Shooting Our Daughters’ Boyfriends: Toyota Camry Edition

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

In the race to sell cars by appealing to (the stereotype of) overprotective fathers (aka fathers who are obsessed their daughters’ sexual behavior/fathers who threaten other peoples’ sons) Toyota manages to get in maximum gross-out in minimal time with a disturbing 15-second ad for the Toyota Camry.

Dad enters the Toyota dealership, phone-gazing tween daughter in tow. He approaches Toyota spokeswoman/pretend car salesperson “Jan,” telling her “I need a safe car.” Apparently dad just up-and-decided to head out and buy a car without doing any research beforehand, and thought it was a good idea to start off his negotiation for a new car by immediately notifying the sales staff of just how ill-informed he is.

Jan’s response, “The Camry’s really safe. It has ten airbags. It even has a backup camera,” is almost as bizarre as dad’s clueless request. Is Jan implying that other cars in the Toyota line are not safe? Have fewer airbags? Don’t come with a back-up camera? Is there some reason Jan didn’t ask normal salesperson-type questions, like, “How big is your family?” Or, “What do you need the car for?”

But the strangeness of the initial exchange pales in comparison to what happens next.

Dad says, “That could come in handy.” The commercial then cuts to a scene in dad’s imagination. Dad is sitting in the Camry in a driveway, watching the image from his backup camera. It’s his daughter and a boy, standing awkwardly, leaning in to kiss each other. Dad gives two quick blasts of the horn, breaking up the kiss. Tween daughter emotes, “Da-ad!” Tween boy freezes for a second, then bolts.

Toyota what dad saw

What dad saw.

Toyota’s ad agency apparently expects everybody to take this in without question, to chuckle at dad’s stealthy intervention, and to come away with the impression that the Camry has a lot of great safety features.

The ad begs so many questions, though, not the least of which is, doesn’t dad know how to work a rearview mirror? If dad had pulled the car in facing forward, instead of backing in, wouldn’t he have been able to completely avoid this situation altogether? After all, he would have been facing the kids as they said goodnight.

But the really big question is just what the hell is going on in dad’s mind that when somebody mentions a backup camera, his first thought is that he can use it to watch his daughter as she and her date try to have a goodnight kiss? Does dad imagine a number of other situations where he can use that backup camera to watch his daughter engage in physical contact with boys?

Probably shouldn’t answer that.

Toyota dad hands

Where are your hands, dad?  Show us your hands!

We cut back to the showroom, where dad throws his arm around his daughter, and says, “Gotta keep my little girl safe.” I’m not sure what form of virulent sexually transmitted disease dad thinks is lurking on the lip of his daughter’s 12-year-old date that he concludes he is keeping his daughter safe by using his car’s backup camera and horn to break up a quick peck.  If anything, dad’s actions just convinced those two kids to be much more careful about where they engage in any physical contact in the future—and to do all they can to hide it from dad.

Still, maybe that’s all dad wants—to make a little show of what he’s done to keep his daughter safe, so that he can feel better about himself for having such disturbing fantasies. Unfortunately, dad, your daughter doesn’t need you intervening in such a way—forever causing her to associate your leering…er…watchful eye with any romantic thoughts she might have toward another person. She might benefit from you being able to speak openly with her, and to move beyond your own shame about basic biological functions, so that she knows you are a safe person to turn to, rather than a controlling jerk who is likely to blow up at her if she admits to—I don’t know—let’s just call it ‘making a mistake’—of whatever kind—in her relationships.

You can just hear dad storming around the kitchen as his daughter sobs at the results of a pregnancy test. “How did this happen?!! I bought a car for Christ’s sake! It had a backup camera and everything!!” I’ll spare you whatever other thoughts dad might be having about backup cameras and his daughter getting pregnant.

But the commercial closes out instead with Jan ‘sympathizing’ with the tween daughter, saying, “He’ll only be like this for another 10 or 15 years.”

Pervy toyota dad

I’m so sorry, dear. I had no idea your dad would go there at the mention of a backup camera.

Wait. Does Jan have any idea what dad was just thinking about?   She has to, right? Otherwise, why would she specify 10 or 15 years? She is suggesting that in 10 or 15 years, the daughter might have gotten married, or moved away from dad, or whatever it is that supposedly is going to get dad to quit pointing backup cameras at her and her boyfriends, right?

Oh, Jan. You could’ve done so much better by this girl—by all girls. Don’t just encourage her to suck it up and put up with dad’s troubling attitudes and insecurities. Don’t just let dad get away with his pervy thoughts and car-based voyeurism.

Who am I kidding, though? Jan’s just trying to sell cars, not change the world. She’s just reading the words other people scripted for her—the stupid, stupid words, in a tired, awful, and nonsensical scenario.

You can see the whole commerical here (it has a “private” setting on Toyota’s own Youtube site for whatever reason).

Toyota. Let’s go places. Like the hell away from your dad. I think he’s trying to check us out on his backup camera.

 

 

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D.A.D.D. is S.T.U.P.I.D.D. (Stereotypical Thinking Underscoring a Patriarchal Ideology of Domination & Desperation)

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

(Once again, with all apologies for the overly hetero-normative tone of the piece).

Shopping for Father’s Day gifts can be hard.

A lot of dads will say they don’t want or need anything. Or if they do want something, it’s probably very specific to their particular tastes.

That’s at least in part why the buy-dad-an-unwanted-tie jokes have gone on year after year.

And speaking of jokes, one of the most enduring Father’s Day gifts is the joke T-shirt—or, rather, the T-shirt with the dad-related joke on it. You know the ones—touting dad’s love for beer, or naps, or fishing, or farting.

And those are all perfectly fine, I suppose.

But one gift you don’t want to get your father this year, or any time, is the “D.A.D.D.: Dads Against Daughter’s Dating” T-shirt. The T-shirt exists in many forms, and is available from Internet T-shirt sites and Etsy shops, all the way to the Father’s Day gift displays of department stores.

Many of said T-shirts simply have the main phrase, like this one:

For bland dads who want to make a sexist statement.

For bland dads who want to make a sexist statement.

But the full joke involves a follow up line of “Shoot the first one and the word will spread” or a similarly-worded joke about shooting any boy who asks a girl out, like this shirt, here:

For dads who feel the need to aggressively advertise their insecurities.

For dads who feel the need to aggressively advertise their insecurities.

I’ve written before about the whole cultural insistence on threatening boys with violence because of their interest in girls, even when that interest is totally age-appropriate. I don’t understand what such threats are supposed to accomplish, or why such jokes are supposed to be funny.

Most of the responses to questions about the alleged humor of such jokes involve adult men saying that they know what they were like themselves when they were teenagers, and so they know they need to set young men straight/keep them in line.

But I’m not sure if they are thinking clearly about what they are saying.

Are they saying that they needed an adult male to threaten violence against them (or their teenage selves) in order to keep them from raping a girl who agreed to go out on a date with them?

Or perhaps it’s that, as teenagers, they went on dates that ultimately led to kissing, or groping, or any of a number of acts all the way up to and including full-blown intercourse, because their dates were agreeable to engaging in such acts with them—and somehow they think that the best way to prevent their own daughters from being like the girls that they dated is to threaten any teenager who dates their daughters.

But that explanation spawns a whole host of other questions. Did those men, as teenagers and into adult life, really hate the girls they dated in high school so much that they live in fear of their own daughters behaving like those girls? And, if those men did, as teenagers, go out with any of ‘those girls’ (the kind who would engage in at least some form of sexual activity), did threats of violence really shut the men (then boys) down or get them to abstain from sex when it was being offered consensually?

Of course, there is the rather unpleasant possibility that those men are announcing that, as teenagers, they really did engage in sexual assault, and they believe that it was the responsibility of adult males—or more specifically, the fathers of their dates—to stop them from such behavior.

I’m guessing that if someone needs to be a tough-guy dad, threatening one’s daughter’s dates (who happen to be someone else’s children) with physical violence, all because of how one remembers one’s own teenage years, there are a lot of unresolved issues there. And perhaps those issues are manifesting themselves in a need to try and control one’s own daughters—and more specifically one’s own daughters’ sexual behavior, or their potential for sexual behavior. It’s essentially staking a claim to, and asserting a property right over, a teenage girl’s body.

At base, it is an assertion that girls and women are the property of men—first their fathers, and then their husbands. One implication of the anti-dating sentiment is that girls and women should skip dating altogether, and swear off interactions with boys and men, especially sex, until they are married. Essentially, it’s suggesting that there should be a title transfer of the female body/person from dad to husband.

In addition, it is an assertion that all teenage boys are in the throes of raging hormones to the point where they cannot control themselves—or at least not without the threat of violence and death to keep them in check. This, of course, is the kind of “boys will be boys” garbage that both encourages and excuses insufferably sexist behavior, up to and including sexual assault.  It is the idea that the behavior of boys and men necessarily involves violence of all sorts.

