Author Archives: thinkbannedthoughts

About thinkbannedthoughts

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

A case for better justice

I just want to leave a couple of things here and let you all connect some dots and invite you all to leave your thoughts in the comments.

I want to encourage everyone to read and listen and discuss with a mind open to the possibility of solutions, the possibility of things getting better.

I hear so much, too much, defeatism lately. Too much grumbling that it’s all for show, there’s nothing we can do, everything is broken and we’re all going down.

And then, I see things like I’m about to share and I think… Maybe there is hope. And then I see something else and I think, nope, we should all just jump now.

Tonight I want to push for hope. But first, I rant. Hard.

So, to begin:

And then, the news that one of Colorado’s for-profit prisons is facing a budget shortfall because of lower incarceration rates! (On the one hand, yay! On the other hand – Hell no, voters should not be asked to plug that ugly for-profit hole, not with our tax dollars, and not with incarcerated bodies.) You want to know who could really, really use an extra $3 million in taxpayer dollars right now, Colorado’s rural schools!

Then this article crops up about how the Netherlands has to close more prisons because they just don’t have enough criminals, they can’t even import other nation’s prisoners fast enough to keep their prisons open. (The original article I read today, which I can’t find now, also talked about their restorative/rehabilitative/less punitive style of justice.)

And amidst it all, this story about a woman who was appointed to the Denver school board during an unusual emergency meeting that broke a few rules, and who was then outed as having a criminal record, and therefore being unfit to serve.

But – here’s the thing about that criminal record – first, these are not felony convictions – so she is not barred from serving on those grounds. Did she lie to the public about the full extent of her record – yes, BUT… I can understand her fear. It sounds like the people on the board who appointed her had access to her full records and still felt she was qualified. Was it a bad PR move to appoint her using shady methods, and not disclose this/get out in front of it – absolutely, but does any of this make her unfit to serve?

I have to say, when I look at my district, this is almost exactly the kind of woman I would actively want on my school board – a woman who understands that parenting in this system is NOT EASY. That poor parents are trapped under a rock, on top of a hard place and in our current bootstrapping times, there are no helping hands coming to anyone’s rescue. A person who understand the challenges facing so many of our students and their parents as they try to navigate the many disparate systems working to keep them in their place.

I don’t know any more than the articles I linked to say, I haven’t dug deeper, I don’t feel like I need to. I can picture it. There you are, single mom, three kids, working to try to keep them fed and clothed and sheltered, doing everything you can to scrape by. Your childcare provider calls in sick, or you can’t afford the bill just yet because the car broke down, or a kid got sick, or your refrigerator broke, or a million other possible things that mean the difference between surviving and sinking… You have to go to work or you’ll lose your job, because – America! If you lose your job, you really will sink. So, even though it kills you, even though you know it’s a bad idea, even though you are terrified that you are making the biggest mistake of your life, you give your oldest child, a 7 year old, “The Talk” – The do not answer the door, do not answer the phone, call me only if there is an absolute emergency, stay inside, keep your siblings inside, I’ll be home in a few hours… And you leave, and you lock the door, and you pray to every god you believe in, because you have a better chance of getting help from above than you do from your own community or country.

And then, for whatever reason, one of your kids dials 911, and the cops come, and you are found out. And it’s game over. Now you’re a criminal. And you have to take parenting classes – but you know how to parent, you know what those kids need, you just can’t access it because you are poor in America and instead of offering you some help all you hear is a chorus of voices shouting at you that, “you should have…” but it’s too late for should haves, you’re here now, and you’re drowning and the state just added one more weight to your already sinking ship.

But you carry it. You don’t know how, but you do. And your kids survive, and you survive, and you work even harder, harder than any sanctimonious, middle class, silver spoon sucking, judgmental, finger-pointing, competitive parenting trophy winner could ever imagine. You not only pull yourself up by your bootstraps – first you grow the fucking cotton, harvest the cotton, process the cotton, spin the goddamn thread from the cotton, dye the thread and weave your very own bootstraps. THEN, you start to pull yourself up. Little by little. Until one day, you are hailed as a model community member, an active parent who “feels like she’s been on the board forever” even though you haven’t, you’ve just been volunteering, supporting, fundraising, trying to participate.

You’ve “made it.” The American Fucking Dream.

