Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: Battery

The Preludes to Assaults

Feel free to share. Note this essay and my other essays on violence are collected here at the site on my page: On Violence.

#gomeshi #ghomeshi #ibelievelucy #IStandWithLucy #BillCosby #hairextensions #truthmatters #rapeculture #cndjustice

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted]. I don’t know you very well, but I know this: one night in early 2004, after I’d been awarded a writing prize in Ottawa, you followed me to a side room annexed to the main hall, where I’d gone to get away from the crowds, and while my (then) wife was in the bathroom or off getting another drink, I’m not sure, you put your hand on me. That hand. One of the very hands that is being discussed in court this week. You closed the distance between us and you massaged my shoulder/neck while talking to me about how I needed to relieve the stress of my big win. Eventually my (then) wife returned, you dropped your hand (that hand), and we smiled politely and “uh-huh’d” while you bashed the Rockies, BC and, in particular, Vancouver.

You didn’t ask me if you could massage me. I guess you assumed you could touch me. The way men, the entitled 50%, have always assumed they could access women’s bodies at will. You were a star, and your status helped me to tamp down my resistance. I don’t know why the hell you picked me, as I had just been on stage thanking my (then) wife; I was obviously queer and out and significantly older. Maybe I was just the only woman alone during that function? I do know that a number of other men, and people elsewhere on the gender spectrum, have previously in my life singled me out for non-respectful interactions. The truth is, I did not step back, Jian Gomeshi, you [redacted], and I excoriate myself for that now. I should value myself more.

I was taught to be polite. I was taught to smile and nod and always, always be friendly. I was told that friendliness could get me out of pinches, even save my life, and indeed, through the years, this mostly proved to be true. Doing what men tell you to do is just a good idea. Not doing what they tell you to do can be disastrous.

I wish it weren’t so, because they would be illuminating, but stats for close calls don’t exist. The binds we’ve escaped because of our own instinct or intelligence or cunning remain undocumented.

Let me talk about what you touching me was and was not, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted]. Because you had followed me and waited until I was alone to approach, what you did was strange and mildly unsettling. I felt a sense of disquiet. But given my sexual orientation and marital status, I also didn’t take what you did particularly seriously. That night I stayed up with another Canadian literary luminary getting drunk and laughing until 4 a.m. He certainly didn’t massage me and I’ve never written a post about his bad behaviour, nor would I. Guess why? There wasn’t any.

Okay, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], I get that what you did to me was not a charge-able assault, or, arguably, even an assault. I didn’t take it as one, then, and I don’t now. But I’m going to tell you what it was. It was the something else that so many of us experience 1000 times a year as Canadian people assigned female at birth, and trans–and let’s name it for what I now believe it was: the prelude to a potential assault.

The preludes to potential assaults are these: language or behaviour or touching that create in their  targets vague senses of unease that we “get over” as the day or week wears on. There is so much of this kind of crap slung in women’s directions in the average day that often we don’t even bother mentioning an encounter. We don’t tell our spouse. We don’t tell our employer. We don’t call a friend. Because these little infractions against our sovereignty, these thousands of small infractions, intended to train us to patriarchy, are par for the course. But we all understand what they’re actually telling us: they’re actually reminding us about what could happen.

If, say, we get uppity. If, say, we say no. If, say, we fight back. If, say, he woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

A year before you massaged my back, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], you allegedly hurt Lucy de Coutere. And there were alleged other victims, too. With that same hand you extended to me. With that very same hand you used to caress me. If the allegations are true, you wrapped that hand around victims’ throats and choked them. If the allegations are true, you used one of your hands to slap and punch your victims.

