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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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75 Responses

  1. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet July 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm |

    Word.

  2. Elsa
    Elsa July 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm |

    Seriously, have none of her critics ever heard of the concept of “the secondary victim,” where someone close to a traumatized person is also traumatized and needs self-care?

    Taking time to self-care is necessary, not narcissistic.

  3. AtheistChick
    AtheistChick July 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm |

    “…but here, the article wasn’t about Haiti, it was about Mac and her experiences and her mental state and the strange position she found herself in. Haiti was a backdrop for that, but I don’t see how she was under any obligation to fully represent the complexities of the situation there in a personal piece about her own mental health.”

    Well said!

  4. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin July 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm |

    I think we’ve gotten to the point as journalists that all we really know how to do is confront and provoke.

  5. Anon21
    Anon21 July 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm |

    Interesting question posed at http://transitionland.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/in-defense-of-mac-mcclelland-and-the-view-from-where-im-standing/

    “Would we really be having this discussion if McClelland had turned to heroin instead of rough fucking to deal with her PTSD?”

    I don’t claim to know the answer. Obviously, her critics will say no, this is all about the way she sensationalized Haiti, and has nothing to do with the provocative personal piece of the article. Still, one wonders.

  6. Megan
    Megan July 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm |

    This. This so much.

  7. Iris
    Iris July 5, 2011 at 4:37 pm |

    I would respectfully submit that as long as women keep compressing themselves into the boxes deemed socially, professionally and intellectually appropriate, no one has to do it for them.
    While I found Mac’s piece disturbing, the vitriol spewed about her and her story was unbelievable. I know fear makes us do crazy things – like dressing down a journalist for not writing what you think she should write.
    It is a common theme, in my opinion, when women write or speak about horrible things that women experience, and/or how that traumatizes them, because they are not considered to be human beings, many, many people rush in judgement to marginalize them. Because, let’s be honest, it’s so much easier (or safer or more familiar) than changing society or climbing out of our box.

  8. Natalia
    Natalia July 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm |

    With a story like this, you can’t win. If she had left out Haiti entirely, then people would just go “WTF?” But mentioning it though, and mentioning Sybille, to at least try to explain why she wound up feeling the way she did, makes McClelland a horrible person.

    It really grates on me, because a) Stories like this need context, as a writer, you can’t escape this fact and b) Stories like this are important, because they expose a different side of post-traumatic stress.

    We have a family friend who worked as a medic in a warzone. He didn’t see combat, he just dealt with the consequences. He developed PTSD, but because he wasn’t directly being shot at or blown up, or shooting or blowing up, he could never address it. It did catch up with him over a decade later, when he had to stop working as a doctor all together. He spent the next decade putting himself together again. What he went through was awful, and it bothers the crap out of me that we can’t call it for what it is.

    “Inconveniently traumatized” – right right right.

  9. little sister
    little sister July 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |

    “When men write about their personal experiences and their observations and their roads to recovery and self-discovery, it’s a great American novel or a shining example of journalistic bravery. When women do it it’s narcissistic and selfish. ”

    Yes!

  10. mjameson
    mjameson July 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm |

    little sister:
    “When men write about their personal experiences and their observations and their roads to recovery and self-discovery, it’s a great American novel or a shining example of journalistic bravery. When women do it it’s narcissistic and selfish. ”

    Yes!

    I think you are assuming an awful lot of social acceptance for men, you know, experiencing pain and hurt. If anything, I’d say our society has major, major issues with men expressing feelings of hurt and loss, and I can’t help but resent the blanket statement that the world welcomes men who’ve experienced trauma with open arms. How would you even know?

  11. JJS
    JJS July 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |

    Roxane Gay posted a nuanced, great response to the responses in The Rumpus today.

    http://therumpus.net/2011/07/still-with-the-scarlet-letters/

  12. sophonisba
    sophonisba July 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm |

    It is a common theme, in my opinion, when women write or speak about horrible things that women experience, and/or how that traumatizes them, because they are not considered to be human beings, many, many people rush in judgement to marginalize them.

    That’s one way to frame it. Here’s another. Suppose — and when I say “suppose,” I make no assumptions about the personal histories of anyone reading this — but suppose you were violently raped and experienced multiple physical, sexual and psychological traumas. Suppose you told somebody you trusted about this horrendous thing you had lived through.

    And then suppose they went and play-acted it all out in a big old rape playlet, with a nice safe friendly guy — not to make fun of you, of course not, not even exactly to get off, but just to, you know, process their your trauma and relieve their terrible curiosity.

    If you would be understanding and compassionate to such a person, I can only stand back and marvel. I would not be. I am not in that position and I do not pretend to judge her in Sybille’s place, or the place of any other raped Haitian women. Maybe Sybille is a saint. Maybe they all are. Maybe none of them know about the essay so it doesn’t matter anyway.

    But while I respect the right of every person to process their own traumas in their own ways, including re-enactments — re-purposing other people’s rapes is on the other side of the BDSM line. It’s not even kink; it’s kitsch.

    Nobody has to pass a certain trauma threshold before they’re allowed to indulge rape fantasies. But I do see a difference between indulging fantasies, even for a therapeutic purpose, and incorporating recent historical atrocities into your sex life.

    This woman is not being marginalized. She is being faced head-on, and, by a few, condemned.

  13. Tony
    Tony July 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm |

    JJS:
    Roxane Gay posted a nuanced, great response to the responses in The Rumpus today.
    http://therumpus.net/2011/07/still-with-the-scarlet-letters/

    Yes. Roxane Gay’s article really hit on a number of new points that hadn’t been brought up before. And I really empathized with parts of her essay because I also identify with my parents’ home country to some extent and it is not one that is well liked by most USians these days. So I do get tense when articles about that country appear, especially personal ones, and I do look closely for prejudice or unfairness.

    But the flip side of the coin, which I think Roxane covered perfectly, is that it’s not constructive to read in bad faith because there will be bad experiences in every country. So if you are feeling a sense of shame and insult on behalf of the whole country on the basis of a few bad anecdotes alone, it reflects a certain insecurity on your part. Deeper context is needed before we should get offended.

