About Melissa

No longer a writer without a forum. Dwelling here and on Twitter as @MGeschwind.

Update: You Made a Difference in Toronto!

As most of you probably know, on Monday the Toronto Maple Leafs announced a partnership with White Ribbon, an organization dedicated to ending violence against women. The Leafs have already released a PSA in conjunction with White Ribbon, which you can view here.

What you might not know is that if you were one of our letter writers then you had a part in moving this forward! Leafs President Brendan Shanahan has been an advocate for ending domestic violence and sexual assault dating back to his playing days, including a longstanding affiliation with Sanctuary for Families in New York. He had wanted to involve the Leafs in the cause when he came to Toronto. Through his assistant, Shanahan told me he didn’t realize just how much support he and the team would have until he read your letters.

Thank you to everyone who wrote, tweeted or otherwise participated in the campaign – your voices made a real difference here. What’s more, I have reason to believe at least one other team has something in the works that was spurred by your words and actions. I can’t say more right now but I’m very optimistic that your impact is far from finished.

If you’re not satisfied with your favorite team’s treatment of women, let them know. Be loud. Be bold. Progress doesn’t happen overnight but teams ARE listening.

The Weight of Words

I’m not going to congratulate you on your weight loss anymore.

If you tried to lose weight and succeeded, then I’m happy for you that you achieved what you set out to do. It’s always good to reach our goals. But merely weighing less than you used to is not, in and of itself, praise-worthy. There is no particular virtue in dropping a pants size. I am not going to gush over the fact that you have found a way to look less like me.

I’m also not going to say “thank you” when someone asks if I’ve lost weight. I haven’t and, despite your good intentions, this is not a compliment. I wouldn’t thank you if you asked if I’d pinned my ears or removed a mole or done anything else to fundamentally alter my body to suit your sense of aesthetics. “You look good” is a nice thing to say to someone; “You look good, so you must have fixed what was wrong with you” is not.

And I’m done – DONE – indulging the “I’m so fat!”/”No, you’re not!” scripts we women feel we must follow every time we try on clothes or, heaven forbid, eat a meal. I’m done with the self-flagellation and I’m done trying to reassure you that you don’t look like me. I eat. I wear clothes. Neither of these things requires an apology.

Do not try to pretend any of this is about health. It’s not. Nobody says “Did you lose weight? Because your cholesterol numbers are fantastic!” No, it’s “You look so good! Did you lose weight?” Unless you’re in a doctor’s office or specifically discussing what happened in a doctor’s office, it’s always about looks. Always. That’s how you perceive that someone lost weight and it’s the thing you’re praising. “Congratulations, people will now enjoy looking at you!”

We need to stop linking weight to morality, so I’m starting with the fat girl in the mirror. My body exists for my use, not as a vehicle to prove my worthiness as a person. I weigh what I weigh and that has nothing to do with you. You weigh what you weigh and that has nothing to do with me.

Feel free to compliment my haircut, my lipstick, my earrings, my new dress. If you’re complimenting appearance then mention something whose primary purpose is to enhance that appearance. But my body? It’s for so much more than that, just like yours is. I’m done reducing both of them to only what the eye can see.

Update: More Responses to Our Letters

Yesterday I spoke with Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan who, after a comedy of email non-delivery errors, finally received your letters. Our conversation was lengthy, very encouraging and (per his request) off the record. We intend to remain in touch in the coming months and I’ll update everyone when the Leafs are prepared to make a public statement.

Note: General Manager Lou Lamoriello had told me that Shanahan was the best person in Leafs management with whom to discuss issues of violence against women. Scroll to Shanahan’s name in this alphabetical list of New York’s New Abolitionists to see at least some of what Lamoriello was referring to.

I also received an email from the Dallas Stars outlining some of the charitable donations they’ve made to sa/vd organizations over time. I’ve asked for clarification on some of that information and will post it as soon as I hear back.

We’re making inroads! Make sure to let your favorite team know what you think about its response so far – some of them, at least, are listening.

Misogyny & Violence Against Women in the NHL: Team Responses to Fan Letters

Over the summer, I asked fans to write letters to their favorite NHL teams about the way they and the league address sexual assault, domestic violence and misogyny. I received 43 letters representing fans of 25 teams, and on September 6 I emailed all the fan letters to all 30 NHL teams, with the letters from each team’s own fans at the top of the email to that club. Copies also went out to the NHL and to the expansion franchise in Las Vegas.