Except, of course, once upon a time, you were poor, and you were trapped between a bad choice and a worse choice, and you did the math and you thought you chose the better of the terrible choices, but you were wrong and now… Now everything you’ve worked for is taken away and you are called unfit.

You know what’s unfit – this fucking society.

This society that calls itself prolife and then abandons poor families at the first opportunity. This society that threatens children with starvation if they can’t keep their grades up. This society that criminalizes poverty in a million ways, but does nothing to alleviate it. This society that tells mothers they must be there for their children 24-7, but refuses to offer free childcare, guaranteed parental leave, living wages, or material support for single or working poor parents. This society that criminalizes and punishes women, mothers, for failing to live up to impossibly high standards without so much as a balancing pole to help them as they walk the tightrope of ever changing rules and regulations. This society that thinks the real problem is that poor people just don’t know how to parent, because calling poor people lazy and unfit is easier than looking in the mirror and seeing our own complicity staring back at us.

So yes, I’m glad incarceration rates are down in Colorado. I hope they stay that way, and I hope all the money we used to spend on prisons starts going to schools where it can be used to make lives better rather than harder. And I’m glad there are prosecutors out there like Adam Foss, and I hope he inspires more prosecutors to do better and to work harder at creating positive outcomes, for boys – AND for women and girls. And I hope that in the future we can look at a woman who was stuck between a bad choice and a terrible choice and have compassion rather than judgement. I hope we can listen to her speak and try to understand her story before we call her unfit for duty and shackle her to past mistakes made in dark and desperate moments that most of us will never have to grapple with.

I hope that in the future we can accept that we have all made mistakes, we’ve all taken risks, we’ve all done things we knew we shouldn’t do – and many of us, most of us, got away with it. Should we really hold the ones who got caught to a different standard than we hold ourselves? Should we really say people who got caught are incapable of learning, growing and doing better? Should we really brand them with their worst moment and never let them move past it?

Or should we look for a better way? Should we applaud growth and change and value those tough experiences and the lessons they taught?

I’ve been grappling with the vision of justice that I want to see in the world for a while now. Trying to find the words to express it, to explain it. It doesn’t involve bars or razor wire or guards with guns. It involves learning and healing and letting go and growing and supporting – for all parties involved. I thought it was just a dream, an impossible dream, for so long. Then I read a short story in this book, The Feminist Utopia, that laid it all out and made me cry and wish and nod my head yes, yes, please yes. And I stopped just following Lauren Chief Elk on twitter and started actually listening, really listening to what she was saying, and found myself nodding and crying and wishing, yes, yes, please yes.

There is a way, there are many ways, to achieve a place where instead of locking bodies up and criminalizing human frailty, we work to restore and heal and support each other.

Incarceration is not the only answer, it’s not even the best answer. It’s time for change. Let the prisons close, give the jobs and the money to services that need it more. We already know school is more cost effective than jail, so let’s start divesting. Let’s just… step away and reprioritize. We can do it. But we have to show up – to the polls, to the protests, to the rallies and the petition drives.

We must be present to win.



Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

A question for the GOP mainstream

What happens if you enact laws that say people receiving government assistance (SNAP benefits, subsidized health care, subsidized child care, housing assistance, etc.) have to be employed in order to receive those benefits AND simultaneously repeal the minimum wage effectively telling employers that they can pay people as little as possible?

These two ideas are, as far as I can tell, mainstream thoughts within the GOP party. The first is being enacted to varying degrees in a number of GOP states. The second is being discussed loudly by many GOP politicians, especially in response to calls for a higher minimum wage.

But what actually happens if we do both at the same time – tell people that they MUST have a job in order to get help, and tell employers that they don’t really have to pay their employees if they can get them to work for less?

Keep in mind that current minimum wage already provides a poverty level income to anyone earning it while trying to keep even one other single family member afloat.

Now imagine eliminating that wage requirement while telling people they must be employed – that means that the government is blackmailing people into working for even less. If they strike in protest of low wages that will not keep their family alive – does that mean they’re not working and thus the benefits that were helping them bridge the gap are cut off? (Not that they’d be able to strike effectively anyway since the GOP is also working hard to eliminate unions…) Given the reality that government programs have already seen significant cuts and many people receiving government assistance are already working multiple jobs in addition to receiving benefits, and are still struggling to make ends meet… what does this really mean? What does this really look like?

