Category Archives: Of Course I’m a Feminist

The Dream Is Dead. Long Live the Dream.

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.
Graduate.
Keep going.
Go to college.
Get a degree.

GET A JOB!

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.

GET THE DREAM!

But…
the secret they never told us…
is that the dream
they said to dream
the dream about
following the rules
and getting our just
rewards
was never a dream
for the workers.
Just a carrot they dangled
an illusion
a lie
to keep us
moving,
working,
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.
Graduate.
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!

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

GET THE DREAM!

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
and
working hard
why don’t they
teach us
to create
instead?

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

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

Because
they need you.

Because
those bootstraps
they used
to pull themselves up
were always
yours,
were always
you.

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, poetry

Schrodinger’s Rapist Revisted

I had an experience today that got me thinking about the way we treat each other, the things we expect from one another, and the things we do to take care of ourselves in an uncertain world.

My train of thought led me back to this old post trying to explain the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist. That attempt largely failed with the very people it was meant to educate/enlighten/help…

Maybe today’s experience will prove a better example.

See, the premise of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that anyone could be a rapist – and no one knows if you are, or aren’t, until it’s too late. Thus, certain people who fall into categories that are historically, socially, statistically and physically more vulnerable to rape are right to take extra precautions around people who fall into categories that are statistically, historically, physically more likely to be rapists until they have sufficient evidence to believe they are safe.

This concept upsets a lot of people, primarily men, because they believe it amounts to saying that all men are rapists. It doesn’t. It says all people are potentially rapists, we don’t know until we “open the box.” (To stick with the Schrodinger theme) It further says, since men are more likely to be rapists than people of other genders, it is not unreasonable to practice caution around men until you feel you can move them into the “not a rapist” box.

Still, men are upset about this.

So, let me try again with a more tangible, real life example.

This afternoon I was leaving the grocery store. While I was shopping my car had gotten boxed in by three really big trucks, severely limiting my visibility as I tried to back out of my spot and head home.

I backed out very cautiously, moving slowly, checking my mirrors and turning my head to check all my blind spots frequently as I inched out. Once I broke free of my parking space, I saw an elderly woman walking up the aisle toward the store. The nose of my car was pointing in her general direction and as I straightened out my car it was clear I would be driving right past her. She was just on the other side of one of the large trucks that had been blocking me in. I cranked my wheel a little further to make sure I could swing around both her and the truck and leave enough room for her to feel safe and comfortable.

Instead of continuing to walk forward, she froze. Then she slowly inched her way closer to the bumper of the large truck, hugging it, and staying on the other side of it from me.

Now, I had a couple of options – I could take this personally. Didn’t she know I was a good, safe, nice driver? Hadn’t she seen me cautiously and slowly backing out? Why on earth would she be scared now and move to protect herself from me and my vehicle? It’s not like I was going to run her down in the King Sooper’s Parking Lot. I DO NOT COMMIT VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT?

OR

I could appreciate her caution for what it was – an act of reasonable self-protection based on decades of social training that told her that cars CAN BE dangerous. Cars have the potential to harm or even kill unwary people. Sure #NotAllCars are driven by homicidal, or even just hurried and harried, or absent-minded and distracted drivers… But, a few of them are – and YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.

In fact…

While most drivers in most parking lots drive slowly and cautiously, respecting the fact that parking lots are filled with pedestrians of all stripes as well as other cars trying to maneuver their way into and out of spaces, we’ve all seen the person who mistakes the parking lot for a race track, who cuts off pedestrians and other drivers to snag that prime spot, or who backs out and then tears through the parking lot as if Gotham has sent up the bat signal and they are Batman’s ride to a dubious and destructive heroism.

In fact… Many of us have been that driver at one time or another. In a hurry, distracted, running late and desperately trying to get through one more f’ing chore on our way to the place we’re supposed to be.

Or, perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re hungry and you’re pretty sure that getting in and out of that store AS FAST AS POSSIBLE is the only thing keeping you out of prison for mass murder, so scaring a few people in the parking lot is a small price to pay, you were paying attention, you were focused – THEY”RE STILL ALIVE AREN”T THEY!?! No matter that if a small child had wriggled free of their adult (as mine once did) and runs out from between two cars (as mine did) and dashes in front of your car (as mine did) and then panics and STOPS instead of running out of your path (as mine did) you wouldn’t be able to react in time and you’d be the bad driver we’ve been taught to fear after all… (luckily the driver my kid ran in front of was one of the much more common cautious in parking lots sort. Which did not stop me from soundly scolding said child and making sure she understood that SHE ALMOST DIED!)

No matter, you’re a good driver. You’re safe, you’re nice, considerate.  You don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.

You’re not a monster.

Most of us aren’t.

And yet… We teach our children to be cautious around cars – in parking lots, on streets, even on sidewalks – looking both ways, paying attention to reverse lights, looking around when they are riding their bikes, listening for cars as well as watching for them. We teach our children to hesitate first, to be hyper aware, to assume that drivers do not see them, and will not stop for them – even when the driver SHOULD stop for them. (Because sometimes drivers fail to stop. Sometimes drivers fail to obey the traffic rules. Even good drivers sometimes fail.)