It is also a kind of challenge to teenage boys—prove you’re a man by persuading a girl to go to bed with you, while dodging the violent father who wants to put a stop to it. In other words, it’s macho crap that perpetuates notions of who is responsible for their behavior, who is not, and how people need to be controlled. It posits the idea that boys are supposed to want sex, and take it when they can, but that girls are not, and are supposed to resist it until it is forced upon them. It promotes the idea of relationships as conquest—at least for males.

If you deny the inherent sexism, stupidity, and outright creepiness of the joke, then why aren’t there T-shirts promoting the idea that boys shouldn’t be allowed to date?

Where are the D.A.S.D. (Dad’s Against Son’s Dating) shirts? Or perhaps the M.A.S.D. (Mother’s Against Sons Dating) shirts? Or even the M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Daughters Dating) shirts? Although that last acronym is taken (which could spawn a whole other piece of commentary about why anybody is deliberately “spoofing” Mother’s Against Drunk Driving).

Why not shirts with “M.A.  I.S.  G.O.D.: Mother’s Against Innocent Sons Going Out on Dates”?

Maybe it’s just that the M.A.S.D. and D.A.S.D. shirts don’t have a very catchy acronym—although I suppose you could make them into D.A.D.S. and M.A.D.S shirts—except that the phrasing gets problematic. I mean, we don’t really want Dads or Moms to be “for” dating sons—especially if the implication of the D.A.D.S. and M.A.D.S. shirts would be that parents are standing up against dating their own daughters and sons. Oh–but wait—there is that whole creepy Daddy-Daughter Date Night thing out there, isn’t there?

I guess when parents get overly obsessed with controlling the sexual behavior of their teenage offspring, things just automatically get creepy.

Overall, rather than getting into these stupid threats of violence, and assertions of rights over the bodies of others, why not, instead, teach all of our kids how to be empathetic, and respectful to themselves and others, when it comes to matters of physicality and sexuality? Why not teach them, both boys and girls, how to avoid succumbing to feelings of peer pressure, or partner pressure, to engage in sex when they are not ready? Why not teach them basic, factual sex education, starting from an early age, so that they will not view sex as some weird mystery, some taboo subject, something that cannot be approached because of the threat of violence, or of damnation, for such approach?

You can teach children and teens the real risks of sexual activity—whether those risks are physical or emotional–without making the main threat one of pointless aggression. And you can teach them how to reduce (not completely eliminate) the potential for unwanted physical or emotional consequences, without having to promote the idea that those people dating daughters should live under threat of violence for wanting to date, or even for having sexual feelings.

Or, perhaps we can keep making obnoxious jokes and T-shirts promoting the idea that daughters’ “purity” needs to be owned and protected by fathers, to the point where threats of violence and murder against other people’s children seem totally appropriate.

In line with those stereotypes and attitudes, how about some of the following, somewhat tortured, acronyms as T-shirts:

D.I.P.C.H.I.T.  Dad’s Instigating Pissing Contests w/ Horny Impulsive Teenagers

W.T.F.  D.A.D.? Why The Fascination w/ Denying Autonomy for Daughters?

D.O.D.G.E. Dad’s Obsessed w/ Daughter’s Genitals—Eww!

I.  A.M.  O.C.T.O.P.U.S. Insecure Adult Males Obsessed w/ Controlling Their Offspring’s Puberty Und Sexuality

I’m sure you all can come up with some acronyms that might work with the idea above.

Or maybe we can just shorten that original acronym to what it really means, and think about better ways to deal with it:

D.A.D.  Dad’s Afraid of Daughters

Happy Father’s Day!

A Duggar Finally Admits Josh Broke the Law

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On June 3rd, Megyn Kelly dedicated an entire episode of her Fox News show, “The Kelly File,” to an interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

There weren’t any particular surprises that turned up, except maybe that Jessa and Jill Duggar, two of the daughters who now apparently admit to having been victimized by Josh, were also interviewed by Kelly. But that interview is being aired later.

Aside from that, Jim Bob and Michelle did little more than reiterate that “as parents” (a phrase that was uttered constantly throughout the show by both interviewer and interviewees—part of the battle cry of Duggar supporters who feel the state should stay out of family business) Jim Bob and Michelle did the best they knew how. They also insisted that they were the real victims in all this, because some people with “an agenda”—a “dog-whistle” phrase for Fox News viewers that indicates the LGBTQ community—are trying to tear the Duggar family down.

Oh yeah, and, in reference to Josh Duggar, Jim Bob actually uttered the phrase, “he’d broken the law.”

"I didn't just say my son broke the law, did I?"

“I didn’t just say my son broke the law, did I?”

I’m guessing Jim Bob didn’t really mean to say that. After all, the interview was clearly coached, if not at least roughly scripted, and none of the participants referred to any of Josh’s actions as crimes or sexual assaults.

Jim Bob, instead, called Josh’s crimes “choices,” “unwise choices,” “decisions,” “very bad things,” “a bad thing,” “improper touching,” “what he did,” “the act,” and “stuff that happened 12 years ago.” When asked about the particulars of the crimes, Jim Bob could not help but minimize Josh’s actions, saying that Josh was “curious about girls,” that he “touched them over their clothes,” that there were “a couple of incidents where he touched them under their clothes—but it was like a few seconds,” that the crimes involved only “a real quick touch while they were asleep for most of them; and there were two other incidents that were when they were awake,” and best of all, that it “was not rape or anything like that.” (I don’t know, Jim Bob, some of those actions are about as “like rape” as you can get without actually meeting the legal definition of rape). Getting religious, Jim Bob said his “son’s heart had gone astray” and that Josh had “violated God’s principles.”

Doing her part, Michelle called Josh’s actions, “mistakes,” “wrongdoing,” “wrongdoings,” “really bad choices,” “improperly touching a young one,” and “some very bad things.”

At the outset, it seemed like Megyn Kelly might actually attempt to provide some clarity about the crimes, stating in the opening to the show that Josh had “forcibly touched at least five girls.” But, while she was talking with the Duggars, Kelly helped them along in their minimization, referring to Josh’s crimes as “this problem,” “testing,” and “a fondling.”

Perhaps even more disgusting than minimizing the sexual assaults Josh committed by using rather soft language to describe the crimes, was Jim Bob and Michelle’s repeated insistence that the assaults were of little concern to the victims, because in most of the incidents, the girls were asleep and “didn’t even know he’d done it,” or “weren’t even aware.” And, in those cases where the girls were aware of what had happened, the Duggars suggested that the girls “were confused” by the actions or “didn’t understand” what happened anyway.

So, y’know. No big deal for the girls–and, yes, I’m guessing that being sexually assaulted by your big brother is probably confusing and hard to understand.

Strangely enough, though, the Duggars said multiple times that they had talked to their girls about improper touch, so that the girls would understand what it was, and so that the girls would let their parents know if it happened.

Even when Kelly directly asked Jim Bob what it was like to have to worry about the sexual abuse “as a father of daughters,” Jim Bob was able to make only the most cursory of remarks about his daughters before fixing his attention elsewhere. His exact response was, in what may have been an unintentionally revealing look into the community to which the Duggars belong, “I was so thankful, though, that Josh came and told us. And our girls, even though this was a very bad situation, as we talked to other families who’ve had other things happen, a lot of their stories were even worse.”

So, again, no big deal. I mean, everybody’s doing it. Right? And a lot of them are doing worse stuff.

Beyond that, the Duggars provided many other tortured and defensive responses to the most common criticisms that have been leveled against them. For instance, they admitted that the man in Little Rock Arkansas, who Josh went to for ‘counseling’ really wasn’t a counselor, but “was running a little training center” (Jim Bob’s words).

Still, Michelle insisted that, “all of our children received professional counseling,” with Jim Bob adding, “from an accredited, professional counselor.” Now, there are scenarios where this could have happened. For instance, if the parents put the children into counseling sometime after the report that triggered the investigation had already been made, then any further reporting by actual counselors would have been redundant and made little difference in the progression of events. Getting the kids into counseling at that time would also make it appear as if the parents were trying to do the right thing by taking appropriate steps to address the situation.

Aside from that, though, any counselor who had any information about Josh’s crimes, and knowledge that Josh was still in the home with numerous other children, would have had to make a report to Child Protective Services. And unless CPS completely dropped the ball, Josh would not have been able to make it out beyond the statute of limitations that kept him from being prosecuted. But Kelly did not ask them to clarify anything about the “professional counseling” at all.

Kelly also let Jim Bob go unchallenged, as he spun his version of events regarding the “report” made to an Arkansas State Trooper, Jim Hutchens, who later ended up going to prison for possession of child pornography. (It was during this portion of the interview that Jim Bob actually admitted that Josh had “broken the law”). Still, the main point of Jim Bob’s story was that they told the police about Josh’s ‘mistakes’ and the police didn’t file a report with CPS, so that’s on the police. Or, as Jim Bob said, Hutchens “violated the law himself by not reporting this incident.”

