Author Archives: thinkbannedthoughts

About thinkbannedthoughts

Sexual health educator and advocate. Political and social Ranty Pants. Word nerd and book slut.

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.


Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.




Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Sometimes it’s the silly things

I’m supposed to be stirring coconut caramels – so I’ll make this short.

I’ve been avoiding social media and blogging a lot lately. Every time I poke my head up to check on the world, I hate what I see.

It’s the holidays and I’m supposed to be smiling and cheerful right now, so I can’t afford to look. It makes me too angry and too sad and I feel like I’m drowning. So, I’ve been taking some time off – thus all the book reviews (and cooking, if you follow that side of me).

And then today, the silliest thing happened.

I went to the store to get all my baking and candy making supplies for the weekend because when I’m in doubt, I go to the kitchen and make happiness. As I was leaving the store I did what I always do, I looked both ways, pushed my cart really hard and jumped on to ride it to my car – the way kids do.

That's why they have four wheels, right?

That’s why they have four wheels, right?

I didn’t think about it, this is simply how one gets from the front of the store, across the parking lot to the car. I honestly have never considered that there was another acceptable way to make this journey. When I shop with my kids, they know to jump on the sides to balance the cart and then we all ride it down to the car together.

Anyway, I get to my car and I’m loading my groceries in and I hear a voice yell, “Hey, girl.”

I’m not a huge fan of being called girl, but I decided to see who was calling me before passing judgement. It was an older woman in her SUV.

“Hey, girl. I just wanted you to know, that man who was walking behind you when you rode your cart – you totally made his day. He was laughing and smiling like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.”

I smiled at her, “Thanks. It’s always nice to spread smiles!”

And then this woman proceeded to talk to me while I loaded my groceries into the car. I learned about her grandkids and how she doesn’t feel old enough to be grown up yet, even though she’s 68, she’s still young at heart.

And I realized that with my small act of whimsy, I had somehow made two people’s days and reminded them both to have a little fun and stop taking life so damn seriously – and in return, they’d reminded me of the very same lesson, a lesson I didn’t even realize I was living.

It’s really easy to get bogged down – we’re all connected 24-7, the world is a loud, loud place these days. Some days it feels like everything is wrong, inside and outside. Sometimes it feels like all the voices are unified in telling us that we’re failing – we’re not enough of this, but we’re too much of that. We’ll never be just right.

Other days I feel fine with myself, but I look out and the world’s on fire and I don’t know if I’m supposed to try to put it out or find a marshmallow stick and enjoy the show.

Today I was reminded that amidst all the noise and hubbub and the ugliness and anger and flames – it’s still important to take time to enjoy the little things, to commit random acts of silliness, to nurture your whimsy and find joy in the small moments. Even more important – we have to remember to SEE the moments. HEck, I didn’t even realize I was doing anything silly. We get so used to our habits and routines, we forget how remarkable they are and how lucky we are.

We forget to see our blessings.

Yes, the world is burning – again. Yes, somedays it seems like the world is always burning and that we might never put it out. But even in the midst of all that… There is this little pocket of oxygen, and it turns out that when we put the mask on and remember to breathe, suddenly there is a little more oxygen for everyone else too.

Here’s wishing that you’re all able to find your own piece of frivolity here in the silly season.

Race you to the silly!

Race you to the silly!


Filed under Things that work

Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul

I just finished reading Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul. If you missed the interview with his publishers, you can check that out first. If you just want the highlights of the book to get you excited, I did a twitter read-along at #ReillyDarkNight (Feel free to add your thoughts using that hashtag!) and storified it here.

dark night of the soul

A well stickied book!

I read my first Gary Reilly book this spring, The Asphalt Warrior and LURVED it.

When I got a chance to pick up his latest Asphalt Warrior book to review it, I jumped at the chance. The fact that it came with an opportunity to talk to the men Gary put in charge of his literary estate when he passed made it all the more awesome.

The first time I read Gary Reilly, it was his characters that really carried me through. While the plot and structure were all present and accounted for, what made me love Reilly’s work was the depth and love that he poured into Murph.

This book had those same elements as you’ll see if you pop over to my storified read-along. You really can’t help but fall in love with Murph and root for him to get his wish and be able to just spend a whole day doing nothing.

As I read this book I couldn’t help but think of the movie Hudson Hawk with Bruce Willis, where all the guy wants is an espresso and it takes him the whole damn movie to get it. The espresso is his MacGuffin. With the Asphalt Warrior series, a day to do nothing – not even brush his teeth – is Murph’s MacGuffin. That is the holy quest that he is on, and if he could just remember the first rule of cab driving – NEVER get involved with your fares – he might even be able to achieve it.

Alas, Murph just can’t help himself. Whether it’s the old lady who tried to pay in pennies, which Murph is convinced aren’t even legal tender, or the bank robber who uses Murph and his cab as a get-away vehicle before having a heart attack and winding up in the hospital… Murph just can’t catch a break.

“I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get things back to normal. I don’t know why. My normality is neither healthy nor realistic, but whatever it is, I’m good at it.”

The pacing of Dark Night of the Soul felt a lot faster than Reilly’s first book. There was a moment where I actually gasped and felt my pulse start to race. It led to a very late night of reading.

With the increased stakes, the plot of this book was more than enough to carry it along – but in the end what put it over into the “Must read, MUST share” category was, as always, the characters, specifically Murph who I really wish I could meet in real life. (Not that we’d be friends or anything, Murph doesn’ t have friends.)

And again, for the aspiring writers, struggling authors and wishful artists out there – Murph is a wonderful guide. I could do a whole review just talking about the writing tips I’ve gotten from these books. In fact… I know a guy who should maybe offer “Murph’s Guide to Writing” at the next RMFW conference. (Mark Stevens, I am typing at you.)

Dark Night of the Soul starts off with a bang as Murph oversleeps and does something he has never done before, “which was to make a telephone call at dawn.” As he rushes around trying to get to Rocky Cab to pick up his taxi and start his day we are reminded that Murph never rushes, never panics.