    There are a number of tests that I usually apply to any article like this. Look at the overall goal or context of the essay. Is it trying to be humorous? If so, some stories where people make fools of themselves are probably inevitable. If not, then we need to ask why these stories are there. Is it trying to make a point? Then we look for anecdotes that help support the point. Is it trying to set up for why the author might have been pushed over the edge in PTSD? Then we look for stories that might cause trauma to the writer, not positive stories about beauty and tranquility. If it doesn’t fit, then maybe that’s a sign of unfair stereotyping or even bigotry. But in McClelland’s case it does fit in serving a purpose within the context of the essay.

    Additionally, is the author treating the people of that country with respect? Are they saying things that are obviously untruthful, unlikely, or out of place? As far as I can see, no. I thought McClelland’s article passes all these tests. To read her essay as an attempt to paint a picture of Haiti in a comprehensive way is an obvious misinterpretation, IMO.

    Finally Haiti is a lot more than the stereotype it has developed. The stereotype has been around unfortunately from time immemorial, and is not the fault of McClelland’s piece. But it’s worth reading Roxane’s essay because it really does a good job of mentioning some of the things that are unique and wonderful about Haiti.

  14. Sarah
    Sarah July 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm |

    sophonisba:

    But while I respect the right of every person to process their own traumas in their own ways, including re-enactments — re-purposing other people’s rapes is on the other side of the BDSM line.It’s not even kink; it’s kitsch.

    But I really didn’t see that in McClelland’s article. Her fantasies are similar to Sybille’s trauma only in that they are fantasies of rape. The details of her fantasies about violent sex have no correspondence to the details of Sybille’s rape, and she saw other horrors and herself experienced fear of men sexually assaulting her. (She mentions that she was stalked and “had to talk [her driver] out of his threats to touch [her].”) I just don’t see how her desire for violent sex is a reenactment of Sybille’s or any other specific Haitian woman’s rape.

  15. Athenia
    Athenia July 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm |

    I once interviewed a woman about her abortion. It was straight forward enough. Not a horrible story, but not exactly a happy story either.

    Afterwards, I felt fine. I got home and I felt horrible. I had to call up my mom and talk about it with her. It totally took me by surprise–I had no idea that that would affect me like that. Heck–I had never had an abortion–so how could I empathize?

    But I also really didn’t know what it was like—so that’s probably why it affected me so deeply.

  16. Ali
    Ali July 5, 2011 at 8:57 pm |

    I should probably keep quiet, but I just don’t understand why people are elevating McClelland’s piece as if it’s some incredible and amazing piece of work that everybody must agree is wonderful. I posted last week that I didn’t find it amazing or incredible. I found it sad, and a cry for help. And I am someone who respects her writing and her career. I’m just not clear on why this merits another discussion, but hey, that’s why it’s not my blog.

  17. Roxane
    Roxane July 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm |

    This was a great response. I have been staggered by the tone of the discourse around this essay. After I first read McClelland’s piece, I expected a lively, and as you note, necessary critical response but the things I’ve seen over the past few days really make me question people’s reading comprehension skills and their humanity.

  18. karak
    karak July 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm |

    @sophonisba–

    McClelland wasn’t just “told” about Sybelle’s rape. She actually witnessed a part of the after-affects of it. It would be like someone telling you they were seriously injured and suddenly they started bleeding out of their eyes and screaming for you to help they. That’s traumatizing as shit.

    And I have lived through the experience of listening to someone with PTSD tell me their story, and it gave me fucking nightmares and I had to do some things to work out the anger and fear I had in me. I’m going to bounce up to this person and be like, “Listening to your trauma fucked me up deeply and here’s the fucked-up things I had to do” because that’s a dick move, but yeah, it is something you need to do sometimes.

  19. je
    je July 5, 2011 at 11:28 pm |

    Reposting part of what I said on the last post about this, since I came very late to that discussion.

    I would have liked to see her more clearly lay out the point of the article as addressing the effects *on the author* of witnessing trauma BEFORE going into someone else’s personal story. I went back and reread the article, and this is how I’d summarize what she talked about before launching into Sybille’s story:

    Para #1 – Revealing to editor that author wants violent sex
    Para #2 – Revealing to reader that author was in Haiti for 2 weeks to report on the 1 year anniversary of the earthquake, during which time someone who kept hitting on her finally got her interested by suggesting they have sex at gunpoint.
    Para #3 – Talking about how guns are everywhere in Haiti, but the guy didn’t have a safety on his, so no sex. Ends “I’m not completely nuts.”
    Para #4 – Launches into Sybille’s story by talking about her gang rape, maiming, verbal abuse by surgeons, traumatic reencounter with her rapists and complete emotional collapse – and how traumatizing all of that was to her, the author.

    For me, the connection between the first three paragraphs, which are all about how the author really wants to have sex at gunpoint, and the fourth paragraph, where she tells someone else’s extremely traumatic story comes across as very, very self-indulgent. As the story goes on, I start to see the point of it. But, to this reader, the Sybille recounting is at best not well-integrated into the story and at worst exploitative.

  20. Stacy
    Stacy July 5, 2011 at 11:29 pm |

    Comrade Kevin:
    I think we’ve gotten to the point as journalists that all we really know how to do is confront and provoke.

    I think you might be reading the wrong journalists.

  21. ballgame
    ballgame July 6, 2011 at 12:59 am |

    [Jill:] When men write about their personal experiences and their observations and their roads to recovery and self-discovery, it’s a great American novel or a shining example of journalistic bravery. When women do it it’s narcissistic and selfish.

    [mjameson:] I think you are assuming an awful lot of social acceptance for men, you know, experiencing pain and hurt. If anything, I’d say our society has major, major issues with men expressing feelings of hurt and loss, and I can’t help but resent the blanket statement that the world welcomes men who’ve experienced trauma with open arms.

    I agree with mjameson here.