In addition, Jim Bob asserted that, “The last jurisdiction of who he (Josh) needed to make things right with was the law.” It all sounds something like the Duggar version of ‘f*ck the police.’

Jim Bob’s explanation of events also suggested it was only by chance that the report was made to a trooper that Jim Bob knew personally (although Jim Bob implied he only know Hutchens incidentally because of a towing business Jim Bob had in the past), and that a “witness” went along to make sure it would be clear what Josh said to Trooper Hutchens. Jim Bob neglected to mention that the “witness” was actually multiple church elders.

It was, one can safely assume, by design that Jim Bob never said “church elders,” even though they had been brought up several times in earlier Duggar family accounts of events—including when Jim Bob Duggar met with the church elders to discuss Josh’s ‘choices’ before he was sent off to that “little training center”—all because one of the church elders allegedly advised Jim Bob not to send Josh to “one of those juvenile youth sex offender facilities” because “the success rate is not very good.”

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Kelly let the “success rate” statement slide even though at the conclusion of her show, she explained that, according to Department of Justice Statistics, “85 to 90 percent” of juvenile sex offenders “never are arrested for sex crimes again.” Kelly did not point out that those juveniles who receive treatment specifically for sex offense behaviors have lower rates of re-offense than those who do not.

At any rate, in the version of events doctored for the Kelly Interview, the elders have now been transformed into Jim Bob’s “good friends.” The reason for the elders now simply being good friends is probably because, in the state of Arkansas, clergy members are considered mandated reporters. There’s a little bit of fuzziness to the law’s language about what constitutes a “clergy member”—but not so much that the church elders want to go on being identified as people who were aware of Josh’s crimes, yet didn’t bother to make a report. That fear of attention would be of particular concern for any pastor who was aware of Josh’s actions. There’s no fuzziness about the legal language regarding the obligations of pastors to report incidents of child abuse.

Rest assured, though, Jim Bob is most certainly not a mandated reporter. He boldly declared that, “As parents you’re not mandatory reporters. The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child.”

That is, to be sure, a rather broad reading of the law. Parents are not mandated reporters in Arkansas (but they are in several other states). However, the law isn’t exactly set up so that parents can “do what they think is best” without any consequences. There are, for instance, laws against child endangerment—endangerment like keeping your sexually abusive son in the home with the victims of his sexual abuse, as well as numerous other potential victims (which is, if I remember correctly, a big part of the reason TLC claimed they cancelled ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.’)

But the Duggars really only want us to know that they did everything as best they knew how, and tried to do right, and that they are now being victimized.

They are being victimized by the Children’s Safety Center and the police, even though the Duggar children “shared everything” with investigators—or maybe not, and even though Jim Bob tried to keep Josh away from those investigators.

They are being “victimized by people with an agenda” (wink, wink, dog whistle, dog whistle). Kelly had to repeatedly ask a question about the appearance of hypocrisy—feeding Michelle Duggar a line about Michelle’s robocall that said transgender people are “child molesters” before Michelle finally remembered to start down the right road that would allow (or rather require) Jim Bob to point out that Michelle had really called them pedophiles—and Josh is not a pedophile (although he is certainly someone who engaged in sexual assault as a minor, including incestuous sexual assault).

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

And Kelly further helped with the appearance of victimization by asking if the Duggars are being “slandered” because of their Christian beliefs. One would think that Kelly, as an attorney, and working for a news organization, would be able to apply the term “slander” correctly—but I guess not. And then there’s the matter of what “Christian” actually means.

To the Duggars, Christianity means something far different than what most Christians believe, and is extremely distant from what most other Christians practice. In addition to their bizarre emphasis on sexual purity, the Duggars also apparently view humility, contrition, and truth-telling as optional elements of their beliefs. And, where that doesn’t violate the law, that’s their right as citizens of these United States.

But the Duggars want to have it both ways, proclaiming the greatness of God while indulging in the rites of Mammon. They want to have a hand in crafting the laws of this country, and in having laws enforced against others—but they don’t want the laws of the country being enforced against their family. And contrary to what the Duggars said about doing their part to deal correctly with the sexual abuse that Josh committed, they did not engage in any kind of legitimately legal process for addressing it—which is a stereotypical thing for politicians to do when their children get in trouble—pull a few strings, ask a few favors, keep it all hush hush, and lawyer up when necessary.

And if the interview with Megyn Kelly demonstrated anything, it’s that Jim Bob Duggar is, first and foremost, a politician—intent on crafting a message and maintaining an image. For her part, Kelly is complicit in that image-making, including the part where sexual abuse is minimized—and all for the same reasons as Jim Bob—ratings, money, and influence.

Serving Mammon, The Duggar Way

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Last week, it came out that Josh Duggar, of the “19 Kids and Counting” Duggars, sexually assaulted four of his younger sisters as well as a young girl from another family. From what we know, this all happened back around 2003, when Josh was 14 or 15 years old.

Josh Duggar does not deny that he committed these crimes, although he refers to them as “sins” and “terrible things” and “mistakes” rather than crimes.

Josh Duggar never faced any legal consequences for his crimes.

The Duggar family claims that they addressed the sexual assaults by getting “closer to God,” by pursuing counseling for both Josh and the victims, and by going to the police.

But let’s be clear about this–the Duggar family NEVER GOT COUNSELING FOR JOSH OR THE VICTIMS OF HIS CRIMES, and THE FAMILY NEVER WENT TO THE POLICE.

How can I possibly know this? Well…

Let me first address the police situation, even if that is a bit backwards. Jim Bob Duggar (father to all of the Duggars—victims and victimizer), following Josh’s “counseling” took him to a law enforcement officer who was a family friend, for a “confession” that resulted in a “stern talk.” According to Josh’s parents, the law enforcement officer told them that since Josh had already gone through counseling, there was nothing more that could be done. So either 1) Josh’s parents are completely lying about what the police officer advised, or 2) The police officer was completely derelict in his duty, as far as what he was supposed to do when given information about sexual abuse involving children.

Also, the cop (again, a family friend) that the Duggars took Josh to meet with is currently SERVING MORE THAN 50 YEARS IN PRISON FOR POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. I’m sure he quite enjoyed his meeting with the young Josh Duggar.

Now, as to the counseling…

If any of the victims, or the perpetrator, had gone to any kind of legitimate counselor who deals with sexual offense behaviors, or with sexual victimization, or with any form of recognized counseling that requires a person to be credentialed at all, a report would have been made to Child Protective Services, and an investigation would have occurred much earlier than it did—early enough that Josh would likely have faced some legitimate legal consequences before the three-year statute of limitations on his crimes ran out, and early enough that his family would not have been able to completely manipulate the situation, and keep it out of the legal system, and out of the public eye—well, out of the public eye until now.

Simply put, counselors are mandated reporters. They cannot keep things like this on the down-low—not without losing their licenses.

Such a lovely wedding.  You'd never guess...

Such a lovely wedding. You’d never guess…

As it is, if it weren’t for an anonymous “tipster” contacting the authorities in Arkansas and the production staff of the Oprah Winfrey Show (who also contacted the Arkansas authorities) back in 2006, there never would have been an investigation at all. Josh would have victimized four of his sisters, and another young girl, and had to face the “punishment” and “counseling” he got by spending four months away from home, reading the Bible and helping a family friend do some remodeling work—not exactly an evidence-based means of addressing sexually predatory behaviors.

And, again, that’s exactly what happened: No punishment. No real counseling.

The victimized girls also did not receive anything that might be considered an evidence-based form of counseling for addressing sexual trauma and sexual victimization. We have a key to what kind of treatment the girls might have received, in Samantha Field’s blog post, where Duggar-family Guru Bob Gothard’s insanely creepy “Counseling Sexual Abuse” graphic is posted—a chart that, among other things, suggests that being sexually assaulted brings one favor with God, and special spiritual strengths.

In other words, the Duggar girls were almost certainly told that being sexually victimized was a good thing in the eyes of Jesus—in no small part because it helps them recognize how terrible they were as prepubescent temptresses, and because it makes them super-spiritual. In case there is any need for clarification, such “reframing” is not considered “best practices” for addressing sexual victimization.

In fact, if any of the children had gone to any legitimate form of counseling, the girls would have had control over whether they even had to listen to an apology from Josh, much less having him allowed back in the home after a few short months away.  And there would have been a much more involved discussion of how/whether to integrate Josh back into the home.

And just so you know where I’m coming from, I spent over two years working full-time with juvenile sex offenders, and then spent over six years working part-time with adult sex offenders.

I also read the entire (redacted) police report —something I have had to do in many other cases.