The cover letter that topped the Ducks’ email, included below, was basically the same letter all the teams received, though there were slight variations for Chicago, Los Angeles and Nashville. The cover letters were addressed to team ownership and management, though in most cases the only email addresses I had were for the club’s communications department. In cases where I had an email address for an executive or general manager, I still cc’d members of the communications staff.

I sent follow-up emails every week to teams that either hadn’t responded or had sent replies that were incomplete or insufficient. I also tried to reach some non-responsive teams via Twitter. Now, just over a month later, every team has had ample time and opportunity to make a statement. The vast majority have chosen not to, but there is cause for hope in a few cases. Unless specified otherwise, all responses came from people within the teams’ communications departments.

Here is the cover letter, which also contained my personal email, home phone and cell phone:

Dear Dr. and Dr. Samueli, Mr. Schulman, Mr. Murray, and the Anaheim Ducks organization,

Last October I started a petition on change.org regarding how the NHL and its member teams address sexual assault and domestic violence among their players. The petition has garnered more than 36,000 signatures as well as attention in print, electronic and broadcast media. In April I met with Commissioner Bettman at the NHL’s New York office to discuss the petition and the larger issue of violence against women.

I left that meeting feeling very hopeful, but since then the NHL has kept silent on this topic even as more incidents continue to surface. Your fans haven’t forgotten, though, and they’re counting on you to advocate for them both within the Ducks organization and as a member of the league. Please take a few minutes to read the letters below and allow fans to tell you in their own words how they feel about spending time, money, and emotion on a league that refuses to publicly denounce sexual assault and domestic violence.

There are simple, concrete steps you can take to let fans know that the Ducks will not tolerate violence against women:

  • Do not draft, sign, trade for, or re-sign players with a history of sexual assault or domestic violence
  • Suspend any player under police investigation for committing an act of off-ice violence
  • Sever all ties with anyone who is convicted of these crimes
  • Establish a relationship with Anaheim-area charities and shelters that serve victims of these crimes
  • Urge the NHL to take a public stance against these crimes, because silence is a statement in itself

If you’d like to reach out to one or more of the authors below please don’t hesitate to ask. If you’d like to address the larger issue through me or change.org, I’ll be glad to facilitate that as well. Please contact me any time to confirm receipt of this email and/or discuss the topic further.

Thank you very much for your time,

Melissa Geschwind

 

Now, the responses. I’m starting with the teams that did not reply at all, to make sure everyone can see and note their names. I received nothing – not even confirmation or denial of receipt (after follow-up emails and attempts to contact them via Twitter) – from the following 17 teams:

  • Boston Bruins
  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Edmonton Oilers
  • Florida Panthers
  • Los Angeles Kings
  • Nashville Predators
  • New York Islanders
  • Ottawa Senators
  • Pittsburgh Penguins
  • San Jose Sharks
  • St. Louis Blues
  • Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Vancouver Canucks
  • Washington Capitals
  • Winnipeg Jets

These teams either care so little about their fans and the issue of violence against women that they couldn’t be bothered to respond, or they’re so concerned about avoiding difficult topics that they hoped by laying low they could avoid the issue altogether. (If they claim not to have received any of the communications, that won’t hold water – a team whose communications department is inaccessible by both email and Twitter is a team that is choosing to shut out its fans’ voices.) Teams are free to reverse course at any time by contacting me or the advocacy group of their choice and making an official statement, but if they fail to communicate their position to fans then that, in itself, is a powerful statement in favor of the status quo.

•••••

Slightly better are the teams that acknowledged receiving the letters but said little to nothing of substance:

• About three weeks after I sent the initial email, the Anaheim Ducks replied with “Thanks for reaching out. Obviously we would take any matter such as this seriously” and then asked for the email address of a specific Ducks fan who had written a letter. With that fan’s permission I passed along her email address. To date neither she nor I have heard anything further from the team.

• The Buffalo Sabres also responded to my first follow-up to ask me to resend. They confirmed receipt and said they would pass it along to team brass for a response. I last heard from them on September 26, when they said, “Sorry but nothing to report at this time.”