    Other than that, though, I think the OP was pretty valid.

  22. karak
    karak July 6, 2011 at 2:20 am |

    @ mjameson @ballgame

    The world is really hostile to men expressing emotional hurt and issues in daily life, but when a man chooses to express this in written form–especially a book or article–it usually becomes The Piece of The Year and So Insightful.

    There was a piece here a few days ago about reviewers raving about a novel where the protagonist is a man-child who talks down to women, plays video games, and thinks about sex a lot. And people are going nuts about how insightful and awesome this is.

  23. Natalia
    Natalia July 6, 2011 at 3:05 am |

    And then suppose they went and play-acted it all out in a big old rape playlet, with a nice safe friendly guy — not to make fun of you, of course not, not even exactly to get off, but just to, you know, process their your trauma and relieve their terrible curiosity.

    Except that’s not what the article is about.

  24. ballgame
    ballgame July 6, 2011 at 6:25 am |

    The world is really hostile to men expressing emotional hurt and issues in daily life, but when a man chooses to express this in written form–especially a book or article–it usually becomes The Piece of The Year and So Insightful.

    karak I don’t see a link to any statistical evidence that would substantiate the idea that this is what “usually” happens, but if you provide any such evidence I’ll be happy to read it with an open mind.

  25. Eva Magdalen
    Eva Magdalen July 6, 2011 at 7:06 am |

    Unfortunately the world is very hostile to anyone and everyone who expresses emotional hurt of any kind, male or female, of any ethnicity, from any country, be it Haiti or the US.

    I disagree with those who say that Mac’s piece was not well-written; it would not have evoked such a huge response if the writing were not at the very least provocative.

    I respect Mac for getting out of Haiti when she knew she needed to. I mean no disrespect to the people of Haiti, but as others have noted, Mac’s piece was not written about Haiti. It was a provocative and thoughtful piece about her own pain. It must have been difficult to write and she deserves credit for her courage in attacking such a tough topic.

  26. lt
    lt July 6, 2011 at 8:34 am |

    From the Rumpus piece: “To suggest women should not write about desire, in all its complexities, for fear that a rapist will somehow extrapolate a justification for violation is the same as telling a woman not to wear short skirts and revealing blouses or drink too much so she doesn’t get raped.”

    Repeated for emphasis.

  27. je
    je July 6, 2011 at 8:57 am |

    The thing is, until ABC picked up the piece and turned the headline into Mac McClelland “stages her own rape” (which is wildly inaccurate and an unfair headline for her piece), most of the criticism I’ve seen of her piece is based on the way in which her story was written, not on the substance of her story.

    As much as McClelland’s “defenders” continue to respond as if it were, the bulk the criticism is NOT saying:
    - Mac is deviant for wanting violent sex
    - Mac wasn’t really traumatized
    - Mac is racist
    - Mac didn’t deserve to have PTSD
    - Mac hates Haitian men
    - Mac is too forthright or direct

    These two truths can co-exist:
    (1) Mac has a valid and important point to make about PTSD and about the trauma and risk of sexual assault facing female correspondents, and
    (2) Mac’s manner of delivery was problematic in some important and valid ways.

  28. Fear of the single story: Backlash to Mac McClelland’s PTSD piece

    [...] one of the bravest pieces of writing I’ve read in a while. And I’ve gotta agree with Jill that much of the backlash of criticism she’s received “illustrates pretty well why too [...]

  29. ansel
    ansel July 6, 2011 at 9:34 am |

    “I suspect that the reason so many people are offended by McClelland’s piece isn’t because she’s a bad reporter or even because she wrote about Haiti in a way they didn’t like; it’s because her narrative goes off-script for female journalists. It’s because the article can be read as saying that Mac couldn’t cut it.” I think you’re right. Also thanks for the link. (Ansel Herz, not Ansel Hertz.)

  30. rayuela23
    rayuela23 July 6, 2011 at 10:26 am |

    je:
    As much as McClelland’s “defenders” continue to respond as if it were, the bulk the criticism is NOT saying:
    - Mac is deviant for wanting violent sex
    - Mac wasn’t really traumatized
    - Mac is racist
    - Mac didn’t deserve to have PTSD
    - Mac hates Haitian men
    - Mac is too forthright or direct

    I would say that, yes, in fact most of those things have been suggested. As to suggestions that Mac is racist, try this from the open letter from other female journalists:

    “… she paints Haiti as a heart-of-darkness dystopia… She makes use of stereotypes about Haiti that would be better left in an earlier century: the savage men consumed by their own lust, the omnipresent violence and chaos, the danger encoded in a black republic’s DNA.”

  31. Dr. Debora Phillips
    Dr. Debora Phillips July 6, 2011 at 10:31 am |

    PTSD is a disorder, an illness, and thus needs to be treated as such, rather than deride the symptoms. It’s a miracle that McClelland didn’t commit murder after going through all the traumas that she did. My strong feeling is that she needs a very specialized trauma therapy for PTSD, not just traditional talk therapy. What she’s been through is very serious indeed, and needs to be addressed with the most advanced therapeutic techniques of behavior therapy for trauma.

  32. je
    je July 6, 2011 at 10:32 am |

    “I suspect that the reason so many people are offended by McClelland’s piece isn’t because she’s a bad reporter or even because she wrote about Haiti in a way they didn’t like; it’s because her narrative goes off-script for female journalists.”

    Please. There may be *some* truth to this. I abhor the name-calling and vitriol that is NOW being spewed about McClelland, since the story went to mainstream media around the world yesterday.

    BUT

    To write off everyone who was offended by this piece as people who just can’t handle a woman stepping out of her socially-defined role is insulting. What about the many survivors who have left comments about how triggering the article was, without having any kind of trigger warning? Or those who experienced violent rape, who felt insulted by her decision to treat rough sex as some form of “learning to survive” a horror that they lived through first-hand? (Noting, duly, that there are plenty of survivors who DO and PREFER to work out their trauma through rough sex.) What about the people of color who have spent their lives living out a social narrative that paints POC as savages, exotic, over-sexualized beings, who felt like this piece was just another example of the same tired script being used as a backdrop (intentionally or, more likely, not) for a privileged white voice? What about those who have been victimized by MINUSTAH and other UN peacekeepers (whose own problems with rape and sexual assault are well documented) who were perturbed by how scared the author was of Haitians who hit on her, but let an insistent French peacekeeper into her room for sex, and later described it as “sweetly European” sex (as compared with the gun-totin’ Haitian-style sex)?