The story of Josh Duggar is not unique—in the sense that families are generally unsure of what course to take when such situations arise. Families do not want to invite shame on their children–victims or victimizers–or the family as a whole, and often delay any meaningful action or professional intervention until the problem has progressed to a state where it can no longer be viewed as a “phase” or as “innocent exploration”—or until one of the victims reports the abuse to a therapist, or a school counselor, or a camp counselor, or a teacher, or a friend who tells a parent, or a pastor, or anybody else who chooses to act in a responsible fashion.

I have had contact with families who earnestly sought help and support, and tried to do right by both their daughters and their sons—and any other victims. I have had contact with families where the abusers were clearly given the benefit of the doubt, and the victims shamed as if they had deliberately ruined the family–even to the point of sending the victims away so the abusers could come back to the home. And I have been in contact with families who tried to beat the bad behavior out of the victimizers, and who go on pretending they are being persecuted over some dumb crap that they are perfectly capable of handling.

Clearly, the situation with Josh Duggar progressed to a dangerous state. His was not a case of budding sexual curiosity leading to “playing doctor.” His was a case of repeatedly exerting sexual “authority” over girls who were smaller, weaker, and devalued in his family’s “culture.”

From a fan blog--a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

From a fan blog–a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

In fact, what many have viewed as the Duggar family’s “wholesomeness”—their constant harping on values of purity and modesty—could not be further from a healthy attitude toward relationships and sex.  It places girls and women on a “pedestal” that values their virginity first, their breeding abilities second, and their whole selves not at all.  It is a “culture” that infantilizes women, treating them as too stupid to be trusted with control of their own bodies. It is a “culture” that preaches submission of wives to their husbands to an extreme degree. Women are told to recognize their inferiority, and to be celebrate it, because that’s what God wants.

Consider what message is being sent to one’s daughters—and one’s sons—when the matriarch of a family asserts publicly that it is her job to submit sexually to her husband, even when she does not want to.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when parents say they should keep having children, no matter what, simply because it is biologically possible.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when it is deemed acceptable for a pre-teen male to “chaperone” his nearly-adult sister on a date, to make sure she and her boyfriend do nothing inappropriate.

Many conservative/Republican figureheads have come out in support of the Duggars, and in condemnation of people who are now criticizing the Duggar family for their handling of the sexual abuse situation—mostly in the vein of “quit picking on Christians” and “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” With few exceptions, those defenses involve labeling Josh’s actions as teenage frivolity, rather than what they are—deliberate, sexually predatory behavior that was covered up by his family.

Family friend, and Duggar-political-endorsement-recipient Mike Huckabee used the argument that a victim, or multiple victims, of Josh’s behavior, wanted privacy–both in defending the family and when he had a judge he appointed destroy the un-redacted police report about Josh’s offenses. He claims the Duggars sought out help, and went to the authorities. But, yet again, they didn’t—not in any real way.

Likewise, Matt Walsh, used the childish “Oh yeah?!? Well—liberals!!” argument (along with the ‘persecuted Christians’ argument) in a post where he also made the poignant observation that, “As a parent, you have to think whether your 14 year old son deserves to have his life ruined over his mistakes.”

Really, Matt? What about your 12-, or 10-, or 8-, or 6-year-old daughter, or the 5-year-old neighbor girl? (No, I don’t have actual information on the specific ages of the victims). They’ve already had their “lives ruined” by the “mistakes” of your son. So, devalue the daughters? They’ll get over it? What’s important is that you protect your sexually-predatory teenage son?

But it’s not just a “mistake” when a 15-year-old male repeatedly gropes the genitals and chests of multiple younger girls. It is sexual assault.

I will note that the recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders (and for adult sex offenders) who are caught and go through some sort of legal proceeding is much lower than the public perceives it to be, and that said rate goes down even more with appropriate treatment. So, given that Josh was caught, but not actually subject to legal punishment or real treatment, I guess I can believe that he’s steered clear of further offenses—as Josh and the family assert–although there’s not a lot of data on people who got caught but essentially are allowed to skate.

But I do not believe Josh has really changed his attitude toward his behaviors—especially when he calls them “mistakes” for which he feels he has already paid a big enough price.

Also, for those who are claiming to support the Duggars, let’s be clear about what is being supported. In pursuit of both political power, and celebrity, (the truest of Christian values) the Duggar family decided to bury sexual offenses committed by their son, against their daughters and another girl. Their attempts to prevent Josh from getting in trouble were successful, inasmuch as the offenses did not come to light until after the law no longer allowed any punishment for son Josh.

So, if you’re supporting the Duggars, you’re arguing that families should dodge the law, allow their daughters to be sexually assaulted by their brothers or by family friends, and do what they can to keep their sons from getting in legal trouble, all while counseling the children that sex is bad, but that it’s okay that the sexual assault took place because boys and men can’t help themselves and girls and women are really only important as breeding stock–and provoke sexual assault in the first place.

Furthermore, you’re advocating that it’s acceptable for the son who committed the offenses to take a prominent job with a well-known organization that utilizes bogus research in an attempt to control women, and demonize the LGBTQ community in order to deny them the basic rights that heterosexual adults have—all while accusing the LGBTQ community of habitually engaging in the behaviors that Josh engaged in, and that his parents covered up.

That’s not wholesomeness or purity.

Those aren’t “mistakes.”

Those aren’t the kind of beliefs, or actions, anyone should be lauding.

A Reframe for Dick Whitman OR Don Draper Gets Just Enough ‘Therapy’ to Go On Being Don Draper

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

(Spoiler Alert!)

Let’s imagine that Don Draper’s momentary breakdown—a realization of abandonment, followed by a phone call wherein he recounts his sins to Peggy, leading to an anxiety attack or some other form of emotional paralysis, which is essentially broken by a cathartic, sobbing hug with a stranger in a group “seminar”—is an honest therapeutic breakthrough.

don's anxiety

While many people have interpreted the final moments of the series as cynical—the smirk that rises on Don’s face as he sits in a meditation group, followed by the ring of a meditation bell fading into the opening of the Coke “Hilltop” commercial jingle—a better “reframe” for what happens with Don is that he recognizes how his own behavior has been impacting others, that he is able to identify his own feelings of emotional disconnection, and that he is able to gain some real acceptance of his situation and how to thrive in it.

Don's idea

In the terms of a therapeutic cliché, Don realized that when one cannot change one’s circumstances, one can change one’s response/attitude toward those circumstances.

Essentially, such a “reframe” relies on the acceptance of the idea that the “Hilltop” Coke commercial is Don’s concept (all apologies to Bill Backer)—an idea that hardly seems up for debate. Among other elements, in the final scenes of the final episode, Peggy’s plea to Don to “come home” involves the pointed appeal, “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” And the final words spoken, by one of the retreat leaders, before the Coke commercial closes out the series, are an invitation to greet the morning sunshine and bask in the possibilities of a “new day, new ideas, a new you.”

Don’s answer to Peggy’s question about working on the Coke account is, “I can’t. I can’t get out of here.” At that particular moment, it’s a statement of desperation. Don is panicked. He is stuck at a coastal retreat “somewhere in California” with no transportation.

But Don’s sense that he needs to be able to control where he is, and when he can leave, is about to melt away. After his moment of connection with fellow seminar-attendee, Leonard, Don realizes he can “work on Coke,” or any other account, so long as he abandons his need for control of the situation where he is working.

Don’s initial flight from McCann-Erickson is brought on by feeling he has lost control. He is called to a meeting for Miller Lite, only to realize he is one of many creative directors there—and not the creative director there. He quickly decides this is not for him, grabs up his catered box lunch, and hits the road.

Don’s need for control plays into his sobbing hug with Leonard—who details how he feels that his family doesn’t even look at him; that he doesn’t know how to give, receive, or even recognize love; and that “nobody cares I’m gone.”

don's hugg

In a moment of recognition and connection, Don realizes his family does not “care” that he’s gone, and that his idea of love is ill-defined at best. Of those family members he has tried to reach, daughter Sally and ex-wife Betty have told him to stay away, and that the lives of his sons are more stable in his absence. Stephanie, the niece of the (real deceased) Don Draper, both invites (the imposter) Don to the coastal retreat, and then leaves him stranded there, after telling him he is not part of her family (and after having her own desire for a therapeutic experience thwarted by what she feels are the judgmental and stereotypical attitudes about what she should value in life).

In the lead-up to Don’s hug with Leonard, it is only Peggy who urges Don to come home. And by “home” Peggy means back to work at McCann. It is Peggy alone who knows how to reach Don, and does so, rather than just accepting that Don does what Don does and leaving him to it. She appeals to the only thing that Don clearly loves—the pure joy of coming up with a winning ad campaign.

It’s possible to interpret Don’s brief breakdown as entirely self-serving—that he is distraught only because he has been abandoned instead of being the one to abandon, and because he lost the ability to just pick up and leave. He was even left without his usual means of numbing himself with alcohol and casual sex.

