Tag Archives: justice

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

Action/ReAction

Action/ReAction
By Bree Ervin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Naive idealism, poetry

Unspeakable Things

I finished reading Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny aka Penny Red a few days ago but haven’t had time to sit down and go through ALL the sticky tabs and compose a discussion until now.

unspeakable sticky notes

A well stickied book

If you want the quick version, I read this book “out loud” for one of my twitter read-alongs and then storified the results. You can check that out here if you just want the highlights without the analysis.

Also, you can catch me reading “out loud” on twitter most Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 pm mountain time.

Okay, so diving in –

Unspeakable Things is a non-fiction book that covers a pretty broad range of social topics, all centered on feminist philosophy.

“Feminism is a process. Call yourself what you like. The important thing is what you fight for. Begin it now.”

I’m going to highlight just a couple of the topics covered in this book that really resonated with me.

The first is our idea of “Equal pay for equal work” and how very broken that conversation has ALWAYS been.

“Women are more likely than men to perform labor that is socially necessary but low waged or unwaged.” And thus, women are also “more likely to need public services and welfare.”

Laurie Penny talks about this idea that we have of women getting paid less than men because we “need” flexible schedules, or because we reduce our hours to care for kids and take care of the home – and challenges us to flip that around and start talking about all that socially necessary free labor that so often falls on women’s shoulders. If we’re serious about equal pay for equal work, then we need to make sure that women are getting paid in some way for that second, and sometimes third, shift that they work.

This of course leads to questions about, “what work should be paid, and what is simply part of love and duty…” Because it turns out that the reason so much of the work that women do is unpaid or underpaid is because, “we think of it as ‘love’, as a moral expression of feeling rather than a practical task of immense and tangible value.”

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

Laurie Penny comes around to this idea again later in the book. She talks about the broken (middle and upper class) pact that the wage system once rested on, “whereby men were obliged to seek paid employment to support women’s unpaid work, and the labor of both would be sealed in a system of sexual bargaining.”

And as for the many women who are trying to raise a family on their own – forget about it.

“The millions of women raising children without a co-parent are spoken of in the same terms as beggars and thieves: they are a drain on the state, the scourge of hardworking taxpayers who must forfeit the proceeds of ‘real’ work to pay for the maintenance of these ‘broken homes.’

Laurie Penny reminds us, “In the United States, there is no male equivalent for the term ‘welfare queen’. Having a child alone and asking for support with raising that child – from her community, her family or the state – is considered uniquely selfish.”

And yet, we know that it is cheaper to educate a child, to feed a child, to clothe and house a child than it is to let them slip through the cracks into our bloated “justice” system. We know that we ALL benefit from having a generation of educated, intelligent, secure kids coming up behind us to keep the economy running, to pay into our social security, to have the skills and the know-how to take care of us in our old age…

But the idea of paying a parent to stay home and do the hard work of raising competent citizens – FUCK NO! Damn welfare queens should have kept their legs shut until they could afford to have a child.

And when we talk of raising the minimum wage so that all workers can afford to support their families without help from the state – FUCK NO! If they wanted to get paid enough to survive they should have gone to college (which we also won’t pay for, and which they can’t get into because they came from the wrong neighborhood and the wrong schools and had to drop out to get a job to help their family, or because they got pregnant because birth control wasn’t available and the nearest abortion clinic was 500 miles away or…)

And when we talk about making it easier for both men and women to work flexible schedules, or to increase spending for quality pre-schools, day cares and to expand the school year so that people don’t have to make a false “choice” between having a career or raising children – again, we hear a resounding FUCK NO!

There is no help coming. The village that used to raise a child has decided that children are now an individual choice and thus an individual burden.

“Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love.”

So we won’t help them, but when they fail, it is all their fault for not trying hard enough. And when they complain about wanting equal pay for equal work, we refuse to acknowledge or even see how much free work they’ve been doing all along, because that isn’t real work, that’s just what women are supposed to do.

As Laurie Penny writes, “The best way to stop girls achieving anything is to force them to achieve everything.” or, later on, “Little girls, though, only ever get two choices: We can be the princess or we can be the witch. And everybody knows what happens to women who do their own magic.

witch burning

She’s a witch!

The second topic Laurie Penny takes up is the Lost Boys of modern masculinity, the other side of this broken pact.

Laurie Penny looks at men and what shifting expectations have done to their world view, and the contradictions that they are forced to try to navigate – the many, many broken promises that were made and that they are struggling to piece together.

Men have been told that they are living in “a brave new world of economic and sexual opportunity.” But really, where is the power that today’s young men were promised? Where is the privilege everyone keeps telling them have?

Our men are raised to expect dignified work that leads to financial security, but after years of recession and increased worker exploitation by employers, that dream is harder and harder to achieve.

Working hard is no longer enough.

These dashed dreams are what seem to be fueling so much of the male frustration and rage that we see enacted on the nightly news. “Violence happens when people are frightened that somebody’s about to take away their power.”

Laurie Penny reminds us here that the culprit is, and always was, patriarchy. And she reminds us that “Patriarchy does not mean ‘the rule of men’. It means ‘the rule of fathers’ – literally, the rule of powerful heads of household over everybody else in society. Men further down the social chain were expected to be content with having power over women in order to make up for their lack of control over the rest of their lives.”

She goes on to remind us that under patriarchy, “Most individual men don’t have a lot of power, and now the small amount of social and sexual superiority they held over women is being questioned. That must sting.”

But men are not allowed to talk about their gender and how if affects them. Instead modern masculinity seems to work much like Fight Club, “in that the first rule of Man Club is you do not talk about Man Club.”

Laurie Penny posits that modern masculinity is working exactly as designed by, “keeping men, particularly young men, in a state of anxious desperation, lonely and isolated, unable to express their true feelings or live the lives they really want, taking out their social and sexual frustration on women rather than understanding it as a systematic effect of elitism inequality.”

