Author Archives: thinkbannedthoughts

About thinkbannedthoughts

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

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the laundry – all those supportive care taking jobs that often fall to women by default and are part of the old, and outdated story that, “Men, in other words, are good at doing, making, building things; women are good at making life easier for men.”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

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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!


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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.


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

Health care vs FREEDOM!

This post is a follow-up to yesterday’s post – and bonus! My cold has mostly cleared up so this one might even be coherent! Yatta!

It is in response to a commenter who praised the woman who took personal responsibility for her health and reminded us all that here in America the battle isn’t limited to Medicine vs health, but also health vs FREEDOM! (You must read that as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or it doesn’t work.)

I also want to clarify something that I failed on yesterday – namely that weight is not an indicator of overall health and that the woman in the example I used referred to herself as morbidly obese and her surgery as life saving while admitting that it would not have been life saving if she had not turned her life around and chosen a healthier life afterward. The surgery allowed her to START, it was up to her to follow through.

She also talked about the fact that while she was not ashamed of her previous size, there was a lot of pain around the trauma that led to her weight gain – and that is another conversation that I would like to have one day with all of you, the ways that trauma and internal pain manifest externally and the self-harming behavior many of us turn to in response to unresolved trauma. But that is a LONG and complex conversation, so I’m going to bench it for the moment.

It is also another place that American Medicine failed her, because no one asked – no one asked about the weight gain, how or why it started, how she felt about it, if she needed counseling to help her resolve the issues that led to it. There was a medical procedure, it was done and paid for and then she was left to her own devices. She still struggles with some of the self-harming behaviors that led to her surgery. Beyond the surgery, she needed counseling to help her deal with the root causes of those behaviors. This is part of another larger conversation we need to have about how mental health is ignored in this country if there isn’t a pill that will take away the symptoms or a crime committed that can be punished with jail time.

Anyway, as we dive in, I just want to make it absolutely clear that I do not believe that fat = unhealthy or that thin = healthy. That is ridiculously over-simplistic, insulting and untrue.

That said – our nation’s obsessive love affair with junk food just might be killing us.

fake food

Here there be monsters.

People all over the country FREAKED OUT when NY Mayor Bloomberg tried to levy a soda tax and ban super-sized sodas, because FREEDOM!

Mind you, these are largely the same FREEDOM! fighters who railed against ObamaCare because they didn’t want any of their red cents paying for some slut’s birth control… Um, but you want everyone on your insurance plan to have to pay for your triple by-pass surgery? Interesting.

And here we get into the debate between individual FREEDOM! and collective responsibility – it’s a conversation that is WAY past due in my book.

If we are going to truly change health care in America and shape it into something that actually promotes health, then we have to change not just the medical culture – but the culture of America as a whole.

We have to accept that there is no such thing as absolute FREEDOM! because freedom comes with responsibility, and that responsibility extends beyond ourselves and to our communities.

While I agree that it is rad that the woman I was speaking about yesterday took personal responsibility to turn her health around, I think it is tragic that she had to do so without any true support.

Another commenter yesterday pointed out that it isn’t really more expensive to cook healthy food for yourself than it is to eat junk and she’s tired of hearing that excuse. And I hear her – and that is true especially if you factor in the health costs of eating shit. BUT, I say that as someone who lives near a grocery store that stocks real food, and who owns a car to haul groceries in. I say that as a person who knows how to cook (making that transition without help can be challenging, not impossible, but challenging. Internet helps, but not everyone has internet access at home.) I say that as a person who only has to work one job and thus has time to regularly cook real food from scratch. (Back when I was working two full-time jobs that was next to impossible. Cooking was a day-off activity, and I didn’t have many of those.) I say that as a person who has a partner who helps with both money and time, filling in the gaps. I say that as a person who can afford to spend 20 hours a week shopping, cooking and cleaning up in order to have real food.

I say that as a person who is incredibly privileged and who has multiple supports in place.

I am watching a friend go through this transition right now. And it is BRUTAL. Not impossible, but very, very hard. And it would be great if instead of shaming and blaming people like her for making “bad” choices, we as a culture, as a society, had systems in place to HELP her, and to help people like the commenter who also had to make this transition on her own. Again, it’s not impossible, but if health is a cultural goal – shouldn’t we be working to make it easier?

