However, I’ve found that merely accepting reality does nothing to relieve the bitter flavor of the situation. Responding to a situation with unconditional love does. Since I have received such unconditional love and support from my family and friends for any adventure I felt called to chase, I can do nothing but the same for anyone else.

Love does not hold. Love liberates. So I love you. Go, and I will stay.

A plus!


– Vicky

Rethinking The New Year’s Resolution

Bonjour, mes amis!

At the end of my last post, I mentioned that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to post on this blog every Friday.

Clearly, that hasn’t happened. I apologize for that. I’m not very good at keeping resolutions in general. But on the upside, I don’t think I’m alone.

Making a New Year’s resolution is founded on a great idea: looking forward to the coming year, and trying to be a better, kinder, healthier, more organized person. However, we seem to have entered into a sad mindset where resolutions can only be made at the beginning of the year, and if they’re broken after two weeks, one week or even a few days, it’s over. We’ve failed. We’ll try again next year.

When did we start giving up on ourselves so quickly? When did we get the idea that we only had one shot to get our New Year’s resolution right, and not a whole 12 months of trial and error?

Making big life changes is difficult. There’s a period of adjustment, when we’re still figuring things out. We forget, we get lazy, we say we’ll start over tomorrow. And we see this as complete, total, unredeemable failure.

The more I thought about my own New Year’s resolutions and my successful and not-so-successful attempts at fulfilling them, the more I realized that I was putting the focus on the wrong thing. These resolutions or tasks I wanted to complete in 2016 were merely stepping stones that directed me to an area of my life that I wanted to improve upon.

For example, I am the worst at responding to messages: text, Facebook, email, snail mail, passenger pigeon, you name it. I read the message, mentally process the information, and then never respond. My thoughtlessness has received several well-meaning complaints from friends and family, and this is not something I want to carry into my professional life. Therefore, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to respond to every short message within 8 hours, and every longer message within 24 hours. Side note: I avoid answering personal messages at work, but any work-related message deserves an immediate response.

This month, I’ve had some success with this resolution, but many, many failures. My ultimate goal is not to get better at responding to messages, because I honestly find writing messages really stressful and time-consuming, like every sentence that I send out into the universe has to be perfect. Crazy writer, I know. However, I deeply value my relationships with others, personal and professional, so if answering people’s messages in a timely manner makes them feel valued, respected and loved, it’s so worth the minor stress and little time taken. My ultimate goal with this resolution is to be a more trustworthy and reliable person, and to mend any rifts in my relationships that I’ve caused by not responding to messages. 

If you’ve been struggling to keep your New Year’s resolution(s), whatever it is, don’t give up on yourself. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what your ultimate goal is. Maybe you want to lose weight because you know it will avoid future health problems. Maybe you want to spend more time in prayer because you want to become a more peaceful and holy person. Don’t look at your resolution as a task to be accomplished, but as a small step toward becoming the best version of yourself.

So what’s my ultimate goal with posting on this blog every week? To sharpen my skills as a writer, and most of all, to connect with you — my wonderfully patient and supportive readers. Thank you for following me on this journey, even when I fall short. In the words of JJ Heller, “Let’s fight a good fight, train our eyes to find the light, and make this year the best one yet … starting right here, Happy New Year!

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: Share your New Year’s resolutions with me in the comments! Let’s hold each other accountable. 🙂

 

 

 

TAPIF: One Year Later

At the beginning of October 2014, I began my year in Compiègne with the Teaching Assistant Program in France. One year ago.

I was supposed to arrive at the end of September, but plane engine issues coupled with airport strikes in Paris (Ah, la joie des grèves françaises!) delayed my arrival in France by 10 hours. However, I arrived. And what a year I had!

When many people describe a profound experience, they say it “changed my life.” This often implies that something (a quality, an idea, a person) was missing before the event took place. My seven months in Compiègne were not life-changing in the sense that I became someone I wasn’t. Rather, I changed because qualities that lay dormant in me were revived and strengthened, and even some faults were diminished. I begin to think that growth is not so much an addition or subtraction as it is a refinement of spirit. If God formed us fearfully and wonderfully, He must have given us everything we need to go through life, and sends people or experiences into our lives accordingly to draw out and refine these different qualities in us.

