Category Archives: Things that work

Give. Thanks.

Black Friday is almost upon us, holiday shopping is set to begin in earnest and many of us are wondering how best to spend our dollars.

I have more than a few folk in my circles who have stated they are simply donating to organizations doing the work that needs to be done, and I applaud them. I can’t think of a better gift to give or receive than knowing a few more dollars went to the organizations standing up for people’s rights, providing needed services to underserved communities and helping more people gain access to all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges that should come standard with US citizenship.

So, I decided that this year for Thanksgiving I would ask you all to give. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about teaching kids fiscal responsibility by having them divide any money they get into three even jars – “spend,” “save,” and “charity” so why not do a similar thing with our gift giving. Sure, buy the kids in your life books and music and art supplies and science kits but balance that with gifts to charities in their name – that models the kind of thing we’re asking them to do and shows them that you care about leaving them with a better world. And as for adults, unless you have an adult in your life who really needs a thing – donating in their name might be the best gift you can give. I know I wish I could afford to give more to charities, so having someone give in my name feels great!!

And, since I’ve been talking non-stop about taking positive action in the face of a Trump election, what better way to do something good for the world than to donate to a righteous cause!?! Last, there is a national movement called #GivingTuesday, and many organizations can double your gift if you make your donation on that day!

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Since I love you all so much, I decided to make it easy for you! Below you’ll find a list of verified, top-notch groups and organizations to donate to, as well as ideas for local places to look into to make sure your dollars have the biggest effect possible.

First: let me ask you to donate to the people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. What is happening to them is NOT OKAY and they need all the help they can get!

Once you’ve done that, here are my recommendations for getting the most bang for your bucks.

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  1. Donate to your local public school. Seriously, just write them a check. Almost all of them have a registered non-profit parent organization so you can get your tax write-off and get your employer to make a matching donation, if they do that sort of thing. (And if they don’t – ask why not. They should if they have more than a hundred employees.) If I can make a further recommendation – request that your donation go to arts, music or the library those are consistently under-funded programs and grants are hard to come by for those areas. Also, donating your money there reminds schools that the public still values art, music and literacy regardless of the educational fad of the moment.
  2. Donate to reproductive/sexual health organizations including: Planned Parenthood, Lilith Fund, The National Abortion Fund – or use this to locate your local/state abortion fund, Draw the Line, NARAL, or your local women’s health clinic. (If you don’t have a friend or family member to gift this donation to, I nominate Mike Pence to be the recipient of this receipt. Let him know you stand for reproductive justice! Information on how to do this follows.)
  3. Donate to organizations working to secure full civil rights and human dignity for LGBTQ* folk. I recommend GLBT, the Lambda legal defense and education fund, The Transgender Law Center, and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network or GLSEN. Also check your local communities, see who is doing this work in your backyard and give them money. Also, look into the GSA at your local schools, I’m sure they could use a donation in order to help organize! And again, if you want to donate in someone’s name, but don’t have a specific someone in mind, I nominate Mike Pence to be the recipient of this piece of your mind!
  4. Donate to groups working to ensure civil rights for ALL people: The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, The NAACP, The Native American Rights Fund, The National Congress of American Indians, The Innocence Project, The Justice Policy Institute, Black Lives Matter… There are more. If I didn’t find your personal brand of activism, check out this handy list of cool orgs… I highly recommend making your donation to these organizations in Donald Trump’s name. Info to take this step is below.
  5. Donate to your local food bank and/or homeless shelter.
  6. Donate to your local domestic violence shelter or organization working to end intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence.
  7. Donate to Flint, MI – those folk STILL need water and help mitigating the effects of drinking poisoned water for too long.
  8. Donate to an environmental group or organization. I am not linking to any specific groups because, I admit to being jaded here – the environment has been in dire danger my entire life, and I have given to many of these organizations over the years and I’m not sure what they are doing that is of tangible benefit to the environment. I feel like this issue is bigger than NGOs. I feel like this is an action we have to take to own smaller cars, drive less, consume less, and put pressure on our governments to invest in greener energy sources while also consuming less… BUT, if you have to spend money, I’d rather it went to an environmental organization than cheap plastic crap, so… (Also, if anyone wants to comment with a shout out to an environmental org they think is doing great work – do that! Post a link. Spread the word!)