    You are really gonna say that all the criticism is just because McClelland dared to talk about her (apparently fleeting) preference for violent sex? Rough sex ain’t all that controversial… people do it all the time, for reasons that have everything and/or nothing to do with working out trauma. Maybe, just maybe, some of her critics have genuine concerns that don’t deserve to be written off as hateful, spite, jealousy, horrific, and whatever other terrible descriptors/excuses have been put out there.

  33. je
    je July 6, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    @rayuela23

    First, that Jezebel letter does not represent every single person who disagrees with Mac McClelland.

    Second, I know there are people who HAVE suggested the things listed above, but what I’m saying is that there is actual, valid criticism that is being overlooked, in preference of straw men.

    Third, saying “she paints Haiti as a heart-of-darkness dystopia” isn’t the same as saying Mac is A Racist. I happen to think she does paint it that way. Did she mean to? Probably not. Was that the point of the piece? Of course not. But does her use of a specific depiction of Haiti as the starting and ending points of her PTSD, and her contrast with the refreshingly European peacekeeper and her “safe” American boyfriend contribute to a narrative of black=violent/sexy/scary, white=peace/familiar/safe? I’d argue that it does. You may disagree. But can you really disagree that it’s a conversation not worth having?

  34. Medea
    Medea July 6, 2011 at 11:29 am |

    je: What about the many survivors who have left comments about how triggering the article was, without having any kind of trigger warning?

    The title acts as an obvious trigger warning.

    je: who were perturbed by how scared the author was of Haitians who hit on her, but let an insistent French peacekeeper into her room for sex, and later described it as “sweetly European” sex (as compared with the gun-totin’ Haitian-style sex)?

    I think “European” is opposed to “American,” but in the first place there’s no such thing as a European style of sex, and in the second place that was seriously tone deaf. I mean–I don’t think the author portrayed Haiti as a heart of darkness, and she included peacekeepers in the list of gun-toters, and she was frightened of men in Oklahoma as well–but to dwell on the horrors of Haiti and then contrast it with pleasure in Europe was really irritating. One can say “she was telling her story”, but if the way you tell your story reinforces racist beliefs about Haiti, maybe you should rethink. I read the Mother Jones article about rape in post-earthquake camps, and I wasn’t impressed. It was a bit sensational and not carefully woven together. This one has the same problem.

  35. DoublyLinkedLists
    DoublyLinkedLists July 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm |

    What bothers me the most about the response to this piece is rooted in what I see as a very ableist discourse. This idea that she wasn’t traumatized enough, or was co-opting someone else’s trauma is all based in this structuralist idea of trauma and how it should affect proper healthy humans. Rape should only affect the victim, and anyone else who is affected needs to realize that they’re not allowed to be “too affected” or else they’re appropriating someone else’s experience?

    It really seems like a lot of people have this backwards. This woman’s experience should INFORM your ideas about trauma and victimization. If your ideas about the proper causes and reactions to rape, PTSD, and trauma don’t fit with this journalist’s experience, then you should change them instead of trying to deny the validity of her experiences.

  36. mjameson
    mjameson July 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm |

    karak:
    @ mjameson @ballgame

    The world is really hostile to men expressing emotional hurt and issues in daily life, but when a man chooses to express this in written form–especially a book or article–it usually becomes The Piece of The Year and So Insightful.

    There was a piece here a few days ago about reviewers raving about a novel where the protagonist is a man-child who talks down to women, plays video games, and thinks about sex a lot. And people are going nuts about how insightful and awesome this is.

    Basically what ballgame said. Can you point to strong evidence for different reactions across gender, or across written versus verbal accounts of trauma? You are doing a lot of labelling of how the world is, but don’t provide evidence. Help me out here.

  37. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm |

    Taking time to self-care is necessary, not narcissistic.

    I’m confused about how deliberately setting up a trauma for yourself, and enlisting a trusted friend to help you traumatize yourself, qualifies as “self-care.”

    As someone with PTSD, I just don’t relate to the idea that deliberately re-traumatizing one’s self is a valuable therapeutic technique. It’s contrary to all the treatment I’ve received and read about for PTSD.

  38. US journalist stages own rape to cure PTSD caused by Haitian rape victim – DailyIndia.com

    [...] of witnessing sex attack on …Daily MailHuffington Post -Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (blog) -Feministe (blog)all 94 news articles » [...]

  39. je
    je July 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm |

    @Jill

    You’re right. I was too quick on the trigger in responding to that quote, pulled out of the context of the rest of your piece, when Ansel responded to it in the comments. I went back and re-read what you said to understand what you meant when you said “her narrative goes off-script for female journalists”. I have read a similar argument in many places in which “off-script” means she dared to be a woman writing openly about her sexual preferences. (A fair observation, standing alone.) Here, you meant that she went “off-script” by daring to write about PTSD and pissing off women journalists who feared that it reflected badly on their ability to “cut-it” in their field. Am I understanding that right?

    I still don’t think it’s fair to reduce all the criticism to one ultimate source. There are lots of things to be critical about in this article, and just because some people may feel like it threatens their reputation in their line of work (is that a fair thing to feel, btw?) doesn’t mean that’s the One True Reason for all the criticism.

    You say

    “I suspect that the reason so many people are offended by McClelland’s piece isn’t because she’s a bad reporter or even because she wrote about Haiti in a way they didn’t like; it’s because her narrative goes off-script for female journalists.”

    How is that not invalidating the people who really are unhappy with her piece for reasons that have nothing to do with how she represented female journalists.