So how do we change this? How do we shift as a culture so that we truly promote health rather than just shaming illness and blaming people for making poor choices?

It would be great if SNAP benefits were worth double when you used them to buy fruit, veggies, whole grain products, healthy (unprocessed) meat and dairy products so that people trying to stretch those very few dollars didn’t feel compelled to “choose” cheap calories over healthy calories.

It would be great if Welfare benefits and SNAP benefits came with some in-home tutorials on cooking healthy meals and using vegetables, etc. (I would LOVE to go into people’s houses and help them learn how to cook awesome food that their families would eat, but the people who need this service the most can’t afford to pay me for it, and I can’t afford to work for free – yay capitalism?)

It would be ideal if (okay, everyone panic, I’m about to suggest a FREEDOM! killing FEDERAL government regulation!) every restaurant and cafeteria was REQUIRED to include at least one full serving of a fruit or vegetable with every meal. I pay close attention every time my family eats out and it is remarkable (absolutely fucking appalling) how easy it is to go an entire day without eating a single serving of fruit or veggies in this country. My sister took me to a SUPER-DUPER FANCY restaurant a while back. The dinner entrées were upwards of $50 and they did not include a single side, that was just the slab of protein. We had to order a $12 plate of asparagus separately and when it came out it only contained 6 sprigs of asparagus – so this is not just a fast-food/low-income problem.

(For the record, my husband and I are researching opening our own restaurant and this is one of our foundational principles, that every entrée will come with your choice of at least one serving of fruit or vegetables.)

Honestly, every time I eat out in this country, no matter the “class” of the restaurant I go to, I spend 80% of the time thinking about Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book Good Omens and the character of Famine who has taken over the American restaurant scene and has split it in half. He runs the cheap restaurants by providing huge servings of nutritionally empty food, helping poor people die of obesity and malnutrition simultaneously. In the high-class restaurants he serves single sprigs of asparagus artfully placed on huge platters and skulks about watching the elite starve themselves. It hits pretty close to home.

If we want health, we might need to accept some limitations on FREEDOM! We might need to accept things like soda taxes, removing junk food options from schools, restricting junk food advertising, requiring businesses that call themselves restaurants to serve fruits and vegetables, requiring businesses that call themselves grocery stores to carry fruits and vegetables.

We might need to require more detailed labeling of foods, using terms people understand. What exactly is 8 grams of sugar? What does that look like? What about 150mg of sodium? Those are numbers pulled from reputedly “healthy” cereals and snacks in my pantry. Is the sugar naturally occurring as in fruits and milk, or is it added sugar? What exactly is a serving, and why do so many junk foods come in packages that are clearly meant for a single person to consume and yet simultaneously contain multiple servings?

Honestly, wouldn’t it be great if we expected businesses to be as responsible for the choices they made and the harm they caused as we expect individuals to be about the results of their choices?Is the consumer really the only one we should be holding accountable here?

In addition to regulations and limitations (the stick), we might need to take some pro-active steps to produce more opportunities for people to access healthy food and participate in healthy behaviors (the carrot).

We might need to incentivize businesses (ahem, job creators…) to include gym memberships in their benefits packages and replace their snack food machines with fruit baskets. We might need to help convenience stores and corner stores offer healthier foods to their customers. We might need to increase funding for nutritional programs like WIC and SNAP and school lunches, as well as increasing funding for education to help people learn not just what to eat, but how to shop for it, store it, prepare it and serve it.

We might realize that we need to stop subsidizing corn and soy and start finding ways to incentivize farmers to produce more fruits and veggies.

We might need to go so far as to raise the minimum wage to an actual living wage so that people don’t have to work two jobs to support their families, thereby giving them more time to do things like shop for and cook real food, play at the park and get outside.

And, if we decide we’re willing to go that far, we might just decide we want to go even further and ensure not only that every neighborhood has a store with real food in it, but that every neighborhood also has an actual park where people can get outside and play together, that they have lighted streets that are safe to walk or ride a bike on.

picnic at the park

How do we, as a society, support more of this?