So, when people exercise caution around cars and take steps to protect themselves against being harmed or killed by wayward drivers and their vehicles – we don’t take it personally. We don’t throw up our hands in disgust and wail, “Why don’t pedestrians TRUST ME? Why are they always so cautious? It’s rude. It’s profiling. Don’t they know that I’m a nice driver? I don’t commit vehicular manslaughter. #NotAllDrivers!”

Instead we respect their caution. We respect that they have been trained since birth to understand that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists (and smart car drivers) are all at a distinct disadvantage should they fail to be cautious at the wrong moment or let their guard down around the wrong driver. And we respect that they can’t actually know if a driver is dangerous UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE, so it is okay for them to exercise caution around ALL DRIVERS.

We understand that there is a power differential there that favors the person in the car, and so we allow, we encourage, people to exercise and express their caution. We applaud them for it.

In the same vein, there is an inherent power differential between men and women and people of other genders in our society. This is something that has been trained into non-male people. We have been taught, since birth, that men are stronger, faster, more aggressive, more powerful – physically, financially, politically… We have been taught to respect, and fear, the power differential – the same way we’ve been taught to respect the power differential between a pedestrian and a car. We’ve been taught to exercise caution, because we are at a disadvantage.

So, while #NotAllMen are rapists, men hold more power and are statistically much more likely to be rapists than people of other genders. Therefore people of other genders should not be shamed, browbeaten or yelled at for exercising caution around men in the interest of protecting themselves. Especially not while we live in a society that continues to blame the victims of sexual violence – they asked for it, they were in the wrong neighborhood/bar/club, did you see what they were wearing, they were drinking, they smiled, etc.

As long as victims must accept social responsibility for the violence inflicted on them, it stands to reason that we should allow them every and any self-protection remedy they see fit to employ, including exercising caution around all men.

We cannot simultaneously tell people in parking lots that they are responsible for their own safety and then yell at them when they press themselves into corners to avoid oncoming vehicles.

We cannot simultaneously tell people that they must protect themselves from rape, and then yell at them when they aren’t relaxed, fun, nice, flirty, whatever with all men… Or even with all nice men – because they don’t know you’re nice until you show them – and getting upset at them for protecting themselves… Yeah, maybe you’re not quite the nice guy you thought you were.

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Feminist Romance, it’s a beautiful thing.

I’m not a romance reader. Haven’t been for a long time. But recently a friend of mine got her first book contract, a romance contract. As much as I love this woman, I didn’t plan on reading her books. Supporting her, encouraging her, buying her books for other people who like that genre – absolutely, but reading them? Not my genre, why read something I wouldn’t enjoy and then not know what to say next time I saw her?

But then in April we were at a conference together and I heard her talking about her books and why she wrote them and why she chose the romance genre and I remembered – this is MK f’ing Meredith, and she is BADASS.

mk meredith

MK F’ing Meredith
Badass Romance Writer & Hardcore lover of peanut butter.

So if she’s writing romance, maybe… just maybe, I’m wrong about the genre, at the very least maybe I’m wrong about lumping her books into my preconceived and outdated notions of what the romance genre is – maybe, just maybe, I should get over myself and give them a try.

So, I did. And THANK THE ODDS for being willing to look past former biases and give things a try with an open mind and an open heart because, GOD DAMN I loved this book – and… (Don’t tell MK this) now that I’ve been shown the light, I’m reevaluating my notions of the romance genre entirely and have even (shhhh…) bought a few more novels in the genre to try out.

See, I bought into the lie that the romance genre is all fluff and happily ever after and brain candy – you know, pink frilly girl stuff – a guilty pleasure. (Yes, that’s my female chauvinist pig showing. I’m working on it.) And I needed someone to knock that silly notion out of my head. As MK so eloquently reminds us, THERE IS NO GUILT OR SHAME IN EXPERIENCING PLEASURE.

As soon as I finished MK Meredith’s book, Malibu Betrayals, I wrote to her asking if I could interview her for this blog and share my revelation with all of you.

She was generous enough to let me, so without further ado, let me introduce you to the amazing MK, and her romantic notions.

malibu betrayals cover

Feminist Romance, a beautiful thing.

Her chance to write a whole new ending…

Hollywood screenwriter Samantha Dekker spent the last year picking up the pieces after her husband’s suicide. Along with grief, guilt, and tabloid hell, she’s had to watch helplessly as the film industry slammed its doors in her face. Now Sam has the rarest of Hollywood opportunities – a second chance…working with the one man she swore never to see again.

Hunktastic A-lister Gage Cutler knows that Sam blamed him for his part in her husband’s death. Still, Sam is the one woman he can never forget. All he wants is a second chance of his own – to prove he’s not the player she remembers. And Malibu is the perfect backdrop to make a girl swoon.

Except they’re not alone. Someone is watching Sam and Gage’s steamy off-screen romance with the most dangerous of intentions…

TBT: Did you intend to write a feminist, or female empowering, romance novel when you started out?
MK: My very purposeful intention is to empower women with their sexuality. I want to show that it is healthy and okay to know what we want. Taking charge of our bodies, what works for us and what doesn’t, and being comfortable expressing it is important to our self-worth and self-confidence. Too many women struggle with these issues. And not that men don’t, too, but when it comes to sexuality, they are expected to be sexual beings. Women have to fight for it.