    The Jezebel letter may have been signed by 38 women with experience in Haiti, but they didn’t speak for everyone who has something to criticize about the piece.

    And this post doesn’t purport to deal with every single piece of criticism. It is a direct response to the Slate article, so no, it’s not overlooking valid criticism in preference of straw men.

    That’s fair, and I’m sorry for derailing by bringing other issues into it. It wasn’t right for me to jump on one quote out of context in the comment thread. I didn’t like the Slate criticism very much – the author clearly wasn’t aware of McClelland’s other work, for one thing. But I am getting frustrated at how valid criticisms are being silenced and reacting to that. I should probably just take a break.

    @medea

    One can say “she was telling her story”, but if the way you tell your story reinforces racist beliefs about Haiti, maybe you should rethink.

    I tend to agree with this. Not saying you shouldn’t write, but everyone (not just Mac McClelland) and especially journalists who write for progressive media would do well to consider their blind spots for privilege. As I said, I think the piece can have an very awesome point and perspective and still be critiqued for reinforcing racist tropes. I also agree about seeing similar problems re: sensationalism in the original Haiti piece she wrote for MoJo.

    As for the trigger warning, I’m not so sure the original heading was enough. I certainly saw lots of people commenting that they would’ve appreciated knowing that there were two vivid descriptions of violent sexual assault in the piece. I don’t happen to be one of them.

    @DoublyLinkedList

    I can see where you’re coming from with the ableism concern. Secondary PTSD is real, and nobody has a right to judge anyone for their trauma. That was a huge problem I had with the Slate critique. It completely discounted Mac’s own trauma. That said, I think the piece would’ve done a better job at informing other people about the realities of PTSD if it had been written (or perhaps edited?) in a different way. The message, at least for me, was very diluted.

  40. Rethinking “Isaac”: pain, redemption, male sadism and the Mac McClelland story at Hugo Schwyzer

    [...] to this piece at Feministe, I found this terrific defense of McClelland by Roxane Gay at the Rumpus: Still with [...]

  41. Janice
    Janice July 6, 2011 at 2:25 pm |

    Ugh. As a woman, this kind of stuff just frustrates me because it feeds the perception that women just don’t have the strength to do the jobs men “should” be doing. We’re such dainty little daisies that if we merely _report_ on the violent and tough stories out there we’ll just curl up in a fetal position and suck our thumbs. We’re just too emotional and fragile to handle even REPORTING on the real-world, let alone leading it as a politician, a judge, a CEO. This woman needs help all right, and we shouldn’t be enabling and encouraging this kind of unhealthy reaction as somehow laudable and brave. She failed at her job, which was to report on Haiti without losing professional mien and blowing the story, which she did, in spades. She not only blew the story, she damaged the reputation of every female reporter in a war zone or trouble spot the world over. Now editors can be justified if they think, “well, if I send the woman in there, she’s liable to wilt and miss the story”. I’m disgusted at this post defending what is, let’s face it, failure, and further, self-celebration of her own failure. Because hey, women are just victims after all, in everything we do, so let’s just embrace and celebrate and publicize that so everyone knows it! And the “Simone” in this story is lost under the sick sexual fetish of this ‘reporter’. Girl, I have sexual fantasies too. I don’t feel the need to make myself up as some kind of heroine or martyr over them. You just aren’t cut out for being a reporter, you don’t have the mental toughness and you don’t have the talent, and you hurt those of us who do. You really disgust me, FIllipiano, in your defending this dandelion fluff of a girl who can’t run with the boys and then whines about it. Those of us who can don’t need your defence and resent those who do as representative of women in the working world.

  42. Jadey
    Jadey July 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm |

    Hey, Janice – men get PTSD too. It’s not a gender thing, or a weakness thing, or a professionalism thing.

    As a woman, your attitude frustrates me – your misogyny, your sexism, your ableism. You shame women.

  43. Natalia
    Natalia July 6, 2011 at 3:51 pm |

    Janice, what the fuck? So you have to be an Amazon 24/7, or else you have Screwed Over All Womankind?

    You sound like Darth Vader. “You have failed me for the last time!!!”

    I know several MALE reporters who have gone in for treatment for post-traumatic stress – one had to quit for a while, while his wife supported him and the kids. Guess he’s a pathetic failure too? Or is it just women that you hold to whatever idiotic standard that appears to be lodged in your head – clearly due to insecurity, by the way, or else why would you go so apeshit over someone else’s personal and professional troubles? Sometimes, what we despise in others is the stuff we fear about ourselves – and I’m about 99% sure that this is your problem right there. You ought to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself why is it you’re so “disgusted”, not only with McClelland, but with Jill Filipovic for having the gall to defend her.

    Seriously, I liked the piece – other people want to criticize it? Fine by me. But what you have written here is a bunch of pathetic BS, and says WAY more about you than McClelland.

  44. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein July 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |

    The essay fails on its own terms, but the essayist is being attacked for all the wrong reasons.

    Mac has a long track record of reporting in difficult and dangerous environments, in the U.S. and abroad. Her body of work speaks for itself. She is not a self-absorbed journalist. If you want to see self-absorbed reporters, take a look at the Washington press corps.

    If Mac wants to take a moment to write about her own experiences, she has more than earned the right.

    Mac shouldn’t have to defend her status as a traumatized person. PTSD is like any other illness. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and you need help. It’s not a contest to see who has the best PTSD backstory.

  45. Roxane
    Roxane July 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    Janice, your response is curious. If you feel McClelland’s essay makes women look weak, it sounds like perhaps you are projecting insecurities about your own weakness. There’s nothing weak about the writer in question revealing that she developed PTSD. She was affected by the things she saw. Most people, male or female, would have been. Perhaps you are impervious. Congratulations. Strength isn’t about never being affected by the world around you.

    Any editor who would reconsider sending a woman into a hot spot because of this essay would be the one who has to be responsible for their narrow thinking. You cannot place the burden of misogyny on women. The responsibility for that belongs with the men who would make assignment choices based on gender and, perhaps, with women such as yourself who believe that you’re of a higher caste because you respond differently to witnessing trauma.