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To donate in the name of Donald Trump or Mike Pence, use the info below:

Office of Governor Mike Pence/State House Room 206/Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797

and

Donald Trump/ The Trump Organization/ 725 Fifth Avenue/ New York, NY 10022

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I’m sure there are organizations and causes that I have missed or accidentally overlooked – please, if you know of an important and worthy org, post a link in the comments, I will do my very best to screen them in a timely fashion.

In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of the holiday season and I hope that you are all able to spend time with people you love.

thankyou

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Things that work

Service Before Self

I started my day at an assembly at my kids’ school for Veteran’s Day. Both of my kids were performing, so I was there to see them, but also to support our veterans, and to check in with my community. My kids’ school is majority Latinx and many of the students come from mixed-status families. I wanted to be there for all of them.

The assembly was amazing. So much more powerful than I had anticipated, more than I was prepared for really. The speakers all seemed to realize that these students and community members were in need of inspiration and support, a path forward. I hope they heard the same message that I did.

Every speaker touched on the same core topics. The first is that America’s greatness is directly founded and dependent upon its diversity – the same diversity that exists within that school. Second was the idea of living lives of service – whether in uniform, or out. There was a strong call to serve each other. Last was the duty of the military, and all people with power, to uphold the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to ALL people residing within the United States of America.

The key-note speaker also offered the three core values of the air force for consideration. These are not military specific values, these are values that can be taken up by anyone, at any time.

  1. Integrity. He told the assembled students and community members that with this goes the pledge, “I will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate those who do.” In this way, he said, true integrity goes beyond being responsible for your own behavior, it also means holding those around you accountable for their behavior.
  2. Service before self. Note, this does not mean service at the expense of self! That said, he remind us all of Gandhi’s quote, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” He spoke about the many ways that people can serve their communities, the many ways that we can be helpers for each other.
  3. Excellence in all we doI feel this is self-explanatory. Even Bill and Ted got it.beexcellentAfter the assembly, I took my Dorkalope up to the hills for a hike with this song from my old friend Kris Drever playing through my head.

As this song played through in my head, I kept thinking about this feeling I’ve been having – of not doing enough, of not having done enough, which of course led me back to this idea of service before self and what that meant, what that looked like, what that created.

I come from a family where, even though we don’t name it as such, we tend to live this idea in pretty tangible ways. When I’m hurting the most, my initial response is almost always to think about how I can help someone else. By reaching out and doing something kind for someone, I almost always find that my needs get met as well.

As I hiked, I remembered this video that a friend posted in the midst of the election madness to give us all a reprieve from the fear mongering and shouting. At the time I thought it was sweet, but I didn’t reflect too deeply. I was busy and stressed and it was just a moment of relief, nothing deeper. But now, in the context of thinking about service before self, I see a powerful analogy. Give it a look.

Did you see that? Watch it again. Really. The words will still be here.

Okay, so here are these two cats. The grey one is drinking milk and the spotty one comes up and steals it away. So then the grey one steals it back. So begins an awkward cycle which puts them both on guard, to the point that at one point the grey one is so busy guarding the bowl it doesn’t get a chance to drink before Spotty steals the milk. So then – SO THEN – the grey one steals it back, takes a drink and then PASSES THE MILK BACK! And a new cycle starts up, one in which they drink, share, drink, share.

Game Changer!!

Okay, so how does this apply to us, to people, to this election, to service before self?

I see a couple of caustic assumptions that I’ve heard before being broken down here.

First – That if we are kind, if we are generous, we will be taken advantage of, and so we must guard what is ours, we must put limits on what others can have. Now, remember when Gray was so busy watching Spotty that Gray didn’t get a chance to drink before the milk got stolen again? Yeah, when we worry too much about guarding our stuff, first, we’re not able to enjoy it and second, other people might still take it.