If we decided we wanted to create an actual culture of health, we might go so far as to actually provide all of our citizens with real options and choices and FREEDOM! rather than just giving the processed food industry free-reign to flood the market place and the advertising space. We might realize that parks and community centers and street lights are cheaper than police raids and jail cells and hospital bills. We might realize that developers need to include things like open space and grocery stores and sidewalks and bike paths in their neighborhood designs. We might realize that collective responsibility trumps businesses’ “right” to profit at the expense of the people.

Whole generations of Americans have become separated from their food. It has stopped being something we grow and nurture and prepare and nourish ourselves with to something we blindly and casually consume. Food has become a commodity, rather than a source of health and nourishment. We’ve become separated from the outdoors, trapped in houses and cars and offices and shadowed streets that weave between skyscrapers.

Here in America, as one commenter pointed out, we’ve become separated from the idea that health is something we have to choose and work for, not something we can buy down the street at the discount store.

Health is not a commodity, it isn’t for sale. But in this capitalist society, we only value that which we can stick a price tag on – so, before we all scream, “but who will pay for it?”  realize, we’re already paying – in hospital bills and higher insurance premiums and lost days of work and poor educational outcomes (which are highly tied to health and nutrition) We don’t have a choice in whether we pay, but we do have a choice in what we pay for.

Think about it, what is the price of poor health, for yourself, your community, our country? Wouldn’t you rather invest that money in creating better options, better choices, better access to health – for everyone?

I would.


Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Medicine vs health care

I have a cold and my head is doing that underwater whomp-whomp pulsing thing and every sound feels like someone driving an icepick into my ears, like typing right now is excruciating and I really should just go downstairs and hide in the dark and the quiet with my book and my sticky tabs, but…

An interesting conversation started (on twitter, where else?) and then my one in particular picked up a different thread of it here at home and now it’s all swirling with this other post I’ve been meaning to write. So, here in my virus addled state, I’d like to dive in, because why not.

I want to talk about Western Medicine and how it is NOT health care, and how if we want health care we need to a. change the conversation and b. change the way we do pretty much everything that we consider “health care” now, but which is really medicine.

Disclaimer – This piece is going to read like I am doctor bashing – I want to make it clear that I think most doctors WANT to help their patients, they want to help them to have healthy lives. However, the medical system we have created in America doesn’t have room for doctors to practice health, only to practice medicine and the two are VERY different. So please, understand I am not attacking individual doctors, I am attacking a broken system that incentivizes and rewards the wrong things.

This does NOT mean "Intervene at all cost!"

This does NOT mean “Intervene at all cost!”

Okay, quick history lesson – WAY back in the day, in China, people used to pay their physicians every month – but ONLY if they were healthy. When you got sick, you stopped paying. This created a culture where doctors were invested in keeping people healthy, because that was how they made money. It also created a culture where once people were sick, doctors were incentivized to make them healthy again so they could go back to earning. Doctors did not profit from illness or hardship, they profited from wellness and health.

Here in America not only do doctors not profit from wellness, they also don’t profit from many of the things that promote wellness and long-term health. They are incentivized to look for, find, and treat illness – not to actually improve health.

The conversation that started this morning was about how this woman used to be morbidly obese, and how when she thinks about those days and remembers what she ate compared to now, it’s like night and day. Now she drinks a glass of water every morning before anything else goes inside her. Her house is filled with fresh fruits and veggies. She cooks her own meals from real ingredients most days.

She is no longer obese or even overweight. Her skin condition has cleared up, her hair is healthy – She is healthy.

Her doctors did not do this for her. They did not recommend this course of action. I mean, yeah, sort of, they told her to lose weight and exercise, but they didn’t say – drink water, eat fruit and vegetables, go outside. They did not prescribe a healthy lifestyle.

What the doctors did was perform weight loss surgery, which ultimately would have failed if this woman hadn’t been invested in making these lifestyle changes and committing to living a healthier life on her own. There was no “physical therapy” or “food therapy” or mental health consideration in her post-surgery plan. The doctors simply took her money (or her insurer’s), did the surgery and sat back. Their job was done. What she did next didn’t concern them because they were not paid to follow-up, to create a nutrition plan, to develop an exercise routine… They were not invested in creating health because that is not what pays their bills.