Yes, I can see where businesses will be able to make more money, and potentially even employ more people (I mean, hey, if you don’t have to pay them, why not hire them? That’s the line I’ve heard from the GOP side – eliminating the minimum wage will eliminate unemployment! Everyone can work, if no one has to pay them!) But… Is that really solving the problem we’re trying to solve? Do we just want everyone to have a job, any job, for any pay? Or do we want people to have a job that supports them and their families? Do we want them to have jobs that pay for the basic necessities of life: Food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe drinking water… Do we want employers to pay their employees enough that people with full time jobs don’t need to ask for or rely on government assistance to scrape by?

If we eliminate the minimum wage, rather than raising it, does anyone actually think that will lower people’s dependence on government assistance? Especially if having a job is a requirement for receiving assistance? Am I the only one who sees this as blackmailing people into accepting sub-par wages and becoming MORE reliant on government aid rather than less? Am I the only one who sees this as a serious step toward creating a government subsidized permanent serf class?

And where will the funds come from to pay for the increased need for government services? Obviously individuals receiving government assistance won’t have any money left over to pay taxes, and most of the large corporations have found enough loopholes, tax breaks and tax credits to avoid paying taxes – many actually receive tax refunds each year. So, companies like Walmart, McDonalds, Kraft foods, Amazon, etc. not only won’t have to pay their employees, they also won’t be paying tax dollars into the government relief pool. They are completely off the hook for the responsibility of ensuring their employee’s livelihoods.

Who does this policy help then? Shareholders, CEOs and other top executives who see extra company profits turned into bonus checks…

Who does this hurt? Pretty much everyone else. The poor who get poorer, the middle class who have to take up the extra tax burden because no one else is…

And why is THIS never called “income redistribution” or “class warfare” or “theft at the point of a gun” or and of the other terms used when the poor and middle class ask wealthy America to start paying back into the pot? Why is it okay for people to work 40+ hours a week and NOT be guaranteed a living wage? How is that not theft – of labor, of energy, of time? In the “richest nation in the world” or so we’re told, how is it that we’re okay with asking more and more people to work harder and longer for decreased pay and benefits rather than insisting that companies seeing record-breaking profits pay their employees livable wages?

If we’re not going to raise the minimum wage to match increases in cost of living, and we’re not going to enact price controls on essentials like medicine, housing, food, transportation, etc. while simultaneously blackmailing people into working for less than current minimum wage (and gutting the government relief programs that these workers would need to survive…) I don’t see how this results in anything other than the needless pain, suffering and degradation of American workers. It’s not enough to give people jobs, we have to insist on jobs that guarantee them a viable standard of living.

I think at the end of the day, what I’m  most confused about is why many members of the GOP elite seem to want to compete with “developing” nations like China and India (and really, we’re looking up to Vladimir Putin now!?!) in a race to the bottom in terms of worker rights, human rights, environmental action, etc. instead of competing with other “developed” nations like Sweden, Finland, Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland, etc. to raise the standard of living for everyone from the bottom to the top.


Filed under Rant

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.


(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)



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

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.


I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?


What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.


It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.


This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.


Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.


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

The Dream Is Dead. Long Live the Dream.

by Bree Ervin

Follow the rules.
Stay in school.
Color inside the lines.
Do your homework.
Get good grades.
Keep going.
Go to college.
Get a degree.


Work hard.
Make a good impression.
Pay your dues.
Climb the ladder.
Keep working.
And working.
Don’t take vacation.
Don’t get sick.
Just work.


the secret they never told us…
is that the dream
they said to dream
the dream about
following the rules
and getting our just
was never a dream
for the workers.
Just a carrot they dangled
an illusion
a lie
to keep us
in line.

The dream…
The American Dream
where we all
work hard
and get rich
or at least
get middle class
isn’t for us
it’s against us.

Follow the rules.
Don’t think for yourself.
Stay in school.
Learn what we want you to learn.
Color inside the lines.
Stay inside the lines.
Do your homework.
Practice your busy work.
Get good grades.
Prove you can fit in.
Show us your stamina.
Keep going.
Give us more.
Go to college.
Pay us for your work papers.
Get a degree.
Get some debt. A lot of debt.