• Independent of one another, two different members of the Minnesota Wild’s communications staff each responded to my initial email very quickly. They offered “Thanks for the email and sharing your powerful message Melissa. Appreciate it” and “Thanks for the email and for bringing this important issue to the attention of our organization and league,” respectively. I held brief email conversations with each representative but ultimately the only official message that came out of them was this message from the one who had responded first: “I don’t have a specific message or any comments I would like to share on behalf of our organization.”

• On September 19, the Montreal Canadiens sent me this message: “We did receive your email but were unable to get back to you sooner. We will follow-up with you within the next few days. Thank you for your understanding.” I’ve sent them two follow-up emails since then but haven’t heard back.

• The New York Rangers’ reply, in its entirety, was: “We have received it. Thank you.” They did not answer when I asked if they had any more to say on the matter.

• The Philadelphia Flyers quickly replied to my first follow-up email to let me know they hadn’t received the original message. I re-sent it and as soon as it went through they confirmed receipt and referred me to the NHL.

•••••

Two teams gave somewhat more extensive responses, but not for the better:

• The Arizona Coyotes replied quickly to the initial email, saying:

“Thank you for the email. We appreciate you contacting us regarding this very serious and important topic. The Coyotes organization, from top to bottom, takes this issue very seriously and this type of behavior is not tolerated by anyone affiliated with our organization.  We are consistently working with the NHL in connection with league-wide programs to educate our players, raise awareness within our community, and support those affected by sexual assault and domestic violence.”

I’ll let the rest of the email exchange speak for itself:

Me: “Thank you for reading and for getting back to me so quickly! I’m going to touch base periodically with those who wrote letters and/or signed the petition, and I’d love to be able to give them specifics on what the Coyotes are doing to raise awareness and support victims. Are there details you can share?”

Coyotes: “Sorry Melissa but this information is confidential

Me: “Forgive me for being blunt, but how can efforts to raise awareness be confidential?”

Coyotes: “Sorry but we are keeping this information private

Me: “OK, then that’s what I’ll report back. I also wanted to give the team a chance to comment on the decision to sign Garret Ross, a move that could be viewed as provocative to victims and other female fans.”

Coyotes: “Thanks Melissa. Our comment is listed below.

“The Coyotes organization, from top to bottom, takes this issue very seriously and this type of behavior is not tolerated by anyone affiliated with our organization.  We are consistently working with the NHL in connection with league-wide programs to educate our players, raise awareness within our community, and support those affected by sexual assault and domestic violence.”

• The Dallas Stars sent their response on September 19, after receiving the second follow-up email. It read as follows:

We understand the passion that you have for this cause, and obviously it is an important one.  We work closely with the NHL, and do our own work internally, to address the wide range of issues that were brought up in your initial correspondence; from domestic violence all the way to the inclusion of the Ice Girls in game production, ice maintenance and marketing efforts.

Specifically to your points on domestic violence and sexual assault, we will always work in cooperation with the proper authorities, as well as in conjunction with the NHL, to appropriately deal with any matter that should arise.  As a member club of the NHL, we hold ourselves to a high standard in all realms.  That is a responsibility that we take seriously and we fully expect the members of our organization to lead by their example.

Thank you for raising these concerns,

[signature graphic]

I replied the next day with this message: “Thank you for getting back to me!

I’m having a little trouble understanding your message. What is the high standard the Stars hold yourselves to on these issues? What does the organization do to encourage and assist its members in leading by example?

I’m just trying to get some concrete information I can pass along as I begin to compile teams’ responses to the original email. If the Stars are taking positive steps in this area I certainly want to share that with your fans.

Thank you again for responding. I look forward to continuing the conversation!”

I have not received any further correspondence from the Stars.

•••••

Four other teams offered far more encouraging replies:

• A representative from the Flames Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Calgary Flames, reached out via phone and gave me a detailed breakdown of how much the Flames Foundation gives annually to charities that address domestic violence and/or sexual assault (all amounts in Canadian dollars):

  • $25,000 to the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter
  • $15,000 to Rowan House
  • $15,000 to the Homefront Society for Prevention of Domestic Abuse
  • $15,000 to the Calgary YWCA
  • $6,000 to the Banff YWCA

You can find more information about the Flames Foundation under the “Community” tab on the team’s website.

The Flames’ communications department also emailed to let me know they had passed the letters along to team President Ken King, President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and General Manager Brad Treliving. Unfortunately, I never heard back from any of those men. Still, I believe it’s a good sign that the Flames saw fit to reach out personally and share their charitable information with us. It means that the team understands that it’s important not only to give to these organizations but also to be vocal and show fans that these issues matter.