“I did do that a lot in the army where they had things like sergeants and bugles, but that was a quarter-century ago, which is a long time not to panic.”

This is a great piece of foreshadowing, as we learn that perhaps it is time for Murph to brush up on his Panicking skills.

“As a matter of social propriety, I try to avoid adrenaline before noon.”

He even goes so far as to name the part of our brain that screams at us to “Get moving!” when we know calm is really best. That’s the Gym Coach talking.

Once his day gets going, it only gets worse. Murph has to interact with his nemesis, Rollo, the man who hands out the keys and trip sheets at Rocky Cab, and then there’s a line at the 7-11, the fare who pays with a $20, using up all of Murph’s change and forcing him into a corner where, “I was once again unable to proceed with my life until I did something with money.” Which feels like the quintessential American struggle, and which ultimately provides the true catalyst for this book.

Murph expounds on this struggle further, “As bad as I am at math, I am capable of mentally dividing numeric concepts into neat categories that make me feel like I’m not broke.” I don’t know about you, but I feel like I can relate to this a little too well.

“Aren’t you always broke when you pick up your first fare of the day?”
“No. Sometimes I just don’t have any money.”
“Isn’t that the same thing as being broke?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Broke is a state of being that occurs only after six o’clock at night. It has to do with the probability factor of picking up a final fare. If I don’t have any money after six o’clock at night, I’m broke.”

Murph’s day continues to go south, with a fare paying via check, an old lady trying to pay via pennies and or course, a bank robber using Murph as a get away driver. All of Murph’s problems are tied to money, his need for it, his desire not to need it, and everyone else’s inability to respect the very fine line he walks trying to have only exactly enough to survive and no more.

All of these problems compound and Murph decides it is time to do something drastic. “This was the first time I had ever tried to get personally involved in my own life.” Murph decides that floating along with things is no longer working out for him, and it’s time for him to take charge. Of course, for a guy who can screw up just about anything, that might not be the best idea.

“I wondered if there was a third ‘something’ that lay between reality and fantasy that I could screw up. I mean, I knew that I could screw it up, but did it exist?”

Dark Night of the Soul gets its name from the moral crisis that Murph has in this book. As he gets ever more embroiled in the lives of his fares, and the cops come breathing down his neck looking for his connection to the bank robber, Murph realizes that, “Somewhere inside my body was a corrupt bone… It was there, and it made me feel funny.”

Murph deduces that simply having bad thoughts, whether you follow through on them or not, is enough to make you a bad person. He reasons that the only thing keeping you from following through is fear of getting caught, not outright rejection of being evil. It’s an interesting take on morality, especially coming from a guy who really strives to do good, at least when he’s not striving to do nothing at all.

Murph must also confront the profound realization that inaction too has consequences, that in striving to do nothing, he is making a choice and in the process he is perhaps doing far more harm than good.

“I suddenly realized that by simply… doing absolutely nothing at all, I could destroy the lives of five good men,” leading him to the startling conclusion that, “Maybe actions are the only things that really count in this world.”

This section reminded me of The Boondock Saints one of my all-time favorite movies, and their assertion that what we must fear most is good men who do nothing.

Murph is a good man, to his core. But can he rise above decades of ennui and entropy to take action when it matters most?

I’d give you the odds, but as Murph reminds us, “Of course odds have nothing to do with reality, which is why so many people go home sad from the dog track.”

If you want to know how Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul turns out, I encourage you to pick up a copy – this is one dog track you won’t go home sad from!

reading with sticky notes

Dark Night of the Soul, a ticket worth buying!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Things that work

Unspeakable Things

I finished reading Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny aka Penny Red a few days ago but haven’t had time to sit down and go through ALL the sticky tabs and compose a discussion until now.

unspeakable sticky notes

A well stickied book

If you want the quick version, I read this book “out loud” for one of my twitter read-alongs and then storified the results. You can check that out here if you just want the highlights without the analysis.

Also, you can catch me reading “out loud” on twitter most Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 pm mountain time.

Okay, so diving in -

Unspeakable Things is a non-fiction book that covers a pretty broad range of social topics, all centered on feminist philosophy.

“Feminism is a process. Call yourself what you like. The important thing is what you fight for. Begin it now.”

I’m going to highlight just a couple of the topics covered in this book that really resonated with me.

The first is our idea of “Equal pay for equal work” and how very broken that conversation has ALWAYS been.

“Women are more likely than men to perform labor that is socially necessary but low waged or unwaged.” And thus, women are also “more likely to need public services and welfare.”

Laurie Penny talks about this idea that we have of women getting paid less than men because we “need” flexible schedules, or because we reduce our hours to care for kids and take care of the home – and challenges us to flip that around and start talking about all that socially necessary free labor that so often falls on women’s shoulders. If we’re serious about equal pay for equal work, then we need to make sure that women are getting paid in some way for that second, and sometimes third, shift that they work.

This of course leads to questions about, “what work should be paid, and what is simply part of love and duty…” Because it turns out that the reason so much of the work that women do is unpaid or underpaid is because, “we think of it as ‘love’, as a moral expression of feeling rather than a practical task of immense and tangible value.”

This covers things like raising children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing the laundry – all those supportive care taking jobs that often fall to women by default and are part of the old, and outdated story that, “Men, in other words, are good at doing, making, building things; women are good at making life easier for men.”

Laurie Penny comes around to this idea again later in the book. She talks about the broken (middle and upper class) pact that the wage system once rested on, “whereby men were obliged to seek paid employment to support women’s unpaid work, and the labor of both would be sealed in a system of sexual bargaining.”

And as for the many women who are trying to raise a family on their own – forget about it.

“The millions of women raising children without a co-parent are spoken of in the same terms as beggars and thieves: they are a drain on the state, the scourge of hardworking taxpayers who must forfeit the proceeds of ‘real’ work to pay for the maintenance of these ‘broken homes.’