Get a job!
Start at the bottom.
Work hard.
Give us 200%, we’ll pay you our minimum.
Make a good impression.
Play by our rules.
Pay your dues.
Give us extra hours for free.
Climb the ladder.
Do more for less than your co-workers.
Keep working.
Show us your stamina.
And working.
Give us more.
Don’t take vacation.
Show us you want it.
Don’t get sick.
Don’t show weakness.
Just work.
Live to work… That’s how you


What they forget
to say is
hardly anyone
got to the top
by climbing
the ladder.
Most of them
got handed the keys.
Or invented their own.
So if the dream
isn’t earned
by punching in
working hard
why don’t they
teach us
to create

it’s hard
to pull yourself up
by your bootstraps
when you
don’t have any

if you know
how to make
your own
you won’t
need to work
to earn them.

they need you.

those bootstraps
they used
to pull themselves up
were always
were always


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, poetry


By Bree Ervin

have you ever noticed
the way
our actions
reflect our fears
reflect our actions
create their fears…

like the way that
who are afraid
of gay marriage
being imposed
on them
seem to think
they have the
to impose
straight marriage
on the world.

like the way that
who are afraid
of women
taking over
seem to think
they have the
to exert
over women.

like the way that
white people
who cross the road
because they are
of black people
walking toward them
seem to think
they have the
to make
black people
feel afraid
for being black
in public.

most of the time
most of the people
who act
in charge
who are
to let go
of the whip
don’t seem to
what they are
most afraid of
is themselves.

perhaps instead of
our fear
on others
we should
the Golden Rule
and not
in ways that
make us afraid
that others will
treat us
as we treat them.

if you are
afraid that
your power
will be turned
against you
by the people
you are
holding down
what would happen
if you used
your power to
lift them up


Filed under Naive idealism, poetry

What’s a legal immigrant anyway?

Thinking about immigration and citizenship and access to human rights and thinking about all the people who tell me, “But my ancestors came to the USA legally” as if that makes them better than current immigrants.
I always want to ask them when exactly their ancestors came over legally – was it right in the beginning, when Europeans colonized this land, because I’m pretty sure the First Nations people would argue about the legality of that occupation and colonization of their land by foreigners.
Or was it during the previous waves of immigration when our borders were open to overseas immigrants who were willing to labor to build this nation?
How many hoops did their ancestors have to jump through to be considered “legal?” Was it more than stopping at Ellis Island and having to sign their name and be checked for boat lice?
What steps did they have to take to become citizens?
Do the people saying any of this have any idea how much more complicated the process has become since 9/11?
It’s hard to tell people to come legally when we’ve ravaged their countries, sparked wars and famines and then blocked legal entry to all but the most educated, wealthy and privileged few…

I, sort of, get the fear that lives in people about someone else “taking your job” – but here’s the thing, it’s not your job. It’s a job, you have it right now and that’s great – but we live in a capitalist society which means that your employer gets to replace you at will any time they can find someone who can do your job better, faster, cheaper or happier than you, whether that person comes from another country or not.

You want your job – be good at it, show up, don’t take it for granted. If you don’t want to be trapped working for less pay than you think you’re worth – fight to enact and enforce a livable minimum wage so that no matter who has what job, anyone working can be assured that they can survive and thrive on their wages.

I, sort of, get the fear that we might be letting in terrorists, but then I think about the near daily acts of domestic terror that are being allowed to occur in our nation and I just have a hard time accepting that I should be more afraid of desperate foreigners looking for a better life than of desperate and afraid citizens who are willing to hurt and kill other citizens in response to their fears.

I, sort of, get that there might be something to fear in letting new people into our borders, but I see that there is for sure something to fear in creating global problems and then turning our back on the results and refusing to accept any responsibility for the people whose lives and livelihoods we’ve imperiled through our imperialism. (See how that works?)

I’m not saying that we should just throw open the borders and let in everyone and grant everyone citizenship overnight – but I am asking if we can please stop having pissing contests over whose ancestors immigrated legally, correctly and who is therefore better or has more right to be here. I’m asking if we can start taking responsibility for the consequences of our national actions, for the refugees from the wars we’ve sparked, from the famines we’ve helped create, from the policies we’ve enacted around the world.

Just a thought.



Filed under Rant