Malibu Betrayals is the journey of a strong women finding her way again, taking back control of her life, including her sexuality. The shower scene is my favorite one! LOL!

(TBT here – Yes, the shower scene… And can I just say how much I LOVE the idea of empowering women with their sexuality, MK nails it, right off the bat.)

TBT: Why did you include condoms in your book? What was your intention? How did you think readers would respond/react? Did you hit any snags trying to work them in naturally and have them present, but not interrupt the flow of the scene?

MK: I put condoms in my book on purpose. It goes back to the self-worth discussion. Man or woman, we need to care enough about our selves to put our safety first. To be honest, I didn’t worry about the reader’s response simply because it is an element that will remain. I imagine my readership will be those who want the protection in the stories or don’t mind it.

I didn’t really have any trouble fitting it in–lol! that’s what she said. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And there is always at least one scene where they don’t use a condom because I want to keep the story as real as I can. People aren’t perfect, we get caught up in the moment, rush, or forget. So they make their mistakes, too.

(TBT here – I love this, that it was a conscious decision founded on promoting self-worth and respect. And I love that you were conscious of allowing them to be imperfect and human.

Also – writers please take note – My biggun and I were talking the other day and she mentioned how frustrated she is that in most of the YA she reads condoms, STI prevention and birth control are never mentioned. I told her about MK’s book and she was like, “So it can be done, why aren’t more authors doing it?” You have your marching orders – go forth and promote safer sex!)

TBT: Emotional and verbal abuse and their aftermath are big prevalent themes in this book – the self-doubt that creeps in, the loss of confidence, the difficulty in trusting others, etc. as well as how those traits affect future relationships and things that partners of abuse victims/survivors have to deal with/be patient around.
How much research did you do around those topics? Why did you choose that as one of the things Sam has to overcome? How did you balance her being an independent protagonist while also allowing her to be damaged and to need help sometimes?

Gage handles a lot of Sam’s baggage really well, to the point that I wanted this book to be required reading for people in relationships with abuse victims/survivors. How much research went into his character’s responses?
MK: My background is Occupational Therapy. What a lot of people don’t realize is O.T. has a premed element along with a heavy psychology and abnormal psychology focus. I reached back to my education and my own past to address the topics in this story.You know how they say ‘write what you know’? Well, the issues are part of my own past–a very different story than Sam’s, but there all the same. I feel I’ve come a long way, and I wanted to show a woman fighting her way through the self-doubt and the self-worth issues. It doesn’t happen over night, and certain events can trigger responses a person may not be proud of. We falter. Two steps forward, one step back and all that. I know her indecision can be frustrating for some, and it is, but it is also real. I couldn’t let her ‘fix herself’ too easily. These issues run deep. And I think that showing her struggle is what allowed me to show her taking action toward her independence, but still struggling with her right to do so. Part of her growth is that needing help is different than being worthless.

As for Gage, I pulled from my education for him as well. It is important that we don’t tell someone how they feel, but empower them to feel. To help them see the strength in the mirror. It is important to think about the intent behind someone’s actions. It makes all the difference in the world to our responses…or should anyway, in my opinion.

(TBT note – emphasis was added, because I really loved these points.)

TBT: There’s a really remarkable scene where Sam reclaims her right to pleasure. (Yes – the shower scene!!) It felt deliciously subversive to me to have her demand and give herself pleasure while sharing it with a guy. How intentional was that scene? How important was the theme of reclaiming female pleasure and ownership to you?

MK:This goes back to question #1. It was completely on purpose. I squealed in delight with your question. “She get’s it!” *fist pump* My husband raised his brow at me as if I’d lost my mind. LOL!

So, my husband was in the Air Force, as a matter of fact he retired this past year. We had seven deployments together. That’s a long time to be apart. Matters need to be taken into one’s own hand, so to speak, when there is that much time and distance in a relationship. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with military women who would discuss taking charge of their physical needs, but then whisper or shy away in mock horror. It drove me nuts. Not in an angry way toward them, but in a way that I wanted to shake them and yell, ‘You are important, your needs are important, and it is okay.’ I don’t see any reason for it to be embarrassing or hidden or a secret kept at all costs. It is simply human. So it is extremely important to me to portray women who are already there, or are finding their way.

TBT: Gage has some baggage of his own – he’s got serious abandonment issues. What made you decide to give him that as his kryptonite?
MK: Another I pulled from my past. I lost my mother at seven and then my father remarried twenty-eight days later to a woman who was not really interested in some dead woman’s four children. That has an effect. I basically lost both my parents at once. One didn’t want to leave, and the other I feel never looked back. But the residual fallout remained in myself, and in my brothers. What’s more, I think many of these issues really peak in our thirties and forties, when we realize how we should have been treated, or when we have children of our own and they reach a similar age. It is hard not to ache for the child you were–as if they were someone else. I felt that his abandonment issues would be a great foil to Sam’s problems committing.