Laurie Penny reminds us, “In the United States, there is no male equivalent for the term ‘welfare queen’. Having a child alone and asking for support with raising that child – from her community, her family or the state – is considered uniquely selfish.”

And yet, we know that it is cheaper to educate a child, to feed a child, to clothe and house a child than it is to let them slip through the cracks into our bloated “justice” system. We know that we ALL benefit from having a generation of educated, intelligent, secure kids coming up behind us to keep the economy running, to pay into our social security, to have the skills and the know-how to take care of us in our old age…

But the idea of paying a parent to stay home and do the hard work of raising competent citizens – FUCK NO! Damn welfare queens should have kept their legs shut until they could afford to have a child.

And when we talk of raising the minimum wage so that all workers can afford to support their families without help from the state – FUCK NO! If they wanted to get paid enough to survive they should have gone to college (which we also won’t pay for, and which they can’t get into because they came from the wrong neighborhood and the wrong schools and had to drop out to get a job to help their family, or because they got pregnant because birth control wasn’t available and the nearest abortion clinic was 500 miles away or…)

And when we talk about making it easier for both men and women to work flexible schedules, or to increase spending for quality pre-schools, day cares and to expand the school year so that people don’t have to make a false “choice” between having a career or raising children – again, we hear a resounding FUCK NO!

There is no help coming. The village that used to raise a child has decided that children are now an individual choice and thus an individual burden.

“Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love.”

So we won’t help them, but when they fail, it is all their fault for not trying hard enough. And when they complain about wanting equal pay for equal work, we refuse to acknowledge or even see how much free work they’ve been doing all along, because that isn’t real work, that’s just what women are supposed to do.

As Laurie Penny writes, “The best way to stop girls achieving anything is to force them to achieve everything.” or, later on, “Little girls, though, only ever get two choices: We can be the princess or we can be the witch. And everybody knows what happens to women who do their own magic.

witch burning

She’s a witch!

The second topic Laurie Penny takes up is the Lost Boys of modern masculinity, the other side of this broken pact.

Laurie Penny looks at men and what shifting expectations have done to their world view, and the contradictions that they are forced to try to navigate – the many, many broken promises that were made and that they are struggling to piece together.

Men have been told that they are living in “a brave new world of economic and sexual opportunity.” But really, where is the power that today’s young men were promised? Where is the privilege everyone keeps telling them have?

Our men are raised to expect dignified work that leads to financial security, but after years of recession and increased worker exploitation by employers, that dream is harder and harder to achieve.

Working hard is no longer enough.

These dashed dreams are what seem to be fueling so much of the male frustration and rage that we see enacted on the nightly news. “Violence happens when people are frightened that somebody’s about to take away their power.”

Laurie Penny reminds us here that the culprit is, and always was, patriarchy. And she reminds us that “Patriarchy does not mean ‘the rule of men’. It means ‘the rule of fathers’ – literally, the rule of powerful heads of household over everybody else in society. Men further down the social chain were expected to be content with having power over women in order to make up for their lack of control over the rest of their lives.”

She goes on to remind us that under patriarchy, “Most individual men don’t have a lot of power, and now the small amount of social and sexual superiority they held over women is being questioned. That must sting.”

But men are not allowed to talk about their gender and how if affects them. Instead modern masculinity seems to work much like Fight Club, “in that the first rule of Man Club is you do not talk about Man Club.”

Laurie Penny posits that modern masculinity is working exactly as designed by, “keeping men, particularly young men, in a state of anxious desperation, lonely and isolated, unable to express their true feelings or live the lives they really want, taking out their social and sexual frustration on women rather than understanding it as a systematic effect of elitism inequality.”

Which is to say, modern masculinity functions by never allowing men to question it, and telling them to instead blame their discomfort and insecurity on those uppity feminists trying to usurp their place in the pecking order, rather than examining the systematic forces of patriarchal oppression that hold us ALL back.

Modern masculinity squeezes men into a narrow bottleneck that no one is equipped to fit through, leaving the average man unable to express their desire to be taken care of, to be cuddled, to cry, to do creative work that will not make money, to be a full-time parent, to have their vulnerabilities acknowledged, to go into care taking as a profession, to play with makeup or clothing, to have women as friends… To want deep and lasting social change.

But here’s the “last great secret of the supposed ‘golden age of masculinity’ that’s been destroyed by feminism: it never really existed in the first place… there have always been men who would not or could not conform.” There has never been only one way of “being a man.”

Laurie Penny encourages us to be compassionate toward the men who are struggling to find their place in this bold new world where masculinity feels at once more constrictive than ever, while simultaneously being ever more open for those brave enough to challenge the old guard.

Part of the challenge is that, “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.”

But more and more women are demanding the space to be their own heroes, and many are even *gasp* asking men to step up and be their supporting cast. There are few acceptable role models for this – there is no available script for men to take that kind of role.

“Of course it’s going to hurt. But then, it hurts already.” Change is hard, and scary, and we all need help navigating our way through it.

“Social change happens when the old stories we tell ourselves to survive are no longer sufficient, and we create new ones.”

Story time

Laurie Penny talks a lot about “adjustment disorder” (An actual new diagnosis!) which rests on the idea that unhappiness cannot possibly be the fault of the system, it is our fault for failing to adjust to the straightjacket of society’s gender expectations.

“We were taught, all of us, that if we were dissatisfied, it was our fault, or the fault of those closest to us. We were built wrong somehow. We had failed to adjust. If we showed any sort of distress, we probably needed to be medicated or incarcerated, depending on our social status.”

If we are unhappy, there are drugs and therapy – anything to avoid talking about justice.

But the truth is, we are not broken – the system is. But we can only change it if we are willing to examine it, and our role in it and then do the hard, painful work of challenging it at every turn.

There are additional insightful chapters on sex, sexuality and sexism that I ran out of words for.