But guess what, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], let me tell you something about society. There are lingering effects to minor harrassment. Harrassment is a bridge built of a substance called continuum that Canadian women walk over every day of our lives from the day we are pushed into our pink worlds to the day we close our eyes the last time. And on that bridge are guys, nice guys, scum nozzles, and turds rolled in sprinkles. On that bridge of spectrums are guys (and some others) with their hands out, fingers waggling. Guys demanding we pay the toll. We’ll let you cross, they say, but only if you’ll smile. Only if you’ll give us a little kiss. Only if you’ll stop a minute and chat. Only if you’ll go home with us. If you want an “A.” If you want that promotion. Only if you get scared, because we appreciate scared. Only if we get to bash you in the head, throttle you, rape you and leave you for dead.

They say, We know you like it. They say, You asked for it.

You know what this mountain of harassment (and worse) does to the harried? It makes us queasy. It makes us question our interpretations. It makes us question our importance. It makes us scared to go out at night. Nervous to walk our own streets. Careful to lock our windows. It makes us tamp ourselves down.

It does all that because it’s meant to do all that. That’s exactly what it’s for.

The truth is, we aren’t fully enfranchised members of society, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted].

This all has a name, this systemic oppression. It’s called misogyny, and in Canada we need an inquiry* to untangle its octopedal arms so we can root it the hell out of our country, and unfasten our institutions from it. Imagine the productivity here if all our population was equally enfranchised. Not 50%, or 60%, or 80%, but 100%?

Really, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], I want you to stop and think about that. I want you to imagine a different world, a world where one class of people can’t get away with (allegedly) treating another class of people violently.

Because right now, in part because of you, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], we people who’ve experienced violence are triggered. We are not just thinking about your behaviour, and your lawyer’s behaviour, we are thinking of so many other times in our lives where someone else has behaved badly, where someone didn’t respect and honour us.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], this is all coming back up for us, all at once, until it pools like another Canadian ocean under that bridge men have been having us walk, tying us together across the country in one collective wave. We are thinking about times someone followed us onto the bridge. Times we were groped. Times we were pressured. Times we were coerced. Times we were held against our will. Times we had brusies. Times we were battered. Times we were raped.

This collective will says, We are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.* Pretty soon, if we have our way, you guys with your baitings and assaults are all going to tumble off that bridge and drown in a big cold ocean of women rising up.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], ours is a world that celebrates the male. You know what else is part of our oppressive system? Not letting women drive, or vote, or own property, or go out without male accompaniment. Saying that girls are not good at math, giving girls passive toys, not letting women go to unversity, glass ceilings, few female politicians, women earning less than men for work of equal value, women bearing the brunt of child-rearing and housework, women who perpetuate stereotypes even as they obtain jobs where they could change them.

All that stuff we call sexism? That is just misogyny written in semen. Men like you built the world. You built it to work for you. And it works for you most of the time.

We are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.*

Some men are up in arms this week, cautioning Canadian women to calm the fuck down. Don’t get your sweet little heads all in a tizzy, they say, in Canada we have something called due process. This is supposed to happen to complainants in court. Ultimately, it protects all of us.

In Canada, during due process, victims get psychologically battered, and we, the potentially violated, are standing upright while court is in session, quite out of order, and questioning that. We are saying This is not okay. This is an abridgement of Canadian values and Charter freedoms.

We are saying to the survivors of spectrum violence and to the brave, fierce women in court: We believe you and we stand with you and our support will never waver.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], isn’t this quite the amazing system men have developed for themselves over the centuries? This system where women are achingly vulnerable, taught from a young age to submit, while the other half of the population (and a few strays from our side) takes advantage? Because let’s face it, what our patriarchy requires more than convictions, and we all know it, is an intact status quo.

So Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], thanks for the back rub. But just so’s you know: I’m an anti-fan.

 

 

*A Canadian inquiry on misogyny is the idea of barbara findlay, QC

*adapted from “Network,” the movie

Canada is Raping You

This talk talks about violence as a men’s issue and I recommend it highly: Jackson Katz’s Ted Talk

If you are trying to understand abusive minds, I recommend this book highly, whether your abuser is a man, a woman or someone on the continuum: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft

Here is a very good blog post about this situation: Bone, Broth and Breastmilk

For people worrying about due process, this article, citing rape conviction stats in Canada: 1 in 1000:

What’s Really on Trial in the Jian Ghomeshi Case by Anne Kingston

The Oracle of Chappell Street

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CBC CNF longlist

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Happy to say that my piece “Battery” made it to this year’s CBC creative nonfiction shortlist. Sad to say that I had to withdraw it when it won Lit Pop. Congrats to everyone on the longlist and good luck to you all going forward!