TBT: A lot of the conflict and tension in this book is internal, it’s quiet and smoldering and just under the surface – in many ways, this felt like an adult coming of age tale, two people rediscovering themselves and remaking themselves in a new image. Where did that theme of reinvention come from?
MK: The original idea for this story all rose from a dream I had where I met Gerard Butler at a bar. It was a very casual conversation, and he couldn’t have been less interested. LOL! It got me thinking to the opposite scenario and then so on and so forth with the blossoming of ideas. When I dug into Gage’s and Sam’s backstory I related to their struggles in one way or another, and I wanted to show that even with living through an adverse past, you can achieve an amazing future. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible. It takes a certain ability to reflect and respond instead of simply reacting.
gerard butler

He’s listening.

TBT:I feel like this book really explored the difference between doing the work to be worthy of another person and changing yourself to be what someone else wants. Where is that line for you?
MK: You know–or maybe you didn’t–I was married before. I am the reason you let your daughters date. I was never allowed to, so the first boy I met once I moved out of my home, I married–5 months later. We had nothing in common, but I was on cloud nine and just KNEW that must mean it was meant to be. I didn’t realize that was how it was when you first started dating. He is a wonderful person, with a big heart and a strong work ethic, but we had NOTHING in common. So after five and a half years together we got divorced.

But picture this…me in Rocky Mountains (a western jean), cut out shirts, and lace ups going to rodeos, and sitting in a duck blind, or pheasant hunting all while listening to country music. There is nothing wrong with any of it, but does that sound like the MK you know? Yeah…me neither. I was so focused on being a woman he’d stay with, that I lost the woman I was and had no idea of the woman I wanted to be. So I left.

And I made myself a promise. I would never lose who I was, never wear clothes I didn’t want to wear or listen to music I didn’t want to listen to in order to make someone like me. I promised that I would stand up for myself…and boy was it a journey, especially the last one. I still struggle with it. But my husband Brian has helped me in tremendous ways.
So the line is: I am who I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t take my loved one’s needs into consideration, but now they aren’t the only consideration. I am, too.

TBT: Last, tell me how your own beliefs about love and partnership helped shape and color this fictional relationship.

(Note – I had to ask this question, because her answer is the reason I picked up her book and read it in the first place – emphasis was added by me.)

MK: I think I’ve been answering this last question all along. I think we have to choose each other every day. It is important to learn what our partners need to be happy, and if we can provide it or help provide it, or support them in finding it, in a way that does not sacrifice ourselves we set the relationship up to win. I think talking and checking in and reevaluating keep relationships from falling into ruts where you wake up not recognizing the person lying next to you. I very much feel my beliefs were involved in Gage’s and Sam’s Happily Ever After. I hope that what my husband and I have figured out will help create very real feeling happy endings.

TBT here – Suffice it to say, MK is simply a phenomenal human being, and she put so much of herself into Malibu Betrayals that it can’t help but be anything other than fantastic.This book really was empowering and super sexy. I can’t wait to re-read it with my husband. I’ve also already ordered extra copies for my niece and a few other young women I know who are heading off to college and who I think could use this reminder that we are worthy of love, and deserving of pleasure.

If you’re looking for a fun book that packs some heat – I really cannot recommend Malibu Betrayals enough.

If you want to dive into MK’s world of love, romance and peanut butter, follow her on her author page.

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Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist

Symptoms of Success, Welcome to the Club

Trigger Warning – Gendered violence, sexual assault, rape, threats, harassment.

 

I’ve only ever gotten one death threat because of this blog.

For the most part, even on those few posts that have gone viral and have traveled around the world and picked up a few of you on the way, people have generally been civil here. Or at least non-threatening. I rarely have to take out The Mallet.

And that is a HUGE relief.

This threat happened a long time ago, I barely even remember what it was about – just that I annoyed someone and they felt that threatening me with death was an acceptable response.

I remember the first fellow blogger I told said something like, “Welcome to the club. You must be getting an audience.” Then she told me her stories.

That is the most common response when I talk to other women who are active online. Nearly every one of them has a story of violent threats, many of them have stories of people actually attempting to carry out those threats.

Almost every woman I know who is successful online must accept not just daily, but hourly, minutely, near constant threats of violence including rape threats, death threats and threats against their families depending on her level of success.

“Welcome to the club.”

This creates a reality where almost every woman I know who is present and successful online must pay a very specific price for that – the price of peace of mind. It is a reality that silences many voices, some of them before they even dare to speak.

Many successful women I know have gone so far as to hire someone to read their mentions and the comments on their posts and delete, report and block violent messages. It is a full-time job. One that if the woman herself were to do it would take away all the time she had to produce new work, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it would take.

When they raise their voices about this they are often told to grow a thicker skin. Or they are told to ignore the trolls. Or they are told they are overreacting – it’s just the internet. No one is really going to hurt them… Or they are told that by talking about it they are “feeding the trolls” and encouraging more abuse.

Even after they are doxxed (Which means someone posts all of their personal information including home and work addresses, real names, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, passwords, etc.) and laid bare, even after someone is caught driving to their house with weapons and a stated intent to kill them – they are told to calm down, relax, it’s just the internet – grow a thicker skin. Even after the threats escalate enough to get the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved. “Stop whining. You’re blowing it out of proportion. It’s just twitter…”

There is no winning.

There is no escape.

There is no acceptable, allowable response other than to ignore it and move on – or just quit. It’s amazing how often women are told to quit what they love if they can’t take the abuse.