I appreciated Laurie Penny’s efforts to discuss the ways the current system hurts people of all genders. (I didn’t dive into that part of the discussion, but she talks a lot about the ways gender-non-conforming people are especially damaged by the current arrangement, but also how they are the vanguard of change because they are the ones pushing the hardest to open the doors of equality open ever wider.) I thought she did a good job of bringing in more perspectives and points of view than her own and widening the lens to help us all see beyond our own limited experience.

Laurie Penny encourages us to be suspicious of any program that seeks to restrict freedom in order to protect us. “It’s for your own good.” are words that should send a shudder of rebellion through us all.

In her final battle cry, Laurie Penny reminds us that in a system this broken, there are no rewards for good behavior. “The world doesn’t need another handbook for how to submit with dignity to a world that wants you to hate yourself.”

unspeakable things

You are not broken.

If you’re tired of being told that you’re the problem, and you’d like someone to pick you up, dust you off and prepare you for revolution, Unspeakable Things is a good place to start.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Uncategorized

Dark Night of the Soul and the men behind The Man

A few months ago I finally got around to reading, loving and reviewing Gary Reilly’s first published book, The Asphalt Warrior.

Book 6 in the series, Dark Night of the Soul is releasing this month. If you’ve become a fan of these books like I have, or if what follows intrigues you enough to dive in, the official launch event is happening Friday, November 21st at 7pm at the Lodo Tattered Cover.

dark night of the soul

I highly recommend adding this event to your calendar. Not only will the two publishers of Gary’s books (Mark Stevens and Mike Keefe) be there to launch and talk about Dark Night of the Soul and the amazing Gary Reilly, but Mark Stevens will also be launching his own book Trapline which is the 3rd book in his Allison Coil enviro-mystery series.

If you’re wondering why Gary Reilly won’t be at his own launch event, allow me to back up a bit.

A couple of years ago the reading and writing worlds lost one of their brightest stars, and the worst part is, we lost him before most of even knew to look for him. Gary Reilly died a mostly undiscovered genius, and I do not use the G-word lightly.

gary reilly

The Man Himself

Like his Asphalt Warrior protagonist, Murph, Gary was a prolific writer of a vast trove of unpublished books. After Gary’s passing two of his closest friends inherited his literary estate and worked to publish his works posthumously.

Gary’s works have since received significant acclaim, not just from stray bloggers like myself, but also from major reviewers around the country.

Since Gary can’t be here himself, I scored a wee pre-release interview with Mark and Mike, his publishers, to talk about Gary, Murph and the Dark Night of the Soul -

Before I dive in – I will be starting Dark Night of the Soul this afternoon for my “Tuesday Twitter Read-Along” and will be live tweeting my thoughts and a few choice quotes as I go under the hashtag #ReillyDarkNight (What a punderful hashtag, amiright!?) I invite you to join the conversation. I’ll get going around 4pm today and will keep it up as I read throughout the week. If you want to join in real time 4pm-5pm Tuesdays and Thursday and after 9pm all week long are reliable times to catch me “reading out loud” on twitter. Once I’m done I’ll post a full review here as well as a final reminder to get yourself to Tattered Cover Lodo on November 21st to get your copy signed by Mark Stevens and Mike Keefe.

And now, the interview:

I know you’re both longtime friends of Gary Reilly, the author of The Asphalt Warrior series as well as The Enlisted Men’s Club- when did you each realize his genius? I ask, because his alter-ego, Murph, the Asphalt Warrior Himself, keeps all of his unpublished manuscripts (which are different from his unfinished manuscripts) tucked safely away in a big steamer trunk. How long did Gary keep his genius hidden from you?

Mike Keefe: I met Gary in a filmmaking class in 1977. It turned out that he and I were the only members of the class who were interested in creating animated short films. We collaborated on several and became friends. His passion for writing was revealed slowly over time. In the mid-90s he wrote a column for a humor/cartoon site I had on AOL. He penned an advice column in the persona of a cab driver. When that gig dried up, I didn’t know what he was up to for a year. Then he handed me a draft for the first of The Asphalt Warrior series featuring Murph, the character he developed online. Earlier he had begun to leak other manuscripts in every imaginable genre. I read them all and was amazed. So, to put a number on it, I’d say Gary did not fully reveal his genius to me for nearly ten years. But then I was in the loop for another thirty.

Mark Stevens: I met Gary in 2004. Mike introduced us because Mike knew I was working on writing fiction and thought I would appreciate Gary’s point of view. Gary and I started meeting for coffee and long chats about our works, so we traded manuscripts. At the time, I had three completed books. I started reading the Asphalt Warrior series and some other books, too. It was clear to me—immediately—that Gary was one of the most dedicated writers I had ever met. And that he was very, very good. Gary doled these out one at a time. It took me a couple years to read everything and catch up with everything he had written—some 25 books.

I am in desperate awe of Gary’s observations on life, the universe and everything. His writing reminds me a lot of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett (minus the fantasy element) in that way – the wry, cynical observations on humanity and society that were nonetheless tainted with a hopeless amount of optimism for the species as a whole. Reading about Murph’s adventures as a Denver Cabby, you get the feeling that he’d like nothing more than to just throw in the towel, but every new interactions rekindles Pandora’s cursed hope that maybe this time things will be different. How similar are Gary and his alter-ego Murph in that sense? Was Gary the same sort of reluctant hero? Aside from winning that big mythical publishing deal, what were Gary’s aspirations?

Mark Stevens: Great question—and excellent comparisons! All I can really do is answer based on the many, many times Gary and I met and talked. All he wanted to do was talk about storytelling—movies, books, movies, books. And more. He channeled this fundamental paradox about his life into Murph. I really believe Gary had no ambitions to climb the corporate ladder. And the same is certainly true of Murph. Murph had a fundamental skepticism about that world, as evidenced throughout the books whenever he talks about his time working at the fictional Dyna-Plex, Murph’s sole gig in the world of white-collar work. Murph was bewildered by the function of large corporations—and questioned everything about their efficiency and effectiveness, just as Private Palmer in The Enlisted Men’s Club questioned the organizational efficiency of the U.S. Army. Yes, Gary had hope that a novel would sell. A few times agents asked for “partial” manuscripts and I could see Gary get his hopes up, for sure. Gary studied writing and storytelling more than anyone I’ve ever known. He thought about plotting and structure—and cared about those issues. And he was a copious, meticulous editor who had no problem combing through his manuscripts, as well as many written by friends or even friends of friends, dozens and dozens of times.