    Finally, cases of PTSD have been reported by men and women in nearly every profession that witnesses trauma. McClelland chose to speak up about something that the mental health industry has dealt with for quite some time now. She is by no means alone in her experience. She is only alone, sadly, in choosing to talk about her experience.

  46. je
    je July 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm |

    @Lindsay Beyerstein

    The essay fails on its own terms, but the essayist is being attacked for all the wrong reasons.

    How does the essay fail on its own terms, in your opinion? I’m curious because I think so too, but it seems like every criticism of the essay gets treated as an attack on the essayist. Can you explain how the essay is problematic to you?

    FWIW, I’ve read some (not all) of her other work, and I’m not a fan of her first-person writing style, which is how all the work of hers I’ve read is presented. But I understand that what doesn’t work for me might be awesome for someone else, so I don’t hold that against her. I do, however, think that there’s some foreshadowing of the criticism of her PTSD piece in some of the reactions to her previous reporting.

  47. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 6, 2011 at 9:22 pm |

    Just because you haven’t heard about it or because it wouldn’t work for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

    Good thing that’s not what I said, then. I said, “I’m confused about how (it) qualifies as self-care.”

    I’m still confused. But thanks for the condescension.

  48. Azeylea M.
    Azeylea M. July 6, 2011 at 9:44 pm |

    tinfoil hattie:
    Just because you haven’t heard about it or because it wouldn’t work for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

    Good thing that’s not what I said, then.I said, “I’m confused about how (it) qualifies as self-care.”

    I’m still confused.But thanks for the condescension.

    It qualifies as a self-care because, to quote the Wikipedia article Jill linked to, “Numerous studies have demonstrated [exposure therapy's*] effectiveness in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as PTSD and specific phobias.”

    Exposure therapy certainly doesn’t work for everyone, but it seems to have worked for McClelland.

    *Also know as “deliberately re-traumatizing one’s self.”

  49. mjameson
    mjameson July 7, 2011 at 12:51 am |

    Azeylea M.: It qualifies as a self-care because, to quote the Wikipedia article Jill linked to, “Numerous studies have demonstrated [exposure therapy's*] effectiveness in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as PTSD and specific phobias.”

    Exposure therapy certainly doesn’t work for everyone, but it seems to have worked for McClelland.

    *Also know as “deliberately re-traumatizing one’s self.”

    I hear where you are coming from on this, but I have to quibble with you in one respect: it is true that numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy and effectiveness of exposure-based protocols for treating PTSD (and other anxiety disorders). However, no study has ever found do-it-yourself exposure to potentially harmful stimuli (like sex with guns). What Mac did is, in theory, a form of exposure, but it is not consistent with any of the protocols that have been researched. Most such protocols incorporate some sort of procedure in which trauma-related stimuli are presented to the client in-vivo (or just in the imagination) gradually. This is usually conducted by generating a list of most-to-least feared stimuli, or by exposing the person to the same stimulus for longer and longer periods of time. (One notable exception is “flooding,” which is used for some phobias, but not, to my knowledge, ever studied with PTSD). In other words, what she did is, in principle, “exposure therapy,” but it’s not what you get when you go to a therapist and say, “Provide me exposure therapy, as the research literature says it should be done.”

    I don’t bring this up as a purely academic quibble: Many people avoid starting exposure (or drop out) simply because it can be scary to think about. Equating what Mac did (which worked for her, it sounds like, and good for her!) with evidence-based exposure therapy one is likely to receive from a therapist might dissuade people from seeking that highly effective treatment. If you go to a therapist seeking help for trauma, he or she is not going to literally “re-traumatize” you; he or she is going to expose you, gradually, to things that make you afraid, but won’t actually hurt you (guns can hurt you!), until they no longer make you afraid. One is not “re-traumatized,” because the stimuli don’t actually harm you, they just make you anxious.

  50. Jadey
    Jadey July 7, 2011 at 12:59 am |

    mjameson: Most such protocols incorporate some sort of procedure in which trauma-related stimuli are presented to the client in-vivo (or just in the imagination) gradually.

    Well, there’s systematic desensitization, and there’s also flooding, which is less gradual and sometimes is used with a single in vivo presentation, as the reporter did.

    Either way, what this reporter did was of her own initiative and not with the specific oversight of a therapist (although from her article she was clearly going off of some information as she had interpreted it from her therapist), which is why other commenters here have referred to it as “self care”. That kind of individual and non-regimented approach is extremely unlikely to be researched and studied because of its very nature. That means that it would be irresponsible for a therapist to advocate for it on the basis of a single ostensibly successful case study, but doesn’t mean that it didn’t actually work for this reporter. Therapists are (theoretically) highly expert in providing diagnoses and care, but they do not have a monopoly on the area – some people work things out on their own.

  51. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 7, 2011 at 8:08 am |

    What mjameson said. It’s often dangerous to try and treat our own psychological conditions. That there is research suggesting this therapy works is not a recommendation that we should try it on ourselves. The potential for further harm is great. “Self-care” means taking care of one’s self.

    In my judgment, it is not taking care of yourself to ask someone to physically harm you.

    I wouldn’t set my own broken leg, though that could also be thought of as “work(ing) things out on (my) own.” Part of mental illness or mental “distortion,” if you will, is that the person facing the mental challenge does not have an accurate perspective on her own mental health.

    Especially with PTSD.

  52. Jadey
    Jadey July 7, 2011 at 8:42 am |

    I agree that professional expert help is useful. Hell, I have used my knowledge of the therapeutic field to try to convince some people I have known to be struggling with serious issues to try to get help. But it’s not some kind of moral requirement that people can’t attempt their own personal therapeutic interventions. It’s not *wrong*. Risky? Sure. A clear signal that other people should do the same? Not at all. And no one to my knowledge has actually suggested that. But if you had a broken leg and were unable to access the help you needed (just as maybe what Mac needed was something that no therapist would be able to advise her to do), wouldn’t you even try to set it? Or would you let it fester while you waited for an expert to give you the stamp of approval on your actions?