Second – If we give people things (especially the basic things they need to survive, like food) they will become lazy and stop working for them. But notice – when Gray gives Spotty the bowl, Spotty doesn’t just lay down and drink it all before taking a giant nap, right? That’s because even though Spotty no longer has to reach for the milk, Spotty understands that the job isn’t done, it has just changed form. Now Spotty’s job is to return the bowl, rather than reach for it.

Still, it’s a risk, isn’t it? It’s a risk to offer something you think you need to someone else and hope that it comes back around. It’s a risk to be kind, because your kindness might be taken for weakness – you might get taken advantage of. (And now I have to insert one of my Youngin’s favorite songs.)

But fear aside – it’s necessary. We must be kind, we must be generous, we must give what we can, when we can. (Because remember, this is service before self, not service at the expense of self.)

Again though, what does that look like?

Here’s where I’m at right now –

When someone says they are afraid or hurting, remember it is not your job to judge the validity of their fear or the depth of their pain. Your job is to support them, comfort them.

I’ve been hearing a lot that people are overreacting to this election, that they don’t have any reason to be afraid. People have mocked those who are afraid and I just have to say – it’s not helping y’all. Meanwhile, there are a ton of people who are afraid of clowns in the woods – and no one is telling them to chill out, nope – we’re all like, “ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY!!! If a clown jumps out at you, that’s justifiable homicide, that is!” But when a presidential candidate directly and explicitly threatens groups of people, and then gets elected, and then violence against people belonging to those groups spikes, we tell people to calm down.

NOPE. So much nope.

When someone tells you they are afraid or hurting – LISTEN. Offer support, offer comfort. That’s the bare minimum. You do not have to agree with them in order to treat them humanely.

As for people expressing their hurt – what looks like a paper cut to you, might be the thousandth one that person has received that day. You don’t know. So don’t judge, don’t tell them to shake it off, grow a thicker skin, or ignore it. Believe them when they say they are hurting and then offer support, offer comfort. It’s the bare minimum.

We have these sayings about “death by a thousand cuts” and “the straw that broke the camel’s back” so we understand that sometimes small things end up being the things that we just can’t take,the things that finally do us in. So again – your job is to listen, to support, to comfort. To believe that their pain is real, even if it seems minor to you. They are not you.

Last – look for opportunities to reach out, to spread kindness, to help each other. Pay attention. Be open. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Today I stopped to offer help to a cyclist who was broken down on the side of the road. His friend was on the way to rescue him, but we still had a nice moment and he knew that he was seen and valued. I was able to provide winter gloves and a warm hat to a homeless veteran because I saw his sign and asked him what he needed. I went home and went through our extra winter gear and found a few items that fit him and served his needs. This was me doing what I could, when I could. I had time today. I decided the best use of that time was offering a little extra to two people I saw who looked like they needed it.

Yesterday the thing I was able to offer was hugs and words of support.

I don’t know what I will have to give tomorrow, but I know I will give what I can.

And I trust that it will come back. I trust that if I focus on service before self, it will come back around. I trust this because this semester has been brutally hard, but people have caught me and held me up and helped me out and carried me when I needed carrying. And now, it’s my turn to push the bowl back.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Things that work, Uncategorized