I feel like Gary breaks a lot of the “hard and fast” rules of writing, but he does it in such a way that it works. For example, his plot centers around literally nothing, as in, Murph’s desire to do nothing, or at least as little as possible to survive. I love the subversiveness of that, of having the protagonist’s goal be the attainment of actual nothingness. It felt very Buddhist to me. Did Gary have a spirituality that played into his creation of Murph on that level? Do you think his subversion was intentional?

Mike Keefe: I don’t see Gary as spiritual in any way that would pigeon hole him into one discipline or another. He was an individual and developed his unique personal take on human existence. I would agree that his way of thinking resembled Buddhism in some ways. Nothingness in Murph’s world is simply different. I can’t imagine, for example, the Dalai Lama channel surfing for re-runs of Gilligan’s Island.

Gary’s books are incredibly character driven. While the plot is there, and the pacing is solid, it really is the characters that kept me turning the pages, you can just feel his absolute love for his characters even while he puts them through hell. Where do you think that love came from? Did it spill over into his interactions with people in the real world? Some of the best writers I know are complete misanthropes, but they LOVE their characters, did Gary fit that mold? Do you think his writing was more of an escape, or a reflection?

Mike Keefe: Murph and Gary are nearly identical characters. For the most part, Gary avoided social contact. He had friends and loved ones who resided in mutually exclusive universes. Still, he was an incredibly generous soul as Mark will tell you. If you were a writer, he gave you his complete and devoted attention, trying to help you hone your craft.

Do either of you have a favorite passage or line from one of Gary’s books that you’d like to share to whet reader’s appetites and give them a taste of Gary’s style?

Mark Stevens: Here are a few favorites. So many to choose from.

The Asphalt Warrior
On the day that I applied for the job as a corporate writer I brought along my English diploma. I had heard on the street that corporations preferred to hire people with college degrees. I didn’t believe a word of it because I didn’t place any value on college degrees—the fact that I had one proved how much they were worth. But the fact that I didn’t believe corporations were impressed by college degrees indicated that I was wrong about corporations. My inability to interpret reality correctly has stood me in good stead over the years.

Ticket to Hollywood
I never tell another taxi driver that I’m a taxi driver. I usually call Yellow Cab or Metro Taxi, I rarely call Rocky Cab for a ride. I do this because I like riding incognito. I ask the drivers inane questions about cab driving: what’s it like, how much money do you make, is it dangerous, do you ever have weird experiences? It’s a “game” I play, although I assume psychiatrists have a technical term for it.

The Heart of Darkness Club:
One thing I had learned in college was that if you ever had a question about truth, reality, or the meaning of existence, read a novel by Albert Camus. Pretty soon you’ll be so baffled you’ll forget the question. (For those of you who never served in the army and subsequently faked your way through seven years of college, “Camus” rhymes with “Shamu” [the killer whale]).

Doctor Lovebeads
All my life I have wanted people to think I was normal. My batting average is about .500 if you divide the world into people who know me, and people who wish they didn’t.”

Home for the Holidays
A lot of artists start out as failed poets, then move on to being failed short-story writers before they finally break through to the big time and become failed novelists. If they’re like me, they branch out to become failed screenwriters. A few take the high road and become failed playwrights, but most just stick with being failed novelists because the potential to not make lots of money is greater.

Dark Night of the Soul
I had been up the previous evening thinking about trying to write a novel, and nothing drains a writer more than thinking about trying to write. A lot of it has to do with the energy it takes to not watch television. Not watching television is like going to a bar and not drinking. That’s as far as I can take the analogy, because I’ve never done that.

Mark, you’re a writer and Mike, you’re a political cartoonist – now you’re both also publishers. How has this experience changed your views of the publishing world? How sharp was the learning curve?

Mike Keefe: After he made his wishes clear in his will, there was not a moment’s hesitation on our part to get Gary’s work out to the public. Gary’s backlog was a treasure chest. Mark and I were pretty much naive about the nuts and bolts of publication and we are still learning in this ever-changing environment. But one thing is clear: If you want to publish, you can do it, one way or the other.

Mark Stevens: Publishing is complicated and hard. We’ve been fortunate to have tremendous help from Big Earth in Boulder and our publicists, JKS Communications. But there is a lot that goes into putting a high-quality book out there and finding readers. It is lots of fun, but lots of work. More and more, I appreciate all the folks in publishing at every level—writers, editors, agents, artists, designers, publicists, you name it.

I recommend Gary’s books to almost all the newbie writers I meet. His observations and wit are truly inspirational, not to mention Murph’s determined ability to write without hope of ever getting published. As I understand it, Gary was originally holding out for that mythical traditional publishing deal. Now that you two have taken the reins and seen such remarkable success with these books, do you have any advice for new authors just getting into the business regarding the choices between independent publishing, small press publishing and traditional big house publishing?

Mark Stevens: Simple: shoot high at first, then recalibrate. I say “go for it.” Query the best agents you can find. Go to conferences and meet agents. Introduce yourself. Buy them drinks. Tell them about your work. Get them to read your stuff. Try this approach for a couple or three years—or as long as you feel like you want to keep going. If you get good feedback, use it! Make changes in your stuff. Keep writing better books. If that doesn’t work, look for a small or independent publisher. Do the same thing—in other words, work it! And if that still doesn’t turn you into a published author, start to look for the self-publishing route. Gary was finally open to an alternative route to publication about a year before he passed away. It was too late. There aren’t too many days that I don’t wish he had chosen this path earlier, so he could see the tremendous public reaction to his works.