So when Leonard revealed his dream of being left alone in the dark on the refrigerator shelf, of course it struck a chord with Don. After all, Don’s whole career has been spent trying to get people to pick that particular item out of the refrigerator—the one that would make them whole. To do that, he needs to know how to connect with people like Leonard—people who have a sense of emptiness and who don’t know how to correct their emotional deficits. And now Don is trapped here with Leonard, in the dark and cold of that nightmare refrigerator where others are in charge of who gets in and out. That bit of recognition allows Don to plunge into his own feelings of sadness, if only for a moment, before he recognizes the value in what Peggy has told him, and the value of tuning into people like Leonard, at least until the end of the week.

It’s a fairly common misconception about therapy that such moments of insight and catharsis will lead to meaningful change, or that a therapist’s job is to provide a client with just the right piece of advice or insight to “fix” that client, and put the client on the right course for life. Part of that misconception can be attributed to “retreats” like the one where Don is stranded—certainly sold to the participants as a week of healing and life-affirming change. And, certainly, recognizing something lacking in yourself, and having a good cry can be helpful at times, but it doesn’t make you a different person. Real change takes will and work.

But if therapy is about meeting a person where s/he is, and helping that person to be the best version of who s/he can be at that time, and of using a ‘strengths-based’ approach that helps the person tune into their own abilities to address problems, then Don’s time away at the retreat is successful. Don not only has a moment of clarity and honest emotion; he gains acceptance about his own circumstances and how to change his response to them.

It is telling that in the final shot of Don’s family, we see them in a dimly-lit kitchen, Betty resignedly drawing on a cigarette, Sally, having assumed parental duties, washing dishes with her back turned to her mother and the camera. All this just before we see Don on a sunny cliff-top overlooking the Pacific Ocean and hear the opening words of the Coca-Cola jingle: “I’d like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love.”

sally dishes, betty smokes

Don has spent a good portion of his adult life trying to fix problems with money and buying things, and exists in an industry where money and buying things is put forth as the answer to everything—even a broken home and the absence of love.

And Don has a significant history of childhood trauma and abandonment, and poor modeling from the adults in his life. A week of group seminars and meditation isn’t going to fix that.

But that week on the coast did give Don enough of a reframe to get him back to the work he loves, and to do that work successfully.

coke real thing

And that’s the real thing…or the realest thing we can expect from Don.

We Who Buy Bags of Dirt

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

I spent an inordinate amount of time this morning attempting to purchase what I hope is the final bag of potting soil I need for this year’s “garden.” What I thought would be a quick and convenient stop in the midst of other chores, became, instead, a series of interactions with numerous store employees apparently necessary to the process of transporting a two-cubic-foot bag of ‘Black Gold’ from the no-public-access, chain-link parking lot pen where it is kept, to the actual checkout counter where I could pay for it. In past, would merely wheel a shopping cart to the garden center of the store, throw the dirt-bag in, and be on my way–well, after paying for it, of course.

Such has become the plight of the urban gardener. Okay, not really. That was the only time this year I’d experienced such an involved dirt-buying process, since that was the first time I’d stopped by that particular store for soil this year. And, I don’t know if I can really call myself an urban gardener. While I did buy that particular bag of soil in Seattle proper, I live in a rurally suburban (suburbanly rural?) area a few minutes north of the city.

Just to give you a sense of the rural flavor of the decades-old ‘development’ we moved into, the neighbor who owns rather large swaths of used-to-be-farmland to the south and west of our house still keeps ‘free range’ chickens—so free range that when we moved in, the chickens were very much in the habit of hopping the fence and making a mess of our yard. Our rather excitable part-Blue-Heeler mutt cured the chickens of that habit in short order.  In the meantime, we’ve grown accustomed to the ever-present sounds of clucking, which guests to our home often find rather amusing and hard to ignore.

Joy: Chicken chaser extraordinaire

Joy: Chicken chaser extraordinaire

That same chicken-owning neighbor also has a rather picturesque (read: abandoned and decaying) “canning shed” on the lot to our west, complete with rusted-out, ancient farm equipment, providing a lovely home to numerous small animals, of those varieties which are attracted to collapsing wooden structures.

The canning shed next door

The canning shed next door–do you see it?

We live within walking distance of many other neighbors who keep chickens, goats, horses, and cows, mostly in small numbers.

Still, I started my more-arguably-urban gardening adventures, of the vegetable-growing variety, back when we lived in the north end of Seattle. At the time, said ventures were mostly confined to attempts to grow pumpkins to be used for jack-o-lanterns, a fun project for myself and the then-elementary-school-aged kid.

But, each year, some new plight would befall the pumpkins…neighborhood cats thinking the cleared patch of dirt was an amazingly generous bathroom I had installed expressly for them…squirrels enjoying just enough of a taste of the young pumpkins to cause them to bleed out and die (the pumpkins, not the squirrels)…various forms of plant blight. We were lucky if, by the end of the growing season, we had a pumpkin or two large enough to accommodate the knife and a candle.

The first growing season we spent in our current digs, I had what I thought was a good thing going in terms of pumpkin patches. To the east of our house, I had cleared a patch. Several plants were going. Birds were kept away by rubber snakes (and the removal of the garish birdhouses the previous neighbor hung in the carport—birdhouses for which she left express care instructions–sorry, Vera, not your house anymore, not your birdhouses anymore, and not my intention to regularly clean a bunch of bird crap out of a carport and off of my car–and, yes, I just accused somebody of garrishness after stating that I deliberately place rubber snakes in my yard). Squirrels generally steered clear of the property because of the dogs. Few-to-no neighborhood cats were prowling about. No serious plant diseases.

And then…the sun shifted.   Well, actually, the earth tilted just a bit too far (although still within normal parameters) leading to that same chicken-raising, canning-shed-neglecting neighbor’s large stand of pine trees denying my pumpkins access to direct, glorious sunlight. The pumpkins didn’t die. They just had their growth viciously stunted.   I ended up with a small crop of apple-to-grapefruit-sized pumpkins. I drew jack-o-lantern style faces on them with a sharpie, and went off to the supermarket to buy carving pumpkins.

The following year, I attempted to address the problems of shifting light by doing some container planting, up on the back deck. Plant blight took the small number of pumpkin plants that year.

But something slightly revelatory (well, to me anyway) took place that year. On a whim, while shopping for pumpkin seeds and containers to grow them in, I picked up a few extra pots, and some tomato starts. Despite knowing nothing of how to grow tomatoes (I’m still not particularly knowledgeable—I just read and try different things) we got quite a few ‘Lemon Boys’ and ‘Early Girls’ that year. And, as those who grow their own tomatoes know, the difference in taste and texture between homegrown tomatoes, and store-bought, mass produced tomatoes is as vast as the gulf between the concept of trickle-down economics and reality.

The next year I added more varieties of tomatoes, learning an important lesson about “days to harvest.”

The year after that, I added more varieties of tomatoes, and a few varieties of peppers, and abandoned the idea of pumpkins altogether. Each year, I’ve expanded the container-garden to where we can count on a good crop of multiple varieties of tomatoes and peppers, a decent batch of cucumbers, some snow peas and green beans, and some hit-and-miss with different types of squash.

Each year, as spring arrives, I get into gardening mode, buying seeds and starts, adding new pots and new varieties of plants. M enjoys the results, so she endures the mess and my enthusiastically-delivered, but surely-boring explanations of various things going on with the plans.

A few years back, we added a greenhouse to the effort—one of those walk-in, metal-frame with netted-plastic, collapsible/moveable kind. I’m still trying to decide if that made a great deal of sense in terms of the actual amount of time it adds to the growing season (basically just a few weeks at the beginning and the end, when we could realistically just move the still-producing plants inside the house, although the light situation would be tricky).

This year, we purchased a rain barrel—which I am still waiting to install, as we also, in a case of bad timing, treated the roof for moss at about the same time. A recycled olive barrel full of diluted herbicides is not, I assume, a particularly good water source for growing vegetables and fruits.

Down on the farm

Down on the farm up on the deck

I’ve also gone back to attempting to grow pumpkins again this year. I mentioned this to the (now-adult, and learning wood-working) kid one night, explaining to her that I was contemplating building a simple, 8’ x 4’ frame for the front yard (hopefully out of reach of the neighbor’s pine shade). At the time, I had already gotten multiple varieties of pumpkin seeds into a seeding tray, and was trying to decide on a good strategy for where and how to transplant them.

The kid asked me to sketch out my idea for the frame, and asked me several questions about my insistence on certain aspects of the frame. A few days later, while I was at work, I got a series of text messages from her about varieties of wood and my willingness to front her a bit of cash. I arrived home to a completed, 8’ x 4’ cedar frame, complete with stakes, parked on the floor near the back sliding-glass door—something that would surely just be in the bought-some-wood-didn’t-get-around-to-the-actual-building phase if left up to me.

