Showing posts with label me too. Show all posts
Showing posts with label me too. Show all posts

26 September 2019

"Miss Evelyn Nesbit Testifies 'Me Too'"


I'm happy to introduce Ana Brazil as our guest blogger for the day.  Ana and I are both appearing in Me Too Short Stories:  An Anthology (edited by our own Liz Zelvin). Ana is the author of the historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB AND THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER (published by Sand Hill Review Press) and the winner of the Independent Book Publishers Association 2018 Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal for Historical Fiction.  Take it away Ana!  Ana's story in the anthology is "Miss Evelyn Nesbit Presents", and if you haven't heard of Miss Nesbit - well, she was the nexus of one of the trials of the century - the very early 20th century.  Take it away, Ana! -Eve Fisher

by Ana Brazil

It might seem like a no-brainer.

When I—an author of American historical crime fiction—wanted to write a Me Too-themed short story, a story about crimes against women, retribution, and even, possibly, healing, Miss Evelyn Nesbit was the obvious choice.

You probably know something about Evelyn. Artist Charles Dana Gibson used young Evelyn as the model for one of his most-famous Gibson Girl illustrations. She was the star defense witness in the 1907 “Trial of the Century”, where her exploitation as “the girl on the red velvet swing” was publicly revealed. You might also remember Evelyn from her saucy escapades in E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime or the movie or Broadway musical based on his novel.

But although Evelyn was clearly a victim of sexual and emotional abuse by multiple wealthy and powerful men, she wasn’t my first choice for a historical Me Too-themed short story.

My first choice was Mr. H. H. Holmes.

You probably know something about H. H. Holmes also. During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he owned the “Murder Castle” hotel where women and men could check in, but—as the newspapers reported—they could never leave.

I wanted to explore how Holmes preyed upon his female victims and then I wanted to show how one of those exploited women got the better of him. In the final paragraph, she would heroically clamber out of the “Murder Castle” hotel. But characters, crimes, and motivations just didn’t click in my head, and I couldn’t make that story work.

When I finally put H. H. Holmes aside, I returned to Miss Evelyn Nesbit. And she did not disappoint me.

I knew the bones of Evelyn’s story—she worked as a teenage model and chorus girl to support her mother and younger brother, she was raped by New York architect Stanford White, she married the brutal and off-balanced millionaire Harry K. Thaw, and she witnessed the crime that launched the “Trial of the Century”—on June 25, 1906, her husband shot her rapist to death on the rooftop of New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

I went to Wikipedia for details about Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, and Harry K. Thaw. Amongst the sensuous photos of Evelyn, the "masterful" and “burly yet boyish” description of White, and the revelation of mentally instable Thaw’s interest in “the cult of virgin martyrdom”, I found this information about Evelyn’s trial testimony:

her examination on the witness stand was an emotionally tortuous ordeal. In open court, she was forced to expose her relationship with White, and to describe the intimate details of the night she was raped by Stanford White.
It wasn’t hard to imagine Evelyn sitting stiffly on the witness stand, answering questions about the night in her teens when (as she wrote in her 1934 autobiography) she "entered that room a virgin, but did not come out as one”.

My heart broke a little, imagining how painful her testimony must have been. Her rape had been her private pain—until the murder, known only by White and Thaw—and within minutes, it became known to every newspaper reporter sitting in court. Which meant that it was headline news around the country.

In that sorrowful moment of my imagination, I embraced Miss Evelyn Nesbit as my Me Too short story protagonist. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to shield and defend her. I wanted to escort her out of court, into a waiting motorcar, and drive her as far away as I possibly could.


In my short story “Miss Evelyn Nesbit Presents” (included in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology) I transport Evelyn all the way to 1914. I invite her into New York City’s posh Hotel Astor where, in a very private dining room, I leave her to lunch with the very unscrupulous moving picture producer H. H. Samson. (Yes, I did get an “H. H.” into my story!)

What’s the worst that could happen?

During their luncheon Evelyn desperately fights to reframe her “girl on the red velvet swing” past and reclaim her future. Will she be successful? Or will she once again fall victim to a man’s manipulation and power? Or will she find that retribution can be just as sweet as revenge?

As Miss Evelyn Nesbit presents her final demands to H. H. Samson, the results seem like a no-brainer to me.

***

Many thanks to fellow Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology contributor and SleuthSayer Eve Fisher for inviting me to guest post. Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology edited by Elizabeth Zelvin is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  (Link Here)

My other stories of historic heroines include “Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending” in Fault Lines (Sisters in Crime Northern California) and my debut novel—set in 1889 New Orleans—FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER.   (Link Here)

www.anabrazil.com

12 September 2019

Pentecost - Burning Up Every Wrong


by Eve Fisher

A month ago, I read Miriam Towes' Women Talking, a novel about the unbelievable but horrifically true story of a group of Mennonite men in the Manitoba Colony of Bolivia who "went around spraying an animal anesthetic into neighboring houses at night, rendering everyone unconscious, and raping all the women (infant, elderly and relatives included)".  At first the men in the colony denied that it happened.  Then they accused the women of everything from adultery to demonic possession.  But then some were caught.  Not that things got better for the women:  after arrests and confessions were made, psychological support was offered to the rape survivors by Mennonite missionaries, but the Bishop of Manitoba rejected it. He said, "Why would they need counselling if they weren't even awake when it happened?"  And the victims were and are being pressured to forgive the rapists, under threat of losing their eternal salvation if they don't.  (Manitoba case

Once again, proof that 99% of sex crimes are NOT about sexual desire, sexual desirability, or even lust.  They're about power.