Me again –

I agree, I never knew Gary personally, but his writing makes me wish I’d had the opportunity. His books are close, intimate portrayals of the human condition. They are positively littered with humor and wit. And for my fellow aspiring writers – they are a true treasure trove of inspiration, style and know-how, not to mention stubborn perseverance.

I cannot recommend Gary’s books highly enough and I am looking forward to diving in to his newest offering this afternoon. I encourage you all to come join the conversation at #ReillyDarkNight and start getting excited for the official launch at Tattered Cover!


1 Comment

Filed under Books, Things that work, Writing

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

This might be the last post I ever have to write about abortion.

(Hahahaha… Just kidding. Did you see who won this last election!?!)

That said, if I could just get everyone to go out and buy, or borrow, and read a copy of Katha Pollitt’s new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights we might at least be able to all sit down and have a civil conversation and perhaps even make some progress on this issue.

pro abortion

Let’s change the conversation

This book says a lot of the same things I have been saying for years, BUT it says them better.

Katha comes to the table with history, research, facts, data, and many, many reality checks. She also comes to the table without the intense anger and rage that I often bring to my blog when I rant about this issue. She comes to the table congenially, hoping to calmly discuss, explain and possibly persuade. Not the hard-core anti-abortion, anti-choice crowd, but those of us who live in what she calls the “mushy middle.” The ones who think that when push comes to shove, abortion should be legal – in many circumstances, but maybe not all circumstances because really abortion is a tragedy and while it should be safe and legal, it should also be rare… Katha describes this group’s stance as, “permit but discourage” or, perhaps more accurately, “permit but deplore.”

That is her intended audience, and the conversation she wants to have with them, with you, with all of us, is why “safe, legal and rare” is a failing policy. Why that idea fails women, and families, and communities. What we need instead is, safe, legal and accessible abortion, “on demand and without apology”.

And more than that, we need to completely rethink our ideas about the abortion as tragedy storyline. Where did that come from? Why do we cling to it? Whose purpose does that narrative serve?

And if abortion is such a tragedy, why do we continue to claim that abortion is a “culture-war issue” rather than an actual matter of life and death for millions of women around the globe each year? Perhaps because by thinking of it as a culture-war issue we can dismiss it as unimportant, trivial – sort of the way we do with so many of women’s other concerns… But abortion is NOT a distraction from the “serious” issues like the economy. In fact, reproductive rights are an economic issue.

As you can see, this is another one of those books that looks like it got humped by the rainbow sticky note porcupine. I checked it out from the library and now I have my own copy on order because this is a book that I need to have available to lend out.

pro abortion rights

So much goodness in such a small book.

Katha Pollitt begins her book with a brief history lesson – she reminds us that historically two things have been true.

First, women’s bodies have never been completely their own. Throughout time, they have been owned by fathers, husbands, communities, nations even. She reminds us that when Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, marital rape was legal in every single state – because a wife did not have the right to refuse or reject her husband. Rape was a crime against the MAN who owned the woman, it was “property damage”, not interpersonal assault. (You can still see the effects of this history in the way rape is talked about and dealt with today.)

Given this history of women’s bodies never being wholly their own, it is not such a stretch to think that women’s bodies should, of course, belong to a zygote, embryo, fetus should a stray sperm happen to find a willing egg to partner up with. What else does she have to do with her body that is so important anyway?

When we talk about zygotes and embryos and fetuses as “people” or “babies” we reduce women to simply being places, a sort of “comfy survivalist bunker – food, climate control, some time.”

This idea has taken such hold over our society that in 2006 the CDC’s guidelines recommended that all women and girls of childbearing age practice “preconception care,” which is to say that all women and girls should take care of themselves in the way that women who are trying to get pregnant do – no alcohol, no smoking, no cats, no high risk sex, and take extra vitamins, etc. regardless of whether they actually plan to get pregnant anytime soon or not. Because, hey, you just never know when it’ll happen and you want to be ready. Katha Pollit reminds us that no comparable list was set out for men/potential fathers, “don’t expose a woman to cigarette smoke or sexually transmitted infections, keep the litter box squeaky clean…”

The fact that the CDC thought in terms of protecting accidental fertilized eggs from women, and not protecting women from accidental fertilized eggs shows how shallow still is the idea of women truly being in control of their fertility.

This brings us to the second important history reminder that Katha provides.

Throughout human history, abortion has always existed. There have always been unplanned, unwanted pregnancies and women have been ending them in various ways since they discovered the herbs and other tools for doing so. Throughout recorded history, women have performed abortions and throughout history, until very recently, their right to do so was unquestioned because it was believed that the living woman held primacy over the potential child inside her.

Katha uses this idea as a springboard for a point that I’ve been meaning to talk about for ages, the idea that abortion is an act of self-defense.

This is a radical notion, but a true one all the same. When that politician came out with the “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” campaign sticker (yes, really.) he invoked the idea that an embryo or fetus has a right to “stand its ground” but the woman in whom the fetus resides does not. Yet, if a fetus had a (metaphorical) gun (say triggering or aggravating a condition that put the mother’s life at risk), aborting it would be a true act of self-defense. The idea that women should not have that right confounds me, but it does confirm that there is still a large group of people who simply don’t consider women to be people with the right to defend themselves.

And what about the other losses that women face when they are pregnant – many women who are in school when they get pregnant end up dropping out or taking time off, reducing their future earning potential. Many women who are pregnant face job loss or a reduction in hours and/or wages. There are very real, very documented financial costs to even the best, most wanted pregnancy.

If someone comes into your home and tries to steal money from you, you have the right to defend yourself, with lethal force if necessary (and in some states, even if it’s not necessary.) But as a woman, if something enters our wombs and threatens to hurt us, kill us or cost us real money or our future goals – we are expected to accept those risks and losses. After all, that is what we’re here to do. Or, something.