So, last weekend, I finally cleared the ground, set in the frame and soil, and got my pumpkin and squash starts in. I also have multiple kinds of squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, and snow peas in movable containers, all started from seeds. Once again, I waited too late to grow my tomatoes and peppers from seeds, so bought starts, some of which are still waiting to get into their more permanent pots–hence, the dirt-buying trip this morning).

I suppose I could wax philosophic about the zen of gardening, or the joy of producing one’s own food, or maybe the health and mental health benefits of making space for a little bit of nature in one’s immediate surroundings…or maybe about how my and M’s grandfathers (well, actually M’s step-grandfather) were both committed to pretty significant gardening operations (not container-based). But, really, I engage in all the work of raising these plants because it leads to some very tasty food…well, maybe not the pumpkin patch…that’s just tied to my lifelong obsession with Halloween.

At any rate, it will be interesting (well, to me, at least) to see whether the pumpkin plants survive the shade, the rabbits, moles, squirrels, and birds, and produce anything that can be turned into a jack-o’-lantern.

But, whether we’ll be working on pumpkins grown in my front yard or purchased from Safeway, the carving party is already set for October 25.

Happy Halloween…I mean, happy gardening!

Passing on Tradition: Easter Edition

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Being the son of a pastor, and having been raised religiously, you might think Easter would have a pronounced level of importance in my consciousness. But it doesn’t really register with me. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Good Friday church service—the overall tone of fear and denial, lapses of faith, betrayal, brutality, and sacrifice. Exiting the church in silence into a darkened spring night.

Easter service, in contrast, felt more like an obligation and an aggravation. Crowded with people who didn’t regularly attend church, those who showed up only to get ‘the good stuff’—just like at Christmas—it felt something like the story of the ‘Little Red Hen’ minus the justice of it all—which I suppose is the point of all that ‘grace’ business.

The idea of a resurrection was appealing to me, I suppose. But I like my resurrection stories with a bigger helping of horror and revenge.  (There’s that grace getting in the way again). And maybe the idea of an empty tomb as the big symbol of hope was just a little unnerving to me.

In my adult life, I don’t think I’ve been to a single Easter church service. I’ve occasionally made it to Christmas Eve (nighttime) services. Maybe if I thought ahead about Easter at all, I would take in a Good Friday service.

I do remember the fun of Easter weekends as a child—a quick (indoor) Easter egg hunt, getting a basket of candy. We, of course, dyed the eggs on Saturday, which I enjoyed. But perhaps being unable to eat eggs, the art project angle, followed by the hiding-and-seeking, was all I was ever going to get out of that. The church service was a sort of drawn-out block of time before a gathering of extended family members—with ham (or pink pig meat, as it came to be known in a family joke based on my younger brother’s objection to ham’s color reminding him of the actual animal we were eating).  And in another aside, my mother apparently makes amazing deviled eggs–something I’ll never experience unless allergy-defeating technology makes a huge leap forward.

All of this background is by way of observing my current lack of (meaningful) observation of the Easter holiday.

This morning, I treated my wife, M, to an indoor Easter egg hunt—a few plastic eggs stuffed with gifts. But that had more to do with a particular 7/$27 clearance sale that coincided with the holiday, than with anything else.

The aftermath of a half-assed Easter observation

The aftermath of a half-assed Easter observation

The kid is off with her boyfriend, not observing the holiday in their own way.

And despite efforts—mostly aimed at all that business about creating fun memories for one’s children—to engage with the Easter holiday, we (M, the kid, and I) never really got any solid tradition going.

There were years when we colored eggs, sometimes with other family friends and their children—which inevitably involved me running out to a store on Saturday afternoon to get eggs, vinegar, and dye, as I hadn’t given it any thought beforehand.

There was a stretch of years where Easter involved me hiding plastic eggs, each containing a numbered clue, pointing the kid toward a fabulous gift—a basketball hoop, a rubber raft…something related to spring and getting outside and having fun.

There were years—or maybe just one year—when the kid went off with family friends to their big, extended-family gathering, out somewhere where I could not go due to work or school, and to which M did not want to go without me.

There was a year where we tried doing the public, child-centered, not-really-religious observation. When I asked the kid about Easter memories, she described it as that “Easter event at some community space we went to where they trapped a bunch of kids in a room with a bunch of plastic eggs with prizes,” and where one of the children who’d gone along with us “was scared shitless of the guy in the Easter Bunny costume.” For whatever reason, I found it rather amusing that the kid took pains to spell out “the guy in the Easter Bunny costume” rather than just saying “the Easter Bunny.”

There was a year when we were invited to a family celebration, which consisted of us arriving to a very short period of pre-dinner conversation, the serving of the meal, then dessert, then everyone being asked to leave so that there would be no further disruption in the family routine. Sure, there’s something to be said for stability, but if a holiday isn’t an excuse for an extended routine-disruption, what is?  Okay, to be fair, there were added complications that I won’t get into right now.  But, still, it felt like the least celebratory celebration in the history of Easter.

I sometimes have regrets that M and I were not more consistent in our own routines where (some) holidays and traditions are concerned. The kid simply has no solid foundation for an Easter tradition—or even a solid conviction about not celebrating the holiday. Perhaps that’s not so unusual as I think it is—a thought that is based on my own upbringing, and my vague sense of what many other people do to mark the holiday each year.

On some level, I suppose my concern about how we’ve celebrated, or not celebrated, Easter over the years boils down to a question of what kind of memories I’ve provided for the kid, or perhaps, what kind of memories she has formed around the holiday, based on the cicumstances we provided. Most of that is probably concern based around the knowledge that my own mother established a remarkably stable environment for our family, despite some major challenges—a level of stability I’ve never come close to achieving through the various moves, shifts in careers, and tenuous connections with friends and family.

But in the end, I suppose the kid has a sense of humor about it all. My feelings of urgency or importance to the holiday—feelings that are definitely muted and muddled—came out of the sense of importance assigned to the holiday in my upbringing. My feelings that I should be doing more about Easter are, ultimately, tied to a sense that my family did more for me around the holiday (and about religion and tradition in general), and that I should pick that up and go with it.

Still, what I grew up with was “normal” to me, and I wasn’t able, or willing, to maintain it. What the kid grew up with is something she has to define for herself, and which she can decide to expand on, or abandon. As much as we may like to think that such celebrations are universal in action and understanding, obligation and satisfaction, we’re all bringing our own baggage, and taking away what we will.

Happy Easter.

Sylvia Frumkin’s Place

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

I’d venture a guess that many who enter the mental health field, as with any potentially dramatic profession all the way from police to executives, do so with visions informed by Hollywood. One of the main Hollywood portrayals of the mental health worker is is that of the therapist/psychiatrist as a well-compensated genius, ensconced in a plush office, treating the worried well or other “eccentric” or “neurotic” types, while constantly being admired by clients for one’s observational skill and ability to call forth ‘breakthrough’ moments. The other end of the spectrum is the heroic social worker who, through sheer tenacity, overcomes all the problems an impoverished neighborhood can throw at her, overcoming multi-generational patterns, and very recent traumas, to really, really make a difference in the lives of an entire community.

Many in the field are drawn to books by Yalom, or Rogers, or perhaps even some acolytes of Oprah, who tell us that just by listening and accepting our clients, or by throwing the right bit of tough-love advice a client’s way, true transformation will take place, and clients will make huge leaps forward, forever changing their lives for the better.

Susan Sheehan’s “Is There No Place on Earth for Me?” is perhaps the perfect antidote to the pie-in-the-sky visions of one’s brilliance and dedication making all the clinical difference in the world. It balances out the ideas about the wondrous gift of therapy with the reality of chronic and severe mental illness, and its resistance to ‘ah-ha moments’ and dramatic progress. It pushes past that “we don’t need no medications” mantra, which can, in fairness, apply to a lot of mental health issues.

“Is There No Place on Earth for Me?” was first published as a four part series in The New Yorker in 1981, then published as a book in 1982. For it, Sheehan won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1983. A new edition of the book was released roughly a year ago, including a new afterword by Sheehan. On reading about the re-issue in the online version of the New York Times in January of 2014, and having never read it before, I put it on my ‘to read’ list, and eventually checked out an old edition from the library.

Frumkin cover

The book, written from the perspective of a journalist, and not of a therapist trying to convince the readers of the efficacy of particular approaches to treatment, is involved in ways that few case studies can be. Sheehan spent over two years with Sylvia Frumkin (not her real name), a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia. Sheehan had a great deal of access not only to the information on Frumkin’s treatment and behavior during the period when Sheehan shadowed Frumkin, but also to family members and others, getting a great deal of background on Frumkin’s life prior to her diagnosis, and the progress and setbacks that took place before Sheehan had ever met her.

