Mastering the Hustle: Creating Safer Spaces 2

Mastering the Hustle
Martin Douglas
All Photos by Brady Harvey

KEXP, Upstream Music Fest + Summit, MoPOP, and The Recording Academy have partnered together to present Mastering the Hustle: a panel discussion with six annual events, tackling a different topic to help emerging artists make better decisions earlier in their careers. Throughout the series, we’ll be discussing everything from how to get airplay, legal and licensing, healthcare for artists, and promoting your brand.

Although the culture of sexual harassment and violence has been a long-gestating problem in every corner of our communities, the topic is depressingly timely here in the autumn of 2018. Mastering the Hustle 10: Creating Safer Spaces 2 was held a scant two months after several women came forward with accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of (now erstwhile) Seattle nightlife impresario Dave Meinert — and a mere week before Brett Kavanaugh became an appointed Supreme Court justice in spite of very public testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford before a Senate Judiciary Committee about a non-consensual sexual encounter with Kavanaugh.

Even in the thick of the #MeToo movement, where survivors are encouraged and empowered to speak out against their aggressors, the scourge of rape culture proves to be as widespread and ever-present as it is dangerous to society. (Not to mention disgusting and cowardly.)

In the tenth installment of our Mastering the Hustle series, a panel of members of Seattle’s community discussed the many ways in which sexual abuse damage our culture, and how we can use our knowledge of its damage to fight against it. Gretta Harley, co-founder of Home Alive, Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, Legal Director at Sexual Violence Legal Services, YWCA, Theryn Kigvamasudvashti, Communications Instructor at Seattle Central College, and Ta Pemgrove of Proper Groove convened to discuss many topics under the umbrella of sexual abuse culture and what we can do to help solve them.

Harley kicks off her keynote speech by addressing the genesis of this particular panel: “Our community was shaken to its core by a very powerful man in this community, one who I’ve known for 30 years roughly, one who I used to call a friend,” Dave Meinert. She speaks about the bravery of the women he abused, coming forward to share their experiences.

“Between the several articles about Meinert and the testimonies of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, many of us have been reliving our traumas. We are in pain, we are anxious, we are enraged.”

She noted how the women who spoke out against Meinert’s behavior has caused the city of Seattle to reckon with itself, and to chart a new path forward. “Speaking our truths is an act of self-defense. Asking for support is an act of self-defense, and if we are speaking our truths quietly, in our own hearts, it [too] is an act of self-defense.” Harley mentions supporting the women who come forward creates an act of self-defense for the community at large.

Before helping found Home Alive, Harley was a receptionist at C/Z Records. Mia Zapata — of the Gits, one of the bands on the label — was brutally raped and murdered after leaving a show at Comet Tavern, dumped in an alley and left for dead. As a result, 40 members of the community came together in the tiny apartment of Valerie Agnew (of 7 Year Bitch, close friends and contemporaries of Zapata) and began to organize. “There was nothing altruistic about what we were doing,” Harley says. “We were thinking of protecting ourselves and our friends.” Members of the police investigation advised Zapata’s friends to keep the large portion of her murder that involved rape silent, which was infuriating to them.

The self-defense classes they took first offered advice that suspiciously sounded like telling women to police their bodies. The group discussed many topics, including domestic violence, cited by Harley as “the most common and least reported crime in our nation.”

This groupthink led to the genesis of Home Alive, an organization which stated its purpose in its name: to make sure everyone in the community makes it home alive. It was always meant to serve different purposes, for the different ways people can protect themselves according to their beliefs and individual personalities.

Amidst a wave of personal life changes, the leadership of Home Alive changed and it was taken over by Christien Storm, who set up a self-defense curriculum and took it to schools and businesses for them to follow. The board of directors eventually decided, given increasing rents and the effort it takes to keep an organization afloat, to not keep the non-profit status or the building.

Harley says, “I’m telling you all of this because it can be very lonely to sit with your feelings and to feel like there’s nothing we can do individually. But together we are stronger.” She mentioned the lack of community care in Capitol Hill’s nightlife scene, as she observed what was going on around her on a recent night out. She mentioned hearing about neo-conservative organization the Proud Boys stirring up trouble and a heavy police presence.