This woman was lucky that she was able to make those lifestyle changes – not everyone is able to afford to switch from a processed food diet to a real food diet. Real food is expensive in this country, and it takes time to cook meals at home. Time and money are both precious commodities these days as the middle class shrinks and slides ever closer to poverty and the minimum wage refuses to budge toward a living wage, forcing people to work multiple jobs for inadequate returns.

But “health” insurance doesn’t cover vegetables. It doesn’t cover fruit. Or gym memberships, or the purchase of a bicycle so you can ditch your car and exercise your way to work. “Health” insurance covers medicine, surgery, intervention. It covers the things that Chinese physicians used to have to do for free to return their patients to health, those last-ditch efforts – not the first line prevention. And this is because health insurance used to be “Oh-shit” insurance. Insurance is supposed to be for when things go wrong, which is supposed to be rare. But for that to work, we need health care that focuses on health, not medicine.

There are a lot of things health insurance doesn’t cover, but the most important thing it doesn’t cover is a conversation with your physician. As a result, more and more physicians are being told to reduce the time they spend with patients.

We see the results of this in everything from my friend whose young daughter was just diagnosed with diabetes and who had to go home and learn what that meant and how to care for her child beyond the daily insulin checks and shots – She had to learn on her own how to cook for her child, what snacks were okay and what snacks were dangerous… Because that is not the doctor’s job. His job was to deliver the diagnosis and write the prescription for insulin. Educating my friend on how to keep her daughter healthy is outside his purview.

We see it in the three trips I had to make to the doctor to diagnose a skin condition on one of my kids because the doctor didn’t actually look at her skin the first two times!

We see it in my other friend whose son was diagnosed as learning disabled when actually he just had an ear infection that made it hard for him to hear, and therefore hard to learn to speak – when all the doctor had to do was look in his freaking ears!

My one in particular picked up the failures of Western Medicine in a completely different place – the recent resurgence of heroin use in our country.

Apparently this resurgence has come about as a result of the over-prescribing of opiates combined with a distinct lack of a plan for how to ween patients off of them when they no longer need them, combined with the fact that many patients are being given what amounts to life-long prescriptions of these powerful “habit-forming” (read addictive as fuck) drugs, combined with the fact that street heroin is CHEAPER than prescription opiates!

So, what is the solution?

Well if the goal is to create improved health as opposed to simply treating pain, then I can think of a few – first, if someone has chronic pain that will last them the rest of their life and the goal is to manage the pain without reducing health, why not look into less addictive treatment options?

Lets start with massage which can greatly reduce all kinds of chronic pain. Acupressure & acupuncture have also been shown to be highly effective and less harmful treatments for chronic pain than prescription opiates, but these are not covered by most insurance plans and are not considered/prescribed by most doctors. (Thanks to Veronica below for reminding me to include these options! Stupid cold.)

If those low risk interventions fail to help the problem, Cannabis has been shown to be incredibly effective for many types of pain and is non-addictive in its natural form. (Don’t get me started on the shit-show that is synthetic cannabis.) But for doctors to be able to use that, we’d have to get the federal government to change its classification, we’d have to start allowing more research to be conducted into the medical benefits of this drug, and we’d have to go back and dig up all the previous research that got buried in the height of a racially charged fear campaign against this plant.

Second, for patients who are not using these drugs forever, doctors should be creating plans to help patients wean themselves off these potent and addictive drugs once they no longer need them. They should not be cutting them off cold-turkey. And this plan should be discussed in advance with the patient.

We talk about a patient’s right to know, but when it comes to these drugs, it’s up to us to read the warning label. NO – doctors need to sit down with their patients and tell them about the risks of these drugs and create a plan to mitigate those risks. It should not be up to the consumer. The doctor should not be off the hook as soon as his or her pen leaves the prescription pad. (And no, I’m not advocating for more malpractice lawsuits, I’m talking about returning to a time when doctors had a relationship with their patients.)

Last, prescription drug prices should be regulated and reduced. Before anyone screams “But capitalism!” at me – most of the funding for new drugs comes from government grants anyway, so once again we are socializing the cost and privatizing the rewards. Let’s stop that.