    Why some are so bound and determined to infantalize this woman and criticize her the ability to make choices, good or bad, for herself is beyond me. Yes, she took an incredible risk – it seems to be something of a personal trait of hers, given her profession – and it, according to her, has worked for her. She certainly hasn’t advised anyone else to do the same. As much as her story disquieted me, I still don’t see the problem with her trying to help herself, even if she needed to cause one kind of pain to ease another. It would only bother me if the implication was that others ought to do the same.

  53. machina
    machina July 7, 2011 at 9:21 am |

    Ultimately the person living in the body in question gets to make the choice. They can take into account professional advice if they wish.

  54. groggette
    groggette July 7, 2011 at 9:50 am |

    Jadey: Why some are so bound and determined to infantalize this woman and criticize her the ability to make choices, good or bad, for herself is beyond me. Yes, she took an incredible risk – it seems to be something of a personal trait of hers, given her profession – and it, according to her, has worked for her. She certainly hasn’t advised anyone else to do the same. As much as her story disquieted me, I still don’t see the problem with her trying to help herself, even if she needed to cause one kind of pain to ease another. It would only bother me if the implication was that others ought to do the same.

    (emphasis added)
    Thank you Jadey. Seriously.

  55. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 7, 2011 at 10:17 am |

    I simply don’t understand why she did this. And I don’t think hurting yourself, or asking someone else to hurt you, will ultimately hurt PTSD. I think women are so conditioned to be bad, guilty, punished, and less-than, that the instinct to hurt one’s self can be very strong. As though hurting myself will help other people who are hurting, or somehow abate their suffering.

    It isn’t “infantilizing” someone to disagree with her point of view. For crying out loud.

  56. Jadey
    Jadey July 7, 2011 at 10:25 am |

    I don’t understand it either. My response to the original Feministe post on the topic was basically that – I found the whole thing confusing and unpleasant. It didn’t fit my experiences, it wasn’t something that would have helped me or made me feel better, and I still have trouble reading the article without feeling ill. I can’t personally understand how the end of her story feels triumphant or victorious to anyone. But just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it can’t make sense to someone else – my life experiences are not the be and end all of other people’s life experiences. What would hurt me might help someone else. What I desperately need might be toxic to the next guy.

    You’re right, it isn’t infantalizing to disagree with someone. But it is infantalizing to suggest that because you don’t understand why they did what they did, they clearly shouldn’t have done it because they can’t possibly know what they’re doing. That’s assuming that you know better than they do about their own life and needs.

  57. LemonDemon
    LemonDemon July 7, 2011 at 11:22 am |

    @tinfoil hattie
    “I simply don’t understand why she did this. And I don’t think hurting yourself, or asking someone else to hurt you, will ultimately hurt PTSD. I think women are so conditioned to be bad, guilty, punished, and less-than, that the instinct to hurt one’s self can be very strong. As though hurting myself will help other people who are hurting, or somehow abate their suffering.”

    First, it isn’t just women who do exposure therapy. And yes, I consider what the journalist did to be in the realm of exposure therapy. Introduced stimuli, no matter how effective on the imagination, doesn’t mean what you fear (or the outcome you fear) is real in that instance. Just because sex is rough (and the roleplay) doesn’t mean it’s harmful to the person experiencing it in a way they don’t choose. The therapuetic process is not – fun -, it is not relaxing, and it’s often really fucking painful. – Including – exposure therapy. People, on the whole, make me nervous for reasons I’ll not go in to here. Every time I move I have to go through the whole process of forcing myself outside and around the streets. Takes forever to get used to the – prospect – of meeting new people (walking by them on the street, standing in a line, et cetera). And that’s not including actually being around new people, which is another horror entirely. (like going to a friends’ housewarming, et al).

    The whole point is to face what you fear so your brain gets the damned message of “Oh, hey, I’m still alive.” Not “That wasn’t so bad.” or “That could’ve been much worse.” but “I’m still alive.”

    And yes, I plan on doing something remarkably similar to what the reporter did to help work through other issues. And no, I give not a shit that ‘you don’t understand’. And I’ll thank you to quit speculating about my (and others’) self esteem, thanks.

  58. LemonDemon
    LemonDemon July 7, 2011 at 11:24 am |

    Dammit. Double negatives are killer.

    ” doesn’t mean it’s harmful to the person experiencing it in a way they choose.” is how it’s supposed to read.

  59. Momentary
    Momentary July 7, 2011 at 11:59 am |

    Jadey:
    I don’t understand it either. My response to the original Feministe post on the topic was basically that – I found the whole thing confusing and unpleasant. It didn’t fit my experiences, it wasn’t something that would have helped me or made me feel better, and I still have trouble reading the article without feeling ill. I can’t personally understand how the end of her story feels triumphant or victorious to anyone. But just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it can’t make sense to someone else – my life experiences are not the be and end all of other people’s life experiences. What would hurt me might help someone else. What I desperately need might be toxic to the next guy.

    You’re right, it isn’t infantalizing to disagree with someone. But it is infantalizing to suggest that because you don’t understand why they did what they did, they clearly shouldn’t have done it because they can’t possibly know what they’re doing. That’s assuming that you know better than they do about their own life and needs.

    Jadey, you rock.

  60. mjameson
    mjameson July 7, 2011 at 1:20 pm |

    Jadey: mjameson

    I don’t disagree with you, and certainly it’s better conceptualized as “self-care” than “evidence-based treatment.” However, several commenters drew comparisons between what Mac did as self-care and equated her one-session-and-done flooding trial with the treatment literature on exposure-based protocols for PTSD, noting that these are highly effective. I just think we should be careful in our language and acknowledge that what she did is not “exposure therapy” as defined in the cited treatment literature.