When pressed people often say that this is because the woman in question let the zygote in, she had sex, this is the consequence, she needs to accept it. But… Is that really true? Should I only have sex with my husband if I am willing to accept pregnancy as the cost? I have a number of married friends who do not want to have children ever and have taken steps to ensure that a pregnancy will not occur. But short of a hysterectomy, those steps are not fail proof. Should they also not be having sex? Ever.

And this is why even some hardline anti-abortionists will concede exceptions for victims of rape and incest, because in those cases the woman in question did not willingly invite this embryo into her body, she is not a bad slut, she’s a poor victim, thus SHE has the right to self-defense.

One of the other things that Katha reminds us in her wonderful book is that while people who are anti-abortion, and even many of us in the mushy-middle, claim to hold our positions out of a deep respect for motherhood, what that position actually conveys is a disregard for the actual seriousness of motherhood and parenting, not to mention a complete disregard for the truth that there is more to being a woman than being a mother.

Saying that all, or even most, women who become pregnant should work to produce a live baby is close to saying that “women can have no needs, desires, purpose or calling so compelling and so important that she should not set it aside in an instant, because of a stray sperm.”

Similarly, when we say that a 16-year-old girl isn’t mature enough to choose abortion and that she is therefore mature enough to endure pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, we are denigrating the actual hard work of parenting by saying anyone can do it, even someone too irresponsible to choose not to…

This viewpoint reduces motherhood to birthing a baby, ignoring everything that comes after.

Motherhood is not a joke. Parenting is hard fucking work. It is 24-7 for a minimum of 18 years. And it is unpaid, largely unthanked and often derided by the very people who want to force all women to “choose” that path.

Katha writes (emphasis mine), We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child – indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is “pro-abortion,” but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by? Why do we make young women feel guilty for wanting to feel ready for motherhood before they have a baby? Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world – what, for example, it means to the children she already has?

Further on, Katha expands on this idea.

Motherhood is the last area in which the qualities we usually value – rationality, independent thinking, consulting our own best interests, planning for a better, more prosperous future, and dare I say it, pursuing happiness and dreams – are condemned as frivolity and selfishness.

Next Katha reminds us that we MUST stop talking about abortion out of context. Abortion does not happen in a vacuum. It is inexorably tied to issues of sex, sexuality, love, violence, privilege, class, race, school, work, men, families, power, reproductive coercion, sexual coercion, the scarcity of good reproductive health care and realistic accurate information and education about sex and reproduction.

We talk about women being pressured to have abortions, but what about women being bullied into having babies?

And of course, we cannot talk about abortion without talking about why there are so many unplanned pregnancies to begin with.

If anti-abortion leaders are really only opposed to abortion, not women having sex, women expressing independence, women having control over their own bodies and destinies, then why are they so keen to stretch its definition to include the most effective and popular methods of birth control? If they really want to stop abortion, without punishing women, wouldn’t they be backing the contraception mandate and handing out IUD vouchers in the streets?

Further, if what they really want to do is promote “pro-natalism” and increased birth rates, then they need to talk about, and support, what that really requires – robust social benefits and services to support mothers and parents and families. Things that would make it easier for women to return to school, to keep their careers, to hold onto their houses and lives and futures. They need to support free prenatal and post-partum care, paid parental leave, free quality childcare, subsidized housing, free quality education, increased nutritional and food assistance and perhaps even outright payments to parents. (Because parenting IS a job.) Yes, we’re talking about socialism.

We’re talking about actually valuing the hard work of mothering, of parenting.

We must also talk about leveling the playing field. We cannot biologically equalize men’s contribution to reproduction, but we can equalize the social and economic costs of parenting a child. We can equalize the burden of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting – and not just among individual couples, but across society.

Instead of seeing a low-income mother as a burden on society to whom government grudgingly doles out dribs and drabs of “services” that are never enough to lift her out of poverty or change her children’s prospects, we need to flip the equation: What does this woman, and the millions like her, require to raise her children to be decent, healthy, well-educated, productive, happy adults – and to be one herself?

Reproductive rights do not end at offering women the right not to mother, but MUST also include providing women the means and ability to mother, and mother well.

And even then, there will be times when pregnancy is still not a good idea for a person, when abortion is still the right answer.

As Katha Pollitt so succinctly put it, “We talk about respecting life. But what if we tried respecting women?”

respect women


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

Naming names, because all politicians are not the same.

This is the political post where I get real – and it is Colorado centric, so if you’re from elsewhere, feel free to skip this one (or forward it to your Colorado friends to remind them to VOTE DAMNIT.) or skim it and then apply it to your own state races.

What will you do with your freedom?

What will you do with your freedom?

I’ve got a few friends who are still on the fence about the whole voting thing this year. They’re convinced that all politicians are equally bad and no one deserves their vote and waaa-waaa-waaa, “If God wanted us to vote, He would have given us better candidates to choose from.”

Look, I get it, no candidate is perfect. Duh, they’re fucking human – and yes, they are absolutely operating under the influence of Big Money. But does that mean that all candidates are equal? Oh Hellz No!

Here’s a couple of examples right here in the Colorado races.

For Senate there are a few people on the ticket, but we all know the choice really comes down to Cory Gardner or Mark Udall.

The nice thing in this race is that you can completely ignore ALL of their political ads – the attack ads as well as their self-puffery ads – because they both have public voting records! Yatta!

Udall is the incumbent Colorado State Senator and Cory Gardner is the outgoing Colorado State Representative from my district.

Because both of them have been my elected representatives for the past couple of years I have had a few run ins with both of them. I tend to email my representatives, a lot. I also try to meet them in person when they are in town stumping. And, here’s the thing, on a HUGE range of issues from teacher pay to environmental regulations to gun rights to job creation to minimum wage to running the government to managing social service programs to education to climate change to separation of church and state all the way to, yes, women’s reproductive health – Udall has consistently voted closer to my beliefs, values and vision for the future than Cory Gardner. Further, when Udall replies to my emails (including the robo-replies) he has always talked up to me as if I was a real constituent with valid thoughts and concerns worthy of his consideration.