The students she teaches don’t talk about safety or communal care. The sixteen-year-old daughter of one of her friends attends an all-girl Catholic school in the neighborhood of Capitol Hill. After being asked by her mother after Ford’s testimony if the frat boy culture and the way girls were treated in her days of high school seemed strange to her daughter, her daughter responded, “It’s the same, Mom.”

Although Home Alive is no longer a federally recognized non-profit organization, although its website no longer exists, volunteers have archived the curriculum online.

Storm recently published a book titled Empowered Boundaries, and Harley recently attended an event for the book at Elliott Bay Book Company. Harley shared some notes she took when she heard Storm speak:

  • “Self-care is individual and specific to individual communities.”
  • “‘Shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ are not self-care; self care should feel good.”

  • “Victim-shaming is interrupted by confidence.”

  • “We need to recognize messiness to survive in this world.”

  • “Communities heal together.”

  • “Healing doesn’t have a checklist.”

  • “Victimization happens in individual relationships and communally, and it doesn’t feel good.”

“In my self-defense training, we spent a lot of time yelling, ‘NOOOO!’ Christien offers that saying yes is defining boundaries as well, and it’s empowering. It’s an effective way to be in relationships, especially with people you know, whether in personal or professional relationships with loved ones.” Harley continues, “We could say, ‘Don’t touch me.’ Or we could say, ‘I need you to take your hands off me.’ This is an especially important way to communicate with people we know and love.”

Harley notes we are at a sea change. Social media has been a big part of that change, and she notes, “Collectively we are saying no to ‘boys will be boys’ culture. We are saying no to rape culture. We are saying no to bratty-white-entitlement-patriarchal oppression. [...] Men are victims too, growing up in a world where they are taught to take.”

She then leads a call-and-response with those in attendance, to surge forward and fight against sexual abuse and oppression with an affirmative instead of a negative:

  • “We want a community and country whose women are respected.” YES!

  • “We want a country where women have equal power, equal opportunities, and equal pay with men.” YES!

  • “We want to control our own bodies.” YES!

  • “We want abusers to be held accountable for their actions and to end statute of limitations laws for abuse.” YES!

  • “We want our children to be taught to respect girls, our future women, and to end ‘boys will be boys’ entitlement culture.” YES!

  • “And we want men to stand up with us, to the aggressors, toward ending rape culture.” YES!

Harley closes her keynote by saying, “We live in a time where bullying is rewarded. Social media is a place that allows for unfettered spewing and it’s not going to get easier. I hope we can find a way to offer a sane and strong, compassionate and supportive community of artists and musicians in this insane and wonderful, ever-changing, sometimes infuriating, continuously expensive, and always beautiful city.”

Starting off with the question “what is sexual assault,” Mukhopadhyay begins with the legal definition of the term, due to the struggle her department has while dealing with it in courts. If you want to get a protective order, sexual assault is not defined in the state of Washington as merely penetrative; it can include unwanted touching of private and genital areas, any sexualized conduct such as exposing oneself or being forced to expose oneself for purposes of sexual gratification.

“But that’s a very limited definition,” she adds. There are things on the sexual violence spectrum that the definition doesn’t cover, such as the calls YWCA Legal Services gets from people who are forcefully kissed.

Kigvamasudvashti adds that when she does workshops around sexual assault, she’ll ask for definitions from the room. Results have ranged from the Washington State RCW Code to unwanted conversations. In a short Belltown walk from her residence to the bus, she would personally receive multiple catcalls on a regular basis. “It’s key to remember that while those things seem small to people it doesn’t happen to regularly, what is happening inside of our bodies is a ‘fight or flight’ reaction, where we’re continually on guard.”

She mentions the idea of oppression killing people, referring specifically to the overfiring of adrenaline which leads to hardened arteries in the heart. Marginalized people are obviously more susceptible to such a condition.

In her work in sexual assault advocacy, Pemgrove offers an example of sexual assault: A very upset man (described by Pemgrove as “a very fit gentleman”) disclosed frequent encounters where women will reach around him and grab his bicep, which made him severely uncomfortable.

