Tag Archives: children

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

moregiving

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

A case for better justice

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

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

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

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

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

So, to begin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know what’s unfit – this fucking society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must be present to win.

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

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?

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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

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

Health care vs FREEDOM!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fake food

Here there be monsters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

picnic at the park

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Still me, but with less swearing

I am hoping to make it back to TBT today to either post part 2 of the Guns in America conversation, or perhaps another detour about ethics, morality & money.

In the meantime, and in case I don’t make it back – My first article for Everyday Feminism just went live, so you can read about parenting in a post-feminist world over there –

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/07/make-room-for-bigger-truths

The article is a positive action based piece on helping kids break open their gender boxes a little bit to make room for more of their truth to shine.

Feel free to drop a comment. I’ll be bouncing over periodically to join the conversation.

Cheers.

3 Comments

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

Age Inappropriate

I got in an argument on twitter a couple of nights ago. Shocking, I know.

It was about a topic that I’ve been trying to address for a while now, and that night it boiled over. My brain stayed awake all night working on this post while the rest of me tried to sleep.

It’s once again about semantics, about words and phrases not meaning what people want them to mean.

In this case, age appropriate sex education.

There are two parts to this that people seem to need to get their heads around.

First – too many people hear “sex education” and interpret that as, “teaching kids how to have sex.” Which is super weird to me, because – no. That’s not what it’s about. AT ALL.

In fact, these days it’s mostly only telling kids to “Just say no!” which is completely unhelpful and often harmful.

Kids need, and deserve more than that. Kids have the right to know about their bodies and how they work. They have a right to know about relationships, about intimacy – and all the forms that can take. And they have a right to that information BEFORE it is too late for them to use it, not AFTER the adults in their lives are comfortable sharing it.

And that is the second part that people need get get their heads around. “Age Appropriate” is not what most adults think it is.

This is how the twitter “discussion” started. A very angry man was yelling at an abortion provider that teens shouldn’t be having sex and therefore shouldn’t need abortions. A supporter responded, “So you support universal sex education?”

He screamed back, “Of course, but what’s the point of teaching younger and younger children this? Wait until they’re old enough.”

My response infuriated him. “8 year old girls are getting their periods & being pressured into sex. They need to be educated BEFORE, not after.”

He interpreted my statement to mean that I thought 8 year olds should be having sex and we should teach them how.

Seriously? That’s what you read?

It didn’t matter how many times I sent him the link explaining that we know unequivocally that educating children about their bodies, including the correct names for all their body parts helps predator proof them and protect them, he could only see that I said 8-year-olds were having sex. He just kept shouting back that that was illegal, ignoring my distinction that it is less about it being illegal for an 8-year-old to have sex, and more that it is illegal to have sex with an 8-year-old. Feel the difference – don’t blame the 8-year-old. They don’t know any better, because WE ARE NOT TEACHING THEM.

Here’s the thing –

Our youth live in a world where they are constantly bombarded with highly sexualized images. They are constantly given messages that women should be sexy and crave male attention, that to be a successful male you have to be “getting some” from a hot girl. Sex is everywhere, all around them.

fast cheap sex sells

Wait, what are they selling!?

Watch the Disney channel sometime, and think about the words of Peggy Orenstein who wrote a book about the Princess to pole dancer trajectory that Disney has created for girls. The idea that for girls sexuality is something they perform, it’s about how they look and how they make other people feel, not how they themselves feel or what they want for themselves. And look at the messages those same shows are giving boys about their role, how it shows that they should be the instigator, the aggressor and how no means maybe and maybe means yes.

Dominate

Sexuality – a public performance, or an intimate experience?

Right now the adults in charge seem to be interpreting “Age Appropriate” as “The age WE are comfortable thinking a child might use this information.”

We need to knock that off and start thinking about age appropriate as, “The age a child is curious about a thing.” “The age BEFORE a child NEEDS to know.” “The age when a child is introduced to a thing by society at large and might need help understanding it.”

I had a deep and wonderful and safe conversation with my 8 year old about sex and rape and consent last year, when she was still seven. I didn’t start the conversation, she did. I just answered her questions, with honesty – and yes… I threw the ball a little high. I discarded the tired advice that you give children only enough information to barely answer their question. Instead, I pushed a little, opened the door a little wider and gave her MORE.

That conversation has helped her feel safer about the images she sees in the world around her, it has helped clarify the boundaries that she can set for herself and the ways that she can do that, it helped make her feel strong and empowered and capable. It gave her the words to set boundaries, not just with a firm “no!” but also with an emphatic “yes!”

(Because one of the problems for girls is that we have told them they are the gatekeepers of sexuality and that their job is to say no. Has anyone else ever considered that perhaps the reason girls “tease” or sometimes start out with no, and slide into maybe, and finally cave into yes – thus fulfilling the damaging and rape enabling stereotype of no means maybe and maybe means yes – is because girls by and large have not been taught that they CAN SAY YES? Because girls who say yes are sluts and whores and BAD GIRLS.)

The other thing this conversation did, is it told my daughter that I was safe, that her home was safe, that she had a person and a place where she could discuss anything without shame or fear, where she could get information BEFORE it was too late to use it.

I’ve had similar conversations with my oldest daughter.