In contrast, Cory Gardner has repeatedly assured me that not only does he fundamentally disagree with everything I care about, he will actively work to make sure my voice and concerns are not heard or represented in Washington. Gardner has gone so far as to call me a little lady and told me to stop worrying and leave all this political stuff to the men.

I know most of my friends are voting no on Amendment 67, a new sneaky attempt at enshrining fetal personhood into law, doing away with female personhood entirely. Let me just say, for the record, that if you oppose amendment 67, you need to also oppose Cory Gardner as his name is still on as a co-sponsor of a federal personhood bill. If you’d like to keep that bill from making it to the desk of any president ever, we have to keep people like Cory Gardner out of the Senate, and the only way to do that is to vote for people like Mark Udall.

Udall isn’t flashy. I’ll admit that. He’s kind of a quiet guy. He’s thoughtful and considered. He doesn’t always tow the liberal line. He’s a whole lot more pro-gun rights than I’d like – but he does support some limited regulations around that right. I wish he would take a firmer stance on things like fracking and the keystone pipeline, but he’s trying really hard to find and create a middle ground that allows for increased domestic energy production and RESPONSIBLE oil and gas development. I’m pretty extreme on that issue. I am not sure there is such a thing as responsible oil and gas development. The town next to mine, Erie, can’t even find a space to build the new school they desperately need because there are so many fracking wells set up that they can’t find a safe site that meets the set-back restrictions! That’s a lot of damn drilling, and it’s being touted as responsible energy development.

But does Udall’s desire to take a measured approach make him the same as Cory Gardner? Not by a long shot. And this is where a lot of my liberal leaning friends and true independents seem to falter. We seem to think that because the Democrats are, by and large, playing for the middle ground, that they’ve abandoned us and become as bad as the far-right Republicans. (Just as many Republicans think that their middle of the road candidates are pandering to the left-wing extremists.) And so, we write them off and we don’t bother voting and then… The actual extremist wins.

Mark Udall taking a measured approach is NOT the same as Cory Gardner’s hard right approach.

Or take the race for Colorado Governor.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a huge fan of Governor Hickenlooper. We’ve butted heads on a number of issues. The biggest one is his unwavering and seemingly unconditional support of fracking. I am also over-the-top annoyed that in all the hundreds of emails I’ve sent him over the years, I have never once received a reply – not even an automated robo-reply that says he gives half a shit about what his constituents think. I have a HUGE problem with that.

And yet… He got my vote. Because… On balance, when I look at the LONG list of issues I care about, he’s on my side more than he’s not. And his opponent, Bob Beauprez, stands opposed to me on EVERY. SINGLE. ISSUE.

I’m a realist. I’m never going to find a candidate who sides with me 100% on everything, but I CAN find candidates who start with similar values and goals and give those candidates my vote. Because to me a candidate with whom I have a few disagreements is not equal to a candidate who stands fundamentally opposed to everything I care about.

Then there is the race for Cory Gardner’s old seat in the house of representatives which pits Ken Buck against newcomer Vic Meyers. It doesn’t take much to see that these candidates are not the same.

Ken Buck is a district attorney who has said on more than one occasion that he will not uphold Colorado State laws that he personally disagrees with . He’s also the guy who once said people should vote for him because he doesn’t wear high heels. He is militantly anti-abortion. I don’t think he can call himself pro-life since he doesn’t even support exemptions for the life of the mother. He’s another guy who should not get the vote of anyone who does not support Amendment 67 and fetal personhood that outweighs female personhood.

Aside from his blatant disregard for women as human beings, he also stands against everything I am for – education, environmental regulations, voting rights, job growth, expanding civil rights to include all citizens regardless of gender, sexual identity, race, ethnicity or class.

His opponent, Vic Meyers, by contrast is another one of those down-to-earth thoughtful candidates. We may not agree on everything, but I appreciate that he has actually considered the issues and the ways that government action – or inaction as has been the case all too often of late – will affect real people. I also love that he filled out this “Political Courage Test” and took the time to call them out for over-simplifying things.

This is a guy who got my enthusiastic vote, a guy I would appreciate having in office because he has values that shape his opinions, but he is still open to learning more and hearing from his constituents and representing THEM, rather than simply representing his own interests.

The same tools I used to spot the differences between the candidates can be used by anyone voting in any race. Non-partisan sites like Project Vote Smart try to give voice to candidate’s actual stance on the issues that voters care about so that we can make informed decisions.

You may not agree with my stance on the issues, and that’s okay. That means you’ll vote for a different candidate, but I do hope that you can see that they are not, in fact, all the same. I hope you can see that there are real differences in the policies they support and that those differences have real consequences in real people’s lives.

When I looked at each of the candidates in my state and in my district and checked off their stances on the issues I cared about it was clear that while there might not have been a perfect candidate who checked every single box I would have checked, there were absolutely candidates who came closer to holding the same beliefs and values that I hold and who would come closer to representing me and my vision for the future of my state and country than other candidates.

I agree that the American political system is less than perfect and that we often have less than ideal candidates to choose from, but that doesn’t mean that all candidates are the same or that our votes don’t matter.

Never surrender!

Never surrender!

I encourage you all to do the work, examine your candidates, look at their stances on the issues that matter most to you and give your vote to the person who comes the closest to representing your values and your hopes for the future. I can assure you, they are not all the same and the outcome of these midterm elections will have real consequences for us all.

Also, one last note to my Colorado readers, we have the opportunity to vote on GMO labeling in our state. A friend of mine had a great response to this issue for the fence sitters, “I’m not voting yes on 105 because I care about labeling. I’m voting yes on 105 because a corporation I really don’t like is spending millions to try to convince me to vote no.”

I voted yes because personally I think the free-market only works if consumers are informed enough to make real choices, but I also like the idea of voting yes just to spite Monsanto.


1 Comment

Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work