When asked the question from panel moderator Sharlese Metcalf, “What is rape culture?,” Kigvamasudvashti offers, “Rape culture is an environment where rape is prevalent and sexual violence is normalized in our cultural institutions.” Militarization, reproductive violence, law enforcement violence, faith/religion-based violence, education, government, and the medical-industrial complex as it pertains to survivors and particularly those with disabilities are all exemplified as being emblematic of rape culture. Gender violence isn’t the only symptom of rape culture according to Kigvamasudvashti; rape culture is a result of patriarchal culture, which represents power or dominion over a person or group of people.

Racism, ableism, and colonialism are all large examples of this idea. Kigvamasudvashti speaks about how sexual violence cuts across multiple sections of identity, using the difference between Dr. Ford and Anita Hill as an example. Mukhopadhyay adds that rape culture is indeed an infrastructural issue.

Mukhopadhyay continues: “Another part of rape culture is on the individual level. Where we’re trivializing experiences or normalizing it by laughing at rape jokes. [...] Where victim-blaming is seen as okay, and we’re more concerned about an offender’s future due to a victim coming forward and the trauma the victim has been through [or] the future of the victim.”

On the notion of why people stay silent in the face of having been sexually assaulted, Harley opines, “Girls are taught to make everybody feel good in the room,” to take a step back and not possess the same encouragement of power as boys.

Mukhopadhyay dispels the idea that there is a need to question survivors; it’s far more helpful to simply provide support. She notes that when talking to survivors about the first person they had disclosed their assault to, the survivor would often mention a person they trust raining questions down on them, which naturally makes a survivor very uncomfortable, having to relive such a traumatic moment in exhaustive detail. So they end up never bringing it up again.

“I think [Believe Women] is a hopeful statement about how we’re going to listen to survivors come forward,” she adds.

Kigvamasudvashti emphasizes the importance of also believing children, because of their voices being routinely erased when disclosing sexual assault, noting the thousands of survivors in the context of faith or religion. As religion is male-dominated, religion is patriarchal, thus tying into her sentiment about sexual violence being used as power or dominion.

Pemgrove adjusts this line of conversation to the context of nightlife, pointing out an all-too-common scenario where a person wakes up and doesn’t realize how they got home, that they’ve vomited everywhere, they’ve defecated everywhere, they don’t have their credit card, they don’t even have their car. They find they’re internally bleeding, and when they go to backtrack — back to the bar or club they were in last night — and they ask what happened, they’ve already braced themselves, because of this culture, of what that conversation will be like with bartenders or owners or security. “It doesn’t go well very often.”

She says, “But if we could challenge this, if we could have that ‘yes’ expectation, from the owners, bar managers, and community — you’re going to find out what you can, should, and will do — we can have that expectation and make it very, very clear we’re not going to accept this culture.”

On the topic of consent, Mukhopadhyay speaks to the notion of affirmative consent, which has been the subject of several court cases throughout the United States. Or, “how was the ‘yes’ made obvious?” On an individual basis, boundaries are often clear. The question usually lies upon whether or not the person is going to ignore them. And even when consent is established, it is ongoing throughout a sexual interaction. Consent can be revoked.

Pemgrove adds, “Consent becomes ambiguous depending on the person who is interpreting it.” She notes there are sometimes people who don’t aggressively, vocally, or physically deny consent, so it may appear as misconception. This is why affirmative consent is paramount. Harley stressed the importance of building a more specific lexicon of consent so future generations don’t struggle with this ambiguity.

Key Takeaways:

  • It is important both individually and communally to establish effective methods of defense against abusers.

  • Sexual assault takes a wide variety of definitions both in the legal and spiritual sense.

  • Street harassment is just as dangerous physically on an internal level as it is emotionally.

  • Rape culture happens when sexual assault is normalized.

  • Gender violence isn’t the only symptom of rape culture, and rape culture is just as much an infrastructural issue as it is an individual issue.

  • Sexual assaults go unreported because of the reaction to their disclosure, whether it’s disbelief or being urged to detail trauma.

  • Sexual violence is an abuse of power rather than someone not being able to resist their sexual urges.

  • Affirmative consent is of utmost importance when it comes to engaging in sexual activity.