• Although I received no detailed information about the Columbus Blue Jackets’ policies regarding sexual assault and domestic violence, I did get this email from general manager Jarmo Kekalainen:

Melissa,

Thank you very much for reaching out to us regarding the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence.  I greatly admire your passion and advocacy for these issues and can assure you that our organization shares your abhorrence of this type of behavior.  This issue is among the topics we discuss every year with our players.  While our Foundation has its core pillars of giving, we have supported numerous initiatives in our community, including those in support of battered women, over the years and will continue to do so moving forward.  Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and those of others with us.

Yours sincerely,
Jarmo Kekalainen, General Manager, Columbus Blue Jackets

Kekalainen subsequently declined to offer further details, saying, “Our official team policies – covering many topics related and unrelated to conduct of this nature – are internal and not something we publicize.” While I’m always wary of organizations that lack transparency on these issues, I found Kekalainen’s words powerful, and that much more so because he sent and signed them himself. That email is definitely not boilerplate – this is something he took the time to consider and compose (people who have spoken with Kekalainen in the past tell me that the email sounds like his ‘voice’). I hope in the future he will choose to go public with the team’s sexual assault/domestic violence policies so the Blue Jackets can serve as an example for fans and for other teams. For now, though, I find Kekalainen’s response encouraging if not extensive.

• New Jersey Devils president Hugh Weber, with whom I’d spoken in the past about these issues, responded quickly to the initial email and subsequently spoke with me on the phone at some length. Weber displayed a real enthusiasm for establishing ties between the Devils and relevant charities and/or advocacy groups, asking me to recommend names (I offered a suggestion of my own and also consulted with a more experienced sa/dv advocate for advice on which other organizations might be good fits). I plan to stay in contact with Weber, who has assured me that once the team has connected with one or more of these groups and has taken concrete action, he will share the details with all of us. I fully intend to hold him to it and I am optimistic – due in large part to my previous interactions with Weber – that he will deliver.

• Lastly we have the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have yet to read the letters but who nonetheless remain a source of hope for me. The original email never got through to the Leafs for whatever reason (my best guess is that the sheer size of the file got it sorted into spam), but after I sent the first follow-up I got a very genial phone call from general manager Lou Lamoriello, whom I’d interviewed a few times back when I was a hockey writer. Lamoriello let me know he hadn’t received the initial email and asked me to resend, which I did to no avail. After a few failed attempts to send the letters via email, Lamoriello (again over the phone) suggested I send a hard copy to team president Brendan Shanahan, since Lamoriello had been told that Shanahan has experience with charitable work in this area. The letters arrived at Shanahan’s office on October 3, but he was travelling. His assistant told me to expect a call this week. I’ll keep everyone posted on how this develops.

•••••

Thank you all, as always, for your support and your voices! If you’re not satisfied with your favorite team’s response you can always contact them directly to let them know. Season ticket holders, in particular, can go through their ticket agents to send a message the team has no choice but to hear. And of course I’ll continue updating as this continues to develop.

Letter-Writing Campaign

Cross-posting this here in the hopes some of you will add your voices. Deadline has been extended until tomorrow (Tuesday, August 2) and I might be able to make accommodations if you need an extra day or two.

https://www.change.org/p/gary-bettman-bill-daly-demand-the-nhl-take-sexual-assault-and-domestic-violence-seriously/u/17359658

All Together, Each Alone

I used to think everyone’s skin got red and itchy when the weather turned cold.

I have something called “cold urticaria,” which basically means I’m allergic to the cold. It’s no big deal – just some irritating but harmless hives – but it’s so much a part of my life that I’d always assumed it was universal. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that other people’s experience of feeling cold didn’t include rashes. I stumbled on this information when I mentioned to a friend on especially frigid day that the weather outside was “itchy,” and she had no idea what I meant.

Like my allergy to cold, my anxiety disorder has always been here. I’ve experienced physical pain and gripping terror over relatively small stressors, and I spent most of my life assuming everyone else did, as well. Throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood I tortured myself by plunging into stressful situations again and again, believing that to avoid them would be a sign of laziness and a failure of morality. If everyone faced the same dread over these things then any inability on my part to push through them would mean I was weak, spoiled, bad. Every time I experienced an anxiety attack too overwhelming to manage, I hung myself with all those pejoratives and more.