In an authoritarian world, the real definition of power - unprettied, unsoftened - is the ability to do whatever you want and get away with it.  And one of the absolute proofs of power, to sociopaths, psychopaths, and pack mobs, is the ability to do anything you want to someone subordinate/inferior to you and get away with it.  Especially sexual dominance.  And if someone actually decides to rebel against the pecking order and resist and report?

DENIAL:
It never happened!  It wasn't like that!  It was consensual!  Demons must have done this!  S/he's lying!  What did s/he do to lure him on?
DEFLECTION:
Roy Cohn.jpg
Roy Cohn
Roger Stone on Roy Cohn:  "Roy was not gay. He was a man who liked having sex with men."  (Source)
DEFENSE!  DEFENSE!
Alan Dershowitz:  A john “who occasionally seeks to taste the forbidden fruit of sex for hire...  Prostitutes know what they’re doing—they should be prosecuted. But you shouldn’t ruin the john’s life over that."  (New Yorker
And as for rape, well - A young boy's life shouldn't be ruined over "20 minutes of action." (Brock Turner)
DISTRACTION:
Look!  Squirrel!  Someone else is worse!  They did that!  What was she wearing?  What was she drinking?  Why did she go there?  Why didn't they report it sooner?  What are they trying to get out of it by reporting it now?
DISTRACTION AND DENIAL:
Of course it never happened, s/he's not my type!  Who'd want to **** her [him]?
And we're back to the age-old "excuse" that sexual assault is based on the desirability of the victim, rather than an exercise of power.  But the truth is, rapists rape and abusers abuse the same way pigeons poop and bank robbers rob - that's what they do.  There's almost nothing you can do except lock yourself up in your house and wear body armor, and even then - well, read something about the Boston Strangler.  No, I'll take that back:  what you can do is avoid sociopaths, psychopaths, cult leaders, war zones, riots, authoritarians, and pack mobs.

The trouble is, that's hard to do.  Always has been.

My story in Liz Zelvin's Me Too Short Stories:  An Anthology is "Pentecost".  It's 1990, and Darla Koenig is the first female pastor in Laskin, South Dakota.  Not everyone is welcoming.  Nothing personal, just general principles, you know?  Not sure that women should be preaching from the pulpit.  Things might have to change.  Everything's fine the way it is.  Darla should be grateful that she's even allowed in.  And no one wants to deal with an old predator, even if he is still predatory.  So Darla has to, even though she knows that doing it herself could be one of the most dangerous things that she will ever do, for herself, her career, and the young girls of Laskin. 

A lot went into "Pentecost."  The Hutterite colonies throughout the Midwest.  They are hardworking religious communes that are also deeply, profoundly, completely patriarchal and capitalist.   They're also hard-drinking.  Sometimes things happen.  Sometimes someone talks about them.

WaPo
The sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Church, and other Evangelical churches. Again, patriarchal societies in which women are not allowed any leadership or pastoral roles, and are expected to "graciously submit to the leadership of her husband".  In which the perpetrators were protected, hidden, and - if everything came tumbling out - were quickly, publicly forgiven, while victims were silenced, ignored, told they had to forgive and forget to maintain their salvation, sometimes even made to confess their "guilt" in rape and abuse.  (Evangelical Church Sexual Abuse; SBC Church Sexual Abuse)

The new church group in the South Dakota small town that - in 2015!!!! - wanted to use the community room in the apartment building Allan & I lived in, and assured the owner of said building that "In our church, women know their place."  (They didn't get the room.)

An incident from my childhood.  Another, on-going incident from those days, when every child in my Southern California neighborhood knew that the guy on the corner was molesting his foster children.  But it was the 1960s, and we didn't dare say anything, because we knew that, as children, to even know what sexual molestation was meant that somehow we'd lost our innocence - and that meant something was wrong with us.  How could we know that without being corrupted?  And we would end up punished.

Darla runs headlong into this issue.  When she makes a couple of suggestions to at least rein in the predator she's told, "The town might be embarrassed."  When she suggests that the victims band together to pull him down, the janitor, Portia Davison, tells her:
"I don't know many women in this town who'd be willing to admit that something like that happened to them.  And we don't have any proof.  He's a lawyer.  His dad was mayor.  He hangs out with Judge Dunn and everyone on the City Commission.  To them, Davisons like me are trailer trash, and you're not from around here, not any more.  Nobody's going to listen.  And people might get hurt.  Especially the girls."
Portia was right.  To speak up would mean that every ballet student for the last 20 years, but especially the ones right now, would be pointed out, whispered about, objects of pity but also of suspicion, sullied...  To speak up and be doubted would ruin Darla's image, if not her reputation.  Darla would be called a troublemaker and a feminazi and every other misygynistic slur, and it would be another ten years at least before there would be another woman pastor in Laskin. 
And it wouldn't even matter whether they were believed or not.  Even if they were, Darla would be hated for opening the can of worms, and the girls would still be held somehow at fault.
It wasn't fair, it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair.
Don't worry.  Darla finds a way through the dilemma.  A very effective way. 

Check out how she pulls it off - and many other wonderfully satisfying stories - in Me Too Short Stories:  An Anthology, available on Amazon.com HERE,, at Barnes & Noble HERE.

And for those of you in NYC, there will be a launch party at the Mysterious Bookshop in the Big Apple on Tuesday September 24!

Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology by [Zelvin, Elizabeth]