These are just two tiny examples of places where medicine trumps health in our culture. There are a bazillion more.

We could talk about the medicalization (not a word, I know, roll with me, I’m sick) of pregnancy and the resulting insanely high rates of cesarean sections in the USA compared to other countries and how in other countries healthy pregnant women who do not require intervention have midwives or nurse midwives as their primary attendants which reduces cost AND improves outcomes!

We could talk about how many kids are being given high potency ADD and ADHD drugs rather than a prescription for better nutrition and increased exercise. I’m not saying that some kids don’t benefit from those treatments, I just don’t think they should be the first option.

We could talk about the number of doctors prescribing antibiotics for viral infections, even though they know better – but their patients have gotten so accustomed to getting some sort of medicine that doctors no longer feel like they can say, “go home, drink herbal tea with honey, eat some chicken soup, watch bad TV, rest.” First, that takes too long and doctors aren’t paid to consult, and second prescribing health doesn’t pay, prescribing drugs does.

We could talk about diet pills and mood pills and the number of unnecessary and often invasive procedures done on patients who do not need them.

We could talk about the ways doctors are trained to look for ailments to treat rather than look for health to boost.

We could talk about the increase in allergies, both food allergies and other allergies and what that means and where that is coming from and how we are treating the symptoms rather than the causes…

We could talk for DAYS about end of life care that promotes quantity of breaths over quality of life.

Pick any area of “health” and you’ll soon see that it has become an area of medicine, often at the direct detriment of actual well-being.

Doctors get paid per action – per prescription, intervention, surgery, shot… They do not get paid to sit down and talk about what is happening in their patient’s life that might be causing poor health. They are not paid to talk about diet and nutrition and exercise and stress and work and all the other things that feed into who we are and how healthy, or unhealthy, we are. They are not paid to promote or create health – they are paid to treat illness, disease, pain and trauma.

And… Even if they were – out here in the real world, outside their offices, there is little to no support for people who try to make that shift on their own. It’s not like fruit and veggies cost less for people on food stamps. Whole grain bread isn’t cheaper than white bread. There’s no system in place to help someone who is already struggling just to eat make the leap to eating well. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but every time I take out my calendars and start color coding my days I find that I have way more things to do than time to them. Imagine if I was working two jobs while raising children without a partner – where in the world would I possibly find the time to exercise or cook from scratch? And how would I learn how to cook? There is no support for that. No one is stepping in or stepping up to help people balance their life better, because that costs money and we’re all broke.

So, we need to change the conversation. We need to acknowledge that when we’re talking about medicine, we aren’t talking about health. And health is where it starts – with reducing stress, with increasing nutrition, with making sure that EVERYONE has time to go outside and take a walk (and that they can do so relatively safely).

We need to make sure that doctors have follow-up plans with their patients after procedures and after prescribing drugs. I keep hearing that homeopathy and naturopathy don’t have the backing of science because in blind trials those treatments are no more effective than placebos – and yet in study after study in the real world, they actually do work. Why? Science says it’s because those practitioners SPEND TIME with their patients, they talk, they create wellness plans, they do the work to promote and create actual health rather than just treating ailments and allowing their patients to resume poor habits that create bad health again in an endless (but highly lucrative) cycle.

If we want better health outcomes, we need to smash this broken system all the way down to the ground and rebuild it from scratch, centering actual health and wellness (including helping all people access healthy food and active lifestyles) and pushing medicine back to the fringes of last resort where it belongs.



Filed under Uncategorized

What’s at Stake in the Midterm Elections? Or – VOTE DAMNIT.

I don’t want to tell you how to vote. (Well, that’s not really true, I desperately want to tell you how to vote – but I’m not going to. Because what’s best for me might not be what is best for you, and I respect that.) And I’m not going to tell you how I voted. Anyone who knows me can probably guess with at least 80% accuracy. (I say 80% because I surprised even myself on a couple of issues and people this year.)

What I want to do is remind you what is at stake, in your town, in your county, in your state, and in our country this mid-term election. Because, I keep hearing how close the polling is on a bunch of candidates and a bunch of issues this year.