As if violence is the price we must all pay for the freedom to work, to socialize, to succeed…

“Calm down, it happens to everyone.”

But it doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to very specific types of people – vocal women – especially vocal women of color, gay people, trans* people, in other words, it happens primarily to people who are not male and cisgendered and straight and white.

I haven’t waded into this for many reasons, but today I realized that there is a commonality between this and something I experienced as a teenager and young woman beginning to make my way in the world. Something super fucked up and totally not okay.

It’s the acceptance of the idea that violence is the price women (and gay people and trans* people who don’t want to live in closets) must pay for success, for inclusion, for the right to exist. Worse, there is an idea that perhaps beyond being a price to be paid violence might actually be a symbol of success, a sign that you have made it to the next level.

“Welcome to the club.”

I remember the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was in a foreign country as an exchange student and an older man who was supposed to be taking care of me while my host parent was on vacation groped me and kissed me – while his wife was one room away! He knew I was alone and isolated and had no one to call and he took advantage of that. Eventually his actions combined with other circumstances forced me to return home early. It screwed me up pretty bad, and set the stage for how I would deal with future assaults.

I remember telling my sister about what happened. I remember her hugging me and saying something along the lines of, “Welcome to the club. It sucks, but it happens to all of us.” Then she told me her story.

This was my introduction to being a teenager, this was how I crossed the line from kid to teen, from “innocent” to “worldly” and “experienced.”

I was no longer a little girl. I was part of a new group. This act of violence somehow made me mature in a way that having boyfriends, traveling to foreign countries, having a job and taking other steps toward adulthood had not.

At the same time, this new maturity came with its own code of silence. I was assured by everyone I spoke to in those first few days back that no one wanted to hear about what had happened, no one wanted to know the real reason I was home early, no one wanted to validate my feeling that I had been punished for this man’s crime – it made them uncomfortable, they couldn’t help, they couldn’t change it, so why not just focus on the good stuff that had happened – no matter that for me, focusing on the good things meant focusing on what I had lost, what this man had taken from me – the opportunity to live in a foreign country and build my independence and confidence – the chance to grow my new friendships and finish the new courses I was taking. The chance to pursue a dream.

What I heard time and time again was, “Welcome to the club, it happens, move on. Don’t talk about it, if you talk about it, then it defines you. If you acknowledge it, you are weak.”

And so I moved on – but I moved on thinking that this type of violence was normal, and while not exactly acceptable, it was to be expected and that there was nothing I or anyone else could, or would, do about it because it made people uncomfortable.

“Welcome to the club.”

When I type it out that way, it becomes somehow much less surprising that I was raped on my 18th birthday.

Not because I asked for it, or deserved it, or should have seen it coming, or because I wasn’t strong enough – though I have been told all of those things, and told myself all of those things a bajillion times – but because like so many women I had learned to accept a certain level of violence as the price I must pay for existing.

There were warning signs – those warning signs were the reason I went to break up with my boyfriend that night. I saw the violence in him and had experienced enough of it to know that it was escalating. To know that it was reaching a dangerous plateau, one that I did not want to reach. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the literature yet that discusses time and time and time again that THE MOST DANGEROUS moment in an abusive relationship is when the victim tries to leave.

A couple of years after I was raped, I wrote a poem about it, trying to process what had happened, and why I still hadn’t been able to get all the way over it. In the poem there’s a stanza,

I’ll never forget
the night I became an adult
was the night you made me a woman.

Think about that for a minute.

That was how I processed my rape – that that act of violence, of having my basic humanity denied and taken from me – THAT was what made me a woman!

“Welcome to the club.”

It wasn’t a badge of honor in any way. It was a badge of shame. But at the same time, it was a rite of passage – a common one, and I eventually came to accept it as such. (Looking back now as an adult and as a mother – there are simply no words for how fucked up that is. I cannot imagine my daughters accepting rape as the price of admission to womanhood – but we have a hard fight ahead of us if we’re going to change this culture in time for them.)

I remember telling my college roommate about it one night, after another terrifying phone call from my rapist turned stalker left me shaking.

“Welcome to the club,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me.” And then she told me her story.

Nearly every woman I have ever opened up to about any of my experiences has come back with one of her own.

“Welcome to the club.”

And while we all know that this violence isn’t acceptable, isn’t okay, isn’t deserved or asked for… We have also all on various levels come to terms with its existence. We have all in some way come to accept that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it but pick up the pieces and move on. We have learned to see it as some sort of sick rite of passage that takes us to the next level of womanhood.

And that is truly distressing, because there are new generations of girls and boys being brought up into the culture we are creating – and we must, all of us, work to create a culture where violence is not the price anyone must pay for simply existing, where sexual violence and gendered violence aren’t the ways we “level up.”

And yet…

This same mentality, that violence is the cost of, perhaps even the measure of, success if you are female has taken over the internet. Being harassed and threatened until you feel so unsafe that you leave your home, or quit your job  (or are fired from your job because your harassers are causing a disturbance to the company), or go dark, or… This is the new rite of passage.

It’s not a badge of honor, it is not a status anyone covets – but at the same time… There is this idea that you must be making progress, you must be doing something right, you must be successful – or they wouldn’t try so hard to push you back down.