 

Battery: A piece about factory-farming

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Here is the piece that was long-listed for the CBC contest and won 2015’s Lit Pop, about which judge George Saunders said:

“I admired and enjoyed the wit, clarity, and compression of this story. It’s fast, funny, precise in its language. The author is really using language as a tool of persuasion. The story also has real heart – the narrator manages to make us sympathize for both chickens and executioners. The details of the operation are chilling and terrific. The story is beautifully shaped and minimal – the writer seems to recognize that the essence of making a work of art is choosing. The story makes us face a certain harsh truth, but without any sense of preaching, and even a sense of wonder. Above all, the story is musical – it zings along, making a world as it goes, with its confidence and its sense of curiosity.”

Battery appeared in Matrix Magazine.

Battery

You’re a chick hung by your beak in a beak-docking machine. Experience is a funnel you slide through. You are too stupid and too new to think unpain/pain. To think free range/battery cage. To think help me.

If you were able to think help me no one would help you. You have no friends at this factory farm, or anywhere, and no relatives, though in fact hundreds of your relatives have been through here, generation after generation. With a thousand thousand chicks beside you, all of whom look exactly like you, you are entirely alone in the world. Every chick is indeed an island. You are an island, a speck of a cog in a huge, grinding wheel towards a goal, which in your case is to produce food for another species. Which in your case is eggs.

You are all here as one heart, riding, riding, fleeting the grey ground currents of the conveyor belt you call home, motion-sick and dizzy. You are only just hatched, barely feathered, barely yellow, and your wings are uncertain things you flap but that take you nowhere, though you go somewhere, borne aloft on a history of oviducts into this grey motherland sky below your feet. Palaver peep until some of you are gone.

In this plant, the male chicks are Sue’s job. Sue is not your friend. She is 46 years old; for Sue, 50 looms hard-edged and cruel in the distance. For a long time, Sue had the notion that things in life would become easier as she aged, but it has not proven to be true. No matter how completely she pays her bills, for instance, every month there are new amounts owing; she never gets ahead. Sue is not married, although she once was. Three years ago, she had breast cancer. She is back, now, and of course has hair again. But she is exhausted. The only thing she likes in her life is going to bed.

Sue is a chick sexer.

She squeezes feces from every chick on the conveyor belt, opening up its anal vent to see if a chick is a female, with no genital pimple, or a male.

Sue is not your friend. She squeezes your anal vent.

You are a female.

Sue takes the males and tosses them into a hopper where they first bash against steel, then fall into a machine called the macerator, where a high speed auger sends them to a grinder, where, quite alive, they are diced into bits for dog food.

You are too ignorant and too new to think male, to think female, to think luck, to think unluck, to think grinder, ungrinder. Since you are female, you keep riding. Riding riding riding, yahoo. Keep those chickies moving, yahoo.

The workers do not imagine you as sentient. If you have any kind of genetic memory, it won’t stretch back far enough to feel the wind riffling your feathers or dust craters under your belly in the farmyard.

The workers’ eyes glaze over from repetition, from the pain of carpal tunnel and tendonitis and tennis elbow. It is just a job a job a job, they think, and really thank god for a job at all.

Jean, who lifts you into the beak-docking machine, is not your friend. Jean is 37, seven months pregnant with her fourth child, and her back is sore. All day long, five days a week, she lifts hatchlings like you into the beak-docking machine, which is similar to hanging a tie over a doorknob. She feels you struggle, such as you can at your weight, which is more or less one ounce; she feels your wing stumps flailing. But when the machine has you by the beak, what can you do? Nothing is what you can do. You hang there like an animate stuffed animal. Your beak is how you interact with your world; unlike human fingernails, it is full of nerve-endings.