The infamous They say it is because many people tune out during the mid-terms and don’t bother getting themselves to the polls, or in my state – filling out the ballot they send you in the mail using the information they send you weeks before hand to make sure you’re at least minimally informed and then sending the ballot back.

SERIOUSLY – it’s not hard.




If you are in one of these states – THERE ARE NO EXCUSES.

But hey, maybe you live in a state where you actually have to leave your house to vote, and where voting only takes place one day a year and there are HUGE lines and you have to miss work, which you can’t afford to do, and you have to have special ID that isn’t required in your regular life and costs money that you need for groceries or… Maybe you live in one of the states where they have made it so freaking hard to vote that it feels impossible to do, even if you wanted to, which you’re not sure you do because hey, your district has been so gerrymandered that your vote won’t count anyway…

I can *almost* sympathize with those folk. And I say almost because, if you don’t make that HUGE sacrifice to vote, it’s not going to get any better.

Vote for change

It’s up to us to be the change.

Or maybe none of the candidates really represents you, your wishes for your town/state/country. I get that. Sometimes, and I truly hate it when I have to do this, but sometimes I have to vote against someone rather than FOR someone. It happened this year and I’m super annoyed by it. I even wrote to the person and party that got my vote to let them know that it was NOT a vote for them, and why and what they needed to change/improve if they did want my vote for real. Personally I blame the two party system and the way that often forces us to vote for the lesser of two evils rather than the candidate we really want. This is something I hope we all get annoyed enough by that we work to change it.

Just remember, if you don’t vote – you are letting others vote for you.

Or maybe you’re one of those people who thinks that voting doesn’t matter – the game is rigged, all politicians are the same, government is owned by big business anyway, your vote doesn’t count, blah, blah, blah…

And look, I feel you. Sometimes it does feel like none of it matters.

The very first presidential election I got to vote in was Bush Jr. vs Gore. Remember that one? The one where I thought Gore won, and then I woke up to a Bush victory and then maybe it really was Gore and then we all waited, and waited, and waited and then the supreme court picked our president for us?

Yeah, after that it was a little harder to drag my ass to the ballot box. But even so, I voted. EVERY CHANCE I GOT.

Because if voting doesn’t matter, then why are some people trying to make it so hard to exercise that right?

If voting doesn’t matter what are they so scared of? Heck, let everyone vote if it doesn’t make a difference…

But voting DOES matter, it does make a difference, ESPECIALLY in the off years, the mid-terms, the non-presidential years.

Here in America we often make fun of the Brits for still having a royal family. And yet, every four years we all rush out to elect a president who doesn’t change our day to day life all that much, who is mostly a symbol, a person who has much less power than we all seem to think. And every other year we pass up the opportunity to vote on people and issues that REALLY matter, that really will affect our everyday lives.

So, this midterm, I’m asking, begging really, please – VOTE. And if you live in a state with a mail-in-ballot and you just don’t have the stamps, tell me. I’ll totally front you a couple. Seriously. I will send you stamps.

If you have to take time off work, and stand in line for 13 hours, and purchase a new ID – first, remember your boss CANNOT fire you for taking time off to vote. That is illegal. Second, bring snacks – and water. Last, I wish I could front everyone the money they need to get the proper ID and to pay for the time you have to take off work to get it since those offices are only open during regular working hours and… But I’m not that rich. If I ever win the lotto -  I pledge my winnings to the cause. In the meantime – maybe you can crowdfund it? Or ask on social media. You can certainly ask in the comments. Maybe we can all get together and help. But seriously – VOTE, because this shit isn’t going to get any better if you don’t.

So, now that YOU ARE GOING TO VOTE – let’s talk about some of the issues you’re likely going to be seeing on the ballot this year.

1. Voting Rights

I feel compelled to start here – if you want the right to vote – you better exercise that right. AND as you exercise it, you need to think about your candidate’s stand on this issue. Do they believe that all Americans should be able to access and exercise their right to vote, or do they believe that right should be curtailed for people who cannot jump through an increasingly complex, time-consuming and expensive series of hoops?