I see this mentality taking its toll – there are voices going dark, there are women disappearing from public life, there are people being chased out of their homes and jobs and careers and leaving their passions because daily, hourly, minutely threats of violence are simply more than they can carry – and quite frankly, that is more than we should be asking anyone to carry in order to do their job or exist in public spaces.

Violence, or the threat of violence is not an acceptable rite of passage. Not here, not anywhere.

And if you think that online threats are small potatoes, or there are bigger problems we should be dealing with first, or that this is a first world problem – let me be the one to tell you, you are wrong.

Violence does not exist in isolation, it exists on a continuum. If you wonder why so many women take online threats more seriously than many men think we should – it’s because most of us have been on the receiving end of actual violence, we have already lived through that, we know how it feels to have those threats carried out – and we’d like to not have to go through it again.

We’d like to not have to remember and relive and reprocess that violence every day.

These threats that people see as jokes, or banter, or a rebuttal to an opinion (really, a threat of rape is an acceptable rebuttal to, “that shirt is tacky.” Are you sure?) exist in a context of routine, physical violence against women. Street harassment that so many people see as “a compliment” exists inside the context of routine, physical assaults against women.

We cannot separate the words from the potential reality because all too many of us have LIVED the reality of violence. We do not have a sense of humor about this because we are still healing from the last physical assault. We are still recovering from the last threat that became reality in a flash too fast for us to run from.

We have to treat all threats as real threats – because enough of them have been.

You might know you’re just joking – we do not, and we cannot take that chance with our safety. No one should be asking us to.

I am so very appreciative of the many women right now who are taking a stand, from the victims of Gamer Gate to Ashley Judd and saying, enough, this is NOT acceptable, this is not okay, this is not a fair price to pay for being female with an opinion and the “audacity” to express it in public.

I am even more appreciative of the men who have come out to say, “Enough, this is not acceptable.” because the violence is largely coming from men, and it will take the courage of other men standing up and saying “enough” to make them listen.

Men who threaten and carry out violence against women tend not to be the type who listen when women ask them to stop! They tend to be the type of men who defer only to other men, which is why we need more men willing to take this seriously, willing to stand up and say, this is not what masculinity looks like, this is not what manhood looks like, violence is not an acceptable way to get what you want.

We must, all of us with the power to do so, move forward together on this. We must stop welcoming people to the club and start helping each other burn this club to the ground. It’s a terrible club and I don’t want the next generation to have to join us here. I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing violence is normal or to be expected – because once we learn to expect it, we come to accept it.

And violence is not an acceptable price to pay for existing.

If women must take responsibility for what they say and do in public, then shouldn’t people who attack them also be asked to take responsibility for those attacks?

Not everyone who is threatened with violence has the voice and the resources and the power to call it out, fight back and bring it to the attention of people with the power to shut it down. But for those of us who do – we should. We should be standing up for all of the victims of violence who are powerless against their abusers. We should not be tolerating threats online, or in person. We should not be tolerating violence directed toward ourselves or others.

We should not be brushing off violent threats as jokes, or banter or rebuttals. Threats of violence exist to silence opposition, not to brighten anyone’s day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from dissent, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept violence in order to be heard.

I am taking my inspiration from the women and men who are using their voice and their power to say, “No more.” and joining them.

“Welcome to the club.”

And in one of those fortuitous moments of synchronicity, just as I was about to hit publish on this post, this video from Anita Sarkeesian popped up in my feed.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist

Musings on the purpose of life.

I suppose I should start by asking if life even has a purpose before I dive into what that purpose might be.

And the truth is – I don’t really think life does have a purpose. I think it’s totally random and ultimately meaningless in the REALLY BIG PICTURE scale.

But… We don’t live life on that scale, we live life in the here and now – and here and now, everything we do has meaning, and consequences. In the here and now, we are all struggling to define ourselves, to make our mark, to create our legacies, to mean something.

On that level – yes, our lives have purpose.

The hitch is that, we have to create that purpose, because there is no god, no deity, no greater power doing that work for us. We are here, what we do with that is up to us.

the meaning of life

What does your life mean?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and talking around it in various circles. I’ve heard some interesting things.

My dad made a statement recently that there is far more suffering in the world than joy because joy is fleeting while suffering tends to last.

Both my husband and I took issue with that – and yes, we’re privileged white folk living in middle class America, so our level of suffering is pretty low – but even still, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, I spent my 21st birthday not out at the bars drinking until I puked, but in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border and in that place where I thought I should see only despair, what I mostly saw was joy – joy in playing a game of cane ball, joy in friendship, joy in the little day-to-day things, like shoes that fit and food on the plate, that my middle-class American upbringing has made me blind to…

joy in a refugee camp thirst aid

Unbridled joy in a refugee camp

I think from the outside we see much more suffering than is really there in the world.

Suffering makes headlines, suffering fills the news reels, suffering – far more even than sex – sells.

This is not to say that suffering doesn’t exist, or that we don’t need to worry about refugee kids, or starving families, or injustice because look – those kids are smiling, it is simply acknowledging that despite all of the suffering – joy can be found nearly everywhere we look.

I’ve heard from another group of friends that our purpose here is to accumulate goods, property, material wealth… And that strikes me as odd because when I look at the suffering in the world, most of it is caused by this pursuit.