Having had numerous contacts with clients diagnosed with schizophrenia, or suffering from other forms of psychosis, most often from a distance, it took me a while to get through the book. That is, the kinds of delusions, rants, and flights from treatment that plague Frumkin and those trying to help her, and which Sheehan documents in detail, were familiar to me—of course, with Frumkin’s behaviors being particular to her own case. Still, it was like trying to read about many of the most frustrating aspects of work during one’s down time.

For the uninitiated, I imagine the book is much more compelling, rather than overly familiar, and thus, somewhat draining. In discussing “Is There No Place on Earth for Me?” with colleagues, I’ve most often likened it to Kafka’s “The Trial”—a book that is deliberately tedious in its depiction of a bureaucracy more intent on sustaining itself than serving any clear purpose—although, that comparison probably has much more to do with what I bring to the reading of Sheehan’s book than to what she has documented in such depth of detail. Also, I don’t think the mental health system—either now or at the time—is deliberately set up to be frustrating…it just frequently is, particularly for those most in need of help.

In addition to capturing the daily details of the behavior of a (this) client with schizophrenia, Sheehan also does a masterful job of explaining, simply and concisely, some fairly complicated legal, medical, and treatment-related concepts. For instance, Sheehan outlines the concept of “least restrictive” forms of treatment, both the bane and the beauty of our mental health system, which has been around since well before the current lack of options made it so completely mandatory.  In doing so, she answers that most familiar of questions about why we can’t “just lock up” people suffering from chronic forms of mental illness who can become rather taxing to a variety of public and private resources.

The most fascinating elements of Frumkin’s story to me, though, were the ‘side treatments’—pointless, and sometimes dangerous, programs that Sylvia was subjected to. Without going into a great deal of detail, the treatments ranged from moving in with a relative and his family who believed that all Frumkin needed was a good dose of Jesus and discipline to overcome her laziness and wicked ways, to a doctor who felt that manipulating the insulin levels of patients to extreme degrees could cure them of schizophrenia.

Ultimately, what works for Frumkin (or worked back around 1980) is what still works for clients today: a small number of medications that prove effective in treating schizophrenia, as well as (to greatly simplify things) a structured environment and supportive professionals. Unfortunately, said medications can lose their effectiveness over time, or the side effects can become increasingly detrimental to the clients. It is also quite common for clients to simply quit taking their medications, feeling them unnecessary or viewing them as the root cause of various forms of discomfort or other troubles in their lives. In addition, the structured environments can only be maintained for as long as clients are compliant with treatment, and as long as the treatment remains effective, and as long as funding and various programs allow. On top of that, anything from the restructuring of institutions, to changes in law and other policy, to the career changes of providers, to differences of opinion between providers and family members, can lead to new doctors and other providers making changes, sometimes rather arbitrarily, to a client’s medication regimen or support systems. In Frumkin’s case, alterations to her treatment and medications were made numerous times, in the most haphazard of fashions, often by doctors and other providers who seemed ignorant of her case history, or of how the medications work.

One might also note that this book was written back before the U.S., under President Ronald Reagan, decided that people with chronic mental illness enjoy the freedom that homelessness brings. So, Frumkin’s movements within the system are relatively easy in terms of her various forays into decompensation leading to fairly quick, and relatively long-term inpatient placements, with step-downs to semi-independent housing, and other supports that are much rarer today (and for most of the last three decades).

Ideally, Sheehan’s book would be taught in graduate schools, or maybe at earlier levels, by instructors who are familiar with the clinical aspects of schizophrenia; the current and historical treatments for it; and the current and historical state of affairs with regard to mental health facilities, available inpatient beds for clients with mental health issues, and legal and systemic complications to accessing those beds or other program options.

To be clear, it is necessary, as therapists, or in other capacities in the mental health field, to come equipped with a belief that we can make a difference. Without a bit of the dreamer in us, we would never head down this path to begin with.

But it is also necessary for providers at all levels to understand just what they are up against, particularly given that almost all providers in the mental health field will end up doing at least a round or two in the public mental health system–from practicums/internships to early jobs to entire careers–where the most challenging of clients often end up by default—frequently after being abandoned by families and other support systems, including insurance companies.

Frumkin’s family, as dysfunctional as they are, and as frequently detrimental to her treatment as they can be, at least hang in there to the extent that they can—which I imagine was at least somewhat less difficult when hospital beds and supported living options weren’t at such a premium as they are today. In the end, though, this isn’t a story of a family hanging together and triumphing over a terrible disease. It’s the story of a debilitating mental illness, and the toll it takes on the client, as well as those around her, and the wildly inconsistent efforts by a variety of people and systems to help her cope.

Welcome to Sylvia’s Place.

Honey Boo Boo Needs Some Real TLC, Not Abandonment

by JC Schildbach, LMHC, de-commissioned ASOTP

Not quite a month ago, The Learning Channel (TLC) announced plans to drop production of its ‘reality’ show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, as well as shelving an entire season that has been completed, but not aired. The reason? “Mama June” Shannon was photographed out and about with her former beau, convicted sex offender Mark McDaniel. Even worse, a few days after the original story broke, a photo surfaced showing June, Mark, and Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson together.

McDaniel was convicted of “aggravated child molestation” for sexual contact with Anna Marie Cardwell, who is June’s daughter, and Alana’s half-sister. McDaniel served a ten-year sentence for the molestation, having been released from prison in March.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.   I’ve seen occasional clips on other shows, and watched most of one episode when I came across it while flipping channels. But in that episode, I saw that the family was accepting of Alana’s uncle, who is gay, without making a big deal about it. And, despite my unease at the general weirdness of the child pageant circuit, the family members seemed to enjoy each other’s company. And then the show concluded with Honey Boo Boo climbing up on a chair and sticking her butt in the air to fart loudly, which, strangely enough, served as the lead-in to a very somber, ‘feed the children’ infomercial.

At any rate, speaking of the weirdness of the child pageant circuit, having seen a few episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras, the TLC show that spawned Honey Boo Boo’s spinoff, I am disturbed by what can only be described as the sexualization of little girls on that show. The contestants are small children who are essentially treated identically to adult beauty pageant contestants—made to wear too much makeup, with piled-up hairdos, wearing a variety of—I guess you’d call them revealing, although that sounds weird when talking about children—dresses and bathing suits, while performing routines involving dance moves that I pray the girls don’t understand the origins/meaning of.

I’ve had offender clients specifically mention Toddlers in Tiaras as a kind of ‘gateway’ form of visual stimulation leading to seeking out even more exploitative material. And, while such ‘gateway’ comments are often spoken with the intent to limit the personal responsibility of those clients—the whole ‘society is sexualizing young girls, what am I to do?’ complaint—it is somewhat difficult to view the show without thinking, ‘Wow—pedophiles must really enjoy this.’

So, while I could start shaming Mama June for putting her daughter in the beauty pageant circuit, or for taking up with a man who molested one of her daughters; instead it seems a better course in all of this would be for TLC to invest some more effort and money in the show, and maybe take it in some completely different directions—maybe even directions that would involve some actual learning.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit--Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit–Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

That is to say, it’s very odd to have a show built on the highjinks of a family that is portrayed as a bunch of unsophisticated rubes chasing a weird dream, and then to turn around and cancel the show when the matriarch of the family does something that shows she really doesn’t understand what’s at stake in a particular situation. According to Anna Marie’s own statements to the media, June minimized McDaniel’s behavior, telling Anna Marie that McDaniel wasn’t all that dangerous because Anna Marie was McDaniel’s only victim.

Such a statement is a big red flag that Mama June just might be buying a whole lot of lies from McDaniels—the kind of lies that offenders tell all too frequently. ‘It was just the one time;’ ‘I was drunk;’ ‘It was a mistake;’ ‘The victim did X first;’ ‘I paid the price/did my time;’ ‘I won’t ever do that again;’ etc, etc.

I don’t know what kind of treatment McDaniel may or may not have received in prison. But unless McDaniel has developed some understanding of his own behaviors, and unless Mama June has been educated on exactly what McDaniel did, how he did it, how he justified it to himself, what kinds of things Mama June needs to look out for in McDaniel’s behavior (preferably coming from McDaniel’s own confession); and unless she’s been given instruction in what McDaniel’s behavior means for the safety of her other children, and how to reduce risk (risk can never fully be eliminated), then it’s a little hypocritical of TLC executives to cut her off, claiming that it is in the best interest of the safety of the children involved.

And just for context, here’s the statement issued by the network at the time of the show’s cancellation: “TLC has cancelled the series HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO and ended all activities around the series, effective immediately. Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children’s ongoing comfort and well-being.”

Great, TLC, but where’s the support? I’ve seen many mothers of victims continue on in relationship with the men who molested those women’s children. And a supportive and appropriate relationship with an adult partner can actually reduce risk for re-offense. However, that risk isn’t (generally speaking) reduced when the offender is allowed back around likely victims, particularly without the partner being fully informed as to the nature of the offender’s behavior, and how to provide adequate support for the offender and for other family members. But maybe TLC executives are just looking at this as another example of the stereotypes they’re comfortable promoting–of poor, Southern folk accepting child molestation as a routine part of life.