  61. mjameson
    mjameson July 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm |

    Jadey: mjameson

    Also, I think if you reread my post, you will note that I address all of your points in there (including the apparent effectiveness of her self-care, and the literature on flooding). I’m about halfway through a PhD in clinical psychology, so I’m aware of the differences between flooding, systematic desensitization, dosed exposure, etc., as well as the treatment populations on whom they’ve been trialled.

  62. mjameson
    mjameson July 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |

    Jadey:
    I agree that professional expert help is useful. Hell, I have used my knowledge of the therapeutic field to try to convince some people I have known to be struggling with serious issues to try to get help. But it’s not some kind of moral requirement that people can’t attempt their own personal therapeutic interventions. It’s not *wrong*. Risky? Sure. A clear signal that other people should do the same? Not at all. And no one to my knowledge has actually suggested that. But if you had a broken leg and were unable to access the help you needed (just as maybe what Mac needed was something that no therapist would be able to advise her to do), wouldn’t you even try to set it? Or would you let it fester while you waited for an expert to give you the stamp of approval on your actions?

    Why some are so bound and determined to infantalize this woman and criticize her the ability to make choices, good or bad, for herself is beyond me. Yes, she took an incredible risk – it seems to be something of a personal trait of hers, given her profession – and it, according to her, has worked for her. She certainly hasn’t advised anyone else to do the same. As much as her story disquieted me, I still don’t see the problem with her trying to help herself, even if she needed to cause one kind of pain to ease another. It would only bother me if the implication was that others ought to do the same.

    Just to make clear, I’m not criticizing Mac’s choices, or infantalizing her. I think she gathered up some literature, and created her own self-help program based on exposure principals. I’m criticizing other commenters who have pointed out that she is, in essence, doing an exposure protocol and, hey look, there’s all this research evidence for exposure. This is not an appropriate extension of the research evidence. I also worry that people may misinterpret exposure as “re-traumatizing” the recipient and involving potentially dangerous situations, which is a misconception that gets in the way of many people seeking CBT for PTSD and other anxiety-related disorders. And it is not infantalizing to suggest that people with PTSD (regardless of gender) may be vulnerable to misinformation. Hell, I’ve even had to explain to other therapists why these misconceptions are not true.

  63. mjameson
    mjameson July 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm |

    tinfoil hattie:
    What mjameson said.It’s often dangerous to try and treat our own psychological conditions.That there is research suggesting this therapy works is not a recommendation that we should try it on ourselves.The potential for further harm is great.“Self-care” means taking care of one’s self.

    In my judgment, it is not taking care of yourself to ask someone to physically harm you.

    I wouldn’t set my own broken leg, though that could also be thought of as “work(ing) things out on (my) own.”Part of mental illness or mental “distortion,” if you will, is that the person facing the mental challenge does not have an accurate perspective on her own mental health.

    Especially with PTSD.

    I think both you and Jadey are misinterpreting me. I don’t think that individuals should be bound by the research literature when they decide how to best help themselves. Treat your mental health however you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt people. I just don’t want people who read this article to think that if you come to me (I’m a 4th year PhD student in clinical psychology who has done plenty of exposure therapy), I’m going to tell you to go home and “expose” yourself to rough sex with a man with a gun. There is a real stigma surrounding exposure therapy because of this “re-traumatization” idea that inhibits people from seeking treatment.

  64. Jadey
    Jadey July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm |

    @ mjameson

    I did miss your reference to flooding – my apologies, that’s what I get for reading comment threads into the wee hours.

    I do agree that it’s important not to confuse one person’s idiosyncratic success story with an established practice that can be safely and ethically recommended to others, but I was responding more to the line of discussion being pursued by tinfoil hattie (who, as you have noticed, did misconstrue your comment). I understand where you were coming from with your comment, but I think that you may have overestimated the extent to which people have advocated that what Mac did was generalizable therapeutic practice (rather, I think they were certainly trying to establish its relationship to theory in order to debunk the idea that what she did was obviously harmful with no possible upshot or rationality), and you kind of got caught in the crossfire.

    The infantalizing, criticizing stuff was not something I picked up on in your comment, though – that was tinfoil hattie and various other people around the ‘net.

  65. Azeylea M.
    Azeylea M. July 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm |

    mjameson: I’m criticizing other commenters who have pointed out that she is, in essence, doing an exposure protocol and, hey look, there’s all this research evidence for exposure. This is not an appropriate extension of the research evidence. I also worry that people may misinterpret exposure as “re-traumatizing” the recipient and involving potentially dangerous situations, which is a misconception that gets in the way of many people seeking CBT for PTSD and other anxiety-related disorders.

    You’re right; in trying to explain how I saw McClelland’s pursuit of violent sex as self-care, I over-simplified and distorted what exposure therapy actual entails. I still consider McClelland’s essay an account of her self-care and continue to bridle when criticism is leveled at the author’s personal sexual and mental health decisions (which you aren’t doing, of course).

  66. Azeylea M.
    Azeylea M. July 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |

    In case it’s not clear from my previous comment: I apologize for the over-simplification and distortion.

  67. mjameson
    mjameson July 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm |

    @Azeylea M. and@ Jadey

    I believe we might have just set some kind of record for blog comment-related conflict resolution!

  68. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 8, 2011 at 8:00 am |

    But it is infantalizing to suggest that because you don’t understand why they did what they did, they clearly shouldn’t have done it because they can’t possibly know what they’re doing.

    I must have missed the part where I made this lofty pronouncement. I gave an opinion on a controversial subject. Based on my extensive personal experience with PTSD. Which is what the author did in her article, right? Based it on her experience.

    For crying out loud.

  69. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 8, 2011 at 8:03 am |

    Jeez, Lemon Demon, My comments aren’t about you. You don’t have a monopoly on PTSD, right? That I know of. My experience is as legitimate as yours! Gosh! So how about YOU stop explaining to me that I’M wrong!

    (Two can play, no?)

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to hurt yourself in order to deal with PTSD, or to practice “exposure therapy” without qualified help. I wouldn’t perform heart surgery on myself, either.

  70. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 8, 2011 at 8:05 am |

    No, mjameson, I didn’t misinterpret you.

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