Which is to say, modern masculinity functions by never allowing men to question it, and telling them to instead blame their discomfort and insecurity on those uppity feminists trying to usurp their place in the pecking order, rather than examining the systematic forces of patriarchal oppression that hold us ALL back.

Modern masculinity squeezes men into a narrow bottleneck that no one is equipped to fit through, leaving the average man unable to express their desire to be taken care of, to be cuddled, to cry, to do creative work that will not make money, to be a full-time parent, to have their vulnerabilities acknowledged, to go into care taking as a profession, to play with makeup or clothing, to have women as friends… To want deep and lasting social change.

But here’s the “last great secret of the supposed ‘golden age of masculinity’ that’s been destroyed by feminism: it never really existed in the first place… there have always been men who would not or could not conform.” There has never been only one way of “being a man.”

Laurie Penny encourages us to be compassionate toward the men who are struggling to find their place in this bold new world where masculinity feels at once more constrictive than ever, while simultaneously being ever more open for those brave enough to challenge the old guard.

Part of the challenge is that, “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.”

But more and more women are demanding the space to be their own heroes, and many are even *gasp* asking men to step up and be their supporting cast. There are few acceptable role models for this – there is no available script for men to take that kind of role.

“Of course it’s going to hurt. But then, it hurts already.” Change is hard, and scary, and we all need help navigating our way through it.

“Social change happens when the old stories we tell ourselves to survive are no longer sufficient, and we create new ones.”

Story time

Laurie Penny talks a lot about “adjustment disorder” (An actual new diagnosis!) which rests on the idea that unhappiness cannot possibly be the fault of the system, it is our fault for failing to adjust to the straightjacket of society’s gender expectations.

“We were taught, all of us, that if we were dissatisfied, it was our fault, or the fault of those closest to us. We were built wrong somehow. We had failed to adjust. If we showed any sort of distress, we probably needed to be medicated or incarcerated, depending on our social status.”

If we are unhappy, there are drugs and therapy – anything to avoid talking about justice.

But the truth is, we are not broken – the system is. But we can only change it if we are willing to examine it, and our role in it and then do the hard, painful work of challenging it at every turn.

There are additional insightful chapters on sex, sexuality and sexism that I ran out of words for.

I appreciated Laurie Penny’s efforts to discuss the ways the current system hurts people of all genders. (I didn’t dive into that part of the discussion, but she talks a lot about the ways gender-non-conforming people are especially damaged by the current arrangement, but also how they are the vanguard of change because they are the ones pushing the hardest to open the doors of equality open ever wider.) I thought she did a good job of bringing in more perspectives and points of view than her own and widening the lens to help us all see beyond our own limited experience.

Laurie Penny encourages us to be suspicious of any program that seeks to restrict freedom in order to protect us. “It’s for your own good.” are words that should send a shudder of rebellion through us all.

In her final battle cry, Laurie Penny reminds us that in a system this broken, there are no rewards for good behavior. “The world doesn’t need another handbook for how to submit with dignity to a world that wants you to hate yourself.”

unspeakable things

You are not broken.

If you’re tired of being told that you’re the problem, and you’d like someone to pick you up, dust you off and prepare you for revolution, Unspeakable Things is a good place to start.

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Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Uncategorized

Redefining Man – A Modest Proposal

This is *hopefully* going to be a quickie.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

So – when our constitution was written there were lots of clauses defining the rights and responsibilities of “man” and “men.” Many of our laws still reflect this pronoun preference.

At that time, in that culture/society that word was loosely defined as “white propertied male.” People back then didn’t talk so much about sexual orientation, but I think we can safely add “straight” to the list of included adjectives.

Since that time we have had to add amendments to the constitution to grant basic rights – like citizenship, the right to vote – to African-Americans, women and other minorities.

At present some supreme court justices have said that they do not believe that the 14th amendment, put in place after the civil war to grant equal rights to former slaves and free African-Americans, applies to women! Or gays. Or…

In addition, that amendment was not enough to grant African-Americans the right to vote – that came later, with the 15th amendment. Which did not extend voting rights to women, only to men of all races, regardless of “previous conditions of servitude.”

It took another 50 years for voting rights, aka full citizenship status, to be granted to women.

And still… We’re not really there yet. We are still having battles over what is a right, what is a privilege and who is a real, full citizen.

We see it in the gay rights movement right now, as well as with the renewed push to ratify the ERA – Equal Rights Amendment, which would grant women the same actual, full legal rights and protections currently granted to men in this country. We see it in the push for immigration reform. We see it in the battles for full rights to be granted to disabled and differently abled people, including the right to marry.

But… What if we simply passed an amendment stating that throughout the constitution of the United States of America, the word man would be taken to mean “person.”

Non-gendered, non-racially charged, non-sexual orientated, non-ability specific.

Would that make a difference?

If people were legally defined as equal, would it help?

What if this amendment went a step further and redefined “man” in all legislation to simply “person” and the same for “woman”?

Then on documents regarding one man and one woman – well, it would just be one person and one person.

Is changing the language enough to change minds? Can we get to a place where we are all just people, regardless of the color of our skin, the language our parents speak at home, the organs between our legs – or the legs of the person we love, the gender we identify with in our core, our mental and physical abilities…

Is there a way to get there from here?

Is there a way to include all of the people all at once instead of this piece-meal approach where every couple of decades we recognize the humanity of a new sub-group of our nation’s population? Is there a way to wave a magic wand, or pen, and simply grant the full range of inalienable human rights to every living, breathing person?

Could it be as simple as affording the same rights, privileges and responsibilities of “man” to all people?

human rights

Human rights belong to everyone.

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