Jean is only thinking about what time it is and how soon her shift will be over. Jean’s third child was just diagnosed with Asperger’s. Her husband, Mark, is a mechanic, but now he’s drinking too much, and this means money is tighter and he comes home angry, looking for fights. Five days a week, 8 hours a day, Jean lifts chicks just like you into the beak-docking machine.

Hanging out in the eternal now, you are too ignorant and small to know what’s coming next. You were an egg, you were fertilized, you were hatched and then spilled onto a belt, and none of this had anything to do with anything other than human commerce.

De-beaking prevents feather and vent pecking and the kind of cannibalism you might engage in considering your upcoming, brief life, sandwiched five in a bare wire cage and starved to provide daily eggs. This is a “battery” cage. You are given not as much room to yourself as a standard sheet of paper. You can understand, now, can’t you, why the males were the lucky ones? Why the powers that be might want your beak cut off? Now, older, you can appreciate your circumstances a little better, and it will be clear to you that no chickens are going anywhere. You don’t even know what “anywhere” is. You will never stretch your wings. You will never sit in a nest, or peck for grubs. This is just a fact. What is air? What is sun? What is dirt? What is straw? Your beak stump still hurts like hell—just pecking sends neuromas, that tangle of “phantom limb” nerves, jangling. It is hard to keep a steady mood. Even though you generally see yourself as good-hearted, you might even be inclined to go after Mabel, or Henrietta, those hens. Those goddamned hens.

Thankfully, you have no beak.

After two years, you will sent to slaughter, which means you will be slung into a crate and transported, during which handling many of you will break bones. You will be hung upside down in shackles by Doreen. Doreen is not your friend. Doreen is only 18, but she already has two kids. She is trying to figure out a way to enroll in community college, where she would like to take jewelry design. Right now, she’s living with her boyfriend.

If you asked Doreen, which of course you don’t have the ability to do (and honestly, you have more important last thoughts) this whole enterprise—which we’ll call your life—has been pointless. Her life, too, is pointless. Both make her roll her eyes. Something is born, it struggles, it dies. Like, it’s what happens. Life’s a conveyor belt, a sorting machine, a massive factory farm, and really if you stop to think about it, most of us get hung by our toes one way or the other.

But then, Doreen is a cynic.

From Doreen’s station, here’s where you’re off to:

  1. A) An electrical water-bath stun system, which, if you are lucky, and many are not, sends a current through your body, rendering you unconscious
  2. B) The neck cutting assembly line, which may be incomplete, so that you may still be alive for the
  3. Scalding vat

Your body by the end of two years is so degraded by the deplorable conditions you’ve lived through that you are good for next to nothing—for chicken soup stock or pet food.

But let’s roll it back a bit, my little pullet, my little puisson, you of the soft feathers and dinosaur legs, you of the scratchy feet, you of the peeps, you of the black eyes. Our little egg-bottomed baby—such ability hidden in your oviduct. Chickens are said to be amiable, and friendly, more cognitively studded than either dogs or cats, and with a communicative vocabulary of 30 sounds, although, right now, so what?

Really, so what?

What is a life’s potential when it has no potential?

Still, you aren’t dead yet. You’ve only just hatched. You are hanging with your brethren by your beak from a docking machine.

There are different machines: hot blade, cold blade (including garden sheers), electrical (the Bio-beaker) and infrared; today, at this factory farm, the docker is hot blade. You wiggle and sway as you merry-go-round. When it’s finally your turn, Becky grabs you. Becky is 28. Becky is not your friend. Becky has a nasty cold and ought to be home in bed, but she’s used up her sick days because she played hookey with her married lover, five days of hookey, which today she thinks weren’t worth it at all.

Becky is chronically bored.

She brings the guillotine down.

Describe your pain, chick. On a scale of 1-10, rate your pain. If your pain was a colour, what colour would it be? If your pain was a tree, for heaven’s sakes, which tree? What trees have you roosted in?

 

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