First, there is the obvious – that in order to accumulate material wealth we have to take it from someone else. Sometimes we trade fairly, sometimes we steal it, often we try to make our theft look like fair trade. Those acts of theft leave suffering in their wake.

Also, in order to accumulate material wealth, we have to take the materials from the earth – and it’s not usually a pretty process. There’s a lot of destruction that goes into our need to have a constantly growing economy based on consumption. That environmental destruction and degradation creates additional suffering.

Last, there is the suffering of the pursuers for whom there will never be enough, because someone else will always appear to have more. The constant striving and never fully achieving “enough” creates another layer of suffering.

Then last night, I was talking with my husband who is feeling pressure to decide “what he wants to be when he grows up” and is sick and tired of the idea that our careers should define us, and that we have to base who we are on what we do to make money to accumulate things.

He pointed out that when he dies and his life flashes before his eyes, he doubts he’s going to be taking a tally of the shit he acquired.

Much more likely, he will see the faces of the people he affected for good or ill.

If there is any judgement coming, it will be based, not on how much crap he owns or how much money he made, but on whether he made life better or worse for the people around him.

If there is a legacy to be left, it won’t be in a pile of material goods, but in the stories people tell and the memories they share of him.

And when he dies, and those images flash before him, and those judgements are passed – he wants to be remembered for the smiles he shared, the smiles he helped create, the good moments he helped others enjoy.

When his life is weighed, he wants the joy he created to outweigh the suffering.

And I had my Ah-ha!

Because he’s right.

At the end of the day, at the end of my life, what I want to be remembered for and measured by is not how much stuff I hoarded – I am not a Viking trying to buy my way in to Valhalla with my accumulated mountain of useless baubles – but how many lives I touched and by how well I followed the campsite rule of leaving each day better than I found it.

It’s one of the things I like most about my new job, 90% of it revolves around making people smile, giving them 2 hours of joy as well as the skills they need to take it home and do it again. Am I changing the world? Perhaps not, but I’m shaping moments, and moments, like pennies, add up.

I can’t tell you what your purpose is, but I can say that I believe that if we all focused more on what we were doing to make our corners of the world better for the people we interact with and better for our communities, instead of focusing on how much material crap we had – the world would be a better place, not just for the people around us – but for ourselves too.

If we focused on making sure everyone had enough, instead of worrying about how we were going to get more… The world would be a better place.

MLK the purpose of life

What are you sharing with the world?

The Buddhists have long taught that striving is the source of suffering, and I believe that to be true.

We forget, so often, here in the whirlwind busyness of the West, that most of us have plenty, more than plenty. We get so busy striving and counting and hoarding that we forget to even appreciate what we have, and more, we forget that often the best way to appreciate something is to share it.

I have enough, I have more than enough, so this year I am going to focus on sharing more and hoarding less and the only thing I am going to strive for is more smiles.

I wish you all the feeling of plenty in the coming year.

 

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

Gratitude and Wishes

Welcome to 2015!

Happy-New-Year-from-fireworks

I want to start this new year off with a serious dose of gratitude for all that is good and amazing in my world – and hopefully yours too.

I am grateful that I have THE BEST mechanic in Colorado right down the road from me and that we found them years ago and have never had to battle dishonest, crappy mechanics in this state. If you live or work in the Boulder/Longmont area and need a solid mechanic for your car, these are your people. And please, tell them I sent you, you’ll become family that much faster!

I am grateful for my amazing husband and kids – I would not have survived the holiday vacation without them. They keep me grounded and sane and whole.

I am grateful for my bigger circle of family and friends, including everyone whose eyes are on this right now. I love knowing that I am sharing this vast spinning rock with so many amazing, wonderful people who are working each day to make their corner of the globe a little brighter.

I am grateful that it is thawing outside because – DAMN this year started COLD.

I am grateful for all the amazing writers, artists, musicians and creators out there making things that connect people and ideas and shift perspectives and enhance the view.

I am grateful to all the teachers: mine, my kids’, yours… I am so grateful to the people with the patience to slow down and help lift someone else up a little bit, and also to the people who are too much of a goddamn hurry because they too have things to teach. (Primarily that I don’t want to be that person…)

I actually sat down and tried to make a new year’s resolution this year, or set a goal, or… But I realized that, life is good. And yes, there are some little things I would like to improve on, of course I’d like to get out and ride my bike and hike and climb more, and travel more, and cook more awesome food, and have a bigger garden and… But none of those things are resolution worthy, because when push comes to shove, I don’t really want to change anything about my life. It’s good. I’m good. I’m downright blessed.

Which brings me to my wishes…

These are big, huge, completely out of my control (or are they?) wishes, wishes for the world I want to live in, wishes for the world I want to build, wishes for the world I think WE can build, if we work together…

I was just at the bank and drove past a veteran holding a sign. He looked to be about my grandpa’s age, and the Korean War Vet cap he was wearing solidifies that assessment.

When I was done in the bank, I walked over to him and gave him a few bucks and chatted with him for a while. He just finished a 4 month stint in the hospital, there’s no work for him, and his benefits don’t cover the cost of living at his age (or probably at any age…)

This is not the America I want to live in, this is not an America any of us should be proud of.