2. Women’s reproductive rights and health issues.

In light of recent Supreme Court rulings regarding buffer zones, birth control access and abortion access, lots of states have reproductive rights issues on the ballot. My state is voting yet again on a fetal-personhood bill and wishing that there was a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy on introducing legislation to voters so we could finally put this issue to rest for good.

Regardless of your personal stance on abortion, fetal personhood goes too far. It usurps FEMALE personhood and comes with a whole host of secondary problems, like criminalizing miscarriages and poor pregnancy outcomes if the mother’s behavior during the pregnancy was less than perfect. This is already happening in multiple states.

Even if women’s reproductive rights are not directly on the ballot in your state, there is a good chance that your candidates have strong positions on this issue. This is one of the many issues where I would argue that not all politicians are the same – and it matters!

I’ve been told for years now that this is a red-herring/straw-man/make-believe issue. But all you have to do is look around the country to see heinous abortion restrictions being implemented over and over again. And yes, some of them are being blocked in the courts, but many are not. Reproductive justice is no longer universal, our nation is covered in a patchwork of laws and barriers and hoops that must be jumped through for a woman to make a decision about her own health care.

Pay attention to the politicians you are electing. Not only do they have the power to enact legislation that can harm or liberate women and families on this issue, they also have the power to appoint the judges who  may one day be called in to determine just how many barriers present an “unreasonable burden” to reproductive health care access.

3. Social Services including Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Mental Health funding, SNAP, Section 8 Housing, education, libraries, roads, emergency services etc.

Yes, I know someone who knows someone who told someone about a family who was getting rich on welfare. Damn those lazy bastards gaming the system. BUT, I also know a much larger number of actual people who are working their asses off to make ends meet and need a little help to get there. And even more people who already worked their asses off for a few decades and have earned the right to stop working their asses off and still expect to have a roof over their head, food on their table, clothes on their back and access to competent medical care. All of that is at risk in this midterm election.

These issues are on the ballots not just in the candidates we vote for, but also in more direct ways. My state has a law that makes it so people get to vote on any/every proposed tax increase or extension. The problem is, people hate taxes, no matter what they are for. I have a friend who totally shot herself in the foot by voting no across the board on all tax proposals and then she was upset when some of her benefits got cut. DUDE – WHERE DID YOU THINK THAT MONEY WAS COMING FROM!?!

Services cost money. If we want services to exist, we have to vote yes on taxes from time to time. If the taxes say they are going to something you wish was funded better, or funded at all, vote yes and try to get your people to vote yes with you.

4. Prison reform and the militarization of the police

This is another issue that probably isn’t directly on the ballot, but which you should be paying close attention to – where do your candidates stand on these issues. What are they saying about military style SWAT raids, about police killing unarmed youth in the streets, racially biased mandatory drug sentencing laws, prison overcrowding (is their solution to build more prisons, reduce sentences, or change laws?), a for-profit prison system that rewards high incarceration rates and penalizes rehabilitation programs… etc. Remember, beyond creating policy and law, the people you vote for also have the power to appoint justices who will ultimately decide about the legality of some of these actions.

5. Gun regulations and gun rights

This is one of those touchy issues. In this country the right to bear arms is seen as more basic and protected than the right to vote, the right to access medical care, and even the right to life. You want to talk about sacred fucking cows – talk to someone who thinks that all people everywhere should have access to all the guns and all the ammo all the time. (Unless they are black and living in Ferguson…)

Personally, I think there is some room for nuance. I promised I wouldn’t tell you how to vote, so instead I will just ask you to look at the candidates on your local ballots and look at their voting records if they have them, listen to what they themselves have said on the issue (as opposed to any attack ads their opponent has funded) and think about the world you want to live in and who will best represent your vision for that world.

6. Campaign Finance Reform

I’ve heard that this is a lost cause, that Citizens United is the law of the land and we will never put the genie back in the bottle. Call me a naive idealist, but isn’t the whole point of a democracy of the people and for the people that we can change anything we don’t like if enough of us get together and raise hell, ahem, VOTE.