Upstanding one hug at a time

Today was a strange day.
First, one of my professors leaned on me. During class I could see that she was struggling. I waited after class until everyone else had left and said, “You okay? You look like you could use a hug.” She broke. I held her. We had an intense moment together while she told me about her family and her heritage and the ways this election not only puts her at risk, but also tells her pretty explicitly that there are millions of people who don’t value her life. We connected in a way we hadn’t before – she’s always kept herself aloof. I shared my fears, and my determination to be a better ally, to offer support and comfort and aid whenever I could, in whatever ways I could.
Then, I went to a shop on the hill to get some supplies before my next class. The woman behind the counter was Asian. We started talking and when I told her that I was upset and ashamed about the way the election went, she confessed her fears, and those of her children. She wept when I held her hand and looked her in the eye to tell her that I was glad she was here, that her children were here and to promise them that I was fighting for them, and would continue to fight for their safety and their right to be here. I assured her that she is not alone. We hugged.
There were other smaller events, smaller moments of connection, moments where I saw someone hurting and made my allyship explicit and told them in no uncertain terms that I had their back, that I would work and fight and do everything in my power to keep them and those they love from harm, and that I was not alone in this effort.
Friends, again, I ask you – stand up, speak up, reach out – protect those who are feeling abandoned by their nation, who feel threatened not just by this president, but by the people who voted him into office. Recognize their fear, and offer them support.
I see people asking what the big deal is, I’ve seen and heard people joking about deportation… This is not a joke, this is not a drill. During this campaign people were threatened in direct and explicit terms, and the person who threatened them is now our president-elect.
Feel that. What would you need in order to feel safe in that environment? Offer that. Exude that. Being an ally requires action, it requires compassion, it requires letting your guard down enough to see, and it requires owning that fixing this mess is our job.
Let’s get to work.
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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant, Things that work

What I told my children

A few folk have asked me what I told my children this morning, so I thought I’d repeat it here, because it seems like something perhaps we all need to hear, and say, and do.

This morning when I woke up, my Youngin was already awake. She was listening to the radio and making angry signs in her room. I walked in and sat down next to her and she leaned into me and we cried together for a minute.

I told her I was sorry, so very, very sorry.

Then I wiped her tears, and mine, and took a deep breath and told her that it was okay to be angry, it was okay to be upset and scared and frustrated and disappointed. It was okay to have all of those feelings.

BUT.

Then I told her that we, personally, were going to be okay. The world was not going to change that much for us. We are not the people Trump has targeted in his speeches and at his rallies.

BUT.

That does not mean we can exhale and relax. The fact that we do not have targets on our backs does not make this any less of a disaster for our nation. And this is a disaster.

I reminded her of the Mr. Rogers Meme that tells people in disasters to look for helpers, and I told her that we HAD TO be the helpers this time. Because we are “safe,” because we are going to be “okay” we have to stand up, we have to use our voices and our power to help the people who have been targeted, who are not safe, who Trump promised will not be okay.

I told her that today was going to be a really hard, really scary day for a lot of her friends, and that they were going to need her. More than ever. I reminded her what it means to be an ally, that it is not an identity, it is action – and that today, and the next four years, that was our job. To be there, to hold the lines, to interrupt hate speech, to disrupt violence. I reminded her of Michelle Obama’s words – when someone goes low, our job is to go high. We cannot give in to fear, or let it turn into hate.

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I told her that her job was to be there for her friends. To hug them, to reassure them, and to work for their safety and well being. She’s already such a strong “upstander,” but she’s been seeing and living the Trump Effect. I told her it would likely get worse and that we would need to be ever more vigilant, and ever more ready to support and defend people, to keep them safe. I reminded her of her adult allies in her school, the people she could turn to if she saw or heard violence directed at another student – or at herself, because after all we just elected a sexual predator for president.

Trump held up a mirror for me and showed me the truth of what my LGBTQ friends, my Latinx friends, my Black friends, my Muslim friends, my immigrant friends, my poor friends, my sick friends – have all been saying for YEARS. Yes – it is this bad. We, allies, cannot bury our heads in the sand anymore. Not for one more second. We need to take a long, hard look in this mirror and recognize our part in this, and then we need to get to work.

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I reminded her of her classmate who, after their school’s mock election, said, “I voted for Trump.” and then looked around the room at all of his Latinx classmates and said with sincere feeling, “But don’t worry. I also asked God not to let him deport anyone.” Because kids are not born hating, or fearing. They are taught that. Our job is to teach them love. Our job is to reach out to those people who voted for Trump, but prayed that he wouldn’t be allowed to do the things he said he would do, and talk to them. Compassionately. We need to figure out what they were voting for – or against – if it wasn’t the hate we all heard.