We should all be marching, voting and paying taxes to support our veterans. No veteran of any war should ever come home and find themselves standing on a street corner begging for pocket change. I’m a peacenik, war-hating, tree-hugging liberal who thinks the last dozen or so wars/police actions our nation has engaged in are complete capitalist bullshit – but I still believe that EVERY SINGLE veteran who fought in those wars should come home to a free education, have access to free/discounted housing, have full medical care, and be able to access any other services they need to stay off the street. These are people who put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of other people, while I disagree with many of the wars that have been fought, I am part of the “we” that sent them into those wars, and as such I am responsible for making sure they are taken care of when they return.

If they come home disabled, mentally shaken, suffering from PTSD, etc and cannot work, it is our job to support them the way that they supported us and the ideals that pushed them into war in the first place. If you disagree with war, don’t take it out on the veterans – take it out on the politicians who keep voting to send our young people into combat. If anyone belongs on the street begging for mercy, it’s them.

I wish for an America that exercises its powers of foresight a little (okay, a lot) more. One that looks at the data and uses it to make the future better rather than a few pockets heavier. I wish for an America that prioritizes quality of life for all, that takes climate change seriously and investes in solutions, that takes women’s lives seriously and stops politicizing our bodies and our choices, that values black and brown lives and takes the challenges facing them seriously, investing in infrastructure, education and investigating police brutality, that takes gun violence seriously and is willing to discuss it and look for solutions, because there are solutions…

I wish for an America filled with people who understand that education is the best investment a nation can make, followed by health care and that if EVERYONE had access to those two things, everything would improve vastly for everyone from the top on down.

I wish for an America where all citizens who want it can have what I have – a partner recognized by the state and granted all the same MANY benefits that the state has bestowed on married couples, a family, adequate shelter, food, clothing, transportation, communication (phone, internet, mail service), a library, a grocery store, access to health care, free quality education, clean/safe parks…

I wish for an America that truly is a meritocracy, where skin color, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation are no longer used to profile people – but where ability, track records, and skills are rewarded. And where skills are rewarded based on their need and value to the community. I am still flummoxed by a value system that pays sports stars more than teachers, family doctors, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, soldiers (and remember, I’m a peacenik – I wish for a world that didn’t need soldiers, but until we get there, we damn well better pay the people standing between us and the rest of the world’s bullets and bombs.)

I wish for an America that recognizes socially/politically imposed handicaps and worked to remedy them. We’re not a perfect meritocracy yet, and we can’t ever be one until we recognize that some people are privileged over others and have more opportunity than others.

I have an image in my head of a cartoon that I wish I could draw. It’s a race. One contestant has a clean, clear track and is racing unfettered. The other contestant is dragging a steel ball from a chain around their ankle, their hands are bound, they are blindfolded. Their track has hurdles and divots and rocks and razor wire…

When the handicapped contestant reaches the end and is given access to a university/job/house, the first contestant whines, “But they didn’t run as fast as me… No one helped me…”

This is the image I see every time I hear someone whine about affirmative action or the voting rights act or well fare or other programs put in place to try to balance the scales after centuries of historical disparity – whether it’s about race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, class, ability, etc. Trying to right historical wrongs that continue to hold back entire groups of people is not stealing anything from the privileged classes – at least not anything that the privileged classes didn’t steal first…

It doesn’t always matter that someone didn’t finish as fast/good as you – sometimes the fact that they finished at all speaks loud enough.

I also wish for an America that grants second chances, that recognizes that everyone screws up, everyone falls down and that no one should be judged on a single mistake. I wish for an America that rehabilitates criminals instead of just punishing them. I wish for an America that sees the value in all lives and fights to make each one the best it can be with education programs, job training, mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, counseling, and material assistance when needed to help someone find their feet again.

I wish for an America that operates under the assumption that every person out there is doing the very best they can with the knowledge and resources available to them, and that if someone is failing, WE are failing, and that maybe instead of pushing their head back under the water, we should throw them a life-preserver and try to reel them in…

I don’t think these are impossible wishes. I also don’t think I’ll live to see most, if any, of them through. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start taking steps to build this world right now, right here, in my corner of the globe. And hey, maybe if we all did just a little bit every day to nudge one of these wishes closer to reality our children will get to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

Because that is another wish I have for America, I wish for an America that works to make itself a better, stronger, healthier, more vibrant place for future generations, an America that follows the campsite rule of leaving things better than we find them.

Honestly I wish for a world like this, but I was already feeling a little over-bold asking for a whole country to shape up, but I’d love to spread a message of compassion and taking care of each other and being helpers to the global hive mind.

I am so very grateful for all the progress we’ve made – but let’s not stop now. This is not a sprint, this is not even a marathon, this is a relay. We have the baton, let’s do our best not to destroy the track on our run. In fact, let’s do our best to leave the track better than when we found it and hand off the baton to the next generation without dropping it!

Happy 2015 – here’s hoping you all have much to be grateful for and that you’re all willing to take a moment to take the #Unfucker pledge with Katie Goodman.

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

Where are all the periods?

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

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

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

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls need that too.

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

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

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

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

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

A few good books sure would have helped.

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

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

 

 

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