7. The Environment

From climate change to smaller, more immediate environmental issues - local droughts being exacerbated by certain water hungry/water killing businesses, extended wildfire seasons, water contamination from unregulated chemical storage facilities, exploding train cars that weren’t voluntarily upgraded to be safe to carry their contents without exploding, dying bees and colony collapse disorder which will affect our food security far into the future, pollutants in rivers, streams, lakes and the ocean which is killing fish – again putting our food security at risk…

I keep hearing that I should shut up about the environment because, JOBS! whatever the fuck that means. I’m pretty sure without air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat I’m not going to need a fucking job… Sorry, that came awfully close to telling you how to vote. But seriously, why would anyone vote for a candidate who thinks we can afford to trash our home, or who doesn’t believe that trashing our planet carries real consequences?

8. Immigration reform

Those are some loaded words – depending on who you are they either mean – “Send them all back and build a giant wall to keep them out!” Because, ya know, that worked so well for China. Or, they mean, “Hey, let’s create a process to help people who have come to America become contributing members of our society beyond doing all the shit jobs we don’t want to do.”

So, whichever side of that line you fall on – again, look at who your legislators are and what their position is on this issue. It’s not an issue that is likely to go away any time soon, and it’s an issue that really matters to real people. I’ve seen so many families torn in half because of our broken immigration system, not to mention all the unaccompanied minors who are stranded in legal no-man’s land.

9. WAR!

The war drums are beating again and we haven’t even started paying for the two longest wars in American history. So, unless you want deeper reductions in service programs, or seriously high tax increases, or most likely both – see where your candidates stand on increasing our use of the military in our efforts to police the world and maintain a constant flow of cheap goods to our borders.

10. Minimum wage and worker’s rights

A few decades ago people literally fought and died so that the average American could have weekends, bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, an 8 hour work day… We still don’t have a guaranteed living wage, parental leave, sick pay, vacation days… Unions are being busted and not all workers even have the right to unionize. Minimum wage employees are being asked to sign non-compete clauses and getting paid with fee-riddled debit cards, wages are being stolen in ridiculous (or ingenious depending on your political leanings) ways. CEOs are now earning about 300 times more than their lowest paid employee. That means every day a CEO brings home what it takes their employees an entire year to earn.

Look at what your candidates think and say about this issue, what does their voting record say? Do they think that all workers deserve a living wage, or do they think that only the workers who were privileged enough to graduate college and land a coveted job deserve the right to live?

11. Health Care

Beyond just ObamaCare and whether it gets repealed, revisited, rewritten, or possibly improved… Health care access is at stake in many ways from reproductive health care, covered above, to insurance law, to various states toying with their own levels of opting into or out of ObamaCare and medicaid expansion. There are also issues on some ballots that will directly affect access to mental health care vs imprisonment of mentally ill people. If you’re tired of prisons being used to house people who need rehabilitative mental health care, pay attention this year, and listen to what your candidates are saying about this issue.

12. Gay rights, trans* rights, civil rights and other social justice issues

Equal rights for all people are absolutely on the ballot this year, from gay marriage to protections for trans* people to equality under the law regardless of skin tone or gender – think long and hard as you vote for your candidates and listen to their definition of liberty and justice – are they talking about liberty for businesses, or for actual people?

13. Judicial Appointments

I touched on this a little above, but please keep in mind as you vote for your candidates that some of them have the power to appoint justices to state supreme courts, appellate courts, etc. AND others have the power to confirm or block those appointments. Who we vote for in the midterms matters – it matters WAY more than who we vote for for president.

Now that you’re all fired up to VOTE because you see how important it is – make sure you’re registered to vote – If you aren’t registered, check your state’s laws and see if you still have time. Check and see what the voting laws, regulations and restrictions are and make sure you’re all set to vote when you show up at the polls.

Get yourself educated on the candidates and issues that are on your ballot. If you live in a state that sends you a non-partisan information book, take the time to read it. Read the for and against arguments on the issues, read the full text of the measures and the summaries of what they will mean for your state or town.

It’s easier than ever to do the research into candidates and issues, we have The Google and there are non-partisan organizations trying to get past all the noise filling the airwaves and deliver real information to voters. Use them.

Ignore the attack ads, even the ones that confirm your biases. Attack ads are crap.

AND – If I missed an important issue that is on the ballots this year – drop it in the comments.


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