It is potentially extremely damaging for victims of molestation, like Anna Marie, to see their mothers return to relationship with the offender, or to, in any way, be given the impression that they are being treated as secondary to the perpetrator of sexual violence. It definitely sends some disturbing messages about who is being given priority, and where the concern of the mother lies. It is possible to mitigate that damage, but only with some very involved, professionally-guided therapy.

I don’t want to over-simplify things here, but a major reason for women to continue on in relationship with offenders is economic. I don’t have any idea if McDaniel has any real way of providing for June’s family, but since TLC just cut off the family’s current main source of income, they are increasing Mama June’s likely reliance on someone who can provide support—and at a time when the person June is in relationship with is an offender who is very much putting Honey Boo Boo—that “remarkable child”—at risk.

So, again, why not take the show in a new direction? A learning direction? I don’t mean to advocate for making an offender a reality TV star, but TLC could at least build in scenes to Honey Boo Boo’s show, or maybe a spinoff, that follow McDaniel through treatment, and through all of the difficulties he now faces as a convicted offender trying to rebuild a life outside of prison, in conjunction with Mama June’s exposure to McDaniel’s treatment process.  The audience could see scenes of June attending sessions with McDaniel—scenes of McDaniel explaining his ‘offense cycle’ to June, of McDaniel explaining his actual offense to June, of June going through a chaperone class where she learns just what limits need to be placed on McDaniel and his contact with June’s children.

And what about making sure Anna Marie’s okay? How about, instead of channeling any income to McDaniel, any money involved in a standard TLC reality-star fee, over and above the cost of his evaluation and treatment—funded by TLC—goes to Anna Marie to make sure she can get some ongoing treatment herself?  Perhaps let Anna Marie gain some economic benefit from the exploitation she’s already suffered? She’s had various media outlets contacting her to ask how she feels about the man who molested her being released from prison. How about making sure Anna Marie’s not being re-traumatized by all of this? After all, how many victims of molestation really want the molestation being made public, and then want to have to address it, with complete strangers, for the purposes of having it blasted out all over the airwaves and the Internet?

Of course, TLC doesn’t have to do anything in this case. Perhaps TLC executives were grateful that a scandal of this sort came around when Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was pulling ratings of less than half of its peak performance, just so they had a good excuse to cut their losses. Then again, TLC could really do some good in this case. TLC could truly support the “health and welfare” of their child stars. TLC could really help advance public discourse on offenders, offender treatment, and victim advocacy.

Or TLC could just leave Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and the rest of the clan dangling—dangling over a cliff where falling means families torn apart and potential acts of child sexual abuse—and move on to whatever other ‘reality’ show goofballs America wants to laugh at, until ‘reality’ creeps in and undoes them as well—leaving TLC to cut its losses, abandon its ‘stars,’ and run.

 

Supercharged Sex Pets: The Kia Soul EV Commercial, and Weird Sexist Hamster Science

by J.C. Schildbach, MA, LMHC, ASOTP

In the commercial for the Kia Soul EV (Electric Vehicle), these hamsters…

Hamster scientist

…have just created some kind of electric-beam-shooting machine that transforms cars with combustion engines into electric cars, but which also inadvertently transforms this hamster…

Hamster ball

…into this hamster…

hamster hottie

…which leads the scientists to run out and get these hamsters…

Hamster cage

…in order to turn them into these hamsters:

Hamster sorority

You can watch the whole commercial here:

Now, I don’t know much about the normal behavior of the average anthropomorphic male hamster scientist, but the ones in this commercial are impulsive and reckless, and just plain engaging in bad scientific practices. It’s bad enough that they leave the newly-created anthropomorphic female porn-hamster alone in the lab, apparently irritating her, and leaving her to do God-knows-what with billions of dollars worth of barely-tested, super-high-tech equipment.

But they also, with complete disregard for their own safety, jump into an untested vehicle and race out of the lab with the intention of creating more female porn-hamsters. They don’t do any kind of systems check on the car, or even wait 30 seconds to, for instance, see if the porn-hamster they just created might have significant problems. Perhaps it suffers from severe physical or mental abnormalities. It could be hyper-aggressive or violent. One of its first actions, after all, was to blow a kiss across the room at one of the scientists, which actually had the electrified power to knock him to the floor. Guys, I don’t think you should be taking this so lightly.

Thankfully, the male hamster scientists make it to the pet store and back, nobody gets hurt, and the porn-hamsters only want to have a dance party.

Still, one has to wonder why these male hamster scientists are so enthralled by what they’ve created. I’ve not paid enough attention to the whole series of hamster commercials to know if the other female hamsters (are there other female hamsters?) in this Kia-commercial world have similar physical attributes to the male hamsters, as in looking like ‘real’ hamsters wearing clothing, or if all the female hamsters have the bodies of (human) Playboy playmates.

It bears asking, would the male hamsters really be attracted to some hideous abomination with the head of a hamster and the body of a human? After all, the female porn-hamsters seem to be attracted to the hamster-bodied males—or else they’re just tolerating them until they can escape. They would have to escape, right? The hamster scientists wouldn’t be so irresponsible as to just unleash these monstrosities on the world without knowing what they might do, right?

In any sci-fi/horror scenario, everything always seems great up front, and then rapidly goes to hell. First it’s a dance party, and then the killin’ starts. Just what can we expect from the porn-hamsters’ Frankenstein/Brundlefly/Jurassic Park moment? Or perhaps the better parallel is with Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice”—wherein genetic experiments lead to the creation of a hybrid human/insect thing that has sex with Adrien Brody and then kills him, and several others.

But, hey, for the Kia Soul EV, it’s still a dance party. We don’t have to worry about sex and murder. They even carefully edited the Maroon Five song that plays throughout the commercial to eliminate the lines “we get along when I’m inside you…I get so high when I’m inside you,” despite leaving in the lines about ‘hunting you down’ and ‘eating you alive.’ So, really, what happens if the porn-hamsters have some sort of melt-down, or revert back to their pre-porn-hamster selves?

Maybe I’m just taking this in the wrong direction. I mean, really, the ad is just a wacky homage to “Weird Science”—right? It’s light and fluffy, and titillating in a bestiality-inspiring way. And having a commercial that’s based on a film where two teens create a woman to satisfy their creepy urges, then turn Bill Paxton into a talking pile of turd, and accidentally end up with a nuclear weapon in their living room in the middle of a house party with uninvited bikers is all just in good fun. No harm done.

Yet, underlying the whole Kia Soul EV commercial is a bunch of disturbing assumptions about gender stereotypes, the ideal woman, and sex in general.

If you break it down we have 1) scientists who are all male;  2) a female who is, at first, kept as a pet locked up in a plastic ball, and then turned into a an anthropomorphic human-Playboy-playmate-bodied porn-hamster; 3) the all-male scientist group racing out to buy more pets that they can turn into a whole roomful of porn-hamsters; and 4) the female porn-hamsters instantly falling in love with the anthropomorphic, male, hamster-bodied hamster scientists.

So, the “men” in this commercial have jobs and are intelligent and seeking to advance science (I mean, holy shit!!–they invented a big ray-gun that can transform the power system of a car, when they could have just worked on engineering a better battery). The “women” in this commercial are initially tiny pets who are kept locked up, and can be sold at any time. Eventually, the pet-women are transformed into sex objects who instantly fall in love with the men, despite nothing happening to inspire love aside from being shot with some mysterious ray-gun that also turns gas-powered cars into electric cars.

And, again, maybe I’m just looking at this the wrong way. Personally, though, I was really creeped out the first time I saw it, and that had nothing to do with the use of a Maroon Five song. I just couldn’t help but think that the underlying story of buying pets to turn them into potential sex partners was just wrong and disturbing.

If you don’t see that, then let me ask you what would be the equivalent if this commercial involved humans instead of hamsters? Would the “pets” be chimps? Monkeys of some sort? Human babies? Tiny little humans that are sold in pet stores? If they weren’t human to begin with, would they retain their monkey/ape faces? If they were human… Well, whatever the angle, it’s pretty damn creepy.

And maybe you don’t see the supercharged sexism because they’re just hamsters, after all, and it’s basically just a cartoon. But cartoons still carry messages, and plenty of them carry messages involving and reinforcing gender stereotypes—most commonly that boys/men are action-oriented and assertive, while girls/women are passive and interested in socializing and being cute.

At base, this Kia Soul EV ‘cartoon’ relays the message that men act on the world, even as they are controlled by their sexual urges, while women (and pets?) exist to be the focus of men’s sexual urges.

Take it into your lab, dissect it, throw it under a microscope, zap it with whatever you want—if you take the time to study it, even a little, it’s far from a cute little ad with fun intentions.  Rather, it’s an ugly, dangerous Frankenstein’s monster of a message to send.