I’m not going to write a “listicle” for this topic because it’s too simple. Rather, I’ll just share two of the most poignant lessons from my time in France, hopefully in a semi-coherent manner.

I’ll be honest: I’m no expert on children.  I took a babysitting class in middle school, but there were never any kids in my neighborhood to babysit, and my youngest cousins lived far away. I never took a pedagogy class in college. So no, I didn’t really know what I was in for when I accepted a position teaching middle school English. Since I returned home, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from prospective teaching assistants expressing the same fear: “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never taught anyone anything! How am I supposed to teach them for a whole year?” To those assistants who might be reading this post: you don’t need a long resume of teaching experience to do this. You just need to be a resource.

On January 7, 2015, the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked, and many of France’s prominent political cartoonists were killed. The next day, I walked into my weekly conversation club with a lesson all ready. One of my students raised his hand and said, “Miss, can we talk about Charlie Hebdo?” I could see the fear and pain in the eyes of my 12- and 13-year-old students, so I agreed. We spent the whole hour discussing the event (in English) and I said very little. The class carried the conversation all on its own. My only remark was at the end of the lesson: “There are many people in the United States who are thinking of you and who support you.”

Kids are used to adults not taking them seriously. It used to infuriate me when I was younger, and I’m sure it was the same for you. The best thing you can be for any child is a willing listener.

Outside from teaching, I became bolder. I learned bite the bullet of fear and take chances, especially when it came to meeting new friends.

There is a stereotype that the French are not as friendly and open as Americans are. In my experience, this is only partly true. Most of the French people I met were very friendly and open, especially once they found out I could speak French well. But it was not the same smothering friendliness that you often see from Americans. It was a reserved politeness that slowly, organically developed into friendship.

I found out about the Communauté Chrétienne des Étudiants (Catholic community at the local university), a week or two after I arrived. It took me another month to work up the courage to attend a meeting. What sort of community was this? What if they never had an international student before? What if my French wasn’t good enough? And was I even allowed to join because I wasn’t a student?

God makes swift work of our doubts when we trust Him and take a leap of faith. I attended my first CCE Mass and dinner in November, and my only regret was not going sooner! In this community, I found warm, welcoming people from all over France and the world who cared about me and made me feel at home. Some of my best memories of the year come from this community. It was so wonderful to make real French friends!

And of course, I can’t forget the other language assistants I met from all over the world, an eclectic little family of expats that supported one another exploring a new country. And abundant kindness flowed in from my roommates, my coworkers, my students and their families, and even the everyday compiègnois. Most greeted me with a kind bonjour and smile, and many went beyond the call of politeness, inviting me to dinners and parties, or taking me on excursions to tourist sites in the area. It was truly heartbreaking to leave a place that had become like home in less than a year.

Toward the end of my stay, I thanked as many people as I could in person for their welcome and hospitality. One friend responded,  “It was nothing. You were so dynamic and happy that you fit right in.”

Goodness attracts goodness. You don’t have to be an outgoing or extroverted person to find friends in a strange land. You just need to be present, be open, be kind. There will be times of loneliness and homesickness, and that’s OK. But if you have courage enough to reach outside of yourself, you will make a home wherever you go.

Merci à tous qui m’a très bien accueillir pendant mon séjour à Compiègne. And bon courage to all the new language assistants in France this year.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Learning to Love the American (My Accent is Weird, Part 2)

Wow! I don’t think I’ve gotten this much online and in-person feedback on a post in a long time. I recently wrote about why I think my American accent is really unattractive, and I got a surprising number of comments, messages, and people coming up to me to talk about it. Though my intention was to write a lighthearted commentary on accents in general, many readers didn’t take it as such. In light of this, I decided to write a follow-up in which I addressed some of my readers’ concerns and tried to make peace with my Yankee accent.