Learning that my physical and mental responses to stress aren’t the same as everyone else’s was a gift. It’s not that the entire world goes to work each morning with a stomachache and tightness in the throat, and I’m the only one too pathetic or entitled to ignore it and soldier on. When other people say they hate going to work, they mean that they find their jobs frustrating or mundane or even worrisome, but not that it routinely causes them physical pain and a constant low hum of panic.

One of the tentpoles of the mental health community is reminding people with mental illness that they aren’t alone. Other people have been though it and come out the other side, and you can too. Other people are going through it right now and they understand you in a way that your friends and family can’t. You aren’t a freak. Your experience is more common than you think. That message is important. Mental illness can be very isolating, so it helps tremendously to find out your disease is just that: A disease, something that can be identified and treated.

But there’s a downside to normalizing things like anxiety and depression. Make these diseases sound too common and you can lead someone who already struggles with identity and self-esteem to believe that they should be able to power past their illness and function “like everyone else.”

It doesn’t work that way. While many people suffer from mental illnesses that share similar features and symptoms, no two people experience depression or anxiety exactly the same way. Just because the person next to you can hold down a job and raise a family while dealing with mental illness doesn’t make you a failure if you can’t, or if you can’t right now.

When I talk about the horror I feel whenever I start a new project please don’t say, “We all feel that way.” I know you’re trying to help, but you don’t feel the same way I do. If you’re mentally healthy you have no idea how I feel, and even if you have an anxiety disorder of your own you still don’t know what it’s like to live with mine. I’m already beating myself up for all the things I don’t – I can’t – do. I don’t need anyone else piling on.

I don’t know what it’s like to live with your mental illness, either, and I recognize that. Our diseases share some commonalities and we can help each other by acknowledging those and discussing strategies for dealing with them; we just need to remember not to let empathy cross the line into inadvertent shaming.

We’re all in this together, but we’re not all the same. If we’re to help and support each other we can’t lose sight of either of those facts.

 

Unmotherhood

 

This is about ME. It isn’t about all single parents, all mentally ill people, all people without tons of money, or all anything else. It’s just me talking about my decision, nothing more.

 

I would like to be a parent, in theory. The thought of someone to nurture, someone who would love me for the rest of my life and, just by existing, would give that life meaning, is more than appealing – it’s beautiful.

And I can’t have it.

Physically I can, or at least I have no reason to assume I can’t, bear a child. My not being a mother is a choice, one that is as clear-cut as it is painful. Not everyone is equipped to be a parent and far too many people have children simply because of personal desire; I refuse to be one of those people.

The problems would begin before the baby arrived. If I wanted to carry a child I’d have to stop taking my psychiatric medication, which would hurt both me and the fetus. No rational person or institution would allow me to adopt a child as a single, underemployed,  mentally ill parent, and I certainly don’t have the money to hire a surrogate. Even if I did, though, once I took custody of the baby I’d still be unfit for motherhood.

I would adore my child and would do everything in my power to protect and care for them. The problem is that “everything in my power” wouldn’t be nearly enough. I lack the financial resources, but that’s not the real issue. I can’t be a parent because my anxiety and depression manifests in a way that makes even relatively small decisions seem mountainous. I doubt myself at every turn and periodically I shut down because I’m overwhelmed by mundane chores. The everyday job of motherhood would be bad for my health and that, in turn, would be even worse for the child.

My child would have only one parent – a mother who could provide love and little else. They would have to navigate around my illness, making their own choices much too young because I wouldn’t be capable of it. No matter how much work I put into trying to keep it from happening, my child would inevitably end up being my periodic caretaker, suffering through my rare but crushing depressions and far more frequent anxiety attacks. My child would grow up burdened, giving far too much to the one person from whom they should only be taking.

I might mourn my non-motherhood more if every single step of the process didn’t terrify me. Still, I have enough maternal instinct that my desire for a child almost matches my understanding of the fact that it would be wrong of me to have one.

I deal in reality, so while I might dream of what it would be like to look into the eyes of my child and feel complete love and joy, I know it’s something I simply can’t have. This is the legacy I choose to leave: That I wasn’t so selfish as to make someone be my child just so I could be their mother.