And then I told her that my job, as an adult, as someone who is safe, is to do that work – the work of reaching out, of listening to people who voted for Trump, of hearing them. Because last night I fell asleep thinking about what I needed to do to protect the people he promised to harm, I fell asleep in a pit of “what the actual fuck?” But when I woke up, I realized that if this election had gone the other way, half of America would have felt the same existential dread that I feel right now. Half of America was more scared of Hillary Clinton than of an openly misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, narcissistic bully. No matter which way you slice it, half of America believes that America is going down the drain, and taking them with it. Half of America feels left out, shut out, torn down.

We truly are a nation divided.

As an adult, it is my job to break down THAT WALL. That wall that the media has helped to build, that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have helped build, that all of this us and them rhetoric has helped build. There is no us and them – we’re all in this boat together, so we’ve got to stop shouting and start listening.

We have got to appeal to our better angels.

We have got to rise above.

As Katie Goodman would say, we have got to unfuck this up.

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

Be a helper

Hi everyone. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted. I’ve missed you. Oddly I’ve gotten quite a few new fans/followers/folk since my last long ago post, so – hi new folk. Welcome to my brain.

So… It looks like my country elected a racist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissist for president. Sorry about that.

No really. I am so fucking sorry. I am beside myself.

I am up typing this because I have to figure out what to do now. I’m unprepared for this. I mean – I know my country isn’t post-racial, or post-feminist, or even very progressive, but I didn’t realize just how much anger and hate and fear there was. I underestimated the backlash.

I’ll admit – genuine thoughts about just running away went through my mind, and even came out of my mouth. But then… I remembered, I’m uncomfortably safe. I’m a white middle classish person. Yes, I’m a woman and sexual assault just became openly acceptable at the same time that a candidate who has sworn to take away my reproductive rights was elected president, but honestly – those are battles I’ve been fighting for decades – I’ll just have to fight them more strategically now.

Meanwhile, there are loads of other people who are really, truly screwed. Millions of lives have just been made worse, millions of families have been put at risk. This, what just happened, is a true disaster.

As I thought about what that meant, what that looks like, I remembered this meme that pops up every time there is a natural disaster, or another mass shooting, or a large-scale tragedy.

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Look for the helpers.

But… Here’s the thing – I can’t look for the helpers this time. This time – I have to be the helper. This is on me.

Why? Because white people, as a group, voted for Trump. White women abandoned Hillary and voted for Trump. This mess – this is our mess, my mess. Sure, I voted blue, and I urged everyone I knew to do the same. I wore my pantsuit and proudly proclaimed that I was #WithHer, but… it wasn’t enough. And now – we need to work together to keep this garbage fire from spreading and hurting people.

People keep saying, “it’ll all be okay.” But here’s the thing – we’ve elected a president who has promised, on numerous occasions, that life will not be okay for Muslims, Latinx folk, LGBTQ folk, immigrants, refugees, women, people with pre-existing medical conditions, poor people… Which means empty platitudes are not going to cut it.

White people – we have got to get our collective shit together. We have got to rise up and listen to our better angels. We cannot simply say, “it’s going to be okay.” We have to work to make it okay. We have to hold the lines of progress that we have made in this country. We have to reach out to our community members who are hurting, who are scared, who are threatened and we have to actively support them.

This is on us.

I struggled with what I was going to tell my kids tomorrow. But this is it.

I’m going to tell them to bring their A-game tomorrow, and every day after, because life for us is going to continue being okay. They’re going to continue to have a house and clothes and food on the table, and a family that no government organization can tear apart. But their friends, their friends are going to need them. They are going to need their strength, their love, and sometimes their voice.

My friends are going to need the same. So are strangers I’ve never met who will be facing an amplified Trump Effect. I cannot sit this one out. It is time to be vigilant, to be aware, and to step up and be a helper.

If you’ve ever called yourself an ally before – this is your rally cry. This is the moment. This is where you turn your allyship into action and prove your mettle. It’s time to suit up and get to work.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant, Things that work

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.)

 

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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.

girlfriends

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?

boyshugging

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.

Respect

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.

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.

Friendship

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.

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