A few months ago, I accompanied my students on a field trip to see an English-language play. All of the actors except one were British- or American-born. At the end of the show, there was a Q-and-A session. They called on me, and I spoke slowly and distinctly so my students could understand the question. One of the actors, who was from Chicago, said, “Wow, we have a bunch of Brits over there!” I laughed, but I was thinking, “Really, dude? You can’t recognize one of your own?”

In talking about my accent, I think of this story because it shows that while I’ve been fleeing my American roots in some respects, I’m still taken aback whenever mistakes me for anything but American. I can’t blame Mr. Chicago for the confusion; my accent is especially weird around my students. Many of the French teachers I work with learned British English in school, not American, so their pronunciation and vocabulary lean heavily toward that side of the Atlantic. Though American English is becoming more widespread thanks to Netflix and the Internet, most French students learn British words before American ones.

As such, I’ve had to adjust my vocabulary and accent so my students understand me: “Please write your homework in your diary. Make sure you revise for your test. Put up your hand. Don’t eat chewing-gum. No mobiles in class.” I’m sure many of you American readers are thinking, “I’d never say it like that!” I’m not even sure if British people talk like this. However, as anyone who has ever studied a language knows, learning from a textbook is very different than having a conversation with a native speaker. I’m sure if any of my French friends flipped through my high school French textbook, they would laugh at the awkwardness of the French sentences I’m expected to learn. I didn’t think I was so proud of American English until I caught myself saying, “Well, in America, we say ______,” on a daily basis.

As much as I love to critique and poke fun at American culture, it’s the one I was raised in. It formed my identity whether I wanted it to or not. It’s a hard-earned privilege to be able to speak a foreign language well in a country that doesn’t put nearly enough emphasis on learning languages (another rant, another time.) I’m still amazed that I can walk into a store and ask the salesperson a question without them immediately switching to English. Every encouraging comment — “Tu parles très bien français!” — feels like a blow to the obnoxious American tourist stereotype. And since busting stereotypes and glass ceilings is one of my favorite hobbies, I feel all the force of the compliment.

With this newfound encouragement, I’ve been trying to appreciate my accent. Even if I don’t like it, some French people may find it endearing, and many can and are willing to listen past it. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful friends I’ve made in France for being patient as I struggled to form a complicated sentence, for gently correcting my mistakes, and for taking the time to get to know me. I wouldn’t be at the level of French I am today without you. Merci mille fois.

To anyone who also feels insecure when speaking a foreign language: An accent means you’re trying. That’s the most important thing.

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment on my last post! Any other thoughts about accents? Leave me a comment!

The Liebster Award

Bonjour, mes amis!

On a lighter note than my last post, I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award by my dear friend Emily. I haven’t done an about-me post in a while and I’ve gotten a bunch of new commenters and followers in the meantime. So here’s a little fun diversion until the follow-up to my last post (coming soon, I hope).

The Liebster Award is an award given from one blogger to the next – a total of their favorite blogs – with fewer than 200 followers.

Rules:

  • link back and thank the blogger(s) who nominated you.
  • answer the 11 questions they give you
  • tag up to 11 bloggers who have 200 or fewer followers
  • ask your nominees 11 questions and let them know you tagged them!

So I may be biased because we’ve been friends for almost six (six?!) years, but Emily’s blog is amazing. If you love anything having to do with movies, TV and pop culture in general, you have to check out her blog. Oh, and did I mention you can find her writing for Elite Daily? Thanks for the nomination, girlie. Keep being awesome. I miss you!

OK, let’s see what we have here …

1. If you could have tea with any one person from history who would it be?

There are just so many! For a tea-drinking buddy, I’ll go with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, mostly so I could just bask in her saintly awesomeness. I haven’t read her autobiography yet, but I took a trip to Lisieux a month ago and it made me love her even more. Anne Frank is also on that list, but instead of having tea, I’d rather have a sleepover where we read girly magazines and spill our souls until 5 a.m.

2. Who is your favorite pop culture vampire?

DRACULA. Nobody beats the original and the best. Dracula will never not be scary, and he will never, ever sparkle.