These conversations did not destroy my children’s childhood. I did not ruin them by answering their questions respectfully or by giving them a safe space to ask them. Because this is an argument that is thrown at me ALL THE FREAKING TIME when I advocate for educating children about their bodies, about sex & sexuality.

“Why not just let them be kids?” This was the heart of President Obama’s ignorant comments against selling emergency birth control over the counter to all females of reproductive age.

As if giving a child who is clearly already having sex (or they wouldn’t need Plan B) access to medicine to help them not become a mother ruins childhood! Um – BECOMING A MOTHER RUINS CHILDHOOD.

I want to cyber shout that over and over and over again.

You want to protect childhood – you make damn sure children aren’t becoming parents.

“Let them be kids” is the same argument I hear when I advocate for open, inclusive sex education that discusses homosexuality, trans* people, and the full spectrum of gender expression, and other non-reproductive, heteronormative sexual issues.

As if some kids don’t already have parents who don’t fit that narrow heterosexual box. As if some kids don’t already know that THEY don’t fit in that narrow hetero box. As if those kids don’t also deserve healthy, accurate, truthful information about their bodies, their sexuality, their gender expression.

As if we don’t already have kids being bullied to death because they don’t perform their gender and sexuality the way society at large tells them to.

Refusing to teach kids about their bodies, refusing to teach them about sex, refusing to create safe spaces for them to ask questions and get honest, medically accurate answers because it makes US uncomfortable to think about IS NOT HELPING. Refusing to teach ALL kids about the WHOLE rainbow of human sexuality is NOT HELPING.

You may disagree with 9-year-olds having sex – most of the 9-years-old having sex also disagree with it – but denying them information, medical services and a safe space to talk about what is happening is NOT protecting their childhood. It is simply denying them agency in their own lives. And it is creating more space for predators to work.

You may be scared of homosexuality, or not understand trans* people, or be confused by all the variance that exists outside of a very narrow one man, one woman in wedded bliss sexuality – but denying kids information about it, doesn’t help them. It hurts them. And it allows room for bigotry and hate to spread.

Denying a reality you don’t like won’t make it go away. It just makes it darker and harder for the people living it.

I remember a friend who found out in middle school sex ed that she’d been being abused and raped for 3 years. She didn’t know because she didn’t have the words. She didn’t know because it had started so young. And even afterward, it took her months before she was able to really believe it and to feel safe enough to speak it, to name it, to ask for help.

I could share countless stories of kids with parents less liberal than mine who only realized AFTER they’d been abused, assaulted, raped that that was what had happened, because sex ed came too late for them. Or who didn’t feel like they could call it rape, even after they learned the words, because they hadn’t actually said no, because they didn’t know how to say no safely, they didn’t know how to say no without putting themselves in further harms way. Or they didn’t say no because they didn’t really understand that what was happening to them was sex and that they could say no!

The common denominator in the vast majority of child sex abuse is that the children didn’t have the words, the information, the power to get help.

The common denominator is that WE FAILED THEM as a society, because we did not educate and empower them.

And it isn’t just the victims we are failing. I remember a boy in my middle school who really didn’t know that he was walking the halls sexually assaulting girls by grabbing their breasts, who was genuinely shocked when my friend accused him of rape and prosecuted him – because the last girl he’d had sex with that way hadn’t said anything, and anyway my friend had already had sex with another guy, so how could he even have raped her? He didn’t have the words either, he was just doing what the world around him said he could and should do to “be a man.”

While I don’t want to create wiggle room or excuses for people who commit sexual assault or rape – the brutal truth is, they are often victims of social conditioning. Conditioning that tells them that THEIR JOB is to get sexual favors from other people, that tells them their self-worth is counted in the number of notches on their bed post, that tells them that in order to “be a real man” they have to get the girl – at any cost.

Just as many victims of rape are additionally victims of social conditioning which never gave them the tools to be more than passive recipients of sexual attention, that says their self-worth is tied to the number of men who want to “tap that”, that tells them in order to be a “real woman” they have to be pleasing to men – no matter the price.

alcohol date rape drug

Don’t ask, just get her drunk…

This is rape culture.

This is the battle we are fighting. It isn’t about saving kids from sex. It is about educating our youth about this culture. It is about giving them the tools and information they need to make healthy decisions. It is about breaking down the millions of messages they get in the media every day telling them how to perform their sexuality.

sexuality images

Is this the idea of sexuality we want our youth to carry?

So we have a choice – accept those messages and let our children embrace them as Truth, or push back.

And we push back with education. Education that empowers them. Education that helps them question the way the world is presented in movies, on TV and radio, on billboards.

We push back by creating more safe spaces for children to ask questions and get real answers, by empowering more adults to become askable adults.

We do it by ending the wall of silence and shame that surrounds genuine sex and sexuality in our culture and replace it with vast open spaces for real discussions.

We push back by teaching children about their bodies, about bodily autonomy and sexual empowerment, and about the whole rainbow of gender and sexual expression that exists in this world.

We do it by teaching them the truth that sex is supposed to feel good for everyone involved, that the primary reason adults have sex is BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD, and that if it isn’t feeling good – it’s time to call a time-out.

We push back by preparing our children to live in the world we’ve created, rather than trying to protect them from it.

Face it – if telling our children the truth about our world will destroy their childhood, then we’re doing it wrong and we need to change the world we’re creating for them, not put blindfolds over their eyes and then blame them when they stumble.

 

 

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