3. What was the first chapter book you remember reading?

There were probably others before it, but the first I distinctly remember reading was “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’m an old soul, I know. Mary Lennox just fascinated me, probably because I was more of a Sara Crewe kind of girl. I specifically remember reading the chapter where Mary enters the garden for the first time. That was such a magical and exciting moment, and I don’t think I’d turned a page that fast before.

4. What’s up next in your Netflix Queue?

Nothing at the moment, because I’m in a country with spotty Netflix. But I do have “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Virgin Suicides” from the library.

5. What is your favorite word?

You’re really making me pick just one?!

OK, for the purposes of this question, I love snarky in English, chamallow (marshmallow) in French, and squillare (to ring, like a phone) in Italian.

6. Which member of the Scooby Gang is your favorite?

Velma. She was always underrated, but to me, she seemed really awesome.

Oh wait, wrong show …

7. What is your favorite, ‘so bad it’s good’ movie to watch?

I had to really think about this one. I’ll have to go with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s “Passport to Paris.” No, this movie is NOT the reason I love France, because that’s just insulting. I always watched this movie at the dentist’s office because I never owned it. It’s enjoyably over-the-top and silly, and living in France has debunked many of the stereotypes in that movie for me. On a side note, if the American ambassador to France doesn’t know what French fries are, he’s doing it wrong.

8. What music album changed the way you listen to music the most?

Vanessa Carlton’s “Be Not Nobody” was the first album I listened to and loved all the way through. This was back in her “A Thousand Miles” days — don’t lie, you still know all the words. It was the first time I had ever heard a hit song by a new artist and loved it so much that I wanted to buy the whole album. And guess what? I still love her. She’s still making music. Her best songs are not on the radio, which is a dang shame. Oh, and she just had a baby.

9. What house do you think you would be sorted into at Hogwarts?

Huffleclaw. Or Ravenpuff.

10. What is your favorite Broadway musical?

“Into the Woods.” Easy.

11. Which celebrity death will you never really get over?

It’s not really a death, per se, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over the Civil Wars breakup. Ever. That was just one of the most beautiful and perfect duos of all time. Chemistry like that doesn’t come around that often, and I’m sorry it didn’t work out for them. However, Joy Williams just released a new single and it’s awesome.

Whew, I did it! Amanda Livingston, Adventures of a Sunbeam, This M Word, No Money for a Compass, The Horseshoe Crab March, Confessions of an Aspiring Journalist, Bohemian Nerd, Dave’s Corner, THE FASHION MARIONNETTE, Curious Comet, and noveltreks, you’re up.

1. What’s one piece of advice you would give yourself five years ago?

2. Describe your dream place of residence.

3. What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

4. Which song or artist in your music collection are you most embarrassed about?

5. What would you do if your blog had 1 million followers?

6. Which language would you most like to learn and why?

7. Finish this sentence: I could be happy without ____________.

8. If you could give a TED talk on any subject, what would it be about?

9. Which movie deserves a sequel?

10. If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?

11. Name one thing you did in the past week that you’re proud of.

Again, thank you Emily for nominating me. New nominees, go wild!

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Hundred Word Reviews: “The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton

Challenge No. 2: A Book a Friend Recommended

“The Man Who Was Thursday” by Gilbert Keith Chesterton, finished January 28. Recommended by my brilliant friend and college roommate, Katie.

man-who-was-thursday

Hundred Word Review: Gabriel Syme, an undercover policeman, meets a young poet who promises a “very entertaining evening.” Before he knows it, he is elected to an elite anarchist council and given the name Thursday. In trying to overthrow the fearsome leader, Sunday, Syme meets unsuspected allies and new enemies in a wild chase of gunpowder, treason, and plot. This book makes your brain hurt, but it’s so fun to read! It’s scary, suspenseful, and hilarious with a mind-blowing twist. If anything, read it for the insults: “If you’d take your head home and boil it for a turnip, it might be useful.”

Check out PopSugar’s challenge and let me know in the comments if you have a book recommendation for one of the categories. And if you want to do the challenge yourself, let me know what you’re reading!

Next up, “a book with nonhuman characters.”

Happy reading!

Vicky